The freedom of a weblog comes with one high-voltage hazard: the absence of a proofreader. Unsung and half-resented, a proofreader is every writer’s guardian angel, a protector of literacy and the credibility that rests on it.


Keepers of blogs are home alone with their own prose. And their own slippages. Their copy is at the mercy of their mind’s eye, a treacherous thing that insists on seeing what it expects to see instead of what is really on the screen. There is no one nearby to signal a warning like this:

Hey, you cited the author of The Mass of the Roman Rite as Joseph Youngmann. Shouldn’t it be Jungmann?

Yes, it should. Mea maxima culpa. There is no excuse. 


Manuscript of Pío Baroja, as famous for his grammatical errors as for his prose.

An eminent liturgical scholar, Joseph Jungmann, S.J., dedicated himself to writing a comprehensive history of the Mass in 1939. Beginning work on the text in earnest around 1942, he called the work “a child of war.” It was difficult during the war years to gain access to manuscripts and incunabula critical to periods under discussion. Fortunately, most of the necessary material on the primitive Church and up to the late Middle Ages, even into the sixteenth century, could be had in translation (which included Arabic, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syrian) or in modern editions.

Collating a great mass of material and crowded with citations, the text grew from the stringencies of what Fr. Jungmann called “a sort of scientific conscience.” Technical and precise, his history of “the Mass-liturgy” remains a consummate work of loving scholarship:

This book is not meant to serve only for knowledge—even the knowledge of the most precious object in the Church’s accumulated treasure—but is intended for life, for a fuller grasp of that mystery of which Pope Pius XII says in his encyclical Mediator Dei: “The Mass is the chief act of divine worship; it should also be the source and center of Christian piety.”

His introduction closes with this caution against antiquarianism for its own sake:

It is not the fact of antiquity that makes liturgical customs valuable, but their fullness of content and their expressive value. Even newer ceremonies, like the priest’s blessing at the end of Mass, can possess a great beauty.

[That second sentence was written in innocence of today’s dismissals that, often as not, follow the blessing with: “Have a nice day.” It is a safe bet Fr. Jungmann would prefer the ancient command: “Go, catechumens!”]

At the time of its publication, in Vienna, 1949, the two-volume text was the single most authoritative study of the origins and development of the Roman Mass. It is still in print. It endures as a fascinating and enriching study of the springs of our transmitted culture.



mmletters.ft@gmail.com

Articles by Maureen Mullarkey

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