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Straws Show the Wind

Peregrinus Goes Abroad

Part 1: See America First; Chapter 15


“What do you think, Pere, is the most common ceremonial mistake in the ordinary practice of priests?” asked Fr. Maduro.


The Swerve was wending its more or less speedy way across the plains which stretched interminably to the horizon. But beyond lay the mountains towards which the land voyagers were bound, and for the sight of which their hearts yearned as does the sailor’s for land after days on the trackless sea. The Yellowstone, haven if not heaven of motorists, was their goal. But the “gentle reader” need not fear! This book is not going to become a travelogue! Suffice it to say that the Liturgiologist’s trip with Fr. Maduro as companion was, thus far, successful, if not so eventful (nor so contentious) as his last summer’s journey with the Antiquary.


“No question about it,” snapped the old priest, on whose nerves the Kansas corn fields had not exerted a soothing influence. “It’s the careless custom of smiting the breast at the Agnus Dei in Requiem Masses. The change in the words offsets the rubric of the missal which commands this gesture to be made at other times. But the Ritus celebrandi XIII ad 1[1] directs that the hands remain joined throughout the whole formula in the Masses for the Dead. I wouldn’t say that nine priests out of ten disregard this direction, but a great many certainly do.


"When I was a seminarian I commented on the fact that nothing was said about this in our Liturgy class and the answer was that the Professor himself invariably smote his breast at "dona eis requiem".[2] Of course the ratio for the matter accounts for the change. In ordinary Masses the celebrant is asking mercy for himself and the congregation and the gesture is appropriate. In Masses for the Dead it is for them that he implores rest, and the knocking of his breast would be meaningless; and of course, there’s nothing like a meaningless ceremony in Catholic liturgy.”[3]


“I had something else in mind when I asked the question,” said Fr. Maduro. “I’ve noticed that most priests, after placing the Host on the paten at "ut ope misericordiae"[4] tilt the paten up upon the foot of the chalice, and keep it so until the Sacred Species have been consumed. Now I’m not a student of details, in Liturgy or anything else, but I’ve never been able to understand why they do this. If it is supposed to protect the place on the corporal where the Sacred Host has rested, where there may be Particles which are afterwards gathered, this method defeats its own end. Now, if the paten were placed at one side of the chalice, the spot where the Host had lain would not be touched.”


“Which is precisely what the ‘Approved Authors’ direct,” cut in the Liturgiologist. “Kuenzel[5] directs plainly, ‘Place the paten, together with the Host (he might have said, with the Host upon it) out of the center of the corporal and a little to the Epistle side near the base of the chalice.’ Another writer gives a choice of this position, or the one you complain of, but so far as I know there is only one book which recommends the tilting of the paten up against the foot of the chalice.”


“Many priests divide the Host from the bottom upward,” went on Fr. Maduro. “I have an idea that there is somewhere a definite direction to divide It from the top downwards.”


Ritus celebrandi X ad 2,” murmured the Liturgiologist. “These are slight matters, details, minutiae, but their frequency in practice indicates how far we have gotten away from the admonition of the bishop at our ordination, who told us that the offering of the Holy Sacrifice is a perilous matter (satis periculosa est)[6] and warned us to be especially careful about the consecration and fraction of the Host.” (Exhortation after the second Pax in the Ordination of Priests.)


“After all,” said Fr. Maduro, “the performance of these little ceremonies is almost entirely a matter of habit. If properly inculcated in the seminary, these liturgical habits will become fixed, even before ordination, and (quod Deus avertet)[7] if a priest afterward grows careless it is just these minute matters which will persist longest.”


“Pardon me,” said the Liturgiologist,” but such words sound strange from your lips, Colorado. You were introduced into this book as the protagonist of ‘things as they are’ and already you are complaining of the ordinary errors of ceremonial which may be observed at almost any Mass. Have you had a change of heart, or has this hot Kansas sun affected?”


“Neither,” replied Fr. Maduro. “I never set up to be a Billiken.[8] (Do you remember the plaster idols of our college days, the squat little ‘god of things as they are’?) There are many things about our ceremonies that seem to me to have become so much a part of our usage that, unless they are positively forbidden, I can see no reason for complaining about them. I’m not a crank on ‘Gothic Vestments’ like our mutual friend the Antiquary. I’m not down on the good Sisters, as you seem to be. But, like every priest worthy the name, I believe in doing things by the book. Lots of the stuff you’ve written on ceremonial gives me a definitely localized pain. But I have to admit that your main contentions are usually right and reasonable.”


“Thanks for them kind woids,” laughed the Liturgiologist. “I do seem to have driven my various cars through a good many of the pet idiosyncrasies of the Brethren, and I sometimes wonder whether I’ve accomplished anything more than series of bent fenders and punctured tires in doing it. But these matters, so small in themselves, are really important when you think of the august Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacred Ceremonies of Holy Church. Others are dealing with the great principles involved, the spiritual and aesthetic values of the Liturgy. I’ve been picking up unconsidered trifles, maybe, but to my mind they are straws which show how much the wind is blowing. I really don’t think there’s much danger of my book producing a crop of scruples, anyway!”


“Look! Look!” suddenly cried Fr. Maduro, grabbing the Liturgiologist’s arm, so that the Swerve almost left the road. “Isn’t that a mountain?”


“No,” said the Liturgiologist, quietly. “It’s only a cloud on the horizon. At the rate we’re traveling we’ll not sight the Rockies till late this afternoon. And meanwhile, what about the way priests hold their hands when, as the Scripture would put it, they lift them up before the Lord?”


“After lunch, if you don’t mind,” replied Fr. Maduro. “I may mistake a thunder-cap for Pikes Peak, but I know a hot dog stand when I see one, and yonder is our repast, sizzling on the grill!”



1 This section of the Missale Romanum gives the basic on how the celebrant should offer Mass.

2 Latin for "grant them peace".

3 For more about liturgical gestures (and reverences), see The General Principles of the Roman Rite.

4 A phrase from the Libera me (Fraction or Embolism) meaning "that through the help of Thy bountiful mercy...".

5 Referring to Rev. Lester Kuenzel's A Manual of the Ceremonies of Low Mass, a oft-cited manual; the last edition was printed in 1924.

6 Latin for "very dangerous indeed".

7 "God forbid" in Latin.

8 A lucky charm doll known as “The God of Things as They Ought to Be” which somewhat resembles a sitting Buddha.

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