I recently had a wonderful meal with two Good Friends close to the cusp of Midtown and Murray Hill. We enjoyed superb Chinese and had a very Catholic reading during meal. Rather than post a photo of the food, which I have been known to do on occasion, I’ll share the reading. After all, for verbivores books are banquets as well.
Good Friend One shared something from an old book he found and had read: Open My Heart: Travel Sketches By A Pilgrim Priest by Fr. Michael Andrew Chapman. (Bruce, 1930).
Though Good Friend One read us just a couple of paragraphs, I felt a powerful bond with this priest writer, also a pilgrim in many respects.
Fr. Chapman was the author of the delightful duo – and long longed-after by me, by the way – Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy (1921) and Peregrinus Goes Abroad (1931). The next time I am in Indianapolis, where Chapman served, I must visit Father’s grave. He died in 1960, and so, happy, he did not witness the liturgical chaos that so ravaged the Church and the identity of millions, to the great detriment of our entire society and to the enduring degradation of our culture.
The passage that Good Friend One read follows hereafter. I snapped photos of the pages with my phone’s camera so that I could share the passage with you. At this point in the tale Father is on an ocean liner, which is how one crossed the Atlantic in those days. He is about to say Mass for passengers:
I felt quite like a bishop as I vested at the little altar – a breach of ceremonial law which had only necessity to justify it. The Italian style vestments felt a bit strange, and the book and chalice looked very small. And there were no steps to go up and down. But I moved off the rug before the altar, blessed myself and began – Introibo ad altare Dei. Imagine my surprise when practically the entire congregation answered! Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam. Of course, they were Italians, and Latin is a very like their own beautiful language. Besides, practically every Italian lad learns to serve Mass, and in Italy you are more likely to have some old man from the congregation come hobbling up to answer the prayers than to find a boy in cassock and surplice to serve for you.
So the Mass went on, the people sitting or standing, kneeling at the proper time, though even the slight motion of the ship made that difficult and many quite properly excused themselves from kneeling except during the consecration. Surely it was not a distraction when I thought, during a pause in the prayers, how wonderful a creature of God is this Catholic Church of ours, spreading all over the earth, covering even the sea, bringing men and women of every land and tongue to kneel before one common altar. Here was I, an American priest, with the merest smattering of any foreign language, starting on a journey which would take me to several countries, yet quite at home at this altar in mid-ocean, as I would be at every altar in every country I would visit. The same arrangements, the same book, the same prayers, the same ceremonies everywhere, with only such minor and unessential differences as would make the study of the ecclesiastical customs of various places interesting without being distracting. Surely, I thought, no other religion can show such a proof of divinity as this.
- Priests were/are generally not to vest at an altar. That is generally reserved for bishops. However, in circumstances such as those described (and on my private altar, I might add), this is done without harming the cosmic order.
- He used a Roman vestment rather than the fuller “gothic” style and he was not so familiar with it. That’s interesting because in the 1920s the Congregation for Rites issued a decree that the fuller style wasn’t to be used except with permission. I don’t know if, perhaps, permission had been given for these USA. Maybe one of you readers knows this. However, if not, then there was a widespread liturgical abuse in the 20s and 30s! His dictis, that’s one I could live with, just as I will live with the blue vestments for Pontifical Mass we will make. But I digress.
- Steps: Catholic altars should have an odd number of steps.
- He, an American, was surprised by the congregation, presumably mainly Italians responding to the prayers. In 1930 that was not done very much.
- Note the lack of concern about people not kneeling or standing because of the ship’s motion. We have always been practical.
- And, of course, the main point: universality of practice and identity. He revels in the bond with those people on the ship. WE, however, can revel in the same bond with THEM, our forebears. The Mass I say, is the same as the Mass he said. That priest and those passengers would be just as “at home” in the parish church where I said Mass on Sunday. That isn’t the case with the Novus Ordo… anywhere. Would that more priests would, wake up to this point and claim their patrimony for themselves and for their flocks!
Two more notes.
I think it would be a great experience to cross on a ship someday.
Sometimes, when I have to transcribe longer passages, I use a program called Dragon Naturally Speaking. US HERE – UK HERE It is of enormous help when I am dealing with long passages or I am translating on the fly. I’ve learned to regulate my speech so that it picks up and recognizes what I say with very few errors. That works, of course, until I have to read something in another language embedded in the English text. When I came to the moment the priest in the story spoke the Latin of the prayers at the foot of the altar, the program heard me say:
Intro evil on alt.a day odd dayroom belatedly cut you’ve into 10 Mayon.
I wonder if that’s how ICEL did some of their work? In conjunction with Google Translate, perhaps?