Rendering time

The extended Holy Family comes into sight today, in the wake of the Assumption, through the commemoration of Saint Joachim, carried under the surface of the Mass for this Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost. (Were the day not Sunday, it would move to the fore.)

Joachim is not mentioned in the Gospels, but he is known to us through Tradition as the husband of Saint Anne, and father of Mary Immaculate. He is thus, in human succession, grandfather to Our Lord. Some of what we know was however recorded in the apocryphal Proto-Gospel of Saint James, a very early writing. A little more information may be obtained from any good Catholic missal, published up to 1962.

And more from Dom Guéranger, the fifteen volumes of whose magnum opus, The Liturgical Year, have been banked into the Internet. (Here.) Hard, stitch-bound copies would ideally be part of every fully literate Catholic’s household library; but they are hard to find, in English or French. They are invaluable, in conveying the extraordinary depth and range of the Catholic Mass, as it was before the hideous desecrations of the 1960s; and as it is and will be through the current revival of “traditional” Catholic worship.

We need a new Guéranger; though the old one still serves. Another century-and-a-half has added to the store of knowledge about our liturgical heritage. Much more could be added to acquaint the intelligent modern reader with what lies slightly beyond the Mass, yet is inseparably attached to it: the heritage of Catholic music, literature, and art, through these last twenty centuries. And more still could be added to draw parallels to Orthodox and other ancient Eastern Rites, which often cast light on the most antique Roman practices. For the living Catholic wants to know more about this Eastern dimension of Christendom, and should be taught more of the harmonies between the Greek and the Latin — different ways of expressing the same thing, dissonant (when at all) only on the surface.

I began with the mischievously suggestive phrase, “extended Holy Family.” In truth, this is something that leaves me more often in confusion than better informed. Of course we cannot know much about the broader family life of Our Lord, in his time and situation; and we do not need to know much more than that it existed. Catholic dogma, on the Immaculate Conception, and on the Assumption, gives profound insights into the purpose and means of the Divine Intervention into the “natural” order of human life and history.

Less obviously, it instructs on “the family,” itself, by putting before us an order of succession that is not, strictly, biological, but lifted out of that condition by a stupendous action of Divine Grace.

One might say, for instance, that the whole life of the Church is prefigured in these “strange” arrangements, by which an episcopal succession is created that is not hereditary. For the idea of a celibate priestly apostolic succession can be seen as an Imitation of Christ, who jumps Himself out of hereditary succession. We have, as those acquainted with monastic orders may glimpse, a new kind of family life raised in parallel to the old family life of the community — designed, too, from the beginning, to raise the community in turn.

The monks and nuns in their respective houses; the whole hierarchy separated from worldly “intercourse” — using that term in several of its meanings — is not entirely unique. Buddhist monastic tradition, for instance, is full of curious resemblances, including attention to an often visible line between the sacred and profane: drawn not vaguely, but precisely. This is done, too, in each of the Eastern Christian communions, with slight differences from one sect to another in how the line is drawn; but always with precision, and the insistence upon celibacy at the highest level.

I shan’t write more on this, for fear of flying over my own head; I only want to point towards something easily lost in our contemporary appreciation of religious life — coming into the Church as we do, today, out of a sexual rainstorm, wading knee-deep through its cumulative pornography. The recovery of sane family life, it seems to me, depends on the recovery of a sense of succession that goes, decisively, beyond the carnal.

We are more than just animals — at least, some of us aspire to rise above the level of the animal, shrieking in its cage. And we can, if we try, become better than casual roadkill to our own (often sordid) passions.

Eros, itself, is not reducible to sex acts, and a whole dimension of human life is lost on us because we cannot imagine what might be numinously erotic, and at the same time, numinously chaste.


Prosper Louis Pascal Guéranger (1805–77), the Benedictine abbot flagged above, was more than an author. His grand, rolling encyclopaedia of the Roman Rite — posed in its era against a Gallican Rite that had been made a little too compatible with revolutionary nationalism — was for him almost a pastime in a busy life. His principal employment was restoring not only the Benedictine Order, but monasticism generally to France, after it had been wiped out in the French Revolution. (It would be all but wiped out again by the “laicizing” devils in human flesh, one generation after his death.)

Indeed, the failure of Catholicism to die in France is, properly understood, among the most inspiring stories in the history of Christianity. For the “eldest daughter of the Church” has been subjected, over the last three centuries, to wave after wave of unctuously “progressive” rape, murder, pillage and rapine; and this in gratuitous addition to the spiritual asphyxiation we all experience in the modern, ferretsome, sleaze economy.

And yet more than a million “traditional” French Catholics were still found to march along the streets against sodomic and sapphic “marriage” — the latest aspiration of the laicizing state — only a year ago.

It was in the nature of Guéranger not to be much impressed with numbers. He was not defeatist; he could not have accomplished anything had he allowed himself to be intimidated by them.

Should sixty-five million biologically animate Frenchmen and Frenchwomen opt publicly for Hell, then they will if they please fall into it like snowflakes. But if one million remain faithful unto death, something remarkable has been accomplished. We should not focus our attention on the demographics; rather on the man, woman, and child.


Yesterday, somehow, by a last-minute agreement, the bells rang out in France, from the churchtowers across sixty-six dioceses, in solidarity with the persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

As the “mainstream media” are eager not to tell you, this was done in the face of plausible threats from Muslims, to do violence against Catholic targets in response. Attacks on Catholic churches and cemeteries in France have become commonplace (as on Jewish synagogues and cemeteries), and these threats are no joke. Some of the recent attacks, such as that on Charlie Hebdo, strike the “laics” just where they live, and thus cross the threshold into “mainstream” news. In contrast, attacks against conspicuously religious targets tend not to be reported; or when big enough, to be reported in a systematically dishonest, “politically correct” way.

But in despite of that, the bells were ringing, right across France.


Such huge events go almost unrecorded in the history of our own times; yet will stand in the recollection of later generations; and ultimately, in the view of human history transcending time.

The past is often obscure to us; the future does not yet exist and so contains nothing, clear or obscure. The present is instead the greatest puzzle, for it is the period in history we know least about. And it is the belief that we are informed by omnipresent media that stacks our ignorance higher and higher.

This is one thing I learned again and again as a journalist, whenever I found myself at the frontier of “events”: that even there, with all the klieg lights glaring, the true story was not being told. For everything of real significance was happening in the shadows, and behind the walls. I learned, I hope for all time, that the “great events” are at most only the occasion for greater events, far more interesting, in the small places where the narratives of sin and redemption are being resolved.

In this sense, the largest wars and revolutions are only a popular distraction; mere wheels turning in a giant, soulless machine. It is not the machine that is important; it is the movement, rather, within immortal souls.

And it is against the clanking wheels of murderous human industry, that we posit this Liturgical Year — rendering time, sub specie aeternitatis.