Another day

“Arise!” would be how the Introit began this morning. That is why Sexagesima is also called “Exsurge Sunday” in the Calendar of the Ages: … Exsurge, quare obdormis, Domine? … Or in the colloquial: “Get up, why are you sleeping, God?” This of course from a Psalm; and David, king and minstrel, is not so impious as first sounds. “Help!” might be offered as a paraphrase, for what he is crying.

Those in possession of the old missal — and I would hate to think any of my readers were so poor, or so disorganized, as to be without one — may, even if they must live in Babylonian exile from the Old Mass, keep up with it in spirit. Each Sunday provides a new masterpiece of poetic construction, and as today’s Mass unfolded — through Introit, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Tract, Gospel, Offertory, Secret, Communion — the whole Christian life was expounded. Read it attentively, then read it again, with as much Latin as you can bring to the English crib, and soon you will discover how much is there. Follow, too, the Chapters, Psalms, Antiphons through the Canonical Hours (Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline, and Matins or night watches towards the following day), and you will see that it is part of a vast music. It continues ceaselessly; while you, for your part, come in and go out.

But for today, beginning from that Introit, that cry to the Lord to come and help us, such a vision unrolls: of things as they have been, recently, and as they have been since Adam, and as they now are. In the Epistle, Paul, “Doctor of the Gentiles,” resorts to autobiography to explain what evangelization is all about, and the inconveniences that may attend it along the way, should we be as he was, “in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils from my own nation, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils from false brethren.” Those are the earthly rewards of striving, and he gives details, such as how many lashes he took each time, or what it is to be wet, cold, naked, and hungry. He then confesses his own terrible weakness — how more than once he pleaded with God to give the job to someone else. And the answer came: that power is made perfect in infirmity; that the grace he’d been given was sufficient and so, get on with it.

Infirmity — pain, and often desolation — can be used to make us perfect. Note, mark, flag this passage. Take it deeply into the heart and never part with it.

The length of this Epistle stands out, contributing to its liturgical force. Saint Paul stands before us as a real man, who is calumniated, and has a few things to say, and does not intend to shut up. It is a passage of extraordinary power, and once attuned to its meaning, phrase by phrase, the singing of it carries across the bridge of time, and we are in all ages.

Against this in the Gospel, the parable of the sower: of the seed, of the Word. It is dispersed by wayside, it falls on stony ground, and into thorns that choke it. Christ, now anticipated by Paul, turns to explain exactly what He means by this — to those who have not heard because they were not listening; to those who like what they hear, but will not root themselves against the winds of temptation; to those choked by the cares, the riches, and the pleasures of this world. But when it lands in the hearts of good men, the seed yields fruit an hundredfold. …

Haec dicens, clamabat: He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

The Mass plays forward in time, but may also play backward, and synthesize, or then piece out, and the effect is to unburden us of the temporal chains we have been clanking. Throughout there is movement, simultaneous as well as sequential, in voice, echo, and modulation, as music. From the unfolding of a fugue by Bach we may learn something of the shape I am trying so feebly to describe: the unity that emerges from an incredible diversity of sharply unique phrases, and actions. The homily itself is only part of the music, harmonic only if the preacher knows its place. For the Mass is comparable to no revival meeting, no concert or recital, no lecture or class or “presentation.” It is something that is done, and is being done within the hearts of all those present, removed in the moment from their earthly concerns and drawn into the Presence of Our Lord, to be blessed, and amended. Even to say it has a teaching function, is to say too little: the Mass is as Our Lord within it.

The Church does not pray in mono. The picture of souls lost has been carried into the flood, at Matins: the sea and ship of Noah upon the torrent; the terrible image of the drowned in their numbers like specks. The wood of Noah’s ship is the wood of the Cross and of our salvation. The Reconciliation with Christ, and the Restoration of His creation to the beauty of its first Day, is glimpsed in evocations of Noah’s rainbow. The purpose in our penitence is coming into view, in the distant prospect of the Resurrection.

But for now we toil, in a very dark labour.


To the enormity of what happened in our public life on Friday, there has been no reply. Many bishops responded, but had nothing very forceful to say. They do not seem to realize the horror of what was done in our Canadian Supreme Court: the suffocating stench of it. They treat it as one more item of news, already passing from the news cycle, as if bishops were pundits. From polls we learn that the vast majority of those now living in this country — nine in ten — glibly subscribe to the new public doctrine, that puts humans on a level with dogs and cats. We now know from those numbers that only a tiny proportion of Canadians can be Christian, whatever they may fondly call themselves; that in the main, the inhabitants of this country do not think their own lives worth living, except for pleasure.

Exsurge, Domine! … What a vision of souls, falling like snowflakes into Hell.

O Lord, pray for us, and come to us in our bottomless squalor.