Rorate Caeli

On Hearing Mass

Though not a Tuscan himself, a Dominican Friar named Girolamo Savonarola came to master the Florentine Republic simply by the power of his words. It was a time of enormous upheaval and crisis in the Church hierarchy, a crisis so profound that the Catholic Church would soon have half of her faithful in Europe sundered from her, and few like Savonarola reflected so forcefully the disgust of Catholics with much that was taking place in Church and State.

Fr. Dr. J.P.Kirsch
The sermons of Savonarola were greatly admired for the language skills and the persuasion he showed. In the end of his disastrous period in the helm of the Republic, against the Medicis and the Apostolic See, he was burned at the stake indeed, but he was no precursor to Protestantism; as the great Church historian Fr. Johann Peter Kirsch wrote in his article on Savonarola for the old Catholic Encyclopedia, "In the beginning Savonarola was filled with zeal, piety, and self-sacrifice for the regeneration of religious life. He was led to offend against these virtues by his fanaticism, obstinacy, and disobedience. He was not a heretic in matters of faith."

It is said that Pope Paul IV, when instituting the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, decades after Savonarola's inglorious death, wished to place all his writings in the list. But Dominicans, like Jesuits, never forget, so they strongly fought to reduce that posthumous penalty, and in the end only one book (Dialogue of Prophetic Truth) and fifteen sermons were placed in the Index, which were some of the sermons on the books of Exodus, Ruth, Ezechiel, Job, and Amos. His name seemed to slowly vanish from the Index over the centuries.

Naturally, we avoid these specific writings, but are pleased to present a translation of another sermon of the friar, made by our contributor Francesca Romana, based on a 19th century Italian version of some of his works. In it, part of the sermons on the First Epistle of St. John, a problem that affects each one of us personally: when we go to Mass, do we pay attention to others? Are you giving due reverence to the Priest who is about to perform the greatest deed on earth? And why was obedience to the Hierarchy missing -  in his age and in ours?



What will we say about the many who go to Mass with an unclean conscience and are in a state of sin? But what of those who come to sin, that is, to see their friends, or other things? O irreverent and foolish! Irreverent that they have neither faith nor reverence towards the Sacrament; foolish, because they do not fear the Judge Who is present. Or would you do anything, deserving of death, before your prince and judge? Of course not; why then, do you not fear in this place? Why are those who do such things not being punished now? O man, do you think that secretly you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you hold in contempt the riches of His benevolence, tolerance and patience? Do you ignore, perhaps that the benevolence of God invites you to penitence? Yet, according to your hardness and heart that does not repent, you earn anger in the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God, Who will reward everyone according to their works.

Here are the intentions to have when you go to Mass: to give thanks for so many benefits, to offer sacrifice in the odor of sweetness for you sins, to receive the Sacred Sacrament, at least spiritually.

With what and how much reverence must you stand before the priest?
I think that we must treat further of this matter; that is, of the composure of the body, about which we must look at three things. First, the corporal distance from the priest. Second, of order. Third, of the reverence of the body.

Regarding the first, as is peculiar to this your city, some place themselves in front of the priest in order to look him in the face, some at the side and others behind his back, trying to see what is the better and most useful of these places. Where,[we] note primarily, that the tabernacle of Moses and similarly the temple of Solomon were distinct in sancta sanctorum, that place where no-one but the priest entered once a year; in sancta, where all the priests entered and in the atrium where the Levites were. The people looked on from a distance under the portico, the men on one side and the women on the other.

Thus, I tell you that you must not be too close to the priest at the altar. Firstly, because doing so, you are in the sancta sanctorum, which is the most holy place, that was not [so] in ancient times, since the Ark was there, which was [but] the symbol of Christ. However, here we have Christ and truth. Secondly, out of reverence for Christ, you as a sinner must remain at a distance, like the Publican and say: ‘be merciful unto me a sinner.’ (1) Or do you think you are so pure that you may audaciously stand in front of Christ? Thirdly, for the symbolism, since the priest is the head and you are the members. If, therefore, the hand or the foot were above the head what monster would this then be? Fourthly, for the sake of the priest, so that he is not impeded in prayer when in dialogue and in the embrace of Jesus Christ given that he may be embarrassed kissing his Lord and weeping sweetly in His presence. Thus, you impede his contemplations. Fifthly, for your own sake, since the priest’s prayer is for you. If therefore you impede him, it is not efficacious. So you must not ever in any way place yourself in front of the priest’s face. Nevertheless, the altars should be so arranged that none are able to go near. Similarly you must not stay at the sides since the first reason is against you, because there you are in the sancta sanctorum; the second reason again, is because you are too close to Christ; the third, moreover, because the head is high above the members; the fourth similarly, because also like this the priest is not concealed; the fifth likewise, because the priest is impeded in his prayer.

Moreover, a sixth reason may also be added, because we see in human affairs that servants are not positioned equally at the side of their master. The priest represents the person of Christ, thus you must hold him in reverence as you do Christ. It astonishes me therefore how greatly sullied you are in these two things. First, because you are at the front and I fear that you are there out of curiosity: you are all curious and superstitious citizens, stirred by every novelty. Second, you do not have any reverence for priests.

You will say, I do not relish the Mass if I am not near the priest, otherwise it does not seem to me that I am able to participate in such a Sacrifice. But tell me, in what way do you touch Christ? In what way are you close to Him? By faith or by the body? To the second you will say to me: this is not our custom. Thus, you do bad, because if you do not want to honour one another, at least honour the priests of Our Lord.

But what will I say since priests are treated like servants and are not given an honoured place?

Yet, Innocent III rebuked the Constantinopolitan Emperor  because he did not give due honour to his Bishop and Patriarch but made him sit below his footstool on his left-hand side. So that, he says, the other kings and princes would show tribute to bishops and archbishops and give them honorable places, [but] why defraud him of his due respect? Except that the spiritual kingdom is worthier than the temporal. ...

At present the Pontiff is not obeyed, when obedience is not agreeable, and neither bishops or priests honoured, and if they sin, they are shamed by everyone. But why? Because again, they are the cause of this, since they sin publically and expose themselves to the scorn of men. This was predicted by the Lord saying: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” (2)Which means if you lose devotion and charity, how will you be able to inflame others? With nothing, unless ‘it is cast out and trodden on by men.’ (2) [Therefore] they are cast out when they are absolutely deprived of their offices, and it is for these that they are trodden on. Nevertheless, citizens, do not either you sin, because you must honor Christ in these men.

But since we have prolonged our reasoning longer than we imagined, and the time has already passed, we need to interrupt our discourse, and next Sunday, God willing, we will complete it.

So, brothers and sisters, you must attend Mass with great reverence and there take your places in the appropriate manner, as I will teach you in the next sermon, helping you in your prayer towards the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is God and Blessed forever.

(1)Luke, 18, v,13
(2)Matthew 5, v,13


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Mike said...

"..if you do not want to honour one another, at least honour the priests of Our Lord."

Brings distinctly to mind the glorious thundering of Lefebvre at Lille!

authoressaurus said...

St. Philip Neri was a great admirer of Savanarola, even when such admiration was still unfashionable.

Cristóbal Orrego said...

Do you have information about Savonarola's beatification process? I read at some place that even his heroic virtues were declared, but I could not confirm this piece of news.

Anonymous said...

Okay, this is very interesting but unsure of "Naturally, we avoid such writings." What writings are being referred to? Those listed on a defunct Index?

I appreciate the fact Savonarola "was not a heretic in matters of Faith." I hope this may be a resuscitation of him. Perhaps a careful study of his works is overdue and we can see what was then as compared to now. I'm willing to wager Savonarola wasn't such a bad guy after all.


Jordanes551 said...

Matt, to understand better why New Catholic avoids writings that had been placed on the Index, here is a passage from the Wikipedia article on the Index of Prohibited Books:


In a letter of 31 January 1985 to Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, regarding the book Poem of the Man God, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (then Prefect of the Congregation, who later became Pope Benedict XVI), referred to the 1966 notification of the Congregation as follows: "After the dissolution of the Index, when some people thought the printing and distribution of the work was permitted, people were reminded again in L'Osservatore Romano (15 June 1966) that, as was published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (1966), the Index retains its moral force despite its dissolution. A decision against distributing and recommending a work, which has not been condemned lightly, may be reversed, but only after profound changes that neutralize the harm which such a publication could bring forth among the ordinary faithful."

Pulex said...

I guess that the prefect of CDF referred to books that were on the Index at the moment of its abolition. In turn, those books that were removed from the Index by a competent authority while it was still maintained and current were apparently considered as not harmful any more.

Have some writings of Savonarola been on the Index all the way until 1966?