“That would be an ecumenical matter”—Dom Gregory Murray and Plainsong: an Exchange

Dom Gregory Murray (1905-1992) of Downside Abbey was one of the great monastic musicians of the twentieth century. His organ works are held in especial regard, though he was no slouch on the chant. On the other hand, he prepared so comprehensively for the introduction of the vernacular in to the liturgy that he had everything ready for Downside to embrace from the outset a wholly English office. Years ago I heard a monk describe Murray as having been the rudest man in the English congregation. I cannot make a judgment on that claim.

Nevertheless in an exchange of letters in The Tablet in 1937 we can see that as a precocious young monk he was prepared neither to don velvet gloves nor to sugar his speech. Continue reading ““That would be an ecumenical matter”—Dom Gregory Murray and Plainsong: an Exchange”

Covid-19: A Crisis for the Church

WHILE NOT DARING to speak for prelates, I feel fairly confident in saying that the Covid-19 pandemic caught most parochial clergy off-guard, and monasteries too. Witness the mad scramble to make provision for a congregation not merely forbidden from attending Mass, but from even entering their churches. (This raises the question of the purpose of our church buildings and to whom, at least morally, they belong, and to what degree we are accountable to God for their use; but that is not for now.)

The move to restrict the liturgy was no doubt a justifiable one. But the move to shut the churches completely came not from the government but from at least some of our own bishops has left many people disturbed. The government had been prepared to exempt churches but it was the bishops’ conference that approached the government asking for churches to be closed. It remains to be shown how an empty church with no more than a handful of people in private prayer, able effortlessly to practise social distancing, is more dangerous than a supermarket.

So, many of us have found ways to stream our daily Mass to allow parishioners, not excluding others of course, some sort of access to the “source and summit” of the Christian life, and a type of access also to their church. Given the age profile of many parishes, this has been of limited benefit in practice, but better than nothing. Some have been able to spend money on the necessary equipment, while others have made do; I use an old phone with a decent camera propped up on a Lenten offering stand. We have had to learn how to arrange things so that everything is at hand and visible in one frame, as there is no one to move the camera during the Mass. Continue reading “Covid-19: A Crisis for the Church”

An Omission Rectified: the Pandemic Mass [updated]

NATURALLY I CLAIM NO CREDIT, for to do so would be a heinous crime against truth. However, having so recently lamented the omission in the modern missal of any votive mass for time of plague or pestilence, as there had been of old, there has emerged from Rome a decree instituting a votive Mass “in Time of Pandemic,” as well as an intercession for the same purpose in the Good Friday litany.

The Latin Mass texts and their official English translation, as well as the readings for the Mass, are below:

The Good Friday intercession is as follows:

The texts with approved translations in the principal languages can be downloaded for printing, the first link for the Mass texts, the second for Good Friday:

There are things about which to quibble. One is their specificity, viz. “the current pandemic.” It would have been preferable to keep the focus on plague and pestilence in general, as is traditional. The ultra-specificity in bidding prayers at Mass one often hears is more exclusive than inclusive. But that is another matter…

The more major quibble is the theology they manifest. Gone is any reference to sin or evil; clearly the authors will not countenance that pandemics, plagues and pestilences are things that could result from human deeds, or rather, misdeeds. Their failure to do so flies in the face of scripture which is rather clear on the matter. It is a pity, not least because in this season of Lent (to maintain the specificity the texts prefer) we are called above all to repent of our sins that we might not suffer their just consequences. But I touched on these theological issues in the previous post.

[UPDATE] The original version of the Latin prayer over the people had a typo, spotted by the eagle eyes of the New Liturgical Movement. The image above has been updated with the corrected image provided there. Some might wonder if, since all Masses at present, in Anglophone countries at least, are “private,” this is mindless pedantry. Speaking for myself, I am continuing to turn to the empty nave and praying over the people; they are there in spirit and by desire, and the prayers retain their value.

The documents are now downloadable from Divine Worships website, and include the correction.

Plagues, Interdicts, Omissions and Possibilities

IN THE MID-14th century the Black Death swept through Europe. Between 30 and 60% of Europe’s population perished, and perhaps even as many as 200 million people died if the Near East is included in the calculations. It would be scores of years before Europe’s population recovered. The Church in many respects did not meet the challenges of the time.

In part this is because in many places as many clergy as peasants succumbed to the plague. But in many places the clergy did not wait to die; they fled. Robert Gottfried, in his work on the Black Death, reports that in the dioceses of York and Lincoln (NB Lincoln reached as far as Oxford and the Thames) 20% of the parochial clergy. Many of those who remained in their posts succumbed. The result was that the numbers of clergy could not meet the needs of a society united in the faith and practice of one religion. Despite the losses of the faithful clergy, clerical reputation suffered immensely. Says Gottfried:

Many parish priests fled, leaving no one to offer services, deliver last rites, and comfort
the sick. Flight might have been intellectually explicable, but it was morally
inexcusable…[I]n a world in which performance of an appointed role was very important, many clerics no longer seemed to be doing their jobs.

The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe (1983), pp.84; 94.

Gottfried is not alone in his assessment of the records that can be found of the period; Philip Ziegler affirms that,

[the clergy] lost in popularity as a result of the plague. They were deemed not to have risen to the level of their responsibilities, to have run away in fear or in search of gain, to have put their own skins first and the souls of their parishioners a bad second.

The Black Death (1969), p.211

Even before the plague had abated surviving clergy began to gather up the now-unclaimed clerical spoils. The ranks of the clergy were filled with young men, of poor education and little if any experience; some could not even manage to say Mass properly. Pluralism was rife. As society recovered from the scourge, the Church was ill-equipped to take the lead. Divinely-inspired charity, which had so well-endowed many a parish church and monastery, began to be directed elsewhere after the plague, not least to hospitals which provided the care and nurture that the clergy had so singularly failed to provide. Continue reading “Plagues, Interdicts, Omissions and Possibilities”

Mass, Covid-19 and testing the Faith

NOT ANOTHER pestilence post on the information superhighway?! Yes, but it will be brief and have a different point. Notice please, to begin with, that the title says “the faith” not merely “faith.” The distinction is important for the point to be made.

Every plague, pestilence, disease, affliction, cross et cetera, is a test of faith. Contrary to progressive theories, the biblical data is clear that God tests the faith in him of humans as a family and as individuals. It is also clear, by the way, that he does lead us into temptation, also as a test of faith. But that is another story. The challenge of every cross is to trust in God that he wills our good, the good that perhaps we cannot see for ourselves, but is no less real for that. To endure a cross willingly is an act of faith in God as all-loving and all-wise.

But a cross can also test the content of our faith. We all believe in God, I presume of you readers. (If you do not, feel free to join the rest of us.) But what exactly do we believe about God; and about his Church and her life?

There are many examples at present of churches being closed and Mass suspended, though recent papal remarks may slow that trend. Where Mass remains mostly now Communion will be by the Host only and the option for the handshake of peace converted to a nod or a bow, or even omitted altogether. People’s reactions to these will tell us much about the content of their faith. Continue reading “Mass, Covid-19 and testing the Faith”

An Ill-Starred 1960s Ad Campaign

An ad campaign is probably trivialising what was clearly a campaign not to sell a product but to advocate for the traditional liturgy when the tide was perceived to be turning against it. The average person in the pew might believe the Church went from the old Mass to the new almost overnight. Seen in the context of the entire history of the Church some might argue it was little short of overnight. Nevertheless there were 5 years of official transition from the old liturgy to the new, with a new Ordo Missae in 1965, which was further reformed in 1967. Contiguous with this official universal reform was a melange of official, semi-official, unofficial and illicit experimentation and adaptation. Most of this was centred on and moulded by the local churches, almost invariably involving the introduction of the vernacular to the Mass to greater or lesser degrees.

In 1967 the Latin Mass Society had clearly taken fright. Continue reading “An Ill-Starred 1960s Ad Campaign”

The Burden of the Homily

RECENTLY A PRIEST—not a fellow monk—lamented how hard he was finding it to “get anything” for a homily from this Sunday’s readings. The first reading covers an attempt to kill the prophet Jeremiah, the epistle is from Hebrews reminding us of the cloud of witnesses who urge us on in the race of Christian living, and the gospel shows Jesus revealing he has come to bring fire to the earth and division to society, an awkward gospel for purveyors of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”

The priestly lament is a reminder of how much a burden the homily has become to many a hearer, and perhaps even more to many a preacher, in the celebration of the ordinary form of the Mass. This is almost invariably the fruit of a misunderstanding of the homily that has taken on almost dogmatic status: the homily must always and only be about the readings of the day. Continue reading “The Burden of the Homily”

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.

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”