The marriage of Joseph and Mary

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Dear faithful Catholic friends,

I am writing to all of you, some by e-mail, others by snail-mail as the sun begins to shine on a new day: Friday, April 8th. Battling my accustomed lethargy at this hour of the day, I am stirred thus to share my impressions with you, because I believe what has happened in Rome just now represents a new and singular moment of grace.

Here in the arid south of Puerto Rico it had not rained for four months prior to yesterday, the eve of John Paul II’s historic funeral. But during the afternoon and evening, hour after hour of peaceful, persistent rain drenched the parched earth. After rising at 3:50 a.m. and watching the Holy Father’s funeral Mass by direct telecast until about 6:30, I have just stepped outside. And the unaccustomed freshness and moisture in the still morning air, together with the newly-darkened soil now warming to the rays of the rising sun under a bright and cloudless Caribbean sky, seems providential right now: it symbolizes fittingly an awakening hope for our Holy Mother Church, who so badly needs refreshment with an abundance of those living waters of the Holy Spirit which our Lord promised her. Nature seems to be reflecting grace and rejoicing in it! I speak of a grace I discerned, and of a hope I felt rising little by little in my heart, as I listened and watched the Liturgy unfolding in St. Peter’s Square in these last hours.

The central figure attracting the attention of billions around the world this morning is of course the deceased Roman Pontiff. In truth, John Paul has been a great indeed, towering figure on the world stage over the last quarter-century. The unprecedented flood of pilgrims to Rome in these last dramatic days bears witness to the impact this zealous and prayerful Vicar of Christ has made, in his Master’s name, in just about every corner of the planet. There is no need for me to elaborate here on the Holy Fathers remarkable achievements in presenting Jesus Christ to an increasingly paganized, Islamized and unbelieving world; for all the international Catholic and secular media are already doing that in superabundant measure. Nor is there any need for me to specify here the more troubling and questionable aspects of John Paul’s legacy. At this moment, I feel that would offend against filial piety toward our departed father. (He was a spiritual father to me in a particularly intimate way; for twenty years ago, through the laying on of his hands, I received the priceless gift of the priesthood.)

So why, precisely, has this morning‚s liturgy enkindled in me such new and intense hope? To be truthful, the person mainly responsible was not the object‚ of the funeral liturgy the deceased Pope himself, lying humbly in his unadorned cypress coffin but rather, its quietly-spoken and unpretentious subject‚ the principal celebrant, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Dean of the Sacred College.

From its very first moment onward, when the ancient, noble, well-loved tones of the simple Gregorian introit antiphon, Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, rang out over the multitude packing the huge, sunlit square, this was a Liturgy that sent a message. Only by comparing it with recent pontifical liturgies of similar size and scope can that message be appreciated. It can be summarized in one word. To be sure, it is a word whose applicability this morning was qualified and some of you, I know, will say that the qualification is extreme and unacceptable by the limitations inherent in the post-conciliar rite of Mass and its General Instruction. But in spite of all this, and especially in the context of the generally deplorable state today of the Church’s central act of worship, that word came through loud and clear: Tradition.

During the first few days after April 2, while the Camerlengo (Cardinal Somalo) has been in charge, the deceased Pontiff’s Master of Ceremonies, Archbishop Piero Marini, remained very visible and active in arranging the preliminary rites the Holy Father’s lying in state, etc. This morning that changed suddenly. The archbishop was still quite visible, in the sense that the TV cameras zeroed in on him several times during the long celebration. But that only highlighted the U-turn in liturgical direction, because those cameras showed Marini to be literally and completely sidelined. He played absolutely no active part in the rites, and remained seated throughout the celebration among other prelates who simply assisted and observed. This morning, Cardinal Ratzinger was accompanied throughout by another Master of Ceremonies (a veteran of St. Peter’s sacristy whose face I well remember from the 1980s, when I often had the privilege of acting as cantor in papal Masses).

Now, many of you reading this letter will be aware (in most cases ruefully) that Msgr. Marini was a devoted disciple of none other than the Great Architect of the universal liturgical reform, the late Archbishop Annibale Bugnini. (This prelate was finally exiled in disgrace by Paul VI after documentary evidence, checked out and verified by detectives of the Italian carabinieri, persuaded the Pope Bugnini was a Freemason.) During at least one papal visit to the U.S., Marini refused to allow any Latin in the celebration of Mass, even when the American hosts specifically asked for it, in view of the large number of different nationalities expected to be in attendance. It was Marini who, in recent years, multiculturalized papal Masses by adding such decorative touches as altar girls, dancing girls, pagan purification rites replacing the Confiteor, nuns in secular dress on the sanctuary together with mitred bishops, processions of hip-swaying, hand-waving Congolese ladies, offertories adorned by smoking-brazier-swirling, flower-strewing Indian ladies, innovative dialogical versions of the Credo, and hordes of extraordinary lay ministers, at some distance from the outdoor sanctuary, holding up ciboria filled with altar-breads during the words of consecration in a kind of virtual concelebration. It was all very . . . extraordinary.

Given these recent scenarios, I switched on my TV set this morning with a certain trepidation. But, thanks be to God, the contrast in St. Peter’s Square could scarcely have been greater. The Mass was in Latin, with Gregorian chant and traditional polyphony ringing forth from the two Vatican choirs. Solemnity and reverence were in evidence throughout. All servers and acolytes in the sanctuary were male. Not even all the Scripture readings were in the vernacular: both Responsorial Psalm and Gospel were chanted in Latin. Apart from the other two readings and, of course, the homily (delivered by Ratzinger in Italian), the only use of vernacular languages occurred in the general intercessions (Prayer of the Faithful). The hands of those on the sanctuary were joined straight‚ (palm-to-palm), in traditional Roman liturgical style, not clasped (the effete-looking pose introduced and promoted by Marini). Cardinal Ratzinger chose the ancient and unabbreviated Roman Canon as the heart of the Mass, and, at its most sacred moment, the Consecration, His Eminence used that classical gesture which bespeaks so eloquently the offering up of Sacrifice to God, raising the Host and Chalice well above his head, not just up to the half-hearted eye-level demanded by the petty martinets who dictate today’s standards of liturgical correctness. Nearly all the cardinals exchanged the sign of peace‚ in the old form of a stylized embrace, eschewing the perfunctory, secular handshake that now prevails in parish liturgies everywhere. Multiculturalism‚ was there but in a good, traditional sense. Around the Pope’s coffin at the end of Mass, Oriental Catholic prelates and cantors had the opportunity to chant in Greek their own traditional Byzantine-rite prayers for the dead. Last (and I suppose, least), a fleeting whiff of throne and altar‚ sweet perfume to monarchists like me wafted through the air off to the right-hand side of the sanctuary area where hundreds of heads of state and other dignitaries were seated. For the front row was reserved exclusively for royalty (and the president of Italy, as host‚ country). George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac were also prominent in the second row. (Was this perhaps the first time in history that any reigning‚ president of the United States or France has ever occupied the second row of seats at any significant public function?)

All in all, dear friends, this was definitely, recognizably, a Mass of the Roman Rite, if we define that expression in terms of a broad, fifteen-hundred year liturgical tradition embodying many variations over the centuries. No, it certainly wasn’t the Roman Rite in its mediaeval form (later standardized in the Tridentine Missal of Pope St. Pius V). But how might Pope St. Gregory the Great have felt, looking down from Heaven on St. Peter’s Square and recalling that in his Missal, as in that of Paul VI, there were no prayers at the foot of the altar, no Last Gospel, and very few offertory prayers? I suspect that while he might not have felt wholly enthusiastic about the style of this morning’s celebration, he would certainly have recognized it as having obvious, unmistakable roots in the liturgy he received and passed on in the 6th-7th centuries.

Now, that is the message Joseph Ratzinger wanted to send to the Church and the world this morning, via this solemn Requiem Mass whose every detail he obviously planned, or at least approved, beforehand: it is an exaggeration to say that Paul VI’s Missal amounts to the ‘destruction’ of ‘the Roman Rite’ (as many traditionalists claim it does). But I don‚t think the message stopped there, at the level of liturgy. Rather, the liturgy was emblematic of a much wider reality: this morning’s Roman Mass as a portrait in miniature of the kind of Roman Catholicism this Cardinal would like to see restored. While the Church has as yet no new definitive leader on earth, Ratzinger was given a brief and precious moment in which he really did preside over the universal Church before the eyes of the entire world.

In fact, you could say that what we have witnessed today was a preview. Or even more than that: a two-and-a-half hour pontificate, as it were, of Pope Joseph I.

That brings me to the bottom line to this letter. One of you who will be reading it recalled to me in a recent e-mail that St. Teresa of Avila exhorted us to be quite bold and direct in our prayers of petition, with the simplicity and transparency of little children who never hesitate to specify to their parents exactly what they want. So I am writing to you today in order to promote openly and directly the candidacy of the Cardinal in question. I’m campaigning for him. Please pray fervently, daily, repeatedly, that Joseph Ratzinger be elected to the Chair of Peter in the imminent Conclave.

The deceased Holy Father himself in his recent Apostolic Constitution revising the procedures for papal elections, has made it very clear that he definitely wishes all of the faithful to be active in the choice of Peter’s new Successor, by means of their assiduous prayers for the Cardinal electors in their hour of critical decision.

Yes, yes, I know what some of you, especially my avowedly traditionalist friends, will want to tell me at this point. Ratzinger himself is a weak reed to lean upon. His track record shows clear liberal tendencies in some areas, and he has at times seemingly caved under pressure from other liberals. I’m afraid I must agree entirely. (For instance, with all due respect to His Eminence, my own honest opinion is that he is too skeptical when it comes to the historical reliability of Scripture, and not skeptical enough when it comes to the theory of evolution.) But I respond to the objection with Peter’s question to Jesus at Capernaum: ‘To whom shall we go?’ The Church’s leadership as a whole remains perilously weak. What are the realistic alternatives? Who and where are the cardinals who would do a better job than Ratzinger? There may indeed be a few, but the hard reality facing us is that they are just not papabili. Cardinal Ratzinger himself, as far as human wisdom can discern, seems only marginally papabile. Which is precisely why I think we should now pray, fast, and make sacrifices specifically for his election.

Finally, even if you don’t agree with my choice of candidate, I trust you’ll at least agree that the Cardinal electors very much need our prayers at this time. So you mightlike to use, among other prayers, the following official one taken from the traditional Roman Missal: the Collect for the Mass Pro Summo Pontifice Eligendo (my translation). (The nearest thing to this in the new Missal has been so bowdlerized that it deletes all mention of either Pope or Bishop, mentioning only the generic office of pastor.)

We beseech Thee, O Lord, in humble supplication, to bestow in Thy great mercy upon the Holy Roman Church a Pontiff whose piety and zeal for our welfare will be pleasing to Thee, and who will merit constant veneration, to the glory of Thy name, by his sound governance of Thy people. We ask this through Thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Yours sincerely in the unity of Faith, and in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary,

Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S.