Friday, 12 November 2010

A lovely traditional Sunday Requiem...

I went to St Magnus the Martyr on Wednesday evening for Vespers of the Dead, which I must say was well worth it - the music was splendid, the antiphons were not doubled (curiously - I had thought heretofore that for Vespers celebrated in a ''solemn'' fashion that the antiphons were doubled, regardless of the rank of the occurring feast, though I may be, and probably am, mistaken - comments, suggestions etc below), the pall draped over the catafalque was exquisite, and ornamented with a very handsome Rood token of Christ. Altogether a very apt and wonderful liturgical expression of remembrance for all the Faithful departed, who rest in the bosom of their Lord. The Psalms were chanted in English to a sombre plainsong melody, whilst the Magnificat was the only Latin. Not that Latin makes the Liturgy of the Church traditional - you only have to go to the London Oratory on a Sunday to dash that idea (where, for instance, Vespers has doubled antiphons, no commemorations etc). I was especially stirred by the third antiphon: The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil; yea, it is even He that shall keep thy soul (or in the original Latin: Dominus custodit te ab omni malo; custodiat animam tuam Dominus). This is, of course, the prime end of Liturgy - to feel as though the very hand of the Lord reaches into our hearts to rend the very will; it is truly humbling. Since Christ Himself is liturgically present (just as He is substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament) in the ceremony, chant and psalmody of the Liturgy, to feel moved by Liturgy (as is proper) is to feel the very warmth of Christ; to be moved by the solemn chanting of the Psalms and the Gospel is to hear the very Word of God in Its proper context (so what happens when the Psalms of the Office, or the traditional pericope cycle of the Eucharistic Liturgy, are shifted about by self-important ecclesiastics, whom He Himself has appointed?); to understand and appreciate the Word of God in the context of the Sacred Liturgy is to see all things anew, as it were to see Creation through a prism where light and tradition, custom and the prayer of the Church are wholly familiar, resonant, poignant and one. I never was so moved when I first heard the Passion according to St Matthew chanted solemnly on Palm Sunday for the first time in full. The celebration of the Sacred Liturgy is a summons to constancy and fidelity to the Tradition of the Church. Sadly the Roman Church (even in its supposed ''traditional'' circles - mostly sell-outs to '62ism), in her zeal for the latest innovations and change for the sake of change, doesn't understand this anymore, and continues to lambaste the Sacred Liturgy. I have arrived at the inescapable conclusion that Liturgy in the Roman Church is just as tenuous as is orthodoxy among Protestants.

Among the more lamentable innovations, running contrary to the constant Tradition of the Church, brought about by the Papacy in the 20th century, is something I think I have neglected to mention before. It is Benedict XV's indult for Remembrance Sunday of having a Requiem Mass. Now, it is grossly uncanonical to have any Votive Office on the Lord's Day, Requiems not excluded - yea they ought to be especially excluded, according to the very nature of both the Office of the Dead, and the Sunday Office. The pastoral motives were, I daresay, noble and compassionate, and it is wholesome and the duty of all Christian men to pray for the Dead that they might be loosed from their sins, but you cannot simply supplant the Sunday Office (which is older than the Office of the Dead by several centuries) for something foreign, however worthy the intention. Sundays belong to the Lord. I'm sorry but I find this indult to be an especially meaningful side-swipe at the Tradition of the Church. And what happens to the Sunday Office? It is simply omitted, passed over completely - except in one or two ''schismatic'' churches where the writ of the Bishop of Rome rightly means nothing. Benedict XV was one of the better popes of the 20th century (in my view), though he did see through Pius X's new ''Code of Canon Law'' and promulgated his new Missal, which incorporated the changes of Divino Afflatu. Maybe it's because the Popes had long ceased to care much for Liturgy as a corporate act encompassing so much more than bare Eucharistic validity that it didn't matter to them whether the Prayers of the Mass of that particular Sunday were concordant with the Temporale, or a Votive Office, or not. This is the case with most Trad Catholics I have met - never mind about a few missing prayers here, or a few curtailments there - so long as the Sacrament is procured nothing else matters.

I simply despair of modern Catholicism. I met up with my MC at St Magnus on Wednesday, and he asked me to assist in setting everything up. Fair enough, but I must say that I find shifting benches around on the Lord's Day (and in my Sunday best and all) to be rather, erm, laborious...


  1. I'm so pleased you enjoyed Vespers at St Magnus'. I have never been there for a service so have never experienced the good things of which I hear.

    I agree with you about Requiem masses on Sundays. Sunday is indeed the Lord's Day. We have the same problem with Memorial Services (Panykhidas) being served on Sunday after the Liturgy or the Litany for the Departed being included in the Sunday Liturgy. Memorials are best done on Saturday, which is both the Sabbath and the day on which we commemorate the departed, or at least another day that is not Sunday. Sadly, our people and clergy often have to travel such long distances and, as borrowed premises or self-supporting clergy are only available at weekends, it does become difficult. There is a pastoral need for the dead to be commemorated and such little time in which it can be done. The result is that the exception becomes the norm and our people do not realise. At least one can understand the reasons for that. It is Saturday weddings that really rub me up the wrong way but I am pleased to report that my parish priest will not even consider the idea, and even if he were to, I'm fairly sure an episcopal blessing would not be forthcoming.

  2. Michael--

    I too have experienced the strange Sunday mini-panikhida between the second and third "Blessed be the Name of the Lord" before the dismissal. In my opinion, if we need to squeeze these services into the weekends, we should do the panikhida on Saturday night immediately before Vespers or All-night Vigil. It would therefore be on the liturgically appropriate day, and would still be served at a convenient time and joined to a service that many people attend.

  3. Patricius,
    Benedict XV allowed for England and Wales one Mass of Requiem for those killed in the Great War, later extended to the dead of two wars.
    The Sunday Office, and the Mass of the Sunday, were/are unaffected.
    And do not Requiem Masses speak of the Lord, and of Resurrection?
    John U.K.

  4. Great minds think alike, Han.

    I have suggested just that but until last year my parish worshipped in a private home. Until just over three years ago, we only had a fortnightly Liturgy. Since we have got the church, we have tried branching out into a fuller round of services but Vespers is very touch and go, and we have struggled to change the mindset that church is something we do on Sundays. Some people still only come fortnightly on Sunday mornings, so trying to encourage Saturday evening attendance can be a challenge. Often it is just three of us there: my parish priest in the altar and his daughter and me on the kliros, sometimes more people come.

    We had a core group of two or three people coming when we started but they complained that it was too long (this is Vespers alone and not even the full Vigil) so they stopped coming. We stopped doing the Ninth Hour before Vespers for their benefit, and we already did the first stasis of the first kathisma in the shortened form, plus we only do the Litya for Great Feasts and other days of parish or local significance so it is quite shortened enough. Leaving out anything else would simply be ridiculous. We sing Psalm 103 and the other stases of the kathisma in full, and we read all of the psalm verses between Lord, I have cried and the stikhera. I insist on this because I think there needs to be some "give and take" where determining the length of the service for pastoral reasons is concerned. I travel for three hours to get to church, and if I don't stay with someone, I also travel three hours to get back home, so a service that is so abbreviated that it only lasts forty minutes is simply not worth my effort. I could more easily do it as a reader service at home. I think that it is very easy for people who live a ten-minute drive from church to forget this when they complain about services being "too long".

    All of which is to say that it is difficult sometimes in mission parish life to get the necessary commitment from people for services other than on a Sunday.

    Please pray for us.

    Patrick, please forgive me for the tangent on your post.