2 December 2008


I share the enthusiasm of the entire blogosphere at the Holy Father's vesture during First Evensong of Advent Sunday (although I am puzzled by the reappearance on the embroidery of the new vestments of the heraldic tiara: it was the Pope's personal and deliberate decision to replace it). But, as so often, I am distinctly more excited by his homily.This man rarely fails to deliver. Take the following:
The cry of hope of Advent expresses all the gravity of our condition, our extreme need for salvation. Which is to say that we await the Lord not as some beautiful decoration to a world already saved, but as the only way of liberation from mortal danger.
What is so very noteworthy about this is that it represents a turning away from the semi-Pelagianism which characterises the post-Conciliar selection of collects and back to the authentic tones of the Sunday collects they replaced. In my post around this time last year I drew attention to the urgent cry for help and divine power, taken from the psalms, 'Excita quaesumus Domine potentiam tuam et veni', which is the starting point of most of the Advent collects in the old rite. Here is the translation which the good old English Missal gives for the collect of Advent I:
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy power and come: that by thy protection we may be found worthy to be set free from the dangers of our sins which beset us; and to be saved by thy deliverance.
Compare this with (my translation) the newer collect:
Grant, we beseech thee, almighty God, this will unto thy faithful people, that, running with good works to meet thy Christ as he comes, they may be set at his right hand and be worthy to hold fast the kingdom of heaven.
There is nothing heretical in itself about this; it appears in the Gelasian Sacramentary as a postcommunion. And the Stir up prayer has survived into the newer book as a ferial collect on (just one) weekday. So both are part of the Church's great tradition; explicating the Novus Ordo within a hermeneutic of continuity, one is entitled to include Stir up in the mix. But in the old days Stir up was heard by everybody because it was a Sunday collect; moreover, it was repeated throughout its week. Lorenzo Bianchi puts it thus: 'A Pelagian turn of thought becomes apparent: which does not show itself in a failure to speak about grace, but in the way it is separated from a realistic consideration of the human condition and the manner in which the grace of Jesus Christ is made into an optional extra: just an unnecessary ornament ... [in the Advent Sundays and Christmas collects of] the new Missal ... sin does not appear, or even expressions explicitly linked with this concept ... [instead] we find phrases which, making no mention of the fragility of the human condition, tend to bring to the fore the aspect of man's commitment'. In the old Stir up series of collects, Bianchi goes on, 'a far more continual and pressing use of the imperative is found ... in place of these imperatives, in Paul VI's Missal the final or consecutive subjunctive prevails. Thus, even on the level of syntax, we pass from the cry of petition, from a dynamic of pure petition, to a basically descriptive phraseology'.

And which of those two collects do you think the Holy Father had been looking at before he wrote his homily?


rev'd up said...

Although I'm not a fan of Cranmer, his Advent Sunday collect is pretty good--much better than the NO prayer. What it lacks, however, is the emphasis on God stirring up His might and coming to save us. For except these days be shortened, there should no flesh be saved.

Orielensis said...

You state that you are puzzled by the "reappearance on the embroidery of the new vestments of the heraldic tiara: it was the Pope's personal and deliberate decision to replace it." I wonder if this is so clear. Given the way in which the Pope has now dispensed with the revived form of the archaic form of the pallium he received at the 'Inauguration of his Petrine ministry' in favour of something closer to the traditional form Popes and archbishops have used for the last millenium, I suspect that the substitution of the ugly and implausible banded mitre was, like the pallium design, foisted on His Holiness by the prevailing establishment in 2005.
What is significant is, I think, the version of the present papal arms used by the Pope's Cardinal Vicar for Rome on official documents - a handsome baroque-inspired design with the tiara atop the escutcheon. It can be viewed on the mast-head of the New Liturgical Movement's web site. There have been plenty of other versions produced in Rome of the current papal arms with the tiara. One of the many pleasures of heraldry is the ability of the artist to produce their version of the mandated componants. The fact that the Pope has worn vestments decorated with his arms and the tiara since Msgr Marini replaced Archbishop Marini suggests, to borrow a phrase, a hermeneutic of continuity. The use of papal thrones with the tiara prominently displayed makes the same point. The tiara is still used as a symbol of the Papacy - see the Vatican website for example - and on the arms of the Vatican City State. My hunch is that the real reason the Pope may appear to be cautious about the tiara, in addition to the ideas ruling in the Papal sacristy when he was elected, is the desire not to impair dialogue with the Orthodox and their fears about Papal primacy - though ironically their mitres are splendidly monarchical.