Thursday, June 01, 2006

Critical Mass: Petitions Without Apologies?


Today, the reformed Roman calendar commemorates St Justin the Martyr (circa 100-165), the first great Christian apologist, who traveled throughout Asia Minor defending the Faith, eventually traveling to Rome, where he won the crown of martyrdom. He wrote two "apologies" and one "dialogue." It is one of the former for which he is best known, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

1345 As early as the second century we have the witness of St. Justin Martyr for the basic lines of the order of the Eucharistic celebration. They have stayed the same until our own day for all the great liturgical families. St. Justin wrote to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161) around the year 155, explaining what Christians did:

On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.

The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.

When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.

Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves... and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.

When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.

Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren.

He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek:
eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.

When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: "Amen."

When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the 'eucharisted' bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.

The part where Christians "offer prayers for ourselves" is understood to be what is known as the "Prayer of the Faithful" in the reformed Roman liturgy. While its restoration was called for in the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy at the Second Vatican Council, detractors among traditionalists insist -- and this is the short explanation; the long one will come along soon enough, I expect -- it is a superfluous innovation, with no real connection to the liturgy as celebrated in the early days of Rome.

How they maintain that position in the face of the above is beyond me. In the traditional Roman liturgy as codified by Pope Pius V in 1570, the form in general use for four centuries thereafter, the priest turns to the people following the Nicene Creed and says, "Dominus vobiscum/The Lord be with you." The people respond "Et cum spiritu tuo/And with your spirit." The Mass then proceeds to the Offertory Antiphon. However, an antiphon would not be proceeded by a call for an oration as is done here. Where is the oration? Dom Cabrol, among others, suggests that a series of general intercessions must have appeared there at one time. Is it mere "antiquarianism" to restore what was clearly provided for in the distinctly Roman form of the Mass?

To be honest, most of what passes for this litany is rather trite. Parishes generally compose their own, which hardly measures up to the standard of the official text of the reformed liturgy, such as it is. Were that not bad enough, some Masses are known to call out, "For whom else shall we pray?" followed by spontaneous petitions from the assembly. That's when it really goes downhill.

Detractors will highlight this innovation as proof that history has left us with no real model to follow for these petitions. And yet we have long had such a model every year at Good Friday, and it inspires the guidelines for such intercessions set forth in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:

70 As a rule, the series of intentions is to be

• For the needs of the Church;

• For public authorities and the salvation of the whole world;

• For those burdened by any kind of difficulty;

• For the local community.

Nevertheless, in a particular celebration, such as Confirmation, Marriage, or a Funeral, the series of intentions may reflect more closely the particular occasion.

Prototypes for general use, as well as general seasons of the year, can also be found in an appendix of the current Roman Sacramentary.

As discussions continue for a liturgical counter-reformation (the "reform of the reform" alluded to by the man once known as Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI), this is one area of official reform that is under critical review in academic circles.

(Thanks to Rich Leonardi for the heads-up, and the nifty icon. Atta boy, Richie.)

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