When Liturgical Change is a Good Thing

A recent report by Sandro Magister at Chiesa tells of how Gianfranco Ravasi and Jacob Neusner have both defended the text of the new prayer for the Jewish people provided for the Good Friday service of the so-called "Tridentine Rite" of the Mass (better: Mass under the rubrics of 1958). I've blogged on this topic before, but the Chiesa piece reminded me of another liturgical area in which change has been, in my view, very much for the better. If, like me, you find the ICEL translation of the Office banal and stultifying, you have probably "shopped around", so to speak, for alternatives. In the end, I saved up a ton of money and got myself beautiful, leather-bound versions of the Vatican Press' Latin edition, but not everyone has that kind of dough or enough Latin to make it worth while, so I've sometimes recommended using The Anglican Breviary, which has been kept in print by the remarkable ministry of Daniel Lula. It, too, is bound in leather, but it costs only $65 (the Latin edition is close to $200 per volume, and there are four volumes). In addition, its English is that of the Authorized Version of the Bible and Cranmer's Prayerbook, so reading it is just about as pleasurable as things can get in the English language. If you're the slightest bit worried about that "Anglican" part, you needn't be: we're talking Anglo-Catholics here, Anglicans who are as Catholic as anyone in their belief and practice save for that whole "first-among-equals" thing. Also, even if they weren't as Catholic as the rest of us, it would hardly matter, since the book is just an English translation of the Roman Catholic Breviary as it existed in 1911, so it can hardly be faulted doctrinally (it includes elements that are, strictly speaking, only part of the so-called "English Use", but these elements are in addition to the full text of the Roman Use).

The rubrics of this Breviary can be rather daunting at first, but they are soon mastered and one will be happily praying away at the canonical hours in no time, but I learned rather quickly that I could not continue to use this particular form of the Office. I found that I was disturbed by something that was assigned as part of the Office for Epiphany. The readings for the Third Nocturn of Matins on that day are drawn from a homily by St. Gregory the Great. The homily is on the text of Matthew 2.1, and talks of the contrast between faith and reason as manifested in the reception of Our Lord by the Jews and by the Gentiles. Here is the text of Lesson vii:
Dearly beloved brethren, ye have heard from the Gospel how, when the King of heaven was born, an earthly king was troubled. For earthly greatness is brought to confusion when the might of heaven is made manifest. But let us ask a question: When the Redeemer was born, why was it that, to the shephers of Judaea, an Angel was sent to bring tidings thereof, whereas it was a star that led the Wise Men of the East to worship him? It would seem that the Jews, who had been hitherto under the governance of reason, received a revelation from a reasonable being, that is, an Angel; but that the Gentiles, who knew not the right use of reason, were brought to the Lord, not by a voice, but by a sign, that is, by a star. Hence Paul hath it: Prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. So the prophesying was given to them that believed and the sign to them that believed not.
So far so good, and you've just gotta love that diction. But things take a rather dark turn in Lesson viii:
It is worthy of notice also, that to these same Gentiles the Redeemer, when he was of full age, was preached by his Apostles; whereas while he was as yet the little Child, and unable to use the organs of speech, he was shewn to them, not by the voice of Angels, but merely by the vision of a star. When he himself had begun to speak he was made known to us by speakers, but when he lay silent in the manger, by that silent testimony in the heaven. But whether we consider the signs which accompanied his birth or his death, this thing is wonderful, namely, the hardness of heart of Jewry, which would not believe in him either for prophesying or for miracles.
Uh oh. Whenever I see that phrase "hardness of heart of Jewry", my skin begins to crawl. But it just gets worse in Lesson ix:
All things which he had made bore witness that their Maker was come. Let me reckon them after the manner of men. The heavens knew that he was God, and sent a star to shine over where he lay. The sea knew it, and bore him up when he walked upon it. The earth knew it, and quaked when he died. The sun knew it, and was darkened. The rocks and walls knew it, and were rent at the hour of his death. Hell knew it, and gave up the dead that were in it. And yet up to this very hour the hearts of unbelieving Jewry will not acknowledge that he, to whom all nature hath testified, is their God. yea, it is as though they are more hardened than the rocks, and refuse to be rent by repentance.
Ouch. Even Hell itself has more sense than "unbelieving Jewry", it seems. After Matins on Epiphany a few years ago I put this Breviary on the shelf, and have not used it since, for the great beauty that it contains (and it contains very great beauty indeed) is spoiled by the blot and stain of ignorant bigotry.

Comments

Christian said…
Thank you for your blog, God Bless you :)
DimBulb said…
Aren't you perhaps reading more into the translation that is necessary, or even likely? Isn't "hell knew it, and gave up what was within it" a reference to the abode of the dead waiting the coming redeemer rather than the Place/state of the damned? After all, the Gospel text refers to them as "saints."

And St Paul himself speaks of the present hardness of heart veiled mind of the Jews as part of God's plan for the sake of the Gentiles.
Scott Carson said…
Dim

Well, I dunno. Whatever hell is, it isn't a rational being, any more than rocks and stones are. If the Jews are being portrayed as dumber than rocks, I don't think it's just a reference to their hardness of heart as it was often portrayed in the NT, which I've always understood as a figure for the hardness of heart of all mankind (he was rejected of men, not specifically of the Jews, though they were the ones who played that role, so to speak).

The difficulty, I think, is that this isn't St. Paul or any other NT writer, it's Gregory, writing centuries later, and he's talking not about the Jews as a figure for mankind, but about the "unbelieving Jewry" of "this very hour", i.e, the Jews of his own day, who are still just as dumb as the rocks when it comes to seeing what's obvious (in his opinion). He's contrasting the Jews with the believing Gentiles here, and I don't think he's trying to argue anything about God's plan, but about just plain hardness of heart: the Gentiles have already been converted, so it's time for the Jews to come around, so to speak.

Also, I don't think we have to engage in interpretive gymnastics to find anti-Jewish thought in Christian writers of this (or, really, just about any other) epoch. I would agree with those who say that the alleged anti-Jewish sentiment in the Johannine writings is really just a reference to the Jewish authorities, but once we get into the period of Christian ascendancy in the early middle ages I think it's an entirely different matter.
DimBulb said…
I've been plagued by insomnia for a long time and it's late, so, for now, I'll just respond briefly and consider what you wrote more fully latter today (if I remember).

Well, I dunno. Whatever hell is, it isn't a rational being, any more than rocks and stones are.

Neither is sin, yet St Paul personifies both sin and death in Romans. I can't help but wonder if you're not reading too much into a preachers rhetoric.

...I don't think it's just a reference to their hardness of heart as it was often portrayed in the NT, which I've always understood as a figure for the hardness of heart of all mankind (he was rejected of men, not specifically of the Jews, though they were the ones who played that role, so to speak)...The difficulty, I think, is that this isn't St. Paul or any other NT writer, it's Gregory, writing centuries later, and he's talking not about the Jews as a figure for mankind, but about the "unbelieving Jewry" of "this very hour", i.e, the Jews of his own day, who are still just as dumb as the rocks when it comes to seeing what's obvious (in his opinion). He's contrasting the Jews with the believing Gentiles here, and I don't think he's trying to argue anything about God's plan, but about just plain hardness of heart: the Gentiles have already been converted, so it's time for the Jews to come around, so to speak.

St Paul specifically speaks in Romans of the hardening having come upon "a part of Israel" (those who reject the Gospel). Clearly his teaching about the mystery of the current rejection of the Gospel by a majority of Jews cannot simply be equated with the rest of mankind who reject it, since Jewish rejection opens up the door to the conversion of Gentiles. How could what he writes in Rom. 11:25-29 if what is said about the Jews is a figure for all mankind? It (Jewish rejection) has a place in God's plan which the rejection of non-Jews does not have.

He's contrasting the Jews with the believing Gentiles here, and I don't think he's trying to argue anything about God's plan, but about just plain hardness of heart: the Gentiles have already been converted, so it's time for the Jews to come around, so to speak.

But if he believed that after the full number of Gentiles has come into the Church, then isn't his insistence that the Jews "come around" understandable, since this is what St Paul said was the paln of God?

Also, even assuming that St Gregory is off the beam here, is it legitimate to simply accuse him of bigotry? Wouldn't theological error be a much more plausible explanation?
Lee Faber said…
the vatican press used to sell an edition of the latin office bound in vinyl; I got mine for about $60 a volume, but I haven't looked to see if its still in print (it was dated 2000)
Scott Carson said…
Lee

The vinyl edition is still available, but now it's close to $100 (here).

The only reason I went for the leather is that I wanted something nice to use for, well, either (a) the rest of my life or (b) until something better comes along, whichever comes first. The vinyl edition isn't bad, but it isn't exactly nice either.

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