Opus Publicum


I am not well today, and so I have spent part of this morning in bed with my iPad skimming around the archives of Fr. John Hunwicke’s outstanding blog while also writing some overdue e-mails. A post from January 8, 2010, entitled “The Psalter,” recounts the days when bishops would refuse elevating folks to the episcopacy or, in some instances, even confer ordination due to candidates being able to recite the Psalter — yes, all 150 Psalms — by heart.

It is very difficult to conceive, living as we do in the digital age, that anyone could, let alone would want to, commit so much text to memory, and yet that is exactly what Christian monks and clerics of a bygone era did. Of course, having ready-at-hand access to choral recitation of the daily office didn’t hurt. Oh, and having — at least for one’s general geographic area — a static recension of the Psalms, whether in Latin or Greek or Church Slavonic, was no doubt useful. Today, Anglophone Eastern and Roman Catholics, along with the Orthodox, are flooded with English-language texts, some more worthy of notice than others. (Actually, the dismal reality is that many are unworthy of any notice.) Depending on what source you go to, the Roman Church has done a terrific job making the Psalter accessible and chantable in English, or they’ve just banalized the whole thing. And those noble few who still want the Psalms in the same Latin King David sang in were, in the last century at least, faced with three choices. (Today, thankfully, it is essentially down to two choices, though only one has any authentic claim to consistent use through the centuries.)

When I was Orthodox, I used the readily available, somewhat controversial, and probably not-all-that-great Psalter According to the Seventy, a.k.a., “The HTM [Holy Transfiguration Monastery]” or “Boston” (Brookline!) Psalter. The choice was made out of convenience. Setting aside the handful of English liturgical texts produced by the Orthodox Church in America, the Greeks, and the Antiochians, all of the “mainline” liturgical books available, ranging from the Horologion to the 12-volume Menaion, rely on the HTM Psalter. Despite that text’s defects, path dependency has taken hold in Orthodoxy and it would be a vexing chore to revise so many books after revising a Psalter which, for better or worse, has been going strong for four decades. Though the book only came out as I was on my way out of Orthodoxy, David James was kind enough to furnish me with a draft copy of his A Psalter for Prayer – a reworking of the classic Miles Coverdale Psalter in the light of the Greek and Slavonic texts currently used by the Orthodox. (In an “ecumenical nod,” James even works in the Latin titles of the Vulgate Psalms and, in footnotes, highlights some alternative readings.) If the (Russian) Orthodox in America ever get around to adopting a new normative Psalter, that’s the one to run with. Out of support for James’ work, I purchased the official publication of his text last year and still use it from time to time when I am feeling “bi-ritual.”

After having committed a good number of Psalms from the HTM Psalter to memory during my Orthodox years, I just started noticing how I now conflate that edition’s text with the text found in the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible (DRB). In many instances, they are quite similar; in others, not so much. Poor Psalm 50, Miserere, is a real mess in my head and off my tongue, and De profundis fares no better. I don’t know if it is a defect in my brain, but sometimes I notice I will repeat the verses, reciting one according to the HTM and the other following the DRB. I suppose all of this is just another one of God’s many clear and unambiguous signs that I never had a true vocation to the priesthood.

Officium Defunctorum Audio?

Does anyone know if there are any online recordings of the complete Officium Defunctorum (Office of the Dead) in Gregorian Chant as contained in the Liber Usualis? Or, if not, on CD?

Holy Week – A Thought

I know the good author of Liturgiae Causa, along with several other folks, likes to give me a hard time about my (tepid!) defense of the 1962 liturgical books for the Roman Rite, but I will always yield when it comes to the liturgy of Holy Week. So, without writing personal e-mails, let me thank those of you who, in good spirits, noted to me that their parishes (or ones near them) were engaging in some “loyal disobedience” this week by dusting off their pre-Pius XII books (or, actually, using this nice Latin/English reprint which is now available from England) for at least Palm Sunday, if not the entire week. (I imagine that these folks are still going to use either Pope John XXIII’s or Benedict XVI’s revised version of the Good Friday Prayer for the Jews, but prudence dictates I apply the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on that one.) Naturally, I was distressed to learn that the Anglo-Catholic parish in town uses the old form of the rite. Do you think Pope Francis, in the spirit of ecumenical charity, would allow me to go there this week? (Before anyone jumps at me, I am fairly positive that, more likely than not, I am probably kidding.)

Is there not a wee bit of irony in the fact that countless parishes which exclusively use the Novus Ordo Missae and, without hesitation, blow off its rubrics and the venerable customs of the Roman Rite without a second thought are permitted to do so without the slightest admonishment and yet those Catholics who embrace the vetus ordo, whether in a diocesan church or a parish run by a traditional fraternity, strenuously adheres to the 1962 ordo despite the fact that few, if any, would give two hoots if they, say, quietly slipped in some of those longstanding practices and rituals which were abandoned rather thoughtlessly in the 1950s and 60s? Now, far be it for me to exhort faithful sons and daughters of the Church to rebellion, but I can’t imagine much dust being kicked up over commemorations being inserted back into the Mass, can you?

When it comes to liturgy, the Eastern Orthodox really have an advantage over traditional Catholics insofar as “local practice” trumps all. No priest who wants to keep his beard hairs intact would dare let the Typikon trump the will of the babas.

Holy Week

Nine years ago, when I was supposed to be preparing for my second-semester law school exams, I opted instead to participate fully in the cycle of Holy Week services offered at several Orthodox parishes in Chicago. The dean of students, a rather cantankerous lady, even let me defer my Criminal Law exam, which was scheduled to take place on Holy Friday. (She refused my second deferment request when I noted that taking it on the Monday after Pascha would darken Bright Week.) Due to the circumstances of living, which quickly came to include children, I had to play pick-and-choose with Holy Week, usually dividing them up with my wife: Presanctified Liturgy in the morning for me; Bridegroom Matins in the evening for her, and so on. Without opening up an old debate (fight?) on this blog, I will say that one run through Holy Friday Matins (recited on Thursday evening), with the 12 Passion Gospels and petty, blame-shifting hymnography, was quite enough for me. (On the outside chance that I may have forgotten the Passion narrative after a year’s time, the Byzantine Rite is courteous enough to repeat it during Holy Friday’s “Royal Hours,” which are almost invariably amalgamated for parish use.) Then there is Holy Friday Vespers, which should never be “optional,” followed in the evening by Holy Saturday Matins with the Lamentations (which, I must stress, the Greeks do far better than the Slavs). Though the time of mourning in the East culminates at the Midnight Office, recited just prior to Paschal Matins, Holy Saturday’s Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, with its full array of Old Testament prophecies pointing to the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, is, if I had to choose, the pinnacle expression of the Byzantine liturgical ethos: grand in both its mourning and celebration; severe in its demand for attention (and standing); and deeply Scriptural.

Some, of course, might chide the “excesses” of the Byzantine Rite during Holy Week, particularly the repetitive nature of certain elements along with overly drawn out, heavily didactic, hymnography. That’s fine. Without in any way, shape, or form intending to diminish my allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church, let me say that I would rather drown in a sea of Byzantine liturgy during Holy Week than find myself parched because of the aridity of Rome’s current Holy Week Rite—something the canonically approved vetus ordo and novus ordo rites often share in common (albeit in different manners). While it is true that certain elements of Pope Pius XII’s Holy Week reforms were wisely jettisoned by the Church with the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae, it is equally, and far more painfully, true that liturgical praxis after 1970, even with respect to Holy Week, has been a disaster of banality. The solemn chanting of St. John’s entire Passion Narrative on Good Friday has often been marred by a pointless abbreviation of the text or, worse, a mini “passion play” which reduces the greatest crime in human history to the level of camp. Tenebrae (Matins and Lauds for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), which was among the oldest and longest running liturgical services in the West, was inexplicably reduced in stature in the 1950s when Pius XII, contrary to historic (and still extant Eastern) praxis, forbade its anticipation the night before. So, instead of reciting these offices at night while the fifteen candles of the hearse and those on the altar were extinguished, thus leaving the church pitch black, the office, if it is recited in parishes at all, is transferred to the morning hours, when the sun is shining and the symbolism of darkness is completely lost. In the Liturgy of the Hours, the breviary used by most Catholic clergy today, the authentic liturgical substance and form of Tenebrae, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists.

I wonder: How do the faithful keep these days, the holiest of days, sanctified when Holy Mother Church herself makes it so difficult for them to do so? Without trying to defend the logic of Pius XII’s Holy Week revisions, one saving grace of the extant rituals is that they can still, with forethought and dedication to celebratory integrity, be offered for the faithful with the proper Roman liturgical ethos as informed by the principles of austerity, elegance, and moderation. To a certain extent the 1970 form of the rite can be rehabilitated in significant part as well, as I can well attest to from having witnessed its execution by the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius in Chicago. No, that does not eliminate the substantive problems with, say, the Good Friday prayers, but with respect to directing the hearts and minds of the faithful to the reality of the great sacrifice on Calvary, the same sacrifice repeated on the altar in the Mass, Holy Week ought to be a time to instill awe and reverence toward the unmerited gift of the Holy Eucharist; instead it is “just another week” or, maybe, a time to blow the grocery budget in anticipation of family festivities on Sunday. And so I also wonder: To what extent does the loss of a proper understanding of Christ’s sacrifice during Holy Week contribute to the obscuring of the faithful’s recognition of that same sacrifice in the Mass? Or is it the case that through poor catechesis and ambiguous liturgical phrasing the sacrificial nature of the Mass is lost and Holy Week, no matter how it is presented, cannot hope to rehabilitate the correct view among the faithful?

The Catholic Church is in the midst of a long Tenebrae, that is, a time of shadows, not just liturgically but spiritually as well. When the Apostles experienced the first Holy Week, it ended in confusion and despair; they could not understand how Jesus Christ, Lord and God, could really suffer and die. Good Friday brought to them the horror of the Cross; Holy Saturday enveloped them in the darkness of the tomb. So, too, it seems that many of us have a difficult time understanding today how the Mystical Body of Christ, the Holy Catholic Church, can be allowed to suffer so much and even appear as dead to so many men and women living in lands once illumined by the Catholic Faith. At times, we feel trapped in Holy Saturday, though that is only a temptation; the truth is that the Light has not gone out and though we, in our everyday thoughts, words, and deeds, re-abandon Christ on the Cross, He has not abandoned us. We may not understand these times any better than the Apostles understood those terrible days of shadow 1,981 years ago, but we know that soon after the darkness came the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the sending forth of the Holy Ghost. No, we do not know when the Church’s passion and our present darkness will end, but we do know, by the light of Pascha, that Christ has already triumphed and that these earthly trials must not lead to despair.

The Passion

I am going to just get this right out in the open: I have never seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. That’s right. Never. When the movie came out a decade ago I considered myself a Christian, but I was still “in limbo” concerning where I would end up. For a variety of reasons, some personal and a few principled, I didn’t want to watch some critics were calling the religious version of a snuff film. And since I was not a committed Catholic at the time (I would eventually become Orthodox), I didn’t know if it would be — pardon the expression — “spiritually healthy” for me to see it. After becoming Orthodox I encountered a few fervent supporters of The Passion, but most of my former coreligionists dismissed it out of hand as “too Catholic” (whatever they thought that might have meant).

So now I have been back in the Catholic fold for three years and I am considering giving it a view. However, if I do so, I want to do so because there is something genuinely edifying about it, not just to say I have seen it. And for what it’s worth, my idea of an edifying movie is something along the lines of Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest.

If you, dear readers, have any thoughts on The Passion, including why I should or should not watch it, please share.

Fellay in 2014: The Crisis

After linking to a summary of Bishop Bernard Fellay’s 1999 conference on the crisis in the Church, I thought I might as well link to his most recent interview on the crisis, available from the Society of St. Pius X’s website here. For those who follow “Society politics” and the general problems in the Church, there’s not surprising or earth shattering about the interview. Still, it’s as good of a window as any into the SSPX’s thinking in these rather confusing — some might even say troubling — times.

Why so many continue to insist on speculating about what the Society “really thinks” when its multilingual media outlets are updated multiple times a week, and their websites hold a vast archive of material, is quite beyond me.


Though I have to believe that this has been addressed elsewhere before, some recent comments directed at yours truly in other forum compels me to make something clear: Traditional Catholics do not believe they are automatically “better” (whatever that means) than faithful non-traditional Catholics. (I am excluding manifest liberals here.) And here I am thinking of the broad definition of a “traditional Catholic,” one which encompasses not only Society of St. Pius X adherents, but also those who attend the so-called “Extraordinary Form” at their local diocesan parish (assuming one is available). Besides, the charge of pride is a bit ironic given that those who regularly make it, “neo-Catholics,” are pretty strident when it comes to dismissing or, at best, “tolerating” traditional Catholicism.

Despite not being a big fan of “psychologizing” other people, I have a difficult time shaking the thought that the pride charge doesn’t emanate, at least in part, from a certain inferiority complex some neo-Catholics appear to have with regard to their “wing” of the Church—which is a far, far larger space than the broom closet traditional Catholics are expected to inhabit. Even among those who attend one of the two parishes in my diocese which offer the Tridentine Mass, I have heard those who attend the Novus Ordo claim, without quotes or other evidence, that those who attend the vetus ordo think they are “too good” for the so-called “Ordinary Form.” Bound up with that criticism is the erroneous belief that the Novus Ordo Mass is the “litmus test” of a true Catholic; failing to attend it on a regular or semi-regular basis is a sign of many terrible things, up to and including Promethean neo-Pelagianism.

The Drama of Modern Catholic Theology – Nature

In going through some of your on- and off-blog recommendations concerning the questions I asked in my previous post here, I was, of course, brought back to the natura pura debate — a debate I couldn’t even escape at the Tuesday night soup supper/lecture at my parish (but it was all in good fun). In going over the various notes I have collected over the past two years, coupled with some recent pieces on the matter sent my way, I am wondering if this is in any way fair to say, at least provisionally:

The dominant tale told by the bulk of mainline Catholic theologians is that the concept of natura pura (“pure nature”) helped in some, perhaps vague and uncertain, way to usher in secularism by separating the natural order from God and grace. In other words, the “pure nature” the late Scholastic and Neo-Scholastic thinkers posited — or, to put it another way, “left us with” — was not unlike the concept of nature that pervades in modern, scientistic thought: “inert matter to be poked and prodded and forced to reveal its secrets for the sake of scientific and technological progress” (to quote from Br. Peter Totleben’s helpful account in the combox on this blog here).

On the other hand, would it not be possible to turn that accusation around and hold that those who attack natura pura, particularly the late Fr. Henri de Lubac, took the modern concept of nature as essentially true, i.e., a world without teleology, order, or purpose; in fact, a world devoid of meaning until, through an existential-subjective act of faith, one is able to illumine this dark world with meaning by embracing God, which then infuses the desolate world with meaning which it otherwise didn’t have or, at least, appeared to have had before. Nature — including the natural world — is no longer, as the Scholastics actually held, theonomic nor, as certainly some in the Christian East have held or do hold, iconic; it is dreadful and distressing until we find our way out of it through an act of faith. (I wonder if this doesn’t beg the question, “An act of faith in what?”)

Is that not fideism, or at least a form of it? And, in fact, it seems to be the worst sort of fideism insofar as it is predicated on an emotional disturbance as being the catalyst of authentic faith, a faith which opens the doors for us believing something about the meaningfulness of nature and the world which was otherwise unavailable to us before. But how much of that, I wonder, isn’t simply a byproduct of a certain post-Enlightenment poetic-vitalistic account of reality rooted in subjective experience alone? It smells rather Continental, which is more charitable than saying it looks childish, I suppose.

Though this is something of an aside since Eastern Orthodox thought isn’t a direct concern of mine right now, but when one looks at the religious awakening of three pivotal 19th/early 20th C. Russian religious thinkers — Dostoevsky, Soloviev, and Bulgakov — one finds an experiential-mystical encounter stirred up after long feelings of despair and anguish (even atheism) which sends all three tumbling into the arms of the Christian religion (albeit in disparately articulated forms). What contemplation of nature and a search for truth on the basis of it couldn’t elicit, an art gallery in Dresden did — “aesthetics” replaces fides quaerens intellectum, or at least puts it on permanent hold.

Food For Thought – Followup

In my previous post, I made mention that some traditional Catholics are leaning toward a very romanticized notion of Russia — one which rivals the perhaps over-exuberant praise Orthodox Christians on this side of the Atlantic heap on “The Bear” to the east. For those who want an example of romanticizing Russia, look no further than Patrick Buchanan’s recent piece, “Whose Side Is God on Now?

While certainly not devoid of accuracy, Buchanan’s analysis lacks nuance. One would think, as a confessing traditional Catholic, Buchanan would have used his piece to at least call attention to the anti-Catholic — specifically anti-Ukrainian Greek Catholic — rhetoric which has been stirred up within Russia over the past several months and, arguably, reached a new crescendo with Metropolitan Hilarion Aflayev’s accusations against the “Uniates.” Doing so would have complicated Buchanan’s portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin as the last defender of Christian civilization amidst a world beset by secular, if not neo-pagan, darkness.

None of this is to say that Russia, and specifically the Russian Orthodox Church, deserves nothing but opprobrium from Catholics. But when it comes to the situation in Ukraine, which is as complicated as it is messy, Catholics who are understandably appreciative of Russia’s efforts to promote a robust moral culture must not turn a blind eye toward its potentially unsettling attitude regarding the UGGC (and, perhaps, the Catholic Church writ large). It is quite possible to laud the Russian Orthodox Church for the many things it does right while taking a principled stand against elements of blind, even unchristian, nationalism which has long clouded its Apostolic mission – and, indeed, the Apostolic mission of much of world Orthodoxy.

Fellay in 1999: The Crisis

The Society of St. Pius X has recently re-posted a brief of Bishop Bernard Fellay’s 1999 conference, “The Crisis: Problems, Causes, Remedies.” It is an interesting document to read after what has transpired over the past 15 years: the massive sex-abuse crisis; the death of John Paul II; the reign and abdication of Benedict XVI; Summorum Pontificum; “Vatileaks”; the opening, and collapse, of the Rome/SSPX dialogue; the election of Pope Francis; a mass wave of expectation that the Church is changing, or will soon change, its teachings on marriage, contraception, and homosexuality; etc.


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