Saturday, 29 May 2010

A new interesting blog...

A friend and respected reader has notified me to this new blog. Pop over and have a look.

The Blog of Arthur Crumly.

Ex libro horarum...

Not the finest illuminated manuscript around but this old Book of Hours depicts the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles and St Mary in the upper room. Something for the last day of the Octave, since curiously the Pentecost Octave doesn't have an Octave Day.
I wonder, do Books of Hours count as a ''pious devotion'' to compensate for bad Liturgy such as private Masses? The era in which they were most popular certainly had Low Mass (obviously with no codified rubrics; this didn't happen until Trent), but to fulfill one's Sunday obligation one had to attend not only Mass but more properly Mattins, Mass and Vespers, and these would have been sung and with incense even in the humblest parish in the back of beyond. Just something to think about...

Ecclesia huius insulae, in diebus sancti Bedae...

I tend to think that if you proposed to J.R.R Tolkien the prospect of doing away with the Old Roman Rite in English parish churches and to replace it with the Use of old Sarum, he'd have dismissed the idea as too French! I think I would too, although I think that in the mid-19th century the newly restored hierarchy should have given more serious thought to the question. Afterall, the catholicity of the Church does not necessarily entail uniformity of the Latin Rite. Of course, Tolkien's objection to the Sarum Use would be that it does not pre-date the Norman Conquest, and so like replacing Saxon eorls with Norman knights such a prospect would be just as aggressive an affront to the Englishness of the Church as imposing an ''official'' foreign language upon Parliament, which was incidentally Norman French for the next three hundred years. That is not to say, however, that there were not Gallican influences on the Church in Anglo-Saxon England.

If you read St Bede's Ecclesiastical History, as Tolkien will have done (the only references to St Bede that I am aware of in Tolkien's published work is in his very interesting essay English and Welsh), you will notice some peculiarities in English ecclesiastical life. The general thrust of this great work seems to me to be the conflict between Roman and Celtic Christianity. Ridiculous though it may seem for one so ignorant of this period in Church history to venture any kind of analysis, I venture to utter a few thoughts nonetheless, for it is very interesting. Turning to my translation of Cuthbert's Letter on the Death of Bede, for instance, we read: A tertia autem hora ambulavimus cum reliquiis sanctorum, ut consuetudo illius diei poscebat; ''From the third hour, however, we walked [in procession] with the relics of the Saints, as the custom of that day required.'' Since this refers to the Feria Quarta preceeding Ascension Day it is an obvious early reference to the English custom of observing the Rogations processions.

Another small, though perhaps noteworthy, reference to English liturgical life is St Bede's small treasure trove. St Bede says: Quaedam preciosa in mea capsella habeo, id est piperum, oraria et incensa; ''I have certain precious things in my small box, that is, pepper, napkins and some incense.'' Pepper and Incense go without saying; both were highly valuable at the time, having to be traded via the Indian Ocean, the eastern Mediterranean and Arabia. However it is oraria, an unhelpful neuter plural noun, which is interesting. Orarium means napkin or handkerchief, but the sense employed by St Bede here seems to mean, according to the footnote in my Latin edition, ''small cloths or veils used in the performance of the liturgy.'' There is no elaboration, and the Lewis & Short doesn't pick this sense up, so does anyone have any suggestion as to how these small cloths or veils were used?

In the days of St Bede there would have been a much greater scope for local custom and tradition in the liturgical life of the country. In Book I of the Ecclesiastical History St Bede relates a correspondence between St Augustine and St Gregory, the Pope of Rome, in which Augustine asks: ''Even though the faith is one are there varying customs in the churches? and is there one form of Mass in the Holy Roman Church and another in the Gaulish churches?'' To which the Pope replies:

''My brother, you know the customs of the Roman Church in which, of course, you were brought up. But it is my wish that if you have found any customs in the Roman or the Gaulish church or any other church which may be more pleasing to Almighty God, you should make a careful selection of them and sedulously teach the Church of the English, which is still new in the faith, what you have been able to gather from other churches. For things are not to be loved for the sake of a place, but places are to be loved for the sake of their good things. Therefore choose from every individual Church whatever things are devout, religious and right. And when you have collected these as it were into one bundle, see that the minds of the English grow accustomed to it.'' [My own emphasis].

These are very apposite points. One might ask, is using the liturgical formulae of Rome to the finest point, when geographically isolated from Rome, necessarily a good thing? The Augustinian missions to this Isle brought with them not only the Faith but a return of things distinctly Roman, and the old Britons (at least the remnant of the Romano-British, the likes of St Patrick) would have welcomed this. I suppose this is all largely tied up with the fact that the only Patriarchal See in the West is Rome, and so missions all set out from there (the Irish missions to this Isle, and even to the Continent as far as Switzerland, are an isolated case - and Ireland, like England, has no apostolic See. As I have said, a large part of St Bede is devoted to the conflict between the Celtic church and the Roman church). Speaking as a reader in the Classical world and living amongst heathens (I work in a supermarket, you see, and most of them do not even come up to the standard of pagans in their apostasy) I would certainly welcome the return of the Latin tongue to these shores, as a living thing, a connexion between antiquity and remoteness, civilisation etc. But ought not the Church to take stock of St Bede, nay even of Pope Gregory's counsel, that things are not to be loved for the sake of places but rather that places are to be loved for the sake of their good things? I think that a good cultivation of a varied rather than a uniform liturgical life would enkindle the Liturgy of this Isle. One wonders how St Bede would view the modern state of Catholicism (of the ''traditionalist'' kind) in this Isle. Would he recognise it?

Friday, 28 May 2010

Vultum Christi desideravit...

Tempus est, si sic Factori meo videtur, ut ad eum modo resolatus e carne veniam, qui me quando non eram ex nihilo formavit. Multum tempus vixi, beneque mihi pius Iudex vitam meam praevidit. Tempus vero absolutionis meae prope est, etenim anima mea desiderat Regem meum Christum in decore suo videre. (It is time, if it seems so to my Maker, that released from the flesh I should come to Him, who when I was not formed me out of nothing. I have lived much, and the pious Judge has provided well for me all my life. In truth the time of my absolution is near, and indeed my souls longs to see Christ my King in all His beauty).

On with Cuthbert's letter...

In such exaltation we passed the fifty days [between Easter and Pentecost] even unto the day hitherto mentioned, and the same rejoiced greatly and rendered thanks unto God, for he had merited to be thus infirm; and oft he said: ''God chastises every son whom he receives'' [Heb. 12:6], and that sentence of Ambrose: ''I have not so lived, that to live among you shames me; but neither do I fear to die, for we have a good God'' [Paulinus, Life of Ambrose, xiv.43]. However in those days there were two small works worthy of much memory, with the exception of those daily lessons which we received from him and in the chanting of the Psalms, which he strove to complete, that is, from the beginning of the Gospel of Saint John even unto the place where it says: ''But what are they among so many?'' [John 1:6] he translated into our tongue, to the profit of the Church of God, and certain selections from the Book of the Wheels [commonly known as De Natura Rerum] of Bishop Isidore, saying: ''I do desire that my boys read falsehood, and working on this after my death without fruit.''

But when the Third Feria [Tuesday] had come before the Ascension of the Lord he began to be sick more aggressively in his breathing, and a small swelling appeared in his feet; but all that day he taught and dictated happily, and sometimes among other things he said: ''Learn with haste, for 'I know not how long I shall survive, and if after a short while my Maker takes me' [Job 32:22]''. To us however he seemed that he knew well when his end should be. And so he passed the night vigilant in the rendering of thanks, and in the first light of morning, that is the Fourth Feria [Wednesday], he gave instruction that the writing, which we had begun, should be finished quickly. And we did so even unto the third hour [nine o'clock]. From the third hour, however, we walked in procession with the relics of the Saints, as the custom of that day required.* And one of us was with him, who said to him: ''There is still one chapter from the book, which you dictated, missing, and it seems to me to be difficult for you to ask more.'' But he said: ''It is easy. Take up your reed pen and mend it, and then write quickly.'' And so he did. From the ninth hour he said to me: ''I have certain precious things in my small box, that is, pepper, napkins and some incense. But hurry quickly, and lead the priests of our monastery to me, that I may distribute such gifts as God has given me to them.''

And I did this with fear. And being present he spoke to them and everyone, advising and imploring that they make Masses and prayers for him diligently. And they willingly promised to him so. But they were mourning and all wept, but greatly in the word which he said, that his face would not be seen much more in this world. But they rejoiced about this which he said of him: ''It is time, if it seems so to my Maker, that released from the flesh I should come to Him, who when I was not formed me out of nothing. I have lived much, and the pious Judge has provided well for me all my life. In truth the time of my absolution is near, and indeed my souls longs to see Christ my King in all His beauty.''

Having spoken thus and not a few other things to our edification, he passed his last day in joy unto the evening. And the aforesaid boy, with the name Wilberht, said again: ''Sweet Master, there remains still one sentence not written.'' But he said: ''Write it.'' And after a short time the boy said: ''It is written so,'' but he said: ''Good, it is finished. You have told the Truth. Take my head into your hands, for it pleases me much to sit opposite my holy place, in which I was accustomed to pray, that I may be able sitting there to call upon my Father.'' And so, upon the floor of his cell, chanting: ''Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost'' and the rest, he breathed his last; and without another doubt it is to be believed by us that, for him he had laboured here always in the praise of God, his soul was carried by Angels into the joys of the heavenly longings. But all heared or saw the death of blessed Bede our father, said that never had they seen another man end his life in such great devotion and peace, for as you have heard, do long as his soul was in his body, he sang the ''Gloria Patri'' and other songs to the glory of God, and spreading out his hands he ceased not to give thanks unto God.

But it behoves you to know that much could be told and written concerning him, but now the unlearnedness [how do you render ineruditio into good English?] of my tongue makes my words short. But I purpose, in time, with God's help, to write a fuller account of him, which mine eyes have seen and mine ears have heard.

Here ends the Letter of Cuthbert on the death of the venerable priest Bede.

*This undoubtedly indicates that the community at Jarrow were following the Gallican practice of the Rogations in the days preceeding Ascension Day. This custom developed in Gaul in the fifth century and were not practiced in Rome. This indicates a strong influence of the Gallican church on the Church in Anglo-Saxon England.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Epistola de obitu Bedae...

O Rex gloriose, Domine virtutum, qui triumphator hodie super omnes caelos ascendisti, ne derelinquas nos orphanos, sed mitte promissum Patris in nos Spiritum veritatis. Alleluia! (O King of glory, Lord of might, O victor who did ascend this day above all the heavens, leave us orphans not but send the promise of the Father to us, the Spirit of truth. Alleluia!)

In his last days, St Bede was wont to sing many antiphons and the Psalter, and one of them was this very apposite antiphon, which is the antiphon of the Magnificat for Ascension Day, later added to the Book of Common Prayer as the Collect for the Sunday after Ascension Day. Because of the greatness of the present Octave, one of only three left in the ''liturgical'' books of 1962 (and subsequently abolished under Paul VI - is Christmas more important than Pentecost? The Octave of Pentecost was much older...), St Bede is not celebrated this year but merely commemorated in the Liturgy of the Octave. Since, however, he remains one of my favourite saints, I cannot say nothing of him.

I first read The Ecclesiastical History of the English People when I was 15, and thought that it was awfully tedious in parts (in fact I thought ''well I don't ever have to think about that again'' - having read it, like so much else, for the sake of having read it), but it wasn't until I read this work in the Latin language that I fully appreciated St Bede's demonstrable piety and reverence for religious history. I could pick any story in this great work - there are so many of such great worth - but I have decided on the above antiphon, and my translation of Cuthbert's Letter on the Death of Bede. It is quite long but worth the read. Enjoy:

Cuthbert the Deacon to the most beloved and fellow reader in Christ Cuthwin greeting in the everlasting God,

The little present which you have sent I received very gratefully and I read your letter of devout learning very eagerly in which, what I greatly desired to find, undoubtedly that Masses and holy prayers are being diligently celebrated by you before God for our beloved father and master Bede. Whence it pleases me rather for love of him than by recourse to my own understanding to say in a few words in what manner he left the world, since I have understood that this is what you desire and request.

He was burdened with a certain sickness, and frequently with great difficulty breathing, but at last almost without another sorrow, but before the Day of the Lord's Resurrection, that is for about two weeks; and in this way afterwards he led life, glad and rejoicing and giving thanks to almighty God all the day and night, no indeed at all hours even unto the Day of the Lord's Ascension, that is the seventh of the Kalends of June [26th May A.D 735], and daily he gave lessons to us his disciples, and whatever remained of the day he spent in the chanting of the Psalms as best he could. In truth he was eager to lead the whole night gladly in prayers and rendering thanks unto God, unless impeded by so little a sleep; and in the same way, however, immediately rising from sleep to the familiar melodies of the Scriptures, he thought deeply, and he was not unmindful to give thanks, extending his hands unto God. Truly I confess that never have mine eyes seen, nor have mine ears heard, a man so diligent to render thanks unto the living God. O truly how blessed is the man! But he used to sing the sentence of Saint Paul the Apostle, saying: ''It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God'' [Heb. 10:31], and many other things of the holy Scriptures, in which he admonished us to arise from sleep of the soul by forethought of the last hour. In our tongue also, as he was learned in our songs, speaking of the terrible departure of the souls from the body:

Facing that enforced journey, no man can be
more prudent than he has good call to be,
if he consider, before his going hence,
what for his spirit of good hap or of evil
after his day of death shall be determined.

He used to sing antiphons too, to our consolation and of his, of which one is: O King of glory, Lord of might, O victor who did ascend this day above all the heavens, leave us orphans not, but send the promise of the Father to us, the Spirit of truth. Alleluia! But when he came to those words ''ne derelinquas nos orphanos'', he burst into tears and wept much. And after an hour he began to repeat what he had begun, and in this way he did everyday. And we, hearing these things, mourned and wept with him; we read in turns, in turns we wept, no indeed we wept as we read.

[I am conscious that this is getting too long, so the next installment tomorrow]...

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Historia Brittonum...

I am currently reading the Historia Brittonum (the Vita Patricii), an ''historical'' work commonly attributed to Nennius, a Welsh monk of the 9th century. Unlike St Bede, the father of English history, who was very meticulous, Nennius has a tendency to be ''inventive'' and according to modern historians a lot of his sources are fictitious, although personally I think that most were simply lost. I was referred to the Historia for translation purposes last year by an old friend from University now studying Celtic Christianity. The Latin is not as hard as St Bede (about whom I shall post something spite of the great Octave) but still worthy and is easy enough that I can translate relatively fluently without too much recourse to the Lewis & Short. I am relying, however, on The Latin Library. I think it a great nuisance that Latin books are so rare. How on earth can you understand the author and the age if you're reading his work in a foreign language?

The above image depicts Merlin reading his Prophecies to Vortigern, in a manuscript of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Prophetiae Merlini, c.1250. A lot of the Arthurian stuff, of course, is derived from the Historia Brittonum.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Quantum inter nos silentium...

In the short time (it seems longer) since I gave up the old blog and started this one, I have been busy with various commitments. I did miss blogging (despite the wise comment left by a good reader on the old blog - someone who suggested that I give up blogging generously and not look back) and spent many idle days just reading, or even festering in front of the TV (although I wouldn't miss it if it were done away with). I am, as you know, no longer a student and I have been consistently overdrawn for well over a year, but I have come to accept that this is ''my lot'' for the time being. As Oscar Wilde (my hero) would say: I have become married to poverty, but unlike St Francis, the marriage is not an easy one. Budgeting is hard and I don't think I am intelligent enough to stick to one but it seems the only sensible way forward.

Updates: I left the application for a new degree until far too late and so when I received the email telling me that King's College had no more vacancies on their Classics degree I was disappointed, though not surprised. I am now stuck with the prospect of a very plebeian approach to my education - fitting my Degree around my work life - but I have only myself to blame. I could wait until enrollment for the academic year 2011 but my mother was strictly against this, and to an extent so was I. My only consolation is that it will still be a University of London degree. Again, would that I had gone to Oxford to study...

Anyway, I am currently low on blog post ideas and so any suggestions from readers would be welcome. I have spent most of the time sorting out the template. I hope that it doesn't seem too austere. A very happy Pentecost to you all!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Ad Liturgiae amorem...

Welcome, readers, to my new blog! Liturgiae Causa is a personal endeavour in the cause of the Liturgy. I believe that there has been a near-irretrievable loss of a sense of Liturgy in the Western Church, for a variety of complex and interpenetrating reasons. This blog aims to raise awareness about these reasons, and possible remedies, by means of reflections, short essays etc, and even perhaps the organisation of real Liturgy. As a classicist, and a Tolkien reader, I shall also endeavour to post about these things.

Liturgiae Causa is not another ''traditionalist'' blog - I believe that Catholic ''traditionalism'', especially in a post-Summorum Pontificum world, is wholly repugnant to the real Tradition of the Church, and ''traditionalist'' organisations, such as Una Voce, the Latin Mass Society and the Society of St Pius X, whose pseudo-traditional doctrinal and liturgical stances I repudiate utterly, more often than not just wilfully keep the Faithful in the dark about Liturgy and Tradition, blind guides (Matthew 23:24). The celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, which ought to be the sole ultimate focus and the direction of all loves of the Christian man, ought to exclude all minimalism, and so any attempt to ''enrich'' the Novus Ordo of Paul VI, or to ''remedy'' existing liturgical abuses (and they are, alas, many and commonplace) by making recourse to the liturgical books of 1962 is just palliative at best.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of the late J.R.R Tolkien (1892-1973), a faithful Catholic who in his last years saw the rapid collapse of the Sacred Liturgy.

Laus Deo semper.