24 April 2014


Blessed John Henry Newman, Patron of our English Ordinariate, made an observation which seems to me germane to the purpose of our Ordinariate. He was praising B Pius IX for the restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850; but I think it has an application particularly to ourselves: "... by giving us a church of our own, he has prepared the way for our own habits of mind, our own manner of reasoning, our own tastes, and our own virtues, finding a place and thereby a sanctification, in the Catholic Church".

In his review of Ian Ker's Biography of Newman, the maestro assoluto of Anglican writers, Henry Chadwick, called Newman "as supreme a master of irony and satire as any in our literature". It is the great gift of Irony and satire, which Newman developed first as an Anglican and then brought to its full flowering in the Catholic Church, which I wish to think about today. The capacity for Doing Divinity within the forms of Irony and Satire was not an invention of Newman's ... one only has to think of the admirable Dean Swift ... but I believe that Newman both formalised it and cast it in a form which has done good service since. It is pre-eminent among the habits of mind, manner of reasoning, tastes which, following him, we in the Ordinariate have brought into Full Communion with S Peter. It is part of us; we are not (just?) an eccentric group to whom, of its goodness, the Holy See has granted an unusual form of the Roman Rite. We have a culture, which no-one shall take from us. Reducing us to a community which simply has a distinctive Liturgy without its associated culture, is that "Uniatism" which is rightly so disliked by Orientals and is disowned by Catholic ecumenists who know what they are talking about. 

Blessed John Henry wrote about his controversial habits as a young don: "I was not unwilling to draw an opponent on step by step to the brink of some intellectual absurdity, and to leave him to get back as he could. ... Also I used irony in conversation, when matter-of-fact men would not see what I meant". He is here describing the argumentum ad hominem mode of controversy, a method brought to perfection by another great Anglican Ironist and Satirist, the Benedictine Dom Gregory Dix, in the 1930s. Have you just proved ... Hooray! ... that the early popes did not exercise jurisdiction, in its modern sense? Dix will not contradict you ... nothing as crude as that. He will agree with you; and then spring his trap: neither, in those times did bishops. If you wish to assert episcopal jurisdiction, you won't be able to avoid the papal. If you deny the latter, you have cut the episcopal branch from underneath you. Do you assert, with tuttuttery and disapproval, that Vatican I defined papal primacy in terms of a modern Canon Law which did not exist in the New Testament period? Dom Gregory will pat you on the head ... and then enquire how you cope with the fact that Nicea defined the Nature of Christ in terms of Greek metaphysics ... which also had no place in the minds of the New Testament writers.
To be continued.

Common Sense

I think it would be for the best if the Holy Father henceforth confined his public utterances to formal texts which had been passed by the appropriate and responsible Roman Dicasteries. If he wishes to publish some views qua private theologian, he should, as Professor Ratzinger did, indicate this formally and explicitly.

The present situation simply cannot be allowed to continue.

23 April 2014

S George??

Before the changes made in 1911, S George, a Double of the First Class here in England, could today have taken advantage of the very human, pastoral, and compassionate rule that ubi ... est ... concursus populi ad celebrandum Festum quod transferri debet, possunt cantari duae Missae, una de die, alia de Festo.

I remember, as a young priest half a century ago, explaining to people how S George could not possibly be observed in Easter Week because the Resurrection of the Lord was so important that S George had to be ignored until next Monday. How cocksure and infallible I was in those days*. As I observed recently in this blog, Mothering Sunday and S Valentine's day, abolished after the Council, have proved so resilient that, by gritting their teeth, they have survived into the bleak, cold, liturgical winds of the third millennium. Even Pope Francis, bless him, organised a romantic love-in for desponsati on S Valentine's day!

The strength of these survivals in popular devotion demonstrates the power of inculturation and of actuosa participatio. And yet the liturgists who write learned treatises about Inculturation and Actuosa Participatio are the upholders of the post-Conciliar fads, modi, which eliminated prime examples of both.

Often, those to whom I condescendingly explained the impossibility of observing S George on S George's day were members of societies with his name, or Boy Scouts. I now wonder how necessary it was to fight those battles. The Saints in the Christmas Octave were so well dug-in that even Bugnini and Co could not uproot them. Generations of usage allowed S Anastasia to retain a toehold in the Masses of Christmas Day itself. Byzantines remain capable of a wide variety of liturgical combinations.

So what am I saying? Not, I hope, that I now have yet another cocksure, infallible, template for remaking the Calendar or its rubrics. I simply desire to throw into the mix, for discussion, the following hypothesis. For over a century, liturgical experts have been laying down how the people of God ought not to worship. Very often, their prescriptions have contradicted the instincts and inherited, inculturated, customs of ordinary priests and ordinary congregations. The post-Conciliar mistakes were only the final stage in this process of academic, intellectualist, even perhaps Jansenist, liturgical arrogance.

If this has something of the truth in it, here comes the tricky question. In the pathless wilderness into which we experts have led the Church, is there any chance of finding a way to something of the richness and the populism of the worshiping culture which we started trashing a century ago?
*Perhaps, to be a little fairer to myself, I should say that my error was too much respect and deference to what "the Church" had liturgically decided. I will do penance by not making the same mistake for another half century.

Thanks to Rubricarius for help with this piece.

22 April 2014

Prokathemene tes agapes

Today is the obitus of a pope. S Soter, Pope around 170ish, sent alms to the Corinthian Church during a famine; S Denys, Bishop of Corinth, wrote to his Brother about how this was the custom, ethos, of the Roman Church from the beginning, ap' arkhes, arkhethen. S Denys reveals that S Soter's Letter has been read at the Sunday Synaxis in Corinth and will continue to be read frequently, as the earlier Letter from S Clement still continued to be read.

Here we have got to the very heart of the question of Christian Unity and of the role played in that by the Roman Church. Communio, Koinonia, from the New Testament onwards, was expressed by hospitality (the receiving of fellow Christians from other Churches); by the sending of material assistance; and by the exchange of letters. If you wish to follow this up, try the roots koinon-/sunkoinon-, xen-, sustat-, and dekh-/dokh- in your Moulton. The root agap- perhaps sums it all up.

This is not all just a matter of kindliness and chumminess and having an affectionate sentiment beneath one's navel. It is shot through by dogma. When S Paul made his Gentile Christians collect money to be taken physically by their representatives to the Jerusalem Church, his motives were steely rather than soppy. By accepting the material assistance of their Gentile fellow Christians, the Jewish Christian headquarters would, in a very visible and tangible way, be accepting the validity of the Christian vocation of non-Jews. And in the early centuries we find in the giving or witholding of hospitality, and in the sending of letters, the diagnostics of what we would call 'being in communion'.

When S Ignatius refers to the Roman Church as "presiding over the agape", he is not paying some sort of conventional compliment to its soft-hearted generosity. He is alluding to the crucial, the nodal, centrality of the Roman Church in the links of Communio which manifest all the particular, local Churches, to be one Universal Church, Christ's Body.

21 April 2014


As I understand it, the Saturday of Easter Week, in the ancient Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries, is the 'Close of Easter'. The Gregorian collect of that day talks about us having celebrated the Paschal Feasts (paschalia festa egimus), and Gelasianum numbers the following Sundays as 'after the close of Easter'.

The post-Conciliar reforms made much of Easter being 50 days long and being one single Great Day of Feast. They renamed the Sundays as 'of Easter' rather than 'after Easter, and chucked out the old collects for the Sundays after Easter (their best hope for any sort of survival was to be assigned to the season per Annum) because they didn't consider them 'Paschal' enough. To replace them, they cobbled together a set of collects which was substantially new. They gave their game away by transferring the Collect for the Sunday after Easter (with its talk about now having finished the festa Paschalia) to the Saturday before Pentecost.

The Church of England, with its Liturgical Commission dominated by 'Bubbles' Stancliff and enthusiastic as ever for any passing bandwagon, drove the tendency even further. The addition of Alleluias to Dismissals, which even Bugnini's collaborators had confined to the Octave of Easter, was extended to the whole Fifty Days. A number of variations in the liturgy, to mark and enhance the unitary nature of the Fifty Days, was confected and embodied in the C of E's new "Common Worship".

I wonder just how securely founded in both the Bible and the patristic traditions, of West as well as East, this newly minted view of Eastertide is. It certainly seems to be true that the reforms of the 1970s represented a new divergence between the customs of West and of East: by levelling out Eastertide we lost the ecumenical practice, which we shared with Orthodoxy, of marking the unique character of this one very special week by allowing it to retain a whole lot of unique (mostly archaic) liturgical features. The Byzantines delightfully call it 'Bright Week' (I resist the temptation to repeat all the information in the Wikipedia entry sub hac voce) and they make the service each day to be completely unlike that of any other week of the year. One example in our Western idiom of thus making Easter week 'strange' was the traditional Western disuse of Office Hymns during this week; in place of them and of other elements in the Office, we used simply to sing the anthem Haec dies. Considering the enthusiasm with which the 'reformers' orientalised so much of the Roman Rite, it seems extraordinary that in other respects, such as this one, their concern was to drag the West out of a usage common to both of the Church's 'lungs'. But then, they always did what suited their whimsy.

There is an even profounder 'ecumenical' aspect to this question. S Paul assumes the familiarity of his largely Gentile Corinthian congregation with the Jewish usages of a seven-day Passover Festival celebration in unleavened bread (Exodus 12; Deuteronomy 16; I Corinthians 5). This suggests that the Paschalia festa, that is, of Easter Sunday until Easter Saturday, represent not only Apostolic practice but are part of the immemorial continuities linking the Old Israel with the New. Which would make the post-Conciliar alterations seem even more irresponsibly capricious.

One final point. As in Judaism and in Byzantine usage, so in the pre-Conciliar West, this very special week ended on the Saturday. We then gave up the Alleluias in dismissals, and the proper Communicantes and Hanc igitur. But now we continue them on the Sunday, Low Sunday, before saying farewell to them.

As I understand it, since the Saturday in Easter Week was the Clausum Paschae, the Sunday after it, the English Low Sunday, was the First Sunday After the Close of Easter. So when Traditionalist Catholics and Prayer Book Anglicans call the following Sundays 'After Easter' they do not quite mean 'After Easter Sunday', but, technically and pedantically, 'After the Great Seven-day Festa Paschalia which stretch from the Easter Vigil until they "close" before the First Evensong of Low Sunday'.

I am not, of course, suggesting that the remaining six weeks before Pentecost should lose their 'Eastertide' status. As Dix puts it, "After the Pascha the 'great 50 days' ... were already recognised [at the end of the second century] as a continuous festival, during which all penitential observances such as fasting and kneeling at corporate prayer were forbidden, as they were on ordinary Sundays also. ... just as for the Jews the fifty days of harvest between Passover and Pentecost symbolised the joyful fact of their possession of the Promised Land, so these fifty days symbolised for the Christian the fact that 'in Christ' he had already entered into the Kingdom of God. Like the weekly Sunday with which this period was associated both in thought and in the manner of its observance, the 'fifty days' manifested the 'world to come'."

20 April 2014

Christ is risen

The most stupendous event in the history of the cosmos - the most terrible wonder in the elapse of time betwen the initial and final big bangs - is never actually described. The Lord's Resurrection is, as it were, wrapped in veils. Jesus' burial may be described; lightning and earthquakes may be mentioned; women and men meet the mysterious stranger in the garden or on the road to Emmaus; but no television camera, no recording historical pen, no purported eyewitness, intrudes into the darkness and mystery of that cave-tomb. No Gospel writer claims to discern a tremor beneath the winding-cloth, no chronicler pretends to be able to describe the aweful countenance of the One who was dead and en atomoi, in a moment, is alive. It is as if to do so would mar the unimaginable wonder and terror of such a ... did I call it an 'event'? I think that was a category error: what we are talking about is not in any cataphatic word-bag. No, for the Gospel writers it is as if even to try to imagine it is an unspeakable vulgarity. And the Church's liturgy is marked by the same awed reticence: in the Song of the Candle the deacon exclaims with fearful wonder: 'O Night truly blessed, who alone wast worthy to know the time and the hour'.

The greater the miracle and the greater the wonder, then the more need for a veil to shield our eyes. S Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the greatest Christian thinker since S Paul, described what Christ did at the Last Supper as 'the mightiest miracle that he ever worked during his life on earth'. That same miracle is repeated every time that Mass is offered; at every Eucharist the stone is rolled from the darkness of the tomb; when the words of consecration 'This is my Body' are uttered, the Easter Lord who was dead and is alive walks out of eternity and comes among us; and the veil which prevents us from being consumed by such a wonder is the forms of bread and wine. The naked brightness of the divine reality would be too much for such as now we are. But as we kneel at the altar, every Mass is Easter and the Lord is the risen and invincible One and He whispers to each of us, as He whispered to Mary in the garden, the name He has given us; and for a moment the veils become very thin, and He makes His way through every locked door into the upper room of each one of us.

19 April 2014

Knox's Exsultet

Still sometimes heard in the the Church of England, although not nearly as much as it was a generation ago, is Mgr R A Knox's rendering into Anglican liturgical English of Holy Week texts. My own view is that we should treat this as part of the Patrimony. Traditiones Anglicanae, when they Do Holy Week, ought to include Knox's versions ... or a most valuable opportunity will have been lost, wasted, squandered, of incorporating a distinctively Anglican rendering of one of the loveliest texts in the Latin liturgical tradition. Knox, as well as being a distinguished Classicist, was perhaps the finest English stylist of the last century. (Or does he tie with Max Beerbohm?) Knox for the Ordinariates!

Here is a section of his Exsultet:
The night is come, wherein, when our fathers, the children of Israel, were led forth from Egypt, thou dividedst the Sea and madest them pass over as on dry land. Yea, the night is come, that with the fiery pillar hath purged away the darkness of our condemnation. The night is come, whereby all that believe in Christ on all the face of the earth, delivered from this naughty world and out of the shadow of death, are renewed unto grace and are made partakers of eternal life. The night is come, wherein the bonds of death are loosed, and Christ harrowing Hell rose again in triumph. For wherefore should man be born into this world, save that being born he might be redeemed? How wonderful then, O God, is thy loving-kindness unto us thy children! Behold, what manner of love he hath bestowed upon us: who, to redeem a servant, delivered up his only Son! O wonderful providence of Adam's transgression, that by such a death sin might be done away! O blessed iniquity, for whose redemption such a price was paid by such a Saviour! ...

18 April 2014

Regnavit a ligno Deus

"The Lord has reigned from the Tree".

As Neale translates this stanza of the Vexilla Regis:

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old;
Amidst the nations, God, saith he,
Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree.

You will not find the words from the tree [literally, wood] in any version of the psalter that reposes upon your bookshelves ... nor in any translation ... unless you are lucky and learned enough to possess a copy of the 'Psalterium Romanum': where it does occur in verse 10 of psalm 96MT/AV=95LXX/Vg. This psalter was used by many in the time of Venantius, as well as much earlier. S Justin Martyr knew the reading a ligno, and accuses the Jews of deliberately censoring these words from their text because of the embarrassing Christian resonances. Tertullian, S Cyprian, Lactantius, and S Augustine knew it, but S Jerome could not find it in a Hebrew text. Nor is it in the Septuagint, except in one single bilingual manuscript ('apo xulou') where it might have crept across from the Latin side.

Despite this, could it be original? Well, the discovery of Hebrew Biblical manuscripts much earlier than the medieval Hebrew 'Masoretic text' which Jewry treats as authentic, has shown a much greater diversity in the textual tradition than most people expected ... especially in the poetic books. (I counted some 28 occasions on which the producers of the New Vulgate adopted a reading from the Qumran Isaiah, supported by early translations, in preference to a reading from the Masoretic Text.) And it has become very obvious (not least to that admirable Methodist Margaret Barker) that elimination of 'Christian' verses did occur. If this phrase is original, it could originally have referred to the wood of the ark of the Covenant, victorious over the Philistine god Dagon. That's quite a nice piece of typology anyway, isn't it?

This, however, is not in my view the big question. Texts, before the invention of printing, were inherently unstable (look at the apparatus criticus of the OCT Homer), and this phrase, 'original' or not, is quite simply part of our Biblical tradition (just as is the story in S John of the Woman Caught in Adultery); canonised by the Fathers who were fed by it ... and by the use of Venantius' hymn throughout the Latin Christian centuries. Dom Lentini, in his first draft of the revised Breviary hymns, retained the stanza, and admirably added in a footnote "We do not dare [audemus] to suppress the strophe nor to change the line". Good for him.

However, by the time the Liturgia Horarum was published, a more radical and philistine attitude held sway; a determination to 'dare' to make the Great Tradition less visible; a hermeneutic of rupture. It is the prayer of all right-thinking people that Papa Ratzinger was successful in starting a process of turning the Philistines back. The restoration of this stanza to the Liturgy is overdue.

17 April 2014

de reconciliatione poenitentium

It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, almighty everlasting God, through Christ our Lord. Whom, almighty Father, thou didst will ineffably to be born, that he might loose the debt of Adam to thee the eternal Father, and destroy our death by his own, and carry our wounds in his own body, and wash away our stains with his own blood; that we who have fallen by the envy of the ancient enemy might rise again by his mercy. Through him, Lord, we humbly beg and beseech thee that thou vouchsafe to hear us on behalf of the excesses of others, though we are not sufficient to pray thee for our own. Do thou therefore, most merciful Lord, call back to thyself, with thy wonted love, these thy servants, whose sins have separated them from thee. For thou didst not despise the humbling of Ahab the most wicked, but put away the punishment which he deserved. Peter also thou didst hear when he wept, and didst later commit to him the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and to the confessing thief didst promise the rewards of that same kingdom. Therefore, most merciful Father, mercifully gather back those for whom we pour our prayers before thee, and restore them to the bosom of thy church, that the Enemy may in no wise have the power to triumph over them, but that thy Son may reconcile them to thee, and cleanse them from all sin, and deign to admit them to the banquet of thy most holy supper. And may he so refresh ["reficiat" ... remake?] them with his flesh and blood, that after the course of this life he may bring them to the kingdoms of heaven; even he, Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Thus the Maundy Thursday Solemn Reconciliation of Penitents in the old Pontificale Romanum.

16 April 2014

Evangelii gaudium

As far as I have been able to discover, the above two words are still the only ones available in Latin.

Given the Holy Father's demotic style, and his ability to say or write quite a lot, I rather wondered how those responsible for the Latin, official, version, would get on. I don't envy them.

But I can't imagine this Pontiff allowing a shortage of those adept in Latin Prose Composition to hold him up.

Will he take to issuing his texts in another language? Mit brennende Sorge springs to mind as a precedent ... but that was not addressed to the Universal Church.

When the Latin version emerges, official and definitive, its expression of nuances and ambiguities in the text will be very probably the doing of fairly low-level assistants put right up against the considerable problem of translating modern Spanish slang into formal Latin. One doubts if the Pontiff will have the time or the inclination to go through the Latin with a fine tooth-comb ... I don't get the impression that such linguistic games are among his favourite hobbies. So the 'official' words will not really be his. Is this not rather unsatisfactory too?

(For classicists) Pange lingua ...

... gloriosi; and how glorious Venantius' hymn is. And how admirable that Dom Lentini's boys gave us back, in the Liturgia Horarum, something approaching the authentic text. The nominative (or accusative) absolute in Lustra sex ... peracta even survives: cleverly promoted to the licit status of a praedicativum obiecti!

But I am a bit disappointed by the survival of the old emendation ferre saecli pretium. The original is ferre pretium saeculi*, which was the text offered in the first draft Hymni instaurandi Breviarii Romani of Coetus VII. Here pretium is to be pronounced pretzum. This is to be expected in Late Latin: texts survive in which negotiator is spelt, by someone writing his Latin phonetically in the Greek alphabet, as nagouzatro; we even find gaudioso written as gauzioso. Saecli, of course, is a perfectly acceptable syncope for saeculi; but why replace the words of Venantius? Is it not part of the joy of saying one's office in Latin that linguistic markers survive from all the different centuries through which the Latin liturgy has made its august way? A permanent monument to the Hermeneutic of Continuity?
*The same problem arises in the Vexilla regis. The problem of course is that, in chant, if one pronounces pretium as having three syllables, the line is one syllable too long for the rhythm. The Coetus got round this in their first draft by printing preti in italics.

15 April 2014

Chrism Mass

A glorious occasion, yesterday, in the Assumption. A real expression of what we are as a people. As ever, Archbishop Mennini came to consecrate the Oils; he knows us well by now, shows every sign of liking us, and has settled down so well with us that you'd think he'd been an Anglican bishop all his life. Vivat. And fun to meet old and new friends; from the old Chichester diocese, they included my former colleague and long time friend, Fr Simon Heans, now assisting at the Minor Basilica (I nearly said "Where's Fr Tim?" before correcting myself; one instinctively assumes that all right-thinking people will be in the Ordinariate). From the old Exeter diocese, Archdeacon Ellis and the old Mafia; from the TAC, Bishop Mercer, Fr Brian Gill and Fr John Maunder (of the Major Basilica of S Agatha's). The cleverest man in the Church of England, Fr Geoffrey Kirk ... I must not go on. All the faithful remnant gathered in: Staggers and Pusey House and the SSC and Walsingham, now with one single corporate expression and identity in our Ordinariate. A notable absentee; but he was present in each of us: Pope Benedict XVI, most learned, most saintly, humblest of all the modern popes. Eis polla ete Despota.

Just thinking of Chichester and Exeter and all the rest, calls up memories of that last, long glorious Indian Summer of the Church of England, before finally the sun set behind the clouds and the wind felt cold. To adapt Newman: "Exeter has gone, and Chichester, and ... ; it was sore to part with them. We clung to the vision of past greatness, and would not believe it could come to naught ...".

But there is Resurrection.