Sunday, September 29, 2013

Short but wonderful video on monastic life

A Beautiful Film about the English Martyrs

Faith of our Fathers – In search of the English Martyrs is a new film presented by Fr Marcus Holden and Fr Nicholas Schofield, priests of the Dioceses of Southwark and Westminster respectively. In the course of the two-part film they travel throughout England visiting a number of historic sites of great significance in the story of the English Martyrs. This is a beautiful and highly-recommended film which contains fascinating insights into this turbulent period of Catholic history. One feels very drawn into the sense of exploration as the two priests set off on their journey, a pilgrimage in which they speak with evident devotion to the Martyrs. Starting off at the Westminster Diocesan Archives, where Fr Schofield is the Archivist, they go to the seminary at Allen Hall where Fr Stephen Wang speaks about St Thomas More who lived in a house on the site.

At Westminster Cathedral, the Master of Music, Martin Baker talks about the music of the reformation, pointing out that Byrd’s Mass for five voices, which was heard so publicly at the Cathedral on the occasion of Pope Benedict’s visit, would originally have been sung in secret by necessity. Archbishop Vincent Nichols talks of the inspiration of the English martyrs and his personal favourite, St John Fisher. He talks of the different type of courage required today to proclaim the Gospel in the face of public scorn.

Fr Schofield’s own parish in Uxbridge is the next stop, before the pair go to Stonor Park to see the priest holes and the hiding place of the secret printing press which St Edmund Campion used to produce Catholic literature such as the ‘Ten Reasons’ (a set of arguments against the validity of the Anglican Church which caused a huge controversy). Also shown is the 13th century chapel in which Mass has been celebrated continuously since the thirteenth century. The Stonors have lived at the house since this time and the current head of the family, Lord Camoys, speaks about the exclusion from society of young Catholics who were denied positions in government, law and industry: ‘The programme to annihilate Catholicism could hardly have been more thorough, but it didn’t work.’

At the ‘Priest’s House’ in West Grinstead they show the priest holes built by the ingenious craftsman St Nicholas Owen and the hidden altar at which Blessed Francis Bell, among others, celebrated Mass. Travelling north, they visit Wardley Hall in Lancashire and are given a tour of the house by Bishop Terence Brain who shows them the skull of St Ambrose Barlow. Bishop Brain recalls the energy surrounding the process which led to the canonization of the Forty Martyrs in 1970 and talks of the importance of retrieving that sense of focus.

At Arrowsmith House they recount the story of St Edmund Arrowsmith’s capture and show the tiny statue of Our Lady which fell from his pocket during pursuit, giving him away. At Chorley the amazing story of Blessed Robert Wrennall is told: the first attempt to hang him failed when the rope broke. When he came to from a dazed state lying on the ground, he ran up the ladder, eager to be hung properly without any further delay. Asked by the Sheriff ‘Why are you in such a hurry to die?’, he replied ‘If you had seen that which I have just now seen, you too would be eager to die.’

The film also takes in the Shrine of Our Lady at Ladyewell with its amazing collection of relics, Rievaulx and Ampleforth where the Abbot speaks about the role of monasteries and the fate of the monks post-dissolution, the Shrine of St Margaret Clitherow 'The Pearl of York', the most prominent female martyr, and finishes at Tyburn Convent in London, just yards from the site of the infamous ‘Tyburn Tree’ where so many of the martyrs gave up their lives.

The DVD, produced by St Anthony Communications, is multi-region and can be bought from

Here is a trailer:

Friday, September 27, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different...

I wish to thank an old friend, JB, for sending me the link to a very funny tumblr site, The Low Churchman’s Guide to the Solemn High Mass. I believe many of you will laugh over it as much as I have. Here are some excerpts from a few recent posts; do follow their internal links and archive. Chapeau to the author(s), whoever you are!

The Thurifer: A thurifer is a lesser Ritualist functionary, ranking below the Master of Ceremonies but above the torchbearers and the people that serve sherry at receptions. The thurifer’s function is to wield a censer which he uses to spew forth noxious clouds of incense when he feels that this is appropriate, which is often.

Prospective thurifers go through an extended process of training in which they are taught the correct technique for the use of the thurible and gradually desensitized to human suffering. The well-trained thurifer will stand with deadpan facial expression and impeccable posture, keeping the thurible under his complete control at all times, even if the person he is censing has collapsed on the floor and seems to have stopped breathing.

On Latin: The Latin tongue was first spoken in the late ninth century A.D. in the Palatinate Forest region of southwestern Germany, after which the language is named. (The language is conventionally referred to as “Latin” rather than “Palatin” to distinguish it from the typeface Palatino.) The invention of Latin is usually ascribed to a mysterious figure named Gondulph of Maastricht, who used it as a secret code to plot against his enemies. Gondulph’s new language was enthusiastically adopted by ecclesiastical figures from neighbouring regions, until word of this new innovation spread to Pope Marinus I. Quick to see the tactical advantages of conducting covert services in an incomprehensible language, the Pope issued an edict that from henceforth the services of the church must be conducted in Latin, appointing a team of translators to render the services into the Latin tongue from their original English. This event is viewed by historians as the beginning of Ritualism.

On the MC at High Mass: Various sorts of people serve as MCs in ritualist churches. At a service of special note, another priest may serve as MC; priests do this if they have fallen upon hard times and are unable to find other employment. Usually, however, the MC is a layman who has worked his way up to the top of the parish acolytes’ guild by slaying his predecessor in ritual battle.

Why Does this Man Keep Giving These Long Interviews?

New York Times, December 22, 1985:

JOSEPH CARDINAL RATZINGER is the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (once called the Holy Office), the Vatican bureau that has the duty of defending and promoting Roman Catholic orthodoxy. He has developed the habit of giving interviews, and this book publishes his most famous one, given to an Italian journalist last year. When excerpts from it appeared in an Italian magazine some months ago, they aroused a great deal of controversy. The book's title calls it a ''report,'' but it is really a collection of sometimes highly personal observations and evaluations offered by a man who occupies an extremely important post in the Roman Curia. It is not an official interpretation, but his private views, which have, therefore, roughly the same significance as the views of Chief Justice Warren E. Burger when he comments on the state of the legal profession today -not legally binding, but perhaps important as indications of how he might vote on issues that come before the Supreme Court....

After eliciting this general assessment, the interviewer takes Cardinal Ratzinger through a series of discussions in which he identifies the many problems the church faces today - a reductionist view of the church as a human construction rather than a divine institution; the loss of the sacred identity of the priest; the surrender by bishops of their individual authority to the bureaucratic structure of national episcopal conferences; individualism in theology and selectivity in catechesis; a loss of faith in God and Christ; a loss of the sense of original sin; permissiveness in morality, particularly the separation of sexuality from procreation; the denial of the proper role of women; the decline in Marian faith and piety; a trivialization of the liturgy; a dangerous neglect of the role and power of the Devil; too much accommodation in ecumenism and a liaison with Marxism in liberation theology. All in all, a most unhappy scene is painted, very rarely illuminated by some faint signs of vitality and hope. It is, he says, a ''confused period where truly every type of heretical aberration seems to be pressing upon the doors of the authentic faith.'' As disparate as these topics are, a common viewpoint and method are visible in the Cardinal's discussion of them. By far the greatest part of the treatment is devoted to dangers, abuses and fears. There is usually some brief warning against going too far in reacting to them and at times an equally brief indication that he believes there are also some positive aspects of the phenomenon under discussion. No names of those distrusted or criticized are ever given, nor is there any verifiable indication of how widespread a particular trend may be; frustratingly general words like ''some,'' ''certain'' and ''many'' abound. It is a very one-sided description, perhaps inevitable given the fact that, as a member of the Cardinal's Vatican congregation puts it, his daily work involves him with ''the pathology of faith.''

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pontifical Mass for Blessed John Henry Newman in DC

The Feast of Blessed John Henry Newman will be celebrated at Washington's new Oratory in formation. Pontifical Mass at St Thomas, Apostle will take place on Wednesday 9 October at 7pm. The celebrant will be Archbishop Timothy Broglio and the music will include hymns by Newman and Chant.

Bishop Joseph Perry speaks to the Society for Catholic Liturgy

The meeting of the Society for Catholic Liturgy, 3-5 October, will take place on the campus of Mundelein Seminary near Chicago and Bishop Joseph Perry, Auxiliary of Chicago, will be the keynote speaker. See below for a PDF of the schedule and talks.

SCL 2013 Registration With Schedule

A Tribute to Fr. Frederick William Faber

Fr. Anthony Symondson, SJ, delivered this outstanding tribute to Frederick William Faber, English hymnwriter ("Faith of Our Fathers") and founder of the London Oratory, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his death in 1863.

The death of Fr Frederick William Faber of Bright’s Disease at the age of forty-nine on the morning of 26 September 1863, just after seven, after a long and painful illness was met by an outpouring of grief that affected the greater part of London and extended to distant parts of the country. His funeral in the newly-built Oratory Church attracted a great crowd of rich and poor of whom the second were in the ascendant; the poor loved him and he loved them. Among the clergy in attendance were John Henry Newman and Henry Edward Manning who would soon be Archbishop of Westminster. Also participating were Dominican and Capuchin friars, Jesuit priests and Benedictine monks, with priests from France, Belgium and Germany.

He was one of the most eminent Catholic priests in Northern Europe and his spiritual influence achieved through his hymns, poetry, devotional and theological books was profound. They were intended for his ‘invalid souls’ of the middle class and ‘poor Belgravians’. While his beautiful hymns have been adopted by many denominations and are sung all over the English-speaking world.

More than any other figure, Fr Faber defined the tone and learning of mid-Victorian ultramontane Catholicism. His legacy is the Brompton Oratory with its continuing fusion – in music, learning, art, and architecture – of the Catholic faith and spirit of the papal Rome of the high Baroque, and of its genius, St Philip Neri. Unswerving loyalty to the Holy See was his watchword and devotion to the Mother of God was for him the safeguard of faith and source and support of true piety.

Fr Faber was born in 1814. a son of the vicarage. He came from an Evangelical Anglican clerical family on both sides of Huguenot origin that had served the Church of England for generations. His father was secretary to Shute Barrington, Bishop of Durham. He was at first educated privately and at Bishop Aukland Grammar School. In 1826 he moved on to Shrewsbury for a year and then, in 1827, to Harrow School where unabashedly he told Lord John Manners, he ‘felt always quite wild – wild with the power of intillect’ and was considered without intellectual rival.

His mother died in 1827 when he was thirteen and he is said to have defied God to strike him dead in a thunderstorm in Harrow churchyard but his hard feelings were arrested by the kindness of his headmaster, Charles Longley, later Archbishop of Canturbury, and his faith was given a new turn by John William Cunningham, the Evangelical vicar of Harrow and unofficial chaplain to the school.

In 1832 Faber matriculated and failed to win a Balliol scholarship but late in 1834 was elected a scholar of University College. Initially he rejected Newman’s influence for Evangelical Calvinism but a sermon preached by Dr Pusey on Septuagesima Sunday of 1836 encouraged him to embrace Tractarianism and he was thoroughly convinced by the arguments of Newman’s Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church.

In December of that year he graduated with a disappointing second-class honours degree. Faber was made deacon in the Church of England on 6 August 1837 and ordained priest on 26 May 1839. In the summer of that year he travelled to Belgium and Germany with Richard Church, subsequently Dean of St Paul’s, and Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, later Dean of Westminster, but wrote of Romanism, that ‘it will not do’ expressing his disgust with ‘careless irreverence, the noise, the going in and out, the spitting of the priests on the Altar steps’.

Then came five years living in the Lake District where he served as a curate at Ambleside, was befriended by Wordsworth, wrote poetry, was tutor to Matthew Harrison, became involved with Lord John Manners, in the Young England movement, and figured as the Rev Aubrey St Lys, an idealised portrait of him seen through Manners’s eyes, in Disraeli’s novel, Sybil. Under Faber’s influence Manners became a great believer in ‘all old thing’ - in James II, the Stuarts, the Jacobites, and the Carlists. Faber turned him into a Romantic High Churchman.

In 1843 Faber was inducted into the University College living of Elton in Huntingdonshire. During the years 1839-43 he made two continental tours, and his letters give striking poetic descriptions of the scenes he visited; they glow with enthusiasm for Catholic rites and devotion. In Rome he was received in audience by Pope Gregory XVI and acquired a devotion to St Philip Neri, whose life he translated at Elton, where he turned his household servants into a brotherhood. He established the practice of confessions, preached Catholic doctrine, and wrote the life of St Wilfrid, controversially openly advocating the claims and supremacy of Rome. He was greatly loved by his people. It was only Newman’s influence that prevented him from entering the Church.

But on 9 October 1845, Newman was received into the Church at Littlemore. In November, with Francis Knox and ten other friends and servants, Faber was received into the Church at Northampton by Bishop William Wareing, vicar apostolic of the eastern district. They settled in Birmingham, where they informally organized themselves as a religious community, calling themselves the Brothers of the Will of God, or ‘Wilfridians’ (as they were mischievously called by St Dominic Barberi) from St Wilfrid, their patron, at Cotton Hall, near Cheadle, Staffordshire, the gift of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Faber was ordained priest in 1847 and with his zealous community, now forty in number, converted the whole parish except ‘the parson, the pew-opener, and two drunken men.’ Cotton brought A. W. N. Pugin into Faber’s life through the patronage of Lord Shrewsbury; he was commissioned to design the new church, during which Faber declared, to Pugin’s annoyance, his new Italiannate taste. In 1848, Newman arrived from Rome with his new congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri and established himself at Old Oscott, Maryvale, in Birmingham. Faber abandoned the Wilfridians and placed himself under Newman as a simple novice, taking with him all his community who were willing to follow his example.

In 1849 he was sent by Newman to found the Oratory in King William Street, at Charing Cross, and was appointed its superior. It caused a sensation and a scandal. The chapel was set up in rented premises in a whisky shop and assembly room called the Lowther Rooms, described by Faber to Pugin as ‘a poisonous place & 2 hospitals one on each side shutting out all air.’ It attracted a congregation of wealthy English aristocrats and bug-ridden pauper Irish. Faber fitted it out gloriously in the Italian Baroque style but it was not to everybody’s taste:

‘Has your Lordship heard that the Oratorians have opened the Lowther Rooms as a chapel,’ Pugin wrote to Lord Shrewsbury, ‘- a place for the vilest debauchery, masquerades etc.. – one night a masqued ball, next Benediction. This appears to be perfectly monstrous, and I give the whole order up for ever. What a degredation for religion.  Why, it is worse than the Socialists. What a place to celebrate the mysteries of religion in! I cannot conceive how it is allowed. It cannot even be licensed or protected by law, since they only have it for a time. It is the greatest blow we have had for a long time; no men have been so disappointing as these. Conceive poor Faber come down to the Lowther Rooms. The man who wrote ‘Thoughts and Sights in Foreign Churches!!!’ hiring the Lowther Rooms. Well may they cry out against screens or anything else. I always said they wanted rooms, not churches, and now they have got them. Sad times! I cannot imagine what the world will come to, if it goes on much longer.’

Letters flew.

On 9 October 1850 Newman released the fathers from their obedience and on 12 October Fr Faber became superior of the independent London Oratory. In the excitement of the ‘papal aggression’ of the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in 1850, the black Oratorian habits and broad-brimmed hats made a metropolitan commotion, not least in Punch. In 1854 the Oratory moved to its permanent home in the Brompton Road. There Fr Faber spent the remaining nine years of his life, occupied primarily in establishing his community on the strict observance of St Philip’s Institute, convinced that fidelity to the Roman model was its one vital principle. The Sacraments, prayer – including the reverent and exact performance of the ceremonies of the Church - and the daily Word of God were St Philip’s weapons and he would never engage in other external works, however good.

Fr Faber’s promotion of devotions to Our Lady, the saints, and the Blessed Sacrament, more common under skies of Mediterranean blue, brought them within the general orbit of Catholic worship in these islands and for him also represented a return to the fervour of his early evangelicalism, as did his popular vernacular hymns, which transformed Catholic worship. For many years after his death Fr Faber was a household word for many English-speaking Catholics and some Anglicans. He is well known for hymns such as ‘Faith of Our Fathers’, ‘There is a Wideness in God’s Mercy’, ‘Hark, Hark my Soul’ and ‘Jesus Gentlest Saviour’ among others. They represent the best of Victorian Catholic piety in their power to strengthen, to console, to warm and to delight. Their stress lies on what he called the ‘wideness of God’s mercy’, and in their teaching on purificatory suffering they widened the bounds of purgatory. He was known as well for his devotional works which encouraged Marian piety and frequent reception of the sacraments. Fr Faber’s most notable work, All for Jesus, published in 1853, was translated into several languages and sold widely throughout Europe. As Fr Large reminded us in his brilliant article in this week’s Catholic Herald, Cardinal Heenan would recall that All for Jesus was to be found on the bedside table of Blessed Pope John XXIII and was His Holiness’s favourite night-time reading.

During the 150 years since Fr Faber’s death thousands have owed their faith to worshipping at the London Oratory, have received the sacraments here efficiently and reverently administered, have sought solid spiritual direction and instruction, and have come to love the beauty of Western Catholicism in its fullness. Under God this is entirely the result of Frederick William Faber’s benign influence, work, writing and devotion to promoting the truth. If you seek his monument look around you.

Carrying Forward the Noble Work of the Liturgical Movement

I have a personal library chock full of books of liturgical theology and popular devotion from the early twentieth century to the eve of the Second Vatican Council. As I have studied these works over the years, one thing has struck me with increasing amazement and a growing melancholy: the vast majority of these authors, in their publications before the Council, evinced a deep and tender love of the traditional liturgy of the Church. They knew its every phrase, gesture, and chant, its vessels and vestments, its historical development, the delicacy of its minutiae no less than the grandeur of its broad features. They desperately wanted the faithful to appreciate just these treasures. Through indefatigable labors of preaching and publishing, they dedicated their lives to making known the glorious splendor of the Church’s public worship, which had tended to be locked away as the preserve of specialists. What the Liturgical Movement wanted above all was this: intelligent, active participation of the faithful in the traditional liturgy of the Church—not in some other kind of liturgy.

In short, many famous proponents of the liturgical movement would get classified today as traditionalists. Were you to take their major writings and quote portions of them chosen more or less at random, without attribution of authorship, probably 90% or more of the readers would peg the authors as members of an ultra-conservative or traditionalist school. It is not as if these authors lack innovative or problematic ideas; it is not as if some of them did not go off the deep end in the mid- to late sixties, as did so many priests, monks, sisters and nuns in the same period. Rather, it is we ourselves, in our liturgical thinking and practice, who have deviated so far from the Catholic tradition that even the more radical proponents of change in the mid-twentieth century can nowadays look moderate, restrained, and old-fashioned compared to the voluntaristic chaos in which the local churches find themselves today. Some of the better theologians saw the destruction coming and lamented the day: noble souls like Louis Bouyer, whose searing book The Decomposition of Catholicism (1969) plotted the suicidal trajectory on which the reform was headed, although he himself had earlier been an eager participant in the liturgical movement.

So, what did the liturgical movement want, if we can judge from the vast mass of publications it left behind, most of which are now forgotten? In practice, they wanted greater awareness of the meaning of the rich tapestry of prayers, rituals, and symbols; greater congregational singing of the responses and the easier chants of the Ordinary of the Mass (and this really is easy enough, as I have seen in 24 years of experience as a choir director); and a generally more serious and solemn character for the daily liturgy, instead of the omnipresent low Mass. They wanted the people to be knowingly and lovingly involved in the celebration of the mysteries, not as mute spectators, to use a phrase from Pius XI, but as engaged participants—engaged, however, in the complex and subtle manner appropriate for human persons: interiorly and exteriorly, in mind, heart, and body, with voice and silence, acting when appropriate, but also, and more fundamentally, receiving, listening, watching, absorbing.

In all of these goals, they were disappointed, and indeed repudiated. If anything, such men as Romano Guardini and Louis Bouyer are not the fathers of the superficializing revolution that took place, but rather of groups seriously dedicated to the liturgical apostolate, like the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter or the Institute of Christ the King; and Joseph Ratzinger, not Annibale Bugnini or Piero Marini, is the legitimate heir of their theology.

What the Liturgical Movement turned into in its late cancer phase was second-rate modern(ist) theology embedded in a prosaic, earthbound, unimaginative spirituality, along with a tremendous naivete about sociology and worship, plus a good bit of plain dishonesty in their lopsided ressourcement, advocacy scholarship, narrow agendas, and peculiarly modern form of archaicism that did not seek to restore the mentality and spirituality that corresponded to the external elements they purportedly recovered from early Christianity.

Let us consider just this last aspect, as does Catherine Pickstock in the short Blackfriars essay she published prior to her book After Writing. Are we trying to make a mockery of ourselves by talking about returning to the practices of the early church? Are we ready to restore solemn penances—the sending out of penitents on Ash Wednesday and their public reconciliation on Maundy Thursday? Shall we revive the severe, almost crushing ancient penances that were part and parcel of the Church’s daily life? Are we ready to begin each Mass with a slow and beautiful procession down the main aisle, accompanied by the chanting of psalms? Are we prepared to heap incense upon the burning cinders and fill the church with the sound of men’s choirs? Are we really willing to follow St. Paul and the whole ancient tradition by forbidding roles to women in public worship? Are we ready to have bishops pronounce, in the context of the solemn Sunday Mass, excommunications on stubborn heretics and apostates? This sort of thing was bread and butter to the early Christians. Or are we trying to get back to the simple “house worship” of the very first generation of Christians? How very convenient that we know so little about those first Christians! We can make things up as we go along, supported by highly imaginative hypotheses and reconstructions—reminiscent of artistic renderings of our distant ancestors, hairy broad-browed cavemen, tossing a log on the bonfire—so that unhistorical and revolutionary agendas may be cloaked under an appearance of scholarly authority and pastoral solicitude.

Once, a friend and I were talking about whether the laity have a vocation to the mystical life. It is sadly ironic that the Catechism of the Catholic Church decides the question positively for the first time, when never before in the history of the Church has there been so little in her liturgical life to foster contemplative prayer and the mystical gifts. The Catechism also notes that conscience can be properly formed and heard only when there is sufficient interior silence—another condition well-nigh abolished in the new liturgy as it is celebrated almost everywhere. The old liturgy opened to many serious Catholics a path of asceticism and a path to contemplation. Its beautiful stillness, pregnant silences, richly nourishing prayers, poignant gestures, and (in those fortunate locales where a musical revival had occurred) its exquisite chant melodies made the regular life of public worship a continuous schooling in the prayer of the heart, a repeated call to ever deeper penetration of the mysteries of faith, a recurrent opportunity for exercising the theological virtues, a convivial context for receiving higher graces from God.

All saints agree that the mystical life is founded upon a healthy asceticism. Where is this asceticism present in the new liturgy? Are the Ember Days and Rogation Days celebrated? Is the pre-Lenten season observed? What of the daily Lenten fast and the multitude of days of abstinence? Why were the character of the Lenten collects and postcommunions so radically altered away from the constant theme of detachment from the world, salutary hatred of self, contrition for sins? The changes, which are many and significant, represent a practical repudiation of the fullness of ascetical spirituality, and thus a closing-off of the steep and narrow path of mystical initiation attained at the cost of intense spiritual warfare and discipline. The ancient liturgy is truly ancient: it breathes the spirit of the martyrs, the Fathers, the monks and hermits, the mystics. Where is that spirit today? Which Catholics are coming face to face with it, week after week, day after day?

Pierre Hadot wrote an influential book entitled Philosophy as a Way of Life, showing that philosophers of antiquity were more than mere intellectuals; they were striving to be, you might say, saints of the rational life, mystics of logos, priests of sophia. The traditional Catholic already has his Way of Life: it is the ancient Liturgy. In this school of endless subtlety and abiding simplicity, he finds an entire way of life which encompasses and transcends the truths and blessings of human or philosophical wisdom. The liturgy gives him at once a broad and clear teaching on holiness and an inexhaustible wealth of new insights, new layers of meaning he may never have noticed before but which are already present in the texts he has always known. The liturgy is where he goes for his identity, purpose, and strength. He does not think of changing the liturgy to conform it to himself; he rather strives to conform himself to the liturgy, to be formed by it and for it, so that Christ Jesus may be formed in him.

This is what the original Liturgical Movement was all about, and this is the work to which we of the New Liturgical Movement are called today. Be the challenges what they may, let us carry forward the noble work, the best principles, of our forebears, as we seek to spread far and wide the inexhaustible riches of the traditional liturgical life of the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chant Research Today

I asked Richard Llewellyn to write up some thoughts about the current state of chant scholarship. This is his first submission.

We may have all noticed that the NLMblog offers more posts about church music : chant, choral musica of all periods. This is obviously a good thing: music is perhaps the most essential human liturgical element in our services. Many steps have been taken over the last fifteen years towards applying Sacrosanctum Concilium properly. The number of liturgical and musical scolars has hugely increased since the 1970s, though often outside of the liturgical life of the church for the latter. Sadly, in many churches, people still tend to sing during mass, instead of singing mass.

In order to expand our perspectives, we might want to look at two things when concerned with improving our liturgical lives. One is the musical research of the last 50 years about both written musical sources and traditions. The other one is the complete Roman ceremonial of cantors at mass, as descibed in the early roman and diocesan sources.

The Benedictine chant school is concerned essentially with written musical sources. Their focus is really about studing the musical signs in the medieval written scores. This is a lot about understanding a musical notation that is not as precise as that of Prokofiev. Also they care for monastic use, where sixty monks or more sing the whole of the propers.

Many professional musicians and musicologists also address tradition transmitted through chant and polyphony treaties of the late antiquity and middle ages, or even orally transmitted when still available. These give loads of informations for performance practise, ie how to play what is not written down in the scores. We need to note that this work had already begun in the 19th century by some first- class professional musicans, lay and clerics alike : father Lambillotte sj, Paris conservatoire head F-J.Fetis, scolars like Edmond de Coussemaker who compiled most of the known chant music treaties. We should also talk about father Dechevrens (1840-1912) who was the first real semiologist (Cardine actually took a lot from him…). He tried to make a synthesis of both written and oral sources. At Solesmes they took the view that it was too complicated, perhaps too oriental, and so carried out a strong and caricatural polemic.

The knowledge of these church musicians was immense. They were not concerned with restoring benedictine life. They were just concerned with getting the right music scores, and with singing chant properly.

Our faith rests on Holy Scriptures and Tradition. In music, it is about the same : written scores when available, and traditions transmitted either orally or through music treaties.
The trend for baroque, then renaissance, and now medieval music, makes that most treaties are available to the general public. So now we can work properly.

The main addition since the Council is the proper study of the Roman chant sung at papal functions before the move to Avignon : we call it Old-Roman chant. This was impossible at the time of Dom Pothier, because chant manuscripts were discovered only after the publication of his Graduale at the beginning of the 20th century…By now, thanks to the post council studies, we have also better understood the process by which Roman and Gallican chant were hybridated at the time of the Frankish kings, ie Pepin the short, father of Charlemagne who became empereur. We have also understood the modality of the ealier chants, which does not fit in the Grec octoechos system, but that fits more a Syrian or Alexandrine modality.

The other issue is the study of the cantorial liturgical practises from the Ordines Romani and later ceremonials, notably the diocesan ones. Cantors were historically minor clerics or instructed lay people, with subdeacons at the top of the hierarchy. There was an official ministry of cantors who were instituted by parish priests (formulae found at the end of the Tridentine C.E) - so it was not a minor order.

The liturgical books of the Roman rite that we use (Martinucci, Stercky, Fortescue, and so on), follow the rite of the papal court, which was more designed for chapels (ie big rectangular rooms of the papal residencies), and also for their use in the titular churches of the cardinals. So this rite was not really designed for local cathedrals, or even not for the papal altar of the Roman historical basilicas. Those who have read and use them know that the model is that of the Sixtine chapel and papal basilicas where cantors are in side galleries, and when assistants in cope at vespers are not the cantors of the scola.

One can find the ceremonial designed in Rome for diocesan pontifical and curial masses in the Ordines Romani, for example : written at the time of the Carolingians, they were basically describing what we « still » find in the Rite of Lyon – though at Lyon they developed their own liturgical uses for cantors.

There is also this myth that French diocese ceremonials with 1/3/5/7 deacons and subdeacons were gallican and so antiroman. This is not true ; this is late XIXthe century propaganda. They are all in the ordines romani written in the IXth-Xth centuries. Also, Trent and Quo primum tempore only imposed use of the Roman text : it let the choice of music and ceremonies to the ordinaries, no matter how old they were. Hence the reason why loads of European dioceses could keep their customs down to Vatican I or Vatican II.

As far as cantors are concerned, there was a true liturgical role, both in Roman basilicas, and in cathedrals. Notably they had to take care of the water cruet at the offertory. If things like cantorial staffs had a Hebraico-Syriac origin, the various ceremonies were essentially old Roman ceremonies coming from the papal services. Several local ceremonials also offer some very important musical information, such as the way to impose an antiphon, or to vary the tempi of the chant pieces. Strangely they all more or less say the same things, though coming from different places.
Lastly we must take into account the fact that prior to the move to Avignon, there were four roman uses in Urbe : that of the chapters of the main basilicas, that of the cardinals in their titulum, that of the administrative curia, and that of the Pope who kept his old purely Roman ceremonies and chant.

So, in this series of articles, I would like to give an overview of the main chant treaties and liturgical Roman customs of cantors as transmitted down to us. There are the chant and music treaties of the late antiquity and early middle-ages, but also those of musicians of the later times who kept the old traditions and so could built up musical developments in a hermeneutic of continuity.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Juventutem London

More information available here.

The Connection Between Buckfast Abbey, Boethius and a Full English Breakfast in Hanwell, west London

Last week I showed some photographs of Buckfast Abbey highlighting how relatively modern abbey buildings can participate in the traditional forms. My interest in the article was in the geometric patterned art and the proportions evident in the guesthouse and cloistered area. Here are some secular buildings from the London suburb of Hanwell that are, I am guessing, late Victorian or early 20th century, so they are built at a similar time to the abbey. These secular buildings also display traditional harmonious proportion. Some may wonder what this has to do with the liturgy and its relevance to the New Liturgical Movement blog. I include these photographs because I think it is important that we not only aim to develop once again a liturgical high culture of art, music and architecture but that we aim also to make re-establish the connection between contemporary culture and the culture of faith alive.

In the past, it has been said, all the great art movements began on the altar. The secular culture echoed the forms of the liturgy and in reflecting them developed the liturgical instincts of all. In simultaneously reflecting and reinforcing the liturgical forms it help to preserve the culture of faith, as well as speaking to those who were not Catholic so that it is developing the liturgical instincts of the as yet un evangelised. We can point historically to the fact that grand civic buildings - created as showcases for secular culture - reflect a liturgical culture. For example, during the baroque period the great governement and royal buildings of the cities in both Catholic and Protestant countries reflected a form that originated in churches. The Houses of Parliament in London reflect a neo-gothic design strongly influenced by the movement in the design of churches at time with figures such as Pugin at its centre. 

I think it is important to remember also that the buildings, art and artifacts of everyday, mundane life can also reflect this liturgical principle. No tourists are travelling to Hanwell to look at the town centre - I just happened to stop off there for breakfast when driving from central London to Heathrow. However, the fact that these Victorian architects sought to make an ordinary town centre beautiful and incorporate principles that point to the liturgical forms (whether they acknowledged that this is what they were doing or not) is significant. For all the fact that traffic was rushing by and I was looking at a pizza shop and an auto mechanic's shop, the presence of some grace is this ordinary environment made it pleasant on a sunny English summer's day (despite the at times unsympathetic modern amendments). In some small way, I believe that this raises the soul to God, even as I eat eggs, bacon, mushrooms and black pudding for breakfast. The desolation of the modern city is caused in part by this disconnect between the sacred and the profane and a glaring absence of beauty.

The tradition of Western proportion has its origins in pre-Christian classical culture and then we find Church Fathers who worked to incorporate this into a Christian context, especially Augustine and Boethius. They sought to reflect a numerical description of the patterns of the cosmos, which are also the basis for the numerical description of the cycles of the liturgy. The assumption behind this is that the beauty of the cosmos is a reflection of its order, which in turn is a participation in heavenly beauty. 

My guess is that the architects who designed these houses and shops in Hanwell did not know about this connection at all, for after the Enlightenment, few did. As the Enlightenment took hold, it was only a remaining respect for tradition kept this use of proportion alive in architectural design. However, when some such as the Bauhaus movement started aggressively to challenge the relevance of tradition as a guiding principle, because few could articulate coherently any further reason for incorporating tradition proportion (beyond a broad principle of respect for the past), it could not withstand the challenge. By the Second World War the ideas of harmony and proportion were almost unknown in our architecture schools. This is why, in my opinion, we must not only look to the past to invigorate our traditions, but we must understand the basis of them too.

In the photographs below I show first the guest house of Buckfast Abbey in Devon. Not that the three storeys are unevenly spaced. They are designed harmoniously so that the first relates to the second as the second relates to the third. Then we see the buildings at a crossroads in the centre of Hanwell, which show the same threefold, rhythmical progression.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Church Fathers on Music

Benedict’s call for liturgical renewal is timely and there are young musicians in the Church who are eagerly preparing themselves to answer this vocational call. The teachings of the Fathers offer much-needed inspiration and direction. Threats to the post-modern Church are very similar to those of the third century: anti-Christian sentiment, secularism, and sexual licentiousness. Sacrosanctum Concilium and Sacramentum Caritatis clearly state that the way forward for the development of Christian music must include a dedicated study of traditional Church music as well as a sustained effort to teach this music to the faithful for liturgical worship. At the same time, new Church music must be composed—not by ill-formed neophytes with guitars—but by mature, prayerful, classically trained musicians who have been mentored in plainchant and sacred polyphony and are living the full sacramental life of the Church. Certainly, it would behoove Christian music composers to pay close attention to the warnings and encouragements of the early Fathers, who also lived in a secular pagan society. Their wisdom, far from being irrelevant, is surprisingly germane.

Church Fathers and Church Music

Introducing the Ordinariate Use

From the Friends of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham:

History will be made in the Catholic Church on Thursday 10 October when a new text for the Mass which includes traditional Anglican words is officially introduced in London.

The new text has been devised for use by Ordinariates throughout the English-speaking world as a way of putting into practice Pope Benedict XVI’s vision of allowing former Anglicans who wish to enter the full communion of the Catholic Church to do so whilst retaining aspects of their spiritual and liturgical traditions. Benedict XVI described these as “precious gifts” and “treasures to be shared”.

The new liturgy — the work of a special commission established by Rome and now approved by the Holy See — includes material from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1662) as well as the Roman Rite. It will be unveiled with a Mass followed by a media launch at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, Warwick Street, Soho.

The Mass will be celebrated by the Ordinary of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, Monsignor Keith Newton, and the preacher will be Monsignor Andrew Burnham, Assistant to the Ordinary and a member of the commission which devised the Use. Music, drawn entirely from the English tradition, will include pieces by Howells, Elgar, and Bairstow.

Mgr Burnham said: “For some time, the Ordinariate has had its own liturgy, approved by the Holy See, for marriages and funerals and the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham already provides a daily office in the Anglican tradition. But the introduction of this new Ordinariate Use is very important because it means that we now have our own distinctive liturgy for the Mass which brings to the Roman rite beautiful Anglican words which have been hallowed for generations. It gives the Ordinariate unity and a corporate identity.”

The Roman Rite in both its ordinary and extraordinary forms remains available for use by Ordinariate priests and there will be no requirement for them to adopt the Ordinariate Use. However, all Ordinariate clergy will be expected to familiarise themselves with it. Some priests are expected to use it regularly, while others – especially in parishes with a large concentration of “cradle” Catholics in the congregation – may only wish to use it from time to time.

The Mass will be celebrated in Our Lady of the Assumption & St Gregory’s Church at 6.30pm on Thursday 10 October. All welcome.

Rationalism and Individualism in Catholic Theology

There are many tendencies in modern thought that are fatal to genuine Catholic theology, but, as a follow-up to my last article, I would like to look at two in particular—rationalism and individualism—and comment on how their subtle influence can be seen in the way we approach the question of the role of the liturgy in a school of theology (and therefore, more broadly, in how any of us understands what theology is and how we should go about studying and teaching it).

The more obvious form of rationalism consists in approaching the doctrines of the Faith as if human reason were adequate to grasp, demonstrate, or explain them—or, perhaps, critique them, if one were unfortunate enough to mistake the darkness of human understanding for a deficiency in revealed truth. Even if one approaches the doctrines with a correct spirit of obedience, with the proper submission of intellect and will to God the revealer or to the Church as teacher, one may still fall into rationalism if one thinks, speaks, or acts as if theology is primarily about studying or arguing over the doctrines rather than assimilating them as food and drink—literally feasting on the mysteries, consuming them, being consumed and transformed by them.

Obviously, one cannot eat a physical book, but one can consume the Word of God in the Eucharistic banquet He spreads for us on the altar of sacrifice, and in this way, one can prepare for, accompany, and bring to perfection the intellectual work of the theologian by the liturgical opus Dei of the baptized Christian. In this perspective, theology is not an esoteric exercise of academic speculation but a special path for the living out of the baptismal call to perfection in charity—a contemplative and apostolic vocation for the building up of the Body of Christ.

This brings me to my next point: the danger of individualism. For many centuries, Western Christians—Catholics first, in the devotio moderna of the late Middle Ages, and then Protestants heavily influenced by that same movement, who in turn reinforced Catholic habits—have been tempted to adopt an individualist, subjectivist piety, a mentality that reduces the life of prayer to “Jesus and me.”

Now, while it is certainly true that there can be no fruitful Christian life without a personal, interior foundation in mental prayer, it is no less true that the highest expression of Christian prayer is social and corporate: the public worship of the Mystical Body of Christ in the Sacred Liturgy, both the Mass and the Divine Office, as well as the other sacramental rites. These are the channels through which our Savior pours out His divine life into all His members, in a way that foreshadows the life of the blessed in the New Jerusalem. Personal prayer has an intrinsic orientation to the prayer of the Church, which in turn waters and fertilizes the interior life; one without the other is incomplete and even runs the risk of distortion or desiccation. It is the same as the relationship between lectio divina and the normative proclamation of the Word in the liturgy: each calls for the other.

What does this have to do with a school of theology? Here there is a subtle danger. Imagine the Dean of a (conservative) Theology faculty speaking thus: “Why, of course, theology must be done on one’s knees; it demands a life of faith and prayer; its life-giving atmosphere is charity. We must undertake the life of study as something proceeding from and returning to the charity shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” All that is profoundly true; who could disagree? And yet these very sentiments could be taken in an individualistic way, as if all we really need are, in one hand, the Summa theologiae of St. Thomas, and in the other hand, St. Teresa’s Interior Castle or St. John’s Living Flame of Love. In other words, one might begin to see theology as something the individual does individually, rather than a gift nourished in the individual as a common good received from the Church, our Mother, most of all through communion with the sacred mysteries present in her divine liturgy.

If, therefore, theology is to be done on one’s knees, this means most of all kneeling at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—kneeling to receive the Word and be united ineffably to the Word. A school of theology must be gathered around the altar in worship of the Word-made-flesh. In this act of being-gathered by the Word and for the Word, the school actually comes into being as an image of the Church, to serve the Church with the intellectus fidei and the propaganda fidei, the listening that is followed by the preaching, teaching, working, witnessing.

If a school’s vision and daily life are not ordered to the sacred liturgy as its source and summit, something essential and fundamental will be missing. And, as my earlier comments suggest, we are speaking of the liturgy precisely as it coheres with, sustains, and expresses the Catholic theological vision itself, that is to say, inasmuch as it retains continuity with Tradition. Many theologians, emboldened by the luminous teaching of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, are admitting and grappling with the fact that we are living in the aftermath of a determined effort to introduce a momentous rupture, a sharp discontinuity, with that Tradition. The massive crisis afflicting the Church today is, at root, nothing other than a crisis of identity precipitated by an unprecedented interference and experimentation with her most holy and tradition-bearing possession, the Mass. This crisis of identity spills over into everything else: the crisis in missionary work, the crisis in ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, the crisis in relations with political entities, the crisis in Catholic education in general and theology in particular.

Let us work and pray so that our commitment to passing on sacred doctrine according to the mind of St. Thomas will be utterly consistent with our commitment to the way of life and prayer he himself led—the life that all Catholic teachers and students should desire to lead, according to the same saint’s example.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A must-read Cardinal Burke interview

Cardinal Burke has given an interview for The Catholic Servant, reproduced in The Wanderer, on the subject of the Church and Modern Society. He speaks, with characteristic clarity, on a wide range of issues including the effects of Summorum Pontificum, the reform of the Curia, the ever-growing rift between Catholic teaching and the political landscape and Catholics, particularly politicians, who fail to understand and support Catholic teaching. Asked if he sees concrete benefits resulting from Summorum Pontificum he replies:
I have witnessed a number of benefits. First, there is now a much stronger sense of the divine action in the Ordinary Form. There was a certain tendency in the celebration of the Ordinary Form to center attention on the priest and the congregation rather than on Christ, Who comes into the midst of the congregation through the ministry of the priest acting in His Person to give the gift of His life as He first gave it on Calvary and to make that sacrifice new for us in each holy Mass. 
Another closely connected benefit is an appreciation of the true reform of the liturgy desired by the Council, namely a reform that would be in continuity with the centuries-long tradition of the Church, not a renewal that would be a break from that liturgical tradition. The celebration of the two Forms of the Roman rite have led to a growing consciousness of the need to retrieve some of the elements of the liturgical tradition too quickly discarded after the Council, contrary to the intention of the Council. 
In other words, what Pope Benedict XVI had in mind was to promote the reform as it was truly desired by the Council, namely a reform in continuity with the centuries- long tradition of the Church and not a rupture.
Later in the interview he links the misinterpretations of the liturgical reforms following Vatican II to the deterioration of the Liturgy and a decline in Mass attendance:
Sadly, in the time after the Second Vatican Council, there was a reform of the sacred liturgy which made it man-centered and banal. In some cases it actually became hard for people to bear because of illicit insertions, foreign agendas, and imposition of the personalities of priests and congregations into the liturgy to the point that people began to think that the Mass was some sort of social activity. If they did not find it acceptable, they did not go anymore.
Read the whole interview at The Wanderer.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Liturgical Notes on the Ember Days of September

The origin of the English term “Ember Days” seems to be disputed. Some scholars claim it is merely a corruption of the Latin name “Quattuor Temporum – of the four times (or ‘seasons’)”, through the German “Quatember”, while others derive it from Anglo-Saxon words meaning “regularly occurring.” (ymb-ryne) English-speakers used also to refer to them as “Quarter tense”, another corruption of the Latin name. In German liturgical books of the Middle Ages, they are often called with an entirely different word, “angaria”; for example, the index of the 1498 Missal of Salzburg calls the Ember Days of Advent the “angaria hiemalis”, (i.e. of winter), those of Lent the “angaria vernalis” etc.

This word derives from the verb “angariare – to press someone into service”, which occurs three times in the Latin New Testament. The first occurrence is in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 41), “And whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two.” The other two are when Simon of Cyrene is forced to help the Lord carry His Cross, Matthew 27, 32 and its parallel in Mark 15, 21. The noun “angaria” therefore means “a pressing into service” or “exaction”; according to DuCange’s Medieval Latin Glossary, it was used in Germany to refer to a quarterly tax that was collected at the Ember Days. Missals and breviaries printed for use in Germany do however also regularly use the Latin “Quattuor Tempora”.

The index of the Missal of Salzburg, printed at Nuremburg in 1498. At the bottom of the left column are read “angaria hiemalis” etc. From the website of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.

One of the most beautiful features of the Masses of Ember Saturday is the canticle Benedictus es which follows the fifth prophecy from the Book of Daniel in Advent, Lent and September. (During the octave of Pentecost, the reading is the same, but the canticle is substituted by an Alleluia with one versicle.) As I have noted previously, the Missal of Sarum has a different arrangement for this reading and its canticle on each of the four Ember Days. On Pentecost, the reading found in the Roman Missal, Daniel 3, 47-51, is lengthened by the addition of the Biblical canticle, chapter 3, 52-88; the addition is sung by the reader as part of the lesson, and not with the proper melody of the Benedictus es. As is often the case with the lessons in medieval missals, the text does not correspond exactly to the wording of the Vulgate; there are a number of variants which derive from the Old Latin version of the Bible. Furthermore, several of the repetitions of “praise and exalt him above all forever” are omitted. The reading is then followed by the Alleluia and its verse as in the Roman Missal.
In September, Sarum has the same reading as at Pentecost. It is followed, however by a canticle composed by the German monk, poet and scholar Walafrid Strabo, a student of Rabanus Maurus at the famous abbey of Fulda in the first half of the 9th century. This canticle is a poetic paraphrase of the Benedicite, each verse of which is followed by a refrain, “Let them ever adore the Almighty, and bless him through every age.” At Sarum, the refrain was sung with the verbs in the indicative, “They ever adore the Almighty, and bless him in every age.”; it is split into two parts, which are sung after alternate verses. There are a few other minor variants from Walafrid’s original version.

Omnipotentem semper adorant,              They ever adore the Almighty,
Et benedicunt omne per aevum.               and bless Him through every age.

Astra polorum, cuncta hominum gens,      The stars of heaven, every sort of men,
Solque sororque, lumina caeli.               and the sun and his sister, the lights of heaven.
Omnipotentem semper adorant.          They ever adore the Almighty.

Sic quoque lymphae quaeque supernae,   So also all the waters in heaven above,
Ros pluviaeque, spiritus omnis.                the dew and the rains, and every wind.
Et benedicunt omne per aevum.               And bless Him through every age.

Ignis et aestus, cauma geluque,                Fire and heat, warmth and cold,
Frigus et ardor atque pruina.                    chill and burning and the frost.
Omnipotentem etc.                                  They adore etc.

Nix glaciesque, noxque diesque              Snow and ice, night and day,
Lux tenebraeque, fulgura, nubes.             light and darkness, lightnings and clouds.

Arida, montes, germina, colles,               Deserts, mountains, plants, hills,
Flumina, fontes, pontus et undae.            rivers, springs, the seas and the waves.

Omnia viva, quae vehit aequor,            All things that live and are born on the waters,
vegetat aer, terraque nutrit.               that the air quickens, and the earth nourishes.

Cuncta hominum gens, Israel ipse           Every sort of men, Israel itself,
Christicolaeque, servuli quique.      and the worshipers of Christ, and all His servants.

Sancti humilesque, corde benigno           The holy, the humble, the gentle of heart,
Tresque pusilli exsuperantes                   and the three little ones in their triumph.

Rite camini ignei flammas,                      Justly ready to disdain the flames
jussa tyranni temnere prompti.               of the fiery furnace, and the tyrant’s orders.

Sit Genitori laus, Genitoque                   Praise to the Father, and to the Son,
lausque beato Flamini sacro.                  and praise to the blessed Holy Spirit.

The Three Children in the Furnace, as depicted in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome ca. 275 A.D.

The Ember Days are often said to be connected with the agricultural seasons, especially in reference to the harvest seasons of the Italian peninsula, since they originated in Rome. In point of fact, there are only a few references to harvests and harvest-offerings at Pentecost, only one in Lent (the first prophecy) and none at all in Advent. In September, on the other hand, the references to the harvest are very clear, especially in the Epistles of the Masses. On Wednesday, Amos 9, 13-15, on Friday, the end of the book of Hosea (14, 2-10) and the second reading from Leviticus on Saturday (23, 39-43) all speak of harvests and the fruits of the earth. The last of these prescribes that they be kept “starting on the fifteenth of the seventh month”; according to the Roman tradition, September was originally the seventh month of the calendar, and indeed, September 15th is the earliest day on which the first Ember Day can occur.
To the medieval liturgist William Durandus, however, as probably to most of his contemporaries in the clergy, the most prominent feature of the Ember Days was not thanksgiving for the bounty of God in the harvest, but rather the traditional celebration of these days as the proper time for ordinations. He therefore offers the following allegorical reflections on the three Masses, explaining them in reference to season of the ordinands.  (Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, Liber VI, capp. 132-134)
On Wednesday is read the Gospel (Mark 9, 16-28) … about the deaf and mute (boy) whom the Apostles could not heal, since “that kind of demons is not cast out except in fasting and prayer”; which is fitting to this day. For today is the fast of the four times, and therefore two readings are read, so that the ordinands may be taught in the two precepts of charity, or in the two laws.
The Mass of Friday expresses the penitence of the ordinands, whence in the Gospel… they are instructed unto conversion, and in the introit they are invited to seek the Lord. (“Let the heart of them that seek the Lord rejoice. Seek ye the Lord, and be strengthened, seek ye ever His face.”)
The Mass of Saturday is all said for the teaching of the ordinands, lest they be sterile, like the fruitless fig tree, of which the Gospel is read (Luke 13, 6-17), and lest their lives be caught up in earthly matters, like the bent over woman. In the Epistle (Hebrews 9, 2-12), which treats of the first and second tabernacles, they are admonished to serve in the tabernacle of the Church Militant in such wise that they may be presented to the Lord in the tabernacle of the Church Triumphant. … Rightly in this month are the ordinations of clerics done, since in this month took place (in the Old Testament) the celebration of (the feast of) Tabernacles. Now the ordained are the ministers of the Church, established in the seven orders on the day of tabernacles through seven-fold grace.

Why You Can't Trust Press Reports

Let's say a financial reporter for the New York Times called a trader on Wall Street for a story on interest rates. In the course of the conversation, the reporter asks: "now, higher rates means higher yields, right?" The person being interviewed would probably say "how did you become a reporter with this beat?" or he or she might just hang up the phone. Actually, something like that would never happen because the New York Times expects it financial reporters to know their subjects. 

It's different in religion. A reporter from a major news source said to me yesterday, "now, everything the Pope says is infallible, right?" I was gentle in my correction. But when you think about These are the people reporting the religion news everywhere today. 

Vetus Ordo

"Vetus Ordo" is an interesting term for the extraordinary form of the Mass from the interview with the Pope. If you have only read the press, try reading the interview itself. If you have had doubts about this man, this interview will go a long way to convincing you of his sincerity, humility, and intelligence. When he declares that he is "not a right winger," for example, he means in a Latin American political sense of being an authoritarian leader. That's one of many points you discover from the original. In fact, I find nothing startling in this interview and plenty of wonderfully insightful comments.

Particularly interesting for this blog are his unexceptional comments on the old form of the Roman Rite. He finds its liberalization to be a prudent decision that was motivated by a desire to help, but cautions against its exploitation presumably for political purposes. I find nothing with which Benedict XVI couldn't agree:

Vatican II was a re-reading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture... Vatican II produced a renewal movement that simply comes from the same Gospel. Its fruits are enormous. Just recall the liturgy. The work of liturgical reform has been a service to the people as a re-reading of the Gospel from a concrete historical situation. Yes, there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity, but one thing is clear: the dynamic of reading the Gospel, actualizing its message for today—which was typical of Vatican II—is absolutely irreversible. Then there are particular issues, like the liturgy according to the Vetus Ordo. I think the decision of Pope Benedict [his decision of July 7, 2007, to allow a wider use of the Tridentine Mass] was prudent and motivated by the desire to help people who have this sensitivity. What is worrying, though, is the risk of the ideologization of the Vetus Ordo, its exploitation.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thoughts on the Pope's Latest Comments

Prepare yourself for another round. There will be a wave a news stories about how Pope Francis is backing away from Catholic teaching on homosexuality, abortion, and the like, and how he is working to reverse the course of his predecessors. You will hear this 10,000 times over the next week. In fact, I was just called by a large media company (make that two) to address the subject, and I don't think they much liked what I had to say. Here is what I had to say.

Nothing in the Pope's words undo any Catholic teaching. What's more, he intends no change whatsoever. What he is bringing to these hot-button issues is a humane clarity that reflects an aspect of Catholicism that is frequently overlooked in the world at large. It is the most common perception in the world today that Catholicism is nothing more than a strict set of life rules and the Church herself operates as the more judge and inquisitor not only over its members but over the society at large. This is the perception of the whole import of Catholic teaching. And because of the perception, the scandals of the last ten years have been particularly damaging to the reputation of Catholicism, simply because it permits the accusation of hypocrisy to stick.

But the truth is that this view of Catholicism is just wrong. Yes, there are rules and these rules are going nowhere. They are a fixed part of Catholic belief. But alongside those rules, there is also unfathomable mercy, love, and forgiveness. The view that Catholicism is nothing more than rules is a wildly imbalanced view and it does indeed cry out for correction. What's more, all Catholics know it to be untrue. We know it mainly from the confessional. We've all been there and unearthed our sins and told them. What do we hear in response? We hear mercy. We hear forgiveness and compassion. We are given a path to enter back into personal healing from sin. We are given the grace of forgiveness. We leave with a new sense that things can begin again, and feeling a profound sense of a lifted burden. This is what the confessional offers. Yes, it is a juridical chamber of sorts but that's not its only import. The Church also offers profound mercy and compassion and love and forgiveness for us. That is its stunning power in a world of intolerance and cruelty.

Why does this Pope believe that now is the time for this message? Part of it is his personality. It's his way. He is a pastor and an evangelist. His experiences tell him that this is something he can bring to his ministry. He clearly has a remarkable gift, and he is going with his strongest asset as a personality and a priest. What's more, there is a case to be made this this is exactly what we need right now.

Why? After the Second Vatican Council, so many aspects of the faith came to be completely shattered. The wide perception was that there was no more doctrine. Nothing that was true before is true now. There are no more teachings. Everything old is gone and the new is yet to be created. In response to this nonsense, John Paul II worked for so many years just to clarify and restore. He gave us the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a brilliant document that help put things back together again and provide some clarity. Benedict XVI came next to add theological depth and take on the profoundly important subject of the liturgy of the faith. He too worked to restore and bring dignity and clarity back to these practices.

Pope Francis is next in line. With renewed clarity about doctrine, morals, and liturgy having taken place, and having inherited this template, he is interested in adding a crucial and critical pastoral and evangelistic element that he perceives to be lacking. His contribution is additive, not corrective. And what he has said is clearly true and introduces an element that has always been present but has too often been ignored by the press and the world. Further -- and this should not be forgotten -- he is speaking not as an infallible guide to all things but only as the pastor.

Of course he injects his own way into the discussion. But speaking for myself here, I'm seriously warming to his way. He speaks to the whole world the way we are used to our own parish priests as speaking. He is casual. He is charming. He is a colleague in the faith. This is disarming and it takes some getting used to, to be sure. But for my part, I'm now experiencing joy when I read his comments, not just because what he is saying needs to be said but also because he is saying what is true.

This blog is about liturgy. That subject is very much associated with the last papacy. But that subject is not going away in the new. The new papacy is about additional and equally important things.

We must never forget that the message of the faith to the world is not a static thing but a progressive unfolding of truth that takes on new shapes and colorations depending on the time and place. Why? Because the faith is that big, that gigantic, that momentous. It can never be fully expressed in one age or under one papacy. There is always more to say and more to do. And truly, Pope Francis is doing the Lord's work, just as his predecessors have done.

Verbum caro hic factum est

Even if your Latin is a little rusty, the significance of the additional 'hic' will not be lost on you: Here the Word became flesh. So reads the inscription on the Altar in the House of Mary in Nazareth, over which stands the modern Basilica of the Annunciation, built in 1969. The Altar stands at the side of the lower basilica, whilst the upper basilica fulfils the needs and requirements of large pilgrim groups, being a much bigger church. An octagonal opening in the roof of the lower basilica, the floor of the upper church, allows light to flood into the grotto from the huge conical dome above, built to resemble a lily being offered downwards from heaven.

Lower Basilica
Lower Basilica

Upper Basilica
Whilst visiting recently I was able to play the basilica's new Reiger organs. There is a two-manual in the lower church and a large three-manual instrument in the upper church which has a very useful playback system. I was able to play an improvisation and then wander around the church while the organ played it again, giving me the opportunity to hear how the instrument sounds in the building rather than just at the console. As you might expect, the acoustic in the church is absolutely huge, given its cavernous proportions, but the Austrian firm's voicers have done a tremendous job and the organ sounds with great clarity.

To the side of the basilica is an excavated area including some 1st century dwellings, of which the Blessed Virgin Mary's House is the most significant. Inside an adjoining museum is a stone which is thought to have the earliest 'Ave Maria' carved on it, although it is quite difficult to make out.

The museum also contains the 'Crusader Capitals', beautifully carved sculptures for the pillars of a church which was never built. They were buried to hide them when the town fell to Muslim invaders and were rediscovered relatively recently in immaculate condition: 

There are two other sites of great significance in Nazareth, one being the Church of St Joseph, built over the first century remains of what was thought for several centuries to be St Joseph's carpenter's shop. It later became known as St Joseph's house. The other site is much less well-known, as a result of its hidden location. When I was in Nazareth I stayed at the Convent of the Sisters of Nazareth, just a few metres from the entrance to the Basilica. The Mother Superior told me that when the sisters had bought the site of the convent in 1855, they were charged a premium for the land because they were told that according to local legend, it was the site of the tomb of the 'Righteous Man'. At the time the sisters assumed that this was a ruse to extract a higher price, but when they began to excavate to build the foundations of their convent, some startling discoveries led them to realise that there was indeed something of great significance there.

The Mother Superior took me beneath the cellars of the house which open out into a space which is supported by both Byzantine arches and crusader walls. She explained that they had found a vault which had supported a church, long gone, in which there was a hole through which water could be extracted from a cistern beneath. An exact description of such a church exists in early writings, which was thought to be built over the site of the House of the Holy Family, a cave hewn from the soft rock. It suddenly dawned on me that we were now standing in a cave beneath the vault, with an ancient cistern just to the side. I asked if she was telling me that we were standing in the House of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Being a wise and cautious person, she responded that it is impossible to be sure of anything, but anything is possible. The cave contains the remains of a crusader altar, so it is certainly a site of significance: 

On the other side of the site is a rolling stone tomb, believed to have been the grave of the 'Righteous Man', St Joseph. In my mind's eye I had always imagined that a rolling stone would be enormous, but in fact this stone is only about three feet high. The small entrance, which one would have to crouch to enter, leads into a very cramped tomb containing a flat area to the right where the body would be laid out, and five small niches (one of which can be seen in the photo) in which bodies would be laid to rest. In time, when only bones remained, these would be removed and placed in an ossuary.

Dr Ken Dark, from the University of Reading, UK, has written an in-depth article about these excavations entitled 'Early roman-period Nazareth and the sisters of Nazareth convent' which has recently become available to read online.

The purpose of my recent visit to Nazareth was to work with the Choir of the Basilica of the Annunciation. They were a truly lovely group of people and we particularly enjoyed working on Elgar's Ave verum together. The choir men frequently go to Galilee for all-night fishing expeditions and had just returned from a particularly successful one catching over a hundred fish. They have promised to take me fishing on my next visit. I can't wait.

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