Monday, April 12, 2021

Patricentric Purism and the Elimination of Liturgical Prayer Addressed to Christ

Thomas answered and said to Him: ‘My Lord and my God.’ Jesus saith to him: ‘Because thou hast seen Me, Thomas, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed” (John 20, 28–29).

These words from the Gospel of Low Sunday, the octave of Easter, present us with a paradox. Thomas confesses the divinity of Christ after having seen His wounds, not because wounds are divine (quite the contrary, the divine nature cannot be wounded), but because they testify that His claim to be God has been vindicated by His resurrection from the dead. In the same way, when Peter had confessed Christ to be the Son of the living God, Jesus said to him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16, 17). No flesh and blood can present to us directly the divinity of Christ. We must have faith in His word. But how can we have faith in the divinity of Christ unless this revealed truth is preached to us? And where will most Christians encounter the law of their faith, if not in the law of their worship? It is therefore evident that our public worship must present to us, in a clear and unambiguous way, that Christ is “my Lord and my God,” so that even those who have not seen the wounds of the risen One may yet believe.

Readers may remember the dust-up when Bishop Rick Stika tweeted “Mass is not the worship of Jesus.” As the surrounding context showed, he seemed to be saying — in a brusque phrase that could not fail to cause much confusion in the world of sound bites — that Christian prayer is normatively understood as being directed to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, without of course denying the deity of all three Persons. Unfortunately, as with every half-truth, it’s only half true, and the Gospel of Low Sunday is here to remind us of that.

The Arian controversy, which called into question the true divinity of Jesus Christ, provoked orthodox Christians to pray liturgically to Christ, as well as to the Father. Even if prayer would be primarily subordinational in structure, it also needed to involve parallel or coordinating doxology: Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. He who is true God and true man is worthy of the same worship, the same adoration, the same address, as His Father and their Spirit. We see this truth displayed above all in the liturgical rites of the East. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom offers abundant examples, of which I give only a few:

For You, O Christ, our God, are the enlightenment of our souls and bodies, and to You we render glory, together with Your eternal Father, and with Your all holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and always, and forever and ever.
     With bowed head, I approach You and implore You, turn not Your face away from me, nor exclude me from among Your children, but allow these gifts to be offered to You by me, Your sinful and unworthy servant; for it is You, O Christ, our God, Who offer and are offered, who receive and are received, and to You we render glory, with Your eternal Father, and Your all-holy, gracious and life-giving Spirit, now and always, and forever and ever. Amen.
     Look down, O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, from Your holy dwelling place and from the throne of glory of Your kingdom, and come to sanctify us, You Who are seated on high with the Father, and dwell here invisibly among us, and deem it proper to impart to us, with Your mighty hand, Your most pure body and precious blood, and through us, to all Your people.
     Glory be to You, O Christ, our God, our Hope: Glory be to You.

Sketch of Arius at the First Council of Nicaea, by V. Surikov (1876)

Therefore, even if we may truthfully say that the primordial and fundamental mode of Christian liturgical prayer is offered ad Patrem, as extant anaphoras and orations of the first millennium show, and that, accordingly, the formula “per Christum Dominum nostrum” or any of its variations underlines Christ’s role as the Mediator between God and man, it remains no less true that Christ — indivisibly one with the Father and the Spirit — is the end as well as the means of our prayer.

The traditional Roman liturgy in its bimillenial heritage teaches this inseparable pair of truths by predominantly praying to the Father through Christ, while regularly praying to Christ as our God. The former mode should be normal, so that we internalize the Trinitarian “flow” or “rhythm” of the liturgy, which begins and ends with the Father, yet the latter mode should be frequent enough to inculcate in us a habit of worshiping Jesus and praying to Him, so that we do not lapse into some half-baked form of adoptionism or subordinationism, which appears to be rife in ecclesiastical circles: Jesus becomes the great moral teacher and example of loving your neighbor, a guru like Confucius or the Buddha, a godly man who shows us how to expend ourselves for others.

As I discuss in chapter 6 of my book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis, “Offspring of Arius in the Holy of Holies,” one sees an unmistakably disturbing trend in the Novus Ordo Missae: the severe reduction of prayers addressed to Christ, in favor of a unilateral and almost mechanistic Patricentrism. There is a monolithic redistribution and rewriting of prayer texts such that wherever Christ had been prayed to in the traditional liturgy, we now are made to pray to the Father through Christ. (A glowing exception is the Collect for Corpus Christi, which the Consilium did not dare to modify.) In the years since I wrote that chapter, I have noticed more and more examples of the phenomenon. In what follows, I will simply look at Collects, although a similar study could be done for the Secrets and Postcommunions.

In the Feast of the Holy Family, the usus antiquior postcommunion prayer runs as follows:

Make us, O Lord Jesus, whom Thou dost refresh with Thy heavenly sacraments, constantly to imitate the example of Thy holy family, that at the hour of our death the glorious Virgin Mother and blessed Joseph may be near us, and we may be found worthy to be received by Thee into Thy eternal dwellings. Who livest and reignest... [TLM]

Compare this with its replacement:

Bring those you refresh with this heavenly sacrament, most merciful Father, to imitate constantly the example of the holy family, so that, after the trials of this world, we may share their company for ever. Through Christ our Lord... [NOM]

The old prayer fittingly addresses Jesus, the God-man at the center of the holy family (it is, after all, His holy family — it subsists by Him and exists for Him), and the One whose sacrament we have just received, bringing us right into the midst, mystically, of that same family (“Thy family”). It then with Christian realism talks about the hour of death and asks that Mary and Joseph be by our side, at our deathbed, ready to receive us into their eternal dwelling, for which we ask to be found worthy.

A picture-perfect example of how a good idea can be diluted, the new prayer — in keeping with a mechanical insistence on always addressing the first person of the Trinity (because “it’s more ancient”) — comes across as awkward: we ask God the Father to bring us to imitate the example of the holy family so that we may share their company for ever. It’s less intimate, more procedural, and notably makes no explicit mention of death (too scary!), or of Joseph and Mary being by our side at that greatest moment of our life. The worthiness bit is also gone. Obviously have much in common, but the new one is like running the old one through a reverse osmosis filter and removing the tasty minerals.

Another comparison: February 22, the Chair of St. Peter (in olden days, the Chair of St. Peter at Antioch; the old missal uses the same collect for January 18 and February 22).

O God, who, upon blessed Peter, Thine Apostle, didst bestow the pontifical power of binding and loosing, and didst give to him the keys of the kingdom of heaven: grant that his intercession may ensure our deliverance from the bondage of sin. Who livest and reignest with God the Father… [TLM]

Grant, we pray, almighty God, that no tempests may disturb us, for you have set us fast on the rock of the Apostle Peter’s confession of faith. Through our Lord Jesus Christ… [NOM] 

We could do a similar analysis of the interesting conceptual shift that has taken place here, but it would take us away from the main point we are illustrating, namely, whether the prayer is addressed to Christ when it is fitting to do so given the feast or the mystery, or whether it has been forcibly conformed to the subordinational model, even if this results in a prayer of considerably less theological impact or poetic quality.

June 22, St Paulinus of Nola:

O God, Who hast promised to those who leave all in this world for Thee a hundredfold in the world to come and life everlasting, mercifully grant that, following closely in the footsteps of the holy bishop, Paulinus, we may have the grace to despise earthly things and desire only those fromheaven. Who livest and reignest. [TLM]
O God, who made the Bishop Saint Paulinus of Nola outstanding for love of poverty and for pastoral care, graciously grant that, as we celebrate his merits, we may imitate the example of his charity. Through our Lord Jesus Christ… [NOM]

 September 15, the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

O God, at Whose Passion, according to the prophecy of Simeon, a sword of sorrow pierced the most sweet soul of the glorious Virgin and Mother Mary: mercifully grant, that we who with devotion honour her Sorrows, may obtain the happy fruit of Thy Passion: Who livest and reignest. [TLM]

O God, who willed that, when your Son was lifted high on the Cross, his Mother should stand close by and share his suffering, grant that your Church, participating with the Virgin Mary in the Passion of Christ, may merit a share in his Resurrection. Who lives and reigns with you… [NOM] 

October 3, St Thérèse of the Child Jesus:

O Lord, Who hast said: Unless ye become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven, grant unto us, we beseech Thee, so to follow the footsteps of Saint Teresa, the Virgin, in lowliness and simplicity of heart that we may gain everlasting rewards: Who livest and reignest. [TLM]
O God, who open your Kingdom to those who are humble and to little ones, lead us to follow trustingly in the little way of Saint Thérèse, so that through her intercession we may see your eternal glory revealed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ… [NOM]

October 16, St Hedwig, Widow:

O God, Who didst teach blessed Hedwig to leave the pomp of the world for the humble following of Thy cross: grant that, through her merits and intercession, we may learn to trample under foot the perishable delights of the world and in the embrace of Thy cross to overcome all things that oppose us. Who livest and reignest… [TLM]

Grant, we pray, almighty God, that the revered intercession of Saint Hedwig may bring us heavenly aid, just as her wonderful life is an example of humility for all. Through our Lord Jesus Christ… [NOM]

October 17, St Margaret Mary Alacoque:

Lord Jesus Christ, Who didst reveal the unsearchable riches of Thy Heart to blessed Margaret, the Virgin, grant us, by her merits and our imitation of her that, loving Thee in all things and above all things, we may deserve to have our continual abode in that same Heart of Thine. Who livest and reignest… [TLM]

Pour out on us, we pray, O Lord, the spirit with which you so remarkably endowed Saint Margaret Mary, so that we may come to know that love of Christ which surpasses all understanding and be utterly filled with your fullness. Through our Lord Jesus Christ… [NOM]

An architectural metaphor: the new, uniform, and ugly covers up the old, irregular, and beautiful.

Then, we have a whole host of feasts with Christ-oriented orations that were simply abolished in the revision of the calendar in 1969, so their prayers were de facto lost to the lex orandi of the reformed liturgy, and thus whatever value they had in terms of the lex credendi was likewise lost. The overall result is a gaping hole in the reformed liturgy where once there had been a vital undercurrent of devotion — a hole of which no one becomes aware unless he plunges himself into the older liturgical tradition, which, on this matter as on so many others, is richer and more variegated, like a mineral water that has a more subtle flavor because it has passed through more layers of rock on its way to the spring. Here are several examples of Collects prayed in from Masses of the old sanctoral cycle but no longer existing in Paul VI’s calendar or missal:

February 12, Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order:

O Lord Jesus Christ Who, in order to renew the memory of the sorrows of Thy most holy Mother, hast through the seven blessed fathers enriched Thy Church with the new Order of Servites; mercifully grant that we may be so united in their sorrows as to share in their joys: Who livest and reignest.

February 27, St Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows:

O God, Who didst teach blessed Gabriel diligently to ponder the sorrows of Thy most sweet Mother, and Who hast gloriously exalted him as a saint and worker of wonders: vouchsafe to be moved by his merits and prayers, and to grant unto us so to mourn with Mary Thy Mother, that her maternal care may ensure our salvation: Who livest and reignest.

March 24, St Gabriel Archangel:

O God, Who from among all the Angels, didst choose the Archangel Gabriel to announce the mystery of Thine Incarnation: grant in Thy mercy that celebrating his feast on earth we may reap the effect of his protection in Heaven. Who livest and reignest.

April 28, St Paul of the Cross:

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who didst endow St. Paul with exceeding charity to preach the mystery of the Cross, and didst will that through him a new family should spring up in Thy Church, grant us, by his intercession, that, constantly venerating Thy passion on earth, we may be worthy to partake of its fruits in heaven. Who livest and reignest.

May 3, the Finding of the Holy Cross (pre-1962):

O God, who in the glorious Finding of the salutiferous Cross didst stir up anew the wonders of Thy Passion: grant us by the price of this living wood to win the palm of eternal life. Who livest...

September 17, the Impression of the Stigmata of St Francis:

Lord Jesus Christ, Who, when the world was growing cold, didst renew the sacred marks of Thy passion in the flesh of the most blessed Francis, to inflame our hearts with the fire of Thy love, graciously grant that by his merits and prayers we may continually bear the cross and bring forth fruits worthy of penance. Who livest and reignest.

October 10, St Francis Borgia:

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who art the pattern of true humility and its reward, we beseech Thee, that, as Thou didst make blessed Francis Thy glorious imitator in contempt of earthly honours, so Thou wouldst grant us to share his imitation and his glory: Who livest and reignest.

There are a number of other Collects addressed to the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity — e.g., March 19, St Joseph; the older feast of St Joseph on the third Wednesday after Easter; May 17, St Paschal Baylon; May 20, St Bernardine of Siena; July 6, the octave of SS Peter and Paul; July 16, Our Lady of Mount Carmel; July 22, St Mary Magdalen; August 14, the vigil of the Assumption; August 29, the beheading of John the Baptist; and several of the Collects for November 2, the Commemoration of All Souls.

Nevertheless, I would not wish to give the wrong impression. The vast majority of orations in the Missal of the usus antiquior are still addressed to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. The classical Patricentric orientation of prayer is never lost sight of, never marginalized or submerged. It is the familiar recurring norm. However, the Christocentric orations are sufficiently frequent — and striking in tone — to stave off the opposite problem, namely, a loss or marginalizing of liturgical prayer directed to Christ our God, which is much less common in the Western tradition than in the Eastern, and therefore deserves all the more protection. Such prayers create, as it were, a gentle cross-rhythm to the predominant accent, and this, indeed, is how prayer is enriched, diversified, and balanced on itself, so as to reflect the Father-Son polarity of the Trinitarian mystery. “The Father is greater than I” (John 14, 28); “I and the Father are one” (John 10, 30); “Unless you believe that I AM, you shall die in your sins” (John 8, 24).

To return to my opening paragraph, it seems obvious that if Catholics were accustomed to hearing or seeing prayers like the ones given above, they would imbibe the message that Christ is our God; after all, we pray to Him as such, just as we pray to the Father (and, it may be added, to the Holy Spirit from time to time: Veni, Creator Spiritus; Veni, Sancte Spiritus…). It is also likely that if Catholics never or only very rarely hear such a mode of praying in the liturgy, the semi-Arian miasma in which moderns have been groping since roughly the Enlightenment will have an easier time claiming them for its own.

Gebhard Fugel, Herz-Jesu-Darstellung, ca. 1930:
the angels are offering prayers to Christ as God

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