Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Traditional Vigil of Easter – Part 2: From the Blessing of the Font to the Vigil Mass; General Conclusion

The Harrowing of Hell

(Continued from Part 1.)

Following the twelve prophecies, in the traditional rite, the baptismal water is blessed in the font. There is much significance to the baptismal character of Easter, as indicated already in the twelve lessons. Baptism is a spiritual regeneration, a resurrection, a rising from the dead. Christ's resurrection is the source of the baptismal efficacy. With Christ we too rise from a spiritual death. After He died, He descended into hell to draw into eternal life the fathers of the old covenant who waited there. The catechumens who are traditionally baptized today symbolize these fathers, and the conferring baptism parallels the resurrection of their souls from the death of hell. 

The blessing of the font is one liturgical event in which the architecture of the church building bears much symbolic importance. Traditionally, the baptismal font is placed in a room, called the baptistery, near the entrance of the church, to symbolize that baptism is the sacred initiation or entrance into the Church itself, the beginning of membership among the sacred people who constitute the mystical Body of Christ. The baptistery itself was in the shape of an octagon, to signify baptism as the representation of the eighth day of creation, a day which signifies the renewal of creation, and hence the renewal of life itself – resurrection. In the Old Testament, circumcision occurred on the eighth day after the child’s birth. Jewish liturgical celebrations were often extended over eight days. God Himself rested on the seventh, a fact which implicitly contains the truth that the eighth is when the cycle of creation begins anew, but in a higher and more perfect way. Christ Himself rested in the sepulcher on the seventh day of the week, and rose on the next day. This symbolism of the number eight deeply penetrates the entire structure of the traditional liturgy, and has been lost in other areas besides Holy Week; hence it is a subject of its own. But it is especially relevant tonight, on the vigil of Easter, which is the first and foremost celebration of the Eighth Day: new life, new creation, regeneration, and resurrection, all of which take a certain form in baptism.

Since the blessing of the font occurs in the baptistery, the clergy must process from the sanctuary to the back of the church, and the faithful follow them. This procession is accompanied by the chanting of Psalm 41, the Sicut Cervus, famously set to polyphony by Giovanni Palestrina. This chant has a ritual and symbolic function: those who process towards the font of baptism, particularly if they be catechumens, are like the deer who longs for the fountain of living water; and they express this longing in the sacred chant. The blessing of the font then occurs, followed by the administration of the sacrament of baptism. Then all return to the main part of the church, whilst singing the Litany of the Saints, who make up the body of Christ’s Church, to signify the welcoming of the newly christened by the holy people of God.

This sequence of the ritual has likewise been heavily changed in the reform of 1955, in a manner that is often symbolically and ritually unintelligible. First, I would argue that it is itself an element of the current liturgical crisis that the symbolism of architecture is heavily reduced. Traditionally, the church space is just as much a part of the liturgy as any other element. Few churches now retain the octagonal baptistery at the entrance of the church, which is but one example of the current lack of appreciation for liturgical symbolism. Secondly, in the reform of the specific ritual for the Easter vigil, this symbolism has been distorted even more inexcusably by several changes: the blessing of the baptismal water occurs, not in a font, but in a bucket that is placed, not in the back of the church, but in the sanctuary. This has the result that even the unbaptized may enter the Holy of Holies itself, a privilege not traditionally granted even to the baptized laity. Thus, the symbolism of baptism as the entrance into the Church is gone. After any baptisms have been conferred, there is a rite, wholly novel, of the renewal of baptismal promises, preceded by an exhortation that is stylistically incongruent with the traditional Roman rite. The idea of a renewal of baptismal promises is itself theologically dubious, to say the least, and introduces a man-centeredness that distracts from the authentic focus of worship. This is followed by a communal praying of the Lord’s prayer, which is traditionally prayed by the celebrant alone until the final phrase, sed libera nos a malo. This prayer too is preceded by an exhortation that is stylistically inappropriate, and bears the marks of modern sentimentality rather than traditional piety. A focus on the community acting together has been introduced where previously the focus was entirely on the liturgical action itself. Further, the Litany of the Saints has been split into two parts, the first sung before the blessing of the baptismal bucket, and the second afterwards – an interruption that is unjustified in itself, and is moreover unintelligible from a symbolic point of view. Further still, the Sicut Cervus is sung after the blessing and baptisms, whilst the newly blessed baptismal water is carried to the actual font, wherever that is located. The symbolism of this sacred text has thus been altered: the text speaks of one who thirsts for the water of baptism which he has not yet received; and yet, when it is sung, the baptisms have already been conferred, and this text is no longer relevant to the actual ritual. It is now merely decorative, much like the Exsultet earlier.

Following these rituals, in both the old and the new rites, the mass of the vigil is celebrated. As mentioned earlier, the time of the mass in the new rite differs from the traditional time of its celebration and its character as anticipation – i.e. not a "first mass of Easter Sunday." Traditionally, the mass was not even the most important part of the vigil, symbolically. The traditional vigil mass was only a partial celebration of Easter, since it reintroduces some of the liturgical signs of joy, but in a restrained fashion. This was in accord with its time of celebration, which was just before Vespers, on the evening of Holy Saturday, near sunset. Thus, in place of a Communion antiphon there was sung an abbreviated form of Vespers. This means that later in the night, in the traditional office, the sacred hour of Matins of Easter would be sung, followed by Lauds. As Matins is the most important hour of the divine office, and tonight is the most important night of the year, it was crucial that these be sung as the formal beginning of the celebration of Easter itself. But in the reform of 1955, tonight's Matins has been entirely lost, due perhaps to a dubious historical opinion that the twelve prophecies constituted a kind of Matins and that tonight's mass belonged properly to Easter Sunday itself. This opinion is long outdated, and clashes with the very character of the vigil liturgy. Hence, at the end of the mass, instead of Vespers there is sung an abbreviated Lauds, which itself falls far short of the traditional Lauds. This had at least two notable effects: first, the ritual character of the Easter vigil mass, which is still that of an incomplete celebration of the resurrection, is now simply incongruent with its celebration as a first mass of Easter Sunday itself. Secondly, the most important hour of the office, namely Matins, is now in fact nonexistent for the most important night of the entire year. This is perhaps one of the worst aspects of the new Holy Week, especially if one takes the very plausible interpretation that it was precisely at the hours of Matins and Lauds that the Church traditionally understood the Resurrection itself to take place. In short, the upgrade of the vigil mass to a first mass of Easter Sunday has yielded nothing but liturgical incongruity, and has rid us moreover of the most important moment of the entire liturgical cycle.

Some concluding remarks: The foregoing account which I have given, as lengthy as it is, is by no means a complete or adequate treatment. Much more could be said in depth concerning the loss of symbolism and theological significance in the new rite. I will simply state some of the most important things here, in a general way. The mystery of Easter is in many ways the most complete and all-encompassing mystery of the Christian faith and its liturgical expression. The Resurrection of Christ is the defining moment in the history of salvation and man’s relation to God. On Palm Sunday, we saw a figure of Christ throwing open the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem by the power of the cross, hailed by palm and olive branches; and we beheld a figure of ourselves following Him into Jerusalem by participation in the triumph of His death. On Good Friday, the mystery of Christ’s death actually takes place (probably next year I will write about Good Friday). The flipside of that mystery is the Resurrection, which completes Christ’s triumph by the cross. He has conquered death and come to life again, never again to be submitted to the pains of death. In order to follow Him into the New Jerusalem, we must share in His winning eternal life, eternal victory over death. We must therefore share not only in His death by the cross, but also His resurrection from the tomb. This we do first by the sacrament of baptism, by which we are immersed, “buried,” with Christ, and rise again with new life, the life of God – a new creation, the realization of the eighth day. But this first resurrection is continued as we take advantage of its fruits by living out the Christian mystery into which it has initiated us; and this we do especially by the liturgy itself, which seems to offer us this day the very means of participation in the mystery through the sacred symbols, which are an extension of the sacraments. The symbolism of light in the New Fire and the Paschal Candle, the many layers of symbolism contained in the sacred texts of the Prophecies, and the symbolism of water and baptism in the blessing of the font, the placing of the font in the architectural setting, etc. - all of these point, in all their details, to the mystery of Resurrection in the myriad ways through which it manifests itself in God’s revelation. The liturgy itself seems to proclaim to us: “See! Here is the Resurrection of Christ, which is also your resurrection, presented before you so that you may take hold of it for yourself, and participate in it, so that you might become gods through Christ, the God-Man!” The drastic reduction and distortion of this symbolism has the effect of diminishing that very participation to which the traditional rite exhorted us, since we can no longer see in the sacred rituals the meaning of those symbols; and our contemplation of the sacred mysteries is thereby impaired.

The liturgical heritage of the Church is not merely a thing of sentimental nostalgic value, but is the most precious element of our religion, the sacred means of God’s worship and of our deification, which God Himself has bequeathed to us through tradition. Therefore the liturgy is something which we must preserve according to its tradition, and not reinvent according to our own fancies, lest we hinder our own sanctification by a kind of liturgical Pelagianism. Liturgical symbolism is not merely a poetic pleasantry to accompany our acts of piety; rather, it is itself the means whereby we encounter God in His mysteries - an encounter which is indispensable for the transformation of our souls, and for the true worship of God, who reveals Himself to us only in His mysteries.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Traditional Vigil of Easter – Part 1: From the Lucernarium to the Prophecies

Last year, I wrote an article (reposted this year) touching on certain aspects of the ancient rite of Palm Sunday, prior to the changes made in 1955 under Pope Pius XII. In that post, we saw that the reform abandoned a large amount of symbolic text and ritual, so that much of the liturgical significance of Palm Sunday was lost. The resulting liturgy, which is contained in the 1962 missal, was one largely devoid of the traditional biblical typology, and the symbolism which demonstrated the continuity and harmony between the various moments of the history of salvation. The contemplative participation in the mystery of this day is consequently radically impaired: the symbolism that once offered us the medium of such participation has been destroyed.

This year, I have decided to devote two posts to the rites of Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil, of which much the same could be said as of Palm Sunday, perhaps even to a greater degree. The Easter Vigil is one of the most well-loved liturgies of the whole year among pious Catholics, yet little is known of its actual history, and of the far-surpassing grandeur of the ancient rite. The ancient rite conveys the sense that the liturgy is a means of actually revisiting the mysteries of our faith, and not merely thinking about them piously. In the liturgy, God is present to us in a real way through His mystery, which are made available for our participation, so that we might be united to God through the mediation of the Incarnate Word, in whom God is united perfectly to man. This sense is especially present in the rites of Holy Week. A good deal of this sense was lost in the ritual reforms of Pius XII. Hopefully this will become clear in what follows.


Much controversy exists among historians regarding the time of celebration for the Easter Vigil. Whatever the specific disagreements, this much is clear: the mass of the Easter vigil was never, until the mid twentieth century, a first mass of Easter Sunday itself. There was never a midnight mass like that of Christmas. Indeed, the structure and character of the Easter vigil mass is one which is only partially a celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, and not the full celebration. There are various interpretations of this fact. Some compare this liturgical phenomenon to the biblical narrative, in which Christ, after He rose, nonetheless did not reveal Himself immediately to His disciples, but remained hidden for awhile. Hence, in the liturgy the resurrection is fully celebrated, not at the vigil Mass, but during the day on Sunday itself. Another interpretation is that the vigil liturgy, rather than celebrating the resurrection, anticipates it. Thus, though Christ is not yet risen, the Church joyfully anticipates His resurrection by a mass that is in some parts joyful and in other parts incomplete, to signify that the Church does not yet celebrate, but merely awaits that most sacred event. The moment of the resurrection itself occurs at midnight, at the celebration of Easter Matins and Lauds – the first of which has been eliminated in the 1955 rite, thus doing away with the most important hour of the office on the most important day of the year. Whichever interpretation one takes, the fact is that the vigil mass was always just that – a vigil, i.e. a waiting for the actual celebration, and not the full celebration itself. The modern notion of a vigil mass which is an early celebration of the mass of the day is a complete novelty. This means that, normally, the vigil mass would not have occurred deep in the night, around midnight, but earlier in the night, just after sunset. In actual fact, for pastoral reasons (which some have also interpreted symbolically), it often occurred during the day on Holy Saturday, since vespers was commonly sung earlier during Lent. But the normal time, as indicated by the liturgical texts themselves, is at night – but decidedly not at midnight, as an early mass of Easter Sunday.

So much for the time of the Easter Vigil. Greater changes occurred in 1955 in the actual ritual itself, which had the effect of destroying the profound symbolism that was contained in the traditional rites. Without going into absolutely all of the details, I will now attempt to provide a summary of the most important changes.

The vigil of Holy Saturday begins, in both the old and new rites, outside the Church with the blessing of the New Fire, or the Lucernarium. In the traditional rite, there are three prayers for the blessing of the fire, all of which make reference to a certain aspect of the symbolism of the fire. The first refers to the lighting of the fire by flint, with an allusion to Christ the cornerstone, Who lights our hearts on fire with divine splendor; and it prays that our hearts will be inflamed with heavenly desire during the Paschal season, so that we may enter into eternity with solemnity. The second prayer contains some of the same references, but speaking also of the light of the world and the pillar of fire which guided Moses towards the promised land; and it prays that we too might be led by this light towards the heavenly land promised to us. The third prayer invokes again the name of the Son, as well as the Holy Spirit, begging that the divine light of grace may strengthen us against the fiery darts of the enemy. The second and third prayers are no longer existent in the 1955 rite; thus, the typological reference to Moses and the pillar of flame no longer appears, nor the prayer for opposition of the divine to the demonic fire.

In the old rite, these prayers are followed by a fourth prayer for the blessing of the five grains of incense, which are to be inserted later into the Paschal candle. After praying this prayer, the priest sprinkles both the fire and the grains of incense with holy water and incenses them with the thurible. Then all process into a darkened Church following the deacon, who carries a tall reed with a triple-branched candle. Each branch is lit from the New Fire successively as the procession moves closer toward the sanctuary, each time accompanied by a genuflection and the singing of the Lumen Christi. In the sanctuary, the Paschal candle itself is placed in a pillar next to the ambo. Once reaching the sanctuary, the magnificent rite of lighting the Paschal candle now occurs to the singing of the beautiful text of the Exsultet by the deacon. This whole rite – the procession of the triple candle, from which the Paschal candle is lit – symbolizes the Resurrection as the work of the Holy Trinity. The Exsultet is a part of the ritual of lighting the candle. At the words “Therefore on this sacred night, O Holy Father, receive the evening sacrifice of this incense,” the five grains of incense are inserted into the candle. At the words, “And now we know the excellence of this pillar, which the bright fire lights for the honor of God,” the candle itself is lit. And then, at “O truly blessed night,” the whole Church, which up to this point has been in darkness, is bathed in light. The Exsultet is thus not merely a text or a song, but a ritual.

The Paschal candle is lit from the triple candle, with the FSSP in Rome.

This whole ritual, from the blessing of the fire to the Exsultet, has been radically changed, even mutilated, in the rite of Pius XII. The five grains are no longer blessed along with the fire; instead, they are inserted into the Paschal candle, which is then lit, still outside the Church, according to a ritual that is wholly novel and invented – and which has always struck me as awkward and disjointed in character. The Paschal candle itself is then carried into the Church, with the three genuflections and the Lumen Christi, which thus no longer correspond to the threefold ignition of the triple-candle, since it has been eliminated. Thus the Trinitarian symbolism of the Resurrection has been obscured – a symbolism which is fundamental to the entire Christian mystery and its universal liturgical expression – and the triple Lumen Christi has no actual liturgical function. The Paschal candle, already lit, is then placed in the center of the sanctuary, rather than next to the ambo. This is a strange departure from constant universal tradition, in which all the liturgical symbolism revolves around that of the altar itself, whose centrality is never displaced. Moreover, since the candle is already lit, the symbolic and ritual function of the Exsultet is no longer existent, and the singing of that sacred text likewise no longer has any reason to exist, except as a text. This reflects a general trend in the 20th century reforms, which suppressed much of the ancient symbolism and ritual, and reduced the liturgy to a mere text; or else sought to invent an arbitrary ritual with no basis in traditional symbolic modes of expression. The lack of ritual in the Exsultet is an especially disturbing loss, since the traditional rite of lighting the Paschal candle was perhaps one of the greatest highlights of the liturgical year, and now the connection of the text to the ritual action has been entirely lost: no longer are the grains of incense inserted at the words which indicate so; no longer is the candle itself lit when the texts refers to this action; and no longer is the darkness of the Church enlightened at the words which refer to the blessedness of this sacred night, which is illumined by the Resurrection.

In both rites, the singing of the Exsultet is followed by the chanting of the prophecies. In the traditional rite, there are twelve prophecies read, each of them prefiguring some aspect of the Resurrection. Some of the most beautiful and most profound texts of the entire Old Testament are sung in this rite, in which a complete picture of the history of salvation is typologically and symbolically portrayed, as it culminates in the Resurrection. In the new rite of 1955, only four of these twelve prophecies remain. Among those suppressed are some of the most vivid symbolic depictions and prophecies of some aspect of the Resurrection contained in the Old Testament: the tale of Noah and the Ark (Genesis 5, 31; 8, 21), the sacrifice of Abraham (Genesis 22, 1-19), a prophetic image of baptism and restoration (Isaiah 54, 17-55, 11), a discourse in praise of the light of wisdom (Baruch 3, 9-38), the valley of the dry bones (Ezekiel 12, 1-14), the Paschal lamb (Exodus 12,1-12), a discourse on penance (Jonah 3, 1-10), and the tale of the three young men in the furnace (Daniel 3, 1-24). This heavy elimination of scriptural texts is somewhat ironic, given the purported intention of the 20th century reformers to expand the quantity of scripture contained in the liturgy. In any case, a substantial body of symbolic content was lost with the suppression of these texts, with a result similar to that of the reform of Palm Sunday: no longer does the liturgy offer to us so vivid a picture of the Resurrection, as it is presented to us figuratively in the Old Testament, fulfilled in the New, and participated in by God’s people – us, the worshipers – unto life everlasting. This participation occurs principally through the sacraments, especially baptism, but also through the liturgical living out of the fruits of baptism by the celebration of the Resurrection itself, which is the archetype of baptism (new life, regeneration, etc).

(To be continued.)

Sunday, 20 March 2016

On the Traditional Rite of Palm Sunday (Repost)

Many traditionalists are not aware of the extensive reforms to the liturgy of Holy Week which were carried out under the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. Most traditionalists who are aware of those reforms are of the opinion that they were either insignificant or could not be compared to the later reforms which followed the Second Vatican Council. Traditionalists associated with the SSPX generally have this view. However, I myself have come to the opinion that the reforms of Pius XII formed a definite precedent to those of Paul VI - nay, the process of reform which produced the Novus Ordo actually began by Pius XII and was continued by Paul VI. This is evident first from history, but also in the effects which these reforms had on the rites themselves. I think it would not be a stretch to say that the essential problems with the Novus Ordo also exist in the reformed Holy Week of Pius XII, which is found in the 1962 Missal. But most traditionalists will be very reluctant to accept this, due to a variety of factors - an attachment to the person of Pope Pius XII, an attachment to the person of Marcel Lefebvre, an urge to attribute all of our problems to Vatican II (which I have criticized here), and ultimately a misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of the liturgy in general.

I do not have the time or space just yet to devote to any detailed study of the reforms; others have done so before me, in some degree or another. But I would like to say a few things in this post about the reform of Palm Sunday. Prior to 1955, the rite for Palm Sunday was much more elaborate than it is in the 1962 Missal, and it was simply filled with theological and symbolical content pertaining to the mysteries of this entire week. The greatest changes occurred in the ceremonies prior to the Mass, in the rite for the blessing of the palms and the procession of the cross. The rite of blessing was closely structured after the order of Mass itself, with an Introit, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Gospel, another collect corresponding to the Secret, a Preface and Sanctus, a kind of "Canon" for the rite of blessing, the distribution of the palms (corresponding to communion), and a final collect corresponding to the Postcommunion. This structure was completely lost in the reform of 1955.

The texts of these prayers and readings contained a vast amount of symbolic meaning, to put the mind in the frame of thought for contemplation of the sacred mysteries. The liturgy for this day provides a complete theological interpretation of Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which is a figure of His triumph over sin and death, to be definitively accomplished by His death and resurrection in just a few days. The Christian people participate in this victory of Christ, entering with Him into the eternal Jerusalem. The first Collect is an expression of hope, enabled by Christ's death, and fulfilled by His resurrection, which is also our own. The liturgy of today thus begins showing its focus to be profoundly eschatological, a symbol of our entrance into heaven with Christ. The story of salvation is prefigured by events in the Old Testament, brought to our attention today. The text of the Epistle is from the book of Exodus, chapters 15 and 16, which recounts the story of the Israelites after they had triumphantly emerged from the bondage of Egypt. "In those days, the children of Israel came unto Elim, where there were twelve fountains of water, and seventy palm-trees; and they encamped by the waters..." The Israelites, led by Moses and Aaron, are the figure of the people who are saved in Christ, through His own triumph over the bondage of sin. They also prefigure the Jews who welcomed Christ into Jerusalem with palm branches. Moreover, "all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat over the flesh-pots, and ate bread to the full. Why have you brought us into this desert, that you might destroy all the multitude with famine?" Just as these Israelites here rebelled against Moses and Aaron, their leaders, so would the Jews rebel against Christ and crucify Him, whom they had first welcomed as their King. In response to the complaints of the Israelites, "the Lord said to Moses, Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you." Likewise, God would give to His people the Bread of Life, come down from heaven, Christ Himself, who would be offered as a sacrifice and consumed by His people for their sanctification. The mystery of Christ's sacrifice will be celebrated in a special way on Holy Thursday, the feast of the Institution of the Eucharist, and in an even greater way on Good Friday, the celebration of the sacrifice itself. This text thus shows itself essential to understanding the mystery of Palm Sunday in the Roman tradition. It also introduces an unmistakable connection to the Eucharist, which is so integral to the mystery of Holy Week as a whole.

Another text in the rite, after the Gospel, introduces another instance of Old Testament typology alongside that recounted in the Epistle, namely the story of Noah and the flood. This prayer, corresponding in position to the Secret of the Mass, explicitly refers to both the stories Noah and Moses as antetypes of present realities: "Let these branches, whether of palm or of olive, be blessed +, and, as in the antetype of the Church, Thou didst multiply Noe, when he went forth from the ark, and Moses, when he went out of Egypt with the children of Israel, so may we, who bear palms and olive branches, go forth with good works to meet Christ, and, through Him, may we enter into everlasting joy."  This prayer shows us that through our participation in the liturgy of today, we mystically enter into the events of Palm Sunday and everything they represent, that we might be saved by our union with Christ. The relevance of the story of Noah is explicated more clearly in the proper rite of blessing - the "Canon" of the blessing of the palms - in the prayer Deus, qui per olivae. The text is as follows: "O God, Who didst appoint a dove to bring its message of peace to the earth by means of an olive branch, grant, we beseech Thee, that Thou mayest sanctify with heavenly benediction these branches of olive and of other trees, so that they may profit all Thy people unto salvation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen." The olive branch is thus a sign of the peace foreshadowed by the subsiding of the great flood, when the world had been cleansed of all sin, and Noah and his family could step out onto the "new earth" to begin a new life, which signifies eternal life itself. This eternal life is won for us by none other than Christ Himself and His triumph over death, which He announced upon His entry into Jerusalem. In the prayer immediately preceding, Deus, qui miro, we learn that "the palm branches, therefore, look to His triumph over the prince of death, but the sprigs of olive proclaim that in a certain manner the spiritual unction is already come."

All of the texts just cited were suppressed from the rite in 1955. The typology of Exodus no longer appears, nor the typology of Noah and the flood, nor the collects; likewise all but one of the prayers that constituted the "canon" of blessing have been abolished. Of these last there were originally six, all of which overflowed in eloquence and beauty, some which were even explicitly didactic in their manner of expression. Only the fifth of these prayers, Benedic, quaesumus, was retained, and it is placed near the very beginning of the rite. These texts could form the basis of a formulation of a treatise on liturgical theology and the nature of liturgical signs and symbolism, which so closely resembles the nature of the sacraments themselves. In fact, it is notable that the first of these prayers, Petimus, Domine, explicitly refers to the olive branches as a sacramentum, obviously the same word which refers to the seven sacraments. 
FSSP in Rome

In the traditional rite, the triumphant entry into Jerusalem is itself celebrated - or re-enacted - later in the rite in a supremely vivid manner, at the end of the procession of the cross which follows the distribution of the palms. After a long procession outside the church, accompanied by the singing of antiphons recalling the entry to Jerusalem, the clergy and faithful stop outside the doors of the church, which are now shut. A few cantors within the church alternate with the choir outside singing the hymn Gloria, Laus, et Honor, in acknowledgment of Christ's triumphal majesty. At the end of this hymn, the subdeacon who has been carrying the cross strikes the doors of the church with the staff, and the doors are opened, clearly signifying Christ's opening the gates of the New Jerusalem by His death upon the cross, which was foreshadowed by His entry into the earthly Jerusalem. This profoundly vivid rite too is no longer contained in the liturgy of Palm Sunday after the reforms of 1955. 

Following the procession, the actual Mass of Palm Sunday begins. Traditionally, the recitation of the Passion, from St. Matthew, included in it the account of the institution of the Eucharist. The same is true for the Passion readings on Spy Wednesday and Good Friday. Again the essential connection of the mysteries of Holy Week to that of the Eucharist is thus made unmistakably clear. The entire Christian faith centers around the mystery of the Eucharist, which is the selfsame mystery as that of Christ's passion and death upon the cross - the culmination of Holy Week, and the ultimate source of meaning for every rite that is celebrated during this week. Hence it is eminently fitting that the account of the institution of the Eucharist be included in the Passion readings for these days. It is simply astonishing that the reform of Pope Pius XII removed these accounts from all of the Passion readings during Holy Week, with the result that not even once in the entire liturgical year do we hear the institution of the Eucharist recited. This is not an easily forgivable loss, to speak mildly. This connection to the Eucharist is also diminished in other aspects of the reform of Holy Week, specifically that of the Good Friday "Mass of the Pre-Sanctified." This rite also strongly paralleled the rite of an actual Mass, in such a way that made abundantly clear that those rites were the re-presentation and re-visitation of the sacrifice of Christ, albeit the consecration of the host does not take place that day. This rite too was quite destroyed in 1955.

The effect of all of these changes is that the rites no longer foster in so perfect a degree the contemplation of and participation in the mysteries of Christ. There is no longer the strong awareness of our progression with the triumphant Christ towards the heavenly Jerusalem, fostered by the typological and symbolical content which permeated the ancient rite. The traditional liturgy revealed itself to be the means by which we unite ourselves with Christ in all His mysteries, so that we might be united ultimately to His divinity in heaven through contemplation. This purpose is no longer clear in the new rites. The same effect would later result from the changes that followed the Second Vatican Council. Most traditionalists evaluate the post-conciliar reforms merely on the basis of their doctrinal clarity (or orthodoxy) or lack thereof. The standard argument is that the Pauline reforms were an ecumenical attempt to make concessions in the liturgy to the false doctrines of Protestantism. There may well be truth to this argument. But I would strongly propose that it is only a small part of the story, and the damage done is greater than doctrinal ambiguity. Doctrinal expression is one means that the liturgy employs for the sake of contemplation; right doctrine is not an end in itself. Hence, doctrinal problems with the newer liturgies are not problems only because they appeal to Protestantism or any heresy, but even more importantly and primarily because they hinder the contemplative end of the liturgy. Doctrine alone is not enough to sanctify and save man; he must go further and be united to God in loving contemplation. Moreover, this end, contemplation, may be hindered or retarded even when one manages to persevere in right doctrine. Thomas Kempis, in the Imitation of Christ, famously wrote that theological knowledge of the Trinity is useless if one does not love and so please the Trinity. Contemplation, then, can fail to be achieved even while right doctrine is preserved; and this is why it is possible to say that the liturgy of Pius XII is quite simply bad liturgy, even if it contains no false or ambiguous doctrinal content, if indeed it does not. For in comparison to the traditional rites, these rites fail to attain the primary end and purpose for which the liturgy even exists, and hence, in this respect, they are just as bad as the Novus Ordo. 

This post has mainly only addressed the changes to Palm Sunday, and even so, only incompletely. Much more could be said about the novel elements introduced into the new rites, such as the points whereat the priest prays versus populum - something to become very popular after Vatican II - the abolition of the preface proclaiming the divine kingship, and other things. Moreover, the reforms of the rites for the Triduum, especially Friday and Saturday, were much greater than even those of Palm Sunday, and will have to be saved for a later treatment (maybe next year). Suffice it to say that they all had the same detrimental effect on liturgical contemplation, and hence formed a definite precedent and stepping stone to the Novus Ordo itself. In the meantime, for a detailed summary and analysis of the reform, I would recommend the excellent series written by Gregory DiPippo here. There is also this article by Fr. Steven Carusi, providing some valuable liturgical and theological commentary on the reform. Others, such as The Rad Trad, Rubricarius at St. Lawrence Press (search the relevant topics), and Fr. Hunwicke have also had some things to say about Holy Week on their own blogs. It is my hope that more mainstream traditionalists will grow more aware of these issues, and action be taken in parishes. There is already some serious restoration happening at one parish in New Jersey, as reported here by John R: at Mater Ecclesiae they will be celebrating the full pre-1955 Holy Week this year for the first time. Kudos to John R and his team of liturgists!

Monday, 7 March 2016

March 7 - Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

Summa Theologiae, Secunda Secundae, Q. 180, A. 7. 
Whether there is delight in contemplation?

Objection 1. It would seem that there is no delight in contemplation. For delight belongs to the appetitive power; whereas contemplation resides chiefly in the intellect. Therefore it would seem that there is no delight in contemplation.

Objection 2. Further, all strife and struggle is a hindrance to delight. Now there is strife and struggle in contemplation. For Gregory says (Hom. xiv in Ezech.) that "when the soul strives to contemplate God, it is in a state of struggle; at one time it almost overcomes, because by understanding and feeling it tastes something of the incomprehensible light, and at another time it almost succumbs, because even while tasting, it fails." Therefore there is no delight in contemplation.

Objection 3. Further, delight is the result of a perfect operation, as stated in Ethic. x, 4. Now the contemplation of wayfarers is imperfect, according to (1 Corinthians 13:1)2, "We see now through a glass in a dark manner." Therefore seemingly there is no delight in the contemplative life.

Objection 4. Further, a lesion of the body is an obstacle to delight. Now contemplation causes a lesion of the body; wherefore it is stated (Genesis 32) that after Jacob had said (Genesis 32:30), "'I have seen God face to face' . . . he halted on his foot (Genesis 32:31) . . . because he touched the sinew of his thigh and it shrank" (Genesis 32:32). Therefore seemingly there is no delight in contemplation.

On the contrary, It is written of the contemplation of wisdom (Wisdom 8:1)6): "Her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness, but joy and gladness": and Gregory says (Hom. xiv in Ezech.) that "the contemplative life is sweetness exceedingly lovable."

I answer that, There may be delight in any particular contemplation in two ways. First by reason of the operation itself [Cf. I-II, 03, 5, because each individual delights in the operation which befits him according to his own nature or habit. Now contemplation of the truth befits a man according to his nature as a rational animal: the result being that "all men naturally desire to know," so that consequently they delight in the knowledge of truth. And more delightful still does this become to one who has the habit of wisdom and knowledge, the result of which is that he contemplates without difficulty. Secondly, contemplation may be delightful on the part of its object, in so far as one contemplates that which one loves; even as bodily vision gives pleasure, not only because to see is pleasurable in itself, but because one sees a person whom one loves. Since, then, the contemplative life consists chiefly in the contemplation of God, of which charity is the motive, as stated above (1 and 2, ad 1), it follows that there is delight in the contemplative life, not only by reason of the contemplation itself, but also by reason of the Divine love.

In both respects the delight thereof surpasses all human delight, both because spiritual delight is greater than carnal pleasure, as stated above (I-II, 31, 5), when we were treating of the passions, and because the love whereby God is loved out of charity surpasses all love. Hence it is written (Psalm 33:9): "O taste and see that the Lord is sweet."

Reply to Objection 1. Although the contemplative life consists chiefly in an act of the intellect, it has its beginning in the appetite, since it is through charity that one is urged to the contemplation of God. And since the end corresponds to the beginning, it follows that the term also and the end of the contemplative life has its being in the appetite, since one delights in seeing the object loved, and the very delight in the object seen arouses a yet greater love. Wherefore Gregory says (Hom. xiv in Ezech.) that "when we see one whom we love, we are so aflame as to love him more." And this is the ultimate perfection of the contemplative life, namely that the Divine truth be not only seen but also loved.

Reply to Objection 2. Strife or struggle arising from the opposition of an external thing, hinders delight in that thing. For a man delights not in a thing against which he strives: but in that for which he strives; when he has obtained it, other things being equal, he delights yet more: wherefore Augustine says (Confess. viii, 3) that "the more peril there was in the battle, the greater the joy in the triumph." But there is no strife or struggle in contemplation on the part of the truth which we contemplate, though there is on the part of our defective understanding and our corruptible body which drags us down to lower things, according to (Wisdom 9:15), "The corruptible body is a load upon the soul, and the earthly habitation presseth down the mind that museth upon many things." Hence it is that when man attains to the contemplation of truth, he loves it yet more, while he hates the more his own deficiency and the weight of his corruptible body, so as to say with the Apostle (Romans 7:2)4): "Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Wherefore Gregory say (Hom. xiv in Ezech.): "When God is once known by desire and understanding, He withers all carnal pleasure in us."

Reply to Objection 3. The contemplation of God in this life is imperfect in comparison with the contemplation in heaven; and in like manner the delight of the wayfarer's contemplation is imperfect as compared with the delight of contemplation in heaven, of which it is written (Psalm 35:9): "Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy pleasure." Yet, though the contemplation of Divine things which is to be had by wayfarers is imperfect, it is more delightful than all other contemplation however perfect, on account of the excellence of that which is contemplated. Hence the Philosopher says (De Part. Animal. i, 5): "We may happen to have our own little theories about those sublime beings and godlike substances, and though we grasp them but feebly, nevertheless so elevating is the knowledge that they give us more delight than any of those things that are round about us": and Gregory says in the same sense (Hom. xiv in Ezech.): "The contemplative life is sweetness exceedingly lovable; for it carries the soul away above itself, it opens heaven and discovers the spiritual world to the eyes of the mind."

Reply to Objection 4. After contemplation Jacob halted with one foot, "because we need to grow weak in the love of the world ere we wax strong in the love of God," as Gregory says (Hom. xiv in Ezech.). "Thus when we have known the sweetness of God, we have one foot sound while the other halts; since every one who halts on one foot leans only on that foot which is sound."

Saturday, 5 March 2016

St. Augustine - From Matins of Laetare Sunday

A homily of St. Augustine, taken from the Tridentine Breviary:
The miracles which our Lord Jesus Christ did were the very works of God, and they enlighten the mind of man by mean of things which are seen, that he may know more of God. God is Himself of such a Substance as eye cannot see, and the miracles, by the which He ruleth the whole world continually, and satisfieth the need of everything that He hath made, are by use become so common, that scarce any will vouchsafe to see that there are wonderful and amazing works of God in every grain of seed of grass. According to His mercy He kept some works to be done in their due season, but out of the common course and order of nature, that men might see them and be astonished, not because they are greater, but because they are rarer than those which they lightly esteem, since they see them day by day. Or it is a greater miracle to govern the whole universe, than to satisfy five thousand men with five loaves of bread; and yet no man marvelleth at it. At the feeding of the five thousand, men marvel, not because it is a greater miracle than the other, but because it is rarer. For Who is He Who now feedeth the whole world, but He Who, from a little grain that is sown, maketh the fulness of the harvest? God worketh in both cases in one and the same manner. He Who of the sowing maketh to come the harvest, is He Who of the five barley loaves in His Hands made bread to feed five thousand men; for Christ's are the Hands which are able to do both the one and the other. He Who multiplieth the grains of corn multiplied the loaves, only not by committing them to the earth whereof He is the Maker. This miracle, then, is brought to bear upon our bodies, that our souls may thereby be quickened; shown to our eyes, to give food to our understanding; that, through His works which we see, we may marvel at that God Whom we cannot see, and, being roused up to believe, and purified by believing, we may long to see Him, yea, may know by things which are seen Him Who is Unseen. Nor yet sufficeth it for us to see only this meaning in Christ's miracles. Let us ask of the miracles themselves what they have to tell us concerning Christ for, soothly, they have a tongue of their own, if only we will understand it. For, because Christ is the Word of God, therefore the work of the Word is a Word for us.