Wednesday, December 19, 2018

O Radix Iesse

O radix Jesse * qui stas in signum populórum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabúntur: veni ad liberándum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, * which standest for an ensign of the people, at whom the kings shall shut their   mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek; come to deliver us, make no tarrying! 

"At length, O Son of Jesse! thou art approaching the city of thy ancestors. The Ark of the Lord has risen, and journeys, with the God that is in her, to the place of her rest. "How beautiful are thy steps, O thou daughter of the Prince," [Cant. vii. 1.] now that thou art bringing to the cities of Juda their salvation! The Angels escort thee, thy faithful Joseph lavishes his love upon thee, heaven delights in thee, and our earth thrills with joy to bear thus upon itself its Creator and its Queen. Go forward, O Mother of God and Mother of Men! Speed thee, thou propitiatory that holdest within thee the divine Manna which gives us life! Our hearts are with thee, and count thy steps. Like thy royal ancestor David, "we will enter not into the dwelling of our house, nor go up into the bed whereon we lie, nor give sleep to our eyes, nor rest to our temples, until we have found a place in our hearts for the Lord whom thou bearest, a tabernacle for this God of Jacob." [Ps. cxxxi. 3-5.] Come, then, O Root of Jesse! thus hid in this Ark of purity; thou wilt soon appear before thy people as the standard round which all that would conquer must rally. Then, their enemies, the Kings of the world, will be silenced, and the nations will offer thee their prayers. Hasten thy coming, dear Jesus! come and conquer all our enemies, and deliver us."
From Dom Prosper Gueranger's The Liturgical Year 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

O Adonai

O Adonaï, et dux domus Israël, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extenso.O Adonaï, and leader of the house of Israel! who appearedst to Moses in the fire  of the flaming bush, and gavest him the law on Sinai;  come and redeem us by thy  outstretched arm. 

O Sovereign Lord! O Adonaï! come and redeem us, not by thy power, but by thy humility. Heretofore, thou didst show thyself to Moses thy servant in the midst of a mysterious flame; thou didst give thy law to thy people amidst thunder and lightning; now, on the contrary, thou comest not to terrify, but to save us. Thy chaste Mother having heard the Emperor's edict, which obliges her and Joseph her Spouse to repair to Bethlehem, she prepares everything needed for thy divine Birth. She prepares for thee, O Sun of Justice! the humble swathing-bands, wherewith to cover thy nakedness, and protect thee, the Creator of the world, from the cold of that mid-night hour of thy Nativity! Thus it is that thou willest to deliver us from the slavery of our pride, and show man that thy divine arm is never stronger than when he thinks it powerless and still. Everything is prepared, then, dear Jesus! thy swathing-bands are ready for thy infant limbs! Come to Bethlehem, and redeem us from the hands of our enemies. 

From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger

Monday, December 17, 2018

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia; veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.O Wisdom, that proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end mightily, and disposing all things with strength and sweetness! come and teach us the way of prudence.
O Uncreated Wisdom! that art so soon to make thyself visible to thy creatures, truly thoudisposest all things. It is by thy permission, that the Emperor Augustus issues a decree ordering the enrolment of the whole world. Each citizen of the vast Empire is to have his name enrolled in the city of his birth. This prince has no other object in this order, which sets the world in motion, but his own ambition. Men go to and fro by millions, and an unbroken procession traverses the immense Roman world; men think they are doing the bidding of man, and it is God whom they are obeying. This world-wide agitation has really but one object; it is, to bring to Bethlehem a man and woman who live at Nazareth in Galilee, in order that this woman, who is unknown to the world but dear to heaven, and is at the close of the ninth month since she conceived her child, may give birth to this Child in Bethlehem, for the Prophet has said of him: "His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity. And thou, O Bethlehem I art not the least among the thousand cities of Juda, for out of thee He shall come." [Mich. v. 2; St Matth. ii. 6.]. O divine Wisdom! how strong art thou, in thus reaching Thine ends by means which are infallible, though hidden! and yet, how sweet, offering no constraint to man's free-will! and withal, how fatherly, in providing for our necessities! Thou choosest Bethlehem for thy birth-place, because Bethlehem signifies the House of Bread. In this, thou teachest us that thou art our Bread, the nourishment and support of our life. With God as our food, we cannot die. O Wisdom of the Father, Living Bread that hast descended from heaven, come speedily into us, that thus we may approach to thee and be enlightened [Ps. xxxiii. 6.] by thy light, and by that prudence which leads to salvation.
From Dom Prosper Gueranger's The Liturgical Year 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Left Behind: A Different Take on the Mass of Paul VI

There is no Last Gospel. The preparatory prayers are gone. There is a single Confiteor. The collects and readings are gone or moved. It is done facing the people. There is no more chant. This is different. That is different. So much is different.

Writers in the last five or six decades, whether defending or condemning the 20th century changes to the Roman rite, often focus on what is different and whether or not that is a good thing. What no one seems to talk much about is what the reformers retained from the old rite and how strange those things are, given the antiquarian motives behind the new liturgy. Is it not strange that certain ancient elements of the old rite went dormant while the oddest medieval accretions remained?

Many, many years ago this writer went to an old rite Mass at Sacred Heart Church in New Haven, Connecticut sung by a professional schola of men to a congregation of less than a hundred people. I had one of those little red Ecclesia Dei pew booklets, which I discarded after being unable to follow the Mass with it. Instead, I watched the Mass as people in past times, bereft of literature, watched it, by following the dramatic actions: the priest ascending the altar after striking his breast in unworthiness, the words of Christ incensed and sung at the Gospel, the offering of bread and wine, the elevation of the Sacred elements at the moment of Transubstantiation, protestations of unworthiness at Communion and more. After Mass I was convinced I saw something of a different ethos from what I grew up knowing at St. Bridget's. What was strangest to me was not what was different (the rites were obviously quite different), but what was the same.

Well over a decade later, and only slightly less ignorant about the Roman liturgy, that initial confusion continues. Is the new Mass more "Protestant"? Some believe so, and in practice it is, but textually this is doubtful. The reception of the new liturgy, unfortunately, came in an ecumenical age with unrestricted optimism as to the future integration of religious parties. Mass facing the people and vernacular, misunderstood as the primitive norm, were only the contemporary norm of heretics, and received in the same praxis as that of the heretics. Strictly speaking, I agree with Geoffrey Hull that the new Mass is fundamentally a twin child of Jansenist spirituality and antiquarian scholarship. As such, it is a communitarian reimagination of the Eucharist in a third century Roman home. The Pauline liturgy, through that lens, is somewhat confusing.

The first and foremost oddity is the introduction with the Confiteor, an early medieval emandation to the liturgy. The Introit, initially an entrance hymn, became abbreviated with the addition of the Little Hours to the Mass and the grander cathedral ceremonies inspired by monastic chapters. The beginning of Mass became confined to the sanctuary and the clergy, rather than simply approach the altar, made protestations of unworthiness to stand at the altar of God as did the high priests of the Old Covenant, lest they be struck dead and removed by the length of a rope. In the old low Mass, the server makes the responses at the Iudica me and Confiteor, not on behalf of the people, but in place of the deacon and subdeacon. It is, essentially, a clerical act of purification caught up in the medieval aesthetic of ritual propriety. Why, then, did it remain in the reformed liturgy, albeit in a reduced fashion?

It was kept in an amended fashion, not only in reduction of the number of saints mentioned, but also in purpose. The single Confiteor functions much more like a collective act than a priestly act. The purpose of this does not seem to be to reduce the priesthood, as some may think, but to involve the laity more in a point at which they are not naturally involved. The 1964/7 revisions of the Tridentine Mass also indicated the Confiteor be said allowed from the sedilia, an expansion of a mistake on the low Mass. In this, the reformers took the low Mass to be the absolute norm for the old Mass and acted accordingly.

Next, and similarly debated, is the Offertory. Why is there an Offertory in the reformed Mass? As late as the 8th century, in the Ordo Romanus I, the Roman Church had still resisted the oriental introduction of Eucharistic preparation rites. The Lord Pope simply accepted the offering of the bread from whoever baked it and brought it to the altar. The Frankish and Gallican liturgies introduced elaborate Offertory processions, possibly extant in the 1474 Curial Missal, and ante-Eucharistic prayers, anticipating the Sacrifice, to accompany them. The entire act was caught up in quintessentially medieval Eucharistic theology of the Mass as the anamnesis of Calvary, as Christ's Sacrifice of the Cross manifested again in plain sight. 

Pope Paul's Mass, curiously, retains an Offertory, but unlike the Confiteor, it is not a modification of the Tridentine rite. Nay, it is an altogether new series of prayers based on 3rd century Jewish Seder Meal Prayers which Christ never said and which were, certainly, never part of the primitive house Masses of the Roman Church. Why retain a vitiated ceremony? Could it be that, as with the preparatory prayers, the reformers took the existing liturgy as normative and reacted against exact elements they disliked? Some writers envision the reformers as having ripped apart the old liturgy, brick by brick, and having replaced it with something fabricated ex nihilo. For the Office, collects, and readings this is true; for the ordo Missae it is apparent that the Consilium began was an understanding of the essentials of the current Mass and then went backward, piece by piece. In the Offertory there was no antiquarian antecedent, and so they had to invent one.

The last, and most medieval, element of the old Mass that the reformers retained is the elevation of the Sacred species. In the late Dark Ages and early part of the High Middle Ages, after the sung Canon transformed into a silently spoken prayer, the people demanded to see the Host, to know that the priest had said the proper prayers to change the elements at the proper time. Popular piety, which included lay and sacerdotal prostrations to the ground (not unlike those still done in the Greek rite), met the now said Canon and found the laity unsure of what was transpiring for five quiet minutes. The elevation was in fact an elaboration of participatio actuosa on the part of the people and the priests who understood it was their duty to serve their wishes before the altar of God.

The medieval elevation brought God's presence to the church in a particular instant, an act of theophany before a congregation hoping for the Sacrifice to be accepted. The same Incarnational piety that generated the mystery plays, Eucharistic processions, and which added Saint John's Prologue to the end of Mass also created the elevation and enhanced it by breaking the silence of the Canon was exclamatory hymns that said this was the same body born of the Virgin and hung upon the Cross for our salvation:
Ave verum corpus, natum
de Maria Virgine,
vere passum, immolatum
in cruce pro homine
cuius latus perforatum
fluxit aqua et sanguine:
esto nobis praegustatum
in mortis examine.
O Iesu dulcis, O Iesu pie,
O Iesu, fili Mariae.
Miserere mei. Amen.
Pope Paul's Mass continues to elevate the Host and Chalice, and even has an exclamation after the elevation of the Chalice. The exclamation, whichever is chosen, departs from the previous focus on the Real Presence of Christ at the altar, which has just taken place, and moves into an apocalyptic, forward looking approach:
Mortem tuam annuntiamus, Domine, et tuam resurrectionem confitemur, donec venias.
One aspect of the Pauline Mass which I hold to be a theoretical improvement over the existing liturgy is that the Canon can be sung aloud as it once was at the celebrant's discretion. This option, even if accompanying the de facto norm of Mass versus populum, more or less eliminates the need for the elevations, given that its context has all but disappeared. No more would children and their fathers huddle in the pew waiting for the bell to ring and the celebrant to list the bread. They could now hear it, and probably see it, in live time.

This post is not so much a critique of the Pauline Mass, over which endless debate has raged long enough. I mean only to highlight that certain parts of the old Mass remain, disjointedly, because the reformers took much of the old rite as their basis before applying their suppositions. For all their inventiveness they took much for granted.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

What Makes "Good" Liturgical Music? Part II: Sincerity

Music is bare. Unlike words, visual productions, and lectures, in which "tricks of the trade" can fill the void of poor or absent content, music is nothing more or less than what we hear says it is. A good performance will not make a poor piece excellent; in fact, a faithful rendition of mediocre music may be especially dull.

Atheism and scientism invaded the humanities long ago, and music, one of the last hold outs, is now giving way to these reductionistic views with little alacrity. Music becomes sound in much the way Impressionism becomes layers of oil on canvass. It produces sine waves in various frequencies and rhythms which, in the right combinations, please our minds and stimulate certain parts of the brain. Our more esteemed composers unwittingly knew this and it was their "secret" to success. James May, an ex-BBC presenter most famous for Top Gear, once presented a computer's algorithm for a supposed pattern in Beethoven's music. The result sounded unlike anything the man from Bonn ever wrote, just quick trills up and down a few chords in more particular direction. May called the result "electronic drivel".

Music's main quality is its own "intentionality", that it exists for its own sake out a void where it once did not exist and where, after it stops, it will not exist any further. It possesses its own full range of purpose, emotions, arcs, stories, and impulses which the listener must hear and given himself to in order to encounter. No one listens to "background music" because no one cares about it; background music has no intentionality other than to create noise.

Romantics assigned a fluid quality to the creative process of music, as if works flow from the composer's consciousnesses like the Requiem did for Mozart in 1984's Amadeus, a fine movie removed from the historical reality. The same film, in an earlier scene, offers a moving and more accurate depiction of creativity. Salieri traces the deliberate steps and stages of unfolding music and its message. In this particular piece of chamber music, the "rusty squeezebox" sound establishes a calm rhythm and timing before the melody comes in through the treble, passed from one instrument to another to create a whimsical effect. It is deliberate and stylized because music is deliberate and stylized in what it tries to do. Spontaneous music, the doggerel teenagers write in their garage bands, rarely transforms into tangible music-writing talent, whereas those who do at least try to understand how to write a song may one day be capable of sincere music.

Music, which speaks unabated to the listener, can and should be understood objectively for its qualities and what it tries to do, as well as the more common subjective judgments that modern commentators brand "interpretation" (is not the music itself the interpretation of the theme?). A listener can judge music's harmony, its balance, its theme, and, above all, its sincere intentionality.

A piece of music has some intentionality, some purpose that is apparent to the listener, but only the listener, who is the object in this relationship just as mankind is in the Liturgy's outpouring of grace, can deduce how true it is. Some music is divinely uplifting and sends one's thoughts heavenward without much consideration of the arrangements and details of musical arrangement. Other pieces only simulate this effect by using stock methods and familiar themes from like works, but without any soul. Some pieces can brings about feelings of joy, youth, anger, rage, nerve, and distress. Others do not so much develop these emotions as much as they sentimentalize them, bring them to our minds for a passing moment without challenging us to confront them. This is insincere music.

Sincere musical intentionality can vary greatly not only within genres or composers, but within the works of the masters themselves. This writer, for one, has never cared much for Mozart's Coronation Mass, a bit of late Baroque chirping, a piece of music that very much wants to be listened to. The Gloria, several times, has the potential to continue with its current melody only to shudder with horns in dramatic pauses (et in terra pax! pax! pax HOMINIBUS!). His Requiem is much discussed, but here deservedly so. It is a rare orchestral Mass that actually works in a liturgical context, with balanced parts that successfully bring out the soul of their texts without overstepping them. The 20 minute long sequence does change frequently (Dies irae... confutatis maledictis.... Lacrimosa...) without throwing the whole thing off kilter; it is balanced and never oversteps its place in the Mass.

Talk of Mozart, Beethoven, the Mass, and a philsopher's idea of "intentionality" belong to high culture of another era and high culture now. These comments are just as unapplicable to Mick Jagger as they are to Irish drinking songs from two centuries ago or the mystery play songs that became our Christmas carols centuries before that. Yet, there is one place where "high culture" and regular people regularly cross: the Church's liturgy, where we will resume this series.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Advent Office of the Dead

As usual for penitential season, I will be saying the Office of the Dead on the appointed days and welcome readers to do so, too. Please join your intentions by leaving a comment here with the names of your deceased friends, family, and loved ones.

Sunday, November 25, 2018


Yesterday I did something rare in this day and age: I received something meaningful from a friend in the mail. It was my annual copy of the St. Lawrence Press Ordo Recitandi Officii Divini Sacrique Peragendi. What would I, someone who reads a 19th century breviary, do with an Ordo that follows the 1939 Roman rite? Quite a bit, actually.

First and foremost, this book is indispensable, even if one follows the Tridentine or any pre-Divino Afflatu kalendar, whenever the ferial Office occurs. I am easily confused reading the epistle in my Greek rite parish on Sundays (where the number of weeks after Pentecost begins on Monday after Pentecost) and then glancing at my Pius IX Office, which numbers the weeks after Pentecost from the Sunday after Pentecost Saturday. If not for this book I would probably never have my head on straight enough to find the proper Magnificat antiphon for Saturday evenings, taken from a text corresponding to the Office rather than to the day of the week. 

Secondly, and similarly, this Ordo notes changes in the occurring Scripture for ferial Mattins, which is the same system in my breviary. This becomes more valuable, and tricky without a guide, in September and October, when the method of counting weeks differs between the traditional variations of the Roman rite and the 1962 rite, which counts September and October more in accord with modern secular time. In a like manner, this Ordo helps one track things like September Ember days and the treatment of vigils of Apostles, which are either on different days or non-existent in later editions of the Roman liturgy. 

Lastly, the SLP Ordo is invaluable for timing liturgical devotions and observances that often go unnoticed. During Lent and Advent the Office, and Mass, of the Dead are conventionally said on the first day of the week without a feast of nine lessons; the Ordo notes such days with an X in the margin. For those in Holy Orders, there are additional instructions for the Forty Hours, privileged votive Masses on certain days of the month, and even external solemnities.

So if you've been reciting the Tridentine Office and don't quite trust that website, or if you wish to follow something more recent and need an aid, buy a St. Lawrence Press Ordo!