Incipit Vita Nova ("Thus begins a new life”)
Part 1: See America First; Chapter 1
“It’s the Bishop,” said the Liturgiologist, who had answered the telephone. “He wants to see you in about half an hour, if it’s convenient for you to call on him. I ventured to assure his Lordship that you’d be over as soon as your legs would let you. He seemed surprised that you had legs!”
“Now what I have done?” murmured the Antiquary, laying his book aside and unbuttoning his cassock. “Surprised that I have legs, eh? Well, that’s what I get for being one of the few priests in the diocese who obey the Decree of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (111, 77) and wears a cassock domique vel in templo.”
“Hardly that,” replied the Liturgiologist with mock gravity. “Nec in tibiis viri beneplacitum erit ei. There,” glancing out of the window, “you’ve just missed a trolley, and bishops don’t like to be kept waiting.”
* * * * *
The trolley to Cathedral Heights was infrequent and also leisurely, so it was more than half an hour before the Antiquary presented himself in the Bishop’s study.
“Tire trouble”? queried his Lordship, glancing at the clock.
“I beg your pardon, Monsignor, but I just missed one trolley, and the one I got was more than usually slow.”
“The Scoot laid up?” asked the Bishop, passing the cigars.
“Why—” stammered the Antiquary, “we sold the Scoot—your ruling about Assistants—”
“Did you think that applied to you?” laughed the Bishop. “Tell the Liturgiologist that his position as an editorial functionary takes precedence of his appointment as Assistant, and he is to get the Scoot back at once—or procure a worthy successor. That is an order. As for yourself, Father, I have a better suggestion. How would you like to be Pastor of Centerville?”
“Me?—Pastor?—Centerville?” gasped the Antiquary.
“To help me out,” suggested the Bishop, with his famous “kindly smile,” which some called, not inaptly, “the velvet glove.” “I want some one there who will build intelligently, and I’ll give you a good Assistant (who will not have a car) for the routine work.”
“But, Monsignor—” began the Antiquary.
“You are the only priest in my diocese who addresses me by my proper title,” interrupted the Bishop, not without design. “The others ‘Bishop’ me till I feel like saying ‘Priest So-and-So’ after the Protestant fashion of ‘Deacon Smith’ or ‘Reverend Brown’.”
“But, Monsignor,” said the Antiquary, now more at ease, and recovering from his surprise, “the title ‘Monsignor’ is proper to prelates as such. Those whom the Holy Father honors by appointment as domestic prelates, private chamberlains and the like, have the privilege of dressing and being addressed as if they were bishops. When one of them is elevated to the Episcopate his title of address does not change.”
“I know that,” replied the Bishop, “and you know it. But a good many do not. So we have to ensure a thoroughly non-Catholic mode of address, or to be called ‘your Lordship’ which, while perfectly correct, is male sonsans to our democratic American ears. But to return to our business. What about Centerville?”
“As you wish, Bishop,” said the Antiquary, more confused than ever.
“Very well, then—here’s your Appointment. Father Secretary will take the Profession of Faith before you go. And now for inside information for your guidance, if not for your comfort, in your new duties.”
* * *
An hour later the old Priest knelt in the Bishop’s Oratory, his hand on the missal resting on the knees of the Father Secretary, and made oath of his orthodoxy. “Now,” said the young Priest, as they passed down the hall towards the door, “now you’re Pastor.”
“And I suppose I really wasn’t till I took that oath?” said the Antiquary.
“Well, not fully and canonically,” replied the Secretary, “though I don’t suppose any one would have questioned your rights. Our Bishop is more punctilious than some, perhaps because he came to the mitre after the Code was promulgated. Canon 1406, sec. 7, names Pastors among those obliged by law to make the Profession of Faith before, or soon after, entering upon the enjoyment (?) of their benefices. And 1408 reprobates all customs contrary to the Canons under Title XXIV. 2403 gives the penalties for neglecting to take the oath (or rather the Profession of Faith, which, of course, ends with an adjuration). The Bishop cannot see how the formality can be avoided, or why it should be omitted.”
“Faith, that’s a power of learning for a young man—the seminaries certainly have improved since my time,” thought the Antiquary. But all he said was “Good day, Father.”
* * * * *
“You are to get an automobile, and I am Pastor of Centerville,” announced the Antiquary, striding into the Liturgiologist’s room. “’Twere better had you not answered the phone!”
“An ill wind that blows nobody some good,” said the Liturgiologist. “But explica per partes.” The, when the proceedings of the afternoon had been duly reported—“Well, it will be somewhere to go. And I think I shall get a BUCK—it’s cheaper to run than a Scoot, and I’ll have all the expense myself. When do you enter into possession of your corner of the Vineyard?”
“Tomorrow,” said the Antiquary. “And I think I shall get a SWERVE. A Pastor must have some thought of the dignity of his office!”
1 This plenary council for the bishops of the United States of America was held from November 9 to December 7, 1884. A history of the council can be read via Google Books.
2 A Latin phrase meaning that the cassock should be worn “in the home or temple (church)”.
3 From Psalm 146:10: “He shall not delight in the strength of the horse: nor take pleasure in the legs of a man.
4 The English derivative from the Italian conjunction, mon-signor (literally, “my Lord”).
5 “Evil sounding” in Latin.
6 This profession of faith is to be found in the 1917 Code of Canon Law under the title of “Professio Catholicae Fidei”; a similar oath is still prescribed in the 1983 Code of Canon Law; Canon 833, 6.
7 A private chapel.
8 That is, the 1917 Code of Canon Law.
9 A benefice is a form of financial support guaranteed to a pastor for his livelihood.
10 “Explain by parts”.