Monday, August 28, 2017

Celebrating Saint Augustine - and Thoughts about Prefaces

On saints’ days, whenever it is appropriate, I like to use the “Preface of Holy Pastors,” one attractive feature of which is the opportunity it provides to insert the name of the saint being celebrated right into the text of the preface itself. (“Preface I of Holy Martyrs” does the same.) But for today’s feast of the great Saint Augustine (354-430), indubitably the most influential of the Church Fathers, my automatic preference was to use the more general “Preface I of Saints,” which contains the wonderful sentence in crowning their merits, you crown your own gifts, which is, of course, based on Saint Augustine's own words (cf., De gratia et libero arbitrio, VI, 15) 

It might be even better, however, if we were permitted to use the Ambrosian Rite’s preface for the feast of Saint Augustine, which highlights in a wonderful way the great saint's significance for the Church. Not having access to an Ambrosian Rite Missal myself, I rely here on Alan Griffiths’ translation:

In a wonderful way you drew Saint Augustine to yourself, and made him an outstanding witness to glorify your grace, and an inspiring teacher to fill your Church with light. You touched his heart with love for you and filled him with zeal to proclaim your glory, and so, by his faithful preaching of salvation he gave nourishment to the flock committed to his care. (We Give You Thanks and Praise: The Eucharistic Prefaces of the Ambrosian Missal, The Canterbury Press, 1999)

One of the attractive features of the Ambrosian liturgical tradition is that it provides such an amazing abundance of prefaces – a proper preface for practically every proper Mass. This is in complete contrast, of course, to the Roman liturgical tradition, which historically featured only a very small number of prefaces. In fact, from the 11th Century until 1919 there were only 9 “proper” Prefaces in the Roman rite – Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Passion Time (Holy Cross), Easter, Ascension, Pentecost (Holy Spirit), Holy Trinity (also used on all Sundays without a proper Preface of their own), and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The “common” Preface was used on all other occasions. (There was also a proper Preface in the Missa Sicca for the Blessing of Palms on Palm Sunday.) Then suddenly (a sign of things to come) 4 more new prefaces were added in the early 20th Century - the Preface for the Dead (1919), taken from the 1738 neo-Gallican Paris Missal, and the Prefaces of Saint Joseph (1919), Christ the King (1925), and the Sacred Heart (1928), all of which were new compositions. Then came the Pal VI Missal, which revised some existing Prefaces and added a great many more, bringing the total of available prefaces to over 80.

The Roman Missal’s traditional paucity of prefaces and their stylistic restraint reflected the simplicity traditionally associated with the Roman Rite – in contrast to the more exuberant liturgical style of the neo Gallican and, even more so, the various Eastern Rites.  For better or for worse, the post-conciliar Roman Rite has abandoned some of that simplicity and restraint. The expansion of the Lectionary, one of the few post-conciliar  reforms which was actually specifically mandated by the Second Vatican Council, has been, I believe, an overall benefit to the Church. Likewise, the inclusion of additional eucharistic prayers, while certainly not intended by the Council (and which probably would have been voted down by the Council Fathers if the issue had come up) has also, I believe, been of benefit to the Church, despite the unfortunate and widespread over-use of of the very unsatisfactory Eucharistic Prayer II.

So, if anyone were to ask my opinion (which, of course, no one will), I would recommend that the next edition of the Missale Romanum include even more additional prefaces, specifically more "proper" ones for individual saints - not novel compositions but drawn from the existing treasury of prefaces provided for us by the Ambrosian Missal.

But back to Saint Augustine, whom Henri Marrou once famously suggested is one of the few Christian thinkers whom modern non-Christians might still take somewhat seriously.

There is, of course, so much to admire and assimilate in the teaching of Saint Augustine. Consider, for example, his expansive treatment of friendship - an important theme in ancient thought, which we would do well to recover in contrast to our contemporary experience of increasing individualism and isolation. . 

Necessities in this world amount to these two things: well-being and a friend. these are the things which we should value highly and not despise. well-being and a friend are goods of nature. God made man to be and to live; that's well-being; but so that he shouldn't be alone, a system of friendship was worked out. So friendship begins with married partner and children, and from there moves on to strangers. But if we consider that we all have one father and one mother, who will be a stranger? Every human being is neighbor to every other human being. Ask nature; is he unknown? He's human. Is she an enemy? She's human? Is he a foe? He's human. Is she a friend? Let her stay a friend. Is he an enemy? Let him become a friend. (Sermon 299D, 1, tr. Edmund Hill, Saint Augustine, Essential Sermons, ed. Boniface Ramsey, 2007).

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