Monday, March 25, 2019

Why Do We Sing Liturgical Texts?

In all religions of the world, we find the chanting of sacred texts. Such a surprising convergence suggests that there is a natural connection between the worship of the divine and singing the texts involved in the rites — that is, a connection based on the nature of man, of song, and of word.

The Philosophy of Singing Religious Texts

This universal practice derives from an intuitive sense that holy things and the holy sentiments that go along with them should not be talked about as ordinary everyday things are, but elevated to a higher level through melodious modulation—or submerged into silence. Authentic rituals, therefore, tend to alternate between silences (either for meditation or during a symbolic action) and chanting (which may or may not be accompanied by some other action).

Acts of public worship are rendered more solemn, and their content more appealing and memorable, by the singing of clergy, cantors, choir, and congregation. Moreover, the contrast between singing (human expression at its highest) and silence (a deliberate “apophatic” withholding of discourse) is more striking than the contrast between speaking and not speaking. The former is like the rise and fall of ocean waves, while the latter seems more like switching a lightbulb on and off.

Speech is primarily discursive and instructional, aimed “at” a listener, while song, which more easily and naturally unites many singers into one body, is capable of being in addition the bearer of feelings and of meanings that go beyond what words can convey, greatly augmenting the penetrating power of the words themselves. We find this especially in the “melismas” of chant, the lengthy melodic elaborations on a single syllable that give voice to inner emotions and aspirations that words cannot fully express.

No one has commented more insightfully than the philosopher of music Victor Zuckerkandl on the almost mystical power of song to unite singers with each other, and the subject with the object. In his book Man the Musician, published by Princeton University Press in 1973, he writes:
Music is appropriate, is helpful, where self-abandon is intended or required — where the self goes beyond itself, where subject and object come together. Tones seem to provide the bridge that makes it possible, or at least makes it easier, to cross the boundary separating the two. (24–25)
The spoken word presupposes “the other,” the person or persons to whom it is addressed; the one speaking and the one spoken to are turned toward each other; the word goes out from one to the other, creating a situation in which the two are facing each other as distinct, separate individuals. Wherever there is talk, there is a “he-not-I” on the one hand and his counterpart, an “I-not-he,” on the other. This is why the word is not the natural expression of the group. ...
       [S]inging is the natural and appropriate expression of the group, of the togetherness of individuals within the group. If this is the case, we may assume that tones — singing — essentially express not the individual but the group; more accurately, the individual in so far as he is a member, of the group; still more accurately, the individual in so far as his relation to the others is not one of “facing them” but one of togetherness.
       Whereas words turn people toward each other, as it were, make them look at each other, tones turn them all in the same direction: everyone follows the tones on their way out and on their way back. The moment tones resound, the situation where one party faces another is transmuted into a situation of togetherness, the many distinct individuals into the one group. (27–29)
And finally:
If his words are not merely spoken but sung, they build a living bridge that links him with the things referred to by the words, that transmutes distinction and separation into togetherness. By means of the tones, the speaker goes out to the things, brings the things from outside within himself, so that they are no longer “the other,” something alien that he is not, but the other and his own in one. …
       The singer remains what he is, but his self is enlarged, his vital range is extended: being what he is he can now, without losing his identity, be with what he is not; and the other, being what it is, can, without losing its identity, be with him. (29–30)
Ultimately, it comes down to this: we sing when we are at one, or wish to be at one, with our activity or the object of our activity. This is true when we are in love with another person. It is most of all true when we are in love with God. That is the origin of the incomparably great music of the Catholic tradition. St. Augustine says: “Only the lover sings.” We sing… and we whisper… and we fall silent.

In the course of this discussion, Zuckerkandl makes a point that reminds me painfully of years of growing up in the Novus Ordo with congregations reciting together the Gloria or the “Holy, Holy, Holy”:
Can one imagine that people come together to speak songs? One can, but only as a logical possibility; in real life this would be absurd. It would turn something natural into something utterly unnatura1. (25)
The recitation of normatively sung texts at a Low Mass “works” only because the priest alone is saying the texts, and doing so at the altar, ad orientem.[1] He is not addressing the words of the song to anyone except God. They thereby acquire a ritual status comparable to that of the recited Canon. The speaking of sung texts is not liturgically ideal; really this form of Mass developed for the personal devotion of the priest when celebrating at a side altar with a clerk. Nevertheless, to have a large church packed with people and then to say the songs rather than sing them should strike everyone as odd. But we may leave this point aside for the nonce, as I have taken it up elsewhere.

Practical Reasons for Singing Texts

There are also practical reasons for singing. As experience proves, texts that are sung or chanted with correct elocution are heard with greater clarity and forcefulness in a large assembly of people than texts that are read aloud or even shouted. The music has a way of carrying the words and making them penetrate the listeners’ ears and souls. In ancient times, epic and lyric poetry, and even parts of political speeches, were chanted for this very reason.

Electrical amplification was unnecessary when architects sought to build spaces that resonated properly and liturgical ministers learned how to sing out. A well-built church with well-trained singers has absolutely no need of artificial amplification. Moreover, not everything in the liturgy has to be heard by everyone, contrary to one of the key assumptions behind the wreckovation of our rites.

It is hard to imagine a modern-day airport managing without speakers for announcements. It is, in contrast, a tragedy when the same technical, pragmatic, impersonal, and unfocused type of sound-production invades churches. In a church, the microphone kills the intimacy, humility, locality, and directionality of the human voice. The voice now becomes that of a placeless giant, a Big Brother larger than life, coming from everywhere and nowhere, dominating and subduing the listener. Putting mics and speakers in a church does not enhance a natural process; it subverts it. There is no continuum between the unaided voice and the artificially amplified voice: they are two separate phenomena, with altogether different phenomenologies.

When ritual texts are adorned with fitting music, their message “carries,” both physically and spiritually.

Gregorian Chant as the Ideal of Sung Text

The eight characteristics of Gregorian chant are:
  • primacy of the word;
  • free rhythm;
  • unison singing;
  • unaccompanied vocalization;
  • modality;
  • anonymity;
  • emotional moderation;
  • unambiguous sacrality.
(I have discussed these in greater detail here.)

These characteristics, taken together, show that chant is not only a little bit different from other types of vocal music but radically and profoundly different.[2] It is liturgical music through and through, existing solely for divine worship, perfectly suited to its verbal, sacred nature, and well suited to aid the faithful who associate it with that worship and who find it both beautiful and strange, as God Himself is.

We can see better now, why chant is a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy, why it gives a nobler form to the celebration, and why it is specially suited to the Roman Rite and deserves the foremost place within it—all of which was asserted without ambiguity in Sacrosanctum Concilium.

When performed in an edifying manner, chant in and of itself “accords with the spirit of the liturgical action,” which cannot be assumed for any other piece of music. In other words, chant furnishes the very definition of what it means to “accord with the spirit of the liturgical action,” and other musical works must line up to be evaluated, as it were, by this supreme criterion — as Pope Pius X had said in his motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini: “It is fully legitimate to lay down the following rule: the more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration, and savor the Gregorian form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.”

NOTES

[1] This has come to be my principal objection to the dialogue Mass, at least inasmuch as it involves reciting those texts that would normally be sung.

[2] It’s often been remarked that the potent connection between chant and Catholicism is well exploited by Hollywood movie directors, who, whenever they want to evoke a “Catholic atmosphere,” make sure there is some chant wafting in the background. If only today’s clergy had half as much “business sense”!

Visit www.peterkwasniewski.com for information, articles, sacred music, and Os Justi Press.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Gregorian Chant 101

Episode 4 of Square Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast is live!


In this episode, we are joined by NLM's own Professor William Mahrt of Stanford University who gives an introduction to the history, music, liturgical role, and spiritual value of Gregorian chant.

Dr. Mahrt is the president of the Church Music Association of America (the CMAA), and the editor of Sacred Music, the journal of the CMAA. He’s a respected scholar of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony who’s published numerous articles, and he also publishes a really helpful and interesting editorial in each issue of Sacred Music. More than all that, though, Professor Mahrt is a man who loves the sacred liturgy and its music, and has spent decades learning how to pray through the Church’s treasury of sacred music. He’s inspired countless people, your hosts of this podcast included, to really learn what the Church teaches about sacred music, and how these teachings lead us into the heart of the sacred liturgy as the communal encounter between man and the Blessed Trinity.

Dr. Mahrt’s book can be downloaded for free here.

Or a hardcover copy can be bought here.

To subscribe to Sacred Music journal, click here

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in Fontanellato, Italy

Our Ambrosian writer Nicola de’ Grandi recently visited one of the major pilgrimage shrines of the Emilia-Romagna region, Our Lady of the Rosary at Fontanellato, about 11 miles north-west of Parma. The church was founded at the beginning of the 16th century, and became particularly famous after a plague in the region in 1630, which hit the town itself very lightly. Surprising at it may seem, this monumental Baroque façade is very new, constructed between 1913 and 1920.

The Blessed Andrea Ferrari, archbishop of Milan from 1894 to 1921, was brought to the shrine as a child by his mother, and miraculously healed of a serious illness. He maintained a special devotion to the Madonna of Fontanellato all his life, coming each year as a pilgrim; he celebrated his first Mass at the church’s main altar in 1873, and 25 years later, as archbishop, his silver jubilee of priestly ordination. This statue was erected to commemorate him in 1925.
I normally start these kinds of posts with the high altar, and work my way through the main body of the church and the side altars. In this case, however, the most impressive decorative features is this collection of altar frontals, made with a technique called “scagliola” in Italian, a composite of selenite, glue and natural pigments that imitates the appearance of inlaid marbles. (The Emilia-Romagna is poorly supplied with marble, and has come up with quite a few clever ways to decorate churches very beautifully, at considerably less expense than it would have taken to import marble from abroad.)

Friday, March 22, 2019

Can We Love Tradition Too Much?

NLM received permission to republish this article by Dr. Kwasniewski, which first appeared at OnePeterFive on March 18, 2019.

Can We Love Tradition Too Much?
by Peter Kwasniewski
The indefatigable blogger Fr. Dwight Longenecker is at it again. In a new article from March 15, 2019, entitled “Tradition is the Democracy of the Dead,” he writes to assure us that he is a lover of tradition — but not excessively.

He rightly says one should be or become Catholic for the sake of its 2,000-year-old tradition — or, more accurately, its 4,000-year-old tradition, since the law, prophecies, and worship of Israel are fulfilled in the Church. But he also says that, since tradition is not static or unchangeable, we need to be willing to change with the times, according to the judgment calls emanating from Rome, and not make an “idol” of the past.

Well, one can certainly live free of fear that today’s Rome is in danger of making an idol of the past. One might rather fear its making an idol of the present or of the future.

This all too easy reduction of one’s opponents to idolaters, which is one of the characteristic rhetorical moves used by Pope Francis and other progressives who are impatient of analysis and argument and wish to get on with modern pastoring, reminds me of what I like to call “A Corollary of Godwin’s Law”: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison of a defender of Catholic tradition to a Pharisee approaches 1.” Perhaps we could expand this to say “a Pharisee or an idolater.” This slight adjustment makes it more interreligious too — surely an important consideration in this age of joint statements from popes and imams.

Moreover, this brings the corollary more into harmony with “Bergoglio’s Hypothesis.” That is surely a welcome step in building the new paradigm. In my formulation, this hypothesis reads:
If there is a discrepancy between Catholic doctrine and European liberalism, then the former needs further “development” until it harmonizes with the latter. If Catholics resist modernity or modern ecclesiastical reforms, they are guilty of nostalgic insecurity, temperamental rigidity, pharisaical neo-Pelagianism, and lack of fraternal charity. [1]
In his article, Fr. Longenecker makes the classic move of the Anglican Newman: wanting to be in the sweet spot of the via media. Unlike the revolutionaries, I love tradition; unlike the traditionalists, I don’t idolize tradition as an unchanging thing.

The first problem here is the caricature. Traditionalists fully recognize that liturgy develops over time. However, as with the development of doctrine, they see the development as tending, in broad lines, toward greater amplitude and perfection. So just as we don’t decide to cancel out at some point the Nicene Creed for the sake of going back to the more ancient and pristine Apostles’ Creed, in like manner, we don’t cancel out the medieval and Baroque developments of the liturgy in our search for a more ancient and pristine Christian worship. Pius XII warned against “antiquarianism,” but that became one of the two battle cries of the liturgical reformers — that and their aggiornamentalism, by which everything had to be adjusted and proportioned to the mentality of Modern Man (whoever he is).

The second and bigger problem is that the Catholic Newman came to reject the via media approach when he realized that, on some questions, the right answer was found in the “extreme” position, not in the middle position. For example, at the time of the Arian crisis, there were (to simplify things) the Arians, the Semi-Arians, and the Nicaeans. In all the political battles and regional councils, the Semi-Arians were able to position themselves as the reasonable middle between the extremists who denied the divinity of the Son and the other extremists who conflated the Son and the Father by identifying them both as God. In this, needless to say, they showed that they did not grasp, or did not wish to grasp, the position of St. Athanasius and other orthodox fathers, who, though a beleaguered minority, nevertheless held the truth and ultimately prevailed. [2]

So too in our present situation. The traditionalists maintain that there is nothing “traditional” about the Novus Ordo and the rest of the papally imposed liturgical rites from the ’60s and ’70s. Even when the reformers claimed to be “recovering” elements lost in antiquity, the way they went about it was distinctively modern: they took what chimed in with their fancy and filtered out difficult bits that could have been disturbing or distressing to modern audiences. And these men say outright in their articles and books that this is what they are doing; no conspiracy theories need apply. Moreover, they freely amputated and suppressed many extremely ancient features of the liturgy, such as the Pentecost octave and season, Septuagesima, the Ember Days, and the lectionary on which St. Gregory the Great preached in the late sixth century (how’s that for ancient?), replacing them with innovative and hybridized material fashioned by scholarly brains. Constructivism on this magnitude and with this method is unprecedented in the Church’s history. It is impossible to see what could be “traditional” about this approach or the results.

Thus, when Fr. Longenecker says: “I do what I can to pray the tradition, live the tradition, and worship in the tradition,” it is a perfect study in the art of equivocation. To “pray the tradition” and “worship in the tradition” is to pray and worship in union with all the centuries of Catholicism as they are glued together in the one Roman liturgical tradition that was ours until 1969, not to hit the ecclesial reset button as the conciliar enthusiasts did. One may admire conservatives’ efforts to bring traditional elements in through the back door — when the local bishop’s not looking too attentively, and the neighborhood climate is favorable — but one should have the candor to admit that this is a desperate and somewhat pathetic attempt to put old Humpty-Dumpty back together again. Fortunately, the real McCoy is still there, waiting to be rediscovered, and until a man has rediscovered it, he cannot quite say he has “done what he can.”

It is telling when Fr. Longenecker implies that the only things unchangeable in the Church are her dogmas and proceeds to identify the essence of the Mass as the miracle of transubstantiation. Neoscholastic reductionism [3] has been a problem for some time, but it is galling to see it in the context of an article that is supposed to be about Catholic tradition. Traditional liturgies are categorized into their ritual families and subfamilies (Latin or Byzantine, Slavic or Greek, Roman or Ambrosian or Mozarabic, etc.) based not on whether transubstantiation occurs, which is something they all have in common, but on exactly what their content is. Imagine saying to a Byzantine Catholic: “You know, at the end of the day, your Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and our Novus Ordo are pretty much the same, because they both do the one essential, immutable thing: convert the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.”

I’m afraid what we are seeing is the result of speaking about such grave matters without the requisite knowledge of details. It is all too easy to say “the Roman rite remains intact” when the only thing one is looking at is an outline of the order of Mass from 30,000 feet in the sky. But the devil’s in the details — and the angels, too, whose role was greatly reduced in the Novus Ordo. Liturgical rites exist not as outlines or abstractions, but as concrete codifications of text, music, rubric, ceremonial, and cast of supporting artefacts. The more one drills into what the classic Roman rite actually is — its ancient ad orientem stance, its particular calendar and lectionary, its more than a thousand orations, its set of Prefaces, its monolithic Roman Canon, the early medieval offertory rite, and so forth — the more one can see how abruptly and comprehensively the Novus Ordo severs itself from that venerable rite. They are, in truth, two different liturgies that share some common elements, somewhat as the Eiffel Tower might be said to share in the verticality of the Gothic cathedral.

Gargoyles atop Notre Dame discussing verticality and modernism
It is thus more than ironic when Fr. Longenecker cites G.K. Chesterton’s famous words — “Tradition means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead” — when the postconciliar liturgical reform was, in fact, the most autocratic imaginable in its contempt for the collective voice of our ancestors, and democratic only in the sense that it proceeded by way of the voting of “experts” on a panoply of committees that sliced up the parts of liturgy into study groups, like teams of computer programmers testing new operating system modules. [4]

In the finest, most lyrical passage of his article, Fr. Longenecker compares Catholic tradition to a giant old mansion with extensive gardens:
I sometimes think that being a Catholic is like living in a grand old house like the one in Brideshead Revisited. It is an ornate, ancient and venerable structure, full of corridors of memories and alleyways of tradition. The walls are lined with the banners from ancient battles and the ancestors of grand reputation. The attic is full of curious and precious antiques and the kitchens and cellars are full of fine wine, casks of provisions and bundles of equipment for battle and for housework. The gardens are lush and expansive — some formal and fruitful, some still wild and untamed. The modernist would demolish such a house and send the contents to auction. But a Catholic should decide to live there, dust and shine the antiques, clean the carpets, polish the silver, restore the paintings, sharpen the halberds and shine the armor … and then he should draw back the drapes to open the windows and let in the fresh air and the morning light.
The last phrase, a deliberate echo of John XXIII’s famous remark about how the Church needs to open her windows and let in the air from the world (how’s that workin’ out for ya, postconciliar Church?), could be refurbished as a reminder that without the Holy Spirit, without the grace of God, we cannot produce good fruits, regardless of how handsome the tree may be. Fr. Longenecker would be the first to agree, I’m sure, that this interior necessity by no means suggests there is something wrong with the old house and its contents, which the First Cause of all things — the architect and first interior decorator, so to speak — intended to put there by His Providence.

It is ironic, again, that our author should choose just this metaphor of the old house and its rambling grounds, since it has always been the traditionalists’ favorite comparison when they wish to describe the result of twenty centuries of gradual development in the liturgy, gently tended by gardeners and janitors. There is no question whatsoever that Archbishop Bugnini and his fellow experts had no patience for this old mansion. They wanted to raze it to the ground and build rational modern flats in its place. In his own words, Bugnini sought to “rejuvenate the liturgy, ‘ridding’ it of the superstructures that weighed it down over the centuries.” This is why the new missal is so “rationally” ordered, using simple blueprints over and over again instead of the wonderfully unpredictable variety in the old missal. [5]

Archbishop Bugnini was not the only liturgist who thought in terms of architectural images of demolition and reconstruction. Consider this passage from Demain la liturgie (1976) by Fr. Joseph Gelineau, S.J., who played a prominent role on the Consilium:
If the formulae change, the rite is changed. If a single element is changed, the signification of the whole is modified. Let those who like myself have known and sung a Latin-Gregorian High Mass remember it if they can. Let them compare it with the Mass that we now have. Not only the words, the melodies, and some of the gestures are different. To tell the truth, it is a different liturgy of the Mass [c’est une autre liturgie de la messe]. This needs to be said without ambiguity: the Roman Rite as we knew it no longer exists [le rite romaine tel que nous l’avons connu n’existe plus]. It has been destroyed. [Il est détruit.] Some walls of the former edifice have fallen while others have changed their appearance, to the extent that it appears today either as a ruin or the partial substructure of a different building.
Could Fr. Longenecker’s mention of Brideshead Revisited be a subtle hint to the cognoscenti that he does not, in fact, see eye-to-eye with the liturgical reform? It is well known that the author of this splendid novel, Evelyn Waugh (1903–1966), was fiercely opposed to the dismantling of the Catholic liturgy, conducting a regular correspondence with Cardinal Heenan to see if anything could be done to halt the madness that was beginning to bleed the churches of their congregations, and publishing anguished articles on the subject in periodicals (readers will find all of this in the book A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes). Though he was spared the ultimate indignity of witnessing the Novus Ordo, as he died more than 3½ years before it was rolled off the assembly line, Waugh was utterly horrified by the changes that had been made to the liturgy, which at that point were not insignifcant, but had certainly not become the great tsunami of 1969.

Among Catholics who care deeply about the sacred liturgy (and why should they not, when Vatican II calls the “Eucharistic sacrifice” the “font and apex of the entire Christian life”?), one finds several camps: those who believe that the changes after the Council went too far; those who believe that the changes were not comprehensive and radical enough; those who think that whatever happened happened, and we might as well make the best of it we can today; and those who think that approaching the liturgy with the mentality of progress and relevancy is the wrong way to let it be itself and do what it alone can do and, moreover, a path doomed to self-parody and implosion the more one goes down it.

The traditionalist takes the last view. It is based, first of all, on real and repeated experiences of the beauty and riches of the classic Roman rite, against which the impoverished text and ceremonial of the new rite stand out glaringly. There can be no substitute for familiarity. No one who is not intimately familiar with the old Roman rite is in a position to make any global commentary about how it compares with its intended replacement. It is time for those who make out their fellow Catholics attached to the usus antiquior to be actual or potential idolaters to step down from their high horses and walk a few miles in the same shoes, out of charity if for no other reason. Get to know the old rite — not just the Mass, but all the sacramental rites and blessings. See its qualities firsthand, and not from a distance.

Such people might be surprised at how different the view is from the ground. They might, indeed, come to see that the danger of idolatry — in the form of an unquestioned, perhaps even unrecognized, adulation of aggiornamento — is more real for those who endorse the Consilium’s modern construction. It was, after all, the attitudes and antics of liturgical progressives that Joseph Ratzinger compared to the episode of the golden calf.

Unbeknownst to himself, Fr. Longenecker is ready to become a traditionalist if he merely discovers the applicability of his words to the entire liturgical reform:
One of the disastrous results of the Second Vatican Council is that liturgists, clergy, and religious who were so zealous to make the faith contemporary and relevant, felt that they could best do this not by valuing and re-invigorating the traditions of the Church, but by demolishing them in revolutionary zeal.
Amen. Now just use your editing pen to excise some of the other misleading bits of the sermon.

NOTES

[1] This hypothesis is based on a more fundamental assumption that I call “Maritain’s Axiom”: “Given the leavening of Greek philosophy, Roman law, Hebrew prophecy, and the Christian Gospel, Europe will develop the finest conscience, most ample respect for human rights, and most consistent rule of law that the world has ever known.” This axiom is true descriptively, in the context of Catholic civilization. It fails prescriptively, in the sense that the outcome is not guaranteed simply from the availability of the ingredients. Yet it is assumed as the basis of, e.g., Pope Francis’s stance on the death penalty.

[2] I’ve written elsewhere about “the use and abuse of the via media.”

[3] This phenomenon is defined and critiqued in two articles: “The Long Shadow of Neoscholastic Reductionism” and “Against Reducing the Mass to a Sacramental Delivery System.”

[4] This comparison, incidentally, was made by Fr. Thomas Reese in an article called “Reforming Catholic liturgy should be like updating software,” in which he compared the old liturgy to DOS and the reform to Windows — with the 1965 interim missal being 1.0, the 1969 missal 2.0, etc.

[5] See here for several examples.

Annunciation Masses in New York City and Rome

On Monday, March 25th, the Pontifical Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in New York City will celebrate the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary with a High Mass in Latin, starting at 7pm. The Angelus will be said at 6pm, and the Rosary at 6:30; Confessions will be heard in the hour before Mass. The church is located at 448 East 116th St in Manhattan; visit the parish website for other announcements of upcoming events.


A Missa cantata in the Dominican Rite will be celebrated on the feast of the Annunciation at the church of Ss Dominic and Sixtus, which is right next to the Angelicum University in Rome (Largo Angelicum 1), starting at 12:30 pm. A traditional Mass is celebrated at the same time in the church every Tuesday in the Roman Rite, and every Thursday in the Dominican Rite. 


Lenten Stations in the Ancient Rite of Paris (Part 3)

We present the third part of Henri de Villiers’ article on the Lenten stations observed by the church of Paris, in an English translation by Gerhard Eger, also published on Canticum Salomonis. The French original was published on the blog of the Schola Sainte-Cécile; since it is fairly lengthy, we have broken it up into six parts, each covering the stations celebrated that particular week. See part one for a general introduction.

5. Monday of the Second Week of Lent: station at the collegiate church of Saint-Benoît-le-Bétourné au quartier Saint-Jacques (Sanctus Benedictus Beneversi in vico Sancti Iacobi).

The cloister and church of Saint-Benoît-le-Bétourné in 1810.
This church was founded in the 6th century and dedicated to the Syrian martyrs Sergius and Bacchus, and then passed to the patronage of St Benedict of Nursia in the 13th century. During the reign of St Louis, a public market was held in the cloister, and the king authorized the canons of Notre-Dame to levy a duty on the bread and wine sold in this market. The storehouses in the church’s vast cloister kept the duties in grain or wine owed to the canons. This church was strangely built originally, without regard for the traditional orientation of prayer, so that the sanctuary and the high altar faced west (and this was without a doubt the only ancient Parisian church built in a disoriented fashion). Francis I had it altered in the beginning of the 16th century in order to place the sanctuary and the altar towards the east, in accord with the usual sense imposed by the liturgical canons. It then received its current nickname Saint-Benoît-le-Bistourné (i.e. “twice turned around”) or Saint-Benoît-le-Bétourné (i.e. “well turned”). Charles Perrault [1] was buried here in 1703.

The church was transformed into a barn in 1790 by the revolutionaries, and then destroyed in 1831 to make way for the Théâtre du Panthéon, which was itself torn down in 1854 to allow for the construction of the Rue des Écoles. The only remaining vestige of it is the old main gate of the church, which can be seen over the north façade of the Hôtel de Cluny in the garden. Saint-Benoît-le-Bétourné constituted the third stage of the Parisians’ pilgrimage in honour of St Dionysius, who is said to have celebrated Mass there and preached on the Trinity.

6. Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent: station at the collegiate church of Saint-Étienne-des-Grès près la Porte Saint-Jacques (Sanctus Stephanus de gressibus prope portam Sancti Iacobi).

Saint-Étienne-des-Grès before the revolution.
This very ancient church, which tradition holds was founded by St Dionysius himself, is mentioned in the Annals of Saint-Bertin in 857 as being outside the city walls, not far from the Porte Saint-Jacques. It was placed at the corner of the Rue Saint-Jacques and the old Rue Saint-Étienne des Grès (today Rue Cujas) in the 5th arrondissement. In the 11th century, the church was given by King Henry I to the Bishop of Paris, who set up a chapter there. Being from that time under the protection of the Cathedral, this church is one of the “four daughters of Notre-Dame”, a title which afforded its curé the title of “cardinal of Paris”, and the right to assist the bishop by standing at the corners (cardes) of the altar with the other cardinal priests during the Masses of the great solemnities of Christmas, Easter, and the Assumption. The chapter held twelve prebends and one chèvecerie (a chevecier was a canon charged with the maintenance of a church’s chevet and the care of its treasury and lighting), which were held by the canons of Notre-Dame by turns (in turno). The bell tower and the chapel of Our Lady of Good Deliverance date from this period. The qualifier des Grès (“of the steps”) appears for the first time in a charter from 1219, probably to distinguish it from the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, also founded around this time. The term refers to the steps (de gressibus) one had to mount to enter the church by the door in the Rue Saint-Jacques. In the 14th century its portal was redone and lasted until the Revolution.


Beginning in the 14th century as well, the statue of Our Lady of Good Deliverance became the object of particular veneration, and was especially popular during the course of the Wars of Religion, during which she was invoked as vanquisher of all heresies. In 1533, the Confraternity of the Charity of Our Lady of Good Deliverance was founded. Endowed by the Holy See with numerous indulgences, it quickly counted 12,000 members, including King Louis XIII and Queen Anne of Austria, who enrolled in 1622. Francis de Sales, who believed himself damned, recovered peace and confidence at the feet of this statue of Our Lady of Good Deliverance; in 1692, a chapel named for him was erected in the church in memory thereof. Such successes did not pass without disputes between the canons of Saint-Étienne-des-Grès and the confraternity; the latter was even dissolved by the Parlement of Paris in 1737, but re-established in 1774. The miraculous statue of Our Lady of Good Deliverance is currently kept in the convent of the Sisters of St Thomas of Villanova in Neuilly-sur-Seine. Saint-Étienne-des-Grès was closed on 12 July 1790 and destroyed in 1792. Some remains of its exterior walls and of its buttresses survived until the extension of the Faculty of Law in 1876. Its holy water font was well-known because it was surmounted by the famous paleo-Christian inscription ΝΙΨΟΝΑΝΟΜΗΜΑΤΑΜΗΜΟΝΑΝΟΨΙΝ, a Greek palindrome meaning “Wash your sins, not only your face”, also written on one of the pillars of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Saint-Étienne-des-Grès constituted the second stage of the Parisians’ pilgrimage in honour of St Dionysius, and one could there venerate the relic of his crozier.

7. Friday of the Second Week of Lent: station at the priory church of Notre-Dame-des-Champs au Faubourg Saint-Jacques (Beata Maria de Campis in suburbio Sancti Iacobi).

The church of Notre-Dame des Champs and the Carmelite convent at the beginning of the 17th century.
Tradition holds that Saint Dionysius first established himself around here when he arrived in Lutetia, as Paris was then called, and preached about the love of the Virgin Mary. After the conversion of the region to Christianity, a church was erected and dedicated to the Virgin on the ruins of an ancient Roman temple of Mercury. This church was later named Notre-Dame-des-Vignes, since the place was encircled by vineyards at the time. King Robert the Pious (996-1031) ordered that it be enlarged to honour the place where Saint Dionysius is said to have celebrated the holy mysteries, and later the church became a priory of the Benedictines of the Abbey of Noirmoutier. The monks uprooted the surrounding vineyards and renamed the church Notre-Dame-des-Champs (“of the fields”). A crypt of this sanctuary survives in the basement of building 14bis in the current Rue Pierre-Nicole. In 1604, the Benedictines ceded Notre-Dame-des-Champs to the Duchess of Orléans-Longueville, who installed some Carmelites from Spain who made their monastery one of the most renowned in the 17th century. It was hither that, amongst others, Mademoiselle de La Vallière and Madame de Montespan [2] retired.

During the Revolution, the Carmelite convent was closed and the church destroyed, only the memory of its presence remaining in the name of the street, Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. In 1856, a parish, detached from Saint-Sulpice, was created for the neighborhood, and it naturally received the name of Notre-Dame-des-Champs. A provisional wooden chapel was set up on 153 and 155 Rue de Rennes. The cornerstone of the new church was laid on 17 March 1867 and, eight years later, on 31 October 1876, the church was blessed. Of neo-Romanesque inspiration, its building was entrusted to Léon Ginain. It was dedicated on 25 March 1913 by Cardinal Amette, archbishop of Paris. Notre-Dame-des-Champs constituted the first stage of the Parisians’ pilgrimage in honour of St Dionysius.

[1] A French author and member of the Académie Française (1628-1703).
[2] Both were mistresses of King Louis XIV.  

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Visit to the Abbey of Montecassino

For the feast of St Benedict, we are happy to publish some photos of the abbey of Montecassino taken by our friend Jordan Hainsey, who has shared a lot of beautiful images with us over the years, and was there recently during the Italian pilgrimage of St Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

The courtyard leading into the abbey church, which, like any good monastic foundation, has its own well.

The high altar.
The place in front of the main sanctuary where St Benedict was originally buried; there is still a debate as to whether his relics are still there, or were translated after the abbey was destroyed in the early Middle Ages to the French Abbey of Fleury, also known as Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire.
More decorations in the Neapolitan Baroque style, beautifully reconstructed after the church was destroyed during World War II.

Solemn Mass of the Annunciation in Denver

The cathedral basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colorado, will have a solemn High Mass in the traditional rite for the feast of the Annunciation, this coming Monday, starting at 7pm. The cathedral is located at 1535 Logan Street.

Deposition of Relics for an Upcoming Church Dedication

On Tuesday, March 19, the Solemnity of St Joseph, His Excellency Frank Caggiano, Bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, visited the church of St Catherine of Siena in Trumbull, and deposited relics within the altar, in anticipation of the consecration of the altar and the church, which will take place this coming Sunday, March 24. (During the Mass of that day, the bishop will deposit a relic of the church’s Patron Saint, which will be visible through the grille on the front of the altar.) The relics deposited on March 19th were first-class relics of the martyrs Ss Eugenius and Candidus, which were original to the church, as well as Ss John-Marie Vianney, Frances-Xavier Cabrini, Pius X, Elizabeth Ann Seton, André Bessette, and Bl. John Henry Newman.

The individual reliquaries are tied with ribbons and sealed with the bishop’s seal.
They are then placed in a metal box, which is also tied and sealed.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

“Let My Prayer Rise as Incense” by Dmitry Bortniansky - Byzantine Music for Lent

In the Byzantine Rite, the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on the weekdays of Lent, but only on Saturdays and Sundays; an exception is made for the feast of the Annunciation. Therefore, at the Divine Liturgy on Sundays, extra loaves of bread are consecrated, and reserved for the rest of the week. On Wednesdays and Fridays, a service known as the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is held, in which Vespers is mixed with a Communion Rite. (It is also held on the first three days of Holy Week, and may be done on other occasions, but twice a week is the most common practice.)

The first part of this ceremony follows the regular order of Vespers fairly closely, and the second part imitates the Great Entrance and the Communion rite of the Divine Liturgy. After the opening Psalm (103) and the Litany of Peace, the Gradual Psalms are chanted by a reader in three blocks, while a portion of the Presanctified Gifts is removed from the tabernacle, incensed, and carried from the altar to the table of the preparation. This is followed by a general incensation of the church, as the hymns of the day are sung with the daily Psalms of Vespers (140, 141, 129 and 116), the entrance procession with the thurible, and the hymn Phos Hilaron. Two readings are given from the Old Testament (Genesis and Proverbs in Lent, Exodus and Job in Holy Week), after which, the priest stands in front of the altar and incenses it continually, while the choir sings verses of Psalm 140, with the refrain “Let my prayer rise before Thee like incense, the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.” (The first part of this refrain is also NLM’s motto.)


This particular setting is by one of the greatest Slav composers of music for the Byzantine Liturgy, Dmitry Bortniansky, who was born in 1751 in the city of Hlukhiv in modern Ukraine, then a part of the Russian Empire. At the age of seven, he went to St Petersburg to sing with the Imperial Court Chapel, whose Italian master, Baldassare Galuppi, was so impressed with his talents that he brought him back to Italy in 1769. After ten years of training and work as a composer, Bortniansky returned to St Petersburg, and eventually became himself master of the same choir, the first native of the Russian Empire to hold that position. His enormous oeuvre includes operas, instrumental compositions, songs in a variety of languages, 45 sacred concertos, and of course a very large number of liturgical compositions in Old Church Slavonic, like the one given above.

Solemn Mass for the Annunication in Leawood, Kansas

The church of St Michael the Archangel in Leawood, Kansas, will hold a solemn High Mass next Monday, on the feast of the Annunication, starting at 5pm, offered for the protection of pregnant mothers and their babies. The Ordinary will be William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices; the church is located at 14251 Nall Avenue.

Roman Pilgrims at the Station Churches 2019 (Part 2)

Our Roman pilgrim friend Agnese is back on her feet, and so we continue with this year’s series of her photos of the Lenten stational Masses, with a special emphasis on relics and processions.

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent - St Anastasia
Ember Wednesday - St Mary Major
Penitential procession through the basilica.
Many of these churches set up a special display of relics on the day of the station; Santa Maria Maggiore, which is also the station for the Wednesday of Holy Week, has one of the nicest arrangements on the high altar.
Thursday of the First Week - St Lawrence in Panisperna
This church is on one of the busiest streets on the Esquiline Hill, so the procession before Mass only goes around the small courtyard in front of the it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Feast of St Joseph 2019

A faithful and wise servant, whom the Lord appointed over His family: * Amen, I say to you, that he will make him ruler over all his goods. V. He that is the guardian of his Lord, will be glorified. Amen. Glory be. Amen. (The twelfth responsory of Matins of the feast of St Joseph in the Benedictine Office.)
San Joseph with the Child Jesus, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1655-60
R. Fidelis servus et prudens, quem constituit Dominus super familiam suam: * Amen, dico vobis, quoniam super omnia bona sua constituet eum. V. Qui est Domini sui, glorificabitur. Amen. Glory be. Amen.

The Mysteries of the Mandorla in the Our Lady of Guadalupe Icon

The story of the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe is remarkable in many ways. An important part of that story, that of the image that was given to St Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, is itself enigmatic. What follows is personal speculation - I am describing what strikes me as so mysterious when I look at this image.

As a revealed image, it is a rare Western example of a small category of sacred art called in Greek acheiropoieta - not made by human hands. In this example, we have some details clearly derived from Aztec culture and some from traditional Christian culture, including some features not normally associated with the Spanish Christian culture of the day. Something else that is striking about this image is how these aspects are combined so as to create something that has great power to convince one of the truth of what it conveys. This apparition caused millions to convert, and a large part of that was due to the persuasive influence of the visual vocabulary employed by the “artist” of this image. It spoke simultaneously to both the Aztecs and the occupying Spaniards, and continues to draw devotion today from Christians from all over the world.

The subject of this sacred image came up recently in a lively podcast in which I was in conversation with Christopher West (of the Cor Project and the Theology of the Body Institute). We were discussing the broader subject of the place of contemporary popular culture in a Christian culture and whether or not it has a place for Christians as a tool for evangelization. In the course of this, we touched on subjects ranging from 1970s rock music (British, Irish and American) to Gregorian chant. (You can listen to the podcast here, or watch it on YouTube, here).

In the course of this exploration, we spoke of how the liturgy is the wellspring of Christian culture, and it is the culture of faith, connected to the liturgy, that is the strongest contributor to the universal human aspects of culture. In addition, this can be integrated discerningly with the contemporary culture so that it also reflects a particular time and place. If this integration is done well, the effect of the combination is to powerfully connect the universal truths to contemporary society; if, on the other hand, it is handled clumsily, it will have the opposite effect, and will lead people away from salvation.

As an example of such an integration that is successful, Christopher referred to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and spoke beautifully of some of its elements that are particular to the culture, and of which I had not been fully aware before. So referring to this detail:

Our Lady’s hairstyle, parted in center, was in 16th-century Aztec culture the sign of a maiden, a virgin, but the ribbon and bow around her waist signified that she was pregnant. This is therefore a young woman who is portrayed simultaneously a virgin and pregnant. The quatrefoil roses articulated in sepia lines on the pale brown-ochre shawl signify royalty in the visual vocabulary of Aztec culture.

But this image spoke to the Aztecs of more than their own culture, because it has elements that come from traditional Christian culture as well. These are universal in that they speak to all Christians (one might make an argument in some cases for non-Christians too). It is these that speak to 16th-century Spaniards and to many Christians from all over the world since.

We can see, for example, the blue shawl, a common color for Mary’s outer robe. It is said to denote royalty. and Marian chapels often have their walls painted in this color. The exact shade of blue is unusual in that it is not lapis lazuli blue (French ultramarine), which a contemporary painter of the High Renaissance period might have used, but rather a turquoise blue often described as cerulean. I have no explanation for this difference. Also, I am curious to know more about the pigment that provides this color than Wikipedia can tell me. Cerulean blue pigment is only known since the late 18th century, when it was chemically created; it is not from a naturally occurring mineral. It might be that there is no great mystery here and that it is an effect created by a simple combination of other, naturally occurring green and blue pigments available at the time.

The eight-pointed stars represent her connection with the “eighth day” of Creation, her Son, Jesus Christ, who rose on the eighth day of the week. Traditionally in Eastern icons, there will be just three stars, symbolizing the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos - God-bearer - before, during and after her pregnancy. There are many more than three stars here. Perhaps it was deemed unnecessary by the Divine Artist to stay with three stars because her virginity is indicated in a different way, as already mentioned. There is also the moon, which is consistent with Scripture in that it shows Our Lady as the woman of the Apocalypse (12, 1), with the upturned crescent moon.

Another feature which interests me greatly is the nimbus of light around her. The account of the woman in the Book of the Apocalypse describes her as being “clothed in the sun.” The golden nimbus around her whole person might correspond to this. However, this is more complicated, there is something else going on here I believe that relates to the symbolism of the mandorla.

A mandorla is an iconographic symbol in the shape of a circle or an almond-shaped oval signifying heaven, divine glory, or light; mandorla is Italian for “almond.” It is an indication of the divine light of sanctity, but the mandorla of this type is generally reserved for Christ, at least in traditional iconography. I suggest that it is included here to indicate the presence of Christ within her womb. It is not there so much for the God-bearer, but for God! This is the Christian way of indicating that Our Lady is with child, the divine child, which complements the symbolism of Aztec culture. Remember that if this image had not spoken to the Spanish occupiers too, no one would have taken Juan Diego seriously.

Furthermore, take a close look at the gold envelope that surrounds her. This is not, as one might first suspect, a series of bright gold darts emanating from Our Lady. Rather it is a series of dark darts emanating from her on a gold background, the outer limits of which describe the mandorla shape, which is a smooth almond. In other words, this mandorla is getting darker the closer it is to her. Why should this be?

She really is, to use a familiar phrase, a riddle wrapped up in an enigma!

The answer is that this is how it is painted in traditional iconography. As I wrote in a recent article on the subject, “The mandorla surrounding Christ usually shows concentric bands of shading which get darker toward the center, rather than lighter. It is painted in this way so as to communicate to us, pictorially, the fact that we must pass through stages of increasing mystery in order to encounter the person of Jesus Christ. This encounter, which takes place in the Mass with the Eucharist at its heart, is one that transforms me supernaturally so that I can begin to grasp the glory of Christ more directly.”

You can see an iconographic mandorla here in an icon of the Dormition painted, by Theophan the Greek in 1392.

In the following icon, the sense of a mandorla getting darker as it moves towards the center is done in a different way.

As we can see above, the hidden “heart of darkness” is suggested visually by darts of darkness that come from a point obscured by the figure of Christ. This is similar, but not identical, to the device used by the artist in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Notice also, incidentally, that while the Apostles are able to perceive the glorified Christ, they still do so dimly. They are partially and temporarily deified, but not fully, and so are partially blinded by the Light and knocked off their feet. To indicate this we see the rays that strike them as shafts of darkness, and the Apostles themselves will not receive halos until Pentecost, in contrast with the Prophets who are already in heaven, flanking Our Lord.

It is interesting to note that virtually every copy of the Our Lady of Guadalupe icon gets this detail wrong and inverts the direction of the lines. For example, here is one painted around 1700.

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