For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Friday, 23 July 2021

Full, Supreme and Universal

The recent hullabaloo about the new rather drastic restrictions on the pre-1970 Mass should I think be examined in the context of the papal office and its exercise. It strikes me that some of the critique of this papal announcement from some traditionalist quarters lacks historical depth and is borne merely from an anxiety about the loss of the freedom they enjoyed under Benedict XVI.

1. It is obvious from examining the events after the publication of Paul VI’s Missal that it was understood at the time to have replaced the previous Missal of 1962 (or 1965). Whether or not 1962 was formally abrogated is beside the point. Francis is correct that the so-called Novus Ordo Missal is the unique extant Roman Missal, notwithstanding its scrapping of the ancient Collects, the rehashing of the Lectionary, and the provision of new Eucharistic prayers. It is hardly open to doubt that 1970 was supposed to replace what went before it, and that the Missals of 1970 and 1962 were not meant to co-exist. Arguments about whether they are essentially different rites do not change this.

2. The claim that the older rites were not legally abrogated is not really beneficial to the traditionalist argument. Traditionalists would not wish to base the legitimacy of the older form of Mass on a legal loophole, the fact that Paul VI forgot to go through the usual canonical procedure and formally abrogate the older Missal or some such claim. Rather, they would wish to hold up the reasoning of Summorum Pontificum to argue that the older rite could not be abrogated, because “what earlier generations held to be sacred” etc. But here we run head on into the problem of the history of the relationship between the Pope and the liturgy.

3. Was the Roman Breviary of 1911 an essentially different Breviary than what went before? Possibly, in that it set aside a cursus, a scheme for reciting the Psalms, that had a pedigree of well over 1000 years. Pius X legislated to abrogate the older Breviary, with all kinds of fire called down on the heads of those who didn’t switch to the new Breviary. Here is a clear example of a Pope abrogating and proclaiming as harmful what earlier generations had known as sacred. To say that the Pope cannot do this may be an interesting thing to say, but in the legal ecclesiastical history of the Roman Catholic church, it is mere wishful thinking. What Francis has done is legally no different than the actions of Pius X. Also, I can see no reason to argue that he cannot revoke even Quo Primum if that is what he means to do in the final few sentences of the new motu proprio, which I fear is the natural reading of the recent document. No reason to argue, that is, if one allows that the actions of Pius X were a valid exercise of the papal office and its authority.

4. The problem that I wish to draw attention to is the lack of a limit to papal power in the Roman church, either in law or in recent custom. Going back at least to Pius V, the right of a Pope to legislate against certain rites has not been subject to any restraint. There is a great deal more that comes with this territory, including the famous doctrinal definitions of the 19th and 20th centuries that purported to turn pious beliefs into truths necessary to salvation by mere legislative fiat. Until papal power becomes the subject for real theological scrutiny, and a radically new ecclesiology emerges in the Roman Catholic imagination, altering the exercise of papal authority, then the argument about the rites of Mass will have a superficial and political character: who holds power, how far can they go without a backlash, how can they be circumvented etc. Or else they will be incoherent, arguing that the Pope lacks the authority to make certain changes whilst accepting systemic and de facto absolute monarchical papal rule in most other matters.

Unless traditionalists wish to open questions that have the potential to undermine centuries of accepted praxis and papal hegemony, then I think that their objections to the actions of the current Pope lack internal consistency. If immemorial liturgical custom does indeed trump papal legislative power then the assumptions and habits of centuries with regards to the papal office must be stripped away to find a firm grounding for an ecclesiology that is consistent with such a claim.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Warren’s Sarum Missal in English

After some hesitation I bought a reprint edition of Warren’s two volume Sarum Missal in English. I have bought similar reproduction “print on demand” books before and had little disappointments... a page cut off halfway down here, a missing page there.

I paid a little more for this pair (but still less than £30 including postage) on the abebooks website and was pleasantly surprised when I opened the package. The books are well bound and the type has been completely reset, but with a font and aesthetic identical to the original. I am very impressed and satisfied. The publishing line is called Alpha Editions and I have tracked down their website:

They do some rare books and are certainly better quality than most cheap reprint books I have come across or bought.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Lectionary - the almost final version

Could one read the whole Bible in a liturgical year?

I've been working on this lectionary for several years. It adapts the traditional Sarum lectionary for the Mass (unchanged) and Office of Mattins (tweaked), adding in a lesson for the end of Prime and two lessons for Vespers, like Evensong. One reads the entirety of Holy Scripture in one year - except that there is some redundancy, and owing to the variable length of the seasons after Epiphany and Trinity, there are at least five weeks of lessons in any one year that won't get an outing.

This is close to the final iteration. There is still a bit of work to be done on the Sanctoral and I'm sure there are undiscovered mistakes.

For some background.... the oldest Western lectionary we know of in the Ordines Romani was possibly arranged around the four seasons (and the Ember Days?): I've written in brief about this before...

It seems that the early Roman Breviary's year was divided up into four sections, roughly corresponding to the seasons and bounded by the Ember Days. Genesis to Judges formed the spring lessons (in Lent, from Quinquagesima to Passion Sunday) along with the Easter and Whitsuntide lessons of Acts, Revelation and the General Epistles. Summer (after Trinity) saw the reading of the books of the Kings; and autumn the Wisdom books. The Prophets from Isaiah to Malachi were begun in December, and continued until the following Lent after the Christmas season. The Gospels and the "Apostle", i.e. the Pauline Epistles, were read at the stational Masses.
The Pauline Epistles were added to the Sundays after Epiphany sometime around the 8th Century, and the creation of the liturgical "months" of August to November resulted in some displacement (e.g. the minor prophets were moved to November).

I have made some accommodations but kept as close as I could to this general scheme: there are four lessons per day excluding the Missal lessons, each averaging about 20-25 verses. The placement of Old Testament lessons, where these diverge from the ancient schema, follows a typological rationale e.g. the giving of the Law = Pentecost. It has taken more than three years to put this together partly because it had to be revised by experience and usage.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Wrought in the Silence of God

...hidden from the prince of this world were the virginity of Mary and her child-bearing and likewise also the death of the Lord -- three mysteries to be cried aloud -- the which were wrought in the silence of God.

 Ignatius of Antioch

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

My fruit is dreams

The sleep-flower sways in the wheat its head,
Heavy with dreams, as that with bread:
The goodly grain and the sun-flushed sleeper
The reaper reaps, and Time the reaper.

I hang 'mid men my needless head,
And my fruit is dreams, as theirs is bread:
The goodly men and the sun-hazed sleeper
Time shall reap, but after the reaper
The world shall glean of me, me the sleeper.

Love, love! your flower of withered dream
In leavèd rhyme lies safe, I deem,
Sheltered and shut in a nook of rhyme,
From the reaper man, and his reaper Time.

Love! I fall into the claws of Time:
But lasts within a leavèd rhyme
All that the world of me esteems --
My withered dreams, my withered dreams.

- from To Monica by Francis Thompson

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Dire Longing

O pater.... quae lucis miseris tam dira cupido?

Father... what is this dire longing of these wretches for light?

- Aeneas to Anchises, Aeneid Book VI (l. 721)

Monday, 17 June 2019

A Prophecy about Drones

This evening I was walking the dog in the twilight, and as usual a solitary blackbird was singing, pausing every so often to listen, from a white dead branch at the top of an old ash tree. I was conscious of another unpleasant hornet-like noise of a machine somewhere nearby, but couldn't locate it until I realised it was up high, and then I saw it - the green light of a drone fifty feet overhead.

It brought to mind this prophetic passage from Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan, written in 1959, the third book of the Gormenghast trilogy, which seems to foresee the invention of the drone.

(This is an utterly different book from the first two, which are set in the feudal world of the vast castle. No-one in this modern bureaucratic nightmare into which Titus has wandered, like something from Kafka, really believes Titus when he speaks of Gormenghast. It is the modern predicament: the Titus figures carry Gormenghast within them, it defines them, they have fled the traditions and found themselves in a merciless world run on different lines in which the only possible redemption is personal love and loyalty. And they are lost and bewildered.)

There was no one ahead of him in spite of the length of the road, but it seemed that he was no longer alone. Something had joined him. He turned as he ran, and at first saw nothing, for he had focused his eyes upon the distance. Then all at once he halted, for he became aware of something floating beside him, at the height of his shoulders.
It was a sphere no bigger than the clenched fist of a child, and was composed of some transparent substance, so pellucid that it was only visible in certain lights, so that it seemed to come and go.
Dumfounded, Titus drew aside from the centre of the road until he could feel the northern wall at his back. For a few moments he leaned there seeing no sign of the glassy sphere, until suddenly, there it was again, hovering above him.
This time as Titus watched it he could see that it was filled with glittering wires, an incredible filigree like frost on a pane; and then as a cloud moved over the sun, and a dim, sullen light filled the windowless street, the little hovering globe began to throb with a strange light like a glow-worm.
At first, Titus had been more amazed than frightened by the mobile globe which had appeared out of nowhere, and followed or seemed to follow every movement he made; but then fear began to make his legs weak, for he realised that he was being watched not by the globe itself, for the globe was only an agent, but by some remote informer who was at this very moment receiving messages. It was this that turned Titus's fear into anger, and he swung back his arms as though to strike the elusive thing which hovered like a bird of paradise.
At the moment Titus that raised his hand, the sun came out again, and the little glittering globe with its coloured entrails of exquisite wire slid out of range, and hovered again as though it were an eyeball watching every move.
Then, as though restless, it sped, revolving on its axis, to the far end of the street where it turned about immediately and sang its way back to where it hung again five feet from Titus, who, fishing his knuckle of flint from his pocket, slung it at the hovering ball, which broke in a cascade of dazzling splinters, and as it broke there was a kind of gasp, as though the globe had given up its silvery ghost... as though it had a sentience of its own, or a state of perfection so acute that it entered, for the split second, the land of the living.
Leaving the broken thing behind he began to run again. Fear had returned, ….

Having a drone above one's head, even when one is not being hunted, is sinister and revolting. I understand Titus's rage.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Look What Happens

Even after all this time
the sun never says to the earth, 
'You owe me.'
Look what happens 
with a love like that. 
It lights the whole sky.

- Hafiz

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Stubborn Lives

The truth has to be melted out of our stubborn lives by suffering. Nothing speaks the truth, nothing tells us how things really are, nothing forces us to know what we do not want to know except pain. And this is how the gods declare their love.

- Aeschylus, Oresteia.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Even In Our Sleep

He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep
Pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart,
And in our own despair, against our will,
Comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.

Aeschylus: from the Agamemnon.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Sarum Office: Psalmody for Matins during Eastertide

The cursus (or order for running through the Psalter) differs in Sarum Matins during Eastertide, compared to the rest of the year. I've pasted in the Eastertide cursus for Sarum Matins in the table below (psalms are numbered new style, as per Coverdale) - courtesy of Dr William Renwick who generously provided me with this information.

What I'm about to say isn't exact, but during Easter week one runs through the usual Sunday Matins and Sunday Prime psalms more or less consecutively. Then, during weeks 1-4 of Sundays after Easter, one says three psalms of the appointed twelve Matins psalms for that day of the week, so on the four Mondays of Eastertide one runs through the twelve psalms one would normally say on a single Monday. The only day that doesn't get this treatment is Saturday which is mostly occupied by the office of St Mary in Eastertide.

1st Sunday after Easter
2nd Sunday after Easter
Office of BVM
3rd Sunday after Easter
4th Sunday after Easter
Rogation Sunday
Office of BVM

A query: when they were coming up with their bright ideas for lightening the psalm cursus for clerics in the early twentieth century and again in the 1960s, didn't anyone consider this as a good starting point for a revision for Matins that could have left the day hours more or less intact, perhaps also cutting down on the length of Lauds a little and spreading the long Psalm 119 over the week from Prime-None instead of over a single day? A four or five week cycle for Matins could have covered the entire traditional liturgical year, which (apart from Lent) is mostly made up of four or five week blocks: think of the liturgical months from August to November, Advent, Eastertide etc., and even Septuagesima added to Lent makes up two blocks of four or five weeks depending on whether one includes Holy Week in the count. This is what a conservative revision could have looked like, and wouldn't have been such a radical departure. In fact all that would have been needed was a slim volume detailing which antiphons to use for the psalms on these days: everything else (but everything) could have been left untouched.

Full, Supreme and Universal