Helen, Countess of Radnor, Viscountess Folkestone (1845 – 1929) was a Victorian musical pioneer, best known today because Sir C H H Parry named an orchestral suite for her. Aristocratic by birth and by marriage, she organised a “ladies’ string band” to play in support of various good causes.
A newspaper column called London Gossip (26 September 1887) offered a breathless report of one of her charity concerts:
One of the most amusing as well as delightful entertainments of a public nature in London was Lady Folkestone’s concert at Prince’s Hall. The entire orchestra, chorus, and all the performers, were ladies … Lady Folkestone conducted, standing with her back to the audience, and facing the entire band, who were placed on graduated seats.
Lady Folkestone is a massive woman; she was dressed in magnificent old lace and white satin, the train of which overflowed the borders of the dais. Her arms are marvellous for size. To see her, wand in hand, conducting and controlling the answering musicians, was a sight to remember. The distinguished fiddlers, some of whom literally blazed in diamonds, was a unique sight, and intensely interesting. The music discoursed was of the best kind, and excellently rendered. The hall was filled with the crème de la crème of society, headed by the Princess of Wales … Ladies are poaching on the privileges of the male sex.
But it never mentioned what the ladies played. The concert was worth reporting, not because of the music, but because of the oddity of beautifully-dressed women, doing something that men usually do.
I had a similar reaction in listening to a recent homily by Alexander Sample, the archbishop of Portland, Oregon in the USA. He was celebrating a solemn pontifical Mass, in the Tridentine form, as part of a conference on Gregorian Chant. The homily is on Youtube, and it has received wide acclaim in the traditionalist and “reform of the reform” world, so I thought it was worth checking out.
We made an unofficial transcript of the homily, which you can read here. It has only been lightly edited, primarily to add punctuation and to remove stutters and repeated words. It is a transcript, not a text prepared by the archbishop. If you do find a material error in the transcript, let us know and we will correct it.
Archbishop Sample’s homily reminded me of the London Gossip report on Lady Radnor’s concert, because, in a sermon during a pontifical Tridentine Mass, his primary theme was the fact that he was celebrating a pontifical Tridentine Mass. We learned something about the musicians’ jewellery and clothes, but not much about what they were playing.
Toward the very end of the homily, he said, “I should say something about the scriptures we just heard.” (At this point the congregation tittered.) Expanding on 1 Corinthians 13, the archbishop admonished “those of this more traditional sensitivity” to offer “a witness of great love, of great kindness, of gentleness, of patience … As much as we may want to get every word right in the liturgy, as much as we want to get every movement down perfectly in the liturgy, if we do not have love, then it’s just a show. So let’s be people filled with love.”
Good and wise counsel, to be sure, however brief.
But 90 percent of the homily was about the fact that the archbishop was celebrating a Tridentine Mass, in the solemn pontifical form. And here, it was less impressive.
He starts out with a claim that seems dodgy to me:
The pontifical liturgy celebrated by the bishop, especially by the bishop in his own diocese, is the highest form of the liturgy, and every other celebration of the Holy Mass derives from this liturgy.
I’m not sure what he means by ‘highest’ – it can’t be ‘most elaborate’, because a Pontifical Mass celebrated by the pope is far more elaborated. And is it really the case that every other form of Mass derives from the pontifical Mass celebrated by a bishop in his own diocese? Is a papal Mass simply a matter of adding a few doodads to this ‘highest’ form? Is low Mass created by subtracting the gloves, buskins, episcopal sandals, mitre, etc.? That doesn’t ring true to me; I would value comments (and sources) by those more knowledgeable in liturgical history.
He might have created greater clarity by quoting Sacrosanctum Concilium, section 41:
…all should hold in great esteem the liturgical life of the diocese centered around the bishop, especially in his cathedral church; they must be convinced that the pre-eminent manifestation of the Church consists in the full active participation of all God’s holy people in these liturgical celebrations, especially in the same eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which there presides the bishop surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers.
Then, the archbishop effectively describes himself as a ‘high priest’. Sacrosanctum Concilium says the same thing, also in section 41: “the bishop is to be considered as the high priest of his flock, from whom the life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and dependent.” But saying it in this context seems a bit self-serving, rather like priests who get upset if they aren’t addressed as Father, or who go on about their own anointed hands, or about how they are acting ‘in the person of Christ’.
After this we get a long discourse on ‘hermeneutic of continuity’. It’s hard to work out quite what the archbishop is recommending here. I don’t really blame him, because the ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ concept is so vague.
On the one hand, who could disagree that it makes no sense to celebrate the liturgy as though “everything began anew at the Second Vatican Council”, as though we need a complete ‘rupture’ with what has gone before? Who ever made such a silly claim? Even the wildest excesses of the Los Angeles Religious Education Conference have some degree of ‘continuity’ with the Tridentine Mass, and with other older forms.
Liturgy changes with time. It changed at the Council of Trent; it changed again a few years after that council. Many things change, many things remain constant, so there is continuity. There has never been either complete stasis or complete rupture.
“This liturgy [the Tridentine] is ancient – ancient!” says Archbishop Sample; “There are prayers that we are praying in this liturgy tonight that are ancient, that go back to the earliest centuries of the Church. Our way of celebrating tonight is a way of celebrating from antiquity.” True enough. And also true of the Novus Ordo. And do all those episcopal gloves and bugias and gremiales date back to the earliest centuries of the Church?
This fuzzy logic leads to a thoroughly confusing conclusion: “as we take a good hard look at the reform of the liturgy in our own day we need this [Tridentine] liturgy as the touchstone, as the measure of what true reform would look like.” Does this mean that true reform means no reform?
Let me be clear: I love beautiful liturgy. Every Sunday, I participate (actively) in a Latin Mass, the Mass of Paul VI, with gorgeous music, chant, even bells and incense. But it is simply the Mass, not something extraordinary; the same Mass that is held in our parish, 23 times every week. To quote Archbishop Sample, “that’s continuity!”
There is more that could be said. The rest of the homily reads like a pastiche of Alcuin Reid and Archbishop Schneider, and it’s clear that Archbishop Sample has read a few of the blogs as well. But let that pass.
A few minor criticisms. The first is that Archbishop Sample clearly likes his Latin, even beginning his homily with a Latin phrase. Well and good, but at least let’s get the Latin right. He refers, twice to “usus antiquor”; antiquor is not an adjective but a verb, a word you would not say unless you were personifying a bill before the Senate, perhaps as a character in a Roman comedy. Antiquor means, “I am rejected.” He meant antiquior, of course, which means “older”, but went on to mistranslate this as “ancient”.
The following two comments are more about the Tridentine Mass itself than about the homily.
If you watched the video instead of reading the transcript, you would have seen the archbishop seated, facing the people, flanked by the clergy, all wearing liturgical hats: the bishop in his mitre, the other clergy in birettas. Is this really required by the Tridentine pontifical ritual? Could the bishop not stand to speak, without his crown? Do the other clergy need to face the people, looking like court officials?
And no matter how often I attend a solemn Tridentine Mass, the business of removing and replacing the biretta at every mention of the Holy Name seems funny at best, silly at worst.
A final gripe: did the Archbishop really need to leave us with the unfortunate image of “the priest sitting with us with nothing on but a stole”? No need to bring back memories of the 1970s; public nudity is no longer in vogue, especially at Mass.