liturgy


From A Popular Guide to the New Mass, written by the Master of Ceremonies at Westminster Cathedral, and published in 1970:

On arriving at the altar the priest kisses it and goes straight to his chair where he does something he has never done before. He greets the people: says ‘hello” in a liturgical way. When you think about it, the priest has never acted like a gentleman at the beginning of Mass because, without a word to the people (many of whom he probably knows well), he turns his back on them and gets on with his own preparation for Mass. . .  Now that has been put right. The priest has become a gentleman, so he faces the people . . . [In the new Entrance Rite] the priest and his people have been ‘introduced’.

(I particularly like ‘many of whom he probably knows well’.)

Quoted in The Banished Heart, a very good read by Geoffrey Hull.

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“Let the hour of Prime be suppressed”. So decreed the bishops gathered in Rome in the winter of 1963, at the dead time of the year. Of the 2,147 prelates who voted to suppress, not some local abuse or the apocryphal Acta of an obscure saint, but one of the 8 hours of the divine office, did any, I wonder, feel some slight misgivings?

Like our Lord Jesus Christ, Prime was born in Bethlehem. Perhaps that is why the devil pursues it with a special hatred. St John Cassian tells us that it was the elders of his first monastery who instituted it, to prevent sleepy monks who had got through the long night-office from staying in bed until Terce. “This canonical office was first instituted in our monastery and in our time”, he writes. The learned think that this would have happened around the year of our Lord 380. The Church was still emerging from the long Arian nightmare, and already Prime was sung. It survived the fall of the empire in the West. St Benedict takes its existence for granted when he comes to distribute the psalter for the opus Dei. In the Roman basilicas it marked each day the beginning of the recitation of Psalm 118, the loving praise of the law of God; which, is, St Thomas tells us, a praise by appropriation of the eternal Son.

Matins is the hour of the dead of night. Those who sing the divine office of Matins stand like sentinels on the walls of the Church, repelling the diabolical incursions. Lauds is the hour of vanquished darkness and the return of dawn; it is the hour of victory and relief. Yet the thin shadows are still seen in Lauds, though fleeing; nor has man yet forgotten the passivity and endurance of the night, nor resumed his proper place as master of the world.

Prime is the first hour of true day. The sun now holds the heavens, undisputed. He has made all things new. Man also is himself again, ready to choose and act, not only to endure. It is that first hour, so a mediaeval writer tells us, when the Householder first goes out to call who will to labour for the Penny, the one thing needful, the image of the King.

For well over a thousand years, no one knows how long, the Church has sung the Athanasian Creed at Prime. Perhaps that it is another reason why the devil hates it. This creed is said now only once a year, on the Sunday of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, and then only by a few. One tiny foothold in the sacred liturgy, like Pelayo in his cave when all Spain was lost, waiting for the Reconquista to begin…

If you have ever, good Christian reader, as I have, heard the bells ring for Prime, and walked to church some bright Septembral morning, seen the sheep grazing and the distant ocean tranquil, then maybe you too will have perceived that there are, as in nature so in grace, things unchangeable; you also may have glimpsed something of the iota unum, and the non praevalebunt. Or maybe you will do and understand these things some centuries hence. For Prime is the hour that would not die.

 

A fascinating window into the ecclesiastical landscape of nearly forty years ago. It is striking that when the establishment spokesman’s claims about ad orientem are refuted by Michael Davies Fr Champlin puts up no resistance. He knew his claims were misleading and once exposed he sees no need to resist. The denial of any causal connection between the post-conciliar apostasy and the direction taken by the council seems bizarre from the vantage point afforded by time.

The good Cardinal Sarah has been in the news recently for saying that the two kinds of Mass should eventually merge into a ‘common, reformed rite’. Joseph Shaw observes: ‘It seems that the most trad-friendly Prelates of the Church actually want the Traditional Mass to disappear.’ He has some other sensible things to say about the problem with a general adoption of the revised lectionary and calendar.

An even more basic problem is that the framers of the Pauline missal envisaged the Mass as different sort of thing from what it had been up till then. The late Fr Brian Houghton said in one of his books that the reformers wish to personalise the Mass, and that their opponents wish it to be anonymous, and concluded logically enough: ‘The two aims are not compatible’ (I quote from memory).

(Incidentally, I hear a rumour that Fr. Houghton’s two novels and his autobiography may be republished. Buy them, if they are.)

Putting it in another way: the reformers envisaged the Mass as something done by everyone there, clergy and laity. I don’t mean that they would have rejected the doctrine about the essential difference between the priesthood of the ordained and that of all the baptised. Perhaps some of them would have done, but I know of no reason to think so (except for reasons for thinking that one or more of them rejected all Christian doctrines, e.g. evidence that Bugnini was a freemason).

I mean that what they wanted the Mass to feel like, was something done by everyone, as a good host at a dinner-party wants everyone to talk, so that the thing will be a success. The Mass was to feel like a sacred dinner-party, and the priest’s job would be to bring everyone out. Isn’t this implied by the famous article 7 of the GIRM? “The Lord’s Supper, or Mass, is the sacred meeting or congregation of the people of God assembled, the priest presiding, to celebrate the memorial of the Lord.” Rorate suggests that these may have been ‘most influential liturgical words written in the 20th century’.

What the traditional Mass feels like, on the other hand, is something done by the clergy in the sanctuary, to which those in the nave unite themselves.

Now, in the latter case, the feeling corresponds to the reality. The Mass is something done by those in the sanctuary (litanies, readings, prayers, offertory, consecration, priest’s communion). Those in the nave unite themselves to this reality. This is sufficiently  proved by the fact that the Mass can be done with no one in the nave, but not with no one in the sanctuary.

Cardinal Sarah says that the ‘theologies’ of the two Masses are compatible. I am not sure if I know what this means. But I am confident that the wishes of the framers of the Pauline missal were not compatible with the reality of the Sacrifice which Christ left us.

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The Benedictine Monks of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar are a monastic family serving the Holy and Undivided Trinity under the sixth-century Rule of Saint Benedict. They are established at Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, Co. Meath, Ireland, in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Meath. They are traditional benedictines led by Prior Dom Mark Daniel Kirby.

It is many years since I have lived in Ireland, therefore I am not aware of all the developments in restoring the faith to this fair land. I was pleased to hear that the priory’s constitution and canonical norms were approved by the Holy See earlier this month.

“Bishop Michael Smith signed a Decree on 25 February “erecting the Benedictine Monks of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar as a monastic Institute of Consecrated Life of diocesan right in the Diocese of Meath”.

This Decree is believed to mark the first formal establishment of a monastic community in the Diocese of Meath since the suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1536.”

Holy mass is offered according to the 1962 missal  daily at 11am and on 10am on Sundays and Holy days.

I was also surprised that the monks of Silverstream came from the diocese of Tulsa Oklahoma, which is home to another traditional benedictine priory – Clear Creek Abbey. This abbey, a daughter of Fontgombault was erected at the invitation of Bishop Dr Edward James Slattery in 1999.

It seems Dr Michael Smith asked for the Bishop of Tulsa to play nice and share some of this water with Ireland.

I must say I was personally very encouraged by the erection of this priory in Co Meath. I don’t really know much about the Bishop of Meath, other than that he was ordained in 1963 and attended the whole of the second vatican council. However I think this bodes well, given my overall impression of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

I hope to get the chance to visit Silverstream in the near future.

P.S I was rather disappointed that on my first blog post in a long time, Fr Z has written on the same topic an hour later – How rude!

St Augustine:

As the ointment on the head, which descended to the beard, to Aaron’s beard, which descended to the fringe of his garment. What was Aaron? A priest. Who is a priest, except that one Priest, who entered into the Holy of Holies? Who is that priest, save Him, who was at once Victim and Priest? save Him who when he found nothing clean in the world to offer, offered Himself? The ointment is on his head, because Christ is one whole with the Church, but the ointment comes from the head. Our Head is Christ crucified and buried; He rose again, and ascended into heaven; and the Holy Spirit came from the head. Whither? To the beard. The beard signifies the courageous; the beard distinguishes the grown men, the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man. Thus that ointment descended first upon the Apostles, descended upon those who bore the first assaults of the world, and therefore the Holy Spirit descended on them. For they who first began to dwell together in unity, suffered persecution, but because the ointment descended to the beard, they suffered, but were not conquered…. (in Ps. 132)

 

St Thomas Aquinas:

It is becoming for those who apply themselves to the Divine ministry to be shaven, and to be tonsured in the form of a crown by reason of the shape. Because a crown is the sign of royalty; and of perfection, since it is circular; and those who are appointed to the Divine service acquire a royal dignity and ought to be perfect in virtue. It is also becoming to them as it involves the hair being taken away: both from the higher part of the head by the tonsure, lest their mind be hindered by temporal occupations from contemplating Divine things, and from the lower part by shaving, lest their senses be entangled in temporal things (Suppl. 40, 1).

I’m not sure how to overcome this aporia, unless we think that Hanon in 1 Sam. 10 had the right idea by shaving off one half of the beards of David’s servants. However, Cornelius a Lapide says that this episode represents the Jews plucking off hairs from Christ’s beard during the Passion, or the devil stripping religious men of their courage, so that does not seem promising. I suppose we have to say that per se it is better for a man, especially a Christian, to possess a beard, at least in this life, but per accidens, e.g. because of a particular need to signify something else, it may become better to be shaved (and tonsured). I say ‘in this life’ because Aelianus tells me that the earliest depictions of our Lord present Him as risen and beardless, in token of eternal youth, and suggests that this may be the ‘other form’ which hindered people from recognising Him after the resurrection.

I presume that the historical reason why priests in the west have generally been shaven is Romanitas. Eastern rite priests of course often have beards, and I have a theory that the East-West division here is a providential counterbalance to the characteristics of their respective liturgies. That is, the Eastern liturgies put before us in particular the glory of the resurrection, so it is fitting that their priests be bearded, to preserve some suggestion of the trials and labours of this life as well, lest we float off into unreality. On the other hand, the Roman rite is more stark and sacrificial, so perhaps there is a danger that adding beards as well might make it too much for some people to take. I hope these are not irreverent thoughts.

Today, the Ember Wednesday of Lent, there is an extra reading before the gospel, about the miraculous feeding of the prophet Elijah:

He cast himself down, and slept in the shadow of the juniper tree: and behold an angel of the Lord touched him, and said to him: Arise and eat. He looked, and behold there was at his head a hearth cake, and a vessel of water: and he ate and drank and fell asleep again.

The Hebrew phrase translated as ‘a hearth cake’ is literally ‘bread of coals’ or ‘bread of embers’. So although the English phrase ‘Ember days’ is, according to the learned, simply a corruption of something else (the learned aren’t quite sure whether ‘Ember’ is a corruption of the Latin ‘tempora’, as in the Quattuor Tempora i.e. the four seasons, or of the Old English ‘ymbren’ meaning a circuit), it was a happy coincidence or happy instinct that produced it. As the prophet was fed from the embers and was able to go fasting for forty days and forty nights till he reached the mountain of God, so we draw our strength from these penitential days, and though we ourselves may be but embers in comparison to the great fire of the Holy Ghost that was poured upon the Church at Pentecost, we have still heat and fervour enough to bake from our penitential practices the nourishment that we need.

The Vulgate describes the bread that fed the prophet as panis subcinericius, literally ‘under-the-ashes bread’. The Septuagint version means the same: it uses the word ἐγκρυφίας, which contains the root that gives us the word ‘cryptic’, or hidden. The bread was baked inside hot ash, which would then have been brushed off. St Bonaventure sees in all this a type of the Holy Eucharist. Just as Elijah’s bread was hidden beneath the ashes, so our Bread is hidden beneath humble appearances. As the outer layer of ash had to be stripped away to reach the nourishment within, we must strip away the accidents by faith to reach the substance that will feed us.

Or perhaps also we could say that the ashes are the Passion of Christ, when He became disfigured for us beyond the sons of men, and His beauty was hidden beneath His sufferings. The fire of charity produced those ashes, and by that fire and beneath those ashes He made Himself our bread, to be eaten bodily in the mystery of the altar, to be eaten spiritually in the reading of the gospel. Yet Elias, after he had eaten and drunk, fell asleep again and had to be wakened a second time by the angel and fed a second time. The sleep of forgetfulness threatens us, even when we have received great benefits. May God in His mercy never cease to rouse us this second time until we come to His mountain where there will be slumbering and even sacraments no more.

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