Friday, 12 August 2011

The problem of Rome...

I am currently writing a post about the Franciscan Friars, the Paul III Breviary reform and the Tridentine Rite, but I am racking my brains trying to remember a quotation uttered by someone who may never have existed, and so the post won't be up for some time. Anyway, I was reading Essays on Ceremonial and came across this great quote by Dr John Wickham Legg instead. Naturally I agree with everything he says.

''The practical lesson which the study of these ancient customs teaches us is the caution which we should use in forming a judgement as to the source of the practices which some of us are old enough to remember in our youth. They are not all due to Puritan neglect, “the soft, easy, and comfortable pillow which ignorance and indifference make for a well-disposed head”; but many of them are part of the inheritance which has come down to us from our mediaeval forefathers. Sometimes we have suffered reproaches for belonging to a communion in which such slovenly practices could be found; just as we have been told that the Sundays after Trinity were brought in by Queen Elizabeth, instead of Sundays after Pentecost; whereas Trinity comes straight from the Sarum Missal, and may be found in many mediaeval German and French missals; and even to this day in the Dominican Breviary. Now the Middle Ages are thought to have been unrivalled in the dignity of their worship, and there is nothing to be ashamed of in customs which trace their lineage back to so noble a time. Indeed it is to the Middle Ages that the Prayerbook bids us look for our ecclesiology. It declares that “the chancels shall remain as they have done in times past,” that is, in the times which went before the edition of 1552. So that as a general rule we may take as safe guides mediaeval customs in ecclesiology, and also in ritual when not opposed to the present rubrics of the Prayerbook. Now the earlier ecclesiologists thought they might gain some knowledge of the customs of the Middle Ages by a study of modern Roman practices, receiving the assertion that Rome never alters with too confiding generosity; and accordingly they proceeded to change some of the inherited mediaeval customs in accordance with the dictates of modern Rome. But from modern Rome we can learn next to nothing of the practices of the Middle Ages. A very little study soon convinces us of the deep division there is between the practice of modern Rome and of mediaeval England, and that modern Rome will only lead us astray if we trust its liturgical decisions. Because a practice is Roman, it is not therefore of necessity good, or ancient, or Catholic.

''In the first place, the liturgy of modern Rome is the liturgy of the Franciscan Friars, while that of the national mediaeval Churches is the old Liturgy which was used in the parish churches of Rome before the days of Nicholas III. Theologians often tell us of the mischief which these Friars have caused in their science, and to philosophy; and the harm they have done in ecclesiology is certain. They are credited with the introduction of the Stations of the Cross, which even Mrs. Jameson can see set forth unworthy ideas. Further, how little of antiquity remains in practice in the Roman Communion may soon be gathered by those who will attend a few popular functions. Liturgical services, with the exception of the Mass, have well nigh disappeared; and the seasons of the Christian year, which we prize so much, are but little thought of. Lent has given way to the month of Joseph; Easter and Whitsuntide are swallowed up in the month of Mary and the Sacred Heart. A distinguished Fellow of the Royal Society told me that the only sign by which he now knew of the presence of Whitsuntide was the red colour of the vestments. If then the more conservative in the Roman Communion have been unable to save from the wreck the Breviary services and the Christian seasons, are they likely to have kept anything ancient in such comparatively unimportant things as the details of the ornamentation of the altar? They are rather likely to have been overwhelmed by the Oratorianism which, in the early days of the ecclesiological movement, was shown to be destructive of a scientific ecclesiology. As in Germany, in philosophy, the cry has been of late years Back to Kant, so in ecclesiology I am sure we must raise the cry of Back to Pugin, to the principles which Pugin advocated; we must throw away the worldly spirit of the Renaissance, and take our inspiration from the Middle Ages, remembering the direction of the Prayerbook that the chancels shall remain as in times past, and holding fast to a mediaeval liberty of practice as contrasted with the attempts of the Congregation of Rites to establish all over the world the iron uniformity which is the aspiration in most things of the nineteenth century. The end of this paper will have been attained if I should succeed in persuading some ecclesiologists that all that is Roman is not ancient, and all that is English is not Puritan.'' (Dr John Wickham Legg, Essays on Ceremonial, 1904).

I have used the image before. It's random but it adequately demonstrates my point. Traddies think this is ideal! It's hardly liturgical; liturgical would be Pontifical Sarum liturgy in a Mediaeval English cathedral church. Which reminds me...Assumption Day is coming up. Does anybody know a church (any church) which will be shewing some semblance of liturgical orthodoxy on that day of days? Those of you who will be sucking up to Anti-Christ Pacelli and his truly abominable propers will of course be feeling my blast. You have been warned in advance...


  1. Yuck, that lace is horrible. But even without lace I don't really like the Roman cut. The full ("English") surplice, that is true beauty. Elegant drapery, wide sleeves. I daresay it is the most beautiful vestment. You just can't go wrong with it.

    I like Dearmer's introductory picture of a Low Church celebration in the book "Illustrations of the Liturgy". Much better than the forced and unnatural division in "Low Mass" and "High Mass".

    The quote is very interesting. Sadly, the situation in Rome has worsened since it was written.

  2. Patricius, you'd like the local Anglo-Catholics here in Montreal. It's Dearmer cubed. The A-Cers sing hymns and propers constantly. Only once have I seen a fiddleback. The architecture is 16th century, not Baroque. The clergy wear the big surplices that Tom C notes. It's plenty more Catholic than some Novus Ordo joint belting out "Shine Jesus Shine" or some other horrid hymn.

    I've often wondered why some of the A-C parishioners haven't passed out on the floor with cyanosis after the xteenth verse of an English Hymnal favorite, however. Singing is so useless. It interferes with bead telling and prayerbook reading. Chanting is fine because it is the only authentic form of Christian accompaniment. Organs are loud and scary beastly things best saved for skating rinks and the like. ::cringe::

    Maybe it's a good thing that I'm categorically denied the priesthood because I am poofteriffic and not afraid to say it. I am not a normal one, however, given that I love pietist Masses and lack aesthetic sense to the point of colorblindness.


  3. Very interesting quote, but let's not forget the end : ''The end of this paper will have been attained if I should succeed in persuading some ecclesiologists that all that is Roman is not ancient, and all that is English is not Puritan.''
    These final words of the quote seem to say that much of what was currently Roman was indeed ancient (but certainly NOT ALL of it), whilst some of current English (does he mean ''anglican''?) practice had nothing to do with Puritanism, but was of earlier, mediaevel origin. He makes a sensible call for study and discernment based upon sound principles as opposed to mindless scrapping and blind aping of others. Would that the Vatican II liturgists had read your John Wickham Legg. There were - naturally - things wrong with the pre-conciliar practice of the Roman-rite. But all that need be done was to set the practice aright. The texts, chants and ceremonies did not need to be abolished, as if they were somehow at fault, and not those who neglected them, or practiced them wrongly. The early liturgical movement was on the right track, but, alas, was hijacked by those seeking to scrap all they deemed to be 'repetitioius'', ''unpastoral'' and ''mediaevel'', paste together things from diverse ancient and modern sources, invent much ex nihilo, and copy the worst of what others had to offer, in the name of a false oecumenism. The result was the Novus Ordo. I have mixed feelings about the popular devotions in march, may, june, october and november. They should not silence or overwhelm the liturgical year, which must have priority. But they can, when doen the proper way, enhance the liturgical year. But the subject would take too much space to consider. Besides, it has recently been discussed at the New Liturgical Movement.

  4. Sortacatholic,
    may i ask whether you are at Facebook?

  5. Dr. J W-L knew a thing or two and was a prophet who was, sadly, largely unheeded.

    His prediction of what would happen to the Canon after the "thing of yesterday" new Pian Breviary was spot on.

  6. Sadly no, I don't use Facebook, Google+ or the like. I've been online for almost 20 years, so I'm a bit battle-worn from spam. Besides, my life is the boringest life ever. Normal people don't spend their time thinking about the incidences of δέομαι in the New Testament. It's no surprise that I'm in my early 30's, without a finished dissertation, and living in a flat that would make East Berlin concrete housing blocks seem like the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Nothing to see here. Move on to the next exhibit.

    I'd give an anonymous address here, but that might bring unwanted traffic to Patricius' blog. If Patricius wants to risk it, fine.


  7. Great quote, Patricius - I particularly like "Back to Pugin". If I were of a certain persuasion I might even put it on a mug or a pin badge or a t-shirt on cafe press...

    Tom - couldn't agree more!

    Albertus: if Wickham-Legg (who is most well known to me as the complier of the Sarum Missal) is right that "the liturgy of modern [even, "modern" from our as well as his point of view] Rome is the liturgy of the Franciscan Friars" (and, sadly, I think he is) then surely there was a more wholesale problem prior to the Council than just bad practice and neglect? He actually seems to identify some of those problems which have really come to light following the liturgical reform: I mean in particular the almost complete loss of the solemnly celebrated Office and the "mass or nothing" outlook and the reductionism in the celebration of the Christian year which is nowadays not only in terms of minimalisation of seasons, but also even great feasts which are just tossed to whatever day they like.

    sortacatholic: I looked up δέομαι just to try to work out why you were spending your time thinking about it (oh dear). Anyway, I must confess that after finding 22 occurrences (mostly in Luke/Acts) I am none the wiser about it, except for its relationship to δέησις and all that implies... ;o)


  8. CHristopher:
    you write: ''I mean in particular the almost complete loss of the solemnly celebrated Office and the "mass or nothing" outlook and the reductionism in the celebration of the Christian year which is nowadays not only in terms of minimalisation of seasons, but also even great feasts which are just tossed to whatever day they like.''
    But on the above points i fully agree here with both you, and Patricius, and Wickham Legg. I only meant to defend the integrity of the pre-conciliar Roman Mass and the pre-Pius-X Roman Divine Office in its objective texts, chants, ceremonies and rubrics. They were (and still are) ancient, holy and authentic. By saying that the Church needed only to restore their proper practice, I was perhaps minimalising, using the word ONLY, but for me the proper practice of the Roman Rite includes the regular celebration of the Divine Office inparishes (a custom which i still witnessed in my youth, though it had become rare), as well as the solemn and complete celebration of the high feast days, not only on their proper days, but with the prescribed processions, etc. What i am trying to say is that everything was there in theory before the 2nd Vatican Council, it just had to be repristined and celebrated. Nothing needed to be invented to replace the traditional Liturgy which had fallen into misuse and unuse through no fault of its own. Enlgish is not my native toungue. I'll try to write more clearly in the future!

  9. Albertus, my apologies - I misunderstood you to be making something like the "usual traditionalist argument" (i.e. that all was beautiful before the Council). I should have read you more carefully!