Sunday, September 13, 2009

How St Philip would be Pleased!

After getting back to my digs barely in time for curfew (see next post for details), I stayed up even later, chatting on my mobile, since somewhere close by a noisy party was going on...

Refreshed, and finally feeling almost better this morning - for I've felt like a leper all my time in Rome, since that dreadful cold that laid me up all the week before I travelled has lingered on, with many hacking coughs, etc. - I arose and made my leisurely way to Mass, stopping for a caffelatte and cornetto (croissant) en route.

On my way, I found the church of St Bridget open, built on the site where that mediaeval Swedish visionary, widow, foundress and mystic prophetess lived while in Rome. Her sisters, in their distinctive headdress, were there: good to see.

It's been far too long since I've been at Solemn High Mass: true Catholic worship, in a proper Catholic church. Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini was fairly full, with at least sixty in the congregation (it is a small church in area, and this attendance I reckon is very good for a church in the historic centre of the City). Two priests - one of them Fr Withoos - heard confessions during the Mass, in those attractive Roman confessionals at which the penitent kneels on the outside and whispers his sins to the judge within, acting in person Christi Judici.

The High Altar at SSma Trinità set for Mass (stock photo).

In the front pew on the Epistle side sat three members of the ancient Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity of Pilgrims (established by St Philip Neri in 1540), wearing their striking bright red robes with white cravats, and a badge of the Trinity over their hearts, carrying also their Baroque rods of office, with symbols of the Trinity embossed and long tassels depending.

Apparently most members of the Confraternity are away in the summer; most are extremely old; and since all its properties were confiscated* after the Occupation of Rome in 1870, the Confraternity no longer has place nor funds to carry out their former works of charity for poor pilgrims. Their only function now is to take up the collection at Mass, to say their prayers and to have the privilege of processing in and out with the clergy, being censed after them and before the rest of the people.

(*Confiscation indeed! Vae victis, and to the victors the spoils - so the ungodly thought when they despoiled Pope Pius IX of his legitimate throne. A fat lot of good that brought the House of Savoy: they got Mussolini for P.M. in the end, an alliance with Hitler, terrible losses in Africa, the Balkans and Russia, then war throughout all Italy and finally the loss of their ill-gotten kingship. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Let all who raise their hand against the Pope, the Lord's true anointed, and not some jumped-up braggart princeling, beware! As with Attila the Hun, so with Victor Emmanuel...

(As for those who stole the pious donations built up over centuries and intended for the care of strangers and pilgrims, in their rapacious impiety they merited only torment with the devils in hell.)

For the High Mass, the English priest and deacon, plus the French subdeacon (who sang the Epistle in an amusing accent), were assisted by an M.C., thurifer and two acolytes. (As is the practice in Rome, there was no processional cross carried.) There was also a priest in choir attending the Mass, who assisted in distributing communion. After the Mass, he went to a side altar, donned Eastern vestments, and began a "Low" Byzantine Rite Divine Liturgy, in Ukrainian I think.

The High Mass itself, well-paced and unhurried, took an hour and a quarter, including a good Italian sermon on the resurrection of the body, and the restoration to fulness of life of the human person, as instanced by God's great mercy in Christ, Who raised the widow of Naim's only son (to-day's Gospel, for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost). As my hand missal notes, this miracle signifies Christ's merciful raising of us from lying dead in sin, at the plea of our Holy Mother the Church.

The mystery of the paten: during High Mass, as all men know, at the Offertory the subdeacon receives the paten and with the humeral veil around his shoulders and arms, holds it aloft before his face all through the Canon until after the Pater noster, when the deacon takes it back that the priest may break the Host and deposit the Particles upon it. Against the usual principle that the greater is censed by the lesser, during the Offertory the deacon censes the subdeacon carrying the paten, presumably by reason of the latter's special office; otherwise, the deacon having censed the priest and any clergy, he passes the task of censing the lesser ministers and people over to the thurifer. It struck me during this ritual that perhaps the subdeacon represents an angel veiling his face before the Lord.

The organ played, and a male soloist sang all the Gregorian Propers, including the Vidi aquam. Only the Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and a communion Motet were in, well, I suppose it was polyphony, with a female singer also and organ accompaniment. The Gloria, perhaps on account of its length, was in plant-chant (Missa XI, Orbis factor), and the Creed also (Credo III), alternated between soloist and people. At the end of Mass, one and all sang the Salve to honour Maria Santissima.

Si spiritu vivimus, spiritu et ambulemus.

(If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.)

I was struck by the opening verse of the Epistle (Galatians v, 25 - vi, 10), which put me in mind of that sovereign liberty in the Lord that St Philip Neri possessed, being always full of love and joy and peace in the Holy Ghost, acting with perfect freedom as befits a child of God. I thought at once of the words of the Acts: Spiritus Domini rapuit Philippum (the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip up, enraptured him)... I must turn to the Apostle Paul, to read more of life in the Spirit, after the model of San Filippo buono, Third Apostle of Rome.


During Mass, as for the last several days, I had the fanciful thought that I was at Mass with a ancient Roman plucked out of time, now to behold with astonished eye his City cleansed from paganism, in which the despised Christians of his age have triumphed, and planted the Cross everywhere above pagan altars thrown down.

It pleased me to think how he would have found the Christian Latin comprehensible, yet strange, with its bizarre use of common words (Dominus, Deus, Pater, Filius, Spiritus), and wierder admixture of Greek (Kyrie, eleison, Christe, Ecclesia, Jesus, psallere, Evangelium, propheta, Maria, catholicam, apostolicam, baptisma, hymnum, Angeli, Archangeli) and even strange Hebrew (Amen, Alleluia, Sabaoth, Hosanna, Seraphim, Cherubim), plus manifold unclassical infelicities in the readings from the Scriptures, even Hebraisms (Dominus vobiscum, Et cum spiritu tuo, per omnia saecula saeculorum, expectans expectavi).

What would he make of the Gloria, of the Credo, above all of the dense doctrine of the Preface of the Trinity? What of the Pater noster, of the Confiteor the deacon sang (who are these people with such foreign Greek and Hebrew names: Mary, Michael, John Baptist, Apostles Peter and Paul?), of the Last Gospel, all about some word (Verbum)?

What would he have made of the repeated praises of the "Trinity" (Tri-unitas was a neologism of Tertullian), or of the mysterious message preached, "For a great Prophet hath risen up in us, and because God hath visited His people" - Jesus Christ bringing eternal life, and giving that gift in His Sacrifice, in what these Christians oddly name a sacramentum?

A Sacrifice, certainly, for he would recognize the solemn actions of the priest, but an odd one: where the Victim, the people partake of what? A white Disc is uplifted, and offered incense, as to a god... it is shewn again, and called the Lamb that takes the sins of the world away... the choir sings, Panis quem ego dabo caro mea est pro saeculi vita (The Bread that I shall give is My Flesh for the life of the world). Mystery! Is this the cannibal feast against which the pagans whispered?

At least in the classical dress of the parati, he would see something of the civil rituals of his day, with servants bearing incense, candles, and a book before the officials, just as the same was bourne before magistrates in Rome of old (except not the Gospel, but an Imperial rescript of appointment). He would have recognized what genuflection meant; in his day, one bent the knee before the Emperor.


Strangely, the fellow actually next to me at Mass kept staring, I couldn't fathom why.

After Mass, I spoke at last with Fr Kramer, the parish priest, and again with Fr Brendan Gerard, his curate, who'd been the deacon at Mass. They were agreeable, but something about their manner made me feel, not uneasy, but as if they saw something of which I was unaware; I put it down to their being Englishmen, as their accents shewed.

I pressed on, and was delighted to find San Girolamo della Carità still open. It is a splendid little church, all shining clean and neat, now in care of priests of Opus Dei - good to know! - and I was moved to read the inscription above an interior doorway, that directly above was the chamber where all those years ago, St Philip Neri began the pious exercises of the Oratory, so-called because it was a little place for prayer. The saint lived on site for 33 years (the rooms may be seen only by appointment, apparently), and I was able to venerate him in his magnificent Baroque statue behind the altar in the magnificent Antamoro chapel.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to meet friends afterward, as I had hoped, so I went wandering around, getting a sandwich, a coffee, a gelato...

Finding somewhere to use the facilities, I looked at last in the mirror, and discovered what all absent-mindedly I'd forgotten to do: I hadn't combed my hair this morning, so I looked messy and ridiculous... hopefully this humiliation will beget humility.

How St Philip would be pleased!


Anonymous said...

"After Mass, I spoke at last with Fr Kramer, the parish priest, and again with Fr Brendan Gerard, his curate, who'd been the deacon at Mass. They were agreeable, but something about their manner made me feel, not uneasy, but as if they saw something of which I was unaware; I put it down to their being Englishmen, as their accents shewed."

Australians sometime (still!) get this from Englishmen, so don't be surprised. It's the colonial stain I suspect. I never got it in England but was nonethtless warned to expect such an attitude, even from Catholic priests - who, I must add, should know better.

Rob A

Joshua said...

No, as it turned out Fr Brendan is a very decent friendly priest, so I think it was my disordered appearance that distracted them.