Friday, December 7, 2007

St Ambrose, The Roman Canon, and Lazy Mass

St Ambrose is notable for many reasons; but I will simply draw together a few recent and half-relevant thoughts his feast inspires as it draws to a close, and First Vespers of the Immaculate Conception fast approaches (which Vespers are to be sung tonight at St John's Pro-Cathedral).

Attending today the Novus Ordo, indeed the ordinary form (in all senses) of the Roman Rite, I nonetheless had the pleasant surprise of hearing the Roman Canon used.  The celebrant I suspect decided to do so given that St Ambrose, in his De Sacramentis, is the first to quote in extenso from a recognizable variant of the Canon; and how good to make such an allusion, rather than race through Mass (daydream, and you miss the consecration!) by using the all-too-brief and doctrinally poorer Eucharistic Prayer II, as 90% + of priests do, and not just on weekdays but on Sundays.

However, I was also reminded of my bête noire, the "Lazy Mass": that aberration whereby particularly a small group on a weekday believe that it is alright, even somehow better, not to stand (worse, not to kneel) when they should.  I know two places where no one stands for the Preface – yet insanely they do for the Lord's Prayer!  This laziness has developed because those not inclined to kneel (no kneeler – tho' the carpet is soo thick), having sat for the offertory, can't be bothered arising for the Preface if they are to sit again, and not properly throw themselves down upon their knees for the Eucharistic Prayer, as is the rule throughout the English-speaking Church.  

Of course those genuinely unable to stand or kneel are excused, but most of this avoidance of due posture is laziness combined with a distorted notion of worship: that somehow it is more 'real', more 'authentic', to laze on a chair rather than to stand or kneel (and Notitiæ long past pointed out that if you can't kneel at the consecration, it is best to stand, not to rudely remain seated), that the rules – oh, nasty! – don't really apply to little gatherings, as if it were rational to desire an 'informal' Mass (when worship by its nature demands ritual posture).  The trouble is that if one stands at the right moment, and no one else does, one feels a fool and a pharisee.  So I sat out the Prayer of the Faithful with the rest of the congregation: and I in no way rebuke them, for they wouldn't see that they have been led into a distorted attitude.

St Ambrose, I now remember, notes that the knee was made bendable to propitiate the wrath of God.  The sad fact is people would be outraged by the statement, yet it is totally in tune with the revelation found in Scripture, as taught and lived by the Fathers.

As is said or sung in Lent:


Flectamus genua.


If we never humble ourselves, in penitence and in worship, how shall we truly know what it is to arise and stand in praise of God, Whose Onlybegotten did take upon Himself our human nature and man's estate, humbling Himself usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis, that being risen triumphant over death, He might be exalted above the skies – and to Him every knee must bow.

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