Monday, 12 July 2010


Greek monks chanting the Office. Does anyone know the technical name of the wooden frame they're all leaning against? They're like choir stalls...

Leaving Egeria aside for one moment I'd like to consider something else liturgical. If you read the Ordinary prayers of the Roman Rite, many of which are among the most ancient features of the Rite, you'll oft come across the word ''circumstantes.'' This word refers literally to ''those standing nearby'', and comes from the verb ''circumsto'' which means ''I stand around'', or even ''surround''. For example, in the Diptychs of the Living in the Roman Canon the priest says:

Memento, Domine, famulorum famularumque tuarum N. et N. et omnium circumstantium...[Be mindful, O Lord, of your servants and handmaids N. and N., and of all standing nearby...]

Likewise, in the offering of the Lamb (the Suscipe sancte Pater prayer) in the Offertory:

Suscipe, sancte Pater omnipotens aeterne Deus hanc immaculatam hostiam quam ego indignus famulus tuus offero tibi, Deo meo vivo et vero, pro innumerabilibus peccatis et offensionibus et negligentiis meis, et pro omnibus circumstantibus...[Accept, O holy Father, almighty eternal God this immaculate host which I, your unworthy servant, offer to you, to my true and living God, for my countless sins, offences and negligences, and for all those standing by...]

What then does ''circumstantes'' refer to? Is it some theological ideal, or some last relic of a long forgotten practice of people crowding the priest at the Altar? I think it is a combination of both these things (without the crowding part), and refers to the ancient posture of liturgical prayer which is standing, symbolising the Resurrection. For the last two weeks I have retired to the congregation to watch (unmolested by the duties of holding a torch to greet the Elevation) the Liturgy and I confess to getting rather impatient with the whole stand, sit, kneel routine - which is the aliturgical consequence of having pews clutter up a liturgical space. Could you imagine the huge difference to the ethos of the Roman Rite it would be if we suddenly did away with pews? This way the Nave of the church could once again be a real liturgical space, free for liturgical processions (when I attended a Pentecost Vigil in a nearby church earlier this year I was rather annoyed that I couldn't join the Procession to the Font (in the wrong place) because of the pews), and the Deacon could go around the church with the thurible and incense each and everyone (and the other statues and images in the church) at the Offertory of the Mass, rather than the current practice of the Thurifer giving the lay people three simple swings from the gates of the Quire.

Regarding the stand, sit, kneel routine (which effects not only the lay people but also the Sacred Ministers and clergy in choir), I have never quite understood the three degrees of ''emphasis'' inherent in this strange custom. Apologists of the routine tell me that we stand for the Prayers and Gospel (rightly so), we sit for other ''less important'' parts such as the Epistle and Offertory prayers, and we kneel for such things as the Canon and Prayers for Requiems. Kneeling is very apposite in certain liturgical contexts (such as during Lent and Holy Week, the most solemn and serious days in the year), but I would personally do away with all kneeling on Sundays and during Paschaltide. Requiems are interesting - what is the idea behind kneeling for the Prayers at a Mass of Requiem? The sombre character of the Catholic Requiem Mass appeals to me aesthetically and liturgically. The Propers (is the Dies Irae not part of the Ordinary of the Requiem Mass?) express that we are grieved and torn to pieces by our loss, but that we too hope in the general Resurrection and the fathomless mercy of God, but does kneeling for the Prayers not compromise the balance that the Requiem encapsulates? I would rather the Prayers be sung standing, the attitude common to all Prayers, the idea expressing the reality of the Resurrection.

Sitting is simply not a liturgical posture of any kind, and as I have said, I would reduce any seats in a church to those lined against the wall for the benefit of those who simply cannot stand for long periods.


  1. They're kathismata!

  2. The more I read of this blog, the more I wonder why you simply haven't begun the conversion process to Holy Orthodoxy. Granted, Orthodoxy is not perfect and some churches do have pews and some other little annoyances like that, but the Orthodox sense of liturgical piety and decorum is so very close to what you describe here that I wonder how you can stand to remain within the Roman communion especially when I also consider your arguments against ultramontanism and low Mass.

  3. Moretben, thank you for that.

    Kenneth, I don't quite know what to say to that. Perhaps I am not that convinced of Orthodoxy? What this blog aims to do is to rekindle a more authentic, untampered with, Tradition within the Catholic Church - I think this is a possible ideal. I think that cutting out the cancers of Ultramontanism, the '62 liturgical books, Low Mass, Missals, Breviaries etc is part of this process.

  4. The stalls are called "stasidia".

    And I agree with Kenneth - your criticisms of Catholic innovations are very close to an Orthodox Phronema (mindset) on the subject.

  5. Fair enough I suppose, and I hope my comment didn't come through as hostile. Perhaps I'm not as optimistic as you are about the possibilities within the Roman Church to attain what you desire because it seems like you'd have to reject the better part of a millennium of what has developed within that church.

  6. It took me twenty years!

    I think it's important to recognise that being highly critical of western "developments" does not make one Orthodox. Orthodoxy is very different from Roman Catholicism - I don't think it's possible to understand just how different, until one has actually made the journey. It's a journey that can only be undertaken on condition of abandoning all of one's luggage on the quayside, or watching it get washed overboard. Speaking for myself, I wish I'd done it years ago; but at least my children will have been raised in the sunlight, as opposed to wasting half their lives chasing the shadows on the cave wall.

  7. Doesn't the Council of Nicaea forbid kneeling on Sundays?

  8. My Chapel has seats... they spend the majority of the week stacked against the wall and we get the young people who use our chapel to be seated on the floor.
    We only put the seats out for Mass.

    Sitting is comfortable. Having no cartilage in my knees I have to say that standing or kneeling for long periods of time becomes distracting and stops me from being able to worship God in the way I want to.
    Whilst I understand the desirability of losing the pews, I would have to suggest that they are replaced with flexible seating such as stackable chairs, because by losing seating for everyone in the Church entirely, new barriers are created, new reasons for people not to go to Church "oooh - I can't stand for that long"

    Just my two shillings.


  9. Kenneth, no not at all. There was no offence intended and certainly none received. I am more interested in reviving some of the long forgotten and Roman elements within the Roman Rite than converting to Orthodoxy. It is certainly a prejudice that everything ''Eastern'' is old - much in the Roman Rite is much older, and it is these things with which I am chiefly concerned.

    Kenneth, about the whole second millenium within the Latin Church - yes a lot of it is modern accretion, and unbalanced devotion on one thing to the detriment of another (devotion to the Holy Eucharist for example), but I guess it's a question of just (at the moment, I don't wish to become like Bugnini or many like him) discerning what is truly Catholic and what isn't, if this can be done without harm to the Liturgy. Take the Requiem Mass for example - Bugnini erred horribly in his treatment of it. What I think about the Prayers seems a lot more reasonable than tearing the Rite to pieces as he did...

  10. Paul Knight, yes it does. Canon XX:

    Forasmuch as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord's Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing.

  11. The more I read here the more happy, I believe, you would be in Orthodoxy,(maybe with a good does of Geoffrey Hull's fine writing thrown in) especially the static nature of belief - as opposed to the developing nature of doctrine and practice in the Catholic church.Pius XII told us that we should eschew "primitivism" , and whether we like it or not, this sort of belief and thought is essentially Roman and Catholic. The idea of going back to a past is even found in the Book Of Common Prayer, the Ornaments Rubric tells Anglicans to go back for a model to "the second year of the reign of Edward VI", and "chancels shall remain as in times past". Adrian Fortescue's book on Orthodoxy explains very well their love of being frozen in a particular time. Alan Robinson

  12. If I remember correctly one of the Canons orders excommunication for kneeling on the Lord's Day - I shall look it up.

    Personally I have always thought that Fortesuce protested rather too much with his perception of Orthodoxy. Fortescue was increasingly disillusioned with Rome and his loathing of the 'Italian lunatic' (Pius X) was infamous. Fortescue calmed somewhat under Benedict XV but what, one must wonder, would he have made of the situation today?

    Many years ago I had a rather eccentric flat mate. One of his rather sensible suggestions was to not go running around to find 'decent' liturgy in far away or 'niche' churches. "Go to the local churches" my friend advised "judge them on that basis. If you don't like the local Roman church then Rome is not for you'; if you don't like the local Anglican church etc., etc".

    I suspect the good Moretben would agree with this advice.

  13. Then Our Lord too is 'frozen' if we believe Hebrews 13:8 and other verses. Indeed, a certain frozenness, dispassion and 'achronism' is the aim, not a passionate swaying and dallying with the times. Yes, even the Papacy has fallen prey to Modernism, to its own bastard, or legitimate(?) offspring.

  14. Warrior300,

    "The idea of going back to a past is even found in the Book Of Common Prayer...

    Adrian Fortescue's book on Orthodoxy explains very well their love of being frozen in a particular time."

    And what about RC traditionalists and the magic year of 1962? How is that any different?

  15. I use to live in Greece and spent quite a bit of time on the Holy Mountain (indeed, at the very monastery in the photo!). I've never heard the seats referred to as 'kathismata', even though that may be their formal name. I've always heard them called 'stasidia'. 'Kathismata' is commonly used for the divisions in the Psalter.

  16. aaronandbrighid, thanks for your comment. I have read your blog for a while now and find it very interesting (particularly the latest post), would you consider adding me to your blogroll?

  17. Rubricarius,
    Yes, going back to a fixed date has its own dangers and we see how people moan about "not in 1962". I suppose this is the difference or the relationship between the Charismatic [in the true sense] mystical church and the juridical church of the here and now. Maybe the orthodox have it right ! When I was 18, I thought so......
    Alan Robinson

  18. Alan - I've mentioned elsewhere quite recently that Fortescue is the prototypical tradition-minded RC, taking out his misery and frustration on the Orthodox. Only an RC could mistake his acerbities for any kind of authoritative comment on Orthodox self-understanding. I never knew the meaning of "living Tradition" until I experienced it as an Orthodox Christian in the Orthodox Church. By contrast, the Roman "magisterium" has simply smothered the tradition and substituted Itself. Nothing is more suggestive of the deep freeze than the overclericalised rigidities of "Tridentine" liturgy and neo-scholastic integrism.

  19. Dates as 'cut-off' points don't ultimately work in an holistic sense with Liturgy. It is easy enough to say the Roman Office was fine until 1911; the Roman Mass until Pius XII; the Russian Liturgy until Patriarch Nikon etc etc but this raises other questions and difficulties.

    Selection based on orthopraxis (how Hullian!) would be a far better system and intimately linked to charism and mysticism (and of course the model St. Gregory recommended to St. Augustine). I would venture the enemy of orthopraxis is the juridical model of church.

  20. Can you expand, Rubricarius, your last's a bit late in the evening & hay fever makes me thicker than usual in the head.I'd like a little more development of the idea,because it is interesting and cuts through,perhaps, the question of how far do you go back for authentic worship ? Alan Robinson

  21. I would venture the enemy of orthopraxis is the juridical model of church.

    Exactly. You can have omnicompetent, universalist central-bureaucracy or a living Tradition. You can't have both.

  22. Selection based on orthopraxis ... would be a far better system

    Indeed. Two people reciting the 1939 (or even, God help me, 1962) Breviary is far better than an infinite number of hypothetical celebrations of a hypothetically better version. Or at least that's what I've always thought.

  23. Golly all the best people seem to be visiting your blog Patricius.

    Alan, sorry to learn that your hayfever continues - miserable. The juridical model reduces Liturgy to a mere legal prescription, which indeed is what has happened since Trent culminating in the series of reforms of the twentieth century. Despite the best of intentions, by some of the reformers, of wanting to engage people with the Liturgy the whole thing was a cultural disaster. The attitude to the Liturgy was what essentialy needed to change and that of course hasn't really changed at all. Liturgy in the Latin West is treated with the same indifference and contempt today as it always has been (or at least for a very long time).

    St. Gregory famously told St. Augustine to take the praxis of Rome to England but with the proviso that if he found anything better en route to use that instead. This strikes me as fundamentally sensible thinking.

    Our late and much missed mutual friend in Cambridge, Fr. Ronald de Poe Silk, seemed adept at this approach with his 'tweaked' Calendar, Liturgy and general sense of Liturgical good taste. Modern theories of Liturgy would call the process inculturation, which is precisely what it is.

    Consider, as an example, modern developments in Orthodox worship. During Holy Week the very moving ceremony of the 'Un-nailing' at Vespers on Good Friday morning. Originally introduced into Greek praxis I understand in the nineteenth century this poignant rite has spread across different jurisdictions and even has produced a 'Nailing' ceremony in some places before the Sixth Gospel on Thursday evening. No Patriarch has issued a decree commanding the observance or otherwise, it is something that has developed organically and is an excellent example of lex orandi, lex credendi.

    Why cannot Latin Christians do the same? Why not take the best arrangement of the Psalter, the best Calendar etc? Why not look at the richness of local uses from the Medieval period and incorporate the best from there? Why not also evaluate the few good things from the late twentieth century and incorporate them too? The reason of course is that most are too busy wanting to write to Rome to report their neighbour, PP, or bishop for not agreeing with them. (Something about a Publican and Pharisee comes to mind...) Then of course there the petty bureaucrats in Rome attempting to justify their existence.

    Following a juridical model just divorces the lex orandi from the living continuum of Tradition and reduces it to a dead branch broken from the living tree – but with Rome’s stamp of approval branded upon it.

    Paul – I certainly think 1939 is a good starting point and Office in common, or better still in Quire. However as to the use of 1962 that is pure heteropraxis in my book

  24. However as to the use of 1962 that is pure heteropraxis in my book.


    I take your point. Really, I do. And, especially as I get older, it becomes increasingly difficult for me to assist at various modern celebrations of the Divine Office. And yet...

    As a young man, I assisted at Vespers according to the modern rite at the Abbey of the Premonstratensian Canons, simply because it was the only sung office on Sunday afternoons available in the Archdiocese. (That hasn't changed, by the way.) I don't know if I could do it now, given my years of experience with "proper" liturgy, but I truly believe that it was better than nothing.

    Last month I assisted at Solemn Vespers according to the 1962 books for the first time. There is a parish vaguely nearby that started having Sunday Vespers once a month earlier this year. This, as one can imagine, is the only offering of the Divine Office in one of the local "traditionalist" venues. My Sunday afternoons are usually occupied with Solemn Vespers from the (more-or-less) 1939 books, but we have taken to reciting the office shortly after the High Mass on Sundays during the summer months. It was a particularly ironic Sunday to go, as it should have been the Sunday within the Octave of the Sacred Heart. Of course that had been abolished, but revised chant books were never published, so there was a "cheat sheet" handed out which told you how to make your Liber work--secundum quid--with the new calendar. (Of course, as the Council had intended, no doubt the faithful had the opportunity to assist at Vespers of the Sacred Heart on the previous Friday...) And while I object to the 1962 books as strenuously as anyone else, I wouldn't call it heteropraxis, especially if it's that or nothing.

    As a more general point, while I am sympathetic to the criticisms of the 1911-1913 reforms, I'm not sure if I'd unmake them. We have parts of the office in choir on a regular basis; the Little Hours and Vespers every Sunday. We have Matins and Lauds at seven in the morning on the Sundays of Advent and Lent, and would have to start at six if he had the pre-Pian office. And that can't be managed, as things stand now. (Of course we could also anticipate the hours on the previous day, but practical considerations would prevent that as well.) So I'm going to have to argue for the 1939 books until things get much, much better.

  25. Thanks, Rubricarius, for your clear and interesting explanation.
    Real Anglo-Catholics [not jolly old High Churchmen who did what they want] would ,mock it because they have to do "what Holy Father says", which is why Fr Silk got a vast Tenebrae hearse from an Anglican Convent, because the Pope had abolished Tenebrae. There was the vicar in Co Durham who, when the changes came in, called at the beginning, probably 11.01 a.m., to his wife, "Collect in those Missals,Elsie,and give out those Missalettes t'Pope says we have to have t'New Mass": that is not fiction,real life is much more unbelievable. Alan Robinson

  26. Paul,

    I must beg to differ with you.

    Personally I regard the 1962 office as heteropraxis and vastly inferior to the versions of the Roman rite which both preceded and proceeded them. Given the choice of 1962 or nothing I would most certainly embrace nothing.

    The 1962 books were only ever a temporary measure before the full reform could be carried out, work which was going to take several decades. As it is the 1962 books really are a nadir of the rite.

    I don't think one can ignore (putting to one side practical issues for the moment) a reform of the Office which really was revolutionary. The cursus of the Psalter was truly ancient and I am sure you are familiar with Baumstark's famous quote about the loss of the Laudate psalms.

    OK the Domininical Office was long, but people are supposed to spend time in church on a Sunday. There are interesting parallels with the Byzantine Sunday Vigil service which, if fully celebrated, has additional Dominical elements such as the number of antiphons sung with the first kathisma at Vespers and the Seventeenth kathisma at Mattins which differ from a festal celebration.

    The 1911 reform resulted in the loss in distinction between the Dominical and festal Offices, with the result, as tomorrow where a commemorated double feast wipes out the character of the Dominical rite (Quicumque and prayers at Prime, additional collects at the Liturgy etc). The next round of reform in 1956-60 managed to flatten and homogenise the Office even further so there really became very little difference between the Dominical, festal and ferial Offices.

    Of course one could make the same comment about Liturgia Horarum but it a least has restored forms of intercessionary prayer, the Patristic lessons and even a Sunday Vigil service (which no one bothers with except I understand Chevotogne and even there most people go to the Byzantine chapel instead!)

    May I suggest you have Mattins and Lauds at 7:00pm (or even better an hour or so earlier) on Saturday evening instead? I think you would find that far more satisfactory and would leave you and your brethren fresh on a Sunday morning for Prime and Terce before the Liturgy.

  27. Given the choice of 1962 or nothing I would most certainly embrace nothing.

    As I've said, I sympathize. And it might well be that if I were deprived of my current arrangements, I would end up staying home on Sunday. I hope, however, that I would not; that I would do the best that I could with what was realistically available to me, and that, at best, would be a relatively minimalist approach to the 1962 books.

    May I suggest you have Mattins and Lauds at 7:00pm (or even better an hour or so earlier) on Saturday evening instead?

    Your suggestion would be very well received, and, in principle, there would be no objection to the restoration of the pre-Pian breviary. (Using what calendar, I'd ask?) However, the four laymen who are the regular participants in the recitation of the Divine Office have secular employment and personal responsibilities. I realize that it demonstrates a certain lack of commitment, but Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday simply is not possible for us on a weekly basis. That said, it might be possible to attempt the pre-Pian arrangements on an ad experimentum basis during Advent, if a calendar could be agreed upon and the permission of the rev'd clergy obtained.