Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Gaudeamus Omnes! Assumpta Est Maria in Caelum!

Below is an annual repost of one of the more insightful liturgical articles on this blog.


*     *     *

Liturgical theology is, according to Aidan Kavanagh, not a theological examination of the liturgy, but theology done by means of the liturgy. Liturgy is the theologia prima of the Church. When someone asks a Catholic how to learn more about the faith, the believer never directs the inquirer to obtain a copy of Denzinger. Invariably, the believer tells the non-Catholic to go to Mass (and hopefully at a carefully selected location). With this in mind, let us [very succinctly] consider what the Church told and taught us about the Assumption of the Mother of God today.

Apse of St. Mary Major with mosaic of Mary as Queen of Heaven,
crowned by and reigning with Christ.
source: Rad Trad's collection
Mattins—or the "vigil," as Dobszay insisted on calling the first major hour—consists of nine psalms and readings divided evenly into three nocturnes. Contrary to the eccentric and rich local traditions of northern Europe, which created special texts for Marian feasts, the Roman rite retains a primitive and sparse text. The psalms and hymns for the feast are typical of any Marian feast prior to the 1860s when Pius IX issued a unique liturgy for the Immaculate Conception. Where the Assumption stands alone is in the Mattins lessons and the text of the Mass. According to Dom Gueranger: 
"the Lord Pope went to St Mary Major, where, surrounded by his court, he celebrated First Vespers. At the beginning of the night the Matins with nine lessons were chanted in the same church.
"Meanwhile an ever-growing crowd gathers on the piazza of the Lateran, awaiting the Pontiff's return.... Around the picture of the Saviour, within the sanctuary, stand twelve bearers who form its perpetual guard, all members of the most illustrious families, and near them are the representatives of the senate and of the Roman people.
"But the signal is given that the papal retinue is redescending the Esquiline. Instantly lighted torches glitter on all sides, either held in the hand, or carried on the brancards of the corporations. Assisted by the deacons, the Cardinals raise on their shoulders the holy image, which advances under a canopy, escorted in perfect order by the immense multitude. Along the illuminated and decorated streets, amid the singing of the psalms and the sound of instruments, the procession reaches the ancient Triumphal Way, winds round the Coliseum, and, passing through the arches of Constantine and Titus, halts for a first Station on the Via Sacra, before the church called St Mary Minor.... In this church, while the second Matins with three lessons are being chanted in honor of the Mother, some priests wash, with scented water in a silver basin, the feet of the her Son, our Lord, and then sprinkle the people with the water thus sanctified. Then the venerable picture sets out once more, crosses the Forum amidst acclamations.... it at least enters the piazza of St Mary Major. Then the delight and the appluse of the crowd are redoubled; all, men and women, great and little, as we read in a document of 1462 (archivio della Compagnia di Sancta Sanctorum), forgetting the fatigue of a whole night spent without sleep, cease not till morning to visit and venerate our Lord and Mary. In this glorious basilica, adorned as a bridge, the glorious Office of Lauds celebrates the meeting of the Son and the Mother and their union for all eternity." (The Liturgical Year, August 15)
All rungs of Roman society paused regular life and joined Christ and Mary in the divine life for a night and an octave, celebrating Mary joining her Son in eternity and anticipating their own union with Christ in eternity. Mary was the first of what Christ wants all Christians to become by the Sacraments, albeit in a lesser degree.

The first three lessons are extracted from chapter 1 of the Song of Songs:
1 Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth: for thy breasts are better than wine,2 Smelling sweet of the best ointments. thy name is as oil poured out: therefore young maidens have loved thee.3 Draw me: we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments. The king hath brought me into his storerooms: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, remembering thy breasts more than wine: the righteous love thee.4 I am black but beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Cedar, as the curtains of Solomon.5 Do not consider me that I am brown, because the sun hath altered my colour: the sons of my mother have fought against me, they have made me the keeper in the vineyards: my vineyard I have not kept.6 Show me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou liest in the midday, lest I begin to wander after the flocks of thy companions.7 If thou know not thyself, O fairest among women, go forth, and follow after the steps of the flocks, and feed thy kids beside the tents of the shepherds.8 To my company of horsemen, in Pharao's chariots, have I likened thee, O my love.9 Thy cheeks are beautiful as the turtledove's, thy neck as jewels.10 We will make thee chains of gold, inlaid with silver.11 While the king was at his repose, my spikenard sent forth the odour thereof.12 A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me, he shall abide between my breasts.13 A cluster of cypress my love is to me, in the vineyards of Engaddi.14 Behold thou art fair, O my love, behold thou art fair, thy eyes are as those of doves.15 Behold thou art fair, my beloved, and comely. Our bed is flourishing.16 The beams of our houses are of cedar, our rafters of cypress trees.

Some of these verses are very sensual and even sexual. Let no one say that the medievals were prudish on matters of intimacy! These verses can be applied both as the Church's acclamation to the Virgin, joyfully exclaiming her maternal nurturing of us Christians working out our salvation in fear and trembling. These words can also, with some care and reservation, be interpreted as a dialogue between Mary and her Creator. The first verse "Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth: for thy breasts are better than wine" speaks to Mary on a level of intimacy that no man ever knew, but Christ did. He nursed from her, yes, but He, in the Father, also created her in accordance with His divine plan for mankind. The image of the breast conjures immature sexual ideas today, but previous peoples instantly affiliated it with nurturing and familial ties: the affection of the husband, the nurturing of the children—two kinds of love, the second generated from the first, which reflects the Divine Love. At this level of power and privacy did Mary know God, of course without the sexual element. Should the dialogue interpretation continue, Mary is both removed from conventions "I am black, but I am beautiful" and presented as close with God on the level of bride in the King's chamber, as the versicle before the third nocturne says.

The readings in the second nocturne come from St. John of Damascus' second treatise on the Dormition of the Mother of God. These readings replaced the writings of St. Dionysius of the [pseudo] Areopagite —which would have been the lessons read at St Mary Minor—with the Tridentine reforms. St. John explains the typology of the Virgin, her prefigurement in the Ark of the Covenant, which housed the old promise between God and mankind, and its fulfillment in her, who housed the new and eternal promise between God and mankind. And like Christ, she did not refuse death, but embraced it as a path to life away from the death wrought by Adam:
"From her true life had flowed for all men, and how should she taste of death? But she yielded obedience to the law established by Him to Whom she had given birth, and, as the daughter of the old Adam, underwent the old sentence, which even her Son, Who is the very Life Itself, had not refused; but, as the Mother of the living God, she was worthily taken by Him unto Himself."
In the treatise from which the above passage in extracted, the Damascene saint goes on to teach that Mary's body could only be assumed into heaven because its use by Christ consecrated it as a thing of heaven. The treatise goes on to recount the entire event of the Dormition and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, which ran the course of three days:
"An ancient tradition has been handed down to us, that, at the time of the glorious falling-asleep of the blessed Virgin, all the Apostles, who were wandering throughout the world preaching salvation to the Gentiles, were caught up aloft in the twinkling of an eye, and met together in Jerusalem. And when they were all there, a vision of Angels appeared to them, and the chant of the heavenly powers was heard; and so with divine glory she gave up her soul into the hands of God. But her body, which bore God in an effable manner, being lifted up amid the hymns of Angels and Apostles was laid in a tomb in Gethsemane. There for three whole days the angelic song was heard.
"But after three days, the chant of the Angels ceased, and the Apostles who were present (for Thomas, the only one who had been absent, came after the third day, and wished to adore the body which had borne God) opened the tomb; but they could by no means find her sacred body in any part of it. But when they only found those garments in which she had been buried, and were filled with indescribable fragrance which emanated from them, they closed the tomb. Amazed at this wonderful mystery they could only think that he, who had been pleased to take flesh from the Virgin Mary, to be made man, and to be born though he was God the Word, and the Lord of glory, he who had preserved her virginity without stain after childbirth, should also have been pleased to honor her pure body after her death, keeping it incorrupt, and translating it into Heaven before the general resurrection." 
The best sermon this writer ever heard preached about the Assumption, or "Dormition" given the setting, was that of a Melkite deacon. Paraphrasing and condensing ten minutes into a few sentences, "Heaven and earth were not vast enough to hold Gods' glory, but Mary's womb was. Christ received His Divine nature when He was begotten of the Father in eternity. He received His human nature when He was conceived and born of Mary in time. When her earthly course was run, Mary died and her body was taken into heaven by the One Who created her because it was inconceivable that the womb which ore God-made-Man could decay in the ground. But this does not separate Mary from mankind. God became united to mankind through her. Mary was the first. We will never know God as closely as she did on earth, except perhaps when we receive Holy Communion, but we can pray to know Him in eternity because of her."

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico
source: joyfulheart.com
At the third nocturne we arrive at the Gospel of the day, also used in the Mass of the day. The pericope, Luke 10:38-42, is the same Gospel story applied in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the Greek tradition for this feast, adding verses 11:27-28. The last verses used in the Byzantine liturgy highlight the entire point of the Gospel for this day: "And it came to pass, as he spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it." Is any depiction in pre-modern art more popular than that of the Annunciation? Mary became special because she bore Christ. She is a powerful intercessor with Him, indeed the most powerful intercessor with Him precisely for this reason. But also for this reason Mary is not a lone, solitary figure of power. She matters because wherever she is, Christ is nearby. Practically every depiction of the Virgin before the vulgar kitsche artwork of the 19th century showed Mary and our Lord Jesus together. In the various pieta paintings and sculptures, the great paintings depicting the Crucifixion and Norman rood screens recounting the same event, and first millennium holy images—Eastern and Western alike—Mary is with her Son. So let us agree with the woman in the crowd: blessed is the womb that bore the Lord! And then let us turn our attention from Mary to Christ by hearing the word of God and by keeping it.

Culminating with the Mass, the Introit invites us to enter into the heavenly abode of joy, elevated from the earthly joy and instruction in Mattins and Lauds, as well as the rites local to the diocese of Rome described by Gueranger above. In the Mass God's presence begins as a mystic one and elevates into a literal presence that can be seen and touched, a presence similar to the one Mary knew as Christ's mother. The collect of the Mass is among the best in the Roman tradition:
"Forgive, O Lord, we beseech thee, the sins of thy servants: that we who by our own deeds are unable to please thee, may be saved by the intercession of the Mother of thy Son our Lord."
This collect, as Fr. Hunwicke has stated, is the theology of Mary East and West. What words could better express our Lady's place in the plan of salvation? The Mass became the integral part of the Assumption liturgy and, in time, many stunning settings of the Mass were written by the great polyphonic and choral composers. Palestrina's setting of the Ordinary of Mass is a personal favorite. The below sequence of videos has both the proper chants and Palestrina's setting concatenated, as for a Mass.




Lastly, the feast is an octave. This blog has discussed in other posts the concept of the eighth day and the theology of the Resurrection. Christ rose on the eighth day after He entered Jerusalem and He appeared to the Apostles on the eighth day after that, one octave after another. Moreover, the Resurrection constitutes the eighth day of the week, the new day of Creation, or re-creation. Mary's tomb, like her Son's was found empty. While the myrrh-bearing women and the Apostles Peter and John only found a few burial garments in Christ's tomb, Mary's tomb was found full of flowers and sweet scents. Christ's Resurrection brought mystery only clarified with the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Mary's Assumption was clear and a fruit of Christ's Resurrection. 

Unfortunately, this historic and gladsome liturgy was altered in 1950 after Pius XII's definition of the Assumption—wherein he says nothing new and clears up none of the controversy stemming from the chirpy immortalist crowd, even if the accompanying letter did in fact say she died. The Office readings were altered severely: the first reading is now taken from Genesis chapter 3 and the next two readings from Corinthians (the same passage used in the Requiem Mass). The Pope's encyclical Munificentissimus Deus replaces one of the lessons from St. John of Damascus. The hymns are new and utterly ghastly. And the Mass is entirely new. The Introit is no longer an invitation to joy, but instead an excerpt from Revelation chapter 12. The collect is banal beyond belief and the Gospel is the account of the Annunciation heard at practically every Marian feast now other than the Immaculate Conception. Of all the changes to the feast in 1950, the insertion of Genesis chapter 3 at Mattins and the new Introit of Mass stand out most. Far from according to a "hermeneutic of continuity" with the previous liturgy, these texts exude the images of plaster statues and devotional lithographs so common in the 19th and early 20th century. Who has not seen a plaster statue of the Virgin, clothed in blue, perhaps with a bulbous baroque crown rimmed in twelve stars, standing on a blue globe and crushing the head of a green snake? The problem that arises from this depiction of Mary as crushing sin and standing above the moon, crowned with stars is not so much what it says as much as what it fails to say. The Mary of these images, pieces of art, and, to some extent, devotions is an aggrandized Mary not entirely dependent on Christ for her importance. There is nothing wrong with these texts doctrinally, but they replace other texts that were more coherent, beautiful, and holistically reflective of the Church's understanding of our Lady. The octave was stripped in 1955.

As with Holy Week, the same people who created the Pauline liturgy restored a few small portions of what they vitiated in the 1950s. The old Gaudeamus omnes Introit is made available as an option. The Mass as a whole is just as bad as the Pian Mass though. The readings are respectively Revelation 12 and the 1951-1969 Mattins readings from Corinthians; the Gospel is again the Annunciation. Mattins The Office of Readings gives Ephesians 1:16-2:10 and again Pius XII's encyclical as the lessons. The mystical understanding of Mary in union with Christ, representing the Church, and the link between the God-Man and mankind is obscured or forgotten. Who can deny that even the most pious of Roman Catholics—far better people than the Rad Trad—only know of Mary through the kitsch statue or as the object of the line "Hail, full of grace"? Again, there is nothing strictly heterodox about this folkish interpretation, but it comes at the cost of the stronger, traditional interpretation of the feast.

On a happy note I know of at least one priest who celebrated the old Mass and kept the old Office for August 15 and the octave! This feast, like so many of the most ancient feasts in the Roman rite, brings the faithful deep into the mens of the Church and her theology of the mysteries of God.

Gaudeamus omnes in Domino!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Provincial Faith


Peter Mayle glamorized Provence and re-ignited a middle class tourist interest in what had mostly been the getaway destination for Hollywood and nobility, but for most of history, even 20th century history, Provence has been a hilly, warm place where very rural people have made a hard, honest living in agriculture and viticulture. Above is a French documentary, partially in a Provencial dialect and mercifully subtitled in English, which looks back at this fleeting way of life through the eyes of two brother farmers who have known nothing other than old Provence, its narrow and simple way of life, its difficulties and leisure. It is the world Carey Grant characters and Mayle look at with a charmed condescension and which their successors may not have to bat around for much longer.

Relevant to this blog, the two brothers discuss the decline of Catholic practice in Provence around 26:30. The brother in the rear seems somewhat relieved to know that students today will not need to heed a "second education" by learning catechism by rote from a rigorist priest during a two hour escape from school. Still, they lament a general decline in religion and belief and recall that during their youth the people in general were quite devout, the priest covering 16 "kilometers", whatever those are, to say three Masses and return to town at night for Vespers. It was a hard faith to keep in practice, but it permeated the community and so they kept it. It is the same ingrained rural Catholic culture which existed outside of Paris during the Revolution, which survived World War II, but could not survive modern political and philosophical trends outside of places like Le Chamblac under Quintin Montgomery-Wright. The two brothers themselves question whether there is an afterlife, their eyes hoping that these old men will be surprised to learn that what the world has told them in their age is wrong.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

As Geese in the Midst of Wolves


The passing of the pastoral torch at the local Tradistani parish has caused minor unrest among the flock. Thankfully the move had nothing to do with scandal. The outgoing pastor Fr. Smiles was a decent administrator and fund raiser. As a catechist and sermonizer he toed the FSSP line of neo-Thomism and Counter-Reformational priestly clericalism, in addition to his own peculiar ideas about the proper behavior of "traditional" laity. He was of great spiritual help to certain close friends of mine, so I have no wish to speak especially ill of him, but his ideals of total obedience to clerical authority and of silence concerning their known faults are disturbingly similar to the behaviors that allowed predators like Cdl. McCarrick and Rev. Maciel to flourish.

One thing I have noticed among Catholics discussing the #MeToo round of the sex abuse scandal is how exhausted people get after their initial flurry of indignant fund-witholding and commission-demanding. They want things back to normal. They want to be able to trust their priests and bishops again, by which they mean they want to revert back to the point where they do not have to think about how their pastor spends his personal time or about how the bishop allocates the diocese's charitable giving. They want to be unthinkingly passive and receptive to sermons and confessional advice.

The latest revision to the Catechism condemning the mortal execution of criminals is a red herring that well-meaning but unclever Catholics follow until the trail dead-ends far away from the real threat. One of the great improvements of Catholic morality upon even the best of pagan classicalism was the abhorrence of sodomy and of what we now call sexual grooming. Ancient Athenians and Spartans winked at such relationships, but until modern times one could not find a large contingent of Christians who would recommend anything but a severe punishment for a man who so destroyed the life of a child. Recent popes have made a show of punishing the clerics sloppy enough to get caught with a life of solitary reflection and supposed penance. The elimination of the ultimate punishment for worldly crime is timely, one might say. St. Gregory the Great would have hung these beasts by their own bowels from the Pons Fabricius as a warning for others.

Catholics comfort themselves with platitudes about the coming "conservative" generation of priests that will replace the white-haired perverts en masse, forgetting that each generation is chosen and formed by the previous. The unspoken desire is the desire to relax, to dissolve anxiety and simply be able to trust one's betters. How quickly we forget that eternal vigilance is the price of protecting the young from monsters.

But vigilance has its own price in a perpetual distrust of the clergy. Cynicism is difficult to avoid when one is always on the lookout for simonists and sodomites. Orthodoxy is difficult to maintain when one does not know if a Roman declaration is motivated entirely by politics and lacks the proper weight to require assent. Spiritual survival in the postconciliar reality requires courage, wit, and good humor more than it needs fear and hatred. The latter is easier to cultivate than the former. To laugh without bitterness is the quality of saints.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Your Old [Wo]men Will Dream Dreams: Mysticism and Its Pitfalls

"All familiarity with women was to be avoided, and not less with those who are spiritual,
or at least those who wish to appear so."
"When will you finally submit, Rad Trad?"
"To what?" I replied to my friend.
"To the teachings of the mystics."
"I was unaware they taught anything specifically requiring submission."
"Just admit St. Joseph wasn't some old crumb."
"He needed a nap."

Thus transpired a brief dialogue about a book called The Life of Mary as Seen by the Mystics. Call me a grouch, like Saint Joseph, but this writer holds in high suspicion any sort of mystical revelation, especially those coming from women, which purports to add to received Tradition, modify it, or fill in its purported holes. Divine Revelation is like a great feast: more than enough to slake one's hunger and fulfill one's curiosity, although what is served is not everything that grows in the garden. Similarly, God has given us more than just the means of salvation, but also the means to holiness in this life and to know the family that is the Church, but there is more to God and the life of Christ than what is known to us; He has not seen it necessary for us to know these things, either because they are not essential to our salvation or because we cannot begin to understand them. I, for one, am fine with that.

Private visions, which are not always revelations, present a difficulty in living the Christian life. One cannot live alone by the cold, manualistic outlook on the faith that died in the years after Vatican II, whereby the truth of Christ is reduced to trite formulations to be memorized and regurgitated in the decades that follow. "Every baptized person is a mystic," said a Romanian Catholic monk during my parish's Lentent retreat, and he is right. Every baptized person enjoys the inner dwelling of the Holy Trinity, the voice of God in his conscience, and the trials God presents in quotidian interactions and struggles. It is no extraordinary thing that a Christian have a vision of the Virgin encouraging repentance of one's poorly lived life or that a Catholic hear the voice of Christ tell him to do something pivotal to his own salvation.

Many of the most memorable saints were people who had visions. My own dear Saint Philip Neri had one ecstasy—which made him suspicious of ecstasies in general—that culminated in him receiving the Holy Spirit by fire and beginning the Oratory. Saint John of the Cross needs no introduction. Padre Pio, the last saint of the old school, seemed to be a daily visionary, seeing into the souls of his penitents to help them confess their sins well; he, like Francis before him, came to share in the sufferings of Christ and became a channel for others to desire the same.

Where visions go off track and muddy the cleansing waters of the faith is when they become "revelations". In short, the more information a vision contains, the less likely this poor soul is to trust it. And anything specifically promising salvation I ignore out of hand; if Baptism will not guarantee salvation then what good is a piece of brown fabric? This is not to say a private revelation is inherently impossible; the messages of Lourdes and Knock are fairly simple demands of penitence, regardless of how the religious tourism industry amplifies and extends their messages. Like the visions of Philip, John of the Cross, and Padre Pio, a private revelation can be true and contribute to the Church if it compels people to conversion, to fulfill whatever God desires of them, and to live and pray according to the established ways of the Church. Revelations that go beyond that warrant further scrutiny.

Private revelations full of what can only be called "additional information" are not new to the modern visionaries like Anne Catherine Emmerich, Maria Valtorta, and Adrienne von Speyr. In the middle ages the  various "Oes", a series of invocations to God beginning with "O", held great currency in England and promised salvation to whoever devoutly recited them. It was also during the later middle ages that the Brown Scapular, in a form abbreviated for laity, was found to guarantee evasion of hell and a prompt escape from purgatory for all who wore it. It was in this context of visionary sensationalism that Saint Francis de Sales wrote in the Philothea that a devout soul ought not seek visions or consolations, but only to convert to God. In the same light Prospero Cardinal Lambertini, later Benedict XIV, forbade liturgical devotions to the Sacred Heart, which at least emphasized the Passion of Christ more than any additional information on the life of Christ.

Perhaps the most difficult thing for those who lend credence to private revelations is the problem of separating what is true, what is false, and what can be rejected without imputing judgment on the purported seer. At what point is a seer right? A pious fraud? Malicious? Faustina Kowalska comes across as a woman who very much wants to be a saint, but imagining Christ called her the most precious of her creatures is offensive to pious ears. Maria Valtorta imagines Christ teaching the Apostles how to celebrate the Tridentine Mass, part of a fascinating series of devout hallucinations that captivated both Bishop Richard Williamson and William F. Buckley Jr.

Less difficult in discernment but just as wrong is the fact that some revelations provide this "additional information" which corrects received tradition. Anne Catherine Emmerich saw the Virgin's home in Ephesus, but every ecclesiastical writer from St. Dionysius through John Damascene and until fairly modern times held she died a mortal death in Jerusalem, and they even read the account of her death at Mattins of her feast until 1950. Similarly, Saint Joseph did not receive much consideration, but as far as he received any, the Fathers agreed that he was an older man with some children who navigated the confusion of the Virgin birth with prudence and caution; the mystics of the aforementioned book, however, see a virginal man slightly older than Mary. This may agree with the devotional literature found at the time, but it conflicts in every sense with tradition. If Joseph was a young virgin then why believe in the Assumption of the Virgin? At first these two items seem unrelated, however they are quite related. Much of what we know of Mary's family, early life, and the circumstances of her betrothal derive from a similar source as that of the Assumption, first and early second century extra-Biblical books that met Patristic pedigree. Indeed, there are no sources for the Assumption except those which claim the Virgin died in Jerusalem. Perhaps we should blame this discrepancy on a poor translation? Or is that fault reserved for Sr. Faustina's diary?

I would not give the mystics such a hard time if only there existed reason to believe there was something so exceptional about what they have to say.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

REVIEW: Unguarded Hours by AN Wilson

Some readers of this blog may not be very scandalized by the misdeeds committed by one Mr Theodore McCarrick and the ensuing media circus. In fact some may have been positively unphased by the revelation that a hierarch of the American Church is a predatory homosexual. The gay cabal is alive and well in Germany and America, and even seem to have gained enough currency with their man in Rome that no matter how badly they embarrass him, he will continue their agenda in gratitude for his election. The solution may well be to do what people did when John XII and Benedict IX were pope: ignore Rome and let it pay for its sins.

He was pope thrice, but
you may have missed him.
American Catholics are accustomed to the slightly effete parish priest who gets on more with female parishioners than men. This priest may occasionally mention how some doctrines may need some updating and how he cannot fathom why anyone wants to go back to that Latin Mass. During his Masses he always interrupts the rites with some commentary and invitation to community, which more often than not entails children unwillingly participating in a charade. We American Catholics rightly associate gay clergy with liberalism, narcissism, and the degradation of the liturgy. Traditional clergy, by contrast, are given poor assignments in poor parishes and must be robust men to deal with large families, convince people to improve the liturgy, and make changes to bad situations for the better; they may not always be the best men, but more often than not they are proper men.

In England, however, the paradigm is entirely inverted. Conservative environs, particularly liturgical environs, are nigh impossible to divorce from homosexual clergy. Latin Masses are especially the domain of aesthetes, aficionados of theater and music who may believe in large swatches of Catholic teaching and who see the Mass as the ultimate in dramatic enactment. They teach orthodox matter that they do not particular follow and which they have difficulty convincing others to follow.

In the span of four days in England four separate individuals pointed out this shambles of an affair and I asked each of them how such came to be, especially given that Catholicism in England before the turn of the 20th century was very poor, ethnic, ill-equipped, and un-glamorous. No one had a firm answer, but two of the four conversants recommended AN Wilson's Unguarded Hours.

"Had the Dean's daughter worn a bra that afternoon, Norman Shotover might never have found out about the Church of England; still less about how to fly," begins this very secular take on right wing religion in the Anglican Church. The author, Andrew Norman Wilson, wrote this thinly disguised memoir of his time as a student at St. Stephen's House, Oxford ("Staggers") in the '70s. The story begins and develops like an early work of Evelyn Waugh: a character of interest befalls a great misfortune and finds himself navigating stranger and stranger paths to security. Norman Shotever could easily exist in Scoop or Decline and Fall.

Staggers
In the story Norman Shotover notices the Dean of Selchester's daughter, a sexual miscreant, at an art gallery and ends up tardy for work. Some confusion finds Shotover fired and living in Selchester with his irreligious extended family. The only thing is that Gussy (an aunt?) has taken a boarder named Mr. Skegg, an alcoholic, taxi driver, and episcopus vagans, the sort of leader of a petite eglise which prevailed in Anglo-Catholicism throughout the 20th century: archbishops with congregations of two, self-styled canons with congegations of none, and all the necessary kit for a pontifical Mass at the Throne in Notre Dame de Paris. Norman's girlfriend, the Dean's daughter, cheats on him and in a moment of indiscretion he accepts priestly ordination from this indisputably valid bishop of nothing.

After accepted ordination from Mr Skegg, or "Mar Sylvestrius" as he prefers, Norman is encouraged to go into the Church of England's clergy, which is presented to him as a fallback plan for men who cannot make their way in the world. The local Anglo-Catholic parson, Fr. Crisp, introduces Norman to a St. Cuthbert's College, where he will study for one year before exercising ministry in the Anglican Church, for he is a priest, but not a licensed minister.

St. Cuthbert's opens a window to a new world of Benediction services, gay nights, witch craft, cottas, and anatomical devotions. His first day at the College Norman is given the name Sheila by Thelma Thinn. The head of the College was Fr. Felicity Finn and among the other students were Dahlia Dickens and Beryl Bottomley. The students of St. Stephen's Cuthbert's took "names in religion" upon entering this lugubrious bugger-factory. The only student without a "name in religion" wore a full morning suit daily.

At St. Cuthbert Norman is exposed to fuss over putting emblems of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on cottas, the need for liturgical propriety and doing incensations right, and the opportunity to spend the night with a "girl"—provided she is a man. Norman never accepts this offer, preferring to go to bed with his mistress, the Dean's other daughter, instead.

The Dean, with whom Norman must often bargain during the bishop's convalescence, is a more modern, mainstream Anglican cleric: he writes books advocating agnosticism, he does not believe in any conventional religious doctrine of any kind, he wishes for revolution, and he sees no better use of seminarians' time than rallying union employees. His daughters do not believe in marriage, but they do believe in open relationships.

I will refrain from revealing any further details of Unguarded Hours. I will not tell you that Mar Sylvestrius eloped with a seminarian and returned from his honeymoon as a mufti. I will not tell you that Norman's aunt leaves the petite eglise and embraces the Dean's revolutionary agnosticism. Nor will I tell you that two or three seminarians held witchcraft rites in various stages of undress to curse the aforementioned Dean, who they view as inimical to their desires for were described as the more risible elements of Roman Catholicism. Some of this novel is fiction, but not all of it.

The novel is worth a read and a contains more than a few good laughs. One thing is missing, though, that prevents Wilson from rising to the level of a young Waugh: there is no sense of innocence or goodness in the novel which is contained within Waugh's generally clueless and innocent characters. There are no good Christians in Unguarded Hours, just good men like Fr. Crisp and Fr. "Felicity" Fogg, who are good old souls that happen to be Christians. The ending is amusing enough that I will not unwind the denouement for any who may want to read it.

Perhaps most startling, at least within the context of Unguarded Hours, is how liturgically prissy the seminarians are, discussing cottas and the sufficiency of a service's style. When Norman arrives at St. Cuthbert's he finds the seminarians immensely interested in liturgical paraphernalia, not unlike Willis from Newman's Loss and Gain. Unlike Willis—who converts, becomes a Passionist priest, and speaks to Reding about how all is grace—the characters of Unguarded Hours remain focused on the accidentals of religion with absolutely no interest in the substance of the thing.

Such is the way of Sodom, which has many descendants, but no sons.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Rite of Michael Napier

Michael Napier joined the Brompton Oratory and was ordained to the priesthood in 1959. Ten years later he was elected to his first of four terms as provost of the London Oratorians and the Church of the Immaculate Conception which they serve. He was instructed in the faith under Msgr. Alfred Gilbey while a student at Cambridge, an arrangement which found itself somewhat returned when Msgr. Gilbey spend his retirement celebrating the old, pre-Pacellian rite of Mass every morning in the St. Wilfrid chapel of the Fr. Napier's parish. Any four-term leader has ample opportunity to shape the life of his community in an enduring fashion, but Napier's impression is so very extensive because his tenure began during the period of liturgical upheaval which wrought the Pauline liturgy. The result was what can only be called the Rite of Michael Napier, a rendition of both the new and old liturgy—Mass and Office—used at the Brompton Oratory.

Solemn Mass at Brompton, a mile down the road from Harrod's, is a great aesthetic pleasure and an illustration that the Pauline Mass can be quite beautiful, even if perhaps not having all the same qualities as the old. What is striking is the degree to which it is modeled after the old Mass.

Discussions of "ars celebrandi", as if celebrating Mass is an art rather than a sacred action, and the "hermeneutic of continuity" dominated the liturgosphere after Benedict XVI's election to the Apostolic See. Benedict's thesis that the new Mass is a natural evolution of the old spurred several different attempts to integrate pieces of pre-Conciliar liturgy into the 1970 Roman Missal: maniples, ad orientem, Latin, plainsong in any language, fiddleback chasubles, the "big six" on the altar, canonical digits, copes for processions, birettas, and anything else that was explicitly tossed out; this writer knows one priest who even began adding the Last Gospel to his new rites Masses.

The main difference between these Benedictine attempts at continuity and the Rite of Michael Napier is that the latter began with the old rite as the presumed model, but accepted the mandate to use the new texts. The result is that the same vestments, altar arrangements, ceremonial movements like the ministers aligning behind each other during the orations, musical selections, the silent Canon (as far as Quam oblationem) and other outwardly characteristic parts of the old liturgy naturally became part of the new. Although it seems like a natural evolution of the liturgy within the context of one specific parish, the decision to assimilate the Novus Ordo into the old outlook had to be a conscientious one given the destructive instincts of the age which brought the reforms to life.

This traditional new rite Mass eased the transition for the faithful accustomed to the old rite and even expanded the Oratory's base congregation. It is second only to Westminster cathedral in congregation size among Catholic churches in London. Today, rather than bridging from the old to the new, the Rite of Michael Napier functions in a semi-reverse fashion, showing traditional pieces of liturgy within the context of prayers and rhythm that the average parish-going Catholic already knows.

credit: John Aron

This last point may prove an issue if the Oratory ever wishes to revert to the old liturgy in the future. The current provost, Fr. Julian Large, is a bona fide traditionalist and has even celebrated the pre-Pacellian rites publicly. Any desire to change the standard Sunday Mass would require the unanimous consent of the Oratory Fathers. It happened in Birmingham; it has not yet happened in Oxford, although I suspect it will eventually.

But this discussion of the Mass does not complete the unique pastiche that is the Rite of Michael Napier, for it includes an Office, too. Their Compline is basically 1967, or so I am told, with the old structure and the reduced choir ceremonies. Vespers, however, follows no particular version of the Breviarium Romanum ever printed. Is it 1962? 1964? Paul VI? Yes, yes, and yes.

During solemn Vespers for Pentecost Sunday this year the Fathers followed the traditional ceremonies for assistants and cantors, their movements, and their intonations of the antiphons. During the incensation at the Magnificat the thurifer and assistant clearly followed the reduced choir observances of 1964's Inter oecumenici, with only the celebrant being incensed by the assistant, and then the thurifer incensing the clergy in three swings to each side. Textually Pentecost Sunday Vespers are not very different in 1962, 1964, and 1664, but the rest of the year can differ radically.

The general strategy for Vespers seems to be to follows 1962 without any commemorations and conform the rite to the Pauline kalendar wherever it may differ. For example, if July 1 falls on Sunday then Vespers will be of the Sunday and not of the Precious Blood. The Mass and Office of Christ the King fall on the last Sunday before Advent rather than on the last Sunday of October. The Advent feria is not commemorated for Vespers of the Immaculate Conception. The Alleluia is banished for Septuagesima season, but the services are celebrated in green until purple appears in the new rite on Ash Wednesday. And in a nod to the older old rite, the Fathers retain Ave Maris Stella as the Vespers hymn for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.

Had I lived in 1975 London, the Brompton Oratory would likely have been my home parish and a place of refuge for one caught in the tempests and tergiversations of destructive worship. Today it may be quite lovely, however the efforts to preserve liturgical orthopraxis have turned in a different direction. Today, the Rite of Michael Napier is less a bridge between the new and old rites and more a unique practice of the Oratory.

Next on the Rad Trad: a review of A.N. Wilson's Unguarded Hours

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

But Is It Correct?

Some years ago Rubricarius unearthed a complete Holy Week schedule for Westminster Cathedral in London, which provided full Offices, high Masses, and pontifical functions for every day of the Week in alignment with the praxis which prevailed from the High Middle Ages until 1955. Now a more generic weekly schedule from twenty-eight years prior in the same cathedral is making the rounds on the Blue Thing and liturgical journals. The schedule is remarkably full on many fronts, not just that the full Office was provided daily in recto tono (although it does say "sung" Vespers, which probably means chant) along with at least one high Mass, Confirmations, Baptisms, and the Churching of Women were so prevalent and in demand that they occurred at regularly scheduled times.

One of the odder features of the schedule, something quite spread throughout the pre-Conciliar world but not ubiquitous, was the irregularity of sermons and the practice of distributing Holy Communion outside of Mass. Some hardline commentators may be inclined to quite Counter-Reformation manuals which defend the medieval practice of only the priest communicating during Mass—something that happened due to laity fearing unworthy reception, not because the Church withheld the ciborium—but this writer for one finds this to be one of those strange pre-Conciliar practices that required some new thought.

Communion was an integral part of the Roman Mass from time immemorial until the Dark Ages began to give way to the Middle Ages in the 9th century or so. One chronicler, whose name eludes me, mentioned c.800 that the people of Rome used the fountains outside Saint Peter's to wash their hands in preparation for reception. Dr Laurence Hemming's brilliant Worship As Revelation describes the faithful bringing Holy Communion home in muslin bags for reception before the family meal throughout the week. Medieval piety, by contrast, emphasized the act of worship itself more than the Sacrament, perhaps because medieval man began to fear Communication in the state of sin more than those recently de-paganized people before him.

What is now called "frequent Communion" was not as uncommon in the Middle Ages as we now generally think. The Fourth Lateran Council required people to receive twice a year, once during Paschaltide and once at any other point, but this was merely a minimum. Duffy's Stripping of the Altars discovers several pious souls who made weekly Communions with the approval of their Confessors, who would feed them with the Heavenly Bread, not the celebrant of the Mass held at whichever altar in the parish that their own guild maintained. Infrequent Communion, now generally once a year and called "Easter Duty" seems more an unintentional product of the Counter-Reformation era, but not the Counter-Reformation itself. Jesuits and certain pious writers like Saint Francis de Sales favored a more frequent reception while Jansenists would have reduced Communion to an act of favoritism toward the righteous. The medieval custom was not necessarily wrong, but it was based on the assumption few people would receive at any given time. The more commonly monthly or biweekly Communions given in a 20th century cathedral would be ridiculous to hold at a side altar rather than within the context of Mass.

While the Westminster schedule provided for Communion between Masses it did not always provide a sermon. Modern Canon Law, unfortunately, does hold each Mass on Sundays and Holy Days to include a sermon whether we want one or not (can. 767.2). Canon 767.3 even asks for a weekday Mass sermon if people happen to be present, although the Pauline Mass, with Communion of 40 people, would not last 20 minutes without a sermon. The idea that a sermon is part of Mass is vastly accepted, well ingrained, and totally wrong. A sermon, or homily if I must, is part of the fundamental teaching authority of the bishop, not of a parish priest or curate. Priests were not permitted to preach without the explicit authorization of their ordinary until after Trent, and even then the faculty was used prudently. The bishop pontificates from a chair because the power to sit and speak—to pontificate—is proper to him and all responsibility for teaching the faithful eventually descends upon him, not the priest, whose main duty is to celebrate Mass, Baptize, and absolve sins in the bishop's absence. One could argue quite well that a sermon is a fundamental part of a pontifical Mass in the bishop's home diocese. To require a priest to preach at every Mass on every Sunday or Holy Day is to make him the bishop of his own parish, something Apostolic Succession says he is not.

One practical effect of making every Sunday and daily Mass into an opportunity for sermonizing is that the faith is rarely taught in a structured, catechetical way anymore. Parish schedules for the Archdiocese of Westminster in the 19th century typically put high Mass in the late morning, followed by some fellowship and a cathechism class around noon, and then Vespers and Benediction with a sermon around 3PM. Atomization in the Information Age and the availability of alternative forms of entertainment would certainly have broken up the coherence of these parish schedules to some extent, but today a poorly put together sermon full of platitudes about love is really all most people get. Narrowing the priest's teaching responsibilities to the fundamentals of the faith might ease his work and benefit the faithful more.

Besides, if every cleric can preach what will the Order of Preachers do?