English at the Altar (Roman Missal VI)

Two points:

1. We recently discussed the Eucharistic Prayer. But of course the Roman Rite involves more.

The Rite involves all the sacred ceremonies and prayers used in church. The Missal directs the prayers and actions for the Mass.

2. I write to you, dear reader, because the third edition of the Roman Missal has been translated from Latin into English, and we will soon begin to use it (November 27).

The third edition of the Missal since Vatican Council II. As we know, the Council Fathers…

…ordered a thorough revision of the ceremonies of our Rite, in favor of simplicity.

…ordered that translations of the Missal be made into other languages, and that such translations be used not just for private spiritual reading, but indeed by the priest at the altar.

Forgive me, but I must point out: The idea, “We used to have Mass in Latin, and now we have it in English,” arises from an overly simplified version of history.

At one time, priests in Rome prayed at the altar in Greek, and people spoke Latin in the streets. Many centuries of Mass-saying passed in which the languages spoken in the streets did not have words for many of the ideas expressed in the celebration of a Mass.

And many good Catholics, even today, do not know how to speak English. Blessed Pope John Paul II was not exactly a whiz-kid with English. When I had the privilege of meeting him, along with a group of 14 other seminarians, he said to us, “Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ!” At least, that is what I thought he said. Some of the other guys thought he said, “Pray your rosaries!”

God may or may not speak Latin to His closest friends. But the language of the Roman Catholic Church, the language of our books, of our common heritage, the sacred repository of our ideas—which sometimes can be expressed in other languages and sometimes can’t—Latin.

For a very long time, Latin served to unify the Western world. Now the lingua franca of the world-wide web is English.

We Anglophones do indeed have an excellent language—acquisitive, devilishly subtle, frankly imperial. Our language has the ambition to comprehend our actions both outside and inside church. We, the English-speaking people of the Church of Christ, believe that we can approach the altar and speak our street language as we undertake to give God His due.

A cheeky aspiration. History bears witness to the unusualness of our lingual pride. The annals of religion abound with examples of nations and peoples who did not attempt to give God His due in their own street language; they used sacred languages from long-dead ancestors instead. The Lord Jesus Himself, when He was on earth, often prayed in a ‘dead’ sacred language.

But look: Our cheeky aspiration to speak at the altar with the language we learned at our mothers’ knees—we can pull it off. We English-speakers can distinguish ourselves as a people “extremely religious in every way,” as St. Paul called the Athenians (Acts 17:22). We can, and we will, do it.

But let us not naively expect it to be easy. Our aspiration to pray the Mass in English presents us with a tall mountain to climb. The translation we have known for a generation did not bring us to the summit. It brought us to the base-camp. A steep ascent rises in front of us. The rigors of the climb will be well-rewarded, once we reach the next plateau.

If indeed, in the liturgical texts, words or expressions are sometimes employed which differ somewhat from usual and everyday speech, it is often enough by virtue of this very fact that the texts become truly memorable and capable of expressing heavenly realities. (Liturgiam authenticam 27)

Roman Missal V

Leonidas "Fighting Bishop" Polk

Aching for a homily on our Lord’s conversation with the Canaanite woman? You are welcome to click HERE

…Lots to discuss, dear reader, like: the Becks Grossman/John Rex runoff to start at quarterback for the Maybe-Not-Deadskins..

…or: Two Civil-War generals, Catholic convert “Old Rosey” Rosecrans for the Union; “The Fighting Bishop” Leonidas Polk for the Confederates. One Reb general exhorted, ‘Give ’em hell, boys!’ Polk chimed in, ‘Give it to ’em boys. Give it to ’em. Give ’em what Cheatham said!’

…But we will have to come back to all this, because we are not done with:

Were the prayers of the Roman Rite devised by Abel, Abraham, Melchizedek, Moses, David, Isaiah, Malachi, Ezekiel, Daniel, the Roman Centurion, Mary Magdalen, the Blessed Mother, the Lord Jesus Himself, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Linus, St. Cletus, St. Clement, St. Sixtus, St. Hippolytus, St. Gregory the Great, St. Leo the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Pius XII, Bl. Pope John XXIII, Archbishop Bugnini, or other venerable fathers?


Our culture possesses a definitive religious act, the Roman Rite.

The Roman Rite ultimately determined the floorplan of the Bruton Parish church in colonial Williamsburg. It ultimately determined the annual calendar for Oxford University. It ultimately determined the subject matter for most of the work of J.S. Bach.

Why do we have Christmas Day off? Why do four out of five Americans know the Our Father? Why do we watch football games on Sunday afternoon instead of Tuesday afternoon?

Why do we persist in hoping that the powers greater than us–the powers that move history forward in a way we cannot imagine–why do we stubbornly persevere in hoping that they will act in our favor, rather than dooming us to perpetual misery?

Why do we practice the scientific method, and don’t believe that splaying out fish innards–or sacrificing chickens, or the trajectory of comets–controls our destiny?

The short answer to these questions: Because the culture of the Western world formed around the altar of the Roman Rite.

…still more to come…

Reading Tea Leaves, by Harry H. Roseland

No altar standeth whole? (Roman Missal IV)

No one can read chapter 11 of Book IX of St. Augustine’s Confessions without tears.

Reading St. Monica’s words so moved Matthew Arnold that he turned this sonnet:

‘Oh could thy grave at home, at Carthage, be!’—
Care not for that, and lay me where I fall.
Everywhere heard will be the judgement-call.
But at God’s altar, oh! remember me.

Thus Monica, and died in Italy.
Yet fervent had her longing been, through all
Her course, for home at last, and burial
With her own husband, by the Libyan sea.

Had been; but at the end, to her pure soul
All tie with all beside seem’d vain and cheap,
And union before God the only care.

Creeds pass, rites change, no altar standeth whole;
Yet we her memory, as she pray’d, will keep,
Keep by this: Life in God, and union there!

Indeed. But the poet has missed the mark. St. Monica begged to be remembered at the altar. Union with God–we find it at the altar.

Some of our beloved separated Christian brethren ask us, How did the Last Supper become the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

The answer is two-fold:

Continue reading “No altar standeth whole? (Roman Missal IV)”

Dust unto Dust

Did you know that the Roman Rite of the holy Catholic Church admits of particular local uses?

In other words, some priests are allowed to include ceremonies as part of the Catholic rituals that express the faith in a distinctive way. One example: Franciscan priests of the Holy Land are allowed to carry a life-size replica of the body of Christ in a procession on Good Friday. These particular uses must of course be approved by the authority of the Church.

Ashing-up a lot of people’s foreheads today has inspired me to work on a particular set of ceremonies, which I will entitle the “Memento Mori Use.” If approved, I will put the ceremonies into practice someday…

According to the Memento Mori Use, all Masses will be celebrated in black vestments. (On Easter Sunday, the priest will wear a black vestment with gold trim.) Mass will be celebrated every day using the prayers of the Rite of Christian burial.

–Christmas Mass in a black vestment? Christ was born to die, my friends.

According to the Memento Mori Use, a catafalque will be kept in front of the altar at all times, flanked by six candles.

The only difference between a funeral Mass and a daily Mass will be: at a funeral, the catafalque will support an actual occupied coffin. At all other Masses, the faithful will meditate on the fact that someday a funeral Mass will be said for each of us, and it will be just like this Mass.

The catafalque will figure prominently in the administration of all the sacraments in the Memento Mori Use. After a child is baptized, the baby will be placed on the catafalque, and antiphons will be sung reminding all present that we are born to die.

Memento Mori Use catechesis will require memorizing the Creed, the seven sacraments, the Ten Commandments, the Our Father, and the Dies Irae. (Parts of the Dies Irae will be chanted at all liturgies.)

M. M. confirmands will approach the Bishop wearing full-length black scapulars. Confirmation names will be chosen from among the Christian names of dead relatives. Before administering the sacrament, the bishop will stand beside the catafalque and encourage the young people: “Remember that you have your whole life on earth in front of you! And it is, in fact, very short.”

At weddings, the couple will kneel in front of the catafalque before exchanging vows, and the celebrant will invite them to meditate on this question:

“Dearly beloved, think about the fact that someday you will be dead and buried, and your children will be dead and buried, and your children’s children will be dead and buried, and the cemetery in which you are buried will be overgrown and forgotten, and no one on the face of the earth will remember you or your children or your children’s children.”

“Do you really think it is necessary to get married?”

In the Memento Mori Use, the priest will frequently stand before the altar holding a skull, and the faithful will process up the aisle and pause briefly to gaze upon the skull. M.M. Catholics will all try to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre.

Memento Mori Use parishes will have titles such as Holy Death of Christ, Holy Death of St. Francis, Holy Death of the Martyrs, Holy Death of St. Joseph, Holy Death of St. Sebastian, etc.

The Memento Mori faithful will process through the cemetery not just once a year on All Soul’s Day, but on every Sunday. Boy Scouts in M. M.-Use-parish troops will earn merit badges by constructing their own caskets. Memento-Mori Catholics will generally prefer to sleep each night in their own caskets.

Memento Mori Catholics will be the most joyful of all the faithful, because the repeated ceremonies of the Use will have made death a friend and removed all fear.

What I am going for is a perpetual liturgical experience which will make the Ash Wednesday exhortation of, “Remember, man, that you are dust…” seem like the friendly greeting that, in fact, it is.

Because we are not long for this world, people.

[Thanks to M.J.P. for helping me work out the details.]

Brevity is the Soul of Wit

Here is an aspiring Shakespearian giving us a worthy rendition of the speech, web-cammed from his little kitchen:

In my book, Holy Mass should last one hour or less. There are occasional exceptions, of course: If you go to someone’s ordination, it will be longer than an hour. The Easter Vigil is longer than an hour. But these are rare exceptions to the rule.

Continue reading “Brevity is the Soul of Wit”