Thursday, October 31, 2013

Guest Article: Remembering the Saints

On this Vigil of All Saints, I am very happy to share with the readers of New Liturgical Movement an article offered to us by the Academic Dean of Wyoming Catholic College, Dr. Jeremy Holmes. It is a most appropriate reflection as we circle around to the annual celebration of the citizens of the Heavenly Jerusalem, the countless host of angels and souls who worship the Lamb in eternal joy.

Remembering the Saints

The book that ICEL (almost) forgot...
See if you can answer this Catholic trivia question without reading ahead: What post-Vatican II liturgical book intended for daily use has never been published in English? Even my well-educated Catholic friends, and even those reading and publishing in the area of liturgy, have trouble coming up with an answer. The average Catholic boggles at the very idea.

Answer: the Roman Martyrology. The most recent edition was published in Latin in 2004, but ever since Vatican II—which most American Catholics identify with the movement of liturgy into English—no edition of the post-conciliar revision has been published in translation. It seems that a translation was submitted to Rome five years ago or more, but it has been idling in the Vatican offices all the while. The average Catholic does not know that the Martyrology even exists, and while the liturgically educated usually do know it exists, it is so far off the beaten path that most are unaware of whether it exists in the vernacular or not. It’s an unfortunate situation, because the Martyrology really ought to be more widely known and celebrated.

The Roman Martyrology (2004)
The 2004 Roman Martyrology is a handsome, burgundy hardback with five red ribbons. One ribbon marks the rubrics for praying the Martyrology, either as part of the Liturgy of the Hours or as its own liturgy, and another marks the biblical readings which form an optional part of the celebration. A third ribbon marks the closing prayers, and a fourth the chant tones for the various parts. The fifth ribbon marks the current day, with the name, place, and a brief description of each saint commemorated.

Although devotion to the saints remains strong in many Catholic homes, it often seems an affair separate from liturgical prayer. Unless there are propers in the Mass or the Breviary, Catholics generally think that a saint’s “feast day” means a day when you can have a cake or sing a song at home. They don’t realize that every saint with a feast day is commemorated by a liturgical act. Even well-educated Catholics tend to think that the number of saints celebrated over the course of the liturgical year is limited by the number of days in the year, when in reality a typical day in the Church sees the liturgical remembrance of 20 or more.

Indications for chanting
By the same token, Catholics often think that a Sunday “cancels” the feast of a saint. I have often heard people say that we will “lose” so-and-so’s feast this year because it falls on a Sunday. They don’t realize that, although we do not use the propers of that feast at Mass on a Sunday, the feast of that day is in fact liturgically celebrated via the reading or chanting of the Martyrology. So for example when Pope Francis asked the Church to fast on the eve of the feast of the Birth of Mary, it made sense—even though that feast fell on a Sunday this year.

Ironically, the last edition (1956) of the Martyrology for the preconciliar Extraordinary Form—which most people identify as “the Latin liturgy”—has been available in English since 1962, although the translation by Canon J. B. O’Connell does not carry approval for liturgical use and seems to have been prepared for the sake of private devotion and study. However, John Paul II canonized a lot of saints, and for specific purposes: he wanted people to know about saints of modern times, suffering modern conditions, and from every walk of life. His purposes are lost on most of the world, because without the current Martyrology people remain only vaguely aware of the newly canonized men and women.

Title page of the 1956 Roman Martyrology,
available in English!
Besides having the specific advantage of more modern saints, greater awareness of the current Martyrology could subtly change the way people tend to compare the liturgies of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms. For example, one often hears that the Extraordinary Form has more “saints days” than the Ordinary Form. While it is true that in the Ordinary Form there are fewer days in the calendar marked by Masses with propers and readings tied to the sanctoral cycle, it is not true, simply speaking, that the Ordinary Form has fewer liturgical celebrations of saints. In fact, due to a greatly enriched Martyrology, more saints are celebrated in the Ordinary Form than ever before, an impression that grows on one who uses the old version and experiences firsthand the glaring absence of many recently canonized saints—including great devotees of the traditional liturgy such as St. Pio of Pietrelcina and St. Josemaria Escriva. While this expansion of the Martyrology does not directly address the question of how many Masses proper to individual saints the sanctoral cycle should have, it does change the context of the question somewhat.

In a similar vein, it is well known that, in reforming the liturgical calendar after the Council, the Vatican placed great emphasis on historical reliability. Saints that seem to have been merely legendary, or whose existence cannot be proved, were dropped from the general calendar. However, this move toward the historical was not as sweeping as is generally thought. Often, when something about a saint cannot be verified, his life is described in the Martyrology under the clause ut fertur, “as is said.” Most notably, Old Testament figures such as Job and Jonah, whose lives or even whose existences are often considered to be Hebrew literary creations, retain their feasts in the reformed liturgical calendar as officially given in the book of the saints.

December 1st in the 1956 edition
The presence of Old Testament saints in the Martyrology is worth noting in its own right. In the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the only Old Testament saints with propers are the Archangels—two of whom are also mentioned in the New Testament—and it seems to the average Catholic that the Old Testament saints were dropped from the calendar altogether, particularly when the August 1st feast of the Seven Holy Maccabees disappeared. But Abraham is still there, and Moses, and the prophets, and December 24 is the commemoration of “all the holy ancestors of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Adam.”

With this sweep of names and lives from Abraham to Mother Teresa, the cumulative effect of praying the Martyrology day after day is to make real what the Epistle to the Hebrews says about the “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us. Every day, anywhere from ten to thirty heroic predecessors in the faith are brought to mind, both their lives and their often difficult ends. Every celebration of the Martyrology concludes with the same sentence: Pretiosa in conspectu Domini mors sanctorum eius, “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his holy ones.”

As a record of all those whom the Church has declared to be citizens of heaven, the Martyrology resembles that “book of life” mentioned in Scripture, in which God is said to have written the names of all the saved. Just as the printed name is a sign of the saint commemorated, so the book as a whole is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem, our eternal home. To hold it in one’s hands is to think of life’s end and goal.

So it is truly a shame that the current Roman Martyrology is not more widely known and prayed. For English readers at any rate, this is largely the fault of delays in making available to the public a translation of the 2004 edition. Since the book includes rubrics for celebration by laypersons, the intention seems to have been that the Roman Martyrology would become more widely used, as has occurred with the Liturgy of the Hours. We can hope that someone in the offices of ICEL will take note—and take action.

November 1-2 in the 1956 edition

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