Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Feast of the Annunciation 2017

This is the day which the Lord hath made; today the Lord hath looked upon the affliction of His people, and sent a Redeemer. Today a woman hath put to flight the death which a woman brought in; today, God become man remained what He was, and took on what He was not. Therefore let us devoutly consider the beginning of our redemption, and rejoice, saying, “ Glory to Thee, o Lord.” (The Antiphon of the Magnificat at Second Vespers of the Annunciation, according to the Dominican Use.)

The Annunciation, by Andrea Cavalcanti; from the pulpit of the church of Santa Maria Novella, the principal Dominican Church of  the city of Florence, 1445. (Image from Wikimedia commons by Sailko.)
Aña Haec est dies quam fecit Dominus: hodie Dominus afflictionem populi sui respexit, et redemptionem misit. Hodie mortem quam femina intulit, femina fugavit; hodie Deus homo factus, id quod fuit permansit, et quod non erat assumpsit. Ergo exordium nostrae redemptionis devote recolamus, et exsultemus dicentes: Gloria tibi Domine.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Samaritan Woman in the Liturgy of Lent

In the lectionaries of the various Latin rites, one of the most prominent Gospels of the Lenten season is that of the Samaritan woman who spoke to Christ at the well of Jacob (St John 4, 5-42). Although the Roman, Ambrosian and Byzantine Rites each read this Gospel on a different day, it appears in all three as a lesson of particular importance for the preparation of those who will be baptized at Easter or Pentecost.

In the Roman Rite, it is read on the Friday of the third week, joined with one of the most important epistles of Lent, Numbers 20, 1-13, in which Moses makes water run from the rock in the desert. This story was understood by the early Christians as a prefiguration of the sacrament of baptism, starting with St Paul himself, who tells us that “our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And all in Moses were baptized, in the cloud, and in the sea: and did all eat the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink; and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.” (1 Cor. 10, 1-4) Moses striking the rock to make the water run from it is one of the most frequently depicted Biblical scenes in early Christian art; just in the paintings of the Roman catacombs, it appears over 70 times, along with numerous other representations on ancient sarcophagi.

Moses making the water run from the rock in a fourth-century fresco in the Catacomb of St Callixtus.
On the previous Sunday, the Lenten station is kept at the church of St Lawrence Outside-the-Walls, where anciently the catechumens underwent a formal examination of their Christian faith, the ritual known as the scrutiny. The Gelasian Sacramentary contains a beautiful prayer for them to be said on that day, “that they may worthily and wisely come to the confession of Thy praise; so that through Thy glory they may be reformed to the former dignity which they had lost in the original transgression.” At the same Mass, the Memento of the living has an interpolation to pray for their future godparents, and during the Hanc igitur, the names of the catechumens were read out loud. On the following Friday, the station is kept at another church of Rome’s most venerated martyr, St Lawrence ‘in Lucina’, nicknamed, like so many sacred places in the city, for the woman upon whose property it was originally built. Here, they would hear Christ speaking to the Samaritan woman of the “living water … springing up unto life everlasting”, and understand His words as a clear reference to baptism.
A piece of the gridiron of St Lawrence’s martyrdom, preserved in a reliquary in a side-altar of San Lorenzo in Lucina. Photo courtesy of Orbis Catholicus.
In his treatise on the Gospel of St John (tract 15, 10), St Augustine explains the woman as a type of the Church, “not yet justified, but waiting to be justified”, like the catechumens themselves. He also reminds us that the Samaritans were not part of the Jewish people; indeed, the Bible itself says that they were a mixed nation of Jews and pagans, observing the customs of both. (4 Kings 17, 24-41) So too, the early Church was a mixture of Jews and pagans, now united in Christ in whom “there is neither Jew nor Greek … for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3, 28) Augustine continues by saying, “Therefore, in her, let us hear ourselves (spoken of), and in her, let us recognize ourselves, and in her, let us give thanks to God for ourselves.” (i.e. for what He has done for us.)

The dedicatory inscription on the counter-façade of Santa Sabina in Rome, the only part of the church’s original mosaic decoration which survives, ca. 425 A.D. The two figures on the sides are “the church from the circumcision” on the left, and “the church from the gentiles” on the right. Photo courtesy of Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.
In the Ambrosian Rite, the first Sunday of Lent is called “in capite jejunii – at the beginning of the fast”, a title also used for Ash Wednesday in medieval liturgical books of the Roman Rite. The remaining Sundays are named for their gospels, all taken from St John, the second Sunday being that of the Samaritan woman, the third ‘of Abraham’ (chap. 8, 31-59), the fourth ‘of the man born blind,’ (9, 1-38), the fifth of Lazarus (11, 1-45) and the sixth ‘of the Palms’ (11, 55 – 12, 11). On the second Sunday, the following antiphon is sung after the Gospel, while the deacon spreads the corporal on the altar in preparation for the Offertory. (As in the Roman Rite, most of the Mass propers use the Old Latin version of the Scriptures.)
For I will take you from among the gentiles, and I will pour upon you clean water; you shall be cleansed from all your iniquities. I will give you a new heart, and renew a righteous spirit within you. (Ezechiel 36, 24, 25 and 26.)
In the Roman Rite, the same prophecy of Ezechiel (though not exactly the same words) provides both the introit and the first epistle of the Mass of the Wednesday of the fourth week of Lent, on which day the catechumens were exorcized and blessed at the tomb of St Paul, the great Apostle of the gentiles.

The Ambrosian Missal contains proper prefaces for nearly every Mass of the temporal cycle, generally rather longer than the those of the Roman Rite. The Lenten prefaces of the Sundays are each based on the Gospel of the day, and that of the Samaritan woman reads as follows:
Truly it is worthy and just…through Christ our Lord. Who, to instill (in us) the mystery of His humility, being tired, sat at the well, and * asked of the Samaritan woman that a drink of water be given Him, even He that had created the gift of faith in her; and so He deigned to thirst for her faith, so that, as He asked water of her, He might enkindle in her the fire of divine love. * We therefore beseech Thy boundless compassion, that defying the dark depths of vice, and leaving behind the vessel of harmful desires, we may ever thirst for Thee, that art the fountain of life, and source of all goodness, and may please Thee by the observance of our fast. Through the same etc.
The words here noted between the stars form the basis of a Preface used in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite in the first year of the three-year lectionary cycle, when the story of the Samaritan woman is read on the third Sunday of Lent. Since this crucial passage is not included among the readings of the second and third years, a rubric provides that it may be read on Sunday in place of the Gospels assigned to those years, or it may displace one of the ferial Gospels; a similar provision is made for the blind man and Lazarus.

The Orthodox church of Jacob’s Well, also known as St Photini’s, in the city of Nablus on the West Bank. The current church is the fifth structure to stand over the site, which has been venerated by Christians as the Well of Jacob since the fourth century.
In the Byzantine tradition, the story of the Samaritan woman is read in Eastertide rather than Lent, as is that of the man born blind; however, the association of it with the sacrament of baptism is just as clear as in the Latin rites. On the fifth Sunday of Easter, the following three exapostilaria are sung at the end of Matins; the first is that of the Easter season, the second relates to the Gospel of the day’s Divine Liturgy, and the third to the feast of Mid-Pentecost. (This latter is a particular custom of the Byzantine rite which celebrates the half-way point between Easter and Pentecost, the Wednesday before the Fifth Sunday.)
Exapostilarion of Easter  Having fallen asleep in the flesh as a mortal, O King and Lord, You rose again on the third day, raising up Adam from corruption, and abolishing death. O Pascha of incorruption, O salvation of the world!
of the Samaritan Woman  You reached Samaria, and talking with a woman, sought water to drink, my all-powerful Savior, who poured out water for the Hebrews from a sharp rock, and led her to belief in you: and now she enjoys life eternally in heaven.
of Mid-Pentecost  At the mid-point of the feast, Lover of mankind, you came to the temple and said: You who are full of thirst, come to me and draw living water welling up, through which you will all revel in delight and grace and immortal life.
Note how the exapostilarion of the Samaritan woman makes the same association between the Lord’s revelations to her and the episode of the water running from the rock that is made in the Roman Rite by the readings of the Mass. This reference to the waters of baptism continues in the third text, which quotes Christ’s second reference to the “living waters” in the Gospel of John, when He speaks in the temple during the feast of Tabernacles. (chapter 7, 37-39.)

The text of this second Gospel of the “living waters” is deferred by the Byzantine Rite to Pentecost itself, a custom which it shares with the Ambrosian and Roman Rites in different ways. The church of Milan preserves to this very day an ancient custom of celebrating two Masses on both Easter and Pentecost, the traditional days for the administration of baptism; one is the Mass “of the solemnity” itself, and another “for the (newly) baptized.” On Easter Sunday, the Gospel at the Mass for the baptized is John 7, 37-39, with the second part of the last verse omitted.
On great day of the festivity, the Lord Jesus stood and cried, saying: If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believeth in me, as the scripture saith, Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. Now this he said of the Spirit which they should receive, who believed in him.
At the Mass for the baptized on Pentecost, this Gospel is repeated, adding the final words of verse 39 which are not said on Easter, “for as yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” In the Roman Rite, the same text provides the Communion antiphon for the Mass of the vigil of Pentecost, although the Gospel itself is read on the Monday of Passion Week.

The Byzantine Rite has traditionally honored the Samaritan woman as a saint, and she was often called both an Apostle and Evangelist. Her legend states that she, her five sisters and two sons were among those baptized by St Peter and the other Apostles on the first Pentecost, and afterwards traveled to preach in many places; after evangelizing Carthage, they came to Rome, where they were martyred under Nero. Her given name is Photeine (or “Photini” in the modern pronunciation), the Greek word for “bright”; the cognate “photistes – illuminator” is used in the Byzantine tradition as a title for the saint who first evangelizes a people, the best-known example of this being perhaps St Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia. With the latinized form of her name, Photina, she was added to the Tridentine edition of the Roman Martyrology by Cardinal Baronius, along with her family members, on March 20th, the day of her feast in the Byzantine Rite. Her troparion makes the same association between the waters of baptism and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost indicated by the placement of her Gospel on the Sunday after Mid-Pentecost.
Wholly illuminated by the divine Spirit, and sated of your thirst by the springs, you drank deeply of the water of salvation from Christ the Savior, all praiseworthy one, and shared it abundantly with them that thirst; o Great Martyr and Equal to the Apostles, Photini, entreat Christ our God to save our souls.

Dominican Mass in NYC for the Feast of St Vincent Ferrer

In honor of the patronal feast of St Vincent Ferrer, a Solemn Mass in the Dominican Rite will be offered on April 5 at 7:00 p.m., at the church of St Vincent Ferrer in New York City, located at 869 Lexington Ave. The church’s Schola Cantorum will sing a very nice selection of polyphony, the Missa Sancti Wilhelmi devotio by John Taverner (c. 1490-1545), In dedicatione templi by Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594), and Quod autem cecidit by Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650).

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Byzantine Hymns for Mid-Lent

The Fast that bringeth good things hath now reached its middle point, having pleased God well in the days gone past, bringing help in the days to come; for the increase of good things maketh greater the good work. Wherefore let us cry to Christ, the Giver of all good things, pleasing Him well, “O Thou who for our sake did fast and endure the Cross, deem us worthy to partake also of Thy divine Pasch uncondemned, living our lives in peace, and rightly glorifying Thee with the Father and the Spirit.

Since the Byzantine liturgical week runs from Monday to Sunday, Lent starts two days before the Roman Ash Wednesday; therefore, yesterday was Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent in the Byzantine Rite, but “Wednesday of the Third Week” in the Roman. This day is sometimes referred to informally as Mid-Lent, although this is an approximation, where the analogous half-way point of the Paschal season, the feast of Mid-Pentecost, is exactly half-way (25 days) between Easter and Pentecost. The sticheron given above is one of several placed between the verses of a group of four Psalms which are sung at Vespers every day, (140, 141, 129 and 116), while the deacon incenses the altar and sanctuary, the iconostasis, the church, the clergy and the faithful. The first of these Psalms is chosen for the words “Let my prayer raise before Thee like incense, the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice,” which are prominent in most historical Christian rites. (A sticheron is technically referred to as kind of “hymn”, but in construction is really more analogous to the antiphons of the Roman Rite; the number of them varies from day to day.)

The last of a group of stichera is always a Theotokion, a hymn to the Virgin Mary, and that of Mid-Lent is particularly beautiful. The references to the Crucifixion look back to the preceding Sunday, that of the Veneration of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross, and forward to Good Friday and the end of Lent.

“Today, He that is by nature unapproachable becometh approachable to me, and undergoeth His sufferings to deliver me from sufferings; He that giveth light to the blind is spit upon by impious lips, and giveth His cheek unto blows, for the sake of those held captive. The holy Virgin and Mother, seeing Him upon the Cross, cried out, ‘Alas, my Child! What is this Thou hast done? Beautiful beyond the sons of men, dost Thou appear without life or spirit, having no beauty or comeliness? Alas, my Light! I cannot look upon Thee sleeping, I am wounded to the core, and a terrible sword passeth through my heart. I sing of Thy sufferings, I adore Thy compassion; long-suffering Lord, glory to Thee!’ ” (In the video below, the Old Church Slavonic version.)

A 16th-century Russian icon of the Holy Mandylion, the cloth with Christ’s face impressed upon it, and below, the Lamentation over the Dead Christ. 

Beautiful Vestments in the Cleveland Museum of Art

Thanks to our friend Jordan Hainsey for sending us these photos of an exhibition of vestments currently going on (until September 24) at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The title of the exhibition, “Opulent Fashion in the Church” leaves something to be desired; it sounds more like a show about the clothes people wore to church, nor is it really about “fashion”, since any of these things could of course still be used to this day, centuries after their creation. The items, predominantly of the 17th and 18 centuries, were donated in 1916 by Jeptha Wade, an industrialist and philanthropist who one of the founders of Western Union, and who also donated the property on which the CMA stands, as well as the large public park next to it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Roman Pilgrim at the Station Churches 2017 (Part 4)

Once again, our thanks to our Roman pilgrim friend Agnese for sharing with us her photos of the Lenten Station Mass. This set includes two particularly nice, and classically Roman, arrangements of relics, on the altars of Ss Peter and Marcellinus and St Pudentiana.

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent - Ss Peter and Marcellinus
St Peter was an exorcist, and St Marcellinus a priest, who were martyred together in the persecution of Diocletian. Their church was originally built by Pope St Gregory III (731-741), on a level much lower than that of the current building; by the mid-18th century, it had fallen into ruins and needed to be completely reconstructed. Even within the last 250 years, however, so many new things have been built around it that it is now also below street level, although much less dramatically so than San Vitale, seen in the previous post in this series.

The Third Sunday of Lent - St Lawrence Outside-the-Walls
This is one of Rome’s oldest churches, built over the site of the great martyr’s burial by the Emperor Constantine in the first years of the peace of the Church. Pope St Sixtus III (432-440) built a second church on the site, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, flush with one of the walls of the Constantinian structure; this wall was then taken down by Pelagius II (579-590, the predecessor of St Gregory the Great), transforming the Marian church into the nave of St Lawrence’s. The sanctuary of the latter was then rebuilt at a rather higher level than the nave, with a large crypt beneath it. The dedication of what is now the nave of the church to the Virgin Mary is remembered in the traditional Gospel of the Third Sunday of Lent, which ends with the verses of Luke 11 commonly read on Our Lady’s feasts, and on the Saturday votive Mass of the Virgin. “And it came to pass, as He spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to Him: Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the paps that gave Thee suck. But He said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.”

The Tomb of Christ Reopened in Jerusalem

This morning, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, presided over the reopening of the shrine over the tomb of Christ within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, after many months of restoration work. (The shrine is known as the Aedicule, from the Latin “aediculum - a small building,” and is contained within a large rotunda which forms the back half of the church.) The Jerusalem Patriarchate has a fairly active Youtube channel, and just posted a video of the ceremony; after about 30 minutes of milling around, there is some nice music, and representatives of the various communities that use the church speak, including the superior (I assume) of the Holy Land Franciscans.

It is especially appropriate that this should take place this week, right after the Third Sunday of Lent, which the Byzantine Rite dedicates to the Veneration of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross. Here is a much more interesting video, excerpts of the Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Patriarch on Sunday at the Holy Sepulcher, with the participation of some of the other Orthodox churches. (The Gospel is sung in Greek, Old Church Slavonic, and Arabic.) Very splendid, although rather chaotic at times; there are a lot of bells ringing during the Gospel, and at times it seems that there are other liturgies going on in different parts of the building.

Two Articles of Interest, by Martin Mosebach and Stuart Chessman

Here are a couple of recent articles which will certainly be of interest to our readers, and which I think it profitable to read together, as I will explain below. The first is a lengthy piece in First Things by Martin Mosebach, called “The Return to Form”, subtitled “A Call for the Restoration of the Roman Rite.” It is fairly long, but certainly worth reading in its entirety; I was especially struck by his take on the nature of what Pope Benedict did for the liturgy as a whole when he promulgated Summorum Pontificum.

“When Pope Benedict had the greatness of soul to issue Summorum Pontificum, he not only reintroduced the Roman Rite into the liturgy of the Church but declared that it had never been forbidden, because it could never be forbidden. No pope and no council possess the authority to invalidate, abolish, or forbid a rite that is so deeply rooted in the history of the Church.

Not only the liberal and Protestant enemies of the Roman Rite but also its defenders, who in a decades-long struggle had begun to give up hope, could barely contain their astonishment. Everyone still had the strict prohibitions of countless bishops echoing in their ears, threats of excommunication and subtle accusations. And one hardly dared draw the conclusion that, in view of Pope Benedict’s correcting of the wrongful suppression of the Roman Rite, Blessed Pope Paul VI had apparently been in error when he expressed his strong conviction that the rite long entrusted to the Church should never again be celebrated anywhere in the world.

Benedict XVI did even more: He explained that there was only a single Roman Rite which possesses two forms, one ‘ordinary’ and the other ‘extraordinary’— the latter term referring to the traditional rite. In this way, the traditional form was made the standard for the newly revised form. The pope expressed the wish that the two forms should mutually fructify and enrich each other. It is therefore natural to assume that the new rite, with its great flexibility and many possible forms of celebration, must draw near to the older, steady, and fixed form of the Roman Rite, which provides no latitude whatsoever for encroachments or modifications of any kind.

.... Whenever Pope Benedict spoke of a mutual influence and enrichment between the two forms of the rite, he surely did so with an ulterior motive. He believed in organic development in the area of liturgy. He condemned the revolution in the liturgy that coincided with the revolutionary year 1968, and he saw the connection between the liturgical revolution and the cultural one in world-historical terms, for both contradict the ideal of organic evolution and development. He regarded it as a serious offense against the spirit of the Church that the peremptory order of a pope should be taken as warrant to encroach upon the collective heritage of all preceding generations. After decades of use throughout the world, Benedict not only considered it a practical impossibility simply to prohibit the new rite with its serious flaws, but in all likelihood he also perceived that such an act, even if it had been feasible, would have continued along the erroneous path taken by his predecessor, one of reform by fiat. The correct path would be found, so he hoped, in a gradual growing together of the old and new forms, a process to be encouraged and gently fostered by the pope.”

And also this passage on this Reform of the Reform.

“It is with downright incredulity that one reads (the prescriptions of Sacrosanctum Concilium), for their plain sense was given exactly the opposite meaning by the enthusiastic defenders of post-conciliar ‘development.’ One cannot say that Ratzinger’s call for a reform of the reform intended in any way to go back ‘behind the council,’ as the antagonists of Pope Benedict have maintained. As any fair-minded reading of Sacrosanctum Concilium makes clear, the reform of the reform has no goal other than realizing the agenda of the council.”

The west choir of Bamberg Cathedral, which is still quite splendid despite being vandalized by the King of Bavaria in the 1830s, and again after Vatican II. From an article published in 2009 by Gregor Kollmorgen.
The website of the Society of St Hugh of Cluny has an article by Stuart Chessman about a “first encounter” with the traditional liturgy which took place over 200 years ago, when a German law student from solidly Protestant Berlin visited the Catholic city of Bamberg, then still “a world of processions, relics and devotions, of overflowing public and popular piety, of splendid masses accompanied by orchestras, gunfire salutes and trumpet blasts!” The student, one Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, writes as follows of his experiences of the ceremonies which he witnessed, all still untouched by any of the horrors of revolution or enthusiasms of modern reformers.

“As I entered the venerable church I found it already almost full. I pushed forward up to the main altar and waited now for the solemn scene. Oh! – truly I had not expected very much. Everything was new for me. The ceremonies, which every minute always changed, made an ever stronger and wonderful impression on me the more they were mysterious and unintelligible. I was standing among nothing but Catholics: men, women and children. Some were constantly reading prayer books; others prayed the rosary while standing, yet others reverently knelt right next to me.

Here I found proved so clearly what Nicolai relates: that fixed raising of the gaze in prayer, which suddenly blazes up to heaven without resting on earthly objects; the making of the sign of the cross in holy zeal; the heartfelt firm striking of the breast which, with expressive glances towards heaven and with deeply felt sighs, shows such special depth of feeling. …One is totally initiated into the Catholic faith here and almost driven to participate in all the ceremonies.”

Wackenroder would become one of the founders of German Romanticism, and Chessman gives a long quote from one of his books, the title of which almost summarizes the entire movement: “Outpourings from the Heart of an Art-Loving Monk” In it, his experience of Bamberg is transformed into a fictionalized account of a solemn Mass in the Pantheon in Rome, which ends with a conversion experience. “I could not leave the temple after the end of the celebration, I fell down in a corner and wept, and then passed with a contrite heart all the saints, all the paintings – it seemed that only now could I really contemplate and revere them. I could not resist the force within me – dear Sebastian, I have now crossed over to your faith, and my heart feels happy and light. It was art that had all-powerfully drawn me over, and I can say that only now can I understand and grasp art. ”

In the first article, Mosebach writes, “In a period such as the present, unable to respond to images and forms, incessantly misled by a noisy art market, all experimentation that tampers with the Roman Rite as it has developed through the centuries could only be perilous and potentially fatal. In any case, this tampering is unnecessary. ... The peasant woman who said the rosary during Mass, knowing that she was in the presence of Christ’s sacrifice, understood the rite better than our contemporaries who comprehend every word but fail to engage with such knowledge because the present form of the Mass, drastically altered, no longer allows for its full expression.” Likewise, Chessman concludes his article with the observation that in Wachenroder’s case, “... this Mass, so foreign to him, and that he could not ‘understand,’ had clearly communicated to him the most profound sense of worship and of the Divine. Such is the transformative power, both in 1793 and today, of this Mass – the Mass of Tradition!”

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

St Teilo’s Church, Llandeilo Tal-y-bont

A young seminarian recently mentioned to me that he had been following with interest the discussions on the proposal that the School of St Albans might be an appropriate style to develop in today’s churches for the Roman Rite. I was pleased that he should say this, of course, and was excited further when he mentioned another 15th-century Welsh church that has wall paintings on a grand scale in this Gothic style.

What makes this an even better example to study is that it has been renovated to look exactly as it would have in the 1400s, and I think this shows more than ever that this might be a style which is appropriate for the liturgy and would be feasible to create today. It would be simple enough to execute, and naturally lend itself to an adapted form of expression that would connect with people today. You can see many more examples online here.

I would look for a better quality of draughtsmanship than we see in these drawings. (Remember that it was the artist Matthew Paris who first inspired this idea, and his drawing skill is far higher than that demonstrated by the artist who did paintings). Nevertheless, I would look for the essential qualities to translate into modern form, with the right balance of naturalism and stylization/partial abstraction. These are, once again: form described by a line drawing; a simple color palette and simple washes for coloration, with minimal modelling and tonal work; the incorporation of geometric patterned work. For a canon of imagery and iconography, I would use that of the feasts and mysteries of the Faith as found in the Eastern Church as a core repertoire, with additions and subtractions appropriate to the West when necessary.

So, at the risk of inducing “St-Alban’s fatigue” in NLM readers, I am going to show these painting this week. These will be last for while...I promise!

This church was relocated from its original site to one near Cardiff in the 1980s and so is preserved as a museum piece in this form.

By National Museum Wales - National Museum Wales, CC BY-SA 3.0,

By dw_ross from Springfield, VA, USA - 20140913_124921, CC BY 2.0,

By Lesbardd - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

By Dylan Moore, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Looking at the squint above, I wonder if this was made as a way to view the Blessed Sacarament from the main body of the church. The only other place I have seen something like this was in Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland, where the Blessed Sacrament was kept in chapel to the right of the main abbey, built in the 12th century; people in one of the transcepts who were not one of the cloister monks could look at the Blessed Sacrament, or if it was not exposed, the tabernacle.

By Archangel12 - St Fagans National History Museum, CC BY 2.0,

By Archangel12 - St Fagans National History Museum, CC BY 2.0,

By John Cummings - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Palestrina Mass for the Annunciation in New York City

The Church of St Agnes in New York City, located at 143 East 43rd Street, will have a Solemn High EF Mass this coming Saturday, the feast of the Annunciation, starting at 10:30 a.m.; the St Mary’s Student Schola, directed by Mr David Hughes, will sing Palestrina’s Missa Ave Maria.

The Feast of St Benedict 2017

O ! the praiseworthy and glorious merits of Saint Benedict, who, since he spurned his fatherland, and the pomp of the world for Christ’s sake, obtained the fellowship of all the blessed, * and came to share in the eternal rewards. V. Among the choirs of Confessors, he holds a glorious place, and beholds the very font of all good things. And came... (The 5th Responsory of Matins of St Benedict in the Benedictine Office.)
The Triumphal Way of St Benedict, by Johann Michael Rottmayr, 1722; fresco on the ceiling of Melk Abbey in Austria. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Uoaei1; click to enlarge.) - The pomp of the world is represented on the left side by a book full of alchemical symbols, two demons, one of which holds a censer, and a figure with a theatrical mask, being speared in the throat by an angel. (The censer refers to the pagan sacrifices which St Benedict found still happening on Monte Cassino when he moved there, and to which he put an end.) On the right, a figure with a Cross and a whip drives away two other female figures, one bare-chested, the other holding rich clothing and a crown; below them, a figure with thorny branches drives away another demon, a reference to St Benedict’s conquest of the vice of lust by rolling around in a bramble. Underneath St Benedict are angels holding a miter and crook, used by the abbot of Melk, a book with the opening words of the Rule, and a glass with serpent emerging from it; the last refers to an attempt by some very bad monks to poison St Benedict, who made the sign of the Cross over the glass, “which broke as if he had thrown a stone.”
R. O laudanda sancti Benedicti merita gloriosa, qui dum pro Christo patriam mundique sprevit pompam adeptus est omnium contubernium beatorum, * et particeps factus praemiorum aeternorum. V. Inter choros Confessorum splendidum possidet locum, et ipsum fontem omnium intuetur bonorum. Et particeps...

St Benedict died on March 21 in the year 543 or 547, and this was the date on which his principal feast was traditionally kept, and is still kept by Benedictines; it is sometimes referred to on the calendars of Benedictine liturgical books as the “Transitus - Passing.” There was also a second feast to honor the translation of his relics, which was kept on July 11. The location to which the relics were translated is still a matter of dispute, with the Abbey of Monte Cassino in Italy, founded by the Saint himself, and the French Abbey of Fleury, also known as Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, both claiming to possess them. This second feast is found in many medieval missals and breviaries, even in places not served by monastic communities. (It was not, however, observed by either the Cistercians or Carthusians.). The second feast was in a certain sense the more solemn in the traditional use of the Benedictines; March 21 always falls in Lent, and the celebration of octaves in Lent was prohibited, but most monastic missals have the July 11 feast with an octave. In the post-Conciliar reform of the Calendar, many Saints, including St Benedict, were moved out of Lent; in his case, to the day of this second feast in the Benedictine Calendar.

Monday, March 20, 2017

“Samuel and Daniel, Though Young, Judged the Elders”: Traditionalism as a Youth Movement

The progress of centuries has often returned to the Rule of St. Benedict as a repository of timeless wisdom, capable of guiding any community of God-seekers to peace and holiness. One cannot help but be struck by the way Benedict emphasizes that the young monks’ voices ought to be given a fair hearing. Benedict was not exactly egalitarian (he frequently counsels the beating of the refractory, for example), but he recognized, with St. John Cassian, that age does not automatically equal wisdom and that young people can have the perspective needed by the community at a given moment. 
“And on no occasion whatsoever should age distinguish the brethren and decide their order [in the monastery]; for Samuel and Daniel, though young, judged the elders” (ch. 63).[1] 
“As often as any important business has to be done in the monastery, let the abbot call together the whole community and himself set forth the matter. And, having heard the advice of the brethren, let him take counsel with himself and then do what he shall judge to be most expedient. Now the reason why we have said that all should be called to council is that God often reveals what is better to the younger” (ch. 3).[2]
The saint’s advice seems all the more relevant in today’s Church, when it is clearly the young who are rediscovering Catholic Tradition in all its fullness, and who, at the same time, are bearing the full brunt of the resistance of their elders, who have been “sticks in the mud” when it comes to welcoming this stirring of the Holy Spirit. In this curious way, today’s older generations often seem like the Jews in the Gospels, who cannot receive the newness of Christ and his apostles (cf. Acts 7:51).

Of course, it need hardly be said that St. Benedict’s advice also applies perfectly to monasteries, convents, and other religious houses, where, let us be frank about it, revival or even bare survival is bound up with a recovery of traditional liturgy, in both the Divine Office and the Mass, and in the chant.[3] It is no longer a secret that the most flourishing communities are the ones that have unashamedly restored the way of life that a foolish generation threw away in the name of aggiornamento. A certain Benedictine monk told me that in the late 1960s, when his monastery switched over to a liturgy entirely in the vernacular, a member of the community actually put all of the copies of the Antiphonale Monasticum into a wheelbarrow, carted them outside, built a bonfire, and burned them. Another monk, horrified, gathered as many copies of the Graduale Romanum as possible and hid them so that they would be spared a similar fate. How many precious volumes, repositories of the wisdom and beauty of ages, were destroyed in this barbaric manner? “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19); one can be certain that those who sinned against Catholic tradition have paid the last penny for it.

When I was being given a tour this past October of a famous Benedictine monastery near Krakow, the young monk who was my guide stated outright that the younger monks wish to have the tabernacle back in the center, wish to have Mass ad orientem, and wish to receive communion kneeling and on the tongue, while their elders are opposed to all of these things. It is not merely “generational dynamics,” as if we ought to expect the next generation to clamor for the opposite again. No. It is an awakening at last from the Rip van Winkle sleep of progressive liturgism — that weird coma between the ill-informed but thriving conservatism of the preconciliar age and the better-informed though struggling traditionalism of the postconciliar age.

We have heard and still hear a lot about the “charismatic movement,” but no one can explain how in the world it is supposed to fit in with the Catholic Faith as it has matured and blossomed in the miracle-rich lives of the saints, full of ascetical sobriety and mystical transcendence, which are perfectly mirrored in the liturgical and sacramental rites they knew and loved. Traditionalism is the real charismatic movement in the Church today, and it is high time that we stop thwarting the Spirit. Would that today’s shepherds and sheep would heed Gamaliel’s hard-nosed advice:
Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do, as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theodas, affirming himself to be somebody, to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all that believed him were scattered, and brought to nothing. After this man, rose up Judas of Galilee, in the days of the enrolling, and drew away the people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as consented to him, were dispersed. And now, therefore, I say to you, refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this council or this work be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God. (Act 5:35-39)
“If it be of God, you cannot overthrow it.” No member of the body of Christ, high or low, can fight against God and win. The traditionalist movement is here to stay and is growing. Its adherents truly believe that the Eucharistic liturgy is the font and apex of life, and act accordingly. Those who oppose this movement are not just setting themselves up for failure, but setting themselves up against the God who has inspired such a deep attachment to the means of sanctification He Himself bestowed on the Church. The sacred liturgy as well as the desire of the people to worship God through it are both of the Holy Spirit. As we know, the sin against the Holy Ghost is the only sin that can never be forgiven, in this world or in the world to come.

The stakes are high. Choose well. Choose with discretion and courage, as did Samuel and Daniel, who, “though young, judged the elders.”

St. Benedict, Father of Western Monasticism, Co-Patron of Europe, whose feast we begin to celebrate at First Vespers this evening, pray for us.


[1] Rule, ch. 63 (McCann ed.), p. 143
[2] Rule, ch. 3, p. 25.
[3] See Paul VI’s Sacrificium Laudis.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Roman Pilgrim at the Station Churches 2017 (Part 3)

Over the last few years, quite a number of people have either written to me or left a note in one of the comboxes to say how much they enjoy this series, so I apologize for letting myself get behind with it during this very busy week. It has become kind of a tradition that every year we miss a station or two. Our Roman pilgrim friend Agnese was unwell on Ember Saturday, and so she missed the Station at St Peter’s that day; the station church for the Second Sunday of Lent, Santa Maria in Domnica, is currently closed for restoration, and the stational Mass was therefore celebrated in the unattractive chapel of a nearby hospital. We therefore resume with this post covering Monday to Friday of the Second Week of Lent; the next one will go from yesterday to next Wednesday.

Monday of the Second Week of Lent - San Clemente
The procession before the Mass began as usual in the ruins of the ancient basilica below the current one, made its way upstairs and through the large portico, before entering for the Mass. San Clemente has been home to the Irish Dominican friars in Rome since the later 17th century, and we see them participating in the procession. Also notice in the 4th photo the custom of strewing greenery on the floors of churches during the station Masses, as also further down at San Vitale. (Nobody seems to really know where this comes from or why it is done.)
San Clemente is famously built on three levels; the 12th-century church seen below in pictures 3-5 was built on the ruins of the original basilica from the 4th century, which in turn sits on top of two ancient Roman buildings, one of the late first and another of the mid-2nd century. All three of these levels are accessible to the public. When the second level, the church of the 4th century, was dug out in the middle of the 19th century, no remains of an altar or any part of the sanctuary were found . The archeologists soon realized that in the process of building the newer church on top of the older, the 12th-century builders had dismantled them entirely, moved them upstairs, and reassembled them in their current place. The altar and baldachin seen here were then newly made so that the newly rediscovered spaces of the older church could be used once again for worship.

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent - Santa Balbina
The church of Saint Balbina on the Aventine Hill is very close to the Norbertine College, and each year, members of the latter participate in the stational procession, while the college’s choir sings the liturgy. The second photograph shows members of the clergy before the main door of the college, followed by the procession though the rather narrow streets on the way to Santa Balbina.

Photopost Request: St Joseph, Annunciation and Laetare Sunday

This week, we have three major features of the liturgical year within a single week - the feasts of St Joseph and the Annunciation, followed immediately by Laetare Sunday. We will be doing at least one photopost for all three of these together, possibly more, depending on how many we receive; please send your photos, whether of the Ordinary or Extraordinary Forms, to for inclusion. Photos of Vespers and other parts of the Office are always welcome, and for our Byzantine friends, we will be glad to include photos of the Veneration of the Cross on the Third Sunday of Great Lent. Please be sure to include the name and location of the church, and always feel free to add any other information you think important. Evangelize through beauty!

From last year’s Laetare Sunday photopost, taken at the church of St Joseph in Singapore.

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