Saturday, December 11, 2021

No Finer Time for Hope

Demolished bunker of Adlerhorst in Germany.
Demolished bunker of Adlerhorst in Germany.

Austin Ruse, president of the Center for Family and Human Rights and frequent writer of inflammatory truths, recently wrote a short but impassioned book called Under Siege: No Finer Time to Be a Faithful Catholic. The book is an expansion of a talk he has given for many years (linked below) about the terrible yet promising times in which we live. He dives more deeply into the moral disorders of our age than most would be comfortable with, to the extent that the reader is left vascillating between fear and anger. The fear is perhaps not so much for the adult reader himself but for his children and the monsters who see all children as prey.

The links between the degeneracy of the secular world and the moral turpitude within the Church's clergy are not lost on Ruse—although his focus is on worldly philosophies, and he has a massive blind spot when it comes to the responsibility John Paul II bore for the spread of clerical abuse. His survey of the moral landscape could go on much longer than it does, but he keeps it short lest it undermine his fundamental message of hope.

"There are halos," he writes repeatedly, as if making it a mantra, "hanging from the lowest branches of the trees." Ruse's litany of modern-day saints and martyrs is itself worth the price of admission, but also his deliberation on the opportunities for Catholics to engage with the Devil's army. Ruse himself works with the United Nations and has tangible victories against creeping secularism, but he has advice for those who live in real fear of losing their livelihoods or even their families. His three-tiered recommendation for how to engage ("Quiet and Privately," "Flying the Flag," and "Charging the Sniper's Nest") are intriguing and practical. "Heroes are those who confront evil and charge the sniper's nest. That is the situation we are in," he writes in the introduction.

Rod Dreher stands out as Mr. Ruse's main vector of divergence. Dreher evinces an attitude of apocalyptic retreat into bunkers that cannot actually hide any target from the military drones of the demonic elite. He sees the end of the world around every corner, and sees the duty of the Christian in such a scenario to run and huddle with the like-minded. For Ruse this is the coward's way out, and he believes that Dreher is a man broken by looking into the abyss one too many times without finding a way to fight back. Traditionalism-as-Nostalgia and unrealistic Monarchist movements are similar targets of Ruse's disdain within the Catholic sphere.

Hope is not just about the hope of one's eventual salvation. It is also the hope that our work here on earth will not all be in vain, the hope that we can effect real change or at least set the stage for our children to play their part, and the hope that even grave sinners can become fellow sons of God. When we lose hope, we lose our spirit and we have no courses of action left to us but retreat and despair.

There are different forms of retreat. Some stay faithful to the Church but retreat from the world, and not to do battle with the Devil in the desert. Too many are so broken by the evil they cannot deny within the Church that they retreat even from God. They feel like it is fruitless to point out the scandals and call for change, because the bishops and priests are habituated to ignoring every accusation that does not threaten a lawsuit. Apostasy is a very real problem for Catholics, and it doesn't only affect traditionalist commentators who suffered repeated trauma at the hands of "conservative" clerics. Average lay Catholics have their hearts turned from the faith of their fathers when false friends demand pity for perversion, when it becomes far easier to join the mob than to stand firm at the foot of the Cross.

Our enemies have us surrounded, Ruse says, and that is exactly where we want them.

What other religion could make such a claim? Blessed are we when we are persecuted for Christ's sake. God's strength is made manifest in weakness. Wisdom is the mother of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.

We do not have the luxury of whining about our battle scars; let them simply be our glory in Heaven. There is no last homely house east of the sea in which we may make retreat and be rejuvenated in peace. The enemy is here, and the hill on which we decide to die may be already below our feet. Do not look to the cowards, to the quitters who abandon their fellow soldiers in time of need. (Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens. No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.) Leave them to the terrors of their own consciences. There is work to be done.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

James the Brother of Jesus, Davidic King

The perennial debate about the "Brethren of the Lord," so found in the Gospels of Sts. Matthew and Mark, is a sticking point between orthodox Christians and those who deny the perpetual virginity of Mary. The usual Counter-Reformation apologetic against heretics was to argue that the word "brother" had a wide usage among the Hebrews and could easily be the equivalent of "cousin." All this is true enough, but it makes light of the earliest traditions of St. Joseph as a widower and a father by his earlier marriage. The Fathers had little problem with the idea that Christ had step-brothers and step-sisters, many of whom arrived at one of his gatherings to embarrass themselves when they demanded his attention (Matt. 12).

St. James is easily the most contentious of these figures, and Catholic theologians today tend to collapse "James the son of Alphaeus" (Matt. 10) and "James the Lord's brother" (Gal. 1) into one person, the same James recorded by Josephus and Eusebius as being the bishop of Jerusalem who reigned until his martyrdom just before the Roman sack of the Holy City. This James of Jerusalem, or James the Just, is easily distinguished from James the Greater, who was the brother of St. John the Apostle and the first apostolic martyr under Herod Agrippa (Acts 12). If we rather consider that there were three Jameses—of Zebedee, of Alphaeus, and of Joseph—then new possibilities open up, and we also must admit that there remains little history and tradition for the middle James, despite being among the Twelve.

My favorite Catholic podcast is that put out by St. Irenaeus Ministries, a small New York apostolate founded by a convert who was once a Protestant Bible scholar, and which is currently run by his accomplished protegé. Most of the talks put out by SIM are in-depth Scripture studies, steeped in Patristics and even in ancient Jewish scholarship. The ongoing series on the Acts of the Apostles goes into some depth about James and the Brethren of the Lord, sticking with the earliest traditions and making observations that were certainly new to my hearing:

  • First, that James the Just was called the "font of all episcopacy" and "bishop of bishops" in the early Church, and there is a special reason for that.
  • Second, that James was chosen to take the see of Jerusalem in part because of his close relation to Jesus.
To the point of James as the proto-bishop, we need to consider first that he was not an Apostle. The Twelve, as well as the Apostle St. Paul, were sent (apostello) to the whole world to preach, convert, and ordain. Yet James the Just remains in Jerusalem, in his homeland: there he is installed as bishop, there he reigns, and there he dies. The pattern of the Apostles is that they encompass the offices of both bishop and missionary, and they very intentionally spread to the farthest corners of the world in order to preach the Gospel. Most of them die in agony in barbarian lands. The fact that James stays in Jerusalem shows that he is not an Apostle, strictly speaking, but rather that he is the pattern of what we know as a bishop, one who possesses a realm over which he reigns and holds spiritual responsibility, and within which realm he resides and remains.

Along that line of thought, it is believed that James was given the bishopric of Jerusalem because he was the next in line for the Davidic throne. Jesus of course was the Son of David and the proper heir to David's throne, although his kingdom was not of this world. When Christ died and was soon ascended into Heaven, it seemed proper to the first generation of the Church to place one of Jesus's own kinsmen upon that Jerusalem throne. As Eusebius writes about the succession after James,

After the martyrdom of James and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed, it is said that those of the apostles and disciples of the Lord that were still living came together from all directions with those that were related to the Lord according to the flesh (for the majority of them also were still alive) to take counsel as to who was worthy to succeed James. They all with one consent pronounced Symeon, the son of Clopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention; to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that parish. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Saviour. For Hegesippus records that Clopas was a brother of Joseph.

Eusebius elsewhere lists the first three bishops of Jerusalem as James, Symeon, and Justus, all of whom could possibly be identified as sons of Joseph (Matt. 13:55, Acts 1:23), and therefore as the kinsmen or Brethren of Our Lord. The fifteenth bishop of Jerusalem in Eusebius's list, and the last of Jewish descent before the Romans forbade Jews in the city, is Judah Kyriakos, believed by many to have been a descendant of Jude the brother of James and author of the catholic epistle. Eusebius also writes that, "Of the family of the Lord there were still living the grandchildren of Jude, who is said to have been the Lord's brother according to the flesh," and that the Emperor Domitian had this family rounded up for questioning to see if they might be rebellious like others of the Davidic line; after hearing their talk of a spiritual kingdom, he "despis[ed] them as of no account." Thus did the line of David rule in Jerusalem, in a spiritual fulfillment of the promise of the Davidic throne while the Apostles still lived, preached, and received martyrdom.

Indeed, the Brethren seemed to hold a special place in the first century of the Church, not opposed to the Apostles but working in concert with them. In Acts 12, St. Peter asks his disciples to talk to "James and to the brothers"; in Acts 21, St. Luke says that "the brothers received us gladly" and then speaks of meeting James; in 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul says that after the Resurrection Christ first "appeared to James, then to all the Apostles"; in Galatians 2, Paul described James, Peter, and John as special pillars of the Church, although this may have been James the Greater. (It is true that Paul calls James an apostle a chapter earlier ("I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother"), but this seems more like an honorific than a precise description of his role.) Christ's brothers appear to be separate from his disciples until after his Resurrection (cf. the references in Matt. 12 & 13, quite a while after the calling of the Twelve in Matt. 10).

James the Greater, the son of Zebedee and brother of John, is already of great account in Tradition. He preached in Spain and was the first of the Twelve to receive the crown of matyrdom. His feast is well-loved, he appears in many hagiographies and in imaginative literature of the Middle Ages, and he is even said to have inspired the reign of Charles the Great.

What of James the Less, the son of Alphaeus? His brother was the Apostle Matthew, or Levi, who seems to outshine James by the writing of the first Gospel, and it was not even this James who wrote the catholic epistle. The Eastern churches say that James the Less was finally martyred in the city of Ostrachina in Lower Egypt by crucifixion. Like so many of the Twelve, James the Less largely disappears after the Gospel accounts, and we only know of his works and death in summary.

James the Just, brother of Our Lord, pray for us!

Martyrdom of James the Just

Friday, September 10, 2021

Traditionis Custodes: Part II

In the second of our three part look at Traditionis Custodes we will consider the options of the laity and the clergy regarding this motu proprio, like many of Francis's resolutions, an abuse of an ancient and venerable style of papal governance.

I had promised that part 2 would look at the future of the Church and test the veracity of the "biological solution" hypothesis. We will undertake this study in part 3. The faithful deserve to know their options, but also their duties in these confusing times.

Time is Greater than Space

What the hell does that mean? Generally, nothing at all. Upon further inspect, the critical thinker continues to find no meaning in it, but rings true in a vague, moody, Oprah Winfrey Show way. Essentially, it says the rapid action forces change such that people cannot keep up with it, undermining the need for consensus. Consequently, without consensus, the results of this Latin American mindset elicit unstable government and legacies which only last in their most nugatory aspects.

Traditionis Custodes will likely be followed by further directives aimed at priests and bishops who do not sufficiently enforce its banana republic directions or who stray from its spirit, the spirit of murdering the old Mass and removing a point of coalescence for the people attached to it. As such, it is important for Traditionalists and our friends to remain coherent, not to resolve to go out guns blazing in a quick and embarrassing fashion, and to be appraised of all we might do.

Making Friends

Some Traditionalists behave as if the self-evident rightness of our liturgical claims, the dishonesty around the reform process, or the falling away from the faith of Christendom since the mid-20th century makes our case. Surely, from an intellectual perspective it does, but a good willed person in a local parish or an average bishop who took a semester of Latin during seminary probably will not find this compelling. Despite all the lectures, arguments, articles, and blog posts, we are the recipients of magnanimity, not its givers. More than ever, Traditionalists are in need of friends, be it weak friends or strong friends.

This delicate necessity should frame every step we take. That is why making snide public comments about The Council, deriding "Novus Ordo" clergy (whoever they are), and signing onto anti-vaccine conspiracy theories will not help us make friends. These actions will play into Papa Bergoglio's claim that we are a derisive and divisive clan. Instead, we need to build bridges into the Church structures wherever we find them.

Is there a point to making friends, other than the immediate survival of the old Mass? Absolutely. Its eventual restoration is the reason. The progressives know this and see it as both an administrative and spiritual obstacle to their vision of the Church. In our last post I mentioned an old book called The Mass of the Future from 1948. Who asked for a "Mass of the Future" in 1948? Perhaps some Ultramontanists would say the Holy Spirit asked for it. Maybe, but only a handful or priests and even fewer seminarians wanted it at that time. In 2021, how many priests and seminarians desire greater liberty to pray the old Mass or to preach from an unabashedly Christocentric perspective, free of fear of reprisal? It certainly is not a majority, but it is certainly a much larger minority.

First, I would advise anyone living in a place with continued availability for the old Mass to drown his bishop with gratitude. Should we be genuinely grateful when the archbishop of Paris shut down some Latin Masses in his diocese, leaving only half a dozen options outside the two FSSPX parishes? Yes, because those Masses remain. When I lived in Connecticut ten years ago there were a dozen old rite Masses in our tiny state, but almost all of them were at horrible times in the afternoon in rundown churches and usually only on Sundays and the odd Holy Day. In Paris, excluding the FSSPX, there remain options daily for the availability of the old Mass, which means those communities and spheres of Tradition will not be going away. Bishops should be made aware of our gratitude, because it will do much more for us and for them than self-entitlement.

Moreover, invite your bishop to visit annually, even if he is not fond of the old liturgy and may decline the opportunity to pontificate. Do not give him a rosary-counting spiritual bouquet, for he will find it curious, but do make your sentiments know and ingratiate your parish to him. TC similarly demands that the ordinary appoint a representative to monitor Traditionalist communities. Why not invite him to celebrate Mass? Why not involve yourself with regular parish catechetical work or volunteer events? Make the old Mass and its attendees an inextricable part of the life of the local Church.

Be the Squeaky Wheel

If you lack access to a Mass, or have lost it, then make friends with other parishioners and start to become.... compelling.

I do not mean starting a Facebook page in denunciation of the bishop, but instead to be the "squeaky wheel which gets the grease". TC provides for the bishop to appoint one or several places in his diocese for the old Mass to be said, so remind him of that compulsively. Point out the inconvenience of travel, as some San Diegans did with effect on their pro-homosexual bishop when they did not want to travel to the ghetto parish run by the FSSP (I say that because the parish is in a ghetto). They were rewarded with Mass on an Indian Reservation, which may not be much, but it keeps the old Mass alive in two places rather than one.

If your bishop is not too keen on heeding these requests immediately, then take a high visibility approach. When he visits your parish, then during coffee hour make sure to ask him about the old Mass during the open mic time. Ditto for his annual fundraising dinner. If he gives you pushback, then go woke so he goes broke: "I don't appreciate that you are de-legitimizing my prayer" or "I feel like it's not safe to be a Catholic in this sort of diocese" or "I'm sorry, are you explaining to me how I feel?" Yes, it is prissy and ridiculous, but it is likely to be the language anti-traditional prelates speak. It is also the language which elicits a response unfortunately, in our day and age.

Effectively, get as many people to refuse to take no as an answer as possible. In this approach, it is best not to act collectively, because a bishop can say "no" to a group once and be done, but he will have much more difficulty say "no" many times a year to hundreds of different people. At that point, he will not have a request; he will have a problem.

Indeed, even if your bishop has retained the old Mass, this is still a good approach. Drown him in gratitude, of course, but the continued growth of the Traditional Mass and Traditionalist movement will ensure that the need for new old Masses will not abate.

Giving His Excellency Options

These are extreme, near-last resorts and not ones I happily recommend, but being innocent as doves is not useful unless we have the guile of serpents, too.

If you are without an old Mass anymore, why not sue? Seriously. Catholics who had made their spiritual home in a parish with the old Mass could reasonably ask for any large donations or money sent to their diocese back since they gave it with the understanding that their needs were being met. Have you donated vestments, given to the bishop's annual appeal, or funded youth catechism? Surely, you did so because you thought your diocese was doing something good for you without any expectation it would be taken away.

On its own, this might be frivolous, but there is normally a lawyer to be found in every parish and a class action suit never looks nice. Why would a bishop be eager to get rid of a case he would likely win? For one, because he could still lose. Another reason is that even if the defendant wins, lawsuits are very expensive and look bad in the press. Most bishops want to be archbishops; most archbishops want to be cardinals; most cardinals want their own dicastery in Rome. Hemorrhaging money and making one's diocese look negligent will not accelerate these aspirations. Setting up one or two Masses is a much cheaper, quicker, and better looking solution.

An even more extreme option, which I hesitate to recommend, would be to gather a large group of the faithful who have lost their Mass and request a meeting with either the bishop or his vicar general. Inform said prelate of your concern and offer to assist them in ministering to your party by inviting the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X into town on your own dime. Every penny and sixpence that would have gone to the local parish, Catholic school, Catholic hospital, or bishop's fund will now go to supporting a Fraternity priest who will visit a few times a month to gather the faithful in his diocese.

Pope Francis has given the FSSPX faculties for Confessions and, with consent of the ordinary, for marriages, which means there is little the ordinary can do as far as condemning faithful who would take this approach. Canon Law and papal decrees cannot apply to those outside the Church, so excommunication of FSSPX adherents is out of the question.

Resisting the FSSPX's Siren Call

I give remuneration of the FSSPX as a final option because the Church is a coherent institution and, as people in a position to play the "art of the possible", we should keep our minds focused on retaining the old Mass and a Christocentric mindset in normal Catholic environs. The FSSPX was founded at a time when the Church was in a state of perpetual revolution and with no refuges in sight. Despite the politics of Pope Francis, the current situation is not as dire as that of 1975. The FSSPX is a lifeboat, not a solution. Archbishop Lefebvre, in his sermon given prior to Mass during the 1988 episcopal consecrations, stated that 

"This is why I sent a letter to the pope, saying to him very clearly: 'We simply cannot (accept this spirit and proposals), despite all the desires which we have to be in full union with you. Given this new spirit which now rules in Rome and which you wish to communicate to us, we prefer to continue in Tradition; to keep Tradition while waiting for Tradition to regain its place at Rome, while waiting for Tradition to re-assume its place in the Roman authorities, in their minds.' This will last for as long as the Good Lord has foreseen."

I will never condemn those who look to the FSSPX for spiritual guidance or as a refuge where normal Catholic life may be lived for their children, but it will never be a solution or an alternative to doing the work to restore Tradition and regular Catholic life as broadly as possible.


Neglected in all these discussions are priests. Francis has assumed total power, and shared it with the bishops who agree with him. Their enemies are enumerated as "rigid" seminarians" and laymen who deride Vatican II. What of clergy, who in great part have found their priesthood enriched by the ancient rite of Mass?

First, do not cease to celebrate the old Mass, even if that means privately. A bishop may call upon you, priest, to stop celebrating the old Mass in public and even pretend to have the authority to do so in private. This is utter nonsense. Guardians of Betrayal abrogates Summorum Pontificum, which is nonsense because SP merely recognizes a fact, it does not grant any permissions. When scientists discovered the cell in the 19th century and consigned the old Greek "elements" of Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire to the dustbin, would it not have been ridiculous for a university to "abrogate" the paper of the discovering scientist, to claim that we had atoms for a while, but now we are back to the four Greek elements instead?

Second, remember that the Law of the Church is behind you. Quo primum tempore has principles enshrined in the current Canon Law, namely immemorial custom, meaning that even if something is abrogated, if it has the force of custom behind it then its use is legitimate. For a legal argument, look here. In the end, Saint Thomas Aquinas, the common teacher of the Catholic Church, writes that

"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."

The Church is on your side, even if that means you need to bide your time and await better days.


These ideas are meant to meet people depending on where they find themselves in this current crisis, which I believe may last for a decade or more, and which represents a setback in the effort to restore worship, but only a setback. The disciples of modernity have power, but they have no intellectual tradition, they have spent the Church's moral capital, and they bear few sons. That said, they manage to survive from year to year.

In our last installment in this series, we will look at how Traditionis Custodes meets the the trajectory of the things and the future of the Latin Church. Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Traditionis Custodes: Part I

There is no need to bore anyone by recapitulating the details of Guardians of Betrayal, “Latin” version Traditionis Custodes, promulgated on a Marian feast last month by the Pope. For the best reading on the subject, I advise looking and these two articles from NLM (here and here).

Instead, during this brief return from the dead of the internet, we shall endeavor to accomplish two things: 1- to provide some context, and with it, some self-criticism, for this document and 2- to ask what it means for the future.

Origins of the Traditio

What are the origins of this betrayal? Nominally, Pope Francis attributes this intervention to pastoral and doctrinal necessity, the need to rescue the reputation and adherence to Vatican II from traditionalists, the epicenter of Vatican II-denial. Further reading suggests TC came at the directive of the Italian bishops’ conference, who, although an unimpressive lot, are not quite as progressive as Pope Francis on matters of Church government.

The Pope is eager to have his synodal view of the Church—a great immobilizer for the Eastern Churches—and the Italian bishops have resisted this move. The Italian Church, much like the Church in America some decades ago, is both in decline and living off the merits and capital of the past, both spiritually and financially. In Naples they will still come out for San Gennaro and in Rome they will flood St. Peter’s for the Christmas midnight Mass, but the churches are only sporadically filled throughout the remaining Sundays of the year. Some bishops are quite progressive while others follow a Siri-esque line. Indeed, there is not much to commend or unite the bishops of this decaying Christian nation than a dislike of the “Tridentine” liturgy. Why? Is there a fear of neighboring France?

France is a nation of 67 million people, of them about 50 million self-described Catholics. Prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, only about 5% of that 50 million heard Mass on Sunday, or 2.5 million people. Some numbers I saw years ago, during the controversy surrounding their attempted rehabilitation by Benedict XVI, estimated adherence to the Fraternity of St. Pius X around 100,000 Frenchmen and a similar number for “indult” Masses. Those figures may have grown in the last decade, but with the drop in Mass attendance due to COVID-19, a figure unlikely to recover to its former mediocrity when this pandemic ends, the traditionalists will continue to be much bigger fish in an ever-shrinking pond.

Italy is not France, but it has the potential to become a traditionalist hub. Many of the more prominent traditional and conservative thinkers in the Latin Church are either Italian or live in Italy just as they tended to come from France decades ago. There are less than a hundred Latin Masses available in Italy and only half of those Masses take place every Sunday. Some years ago, Una Voce reported that there were hundreds of petitions for Latin Masses in Italy going unanswered. I wish I could find this report and scrutinize it; reasonably, many of these requests probably overlap (multiple people in a parish or village asking for the same thing), but there is a bottled-up demand. Moreover, the horror of the Pope when hearing about “rigid” seminarians underscores a fear of young priests who could unilaterally promote the old Mass for the next five decades in a withering liturgical milieu. The bishops’ concern, if they see the Roman Mass as a threat rather than as a spiritual treasure, is in fact warranted.

Among these factors, it is also worth remembering that the Italian Church is liturgically behind the rest of the Church in terms of liberalization. They did not have Communion in the hand, for instance, until John Paul II. Msgr. Bugnini looked at the papal basilicas as his enemies because they guarded the Gregorian musical tradition, and, indeed, in Rome and throughout Italy, many cathedrals and collegiate churches retained a daily sung Mass with Lauds and Vespers daily until quite recently. The expulsion of Giovanni Vianini’s Schola Gregoriana Mediolanensis from the basilica of San Vittore is a symptom of the same. Andrea Grillo may be the prophet of modern Italian liturgy, but there is also clearly a fear that the new, “rigid” seminarians may be his Jeremiah.

They See Themselves in Us

Guardians of Betrayal is principally about power, not liturgy. It is an attempted dis-enfranchisement of a hub of people who have a different spiritual bent, a different view of the world, and a different desire for the future of the Church than the Pope does or his Age-of-Aquarius collaborators. Their predecessors, the revolutionaries of the ‘40s and ‘50s, began their revolution occupying a smaller portion than we do today of a Church much more uniform in faith and worship than we have today. They achieved their revolution through finding the right levers of power to pull, manipulating their way through committees, bureaucracies, and clerical appointments until they could convince the 2,000 bishops of the Church that a wholesale refresh was the only way to keep the Church relevant. They kept underground during the papacies of Pius XI and Pius XII, while still finding ample opportunities to introduce dialogue Masses, versus turbam worship, and to mention the inevitability of the “Mass of the Future” (a book by Gerald Ellard SJ).

Traditionalists are, unfortunately, often more “conservative” by temperament than militant. This is a crucial problem because conservative people tend to value their individual liberty over the broader picture. There are evangelical and militant people in the Latin Mass movement who would find themselves at home with the 17th century Spanish missionaries to the Americas or with the early Franciscans, but most I think are content to stay in their parishes and make their first Saturdays. They assume, not unreasonably, that the demographic trends in the Church mean the inevitable fall of the progressive faction and a better future. They are not entirely wrong, but they do not see the entire picture as well as the well-aged reformists.

People who are conservative by temperament, like most men, tend to want things clear, obvious, out in the open. In a word, they naturally expect affairs to be settled openly and honestly. These are noble attributes and ones which we have inherited from the image and likeness of God, damaged though they are by our limits and the effects of Original Sin. These are not traits generally shared by people who are good at politics or politicking. The necessity of making friends and doing the “art of the possible,” rather than doing what is obviously right, is bothersome to us. At some level, the decade of “TLM good, Novus Ordo bad” articles and books are directed toward this open and honest perception of human decision making, whereas the more relational method is what really creates change.

Progressive churchmen know this full well, and while there are relatively few sympathetic prelates and cardinals who would die on the hill of the old Mass, their number has grown. Would it be wrong to pull one’s self away from one’s parish and play the game of politics for the greater good? St. Gregory the Great lamented the loss of silence and his difficulty praying since being ripped out of his monastery to become Pope; administrative affairs depressed him, whereas his ears were once full of divine silence, they were now full of gossip, positioning, and frivolities. Yet, he endured.

Similarly, St. Peter Damien is remembered as a firebrand polemicist and preacher, but he also left his monastery to participate in the “art of the possible.” In his fight against sodomy in the clergy, he would visit bishops, present the idea that homosexual clergy should be excommunicated and only given the Sacraments in extremis, and then backpedal to a more moderate position, such as a suspension for a few years or perhaps laicization for the worst offenders. He promoted monasticism, both for its roots in Christian life and because the monasteries he founded were generally answerable to the Apostolic See rather than to the local ordinary, creating a rival sphere of influence and orthodoxy. A true reformer, the saint possessed a strong vision of the Church and sought it through every means available rather than abiding in perfunctory hope.

Progressives recognize their own past ascendancy with our current potential. What is more, the old Mass has created a rallying point and a pivot for organization that progressives in the past lacked, which is why the result of their reforms was so disparate from place to place. Traditionalists would do well not just to appreciate their position, but to learn how to use it.

“Be ye wise as serpents and simple as doves.”

Vatican II

Nominally, Guardians of Betrayal originated out of a concern for the integrity of the Second Vatican Council and concern that its rejection would sow seeds of dissent and division within the Church. Much can be said of Vatican II, but this article is not the place. Readers of this blog will know that the mid-20th century liturgical reform had next to nothing to do with Vatican II, that it was in fact the independent project of the papacies of Pius XII and his protégé, Paul VI, that under the Consilium it became a runaway train, and that Vatican II was used to justify the reforms through parliamentary manipulations.

All the same, TC makes official the conflation of the Novus Ordo with Vatican II and the old Mass with not-Vatican II. Aside from underscoring the historical and liturgical illiteracy of its authors, Guardians of Betrayal brings about a new issue: in merging the New Mass with Vatican II, and in turn the old Mass with not-Vatican II, does not banning the old Mass effectively sweep the pre-November 1969 Church into the dustbin? And with it the authority and prestige of the Pope’s very office? Benedict XVI’s “hermeneutic of continuity” received some just criticism from liberals and traditionalists, but it had with it the noble goal of keeping the Church whole throughout its history. Even Paul VI lamented the difficulty of moving past the old Mass and stories of his private disconsolance confirm that those feelings were quite genuine. The guise of Vatican II and the near-universal adaptation of the Novus Ordo in 1969 could at least suggest that the liturgical change of the time was an act of the Church in a particular direction. TC is a one-way, unilateral decree which scornfully looks upon the souls and consciences of people who find fulfillment in the same place where most saints found it.

The Future

In part 2 we will consider what all of this means for the future of the liturgy, of Church government, the “biological solution”, and what we should do.

I also hope to post a review of the wines produced by the monks of Le Barroux soon.

In the interim, keep the faith.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The Year of St. Joseph: Sold into Egypt

The Year of St. Joseph, proclaimed by the Holy Father to extend from December the 8th of last year until the same of 2021, offers the faithful a cornucopian wealth of spiritual riches. January gave us a devout Catholic president, named appropriately after the ecclesiastical year. March gave us the triple treat of Jordan Peterson flirting with Christianity, Milo Yiannopoulos straightening himself out while growing a mullet, and Pope Francis instituting a fifteen month-long overlapping Year of the Amoris Laetitia Family beginning on St. Joseph's own feast day. April featured the exposure of financial malfeasants in the Vatican. Finally, July has given us first a bit of Louisiana legislation celebrating the annual feast of St. Joseph the Worker, and then a timely reminder of the need to be faithful custodians of the Catholic tradition. The patron of the universal Church is assuredly watching over us with restful eyes.

If nothing else, this whirlwind of church politics has been a bracing reminder of the need for Christian souls to cling ever more closely to Christ the Bridegroom. It is a difficult thing to keep one's mind on heavenly things, and one's heart detached from the pomp and treasures of this world. This is nearly impossible when you are being betrayed, as it often feels, by those who most owe you fraternal love and fellowship.

"Behold, the dreamer cometh!"

Much as Joseph of old was stripped of his many-colored coat and sold to passing slave traders of his own distant kin, so have we too been stripped of the glorious gifts handed down from our fathers and cast into a pit with no water. It is a sad state of affairs—one which would have broken a man of lesser faith—but not the disaster it might appear to be. Will we too see the day when it can be said, "You thought evil against me, but God turned it into good"?

The other Josephs of Scripture also serve as examples. Joseph of Arimathea boldly asked permission of the procurator to bury Christ in the face of what was clearly deadly persecution; so we too must treat respectfully the holy things which authorities attempt to destroy. Joseph Barsabbas ("son of an old man," in some translations) was considered to fill the role of the Iscariot after the Ascension, but ended his clerical career as a relatively obscure bishop and martyr; so we who have no pride of place must remain faithful to the end. Joseph Barnabas ("son of consolation") bravely confirmed St. Paul's conversion before the other Apostles, but was later humbled when he followed St. Peter into error; so should we take care not to allow human respect to blind us to hard truths. Finally, Joseph the Betrothed is an example of fidelity to God's commands and readiness to do what is needed in the worst of times.

Ite ad Joseph, indeed. Go to each holy Joseph and beg them to petition God for a double spirit of the grace given in their troubles.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The "Latin" Mass

Inaccessibility remains the greatest hurdle of the traditional Roman rite to the faithful of the Latin Church. It is not the priest "facing away" from the people, nor the supposedly ritualized ceremony, nor the quality of the vesture, nor even the music. It is principally the language and the seriousness of the old Mass which shocks people. The older rites intentionally separate the sacred and the profane, simultaneously lifting the profane terrestrial elements of bread, water, wine, and human flesh to the Sacred as Christ Himself did.

In a recent article, Dr. Kwasniewski argued that the Latin language and music form an sonic iconostasis in the old Mass, an expression of the inherent separatedness of God from Man and His lifting of Man up to Himself. This was not meant to keep the people out, only to emphasize the greatness of the mysteries celebrated in past times under a baldachin or behind a rood screen and in modern times beneath a linguistic veil.

Dr. K's observations are in continuity with the Byzantine tradition of viewing the development and enhancement of the liturgy as the work of the Holy Spirit by the means of human accidents rather than as intentional human oddities. Eastern Christians, Catholic or dissident, view their liturgical traditions in their current forms as the work of the Spirit and laden with spiritual meaning. For instance, in prior times the rood screen of the Greek churches separated the people from the sacred action, as in the Latin rite, but during the late Palaiologian empire, the people began to hang their icons on the screen. Although this was an historical curio, the practice stuck and the screen became a solid wall. Far from viewing this change as a corruption or something belonging to the 15th century, they saw this as an elaboration of the old screen's bifurcation of the mystery of the Mass from the world and the obvious presence of the saints at the altar ("invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts").

All this sounds quite good and easily relates to the Byzantine visual veil on the Eucharistic sacrifice, but if this is true it has been true for most of Latin Christendom's history, not all of it. The Latin language was spoken as the vernacular of most of the former-[Western] Roman Empire for centuries after the collapse of Rome under the barbarian invasions of the fifth century. The same language people spoke was the same language as the Roman Mass, however it sounded very different from the Latin one hears at the nearest Traditional Mass today. Indeed, our Latin Masses would have been discernible, if disagreeable, to Cicero and to the Roman Christians of Nero's days. It would not have been too intelligible to sainted popes like Leo and Gregory the Great.

Enter Late Latin and Early Romance by Roger Wright, an influential, but somewhat controversial summary of the evolution of Latin from Cicero through the Middle Ages. The author follows certain changes to pronounced Latin which are visible in misspellings in graffiti at Pompeii or in the journals of contemporaries of the third to sixth centuries. Dipthongs concatenated, words ending in M or T or S started to drop off the last consonant much like how Puerto Ricans speak Spanish, and soft vowels took on longer O sounds. "Multum", for instance, became pronounced "multo", like modern Italian. The more familiar elements of Ecclesiastical Latin, the "ch" sound and modern pronunciation of V, entered the language just after the Julio-Claudian dynasty with the rest coming later.

What's more, Latin, spoken as a vernacular in Iberia, Gaul, some part of Britain and the Germanic lands, and elsewhere, continued to take on characteristics of indigenous languages or the speech patterns of the people in those areas. The result was a Latin not unlike modern English, a language with a written tradition quite different from how it is pronounced today. "How are you?" would phonetically be pronounced "Ho-w ar-eh y-uw" before major changes to our tongue during the Renaissance. Latin underwent a similar change after the Fall of Rome through the age of Charlemagne. There was one written tradition of Latin, universal and unchanging everywhere, pronounced differently almost everywhere, being pronounced as proto-Italian in northern Italy, as proto-French in Gaul, and as proto-Spanish and proto-Portuguese in Iberia. Mass and the Office were likely observed accordingly, with the texts nominally being the same everywhere, but pronounced and sung in a way intelligible only to the people of a given area, a universal language of the liturgy until it was spoken.

Charlemagne desired a revival of classical learning and an accumulation of knowledge, which would require a coherent linguistic tradition among those who were to be educated. His advisor, the deacon Alcuin of York, suggested that the Latin spoken among the educated in England be normalized throughout the lands of the Holy Roman Empire, reaching Rome and becoming the "Church Latin" which today sounds so much like Italian. Wright and other modern Latinists are somewhat derisive of Alcuin's Ecclesiastical pronunciation, believing it artificial. It was in fact the natural evolution of Latin in a particular area which had its own local, Germanic languages, which is why Ecclesiastical Latin sounds closest to Classical Latin which a very few exceptions (Vs, Cs, and dipthongs). The two are mutually intelligible, which cannot be said of either language regarding the proto-Romance languages which evolved elsewhere.

With more provinces of Latin Christendom adopting the Ecclesiastical method, the Mass and Office ceased to be in a spoken vernacular and instead became a semi-intelligible sacred tongue despite the written words remaining entirely unchanged. The resulting situation would have been something very similar to Church Slavonic: something generally intelligible, but entirely so, to Ukrainian and Russian speakers. Speakers of proto-French, proto-Spanish, proto-Italian, and proto-Portuguese certainly would have been able to understand and learn the psalms and ordo Missae over the course of their lifetimes and even understand it, but the variable parts—the readings and orations—would have been lost on them.

As a result, the faithful took on new manners of being occupied during these moments. Educated people often recited the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To the masses, the processions to the altars before Mass, the dramatic events of Holy Week, the blessing of sacramentals, the great feasts of the year, the mystery plays, and the vernacular hymnody associated with these days became their manner of participation in the liturgical life of the Church and remained so in most places until the 20th century.

Even before the "deadening" of Latin by Charlemange and Alcuin, constant abecedarian engagement with the words of the Mass were foreign to the Roman tradition. The Ordines Romani recount that the chants of the Mass were not popularly sung, but delivered by local subdeacons according to seniority. The celebrant dictated how long chants would be sung by signalling when to move to the Gloria Patri. Office and place admitted one to a certain level of participation in the liturgy, not merely language. With the opening of the sanctuaries and simplification of ceremonies after the Reformation the Latin language was the only remaining veil of mystery which surrounded the Mass and the liturgical act for centuries. Latin filled the void of the rood and the sanctuary veil.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Collects for the Assumption

One of the most beautiful Masses in the Roman Missal is that of August 15, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. The Mass is an interesting one textually and musically, beginning with the Gaudeamus omnes introit common to certain saints in the Middle Ages and generally used, along with Salve sancta parens, for Marian feasts.

Festively, the Assumption, or Dormition, originated in Constantinople under the Byzantine Emperor Maurice, who was murdered by the man who re-introduced beards to the East. The feast is not present in the Leonine, or "Verona", Sacramentary, but it is present a few generations later in the Gelasian Sacramentary, an early ninth century Gaulish recension of the Roman Sacramentary from a century earlier. There are two collects given, neither which match the noble Famulorum of the Tridentine Mass nor the Veneranda of the post-Gallican rites but which do seem to have inspired the tone and literary character of both.

The first:
"Deus, qui spe salutis aeternae beatae Mariae virginitatie foecunda humano generi praemia praestitisti, tribue, quaesumus, ut ipsam pro nobis intercedere sentiamis per quam meruimus auctorem vitae nostrae suscipere."

The second:

"Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui terrenis corporibus Verbi tui veritatis Filii unigeniti per venerabilem ac gloriosam semper virginem Mariam ineffabile mysterium coniungere voluisti, petimus immensan clementiam tuam, ut quod in eius veneratione deposcimus, te propitiante consequi mereamur."

Neither collect mentions the miracle of the Assumption, instead drawing attention to Mankind's hope for salvation in the Mystery of the Incarnation of Christ. The expectation of intercession in exchange for veneration, what Eamon Duffy called a "transactional" aspect of medieval piety, is apparent in the last words of the second collect and survived in the Veneranda collect used in the Sarum, Dominican, and most other non-Roman, Latin rite Missals:

"Veneranda nobis, Domine, hujus diei festivitas opem conferat sempiternam, in qua sancta Dei genitrix mortem subiit temporalem, nec tamen mortis nexibus deprimi potuit; quæ Filium tuum Dominum nostrum de se genuit incarnatum."

One wonders if Veneranda began as the second collect above, Omnipotens, and passed through Byzantine influence. The words "nec tamen mortis nexibus deprimi potuit" call to mind the Greek hymn sung on the feast:

"When you gave birth you kept your virginity, when you fell asleep you did not abandon the world, O Theotokos. You passed into life, you who are the mother of life, who through your intercessions redeem our souls from death."

 As always, the Roman rite favored the more subtle and restrained text, Famulorum:

"Famulorum tuorum quaesumus Domine, delictis ignosce ut, qui tibi placere de actibus nostris non valemus, Genitricis Filii tui Domini nostri intercessione salvemur."

The Roman collect aligns more clearly with the first prayer from the Gelasian Sacramentary, Deus, qui spe salutis, with its emphasis on Mankind's necessity for Mary's intercession and our general helplessness without it. While certainly medieval, the prayer does not embrace the period piety as strongly as the other [proposed] set of prayers.

Both Famulorum and Veneranda appear in the 10th century Gregorian Sacramentary, although the respective Masses proper to the feast varied locally. Interestingly, neither collect retains the ancient, post-Patristic emphasis on the Incarnation that the Gelasian prayers do, and only Veneranda mentions Our Lady's death and assumption directly. Famulorum, however, is not a generic Marian prayer. Outside of local feasts, the Assumption was the Marian feast in the early Middle Ages—the Annunciation being a commemoration of the Incarnation, not solely in dulia of Maria. As the primary Marian feast, the Assumption was worthy of a more generalized petition in the collect.

Not all Missals, however, split into these two neat camps. For example the surviving Missal from the St. Lucia Monastery in Abruzzo gives an entirely different text. The Lyonese rite, even after the neo-Gallican textual vitiations of the 18th century, retained Veneranda on the feast and Famulorum during the octave. Such is the rich history of this rich feast.

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

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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
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!