Dum Ta Dee Dee
Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy
Long Island, with its excellent roads, upon which no speed limit seems to have been imposed; its vistas of bay and sound, its palatial estates, and its frequent churches, held the two middle-western priests in its spell. After the confusion of the metropolis, not free from danger even to more experienced motorists, the Jerico Turnpike gave the Liturgiologist a chance to pass on a few thrills to the Antiquary, who duly returned them on the long straight stretch of the Southhampton Road. It was down towards the end of the Island that the two friends were delayed by tire trouble till too late to start back towards the watering place where they had planned to spend the night, and a vine-covered church, with its even more enshrouded rectory, welcomed them with the unexpected discovery of an seminary companion (in a simar) and an evening of reminiscence under shadowy trees in a garden which sloped down to a little beach, where they bathed before retiring.
Very early Masses next morning made a prompt start possible, but the Antiquary could not resist one more glimpse of the wonderfully lovely Tudor church before committing himself to the tender mercies of the road. The Rt. Rev. Monsignore was in the midst of a Nuptial Mass, having wished his friends a safe and prosperous journey while they broke their fast. The train of his purple cassock had inadvertently become unhitched, and billowed over the steps to the amusement of the Liturgiologist, who had seen such things happen to other Domestic Prelates on purpose! The young couple knelt at a wide prie dieu in the sanctuary, and this was the first topic of conversation in the “Scoot” when the village was left behind.
“I have a vague recollection of having read somewhere that wedding parties are not permitted in the sanctuary,” said the Antiquary, fussing with the cigar lighter.
“My own recollections are far from vague,” snapped the Liturgiologist. “Our good Bishop had me look up Nuptial ceremonies only last month, because some of the Consultors wanted more definite directions incorporated into the new statutes. I found an overwhelming consensus of ‘Approved Authors’ condemning the custom of placing the bridal party in the sanctuary. Generally speaking laics are forbidden to occupy places in the sanctuary during the Mass, and there would seem to be no exception in the case of wedding parties. O’Kane remarks that the bride and groom occupy two seats, or prie dieus, near to and in front of the altar, but not within the sanctuary. But it is fairly general in this country to have the bride and groom come up to the foot pace for the actual marriage and for the Blessing, and O’Kane would have them married at the altar rails, and receive the Blessing at their place near to and in front of the altar. Now Wapelhorst gives just this direction, that they are married and blessed at the altar, tho (following Martinucci) he has them retire to their seats ad balaustrum for the Mass itself. Fortescue places them for the Rite “at the entrance of the sanctuary” but says nothing of where they shall kneel during Mass or for the Blessing.
“But ad balaustrum is a bit ambiguous,” said the Antiquary. “They could be ad inside or out! And, as a matter of general practice they are usually in. Are we to regard this as an abuse?”
“That’s what the Bishop asked me,” replied the Liturgiologist, “and I had the temerity to refer his Lordship to the Rituale Romanum (Tit. VII, cap 2, sec. 6). Afterwards I wrote him a note with the further suggestion that he consult the Acts of the Council of Trent (Sess 24, cap 1, de ref. mat.). Both of these citations tell us that in connection with the solemnization of marriage, laudable customs are to be retained. That seems to settle the legality of the matter.”
“You seem to make out a case, and I don’t wish to be contentious,” said the Antiquary, ignoring his companion’s quick and sotto voce “Since when!” “The Wedding Rite seems to be the most elastic ceremony in all our liturgical practice, lending itself to the highest embellishments. Now in the Middle Ages—”
The “Scoot” swerved with suspicious suddenness, and the Liturgiologist was spared a lecture on Medieval Liturgy, but not a considerable portion of fraternal correction which resulted in a change of pilots in midstream. Afterwards they lost their way, missing the return from a detour, and found themselves, after some wandering in a blind lane, which had no turning, tho it was long enough. Mutual recriminations. A small girl at a cross roads who misdirected them. Acrimonious discussion of the vagaries of young females seeking to advise elderly clerics as to how to reach Babylon. Finally peace as excellent pavement was recaptured.
“Have you ever noticed,” said the Antiquary, as if nothing had happened to interrupt the course of discussion, “how very much non-Catholic wedding customs have encroached upon our Catholic people in the last few years?”
“Explica per partes,” replied the Liturgiologist, accepting, as usual, the flag of truce.
“Well, the Wedding March, for one thing.” The old man tried to hum an extract from Mendelssohn, with disastrous results to the new-found peace of the expedition. “Time was when even ‘our best people’ went to church quite simply, were married without much fuss, heard a Low Mass, and went home with their friends to breakfast. Now there must be music for the wedding, even if Mass is not sung. I saw in The Acolyte a few weeks ago a paragraph which said that Bishop Curley of Syracuse has forbidden the rendition of the March of Lohengrin even as a voluntary, as contrary to the Motu Proprio on Church Music.”
“More power to him!” thus the Liturgiologist, fervently. “Did he also mention that a wreath of orange blossoms is not a veil, and that women must not assist at Holy Mass bareheaded? But it isn’t only brides that offend good taste and liturgical propriety in that way. Little girls in procession with wreaths as head-coverings, or even a bow or ribbon, may be very fetching and lovely, and I’d be the last to make ‘em wear hats. But such goin’s on are not Catholic. Another importation from our separated sisteren!” The old man snorted and the “Scoot” swerved again.
“De gustibus—” began the Antiquary.
“DISgustibus!” said the Liturgiologist. “It’s ‘laudable customs’ that Trent and the Ritual permit, and veil-less, décolleté, a-la-mode brides simply aren’t good taste in Catholic, or any other, churches, say what you will about non disputandums.”
“For once we agree,” laughed the Antiquary. “Let’s find a place for lunch before we fight again.”
1 A mixture of the old American title of “Right Reverend” once used in connection with the Italian name of the minor prelate of monsignor (which literally means, “my lord”)—this title was also formerly used for abbots and bishops.
2 French for a “kneeler”—a term derived from the act of kneeling to God.
3 Latin for “at the rail”.
4 Latin for “silent voice” or under the breath.
5 An allegorical reference to New York City.
6 Latin for “explain in parts” or “give some examples”.
7 Despite its title, this was a magazine for priests begun in 1924 by Fr. John F. Noll, the founder of Our Sunday Visitor—it was later renamed The Priest, which is still published.
8 Bishop Daniel J. Curley was the bishop of the Syracuse, New York diocese from 1923 until his death in 1932.
9 Referring to Tra le Sollectiudini of Pope St. Pius X which proscribed operatic pieces and other of a secular nature for use in liturgical functions. The two specific pieces previously mentioned were also put on the famous “black list” of the former St. Gregory Society, the official commission founded by the United States bishops to assess what music was worthy for church services.
10 A play on the term of “separated brethren” (meaning schismatic), that is, Protestants.
11 The Antiquary was beginning to quote the Latin maxim of “De gustibus non est disputandum”, meant literally “There must be no debate concerning tastes”.
12 A Latin word play on the English word “disgusting”.
13 The first French word refers to a dress with an immodest low neckline, while the second is a phrase that means “according to the usual form (or standard)”.
14 Referring to footnote 10 about: “say what you will about not disputing”.