Friday, 9 June 2017

Of feasts, and modernists with veils

There is a new moniker flying about criticising Catholics who, while self-identifying as Traditionalists, submit to the transferred feast days as determined by local Episcopal Conferences. They are called “modernists with veils”, a sort of modern-day spin to what Holy Writ eloquently calls “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

Certain transferred feasts do trigger universal pain amongst Traditionalists. Take, for example, Epiphany and the Ascension. The PCED, affirming that the EF calendar is intrinsic to the celebration of the Traditional Mass, has already clarified that Traditional communities cannot transfer the feasts but, rather, at best, can observe an external solemnity on the Sundays on which the feasts are transferred. These communities are bound to keep the feast on its proper day.

El Corpus Christi
Arcadio Mas y Fondevila, hacia 1887
Museo del Prado

We are again nearing a feast day that has been transferred to the Sunday in many national calendars. For the Philippines, Corpus Christi is fixed on the Sunday after Trinitytide. Corpus Christi Thursday, de facto, is a feastless day in the ordinary Filipino parish. Of course, for Traditionalists, Thursday remains as the proper feast day, while the Sunday afterwards is an external solemnity. But some people like to think that the reality wherein Traditionalists forego the fanfares of Thursday (a working day in the archipelago) and move all gaieties to the Sunday after it is tantamount to an irrevocable admission of modernism.

We sense two platitudes here: on one hand, we have the restorationists; on the other, the revivalists. The first aim to reinstate Tradition as they think it ought to have been lived; the latter, to relive Tradition as they think it had been lived. Since we are on the subject of Corpus Christi, let us examine what Tradition in the Philippines has for us. For good measure, let us limit ourselves to the Archdiocese of Manila, in whose ecclesiastical province we are now circumscribed.

First, countless authors have affirmed that Corpus Christi, for most of the time, was celebrated on its proper day in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Manila during Spanish times, with the Blessed Sacrament borne in a magnificent Theophoric Procession after Mass. The Augustinians and the Dominicans, however, from the beginning of their missionary activities, celebrated the feast—not merely as an external solemnity, but the feast itself—on the Sunday after the universal feast on Thursday, with all the accompanying trappings of a grand Catholic spectacle. This would have been all right if not for the fact that both Orders claimed exclusive right to do so, and thus lodged a complaint against each other. The Augustinians upheld a brief from Clement VIII; the Dominicans, various briefs from Saint Pius V, Gregory XIII, and Clement VIII. The case reached the Roman courts and was ultimately resolved on 8 November 1613. The settlement bound both Orders to alternate in celebrating Corpus Christi on the Sunday within the Octave.

Corpus Christi, as we know, usually falls within June. In exceptional cases, the feast falls in May. In Manila, June marks the beginning of what Rizal described as the second climate season in the capital: the cuatro meses de lodo. So moved by the inclemency of the weather was Fray Miguel García Serrano, O. E. S. A., then Archbishop of Manila, known for his supreme devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, that he petitioned Rome to allow the See of Manila to transfer Corpus Christi elsewhen. On 5 October 1625, Urban VIII issued a brief granting the Archbishop his wish. And so, the feast of Corpus Christi was no longer celebrated in Manila on its proper day. It had been transferred to December, smack in the middle of the cuatro meses de todo.

This, however, was short-lived. In December 1628, just after the transferred feast of Corpus Christi, which saw the Blessed Sacrament processed in a grand monstrance, placed in a lunette of worked gold, throughout the streets of the Walled City, a few days before Christmas, the monstrance containing our Lord was stolen from the sanctuary of the Cathedral. The acts of reparation that followed were so severe and formidable, that eventually the Archbishop fell ill. The following year, the feast was restored to its proper day: 14 June 1629. A little after the procession passed by the Archbishop’s window in his Palace, the Archbishop, who had waited long enough to hear the procession, died. A few days later, the thief, protected by the seal of confession, admitted his crime, stating that he fed the Host to a child and sold the golden pieces of the dismembered monstrance for money.

Fast forward to four-hundred-odd years later, and we hear rehashings of Robert DePiante’s dictum-turned-slogan. “We worship as you once worshipped. If we are wrong now, you were wrong then. If you were right then, we are right now.” But somehow, some think that the once being referred here is an ideal, static, homogeneous, by-the-book reality. Where’s the beauty in monotony? The OF attracts many liturgical abuses because its desacralised “simplicity” bothers priests to the point of enforcing their own versions of creativity, proclivities that Archbishop Emeritus Jesús Dosado calls “terroristic tendencies”.

By and large, celebrating an external solemnity is a ‘less terroristic’ act—if it should be categorised as a harmful act against Tradition in the first place—than transferring the feast wholesale. Insisting that Traditionalist communities should celebrate Corpus Christi only on Thursday, with the exclusion of all other days permitted previously, is merely restoring what the letter of the law always said. But keeping the feast (though less festively) on its proper day and externally solemnising the succeeding Sunday is participating in a dynamic way of life (which is the third point in lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi) fostered by Catholic practice, and in harmony with established indults and permissions.

From indult Catholics to half-baked Traditionalists (mga hilaw na Traditionalist, as the phrase goes), peppered with accusations running the gamut from sympathies gravitating towards schism to closet sedevacantism, we have indeed come a really long way to cook up something as nuanced as modernist with veils. Restorationists and revivalists have their merits. They also have their shortcomings. Do modernists with veils walk amongst us? If they do, they probably do not know that they are what they are. In whichever of the two they be enmeshed, they are doing a great job hewing apart a sundering community. Pray for their conversion.

Converte eos, Dómine.

PEDRO MURILLO VELARDE, S. J., Historia de la Provincia de Filipinas de la Compañía de Jesús (1749).
JUAN FRANCISCO DE SAN ANTONIO, O. F. M. Alc., Crónicas de la apostólica Provincia de S. Gregorio de Religiosos Descalzos de N. S. P. S. Francisco en las Islas Filipinas, China, Japón, etc. (1738).

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