Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Minor Milestone

This blog recently hit its one millionth view. I thank all of you for your dedicated following over the last five years.

Within the Octave of Pentecost: Latin Holy Ghostology

"We aren't very good about the Holy Spirit, we Westerners, we Latins," said the sermonist at the Mass I attended on Pentecost Sunday. "We will pray to God the Father, and the Son, Our Savior, and of course to the Blessed Mother, but we don't really pray to the Holy Spirit."

As jarring as this sounds it is all very true and speaks to the enduring antiquity of both the pre-Conciliar liturgy and the general Latin approach to theology. Prior to the Gallican additions of certain prayers to the Holy Spirit or Trinity (cf. Veni Santificator and Placeat tibi), the Roman Mass has little mention of the Holy Spirit aside from the Gloria Patri, itself an glaring addition to existing psalmody. Without the Gallican emendations one could reasonably imagine the old Roman Mass, textually, being said before the first general council at Nicaea, something that could never be said of the far more advanced Greek liturgy.

Then again the Greeks have a far stronger view of general councils and conciliar decisions than the Latins traditionally have. To the Greek an ecumenical council is almost an act of revelation, an enhancement of the extant deposit of faith that now builds upon the received Tradition and is an event to the celebrated every year with a particular Sunday in the Divine Liturgy. For the Latin the Christian life is the promise of the Temple worship met and fulfilled in the Sacrifice of the Cross, renewed at Mass; it is an extraordinarily primitive, antique mindset compared to the more refined Greek view; under this scheme of things a general council may issue canons or statements on any array of topics, but only what it says de fide is worth remembering and only then as an act of clarification of what had already been held.

"We Westerners, we Latins" do not have the pneumatology developed by the Cappadocian Fathers in the fourth century. We have general works on the Trinity by the likes of Ss. Ambrose and Augustine as well as later writers like Richard of St. Victor. The Holy Spirit and the Holy Trinity seem to be taken for granted in the Roman liturgical and theological tradition and why should that be a bad thing? Would it not speak to our pre-conciliar belief in such things? John Henry Newman wrote in one of his "plain and parochial" sermons that he rarely preached specifically about the Holy Ghost because the cardinal felt He was already and always at work within the Christian populace, moving hearts, directing paths, and forming instincts.

Our sermonist did concede that we Latins sing to the Holy Spirit and about the Holy Spirit quite well. "The Veni Sancte Spiritus is meant to be sung beautifully today, not mumbled at the altar," he told us at the spoken Mass. I was able to hear Veni Creator Spiritus during Vespers at the Brompton Oratory for Pentecost and on [what should have been] the Octave day of the Ascension at Westminster Cathedral's new rite Vespers.

A happy Pentecost to all you Latins who do not deliberate too often on the question of the Holy Spirit because you know He's been with you all along, ever since Baptism.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Many Happy Returns: Oxford

I recently returned from a week and a half visiting old acquaintances at Oxford and making some new ones in London, escaping those Excel spreadsheets from the office, and immersing myself in my Office. It was a pleasure to return to Oxford, where I spent some happy time reading medieval history as a student, where I first became interested in the medieval enhancement of the basic Roman liturgy and when my faith genuinely came alive. The city is much the same, but in many ways different from when I lived there seven years ago. What follows are poorly devised observations. Some proper reflections on architecture, the service of Vespers, the significance of symbolism, the "good life", and friendship will come in future weeks.


First, the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin is very much the University church in that it reflects both the interests and the religiosity of the University. A greeting table and several pro-gay banners obstructed the Rood screen. On the other side a minister began a said Eucharist service with one or two lay Anglicans in attendance; Chinese tourists snapped away with their cameras. Both Thomas Cranmer and Saint Edmund Campion were listed among the martyrs of the Reformation on the church wall. Rather than dwell on it I went to the nearest tobacconist, bought a Hoyo de Monterry No. 2, and took a morning constitution through the University Gardens.


Oxford has several gardens and the various colleges each have their own. Most people ambulate through the meadows of Christ Church College because the entrance is free and easy to access off Saint Aldate's Street. Instead I selected the quiet respite of Magdalen's gardens, where the hedge work is less deliberate, the deer are free to roam, and a mile or two path can take one out of radar range of the bustling tourism on the High.

After some time reminiscing a friend at the Ashmoleon arranged for a papal audience with the former Bishop of Rome, Prospero Lambertini.


The Pontifex emeritus and I dilated at length about the state of the liturgy, the resurgence of the old Holy Week, and his current successor. When I asked if we should return to the books in force during the reign of Pius X his holiness retorted "I forbade even Masses of the Sacred Heart. Why should my words carry less weight than those of Sarto?" When I pushed him to comment on the current pontiff he said, "De mortuis nil neque vivis."

A friend and I took leave of the Holy Father and instead opted for a nice luncheon at Le Manoir in Great Milton, about half an hour's drive from Oxford, where a pimply sommelier refused to believe his wine selection for the gazpacho did not work; the rest of the meal was a masterpiece. Le Manoir is almost worth a visit for its own sake, a 15th century manor house-turned-restaurant that grows all its own vegetables on a few acres; the scent of several varieties of thymes, lemongrass, and flowers from the Japanese garden perfume the air around the estate.


Finally, I revisited the Oxford Oratory for the 8AM Mass and sung Latin Vespers in the evening, the first time I have attended Western-rite Vespers since leaving Oxford seven years ago. I revisited also the chapel of Saint Philip Neri, founder of the Oratory and the "Third Apostle" to the City of Rome. Philip, not unlike Francis of Assisi, was perhaps not as crazy as we imagine, but his absolute detachment from the world was certainly jarring and attractive to his followers. In our age material wealth and instant entertainment have made possible what in Philip's day were merely tempestuous thoughts, and yet it is Philip's assimilation of indifference to the world and real love of neighbor that re-converted Rome's heart. I have maintained a devotion to Saint Philip these years and would encourage anyone unfamiliar with his life to acquaint himself. There is a reason new oratories seem to sprout up every year and it is not because people want to wear fiddleback chasubles.

More later. Some random thoughts to finish:

  • there are a lot more German speakers in Oxford than in my day
  • the tabloids loved this Royal wedding as much as the last, but the retailers did not
  • attendance at the 1962 Mass at the Oratory is stagnant; their Solemn Novus Ordo is down a bit owing to other churches in the area imitating the practice (not a bad thing really)
  • during my visit two different people encouraged me to read AN Wilson's Unguarded Hours about "Staggers" in the '70s, which produced some remarkably good and bad Anglican clergy during that decade
  • the number of homeless in Oxford must have doubled and no one seems interested in doing anything about it

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Devotionalism: Its Relation to Religion


Proper devotion, as noted by the Thomistic reference in the previous installment, is tied intrinsically to the practice of religion. While a particular devotion might have grass roots it must have a close relation to the religious practice of the Church if it can be considered a Catholic devotion. There is little necessary in the way of a formal process of ecclesiastical approval; indeed, aside from recognition in the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum or outright condemnation there is little to stand in the way of a devotion from developing however its devotees wish.

In an age when the faithful were more attuned to the movements and rhythms of Tradition, one could more easily trust the common instinct as sensus fidelium. The iconoclastic movement of the Counter-Reformation shifted devotionalism to a clergy-approved process, but the modern age has seen even priests turning skeptic. Devotionals tend to be split between extreme populist practices (consecrations to St. Joseph, various novenas, private revelations) and those safely approved and promulgated (Divine Mercy chaplets, miraculous medals).

The practices of religious orders were the source of most popular devotions. From the formal prayer of the psalter or breviary has sprung the Rosary, books of hours, little offices, parochial vespers, and many more. Every popular form of scapular comes from a religious habit. Consecrations to Christ and Mary take the form of quasi-religious vows. The admonition to have a “rule of life” is a derivation of the strict order of monastic living.

The ancient practice of pilgrimage developed in a multitude of ways from its roots in the Jewish Passover, and devotions like the Stations of the Cross and “round-the-block” processions are simplified extrapolations from its basic principles. So too are derived the various labyrinths of medieval cathedrals.

The kalendar found popular expression in the dedication of months to saints and Christological aspects, usually tied into a particular feast found in that month. The same is often applied to the days of the week, but to far more questionable effect.

When devotions move away from their roots they begin to take on lives of their own. The Rosary gains a fourth set of mysteries and loses all symbolic connection to the 150 psalms. The brown scapular is handed out like candy by everyone but the Carmelites and becomes a garment of superstition. The vigil is disconnected from its complex roots in the Roman Rite and Breviary, and becomes a way to escape going to Mass on Sunday mornings. Unless it maintains strong roots in Tradition, devotionalism slips into rigid atomization and restless novelty.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Devotionalism: An Introduction


It was nearly a year ago, I think, that His Traddiness requested I start a series on devotionalism in the Church, as much for my own edification as for that of our readers. My discomfort with popular devotions began during my early movements toward the Church out of my schismatic beginnings and never entirely disappeared. Even that most benign devotional, the Rosary, was soaked with such an overwhelming perfume of sickly sweetness that it took over a year before I felt comfortable praying it without suspicion.

My background in Neo-Reformed spirituality subsumed the entire spiritual life within the prayerful, careful study of Holy Writ. Exegesis upon the literal meaning of the sacred texts was simultaneously the closest intimacy with the Divine Mind. Sentimentality was rarely permitted except when meditating on the comfort provided by God’s preservation of the elect forever in a state of salvation. Even the traditionally Calvinist hymns were triumphalist and overwhelmed by the awe inspired by divinity. Christ was seen as judge or as a means to the end of justification and atonement, rarely as a person capable of giving or desiring charitable passions.

The effeminate paintings of the Savior that spread like mold across the walls of our parishes only further the divide between the old world and the new. It is difficult to take icons that resemble the “bearded ladies” of outmoded circuses seriously, and pastel-drenched images of the Blessed Virgin and the multitude of saints only compound the difficulties.

Even worse are the devotionals that demand certain emotional outpourings of which not all people are capable—at least not at all times nor on command—and which create scruples when the devotee fails to correctly conjure them up. The texts used for the Stations of the Cross at a local parish during Lent, for example, insist on a very particular emotional state of mind in those reading the responses and add further problems by surprising the laity with statements that, on a literal level, amount to solemn vows.

This demand for emotional conformity has found its way into the liturgy of the New Mass as normally celebrated. Anyone in the pews who does not appear to be emoting in lockstep with the cantor and peace-givers is either shunned or chided from the pulpit. Individuals are commonly offended if you show a disinterest in their peculiar devotions or decline the offer of a plastic sacramental.

My own spirituality has been—understandably, I hope—somewhat reactionary and similar to what it was in my “Young, Restless, and Reformed” days: studious, technically theological, and suspicious of emotionality. It is easy for someone like this to lose track of the liturgical year, to have to be reminded of traditional fasts, feasts, and vigils. (Indeed, when one kalendar is being used by most Catholics, another by most traditionalists, and yet another by a minority of Roman Rite historians, it is difficult to feel vitally connected to a sense of annual ritual.) When I read of the spiritual practices found in ancient Catholic nations, I admire them with a touch of jealousy, but with little sense that I can participate in anything noticeably similar.

But while I have written skeptically about some devotions in the past, I am far from denying their efficacy for many souls, and farther still from suggesting a prohibition on any but those based on pure fabrications (see nearly everything I have written about St. Joseph to date). I also recognize that my spirituality of study is not profitable for all, and that it is wrought with its own dangers. The primal admonition that faith without works is dead rings true as well; one feels a deep need to participate in the pilgrimages, fasts, vespers, and processions of old, even if their forms must be recreated from scratch in the modern world. Something that once would have seemed commonplace, like making and keeping a vow of pilgrimage, is now itself seen as devotional nonsense by church ladies who gush lovingly over images of Divine Mercy Jesus.

“Devotion,” Aquinas writes, “is an act of the will to the effect that man surrenders himself readily to the service of God.” He argues also that devotion is tied intrinsically to the practice of religion, and is not something that normally stands alone as a simple act of charity. The privatization of devotion is a real danger in our increasingly atomistic world, as is the imposition of the devotional whims of the few upon the many.

The intent of this series is to look afresh at devotions in the Catholic life, especially those old and discarded: the pilgrimages, the processions, the sponsorship of mystery plays by guilds, and so forth. Can they be revived? Would the attempt be a foolish bit of antiquarianism? Let us hope not.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Viri Galilaei, Quid Statis Aspicientes in Caelum?


"I may be allowed to say that the disciples' slowness to believe that the Lord had indeed risen from the dead, was not so much their weakness as our strength. In consequence of their doubts, the fact of the Resurrection was demonstrated by many infallible proofs. These proofs we read and acknowledge. What then assureth our faith, if not their doubt? For my part, I put my trust in Thomas, who doubted long, much more than in Mary Magdalene, who believed at once. Through his doubting, he came actually to handle the holes of the Wounds, and thereby closed up any wound of doubt in our hearts." —St. Gregory the Great, 29th sermon on the Gospels

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Special Kyrie

Henri du Mont wrote during an unusual time, the period well after the Renaissance, when polyphony and plainsong were common and quite separate, and the pre-Vatican II era, when the high Mass was dominated by noisesome, loud sing-songy tunes in Latin. Du Mont's Messe Royale falls somewhere between plainsong, polyphony, and the pre-Vatican II method. It is not quite plainsong, since it is timed, but follows the notation and pattern. It is not polyphonic properly, since it contains a singular, flowing melody. And it is not of the 1950ish variety due to its time of writing, although it probably has the most in common with these.

Not unlike Josquin de Prez's Missa Pange Linguae, the Messe Royale begins each setting of the Ordinary with the same melody, although unlike Josquin the Messe Royale does not explicitly borrow from an extant Gregorian melody, unless a uniquely Gallican tune escapes me. In fact each part of the Messe Royale begins with the same melody, which over the course of the Mass becomes repetitive.

It is not an especially fine Mass, but the Kyrie for the Messe Royale as interpreted by the choir of Saint Just, the FSSP parish in Lyon, is very special. Saint Just offers a rendition of this Kyrie, intended for the private chapel of Louis XIV, with a mix of Old Roman droning and the French style of organ Mass. Despite mixing the eighth and eighteenth centuries, it works extraordinarily well and is quite moving. The domineering presence of God that this sort of music proclaims mimics the song of the angels (it is the remembrance of Saint Michael's apparition today) and might compel some to put down their hand Missals and just think about God for a moment. I would like to hear a happy Gregorian or polyphonic Gloria after this Kyrie, but this sort of music absolutely has a place and offers ambitious choirs something to aspire to after perfecting the seasonal settings of Mass. One does not need to sing Palestrina for special occasions. This sort of music will do.

On another note, I will be in London and Oxford for the next two weeks and happily away from my computer. J and Fr. Capreolus will keep the posts and comments rolling, so don't stop reading. Please keep me in your kind prayers.