The Veil of Death

The “Holy Sepulcher” with veiled monstrance in the Parish of Trumau

In Austria, as in much of Central Europe (Poland, Slovakia, parts of Hungary and South-Eastern Germany…), there is a custom of carrying one of the hosts consecrated on Holy Thursday in a veiled monstrance in procession after the Good Friday Liturgy to a side altar decorated as a tomb, usually with an image of the shrouded body of the Lord surrounded by white flowers. The veiled monstrance remains at this “Holy Sepulcher” through the night of Good Friday and the morning of Holy Saturday. The custom is frowned upon by lovers of the sobriety of the Roman liturgy, but I think that it fits beautifully with the paradox of veiling and unveiling that dominates the whole of Passiontide. Nowhere is the holy, mighty, and immortal divinity of Christ so veiled as in His death. And yet this veiling is an ‘unveiling veiling’, to use Hans Urs von Balthasar’s term (enthüllende Verhüllung); nothing more reveals the deepest mystery of the Divine Love. The veiled monstrance is a triple veiling, which is at the same time a triple unveiling, revelation of the Divine Mystery. The eternal Word veils His Divine Nature in the Incarnation, when he takes on our Mortal nature, and yet this veiling in human flesh is at the same time the epiphany, the appearing of the invisible God in visible form. In His passion and death a second veil is, as it were, thrown over the veil of human nature, and yet His death is the greatest possible revelation of the glory of His Immortal Love. And in the Blessed Sacrament yet another veil is added: In cruce latebat sola Deitas, / At hic latet simul et Humanitas (On the Cross lay hidden but thy Deity, / Here is hidden also Thy Humanity). At yet the Blessed Sacrament, the greatest of the Lord’s miracles, is also the greatest revelation of His love for us sinners.

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The Holy Sepulcher in Heiligenkreuz

Sacred Music and Secular Culture

March 5th was the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the instruction Musicam SacramTo mark the occasion, Pope Francis gave a speech to an international conference on sacred music. In his speech the Holy Father points out the central tension involved in debates about sacred music since the Council. On the one hand, sacred music should heighten the solemnity and glory of the liturgy, it should help manifest the “hierarchic and communal nature” of the liturgy, and raise minds  “to celestial things through the splendor of sacred things,” and help the liturgy prefigure “more clearly the liturgy, which is carried out in the heavenly Jerusalem.” But on the other hand, sacred music should be “fully ‘inculturated’ in the artistic and musical languages of the present.” The “rich and multi-form patrimony inherited from the past” must be preserved, but it must be preserved in a balanced way that avoids “the risk of a nostalgic or ‘archaeological’ vision.” The Holy Father is very forthright about the difficulties involved in such a balance: Continue reading

Liturgy as Court Ritual

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Pontifical High Mass at the Throne in the Usus Antiquior

Peter Kwasniewski has a wonderful post up at The New Liturgical Movement defending the liturgy as ‘Court Ritual’. He argues that especially in our democratic times it is necessary to emphasize that the Sacred Liturgy is a the court ritual of Christ the King as well as the oblation of Christ the Priest:

Monarchy or princedom, the oldest and arguably the most natural form of political organization, has been a far more consistent part of the human experience and of the formation of Christian culture than the democratic/egalitarian ideology of “self-evident truths” of which we have persuaded ourselves in modernity. Regardless of whether we think democracy can be made to work or not, in the realm of supernatural mysteries, Christianity is purely and entirely monarchical. Against the backdrop of the Old Testament revelation of God as the (one and only) great King over all the earth, and of the people of Israel as a kingly, priestly people ruled by prophets, judges, and ultimately the Davidic dynasty, we profess that Christ is our King, the Lord of heaven and earth, of all times, past, present, and to come, of this world and of the next; that His angels and saints are His royal court; that He deigns to call us His friends and brethren, yes, but such that we know that we never cease to be His servants. We long for His courts and tabernacles. The thick “politicism” of the imagery points to the real, sovereign polity of the Mystical Body, subsisting in the Roman Catholic Church as a societas perfecta and altogether perfected in the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the great King. Our ecclesial sacrifice, the Most Holy Eucharist, is a kingly and high-priestly oblation.

Consequently, the modern fixation on democracy, as if it were the best or the only good form of government, not only does not abolish our need for the language of kingship and courtliness, but makes it far more needed than ever before, in order to impress on our minds the way things really stand in the definitive reality of the kingdom of God. All of our democratic and egalitarian experiments will fall away at the end of time, as the glorious reign of Christ the King is revealed to all the nations, and those who have submitted to His gentle yoke will be raised to eternal life in glorified flesh while those who have rejected Him will wail and gnash their teeth, condemned to eternal fire in unending torment. The liturgy should reflect the truth of God — His absolute monarchy, His paternal rule, His hierarchical court in the unspeakable splendor of the heavenly Jerusalem — and not the passing truths of our modern provisional political organizations, or, in other words, that continual redesign of the liturgy, in language and ceremonies and ministers, for which the noveltymongers are agitating.

Yes, yes, yes! A thousand times yes!

Many years ago, in my undergraduate thesis, I made a similar point (though with much less eloquence):

The principle of active participation, which the Second Vatican Council was so right to insist on, has been nearly everywhere misunderstood and misapplied. This is because in modern democracy participation in the political order is understood in terms of being one of the rulers. We see this understanding of participation taken over so that active participation in the life of the Parish or Diocese is understood as participation in “pastoral councils” and similar tom-foolery. In the Sacred Liturgy active participation is taken to mandate all kinds of laypeople messing around in the sanctuary as lectors, ‘introducers,’ extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, etc. This banal caricature of true active participation and the priesthood of the faithful persists despite all efforts of the Magisterium to correct it. The problem is that when political government ceases to be what it should be the “wonderful resemblance” that it bears to God’s government, of which Pope Leo XIII speaks, is destroyed. But grace builds on nature and men ought to be disposed to the higher by the lower. (p. 36)