Friday, 4 June 2010

Musings on this image...

I found this manuscript in Google Images. It is evidently from a Book of Hours and depicts the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket (a personal favourite saint of mine). Curiously the artist has mistaken the liturgical celebration at which the Archbishop was murdered for what appears to be Low Mass (it was, as you all know, Solemn Vespers - Vespera erat, nox longissima instabat, as the account of William Fitzstephen, an eyewitness, has it). I wonder how widespread and recognisable Low Mass would have been in the 12th century? There were of course isolated cases of ''private'' Masses as far back as 6th century. St Gregory I makes mention of Cassius, Bishop of Narni in Umbria, in his Dialogues, that he ''was accustomed to offer to God a daily sacrifice.'' (Dialogues, IV, 56). At any rate I do not know the history of Low Mass in any great detail. I would like to compile a bibliography and write a history of Low Mass myself, only I do not know any authors.

Anyway, not that this would have been so great a problem in the days when Books of Hours were in vogue as it is now, but this tendency to isolate Mass from the Office creates huge problems for Liturgy. Look at the concept of evening Masses for instance, or Votive Masses - how can you go against the Office any more than if you ignore the very first rubric in the Missal: Missa quotidie dicitur [it should say canitur] secundum ordinem Officii? In other words, Mass conforms to the Office, not the other way around. I have never understood arguments ''from necessity'' in this regard - if you cannot get to Mass on a Holyday of Obligation, why not go to Vespers or Mattins and Lauds instead? The Office is as much the public prayer of the Church as Mass. But then I am forgetting reality, most parish churches have at least three kinds of Mass on offer on Sundays and no Office. Once again I feel compelled to say - something went horribly wrong in the West...

As a curious aside, notice that the Archbishop is wearing a Sarum blue Chasuble...


  1. Perhaps the image was deliberately imagined to equate the martyrdom with the Passion by some theologically astute religious who was accustomed to Low Mass.

    I appreciate your sentiments about the Office. We're thinking about having a midweek service (an Anglican word....) of Evensong and Benediction. I think it can only be a good thing for the Parish to rekindle the memory of times when Sunday and Weekday evenings were not times to hear Mass and receive Communion, but rather to attend the Office of the day and perhaps Benediction. This emphasis on "the Mass the Mass the Mass" and at any time really is a mistake.

    I look forward to your scholarly findings on Low Mass. From lots of medieval images I've seen it seems like there was a half-way house sort of Mass, not unlike some celebrations in the Eastern churches when not even a deacon is available. You images of Acolytes holding both the chasuble and a taper, quite unlike our Low Mass today. Is this the origin of the Sanctus Candle?

  2. Joseph, that is an interesting point vis-a-vis the theology of martyrdom and the Passion we recall in the Sacrifice of the Mass, although perhaps it was a mistake - or even a clever ploy to show off the Sarum blue chasuble...Lord only knows.

    I like English words, and I certainly prefer Evensong to Vespers and Mattins to Matins, Foreword to Preface etc. In this I am influenced not only by Fortescue, who scalds Dale for his obstinate use of such terms as Bugia, Predella, Beretta etc, and Tolkien and C.S Lewis, both clever Classicists, who spent their respective careers studying the Northern barbarians! As a Classicist myself I am torn between my love of things Roman and my desire liturgically to isolate myself from Roman influence (that is Roman fashion such as lace ornamentation)...

    If I could compile a bibliography for Low Mass it would be a veritable tour-de-force. I am aware of no detailed study of Low Mass as a phenomenon peculiar to the Western Church, and it would certainly highlight one or two areas where liturgically the West has departed from Tradition.

    In a typical parish setting I would start with introducing Sunday Vespers (replacing an evening Mass), then gradually I would introduce Mattins and Lauds. It is not impossible, but trying to convince many aliturgical Westerners, who would have more Sunday Masses if they could get away with it, might be...

  3. I rather doubt that there was an official and formal codification or distinction until the sixteenth century between 'Low Mass' and a proper celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

    Lace is easily dealt with - simply cut it off, bashing it has no discernable effect.

    One of Cranmer's good points was the creation of Evensong as a 'cathedral rite' praxis for parish churches. Ironically in the 1956 consultation of the Episcopate by Pius XII's Commission for General Liturgical Reform, Daniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne, actually suggested re-creating Evensong out of an amalgamation of Vespers and Evensong. This is rather astonishing as Mannix hated the United Kingdom and our Most Gracious Sovereign Lady H.M. The Queen. Mannix had to be quietly moved from Ireland to 'down under' after due representation through diplomatic channels as, I believe, the euphemism runs.

    Mattins and Lauds on the Eve of Sundays, replacing the Saturday Evening Mass, Hours before a single Parish Mass and Vespers and Compline (or Evensong where pastoral needs dictated it) would be a much healthier diet than Mass, Mass, Mass (folk), Mass and Mass in a typical modern parish.