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.


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.

Emendemus in melius quae ignoranter peccavimus: ne subito praeoccupati die mortis quaeramus spatium paenitentiae, et invenire non possimus: Attende, Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi. Peccavimus cum patribus nostris: iniuste egimus, iniquitatem fecimus. Attende, Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi.

{Let us amend for the better those things in which we sinned in our ignorance; lest suddenly overtaken by the day of death we should seek for repentance and find it not: Give heed, O Lord, and have mercy, for we have sinned against Thee. We have sinned with our fathers, we have acted unjustly and have done iniquity. Give heed, O Lord, and have mercy, for we have sinned against Thee.}

From the Mass of Tuesday of Holy Week:-

Tua nos misericordia, Deus, et ab omni subreptione vetustatis expurget, et capaces sanctae novitatis efficiat. Per Dominum.

[May thy mercy, O God, both scour off from us all creeping-in of oldness, and make us capable of the holy newness. Through our Lord.]

I’ve just read a copy of a talk given by Fr James Siemens, a Ukranian Greek Catholic priest, to the CIEL conference at the London Oratory last November. He touches on the question of the annual cycle of readings for the traditional Roman rite. Why we have the particular set of readings in the order that we have them is a question that has often puzzled those who are interested in such things. There is a general opinion that the reason is lost in the mists of antiquity – as Fr Siemens puts it, that ‘the readings [after] Pentecost are simply a residual collection of readings determined by inscrutable past circumstance’. But he suggests that light has been thrown on the question by a recent work with the rather unpromising title: The Book of Common Prayer: Past, Present and Future.

This work is by an Anglican scholar, Rev. David Phillips. This author claims that the cycle of readings mirrors the three stages of the spiritual life: purgative, illuminative and unitive, with seven weeks for each. The idea is that from the 4th Sunday after Pentecost to the 10th Sunday, the collects, epistles and gospels principally concern the soul’s purgation. From the 11th to the 17th they set out the means for the soul’s illumination. Then from the 18th to the 24th, they speak of the soul’s union with God. According to Fr Siemens, the author makes a convincing case.

Will report back when I know more.

Walking recently in a country that was Catholic until the Council, I saw a large, medieval village church and tried to go in. The nave was barred by a locked iron gate, but from the narthex one could see the high altar with its fine marble baldachino. In front of it stood a little altar set up to face the congregation upon which, I suppose, the holy sacrifice is offered on days when the nave is not locked. And I marveled, as I always do, at the silent testimony these things bear to a revolution; and I mused on how many Catholic altars there are throughout the world, once consecrated by a successor of an apostle, now gathering dust.

What would Pope Innocent III have said of it? Writing of the mystical meaning of our ceremonies, he says that the altar-stone in which the relics of saints are enclosed represents the Church; the priest kissing it when he begins Mass, is the Bridegroom showing his love for the Bride. How many of our altars never receive this mark of tenderness, but remain unreverenced from year’s end to years end? Some serve as stands for pot-plants, or worse. Some stand naked, as if a decree had gone forth that it should be always Good Friday and never Easter. Others again, if little heeded by the priests, are tended still by some faithful sacristan who waits in silence for a change of days. But alongside each unused altar, a heavenly power stands, untroubled yet unforgetful.

And as I thought of these things, and thought also that he spoke rightly who said one should kindle a light rather than bemoan the darkness, I determined to compose a prayer for the restoration of our altars; and you also, good reader, may recite this prayer if you think like me about these things:-

O God, who hast granted to thy Church to set up altars throughout the world consecrated by holy oil and by apostolic power, and hast commanded thy angels to stand guard beside them until the end of time, grant we beseech thee to thy bishops and priests a new love of these holy altars, that the everlasting sacrifice of thy Son may daily be perpetuated upon them, and that thy girded people may ascend to that sublime altar which is in heaven, Christ thy self-same Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.

And a Latin version, mostly literal:-

Deus, qui dedisti ecclesiae tuae ut potestate apostolica oleoque sanctissimo altaria per orbem terrarum erigat, quique angelis tuis praecepisti ut usque in saeculi finem iuxta eadem adstantes pervigilent, tribue quaesumus episcopos sacerdotesque tuos altaribus ita nova mente delectari ut Filii tui sacrificium crebrius in dies offeratur atque ad sublime altare in coelis populus accinctus tuus ascendat, eundem Iesum Christum Filium tuum Dominum nostrum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.

It is commonly said by scholars that Mass was said only in Greek, not Latin, in Rome in the early centuries. I am inclined to think that this will turn out to be one of those fads that dominate the academy for a while but pass away when the prestige of their initiators has faded from people’s minds.

Fr Uwe Michael Lang, in his useful book ‘The Voice of the Church at Prayer’ summarises the reasons for believing that Greek and not Latin was used for the Mass in those early days.

1. St Paul wrote to the Romans in Greek and the earliest known literary productions of the Roman Church (the Letter of Pope Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the writings of Justin Martyr) are in Greek. Therefore Greek was the ‘prevailing language’ of the Roman Church.

2. In the first two centuries there were several popes with Greek names, and Christian tomb inscriptions were written in Greek.

3. Victorinus, writing in Latin in Rome about 360, quotes some Greek words from a Eucharistic prayer.

4. ‘Ambrosiaster’, who was ‘perhaps a Roman presbyter’ writing about the same time says that some Latin-speakers prefer to chant in Greek, even without understanding the language, and that some Latins prefer the Creed in Greek.

And that seems to be it. It’s pretty weak. Suspiciously so, in fact. Are we not dealing here with an academic fad or fashion supported mainly by an aversion to Romanitas?

To look at the arguments in turn:-

1. All these examples show is that there were Greek speakers in the Church of Rome in the early centuries, but no one doubts that anyway. They hardly show that Greek was the prevailing language; but even if they did, they wouldn’t show that Latin was never used for the Mass. To come to the individual examples, if St Paul wrote to the Romans in Greek, that was perhaps because of the people sufficiently educated to be able to follow his epistle, a large number would have known that language, and because he wanted to quote throughout from the Greek version of the Old Testament, which had a much higher authority than any Latin version, if any Latin one existed. St Justin Martyr was from the Eastern half of the empire and only an immigrant in Rome, so it’s hardly surprising that he wrote in Greek. St Clement’s letter was written to the Corinthians, so naturally it was in Greek. 1st century Greeks were not, I think, in the habit of reading Latin. The origins of the Shepherd of Hermas are mysterious, but whoever wrote it, and whenever it was written, all it proves is that its author knew Greek!

2. Again, all this shows is that Greek was an influence in Rome in the early centuries. Some popes had Greek names because lots of people had Greek names, even in Rome. They didn’t necessarily all speak Greek as their first language, any more than a man with a Polish name born in England today to a second-generation Polish father and an English mother necessarily speaks Polish. Even if they did speak Greek as their first language, they would also have spoken Latin fluently, so what is proved about the liturgical language? Not all epitaphs are in Greek in the catacombs; the two languages are mixed together, sometimes in the same inscription.

3. As Fr Lang points out, Victorinus quotes the same part of the Eucharistic Prayer in Latin as well, elsewhere in the same work. In any case, it corresponds to part of a Syrian rite, not to any rite that is known to have been used in Rome. Yet the argument from Victorinus is often presented as the proof that Greek was the only liturgical language in Rome even into the second half of the 4th century!

4. The fact that Ambrosiaster talks of some people liking to sing Greek only shows that there was Greek in the Roman rite in his day. But so there is in our day: Kyrie eleison, hagios ho theos, hagios ischyros, hagios athanatos.  Why might there not have been a Latin Mass with some Greek used, especially for those parts that were shared by the non-Roman rites?

No doubt plenty of Greek was spoken at dinner-parties in first century Rome. But the language of Rome was, well, Latin. It was the language of the ordinary people, but also that of the Senate. St Peter was not unaware Rome was to be the chief see of the empire of Christ on earth. Why would he and his successors have avoided the use of the Roman and imperial tongue; that language which, no less than Greek and Hebrew, had already proclaimed on the first Good Friday that God was reigning from the wood?

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