Tuesday, March 21, 2017

'Tis a fine fox chase, my boys! Atonement joins the Ordinariate

Atonement's Lady Chapel
'Tis a fine fox chase, my boys! The struggle for my hometown parish where I was baptized and married, Our Lady of the Atonement, is over. Parish, school, and clergy, by the directive of the Holy See, along with all other remaining Pastoral Provision communities, are to enter the Personal Ordinariate, effective today. More details should follow after a meeting at Atonement with Bishop Lopes this evening. Official announcement here.

General Washington was reported to have broke ranks from his bodyguard (the Philadelphia First City Troop) at the Battle of Princeton while routing the British, shouting "it's a fine fox chase, my boys!" The Philadelphia gentlemen who formed the original Troop were mostly members of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Thought experiment: married "simplex" priests to strengthen the celibate clergy

What did Pope Francis say this time?

I was particularly ruminating on this during the recently past feast of Saint Patrick: a bishop who was born to a clerical family, his father having been a deacon and his grandfather a priest (a fact which is curiously omitted from Patrick's biography in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia). The latest papal kerfluffle was over the Pope's answers to some questions in an interview in the German newspaper Die Zeit. To quote a CNS article:
He was also asked about the possibility of allowing married "viri probati" -- men of proven virtue -- to become priests.
"We have to study whether 'viri probati' are a possibility. We then also need to determine which tasks they could take on, such as in remote communities, for example," Pope Francis said.
The remarks caused enough waves that I even overheard the kind old ladies who come to my workplace to knit once a week talk about it! Of course, there was no discussion on what Pope Francis meant by the phrase viri probati. (That would be "proven men", presumably of advanced age and known piety such as older married deacons, who would be ordained as supply priests to help the established clergy.) In most people's imaginations, whether they're for or against it, any talk of opening the priesthood to married men is taken to mean that seminaries will soon be flooded with young newlywed guys. That may well be the fate of the old Latin discipline by the end of my natural lifetime, but in the spirit of my blog's tagline, "Applying old-world solutions to new-world problems", you dear readers will indulge me in the following thought experiment about a model of priesthood which has passed into obscurity but may find renewed usefulness in the not-too-distant future....

First, I tack on my disclaimer that, of course, as "there are those who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake", the path of celibacy is a higher calling than that of marriage. Obligatory celibacy for priests has been a part of the Latin tradition for a thousand years. Even the so-called "Anglican" Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter to which I belong, which uniquely relies on a mostly married presbyterate of former Anglican clerics, still affirms that the model of celibate priests formed in the traditional seminary system is preferred. The Ordinariate places high hopes on its four traditional seminarians (one of whom is a longtime friend of mine), and so do I. 

Now with that out of the way....

There are two kinds of arguments against the use of married priests: spiritual and pragmatic. People in the first camp pride themselves on the idea that the priest, as an alter Christus, is "married" to the Church as our Lord and living more closely to the ideal of celibacy as proposed by St Paul. There is simply no room for the idea of married priests in this ecclesiology--indeed, many people in this camp have a visceral reaction against the idea of a married man, especially one who may still be sexually active, in celebrating Mass or administering the holy Eucharist. A few traditionalists might be so repulsed by the idea that they'd rather attend a diocesan Ordinary Form Mass or drive to a traditional Latin Mass in another state, rather than attend a Latin Mass celebrated by a married priest. For these folks, no argument suffices, and I don't bother convincing them otherwise.

The pragmatists are the sort who question the applicability of married priests, not the idea in principle. They ask, "how do we pay for them and their families? Will we need to renovate the rectories to accommodate family life? How can a priest be attentive to his wife, children, and needs of his flock all at once? What about the psychological affects of being raised as a PK [pastor's kid]?" concerns are alleviated easily enough by rediscovering what being ordained as a priest exactly entailed during the medieval centuries of the Church. In short: simplex priests.

A sacerdos simplex is a priest who is ordained for celebrating Mass, and little else (beyond the usual obligation of praying the Divine Office). No confessions, no preaching, no pastorships of parishes. To be "simplex" is to exercise only the core of the presbyteral ministry, which is offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The rest, while certainly integral to the priest's mission on earth, is not essential to it. Imagine if, in large parishes that stretch their priests thin, the bishop says to the pastor: 

"I want you to approach your deacons and your three most devout, older laymen (no younger than 45) and ask them if they'd be willing to apprentice under you for three years and then be ordained priests. Their sole duties, other than praying the Office, would be celebrating Masses that you can't cover yourself, helping distribute Communion, and bringing Communion to the sick. Other things such as teaching catechism are up to them, but they can't hear confessions except in danger of death, and they won't perform baptisms or weddings unless you specifically delegate them. They can only preach if they were already formed as deacons beforehand. Finally, they do this service only for love of God, with no expectation of income."

In a stroke, these simplex priests, some of whom are perhaps married, will have already resolved all the pragmatists' objections:

  • They're mature in both age and faith, and if they're married, their children are older or out of the house
  • They serve at no expense to the faithful; no salary, no housing, no retirement pension or other benefits needed because, like deacons, they're expected to maintain their own income and (if necessary) secular employment
  • They have a shorter course of study under their pastor, as most priests did before the arrival of the seminary system after Trent--again, at no cost to the faithful

In exchange, we could reap the following benefits:
  • Many more priests to celebrate Mass in "non-priority areas", especially in remote rural parishes or near-abandoned urban parishes, or in chaplaincies for the neglected like prisons and hospitals
  • More priests to offer Sunday Mass at the parishes (especially early and late Masses) so that pastors only have to celebrate the principal Sunday Mass; thus keeping to the traditional rule whereby priests are only supposed to celebrate Mass once per day (there used to be an indult required for "binating" or "trinating", meaning offering Mass twice or three times a day)
  • More priests around to distribute holy Communion, thereby reducing the need for lay extraordinary ministers
  • More priests to deliver holy Communion to the sick, in place of lay ministers
  • More priests to lead hours of the Divine Office
  • More priests to offer personal instruction to catechumens, as was common prior to Vatican II
  • On an as-needed basis, pastors can delegate baptisms and weddings to simplex priests to free time for themselves

With simplex priests helping out much the same way auxiliary bishops assist the diocesan bishop, the celibate, beneficed ("full time") pastors and curates would then have a lot more free time to hear confessions, make visits to parishioners' homes, get to know more of their flock one-on-one, and perhaps most importantly, devote themselves more fully to the Divine Office and regular prayer. Everyone wins.

If you think me crazy for saying for proposing such a wacky ecclesiology, just consider that even today, every priest is "simplex" at least on the first day of his ordination. Unlike bishops who are all inherently "the Bishop of So-and-so place", no priest is guaranteed a parish assignment; in the old days, most priests never even made it to "pastor". Priests still require faculties for confession--they can't just hear someone's confession at will, and if they hop over to the neighboring diocese, they still need that local bishop's permission in writing before hearing someone's confession there (as well as to celebrate Mass). Priests need permission from the pastor or rector of any church before officiating a baptism or wedding there. There's really little that a priest is allowed to do on his own except hear the confession of someone in grave danger of death (in that case alone, even an excommunicated priest is given faculties). Until the 1983 Code of Canon Law, priests even needed faculties to preach.

We also have a fairly recent example of a (religious, not married) simplex priest on the path to canonization: the Venerable Solanus Casey, OFM Cap (1870-1957). The Archbishop of Milwaukee ordained Casey as a simplex priest because of he found Latin and other academic disciplines of the seminary system too challenging.

The Ven. Solanus Casey above.
As vocations in the mainstream Church continue to hemorrhage, the existing body of diocesan priests will be stretched further and further. Some priests are already pastors of three or four parishes, all which formerly had three or four assisting curates each. In such conditions, they have little time to really see to the needs of the faithful in their care, or even, critically, their own souls through prayer and private reflection. The whole Church then suffers from poor ministry.

And before someone points to the large number of men applying to places like the FSSP's Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary (a fine institution which two friends of mine attend).... while it's certainly true that vocations to certain traditional seminaries such as those of the FSSP or Institute of Christ the King are faring much better, these are still single institutions that must serve the needs of entire continents. The fruits of their labor remain out of reach in most places, even in most major metropolitan centers. There are still many communities that haven't yielded a single priest despite celebrating the old rites exclusively for five or ten years at a time. By contrast, your average pre-conciliar parish yielded one or two seminarians per year. Considering that some saints have written that God calls as many a third of the general Catholic population to clerical or religious life, I'd say even "traddies" have a shortage of vocations.

To close, I'm certainly not suggesting that my suggestion for ordaining simplex priests be rolled out during this tumultuous pontificate (not that anyone from the Vatican is reading my blog, anyway). I believe we'll have to wait for the vocational winter to truly hit us over the course of the next 15 or 20 years as the last remnants of the big vocation boom of the 1950's and early '60s retire and die out. Once the diocesan structures enter a total freefall and the existing diocesan clergy begin to burn out in record numbers, I'll dust off this old blog entry and see if anyone bites. That said, if my dismal forecast of the future state of vocations is completely off-base and there's a renaissance with four or five unmarried, full-time priests staffing each parish once again, I'll very gladly accept being wrong.

(For the record, I would not seek to become a simplex priest, even if asked. That's definitely not my calling.)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Wearing "St Patrick's blue"

I posted the following description on my personal Facebook page for Saint Patrick's Day yesterday:

I might have been the only layperson at my workplace to not wear green today. I didn't bother explaining my choice for wearing blue there, but I'll share with you all why....

"St Patrick's blue" has been, for at least a couple of centuries, in some sense the national color of Ireland. The earliest surviving image of St Patrick is a 13th century manuscript showing him in a blue habit. One of the oldest existing rolls of arms, going back to the late 1200's, describes the King of Ireland's blazon as D'azure a la harpe d'or (blue with a harp of gold). This survives to the present in both the royal standard of the British sovereign as well as the standard of the Presidents of Ireland (bottom-right). On the top-right is St Patrick's Hall, a stately room in the 13th century Dublin Castle. Prior to Irish independence, this room was used by the Order of St Patrick: the Anglo-Irish counterpart to the Order of the Garter in England. Today it's used for presidential inaugurations. President John F. Kennedy gave a speech here in 1963. The choristers of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin still wear blue cassocks.

As an aside, I do have a sliver of Irish ancestry. My 3rd-great-grandfather, William Gibson, emigrated from Ireland to New York in approximately the 1850's. His family name is preserved in my father's middle name.

The earliest surviving image of St Patrick is from the Huntington Library of San Marino, California's manuscript of the Golden Legend, dating to the late 1200's. Here he wears a blue habit.    

The badge of the Order of St Patrick, suspended by a blue ribbon. The Order has gone essentially defunct since Irish independence.
Both the Choir of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin (pictured above) and the Palestrina Choir of the Catholic Pro-Cathedral wear blue cassocks.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Your Humble and Obedient Servant": the ars dictaminis

Earlier this week, I was a guest at the 23rd Street Armory for dinner amidst the company of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry: the oldest United States military unit in unbroken service, going back to 1774 and still fulfilling its role as a mounted cavalry company as recently as this past January's presidential inaugural parade in Washington, DC. They asked to fill out a form letter stating my interest in being presented for membership; for unlike other units of our armed forces today, membership in the Troop is by election of the members on the rolls. Even the selection of officers is, recognized by US law as ancient and honorable privilege going back to the colonial era, by election from amongst the enlisted ranks.

The end of the form letter is printed with a valediction which has not been used in military correspondence since, probably, the 1950's and now seems thoroughly antiquated:
"I am, Sirs,
Your most Obedient Servant,"
I paused, smiled, and affixed my signature underneath. In that moment of reflection, my mind went back to my visit last November to the New York Historical Society in Manhattan. Among several artifacts on display there was a writing desk, pictured above, belonging to the city's famous Founding Son by adoption, Alexander Hamilton. That secretary, upon which many (hundreds? thousands?) nation-changing letters must have been scribbled by, stares back accusingly at me whenever I go more than a month without writing a post. Sitting at the desk's edge, there's a reproduction of a letter which was likely penned on that surface. It's one of the many heated letters between Hamilton and Aaron Burr which escalated into the infamous duel. This one reads:
To Aaron Burr        New York June 22d. 1804 
Your first letter, in a style too peremptory, made a demand, in my opinion, unprecedented and unwarrantable. My answer, pointing out the embarrassment, gave you an opportunity to take a less exceptionable course. You have not chosen to do it, but by your last letter, received this day, containing expressions indecorous and improper, you have increased the difficulties to explanation, intrinsically incident to the nature of your application.
If by a “definite reply” you mean the direct avowal or disavowal required in your first letter, I have no other answer to give than that which has already been given. If you mean any thing different admitting of greater latitude, it is requisite you should explain. 
I have the honor to be   Sir   Your obed servt.
A Hamilton
Today, we find it tickling, if not pretentious and wholly insincere, to label oneself "your obedient servant" to a mortal enemy. This valediction was especially popular during the American Civil War, even in letters between opposing generals demanding the unconditional surrender of the other. And yet, these closings were but brusque, vestigial remains of the truly purple prose of former ages. Compare this to the close of a letter from the 16th century to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V:
"Your Sacred Catholic Caesarean Majesty's faithful servant who kisses your Majesty's imperial feet..."
Or even this complete valediction for a letter to a cardinal which was still in common usage into the 20th century:
"Be pleased to accept the homage of profound respect with which I have the honor to offer you as,
The humble and dedicated servant of Your Eminence,"
Such an ending makes "Your obed servt" seem curt by contrast! From the end of the Civil War to the present, salutations and valedictions have been clipped and trimmed again and again. "Your faithful and obedient servant" became "Yours faithfully, &tc", then "Your faithfully", then just "Yours". "Dear worshipful master" became "Dear Sir", then "Dear". Today, even "Dear" is beginning to seem antiquated!

The men and women of past ages would fall back on these conventions in their correspondence, regardless of their actual sentiments or familiarity with the person being addressed, because it was the product of a tradition centuries in the making. The western world's ars dictaminis, the art of written composition, was established by the institutional Church of the Middle Ages, particularly by the archdeacons and other chancery officials tasked with the business of preparing letters for the bishops. It was these men; clerks; who filled that void left in western Europe by the collapse of the ancient Roman bureaucracy. (And which, incidentally, I keep alive in my current occupation as a clerk in a Church institution. The drafting of legal military correspondence was also a large part of my job as an Army paralegal.)

When men of the warrior classes finally took it upon themselves to study the art of letters; perhaps inspired by the example of Charlemagne who made efforts late in his life to learn rhetoric at the hand of the Anglo-Saxon monk Alcuin; they learned these skills from the ecclesiastics and undoubtedly copied their formulaic methods. The rhetoricians of the 10th century onward standardized but one way of composing a letter to the Pope, one way to write to a cardinal, one way to write to a bishop not a cardinal, and on down the line.

Into the Commercial Revolution, merchants of Florence, Venice, and Bruges found the art of letters eminently useful in petitioning for a loan or collecting a debt. These generations refined the business letter to something like what we're now familiar with today:
[Boilerplate salutation according to social status]
[Warm and fuzzy expressions of regard, however insincere]
[Paragraph that gets to the point of the letter]
[Well wishes until we meet again, or at least until demands are satisfied]
[Boilerplate valediction]
There are still people alive in France today who can remember using such florid but standard closures as,
"Veuillez agréer, Monsieur, l'expression de mes sentiments distingués"
"Please accept, Sir, the expression of my distinguished sentiments"
By the 18th century in the American colonies, middle-class sensibilities pared these down into a small handful of variations. "Your obedient servant" had a two-fold meaning. For a social inferior or subordinate officer in the military, it was a true sign of deference. For an equal, a gesture of friendship. For a social superior, even someone like George Washington, to convey himself to a man of lower rank was a form of gracious condescension which is too easily dismissed in our times as "patronizing". Ironically, the only class of people who were unlikely to ever close a letter with "Your obedient servant" were slaves or poor working-class whites. Chances were low that they could write to begin with, but even if they could, to address themselves as "servant" would have been considered to be stating the obvious.

All this thinking about correspondence has reinvigorated my on-again, off-again interest in old-fashioned letter writing (outside of work). Alas, since I never much developed my cursive, I have to stick with typed letters on stationery.

Until next time, I remain, as ever,
The Modern Medievalist

PS. Just for fun, there's a song along this theme....

Monday, March 6, 2017

Why is the Tract for the first Sunday in Lent so LONG!?

For parishes that use the pre-conciliar Latin Missal, the Ordinariate's Divine Worship Missal, or even the Ordinary Form of Mass with music from the Graduale Romanum, you might have noticed the ridiculously long chant that came before the Gospel reading yesterday for the first Sunday in Lent's Mass. During this season, we've banished the Alleluia and put an extended psalm called the Tract in its place. The very name tractus implies an drawn-out psalm, but in practice, this comes out to only two or three additional verses. For the First Sunday in Lent, though, the complete Psalm 90(91), Qui habitat, is used. The Ordinariate's translation gives it as such:
V. I will say unto the Lord, Thou art my hope and my stronghold: my God, in him will I trust.
V. For he shall deliver thee from the snare of the hunter: and from the noisome pestilence.
V. He shall defend thee under his wings: and thou shalt be safe under his feathers.
V. His faithfulness and truth shall be thy shield and buckler: thou shalt not be afraid for any terror by night.
V. Nor for the arrow that flieth by day; for the pestilence that walketh in darkness: nor for the sickness that destroyeth in the noon-day.
V. A thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten thousand at thy right hand: but it shall not come nigh thee.
V. For he shall give his Angels charge over thee: to keep thee in all thy ways.
V. They shall bear thee in their hands: that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.
V. Thou shalt go upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet.
V. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him up, because he hath known my Name.
V. He shall call upon me, and I will hear him: yea, I am with him in trouble.
V. I will deliver him, and bring him to honour: with long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.
At my Ordinariate parish yesterday, it was sung to a basic psalm tone. I suspect the vast majority of churches prior to Vatican II did the same. There's only one time I can recall personally singing the full chant melody given in the Liber Usualis--a true marathon of neumes which takes at least 12 minutes to chant. It was oddly not even at a well-established Latin Mass community, but rather for then-new TLM out in the sticks: Ss. Cyril & Methodius in Shiner, Texas. Back in 2011, our schola was invited as a guest choir on a Sunday which just happened to be the beginning of Lent. I'm not sure if that community had any more exposure to Gregorian chant than the Missa de angelis, and yet, we mercilessly brought the full Tract upon them. I even have video evidence of that day below (beginning at the 1:49 mark):

I vaguely recall the priest saying that he didn't have much of a homily prepared because the Tract was a sermon in itself. I've sometimes wondered why, though, this chant is so much longer than virtually all of the others given in the Liber? 

There's the theory that the graduals and tracts of the ancient Church were all supremely long, but the laziness of succeeding generations caused them to be peeled back to mere fragments (as was the case with the Offertory chants)--the Church wished to leave the First Sunday in Lent's tract untouched as a penitential reminder of the fervor of past ages. My friend Mr. DiPippo, editor of the New Liturgical Movement, says that there's no real evidence for this claim being true in the Roman Rite; that it was made up to justify the invention of the responsorial psalm for the post-conciliar rite's lectionary. Perhaps he's right and this is just another one of those myths by "liturgists" that's been repeated so many times that it's been mistaken for truth even by great liturgical scholars. I haven't done the due diligence in my studies to say one way or another.

My favorite explanation for this tract's length is the one given by my pastor in his sermon yesterday. He referenced the Gospel lesson (which, at least this year, is the same for both the old and new lectionaries): Christ's forty-day trial in the wilderness as described in Matthew. Our Lord's retreat into silence and fasting is the very inspiration for Lent, so what could be a more appropriate Gospel for this Sunday? Near the end of the fast, the devil appears and tries to tempt Jesus using Scripture. Specifically, he quotes Psalm 90(91). I quote from the St John Fisher Missale translation, one of my favorites, below, and give my emphases to the psalm quote:
Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him: "If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written that he hath given his Angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone." Jesus said to him: "It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."
The devil tricks us, my pastor said, by quoting Scripture out of context. To counter this deceit, the Church presents the entire psalm in the liturgy so that we can hear and understand what Satan tried to bend to his own ends in its full form.

Whether or not that explanation can be proven beyond a doubt by historical-critical study, I find it to be a profound spiritual explanation for one of the most gruelingly long chants I've ever had to sing.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Farewell to Alleluia

For reasons beyond my understanding, there's been a significant uptick of interest this year in the curious (and commendable) ceremony of the depositio: the "burying of the Alleluia". In those places which observe pre-Lent (such as traditional Latin Mass communities and, now, the "Anglican" Ordinariates), the hallowed word "alleluia" disappears from the liturgy from Septuagesima Sunday until its glorious return at the vigil of Easter. In the post-Vatican II calendar, this is carried over to Fat Tuesday.

The final alleluias of Vespers the evening before Septuagesima, as given by the Liber Usualis, give a foretaste of Easter in their melody.
The word "alleluia" is, of course, derived from the Hebrew expression in the Old Testament, meaning "praise Yah(weh)!" Outside of Lent and Advent, we sing this before the Gospel reading at Mass. During the Easter season, we go above and beyond by ending all sorts of antiphons with a double-alleluia. However, during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent, we temporarily set this word aside to give a sense of restraint. Pope Alexander II (the same pope who gave William the Conqueror his blessing for an invasion of England) ordered a simple rite of dismissal for the Alleluia in Rome. The end of First Vespers on the evening before Septuagesima was punctuated with two final alleluias as though to get it fully out of one's system before the great season of penance was to begin. But in the northern countries, these rites grew to ever-more-splendid lengths of ceremonial. In an article from 2010 on the New Liturgical Movement, Matthew Alderman writes:
"Special antiphons marked this event in some places, as well as the singing of the hymn Alleluia, Dulce Carmen. At Auxerre twenty-eight separate Alleluias were troped into the mass text. A procession, with the word Alleluia inscribed on a banner or plaque, might be conducted round the church, with the Alleluia inscription solemnly entombed at the end, the plaque sometimes having the shape of a coffin. In some parts of France, the Alleluia might even be burned in effigy in the churchyard!"

He goes on to remark that the rites were typically done by choirboys, rather like the old enthroning of the boy bishop--which made me think of how jovial, almost child-like the ceremony can be, and what power it has to captivate the imagination of a young student at a Catholic grade school where it's performed, such as the school attached to my former parish: the Atonement Academy. My old pastor described the effect that this custom had in an old blog post:
"The students in our parish school get ready for this every year, and take it very seriously.  In fact, a few years ago just after Lent had begun, one of our very young students asked if he could see me because he had to tell me something “very, very important.”  When he came to me, he wanted to tell me what one of the other boys had done earlier that day.  It sounded serious, so I encouraged him to tell me about it. In a half-whispered voice the offence was reported: "He said the 'A' word!""

A friend recently asked me if I could furnish him a rite for burying the Alleluia so his own community could use it this weekend, so I sent him the one used by Atonement. It goes:
Alleluia, abide with us today, and tomorrow thou shalt set forth, Alleluia ; and when the day shall have risen, thou shalt proceed on thy way, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. 
May the good angel of the Lord accompany thee, Alleluia, and give thee a good journey, that thou mayst come back to us in joy, Alleluia. 
May Alleluia, that sacred and joyful word, resound to God's praise from the lips of all people. 
May this word, which expresses glory as chanted by the choirs of angels, be sweet as sung by the voices of believers. 
And may that which noiselessly gleams in the citizens of heaven, yield fruit in our hearts by ever growing love. 
May the Lord's good angel go with thee, Alleluia ; and prepare all good things for thy journey. And again come back to us with joy, Alleluia. 
Let us pray. O Lord, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people; that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

There are, I'm sure, many other worthy variations out there! Rites like this could even be adapted for use in the domestic Church. If you have one, feel free to share it as a comment so I have more ideas for when my children are old enough.

The Alleluia chest at my old parish, Our Lady of the Atonement. After the schoolchildren lay their alleluia sheets into the chest, the chest is put away until Easter.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Order of Malta: what it means to be sovereign

A macro I made several months ago after reading H.J.A. Sire's book The Knights of Malta: A Modern Resurrection.

It's been a harrowing week for the Modern Medievalist. Some of you may remember that my first parish church, where I was baptized and married, was the "Anglican Use" community of Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio: a phenomenally successful Roman Catholic parish whose unique liturgical and cultural identity is now in danger after the Archbishop of San Antonio suspended my old pastor in an attempt to keep it from joining the Personal Ordinariate (see SaveAtonement.org). The situation quickly escalated into a headline in the San Antonio newspaper's Sunday edition and exploded all over Catholic social media. I've done what little I could to help via writing a letter and doing an interview for the local paper, but the fate of the parish is now in God's hands as authorities in Rome evaluate the case and make a decision.

What happens to Our Lady of the Atonement, however, is small potatoes in the grand scheme of ecclesiastical drama compared to the situation that subsequently unfolded with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta when, after a meeting with Pope Francis, Fra' Matthew Festing tendered his abdication as Grand Master. (A general summary may be read here.) For Atonement, as special as that place is to me, is still but one parish--but the Order of Malta is a military order of the Church with a truly global presence, numbering upwards of 13,000 invested Knights and Dames, 25,000 employees, and over 80,000 volunteers including yours truly

The Order's motto outlines its twofold mission as it has always been since the time of the Crusades: Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum, the nurturing (or defense) of the faith and the care of the poor and sick. The latter part is carried out by both local initiatives (here in Philadelphia, we partner with Aid for Friends to pack meals for the homebound, as well as assist a shelter for unwed mothers) and global projects such as Malteser International, which assists especially with disaster relief and basic medical care in the third world, and the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem: the only place in the very cradle of the Christian faith where women can give birth in a quality environment. There is also, of course, the Order's famous annual pilgrimage to the Lourdes shrine to assist malades from around the world to the miraculous healing waters.

A great deal of these works are made possible by the Order's status as a sovereignty by many national and supra-national bodies, despite its lack of a territory to govern. From its humble foundation by Blessed Gerard as a hospital under the patronage of St John the Baptist in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem, the community and its scope of service both rapidly expanded after the First Crusade. In 1113, Pope Paschal II recognized the importance of the Hospital and granted it sovereign status in the bull Pie Postulatio Voluntatis. The bull guaranteed that Gerard's successors (the Grand Masters) and the work of the newly established religious order could be impeded by no king, bishop, nor any other authority. 

The Knights Hospitaller continued to serve the sick, as well as fight bravely alongside the Templars and other crusader state armies until the fall of Acre in 1291. They found a new home on the island of Rhodes, transforming the Order from an army into a naval power--and, in the process, taking on the responsibility of governing the island, complete with their own currency, trade agreements, and all the other trappings of an independent state. The heroic siege of 1523 against the forces of Suleiman the Magnificent forced the Order to surrender Rhodes and wander stateless for a time until they acquired the island of Malta, where the Order's role as a bulwark against Turkish naval aggression in the Mediterranean resumed with accolades (especially in the famous siege of 1565) until the arrival of Napoleon's Egyptian expedition. Then, it was not defeat on the battleground but a needless surrender, perhaps at the behest of a small faction of French Knights, that caused the Order to at last surrender its territory.

Relocated to Rome and granted the Magistral Palace as a shadow of its former possessions (much like the Vatican City today as a vestige of the old Papal States), the Order's sovereign status somehow lived on. The Grand Masters continued to be recognized as Princes. The Order still issues commemorative stamps and passports to its highest officials, and it enjoys observer status in the United Nations. These are, however, but symbols of something greater: the Order of Malta's unchallenged reputation as a provider of humanitarian aid, and even as a moral authority amongst powers that grow ever more skeptical of the Catholic Church's place in the table of world affairs. The Knights defy all those who proclaim the death of chivalry and the irrelevance of religion by their very existence, daily keeping to their roots as a religious order devoted to defending the faith and caring for the poor and sick. It would be a mistake to dismiss, as even some faithful Catholics have, the Knights as just another religious order. (Last I checked, even the august Franciscans and Dominicans don't have ambassadors to foreign countries. Advantages like that in practicing the works of mercy, as emphasized by the recent Jubilee Year of Mercy, are forever gone once lost.)

Christ said "a house divided against itself cannot stand". Just as Anglicans who may have been tempted to swim the Tiber and enter full communion with Rome have watched aghast at the situation surrounding Our Lady of the Atonement, the whole world is watching as one venerable old sovereignty challenges another's. Should the Order's sovereignty be compromised in the eyes of the world, its mission to care for "our lords the sick" will suffer in the years and generations to come. As canonist Edward Condon suggests in his latest column, who's to say that, when the dust settles and the Holy See's honor has been satisfied, the long knives of state won't come for them next?

The Order's Sovereign Council convenes on Saturday to decide whether or not to accept the Grand Master's resignation. Should he abdicate, the Order will lose the leadership of a man who, from my listening to his speeches (such as his radio interview here) and from anecdotes from Knights and Dames, is truly devout (he regularly leads the recitation of Vespers in Latin for the Knights in community in Rome) and an unimpeachable gentleman in every sense of the word.... and there will be one fewer sword standing between us and the forces gathering in Mordor for the great battle to come.

I took this photo of His Eminent Highness myself last year while attending a Mass of solemn profession for a new Knight of Justice (one of the members fully professed to poverty, chastity, and obedience). It was a rare occasion for the Grand Master to come to the United States.

The Grand Master in an outdoor procession in Dublin prior to the first solemn profession of a Knight of Justice in Ireland since the Reformation. The profession was made during a solemn high Mass in the traditional Latin rite. Full photo gallery here.