7 December 2016

Dom Prosper Gueranger and my last fifty seven years

Six years ago, a kind friend passed on to me a full set of the volumes of the English version of Dom Gueranger's wonderful  L'Annee Liturgique; a series which I had first met years ago as an Anglican when I was preaching a Priests' Retreat in the Devon house of the Franciscan Servants of Jesus and Mary at Posbury St Francis. The sitting room set aside for my use had, around its walls, most of the library - including Gueranger - of Prebendary John Hooper, the charismatic priest who decades before had fostered my own vocation to the Sacred Priesthood. He was part of that admirable phenomenon (its survivors are now mostly in the Ordinariate): the Exeter Mafia, Anglican Catholic clergy who spent most of their priesthood in that diocese. He was a drinking companion of Bishop Robert Mortimer, the scholar-bishop and moral theologian (They haven't had many of those in the C of E - perhaps that is the root of some of their current tragedies). Fr John had been the Posbury community's Warden; and, indeed, he was buried under the trees in their quiet and still graveyard. But I had come under his influence much earlier when he was Vicar of S Mary Mags, in this city, then its great Anglican Catholic centre. I first saw him on the feast of our blessed Lady's Immaculate Conception in 1959, when I was in Oxford as a hopeful schoolboy sitting the Scholarship examinations. Purely by chance, if there is, in God's providence, any such thing, I happened to wander into Mags that evening when the High Mass - according to what we now call the Extraordinary Form and in the language of the English Missal - was being celebrated. What an exquisite ... quite apart from everything else ... aesthetic experience! How marvellous that we now have that selfsame liturgy available to us in the Ordinariate!

Opening Gueranger at random, I hit upon these words about the beginning of the (EF) Mass. "But see, Christians! the Sacrifice begins! The Priest is at the foot of the Altar; God is attentive, the Angels are in adoration, the whole Church is united with the Priest, whose priesthood and action are those of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Let us make the sign of the Cross with him."

Plummy, you think? I suppose so. "God is attentive": goodness gracious, that's a bit much isn't it? But isn't it the whole wonder of this most Adorable Sacrifice? - as Newman put it: "It is not a mere form of words - it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth. It is, not the invocation merely, but if I dare use the word, the evocation of the Eternal."

Dare we? Audeamus dicere.


Joshua said...

I sometimes drive through Exeter (population c. 400, about 25 km to the north) on my way elsewhere; I assume it's named after the Devonian Exeter.

Brian M said...

Divine Worship: The Missal is certainly a commendable liturgical book, but it is hardly the "selfsame liturgy" as that found in the English Missal, given its use of the modern three year lectionary and its many instances of Tudor-by-committee.

Jesse said...

Father, are you able to tell me what it was about Guéranger's liturgical writing that so irritated the princeps doctorum in rebus liturgicis, Edmund Bishop? For example:

"Probst's books are long, and what is called long-winded, certainly; but how much more useful and, with all their blunders and misleading than much more lauded liturgical works. For instance, those of Dom Guéranger, who has not merely left behind him a heap of ruins, but has also (speaking from the ground of liturgical science) carefully led those who were pleased to follow him out into an arid desert where the oases are only mirages." (Liturgica Historica, p. 120)

Is there a clue in the following passage, which occurs in a discussion of the “puzzled” state of a late nineteenth-century liturgical scholarship unsettled by works like Duchesne’s Origines?

"A reaction from an exaggerated traditionalism, as exemplified in Dom Guéranger's Institutions liturgiques, was inevitable." (p. 60)

Bishop was hardly a “trendy,” going along with the latest findings of “pastoral liturgists.” I wonder if he was dissatisfied with Guéranger’s willingness to interpret the liturgy through the lens of contemporary spirituality, rather than to correct his spirituality in the light of the historic development of the liturgy. For example, where Bishop prized the “soberness and sense” that he discerned in the early Roman liturgy, before it was contaminated with “Gallican” additions, would Guéranger treat the “Gallican” texts as equally at home in the Roman rite?

If that is the case, I wonder if Bishop wasn’t displaying a rather modern prejudice in regarding the “true” meaning of a text as dictated by its historical origin, rather than its reception. Peter Galadza has observed something similar in the marvellous, but decidedly historicizing, work of Alexander Schmemann.

We are fortunate that we may claim them all as our guides.

Fr John Hunwicke said...


Very much as you say. Perhaps putting it slightly differently: G piles together such a mass of disparate stuff that he is often great fun because you never know what you will come across in tha attic, all covered in cobwebs ... but he is dead infuriating when you want a reference so that you can actually pin something down. And somebody without a sense of the general layout of the subject may very possibly be misled into taking some minor detail disproportionately.

Brian M said...

I did forget to include the mutilations to the Roman Canon in my note above.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

The Mass is the Holocaust.

The Sacramental re-presentation on earth of the pluperfect Salvific sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary in which His burning love substituted for the material fire of the Old Testament holocaust, (all of which sacrifices were instituted to prepare the once chosen people to accept the Messias as their Saviour) is the single most important act occurring on earth at many moment of any day of any year since His Ascension into heaven and, as such, it must be the absolute summit of the good, the true, and the beautiful, the One True Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church is capable of producing which automatically eliminates the Lil’ Licit Liturgy which is as wildly wrong for the sacramental re-presentation of the Holocaust as would have been a yodeling contest at Calvary.

O, and ABS has owned and read the great Liturgical Year for a very long time. No matter what one has to do to own it, just do it.

Prayerful said...

I have and read his 'Holy Mass' so sometime when I'm more in funds I will get the 'Liturgical Year.' I am trying to improve my French, but it would be utter hubris not to get the translation.