top of page

The Liturgiologist is Distracted at Prayer!


Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy

Chapter 2


Outside of Pittcagee the road ran beside the stream which a few miles further, would widen to meet the Lake. The little car took the turns without hesitation under the unwontedly careful hand of the Antiquary, and the Liturgiologist leaned back against the cushions and, for once, made no acts of contrition for at least half an hour. Usually he called his sacerdotal chauffeur, “Jehu, the son of Namsi” on account of his “furious” driving (4 Kings 9:20) yet continued to tour with him since “‘tis well to have a Priest with you in emergencies!”


On this bright July morning they had made an early start to attend the Jubilee Mass of their mutual friend, Fr. Rufus Rubric, pastor of the largest church in the flourishing city of Lakeville, so both were shrouded in linen “dusters”[1] and their “rabbis”[2] were conveniently bestowed in a side pocket of the flivver (which had been washed in honor of the occasion) so that when they stopped for a moment in the suburbs they were able to transform themselves into the outward semblance of what they really were—pious and more than usually dignified Priests.


I suspect you’ve brought your little hammer[3] along, as usual,” said the Antiquary.


“I have,” replied the Liturgiologist, “but I promise to park it with the machine! Fr. Rubric prides himself on the properness of the ceremonies in that wonderful Gothic church of his, but pride sometimes goes before—”

“Oh, you’ll be able to find some errors to jot down in your note book,” interjected the driver. “You really ought to have the job they tell me some Chamberlain[4] has in Rome, to watch the Pope saying Mass, write down the ceremonial errors he makes, and present the pagellum[5] to His Holiness afterwards for repudiation, lest said errors should be taken as precedents by those who assist.”


“Never heard of that,” the Liturgiologist admitted, “but it certainly would be a good idea for the lesser lights than the Pope. I really don’t like to find fault, but it seems to be my business.”


“I believe when you get to Heaven, you’ll try to communicate with some Catholic paper or other via the Ouija board,[6] to tell the clergy and St. Peter opened the left side of the Gate for your entrance, when the S.R.C. prescribes the right!” “Either side of the Gate will do, so long as I get inside,” laughed the Liturgiologist as they drew up before the rectory, to find that Lakeville was on Daylight Saving Time, and they were a good half hour late for the Mass.


However, they found places for themselves in the sacristy just as the bishop finished his allocution, and, having said a prayer for the Jubilarian, it must be confessed they let their minds wander a bit—the Antiquary delighting in the pure Gothic arch across from the Sacristy door, and the proper tabernacle on the long flat altar[7]—the Liturgiologist noting that the Jubilarian occupied an arm chair on a raised platform instead of the scamnum[8] or bench prescribed, tho his reputation for carefulness in liturgical matters might have led one to suppose that he would know that a low-backed bench is all the law allows even for Protonotaries[9] when they pontificate (“Non tolerandus est abusus adhibendi loco scamni sedes camerales” S.R.C. 2621, 6 et alia Decreta recentiora. Caer. Ep.,[10] Lib I cap xii, sec. 22.) The temporary throne for the bishop was hung, properly, with green, as was also the “genuflexorium”[11] to which his Lordship went at the Elevation. But when the celebrant opened the tabernacle to give Holy Communion to his aged parents, the Liturgiologist gave a start—“God forgive me for wandering thoughts”—and he buried his face in his hands.


After dinner the two friends sought the flivver once more and, well out of the city, the hammer came out of the side pocket as the Roman collars went in.


“It would seem,” began the Liturgiologist, in his best manuscript manner, “that our friend, Fr. Rubric, has expended all his efforts on the Gothic Revival, and overlooked some few little details which even our Romanesque not to say Rococo, friends observe at the behest of Rome.”


“Meaning, I suppose, the absence of a Master of Ceremonies at Solemn Mass, attended by enough priests and seminarians to make an omission unnecessary.” The Antiquary’s eyes twinkled back of his goggles.


“That among other things too numerous to mention," gravely assented the Liturgiologist. “The fact that there were plenty of potential M.C.’s right in the sanctuary, doing nothing except pray (better than I did, please God) makes it worse. Usually it’s quantities of altar boys sitting round,[12] while the Mass lacks the necessary officers for its proper performance. But what I was thinking of was the lack of torch bearers. They sent some boys in to light a lot of candles during the Preface—very pretty, of course, but they should have been lit before Mass began—while the torch bearers prescribed by all ‘Approved Authors’ were conspicuous by their absence.”


“It’s a very usual omission hereabouts,” said the Antiquary.


“Which doesn’t make it right or proper,” was the quick retort.


Silence, while they looked both ways before crossing a railroad. Then, that safely accomplished, the Liturgiologist began again, “Can you tell me something about the antiquity of ‘vigil lights?’”


“I can, but I will not,” snapped the Antiquary.


“Very well,” was the calm reply of the Liturgiologist, who knew that the Antiquary’s occasional shortness meant nothing. “But I can tell you that they do not antedate the sanctuary lamp, nor are they controlled and regulated by the law of the Catholic Church as is that necessary ornament. Of course, some of the bishops gave permission for poor parishes to use electric lights in the sanctuary lamp during the War.[13] But the War is over, I’m told, and yet here we find, in a great and costly Gothic church, an electric bulb in the lamp before the tabernacle, while on all sides multitudes of ‘vigil lights’ glimmer and gleam. Not that I object to ‘vigil lights,’ but what shall be said of the subterfuge which eludes the law prescribing at least vegetable oil for the sanctuary lamp if olive oil cannot be had, and yet spends a large sum on extra lights which no liturgical book knows anything about?”


“I see your point: but is it usual to see electricity used in the prescribed lamp before the Blessed Sacrament?”


“Not exactly usual, I’m happy to say, but far too common. It’s another instance of ‘topsy-turvy ceremonial’ like the other matters we have discussed.”


“Discussed, indeed!” The Antiquary snorted, as he stepped on the gas as the only method of silencing the Liturgiologist.



1 A duster is a long outer coat commonly worn in the early days of the automobile to protect one’s clothes from dust and grime, particularly before roads were paved.


2 Plural for “rabat”, which is a Roman clerical collar with a “v” shaped piece of cloth (black for priests) attached in the front; it can be worn both under a cassock or clerical suit.


3 Referring to his writing instrument, which the Liturgiologist used to pound out his critiques.


4 A priest who acts as a private secretary or servant to the pope.


5 "Sheet" in Latin.


6 Pronounced as wee-jee, it is a combination of the French oui and German ja for yes. Though promoted as a board game, as with other occult objects (such as tarot cards), it is forbidden to Catholics. Here though, the harmless and humorous reference is merely to convey the idea of communicating in the afterlife.


7 A reference to a liturgically-correct altar and tabernacle (which should be freestanding); cf. The Liturgical Altar for details.


8 The Latin term for a sedilia.


9 The highest class of monsignore; these have the privilege of the use of pontificals like a non-episcopal abbot (e.g., bugia, Pontifical Canon, simple white mitre, gloves, and bacile).


10 Abbreviation for the Caeremoniale Episcoporum, or “Ceremonial of Bishops”, a rubrical book for episcopal ceremonies; the last edition was published in 1886 and is entirely in Latin.


11 A kneeler, or from the French, prie dieu.


12 Sometimes called “sanctuary boys”. Though this practice is laudable on certain occasions (e.g., on Holy Thursday to symbolize the institution of the priesthood), it is frowned upon in general by rubricians (e.g., Fortescue and Britt) as being distinctly un-Roman.


13 He is referring to World War I (1917-1918 for the United States), during which rationing occurred thereby leading to various ecclesiastical dispensations from the norm of the law.

bottom of page