Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Make pax-bredes great again

One of the pax-bredes used by Philadelphia's TLM community
In my last digest covering Annunciation and Laetare, I failed to mention our sung Mass for St Joseph's Day at the Cathedral-Basilica of Philadelphia's altar of the Assumption, which ended up featured at the top of the New Liturgical Movement's photopost yesterday. Despite being a Monday night, there was a turnout of nearly a hundred, mostly young college students... many of whom were probably experiencing the old rite for the first time. As Mr. DiPippo says, "evangelize through beauty!" My men's plainchant schola is circled in a monastic singing formation to the right of the altar in the photos, rendering the full minor Propers out of the Liber Usualis. After the Offertory antiphon, we also chanted the hymn Te Joseph Celebrent.



A missa cantata for St Joseph at the Cathedral-Basilica of Philadelphia's altar of the Assumption
When celebrating a missa cantata, our particular TLM community preserves the medieval custom of exchanging the kiss of peace after the Agnus Dei among the servers and choir by means of a pax-brede: typically an image of the Lamb of God, but it could also be of a crucifix or other holy image, or could be a reliquary. What happens is that, in lieu of the Roman pax (the formal embrace) begun between the celebrant and deacon, the celebrant instead kisses the pax-brede. The MC then brings the pax-brede to each cleric and server (and choristers, if in the sanctuary area) to kiss. As at solemn Mass, the answer to the MC's "pax tecum" when he presents the pax-brede to be kissed is "et cum spiritu tuo". At the Mass pictured above, our schola had long since finished chanting the Agnus Dei by the time the MC came by with the pax-brede, so there was no obstacle to us performing the rite.


The origins of the pax-brede, in brief

It seems the pax-brede was originally developed by the medieval Church to give the pax to all members of the congregation in an orderly manner (and, perhaps, to sidestep the tensions caused by persons of the opposite sex who are not married to each other from kissing in church). At a time when Communion was not regularly distributed to the faithful, the pax was almost a substitute for it--everyone would come up to the chancel screen to kiss the pax-brede, much as communicants come up today. Surviving examples from the medieval centuries are often richly detailed. In Shakespeare's Henry V, the king sentences his old pal Bardolph to death "for he hath stolen a pax" from a church in the middle of their invasion of France.

The Una Voce position paper on the kiss of peace explains why this practice declined thus: 
"The direct participation of the Faithful in the Pax, for which the Paxbrede was particularly well suited, began to die out in the following centuries in most countries. The liturgical scholar Polycarpus Radó suggests ‘reasons of hygiene’ for this. Another practical reason seems to have been that the practice of passing the Paxbrede among the Faithful according to their social degree led to unedifying disputes over precedence. A modern factor which reduces the time available to present the Paxbrede is the frequency of the Communion of the Faithful during Mass."
The discontinuation due to "reasons of hygiene" is strikingly similar to the argument made in an article in Crisis posted just last month against the modern practice of the Sign of Peace in the Ordinary Form Mass: "A Trinity of Bad Hygiene". And the squabble over precedence amongst the folk of the medieval parish, suggested above, is perfectly illustrated in Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars:
'In 1494 the wardens of the parish of All Saints, Stanyng, presented Joanna Dyaca for breaking the paxbrede by throwing it on the ground, "because another woman of the parish had kissed it before her." On All Saints Day 1522 Master John Browne of the parish of Theydon-Garnon in Essex, having kissed the pax-brede at the parish Mass, smashed it over the head of Richard Pond, the holy-water clerk who had tendered it to him, "causing streams of blood to run to the ground." Brown was enraged because the pax had first been offered to Francis Hamden and his wife Margery, despite the fact that the previous Sunday he had warned Pond, "Clerke, if thou here after givest not me the pax first I shall breke it on thy hedd."'

Using the pax-brede today

Whatever the reasons for its falling out among the laity, the use of the pax-brede remains a fully licit option in the rubrics of the traditional Latin rite for both sung and even low Mass. Despite having survived even amongst the laity until recent times in Spain and certain Spanish territories, a good case could probably be made against offering the pax-brede to the entire congregation, especially in these times of regular Communion. But for the servers and clergy (and liturgical choir, if present, as well as any princes or lay dignitaries present), the rite has much to recommend it. The pax-brede not only emphasizes a continuity between sung/low Mass and the ceremonies of solemn high Mass; it also reminds us that, however ill-advised the modern practice of the peace in the Ordinary Form is, the concept itself was not invented out of whole cloth as many traditional Catholics mistakenly assume.



The same pax-brede from the opening of the article, shown from the side

Another pax-brede used by the community

Monday, March 27, 2017

Past weekend digest: Annunciation and Laetare

Chanting the Lesson from Isaiah for the Annunciation: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel."
This past weekend was a nice reprieve from the austerity of Lent, with Lady Day and Laetare Sunday back-to-back. Saturday fell on March 25, which is the feast of the Annunciation: set nine months before Christmas to celebrate the angel's bringing of good news to the Virgin Mary that she would bear the Messiah. 

The Annunciation, sometimes called Lady Day, is arguably older than Christmas itself as a Christian feast. It was once of such great significance that Great Britain persisted in beginning its civil/legal new year on March 25, as medieval tradition had it, until finally making the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. The obligation for Catholics to hear Mass on this day continued in the United States until the rule was relaxed by the third Council of Baltimore in 1884. 

Thankfully, the TLM Community of Philadelphia has kept up the practice of celebrating the Annunciation with due solemnity for some years now. I attended last year's, which had to be transferred to the week after the Easter octave since it fell on Good Friday; and this year, I was asked to fill in as subdeacon. The celebrant, Fr Dennis Carbonaro, had actually hosted half of my Ordinariate community at his parish before we acquired our own building, and he remains a friend of the Ordinariate.


You'll see in the photos in this link, as above, that we had solemn high Mass in the traditional Latin rite in a humble parish with a sanctuary space clearly not designed with solemn ceremonies in mind. Nevertheless, St Mary's church, Schwenksville proved a most hospitable place that I look forward to visiting again. The attendees were thrilled to see a young man in sacred vestments, and I was understandably mistaken for a priest several times as I said hello to them on their way out of church. (I like to think that every time I begin the "well, I'm actually a..." speech is a moment for catechesis.) I spotted a fellow member of the Sons of the American Revolution by his rosette and found we knew a couple of the same people.

Speaking of vestments, the Annunciation was an immensely popular subject for medieval and Renaissance art. One of the largest surviving works along this theme is a painting by Hans Memling, now hanging in New York's Met. I had the privilege to see it in person during a visit last November. Gabriel is clad in a deacon's dalmatic, emphasizing the role of angels as the right hand ministers of God in heaven. His vestments also have the Gothic apparels along the amice and the cuffs and bottom hem of the alb. I'm unsure of why he wears a narrow crossed stole over the dalmatic. Was it done in real-world liturgical practice in 15th-century Bruges, or does it have only an iconographic significance?





The jubilation continued on with Laetare Sunday: the midpoint of Lent, whereby the ministers wear rose vestments and the organ (in places which suspend its use during Lent) returns. At my own parish, we continued the English tradition of "Mothering Sunday" by blessing simnel cake and distributing it at coffee hour. See the Medieval Origins of Mothering Sunday here for more info, but the short version appears to be that an early 20th century pharmacist by the name of Constance Adelaide Smith sought a more inclusive alternative to the secular Mother's Day by drawing from old medieval traditions associated with Laetare Sunday. "Modern medievalism in action", indeed.


Another point of celebration for my parish is that we recently installed two impressive altarpieces over each side altar. They were recovered from a closed parish and now, we hope, will continue fostering devotion for a new generation.


And at last, continuing on my previous post about the end of the "Atonement affair", it's worth reposting this image of the meeting which took place last Tuesday evening at my old parish. My former pastor made his first appearance on the church grounds in well over a month, and those assembled were introduced to their new Ordinary, Bishop Lopes. The bishop gave a presentation on what would happen next, a good summary of which may be found here


The next day, my former pastor, now pastor emeritus and chaplain to the school, celebrated Mass for the students as though it were any other school day. When you see this video and realize the order of Mass and sacred music are essentially what you would see and hear on every single day of the school year; one of the only Catholic institutions on earth to offer choral Mass Monday through Friday; you can begin to understand how much of a treasure the place is and how necessary it was to fight to preserve it.





And, at last, on Sunday evening, I had a schola friend over to teach my wife and me how to play a medieval-themed card game called Dominion. What fun! Meanwhile, our oldest wore her pink-and-purple Rapunzel dress for Laetare. Had to redraw a couple of cards after she licked them.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

'Tis a fine fox chase, my boys! Atonement joins the Ordinariate

Atonement's Lady Chapel
'Tis a fine fox chase, my boys! The struggle for my hometown parish where I was baptized and married, Our Lady of the Atonement, is over. Parish, school, and clergy, by the directive of the Holy See, along with all other remaining Pastoral Provision communities, are to enter the Personal Ordinariate, effective today. More details should follow after a meeting at Atonement with Bishop Lopes this evening. Official announcement here.


General Washington was reported to have broke ranks from his bodyguard (the Philadelphia First City Troop) at the Battle of Princeton while routing the British, shouting "it's a fine fox chase, my boys!" The Philadelphia gentlemen who formed the original Troop were mostly members of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Thought experiment: married "simplex" priests to strengthen the celibate clergy

What did Pope Francis say this time?

I was particularly ruminating on this during the recently past feast of Saint Patrick: a bishop who was born to a clerical family, his father having been a deacon and his grandfather a priest (a fact which is curiously omitted from Patrick's biography in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia). The latest papal kerfluffle was over the Pope's answers to some questions in an interview in the German newspaper Die Zeit. To quote a CNS article:
He was also asked about the possibility of allowing married "viri probati" -- men of proven virtue -- to become priests.
"We have to study whether 'viri probati' are a possibility. We then also need to determine which tasks they could take on, such as in remote communities, for example," Pope Francis said.
The remarks caused enough waves that I even overheard the kind old ladies who come to my workplace to knit once a week talk about it! Of course, there was no discussion on what Pope Francis meant by the phrase viri probati. (That would be "proven men", presumably of advanced age and known piety such as older married deacons, who would be ordained as supply priests to help the established clergy.) In most people's imaginations, whether they're for or against it, any talk of opening the priesthood to married men is taken to mean that seminaries will soon be flooded with young newlywed guys. That may well be the fate of the old Latin discipline by the end of my natural lifetime, but in the spirit of my blog's tagline, "Applying old-world solutions to new-world problems", you dear readers will indulge me in the following thought experiment about a model of priesthood which has passed into obscurity but may find renewed usefulness in the not-too-distant future....

First, I tack on my disclaimer that, of course, as "there are those who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake", the path of celibacy is a higher calling than that of marriage. Obligatory celibacy for priests has been a part of the Latin tradition for a thousand years. Even the so-called "Anglican" Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter to which I belong, which uniquely relies on a mostly married presbyterate of former Anglican clerics, still affirms that the model of celibate priests formed in the traditional seminary system is preferred. The Ordinariate places high hopes on its four traditional seminarians (one of whom is a longtime friend of mine), and so do I. 

Now with that out of the way....



There are two kinds of arguments against the use of married priests: spiritual and pragmatic. People in the first camp pride themselves on the idea that the priest, as an alter Christus, is "married" to the Church as our Lord and living more closely to the ideal of celibacy as proposed by St Paul. There is simply no room for the idea of married priests in this ecclesiology--indeed, many people in this camp have a visceral reaction against the idea of a married man, especially one who may still be sexually active, in celebrating Mass or administering the holy Eucharist. A few traditionalists might be so repulsed by the idea that they'd rather attend a diocesan Ordinary Form Mass or drive to a traditional Latin Mass in another state, rather than attend a Latin Mass celebrated by a married priest. For these folks, no argument suffices, and I don't bother convincing them otherwise.

The pragmatists are the sort who question the applicability of married priests, not the idea in principle. They ask, "how do we pay for them and their families? Will we need to renovate the rectories to accommodate family life? How can a priest be attentive to his wife, children, and needs of his flock all at once? What about the psychological affects of being raised as a PK [pastor's kid]?" concerns are alleviated easily enough by rediscovering what being ordained as a priest exactly entailed during the medieval centuries of the Church. In short: simplex priests.

A sacerdos simplex is a priest who is ordained for celebrating Mass, and little else (beyond the usual obligation of praying the Divine Office). No confessions, no preaching, no pastorships of parishes. To be "simplex" is to exercise only the core of the presbyteral ministry, which is offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The rest, while certainly integral to the priest's mission on earth, is not essential to it. Imagine if, in large parishes that stretch their priests thin, the bishop says to the pastor: 

"I want you to approach your deacons and your three most devout, older laymen (no younger than 45) and ask them if they'd be willing to apprentice under you for three years and then be ordained priests. Their sole duties, other than praying the Office, would be celebrating Masses that you can't cover yourself, helping distribute Communion, and bringing Communion to the sick. Other things such as teaching catechism are up to them, but they can't hear confessions except in danger of death, and they won't perform baptisms or weddings unless you specifically delegate them. They can only preach if they were already formed as deacons beforehand. Finally, they do this service only for love of God, with no expectation of income."

In a stroke, these simplex priests, some of whom are perhaps married, will have already resolved all the pragmatists' objections:

  • They're mature in both age and faith, and if they're married, their children are older or out of the house
  • They serve at no expense to the faithful; no salary, no housing, no retirement pension or other benefits needed because, like deacons, they're expected to maintain their own income and (if necessary) secular employment
  • They have a shorter course of study under their pastor, as most priests did before the arrival of the seminary system after Trent--again, at no cost to the faithful

In exchange, we could reap the following benefits:
  • Many more priests to celebrate Mass in "non-priority areas", especially in remote rural parishes or near-abandoned urban parishes, or in chaplaincies for the neglected like prisons and hospitals
  • More priests to offer Sunday Mass at the parishes (especially early and late Masses) so that pastors only have to celebrate the principal Sunday Mass; thus keeping to the traditional rule whereby priests are only supposed to celebrate Mass once per day (there used to be an indult required for "binating" or "trinating", meaning offering Mass twice or three times a day)
  • More priests around to distribute holy Communion, thereby reducing the need for lay extraordinary ministers
  • More priests to deliver holy Communion to the sick, in place of lay ministers
  • More priests to lead hours of the Divine Office
  • More priests to offer personal instruction to catechumens, as was common prior to Vatican II
  • On an as-needed basis, pastors can delegate baptisms and weddings to simplex priests to free time for themselves

With simplex priests helping out much the same way auxiliary bishops assist the diocesan bishop, the celibate, beneficed ("full time") pastors and curates would then have a lot more free time to hear confessions, make visits to parishioners' homes, get to know more of their flock one-on-one, and perhaps most importantly, devote themselves more fully to the Divine Office and regular prayer. Everyone wins.

If you think me crazy for saying for proposing such a wacky ecclesiology, just consider that even today, every priest is "simplex" at least on the first day of his ordination. Unlike bishops who are all inherently "the Bishop of So-and-so place", no priest is guaranteed a parish assignment; in the old days, most priests never even made it to "pastor". Priests still require faculties for confession--they can't just hear someone's confession at will, and if they hop over to the neighboring diocese, they still need that local bishop's permission in writing before hearing someone's confession there (as well as to celebrate Mass). Priests need permission from the pastor or rector of any church before officiating a baptism or wedding there. There's really little that a priest is allowed to do on his own except hear the confession of someone in grave danger of death (in that case alone, even an excommunicated priest is given faculties). Until the 1983 Code of Canon Law, priests even needed faculties to preach.

We also have a fairly recent example of a (religious, not married) simplex priest on the path to canonization: the Venerable Solanus Casey, OFM Cap (1870-1957). The Archbishop of Milwaukee ordained Casey as a simplex priest because of he found Latin and other academic disciplines of the seminary system too challenging.

The Ven. Solanus Casey above.
As vocations in the mainstream Church continue to hemorrhage, the existing body of diocesan priests will be stretched further and further. Some priests are already pastors of three or four parishes, all which formerly had three or four assisting curates each. In such conditions, they have little time to really see to the needs of the faithful in their care, or even, critically, their own souls through prayer and private reflection. The whole Church then suffers from poor ministry.

And before someone points to the large number of men applying to places like the FSSP's Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary (a fine institution which two friends of mine attend).... while it's certainly true that vocations to certain traditional seminaries such as those of the FSSP or Institute of Christ the King are faring much better, these are still single institutions that must serve the needs of entire continents. The fruits of their labor remain out of reach in most places, even in most major metropolitan centers. There are still many communities that haven't yielded a single priest despite celebrating the old rites exclusively for five or ten years at a time. By contrast, your average pre-conciliar parish yielded one or two seminarians per year. Considering that some saints have written that God calls as many a third of the general Catholic population to clerical or religious life, I'd say even "traddies" have a shortage of vocations.

To close, I'm certainly not suggesting that my suggestion for ordaining simplex priests be rolled out during this tumultuous pontificate (not that anyone from the Vatican is reading my blog, anyway). I believe we'll have to wait for the vocational winter to truly hit us over the course of the next 15 or 20 years as the last remnants of the big vocation boom of the 1950's and early '60s retire and die out. Once the diocesan structures enter a total freefall and the existing diocesan clergy begin to burn out in record numbers, I'll dust off this old blog entry and see if anyone bites. That said, if my dismal forecast of the future state of vocations is completely off-base and there's a renaissance with four or five unmarried, full-time priests staffing each parish once again, I'll very gladly accept being wrong.

(For the record, I would not seek to become a simplex priest, even if asked. That's definitely not my calling.)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Wearing "St Patrick's blue"


I posted the following description on my personal Facebook page for Saint Patrick's Day yesterday:

I might have been the only layperson at my workplace to not wear green today. I didn't bother explaining my choice for wearing blue there, but I'll share with you all why....

"St Patrick's blue" has been, for at least a couple of centuries, in some sense the national color of Ireland. The earliest surviving image of St Patrick is a 13th century manuscript showing him in a blue habit. One of the oldest existing rolls of arms, going back to the late 1200's, describes the King of Ireland's blazon as D'azure a la harpe d'or (blue with a harp of gold). This survives to the present in both the royal standard of the British sovereign as well as the standard of the Presidents of Ireland (bottom-right). On the top-right is St Patrick's Hall, a stately room in the 13th century Dublin Castle. Prior to Irish independence, this room was used by the Order of St Patrick: the Anglo-Irish counterpart to the Order of the Garter in England. Today it's used for presidential inaugurations. President John F. Kennedy gave a speech here in 1963. The choristers of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin still wear blue cassocks.

As an aside, I do have a sliver of Irish ancestry. My 3rd-great-grandfather, William Gibson, emigrated from Ireland to New York in approximately the 1850's. His family name is preserved in my father's middle name.

The earliest surviving image of St Patrick is from the Huntington Library of San Marino, California's manuscript of the Golden Legend, dating to the late 1200's. Here he wears a blue habit.    








The badge of the Order of St Patrick, suspended by a blue ribbon. The Order has gone essentially defunct since Irish independence.
Both the Choir of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin (pictured above) and the Palestrina Choir of the Catholic Pro-Cathedral wear blue cassocks.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Your Humble and Obedient Servant": the ars dictaminis


Earlier this week, I was a guest at the 23rd Street Armory for dinner amidst the company of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry: the oldest United States military unit in unbroken service, going back to 1774 and still fulfilling its role as a mounted cavalry company as recently as this past January's presidential inaugural parade in Washington, DC. They asked to fill out a form letter stating my interest in being presented for membership; for unlike other units of our armed forces today, membership in the Troop is by election of the members on the rolls. Even the selection of officers is, recognized by US law as ancient and honorable privilege going back to the colonial era, by election from amongst the enlisted ranks.

The end of the form letter is printed with a valediction which has not been used in military correspondence since, probably, the 1950's and now seems thoroughly antiquated:
"I am, Sirs,
Your most Obedient Servant,"
I paused, smiled, and affixed my signature underneath. In that moment of reflection, my mind went back to my visit last November to the New York Historical Society in Manhattan. Among several artifacts on display there was a writing desk, pictured above, belonging to the city's famous Founding Son by adoption, Alexander Hamilton. That secretary, upon which many (hundreds? thousands?) nation-changing letters must have been scribbled by, stares back accusingly at me whenever I go more than a month without writing a post. Sitting at the desk's edge, there's a reproduction of a letter which was likely penned on that surface. It's one of the many heated letters between Hamilton and Aaron Burr which escalated into the infamous duel. This one reads:
To Aaron Burr        New York June 22d. 1804 
Sir 
Your first letter, in a style too peremptory, made a demand, in my opinion, unprecedented and unwarrantable. My answer, pointing out the embarrassment, gave you an opportunity to take a less exceptionable course. You have not chosen to do it, but by your last letter, received this day, containing expressions indecorous and improper, you have increased the difficulties to explanation, intrinsically incident to the nature of your application.
If by a “definite reply” you mean the direct avowal or disavowal required in your first letter, I have no other answer to give than that which has already been given. If you mean any thing different admitting of greater latitude, it is requisite you should explain. 
I have the honor to be   Sir   Your obed servt.
A Hamilton
Today, we find it tickling, if not pretentious and wholly insincere, to label oneself "your obedient servant" to a mortal enemy. This valediction was especially popular during the American Civil War, even in letters between opposing generals demanding the unconditional surrender of the other. And yet, these closings were but brusque, vestigial remains of the truly purple prose of former ages. Compare this to the close of a letter from the 16th century to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V:
"Your Sacred Catholic Caesarean Majesty's faithful servant who kisses your Majesty's imperial feet..."
Or even this complete valediction for a letter to a cardinal which was still in common usage into the 20th century:
"Be pleased to accept the homage of profound respect with which I have the honor to offer you as,
The humble and dedicated servant of Your Eminence,"
Such an ending makes "Your obed servt" seem curt by contrast! From the end of the Civil War to the present, salutations and valedictions have been clipped and trimmed again and again. "Your faithful and obedient servant" became "Yours faithfully, &tc", then "Your faithfully", then just "Yours". "Dear worshipful master" became "Dear Sir", then "Dear". Today, even "Dear" is beginning to seem antiquated!

The men and women of past ages would fall back on these conventions in their correspondence, regardless of their actual sentiments or familiarity with the person being addressed, because it was the product of a tradition centuries in the making. The western world's ars dictaminis, the art of written composition, was established by the institutional Church of the Middle Ages, particularly by the archdeacons and other chancery officials tasked with the business of preparing letters for the bishops. It was these men; clerks; who filled that void left in western Europe by the collapse of the ancient Roman bureaucracy. (And which, incidentally, I keep alive in my current occupation as a clerk in a Church institution. The drafting of legal military correspondence was also a large part of my job as an Army paralegal.)

When men of the warrior classes finally took it upon themselves to study the art of letters; perhaps inspired by the example of Charlemagne who made efforts late in his life to learn rhetoric at the hand of the Anglo-Saxon monk Alcuin; they learned these skills from the ecclesiastics and undoubtedly copied their formulaic methods. The rhetoricians of the 10th century onward standardized but one way of composing a letter to the Pope, one way to write to a cardinal, one way to write to a bishop not a cardinal, and on down the line.

Into the Commercial Revolution, merchants of Florence, Venice, and Bruges found the art of letters eminently useful in petitioning for a loan or collecting a debt. These generations refined the business letter to something like what we're now familiar with today:
[Boilerplate salutation according to social status]
[Warm and fuzzy expressions of regard, however insincere]
[Paragraph that gets to the point of the letter]
[Well wishes until we meet again, or at least until demands are satisfied]
[Boilerplate valediction]
[Signature]
There are still people alive in France today who can remember using such florid but standard closures as,
"Veuillez agréer, Monsieur, l'expression de mes sentiments distingués"
"Please accept, Sir, the expression of my distinguished sentiments"
By the 18th century in the American colonies, middle-class sensibilities pared these down into a small handful of variations. "Your obedient servant" had a two-fold meaning. For a social inferior or subordinate officer in the military, it was a true sign of deference. For an equal, a gesture of friendship. For a social superior, even someone like George Washington, to convey himself to a man of lower rank was a form of gracious condescension which is too easily dismissed in our times as "patronizing". Ironically, the only class of people who were unlikely to ever close a letter with "Your obedient servant" were slaves or poor working-class whites. Chances were low that they could write to begin with, but even if they could, to address themselves as "servant" would have been considered to be stating the obvious.

All this thinking about correspondence has reinvigorated my on-again, off-again interest in old-fashioned letter writing (outside of work). Alas, since I never much developed my cursive, I have to stick with typed letters on stationery.

Until next time, I remain, as ever,
The Modern Medievalist


PS. Just for fun, there's a song along this theme....

Monday, March 6, 2017

Why is the Tract for the first Sunday in Lent so LONG!?



For parishes that use the pre-conciliar Latin Missal, the Ordinariate's Divine Worship Missal, or even the Ordinary Form of Mass with music from the Graduale Romanum, you might have noticed the ridiculously long chant that came before the Gospel reading yesterday for the first Sunday in Lent's Mass. During this season, we've banished the Alleluia and put an extended psalm called the Tract in its place. The very name tractus implies an drawn-out psalm, but in practice, this comes out to only two or three additional verses. For the First Sunday in Lent, though, the complete Psalm 90(91), Qui habitat, is used. The Ordinariate's translation gives it as such:
V. I will say unto the Lord, Thou art my hope and my stronghold: my God, in him will I trust.
V. For he shall deliver thee from the snare of the hunter: and from the noisome pestilence.
V. He shall defend thee under his wings: and thou shalt be safe under his feathers.
V. His faithfulness and truth shall be thy shield and buckler: thou shalt not be afraid for any terror by night.
V. Nor for the arrow that flieth by day; for the pestilence that walketh in darkness: nor for the sickness that destroyeth in the noon-day.
V. A thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten thousand at thy right hand: but it shall not come nigh thee.
V. For he shall give his Angels charge over thee: to keep thee in all thy ways.
V. They shall bear thee in their hands: that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.
V. Thou shalt go upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet.
V. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him up, because he hath known my Name.
V. He shall call upon me, and I will hear him: yea, I am with him in trouble.
V. I will deliver him, and bring him to honour: with long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.
At my Ordinariate parish yesterday, it was sung to a basic psalm tone. I suspect the vast majority of churches prior to Vatican II did the same. There's only one time I can recall personally singing the full chant melody given in the Liber Usualis--a true marathon of neumes which takes at least 12 minutes to chant. It was oddly not even at a well-established Latin Mass community, but rather for then-new TLM out in the sticks: Ss. Cyril & Methodius in Shiner, Texas. Back in 2011, our schola was invited as a guest choir on a Sunday which just happened to be the beginning of Lent. I'm not sure if that community had any more exposure to Gregorian chant than the Missa de angelis, and yet, we mercilessly brought the full Tract upon them. I even have video evidence of that day below (beginning at the 1:49 mark):





I vaguely recall the priest saying that he didn't have much of a homily prepared because the Tract was a sermon in itself. I've sometimes wondered why, though, this chant is so much longer than virtually all of the others given in the Liber? 

There's the theory that the graduals and tracts of the ancient Church were all supremely long, but the laziness of succeeding generations caused them to be peeled back to mere fragments (as was the case with the Offertory chants)--the Church wished to leave the First Sunday in Lent's tract untouched as a penitential reminder of the fervor of past ages. My friend Mr. DiPippo, editor of the New Liturgical Movement, says that there's no real evidence for this claim being true in the Roman Rite; that it was made up to justify the invention of the responsorial psalm for the post-conciliar rite's lectionary. Perhaps he's right and this is just another one of those myths by "liturgists" that's been repeated so many times that it's been mistaken for truth even by great liturgical scholars. I haven't done the due diligence in my studies to say one way or another.

My favorite explanation for this tract's length is the one given by my pastor in his sermon yesterday. He referenced the Gospel lesson (which, at least this year, is the same for both the old and new lectionaries): Christ's forty-day trial in the wilderness as described in Matthew. Our Lord's retreat into silence and fasting is the very inspiration for Lent, so what could be a more appropriate Gospel for this Sunday? Near the end of the fast, the devil appears and tries to tempt Jesus using Scripture. Specifically, he quotes Psalm 90(91). I quote from the St John Fisher Missale translation, one of my favorites, below, and give my emphases to the psalm quote:
Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him: "If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written that he hath given his Angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone." Jesus said to him: "It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."
The devil tricks us, my pastor said, by quoting Scripture out of context. To counter this deceit, the Church presents the entire psalm in the liturgy so that we can hear and understand what Satan tried to bend to his own ends in its full form.

Whether or not that explanation can be proven beyond a doubt by historical-critical study, I find it to be a profound spiritual explanation for one of the most gruelingly long chants I've ever had to sing.