11 December 2008


The other day I went to the library at Blackfriars to look through the two or three recent numbers of Notitiae, the official Vatican periodical which, like the Britrish Government's Gazette, gives the official news and statements and Decrees of the Congregation for Divine Worship. As the Compiler of the Church of England's 'Catholic' Ordo Missae Celebrandae et Officii Divini Persolvendi, I like to keep my eye on things and, in particular, to make available to users New Propers; Masses and Offices of Saints newly added to the Universal Calendar, of which, in the present state of things, I have to do my own unofficial translations. These I print in the Ordo as they come out; and make available in subsequent years to users who apply to me for them.

I noticed two things. Since the election of our present Holy Father, I do not think there have been any additions to the Universal Calendar. And there has been a meeting at the Congregation to establish and refine criteria for 'promoting' Saints out of local calendars into that of the Universal Church. I suspect this represents a policy right at the top of exercising more of a control over that perennial liturgical phenomenon, the silting up of the Calendar as special interest groups - countries and religious orders - campaign to publicise their own candidates.

Under the previous Pontificate, it was sometimes the Holy Father himself who provided the impetus. A striking example of this was the inclusion in the Universal Calendar of S Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort. It was from his writings that John Paul II took his own motto Totus tuus, and the Decree introducing this Mass and Office diverged from the usual formulae to emphasise that the promulgation was the Pontiff's own and personal initiative. I suspect that this sort of thing may now become less common.

This has nothing to do wth the number of people beatifed and canonised. John Paul II was often accused of 'inflation' in this regard - once by a distinguished Oxford Benedictine giving a paper to CIEL ... of all people! The raw numbers of those canonised, which could be made to suggest that JP2 canonised more people than had ever been canonised before, concealed the fact that his Sancti and Beati included several groups. This is thoroughly traditional. In some old calendars there had been groups of tens of thousands! And very few of these groups became compulsory commemorations on the Universal Calendar. Benedict XVI has beatified a very large group of martyrs from the period of the Spanish Civil War; and there is no reason to expect this sort of thing to be discontinued. Local churches have every right to the celebration of their local saints.

This fact has been emphasised by another feature of the present Pontificate: the relegation of most Beatifications to the local church. This is a reversion to the earlier practise of distinguishing between the the local cultus of local saints and the List of Saints commended to the Universal church. It is not always remembered that until well into the seventeenth century Beati were proclaimed in the local church without any recourse to Rome. Moreover, Beatification, right through the seventeenth century, consisted simply of the promulgation of their Mass and Office: not of glamorous public ceremonies.

Rather what happened among us wioth regard to Blessed Charles Stuart. And, in the fifteenth century, that great Bishop of Exeter, Blessed Edmund Lacy (see earlier posts).

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