St. Robert Bellarmine on priests (Jesuits) who don’t learn to celebrate Mass and don’t follow the rubrics

From  a reader comes this apposite passage.

Long-time reader here. Your recent posts (“rants”) about priests
learning Latin and their Rite recalled to mind a passage I believe you will heartily enjoy from an excellent older biography of St. Robert Bellarmine by (Jesuit) Fr. James Brodrick, entitled Robert Bellarmine Saint and Scholar.” Fr. Brodrick writes of St. Bellarmine’s views on the liturgical fads of his day and on priests learning their Rite. I do believe you have echoed many of his themes with your blog. It seems the Saint’s fellow Jesuits were making mischief even then. The last two paragraphs are too good to pass up.

“His scrupulous care for seemliness and exactitude in all the
functions of the Church was evident not only at Capua but throughout his life. Many years later in Rome, he discovered that his brother Jesuits there were not carrying out the prescriptions of the Ceremoniale as accurately as he would have liked. They were addicted to Missae Cantatae in place of High Masses proper with three ministers. Finding that the gentle hints which he gave to the fathers concerned bore no fruit, he addressed the following letter to the General of the Society of Jesus at the time, Mutius Vitelleschi:

Rome, May 28, 1617
As the Corpus Christi procession is to take place soon, and as, according to the report, it will be larger and more solemn than ever this year, it seemed to me an opportune moment to set down in writing the reasons why deacons and subdeacons, vested in dalmatics, should officiate at the solemn Masses and take part in the processions.

1. This is what is prescribed, without any exception being allowed, by the Ceremonial of Pope Clement VIII and the Ritual of Pope Paul V. That being so, I do not see what right our Society has to adopt a contrary practice, in the view of all Rome. [Plus ça change…]

2. The rite is observed in the churches of the entire Catholic world, in cathedral, collegiate, parish, and conventual churches, no matter to what religious order they may belong. How, then, is our Society to be permitted to act differently, especially since we use the Roman Missal, Breviary, and Ritual, and since we profess to follow in everything the directions of the Holy Apostolic See?

3. It does not look well to see the priest at Masses on solemn occasions taking the deacon’s place in singing the Gospel and the Ite Missa est. This is done, outside our Society, only by country priests, who are not in a position to do otherwise.

4. Important prelates often speak about this novelty and fad of our Society, and I never know what to say in reply.

5. The Society has no constitution nor rule directing us to dispense with deacons and subdeacons. It is nothing more than a local custom. I myself, when in Flanders, have sung Mass with deacon and sub-deacon, and I have acted as sub-deacon when the provincial was celebrant.

[NB] To all these reasons it might be answered that the Society is an active order engaged in external work of a more important kind, and consequently its members have not the time to learn all the ceremonies of High Mass. There are two ways of meeting such a plea. First, the ceremonies are neither so numerous nor so difficult that they could not be learned in half an hour. This I know by experience, as I have sung many pontifical Masses myself in the Pope’s chapel, and also in Capua. The fathers and brothers might learn the ceremonies during a single recreation, if they were coached by someone who knew them well. This might even be a more useful way of spending the time than discussing the gossip of Rome.

In the second place, if it be found too difficult to learn such a
number of ceremonies, why not give up singing Masses and be content with saying Low ones? There is nothing incompatible between a solemn procession and a Low Mass, as may be seen from the example of the Pope on the feast of Corpus Christi. In truth, it is much better not to celebrate solemn Masses at all than to celebrate them unrubrically.”

Quantum potes tantum aude!

That was excellent.  Of course Jesuits are infamous when it comes to things liturgical.  While there are exceptions to the rule, there is a reason why we designate someone who is bumfuzzled in some matter as being “As lost as a Jesuit in Holy Week.”

Fr. Z kudos to the reader and to St. Robert Bellarmine!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. robtbrown says:

    Obviously, St Robert Bellarmine was unaware of the wisdom of Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ:

    Sometimes in theology* 2 + 2 = 5.

    * and thus in liturgy

  2. Gaetano says:

    I didn’t realize I had so much in common with St. Robert Bellarmine.

    And it’s all true. The rubrics are there for everything – even reciting the Office – and could be learned in half a day.

    Taking time to do that instead of discussing the latest gossip – yet another plus ça change…

  3. Unwilling says:

    “…neither so numerous nor so difficult that they could not be learned in half an hour. This I know by [personal] experience…”
    I had to chuckle on reading the above quotation – ceteris are not always paribus. When I was a Classics student learning both Latin and Greek, I read that, after his ordination, St Robert was sent to teach at an elite school. Upon arriving, he learned that among the courses he would teach was ancient Greek – of which he had no knowledge. He didn’t baulk or belly-ache: instead, he taught himself the language and then his students!
    Of course, I completely agree with the spirit and letter of Fr Z and St Robert here regarding Latin and rubrics. I doubt an English-speaking American can learn Latin in a half-hour, but certainly half a day will get him nicely started; and an hour a week for 6 months will make him “fluent” for this liturgical particular purpose.

  4. These quotes make an interesting comparison with this text:

    If any of friars refuse to say the Office according to the Rule and want to change it, or if they are not true to the Catholic Faith, the other friars are bound in virtue of obedience to bring them before the custodian [head of the friars in a geographical region] nearest the place where they find them. The custodian must keep any such friar a prisoner day and night so that he cannot escape from his hands until he personally hands him over to the Minister [General]. The Minister, then, is strictly bound by obedience to place him in the care of friars who will guard him day and night like a prisoner until they present him before his lordship the Bishop of Ostia, who is the superior, protector and corrector of this whole Order.

    —-Testament of St. Francis of Assisi

  5. rbbadger says:

    In his highly entertaining memoirs, the late Fr. Louis Bouyer, C.O. mentions that one of those liturgical experts who put the Novus Ordo together, the distinguished liturgical scholar Fr. Joseph Jungmann, S.J., had never in all his life as a priest celebrated a High Mass. Liturgical minimalism seems to be in the DNA of the Jesuits.

  6. Fr_Sotelo says:

    The reference to using recreation time for sharing the gossip in Rome made me fall on my fainting couch and exclaim, “The clergy relishing in gossip? Noooo. Say it isn’t so!!”

  7. Fr_Sotelo says:

    A brother priest remarked to me, “Hearing people call the Pope a heretic has really grated on my nerves. But when I heard the Pope accuse us priests of gossiping too much and saying we had to stop the uncharity, I gasped and agreed he must be deposed!” Haha

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