As several (albeit a dwindling band) of cardinals have asserted their intention to issue a formal correction of the reigning pontiff, and as it is their task to do so, it seems hard to see why it is the correct course of action for those whose task it is not to seek to correct him themselves. Unless, of course, we suppose these cardinals not yet having risen to the challenge they set themselves will never do so. Perhaps, then it is the task of those who fear the shadow of the prince of Denmark has definitively fallen over the Sacred College to pick up the fallen standard and charge into the breach. One cannot help but admire these words by Bishop Gracida and Fr Andrew Pinsent.

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“The identification of the church with the whole of organized society is the fundamental feature which distinguishes the Middle Ages from earlier and later periods of history. At its widest limits it is a feature of European history from the fourth to the eighteenth century – from Constantine to Voltaire. In theory, during the whole of this period only orthodox and obedient believers could enjoy the full rights of citizenship … It was not just a government, however grandiose its operations. It was the whole of human society subject to the will of God. It was the ark of salvation in a sea of destruction. How far there could be any rational social order outside the ark of the church was a disputed question, but at its best, it could only be very limited. It was membership of the church that gave men a thoroughly intelligible purpose and place in God’s universe. The church was not only a state, it was the state: it was not only a society, it was the society – the human societas perfecta. Not only all political activities but all learning and thought were functions of the church. Besides taking over the political order of the Roman Empire, the church appropriated the science of Greece and the literature of Rome, and it turned them into instruments of human well-being in this world. To all this it added salvation – the final and exclusive possession of its members. And so in all its fullness it was the society of rational and redeemed mankind.”

– R. W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages

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.

“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.

 

Contrary to the vigour of the Gospel, contrary to the law of the Lord and God, by the temerity of some, communion is relaxed to heedless persons  – a vain and false peace, dangerous to those who grant it, and likely to avail nothing to those who receive it. They do not seek for the patience necessary to health nor the true medicine derived from atonement. Penitence is driven forth from their breasts, and the memory of their very grave and extreme sin is taken away. The wounds of the dying are covered over, and the deadly blow that is planted in the deep and secret entrails is concealed by a dissimulated suffering. Returning from the altars of the devil, they draw near to the holy place of the Lord, with hands filthy and reeking with smell, still almost breathing of the plague-bearing idol-meats; and even with jaws still exhaling their crime, and reeking with the fatal contact, they intrude on the body of the Lord, although the sacredScripture stands in their way, and cries, saying, Every one that is clean shall eat of the flesh; and whatever soul eats of the flesh of the saving sacrifice, which is the Lord’s, having his uncleanness upon him, that soul shall be cut off from his people. Also, the apostle testifies, and says, You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils; you cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils. He threatens, moreover, the stubborn and froward, and denounces them, saying, Whosoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

All these warnings being scorned and contemned – before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by sacrifice and by the hand of the priest before the offense of an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, violence is done to His body and blood; and they sin now against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord. They think that that is peace which some with deceiving words are blazoning forth: that is not peace, but war and he is not joined to the Church who is separated from the Gospel. Why do they call an injury a kindness? Why do they call impiety by the name of piety? Why do they hinder those who ought to weep continually and to entreat their Lord, from the sorrowing of repentance, and pretend to receive them to communion?

He maketh a man that is a hypocrite to reign for the sins of the people (Jb. 34:30).

I find these words of St Job quite reassuring.

From the last chapter of his Rule:

He that hasteneth on to the perfection of the religious life, hath at hand the teachings of the holy Fathers, the observance of which leadeth a man to the height of perfection. For what page or what utterance of the divinely inspired books of the Old and the New Testament is not a most exact rule of human life?