Kwasniewski on Vocal and Mental Prayer

Peter Kwasniewski, writing over at New Liturgical Movement, has an interesting piece up: “The Denigration of Vocal Prayer in the Name of ‘Mental Prayer’: A Recipe for Disaster.” Written primarily from a Latin perspective, Kwasniewski contrasts devotio antiqua and devotio moderna, not so much to denigrate the latter but rather vindicate the former. Without trying to repeat the author’s findings, let me say that I agree with Kwasniewski’s assessment that the Divine Office in the contemporary Roman Church “has fallen on hard times” and this despite the fact that the Liturgy of the Hours (the preferred post-Vatican II name) has been available in the vernacular in decades and is far more accessible from a cost standpoint than Breviarium Romanum ever was. It stands to reason that more lay Catholics recite at least some of the approved Office now more than at any other point in history, though typically in private. Few parishes celebrate any of the Liturgy of the Hours publicly and the 1962 office is a rara avis even in traditionalist circles. Those traditional Catholics I know who recite at least some of the old breviary do so at home.

In Byzantine circles, whether Orthodox or Greek Catholic, communal liturgical prayer is more common, but probably not as common as some profess. For Orthodox following the “Slavic tradition,” Saturday Vespers before the Sunday Divine Liturgy is commonplace; larger parishes or those attached to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) often celebrate Vigil (Vespers, Matins, and First Hour) with varying degrees of completeness. Orthodox following the “Greek tradition” typically find Sunday Matins celebrated in truncated form prior to the Divine Liturgy; many Arab Orthodox parishes follow this route as well. Greek Catholics, at least in the United States, have some catching-up to do. Thankfully, the situation has improved in recent years. (For what it is worth, when I was growing up in the 1980s and 90s, Vespers was almost unheard of, and Matins was often reduced to a few hymns such as the Great Doxology.)

Of course, the offering of these services does not mean they are well attended. In Russian parishes, Vigil is also the time for hearing confessions, which means people will be moving in and out of church throughout the service. In those parishes I frequented that offered Saturday Vespers, it was a “good night” when 20% of those who would be at the next morning’s liturgy were there; often the percentage was between 5-10. Many Slavic parishes will also have the Third and Sixth hours recited before the Divine Liturgy, but often they are “background noise” as people arrive.

Reciting the Byzantine Office privately is a chore, but less so now than 10-20 years ago. For Greek Catholics, the Eparchy of Stamford and Eastern Christian Publications have published English-language editions of the Horologion (Chasoslov) that include as much material as practicable for reciting the daily office without additional books. For the Orthodox, Saint Ignatius Orthodox Press has done the same. Those with more ambitious budgets, whether Catholic or Orthodox, can now find a variety of translations of the Horologion, Octoechos, Menaion, Triodion, Penetcostarion, and Psalter available. However, the complexity of Byzantine rubrics and the length of the services themselves make reciting the office a daunting task for any except the most hardened liturgical nerds.

An open question, I suppose, is what (if any) impact the preference for mental over vocal prayer has had in Eastern Christianity. While the tradition of monastics reciting the Jesus Prayer repeatedly in private (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) is ancient, opinions differ on its contemporary prevalence among the laity. Various rules, such as those printed in old Slavonic Psalters still used by Russian Old Ritualists, indicate how many Jesus Prayers can be recited in place of the liturgical hours, though it is unclear how many ever followed these prescriptions. Moreover, some Eastern Christians, particularly Orthodox, take a low view of Western devotio moderna and mental prayer in general, seeing it as little more than a gateway to prelest (spiritual delusion/deception). Often ignored in these polemics is the extent to which modern Western devotional works such as Thomas Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ and Lorenzo Scupoli’s The Spiritual Combat influenced post-medieval Orthodox spirituality. That’s a quagmire to be waded into at another time, I suppose.

The Worst of Times?

Handwringing is never in short supply on Catholic social media, especially traditional Catholic social media. (Who would have ever thought such a thing could exist?) The latest impetus for despair is the set of restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass (TLM) imposed by the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. Other anti-TLM moves, such as Cardinal Blase Cupich showing the Institute of Christ the King the door in Chicago, are contributing to the consternation. And while one former Catholic college professor has intimated that I am not taking the situation as seriously as I ought (perhaps because I do not believe Eastern Catholic churches should become TLM hubs), I remain disinclined from screaming, “The sky is falling!” We are not living in the end times. We are not even living in the worst of times, at least as far as the traditional Roman liturgy is concerned. Those who enjoy rending their garments often lack perspective. Until at least Pope John Paul II’s 1988 document Ecclesia Dei and, really, not until Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in 2007, the TLM was unavailable to a hyper-majority of Catholics. Indeed, the 1970s and 80s were the “wild West” of traditional Catholicism with random with typically aging clergy doing what they could to say the old Mass across the country. Few had time for liturgical minutiae. Arcane rubrical debates could not be front and center for the simple fact that clergy and the communities they ministered to had to get by with what they had—and it was not a lot.

Recently I had the privilege to do editorial work on a new book, The Story of Fr. George Kathrein. Kathrein, a native of Austria and Redemptorist, experienced the 1970s liturgical reform firsthand. Despite resistance from his superiors and fellow Redemptorists, Fr. Kathrein pressed ahead, offering the TLM and other sacraments according to the traditional Roman Rite to flocks of Catholics. And while he was never officially a member of the Society of Saint Pius X, Kathrein maintained ties with the fraternity while working to aid the most abandoned souls in the Catholic Church. Even as the years slowed him down, Fr. Kathrein never lost sight of his mission, nor did he fret for the Church’s future. Years before the strictures on the TLM were loosened, this Redemptorist and numerous other clerics forged ahead, laying the groundwork for the contemporary traditional Catholic movement.

How many untold stories are still out there? As time takes its course, more and more will be lost to history. Now more than ever, traditional Catholics need to hear and read about the “bad old days.” Perspective is key. Unfortunately, there is a temptation for not just traditional Catholics but all people to “outsource” their problems, to hope that someone else will come along to clean things up and set the room back in order. When Summorum dropped, Catholics accustomed to hyper-papal centrality and top-down ecclesiastical structuring, thought the good times were here to stay. Ah, but what one pope giveth, another pope taketh—and there ain’t nuttin’ you can do ‘bout it.

Or is there? Without committing to the thesis that 2022 is 1972 or 1982 redux, it would behoove traditional Catholics to take a close look at the years following the Second Vatican Council and the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae to assess how (relatively) bad they really have it (or not). What lessons can be distilled from that era and applied today? And though I am under no illusion that priests read this web-log, surely there are some throughout the country’s dioceses who will not allow the shifting and arbitrary decrees of misguided hierarchs to impede their duty to save souls. The highest law of the Church cannot be abrogated.

On a Modest Liturgical Proposal

The other day, a traditional Catholic writer whose work I have followed with interest for many years began posting a “proposal” of sorts on social media that roughly went like this: Due to the ongoing crackdowns on the traditional Latin Mass (TLM) by bishops hellbent on applying Traditiones Custodoes (Pope Francis’s motu proprio that put to bed his predecessor’s tradition-friendly edict Summorum Pontificum), perhaps Eastern Catholic parishes should open their doors for this liturgy to be celebrated within their walls. There were a few other peripheral suggestions mixed in as well, but I’ll leave those to the side for now.

Without delving into the canonical conundrums such a “solution” may raise, it is important to note first that Catholic churches “sharing space” is not an innovation. A number of Eastern Catholic communities located outside of their ancestral lands have relied on Roman parishes for material support, including worship space. As a youth, for instance, I was an altar server for a Melkite Greek-Catholic priest on an Air Force base in New Jersey. We were compelled to make do with the “ecumenical” layout of the base’s main chapel. Is it optimal? No. It is, however, far better than nothing. And so, it is at least conceivable that, under needful conditions, a TLM could be served in an Eastern parish, especially where there is no other established Roman community nearby.

That situation is a bit different, though, from the one the aforementioned writer is proposing. His interest, as far as I can tell, is for Eastern churches to open their doors to the TLM where the local Latin ordinary has either forbidden or radically restricted the celebration of the TLM within his diocese. This instrumental approach to the Eastern churches, even if well-intentioned, should not stand for at least two powerful reasons. First and foremost, it sets the stage for tensions between the Latin ordinary and the ruling Eastern hierarch, which does nobody a lick of good. Imagine if a Latin Catholic bishop opened one or more of his parishes to local Eastern Catholics who were disgruntled with their rightful bishop, perhaps because they do not like celebrating the liturgy in the vernacular or prefer to retain certain traditions that have faded out over time (e.g., the use of Latin devotions in Eastern parishes). The howling would be deafening.

Second, such a situation hardly fosters unity among traditional Roman and Eastern Catholics. Rather, the latter’s parishes become escape hatches for the former, with the former apparently not participating in the life of the community. That is not Catholic. It probably does not need to be said that Eastern Catholics have and continue to find themselves alienated by their Western brethren when they fail to conform to Latin norms in (and sometimes outside of) Latin environs. Why should a special exception be extended in the opposite direction? And what does it say when Roman Catholics want to use a Eastern parish for their liturgy but not “sully” themselves in communal and liturgical prayer at Eastern services?

None of this is to say that Eastern Catholic churches should slam their doors on Roman Catholics. Every Catholic, regardless of rite or ecclesial affiliation, has the right to worship at any Catholic liturgy. Granted, some people get bent out of shape about this, but let that be their problem. Although the traditional Roman Rite was a bit of a mystery to me growing up and remained so for many years of my adulthood, I have come to embrace it as a beautiful, spiritually enriching, and reverent expression of the Church’s unwavering devotion to God. Any Eastern Catholic, regardless of their sui iuris church, who has not experienced the TLM should run, not walk, to the next one that is available in their area.

At the same time, I hope that Roman Catholics will seek out Eastern liturgies where available and approach them with the same respect they hold for their own rite. Chauvinism is a stupid vice. The good work of eradicating it will not be advanced by turning Eastern parishes into liturgical rental units. The problem will only be exacerbated.

Some Comments on a (Liturgical) Tweet

Yesterday, in a moment of mild exacerbation over—yes—something I read on the Internet, I tweeted out the following: “I remain astonished that there are people out there deeply devoted to private revelations and yet don’t pray the Psalms.” (In retrospect, I probably should have just said “private devotions” generally.) Thankfully, no one took my remark as a knock against devotion to Our Lady of Fatima (a devotion I hold and have recently defended). My point (to the extent one can have a “point” in a tweet) was to express a real perplexity over present day devotional priorities, one which I admit likely plays into certain Protestant-based narratives about the Scriptural ignorance of Catholics and the absence of a surefire Biblical foundation to the Catholic Faith. Then again, on that matter, Protestants aren’t entirely wrong. Catholic Biblical literacy is probably as poor as it has ever been since the advent of the printing press; just because people own Bibles doesn’t mean they read them. Further, given the extent to which the ideologically charged “findings” of “objective Biblical science” have penetrated Catholic Scriptural exegesis and preaching (“The words the second-century author of the Gospel we attribute to John placed on the lips of Johannine community’s conception of the Jesus who rose in their hearts…”), I long for the days when the Biblical text had to be copied-out by hand—in Greek or Latin, safe from the raw idiocy of armchair exegetes.

But in many ways that’s a separate matter from the one which caught my attention, namely the sure and steady replacement of the Church’s public prayer (appropriated, I should add, from the public prayer of the pre-Christian Jews) with devotions which often have less than half-a-millennium of history behind them. No doubt the reasons for this phenomenon are complex, particularly in the Latin Church where the Divine Office has all but disappeared from parish life despite the greater “accessibility” of the rather problematic Liturgy of the Hours. Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite do a noticeably better job of things, though restoring Matins or even the small hours (Terce and Sext) to regular usage has been a struggle for many Greco-Catholic parishes in the West. It’s difficult not to sympathize a tad bit with certain liturgical extremists who throw their hands up in the air when they see 30 minutes of para-liturgical devotions before morning Mass but no interest in reciting Prime in common.

It seems that there is a sense among too many Catholics that the Psalms, if not the Bible as a whole, “belong to the Church,” which by that they mean, “Belong to the priests.” It is the duty of the cleric to recite the Miserere, De Profundis, and Laudate Dominum de caelis; it is the reserve of the people to make novenas to the Sacred Heart and pray the Rosary.

Now, before the pitchforks and torches come out, let me make clear that I have nothing against para-liturgical and/or private devotions per se, particularly ones with as long and wonderful history as the Rosary. Moreover, I am not insensitive to the fact that for a significant portion of Christian history, most lay folk were illiterate and therefore depended largely on fairly simple, memorized prayers (Pater, Ave, and Gloria). Even as recently as the 17th and 18th centuries, St. Alphonsus and the members of the Redemptorist order sought to instruct the poor and uneducated faithful in meditative prayer so that they may draw closer to God in their everyday lives. Praise be. However, it should be recalled that before the spread of prayer books and increased literacy, the public recitation of the Divine Office was far, far more prevalent than it is today. It was not absent from the life of the Church—the whole Church—even if, arguably, it may have been kept at some distance from the laity.

Despite likely being in the minority, I am convinced that until the liturgical life of the Church is revived for the people of God (clerical and lay), the Church’s spiritual and physical health will not be restored. This has to mean more than just the Mass (Divine Liturgy), even if it is necessary to begin there. Christianity, particularly in the West, has been reduced to a “Sunday church,” and with regard to Catholicism in particular, liturgical observance is primarily thought of in terms of legal obligation rather than an integral part of a renewed life in Christ. And that must mean more than being present at the Eucharist; it must also mean standing in continuity with all God’s people throughout the millennia, giving praise and worship to God at the dawning of the day and the setting of the sun.


As I have mentioned before, it is not uncommon for me to have recourse to the extensive archive of sermons by Fr. Patrick Reardon (Antiochian Orthodox) housed over at Ancient Faith Radio. While I wish I could say I keep up on them from week to week, the truth is that I often “binge” three or four, especially on long car rides. In a sermon entitled “The Danger is not an Armed Guard,” Reardon reflects on the Gospel of St. Mark in both its historical context and deeper theological meaning with respect to the Cross, Baptism, and the Eucharist. As those who follow the Byzantine Rite perhaps know, St. Mark’s Gospel is read throughout the Lenten season due to its emphasis on Christ’s Passion. It is a Gospel which was produced during a time of intense persecution in Rome and therefore places starkly before the reader (or listener) the cost of following Christ. To be baptized in the Lord, Reardon emphasizes, is to be baptized into his death; to accept the Chalice is to accept all that comes with it, including the pains of martyrdom. What should be obvious to all Christians is today obscured by the world, particularly our desire to be a part of it, to compromise, to find a “middle way” between the demands of secularism and liberalism and the law of God.

Reardon concludes his sermon by admonishing those who are ashamed to make the Sign of the Cross in public to not come up for Holy Communion. And if a person is embarrassed to stand firm for the Faith, particularly in the face of those who would denigrate it, then do not approach to kiss the Cross at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy—for it is the kiss of Judas.

In hearing this, I wondered to myself how many priests and bishops of any Apostolic confession would ever say such a thing, especially in the United States where it is “commonly understood” that one ought to check their “private religious convictions” when walking out the front door. It is not uncommon to find even conservative Catholic priests (and, no doubt, a very traditional ones) adhering to certain liberal doctrines which demand that Christians only express openly those beliefs which can be “squared with reason” or to only preach a Gospel evacuated of all eschatological import. American Christians, particularly Catholics, are so desperate for public recognition, for being “good Americans,” that they do not think twice about implicitly denying Christ when engaged in “discourse” or “dialogue” with non-Christians, including atheists, Jews, and Muslims. Catholics have been told for the past 50 years that they must see the “good fruits” and “laudable aspects” of these other pathways through life; mutual understanding, not conversion, is now the order of the day.

Aside from a handful of holy souls that walk among us, no one is left from the temptation to compromise, to turn away from our Lord publicly (“just a bit”) and be overtly pious behind closed church doors (“for all to see”). And how pathetic it all is. At this juncture, we do not fear prison, torture, and death. Rather, we are paralyzed by the thought of losing social recognition, a career advancement, or the companionship of a worldly friend.

As I write this, I find it fitting that tomorrow is the Sunday of the Paralytic according to the Byzantine Rite. This poor man waited to be placed into the Pool of Bethesda after the troubling of the waters before Christ cured him of his paralysis of 38 years (mine has lasted only 37). And what did this man do upon finding out it was Jesus who cured him? He proclaimed it to the Jews. He did not remain silent about the unmerited gift of physical healing our Lord bestowed upon him. But what do we say about the far greater gift of Baptism that has been given to us? What words do we speak about the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ? If the Paralytic was admonished by Christ after his physical curing to “sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you,” what awaits those of us who sin mightily after the curing of our souls? Do we fall down on our knees in Confession, seeking God’s infinite mercy, or do we continue denying Him by our public words and deeds while thinking that “popping in” for Sunday liturgy and partaking in its attendant rituals will lead us to a better end than the Iscariot?

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.

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.