25 May 2017

The Ascension and the blessing of the beans

Through whom, O Lord, thou dost ever create, sanctify, quicken, bless and bestow all these good things upon us.This paragraph near the end of the Canon can confuse people. They can take it as refering to the consecrated Elements upon the altar. But the language is highly inappropriate if the Sacrament is meant. The Blessed Sacrament is not Blessed Bread, like the Antidoron of the Orientals or the Blest Bread of Medieval England. It is the transsubstantiated Body of Christ our God. It is God Almighty, on earth.

This paragraph originally concluded the blessing of substances seasonally brought to the Altar: such as ... beans on Ascension Day! Not that beans have any liturgical association with the dogma of the Ascension that I can think of: it just happened that the bean harvest in Rome coincided with the Ascension (no, don't ask me how the bean-harvest fluctuated according to the varying date of Easter). And the first grapes were available to be blessed on the feast of S Xystus! On both these occasions, this form was used:
Bless, O Lord, also these new fruits of the Bean [or whatever] which thou O Lord by the dew of heaven and the showers of rain and the serenity and quietness of the seasons hast deigned to bring to ripeness, and hast given them to our uses to receive them with thanksgiving in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom, O Lord, thou dost ever ... etc..

The Latinity is workmanlike, I almost wrote banausic, even gauche and gawky, with little in the way of Renaissance elegance or theological sparkle. Old Roman, in fact, in its sobriety and earthiness and utter, utter matter-of-factness.

The Maundy Thursday practice of blessing oils at this point in the Canon survives, of course, even in the modern rites. (And the admirable, erudite Dom Benedict Andersen of Silverstream Priory in the County Meath ... a truly magical place! ... has told me of a French Benedictine Missal of 1781, Congregation of SS Vane and Hydulph, in which grapes are still blessed on the Feast of the Transfiguration.) So this old custom has still, by the the very tips of its fingers, kept a purchase upon Usage.

I sometimes feel sad at the opportunities the post-Conciliar reformers missed. In their keenness to spend long hours devising innovations ... such as new Eucharistic Prayers and lectionary systems yanked ex nihilo ... they rarely bothered to go for the organic development which the Council had actually mandated. They could have allowed local hierarchies to incorporate appropriate blessings at this point in the Canon, and thus also have promoted a genuine inculturation which yet was totally within the spirit of the traditional Roman Rite. No, don't panic: I'm not advocating this now. The moment has passed ... the moment for gentle, unflashy conservative enrichment was stifled by the culture of brutalism and rupture. So be it. They did it, the ..... Still ...

 ... I wonder if it would be nice, on some feast in August, to bless fragrant flowers at this point in the Canon of the Mass? The feast, perhaps, of Someone whose empty tomb when opened was found to be filled with fragrant flowers? (Until Pius XII set his pruning hook to the propers of August 15, we used to share all those delightful 'apocryphal' legends with the Orientals; as far as I am aware, they are now almost totally forgotten in the West. Very narrowing.)

That is the first Innovation I shall mandate when our Holy Father Pope Francis makes me Cardinal Sarah's successor. Perhaps I will aso restore the Beans to Ascension Thursday. Perhaps I will even restore the Ascension to Ascension Day.


Sprouting Thomas said...

QUAERITUR: "Father, how did the bean-harvest fluctuate according to the varying date of Easter?"

Why, my son, it is interesting that you should ask that, and I shall explain it to you in text of many colours!

Varro helpfully tell us that beans could be made into a purgative for cattle, and that for this reason a certain amount of them were cut while still green. In addition, they were often planted in rotation to enrich the soil, to be ploughed under before the pod had even formed. Lastly, they could keep fresh for a very long time when put in a jar sealed with ashes! So I'm sure that, early or late, there were always plenty of spare liturgical beans available. Maybe it was this very flexibility that led them to be offered - you could count on always having the same crop on the same important day, when not much else was available. Perhaps, in a pinch, our forefathers borrowed some tinned ones from Messy Church.

Typologically, the festival of the "Bean-Kalends" (June) is a sort of pagan Passover. Cardea, or whatever her name is, turns away a disturbingly indescribable angel-of-death bird-thing from stealing the infant prince Proca, by slaughtering a piglet and spreading its insides on the threshold of the door. And apparently - it's vaguely plausible - the beans and bacon offered on her day are supposed to be a bit, um, intestinal. After all, beans were too vulgar for the flamines to eat or even mention, weren't they?

If that really is the case, then it's rather nice that something which, for the ancient Romans, represented the body in all its visceral vileness should be presented on Ascension day for blessing, just at the time the Incarnate word is going up to be gloriously enthroned in Heaven. For my part, I'm going to seek out for my supper something which Wikipedia tells me is called "Hoppin' John" and is eaten in Carolina, which is well known for its conservative preservation of Roman customs.

B flat said...

Sprouting Thomas has done better than the original posting. Very remarkable, and Wonderful! Your readership Father, is truly blessed with gifts on this Feast day.

I wanted to comment a propos the original post, that the liturgical blessing of grapes at the Transfiguration is common practice in the East. A penalty of abstinence from eating grapes until the end of August is prescribed by the Typikon on anyone eating grapes before this blessing, so that the offender learn to obey and uphold the order established by our Fathers. The Russians, having no grapes in the north, substituted apples, with the same rule faithfully observed.
Roman Catholic Poles certainly observe the blessing of fragrant herbs and flowers on August 15th. The feast is popularly named Our Lady of the herbs. The peripheries had real life long before Pope Francis came into the world.
What is totally lost now, is the strong link of the official Services of the Church, the Liturgy, with the real life of the created world: the Seasons, the labour of man, and the fruit we enjoy of our labour and the gifts of God. Church is now outside this, a duty to be sure, but an exercise of faith and intellect, lacking real meaning or palpable relevance for the simple, earthly soul.

mcgod said...

Restore the beans to Ascension!, in our southern hemisphere it could have been one of the brassicas like broccoli

A restored Local liturgical practice to allow blessing of the broccoli on Ascension Day Go for it Cardinal Hunwicke!!

vetusta ecclesia said...

Perhaps the eagerness with which climbing beans climb is a symbol of Ascension!

Colin Spinks said...

There is a theory in horticulture of planting crops in accordance with the lunar cycle, a relic of which still clings on in the tradition of planting ones potatoes on Good Friday. So maybe if the beans were planted at the first full moon after, say, the winter solstice, they would reach maturity around this time?

Banshee said...

Beans were associated with flatus and hence spirit by the Greeks (particularly the Pythagoreans, who prohibited eating them for that reason). There is also some humour medicine fear of introducing wind into the stomach, which of course would make you catch cold or hurt your tummy.

But Jews were okay with beans, and spirit works okay with the Ascension.

Mostly, I suppose that spring peas and beans are tasty and nutritious.

Banshee said...

Come to think of it, fermented grapes and yeasty bread are also full of spirit. Maybe carbonation too.

Pulex said...

Beans and Ascension: see Jack and the Beanstalk.

Richard Down said...

The Sarum Missal has the blessing of grapes on 6th August