-detail of the Ascension, Saint Dié manuscript -Eastern France (Saint-Die) manuscript, 1504-1514
-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.
“It’s not hard to understand why we would celebrate Good Friday (Jesus atones for our sins on the Cross) and Easter Sunday (Jesus rises again, conquering death). But Ascension Thursday commemorates Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Why, from the perspective of one of those “left behind” on Earth, is that something to celebrate?
It’s easy to misunderstand the Ascension, as if Christ were abandoning his disciples. But he promised that this wouldn’t happen, saying “I will not leave you desolate” (John 14:18) and “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Similarly, we misunderstand the Ascension if we imagine that Jesus is returning to heaven, as if he ever left heaven in the first place. As St. Augustine points out, Jesus “did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven.”
Instead, Christ’s ascension is really his enthronement in heaven. One of the final prophecies Jesus makes before His death is that “from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69). That prophecy remained unfulfilled on Easter morning, as we know from His words to Mary Magdalene: “I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to My brethren and say to them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God” (John 20:17). Instead, the prophecy is fulfilled in the Ascension, which is how St. Stephen, “full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55), and why St. Paul says that this is now “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1; see also Heb. 8:1, 12:2; Rev. 4).
If Jesus, in His divinity, was in heaven the whole time, what is it that ascended? His humanity. And this is near the heart of why the Ascension matters. For many people, Christianity has become too disembodied—that we think of it as good news for our souls, but not for our bodies (or worse, as a sort of mission rescuing us from our captivity in our bodies).
N.T. Wright, in his bookSurprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, reported that “a survey of beliefs about life after death conducted in Britain in 1995 indicated that though most people believed in some kind of continuing life, only a tiny minority, even among churchgoers, believed in the classic Christian position, that of a future bodily resurrection.” In America, a 2006 poll similarly found that only thirty-six percent of respondents answered “yes” to the question: “Do you believe that, after you die, your physical body will be resurrected someday?” Perhaps most shockingly, even self-described Christians overwhelmingly rejected the idea of bodily resurrection: only thirty-eight percent of Catholics and forty-four percent of Protestants answered “yes.” The situation was slightly, but only slightly, better for regular churchgoers: half of them reported believing in the bodily resurrection.
As bad as these numbers are, the reality is likely worse. Both the U.S. and U.K. studies are now decades old, and it’s hard to imagine that the situation has improved since then. Moreover, as Wright points out, “I often find that though Christians still use the word resurrection, they treat it as a synonym for ‘life after death’ or ‘going to heaven’ and that, when pressed, they often share the confusion of the wider world on the subject” (p. xii). Even many of the people who answered “yes” probably think of “resurrection” in non-physical terms.
That’s a problem, because Christianity makes little senseif the body doesn’t have dignity, or isn’t made to last forever. After all, why does the Church care about a “theology of the body,” or about tending to the bodies of even the dead? Because Christianity is good news for the body as well as for the soul. The Catechism quotes Tertullian to the effect that “the flesh is the hinge of salvation,” commenting, “We believe in God Who is creator of the flesh; we believe in the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh; we believe in the resurrection of the flesh, the fulfillment of both the creation and the redemption of the flesh” (CCC 1015).
In Eden, there was an intimate union between God and earthly creation, symbolized by “the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). This union between heaven and earth was ruptured in sin. And that rupture was healed first through the Incarnation (in which the heavenly God took on earthly humanity) and then the Cross (in which he offered his flesh “for the life of the world”—John 6:51), and then the Resurrection (in which Christ rose again with a glorified body), and then the Ascension (in which he rose physically to be enthroned at the right hand of the Father in Heaven). Prior to the Ascension, heaven was a purely spiritual realm.* No more.
And so Ascension Thursday is only the beginning. Christ has the first body in heaven, but not the last. He is followed soon after by His mother, which is why we celebrate the Assumption. And someday, God willing, we will all join Him. It’s why the angel’s message on Ascension Thursday is forward-looking: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as You saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The union between heaven and earth has begun, and it is irrevocable. Our journey now is to prepare for that union to be completed within us.
*I’ll prescind here from the thorny question of what Elijah and Enoch experienced prior to Christ’s ascension.”
Let us pray also for all our brothers and sisters who believe in Christ, that our God and Lord may be pleased, as they live the truth, to gather them together and keep them in his one Church.
(Also, in the Solemn professions Jews, atheists, or those who otherwise do not believe in the Trinitarian God, etc., basically the whole world, would become Catholic. I suppose that includes even some “Catholics” who do the name no honor would become exemplar Catholics.)
“Today is Good Friday. It is the day that Catholics and other Christians commemorate the death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which accomplished our definitive redemption.
It is also the day that Catholics pray for those other Christians to come into full communion with the Catholic Church. And “for the Jewish people” and “for those who do not believe in Christ” and “for those who do not believe in God” to do likewise.
The language of the post-Vatican II liturgy is carefully worded, but the intent is clear. On Good Friday, during the Solemn Intercessions, Catholics pray for the whole world to become Catholic.
I join in that prayer every year. Indeed, I look forward to it. I, too, believe (as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus often put it) that “the Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ most fully and rightly ordered through time.”
I, on the other hand, almost never make such claims—not because I don’t believe them, but because of where my work takes me. I run the Evangelical-associated Family Institute of Connecticut, which is part of a network of Family Policy Councils (FPCs) that exist in about forty of the fifty states. Only about five of the forty are run by Catholics.
There is no distinctly Catholic subject matter published under the auspices of my organization. But there is a lot on my personal Facebook, where I have noticed an uptick in . . . questions? . . . pushback? . . . from non-Catholic friends.
There is the Mormon friend who emails me quotes on how I should not wait until after I am dead to become a Mormon. There’s the Pentecostal minister who, over lunch, mentions his belief that the Catholic Church was founded by Constantine. There are the Evangelical ministers who are surprised when I post verses they believe to be prooftexts against Catholicism.
And, of course, there is Mary.
My non-Catholic friends are right to ask questions. I’m wrong to avoid them. We are all called “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15).
With special attention to the one question that comes up most with my non-Catholic friends, here is why I am Catholic: in a word, the Church.
In my experience, the famous “solas” of the Protestant Reformation almost never come up in conversation. Those issues seem to be as resolved as they are likely to get. What really sticks in the craw of my Protestant friends is the Catholic Church’s claim to be the Church, the one true Church of Jesus Christ. The 2000 Vatican document Dominus Iesus uses the phrase ecclesial communities precisely because, it was argued, Protestant “churches” are not churches in the true sense—that “just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single bride of Christ: ‘a single Catholic and apostolic Church’” (16). One Lord, one baptism, one Church.
In John 17:21, Jesus prays of his disciples “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Christ surely intended for us to be one Church, not divided into separate communions.
But the Church does acknowledge “that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church.” The Church recognizes, as Dominus Iesus spells out, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth.”
I have seen those elements “of sanctification and truth.” Indeed, in my work on behalf of the values we share, I have occasionally experienced a greater Christian love and generosity from Protestants than I have from Catholics.
Where the rubber hits the road is in the Catholic claim to be “fully” the Church in a way that other communions are not. What, really, is the Catholic Church saying with this claim? That Protestant churches are not the Church as we understand it because they have not maintained apostolic succession and, therefore, valid sacraments.
Should not the Protestant affirm this? “That’s exactly right,” he might say. “We are not the Church as you understand it because your understanding is incorrect. We don’t need apostolic succession and those extra sacraments to be the Church. If we thought otherwise, we would not be separated from you in the first place.”
For myself, I believe that the Catholic Church is what it claims to be. It is, at bottom, why I am Catholic. If you believe what the Church claims about itself, then all its other claims—about Mary, the Eucharist, and so forth—naturally follow.
I thank God that the Church teaches that my Christian brethren of other communions are in a real “albeit imperfect” (Dominus Iesus 17) communion with me, because that is what I have experienced. These are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I love them.
And I believe that we should all be in perfect communion together as members of the Catholic Church. That it is the will of Christ: that we all be one in her, His bride.
I will pray for that when I pray the Solemn Intercessions at the Good Friday liturgy today. I will do so in the belief that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be—and in the hope that we and our separated brethren will again be one “so that the world may believe.”
“By tradition going back to early Christian times, the Divine Office has been prayed by Roman Catholics, arranged in such a way that the whole course of the day and night are sanctified with prayers.
This recitation of the Office of the Church praises God without ceasing, in song and prayer, and it intercedes with Christ for the salvation of the world. For this reason it has also been called the “Liturgy of the Hours.”
For centuries lay Catholics have visited Benedictine monasteries across the world, participating in the recitation of the Office, fostering a unique relationship between man and God. In Benedictine communities the recitation of the Office is called the Opus Dei or “work of God.”
The recitation is a prayer or “work” that allows the Christian to think of God and to sing His praises. It is an act of sacrifice and revelation that directs the whole self, psyche and soma alike to God, inviting man to come closer to forgetting himself in this one particular form of the worship of God.
It has been described thus by the Benedictine theologian, Dom Hubert van Zeller:
“The Divine Office is at the same time the word of God for man and the work of man for God. It is God’s revelation of Himself in human accents; it is man’s debt repaid to Him in the medium of sacrifice” (The Holy Rule, p. 172).
The Divine Office is for All
The recitation of the Divine Office is of such importance that Roman Rite clerics in major orders are bound to pray it daily. This includes priests, deacons, monks, nuns, and many members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and of Societies of Apostolic Life according to their approved Constitutions.
Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has an entire chapter dedicated to the subject of the Office, seen in chapter 4 of Sacrosanctum Concilium. In the same document the Council admonishes not only clergy, but also the lay faithful, to also pray the hours of the Divine Office with the whole Church with this recommendation:
“And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the Divine Office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 100).
Following on this, the Code of Canon Law also encourages laity to participate in the recitation of the Office:
“Others also of Christ’s faithful [the laity] are earnestly invited, according to circumstances, to take part in the liturgy of the hours as an action of the Church” (Code of Canon Law, 1174).
This call to unceasing prayer for clergy, and lay people, too, when possible, is in response to St. Paul’s exhortation: “Pray without ceasing” (1The. 5:17). For only in the Lord can be given and received fruitfulness and increase. This is why the Apostles first said as an example for all, “We will devote ourselves to prayer…” (Acts 6:4).
Hence, all who perform the recitation of the Office perform a service in fulfilling a duty of the Church, praying together with the Church in unison.
The Divine Office as a Gift from St. Benedict
St. Benedict in his sacred Rule (Regula), a book he wrote that is one of the most influential books in the history of Christendom, gives a significant amount of advice on the subject of the Office, its structure and the regulations he laid out for his followers.
This Rule, written in about the year 540 AD, starts with a Prologue where St. Benedict speaks of his intention to create a “school” for the Lord’s service for those who have heard God’s call and followed Him.
All that follows in the Rule from hereafter is an elaboration of this theme of seeking God. A key component of the monastic vocation in light of this theme, as described by St. Benedict, is the recitation of the Divine Office said not alone, but in common.
The Rule with careful clarity gives detailed instructions of the order of Latin chants and prayers. More prayers were even assigned to the monks during winter months, taking into consideration the shorter length of day, assuming the monks would have slightly more time to pray while staying warm indoors.
St. Benedict explains in his own words the importance of the Office which revolved around seven daily services, also known as offices or hours. He writes:
“The prophet says, ‘Seven times a day have I praised you’ (Ps. 119:164). We will fullfil this sacred number seven if we perform the duties of our service at the hours of Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline, because it was with reference to these hours of the day that he said, ‘Seven times a day have I praised you.’ With regard to the night office the same prophet says, ‘In the middle of the night I rose to praise you’ (Ps. 119:62).” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 16).
St. Benedict devised that each of the hours of prayer were divided into a one-week Psalter. This allowed for all 150 Psalms to be said by the monks in one week, with the prayers divided into set times in the chapel, with an additional night office called Matins.
Benedict warns that such a life with regular hours to pray can be hard, particularly at first. He also acknowledged that problems could arise among the monks that may threaten to sabotage the practice, that was to be sung in unison by the monks in the chapel.
At the heart of Benedictine life is praying not only the choral Office but also the sung Conventual Mass, both celebrated in choir. Unfortunately, today not everyone follows all the chapters of the Rule, especially with regard to the structure of the sung Office in choir with its one-week psalter in Latin.
In the 1960’s the office of Prime was suppressed, and the Psalms were no longer distributed throughout one week, veering from the original approbations of St. Benedict. Some communities also gave up the beauty of chanting the Office in Latin, an immense cultural loss and deviation from what St. Benedict himself envisioned.
How to Say the Divine Office
The Mass and Office will always be at the center of Benedictine life.
The recitation of the Office by monks in a spirit of obedience and reverence has great merit. The act punctuates the day of the monk, like a leaven awakening the soul to sanctify the day as a gift of self to God.
Praying the Office worthily and embracing it sanctifies the whole life and assists the monk toward his goal of unceasing prayer – Ut in Omnibus Glorificetur Deus.
St. Benedict outlines the attitude of mind with which monks are to approach the duty of prayer. The saint’s aim was to get his monks to bring to their interior and exterior exercise a proper disposition of prayer that combined awe, simplicity, compunction, and purity of intention.
In heaven, St. Augustine teaches, satisfied love sings the hymn of praise in the plentitude of eternal enjoyment. Here below, yearning love seeks to express the ardor of its desires.
There is always need in spirituality for a holy fear and balanced reverence with yearning love. St. Gregory warned that irreverence is one of the signs of the soul’s deterioration, a sure sign that a monastic community is suffering.
St. Augustine sheds light on the subject:
“Let us then ever remember what the prophet says: ‘Serve the Lord in fear,’ and again, ‘Sing ye wisely,’ and ‘In the sight of the angels I will sing praises unto Thee.’ Therefore, let us consider how we ought to behave ourselves in the presence of God and of His angels, and so assist at the Divine Office that mind and voice be in harmony” (Sermons of St. Augustine, Sermon 255).
Here again, as in the exercise of humility, it is the omnipresence of God that inspires the monk as he recites the Office with proper reverence in a community setting. At the same time, it encourages him to keep up his unceasing struggle against distractions, boredom, against a sense of wasting time, and against the dismay that comes as a temptation to feel that no sensible progress is being made in the spiritual life.
In discovering the virtue of the Office, the soul discovers also the essential need to pray, and particularly the grace to pray throughout the day and night in sacrifice. Prayer and sacrifice are seen traditionally as the logical and necessary consequence of justice.
This is because God must be served for His great glory, thanked for His great glory, and atoned to for the outrages done to His glory.
Therefore, the Christian knowing about God’s existence and recognizing His sovereign rights over His creatures finds peace in expressing this knowledge and submission in the most immediate way possible through prayer.
Catholics will want to dedicate themselves in a special way to the expression of this attitude of prayer.
When appropriate, they will want to use their spiritual and physical faculties at the service of this expression, and they will know that in their exercise of praying the Divine Office a still more immediate and intimate relationship with God is being realized in response to St. Benedict’s admonition to pray in unison without ceasing.”
The First Council of Orleans (511 AD) records some pious Christian congregations in the earliest ages of the Church, especially the clergy, began to fast 70 days before Easter, on this Sunday, which was therefore called “Septuagesima”—the 70th day. The same is the case with the Sundays following, which are called Sexagesima, Quinquagesima, Quadragesima, because some Christians commenced to fast 60 days, others 50, others 40 days before Easter, until finally, to make it properly uniform, Popes Gregory and Gelasius arranged that all Christians should fast 40 days before Easter, commencing with Ash Wednesday.
“When we go to Mass, be it in the new form or the old, we generally react to what is immediately transpiring before us, be it for the better or for the worse. We respond to the reverence or irreverence, piety or impiety, beauty or ugliness of the words and deeds we see and hear. These reactions are what remain fixed in our memories and go on to inform our liturgical opinions.
Harder to discern is the effect that a calendar has on our souls, since not every feast or Sunday comes with vivid memories in the making. A case in point is the liturgical season of pre-Lent or Septuagesima, an easily overlooked interlude between the Time after Epiphany and Lent. While the liturgies of Septuagesima are fairly low key, the impact that this small season has had on individuals and even on Western civilization is entirely disproportionate to its size. Septuagesima consists of three of some of the most interesting and influential weeks of the liturgical year.
Septuagesimatide, or pre-Lent, is the name given to the three consecutive Sundays preceding Ash Wednesday. It is named after the first of these, Septuagesima Sunday, which occurs roughly seventy days before Easter (septuagesima is Latin for “seventieth”). Sexagesima (“sixtieth”) Sunday comes next, followed by Quinquagesima (“fiftieth”) Sunday on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. In order to effect a gradual transition between the joy of Christmastide and the stringency of Lent, the season of Septuagesima takes on some of the sobriety of the latter but without its harshness. In the Roman Breviary, the penitential circuit of psalms is used (“Lauds II”), and at Mass the Gloria in excelsis is suppressed and the Gradual replaced with a Tract. Flowers on the altar are forbidden, and violet is the liturgical color of the vestments.
Each Sunday of Septuagesimatide also focuses on a different Old Testament figure as a way of leading us up to the Paschal mystery of Good Friday and Easter. Septuagesima Sunday—and this is particularly obvious in the Breviary—recalls Adam, Sexagesima Sunday Noah, and Quinquagesima Sunday Abraham. (This pattern is continued into Lent: the Second Sunday of Lent recalls Jacob, the Third Sunday Joseph, and the Fourth Sunday Moses.) The purpose of this instruction is to help the faithful see the reasons for the scandal of the Cross, the culmination of Lent. The Matin readings on Adam give us the doctrine of original sin, the passages on the Flood highlight the wickedness of mankind, and the sacrifices of Abraham and Melchisedech foreshadow the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.
The Sundays of Septuagesima were also shaped by a series of calamities besieging the city of Rome in the sixth century. The theme of misery and desolation in the Introit of Septuagesima Sunday, for instance, comes from these troubled times. Such historical influences on the liturgical year are an excellent example of what Pope Benedict XVI meant when he referred to the Extraordinary Form as bearing “the whole weight of history within itself, and yet, at the same time, [being] much more than the product of human history.” In any event, Septuagesima was a well-established liturgical season in the Roman rite by 541 A.D.
Laying to Rest the Alleluia
Perhaps the most peculiar mark of Septuagesima’s liturgies is the suppression of the word “Alleluia,” which in the Novus Ordo does not occur until Ash Wednesday. Why deprive ourselves of this glorious word for an extra two and a half weeks, especially when it is so powerful? St. Paul of the Cross, for instance, advised members of his order to cry out “Alleluia” when assaulted by the devil, for “the devil is afraid of the Alleluia; it is a word that comes from Paradise.”
St. Paul’s reasoning about Paradise gives us a clue into the answer we seek. “Alleluia,” which in Hebrew means “Praise be to the Lord,” is traditionally known as the “song of the Lord.” It is what St. John heard in Heaven during his vision of the Apocalypse. It is the joyous cry of those who are truly home.
But Septuagesima and Lent are periods not of homecoming but of pilgrimage and exile. Indeed, just as the forty days of Lent commemorate the forty years of the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness and the forty days of Jesus fasting in the desert, Septuagesima recalls the roughly seventy years of the Babylonian Exile (605-538 BC), that period, second in importance only to the Exodus out of Egypt, when the people of Judah were deported to Babylon. As the haunting Psalm 136(137) attests, God’s Chosen People did not deem it fit to sing their joyous songs on foreign soil:
Upon the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept, when we remembered Sion. On the willows in the midst thereof we hung up our [musical] instruments. For there, they that led us into captivity required of us the words of songs. And they that carried us away, said: “Sing ye to us a hymn of the songs of Sion.” How shall we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten. Let my tongue cleave to my jaws, if I do not remember thee (verses 1-6).
The Jews would not sing their native song of joy during their exile, and neither do Catholics during theirs. As Bishop William Durandus (1237-1296) puts it: “We part from the Alleluia as from a beloved friend, whom we embrace many times and kiss on mouth, head, and hand, before we leave him.” The jubilant “Alleluia” is thus laid to rest for seventy days in the traditional Roman rite until it rises again in the Easter Vigil, and in so doing Catholics recapitulate for their spiritual benefit a cardinal moment in sacred history.
And when I say “laid to rest,” I mean that literally. Perhaps the most charming para-liturgical custom to come from Septuagesima is the depositio, or setting aside, of the Alleluia. On the Saturday afternoon before Septuagesima Sunday, medieval communities would stage an elaborate procession with a plaque or banner, often in the shape of a coffin, bearing the word “Alleluia.” The coffin would then be solemnly buried somewhere on church grounds. In parts of France, a straw man inscribed with the word “Alleluia” in gold letters was burned in effigy in the churchyard! Thanks to the liturgical movement of the 20th century, several of these customs were revived by some American parishes prior to the Second Vatican Council.
A standard part of these sacred send-offs was the singing of a song entitled Alleluia, Dulce Carmen, which artfully links the suppression of the Alleluia with the Babylonian Exile and Psalm 136. Here is J.M. Neale’s translation of the tenth-century hymn:
Alleluia! song of gladness,
Voice of joy that cannot die;
Alleluia is the anthem
Ever dear to choirs on high;
In the house of God abiding
Thus they sing eternally.
Alleluia thou resoundest,
True Jerusalem and free;
Alleluia joyful mother,
All thy children sing with thee;
But by Babylon’s sad waters
Mourning exiles now are we.
Alleluia cannot always
Be our song while here below;
Alleluia our transgressions
Make us for a while forego;
For the solemn time is coming
When our tears for sin must flow.
Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee,
Grant us blessed Trinity,
At the last to keep Thine Easter
In our home beyond the sky;
There to Thee for ever singing
As the lyrics make clear, Septuagesima can teach us many valuable lessons: that Lent should not be begun abruptly or thoughtlessly but preceded by a period of adjustment; that uttering sacred words is a privilege which should not be taken for granted; that sin puts us in exile from our True Home; and that the Old Testament, with its many significant events, is perpetually relevant to the lives of Christians. Lastly, suppressing the Alleluia seventy days before Easter, and singling this fact out in a special way, heightens our joy when Alleluia triumphantly returns to our lips with the Risen Lord on Easter Sunday.
Sexagesima and Quinquagesima
The second Sunday of Septuagesimatide, Sexagesima, continues to sound the exilic note of Babylon, but with a touch of joy. Both the Collect and the Epistle commemorate the apostolate of St. Paul, the feast of whose conversion on January 25 occurs around this time. Quinquagesima, on the other hand, is preoccupied with the impending Great Fast of Lent. Its Epistle from 1 Corinthians 13 on charity is the perfect preface to a season of mortification and almsgiving, for without charity, these noble acts profit us nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). Indeed, all of Septuagesimatide is an ideal primer on how to approach the purgative period of Lent in the right spirit.
Septuagesima season also marks the time when the faithful begin to fast voluntarily, in anticipation of the mandatory fast of Lent. As early as 465 A.D., St. Maximus, Bishop of Turin, was recommending a fast of devotion before Lent. In the Byzantine rite, the faithful would begin abstaining from meat on the penultimate Sunday before Lent and from dairy products on the Sunday immediately before Lent: hence the Byzantine name for Sexagesima is “Meatfare” Sunday and their name for Quinquagesima “Cheesefare” Sunday. In the Roman rite, the Sunday to begin abstaining from meat was Quinquagesima, and so it also came to be known as Dominica Carnevala, carnevala coming from the Latin for “removal” (levare) of “meat” (caro/carnis). It is from this name that our word “carnival” originates.
And Septuagesimatide is not just behind the word: it is also behind the activity. Prior to the age of refrigeration, Christians needed to get rid of all the foods they would not be allowed to consume during Lent, which centuries ago was quite a long list; as we mentioned above, not only flesh meat but all dairy products were forbidden. And the closer Lent approached, the more urgently they needed to be consumed. Ironically, the pre-Lenten excesses and glittering pageantry we associate with Mardi Gras in New Orleans or the carnevales in Brazil and Venice, Italy can be traced to the voluntary increase of pious asceticism.
These sybaritic celebrations, in turn, have had a notable impact on Western culture. “Carnival music,” which is a colorful combination of Spanish, Portuguese, Native American, African, and even Chinese musical strains, is generally associated with Trinidad and Barbados, as well as other parts of the Caribbean and Brazil. Though it varies from country to country, Carnival music has a common origin in bidding a fond farewell to fun before the forty-day fast of Lent. And it has gone on to shape other genres of music, such as Latin jazz, the Conga and Conjunto, and the Samba.
Glazed pączki, still very popular in Chicago, on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, given its substantial Polish immigrant population, please click on the image for greater detail
Pre-Lenten observances also led to the invention or promotion of several food dishes. There are many culinary candidates worthy of mention. Where would Cajun cooking be without Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday”? Northern England traditionally observes Collop Monday two days before Ash Wednesday (a collop is made of sliced meat and eggs fried in butter), while the rest of the country enjoys Shrove Tuesday pancakes the day before Ash Wednesday. In the U.S. before Vatican II, pancake breakfasts sponsored by American parishes on Quinquagesima Sunday were not uncommon. Thanks to its Polish immigrants, America is also able to hear its arteries harden each year with pączki, a rich pastry similar to a jelly donut that is traditionally eaten during Septuagesimatide. Pączki (pronounced “paunch-key”) is a particularly interesting food because it has a vocal and zealous group of devotees, including its own lobby, the National Pączki Promotional Board.
Regardless of their country of origin, all of these foods are the product of the same basic logic, to make good use of all perishable comestibles in one’s home before the beginning of Lent.
Not all Christian customs of Septuagesima, however, revel in merriment and feasting. While the Latin countries had Carnival, the countries of northern Europe had Shrovetide. The verb “to shrive” is old English for a priest’s hearing confession; hence, Shrovetide was a time for the faithful to go to confession and be “shriven” in preparation for Lent. While this period originally encompassed the entire week preceding Lent, it is more common to hear reference to Shrove Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, the three days prior to Ash Wednesday. Needless to say, this remains an excellent way to prepare for Lent.
Of course, not even the sternest of northern believers could resist every impulse to blow off a little steam. While “to shrive” might refer to sacramental absolution, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “to shrove” as “to keep Shrove-tide; to make merry.” Large sporting events were popular during Shrovetide (according to legend, the world’s first soccer match took place on a Shrove Tuesday between the Britons and the Romans), and in Ireland getting married during Shrovetide was considered good luck, perhaps because weddings during Lent were forbidden.
As for the southern countries, not everyone was pleased with the rising tide of carnival celebrations that began in the fourteenth century. In 1747 Pope Benedict XIV issued the aptly named Super Bacchanalibus in which a plenary indulgence was granted to those who participated in the “Forty Hours of Carnival.” This devotion, which was held in those areas prone to indulgence of a different kind, consisted of Exposition and Benediction on Shrove Monday and Tuesday. The purpose of the devotion was to draw the faithful away from “dangerous occasions of sin” and to atone for excesses committed.
Septuagesima was dropped from the calendar in 1970, replaced by “Ordinary Time.” According to Fr. Pierre Jounel, a professor of liturgy at the Catholic Institute of Paris and one of the architects of the new calendar, it was excised because “Nobody knew what it meant or where it came from.”
That’s funny: the literal meaning of septuagesima is as close as the nearest Latin dictionary, and most Catholics, because of the greater cultural impact of Septuagesima we have just described, had a passable idea of what the season meant. There are beautiful explanations of it in the St. Andrew’s Missal and in Fr. Francis X. Weiser’s popular Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, both of which were available ten years before Fr. Jounel’s pronouncement. The Von Trapp family describes Septuagesima as a “most necessary time for the individual as well as for families and communities”: their chapter on the season the meaning of which they weren’t supposed to know is entitled, “A Time to Dance.”
Millions of Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic believers also understand it, as they have a similar season based on the same principles. (Having dropped Septuagesima, we Catholics now have one less thing in common with what Pope John Paul II called the other lung of Christendom.) Even some Anglicans and Lutherans continue to keep Septuagesima. More importantly, with the loss of Septuagesima we have no liturgical preparation for the holy season of Lent, no transition between the glow of Epiphany and the gloom of Ash Wednesday. In the meantime, the cultural observances of Mardi Gras and so forth continue unabated, loosed from their religious moorings.
In his magnificent Confessions, St. Augustine allegorically interprets the creation of the dry land in Genesis 1 as the gathering of the redeemed souls that thirst for God and are plucked from the bitter sea of the infidels. The “land” that Augustine espied was a Church zealous for the nourishment of grace so “that they might bring forth works of mercy unto You, distributing their earthly goods to the poor to acquire heavenly.” How fitting, then, that the terra firma that is the Church should not only use Lent as a preparation for Easter, but that she should prepare herself for Lent as well, the season in which she increases her corporal works of mercy. Because of the 1970 calendar, Septuagesima is a time that the Land has lamentably forgotten, but let those who keep to the calendar of our ancestors wisely use this season to remember and attune ourselves to the awesome trial that is Lent.
And maybe to shrove it up a bit while we still can.”
 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998), p. 20.
 Quoted by Gueranger in Liturgical Year, vol. 8, p. 366.
 See Jeremiah 25:9-12; 29:10. Some Biblical historians calculate the Babylonian Exile or Captivity to be exactly seventy years by beginning with the defeat of the Assyrian Empire in 609 BC and ending with the defeat of the Babylonian Empire in 539 BC; others set the dates at 586 and 516, the destruction of Jerusalem and the dedication of the rebuilt Temple, respectively.
 Rationale Divinorum Officiorum 6.24.18, translated by Francis X. Weiser.
 One of the charms of the traditional calendar is that it allows its Temporal Cycle, its rotation of seasons, to be colored by its Sanctoral Cycle, its saints’ feast days.
 Similarly, in Russia and other Slavic countries the week before Lent is called “Butter Week”; in Poland it is called “Fat Days.”
 See Michael P. Foley, Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday? (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), p. 59.
 Bryan Gruley, “Who Put the Paunch In Paczki and Droves In Shrove Tuesday?” Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition, 3/01/2000, vol. 235, issue 43, p. A1.
 “Shrove, v.” Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989.
 Herbert Thurston, “Shrovetide,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 13 (Robert Appleton Company, 1912).
 Alfred Friendly, Jr., “200 Catholic Saints Lose Their Feast Days,” NYT, May 10, 1969, p. 10.
 Maria Augusta Trapp, Around the Year With the Trapp Family (NY: Pantheon Books, 1955), p. 86.
 Confessions 13.17.20.
 Confessions 13.34.49, translated by F.J. Sheed.
 See the Collect for the First Sunday of Lent: “O God, who by the yearly Lenten observance dost purify Thy Church, grant to Thy household that what they strive to obtain from Thee by abstinence, they may achieve by good works.”
-Adoration of the Shepherds by Dutch painter Matthias Stomer, 1632, please click on the image for greater detail
“Among the solemnities of Holy Church there are three which have been celebrated at all times and which have their original source in that great feast of Passover which was observed in the Old Law.
These three feasts are all called Pasch, or Passage, or Passover (Ex. 12:11). Today’s feast was instituted to commemorate Our Lord’s passage from His Divinity to our humanity.
The second passage is that from His Passion and death to His Resurrection, His passage from mortality to immortality, which we celebrate all during Holy Week and at Easter.
The third passage is celebrated at Pentecost, the day on which Our Lord adopted the Gentiles (Cf. Acts 2:17, 39) and permitted them to pass from infidelity to the happiness of becoming His well-beloved children, the greatest happiness possible for the Church. All these feasts find their source in today’s mystery.
But you may say at this point that it is not usual to preach at night. And I reply that it was indeed the custom in the primitive church, while it was in its first flower and vigor.
St. Gregory bears witness to this in his homily for this day. The early Christians even said the three nocturns of Matins separately, rising three times during the night for this purpose.
Moreover, they went to choir seven times a day to recite the Office, thereby fulfilling verse 164 of Psalm 118 (119). St. Augustine says that they even preached three times on this feast: first at Midnight Mass, then at the Mass, and finally at the Mass during the day.
So great was the fervor of those early Christians that nothing wearied them. The least among them was of grater value than the best of religious of today.
We have become so cold since those early days that we must now shorten the Mass, the Office, and sermons.
But this is not to the point. Rather, I intend to speak to you first of which the Church sets before us this day, and then of what we should hope for and do in light of this faith.
If I do not finish all that I want to say I shall do so later in the day, if God gives us the time.
Before beginning my discourse I wish to remind you that I like to use analogies when I preach. I will do so here, too.
Now in all that we do or plan, if we are wise we keep its purpose or goal in mind (Ecclus. [Sir.] 7:40 ), for we should have one.
For example, if someone intends to build a house or a palace he must first consider whether it is to be a lodging for a vine-dresser or peasant or if it is for a lord, since obviously he would use entirely different plans depending on the rank of the person who is to live there.
Now the Eternal Father did just that when He build this world. He intended to create it for the Incarnation of His Son, the Eternal Word.
The end or goal of His work was thus its beginning, for Divine Wisdom had foreseen from all eternity that His Word would assume our nature in coming to earth.
This was His intent even before Lucifer and the world were created and our first parents sinned.
Our true and certain tradition holds that sixteen hundred twenty-two years ago Our Lord came to this world and, in assuming our nature, became man.
Thus we are celebrating the Savior’s birth on earth. But before speaking of that birth let us say something of the Word’s divine and eternal birth.
The Father eternally begets His Son, who is like Him and co-eternal with Him. He had no beginning, being in all things equal to His Father.
Yet we speak of the son being born for us from the Father’s bosom, from His substance, as we speak of the rays coming forth from the bosom of the sun, even though the sun and its rays are but one and the same substance.
We are forced to speak thus, recognizing the inadequacy of our words. Were we angels we would be able to speak of God in a far more adequate and excellent way.
Alas, we are only a little dust, children who really do not know what we are talking about. The Son then, begotten of the Father, proceeds from the Father without occupying any other place.
He is born in Heaven of His Father, without a mother. As sole origin of the Most Blessed Trinity the Father remains the Virgin of virgins.
On earth the Son is born of His Mother, Our Lady, without a father. Let us say a word about these two births, for which we have true and certain proofs, as I said a while ago.
The Evangelist (Lk. 1:35) assures us that the Divine Word became flesh in the most holy Virgin’s womb when the angel announced to her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her.
This is not, of course, to say that in Jesus Christ there are two persons.
In the hypostatic union, the Word became flesh is true God and true man, and this without any separation, from the moment of His Conception.
Some examples may help. Naturalists tell us that honey is made of a certain gum called “manna,” which falls from the sky, and unites or mixes with flowers which in turn draw their substance from the earth.
In joining together, these two substances result in the one honey. In our Lord and Master, Divinity has similarly united our nature with His own, and God has made us sharers of the Divine nature in some fashion (2 Peter 1:4), for He was made man like us (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 4:15).
Note that there is a difference between honey collected from thyme and all other kinds. It is much more excellent than that called heraclean, which is made from the aconite and other flowers.
As soon as we taste it we recognize that it is form thyme, because it is both bitter and sweet. Heraclean honey, on the other hand, causes death.
It is similar with Our Lord’s sacred humanity. Springing from Mary’s virginal soil, His humanity is very different from ours, which is wholly tainted by corruption and sin.
Indeed, because the Eternal Father willed His only-begotten Son to be the Head and absolute Lord of all creatures (Col. 1:15–18), He willed that the most holy Virgin should be the most excellent of all creatures, since He had chosen her from all eternity to be the Mother of His Divine Son.
In truth, Mary’s sacred womb was a mystical hive in which the Holy Spirit formed this honeycomb wither most pure blood.
Further, the Word created Mary and was born of her, just as the bee makes honey and honey the bee, for one never sees a bee without honey nor honey without a bee.
At His birth we have very clear proofs of Our Lord’s Divinity. Angels descend from Heaven and announce to the shepherds that a Savior is born (Luke 2:8–14) to them. Magi come to adore Him (Matt. 2:1–11).
This clearly shows us that He was more than man, just as, on the contrary, His moaning as He lies in His manger shivering from the cold shows us that He was truly man.
Let us consider the Eternal Father’s goodness. Had He so desired He could have created His Son’s humanity as He did that of our first parents, or even given Him an angelic nature, for it was in His power to do so.
Had he willed to do so Our Lord would not have been of our nature. We would not then have had any alliance with Him.
But His goodness was such that He made Himself our brother in order that He might both give us an example (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:11–17) and render us sharers in His glory.
It was for this reason that He willed to be of Abraham’s seed, for the most holy Virgin was indeed of Abraham’s race, for it is said of her: Abraham and his seed (Lk. 1:55; Rom. 1:3; Gal. 3:16).
I leave you at the feet of this blessed Mother and Child so that, like little bees, you may gather the milk and honey that flow from these holy mysteries and her chaste breasts, while waiting for me to continue, if God grants us the grace and gives us the time. I beg Him to bless us with His benediction. Amen.”
“When Pope Francis published his apostolic letter, given motu proprio, Traditionis Custodes, on Friday, July 16, he expected the document’s sweeping restrictions on celebration of the traditional Latin Mass to come into immediate effect. But bishops struggled to implement the motu proprio’s strictures for that very weekend. The most that could be done in many dioceses was to give hasty permissions for whatever already existed, meaning that many Latin Masses, particularly in the English-speaking world, received a lifeline. Since then, a good number of these hasty permissions have turned into less hasty ones—but even this has changed the situation in subtle ways, and some bishops have taken things in a more restrictive direction.
A test case is provided by Abp. Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool in England, who issued a formal decree implementing Traditionis Custodes, listing the churches where the 1962 Missal has been a regular feature in recent years and allowing them to continue to offer the traditional Mass. He notes that some of these locations are parish churches, and while this appears to conflict with Traditionis Custodes Article 3.2 (explicitly forbidding parish churches to celebrate the traditional Mass), he grants them permission to continue in any case, using his prerogative under Canon 87 to derogate from the law of the Church for the good of souls.
The Latin Mass Society’s Canonical Guidance pointed out bishops’ power to do this, but it was no secret, and many bishops in the U.S. and elsewhere have used it in exactly this way. Whereas it might be quite easy to find non-parochial churches in Italy, where in the historic city centers there seem to be churches on every street corner, this is not so elsewhere. Pope Francis himself, asked about this issue by some French bishops on their ad limina visits to Rome, seemed relaxed about it.
On the other hand, Abp. McMahon’s decree suggests that where permission has not been given explicitly, the celebration of the 1962 Mass is forbidden. The Canonical Guidance just noted argues that Traditionis Custodes Article 3 regulates the celebration of Mass specifically for formally constituted “groups,” and Article 4 regulates which priests can celebrate the Latin Mass publicly. This leaves open the private celebration of this Mass by any priest, and even its public celebration by priests who have been given personal permission by their bishop, on an indefinite number of occasions and for any who wish to attend, if these do not constitute a “group.”
Despite this, many bishops, like Abp. McMahon, have taken the opportunity to insist on an extraordinarily tight control of celebrations. Unless the bishop sees some special reason for it, new occasional, let alone regular, celebrations of the 1962 Mass are going to be impossible.
The next level of stringency in regulating the celebration of the ancient Mass is when bishops cut down the number of permitted celebrations. This is not demanded by Traditionis Custodes, but bishops certainly have the power to do it. According to the Traditionis Custodeswebsite, out of 243 dioceses about which the site’s operators have data, 182 have not canceled any Masses, and thirty-six have canceled some but not all. This includes eleven in the United States.
Restricting, but not eliminating the availability of the Usus Antiquior gives bishops the opportunity to determine exactly where and by whom it is celebrated, and at the same time impose any conditions they wish on priests.
In the Diocese of Rome, to an otherwise benign document listing churches where the older Mass is currently said, and will continue to be allowed, Rome’s vicar general, Cdl. De Donatis, adds the surprising and—so far—unique provisions that it not be used for the Easter Triduum and that the old Roman Ritual not be used. This is the book containing the formulas for the other sacraments and blessings, which corresponds to the 1962 Missal.
Finally, there is the nuclear option: banning the old Mass altogether, adopted in thirty-six of the dioceses worldwide listed by the Traditionis Custodes website, only two of them in the U.S., with one in England.
Where restrictions are being imposed, it is hard to know whether the bishop is reacting against the clergy, the laity who attend, or the rite itself. The text of Traditionis Custodes and its accompanying letter are themselves unclear about where the problem lies, and this makes applying the documents to bring about what Pope Francis wants to achieve very difficult. Bishops, like the rest of us, are in the dark as to what exactly that is.
The letter refers to the kind of exaggerated traditionalist rhetoric that can more easily be found on the internet than among the real people who attend the Latin Mass, particularly when it is celebrated under the authority of the bishops. Bishops seeking assurances that congregations don’t “doubt the Council” (as Pope Francis expressed it), and pastors giving these assurances, have taken on a ritual quality. What does it mean for a group of people, often drawn from a wide geographical area, to hold a specific theological position? And what exactly is the anathematized claim?
Again, the clamping down on which priests celebrate where might suggest that the central concern is about priests spreading the Vetus Ordo in an uncontrolled manner—even when, in the words of the survey done last year by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is supposed to be the justification for Traditionis Custodes, there is no “true pastoral need.” This would suggest diocesan clergy, as opposed to priests of the Traditional Institutes, whom bishops bring in precisely to attend to a pastoral need. Indeed, so far, apart from being forbidden to use the Roman Ritual in Rome, the Traditional Institutes have escaped the worst of Traditionis Custodes, though this could change at any time. On the other hand, diocesan priests who like the older Mass can’t be accused of doubting the validity of the reformed rites, since they nearly always celebrate them themselves.
The letter that accompanies Traditionis Custodes suggests that the unity of the Church requires “a single and identical prayer”—a statement that must be difficult to interpret for bishops who preside over parishes where Mass is celebrated in many different languages, innumerable liturgical styles, and perhaps several rites: Roman, Greek, Melkite, and so on.
The degree of liturgical diversity in a diocese is largely a matter of demography, which bishops are unable to influence. The exception is the situation with the 1962 Missal, where, even before Traditionis Custodes, how much it was being celebrated was very much the result of diocesan policy. Abp. McMahon, for example, is in the position of many bishops around the world in having a church in his diocese served by one of the Traditional Institutes, simply because he welcomed it. When a bishop does this, he presumably does it for reasons he regards as good. The unity of the Church, the good of souls, and the preservation of historic church buildings may all be factors. None of these has been obviated by Traditionis Custodes.
It is not surprising, therefore, that we hear of the most hostile reports about the older Mass coming from bishops, notably in Italy, whose dioceses contained no celebrations anyway. They can ban the Usus Antiquior, but they had effectively done so already. Bishops who had allowed it, on the other hand, such as many in the U.S., often had good things to say about it and seem likely to continue to implement Traditionis Custodes in a gentle way.
What has changed is that the Latin Mass is now less likely to spread to new locations, even within a more open-minded diocese. The Vetus Ordo faces a period of consolidation: congregations will be able to grow, but not multiply. It remains to be seen, however, how long this phase of liturgical history will last, and what will succeed it.”
In a 1988 letter to the Rev. George V. Coyne, S.J., director of the Vatican Observatory, His Holiness Pope St John Paul II wrote, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.”
The Gold Mass, which follows in the tradition of special Masses for members of different professions, was selected because gold is the color of the hoods worn by individuals graduating with a Ph.D. in science. It is also the color associated with the patron saint of scientists St. Albert the Great.
“The proper roles and relative importance of faith and reason have been pondered and argued across the centuries. In our day, the debate is often cast in the form of religion (faith) and science (reason), with an underlying assumption that the issue boils down to religion versus science, and we really need to take sides, either clinging to outdated “religious superstition” or progressing with the times to “follow the science.”
Pope St. John Paul summed up the extremes of this false dichotomy in his encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) in 1998 using the termsfideism (from the Latin fides for faith) and scientism. Fideism, embodied by some of our Protestant brethren, “fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God” (50). We see this most commonly in Biblicism, which makes the Bible “the sole criterion of truth.” Scientism, embodied by many modern atheists and agnostics, is “the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive sciences; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical, and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy” (88).
John Paul knew well that St. Thomas Aquinas made clear in the thirteenth century, as he put it in the Summa Contra Gentiles, that “there exists a twofold truth concerning the divine being.” One kind of truth is accessible through reason, and the other is obtained through God’s direct revelation. Indeed, one nice metaphor casts such truths as written in two books—the book of nature and the book of Scripture. John Paul provided a particularly beautiful and relevant metaphor: “faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”
Today, we celebrate the feast of one of the people who flew the highest upon both wings—all the way to heaven. Albert of Cologne (c.1200-1280) is perhaps best known today as the teacher and mentor of Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, as Thomas has become the patron saint of scholars, Albert is the patron saint of scientists. (Seems they both did a fair job of choosing faith and reason.)
Though he is overshadowed by the towering figure of his mighty student, Albert was known as Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great), even while he was alive on earth. So why was he so great? Because he read so well the books of Scripture, like many great Church Doctors before him, and because he read the book of nature like none before him and few since! He also wrote many books of his own, and both different kinds of books.
Albert was called the Great due to his incredible breadth of knowledge and mastery of virtually every scientific discipline known to man at the time—from A to Z, with contributions to fields as diverse as anatomy, anthropology, astronomy, biology, botany, chemistry, dentistry, geography, geology, medicine, physiology, physics, psychology, and zoology. Some people in his day said you could completely repopulate the forests and rivers of Bavaria with all the plants and animals he had written about. Some said Albert knew all there was to know!
Working without any modern instruments, two hundred years before the printing press, and in the midst of a variety of roles throughout his lifetime, including professor at the University of Paris, bishop of Cologne, and Dominican provincial of Germany, here are some of Albert’s scientific accomplishments:
He isolated arsenic.
He provided the first description in Western writing of the spinach plant (surely becoming the favorite Church Doctor of Popeye the Sailor Man.)
He did early work in the theory of protective coloration of animals—including predicting that animals in the extreme north would have white coloring.
He determined that the Milky Way is a huge assemblage of stars.
He determined that the figures visible on the moon were not reflections of the earth’s mountains and seas, but features of the moon’s own surface.
He predicted land masses at the earth’s poles.
He predicted a large land mass to the west of Europe (and a copy of his prediction has been found in the personal library of Christopher Columbus).
He determined, with the use of mathematical formulae, that the earth was spherical.
He integrated the theories of Aristotle on the nature of human memory with the literature on practical improvement of memory that came down through Cicero.
So Albert clearly was no slouch on the science side of the ledger. As for religion, Albert also wrote many treatises of biblical commentary and was said to be perhaps the most prolific Mariologist of the thirteenth century. Indeed, when Pope Pius XII declared the dogma of the Assumption of Mary on November 1, 1950, he cited Albert as a key champion of the Assumption, having gathered the arguments from Scripture and the Church Fathers to conclude that the Mother of God had indeed been assumed body and soul into heaven.
Though Albert’s greatest student, the Angelic Doctor Thomas Aquinas, was as calm and placid as they come, our great Albert could get testy at times, but only because he so cherished the truth. Later in his life, he would speak out with strong words against those opposed to acquiring human knowledge, the fideists of his day: “There are those ignorant people who wish to combat by every means possible the use of philosophy, and especially among the preachers, where no one opposes them; senseless animals who blaspheme that of which they know nothing.”
Albert loved science and philosophy because he loved God. He knew well that the book of Scripture guides us to the book of nature, and vice versa: “For the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their creator” (Wis. 13:5). Albert never looked at or wrote about a plant, an animal, or even a star without glorying in the fact that each is a creature, reflecting in its own way the beauty and perfection of its creator. That is why the whole world was theology to him.
St. Albert the Great, pray for us, that we may grow in faith and reason, in religion and in science.”
-by Rev Brian Harrison, OS, the Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D., a priest of the Society of the Oblates of Wisdom, is a retired Associate Professor of Theology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce, P.R. In 1997 he gained his doctorate in Systematic Theology, summa cum laude, from the Pontifical Athenæum of the Holy Cross in Rome. Since 2007 Fr. Harrison has been scholar-in-residence at the Oblates of Wisdom Study Center in St. Louis, Missouri, is well-known as a speaker and writer. He is the author of three books and over 130 articles in Catholic books, magazines and journals in the U.S.A., Australia, Britain, France, Spain and Puerto Rico. He is also parochial vicar of the parish of Saint Joseph the Worker in the city of Ponce, and a ‘Defender of the Bond’ for the island’s marriage tribunals.
He was born in Australia and, after being raised as a Presbyterian, converted to the Catholic faith in 1972. In 1979 he began studies for the priesthood in the major seminary of Sydney, and after completing his Licentiate in Theology at Rome’s Angelicum university was ordained as a priest in Saint Peter’s Basilica in 1985 by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. In 1997 he gained his doctorate in Systematic Theology, summa cum laude, from the Pontifical Athenæum of the Holy Cross in Rome.
Fr. Harrison, who has lived in Puerto Rico since 1989, is well-known as a speaker and writer. He is the author of two books and over 120 articles in Catholic magazines and journals in the U.S.A., Australia, Britain, France, Spain and Puerto Rico. His special interest in theological and liturgical matters, in keeping with the charism of the Oblates of Wisdom, is upholding a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ between the teachings of Vatican Council II and the bi-millennial heritage of Catholic Tradition.
It is now fifty years since Pope St. Paul VI, in the apostolic constitution Missale Romanum (April 3, 1969), promulgated the revised Roman-rite Missal in response to Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy). And although the Holy Eucharist is meant to be our central sacramental bond of unity and love, it has in this half-century become—tragically—the occasion of serious confusion and dissension.
I respect and, in fact, share, the concern of tradition-conscious Catholics about certain features of the liturgical reform, but in this article I’d like to issue a call for fairness and moderation in the expression of such concerns. The unity of the Church surely requires this.
Fair to call them “dissident”
Some traditionalists, while celebrating and attending the classical Latin Roman-rite Mass (dubbed the “Extraordinary Form” by Pope Benedict XVI) whenever possible, refrain from attacking the post-conciliar Novus Ordo rite (the “Ordinary Form”) as bad and unacceptable in itself. Others, however, do precisely that. I think it fair to call them “dissident” traditionalists, because they openly dissent from certain official positions of the post-Vatican II Church on liturgy and doctrine.
Their flagship organization is undoubtedly the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), but they find a strident voice in many publications and websites, and some of these hold views that are outright sedevacantist (the belief that there have been no true popes since Vatican II). Their central claim is that the Novus Ordo Mass, even if valid in itself, reeks so strongly of Protestantism and modernism as to be downright illegitimate—simply unacceptable for Catholic worship.
In their utter loathing for what the Church now prescribes as the normative way of celebrating our most sacred act of worship, dissidents claim it expresses a different, non-Catholic religion so that it’s objectively immoral—forbidden by God!—to celebrate or attend Ordinary Form Masses.
And, yes, they really do go that far. The OnePeterFive.com website recently ran an article including this peremptory summons: “Laity: If you still belong to a Novus Ordo parish, it’s time to leave. . . . Nothing supersedes man’s duty to render God that worship proper to His Majesty, and the Novus Ordo just ain’t it.” And in the FAQ (frequently asked questions) section of the official SSPX website, we read (accessed Jan. 1, 2019):
“The Novus Ordo Missae assumes. . . heterodox elements alongside the Catholic ones to form a liturgy for a modernist religion which would marry the Church and the world, Catholicism and Protestantism, light and darkness. . . . [This] render[s] it a danger to our faith, and, as such, evil. . . . Even when said with piety and respect for the liturgical rules, . . . [the Novus Ordo] is impregnated with the spirit of Protestantism. It bears within it a poison harmful to the faith.”
Then, to the question, “Are we obliged in conscience to attend the Novus Ordo Missae?”, the website not only answers no but asserts that Catholics have no objective right to attend it for Sunday worship:
“If the Novus Ordo Missae is not truly Catholic, then it cannot oblige for one’s Sunday obligation. Many Catholics who do assist at it are unaware of its all-pervasive degree of serious innovation and are exempt from guilt. However, any Catholic who is aware of its harm does not have the right to participate. He could only then assist at it by a mere physical presence without positively taking part in it, and then only for major family reasons (weddings, funerals, etc.).”
Since the last sentence here expresses the stringent conditions laid down by pre-conciliar church legislation for attendance at non-Catholic services, the message the SSPX is sending is all too clear: the Novus Ordo Mass, as such, is to be regarded as a non-Catholic form of worship. That would leave hundreds of millions of the faithful without access to any legitimate Mass, because in most of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, traditional Latin Masses are very few and far between. Has Christ, then, abandoned all these brethren, leaving them with nothing more than an impious simulacrum of genuine Catholic worship?
So why do these dissidents reject the new rite so totally and implacably? They insist it’s quintessentially a matter of doctrine, not merely of aesthetic preference for the old rites. Fr. Anthony Cekada sums up their common position at the beginning of his book, Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI. The book’s “principal thesis,” he tells us, is that the new rite
“(a) destroys Catholic doctrine in the minds of the faithful, and in particular, Catholic doctrine concerning the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the priesthood, and the Real Presence; and (b) permits or prescribes grave irreverence (p. 7, italics in original).”
The space available in this article will allow me to consider only (and far from exhaustively) the first and more fundamental of these objections. As regards (b), I will simply register my view that a couple of newly permitted (i.e., optional) liturgical practices—Communion in the hand and the sign of peace just before Communion—are indeed open to abuse and can become the occasion of irreverence. However, they are not in themselves irreverent. Much less can I find anything gravely irreverent “prescribed” (i.e., obligatory) in the text of the new Roman Missal or its accompanying General Instruction.
Let’s turn to dissidents’ doctrinal objections to the Novus Ordo. First and foremost is the charge that it undermines faith in the sacrificial character of the Mass. According to the SSPX website, the new missal is marked by “the almost complete deletion of references to sacrifice.” And the OnePeterFive article cited above even makes the incredible assertion that in the Novus Ordo “the Catholic Mass has been stripped of prayers expressing Catholic doctrine.”
It’s true that some sacrifice-expressing prayers added during medieval times have been dropped from the Offertory; but far from “almost complete[ly] deleti[ng]” such prayers, every Novus Ordo Mass expresses the doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice at least five times:
The priest’s secret offertory prayer, praying that our sacrifice will be pleasing to God.
His invitation to the people, “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father.”
The people’s response, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory . . .”
In the Roman Canon and each of the new eucharistic prayers, the sacrificial character of the Mass is clearly expressed in the texts following the consecration.
The very words of consecration of the bread in the Novus Ordo actually restore an explicit expression of the sacrificial purpose of what is being done: “This is my body, which will be given up for you.” The words italicized here (or equivalent expressions) were found in a number of ancient liturgies but are absent from the Tridentine formula.
On top of all that, there is a sixth expression of this doctrine in many Masses, found in the offertory prayer over the gifts.
It should also be noted that all the above texts except the first are pronounced out loud in the language of the people. Indeed, in the case of the third text, the people pronounce it themselves. So, it seems likely that the doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice, far from being “destroy[ed] . . . in the minds of the people,” is actually impressed in their minds more clearly by the Novus Ordo prayers than was the case in pre-conciliar days, when every single one of the prayers expressing this doctrine was pronounced silently, in Latin, by the priest alone.
Why the erosion of belief?
How about worshippers’ belief in the priesthood and Real Presence, which Fr. Cekada also claims the Novus Ordo “destroys”? It’s true that the role of the priest celebrant in some secondary rubrics is no longer distinguished so sharply from that of the laity as it was in the traditional rite, but it seems to me obvious that his unique and irreplaceable prominence in the celebration of Mass remains clear and unmistakable to all participants in the Pauline liturgy (see sidebar, below).
Yes, surveys do consistently show a marked decline in Catholic belief in this doctrine since Vatican II, and to a limited extent this may have been a side effect of official changes such as the elimination, in the interests of “noble simplicity,” of some liturgical signs of reverence that “reform-of-the-reformers” such as myself would like to see restored. But the lion’s share of blame for this deplorable weakening of faith surely rests with more direct and obvious causes: heterodox theology taught in seminaries, the resulting bad (or nonexistent) preaching and catechesis about eucharistic doctrine, the sharp decline in Mass attendance, widespread liturgical disobedience (often called “creativity”), and sloppy, irreverent celebrations.
Also, the preposterous claim that the Pauline Mass is “stripped of prayers expressing Catholic doctrine” ignores all the changing (“proper”) feasts and prayers in the new missal. In fact, all Catholic doctrines distinguishing Catholic from Protestant belief that were in the old Missal are also in the new one (see sidebar, far below).
A number of other talking-points continue to do the rounds of hardline traditionalist media outlets as supposed evidence of the Novus Ordo’s heterodox and illegitimate character. Most of them are not as telling as their purveyors suppose them to be. Let’s look at a few.
Exhibit 1: The “Ottaviani Intervention”
In September 1969, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, retired prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, signed a letter to Pope Paul VI presenting a short critical study of Paul’s recently promulgated rite of Mass. This could be considered the Bible of dissident traditionalism. The main author of the study was the Dominican theologian M. L. Guérard des Lauriers, who shortly afterward lapsed into schism as a founding father of sedevacantism.
Soon Ottaviani’s intervention, another French priest, Fr. Gerard Lafond, published a facsimile of a signed letter dated February 17, 1970, that he’d received from Ottaviani, in which the cardinal said his previous hesitations about the new Mass had now been “put to rest” by explanations coming from Fr. Lafond and Paul VI himself. More often than not, dissidents don’t mention this retraction, which undermines their appeal to the authority and prestige of the longtime head of the Holy Office. Some of them suggest that Ottaviani’s trusted secretary, Msgr. Gilberto Agustoni, fabricated this letter and deceived the near-blind cardinal into signing it.
This of course implausibly assumes not only that Agustoni was corrupt but that he would have risked his career by publishing an outright lie. Ottaviani lived on for years, receiving visitors and retaining all his faculties other than vision. He would quickly have learned that his letter retracting his intervention was published in the widely read Documentation Catholique and would surely have publicly denounced it as a forgery, if indeed it was. His permanent silence, therefore, is eloquent.
Exhibit 2: Pope Paul VI’s ‘heretical’ instruction
Well, this Protestant-friendly, ecumenically flavored text was heretical (if that’s the right word for error by omission) only in what it left out of its description of the Mass, not by what it actually affirmed or denied. And not all traditionalists who point accusing fingers at this defective instruction are candid enough to acknowledge that at least it was very short-lived.
Pope Paul, on scrutinizing this introduction more attentively, quickly withdrew it and replaced it in the 1970 Missal by a new “premium” that not only unambiguously reaffirms the Tridentine doctrines of eucharistic sacrifice, the Real Presence, and the ordained priesthood but emphasizes that these doctrines are consistently shown forth in the actual texts and rubrics of the new Missal. (See especially articles 2, 3, and 4 in the “Introduction to the General Instruction” at the beginning of the current Roman Missal)
Exhibit 3: Jean Guitton’s testimony
This French philosopher stated in a 1993 radio interview with a Lutheran pastor, “I can only repeat that Paul VI did all that he could to bring the Catholic Mass away from the tradition of the Council of Trent towards the Protestant Lord’s Supper.” But Guitton’s off-the-cuff, anecdotal, secondhand testimony scarcely counts as an authoritative and adequate guide to the mind of Paul VI, especially when we take into account the pontiff’s emphatic reassertion of the doctrinal “tradition of the Council Trent” (see previous paragraph) as well as his many formal teachings on these matters, especially his splendid 1965 eucharistic encyclical, Mysterium Fidei.
A more balanced appraisal of St. Paul VI’s intentions would, I think, conclude that while he indeed wanted a liturgical reform that would help smooth the way back to Catholic unity for Protestants by adopting some of their doctrinally unobjectionable liturgical practices—e.g., using the vernacular and adding more Scripture readings—he insisted on retaining strict fidelity to the Church’s dogmatic teaching in both texts and rubrics of the revised Missal.
The extent to which these ecumenically oriented reforms have succeeded or failed in promoting genuine unity among Christians is of course a very different question.
Exhibit 4: The six Protestant advisers
In view of what has just been said, the ecumenical input of some non-Catholic liturgists to the reform in the 1960s is not too surprising; but even though the prudence of having them there seems debatable, these gentlemen had no voting rights on the Vatican liturgical Consilium that was revising the Roman Missal, and nobody can point to any feature of the resulting Novus Ordo that was not already promoted independently by its Catholic authors.
Exhibit 5: Max Thurian
Traditionalist hardliners love to cite this Protestant theologian (one of the six just mentioned) who was prominent in the ecumenical Taizé community. OnePeterFive quotes him as making the following comment soon after Paul VI promulgated the Novus Ordo: “It is now theologically possible for Protestants to use the same Mass as Catholics” (bold type in original). Such traditionalists take this to vindicate “out of the horse’s mouth” their own claim that the Novus Ordo expresses Protestant rather than integrally Catholic doctrine.
But they never point out that Thurian was by no means a typical Protestant and certainly didn’t speak for Protestants in general. Just as not all professing Catholics adhere faithfully to Catholic doctrine, not all Protestants adhere to the doctrines of Luther and Calvin.
Thurian and quite a few ecumenically minded Protestants these days entertain ideas that approximate the Catholic doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice (and for this they are roundly denounced as traitors to the Reformation by traditional Protestants).
The relevant takeaway here is that no Protestant who takes seriously the thoroughly Catholic texts of the post-Vatican II Missal and who adheres to the classic Reformation rejection of the doctrines they express could possibly feel comfortable in “us[ing] the same Mass as Catholics.”
Harmful to Catholic unity
Let’s sum up. I’m pleading here that Catholics who prefer the ancient Latin rite (I myself celebrate it on weekdays) respect the wise provision of popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
In their documents restoring its use in the Church, these popes insist, in the interests of Church unity, that those celebrating and attending the Extraordinary Form must also acknowledge the doctrinal correctness and legitimacy of the Ordinary Form.
Unfortunately, the SSPX does not comply with that condition; nor does the OnePeterFive article cited, which even endorses the calumny that our post-conciliar rite of Holy Mass is “barely recognizable as a Catholic rite” and says, “It’s debatable whether this form of worship can even be called ‘Catholic’ in any meaningful sense.”
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski’s rhetoric, in another OnePeterFive post, is similarly disdainful. After scornfully branding the new rite “a shell, a simulacrum, a substitute,” he says, “[E]ven at its best, the Novus Ordo . . . is still a starvation diet compared with the riches in the preconciliar liturgical tradition. God can sanctify prisoners in jail fed on stale crusts and standing water, but this is not the manner in which He would sanctify most of us.”
It’s sad to see this skilled writer using his eloquence in a passionate effort to arouse contempt for our approved ordinary form of worship in Catholic hearts and minds.
Please, dear brethren! These intemperate excoriations of the Novus Ordo are manifestly harmful to Catholic unity and can even lead in a schismatic direction. Please God, the next half-century will see our inevitable disagreements carried out more in the tranquil spirit of the Holy Thursday liturgy: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Sidebar 1: What of the Eucharist?
What of the Real Presence? Consider:
The priest’s required bow to the bread and chalice prior to their consecration, which is then marked by his genuflections and elevations of the host and chalice
The recommended bell-ringing and incensation for each consecration; the priest’s dramatic presentation of the host and chalice to the people proclaiming the Baptist’s immortal words, “Behold the Lamb of God . . . ”
The required kneeling of ministers and congregation for the consecration
The solemn eucharistic processions on Holy Thursday evening and Corpus Christi (a holy day of obligation that specifically honors the reality of Lord’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist)
The highly recommended services of eucharistic adoration and benediction outside of Mass
All these features of the Pauline liturgy demonstrate the falsity of the charge that it “destroys” the faith of Catholics in transubstantiation and the Real Presence.
Sidebar 2: Doctrines in the New Mass
In the current Missal we find clearly expressed not only the sacrificial character of the Mass but also:
The primacy of Peter and his successors (praying for the pope in every Mass, feasts of the Chair of Peter on Feb. 22 and Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29)
All the privileges of Our Blessed Lady (Immaculate Conception, Assumption, divine maternity, and her perpetual virginity proclaimed at the beginning of most Masses)
Our devotion to the other saints (with scores of their feast days celebrated throughout the year)
Transubstantiation (see above)
Prayers for the dead implying purgatory (briefly in every Eucharistic Prayer and more abundantly in funeral Masses and the Masses for All Souls Day (Nov. 2nd).
On July 16, 2021, Pope Francis released a new document regulating the celebration of the pre-Vatican II liturgy.
The document is titled Traditionis Custodes (Latin, “Guardians of the Tradition”), and it narrows the situations in which the traditional Latin liturgy is permitted.
There is much more to say about the document than can be covered here, but this will be an overview of some of the key points that have the most immediate impact.
Under the provisions of Benedict XVI’s 2007 document Summorum Pontificum, the individual priest was the primary decision-maker concerning when Mass would be celebrated according to the older form. Under the new document, the bishop has this responsibility.
Although rumors had been circulating that Pope Francis was likely to release a new document narrowing the situations in which the older liturgy could be celebrated, the document came more quickly than many suspected and took a large number by surprise. Reactions were quick in coming, with many on the internet expressing shock and outrage.
To correctly understand the document, it is important to get the facts and to try to understand why the pope made the decisions he did. A good starting point is reading the motu proprio itself.
To start with, although there are not as many opportunities to celebrate the traditional liturgy as when every individual priest could decide to perform it, there is no sudden end to its celebration. Instead, bishops whose dioceses have groups of faithful for whom the 1962 liturgy is celebrated are “to designate one or more locations where the faithful adherents of these groups may gather for the eucharistic celebration” according to the older form. In these “celebrations,” the document prescribes, “the readings”—presumably the single epistle reading, often but not always taken from the apostles’ New Testament letters, and the Gospel reading—“are proclaimed in the vernacular language, using translations of the Sacred Scripture approved for liturgical use by the respective Episcopal Conferences.”
The new locations specified in Traditionis Custodes aren’t to be in ordinary parish churches, but they may be in “personal parishes” already erected for this purpose. Although no new personal parishes are to be erected, the existing ones have not been suppressed (though it is up to the bishop whether to continue them).
Bishops in dioceses with the traditional liturgy also are directed “to appoint a priest who, as delegate of the bishop, is entrusted with these celebrations and with the pastoral care of these groups of the faithful. . . . This priest should have at heart not only the correct celebration of the liturgy, but also the pastoral and spiritual care of the faithful.”
The pope is thus not stopping the celebration of the traditional liturgy, but mandating a space for it separate from the parish churches and addressing the pastoral care of the faithful who prefer it.
There are other details to the current regulations, but these are the ones that have the most immediate impact on the ordinary faithful who prefer the traditional liturgy.
When it comes to understanding the pope’s reasoning behind these decisions, the best source of information is a letter that Pope Francis wrote to the world’s bishops explaining them. When reading the letter, we should remember the Catechism’s exhortation: “To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way” (2478).
In the letter, the pope seeks to enter the minds of his two predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as the minds of those who are disappointed with poorly celebrated liturgies.
He writes: “I am saddened by abuses in the celebration of the liturgy on all sides. In common with Benedict XVI, I deplore the fact that ‘in many places the prescriptions of the new missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorization for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions.’”
Francis notes that the bishops must “provide for the good of those who are rooted in the previous form of celebration and need to return in due time to the Roman Rite promulgated by Saints Paul VI and John Paul II.” In prescribing how to go about this, he concludes by asking the bishops “to be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses. Seminarians and new priests should be formed in the faithful observance of the prescriptions of the Missal and liturgical books.”
The pontiff traces the origin of Traditionis Custodes to a survey the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith conducted of the world’s bishops to ask how successfully Summorum Pontificum was being implemented in their dioceses.
He writes, “The responses reveal a situation that preoccupies and saddens me, and persuades me of the need to intervene. Regrettably, the pastoral objective of my predecessors, who had intended ‘to do everything possible to ensure that all those who truly possessed the desire for unity would find it possible to remain in this unity or to rediscover it anew,’ has often been seriously disregarded. An opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI . . . was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.”
Specifically, the pope claims in his letter, attitudes had developed that were “often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.’”
The extent to which these attitudes are present among attendees of the traditional liturgy can be debated. Nevertheless, the pope says he felt it necessary to intervene with the new regulations, lest these attitudes continue to grow and divisions in the body of Christ become even worse. The motu proprio thus directs local bishops with groups that celebrate the traditional liturgy “to determine that these groups do not deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the magisterium of the supreme pontiffs.”
It should be borne in mind that each of the recent pontificates has seen significant shifts on the role of the traditional liturgy in the life of the Church. This is likely to continue in the future, and future popes may again choose to broaden the circumstances under which the traditional liturgy is permitted.
-please click on the image for greater detail -altar bells used at the elevation of the the Eucharistic, both species to draw the attention, practically, of large congregations who may be in a cathedral so large they may have trouble seeing the elevation or knowing the exact moment the bread and wine are changed into the Eucharist, to mark that special moment. This is a very minimalist modern design, some current and older versions are quite ornate.
-the crotalus. It can take many forms but is usually always wooden and must make a loud sound, similar to the volume of altar bells. In the Roman Rite, altar bells are not supposed to be rung after the Gloria in the liturgy on the evening of Holy Thursday, and are supposed to remain unused until the Gloria on Holy Saturday. This is supposed to make things more somber as we remember the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But, during this short period of time, is anything supposed to take its place? That’s where the crotalus comes in. The Church’s liturgical rubrics don’t prescribe a replacement for altar bells, but there is a long-standing tradition of using a wooden clapper or noise-maker in its place. This serves to both mark the same events as the altar bells, but in a less “sweet” way and thus maintain the somber tone.
The term “crotalus” is a Latin term that comes from the Greek word “krotalon” (κροταλον), which means “rattle.” (As a result, “crotalus” is also the name of a genus of rattlesnakes.) Crotaluses can come in many different designs (see the pictures and videos at the end of this article for examples).
The crotalus used to be universally used, but fell out of use in the last few decades. It seems, however, to have made a little bit of a comeback lately due to an increase of interest in traditional liturgy.
(“Smells *& bells is has been used by progressive Catholics derisively post Vatican II to mock the use of pre-conciliar liturgical practices. Too cool for school.)
“I was debating the leader of a ministry that tried to lure Catholics into “real” Christianity. In the question period a young woman raised her hand. She looked angry and, turning to me, said, “My grandmother lives in Mexico. She is a pious Catholic. She goes to Mass every week and prays the rosary every day. Under her bed she keeps a glass jar with a hairball in it, and she worships the hairball. Why does your church promote such idolatry?”
I replied that worshiping hairballs is no part of Catholic practice, that Church authorities would disapprove of the practice if they knew about it, and that she should consider asking her grandmother’s priest to intervene and set the pious but confused woman straight. The questioner seemed to accept my plea of innocence. She seemed to recognize that we shouldn’t be blamed for something we would condemn if we only knew about it.
Then questions turned to real, not imagined, Catholic practices, ones that many Fundamentalists find repellent. These are the “smells and bells” of Catholicism: actions that mark Catholics as Catholics, things we do that make us stand out.
We have sacraments
Fundamentalists dislike peculiarly Catholic customs because they think they’re non-scriptural, even anti-scriptural. This attitude can be overcome, but it takes patience. First, we must explain what we mean by a particular practice (many Fundamentalists don’t know, say, what the sign of the cross is—they don’t know the motions, and they don’t know the words).
Then we must explain why we do these things (because they bring to mind our Lord’s redemptive work, for instance). Third, we must question Fundamentalists closely to see if they harbor some unusual misunderstanding of our practices. Many of them do.
We need to impress upon them that Catholicism is a sacramental religion. (Ed. In ancient Roman religion and law, the sacramentum was an oath or vow that rendered the swearer sacer, “given to the gods,” in the negative sense if he violated it. Sacramentum also referred to a thing that was pledged as a sacred bond, and consequently forfeit if the oath were violated. Both instances imply an underlying sacratio, act of consecration.)
Sacraments are visible signs of God’s grace; they are actions that not only signify the transmittal of grace to us but also really do transmit grace. They are a natural consequence of the Incarnation. God took on flesh (matter) to save us, and he left behind actions that use matter (such as water, oil, and wine) to continue to give us his saving grace.
Unlike Catholicism, Fundamentalism is not a sacramental religion. It’s one thing, Fundamentalists say, for God to take flesh and to use material things during his sojourn on Earth. It’s something else for him to set up a Church that encourages the continued use of material things. God is too great, too “wholly other,” to use matter as a vehicle of grace.
For the Fundamentalist, it gets worse.
Sacramentals more troubling
Aside from the seven sacraments, Catholics have sacramentals, and in some ways sacramentals are more off-putting for “Bible Christians” than are the seven sacraments themselves. After all, even Fundamentalists have the “ordinances” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, although they don’t think these “ordinances” do what our sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist do, such as remit sins and convey grace. But Fundamentalists have nothing like sacramentals—or so they think.
The Code of Canon Law explains, “[S]acramentals are sacred signs by which spiritual effects are signified and are obtained by the intercession of the Church” (can. 1166). They aren’t the ordinary means of grace established by Christ—that is, they aren’t sacraments as such—but they are related to sacraments.
With sacramentals we consecrate our daily lives and keep thoughts of God ever in our minds. There are seven sacraments but countless sacramentals. Any action or thing put to a sacred purpose may be considered a sacramental.
Fundamentalists use sacramentals, but they don’t realize it. Consider the Protestant wedding ceremony. The bride wears white and, perhaps, a veil. She carries a bouquet. She and the groom exchange vows and rings. Each of these actions and things has a religious significance: purity in the white garments, the beauty of married life in the bouquet, fidelity in the vows, permanence in the circularity of the rings. Each is a sign of the holiness of matrimony. Each is a sacramental, if the word is used in a wide sense.
Borrowing from paganism?
If spoken to gently, most Fundamentalists can come to accept the fact that they too use sacramentals, even if they reject the word. They are especially uncomfortable, though, when told that many of these sacramentals originated in pagan religions. After all, a standard Fundamentalist charge against Catholicism is that its distinctive customs and beliefs are of pagan origin.
Fundamentalists don’t want to admit that they too have borrowed from paganism, but that is exactly what they have done. After all, their churches are offshoots of offshoots from the Catholic Church, even if they won’t admit the fact. (Fundamentalists believe their brand of Christianity goes straight back to New Testament times. It actually goes back only to the nineteenth century.)
Let’s look at a few Catholic practices that most irk Fundamentalists.
When they pass the Blessed Sacrament, Catholics go down on one knee to honor the Real Presence. This posture of subservience makes perfect sense, since Christ is really present in the tabernacle. Fundamentalists don’t believe he’s there, of course (they believe instead in a Real Absence), but they can be made to acknowledge the sensibleness of genuflecting through analogy.
Ask them to imagine themselves at Buckingham Palace, at an audience with the Queen of England. She enters the room and walks up to a woman. Under court protocol, what is the woman supposed to do? She is supposed to curtsy as a sign of respect for the Queen.
Another analogy. A soldier meets an officer on the street. What does the soldier do? He salutes. Again, a sign of respect and an acknowledgement of a superior.
Who is more superior to us than God? Which Fundamentalist, transported back to first-century Palestine, would not throw himself prostrate at the sight of Jesus? If that would be proper, then why not genuflect where Jesus is sacramentally present? Once you accept the actual presence of Christ in the tabernacle, genuflection makes perfect sense. Leaving out the genuflection would be a bit of an effrontery, like refusing to curtsy to the Queen.
At Mass we stand when the Gospel is read, out of respect for the very words of Jesus, and we sit to listen attentively to the other scriptural readings. At the consecration we kneel, kneeling being the posture of adoration. What we are doing is praying with our bodies, not just with our minds, and praying that way makes perfect sense for a creature composed of both body and soul. The postures we use during Mass show us—and those around us—what we believe and what we take seriously.
Sign of the cross
Every Fundamentalist knows Catholics cross themselves when praying in church, when hiding in foxholes, and when stepping into the batter’s box. They don’t, as a rule, know that Eastern Orthodox Christians also cross themselves (although they do it “backward”), so Fundamentalists think the sign of the cross is something that distinguishes Catholics from “real” Christians.
They don’t know that “real” Christians began making the sign of the cross at an early date. The theologian Tertullian, writing in 211, said, “We furrow our forehead with the sign [of the cross].” Making the sign was already an old custom when he wrote. It may have been common even when the apostles were alive.
True, the practice is not mentioned in the New Testament, but neither are peculiarly Fundamentalist practices such as the altar call, in which people march to the front of a church to announce publicly that, because of the preaching, they have just decided to “make a commitment to Christ.” This Fundamentalist practice—we can call it a Fundamentalist sacramental—is nowhere alluded to in Scripture, but it is not contrary to any scriptural teaching.
Catholics’ sign of the cross signifies two things at once: our redemption through the death of Jesus on the cross and the Trinity as the central truth of Christianity. When we make the sign we trace the cross on ourselves, and we recite the holy invocation: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We affirm what Christ came down to do for us (to redeem us by his voluntary death), and we affirm his chief revelation to us: that God is simultaneously one and three.
Not used as often in our liturgies as it once was, incense symbolizes the pleasant odor of Christian virtue and our prayers rising to God. It is the first part of the “smells and bells,” and most Fundamentalists think only Catholics use incense. But incense is not peculiar to Catholics. The ancients, both Jews and Gentiles, used it. Incense accompanied prayers at the Temple (Luke 1:10), and one of the gifts given to the Christ Child by the Magi was frankincense (Matt. 2:11).
But all that was before Christianity began, say Fundamentalists. Okay, but the book of Revelation deals with what happens afterward, and there we find that “the smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hands of an angel” (Rev. 8:4). If there’s incense in heaven, why not in churches here below?
Our church towers commonly have bells, often consisting of large sets, known as carillons, that can be rung from a keyboard. Small handbells are rung during Mass. Bells have been used for centuries to call people to Mass and to sanctify certain times of the day—for instance, it once was the custom, in Catholic countries, to ring church bells at noon so workers in the fields could pause and recite the Angelus. During Mass bells are rung at the consecration, partly to focus our attention, partly to echo the hosannahs of the heavenly choirs.
Fundamentalists disapprove of bells being used in Christian worship. Why they disapprove isn’t often clear. Some say bells are of pagan origin and thus should be forbidden; but pagans also sang hymns, and no Fundamentalist thinks Christian hymns should be forbidden.
Other Fundamentalists are more straightforward: they don’t like bells simply because, in their minds, bells are identified with the Catholic Church. Of course, Protestant churches often have bell towers, even if those towers contain no bells, but that’s overlooked by these Fundamentalists. For them, opposition to bells hardly rises above mere prejudice.
The usual complaint about the rosary is that it violates Matthew 6:7, which reads this way in the King James Version: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do.”
“See,” say Fundamentalists, “you Catholics repeat prayers, and Jesus told us not to do that!” Did he really? Then how does one account for what happened in the garden of Gethsemane? There Jesus prayed the same prayer three times—that is, he repeated the prayer.
Did he violate his own injunction? Was he a hypocrite? No, that’s impossible—which means Fundamentalists are wrong when they claim Jesus condemned repeated prayers. They should read Matthew 6:7 again. The operative word isn’t repetitions. It’s vain. Jesus condemned vain prayers, such as those to pagan gods.
Those gods sported multiple titles. Worshipers thought the gods would decline to hear their petitions unless they were addressed by the titles they wished to be addressed by at a particular moment. Having no way to know the titles of the day, worshipers started their prayers with a litany of titles, to make sure they hit upon the correct ones. Such a habit was vain not because it was repetitious but because it was futile: those gods didn’t even exist.
The rosary is an intensely biblical prayer. It contains not just the Our Father, which Jesus himself taught us, but also the Hail Mary, which is built of verses lifted from the Bible: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28) and “blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42).
The meditations associated with each decade (Catholics call them “mysteries”) are also straight out of the Bible, but most Fundamentalists don’t realize this. They think Catholics just rattle off Hail Marys without giving a thought to what they’re doing. In fact, when we pray the rosary we meditate on incidents in salvation history, such as the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection—each a prominent scriptural event.
What are uniforms for? To single out people for a particular function. The soldier’s uniform tells us his vocation, the police officer’s uniform helps him be identified by someone looking for help, and the Roman collar marks the priest. Vestments—a sacred “uniform”—are used at Mass.
In this the Church follows the example of the Old Testament liturgy, in which the priests were dressed in special clothes (Ex. 40:13-14, Lev. 8:7-9), and of the New Testament, which tells us that John the Baptist “wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist” (Matt. 3:4).
Water covers most of the Earth, and it is absolutely necessary for life. No wonder this marvelous liquid is used in sacraments and sacramentals. Sacred uses of water are found throughout the Old Testament: the saving of the Israelites by the parting of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:15-22), the miraculous flow from the rock touched by Moses’ staff (Ex. 17:6-7), the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land (Jos. 3:14-17), Ezekiel’s vision of life-giving water flowing from the Temple (Ezek. 47:1-12).
In the New Testament we find the baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:13-17), the healing water of the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9), and the water brought forth from Jesus’ side by the spear thrust (John 19:34). We’re told by our Lord that to enter the kingdom of God we must be born of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5).
With all these holy uses of water, is it any wonder we find it at baptisms, in exorcisms, and in the stoups at the door of Catholic churches? With it we bless ourselves (there’s the sign of the cross again!), not because the water itself has any special powers—it’s ordinary tap water with a pinch of salt added—but because its pious use brings to mind the truths of our faith.
If we take the time, we can help Fundamentalists see that “smells and bells” flow naturally from the Incarnation, but it takes work. Fundamentalists tend to be hereditary anti-Catholics; their anti-Catholic feelings were learned in the home or at the foot of the pulpit. If something is Catholic, they reflexively don’t like it. They operate from prejudice, not from dispassionate thinking. Yet even the most prejudiced can come to appreciate the sensibleness of sacramentals if they have sacramentals explained to them by a patient Catholic.”
Love & joy,
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom