The Mass: A Liturgical Commentary, Vol II

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Mass: A liturgical commentary: Vol. II: the Mass of the Faithful by Auguste Croegaert.

This second and concluding volume of Canon Croegaert’s commentary on the Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass and its antecedents was as useful to me as the first. Indeed, “The Mass of the Faithful,” which is this book’s focus, is far more important to the issues of Eucharistic magick and the operations of my own Gnostic Catholic Church. Given that we are not a Christian body (as ordinarily understood), the details of Croegaert’s explanations are often irrelevant. However he does raise a variety of critical questions, often in the form of chapter titles, such as: “Who Offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?” and “What Is the Victim Offered in the Sacrifice of the Mass?” While the answers to these questions are doubtless different for our Gnostic Mass than the ones supplied by Croegaert, his elaboration of the consequences of those answers serves as a model study.

An important functional difference between the Christian Eucharist and ours, is our lack of a historiola in the act of consecration. The Gnostic Catholic priest must therefore consult non-narrative sources in order to arrive at solutions to Croegaert’s riddles, and I recommend especially Magick in Theory and Practice for this purpose, not confining attention to the obvious chapters XIX and XX.

Some issues of nomenclature and technical terminology were highlighted for me in this read. The Latin phrase canon missae is shown by Croegaert to have drifted over time from its original meaning of simply the “rule of the Mass,” or a ritual standard for the Mass. It featured as a heading over the fixed speeches and rubrics for the Eucharist set within texts for the “Mass of the Faithful,” and thus it eventually came to denote that component liturgy focused on the consecration of the Eucharistic bread and wine. In this sense, it corresponds roughly to Section VI “Of the Consecration of the Elements” in the Gnostic Mass. However, the Gnostic Mass ritual text Liber XV also has for its full title O.T.O. Ecclesiae Gnosticae Catholicae Canon Missae. In this case, the Latin phrase canon missae clearly carries its original meaning, and not the acquired sense that is common in Roman Catholic usage. Liber XV provides the rule or standard for an entire Mass, and not a “canon” component within one. It is interesting to note, however, that other Thelemic Gnostic verbiage has already begun to undergo a degeneration comparable to the one by which “canon” acquired its more specific meaning in Roman Catholicism. Gnostic Mass participants can sometimes be heard or observed referring to “Liber Fifteen” as a thing done, an event or activity, which is properly speaking The Gnostic Mass, rather than as a document as the word Liber (“book”) plainly indicates. Just so, Roman Catholic liturgists often refer to the “canon” as a performative component of their mass, rather than simply a section within their missal.

Another term of note is epiklesis, which features in a key remark from 666 to 777 regarding the Mass of the Holy Ghost. Our Primate Sabazius has identified the epiklesis in Liber XV with the priest’s invocation of the Lion and Serpent, and remarks that it is “absent from the Roman Catholic liturgy” as contrasted with the Eastern Orthodox. But Croegaert’s discussion of “The Invocation of the Sanctifying Spirit (Epiclesis)” (102-4) confirms me in my suspicion that this liturgical function is more accurately attributed to the opening prayer of the Ceremony of the Mystical Marriage in Liber XV (“Lord most secret, bless this spiritual food …”), and that an Epiclesis was present in the Tridentine Mass. That said, the term epiklesis derives from Orthodox liturgical theory, and its application in Catholic ritual is clearly a matter of unsettled debate.

The descriptor “High Mass” does not appear in Liber XV, nor in the regulations of our Church. I have noticed it deployed variously, to mean Masses at which a full saints list is recited, to ones where attendance is restricted to members of higher grades, to other things besides. The significance of the term in Roman Catholic parlance, where it first appears, is also somewhat fuzzy, sometimes referencing the addition of a musical setting. However, my reading of Croegaert seems to suggest that it was originally coined by reverse formation from the invention of the suitably-designated “Low Mass,” i.e. one performed by a priest with minimal assistance, and in the absence of a congregation. I would be happy to see the term “High Mass” dismissed from any sort of EGC usage, while in contrast “Low Mass” seems particularly helpful, as a way of distinguishing those operations founded in Liber XV which are undertaken in the absence of the people, and therefore primarily for the benefit of the officers.

There were relatively few practical (as opposed to theoretical) insights for me in this volume. One of them, though, was the idea of ocular gesture as an item of priestly technique. This practice has significant psycho-physiological effects, and I maintain that the height of the altar in Liber XV is calculated in part to draw on these. Croegaert refers to the “raising of the eyes” in the offering of the bread (93), and having read that, it strikes me that priests might insert this gesture at an analogous point in our Mass, or at other junctures where it could be helpful for its effect, despite not being required by the context. Alternatively, we might consider the possibly positive significance of its omission at the analogous point in the Gnostic Mass.

I will be retaining both of these musty ex-seminary-library volumes of Croegaert’s commentary for reference purposes, having benefited from my initial read of each. [via]