Thursday, 16 January 2014


I ran out of steam. I began this post weeks ago but lost interest. It's still more or less in note form; I hope you don't mind! The painting, by Ted Nasmith (the Canadian illustrator), depicts the escape of Beren and Lúthien from Angband which was the stronghold of evil in the North. As with so much else in life (including a certain Galatians essay I struggled to write when I was at Heythrop), I can perceive connexions, parallels, etc and they take shape in my mind as concepts easily enough to demonstrate...but I just can't be bothered. It's easier to just sit there gathering dust. Enjoy!

"Thy word is a lantern unto my feet and a light unto my paths." Psalms 119:105.

At high Mass in the Roman Rite it had become customary in latter days for the deacon to proclaim the Gospel of the day facing the north. I have read apologetical works on the "traditional" liturgy which all invariably say that this has a symbolic meaning, almost a theology unto itself, that the Word is proclaimed by the Christian ministers of the Church to a barbarous, "pagan" North. The contemporary craze to ascribe the word "liturgical" to just about any compass direction regardless of the actual orientation of a church notwithstanding I marvel that people make such a fuss about this! The actual origins of this peculiar ceremony have been lost in the mist of time but seem to be connected to the evolution of low Mass (in which the celebrant stands at the north end of the altar facing in a north-easterly direction, being at once priest, gospeller, congregation and ministers), a position postulated by Dr Fortescue in The Mass: A Study of the Roman Rite. Another (more probable) theory is that it had its origins in the decorum of the deacon at episcopal services in which he stands, in such a way, as to be neither facing the congregation in an actual sense nor turning his back to the bishop. Perhaps the northward posture is the synthesis of both these theories? The character of low Mass, as we know, impacted upon liturgical tradition in the West (arguably in a devastating way) but it remains right to look upon episcopal services as the fount of all liturgical tradition. In ancient times the lessons were read from an ambo in the midst of the nave so that the lector could be heard of the people. If you like this sort of thing you could turn to the prophet Isaiah, where he says: "O Sion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength," (40:9), or to Christ's Sermon on the Mount.
Ambones disappeared in the waning of the years, much like rood lofts and riddel posts, surviving only in such churches as St Clement's in Rome, although I believe they were still used in the Ambrosian Rite into recent times.

Liturgical actions, furnishings and vesture, great or small, have their uttermost origins in utilitarian purposes. The great example, of course, is illumination. As Dom Gregory Dix says: "Anyone who has inspected ancient liturgical books, with their close writing and frequent contradictions of spelling, will understand the need of a light near the book, even in daylight, for the public reading of a text." (The Shape of the Liturgy, chapter XII). As is the tendency in the evolution of liturgical customs, the custom takes shape over time, it becomes fixed and recogniseable across a liturgical spectrum, then years later a theology of symbolism is ascribed to it, which renders the custom indispensable to the rite. It matters not that, for example, a procession of acolytes with candles to the

The very same principle can be applied to the proclamation of the Gospel. A custom, serving...

If you read the works of men like Guéranger

I think that, for us, the north has lost all significance as a direction for conversion. Nowadays we are in the midst of pagans, and worse.

Are these apologists saying this only to defend the practice or does the practice itself have any merit at all? These days we are in the midst of pagans, yea more! C.S Lewis said that our modern times have "progressed," like Tolkien's "sentient apes," to a situation that is worse than paganism for at least, where the Christians had the supernatural light, the pagans had the natural light. They were awaiting, in a similar way to the Patriarchs and Prophets who preceded Christ, the fulfilment of Salvation history. Modern man has exchanged that for the darkness of sin.

this has become the norm, especially in the Roman Rite. A custom is built up, like the carrying of acolyte candles at the Gospel procession, and a theology is built around it. Where before

The Gospel itself is the presence of Christ not just the exposition of an august text for dumb listeners.

My view is that if the

My inclination, nowadays, is that the proclamation of the Gospel, being at once for the edification and sanctification of the people as well as an act of liturgical worship, the Word ought to be brought into the midst of the people and proclaimed facing eastward.

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