Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Glorious Mysteries

Today in the Chapel I was so deeply annoyed and disturbed by people chatting loudly just outside while I was trying to pray in silence. Some woman, who I think was an organist came to the Sacristan standing just outside the door to the Chapel, and asked for the Chaplain:

-"No he's gone to the Ordinariate, he's become a Roman Catholic"
-"Oh really?! I didn't know, and I take the Church Times! I'm Church of Scotland, I'm an elder there, I'm from Glasgow, but I was baptised in the Church of England.....and so I take the Church Times, but I hadn't heard......and I regularly take the Church Times"

And so on and so forth. The very kindest thing I felt like doing was getting up and asking her if, in the Church of Scotland, they ever did actually shut up. I put my thumbs in my ears and tried to get back to concentrating on the Mystery of the Resurrection. Of course, the genius Victorian architects ensured that any words spoken in that place should reverberate and be amplified, and I could still hear her going on and on, just outside the chapel door, totally oblivious to the fact that people might go there expecting silence.

Somewhere in the middle of the Mystery of the Ascension, another woman came to the passageway before the Chapel door and again asked for the Chaplain. I could see half of her through the open door of the Chapel, and she was wearing a black coat and a fur hat, and spoke in a very clipped but slightly breathy Lumleyesque manner. By now I was starting to wonder if this might all be divinely ordered to test me:

-"Hello, I'm looking for the Chaplain"
-"He's not here, he's gone to join the Ordinariate....we should have a priest coming in a bit to say the Mass...."
-"Oh, I can't believe he's gone.....the Chaplain, yes....what's his name, Tom?"
-"Tim, yes Fr Tim"
-"Tom? Tim?......Oh, I hadn't heard about that"
-"Well, we should be getting a chaplain......."

And so again they both went on, right outside the Chapel door, almost shouting at each other. I couldn't believe it! Anyone who opens any space to the public should know that to try to enforce strict silence is to fight an uphill battle. Apart from anything, anyone shouting in the street can be heard inside. But for goodness' sake! Presumably these people have actually been inside a Church before, and know that people often go there expecting silence, and to rob them of even a bit of peace and quiet is incredibly cruel.

So during the Mystery of the Descent of the Holy Ghost, my mind slipped to wondering - If I can't deal with people chatting, what can I deal with? If I can't focus my heart and my mind on God and try to open up to him in prayer just because of someone chatting, how on earth will I be able to deal with greater intrusions? If I can't hear God over that Glaswegian woman, how will I hear Him over the noise of the world? If one thing in someone else that I don't like can stop me from seeing God in them, how will I ever love in a truly Christian way?

Sometimes, according to where we are, who we are, and who we are with, prayer is not about trying to block things out, but about letting them in. Creating a barrier around my sense of hearing in order to block that woman's voice out was ultimately futile, and what was left inside my head? Just stumbling words of the Ave Maria as I willed myself to focus, while my mind tried to focus in more and more on her ever fainter voice.

Sometimes, we just have to let it in. We have to let these disturbances become mingled with, or even part of, our prayer. How can we be open to God if we're trynig to block someone or something else out? Prayer is not about sweeping out of our bodies to some spiritual height, it's about striving to be who we are, where we are, with God. Perfectly being where we are, and offering all to Him. Even if this means being surrounded by noise.

I think the swine herders and villagers in today's Gospel reading at Mass were afraid of this. I don't know what lectionary it came from, but today's reading was of Christ driving demons out of two possessed people into a herd of pigs. After the pigs threw themselves into the lake, the swine herders went back to the village and the villagers wanted Jesus to go. Why did the villagers want Him to leave? He had disturbed the order of their lives. Before He came, the men possessed by Demons were safely in their tombs - excluded from society by the fear they provoked. When Jesus restored them to sanity, the Demons entered the pigs and so the villagers lost their herd. Presumably they didn't think it was a worthy exchange - two sane men for a herd of pigs. They were attached to their herd and they weren't interested in the demon-possessed men and their deliverance by Christ. The whole town went to plead with Jesus to leave, because they were worried what else he might take from them, and what else he might give them. How often are we like the villagers? You never know what you will let in when you open up, and you never know who you might be shutting out when you lock yourself in.

Persecuting the Laity....

A post on a new blog I've just discovered, a Minor Friar, got me thinking about how much the poor laity get bullied on these traddie websites and forums. He was talking about how Trads often whinge that in the New Rite Eucharistic prayer, we thank God for "counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you", when the laity should really be kneeling. He made the point that on this occasion, trad critics had chosen to ignore the possibility of a non-literal interpretation of the verb "stand" to make the point that either the laity don't kneel anymore as they should during the Eucharistic prayer, or that the modern rite is inadequate for congregations who do kneel.

How exhausting. It reminds me of the obsession with Communion in the hand. That debate can get so heated, I normally start wondering if Traditionalists shouldn't chew off their own hands just to make their point and then get on with it. When serving as Subdeacon I get to see exactly who receives Communion and how, and as for those who receive in the hand, I would not doubt their piety, their devotion to the Sacrament, or any other motive.

I personally receive on the tongue, because I feel more comfortable that way, especially in terms of respect for the Sacrament. I also kneel, partly out of reverence and partly because most people who administer the Eucharist are shorter than me, and so it's just more practical. I'm sure those hands that regularly receive the Host from the Priest carry less bacteria than my tongue on a Sunday morning, or indeed the tongues of some of those nutters on the forums. We could all of us be boiled in bleach and yet we still wouldn't be clean enough, in any sense of the word, to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. That's the point.

Maybe it's the yoga talking, but I sort of see the posture of the laity during the Liturgy as not something we should worry about too much. It's all OK as long as they have the right attitude to what is happening. Whether the laity sit or stand or bow at a certain point doesn't matter nearly as much as what the ministers in the Sanctuary are doing on their behalf. Servers and clergy should pay the utmost attention to how they behave during the Liturgy, knowing that the laity expect it of them. It's not about "Oooh, Fr so-and-so says a lovely Mass", it's about the ministers fulfilling an office, without personal flourishes or adornments or personalised extras. They should be self-effacing and decorous at all times. And it's OK to bully them about that because they should be used to it! It's their job!

In the typical Roman parish, or indeed Roman Rite Anglican parish, some people will stand during the Eucharistic prayer, some will kneel. Some receive on the hand, some on the tongue, some kneeling, some standing. I really cannot understand how that image makes some people's blood boil so much! Leave the laity alone! If you want to make a point about the defects of the Modern Rite, make it a principle not to discount the good intentions of the devoted people who have turned up for Mass in the first place.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Sorrowful Mysteries

For a long time I was put off the Rosary. I used to find it too long to say a full five-decades, and sometimes I would close my eyes and actually fall asleep during the first one. I was also put off by the sugary pamphlet literature that has grown up around this devotion, all of the different "methods" or ways of praying the Rosary which would help the devoted Christian to say a Rosary without distraction or wandering thoughts, and to derive enormous benefits from its recitation. One phrase sticks in my mind, I think from the book Secret of the Rosary, where we are directed to "make each Ave maria that falls from our lips a little Rose, which we offer at Our Lady's feet, and to weave them into a crown of 53 little flowers with which to crown Her Queen of Our Hearts "....or something similar, I'm paraphrasing, but the language always struck me as camp and unnecessary.

The claims about what could be achieved by the recitation of the Rosary also seemed desperately overstated. After reading some of these pious publications you could believe that a Rosary can do anything, and I did wonder if perhaps these Rosary novena groups were dropping the odd Pater Noster if their devotional efforts hadn't yet delivered world peace.

One of the most detrimental aspects of counter reformation Christianity, in some ways still perpetuated by nominally "Traditional" groups, has been to push personal spirituality into the centre of the Church's public life and to do so at the expense of authentic Liturgy, displacing the traditional understanding of Liturgy as corporate worship, and replacing it with a highly personal and individual experience of the Sacred Liturgy. The typical Traditionalist menu of Rosary, Votive Low Mass, Stations of the Cross, and Devotions to the Sacred Heart is built around the promotion of certain devotions, visions, prayers and indulgences by Popes of the last few hundred years and the promotion of private devotion over public worship. Even the Low Mass, the one bit of Liturgy on the menu, has been turned into a devotion. The faithful got used to saying the Rosary throughout the whole of Mass, or working through a series of meditations while the Priest stood at the altar, stopping only to adore the Host at the elevation. The Liturgical Movement replaced the Rosary beads with Layman's Missals, providing the laity with a vernacular translation of the Mass, in many cases, and instructing them on what was happening, but even this did not satisfy the need of the individual layperson to be doing something during the Liturgy, and we all know where that has taken us....

My understanding is that private prayer and public worship are two sides of the same coin, and we really can't have one without the other. We receive this understanding from scripture: although the Disciples are often to be found gathered together in prayer at key moments in the Gospel, and although prayer in the temple and the gatherings of the synagogue are by no means despised by Christ, we are also told:

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:6

Public worship and private prayer - they should balance each other out. Of course we can have an interior, private response to public worship, and I see no harm in groups of people gathering to practice certain devotions, especially the Rosary, but we have to be able to distinguish between them. Both East and West have devotions which are in some way supplementary to or modeled on Liturgy. Both have Hours of Our Lady to be said in addition to the original hours, the Eastern Church has paraliturgical akathists. But there is no question of replacing the Liturgy with them.

This is all a massive digression from what I originally wanted to say. So I'm back into the Rosary. I've decided that it's all about doing as much as you can, as much as you want to, and realising there can be too much of a good thing - if I find myself with half an hour to spare in the evening and I've already prayed the mysteries assigned to that day, much better to reach for my Office Book instead. Developing a private prayer life is all about building on manageable things, maintaining variety, and not getting hysterical over the Rosary.

Today I prayed the Sorrowful mysteries and effectively came up with my own little "method" without really wanting to. My biggest problem in praying the Rosary is wandering thoughts and not knowing how to meditate on a mystery beyond maintaining a static mental image of that mystery in my mind. To people who have this same problem I'd say: don't worry about it, just chuck your pamphlets away and go and find out how to pray the Rosary in a way that works for're allowed to, it's private prayer! I found myself trying to unravel each of the sorrowful mysteries by drawing on moments from my own little via crucis in life, recalling moments of humiliation, suffering, sadness or anxiety that I could relate to each mystery, offering that experience to Christ and uniting it to the Blessed Passion. So for example, for the Crowning with Thorns I recalled a moment in which I felt utterly humiliated after an argument in public, during the Agony in the Garden I recalled a moment of absolute fear, anxiety and terror about what comes next. Not that we can ever truly understand or imagine the thoughts and emotions of Christ during those moments, but we can gain a small insight into the power of the Passion, and remind ourselves that It is real. By the last mystery I had rehearsed so much that I was left quite deeply moved, having perceived, in the boundless depth of these Sorrowful Mysteries the shallowness of so much in my own life. But this is where the Glory of the next set of Mysteries comes into play: we who believe in Christ know that all things are restored in Him. Although we make of ourselves an unworthy offering, in the prayers of the Rosary said under the breath, or at the great Amen sung aloud at the Liturgy, God takes what we offer and makes it worthy. The great joy of being a Christian is that, at the moment when it hits us just how unworthy and undeserving we are of mere association with Him, He reaches out a hand of friendship and invites us into His very Heart. In the Eucharist we offer our unworthy present, and receive the Perfect Gift: Him in us, and we in Him. This is what it means to be alive in Christ, and every glimpse of this brings the Christian soul greater joy, to sustain us on this earthly pilgrimage.

Go to Mass, pray the Office, and if you still have the time and inclination to do so, pray the Rosary!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Pentecost Vigil III - Photos!

Dear readers, it's time to share with you the primary commodity of this, my humble from S. Magnus! For a full description of the ceremonies of this ancient vigil service, see the post below. Many thanks to everyone who everyone who served and attended the Vigil. Next year we can expect it to be celebrated earlier in the day and with greater pomp. In the picture above you can see the Celebrant reading the first Prophecy which is being chanted by a Reader at an ambo.

The altar party process to the font, led by the Paschal Candle

The Celebrant blesses the Baptismal waters, dipping the candle thrice.

After the blessing of the font, the Litanies are sung in procession back to the sanctuary, where the ministers remove their violet vestments and prostrate themselves before the altar.

Towards the end of the Litany, the ministers go to the Sacristy and vest in Red for the Mass. The violet frontal is removed from the altar to reveal the red frontal, the altar is prepared for Mass and the candles are lit. Here the ministers recite the psalm Judica me while the MC lights a troublesome candle.

Mass of this Vigil is similar to Holy Saturday - there is no Introit (the one in the Missal is only for private Masses on this day), hand bells are rung during the Gloria, and the acolytes don't hold candles at the Gospel. Above you can see the Last Gospel read by the Celebrant at the end of Mass.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Pentecost Vigil II

Last Friday I had the most extraordinary encounter which I have been thinking of alongside this Saturday’s similarly extraordinary Pentecost Vigil. After an extremely onerous and dull day at work, I was dropped off near Mile End tube station by a colleague. I had intended to take the tube from there to my next engagement at Waterloo, but overcome by nostalgia for the foetid kebab joints and knife fights on the number 25 bus that comprise my memories of living in that part of London, I was persuaded instead to wander into Mile End park and take some sun. Unfortunately I fell asleep under the beating rays and woke up after half an hour looking like a spare rib, and I found myself rather in need of urgent refreshment. So, I retired to the nearest cafe, Roastars, under the “Green Bridge”, and sat down with several pint glasses of water and an iced latte. After a while, a young man with cropped hair and shorts asked if he could sit at my table, and naturally I replied “of course”. I noticed that he was wearing several bangles with cryptic slogans that I guessed must identify him as some sort of evangelical Christian. I suppose the mystery around such random inscriptions as WWJD or GODSTRONG are supposed to draw the curious into conversation with the wearer, and ultimately get them signed onto an Alpha course or something. This guy had two bracelets saying I AM SECOND, which definitely piqued my interest, and when I noticed he was writing out verses from Galatians in I AM SECOND-emblazoned notebooks, I said to myself “I have to find out who this nut is….and if I end up winding him up with my hardcore adherence to catholic doctrine then so be it”.

I shouldn’t have been so judgemental and self-assured. I so rarely encounter real live prots, and so my excitement at a perfect opportunity to counter-evangelise must be excused. Still, the ridiculous, arrogant idea that I was nurturing at that moment that I could convert him instantaneously with a salvo of rebuttals of his heretical non-doctrines and a visit to S. Magnus to seal the deal, should certainly not be excused. It turned out that I probably came away from that encounter having learnt far more profound things from him than I had managed to impart with my attempt to preach the True Faith.

We covered a range of topics; the Eucharist, the Blessed Virgin, invocation of the Saints, infant Baptism, and Confession and, of course, the Sacred Liturgy. Admittedly, although clearly a very devout young man, I have no problem saying that some of the views he expressed are heretical and run counter to the canons of the first ecumenical councils, which I had assumed would be our common ground. Then again, we are talking about a religion that teaches a form of sola scriptura that encourages a “what this Bible passages means to me personally in my life” individualist approach to Holy Writ, orchestrated by a succession of free-lance Pastors whose teaching authority derives more from their tithe-inflated bank balances than their endorsement by any legitimising or regulating system. This is a religion that has no concept of Tradition at all, in which “worship” consists of half an hour of preaching sandwiched between coffee and some soft Christian rock, and where the priestly exercise of Christ’s ministry of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance has been replaced by “discipleship meetings” with an “accountability partner”.

Our longest discussion was about infant baptism. I hope I managed to expound clearly the doctrine that the transformative grace imparted by the Sacrament of Baptism is not contingent upon the child’s understanding of what is happening. The Credobaptist Evangelical was not convinced and laid out the reasons – all worthy of consideration – why this is not so. We both claim that our respective beliefs are rooted in scripture, but mine are expressed in what I believe to be a Tradition shaped by the operation of the Holy Spirit, in which I can trust, and in which disagreements can be settled.

I won’t go further into Baptismal theology, as I am shamefully unschooled in anything beyond the very basics, but this discussion reminded me of the last time I witnessed the doctrinal vacuum created when Tradition retreats and subjectivity takes hold. I remember the first time our Parish celebrated Holy Week in the Older Rite, after the Paschal Vigil I received complaints from some parishioners who felt aggrieved at having been denied the opportunity to “renew their Baptismal promises” at the font, and that they were worried not having been able to do so. I sympathise with people who are attached to what, for them, is the only Paschal Vigil service they know, and I can completely understand how one would feel a sense of rupture, especially at so sensitive a time, in the pattern of worship they know, but I believe that these people, and countless other people who are subjected to the aliturgical modern rites year after year, have been persuaded to believe that the validity of their baptism is in peril, and they have been deceived by bad liturgy. Bad liturgy teaches bad theology, and for me, this is a perfect example.

The fact that the “baptismal promises”, the verbal assent to believe in Christ and rejection of Satan, were made on our behalf at our baptism as infants has no effect on our baptismal regeneration. At baptism, our soul is made entirely pure and white, this is what it means to die to sin and rise again to new life in the Sacramental waters of Baptism. While our souls may be sullied by sin as we grow older and attain reason and responsibility, our recourse is not to the “renewal” of those vows, but rather to the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion. The Sacrament of Confirmation is about “confirming”, at the age of reason, our initiation into the Church which is begun at Baptism. The supposed need to renew one’s baptismal promises annually at the Paschal Vigil erodes the teaching of the Church and brings nothing but confusion.

This morning I was looking over the texts of the Vigil of Pentecost, which as you can read below is a Baptismal Liturgy, which consists of the reading of Old Testament prophecies (the origin of which was to instruct the Catechumens), Blessing of the Font and Baptisms, Litany and then Mass in Red Vestments. As I read the collects, I realised how strongly this preparation for Pentecost, historically ranked second only to Easter, reverberates with the related themes of Baptismal regeneration and the operation of the Holy Spirit – our forefathers in the Faith had no need to worry about renewing their baptismal promises: the entire Liturgy sings with them. The many Collects between the prophecies ask for the continual outpouring of Grace on those already baptised.

O Lord God of hosts, who restorest those things that are broken down, and preservest those things that thou restorest : increase the peoples that shall be regenerated in the sanctification of thy name; that all who are washed in holy baptism may ever be guided by thy inspiration. Through.

Collect on the Sixth Prophecy

The character of this Liturgy was shaped by the first centuries of the Church, where entire households of Catechumens were received by Baptism: men, women AND their children. The Church was proclaiming in her Liturgy that there is one font of Baptism, one Fountain of this Grace from which these waters flow, and that all who wish to be saved must die to sin and be reborn: men, women, newborn children, regardless of physical or mental ability there is one font for all of them. This is a startling teaching, impossible to reconcile with worldly assumptions about people in different conditions of life, and it remains so today. There was no need for anxiety about one’s age or ability affecting their baptism because the Church proclaimed the opposite so confidently! So confidently, in fact, that it became impossible to baptise every Catechumen on the eve of Easter, and so the rest had to be baptised at the next Great Feast of Pentecost!

So what do we proclaim with the new non-Liturgies that have become the norm in the West? Ever noticed how those protestant pastors I mentioned above sometimes seem to be obsessed with one thing? The evil of homosexuality, the rapture, national apostasy, and the threat of Islam……These people re-mould Christianity around their own anxieties and obsessions and then impose this creed on their congregations, and they are not accountable. Whenever we liturgical practitioners presume to ad lib, excise, abolish, suppress, reform or tamper with the Liturgy, we behave exactly like those pastors, re-creating the worship of God in our own image to suit ourselves, not the diverse personalities of the plebs sancta Dei. Indeed what we are left with is no longer fit to be called leitourgia for that reason. We make it up as we go along...we make it "high looking" to impress people, or we make it cuddly to indulge certain expectations, allowing the zeitgeist to inform the Sacred Liturgy, and the Church, instead of the other way around. We find ourselves standing before nothing more than a wooden coffee table, and a font that is only a few drops deep. We end up seeking God’s forgiveness from our “accountability partner” and sipping coffee between hollow smiles, telling ourselves how good it all makes us feel to be a Christian.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Vigil of Pentecost

The Vigil of Pentecost will be celebrated in the Church of S. Magnus on Saturday 11th June at 6.30pm. This vigil, supressed in the devastating 1955 Holy Week reforms, is now almost never celebrated, and I am informed that if we manage to find Deacon and Subdeacon for our celebration at S. Magnus, it will likely be the first such celebration in this country since the vigil was supressed.

Gregory DiPippo's excellent Compendium of the Holy Week reforms, published on the New Liturgical Movement blog, includes a description of this Vigil, to which I can add little.

Synopsis of the Pre-Pius XII Ritual

Already in very ancient times, the sacrament of baptism was celebrated on the feast of Pentecost as on Easter; this is said explicitly by Pope Saint Siricius (384-399) in a letter to bishop Himerius of Tarragon. (Epist. ad Himerium cap. 2 : Patrologia Latina vol. XIII, col. 1131B-1148A) Pope Saint Leo I (440-461) reasserts that this was the practice of the Church in a letter to the bishops of Sicily, exhorting them to follow the example of the Apostle Peter, who baptized three thousand persons on Pentecost day. (Epist. XVI ad universos episcopos per Siciliam constitutos : P.L. LIV col. 695B-704A) This custom is expressed in the liturgy of the vigil of Pentecost, which resembles in many respects the rite of Holy Saturday. This resemblance is found in the Missal of St. Pius V, as in all of the missals that came before it, and in the medieval usages of the great cathedrals and religious orders.

The rite begins in the penitential color, violet. There is no blessing of a Paschal fire, nor of a Paschal candle, nor the Exsultet; therefore, the vigil begins with six prophecies, repeated from the vigil of Easter, each of which is followed by a prayer. (The three tracts from Easter night are also repeated in their respective places). The six prayers are different from those of the Easter vigil, but express in many respects the same ideas. After the sixth prophecy, the blessing of the baptismal font is repeated, changing only the prayer at the beginning, following which the Litany is sung. During the Litany, the major ministers return to the sacristy and change to red vestments for the Mass.

Other rites of the Easter vigil are repeated at this vigil Mass; there is no Introit, and the bells are rung at the Gloria in excelsis. (The Introit Cum sanctificatus fuero was later assigned for private Masses only.) The collect of the Mass refers to the baptismal character of this celebration even more clearly than that of the Easter vigil Mass. After the Alleluja of the Mass is sung the same Tract which is sung on Easter night. At the Gospel, the acolytes do not carry candles. Just as on Easter night the Resurrection is watched for, but not anticipated, so also with this same gesture, the Church watches for the coming of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire, as Christ told His disciples to do, but does not anticipate it. A further reference to the baptisms done in the first part of the rite is found in the Canon of the Mass, in which the proper Hanc igitur of Easter is said. This text speaks explicitly of those whom the Lord “(has) deigned to regenerate of water and the Holy Spirit, granting to them remission of their sins. ” It is said in this Mass, and though the entire octave of Pentecost, as it is also said at the Mass of the Easter vigil, and throughout the octave.

Synopsis of the Pius XII Reforms

The 1955 reform almost completely removes this ancient tradition of the Roman Rite, suppressing the Prophecies, the blessing of the font, and the Litany. The Mass begins with the Introit which was formerly said only in private Masses. The rubrics about ringing the bells during the Gloria and not carrying candles at the Gospel are also suppressed. The text of the Mass itself is not changed; the same collect and the same Easter Hanc igitur are still said, although the baptismal rituals to which they refer are suppressed.
Copyright Gregory DiPippo 2009

So I'd urge you come to S. Magnus to take part in this most ancient and excellent preparation for the Great Feast of Pentecost. I don't know that another Church in London will be celebrating the vigil and although we hope to repeat it next year, God willing, this could be your one chance to attend this service. See you there!