Monday, July 05, 2021

An Expansive Counter-Reformation Lex Orandi Retains Its Relevance

It seems to have become almost fashionable in traditional circles — a sign of sophistication, as it were — to speak slightingly of “Masses added in the nineteenth century” and “regional Italian saints who don’t really belong on the general calendar.”

I understand the reasons why they are saying this. The sanctoral cycle has a tendency to fill up over the centuries, and sometimes a gentle pruning is needed (certainly not what happened in 1969, which was more like an atom bomb). Moreover, the perspective of the Vatican has too often been confined to the Italian peninsula, from which historically most of its office-holding prelates have been drawn. Some examples of more recent Italian saints added to the general (traditional) calendar would be St. Andrew Avellino, St. Andrew Corsini, St. Francis Carraciolo, St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Philip Benizi.

However, I have a confession to make. I rather like the proper Masses for such newer feasts. As I illustrated in an article on the Mass of St. Jerome Emiliani, these Masses enrich the Tridentine Missale Romanum with a greater variety of antiphons, readings, and orations, in ways that integrate well into the proper and common Masses already present for many centuries or millennia. Even if these recent additions are not of the same venerable spirit and language as the rest of the missal, they present to us minor facets of the same lustrous jewel whose splendor we enjoy throughout the year. I would say they amplify the lex orandi and should be counted strengths of the usus antiquior as we have inherited it.

Today’s saint — Anthony Mary Zaccaria (1502-1539)  — is a fine example of how beautiful in itself, and how pertinent to our situation, such a proper Mass may turn out to be in God’s Providence. Here we have, I submit, an exemplary Counter-Reformation (and therefore, by extension, counter-revolutionary) Mass.

The Collect reminds us that it is the Catholic Church, not the Protestants, who correctly receive, understand, and apply the doctrine of St. Paul the Apostle, and that the supereminent science of Christ is not to be found in wearisome disputations or endless Scriptural exegesis but in vital contact with His holy mysteries in the sacred liturgy of the Church and in her sacraments.
Fac nos, Dómine Deus, supereminentem Jesu Christi scientiam, spíritu Pauli Apóstoli edíscere: qua beátus Antonius María mirabíliter erudítus, novas in Ecclesia tua clericórum et vírginum familias congregávit. Per Dóminum…
       Grant us, O Lord God, to learn in the spirit of Paul the Apostle, that transcendent knowledge of Jesus Christ by which blessed Anthony Mary, wonderfully instructed, gathered in Thy Church new families of clerics and virgins. Through our Lord…
This theme is strongly accentuated by the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, and Communion, all of which are taken very unusually from Pauline Epistles — 1 Cor. 2, 4: “My speech and my preaching was not in the persuasive power of human wisdom, but in the showing of spirit and power”; Phil. 1, 8–9: “For God is my witness, how I long after you in the bowels of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your charity may more and more abound in knowledge and in all understanding. V. That you may approve the better things, that you may be sincere and without offence unto the day of Jesus Christ”; Phil. 1, 11: “Alleluia, alleluia. Filled with the fruit of justice through Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God, alleluia”: and Phil. 3, 17: “Be ye imitators of me, brethren, and observe them who walk, so as you have our model.”

The Epistle, again, is from St. Paul, this time 1 Tim. 4, 8–16, which is a most magnificent tribute to the ministry of priests:
Godliness is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. A faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we labor and are reviled, because we hope in the living God, Who is the Saviour of all men, especially of the faithful. These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth: but be thou an example of the faithful, in word, in conversation, in charity, in faith, in chastity. Till I come, attend unto reading, to exhortation, and to doctrine. Neglect not the grace that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with imposition of the hands of the priesthood. Meditate upon these things, be wholly in these things: that thy profiting may be manifest to all. Take heed to thyself, and to doctrine: be earnest in them. For in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.

This reading from 1 Timothy appears only in this Mass in the usus antiquior (see Matthew Hazell, Index Lectionum, p. 156), which is beneficial to all: an organic and gentle addition of Scripture to the annual cycle, rather than the drinking-from-a-fire-hose approach of the multi-year lectionary. I have often said that if enrichment with Scripture was (and is) desired, it should take the form of assigning appropriate readings to individual saints or subclasses of saints, so as not to lose one of the chief perfections of the traditional Roman rite: the textual and theological integrity that results from keeping a particular person or mystery or season in view from Introit to Postcommunion.

The Gospel (Mark 10, 15–21) recounts the rich young man whom Jesus invited to the way of perfection; he went away sad because he did not follow the Master’s advice, but the saint we are celebrating took the advice and ran with it. (This Gospel, or nearly the same one, is also read in the usus antiquior for the feast of St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows on February 27.)

A host of saints (among them St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria) venerating the Blessed Sacrament

The Offertory transmits the message that the praise of God will be best given to Him liturgically, and that it involves the whole heavenly court: “I will sing praise to Thee in the sight of the angels; I will adore at Thy holy temple, and give glory to Thy name.” Bear in mind that St Anthony Maria Zaccaria was called the Apostle of the Quarant’ore (Forty Hours’ Devotion), which he spread with marvelous zeal.

The Secret reminds us of the purity, bodily and spiritual, necessary for offering this most holy sacrifice and partaking of the sinless flesh of Christ. It reiterates the salutary discipline of celibacy.

Ad mensam caelestis convivii fac nos, Dómine, eam mentis et córporis puritátem afferre qua beátus Antonius María, hanc sacratíssimam hostiam ófferens, mirífice ornátus enítuit. Per Dominum…
       May we bring to the table of the heavenly banquet, O Lord, that purity of mind and body with which blessed Anthony Mary, in offering this most sacred Victim, was so wonderfully adorned and resplendent. Through our Lord…

Finally, the Postcommunion reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle and that the Eucharist is elevated as a standard against heretical foes. It is not all “comfort and joy”; there is grit and determination in this prayer, as well as a potent mysticism of divine charity, a charity that seeks and saves the lost. The prayer also happens to be one of those (the significance of which is discussed elsewhere at NLM) that addresses directly the Lord Jesus:

Caelesti dape qua pasti sumus, Dómine Jesu Christe, eo corda nostra caritátis igne flammescant: quo beátus Antonius María salutáris hostiae vexillum contra Ecclesiae tuae hostes éxtulit ad victoriam: Qui vivis et regnas…
       By the food of Heaven with which we have been fed, O Lord Jesus Christ, may our hearts be inflamed with that fire of charity with which blessed Anthony Mary carried the banner of the saving Victim to victory against the enemies of Thy Church. Who livest and reignest…
However the Tridentine or medieval purists might feel about feasts and Masses like this one (and they are entitled to their opinion), I for one am grateful they’re on the old calendar and I look forward to assisting at them year after year. St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria, pray for us.

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