Friday, August 30, 2013

Inspiring Story

Given that a large percentage of my readers are from the British Isles, I hope they do not mind my posting this. What follows is the story of a man who grew up in Northern Ireland, whose home was bombed by violent pro-English partisans, who became a devoutly violent IRA operative, who studied Marx, who attempted to assassinate English soldiers, and who spent six years in prison, where he returned to the Lord by the grace of the Holy Spirit and by the aid of a missionary priest. His retelling of reading Scripture and entering into long, meditative prayer reminds me of St. Isaac the Syrian's regimen.
Even if you cannot watch it all in one go, the story is well worth your time.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Mass of the Pre-Sanctified Revisited

Readers will remember several months ago the Rad Trad collated images from the Institute of Christ the King's Good Friday Mass of the Pre-Sanctified in 2003. It is the Rad Trad's most viewed post ever. Unfortunately the Institute did not video record the event. However a church in Ohio, run by some squad of sedevacantists, did manage to record a celebration this year. The Rad Trad came across this quite accidently on YouTube and, after some hesistation, has decided to post it below for purely academic purposes. Note the "haunting" Gospel tone after the Passion and the elements from a regular Mass that compose the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified in part 2, which you can access by clicking the player and getting to YouTube proper. Another unique feature is that this combines rubrics for Pontifical Mass at the Faldstool with the Holy Week rubrics, which is the reason for the odd positioning of the sacred ministers. Also, although I believe Pius XII abolished it in the 1950s, the celebrating bishop has a train on his cassock. I believe one of the deacons of the Passion is Fr. Anthony Cekada, the author.
Hopefully readers will see why, given its structural similarities to the ancient Roman Mass outlined here, and its common prayers with Mass every other day of the year, a friend of the Rad Trad's once argued that the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified is an actual Mass. It has the synaxis. It has the prayers for the Church. And it has the observance of the Eucharist. All distinct from the praying of the Office. There is even that question as to whether or not the wine is consecrated by the mingling of the Blessed Sacrament, which the Easterners still believe happens. The reformers judged this question to be a medieval superstition. So the entire rite was replaced by some readings and a general communion service.
I hope readers will not be put off by the canonically illicit surroundings of this celebration, as we are interested in the rite itself and not the celebrants nor their congregation. I post this in the same spirit and with the same intent that I have published images and recordings of Eastern Orthodox services. The rite itself is part of our Roman patrimony and we ought to learn more about it.
Correction: part 2 is not uploaded, but the end of the Blessed Sacrament procession and the offertory-like ceremonies can be seen here: (the uploader has forbidden embedding for some reason, apologies).

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sequence and Preface for St. Augustine

One of our readers wrote to me this morning from the Iberian peninsula, where St. Augustine has a lasting presence owing to the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross. In Portugal local sanctoral kalendars feast of St. Augustine has a unique sequence after the alleluia and a preface, which are reproduced below in Latin and English. Happy feast!

Sequence (by Adam of St. Victor):

De profundis tenebrarum 
Mundo lumen exit clarum 
Et scintillat hodie: 
Olim quidem vas erroris, 
Augustinus vas honoris
Datus est Ecclesiae.

Verbo Dei dum obedit, 
Credit errans et accedit 
Ad baptismi gratiam; 
Quam in primis tuebatur, 
Verbis, scriptis exsecratur 
Erroris fallaciam.

Firmans fidem, formans mores, 
Legis sacre perversores 
Verbi necat gladio; 
Obmutescit Fortunatus; 
Cedunt Manes et Donatus 
Tante lucis radio.

Mundus marcens et inanis, 
Et doctrinis doctus vanis 
Per pestem hereticam, 
Multum cepit fructum ferre, 
Dum in fines orbis terre 
Fidem sparsit unicam.

Clericalis vite formam 
Conquadravit juxta normam 
Cetus apostolici: 
Sui quippe nil habebant; 
Tanquam suum dividebant 
In commune clerici.

Sic multorum pro salute 
Diu vivens in virtute 
Bona tandem senectute 
Dormivit cum patribus. 
In extremis nil legavit 
Qui suum nil estimavit, 
Immo totum reputavit 
Commune cum fratribus.

Salve, gemma confessorum, 
Lingua Christi, vox celorum, 
Tuba vite, lux doctorum, 
Presul beatissime;
Qui te patrem venerantur, 
Te doctorem, consequantur 
Vitam in qua gloriantur 
Beatorum anime. Amen. 

English (Digby S. Wrangham):

From the depths of dark obscurest 
Comes forth light, which shines, the purest, 
On the earth to-day from heaven: 
Once a vessel, truth mistrusting, 
Now for honour made, Augustine  
To the Church of God was given.

He, the Word of God obeying, 
Now believes, once from it straying, 
And for grace to baptism comes: 
He those errors, once commended, 
And in youth with words defended, 
Reprobates in written tomes.

Faith confirming, precepts framing, 
Those, against Christ's law declaiming, 
Slays he with the Word's sharp sword: 
Fortunatus' utterance faileth. 
Manes with Donatus quaileth, 
'Neath such radiant light outpoured.

Earth, made void and fast expiring, 
But vain doctrines' lore acquiring, 
Through the pest of heresy, 
To produce much fruit commences, 
As the one Faith he dispenses 
To its furthest boundary.

Rules he made for priestly living; 
As their pattern, to them giving 
The Apostles' company: 
Nought their own these priests computed, 
But whate'er seemed theirs devoted 
To the whole community.

Thus, for many's welfare striving, 
Many years in virtue living. 
At a good old age arriving, 
With his sires he slept at last. 
No bequests he left, when dying, 
Who, its ownership denying, 
Thought his wealth should be supplying 
All with whom his lot was cast.

Hail, Confessors' gem bright burning! 
Tongue of Christ! heaven's voice of warning!  
Trump of life and light of learning! 
Prelate high amongst the blest! 
May those, Father! who revere thee, 
'Neath thy guidance that life near thee 
Gain, where joys the truest cheer thee 
In the Saints' all-glorious rest! Amen.


Vere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere, Domine, sancte Pater, omnipotens æterne Deus. Quia vas electionis tuæ, et lux doctorum, mellifluus Augustinus, toto terrarum orbe radio miræ claritatis infulsit; et Ecclesiam sanctam Fidei orthodoxæ, vere Augustinus illustravit: destruxit hæreses, errores repulit: hæreticosque prostravit: ac status fidelium universæ christianæ vitæ Augustinus moribus decoravit: clericos docuit: laicos monuit, devios in viam veritatis reduxit: cunctorumque conditionibus salubriter providendo, tuam in hoc mari naviculam Augustinus provide gubernavit. Et ideo cum angelis et archangelis, cum thronis et dominationibus, cumque omni militia cœlestis exercitus, hymnum gloriæ tuæ canimus, sine fine dicentes:


It is truly meet and just, right and wholesome, for us at all times and in all places to give thanks unto thee, Lord, holy Father, almighty everlasting God. For the vessel of thy election, and the light of doctors, the honey-tongued Augustine, shone upon the whole world by reason of the ray of his wonderful glory: and truly did Augustine enlighten the holy Church of the orthodox Faith: destroy heresies, drive away errors: put heretics to flight: and the manner of the whole Christian life of the faithful did Augustine adorn by his example: he taught clerks: he admonished laymen: he brought back wanderers to the way of truth: and by providing in wholesome wise for the necessities of all men, did Augustine carefully pilot thy ship in this [life's] sea. And therefore with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominations, and with every company of the heavenly host, we sing the hymn of thy glory, saying without ceasing:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Book Review: The Banished Heart: Origins of Heteropraxis in the Catholic Church by Dr. Geoffrey Hull (minor update)

Dr Geoffrey Hull
Once every now and then one finds an author capable of approaching a daunting subject with remarkable clairvoyance, not muddling himself among polemics or minutiae. Dr. Geoffrey Hull is one such author. His The Banished Heart: Origins of Heteropraxis in the Catholic Church recalls that old saying that the truth is not between two positions, but rather above them. Hull examines the roots of the twentieth century liturgical overhaul by rising above the disputes between liberals and traditionalists that have raged on for five decades and taking a long, far-sighted look back centuries more, to the late first millennium, when the Roman liturgy was maturing, the Roman patriarchate was expanding its missionary presence in Western and Eastern Europe, and the Papacy's prestige and power were expanding well beyond the walls of Rome. How and in what context did the Roman liturgy change from a theocentric, organic act of worship to an anthropocentric fabrication? The Banished Heart is a thorough, insightful answer to this question.

The Basic Argument

The answer to the aforementioned question, developed over 356 pages, is found in an epigraph at the beginning of the second chapter. He quotes the 19th century Russian ascetic Theophan the Recluse: "You should descend to your heart from your head... The life is in the heart, so you should live there. Do not think that this applies only to the perfect. No, it applies to everyone who begins to seek out the Lord." The Roman rite of the Catholic Church began to live more and more in its head rather than in its heart, which is its holy liturgy. Hull traces two closely intertwined trends that emerged as characteristics of the Roman Church:
  1. An emphasis on rationality and logic that descends from the Roman legal tradition and which survived in the Latin Church's theological language
  2. A tendency to imitate the secular forces of the time with regards to internal government and relations with those outside of itself (in this case, non-Latin Christians)
The second of these points became a problem when Charlemagne attempted, with reasonable success, to appropriate the Church into his Frankish kingdom and utilize Christianity as a means of state unification. So strong a unity with the state existed that the Greek routinely called the Latins "Franks" rather than "Romans" or "Italians" or "Germans." Toward the end of the first millennium and at the dawn of the second, the Roman Church began to equate itself exclusively with Christianity, supposing anything at variance with its own theology and liturgy to be suspect. This led to the virtual suppression of the Mozarabic rite in Spain, the attempted suppression of the Ambrosian rite in Milan, and tergiversations of language and rite in Eastern Europe. What was originally the Primacy of Rome became justification for uniformity, an obsession which plagues the Latin rite of the Catholic Church to this day.

The often-maligned rite of Milan
This phenomenon continued well after the end of Frankish significance. Innocent III imposed the Latin liturgy on Constantinople after finding himself, unhappily, de facto king-maker of Byzantium. The Church's missionary efforts in this regard are also quite sad, as Hull demonstrates. Chapter 12 is a particularly difficult one to read. In it Hull recounts the visits of various Catholic missionaries to many branches of Apostolic Christendom which found themselves, either through historical circumstance or the sins of their fathers, out of communion with the Holy See. Many of these communities, often entire Churches, wished to re-establish communion with Rome. The "Thomas" Malabar Christians of India, the Chaldeans of the Middle East, and the Orthodox of Ethiopia all entered into inter-communion with the Roman Church and clergy, even giving Rome considerable leeway in local matters. Invariably a derisive attitude overcame the visiting clergy, who attempted to impose the Roman rite on these Christians and to end their own unique traditions, such as married priests. The local Churches rebelled and a small fragment, wishing to retain the Roman communion, would set up a "uniate" church, a church that would be held in contempt by both Rome and the local Orthodox. The disorder and disdain causes by Latinizations in Ethiopia were of such great magnitude that a Roman priest would be stoned to death without trial until the 19th century.

This narrow view was noxious alone, but with a few other influences it would become fatal. In earlier days the Eastern Churches maintained the heart of Christianity while Rome was its head. The loss of the Eastern Churches meant Rome would think itself the only legitimate expression of liturgy, of theology, and of the priesthood (disdain for married priests outside the Latin rite continued into the 20th century). There could be little introspection possible in such an environment.

Which returns the reader to the first point: rationalism. Everything would henceforth conform to Roman rationalism. Although the book is largely about the danger of excessive rationalism, Dr. Hull provides no strong definition, but it might suffice to say that the author means the idea that all matters, human and Divine, must be reduced and explained according to human reason. Human reason eventually became a standard by which other facets of the faith were to be judged and expressed. Prosper of Aquitaine's dictum "Lex orandi legem statuat suplicandi" was the common belief of all Christendom at one point. Liturgy was the theologia prima, the primary study and expression of faith in the mysteries of Our Lord. But as the Church began to enter secular endeavors her theological language became more and more legalistic. Scholasticism is an accurate and clear system, but it is also a system born out of the words and thought process of the pre-Christian Roman Law. When written theology began to supplant liturgy concepts became fungible. Many movements in the Middle Ages, Hull aptly proves in Chapter 4, were anti-rational: the Nominalists, the Franciscans, and the Scotists all diminished reason's capacity to understand the Divine. The Counter-Reformation would see rationalism return with renewed vigor: primary consideration drifted from elegance to validity, from worship to instruction.

Yet the liturgy survived the East-West schism intact. Even under the auspices of Papal primacy, Rome was less and less able to alter the local rites of given dioceses and Rome, although convinced of the theological superiority of her rite, often had to defer to the local usages. All that ended with the Protestant Reformation.

The Reformation

Hull acknowledges the irony that the Reformation began as a reaction to a perceived idolatry, the Renaissance era Roman Church's emphasis on philosophy and human reason. Dr. Hull does not state this observation, but readers should find another irony in that, aside form Luther and Cranmer, most all the major Reformers were lawyers.

Chiesa Gesu in Rome, home of the Society of Jesus.
Notice the great nave and tiny sanctuary with
no choir.
The Reformation essentially privatized religion, making faith a matter of private piety and Scriptural study. What is most perplexing is that the Church, in combatting Protestantism's heresies, followed the same spirit and pattern. The adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, devotions deriving from private revelations, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and the reception of the Sacraments more often than not became matters of personal, private spirituality. The greatest force during the Counter-Reformation was the Society of Jesus which, Dr. Hull reminds readers, was the first religious order ever to not sing the Office in common every day. The purpose of the Jesuits was to promote the basic teachings of Catholicism, which they did quite well. What they did not do was promote the Catholic spirit. The Jesuits succeeded in building universities and parishes, in instructing millions and even in creating their own operatic genre. Yet they did not re-kindle the liturgical understanding of the faith that had existed from the earliest days of Christianity until the 16th century.

The religious pluralism that resulted from the Reformation often meant that Catholicism was not as keenly defended by the ruling authorities as in previous times. Indeed, rather than the secular defending the spiritual, the spiritual took on the ethos of the secular. Baroque churches, with reredos that look like stone curtains and altars as close to the rail as can be, in some ways resemble theaters of the same era more than they resemble churches of a few centuries prior (161). Consequently, the liturgy became either a time for private prayer or a great Italian opera. Indeed, Voltaire called the Mass the "opera of the peasants."

The sad conclusion one reaches at the end of Chapter 10, called "Reformed Catholicism," is that the Counter-Reformation failed to reach its goal of re-converting Europe. Secular revolutions sprang up, one after another, promulgating and promoting humanist, socialist, democratic ideals far removed from Christianity. The liturgy fell into disuse. A cult of personality, called Ultramontanism—which survives to this day, developed around the Pope. The Church had made herself the religion of the majority of persons in Europe. It is little wonder that with such a pious, rationalistic outlook the gaze of the theologian's eye would eventually turn inward.

Setting the Stage and the Featured Presentation

The Banished Heart recounts various moments in the development of the Liturgical Movement: the Jansenist movement's demands for more focus on the laity, for simplification, and for rubrics that conformed to their own standards, all supposed features of a more primitive, purer liturgy. The movement culminated in the robber-council of Pistoia, condemned by Pius VI in 1794.

Whereas many traditionalist writers often focus on the Modernist heresy, Hull spends more time connecting the proverbial dots between Jansenism—an outgrowth of rationalistic Protestantism—and the left wing of the Liturgical Movement. After the condemnation of Modernism by St. Pius X in Pascendi many would-be Modernists began to study more benign subjects, such as liturgy. Here the Liturgical Movement underwent a fundamental change. Initially it had intended to restore full use of the Roman liturgy, as opposed to the low Mass and a Rosary variety that existed at the time. Suddenly it took on a "pastoral" aspect interested in the needs of "modern man." Pius XII's reversal of Prosper of Aquitaine's dictum, the immovable baroque mindset of the Curia, the dynamism of the Modernist movement, and the election of John XXIII all but guaranteed serious liturgical change.

Much has been made of the process of constructing the new liturgy, so we shall not recapitulate it here. Dr. Hull adumbrates accounts of the first celebration of the Novus Ordo Missae for the Synod of Bishops in 1967 and three celebrations for the Roman Curia (one low, one high, and one low with music). All three were in vernacular and, possibly, versus populum.

Archbishop John Ireland
Another effect of the Reformation Hull does not neglect was the founding of the United States of America, which is given all of chapter 14 (Pax Americana). The materialistic outlook of American society and the focus on the individual impacted the practice of the faith in the United States, the author suggests. In light of Bishop Carroll of Baltimore and Archbishop John Ireland's outright jingoism, one would be hard pressed to see matters otherwise. Hull's outlook on the United States' culture can be summed up in these two sentences: "In the American philosophy man's highest purpose is to assert his 'inalienable right' to 'Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness' on earth. Eternal life is an optional extra for those who choose to believe in it" (238). America's tremendous wealth allowed American bishops and theologians to leverage their influence on a Vatican in dire need of funds to rebuild a Church decimated by war. This took the form of Dignitatis Humanae and seats on the various liturgical commissions.

Other Points

The Banished Heart, which is laid out by theme rather than by chronology, touches on several other points that did not fit into the structure of the above summary:
  • Roman centralization's effects on local languages: there are dialects of Spanish and Italian which are not available in the new liturgy, forcing locals to worship in a language that may be considered outside of the community. A more serious example might be the near extinction of the Irish language at the hands of clergy who thought speaking it a sin.
  • Obedience was made into a worthy end in and of itself rather than a means of living an un-complicated life, as it was originally intended. The author has some especially strong words for those who equate the Pope's words and actions with the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Dr. Hull passes some comments about John Paul II that I dare not repeat here.
  • The Banished Heart presents a realist assessment of the work of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the controversial French prelate who founded the Society of St. Pius X and consecrated four men to the episcopacy without canonical approval. The Banished Heart acknowledges that while Lefebvre kept the pre-Conciliar liturgy alive the right wing political affiliations of the SSPX also contributed to making the 1962 rite a "ghetto" rite until 2007. Still, Dr. Hull asks, why was Lefebvre the only noticable dissident of any degree or of any kind punished after Vatican II? Lefebvre's work, sometimes good and sometimes bad, retained some semblance of continuity with the Church's past, which is exactly why he drew the ire of Paul VI and John Paul II.
  • The author relies heavily on Eastern Orthodox liturgists and theologians, as the East, whatever their problems, have retained the primacy and importance of liturgy as the theologia prima better than the Western Christians have. Many traditionalists will undoubtedly find this point discomforting and some may even accuse Dr. Hull of swallowing Orthodox glorification of the liturgy, as this one fellow does, but this canard lacks merit. Eastern theologians rarely think of anything new. Their most recent theological movement was the Hesychast revival of the 14th century, in itself a reiteration of 5th century theology. Byzantine liturgical theology is not made illegitimate by the faults of the Popes and Patriarchs.
  • The negative reaction to Summorum Pontificum was an internal dispute between two segments of the revolutionary party within the Church, not between "liberals" and "conservatives." Josef Ratzinger, who maintains that he never revised his views, was a proponent of the "new theology" in the 1950s and 1960s. His interest in the 1962 rite and in Archbishop Lefebvre's Society of St. Pius X derives from his pluralistic world view and his wish to have come to lasting peace with the French prelate in 1988. His interest was not in a revival of the old liturgy per se. His opponents lacked his desire to find a solution for the Society of St. Pius X, but not his opinion that the new missal has brought good.


On the whole this is the best book I have read in years on the current state of the Catholic Church, both liturgical and otherwise. Dr. Hull displays tremendous insight into liturgical theology, the history of the Papacy, the evolution of piety, the Church's relationship with secular culture, and the events of the 20th century, namely the Second Vatican Council. Toward the end of The Banished Heart Dr. Hull briefly relapses into the common mistake of seeing everything prior to the Council as a countdown to the Council. The Council's only document on the liturgy was a transitional one, written to justify more substantial reforms that had yet to come. Banished Heart only briefly touches on this point, instead adopting the familiar line that the reforms betrayed the Council's modest wishes.

Another shortcoming is an omission. The Banished Heart rightly asks why the Eastern Catholic Churches, if they are considered by the modern authorities to be as fully Catholic as the Roman Church, were given a separate document at Vatican II un-related to the document on the Roman liturgy. In short, the Eastern Churches were treated as a curiosity. Another point that could have been made is the dishonest, ecumenical use of Eastern theology in the post-Conciliar age. How often have we heard the term "full communion" when the hierarchy dialogues with Protestants, or Jews, or Muslims? The idea of being "in communion," a mostly Eastern concept, is defined as sharing Sacraments. None of the aforementioned groups have any Sacraments (although Protestants usually baptize validly). Yet "full communion" is normally implied to be lacking, as though a partial communion exists when it does not. This may not have occurred to Dr. Hull or it may have seemed tangential, but it was worth saying somewhere.

Lastly, and this is not a small problem, there is no working definition of the "traditional liturgy" in The Banished Heart. It is simply treated as something that exists. Dr. Hull passes over the 1911 Office reforms and 1955 Holy Week novelties with neutrality. The Roman rite surely suffered through these changes, but did the Roman rite not also suffer when various local rites, which preserved certain facets of the Roman liturgy which had fallen into disuse and contributed in other regards, became extinct. A firmer definition of the Roman liturgy's essential features and process of evolution would have made the last third of this book all the more forceful.


Dr. Geoffrey Hull's The Banished Heart: Origins of Heteropraxis in the Catholic Church tells the tale of how the East-West schism allowed the Church of Rome to be engulfed in its own tendency toward rationalism and to "banish its heart," the liturgy, from its head, making it ill-suited to deal with the Reformation and the political revolutions that followed. The book is thorough, readable, well researched, and not the conventional traditionalist polemic. This book will challenge many readers' preconceptions about liturgical theology, the Reformation, and the events leading up to the Second Vatican Council. But if readers are patient and genuinely wish to learn why the Roman rite underwent the revolution it did, then they should order a copy immediately.

Monday, August 26, 2013

More of St. Bartholomew's Day

Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island, Rome
You will recall a few days ago a post displaying a photo of my 1913 Missale Romanum, which indicates that within the city of Rome St. Bartholomew's feast is to be celebrated on August 25th, as opposed to the broader celebration on August 24th. The other day, at Sunday Divine Liturgy, we commemorated the Saint, which I assumed to be a lingering Latinization that had not yet been discarded. A quick look revealed that the Antiochian Orthodox and the Greek Orthodox also observe St. Bartholomew on the Roman day. According to Rubricarius of the St. Lawrence Press the differing dates have to do with the transfer of the Apostle's relics the date of which was observed as the feast in Rome and in the Eastern rites. Gregory DiPippo relates that while the Latin Church observed the feast on the 24th a major celebration would take place at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island with the help of Rome's Greek community. The Sacred Congregation for Rites, not always a historically informed committee, axed this variation on October 28th, 1913 in accordance with the reforms Divino Afflatu began two years prior. The record of the relevant decree can be found here on page 463, section V, item d.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

St. Zephyrinus

At Sunday Vespers today there was a commemoration of the feast of St. Zephyrinus, Pope from 199 until his death in 217. An obscure Bishop of Rome worthy of greater remembrance, the Saint guided the Church of Rome through the persecution of Severus and opposed the heresy that Christ was a prophet, but not the Word Incarnate. A Catholic in the Blackfen area of England runs a blog named in memory of this wonderful Saint. Pray for him!
Iste Sanctus pro lege Dei sui certavit usque ad mortem, et a verbis impiorum non timuit: fundatus enim erat supra firmam petram.

V. Gloria et honore coronasti eum, Domine.
R. Et constituisti eum super opera manuum tuarum.

Praesta, quaesumus omnipotens Deus: ut beati Zephyrini Martyris tui atque Pontificis, cujus gaudemus meritis, instruamur exemplis.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Coming Soon: Review of Banished Heart

This weekend I hope [finally] to publish a review of Dr. Geoffrey Hull's Banished Heart: Origins of Heteropraxis in the Catholic Church. Thus far it is the best and most temperate work I have encountered on the current state of the Church, liturgically and otherwise. Should any of my readers be in Holy Orders this quote from the last page of the book may be of interest to you:
"Moreover, if the Church is to recover her true self, men preparing to receive Holy Orders will need constantly to reflect on the significance of the liturgical custom of laying out a priest's corpse with his head pointing to the altar rather than with his feet in that direction as at the funeral of a layman. For on the last day, each priest will stand versus populum to face those he was commissioned humbly to serve on earth, who will testify to his deeds, after which he shall turn around, versus ad Orientem, to hear the Sun of Righteousness render His final judgment."

Wounds of War

The Rad Trad had an interesting experience on Saturday. It went as follows.
I am sitting in a cafeteria drinking a bottle of sparkling water when a man in a Hawaiian shirt and a baseball cap bursts inside, panting and red in the face. He approaches the counter asking for water: "Help, I'm dehydrated! I need water!" The clerk gives him a plastic cup and directs him towards the soda machine's water button. He drinks and calms down. The man spots me and meanders over, apologizing "Sorry, I thought I was back in the jungle. I wasn't really dehydrated but every time it's hot I think I'm back in the jungle and I'm dehydrated again." I see the front of his hat; it is a Vietnam veterans' association hat.
Me: "No problem. Completely fine."
Him: "Sorry. I was in 'Nam, ya know? It was hot over there and ya never knew when you'd get another drink."
Me: "Are you a veteran?"
Him: "Yep. My father fought in World War II. I fought in 'Nam. My son did three tours in Iraq."
Me: "Well, thank you for your service." His face illuminates and he grabs my hand, shaking it firmly.
Him: "You're the second person in 52 years to thank me. You don't understand. When my father came back he was a hero. My son's a hero. They could wear their military clothing. Me? I was a baby killer! They thought I was a baby killer! No thanks! Nothing. I killed so many gooks I get nightmares. God I don't know how many I killed, but it gives me nightmares every night. Know how much the V.A. hospital pays me to have those nightmares there? $1,700 a month! God, it's hot it here. I feel dehydrated, like I'm back in the jungle. Sorry."
Me: "No need to apologize."
Him: "How old are you?"
Me: "Twenty three."
Him: "Oh, so you don't remember the war at all?!"
Me: "Nah, it's in history for my generation."
Him: "It was real to me. When I came back I was a baby killer! That's what my generation thought I was. And yours? They don't even know about it! I have PTSD, ya know what that is?"
Me: "I do, sir."
Him: "Well I have nightmares every night about all the gooks I killed. No one ever helped me get over it."
I get up and make my move.
Me: "Well once again, thank you for your service. I'm off, but thanks again and I'm sure your son's doing good things for us, too."
He smiles.
Him: "Aw, thanks! Geez, I'm sorry I just snapped but I was dehydrated and thought I was back in the jungle. Ugh. Okay, have a good one!"
Me: "You as well, sir!"
Point: you "win" a war like you "win" an earthquake. You just come out better than the other guy. I wish politicians, especially the ones who not only start wars, but who actively oppose the people forced to fight them, would appreciate how they damage people's lives, often irreparably. Heartless blackguards.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Understanding the Liturgical Crisis Spiritually

In our discussion of the history and theology of the liturgical revolution and its implications for the future we can put ourselves in danger of forgetting that the liturgy is given to us by God for people to pray. And its loss, or maltreatment, has very real human consequences that many are left trying to understand. The Rad Trad's area has one Latin Mass a month and no "reform of the reform" Masses. I am at least very blessed by Our Lord Jesus with a wonderful Melkite parish, which prays a marvelous Byzantine liturgy, gives useful sermons, and has faithful priests. Many faithful have less than that. A friend of this blog, who wishes to remain anonymous, is one such person. He has written a short, concise article reflecting on the spiritual meaning of the liturgical crisis and how we should deal with it looking forward.
The Purpose Behind the Liturgical Crisis: Some Encouraging Words
By an Anonymous Layman
It is not my intention to determine in this article who is responsible for the present liturgical crisis (whether it is due to liberal liturgists, unfaithful magisterial authorities, Pope Paul VI or the Boogy man); I am not qualified to determine such a thing and I trust Holy Mother Church will answer this question after the proverbial dust has settled.  My purpose is not to point finger but to give comfort to disturbed Catholics. 
There are many who convert to Catholicism from Protestantism, dissatisfied with the Puritan mentality of worship found in most Protestant Churches.  They see the desperate need for beauty and mystery in worship and are aware that, at least on paper, the Catholic Church teaches the liturgy ought to be beautiful and reverent.  Surely such converts are disappointed when they discover that many Catholic parishes do not celebrate mass in accord with the Church’s official norms but in a whimsical, spontaneous and irreverent manner.  Seeing this liturgical crisis taking place in the Church, new converts (and even cradle Catholics with a sense of the sacred), are forced to ask “why is the Church going through this crisis?”
Has This Happened Before?
Before an answer is provided, it is important to note that the present crisis is not without precedent in the history of the Church.  During the 4th century, the vast majority of Bishops in the Catholic Church embraced the heresy of the Arians, leaving the Bishop of Rome and St. Athanasius, among a few of Bishops, to preserve the Orthodox faith.  The situation was so dire that St. Jerome noted “the whole world groaned and marvelled to find itself Arian”.  But wait, there’s more!  Millions were lost to the heresies of the “Reformers” in the 16th century and the Church had to call the Ecumenical Council of Trent to address the errors.  If the Church was preserved through such pervasive Theological errors and destructive epochs, it is safe to say God will preserve her through liturgical errors and abuses.  So if you are disturbed by the state of liturgical affairs in the Church today, relax, take a deep breath and take comfort in the providence and omnipotence of God.  Now, on to the question at hand: why is the Church going through this crisis?
Why is the Church going through this crisis?
The short answer is that God is strengthening the Church through the crisis.  He is able to use the present crisis for the good of the Church.  There is no doubt many have a vague intuition that God is working behind the scenes since they are aware that all things happen for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  Yet they are still forced to ask, what good can come from the present liturgical crisis in the Church? The following are five, by no means exhaustive, lessons the Church will learn, or rather relearn, after the liturgical crisis is over.
The Liturgy is Done by Christ. Once the smoke has cleared the Church will have learned the liturgy is not something we do but is something Christ does.  Theologian Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S. notes:
“the liturgy is first and foremost the action of our Lord himself, not simply our action and our invention.  It is a sacred mystery that we receive and enter into, rather than something we create for ourselves.  It could even be said that neglect of this great truth is the basic source of all the postconciliar liturgical confusion, in which the human community and its activity and ‘creativity’ have come to predominate over the divine presence and the divine activity.”1
            In fine, the liturgy is not about us, it isn’t even primarily something we do, but it is primarily something God does, we just happen to be the recipients of what He is doing in the Liturgy. 
Common Liturgy Does Not Appeal to the Common “Man”.  Another lesson the Church will learn is that making the liturgy more common place does not attract more people.  For example, after the Second Vatican Council, it seems many Churches began to remove anything and everything in the Church that was beautiful (in spite of Vatican II’s admonition otherwise.)2  In light of the decreasing number of vocations and mass attendance, it is evident that the plan of some liturgist to make the mass less transcendent or more like “a successful cocktail party”3 has not succeeded in attracting more people to the Church, if anything, it has pushed more people away.
Older Does Not Mean Better.  The Church will undoubtedly learn that older does not always mean better.  Just because something was practiced in the Early Church doesn’t mean it is necessarily better than later developments in the liturgy.  For example, some cite St. Cyril of Jerusalem as a witness that early Christians received the Eucharist in the hand and that communion on the tongue was a latter accretion.  Even if the practice of communion on the tongue was a later development, which is debatable, many still believe it is a better way to receive the Eucharist than communion in the hand.  Not only is it a more reverent practice by not allowing unconsecrated hands to touch the Eucharist , but it also helps protect the Eucharist from being taken home and desecrated, or even used in occult practices (yes, this tragically really does happen). 
Both/And.  Once the liturgical crisis is over the Church will realize even more that she is a “both/and” Church.  For example, some have noted4 that the Mass before the liturgical reforms was focused more on the Mass as a Sacrifice.  Though the Mass since the reforms does not deny that it is a sacrifice and occasionally refers to it as such, the emphasis is more on a communal meal.  Some have reacted by saying that the Mass is only a Sacrifice and not a communal mean.  However, the Church teaches that the Mass is both.  For many years the former was stressed in the Sacred Litugy, now the latter is stressed.  Once the crisis in the liturgy is over, the Church will be able to step back and emphasize both aspects of the Mass from a more balanced perspective.  This will help it to realize even more that it is a “both/and” Church.  Fr. Kocik described this aspect of the Church well when he wrote the following:
“The Church has always eschewed false oppositions because she thinks in terms of ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or’: reason and revelation, Scripture and tradition, grace and free will, faith and good works, hierarchy and charism, marriage and celibacy, and so forth.  A new liturgical reform should aim at a more obvious balance of the ‘Tridentine’ and ‘Vatican II” accents: sacrifice and supper, cross and resurrection, priest and assembly, exterior participation and interior recollection, sacrament and word, regularity and versatility.”5
“High Liturgy” Is Attractive.  There is a reason why so many are awestruck by the Latin Mass the first time they attend it.  They see the “high liturgy” and are attracted to the sense of the sacred and other-worldliness that it brings.  They love how the rising of the smoke of incense symbolizes their prayers that rise up before God.  They are attracted to the Gregorian chant sung by the Schola which lifts up their minds to the angelic choirs in heaven.  They are attracted to the parts of the Mass in Latin which help to communicate a sense of the sacred by using a language that is not in everyday use.  The fact that many are taking interest in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in a time when Ordinary Form parishes are dwindling in numbers will undoubtedly teach the Church in the years to come that “high liturgy” is not only reverent, but even evangelistic!
Are These Lessons New?
Some may ask: were not these things known before the present liturgical crisis?  How then will they teach the Church that which it already knows?  Indeed some in the Church knew these lessons before the liturgical crisis, but after the crisis they will be painstakingly evident to most and will serve to warn future generations of making the same mistakes.  Are these the only lessons the Church will learn?  Undoubtedly they are not, surely the centuries to come will look back on the current liturgical crisis with much more wisdom and will be able to glean more from the lessons that can be learned from our present failures.
Be Encouraged
As many are disenchanted with a Church that in practice does not always lift up its member’s minds to the heavenly liturgy, one should step back for a moment and get a greater perspective as to why God is allowing the current liturgical crisis to take place.  Is it possible, that though some in the Church have meant the recent failures in the liturgy for evil, God meant it for Good (Genesis 50:20)?  Let us pray that God will strengthen His Bride through the fires of this crisis and that once the dross is removed the beauty of her gold will be all the more evident! 
1 Thomas Kocik, The Reform of the Reform, p. 175. (Ignatius, 2003).
2 “Ordinaries must be very careful to see that sacred furnishings and works of value are not disposed of or dispersed; for they are the ornaments of the house of God.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, VII, 126)
3 James Hitchcock, The Recovery of the Sacred, p. 24. (Ignatius, 1995) quoting Colman Grabert, OSB, “Toward the Development of an Authentic English Sung Mass”, Worship, XL, 2 (February 1966), pp. 80-90
4 Letter of Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani and Antonio Cardinal Bacci to Pope Paul VI, September 25, 1969, “By a series of equivocations the emphasis is obsessively placed upon the 'supper' and the 'memorial' instead of on the unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary.”
5 Thomas Kocik, The Reform of the Reform, p. 101-102. (Ignatius, 2003).

Epistle and Gospel at Solemn Mass

In a previous post, "EF" Mass in 1964, we saw that the orientation and ceremonies of the traditional rites were already in a state of flux. Marko asked what traditional practice is supposed to be with regards to transferring the altar missal prior to the Gospel. The Rad Trad thinks this is a good opportunity to discuss the reading of the Epistle and Gospel at solemn Mass in the pre-Conciliar rites more generally.
The 1962 praxis for the Epistle, from the FSSP in Scotland
In the 1962 practice the celebrant and deacon, after the singing of the first—and usually only—collect, sit down and listen to the subdeacon chant the Epistle or lesson of the day. After he finishes the celebrant and deacon return to the missal, the celebrant blesses the subdeacon, reads the gradual, alleluia, and/or tract, and then sits again. At some point, normally at the beginning, of the alleluia the sacred ministers rise and return to the altar the "long" way (genuflecting before the altar rather than just walking up the side). The subdeacon moves the missal from the Epistle side to the "offertory" position (where the missal is from the Offertory through Communion) and the deacon receives the book of the Gospels from the M.C., places it on the altar, and assists the thurifer with the incense boat as the celebrant imposes, then blesses, incense. The deacon kneels, prays the Munda cor meum, rises, receives the celebrant's blessing, and joins the Gospel procession. We saw a variation in the 1964 Mass celebrated in the video earlier, in which the missal is transferred after the celebrant reads the gradual, alleluia, and/or tract and then everyone sits.

Fr. Wach reads the Gospel privately on Mandy Thursday.
Note that the Mass is during the day time. Source:
This stream of ceremony is actually a departure from the older, medieval way of doing the Fore-Mass, in which the celebrant reads all of the texts. Mozarabic rite of Toledo aside, the celebrant's reading of the Epistle and Gospel was very standard in the Latin Church by the time the Council of Trent convened. In the Roman rite as it has existed since the issuing of the 1570 Missal by St. Pius V the celebrant remains at the altar after the collects and, with the deacon by his side, reads the Epistle quietly as the subdeacon sings the text aloud. At the end of the celebrant's reading the deacon responds Deo gratias. The subdeacon then receives the celebrant's blessing. The sacred ministers return to the Introit position and the celebrant reads the gradual, alleluia and/or tract. Depending on the length of these texts the ministers may sit before taking the next step. If there is a sequence they will always sit and rise as some given verse (ex. at Requiem Masses the ministers rise at Qui Mariam absolvisti). The celebrant prays the Munda cor meum and the Jube, Domine benedicere at the center of the altar with the deacon to his right. The subdeacon moves the missal to the Gospel position, as at a low Mass or a sung Mass, and then the celebrant quietly reads the text with the subdeacon next to him. During all this the deacon is given the book of the Gospels by the M.C. and places said book on the altar. At the end of the celebrant's reading the subdeacon says Laus tibi, Christe and the celebrant imposes and blesses incense as normal. The subdeacon may move the missal to the offertory/Canon position or the deacon may do it himself during the Credo after bringing the burse to the altar. The deacon prays the Munda cor meum and the priest blesses him. Everything follows as normal.

Reading the gradual in the Dominican rite
One may wonder why this was once done. John XXIII eliminated the practice in 1960, a practice many saw as a useless repetition. "Doubling," the reading of texts by the celebrant that were sung by other ministers or the choir, was the bugaboo of many reformers. Yet doubling had its reasons. The celebrant is the one who celebrates the Mass and, although the deacon is the one charged with reading the Gospel, the celebrant, out of devotion, would read the Gospel himself. Ditto for the Epistle and other texts. It was a way for the celebrant to remain engaged with the liturgy even when he was not strictly doing his part. The Rad Trad once thought that the pre-1960 Roman practice was a low Mass intrusion because the celebrant does exactly the same things in the exact same places he would at low Mass. After some research into other rites the Rad Trad and gradations of Mass the Rad Trad has changed his mind about this opinion. In the various local rites of the Middle Ages, outside of Rome and similarly ancient rites like Milan, the wine and water were put into the chalice after the Epistle and during the gradual. These liturgies were also sung in large cathedrals and collegiate churches where the exact words of the subdeacon or deacon might be lost. Celebrants would therefor read the texts from the Epistle through the Gospel privately in order to be "up to date" on what was happening at Mass, after having performed other duties and perhaps having had difficulty paying attention to the exact words sung. In the Norman family of uses (which includes the Dominican and Sarum liturgies) the celebrant would read these texts at the sedilia. The celebrant might have read the Introit and Kyrie for the same reason, that he had been occupied with the prayers before the altar and the incensation when these prayer were initially sung by the choir. At a pontifical Mass, which is rooted in Papal Mass, the bishop reads these texts from the throne or faldstool. At Papal Mass there would be any number of interruptions which might require the celebrating Pope to read the texts he had missed; for instance, the Pope would say a certain prayer for himself in silence after the collect while the subdeacon had already gone on to the Epistle. The low Mass-like pre-1960 Roman practice may have been the result of, again, the fact that it is rooted in the 1474 curial Missal, which was used by bureaucratic officials in chapels rather than by diocesan clergy in cathedrals. The chapels of the Lateran Cathedral, St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican, and the Sistine chapel do not have a sedilia, so the sacred ministers remained at the altar and read the related texts there. The Rad Trad sees no reason why this practice had to get axed, other than that it conflicted with the uber-communitarian approach of the reformers. Otherwise there is nothing harmful in it.

source: FSSP Roma
There was even a seasonal variation to the Roman practice. During Lent and Advent, as well as on Ember Days, the deacon and subdeacon wore vestments called "folded" chasubles, a very old custom descended directly from ancient times. When performing one's role the minister would remove his folded chasuble. In the above image the subdeacon has removed his to sing the Epistle (you can see it on his stool, along with the celebrant and deacon's birettas). After the Epistle the subdeacon resumes his folded chasuble for the gradual. While the celebrant reads the Gospel the deacon removes his folded chasuble and re-arranges it into a large stole called a "broad" stole and then gets the book of the Gospels as normal. He keeps the chasuble this way until the ablutions, at which point he returns it to its normal position. An excellent example of how this practice looked can be seen below, in a Mass from the first Sunday of Lent, 2008. The Mass was celebrated by Msgr. Angelo Amodeo (RIP), a liturgically-minded canon of the Milanese cathedral ordained by Archbishop Montini. Along with the "doubling" of the Epistle and Gospel, the folded chasuble, dating to a time before St. Gregory the Great, was axed in 1960.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pontifical Mass Now Online

Many will remember that on April 24th, 2010 Bishop Slattery of Tulsa sang Pontifical Mass from the throne at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Hitherto only some video snippets from phone cameras have been available on Youtube. A week and a half ago some good soul put the entire television broadcast online for all to view. Given that the footage of Pope John XXIII's coronation Mass is in a fuzzy black and white, I would not hesitate to call this the best looking Roman liturgy available online. The bishop enters this enormous, Byzantine-styled temple in the cappa magna and vests during terce and some hymns. Full ceremonies were observed, given that the planned celebrant was actually Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos, who had to cancel due to political backlash. It is a truly beautiful celebration and one can see why it ought to be the standard of the Roman rite.

Monday, August 19, 2013

"EF" Mass in 1964

A while back, perhaps over a year, New Liturgical Movement published a video of a 1962-Missal solemn Mass sung at St. Louis Abbey in St. Louis, Missouri. The celebrant was Fr. Edward Bunn, S.J., then-president of Georgetown University. The church of the abbey, a hideous house of heteropraxis, is entirely round inside and positions its altar at the center nave. Every Mass therefore would be versus populum, but the low candle sticks and thin, insipid crucifix dissuade one from entertaining the possibility that this is also meant to be ad orientem, in imitation of the ancient Roman basilicas. The tabernacle is directly behind the main—and the Rad Trad thinks, only—altar in the church. This novelty presented a difficulty for the servers and ministers, who at times seemed unsure as to whether they ought to genuflect before the altar or just bow, and whether or not they ought to genuflect before the tabernacle when passing it.
Things being done the rite way at St. Mary and the Martyrs (aka the Pantheon)
in Rome, c. 2008
In some ways they did the 1962 Mass differently from today. Note that the missal is transferred to the Gospel (really to the Offertory) position after the celebrant reads the gradual but before the ministers sit down. Today the book is moved when the celebrant rises to give the deacon the blessing for the Gospel reading. It would really be easier to return to the older practice of the celebrant remaining at the altar and reading along himself, but that can be a moot point in 1962-ville outside of some parishes, such as one where the Rad Trad once worshipped, that were doing the Latin Mass before the canonization of 1962 under Summorum Pontificum.
Archbishop Edwin O'Hara celebrating Mass at the consecration
of Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri in 1954.
Construction on the parish, and its forward altar, began
in 1952, presumably with episcopal approbation.
From this we can see that the Liturgical Movement had a very powerful presence in the Church before vernacular and versus populum were explicitly expected by Rome or by national episcopal conferences. St. Louis Abbey was founded in 1955 by monks from Ampleforth Abbey in England. In nearby Kansas City Archbishop O'Hara had already celebrated pontifical Mass versus populum. The Jesuits entertained the Liturgical Movement long before it ever came to America, but the Society of Jesus must have felt very confident in the direction of things to have put the president of a major university on television to celebrate Mass facing the people. Although 51 years later we often tell ourselves it was a better time, this era's practices were directed toward the type of liturgy and ars celebrandi we have today. The use of Latin bound the celebrant to the text, but did not bind the architects of the church of the masters of liturgical ceremonies. Without any further delay, the Mass (starts around 18:00):

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Possible New Project

First, a little music for the Assumption of our Lady. The St. Lawrence Press blog featured a full recording of the propers of the old Assumption Mass with Palestrina's Missa Assumpta est Maria, which you can hear below. The Gaudeamus omnes opening is quite striking.

Second, and mainly, a possible project can to my mind when reading Dr. Hull's chapter on the Counter-Reformation Church and Dom Gueranger's role in suppressing the local rites of France under the auspices of latent Jansenism within the texts. The Rad Trad happens to have digital scans of a few of these missals, including the Parisian Missal and the Lyonese rite. I will be seeking a copy of Rheims' missal, too. The project would be to examine the ordinary of Mass and maybe two dozen randomly selected Masses in each missal to check for any possible Jansenism, an evaluation of Gueranger and the Ultramontanists' claims. Sound interesting?

Dormition of the Mother of God

From St. John of Damascus' 2nd sermon on the Dormition, the second nocturn of Roman Mattins today:

This day the holy and animated Ark of the living God, which had held within it its own Maker, is borne to rest in that Temple of the Lord, which is not made with hands. David, whence it sprang, leapeth before it, and in company with him the Angels dance, the Archangels sing aloud, the Virtues ascribe glory, the Princedoms shout for joy, the Powers make merry, the Lordships rejoice, the Thrones keep holiday, the Cherubim utter praise, and the Seraphim proclaim its glory. This day the Eden of the new Adam receiveth the living garden of delight, wherein the condemnation was annulled, wherein the Tree of Life was planted, wherein our nakedness was covered.
This day the stainless maiden, who had been defiled by no earthly lust, but ermobled by heavenly desires, returned not to dust, but, being herself a living heaven, took her place among the heavenly mansions. 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.
Eve, who had said yea to the proposals of the serpent, was condemned to the pains of travail and the punishment of death, and found her place in the bowels of the Netherworld. But this truly blessed being who had inclined her ears to the word of God, whose womb had been filled by the action of the Holy Ghost, who, as soon as she heard the spiritual salutation of the archangel, had conceived the Son of God without any sexual pleasure or carnal knowledge by a man, who had brought forth her Offspring without any the least pang, who had hallowed herself altogether for the service of God how was death ever to feed upon her? how was the grave ever to eat her up? how was corruption to break into that body into which Life had been welcomed? For her there was a straight, smooth, and easy way to heaven. For if Christ, Who is the Life and the Truth, hath said Where I am, there shall also My servant be how much more shall not rather His mother be with Him?

Creation and Traditional Catholicism?

The Rad Trad tries not to get too personal on this blog, lest he bore readers with the details of his personal life. But in the last year the Rad Trad has actually lost a significant amount of weight by exercising regularly. He hooks up his iPhone and listens to whatever suits his fancy. A day ago he was listening to a sermon on the website, which has some excellent Lenten missions from a few years back well worth your time. This visit, the first in a long time, was not quite what the Rad Trad expected. The first sermon on the page, "Embrace the Traditional Doctrine on Creation," blasted evolution as blasphemous and the Fr. Georges Lemaitre's "big bang" theory of the primeval atom as nonsense. The Rad Trad knows some traditional Catholics are not wild about evolution or the Big Bang, but this particular priest and sermon take the cake for dissidence. Listen to his astronomical musings at 13:10:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Gaudeamus omnes in Domino

From the Rad Trad's library table. Carnations are blessed in the Melkite Church today. I got mine at the end of our vesperal Divine Liturgy tonight (good to be back).

Pre-Pius XII Assumption Mass

From the Rad Trad's own Missal

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lesser Known Fathers IV: St. Isaac the Syrian and the Ascetical Life

Today's continuation of our Lesser Known Fathers series brings us to a saint somewhat obscure to us in the West, particularly those of us in the Roman rite. St. Isaac of Syria died around the year 700 AD at an unknown age. He and St. John of Damascus are generally held by Easterners to be the last of the Church Fathers, whereas the Latin Fathers end with Pope St. Gregory the Great. The "Catholicos," an oriental term denoting something akin to a patriarch, of the Assyrian Church, which was rife with Nestorianism, made Isaac a bishop, a disastrous venture which ended after a matter of months. He moved to Mount Matout and became an anchorite, a solitary hermit usually among a community of like hermits who meet once or twice a day for liturgical purposes. He famously believed that all would be reconciled to God in the end. In his ascetical practices he devoted his time to the study of Scripture and to writing tracts that would be read as instruction to later monks. Today's piece, On Ascetical Life, is one such work.
Syrian monks tended to make the spiritual journey into a threefold process: purification from sinful tendencies; Illumination by God; and the divine vision. St. Isaac re-imagines the process as Way of the Body; Way of the Soul; and Way of the Spirit. The last point the Saint gives the least attention because it is the least attained of the three. Not a systematic treatise, On Ascetical Life reads as a collection of wisdom germane to the first and second Ways that the Saint wishes to impart to future monks.

Way of the Body

The first words of the first treatise are "It is difficult to find anyone who is able to bear honors" (I:2), meaning that few can accept honors of this world without losing their souls or their minds to the passions of this world. "No one is able to draw near God without leaving the world far behind" (I:4), he continues. The "world" is a term the Saint uses for earthly passions and desires: pursuit of wealth, gluttony, lust, greed, power and popularity (II:30), not necessarily a state of life. The Saint found that for himself living in popular society did not work, but other saints like Thomas More were quite able to live among men of power and avoid their malevolent influence.
The body without the physician of the soul will meander through sin and vice unchecked. Pain without healing not only remains, but it compounds the frustration and discomfort of the afflicted one who refuses medicine (II:3). The soul is no different. Sin is our wound, our disease, our ailment, and it is an ill that God can heal under one condition: contrition. Contrition is an act of the will, and will only remain should one decline the Divine medicine (II:4). Is this not one of the seven petitions in the prayer Jesus taught us? "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"? God's mercy is communion with God in a way invisible to the senses: "Do you desire to have communion with God in your mind by receiving the perception of that delight which is not subject to the senses? Cleave to mercy. For if [mercy] is found within you, it is formed by that holy beauty which it resembles. All acts of mercy will make the soul a partaker without delay, in the unique glory of the divine rank" (I:32). Mercy, aside from an act of God and an act of healing, is an act of humility. All acts, particularly in the Way of the Body, must be geared towards humility, specifically in liberating the mind from the passions of the body. Humility is a step in the purification so prominent in the Syrian tradition.
Nature is rife with the consequences of sin and man ought to use nature as his first teaching moment concerning sin (V:5-6). He who fails to see the natural place of sin, either in the world or in his own life, tends to downplay and detumesce his view of the swelling within his soul. The only possible result is that such a man will sin even more (V:17). Man must wean from sin and hold the passions and honors in contempt in order to have communion with God and become so familiar with Him so as to "find Him a housemate" (V:14). This is the Way of the Body.
Saint Isaac, although a hermit writing for the benefit of hermits, gives advice that a single lay person, a married person, a child, a priest, a nun, or a Pope could follow to a degree suitable to his or her state of life. "A man who wishes to grow in God must first wean his soul from the world, as an infant is weaned from its mother's breasts" (IV:4); this is accomplished by purifying the body through the traditional practices of the Jews and Christians: fasting and praying. The Saint singles out vigils and all-night watches as highly efficacious in tuning one's attention to God for protracted periods of time (IV:25). Eventually the mind will be freed from the body's passions, a freedom that St. Isaac equates not with freedom to do something, but freedom from sin. General freedom the Saint condemns out of hand, judging it a chaotic state that eventually makes one "slave of slaves" (IV:35).
This is probably as far as most of us will get. St. Isaac uses the term "temptation loosely," meaning both occasions of sin and tests. The first is bad, but the second should not be resisted. The first we should pray never comes to us (III:57). The second kind is a necessary condition for knowledge and intimacy with God: "Before being tempted one prays to God as a stranger. But when one has entered tribulations because of his love and has not undergone change, then, as one who has laid obligations on God, he is considered God's housemate and friend, who has contended for the sake of [God's] will against the army of his enemies. This is the meaning of: 'Pray lest you enter into temptations'" (III:58).

Way of the Soul

The next phase of the journey is the Way of the Soul, equivalent to the Illumination phase in other Syrian traditions. At this point one has left sin and now must fill his mind with the things of God and heaven. Catholics often think of themselves as either in a state of grace or in a state of sin. At face value this is true, but it does not tell the entire story. One could think of one's soul as a number line, with the negative numbers as sin and the positive numbers as various states of knowing God. Passing the Way of the Body gets one out of the negatives, but still leaves a person at the zero in the center. The Way of the Soul begins a person on the path to the positive numbers, to holiness.
St. Isaac constantly exhorts the reader to reflect on the Scriptures and to contemplate their meaning, a sort of lectio divina. In these practices a person derives wisdom not just from the obvious meanings of the text, but from the actions and subtleties of the stories within. How the men and women of Scripture acted should influence how we act (III:62).
Such an undertaking is only possible when one is spiritually still, past the Way of the Body, and a stable receptacle for God's grace and friendship. The soul is not naturally subject to the passions, meaning that by nature the soul should be above these animalistic instincts. The current order is a perversion of how things ought to be. The ascetic's task is to restore that order and make the soul a fitting dwelling place for what is holy. "For when outside waters," the Syrian saint writes, "do not enter into the fountain of the soul, its natural waters spring up—wondrous thought they are, which are being continually moved toward God" (III:2). One does not "purify" the mind by Scripture and by ascetic prayer, but rather puts in the mind in a state of purity. The Saint holds this taxonomy to be critical. By combatting the body, the soul, the world, and demons one does not eliminate knowledge of evil things. One becomes captivated with God, subduing the body and mind in the process (III:9-10).
Lastly, participating in the "work of the cross" raises one in the Way of the Soul and confirms one in the Way of the Body (II:21). First there is affliction of the body, concerning which he quotes Abba Isaiah in saying "If the mind desires to ascend the cross before the senses cease from weakness, the anger of God will attack it" (Logos 17). The physical must be subdued and sensibly so. Suffering for the sake of suffering profits nothing. The second facet of the work of the cross is contemplation and its accompanying consolation. Philosopher Roger Scruton writes extensively about consolation in the context of physical beauty, but the Saint is thinking about consolation with regards to spiritual beauty, which God brings on His own accord and own time: "For the things of God comes of their own accord when you are not aware of them, if the place of your heart is pure and undefiled. If the small pupil of your soul has not been purified do not presume to gaze at the sphere of the sun lest you be deprived altogether of sight (which is sincere faith and humility and heartlfelt confession and a little work according to your strength) and you be cast into one of the immaterial places which is darkness without God, like that one who presumed to enter the banquet in dirty cloths"—a reference to Matthew 22:2-14 (II:23).
Clearly one should not approach the Way of the Soul before having purified the senses, but doing so is far too common. Many a charismatic movement in Church history has led people into a spiritual "experience," usually an emotional high, without sufficiently preparing those persons. The same can hold true of individuals and their own prayers. The spiritual path is just that. A path.

Way of the Spirit

This last segment gets the least attention from St. Isaac, likely because it is least often reached and the most ineffable. One cannot put the experience of God found in deep contemplation and consolation into too many words without betraying some element of truth or mystery. Contemplation is a immersion in the Divine mysteries (II:25). In the Way of the Spirit, the contemplation level of prayer never is unceasing. God send temptations to the idle to keep them busy (V:58), but those in the Way of the Spirit are beyond such interventions. Reception of the Holy Spirit at this point replaces sensory temptation to sin. "But when the power of the Spirit enter and dwells in the intelligible powers of the pious soul, then instead of laws that are [written] in ink, the commands of the Spirit are fixed in the heart which the heart learns secretly from the Spirit without having need of the help of sensible materials mediated by the senses," Isaac teaches (VI:19). Man achieves a higher teaching, a holier instruction: "Whenever the mind learns from material things, its learning is followed by error and forgetfulness. But when its instruction is in those things which are incorruptible, its memory, which is also not corrupted, will be founded on their intelligible nature" (VI:20).
The last point carries tremendous relevance to the lay person, who has less time that an ascetic to pray. The lay person often takes on a ritual, regular schedule of prayer, and that is fine. Still the lay person, or monk for that matter, can still run the risk of letting prayers become monotonous. Daily novelty is not the answer. Instead one should take on whatever prayers or devotion one can maintain and from which one can consistently learn. Pray, holy reading, and contemplation are eventually better teachers in the faith than matters of study that one must re-call like a computer.
And so this installment of the Lesser Known Fathers come to an awkward end. As St. Isaac is uneager to write more about the Way of the Spirit, the Rad Trad will not put words in his mouth. Most of the above advice and wisdom may seem obvious and intuitive, but how arduous and onerous are these things to practice? On our own they are impossible. But all we need to accomplish them is to want to do them. St. Isaac writes that all one need do to find forgiveness is to desire. Holiness is the same. Do we want it? If so, give St. Isaac the Syrian a look.

One other note: the Rad Trad is still entertaining thoughts about a patron saint for the blog and is open to suggestions. Pseudo-John proposed St. Philomena, though the Rad Trad would prefer someone more embedded in the Roman Church's past than the 19th century. Throw out ideas!
On the Vigil of the Assumption of the Mother of God,
The Rad Trad