Monday 7 June 2010

Fathers Dale, Fortescue, and O'Connell

Once upon a time, there were three writers in English on the Rubrics of the Roman Rite.

Act One

First came Fr Hilarius Dale, who wrote "The Ceremonial according to the Roman Rite" in the 1850s, as a translation of the Italian work of Baldeschi. It went through a number of editions, until it was largely superseded by Fr Fortescue's work.

Msgr. Giuseppe Baldeschi (1791-1849) was an Italian Vincentian, who had been MC at the Basilica of St Peter's at Rome. His four-volume Esposizione delle Sacre Cerimonie (A Summary of the Sacred Ceremonies) was first published in 1830, and became the standard text on the Roman Rite.

The original edition was dedicated to Cardinal Wiseman, and was published with his approbation. The first volume of Baldeschi, on the ceremonies of low mass, was omitted, as being less necessary. However, the Pontifical ceremonies for a bishop in his own diocese were not included in Baldeschi, who was writing in Rome, where the diocesan Bishop - being the Pope - has a ceremonial particular to himself. Fr Dale therefore compiled these parts of the book, largely using the Caeremoniale Episcoporum, and his own studies in secondary sources.

Fr Dale said that his work had been done with two objects in mind: "the first, to secure, as far as possible, identity of practice and arrangement in our several churches; the second, to bring them, in their ceremonial provisions, into more complete accordance with the rule of Rome - the centre both of doctrinal unity, and of that ritual uniformity, which is incidentally connected with it." Emphasis on the practice as used in Rome, and advocating its use in England down to the last detail, are entirely characteristic of his book.

A quick survey of the Internet shows that reproductions of both the Italian edition, and a translation by Fr Dale from 1873, are readily available at moderate cost. See for the English edition, at £18.99. This should be in the collection of any serious MC or Rubrician! Alternatively, a scanned version of the original 1853 edition can be downloaded from Google books.

Fr Dale's book went through several editions, certainly into the 1910s. I don't know when the last edition was published, nor do I have a note of the year of death of Fr Dale.

Act Two

Fr Adrian Fortescue (1874-1923) was a scholar of some weight, writing on liturgy and Byzantine scholarship, speaking 11 languages fluently, as well as being an artist, calligrapher, amateur photographer, and adventurer. The late Michael Davies wrote a book called The Wit and Wisdom of Fr Adrian Fortescue, and considered him to be 'the greatest authority on the liturgy of the Roman Rite the English speaking world has ever known'.

In 1907 Fr Fortescue was appointed missionary rector of Letchworth, where he spent the rest of his life. He found the practicalities of parish administration a trial, but was venerated by his parishioners. In order to raise money to build a church in Letchworth, Fr Fortescue set himself to produce a revised edition of Fr Dale's book.

In fact, Fr Fortescue's book Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, first published in 1918, was more of a new work than a revision of Fr Dale. He conceived a great distaste for the preceding book, being "especially scathing about the over-literal translation, rendering grandiloquent Italian phrases so slavishly that, as he said, the book could hardly be understood without translating it back into Italian."

Fr Fortescue clearly had little taste for his work, which he described as having being done “turpis lucri gratia” (for the sake of filthy lucre), i.e. to raise funds for his church.

“Try to imagine for one solid year of my life... I spent all day comparing Merati & Martinucci & Le Vavasseur, to find out where the thurifer ought to stand before the Magnificat, who takes off the bishop's left glove, what sort of bow you should make at the Asperges. I had to look serious, and discuss the arguments for a ductus duplex or the other thing, whatever it is called, at each candlestick, when you incense the altar. Conceive a man, said to be made in the image of God, spending his time over that kind of thing. Even now that the burden is over it fills me with rage to think of those days. ..."

Fr Tim Finigan has described Fr Fortescue as having "an intimate acquaintance with the rubrics of the Roman Rite, but also a proper appreciation of the spirit of them. Fortescue was not a rubrical pedant and took a practical approach to the ceremonies." (The Life and Work of Fr Adrian Fortescue, by Fr Tim Finigan, is available on the website of the church of Our Lady of the Rosary Blackfen:

In fact, Fr Fortescue had little time for some of the niceties of the Roman Rite, advocating a simplification of the Rubrics. In the preface to the first edition of his Ceremonies, he advocates a reeuction in the number of solita oscula, and of genuflections:

"Two points occur which one might hope the authorities would simplify. One is the constant kissing. Certainly this is a very ancient sign of reverence; in some few cases, as, for instance, to kiss the hand ofa bishop, no one would wish to see it abolished. But would not the actions gain in dignity if the endless kissing of objects and of the celebrant'shand by the deacon ceased? At such a simple action, so constantly repeated, as the deacon performs incensing, are eight "solita oscula." He has to kissthe spoon, the hand, the hand, the spoon; the thurible, the hand, the hand,the thurible. If only from the point of view of artistic effect these repeated inclinations of th head are not graceful. If all kissing werereduced to the chief cases of the paten and chalice and at certain more important moments, of the hand of the bishop, the general effect of a ceremony would be calmer.....In the same way, have we not rather too much genuflection? ..."

In Fr Fortescue's own church, built and adorned partly by the proceeds of his book, the liturgy was carried out to a high standard, and in accordance with the rubrics. Nonetheless, it is clear that his interest was largely in the history of the rites of the mass, East and West, and that ceremonial bored him. Often he shows an impatience to be back to his scholarship, leaving Rubrics to others, who are by implication rather dull ceremonialists.

Despite Fr Fortescue's reluctance, his book has become a standard textbook on the ceremonies of the Roman rite (Tridentine). It has been revised and augmented number of times, by Fr O'Connell, and in the USA by Fr McManus, who brought it up to date and in accordance witht he latest decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rites. That edition, if you can get hold of it on the second hand market, is highly recommended for those who want to learn the rubrics of the 1962 missal. Earlier editions are also recommended for those who want to learn the rubrics of earlier forms, eg pre-1955.

Lately, a revised edition has been produced by Scott Reid, and published by Farnborough Abbey. Dr Reid has not only incorporated the changes to the rubrics made in 1962, but has also tried to make allowances for the changes in the church since then, for example to the adornment of bishops, and the reform in the Novus Ordo of the minor orders. You can get it for £24.51 from Amazon, if you want. I have to confess, I admire the scholarship of Dr Reid, but I don't like his book. This is because I don't like the various changes which he seeks to incorporate. These changes are not the fault of Dr Reid.

Act Three

Canon John Berthram O'Connell was a secular priest of the Menevia Diocese. Unlike Fr Fortescue, Canon O'Connell was deeply devoted to the detail of the ceremonial and rubrics. After Fr Fortescue's death in 1923, Canon O'Connell prepared the third edition of his book, and over the next forty years prepared nine further editions. Quite rightly is the book we have today referred to as Fortescue-O'Connell, since the hand of O'Connell is apparent, tempering the spirit of Fortescue, too often impatient with the detail of the ceremonies.

Not being content with being a reviser of Fortescue, Canon O'Connell himself wrote a guide to the Rubrics of the Mass. Originally published in 3 volumes in 1942, The Celebration of Mass: A Study of the Rubrics of the Roman Missal, itself quickly became a standard work. It is very detailed and precise, breathing altogether a different spirit to Fortescue. Here was a priest who loved the details of the liturgy, and considered exactness to be a form of spiritual discipline - faithfulness in small things being a virtue. Every gesture, every look, every phrase, betokens love for Christ, and should be carried out with care and devotion. Far from wanting to abolish genuflections, and solita oscula, Canon O'Connell wishes us to know how to carry them out correctly.

The book has been published in various editions, including a one volume "omnibus". The original version included excellent black and white photographs of the ceremonies of the mass, which were taken in the chapel of Prinknash Abbey. Later editions either omit these, or include them in a low quality reproduction.

Preserving Christian Publications has done a great service in bringing back into print the 1964 edition of O'Connell, in a one volume form. It's available from them, or from Southwell Books for £27


Fortescue-O'Connell is a good basic textbook for the Ceremonies of the Roman Rite. It covers the pontifical ceremonies as well as those of low mass and high mass. For pontifical ceremonies, it is recommended. However, its spirit is unduly functional, and indeed careless of the rubrics, so I would not recommend it as a text for Mass, whether Low, or High. It is useful in giving a method for the Missa Cantata which corresponds more or less to current practice in England.

O'Connell is an excellent book on the rites of Mass - Low, High, and to some extent Cantata. It is precise, and is clearly written by someone who not only knows the ceremonies, but values them. As a book designed not only to instruct in the technical details, but also in the spirit of the mass, it is far superior to Fortescue. Some people find him excessively detailed, and there may be truth in this comment. However, if you want to learn the mass, why not learn from someone who not only knew the ceremonies, but entered into their spirit, and took their exact observance as a work of the love of God?

Baldeschi-Dale is an important historical work. It cannot take the place of O'Connell. However, it also exudes the spirit of devotion, and is a useful supplement for those who desire to know more about the sacred ceremonies. For the pontifical ceremonies, when you've read Fortescue, try Fr Dale's version. It is also available freely on line, so why not download it and start using it, while you are saving up for O'Connell?


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