27 May 2022

Rogations; and the Last Gospel

 Readers may recall that, during the Rogation processions, 'stations' were made at crosses. My own suspicion is that the stone crosses which stand along the paths leading to churches, especially in the Penwith peninsular at the very end ... the loveliest part ... of Cornwall, were where such stations were made. And (even before the endowed drinking started) passages from the Holy Gospels were read.

Because there are North and South and East and West, four points on the compass, and there are four canonical Gospels, the readings were arranged accordingly. The Annunciation Gospel (Luke 1:26-38) ... the Epiphany Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12) ... the Ascension Gospel (Mark 16:14-20) ... the Christmas Day Gospel (John 1:1-14). 

Rumour has it that, in the Usus Deterior, the people are only allowed to hear S Mark's Ascension Gospel once every three years ... I couldn't possibly comment ... and that modern vernacular Bibles drop heavy hints that it is not 'authentic' ... I couldn't possibly comment ... (but I think W Farmer had some views on this). Certainly, as an adjunct of the Rogation processions, its daemonifugic and thaumaturgic references (verses 17-18) will have had a considerable resonance. A shame most modern worshippers are, er, protected from all this.

Acute eyes will have noticed that that all four of these Gospel Readings are Incarnational rather than Soteriological. It would be wrong to over-emphasise this fact: after all, the Devotion to the Five Wounds, which will have been heavily emphasised in the Parish and Guild banners, is radically soteriological. But emphases do bear their own messages. The practice of the the Rogations was essentially incarnational in as far as it related Divine action and benevolence to the created and material world. Medieval Christians, unlike their modern successors, would not have needed self-conscious homilies to instruct them that the Gospel is not confined to what goes on inside church buildings.

There are actions which carry their own inherent meaning. The 'Enlightenment' notion that only what is verbally understood has any status, needs to be rebutted. The most 'Novus' worshipper does not, I am sure, grimly and rigidly focus every fibre of his intelligence on every vernacular formula he hears or utters in Church. Things are internalised and made part of a holy routine. Lift up your hearts is full of meaning ... but you don't need to be Craddock Ratcliff, or to think rapidly through loads of theologoumena, every time you respond to this invitation. Liturgy is not meant to be like a kindergarten learning by rote its Three Times Table.

The Johannine Prologue has, for ceturies, been a favourite among Christians. It might be read at an Extreme Unction or a Baptism; it has been a blessing for the weather, the crops, and the fields. When Jungmann wrote just after the War, he recorded that in Salzburg and Carinthia, it was 'still' used as a daily blessing for weather. There were places where the Reading of this Gospel was associated with the Blessing of the pain benit, distributed after Mass. 

And so we are fortunate enough to have this sanctifying lection at the end of nearly every Mass in the Usus Authenticus!

Objectively, irrespective of any enlightenment, the words of this august Reading have their own logic and meaning; subjectively, it establishes the individual and her community in the diachronic and synchronic unities which structure our existence in this world.



Richard said...

Would you kindly explain on what occasions the Last Gospel is not the Prologue to John?

PM said...

By contrast, Catholics who lack access to the Usus Antiquior will hear the Johannine prologue once a year if they attend the Mass During the Day on Christmas Day, if they are lucky. Lucky, that is, if Fr McTrendy doesn't decide it is too antiquated and 'theological'.

Matthew said...

And in the eastern churches it is appointed for the Liturgy of Easter Day, customarily celebrated in the small hours: Light truly shining in the darkness which could not overcome It.

Evangeline said...

Father Hunwicke I hope you are feeling excellent. You sound in excellent form. :)
I enjoy your point about not having to understand every word. Attending the Latin Mass means I certainly do not understand every word, but there is sufficient repetition of words that one can know the topic and the general meaning. Certain important words are repeated often enough. In a way it is much the same with instrumental music, there are no words, but the soul responds anyway. So we do not have to know every word. It is hard to fathom when people fear they don't know the Latin so they want the Mass in the vernacular. I urge them to please give the Latin Rite a try. The Latin Rite is for everyone, no matter the language background. It is so pure and so ancient, since it is the heritage of every Christian, it must be experienced. Once you experience it though, you will want to experience it again.

Christophorus said...

It used to be that the Gospel of the Sunday replaced St. John's 1st chapter if it was not used on that day. The feast of the Assumption being on a Sunday being an example.
However since 1960, the only time is on Palm Sunday. If the palms are not blessed -- the last Gospel is the Gospel of the blessing of palms.

armyarty said...

I always found the English used in the N.O. to be difficult to understand, and confusing. I never understood, for instance, what "God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God even meant. It sounds like a series of choices. I thought about it a couple of times, but did not "get it"

Not that I ever tried to figure it out.

But, it suddenly became crystal clear to me listening to the creed in Latin: Deum de Deo, lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero.........

So easy- so simple- so well written. Most things in the modern English texts are opaque, flat, uninspiring.

Lest anyone think that this comment is coming from some sort of latinist, I am that sort of Catholic who could be forgiven for thinking that "lectio" is a Roman word meaning "sit down"

If vernacular liturgy was such a great boon, how come I can understand most of it so much better in a language that I barely passed in school?

John Vasc said...

When the Great Butchery began in 1969/70, initially the greatest shock for me was the disappearance of the Last Gospel - perhaps because, as a young child, I had found it difficult to follow, puzzling my way towards its meaning. It has some ambiguities: the 'he' keeps switching its identity, the 'John' is the (unnamed) Baptist not the Evangelist, the grammar has lacunae, the repetition seems obsessive, and the theology, though brilliant, is puzzling for a beginner to follow - and what is a reader who engages with the beginning of a Gospel, except a beginner? But I loved it instinctively. And now, nearly 70 years later, I can never rise for its beginning and make the threefold cross without feeling 'light' in every sense.
It now seems to me that the Greek of the Johannine Prologue is stylistically quite a break with Chap. 2ff. Could it perhaps be dictated later than St John's narrative itself? Perhaps at a different time, to a different scribe? It just seems to emerge from a quite different, more primitive yet metaphysical area of the psyche. But I have seen this idea nowhere else, so it is probably as misguided as most of my instincts about Scripture! :-)

Pulex said...

In Germany and Central Europe these Gospel readings have migrated into the stations of the Corpus Christi procession, all four readings being taken from the very beginning of the respective Gospel, as if the beginning stands for the whole Gospel as pars pro toto. J. Ratzinger in one of his articles expressed dismay that in Novus Ordo these readings have been replaced by Johannine and Synoptic accounts of the Last Supper, which distorts the original idea of Corpus Christi by Aquinas as the feast of the Incarnation (thus the Preface of Christmas) rather than a duplicate of Maundy Thursday.