Monday, September 29, 2008

Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones

Yesterday at Mass we sang as the final hymn John Athelstan L. Riley's "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones," and though I am not normally one to advocate for modern hymns (this one was written in 1906), I would say this hymn seems very appropriate for congregational worship at Holy Mass, for any number of reasons.

First, it is a hymn of jubilant praise, in which all the heavenly host is enlisted to join our praise, and therefore would actually seem appropriate for eucharistic worship anytime, outside of the penitential seasons. To be more theologically precise, it would be better to say that we join the heavenly choirs than that they join us. And that is what is so significant, I think, about a hymn like this. Namely, while it does not expound the faith nearly as nicely and fully as other hymns do, it seems most concerned with catching the invisible reality of what is going on at the moment of the Blessed Eucharist. And so in a certain sense it reminds me of Luther's hymn paraphrase of the Sanctus, namely, "Isaiah Mighty Seer."

Second, it preserves, in its first stanza, the traditional ranks of the angels. This is very useful for a feast like that of Saint Michael and All Angels (though as a traditionalist, I would argue for the return of the sanctoral scheme wherein this feast focuses on Michael, and the other angelic feasts are brought back, such as Gabriel, Raphael, and Guardian Angels).

Third, this hymn is built on a strong sense of the communion of saints. The Mass itself teaches us this lesson in several ways, but it is good to reinforce it from time to time by means of hymns of this sort. The fact is that the angelic hosts, along with the saints that have gone before us, as well as our brethren around the world we cannot see, are all in an intimate communion in the Church, and are one in the worship of Christ our Immanuel.

Fourth, since the above is true, it is most certainly true in the case of the greatest of the saints, the one the Lutheran Confessions call the "pure, holy, and always Virgin Mary." The one through whom the God man came into the world must always have a prominent place in Christian meditation, for she is the bearer of God, and therefore stands in a unique way as type of the Church and indeed of the Christian. So I rejoice that such a hymn stanza as the second one of this hymn is employed in our churches. At times I have seen some react with surprise when it is pointed out that the Virgin Mary is referenced in this hymn. Too often we Lutherans sing our hymns without really thinking on the words.

Here is the second stanza of "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones," and though its text in Lutheran Service Book and in The Lutheran Hymnal are identical to each other, let me state explicitly, that I quote here from The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941, the makers of which have, in Christian kindness, graciously given it to the Church for free use. So I recognize them, and thank them.

TLH: 475: 2
O higher than the cherubim,
More glorious than the seraphim,
Lead their praises, Alleluia!
Thou bearer of the eternal Word,
Most gracious, magnify the Lord,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!


Rosko said...

"More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, without defilement you gave birth to God the Word, true Theotokos, we magnify you".

That is the refrain that is sung during the Magnificat in all of the Orthodox Churches, and it bears uncanny resemblance to that stanza you have posted. Of course, we Orthodox don't magnify the Theotokos on her own merits, but rather to give glory to God THROUGH her. That said, "Ye watchers and Ye holy ones" is one of my favorite hymns from my time as a Lutheran. Thank you for your post, it was beautiful.

Brian P Westgate said...

re: the feasts of angels, St. Michael is the only feast of an angel that is pre-Reformation (and it's really a commemoration of the dedication of a church dedicated to the Archangel, not a feast of the Archangel himself).

The Archangels Gabriel & Raphael only received feasts in the last century under Benedict XV.

When the Reformation began, Karl V and his fellow Spaniards may not have been celebrating The Holy Guardian Angels yet. Rome did not receive it until 1608, and the date wasn't prescribed until 1670.

So I guess we didn't lose anything, because we never had them.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

The Feast of Saint Michael is historically set for the commemoration of the dedication of a church, but let us not forget that both the feast and the church dedicated in his name are meant historically to honor an apparition of Michael, ie., one that reportedly took place at Monte Gargano. If we wanted to focus our liturgical thinking merely on the historical event which occasioned a feast, then we should celebrate apparitions of Michael, which would lead us to not only keep the 29 Sept feast, but also the 8 May feast commemorating Michael's apparition. Rather, it has certainly always been the case that the 29 Sep. feast has been a time to not merely mark the historical dedication of a church, but to celebrate the eschatalogical mystery of this great cosmic warrior. One need only look at the liturgy, including classic homilies, to see this.

As to the other three feasts under discussion, Raphael and Gabriel are rather recent, it is true, and Guardian Angels goes much further back, though as a universal feast, it also post dates the Reformation.

Which brings us to the larger issue. Why the importance of keeping feast only which predate the Reformation? I myself do not see this as a healthy way to approach the liturgy. It is not traditionalism; it is more like repristinationism, or golden-age-of-the-church-ism, or something like that. The tradition of the Church, on the other hand, the I see it, is an organism, which expands and contracts a bit over the centuries, not in unnatural, forced ways, like with the Novus Ordo or with LSB, but in a way of which we needn't fear either.

The Lutheran tradition knows this, for it has given us liturgical commemorations such as the Presentation of the Augustana, and the posting of the 95 Theses. Nor has the Lutheran tradition feared to incorporate feasts which post date the reformation, Loehe being one prime example who included Carmelites like Theresa of Avila.

This does not mean, mind you, that I agree wholesale with all the feasts of the Roman Rite. Nor however would I exclude one merely because it post dates the Reformation. The death of Luther is one I would certainly include, which hardly predates the Reformation. Not to mention Fatima. Just kidding.

But just to come back to the point of the angelic feasts. You say we don't lose anything without the other three feasts. In the sense in which you meant it, you are right. On the other hand, of course we lose something. We lose the opportunity to celebrate these distinctive angels and aspects of angelology with their own feasts. Of course we could take the modern Roman solution, which joins the three archangels together on this feast, and keeps the feast of the Guardian Angels, or the solution of the modern Lutherans & others, who followed in the example of the Mass of Paul VI, viz., to join all angels together on this feast. This solution does not lack a historical argument (most post-Vat II innovations come with the arguments of going back to early history, or of resourcement). But such modern approaches are inherently lacking in respect to the tradition of the Church.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Incidentally, another reason I like to leave Michael by himself liturgically on this feast is that for someone who believes Michael to be much higher than a created angel, I think it befits this Angel Who fights for us, to be celebrated in a special way with a feast that has traditionally always been a highpoint of this time of year.

Brian P Westgate said...

Ah, yes, I think I remember you saying before that you think, along with the sainted Fr. Wuest, that St. Michael = Jesus.

As to the liturgy, if the commemoration of all angels yesterday is somewhat modern, why do the collects mention them while not mentioning Michael by name at all?

I do agree with you that we can add feasts, and even follow Rome in some cases, though I guess I'm more reserved. I'm always thinking: "What would Luther and his colleagues think about this? Do we do 'follow' Rome's lead in this instance remembering that the pope is the very Antichrist? Why did Rome add such and such a feast?" This last question may not matter as much for pre-Reformation feasts, for our ancestors were then in communion with Rome, but now, we have not been in communion with Rome for ca. 500 years.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

For the record, his name is Father Stephen Richard Wiest (not Wuest). In a few days I will mark the fifth anniversary of the day he fell asleep, and so perhaps I will say something here about him on that day.

You say, "if the commemoration of all angels [on the 29 Sep feast] is somewhat modern, why do the collects mention them while not mentioning Michael by name at all?"

My claim is not that this feast does not commemorate the angels. Indeed it does, in more than one way. This is inescapable for a feast occasioned by churches (at Monte Gargano and in the Roman Circus) dedicated to Michael, the Prince of the heavenly armies. In other words, it only makes sense that meditation on Michael must lead to a consideration of the mystery of the whole cosmic realm of angels. Indeed, the liturgy does this, not merely in the collect, but elsewhere as well, such as the Introit, the Gospel, and the Communio.

At the same time, Michael does receive particular mention, eg., in the Gradual, in the Alleluia, and the Postcommunion collect.

To be clear, my claim about the commemoration of all angels being a modern innovation is historically plain fact. Namely, that this feast of the dedication of St. Michael was morphed in the Novus Ordo Missae into a feast of "Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels." (Rome kept the Guardian Angels on 2 October.)This, in turn was changed to "Michael and all angels" by the protestants that take their modern innovations largely from Rome's lead, such as the Lutherans.

Consider also that in such a situation where 29 Sep. is kept as "Michael and all Angels" such as in our circles, Garbriel and Raphael not only get short shrift, but in most cases get no mention whatsoever. This concept of "all angels" often turns into a nice warm sermon about how God protects us with his holy angels.

Regarding your concern about the Pope as Antichrist, much as I'd like to respond to that, I'd better let this comment suffice for now. Maybe later.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

One more thought. Your point about the Lutheran and Roman Churches being out of fellowship for circa 500 yrs is a good point which has a place in this discussion. And it reminds me of this: what I think too many modern Lutherans fail to recognize is that following Rome and its trends is actually what is done most improperly and unnaturally when we adopt the liturgical reforms which followed the Second Vatican Council. Such, for example, is the real root cause of what developed into our church's feast of "Saint Michael and All Angels."

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Also, the view that Michael the Archangel is the uncreated Angel of the LORD is not a peculiar notion of one pastor (a man many dismiss as a trouble maker and a "hyper euro"), but has the support of many good writers, past and present. Perhaps sometime I will enter into a discussion on the topic.

Brian P Westgate said...

My apologies on misspelling Fr. Wiest's name. One semester in high school I had a classmate who's name was Wuest.

As for Vatican II, yes. However, St. Michael's and All Angel's in the Church is not a Novus Ordo thing. It's in TLH, SBH, and CSBH. Reed says this is a Reformation-time Anglican addition. Yes, the ELHB has simply St. Michael's Day. So we got it rather recently from the Anglicans, but decidedly before Vatican II.

Of course Gabriel is commemorated through Advent, especially the last two weeks. Raphael is, well, apocryphal. I wonder why the other Archangels haven't received feasts.

As for St. Michael himself, the pastor who confirmed me mentioned that theory as well. If I recall correctly, it comes from Hengstenberg. I'm not sure I buy it, but I certainly didn't mean to imply that very few hold to it. I do think however the Church's liturgy rejects this theory. If it were true, there would be no St. Michael's Day.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

You are certainly right about Michael & All Angels predating Vat. II. On that count I forgot myself and misspoke. I apologize. My analysis of the whole matter, then, will look somewhat different than I have presented above, yet the conclusion will be similar. I don't know if that makes sense, but I will be glad to lay it out at some point.

Of course Gabriel comes up in Advent, just as he does elsewhere in the year, but that does not mean he is "commemorated" at that time. Indeed, I must say that "commemorate" has many meanings, so that in some sense your statement is true, but ultimately is immaterial to whether he ought to have a liturgical feast in his name.

Raphael does come up in the liturgy; one example that immediately comes to mind is the traditional itinerarium. His story is part of what is called "Apocrypha," though here we must add that "Apocrypha" can have several meanings or applications, and to say that Raphael, or the book of Tobit, is apocryphal, properly speaking, is not the same as saying that the Church does not teach us about this angel in scripture, for both the liturgy, as I have said, and no less a Lutheran than Chemnitz, would direct us to that book to teach us about Raphael and God's angelic ministry in the realm of the family. I say this, in case you are implying that Raphael is apocryphal in the same sense as the other four angels which are named in vaious sources. Just for what its worth, since you refer to "the other Archangels," I must say that I myself do not refer to any angel but Michael as Archangel, since scripture only refers to him that way. The other two named in scripture I simply call angels.

St. Jude even uses the definite article in his reference to Michael, "the Archangel."

I have heard many arguments against seeing Michael as Christ, but yours is a new one to me, ie., that "if it were true, there would be no St. Michael's Day." I don't find it convincing.

Brian P Westgate said...

Apology accepted. And since All Angels is relatively recent to our tradition, I guess I'd be willing to give that up. And yes, I'd expect your conclusion to be about the same. It's really not that different than accepting the post-Reformation feasts of Ss. Timothy and Titus!

I really don't know anything about the Ininerarium. But fear not, I'm not putting Raphael in a category with the other four (the only one whose name I remember is Uriel!) However, the liturgy does say "archangels."

What we need is a thorough history of the sanctorale. . . .