Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Christmas Carol (or Carols)


Lutheran Satire puts out a humorous, generally benign product poking some passive aggression at those who follow a different Mere Christianity from them. “Frank the Hippie Pope” and “Bart the Patriarch” have made numerous appearances over the years. A more seasonal offering might be the above video, in which two jolly Britons try to pen a Christmas carol with Father Luther. The Anglicans repeat the same opening lines about the cold and seasonal weather in several variations, only to be condemned by the priest from Wittenberg for ignoring that Christ became man “to fulfill the Law for us.” He goes on to patronize hymnody that “list a bunch of elements in the Christmas narrative that aren’t at all central to its theology.” Perhaps if Herr Luther had paid more attention to the history and use of hymns he would have realized those “elements” are how people understand theology.

Christmas, even in our secular age, presents a rare season of the liturgical year during which the faithful can be counted on to sing large excerpts of hymns—even all the verses—without picking up a book. The average church-goer can recall a bit of “Hark! The Herald Angels”, “Joy to the World”, “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “Silent Night”, and maybe “The First Noel.” Carols and hymns are not exactly the same thing, but they are not that different, and during Christmas the liturgical milieu harkens back to a time of more prevalent cultural Christianity, a phrase much maligned.

Hymns have their origin in the days of the Old Testament, the “former observance” as Saint Paul calls it. The psalms and canticles, repeated in the Offices of the Church, are rhythmic, musical prayers derived from Holy Writ. New Testament hymnody emerged separately from the context of liturgical worship, with several Eastern and Western Church Fathers writing hymns for song or recitation, but not for liturgical use, which was a Gallican innovation in the West and still rare in the East. Hymns did make their way into the Office and Mass, alongside motets, and more common songs that would have been called hymns at an earlier time, became carols.

Carols once helped Christians negotiate the liturgical year outside of liturgical services. They belonged to the annual expression of Christian belief within the context of already Christian societies. In the “northern” countries, these carols were most commonly sung during the mystery plays held during the octaves of great feasts, when manual labor was prohibited. While certain feasts emphasize particular themes, a given mystery play could encompass more than what was read in the Gospel at Mass. The Corpus Christi plays, far from focusing on the Last Supper, retell the Incarnation in the same detail as the Candlemas plays from five months earlier. It was in these plays, narrating the action on stage, that enduring carols like Resonet in laudibus or the Cherry Tree Carol, with “Old Man” Joseph, rolled off the lips of the faithful.



Carols served precisely to add flesh and earth to great chapters in the story of redemption, to show forth the humanity of those who beheld Christ’s humanity and divinity. Western hymns and carols never attempted exposition on doctrine, supposing the message clear enough in what was discussed. These melodies and words unfolded redemption in concrete terms that people could sublimate in their own lives even if they could not comprehend the intellectualized theology of the medieval, Reformation, and baroque ages. The aforementioned Cherry Tree Carol, from the York Corpus Christi plays eight centuries ago, begin with old man Joseph wedding “the Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galilee.” They enter an orchard with cherries “thick as may be seen.” Mary pleads with Joseph to pluck her some only for Joseph to answer angrily “Let him gather cherries who brought thee with child.” Christ feeds His Blessed Mother by commanding the tree down, which only confounds Joseph further. After the birth of the “heavenly king”, the Virgin asks the Christ Child to tell her “just how this world shall be,” to which Christ answers with the foretelling of His death and resurrection. This carol contains no theology, no doctrinal statements in poetic form composed to teach aspects of the Incarnation to those who would hear it. Instead of explaining teachings to be held, the carol recounts a concrete event to be believed.

This blog has posited numerous times that one of the main points of departure between Greek and Latin music is that the former’s approach is didactic while the latter’s is descriptive and narrative. The Greek liturgy explains what certain mysteries mean in their antiphons at the Divine Liturgy and Vespers; for example, during Liturgies celebrating the Fathers of the early Councils, the kontakion say “The Apostles’ preaching and the Fathers’ doctrines have established one faith for the Church. Adorned with the robe of truth, woven from heavenly theology, It defines and glorifies the great mystery of Orthodoxy!” No Latin text would ever say something like this. We recently passed the feast of Saint Lucy, whose Office antiphons go no further than to mention what she did; interspersed with the singing of the psalms, these texts come across less as lessons than they do as praises of God for His martyr. I daresay the Western approach to hymnody and carols more approximates Saint Lucy than any unique texts sung in the Hagia Sophia.

Despite the Reformation’s evisceration of normatively traditional Christian culture throughout the Old World, the “narrative” Western approach to music remained. The mystery plays died, as did the Mass in some places, but the musical tradition continued in the form of hymns and carols. Most of the great seasonal music we sing at Christmas post-dates the Reformation, but is closer to the pre-Reformation musical tradition than it is to Lutheran Satire’s desire. After all, was not the saccharine (and mediocre) Away in a Manger, so often misattributed to Luther, about “cattle lowing” and the Christ Child waking without crying?


Beyond the pale of commercialism, Christmas remains the last accessible ode to the fading Christian culture. Music is perhaps the most integral part of it, so get out a hymnal and start belting “Once in Royal David’s city stood a lonely cattle shed….”


O Sapientia


O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia; veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.O Wisdom, that proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end mightily, and disposing all things with strength and sweetness! come and teach us the way of prudence.
O Uncreated Wisdom! that art so soon to make thyself visible to thy creatures, truly thoudisposest all things. It is by thy permission, that the Emperor Augustus issues a decree ordering the enrolment of the whole world. Each citizen of the vast Empire is to have his name enrolled in the city of his birth. This prince has no other object in this order, which sets the world in motion, but his own ambition. Men go to and fro by millions, and an unbroken procession traverses the immense Roman world; men think they are doing the bidding of man, and it is God whom they are obeying. This world-wide agitation has really but one object; it is, to bring to Bethlehem a man and woman who live at Nazareth in Galilee, in order that this woman, who is unknown to the world but dear to heaven, and is at the close of the ninth month since she conceived her child, may give birth to this Child in Bethlehem, for the Prophet has said of him: "His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity. And thou, O Bethlehem I art not the least among the thousand cities of Juda, for out of thee He shall come." [Mich. v. 2; St Matth. ii. 6.]. O divine Wisdom! how strong art thou, in thus reaching Thine ends by means which are infallible, though hidden! and yet, how sweet, offering no constraint to man's free-will! and withal, how fatherly, in providing for our necessities! Thou choosest Bethlehem for thy birth-place, because Bethlehem signifies the House of Bread. In this, thou teachest us that thou art our Bread, the nourishment and support of our life. With God as our food, we cannot die. O Wisdom of the Father, Living Bread that hast descended from heaven, come speedily into us, that thus we may approach to thee and be enlightened [Ps. xxxiii. 6.] by thy light, and by that prudence which leads to salvation.
From Dom Prosper Gueranger's The Liturgical Year 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Tertullian on the Blessed Virgin


From On the Flesh of Christ, by Tertullian:

But, leaving Alexander with his syllogisms, which he so perversely applies in his discussions, as well as with the hymns of Valentinus, which, with consummate assurance, he interpolates as the production of some respectable author, let us confine our inquiry to a single point—Whether Christ received flesh from the virgin?—that we may thus arrive at a certain proof that His flesh was human, if He derived its substance from His mother's womb, although we are at once furnished with clear evidences of the human character of His flesh, from its name and description as that of a man, and from the nature of its constitution, and from the system of its sensations, and from its suffering of death.

Now, it will first be necessary to show what previous reason there was for the Son of God's being born of a virgin. He who was going to consecrate a new order of birth, must Himself be born after a novel fashion, concerning which Isaiah foretold how that the Lord Himself would give the sign. What, then, is the sign? "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son." Accordingly, a virgin did conceive and bear "Emmanuel, God with us." This is the new nativity; a man is born in God. And in this man God was born, taking the flesh of an ancient race, without the help, however, of the ancient seed, in order that He might reform it with a new seed, that is, in a spiritual manner, and cleanse it by the removal of all its ancient stains.

But the whole of this new birth was prefigured, as was the case in all other instances, in ancient type, the Lord being born as man by a dispensation in which a virgin was the medium. The earth was still in a virgin state, reduced as yet by no human labour, with no seed as yet cast into its furrows, when, as we are told, "God made man out of it into a living soul." As, then, the first Adam is thus introduced to us, it is a just inference that the second Adam likewise, as the apostle has told us, was formed by God into a quickening spirit out of the ground—in other words, out of a flesh which was unstained as yet by any human generation. But that I may lose no opportunity of supporting my argument from the name of Adam, why is Christ called Adam by the apostle, unless it be that, as man, He was of that earthly origin? And even reason here maintains the same conclusion, because it was by just the contrary operation that God recovered His own image and likeness, of which He had been robbed by the devil.

For it was while Eve was yet a virgin, that the ensnaring word had crept into her ear which was to build the edifice of death. Into a virgin's soul, in like manner, must be introduced that Word of God which was to raise the fabric of life; so that what had been reduced to ruin by this sex, might by the selfsame sex be recovered to salvation. As Eve had believed the serpent, so Mary believed the angel. The delinquency which the one occasioned by believing, the other by believing effaced. But (it will be said) Eve did not at the devil's word conceive in her womb. Well, she at all events conceived; for the devil's word afterwards became as seed to her that she should conceive as an outcast, and bring forth in sorrow. Indeed she gave birth to a fratricidal devil; while Mary, on the contrary, bare one who was one day to secure salvation to Israel, His own brother after the flesh, and the murderer of Himself. God therefore sent down into the virgin's womb His Word, as the good Brother, who should blot out the memory of the evil brother. Hence it was necessary that Christ should come forth for the salvation of man, in that condition of flesh into which man had entered ever since his condemnation.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Vigilia Nativitatis: Nulla Fit Commemoratio?

source: orbiscatholicus.blogspot.com
Is Christmas Eve confusing for priests who offer the old Mass? No, but apparently it might be to those who offer the "TLM", which is itself a bit of a mish-mash of 1962, old rite, and whatever Archbishop Lefebvre liked.

The 1962 crowd at Rorate extol the centuries old rubric of the Christmas vigil Mass superseding the scheduled fourth Sunday of Advent (a shame we had the longest possible Advent last year and the shortest this year), without any commemoration of the Sunday. Are we to believe this is consonant with liturgical custom in the Roman rite? The Sunday is entirely disregarded on the grounds that it is already a feast of the Lord, making a commemoration redundant, according to the drastic reductions of Papa Roncalli. The problem is that the two are not exactly the same sort of day.

The vigil is, for one, a vigil. Prior to 1960 it was exceptional among major vigils in that it was celebrated in violet vestments without use of the folded chasuble (more along of the lines of vigils of the Apostles—axed in the '62 books, less like Pascha and Pentecost); also unusual were the combination of ferial Mattins and its one nocturne of lessons from Saint Jerome with festive Lauds, complete with doubled antiphons, reflecting a full celebration.

Advent's fourth Sunday is comparatively conventional and restrained. It is still a semi-double, which would ordinarily admit commemorations and, despite the festive Lauds normal to Sunday, it is still a somewhat penitential day, with folded chasubles, no organ music, and continuation of the Rorate caeli desuper texts from early Advent.

It seems improper to call either day full festive, but the vigil clearly anticipates Christ's birth while the Sunday looks forward with sober restraint. The latter is as integral to fulfilling Advent as the former is to ending it, and so omitting its memory makes Advent shorter than the natural calendar has already done.

Byzantine tradition has a commemoration system both simple and complex. At Vespers one simply adds the troparia from the superseded feast to those of the day; at the Divine Liturgy one tacks the tropar and kontakion onto those of the day. Orthros (Mattins) and its sessional hymns are where things get messy. The older Roman system similarly desires to accommodate as much of the liturgy as possible and does so in an easier manner, merely adding the orations at Mass, combining Mattins readings of the day so the concatenated lessons of the replaced feast Mass may be added, the versicles and oration at the major hours, and the Gospel read in place of Saint John at Mass. There are more places for commemorations, but they are easier to manage.

In light of this, the 1962 omission of the Advent Sunday, which is fundamentally a different day than the Christmas vigil, seems more consonant with.... the rubrics of 1970.... with the two days flipped....

Note: folded chasubles seem to be making an overdue comeback. Perhaps we are witnessing organic, rather than wholesale, restoration?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Prayer Request

Please pray for my aunt, Lisa, who lives in Bel-Air, California. A wildfire has been compounded with high winds and has destroyed over 400 homes in the area. Her street has been compelled to evacuate by local authorities and she is up in a hotel with a risk of losing her house.

Thank you,
The Rad Trad

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent Office for the Dead


It is Advent and time, again, to pray for the dead in this penitential season. Please visit our page to leave the names of all the deceased you would like us to pray for and, if time permitting, you can join us in praying for. Since first posting this Office of the Dead several years ago the natural shifts in the kalendar with the years has made some of the instructions in the front section outmoded. With Christmas falling on a Monday this year we also only get three instances to pray this Office, which is typically said on the first ferial or simple day of the week. Therefore, we propose the following schedule:

  • December 4th, Monday
  • December 12th, Tuesday
  • December 18th, Monday
For those observing a more modern kalendar, such as that in use immediately before Pius XII, you could pray the first Office on December 5th so as to observe St Peter Chrysologus. December 12th would be within the Octave of the Immaculate Conception, which cannot be avoided, but allows the ancient feast of St Damasus to be had.

Be sure to leave those intentions!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Advent and Last Things

Virgin and Unicorn, by Domenichino
On this Advent Eve, thoughts of the end of the world and the many mini-apocalypses that are divinely ordained to precede it bubble up into the Catholic consciousness. Last night your own Mr. J. Grump found himself thumbing through an abridged publication of Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West—one of Evelyn Waugh’s favorite works of social commentary—and an old, periodic feeling of melancholy briefly overcame him. The world entire will one day come to an end, but our smaller worlds of nations and empires will also come to their fated ends, as will we all come to our individual ends and judgments.

A recent interview with Cdl. Raymond Burke has been making the rounds, in which he imagines what he would do as pope (make a clear profession of faith) and also gives his thoughts on the end times.
So there is a feeling that in today’s world that is based on secularism with a completely anthropocentric approach, by which we think we can create our own meaning of life and meaning of the family and so on, the Church itself seems to be confused. In that sense one may have the feeling that the Church gives the appearance of being unwilling to obey the mandates of Our Lord. Then perhaps we have arrived at the End Times.
Another century, another mass-feeling of apocalyptic doom? Perhaps, but who can say for sure? There will be at least one generation whose personal ends will all coincide with the final End, and it would be presumptuous to think it could not possibly be ours. The world’s last night will eventually fall, whether we are ready or not.

Our Lord’s first coming ended part of the world, the old Mosaic covenant, but also brought with it unimaginable hope and joy. His second coming will end the whole world, but also bring with it eternal bliss for his people.

The allegory of the Virgin and the Unicorn represents the Incarnation of the Word, the mythical beast being driven by the hounds of mercy and justice to the lap of a chaste maid. In some renditions of the allegory the angel Gabriel blows his horn as a hunter, much like the trump St. Paul says will blow at the final hour (I Cor. 15, I Thess. 4). Many spiritual writers have observed that the office of Mercy has been given to Mary, just as the dispensing of Justice has been given from the Father to the Son. The workings of the eschaton are still mysterious to us, but surely the Woman Clothed in the Sun will play a large part, just as she did two-thousand years ago.

“Take ye heed, watch and pray, for you know not when the lord of the house cometh.”