Monday, September 30, 2019

St. Jerome: Moralistic Quibbler [repost]

[This is an old post from 2015 for the feast of St. Jerome. The opposition of the holy Church Fathers to current ecclesiastical trends remains, of course, very relevant.]

(Francisco de Zurbarán)
My dear Amandus,

I find joined to your letter of inquiries a short paper containing the following words: “ask him, (that is me,) whether a woman who has left her husband on the ground that he is an adulterer and sodomite and has found herself compelled to take another may in the lifetime of him whom she first left be in communion with the church without doing penance for her fault.”

As I read the case put I recall the verse “they make excuses for their sins.” We are all human and all indulgent to our own faults; and what our own will leads us to do we attribute to a necessity of nature. It is as though a young man were to say, “I am over-borne by my body, the glow of nature kindles my passions, the structure of my frame and its reproductive organs call for sexual intercourse.” Or again a murderer might say, “I was in want, I stood in need of food, I had nothing to cover me. If I shed the blood of another, it was to save myself from dying of cold and hunger.”

Tell the sister, therefore, who thus enquires of me concerning her condition, not my sentence but that of the apostle. “Do you not know, brethren (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman which has an husband is bound by the law to her husband, so long as he lives; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then, if, while her husband lives, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress.” And in another place: “the wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” The apostle has thus cut away every plea and has clearly declared that, if a woman marries again while her husband is living, she is an adulteress.

You must not speak to me of the violence of a ravisher, a mother’s pleading, a father’s bidding, the influence of relatives, the insolence and the intrigues of servants, household losses. A husband may be an adulterer or a sodomite, he may be stained with every crime and may have been left by his wife because of his sins; yet he is still her husband and, so long as he lives, she may not marry another.

The apostle does not promulgate this decree on his own authority but on that of Christ who speaks in him. For he has followed the words of Christ in the gospel: “whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, commits adultery.” Mark what he says: “whosoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery.” Whether she has put away her husband or her husband her, the man who marries her is still an adulterer. Wherefore the apostles seeing how heavy the yoke of marriage was thus made said to Him: “if the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry,” and the Lord replied, “he that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” And immediately by the instance of the three eunuchs he shows the blessedness of virginity which is bound by no carnal tie.

I have not been able quite to determine what it is that she means by the words “has found herself compelled” to marry again. What is this compulsion of which she speaks? Was she overborne by a crowd and ravished against her will? If so, why has she not, thus victimized, subsequently put away her ravisher?

Let her read the books of Moses and she will find that if violence is offered to a betrothed virgin in a city and she does not cry out, she is punished as an adulteress: but if she is forced in the field, she is innocent of sin and her ravisher alone is amenable to the laws. Therefore if your sister, who, as she says, has been forced into a second union, wishes to receive the body of Christ and not to be accounted an adulteress, let her do penance; so far at least as from the time she begins to repent to have no farther intercourse with that second husband who ought to be called not a husband but an adulterer.

If this seems hard to her and if she cannot leave one whom she has once loved and will not prefer the Lord to sensual pleasure, let her hear the declaration of the apostle: “ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils,” and in another place: “what communion has light with darkness? And what concord has Christ with Belial?”...

Wherefore, I beseech you, do your best to comfort her and to urge her to seek salvation. Diseased flesh calls for the knife and the searing-iron. The wound is to blame and not the healing art, if with a cruelty that is really kindness a physician to spare does not spare, and to be merciful is cruel.

Your affectionate sourpuss,

(From Letter 55 of St. Hieronymus, Presbyteris Confessoris et Ecclesiae Doctoris)

(Leonello Spada)

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Questions of Kalendar: Ss Cosmas & Damian

Disrobing. Stepping into the steam bath. Immersing one's self in the warmth of a gentle waterfall, every pore opening. Boom! The ground rattles! The soap dish crashes! The big one has come, but does one hide in delicacy or save one's self in the nude?

A friend, wearing nothing but a haunted face, jumped out of his morning shower amidst the assumption that the "big one" had finally arrived that Campi Flegrei had blown. The hills were covered in smoke and the ground continued to tremble, if only somewhat perceptibly. An amused old lady over the hill spotted him and roared in laughter. "Terremoto?" he yelled to her. "No! Santi Cosma e Damiano!" she retorted.

This Texan had taken a vacation to the Amalfi coast, eager to soak up some rays and Limoncello, and found himself in the middle of one of the last places to honor Saints Cosmas and Damian with a grand medieval feast. Up and down the Amalfi coast they blast canon fire on the feast of Ss. Cosmas and Damian, but is that day today (Sep 26) or tomorrow (27)?

Prior to 1970, the Latin Church honored the saints on September 27. The Rad Trad is unaware of any special significance to the feast date itself, whether any legends of the Saints or historical transference of relics fell on this date. The Mattins of the feast is silent and the Roman Martyrology does not seem to place any more weight on this date than it does on September 3 to Moses's death. For at least 14 centuries the feast took place on the 27; the Gelasian Sacramentary has orations for their feast, different to the Tridentine form, on "V Kal Octobres", which aligns with the pre-1970 date.

Why bother such an ancient feast? Precisely because it could be bothered. Today it has been moved a day prior to make room for the feast of Saint Vincent de Paul, who when the Pauline Mass was crafted was the patron saint of several guilds and charities which performed corporal works of mercy and beneficence at the parish level. In the United States at least the Saint Vincent de Paul Society still exists, albeit without the omnipresence in each parish it once possessed. Eliminating the saints entirely from the kalendar would contravene the antiquarianism of the reformers, but they could have been retained as a Solemnity/First Class Feast/Double of the First Class in specific regions and removed from the General Roman Kalendar.

A similar case of rationalistic tinkeritis befell the reformers when they touched August. Saint Dominic died on the feast of Transfiguration during an age when the veneration of saints was a serious affair. The day before his death (Our Lady of Snows) and the days after his death were occupied by very ancient feasts as were the days before (S Peter in Chains, Pope S Stephen, the Finding of S Stephen the Proto Martyr). Only August 4 was available for a feast when Dominic was canonized. Several centuries later, Saint Jean Marie Vianney died on August 4. A century after that, a committee of Italians occasionally meeting in a trattoria decided to move Saint Jean Vianney to the day he died and transfer Dominic to August 8. If S Dominic could not be observed on the day of his heavenly birth, surely at least the Cure d'Ars could be celebrated properly. No one considered that the Cure d'Ars celebrated S Dominic on August 4 every year of his life.

But most importantly, will a naked tourist in Amalfi be running out onto his balcony in a cloud of cannon fire and smoke today or tomorrow?

Monday, September 23, 2019

Iuventutem Meam

A young Rad Trad up to no good
A few days ago I managed to reach thirty years of age without event. After winning two senior superlatives—most likely to be rich and most likely to be assassinated—I must say that I have not lived up to the hype.
On my birthday and the day after I had the opportunity to hear the old Roman Mass, the treasure of my passed youth and blossoming seniority. The celebrant looked resplendent in his red chasuble. He placed the chalice on the altar, opened the Missal to the Mass of Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, nodded to the Crucifix, descended and began familiarly "In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. Introibo ad altare Dei."

No perceptible response followed from the child kneeling next to him.

"Iudica me, Deus, et discerne causam mean de gente non sancta. Ab homine iniquo et doloso, erue me."

Again, nothing.

This pattern persisted, although the assembled faithful did reply to the Kyrie and some Tradistanis nervously replied to the Dominus vobiscum, which is still a reserved sin in Ireland. The child serving at the altar, no more than seven years old and probably not even that, clearly struggled in his duties. When transferring the Missal for the Gospel and the Post-Communion he could barely see over the book stand. Indeed, the combined Missal and stand were substantially larger than the adolescent's upper body. Comically, the celebrant had to bend down half way to the floor in order to fill the chalice at the Offertory and to perform the ablutions after Holy Communion. While the scene was "cute" in a Christmas card sort of way one wonders if this has the makings of a vocation.

We ought not forgot that in every rite of the Church—Byzantine, Roman, Paul VI, and the rest—the position of acolyte is an ordained order of particular service and the highest one in which a layman may substitute. In the non-Roman, medieval Latin rites the acolyte was a solitary minister—the torchbearers were distinct from the acolyte—who, following his first millennium Roman forebearers, held the paten in the humeral veil during the Canon of the Mass, a role absorbed by the subdeacon in the Curial Roman liturgy. The acolyte at the Tridentine high Mass and the server at low Mass provide actual service connected to the priest's own ministry, making his work possible. Evelyn Waugh found the low Mass mesmerizing, likening the celebrant with a lone server to a master tradesman and his apprentice. Would it not be reasonable to expect the server to be at least a potential apprentice.

When the altar cannot be served by those ordained to stand along side those in major orders, it could at least be served by those who could one day take up orders themselves. While today in most diocesan parishes altar service is something parents compel children to do as a church-y activity which the children themselves are loath to do (the female altar boys' mothers are the worst), in some parishes the altar is a sort of day care service. Children are put at the altar too young to know what they are doing, much less saying, and the declining average age of servers means that they age out of the program before they could reasonably begin to consider a sacerdotal vocation.

The most successful churches I have seen at fostering vocations always have a male sanctuary with range somewhere between pre-teen and college age servers. The older boys, becoming men, guide the younger ones, which removes pressure from the priest and avoids any bureaucratic nonsense from liturgy committees which emasculate clergy. The craft of service is passed on between boys somewhere in the same age group but in distinctly different phases of life; the result is always a memorable kind of camaraderie which benefits the servers as men regardless of which path they take.

In these formative years, when the servers are old enough to understand the significance of what they are doing but young enough to be open to the world, not yet set in their views, they can develop a passion for Divine service. They will say the prayers at the foot of the altar clearly and in a way which suggests that they know what the words mean; by contrast, a six year old still does not know he can take a breath during one of the commas in the Confiteor before Communion.

This brings up a related point overlooked by the communitarian approach to altar service, the fact that it must be done unassumingly and pleasingly to God. A six year old altar boy does poorly because he simply does not know what he is doing, and occasionally the celebrant must discharge disproportionate effort to keep the servers in line. This is not harsh criticism from an aspiring curmudgeon. I remember as an altar server around age eight we were always more interested in who was going to carry the incense boat during the procession or who got to hold up the Missal and be seen; the "best" job was ringing the bell, because no one could avoid hearing what we were doing, that it, until Fr. G shot the stink eye in our direction.

If we are to have reverence for our rites we must concern ourselves both with their performance by those who serve at the altar today, because they may well be the ones there tomorrow, too.

Friday, September 13, 2019

On Servility and Religious Assent

Baron Munchausen

June's General Assembly of the USCCB was livestreamed on a popular video site, leading this writer to witness the collected power of the American episcopacy react to the heartfelt recommendations of a representation from the National Review Board for the Charter for Protection of Children and Young People to release all relevant information about the activities of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick... with silence and polite dismissal. By contrast, the day's later presentation by Bp. Barron concerning P. Francis's "eloquently ambiguous" language on the death penalty was accompanied by applause and a near-unanimous vote to incorporate the Bergoglian language into the Conference's own catechetical publications.

The free-form online commentators have been typing nonstop ever since.

A relevant passage from the latest Vatican Council's document Light of the Nations goes as follows:
Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.
These recent months have thus given opportunity for many dogmatic assertions based on a "dogmatic constitution" from a non-dogmatic Ecumenical Council about obedience and submission to a catechism modification. The circular logical absurdity of these arguments is lost on most, and even many of those who perceive it see no way to escape its spin. There is a proper submission to authority, papal authority especially, which is in concert with true obedience, but it does not involve acting as if some doctrine is defined when one knows full well that it is not.

The form of religion assent and submission posited by the Fathers of Vatican II is precisely the one so often parodied by the anti-papists of yesteryear. The laity may not morally accept undefined doctrine as if it is defined. It is as rationally impossible as Baron Munchausen lifting himself out of the swamp by pulling upwards on his own hair. One cannot logically give submission of the mind and will to the minds and wills of the bishops when they flagrantly ignore the doctrines handed down by tradition, especially in such a clearly non-dogmatic document as a catechism. Catholic tradition does not tell us to unthinkingly pray, pay, and obey, but rather to discern the spirits always (1 John 4). It does not forget that historically every heresiarch has been a bishop or priest.

It is not anti-authoritarian to reject bullying. Christ warned the laity against practicing quiet submission at all costs to those who throw their weight around:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. (Matt. 7)
The very form of the warning implies the ability to discern between truth and falsehood without depending on every word the magisters speak, the so-called "magisterium of the moment." The episcopacy of today does not exist in a prophylactic vacuum, set aside from the rich and often messy history of the Church, as if their mere will is enough to demand submission and assent in all things.
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. (Gal. 1)
There are two sins opposed to obedience, as the old moral manuals tell us. The one that most people know and fret about is disobedience, the sin of defect by which one expresses contempt for the command or for the person commanding. The other is servility, the sin of excess by which one is prepared to obey indiscriminately even in unlawful matters.

Everyone despises the sycophant, the yes-man who clings to his superior at any cost to his fellow man and to his own soul. If the superior is a man of any moral character, he also despises the sycophant; if he is not, he still despises the sycophant, but will happily use this inferior to suit his own ends. The servile sycophant is a quisling, a traitor to his peers who refuses to stand—respectfully but firmly—against clear error and wickedness.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love, and of sobriety. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord. (2 Tim. 1)
Servile spirituality is a vice, not a virtue. Obedience must be practiced, but also tempered by reality and by a well-formed conscience. No power less than God's is absolute and unquestionable, and even St. Paul found it necessary to oppose the highest authority on earth to his face (Gal. 2). The early Christian apologists spoke truth fearlessly to emperors and executioners.

It is not easy to maintain a spirit of respect to ecclesiastical authorities when they threaten to jump into a pit and pull us with them, but the belligerent attitude of many discontented laymen is not ultimately helpful for anyone: it embitters the discontents further and makes errant leaders more rigid in their mistakes. They need our prayers, if only so God will recall to their minds the law of non-contradiction.

"... but for Uncle Ted?"

Monday, September 9, 2019

A Forgotten Pope: Gregory XVI

This blog has postulated some opinions on the papacy which look strange at first. For example, I have written that Pius XI and Leo XIII were the most recent popes who should be considered good, historically. Although opinion of John Paul II has improved in the last six years, those who lived through his pontificate will recall his enculturated Masses with great regret. Pius XII's hidden legacy has also been well publicized here. John XXIII, wrote Henry Sire, reflected a fatherly, familiar, Roman style of papal governance more recognizable in Leo and Papa Ratti, firm but un-aggressive, orthodox and with a mind toward preserving the entirety of the faith.

One might say than Pius XI was the last pope who was both unapologetically orthodox and un-ideological. Pius XII caught the fever of post-War optimism, as did John and Paul. John Paul II was a phenomenologist in philosophy and a Mariologist in prayer. Benedict XVI, for all his virtues, thought like a German academic and governed the Church much like one would run a seminar. Francis's ideology is anti-ideology, a proactive lack of structure which throws off the perceived shackles of Western traditions and leaves a more authentic experience of whatever the hell. If any pre-War popes between Gregory the Great, the first pastoral theologian, and Pius XII had ideological theologies, it was unapparent in their decisions and style of governance, which was always guarded, conservative, and sparse in reasoning—so as not to set new precedents.

If Leo and Pius were the last fatherly, un-ideological popes, Gregory XVI was the last pope of many other things.

Pope Gregory consecrates a bishop at the high altar of Saint Peter's Basilica
For one, he was the last pope not to have been a bishop at the time of his election. Bartolomeo Alberto Cappellari forewent his noble roots and took to a Camaldolese monastery dedicated to Saint Michael off of the Grand Canal in Venice. Educated in science, Bartolomeo taught philosophy in universities and was elected abbot of his tiny monastery. After penning a panegyric praising the Church's resistance to novelty, Bartolomeo was twice offered bishoprics, which he declined. He did, however, accept the abbacy of his order's Roman monastery and was made Cardinal-Priest of S. Callixtus.

Although politically inexperienced, he nurtured interest in Armenian culture and issued an unambiguous condemnation of the Western slave trade which led him to say that his pontificate was only respected in the Papal States and the United States.

Liturgically, he did nothing notable at all, for which he deserves our praise. Pius IX did nothing, aside from issuing new texts for December 8, but Vatican I did consider a multi-year lectionary before tabling the idea. Leo XIII suppressed the transference of semi-Duplex feasts and provided a number of Duplex votive Offices for both Lent and per annum seasons to replace the remaining ferial days. The liturgical exploits of the 20th century popes need no recounting to our readers.

While some of Pope Gregory's remarks seem incendiary to us—referring to trains at chemin d'enfer and infernale—he was both the last pope to govern Rome for the entirety of his pontificate and to be an anonymous pope, the sort of pope one would feel very comfortable having lived and died without needing to know who reigned on Peter's throne. While Gregory's successors each had their own charisms and legacy, Gregory has very little outside of those the minds of those who study such matters and that's alright, at least, alright by me.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Office of Prime (IV and Final): The Place of the Communal Office Today

Prime is anomalous in the contemporary liturgical milieu. It carries universal and ancient precedent and yet is no where said publicly except for in Traditionalist monasteries and the odd parish which sings the Office on Christmas Eve for the sake of hearing the Martyrology read.

This is not entirely true. Every Eastern Church retains the Office of Prime in addition to the vigils, Vespers, Compline, and the other horae minores. These Churches will sing Prime monastically as well as parochially. Prime in the Eastern rites does not, however, have the communal and collegiate character that its Roman sibling exhibits. Indeed, the unique characteristics of Prime as a longer hour and something with long(ish) lessons and creeds made it a unique target of the antiquarian reformers whereas the Prime of the Eastern Churches follows the structure and place of Terce, Sext, and None in those rites.

What, then, can we hope for Prime today. Collegiate churches do still exist, but generally follow the Liturgia Horarum of Paul VI and, in this writer's experience, tend to give higher place to something called Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer than to the continued singing of the Office throughout the day. Secular priests bound canonically to some form of the Roman Office also typically use the Pauline Office, which has no Prime and only requires one of the surviving day hours to be said. Does Prime have a future?

As said above, Prime will continue in the Traditionalist monasteries, which are happily thriving vocationally and increasing comfortably in number. While the situation has hardly reached medieval proportions, Traditionalist parishes have also become more liturgically inclined than they were 15 years ago thanks to the broader liberalization of the older rites from the ghetto. Prime does not grace the parish schedule, but Vespers does more often as does the Office of Tenebrae during Holy Week. It is not unthinkable Prime may become an occasional visitor to parish schedules, if only in the truncated form, during Holy Week in the future.

One unconsidered setting where Prime may enjoy a serious revitalization is in the lives of ordinary Catholics who seek a deeper form of prayer. The Office of the Church, after the Eucharistic Sacrifice, is the most substantial and Divinely pleasing form of prayer there is, an on-going gift of the Holy Spirit to enrich and sanctify our quotidian lives. The average Western Christian is not a monk or priest. He or she works in an office or factory or store, has some sort of life outside of work which requires daily maintenance, and goes about socializing with other social animals. That said, he tries to make some sacred—separate—space for serious and engaging prayer, humbly in awe of his Creator.

The Office of Prime is an elegant solution to this dilemma. A layman who seeks liturgical prayer rarely has the time to say the full Office or even large chunks of its while maintaining a job, family, and other obligations. The only option is to chose a part of several parts of the Office. One pleasant future of the traditional Roman Office, in contrast to the Eastern rites at one end and the Pauline rite on the other, is its daily balance between familiarity and variety. Every day is different at the major hours and constant at the daily ones; the psalter varies by week, the prayers, readings, and antiphons and readings by the day of the season. While this is a plus to those who would pray the full Office, none of the individual parts reflect this variety other than Prime. Among the beneficial features of Prime are:

  • a weekly schedule of psalms with a Dominical and festive variation, meaning feasts and Sundays will always be unique and on non-festive days one can expect to be taken through different psalms
  • heuristic readings from the martyrology which relate the stories of the saints each day and which will reflect in Mass the following day
  • a blessing for the day at the beginning at end
  • a series of exchanges and dialogue prayers, which makes it suitable for praying the Office in groups without arbitrarily taking turns from person to person
  • intercessory and penitential prayers to make the non-festive and more somber seasons fully felt
When should Prime be prayed by the layman? Ideally as the first prayer of the day. I have met some laymen who begin the day with Lauds, which is laudable, but perhaps anachronistic. The Institute of Christ the King also begins the day with Lauds at their seminary and priories. Lauds is part of the vigil and is always said in conjunction with Mattins. Even the one perceptible exception to this rule, the midnight Mass on Christmas day, inserts the Eucharist in between these two joined hours, as the Missal envisions; several medieval and non-Roman Latin rites make with more explicit by inserting Lauds into Communion much like Vespers on Holy Saturday.

Prime is down, but not out. Despite having a lesser place in the letter of the Roman law, it is more widely said that it was ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years ago, and remains uniquely suitable to the prayer lives of Christians today. Next time you have a free moment in the morning and you are tempted to refill your poison coffee or say your devotion, break out your Breviary, iPhone app for Divinum Officium, or your Little Office, open to the day's Prime, and delve into a prayer begun in the day of Cassian, ratified by the Church's saints, and said to this very day.