Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Beautiful Lectionaries in the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Since we recently highlighted a very ugly lectionary, and the general lack of beauty in modern liturgical books, I thought it would be nice to share some images of beautiful lectionaries of various kinds and periods from the endlessly useful website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Some of the most famous liturgical manuscripts in the world are kept there, and can be downloaded for free in pdf format; here is just a tiny selection of their many treasures.

Greek Evangeliary, date unspecified, (Supplément grec 27, folio 1r) - St John the Evangelist is shown dictating his Gospel to his amanuensis St Prochoros, who was one of the first seven deacons. As can be seen from the folio number, this is at the very beginning of the manuscript; Byzantine Gospel books are traditionally arranged according to the order of their liturgical use, starting with Easter, on which the Gospel is John 1, 1-17.
The cover of a Latin Evangeliary from the last quarter of the 9th century. (ms. Latin 9453)
St Matthew Writing His Gospel, from the 9th century Evangeliary of Ebon (folio 18v)
Evangeliary of the Court of Charlemagne, also known as the Golden Evangeliary (Évangéliaire dor) of Evangeliary of Saint-Martin-des-Champs. 8th century, folio 61 r. - The beginning of the Gospel of St Mark.
Evangeliary according to the Use of Paris, 1345-1350, folio 1 r. - The Gospel of the First Sunday of Advent in many medieval Uses, including those of Paris and Sarum, was that which the traditional Roman use reads on Palm Sunday, St Matthew, 21, 1-9.
Lectionary for Mass and Office from the Monastery of Mont-Majeur, 1075-1200 (ms. Latin 889, folio 7v) - The Vision of St John the Evangelist 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Feast of St Anne

Justly does Anne, filled with the divine Spirit, with joyful and jubilant spirit sing aloud: “Rejoice with me, who of my barren womb I have borne the bud of promise, and, as I had longed, nourish at my breasts the fruit of blessing. I have laid aside the mournfulness of barrenness, and put on the joyful raiment of fruitfulness. Let that other Anna, the adversary of Peninnah, (1 Kings 1) rejoice with me, and with me celebrate this new and unhoped-for wonder that is wrought in me.

The Madonna and Child with St Anne, by Masaccio (Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone), ca 1424. Galleria degli Uffizi. Florence
Let Sarah be glad that was joyfully pregnant in her old age, and prefigured my own conception in barrenness. Let all the barren and fruitless sing together of my wondrous visitation from heaven.” Let all mothers likewise, that like Anne are gifted with fruitfulness, say, “Blessed be He That bestowed on those who prayed Him what they asked, and gave fruitfulness unto her that was barren, and granted to her that most happy blossom, the Virgin, who was the Mother of God according to the flesh; whose womb was a heaven wherein He dwelt Whom no place can contain. - St John Damascene, Second Oration on the Birth of the Virgin; from the Roman Breviary.

Dominican Mass This Sunday in Quezon City in the Philippines

This coming Sunday, July 31st, the Parish of the Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Quezon City, The Philippines, will host our own Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., for the celebration of a Missa Cantata in the Dominican Use, beginning at 2 p.m. The organizers, the Societas Ecclesia Dei - Sancti Joseph, wish to express their gratitude to the curé of the parish, Rev. Fr. Michel Joe Zerrudo. Click here to for the Facebook event page; directions to the church are given in the map below.

A Model Review - Br Brad Elliot OP on the Music of Frank La Rocca

Here is a review of a selection of Frank La Rocca’s compositions called In This Place, written by Br Brad T. Elliot OP; it appeared first, in slightly altered form, on page 49 of the Fall 2015 edition of Sacred Music, the journal of the CMAA.

I have only just seen this, but I thought to bring it to your attention for a couple of reasons, the first being that I think that Frank La Rocca’s work deserves to get more attention.

The second reason is that the principles by which the reviewer judges the merit of La Rocca’s works are themselves worthy of study. Br Brad Elliot, who is a Dominican of the Western Province of the United States, has a good grasp of music theory (way beyond my own) and of the principles of sacred music. He brings his knowledge of both into the discussion. As such, in this short piece, I feel he outlines succinctly a guide for patrons, composers, and for the judgment of such compositions, in accord with general principles are applicable in all the creative arts.

Br Brad explains very well why it is imperative that we always have new compositions to breathe life into any artistic tradition. No tradition can rely on a canon of past works alone; without continuing creativity, it will cease to engage new people and become dead. As he puts it:
Simply put, the giving over or tradere of the past into the future must pass through the present as a necessary middle term; the present is where the real tradition takes place.
He stresses also the importance of exploring modern forms of music, as he says:
...modern harmony should not be feared as a threat to sacred beauty.  
But he is quick to point out that such exploration can never be used as a reason for compromising the essential principles of sacred music.

Is Frank La Rocca’s music doing this? Perhaps. I think so, and Br Brad thinks so. But we must be clear that fulfillment of the criteria that Br Brad lays down is not the only requirement. In the end, it has to appeal at a natural level to many people as well. This is the great challenge to the artist in any field, and the mark of true creativity. Neither Br Brad nor myself are the final arbiters of taste and so the final test of its goodness is not if he or I like it, but its popularity. If it is good, it will be performed, and congregations will be drawn to it. And only time can tell us this in regard to Frank La Rocca’s or any other composer’s music. You can decide for your self by listening to his work. Here is his O Magnum Mysterium.

We ought to encourage the continued creativity of people who understand the principles of sacred music and modern music, and are prepared to take that great risk in looking for ways of combining the two. Frank La Rocca looks to the incorporation of modern classical forms. This is not the only area of modern music in which people can look for inspiration, but whatever approach is taken, it has to be done with the dedication and respect for tradition with which we see from Frank and a few others. (Another example is my colleague on this blog, Peter Kwasniewski). The more people who are doing so, the more likely it is that the sacred musical form of today will break out of the esoteric circle of those who are deeply interested in such things and emerge as a new, popular and noble form. The music that does this will characterize our age when future generations look back at the early 21st century.

Someone once tried to persuade me that I should appreciate the highly dissonant classical music of the 20th century with the absurd opening argument that “modern music isn’t as bad as it sounds.” While there is always a place for guiding people into an appreciation of what is good, if we have to persuade people that they ought to like something, we have failed.

Thoughtful criticism that highlights what is good is as necessary to the process of cultural transformation as the work of the creative artist. I think both Br Brad Elliot and Frank La Rocca are showing us the path by which we can succeed (not forgetting Sacred Music which prints the review of course!)

The Fall edition of Sacred Music has just appeared online, so you can read the review in the journal, here. Alternatively, I reproduce it here with permission:

Composers of sacred music are in a precarious position in today’s world; in many ways, they are a dying breed. On the one hand, they find themselves competing with an aesthetic of the past, as so many in their audience are driven by a nostalgia for a form and harmony indicative of music centuries-old. On the other hand, they are immersed in a post-modern world that has all but forgotten the very natural laws of beauty, the very symmetry, proportion, and order imbued in creation that any authentic imitation of that creation – the ancient notion of art – should reflect. The contemporary composer of sacred music seems to be straddling two incommensurable worlds. How is he to be faithful to the tradition by assimilating its rich vocabulary, and yet express this vocabulary and pass it on to a post-modern world that has all but revolted against that language?

The tension between purist and progressive is deeply felt by the sacred music composer. The Christian audience in today’s world inevitably defaults to equating a sacred aesthetic with an ancient or an old aesthetic, and this antiquity tends to become more and more idealized as it fades into a past known only through the frozen images of paintings or the archaic prose of worn books. Yet if the tradition of sacred music is to be handed on at all, if it is to be a true tradition –tradere – or giving over of something, it cannot remain in the idealized past. After all, sacred music is not a mere platonic universal floating in a world of ideas; it must be instantiated in a present particular work, that is, a piece of music that contains all the individuality and unrepeatable character of any other. If the tradition of sacred music is to be known, it must be incarnated in the here-and-now, given flesh and matter through some distinct composition. Simply put, the giving over or tradere of the past into the future must pass through the present as a necessary middle term; the present is where the real tradition takes place.

But here is precisely the dilemma; if any particular composition is to be a true giving over of something and not a mere replica of the past, than this work will naturally embody the character of the present time. The harmony, feel, texture, and aesthetic of the contemporary world will serve as the matter out of which the tradition again takes flesh. But can contemporary music actually provide a sufficient matter for a true expression of the sacred? Has the twentieth century, and now the twenty-first, provided a musical language with which the tradition can again be spoken? Or would not modern harmony, with its dissonance and atonality, compromise the sacred to an unrecognizable degree? Unfortunately, many answer this last question with a simple “yes.” This is the nature of the tension that composers know all too well.

For the past twenty years I have been a lover of sacred music, both its history and contemporary trends, and I have grown accustomed to this tension. I confess that, for much of my life I would have, like the many mentioned above, simply denied that the modern aesthetic could ever express the transcendence which is the hallmark of sacred music. As easy as it may be to succumb to this doubt given the pervasive banality of so much contemporary music, every so often a composer emerges who provides the needed exception to this presumed distrust, a composer who fully embraces contemporary forms of structure and harmony and yet still remains rooted in the sacred tradition. The composer Frank La Rocca has again provided this welcomed exception and the album In This Place is proof that an artist fully immersed in twentieth-century music can again speak the language of the sacred musical tradition to contemporary ears in a way that is understandable and attractive.

The album In This Place is unquestionably a work born from Catholic Christian spirituality with six of the eight compositions as settings of biblical or liturgical texts. From the opening, O Magnum Mysterium, a setting of the responsorial chant of Matins of Christmas, to the closing Credo, a setting of the Latin text of the Nicene Creed, the album is an explicit expression, in music, of the faith of the historic Christian Church. There is Expectavi Dominum with text from Psalm 40, Miserere with text of King David’s great prayer of repentance in Psalm 51, the Pentecost Sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus, and the famous prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas, O Sacrum Convivium. In addition to these vocal works, there is a piano work entitled Meditation, and an instrumental chamber work, In This Place, from which the album gets its name.

The entire album is a kaleidoscope of colors, textures, and moods where, like the psalms and liturgical prayers themselves, the full spectrum of human emotion is embraced and felt. La Rocca is undoubtedly adept at composing with the dissonance and set-harmony of twentieth-century music fully playing with all its qualities, and yet the album touches tonal harmony at every turn. As one listens from start to finish, the composer takes the listener on a journey through both the traditional narrative-like tension/release of tonal harmony and the persistent chromatics of the modern era. In a sense, La Rocca pulls the best from both worlds and weaves them together into his own distinctive voice. While the influence of Renaissance composers like Orlande de Lassus and William Byrd may be heard, particularly in the choral works, the influence of twentieth-century composers is evident. One can hear the harmonic sharpness and rhythmic agility of Stravinsky as well as the mystical naturalism of Mahler. Far from being a patch-like jumble of the old and the new, it is an authentic blending in the truest sense of the word. Any lover of twentieth-century music will find in La Rocca a composer who fully understands his taste. Nonetheless, through these works, the lover of traditional sacred music will also hear, echoing as from the past into the present, a true icon of holy transcendence once again instantiated in the present.

The blending of old and new elements is best seen in La Rocca’s use of old church modes. Traditional modal harmony is present in much of the album yet the composer never compromises its contemporary feel. For example, Veni Sancte Spiritus, for soprano voice and chamber ensemble, is composed in the Aeolian mode. The piece remains rooted in the church mode from beginning to end and yet, by exploring the range of intervals imbedded therein, La Rocca is able to extract gradations of dissonance and consonance that one would not expect. In modern fashion, the composition is held together by an angular motif, a succession of open ascending intervals that is heard from both voice and instrument. While a calm melancholic feel pervades, there is also expressed a subtle note of hope and expectancy so appropriate for the text of the Veni Sancte Spiritus which begins, “Come, Holy Spirit, and from your celestial home radiate divine light.”

Similarly, the title track of the album, In This Place is also composed in the Aeolian mode. The composition, a solely instrumental work, is passionately mournful with an interplay between reed and string that is eerily prayer-like. La Rocca creates this mood, not only through harmonic dissonance, but also through taking advantage of the biting tambour of string and reed. There is a deep introspective element to the work reminiscent of the art songs of Mahler.

The Credo is, as one might expect, most reflective of traditional forms. The influence of Gregorian chant can be heard in the opening phrase yet the music quickly expands to the use of counterpoint indicative of Renaissance polyphony. It is an experiment in the balance and contrast that may be achieved when music suitable for liturgy is combined with more modern concert forms. The settings of the psalms, Expectavi Dominum and Miserere, likewise harken back to an earlier polyphonic style but utilize modern harmonic colors to punctuate the biblical text. For example, Expectavi Dominum, the text of Psalm 40 which begins “I waited patiently for the Lord,” highlights the ache of this waiting by opening with the unconventional dissonance of a minor second. Miserere is, like the text of Psalm 51 itself, a musical journey from the bitterness of contrition, through the pain of repentance, and finally to the tranquility that accompanies faith in the Lord’s mercy. The music first expresses, through minor modes and dissonance, the sadness and gravity of King David’s confrontation with the horror of his own sin. But then as the text “cor mundum crea in me, Deus” is sung (create in me a clean heart O God), the music transforms into a joyful, restful praise of God. Following the biblical text, the music begins with mourning and anguish but ends in a musical Sabbath-rest.

A particularly noteworthy piece is the sixth track on the album, O Sacrum Convivium. This is a setting of the prayer composed by St. Thomas Aquinas in praise of the Holy Eucharist and, like the rest of the album, it is a hauntingly beautiful blend of classic and contemporary elements. The work most reveals the influence that English Renaissance polyphony, particularly that of William Byrd, has had on La Rocca’s choral style. Of all the compositions, it contains the most triadic harmony and best represents traditional polyphonic structure. A classical yet unexpected opening occurs when the bass, tenor, alto, and soprano each respectively state the opening melody in ascending sequence. However, these ascending statements are not removed by a perfect fifth as one would traditionally expect, rather, they are each removed by a perfect fourth giving the opening a suspended and otherworldly feel most fitting for the text of the prayer. The polyphonic chant is interrupted by a recurring motif, arresting of the attention with its dense chromatic clusters, that emphasizes the theologically rich texts “in quo Christus sumitur” (in which Christ is received) and “mens impletur gratia” (the mind is filled with grace).

The album as a whole is a courageous blend of styles and genres that is atypical for the fractioned world of modern music. Thus, it bears a confidence that is only born of years of artistic maturity. The sheer variety of the album pays testament to the diversity of influences that have shaped the composer’s ear and, what is more, pays greater testament to a composer who has himself wrestled with the interplay between these influences and has emerged from the battle. All lovers of sacred music wearied by the divide between the traditional and modern aesthetic will find happy repose in the album In This Place. Its varied collection hints that La Rocca has gone before us through this divide and is now giving to others the fruits of his own musical and spiritual journey.

Indeed, modern harmony should not be feared as a threat to sacred beauty. In This Place is proof of this. For sacred beauty, like God Himself, is timeless; no age can claim Him as its own. Beauty, wherever it is found, may be used as an icon of God’s holy presence, and the composer Frank La Rocca has again given the world a fresh example of this truth. The album In This Place, far from being a mere restatement of the old, is a new instantiation of the tradition of sacred music in our own time. Far from re-creating the past, La Rocca speaks the tradition with his own musical voice. I encourage all lovers of music to invest time in listening to his work. It is time well spent.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Award for the Most Hideous Lectionary Ever

In an article entitled "Books That Cry Out the Unique Richness and Holiness of God's Word," I argued that somewhere along the line, we decided to forego the expense and trouble of creating beautiful artifacts for the sacred liturgy, and settled for a combination of aesthetic mediocrity and repellent modern ugliness. Sometimes it seems as if intentions are good but artistic ability is totally lacking; other times it seems that the intentions are actually modernist and the goal is to repudiate past tradition in favor of a newly-fashioned religion of the future. Whatever the case may be, in my article I provided photos of exquisite historic lectionaries and modern imitations in a similar vein, as well as of some unremarkable contemporary lectionaries.

Recently, I came across a set of lectionaries that struck me as the most hideous I'd ever seen. Since there may come a day when our children and grandchildren do not believe us when we regale them with stories of such things -- they will protest that we are surely exaggerating like a bunch of tippling fishermen -- I thought it worthwhile to reproduce some images here, followed by the palate cleansing contrast of several books in my library that enshrine the Word of God and the rite of the liturgy in a beauty that befits them.

First, the books published in 1999:

Saturday, July 23, 2016

“In Mei Memoriam Facietis”; Liturgical Externals and Memory - Guest Article by Veronica Arntz

We are pleased to share with our readers this guest article by Veronica Arntz, a recent graduate of Wyoming Catholic College who will begin graduate studies in theology this fall at the Augustine Institute.

The heated debate surrounding Cardinal Robert Sarah’s call to celebrate the liturgy ad orientem shows deep division within the Church. If the liturgy is the “source and summit of the whole Christian life,” as Lumen gentium 11 proclaims, then it is essential for Catholics to celebrate it in unity of heart and mind. If we wish to accomplish anything within the fields of social justice, morality, and catechesis, we must approach the liturgy as a gift from God and as an organic whole, meant to unify the universal Church, not divide her. The question of ad orientem worship is extremely important for this unity of the Church and cannot be dismissed lightly. It is necessary, therefore, to understand how the external aspects of the liturgy are important to its celebration, for they assist in forming how we know, love, and serve God. In particular, our memories, as defined by St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, are formed and shaped by the externals of the liturgy, which means that we cannot ignore them or disregard them as unimportant.

Solemn High Mass in Notre-Dame de Paris
When St. Thomas Aquinas is discussing whether memory is part of prudence in the Summa Theologiae, he lists four ways by which man perfects his memory. The first of these, which shall be our focus, is the following: “When a man wishes to remember a thing, he should take some suitable yet somewhat unwonted illustration of it, since the unwonted strikes us more, and so makes a greater and stronger impression on the mind.” Aquinas gives the following reason for why we need illustrations: “Simple and spiritual impressions easily slip from the mind, unless they be tied as it were to some corporeal image, because human knowledge has a greater hold on sensible objects.” (II-II Q. 49, art. 1, ad 1) In other words, a man’s mind works best by connecting spiritual or invisible realities to a sensible image, for sensible realities are more knowable by him. When he tries to understand a spiritual reality, therefore, it is more likely to remain in his memory if he connects it with a sensible reality.

In Book 10 of The Confessions, St. Augustine gives us an interesting perspective on how our memories are connected with God. Augustine is in awe over the immense power of his memory: “Great is this power of memory, exceedingly great, O my God, a spreading limitless room within me. Who can reach its uttermost depth? Yet it is a faculty of my soul and belongs to my nature. In fact I cannot totally grasp all that I am.” We here find testimony to the fact that this faculty of his human nature, which exists in time, is also something beyond him. Even within his own memory, he finds it impossible to grasp his identity and his role in the world. The crux of the treatise, however, occurs when he realizes that God is within his memory, which is why his memory is beyond himself. “See now how great a space I have covered in my memory, in search of Thee, O Lord; and I have not found Thee outside it…From the time I learned of Thee, Thou hast remained in my memory, and there do I find Thee, when I turn my mind to Thee and find delight in Thee.” Thus, even though his memory knows things within time, it is still capable of holding within itself God, who is outside of time.

For Augustine, memory makes present the things of the past, for time is measured in his mind. How then can God come to be in his mind, if He is eternal and exists outside of time? As Augustine explains, “You are before all the past by the eminence of Your ever-present eternity: and You dominate all the future in as much as it is still to be: and once it has come it will be past: but ‘Thou art always the Selfsame, and Thy years shall not fail.’ ” Thus, it is because God is the “eternal Creator of minds” that he is able to dwell in the mind, and specifically, in the memory. Augustine believes that, given how much our memory is able to hold and understand, then so much more God’s memory, which holds all knowledge, because He is eternal.

In The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI argues that time and eternity meet in the Incarnation and in the liturgy. He writes, “All time is God’s time. When the eternal Word assumed human existence at his Incarnation, he also assumed temporality. He drew time into the sphere of eternity. Christ is himself the bridge between time and eternity.” Thus, because the Word took flesh, God has a connection with man, and indeed, with his memory. “In the Word incarnate, who remains man forever, the presence of eternity with time becomes bodily and concrete.” We thus see a connection to Aquinas’s remarks on memory. God, who is the most intelligible reality and thereby the most difficult for man to understand, took on human form, and now man has a concrete way to understand and know Him. Because Christ entered into time, He is likewise able to transform man’s memory, which exists in time, but is also beyond time, since it is ultimately united with God’s eternity.

For Pope Benedict, liturgy is man’s window into Heaven, the place where heaven touches earth, and we are able to receive Christ daily in the Eucharist. In the liturgy, man experiences the Beatific Vision for a brief moment of time while still on earth. “The historical liturgy of Christendom is and always will be cosmic, without separation and without confusion, and only as such does it stand erect in its full grandeur.” Liturgy, although an action occurring within time, is ultimately cosmic, for it expands beyond the present time and points man toward his future life in Heaven. The cosmic time of the liturgy “becomes a representation of human time and of historical time, which moves toward the union of God and world, of history and universe, of matter and spirit—in a word, toward the New City whose light is God Himself.” This union of God and world achieved in the liturgy also occurs within the memory, which is an interior power of the soul. A man’s memory is united with the knowledge of eternity and God in the liturgy, and thereby becomes more like God’s own mind.

Thus, the liturgy is not merely a spiritual reality; it is the place where God and man unite, which means that it is necessary to worship in a bodily way. Furthermore, we cannot merely reduce liturgy to the structure of a meal, which many do when simplifying the essence of the liturgy to the Consecration of the Body and Blood, for this removes those externals that remind man of God’s presence in the liturgy. Because Christ’s presence is manifest in the liturgy, which occurs within man’s history, the externals of the liturgy are important for forming man’s memory. As we saw in Aquinas, the memory is formed through connections made between sensible and spiritual realities, which explain the rich external signs within the liturgy that help man become more united to God. The gestures of the priest, the beautiful vestments, the scent of incense, the detailed artwork, the ethereal music: all these external signs are meant to point to God.

Moreover, because these signs are so intimately connected with the liturgy, they form man’s memory about the liturgy and about God. When a man remembers a beautifully celebrated Mass, he often remembers the corporeal signs he experienced, and we see this evident in the Pope-Emeritus’ memory of his Bavarian hometown celebration of Corpus Christi. “I can still smell those carpets of flowers and the freshness of the birch trees; I can see all the houses decorated, the banners, the singing; I can still hear the village band, which indeed sometimes dared more, on this occasion, than it was able!” All of the sights and smells of Corpus Christi are still deeply engraved within the memory; the liturgical life of the community created a beautiful memory for him, which he still connects with the glory of God. We are losing so much in our liturgical tradition with the loss of Corpus Christi celebrations; how many have such vivid memories of that feast? How many can say that Christ has entered deeply into their memories because of Corpus Christi processions and celebrations?

Corpus Christ Procession, Madison Wisconsin (from one of our 2015 photoposts)
This connection of memory and liturgy is one of the reasons that Cardinal Sarah is calling for liturgies to be celebrated ad orientem once again. Since Vatican II, our memories of the liturgy have been shaped by the priest facing versus populum. But, as Pope Benedict explains regarding this orientation, “The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle.” Thus, our memories of the liturgy are not, generally, connected with God (as they should be), but rather, they are connected with a humanistic, self-centered sort of liturgy. We expect the priest to face us, so we can see him and understand his personality. We expect the priest to put on a show for us, so that we can be entertained for an hour and feel good about ourselves. The corporeal image we have connected with the liturgy in our mind is that of the priest himself. Our memories, however, have been trained with the wrong expectations. We ought to be turned together toward the Lord—our minds and our memories should be oriented toward God in the liturgy, for the liturgy is the anticipation of the coming Christ. This is the purpose of the priest celebrating ad orientem: all who are part of the Mass, including the priest, are meant to be awaiting the Lord’s return. The sacrifice of the Mass is an offering to the Lord, not to the people.

If we humbly follow Cardinal Sarah’s request, we shall retrain our memories to turn toward the Lord in the liturgy. Our memories will once again reconnect with God, who is present within us, not only in our minds, but most especially in the Eucharist. We cannot simply toss aside the liturgical traditions that have formed 1500 years of Saints: in doing so, we lose our connection with the Church and with God. If we refocus our minds and memories on God, “we will go out to meet the Lord who has already been coming all along, we will enter into his coming—and so we will allow ourselves to be fitted into a greater reality, beyond the everyday.”

Friday, July 22, 2016

La Sainte Baume - St Mary Magdalene’s Cave

Even scholars least inclined to skepticism in treating of the lives of the Saints find it difficult to accept as true the legend that St Mary Magdalene, her sister Martha and brother Lazarus, together with many companions, settled in the Provence region of southern France. The most serious objection to the story is that it is completely unheard of before the 11th century among the many ecclesiastical writers and liturgical books surviving from before that period. Mary Magdalene is said to have spent many years in a purely contemplative life in a cave high up on a mountain about 40 miles to the east of Marseilles, and was frequently rapt up into heaven. In the Tridentine liturgical books, there is no reference to this legend in the office of St Mary Magdalene, but it is included in the Matins lessons for the feast of St Martha. The Martyrology also refers to it by giving Marseilles as the place of the Magdalene’s death; it also lists Lazarus as the first bishop of that city on December 17th. St Martha is said to have ruled over a community of religious women, and died at Tarascon, about 60 miles to the northwest of Marseilles. (Tarascon is also the name of a dragon which she subdued – more on that next week.)

The cave said to be that of St Mary Magdalene, known in French as “La Sainte Baume”, is still a popular pilgrimage spot, in the charge of the Dominicans; I was able to visit it this May during the Fraternity of St Joseph the Guardian’s Pro Civitate Dei summer school in nearby La-Londe-les-Maures, certainly one of the highlights of the program.

The entrance to the church complex.
The cave, which is now a church, has been under the care of the Dominicans since 1295, with an interruption of over 40 years at the French Revolution. Before that, it was under Benedictines, and before them, “Cassianites,” i.e., monks who followed as their principal rule the writings of St John Cassian, who died at Marseilles in 435.

A relic of St Magdalene now kept in the cave - her principal relics are at the church of St Maximin, which I wrote about on his feast day in June.
A statue of St Mary Magdalene being rapt in ecstasy into heaven.

Sacred Music Summer Camp for Youth - Lincoln, Nebraska

Sacred Music Summer Camp for Youth

Music Instructors: Nicholas & Elizabeth Lemme

What: Five days of musical instruction in Gregorian chant and beginning polyphony, culminating in a Mass at the end of the week, chanted by all of the camp participants. 

Some highlights:
  • Learn to sight-singing with solfege and Ward Method singing games
  • Improve your vocal technique & ensemble singing
  • Develop aural skills and enhance your musicianship
  • Discover basic medieval music theory in the areas of rhythm, notation, and modes
  • Practice the basics of Latin pronunciation for singing
  • Gain a deeper understanding of the Church’s liturgy and its sacred music 
When: August 8–12, 2016. 9:00am–2:00pm
Where: UNL Newman Center @ the Corner of 16th and Q St.
Who: Ages 7–14 unchanged voices
Tuition: $50 per child; $125 per family 3+
Register by contacting Nicholas Lemme at

Registration Deadline: A non-refundable registration deposit of $25 is due by August 1, 2016. The remaining balance is due on the first day of camp.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Turning Toward the Lord -- An Evangelical and Ecumenical Perspective for Support

Billy Graham teaching
Cardinal Sarah’s challenge that priests celebrate Mass “ad orientem” has sparked controversy and heated discussion throughout the Catholic world. Hyperbole aside, some think this would imply we’re going back to the dark ages. Others see this subtle yet important change as the salvation of the Christian West. Whether you’re with Cardinal Nichols or Cardinal Sarah, it’s a big deal.

As one who converted from the Evangelical faith in 2004, I’d like to offer my support for Cardinal Sarah and simultaneously identify some points where his vision would bring about positive ecumenism with our Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters.

For the Evangelical Christian, the person Jesus Christ is so fundamentally important, that he has become the lens for all of human history. All things are “through him, with him, and in him.” As with the larger movement of history, so also Jesus Christ is seen as involved in the story of our own personal lives. For the Evangelical, the Christian life is not so much embracing a political movement or a community, or even becoming a certain personality type, as much as it is a turning toward the person of Jesus Christ and allowing Him access to transform us from the inside out. This is what an Evangelical Christian means when they ask, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?" Christianity is about understanding one’s life in and through Jesus Christ. Therefore what Jesus says and does really matters for the Evangelical Christian.

Our Catholic liturgy ought to reflect this too, insofar as everyone ought to “turn” toward Jesus in this way. The irony of this “turning” is that not everyone turns from the same spot; accordingly, Catholic tradition has always offered breadth and depth of authentic content in order to cast a wider net. I might need to become gentler; you might need to grow a spine. The Holy Spirit, who flows from the Father and the Son, and animates the Church, brings “rest in toil, coolness in the heat, and solace in grief.” Further, this same Spirit “bends what is rigid, thaws what is frozen, and sets right what is lost.” (Sequence for Pentecost). Of course the commandments and precepts are the same for everyone, but what marks conversion for me, might be different for you; Jesus Christ, however, brings all these separate “turnings” together, and unifies the result. He is the focus of all true conversion, and each Christian seeks to make himself like him.

And this is precisely where the obedient and reverent liturgy comes into play. It is what makes the whole Christ visible, so that each participant can turn toward Him from their unique perspective. There are as many paths to sainthood as there are persons, because each person is “capax Dei” or “capable of God,” as St. Augustine says; however all saints become so by modeling their lives after Jesus Christ. If we are turned toward Jesus, each liturgy becomes a little conversion and we are born again. When we receive the Eucharist, we are accepting Jesus into our hearts. When we fail, we come to the altar and ask the Lord to have mercy. When we confess and receive absolution, we pray the sinner's prayer in the presence of God and the priest. When we pray the daily office, we are having daily devotional time and offering our praise to GodI use italics here to identify key terms that Evangelicals use frequently, ways in which our Catholic liturgy can fulfill Evangelical practice. Ironically, these are also the ways in which the Eucharist becomes the “source and summit of the Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, 11).  This understanding of the liturgy was the bridge on which I crossed the Tiber. Even today I have not forsaken the Evangelical teachings of my upbringing, but have rather brought them to fullness in God’s Church.

If ecumenism and evangelization are still worthy goals -- and I think they are, thank God -- we Catholics must retain the fullness of truth in our teaching and liturgical practice in order to cast a wider net. A sermon I heard from a Evangelical pastor in Kenya in 2001 comes to mind. The pastor recalled a mission to a violent and remote tribe, where no missionaries had ever been successful in preaching the gospel, nor had any lived to tell the story of their failure. Eager for a challenge, a young missionary went to them. He prayed to God, asking for help; and somehow, humorously, he received an answer in prayer. He was to begin his evangelization by reading the Gospel of Matthew aloud, starting with the “begats” in chapter 1. I don’t know about you, but pastorally speaking, many of us would see minimal spiritual benefit in reading the whole genealogy of Jesus in a liturgy, let alone to a remote tribe armed to the teeth. “Can we please do the abridged version...?” Not so: the young missionary responded in faith and obedience to the answer God had given, and as he read the genealogies, the men and women of the tribe knelt down peacefully, one by one, in rapt, full attention. What all previous attempts had failed to understand and could not have known without God’s help, was that this tribe had intense admiration for their forebears. It wasn’t hearing about the baby Jesus, the beatitudes, or even the cross, but rather about the respect Matthew has for Jesus’ heritage, that started them on the path to conversion. Not a single word of the Bible is worthless or unintentional on God’s part, nor does any word come back unanswered (Isaiah 55:11). If you ever wondered why all of the “begats” were there, perhaps it was for the salvation of this little tribe... and to save the life of the young missionary!

Meanwhile for the rest of us, if the anecdote is worth anything, apocryphal as it may be, it demonstrates that we can never anticipate how God will draw us to himself. Therefore, we ought never to limit God’s power and action to our own understanding. We ought never to change the plain meaning of the scripture to suit our own purposes, or change the liturgy to reflect our own personal whims, even if we think we’re helping God’s mission along. Rather we must turn our hearts and minds toward Jesus, listening to what he has to say without interrupting him or putting words in his mouth. The priest ought to be the chief example of this “turning.” No level of theological training, subtlety, or popularity can replace the simple value of obedience. God can work with obedience, and he can teach people who are listening, who are turned toward Him.

Evangelical Christians look on most Catholic parishes with grave disappointment. Often, they say, neither does the preaching reflect obedience to the plain meaning of the Biblical text, nor do Catholics take Jesus’ call to conversion seriously enough to make them any different from the mainstream culture. Catholic marriages fall apart at exactly the same rate as secular ones. Most Catholic children don’t know how to pray, let alone show understanding of the Scriptures. Many Catholics don’t even sing or participate in Church, some Evangelicals say, but rather sit there like lumps on a log, with their mouths hung open and their minds empty. The external signs are useless, they say, if not accompanied by sincerity of heart. Very few are able to explain why they are Christian or what being Christian means in terms of the Scriptures, let alone why someone else might want to become one. And so, for these and other reasons, the criticism is made that, if “you shall know them by their fruits,” Catholics have lost the spark of true faith. When I was received into the Church in 2004, the most favorable reply I received from my Evangelical friends was that, begrudgingly, it was possible for me to remain a Christian in spite of being Catholic -- provided I maintained a regimen of private prayer and Scripture study --  but that the Catholic Church itself wouldn’t provide the encouragement I would need to remain faithful. Further, they suggested that the general apathy and apostasy of Catholics would be a drain on my spiritual growth.

These are hard words to hear, and it would be understandable for many Catholics to be offended by this sort of criticism. Really, however, much of this critique is the basis for the New Evangelization efforts initiated by St. John Paul II. In other words, we Catholics have known for some while about our spiritual diseases, too, and we’re working on them. I don't mean to be cheeky, but perhaps God would help us with the New Evangelization, if we would only turn toward Him. It seems so simple: turning is necessary for conversion. The fact that so many Catholics don't understand worship facing the Lord, is a sign that we do not understand our need for conversion, and it is further proof of our need for the New Evangelization. We have Jesus among us, and yet we have forgotten how to turn to Him and pray.

After twelve years, I’m still Catholic. I knew what I was getting myself into then, as I do now. It can seem like a mess at times, but I have not regretted my decision once. But this critique needs an answer. 

If Catholics hope for any unity with Evangelicals, “ad orientem” could be a big step. Evangelicals are looking for conversion, or at least a warm-blooded attempt, as a sign of true faith. Why not give them the sign they seek? Cardinal Sarah isn’t arguing for tradition for tradition’s sake, but rather that each of us turn toward the Lord with a sincere heart. Jesus the Lord is the cornerstone of the Church, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last; if we wish to rebuild ourselves or our Church, we have to turn toward Him. For the sake of the New Evangelization, let’s turn to the Lord and pray for the success of Cardinal Sarah’s exhortation.

Our Lady of Mt Carmel in the UK

The feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel is especially important  to Catholics in the UK, since it was of course an English Carmelite, St Simon Stock, to whom the Virgin Mary appeared and gave the Scapular. Here are some photos of two celebrations of the feast day last Saturday, a solemn first Mass celebrated in Glasgow, and a solemn Mass with the blessing and distribution of scapulars in Carlisle.

The Church of The Immaculate Heart of Mary in Glasgow welcomed newly-ordained Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP, for the celebration of one of his first Masses on the feast day. In addition to the beautiful chant of the Mass, the Schola sang the Missa Aeterna Christi Munera by Palestrina, with his Sicut Cervus as the offertory motet, and Byrd’s Ave Verum as the communion motet. Mass was followed by the beautiful tradition of “first blessings”; Fr Mawdsley gave each individual a blessing which invoked their patron saints, as the schola sang the Te Deum.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in East Harlem

On Saturday, July 23rd, at 11:15 a.m., a Solemn High Traditional Latin Mass will be celebrated in the Pontifical Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Harlem, New York, at the privileged altar of the Crowned Madonna, for the fifth annual pilgrimage being made that day by faithful attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite. Services held throughout the day for the pilgrims; Rev. Canon Matthew Talarico of the Institute of Christ the King will be celebrant of the Mass. There is ample parking in the gentrifying neighborhood and the church is very easily accessible via public transportation.

There have been several documented miracles been performed by the Blessed Mother at this shrine. The image located there was proclaimed miraculous by His Holiness Pope Leo XIII, and crowned during the pontificate of Pope St. Pius X on July 10th, 1904. There are only three images of the Blessed Virgin that have been crowned by Pontifical Authority in North America. The image has been recently restored.

The Pontifical Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, at 115th Street is one of the first Italian national parishes in the United States. At one time, more than 500,000 people attended the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel during the month of July before and after the feast day on July 16th. The crown of the Madonna and child is gold, adorned with precious stones, the emerald of which was donated by the aforementioned pope.

The Crowned Statue is taken down in procession only on special occasions and with the authorization of ecclesiastical authority.

R.I.P. Fr Michael Morris, O.P.

It was with sadness that I learned of the death on Friday of Fr Michael Morris, O.P., after an illness. For many years he has been a great advocate for beauty in sacred art and the culture, whose interests ranged from the aesthetics of St Thomas and traditional Christian iconography to Hollywood movie posters. Whatever the subject, he was always in a position to tell me exactly how the Dominican order has a hand in shaping what is good in the world! Many will know of his writing through his monthly art reviews in the Magnificat magazine.

I first met him  in 2001 when I turned up at his office in Berkeley, California, looking for help and advice about transforming Catholic culture. I was a complete unknown who had read St John Paul II’s Letter to Artists, and had set off for America armed with a few poorly formed ideas and plenty of passion, but very little else. He was kind enough to take the time to listen to this odd stranger hammering on his door out of the blue, and offered encouragement and wise advice. He was also very amusing and great company!

We had been in touch ever since, and I saw him only 10 days ago. Although obviously suffering, he still just wanted to talk about art and a course he was planning to teach for the DSPT, the Dominican School in Berkeley next year, and to introduce me to an artist friend of his. The program at the GTU in Berkeley, Religion and the Arts, which he devoted so much time to, is known internationally.

When I saw him we spoke, as we always did, of praying daily to Blessed Fra Angelico, the great and holy Dominican artist as our chosen patron of the mission of to transform the culture. I pray to him now also in remembrance of Fr Michael.

He will be missed by many.

Blessed Fra Angelico’s Virgin and Child with Saints

Men’s Holy Leagues: Manchester, NH, St Clair Shores, MI and Assumption Grotto, Detroit

Please do keep notifications of Men’s Holy League meetings coming; I am happy to promote them both to raise attendance at those already established, and in the hope that it might inspire the creation of more.

First at St Hedwig’s Church in Manchester, New Hampshire, July 22nd, at 7 pm; the Facebook page is here. I am particularly enthusiastic about this one because as well as Adoration there is sung Compline. The church is located at is 147 Walnut Street.

Second at St Isaac Jogues Church at 21100 Madison in St Clair Shores, Michigan; the next meeting will be Saturday August 6th at 7:00 am, with coffee and breakfast afterwards. The organizer tells me that this has grown to an attendance of nearly 60 people in the past year and a half, although he is quick to point out that there is still plenty of room for newcomers. There is also a family Adoration on the third Friday of every month at 6:30 pm followed by fellowship (and ice cream!). For more information go to the website or call the pastor, Fr. Darrell Roman, or his associate, Fr. Brian Shackett, at 586-778-5100.

Thanks to David Schuster, who sent me these photographs of the recent Holy League Holy Hour at Assumption Grotto in Detroit, Michigan. He told me that the numbers are higher than these photos suggest and about 60 men turned up.

For more information about creating a Holy League in your parish, go to the website The mission of the Holy League is to “combat the forces of evil in today’s society, striving to call men back to the state of grace and to transforming the culture through prayer.”

Created with the patronage of Cardinal Burke, it is a new, parish-based network of men inspired by the original Holy League of the 16th century, which by prayer and fasting, implored the help of God’s grace, and the intercession of His Holy Mother. By the grace of Almighty God, on October 7, 1571, at the Battle of Lepanto, the Christian fleet won a crushing naval victory over the Ottoman Turks, saving Christendom and western civilization.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: