Thursday, September 29, 2016

Magna opera Domini: a reflection on the institution of acolytes

(Unless excepted, photos are courtesy of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter)
Magna opera Domini: "great are the works of the Lord". This is the motto on the coat of arms of Bishop Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, who explained its meaning in his first remarks after being raised to the order of bishop here. This past Sunday, on the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham (transferred), I was very privileged to be a part of that motto brought to life when I was instituted as an acolyte by Bishop Lopes alongside a fellow parishioner and 50 other men nominated by their pastors across the Ordinariate in the US and Canada. Some were new additions to the ranks of our Cathedral's clerks, but most of those who traveled to our cathedral in Houston, Texas with me, even as far as Nova Scotia, are lay leaders of their respective parishes in and out of the liturgy.

As some of you may know, I've written here and elsewhere extensively about the minor orders and the role that they once played at the parish level in the medieval Church to carry out the work of divine worship; indeed, how these orders was once required for admittance to the choir or altar service. Even after the Church of England abolished the minor orders, the lay "parish clerk" continued to feature in Anglican life as an invaluable assistant to the priest, and has thankfully been re-introduced into the post-conciliar Catholic Church through the Ordinariate.

To be sure, some of the 52 men instituted last Sunday were chosen for their encyclopedic knowledge of ceremony. The cathedral rector said to us that the parish clerk is often the man to whom the priest can turn when he stares blankly into an unfamiliar page in the Missal and whispers, "explain to me what I'm supposed to do here!" Others were called not so much for that, but to expand upon their many years of dedicated service to their parishes in general, now in an established manner. When I learned that one of my fellow candidates to be installed was a papal Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, I felt in some sense that I was standing among giants.

Shortly before the principal Mass and rite of institution. After this, we all recited the Prayers of Preparation with Bishop Lopes before processing into the cathedral.
The training during the weekend of institution, which arose particularly in response to the desire among various parishes to offer solemn high Mass with the classical three-fold ministry of the altar (priest, deacon, and subdeacon), numbers among the most grace-filled experiences I've ever had. We prayed morning and evening hours of the Divine Office in common, shared stories of growth and struggle amongst our communities, and partook of the richness of beauty in worship offered by the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham. I especially enjoyed how, during the principal Mass, there was a vested schola for plainchant in the north transept, in addition to the cathedral choir. The schola chanted the Introit, Offertory, and Communion antiphons out of the Plainchant Gradual (in sacral English but with the ancient Gregorian melodies). A schola chorister sang the first reading in the Prophecy tone, and the acolyte acting as subdeacon sang the second reading in the Epistle tone. I came away with the sense that it was the supreme model for sung vernacular liturgy in the Latin Rite today.

Our weekend began with Evening Prayer of Ember Friday
Instituted acolytes are authorized to serve Mass in both the Ordinariate's unique Missal; Divine Worship; as well as the Extraordinary Form (traditional or "Tridentine" Latin Mass), in the ancient role of subdeacon, clad in colored vestments, chanting the Scriptures, and standing at the priest's left hand or behind the deacon at the foot of the altar. In the Ordinary Form, they may be asked to purify the sacred vessels. In the absence of a priest or deacon, they may also lead hours of the Divine Office, deliver holy Communion to the sick, or prepare a monstrance for Eucharistic Adoration (but not give Benediction). Bishop Lopes, who personally delivered instruction to us despite having just returned from a visit with other American bishops to the Pope himself in Rome, made it clear that we were to be instituted not just for the Ordinariate, but for the entire Church. He encouraged us to engage and give service (in and out of liturgy) at our neighboring diocesan parishes, including for solemn celebrations of the Extraordinary Form.

In return, we pledged to intensify our prayer lives, frequency of confession, and particularly grow in devotion to the holy Eucharist through regular Adoration. We were asked even to take into account our public witness of Christ, remembering that we extend the ministry of the priest and deacon in places they can't reach. The subdiaconal ministry was compared to a Wifi signal in a large house. If the router is in a closet at one end of the house and you're trying to get a connection from the living room on the other side, your reception will be poor and slow; so to remedy, you might think to install a repeater to boost the signal. Likewise, in the places in and out of the church where neither the priest nor deacon can reach, the acolyte is there extend their ministry. It doesn't advance the kingdom of God for an acolyte to insult a parishioner in a Facebook comment one day and present themselves in a tunicle the next, so we're called to be the face of Christ as far as we can.

The cathedral rector, Fr. Hough (in cassock), teaching a practicum on the subdiaconal role in the Divine Worship Missal (photo by my friend Armando, one of our Ordinariate seminarians)

Another of my photos. This one models the acolyte holding the Gospel-book for the deacon, using the common "in the midst" method of singing the Gospel. In this style, the procession enters partly into the aisle of the nave. Though seldom used in the Extraordinary Form, it's also permitted there. I've also seen it done in Eastern Divine Liturgies with the congregation flocking in to surround the ministers.
It was an arduous journey which began with a train ride well before the crack of dawn, but I'm glad my wife and children were able to make the journey from Philadelphia to Houston with me and partake of the worship at the Cathedral; especially solemn choral Evensong at the end of the weekend, directed by Mr. Edmund Murray, whom I sang Gregorian chant with for many years. That Evensong, a form of Vespers which preserves some of the finest choral works of the Anglican tradition, such as four-part psalmody and even splendid compositions from 20th century masters like Sir John Tavener, was recorded and may be watched or listened to here or below. It was well attended by lay faithful, local diocesan clergy and seminarians, and Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta.

In the rite of institution, we approached the bishop two at a time as he presented a ciborium filled with unconsecrated bread. We held the base with our right hands as he said, "Take this vessel with bread for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Make your life worthy of your service at the Table of the Lord and of his Church."

As I finish this entry, the following verse from the Psalms comes to mind:
“What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.”

More photos from the weekend can be found here.