Restore the Lost Seasons!

In today’s Catholic discourse, the label of ‘reactionary’ is used all too easily in discussions about liturgy, and I may well be called reactionary for what I am about to say. Let me first state, then, that I am hardly the progressive’s idea of a typical ‘reactionary’: I attend parochial Ordinary Form masses almost exclusively, and I think that–despite their banal texts, which I find rather lacking in spiritual, intellectual and literary excellence– Ordinary Form masses can be, and sometimes are, done in an edifying way; nor do I think that every idea behind the reform of 1969 was wrong in principle.

Nevertheless, I read Latin very readily, and so I had not long been Catholic before I discovered the Roman Breviary of 1960, finding it richer and more reverent than the adequate-but-bland Liturgy of the Hours. Hence I go to parochial Mass in the Ordinary Form, but I say some Offices in the Extraordinary Form.

Now, one thing that becomes obvious when one leads this liturgical double life, is that the old and new liturgical years have radically different shapes.

Consider the following table: 

Ordinary Form Extraordinary Form
Advent Tempus Adventus
Christmas Tempus Nativitatis
Tempus Epiphaniae
Ordinary Time Tempus Post Epiphaniam
Tempus Septuagesimae
Lent Tempus Quadragesimae
Tempus Passionis
Paschal Triduum Triduum Paschale
Easter Tempus Paschatis
Tempus Ascensionis
Octava Pentecostes
Ordinary Time (Resumed) Tempus Post Pentecosten

The two calendars below also show something of the difference in shape. Here is the new calendar for 2020 (minus optional memorials, which are rarely kept):

And here is the old calendar for 2020. One can see Septuagesimatide in purple from the 9th – 25th February, and the Vigil and Octave of Pentecost from the 30th May – 6th June. (Note also the ember days on the 23rd, 25th, and 26th September, and the vigils on the 23rd June and the 14th August):

As we can see, then, the new Form has five distinct seasons, and one Ordinary of Seasons (Ordinary Time), whereas the old Form has twelve distinct seasons. And what I want to suggest today is that each of the seven lost seasons of the old Form (Epiphanytide, Time after Epiphany, Septuagesimatide, Passiontide, Ascensiontide, the Octave of Pentecost, and the Time after Pentecost) guarded the faithful against serious errors, all of which are prominent in today’s Church and world. This, I will argue, is a good reason for restoring the old seasons to the new Mass. (Note: my argument will lead me to compare the old and new Missals, but here I do not mean to criticise the new Mass as such—only its defective calendar, and the consequences thereof).

To show the value of the lost seasons, I will now consider them in order.

Epiphanytide

In the new calendar, the time between the feast of the Epiphany and the Sunday thereafter forms part of the generic Christmas season. But in the old calendar, the time between the Epiphany and the 13th January inclusive forms the season of Epiphanytide.

To understand the value of this season, we need first to take a closer look at the Epiphany itself. After Christmas has told of the birth of our Lord, the feast of the Epiphany tells the story of the Magi. It explains that, prompted by their wisdom and learning, and guided by the star, they travelled long and hard to find and honour their newborn saviour. Thus Epiphany reminds us that all wisdom and philosophy leads to the Faith; that the Faith satisfies the human mind as well as the human heart, and explains and perfects all the long preceding ages of human striving after beauty, truth, and God.

In keeping with the importance of this point, the eight days between the Epiphany and the the Baptism of Christ inclusive are, in the old calendar, days of Epiphanytide. The ferial readings are of the Epiphany, until the following Sunday intervenes (the Sunday of the Holy Family); thereafter, the ferial readings continue the important theme of wisdom by telling us of the youthful Christ’s astonishing teaching in the temple (Luke 2:42-52), and by reminding us that our reason needs to be grounded in our Faith if it is to be of use (Rom 12:1-5)[1]. The collect in this period is itself a prayer for sight: ‘O Lord, we beseech you, bestow heavenly piety upon the prayers of your suppliant people, so that they may see what needs to be done, and that, seeing it, they may gain the strength to do it.’[2]

Epiphany, Francisco Herrera the Elder (1576-1656)

In the new calendar and Form, however, the days between Epiphany and the following Sunday are generic days of Christmas, in which the readings follow what one can at most term a very loose theme of Christmastide, the baptism of Christ, and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (1 John 3:22-5:21, Matt 4:12-17, 23-25, Mark 6:34-52, Luke 4:14-22, 5:12-16, John 3:22-30). Even the official rationale for the Christmas schema sounds rather half-hearted (Lectionary for Mass, ‘Introduction’, chap. 5, par. 96.):

From 29 December on, there is a continuous reading of the whole of the First Letter of John, which actually begins earlier, on 27 December, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, and on 28 December, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The Gospels relate manifestations of the Lord: events of Jesus’ childhood from the Gospel of Luke (29-30 December); passages from the first chapter of the Gospel of John (31 December – 5 January); other manifestations of the Lord from the four Gospels (7-12 January).

This is a shame, because Epiphanytide, as presented in the old calendar, protects Catholics both from relativism and from Evangelicalism.

Let’s first consider relativism. Relativism is the theory that no one culture, belief or religion can be shown to be make more sense than any other. Epiphanytide refutes it by reminding us that the Magi, though far distant from the Jews in space, culture, and language, were nonetheless able to find their Jewish saviour, and, what’s more, to find him by exercising their wisdom and reason. This proves that the Faith has a universal rational appeal. It is the natural end-point of all human reason, and it therefore cannot be dismissed as ‘just one religion amongst many’, or as just a feature of one culture.

As I say, Epiphanytide also protects us from evangelicalism—a largely good, sincere, and worthy movement, but not one that Catholics gain by joining. For evangelicals tend to see ‘Christianity’ as standing in a striking discontinuity with all previous human reason and ways of worship; rather unhistorically, they regard the unity for which Christ and Paul prayed as possible if only everyone would read their bibles prayerfully; and finally, they base their distinctive theology on some logically and linguistically problematic interpretations of certain key bible passages. In other words, the evangelical faith has some irrational and some anti-rational aspects. But Epiphanytide reminds us that such a faith cannot be wholly correct; for it shows that the true Faith is rational.

Here we might note that, since the reform, South American Catholicism has been decimated (or worse) by Evangelical preachers, and the wider Church afflicted by relativism.

The Time after Epiphany, and Septuagesimatide

The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Masaccio (1401-1428)

Moving on, the old calendar’s Time after Epiphany then continues these themes, providing more of a sense of narrative direction than Ordinary Time, the first chunk of which now begins in the new Form. (Ordinary Time is supposed to be a kind of generic or timeless ‘Time’; that is, an ‘Ordinary of Seasons’). But then, 17 days before Ash Wednesday, the old Form drops the word ‘Alleluia’ from its liturgies, and moves to the Season of Septuagesima, with purple, penitential vestments.

This period is a preparation for Lent, which itself is a preparation for Easter; and some people nowadays quite reasonably ask why we need a preparation for a preparation. Well, the answer is simple. Lent is about fasting and spiritual preparation; but Septuagesimatide explains why we need to go through that uncomfortable preparation in the first place, steeling us for our Lenten resolutions. For its theme is Original Sin: the readings at Mattins are from Genesis 1:1 onwards, and the three Sunday collects (said in the office and at Mass) remind us of our fallen nature, and our absolute need of God’s grace, starting with the following:

O Lord, we pray, look with a kindly eye upon the prayers of your people, so that we who are justly afflicted for our sins may be mercifully freed, to the glory of your name. Through the Lord…[3]

Meanwhile, at Mass, we have the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-16), the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-15), and then Jesus’ prediction of his passion, and healing of the blind man (Luke 18:31-43): these remind us that we cannot rest on our spiritual laurels, or be confident in our own goodness or salvation; and that we cannot be healed except through the Cross.

Now, it is surely noteworthy that today, when Septuagesima has long been suppressed, the Catholic faithful and the culturally Christian world have almost entirely lost their sense of Original Sin. Even the ‘I confess’ at Mass is usually omitted, apparently on the grounds that is unnecessary; and confessionals are under-used. Besides, our society today believes that God or the world owes it something, and is complacent in its pretended enlightened goodness. During Coronavirus, people have been very quick to ask ‘where is God?’, as if we deserve better of him. But, as one Italian bishop put it after a recent earthquake, we should of course be asking, ‘Where is man?’. How greatly the world needs some Septuagesima sensibility today!

Passiontide

To continue our narrative: both calendars now move into Lent. Then, after four weeks, the old calendar shifts a spiritual gear, entering Passiontide. The Lenten seasons of Lent and Passiontide are both about fasting and preparation, but Passiontide narrows our focus, unflinchingly reminding us of our Lord’s suffering. Most instances of the Gloria patri are dropped from the Extraordinary Form Passiontide liturgy (only those said after psalms in the Office, and at the beginning of each Hour, remain), and the Canon of the Mass now begins with the Preface of the Holy Cross, which focuses on the Passion, rather than the Preface of Lent, which focuses on fasting:

Preface of the Holy Cross

The Flagellation of Christ, Rubens

Vere dignum et iustum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere: Domine, sancte Pater, omnipotens aeterne Deus: Qui salutem humani generis in ligno Crucis constituisti: ut, unde mors oriebatur, inde vita resurgeret: et, qui in ligno vincebat, in ligno quoque vinceretur: per Christum Dominum nostrum.

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks: Lord, holy father, almighty and eternal God, you who have set the salvation of the human race on the wood of the cross; so that, whence death had arisen, thence life should rise again, and he who had conquered through wood, should in turn be conquered by it: through Christ our Lord.

There is, then, a heightened sobriety, a bleakness, a sense of expectation in these two weeks of Passiontide, which cannot be sustained through the entire Lenten season. Passiontide draws us into the sacred action of the Triduum, and helps us to unite ourselves to the cross.

 The new calendar, however, fails to do this. In the new, generic Lent, the Glorias are never suppressed. Moreover, though the new missal does contain some passion-themed prefaces, the Fifth Sunday of Lent does not use one, meaning that Sunday attenders hear only the proper preface of Palm Sunday (peculiar to the new Form), which is arguably less graphic and visceral than the Preface of the Holy Cross (and certainly far less memorable):

It is truly right and just [etc]. For though innocent he suffered willingly for sinners and accepted unjust condemnation to save the guilty. His Death has washed away our sins, and his Resurrection has purchased our justification.

This is regrettable, because Passiontide introduces us to a mystery that the modern world has almost completely forgotten: the redemptive power of suffering. Indeed the modern world barely even admits that suffering is the default condition of man in his earthly journey. Hence, Coronavirus has come as a terrible shock. Before it, we had long believed that every accident, every misfortune, must be an aberration, for which someone was to blame, and for which some new precautionary procedure could profitably be devised. An adequate understanding of psychology, neurology, and an adequate education, we believed, would prevent all such accidents. And even when we encountered suffering, we treated it as something to be medicalized. Perhaps coronavirus has forced us to reassess things; but a familiarity with Passiontide would have made it less of a shock, and would now be helping us to trust that God is with us even now; that there is some point and meaning to even the worst events in life.

No Catholic liturgy embodies the modern, suffering-denying, view, of course; but the new calendar does not contradict it nearly as clearly as the old one. For without a clear Passiontide, everything in the Lenten period becomes just a little sanitized. Indeed, one might well suspect that the key problem with modern Catholic liturgy is that it lacks a Passiontide sensibility: all too often, it adopts that wearingly chronic, salvation-assured jollity that many Protestant churches took to, once their notion of total depravity had become too bleak to cognize any longer. Yet such an attitude is not a satisfying or satisfactory intellectual response to our earthly journey in ‘this vale of tears’. Indeed, liturgy infected by it lacks dignity and rational authority: it will do little to convince any thinking person that the Faith is grounded in reason.

Moreover, if coronavirus helps our societies again to be aware of the reality of suffering and death, and of our need and duty to trust in God even in the very worst times; but if the Church goes on sidelining such things in her liturgy: then even to believers her services will look increasingly irrelevant, and will seem to have nothing to say about the things that really matter. The old system of seasons is timeless; the new one already looks like an outmoded product of the 60’s, a relic of a theology overtaken by events.

I should be clear what I am saying here. I do not mean to suggest that Catholic liturgy should be of a Calvinist, whitewashed bleakness. I am, however, saying that it should not be it be happy-clappy and shallow. Theologically, the Church has the resources to hold the awe-full and the joyous together[4]; but how often does she do so today? I suspect that a restored Passiontide would allow her to achieve this urgently-needed integration once again. In a suffering world, we cannot know the joy of the resurrection unless know Calvary too; and Passiontide helped us to do this.

Ascensiontide

The Ascension, Pietro Perugino

Passiontide over, the old calendar now accords with the new until the Ascension. But between the Ascension and Pentecost, the old calendar keeps the season of Ascensiontide—whereas the new calendar continues with a generic Easter. Now, in this period, the new Mass does retain some distinctive post-Ascension features, such as Ascension-themed prefaces. But the Ascension theme is much clearer in the Extraordinary Form, with its distinct Ascensiontide season: aside from the Preface of the Ascension, the Ascensiontide gradual chants exult in the Ascension story (unlike the Ordinary Form’s responsorial psalms, which take their place), and so do the Offertory Antiphons (which are usually omitted in said Ordinary Form masses). The old calendar also grants the Ascension the dignity of a vigil day, which helps us to prepare for the great mystery to be recounted.

The old Ascensiontide thus makes the Ascension of Our Lord a more prominent and memorable part of the liturgical year. This is helpful, because a key aspect of the mystery of the Ascension—one that has been largely forgotten today, with tragic consequences—is that Our Lord’s Ascension was bodily. The modern person tends to see the body as an instrument or tool of gratification, to be shaped, surgically altered—or assigned a sex—according to its ‘owner’s’ whim. But if Our Lord Ascended bodily, then our bodies cannot be mere shells; our very nature as men must be one that unites our body and soul. Furthermore purity and respect for one’s body, the following of a philosophy of life that tends to lead to health, an avoidance of physically unhealthy practices, and a respect for sexual difference, must all be important. All these are points that the world—and even some parts of the Church—would do well to learn once again.

The Octave of Pentecost

After Ascensiontide, the old calendar moves to the Vigil and Octave of Pentecost. In these nine days the old Mass employs the Preface of the Holy Spirit, a proper Communicantes, a proper Hanc igitur, a proper Sequence, and the red vestments of Pentecost, plus the special hymn Veni creator spiritus at the office of Terce. The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of the Octave are Ember (fasting) Days, in which we try to heighten our readiness to receive the Spirit. The seasonal Sequence well illustrates the tone of the period:

Come, Holy Spirit, send the rays of your light from heaven. Come, father of the poor, come giver of gifts, come, light of hearts. O best of consolers, welcome guest of the soul, sweet consolation; O rest in labour, cool in heat, solace in weeping. O most blessed light, fill the innermost hearts of your faithful. Without your power, there is nothing in man, nothing that is not harmful. Cleanse what is sordid, water what is dry, heal what is wounded. Soften what is hardened, warm what is cold, correct what is astray. Grant to your faithful, who trust in you, the holy sevenfold gifts. Grant the reward of virtue, grant the deliverance of salvation, grant eternal joy.[5]

The mindset that such passages instil in the hearer provides an excellent defence against another error, namely Pelagianism. For the Vigil and Octave of Pentecost, including the Ember Days, remind us of our urgent need of the Holy Spirit’s illumination, and the fact that we have to make an effort to be receptive of Him. Moreover, this season helps us to put our interfaith efforts into context. It reminds us that, though non-evangelizing dialogue and diplomacy is vital and fruitful, our most important task as Christians is to spread the faith: for the gifts of the Holy Spirit provide the deepest and fullest justice and peace in the world.

Pentecost, from a 15th century French breviary

Once again, we must therefore look with some regret upon the state of the new calendar. Indeed, its omission of the Octave of Pentecost is perhaps its most extraordinary and inexplicable defect. It constitutes a huge curtailment of the concluding mystery of Easter—and of the primary celebration of one Person of the Trinity. If the Roman Rite was already marked by its austere, binitarian atmosphere, the removal of the Octave of Pentecost takes it beyond the bounds of theological and liturgical good taste.

Given this omission, one has to mention that Pelagian attitudes are rife in today’s Church; and indeed that too many Catholic parishes have become inward-looking and non-evangelizing, with no confidence in their own ability to offer anything beautiful or inspiring to the outside world.[6] Too often, such communities seem to believe that the Church’s mission to promote justice and peace is primarily to be fulfilled through non-evangelizing dialogue.

 On the first point, the recent remarks of the ever-rewarding John Haldane are worth quoting in full:

…Catholics beginning in the US but now throughout the West have absorbed and internalized as matters of faith, which they are not, the prevailing cultural and political norms of progressive and conservative sections of secular society. The first thing to note is the destructive effects of this, including a corruption of conscience, excusing among one’s own what one would condemn in one’s opponents, and a lack of charity regarding the motives and behaviour of anyone with whom one disagrees. There is also a form of displacement of the attention due to God towards moral causes: in the case of the right towards battling against abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality; in the case of the left towards campaigning against world poverty, capital punishment and global warming.

Both Jesus and Paul are strong in their denunciation of idolatry, i.e. the putting in place of God, and worship of God, various forms of natural or human construction, including ‘works’. Paul is also very clear that nothing human beings do matters so far as their salvation is concerned save to the extent that it is redeemed by the grace of Christ’s sacrifice and that sacrifice alone. This warns us against the spiritual vice of meritorianism: religious pride is pharisaism.[7]

The Time after Pentecost

 A final problem about the new arrangements for Pentecost leads us, lastly, to the old Time after Pentecost, as contrasted with the Ordinary Time of the new calendar. Pentecost ought to lead us naturally and smoothly into Trinity Sunday, in which we celebrate the Father, the ascended Son, and the descended Holy Spirit, the fundamentals of our salvation history having been recounted. Hence, in the old calendar, Trinity Sunday immediately succeeds the Ember Saturday of the Octave of Pentecost. But in the new calendar there is now a rather pointless period of six days of Ordinary Time between Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday. These days do not have the narrative function of the old Time after Pentecost, in which we reflect on the mysteries presented in the first half of the liturgical year; and they compromise the pattern of exposition-and-then-reflection that the old system embodied. Indeed it would be no exaggeration to say that the loss of the Octave of Pentecost undermines the whole balance and rationale of the Christian liturgical year.

This six day interlude is of course only possible because the new calendar removes all sense of liturgical progression from the ‘Green’ seasons: Ordinary Time is, as I say, an Ordinary of Seasons, a sort of neutral or timeless liturgical time; and this contrasts with the Time after Epiphany and the Time after Pentecost, which are inherently integrated with the movement of the liturgical year.

Now, the great problem with a timeless liturgical time, is that it gives the impression that the Church is no longer a corporate community for salvation, united on a journey, with a sense of movement and purpose, but is instead a mere voluntary club for the sequential exposition of the scriptures. ‘Ordinary Time’ is almost an insult to a parish’s strenuous and joyful journey through Lent, Easter and Pentecost; its name and its rationale imply that it in no way consolidates or extends that journey. Hence Ordinary Time may well have contributed to the loss of the sense of corporate salvific purpose in the Church today.

Summation

This completes the cycle of the liturgical year. What, then, are our conclusions? Of necessity, this has been a linear and detailed article. But I think that we can draw our findings together. The missing seasons, fundamentally, show us our need of God: Epiphanytide, our need of God if we are to follow and develop our rational faculties; Septuagesimatide, our need of God’s forgiveness; Passiontide, our need of the saving passion of the Son; Ascension, our need for God to bring our bodies and souls back into their proper order; Pentecost, our need of the Holy Spirit. Without this sense of need, Christmas becomes a nice story, Lent a useful discipline, Easter a joy to the faithful; but each becomes something that one can take or leave as one wills. We forget that the world urgently needs converting.

Naturally, the Church as a whole never forgets these things, nor does the modern calendar make it impossible for her to communicate them. But it does make it harder. It does mean that simply living the liturgy protects one against today’s typical errors much less well than it ought to do. I am in my twenties, and it will be the task of my generation to recover the many good and viable traditions that the Church jettisoned in the 1960’s. In my view, the first things to be recovered are the old seasons, along with their clear, distinctive liturgical characters.  


[1] This, a least, is a point that the Vulgate Latin seems to make. Douay-Rheims has ‘For I say, by the grace that is given me, to all that are among you, not to be more wise than it behoveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety, and according as God hath divided to every one the measure of faith.’.

[2] ‘Vota, quaesumus, Domine, supplicantis populi caelesti pietate prosequere: ut et, quae agenda sunt, videant, et ad implenda, quae viderint, convalescant’.

[3] ‘Preces populi tui, quaesumus, Domine, clementer exaudi: ut, qui iuste pro peccatis nostris affligimur, pro tui nominis gloria misericorditer liberemur’.

[4] For a good explanation of this, see ‘Orazione dell’Umile; sopra la terza Beatitudine: Beati qui lugent: quoniam ipsi consolabuntur, in Joseph Antonius Saxius (ed.), Noctes Vaticanae: seu Sermones Habita in Academia a S. Carolo Borromeo Romae in Palatio Vaticano Instituta, Joseph Marellum: Milan (Mediolani), 1748, pp.56ff, available online. It could be said that Luther’s great failing was his inability to hold the awful and the joyous together, both in his own psychology and in his theology.

[5] ‘Veni, Sancte Spiritus, et emitte caelitus lucis tuae radium. | Veni, pater pauperum, veni, dator munerum, veni, lumen cordium. |  Consolator optime, dulcis hospes animae, dulce refrigerium. | In labore requies, in aestu temperies, in fletu solacium. | O lux beatissima, reple cordis intima tuorum fidelium. | Sine tuo numine, nihil est in homine, nihil est innoxium. | Lava quod est sordidum, riga quod est aridum, sana quod est saucium. | Flecte quod est rigidum, fove quod est frigidum, rege quod est devium. | Da tuis fidelibus, in te confidentibus, sacrum septenarium. | Da virtutis meritum, da salutis exitum, da perenne gaudium. Amen. Alleluia’.

[6] I should say that this is comparatively rare in the U.K., from which I write.

[7] John Haldane, ‘It’s Déjà vu all over again’, New Blackfriars 2018

Bowing the head for saints?

Does your priest bow his head when he says the name of Jesus or of Mary at Mass? Doing so is a fine, reverent tradition; like all such things, it is particularly popular amongst the most hard-working and devoted and popular priests. (Oh how the laity respond when a priest is always ready to talk after Mass, always ready to give blessings and advice and consolation etc.!)

But anyway: it is a good practice. That’s why I was interested to discover today that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal—which is so often unhelpfully vague, so that it’s hard to know best practice without knowing the older rubrics—not only mentions the bowing of heads at the aforementioned Holy Names, but prescribes it. I was even more interested to read that it prescribes the very same bowing at every mention of the name of the saint in whose honour the Mass is celebrated. This latter practice I have never seen anywhere. Perhaps it’s something to revive? Certainly I bowed my head at the name of St Charles Borromeo today, after whom I took my confirmation name!

Here’s the relevant passage (GIRM 275a):

A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honour Mass is being celebrated.

We can also find the practice prescribed by the the old Roman Missal of 1962 (the Missal of the Extraordinary Form), which also tells priests to bow their heads at the Pope’s name (Ritus Servandae in Celebratione Missae chapter V no. 2):

Cum in oratione, vel alibi in Missa, pronuntiatur nomen IESU vel MARIAE, itemque cum exprimitur nomen Sancti vel Beati de quo dicitur Missa aut fit commemoratio, vel Summi Pontificis, sacerdos caput inclinat.

When in the oration, or elsewhere in the Mass, the name of JESUS or MARY is said, or the name of the Saint or Blessed for whom the Mass or commemoration is offered, or the name of the Supreme Pontiff, the priest inclines his head.

Henceforth, I shall always bow as GIRM 275a instructs, and I shall readily explain to priests and others why I am doing so. Please do join me in this!

Blessings blessings blessings!

The official blessings of the modern Roman Rite are set out in the Book of Blessings (Latin original: De Benedictionibus) of 1987 (second ed 1990). Unfortunately, as with most modern liturgical books, one can’t access its contents online. However, at https://sanctamissa.org/en/resources/books-1962/rituale-romanum/ , one can access the second section of the 1962 edition of the old Rituale Romanum, the ‘Benedictionale’, which is once again valid thanks to Summorum Pontificum. And pursuing its contents, one finds a rich array of blessings and devotions that have sadly been allowed to lapse. To raise awareness of them, I list them below. If you see one suited to you, ask your priest to do it! (I could be wrong, but I think that these blessings, though given in Latin, may be said in any language; after all, a priest is perfectly entitled to make up a blessing on the spot. The blessing to make holy water, and other quasi-liturgical blessings, may be exceptions to this).

As I understand it most of these blessings can in fact be found in the modern Book of Blessings, though the Rituale versions are a bit grander. To give you a flavour of the Rituale ones as listed below, here is an English translation of the central prayer of the ‘Blessing for an Automobile or other Vehicle’, with its rather nice nod to the Ethiopian of Acts 8 (courtesy of Sancta Missa):

‘Lord God, be well disposed to our prayers, and bless this vehicle with your holy hand. Appoint your holy angels as an escort over it, who will always shield its passengers and keep them safe from accidents. And as once by your deacon, Philip, you bestowed faith and grace upon the Ethiopian seated in his carriage and reading Holy Writ, so also now show the way of salvation to your servants, in order that, strengthened by your grace and ever intent upon good works, they may attain, after all the successes and failures of this life, the certain happiness of everlasting life; through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.

Blessings Available in the Roman Ritual 1962

Blessings for Special Days and Feasts of the Church Year

  • Rite for Providing Holy Water
  • The Sunday Blessing With Holy Water
  • Blessing of Wine (Two Forms)
  • Blessing of Epiphany Water (on the Eve of Epiphany)
  • Blessing of Gold, Incense, Myrrh (on Epiphany)
  • Blessing of Chalk (on Epiphany)
  • Blessing of Homes (on Epiphany)
  • Blessing of Candles (on the Feast of St Blaise)
  • Blessing of Throats (on the Feast of St Blaise)
  • Blessing of Bread, Wine, Water, Fruit for the Relief of Throat Ailments (on the Feast of St Blaise)
  • Blessing of Homes (on Holy Saturday and during Easter)
  • The Easter Blessings of Food
  • Blessing of Crosses which are to be set in vineyards, fields, etc., on or about May 3
  • Blessing of a Bonfire on the Vigil of the Birthday of St. John the Baptist
  • Blessing of Herbs on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • Blessing of Seed and Seedlings on the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Blessings of Persons

  • Blessing of an Expectant Mother at the approach of confinement
  • Blessing of a Mother After Childbirth
  • Blessing of a Woman After Childbirth in a case where the child was stillborn or died after birth
  • Blessing of an Infant or Little Child
  • Blessing of a Child
  • Blessing of Children when on some special occasion they are assembled in church for this purpose
  • Blessing of Children on Feastdays of the Holy Childhood Association
  • Blessing of Pilgrims before they set out for the holy shrines
  • Blessing of Pilgrims on their return
  • Blessing of Sick Pilgrims
  • Blessing of a Sick Adult
  • Blessing of Sick Children

Blessings of Animals

  • Blessing of Cattle, Herds, Flocks
  • Blessing of Horses and Other Animals
  • Blessing of Sick Animals
  • Blessing of Fowl or any Kind of Bird
  • Blessing of Bees
  • Blessing of Silkworms
  • Deprecatory Blessing Against Pests

Blessings of Homes, Buildings, or Places

  • Blessing of a Cornerstone
  • Blessing of a Private or Domestic Oratory
  • Blessing of an Apartment or a Home
  • Blessing of Homes (two Versions)
  • Blessing of a Bridal Chamber
  • Blessing of a School
  • Solemn Blessing of a School
  • Blessing of a Library
  • Blessing of an Archive
  • Blessing of a Seminary
  • Blessing of a Printing-Office and Printing-Press
  • Blessing of a Hospital or Sanatorium
  • Blessing of a Radio Station
  • Blessing of the sea
  • Blessing of Fields, Mountain-Meadows or Pastures
  • Blessing of Orchards and Vineyards
  • Blessing of a Granary or the Harvest
  • Blessing of a Mill
  • Blessing of a Stable for horses, cattle, etc.
  • Blessing of a Fountain
  • Blessing of a Well
  • Blessing of a Bridge
  • Blessing of a Lime-Kiln
  • Blessing of a Blast-Furnace or of a Brick-Kiln
  • Blessing of Stone-Quarries
  • Blessing of a Marble-Factory
  • Blessing to Ward off Floods

Blessings of Places Designated for Sacred Purposes

  • Blessing and Laying the Corner-Stone of a Church*
  • Blessing of a new Church or a Public Oratory
  • Rite for Reconciling a Profaned Church
  • Rite for Blessing a new Cemetery*
  • Rite for Reconciling a Profaned Cemetery
  • Rite or Shorter Form for Consecrating a Fixed Altar which has lost its consecration if the table or mensa was separated from its support, even if only for a moment.
  • Another Rite or Shorter Form for Consecrating a Fixed Altar which has lost consecration by serious breakage or by the reliquary tomb having been broken or opened

*by the Ordinary or a Priest delegated by him

Blessings of Things Designated for Sacred Functions or Other Sacred Purposes

  • Blessing of an Antimension which by a special Apostolic indult may be used in the celebration of Mass in mission territories, in place of an altar-stone or portable altar*
  • Blessing of a Tabernacle, pyx, Ciborium for reserving the holy Eucharist
  • Blessing of a Monstrance or Ostensorium for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament
  • Blessing of a Reliquary
  • Blessing of Oil-Stocks
  • Blessing of Sacred Vessels or ornaments in general
  • Blessing of Altar-Linens
  • Blessing of a Corporal
  • Blessing of a Pall
  • Blessing of a Purificator
  • Blessing of Priestly Vestments in general
  • Blessing of any Priestly Vestment
  • Solemn Blessing of a Cross
  • More Solemn Blessing of a Cross
  • Solemn Blessing of an Image of our Lord Jesus Christ, the blessed Virgin Mary, or any saint
  • Blessing of a Clerical Cassock (a candidate for holy orders, who has obtained permission to wear the clerical cassock, may wish to have this garment blessed. The clerical aspirant, holding the cassock folded over his outstretched arms, kneels before the priest)
  • Blessing of a Cincture to be worn in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Blessing of a Cincture to be worn in honor of the blessed Virgin Mary or a canonized saint
  • Blessing of a Habit to be worn in honor of the blessed Virgin Mary
  • Blessing of a Habit to be worn in honor of the blessed Virgin Mary or a canonized saint
  • Blessing of a Cincture to be worn in honor of St. Joseph, spouse of our Lady
  • Blessing of Lilies on the feast of St. Anthony of Padua
  • Blessing of a Processional Banner of any society
  • Blessing of Candles
  • Blessing of a Church Organ
  • Blessing of a Church Bell designated for a church that is merely blessed or for an oratory*
  • Rite for Erecting Stations of the Cross

BLESSINGS OF THINGS DESIGNATED FOR ORDINARY USE

  • Blessing of Bread and Pastries
  • Blessing of Grapes
  • Blessing of Wine for the Sick
  • Blessing of any Kind of Medicine
  • Blessing of Beer
  • Blessing of Cheese or Butter
  • Blessing of Lard
  • Blessing of Oil
  • Blessing of Salt or Oats for Animals
  • Blessing of Seed
  • Blessing of any Victual
  • Blessing of Fire
  • Blessing of Linens for the Sick
  • Blessing of a Stretcher, Ambulance, Wheelchair
  • Blessing of an Automobile or Other Vehicle
  • Blessing of an Airplane
  • Blessing of a Railway and its Cars
  • A More Solemn Blessing of a Railway and its Cars
  • Blessing of a Ship or Boat
  • Solemn Blessing of a Fishing-Boat
  • Blessing of Tools for Scaling Mountains
  • Blessing of a Seismograph
  • Blessing of a Telegraph
  • Blessing of an Electric Dynamo
  • Blessing of a Fire-Engine
  • Blessing of Molten Metal for a Bell
  • Blessing of a Bell not designated for a church or oratory
  • Blessing of Mobile Film Units for Road Safety
  • Blessing of Anything

*reserved to a Bishop but may be delegated to a Priest

Intercessions for religious freedom

Good (inspiring, confident, faithful Catholicism):

Almighty God, give us, we pray, the grace always to see the image of your son in all people, and, loving Christ, to love them too. Help us always to shine forth as witnesses of the light of Christ, so that, ever patient and gentle, we may lead all people to the fullness of faith in your holy Catholic Church.

Bad (yawn Catholicism, of the kind found in places with ugly, banal liturgy):

We pray that all religions and cultures may always be valued and respected, and that religious discrimination may come to an end, so that human rights may always be upheld.

Now, obviously I’m not against human rights, or the respecting of people’s religious convictions as such. But bland, secular imprecations like the above—-variations of which one hears in church all too often—don’t mention the reason why all should, and Catholics do, respect people’s rights (namely, God’s having created all men for a purpose, and his loving them all), nor the cause of Catholics’ typically keen awareness of the dignity of man (namely, the work of the Holy Spirit).

You will see that my fictional bad intercession also talks of ‘religious discrimination’. On this and similar subjects, too, the intercessions of ‘yawn Catholicism’ are often very unsatisfactory. For we should remember that religious discrimation (to consider only that kind of discrimation) is not always invalid: for example, Catholic schools may legitimately discern their applicants by religion. Indeed, I don’t think the Second Vatican Council precludes states from discriminating in favour of Christians in immigration policy (and I would argue that, if Britain adopts a point-based immigration system, we ought to do just that—not that we ever will of course!).

Nor is this a merely academic point. It is because of wishy-washy incautious indifferentism like the above that so much of the liturgy of ‘yawn Catholicism’ sounds so boring and uninspiring to most Catholics. Most of us are probably afraid to admit just how dull it can be, for fear of being accused of being reactionary, anti-Vat-II types; but in fact we (mostly) aren’t, and we really should be more honest about the meagre liturgical fare that is so often served to us. Better that than simply lapsing, as so many do. Indeed, we should refute people who try to smear us for demanding more faithful prayers.

The anti-chapel

I recently completed an application form for a certain Catholic conference. One question I was asked in it was whether there was any part of the Church’s teaching that I would like to see changed. Here is my answer to that question, slightly tweaked. Being essentially a form-answer, it is very compressed; but perhaps some people will find it interesting:

Is the anything in the Church’s teaching that you would like to see changed?

Well, to the extent I understand the formal teachings of the Church, as summarized in the Catechism, I agree with them; and what I don’t fully understand, I humbly obey.

But there are of course many things the Church does which seem to imply and communicate her view of things, but which do not amount to formal teachings. And some of these I find concerning.

One example of such things is her architectural practice. I will work here from the example of Buckfast Abbey, since I visited it last week. The main Abbey is extremely impressive. But behind it is a 1960’s extension, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. This contains a large impressionistic mosaic of Christ with a loosely patterned background, and (which is far worse) many entirely or almost entirely formless and random pieces of decoration. It’s an early post-modern building.

One can understand what’s so damaging about a church’s having a post-modern chapel by very quickly considering the recent history of architecture and the idea of beauty.

Mediaeval thinkers saw earthly beauty as a reflection of the harmony and order of heaven, the glory of the angelic choirs, and ultimately of the beatific vision. In other words, they thought that there was some analogy between earthly beauty and heavenly beauty; and that therefore earthly beauty fed the soul and nourished the mind, making the latter more adequate to reality. This was why they spent so much time and money on beautiful churches and cathedrals. (For similar reasons, Music was (and is) a higher faculty in the mediaeval universities. After all, music has a unique capacity for providing us with inspiring moments of transcendence; and mediaevals thought that understanding the patterns thereof would give us an insight into the divine mind. This view of the academic subject of Music has perhaps proved a little optimistic; but the mediaevals were certainly right about the nourishing effects of beauty).

Yet after the Reformation, with the loss of the Analogy of Being, the full import of these ideas was unsustainable in Protestant cultures. For just as God’s justice need be nothing like our justice, so earthly beauty wasn’t necessarily linked to heavenly beauty; and so it didn’t necessarily open our minds to anything higher or more ultimate than us.

Now, the value and role of beauty in Western civilization was so fundamental, so deeply embedded, that it long continued to be prized. Yet its cherished role in Western culture could not survive indefinitely once its philosophical underpinnings had been destroyed: and indeed by the 18th century, Protestant thinkers were resorting to a shallow, utilitarian assessment of the value of beauty. They described it as inspiring (in no deeper sense than that it made us feel good, and accept reality as we saw it), and as good for the health. Hence its value was comparable to that of an amusing game, or of fine food. This logic, corrupting Catholic as well as Protestant Europe, eventually led to the gaudy, ignoble degeneration that was Rococo.

But if beauty was nothing more than one Nice Thing amongst others, the pursuit of it could hardly justify the vast sums that were still being spent on great cathedrals and the like. Therefore Modernists and their immediate predecessors viewed beauty, already conceived in such a dessicated way, with suspicion. Was it not just one of those superstitious illusions which prevented Science and Reason from clearing the slums, and ensuring human progress? Having a limited conception of reality, they came to think that an honesty, a cold, ‘realistic’ assessment of ‘how the world really was’, would be more useful; that buildings that showed their workings, and had minimal ornamentation, would better open the public’s eyes to reality.

But modernism did therefore retain an idea of an objective beauty: the idea that certain patterns nourished the mind better than others, making it more adequate to reality. For objective features of buildings such as obviousness of function (with drains on the outside, etc) were to help rid our minds of the sentimental distortions that a focus on the older kind of beauty fostered. (This reasoning was plausible in its early years precisely because Baroque had degenerated into frippery by then).

But modernism failed in its own terms. It did not stop people longing for lavishly expensive forms, little related to function, that they found immediately uplifting; it did not make people wiser or more peaceable. (Indeed Scruton has observed that graffiti sprayers in depressed urban areas gravitate towards defacing the modern buildings around them, as if by instinct; pre-modern buildings they are least likely to spray).

Postmodernists, then, observing this, rejected the idea of objective beauty altogether: that is, they responded to modernist architecture’s failure not by making things beautiful again but by denying that the mere viewing of, and living amongst, certain objective forms could nourish people’s minds. The near-formlessness of their pieces is intended to provide a vehicle for private perceptions minimally encumbered by the straight-jacket of form. (Hence it’s the art of a post-rational philosophy: it leaves us all imprisoned in ourselves, unable to say anything anyone else could understand).

And where there is form, it is child-like, or trite. This is because, if an architect believes that there is no objective beauty that nourishes the mind, then it is only natural for him to try to make the objective features of his building nourish the mind in other ways—e.g. by making ideological points. And the chief of these points is egalitarianism: the equal validity of all perceptions. For, there being no beauty, there can be no truth either; egalitarianism follows—and indeed is the premise and message of all postmodernist art.

Disturbingly, then, the Church has embraced a style that rejects the Analogy of Being, truth, and hierarchy. If one thing could have prevented my conversion, it would have been recent Church architecture.

A wavy cross at Ely Cathedral

I saw a very odd artwork at Ely Cathedral yesterday. It was a huge, metal cross, about thirty feet high, which hung on the wall near the West Door. The upright beam of the cross wasn’t straight, but wavy. A little board beneath explained that the curved line represented the emotional struggles of the way of faith. The viewer was, I think, supposed to imagine a pilgrim slowly shaping the wavy line as he progressed through various emotional states. In other words, this was expressive art: the wavy shape was supposed to be the sort of thing one might make as part of having an emotion, rather than reflecting on it. It was expressive in the sense in which a scream is expressive of fear.

       On problem occurred to me. Consciously produced art can never be a pure expression of emotion, because reflection upon one’s emotions compromises those very emotions: just as tears that a child deliberately uses to convey emotion are less sincere than spontaneous ones. Realising this, I tried to give the Ely artwork its due: I tried to image its maker reflecting upon the emotions of pilgrimage, and to imagine the emotions that he might have thought a pilgrim might have expressed at the time of having them by fashioning a wavy line. But I didn’t feel that I had gained anything from the exercise: no real understanding of the artist’s feelings, or pilgrims’; no better understanding of my own; no sense that he had clearly captured some moment of human experience that the world could then reflect on at leisure.

       In contrast, I feel all of these things when I look at a pre-modernist masterpiece: at art that aims to represent—to make something present again—rather than to express. Take Giotto’s Lamenti. We can tell that the women are grieving not because Giotto waved his paintbrush around in a sad way—that would not have worked—but because he had the skill to paint faces that look sad. He had, in other words, a certain emotional detachment or control, of a kind that a purely expressive (or pseudo-expressive) artist consciously rejects. For sure, his was not a full detachment; but it was enough for him to package up, in a disciplined form, the emotions he wanted to represent. His act of painting was analogous to the act of expressing one’s emotions in language. For however much one might be enthralled with emotion as one is describing it with words, the mere act of putting one’s feelings into the disciplined structure of language gives one a certain rational mastery over them. After all, to characterize a feeling, one’s brain has to be doing something more than merely feeling it. Such characterization moves one’s emotions out of the sphere of the dark, irrational and inscrutable, and into the sphere of the scrutible, the intelligible. It is a fundamentally human act; and so is non-expressive painting.

       What is not so human is the mere bawling out of shrieks and cries; of tears and rage and melodramatic gestures. But it is such pure expression that modern art both indulges and encourages; it promotes infantilism in the most literal sense—and the superstitious servility that goes with it.

       I think that the artist of Ely was sincere; I think he was simply trying to be part of current artistic discourse. But I would enjoin him to try something more human, in the Christian sense of the word.