Hodie Christus Natus Est

When Augustus reigned alone upon earth, the many kingdoms of men came to end: and when Thou wast made man of the pure Virgin, the many gods of idolatry were destroyed. The cities of the world passed under one single rule; and the nations came to believe in one sovereign Godhead. The peoples were enrolled by the decree of Caesar; and we, the faithful, were enrolled in the Name of the Godhead, when Thou, our God, wast made man. Great is Thy mercy: glory to Thee.

– Doxasticon of St. Cassia for Nativity Vespers (Byzantine Rite)

A Note on “Unia” and Latinizations and Myths

It seems to me that it seems to be a commonplace tale around the (online?) Eastern Catholic water cooler which goes something like this. Up until the late 16th Century, Eastern Orthodox living in the area of what is now Ukraine and Belarus were living fine and happy with their perfect Byzantine liturgy, apophatic theology, and mystical spirituality before the big, bad Jesuits stormed in; duped bishops and laity alike; and inaugurated one of the greatest ecclesiastical heists in history, the Union of Brest (followed 50 years later by the Union of Uzhhorod). The inevitable fruits of the “Unia” — so the story goes — was a loss of the “pure Byzantine tradition” coupled with the onset of forced Latinizations. Without getting into the messy history surrounding Brest (which, I should add, was not orchestrated by the Jesuits nor aimed at destroying the Byzantine Rite), I wish so many of these contemporary naysayers of the “Unia” who love to spend their free-time disparaging Latin devotions which they seem to know very little about would spend a few minutes with Fr. Peter Galadza’s excellent study, “Seventeenth-Century Liturgicons of the Kievan Metropolia and Several Lessons for Today,” 56 St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 73 (2012).

In an earlier post, “The Ways of Greek Catholicism in the West – Liturgy,” I discussed Fr. Galadza’s article in some detail, highlighting in particular the messy business of trying to restore certain Eastern liturgical practices after they had fallen out of memory. Another important lesson from this study — one which I didn’t focus on previously — is the fact that it took nearly a century after Brest for what some might call “liturgical deformation” to set in — a deformation inspired in no small part by the limited educational opportunities available to Eastern Catholic clergy coupled with the rise of the Basilian Order which, at the outset at least, was comprised of a significant number of Polish clergy whose knowledge of Church Slavonic was sorely lacking. There then followed some regrettable centuries where the “Uniates” were treated as second-class Catholics by their Latin brethren and subjected to forced conversion at the hands of the Russian Empire (a practice that would be repeated under the Soviets in 1946). By the 19th and 20th centuries, however, the “Uniates” (now properly referred to as Greek Catholics) began a process of self-renewal in Galicia (western Ukraine), including reforming their liturgical practices in order to better reflect the form of the Byzantine Rite their forebears were familiar with. Was this a smooth and steady process? No. Political concerns during the time prompted certain suspicions towards those clergy who favored celebrating “like the Orthodox.” Moreover, many Greek Catholics had, by that point, grown accustomed to their “Latinized” rite; they weren’t interested in liturgical revisions which would make them feel less Catholic.

It is terribly easy to sit back today and scoff at such attitudes, as if the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived had ready-at-hand access to books, articles, and websites detailing the complexities of history and the numerous accidents that have occurred in the life of the Church (including her liturgical development). What is despicable about some of these ongoing discussions over a period of time which few today have any recollection of is their failure to account for the popular piety of the people who spent their whole lives immersed in an environment shaped (albeit haphazardly) by Western and Eastern ecclesiastical sensibilities. All of this has sadly given birth to a triumphalist myth whereby certain Eastern Catholics (or, really, Latin Catholics who stumbled onto Eastern Catholicism) proclaim their obvious superiority over those who have gone before simply because a century ago Greek Catholics prayed the Rosary rather than chased “uncreated light” with prayer ropes purchased off Mt. Athos. Distressingly little attention is paid to the reality that when Brest was consummated, the liturgical ethos of these reunified Catholics well reflected that of their estranged Orthodox brethren and that there is something admirable, indeed beautiful, about the fact that despite numerous obstacles, persecutions, and other hardships, these Eastern Christians found the road to Salvation. Even if we are now at a time when “Latinizations” are no longer taken a sign of Catholicity and our historical horizon has broadened far enough to recognize the Greek no less than the Latin tradition as part of the universal Church’s patrimony, there is no virtue in promoting the myth of a backwards and detestable past for the “Unia.” How much better we would all be if instead of sitting in judgment of past missteps, we find inspiration from the perseverance of our Greek-Catholic ancestors and the spirit of unity they fought so hard to preserve.

Hilarion on Liturgical Worship

Recently, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of the Russian Orthodox Church gave an interview in which he discussed, inter alia, worship in the Orthodox Church as compared to other traditions. (You can find the interview at the bottom of Robert Moynihan’s Inside the Vatican Letter #49 here.) Here’s an excerpt.


A (Minor) Followup on St. Joseph the Worker

Unsurprisingly, my comments on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker generated a bit of disagreement, both on this blog and other social-media outlets. Fine. Reasonable persons can disagree. What continues to baffle me, however, is what I call the Domino-effect Thesis where a moment of legitimate liturgical change — prudent or not — sets off a causal chain “culminating” in the Novus Ordo Missae and its subsequent fallout. The problem with this thesis is that nobody seems to agree when the first domino fell. Was it in 1960/62 with Pope John XXIII’s simplification/abbreviation of the Breviarium Romanum and certain rubrics for Mass? Was it the mid-1950s top-down revision of Holy Week and the reduction of Octaves on the Roman Calendar? Was it the “Bea Psalter”? Or was it Pope St. Pius X’s radical reorganization of the breviary Psalter in 1911? There are even those who posit that the re-codification of the Mass and Divine Office at Trent planted the seeds of today’s liturgical crisis in the Latin Church. That position, as far as I understand it, is rooted in the belief that liturgical development (change) should always be, on some level, “organic” and that the “imposition” of liturgical changes from the papal office onto the Church as a whole represented a revolution which continues on to the present day.

Top-down liturgical reform is nothing new to the Church of Christ, East or West. What is new is the modern capacity to track these changes and critically evaluated them using a deep toolbox of historical, theological, and liturgical learning. This strikes me as a far sturdier approach to addressing contemporary liturgical problems in the Church rather than relying on some meta-narrative of historically inevitable decline which claims to pinpoint accurately the absolute moment when things liturgical started to roll downhill. It also relieves those concerned about liturgy from the psychic-emotional burden of buying into any number of conspiracy theories about the thoughts and intentions behind the various liturgical reforms instituted over the last century. This is not to say that certain reformers didn’t bring highly questionable ideological agendas to the table when they proposed this-or-that change to the Roman Rite. But many of the reforms, imprudent and clumsy as they were, emerged from legitimate pastoral concerns that shouldn’t be passed over lightly. Whether or not those inclined toward hysteria over the “1962 books” will ever bother to take this into account remains to be seen.

Fretting over St. Joseph the Worker

Sometimes I run across things on the Catholic inter-webs so unintentionally strange that I can’t help but share. Case in point: The Benedicamus Domino web-log which, as far as I can tell, is dedicated to hyperbolic nitpicking and liturgical fetishism. The author’s latest target is the Latin feast of St. Joseph the Worker (San Giuseppe Comunista!), a mid-1950s invention which most traditional Catholics today regard as either imprudent or unnecessary. Those who have been exposed to the Gregorian hymns for this occasion know full well that they fall pretty darn short of “the mark” when it comes to the beauty and richness of the Roman Rite and some of the propers are not exactly inspiring. However, to howl on about the feast being a “modernist invention” is a bridge too far, particularly when one understands that the primary intent and purpose behind the feast was to dislodge May Day as an exclusively secularist (and communistic) holiday. Did it work? Well, of course not, but not because the liturgical texts themselves are riddled with theological error or bumped the feast Ss. Phillip and James (a feast many Catholics have all but forgotten about). Let’s not forget, however, that the feast was introduced during a period of time when the great 19th and 20th century popes took it upon themselves to speak forcefully on matters concerning labor, economics, and society, with stern reminders being issued by the likes of Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI on the justice due to laborers. In fact, this teaching is captured nicely in the feast’s introit: “Wisdom rendered to the just the wages of their labors, and conducted them in a wonderful way: and she was to them for a covert by day, and for the light of stars by night, allelúja, allelúja “

Now, none of this is to say that St. Joseph the Worker should stay on the (traditional) liturgical calendar. But it is a bit queer that the author of Benedicamus Domino should exhaust so much energy fretting over the loss of the Solemnity of St. Joseph, a feast often cast as “universal” and yet has no analogue in the Christian East. In fact, the only direct liturgical commemoration of St. Joseph in the Byzantine Rite falls on the Sunday after the Nativity and is dedicated to Christ’s forefathers generally rather than St. Joseph specifically. Again, this is not to say that the Latins cannot or should not directly commemorate St. Joseph, but his traditional Latin feast day — March 19 — remains firmly on the books. The Solemnity of St. Joseph, on the other hand, was a 19th C. addition to the Roman Calendar introduced by papal fiat. Its roots run hardly any deeper than those of St. Joseph the Worker.

At the end of the day, how much does any of this matter? The arguably needless addition of the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker pales in comparison to the revolutionary changes introduced into the Roman Rite in 1969. Heck, it even pales in comparison to the wreckovation of Latin Holy Week in the 1950s. Even so, the process of restoring the Roman Rite will be a long and hard one, requiring calm, concerted action by Catholic traditionalists, not wild condemnations of comparatively trivial matters. As anyone with a firm sense of liturgical history (East or West) well knows, feasts come and go through the centuries; ordos are revamped; and calendars shuffled about. Sometimes these changes are organic, though both Western and Eastern Christendom’s respective histories testify to numerous top-down changes which left the faithful wanting. It would come as no surprise to yours truly if, in a century from now, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker became a thing of memory, clearing the way for the celebration of Francis the Merciful.

Maybe the Liturgical Extremists Have a Point?

Update 4/6/16: It appears that Rorate Caeli has taken down the post linked below. A cached version can be found here.

Rorate Caeli has a fresh post up detailing the small, but growing, number of Latin Mass communities which celebrate Holy Week according to the pre-Pius XII rite. Numerous other parishes could probably be added to that list, and it is generally well-known that an increasing number of communities freely incorporate at least some elements of the older Holy Week ritual. In calling attention to this reality, Rorate felt compelled to write the following:

The liturgical reforms that were implemented in the Roman Rite from 1951 to the end of 1962 remain a subject of much contention among Catholic Traditionalists and their friends, and for this reason this blog has tended to strike a “middle way” in discussing these reforms. It should be acknowledged that the vast majority of Catholic Traditionalist communities — whether with the SSPX or under Diocesan / “Ecclesia Dei” authority — continue to faithfully celebrate the Mass, Office and Sacraments according to the liturgical books and regulations in force as of the end of the year 1962. Furthermore this blog’s record in promoting liturgical celebrations according to the 1962 Missal speaks for itself. In its official stance (as distinct from individual contributors’ opinions) this blog has never had any problem with the liturgical reforms of Pius XII and John XXIII.

That’s a troubling position to take since there are many problems with the reforms of both Pius XII and John XXIII. So why not just come out and say so? (That doesn’t mean, however, that the “1962 books” are the summum malum as the sedevacantists and liturgical extremists opine.) It seems that blind fealty to “the authorities” has clouded some traditionalists’ better judgment when it comes to things liturgical, or perhaps the climate of fear in the Church is so strong that not even the more vocal traditionalists want to “rock the boat” lest they lose access to the old Mass altogether.

If this sort of complacent attitude were present among the Greek Catholics of the last century, we’d still be celebrating the Divine Liturgy with eviscerated service books and a calendar bereft of Slavic saints. It was only through the tireless — and critical — efforts of churchmen such as Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, Blessed Leonid Feodorov, and the members of both the Recensio Ruthena and Recensio Vulgata commissions that the Eastern Catholicism’s Byzantine liturgical heritage was restored (even if only on the level of theory). It would be a shame if Latin Catholics failed to take a more proactive approach to reestablishing their authentic patrimony out of either misplaced obedience to ill-conceived liturgical changes or useless fear. There should be little doubt by now that the Holy Week reforms of 1955 lack either firm historical or theological footing and that continued celebration of the 1962 rite will only serve to normalize an inferior liturgy in the hearts and minds of the faithful. What a shame that would be.

Leithart Looks East

I am not sure what inspired Peter J. Leithart to take an interest in Catholic liturgical reform, but over at First Things he has an post up on it entitled “Liturgical Orientalism.” For the most part, Leithart leans on an earlier academic presentation, “Eastern Presuppositions and Western Liturgical Reform,” by Fr. Robert Taft, S.J. For those familiar with Taft’s previous work, much of what he says (and what Leithart summarizes) is old news: “everyone” agreed that liturgical reform was needed at Vatican II; Latin liturgists took a shine (perhaps too much of a shine) to Eastern liturgy; the post-Vatican II reforms are a mixed bag (at least as far as the Liturgiae Horarum is concerned); and so forth. Unfortunately, Leithart doesn’t have much to add to the conversation, preferring instead to defer to Taft whose conclusions are, at points, contestable.

There can be little doubt now that Latin liturgical reformers “looked East” for inspiration (or perhaps just ex post facto justification) during the tumultuous decades of the 1950s and 60s, though subsequent scholarship has poured cold water on the idea that all of the reforms undertaken were truly “Eastern” and/or “ancient.” And while neither Taft nor Leithart make mention of it, some of the Latin liturgical reforms undertaken during the last century actually had the effect of driving contemporary Roman Rite praxis further away from widespread Eastern praxis as exemplified by the Byzantine Rite. For instance, the Latin reform of Holy Week, which ushered out the possibility of anticipating services like Tenebrae and the Easter Vigil, stands in contrast Eastern Christians anticipating the services (e.g., Holy Friday Matins on Thursday evening, Holy Saturday Vigil Liturgy in the morning, etc.). Other, more noticeable, reforms, such as the three-year lectionary, priests commonly serving Mass versus populum, “Extraordinary Ministers,” and such find no legitimate basis in the Christian East.

Blessed Second Sunday of Lent


Review: Bringing Back the Saints

While I plan to devote several posts to aspects of Michael Petrowycz’s 2005 thesis, Bringing Back the Saints: The Contribution of the Roman Edition of the Ruthenian Liturgical Books to the Commemoration of Slavic Saints in the Ukrainian Catholic Church (available online for free from the University of Ottawa here), I did want to call attention to this important and fascinating work which serves a dual function as both a history of the (Slavic) Greek-Catholic reclamation of its authentic patrimony and a challenge to the Latin-dominated model of sainthood in the universal Church. As some are no doubt aware, recent decades have seen Greek Catholics of all stripes chipping away centuries-old layers of inorganic Latinizations and Roman-centric impositions in an effort to fulfill one of the central promises of the historic unia, namely the right to be both fully Eastern and fully Catholic. Part of that reclamation process has been to discard petty Western-based fears that drawing eastward in liturgy, spirituality, and theology meant a slide toward schism, though there is some distance to go. What Petrowycz’s thesis shows is that the origins of this project began well before the Second Vatican Council, when the Eastern Slavic churches, in concert with Roman authorities, sought to restore their traditions in full, including recognizing the heroic saints of the ancient Kyivan Church who, for largely political reasons, had been ejected from Greek-Catholic calendars beginning in the early 18th C.


Some Thoughts on the Recent Tridentine Mass Dustup

Traditional Catholics have been weeping and gnashing their teeth since the appearance of Msgr. Charles Pope’s National Catholic Register blog post, “An Urgent Warning About the Future of the Traditional Latin Mass.” I confess I don’t know why. Though Pope relies largely on anecdotal evidence and some odd comparisons to the tragic decline of Catholic schools, his main point about the need for traditionalists to engage in more evangelization is sound. Joseph Shaw, the former head of the Latin Mass Society, disagrees. Writing over at Rorate Caeli, Shaw takes umbrage with Pope’s analysis, pointing out that the numbers don’t lie: the number of traditional Masses around the world is growing; traditional Catholic communities foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life; and traditional Catholics can’t be blamed for the fact their non-traditional brethren of the past two generations or so have been grossly under-catechized and are thus not in a position to truly experience – or have “fruitful participation” in – the Tridentine Mass. I don’t disagree necessarily with Shaw’s first two observations; the last comes a bit too close to cheap blame-shifting for my tastes. I always thought one of the central “points” of the traditional Catholic movement was to correct the catechetical problems introduced by bishops and priests over the past 50 years and that promoting the Tridentine Mass came hand-in-hand with delivering orthodoxy Catholicism. Why does Shaw seem to be disavowing this element of the traditionalist apostolate?