Monday, 20 December 2010

In all fairness...

The general thrust of this blog is, as you can read in the very first post I wrote back in May of this year, to raise awareness about how the Roman Rite (and by extension the whole Sacred Liturgy) has suffered, suffered grievously, at the hands of the very people raised up by God to safeguard it, to be merely links in an everlasting chain (not lords thereof), passing unhindered, certainly not mutilated, the Sacred Liturgy from one generation to the next until Christ comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. All I aim to do here is to ask honest questions about things which honestly confuse me. Why, for instance, are we to accept, beneath a veil of pseudo-obedience, that Holy Week needed to be ''improved'' by Pius XII and his small oligarchy of self-important liturgists, and that such little oligarchies as these are noble ecclesiastics appointed by God, and therefore having some sort of special insight into the mysteries of Liturgy, and blessing of authority to do as they please? Are we to believe, by extension, that Tradition is inherent in the magisterial rulings, divorced from received custom and orthopraxis and ritual, of the Sacred Congregation of Rites in a way which is superior to the said received ancient custom? If we are to take the ''links in the chain'' analogy, we may well compare the revised Holy Week rites to a serious break in the chain, and the Pope starting a new chain, divorced from Tradition, all by himself; thereby exalting not the greatest mystery of the Faith, the greatest events in the history of the World, but the Pope's sole authority to modify history, and the faith. Is he attempting to destroy the fundamental Christian Mysteries only to remould them according to a fashion of his own imagining, consonant only with his vainglorious hermeneutic of office as pastor of all Christians? I'm sorry but this is not an exaggeration, and I utterly repudiate attempts to lessen the blame on Pius XII (so prevalent in Tradworld), which anger me. Holy Week, need I say, is the most fundamental part of the whole Liturgical Year, where we remember (in an all-encompassing sense) the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Incarnate Lord - a matter infinitely beyond our understanding; at such a solemn and serious time as this we ought to be faithful to Tradition, not a ''tradition'' mediated by a team of liturgists who sought to improve, or embellish, that which came before.

This blog is diametrically opposed to the much-reformed liturgical books of 1962, and not without reason. So-called Traditionalist groups who make use of these books may like to imagine that they contain at least the semblance or ghost of Tradition, and they cite such reasons as ''but the Mass is still vastly in tact, with the Preparatory Prayers, Last Gospel, Offertory prayers, traditional cycle of Scriptural pericopes, the Roman Canon'' etc as reasons for their unreasonable use of these books, but I fear that they misunderstand me when I say the ''liturgical books of 1962.'' Why would you think that I had just the Eucharistic liturgy in mind, and not the entire Liturgy? Mass conforms (ordinarily) to the Office of the Day. Rubricarius of the St Lawrence Press blog writes better on this than I could, but it may suffice to say here that a 1962 Breviary can be divided evenly between two tomes, Tomus Prior and Tomus Alter; before then there were four Volumes, for the four seasons of the year - so much has been cut out.

Opponents of my view of the Liturgy, and they are many, make recourse to a very hackneyed argument. They say ''well if 1962 is not good enough, what is?'' They accuse me of archaism, supplanting the will of the Pope of Rome with the will of the Pope of Liturgiae Causa, that my understanding of Tradition is Protestant, anachronistic etc. Which year is the year of liturgical sublimity they ask? They claim, especially since 2007, that since the Holy Father has designated 1962 as a sort of cut-off year, it is reasonable, in deference to the Pope's authority, to view the liturgical books of 1962 as a go-to year, or at least a go-between year; a brick by brick endeavour, with the more sensible ones using 1962 as a means to an end rather than an end. I must say I find the ''reform of the reform'', two forms existing side-by-side crowd more irksome than than Traddies; they are essentially people completely ignorant of Liturgy, who would have Catholic pseudo-liturgy as a purely Sunday affair, with the social kingship of Christ and various pro-this or anti-that causes of more importance than Tradition, with liturgy in an average parish subsisting in a liturgically relativistic fudge. In other words they are just as traditional as your average Protestant. But coming back to the Traditionalists who at least know '62 for what it is; what do you get from '62 which you don't get from the New Rite, provided that it is done properly? I don't quite understand why you would render support for a cause which is only going to do more harm than good. If you want Tradition, then look to Tradition - but not a tradition which is just as made up as that which you are flying from. The situation reminds me in a certain sense of the debate at Estolad between the fathers of the Fathers of Men in Beleriand (see The Silmarillion, chapter XVII); one of whom said that verily they had fled from the Shadow into the westward shorelands only to find it here before them.

I don't claim to know any answers to the questions I ask here (why else would I ask them?), or to have some great store of my own wisdom built up after years of long and secret study. Especially I do not know how to counter arguments about archaism, and an ''ideal'' year for the Roman Liturgy - such a year does not exist. Personally I hold a very dim view of Rome and her latter dealings with Liturgy, and tend to the view that if you want authentic Liturgy Rome is the last place to look if you want it! No my view is that I would be content to just quietly get on with Liturgy unmolested by the Pope. I have liturgical ''opinions'' (if they can be so called), for example I would use the Julian Kalendar and discreetly disregard such feasts as the Sacred Heart when they come around every year, but I cannot impose them on anybody in my parish. Or perhaps the Roman Liturgy has truly had it; it has served its purpose, but is now so far gone, so changed, having been pushed and pulled about over the centuries by would-be reformers and Popes that any attempt to revive a more holistic Roman Liturgy would indeed merit the charge of Protestantism and archaism; that having at least intelligible motives it would avail nothing but to make a mockery of Liturgy itself.

God alone sees all ends. I only fear that real Tradition in the Roman Church will be driven into catacombs, to be the affair of eccentrics rather than the duty and direction of all devotion and love of all Catholics alike.


  1. I don't think you can argue much from the fact that the 1960 Breviary tends to come in 2 volumes rather than 4. There are pre-55 Breviaries in 2 volumes, or even in a single volume (called, I think, a totum).

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  3. David Forster, yes the oldest Breviary (and the largest) I ever saw was in one volume, an 1828 tome, obviously for use in church.

    Fr Crawford, thank you for your interesting comment. It is a very complex and cogent question, though I fear that history shows that changes to the Liturgy introduced at magisterial level (at least) in the West for pastoral reasons have nearly always entailed some abuse. I would say that in a Cathedral or collegiate church changes at local level to the length or fullness of the Liturgy is unacceptable, since in cathedrals and monasteries the prime aim is the fullness of liturgical celebration. In parish churches it is rather different, though it is the duty of the parish to emulate Cathedral liturgy as best they can. There were complaints in my parish church when we did the full Palm Sunday (obviously without Ministers and three separate Deacons for the Passion) over a year ago for the first time - precisely because we omitted nothing, and the whole thing lasted two and a half hours roughly. But I would say that it is the duty of the Church to provide as much of the Liturgy as is feasible everywhere, all the time - but just lessen the commands to ''fulfill one's obligation.'' Cutting out parts to make the Liturgy go quicker or whatever just seems fraught with danger to me, because I don't see that anybody has any right to decide which parts are important enough to be retained and which parts are to be discarded, and also because that which has been discarded (say, for example, the Asperges on Palm Sunday, or missing out a few antiphons or responsaries from this day or that) would then be discarded indefinately - never to be appreciated by those who want the real thing, like me.

    Re, things being too long etc. I would argue that since the Lord's Day is precisely that, belonging to the Lord, it is very appropriate to spend the day in church on the Lord's Day praying. If your knees get weak, or you feel disinclined, think of the Agony in the Garden, or Christ's temptation in the wilderness. That's what I do when I get lazy; doesn't always work but it helps.

  4. Interesting post and comments.

    Fr. Benedict - surely there is a huge difference between the changes imposed by Patriarch Nikon and the omission, lets say, of kathisma at the Saturday All-Night Vigil service in parishes?

    The Nikonian reforms produced a violent reaction is seventeenth century Russia, led to schism and wounds that are only now beginning to be healed. Missing out kathisma, antiphons, readings other than the from the Synaxarion etc, strikes me as being an example, as you rightly indicate, of pastoral care (I shamefully confess the last time I was at Grand Compline I was praying a lot more of it would be omitted). However, an essential difference is, unlike the Roman reforms Patricius has been describing, there is nothing stopping a parish doing everything in the books and, literally, staying up all night to do so.

    Another difference is that in Orthodox worship there is an inherent vitality and living praxis. The Sunday Office in the Roman rite had a long Mattins of eighteen psalms and nine lessons, very few places in the world celebrated the service. Mattins got cut to nine psalms (or rather to be precise six psalms divided to make nine units) and nine lessons and the number of places which celebrated the service probably declined. Later this was cut still further to nine psalms and three lessons but hardly anyone celebrated it. Liturgia Horarum has at least caused Morning and Evening prayer to be celebrated in a very small number of churches.

    Orthodoxy sees real organic development of its liturgy and I would see the apokathilosis ceremonies as a prime example of this. These were not imposed by a Patriarch but developed within the worshipping community. In the Roman Church organic development of the liturgy stopped when the editions of the liturgical books became tightly controlled and monitored by a specialist group in Rome, the SRC. In theory at least change and modification could only happen by decree from Rome. Rome also appointed small groups of specialists to produce further changes as it deemed fit. The problem with such a process is that once it becomes 'rubber stamped' any questionning of the decision is seen as 'disloyalty'.

    Whilst you, Fr. Benedict, are free to add kathisma at Vespers and Mattins as you with if a Roman parish tried to have eighteen psalm Mattins...

    I presume you are new calendar so when Saturday comes Happy Christmas/Christ is born!

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  7. Fr. Benedict,

    I hope you didn't agree with my atrocious spelling mistakes! I shall try to be more careful this time.

    The thing which struck me about Grand Compline was its, relatively, boring nature. Generally the Byzantine rite Office is quite exciting with lots of movement, censings of the church, entrances and the like. This is in marked contrast to the Roman Office which takes place entirely in quire with the exception of other altars being censed at Vespers (in theory!).

    To be fair the Roman Office is not that 'exciting' and its monastic elements very apparent. I remember once at a Mattins of the Assumption thinking 'roll on the end of the second nocturn' as I was singing alternate verses of the psalmody. What must people who are not doing things think?

    As to your interesting and perceptive points my view would be (1) Yes, in theory; and (2)Yes, liturgical life is larger than our own preferences but, and it is quite a big 'but' we are also all custodians of that liturgical life and patrimony. The problem with the Roman Church, IMHO, is that there has been an over-centralisation and clericalisation of the liturgy. (Believe me you would not really want an SCR!) Ownership of the liturgy in the Roman Church belongs to the reigning pope, in contrast in the Orthodox Church the franchise of ownership is much wider and includes, in theory at least, the whole worshipping community and, as a consequence is far more stable.

    Before the centralisation local rites and uses had their variations and I would wager local pastors probably made abbreviations. However, the liturgy was indeed a 'given' and the clergy and faithful simply got on with it. Rites such as Sarum were far more spatially resourceful, e.g. three boys of the second form standing on a pole in the North aisle, wearing silken copes, sing... As a consequence I would argue it was more interesting to the average 'punter' looking on.