Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hymn to Mary, Vessel of Devotion

Mary, our treasure, vessel undefil├ęd,
See how our off'ring by the flesh is sullied,
Take to Thy bosom all our works and worship,
Making them holy.

Through endless ages, Thou shalt be our shelter,
That all our merits may be free of danger,
And perseverance by Thy name be certain,
Pure gate of heaven!

There is no creature e'er so great and mighty
Whose grace and virtue equal his Creator
Who, for His glory, made himself Thy subject,
Doing Thy bidding. 

Then let us never turn our contemplation
To Christ our Savior, or the Holy Spirit,
Ere we salute Thee with the holy angels,
Pleasing the Father. Amen   

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Hymn to Mary, Seat of Wisdom

To the Tune "Merton" or "Halton Holgate" (87.87)
(Vs. 1-5 are new, while the Doxology was written by Fr. Edward Caswall of Congregation of the Oratory)
1. Mary, ere the world was founded,
God conceived Thee in His plan, 
That all sin should be confounded, 
By, through Thee, becoming Man. 

2. So when God made earth and heaven, 
Kneading them to one accord,
Thou wert made the very leaven,
Raising them unto the Lord. 

3. Oh, if Wisdom's habitation, 
Be where e'er His Law is felt,
Thou art like her incarnation,
For in Thee the Law hath dwelt. 

4. Bowing at Thy holy altar, 
He who owns Thee as his Queen, 
Knows his heart shall never falter, 
If Thy prayers will intervene. 

5. Mary, Wisdom's great creation,
Where the Word shall not depart,
Fix in us the contemplation,
Of Thy undivided heart.

Doxology (By Edward Caswall)
Honor, glory, virtue, merit,
To the Father and the Son,
With the co-eternal Spirit,
While eternal ages run.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Prolegomena to a Low Mass

Now, before I make my case for the Low Mass, let me start out by saying that there are two kinds of "professional" traditionalists.

The first group of professional traditionalists are the "Scholarly" trads, whose love of tradition is fueled by a great desire, not only for celebrating the Mass according to the rubrics, but for putting it on with the utmost solemnity possible according to the rubrics, exploiting every liturgical possibility and following up on every technical description of the ceremonies which has been given for the past four hundred years, at minimum. This group of traditionalists is a really necessary group, because they often have the skills to back up their snobbery, and any solemn liturgical function, without their advice and counsel, often fails to rise to the occasion. However, I must say that I pity them, having assumed such a role for a number of years because, while they attempt to construct, reconstruct, or describe each ceremony in its blissful glory so that the faithful may "experience" the full majesty of the Church's liturgy, they often find themselves to be the only ones on whom the experience is lost, or they make the planning stage of carrying out any liturgical function so miserable that everyone in the congregation is more focused on the movements of the altar servers than on the altar.

The second group of professional traditionalists are those who, while not so obsessed with minutiae of liturgical praxis, are nonetheless committed to dragging out Church services for as long as possible with a plethora of hymns, devotions (usually the same of both, repeated endlessly Sunday after Sunday), announcements, the same old Mass settings and plainchant propers, and multiple other public demonstrations of their piety before everyone can go to Lunch or get busy with the work of converting the world. These, too, are an absolute necessity to the Church, not the least of which because, when the time comes for May Crownings or Rosary services or Novenas, they know how to pull off such events in a manner that will generally edify the congregation and please them. One must be sure, however, that he has taken his insulin before such events (however necessary) so as not to go into diabetic shock.

I, as the name of my blog implies, am not a professional traditionalist of either sort. I am an amateur, content merely to try to get myself and a few others into the pearly gates by means of the marvelous Extraordinary Form. Like any amateur worth the name, I love, within the limits of my time and understanding, the solemn liturgies of the Church along with all of its devotions and sentimental flourishes. I find nothing wrong with them, taken in and of themselves, provided that they are done well and, in terms of time, in proportion to the capacity of the people trying to carry them out. What I do not approve of, however, and it seems to be a common theme among many of the professionals, is this fairly common denigration of the Low Mass and those who prefer it.

The Low Mass is a particularly genius creation of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. One will look in vain for a "spoken" Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Rites. For non-Catholic Churches, the concept of a group of people speaking an entire service, including those parts that would normally be sung, combined with long periods of near-silent prayer is about as foreign as a Buddhist temple. Only in the Roman Rite is it to be found, and for good reason.

We Roman Catholics have had to deal with a lot in our time. When the rest of the elite traipsed off to Constantinople, leaving behind the poor Romans to deal with all the barbarians and Latin grammar, the Western Empire, and together with it the Latin Church, was given the unenviable task of converting a horde of pagans who, unlike the noble Romans and Greeks, worshipped under trees and among standing stones and suchlike. And there was so much ground to be covered. So, we learned how not to let the best be the enemy of the good, pack up our liturgies, and get along with what we had. Barbarians not being known for their singing voices, we invented the low mass in order to save what was left of our sanity.

Well, that may be a slight exaggeration. But in any case, my point is that the Low Mass comes from evangelistic necessity and is rugged by design. It thrives anywhere, it brings Christ to anyone, because it requires so little to carry out and yet achieves, with noble simplicity, a truly contemplative act of worship.

Now, there are Low Masses and there are Low Masses. The "lowest" Mass, I think, can be found in monasteries, seminaries, and pretty much any place that a priest finds himself without the intrusion of laity. In these places, there are far too many priests to have each of them celebrate a High Mass, and yet the power of the Mass is such that the Church has long recommended to priests the daily offering of the Mass. The effect of this, for the priest, is that it confirms to him the intimate relationship with Christ that was conferred to him by his priesthood, on the one hand, and his obligation to offer sacrifice for the good of the Church on the other. A priest is always a priest, whether among the people or not.

Now, these "lowest" Masses are perhaps the largest targets of professional liturgists, who are particularly adept at coming up with rules on how people should properly love and worship God, without considering the honor of God or the sanctification of souls as major factors in their consideration. Such liturgists, whom I shall hereafter refer to as "Nazis", look at the room full of priests, each celebrating their own Mass with their own servers, quietly whispering the prayers in an almost inaudible tone, and conclude that these men must be antisocial, given, after all, that they are sharing their most intimate encounter with God with a half-dozen or dozen other men in the same room. "How dare they not be goose-stepping in time with all the other concelebrants!" exclaim the Nazis.

The fact is, however, that I have indeed, with only the slightest hint of fear at the approach of the liturgical Gestapo, been present at almost countless private Masses. I can say that anyone steeped in the history of the Church and in the spirituality of the Mass cannot help but accept the fact that such Masses are celebrated with and for the entire Church, for it is the prayer of the Church by a priest of the Church that is being offered, not the priest's own private prayers, and this is united with the intentions of the Church and the private prayers of the Church precisely through the silence and the explicit mention of them by the priest in the Ordinary of the Mass. There is nothing more "for" the Church than a priest who gives himself entirely, heart and mind, to the Sacrifice of Calvary, at which only one Bishop was originally privileged to assist and only one celebrant--indeed, the laity were so few that Jesus felt it obligatory to make one on the fly before completing the sacrifice. And there is nothing to compare with the experience of being in a monastery during the period of time set aside by low masses and being completely surrounded by the sacrifice of Calvary wherever one looks. The only thing that can even approximate the experience is to be amongst a group of people, each one shouting their own praise to heaven or praying quietly to God, and yet it is far better than that, because the sacrifice of praise being offered is that which is uttered in heaven by the Holy Trinity itself.

Next we have the ordinary, work-a-day parish daily mass, which, again, is hated by the Nazis for two unforgivable features: (1) it is generally quick and (2) the people pray during it. This is clearly opposed to the New Mass where (1) it is generally quick as well, but has less than half the verbosity of the traditional Mass, despite taking the same amount of time, and (2) the people mindlessly mumble the same words at precisely the same moment, so that if, during the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer the priest stopped and said "Good morning!" they would all give the appropriate liturgical response, "Good morning, Father!"

Now, the beauty of the parish daily mass is precisely in that it is simple and wholly without fuss. A priest merely walks in, says the prayers in the book while the people follow along, as best they can (and most of them really can, despite what people say), and offer their own prayers to God. There is not a better packaged deal of grace in all of Christendom: hear scripture, pray for your intentions, get your Rosary prayed, receive Holy Communion, adore the Lord, unite yourself with the Church, and all in 35 minutes or less! And from that brief moment the whole day is sanctified. We are strengthened and prepared for battle, and we do not spend so much time fussing over the shininess of our AK-47s that we get blown up by an IED in the interim. In other words, the daily low mass works.

Finally, we must consider the very pinnacle of the Low Mass, the Dialogue Mass with hymns. This is about as far as a Low Mass can go before we have to draw the line and tell it to start owning up to its High Mass pretensions. In this Mass, the priest and people alternate reciting the parts of the Mass usually reserved to the server, and the whole is penetrated, from time to time, especially at the entrance, offertory, communion, and recessional, with hymns sung in the vernacular. Yet, even this Mass has its virtues. When you are out on a camping trip, or celebrating a feast day with a priest who cannot, for all the world, sing, or have an hour or less to occupy, this form of celebration is particularly effective at conveying the joy of the faith, perhaps even more than the solemn Gregorian tones of the High Mass, to the largest group of people.

And, again, as someone who has also experienced this type of Mass, it WORKS. There is no need for a vernacular liturgy or for people who are not capable to fuss around with putting on a Solemn High Mass. The liturgy is still the liturgy and the graces of that liturgy effectively communicate grace to those participate. I have seen a school transformed by the introduction of a Dialogue Mass, which forces them to speak words which, before, were obscured by the chant and music of High Mass and to reflect on their meaning. After one such celebration, in fact, many of them were asking questions about parts of the Mass they had never noticed before.

Now, all of this is not to say anything against the High Mass, and, indeed, I believe that it is a parish's duty to celebrate, and enjoy, the weekly High Mass. It should be the pinnacle of our Sunday, if we are able to attend. But I cannot abide the amount of disapproval and scorn that so many show a Low Mass, as if it were somehow less "worthy" than the High Mass. The question is not of worth, but of propriety. There are times for a High Mass, and there are times for a Low Mass; each has its gifts, and each has a unique way to communicate God's grace to the Church militant.

A Sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

I share the following from the former readings for the Octave of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I made a relatively free translation so as not to lose any of the force of the original, which is really quite beautiful.

Sermo 4 de Assumptione B.M.V circa medium
There is nothing that pleases me more, and nothing that terrifies me more than to preach on the glory of the Virgin Mary. For, see, if I praise her virginity, I see that there are many who have offered themselves as virgins after her. If I preach on her humility, we will find, perhaps, even a few who, taught by her Son, have become meek and humble of heart. If I want to proclaim the greatness of her mercy, there are some also some very merciful men and women. There is, however, one thing in which she does not have someone like her, before or after, and that is her joining the joy of motherhood with the honor of virginity. This is Mary's privilege, and it is not given to another: it is unique, and it is also something that words cannot perfectly describe.

Nevertheless, if you pay attention closely, you will find not only this one virtue, but even other singular virtues in Mary, which she only seems to share with others. For can one even compare the purity of the angels to that spotless virginity which was found worthy to become the tabernacle of the Holy Spirit and dwelling place of the Son of God? How great and how precious was her humility, together with such perfect innocence, such wisdom without fault, and such a fullness of grace? How did you obtain such meekness, O Blessed Woman, such great humility? You are indeed worthy, whom the Lord considered carefully, whose beauty the King desired, on whose lap with its sweetest fragrance the eternal Father was brought to rest.

Behold, with these acts of devotion we have meditated on your ascension to your Son, and we have followed you as though from a distance, O Blessed Virgin. Let the grace of your mercy, the favor that you found with God, be made known to the world: may your prayers obtain mercy for the condemned, remedy for the sick, strength of heart for the lowly, consolation for the afflicted, aid for those in peril, and freedom for your holy ones. And on this day of celebration and gladness, may Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, through thee, O merciful Queen, pour out the gifts of His grace upon all those who invoke the sweetest name of Mary with praise, for He is the God of all things. blessed unto all ages. Amen.