The Asperges Ceremony
“If Henry Ford would only build a car with canoes under it, so it could navigate in such weather as this, I’d sell the “Scoot” and buy one!” growled the Antiquary, gloomily, as he stood at the window and watched the spring rains descending and the vernal floods rushing down the deserted street. For three days the “Scoot” had stood idle in the garage, save for one sick call. Nor had the enforced abstention from their favorite diversion tended to improve the dispositions of the two old friends, who had reached the stage when (as in the case of all really good friends now and then) they wished nothing more than either to quit each other altogether, or else go off somewhere together and come back better friends than ever.
“Oh, dry those tears,” sang the Liturgiologist, in what had once been a fine tenor before age and the Vatican edition of the Chant had robbed it of its charm. “About the silliest thing anybody can do is to grumble at the weather. If you want a quarrel, you can have one with me, and I’ll post a cause! You didn’t bless any Holy Water before High Mass last Sunday. Maybe that accounts for the rain in the parish!”
“There was plenty in the crock,” said the Antiquary, warily, for he saw the light of battle in the old priest’s eye.
“So far as Universal Church Law is concerned,” protested the Liturgiologist, “it is not of obligation to have the Asperges ceremony in parish churches, tho' of course it is permitted in such churches and may even be commanded by the bishop or the diocesan statutes. The time for the ceremony is before the principal Mass on Sundays. Except of Easter and Pentecost in church having a baptismal font, the Holy Water should be blessed before Mass, either by the celebrant or another priest. But, it is to be noted, Wuest and Mullaney give no less than five citations from decrees of the Congregation of Sacred Rites pointing out that the celebrant of the Mass must himself be the officiant at the Asperges ceremony.”
“What if you don’t have High Mass every Sunday?” asked the Antiquary, seeking a loophole through which to escape.
“The phrase is “principal Mass,” not “High Mass,” was the rejoinder. “There are even authors who claim that the Asperges is to be given even if the “principal Mass” is not sung. Fortescue says this, but it’s only fair to add that Wapelhorst claims the rubric ordering the aspersion is not of strict precept.”
“Well,” cried the Antiquary, instantly rising to the bait, “if it’s not required to sprinkle the Holy Water, surely it’s not required to bless it!”
“Aha, I have you, my ancient friend,” chuckled the Liturgiologist. “De Herdt, indeed, says that the Asperges before the principal Mass is not required by any law, if that Mass be a Low Mass and it should be omitted, but the old, and obsolete, Baltimore Ceremonial (you ought to fond of it, Pere, for it certainly is an antiquity!) says both the blessing and the sprinkling should take place every Sunday of the year, tho it makes no mention of a principal Mass or of a High Mass.”
“But surely your ‘Approved Authors’ fail to agree,” said the Antiquary. “I distinctly remember that Wapelhorst says that the blessing of the Holy Water should be omitted on two Sundays.”
“The blessing, yes,” admitted the Liturgiologist, “but not the Asperges.”
“Didn’t you quote him as authority for the Asperges rubric not being of strict precept?” barked the Antiquary.
“I did, and he is,” said the Liturgiologist. “I fancy the difficult lies in the fact that the precept binds only ‘cathedrals and collegiate churches,’ and as we have few of the former, stricte loquendo, in this country, and possibly fewer of the latter, our liturgical writers give themselves the benefit of a doubt as to the obligation of parish churches in the matter. Fortescue says that the bishops of England have solved the question by ordering both the blessing and aspersion in all churches before the chief Mass, whether it be sung or said. Certainly no one object if a priest gave the Asperges before a Low Mass, even without music for the ceremony.”
“You still think, then,” remarked the Antiquary, “that I was at fault in not blessing the Holy Water last Sunday, tho I gave the Asperges before the missa cantata?”
“You had a ‘probable opinion' Pere, but, honestly, did you advert to it?”
“Now you’re getting into moral,” laughed the Antiquary, completely mollified. “Stick to your own subject, and I’ll keep to mine, which is, when is this blessed (see Job 2:9) rain going to let up and let us out!”
“But it’s a closed car, Pere,” murmured the Liturgiologist.
“Who’s going to wash it?” said the Antiquary simply.
1 A hilarious reference to the Vatican edition of the Graduale Romanum (the fruit of Solesmes' research) first published in 1908 and revised and reprinted again in 1922. It could also refer to the Vatican's 1921 edition of the Liber Usualis (a practical compilation of the various official chant books).
2 Also called in English a “stoop”, though “aspersory” is more descriptive.
3 Being an Englishman, Fortescue is actually citing a local (synodal) law for the dioceses in England.
4 Referring to the excellent Latin manual of Rev. J.B. (Jean-Baptiste) De Herdt, titled Sacrae Liturgiae Praxis juxta Ritum Romanum [Sacred Liturgical Practice according to the Roman Rite] (Van Linthout, 1902).
5 The “old and obsolete” comment is rather intriguing, because the Baltimore Ceremonial had just been revised and republished in 1926, though after a gap of nearly 30 years from its last instance in 1894. Peregrinus Gasolinus was published in 1928, so it is possible that the author was actually still writing this book before the revised Baltimore Ceremonial (which is a very useful reference indeed) was made available. Incidentally, the last listed edition is the ninth one of 1941.
6 Latin for “strictly speaking”.
7 Meaning that in the United States, there (as regards the former) are no cathedral chapters of canons (save historically at St. Louis Basilica in New Orleans, Louisiana when under French jurisdiction) or (for the latter) collegiate churches with a body of clergy (either canons or secular clergy) who have the obligation of publicly reciting the Divine Office (usually chanting it) and the offering of a conventual Mass.
8 The quote from Job reads: "And his wife said to him: Do you still continue in your simplicity? bless God and die." In other words, perhaps a double-implication: to the Liturgiologist, “be quiet” and to the rain, “thanks be to God, but cease to downpour”.