Handel the Liturgist and other Reveries

One of the leitmotifs of the post-conciliar liturgical reform, present in the conciliar decree to be sure, is active participation. Unheard of before, it is a peculiarly twentieth century obsession. Claiming inspiration from St Pius X (though not as convincingly as claimed if one looks carefully at what he wrote in its context in Tra le sollicitudini), within the Liturgical Movement of the twentieth century there developed an ever more elaborated and extended advocacy for the congregation’s “active participation” in the liturgy. The congregation must be forced—not be allowed—to be mere bystanders or spectators of the liturgy, nor should more solemn liturgies become like concerts and the congregation reduced to an audience.

But why not a concert? Why the opprobrium for a concert, and the congregation an audience?

Let me come at this from another angle. Continue reading “Handel the Liturgist and other Reveries”

Another way to wash feet

…the Triduum liturgies…together form one complete story of the Paschal Mystery—the mystery of the Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection. These several events of the one mystery constitute our redemption, God’s claiming us back for himself.

Claiming back from what? Eternal death as the inevitable result of our sins. Claiming back from whom? There is a strong element of the tradition that would say the Devil, by whose influence and temptation we first sinned. But more deeply we are being redeemed from our own hopeless self-government, our inability to live the good life as we want to do, as we should do, as God has made us to do. We are being redeemed from ourselves. Redemption offers us the only sure hope of salvation, eternal life with God, which is what we were made for, and makes sense of the mystery of our existence…

The name of this Mass reminds us of a truth too often forgotten today. The Mass is more than a re-enactment of the Last Supper. Only tonight is that aspect really emphasized. The Mass is first and foremost, above all and essentially, a sacrifice. It is the memorial of Christ’s self-sacrifice, of his body and life, for us and our salvation, on the Cross. Tonight Christ bequeaths us his sacrificial body sacramentally, veiled in bread and wine. The ancient principle was that those who offered a sacrifice then received the fruits and benefit of the sacrifice by consuming some of what had been sacrificed, as a way of being united with the sacrifice. It is the same principle in the Mass: Christ calls us to offer with him his self-sacrifice, to be united with and in it by consuming what was sacrificed, his body and blood. By using bread and wine as the outer veil for the inner reality we are able to partake of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross time after time, and again and again. The Mass, therefore, is a memorial of the Cross, not of itself.

But why did our Lord choose bread and wine as the veil for his body and blood? Both bread and wine are able to symbolize a multitude of people being unified, through suffering, to form a new creation. Bread is the new creation of many grains of wheat being ground and crushed in a mill and baked in a furnace. Wine is the new creation of many grapes being crushed underfoot and laid for some time in the coffin of the case in the dark tomb of the cellar. By Christ’s death and resurrection he makes a multitude of people, through his sacrificial body and blood veiled by what appears as bread and wine, into a new creation, into his body the Church, the community of salvation, made fit for heaven.

To enable all this, Christ did two other things in the upper room on that first Maundy Thursday. He ordained the first priests—the apostles—to be the ministers of this new but eternal sacrifice. He sets them apart to offer the new Passover sacrifice for the benefit of all disciples, whenever and wherever they may be. Secondly, he showed that the essence of this new sacrifice is that it is a self-sacrifice. We are not offering lambs anymore; we are co-offering Christ’s self-sacrifice. We do it in two vital and necessary ways: we offer the bread and wine to become Christ’s body and blood offered on the Cross—that is the sacramental way. But there is also what we might call an existential way, a daily-life way: by giving ourselves, sacrificing ourselves, in service of our neighbour, obeying the new commandment to love our neighbour as Christ loves us. 

That is what Christ’s washing of the apostles’ feet is all about. Christians share in Christ’s redemptive self-sacrifice both by the sacrament and by our way of life. Life and sacrament cannot be isolated and compartmentalized; they form a unity. That is why the Church warns those who are in unreconciled serious sin not to receive the Lord’s Body; they need to restore the communion between their living and their faith before they can ever contribute to or benefit from communion with the Lord in his Body.

So this Mass of the Lord’s Supper tonight is indeed a thanksgiving: giving thanks for the self-sacrifice of Christ for us on the Cross; giving thanks for allowing us to share in his saving sacrifice through the gift of the Eucharist; giving thanks for endowing the Church with priestly ministers to enable this sharing in the Eucharist till the end of time; and giving thanks that Christ has left us a simple, if rarely easy, way of living in unity with his sacrifice, by our acts of love.

[For various reasons] it was agreed in planning not to include the option of the washing of the feet this year. In its place, let us take a moment to identify those whose feet we need metaphorically to wash, those before whom we need to humble ourselves, those whose forgiveness we need to receive, those who need to receive our forgiveness, those for whom we need to do more by acts of love, self-sacrificial, painful but healing love. Let us in silence call them to mind, pray for them and resolve to find some way soon to “wash their feet.”

There was too little time today, and now I have too little energy, to write a reflection for today’s high feast. So, for your penance and to assist your increase in merit, I inflict upon you the bulk of the homily pretty much as I inflicted upon the parishioners of Scarisbrick tonight. If something in it helps you, Deo gratias.

A blessed Triduum to you all!

Detail of the Maundy chasuble at St Elizabeth’s, Scarisbrick.

Notre Dame: Good, Better, Best

HOW MUCH BRIGHTER things look this morning for Notre Dame. So many of us were riveted to last night’s live footage of what seemed a hellish conflagration. The fall of the spire drew an audible gasp in this presbytery. The passion of this gothic symbol of faith and history was sobering, indeed ominous.

It still is, mind you.

But it is an ill wind indeed that blows no good at all. The fire started after the busy tourist time so there were not so many to evacuate. No lives were lost. Rendons grâce au seigneur.

Some really good news has emerged form the bad. The fire brigade chaplain, Fr Fournier, raced in and rescued the Blessed Sacrament and the Crown of Thorns, the second time has proved the right man at the right time in the right place in a Parisian crisis Continue reading “Notre Dame: Good, Better, Best”

The Passion of Notre Dame—Why it Matters

NOTRE DAME IS IN FLAMES. The spire has gone; the roof has collapsed. It appears no one has died—Deo gratias—which is a real mercy. The cause is as yet unknown but no doubt we shall no soon enough. The recent spate of attacks on churches in France hangs heavier in the air tonight, but this incident may merely be due to a fault in the current renovation work. It is hard not to dismiss a terrorist attack but by now surely some extremist would be claiming credit for it.

The passion of Notre Dame matters not just for Paris, nor just for France, nor for those who merely love beauty. It matters for our Judaeo-Christian civilization.

It is about a gorgeous gem of Gothic architecture more than 8 centuries old, but it is more than about that. It is about the wonderful works of art and craft within its walls—a stunning Pietà; statues of the 28 kings of Israel; an immense rose window with exquisite stained glass—but it is about more than these. It is about the role and status of the cathedral in the history of France, but it is about more than that. It is about a testament to humanity’s fertile, fruitful and beautiful devotion to God, but it is about more even than that.

On the CBS live coverage on Youtube, a reporter mentioned that a Parisian had told him that the fire has a symbolic significance for Christianity in France and Europe.

Medieval cathedrals such as Notre Dame were designed Continue reading “The Passion of Notre Dame—Why it Matters”

Cracks in the Cloister lives again (updated with links)

LONG-STANDING READERS here will know that the work of Dom Hubert van Zeller of Downside has appeared in these pages, under the nom-de-plume Brother Choleric. His cartoons—charming caricatures really—offered a glimpse into the life and dynamics of the cloister, principally that of Downside itself. The Cracks series began in 1954 but Br Choleric did not finish publishing until the 1970s.

The very first volume, Cracks in the Cloister, was published under a separate copyright in the USA, and that copyright has expired. So, a cartoon and comics devotee, Nat Gertler, has reissued the volume in America. It is a simple, softcover edition but it plays no games with the originals, even down to including the colouring added by van Zeller to some panels. It is available at Barnes & Noble, and also at Amazon USA where a Kindle edition will also be available.

Nat asked if he could edit a previous post here to provide a short introduction for the reissue, which I was happy to agree to as a micro-homage to a monk who has given me much delight, both as Br Choleric and as a serious spiritual author. At the end of this post I append the text of my introduction, not least because of its quotation in full of a letter van Zeller wrote to The Tablet in March 1970 which provides some insight into the change in mood of the Cracks series through the 60s and into the 70s, as well as being relevant to the golden jubilee of Missale Romanum and its new Mass.

Nat Gertler’s little outfit, About Comics, has reissued some wonderful Catholic cartoons from the 50s and 60s, Continue reading “Cracks in the Cloister lives again (updated with links)”

Pursuing a Point

IN THE COMMENTS of the post a few days back regarding the 50th anniversary of the new Mass, Richard makes some searching and coherent observations which merit pursuing. Rather than any answer to them being lost in the combox, it seems better to make my brief response to them a post in itself. You may want to read Richard’s comment first.

Richard’s reflections mirror those I elided into the word “curiously,” which is certainly not synonymous with “inexplicably.” I think the lack of mainstream recognition of the anniversary of the new Mass is certainly capable of some tentative explanation. Continue reading “Pursuing a Point”

50 Years Since Missale Romanum

IF YOU READ BLOGS or the Catholic press you will probably have seen that it is 50 years since St Paul VI promulgated the apostolic constitution Missale Romanum on 3 April 1969 as an implementation of the reforms mandated by the second Vatican council. By this decree a new order of Mass was proposed, replacing the order of Mass in use for 1500-odd years in the form that emerged with the seal of St Pius V after the decrees of the council of Trent. The UK’s Catholic Herald asked me to write a brief essay on it for last week’s edition, and it can be found on its website but for my own record I include it here below (the headline is the CH’s).

Not surprisingly there were several commemorative pieces to be found here and there. Some which I found were by Dom Alcuin Reid, Joseph O’Brien, and Fr Andrew Menke at Adoremus, while America reprints an article from 1970 by G B Harrison and Professor Peter Kwasniewski offers a more searching and detailed reflection. Curiously, most progressive journals seem not too concerned to mark the anniversary; certainly there was nothing in The Tablet last week.

The strange birth of the Novus Ordo

After several decades of liturgy wars, Continue reading “50 Years Since Missale Romanum”