5 February 2010

Nomina Sacra

Recently I was at a RC OF Mass; and, as so often, was struck by the fact that not even the clergy (there were about fifty concelebrants) bow their heads at the Name of Jesus, let alone at the names of the Great Mother of God, the Saint of the Day, or the Sovereign Pontiff. Is this the result of the demise of the Biretta culture? In the Patrimony, we are so used to keeping our ears pricked for those blessed Names at which we twitch our hats that, even when we are hatless, these Names don't just sweep over us unnoticed as we loll comatose.

Each of the RC OF Masses I have been to in the last three or four months has been deeply moving because of the personal reasons that drew me to attend ... persons of whom I am deeply fond. But, liturgically, I have obcurely felt that the experience had an alien dimension. Even though each of them was, I was informed, at the "good end" of the spectrum of 'performance'. Indeed, I found myself wondering if Newman's point had not, by some strange paradox, been turned on its head. He, you remember, explained to an Anglican that: "The idea of worship is different in the Catholic Church from the idea of it in your Church". Faith, he went on to argue, is needed to take the convert over the gap so that he can understand the Catholic idea of worship. How different things are today. Nowadays, Charles Reding would not get the liturgical flash of enlightenment which he has in the last pages of Loss and Gain by going to a RC church. Nowadays, in effect, an Anglican Catholic convert to the RCC is invited to transfer from liturgy which does express the "Catholic idea" to a culture in which, it seems to me, that "idea" has sometimes to be read into the rite rather than being read out of it. In saying this, I reveal, perhaps, personal inadequacies, and I have no desire to be combative or cause offence.

But I can't rid myself of a feeling that in our time, Reding's sort of transformative experience would be much more likely to be had in an Anglican Catholic church. It is there, and in but a very small handful of RC 'show' churches, and in Oriental rites, that worship which is manifestly transcendent, objective, and an irruption of the Divine, can be encountered. In very many RC churches, where the worship is not strongly distinct from what you find among devout high church Methodists, it can require a real act of will, logic, and of Faith to remind oneself that the minimum technical requirements for validity are being fulfilled and that therefore This really is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I am not surprised that Evelyn Waugh's felt as he did after the post-conciliar 'reforms'.

In our time, Newman's RC Willis would be very unlikely to say: "To me, nothing is so consoling, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us. I could attend Masses for ever, and not be tired."

Who was it who called the Mass the most beautiful thing this side of heaven? Was it the Novus Ordo that he had in mind?


Gengulphus said...

Quite. What a gulf there is between a laboured acknowledgment that the minimum technical requirements for validity are being fulfilled, and a free whiff of the Mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

'When the community of faith, the world-wide unity of the Church and her history, and the mystery of the living Christ are no longer visible in the liturgy, where else, then, is the Church to become visible in her spiritual essence? Then the community is celebrating only itself, an activity that is utterly fruitless…' [BXVI]

What on earth can be the point of such an utterly fruitless - but apparently 'valid' - activity, and how could engagement in it possibly be 'transformative'?

Agreeing with everything you say, I would suggest that greatest act that the Holy Father has done for the accommodation of traditionalist Anglicans is not Anglicanorum Cœtibus, but rather Summorum Pontificum.

Br. Stephen, O.Cist said...


I think you'll find that, sadly, most of the reverences were killed or ceased to be mandatory not in 1970, when we tend to think of these things happening, but in 1968.

I gave away my copy of the one ceremonial I had for the '68 rite when I headed for the cloister, but perhaps someone else can help out.

Maurice said...

Hmm. Realise that you're not being combative. Me neither. But I do think that that's how it looks when, with respect, you're looking from the outside in. When you are a part of the RCC, your sense of one-ness with the Universal Church allows you to 'see' the liturgy from that perspective - and it kind of makes all the difference.

Obscure thing to say, I suppose, but that's how it feels to me.

That's not to say that I haven't experienced appallingly unattractive liturgies (in CofE and RCC) which left me irritated and angry. But, when you're looking form the inside in, it IS fundamentally different. It's now your own family - with all its foibles and peculiarities - that you're witness ng and partaking with. hey ho. Probably not very helpful.

ex_fide said...

I could tell you a very traumatic story about my great uncles requiem in St Helen's, where the entire post-communion of the Mass was transferred to the multi-faith chapel of a crematorium, and the post-communion collect and final commendation were only said once we'd said goodbye to uncle bert with the sacred classic "that's amore"..........

G said...

As a former Roman Catholic, I can say that I never experienced such rites as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the May Devotion, Processions, or most weekday feasts until entering the Anglican Church.

Anonymous said...

Not helpful indeed, Maurice. Not how it feels to me - a new convert.

Fr H is quite right - as is Gengulphus. Summ Pont brought me over - but there's still a long way for Holy Church to go.

tubbs said...

"most beautiful thing this side of Heaven" wasn't that the report of the tsar's agents,after having seen the Orthodox Liturgy?
Thank Heaven they couldn't see one of our "hootenanny" masses. They would have swam back to Kiev, and the Rus still worshipping Gaia!

S.R. Fraczek said...

Father, hear hear.

Maurice, I disagree to the extent that whilst baptized RC, I have worshipped as an Anglican for the past seven years.

Steve Cavanaugh said...

Regarding the specific absences Fr. Hunwicke noted, they are supposed to be carried out in the modern Roman Rite:
"275. A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. There are two kinds of bows: a bow of the head and a bow of the body.

1. A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.
2. A bow of the body, that is to say a profound bow, is made to the altar; during the prayers Munda cor meum (Almighty God, cleanse my heart) and In spiritu humilitatis (Lord God, we ask you to receive); in the Creed at the words Et incarnatus est (by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . made man); in the Roman Canon at the words Supplices te rogamus (Almighty God, we pray that your angel). The same kind of bow is made by the deacon when he asks for a blessing before the proclamation of the Gospel. In addition, the priest bows slightly as he speaks the words of the Lord at the consecration."

From the General Instruction to the Roman Missal

But people, including seminarians, are poorly catechized. Father Zed is fond of saying "brick by brick" but it is that much more difficult when we have to gather our own straw and bake our own bricks. I taught my three children how to properly reverence the sacred Names; in only 10 generations, think how many people that might become :)

johnf said...

I don't see the celebrant or servers genuflecting as they cross from one side of the altar to the other - just a half bow as I note the ABC uses.

I was at the local Catholic schools Mass a few months ago and noted that after the consecration the children just sat in the benches.

If they are not taught otherwise, what else can they do? At least they were quiet.

Off topic Father but I see that you have an article in the current edition of the Latin Mass Society's 'Mass of Ages'. I look forward to reading it!

Dolorosa said...

I attend the Latin mass with the SSPX. Check out their mass locations at www.sspx.org

Joshua said...

As noted above, the bows at the mention of the Three Divine Persons, and at the names of JESUS, MARY and the Saint of the day remain prescribed - but hardly any priests know or care.

I used to find this upsetting; now when at the Novus Ordo (until Ang. cœt. comes into effect, the only accessible liturgy around here), I just close my eyes. It's particularly painful in that, having lived in a mainland capital for some years, I used to have the Latin Mass almost daily.

Ignorance of the rubrics is ignorance of...

Oh, and pursuant to another comment above, in the latest revision of the rubrics for the modern Mass, one no longer genuflects when crossing in front of the tabernacle during Mass once one has come up into the sanctuary - supposedly the due reverence paid the once suffices.

Kiran said...

Well, Father, Newman was very fond of the Low Mass said the Irish way, one hears.

Don't get me wrong, I agree with you. We have largely lost and need to re-enter into Catholic Paideia, and I think the Crossing of the Tiber by Anglicans will contribute to this (and I hope the openness to the East also helps), but it is not all lost.

Unknown said...

I believe it was Fr. Faber who refered to the Mass as the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven.

Pastor in Monte said...

I, and many other Catholic priests of my acquaintance, invariably bow the head at the Holy Name and at the other points in the liturgy when it is required.
In fact, we make proper head-bows, and do not make the unbecoming and exaggerated cringe that I have observed in so many Anglican churches. Perhaps that is what you missed.
It has taken many days for me to make this observation. My initial reactions were much stronger.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Pastor has been lucky with his Anglican churches. The customary reverences, although enshrined in canon law, are little better observed than they are ultra flumen.