Friday, July 13, 2018

A Dirty, Jovial and Unscrupulous Crew

Reading through the accumulation of modernist novels one has gathered over the years of graduate school is much like a slow and careful mining operation. One might occasionally find a rich vein of valuable ore, but must be careful of cave-ins, pockets of poison gas, and societies of mole men. I had never read much of Ford Madox Ford's fiction before now, just part of a science fiction collaboration with Joseph Conrad and a few essays. The Good Soldier is probably Ford's most famous novel, a story about bourgeois indolence and cuckoldry. The narrator is the victim of his wife's infidelity and of his friend Edward's apparent trustworthiness. While the novel is not especially worthy of the attention it has received, one passage jumped out at me as I was desperate to find anything memorable within:
I have given you a wrong impression if I have not made you see that Leonora [Edward's wife] was a woman of a strong, cold conscience, like all English Catholics. (I cannot, myself, help disliking this religion; there is always, at the bottom of my mind, in spite of Leonora, the feeling of shuddering at the Scarlet Woman, that filtered in upon me in the tranquility of the little old Friends' Meeting House in Arch Street, Philadelphia.)[...] For Edward was great at remorse. But Leonora's English Catholic conscience, her rigid principles, her coldness, even her very patience, were, I cannot help thinking, all wrong in this special case. She quite seriously and naïvely imagined that the Church of Rome disapproves of divorce; she quite seriously and naïvely believed that her church could be such a monstrous and imbecile institution as to expect her to take on the impossible job of making Edward Ashburnham a faithful husband. She had, as the English would say, the Nonconformist temperament. In the United States of North America we call it the New England conscience. For, of course, that frame of mind has been driven in on the English Catholics. The centuries that they have gone through—centuries of blind and malignant oppression, of ostracism from public employment, of being, as it were, a small beleagured garrison in a hostile country, and therefore having to act with great formality—all these things have combined to perform that conjuring trick. And I suppose that Papists in England are even technically Nonconformists.
Ford himself was a Catholic, at least at one time. He had been received into the Church at the age of nineteen (1892), but by the writing of this novel his marriage had fallen apart and he and his lover attempted unsuccessfully to secure German citizenship in order to procure a divorce. To Ford's credit, I suppose, he never exploited his fellow Catholics as a readership like the pseudo-Catholic Graham Greene later would. His bitterness about the Church's doctrine against divorce and remarriage makes The Good Soldier an interesting kind of anti-Catholic propaganda, and also grants readers a glimpse into his own soul.

The passage continues:
Continental Papists are a dirty, jovial and unscrupulous crew. But that, at least, lets them be opportunists. They would have fixed poor dear Edward up all right.
Perhaps this is true or perhaps it is wishful thinking. Leonora's Irish Catholicism (her religion is described alternately as English and Irish) has the kind of strength that comes from embattlement, and those who have lived for years comfortable in the practice of their faith do tend to slouch into laxity. Certainly the slothfulness of our own days bears this out.

I have no idea if Ford, like Conrad, finally died reconciled to the Church. There is little indication he cared to move past the "feeling of shuddering" at the thought of Papistry or to repent of his war against marriage. One suspects he will be meeting plenty of bishops in his place in the afterlife.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Saint James, Spanish Place

The church of Saint James is one of the more interesting churches built in London in the years after the Reformation. It has soaring arches and was not built by Pugin. From its full name, "Saint James, Spanish Place", one can deduce that this magnificent temple originated in the adjoining Spanish Embassy in the Marylebone district and was used by the diplomatic corps and any London Catholics who could not attend Mass before Catholic Emancipation. After the connection to the embassy ceased and the Vicariate became the Archbishopric of Westminster a proper parish church began.

The initial temptation to associate Saint James with the neo-gothic fashion of the Victorian and Edwardian age beckons a first time visitor, but I had several opportunities to visit the church and eventually decided that this church is more definitively gothic in the proper, medieval sense of the word than it is Puginesque. For one, although neo-gothic borrowed its look from the medieval ages it retained the baroque scheme of a church with a Marian altar and a Saint Joseph altar on either side of a shallow sanctuary that the laymen in the pew can see without obstruction. Neo-gothic also borrows its architectural perspective from the baroque, that of wide open churches with wide naves, few aisles, and a warm lighting. In all these respects, Saint James fails the test.

Instead, Saint James is a church with many aisles which, although amply wide, are marked by soaring arches culminating in distinct ceilings from each other. The result is the staggered effect that being in an aisle of Salisbury Cathedral has, that one senses privacy from the nave. The nave itself soars to an overwhelming height in contrast to the seemingly narrow width of the same place. Contributing to this medieval compartmentalized sensation are the distinct ornaments of the nave and aisles. The nave focuses on the altar with only a few devotion statues, notably Our Lady of Walsingham, visible; the aisles are barely visible even from the back of the nave. The aisles forgo the neo-gothic Mary & Joseph arrangement in favor of proper chapels for every devotion. Each altar has its own special purpose and is segmented from the main church by both an altar rail and a full wrought iron door. The chapels are dedicated to various purposes, some near and dear to English Catholics like the martyrs executed at the Tyburn "Tree". The various chapels, statues of saints in the rear, and assorted doors, lamps, railings, and kneelers were gifted to the church over a period of time and give the church of Saint James an authentic, lived-in demeanor that even the best contemporary churches elsewhere in London lack. Perhaps the best example is the Marian Chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, which was given by the wealthy family of a priest who died at a young age.

Saint James has a 1962 low Mass (hopefully the new new liturgical movement changes that), a Latin Novus Ordo, and occasional Vespers with their excellent choir. They offer Confession every day and other devotions. I believe Dr Laurence Hemming is, or was, the deacon of this parish. It is certainly an interesting place to visit when you are next in London and only a few blocks away from Regent's Park, my favorite park in the city.


The sanctuary and altar

For perspective, the height of the place when facing back. The difference between
neo-gothic broadness and a spacious gothic church that is tall is sheer size.

The layers of chapels, three in this view, from the Epistle side of the sanctuary.

Ambo and sounding board on the Gospel side. Note the houseling cloth used for Communion.

The instinct in decoration also follows older instincts rather than those in fashion
in the 19th century, which would has resorted to large statues. Instead, Saint James
follows an older pattern with more recent devotions. The papier-mache picture needs
to go.

The altar again, which includes a covering rather than a baldachin.

Our Lady of Walsingham, towards the altar

Chapel for the English martyrs

The exquisite chapel of the Assumption

The multi-level effect of gothic, which contributes to the sense of the depth in the church

Well used Confessionals

The Baptistry, correctly octagonal

Saint Jude

A pieta, which attracted many people before and after the weekday Masses

This chapel at the rear of the church is dedicated to Saint Teresa and was donated by a guild
in honor of a deceased pastor

The same chapel includes its own Stations of the Cross, separate from those in the nave

On an unrelated note, my views on the liturgy have not changed an iota, but I grow tired of reading liturgical polemics online. If the tide is slowly turning in a good direction, and it is, would not all that ink spilled on the Pauline Mass be better spent on the edification of those who could attend or promote the old liturgy? In the future I hope to do a post on the strange Rite of Michael Napier, which like the Rite of Econe and the Rite of Gricigliano does not follow any particular edition of the Roman books but is historically notable none the less.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Devotionalism: Pilgrimages


At the root of the pilgrimage is the desire to heal the breach between God and man. After the expulsion from Eden we are “here” and God is “there” and we must somehow find out way back into his presence. Man cannot make his own way unassisted back to the Divine, but because God has already made a pilgrimage to meet man, man can travel that same path to his creator.

Indeed, God’s pilgrimages to meet sinful man were numerous even before that Great Pilgrimage of the Incarnation, when the Word of God leapt down from his royal throne in Heaven to Earth. He came down to make a covenant with Abram, to wrestle with Israel, to speak to Moses face to face, to touch the lips of Isaias with a burning coal, and to speak to Ezechiel from his cherubic chariot.

The pilgrimages of man towards God are also of many types and examples. Abram left his father’s idolatry for a foreign land at God’s invitation. Joseph was his family’s savior when he brought them to Egypt. Moses led his nation to the borders of the promised land, a type of Heaven. Locations of ancient theophanies became pilgrimage sites to the Hebrews, since they were places God had graced with his presence. The annual pilgrimage to the Jerusalem Temple to celebrate the Passover symbolized man traveling to the mountain of God’s dwelling to beg his mercy.

The Christian era made no great modification to this religious instinct. The destinations for pilgrimages increased because devotion to the martyrs meant visiting their graves to beg their intercession, and the locations of the God-Man’s life and death were of great interest. God became a pilgrim among us, and man could model his own pilgrimage on the life of Christ (“because I go to the Father”). Churches were built all over the Holy Land and elsewhere to house the relics of martyrs. Rome was a site of pilgrimage first because it was where Sts. Peter and Paul were slain by Nero, not because it was the seat of the pope. One motivation for the Crusades was to make safe the way of pilgrims to the Holy Land. Throughout the Middle Ages shrines all over Europe were popular pilgrimage destinations. A properly-made pilgrimage could even reconcile sinners to the Church, according to some customs.

In our own day the practice of making a real pilgrimage is much rarer than it once was. The biographical account of Hilaire Belloc’s pilgrimage in The Path to Rome, complete with a solemn vow of intention, is charming to the modern reader for its archaism but is not taken very seriously as a form of devotional piety. The Camino de Santiago remains popular, but arguably more so for young adults “backpacking across Europe” than for the pious Catholic. Many ancient pilgrimage destinations have been transformed into tourist attractions and have lost the air of seriousness that attracts the true devotee.

The Stations of the Cross were formulated in order to make the experience of pilgrimage through the Via Dolorosa available to those unable to visit Jerusalem in person. As travel to the Holy Land became increasingly dangerous the Stations became more formalized and canonically regulated. As imperfect as many Stations-centered devotional booklets can be, the desire to imitate Christ’s own pilgrimage among us even unto his death remains central.

Many sites remain for those still inclined to make a true pilgrimage. Even North America hosts sites like Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and a variety of shrines in Canada and the United States. In spite of multiple rounds of iconoclasm since the Reformation, Europe is not lacking in destinations. I personally made a pilgrimage to Rome a year after my reception into the Church with the intention of assisting at Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in thanksgiving for my conversion. The religious experience of Rome is still, as in Martin Luther’s day, a mixed bag of wondrous and debasing, but we will probably never be entirely free of simony and apathy.

In a day when travel is more effortless than it has ever been, pilgrimage may be a corrective not only for our troubled spirits but for our overtaxed, modernized minds. The broadway leads to destruction, but the slow and narrow path is the way to salvation.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Devotionalism: On Limiting the Divine

(source)
At the behest of a good friend of mine I have started a read-through of the entire Bible. Despite my Protestant roots, there are still some books of Holy Writ I have never completed, mainly due to the repetition and bookkeeping style of some of the sacred texts. Audiobooks are a great way to push through even the monotony of the Mosaic law and the literal numbering of the book of Numbers. I have not read the early books of the Bible since my conversion. It is a return to a landscape I used to know quite well, but has become strange and new from the distance of neglect.

In spite of my many concerns and skepticism about the historical-critical reading so popular among Bible scholars of the last two centuries, occasionally I can see their point. The two accounts of Abimelech king of Gerara nearly having his way with another man’s wife because her husband was hiding the marriage could be harmonized more easily if both accounts were about the same married couple, but the first is about Abraham and Sara, and the second about Isaac and Rebecca (Genesis chapters 20 and 26, respectively). The thought that the same trick was played twice on the same man is not impossible, but it is so darkly humorous that one cannot blame the scholars too much for attempting to retain a modicum of seriousness.

The genealogies between Eden and Abraham are treated with the same apparent level of historical veracity, which makes the harmonization of Scripture and paleoanthropology difficult. While I am not opposed to a more spiritual or allegorical reading of the Old Testament like St. Augustine’s, I also do not know that the authorial intent is anywhere along those lines. A scholar of ancient Hebrew texts I do not pretend to be, but unlike many other restless minds I do not care to worry myself to death or fabricate conspiracies over every difficulty.

But what comes through more strongly than I had remembered is the personality of God. The “God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob” is no deistic Prime Mover. He is not even an interloper in the stories of the Patriarchs. Rather, he is the protagonist throughout, with occasional digressions into the lives of his creatures. Even with the acknowledgement that the inspired writers used anthropomorphic language to describe the wishes and actions of the Divine, they were still inspired to do so by God himself.

He creates the universe apparently only to have made something good. He takes pity on Adam and gives him a mate. He is greatly disappointed in their trespass. He is disgusted by the self-destruction of mankind. He lets Abraham speak to him almost as if to an equal. He wrestles with Jacob and lets him gain the upper hand. He pours out judgment not only on Pharaoh but on his devil-gods, using the opportunity to show his wonders to his chosen people. He wishes to speak intimately with his people in the wilderness and is offended when they tell Moses to do it for them. He slays whomever makes a graven image of himself, since they were all too afraid to see him as he is. He tells Israel that he would not chasten them if he did not love them so much.

The interpretation of the Canticle of Canticles as the untamed love of God for his people did not appear in a vacuum. It is a reasonable extrapolation from the earlier books of Hebrew Scripture.

Likewise, the popular and theological characterizations of Our Lord in the Christian era take many cues from the “God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.” St. Paul witnessed the risen Christ already glorified in the celestial realms, but the evangelists wrote from the perspective of those who knew Jesus, as it were, before he was cool. The Christ of the Gospels vacillates between aristocratic aloofness, angry table-turning, and tender compassion. One might say that the Catholic devotional instinct has become a method of focusing on that third aspect of the Divine Countenance in the hopes that the first might be ignored and the second avoided.

This is why devotions like the Sacred Heart, Divine Mercy, and many of those centered on Mary are so often narrowly tender and ignorant of the more difficult aspects of God’s interaction with man. The Novus Ordo practice of canonizing the deceased at his funeral is an outgrowth of this blind focus on love and compassion. Perhaps no one can bear the fulness of what has been revealed of the Divine Personality without a special outpouring of grace, but one suspects that few are even very willing to try.

We cannot force God to shine only his kindly countenance upon us simply because we desire it. He is the lover, we are the beloved. Sometimes he is aloof, sometimes angry, sometimes tender, and sometimes even absent. “In my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, and found him not.” How do we find God when he is distant, when his tender compassion seems very far from us?

We go on a pilgrimage. (Next up: Pilgrimages as devotion.)

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Feast of Ss Peter & Paul (or the Feasts of St Peter & St Paul?)

Palatine Chapel in Palermo
Today at Lauds I read the collect for the Commemoration of St Paul followed by the antiphons, versicles, and collect for St. Peter. Whenever the feast of one arrives a commemoration is always made of the other in the various pre-Conciliar rites, but why on this day is St. Peter commemorated rather than the octave of Ss. Peter and Paul? Better yet, why is there a day called the Commemoration of Saint Paul when there was a feast of Ss. Peter & Paul yesterday?

The answer is actually missing in the texts of yesterday's Offices and Mass. On the feast of Ss. Peter & Paul there is hardly any mention made of St. Paul in the Mattins readings (other than allusion by St Leo), the antiphons on the Major Hours, and none at Mass save for the collect. This underscores a subtle oddity in the liturgical history of the Eternal City: June 29th was not the single feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, but it was the feast of both Saint Peter and Saint Paul, two feasts in one day.

As Pierre Batiffol recounts in his History of the Roman Breviary, feasts in the first few post-Nicene centuries were often unique to the churches of Rome and celebrated in honor of the saints whose relics were contained there. By the time of St. Gregory the Great Rome had declined to a meager population of about 30,000 from its Imperial peak of a million. Yet the devout in his small population could ambulate through the vast city to churches that held the relics of saints and celebrate the vigil and Mass with the Lord Pope of the City with relative ease, the origin of the "stational churches" of great feasts, vigils, and fasting days that are still observed during Lent to this day. As such, feasts of multiple saints usually pertained to the saints buried in a given church. Sancti Apostoli in Rome holds the bones of Ss. Philip and James, and so the transfer of their relics to that church elicited their feast on May 11. The same would have been true earlier this week for Ss. John and Paul. But this feast of two saints is precisely what would not have happened on June 29th or 30th....

Instead, the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Wall and the Vatican Basilica of Saint Peter would each have observed the feasts of their patronal saint whose relics rested beneath the main altar. In times of old the Pope would begin the evening at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside for the vigil (Vespers, Mattins, and Lauds) and continue until day break, when he would travel to Saint Peter's on the Vatican Hill for the celebration of the Mass. Because the Mass took place at the Vatican Basilica the Missal texts that come down to us are for the patronal feast of that particular church just as any pre-John XXIII hand missal gives St. Peter's as the station for June 29. The 10th century Gregorian Sacramentary gives June 29th as the feast of St. Peter, despite mentioning both Apostles in the oration, and June 30th as the feast of St. Paul. By the Middle Ages June 29th was conceded as the feast of both Saints, in accordance with ancient prerogative, and the uniquely Pauline Offices and Mass of June 30th were rebranded as the Commemoration of Saint Paul giving the Doctor Gentium the due he would one have received on June 29th in the Basilica that assumes his name.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Service of Vespers

Solemn Mass? It has been six years since I last saw one. Vespers? I have not seen the service of Vespers in five weeks and I miss it much more. I would even go as far as to say I could live with a spoken Mass provided I could attend Vespers every Sunday evening, the perfect consummation to a perfect day.

Last year I wrote about my recent re-discovery of Compline after sticking to the Major Hours and also the Byzantine Office for several years. Compline, for myself and for many readers, was our initiation into the Divine Office if only because it could be said before bed, it was simple, and it hardly changed day to day. Vespers, however, was for myself and another reader, our introduction into liturgical prayer properly speaking. Raised in the 20th century Roman Church, the parish Mass can be taken for granted, new or old rite. We are required to go to Mass and we can find its celebration more or less heuristic and devout depending on our own disposition and devotion. The Office, unlike Mass, is seamless and can only really be celebrated one way, without pause for theatrics, spoken prayers, or deliberate gestures. It begins as it ends, imploring aid for those who need it: Deus in adiutorium and Fidelium animae. The service may not confect the Holy Eucharist, but it does enter into Eternity as much as the Mass and into the proprietary nature of the day even more so than the Mass for great feasts.


First, at the Oxford Oratory, I heard Vespers again where I first heard the service at all. The rite was Sunday after Ascension according to John XXIII's rubrics, which Oxford follows more stringently than the mishmash service at Brompton. "Back in the day" there were probably more people from the 11AM Solemn Latin Paul VI Mass who went to Vespers than people who went to the 1962 low Mass at 8AM. The reasons are probably varied: traditionalists are very likely to have families in tow, which is a complication toward the evening; people who go to the high Mass are likely more interested in grand liturgical gestures; perhaps the greater attendance at the new rite ensures that even with a lower percentage of people interested in Vespers a greater number will be from the new Mass. Regardless, Vespers and Benediction still gathers about 50 souls. The music was Gregorian plainsong according to the Solesmes method. The provost, Fr. Daniel Seward, officiated.


The most pleasantly surprising service was Vespers according to Paul VI's Liturgia Horarum in Latin at Westminster Cathedral, where a reader left me after spending an afternoon in London with a bottle of wine. Westminster Cathedral, in the fashion of the more proper Anglican institutions, maintains both a professional male choir and a school of young boys who sing the Office daily; the choir also sings a high new rite Latin Mass daily. The singing is some of the best I have ever heard in person and a far cry better than the Sistine Screamers. Vespers was for (what should have been) the Octave Day of the Ascension of Our Lord. The theme of the new rite Vespers, which is the only public celebration of the new Office I have ever seen in my life (like the Latin Novus Ordo it is rarer than its old rite counterpart), began with the Veni Creator hymn, an odd choice given that Pentecost was some days away. Then were sung three psalms, or possibly psalm fragments, then a vernacular reading, and a priest recited some intercessory prayers. All in all, this Vespers lasted 20 minutes and perhaps 30 people attended, although 150-200 probably came in for the following Mass.


The Kyrie from the evening Mass at Westminster Cathedral, set by Orlande de Lassus

Last came Vespers for Pentecost Sunday at the Brompton Oratory, sung alternatively by their professional choir and the Fathers in choro. The provost, Fr. Julian Large, celebrated with the aid of four coped assistants who intoned the antiphons before an assembled congregation of probably 100-150. Vespers of Pentecost Sunday may be the most beautiful in the entire Roman rite. The antiphons are brisk, succinct, generally in a major key, and come as powerfully as the Holy Wind of which they speak. Is there a more moving hymn than the Veni Creator

I have known Byzantine Vespers these past six years, the psalter of which never changes day to day, which the exception of odd times of year like Bright Week. The Roman Vespers has considerable variation with seasonality and the odd major feast. Also, whereas the Greek service tends to flow continuously, Roman Vespers builds up like the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, culminating in the offering of incense at the altar during the Magnificat. A rediscovery of the old Suffrages and Commemorations might re-orient the Magnificat into the climax of the service rather than the bittersweet end that it generally is.

I wish Vespers would proliferate the United States. For those with a well equipped parish it may well be the next thing to ask of one's pastor. If he asks why the service should be scheduled when so few would attend just answer, "For God's sake, man."

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Legal Force of Tradition


The Roman Church is much more traditional than it was twenty years ago, but one cannot say tradition governs that Church, at least not the way it once did and some hope it might one day govern again. The Church is ruled by men, by bishops and other representatives of the Apostles who may or may not faithfully execute their sacred charges. A general guideline of administration has been received for these times. No, not the Didache or the canons of Trent; no, it is the 1983 Code of Canon Law, a modern reduction of a slightly less modern consolidation of authority.

On its own a code of law may be a good thing. The code could provide the same protections and processes in Church law that Common Law does in secular administration. The problem is that while the "spirit" of secular law is often alive and well with regard to trial by a jury of one's peers or property rights, the 1983 Code of Canon Law does little regarding Christian living other than set widely ignored minimums which make establishing a stronger standard of Catholic life difficult.

Take, for instance, fasting.

The Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, still take fasting very seriously; the more ethnic the parish the stricter the observance. Lent, to the best of one's ability, admits one vegan meal a day after sunset. In practice the vegan diet is more widely observed than the Spartan quantity, but the spirit and a degree of the letter remain. Less fasts for the Apostles, Dormition of the Blessed Virgin, and the Nativity of the Lord fill out the rest of the year. One cannot say fasting is not a legal requirement of the supposedly non-legalistic Eastern Churches. Fasting and abstinence are laid out in the canons of various synods of Eastern bishops and their antiquity has not made them any less binding than current law. The difficulty in observing the fasts and abstinence often results in genuinely pastoral accommodations and the encouragement to do as much as one can during those seasons. Does tradition of this sort, so embedded in Christian life and the basic outlook of repentance that it cannot be reduced to mere custom, have a force of law where standards lack?

None other than the Common Doctor warned against men altering their own laws and weakening their effect:
"Consequently, when a law is changed, the binding power of the law is diminished, in so far as custom is abolished. Wherefore human law should never be changed, unless, in some way or other, the common weal be compensated according to the extent of the harm done in this respect. Such compensation may arise either from some very great and every evident benefit conferred by the new enactment; or from the extreme urgency of the case, due to the fact that either the existing law is clearly unjust, or its observance extremely harmful." Summ. Theol. II.97.2
Another Dominican, Saint Pius V, was aware of this in making the Curial Missal and Office the normative rite for Latin Christianity. Rites more than two centuries old retained the force of obligation and could only make way for the Roman rite with the mutual consent of both the ordinary and the unanimity of his cathedral chapter, which often happened only out of laxity. The problem in this case is that the current Code of Canon Law asks very little, tradition asks very much, and the latter is a hard case to make to people who prefer the niggardly standards of the former.

The aim of tradition, in the sense of this post, was always to cultivate the dictates and continued presence of Christ in the Church. Christ sanctified fasting by spending forty days in the desert to subdue what is wanting in human nature and in doing so subdued Satan, too. Our Lord even put fasting on par with prayer as a necessary means of driving out devils (Mark 9:29)—how many devils have we that we refuse to confront? In the kalendar the Church historically pairs fasting with feasting so as to unite ourselves to the sufferings of Christ and to share in His joy afterward. This is most visible from Septuagesima until Whit Wednesday, but also during the vigils of great saints and the ensuing feasts in their octaves. Ember days and Lent once saw abstinence on par with Eastern custom until the dawn of the French Revolution. Keeping vigil, of which fasting was a part, was so integral to medieval feasts that a feast would be considered a lesser occasion if it lacked a strong vigil. Now fasting is required two days a year and, in the United States at least, accompanies the previous six Fridays of Lent as the only days which do not permit substitute "penances" for abstinence. It is difficult for this writer, who is as guilty as any of having scallops and swordfish drenched in French sauces on Fridays, to conceive a way of convincing others to observe abstinence and fasting when the written law, equivalent with direct obeisance to the current episcopate in the eyes of some, asks nothing more. If something is not explicitly asked for how can its neglect be a sin?

To end this very inconclusive post, I leave you with another quote from the Angelic Doctor's dealing with law:
"All law proceeds from the reason and will of the lawgiver; the Divine and natural laws from the reasonable will of God; the human law from the will of man, regulated by reason. Now just as human reason and will, in practical matters, may be made manifest by speech, so may they be made known by deeds: since seemingly a man chooses as good that which he carries into execution. But it is evident that by human speech, law can be both changed and expounded, in so far as it manifests the interior movement and thought of human reason. Wherefore by actions also, especially if they be repeated, so as to make a custom, law can be changed and expounded; and also something can be established which obtains force of law, in so far as by repeated external actions, the inward movement of the will, and concepts of reason are most effectually declared; for when a thing is done again and again, it seems to proceed from a deliberate judgment of reason. Accordingly, custom has the force of a law, abolishes law, and is the interpreter of law." Summ. Theol. II.97.3

Sunday, June 17, 2018

I Could Attend Masses Forever and Not Be Tired

"The idea of worship is different in the Catholic Church from the idea of it in your Church; for, in truth, the religions are different. Don't deceive yourself, my dear Bateman," he said tenderly, "it is not that ours is your religion carried a little farther,—a little too far, as you would say. No, they differ in kind, not in degree; ours is one religion, yours another. And when the time comes, and come it will, for you, alien as you are now, to submit yourself to the gracious yoke of Christ, then, my dearest Bateman, it will be faith which will enable you to bear the ways and usages of Catholics, which else might perhaps startle you. Else, the habits of years, the associations in your mind of a certain outward behaviour with real inward acts of devotion, might embarrass you, when you had to conform yourself to other habits, and to create for yourself other associations. But this faith, of which I speak, the great gift of God, will enable you in that day to overcome yourself, and to submit, as your judgment, your will, your reason, your affections, so your tastes and likings, to the rule and usage of the Church. Ah, that faith should be necessary in such a matter, and that what is so natural and becoming under the circumstances, should have need of an explanation! I declare, to me," he said, and he clasped his hands on his knees, and looked forward as if soliloquising,—"to me nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us. I could attend Masses for ever and not be tired. It is not a mere form of words,—it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth. It is, not the invocation merely, but, if I dare use the word, the evocation of the Eternal. He becomes present on the altar in flesh and blood, before whom angels bow and devils tremble. This is that awful event which is the scope, and is the interpretation, of every part of the solemnity. Words are necessary, but as means, not as ends; they are not mere addresses to the throne of grace, they are instruments of what is far higher, of consecration, of sacrifice. They hurry on as if impatient to fulfil their mission. Quickly they go, the whole is quick; for they are all parts of one integral action. Quickly they go; for they are awful words of sacrifice, they are a work too great to delay upon; as when it was said in the beginning: 'What thou doest, do quickly'. Quickly they pass; for the Lord Jesus goes with them, as He passed along the lake in the days of His flesh, quickly calling first one and then another. Quickly they pass; because as the lightning which shineth from one part of heaven unto the other, so is the coming of the Son of Man. Quickly they pass; for they are as the words of Moses, when the Lord came down in the cloud, calling on the Name of the Lord as He passed by, 'the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth'. And as Moses on the mountain, so we too 'make haste and bow our heads to the earth, and adore'. So we, all around, each in his place, look out for the great Advent, 'waiting for the moving of the water'. Each in his place, with his own heart, with his own wants, with his own thoughts, with his own intention, with his own prayers, separate but concordant, watching what is going on, watching its progress, uniting in its consummation;—not painfully and hopelessly following a hard form of prayer from beginning to end, but, like a concert of musical instruments, each different, but concurring in a sweet harmony, we take our part with God's priest, supporting him, yet guided by him. There are little children there, and old men, and simple labourers, and students in seminaries, priests preparing for Mass, priests making their thanksgiving; there are innocent maidens, and there are penitent sinners; but out of these many minds rises one eucharistic hymn, and the great Action is the measure and scope of it. And oh, my dear Bateman," he added, turning to him, "you ask me whether this is not a formal, unreasonable service—it is wonderful!" he cried, rising up, "quite wonderful. When will these dear good people be enlightened? O Sapientia, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia, O Adonai, O Clavis David et Exspectatio gentium, veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster."
From John Henry Newman's Loss and Gain, Part II, Chapter 20 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Cor Ad Cor Loquitur

Newman as a young man
source: wikipedia.org
"Newman," a Jesuit once said, "was the first person to have an original thought since Saint Augustine." Newman and his original thoughts earned a renewed vivacity during the middle years of Benedict XVI's pontificate culminating in the cardinal's beatification in 2010. Newman, perhaps not unlike Saint Joseph, became something of a projection board for whatever was one people's minds. Converts rightly looked at Newman's journey from Calvinistic Evangelicalism to the "one fold" of the Church as a blueprint for their own path. Others more active in politics and politicking called Newman's non-Scholastic, near-Patristic outlook the inspiration for the Second Vatican Council. I have even heard a very few, more old fashioned traditionalists wag a disapproving finger at John Henry's memory because he prioritized individual experience over objective reason, anticipating the relativism of the post-War days. Yet Newman endures among those who read him rather than read about him, which alone makes him worth understanding better.

His personal motto, "heart speaks to heart," conveys Newman's thought in his own time so suitably that it should be the lens for interpreting anything he wrote. His Gain and Loss is something of a fictionalized intellectual autobiography, not a straight novelization of his conversion. In Gain his protagonist, the eager to please Charles Reding, studies for the Anglican ministry in mid-19th century Oxford amid the whirling ideological vortex of the day: what to make of Catholic's absolute claims to truth; whether Anglo-Catholicism was a legitimate expression of Anglicanism or a Romish perversion; the rectitude of the Evangelical wing and their fundamentalist concept of faith; and the gradual dying out of via media, old fashioned Anglican clergy like our hero's father. Reding wishes to know the truth of what his co-religionists believe and whether or not even that is true.

In Reding's Oxford, and Newman's, reason simply fails as a singular tool for discerning true religion and salvation. Reason aids in breaking down falsehood, but it also produces some wildly irreligious views of its own. Early on Reding and his fellow students recall Paley's statement that all of Christ's miracles were entirely "reasonable" and that revelation ought not be construed as a "mystery" because He would not reveal anything about Himself that He would not want us to understand. In his own relationships Reding finds faults and inconsistencies both within others' views and within his national Church's as a whole, given that the diversity of the former means there can be no binding doctrine with the latter. In dilating with an Evangelical acquaintance he is told that faith is the instrument of salvation, even if the Prayer Book does not agree with this. Faith produces good works if the faith is true; good works do not improve faith or work with it, as the Romanists say, but rather descend from it. Reding can pick this idea apart from Scripture and from other Anglican sources without finding any resolution. This intellectual and spiritual vagrancy suits his cynical other half, Sheffield, just fine, who comes to similar conclusions than those of Reding without Reding's burning desire for truth. Sheffield is fine signing onto the Thirty-Nine articles and consigning their purpose to creating a consensus. For Reding this just will not do.

The "solution" to the nigh impossible equation of computing salvation is to descend to the heart. Reding, like Newman, never felt inclined toward marriage because from an early age he never found himself alone, but instead always sense the presence of another within him, following him and with him in his every thought and movement. He never wanted to welcome any impediment to this presence which could only be the indwelling of the Trinity after Baptism. Dostoevsky speaks of a similar presence attributable to Jesus Christ Himself just prior to the Grand Inquisitor dialogue in The Brothers Karamazov. Our Lord returns and walks through the streets of late medieval Spain; people acclaim Him and follow Him, dropping whatever they happening to be doing after beholding His countenance and knowing, from within, that this is Christ. It is a similar presence that Newman describes in less verbosity than the Russian. Reding, if he desires to hear anything, desires to hear from those who speak to that presence.

The first definitive attraction to the Church for Reding is that the Catholic Church might well be God's prophet on earth. God spoke through prophets in ancient times and revealing previously unknown truths is a hallmark of real religion. The Catholic Church's absolute claim to truth and his own Church's intellectualized indifference means that Reding, who admittedly knows nothing of the "Church of Rome" or its particular teachings, holds that either the Catholic Church is God's prophet on earth or there is no voice for God on earth. And if the Catholic Church does speak for God then its doctrines are not a set of propositions worthy of consideration; instead the Church is a teacher to whom the faithful should listen as students.

Far from embracing moral relativism Newman saw all too well that excessive intellectualism would lead to religious relativism; only ten years after Newman published Gain and Loss Darwin published his Origin of Species and threw a poorly prepared world into a fit and left little sure other than the heart.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Vatican I: An Eastern Perspective

Adam DeVille wrote The Long Shadows of the First Vatican Council, an insightful article that provides some removed perspective on the centralization following Vatican I which made Vatican II possible. A few observations I hope readers can discuss:

  • Vatican II was a reaction to Vatican I, as Mr. DeVille claims. It was also caused, in part, by Vatican I's channeling all the administrative power in the Latin Church to Rome and neutering bishops of the governance of their dioceses.
  • The aforementioned problem came from the collapse of Catholic culture and Catholic governments during the various mid-19th century nationalistic revolutions. The result is a "secular" Church, a Church that exists in the world but is not fundamental to it.
  • Pursuant to this last point, I re-link to my "The Pre-Conciliar Church," which touches on how the "perfect society" model of the Church developed in the 19th century and informed the popular imagination until Vatican II ripped it up.
  • Mr. DeVille is right in jealously guarding bishops' apostolic rights to govern their dioceses. I once held to the idea that patriarchal and synodal powers ought to have their own say, but a longer historical view reduces patriarchs and synods to practical matter of administration, better suited to administer than Roman congregations but no more or less fundamental to the exercise of Apostolic ministry than those same Roman congregations. The most authentic mode of teaching and government is that of the bishop.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

English Traddie-dom

The state of Traditionalism in the English Church has a few lessons for the wider Church and for those who seek to promote the old rite and its accompanying doctrinal perspective beyond the reaches of small communities. The real state of English Traddie-dom is that, aside from some growth here and there, in larger places it has stagnated. This is not the case globally; the old Mass continues to expand in the United States, Italy, and Africa; but it does carry some meaning for Catholics in thriving places.

What does stagnation look like? It means one could not reasonably split a Mass community up into two separate Masses and justify either service. The tell tale signs of this are 1) constancy in the number of Masses and 2) constancy in the congregations of existing Masses. The 8AM "EF" Mass at the Oxford Oratory still has the same 150-200 people it did seven years ago and probably the same number it did ten years before that, when the bishop asked for a 1962 Mass to assuage potential devotees of the FSSPX. Similarly, I did not notice any difference in the number of Masses offered within the Archdiocese of Westminster from seven years ago. The 9:30AM Mass at Saint James, Spanish Place, boasted the same congregation as the Oratory, although it competes with half a dozen other spoken Masses and a sung Mass at Saint Bede's, Clapham Park.

Catholicism in England itself, like the general English population, has not flourished very much one way or another in the last several decades. One would presume the Traditionalist crowd would get a larger portion of a shrinking pie, like they are in the United States or France, but this is not the case. Instead, Oratories and Oratorian takes on the Pauline Mass are abounding and taking those very slices. The last few years have seen Oratories emerge in Bournemouth, York, and Manchester, which doubles the number of Oratories from just five years ago. Attendance at the Oxford Oratory's 11AM Solemn Latin Novus Ordo has dipped a little; it is no longer standing room only because "Several churches in the diocese are now imitating what we do and people no longer feel compelled to drive two hours to Mass," one priest told me. So why is the Latin Mass of Paul VI, which has never caught on anywhere else in the world, out-doing the flailing Latin Mass of Pius V?

One answer is that people see different things at a 1962 Mass in London than they do at a Brompton high Mass. Someone who has never seen a pre-Conciliar form of the Roman Mass will walk into a church and witness a priest speaking garbled Latin in an echo chamber for 45 minutes, perhaps stopping to give a short sermon and Communion; yes, it is why the church was built, but that does not make it more accessible to the uninitiated of 2018. By contrast, someone who walks into an Oratorian-styled Mass sees something he knows and which happens at a familiar pace, the readings are in his own tongue, and rather than hearing a spoken Mass he hears the finest Renaissance music sung by a professional choir; in short, he sees an inspiring variation on something he already knows and takes it to be something very different. A large percentage of parishioners at these sorts of conservative or traditional settings are converts from Anglicanism who like loud organs, strong hymns, well done services, and the like. The old rite low Mass may be more consonant with Charles Reding's observations in Newman's Loss and Gain about the Catholic Mass being focused on the priest offering Sacrifice, not the congregation, but that may not help get people in the pew.

The other factor may well be the Traditionalists themselves, who have often been their own worst enemies; one thinks of Tracey Rowland's attempt at some Traddie self-criticism back when Rorate Caeli still enabled comments. In England the problem has not been as pronounced as the visceral attitude of '90s American traditionalists, but recusancy does still attract its cranks. The real problem with any spiritual movement that has to fight political battles—and Traditionalists are a prime ecclesiastical example—is that spiritual focus and spiritual values can unintentionally be subverted by an ideological outlook intent on conforming the world to one's views. This, again, may be less prevalent in England since a good portion of the Traditional rite Masses in England are run by diocesan priests who perform older rituals out of pastoral duty and person interest. Then again, the issue may not be with clergy as much as laity, who desire holiness and wisdom, but have historically contented themselves with the promises of the Rosaries and the errors of Vatican II. What emerges then carries the danger of a hypocritical Catholicism, a flock that does the right things but carries little to no sign of sanctity.

This last issue, like the "visceral attitude of '90s American traditionalists", may well be solving itself with age and the gradual replacement with new blood. In 2011 one could still start a conversation at coffee hour after the 8AM Oratory Mass with the words, "The Novus Ordo is a horror show." Today those same people would justly roll their eyes and keep to their own chatter.

If proponents of the old rite wish to see Waugh's "fire burning among the old stones", then, regardless of whether they live in London or Liberia, they must do something to attract those soldiers who are "farther in heart than Acre or Jerusalem."

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Monastic Office: Early "Renewal"?

Practically every alteration, deformation, and mutation that touched the Roman liturgy in the last century came to the faithful clergy and laity with marketing buzzwords from the Holy See like "renewal", as if the liturgy had died, or "restoration", as if the novel practices now prescribed had existed in this form at some prior point. Papa Sarto spoke of the older Roman Office in very harsh terms while calling his psalter "restitueretur." Pius XII repeated his Venetian predecessor's language after he restored Holy Week by tossing the rites, Offices, and unique ceremonies out the window for new ones. And then, of course, came the paterfamilias of "renewal", the liturgy of Paul VI, which failed to maintain even the form of similarity with the past like Sarto's psalter, which preserved some aspects of the Office for major feasts and the 150 psalm weekly schedule. Everything became new, nothing was different, and all was fixed.

The Roman Breviary went through no less than four sets of revisions in the 20th century, each leaving less the genius of the original Office than the former. What many critics of the liturgical reforms, myself included, often fail to realize is that these changes, like those to the Mass, happened gradually and under the influence of others who belonged to the places and communities where these concepts originated. The psalter of Divino Afflatu looks much more like the "Jansenist" Offices of 18th and 19th century France than it does that of Saint Pius V. In the same vein, the rubrics and schedule of Offices in John XXIII's breviary strangely resemble those of the Monastic Psalter in force three decades earlier. What were those features?

First, and most characteristic of John XXIII's Breviary, the Monastic Office underwent a reduction of supposedly quintessentially Roman feasts, both in number and in kind. Just as the 1960/2 Breviarium Romanum observes one feast of Saint Peter's Chair, so does the Monastic Diurnal of the '30s, although it previously followed the Roman praxis in observing both Rome and Antioch. Some uniquely Benedictine feasts even saw mergers in the case of saints whose historicity was deemed dubious in the early 20th century. A few alterations to the Monastic sanctoral did make clean up certain aspects of the kalendar, like transferring the octaves of Saints Benedict and Scholastica outside of Lent, where they would no longer impede the penitential season.

Second, the days of the kalendar underwent substantial revision of rank and kind. Double feasts previously enjoyed three nocturnes of four lessons each at Mattins throughout the year, except the summer when they had three. The revised kalendar provides three lessons per nocturne throughout the year and only one per nocturne during the summer. Semi-Double feasts were generally made into something equivalent to Third Class feasts in the 1960/2 Roman rite and feasts that were previously Simples found themselves more akin to John XXIII's "Commemoration" rank. The reforms did retain the traditional Semi-Double Offices for days within octaves.

One wonders why these Benedictines required a reduction in their Offices? Perhaps they needed time to buy suits and sit on liturgical reform commissions?

Monday, May 28, 2018

Lady Marchmain Considered

During recent weeks I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with several avid readers who share my interest in Brideshead Revisited, a novel that somehow continues to provide material for reflection. It is unlike Waugh's other works, which are generally dry satires with Hemingway-esque brevity in descriptions and dialogue. Indeed, one conversant who loves Brideshead attempted and failed to delve deeper into Waugh's more typical offerings.

It was during a luncheon and wine splurge that another Waughian reader said, "I don't know what to make of some of the characters. Charles and Sebastian are quite straight forward, but what about the mother?" To which I say Teresa Marchmain and Anthony Blanche are the two most misunderstood characters of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and fittingly the latter detests the former, never having met her.

Lady Marchmain is probably the most detestable character in the novel, more so than her eldest son, Bridey, because his aloofness and good nature are almost foibles; he has no ill intentions while his mother seems like she could sneak a dagger through a vertebra and twist it just right. Why does Lady Marchmain hold such a tight grip over her family and why does it make Bridey and Cordelia good Catholics while Julia and Sebastian apostosize, return after her death, and become saintly on their own? Why does she smother Sebastian to the point of alcoholism when all he has some is rabblerouse a little as a student?

Lady Marchmain had three brothers whose short lives, ended by the First World War, informed her view of what a man should aspire to be. "Uncle Ned is the test," said Sebastian. Her second blow during the War to End All Wars was that her husband left for combat and remained on the Continent with an Italian dancer, taking up a life of sin in a Venetian palace. It would not be a stretch to say Lady Marchmain is trying desperately to form her sons into the mold of her chivalrous brothers and to hew them to her, unlike her brothers and husband. Bridey turns out safely, if dull; the same is true of Cordelia; Sebastian and Julia, however, reject the program and flee from their mother's grasp to be their own persons.

She spends time in the chapel. She hires Fr. Phipps to say Mass on Sunday for her family and the villagers. She donates to causes, hosts agricultural events, and provides patronage for intellectual hangers-on. She is a good Catholic, but she is not a saint. "A saint must suffer," said my interlocutor. He is right, and Teresa Marchmain does suffer, but unlike her son, Sebastian, her suffering does not make her holy and does not make her closer to God. Sebastian's drunkenness and disempowerment cause him to take pity on a wounded soldier named Kurt, who he nurses and supports; after Kurt dies in a Nazi camp Sebastian returns to Africa and lives in a monastery, praying at odd hours, sneaking a drink, and doing what he can with his wounded soul. His mother, in stark contrast, becomes distant, emotionally stilted, and unable to love outwardly. Instead, she assumes a mantle of stoicism, genuinely loving her children but not knowing how to love them. As a result her social circle perceive her as a victim of her husband, who must have "stolen her patrimony, flung her out of doors, roasted, stuffed, and eaten her children, and gone frolicking about wreathed in all the flowers of Sodom and Gomorrah."

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.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Who Are the Poor?

What follows is a post originally intended for Lent. Holy Week encroached upon its writing and then I fell very ill for the two weeks after Pascha.

One poor for the Kingdom of Heaven
source: Huffington Post
What is the most haunting, or "challenging" in the modern parlance, passage from the Gospel? The myrrh bearing women coming to an empty tomb at dawn two days after Our Lord's death upon the life giving Cross? Christ's own foretelling of the end of the world, the tribulation of faith, and His own return to pass judgment on the quick and the dead? They call us to attention for our sins and remind us that our deeds and faith will have to measure up to what Christ expects when we meet Him. Do any of them remind us how stringently Christ will judge us, especially we modern Catholics, like the parable of the rich man and Lazarus?

"There's no reason to be poor anymore dude! If you're poor it's all your fault!" exclaimed one excitable fellow during dinner some weeks ago. This crypto-capitalist unfolded the mystery of America's wealth dichotomy, the strange fact that America is the wealthiest and most generous nation the world has ever seen and also one whose Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches mantra could be summarized as "Do it yourself."

"Do it yourself" is an empowering concept that has created considerable wealth and eliminated a great deal of poverty since the Industrial Revolution downsized agrarian life and relocated farmers to cities. "Do it yourself" also assumes quite a great deal. It assumes social mobility, a society that allows anyone to move from his current state, however degraded, to a better one on merit. It assumes the downtrodden are capable and skilled people who can offer something that our consumer-driven, post-industrial, knowledge-based society wants. And above all it assumes that no one needs a second chance, since all opportunity is immanently available.

Is there merit to this logic? Absolutely there is merit. The poor in modern America live in section 8 housing or trailers and collect benefits to use at Walmart or the local corner shop in some crime-infested neighborhood. It may be terrible, but it is not the "leper" society of first century Jerusalem when a mere ailment meant social exile, homelessness, disregard from one's own relatives, and a hungry, lonely death in ritual impurity. Our religious sentiment hopes to assuage genuine poverty in random acts of kindness in encountering a displaced street person, but even they are no longer always what they seem.

There is another sort of poverty that transcends all income levels, that of dis-empowerment, those people who cannot make decisions on their own owing to circumstance. People in this predicament may not live on the street; they may live in a disheveled flat in a bad neighborhood or work away from home for periods of time because their only work prevents them from seeing their families. These poor souls, who cannot make choices with the same levity as most in our post-Industrial, materialist society, are probably the closest we will come to finding traditional poverty.

Poverty, especially of this sort, can be romanticized in literature and devotional writings, not least because for centuries the target audiences for these materials rarely had great means. Dostoevsky almost always has a holy lunatic whose penury frees him or her to embrace a mystical devotion to God. Western spiritual writers seem to think poverty has a merit all its own. This may be true in the case of a devout person, but it cannot be true absolutely. The poverty of dis-empowerment, more than anything, breeds bitterness, resent, quashes dreams, and impinges on one's ability to love others or see beyond the scope of one's own quotidian misery, the latter two being the essence of the Christian life. Far from freeing one of materialistic concerns, this measly state unleashes the worst in our survivalist instincts and when one fails or falls behind, the blame rarely goes to circumstance and almost always to others.

"Blessed are the poor," said Our Lord, but another recounts Him as saying "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Blessed are those who help these poor where ever he finds them. Blessed is he who teaches them to love and to live better. And then will the poor be rich in the kingdom of God.