Rorate Caeli

How awful was Catholic life under those immoral Renaissance Popes!

In the Pontificate of Alexander VI, the difficult Rodrigo Borgia? Not the life of doctrine, never touched in its purity, nor the life of liturgy, kept with veneration and order, nor still the life of mission, beginning the greatest propagation of the Catholic Faith in history.

The spirit that would lead to the tragic episodes of 1517 and beyond was brewing, certainly, and the moral crisis of the hierarchy was not a minor issue in it. It is the spirit of non serviam that roams the world always waiting for the best moment to devour souls. 

Notwithstanding the predominance of secular interests throughout the whole of the reign of Alexander VI, this Pope was not inactive in matters regarding the Church. In all essentials, in spite of abuses, the government of the Church was steadily carried on; no doubt, however, this was partly owing to the marvellous perfection of her organisation.

Like his predecessors, Alexander gave a hearty support to the monastic orders, enriched them with many privileges and did all he could to secure and promote their well-being and their work.

Alexander took pains on many occasions to promote devotion to S. Anne and the Blessed Virgin. In regard to the latter, the ordinance restoring the ringing of the Angelus in August 1500, was an act of wide and lasting importance.

[A]ll the clergy of the city were invited to the opening of the [1500] Jubilee. The Pope himself performed this ceremony on Christmas Eve, 1499, having taken pains to settle all the details beforehand with his Master of Ceremonies. The ceremonial observed on these occasions was no modern invention, but, as the Bull of indiction expressly says, was founded on ancient rites and full of symbolic meaning.

According to Burchard, the crowd which assisted at these solemnities numbered 200,000 persons. Although this may be an exaggeration, still it is certain that, in spite of the troubles of the times and the insecurity in Rome itself, the numbers attending this Jubilee were very large.

If Alexander VI did nothing towards the reform of the Church, yet he was not wanting in earnest care to preserve the purity of her doctrine. His Censorial edict for Germany, dated 1st June, 1501, is a very important document in this respect.

In this, which is the first Papal pronouncement on the printing of books, it is declared that the art of printing is extremely valuable in providing means for the multiplication of approved and useful books; but may be most mischievous if it is abused for the dissemination of bad ones. Therefore measures must be taken to restrain printers from reproducing writings directed against the Catholic Faith or calculated to give scandal to Catholics.

In Italy Alexander VI. energetically repressed the heretical tendencies which were especially prevalent in Lombardy. On the 3ist of January, 1500, two inquisitors were sent by him with letters of recommendation to the Bishop of Olmütz [Olomouc], to proceed against the very numerous Picards and Waldensians in Bohemia and Moravia, who led extremely immoral lives. Ever since the year 1493, Alexander had been taking great pains to win back the Bohemian Utraquists; but these efforts had failed completely. When in the year 1499 some of the more moderate Utraquists shewed an inclination to be reconciled with the Church, Alexander had the matter discussed in Consistory and bestowed special powers on the clergy in Prague.

Alexander exerted himself not only to maintain the purity of the Christian faith, but also to provide for its propagation. The magnificent discoveries of the Portuguese and Spaniards offered a wide field to the Church in this direction. It is consoling to note how much, even under Alexander VI., was done in the way of spreading the knowledge of the Gospel amongst the heathen.
Ludwig von Pastor
The History of the Popes
[Translation Fr. F. I. Antrobus, C.O.]

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, John Burckard (+ 1506), a famous papal master of ceremonies, drew up -- using the Ordines of the Papal Court and the Vatican MSS. of Sacramentaries and Missals -- and published in 1502, by order of Alexander VI, an Ordo Missae. It is from this that some of the general rubrics of our present Missal are drawn, and the Ritus servandus of our Missal embodies the greater part of Burckard's Ordo
Rev. J.B. O'Connell
The Celebration of Mass (1964)