Monday, January 22, 2018

“Where Has God Gone?”: The Pressure of Horror Vacui

Horror Vacui (1980) by Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945)
In a famous passage in Joyous Wisdom, “the parable of the madman,” Friedrich Nietzsche writes:
“Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? … Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? … God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves?[1]
I was corresponding with a gentleman recently who wrote the following to me (and I reproduce it here with his permission):
Maybe I’m a babe in the woods, but last night I had the shock of my life. I went on YouTube and looked up an Orthodox monastery in Romania that I visited during communism. Some man had apparently been there and taken some pictures, and now he’s posted a slide show to YouTube. He wrote in the description that he’d used “Gregorian music” in the background, and as my dad used to say, I pretty near dropped my teeth. Someone had apparently had people sing Gregorian chant in a studio, added a drum track and a little bit of synthesizer, and had a woman’s voice intruding whispering little slogans about peace and other things. The biggest shock to me, though, was that the man who posted this — who was no spring chicken — actually thought this was Gregorian chant. There are probably lots of Catholics who think the same thing, but it’s Gregorian chant distorted for New Age purposes. I’d never heard anything like that before!
          It comes close to one of my universal laws about food: Anything that is beautiful and subtle will eventually have fruit flavoring or corn syrup added. People always feel a compulsion to add something. But they never take anything away.
          Recently I had to attend Mass at my neighborhood parish, and I discovered that what is really wrong — besides all the other things that are wrong — is what in art school we were taught to call horror vacui, fear of empty space. A typical amateur artist wants to fill every millimeter of space on a canvas with some kind of image, so the whole painting fights with itself. Good artists know how to use empty space. At this parish there’s not a second of silence from a half hour before Mass starts until after the crowd leaves. If you want quiet time to prepare for Mass, you have to arrive about two hours early. About ten minutes before Mass starts, the chatter has swelled to the volume of a pavilion at the state fair, and then once Mass starts, the musicians will not leave a second of quiet without twanging. Not even after communion. When I was a kid, the very same church was solemn and tranquil before Mass. No one breathed a word. Now people confuse church with a meetin’ hall and Mass with a TV show. Just the simple fact that the musicians don’t see the importance of receding at certain points during the liturgy is bothersome to me as someone with a visual arts background.
This colorful and all-too-true catalog of horrors, of the horror vacui sort, is one more indication of the unfathomable level of cultural regression and religious ignorance at this time in Western history. Apart from particular causes of regression and ignorance, there is a general cause, laid over all like a stifling blanket, that prevents us from recognizing our situation for the abysmal prodigy it is: the arrogance of modern man, who is supposed to be so “advanced” and to have progressed beyond all other ages. In reality, as Pope Pius XII once said, “the technical age will accomplish its monstrous masterpiece of transforming man into a giant of the physical world at the expense of his spirit, which is reduced to that of a pygmy in the supernatural and eternal world.”[2]

Pope Francis recently spoke in a general audience about the importance of observing moments of silence in the Mass, but he failed to show any awareness of two obvious facts.

First, silence in the new rite is artificial and barren of ritual significance. It does not arise because the priest is busy doing something else quietly, so that a natural span of silence results for everyone else, nor does it arise from the schola cantorum’s chanting of the Gradual and Alleluia. Inasmuch as this novum silentium is at the beck and call of the celebrant, it becomes a subtle mechanism for enhancing his “presidential status,” since he decides when to start and stop it. In that way, it is more like yoga meditation under the direction of a guru than it is Christian liturgical prayer.

Second, silence before, during, and after Mass has been killed, and its assassin is the liturgical reform in every decade of its implementation. For decades, the GIRM has been practically a dead letter when it comes to the actual liturgical life of most parishes. The progressives have been only too happy to push along countless practices that go explicitly against the GIRM, using the sponge of their hegemony to wipe away the entire horizon and unchain the earth from its sun, and no one has seriously attempted to correct them, even after Redemptionis Sacramentum, which did little or nothing to reverse the perpetual falling of liturgy “backward, sideward, forward, in all directions.” Pardon me, therefore, if I cough like Jeeves whenever someone with a Bertie Wooster grasp of liturgy invokes the GIRM as a reference point.

Before his humiliation by Pope Francis and his (voluntary or involuntary?) radio silence, Cardinal Sarah was constantly reminding people, like a voice crying in the wilderness, that nothing is more urgent than the serious protection and promotion of silence in our lives — not just in our liturgical worship, but in our personal prayer, even in our leisure and recreation. Without this empty space, there can be no interiority, no contemplation, no actual worship as opposed to “busy work,” the sort that substitute teachers give their fidgeting pupils while the real teachers are absent. We seem to be crushed by horror vacui, and it is only getting worse with the rapid inundation of all manner of pocketable or wearble devices, which fill every waking moment of our lives with the noise of information and entertainment . . . “the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God.”

At this strange moment in history, the new liturgical movement is also going to have to be a movement for natural, normal, face-to-face human interaction, sans distracting digital demons; for time spent making and repairing things with one’s own hands; for the stabilitas loci that comes from being quiet in a chair, at a table, in a room, by a window, with a book and nothing else. Such things are the natural analogues of the intimate contact with intangible beauty that comes from singing or hearing plainchant at Mass, smelling the incense, seeing the glittering gold on cope and chalice, becoming aware of one’s breathing or heartbeart in the silent Canon.

Some questions we must ask: What are the cultural preconditions — the personal prerequisites — for being able to respond from the depths of one’s soul to the needs and demands of the liturgy; for recognizing that in liturgy we walk fearfully on holy ground, as we enter a charged space filled with angels; for awakening to the sense of divine presence that would infallibly guide us back to our traditional modes of worship, abandoning with a sigh of relief all the modern claptrap that burdens us?

Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

[1] Cf. The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann (n.p.: Viking Press, 1968), 95.
[2] “…l’era tecnica compirà il suo mostruoso capolavoro di trasformare l’uomo in un gigante del mondo fisico a spese del suo spirito ridotto a pigmeo del mondo soprannaturale ed eterno.” Retrieved here.

Now I Walk In Beauty

We are delighted to post Jeffrey Morse's review of the CMAA's latest publication, Now I Walk In Beauty by Wilko Brouwers. To purchase this new book, please visit the CMAA Shop.

Now I Walk In Beauty: 100 Songs and Melodies for School and Choir Collected and edited by Wilko Brouwers, published by The Church Music Association of America, 2017

The appearance of any new material for the Ward Method is newsworthy, and this latest songbook from Wilko Brouwers, coming nearly 40 years after the last revision of the Ward Method books by by Dr. Theodore Marier, is certainly no exception and breathes an invigorating freshness into a musical method that has been long awaited. The Ward Method, created by Justine Bayard Ward (1879-1975), is a method for the teaching of music to children through singing as both “method and goal” as Brouwers points out in his introduction, using the well known rhythmic gestures of the method which interiorize in the child the “arsis” and “thesis” of the melodic line. These rhythmic gestures help the child to, as Brouwers writes, “experience the inner development within one tone toward the next tone, or within one group of tones toward the next group”. The Ward Method also uses a rather unique method of teaching solfeggio, built upon the previous work of Fr. Thomas Shields, Fr. John B. Young, S.J., and surprisingly, Jean- Jacques Rousseau, the 18th century French philosopher. The Ward Method, starting in the earliest grades, as a twenty minute class, five days a week, eventually leads the child to a mastery of both Gregorian Chant and its notation and to modern notation and singing, with the ability to easily sight-sing in either notation. It also leads to a facility in rhythmic and melodic dictation, improvisation, and to creating a beautiful and well-rounded tone in singing.

Despite its proven success, and arguably, its superiority over other methods like Orff and Kodaly, its popularity and influence started to wane in the years after the Second Vatican Council, with most of the international Ward Centers closing: Cambridge (U.K.), Paris, New Zealand, Belgium, and others. The abandonment of Gregorian Chant and the shrinking number of school sisters in the wake of the Council, seemed to signal the end of this amazing and proven method of teaching music. The Ward Method books were revised after the death of Justine Ward, and have been kept in print by the Catholic University of America Press, and classes in the method are still offered there as well as at the University of Northern Colorado. In the last number of years there has been a revival of interest in the Ward Method, perhaps because of the renewed interest in Gregorian Chant and the growing homeschooling movement, not to mention in various schools where it is also used.

Now I Walk in Beauty: 100 Songs and Melodies for School and Choir, has arrived at just the right time. While hymn books and song books have always been part of the pedagogy of the Ward Method, many of them, if not most, are now out of print, available only rarely in used book shops. Now I Walk in Beauty, fills a void as a new Ward songbook, with songs both sacred and secular, reflecting the way the method has always taught music. The collection is comprehensive, and comprises folk songs (e.g. Arkansas Traveller, The Skye Boat Song, Little Red Bird), Sacred Hymns, both Latin and English (e.g. Puer Nobis Nascitur, Cor Jesus, Eternal Father, O God Our Help in Ages Past) as well as folk songs in other languages. It also includes music for the main liturgical season of the year: Advent, Christmas, Easter etc. The pieces in this book are delightful, and could easily be used at Mass or other services, at a school choir concert, or just for for the fun of singing. The collection of 100 songs and melodies starts with the simplest two-note melody and the pieces then progress in difficulty until number 100: “Stella Splendens”, a brilliant little two-part medieval piece from the 14th century Liber Vermell. It is clear that Wilko Brouwers has gone to great trouble to search out some of the most beautiful music to include in this collection; some things are familiar, but many others more obscure and rare, and not often found in collections of music, if at all.

The collection is most obviously “Ward” in the first 40 songs: numbers are used for the solfeggio names (e.g. 1=“Doh”, 2=“Re”, 3=“Fa”, etc.), partial staves of one, two or three lines are used, the “Doh” clef is used on the modern staff, and the “rhythmic waves” are included, showing arsis and thesis. The other 60 songs are presented primarily without any obvious Ward Method devices, weaning the student from some of the supports of earlier pedagogy, however one could still have the singers use solfeggio to discover the melody. Indeed this would be expected in the method, mentally placing the “doh” clef on “G” when the key signature has one sharp, for example, or perhaps drawing in with pencil the arsis and thesis. This said, a thorough knowledge of the Ward Method, or even a cursory knowledge is certainly not needed to use this book in your school or church choir, or in teaching music at home. Despite its value to Ward teachers and students, there is no reason why this splendid volume shouldn't be used by all in the musical education of children. The musical levels covered in this collection are from the very beginning of musical education through the students ability to solfege major scale melodies and minor ones (based on “LA”). The inspiring music in this collection will doubtless leave the student wanting to discover even more.

Included in this collection are end-notes on nearly every piece, giving provenance and history as well as interesting facts, as well as a separate section entitled “What’s New in Each Melody”, giving pedagogical insights for each melody (suggested pitch, intonation/solfeggio, rhythmic gestures and hints about notation used). This is a fabulous collection, certainly one to thrill the hearts of Ward teachers and their students, coming from one of the great teachers of the Ward Method. This new book, it is hoped, will certainly do much to excite interest in the method amongst those who are not familiar with it, and one can only hope that this is only the beginning of a succession of new materials to help revitalize this amazing teaching method, and fulfil the hope that ‘all might sing’.

Jeffrey Morse

Jeffrey Morse Studied Gregorian Chant and Ward Method with Dr Mary Berry (Mother Thomas More, CRSA), and was a Ward Method student of Dr Alise Brown at the University of Northern Colorado, and has been regularly a member of the faculty of the CMAA

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Blessing of the Lambs on the Feast of St Agnes 2018

As she does every year, our Roman friend Agnese celebrated her name-day (tanti auguri!) with a visit to the church of Saint Agnes Outside-the-Walls, the original site of the martyr’s burial. Each year at the principal Mass of the feast held in this church, the Abbot of the Canons Regular of the Most Holy Savior of the Lateran blesses two lambs; their wool is later shorn to make the pallia worn by archbishops. Here is her photo of the lambs prepared for the blessing.
At the church of St Agnes “in Agone”, the site of her martyrdom in the modern Piazza Navona, the relic of her skull is prominently displayed in a special chapel.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Byzantine Great Blessing of the Waters

Since today is the feast of the Epiphany on the Julian Calendar, which is followed by both Catholics and Orthodox of the Byzantine Rite in various parts of the world, I thought I would give a somewhat more complete description of one of the loveliest and most popular ceremonies of the day, the Great Blessing of the Waters. I say “somewhat” because, like most major Byzantine ceremonies, it is quite long, and the full text of it available elsewhere, so here I will give a summary, and only part of the longer prayers. This ceremony may actually be done twice, in church on the vigil, and a second time on the feast itself, in a natural body of water like a stream or lake. There are, of course, small variations from one part of the Byzantine world to another, particularly at the end, regarding when and how exactly the water is sprinkled on the faithful. (Our readers have undoubtedly seen some of the videos that pop up this time of year, showing the clergy enthusiastically soaking the people with huge quantities of water.)
At the end of the Divine Liturgy, after the ambo prayer, the dismissal is omitted; the clergy and servers go down to the place in the nave where the water has been prepared for the blessing, while the choir sings the following chants.

The voice of the Lord cries out over the waters, saying, “Come, receive ye all the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of understanding, the spirit of fear of the Lord, Christ, who hath appeared.”
Today the nature of the waters is sanctified, and the Jordan is divided, and holdeth back the flow of its waters, seeing the Lord being baptized.
As a man didst Thou come to the river, Christ our King, and dost hasten, o good one, to receive the baptism of a servant at the hands of the Forerunner, because of our sins, o lover of mankind.
Glory be. Now and forever.
At the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!’, thou camest, Lord, having taken the form of a servant, and seeking baptism, Thou that knew no sin. The waters saw thee, and grew afraid; the Baptist began to tremble, and cried out, saying, “How shall the lantern enlighten the light? How shall the servant lay his hands upon his master? Sanctify me, and the waters, o Savior, that takest away the sin of the world!”
The vessels of water set up for the blessing at St John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church in Minneapolis, from our most recent Epiphany photopost
These chants are followed immediately by a synaxis of readings, following the usual format of the Byzantine Rite for such occasions: three prophecies, an epistle and a gospel. The prophecies are all taken from Isaiah: 35, 1-10; 55, 1-13, and 12, 3-6. The Epistle, 1 Corinthians 10, 1-4 is preceded by a responsorial chant called a Prokimen, taken from Psalm 26, “The Lord is my light and my Savior; the Lord is the defender of my life.” The Gospel, Mark 1, 9-11, is preceded as always by an Alleluia, with verses from Psalm 28, “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory has thundered upon the waters.” The ordinary ceremonies (incensing during the Epistle, lights at the Gospel) are done as always.

Immediately after the Gospel, the Litany of Peace which opens every major service in the Byzantine Rite is sung, with a number of special invocations added to it which are specific to this occasion. The first of these reads “that this water may be sanctified by the descent and power and energy of the Holy Spirit”, the second, “that the purifying energy of the supra-essential Trinity may descend upon these waters,” etc.

While these are sung by the deacon, the priest silent reads a prayer, broadly analogous to the Preface of the Eucharistic liturgy; the conclusion, however, is a typical doxological formula, rather than the mention of the angelic hierarchies that normally leads into the Sanctus.

“…Thou hast clothed Thyself in our weak and lowly substance, and condescending to the stature of a servant, Who art the King of all, and at the hands of a servant didst receive baptism in the Jordan: that Thou who art sinless, having sanctified the nature of water, might open for us the way of rebirth through water and the Spirit, and restore unto us our former freedom.”

This is followed by a very long prayer (over 1100 words in the Greek original) which is broadly analogous to the Eucharistic anaphora. The first part of this is taken up with the praise of the feast day. “For today the time of the feast has come upon us, and the choir of the Saints joins us in assembly, and the angels keep the feast with men. Today, the grace of the Holy Spirit in the likeness of a dove came down upon the waters. Today, the Sun that setteth not is risen, and the world is brightened by the light of the Lord. etc.” Towards the end, “The Jordan was turned back, and the mountains leapt for joy, seeing God in the flesh; and the clouds gave forth their voice, wondering at Him that came there, light from light, true God from true God…”
A Greek icon of the mid-16th century, showing the Presentation of Christ in the Temple above, and His Baptism below. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
The second part is the praise of God for the wonders of creation, both visible and invisible, and the works He has done for man’s salvation. “All creation sang Thy praise when Thou appeared; for Thou, our God, appeared on earth and dwelt among men; having sanctified the streams of the Jordan, sending down from on high Thy All-Holy Spirit, and didst break the heads of the dragons hidden therein.”

At the following words, which are repeated three times, the priest makes the sign of the Cross over the waters with his hand.

“Therefore, o King who lovest mankind, do Thou Thyself be present, and even now, through the descent of Thy Holy Spirit, sanctify this water.”

The prayer continues, and the same gesture is repeated, also three times, at the words “Do Thou Thyself even now, o Lord, sanctify this water by Thy Holy Spirit.”

Like the Roman Exsultet, the prayer concludes with a prayer for the emperor, the government, the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and the people. Following the standard order of the Divine Liturgy and the major Hours of the Office, the priest then says “Peace to all”, which is answered, “And with thy spirit”, then “Let us bow our heads to the Lord”, to which all answer, “To Thee, o Lord.” A prayer is said by the priest in silence, which here has a special form for the occasion. “Incline, o Lord, Thy ear and graciously hear us, who accepted baptism in the Jordan, and sanctified the waters. Bless us all, who by the bending of our necks, signify the character of servitude, and make us worthy to fulfill Thy sanctification, through the partaking of and cleansing with this water, and be it unto us, o Lord, the cleansing of souls and body.” The conclusion, as usual, is said aloud.

The choir then sings the troparion of the feast three times, while the priest takes the hand-cross, and dips it into the water three times. The Old Church Slavonic version of this tropar is particular beautiful, but a little difficult to pronounce. (This video also includes the kontak, and the hymn of the Virgin Mary at the Divine Liturgy, the latter when the bells of the censer can be heard.)

“When Thou were baptized in the Jordan, o Lord, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest; for the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son, and the Spirit in the likeness of a dove confirmed the steadfastness of this word. Christ our God, who hast appeared and enlightened the world, glory to Thee.”

He then sprinkles the people in general with the water, as the kontakion is sung. “Thou appeared today to the world, and Thy light, O Lord, has been marked upon us, who with knowledge sing Thy praise: Thou hast come, Thou hast appeared, o unapproachable Light!”

The faithful then come to kiss the Cross, as they normally do at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy; as they do, the priest also sprinkles water on the head of each person individually. It is also customary for the faithful to drink some of the blessed water as well.

Dominican Rite Sung Mass for First Saturday of February, Oakland CA

A Dominican Rite Missa Cantata will sung at the Priory of St. Albert the Great, the house of studies of the Western Dominican Province in Oakland, CA, on February 3, at 10:30 am.  This will be the first of the Dominican Rite First Saturday Masses of Spring semester, 2018.

The celebrant will be Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P.,  Professor of History at the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology.  The servers and schola will be composed of student brothers of the Western Dominican Province.

The St. Albert the Great Priory Chapel is located at 6170 Chabot Road, Oakland, CA 94618, with ample parking available on the street or the basketball court parking lot.

The coming Dominican Rite Sung Masses for the First Saturday Devotion will be celebrated on March 10, April 7, and May 5.

A Great Report from Irish TV on the Dominicans

The Irish national television network RTÉ posted to their website a few days ago an edition of the program Nationwide which takes a really positive and sympathetic look at the life and vocation of the Dominican friars. Dominican vocations are on the increase in Ireland; it is particularly interesting to note how many of these fellows came into the Order after some time in the world in various professions. One of the Fathers interviewed here, Philip Mulryne, spent some time with the powerhouse English soccer club Manchester United; his entry into the Order in 2009, and his priestly ordination last year in July, made the national news in his country. Another of the Fathers, who now does media work for the Province, was raised in the Netherlands without religion at all, and discovered the Faith, and then later his religious vocation, while visiting Ireland during his engineering studies. We also see a bit of the famous Dominican Salve Regina procession. Definitely something to lift the spirits on a grey January day. (h/t to Fr Lew.)

Here is the link to the video, which can’t be embedded; I found that it would play on Edge, but not on Chrome, so you may also find that it works better on one browser than another.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

St Margaret of Hungary and Hagiographical Skepticism

On the calendar of the Dominican Order in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms, today is the feast of St Margaret of Hungary, who died on this day in the year 1270 at the age of 28. In earlier versions of the Dominican liturgical books, she is found on other days. When she was equivalently beatified with an approbatio cultus in 1789, her death day was occupied by the feast of St Peter’s Chair in Rome; she was therefore assigned to January 26th. In 1943, she was formally canonized by Pope Pius XII, and her feast moved to the 19th, and finally, with the suppression of St Peter’s Chair, to the 18th.
Ss Elizabeth, Margaret and Henry of Hungary, depicted by Simone Martini in a fresco in the lower basilica of St Francis at Assisi, 1318. (public domain image from Wikipedia.)
St Margaret was the daughter of Bela IV, a king of the Arpad dynasty, which ruled Hungary for almost exactly three centuries, from 1000-1301; six members of this family have been canonized by the Catholic Church, three men and three woman, and one by the Orthodox Church. At the time of her birth, the Dominican Order was still very young, but rapidly expanding, and Margaret spent her earliest years in a convent of Dominican nuns in the city of Veszprém. When she was twelve, her parents established a convent for her on an island in the Danube where it passes through Budapest; this island, now a public park, is fairly large, over a mile and a half long, although only 550 yards across at the widest. Before the Ottoman invasion of Hungary and the concomitant destruction of all the religious foundations, it was also the home of Premonstratensian, Franciscan and Augustinian communities, the ruins of which can still be seen there, but it is still to this day called after her “Margaret Island.”

Seven years after her death, a cause for her canonization was begun. Of course, most of the sisters who had known her personally were still alive, and they gave extremely detailed and thorough depositions about her life, as did many others. The entire bulk of this material is preserved, a very unusual case among pre-Congregation Saints; it attests with sobriety, and great consistency among the many witnesses, to a significant number of miracles. While still at Veszprém, Margaret once repeated the miracle which is practically the only thing known about the life of St Benedict’s sister Scholastica, forcing two Dominican friars to prolong their visit to the convent by praying for a heavy downpour that prevented their departure. As the revised Butler’s Lives of the Saints puts it, “there are so many such incidents vouched for by the sisters in their evidence on oath that it is difficult to stretch coincidence so far as to explain them all.” One of the persons interviewed was a servant girl at the convent named Agnes, who on an extremely dark night fell into a well and nearly drowned, but was saved by Margaret’s prayers. (This took place while the latter was still alive.) This is also attested by almost all of the other persons deposed.

St Margaret shares her current feast day with a Roman martyr named Prisca, whose cultus is very ancient, but of whom nothing is known at all for certain, not even her dates. Her entry in the revised Butler’s states that “…. it is unquestionable that the so-called ‘acts’, dating at earliest from the tenth century, are historically worthless, for they simply reproduce, with slight changes, the legendary Passion of St Tatiana.” When reading this today, I was struck by this thought: but for the historical accident that the depositions given for St Margaret’s cause survive, would it not say something similar about her? A heavy miraculous element is frequently treated by hagiographical scholars as a telltale sign that the life of the Saint is unreliable, as is the repetition of miracles for which other Saints are famous. And yet, these miracles are attested with by numerous eyewitnesses, people who sincerely believed that they were true, and that they would be committing a very grave, indeed, a damnable sin, were they to lie under oath. I had occasion to read a fair amount of this material with one of my Latin teachers many years ago, and it would take the stone heart of a Voltaire to think that they were involved in some weird conspiracy of lying.

As I have written on other occasions, there are many cases of Saints whose lives as we have received them are difficult or impossible for a reasonable person to accept as accurate. Perhaps the case of St Margaret should serve as a cautionary tale, that there may perhaps not be as many such cases as the modern hagiographical skeptics would have us believe.

Church in Tolentino, Italy, Restored After 2016 Earthquakes

In the Italian city of Tolentino, located in the Marches region, the church of the Sacred Heart and St Benedict was badly damaged by the same earthquakes that wrought so much devastation in nearby Norcia. After a year of restoration, the church has now been restored and reopened, thanks in part to a generous contribution from the Hungarian government. On December 9th, Pontifical First Vespers of the feast of Our Lady of Loreto, patron of Italy, and particularly of that region of central Italy, in which Loreto is located, were celebrated by Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, Secretary of the Apostolic Segnatura, in the presence of Mons. Nazzareno Marconi, the bishop of Macerata and Tolentino, and Mons. Lajos Varga, auxiliary bishop of Vác, Hungary. The president of the Juventutem International Federation, Bertalan Kiss, were present, as well some of the Monks of Norcia, and members of local religious confraternities. An official delegation of the Hungarian government was also present, including the ambassadors to the Holy See, Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen, to the Italian State, Ádám Kovács, and Péter Heltai, the ambassador-at-large of the charitable organization Hungary Helps. The secretary for religious affairs, Miklós Soltész, read a message of congratulations from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the community of Tolentino: “Following this terrible destruction, you have been an example of perseverance to us all, restoring in one year the walls of your church, so that you can continue in this ancient building, now renewed, the prayer begun by your fathers.”

Our thanks to Dr Andrea Carradori, prior of the Confraternity of the Sacred Heart, for sharing this information and these photos with us.

Bishop Marconi unveils a plaque in Italian and Hungarian commemorating the restoration.

Dominican Rite Candlemas in Youngstown, Ohio

The church of St Dominic in Youngstown, Ohio, will hold a solemn Mass in the Dominican Rite on the feast of the Purification, starting at 7 pm. The church is located at 77 East Lucius Avenue.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Feast of St Anthony the Abbot

St Athanasius of Alexandria is best known as the great champion of the Nicene Faith, for which he was exiled five times over the course of an episcopate of 45 years (328-373); for his witness to the truth of the Incarnation, and his important writings on the subject, he is honored as a Doctor of the Church. But it was also he who brought to the attention of the West the ascetic and anchoretic life, a phenomenon well-established in his native Egypt by the early fourth-century, but at that point just emerging in the West. This was done by writing the Life of St Anthony of Egypt, who is often called “the Abbot” to distinguish him from his later namesake, St Anthony of Padua; in the East he is simply “Anthony the Great.” Of this Life, which was to have an enormous influence in the Church, both East and West, it might well be said what St Thomas Aquinas said about St Bonaventure writing the life of St Francis: “Let us leave the saint to work for the saint.”

St Anthony was not the first monk or hermit, as Athanasius’ Life makes quite clear; and indeed, the Church honors a saint named Paul with the title “the First Hermit.” Anthony was ninety years old, and had been living as an ascetic for over 70 years, before he first met Paul, shortly before the latter’s death at the age of 113. Paul’s feast day was long kept on January 10th, exactly a week before that of Anthony, to symbolize that he preceded him in the ascetic life. (It was later moved to his date in the Byzantine Rite, January 15.) Anthony also had as a contemporary St Pachomius, who is held in particular honor in the East as the founder of the cenobitic life, and the author of an important monastic rule. Nevertheless, Anthony may rightly be called the Father of Monasticism in the East, as St Benedict is in the West; for it was by his example, more than any other, that so many men and women of his own time and subsequent eras were inspired to embrace the monastic life.

A 19th-century Coptic icon of Ss Anthony the Abbot and Paul the First Hermit. (image from  wikimedia commons.)
In the Confessions, St Augustine writes that two officials of the imperial court, (then at Trier, where Athanasius passed his first exile), on reading the life of Anthony, renounced their position to become monks, the one saying to the other, “ ‘Now I have broken loose from those hopes of ours (for preferment in the court), and am resolved to serve God; and this I begin upon, from this hour, in this place. If thou like not to imitate me, oppose me not.’ The other answered, he would cleave to him, and be his fellow in so great a reward, so great a service.” (Book 8.15)

Shortly thereafter, in the famous episode where Augustine, torn about how to free himself of his past sins and follow God, hears children singing “Take up, read; take up, read”, he takes up the epistles of St Paul and reads, “ ‘Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy: But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.’ (Rom. 13, 13-14) No further would I read; nor was there need to: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” But it was the life of St Anthony that convinced him that “Take up, read,” meant to take up the Bible and read it, since Anthony, “coming in (to a church) during the reading of the Gospel, received the admonition, as if what was being read was spoken to him, ‘Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me.’ (Matthew 19, 21) And by such oracle he was forthwith converted unto Thee.” (Book 8, 29)

St Athanasius tells of many times when St Anthony struggled against devils, both by resisting temptations, and suffering bodily harm that the devil was permitted to inflict upon him. On one such occasion, early in his life as an ascetic, “a multitude of demons … so cut him with stripes that he lay on the ground speechless from the excessive pain.” He was discovered unconscious by the local villagers, who thought him dead, and brought him to their church. On recovering, he fearlessly returned to the place where he had been tormented, and
after he had prayed, he said with a shout, ‘Here am I, Antony; I flee not from your stripes, for even if you inflict more, nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ.’ … But the enemy, who hates good, marveling that … he dared to return, called together his hounds and burst forth, … so in the night they made such a din that the whole of that place seemed to be shaken by an earthquake, and the demons, as if breaking the four walls of the dwelling, seemed to enter through them, coming in the likeness of beasts and creeping things. And the place was on a sudden filled with the forms of lions, bears, leopards, bulls, serpents, asps, scorpions, and wolves, …. But Antony … said, ‘If there had been any power in you, it would have sufficed had one of you come, but since the Lord has made you weak, you attempt to terrify me by numbers: and a proof of your weakness is that you take the shapes of brute beasts.’ … So after many attempts they gnashed their teeth upon him, because they were mocking themselves rather than him.” (Life of Anthony 8 and 9)
This passage and others of a similar vein in Athanasius’ Life have provided artists with the opportunity to indulge their strangest fantasies in depicting the demons who attack Anthony. Hieronymus Bosch, not surprisingly, painted a complete triptych on the subject, which was also tackled (also not surprisingly) by Salvador Dalí.

Hieronymous Bosch, Triptych of the Temptations of St Anthony, 1505-06; Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon
Salvador Dalí, The Temptation of St Anthony, 1946; Royal Museums of the Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium.
The art historian Giorgio Vasari records that Michelangelo, while still a young apprentice in the school of Domenico Ghirlandaio, copied the same subject as a painting from an earlier engraving by the German artist Martin Schongauer. A painting of The Torments of St Anthony now in the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, is indisputably of the right period and school, but the debate as to whether it is indeed the one done by Michelangelo will probably never be resolved to the satisfaction of all art historians.

On the left, the original engraving by Martin Schongauer, ca. 1475, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; on the right, the painting attributed to Michelangelo, ca. 1487.
Anthony was also tempted on various occasions by lust, by laziness and by riches. The last of these was depicted by the anonymous painter now called the Master of the Osservanza, but the heap of gold lying by the side of road, originally painted in gold leaf, was later scraped off, leaving Anthony to confront a completely non-demonic looking rabbit.

When St Anthony went to visit St Paul the First Hermit, as recorded in the latter’s biography written by St Jerome, they greeted each other by name as they met, though they had never seen each other before. A crow then brought them a full loaf of bread, at which Paul said to Anthony, “for sixty years I have daily received (from the crow) half a loaf of bread; now at thy coming, Christ has doubled the provision for his soldiers.” Perhaps inspired by the similarity between this episode and that of the crows that brought food to the Prophet Elijah (3 Kings 17), the Byzantine Liturgy explicitly compares Anthony to Elijah in the dismissal hymn (apolytikion) of Vespers on his feast day.
You imitated the zealous Elias by your life, you followed the Baptist by straight paths, our Father Anthony; you became the founder of the desert and strengthened the whole world by your prayers. And so intercede with Christ God that our souls may be saved.
Throughout the Middle Ages, St Anthony was also venerated as the patron Saint against various skin diseases, such as erysipelas and ergotism, some of which are still called “St Anthony’s fire” or “holy fire” in places. A commonly used medieval prayer of his Mass was as follows.
Deus, qui concedis obtentu beati Antonii Confessoris tui, morbidum ignem extingui, et membris aegris refrigeria praestari: fac nos, quaesumus, ipsius meritis et precibus, a gehennae incendiis liberatos, integros mente et corpore tibi feliciter presentari.
God, who grantest by the protection of Thy blessed Confessor Anthony that the fire of illness be extinguished, and refreshment given to sickly members; we ask that by his merits and prayers, we may be delivered from the fires of hell, and happily presented to the Thee, sound in mind and body.

Early Registration for the British Columbia Sacred Music Symposium in July

The organizers of the BC Sacred Music Symposium are pleased to announce that early registration is now open through the end of February. You can find the registration link, and additional information about everything included with registration, at the following page of the website of Ss Joachim and Ann Parish in Aldergrove, British Columbia, which is hosting the event:

As we noted last month, the B.C. Sacred Music Symposium will take place from July 20-22. The aim is to bring together musicians of all skill levels, and all people of good will with a general interest in sacred music, for a weekend of instruction, collaboration and fellowship. There will be an opportunity to attend practical workshops (beginner, intermediate and masterclass) and lectures, and to experience the riches of the Church’s musical tradition in the celebrations of Mass, in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms, and the Divine Office. The keynote speaker and celebrant of the symposium’s principal Mass will be Bishop Joseph Perry, Auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Dynamic Equivalence

It seems that Google has also come out in support of the old vox obscura style of liturgical translation under which we suffered for so many years. Even as we speak, in a theology faculty break room somewhere in Europe, the fellow who contributed this translation is explaining to his colleagues why this is a more fitting translation for the liturgy... after all, “Understatement in English is sometimes the most effective means of emphasis.” (link goes to the Fishwrap; you were warned.)
When this popped up on a friend’s Facebook page, I thought it must have been a joke made by a clever photoshopper, but that really is what Google turns in as a translation of “Kyrie, eleison.” (h/t to JG for the joke about the contributor.) The translation of the second invocation seems to refer to the new tenor of the feast of Christ the King.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

St Peter’s Square, 1956

Our thanks once again to Fr Alex Schrenk, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, this time for sharing with us this marvelous photo of seminarians of the North American College having a snowball fight in St Peter’s Square. The exact provenance of the photo is unknown, but the date would be in February of 1956, when Rome experienced its heaviest snowfall since 1796. Many of the national colleges in Rome had a distinctive design for their cassock, the wearing of which was, of course, absolutely mandatory at all times; that of the North American had blue buttons and piping, and a red fascia, but was only used by students. (The use of such cassocks for formal occasions has made a bit of a comeback in recent years, and not just at the NAC.) Even without the fascia, the fact that they are enjoying the snow, and not desperately huddled around a radiator somewhere inside, clearly marks them as Americans.

A New Regular EF Mass in the Bronx

We are happy to share with our readers news that the church of the Holy Rosary in the Bronx, New York, is adding a monthly Mass in Extraordinary Form to its Sunday schedule, beginning this month. The first one will take place on Septuagesima Sunday, January 28, at 1 pm, with music by Hans Leo Hassler and Cristóbal de Morales. The church is located at 1510 Adee Avenue, and accessible by public transportation; parking is also available.

A Premonstratensian Mass of the Epiphany

We received a late submission of Epiphany photos, but one which deserves its own separate post, since it gives us a chance to enjoy something a little unusual, a Solemn Mass celebrated in the Premonstratensian Rite. These come to us courtesy of Mr Adhika Lie from the church of Ss Peter and Paul in Wilmington, California, which is staffed by the Norbertine Canons of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, one of the most vibrant young religious communities in the United States today. The photos show us very nicely some of the proper customs which distinguish the Premonstratensian Use from the Roman.

At the first “Dominus vobiscum”, the deacon kneels and elevates the front of the priest’s chasuable, as seen here. In The Liturgies of the Religious Orders, Archdale King writes that this was also done by the Cistercians and in some local Uses, but that the custom was in his time (1955) “very generally disregarded.”
The deacon and subdeacon bowing their heads at the Collect.
The subdeacon singing the Epistle.
The subdeacon bringing the burse and corporal to the altar, and in the photo below, setting the corporal on the altar. In medieval Uses, it was commonly the practice to prepare the altar and the chalice either during the Epistle, or between the Epistle and Gospel.

Monday, January 15, 2018

How Typical Lector Praxis Transmits a Pelagian and Protestant Message

When I attended Thomas Aquinas College in California from 1990 to 1994, one of the first things I noticed about their Novus Ordo liturgies — apart from the startling fact that the unchanging parts were always in Latin, a practice they have been following for almost 50 years now — is that the reading was always done by one of the altar servers, vested in cassock and surplice. This struck me immediately as far better than the “normal” approach I had seen everywhere else, where a layman or laywoman gets up from the congregation and goes up to the ambo. Why did it seem better?

First, the server was dressed for a liturgical function, so it made the reading seem more obviously a liturgical act, part of the act of worship in which were were involved. Second, he was already up there in the sanctuary, to which he had processed together with the priest, so he was on hand, ready to perform the function. It no longer looked random but orderly, the right person at the right time and place. Third, each day one of the servers knew ahead of time that he was going to be the reader, and over time the servers tended to become far better lectors than most of the enthusiastic volunteers or appointees who seldom had a clue what they were doing. Fourth, a man’s voice is better suited for such reading. In most cases, it sounds stronger, calmer, more resonant, more authoritative. If “the lector sounds the voice of God,” then one ought to hear God speaking to us in His lordly, fatherly voice. As Psalm 28 has it: “The voice of the Lord is in power … The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars … The voice of the Lord shaketh the desert.” As much as I admire the piety of ladies who eagerly serve as lectors, the timbral qualities one hears — from sweet and soft to schoolmarmish and scolding — are often simply not edifying. Besides, as a psychologist recently argued, it is more distracting to men when women are reading than it is to women when men are reading. There is no parity or equality of the sexes in this regard.

These were some of the reasons why I rather liked the TAC practice after experiencing it, and I can’t say it surprised me when I discovered that the young ladies liked the practice, too. They were traditional in their views of liturgy and the roles of the sexes, and they felt a sense of relief at not being pressed into the modern feminist program of breaking down the “barriers” to an all-male sanctuary. They were quite content to let the men step up to the plate, as men should do — and as they usually will not do whenever women, with their native generosity and piety, are allowed to take over. These are the things that most caught my attention as a college student.

Years later, I was involved in a Catholic community that had been following the TAC practice for a number of years but was forced to abandon it due to pressure from particular clergy who disagreed with it. Watching that sudden transition from vested servers in the sanctuary acting as lectors to plain-clothes laymen and laywomen rising from the pews to read a text and returning to their seats brought home to me how theologically problematic this contemporary praxis really is. In particular, it transmits both Pelagian and Protestant messages — a surprising combination, but nonetheless true.

The Pelagian message is this. The lector walks right up into the sanctuary, although not vested, and usually not having been a part of the liturgical procession. Since liturgy of its essence is symbolic, this symbolizes something (whether intended to or not). Given that the sanctuary of the church represents heaven, walking right up into it symbolizes that any man has immediate, free, and easy access to the Holy of Holies. Heaven is ours for the taking, if we just take to our feet and use our God-given natural talents. A layman sauntering up into the holy place to read is the obliteration of the entire lesson of the Old Covenant — namely, that owing to man’s creatureliness and sinfulness there must be separation between man and God, which is overcome only by Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and man. Christ does not abolish the distinction but takes it into His very Person, so that we have access to God through Him. Therefore the ministerial priesthood and all the lesser ministries that assist it must have this mediational characteristic in order to be true to themselves. The unvested lay lector seated in the nave who walks right up into the sanctuary is a walking, talking contradiction of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The Byzantine tradition, needless to say, underlines this point by forbidding a lay lector (if there be such out of necessity) to read except from the nave, and keeping the holy of holies off limits behind the iconostasis except to those clergy who are allowed to enter it. [Update: A reader has corrected me by pointing out that in the Byzantine liturgy the reading is always done from the nave, whether by a subdeacon or by a lector substituting for him. It remains true that laity never enter the sanctuary, which is the point I am interested in.] The West had the same understanding of sacred space even if, at a certain point, we lost our rood screens and other such dividers: while everyone was permitted to see the ritual actions taking place in the sanctuary, no one bodily entered into it except the sacred ministers. The abolition of this distinction, by way of lectors and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, is a symbolic erasure of the distinction between the source of holiness in Christ (who is most properly and clearly represented by the sacred ministers in the mediatorial roles) and the reception of holiness in the people (which is symbolized by their architectural separation and the manner in which they traditionally approach the sacraments — for example, receiving the host on the tongue from the anointed hand of a priest, who blesses them). Such an erasure may justly be called Pelagian, and it will be difficult to uproot a pervasive Pelagian habit of thinking in the people if this is the kind of thing they see whenever they go to church.

Furthermore, there is an implicit Protestant message: anyone can read the word of God; no office is required. The Word of God is free and open to everyone; no one need be specially set apart to read its holy, awesome, fearful, comforting message. Its words are like all other words, for which only mere literacy, that is, a purely natural (not supernatural) qualification, is called for. Thus, these words are not treated as if they are divinely inspired tokens of the ineffable Presence of God, to be handled by men who are formally deputed for this sacred task. For Protestants and modern Catholics there is a democratic availability of the Word that bypasses or sidesteps the hierarchical structure of the Church rooted in the Apostolic Succession of the episcopacy and its assistant clergy.

Contrast this with the traditional practice: only a vested lector — which, in the traditional Roman Rite, will be the subdeacon — may read. And at Low or High Mass, the priest fittingly reads everything because he contains in himself all the lower powers. What the lower may do, the higher may do, but not vice versa.

Now, I do not deny for a moment that the vast majority of lay lectors have the best intentions in the world. They want to be involved; they want to be helpful; they are doing what they have been told is good. I myself was a lector for many years in high school because, well, it just seemed like a thing one does at Mass. So the problem is not one of bad will. The problem rather lies in the “law of unintended consequences.” Quite apart from our subjective good intentions, everything we do in liturgy signifies something. Liturgy is a realm in which nothing done is “merely” practical or useful. Even something as originally practical as the washing of the hands acquired a symbolic meaning of purity from sin that now dominates (most priests don’t have to wash dirt off their hands at the lavabo, but all of us have at least venial sins to wash away). So, too, walking into the sanctuary, mounting the ambo, and reading from the Word of God are not mere human actions; the liturgical context endows them with a meaning of their own. In short, they are signs. Other related signs include the clothing one is wearing (is one vested for a liturgical ministry or wearing plain clothes?), the type of language one is reading from the book (is the Word being delivered in a sacral and poetic register, or is it in an ear-numbing modern dialect like Nabbish?), the quality of the lectionary and evangelary as physical objects (are they beautiful books or are they hideous chunks of self-conscious modernity, with all the charm of rock samples from Mordor?), and so forth. All of these actions, objects, and appearances mean something.

The important question to ask is what these signs are transmitting to us, what belief or attitude is being inculcated by them. When a lay minister distributes Holy Communion, for example, that says something: contrary to the way Catholics behaved for centuries, it turns out we are not, after all, dealing with a divine and fearful mystery, to be handled only by men specially set apart by a holy anointing and clothed in sacerdotal garb; we are dealing with ordinary food and drink that anyone can handle, as at a picnic or snack bar. It is a practical repudiation of the dogma of the Church, although perhaps few (except El Grillo) would think of denying Trent outright, although it should be noted that many people seem only too willing, in verification of Ratzinger’s oft-repeated critique, to make Vatican II the “super-council” that trumps even earlier Councils that are manifestly of greater magisterial weight inasmuch as they defined de fide dogmas and anathematized the contrary errors, while Vatican II purposefully avoided definitions and anathemas.

In any case, what is crucial is not recovering the teaching of earlier Councils (although we shall have to get around to doing this eventually!), but recovering a fundamental sense of the sacredness of everything that pertains to the worship of Almighty God, both in the veneration of His inerrant and infallible divine Word and in the adoration of His all-holy Eucharistic Body — actions for the conducting of which the Church had never failed, and should never fail, to appoint hierarchical ministers.

The ordinary of a Byzantine subdeacon

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