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.

Lighten our darkness ...

Lighten our darkness we beseech thee O Lord: and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.

This prayer comes from Anglican Use Evensong, and had originally been the concluding prayer of the Sarum Compline. Here is the Sarum original:

Illumina, quaesumus, Domine, tenebras nostras: et totius huius noctis insidias tu a nobis repelle propitius.

In other words, Cranmer, as his custom was, expanded propitius to by thy great mercy and insidias  ['ambushes'] to perils and dangers. the ambushes of this whole night thus became all perils and dangers of this night. 

Just as Cranmer padded and expanded, lest his vernacular version of the prayer be finished before the worshippers had quite tuned in to it, so, through the Middle Ages, this prayer had already grown in the Latin. Here is the version in the 'Gregorian Sacramentary', with those words crossed out which were subsequently added.

Illumina, quaesumus, Domine, tenebras nostras: et totius huius noctis insidias tu a nobis repelle propitius.

But what will really surprise you is the Heading a little way above it the 'Gregorian Sacramentary'.


Gracious! It was apparently a collect for the Dawn!! It did not ask for God to protect us through the darkness of this night; it asked God to push away (repelle) the dangerous darkness of night. Look back at Latin text!

[It may be that I am wrong. Another prayer in this section does look like a late evening prayer, so perhaps the Heading is erroneous. Illumina is certainly an evening prayer in the 'Gelasian Sacramentary'. But this exercise may serve to remind us how things are not always what they seem!]

14 April 2014

Orthoditty; it's Patrimonial

In the glorious days when that very considerable Pontiff, Kenneth Escott Kirk, saintly and learned, ruled the Diocese of Oxford ... he was a close friend of Dom Gregory Dix; it was a very 'Catholic' diocese in those days ... the following ditty just emerged ex nihilo ... acheiropoieton, as you Byzantines might say.

How blessed are those Oxford flocks
How free from heretics
Their clergy all so orthodox
Their Bishop orthoDix.      (Tune: O God our help in ages past ...)

Half a century later, none of those propositions is still valid. How swiftly the waters have come flooding in.

Dix is often best remembered for his quip that the heraldic symbol of a Bishop was a Crook, and, of an Archbishop, a Double Cross. Or for his explanation that he chose 'Gregory' for his name in Religion in allusion to Papa Hildebrand, Gregory VII, "who deposed more bishops than any other man in history". But he was selective as to which bishops were the victims of the best of his wit. Remind me to tell you some time the story of Dix, Bishop 'Nazi' Headlam, and the Wendy House. You've heard it? Ah, but I bet there are plenty of readers who haven't. My, how Dix loathed Headlam!

13 April 2014


Before I went to be incommunicado on Alderney, The Tablet had "suspended" their Rome correspondent. I've not been able to find out what's happened since then. Does anybody know? Have they sacked him, or are they waiting for it to blow over?

Fr Thurston on Palm Sunday

If you ever get the opportunity of buying some of the old CTS pamphlets which Fr Thurston wrote to explain the rites of Holy Week, grab it.

Here, for a taster, is a passage from his Palm Sunday Pamphlet.

"[W]e have retained a vestige of the solemn entry into the city or cathedral in the halt still made by the sacred ministers in front of the closed church door. Of old, as the procession came back to the town - that is in their symbolistic conception of the scene, as our Saviour drew nigh to the walls of Jerusalem - high up among the battlements over the city gate, or over the cathedral porch, a group of choristers would be looking out ready to greet His approach. The procession comes to a standstill, and there above their heads the fresh young voices of the choir-boys ring out through the still morning air, chanting the words:

Gloria, laus et honor tibi sit, Rex, Christe Redemptor,
Cui puerile decus prompsit Hosanna pium. "

12 April 2014


After my fortnight doing Parish Duty on Alderney, and thinking about the controversies which have recently surrounded blogging, I have two conclusions to share with you.

1. Attacking living people. I think this should always be done temperately, if at all. Normally, and, preferably, it should be done without making things personal by using names. But this cannot unambiguously apply when a person deliberately puts himself in the public eye. The Diocesan Director of Liturgy who wrote a letter, on his office notepaper, to all his clergy, with copy to the Tablet, can hardly be deemed a shrinking and vulnerable violet at the edge of a field ... I like to throw in occasional allusions for readers of Sappho ... OK; he got a rocket from his bishop; so is that an end of the matter? Not necessarily. Because what he did represents a mind profoundly out of sympathy with the current liturgical law of the Church. It raises the question of whether he is suitable to do his job. I would not, for example, expect a bishop to make me a diocesan director of Novus Ordo Liturgy, in view of my known dislike of those post-conciliar liturgical innovations which explicitly or implicitly contradict the mandates of Vatican II. I would not have an appropriate mind for the job. And ... I don't know what's happened in the case of the Tablet Rome correspondent; but the question is not whether he has been rebuked, or has even apologised, but of the mind which he manifested.

2. Anonymity/Pseudonymity. I don't like it. I think people should put their (real) names to what they do. Especially if they wish to express themselves strongly; even more so if they wish to attack vigorously, even for plausible reasons, another named person. I accept that there can be exceptions justifying anonymity; a scholar may wish to float an idea without being held to it in foro academico ... I have been told that some Catholic priests and seminarians are afraid of their bishops or seminary rectors reading their views ... I don't think this says much for the health of the culture concerned, but, well, there you go ... Anyway; I have decided that attacks on other living people will not be accepted on this blog, even when thoroughly justified, if the comment is anonymous.

Another side of the anonymity problem: it is rumoured that one bishop acted against a blogger who is a subject of his, as the result of continuous pressure from other bishops; and rumour has it that Cardinal Mueller made those remarks about Ordinariate bloggers because of pressure from bishops, whether American, Australian, or English. I have not the faintest idea whether such rumours of anonymous episcopal back-stabbing have any truth in them whatsoever, but were [imperfect subjunctive] this to be so, my opinion is ...
...  it would provide the world with an attractive picture of a modern, open, inclusive, grown-up Catholic community at ease with itself and with modern ways if any bishops so concerned devised less Byzantine methods for expressing their views. They could try actually talking to bloggers. But I hope that the rumours, in each case, are as maliciously untrue as rumours so often are.

Not long ago, I was in a European capital city, to say some Masses for the Latin Mass community there and to give a couple of lectures. The Bishop of the city invited me to breakfast; before breakfast, I said Mass in his private chapel: all laid out for the Vetus Ordo. His lordship most graciously served my EF Mass. After a truly sumptuous breakfast, he drove me round some of the more spectacular churches of the city.

True xenia, true episcopal hospitality in the spirit of the Fathers! It is a sort of thing that leaves an extremely pleasant taste in the mouth, in more senses than one.

11 April 2014

Another moral dilemma

Some little while ago, happily subdeaconing (despite never, in all the multiple ordinations I have so enjoyed, having actually been made a subdeacon) behind Fr John Osman (celebrant) and Fr Daniel Lloyd (deacon) at that wonderful Ember Saturday Mass with the five Prophecies, I recalled how this Mass, originally a Vigil, used to be the regular occasion for Ordinations, the respective Orders being conferred one by one between the readings. Where suitable, one of each category of the newly-ordained then discharged his new ministry, for the first time, in that very same Mass. A beautifully edifying practice which, with predictable determination, the post-Conciliar Coetus tasked with revising the Rites of Ordination decided to abolish. But  my own Ordination to the Diaconate took place in 1967, before the new fads (which, incidentally, Vatican II had never mandated) had done their worst. Accordingly, in that blissful far-off age, the act of Ordination of Deacons still took place before the Gospel of the Mass, so that one of the neodiakonoi could then sing it.

The custom of the Church of England at that time was that the new Deacon given the honour of chanting the Ordination Gospel was the one whom the Bishop's Examining Chaplain deemed to have written the best 'Deacons' Papers'. Herein lies the moral dilemma I wish to put before you. You see, I thought it would be rather nice for Mummy if I myself had that honour. She liked to see her boy doing well. And I happened to know (I think we were given his address so that we could send our essays directly to him) that the Bishop of Oxford's Examining Chaplain on duty to mark the Papers that year was a priest who was a keen adherent of an organisation called MRA (Moral Rearmament) which tended to plant certain code-words in its propaganda literature.

You know what I'm going, tot post annos, to confess. Yes ... I planted a number of these expressions (entirely obiter, I hasten to add) in my essays. And, hey presto ...

Which of the commandments did I transgress? I knew you would be able to explain that to me.

I did get a sort of comeuppance. I am hopeless at liturgical chant, so all through the pre-Ordination Retreat ... and during the Ordination Mass itself ... I was consumed with nervousness. To this day, I can remember that wretched Gospel (from S Luke Chapter 12) with its ending " ... and find them so-o, blessed are those ser-ervants". But I did get through it, much to the surprise of Fr Michael Watts (Staggers), the Precentor (his ashes now in that little plot behind the Cathedral's Lucy Chapel, together with the remains of so many of the Patrimony ... quorum animabus propitietur Deus).

Then, off to the Luna Caprese for lunch with Pam, with Senior Daughter (the poor little mite was still in utero but I'm sure she enjoyed the food), and with the third female then in my life; Mummy, you will be glad to be reassured, was pleased.

Long time ago. So very much water under Folly Bridge ...

9 April 2014

Sorry ...

... to those who commented on this blog and haven't seen their comments. I returned this evening from a fortnight on Alderney, and have now enabled a selection of the accumulated Comments. And have tried to rush through the more personal of the mails. So you may find that a number of threads have suddenly materialised, attached to the pieces which I drafted before my departure and left to pop up as scheduled.

After the Protect the Pope affair, and Cardinal Mueller's words about Ordinariate bloggers, I decided that it was appropriate to consider at leisure a number of matters relating to blogging. So I went off to a fascinating island fragment of the Duchy of Normandy and did a lot of thinking, while watching the gannets and tramping the cliffs of an island where every headland is crowned with a superb mid-Victorian castle (my Lord Palmerston, who wanted to keep Napoleon III out) and, juxtaposed, elegant if menacing Art Deco fortifications (Herr Hitler, who wanted to keep the Allies out). Not to mention an exquisite Roman Naval Signal Station ... I can't quite remember whom they wanted to keep out.

In a day or two I'll tell you what I thought.