Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610

Arriving in the San Polo district of Venice, I stand in front of one of the city’s largest churches: Santa Maria Gloriosi, better known as the Frari, named for the Franciscans who constructed it. It is a large brick-built Gothic edifice, and like other tall churches built on Venice’s uncertain foundations, is trussed with enormous wooden beams which span the archways within. Entering into the nave by the west door, I am immediately struck by the vast and imposing marble tombs in the side walls, monuments to great artists such as Titian and Canova. I make directly for a small side chapel in the far left corner. There, under a simple marble slab in the chapel floor, lie the mortal remains of one of Venice’s greatest composers. The tomb is marked with his name and dates alone: Claudio Monteverdi 9 May 1567- 29 November 1643.

On a stand to the side rests a facsimile copy of his most famous work, the 1610 publication of his Mass and Vespers. It is the Vespers which has become most synonymous with Monteverdi’s name, and no wonder, for it contains ninety minutes of the most exciting and brilliant music one could ever hope to hear. My visit to Venice precedes a performance of the Vespers at the London Oratory which I am shortly to conduct involving two choirs: the Schola Cantorum of The London Oratory School and The London Oratory Junior Choir.

Buying a large print of Monteverdi at the gift shop to put on the wall of the Song Room at school, though not quite sure how on earth I will get it home, I set off for St Mark’s. The streets and canals of Venice seem to embody so many of the characteristics found in Monteverdi’s music: variety, splendour, and above all, colour. Walking to the Grand Canal, I take a vaporetto, one of Venice’s large water buses, down to San Marco. Entering the great Byzantine Basilica, amid throngs of tourists, I find myself in the vast cavernous nave. The effect of the marble floor and walls, and the golden mosaics overhead in the rounded recesses of the domes, is totally overwhelming, despite having seen it many times before. Finding a quiet spot in the gallery, I put on my earphones to listen to a famous recording of the Vespers. The crowds of people melt away and I am left seemingly alone in the basilica, listening as the performance, which was recorded here, comes back to life. It is absolutely extraordinary to hear the acoustics on the recording exactly matching the building around me.

There are many reasons why this work is usually the preserve of concert choirs, not least because of the complexity and expense involved in performing it. There is a myriad of professional adult choirs which sing in the major concert halls and tour around the world, none greater with reference to this particular work than the Monteverdi Choir itself, founded and conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, whose 1990 recording I am listening to.

However the performance at the London Oratory will be sung by two liturgical choirs, and more significantly still, it will be sung by childrens’ voices. Readers of New Liturgical Movement will be very familiar with photographs of the beautiful Liturgy which is maintained at the Oratory. However, there is another less visible but nevertheless incredibly important dimension to the work of the Fathers of the Oratory. This is their school, The London Oratory School, founded in 1863, where 1400 young Catholic pupils are educated according to the unique traditions and standards of the Oratory, in the spirit of St Philip Neri. We are truly blessed that these boys receive such an education in their Faith and experience the Liturgy of the Oratory, most especially those in the Schola who sing Mass at the Church every Saturday. In addition the London Oratory Junior Choir for boys and girls at Catholic schools across the capital, sings the 10am Mass at the Oratory on Sundays.

Training boys and girls to sing such music is certainly a challenge, but the truth is that the ceaseless toil and hard work involved with daily rehearsals make the results all the more rewarding. Focused children can achieve pretty much anything, and the higher you set the bar, the more they amaze. In the past year the Schola boys have sung J.S. Bach’s St John Passion, Victoria’s Requiem and most recently a joint performance of the B minor Mass, Bach’s ultimate choral challenge, with Westminster Cathedral Choir. Introducing young Catholic children to this great repertoire is not simply a matter of duty, it’s an incredible privilege too.

The Monteverdi Vespers is a conundrum on many levels. To start with, it is probably better to approach it as being a portfolio of music, some of which is appropriate for use at Vespers, some of which is less so. From a performance perspective, there are many different decisions to be made concerning the order of movements, the allocation of parts, transpositions and keys, to the extent that no two performances are ever likely to be the same. Much has been written about the work, and in particular there is great debate amongst scholars concerning the placement of the Motets, or Sacris concentibus, as to whether they are intended to replace the repeated Antiphons, or follow them, or whether they are in fact simply free-standing Motets for performance outside the context of Vespers.

At our own concert performance on May 6, we will sing the complete work in the order of the original 1610 print, with the seven-part Magnificat. The boys of the Schola, as well as the Junior Choir, will be joined by two outstanding tenor soloists of great distinction, Mark Dobell and Nicholas Mulroy, and accompanied by The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble. It is always a thrill to work with period instruments, and amongst them will be an Italian seventeenth century triple harp and a theorbo, a long-necked member of the lute family which one is more likely to encounter in renaissance paintings. However music is an art which comes to life, and we can only imagine how close, or not, we come to what Monteverdi heard with his own ears.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Reforming the Canon of the Mass: Some Considerations from Fr Hunwicke

I have had several occasions to recommend the writings of Fr John Hunwicke on his blog “Fr Hunwicke’s Mutual Enrichment”, formerly known as “Liturgical Notes”. Last month, he published a series of six articles on “Consecration in the Roman Canon”, in which he has given us an important contribution towards understanding the essential differences between the Roman Canon, and the various models for its alteration in the post-Conciliar reform. I here offer only a summary of some of his more salient points, and inevitably must skip over a great deal of very useful material. Do yourself a favor and read the whole series; not only for the information and ideas contained therein, but also to enjoy his writing (the fruits, no doubt, of 30 years spent in the study and teaching of Latin and Greek.) I also wish to thank Fr Hunwicke personally for his kind permission to cite his work. [part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4; part 5; part 6.]

In part one, he considers the absence of a formal invocation of the Holy Spirit in the Roman Canon, and its prominence in the Eastern rites.
(M)uch was made of this absence in the 1960s by the pensants who reformed the Roman Rite. Constructing new Eucharistic Prayers, they made sure that the Holy Spirit was called upon in each one of them to work the miracle of transsubstantiation. I remember similar stuff being churned out in the C of E: we neo-ordinati were to do the propaganda for these innovations by descending on worshippers who from their tenderest years had listened to Cranmer’s Eucharistic Prayer; we were to point out to uneasy individuals (who, I recall, could only be persuaded reluctantly to receive change by the categorical assurance that it would bring the Young People flooding in) that the Holy Spirit was all but missing, and culpably so, from Cranmer’s sonorous periods. And so the revised Anglican rites were, as in the Roman Communion, fitted up, like Edwardian roués being forced into corsets, with Epicleses of the Holy Spirit. The great Begetter of liturgical reform in the C of E, Dom Gregory Dix, must have been rotating in his grave. He had, as recently as 1944, devoted a fair number of pages in The Shape of the Liturgy, to explaining that the Epiclesis was not ‘primitive’ …
He goes on to explain in the second article why the absence of the Epiclesis was felt to be a defect in need of remedy, and the fundamental error on which this assumption rests, (the same error which led to the creation of the modern three-reading system.)
The answer is embarrassingly simple. Pretty well all rites except the Roman had an epiclesis. Therefore it must be ‘Primitive’. Therefore it was desireable. The alternative possibility, that Rome lacked an epiclesis because it was older than those other rites, occurred to very few. So, for a hundred years or more, the question had been (not why did the other rites add an epiclesis, but) Whatever Happened to the Roman Epiclesis ... deemed to have existed originally but, for some mysterious reason, to have gone missing. … The conviction was bolstered by an inclination to believe that all the existing rites of Christendom must have descended from an Original Liturgy which, at least in its dominant features, was fairly uniform, and could therefore, in principle, be reconstructed from a comparison of existing liturgies. This assumption, as the pendulum swings, is currently highly unfashionable; …
The difference between the Eastern Rites and the Roman, in regard to the Epiclesis, depends on how the canon or anaphora petitions the Father to consecrate bread as the Body of Christ. “(T)he East says Send the Spirit so that He may change bread into Christ’s Body, while Rome says Accept our Offering so that it may become Christ’s Body.In the third article, he explains, on the basis of Christine Mohrmann’s work on the origins of Christian Latin, why the Roman Rite chooses to make this petition with a certain kind of language, terse and legal, and very different from the florid (and more Scriptural) Eastern approach. He then argues forcibly, (and, for what it’s worth, I think these words should be held for all time as a charter for any future efforts to meddle with the Eucharistic prayers), that neither the East or West should have its Rites altered on the basis of the other’s tradition.
It is not my purpose to discuss which of these attitudes is preferable, … What I do wish to highlight is, quite simply, that they are different. … One of the very few things I object to very strongly about Orthodoxy is that it sanctions ‘Western Rites’ in which an Oriental Epiclesis has been violently shoved into the Roman Canon. I would complain with no less vigour if some daft Latinising imperialist tried to mangle or eviscerate an Eastern Anaphora. Each of our rites has its own integrity, its own logic, its own grammar. Neither should be bullied into conformity with the other. To do so ... I would go so far as to call it sacrilege.
This inevitably leads to the question, addressed in the fourth article, of whether the addition of new Eucharistic prayers (or ‘anaphoras’, if you prefer) makes the Novus Ordo a different Rite from the classic Roman Rite, which never had any Canon other than that found in the ancient Roman sacramentaries and the Missal of St Pius V. He begins by pointing out that various scholars, not all of them conservatives, have held the position that they are essentially different rites.
Fr Joseph Gelineau, described by Bugnini himself as “one of the great masters of the international liturgical world”, a liturgical radical who wholeheartedly applauded what happened after Vatican II, did not make (the) claim (that they are the same rite). He wrote “We must say it plainly: the Roman rite as we knew it exists no more. It has gone. … Fr Aidan Nichols points out that ‘the Rite of Paul VI contains more features of Oriental provenance than the Roman Rite has ever known historically, and notably in the new anaphoras, for these are central to the definition of any eucharistic style.’ ”
He further notes that the presence of so many features imported from other rites led the Anglican scholar Dr G. G. Willis to define the modern Roman Rite as a “hybrid”. Fr Zuhlsdorf has stated a similar position on various occasions, that the identity of the two Forms, Ordinary and Extraordinary, as one Rite, is essentially a legal fiction: a good and useful legal fiction, to be sure, but a legal fiction nonetheless. (In a future article, I plan to offer some considerations of my own on this matter.) In any case, Fr Hunwicke declares that it is
a cause worth taking seriously, to restore the Roman Rite to use by using exclusively the Roman Canon. The GIRM itself has pointed to this by saying, in each edition it has been through, that “This Prayer may be always used” (Editio tertia para 365. ‘semper adhiberi potest’); a comment it makes about none of the other anaphoras.
He is also very careful to state, in clear and very red letters at the end of the fourth article, that the status of the Novus Ordo as a different Rite does not make it any way invalid.

The ecumenical implications of this question should not be lost on anybody, for if a formal Epiclesis is indeed essential to the Eucharistic Consecration, the unavoidable conclusion is that the Roman Rite has always been invalid.
It is true that ‘the Great Church of Constantinople’, replying in 1896 to overtures of unity from Leo XIII, alleged that “The One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils used to receive [the teaching that] the precious gifts are hallowed after the Epiclesis of the Holy Spirit by the blessing of the priest”, apparently thereby implying that the Church and Rite of Rome did not exist in the centuries between Nicaea I and Nicaea II in 787. But this only proves that we Latins are not the only ones who quite often say and do extremely foolish things. Happily, a few years ago a writer in the theological journal of the Moscow Patriarchate declared himself content with the Roman Canon. It is a shame that the dominant school among the fashionable intellectuals of the Western Church in the 1960s did not share this contentedness.
The sixth part concludes the series with a beautiful consideration of the Sacrifice of the Mass, and how the Eastern tradition can help us to understand It as an offering made once, and yet continually made anew.
(God) created a multiplicity of times and a multiplicity of places. Within those multiplicities, He could have created just one, monic, being to exist and to be loved; but He chose instead to create a multiplicity of beings. And so it is into that complexity of times, places, beings, that His ‘Once for all’ is graciously communicated. The sacrifice of the Eternal Son is, in the Mass, made ‘sacramentally’ present on earth, in and to that plurality of the times and places which the Creator God in his fluent generosity has given to the innumerable multitudes He has created in which to worship him and to work out their salvation. And whenever it is so made present, Christ our God does “go forth to be slain in sacrifice”. (citing the Liturgy of St James) Furthermore, each Eucharist, bestowed from Eternity into Time, is not merely the offering of a monic being, but of Christ in his social body the Church, associating with him and in him those who are partaking in that new Mass in that new moment, so that the sacrifice of the Mass is ever one and unchanging and rooted in Eternity, and yet for ever here and for ever new.
So I’ve never had any problems with that offertory prayer in the Sarum Mass, in which the priest referred to hoc sacrificium novum. But, of course, the ‘Reformers’ did object, and the idea of a nova mactatio (new slaying) has come to be regarded as one of the worst corruptions of medieval Catholicism. It is good to have the Rite of S James to remind us that this way of employing language is not only sound and wholesome but is guaranteed by the witness of East as well as of West.

Friday, April 24, 2015

More Sacred Sculptures from the Vatican

Some more from the show of reliquaries and other liturgical objects currently going on at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
Three 15th-century processional crosses in silver and copper, partially gilded.
Reliquary in the form of an angel, mid 15th-century, from the Museum of the Duomo of Viterbo
Reliquary bust of Pope St Sixtus II (257-58), mid 15th-century, from the Museum of the Duomo of Viterbo
Reliquary bust of Saint Lituardo, patron Saint of the city of Tarquinia, mid 15th-century. From the Tarquinia diocese Museum of Sacred Art.
Statue of St Michael the Archangel in silver and gilded bronze, from the Museum of the Abbey of Montecassino

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Easter Sunday 2015 - Photopost

Last, but not least, we finish our series of Holy Week 2015 photoposts with photos from Easter Sunday. The rest of the photoposts can be found here, if you would like to see them. Thanks to all those who sent in their pictures this year!
St. Norbert Church, Roxbury, WI
Cathedral of St. John Berchmans
Mentlberg Shrine, Innsbruck, Tyrol/Austria

Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Covington, KY

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Opening Sessions at Sacra Liturgia - Dolan, Burke, Caggiano, Reid, Cipolla, Donelson

Sacra Liturgia USA 2015 will open in New York on Monday, June 1st, at 4:00pm at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College.

We are honored that His Eminence the Archbishop of New York, Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, will be present and will offer an address of welcome to the participants. His Excellency, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, Bishop of Bridgeport and a native of Brooklyn, will speak on the role of the renewal of the Sacred Liturgy in the life of the Church today. Dom Alcuin Reid, who coordinates the Sacra Liturgia initiatives on behalf of Bishop Dominique Rey, Bishop of Fréjus-Toulon, France, will convey a message from Bishop Rey (who is himself unable to be in New York due to a meeting of the French bishops). The conference’s USA organizers Father Richard Cipolla and Dr. Jennifer Donelson will then speak on the rationale for Sacra Liturgia USA and on conference logistics.

His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, who will be in attendance for the opening remarks, will then give his keynote address “Beauty in the Sacred Liturgy and the Beauty of a Holy Life,” after which he will be present in choir at the first liturgical celebration of Sacra Liturgia USA 2015, solemn
vespers, to be celebrated at the Church of St. Catherine of Siena (East 68th St.) at 7.30pm.

The conference is open to all who are interested in the Sacred Liturgy. Full and part time registration details are available at The registration deadline is May 1.

Liturgical Curiosities from Medieval Spain

In the course of researching my articles on the Theology of the Offertory, and specifically the offertories of the medieval Spanish uses of the Roman Rite, I came across an interesting custom in the way of printing certain Missals before the Tridentine Reform. I believe this custom may be completely unique to Spain; I have never seen anything like it in any of the great many other medieval Missals I have read through over the years. (I here use the term “medieval” in reference to the origin of these liturgical customs; the Missals themselves were printed in the Renaissance.) The examples I give here are from the Missal according to the Use of Seville, printed in that city in 1565, and that of Segovia printed at Venice in 1500.

In these missals, each part of the Canon of the Mass is labelled with its putative author, each of whom “constitutit – established” that that part of it be said. Where these attributions come from, I cannot imagine, and their inventor had some rather confused ideas about Church history. Except for St Basil, all of the supposed authors are called “Papa”, but there has never been a Pope named Ignatius, Maxentius, or Bricius. (This last is traditionally Anglicized as “Brice” when it refers to St Martin of Tours’ disciple and successor.) Of course, the word “Papa” was formerly used for other bishops beside the Pope, and it likely that “Pope Ignatius” means St Ignatius of Antioch. “Pope Maxentius” remains quite mysterious.

“Pope Bricius” on the other hand, is a legendary martyr and early bishop of Évora in Portugal, said to be a disciple of the first bishop of Braga, St Peter “de Rates”, who was in turn a disciple of the Apostle St James the Greater, converted when the latter was evangelizing Spain. The Missal of Seville attributes to Bricius the singular honor of having established the Institution Narrative; without positing any conscious fraud, we may conjecture that this pedigree was intended to confirm the Iberian peninsula’s bona fides for receiving the Faith from one of the chiefs among the Apostles. (Segovia, on the other hand, garbles the name as “Baccius”, but this may be a mistake of the Venetian printers.)

The attributions in order are:
Te igitur: St Basil (the Great. The Missal of Segovia adds for precision “at the fifth synod in the city of Antioch”.)
In primis quae tibi: “Pope Ignatius”
Memento of the living: Basil again (Segovia says Pope St Celestine I, 422-32)
Communicantes: Pope St Gregory the Great

Here and below: the relevant pages of the 1565 Missal according to the Use of Seville
Hanc igitur: Pope St Innocent (the First, 401-17)
Quam oblationem tibi: “Pope Maxentius”
Qui pridie: “Pope Bricius” (or Baccius)

Unde et memores: Pope St Sergius (the First, 687-701)
Supplices: Pope St Leo the Great
Memento of the dead: Pope St Calixtus (the First, 218-223)
Nobis quoque: Pope St Pelagius (the First, 551-565; or the Second, 579-90, Gregory the Great’s predecessor)

Per quem haec omnia: Pope St Xystus (the Second, 257-58, the Xystus mentioned in the Communicantes)

The Missal of Seville gives three different tones for the singing of the Our Father, but says nothing about its author, presumably understood to be the Lord. The Missal of Segovia, on the other hand, puts before it the words “Gregorius dialogus constituit – Gregory the Dialogist established”, i.e., that it be sung after the Canon. (“Dialogus” is the title by which Pope Gregory the Great is known in the East, referring to his collection of Saints’ biographies, the Dialogues.) Both Missals agree in attributing the Libera nos to Pope St Urban I, 222-230.

Despite the historical confusion, and the fact that none of these attributions rests on any evidence, several of the Saints named herein are traditionally known as the authors of various parts of the liturgy, or the originators of certain liturgical customs. The anaphora attributed to St Basil the Great is used in the Byzantine Rite on a handful of days, including the Sundays of Lent (but not Palm Sunday), Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. St Ignatius of Antioch is traditionally said to have instituted antiphonal singing in church, after a vision of angels chanting thus in Heaven. Among Gregory the Great’s many contributions to the liturgy is the addition to the Canon of the words “diesque nostros … grege numerari”; he also did move the Lord’s Prayer to its place after the Canon. The Byzantine Rite attributes to him the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts which is celebrated on certain weekdays of Lent, and commemorates him at the end of that service. Sergius I added the Agnus Dei to the Mass, and Leo the Great added the words “sanctum sacrificium, immaculatam hostiam” to the Canon. Calixtus I is said to have instituted, or rather formalized, the Ember Days, which Leo (two centuries later) believed to date from Apostolic times.

The page before the Canon in the Missal of Seville 
The attribution of the final part of the Canon (“Per quem haec omnia”) to Pope St Xystus II may be related to a custom associated with his feast day, August 6th. On that day, grapes were traditionally blessed between the end of the Nobis quoque and the Per quem haec omnia, also the traditional place for the blessing of the oil of the Sick on Holy Thursday. Although the blessing of the grapes, which is also observed by the Eastern churches, long predates the Western adoption of the feast of the Transfiguration, the Missal of Seville gives a charming explanation of why it is done on that date. “It must be noted that on this day, the Blood of Christ is confected from new wine… (and) this is the reason. On the day of the (Last) Supper, the Lord Jesus said to the Apostles… ‘Amen I say to you, I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.’ (Matthew 26, 29) Therefore, because He said “new”, and the Transfiguration pertains to that state which He had after the Resurrection, new wine is sought on this feast.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Latest Issue of Sacred Music in Mailboxes

The Spring 2015 issue of Sacred Music has just shipped and features a number of articles of more general liturgical interest, and some very fine work on the notions of the simultaneous and the sequential in the liturgy.

To receive Sacred Music, as well as discounts on publications and conference fees, become a member of the Church Music Association of America.


Solemnity | William Mahrt


Twentieth-Century Reform and the Transition from a “Parallel” to a “Sequential” Liturgical Model: Implications for the Inherited Choral Repertoire and Future Liturgical Compositions | Jared Ostermann

The Mass Ordinary in the Ordinary Form | William Mahrt  

Contributions of Pope Benedict XVI to the Continuing Liturgical Reforms | Edward Schaefer


Hearing the Gradual, Qui sedes, Domine, super Cherubim | William Mahrt


On the Occasion of a Solemn High Mass according to the Anglican Use of the Ordinariate of Pope Benedict XVI: An Interview with Fr. Vincent Kelber, O.P., Pastor of Holy Rosary Church, Portland, Oregon | Fr. Eric M. Andersen


A Friend to All That Love or Learn Music | Joseph Sargent

A Charter for the New Liturgical Movement | Peter Kwasniewski


Bishop Conley on Beauty, Culture, and the New Evangelization - AUDIO

The March lecture of the Catholic Artists Society was given by Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska. The bishop made an eloquent and stirring case for giving attention to aesthetic matters in the pastoral concern for souls and the life of the Church. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Liturgy as the Primary Embodiment of Tradition

Walter Cardinal Brandmüller kisses the Gospel during Solemn Mass

In the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council teaches us about the relationship between Scripture and Tradition:
There exists a close connection and communication between Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while Sacred Tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently, it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence. Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church.[1]
When we speak of Scripture, it’s clear (or clear enough) what we are referring to: the contents of the Bible, the canon of writings established by the Church. But when we speak of Tradition, what exactly are we referring to? Where, to put it more concretely, do we meet up with or run into Tradition? When do we find ourselves in its presence? How do we know we’re dealing with “Sacred Tradition”—which the Council says is part of the very word of God!—and not with mere “traditions of men” that may or may not be from Christ the Lord?

Dom Mark Kirby, Prior of Our Lady of the Cenacle Monastery in Ireland, speaks of “the age-old law that grounds and shapes both Catholic doctrine and the Catholic moral life: Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.[2] This is a pithy way of saying that “the law of praying” (how we pray) shapes “the law of believing” (what we believe), which in turn informs “the law of living” (how we actually lead our lives).


Dom Mark comments on the first of these components:
The lex orandi is the enactment of the sacred liturgy; it is composed not only of texts, but also of the whole complexus of sacred signs, gestures, and rites by which, through the mediating priesthood of Jesus Christ, men are sanctified and God is glorified. The sacred liturgy itself—being the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the other sacraments, the Divine Office, and the various rites and sacramentals found in the Church’s official liturgical books—is the Church’s theologia prima. ... The Church’s primary theology is not something invented by learned men; it is found in the givenness of the liturgy, the primary organ of the Church’s authentic tradition.
This conclusion is echoed in the eloquent statement of Fr. Louis Bouyer:
It is in the celebration of the liturgy’s mysteries, and in all of the new, mystical, and communal life flowing from it, that the Church maintains in unity the perpetual and perpetually living consciousness of the immutable deposit of faith entrusted to her.
More succinctly still, Pope Pius XI declares: “The liturgy is the principal organ of the Church’s ordinary Magisterium.”[3] A contemporary anonymous writer draws out the implications of this special status:
The liturgy is the primary font or source of our knowledge of revelation. … [I]t is the ordinary, normal context wherein Christian worshipers encounter the divine realities in such a way as to participate in them contemplatively and prayerfully. Encyclicals and councils serve the primarily didactic purpose of informing the intellect of the individual truths of faith—a necessary thing in the Christian life. But the liturgy does this and more. The liturgy is where this formation of the intellect bears its fruit in the living out of faith. The liturgy is faith in practice. It is where Christians receive revelation, believe in it, and act upon that belief by directly worshiping their Creator. … The liturgy, too, is a medium through which revelation is communicated. Indeed, as stated before, it is the definitive and primary context wherein this communication and reception of revelation occurs for Christians, precisely because it is the central act of Christian worship. Worship is the principal act of religion; all other acts are vain unless directed to the act of worship.[4]
Because of this intimate connection between how we pray, what we believe, and how we lead our lives, the saints have always shown a burning love for the liturgy and everything connected with it. Its phrases and gestures fill their imaginations. They feel a sense of awe, reverence, and humility before this holy inheritance and they counsel caution in tampering with it. A learned Benedictine of our time, Dom Bernard Capelle (1884–1961), when asked by a Vatican commission to share his opinion about liturgical reform, wrote in 1949:
Nothing is to be changed unless it is a case of indispensable necessity. This rule is most wise, for the Liturgy is truly a sacred testament and monument—not so much written but living—of Tradition, to be reckoned with as a locus of theology and a most pure font of piety and of the Christian spirit.[5]
Here, too, we can start to see connections between what I argued concerning the Book of Revelation (the cosmic centrality of worship and the heavenly liturgy of the Church Triumphant as paradigmatic for the Church Militant on earth) and what one learns from Romano Guardini’s Sacred Signs on the language of symbols, through which we come to understand and relate with God, and by which we express what is most inward and most exalted in ourselves.

Tying together the preceding points, Dom Daniel Augustine Oppenheimer shows the ethical and spiritual demands placed on the believer by the sacred liturgy:
Before all else … the primary antecedent is humility before the source itself. Already the ascetic principle of faith is operative, understanding that the liturgical traditio is not “some old piece of cloth,” to use a famous phrase of Cardinal Ottaviani, open to free flight or arbitrary incisions and repiecing. The texts, gestures, signs, symbols, music, the full panoply of the liturgical culture, all have together an internal cohesion, sense, depth, and character. The thing itself deserves reverence because it is holy and the principal font of revelation.[6]


Coming now to the second and third members of our “age-old law,” Dom Mark writes:
The lex credendi is the articulation of what is already given, contemplated, and celebrated in the lex orandi. The Church’s doctrine emerges in all its shining purity—in the veritatis splendor—from the wellspring of her liturgy. Catholic doctrine, the Church’s theologia secunda, is the fruit of her liturgical experience. … The lex vivendi is the Catholic moral life, a life quickened by the theological virtues, a life in obedience to the divine commandments, characterized by the cardinal virtues, illumined by the Beatitudes, enriched by the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and displayed in the Holy Spirit’s Twelve Fruits. The lex vivendi pertains to all that teaches men to live rightly, to every ethical and social question, and to the pursuit of that holiness that already we contemplate in the saints set before us by the Church.
The order of the three elements is by no means accidental: as we have seen, the liturgy delivers to us the faith we profess, or put differently, we profess our faith in and through the liturgy. Divine worship, as handed down from the apostles and their successors, comes first, fills our minds and hearts, and shows us the way; the theological articulation and explication of the faith comes second, as an internalization of and reflection upon what we are doing when we celebrate the sacred mysteries. Once we have turned in prayer to the living God, who is Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, giving Him the primacy that is His due (the lex orandi)—and once we have received the truth from His lips and His hands, giving truth the primacy in our souls (the lex credendi)—then we will have our “marching orders” for life in the world, the fulfillment of righteousness in virtuous love of ourselves and of our neighbor (the lex vivendi). Dom Mark captures this order nicely:
The restoration of Catholic doctrine in all its beauty and richness, and the consequent reclaiming of Catholic discipline as something both healing and life-giving, will begin with the restoration of the sacred liturgy.
Another pseudonymous author offers us a powerful meditation on the super-realism of the liturgy, which, by really containing what it represents, puts us in direct, immediate contact with the ultimate realities:
Liturgy does not merely teach belief and transmit grace. It revives and renews the sacred mysteries of Christ in time for the faithful. In doing so, one encounters Christ, the angels and saints, and glimpses the greater spiritual reality of the Lord while remaining on earth, blurring the lines which separate the eternal and the temporal. One leaves the liturgy and the “mystical supper” of Christ not only having learned what to believe, but also how to believe when he returns to the world outside the temple. … How does one orient one’s self to God and away from sin? How does one see the world and God as He wishes? The liturgy shows us this, in conjunction with being the setting for the Sacraments, wherein the Holy Spirit acts and makes the work of Christ immediately accessible to the believer. … The purpose of the liturgy, especially during the great periods of the year, is to unite the faithful to God so that they might know Him and save their souls. He gathers them to Himself and to His new Jerusalem, the Church, and to His Body, again, the Church.[7]


[1] Dei Verbum, n. 9.

[2] All the quotations of Dom Mark are from his article “Liturgy, Doctrine, and Discipline: The Right Order." See also Joyce Little's article "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: Many Young Catholics Find Liturgy Incomprehensible and Irrelevant. Is It?"

[3] Cited in George Cardinal Pell's "The Translation of Liturgical Texts" (and by many other authors).

[4] The Maestro, "Liturgy, Revelation, and Tradition."

[5] Cited in Paweł Milcarek's excellent article “Balance Instead of Harmony."

[6] Dom Daniel Augustine Oppenheimer, "Asceticism and Tradition."

[7] The Rad Trad, "Liturgy & Tradition: Sensus Fidelium."

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