Saturday, September 30, 2017

St Jerome’s Lion

There are very few episodes of what we might call a legendary character attached to the figure of St Jerome, at least in part because we have so much authentic information about his life from his own incredibly prolific pen. The Golden Legend gives only one such story in its account of him, which explains why a lion became his most distinctive attribute in art.

“One evening, when Jerome was sitting with the brethren to listen a sacred reading, a lion came limping into the monastery; at the sight of it, as the other brothers fled, Jerome went to meet it as a guest. When the lion showed him its wounded foot, he commanded that its feet be washed and its wound carefully examined. This revealed that the sole of its paw was wounded by thorns; therefore, they took good care of it, and the lion recovered, and laying aside all its ferocity, lived among them like a domestic animal. Then Jerome, seeing that the Lord had sent the lion not so much for the healing of its foot as for their use, at the suggestion of the brothers imposed this duty upon it, that it should bring to pasture and watch over a donkey which they had, which carried wood from the forest.”
St Jerome Bringing the Lion into the Monastery, by Lazzaro Bastiani, second half of the 15th century. (Public domain image from Wikipedia.)
The story goes on to say that one day, the lion fell asleep while on duty, and the donkey was stolen by merchants passing by in a camel train. St Jerome therefore imposed the donkey’s job on the lion, which it faithfully did, until one day, it spied at a distance the same merchants, with their camels and the stolen donkey. By roaring and lashing its tail, the lion drove the whole camel train, including the thieves, back to the monastery; St Jerome received them as guests, while exhorting them not steal any more. As a token of their repentance, the merchants gave a certain quantity of oil as a gift to the monastery, and promised they would henceforth bring it every year in perpetuity, laying the same obligation on their heirs.

Right after the episode of the lion, the Golden Legend says that the behest of the Emperor Theodosius and Pope St Damasus I, he arranged the traditional division of the Psalter over the days of the week, prescribing the singing of the doxology at the end of the psalms, and that he also created the Roman Mass lectionary, “which he sent from Bethlehem to the Supreme Pontiff, and it was heartily approved by him and his cardinals, and deemed forever authentic.”

The Funeral of St Jerome, also by Bastiani. The lion attends in the lower left hand corner.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Bishop Morlino on Beauty in the Liturgy

On September 6th, His Excellency Robert Morlino, Bishop of Madison, Wisconsin, while visiting his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, celebrated a votive Mass of Saint Joseph according to the Divine Worship Missal (“Anglican Use”) at the local Ordinariate parish, Saint Thomas More. Afterwards, he delivered a talk “Liturgy as an Aid in Evangelization”, focusing on the beauty of the liturgy as a necessary tool for evangelization in our modern world. A recording of the talk has just been posted via the parish website.

In his address, Bishop Morlino enlarged on his vision of the liturgically beautiful: beauty does not lie in the eye of the beholder; it is not a matter of majority opinion; that which is beautiful must also be true. Our readers know that His Excellency has been strenuous in promoting sound liturgical practice in the diocese of Madison, following Cardinal Sarah’s call for greater use of ad orientem, and often celebrating Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

Parishioner Robert Kurland writes about the celebration of the Mass according to the Ordinariate Use:

It was particularly appropriate for Bishop Morlino to talk on beauty in the liturgy at an anniversary celebration of St Thomas More Parish, a parish the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. The Anglican Usage liturgy is part of the Roman Rite, but has important differences in language, being based in part on the Book of Common Prayer, written by masters of the English language from Elizabethan times and later. I quote from the Ordinariate website: “The mission of the Ordinariate is particularly experienced in the reverence and beauty of our liturgy, which features Anglican traditions of worship while conforming to Catholic doctrinal, sacramental and liturgical standards. Through Divine Worship: The Missal — the liturgy that unites the Ordinariates throughout the English-speaking world — we share our distinctive commitment to praising God in the eloquence of the Anglican liturgical patrimony and Prayer Book English.”

The language, including all the thee’s and thou’s, is beautiful and a reminder of our heritage. (Unlike the prescriptions of some present day liturgists, there is no attempt to debase the English language by subscribing to politically correct gender neutrality and inclusiveness.) There is also frequent and appropriate use of Latin, again as a reminder of the Church’s heritage from Rome. The music is without guitars and drums, using hymns from the English Hymnal compiled by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Communion is given on the tongue, kneeling at the altar rail, with the Host distributed by the priest with intinction in the Precious Blood.

After this Mass, I feel that Bishop Morlino’s goal has been achieved: “[The Mass] must be nothing less than beautiful, reflecting the perfect beauty, unity, truth, and goodness of the object of our worship and adoration Themselves, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” —Bishop Robert Morlino, Madison Catholic Herald, Oct. 20, 2011.  

St Michael in the Apocrypha

The Archangel Michael is mentioned three times in the book of Daniel, once in the Apocalypse, and once in the Epistle of St Jude, and these are all of his Biblical appearances. Both New Testament authors introduce him quite abruptly, taking it for granted that their readers already know who he is. “And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon…” (Apoc. 12, 7) This would certainly be due to his prominence in pre-Christian Jewish literature, works of the sort which we now call (rather inexactly) apocrypha. And indeed, the mention of him in the Epistle of St Jude is taken from such a work.
St Michael Defeating the Devil, by Guido Reni, 1635
“When Michael the Archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses, he durst not bring against him the judgment of railing speech, but said: The Lord command thee.” (verse 9) These words refer to an episode in a Jewish apocryphal work called The Assumption of Moses, which is only partially preserved; it is not in the part that survives, but ancient scholars such as Origen, who had the complete text to hand, say that it is in the work cited by St Jude. One explanation of the story is that the devil sought to claim possession of Moses’ body as that of a murderer, since he had killed the Egyptian, (Exod. 2, 11-12), and it was for this that St Michael said, “May God rebuke thee.” (In this context, it should be remembered that the Greek word “diabolos” means “slanderer.”) Another explanation is based on a tradition which goes all the way back to Tertullian, that idolatry was taught to mankind by the devil; therefore, in the story cited by St Jude, the devil’s purpose in trying to get the body of Moses would be to have the Jews worship it as an idol.

The story has attracted almost no attention from artists, with one very prominent exception, a fresco of it in the Sistine Chapel. When the chapel was originally constructed, Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84) commissioned a group of some of the most prominent painters of the era (Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Perugino among them) to paint eight episodes each from the lives of Moses and Christ; they are paired to show how the Church understands the life of Moses, the lawgiver of the Old Testament, as a prophecy of the life of Christ, the lawgiver of the New Testament. The final two, however, The Dispute over the Body of Moses and The Resurrection of Christ, break the parallelism; Moses, the giver of the old Law, dies and stays dead, but Christ, the giver of the new Law, rises from the dead.

These last two are on the chapel’s back wall, which has a large door in the middle, under part of each of the paintings. On Christmas Day of 1522, the architrave over the door suddenly cracked and fell, just after Pope Hadrian VI had passed under it while processing into the chapel to say Mass. (Two of his guards were killed.) This break would eventually lead to the complete deterioration of the paintings; around 1575, Matteo da Lecce replaced the original Dispute over the Body of Moses with the same subject, but in a very different style, as Hendrick van den Broeck had done about 20 years earlier with the Resurrection.
St Michael also figures very prominently in another apocryphal work, The Testament of Abraham, which exists in two recensions; the longer of these mentions him 24 times, the shorter 44 times. The basic idea of both is that he is sent to Abraham, whose life is extended from the Biblical 175 years (Genesis 25, 7) to 995 in the long recension, to persuade him to accept that his time has come to die. When Abraham’s son Isaac comes to meet the Archangel, the latter says to him, “the Lord God will grant you his promise that he made to your father Abraham and to his seed.” (chapter 3) Later on, Abraham meets Death himself, who appears to him with the heads of various animals, including a “terrible lion.” (chapter 17) Finally, when Abraham dies, “the archangel Michael came with a multitude of angels and took up his precious soul in his hands … and they tended the body of the just Abraham …. but the angels received his precious soul.” (chapter 20) These passage were clearly the inspiration for the first part of the Offertory chant of the Requiem Mass.
“O Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of hell and from the bottomless pit; deliver them out of the lion’s mouth, lest hell should swallow them up, lest they fall into darkness; but let Thy standard-bearer, Saint Michael, bring them into Thy holy light, which Thou didst promise of old to Abraham and to his seed.”

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sacred Vestments from Hungary

Our Ambrosian correspondent Nicola de’ Grandi visited Hungary this summer, and photographed a good number of vestments in a variety of museums: the treasury of the Cathedral of Esztergom, the National Museum of Hungary, and the Museum of Decorative Arts, the latter both in Budapest. The embroidery and decorations on some of these are remarkably thick and heavy-looking, in a way I don’t think I have ever seen elsewhere; hopefully, they were put out by the sacristans for feasts occurring in winter!

An Old Documentary on Monastic Life

Here’s another great little discovery on Youtube, an educational video about monastic life made in England in the 1950s, illustrated with footage taken in the contemporary English monasteries. I am not familiar with any of these places, and the names aren’t given in the film; if anyone knows which houses they are, perhaps you could leave any pertinent information in the combox.

The Feast of Bl John Henry Newman in London, Oct. 8

The church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, located on Warwick St in London, England, will celebrate the feast of Bl. John Henry Newman, Co-Patron of the English Ordinariate, with Solemn Evensong according to the Ordinariate Use, a sermon, and Benediction, on October 8th, starting at 3:30 pm. The St Paul’s Service by Herbert Howell and Blessed City by Edward Bairstow will be sung; Fr Julian Large, Provost of the London Oratory, will be the preacher.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Discussion on Liturgical Reform in 1980

Via a blog called Ex Laodicea, I recently stumbled across this fascinating episode of the program Firing Line, broadcast on April 22, 1980. The occasion for this discussion between the host, William F. Buckley, Michael Davies, and Fr (later Monsignor) Joseph Champlin, a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, New York, is Pope St John Paul II’s “disciplinary” action against Fr Hans Küng; the previous December, the Pope had decreed that the University of Tübingen, where Küng was then teaching, could no longer refer to him as a “Catholic” theologian. The conversation quickly turns to a general discussion of the state of things in the Church, with much said about the liturgical reform.
At the time, of course, the Novus Ordo was only 11 years old; in the United States, as in many other countries, the more outlandish sorts of liturgical experimentation and abuse were still very common, and the almost total prohibition on any celebration of the traditional Mass still very much in effect. De facto, if not de jure, this unjust prohibition was very often extended to any attempt to celebrate the reformed liturgy according to something resembling the mind of the Council. Buckley’s magazine National Review just recently republished electronically an article which he wrote about the Latin Mass in 1967; almost two-and-a-half years before the Novus Ordo was promulgated, a priest dared not celebrate in Latin the wedding Mass for a member of his family, for fear that the bishop find out. Whatever difficulties we face today in the quest to improve the Church’s liturgical life, we must never allow ourselves to forget that enormous strides have been made since those days, a fact which should be an encouragement to all, and a cause for tremendous gratitude. These labors have not been in vain.

A few other points of interest.

1. Buckley rightly points out in his introduction, “the practical effect (of the Pope’s actions) on Fr Küng is barely noticeable; he continues to teach theology...” Nevertheless, as Michael Davies says later (12:27), the reaction among Küng’s supporters was ferocious, with the Anglican Church Times calling the Pope the “ayatollah of the West.” The viciousness of this language may perhaps be difficult for some of our younger readers to appreciate; at the time of this broadcast, 52 Americans were being held hostage in the American embassy in Tehran, under the Ayatollah Khomeini’s government. (Archbishop Bugnini, then in his second career as nuncio in Iran, had just celebrated Easter Mass for them in the embassy two weeks before.) In his second memoir, published in 2008, Küng himself refers to this act of defamation in an approving quote from the American novelist and sociologist Fr Andrew Greeley; his chapter is titled Roma locuta, causa non finita, in a booked called, with no sense that the irony is deliberate, Disputed Truths. I will of course not be the first to note that pleas for civility and deference to Papal authority are a relatively new phenomenon among the more (can we say?) daring voices in the Church.

2. We recently passed the anniversary of Michael Davies’ death, which happened on September 25, 2004, and it really does behoove us to remember the heroic efforts which he made as a writer and speaker in defense of the traditional litury. Especially noteworthy here is the exchange which begins at 18:30, in which he refutes the canard, stated by Fr Champlin, that anciently the Church celebrated Mass “facing the people,” citing Fr Bouyer among others; faced with the evidence, Fr Champlin has no response to make at all. At the time, men like Davies and Fr Bouyer who spoke against the many scholarly errors that were incorporated into the reform were almost universally dismissed as cranks and ignored; today, no less a person than the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship publicly recognizes that ad orientem worship is preferable, and the historical custom of the Church.

3. Davies also speaks (starting at 28:10) of an aspect of his work which I either never heard of before, or forgot if I did, an example of the kind of dishonesty actively present in the reform which led Fr Bouyer to call Abp Bugnini (with classic French restraint) a man “as devoid of learning as he was of honesty.” It is a well-known fact that a group of six Protestant ministers were “consulted” by the Consilium ad exsequendam in the process of reforming the Mass. Bugnini would later claim in Notitiae that they only intervened once, and were merely observers; this led Davies to write to one of the six and ask to what degree they were involved, “and he said ‘Oh no, we played a very active part, and we were given all the documents same as the Catholic observers, every morning there was a discussion, a great free-for-all in which we put forward our opinions.’ That sort of thing has happened again and again.”

A Great Example of an Expurgated Reading in the New Lectionary

One of the many criticisms raised about the revised lectionary is that it either drops out passages that were a part of the Church’s traditional lectionary for centuries (and are still heard wherever the usus antiquior is in use), or that it heavily edits the passages it does include. As anyone knows who has paid close attention to an usus recentior hand missal, the skipping of verses appears to have been a common pasttime of the designers of the lectionary, and seems practically de rigueur in readings judged to have too much “negativity.”

One could say: Well, you have to skip something, right, if you are going to include so much more of Scripture? Yes, that is quite true. But it is one thing not to read a certain book for want of time; it is quite another to edit a given passage, so that one no longer transmits a faithful picture of what God actually willed to commit to writing for our salvation. Although the ancient cycle of readings in the usus antiquior is much more limited (and this, on purpose!), the readings almost never exclude any verse of the pericope; they are given in full.

I couldn't help thinking about this at an OF Mass a couple of days ago when I heard a reading from the book of Ezra. As I listened to it, the thought nagged me: Isn’t this somehow incomplete? Sure enough, the undemocratic tough stuff had been excised, as I discovered later when looking at the reading. I shall give the reading here in Nabbish, but the excised bits in brackets will be from the Douay-Rheims.

Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time (Year I)
Lectionary #450
(Ezra 6:7–8, 12b, 14–20)

King Darius issued an order to the officials of West-of-Euphrates:
7 “Let the governor and the elders of the Jews continue the work on that house of God; they are to rebuild it on its former site.
8 I also issue this decree concerning your dealing with these elders of the Jews in the rebuilding of that house of God: From the royal revenue, the taxes of West-of-Euphrates, let these men be repaid for their expenses, in full and without delay.

[OMITTED: 9 And if it shall be necessary, let calves also, and lambs, and kids, for holocausts to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the custom of the priests that are in Jerusalem, be given them day by day, that there be no complaint in any thing.
 10 And let them offer oblations to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his children.
 11 And I have made a decree: That if any whosoever, shall alter this commandment, a beam be taken from his house and set up, and he be nailed upon it, and his house be confiscated.
 12a And may the God, that hath caused his name to dwell there, destroy all kingdoms, and the people that shall put out their hand to resist, and to destroy the house of God, that is in Jerusalem.]

12b I, Darius, have issued this decree; let it be carefully executed.”

[13 So then Thathanai, governor of the country beyond the river, and Stharbuzanai, and his counsellors diligently executed what Darius the king had commanded.]

14 The elders of the Jews continued to make progress in the building, supported by the message of the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, son of Iddo. They finished the building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus and Darius and of Artaxerxes, king of Persia.
15 They completed this house on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
16 The children of Israel—priests, Levites, and the other returned exiles—celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.
17 For the dedication of this house of God, they offered one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, and four hundred lambs, together with twelve he-goats as a sin-offering for all Israel, in keeping with the number of the tribes of Israel.
18 Finally, they set up the priests in their classes and the Levites in their divisions for the service of God in Jerusalem, as is prescribed in the book of Moses.
19 The exiles kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.
20 The Levites, every one of whom had purified himself for the occasion, sacrificed the Passover for the rest of the exiles, for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.

The Artists in the Sacristy Have Been Busy

Our thanks once again to Fr Jeffrey Keyes and the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa at the Regina Pacis Convent in Santa Rosa, California, where Fr Keyes serves as chaplain, for these photos of the clever designs which the sister sacristans make with the amice ties when laying out the vestments for Mass.

St Jean Marie Vianney, the Curé d’Ars
St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (feast on August 9)
For St Clare, a monstrance, in reference to the miracle by which she defended Assisi from a Saracen attack by bringing the Blessed Sacrament to the place where they were scaling the city walls. As she raised It on high, the soldiers fell off the ladder and away from the wall as if dazzled.
Fr Keyes’ birthday, August 17
Pope St Pius X
A rose for St Rose of Lima

Melkite Divine Liturgy on the Campus at Berkeley, CA, September 30th, 5pm.

There will be a Melkite Divine Liturgy on the Berkeley campus once again this month, starting at 5pm this Saturday (9/30) at the Gesu Chapel of the Jesuit School of Theology, located at 1735 Le Roy Ave., Berkeley, California. There will be a potluck dinner afterwards, and so please come along to both and bring food if you can. The liturgy will be celebrated by Fr Christopher Hadley and the propers will be for the Sunday, the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos.

There will also be an open practice the Thursday before (28th September) at 7.30 pm at the same venue; we will be running through the chants to give people a chance to learn them beforehand.

Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Upcoming Lecture with Dr. Peter Kwasniewsk in Steubenville, Ohio

For our readers within range of Steubenville, Ohio: I will be giving a lecture on Tuesday, October 3, at 7:00 pm, at St. Peter's Catholic Church. After the Q&A, there will be time for informal conversation and the signing of copies of Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness.

More information may be found at the website of Una Voce Steubenville, which is hosting the event.

The Ordinariate Office Online (

I am grateful to Dillon Knackstedt, a former student of mine at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, who brought to my notice a resource for anyone wishing to pray the Divine Office of the Anglican Ordinariate. It all the ordinaries and propers for Morning and Evening Prayer, Midday Prayer and Compline, available at

All we need now is this site with the psalms pointed for singing according to the rhythms of speech, and everyone could be doing it. (I explain why in an article written a couple of years ago: The Anglican Ordinariate Divine Office - A Wonderful Gift For Lay People and Hope for the Transformation of Western Culture.)

You don’t need to have a grand production like the one shown in the photo above, such as one might see in a cathedral or an Oxford college. We can pray at home in our icon corner. For people wishing to learn to sing the Office (in any form) in English using simple tones based on the Gregorian chants, you can learn in a course offered by Pontifex University called Singing the Divine Office in English. I developed this material while teaching at Thomas More College, where as part of my class, the Way of Beauty, which all students took, they were required to learn to sing the Office.

Some of these tones were set to harmony by composer Paul Jernberg, and this Magnificat is the version that we used to sing weekly for Veterans in the VA hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Objective Form and Subjective Experience: The Benedictine/Jesuit Controversy, Revisited

Almost three years ago, I published an article here entitled “The Ironic Outcome of the Benedictine–Jesuit Controversy,” which in rewritten form became part of chapter 5, “Different Visions, Contrary Paths,” of my book Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness. A reader recently contacted me with some interesting observations that prompted further thoughts. I am grateful to him for contacting me — as I am to everyone who sends me such reflections. They are often the germ for NLM articles!

In any case, here is what he wrote:
I have been subjected to two “Life Teen” conferences this summer, and I must say they are the true challenge to the return of Tradition. For they don’t attempt to be heterodox, just the opposite in fact. Those folks who wish the Church could just “get with the times” are dying off, and their children, if they had any, have apostatized. But the Life Teen business is so painfully anti-intellectual that you can barely argue with it, and so it’s tough to defeat. You know things by their fruits, and the fact is that these people are able to exercise a decent attraction for a time. It’s the longer view that comes into question, and it requires more subtle arguments about form and the nature of the spiritual life.
          Your book touches on the Benedictine–Jesuit divide in terms of liturgy, but I think that it can be pushed even further. On my view the Benedictine life is the practical working out of the Augustinian theological/spiritual synthesis. At the heart of that synthesis is the conflict between pride and humility. Pride is self-indulgence to the point of contempt of God. Humility is God-indulgence to the point of contempt of self. At the heart of this is Augustine’s profound self-effacement. He knows how complicated, tangled, and inverted things can become. As he says in the Confessions: “I have become an enigma to myself.” The Augustinian (and therefore the broadly Catholic) method for resolving that question is through submission to form that is not self-created or self-perpetuating. This, for two reasons. One, the self is untrustworthy and deceived, and two, because there is no coming to faith without mediation. That’s why he concludes the opening of the Confessions: “I call upon thee, O Lord, in my faith which thou hast given me, which thou hast inspired in me through the humanity of thy Son, and through the ministry of thy preacher.” The humanity of the Son, that is the one who takes the mediation of flesh through Mary, and the ministry of the preacher — i.e., Ambrose, and the episcopal office more generally.
          Thus, it’s not by accident that humility, submission to the rule and the abbot, are the very foundations of Benedictine life. It is through obedience — both to the rule and to the abbot, which are parallel to Augustine’s ministry of the preacher and humanity of the Son — that one draws near to the Lord. Here there is no room for self-expression or self-presence as we’ve come to understand those things. On the other hand, that’s why Benedict constantly exhorts the abbot to patience and magnanimity, never abusing that great authority.
          In a similar way, in Benedictine life the liturgy, the opus Dei, is the reception of and adherence to form, down to the last detail. Salvation comes through conforming yourself to the mediated image, just as the mediated image, in the case of the Host, becomes salvation, when a priest conforms himself to the given form (no wonder Augustine understood ex opere operato in his refutation of the Donatists). In other words, ‘experience’ understood as “conscious seeming,” has almost no role to play in Augustinian–Benedictine spirituality. Contrast that with the Jesuit tradition. Experience is everything. Self-presence, self-knowledge can be read (and indeed in the consciously modern period have been read) throughout the Exercises. It becomes very easy then to cast such things as fixed liturgical forms, rubrics, traditional chant as evils just to the extent that they put a damper on experience. To an experientialist, if something becomes rote, it doesn’t seem like anything. Options, flexibility, creativity, become paramount.
          Now, I’m not claiming this is what Ignatius had in mind, but in broad strokes, I think one can see clear differences. These are differences that aren’t merely contrasting; they are contradictory. The two schools disagree on the nature of knowledge, on the formation of the soul, indeed, on the very purpose of the liturgy.
          I may be way off base on all that, but I think there’s something to it. I’m curious to know your reaction to this theory.
I sympathize with many things my interlocutor is saying; his singling out of subjectivism as a modern vice is correct, and it is hard to dispute that the Jesuits have played a role in the decentering of the Church from her public liturgy. But I have to take some exceptions to his interpretation of Augustine.

Augustine can be and has been used to support just about any position under the sun (just think of the Protestant reformers who continually cited him, or later, the Jansenists). The reason is simply that he is so rich, so comprehensive, and so subtle that he really did see every angle of a problem. He gives us a lot to work with — and to take out of context. In his mature thought, however, there is a perfect balance of the subjective and the objective, or to put it differently, as a Platonist with a deep spiritual hunger for the reality of God, he was absolutely fixed on the Good which is above and beyond us, and in love intimately with this Good as it came to possess his own heart. The usual contrasts between, say, “objective spirituality” (i.e., liturgy, sacraments) and “subjective spirituality” (e.g., personal prayer, emotion, experience) fall apart when it comes to him: his most personal experiences were precisely ones of the reality of God as mediated through the order of creation and the order of redemption. He would look at us with extreme puzzlement if we started to make an opposition between Eucharistic worship and personal friendship with God, or between adoration through stable external signs and inward conviction or conversion. He would say: The Eucharist, the divine liturgy, is the locus of that friendship; and that friendship cannot exist unless nourished by God Himself. We have to be drawn out of ourselves into the transcendent mystery of God through sacramental signs in order to know and love ourselves aright and to have His indwelling presence in us.

This brings me to an Aristotelian point, which will supply a key premise. Aristotle argues in the Nicomachean Ethics that pleasure is the accompaniment of a good action, in some sense a concomitant or result of it, and that the best pleasures accompany the best actions. So, if you want the pleasure, you have to seek out the action; and if you want the best pleasure, you need to seek out the best action a human being is capable of. The reason we reproach “pleasure-seekers” is that they are aiming for easier, low-hanging fruit, usually of a sensual or emotional kind. The paradox is that if you seek pleasure in itself, you miss the better pleasures, which require a certain self-denial and self-transcendence. The virtuous man aims at good or great actions, and experiences a deeper, purer pleasure in doing them.[1]

Now let us consider worship as an action, and religious experience as a pleasure. Liturgical action, when pursued for its own sake, i.e., in adoration and praise of God, is accompanied by the best religious experience. But if we seek the experience as our goal, we will be denied the experience at its best, which comes only from pursuing something nobler than a mere experience. Hence, the person who will be most delighted in worship is the one whose motto is: “I want to find God” — not the one whose motto is “I want to have an experience of God.”

One may draw a parallel here with marriage. If a partner begins with the attitude: “I want an experience of a deep relationship,” the marriage is doomed. If he or she begins with the attitude: “I want to do right by this person, no matter what,” the marriage can flourish. What is vitally important is that the aim be not some experience gained by using another, but simply the other himself or herself: he or she is the aim.[2] It is the same with having children. For a parent to think “I want to have the experience of being a parent/having a child” is a subtle form of selfishness. The parent who thinks instead: “I want to bring a child into the world for his or her own happiness” is focused on the good of the other and willing to sacrifice himself/herself to accomplish it.

The result of this analysis is that we should not set form or objectivity over against experience, as if they are in opposition. Rather, form, or a formal action, will always come with an experience. A higher form will come with a higher experience. A lower form will be accompanied by a lower experience.[3] This, I believe, is exactly what Augustine is saying throughout the Confessions and other works.

That a lower form will be accompanied by a lower experience is what we see in a phenomenon like like Life Teen.[4] It’s easy to get the immediate emotional experience; it requires so little in the way of form or action. But it is correspondingly shallow and unsatisfying for that reason, and must be repeatedly sought, perhaps with attempts made at intensifying the same experience. In this way it is somewhat like drugs, where people start with small doses and eventually try bigger doses or move to more potent drugs, because they are seeking more of that experience, more of that pleasure.

With traditional worship, it is quite different. At first, the form is lofty and remote, the action difficult for our nature. We may feel dry, at a loss, perplexed, even offended at the lack of consideration for our feelings and (what we think to be) our needs. We are confronted with the otherness, the strangeness of God. But if we stick it out, something calls to us in our remoteness from Him. As we dwell with it more, it slowly seizes hold of us and lifts us up to a higher level, to higher perceptions of the truth of what we are doing and Whom we are dealing with. As this worship becomes more connatural, we experience more delight. The delight does not grow stale or cloying but, in fact, builds upon itself without limit, because it is of a spiritual or intellectual order (although not separated from the physical domain). At the limit, beyond this life, we enjoy the beatific vision, where the experience and the objective reality, the form, are utterly at one.

In conclusion, humility, obedience, submission to rule, reception of form, and adherence to form do not need to be (or be seen as) opposed to experience, self-presence, self-knowledge, and fulfillment. With Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas as our guides, we see that the latter are best accomplished by following the narrow road of the former, and the former is necessarily accompanied by the latter in its purest state. But we cannot pursue the latter for their own sakes if we ever wish to practice the former well; indeed, such a mistaken prioritization leads to a skepticism towards and an eventual abandonment of those “objective” foundations and qualities.

It is for this reason that Life Teen and programs like it are harmful to the spiritual development of adolescents, who are at a particularly vulnerable point in their lives, with anxieties about self-image, a tendency towards emotional instability and excess, and the temptation of pleasure-seeking. They will benefit the most, over time, from the traditional emphasis on formal liturgical action to which worshipers anonymously submit, all facing in the same direction and offering a visible sacrifice such as the nature of man requires, avoiding the psychological inflations and distractions of a contemporary style of worship.

I should like to give the last word to Dom Guéranger, as reported by Abbess Cécile Bruyère:
“Let us note well,” said Dom Guéranger in his familiar conversations, “that the science of the Christian life is a determined and definite science. Therefore we must not rest satisfied with repeating conventional phrases or with multiplying sentimental formulas [‘Oh, ah, I ah-dore you-ou-ou’—Ed.]; it is by labour, and not by dreaming and excitement, that we must learn the secrets of a science which has its axioms, its deductions and its certain rules. All must be drawn from divine sources, that this science may be truly that of the spiritual life in the Christian Church.”[5]


[1] The reason pleasure-seeking leads to a bad end is that action grounds pleasure rather than pleasure grounding action. If you seek the best action, you have a grounded approach to the best pleasure; but if you seek the greatest pleasure, the pleasure itself will not guide you on to the best action.

[2] Obviously, not as an ultimate end, but as one ordered by charity to God.

[3] By “higher” and “lower” here, I mean more in accord with man’s rational or spiritual nature as capax Dei, a nature open to the knowledge and love of God, which are attained most of all in contemplation.

[4] A similar critique could be offered of tendencies in the Charismatic Movement.

[5] Cécile Bruyère, The Spiritual Life and Prayer according to Holy Scripture and Monastic Tradition (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002), 121.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Bishop Perry on “Summorum Pontificum” 10 Years Later

Photo courtesy of Brothers, Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Still River, Massachusetts)
On Sept. 21st (Feast of St. Matthew), His Excellency Joseph Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, celebrated Pontifical Solemn Mass at the faldstool at St. Adelaide Church in Peabody, Massachusetts—the site of last week’s “Culmen et Fons” liturgical conference. With his kind permission, I share his sermon here.

*     *     *     *     *
This year 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the six appearances of the Blessed Mother to the three shepherd children of Fatima, Portugal. We had the opportunity in June to lead a group to Fatima to join in the observances there, where Pope Francis the month before canonized as saints Jacinta and her brother Francisco, who had passed on much earlier in their tender years. Those of you familiar with the Fatima story know that, prior to the Blessed Mother’s first appearance to the children on May 13, 1917, an Angel had appeared to the children on three separate occasions, seemingly to prepare them for our Lady’s arrival, identifying himself as the Angel of Peace and the Guardian Angel of Portugal. Bowing profoundly with his forehead to the ground upon his first visit he taught the children to pray this prayer: “O God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love you. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love you.”

The second apparition saw this same Angel give catechesis to the children, exhorting them to offer their sacrifices and humiliations for the cause of the conversion of sinners. The third and last such apparition the Angel gave the children their First Holy Communion. He came this time holding a chalice with a large Host. He gave the sacrament to them under both species. From her diary, Lucia, the oldest of the three children, describes the apparition this way:
After we had repeated this prayer, I do not know how many times we saw shining over us a strange light. We lifted our heads to see what was happening. The Angel was holding in his left hand a chalice and over it, in the air, was a Host from which drops of blood fell into the chalice. The Angel leaves the chalice in the air, kneels near us and tells us to repeat three times: Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore you profoundly and I offer you the most precious Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He is offended. And by the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.
After that he rose, took again in his hand the chalice and the host. The host he gave to me and the contents of the chalice he gave to Jacinta and Francisco, saying at the same time: Eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ terribly outraged by the ingratitude of men. Offer reparation for their sakes and console God. Once more, he bowed to the ground repeating with us the same prayer thrice, and disappeared. Overwhelmed by the supernatural atmosphere that involved us we imitated the Angel in everything, kneeling prostrate as he did and repeating the prayers he said.
Notice, with the Fatima theophany, endorsed as being worthy of belief by successive popes in our lifetime, the Angel taught the children how to worship the mystery of God; how to offer themselves and their sacrifices in union with Jesus to the Father; how to draw life from the reception of and adoration of the Lord’s Body and Blood. The Angel catechized the children on the Real Presence and the Real Sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist. The Angel Messenger introduced a theme that our Lady would make much more explicit in the subsequent apparitions: namely, the oblation of Christ truly present in the Eucharist that must be lived out every day in our lives.

How like the Mother of God to prepare her children with proper spiritual nourishment for serious tasks she was about to hand over to them! From these acknowledged apparitions also, we can pick up on a modeling for our own approach with prayer and a disposition appropriate for handling the rites surrounding and receiving the sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood. We can appropriately join these three shepherd children in a faith and posture that carried them through the rest of their lives.

We honor today the 10th anniversary of the going into effect of Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, September 14, 2007, which caught the whole Church by surprise. But then again, reading Pope Benedict’s length of writings and listening to his reasoned discourses on liturgy and his sober analysis of the state of the liturgy since the Council, we weren’t surprised. The surprise stemmed largely from our conditioning over intervening years that set forth that no order of the Mass was legitimate save that produced by the aftermath of Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963). Benedict, like an Angel from heaven, offered a catechesis that urged a respect for continuity with the Church’s rich tradition of Eucharistic worship in the Mass and informed the discussion by naming for the first time two legitimate forms of the Roman liturgy: the extraordinary form or usus antiquior with usage of the 1962 Missal of Pope John XXIII, and the ordinary form of the Mass or missa normativa with usage of the 1970 Missal of Pope Paul VI—and that both forms of the Mass can coexist side-by-side.

Amidst great hope and love for the Church, priests, consecrated religious and people finding rich graces in the usus antiquior are now found in every country where Catholic faith is found; not by protest, but ever insistent and humble (if not quiet) request by the faithful over the years. It is the Mass that nourished countless saints raised to the altars within the last millennium. It is the Mass of our rearing—those of my generation and older. It is the Mass that has met up with the curiosity and devotion of young adults and young families, people who honor the rich patrimonial tradition of the Church. Naturally, the older forms are not for everyone. Ours is a distinct period of history where diversity and pluralism and participation are new code words shaping communities. Only the passage of time can judge these trends valid or invalid. The Ordinary Form of the Mass is said by some to match the religious sentiments of this age and the need of people to come together to hear and speak in the vernacular their experience of God and to touch one another in a society today that is increasingly impersonal and suspicious of the neighbor, a society less classically bent, less structured, where the informal is the new normal. Yet, just around the corner are found fellow Catholics who pray easily through elevated language that evokes the God of our ancestors and praises God through smells of incense, poetry, iconic prayer formulas and holy movement and a treasury of sacred music.

Something is going on here beyond mere nostalgia. Both dynamics are givens noticeably in our society.  Both dynamics, immanent and transcendent experiences, run parallel to each other in these times and exist simultaneously in complementarity and in tension with each other and, logically, spill over into religious experience. So, as Catholics we can bring out from our storeroom both the old and the new where something is rich fare for everyone. Liturgy in the Catholic experience is not simply pageantry or, for that matter, communal recreation. Liturgy emerges from the profound depths of our desire to touch God. Liturgy must speak out of the ground of the questions of today, our hopes and fears and joys. But while we do this there are forces that work interference with this God-search, forces often identified as secularism and its desacralization of life and its tendency to keep God at a distance. And we sincere religionists often get lost in the confusion of this life-dynamic because most things secular and imminent as opposed to the transcendent are often promoted as the latest fads.

Subsequent to faculties to use the usus antiquior under certain conditions by Pope John Paul II in two separate initiatives, Quattour abhinc annos (1984) and Ecclesia Dei (1988), Pope Benedict did not want the Church to become disconnected from its moorings and, therefore, insisted upon the continuity of our liturgical tradition from the past to the present; that liturgical renewal can only be understood in terms of an abiding respect for how we worshipped in the past; that past was not to be discarded as so much rubbish but seen to inform and infuse wisdom for the present. Both ancient and contemporary forms provide snapshots of liturgical development going back centuries.

Pope Benedict, it occurs to me, envisioned both extraordinary and ordinary forms dialoguing with each other in order to eventually come up with something genuinely suitable and workable for the Church’s lex orandi. After all, the Eucharist is the center of all activity in the Church. And its nourishment secures that we proceed with ministry in ways faithful to the Gospel, to make sure we are worshiping God in spirit and in truth. A workable dialogue this way between the two liturgical forms is possible if both forms are allowed to function side-by-side in the life of the Church where this is possible. If we can get liturgy right everything else will follow in right order. In this light, the sacrality in worship that we seek amidst the world’s current condition is not an end in itself but must show itself in all aspects of life—first in how we handle our neighbor and ministering to the agonizing social imperatives of our day, or somehow worship itself is not authentic. Life too often affords an emptiness that leaves us wondering and wandering like orphans on the street. Life for so many is sometimes like a dark night of the soul. We expect a lot out of liturgy, more so than previous generations perhaps. We lay so much that accrues as burdens placed upon the liturgy, namely, our heartfelt needs for peace, resolution and comfort. We pine to find God in our confusion.

So, liturgy is a work in progress, unfinished as it is currently. Would that we could allow the dialogue without accusation and without rancor, for this search must be done together under the guidance of the Church and with mutual respect and sincerity. The optimum results we seek will be curtailed if we judge or pre-judge one another’s questions, needs and preferences. Aware that we are in search for what will aid us in our journey toward the liturgy of heaven, aware that we are in the world and not of it and that sometimes we must leave where we stand on ground in order to go to the high place to address God, Saint Paul’s counsel to the Church at Rome seems apropos here: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may approve what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2). In this era of vernacular worship we have searched for the right words with which to address God. We have tried several times at this rubrical task and still some feel we are not quite there.  Much work lies ahead for present and succeeding generations of Catholics to find balance, to find God who is both immanent and transcendent, our God who is both unfathomable mystery and incarnate Lord. Our age finds the two in tension with each other in day-to-day life. We search to make sense of it all, similar to what is necessary in other spheres of life where tensions exist between tradition and innovation.

It is probably impossible to work through this tension with mathematical or theological precision. Some of us long for God to reveal Himself in His fearsome majesty while at the same time His beloved Son Jesus is revealed to us in His simple humanity which has more potential for glory than we can ever imagine. Pope Benedict was concerned about the unity of the Church with this act of his generosity. Above all, the children should not squabble at the dinner table but be concerned about the unity of the family while we eat the same food. May we be sustained by sharing the life that food sustains. Summorum Pontificum is essentially an instrument towards reconciliation and unity while we continue to apply genius to work things out liturgically. Regardless which liturgical form feeds our inner spirit, we all hunger for beauty, because God is beautiful beyond our ability to describe and we hunger for God’s beauty that we know one day we will witness in the Kingdom. The two liturgical forms each have their own definition of beauty in complementary ways, and in other ways in contrast to each other. We have yet to achieve consensus whether there is only one way or more than one way to respect the varied religious experience of the people of God and that pluralism that has entered Catholic experience. The result cannot be accomplished by a meeting or a convention addressing such fundamental matters. The result comes after an organic development with an eye on tradition, past and present. Ideally, the result comes later, in the future, through prayer, careful attention, study and praxis.

What is Catholic worship for a people dragged through the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, down to the sexual revolution and now the “gender revolution,” someone has asked. What structure of Holy Mass addresses and brings healing to a generation ravaged by the drug culture, fear of nuclear annihilation, and that rabid gun violence that plagues our communities? Somehow, liturgy must sacralize contemporary life in all its pathos and all its struggle. Some of us are predisposed to the image of God appearing to Moses in the burning bush; others of us are inclined toward the image of God found in Bethlehem in His incarnated humanness, in the messiness and lack of neatness found in the human condition. God is found in both experiences. We are like the several disciples at the Mount of Transfiguration who want to hold on to the light that is Jesus with us. At the same time others of us are convinced that returning to the reality of physical life down from the mountain top is just as rewarding. We have experienced both. How can the liturgy serve these contrasting images that sustain religious experience for us here and now? How can liturgy bring these religious images together to benefit the whole Church within our principal act of worship, the Mass?

We crave connections between what we hear in the Word and witness here in the worshipping assembly with what is being acted out in our day-to-day lives. Contributing to this effort ideally should be a reconciliation between the extraordinary and ordinary forms. Right now one might say they exist as two camps that foist partisan division among us. We need a genius that can accomplish a marriage here. I believe this is what Benedict XVI was after. In all this we are aware that we are not the authors of the liturgy. Our Catholic worship issues forth from the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday and Easter.  The paschal mystery leaves us stunned speechless before all that God has given us. The Mass must leave us wholly inspired by a narrative that keeps on saving. The age within which we live is hesitant about mystical experience, dismissing the numinous parts of life often to the macabre or the delusional. And those who might gravitate toward mysticism are often at a loss for words how to describe this dimension of natural life that is fused with the transcendent. Ordinary day-to-day parlance is absent a lexicon of words to describe mystical experience encountered in the elevated moments of life. Encroaching secularism means that the culture chooses, if not prefers, the tangible and the explainable. Could it be that the culture is too muddied to be able to decipher the presence of the holy in life? The very word “mystery” means that Holy Mass deals with things that cannot be seen with our eyes or grasped by our hands, but that nevertheless are genuine, supernatural, miraculous truths that fill us with joy.

The Mass is ultimately a sacrifice. The priest, with use of the Eucharistic prayer, holds conversation with God the Father about how His Son was made a victim for our deliverance. In turn, God gives back to us His Son in the sacrament. Something takes place on that altar that only God can do. This sacrifice the Church cannot forget. The memorial of that sacrifice must be handled in every way with all due sensitivity and reverence and wonder.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Interview with Dr. Kwasniewski at O Clarim: “The Mass of all the Catholic centuries”

The online journal O Clarim has just published an interview about my book Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness that NLM readers might like to read. A couple of excerpts here:

Aurelio Porfiri: Your book uses the phrase “noble beauty” in its title. How would you describe the noble beauty of the liturgy?

There are many different kinds of beauty. There is the simple, domestic beauty we associated with well-made furniture, carpets, blankets, plates, and books. There is an austere beauty, such as one might find in the cell of a Carthusian. There is rugged beauty, such as we see in the landscapes of Iceland or Canada or Alaska. But there is a noble beauty that we associate with sovereignty, majesty, occasions of great public solemnity. The liturgy is our courtly audience with the king of heaven and earth. It should be characterized by a tremendous sense of spaciousness, elevation, dignity, and splendor. That is what I am driving at in my title.

What is your ideal reader? How you imagine your audience?

One reader described me as “giving old arguments new juice.” I was born well after the Second Vatican Council ended and after Paul VI had already promulgated a new Mass. All of the traditional things I love are things that almost went extinct. My friends and I had to stumble upon them and discover them anew. I see it all with fresh eyes: I have no nostalgic memories. For this reason, my writings seem to speak especially to young people who are in the same boat. This book is largely an “apologia” for the ancient liturgy and the whole world-view it embodies—which is definitely not that of modernity. My ideal reader? Someone who has an open mind to the proposal that the past generations might have had more wisdom than we do.

Porfiri: You use the term “Mass of Ages” in your subtitle. Sounds a bit sentimental, doesn’t it?

Well, I once thought of it that way, too. But something changed for me. My careful study of liturgical history led me to see that, in fact, the Roman Catholic liturgy—by which I mean all of the interconnected rites and uses found within Latin Christendom—is one and the same over all the centuries, developing slowly and organically, until you reach the dramatic break in the 1960s. The core of the Mass of St Gregory the Great was still the core of the Mass of St John XXIII. After Trent, St Pius V for all intents and purposes codified the papal rite of Rome that stretched far back in time. Subsequent popes received this rite as a given. It really is, therefore, the Mass of all the Catholic centuries. It is a Mass that grew to maturity over the ages and reflects all that is best in the Church’s devotion and theology.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Photos of Bishop Perry’s Mass in Philadelphia

Last week, we posted the full video of the Pontifical Mass celebrated by Bishop Joseph Perry at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and in thanksgiving for the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum on the tenth anniversary of its coming into effect. I also wanted to share some of the photos of the event, taken by Allison Girone, who very kindly offered to share some of them with us on NLM. This was definitely one of those cases where it was difficult to make the selection among so many beautiful possibilities; Allison does some great stuff  things with filters. I particularly like the ninth one among those I have included here, which looks like it came from a Life Magazine published in the 1950s. You can check out the whole set on her flickr account.

The end of the vesting at the throne.
The Collect
Tradition is for the young!

Problems with the Reformed Lectionary: A Summary

The published proceedings of the 2015 Sacra Liturgia USA conference contain many very interesting and fine papers, and I would thoroughly recommend them to those who have not yet read them. [1] Among the papers presented is one entitled “The Reform of the Lectionary”, by NLM’s own Dr Peter Kwasniewski. As someone who is particularly interested in the lectionary, I thought I would present a summary of Dr Kwasniewski’s arguments in his excellent contribution to Sacra Liturgia USA.

The prevailing orthodoxy is that, while other aspects of the post-conciliar liturgical reform might legitimately be questioned, the new lectionary is an obvious success. However, in recent years there have been more people asking whether or not this common view is justified—especially since it can be argued that, rather than following historical precedents in the Roman tradition and retaining and enhancing the readings already in place, Coetus XI of the Consilium went far beyond the principles of Sacrosanctum Concilium 23 by designing a lectionary ex novo.

In his presentation of some of the problems of the reformed Mass lectionary, Kwasniewski starts with the very purpose of proclaiming Scripture in the Mass. Readings during Mass are not primarily “Bible lessons.” First and foremost, readings ought to support the primary liturgical action by helping the faithful to prepare spiritually for the offering up of the Holy Sacrifice and the reception of Holy Communion. The readings are meant to be iconic, pointing the way beyond themselves to the act of worship in which the Incarnate Word is made present among us as the unblemished Lamb offered to the Most Holy Trinity in adoration, propitiation, and impetration, and offered to the faithful as their supernatural food. This perspective highlights the strengths of the old lectionary and the weaknesses of the new.

Firstly, by lengthening the readings and emphasizing the homily, the new lectionary takes focus away from the Sacrifice, which is the heart of the matter. This happens easily in the Ordinary Form because almost everything is spoken aloud. Without silence or chant to separate them, actions become emphasised by length more than anything else. As the length of the Liturgy of the Word is often longer than the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the biblical lessons acquire phenomenologically more weight than the renewal of the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary, which is the central purpose of the Mass.

Secondly, an annual cycle is a more fitting unit of time because it is naturally complete. All Western and Eastern rites have always had one-year cycles for reading Scripture, and every culture links human activities to the cosmological cycles of the sun and the moon. Moreover, the repetition of one year allows the faithful to become more familiar with the readings, and to enter ever more deeply into them as the years roll on. The multi-year system in the Ordinary Form, on the other hand, provides the faithful with so much more to forget, with far fewer opportunities to be inspired by a familiar passage.

Thirdly, there is a principle in the revised lectionary that continuous readings should be preferred to the sanctoral cycle. [2] This, in Kwasniewski’s view, is a poor principle. The ultimate goal of our public worship is the sanctification of the faithful, not a material knowledge of Scripture, which is more proper to catechesis and study. Thus it is fitting that we use the Scriptures to celebrate the saints, who have been sanctified as models for us to venerate and imitate. Without their lives, in which the Word is (so to speak) made flesh, Scripture itself is a dead letter. So it seems more in keeping with the spirit of the liturgy to give primacy to the sanctoral cycle, and to have readings directly connected with the saints, than it is to follow a fabricated system of continuous readings that seems to ignore the fitting cultus of the saints in the Mass.

Fourthly, the integration of Scripture into the Mass is much more evident in the old lectionary. For example, on a saint’s feast day, the prayers throughout the Mass invoke and honour the saint, the readings and antiphons extol the saint’s virtues, and the Sacrifice unites us with the saints as the Church Militant meets with the Church Triumphant in the Eucharist. Throughout the usus antiquior, the language of Scripture, its vocabulary and rhetoric, permeate the liturgy in almost every prayer of the priest. This is far less obvious in the modern liturgy, where the lectionary has been greatly increased but the other fixed prayers have been greatly decreased. The new lectionary is a large body of readings that floats detached, as it were, from the rest of the liturgy, which damages the coherence of the whole.

Fifthly, despite its much greater magnitude, the new lectionary does not, in fact, merely add Scripture to the liturgy; it omits many passages that had been proclaimed faithfully for over 1,500 years of Catholic worship, especially those one could consider “difficult”. The classic example is St Paul’s exhortation to examine our worthiness to approach the Eucharist lest we condemn ourselves by partaking unworthily (1 Cor. 11:27-29), a passage abundantly present in the usus antiquior, but that never appears once in the new cycle of readings. [3] The revisers of the lectionary admitted openly that they were editing out passages they deemed “difficult” for modern man. [4] Thus, the new lectionary does a disservice to the Christian people by depriving them of certain challenging texts that the Church’s tradition had always shared. As one modern writer concludes: the new lectionary presents more of Scripture’s words—and less of its message. This reveals a systematic fault in the reformers’ mindset that is certainly not operative in the old lectionary.

Finally, Kwasniewski points out that the way Scripture is treated in the liturgy should give us a clue about how important it is. In the usus antiquior, the kisses, bows, chants, incensations, etc., that occur with the reading of Scripture ennoble it much more than the simple reading that usually occurs in the Ordinary Form, whose plainness of ceremonial matches the Cartesian emphasis on quantity of text over quality of liturgical placement and meaning. It is not too surprising that, in such circumstances, the homily often overshadows or competes with the word of Scripture, since there is almost no difference between how Scripture is proclaimed and how the homily is proclaimed.

In sum, the new lectionary is not a success, for it has many flaws that did not exist in the old lectionary, which grew up organically with the Roman rite and was honoured by the Church’s unwavering fidelity for well over a millennium. The new lectionary was compiled with unseemly haste, without adherence to preceding tradition and the explicit principles of Sacrosanctum Concilium. The reformers’ modern mindset is reflected in their decision to increase vastly the amount of text but simultaneously to omit important and difficult passages that had always been a part of the Roman Church’s cycle of readings. The old lectionary of the usus antiquior does not suffer from these flaws. In theory, there is no reason it could not be enhanced by the addition of appropriate readings chosen for ferial days or for the feasts of specific saints that until now have used only the readings in the Commons. Nevertheless, any augmentation would have to honour the existing one-year cycle of readings, the veneration of the saints on their feasts, and the primacy of latreutic over catechetical aims. This being said, it is not at all clear that now would be a good time in history to begin attempting changes, when so much damage has been done by experimentation and so many Catholics are still shell-shocked by the violence of the post-conciliar reforms.

By way of conclusion, Kwasniewski asks about the practical steps we can take in order to fulfil the desires of Sacrosanctum Concilium to reveal the unity of word and ritual, and to open up the treasures of Scripture. He suggests that priests in more traditional communities should not limit themselves to preaching dogmatic homilies but should work into their homilies some helpful commentary on the Scripture readings and antiphons of the Mass, while also promoting lectio divina and Bible studies outside of the liturgy. In the Ordinary Form sphere, we should approach the liturgy with a hermeneutic of continuity by chanting the propers, prayers, and readings, and choosing the more traditional options. If a difficult passage is omitted from the lectionary, it could be quoted in the homily as part of the sound teaching that the preacher is to provide for his flock. We should increase our use of male lectors and properly vest them. We should emphasize that the Mass is a sacrifice by adopting the ad orientem posture, praying the Roman Canon, and employing traditional sacred music. Parishes everywhere should have opportunities to pray outside of the Mass (e.g., in Vespers or Compline) and to be educated in Scripture.

This is, of course, only a summary of Dr Kwasniewski’s contribution to the Sacra Liturgia USA proceedings, and I would thoroughly recommend reading the entire paper. Although I would certainly agree that we need ritual stability rather than yet more reform right now, detailed and faithful criticism of the post-conciliar reforms (and the period immediately before Vatican II itself) is necessary if future generations are to avoid the mistakes and excesses made in the name of the Council. To this end, the work of Dr Kwasniewski, and many others who love the liturgy of the Church, is vital reading.


[1] Alcuin Reid (ed.), Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century: Contemporary Issues and Perspectives (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016) (USA, UK).

[2] Cf. General Introduction to the Lectionary, 83; General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 357-358.

[3] Kwasnieswki provides more examples of this phenomenon in “Not Just More Scripture, but Different Scripture”, the foreword to my book Index Lectionum: A Comparative Table of Readings for the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite (USA, UK).

[4] Cf. General Introduction to the Lectionary, 76.

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