Friday, December 28, 2018

A Short Word

This year comes to a close in a few days. I shall be spending it with some old friends and my Godson on a military base in something called Oklahoma. It is a time to ruminate on the past year and render a measure of gratitude to Our Lord for His gifts and to pray for blessings on the coming year.

The highlight of my year was surely returning to Blighty to reunite with some old friends and to make some new ones over the course of a bottle of wine; I am most thankful for your kindness, you know who you are. I am, perhaps, less enthusiastic to remember spending a few weeks sitting on a jury for a capital murder trial which returned a guilty verdict.

I am hoping to use the new year, again, to reconnect with old friends, this time in New York and New England, and perhaps to find some more things to write about for you, dear readers. In the early days of the new year you should have the final installment of our series on "good" liturgical music and also a review of Yves Chiron's new book on Msgr. Bugnini, a most engaging work.

So, happy New Year and a blessed conclusion to the Nativity octave to all. Do spare a prayer for me, dear readers, if you can.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

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!

Monday, December 24, 2018

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. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

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 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Incarnation: The Reason to Believe the Old Testament?

I have a confession. I am not a religious person.

This does not mean I lack religion, that I do not pray, that I do not adhere to the Creeds of the Church. What I mean is that I am not someone who is inherently disposed to religion as a facet of life, although it is doubtless good for me. A great number of people, understandably, what the modern state of Christianity with white knuckles, as if they expect it all to come crashing down, leaving them with the uncomfortable question of "what am I supposed to believe now?", or perhaps "how am I supposed to be now?" This writer, however, has always been more sympathetic to GK Chesterton's aphorism: "If I were not Catholic, I'd have a harem."

William F. Buckley Jr. once commented that should the Resurrection of Christ be disproven, he would immediately begin to follow the precepts of Judaism and the Mosaic Law. Why would one lend much credence to the Old Covenant at all, if not for Christ? On its face, the Old Testament is a mythical origin story of mankind, its Fall, through which we understand our own flaws and our relationship with God, and the "encounters" of some individuals with a mystical spirit bordering on lunacy that they attributed to a God Who demanded absolute obeisance and Who gave precious little in return. The Old Testament tells a long history of Mankind and of the people of Israel by means of a distinct pattern of myth and embellishment. At least that is what this writer would make of it if not for the Incarnation of Christ.

Have you ever visited the tomb of a modern saint? This poor sinner has met the mortal remains of Padre Pio and spent time at his convent in San Giovanni Rotondo. Many will have met St. Therese or the North American martyrs. These saints, nearer to modern scrutiny than the bones of Saint Andrew in Amalfi, worked wonders in our own times. Padre Pio was, in many ways, the most recent "old fashioned" saint, a miracle worker and a simple man madly in love with Jesus Christ. He, and a host of saints, point their modern fingers so that our modern eyes may look back to Bethlehem twenty centuries ago. Their deeds bother us not because some northern Italian friar could exorcise a demon, but because if he could, then the entire world of Original Sin, Christ, Heaven, and Hell are all quite real. They are John the Forerunner, a saint we consider deeply during Advent, for our time.

And so we do turn our eyes back to the cave in Bethlehem and to the mount outsider Jerusalem and embrace the supernatural as the real. Those stories and narratives from the Old Testament, probable in scope and implausible in detail on their own merits, suddenly take on an air of great credulity if they speak of God becoming Man and Man rising from the dead. All of history tends toward this point and all history since is a result of it. And I, a man not naturally disposed to religion, find myself in religion.

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 

Friday, December 21, 2018

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 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

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 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

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 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

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

Monday, December 17, 2018

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 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Left Behind: A Different Take on the Mass of Paul VI

There is no Last Gospel. The preparatory prayers are gone. There is a single Confiteor. The collects and readings are gone or moved. It is done facing the people. There is no more chant. This is different. That is different. So much is different.

Writers in the last five or six decades, whether defending or condemning the 20th century changes to the Roman rite, often focus on what is different and whether or not that is a good thing. What no one seems to talk much about is what the reformers retained from the old rite and how strange those things are, given the antiquarian motives behind the new liturgy. Is it not strange that certain ancient elements of the old rite went dormant while the oddest medieval accretions remained?

Many, many years ago this writer went to an old rite Mass at Sacred Heart Church in New Haven, Connecticut sung by a professional schola of men to a congregation of less than a hundred people. I had one of those little red Ecclesia Dei pew booklets, which I discarded after being unable to follow the Mass with it. Instead, I watched the Mass as people in past times, bereft of literature, watched it, by following the dramatic actions: the priest ascending the altar after striking his breast in unworthiness, the words of Christ incensed and sung at the Gospel, the offering of bread and wine, the elevation of the Sacred elements at the moment of Transubstantiation, protestations of unworthiness at Communion and more. After Mass I was convinced I saw something of a different ethos from what I grew up knowing at St. Bridget's. What was strangest to me was not what was different (the rites were obviously quite different), but what was the same.

Well over a decade later, and only slightly less ignorant about the Roman liturgy, that initial confusion continues. Is the new Mass more "Protestant"? Some believe so, and in practice it is, but textually this is doubtful. The reception of the new liturgy, unfortunately, came in an ecumenical age with unrestricted optimism as to the future integration of religious parties. Mass facing the people and vernacular, misunderstood as the primitive norm, were only the contemporary norm of heretics, and received in the same praxis as that of the heretics. Strictly speaking, I agree with Geoffrey Hull that the new Mass is fundamentally a twin child of Jansenist spirituality and antiquarian scholarship. As such, it is a communitarian reimagination of the Eucharist in a third century Roman home. The Pauline liturgy, through that lens, is somewhat confusing.

The first and foremost oddity is the introduction with the Confiteor, an early medieval emandation to the liturgy. The Introit, initially an entrance hymn, became abbreviated with the addition of the Little Hours to the Mass and the grander cathedral ceremonies inspired by monastic chapters. The beginning of Mass became confined to the sanctuary and the clergy, rather than simply approach the altar, made protestations of unworthiness to stand at the altar of God as did the high priests of the Old Covenant, lest they be struck dead and removed by the length of a rope. In the old low Mass, the server makes the responses at the Iudica me and Confiteor, not on behalf of the people, but in place of the deacon and subdeacon. It is, essentially, a clerical act of purification caught up in the medieval aesthetic of ritual propriety. Why, then, did it remain in the reformed liturgy, albeit in a reduced fashion?

It was kept in an amended fashion, not only in reduction of the number of saints mentioned, but also in purpose. The single Confiteor functions much more like a collective act than a priestly act. The purpose of this does not seem to be to reduce the priesthood, as some may think, but to involve the laity more in a point at which they are not naturally involved. The 1964/7 revisions of the Tridentine Mass also indicated the Confiteor be said allowed from the sedilia, an expansion of a mistake on the low Mass. In this, the reformers took the low Mass to be the absolute norm for the old Mass and acted accordingly.

Next, and similarly debated, is the Offertory. Why is there an Offertory in the reformed Mass? As late as the 8th century, in the Ordo Romanus I, the Roman Church had still resisted the oriental introduction of Eucharistic preparation rites. The Lord Pope simply accepted the offering of the bread from whoever baked it and brought it to the altar. The Frankish and Gallican liturgies introduced elaborate Offertory processions, possibly extant in the 1474 Curial Missal, and ante-Eucharistic prayers, anticipating the Sacrifice, to accompany them. The entire act was caught up in quintessentially medieval Eucharistic theology of the Mass as the anamnesis of Calvary, as Christ's Sacrifice of the Cross manifested again in plain sight. 

Pope Paul's Mass, curiously, retains an Offertory, but unlike the Confiteor, it is not a modification of the Tridentine rite. Nay, it is an altogether new series of prayers based on 3rd century Jewish Seder Meal Prayers which Christ never said and which were, certainly, never part of the primitive house Masses of the Roman Church. Why retain a vitiated ceremony? Could it be that, as with the preparatory prayers, the reformers took the existing liturgy as normative and reacted against exact elements they disliked? Some writers envision the reformers as having ripped apart the old liturgy, brick by brick, and having replaced it with something fabricated ex nihilo. For the Office, collects, and readings this is true; for the ordo Missae it is apparent that the Consilium began was an understanding of the essentials of the current Mass and then went backward, piece by piece. In the Offertory there was no antiquarian antecedent, and so they had to invent one.

The last, and most medieval, element of the old Mass that the reformers retained is the elevation of the Sacred species. In the late Dark Ages and early part of the High Middle Ages, after the sung Canon transformed into a silently spoken prayer, the people demanded to see the Host, to know that the priest had said the proper prayers to change the elements at the proper time. Popular piety, which included lay and sacerdotal prostrations to the ground (not unlike those still done in the Greek rite), met the now said Canon and found the laity unsure of what was transpiring for five quiet minutes. The elevation was in fact an elaboration of participatio actuosa on the part of the people and the priests who understood it was their duty to serve their wishes before the altar of God.

The medieval elevation brought God's presence to the church in a particular instant, an act of theophany before a congregation hoping for the Sacrifice to be accepted. The same Incarnational piety that generated the mystery plays, Eucharistic processions, and which added Saint John's Prologue to the end of Mass also created the elevation and enhanced it by breaking the silence of the Canon was exclamatory hymns that said this was the same body born of the Virgin and hung upon the Cross for our salvation:
Ave verum corpus, natum
de Maria Virgine,
vere passum, immolatum
in cruce pro homine
cuius latus perforatum
fluxit aqua et sanguine:
esto nobis praegustatum
in mortis examine.
O Iesu dulcis, O Iesu pie,
O Iesu, fili Mariae.
Miserere mei. Amen.
Pope Paul's Mass continues to elevate the Host and Chalice, and even has an exclamation after the elevation of the Chalice. The exclamation, whichever is chosen, departs from the previous focus on the Real Presence of Christ at the altar, which has just taken place, and moves into an apocalyptic, forward looking approach:
Mortem tuam annuntiamus, Domine, et tuam resurrectionem confitemur, donec venias.
One aspect of the Pauline Mass which I hold to be a theoretical improvement over the existing liturgy is that the Canon can be sung aloud as it once was at the celebrant's discretion. This option, even if accompanying the de facto norm of Mass versus populum, more or less eliminates the need for the elevations, given that its context has all but disappeared. No more would children and their fathers huddle in the pew waiting for the bell to ring and the celebrant to list the bread. They could now hear it, and probably see it, in live time.

This post is not so much a critique of the Pauline Mass, over which endless debate has raged long enough. I mean only to highlight that certain parts of the old Mass remain, disjointedly, because the reformers took much of the old rite as their basis before applying their suppositions. For all their inventiveness they took much for granted.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

What Makes "Good" Liturgical Music? Part II: Sincerity

Music is bare. Unlike words, visual productions, and lectures, in which "tricks of the trade" can fill the void of poor or absent content, music is nothing more or less than what we hear says it is. A good performance will not make a poor piece excellent; in fact, a faithful rendition of mediocre music may be especially dull.

Atheism and scientism invaded the humanities long ago, and music, one of the last hold outs, is now giving way to these reductionistic views with little alacrity. Music becomes sound in much the way Impressionism becomes layers of oil on canvass. It produces sine waves in various frequencies and rhythms which, in the right combinations, please our minds and stimulate certain parts of the brain. Our more esteemed composers unwittingly knew this and it was their "secret" to success. James May, an ex-BBC presenter most famous for Top Gear, once presented a computer's algorithm for a supposed pattern in Beethoven's music. The result sounded unlike anything the man from Bonn ever wrote, just quick trills up and down a few chords in more particular direction. May called the result "electronic drivel".

Music's main quality is its own "intentionality", that it exists for its own sake out a void where it once did not exist and where, after it stops, it will not exist any further. It possesses its own full range of purpose, emotions, arcs, stories, and impulses which the listener must hear and given himself to in order to encounter. No one listens to "background music" because no one cares about it; background music has no intentionality other than to create noise.

Romantics assigned a fluid quality to the creative process of music, as if works flow from the composer's consciousnesses like the Requiem did for Mozart in 1984's Amadeus, a fine movie removed from the historical reality. The same film, in an earlier scene, offers a moving and more accurate depiction of creativity. Salieri traces the deliberate steps and stages of unfolding music and its message. In this particular piece of chamber music, the "rusty squeezebox" sound establishes a calm rhythm and timing before the melody comes in through the treble, passed from one instrument to another to create a whimsical effect. It is deliberate and stylized because music is deliberate and stylized in what it tries to do. Spontaneous music, the doggerel teenagers write in their garage bands, rarely transforms into tangible music-writing talent, whereas those who do at least try to understand how to write a song may one day be capable of sincere music.

Music, which speaks unabated to the listener, can and should be understood objectively for its qualities and what it tries to do, as well as the more common subjective judgments that modern commentators brand "interpretation" (is not the music itself the interpretation of the theme?). A listener can judge music's harmony, its balance, its theme, and, above all, its sincere intentionality.

A piece of music has some intentionality, some purpose that is apparent to the listener, but only the listener, who is the object in this relationship just as mankind is in the Liturgy's outpouring of grace, can deduce how true it is. Some music is divinely uplifting and sends one's thoughts heavenward without much consideration of the arrangements and details of musical arrangement. Other pieces only simulate this effect by using stock methods and familiar themes from like works, but without any soul. Some pieces can brings about feelings of joy, youth, anger, rage, nerve, and distress. Others do not so much develop these emotions as much as they sentimentalize them, bring them to our minds for a passing moment without challenging us to confront them. This is insincere music.

Sincere musical intentionality can vary greatly not only within genres or composers, but within the works of the masters themselves. This writer, for one, has never cared much for Mozart's Coronation Mass, a bit of late Baroque chirping, a piece of music that very much wants to be listened to. The Gloria, several times, has the potential to continue with its current melody only to shudder with horns in dramatic pauses (et in terra pax! pax! pax HOMINIBUS!). His Requiem is much discussed, but here deservedly so. It is a rare orchestral Mass that actually works in a liturgical context, with balanced parts that successfully bring out the soul of their texts without overstepping them. The 20 minute long sequence does change frequently (Dies irae... confutatis maledictis.... Lacrimosa...) without throwing the whole thing off kilter; it is balanced and never oversteps its place in the Mass.

Talk of Mozart, Beethoven, the Mass, and a philsopher's idea of "intentionality" belong to high culture of another era and high culture now. These comments are just as unapplicable to Mick Jagger as they are to Irish drinking songs from two centuries ago or the mystery play songs that became our Christmas carols centuries before that. Yet, there is one place where "high culture" and regular people regularly cross: the Church's liturgy, where we will resume this series.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Advent Office of the Dead

As usual for penitential season, I will be saying the Office of the Dead on the appointed days and welcome readers to do so, too. Please join your intentions by leaving a comment here with the names of your deceased friends, family, and loved ones.