Tuesday, July 19, 2011
It is the ancientness of things that are passed on that fascinates me. Hearing, singing music heard and sung by Christ himself with Apostles gives me a quiet thrill, it speaks of the deep rootedness of our faith. The presence of these things in the Liturgy reminds me of the nature of Divine Providence preserving and guiding the Church. The reforms of the 60s and 70s remind us of the fragility of these things, except in a few monastic establishments the whole canon of the Church's chant could almost have been lost.
There are other things which are tradere, handed on, which if not of Dominical or Apostolic origin are so ancient and were somehow preserved within the rites and very culture of the Church. Paul VI, apparently, intervened personally to retain the mixing of water and wine, for example, that is most probably of Dominical origin. The triple signing with the cross before the Gospel too seems of pretty ancient origin, some suggesting an origin in Ezekiel 9:4 and Temple worship. The very conservative nature of the Roman Church means that possibly more has been preserved in the West than the East.
What we do is incredibly fragile, it can be easily lost, destroyed or cast into oblivion by accident. Balthazar speaks about a dimple, a tiny blemish, being integral to a face and ultimately to a person's identity. We do the Church no service, and possibly we do the Gospel itself a serious harm by discarding those things passed on to us, even if we end up by doing things we do not understand.
There are other things that are of ancient origin, not least, our rites surrounding death.
I was a little shocked to read this account of a Bishop's cremation, I am indebted personally to Bishop Michael, he taught me a little theology and showed me kindness, and I admired him not only for his devotion through a long illness to his people I also admired his attention to Justice and Peace issues which was deeply rooted in his theolgy of the Trinity and the Incarnation.
Whilst many of the martyrs were burnt, their bodies reduced to ashes, Christians, from the beginning, have always buried their dead; in many cultures it has been the thing that distinguished Christians from pagans. The present code of Canon Law, it could be argued, accepts or at least tolerates cremation, however it still demands a place "of rest" for the remains, scattering is certainly not a Catholic option, Christians should have a "grave" but does it matter how we end up in our "grave"?
Throughout Christian history diverse practices have followed death. "Sepulchre" literally means "flesh eater" and although in the case of the great their bodies might have rested permantly in their sepulchre, in many places bodies were their until the flesh had gone, in Naples burial in a grave is for a limited time, (7 years?) after which the body is removed and placed in tomb normally in a wall or columbarium, the Capuchins in Rome bury and then arrange the bones of deceased brethren (tastefully?) in their crypt. Crusaders used to boil the flesh of their more important fallen comrades and return the bones to their homeland, and although the bones might have crushed to fit them into a smaller container for ease of shipping, they were never pulverised, as happens after a modern cremation. It was always considered not the ideal.
There is something important about reverence and somehow preserving the the integrity of the body in our tradition (small "t", customs) or should that be "our Tradition" (big "T" handing on of the faith). The Reluctant Sinner makes various obsevation about relics, the resurrection of the body and so forth, he doesn't say that an important issue is that we do what Christ did, or was done to him, even if we don't understand it.
In truth we do not really know why burial itself was so important to our forefathers, it just was, and it seems dangerous to go against what has been handed on to us, lest throwing out bathwater babies are discarded too.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake