Monday, December 17, 2007

Liturgical daze
There’s so much on this time of year and especially with more than one rite and calendar in play (traditional Catholicism is not and never was monolithic thanks to different cultures and unease of communication and travel in the ancient world).

Of course yesterday besides being Gaudete Sunday (Rejoice in the Lord alway) was O Sapientia, one of Advent’s O antiphons (which actually begin at Vespers todaymore) and one of the black-letter days in the Prayer Book’s shell re-creation of England’s mediæval Catholic calendar. Shell because black-letter days have no liturgical readings or propers in the BCP — it was a Protestant trick to try and get Roman Catholic recusants including country folk attached to the old ways to conform and go to the King’s church. Cranmer and his co-editors stripped out the antiphons, responsories and office hymns from Morning and Evening Prayer though early drafts of 1549 retained some of these; alas.

Today in the Julian calendar of the Byzantine Rite there’s a marvellous mix of high and low culture (not of churchmanship!): the wildly popular St Barbara (after whom the Californian city Santa Barbara is named, directly after an old Spanish mission), one of the mediæval West’s 14 Holy Helpers and still a favourite in the Orthodox world, and St John Damascene, the last Eastern Church Father, a Christian Arab whose Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (both sides claim both words Catholic and Orthodox; the latter is in the Roman Canon!) remained influential in mediæval Western Catholicism; parts of it are still in the readings for Matins in the breviary and around 1920 the Pope named him a Doctor of the Church. His, St Basil’s and St John Chrysostom’s long, beautiful prayers are formative to anybody more than acquainted with Eastern Orthodox worship: if you like Cranmer without the Calvinism and Zwinglianism and with a missing mystical kick you’ll love them. (Rather like if you liked Freddie Mercury you really like Gilbert & Sullivan.)

St J is the high-end saint today: an intellectual everybody knows was real. As for marvellous St B as the great sanctoral sceptic Donald Attwater pointed out in the spirit of Fr Joseph in the Anglican Breviary chances are her story is only ‘a pious romance’; it popped up about 400 years after she allegedly was martyred.

But on these stories our holy mother the church always exercises both caution (it doesn’t make up or jump on them to make a profit) and tolerance: like the story from the Protoevangelium of James (not scripture) about Our Lady living in the temple (I think it’s a poetic myth describing her soul as a result of the Immaculate Conception) and in the Roman Church the Sacred Heart, Lourdes, Fátima (private revelations: not doctrine thus strictly not part of the faith) and even the big mistake about St Philomena (oops, that wasn’t her name; we don’t know whose bones these were). If you can’t prove it was a hoax and the message isn’t heretical or against church teaching on morals you may believe in it if you want to... but don’t have to.

You’ve got both the highbrow Times Literary Supplement and News of the World. The Catholic religion, universal truths for people of all kinds; all are welcome to come and pray: here comes everybody.

So happy feast-days and God bless us, everyone.

P.S. Fans of classic ‘Peanuts’ (before Snoopy became a biped and the strip turned into Hallmark treacle) and classical music also celebrated Beethoven’s birthday yesterday.

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