Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Cathedral of Siena (Part 12): Paintings and Sculptures in the Cathedral Museum

The remaining three parts of our series on the cathedral of Siena (which began two months ago!) will all be of items now in the church’s museum. This first part will cover major artworks (apart from the most important, the Maestà of Duccio di Buoninsegna, which had its own post) which were formerly in the cathedral, the second liturgical objects, and the third vestments. Our thanks once again to Nicola for sharing these photos with us.
The Crevole Madonna, by Duccio, ca. 1284, one of his very earliest works, named for a small town about 12 miles to the south of Siena where it was originally displayed. The Byzantine influence on the artist, who was then about 30 years old, is particularly evident in the use of gold lines to create the sense of depth in the Virgin’s robes. By the time he painted the Maestà, about 25 years later, he had shifted, very much under the influence of Giotto, towards one of the key techniques of Renaissance painting, omitting the lines and creating the sense of depth with different shades of color.
Part of an altarpiece by another Sienese native, and one of the best painters of the generation after Duccio, Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290 ca. – 1348), a real master of optical perspective; ca. 1320-30. From left to right: St Benedict in the white habit of the Olivetan Benedictines, who were founded by a native of Siena, St Bernard Tolomei; St Catherine of Alexandria; St Mary Magdelene; St Francis. In the cuspids, left to right, St Peter, St John the Evangelist, St John the Baptist, and St Paul.
Sano di Pietro (1406-81) another Sienese native, (“Sano” is a nickname for “Ansano”, from St Ansanus, the evangelizer of Siena), The Preaching of St Bernardine of Siena, 1440s. The incomplete façade of the church in the background has black and white stripes, reminiscent of the “balzana”, the city’s official banner and shield, which is white above and black below. St Bernardine, who died in 1444, was a great promoter of devotion to the Holy Name, a subject on which he preached through the length and breadth of Italy, bringing peace to its many faction-torn cities. He was such an effective and reknowned preacher that the crowds which came to hear him were very often too great to fit into even the largest churches, and had to gather in the piazzas instead, despite the fact that (as is clearly seen in many early depictions of him) he had no teeth. (Notice also that the crowd is separated into a men’s and women’s section.)
An image of the Virgin and Child known as “The Madonna of the Large Eyes”, painted in the second quarter of the 13th century by an anonymous artist known as the Master of Tressa. This was the first image of the Virgin Mary to be venerated on the main altar of the cathedral, the one before which the Podestà (chief magistrate) of Siena, Bonaguida Lucari, at the head of all the city’s leaders and a large crowd of the citizenry, made the vow dedicating their city to the Virgin before the crucial battle of Montaperti in 1260. At the time, the panel was almost certainly incorporated into a much larger reredos, and surrounded by smaller images (now lost) of the principle episodes of the Virgin’s life.

St Paul Enthroned, with scenes of his conversion to the left and beheading to the right; ca. 1516, by Domenico Beccafumi (1486 – 1551), who also worked in the cathedral itself. The artist was born at Montaperti, where Siena had so signally defeated her rival Florence in 1260; it is an interesting irony that a native of that place should be the last painter of the Sienese School as a truly separate artistic current of the Renaissance. Four years after his death, Siena was conquered by Florence, which by then had long been the dominant power in Tuscany, and became thenceforth to a large degree culturally dependent on it. It is also the case that by the mid-16th century, the Italian Renaissance had run its course and shifted to Mannerism, the prelude to the Baroque; while the elderly Michangelo (also a Tuscan), working on the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica, and the forces of the Counter-Reformation had made Rome the new artistic capital of Italy.

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Orations of the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Wedding at Cana, 1308-1311
Lost in Translation #34

The Second Sunday after Epiphany is one of my favorite “green” Sundays of the year. The Church catches her breath after the grand merrymaking of Christmastide, but she continues the trajectory of Epiphany by contemplating the different ways in which Christ manifested (epiphainein) His divinity. After the epiphany to the Magi, the next stop is the epiphany of Christ’s divine glory during His first public miracle at the Wedding of Cana. In Drinking with the Saints, I recommend going to your wine rack or cellar and pulling out your best bottle of wine for Sunday dinner, because if you are anything like my wife and me, you have been saving such a bottle for a special occasion but you keep forgetting about it, and by the time you remember to use it, it has turned. By drinking it now, you pay homage to Christ’s making wine so fine that it even impressed the local sommelier (as we imagine the steward in the story to be).

The orations for this Sunday offer sober sentiments that mix well with this miracle. The Collect is the following:
Omnípotens sempiterne Deus, qui caelestia simul et terréna moderáris: supplicatiónes pópuli tui clementer exaudi; et pacem tuam nostris concéde tempóribus. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Almighty and everlasting God, who dost moderate things in heaven as well as on earth, mercifully hear the supplications of Thy people, and grant us Thy peace in our times. Through our Lord.
The use of “supplication” (a public petition) and “in our times” suggests that the peace being sought is a public peace. [1] Hence the Collect carries forth the Christmas theme of peace on earth and our New Year’s wish for a peaceful civic year, but reminds us that the peace we desire can only come from God. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you.” (John 14, 27) The theme of peace also anticipates the Epistle reading (Rom. 12, 6-16), which portrays the Church in all her ministries united and at peace with herself.
But the Collect also subtly pairs well with the Gospel, for Jesus’ transubstantiation of water into wine proves that He too, like His heavenly Father, moderates and has power over the things of heaven and earth. And the use of the verb to moderate or regulate (moderari) calls to mind the virtue of moderation, a most important habit to have where wine is concerned: “Wine was created from the beginning to make men joyful, and not to make them drunk,” writes the divinely inspired Sirach. “Wine drunken with moderation is the joy of the soul and the heart.” [Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 31, 35-36]
The Secret for this Sunday is:
Obláta, Dómine, múnera sanctífica: nosque a peccatórum nostrórum máculis emunda. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Sanctify, O Lord, the offerings, and cleanse us from the stains of our sins. Through our Lord.
The succinct wording mirrors the Secret for the third Mass of Christmas, and thus faintly reconnects us to the Christmas season. And the plea for cleansing forms a subtle contrast with the water in the six stone vases that the Jews used for purification and that Jesus used to make wine. But whereas the Jewish purification only concerned ritual impurity, the Secret prays for purification from moral stain.
Finally, the Postcommunion is:
Augeátur in nobis, quáesumus, Dómine, tuae virtútis operatio: ut divínis vegetáti sacramentis, ad eórum promissa capienda, tuo múnere praeparémur. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
May the operation of Thy power be increased within us, we beseech Thee, O Lord: that being quickened by Thy divine sacraments, we may by this gift of Thine be ready to take possession of that which they promise. Through our Lord.

The Collect contains an image of restraint (God moderating or regulating the things of heaven and earth), but the Postcommunion contains images of acceleration: an increase of power and a quickening of soul. Intentionally or not, the prayer again forms an interesting contrast with the Gospel reading. An increase of physical inebriation leads not to a quickening but a slowing (a decline in motor control and mental alacrity), and it generally renders a person less ready to take possession of something promised. Being filled with the Holy Spirit instead of spirits, however, vivifies and delivers. Even though the lay communicant receives Holy Communion only under the species of bread in the traditional Roman Rite, he should meditate here on the inebriating Precious Blood that is present in the “divine sacraments” he has just received. For if water-made-wine cheers the heart of man (Psalm 103, 15), how much more does water-and-wine-made-the-Blood-of-Christ.

Notes

[1] Sr. Mary Gonzaga Haessly, Rhetoric in the Sunday Collects of the Roman Missal (Ursuline College for Women, 1938), 34.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Christmas and Epiphany Photopost 2020 (Part 2)

Our second Christmas and Epiphany photopost takes us to several different places, and offers us some of the OF, the EF, the Carmelite Use and Byzantine Rite. As always, thanks to everyone who sent these in, with out best wishes to you for a most blessed New Year.

St Joseph’s – Troy, New York (Carmelites of the Old Observance)
Carmelite Missa cantata on the feast of Pope St Silvester I was followed by four hours of Adoration, and then Benediction at Midnight for the beginning of the New Year.
Mass on the feast of the Circumcision, which is celebrated in red in the Carmelite Use.
St Catherine of Siena  – Trumbull, Connecticut
Mass of the Epiphany, with the blessing of chalk and the marking of the doors with 20+C+M+B+21

Follow-up on a Recent Article about the Byzantine Office

At the end of last month, I published an article about the Byzantine ceremony of the Royal Hours of Christmas, and earlier this month, another about those of the Epiphany. Both of these were revisions of articles which I had originally done four years ago, very much expanded by the addition of my own translation of most of the hymns proper to these services, and several videos in both Greek and Church Slavonic with recordings of some of them. (On April 2nd, which is Good Friday this year, I will do the same for my original article on the Royal Hours of that day.)
The original version of the first article included an audio-only recording of the ceremony from the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, whose choir is justifiably considered one of the best representatives of the Russian choral tradition. However, the YouTube channel on which it was hosted was later deleted. Since the pandemic, the monastery has been regularly broadcasting live on its own channel, and so I thought this video, in which one actually sees the ceremony would be interesting, and of course also enjoyable for the beautiful music. In many respects, the Byzantine Rite is still where the Roman Rite was in the high Middle Ages, which is to say, there are many variations of custom analogous to those which constitued the various medieval Uses of the Roman Rite. Here the most notable is that there is no incensation at the Epistle readings, and the vestments are white, where many churches use dark vestments for the Royal Hours.
The video begins with the Hour of Prime; Terce starts at 21:46, Sext at 38:11, None at 1:00:47, and the Typika (a service broadly analogous to the medieval “dry Mass”) at 1:25:11, ending at 1:34:30.
After a brief pause, there begins a service which occupies most of the video, which I did not include in my previous article, since it is quite lengthy and complicated to describe. On the eves of Christmas, Epiphany, and on Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday, the Byzantine Rite merges Vespers and the Divine Liturgy, which is celebrated according to the much longer form of St Basil the Great, rather than the shorter daily anaphora of St John Chrysostom. (The liturgy of St Basil is otherwise used only his feast day, January 1st, and the Sundays of Lent except for Palm Sunday.) On Christmas Eve, the ceremony also includes eight prophecies before the Epistle, and on Epiphany thirteen, but most of them are quite short; on Holy Thursday, there only three, but on Holy Saturday, fifteen, several of which are quite lengthy. In practice, many churches will omit some of the prophecies, but in the video above, all eight are said; there is a very pretty canticle after the third (1:58:00) and sixth (2:05:20.)
The full text of both of these services can be read at the following links.
Royal Hours:

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Special Antiphons for the Baptism of the Lord

In the Tridentine Missal, the Mass of the Octave of the Epiphany is the same as that of the feast itself, except for the Gospel, John 1, 29-34, and the three prayers. In the Office, the lessons of the second and third nocturns are proper to the Octave day, but the rest is repeated as on the days within the Octave, with the same antiphons at the Magnificat and Benedictus as on the feast day.

In regard to the Office, this represents a significant change from the late medieval Breviary of the Roman Curia, upon which that of St Pius V is based. The former had a complete set of proper antiphons for the day, which date back to the Carolingian period, and focus on the event recounted in the Gospel, the Baptism of the Lord. The vast majority of medieval liturgical Uses sing some of these with the psalms and canticles of Lauds and Vespers, but the Roman Use is atypical in having them also for the psalms of Matins, which are different from the psalms of January 6th.

Their complete removal from the Roman Breviary is something highly unusual, since the Tridentine reform was in most respects extremely conservative, and nowhere more so than in the repertoire of proper musical pieces like antiphons. Although I have never seen this written down anywhere, I suspect that the reason for this was that they are obviously inspired by liturgical texts of the Byzantine Rite, and were therefore regarded as not authentically Roman. They continued to be sung in many other Uses, such as those of the Dominicans, Cistercians and Old Observance Carmelites, none of which, however, have the nine antiphons of Matins.

Russian icon of the Baptism of Christ, 15th century, school of Andrej Rubliev 
Here I give the Latin text of each, along with my own translation, and indications of their position in the liturgy.

First Vespers
At the Magnificat Descendit Spiritus Sanctus corporali specie sicut columba in ipsum, et vox de caelo facta est: Hic est Filius meus dilectus, alleluja. The Holy Spirit descended upon Him with a bodily appearance as of a dove, and a voice came forth from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, alleluia.”

Matins, First Nocturn
Aña 1 Veterem hominem renovans, Salvator venit ad baptismum: ut naturam, quae corrupta erat, per aquam recuperaret, incorruptibili veste circumamictans nos. (Psalm 8) - Renewing the old man, the Savior came to baptism, that through water He might restore the nature that was corrupted, clothing us around with an incorruptible garment.
Aña 2 Te, qui in Spiritu et igne purificas humana contagia, Deum ac Redemptorem omnes glorificamus. (Psalm 18) - We all glorify Thee as God and our Redeemer, who in the Spirit and in fire purify the immorality of man.
Aña 3 Caput draconis Salvator contrivit in Jordanis flumine, et ab ejus potestate omnes eripuit. (pPsalm 23) - The Savior crushed down the head of the dragon in the river Jordan, and delivered all from his power. (These first three psalms are the same in the first nocturn of the Offices of the Virgin Mary, and were probably chosen as a reference to the Incarnation.)

Second Nocturn
Aña 4 Baptista contremuit, et non audet tangere sanctum Dei verticem; sed clamat cum tremore: Sanctifica me, Salvator. (Psalm 28) - The Baptist trembled, and dared not touch God’s holy head; but cried out with dread: Sanctify me, o Savior.
Aña 5 Magnum mysterium declaratur hodie, quia Creator omnium in Jordane expurgat nostra facinora. (Psalm 41) - A great mystery is declared today, for the Creator of all things in the Jordan purgeth our crimes.
Aña 6 Aqua comburit peccatum, hodie apparens liberator, et rorat omnem mundum divinitatis ope. (Psalm 45) - The water burneth sin, as our Deliverer appeareth, and falls like dew upon the whole world with the richness of divinity. (The first and third psalms of this nocturn are repeated from Epiphany; the second, the famous Sicut cervus, has been associated with baptismal rites from the most ancient times.)

Third Nocturn
Aña 7 Pater de caelis Filium testificatur; Spiritus Sancti praesentia advenit, unum edocens qui baptizatur Christus. (Psalm 71) - The Father from the heavens beareth witness to the Son; the presence of the Holy Spirit cometh, showing us the one who is baptized, Christ.
Aña 8 Peccati aculeus conteritur hodie, baptizato Domino, et nobis donata est regeneratio. (Psalm 76) - The sting of sin is blunted today, as the Lord is baptized, and regeneration is granted to us.
Aña 9 Baptizatur Christus, et sanctificatur omnis mundus, et tribuit nobis remissionem peccatorum; aqua et Spiritu omnes purificamur. (Psalm 97) - Christ is baptized, and all the world is sanctified, and He granteth to us remission of sins; by water and the Spirit we are all purified. (The first psalm of this nocturn is repeated from both Christmas and Epiphany; the second is chosen for the words “The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee: and they were afraid, and the depths were troubled.” The third has a prominent place in the Office of Christmas because of the words that form its antiphon on that feast “God hath made known, alleluia, His salvation, alleluia.” In the longer Monastic Office, it is sung on both Christmas and Epiphany with this same antiphon.)

The Baptism of Christ by Giotto, from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, 1305
At the Psalms of Lauds (repeated at the minor Hours and at Vespers)
Aña 1 Baptizat miles Regem, servus Dominum suum, Joannes Salvatorem: aqua Jordanis stupuit, columba protestatur: paterna vox audita est: Hic est Filius meus dilectus. - The soldier baptizeth the King, the servant his Lord, John the Savior; the water of the Jordan is astounded, the dove beareth witness; the voice of the Father is heard, “This is my beloved Son.”
Aña 2 Caeli aperti sunt super eum, et vox facta est de caelo dicens: Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui. - The heavens were opened up above Him, and a voice came forth from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”
Aña 3 Christo datus est principatus, et honor regni; omnis populus, tribus et linguae servient ei in aeternum. - To Christ is given the rule and honor of the kingdom; every people and tribe and toungue shall serve Him forever.
Aña 4 Fontes aquarum sanctificati sunt, Christo apparente in gloria orbi terrarum: haurite aquas de fontibus Salvatoris: sanctificavit enim nunc omnem creaturam Christus Deus noster. - The fountains of the waters were sanctified, as Christ appeared in glory to the world; draw ye water from the fountains of the Savior, for now Christ our God hath sanctified every creature.
Aña 5 Vox de caelo sonuit, et vox Patris audita est: Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui; ipsum audite. - A voice sounded forth from heaven, and the voice of the Father was heard: “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.”

At the Benedictus Præcursor Joannes exsultat, cum in Jordane baptizato Domino, facta est orbis terrarum exsultatio: facta est peccatorum nostrorum remissio. Sanctificans aquas, ipsi omnes clamemus, miserere nobis. - John the Forerunner exsulteth when, as the Lord was baptized in the Jordan, rejoicing was given to the world, and forgiveness of our sins. Let us all cry unto Him, “O Thou that sanctifiest the waters, have mercy on us.”

Second Vespers
At the Magnificat Super ripam Jordanis stabat beatus Joannes, indutus est splendore baptizans Salvatorem. Baptiza me, Joannes, baptiza, et tu, Jordanis, congaudens suscipe me. - On Jordan’s bank the blessed John stood, and was clothed in splendor as he baptized the Savior. Baptize thou Me, o John, baptize; and thou, o Jordan, rejoicing with him receive Me.
Many medieval Missals (for example, that of the Sarum Use) have a special Epistle for the Octave of Epiphany, a cento of verses from the Prophet Isaiah which follows the text of the Septuagint and the Old Latin, rather than that of the Vulgate, except for the part between the two red stars.

Isa. 25, 1 “Domine Deus meus, honorificabo te, laudem tribuam nomini tuo, qui facis mirabiles res. Consilium tuum antiquum verum fiat. 26, 11 Domine, excelsum est brachium tuum, 28, 5 Deus Sabaoth, corona spei quae ornata est gloria. 35, 1 Exultet desertum, et exultent solitudines Jordanis, 2 et populus meus videbit altitudinem Domini et majestatem Dei, 10 et erit congregatus et redemptus per Deum. Et veniet in Sion cum gaudio et laetitia sempiterna: super caput ejus laus et exultatio. 41, 18 Et aperiam in montibus flumina, in mediis campis fontes dirumpam, et terram sitientem sine aqua infundam. 52, 13 Ecce puer meus * exaltabitur, et elevabitur et sublimis erit valde. 12, 3 Haurietis aquas in gaudio de fontibus Salvatoris, et dicetis in illa die: 4 Confitemini Domino, et invocate nomen ejus, notas facite in populis * virtutes ejus; 5 cantate Domino, quia mirabilia fecit, annuntiate haec in universa terra: dicit Dominus omnipotens.
The reading from Isaiah for the octave of Epiphany in the 1502 Missal of the Use of Prague. The Gospel, Matthew 3, 13-17, is also different, a common medieval variant.
O Lord, my God, I will honor Thee, I will give praise to Thy name, who dost wonderous deeds. Let Thy ancient council come true. O Lord, high is Thy arm (i.e. might), o God of hosts, cornw of hope that is adorned with glory. Let the desert exult, and the wildernesses of Jordan, and my people shall see the height of the Lord and the majesty of God, and will be gathered and redeemed by God. And they will come to Sion with joy and everlasting happiness; upon their heads will be praise and exultation. And I will open up the rivers in the mountains, and break open the fountains in the midst of the fields, and pour it upon the thirsting land without water. Behold my servant shall be exalted, and raised up, and shall be exceedingly lofty. Ye shall draw waters in joy from the fountains of the Savior, and say on that day, ‘Praise ye the Lord, and call upon His name, make known among the peoples His might deeds; sing to the Lord, for He hath done wonders, proclaim these things in all the earth’: saith the Lord almighty.”
This may also have been inspired by a ceremony of the Byzantine Rite, the great blessing of the water on Epiphany, at which are read three prophecies from Isaiah, an Epistle and a Gospel; the first and third of the prophecies, Isa. 35, 1-10 and 12, 3-6, partly coincide with this Roman Epistle.
Our friend William Durandus has this to say about these features of the liturgy of the octave of Epiphany. (Rat. Div. Off. VI, 17)
“On the octave of the Epiphany, all the chants and the reading from Isaiah… treat of baptism, whence it is said “Let the wildernesses of the Jordan exult”, because in the Jordan, the Lord conferred a certain regenerative power on the waters by instituting baptism, and because the nations, which previously were formerly, so to speak, far from God in the wilderness of the desert, return to Him. The octave is therefore a compliment to the Epiphany itself… since on the feast we recall that Christ was baptized, and on the octave, the antiphons of that day show us for what purpose He was baptized. …
The first page of the proper antiphons for the octave of the Epiphany in an antiphonary made for the Abbey of St Denys outside Paris, 1140-60. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 17296; folio 50r)
The antiphons are in the seventh tone, because they pertain to baptism, in which the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit is at work, and there are nine of them, since it is though the door of baptism that we shall come to the company of the nine orders of angels. … And the Invitatory is sung on this day (although it is omitted on the feast itself) because men are invited and come to baptism at the preaching of the Apostles.”

Christmas and Epiphany 2020 Photopost (Part 1)

Over the last couple of weeks, I had a serious problem with slowing down of internet service, which made it difficult or impossible to download picture files, so I am only now getting to processing your Christmas and Epiphany photopost submissions, since the problem has (hopefully) finally been fixed. There is plenty of time to send in more if you have them, whether of the OF, EF, Byzantine Rite etc., to photopost@newliturgicalmovement.org; remember to include the name and location of the church, and any other information you think important. As always, we are very glad to include celebrations of other feasts during the season, blessings (of water, chalk etc.), and the Divine Office. Have a blessed final day of the Epiphany, and continue to evangelize through beauty!

Monastère St Benoit – Brignoles, France
During this past year, the community moved into its new home, a church first given to the Benedictine monks of the abbey of St Victor in Marseilles in 1025, then held by the Knights Templar, and later by the Knights of Malta, until it was closed at the French Revolution. This was the first midnight Mass of Christmas to be held in the church since its closure over 230 years ago. Multa cecidere quae jam renascentur!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Historic Photos of a Cardinal’s Funeral Procession

January 7th was the anniversary of the death of Eugenio Cardinal Tosi, who was created archbishop of Milan in March of 1922 by his predecessor in that see, Achille Ratti, shortly after the latter’s elevation to the Papacy with name of Pius XI. Raised to the cardinalate at the end of that same year, he served in the see of St Ambrose until 1929, and was succeeded within a few months of his passing by the Bl. Ildephonse Schuster. Nicola recently found some images of Cardinal Tosi’s funeral procession, which was held three days after his death. The procession departed from the archiepiscopal palace, made its way on a long route through the center of the city, and then back to the Duomo. In that period, it was still considered very improper to take photos or film of religious ceremonies, and so this set unfortunately includes only the outdoor procession, and not the funeral itself; the number of ecclesiastics and religious gives us at least a hint of how magnificent the funeral Mass would have been.

The archpriest and canons of the cathedral chapter prepare for the funeral procession. As in many other  important churches in Europe, the cathedral canons of Milan have the right to wear miter; they can also traditionally celebrate a slightly reduced form of Pontifical Mass much as abbots do.
Decoration of the central door of the Duomo with a commendatory inscription in honor of the newly deceased cardinal.
The standard of the city of Milan 

Three Epiphanies in One: The Nativity, the Visit of the Magi, and the Baptism of the Lord

We have just seen three feasts that are all interconnected, and all part of what we might think of as the greater season of Epiphany; these are Christmas, Epiphany (which tends to focus on the arrival of the Magi), and the Baptism of the Lord.

My understanding is that originally all would have been celebrated together as different aspects of a single celebration of Epiphany (and which is called Theophany in the Eastern Church). Over time the interest in different aspects of this mystery expanded, hymns were written were given their own days of celebration so that now they form a cluster of connected feasts. There are hints of all three in the icon of the first of these feasts, the Nativity.
All the ancient hymns of the liturgy explain the allegorical understanding of relevant Scriptural passages, and their connection to the feast. The traditional art of the Church simply reflects visually what is presented poetically in written form in such hymns. 

For example, anyone who prayed Morning Prayer on Christmas Day in conjunction with looking at the traditional icon would be able to decipher the image. First, by tradition, Our Lord was born in a cave, not a wooden stable. The dark interior of this cave is a symbol of heaven; Our Lady is a symbol of the throne of cherubim upon which the Resurrected Christ sits in heaven. In order to make this connection apparent visually, the baby Jesus is seen resting on a reclining figure of Our Lady in such a way that it suggests this throne. Instead of the transfigured Christ at its heart, we see the baby in swaddling clothes. This portrayal of a figure wrapped in cloth, in the dark heart of a cave, is intended to evoke a connection between the birth of Our Lord and His death in the tomb when he was wrapped in a shroud and embalmed with myrrh. Through this representation, the depiction of the birth of Christ directs our attention to His future death and resurrection. This is just a small part of the icon of the Nativity, and also just a small part of the detail that is referred to in the liturgical hymns sung on Christmas Day.

For example, here is part of the Ninth Ode sung at Morning Prayer:
Behold a strange and wonderful mystery: the cave is heaven, the Virgin a cherubic throne, the manger a noble place where reposes Christ the Uncontainable God.
Here is a description of the icon by the artist, Aidan Hart, in which he explains why he chose not to show the cave as heaven, but as the absence of God ready to receive Christ:
“The black cave points towards the harrowing of Hades, especially when the Lord is in white swaddling clothes to indicate the glorious white garments of the resurrection. The darkness of the cave presents the world waiting for the Sun of Righteousness, and as such represents the subjective ‘absence’ of God (though of course, God is present everywhere). Christ is ‘enthroned’ in the Virgin, and is dressed in His royal pallium, a King born of the Queen of heaven. The mountain is red since the Virgin is sometimes referred to as the bush that burns without being consumed. The mountains reach upwards, reflected in Paul’s verses in Romans 8:22-24. The Magi represent the Gentiles, the wealthy, and the learned, while the shepherd represents the Jews, the poor, and the unlearned. They come together in Christ, the King of kings, creator and owner of the universe, and source of all Wisdom.”
The visual sign of Our Lady as the Burning Bush creates a connection to the Baptism in the Jordan. The burning bush from which the voice of God spoke to Moses in the wilderness, and which was not consumed by the fire, is likened in liturgical hymns to the womb of the Virgin, containing our Lord without compromising her virginity. Both are likened to the three men in the furnace, described in the Book of Daniel, who were protected from the fire of the furnace. The “mechanism” of that protection is likened to a cooling dew sent by God to shield them. In the same way, it is said, a cooling dew protected the Virgin from being consumed by the Fire of the Spirit, so that She remained pure through Her conception, pregnancy, and birthing of Our Lord. That dew is a type also for the waters of baptism that maintain perfection and clean all imperfection away. In the Baptism in the Jordan, Christ imparts the cleansing power of that holy dew to the waters of the Jordan, so that we, through the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, might be cleansed and protected from the fire of the Holy Spirit in the same way.

Icon reproduced with the permission of the artist: aidanharticons.com

Monday, January 11, 2021

What Vernacular Hymns Can Be: The Case of Old Polish Songs

Many Catholics suffer week after week from a repetitious diet of Four-Hymn Sandwiches, first imported decades before the Council by well-meaning liturgists who thought it would be a nice way to add calories to the Low Mass and give the folks mandibular exercise. When Fr. Longenecker once claimed that good hymns “lift hearts in worship, express faith, and help to catechize,” it made me wish that the U.S. bishops had appointed him a one-man censor librorum over all hymnals to be produced in the country. The number of trees destroyed would dramatically decline, and the catchy but scratchy catechesis of our modern-day Arianizers would suffer a major blow. Yet we mustn’t be narrow-minded about what vernacular hymnody might sound like if it emerged within a real Catholic culture, rather than being fabricated by ecumenists with John Denver envy.

A friend contacted me some time ago to tell me about the so-called “Polish Mass.” This refers not to a vernacular Novus Ordo, but to a Low Mass in the usus antiquior where the dialogue is done between a priest and a server while the congregation is occupied in singing a Mass-long hymn in Polish. There are many such hymns in Poland; they are sung in a special style, mostly in minor tonality, meditative, slow and sober. Their theologically sound lyrics are designed to bring the minds into meditation on the life and especially the Passion of Christ. The hymn starts at the beginning and continues throughout Mass, pausing only at the Sanctus (for which the Sanctus bells are quite useful!), and picking up again after the consecration. This “Polish Mass” is said to have been the standard way of celebrating Mass in Poland before the Second Vatican Council (and before the Soviet times, most probably).

Although it would not meet the demands of the Liturgical Movement for “participatio actuosa” (and it’s a bit too close for comfort to the German Schubert Masses), one could maintain that this deep and rich folk tradition is not incompatible with the liturgy, but rather harmonizes with it and enhances the faithful’s access to the mysteries. It’s hard to describe these hymns adequately in English (a rhymed translation would be a great challenge), but we have, thanks to Justyna Krukowska, an accurate translation of a 23-stanza Polish Mass hymn, from which a popular Christmas song has subsequently been derived. This is probably one of the most famous Christmas carols in Poland, and is often used as the entrance hymn at Mass. It may be worth noting that in Poland everyone has a number of Christmas carols committed to memory, so if you got a random group of Poles together and started singing it, the odds are that most, if not all, would be able to join in.

Here is how it looks, with the corresponding parts of the Mass indicated. In stanza 10 one can even see the “rubric” which says “kneeling,” because the words are the paraphrase of “et incarnatus est.”

START OF MASS

1. In the silence of the night, a voice emanates:
“Rise, shepherds, God is being born unto you:
Go as fast as you can,
Rush to Bethlehem to greet the Lord.”

2. They went and found the Child in the manger,
With all the signs that had been given to them.
They honored him as God, and greeting him,
They called out with great joy.

3. Welcome, O Savior, desired for so long,
Expected for four thousand years.
Kings and prophets have been waiting for You,
And this night You have revealed Yourself to us.

4. We are also waiting for You, O Lord,
And as soon as You come at the voice of the priest,
We will fall down on our faces before You,
Believing that You are under the veil of bread and wine.

GLORIA

5. The singing of the angels
resounds all the way to heaven.
Let us sing along with them:
“Glory to God in the highest
And peace to men here below.”

6. Eternal Father, heavenly King
Who gave us the Son, we adore You.
“Glory to God…”

7. O Son of God, accept our thanksgiving
For Your birth to us today.
“Glory to God…”

8. You, in the glory of the Father, are Yourself holy,
Together with the Holy Spirit, God inconceivable.
“Glory to God…”

CREED

9. I believe in one God in heaven,
The Father, who created this world for Himself,
And in Jesus, his Son,
In all things equal to the Father, Our Lord.

10. Who in order to save us, the human race,
Descended down to earth from upper heavens, [kneeling]
Conceived of the Holy Spirit,
Is born among the beasts, of the Virgin Mary.

11. He died, and then when he rose alive
He went up to heaven, God and true man,
Whence, when the trumpet will wake us up for the judgment
He will come to judge all men on judgment day.

12. I equally believe in the Holy Spirit,
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
I believe in the Church: in her there is salvation.
I believe in the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.

OFFERTORY

13. Let us hurry to the manger with our gifts;
Let us give to the Child the sacrifices of our hearts.
Along with the offering of wine and bread,
May the Divine Child accept them as his property.

14. May he deign to make these hearts holy
And may he forgive us all our trespasses.
After all, this Jesus, for love of us,
Came down to save us.

SANCTUS

15. Sing together with your voices
Angels in heaven, and we on earth:
Holy, Holy, always Holy God of hosts,
Incomprehensible in his majesty!

16. The heavens are full of Your glory, O God,
The earth is full and the whole world.
May they all be amazed,
May they all sing: Holy to our God.

BENEDICTUS

17. Welcome, Jesus, born today
And hidden in this Sacrament!
We fall down on our faces before You,
Believing that You are under these veils.

18. Blessed are You, who came for us,
Came out of the pure Virgin womb.
We sing Hosanna to You,
Who were born of the Virgin Immaculate.

AGNUS DEI

19. Lamb of God, Who came to take away
Human faults, O One and only God,
And immediately from birth
You commence Your sufferings:
Forgive us, O Lord.

20. Lamb of God, Who took upon You
The debts of the world in the form of a servant,
And Who pay out superabundantly,
Sacrificing Your life for us:
Forgive us, O Lord.

21. O Lamb of God, Immaculate,
Who bore wounds on the Cross for us,
To You we sinners call out,
Your mercy we seek:
Forgive us, o Lord.

COMMUNION

22. O dear Jesus, we desire You so!
Through You we will reach heaven.
Even though we are poor, we are dear to Your heart.
Come and console us!

ITE MISSA EST

23. Through the Mass they brought You gifts,
Gifts greater than the royal gifts [of the Magi],
Since we gave to the Almighty—
Even though we are all small before You—
Infinite honor.
AMEN.

(I’ve placed the original Polish text at the end of the article.)

Such were the old Polish hymns: they were a catechism and, even more, a “lifting of the hearts up to the Lord.” There were plenty of hymns and chants for any occasion and liturgical season.

In this video of a Dominican-rite Low Mass at Ars Celebrandi in 2017, notice how the chanting goes on throughout the entire liturgy, not even stopping for the Gospel or the Canon! It is the purest example of “parallel liturgy” I have ever seen. Showing it to a Western liturgy professor might earn you a sentence for first-degree manslaughter. As beautiful as the modal chanting is, it cannot be ideal, from a liturgical point of view, to superimpose one gigantic hymn onto the entirety of the liturgy. Not even the German “paraphase Masses” are quite so continuous and monotonous (in the literal, not pejorative, meaning of the word):

Another type of traditional Polish Mass music is mediaeval vernacular music based on Gregorian chant tones, as well as rhymed offices for Polish saints like St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr. Here are two videos of Bartosz Izbicki, a musicologist, organist, and choir director, conducting such music:

The Poles also had their own interesting variants of Roman chant in liturgical books revised after the Council of Trent, as well as excellent Baroque composers who contributed richly to both Latin and vernacular repertoire.

So, before we complain about vernacular hymns, we should pause and ask: Which vernacular hymnody are we referring to, and why is ours today, in the modern West, so singularly rotten? Well, that is a question for another day. 


Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s website, SoundCloud page, and YouTube channel.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

“Why The Youth Want Tradition” : Another Excellent Commentary from Brian Holdsworth

Brian Holdsworth has just posted another superb video on why traditional forms of worship are so appealing to the young, and why attempts to “relate” to young people by aping the forms of popular culture in the liturgy inevitably fail. Any further commentary on this from me would be quite superfluous, apart from urging all of our readers to share this around as much as they can.

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