Defending the 12th century since the 14th; blogging since the 21st.

Catholicism, Conservatism, the Middle Ages, Opera, and Historical and Literary Objets d'Art blogged by a suburban dad who teaches law and writes stuff.

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Who was Cacciaguida? See Dante's PARADISO, Cantos XV, XVI, & XVII.

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Monday, August 15, 2011
ASSUMPTION -- what a day to start blogging again!

Today's reflection is going to be about choices of liturgical readings for the Feast, old compared to new.

The Ordinary (newer) and Extraordinary (Tridentine) Forms of the Mass exhibit differences not only in text, calendar (in some cases), and (in most cases) language, but also in selection of Scripture readings. Not across the board; but when such changes occur, they reveal a change of ethos.

Most of you who went to Mass today, in polite defiance of the U.S. Bishops' assumption (pardon the expression) that we're wimps who can't be expected to attend Mass two days in a row and that the obligation that usually attends the Feast of the Assumption had to be lifted, probably attended Mass in the Ordinary Form, and therefore encountered, as your first reading, Apocalypse (Revelation) 11:19-12:1. This is indeed a very important passage for the Assumption, since it identifies Mary as the Ark of the Covenant and as the "great sign" that "appeared in heaven."

Does the Extraordinary Form lectionary ignore this reading? No -- the mulier amicta sole passage forms the Antiphon, the first prayer spoken by the priest (at Low Mass) or sung by the choir (at Sung Mass) after the Prayers Before the Altar. (The EF'S Antiphon corresponds roughly to the OF's "Entrance Antiphon," but the latter is usually skipped in favor of some goshawful hymn.)

So then, what does the EF lectionary offer as the first reading for this Feast? Selections from the Book of Judith: 13:17-20 and 15:9 (numberings acc. to the RSVCE and the New CTS Catholc Bible; Douay may differ: it likes to). And what is this about? You don't know? It's about Judith saving her people, the Jews, by decapitating Holofernes, leader of the Assyrians, and receiving for this heroism the praise of her people as "the glory of Jerusalem" and "the honor of our people."

This is the Extraordinary Form's first reading for the Feast of Mary's Assumption into Heaven, for which the Gospel reading, in both forms of the Mass, is Mary's visit to her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, in Luke 1. This is of course a gentle, somewhat conventionally "feminine" scene: older relative is preggers, younger relative goes to be nurturing, etc. But Judith? Judith, whether this shocks us or not, whether it fits our perfectly irrelevant little template for how God ought to act or not, is a precursor, or "type," typos in the Bib-crit sense, of Mary. So is Jael, the woman who saved the Hebrews from the hostile band led by Sisera, during the Judgeship of Deborah, by pounding a tent peg through his head with a mallet (Judges 4).

Does it surprise you that these are typoi of Mary? It shouldn't, if you've read carefully and taken seriously Genesis 3:15. The enmity between "the serpent" and "the woman" is serious. From her first appearance in history as Eve to her most exalted one as the foreseen but still free-choosing yes-sayer of the Annunciation, the serpent is scared crapless of what "the woman" signifies for his ultimate fate, and with good reason.

Oh but, post 1960s, some of us in Church middle management don't want to bother parishioners with all that do we? First, Judith is a deuterocanonical book -- Protestants don't have it in their Bibles -- and aren't we annoying them enough by celebrating the Assumption anyway? (No -- where'd you get a stupid idea like that? The good ones respect us even where they disagree; the kind who get annoyed about it can't get possibly get annoyed enough.) Second, making people learn that much Bible-y stuff -- it's so complicated. Today's parishioners are more educated, and so -- oops, wrong talking points, never mind. Third and most important, it's violent. We don't want to make today's parishioner's read violent stuff. Don't you know about Vietnam? Today's Church is about peace....

Well yes, the Church always desires peace, prays for it, and works towards it. But Christ's peace comes via Christ's suffering. And if you can affirm that, see if you can go the next step: the most apparently "peaceful" thing to do in a given situation may not be thing that most conduces to peace. This is not "situation ethics" or "consequentialism," which I repudiate just as the Church does. But -- Judith was not imprisoned as a war criminal for beheading Holofernes: she was praised as "the glory of Jerusalem and the honor of our people."

Clearly, Sisera and Holofernes were enemy combatants lawfully killed in a just war. Just as clearly, Jael and Judith were typoi of the "woman" of Genesis 3:15 whose enmity with the "serpent" is perpetual and radical. And clearly, Christians who forget this are on the way to being wimps. Which seems to be just what some people want.

Today's OF-only parishioners read about Mary as the Apocalypse's Ark of the Covenant (in the old days parishioners with hand-missals read about this too, in the Antiphon; and don't tell me today's parishioners listen to the vernacular readings with more attention than those of yesteryear followed with hand-missals; attention to readings is abysmal at all times, but there's no reason to think it was worse then than now); but they read nothing about Mary as the serpent's-head-crushing heiress of Judith. Because we've decided they shouldn't. Because middle management decided the ideal Catholic is either an ex-nun smiling as she balls her fist at the first sign of neo-orthodoxy, or a pony-tailed hermaphrodite who chairs his local chapter of the United Nations Association and gives rides to the polls for SEIU on Election Day.

Except -- where old knights still read old books, and worship the way the knights did, seeing what "the old knights saw from their tombs...."

Holy Mary, Our Hope, Seat of Wisdom, Assumed Into Heaven, Pray For Us.

Epilogue: The following prayer, Tota Pulchra, is part of Vespers for the Immaculate Conception. It has been set by several Catholic composers, including Bruckner, Durufle, and Gorecki. Note how praise of Mary is interwoven with lines from Judith 15:9!

Tota pulchra es, Maria,

et macula originalis non est in te.

Tu gloria Jerusalem,

tu laetitia Israel,

tu honorificentia populi nostri.

tu advocata peccatorum.

O Maria, Virgo prudentissima,

mater clementissima,

Ora pro nobis.

Intercede pro nobis

Ad Dominum Jesum Christum.