Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Language of the Liturgy : Candlemas

The often disregarded reforms in the Roman liturgy which took place before the Second Vatican Council and the new Missal of Paul VI were largely kind to the Feast of the Purification, but the changes which were introduced were not insignificant in their ramifications. Regional variations of the Roman rite are often referred to as “dialects” of the same “language”, and in my own view, one fruitful way in which to approach the Liturgy is by analogy to language. Like any spoken language, the Roman rite employs a rich vocabulary, some of which will have “cognates” in other rites, some of which will be unique. The beauty of the eloquent use of a natural language is often associated with its ability to evoke other speech acts, words or expression over time and between places, the inter-dependence of different instances of language from which it derives its complexity and its refinement. The same is true of the liturgy.

The reforms of the Roman liturgy during the 20th century, then, can be seen as a sort of editing process. The kindest, most elegant type of liturgical reform throughout history has been termed “organic”, just like the “organic” development of languages. This type of reform isn’t really reform at all, but more properly the “form” of something that is by definition able to adapt and change from within, without need of poking or pruning from outside. The reforms of the 20th century have largely been of of a much more severe type; an extreme editing process that disrupts the meaning of something and alters it almost beyond recognition. A useful analogy would be to imagine the process of editing Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…” speech. Imagine if the editor decided that the repetition of the phrase “I have a dream” was unnecessary and probably bored the people listening to it. With keenness, he preserves the phrase “the sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent” but dispenses with all phrases that start with “I have a dream” or else takes parts of them and moves them to the beginning of the speech. Imagine if this new, edited form of the speech became the official version to be taught in school and reproduced in encyclopaedias, such that the old form only existed in original recordings closely guarded by collectors. What remains is still wonderful oratory, but is it the same, full-blooded speech which planted itself in the hearts of a nation, and set them on fire with a yearning for justice?

The ceremony of the Blessing of Candles and Procession before Mass on the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary is for many one of the highlights of the liturgical year. The Nunc Dimittis with its antiphon “A light to lighten the Gentiles…” forms the liturgical backbone of this rite, and the theme of Simeon’s acclamation in the temple on seeing the Christ child runs through all the collects which traditionally accompany the blessing of the candles. The distribution of candles to the faithful has a symbolism which is both obvious and powerful, readily understood but replete with meanings which unfold in the prayerful heart of the believer. The form of ceremony that survived into the late fifties also possessed certain meanings, explicit and implicit, which were lost in the reformed rite. A brief comparison follows :

For a High Mass of the Feast of the Purification, the colour of the blessing and procession is violet and the Mass is sung in white. The meanings of the colour violet in the Roman rite are many and varied, but include such things as “not-yet-redeemed” or “awaiting the Messiah” (Advent and Lent, or indeed the Votive Mass pro pace). The colour takes us back to the time before the work of Calvary is complete, and the alternation between violet and white in the liturgical year reflects the gradual revelation of Christ to the world, the story of which is told in the Gospels from Advent to Easter. Before the ceremonies begin, the Altar is veiled in violet and unornamented. The pieces of liturgical furniture, the credence, the Mass vestments on the sedilia and even the candles to be blessed are all hidden under violet veilings. The sacred ministers enter, the celebrant in cope and the deacon and subdeacon in their violet folded chasubles. The origin of the folded chasuble, as has been discussed elsewhere, is obscure, but evidence points to the custom of deacons and subdeacons adopting the chasuble (and folding it up) for penitential processions, which is why they continue to be worn on ember days of Lent and Advent, and for the procession on Candlemas. The Celebrant kisses the Altar (but the other ministers don’t genuflect when he does so) and then the three line up at the Epistle Side for the blessing of the candles. The five prayers of the blessing speak of the light of Christ and the petition of Simeon, but mention also the work of bees and the pure oil burnt in the tabernacle. The candles are censed and lustrated, while the celebrant says the antiphon Asperges Me (without the psalm). The content of the prayers moves from an emphasis on Christ as light to the collective and the external (Israel, Gentiles, people, arms of Simeom) to the light and purification of the individual and his soul (“may not be wanting to our souls”, “purge me”). The Candles are distributed while the Nunc Dimittis is sung. There is a final collect which underlines the work of Christ on the soul through outward devotion (a good précis of the five blessing prayers), before which (if it be not a Sunday and after Septuagesima) the Deacon and Subdeacon sing Flectamus genua and Levate respectively. These instructions from the sacred ministers to kneel in prayer and arise before the collect is sung also feature in the liturgy of Good Friday and on the Ember Days. The procession is then made, with the Subdeacon as cross-bearer and the Antiphon “Adorna thalamum tuum, Sion” by S. John of Damascus is sung, incidentally one of the few borrowings of text and music by the Roman Church from the Greeks. At the entrance to the church, or return to the sanctuary if the procession has not left the church, a responsary is sung V. They offered for him unto the Lord a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. As it is written in the law of the Lord R. When the days of Mary’s purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. As it is written in the law of the Lord. As the Catholic encyclopaedia notes :

“The solemn procession represents the entry of Christ, who is the Light of the World, into the Temple of Jerusalem. It forms an essential part of the liturgical services of the day, and must be held in every parochial church where the required ministers can be had. The procession is always kept on 2 February even when the office and Mass of the feast is transferred to 3 February.”

Indeed, owing to the presence of the processional cross as a symbol of Christ, this act of entrance is the ritual re-enactment of the presentation itself, and as such forms the climax of this ceremony. During the procession, the Altar has been unveiled to reveal a white frontal, ready to greet the Lord. Without further ceremony, the Mass proceeds. The ministers assume white Mass vestments (the tunicle and dalmatic underlining the move into new light and joy) and the prayers at the foot of the altar are said. The Candles of the faithful are to be lit to greet Christ in the Gospel and From the Te Igitur to after the Communion.

As I mentioned, the Missal of 1962 has been largely kind to this ancient rite, preserving much of the form. However, there are some important changes which disturb and deform the original rite. Firstly the entire ceremony of blessing is said in the White Mass vestments. The entire “before redemption” meaning of the colour violet, which is (inconsistently) maintained in Advent and Lent to the present day, despite the suppression of the folded chasuble, is lost. Related to this, the instructions Flectamus genua and Levate are gone. These instructions particular to the Deacon and Subdeacon were also part of the Solemn prayers of pre-1955 Good Friday, but for no apparent reason, the Subdeacon was divested of his Levate, which was given to the Deacon.

Secondly, and consistent with a general move to suppress these prayers where another rite precedes Mass (viz. the 1955 Palm Sunday [though previous to this reform, the psalm was omitted as per Sundays in Passiontide]), the prayers at the foot of the altar are not said. While much could be said about the disregard shown in this reform for the liturgical coherence of the Mass, and the importance of the words “Introibo ad altare Dei” in the worship of the Church, I only have time here to share these words again from the Catholic Encyclopaedia :

"That the Mass, around which such complicated rules have grown, is the central feature of the Catholic religion hardly needs to be said, During the Reformation and always the Mass has been the test. The word of the Reformers: "It is the Mass that matters", was true. The Cornish insurgents in 1549 rose against the new religion, and expressed their whole cause in their demand to have the Prayer-book Communion Service taken away and the old Mass restored. The long persecution of Catholics in England took the practical form of laws chiefly against saying Mass; for centuries the occupant of the English throne was obliged to manifest his Protestantism, not by a general denial of the whole system of Catholic dogma but by a formal repudiation of the doctrine of Transubstantiation and of the Mass."

To my mind, the decision to remove in one stroke, a part of what is and has been for centuries, words that have become ingrained in the mind of every Catholic, is a serious assault on tradition, and, by extention, what that tradition seeks to protect, and this assault must be interrogated. The notion that a part of the ancient practice of the Church’s regular worship can be edited out, simply for the sake of convenience, is above all patronising to the very people for whom this service exists: the plebs sancta Dei. The assumption that the lay man or woman in the nave of the church has suffered, Sunday by Sunday, from a lack of comprehension, an inability to engage with the rite of Mass because of its convoluted ceremonial or its long-dead Latin is the great fallacy of the movement for reform, and a damaging lie. The simplification and reduction of the liturgy is, in my view, the very reason why church attendance has dropped so severely since the period of reform began. As one friend put it, when a churched Christian reaches adulthood and is still expected to engage with a dumbed-down liturgy that was altered to be accessible even to small children, then what really is there to keep them from leaving? An examination of the unreformed rites of Candlemas, as with any ancient ceremony of the Church, clearly exhibit a language in vibrant use, a language which can be heard readily by anyone who opens themselves to it. The particular language is the Roman rite, but the message is redemption. Dumbing down the Mass, the Liturgy, the traditions of the Church, can only indicate that much of the Church as a whole has stopped believing in Herself, and that what She has offered to Her children for centuries is no longer worth very much at all.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Third Sunday after Epiphany

An apparition of the famous "Ghost Thurible" of S. Magnus-the-Martyr...

Thursday, 21 January 2010

S. Agnes of Rome **UPDATED**

Santa Inés by Zurbarán

Today is the Feast of S. Agnes of Rome, virgin and martyr. She suffered in the Diocletian persecution and was subjected to a particularly brutal martyrdom in 304 at the age of only twelve or thirteen. The prefect wanted Agnes to marry his son, and when she refused, she wascondemned to death. Since Roman law did not permit the execution of virgins, the prefect had a naked Agnes dragged through the streets to a brothel. As she prayed, her hair grew and covered her body. It was also said that all of the men who attempted to rape her were immediately struck blind. When led out to die she was tied to a stake, but the bundle of wood would not burn, whereupon the officer in charge of the troops drew his sword and beheaded her, or, in some other texts, stabbed her in the throat. It is also said that the blood of Agnes poured to the stadium floor where other Christians soaked up the blood with cloths. She did not want to marry but wanted to have God in her life. A few days after Agnes' death, a girl named Emerentiana was found praying by her tomb; she claimed to be the daughter of Agnes' wet nurse, and was stoned to death after refusing to leave the place and reprimanding the pagans for killing her foster sister. Emerentiana was also later canonized.

S. Agnes is importantly one of the seven women (excluding the Mother of God) whose name appears in the Gregorian Canon of the Mass. Also on this day, the Pope celebrates Mass in the basilica of Sant' Agnese fuori le Mura, where the saint's relics are said to rest, and there he blesses two lambs, taken by tradition from the Abbey of Tre Fontane. These two lambs are then shorn (customarily on Maundy Thursday), and the wool used to create the pallium, the white neck-stole given to Metropolitan Archbishops by the Pope on their appointment as a sign of his delegation of jurisdiction to them (traditionally on the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul).

S. Thomas of Canterbury, wearing his pallium


You can see a short video of the Holy Father blessing the lambs (adorably trussed up in little baskets for easy liturgical access) on youtube, by clicking here. The report contradicts my information on the source of the little lambs, saying they are hand-reared by nuns in the convent of San Lorenzo.

Yesterday I started typing the story of our own (fictional) Parish lambs, Dandy and Wonton, who managed to get to Rome by Easyjet before being turned away from S. Peter's by Msgr Lombardi. They are working on an Eastertide collaboration with 'the Priests' but have chosen to spend their campaign money on an interrail ticket around Europe's 'winter cities' until then. Unfortunately, their story was erased by Blogger, but I will scan and post any post-cards I receive from them.


As promised.....

Monday, 18 January 2010

Cathedra Petri

Today is the feast of the Chair of S. Peter, and the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This week of prayer, as many Anglicans will know, began life as the Octave for Christian Unity, proposed by Anglo-Catholic Fr. Paul Wattson in 1908 to be observed from the feast of the Chair of S. Peter on the 18th January until the feast of the Conversion of S. Paul on the 25th. The decision to observe the Octave over these two feasts is an obvious indication of the Anglican Papalists' desire for unity with the See of Peter, and as a glance over the history books and archives will tell, our Papalist forefathers took up this Octave of Prayer with great enthusiasm. As the idea caught on, the Octave came to be observed as the (perhaps less explicitly Catholic) Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and was blessed by Pius X to be observed in the Roman Church. Since its promotion by the World Council of Churches, the Week (still actually an 'Octave') has been very widely accepted by Christians across the world.

This week I am also celebrating my new iPod Touch, a wonderful piece of technology which I almost can’t believe I ever lived without. Over the weekend I have been discovering the many wonderful applications I can download onto my new iPod: such practical things as a Spanish-English dictionary, an iSiddur (a Jewish prayerbook, just in case I ever find myself in shul on a Friday night), a Catholic Calender by Universalis with readings for Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, a course of Salsa Lessons (to supplement my Wednesday night session) and plenty more besides. I’ve also subscribed to podcasts, which update automatically via iTunes, so that I can share in weekly Bible study sessions with a group of American Franciscan Sisters, as well as a daily documentary from the BBC!

Unfortunately, though, many of the things that I want aren’t available as applications or podcasts yet. While some churches do broadcast Mass daily online, there are no podcasts that I know of for the Usus Antiquior, and is yet to release the Missale Romanum (1962) as an iPod application. Nonetheless, what I can get on my iPod and what I can watch on my PC involves such startling variety and seemingly endless possibilities for mission, that it isn’t surprising that so many in the Church are embracing the technology available, and podcasting sermons, broadcasting Masses or creating eRosary applications for iPhone.

At a parish meeting last year, the people of S. Magnus were encouraged to contribute their ideas in a brainstorming session as the first stage in formulating our MAP, or Mission Action Plan for the coming year. Reading over the notes of this meeting put together by one of our churchwardens, two very strong themes emerged from the participants' comments: firstly, a very strong and discerning appreciation of the traditional Liturgy offered in S. Magnus every Sunday, and secondly, the desire to see this precious gift shared with those who form the wider S. Magnus community, including tourists at the Monument, casual visitors, or, quite importantly, people who follow S. Magnus through this blog or the Church website, and who constitute the eParish of S. Magnus; our “virtual parishioners” as one person put it.

It seems that S. Magnus has accepted, in theory at least, the idea that one can be part of the community without being physically present (although obviously, it would be all the better if you could be!), and has begun to explore the possibilities of reaching out to our eParish via the internet and possibly Apple technology also. Some ideas that I’ve seen work well in other places are the simultaneous broadcast of the Sunday Mass (do look here at S. Gertrudes if you haven’t already enjoyed the broadcasts of these Traditionalist Roman Catholics in the States), and the podcasting of sermons to be downloaded to iTunes (S. Clement’s Philadelphia has done this for some time). The Parish website is also due to be revamped soon, and that could be very exciting, with an ordo and events calendar published and updated regularly, photo folders to look back over past events etc. All of this requires skill, effort and outlay, so your prayers are asked for our church of S. Magnus as it follows others into the mission fields of cyberspace! Who knows? It might not be too long before this blog is sharing video content from the Parish Mass or feast days, or whatever event we might be hosting, to give YOU, the virtual parishioners of S. Magnus, a regular dose of the M vitamin. And in this week of prayer for unity, while we are waiting for decisions to be made about Anglicanorum Coetibus, we must remember to ask the decision-makers the important questions: like, when will we get podcasts of Anglican Use High Mass?

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Baptism of the Lord and Blessing of the Thames **UPDATED**

I have just received these pictures from our churchwarden, which were taken during the Mass of the Baptism of the Lord. They are a little fuzzy but considering we don't have a dedicated photographer, and the churchwarden naturally has his duties, readers will have to pardon us. The pictures offer a chance to see our newly acquired High Mass set doing what it was designed to do. It came from Elmore Abbey and as such exhibits the relatively simple decoration typical of monastic vestments, and it is cut in the Spanish style. You'll also notice the "true" dalmatic and tunicle, which are clearly differentiated from each other. The set includes a matching set of tabernacle veils and a humeral veil you could shelter an entire family under.
The offertory

Agnus Dei



It is our custom at S. Magnus to process up to London Bridge after the Mass of this feast, to the point where our parish boundary meets that of the old S. Saviour's, Southwark (i.e. Southwark Cathedral) and there to conduct a ceremony of blessing the river, which involves readings, prayers for those who have lived and died on the river, before a large wooden cross is thrown into the Thames to bless it, and the people are sprinkled with holy water. This custom is followed by many of the faithful of the Eastern Churches, especially in Greece and Russia. My only experience to date of the Ethiopian feast of Timqat, which celebrates the Epiphany and Baptism in one go, was on my way back from Mass at Ss. Trinita dei Pellegrini in Rome, where I wandered into a small, typically Roman piazza and encountered a huge circle of Eritreans gathered around a collection of large plastic tubs full of water, where priests and deacons in colourful silk vestments were conducting their version of the blessing of the waters.

A short local media flurry (light relief from the "snow") followed the Blessing, with S. Magnus featured on BBC London television news, and also in the free commuter's daily, the Metro. It seems that every year, the event attracts more and more attention, and I'm pleased to think that so many people have been reminded of the contribution the Church makes to the City of London, not only by providing direct charitable and educational services, but also in that great service of intercessory prayer.

The procession forms, headed by an icon of the Baptism of Christ, held by Dr Colin Podmore

The procession on London Bridge

...waiting for Southwark

The Southwark contingent arrives

The service is underway

The cross is thrown into the Thames by Fr. Philip and Canon Andrew Nunn

Holy Water

The people are sprinkled as a reminder of their baptism