Monday, January 14, 2019

Cathedral Chapters

source: New Liturgical Movement

As usual, Canticum Salomonis has a fascinating series on the Gallic liturgical rites that pre-dated the forces of change in our own day. Prior to the late 19th century each French province or archbishopric had its own distinct liturgical use. St John Vianney likely never celebrated the Roman Mass, only the primatial rite of Lyon, to which his bishop was a suffragan.

While it is tempting to concentrate on the now lost traditions of the church of Lyon and its apoclyptic liturgical signs or Rouen's retention of the ancient fasting rules and public penance, one more startling aspect of the Voyages Liturgiques is the ubiquity of cathedral chapters in deciding the liturgical life of a diocese.

The "chapter" was a collection of stable priests, usually many dozen, who sung the full Divine Office and any prescribed votive Offices every day in a public church. This church was normally the cathedral of a diocese, but a city without a cathedral could have a "collegiate" church and a city with a cathedral chapter could have numerous additional collegiate churches; the city of Rome probably had nearly a dozen two centuries ago and today still has half a dozen. In addition to the Office, the priests, called "canons", would offer any Masses prescribed by the kalendar in the solemn form and could celebrate private Masses for the intentions of their benefactors. Indeed, once upon a time no priest could be ordained without a financial path laid out in advance for him by his benefactors and his bishop. Each canon in a cathedral had the duty to pray for the intentions of his particular church and for his benefactors, living and dead.

These chapters exercised unique authority over the liturgy of their own diocese. In Lyon, for example, no one was admitted to the Mass of a feast if he missed Vespers, even if the bishop himself failed to attend. None could celebrate Mass in the sanctuary of the cathedral save members of the chapter, of which the bishop was an honorary member. The archbishop of Lyon could only pontificate from the throne four times per annum: the Nativity, Mandy Thursday, Pascha, and Pentecost. For the rest of the year solemn Mass served by the chapter would be the public liturgy of the cathedral.

These benefice-receiving canons often drew the ire of other clergy and anti-clerical rhetoricians, perhaps not unjustly. Unlike monks, they took no vow of poverty and could keep the proceeds from their practice of the Office. Similarly, they spent half of their waking hours praying the Office and so rarely had to make the rounds visiting the poor and contagiously sick the way humble parish parsons did. Disproportionately did canons come from noble families and disproportionately did they become monsignori and bishops themselves.

Yet for all their associated short-comings, the institution of canons safeguarded the liturgical tradition in their dioceses and connected the roots of the liturgy with the soil of the local community. The prayer in these cathedrals was very much the prayer many generations of people had offered to God and which they desired to pass on unaffected. Many of these churches retained infant Confirmation and Communion, frequent Communion of the faithful, full ceremonies of Holy Week that would blow the pre-Pacellian rites out of the water, and an overall generous view toward worship as the normative manner of Christian prayer. So influential were chapters in the liturgical life of a diocese that S Pius V had to predicate Quo primum tempore on their unanimous decisions:
"This new rite alone is to be used unless approval of the practice of saying Mass differently was given at the very time of the institution and confirmation of the church by Apostolic See at least 200 years ago, or unless there has prevailed a custom of a similar kind which has been continuously followed for a period of not less than 200 years, in which most cases We in no wise rescind their above-mentioned prerogative or custom. However, if this Missal, which we have seen fit to publish, be more agreeable to these latter, We grant them permission to celebrate Mass according to its rite, provided they have the consent of their bishop or prelate or of their whole Chapter, everything else to the contrary notwithstanding."
Canons still exist today in many European churches, albeit without the same function and purpose that they once had. Even churches that still retain a daily office, like Westminster Cathedral in London, usually resort to a trained choir instead of the standing chapter, which is more often than not composed of retired priests enjoying the honor of wearing scarlet in old age. There are, however, a few groups that continue the old use, not the least of which is the relatively new community at St. John Cantius in Chicago.

Three years ago I wrote some thoughts on the state of Christian communities and places where the Church might want to consider her efforts, not least of which are universities and the problem of solitary clerical life. Chapters belong to a time when pious minds thought prayer was worth something of their money and when a sufficient part of society was Christian enough to sustain such a body. Those days have passed, for now, but could not a solution to the problem of numerous miserable priests, living alone in the rectories of half attended churches, be partially found in these older chapters? Could not our clerks recite the Office in common and provide a vibrant destination for the diocese's faithful five days a week, attending to the needs of individual parishes on the weekends, when suburbia actually lives in the suburbs? If anything, it would eliminate much opportunity for vice and perhaps incubate some probity for virtue in our priests. It might even be more attractive to those considering a vocation to pray in common daily and have something of a private life than the remote existence in a parish so many priests live today.

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