Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Worst Preface Ever Written

As noted in the first article in this series, the contents of the so-called Leonine Sacramentary date back to a period when there was, as far as we know, no officially approved collection of Masses for general use, and the clergy of individual churches were free to compose their own. The Church did, of course, learn in antiquity the same lesson that it has been forced to relearn over the last 50 years, namely, that giving the clergy and their chosen collaborators broad freedom to make up their own prayers and improvise during the liturgy is an absolutely terrible idea. The Leonine Sacramentary itself contains a perfect (and hilarious) example of why this is so.
In the midst of a section labeled “orationes et praeces diurnae – daily orations and prayers,” which contains 31 Masses, the twentieth is at first not particularly noteworthy. It begins with two collects [1] and a secret, all of them fairly brief.

Collect Exaudi, Domine, praeces nostras, et celeri nos propitiatione laetifica. – Hear our prayers, o Lord, and gladden us with swift propitiation.
Collect Intende, Domine, quaesumus, supplices nos, et pariter nobis indulgentiam tribue benignus et gaudium. – Hearken, o Lord, to us suppliants, and likewise, kindly grant us forgiveness and joy. (The placement of nos after supplices is very clumsy.)
Secret Hostias, Domine, suscipe placatus oblatas, quas sanctificando nobis, quaesumus, efficias salutares. – Peaceably receive the victims offered, o Lord, which we ask that Thou may, by sanctifying them, make profitable to our salvation.
When it gets to the preface, however, it becomes very noteworthy indeed; the author pours forth a torrent of rhetorical abuse against those whom he deems to be “false brethren”, which, even judged by the low standards of modern liturgical improv, is astonishing in its complete lack of appropriateness for Christian worship. Given the brevity of the orations that precede and follow it, one wonders why he bothered with so many Scriptural citations and allusions in the preface, when he could so easily have made do with just one: “I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men.” (Of course, a hearty dish of vituperation can only really be enjoyed if it is generously spiced with implicit self-regard, and on that score, the author does not disappoint.)
Uere dignum: Qui caelestibus disciplinis ex omni parte nos instruens, qualiter a fidelibus tuis falsos fratres discerneremus ostendis, Unigeniti tua uoce pronuntias: ex fructibus eorum cognoscetis eos. De his sunt enim inflati sensu carnis suae, et non tenentes caput. De his sunt, qui terrena sapientes ideo deprecantium te uerba fastidunt, quia animales atque carnalis (-es), quae sunt spiritus Dei, stulta mente non capiunt. De his sunt reprobi circa fidem, quam, nescientes quae loquantur neque de quibus adfirment, sepe subuertere conati sunt et conantur. De his sunt subdoli operarii, qui introeunt explorare aeclesiae libertatem quam habet in Christo, ut eam secum in turpem redigant seruitutem. De his sunt, qui penetrant domos, et captiuas ducunt mulierculas (h)oneratas peccatis, non solum uiduarum facultates, sed deuorantes etiam maritarum. Isti iam nec iustos appetunt se uideri, nec saltim deforis sunt uel dealbati uel loti, sed palam pudore calcato, de prauis conuersationibus suis etiam gloriantur, et domi forisque spurcitiam contrahentes, non tam referti sunt ossibus mortuorum, quam magis ipsi sunt mortui. Quibus euangelica sententia conuenienter exclamat: ‘Si lumen quod in te est tenebrae sunt, ipsae tenebrae quantae sunt?’ Nam cum in his quae uidentur obscura sint et malae famae nigra dedecore, satis euidenter apparet haec eos in occulto gerere, quae etiam turpe sit dicere. Isti non solum ad tuam gratiam uenientes sui foeditate deterrent, sed etiam intrinsecus fratribus constitutis, pro quibus Christus est mortuus, offendiculum suae peruersitatis opponunt. Tales cauere nos iubes per Apostolum tuum, docens, ‘Separate uos ab omni fratre inordinate ambulantem.’ Et ea nos praecipis operari, quae uidentes cuncti uere fideles tui te caelestem patrem conlaudent adque magnificent, a quo rationabiles conscientiae bonaeque famae donum omne perfectum optimumque descendit. Per…
Truly it is fitting… Who instructing us by heavenly disciplines in every way, show how we may distinguish false brethren from Thy faithful (Gal. 2, 4), (and) pronounce by Thy voice of the Only-begotten, “by their fruit ye shall know them.” (Matt. 7, 16) For among these are they who are inflated in the sense of the flesh (Col. 2, 18), and keep not their heads. Among these are they who, thinking (only) of the things of the earth (Phil. 3, 18), therefore are annoyed at the words of those who pray to Thee, because they are like animals and carnal, and in their stupid mind do not receive the things that are of the spirit of God. (1 Cor. 2, 14) Among these are they who are reproved concerning the faith (2 Tim. 3, 8), which they often try and have tried to subvert, knowing not what they speak of or declare. Among these are workers of trickery (2 Cor. 11, 13), who come in to explore (or ‘search out’, i.e. in order to exploit for their own purposese) the freedom of the Church which it has in Christ (Gal. 2, 4), that they may bring it into base servitude with themselves. Among these are they who make their way into houses, and lead astray young women burdened with sins (2 Tim. 3, 6), devouring the goods not only of widows, but even of married women. (Mark 12, 40) These people [2] no longer even seek to appear just, and are not even whitened or washed on the outside, but, having trampled on every sense of shame, openly boast about their wicked behavior, and bringing filth upon themselves at home and in public, are not so much filled with the bones of the dead, as dead themselves. (Matt, 23, 27) To these does the sentence of the Gospel fittingly cry out, ‘If the light which is in thee is darkness, how great shall the darkness itself be?’ (Matt. 6, 23) And since the things which are seen in these people are shady and black with the disgrace of evil report, it is evidently quite clear that they do in secret those things which it is shameful even to mention. (Eph. 5, 12) These people not only frighten away those who come to Thy grace with their foulness, but also set the stumbling block of their own perversity before their brethren established within (the Church), for whom Christ died. Thou dost order us to avoid such people, teaching us through Thy Apostle, ‘Separate yourselves from every brother that liveth in a disordered way.’ (2 Thess. 3, 6) And Thou orderest us to do those works which all Thy true faithful may see, and praise and magnify Thee, the heavenly Father, from whom come down consciences that are reasonable and of good report, (and) every perfect and best gift. (James 1, 17) Through Christ our Lord...
Many texts which are first attested in the Leonine Sacramentary appear in later liturgical books; some of them are still in use to this very day, while others (with the usual cack-handed alterations) were fished out of it and added to the post-Conciliar reform. No one will be surprised to learn that this bizarre preface is not among them. However, the author did in fact make a lasting contribution to the Roman Rite [3], one which is in fact said every day thousands of times throughout the world. The Post-Communion of this same Mass is found in the Gelasian Sacramentary on the third Saturday of Lent; with the addition of one word and the removal of another, it was later moved to Passion Thursday, and still later, incorporated into the Ordo Missae.
Post-Communion Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine, quaesumus, mente capiamus, et de munere temporali, fiat nobis remedium sempiternum. – May we receive with the mind, o Lord, what we have taken with the mouth, and from the temporal gift, may we have eternal remedy.
The Mass concludes with a prayer over the people, a feature which appears in the Missal of St Pius V only on the ferias of Lent, but in the ancient sacramentaries was used much more often.
Over the People Famulos et famulas, Domine, quaesumus, intuere, quibus in te sperare donasti; ac pariter eis et quae tibi placeant postolare, et potius postulata concede. – Look, o Lord, upon the servants and handmaids to whom Thou has given to hope in Thee, and likewise, grant to them both to ask for the things that please Thee, and preferably, the things which have been asked for.
The Corpus Praefationum, a scholarly collection of Mass prefaces with critical notes on their textual variations and use, includes a footnote which cites two opinions on the purpose of this preface. In an article published in 1948, the Belgian liturgical scholar Camillus Callewaert attributed it to Pope St Leo I (440-61), whom he thought wrote it against the Manichees when he discovered a secret coven of them in Rome. Charles Coebergh, on the other hand, writing in 1959, ascribed it to Pope St Gelasius I (492-96), and thought that it was occasioned by an attempt on the part of some Roman senators to revive the ceremonies of a pagan festival known as the Lupercalia.
Apart from the fact that filial piety shudders to think of any Pope, much less a Saint, speaking in such a fashion during the sacred liturgy, these theories seem to run aground on various points. There is nothing about the preface that refers unmistakably either to Manichees or pagan revivalists. If the preface were composed against a specific group within the Church, it is difficult to think why it would be accompanied by five totally generic orations. The events which Callewaert and Coeburgh proposed as occasions for its composition were, in the final analysis, minor and isolated episodes in the history of the Roman Church. There is no evidence that much more notable doctrinal or pastoral problems (say, Arianism) were ever addressed with a rhetorical attack of this kind in the Roman liturgy.
Both theories seem to take it for granted that the Leonine Sacramentary is in fact a sacramentary, an official collection of liturgical texts assembled by or at the behest of the Pope. But the sheer randomness of the choice of material and its arrangement argue strongly against this, as does the inclusion of this weirdly inappropriate text. If, on the other hand, we look at the collection itself as an indiscriminate attempt simply to save as many liturgical texts as possible in the midst of a serious political crisis for the city of Rome, the terribly damaging Gothic wars of the mid-6th century, as I have previously proposed, this preface may be seen as no more than an anomalous act of bad taste, irritability, and lack of charity.
[1] This is a feature which also appears in subsequent sacramentaries of the Gelasian and mixed Gelasian type, and admits of no generally satisfactory explanation.
[2] In all periods of the Latin language’s history, the pronoun “iste” can bring with it a sense of contempt, as it evidently does here.
[3] It is, of course, also theoretically possible that the different parts of the Mass were originally composed by different authors. The compilers of the Gelasian Sacramentary might well have taken the prayer Quod ore sumpsimus from a source other than the Leonine Sacramentary, such as the original libellus Missae from which the author of this Mass also took it.

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