Tuesday, July 21, 2009

. . .the blessed mutter of the Mass. . .

In the traditional Roman Rite, St Praxedes receives a commemoration today in the Mass and at Lauds. The primary celebration is for St Lawrence of Brindisi but in one of those inexplicable stream-of-consciousness sorts of things it is St Praxedes who delights today.

And all because of Robert Browning who wrote "The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St Praxed's Church". St Praxed being Browning's English for St Praxedes. Browning was not, to say the least, in love with Catholicism. The bishop he wrote of is a crabbed old devil, unchaste, envious and grudge-bearing; one wonders if he is even a theist at some points in the poem. And yet as the old goat lays dying, imagining himself in his tomb by the altar, Browning puts a phrase in his mouth that I have always loved:

And then how I shall lie through centuries,
And hear the blessed mutter of the mass,
And see God made and eaten all day long,


Isn't that wonderful? I know it's not meant to be complimentary. "Mutter", says Mr Webster, means low, indistinct sounds or complaining noises. But if you've ever served a low Mass in the quiet of the early dawn, "the blessed mutter of the Mass" is almost onomatopoeic. The soft consonants of that phrase remind of the sound of the whispered canon. I can almost smell the wax candles and the flowers on the altar.

And all because it is St Praxedes' day today.

(Although, St Lawrence shouldn't be overlooked either. He was one of those Renaissance Franciscans, like St John of Capistrano, who not only wandered about Europe making converts and peace among Christian kings, but also recruited an army to fight the Mohametans.)