19 May 2008

Pontifical High Mass

My generous friend, Professor William Tighe, has found and sent me a quite fascinating book (Roman and uncondemned) published in 1959 by one Canon Dudley Symon, a papalist writer but not an unreflecting admirer of the Roman Catholicism of his day (or of those papalists who uncritically imitated its tiniest details). A snippet: A pontifical High Mass, as it is celebrated today, with all the adjuncts of light, colour, scent, movement and music, is one of greatest artistic achievements of the human mind, worthy to be set beside a Symphony by Beethoven, or the Parthenon in Athens, or the frescoes of Michael Angelo. The Liturgical Reformers, like all other Reformers, will need watching lest their zeal leads them 'to root up the wheat also'. How right he was. How fortunate we are that the Latin Mass Society has booked Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos for June 14.

And, after a generation of ASB and Common Worship, these words seem almost uncanny in their prescience: The Church does not need a new Liturgy carefully devised as a compromise between the old and the new, toning down Cranmer and cautiously suggesting what Cranmer detested ... It needs the Prayer Book substantially as it is, for that is endeared by custom and is the spiritual food of countless people ... But since the Church [of England] makes a special appeal to primitive antiquity, since its reference is to the ancient Fathers and the age of the Great Councils, since its own ethos is in many ways so akin to the Roman, it needs also the Mass which is the purest expression of the faith and worship of that whole period .., To protest that this would mean an undesirable dichotomy at the heart of the Church's life can carry little weight, for at the present time there are not merely two but about a dozen distinguishable uses, and the Church would indeed be lucky if they were reduced to two ... the Mass restored to us would not only be the deepening of our knowledge and appreciation of the Divine Mysteries but a proclamation of our unity with the true source of our being, the rock whence we were hewed.

I, as some people would put it, 'intuit' with Symon. Whatever is flawed about '1662', I found something intensely moving about reading its words, abhorrent in their origins but sanctified by four centuries of use by good and sometimes learned Christian people, by a Charles Stuart as by a John Keble, as I used to in Broadwood Widger church in loveliest Devon. And I never fail to be moved as I say those words Te igitur ... by which in the classical Roman Rite one seems to enter silently as through a secret gate into the very heart of the divine mystery of the self-oblation of the Eternal Son.
But then, I am a member both of the Latin Mass Society and of the Prayer Book Society.

Bill Tighe also sent me a copy of Signor Marini's book entitled How we debauched the Roman Rite and let the smoke of Satan into the Church. It is moving in quite a different way from Canon Symon's.

1 comment:

Athanasius of Alexandria said...

Fr Symon was Superior General of CBS, if the Quarterly which I received this morning, and read - quite by chance! - just before I turned to these pages, is to be believed.