8 March 2009


I wished that the heating had not just broken down in S Thomas's; but I soldiered manfully on with the Ember Saturday Mass, with its four Old Testament lessons. The third was from II Macabees Chapter 1, where we are given the text of what the priests said in prayer, while a sacrifice was being consumed with fire. And - these distractions during Mass really are maddening - it struck me as structurally very close to the start of the old Roman Eucharistic Prayer; say, from Vere dignum ... down to accepta habeas et benedicas haec dona, haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia.

It interested me because, only the day before, I had found in Mr Zealley's bookshop (while effecting a purchase for Professor Tighe) an old CTS pamphlet written by a young man who, before poping, had been one of Nathaniel Woodard's masters in his College of our Lady and S Nicolas in the Valley of the Adur (want to see a picture of the chapel? Look at the picture heading the admirable Pastor in Valle Adurni blog). He argued that it doesn't matter to the laity that Mass is in Latin, or inaudible, because in sacrificial worship public prayers 'were not the great thing. What God ordered was the sacrifice; we nowhere read that he ordered any form of prayers ... of any form of public prayer no mention whatever.'

It reminded me of the episode in Newman's semi-biographical novel Loss and Gain, where an Anglican criticises the Roman Mass on the grounds that 'all parties conspire to gabble it over, as if it mattered not a jot who attended to it, or even understood it'. The reply is that the Mass 'is not merely a form of words - it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth ... words are necessary, but as means, not ends; they are not mere addresses to the throne of grace, they are instruments of what is far higher, of consecration, of sacrifice ...'.

Recalling the demonstration by the great Christine Mohrmann that the sacral dialect of the Roman Canon is consciously based on that of pagan Roman worship, I began to wonder what evidence we have, in Hebrew, Greek, and Roman contexts, of the relationship between the act of sacrifice and any formulae that might have been uttered; and what light - if any - all this throws on the genesis of the Canon Romanus.

Perhaps someone can help me. As a poor ignorant classicist, all that immediately sprang to my mind was the Greek paranoia that someone might utter an ill-omened word during the Rite: hence, the insistence on Silence as the safest policy. There must be more to it than this. If I were more competent in German, I would try Pauly-Wissowa ...

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