- RSS Channel Showcase 8716241
- RSS Channel Showcase 5594571
- RSS Channel Showcase 3509190
- RSS Channel Showcase 6429948
Articles on this Page
- 01/05/18--13:46: _EF Pontifical Mass ...
- 01/05/18--22:41: _EF Mass in Ste Gene...
- 01/06/18--06:09: _The Epiphany of the...
- 01/07/18--06:26: _An Ambrosian Chant ...
- 01/08/18--06:29: _Two Attitudes towar...
- 01/09/18--06:38: _The Other Modern in...
- 01/10/18--01:56: _Epiphany 2018 Photo...
- 01/10/18--05:42: _Fota XI Liturgical ...
- 01/10/18--09:00: _The Parisian Sequen...
- 01/10/18--13:56: _Epiphany 2018 Phtop...
- 01/11/18--05:38: _Bishop of Salford O...
- 01/11/18--09:43: _Address by Dom Karl...
- 01/12/18--04:31: _The Basilica of Our...
- 01/12/18--07:58: _A Powerful Novel Se...
- 01/12/18--23:38: _When Does the Chris...
- 01/13/18--08:10: _The Baptism of the ...
- 01/15/18--08:14: _How Typical Lector ...
- 01/16/18--08:23: _A Premonstratensian...
- 01/16/18--11:01: _A New Regular EF Ma...
- 01/16/18--23:58: _St Peter’s Square, ...
- 01/05/18--13:46: EF Pontifical Mass with Card. Burke for Epiphany in Rome
- 01/06/18--06:09: The Epiphany of the Lord 2018
- 01/07/18--06:26: An Ambrosian Chant for Epiphany: “Omnes Patriarchae”
- 01/09/18--06:38: The Other Modern in Music: Videntes Stellam by Francis Poulenc
- 01/10/18--01:56: Epiphany 2018 Photopost (Part 1)
- 01/10/18--05:42: Fota XI Liturgical Conference in Cork Ireland, July 7-9, 2018
- 01/10/18--09:00: The Parisian Sequence for Epiphany
- 01/10/18--13:56: Epiphany 2018 Phtopost (Part 2)
- 01/11/18--05:38: Bishop of Salford Offers Church to Anglican Ordinariate
- 01/12/18--04:31: The Basilica of Our Lady in Fribourg, Switzerland
- 01/12/18--07:58: A Powerful Novel Set in Reformation France
- 01/12/18--23:38: When Does the Christmas Season End?
- 01/13/18--08:10: The Baptism of the Lord 2018
- 01/16/18--08:23: A Premonstratensian Mass of the Epiphany
- 01/16/18--11:01: A New Regular EF Mass in the Bronx
- 01/16/18--23:58: St Peter’s Square, 1956
|Card. Burke celebrating the midnight Mass of Christmas 2016 at Trinità dei Pellegrini.|
On January 1, 1818, Bishop William DuBourg, on his way to take possession of the soon-to-be formed Diocese of St Louis, arrived in Ste. Genevieve, where he celebrated a Pontifical High Mass before heading north to his episcopal see. In order to commemorate the second centenary of this milestone, the parish organized and hosted a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form, with music provided by the local Juventutem St Louis group. Over 600 people attended the Mass, some traveling from as far north as St Louis and as far south as Cape Girardeau. About half of the participants were parishioners, many of whom have never attended the usus antiquior. The Veni Creator Spiritus was sung at the end of the Mass to invoke the Holy Spirit’s grace upon the new year. Below we give the sermon preached by the celebrant, Mons. Eugene Morris.
Our thanks to Fr Nemeth for sharing this with us, and for taking the initiative to commemorate this anniversary with the same Mass that Bishop DuBourg would have known 200 years ago!
|Mons. Eugene Morris and Fr Nemeth|
On December 31, 1817, Father de Andreis and forty leading citizens of Sainte Genevieve greeted their new bishop. In a solemn procession, in full ecclesiastical garb, the clergy walked from the rectory to the village church, accompanied by twenty-four servers. At the church, Bishop Du Bourg spoke eloquently of the love he had for his flock. The speech was well received and the event ended with the chanting of a Te Deum. On New Year’s Day, the Catholics of Saint Genevieve were treated to a liturgy seldom celebrated there, a Pontifical High Mass.
It’s no ordinary feast that descendants can celebrate a two-hundred-year-old occurrence on the exact date of the anniversary and in the same location. Where, in America’s heartland could this be done from the Alleghenies in the east to the Rockies in the west, from the headwaters of the Mississippi River to the Louisiana delta? Only in New Orleans, but not there either. Read their history. That city rejected the man we welcomed and gave a home.
So, William Valentine Du Bourg came north on his way to the village of Saint Louis, his chosen see. His trek took him first to Apple Creek and then here to Sainte Genevieve where he celebrated for the first time as bishop in his diocese the Holy Eucharist.
This event marked the penetration of history and place which would begin, once and for all, the Catholic evangelization of America’s heartland.
Du Bourg did not come alone. He brought Vincentians like De Andreis and Rosati who would build Saint Mary’s of the Barrens in Perryville, the cradle from which would come a legion of priests as well as bishops to bring the Gospel and the sacraments to the people of the heartland.
Du Bourg brought Christian Brothers with him to teach at Sainte Genevieve Academy, the building still standing in our midst, though the effort was ill-fated. Du Bourg brought Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne and the Religious of the Sacred Heart. They stopped here in Sainte Genevieve on their way to their ultimate destination, Saint Charles. Father Henry Pratte, pastor and native son, tried to persuade them to stay here. Their experience in Saint Charles no doubt prompted them to wish they had taken him up on the offer.
Sainte Genevieve played an enormous role in the Catholic evangelization of the Mississippi Valley. It was here in Sainte Genevieve that Father Charles Nerinckx, co-founder of the Loretto Sisters, died on his last journey.
It is here that Father James Maxwell served the Spanish authorities as pastor. Maxwell Hill, on the way to Riverview Nursing Home is named for him, for on one fateful day the priest fell from his horse, in a fatal accident.
It was at Sainte Genevieve that Father Pierre Gibault learned of a stand-off on Kaskaskia Island between George Rogers Clark with his Virginia Long-knives and the British garrison of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. Gibault’s timely intervention gave Kaskaskia to the American cause, and with it the whole of the upper Mississippi River Valley. For his patriotism, the priest had a British price on his head the rest of his life.
We are surrounded by history, mid-western and Catholic. But let us not be bedazzled by historical events. We celebrate the bicentennial arrive of Bishop Du Bourg because he came to us and celebrated Mass. He and the others who came to build up Holy Mother in America’s heartland were inspired by God to bring Christ to the creoles of the valley as well the natives of the forests and plains. Osage came to Du Bourg seeking a Catholic priest as their chaplain. Three times Flathead Indians of Oregon made arduous journeys to Saint Louis, finally securing the mission of the Jesuits, most renowned being Father Peter DeSmet.
Why this effort? Why leave lives of comfort and security behind to come to this untamed land? What can we, the descendants of these heroes and inheritors of their great work draw from them that might inspire us?
They did all they did for the greater glory of God, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.
I began this reflection with a quote from a history of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. Allow me to end it with a quote from Father John Rothensteiner, whose literary efforts were among the first to preserve our noble past. He notes, “and when at last their prayers and labors began to bring victory after victory under such leaders as Du Bourg, Rosati, De Andreis, Van Quickenborne, Elet, De Smet and John Timon, Peter Richard Kenrick and the multitude of their devoted followers, penetrating into the regions of darkness, north, west, east and south, carrying the glad tidings of the gospel to the scattered fragments of many nations, it was again, ‘Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.’ ”
|The Monforte Altarpiece, by Hugo van der Goes, ca. 1470 (Click to see in high resolution, which is always especially rewarding and interesting with Flemish painters.)|
I submit that we can find a way forward in this debate by considering the contrast between the Kantian notion of duty and the Aristotelian notion of epikeia, often translated “equity.”
For Kant, duty is something absolute: in Germanic fashion, one ought never to swerve from the strict provisions of the law. In fact, the only way we can know that we are virtuous is by suppressing any subjective motivation or personal judgment about what is right to do and submitting to the objectivity of legal dictates. In this perspective, there is no room for going beyond the letter of the law to achieve more perfectly the law’s own intention of promoting the common good. If a traffic light or crosswalk signal is red, one must always stop at it, regardless of the circumstances.
For Aristotle, in contrast, formulated laws, as necessary as they are for social life, suffer from the inherent flaw of having been universally framed (as if to embody a timeless and placeless rational perspective), and thus incapable of responding to certain immediate needs. While justice is surely founded on law-abidingness, it is perfected by an additional virtue called epikeia, whereby one judges well of when and how to adapt the law to specific circumstances. Epikeia is the virtue of seeing past the phrasing of the law to the good it intends to safeguard or promote, so that one may do that which will best safeguard or promote that very good — even if at times it involves stepping aside from the literal dictate of the law. Hence, if the traffic light is red, but one has a seriously injured person as a passenger, one looks both ways and then drives straight through the red light to reach the hospital.
In light of this brief sketch, it seems to me that people come at liturgical law and rubrics from one of two positions:
1. The Kantian: “Say the Black, Do the Red.” No more and no less.
2. The Aristotelian: “Say the Black, Do the Red, in accord with the requirements of liturgy and the pattern of tradition.” In other words, you must do and say the things that are directed, and refrain from doing or saying the things that are prohibited, but beyond this there is a wise liberty to practice unity with one’s Catholic tradition, letting it dictate the way the liturgy should be offered. A priest friend described this view as “classical liberal traditionalism.”
(For the sake of completeness, there is a third position one might identify: the Liberal or Progressive. The clergy who espouse it, however well-intentioned they may be, neither consistently say the black nor do the red, but abuse their positions to improvise and make stuff up as they go along — e.g., arbitrarily speaking aloud prayers that are supposed to be silent.)
The first or Kantian approach suffers from a kind of mechanistic hollowness: one acknowledges a strict duty to an extrinsic principle but makes no room for the intrinsic principle of intelligence to interpret the situation and act appropriately. That this cannot possibly work for the OF is evidenced by the fact that all kinds of decisions have to be made for which there is no provision in the rubrics (unlike in the usus antiquior, where the Church, drawing on the wisdom of centuries, has carefully specified what is to be done, allowing the celebrant to yield himself more freely to the rite in its perfection). This is why Msgr. Elliott’s Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Riteand Ceremonies of the Liturgical Yearare such helpful books — and so hated by liberals. It draws upon the wealth of classical rubrics in order to give more dignity to the OF’s celebration. While it is nowhere near as daring as the Primer published at NLM, it still presupposes the same “classical liberal” attitude of doing what is in line with tradition.
Let me offer a concrete example. Whether the architects of the Novus Ordo disbelieved in transubstantiation or whether they understood the Real Presence in a heretical manner is a moot point; what is beyond dispute is that they suppressed practices that centuries of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament had prompted, and that this suppression has had the effect, in practice, of lessening both the clergy’s awareness of the awesomeness of the sacred mysteries they enact and the people’s faith in the Real Presence. A priest, therefore, possessed of good liturgical sense, understanding why a genuflection should be made immediately after the consecration, why the fingers are thenceforward to be held together, and why, during the ablutions, the fingers should be washed over the chalice with wine and water, will simply do all this as dignum et justum, the right and just thing to do. In this way he is more in keeping with the mind and will of the supreme legislator, who is obligated ex officio to preserve and promote both the liturgical tradition and maximum reverence towards the Body and Blood of Christ. In this way the legislator’s authentic intention is taken up and strengthened, whatever a particular legislator may have been thinking in his human frailty.
There is no magisterial document on this “meta-question.” The Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum and other documents say, of course, that the priest must be obedient to the rubrics, and that the faithful have a right to a liturgy that is celebrated according to them, etc., but both the Kantian and Aristotelian approaches already concur on this point. The confusion in the Latin Church today results, at least in part, from the importation of the antinomian culture of the 1960s into the very sanctuary, in the form of an open-ended liturgy with options, inculturations, adaptations, and a vastly impoverished code of rubrics. Whatever may be its social merits or demerits, antinomianism is an unsustainable liturgical philosophy. This is precisely why young clergy are eager for the kind of guidance offered them in Msgr. Elliott’s books and NLM’s Primer.
Ezekiel’s depiction of Israel — “you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred on the day that you were born; and when I passed by you, and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live, and grow up like a plant of the field’” (Ezek 16:5–6) — might well remind us of the sorry spectacle of a liturgy so much depleted of sacrality, so much in need of growing up and joining the world of actual historical liturgies (if such a reunification is even possible — a theoretical question better left for another occasion). Naturally, clergy and laity who love Catholic tradition, and who are, in one way or another, confined to the use of the Ordinary Form, wish to do something about this problem of the loss of sacredness and the lack of appropriate rites and rubrics. We ought to recognize that there are various plausible and defensible solutions. One of them, as this article has argued, is to Say the Black and Do the Red with an epikeia that avails itself of traditional means by which the Black acquires a fuller resonance and the Red achieves a fuller dignity.
 See Nicomachean Ethics, Book V, ch. 10, for Aristotle’s most complete treatment of this virtue.
 I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek; my actual views on classical liberalism as a socio-political philosophy are well known. Suffice it to say that, following in the line of Gregory XVI, Pius IX, and Leo XIII, I am not a fan of it.
 The priest is an instrument or tool, but he is, as Aquinas says, an intelligent tool. That is, the Lord makes use of him according to his own nature as a rational animal.
 There are larger theoretical issues here, as well, that go beyond the scope of this article. On the one hand, those who designed the OF presumably wanted to revive some fantasy of a free-wheeling early Church liturgy with ex tempore prayers, but there was no thought of the liturgical formation that would be necessary for such virtuosity. Then, formation itself presupposes a specific liturgical tradition, whereas the OF and its options are eclectic between traditions. How is anyone supposed to know if this (mangled) set of Roman orations goes best with that (bowdlerized) Alexandrian Preface, or this or another chant in Latin, English, or Spanish? Prudent choice makes sense within a stable, coherent structure. This, again, is why the usus antiquior is the only possible guide to stabilizing and harmonizing the usus recentior.
Aña Videntes stellam Magi gavisi sunt gaudio magno: et intrantes domum obtulerunt Domino aurum, thus et myrrham.
Aña Seeing the star, the wise men rejoiced greatly; and entering the house, they offered to the Lord gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
This recording includes three other motets for the Christmas season, O magnum mysterium, Quem vidistis pastores, Videntes stellam and Hodie Chistus natus est.
And speaking of sacred music, our readers may also be interested in a new streaming radio station, SacredMusicFM, which offers a good mix of Gregorian chant and polyphony 24/7, and can be listened to on the usual range of mobile devices.
|Chalk to be blessed!|
|Genuflecting during the Gospel at the words “and falling down they adored Him.”|
|The Proclamation of the Movable Feasts|
Pontifical Mass celebrated by His Eminence Raymond Card. Burke in the church of Ss Peter and Paul in Cork, as part of last year’s Fota Conference.
1. Run to Jesus, subject your hearts to the new King of the nations.
2. The star preaches abroad; within, the faith shows the Redeemer of all.
3. Bring here gifts of your free will, but gifts of the heart.
4. This will be a most pleasing offering to the Savior, the sacrifice of the heart.
5. Charity offers gold, austerity myrrh, desire incense.
6. By gold, he is acknowledged as king, by myrrh, as a man; by incense, worshipped as the god of the nations.
7. Judea, show no envy to the nations who rejoice at the mystery revealed.
8. After the shepherds, the Magi join the company of the faithful.
9. Even He that calls the Jews, calls together the nations into one fold.
10. Bethlehem becomes today the beginning of the whole Church as it is born.
11. Let Christ reign in our hearts, and His rule advance, the rebellious being conquered.
A reminder that Masses for Sundays and feast days can now be followed live from St Eugène at the Youtube channel Ite, Missa est: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIz1_vK-gfwd26Q3cIvDxPg.
|Tradition is always for the young!|
I have no comment beyond this except to say that this is great news! I would like to offer Fr Starkie and his congregation very best wishes and my prayers as you establish yourselves in your new home!
Along with desacralisation inside the Church there was another phenomenon, which I was able to experience personally in my encounters with the profane world of show business: a form of sacralisation of the profane, a ritualisation of the banal, the promotion of non-religious objects to the level of cult objects. From the backstage of the show to which I had been invited, I could observe how the show was designed down the last detail as a sort of dramaturgy, so that the viewer in front of the television participated in a kind of “Pontifical Mass of Entertainment.”A side-note: when Canticum Salomoniswas launched last week and many visited it, the social media links and RSS feed had not yet been set up. They are now in place, so please do pay them a visit, and read Pater Wallner's remarkable talk.
Several years ago, after celebrating a vigil service with a youth group, I had an experience that struck me profoundly and became the key to understanding.
For the past 20 years at Heiligenkreuz, we have organised prayer retreats for young people between the ages of 15 and 28. Since the majority of young people that age suffer a severe lack of enculturation in everything related to Catholicism, and must still learn how to pray and adore, these vigils represent a real challenge. That is why we could not even imagine celebrating a Mass with them: we must first render these young capable of receiving the Eucharistic mystery. First and foremost they need to have a personal relation to Jesus Christ. In that regard, the Catholic liturgy offers a range of possibilities, a whole sacred repertoire that is able to create an ambiance that permits the young people to open their hearts so that they may be touched by the presence of God.
As a reminder, this is also one of the four churches from which Mass is broadcast live every day on the Fraternity’s LiveMass website: http://www.livemass.net/. The previous Sunday’s sung Mass is always available to watch, and the choir in Fribourg is really excellent.
The Asperges before the Sung Mass on Sunday, December 31st. The church has a large crew of young servers, and there are many young families with lots of children, singing along well and enthusiastically!
This plaque on the inside right wall lists the various confraternities and pious associations established within the basilica, and records that it was elevated to the status of a collegiate church on January 24, 1798.
Here is the publisher's description, which I think whets the appetite:
The Mass of Brother Michel, set in the tranquil countryside of southern France during the Reformation, is the story of a young man who “has it all”—until a fateful series of events leads him to a monastery. As Huguenot violence mounts, the characters of the story are pushed to extremes of hatred and love. The reader is swept along by a narrative as twisting and turbulent as a mountain stream, which culminates in a sovereign sacrifice as unforgettable as it was unforeseen. This is a story that shows with utter vividness the power of romantic love to cripple and deform, the power of suffering to undermine illusions and induce the labor of self-discovery, the power of prayer to reassemble the shards of the shattered image of God in the soul, and the power of the priest as the divine Physician’s privileged instrument.
At the center of the novel is the awesome mystery, scandal, consolation, and provocation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. To it some of the characters are irresistibly drawn; against it, others are violently arrayed. Here is a passionately told tale of their inner struggle and outward confrontation. The Mass of Brother Michel is a gripping story of adventure, renunciation, redemption, and ultimate victory. No reader will fail to be astonished at its outcome and touched by its inspiring and miraculous climax.
Every Crucifix was now a living figure. It was no longer necessary to dwell on the Passion of Our Lord as an essential part of his spiritual exercises. The Passion dwelt in him; engulfed him; possessed him with its agony, as the love of Mass had possessed him with its joy; nor were the two separate, but one, wearing only a different aspect, as light and darkness are both of the same day.
For Michel could no longer be said to possess the love of Mass, but rather the love of Holy Mass possessed him. At first it had risen in his heart like a little stream, clear and singing and beautiful; now it was become a torrent, sweeping him along in full flood.I'd recommend this book for priests, religious, and laity, and in the last category, especially for high school and college students, and parents who are looking for excellent historical fiction to enrich a homeschool curriculum. It's on my list of the top ten "Catholic novels" (alongside Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, Greene's The Power and the Glory, and Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop).
The book is available from Amazon.com and affiliates.
Prior to the 1960 revision of the rubrics, the liturgical books of the Roman Rite did not refer to either Christmas or Epiphany as “tempora – seasons”, and indeed, neither the Missal nor the Breviary had a rubric on liturgical seasons per se. In the 1960 rubrics, within the newly-created section on the seasons of the year (title VIII), “the season of the Nativity” (tempus natalicium) is subdivided into two parts, “the season of Christmas” (tempus Nativitatis) which runs from First Vespers of Christmas to None of January 5th, and “the season of the Epiphany” (tempus Epiphaniae), which runs from First Vespers of the Epiphany to January 13th. In the body of the Missal, the Sundays after Epiphany are given a new header, “the time per annum before Septuagesima”, the forerunner of the widely and rightly detested term “ordinary time.”
In the Temporal cycle, there are a maximum of six Sundays after Epiphany. The Gospels of these Sundays, the arrangement of which is extremely ancient, are as follows.
First Sunday, within the octave of Epiphany – Luke 2, 42-52, the finding of Christ in the Temple. (The feast of the Holy Family was permanently fixed to this Sunday in 1921, but its Gospel is the same; the monastic orders retained the older celebration of the Sunday.)
Second Sunday– John 2, 1-11, the wedding at Cana.
Third Sunday– Matthew 8, 1-13, the healing of a leper and of the centurion’s servant.
Fourth Sunday– Matthew 8, 23-27, the calming of the storm on the sea.
Fifth Sunday– Matthew 13, 24-30, the parable of the wheat and the tares.
Sixth Sunday– Matthew 13, 31-35, the parables of the mustard seed and of the leaven.
Of these six Gospels, the first three always occur before the Purification, the fourth can occur either before or after it, and the fifth and sixth always occur after it. The placement of the Finding in the Temple, the only recorded episode of Our Lord’s life between His infancy and the beginning of His public ministry, is obvious. From the most ancient times, the writings of the Fathers attest that the Wedding at Cana was celebrated as part of the Epiphany, a tradition to which the historical Office of the Epiphany refers several times. (In the post-Conciliar three-year lectionary, this Gospel is now read on this Sunday only in year C; the modern Ambrosian lectionary, which corrects some of the grosser defects of the reformed Roman one, reads it in all three years.) The two miracles read on the Fourth Sunday are the first ones specifically recorded in the Gospel of St Matthew.
It is true that Septuagesima can arrive before the Purification; its earliest possible date (which has not occurred since 1818, and will not occur again until 2285) is January 18th. It is also true that when this happens, the series of Gospels after Epiphany is interrupted; this year, for example, Septuagesima falls on January 28th, and therefore, the Gospels of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Sundays after Epiphany will be read at the end of the liturgical year. These facts are, however, irrelevant to the original arrangement of the season after Epiphany, in which the first four Gospels continue the theme of that feast, an arrangement which predates the institution of Septuagesima. All of which is to say, the underlying theme of the Christmas season, the revelation of God’s salvation in the Incarnation of His Son, breaks off liturgically with the Purification, and not before.
We should also take note here of a much more significant fact about the arrangement of the liturgical year. The earliest possible date for Ash Wednesday is February 4th; there will therefore always be an interval of at least one day between the closure of the Christmas cycle on February 2nd, and the beginning of Lent.
In the Sanctoral cycle, the month of January is a fairly busy one, and has been for a long time; the feasts of the Saints that occur within it have no bearing on the Christmas season. The article cited above correctly notes that the daily commemoration of the Virgin Mary after Compline is traditionally the same from Christmas to the Purification, and changes on February 3rd. It also states that this is “(t)he only remaining liturgical hint of the Christmas Cycle … within the Liturgy of the Hours.” (Technically, this arrangement is optional in the new Office, and might more accurately be described as the memory of a hint.) However, this is not true of the traditional rite. Between Christmas and the Purification, the Saturday Office and Little Office of the Virgin use the Collect and several antiphons from the feast of the Circumcision. Much more importantly, the Votive Mass of the Virgin for the whole of this period uses the same Collect, as well as the Epistle and Gospel from the Dawn Mass of Christmas; it should be remembered that for a very long time, all major churches had at least one Votive Mass of the Virgin every day.
In practical terms, none of this has much effect on the liturgy, and the discussion on social media seems to focus mostly on the appropriate time for taking down Christmas trees and crèches, whether in church or at home. Both of these are, of course, noble customs which should always be encouraged and maintained, but neither of them has any formal liturgical place. In regards to Christmas trees, it would be perfectly harmonious with the Catholic tradition to leave them up until February 2nd, without ever forgetting that very dry conifers can burn with an incredibly dangerous speed and intensity. In regards to crèches, I have observed a custom in a number of European churches that seems to me very sensible, and a good way to present and celebrate the events of Christ’s life more vividly through the liturgy. Having “arrived” at the adulthood of Christ in the liturgical year, so to speak, with the feast of His Baptism, the manger scene is taken down. A statue of the Infant Jesus continues to be displayed prominently in the church, and only removed after the celebration of His Presentation in the Temple.
|The high altar of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, the FSSP parish in Rome, on Christmas night. The Baby Jesus statue seen in the middle remains on the high altar until the evening of February 2nd.|
|Mosaic of the Baptism of Christ, early 11th century, from the monastery of Hosois Loukas in Boetia, Greece. (public domain image from Wikipedia; click to enlarge.)|
First, the server was dressed for a liturgical function, so it made the reading seem more obviously a liturgical act, part of the act of worship in which were were involved. Second, he was already up there in the sanctuary, to which he had processed together with the priest, so he was on hand, ready to perform the function. It no longer looked random but orderly, the right person at the right time and place. Third, each day one of the servers knew ahead of time that he was going to be the reader, and over time the servers tended to become far better lectors than most of the enthusiastic volunteers or appointees who seldom had a clue what they were doing. Fourth, a man’s voice is better suited for such reading. In most cases, it sounds stronger, calmer, more resonant, more authoritative. If “the lector sounds the voice of God,” then one ought to hear God speaking to us in His lordly, fatherly voice. As Psalm 28 has it: “The voice of the Lord is in power … The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars … The voice of the Lord shaketh the desert.” As much as I admire the piety of ladies who eagerly serve as lectors, the timbral qualities one hears — from sweet and soft to schoolmarmish and scolding — are often simply not edifying. Besides, as a psychologist recently argued, it is more distracting to men when women are reading than it is to women when men are reading. There is no parity or equality of the sexes in this regard.
These were some of the reasons why I rather liked the TAC practice after experiencing it, and I can’t say it surprised me when I discovered that the young ladies liked the practice, too. They were traditional in their views of liturgy and the roles of the sexes, and they felt a sense of relief at not being pressed into the modern feminist program of breaking down the “barriers” to an all-male sanctuary. They were quite content to let the men step up to the plate, as men should do — and as they usually will not do whenever women, with their native generosity and piety, are allowed to take over. These are the things that most caught my attention as a college student.
Years later, I was involved in a Catholic community that had been following the TAC practice for a number of years but was forced to abandon it due to pressure from particular clergy who disagreed with it. Watching that sudden transition from vested servers in the sanctuary acting as lectors to plain-clothes laymen and laywomen rising from the pews to read a text and returning to their seats brought home to me how theologically problematic this contemporary praxis really is. In particular, it transmits both Pelagian and Protestant messages — a surprising combination, but nonetheless true.
The Byzantine tradition, needless to say, underlines this point by forbidding a lay lector (if there be such out of necessity) to read except from the nave, and keeping the holy of holies off limits behind the iconostasis except to those clergy who are allowed to enter it. The West had the same understanding of sacred space even if, at a certain point, we lost our rood screens and other such dividers: while everyone was permitted to see the ritual actions taking place in the sanctuary, no one bodily entered into it except the sacred ministers. The abolition of this distinction, by way of lectors and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, is a symbolic erasure of the distinction between the source of holiness in Christ (who is most properly and clearly represented by the sacred ministers in the mediatorial roles) and the reception of holiness in the people (which is symbolized by their architectural separation and the manner in which they traditionally approach the sacraments — for example, receiving the host on the tongue from the anointed hand of a priest, who blesses them). Such an erasure may justly be called Pelagian, and it will be difficult to uproot a pervasive Pelagian habit of thinking in the people if this is the kind of thing they see whenever they go to church.
Furthermore, there is an implicit Protestant message: anyone can read the word of God; no office is required. The Word of God is free and open to everyone; no one need be specially set apart to read its holy, awesome, fearful, comforting message. Its words are like all other words, for which only mere literacy, that is, a purely natural (not supernatural) qualification, is called for. Thus, these words are not treated as if they are divinely inspired tokens of the ineffable Presence of God, to be handled by men who are formally deputed for this sacred task. For Protestants and modern Catholics there is a democratic availability of the Word that bypasses or sidesteps the hierarchical structure of the Church rooted in the Apostolic Succession of the episcopacy and its assistant clergy.
Now, I do not deny for a moment that the vast majority of lay lectors have the best intentions in the world. They want to be involved; they want to be helpful; they are doing what they have been told is good. I myself was a lector for many years in high school because, well, it just seemed like a thing one does at Mass. So the problem is not one of bad will. The problem rather lies in the “law of unintended consequences.” Quite apart from our subjective good intentions, everything we do in liturgy signifies something. Liturgy is a realm in which nothing done is “merely” practical or useful. Even something as originally practical as the washing of the hands acquired a symbolic meaning of purity from sin that now dominates (most priests don’t have to wash dirt off their hands at the lavabo, but all of us have at least venial sins to wash away). So, too, walking into the sanctuary, mounting the ambo, and reading from the Word of God are not mere human actions; the liturgical context endows them with a meaning of their own. In short, they are signs. Other related signs include the clothing one is wearing (is one vested for a liturgical ministry or wearing plain clothes?), the type of language one is reading from the book (is the Word being delivered in a sacral and poetic register, or is it in an ear-numbing modern dialect like Nabbish?), the quality of the lectionary and evangelary as physical objects (are they beautiful books or are they hideous chunks of self-conscious modernity, with all the charm of rock samples from Mordor?), and so forth. All of these actions, objects, and appearances mean something.
The important question to ask is what these signs are transmitting to us, what belief or attitude is being inculcated by them. When a lay minister distributes Holy Communion, for example, that says something: contrary to the way Catholics behaved for centuries, it turns out we are not, after all, dealing with a divine and fearful mystery, to be handled only by men specially set apart by a holy anointing and clothed in sacerdotal garb; we are dealing with ordinary food and drink that anyone can handle, as at a picnic or snack bar. It is a practical repudiation of the dogma of the Church, although perhaps few (except El Grillo) would think of denying Trent outright, although it should be noted that many people seem only too willing, in verification of Ratzinger’s oft-repeated critique, to make Vatican II the “super-council” that trumps even earlier Councils that are manifestly of greater magisterial weight inasmuch as they defined de fide dogmas and anathematized the contrary errors, while Vatican II purposefully avoided definitions and anathemas.
In any case, what is crucial is not recovering the teaching of earlier Councils (although we shall have to get around to doing this eventually!), but recovering a fundamental sense of the sacredness of everything that pertains to the worship of Almighty God, both in the veneration of His inerrant and infallible divine Word and in the adoration of His all-holy Eucharistic Body — actions for the conducting of which the Church had never failed, and should never fail, to appoint hierarchical ministers.
|The ordinary of a Byzantine subdeacon|
At the first “Dominus vobiscum”, the deacon kneels and elevates the front of the priest’s chasuable, as seen here. In The Liturgies of the Religious Orders, Archdale King writes that this was also done by the Cistercians and in some local Uses, but that the custom was in his time (1955) “very generally disregarded.”