Liturgical Minutiae

If my memory serves me well, Fr Adrian Fortescue said:

You have to incense an altar somehow. It doesn’t hurt to be told how.

It is the theory according to which the rule of the arbitrary is worse than the rule of law. This is one thing I often heard from my old canon law professor at Fribourg. Poor old Patricius got his head bitten off trying to comment on The New Liturgical Movement, which I admit seems to have lost some of its spice since its former moderator retired from it. He writes about this subject on Amateurs…

I remember old Fr Montgomery Wright telling me that he was fed up with the Roman Catholic Church in England in the 1940’s and came over to France just after the war to complete his training for the priesthood and be ordained for the Diocese of Bayeaux. Whether it was liturgical rubricism or moral casuistry, it must have been stifling!

In my book, it is important to learn to do things properly – get someone to teach you, read it in books, hold rehearsals until you get it right. Then one just gets on in life. When I say Mass, everything is done properly, because I took the trouble to learn the Sarum ceremonies as best as possible. Of course, I am always ready to accept criticism, just like when I perform a tack or a gybe when sailing or playing a fugue by Bach on the organ. It is the same with any acquired skill.

I sympathise with those who are burned out by constant criticism, but we do need to be on the watch to keep up high standards. As with many things, there needs to be a via media between the arbitrary and constant nit-picking.

It is rather like men who fuss over their hair all the time and worry about this or that shampoo or conditioner. I just look after mine reasonably and live with it. Just the same with my boat. I could restore it and bring it to a new-looking shine. I would be afraid to launch it. So, my boat is a bit untidy, but sails just fine. What more do you need? The liturgy is at a different level, the worship of the Church and Sacrament of Christ, but it needs to be a part of our spiritual life and like a rudder is to a boat.

I occasionally look at The New Liturgical Movement, but since I came across some quite nasty folk there, I stopped commenting long ago. I was never well accepted, because of being a vagante priest pariah. Shawn Tribe wrote to me a few times, and was always kind to me. I certainly don’t get angry if a blogger doesn’t want me commenting. It’s their blog and life is too short…

Keep calm and carry on!

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15 Responses to Liturgical Minutiae

  1. Dale says:

    I agree. Just how difficult is it to simply purchase a copy of either Fortescue, Lamburn, or O’Connell (my own personal favourite) and learn to celebrate properly? All of these have been reprinted in cheap copies that are easily available. Yet, especially from those who have been ordained after a “crash course” I have seldom seen any ability to follow the rubrics at all or even any knowledge that such things actually exist (the worst offenders do seem to be so-called western rite Orthodox, who do indeed simply make it up as they go). Too many seem to think that with ordination comes the right to invent anything they want to at the altar; effectively making sacred ceremonies into their own little personality expressions. Of course, these same types of individuals will then turn around and get quite nasty if this is mentioned; explaining that “spirituality” is not bound by rubrics; but that simply seems to be window dressing for instead making the public worship of the Church their own personal hobby horse.

  2. ed pacht says:

    While I’m far from a rubrical rigorist, I think Dale has it pretty right here. I do believe there is a good deal of room for interpretation of rubrical direction, but that traditional rubrics must at least be respected, if not precisely followed, and that the surest way of evaluating the propriety of a mode of celebration is whether it magnifies the presence of the celebrant or directs the people past him to the heavenlies. A personality driven Mass is just wrong. I could go on at length, but let this be enough.

    • This is basically what I meant. There is a thing dividing line between getting it right and being obsessively scrupulous. Things are easy to do when you have learned how to do it – playing a musical instrument, riding a bicycle, sailing a boat, making pizzas, anything. The liturgy needs to look as if no one is in any difficulty, or being self conscious about this or that detail. Indifference to the rules means the law of the arbitrary and the narcissist priest’s personality. Then I prefer to go to the cinema any day!

      • Dale says:

        I do believe that that is one of the benefits of a very traditional seminary education; one simply learns the rubrics until they are second nature. There is nothing more irritating than seeing someone stop and read the rubrics during services!

        Oh, another point with a traditional education, is the liturgical music! It is so painful to hear someone attempt a sung mass who simply invents the music as they go along. Once again, I have mostly seen this amongst so-called western rite Orthodox, who instead of learning how to chant any of the Gregorian music find it so much easier to simply adopt the Byzantine method; which usually involves bellowing like a cow in pain at the rafters, but as loudly as possible. But I have seen some really, really painful things amongst the Continuing Anglicans as well. This problem is usually more an American issue than a British one; but it has been a long time since I have attended Mass in England, so perhaps it is becoming more and more widespread? The pain,the pain!

        On another point, I also hate seeing beautiful old altar missals that have the rubrics underlined in red pen! Or even worse, yellow ones!

  3. Jim of Olym says:

    Fr. Anthony (or anyone else who might be interested): You can pry my first edition of Fortescue from my cold dead hands!

  4. Rubricarius says:

    I think it is the old distinction between understanding rubrics as being (originally at least) descriptive and being an aide memoire and them becoming prescriptive, as happened with the SRC, and de facto an extension of Canon Law.

    • I remember some long conversations with the late Dr Ray Winch along these lines. You are right. The meaning of rubrics was to describe “how things are done” rather than the later canonical pharisaism that came into vogue in Rome. The older attitude was still apparent in the Ordo of John Burchard which was the predecessor of the Ritus Servandus of the 1570 Roman missal.

  5. M says:

    In any case, my understanding of Sarum is that the variations between locations while not chasms, were nonetheless real, add to which my understanding is that rigorous following of minutiae was never really the Sarum way. Sarum to some extent always had to be adapted to the idiosyncrasies of English churches.
    Fr Michael

    • This is what I have found since beginning to use Sarum in about 2008 instead of the Roman rite. The spirit of the Counter Reformation was certainly something completely new in the history of the Church, as fascist or communist totalitarianism is to the old Monarchy. It seems to have been a developing movement from the end of the sixteenth century to the classical era in the seventeenth. Everything had to be hyper-rational and prescriptive, as in the manuals of canon law and moral casuistry.

      • ed pacht says:

        You’d seem to be right. As I see it, a rationalistic tendency was already growing in Western Europe by Aquinas’ time. He himself is a prime example of the systemization and rationalizing of theology. It was his successors that seem to have built this system up into rigidity. This was an attitude that was gradually permeating society, leading to a centralization around the papacy in matters not only of faith, but of discipline.. I’ve long seen this kind of thinking as a prime cause of the Reformation, and there is little difference in the manner of thinking between Lutherans, Calvinists, and the Counter-reformation. The new and so-called ‘scientific’ Atheism seems to me the logical outcome of such a thought pattern. Perhaps this is something the Scriptures have long witnessed to. See, for example the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the hunger of Eve and Adam to ‘be like God’ by virtue of knowledge.

      • It is the old problem of fides et ratio, the head and the heart. There has to be a balance between the two in the absolute. The heartless intellect is cold and forbidding, and the mindless heart can lead to illuminism and many other unhealthy manifestations of “enthusiasm”. We should not be anti-intellectual, as that would encourage laziness. We should not be intellectually arrogant or allow ourselves to be deprived of humanity. I do place spiritual life over the intellectual life, but we do need both.

    • ed pacht says:

      I’ve been reading some of the work of Eamon Duffy. Though I do not agree with a lot of his conclusions, his primary source scholarship seems impeccable. One thing that stands out perfectly clearly is that the Sarum era churches seldom had the wherewithal to possess all that was needed to do the liturgy “correctly”. Based on the inventories of vestments and appurtenances, there has to have been a prevailing spirit of making do with what was available. The colors of actual vestments, for example, as shown in the inventories, makes any rigid use of colors bewilderingly difficult to ascertain.

  6. Patricius says:

    What irks me most about the “amateur enthusiasm” to which I referred in my post is what it has to do with Christianity in a general sense. I have nothing against interest in and study of the rubrics – I undertook that myself years ago in fear of the LORD – but I would say that it irritates me when people go about with an air of triumphalism because they have a less-than-routine knowledge of the rubrics and an attitude of “I go to a Latin low Mass; I am so superior to you common Novus Ordo folk.” And I would also question the need for editions of Fortescue or O’Connell except as a systematic reference to decrees of the S.R.C, which have for the most part been superseded by subsequent legislation anyway, when you have the primary sources available. Why not consult the rubrics themselves?

    • I suspect that many using the old rite are using Fortescue & Co. because their understanding of Latin is not accurate enough! 😉

      • Patricius says:

        You read my mind! But that begs the question, why Latin? I can think of no moral, practical or pastoral reason for celebrating Latin liturgy if 9/10 congregants have had no Latin instruction at all and the minority did an O Level 40 years ago in abridged Caesar and Cicero augmented by some staves from Virgil. We can all conjugate Amo in the present tense but I rather think that’s different from A cunctis nos quaesumus, etc. I prefer Latin liturgy myself but that is a personal preference, dictated by my own taste and temperament and understanding of the Roman liturgy. At least I can read Latin! Nevertheless the problems of liturgical language are too many and various to go into in a comment box.

        I do not blame people for their innocence of Latin. I do, however, blame people for imposing Latin on people who do not want it and their contentment with a banal and artificial translation.

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