Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas @ Clem’s and Lourdes
Did my usual bit with my friends at the former: Anglican Breviary Matins on Christmas Eve; High Mass at midnight with procession, carols, a setting by Haydn with strings backing the choir and organ, and a not-half-bad sermon on the Incarnation; then Lauds for Christmas after that!

This is the Tridentine Mass — complete with silent Canon as is the custom now on special occasions (Sanctus sung before the consecration, Benedictus after as the music was written for) — with parts in Elizabethan-style English. English Missal. The Prayer Book has a cameo at Clem’s Masses, the words of the priest’s final blessing.

(Before all that I read Vespers at home for St Herman of Alaska, a monk forgotten for over a century except by the local native people there, the Orthodox Tlingit Indians and Russian-Aleut islanders.)

Managed to wake up in time this morning to catch one-and-a-half Masses at Our Lady of Lourdes, Overbrook: Philadelphia’s version of the Brompton Oratory; a true face of the holy, Catholic, apostolic and Roman Church; the showplace for both the motu and the reform of the reform, that is, orthodox and high-church Novus Ordo.

Not getting home until 3 this morning of course the 7.30 Missa Cantata (sung Mass with incense) using the 1962 Missal was right out. Lourdes’ earliest Sunday and holy-day Mass is Tridentine. Would that most Roman parish churches did something that sensible 35 years ago like many Anglican parishes did and do with traditional-style worship.

So I caught the end (from the Agnus Dei on) of one of their usual Masses and all of the usual Sunday/holy-day Missa Cantata using the Novus Ordo.

I’m impressed. Treat, Ernst and other friends now there are in good hands.

To answer the Ship’s Mystery Worshipper question (tweaked a bit), if I weren’t committed somewhere else, would I make this my church home? Would I send Roman Catholics settling into Philly here as well as seekers/inquirers/the unchurched to plant them in the Catholic faith? Absitively.

Historically and through born-Anglican eyes high NO’s a recognisable but Catholic compromise like the American Missal (mostly Prayer Book, dressed up Tridentine fashion) of the old biretta belt or the 1549 Prayer Book Mass as English parishes did it throughout the 1550s (in the provinces the ‘Reformation’ didn’t really rear its ugly head until 1559).

Now it’s time for a spike’s list of nitpicks/peeves:
  • Thomas Day’s taking notes: The first Mass had the organist (up in the choir loft Italian fashion, the RC mode in America) miked up and booming out instructions. Mitigating factor: he’s Irish thus a charming accent. (Like the stereotype — the movies — but there you go.)
  • On that note the Missa Cantata sort of began with a lay lector in the lovely pulpit saying ‘Good morning’ and (a necessary evil) telling people to turn off their mobile phones etc.
  • Dude, where’s my Introit? (Puer natus est nobis...) The Xeroxed sheets of paper for the congo had it but I didn’t hear it; the first censing of the altar happened whilst all were singing the processional hymn.
  • More Novus Ordo liturgical buzzkill like ‘Good morning’: no chanting of the epistle, gospel or Creed! Not the good Mercedarian friars’ fault I’m sure — always orthodox, they’re the ones who’ve taken this place up the candle. The apparatchiki, the liturgy commissars, in many Roman dioceses are still forcing this Protestant notion of ‘proclaiming’ the scriptures.
  • Still more buzzkill: the bidding prayers. I understand what they are — meant at best to be like an Eastern Orthodox litany (where the Kyrie came from) — but face it, they’re naff. They remind me of Chesterton making fun of the C of E of his day, going in for social commentary disguised as religion. (BTW for American readers, in an English RC or Anglo-Papalist church this litany ends with the Hail Mary.)
  • They and the rest of the bits in English are hobbled by ICEL (the Cliffs Notes of liturgy; Pope Benedict hopes to get rid of it). Makes me want to chase somebody around waving my copy-editor’s blue pen.
  • Unintentional humour I understand is familiar to habitués of modern services; the priest giving an instruction before reciting the Creed: ‘Let us profess our faith which is found on page 10.’ Really? So all I have to do to convert the unbeliever and bring the lapsed back into the church is show them page 10 of the pew book?
  • Putting the ‘stack’ (paten and chalice with burse and veil etc.) off-centre on the altar. Why, oh, why, do modern liturgists hate balance and symmetry? (Does it remind them of logic and thus orthodoxy?) Of course I’m happy there is a stack (AFAIK commoner now in Anglican churches than mainstream Roman).
  • Paten in one hand, chalice in the other at the minor elevation (Per ipsum...). Like the above not heretical but another peeve.
  • The first Mass didn’t use the rail at Communion but it wasn’t offensive in that context. (As Day explains Roman parishes like efficiency.) Saving grace: no unnecessary layfolk giving out Communion.
  • There was one of these at the Missa Cantata but they used the rail and he was a Mercedarian wearing a cotta over his white habit. He looked like the chalice-bearer in many Anglican churches; not offensive at all. (He had a ciborium; unlike the Anglicans they didn’t have a chalice for the laity — it’s not part of their culture, which I do understand and appreciate. Concomitance and all that: I believe in it!)
Other bibs and bobs:
  • Good vestments (gold brocade) at both Lourdes Masses: Gothic with gold orphrey cross at the first one; biretta, fiddleback and maniple for the Missa Cantata.
  • Good music: organ, carols, chant and a bit from Victoria. Lourdes has a good hymnal, in hardcover form like the Anglicans. Step off, Glory and Praise. Kids laugh at granola.
  • The memorial acclamation is not naff when it’s chanted in Latin. Done properly you can see a parallel to the Eastern Orthodox Liturgy.
  • The respective congregations? Clem’s turnout was big. Lots of regulars — older versions of me. Lourdes had a decent one as well for the big Mass: noticeable here are families with young children.
  • The Bambino at Lourdes was in the canopied niche in the reredos above the tabernacle where the crucifix usually is. There was no altar crucifix visible to the congregation at the Novus Ordo Masses; both had a processional crucifix (and a nice one too) and candles so I think that suffices in those rubrics.
  • The Nativity scene was a diorama of Bethlehem that night, a string of white lights behind a dark-blue curtain serving as stars. Cute and imaginative.
  • Sorry, friends: I like the white gloves on the altar boys! (Who’ve been well taught how to act liturgically, following the rubrics and so on. Godwardness and all that.)
  • And I even like the bronze statue outside of Pope John Paul II. He and Ronald Reagan are towering politico-cultural icons of the 1980s. Neither was ‘all that’ — Reagan a tax-and-spend non-conservative; the right people hated JPII for being orthodox but he wasn’t a traditionalist at all — but I like much of what both putatively stood for. Reagan personally was very likeable as well. (In the UK there was Margaret Thatcher: all I’ll say is she was right about the Falklands.)
  • The sermon at the Missa Cantata: how can you top St John’s prologue? (Also the gospel for Easter in the Byzantine Rite.) Father managed to preach a heartwarming but not gooey sermon on... ‘Rudolph’! That old American commercial jingle is chock full of implicit Christian values.
  • I like the loud sanctus bell, even if Clem’s quieter, barely shaken one is more by the book.
  • Fifteen years of being around the Byzantine Rite have given me a new perspective on images; Western Catholic churches really do use them differently, as decoration/illustration. Icons are something else. (There are Eastern churches that don’t use them: Assyrians/Nestorians’ rite is older than icons and the Armenians don’t have them. Neither bans images either. Both of these have churches where it’s like an Orthodox liturgy but in a Western-looking church.)
The Church of Rome is slowly waking up from a 40-year nightmare. Pope Benedict’s restoration is under way.


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