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    On Sunday, Fr Trevor Chicoine, who was ordained in June, celebrated his first Missa cantata for the regularly scheduled Extraordinary Form Mass at St Anthony’s Catholic Church in Des Moines, Iowa. The Latin Mass community there has been going strong for a long time, since the days of the indult, with the support of the pastor, Mons. Frank Chiodo. We also recently noted that the local Una Voce chapter will be welcoming Fr Cassian Folsom, the founder of the Benedictine Monks of Norcia, for a Day of Recollection at the end of this month; his conferences will focus on presenting the structure and spirituality of the Extraordinary Form, with a Missa cantata in the Basilica of St. John. Our thanks to Mr Andy Milam, who served as the Master of Ceremonies for this Mass, for sending in these photos, and congratulations to Fr Chicoine - ad multos annos!







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    Andrea Fantoni (1659–1734) was the most illustrious member of a family of artists active mostly in the province of Bergamo from 1680 to the end of the following century. Between 1704 and 1705, at the request of the Canon Penitentiary Giovan Pietro Mazza, he produced an extraordinary confessional for the city’s cathedral of San Alessandro.
    (Image from Wikimedia Commons by © Steffen Schmitz; click to enlarge.)
    From the summit, God the Father descends in billowing clouds, craning forward with arms outstretched as if to gather the whole world into the confessional, as the cloak flapping upward suggests an immense downward energy. Fixed behind him a large globe burns with a seven-part flame, perhaps representing the seven Sacraments.

    The Father’s form melds into a wreathed oval relief of the Traditio Clavium, a reminder of the Lord’s words “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This frontispiece set directly overhead of the confessor announces the source of his Sacramental power.

    On the same level, ranged around the corners, are four figures representing the Virtues of the Confessor: on the left at back is Mercy with her open arms, in front Wisdom, looking studiously on a book, perhaps the Bible. On the right in back is Discretion, a robed man with finger held to his lips, indicating silence, the Seal of Confession. At front, a woman tenderly fondling a lamb is Meekness.

    The priest’s box is decorated with great honor and vested with layers of symbolism. The door bears a large bas-relief panel depicting Christ raising the son of the widow of Naim, a Scriptural type for the Sacrament.
    Inside the box are three carvings: the larger, above, is Moses bringing water from the rock, a story which the Church has always read as a type of Christ and His mercy, in accord with St Paul’s words that “they all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.” (1 Cor 10, 4)

    Two panels covers the confessor’s face as he inclines to one side or the other, so that, most appropriately, his person becomes anonymous, disappearing behind the symbols of his ministry. On one side is a personification of justice, an angel holding scales; on the other, mercy, one woman pardoning another who kneels just like a penitent. The presence of a type of Christ over them makes it clear it is truly He who dispenses the penitent, and that His mercy wipes out all sin. Finally, barely visible in the ceiling, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove.

    Two larger symbolic figures stand on either side of the priest’s box, covering the penitent’s alcove with the unfolded halves of a veil fixed above the priest’s box: on the left, a woman bearing a cross, symbolizing penitence, and on the right, a man stepping on a globe, symbolizing contempt for the world.

    On the left side penitent box, above the grille is a Pietà, and to the side a scene depicting the penance of Mary Magdalene. The right side has an image of the Scourging and the Penance of St. Margaret of Cortona (1247–97), a Third Order Franciscan whose cult had just been approved by Rome in 1653.

    The true purpose of sacred art, as of good theology, is not to say something about God, but to be a medium through which the believer can participate in the realities signified by the work; ultimately, to insert us into the ongoing action of the Mystery of Christ. Faced with the mysterious symbolic world of the Sacraments, the Christian is called to penetrate into their inner meaning with the help of grace and spiritual teachers, attentive and receptive to the ongoing divine intrusion into our world. Christ has not left us, but is present under the veils of the liturgy. Our job is to discover Him there, where he invites generous, attentive souls to understand his plan of salvation.

    This confessional presents the Mystery of Penance attractively. The overwhelming approach of the Divine Mercy is a gesture of love offered to raise and ennoble human nature, to satisfy man’s perennial thirst for reconciliation. The moving scenes of penance, the raising from the dead, the Father’s earnest descent, all speak with the voice of a loving father to the human heart that craves forgiveness. This is not a dry treatise on mortal sin, on the conditions of contrition, etc. It presents the Mystery in its grandest outlines, through the two noblest media of Scripture, exquisitely brought to life by the artist’s hand, and the human body, whose dramatic poses cut straight to the heart. A man cannot help but want to “jump into” this stream, the Mystery of Penance flooding into the world.

    The master artist, in true Baroque style, had brought his material to life in several complimentary, dynamic motions, each expressing the grand arcs of the sacramental action. The downward might of the Father’s merciful love—accentuated by his flying tunic—incarnate in the sacrament of binding and losing, is complimented by the upward movement of the rest of the confessional: the arch above the priest’s box, the Virtues which seem ready to float off to heaven, the two steps up to each alcove. The confessional isn’t just a static object, but a surge of energies performing the Sacrament of Confession.

    Observe how simply and effectively the Confessional invites the penitent to consider the dispositions proper to him; and even more, generously offers models to help him achieve them.

    We see the image of the widow of Naim. The guilty heart starts as it recognizes itself in the dead man whom Christ would raise. This moves us to compunction, hatred for sin, love of Christ, confidence of forgiveness all at once. The priest’s box reminds us of the grave judgment God must make; but the Virtues comfort us that the priest too is held to a celestial standard, that we should have confidence to expect Christ himself speaking to us. When we kneel at the grill, recalling our sins, the engravings help us identify them with Christ’s terrible sufferings, and move us once more to repentance.

    Outside, the mood is welcoming, gentle: even the warnings are muted, inviting the sinner earnestly but gently to reconciliation. Inside the box is a space of austerity and simplicity; the penitent is not distracted by superfluous decoration, but given solemn examples of penance, and reminded of Christ’s expiatory death on his behalf. The departing faithful is confronted with the large figures of penance, reminding him of the Mystery he must now live. From beginning to end, the confessional shepherds the souls safely through this awesome sacrament.

    This embodied, affective, mystagogical experience of the sacramental mysteries is made possible by a truly sacred art. So many committees and initiatives, so many silly slogans and useless pamphleteering could be avoided if more serious attention was given to the transformative power of sacred art that speaks more profoundly than words.

    There is no part crafted with more care, guarded with more layers of symbolism than the priest’s box. He literally disappears behind the symbols of justice and mercy; the Scriptural types God revealed as the definitive lenses through which to understand this sacrament shroud him like a cope. The minister is the individual priest, a fallen man like us, but through him we are compelled to see Christ effecting our recreation by grace. The great honor paid to the decoration of the priest’s box helps us see the majesty of the priesthood.

    The seriousness with which the confessional treats the reality of sin and justice is a strong antidote to a worldly spirit that treats sin with indifference, and so makes man’s life little different from a beast’s. The priestly medium is the only way to avoid this life-in-death of indifference, and allow God raise is to the glories of supernatural life.

    Compare this image of the priest, the dispenser of the life-giving waters, to that conveyed by one of the new reconciliation rooms that look like a psychologist’s office. Does such a place insert our minds and hearts into the divine Mystery?

    This Confessional draws us into the Mystery of Penance. Too often we look at confession as merely the chance to remit a number of sins, to restore us to a state of grace, or even a legal reunion with the Church. This is all true and good. But in its deepest reality as a Sacrament, it inserts us into the Mystery of Christ, into a Mystery of repentance. Penance doesn’t stop with the three Hail Marys: it is an entrance into the Mystery of the Father’s boundless mercy, a mystery that involves our whole lives, that embodies a whole way of life.

    The confessional itself is an impressive embodiment, recapitulation of this invitation. It helps us see the full proportions of the Mystery we enter when we enter the confessional: it is Christ’s cross, in all its cosmic grandeur.

    We don’t have many expressions of repentance in our cultural imagination. The raw force of the word “contrition”—ground to dust!—was understood by the Ninevites, who put on sack-cloth and piled ashes on their heads. That is repentance! The figures of the repentant saints helped us to see how the depth of our sorrow should even wrack our bodies; why are we ashamed to beat our breasts or prostrate ourselves on the floor? The dramatic figures here teach us the meaning of penance meant, beyond mere notional regret.

    The dense symbol-scape of the Confessional of Bergamo furnishes an excellent material on which educators could base a course of mystagogical catechesis on the Sacrament of Penance. By leading students carefully, prayerfully, through personal exegesis of sacred art, the Christian initiate could learn to be attentive to the ongoing Revelation of Christ in the world through the liturgy. He must be built up into the mysteries of Christ presented in Scripture and liturgy, and act them out for himself. They must become the form of his life. That is the essence of the Christian life, and that is precisely what sacred art tries to do: to incite us to conform ourselves to the Form through forms, and become fitting vessels of the Holy Spirit.

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    The origin of the English term “Ember Days” seems to be disputed. Some scholars claim it is merely a corruption of the Latin name “Quattuor Temporum – of the four times (or ‘seasons’)”, through the German “Quatember”, while others derive it from the Anglo-Saxon words “ymb-ryne”, meaning “regularly occurring.” English-speakers used also to refer to them as “Quarter tense”, another corruption of the Latin name. In German liturgical books of the Middle Ages, they are often called with an entirely different word, “angaria”; for example, the index of the 1498 Missal of Salzburg calls the Ember Days of Advent the “angaria hiemalis”, (i.e. of winter), those of Lent the “angaria vernalis” etc.

    This word derives from the verb “angariare – to press someone into service”, which occurs three times in the Latin New Testament. The first occurrence is in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 41), “And whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two.” The other two are when Simon of Cyrene is forced to help the Lord carry His Cross, Matthew 27, 32 and its parallel in Mark 15, 21. The noun “angaria” therefore means “a pressing into service” or “exaction”; according to DuCange’s Medieval Latin Glossary, it was used in Germany to refer to a quarterly tax that was collected at the Ember Days. Missals and breviaries printed for use in Germany do however also regularly use the Latin “Quattuor Tempora”.
    The index of the Missal of Salzburg, printed at Nuremburg in 1498. At the bottom of the left column are read “angaria hiemalis” etc. From the website of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.
    One of the most beautiful features of the Masses of Ember Saturday is the canticle Benedictus es which follows the fifth prophecy from the Book of Daniel in Advent, Lent and September. (During the octave of Pentecost, the reading is the same, but the canticle is substituted by an Alleluia with one versicle.) Medieval liturgical commentators offer a clever explanation as to why the prayers which precede the first four prophecies are introduced by “Oremus. Flectamus genua. Levate.”, but the fifth one is introduced by “Dominus vobiscum.” In his Summa de Ecclesiasticis Officiis, Johannes Beleth writes in the mid-12th century that “Among these (prophecies) there is one which as it is being sung, no one ought to sit. This is the song of the three children, who contend for the faith of the Trinity, and so were cast into the furnace. Therefore at this song it is not good to genuflect, because the children would not genuflect before the statue of Nebuchadnezzar, although many princes did.”

    As I have noted previously, the Missal of Sarum has a different arrangement for this reading and its canticle on each of the four Ember Days. On Pentecost, the reading found in the Roman Missal, Daniel 3, 47-51, is lengthened by the addition of the Biblical canticle, chapter 3, 52-88; the addition is sung by the reader as part of the lesson, and not with the proper melody of the Benedictus es. As is often the case with the lessons in medieval missals, the text does not correspond exactly to the wording of the Vulgate; there are a number of variants which derive from the Old Latin version of the Bible. Furthermore, several of the repetitions of “praise and exalt him above all forever” are omitted. The reading is then followed by the Alleluia and its verse as in the Roman Missal.

    In September, Sarum has the same reading as at Pentecost. It is followed, however by a canticle composed by the German monk, poet and scholar Walafrid Strabo, a student of Rabanus Maurus at the famous abbey of Fulda in the first half of the 9th century. This canticle is a poetic paraphrase of the Benedicite, each verse of which is followed by a refrain, “Let them ever adore the Almighty, and bless him through every age.” At Sarum, the refrain was sung with the verbs in the indicative, “They ever adore the Almighty, and bless him in every age.”; it is split into two parts, which are sung after alternate verses. There are a few other minor variants from Walafrid’s original version.

    Omnipotentem semper adorant,              They ever adore the Almighty,
    Et benedicunt omne per aevum.               and bless Him through every age.

    Astra polorum, cuncta hominum gens,      The stars of heaven, every sort of men,
    Solque sororque, lumina caeli.               and the sun and his sister, the lights of heaven.
    Omnipotentem semper adorant.          They ever adore the Almighty.

    Sic quoque lymphae quaeque supernae,   So also all the waters in heaven above,
    Ros pluviaeque, spiritus omnis.                the dew and the rains, and every wind.
    Et benedicunt omne per aevum.               And bless Him through every age.

    Ignis et aestus, cauma geluque,                Fire and heat, warmth and cold,
    Frigus et ardor atque pruina.                    chill and burning and the frost.
    Omnipotentem etc.                                  They adore etc.

    Nix glaciesque, noxque diesque              Snow and ice, night and day,
    Lux tenebraeque, fulgura, nubes.             light and darkness, lightnings and clouds.

    Arida, montes, germina, colles,               Deserts, mountains, plants, hills,
    Flumina, fontes, pontus et undae.            rivers, springs, the seas and the waves.

    Omnia viva, quae vehit aequor,            All things that live and are born on the waters,
    vegetat aer, terraque nutrit.               that the air quickens, and the earth nourishes.

    Cuncta hominum gens, Israel ipse           Every sort of men, Israel itself,
    Christicolaeque, servuli quique.      and the worshipers of Christ, and all His servants.

    Sancti humilesque, corde benigno           The holy, the humble, the gentle of heart,
    Tresque pusilli exsuperantes                   and the three little ones in their triumph.

    Rite camini ignei flammas,                      Justly ready to disdain the flames
    jussa tyranni temnere prompti.               of the fiery furnace, and the tyrant’s orders.

    Sit Genitori laus, Genitoque                   Praise to the Father, and to the Son,
    lausque beato Flamini sacro.                  and praise to the blessed Holy Spirit.

    The Three Children in the Furnace, as depicted in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome ca. 275 A.D.
    The Ember Days are often said to be connected with the agricultural seasons, especially in reference to the harvest seasons of the Italian peninsula, since they originated in Rome. In point of fact, there are only a few references to harvests and harvest-offerings at Pentecost, only one in Lent (the first prophecy) and none at all in Advent. In September, on the other hand, the references to the harvest are very clear, especially in the Epistles of the Masses. On Wednesday, Amos 9, 13-15, on Friday, the end of the book of Hosea (14, 2-10) and the second reading from Leviticus on Saturday (23, 39-43) all speak of harvests and the fruits of the earth. The last of these prescribes that they be kept “starting on the fifteenth of the seventh month”; according to the Roman tradition, September was originally the seventh month of the calendar, and indeed, September 15th is the earliest day on which the first Ember Day can occur.


    To the medieval liturgist William Durandus, however, as probably to most of his contemporaries in the clergy, the most prominent feature of the Ember Days was not thanksgiving for the bounty of God in the harvest, but rather the traditional celebration of these days as the proper time for ordinations. He therefore offers the following allegorical reflections on the three Masses, explaining them in reference to season of the ordinands.  (Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, Liber VI, capp. 132-134)
    On Wednesday is read the Gospel (Mark 9, 16-28) … about the deaf and mute (boy) whom the Apostles could not heal, since “that kind of demons is not cast out except in fasting and prayer”; which is fitting to this day. For today is the fast of the four times, and therefore two readings are read, so that the ordinands may be taught in the two precepts of charity, or in the two laws.
    The Mass of Friday expresses the penitence of the ordinands, whence in the Gospel… they are instructed unto conversion, and in the introit they are invited to seek the Lord. (“Let the heart of them that seek the Lord rejoice. Seek ye the Lord, and be strengthened, seek ye ever His face.”)
    The Mass of Saturday is all said for the teaching of the ordinands, lest they be sterile, like the fruitless fig tree, of which the Gospel is read (Luke 13, 6-17), and lest their lives be caught up in earthly matters, like the bent over woman. In the Epistle (Hebrews 9, 2-12), which treats of the first and second tabernacles, they are admonished to serve in the tabernacle of the Church Militant in such wise that they may be presented to the Lord in the tabernacle of the Church Triumphant. … Rightly in this month are the ordinations of clerics done, since in this month took place (in the Old Testament) the celebration of (the feast of) Tabernacles. Now the ordained are the ministers of the Church, established in the seven orders on the day of tabernacles through seven-fold grace.

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    September 21st is the feast of St Matthew, and so I offer this as the latest in my running series on the images of the Saints named in the Roman Canon.

    St Matthew often has a long, wavy, white beard and close-cropped hair, and as a writer of a Gospel holds a book. He may sometimes be shown with a winged man, the symbol most commonly (though not always!) associated with his Gospel, and with Lady Wisdom or an angel whispering the words into his ears.

    The painting below in the baroque style is by Guido Reni, 1635-40.


    Below are two iconographic representations, the first a modern icon in the Eastern style.


    The second is in the Western style of the Lindisfarne Gospels. I have written here in more detail about this style (and here, I discuss why the figure peeping out from behind the curtain might be St Luke).

    A gothic style rendition by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-11
    All so far follow the generally accepted characteristics of the Saint. However, there is one famous painting of St Matthew which perhaps in part bucks the trend, and The Calling of St Matthew by Caravaggio. (1599-1600)
    There is a dispute over which one of the people at the table is St Matthew, although Wikipedia (the font of all knowledge) veers towards the idea that it is the bearded man in the middle pointing to himself. Although not yet gray-haired, this does connect it (with his beard and curly hair) with other portrayals.
    This painting is one of a series of three hanging in San Luis de Francesi in Rome. The others are the Inspiration of St Matthew, which is similar to the Reni above, and the Martyrdom of St Matthew.


    You can read about his life in the Catholic Encyclopedia, here.

    This is one of a series of articles written to highlight the great feasts and the saints of the Roman Canon. All are connected to a single opening essay, in which I set out principles by which we might create a canon of art for Roman Rite churches, and a schema that would guide the placement of such images in a church. (Read it here.) In these, I plan to cover the key elements of images of the Saints of the Roman Canon - Eucharistic Prayer I - and the major feasts of the year. I have created the tag Canon of Art for Roman Rite to group these together, should any be interested in seeing these articles as they accumulate. For the fullest presentation of the principles of sacred art for the liturgy, take the Master’s of Sacred Arts, www.Pontifex.University.

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    We are extremely grateful to Archbishop Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, for sharing with our readers the talk which he delivered last week to the Fifth Summorum Pontificum Conference in Rome. In the first part, His Excellency gives his appraisal of what has been achieved in the last ten years since the motu proprio became legally active, and in the second looks forward to prospects for the future. I would especially call your attention to these words, considering them in the light of some unfortunate polemical statements recently made against the traditional liturgy. “The restoration of the ancient Gregorian liturgy is not ... a step back, but looks to the future of the Church, which can never build itself by destroying or hiding the spiritual, liturgical and doctrinal richness of its past. ... To celebrate the old rite means to look with hope to the future of the Church.”

    Abp Pozzo joins in the opening prayers of the conference, with Dom Jean Pateau, the Abbot of Fontgombault, and Cardinals Burke and Müller. (Photo by Emanuele Capoferri for #sumpont2017)
    Public opinion has seen the motu proprio as a concession to so-called traditionalist groups, and particularly as a way of bringing closer the Priestly Fraternity of St Pius X, and overcoming the break with it. Certainly, it cannot be denied that this motive was at the center of attention, since no Catholic can rejoice over a rift in the Church. However, it would be oversimplifying and completely insufficient to regard only this motive. In the letter that accompanied the motu proprio, Benedict XVI reaffirmed that the Second Vatican Council did not abrogate the old liturgical books, but wanted a revision of them, without rupture or the cancellation of the previous tradition. The motu proprio, therefore, does not aim for liturgical uniformity, but rather for reconciliation within the Church, bringing the two Forms, Ordinary and Extraordinary, to live together beside each other, respecting their specific characteristics, since in the history of the liturgy, there has always been a multiplicity of rites, and variants within the Roman Rite.

    From this point of view, we can calmly state that our appraisal of this decade has been mostly positive, since, recognition of this has grown within many individual dioceses, and mutual distrust has progressively decreased, albeit slowly, and not without some initial difficulties. Especially in France and the United States, where celebrations of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form are more numerous, the result can be considered fruitful and encouraging, thanks also to the apostolic work of the institutes under the jurisdiction of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. In France particularly, in a great many dioceses, at least one place is found where the Mass is celebrated in the usus antiquior. The interest in the ancient liturgy has been a positive surprise also in the Far East and Eastern Europe. The reception has been fair in Italy, although more so in some regions than others. Some statistics may be of interest, comparing the situation of ten years ago with that of today.

    In France, there were 104 Sunday celebrations of the old rite in 2007; today there are 221 (more than double); if those of the Society of St Pius X are included, the number reaches 430.

    In Germany, there were 35 Sunday celebrations in 2007; today there are 54, 153 if monthly Masses are included, and those celebrated only on weekdays.

    In Great Britain, there were 18 Sunday celebrations in 2007; in 2017, 40.

    In Italy, there were 30 in 2007; in 2017, 56 on Sundays, 107 if monthly and weekday Masses are included.

    In the United States, there were 230 in 2007, while today there are 480, not including those of the Society of St Pius X.

    In Poland, there were only 5, while in 2017 there are 40.

    Despite these encouraging statistics, this does not mean that all the problems have been substantially resolved. There exist problems of a practical nature, as for example, the scarcity of priests available or suitable for celebrating the Mass in the Vetus Ordo. This often prevents the local Ordinary from satisfying the requests of a stable group of the faithful. There are also problems linked to ideological prejudices, and others of a more pastoral character. Some bishops complain that individual groups of the faithful within a stable group are not always properly integrated into the pastoral life of the local Church, with the risk of a certain isolation. This isolation, however, is not due to the use of the Extraordinary Form, but to other factors which the local Church must examine specifically. It is the duty of the Ordinary, obviously, to guarantee harmony and active participation in the life of the diocese, in conformity with the universal law of the Church. The priest charged by the bishop to celebrate the usus antiquior should have an important role in encouraging such harmony and participation on the part of the faithful who members of a stable group attached to the Extraordinary Form.

    From the qualitative point of view, I consider it very important to speak of the mental and spiritual attitude of most of the faithful who follow the ancient liturgy. It is not the attitude of people oriented towards the past, but an expression of their will and desire to anchor the spirit in something perennial, to the treasury of grace preserved in the liturgical patrimony of the tradition. Precisely because this patrimony is perennial, even in its liturgical form, it is always current. As Pope Benedict XVI declared in the letter that accompanied the motu proprio, “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.

    The fact that many of the faithful who participate in the rite of the Vetus Ordo are young, and come from young families, shows that it is not “nostalgia” for the past that motivates their choice. In this regard, it is very promising that young priests are more available for and open to (celebration of the old rite.) It is clear that their preparation for it is taking place already during their seminary formation. In this regard, we must take note of the delay or negligence on the part of most seminaries in teaching the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy for those seminarians who are interested in it, which obviously includes places where there exist pastoral needs for celebration of the ancient Roman Rite.

    We certainly must also mention the constant increase in priestly vocations in the institutes under the jurisdiction of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, in particular the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter, the Institute of Christ the King, and the Institute of the Good Shepherd.

    In an appraisal that seeks to be precise, but not superficial or polemical, we cannot ignore that fact that in some places, and in specific cases, there are still difficulties in the application and reception of the teaching and norms of the motu proprio and the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei follow-up instruction Universae Ecclesiae. This should certainly not surprise us, since these difficulties are part of a broader context, and regard more generally the common understanding of the Second Vatican Council, spread by the reception and application of the Council’s teaching, and a certain way of understanding it. This common understanding is based on rupture and discontinuity with Tradition, and with the integrity and fullness of the Catholic Faith handed down by the Church’s constant Magisterium. However, we must also recognize that in the years following the publication of the motu proprio, many difficulties have been overcome, and there is in general on the part of the bishops and clergy a greater favorability towards those who prefer the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Often, the Ordinary’s inability to satisfy the request of the faithful who ask for the celebration of the Mass in the old liturgy arises, as I mentioned earlier, from the lack of priests who are not only willing, but also suitable (i.e., truly capable) of celebrating the sacred rite in the Extraordinary Form. 

    To conclude this brief appraisal, I believe we can recognize that since Summorum Pontificum has become legally active, there has been a large recovery, on the part of many of the faithful, and especially of young priests and laity, of this patrimony of the Church. This patrimony is a treasure to guard, and pass on in all its beauty and holiness, without ideological interference from any party. This will surely be to the benefit of all, even those who follow the Ordinary Form of the liturgy.

    In order to consider prospects for the future in a manner both sincere and thorough, I think it necessary to return to a fundamental aspect of Summorum Pontificum, namely, the desire to heal the rift, not just liturgical, but ecclesiological, between the old and the new. Instead of opposing the old rite to the new, I believe that the old rite, with its patrimony of faith and holiness, can greatly enrich the new; while the new, in its turn, can represent that rightful aspiration for theological and liturgical development in continuity and fidelity to tradition.

    Precisely because the liturgical reform desired by Paul VI had the purpose of bringing about this development, ordered in continuity with Tradition, we can and must ask ourselves: what are the causes of the eclipse of the Sacred which overwhelmed the Church’s liturgy after the reform, and drove many Catholics to seek elsewhere, outside the Church, the answer to man’s irrepressible longing for God and mystery? It is more significant than ever that Benedict XVI, in the letter which accompanied the publication of the motu proprio, at one point states, “The reestablishment of the Vetus Ordo of the Roman Missal will help the celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, that sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage.

    Therefore, we see that the discussion of future prospects for the ancient use of the rite is not principally a discussion about quantity (the increase in the number of such celebrations, or the number of stable groups that request it, etc.) It is a discussion about quality and substance, which is to say, one that regards the destiny of the resurgence of the life of faith and the Church’s liturgical life. 
    Here, then, lies the crucial point of the disputes about the old liturgy and the reformed one. The reestablishment of the Vetus Ordo, its great contribution, should be seen as the antidote to that arbitrary creativity (in liturgy) which causes mystery to disappear, and to the alarming tendencies which minimize the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, especially in the name of a false idea of greater comprehension and accessibility to the Sacrament.

    On the other hand, it is just as important to guarantee that the ancient liturgy not be seen as an element of disturbance or a threat to the unity of the Church, but rather as a gift in service to the building up of the body of Christ. The precious inheritance of the traditional liturgical patrimony must therefore not be anchored to the past, but made accessible also to the present and the future. Otherwise, the continuity of the Church through various eras and generations is endangered. This obviously does not exclude that in the future, there may arise a convergence in a single common form. However, this will be the result of a process of growth within the Church, not a bureaucratic or formal imposition from above. The current prospect is that this period should be one of mutual enrichment of the two forms, Ordinary and Extraordinary.

    As has been stated authoritatively several times, this is not a matter of contrast between Summorum Pontificum and the reforms of the Council, but rather of promoting and preserving its identity, so that those same reforms of the Council may be carried out, understood and made fruitful in line with the Church’s tradition. The image which even today is put forth on many sides, of an alternative between a pre- and post-conciliar world, is totally false, and should therefore be rejected. According to this idea, before the liturgical reform the priest was responsible for the liturgy, whereas starting with Vatican II, it is the responsible of the assembled community. Thus, it is concluded, the community is the true subject of the liturgy, and determines what ought to happen in it. It is certainly true that in the old liturgy, the priest never had the right to decide for himself what ought to happen. It was not arranged by the will of the cleric, but rather, came before him as a sacred rite, the objective form of the Church’s common prayer. The “priest versus community” polemic is senseless. It destroys the authentic understanding of the liturgy and creates a chasm between pre- and post-conciliar which destroys the great bond of the living story of the Faith.

    In contrast, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1069) clearly presents that which is permanently valid and preserved by the great tradition. Liturgy means “service of the people and for the people.” “Service of the people” presupposes the teaching that the people is not created from below, but in virtue of the Paschal ministry of Jesus Christ, and therefore is based on the ministry of another, namely, the Son of God. The People of God does not simply exist as the French, Italian, Spanish etc. exist. It arises continually anew in virtue of the Son of God, incarnate, dead and risen, and from the fact that He raises us up to communion with God, whom we can never reach by ourselves. In the Christian tradition, the term “liturgy” means that the people of God participates in the work of God.

    The Catechism cites the Council’s constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, according to which every liturgical work is a work of Christ, who is the High Priest, and of His body, which is the Church.
    This presents the matter in its true profundity. The liturgy presupposes that heaven is open; if heaven is not open, that the liturgy is belittled in its essence, everything is reduced to a matter of roles, the search for the community’s self-confirmation, in which the divine no longer exists. Against what Pope Francis calls the risk for Christians of self-referentiality, the decisive fact which must be emphasized is that the liturgy is either the work of God, or it does not exist. This primacy of God and of His action comes with a universal openness found in every liturgy, which cannot be understood as a matter of phenomenology or the community’s reference to itself, but only by the Christological and theology categories of the people of God and the Body of Christ.

    Only in this context can one then understand the mutual relationship between the priest and the community of the faithful. The priest does and says in the liturgy his own part, but he can do and say nothing of his own; he acts in persona Christi. He is not the community’s delegate; rather, in his sacramental representation of Christ as the head of the Church, he expresses the primacy of Christ, which is the most basic condition of every Catholic liturgy. It is precisely because the priest represents this primacy of Christ, that he makes it possible for the entre assembly of the faithful to go beyond itself, heavenward, towards Him who eliminates every earthly barrier.

    Benedict XVI, while still a cardinal, wrote that “The Church stands and falls with the Liturgy. When the adoration of the divine Trinity declines, when the faith no longer appears in its fullness in the liturgy of the Church, when man’s words, his thoughts, his intentions are suffocating him, the faith will have lost the place where it is expressed and where it dwells. For that reason, the true celebration of the sacred liturgy is the center of any renewal of the Church whatever.” (Introduction to The Spirit of the Liturgy)

    The liturgy of the old rite reminds us, through its silence, its repeated genuflections, its reverence, of the infinite distance that separates heaven from earth; it reminds us that our horizon is not that of earth, but of heaven, that nothing is possible without the sacrifice of Christ, and that the supernatural life is a mystery. This is not, however, a matter of putting the old rite in competition with the reformed missal. It is rather a matter of understanding how the restored freedom to celebrate according to the old liturgical books erects a new barrier to advanced secularism, and a sociological conception which exalts the community, and hides the reality of the whole Christ, head and body. Therefore, we can say that the ancient Roman Rite forms a radical response to the challenge of secularization and “laicism”, to the anti-Christian and sociological humanism of our era. Certainly, it is not the only possible rite, but it faithfully expresses the Catholic Church’s ecclesiology, which is dogmatically one, but can be expressed by different rites or forms of the same rite.

    The restoration of the ancient Gregorian liturgy is not therefore a step back, but looks to the future of the Church, which can never build itself by destroying or hiding the spiritual, liturgical and doctrinal richness of its past. Likewise, it can never close itself off from renewal and development, which must always be coherent with tradition. To celebrate the old rite means to look with hope to the future of the Church, at the center of which stands the cross of Christ, as it stands, (and should stand) at the center of the altar. Christ is the High priest to whom the Church turns its face, today, yesterday, and forever.

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    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.


    NOTES

    [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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    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!






    Life Magazine












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    The online journal O Clarimhas 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?

    Kwasniewski:
    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.

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

    Kwasniewski:
    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?

    Kwasniewski: 
    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.

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    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.

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    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]

    NOTES

    [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.