Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Singing as "Active Participation"

I hate music for what it has done to me in my life and I have spent many years butchering it, strangling it, and cutting its remains to pieces. I was asked not to sing the Regina coeli before daily Mass at the Oxonian Oratory years ago. I was advised, jokingly, that I could never have a monastic vocation owing to my terrible voice. A friend suggested a buy a firearm for defense against neighbors who might justly desire to end my life when I sing in the shower or while playing the piano.

And yet it all seems to fade away during the Great Fast, Lent. Other than Jerusalem Mattins, the Presanctified Divine Liturgy is the most beautiful service in the Byzantine rite. Yes, it is aesthetically beautiful, but it is also beautiful in truth. It is exactly what "good liturgy" should be: a natural and seamless prayer, a two way conversation and meeting with Christ Our God, the convergence of sinful human nature and Divine grace.

The Byzantine rite has more grand gestures and actions than the Roman rite most of the year and the Lenten Presanctified Liturgy is no exception ("the Light of Christ enlightens every man who comes into the world", "Let my prayer rise like incense" etc). Still, the music of the Presanctified Liturgy of Saint Gregory is a gem on its own, a true and proper example of how tone and text really are inseparable as prayer because they originated together and in the same place.

Our choir does not consistently show for these services so your's truly—with his narrow range, tone deafness, and general inability to hold a note (if I can find it)—leads the popular aspect of the Liturgy. I am glued to the page, only occasionally looking up to see what is transpiring at the altar. In this small aspect of singing I have a window into the challenge proper singers must often encounter when serving at the Divine Liturgy or Mass throughout the year. One is so enraptured in the words that one risks losing sight of the larger picture.

In this case, the words and the actions are one and the same. The supplication for mercy and genuflections, "Let my prayer rise like incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands like an evening sacrifice", humble this sinner. Then there is the great entrance:
"Now the powers of heaven are mystically celebrating with us. For behold! The King of Glory now enters! As the mystical sacrifice, perfect and complete, is now solemnly brought forth. Let us all approach, full of faith and love, let us draw near and become partakers of everlasting life. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!"
This is not a saccharine hymn from a 19th century Anglican pew book. It is, in fact, exactly what is happening in the liturgy and it is as latreutic and it is heuristic.

Then comes the invitation to Holy Communion: "Taste and see how good is the Lord!"

In seven years I have never tired of this Liturgy despite my role in it has evolved from that of a normal attendee to that of bootleg cantor. I do less in my more confined space, yet there is endless mystery to be discerned in these prayers.

Now, you mustn't tell the police that this serial [music] killer is hiding in a Greek Catholic Church in Texas....

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Lenten Office of the Dead

One day it will be you and I
I am late in posting our biannual Office of the Dead, but once again I encourage readers to leave the names of their departed faithful loved ones and friends here. I similarly encourage readers to join in this practice, as I have provided a bilingual edition of the Office.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

De-Latinization: Where Does It Stop?

source: CNEWA
De-Latinization. The process of removing anything foreign to the integrity of a rite of the Church. More precisely, it is the process of removing vestiges of the Roman rite and Latin spirituality from the various rites and traditions of the Eastern Churches. It is something praiseworthy and laudable for Eastern Christians to aspire to pray like their long gone ancestors, who were met with the eternal reward for their own spiritual triumphs. It all seems rather obvious, does it not?

My first exposure to Greek rite Christianity came hand in hand with my first exposure to quibbles and quarrels over Latinizations. An elderly Melkite priest, I was told, would celebrate a spoken, "low" version of the Divine Liturgy during the week and rather than using a traditional prosphera (round bread) he would roll the dough into a cylinder, bake it, and slice cross sections to give the shape of Roman hosts. He passed and the two successive pastors did not continue this distinctively un-Eastern practice of a "low" Eucharist with Romanesque bread.

Some cases are a little less clear cut and get messy when involving the person cost of such purifications. My own Ukrainian Catholic parish did away with the out-of-place Stations of the Cross from the back of the church five years ago, something I mentioned in a post only to incur the wrath of a Ukrainian Catholic who accused me of diminish the spiritual heritage of other Ukrainian Catholics. We had no trouble getting rid of these iconographic Stations in our parish because they had never been used; they were donated some years ago and hung in the back for decoration. Another Ukrainian parish, this time in the Northeast, does have Stations of the Cross and they use them on Good Friday for Latin devotions instead of Burial Vespers and Jerusalem Mattins. This is not "good" liturgy, and yet it also is not the result of compulsory Latinization, the forced adaptation of Roman customs Geoffrey Hull decries in Banished Heart. No, this sort of Latinization is volitional and willing, a way in which some Ukrainians have found a means to meditate on the Passion of Our Lord. This church is sparsely attended, nigh dead, but a renewal minded pastor might have to be careful in telling these elderly Ukrainians that they have been "doing in wrong" all those years.

What, then, is the desiderium of de-Latinization? Is it the removal of all Latin influence? Or only compulsory Latin influence?Is it the removal of all Latin influence? Or only compulsory Latin influence? Orientalium Ecclesiarium states:
" All members of the Eastern Rite should know and be convinced that they can and should always preserve their legitimate liturgical rite and their established way of life, and that these may not be altered except to obtain for themselves an organic improvement. All these, then, must be observed by the members of the Eastern rites themselves. Besides, they should attain to an ever greater knowledge and a more exact use of them, and, if in their regard they have fallen short owing to contingencies of times and persons, they should take steps to return to their ancestral traditions."
This blog recently recounted some strange practices in the revised Byzantine liturgy as used by the Ruthenian Catholic Church, namely the saying aloud of concluding prayers in the litanies that the celebrant would normally say silently as the deacon sings the litanies aloud. It is strange if only because the conclusion usually reiterates the exact intentions of the litany. Perhaps this was done before the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, but the liturgy for many centuries has dictated the celebrant pray these words silently or, if he reads the litany himself, that he omits them.

In a similar fashion, almost all the Eastern Catholic Churches, at least in the United States, ask for the anaphora to the sung aloud and for the celebrant not to prostrate before the consecrated gifts after the invocation of the Holy Spirit during the epiclesis. By contrast, priests in the "old world" will often recite the anaphora while the choir continues the Holy, Holy, Holy and the responses; usually they will prostrate at the descent of the Paraclete. These practices align with the norms of the Byzantine rite Orthodox Churches who more widely use these rites.

Eastern Christians often complain that Latin missionary presence or Latinization split the practices of local communities between the sects, so why would de-Latinization coincide with the modern adaptation of liturgical gestures and habits that contravene Orthodox norms? New Liturgical Movement recently published a fascinating account of the Armenian Holy Sacrifice, a liturgy which features numerous Latin influences from Crusader times which the people of Asia Minor have not seen fit to discard, but that has not prevented some Armenian Catholics from dropping the Last Gospel. The Last Gospel may be Roman Catholic, but it is also Armenian Apostolic.

I suggest this: that de-Latinization should aim to create a normative rite in each Eastern Catholic Church on par with what their counterpart Orthodox Churches would practice. The Melkite Divine Liturgy often resembles the Antiochian Orthodox Divine Liturgy (and they often use each other's service books), but the Armenian Catholic Holy Sacrifice should approximate the Armenian Apostolic Holy Sacrifice. Let there be one rite for one people, saving any differences in proper texts between the Churches.

There are some harder cases, however, which I dare not approach. What of the Maronites, who have become so Latinized in the last four centuries that their original liturgy scarcely exists anywhere? Their bishops attempted a major restoration in 1968, but the congregations and the clergy generally rejected the move as being at odds with their own received spirituality, and unlike most Eastern Catholics, they have no dissident equivalent.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Remembering Aspects of the Leonine Office

The pontificate of Leo XIII can be remembered as a genuine mini-Renaissance of Catholic life and culture in between the collapse of the Ancien Regime and the introduction of modern malevolences. In Phoenix from the Ashes Henry Sire associates the light handed, pastoral style of Leo with that of the paternal Pius XI and John XXIII, a last gasp before centralization stuck its tentacles into any remaining ecclesiastical crevices. 

Leo's reign saw a revival of the gothic style as Romanticism and the return to Patristics set the Christian view beyond the immediate baroque era. Soaring arches, anachronistically left pale, graced new churches along with wooden statues and richer vesture. 

In theology, Leo initiated a return to Scholasticism which, for all the short comings of manuals and Thomas's unimaginative imitators, marked a needed departure from the mechanical and narrow view of the theology coming out of Western Europe, particularly France, in prior generations. Newman, who one Jesuit described as the "first original thinker since Augustine", came into the Church and with him several positive aspects of the Oxford movement: a return to the Fathers, a return to local community as the basis of prayer, and an understanding that devotions should be done out of devotion.

However, not all aspects of the last Leonine papacy deserve historical approbation. His reign saw the continued extension of feasts of nine lessons that replaced the ferial schedule of canonical hours. Of the 18 saints canonized by Leo, half received Offices of nine lessons while some existing saints, like St Cyril or St Boniface, saw their feasts upgraded to Duplex. Outside of Advent and Lent the psalms of the day hardly ever appeared by the accession of Giuseppe Pecci to the Petrine chair. If the ferial Office did appear it was hardly ever available on consecutive days, meaning the 12 Mattins psalms of the day would be read, but Vespers would be taken from the Common of a saint. Only during pentitential seasons and during the sanctoral vigils could the ferial Office even presume to appear. Under Leo, however, it would appear less, should a cleric desire a more timely Office.

Enter the below 1883 legislation from Pope Leo granting to clerics certain votive Offices of nine lessons, based on the Offices of associated feasts and said according to the rubrics of a semi-Duplex, which gave priests, if they desired, near-full authority to ignore the Roman psalter outside of Ash Wednesday, Passiontide, and the last week of Advent. These votive Offices created Commons out of feasts (Holy Angels, Immaculate Conception, Holy Apostles etc) while integrating the occurring Scripture into the first nocturne and commemorating the feria. One imagines that after Passiontide, psalm 134 might not be said by a priest until Advent. The ancient principle that the psalter is the public prayer of the Roman Church evanescenced more and more.

And yet, this author is not sure Leo is to be condemned outright for what is, more or less, a legalized abuse of the psalter. I do not know if this permission extended to those in religious orders who sang a public Office daily. If not, then this legislation merely confirms what this blog has said for years: secular priests serving the faithful outside of canonries should not have been bound to the entirety of the daily Office. The parish parson is not a monk and the forced familiarity with the Office only bred contempt for the onus Dei. Votive Offices figured greatly into medieval piety and prebendary clerics were employed by the faithful for no other reason than to offer votive Masses and Offices of the Dead, of the Five Wounds, and of local saints for their intentions. The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary was especially popular among wealthy, literate laymen and members of guilds who wished to foster communal prayer. Secular priests, at least in England, would offer Vespers and votive Offices daily in their parishes in conjunction with any prebendary clerics. With the Council of Trent, itself medieval in mindset, the parish priest became bound to the entire ferial Office and found himself something of a monk, one set apart from the very world he served.

Even with these votive Offices, the Roman rite retained more variability than the sister Byzantine rite, but something was further lost. The heart of the Greek rite are the troparia and stichera. The Roman Office is uniquely the psalms and the antiphons which adorn them.

The schedule of the Leonine Offices are:
  • Monday: Holy Angels
  • Tuesday: Holy Apostles
  • Wednesday: Saint Joseph, Spouse of the BVM and Guardian of the Universal Church
  • Thursday: Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist
  • Friday: Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ
  • Saturday: Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Leo foresaw that priests might be especially bothered by repetition during Lent and gave additional options for Fridays of that season, the Offices of which at least relate to the general theme of the feast.
  • First week of Lent: Lance & Nails of Our Lord Jesus Christ
  • Second week of Lent: Holy Crown of Thorns of Our Lord Jesus Christ
  • Third week of Lent: Five Holy Wounds of Our Lord Jesus Christ
  • Fourth week of Lent: Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Is the Roman Mass Too Roman?

Fifty years ago, when the liturgical reform was winding down and the Consilium's committees were assembling the final rites to be used throughout the Latin Church, the polemics persisted using the same points which, today, have become canards: legalism, corruption, pseudo-Apostolic liturgical restoration, popular accessibility and the like. Most of these points have been disproven either by later research or the history of the three generations that have lived under the new rites. One point, however, has always interested this writer and is worth a few short thoughts. It is the objection that the old Mass is, effectively, too Roman.
For the old Mass to be too "Roman" would mean that it is too based in the periods in which it came to us moderns (modernists?) in its current synthesis. The pre-Gregorian liturgy of the Roman Church is known through fragments, secondary sources, and the old allusion in another text. The genius, meant in the artistic sense, of the old Mass comes from the Church of Rome shortly after the legalization of Christianity and the transition from house churches to basilicas, Roman markets and court houses. The all-night vigil became an Office, the Canon evolved, more or less, into its current form by the time of Saint Leo the Great, the readings and lessons are considerably older than that, but are attributed to Damasus, who translated those texts, or ordered them translated, from Greek to Latin. All of these maturations occurred in an inter-connected Mediterranean world, albeit one drifting apart as the political and administrative decay of the Byzantine Empire devolved power into local hands. The particularities and defining features of the Roman rite came about in the culture that surrounded the last days of the Western Roman Empire.

The medieval promulgation of the Roman rite and its local reception gave us the Mass we know today and the propers that existed at the dawn of the 20th century. It would be tempting to call the Roman rite "European", but the people of that time had no concept of "Europe", just Christendom, in which they would even include their separated Eastern brethren. 

These bits of history are worth recalling athwart accusations of the Roman rite's foreign nature for broader use. The main accusation against the Roman Mass, in the mid-20th century, came during an age of extensive missionary outreach in Africa and Asia which was also an age of de-colonization by the European powers. It begs the question: what would an African see in the Roman rite that was so "European" that it would offend him to the point of refusing the Catholic faith? Or would the entire thing just appear so strange that he would listen to its priests or engage its worship at all?

Some elements of the old Mass, especially as practiced at the time, are quite "European" and in a way that comes off as strange today as it did then. Pontifical Mass serves as an excellent example. Medieval pontifical Mass, both Roman [Papal] and local rites, was an occasion of Communion between a priest and those who received Holy Orders from him. Priests and deacons would vest in their normal Mass vestments and, while not concelebrants, acted as servants of their bishop. The post-Tridentine manner of pontificating is a bit different. The bishop appears in the cappa magna, a Renaissance manner of "peacocking", and goes through a very fussy way of vesting; for those in doubt, see how efficiently and reverently a Greek bishop's presbyterate can accomplish the same task for him. Then there are numerous reverences to the celebrant and to the choir, often with reverences to the altar in between, during any sort of movement of the sacred ministers. These actions descend from late medieval and Baroque court ceremonies which, unlike kneeling or bowing one's head, are not in the universal vocabulary of gestures.

Perhaps certain aspects of Pontifical Mass are not for Africans, but why not the rest of the Roman Mass? Perhaps the most obviously Roman part of the old Mass is the use of the Latin language. This feature, if anything, has helped to separate the Mass from the colonists who may have originally brought the old Mass to the un-Christianized parts of the world. That the Spaniards spoke Spanish and the priests used a discernibly discreet language may well have helped the natives of South America distinguish between the faith and the intentions of the people who brought it. Catholicism persisted in South America well after the Spanish and Portuguese left and has become part of the fabric of those cultures (perhaps too much a part of society).

I conclude with a brief recounting of the excellent work of Archbishop Lefebvre. His reputation is inextricable from the Fraternity of Saint Pius X, but the most enduring part of his legacy might be his work in French Africa. While the British developed their colonies, the French did so to a lesser extent. In Senegal, where one would be forgiven for forsaking colonial influence, Lefebvre and his priests baptized tens of thousands of catechumens into the Church, managed to construct a large cathedral, founded two seminaries, and, above all, created an indigenous clergy separate from the missionaries who initially came to Africa. Nourished by the all too Roman Mass, Africa maintained the faith and, one hopes, still does today.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Reconciliation and Lent

Today was Forgiveness Sunday in my Byzantine parish, more commonly called Cheesefare Sunday, as today is the last day for eggs, milk, cheese, and other dairy products until the feast of the Resurrection. Henceforth, the Greek and far Eastern Churches embrace a vegan diet bereft even of cooking oils in the strictest observance. While food doubtless weighed on the minds of many, the dominant theme today was forgiveness, an often neglected theme of Lent.

The Greek liturgy has no "second Vespers" like the Roman rite. Tonight in the Roman rite are sung second Vespers of Quinquagesima Sunday. The Byzantine Vespers tonight begin Clean Monday, the first proper day of Lent. At these Vespers the community reconciles to one another, putting aside any differences that may sow discord in the community and impede Divine grace. The priest asks the forgiveness of the community and then, ideally, each member of the community prostrates to one another and asks for forgiveness. The congregation then enters into the Great Fast reconciled to one another and at peace with one another.

When one thinks of reconciliation in the Roman rite one immediately, and reasonably, thinks of the imposition of ashes on the first day of Lent. In ancient times, when the catechumenate existed in a substantial way and large numbers of adults were entering the Church through Baptism on Pascha, The catechumens would fast for forty days prior to their Baptism and the Church would fast in solidarity with them. When Europe found itself Christian Lent transformed into an on-going repentance from sin. Public sinners would be doused in ashes and expelled from the church until Mandy Thursday, when the bishop himself would receive them back and read prayers of Sacramental absolution. This practice persisted in some Jansenist dioceses of France until the 18th century, but became largely symbolic elsewhere.

For the layman who was not a notorious public sinner, he reconciled to the Church and to his neighbor on Holy Saturday, after the Vesperal Mass. Clergy would spend the entire afternoon hearing Confessions, but also ensuring any disputes between parties had been settled. People feared unworthy Communions and would typically only approach twice a year, once on the Sunday of the Resurrection and one other time per annum. In Stripping of the Altars, Duffy describes parish priests calling disputants to account in the church and forcing them to make amends with each other before their biannual Communions. Occasionally laymen would be noted to jump the Communion line and intercept another brother in Christ to ensure that they were in accord with each other.

What a shame that this medieval tradition, so closely aligned with the Eastern instinct, has withered away! There is no liturgical act of resolution with one's neighbor anymore in our native Latin Church and its restoration would inevitably involve some nauseating act of the same communitarianism that has repelled people from Roman worship for decades. Still, we can consider our place with our visible neighbor this Lent and how much spiritual violence we do to our community through gossip, idle chatter, and enduring in petty grudges.