Monday, August 12, 2013

The Beauty of Holiness: An Appreciation of the Campion Missal

Among my favorite verses from Saint Paul is this, in the Epistle to the Philippians:
Brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil 4:8). 
Unlike worldly men who think, speak, and act more or less as they please (to the extent that they can get away with it), Christians are supposed to live conscientiously in the sight of their heavenly Master, thinking on Him and how to please Him. Instead of thinking on what is ugly, clumsy, vile, ignoble, or vicious, they should train their minds to true doctrine, honorable principles, just deeds, pure affections, lovely and gracious ideas, images, and words. In short, they are to strive for praiseworthy excellence in all things—and that striving should, of course, extend especially to everything connected with the sacred liturgy, the very “source and summit” of the Christian life. Here, we do not, we cannot, settle for what is mediocre, slipshod, superficial, profane, or unworthy of the temple of God; we aim at the beautiful, the holy, the finely made and nobly done, as much as lies in our tradition and in our power.

These words in Philippians bring to mind a statement in Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: 
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2)
“Good and acceptable and perfect.” Is this our program for liturgical life, for sacred music, books, vestments, vessels, furnishings, architecture? Do we seek that which is good because it has the requisite qualities of holiness, artistry, and universality? That which is acceptable to the Lord because it accords with the traditions, teachings, and laws He has given us? That which is as perfect as we can make it, because it shares in that litany of attributes related in Philippians?

A comparison of the Campion Missal (Solemn Mass section)
and a popular daily missal
It is such thoughts as these, together with a compelling sense of good news that must be shouted from the rooftops, that prompt me to share with the readers of NLM my personal reaction to the Saint Edmund Campion Missal & Hymnal. I say “personal reaction” because I do not intend to offer a standard review; the content and layout of the Campion Missal have already been reviewed and discussed in a number of excellent articles, which may be found gathered here

My intention is to praise this book as a book that, to an unusual degree, embodies exactly what Saint Paul says to the Philippians and the Romans—to such an extent, indeed, that it should grace the shelf of every Catholic layman, deacon, priest, and bishop, and fill the pews of every church and chapel privileged with at least the Sunday celebration of the traditional Latin Mass. I would add that no Catholic bookstore or gift shop should fail to stock this book.

Why are the reviews gushing with superlatives, exclamations, and imperatives for acquisition? Why all this enthusiasm, this (as it were) sober inebriation? After all, a book is just a book, one might think, and there are several missals already in print for the usus antiquior. What makes the Campion Missal special?

A comparison of the Campion Missal (Low Mass section)
and the familiar red booklet
Let me try to say this as simply as possible: this book is a magnificent book. It is stunningly beautiful. It contains all the texts of the Mass for Sundays and Holy Days, well translated, handsomely typeset, tastefully ornamented, and lavishly illustrated. It is a treasure-trove of all that is most true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious in the Roman Rite; from the first to the last page, it is a manual of liturgical, spiritual, and theological excellence, speaking and singing of mysteries and mercies and majesty, of all that is ultimately and eternally worthy of praise. And as a result, it causes one to think about these things—to ponder them long, with joy and wonder, with fear and trembling, with inward peace and consolation, with a spirit of reverence and adoration. Its greatest glory, one might say, is precisely that it humbly helps along that process of the Christian’s transformation by the renewal of his mind, turning it again and again to heavenly realities. It could have been called the Epiphany or Theophany Missal, so well does it open up vistas of meditation and prompt one to prayer.

In a world of video games and movies, sexual utilitarianism, flashy advertising and journalistic manipulation, people have a hard time understanding beauty pure and simple—beauty as a gift from God, to be welcomed and rejoiced in as part of our prayer of praise and thanksgiving to Him. The traditional Mass and sacramental rites and Divine Office are full of a transcendent spiritual beauty that brings deep joy and peace to a receptive soul, but obviously not without the participation of the body at every stage. It is precisely the aesthetic dimension, the sensuous appeal, that first captivates the mind and stirs the heart, leading the worshiper from shadows and images to mystery and truth, and back again, in an upward spiral. The external beauty of the traditional liturgy serves an evangelistic and catechetical role even as it prepares the way for a more profound internal experience of the Lord. The external and the internal are in harmony, as body and soul are created to be.

The Campion Missal layout for the Propers of the Mass:
here, Palm Sunday
Because man has both a soul and a body, it is important that the entire experience of worship be dignified, well-ordered, and beautiful, as befits its inner nature. By providing in a single book all that is or could be needed for Sunday and Holy Day Masses—the Order of the Mass, the Propers of the day, a complete Kyriale, and a generous selection of hymns—the Campion Missal facilitates a full and fruitful participation in the Mass, both interiorly (which is the most important kind of participation) and exteriorly, in all the ways called for by Holy Mother Church, in keeping with the teaching of Pope Saint Pius X and all of his successors.

The care for beauty in the Campion Missal extends to the smallest detail, and, far from being old-fashioned, has an adventurous side as well: Corpus Christi Watershed commissioned Kevin Allen, one of our most gifted composers of sacred music, to contribute several new hymn tunes for the book. Exquisitely crafted and eminently singable, with noble lyrics truly worthy of the liturgy, these new hymns stand as worthy heirs of the English hymn tradition brought to its peak by the likes of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst almost a century ago.

(A digression on hymns: if any reader is wondering whether the Campion Missal has enough hymns in it, this would be my response. There are 151 hymns in the book—a generous number in the context of the Extraordinary Form, where hymn-singing, though it finds a legitimate place, does not have nearly the prominence it does in many Ordinary Form situations. Nevertheless, to focus on the quantity of hymns is to miss a crucially important point. Like the Campion Missal’s chief editor Jeffrey Ostrowski, I have in my personal library a large collection of traditional hymnals from the 19th century to the present, and I have found, in scanning their pages, that it is rare indeed to find a hymnal from which a discerning music director could make use of even 50% of the pieces included. The rest are just too painfully sentimental or musically inept or textually vapid or all of the above. The genius of Ostrowski is that, drawing upon his good taste as a musician and his sound theology as a traditional Catholic, he has brought together 151 of the choicest hymns—the most singable and beloved, as well as lesser known or new hymns with soaring melodies and profound texts. Whereas most hymnals are like a flea market of good, bad, and indifferent, an Ostrowski hymnal is like a satchel of precious and semiprecious stones: every item is beautiful and apt for its purpose. Hence, I would rather have the 151 choiceworthy hymns of the Campion Missal and sing every single one, than sift through 400 hymns of wildly variable musical and textual quality in hopes that I can find enough to satisfy.)

from the Low Mass section
As I draw to a close, I am afraid that my words will be inadequate for those who have not yet held and viewed and prayed with the Campion Missal and totally unnecessary for those who have already seen it with their eyes and taken it to heart. All that I can do is express my amazement that such a book has been created and published in our day and age, when so much of the print world seems to be vanishing into the internet, and so much that remains in print has declined desperately and pathetically in quality. Whoever owns the Campion Missal will find it a princely book, a golden measure for what can be done when human talent throws itself passionately into the glories of the sacred liturgy, for the glory of God. I predict that it will become a cherished, even necessary companion to every Catholic who uses it to pray the traditional Mass.

To read more about the Campion Missal, for more photographs, and for information on placing orders, go here.

A postscript: the Campion Missal is now in its second edition. The first edition had a very colorful cover and florid graphics in the center section. The second edition, while mostly the same, has a more “classic” look to it: the cover is a subdued slate gray, the Solemn Mass section more restrained and easier to follow. A handy ribbon has been added and a few typos were corrected. However, the pagination and contents of both editions are IDENTICAL in all other respects, so they are entirely compatible.

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