Clerical celibacy and Liturgy…

Christ is Risen!

How well do you know the “Mozarabic” Rite? For many years, all I had was a vague idea gleaned from authors like Geoffrey Hull, who, in his highly recommended “The Banished Heart,” tells a poignant and compelling story of the rite’s unwarranted persecution by the Romanising party (he also gives a comparative account of the treatment of the Ambrosian Rite and the subsequent riots in Milan which, barely, saved it from total suppression); as well as a few things I’d read in the “Tracts for the Times” (specifically tract seventy-five). I also have a CD of Mozarabic chant somewhere, sung by the specialists in mediaeval and liturgical music, “Ensemble Organum.” Otherwise I knew almost nothing about it. I have never seen a Mozarabic liturgy celebrated, and I am not prepared to travel to Toledo to be potentially disappointed by something tampered with fifty years ago at papal command.

To dispel my ignorance, I ordered two libelli from Abebooks, which have arrived this week, namely: Gregory Woolfenden’s “Daily Prayer in Christian Spain,” and Bishop & Feltoe’s “The Mozarabic and Ambrosian Rites;” both of them in the Alcuin Club series. They are very illuminating; the latter ostensibly biased in favour of the ancientry and superiority of the Old Spanish Rite (“Mozarabic” being a pejorative term preferred by the Romanisers, who saw it as a Moorish hybrid, tainted with Arian heresy). I’ve often said that the history of Christian prayer is a sad story, rather like Tolkien’s account of Gimli and Legolas walking the streets of Minas Tirith and musing on the Númenórean architecture, or Victor Hugo’s poignant descriptions of Notre Dame. The authors here, like Geoffrey Hull, write with painful regret of the florid and beautiful customs of this rite, embellished with many ancient elements lost or buried in the Roman Rite. Vespers, for example, has a lucernarium, reminiscent of Egeria’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the 4th century. Where is the Roman lucernarium at Vespers? Apart from the Lumen Christi procession from the vesperal liturgy of Holy Saturday, itself mutilated in the Pacelli reforms, it has been lost or buried in the passing years. While some traditionalists have hypocritically revived the lucernarium, the fact that they get the service times exactly wrong mars and obscures the fundamental significance of this rite in the context of Easter. If you ask me, they might as well just content themselves with the Pacelli rubbish.

The sanctorale and temporale in the Spanish Rite have propria for Mattins and Vespers on Sundays and holydays only (except in Lent and Rogationtide, which cover all the hours). Why? Because unlike the Roman Rite, with its burdensome monastic course of psalms, the Spanish Rite had a truly secular character suited to cathedrals and parishes; reminiscent of Anglican Mattins and Evensong. Of course it had a monastic rite also but that was solely restricted to monasteries. The principal difference between the Roman secular breviary and the monastic breviary is that the former comes to us from the monks of Rome, the latter from Monte Casino. All traces of the old Roman secular rite have disappeared, perhaps in Gregory VII’s reforms. The Spanish, and comparatively, the Ambrosian, Gallican, and later Anglican, secular custom is actually older, and was normative throughout Western Christendom before the Gregorian revolution.

Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most zealous reformers and political figures of the 12th century. This is the putative vision of the “lactation” of the Mother of God.

On this matter of secular versus monastic office, I remember my old parish priest (an execrable man) going into the church by himself with his breviary after some parish event to “catch up” with his office. I waited till the sacristan went home, whereupon I went into the sacristy to do some spying. Unbeknownst to the priest, I watched him as he recited the hours. I did this because I thought it strange for secular clergy to have this burden of canonical recitation on their shoulders in addition to providing three or four masses on Sundays, visits to parishioners’ homes, hospitals, prisons, schools, and all the other things expected of a pastor; not to mention a teacher in a seminary as well! I didn’t stay long but I went away with the unclouded, unchangeable view that it was wrong. It was wrong not because priests shouldn’t have high standards expected of them, a discipline of regular prayer, and a prayerbook from which to recite. It was wrong because he was on his own, in a dim church and reciting what should be sung communally in a monastery. Compare the liturgical abuse of low Mass and its insidious influence even upon the ceremonies of high Mass, at which the celebrant was (formerly) required to read even those parts sung by the choir. In a sense, the whole thing was too monastic. Even the incomprehensible (to me anyway) “liturgy of the hours,” the culmination of the rational liturgical experiment of the 20th century, sits upon a monastic foundation; a course of psalms and scripture readings. I am reminded of the abortive attempt by Cardinal Quiñones (interestingly, a Spaniard) to simplify the Breviary, shelved (whether rightly or wrongly) by Pius V but adopted as a model for Cranmer’s later reform of the Sarum office. It’s interesting to reflect upon the undoubted popularity of Mattins and Evensong within the Church of England (at least until recently) and the paucity of sung office in the Papal Communion, even after the Second Vatican Council.


An Anglican church local to me. Much healthier than mass, mass, mass, mass, mass…

The reason the Roman Rite is too “monastic” is because of the discipline of clerical celibacy, the shibboleth of the Papal Communion, a custom so intrinsic to her ecclesiology that it has survived unscathed where virtually everything else has not. It’s no coincidence that pope Gregory VII, who hated the Spanish Rite (calling it, absurdly, “the Toledan superstition”), aggressively enforced the reforms begun by his revolutionary predecessor Leo IX, who condemned the very idea of clerical marriage (nefanda sacerdotum coniugia) at the Mainz Synod in 1049. After almost a century of fierce and bitter resistance, the Gregorian revolution triumphed in 1139 with the decrees of the second Lateran synod. It was a theocratic and utopian ideal, by definition unattainable, but which has become habitual and necessary to the Papacy as the only legitimate ecclesial model. This is reflected not only in the manifest corruption and hypocrisy of the clergy, and the hysteria surrounding the mystique of the priest (ie: clericalism), but the liturgical books themselves, which became more monastic and burdensome, and therefore less accessible to ordinary people, ultimately resulting in the scenario I’ve just described, that is of a priest, sitting in a dim church, mumbling from a book while his parishioners are elsewhere and couldn’t care less about a non-eucharistic service. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council indeed tried to resolve this but couldn’t extricate themselves from the inherently flawed, monastic ideal of the priest. Even pope Francis, in all other respects “liberal,” has said that clerical celibacy is not up for debate, but what would be the point in changing the discipline now? Celibacy, and all the other uniquely Roman things, bolster his very position, and I’m sure he knows that.

This brings me back to the old Spanish Rite and the Romanisers’ intolerance of the other regional rites and uses in the West. It should come as no surprise to you that they were so despised. In the time of St Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome and Preacher of Dialogues, liturgical diversity was celebrated, as evidenced by his truly wise counsel to St Augustine: Non enim pro locis res, sed pro bonis rebus loca amanda sunt. But the true faith waned with the spread of heresy; Orthodoxy gave way to Popery; and the Babel ambition of the popes, who desired to reach to heaven with their power and to subject all Christendom to their will, left little room for rites of ancient character which did not express the ideals of reform. This was as true in the time of Charles, King of the Franks, and Alfonso IV of Castile as it was for the Ultramontanists of the 19th century; men like Cardinal Wiseman, Cardinal Manning, and Dom Guéranger. Long before Pius X, Wiseman (who in some ways was a noble man) had pushed for liturgical uniformity and Italian pronunciation of Latin in mid-19th century England, with its plurality of old Romanists and zealous converts. Guéranger, by contrast one of the most arrogant and destructive men of the 19th century, was the fiercest enemy of the (neo-) Gallican Rite, of which, like his mediaeval Romanising predecessors who heaped opprobrium upon the old Spanish Rite in the name of Rome, he was totally ignorant. I own a 1739 edition of the Missel de Paris, which I have studied, and it’s a marvelous work; a legitimate, regional liturgy, based on ancient sources. Its greatest asset, and the thing most odious to Guéranger, was that it was not Roman enough. What unites the enemies of the Spanish and other regional uses is an ideology, as irreligious as it is unscientific. It took hold of the ritualist movement within the Church of England, and won; it took hold of the cabal of Ultramontanist bishops at the Vatican synod, pressing for a definition of papal infallibility, and won. It is the ideology that the manners, customs and doctrine of the most aliturgical, corrupt place on earth are of their very essence good, catholic and authentically old, and that any deviation therefrom is axiomatically heretical, innovative, suspect, and unworthy of serious study or care.

It would be nice, I have to say, because of its unaccustomed beauty and pedigree, and legitimate variety and plurality, if the Spanish Rite could have continued unmolested to this day. It would be nice if the other regional uses and rites within Western Europe could have continued, and flourished, and had the support of sympathetic bishops, and literate priests. It would be nice if the Papacy had not mounted a brutal, thousand year assault upon the old Orthodox rites and had heeded the words of St Gregory, decrying the idolatry of a place. It would be nice if the erstwhile Orthodox Christians of Spain could have continued to pass on that which they had received from St James, and not had their cherished traditions wrested from them by tyrannous kings and reforming friars. It would be nice if anybody had at any time over the past thousand years tried to undo this terrible mistake, but nobody did, and it’s too late now.

I fear that this article grew in the telling. I’m willing to answer any questions you might have in the comments section.



2 thoughts on “Clerical celibacy and Liturgy…

  1. I’d be interested to know a bit more about the psalmody outside of feasts & holy days – was there simply no provision for an office outside these times? And can you give some idea what form the lucernarium took?


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