Tag Archives: Latin

9 January: Follow the Verger

Here’s another story by Eddie Gilmore from the Irish chaplaincy blog. I recall all too well the tension felt when acting as MC, master of ceremonies, at the old Latin High Mass. The priest, deacon and subdeacon – in daily life all three priests, but concelebration had not been heard of back then – would sit during the singing of the Gloria and Creed, wearing their birettas, rather odd black hats, which had to be removed at certain points as a sign of respect. And at a signal from the MC, who stood beside them, his – yes, his – hands together in prayer. Get it wrong – well, it depended on who was celebrant what might be said afterwards in the sacristy. So I appreciated Eddie’s reflection that follows!

I was spending the weekend in York with Ann and Andy, old friends from Uni. Thanks to Andy being a verger at the Minster I got to sit with Ann in a prominent position for the service, and afterwards got invited to join the vergers and their partners for a drink in one of York’s many olde worlde pubs. They were a great bunch and it was a fascinating insight into what happens ‘behind the scenes’ in a major cathedral. A verger, by the way, is the person in the Anglican tradition who leads the celebrants to their position before and during a service. They hold aloft a virge which is a kind of long rod, and they walk very slowly and solemnly, which means that the procession behind them also walks very slowly and solemnly. The tradition, I believe, is from the middle ages when cathedrals would be filled with people milling around and the verger would almost literally have to barge their way through the throngs to get the celebrants to the altar. Nowadays it’s purely ceremonial and it’s all done with almost military style precision. The vergers even have ear pieces so they can communicate with each other regarding exactly when to set off with the procession and when they need to ‘land’ in a particular place.

There were lots of good stories from the vergers about occasions when things hadn’t quite gone according to plan. Andy told of how a verger once led the procession the wrong way at the beginning of a big important service. The other vergers were looking on helplessly as their colleague (perhaps overawed by the occasion) led the motley crew of choristers, priests and bishops first one way then another until everyone finally arriving at the altar. I told in a recent blog of the day a few months back when Evensong began again in Canterbury Cathedral following the lockdown restrictions. It was in the huge nave instead of the choir and the verger hesitated on the way in, and the Dean and canons behind her came to a temporary halt. I knew straight away what had happened and sent a message to Ann later on: “Tell Andy that the verger didn’t know where to go!”

I’m sometimes not that keen on big solemn church services, where everything is perfectly choreographed but it’s almost too perfect to the extent that I feel like I can’t really be myself. One of the riches of my years at L’Arche was being alongside people who really knew how to be themselves (i.e. people with a learning disability), even in church settings and even if it may have invoked some feelings of discomfort in those around them. Back in the early 90s I used sometimes to go with one of the learning-disabled women in my house to her local church and sometimes during the service my friend, who was very tactile, would get up and walk towards the vicar and give him a big hug. And that memory is especially poignant now in this time when we cannot share physical touch with one another. Another woman who I accompanied occasionally to that same church would let out a big scream just as the gospel reading was coming to an end (i.e. just before the homily). I would have to take her into the hall for a cup of tea and she was happy to return for the remainder of the service. It meant I also got an early cup of tea and didn’t have to sit through a long sermon, so everyone was a winner!

When things don’t go exactly according to plan it makes it all a bit more human somehow. And who could have planned how and where, according the Christian tradition, God chose to be revealed in the world: as a tiny baby born to unmarried parents in a smelly stable in a backwater town on the fringes of the Roman empire. The kingdom of God is indeed an upside-down kingdom.

And so if occasionally the verger leads the celebrants the wrong way, then in my view we’re all the richer and all the more human for it.

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June 10: Of Syllables and Steps, Singing and Silence III

There are moments for movement in the liturgy, often missed or mishandled: processions with cross and lights, perhaps an Asperges entrance rite; processions with the book, with the gifts; an orderly procession to Communion. When African seminarians visiting our parish processed with the Book of Gospels to the sound of drums, the reverence they showed to the Word certainly inspired awe in a Kentish congregation.

Most Catholics, thank God, will never experience the sub-ten-minute Latin Mass that had me stumbling over the well-known responses, followed by, ‘If you ever come near me to serve my Mass again or I’ll kick you from here to Kingdom Come.’ Any awe from Fr G came from his fire-and-brimstone sermons at other priest’s Masses. Priests had it easy, speaking God’s own language; no need to work on phrasing and diction. The laity could pray or stray, every one in his own way; we worshipped together largely because we were in the same building at the same time, Some ‘hearing Mass’ from the porch or beyond.

Some elements of the Tridentine Liturgy now seem difficult to credit: carrying the Missal from one side of the altar to the other behind the priest’s back; the choreography by which the MC would direct priest, deacon and subdeacon to doff their birettas as the choir sang the Gloria; the subdeacon veiled on the bottom step, holding up the paten. Did these inspire awe? Nerves in this altar server: would I miss a cue?

Our celebrations are often far from perfect now: servers still fluff their cues, readers may be inaudible or over-dramatic, babies may cry, someone will sing flat, another will be three syllables behind in the congregation’s prayers, the person before you at Communion will genuflect unexpectedly and nearly send you flying. We can cope with all that if we believe that God is at work here and we are his instruments. As his instruments, we should be fine-tuning ourselves against each other, from Vox Clara to Vince and Clare in the next pew.

Well-led singing helps us to be at one, and may even persuade the babies to be quiet. There are tuneful and singable English Masses, and the Latin Missa de Angelis, or part of it could be learnt by most congregations; but we could discard or edit quite a few hymns from the last 150 years!

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December 17: The Great O Antiphons: Introduction to Sister Johanna’s poems.

 

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In the evenings leading up to Christmas Eve, the Roman Catholic Church sings seven special antiphons before and after the Magnificat at Vespers. English speaking Christians know these in the metrical version that starts, ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel.’

Sister Johanna at Minster Abbey has written a poem for each of the antiphons and we are privileged to publish them here. She writes:

 They are shortish poems that meditate on each O Antiphon.  Each  poem is in a different style, sometimes different voice, from the others.  They begin with a heading consisting of the O Antiphon in its original Latin (surely one or two of your readers must be able to de-code the Latin, don’t you think?); then I translate the Antiphon into English.  The poem then follows.  You will see that the poem picks up on one or two aspects of the antiphon that seem to contain the most ‘punch’ but do not attempt to reflect on every aspect of the antiphon.

To preserve the format of each post as Sister intended, I have presented them as pdf files. Just click on the link each day to view the post.

WT

 

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September 26: European Day of Languages

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Brexit or no Brexit, the European day of Languages deserves a mention. After all, the Church was multilingual from the day of Pentecost. Remember Acts Chapter II:

The multitude came together, and were confounded in mind, because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue. And they were all amazed, and wondered, saying: Behold, are not all these, that speak, Galileans? And how have we heard, every man our own tongue wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews also, and proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians: we have heard them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all astonished and wondered, saying to one another: What meaneth this? 

Two groups of Europeans there – Romans and Cretans.

There were centuries when the Latin Church tried to be exactly that, a Latin church, from Poland (where the reader in the picture is sitting) to Patagonia, but people want to hear in their own tongues the wonderful works of God. Not for nothing did the XIX Century missionaries translate the Scriptures as soon as they understood the languages where they were working.

Unless we have opportunities to use languages we will struggle to learn them. However, we can make visitors and strangers welcome with just a few words of English. And a multilingual smile and handshake. Let’s make sure we do.

Peace be with you!

Pax Vobiscum!

 

This Welcome Poster comes from Early Learning HQ and can be downloaded free from this link.

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January 6: a gift, a cracker.

keys.

I don’t recall meeting a Balthazar or even a Caspar, and the only Melchior I ever knew was from Slovenia, well west of Palestine. He was not rich enough to offer gold, frankincense or myrrh in any quantity, though he was good company.

I like to think the gifts the Kings – if Kings they were – offered were practical as well as symbolic. Gold coins to set the Holy Family up in Cairo when they got there; incense to cover the smells of stables and possibly worse, and myrrh for a tender young bottom.

Christmas cracker novelties are perhaps the ultimate in unpractical gifts. Not this one. The key that’s in the lock has a black case on its handle which came from a 2016 Christmas cracker. I can distinguish it in the dark and so let myself in. The key of my little kingdom.

It reminds me of the family gathering, a family to be grateful for. And though it’s black, it does its job in the dark, paradoxically I can say ‘lead kindly light’ … I think 6th January is the last day for us Latin or Western Christians to say Happy Christmas to each other – but it’s Christmas day for Orthodox Christians.

Happy Christmas, one and all!

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