Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Ordo for the Ordinary Old Rite, Not the Extraordinary New Rite

How is the 1962 liturgy different than what preceded it? For one, Pius XII “renewed” Holy Week by tossing it asunder and concocting something else. There are also fewer commemorations than the one to six one could feasibly observe on most days in the old rite. Is that it? A few less prayers and one week of the year a bit wonky? What if I were to tell you every day of the year is different in 1962 from what came before it. While some days, like the Sunday of Our Lord’s Resurrection, only vary minutely, large swatches of the year are quite different from the traditional Roman liturgy.

Enter exhibit A, the days preceding Palm Sunday during Passiontide. The most obvious difference is that the 1962 liturgy admits no such thing as Palm Sunday other than as an alternative name, curiously calling the day the “Second Sunday in Passion Time.” What about the days before the Second Sunday in Passion Time? Wednesday calls for Saint Benedict’s three nocturne Office and a Mass with a commemoration and proper Last Gospel of the feria. Friday anticipates the suffering of Christ in one week by contemplating the suffering of His Immaculate Mother now, again commemorating the feria. And Saturday is the feast of Saint Gabriel the Archangel. Both of these feasts would treat the season just like Saint Benedict’s feast, a full liturgy with proper and thorough commemoration of the season, so as not to omit it.

Why, surely the 1962 liturgy, which—unlike the big, bad “Novus Ordo”—has feasts of saints plentifully and commemorations, does this right? No. In fact it disregards most of it out of hand. You see, Carissime, the old rite does not permit saints to replace Sundays of penitential seasons, but it will permit them to replace weekdays under certain conditions. Perhaps saints ought not make such a splash during a time of fasting and prayers. Or perhaps Saint Benedict is not a minor saint, but the father of Western monasticism and the man whose legacy saved Europe for Christ’s sake. Perhaps the feast of the Seven Dolors of the Blessed Virgin is not a lollipop Marian devotion, but a preparation for the Passion of Christ and the antecedent to the surviving September feast, which is centuries newer. And perhaps Saint Gabriel is celebrated on the 24th of March because the following day is ordinarily the Annunciation, when God firmly entered into the fullness of time for our salvation by the fiat of the Virgin and the words of the same archangel.

These differences, sometimes subtle and sometimes broad, are exactly why every traditionalist, cleric or lay liturgy-ophile, should be armed with the 2018 edition of the St. Lawrence Press Ordo Recitandi Officii Divini Sacrique Peragendi. This Ordo, unlike those of Ecclesia Dei, the British Latin Mass Society, the FSSPX, or FSSP, follows the liturgy as it existed before the gears of change that brought about the liturgical revolution began to churn. It is the last Office, Missal, Gradual, and Ritual that Montini, Pacelli, Braga, and Bugnini did not touch, and is consequently the last calendar that a saint from 1900 and 900 would recognize, especially during major liturgical seasons. Ought it be used to its full extent?—i.e. the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the “extraordinary form”? It is really not much of a moral dilemma. One should follow the tradition of the Church and her mens of worship, which, come to think of it, precluded committee fabrications until quite recently. There really is not much dilemma as to what one should do on May 1st, when one can either follow the 7th/8th century feast of Ss. Philip & James or celebrate the [rather dated] political outreach to communists called Joe the Worker, which includes texts about construction workers joyously listening to Pius XII talk in St. Peter’s square.

Not only is the St. Lawrence Press Ordo valuable to a full-on traditionalist parish, but also to those who are searching for enough bottle to take the final plunge; it is good for those getting a feel for tradition and looking to filter good practices, like commemorations or Monday Requiem Masses during Lent, into the current extraordinary form of the Pauline Mass, the 1962 Missal. One could, for instance, celebrate a votive Mass of the Holy Name of Mary on the Sunday after her September Nativity or that of St. Joachim on the Sunday after her Assumption. One can introduce the proper Last Gospel, as we recently had at the third Mass of Christmas day.

Lastly, the St. Lawrence Press Ordo is worth buying because of the increasing popularity of the old rites of Holy Week and the traditional rubrics (both ritual and textual) for Sunday Masses. Not only does the Ordo help with such work, but it made these modern efforts possible in the first place by preserving and promoting liturgical orthopraxis after Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre acquiesced to the Vatican’s 1983 request that he switch to 1962 precisely because it was published during Vatican II. Without preserving knowledge of the rubrics and keeping the old rite as a real, living tradition it is doubtful we would be seeing the resurgence of the genuine old rite that we do today. If anyone has doubts, look at the Holy Week pictures on New Liturgical Movement. I never thought I’d see a Presanctified Mass at Holy Innocents in New York, but I have.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

If you are looking for some spiritual edification beyond Mass, look no further. Here are the Mattins lessons for the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ as well as the Introit, my favorite in the Roman rite, for the third Mass of the day. As they say in the East, "Christ is born! Glorify Him!"

From Isaiah:

1 At the first time the land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephtali was lightly touched: and at the last the way of the sea beyond the Jordan of the Galilee of the Gentiles was heavily loaded.
2 The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen.
3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, and hast not increased the joy. They shall rejoice before thee, as they that rejoice in the harvest, as conquerors rejoice after taking a prey, when they divide the spoils.
4 For the yoke of their burden, and the rod of their shoulder, and the sceptre of their oppressor thou hast overcome, as in the day of Median.
5 For every violent taking of spoils, with tumult, and garment mingled with blood, shall be burnt, and be fuel for the fire.
6 For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace.
1 Be comforted, be comforted, my people, saith your God.
2 Speak ye to the heart of Jerusalem, and call to her: for her evil is come to an end, her iniquity is forgiven: she hath received of the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.
3 The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God.
4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see, that the mouth of the Lord hath spoken.
6 The voice of one, saying: Cry. And I said: What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of the field.
7 The grass is withered, and the flower is fallen, because the spirit of the Lord hath blown upon it. Indeed the people is grass:
8 The grass is withered, and the flower is fallen: but the word of our Lord endureth for ever.
1 Arise, arise, put on thy strength, O Sion, put on the garments of thy glory, O Jerusalem, the city of the Holy One: for henceforth the uncircumcised, and unclean shall no more pass through thee.
2 Shake thyself from the dust, arise, sit up, O Jerusalem: loose the bonds from off thy neck, O captive daughter of Sion.
3 For thus saith the Lord: You were sold gratis, and you shall be redeemed without money.
4 For thus saith the Lord God: My people went down into Egypt at the beginning to sojourn there: and the Assyrian hath oppressed them without any cause at all.
5 And now what have I here, saith the Lord: for my people is taken away gratis. They that rule over them treat them unjustly, saith the Lord, and my name is continually blasphemed all the day long.
6 Therefore my people shall know my name in that day: for I myself that spoke, behold I am here.

From St. Leo the Great, Pope of Rome:

Dearly beloved brethren, Unto us is born this day a Saviour. Let us rejoice. It would be unlawful to be sad to-day, for today is Life's Birthday; the Birthday of that Life, Which, for us dying creatures, taketh away the sting of death, and bringeth the bright promise of the eternal gladness hereafter. It would be unlawful for any man to refuse to partake in our rejoicing. All men have an equal share in the great cause of our joy, for, since our Lord, Who is the destroyer of sin and of death, findeth that all are bound under the condemnation, He is come to make all free. Rejoice, O thou that art holy, thou drawest nearer to thy crown! Rejoice, O thou that art sinful, thy Saviour offereth thee pardon! Rejoice also, O thou Gentile, God calleth thee to life! For the Son of God, when the fulness of the time was come, which had been fixed by the unsearchable counsel of God, took upon Him the nature of man, that He might reconcile that nature to Him Who made it, and so the devil, the inventor of death, is met and beaten in that very flesh which hath been the field of his victory.

When our Lord entered the field of battle against the devil, He did so with a great and wonderful fairness. Being Himself the Almighty, He laid aside His uncreated Majesty to fight with our cruel enemy in our weak flesh. He brought against him the very shape, the very nature of our mortality, yet without sin. His birth however was not a birth like other births for no other is born pure, nay, not the little child whose life endureth but a day on the earth. To His birth alone the throes of human passion had not contributed, in His alone no consequence of sin had had -part. For His Mother was chosen a Virgin of the kingly lineage of David, and when she was to grow heavy with the sacred Child, her soul had already conceived Him before her body. She knew the counsel of God announced to her by the Angel, lest the unwonted events should alarm her. The future Mother of God knew what was to be wrought in her by the Holy Ghost, and that her modesty was absolutely safe.

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Ghost: Who, for His great love wherewith He loved us, hath had mercy on us and, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, that in Him we might be a new creature, and a new workmanship. Let us then put off the old man with his deeds (Col. iii. 9); and, having obtained a share in the Sonship of Christ, let us renounce the deeds of the flesh. Learn, O Christian, how great thou art, who hast been made partaker of the Divine nature, and fall not again by corrupt conversation into the beggarly elements above which thou art lifted. Remember Whose Body it is Whereof thou art made a member, and Who is its Head. Remember that it is He That hath delivered thee from the power of darkness and hath translated thee into God's light, and God's kingdom.

From St. Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome:

By God's mercy we are to say three Masses to-day, so that there is not much time left for preaching; but at the same time the occasion of the Lord's Birth-day itself obliges me to speak a few words. I will first ask why, when the Lord was to be born, the world was enrolled? Was it not to herald the appearing of Him by Whom the elect are enrolled in the book of life? Whereas the Prophet saith of the reprobate Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous. Then, the Lord is born in Bethlehem. Now the name Bethlehem signifieth the House of Bread, and thus it is the birth-place of Him Who hath said, I am the Living Bread, Which came down from heaven. We see then that this name of Bethlehem was prophetically given to the place where Christ was born,.because it was there that He was to appear in the flesh by Whom the souls of the faithful are fed unto life eternal. He was born, not in His Mother's house, but away from home. And this is a mystery, showing that this our mortality into which He was born was not the home of Him Who is begotten of the Father before the worlds.

From St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan:

Behold the beginning of the Church. Christ is born, and the shepherds watch; shepherds, to gather together the scattered sheep of the Gentiles, and to lead them into the fold of Christ, that they might no longer be a prey to the ravages of spiritual wolves in the night of this world's darkness. And that shepherd is wide awake, whom the Good Shepherd stirreth up. The flock then is the people, the night is the world, and the shepherds are the Priests. And perhaps he is a shepherd to whom it is said, Be watchful and strengthen, for God hath ordained as the shepherds of His flock not Bishops only, but also Angels.

From St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

Lest thou shouldest think all things mean, as thou art accustomed to think of things human, hear and digest this The Word was God. Now perhaps there will come forward some Arian unbeliever, and say that the Word of God was a creature. How can the Word of God be a creature, when it was by the Word that all creatures were made? If He be a creature, then there must have been some other Word, not a creature, by which He was made. And what Word is that? If thou sayest that it was by the word of the Word Himself that He was made, I tell thee that God had no other, but One Only-begotten Son. But if thou say not that it was by the word of the Word Himself that He was made, thou art forced to confess that. He by Whom all things were made was not Himself made at all. Believe the Gospel.

A Very Merry and Blessed Feast of the Nativity to All!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve: Born According to the Flesh

Nativity with Ss. Francis & Lawrence
by Caravaggio
In the year 5199th from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, in the year 2959th from the flood, in the year 2015th from the birth of Abraham, in the year 1510th from the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt under Moses, in the year 1032nd from the anointing of David as King, in the 65th week according to the prophecy of Daniel, in the 194th Olympiad, in the 752nd from the foundation of the city of Rome, in the 42nd year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus, in the 6th age of the world, while the whole earth was at peace, Jesus Christ, Himself Eternal God and Son of the Eternal Father, being pleased to hallow the world by His most gracious coming, having been conceived of the Holy Ghost, and when nine months were passed after His conception, (all kneel down) was born of the Virgin Mary at Bethlehem of Judea made Man, Our Lord Jesus Christ was born according to the flesh. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et Legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et salvator earum; veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster.O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expectation and Saviour of the nations! come and save us, O Lord our God! 
O Emmanuel! King of Peace! thou enterest to-day the city of thy predilection, the city in which thou hast placed thy Temple, - Jerusalem. A few years hence, and the same city will give thee thy Cross and thy Sepulchre: nay, the day will come, on which thou wilt set up thy Judgment-seat within sight of her walls. But, to-day, thou enterest the city of David and Solomon unnoticed and unknown. It lies on thy road to Bethlehem. Thy Blessed Mother and Joseph, her Spouse, would not lose the opportunity of visiting the Temple, there to offer to the Lord their prayers and adoration. They enter; and then, for the first time, is accomplished the prophecy of Aggeus, that great shall be the glory of this last House more than of the first [Agg. ii. 10.] ; for this second Temple has now standing within it an Ark of the Covenant more precious than was that which Moses built; and within this Ark, which is Mary, there is contained the God, whose presence makes her the holiest of sanctuaries. The Lawgiver himself is in this blessed Ark, and not merely, as in that of old, the tablet of stone on which the Law was graven. The visit paid, our living Ark descends the steps of the Temple, and sets out once more for Bethlehem, where other prophecies are to be fulfilled. We adore thee, O Emmanuel! in this thy journey, and we reverence the fidelity wherewith thou fulfillest all that the prophets have written of thee, for thou wouldst give to thy people the certainty of thy being the Messias, by showing them, that all the marks, whereby he was to be known, are to be found in thee. And now, the hour is near; all is ready for thy Birth; come, then, and save us; come, that thou mayest not only be called our Emmanuel, but our Jesus, that is, He that saves us. 
From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger 

Friday, December 22, 2017

O Rex Gentium

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum; veni, et salva hominem quem de limo formasti.O King of nations, and their desired One, and the corner-stone that makest both one; come and save man whom thou formedst out of slime. 
O King of Nations! thou art approaching still nigher to Bethlehem, where thou art to be born. The journey is almost over, and thy august Mother, consoled and strengthened by the dear weight she bears, holds an unceasing converse with thee on the way. She adores thy divine Majesty; she gives thanks to thy mercy; she rejoices that she has been chosen for the sublime ministry of being Mother to God. She longs for that happy moment when her eyes shall look upon thee, and yet she fears it. For, how will she be able to render thee those services which are due to thy infinite greatness, she that thinks herself the last of creatures? How will she dare to raise thee up in her arms, and press thee to her heart, and feed thee at her breasts? When she reflects that the hour is now near at hand, in which, being born of her, thou wilt require all her care and tenderness, her heart sinks within her; for, what human heart could bear the intense vehemence of these two affections, - the love of such a Mother for her Babe, and the love of such a Creature for her God? But thou supportest her, O thou the Desired of Nations! for thou, too, longest for that happy Birth, which is to give the earth its Saviour, and to men that Corner-Stone, which will unite them all into one family. Dearest King! be thou blessed for all these wonders of thy power and goodness! Come speedily, we beseech thee, come and save us, for we are dear to thee, as creatures that have been formed by thy divine hands. Yea, come, for thy creation has grown degenerate; it is lost; death has taken possession of it: take it thou again into thy almighty hands, and give it a new creation; save it; for thou hast not ceased to take pleasure in and love thine own work.
From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Chrysostom on Naming the Christ Child

(Georges de La Tour)
From St. John Chrysostom’s fourth sermon on the Gospel of Matthew.

For this cause too the angel came bringing His name from Heaven, hereby again intimating that this is a wondrous birth: it being God Himself who sends the name from above by the angel to Joseph. For neither was this without an object, but a treasure of ten thousand blessings. Wherefore the angel also interprets it, and suggests good hopes, in this way again leading him to belief. For to these things we are wont to be more inclined, and therefore are also fonder of believing them.

So having established his faith by all, by the past things, by the future, by the present, by the honor given to himself, he brings in the prophet also in good time, to give his suffrage in support of all these. But before introducing him, he proclaims beforehand the good things which were to befall the world through Him. And what are these? Sins removed and done away. “For He shall save His people from their sins.”

Here again the thing is signified to be beyond all expectation. For not from visible wars, neither from barbarians, but what was far greater than these, from sins, he declares the glad tidings of deliverance; a work which had never been possible to any one before.

But wherefore, one may ask, did he say, “His people,” and not add the Gentiles also? That he might not startle the hearer yet a while. For to him that listens with understanding he darkly signified the Gentiles too. For “His people” are not the Jews only, but also all that draw near and receive the knowledge that is from Him.

And mark how he has by the way discovered to us also “His dignity,” by calling the Jewish nation His people. For this is the word of one implying nought else, but that He who is born is God's child, and that the King of those on high is the subject of his discourse. As neither does forgiving sins belong to any other power, but only to that single essence.

Forasmuch then as we have partaken of so great a gift, let us do everything not to dishonor such a benefit. For if even before this honor, what was done was worthy of punishment, much more now, after this unspeakable benefit. And this I say not now for no cause, but because I see many after their baptism living more carelessly than the uninitiated, and having nothing peculiar to distinguish them in their way of life. It is, you see, for this cause, that neither in the market nor in the Church is it possible to know quickly who is a believer and who an unbeliever; unless one be present at the time of the mysteries, and see the one sort put out, the others remaining within. Whereas they ought to be distinguished not by their place, but by their way of life. For as men's outward dignities are naturally to be discovered by the outward signs with which they are invested, so ours ought to be discernible by the soul.

O Oriens

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeterne, et sol justitiae; veni et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.O Orient! splendour of eternal light, and Sun of Justice! come and enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
O Jesus, divine Sun! thou art coming to snatch us from eternal night: blessed for ever be thy infinite goodness! But thou puttest our faith to the test, before showing thyself in all thy brightness. Thou hidest thy rays, until the time decreed by thy heavenly Father comes, in which all thy beauty will break upon the world. Thou art traversing Judea; thou art near Jerusalem; the journey of Mary and Joseph is nigh its term. Crowds of men pass or meet thee on the road, each one hurrying to his native town, there to be enrolled, as the Edict commands. Not one of all these suspects that thou, O divine Orient! art so near him. They see thy Mother Mary, and they see nothing in her above the rest of women; or if they are impressed by the majesty and incomparable modesty of this august Queen, it is but a vague feeling of surprise at there being such dignity in one so poor as she is; and they soon forget her again. If the Mother is thus an object of indifference to them, it is not to be expected that they will give even so much as a thought to her Child, that is not yet born. And yet this Child is thyself, O Sun of Justice! Oh! increase our Faith, but increase, too, our Love. If these men loved thee, O Redeemer of mankind, thou wouldst give them the grace to feel thy presence; their eyes, indeed, would not yet see thee, but their hearts, at least, would burn within them, they would long for thy coming, and would hasten it by their prayers and sighs. Dearest Jesus! who thus traversest the world thou hast created, and who forcest not the homage of thy creatures, we wish to keep near thee during the rest of this thy journey: we kiss the footsteps of Her that carries thee in her womb; we will not leave thee, until we arrive together with thee at Bethlehem, that House of Bread, where, at last, our eyes will see thee, O splendour of eternal light, our Lord and our God!
From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

New, Old Ordo Blog

The St. Lawrence Press has published its new Ordo recitandi for 2018, which will be reviewed in a coming post. In the meantime, take a gander back to the year 1865, when America had just ended its Civil War, my alma mater was in its infancy, and the relatively recently emancipated Church in England had a thriving parish setting.

Take a look at the Muniment Room blog for a year's Ordo from a layman's perspective in the year 1865 using re-discovered parish schedules from around England in that very year. Not only is the older kalendar still in place, but full parish schedules look remarkably different than they do today. Even modestly staffed parishes had Vespers at mid-afternoon on Sundays with adult instruction to follow, many hours of Confession each week, and evening devotions for lay people who could not make a daily Mass (Mass had to start by 1PM before Pius XII). Masses with sermons were advertised, since they were not guaranteed, and a sermon may well have been preached between Vespers and Benediction on Sundays instead. It is as if people learned the faith from their priests' instructions or in the domestic church rather than from a lecture, not that every sermon is a lecture. As the writer observes:
"I will leave this series with two thoughts: first, the old calendar, the old concept of the calendar, in which the rampant sabbatarianism of the worship of Sundays in the abstract is totally missing, is a better integrated, more human, less didactic, unclericalised, popular way of linking the Church's year to the seasons and to the lives of the faithful.
"The second is how much the life of the Church depends on priests in parishes, and on those in religious life who support them, rather than on Bishops, Cardinals, or Popes.  If we pray a lot, have lots of children, bring them up in the Faith, and are prepared to give them all to God if they have a call from Him that they will answer positively, we will be able to recreate a Church in England and Wales as holy and fruitful as it was in 1863."

O Clavis David

O Clavis David et Sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit; veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel!  who openest, and no man shutteth: who shuttest, and  no man openeth; come and  lead the captive from prison,  sitting in darkness and in the  shadow of death. 
O Jesus, Son of David! heir to his throne and his power! thou art now passing over, in thy way to Bethlehem, the land that once was the kingdom of thy ancestor, but now is tributary to the Gentiles. Scarce an inch of this ground which has not witnessed the miracles of the justice and the mercy of Jehovah, thy Father, to the people of that old Covenant, which is so soon to end. Before long, when thou hast come from beneath the virginal cloud which now hides thee, thou wilt pass along this same road doing good [Acts, x. 36.], healing all manner of sickness and every infirmity [St Matth. iv. 23.], and yet having not where to lay thy head? [St. Luke, ix. 58.] Now, at least, thy Mother's womb affords thee the sweetest rest, and thou receivest from her the profoundest adoration and the tenderest love. But, dear Jesus, it is thine own blessed will that thou leave this loved abode. Thou hast, O Eternal Light, to shine in the midst of this world's darkness, this prison where the captive, whom thou art come to deliver, sits in the shadow of death. Open his prison-gates by thy all-powerful key. And who is this captive, but the human race, the slave of error and vice? Who is this Captive, but the heart of man, which is thrall to the very passions it blushes to obey? Oh! come and set at liberty the world thou hast enriched by thy grace, and the creatures whom thou hast made to be thine own Brethren.
From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

O Radix Iesse

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

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

Monday, December 18, 2017

Who Art Thou?

The last two weeks at the local Tradistani parish have been blessed with very good sermons about St. John the Forerunner, or John the Baptist. Last week’s Gospel reading about imprisoned John sending his disciples to the Lord and this week’s reading where John denies being the Christ both provided a great deal of substance for thoughtful sermonizing. I have written elsewhere about how diminished the cult of the Forerunner has become in the Latin Church, and I appreciate greatly those occasions when he is properly remembered.

Spiritual literature on the Forerunner is sparse, and I was pleased a few months back to come across a book by the 20th-century Russian Orthodox priest Sergius Bulgakov, The Friend of the Bridegroom: On the Orthodox Veneration of the Forerunner. While perusing the table of contents online I noticed an appendix on “St. John the Forerunner and St. Joseph the Betrothed” and bought it on the spot.

Like myself, Bulgakov takes the ancient icon of the Deësis as a starting point for understanding the early veneration of the Forerunner. However, his observation that John and the Virgin Mary are here paired iconographically is the starting point for some truly odd speculative theology. His emphasis on the importance of John’s mission becomes mildly troubling early on:
If not for John, Christ the Savior could not have come into the world. John and Christ are personally and indissolubly linked like the great and small celestial lights to which the Church hymn compares them. (“All creation is illuminated by solar rays, for, O Forerunner, you appeared like a radiant star of the spiritual sun.”) 
Christ’s link to the Mother of God is clear and easy to understand; without Her the Nativity would not have taken place: the divine incarnation presupposes and implies divine motherhood. Less apparent but not less indissoluble is the link between Christ and the Forerunner, for the Lord’s Baptism, which corresponds to His spiritual birth and His reception of the Holy Spirit, presupposes the Baptist. And so, the place he occupies in relation to Christ is correlative to that of the Mother of God. (5)
The Russian’s errant understanding of Original Sin and of the total purity of the Mother of God hampers him in some respects, and I expected that to be the case. In order to place John so close to Mary, he must first demote the Blessed Virgin. Still, he continues with many good insights into the nature of John’s mission and with his importance to the turning from the Old Testament into the New. He makes much of John’s appellation as the “Friend” of the Bridegroom:
The Lord… did not find Himself alone in the world, for a friend, prepared and worthy to receive Him, had come to meet Him. In this meeting, this friend represented all humankind, or rather, the whole Old Testament Church, which, in his person, was coming to an end, surpassing its limited holiness. (11)
Bulgakov notices some intriguing parallels between John and Jesus in the Gospels that I had not seen before, such as the way the two are described as growing children: “And the child [John] grew, and was strengthened in spirit; and was in the deserts until the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Lk. 1:80), compared to “And the child [Jesus] grew, and waxed strong, full of wisdom; and the grace of God was in him” (Lk. 2:40). The baptism of John at the beginning of the Gospels is directly paralleled at their end when sacramental baptism is instituted by Christ. Both John and Jesus are named by an angel. He ends his chapter on the Birth of John with a wonderfully poetic description of the state of the world and the grandeur of Rome that could drive St. Augustine to literary jealousy:
And none of the people knew then that they were living at the same time as the “greatest born of women,” nor that precisely in their historical epoch a work of the purification of the sinful human essence was being accomplished that it is impossible for man to surpass. The world was intoxicated and deafened by its own grandeur. Tiberias reigned on the world’s throne. The hosts of Rome controlled the universe. Roman law held the universe in its iron grip. Horace was writing his odes, Tacitus his history, Vergil his Aeneid, and Seneca and Epictetus their philosophical works. Greece was surrendering itself to the sweet luxuriousness of its aesthetic and philosophical contemplation. The waves of the human ocean were rising and falling. Great political events, international wars, civil cataclysms were ripening and taking place. The world was living with all the intensity of the life of human genius and creativity, of sin and vice. But it did not know—no one in the world knew—that the fullness of human maturity had been fulfilled, that, in the Jordan desert, the greatest of those born of women was waiting for his hour to come. The ways of God are unfathomable for man. (40-41)
But this devotional work turns truly troubling in the chapter on the Baptism of the Lord. At the Jordan, Bulgakov says, Christ came not simply to begin his ministry with the public approbation of God the Father and the Holy Ghost, but to consciously and intentionally take on the role of the Son of God and to receive the Spirit.
Even as the Son receives from all eternity the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and who, reciprocally, reveals the Son to the Father and the Father to the Son, so His human nature must receive the Spirit of filiation, in order that the Son of man truly become the Son of God…. In order to be the perfect God-Man, the Son must receive as Man that which He possesses as God. In order that the fullness of Divinity dwell in Him, it is necessary that the Son’s human nature too be adopted by the Father by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon it. (54-55)
And he continues,
[Christ’s] growth and development, now as an adolescent, are shown a second time in the Gospel: “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” This indicates that His human nature was incomplete and imperfect in some sense, which would be impossible if the Holy Spirit, the fullness of Divinity, had hypostatically reposed upon this nature. This fulness was realized only in the baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Lord’s human nature in the form of a dove, and the Lord became the Anointed one, Christ…. The hypostatic descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s human nature, His two natures being without confusion and without separation, took place at the baptism, when Jesus became the perfect God-Man…. The baptismal theophany is therefore a new and definite filiation. (56)
Here, Bulgakov’s crypto-Nestorianism becomes less cryptic. His Christology is so shaky that he believes Christ had to wait until his thirtieth year before he could make a “weighed decision to dedicate Himself to God” (58). He even admits that what he is writing sounds close to the heresy of Nestorius, but simply denies it without disproving it.

From here it was impossible to treat the author as anything but a hostile witness, and it was with some dismay to the reader that he proceeded to interpret John’s sending of his disciples to question Jesus as an experience of doubt, as his own Gethsemane temptation. In a later chapter on the Glorification of the Forerunner, he delves into even more heterodox territory with speculations about the so-called angelic nature of John. Most theologians interpret the description of John as the “angel” sent before Christ as a twofold metaphor—firstly in that he is the messenger (the literal meaning of angel) who foretells the Messiah, and secondly in that his ascetic life so mortified his flesh that it allowed him to live in spiritual purity like the angelic hosts. Bulgakov is not content to let it merely rest there:
The Forerunner is, as it were, a humanized angel or an angelic man, a living and personal communion of the two worlds. His nature represents a mystery that cannot be fully fathomed in this age. But it has been manifested and partially unveiled. Was this union of the angelic and human worlds accomplished at his birth, or is it a consequence of his heavenly glorification? There is no answer. But one can consider it established that the boundary between these two worlds was abolished at the moment of the Incarnation, and this abolition was one of the consequences of the Incarnation. These worlds were united in the person of the Forerunner, who thereby became not only a being who, as an angel, surpassed man, but also a being who, as a man, surpassed angelic being…. He is not only a man and not only an angel, but an angel-man. (131-132)
The book ends with an appendix on the devotional usurpation of John the Baptist by St. Joseph in the Roman Church. While this was perhaps the only section with which I entirely agreed, it is greatly ironic that this Russian priest complains so bitterly about the untraditional exaltation of Joseph while himself over-exalting John’s nature and mission, and dragging down not only the Virgin Mary but the God-Man himself! The Forerunner deserves a better consideration than this disappointing work. Perhaps someday one will be written.

O Adonai

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

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

From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Christmas Carol (or Carols)

Lutheran Satire puts out a humorous, generally benign product poking some passive aggression at those who follow a different Mere Christianity from them. “Frank the Hippie Pope” and “Bart the Patriarch” have made numerous appearances over the years. A more seasonal offering might be the above video, in which two jolly Britons try to pen a Christmas carol with Father Luther. The Anglicans repeat the same opening lines about the cold and seasonal weather in several variations, only to be condemned by the priest from Wittenberg for ignoring that Christ became man “to fulfill the Law for us.” He goes on to patronize hymnody that “list a bunch of elements in the Christmas narrative that aren’t at all central to its theology.” Perhaps if Herr Luther had paid more attention to the history and use of hymns he would have realized those “elements” are how people understand theology.

Christmas, even in our secular age, presents a rare season of the liturgical year during which the faithful can be counted on to sing large excerpts of hymns—even all the verses—without picking up a book. The average church-goer can recall a bit of “Hark! The Herald Angels”, “Joy to the World”, “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “Silent Night”, and maybe “The First Noel.” Carols and hymns are not exactly the same thing, but they are not that different, and during Christmas the liturgical milieu harkens back to a time of more prevalent cultural Christianity, a phrase much maligned.

Hymns have their origin in the days of the Old Testament, the “former observance” as Saint Paul calls it. The psalms and canticles, repeated in the Offices of the Church, are rhythmic, musical prayers derived from Holy Writ. New Testament hymnody emerged separately from the context of liturgical worship, with several Eastern and Western Church Fathers writing hymns for song or recitation, but not for liturgical use, which was a Gallican innovation in the West and still rare in the East. Hymns did make their way into the Office and Mass, alongside motets, and more common songs that would have been called hymns at an earlier time, became carols.

Carols once helped Christians negotiate the liturgical year outside of liturgical services. They belonged to the annual expression of Christian belief within the context of already Christian societies. In the “northern” countries, these carols were most commonly sung during the mystery plays held during the octaves of great feasts, when manual labor was prohibited. While certain feasts emphasize particular themes, a given mystery play could encompass more than what was read in the Gospel at Mass. The Corpus Christi plays, far from focusing on the Last Supper, retell the Incarnation in the same detail as the Candlemas plays from five months earlier. It was in these plays, narrating the action on stage, that enduring carols like Resonet in laudibus or the Cherry Tree Carol, with “Old Man” Joseph, rolled off the lips of the faithful.

Carols served precisely to add flesh and earth to great chapters in the story of redemption, to show forth the humanity of those who beheld Christ’s humanity and divinity. Western hymns and carols never attempted exposition on doctrine, supposing the message clear enough in what was discussed. These melodies and words unfolded redemption in concrete terms that people could sublimate in their own lives even if they could not comprehend the intellectualized theology of the medieval, Reformation, and baroque ages. The aforementioned Cherry Tree Carol, from the York Corpus Christi plays eight centuries ago, begin with old man Joseph wedding “the Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galilee.” They enter an orchard with cherries “thick as may be seen.” Mary pleads with Joseph to pluck her some only for Joseph to answer angrily “Let him gather cherries who brought thee with child.” Christ feeds His Blessed Mother by commanding the tree down, which only confounds Joseph further. After the birth of the “heavenly king”, the Virgin asks the Christ Child to tell her “just how this world shall be,” to which Christ answers with the foretelling of His death and resurrection. This carol contains no theology, no doctrinal statements in poetic form composed to teach aspects of the Incarnation to those who would hear it. Instead of explaining teachings to be held, the carol recounts a concrete event to be believed.

This blog has posited numerous times that one of the main points of departure between Greek and Latin music is that the former’s approach is didactic while the latter’s is descriptive and narrative. The Greek liturgy explains what certain mysteries mean in their antiphons at the Divine Liturgy and Vespers; for example, during Liturgies celebrating the Fathers of the early Councils, the kontakion say “The Apostles’ preaching and the Fathers’ doctrines have established one faith for the Church. Adorned with the robe of truth, woven from heavenly theology, It defines and glorifies the great mystery of Orthodoxy!” No Latin text would ever say something like this. We recently passed the feast of Saint Lucy, whose Office antiphons go no further than to mention what she did; interspersed with the singing of the psalms, these texts come across less as lessons than they do as praises of God for His martyr. I daresay the Western approach to hymnody and carols more approximates Saint Lucy than any unique texts sung in the Hagia Sophia.

Despite the Reformation’s evisceration of normatively traditional Christian culture throughout the Old World, the “narrative” Western approach to music remained. The mystery plays died, as did the Mass in some places, but the musical tradition continued in the form of hymns and carols. Most of the great seasonal music we sing at Christmas post-dates the Reformation, but is closer to the pre-Reformation musical tradition than it is to Lutheran Satire’s desire. After all, was not the saccharine (and mediocre) Away in a Manger, so often misattributed to Luther, about “cattle lowing” and the Christ Child waking without crying?

Beyond the pale of commercialism, Christmas remains the last accessible ode to the fading Christian culture. Music is perhaps the most integral part of it, so get out a hymnal and start belting “Once in Royal David’s city stood a lonely cattle shed….”

O Sapientia

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

Friday, December 8, 2017

Tertullian on the Blessed Virgin

From On the Flesh of Christ, by Tertullian:

But, leaving Alexander with his syllogisms, which he so perversely applies in his discussions, as well as with the hymns of Valentinus, which, with consummate assurance, he interpolates as the production of some respectable author, let us confine our inquiry to a single point—Whether Christ received flesh from the virgin?—that we may thus arrive at a certain proof that His flesh was human, if He derived its substance from His mother's womb, although we are at once furnished with clear evidences of the human character of His flesh, from its name and description as that of a man, and from the nature of its constitution, and from the system of its sensations, and from its suffering of death.

Now, it will first be necessary to show what previous reason there was for the Son of God's being born of a virgin. He who was going to consecrate a new order of birth, must Himself be born after a novel fashion, concerning which Isaiah foretold how that the Lord Himself would give the sign. What, then, is the sign? "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son." Accordingly, a virgin did conceive and bear "Emmanuel, God with us." This is the new nativity; a man is born in God. And in this man God was born, taking the flesh of an ancient race, without the help, however, of the ancient seed, in order that He might reform it with a new seed, that is, in a spiritual manner, and cleanse it by the removal of all its ancient stains.

But the whole of this new birth was prefigured, as was the case in all other instances, in ancient type, the Lord being born as man by a dispensation in which a virgin was the medium. The earth was still in a virgin state, reduced as yet by no human labour, with no seed as yet cast into its furrows, when, as we are told, "God made man out of it into a living soul." As, then, the first Adam is thus introduced to us, it is a just inference that the second Adam likewise, as the apostle has told us, was formed by God into a quickening spirit out of the ground—in other words, out of a flesh which was unstained as yet by any human generation. But that I may lose no opportunity of supporting my argument from the name of Adam, why is Christ called Adam by the apostle, unless it be that, as man, He was of that earthly origin? And even reason here maintains the same conclusion, because it was by just the contrary operation that God recovered His own image and likeness, of which He had been robbed by the devil.

For it was while Eve was yet a virgin, that the ensnaring word had crept into her ear which was to build the edifice of death. Into a virgin's soul, in like manner, must be introduced that Word of God which was to raise the fabric of life; so that what had been reduced to ruin by this sex, might by the selfsame sex be recovered to salvation. As Eve had believed the serpent, so Mary believed the angel. The delinquency which the one occasioned by believing, the other by believing effaced. But (it will be said) Eve did not at the devil's word conceive in her womb. Well, she at all events conceived; for the devil's word afterwards became as seed to her that she should conceive as an outcast, and bring forth in sorrow. Indeed she gave birth to a fratricidal devil; while Mary, on the contrary, bare one who was one day to secure salvation to Israel, His own brother after the flesh, and the murderer of Himself. God therefore sent down into the virgin's womb His Word, as the good Brother, who should blot out the memory of the evil brother. Hence it was necessary that Christ should come forth for the salvation of man, in that condition of flesh into which man had entered ever since his condemnation.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Vigilia Nativitatis: Nulla Fit Commemoratio?

Is Christmas Eve confusing for priests who offer the old Mass? No, but apparently it might be to those who offer the "TLM", which is itself a bit of a mish-mash of 1962, old rite, and whatever Archbishop Lefebvre liked.

The 1962 crowd at Rorate extol the centuries old rubric of the Christmas vigil Mass superseding the scheduled fourth Sunday of Advent (a shame we had the longest possible Advent last year and the shortest this year), without any commemoration of the Sunday. Are we to believe this is consonant with liturgical custom in the Roman rite? The Sunday is entirely disregarded on the grounds that it is already a feast of the Lord, making a commemoration redundant, according to the drastic reductions of Papa Roncalli. The problem is that the two are not exactly the same sort of day.

The vigil is, for one, a vigil. Prior to 1960 it was exceptional among major vigils in that it was celebrated in violet vestments without use of the folded chasuble (more along of the lines of vigils of the Apostles—axed in the '62 books, less like Pascha and Pentecost); also unusual were the combination of ferial Mattins and its one nocturne of lessons from Saint Jerome with festive Lauds, complete with doubled antiphons, reflecting a full celebration.

Advent's fourth Sunday is comparatively conventional and restrained. It is still a semi-double, which would ordinarily admit commemorations and, despite the festive Lauds normal to Sunday, it is still a somewhat penitential day, with folded chasubles, no organ music, and continuation of the Rorate caeli desuper texts from early Advent.

It seems improper to call either day full festive, but the vigil clearly anticipates Christ's birth while the Sunday looks forward with sober restraint. The latter is as integral to fulfilling Advent as the former is to ending it, and so omitting its memory makes Advent shorter than the natural calendar has already done.

Byzantine tradition has a commemoration system both simple and complex. At Vespers one simply adds the troparia from the superseded feast to those of the day; at the Divine Liturgy one tacks the tropar and kontakion onto those of the day. Orthros (Mattins) and its sessional hymns are where things get messy. The older Roman system similarly desires to accommodate as much of the liturgy as possible and does so in an easier manner, merely adding the orations at Mass, combining Mattins readings of the day so the concatenated lessons of the replaced feast Mass may be added, the versicles and oration at the major hours, and the Gospel read in place of Saint John at Mass. There are more places for commemorations, but they are easier to manage.

In light of this, the 1962 omission of the Advent Sunday, which is fundamentally a different day than the Christmas vigil, seems more consonant with.... the rubrics of 1970.... with the two days flipped....

Note: folded chasubles seem to be making an overdue comeback. Perhaps we are witnessing organic, rather than wholesale, restoration?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Prayer Request

Please pray for my aunt, Lisa, who lives in Bel-Air, California. A wildfire has been compounded with high winds and has destroyed over 400 homes in the area. Her street has been compelled to evacuate by local authorities and she is up in a hotel with a risk of losing her house.

Thank you,
The Rad Trad

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent Office for the Dead

It is Advent and time, again, to pray for the dead in this penitential season. Please visit our page to leave the names of all the deceased you would like us to pray for and, if time permitting, you can join us in praying for. Since first posting this Office of the Dead several years ago the natural shifts in the kalendar with the years has made some of the instructions in the front section outmoded. With Christmas falling on a Monday this year we also only get three instances to pray this Office, which is typically said on the first ferial or simple day of the week. Therefore, we propose the following schedule:

  • December 4th, Monday
  • December 12th, Tuesday
  • December 18th, Monday
For those observing a more modern kalendar, such as that in use immediately before Pius XII, you could pray the first Office on December 5th so as to observe St Peter Chrysologus. December 12th would be within the Octave of the Immaculate Conception, which cannot be avoided, but allows the ancient feast of St Damasus to be had.

Be sure to leave those intentions!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Advent and Last Things

Virgin and Unicorn, by Domenichino
On this Advent Eve, thoughts of the end of the world and the many mini-apocalypses that are divinely ordained to precede it bubble up into the Catholic consciousness. Last night your own Mr. J. Grump found himself thumbing through an abridged publication of Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West—one of Evelyn Waugh’s favorite works of social commentary—and an old, periodic feeling of melancholy briefly overcame him. The world entire will one day come to an end, but our smaller worlds of nations and empires will also come to their fated ends, as will we all come to our individual ends and judgments.

A recent interview with Cdl. Raymond Burke has been making the rounds, in which he imagines what he would do as pope (make a clear profession of faith) and also gives his thoughts on the end times.
So there is a feeling that in today’s world that is based on secularism with a completely anthropocentric approach, by which we think we can create our own meaning of life and meaning of the family and so on, the Church itself seems to be confused. In that sense one may have the feeling that the Church gives the appearance of being unwilling to obey the mandates of Our Lord. Then perhaps we have arrived at the End Times.
Another century, another mass-feeling of apocalyptic doom? Perhaps, but who can say for sure? There will be at least one generation whose personal ends will all coincide with the final End, and it would be presumptuous to think it could not possibly be ours. The world’s last night will eventually fall, whether we are ready or not.

Our Lord’s first coming ended part of the world, the old Mosaic covenant, but also brought with it unimaginable hope and joy. His second coming will end the whole world, but also bring with it eternal bliss for his people.

The allegory of the Virgin and the Unicorn represents the Incarnation of the Word, the mythical beast being driven by the hounds of mercy and justice to the lap of a chaste maid. In some renditions of the allegory the angel Gabriel blows his horn as a hunter, much like the trump St. Paul says will blow at the final hour (I Cor. 15, I Thess. 4). Many spiritual writers have observed that the office of Mercy has been given to Mary, just as the dispensing of Justice has been given from the Father to the Son. The workings of the eschaton are still mysterious to us, but surely the Woman Clothed in the Sun will play a large part, just as she did two-thousand years ago.

“Take ye heed, watch and pray, for you know not when the lord of the house cometh.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

God Bless, No One

"I didn't start this."
Christmas has become a palimpset, a blank canvas that a given celebrant draws his ideas of happiness or consolation onto. In most families it means family time, itself nostalgic recreations of when Grandma and Grandpa led elaborate Christmas Eve parties back when Christmas meant something to them. In cities it means shopping, Santa Clauses, carols at the symphony, and Salvation Army collections. And among the embittered moderns from broken homes it means a time to ignore old wounds and find distraction in some hipster manner of diluting the time off, be it a vacation to Mexico or a ski trip.

Christmas can be anything to anyone, but why? The Rad Trad, for one, blames Dickens.

At the theaters is a film aptly entitled The Man Who Invented Christmas, an imaginative telling of Charles Dickens' inspiration for the novella A Christmas Carol. The enduring tale of the miser who reforms his sinning ways after the visitation of four phantasms has truly earned Dickens the title The Man Who Invented Christmas, or at least Christmas as we know it.

A Christmas Carol possesses a Christian spirit of goodness that reflects the generally Christian people of mid-19th century, early industrial England where it was penned to paper, yet it is not a Christian tale. It is a self-made man's plea to the charity of other self-made men not to abandon the destitute to the cruel remedies of the emerging welfare state. Dickens escaped Scrooge's workhouses without the classical liberal sureness that anyone who deserves better than his current state can divine a way to obtain it on his own. So, the novella becomes a plea to Christian charity in an era of growing welfare, growing greed, growing government involvement in social structure, and growing factory business. The reader is left with the impression that his Christmas duty is, like Jacob Marley's, "kindness, benevolence, mercy, forbearance." 

What of the Son of God?

He does not make an appearance in this work, either by name or intimation. Nor does any mention of the Deist's God, so in vogue in those days. Nor does any mention of Christianity. "God", "Nativity", "Incarnation", and "Jesus" are words that appear no where in any edition of the novella. Various film adaptations have noticed this void and filled it as best and ask awkwardly as they can. The original talkie movie with Reginald Owen finds the Cratchits and the nephew, Fred, meeting after church services; George C. Scott's 1984 version has Tiny Tim hoping that on Christmas church-goers may think of Christ when they see his own ailment; and a recent Patrick Stewart film makes Scrooge watch people around the world sing Silent Night and even finds the miser in service the following morning! Imagine, he found his religion in less time that did Saint Paul, who had to wait for Ananias to baptize him.

"I will not itemize charitable giving in my returns this year, Spirit!"
Scrooge's conversion is to a love that Saint Thomas Aquinas might find agreeable. Scrooge does "will the good of another". His love, however, is not for God's sake or God's creation, it is for the sake of the created ones themselves. Perhaps this is what makes A Christmas Carol so enduring after the Sexual Revolution, Vietnam, Facebook, and the age of millennials. The sinner is a man who did not see the good in everyone and his conversion experience is that now he does. Coupled with a few specters, this Christmas tale stays safely in the realm of fiction—unlike the supernatural revelation of the Gospel, wherein God's hand touches earth and becomes Man's bridegroom (cf. Origen, Sarum Christmas Eve Mattins). The most supernatural element of A Christmas Carol is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who is a thinly veiled Angel of Death. Otherwise, the novella, intended to move people to charity in a decreasingly Christian society, is a modern day inoculation against believing anything out of the ordinary has happened on December 25.

Might we paraphrase Tiny Tim with "God bless us, no one"?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Decline and Fall of Illusions

The current state of affairs in the Church and what was Christendom is both unhappy and self-evident, but sometimes a fresh perspective, even on such a beaten topic, can present a more thoughtful eye toward renewal. Stuart Chessman of the St. Hugh blog has such an article on his site that is well worth your time.

I disagree with his take on the Jesuits, to an extent, and dating the current decline to Vatican II, which was the culmination of a Revolution long in the making, but it is still a solid read with the right take on the JP2/Ratzinger years and the potential relief of the current pontificate.

A few snippets:

After the collapse of Christendom, however, the Roman Catholic Church was able to reorganize itself internally under the leadership of the ultramontane papacy. Ultramontanism in the 19th century sense contested the growing hegemony of liberalism yet also depended on it. The renewed stature of the papacy presupposed liberalism’s eliminating or weakening other competing centers of material and spiritual power in the Church (especially the absolute monarchies, but also the landed contemplative monasteries, the state churches of France and the Holy Roman Empire, etc.). What emerged by 1870 was a rigidly centralized Church organized around the clergy and the pope. All authority in matters of doctrine, liturgy and to some extent politics was reserved to the Pope and Vatican. The Church strived for uniformity in worship, music, philosophy and theology. Obedience to authority was elevated to an almost mystical value.

Yet the ultramontane revival of John Paul II remained only a “Great Facade” (Chris Ferrara).  Aside from insisting on a limited external conformity and firing warning shots at the most egregious progressive offenders, the Vatican made no attempt to recreate the uniformity of doctrine and morals that existed the pre-Conciliar years.  At all times in the papacy of John Paul II, Catholic hierarchs, religious orders and schools embraced and agitated for the most diverse and contradictory positions. The Vatican’s solution to mounting massive problems – like declining numbers of clergy and religious; clerical sexual abuse, financial corruption and above all the decline in the West of belief and religious practice among Catholics – was to sweep them under the rug.

But out of this seemingly inevitable tragedy may come at least one advantage: the truth.  For far too long the Catholic Church has continued to take refuge in fantasies of stability and success, of secular standing and influence.  You need look only at any of the official Catholic media to confirm this – isn’t the Al Smith Dinner in New York the incarnation of this self-deception? Even the supposedly hard-nosed liturgical traditionalists remained to some extent in thrall to these mirages. The poison of dishonesty has eroded the faith more surely than any persecution or loss of worldly advantages could do. Moreover, in addition to obscuring reality, the culture of ultramontanism also inculcated habits of spiritual torpor, passivity and blind deference to authority (by extension, also to secular authority!) that have left Catholics ill-equipped to navigate the unprecedented post-Conciliar crisis.

Let be be finale of seem! Jettisoning the Catholic culture of pretend is the first, most necessary step towards reform. To that extent we owe Pope Francis a debt of gratitude. Does not the shipwreck of a mythical centralized day-to-day magisterium make possible a return to the Catholic spiritual “basics” of prayer, penitence and evangelization? And, doesn’t the Tradition of the Church, present before us in the Fathers and Doctors, in history and art and, above all, in the liturgy as it is lived every day remain to us as a surer guide? 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Age of Hooper

Illustration from Ship of Fools
“Hooper was no romantic. He had not as a child ridden with Rupert’s horse or sat among the camp fires at Xanthus-side; at the age when my eyes were dry to all save poetry—that stoic, red-skin interlude which our schools introduce between the fast flowing tears of the child and the man—Hooper had wept often, but never for Henry’s speech on St. Crispin’s Day, nor for the epitaph at Thermopylae. The history they taught him had had few battles in it but, instead, a profusion of detail about humane legislation and recent industrial change. Gallipoli, Balaclava, Quebec, Lepanto, Bannockburn, Roncevales, and Marathon—these, and the Battle in the West where Arthur fell, and a hundred such names whose trumpet-notes, even now in my sere and lawless state, called to me irresistibly across the intervening years with all the clarity and strength of boyhood, sounded in vain to Hooper. He seldom complained.” —Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

So is described Mr. Hooper, a young officer in the Army despised for his lack of culture and imagination by the novel’s narrator. The problem with Hooper is not so much wickedness as it is insensibility. He is, in terms of being a man of Western formation, neither hot nor cold, but passive-aggressively lukewarm.

Sadly, we all know too many Catholics similarly uncultured in their own past. We have an excess of flowchart-smart apologists, but few who have pondered the depths of Augustine’s De civitate Dei contra paganos. Our artists chase after every faddish movement, but few contemplate much less venerate the depths of our iconographic tradition. Lovers of the old Roman Rite too frequently possess an irrational hatred of oriental rites. Devout laymen glory in thoughtless repetition of things written in books meant for the formation of children. Yeats was assuredly correct concerning passionate intensity.

Would not our compatriots in religion be better served with stories of saints and sinners than with mere catechesis? In preconciliar times Catholic youth could rattle off their Baltimore, but was their historical education anything beyond sanitary hagiography and polemics against the enemies of the Church? I do not know what young Catholics today actually learn, but my brief experience with teenage preparation for Confirmation suggests that it is nothing much beyond vague sentimentalities about God’s love.

Hooper would not be roused to joy at the justice of Phinees against the initiates of Beelphegor. Hooper would not laugh at Elias's mockery of the prophets of Baal. Hooper would not weep at the self-effacement of David. Hooper would be barely sensible to the shipwrecks of Paul, the exile of Athanasius, the trial of Formosus, the conversion of Augustine, and the death of Joan of Arc. Annoyance and sentimentality are the only passions left to the Hoopers of the world. Greatness is quite literally unimaginable to them, whether that greatness be heavenly or hellish; Paradise is bland and the Inferno desolate. Heroism and hedonism alike hold no appeal for Hooper.

The intellectuals of Christendom were set alight by the verses of Virgil, seeing in them the preparation for the salvation of the Gentiles and a symbol of our own spiritual conquests. The poets of Europe sought to imitate Virgil and build upon his foundation, reviving the epic form for retellings of the crusades and the legends of Charlemagne’s court. The Roman poet ends his invocations to the gods in the Georgics with, “Look with favor upon a bold beginning.” How can we inspire our fellow Catholics to boldness in deed and thought? Charles Ryder despairs at the arrival of the Age of Hooper as if it were the destruction of Jerusalem, and he is not roused to action against it. What can be done to convince the Hoopers of the Pews that there is an immense scope of being beyond what they have comfortably accepted?

Virgil himself explains the fate of the indifferent damned to the Christian poet Dante, “This miserable mode / Maintain the melancholy souls of those / Who lived withouten infamy or praise.” But fear of punishment is not an effective motivator for our Hoopers; they have too many defenses against it. One hopes they will be attracted to the immensity of the Good when it is shown to them more clearly, but this is difficult to predict. If these things are not imposed upon them in their formative years, it is doubtful they will expand their appetites as they age.

I do not have much in the way of recommendation. In my own experience, the unimaginative and lazy are heroically valiant in their rejection of change, like the Trojan women burning the ships of Aeneas in Sicily so that they can cease their difficult journeying. But probably no one is entirely immune to wonder, that species of fear which is the catalyst for great change. Probably.