Friday, February 13, 2015

Prayers for the Persecuted: a new Position Paper

Prayers After Low Mass at the LMS Priest Training Conference at Ratcliffe College
Today I am publishing a Position Paper on the Leonine Prayers on Rorate Caeli: go there to read it.

Here I would like to make a few further observations on this topic.

The paper is unusual as it is, first and foremost, an appeal to action: for the celebration of Masses for persecuted Christians around the world. But it does so on the basis of an historical understanding of the issues, something which the Position Papers try to bring to all their topics.

From the historical point of view, the paper makes two interesting major points. The first is that the Leonine Prayers are not as anomolous as they may at first appear. It may well be said that they are not 'really' part of Mass, they are stuck on the end of some, but not all, Masses, in an awkward and ad hoc way, and they detract from the liturgy. I confess my study of the liturgy gives me some sympathy with purist, Liturgical Movement-type arguments like these.

However, we must recognise that this kind of appendage is a feature of a lot of liturgical history. The Prayer for the King (or Queen) at the end of Mass on Sunday is another example; even worse, presumably, are extra prayers for particular intentions which interrupt the flow of the Mass itself, but this is exactly what the Medieval 'Clamors' did, including the Clamor for the Holy Land. Come to that, the Bidding Prayers do the same thing. These were sometimes rather long prayers for benefactors in their original Medieval form, and in the Novus Ordo can be rambling prayers for anything and everything.

Certainly, this kind of thing should be kept in check, to avoid really detracting from the Mass, and anything prepared five minutes ago and changing with every Mass is seriously problematic in the liturgy. But the Leonine Prayers are not excessively intrusive, they are stable and they are elegantly composed. Being at the end of Mass, they act as a form of ordered transition back to the mundane, the private, and the vernacular.

The second point is that, contrary to arguments occasionally made in Traditional circles, they are still in force. There is simply no reason to imagine that the most recent command that they be said, dating from Pope Pius XI in 1930, has been revoked or has lost its force. The prayers were never included in the Missal, but that is true of much we take for granted in terms of rules and rubrics. They were regulated by the Sacred Congregation for Rites, which continued to issue decrees about them up to the Second Vatican Council, mostly in the form of permissions for the Leonine Prayers not to be said under various circumstances (essentially, circumstances which add to the length of a Mass). In 1964 the first of the reforming Instructions, Inter Oecumenici, suppressed them, in the very same subclause which suppressed the Last Gospel. Under the rules in force in 1962, they are to be said.

The argument is sometimes made that they can be omitted since the intention for which we were ordered to say them has been fulfilled. The prayers are often referred to as being for 'the Conversion of Russia', but to be absolutely exact Pius XI spoke as follows:

Therefore we must press upon Christ the Redeemer of the human race that he allow tranquillity and the freedom to profess the faith to be restored to the afflicted children of Russia. And so that everyone can press [upon him], with, to be sure, little trouble and inconvenience, we desire that those same prayers which our predecessor of happy memory Leo XIII ordered priests to recite with the people after Holy [Mass] is finished should be said for this same intention, namely for Russia. Let bishops and both [secular and regular] clergy be very diligent in advising their people, or anyone at all who attends Holy [Mass], and let them very frequently recall it to their memories.

Has this happened? It does not appear so. Following the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, said Bishop Bohdan Dzyurakh, secretary-general of the Ukrainian Catholic Synod of Bishops, commented to the Catholic Herald (8 Apr 2014)Greek Catholic communities like ours are denied rights in the Russian Federation, which we see as a violation of freedom of conscience and religion… We hoped these restrictions wouldn’t be applied to our Church in Crimea, but we’ve been told all religious communities must now re-register there. This means the local government usurps the power to reject those it sees as a threat. After the recent ethnic cleansing, this will amount to religious cleansing.”

Those who follow the news will be likewise aware of the restrictions on foreign charities and NGOs in Russia, under which any organisation which benefits from donations from abroad is classed as a 'foreign agent'.

Prayers After Low Mass at St Joseph's, Dursley
The other point to be made about the prayers is that the wording of them has a meaning aside from the intention 'with which it is said'. Notably, the Prayer to St Michael is a powerful appeal for supernatural help for the whole world against Satan, and the other collect, Deus, ref├║gium nostrum, implores the assistance of God specifically for 'the liberty and exaltation of Holy Mother Church, and the conversion of sinners'. There can be no question that prayers for these intentions are still worth saying.

Another point about the Leonine Prayers which is mentioned briefly in the Position Paper has considerable practical importance. One thing which really struck me on first attending the Traditional Mass in a stable community, was that at the end of Mass, after the Priest left, the Faithful did not start chatting or drifting out, but dropped to their knees to say their thanksgivings. Anyone who takes seriously the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament must recognise the immense value of this habit. The Leonine Prayers are, in practice, a form of thanksgiving after Mass: the very fact that they take place after Mass has ended is actually helpful in this regard. They help to encourage the idea that what we should do at the end of Mass is not rush off to our secular concerns, but engage in private prayer for our own needs and the needs of the world, in the context of our immense gratitude for the Mass we have just heard. This is, in fact, the typical message of the Postcommunion Prayers in the ancient Missal.

Information about Masses being said for this intention can be posted and read on the FIUV blog here.

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  1. The Leonine Prayers are said at the end of every Low Mass at the Birmingham Oratory - Ordinary Form as well as Extraordinary Form. Many of our young altar servers already have the prayers off by heart, and it is heartening to see a whole new generation of Catholics being introduced to them.

  2. Apart from anything else, everybody was familiar with the Salve Regina in Fortescue's excellent translation; it's hard to believe the familiar 'Hail Holy Queen' is barely a hundred years old. The earlier translation by Edward Caswall is less poetic (sorry Fr Duncan, I know he was a fellow Oratorian).

  3. I have been saying the Deus venerunt gentes and the Clamor prayers in the Office, adding them to the preces, using the versicle Omnis terra adoret te etc from the commemoratio Crucis: not being able to find a copy of Lindner in the local university library, can you share a 'proper' V./R. from that source? Many thanks!