A Christmas Ceremony
[Kneeling during the Credo]
Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy
The morning of Christmas Eve seemed to the Antiquary to pass with extraordinary slowness. While the Liturgiologist banged away at his Corona, with a certain air of suppressed excitement, his elder friend made frequent trips from his easy chair to the front window, peering out between the heavy curtains, oblivious of the fact that his every move was noted by the keen eyes of his colleague at the writing table. Finally the Liturgiologist could stand it no longer, and “Pere,” said he, “are you watching for Santa Claus at your age!”
“Maybe, maybe,” returned the Antiquary, absently, “who can tell. But I thought you were busy.”
“So I am,” replied the Liturgiologist, with suspicious mildness, as he returned to his work, pausing, however, now and then, to glance out of the side window near his desk, from which a partial view might be obtained of the driveway leading to the desolate and unoccupied garage. “It’s just a little point about the kneeling in the Credo, by the Celebrant and Ministers, at the Masses on Christmas Day. Fortescue says that ‘at all sung Masses on Christmas day’ they ‘kneel at the epistle side on the lowest step while the choir sings the words Et incarnates est, etc.’ Now, I’ve never seen it done in that way, tho I’ve been about a bit, and kept my eyes open.
"Usually the sacred ministers, who by that time are seated, come to the midst and kneel on the step, returning to the bench when the choir has sung its phrase. Wuest simply directs that ‘at every Solemn Mass on this day the celebrant and the sacred ministers kneel’ at this moment, but he does not say where. Merati (Observ. Xl. Pt. ii. Tit. Vi.) is an authority for the usual practice; he sends them to the midst and has them kneel there, on the lowest step. But it is to be noted that his directions suppose that the sacred ministers remain at the altar throughout the Credo, without going to the bench at all. Gavantius, indeed, directs that they shall not go to sit at the bench until after the Incarnatus. (“Si vero sedere velit, expectando tamen, quod est convenientius, post versum Et incarnates, etc.” Thes. Sac. Rit. pt. I I, tit. vi. xl.)
Now this is almost never done nowadays. It would really seem that the ratio of the thing bears out Fortescue’s direction.”
“What about the celebrant at Low Mass on Christmas Day. Does he come down to the foot of the steps when he says the words?” asked the Antiquary.
“The direction governs only Solemn Masses, and, missa cantata, in which the celebrant goes to sit during the singing of the Credo. Ordinarily the Celebrant and ministers simply uncover their heads and bow while the choir sings these sacred words. But on Christmas day and on the Feast of the Annunciation the further honor is done of the ministers kneeling at this time. That is the point. The place where they kneel is a detail. You see, we have ‘probable opinions’ for having them kneel at the scamnum, before the midst if they have not been sitting, and at the epistle end.”
“Interesting, but not important!” remarked the Antiquary, returning to the window. “Must you afflict your readers with such fine-spun points?”
“Maledictus qui facit opus Dei negligenter,” replied the Liturgiologist. “If an actor, on the stage, takes infinite pains with each gesture and inflexion of the voice, should not the Priest of God have some concern as to the proper performance of the Divine Drama of the Mass? Practically every move and gesture he makes, while at the altar, is prescribed by the liturgical law of the Church. What if it doesn’t, all of it, bind sub gravi. There is a certain fitness of things, and when those things are sacred—well, dear Father, we try to do our little bit towards helping our brethren polish up their ecclesiastical manners.”
The old priest sighed, and turned again to his typewriter. “Perhaps you’re right, Pere, there are more important points than this.”
“My dear Father,” began the Antiquary, only to be interrupted by the sound of an automobile outside the house, whereat he ran to the window, turned excitedly to his confrere, and exclaimed, “Here she is, at last!”
“What? Who?” gasped the Liturgiologist.
“Lizzie the Second!” shouted the Antiquary. “Come on out and see her. Didn’t cost me a cent! Won her in Fr. Gambetta’s raffle!”
The Liturgiologist seemed rooted in his chair, his face expressing something more than amazement. “Do you mean to tell me, that you have a new car—that you won it in a raffle—that it’s outside now?”
“Come on! Come on! it’s yours as much as mine! I hereby give, devise and bequeath a half interest in said car, and all future expenses for gas, oil, repairs and such sundries, to you, dear Father! Only bestir yourself and come out and look her over!”
With which, the Antiquary was out of the room and down the stairs, while the Liturgiologist slowly rose, the perplexed expression of his countenance deepening, as he followed his friend. Just as they emerged from the front door, another small car, bright and new, drove up behind that which was already parked at the curb, and a smiling young man climbed out, to join his fellow workman on the sidewalk. As the two priests approached, both boys took off their caps, and one of them evidently an Italian, said, “Father, here’s your car.” At which the other, evidently Irish, grinned and, proffering an envelope, repeated the words, “Father, here’s your car.”
“There’s some mistake,” said the Antiquary. “I only won one machine.”
“Better open the envelope,” suggested the Liturgiologist, quietly.
Which the Antiquary did, to find written on one of the Liturgiologist’s visiting cards the following words,
“To Jehu, son of Namshi,
With affectionate Christmas Greetings from His friend,
The Long-suffering Peregrinus.”
For a moment the two clerics stared, speechless, at each other. Then, forgetting dignity, burst into roars of laughter, in which the two lads joined. Presently the young Irishman ventured to interrupt the gales of glee. “If you please, your Reverence, whatever would you be wanting with two cars just alike? Now why not swap ‘em in for a better machine. Me brother has the agency for the Scoot, and seein’ its priests, I guess he’ll make you a good trade.”
“Punctum, punctum,” cried the Liturgiologist.
“Bene, bene,” responded the Antiquary, antiphonaliter.
1 Abbreviation for Novae Observationes et Additiones ad Gavanti Commentaria in rubricas Missalis et Breviarii Romani (published in 1740) compiled by Fr. Gaetano Maria Merati (1668-1744), a noted liturgical scholar and consultant for the Sacred Congregation of Rites. The book (whose title in English reads: New Observations and Additions to Gavanti’s Commentary on the Rubrics of the Roman Missal and Breviary) is available in PDF via Google Books. Fr. Bartolommeo Gavanti (1569–1638) was an earlier liturgist and SRC consultant, and assisted with the reform of the breviary and missal under Popes Clement VIII and Urban VIII.
2 Thesaurus sacrorum rituum (published in 1763), first written by Gavanti and later supplemented by Merati. The book, whose title in English is The Treasury of Sacred Rites, is available in PDF via Google Books.
3 Latin for the "reason".
4 A "sung Mass"; a term that the 1960 code of rubrics applies exclusively to the High Mass form.
5 The Latin term for the "sedilia".
6 A quote from Jeremiah 48:10: "Cursed be he that does the work of the Lord deceitfully".
7 Latin phrase referring to "under grave sin".
8 This refers to passage in II Kings 9:20: "And the watchman told, saying: He came even to them, but returneth not: and the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Namsi, for he drives furiously", i.e., like a "madman", referring to the Antiquary's driving habits.
9 A contrived generic name for an automobile, though today it is used in reference to a motorcycle.
10 Latin for "point, point".
11 Latin for "good, good".
12 That is, in antiphon fashion—which is a play on the actual meaning of the Greek derivative “to be sound twice”, or in this case “repeating” the sentiments of the Liturgiologist.