Monday, August 21, 2017

Neo-Gallican Antidoron

Marko has directed some interest in our series on the Lyonese liturgy over here from NLM, for which we are grateful. It reminded me to post this remarkable snapshot of French parish life as it would have been before the 20th century.


This image, La bénédiction du pain by Francoise Archange, portrays the end of a Sunday Mass in the neo-Gallican rites. A first communicant holds bread to be blessed after Mass, similarly to how the remainder of the prosphora is divided for consumption after the Divine Liturgy in the Greek Churches.

The Mass is a Missa Cantata, which was quite rare before the 1960s; the Roman rite was normatively practiced as a solemn Mass with minimalist variations such as spoken or sung low Mass when three ministers were unavailable (I believe Missa cantata was never legal in the diocese of Rome, at least as of Fortescue's time). The French rites permitted local adaptations to maximize the resources of a parish, which in this case included three young boys (one looks bored) singing with three coped rulers of the choir, one of which is singing the antiphon accompanying the blessing of the bread from medio choro, the same place where the Epistle and Gospel were proclaimed in the pre-Tridentine Roman rite and where they continued to be proclaimed in the French rites.

Within the church the full span of local society sits according to rank and order. A nun teaches catechism in the Marian chapel, which houses an image of Saint Jerome in prayer. The women make their thanksgiving after the Mass. The men in the choir are likely officials such as the mayor or magistrates, which was the custom before the 20th century; all society presented itself before the Church, according to rank and duty.

This was the sort of parochial Catholicism Quintin Montgomery-Wright sustained at Le Chamblac over the course of four decades. Montgomery-Wright's parish, as well as the diocese of Campos in Brazil, are interesting experiments in what might have been if the liturgical revolution had not transpired, but Le Chamblac was also blessed with a pastor who kept a Catholic spirit alive in town which, while foppish, was not out of place or [entirely] affected. As much as the Church needs a liturgical restoration, of one kind or another, it needs a re-invigoration of parish life in the modern day, one that is genuine and humbles the world before the Church rather than one which invents lay "ministries" for old ladies in pant-suits. The old French world is gone, but there is much we can learn from it today.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Matrimony in the Post-Collapse

The news that Cdl. Burke and his now-two compatriots are slowly moving forward with the process of the dubia has us traddies in a tizzy about how slow the whole thing is, as if the Vatican has ever moved in a good direction at anything higher than a glacial pace. I do not know if the cardinals will get this declaration of orthodoxy signed or clearly rejected before the Fatimaversary is through, but doing so would help calm a lot of people down.

Meanwhile, my own experience with the married seems to be ever-increasing in variety and alarm. I know those once-divorced, once-separated, and constantly online-dating; those hastily wed after a pregnancy; those in active concubinage; those with children and an annulled marriage; and those young, in love, and getting engaged against the judgment of their parents (God bless them). Marriage is an increasingly messy proposition, but it is still the natural end of healthy adulthood. One not vowed to celibacy nor afflicted with some serious disability finds his proper and natural end in marriage and child-making, and woe to those who put stumbling blocks along the way of those who seek it.

That goes double for vocation-obsessed busybodies who demand years of prayer and preparation for the state of life in which God created our race. "It is not good for man to be alone" is not a complex maxim, and derailing a young man or woman seeking marriage with vocational retreats and the accompanying scrupulosity is to be creating an occasion of sin.

It is also true for those who spread cynicism about marriage as such, frightening young men with horror stories of ex-wives taking everything in the divorce and encouraging a culture of mistrust. Serial fornicators are made of such stuff as this.

And I think it is true also of the matrimonial spiritualists, those who elevate marriage to a state of life equal to the religious and contemplative, who gush at excruciating length about the theology of carnal bodies and birth control the "going green" way. There is a theology of matrimony, it is true, but mostly marriage is practical, down to earth, and humble. Catholic apologists do not need to spice it up with charismatic pretensions. Even the old manualist definition of the home as the "Domestic Church" veers off the rails when it demands a pseudo-monasticism instead of the perpetuation of folk traditions.

But from the beginning it was not so.

We live in an unthinkable age when people suffer simply for marriage. Chinese wives have their bodies invaded to slaughter the children within. Wedding planners and chefs are financially ruined for not supporting perversion. Governments encourage a great burden of collegiate debt on young people who simply wish to work and support a family. Subhuman fools deride mothers of more than 2.5 children publicly in the supermarket.

"Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God?"

Now, blind clerics lead blind adulterers to the cliff. Would that Henry VIII had lived in our times, he would still be a proud papist! When Elias returns in the final days, do we think he will be condemning the Antichrist for his Satanic pacts, or will he perhaps rather be condemning him for his three divorces? Like the Forerunner who came in his spirit, Elias might very well be martyred for defending the primordial state of marriage.

"It is not good for man to be alone.... It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." Those are two hills worth dying on.
 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Assumptiontide II: Te Matrem Dei Laudamus

What was the eliminated lesson from the pre-Tridentine Mattins for the Assumption? A good question deserving of an answer I could not find when parsing my 1554 edition of the Breviarium Romanum, a Parisian printing of the most complicated structure. The Tridentine reforms and modern printing brought some order to the ordinary, sanctoral, commons, and temporal of the Office. By mere chance I happened upon this troped version of the Te Deum. Doubtless, readers will be aware that the medieval dioceses troped the Kyrie according to the season, a practice which survived even in early printings of the Missal of St. Pius V. What readers may not know is that the Gloria and Te Deum were frequently troped, too, according to the feast, especially feasts of the Virgin or concerning the Incarnation. Here is a version of the Ambrosion hymn for use on Marian Saturdays.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Assumptiontide: Veneranda (POST 1,000!)

For eight days, the Dominican Missal presents us with one of its more memorable orations:
"Veneranda nobis, Domine, huius diei festivitatis opem conferat salutarem: in qua sancta Dei Genetrix mortem subiit temporalem; nec tamen mortis nexibus deprimi potuit, quae filium tuum, Dominum nostrum, de se genuit incarnatum: Qui tecum."
This prayer has generated some discussion at NLM because of its more explicit reiteration of Our Lady's temporal death, a contrast to the confusion some "immortalists" created in recent centuries. The prayer first appears in the 10th century Gregorian Sacramentary, a Gallican redaction of the Roman liturgy given over a century early and likely after some period of development. The slightly older Gelasian Sacramentary, also a mixture of Roman and Gallican elements, contains two collects for the "Assumption of Saint Mary", one of which resembles a common Roman Marian prayer and another which the Rad Trad is unfamiliar. Henry Austin Wilson notes that in one manuscript, the penmanship for the vigil and feast of the Assumption differs from that before and after, which a curious reader might reasonably take to mean either the Assumption was a relatively new feast to France and Germany in 800AD or that the liturgical formularies were not as concrete, outside of Sundays and long-established feasts, as they would be by the high Middle Ages. Regardless, Veneranda post-dates these formularies, seemingly.

Yet Veneranda illustrates the proliferation of liturgy after the export of a few Roman books to the Frankish kingdom. This non-Roman prayer is to be found in the Sarum Missal used in southern England, as well as in a few other descendants of the Norman liturgical family. The Missale Ordinis Praedicatorum contained it until the Dominicans adopted the Roman books after Vatican II. Also, in Iberia, the Bragan rite offers this prayer. And yet Braga, Léon, and Salisbury are closer to the monastery of Fulda than Fulda is to Rome. It is a fitting reminder that the post-Gallican rites are indeed usages, "dialects" (cf. Fortescue), of the Roman rite from which they sprang, comprehensible to those who know the original, but still different and enriching.

....And speaking of enriching.... This marks post 1,000 on this blog. I would like to thank those who read now, those who have read from the beginning, Fr Capreolus and J, and all who pray for us. We appreciate your dedicated readership, astute comments, and your prayers. May the next thousand be as enriching as the first.

Gaudeamus Omnes! Assumpta Est Maria!

Below is an annual repost of one of the more insightful liturgical articles on this blog.


*     *     *

Liturgical theology is, according to Aidan Kavanagh, not a theological examination of the liturgy, but theology done by means of the liturgy. Liturgy is the theologia prima of the Church. When someone asks a Catholic how to learn more about the faith, the believer never directs the inquirer to obtain a copy of Denzinger. Invariably, the believer tells the non-Catholic to go to Mass (and hopefully at a carefully selected location). With this in mind, let us [very succinctly] consider what the Church told and taught us about the Assumption of the Mother of God today.

Apse of St. Mary Major with mosaic of Mary as Queen of Heaven,
crowned by and reigning with Christ.
source: Rad Trad's collection
Mattins—or the "vigil," as Dobszay insisted on calling the first major hour—consists of nine psalms and readings divided evenly into three nocturnes. Contrary to the eccentric and rich local traditions of northern Europe, which created special texts for Marian feasts, the Roman rite retains a primitive and sparse text. The psalms and hymns for the feast are typical of any Marian feast prior to the 1860s when Pius IX issued a unique liturgy for the Immaculate Conception. Where the Assumption stands alone is in the Mattins lessons and the text of the Mass. According to Dom Gueranger: 
"the Lord Pope went to St Mary Major, where, surrounded by his court, he celebrated First Vespers. At the beginning of the night the Matins with nine lessons were chanted in the same church.
"Meanwhile an ever-growing crowd gathers on the piazza of the Lateran, awaiting the Pontiff's return.... Around the picture of the Saviour, within the sanctuary, stand twelve bearers who form its perpetual guard, all members of the most illustrious families, and near them are the representatives of the senate and of the Roman people.
"But the signal is given that the papal retinue is redescending the Esquiline. Instantly lighted torches glitter on all sides, either held in the hand, or carried on the brancards of the corporations. Assisted by the deacons, the Cardinals raise on their shoulders the holy image, which advances under a canopy, escorted in perfect order by the immense multitude. Along the illuminated and decorated streets, amid the singing of the psalms and the sound of instruments, the procession reaches the ancient Triumphal Way, winds round the Coliseum, and, passing through the arches of Constantine and Titus, halts for a first Station on the Via Sacra, before the church called St Mary Minor.... In this church, while the second Matins with three lessons are being chanted in honor of the Mother, some priests wash, with scented water in a silver basin, the feet of the her Son, our Lord, and then sprinkle the people with the water thus sanctified. Then the venerable picture sets out once more, crosses the Forum amidst acclamations.... it at least enters the piazza of St Mary Major. Then the delight and the appluse of the crowd are redoubled; all, men and women, great and little, as we read in a document of 1462 (archivio della Compagnia di Sancta Sanctorum), forgetting the fatigue of a whole night spent without sleep, cease not till morning to visit and venerate our Lord and Mary. In this glorious basilica, adorned as a bridge, the glorious Office of Lauds celebrates the meeting of the Son and the Mother and their union for all eternity." (The Liturgical Year, August 15)
All rungs of Roman society paused regular life and joined Christ and Mary in the divine life for a night and an octave, celebrating Mary joining her Son in eternity and anticipating their own union with Christ in eternity. Mary was the first of what Christ wants all Christians to become by the Sacraments, albeit in a lesser degree.

The first three lessons are extracted from chapter 1 of the Song of Songs:
1 Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth: for thy breasts are better than wine,2 Smelling sweet of the best ointments. thy name is as oil poured out: therefore young maidens have loved thee.3 Draw me: we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments. The king hath brought me into his storerooms: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, remembering thy breasts more than wine: the righteous love thee.4 I am black but beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Cedar, as the curtains of Solomon.5 Do not consider me that I am brown, because the sun hath altered my colour: the sons of my mother have fought against me, they have made me the keeper in the vineyards: my vineyard I have not kept.6 Show me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou liest in the midday, lest I begin to wander after the flocks of thy companions.7 If thou know not thyself, O fairest among women, go forth, and follow after the steps of the flocks, and feed thy kids beside the tents of the shepherds.8 To my company of horsemen, in Pharao's chariots, have I likened thee, O my love.9 Thy cheeks are beautiful as the turtledove's, thy neck as jewels.10 We will make thee chains of gold, inlaid with silver.11 While the king was at his repose, my spikenard sent forth the odour thereof.12 A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me, he shall abide between my breasts.13 A cluster of cypress my love is to me, in the vineyards of Engaddi.14 Behold thou art fair, O my love, behold thou art fair, thy eyes are as those of doves.15 Behold thou art fair, my beloved, and comely. Our bed is flourishing.16 The beams of our houses are of cedar, our rafters of cypress trees.

Some of these verses are very sensual and even sexual. Let no one say that the medievals were prudish on matters of intimacy! These verses can be applied both as the Church's acclamation to the Virgin, joyfully exclaiming her maternal nurturing of us Christians working out our salvation in fear and trembling. These words can also, with some care and reservation, be interpreted as a dialogue between Mary and her Creator. The first verse "Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth: for thy breasts are better than wine" speaks to Mary on a level of intimacy that no man ever knew, but Christ did. He nursed from her, yes, but He, in the Father, also created her in accordance with His divine plan for mankind. The image of the breast conjures immature sexual ideas today, but previous peoples instantly affiliated it with nurturing and familial ties: the affection of the husband, the nurturing of the children—two kinds of love, the second generated from the first, which reflects the Divine Love. At this level of power and privacy did Mary know God, of course without the sexual element. Should the dialogue interpretation continue, Mary is both removed from conventions "I am black, but I am beautiful" and presented as close with God on the level of bride in the King's chamber, as the versicle before the third nocturne says.

The readings in the second nocturne come from St. John of Damascus' second treatise on the Dormition of the Mother of God. These readings replaced the writings of St. Dionysius of the [pseudo] Areopagite —which would have been the lessons read at St Mary Minor—with the Tridentine reforms. St. John explains the typology of the Virgin, her prefigurement in the Ark of the Covenant, which housed the old promise between God and mankind, and its fulfillment in her, who housed the new and eternal promise between God and mankind. And like Christ, she did not refuse death, but embraced it as a path to life away from the death wrought by Adam:
"From her true life had flowed for all men, and how should she taste of death? But she yielded obedience to the law established by Him to Whom she had given birth, and, as the daughter of the old Adam, underwent the old sentence, which even her Son, Who is the very Life Itself, had not refused; but, as the Mother of the living God, she was worthily taken by Him unto Himself."
In the treatise from which the above passage in extracted, the Damascene saint goes on to teach that Mary's body could only be assumed into heaven because its use by Christ consecrated it as a thing of heaven. The treatise goes on to recount the entire event of the Dormition and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, which ran the course of three days:
"An ancient tradition has been handed down to us, that, at the time of the glorious falling-asleep of the blessed Virgin, all the Apostles, who were wandering throughout the world preaching salvation to the Gentiles, were caught up aloft in the twinkling of an eye, and met together in Jerusalem. And when they were all there, a vision of Angels appeared to them, and the chant of the heavenly powers was heard; and so with divine glory she gave up her soul into the hands of God. But her body, which bore God in an effable manner, being lifted up amid the hymns of Angels and Apostles was laid in a tomb in Gethsemane. There for three whole days the angelic song was heard.
"But after three days, the chant of the Angels ceased, and the Apostles who were present (for Thomas, the only one who had been absent, came after the third day, and wished to adore the body which had borne God) opened the tomb; but they could by no means find her sacred body in any part of it. But when they only found those garments in which she had been buried, and were filled with indescribable fragrance which emanated from them, they closed the tomb. Amazed at this wonderful mystery they could only think that he, who had been pleased to take flesh from the Virgin Mary, to be made man, and to be born though he was God the Word, and the Lord of glory, he who had preserved her virginity without stain after childbirth, should also have been pleased to honor her pure body after her death, keeping it incorrupt, and translating it into Heaven before the general resurrection." 
The best sermon this writer ever heard preached about the Assumption, or "Dormition" given the setting, was that of a Melkite deacon. Paraphrasing and condensing ten minutes into a few sentences, "Heaven and earth were not vast enough to hold Gods' glory, but Mary's womb was. Christ received His Divine nature when He was begotten of the Father in eternity. He received His human nature when He was conceived and born of Mary in time. When her earthly course was run, Mary died and her body was taken into heaven by the One Who created her because it was inconceivable that the womb which ore God-made-Man could decay in the ground. But this does not separate Mary from mankind. God became united to mankind through her. Mary was the first. We will never know God as closely as she did on earth, except perhaps when we receive Holy Communion, but we can pray to know Him in eternity because of her."

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico
source: joyfulheart.com
At the third nocturne we arrive at the Gospel of the day, also used in the Mass of the day. The pericope, Luke 10:38-42, is the same Gospel story applied in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the Greek tradition for this feast, adding verses 11:27-28. The last verses used in the Byzantine liturgy highlight the entire point of the Gospel for this day: "And it came to pass, as he spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it." Is any depiction in pre-modern art more popular than that of the Annunciation? Mary became special because she bore Christ. She is a powerful intercessor with Him, indeed the most powerful intercessor with Him precisely for this reason. But also for this reason Mary is not a lone, solitary figure of power. She matters because wherever she is, Christ is nearby. Practically every depiction of the Virgin before the vulgar kitsche artwork of the 19th century showed Mary and our Lord Jesus together. In the various pieta paintings and sculptures, the great paintings depicting the Crucifixion and Norman rood screens recounting the same event, and first millennium holy images—Eastern and Western alike—Mary is with her Son. So let us agree with the woman in the crowd: blessed is the womb that bore the Lord! And then let us turn our attention from Mary to Christ by hearing the word of God and by keeping it.

Culminating with the Mass, the Introit invites us to enter into the heavenly abode of joy, elevated from the earthly joy and instruction in Mattins and Lauds, as well as the rites local to the diocese of Rome described by Gueranger above. In the Mass God's presence begins as a mystic one and elevates into a literal presence that can be seen and touched, a presence similar to the one Mary knew as Christ's mother. The collect of the Mass is among the best in the Roman tradition:
"Forgive, O Lord, we beseech thee, the sins of thy servants: that we who by our own deeds are unable to please thee, may be saved by the intercession of the Mother of thy Son our Lord."
This collect, as Fr. Hunwicke has stated, is the theology of Mary East and West. What words could better express our Lady's place in the plan of salvation? The Mass became the integral part of the Assumption liturgy and, in time, many stunning settings of the Mass were written by the great polyphonic and choral composers. Palestrina's setting of the Ordinary of Mass is a personal favorite. The below sequence of videos has both the proper chants and Palestrina's setting concatenated, as for a Mass.






Lastly, the feast is an octave. This blog has discussed in other posts the concept of the eighth day and the theology of the Resurrection. Christ rose on the eighth day after He entered Jerusalem and He appeared to the Apostles on the eighth day after that, one octave after another. Moreover, the Resurrection constitutes the eighth day of the week, the new day of Creation, or re-creation. Mary's tomb, like her Son's was found empty. While the myrrh-bearing women and the Apostles Peter and John only found a few burial garments in Christ's tomb, Mary's tomb was found full of flowers and sweet scents. Christ's Resurrection brought mystery only clarified with the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Mary's Assumption was clear and a fruit of Christ's Resurrection. 

Unfortunately, this historic and gladsome liturgy was altered in 1950 after Pius XII's definition of the Assumption—wherein he says nothing new and clears up none of the controversy stemming from the chirpy immortalist crowd, even if the accompanying letter did in fact say she died. The Office readings were altered severely: the first reading is now taken from Genesis chapter 3 and the next two readings from Corinthians (the same passage used in the Requiem Mass). The Pope's encyclical Munificentissimus Deus replaces one of the lessons from St. John of Damascus. The hymns are new and utterly ghastly. And the Mass is entirely new. The Introit is no longer an invitation to joy, but instead an excerpt from Revelation chapter 12. The collect is banal beyond belief and the Gospel is the account of the Annunciation heard at practically every Marian feast now other than the Immaculate Conception. Of all the changes to the feast in 1950, the insertion of Genesis chapter 3 at Mattins and the new Introit of Mass stand out most. Far from according to a "hermeneutic of continuity" with the previous liturgy, these texts exude the images of plaster statues and devotional lithographs so common in the 19th and early 20th century. Who has not seen a plaster statue of the Virgin, clothed in blue, perhaps with a bulbous baroque crown rimmed in twelve stars, standing on a blue globe and crushing the head of a green snake? The problem that arises from this depiction of Mary as crushing sin and standing above the moon, crowned with stars is not so much what it says as much as what it fails to say. The Mary of these images, pieces of art, and, to some extent, devotions is an aggrandized Mary not entirely dependent on Christ for her importance. There is nothing wrong with these texts doctrinally, but they replace other texts that were more coherent, beautiful, and holistically reflective of the Church's understanding of our Lady. The octave was stripped in 1955.

As with Holy Week, the same people who created the Pauline liturgy restored a few small portions of what they vitiated in the 1950s. The old Gaudeamus omnes Introit is made available as an option. The Mass as a whole is just as bad as the Pian Mass though. The readings are respectively Revelation 12 and the 1951-1969 Mattins readings from Corinthians; the Gospel is again the Annunciation. Mattins The Office of Readings gives Ephesians 1:16-2:10 and again Pius XII's encyclical as the lessons. The mystical understanding of Mary in union with Christ, representing the Church, and the link between the God-Man and mankind is obscured or forgotten. Who can deny that even the most pious of Roman Catholics—far better people than the Rad Trad—only know of Mary through the kitsch statue or as the object of the line "Hail, full of grace"? Again, there is nothing strictly heterodox about this folkish interpretation, but it comes at the cost of the stronger, traditional interpretation of the feast.

On a happy note I know of at least one priest who celebrated the old Mass and kept the old Office for August 15 and the octave! This feast, like so many of the most ancient feasts in the Roman rite, brings the faithful deep into the mens of the Church and her theology of the mysteries of God.

Gaudeamus omnes in Domino!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

After the Reformation V: Barren Society, Revolutionary Government & the Lonely Individiual

A month ago President Trump went to Paris to commemorate Bastille Day with the toy-boy president of the French Republic. The respective republican governments both boast three item founding slogans; one is “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”; the other is “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” While the America motto represents an early form of Western individualism, the French doggerel reflects the end result of decades of proto-collectivism developed in the salons and parlor rooms of intellectuals who could not fathom being denied power. And still, these seemingly disparate traditions share one common term that binds their place in the Western cultural legacy, Liberty.

Liberty, seemingly, implies liberation from something. The thirteen very different American colonies were liberated from taxation laws and the obligation to do business with the East India Company. The lack of universal social structures and the newness of the colonies made the break more palpable at the local level than it would have been if America had been one well established colonial organ. From what, then, did the French Revolution liberate France? Why it liberate France from every cultural and social structure that made one a Frenchman in the past thousand years.

Revolutionary and post-revolutionary France became a decade-long case study in the evolution of an individualistic society. Gone was the king, the noble patronage, trade associations, guilds, charities, parish vestries, episcopal conferences, and kind reference to any history that predated one’s birth. Nature abhors a vacuum and people abhor nullity. Rather than exist as intersections of various associations of society, Frenchmen now found themselves equality at the bottom of a new, two-tiered social system topped by the National Assembly. The Assembly precociously judged the orthodoxy and patriotism of every new and existing organization, giving them permission to exist according to its own adjudications. In the fullness of time Napoleon Bonaparte replaced the National Assembly as the progenitor of the French nation and hence of anything that might characterize the millions of newly individualized, lonely Frenchmen.

This has become the modern political paradigm throughout the Western world: the collective state and the lonely individual. Previous Western societies had their cliques, their rooted conflicts on matters of succession, ethnicity, and invasion of one group by another. This particular shift—often ascribed to the intellectual legacy of the Enlightenment, but in fact a social legacy of the Reformation—was nothing short of a fundamental change in the way common folk looked at their place in society in relation to their new masters, who they wrongly thought to be themselves.

The French, German, and Scottish Enlightenments took place within the context of a coherent society, if one less coherent and bound than it had been two or three centuries earlier. While the Reformation discarded the concept of Apostolic Succession and denied the potency of bishops and priests to confect the hocus pocus of Sacraments, the Reformers retained the latent authority of teachers of the faith to interpret Scripture. Indeed, all mainline Reformed denominations, aside from the uniquely created Church of England, derived from the Scriptural exegesis and eisegesis of some preacher. In theory, the existing late medieval communities continued as they were, perhaps with different Sunday rituals and different beliefs. In practice, the substitution of a broader tradition with the views of singular teachers and the discardment of religious works gradually impoverished the places where the Reformation had any influence. Customs such as feasts, processions, veneration of relics, and pilgrimages belonged too much to ideas of penance and intercession for the new religious outlook. Plays about the Nativity, the Passion, and the Dormition came from spurious sources, left too much to the imagination, and failed to lean exclusively on the explicit words of vernacular Scripture. Guilds dedicated to providing Masses for the Dead could no more be tolerated than the doctrine of Purgatory, so people’s memories died when the people themselves died. Worst of all, the practice of public almsgiving and parish charity stank of salvation by works; and so the Christian religion no longer institutionally provided for the poor and destitute within a city or village. Layers of order peeled way as the Reformers lessened the define doctrines that could be justified with Scripture; practices, too, fell by the wayside. Preachers reduced the barriers between themselves and the faithful, and so also reduced the barriers between the faithful and the preachers’ teachings. It all vaguely resembles Jean Jacques Rousseau’s conviction that if not for the albatross of institutional society, all men left freely to their own dispositions would agree with Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Sixteen century religious savages were no more able to create a consensus opinion or govern themselves than were Rousseau’s eighteenth century savages. Permissibility for any idea or act of religion fell upon the judgment of the Reform party leader just as it fell upon the National Assembly two centuries later. The General Will of religion and state incarnate is nobly savage bureaucracy.

Today our elected governments and religious authorities exercise far more power over our actions and ideas than any Renaissance pope or Bourbon king ever did. Yet we can satisfy ourselves that they are of our own choosing and that they reflect a general consensus of equally able individuals. The consequence of the Reformation is not a liberated society, but rather one with fewer social safeguards and a much larger ruling class. The barren society left behind by the Reformation could be paraphrased by Robert Bolt’s invented defense of law by Saint Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons. Could it not?


Thursday, August 10, 2017

St. Lawrence and the Antiquity of the Roman Canon

St. Lawrence and the Holy Graal

The great Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, whose glorious feast is kept today has, in addition to his many other distinctions, the added one of attesting indirectly to the great antiquity of the Roman Canon--one might say, the Apostolic origin of the Canon, at least in part.


As is well known, St. Lawrence, as archdeacon of the Holy Roman Church at the time of the Valerian persecution (ca. A.D. 258), was charged by the Holy Father, St. Xystus II, to disperse the treasures of the Church, to prevent them falling into the grasping hands of the Roman authorities. (Valerian's persecution, like others, was aimed at the higher clergy and ecclesiastical possessions, probably not so much to extinguish the possibility of celebrating Mass as out of good old, commonplace greed.) After St. Xystus, his other deacons, and subdeacons were put to death, St. Lawrence distributed in one form or other whatever he could to the poor faithful of Rome. Some things, however, were too precious to merely consign to "relief" efforts: above all, the chalice in possession of the Roman See and held to be passed down from the Prince of the Apostles himself.


The holy deacon managed to have the chalice spirited out of Rome to the provinces, namely his native Spain, where through many twists and turns it remained safe from the clutches of the faithless and no less grasping hands of the Vandals, Visigoths, Moors, and other such undesirables. Eventually, so it seems, it ended up in the possession of the bishops of Valencia, in southeast Spain. And, as our readers may know, there it is kept in the cathedral in its own chapel for the veneration of the faithful to this day: the chalice of the Last Supper, better known in English as the Holy Graal.

The purported Holy Graal (specifically the agate cup, not the ornate handles and "foot" added later)

The Graal and the Roman Canon

The close connection between the diaconate and the service of the chalice is fairly common knowledge. A vestige of this connection remains in the traditional rite of Mass (even, when the rubrics are observed, in the Novus Ordo Missae) at the Offertory and in some of the ceremonies of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. St. Lawrence, therefore, would have had an intimate acquaintance with the chalice saved by his foresight and now located in Valencia. Further, he would have been close to the holy pontiff at the moment of consecration and heard him utter the somewhat curious phrase: "Accipiens et hunc praeclarum calicem" ("And taking up this most precious chalice"), etc.

There seems to be little reason why the Canon at use in Rome would go to such pains to indicate that the chalice is one and the same as that used at the Last Supper by Our Lord unless it was indeed believed to be just that. Consequently, there is every likelihood that such an inestimable relic would have been the object of special concern during the Valerian persecution, that it would have been under the care of Lawrence in particular, and that it would have been taken to a place where the Saint had relatives and friends in the Church, namely Spain.

And of course, if the Roman Canon preserved in its formula of consecration the identification of the papal chalice with that of the Last Supper, the conclusion seems unavoidable that such a unique tradition could only have descended from the Prince of the Apostles himself, including the ritual prayer (or at least that part of it) that became known as the Canon Romanus.

Naturally, over the passage of so many tumultuous centuries, a clear chain of literary or other evidence is lacking. A prosecutor might say that the case is circumstantial, at best. It is intriguing, though, to consider that after so many endeavors of Knights Errant and scholars alike to find the Holy Graal, clues to its true whereabouts may have been hidden in plain sight all along, whenever the Roman rite was celebrated and the mysterious words were uttered by the celebrant over that most precious chalice.

Considerably greater detail can be supplied to this entire historical surmise by consulting the very readable and interesting book by Janice Bennett: St. Laurence and the Holy Grail: The Story of the Holy Chalice of Valencia (Ignatius Press: 2004).