Friday, August 31, 2018

Prometheus Purifying the Noosphere

(Jean Delville)
The cathartic exhilaration that now strikes us almost daily as sins long rumored are dragged out into the light has had a way of drowning out the less flashy scandals. Back in May the Internet received an article from John P. Slattery about the unspoken legacy of eugenics in the writings and speaking engagements of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ. Catholic writers have been somewhat preoccupied of late, but it is worth brushing the dust off of Slattery’s essay before it has become entirely buried. After noting the approbation given to the French Jesuit from multiple popes, Slattery treats the reader to a few select quotations, such as this one from 1929:
Do the yellows—[the Chinese]—have the same human value as the whites? [Fr.] Licent and many missionaries say that their present inferiority is due to their long history of Paganism. I’m afraid that this is only a ‘declaration of pastors.’ Instead, the cause seems to be the natural racial foundation…Christian love overcomes all inequalities, but it does not deny them.
This from 1937:
What fundamental attitude…should the advancing wing of humanity take to fixed or definitely unprogressive ethnical groups? The earth is a closed and limited surface. To what extent should it tolerate, racially or nationally, areas of lesser activity? More generally still, how should we judge the efforts we lavish in all kinds of hospitals on saving what is so often no more than one of life’s rejects?…To what extent should not the development of the strong…take precedence over the preservation of the weak?
From 1949:
From this there follows, as a first priority, a fundamental concern to ensure (by correct nutrition, by education, and by selection) an ever more advanced eugenics of the human zoological type on the surface of the earth. At the same time, however, and even more markedly, there must be an ever more intense effort directed towards discovery and vision, animated by the hope of our gradually, as one man, putting our hands on the deep-seated forces (physico-chemical, biological and psychic) which provide the impetus of evolution…. There is no future for man, I repeat, without the neo-sense of the species.
And also a biographical account of a debate between Teilhard and a French Catholic philosopher:
Once in a debate with Gabriel Marcel on the subject of ‘Science and Rationality,’ [Teilhard] shocked his opponent by refusing to permit even the appalling evidence of the experiments of the doctors of Dachau to modify his faith in the inevitability of human progress. ‘Man,’ [Teilhard] asserted, ‘to become full man, must have tried everything’ …He added that since the human species was still so young…the persistence of such evil was to be expected. ‘Prometheus!’ Marcel had cried… ‘No,’ replied Teilhard, ‘only man as God has made him.’
The eugenical frenzy of previous centuries seems almost quaint to us in the 21st century, although we have learnt how to accomplish quiet genocides in suburban neighborhoods that were once overrun with children and how also to “perfect” humanity with cyborgian grafts and the application of scalpels to regions unmentionable. Teilhard’s great theological errors are not composed of racism—however that be defined in this age of hypersensitivity—but of a rejection of Original Sin, a replacement of charity with evolutionary energies, and a non-recognition of individual personhood. (Dietrich von Hildebrand’s thorough condemnation is enough to convince any reasonable Catholic of the Frenchman’s grave errors.) It would be best if heresy were enough to strip a theologian of any respect and influence, but credible accusations of racism are in fact more likely to accomplish this end. His doctrines infect even the writings of the Pope Emeritus, whose more mystical excursions are simply incomprehensible without reference to Teilhard.

May we soon be rid of this and all such troublesome Jesuits.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Beheading of John the Baptist in Tradition and Legend [REPOST]

(Andrea Solario)
From the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia:
The honour paid so early and in so many places to the relics of St. John the Baptist, the zeal with which many churches have maintained at all times their ill-founded claims to some of his relics, the numberless churches, abbeys, towns, and religious families placed under his patronage, the frequency of his name among Christian people, all attest the antiquity and widespread diffusion of the devotion to the Precursor. The commemoration of his Nativity is one of the oldest feasts, if not the oldest feast, introduced into both the Greek and Latin liturgies to honour a saint.... The celebration of the Decollation [Beheading] of John the Baptist, on 29 August, enjoys almost the same antiquity. (Charles Souvay)
Becoming of one of the greatest saints, the recipient of protodulia, John’s feasts are ancient and multiple. In older martyrologies, the Conception of the Forerunner is feasted on September 24 (the 23rd in the East). His Nativity is of course celebrated nine months later at Midsummer, June 24. The Orthodox also have more Johannine feasts for the transferring of various relics.

(source)
St. Mark’s Gospel, strangely, has the longer account of St. John’s death:
Herod himself had sent and arrested John and put him in prison, in chains, for love of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married; because John had told Herod, “It is wrong for thee to take thy brother’s wife.” Herodias was always plotting against him, and would willingly have murdered him, but could not, because Herod was afraid of John, recognizing him for an upright and holy man; so that he kept him carefully, and followed his advice in many things, and was glad to listen to him.
And now came a fitting occasion, upon which Herod gave a birthday feast to his lords and officers, and to the chief men of Galilee. Herodias’ own daughter came in and danced, and gave such pleasure to Herod and his guests that the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever thou wilt, and thou shalt have it;” he even bound himself by an oath, “I will grant whatever request thou makest, though it were a half of my kingdom.” Thereupon she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” And she answered, “The head of John the Baptist.” With that, she hastened into the king’s presence and made her request; “My will is, she said, that thou shouldst give me the head of John the Baptist; give it me now, on a dish.” 
And the king was full of remorse, but out of respect to his oath and to those who sat with him at table, he would not disappoint her. So he sent one of his guard with orders that the head should be brought on a dish. This soldier cut off his head in the prison, and brought it on a dish, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard of it, they came and carried off his body, and laid it in a tomb. (Knox trans.)
(Gustave Moreau)
The Golden Legend speaks of the divine retribution wrought by the head of John the Baptist:
And in like wise as Herod was punished that beheaded Saint John, and Julian the apostate that burnt his bones, so was Herodias which counselled her daughter to demand the head of Saint John. And the maid that required it died right ungraciously and evil, and some say that Herodias was condemned in exile, but she was not, ne she died not there, but when she held the head between her hands she was much joyful, but by the will of God the head blew in her visage, and she died forthwith. This is said of some, but that which is said tofore, that she was sent in exile with Herod, and miserably ended her life, thus say saints in their chronicles and it is to be holden. And as her daughter went upon the water she was drowned anon, and it is said in another chronicle that the earth swallowed her in, all quick, and may be understood as of the Egyptians that were drowned in the Red Sea, so the earth devoured her.
(source)
There are multiple claimants to the relic of John’s skull, including San Silvestro in Rome (photographed above). The full collection of these skulls might fill a small closet shelf. The Legend again has many stories about the miraculous head throughout the ages. His bones were desecrated and burned by Julian the Apostate, but multiple pieces have survived to the modern day.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Beneventan Rite: A Missing Link in Liturgical History?

Benevento Cathedral, built in the 8th century, prior to its liberation/destruction in World War II
Study of Western liturgy in the first millennium, aside from the reasonably well documented Roman rite, is a field ripe for confusion if one is not also prudent. Even study of the Roman rite requires some prudence since some of the better resources for the Roman liturgy, like the Gregorian, Gelasian, and Stowe Sacramentaries, are really conscientious adaptations of the Roman ways in places with pre-existing local customs in an era before the Congregation for Rites. If we mention the various rites that preceded those local adaptations of Roman books we look at even more scarce documentation with even less context. All the same I trust my readers' restraint in looking into one of the more curious local rites, that of Benevento, a city whose name came up in the Mattins of Saint Bartholomew.

This city, north of Naples and part of the Byzantine Empire after de facto rule of central and north Italy turned to the Papacy and Goths respectively, celebrated what we assume to be its own unique liturgy until gradually integrating the Roman liturgy at the end of the first millennium. Practically nothing of its texts survive outside of music. There are no Sacramentaries, lectionaries, psalters, or kalendars. Sources for this rite consist of a few pieces of a Gradual for certain Masses, mostly in Advent, Lent, Christmas day and St. Stephen, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday; the Gradual includes the Gradual of the Mass and the Ingressa, an entrance antiphon without any accompanying psalm verses. Some fragments of an Antiphonale for celebration of the Office also survive, but with little direction as to the psalmnody that accompanies the texts. Curiously, the notation is written freely and without constriction to the stave notation popular in Rome and Byzantium. Ensemblem Organum has transcribed some of the music to staves and recorded it with their signature Hellenic droning, something probably foreign to Benevento. Aside from being recorded freehand and without contemporary notation, another anomaly of Beneventan music is how modest it is compared to both Roman and Byzantine chant: everything is either in the key of G or D, whereas the Roman and Greek rites each with eight tones or "modes", distinct melodies based on the initial key of the chant.


The Beneventan ordo Missae is remarkably like that of the Ambrosian tradition in Milan, far across Italy in the Lombard region. The consequences of this fact are uncertain, but made for considerable confusion a century ago when anything different from the Roman rite was taken to be older and hence more "right" and original. In resembling the Ambrosian Mass the Beneventan ordo also parallels many parts of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy. The Gloria begins the popular part of Mass, followed by the Kyrie (no Christe eleison), the Symbol of Faith is sung after the offertory and before the preface, and the dismissal appears to have been Benedicamus Domino. The Greek Divine Liturgy often begins with the Great Doxology (Gloria) at the conclusion of the preceding Orthros (Mattins), Kyrie eleison is the response to the Great Litany which opens the Liturgy proper, the Creed is said before the preface and after the moving of the gifts to the altar, and the dismissal is absolutely not the Roman one but rather several different dismissals and blessings.

A hasty analysis may conclude that the Greek, Ambrosian, and Beneventan rites belong to a common liturgy ancestor from which the Roman liturgy deviated. More likely the Ambrosian and Beneventan rites reflected the cultures in which they were fostered, parts of Italy in which Greek culture and Constantinopolitan influence remained strong long after Rome fell to the foederati and began its own series of liturgical enhancements. Perhaps one strong demonstration of this point is the Great Doxology, the Gloria in excelsis Deo. In both the Ambrosian and Beneventan rites this approximates to the singing of the same in the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy, however sings this as part of the Office and not the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In Rome the singing of the Gloria was not introduced until near the time of Gregory the Great and then only for the celebration of Papal Mass; even in the twelfth century a papal Mass during Lent would hear the Gloria while Pascha at a local parish would not. It would be difficult to criticize the Roman ordo for not resembling the Byzantine Liturgy when there is little evidence it ever did to begin with.

Instead of similar and dissimilar descendants of a pure ancestor the various rites of Italy could more favorably be viewed as open systems of liturgy that cross pollinated over time until a few larger traditions (Rome, Milan) supplanted smaller ones (Benevento, Aquila). The extant rubrics for the Beneventan Holy Saturday reveal, among many things, that both the Roman and Ambrosian Masses were known in Benevento and their rubrics widely practiced; additionally, the separate traditions of the Greek and Latin communities of the city had to be integrated during Holy Week, which admitted one common Eucharist a day. In Rome fire would be blessed, the Paschal candle would be blessed in the church using the Exultet, the twelve prophecies would be sung in Latin entirely and then in Greek, catechumens would be baptized, and then the Mass would be sung. Benevento, and presumably Monte Cassino, which imitated Benevento's liturgical practices, had a different order for Holy Saturday: fire was blessed at the door of the church and brought in on a candle like in the Roman rite, then the prophecies were sung once through alternating Latin and Greek depending on the congregation (in Salerno as late as the 13th century they sang eight in Latin and four in Greek), singing the Benedicite and blessing the candle with the Exultet after the 11th prophecy; then catechumens were baptized and Mass sung.

At first glance the alternative order may seem a minor variation. In a larger context, the Roman practice of blessing fire and then immediately the Paschal candle in the church preserves the ancient lucernarium in the celebration of Vespers, the last such preservation in the Roman Church. Benevento follows the Greek rite of Holy Saturday and consequently Pascha by not beginning their vesperal liturgy with the lucernarium and instead treating the whole thing as an extended Mass with some additional ceremonies; the Exultet after the Benedicite roughly corresponds to the changing of colors during the same hymn in the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great. Not until the reforming papacies of St. Gregory VII and Victor III (himself abbot of Monte Cassino) did the Exultet switch to the Franco-Roman text and placement; around the same time Benevento integrated Roman chant into its liturgy and standardized according to the uses of Rome, which begs the question: did they lose their own rite?

Answering this question may be difficult because liturgical practice varied so greatly before Trent, when many dioceses had their own "uses" or dialects of the Roman rite. It is even harder to answer in the first millennium, when mutual enrichment was more than a seminar concept and liturgical traditions were not quite as established, outside of a few fundamentals, as they would be in the high Middle Ages. In the surviving rubrics of the Beneventan liturgy there are several directives as to when something should be done "according to Roman use" or "according to Ambrosian use". It may be that the Beneventan rite was a "use" of Milan in the same way Sarum is a "use" of Rome, only with some modifications for the local Greek community and some influences from neighboring Rome. Another possibility, which is not presented in the articles I have read, is that both the Roman and Milanese rites were celebrated in Benevento, the latter gradually being merged into the former.

Benevento represents a missing link in the study, but not the history, of the Latin liturgy. It contributes scarce information, but when it does it warns us to approach the subject with as much caution as enthusiasm, for theories have clean delineations which confirm or reject hypotheses, but history just is not that clean.

For more information John Boe's Chant Notation in South Italy and Rome before 1300 and Thomas Kelly's The Exultet in Southern Italy are good starting points and both are available on Google books. The remaining musical texts might be searchable as facsimiles (Benevento 38 and Benevento 40). Benevento 33 has the ordo for Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Assumptiontide Musings: Mary, Did You Know (Mystics Revisited)

Today is the final day in the Church's annual celebration of the death and assumption into heaven of God's Virgin Mother, Our Lady. As perhaps the most uniquely Marian major feast—the older Annunciation feast being focused on the Incarnation—the octave affords us a week and a day to reflect on God's perfection of nature by grace in Mary, the Blessed Virgin's perfect obedience to the will of God, and her relationship with her divine Son. It is regarding this last point that I would like to revive the old topic of mystics and the question of what Our Lady knew, and more importantly, the manner in which she knew it.

One of the more common features of mystics that chronicle the life of Christ before His public ministry is that Our Lord prepares His Mother for His Passion by recounting His purpose in great detail and the exact manner in which He would fulfill all prophesied by the Patriarchs, Moses, the Kings, and heralds of the Jewish covenants. In short, Mary suffered with Christ at the foot of the Cross in full knowledge of how and why almost everything would transpire. The Blessed Virgin suffered a bitter trial in witnessing Jesus's brutal execution at the hands of the blood-thirsty mob, but there are no surprises for her.

This is not, however pious it may seem, the manner in which God seems to speak to the Blessed Virgin regarding Christ's life and death in the Scriptures or in the received mens ecclesiae. Instead, what is to come is always hinted at in a way which calls the soul to prepare for a bitter trial and with only enough clarity to demand fidelity of our human faculties rather than satisfaction of their curiosities. The Holy Spirit does not speak through a veil in these cases, but withholds enough to demand trust.

At the moment of the Incarnation, when the Archangel Gabriel stood saluted the one "full of grace", the heavenly messenger said He Who she merited to bear would "be great and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:32-33). These are promises about what Christ will do for Mary to know and for all posterity. The Angel broadcasts the coming of Christ for the world to contemplate, which it has ever since, perhaps no where more beautifully than in the Akathist sung before the Annunciation during Great Lent in the Byzantine Churches.
An archangel was sent from heaven to say to the Theotokos: Rejoice! And beholding Thee, O Lord, taking bodily form, he was amazed and with his bodiless voice he stood crying to her such things as these:
Hail, Thou through whom joy will shine forth:
Hail, Thou through whom the curse will cease! Hail, recall of fallen Adam:
Hail, redemption of the tears of Eve! Hail, height inaccessible to human thoughts:
Hail, depth undiscernible even for the eyes of angels! Hail, for Thou art the throne of the King:
Hail, for Thou bearest Him Who beareth all! Hail, star that causest the Sun to appear:
Hail, womb of the Divine Incarnation!
Hail, Thou through whom creation is renewed:
Hail, Thou through whom we worship the Creator!
Hail, O Virgin and Bride Ever Pure!
These words, usually ascribed to St. Romanos of Constantinople, are deeper meditations on the words of the Angel to the Virgin. Far from adding information, real or imagined, to the Gospel, they illuminate what Gabriel said all the more brilliantly in light of what transpired later. Similarly, through Simeon the Holy Spirit made known that the Christchild is "set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many heart, thoughts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34-35). Again, hymnody provides some insight as to how these exchanges were conventionally viewed. The fairly modern hymn What Child is This dilates in the second verse:
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
With more age and accompanying wisdom, the Cherry Tree Carol, from the high medieval Yorkshire mystery plays, offers:
Then Mary took her babe,
and sat him on her knee,
Saying, My dear son, tell me
what this world will be.
‘O I shall be as dead, mother,
as the stones in the wall;
O the stones in the streets, mother,
shall mourn for me all.
‘Upon Easter-day, mother,
my uprising shall be;
O the sun and the moon, mother,
shall both rise with me.'  
Mary knows Our Lord maternally, as a mother who knows her son her son as any mother knows her son, the difference being that what Mary was in perfection we must aspire to through the ordinary means of grace in the Sacraments. Mary was absolutely human, but humanity perfected and re-perfected. We will never be as perfect as the Virgin Mother of God, nor will we ever know Christ as well in prayer as she knew Him by motherly instinct, but like her we can know him by grace. Mary was assumed into heaven, which is a special privilege, but perhaps not that unique. Not only may several of the Old Testament patriarchs have enjoyed the same treatment, but more importantly we ourselves will be emptied of our graves and restored as Saint Paul teaches the Corinthians and as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed reminds us. She is the foremost nighttime star in the sea of human darkness and confusion because of her humanity, leading us to her Son's divinity.

Gaudeamus omnes in Domino!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Gaudeamus Omnes! Assumpta Est Maria in Caelum!

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


*     *     *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

Gaudeamus omnes in Domino!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Provincial Faith


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

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

Sunday, August 12, 2018

As Geese in the Midst of Wolves


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 2, 2018

REVIEW: Unguarded Hours by AN Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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