Monday, February 20, 2017

A Model Letter on the Restoration of All-Male Altar Service

This article was originally published in 2015, removed for editing, and is now ready for reposting.

A topic of conversation that often arises among young (and not-so-young) traditionally-minded Catholics is: “Can we do anything about the problem of female altar servers?” It is a problem worth solving and one that is capable of being solved, rather than a fateful mistake about which nothing can be done.

Imagine you are a bishop, thinking about what a wreckage feminism has made of the Church in the Western world, as men continue to feel alienated, women no longer offer themselves to religious life, and a pathetic number of priestly vocations dribble in. You are planning to write a letter to your presbyterate, explaining why you are abrogating, in your diocese, the use of female altar servers. What might such a letter look like? How would you make the case?

* * *
Dear Priests and Deacons,

Praised be Jesus Christ! With this letter I announce, after careful consideration and prayerful reflection, an important change in the liturgical praxis of the Diocese of Bromptonville.

As you know, some time ago the Vatican allowed local Ordinaries to permit female altar servers because, due to Pope Paul VI’s suppression of the minor order of acolyte and reassignment of its duties to the office of instituted acolyte, this type of service appeared to be no longer directly connected with the path to priestly ordination. Indeed, in the old days, laymen, particularly boys, substituted for acolytes in most situations (hence the familiar term “altar boys”). At the same time, the Vatican made it clear that female altar servers are not required, may not be imposed against the will of a celebrant of any Mass, and do not cancel out the good of retaining the traditional practice of male-only service at the altar.

With the wisdom of hindsight, we can now see that this experiment of admitting females to the service of the altar has proved problematic, for several reasons. First, altar servers are visibly dedicated, both by their responsibilities and by their vestments, to ministering in the sanctuary at the altar of sacrifice. Theirs is a role that appears to be intimately associated with the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It was for this very reason that the discipline of training and working with altar servers was traditionally regarded as — and, in truth, still remains — a means of fostering vocations to the priesthood. To serve at the altar is to be involved in priestlike activities. Operative here is a language of symbols that is more powerful than mere words.

Experience has shown that the now widespread presence of female altar servers in the sanctuary continues to create confusion among the faithful about the roles that women may legitimately play in the liturgical life of the Church. Again, the symbolism of a vested altar server ministering at the altar speaks more decisively than any catechesis. It is therefore no surprise that many Catholics, despite the definitive judgment of the Church expressed in John Paul II’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, feel that “altar girls” are a first step towards the eventual allowance of “women priests.” Such confusion on matters bound up with the very deposit of faith is not healthy for our faithful people.

More profoundly, Pope John Paul II’s “theology of the body” helps us to understand that a whole realm of cosmic and metaphysical symbolism is literally embodied in man and woman. Even if we are not always consciously aware of this symbolism, it has a steady formative effect on our thoughts and attitudes at worship. It should not be simply ignored in the assignment and execution of liturgical roles. Modern society has shown a remarkable ability to ignore the obvious natural and God-given differences between the sexes, differences that support their complementarity. As grace builds on nature, so does Christian liturgy build on natural anthropology. Introducing confusion at so basic a level prevents the liturgy from exhibiting clearly the spousal relationship of Christ and the Church, where Christ is represented primarily by the celebrant offering sacrifice at the altar in the sanctuary, and the Church is represented primarily by the assembly of believers gathered in the nave to do Him homage and to receive His gifts.

Finally, on a practical note, the placing together of boys and girls has had the effect, consistent with human nature, of driving away boys who might otherwise have been interested in serving or who might otherwise have been persuaded to serve. Boys and girls of certain ages either do not wish to be together, or find one another’s company distracting. A similar distraction is caused for laymen by older girls or fully-grown women in the sanctuary. If the “theology of the body” is true, and surely it is, we should have been able to foresee these problems and avoided them altogether by not having departed from the constant and universal custom of the Church in regard to altar servers. Moreover, boys enjoy the challenge of a demanding and regimented approach to serving, characterized by a manly esprit de corps. Mixed service cancels out this psychological advantage.

Even beyond these concerns, the expansion of ministries to more and more lay people is characteristic of the “clericalization of the laity” and the “laicization of the clergy” against which John Paul II warned many times. The role of the laity is to sanctify the vast world outside the Church, not to take care of the sanctuary and its tasks. The holiness proper to the laity is best expressed when they participate in the liturgical rites by the responses and gestures appointed for them. This is the “spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1) that corresponds harmoniously to the sacerdotal and diaconal ministries exercised at the altar.

Recognizing that the novelty of female altar servers was never to be required but only to be allowed at the discretion of the diocesan bishop, and recognizing also that male altar servers remain normative for the Roman Rite, the Vatican left the decision in this matter in the hands of the diocesan bishop. Accordingly, exercising my right to legislate, I decree that, as of the Solemnity of the Assumption, August 15, 2017, the use of female altar servers is altogether abrogated in this Diocese, and is to be discontinued without exception, all customs to the contrary notwithstanding.

I shall send you a brief pastoral letter on this subject to be read from the pulpit early in June; it will also be published in the Bromptonville Catholic Register. When and as necessary, please prepare your parishioners for the change, emphasizing that it has nothing to do with a lack of appreciation of the countless gifts that women bring to each parish and to the Church. As John Paul II frequently emphasized, the Church is feminine, indeed motherly, in her deepest identity as Bride of Christ and Mother of the faithful, and this is why the Virgin Mary is the supreme model of the Christian disciple. Those who minister at the altar, on the other hand, do so not merely as disciples, but as representatives of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is Eternal High Priest and Servant (Deacon). This role of representation is symbolically shared by other liturgical ministries, especially that of altar server. That is the fundamental basis of my decision, and I am sure that further reflection on it will show the wisdom of the hitherto unbroken Catholic tradition.

I count on your understanding and support in this important step for the renewal of our diocesan liturgical worship, and ask that you speak with me personally if you have any concerns.

Cordially yours in Christ,
       etc. etc.

* * *
So that is how it might be done, although undoubtedly a better letter could be drafted. One can only hope that, as the years go on, bishops will become more and more aware of the harm that has resulted from unheard-of innovations in the Roman Rite and will take the necessary steps to restore liturgical tradition, such as all-male service in the sanctuary.

Although in the letter it is mentioned only in passing, I am convinced that part of the crisis of vocations to the priesthood stems from the lack of real “vocational training” in the form of a more demanding ministry for boys and young men in the sanctuary, connected with a richness of public worship that feeds the imagination and the intellect. When the liturgy is celebrated in a more traditional way, that is, with a certain solemnity, ritual beauty, and complexity, it exercises a mysterious and powerful fascination over the minds of youths. This experience of the sacred and its inherent worthiness has drawn more than a few men into the seminary, as I have witnessed in many different communities. In that sense, it is not rocket science to believe that nudging the liturgy towards greater solemnity and continuity with Catholic tradition, while curtailing female altar servers, cannot but be a most effective path to the promotion of priestly and religious vocations.

Altar boys, New York City, ca. 1957

Altar boys, St. John Cantius, today

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Now This Is A Procession

From the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church of St Mary in Kuravilangad, in the Kerala region of India, comes this photo of a procession with two elephants carrying sacred images, courtesy of Mr Abin Babu.

Friday, February 17, 2017

More Art from the Sacristy

Last month, I published some photographs taken by Fr Jeffrey Keyes of the clever designs made with the ties of his amice by the sacristan of the convent where he says Mass. (This is at the Regina Pacis Convent of the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa, in Santa Rosa, California.) Judging from the viewing statistics, which went through the roof, you really liked them, so here are several more. As I said previously, Sister is a true artist in her field, and with an authentic Catholic liturgical spirit, makes different designs depending on the liturgical season or feast day.

The keys of St Peter for the Feast of St Peter’s Chair
A sword, the emblem of St Paul, for the feast of his Conversion.
A crosier for the bishops Ss Timothy and Titus
A chalice and host for the feast of St Ignatius of Antioch, in reference to his famous words about the true presence his description of the Sacrament as “the medicine of immortality.”
On the feast of St Josephine Bakhita on February 8th, the Lamb of God, sitting on the book with the seven seals. (Apocalypse 5, 1)

Good News from Ireland: TLM in Waterford Cathedral

From the Latin Mass Society of Ireland comes this report of the first Traditional Latin Mass held in the cathedral of Waterford in 50 years. The next one is scheduled for February 26th, Quinquagesima Sunday, at 10 a.m.

“After a 50 year absence the Traditional Latin Mass returned to the oldest cathedral seat of the oldest city in Ireland. With the kind permission of Very Rev. Canon Edmund Cullinan, Adm., the Traditional Roman Catholic Mass was offered in Waterford Cathedral on Sunday 22nd of January at 10 am. The celebrant, Polish priest Fr Andrzej Komorowski, processed in a rather fitting green cope through a respectably filled Cathedral of over 250 people, all eagerly awaiting the Traditional Mass.

It was a wonderful opportunity for older Mass goers in the diocese to experience once again the beauty, solemnity, and splendour of the Traditional Latin Mass. It was also an opportunity for younger Mass goers to witness for the first time the central and most splendid jewel of their Catholic liturgical heritage – the magnificent Mass with sacred music that formed all the great saints of the Church and nourished the faith and lives of their grandparents and ancestors.

Many older Catholics remembered their chants and took up their part in the singing of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. It was a great delight to all the servers when a young boy, without a moment of hesitation or insecurity, presented himself to the serving team and requested to serve with them. ...

A great day for Waterford and a privilege for all who assisted. Fr Faber never spoke truer words when he described this Mass as ‘The most beautiful thing this side of Heaven.’ ”

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Back to the Future? No Thanks, I've Been There!

Catholic World Report probably did not envision the reaction it received when it published an article by Fr Peter Stravinskas entitled, “How the Ordinary Form of the Mass can ‘Enrich’ the Extraordinary Form.” The comments section on this opinion piece is still receiving responses.

My immediate reaction when I read it was: Haven’t we been here before? Indeed, when one looks at the alterations Fr Stravinskas suggests, they’ve been done. The seven-year period before the implementation of the so-called Missa Normativa, which became the Novus Ordo Missae, had many of these revisions.

As one who lived through the upheavals (and they were exactly that) of the period from 1963 to 1970, the list Fr Stravinskas enumerated seemed like a walk back to a place I’ve visited before, and don’t want to return to.

Things as they were in some place, circa 1965.

It brought back a kaleidoscope of memories of seemingly endless changes in the liturgy, confusion, and ultimately, a break with what was before. That was my experience during those days, and as someone who has fought for most of his adult life to see the restoration of the Traditional Mass, I am wary of any attempts to coalesce parts of the Ordinary Form into the Extraordinary Form.

Of course, the changes in the liturgy began in the 1950s, with the revision of Holy Week and the first simplification of the rubrics in 1955. A further simplification occurred in 1961, leading to the publication of the 1962 Missal. Those changes in many respects set the stage for what was to follow, and those subsequent changes were the most jarring, especially after Sacrosanctum Concilium.

The 1962 Missal really only lasted for a bit more than a year. In 1963, changes were promulgated that truncated the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, and eliminated the Last Gospel. It is interesting to note, in little more than seven years, we went from particular Last Gospels on feasts to no Last Gospels. Changes were also ordered by which much of the Mass took place at the celebrant’s chair, rather than the altar.

But all these were paltry compared to what was to greet churchgoers on Advent Sunday of 1965.

I was an altar boy in those years when confusion reigned. My home church in New Haven, St Anthony’s, was run by the Scalabrini Fathers, who at least there were very liturgically centered. For its time, it was good parish liturgy. We had “Our Parish Prays and Sings” by St John’s Collegeville, from which we did chant Masses and learned some good hymnody, especially for the students of the school. Of course, being a Scalabrini parish, we learned some of the Masses by Fr Carlo Rossini, a member of the order who was the Director of Music at the Pittsburgh Cathedral. I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Missa Salve Regina.

On that Advent Sunday, we arrived to see a portable altar put up in front of our high altar. We were prepped for the change by the sisters in the school, who told us what a great thing was going to happen, and that the liturgy was going to be more understandable and bring us more into the celebration. Words like “liturgy” became part of the language. Don’t call it “Mass” anymore.

But it was not an easy roll out. A funny thing happens when you turn a sanctuary around: it’s like doing things in a mirror. Everything looks a bit familiar, but also very different. The priests at St Anthony’s had taken the changes in stride, but thought they would be an experiment, and then we’d go back to what worked.

A good example of what was happening in those days is seen in a story I tell often. Fr Remegio Pigato was a jolly priest, a former rector of the Scalabrini Seminary on Staten Island, learned, humble and holy. Every day he could be seen in the church lot, walking and reading his breviary. He had the early Mass on the second Sunday of Advent, the week after everything changed. We had been attempting to get along with the new order, but things were different. Servers mixed up the Gospel side and the Epistle side, and changing the book became a problem. This time the server charged with moving it took it off the altar facing the people, came around in front, genuflected and got confused. He hesitated. Finally, he put the book on the Gospel side, but the hesitation was seen by everyone.

Fr Pigato, who’d been celebrating all week and saw various servers do the same thing, could take it no longer. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said in his thick Italian accent, “I apologize. We are no saying the Mass backwards.” That pretty much summed up the confusion.

That wasn’t the end of it. Introits, collects, the entire ordinary, and the Lord’s Prayer had been switched to English. From the Preface through the Canon, things were in Latin.

The Offertory Procession was inserted into the Mass, and a commentator read us a script to let us know what was coming up. Add the Prayers of the Faithful to that, and immediately there was a different ethos. The Offertory Procession, which was supposed to show the offering of the congregation, was really just a very perfunctory event that added little to the solemnity of the Mass; if anything, it detracted from it. It was foreign, it called attention to itself.

The Prayers of the Faithful, rather than being something for and by the congregation, was a scripted set of biddings with a parroted “Lord, hear our prayer” after each invocation. Already one could see that this new change was going to import something into the Mass that was very alien to Catholic worship: chatter. Everything was said aloud.

Meanwhile, we were told that turning the altars would mean that we would see what the priest was doing. That was true, but the ceremonies were then pared down so much that the priest really wasn’t doing anything that needed to be seen. However, the change did alter the focus, no matter how observant the celebrant; facing the people meant engaging the people. Custody of the eyes, which had always been so important for the celebrant to focus on praying the Mass, now had been jettisoned in favor of dialogue. The last saving grace was that the Canon was still in Latin. The priest had to focus during the most important part of the Mass.

We were told the Canon, that most untranslatable prayer, would never be in the vernacular because it is too steeped in meaning. In 1967, it was put in the vernacular.

Sacred music, meanwhile, was being supplanted. In some churches, congregations monotoned the propers in English, while most places used either “hootenanny” songs or “Protestant” hymns. Catholic hymns were immediately replaced, with a few exceptions. The changes did have an immediate effect. Church attendance began to plummet. People voted with their feet. The youth whom the new music and altered liturgical practice were supposed to attract said, “No thanks.”

Concurrent with the changes in liturgy came a lessening in discipline. Many priests in many churches told people not to worry if they missed Mass, there was a new “Spirit of the Council” that was throwing off the “rigidity” of the past.

Add to this the abolition of meatless Fridays as an obligation and other disciplinary strictures, and it was too much for many people. This was not what they signed up for. It is an anomaly that 1965 was the banner year for church attendance, conversions, and men and women in seminaries or religious life. A year later, at least in New Haven, there was already talk about closing schools and churches, attendance had plummeted that much.

The changes were to continue. More and more vernacular came into the liturgy. Communion in the hand, standing for Communion and the demolition of sanctuaries followed, along with anticipatory Masses on Saturday. Finally, in 1970 a new order of Mass was introduced, and it was even more jarring, more opposed to what went before. By that time, church attendance at St Anthony’s and many other places had halved. The revolution of the mid- to late-1960s had upended society.

Many people who defend the liturgical changes of that era say that part of the problem was the rise of the counter-culture late in the decade, and that the Church declined because of those forces. One wonders if the changes of 1965 and later didn’t help bring about societal upheavals of 1968. I’ll leave that up to historians.

Fr Stravinskas put forth proposals that go farther than what happened in 1965 or later. His are the opinions expressed by the liturgical experts of that time. The problem with many of those experts was they were not parish priests; most were university professors whose pastoral experience was, at best, limited. Their prescription for reviving Catholic practice and liturgy has been tried and found wanting.

With all due deference to Fr Stravinskas, a priest whom I know and respect, what we need is a time of liturgical peace. While some feasts might be added, or some prefaces allowed, the alterations he suggests are just rehashes of ideas that were implemented and led to the Missal of Paul VI. Been there, done that. I don’t want to go back to the future. I’ve been there, and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Burying the Alleluia 2017

Many of our readers will have heard of the various customs related to the removal of the Alleluia from the liturgy on Septuagesima Sunday. In the Roman liturgical books, this is done in the simplest possible fashion; at the end of Vespers of the previous Saturday, “Alleluia” is added twice to the end of “Benedicamus Domino” and “Deo gratias”, which are sung in the Paschal tone. The word is then dropped from the liturgy completely until the Easter vigil. In some medieval uses, however, “Alleluia” was added to the end of every antiphon of this Vespers, and a number of other customs, some formally included in the liturgy and others not, grew up around it as well.

One of the most popular was to write the word on a board or piece of parchment, and then after Vespers bury it in the churchyard, so that it could be dug up again on Easter Sunday. Fr Jeffrey Keyes sent us these photos of this ceremony done by the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa at the Regina Pacis Convent in Santa Rosa, California, where he serves as chaplain. (If any others readers have photos of this ceremony which they would like to send in, please feel free:

Here is the same ritual, made  more somber by the black cope, from our friends of the Fraternity of St Joseph the Guardian in La Londe-les-Maures, France. (From their Facebook page.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Antiquity and Universality of Fore-Lent (Part 4)

This is the fourth and final part of Henri de Villiers’ examination of the various forms and traditions of the pre-Lenten period. Click the following links to read part 1, part 2 and part 3. The original French version was published in 2014 on the website of the Schola Sainte-Cécile.

Fore-Lent and Meditation on Human Frailty
Have demonstrated the antiquity and universality of Fore-Lent in the various rites, we conclude by highlighting some of the themes commonly used in this period in the liturgies of both East and West.

The reading of Genesis: meditation on the fall of Man and the need for Redemption
Adam was deprived of the delights of Paradise * by the bitterness of the fruit; * his gluttony made him reject * the commandment of the Lord; * he was condemned to work * the earth from which he was formed; * by the sweat of his brow * was he obliged to earn the bread he ate. * Let us look to temperance, lest we, like him, be made to weep before the gate of Paradise; but rather, let us struggle to enter therein. (Kathisma at Matins of Cheesefare Sunday, also known as the Sunday of the Expulsion from Paradise.)

A 16th century Russian icon, showing the Holy Trinity, the expulsion from Paradise, and monks contemplating the mortality of man as they preside over a burial.
The Byzantine hymns of the Sunday that immediately precedes the first day of Lent, which coincides with the Latin Quinquagesima, is dedicated to the Creation and the sin of Adam and Eve, and contrast the gluttony of our first father with Our Lord’s forty day fast in the desert. In fact, we frequently find readings from the book of Genesis at the beginning of Lent itself, or within the three-week period of Fore-Lent. In the Roman Rite, Genesis is begun at Matins of Septuagesima Sunday; both the Ambrosian and Byzantine Rites have a series of readings from Genesis and Proverbs at Vespers through most of the Lenten season.

The remembrance of death and the last things.
The meditation on the fall of Adam is naturally accompanied by further consideration of the frailty of man, his death, and the necessity of penance before Final Judgment. This is stated very eloquently in the Introit of the Roman Mass of Septuagesima.

Circumdederunt me * gémitus mortis, dolóres inférni circumdedérunt me : et in tribulatióne mea invocávi Dóminum, et exáudivit de templo sancto suo vocem meam.
The groans of death surrounded me: and pains of hell surrounded me; in my tribulation I called upon the Lord, and He heard my voice from his holy temple.

The Media vita is another text often sung during Septuagesima in the Roman Rite. This antiphon, which seems to date back to the 8th century, was later transformed into a responsory, and in many Uses integrated into the liturgy of Lent. In the Middle Ages, this dramatic text was often sung on the battle field to encourage the enthusiasm of the troops.

R. In the midst of life, we are in death; whom shall we seek to help us, but Thee, o Lord, who for our sins art justly wroth? * Holy God, holy mighty one, holy and merciful Savior, hand us not over to bitter death. V. Cast us not away in the time of our old age, when our strength shall fail, forsake us not, o Lord. Holy God, holy mighty one etc.

In a similar vein, the Byzantine Rite reads the Gospel of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25, 31-46) on the preceding Sunday, to call the faithful to think of the Last Things.

Prayer for the Dead
Just as the liturgy of Fore-Lent reminds us of our mortal condition fallen though sin, this period has also become in many liturgical traditions a privileged time to pray for the dead.

In the Armenian Rite, the Thursday of Quinquagesima (the last before the beginning of Lent) is dedicated to the commemoration of all the faithful departed. The same holds true for the Saturday before the Sunday of the Last Judgment in the Byzantine Rite; this is attested in the Typikon of the Great Church in the 9th or 10th century, the most important document describing the arrangement of services at Hagia Sophia. The Assyro-Chaldean rite has a similar observance on the Friday of the second week before Lent.

Among the Maronites, the three Sundays of Fore-Lent are dedicated to the commemoration of the dead, the first to deceased priests, the second to the “just and righteous”, the last to all the faithful departed. The arrangement of the season among the Syrian Jacobites is undoubtedly the more primitive: the fast of the Ninevites from Monday to Friday of Septuagesima week, the Sunday of prayer for deceased priests on Sexagesima, and for all the faithful departed on Quinquagesima.

The creators of the reformed Missal of Paul VI inexplicably suppressed the season of Septuagesima, an ancient element of the Roman Rite, without regard for its antiquity and its universality, and even though it is preserved in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and in many Lutheran churches. These articles have sought to highlight and explain the following points.

1. In all liturgical traditions, Lent is preceded by a penitential period, originally the fast of the Ninevites in the third week before Lent, and the week immediately preceding it (Cheesefare / Quinquagesima / the fast of Heraclius). The most ancient witnesses to this period are from the fourth century: St Gregory the Illuminator, St Ephraem, Egeria’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Copts of Egypt and Ethiopia have two fasts, the Mozarabic Rite has only Quinquagesima, the Assyro-Chaldeans have only the Rogations of the Ninevites. Starting at the beginning of the 6th century, Fore-Lent is developed and extended to the full three-week period before Lent, in the Roman, Ambrosian, Byzantine, Armenian, Syro-Jacobite and Maronite rites.

2. This time is observed as a progressive entry into Lent, allowing for a gradual approach to, and spiritual preparation for, the ascetic exercises of that season. This aspect is explained by Protopresyter Alexander Schmemann in his description of the Sundays of Fore-Lent.

“Three weeks before Great Lent officially begins, we enter a period of preparation. It is a constant characteristic of our liturgical tradition that each major liturgical event – Christmas, Easter, Lent, etc., is announced and prepared for far in advance. Aware of our lack of concentration, the “materialist” condition of our life, the Church draws our attention to the important aspects of the event that approaches, She invites us to meditate upon its various “dimensions”; therefore, before we can begin to keep the Great Lent, we are given the theological basis for it.” (The Liturgical Structure of Lent.)

3. Meditation on the Fall of Man and the Last Things, and consequently, the common institution of prayers for the faithful departed, are an important recurring element in the various rites.

Tradition is for the Young (Part 6): Candlemas in Lyon

Thanks to the Fraternity of St Peter’s apostolate in Lyon, France, for permission to reproduce these photographs of their Candlemas ceremony. Once again, we can only be encouraged to see how young the servers are at this Mass, (not just the acolytes, but also the deacon and subdeacon) and be grateful for their efforts to preserve and promote our Catholic liturgical tradition. Merci, amis!

Corpus Christi Watershed Second Symposium on Sacred Music, Los Angeles, June 26-30

Thanks to Dr Alfred Calabrese for bringing this to my attention. The symposium, which is jointly sponsored by Priestly Fraternity of St Peter, is at the church of St Therese in Alhambra, California. For more information, go to the page on the Corpus Christi Watershed website, here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Antiquity and Universality of Fore-Lent (Part 3)

We continue with part 3 of Henri de Villiers’ examination of the various forms and traditions of the pre-Lenten period. Click the following links to read part 1 and part 2.
Synthesis of the fast of the Ninevites and Meatfare Week – the extension of Fore-Lent to three weeks.

We have seen that, in the sixth century, the custom of preceding Lent by a week of abstinence from meat is well established in both East and West. The 24 canon of a council held at Orléans in 511 prescribes its observance, indicating that it was already spreading before that date in Merovingian France. Certain churches in the East add the fast of the Ninevites in the 3rd week before Lent. It was therefore natural to join these two periods together and extend Fore-Lent to three full weeks.

It is possible that in the East this liturgical “bridge” between Lent and the fast of Nineveh was first built in Armenia. The Armenian Fore-Lent is called Aratchavor, and comprises three weeks, the first of which, is called Barekendam, “the last day of fat.” The first week is quite strict, consecrated to the fasts of the Ninevites, instituted by St Gregory the Illuminator in the 4th century. The second and third week are less penitential, and the fast is kept only on the Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross, an Armenian church of the early 10th century built on Aghtamar island in Lake Van, now in the state of Turkey.
At Rome, Quinquagesima Sunday came to be preceded by two other Sundays, Sexagesima and Septuagesima, over the course of the 6th century. The old Gelasian Sacramentary (Vat. Reg. 316) and the Epistle book of Victor of Capua, dated to 546, attest the presence of Sexagesima in theis period. The stations of the three Sundays were fixed by Popes Pelagius I (556-561) and John III (561-574) at the basilicas of St Lawrence Outside-the-Walls, St Paul and St Peter. We have homilies delivered by St Gregory the Great for all three of them. The oldest known Roman lectionary, known as the lectionary of Würzburg, was copied out in the first half of the 7th century for use in France, and largely corresponds to the arrangement of the old Gelasian Sacramentary; it also attest that the three Sundays were already established by that point.

St Gregory the Great, represented in the Sacremetary of Charles the Bald, (869-70). Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 1141 
Fore-Lent also exists in the Ambrosian tradition, in which the three Sundays have the same names as in the Roman Rite. The Alleluia is nor suppressed in this season, but rather, on the First Sunday of Lent since the Borromean reform, before that, on the first Monday. The liturgical texts are quite different from those of the Roman Rite, which would not likely be the case if the season were not very ancient at Milan, rather than a mere Roman import. We may cite here the transitorium (the equivalent of the Roman Communio) of the Mass of Septuagesima, which proclaims the program of the season.

Convertímini * omnes simul ad Deum mundo corde, & ánimo, in oratióne, jejúniis & vigíliis multis : fúndite preces vestras cum lácrymis : ut deleátis chirógrapha peccatórum vestrórum, priúsquam vobis repentínus supervéniat intéritus ; ántequam vos profúndum mortis absórbeat : & cum Creátor noster advénerit, parátos nos invéniat.
Be ye all together converted to God, with pure heart and mind, in prayer, fasting and many vigils; our forth your prayers with tears, that you may cancel the decree of your sins, before there come upon ye sudden destruction, before the depths of death swallow ye up; and so, when our Creator cometh, may He find us ready.

In this period, the Byzantine Rite reads a series of Gospels which prepare the people for the penance of Lent: the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 19, 10-14), the Prodigal Son (Luke 15, 11-32), the Last Judgment (Matthew 25, 31-46), and Christ’s words on fasting from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6, 14-21.) The organization of the three weeks is attested in the Typikon of the Great Church, of the 9th-10th century; the lack of older liturgical documents older than this does not allow us to speak more precisely about the origins of the arrangement. It must be noted that in the first week, following the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, the Byzantines completely suppressed all fasting, even the regular weekly fast on Wednesday and Friday, as a result of certain controversies in the Middle Ages, to distinguish their own practice from that of the Armenians in the same week.

Only a few rites, those isolated from the rest of the Christian word by the advance of Islam, have no developed the three-week period of Fore-Lent. The Mozarabic Rite has remained in the primitive stage before the beginning of the 6th century with a single week of preparation for Lent. The Sunday of this week is called “ante carnes tollendas – before the meat is taken away”, indicating that meat was removed from the diet, but not milk products or other non-vegetarian foods. Egypt and Ethiopia have both the fast of Nineveh and the fast of Heraclius, but have never joined them into a single Fore-Lent. However, among the Ethiopians, the Sunday corresponding to the Latin Sexagesima, although counted with the liturgical season after Epiphany, is fixed in relationship to the following Sunday, called “the Sunday of the Bridegroom, in which antiphons are taken from the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25, 1-13). This marks end the period in which marriages are permitted. The Assyro-Chaldeans have held to keeping the Rogations of the Ninevites, and do not have an equivalent to Quinquagesima.

Conference on Sacred Liturgy in Oregon, July 2017, with Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Sample and Bishop Vasa

Registration is now open for the 5th annual Sacred Liturgy Conference scheduled for July 12-15, 2017 in Medford, Oregon.

Join Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Alexander K. Sample and Bishop Robert F. Vasa in southern Oregon for a three-day immersion in the Church’s sacred liturgy and its living musical heritage. The theme of this 5th annual conference is “The Voice of the Bridegroom” and will focus on sacred liturgy, Church history and the role of Gregorian chant.

The conference will include eight lectures, five chant workshops, four sung liturgies, and from the way it is structured, will allow for plenty of time for fellowship and conversation. His Eminence Cardinal Burke will give a lecture and celebrate an Extraordinary Form Solemn Pontifical High Mass assisted by priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. Archbishop Sample will give a lecture and celebrate a Pontifical Mass in the Ordinary Form. Additional faculty will include Bishop Vasa, Rev. Gerard Saguto, FSSP, Rev. Vincent Kelber, O.P., Rev. Timothy Furlow, Dr. Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre and Dr. Francisco Romero.

The conference is organized by the Director of Schola Cantus Angelorum, Dr. Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre MD, PhD, LGCHS and hosted by Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Medford, Oregon. This Sacred Liturgy Conference is open to anyone interested in the treasures of the Catholic liturgy and promises to be intellectually, liturgically and spiritually enriching.

To find out more specifics about the schedule, accommodations, and how to register for the conference go to . You may also call 206-552-3400 or email . I am told that space is limited and registrations will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Below I have posted a link to a promotional video as well as a poster. If you can share the video to spread the word do so!

Monday, February 13, 2017

February 18th: This Months's Melkite Divine Liturgy in Berkeley, CA

I have the date for the outreach Melkite Divine Liturgy in Berkeley for the month of February. It is at 5pm this Saturday (2/18), once again at the Gesu Chapel of the Jesuit School of Theology, 1735 Le Roy Ave., Berkeley, California. As before, dinner will provided following the liturgy.

This is an outreach of St Elias Melkite Catholic Church, which is based at Los Gatos, California. The liturgy will be celebrated by Fr Sebastian Carnazzo, the pastor of St Elias, and Fr Christopher Hadley who teaches at the Jesuit School of Theology.

The Melkite chants of the Divine Liturgy in both English and Arabic and this liturgy will be predominantly in English. I encourage you to look it up, here.

Mark your calendars and plan to attend both the liturgy and dinner if possible.

Fr Sebastian also makes his weekly parish scripture and Church Fathers study available free via live video conference or recorded. Access is through the St Elias It is free and I would encourage all to investigate. I have been sitting on his video class, the Bible and the Liturgy which he is offering for Pontifex University which is in the core of our Masters in Sacred Arts course. I would say his description of how the bible through content and structure is fundamentally a liturgical text, which catechizes deeply through the pattern of the sacred liturgy, is as inspiring a series of talks on the liturgy that I have ever heard. He currently teaches for the Archdiocese of San Francisco and for several years taught at the FSSP seminary in Nebraska.

Here is Fr Sebastian celebrating the liturgy at St Elias:

True Poverty of Spirit in the Splendor of Worship: Why We Pay Deference to the Celebrant

The reactions to my article of two weeks ago (“A Defense of Liturgy as ‘Carolingian Court Ritual’”) displayed a wide range of opinions on the “baroque” or “rococo” aspects of the Tridentine Roman liturgy. Some even suggested that the difference between medieval rites and the Tridentine rite is that in the former, the focus remains on God throughout, with the ministers merely having various jobs to perform in carrying out the work, while in the latter, the focus shifts to everyone paying homage to the celebrant. I think this is a crucial issue that deserves further thought, as it exposes foundational questions about the iconicity or representationalism of the liturgy.

Last January, I published a defense of the cappa magna (“The Cappa Magna in the Light of Nature, Rationality, and Mystery”), in the course of which I claimed that this garment is “fully consistent with the logic of creation, the Incarnation, and the grammar of worship as the most special of all special occasions,” and that
As Catholics, we rejoice in the natural beauty of colors and forms; we rejoice in the rational capacity to highlight personal dignity, elevated office, and earnest ritual; we rejoice in the supernatural symbolism that draws our minds beyond this earthly realm to the heavenly kingdom and its majestic Sovereign. It is a perfect example of the harmony of nature and grace — the hidden depths of visible nature and the sensible signs of invisible grace.
What I argued about the cappa magna may be extended to all the aspects of the greatest of historic Latin liturgies after the Papal Mass, namely, the Pontifical Mass. This liturgy features elaborate pre- and post-ceremonies of divesting and vesting, in addition to special touches throughout the Mass bound up with the episcopal standing of the celebrant. How we should understand these things may be gathered from a luminous statement in the Holy Rule of St. Benedict: “Let the abbot, since he is believed to hold the place of Christ, be called Lord and Abbot, not for any pretensions of his own, but for the honour and love of Christ.”[1] As with the abbot, so with the sacerdos magnus: all attentions are being given to Christ, who is present in a special way in His ordained ministers. For our Lord could have said of His animate instruments just what He said of the poor, with no less truth: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my pontiffs, that you do unto Me.” And we know that “he who honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father, who hath sent him” (Jn 5:23).

With the widespread loss of faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, we lose our faith in His real presence in the priests; religious exercises come to be about us, about the community. Naturally, in this false perspective, it is absurd to wear beautiful vestments, much less a cappa magna — who are we to dress up like this? But it is not about us; it is all about Jesus, directed to His honor and reflective of His glory. How would we treat Our Lord if He were the one offering the High Mass? Yet He is the one offering it; the Eternal High Priest is present in and working through His earthly high priest, whom we confess to be alter Christus.

No one has been granted the privilege of seeing this truth more fully than St. Gertrude the Great, who beheld in many of her visions the Lord Jesus Himself celebrating the liturgy of the Mass and of the Divine Office, with hosts of angels as his acolytes.
As He [Christ] sat on His royal throne, St. Gertrude cast herself at His feet and embraced them. Then He chanted the Kyrie eleison, in a clear and loud voice …
       The Son of God then rose from His royal throne and turning towards God the Father, intoned the Gloria in excelsis in a clear and sonorous voice. At the word Gloria, He extolled the immense and incomprehensible omnipotence of God the Father. At the words in excelsis, He praised His profound wisdom. At Deo, He honored the inestimable and indescribable sweetness of the Holy Spirit. The whole celestial court then continued in a most harmonious voice, Et in terra pax bonae voluntatis. …
       At the conclusion of the Gloria in excelsis, the Lord Jesus, who is our true High Priest and Pontiff, turned to Gertrude, saying Dominus vobiscum, dilecta — “The Lord be with you, beloved,” and she replied Et spiritus meus tecum, praedilecte — “And may my spirit be with Thee, O most Beloved.” After this she inclined towards the Lord, to return Him thanks for His live in uniting her spirit to His Divinity, whose delights are with the children of men. The Lord then read the Collect …
       Gertrude saw our Lord rise from His royal throne and present His blessed Heart to His Father, elevating it with His own Hands and immolating it in an ineffable manner for the whole Church, At this moment the bell rang for the Elevation of the Host in the Church [where St. Gertrude was on earth], so that it appeared as if our Lord did in heaven what the priest did on earth. …
       And our Lord communicated Himself to her with a love and tenderness which no human tongue could describe, so that she received the perfect fruit of His most precious Body and Blood. After this He sang a canticle of love for her and declared to her that had this union of Himself with her been the sole fruit of His labors, sorrows, and Passion, He would have been fully satisfied.[2]
Admittedly, Gertrude was caught up in rapture and saw visions that are seldom granted to mortals. Nevertheless, a Pontifical Mass truly does convey something of the burning intensity, the royal majesty, the celestial beauty, the overwhelming holiness of the Mass of Our Lord that she beheld. If our Mass on earth does not hint at this, if it is not capable of being a springboard to mystical communion with the High Priest, if it is antithetical to the truth Gertrude saw momentarily unveiled, it is being false to its essence.

I remember with great inner warmth how it felt to be at the Mass celebrated by His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke at Strahov Abbey on the Feast of St. Teresa of Jesus in October 2016. Between the sanctuary full of ministers going about their many and varied tasks of service and the choir loft whence flowed the milk of chant and the honey of polyphony, I was suspended in an enormous net of prayer, the Church in heaven and the Church on earth, into which I, though unworthy, was invited to participate, along with the hundreds of souls packed into the narrow wooden benches of the nave.[3] Prayer was not a mental construct but a pulsing, palpable thing going on above me, before me, and yet within me, something much greater and more real than myself in that it came from God and carried me to God, infusing a sense of wonder and humility. “Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” — this mother that the liturgy is for our spiritual life.

The two hours of the Pontifical Mass passed as quickly as if time had stepped aside in deference to its master, waiting to be summoned again when he should wish it. The liturgy ended with a monumental improvisation on the pipe organ, so that my last impressions were an anarchic blend of banners carried in procession, music seizing hold of all space, and the bustle of men, women, and children streaming forth to the courtyard. I had been present at the tearing of the veil in the temple, the veil of His flesh, and for a moment the heavens were opened. I had worshiped with the angels, knelt with sinners, felt the balm of beauty, tasted the sacrament of love. Never have I been more proud to be a Catholic — or more aware of my smallness and dependency, my unworthiness as a member of the Mystical Body.

From those heights, let us return once more to pontifical regalia and look at the question from the opposite angle. While it is sometimes possible that a saintly priest or bishop would choose to rid himself of anything valuable in order to give the money to the poor, in our own times it is much more common to encounter what might be called “ostentatious bad taste” or “hypocritical poverty,” when a priest or bishop who claims to be renouncing pomp and circumstance for the sake of the Gospel is really drawing attention to himself as a paragon of social justice, whose ugly garments or clumsy chalices in fact still cost a great deal of money — money that could have been spent on something truly beautiful, which spiritually enriches all who behold it, including the poor. We could put it this way: a priest or bishop who does not see himself as essentially a symbol of another and therefore as able to accept and promote liturgical beauty for the sake of that other will, perforce, see himself as —himself, in front of the people, on display. At this point, two roads are open to him: to be ostentatiously wealthy for the sake of worldly glory, or to be ostentatiously poor and virtuous. In either case, it’s all about him, and the result is thoroughly disedifying. In contrast, when a man of God really acts and speaks as a man of God, one who totally belongs to Christ the Eternal High Priest, it is extremely edifying to see him robed in splendor, uplifted in honor. When Our Lord said: “Whatsoever you do to the least, you do unto Me” (cf. Mt 25:40), He was certainly not excluding the truth that whatsoever you do to the greatest, you do to Him as well.

We can see in the simplicity of St. Benedict’s faith the reason why so many in the Church today object to “pomp and splendor” — namely, their lack of the same faith. “Let the abbot, since he is believed to hold the place of Christ, be called Lord and Abbot…” If one does not believe firmly and unshakably with one’s mind and heart that the ministerial priest is alter Christus, a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek; if one does not believe that the bishop is Christ as ruling, teaching, and sanctifying; if one does not believe that the hierarchs of the Church are the authoritative voice and healing hands of the Word made flesh, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who suffered and is now exalted gloriously in heaven above the cherubim and seraphim, then it is perfectly reasonable to be repelled by signs of pomp and splendor.

Charles Coulombe makes this insightful observation about the difference in “style” between Benedict XVI and Francis: 
The generation of westerners of which he [Francis] is a part was marked — in Church, State, and indeed, in every field — by what can only be called a sort of “personalization” of authority. That is to say, that the traditional division in perception between an office and the current holder of that office — which allowed people of wildly differing, sometimes even opposed, views to collaborate out of shared respect for the office under whose direction they functioned — has been blurred or even obliterated. Such folk, when in authority, tend to downgrade or do away with traditional symbols of their office while emphasizing their own personalities in pursuit of some nebulous “authenticity.” So it is that morning dress and uniforms disappear from presidential inaugurations and legislative openings, and royals love to appear in casual wear. The difficulty with such an approach is that it tends to weaken respect for the office in the eyes of its subjects, who in turn begin to believe that their loyalty to it is dependent purely on their personal feelings for the occupant of the moment. Seeing the problems this had created, Benedict XVI began to restore the symbolic side of the Papacy, for all that formalism and display ran extremely counter to his nature. But it is not an issue that one of Francis’s generation could be expected to understand — quite the contrary.[4]
Pope Benedict, says Coulombe, attempted to show the “hermeneutic of reform in continuity” by his very apparel; it was not a mental construct or an eccentric opinion, but a lived reality, displayed on the outside:
What is certain is that he did try to use the hermeneutic of reform himself. Despite the lack of tiara noted earlier, piece by piece he restored bits of the papal wardrobe that his immediate predecessors had discarded: the fur-lined mozzetta, the camauro, the fanon, and — most annoying to some — the traditional red shoes, symbolizing the fact that as Pope he walked in the footsteps of the martyrs.
This humble Bavarian who shied away from the limelight saw that paradoxically it was necessary to elevate and accentuate the sacramental iconicity of the pontiff in order to move beyond the cult of personality inadvertently started by John XXIII and vastly augmented in the charismatic athlete, actor, poet, and playwright John Paul II. With Pope Francis, we see a return both of the cult of personality and of the false conception of poverty, this time applied not only to liturgy but also to doctrine itself.[5]

When we look back over the criticisms made of episcopal vestments by certain fathers of the Second Vatican Council and by our minimalists of today, we must ask ourselves: Why would a bishop who protests about wearing gauntlets or buskins not likewise protest about the mitre and crook? Why is a bishop or a priest still wearing clerical attire of any sort? Did not the chasuble begin as a typical Roman garment, of which jeans and a T-shirt would be our equivalent? Why is a cleric still using prescribed rituals and ceremonies at all?

Joseph Ratzinger saw that the post-modern critique of structures and institutions extends to everything — there is no logical reason to stop at the cappa magna or the gold chalice or the medieval chant, as opposed to carrying the deconstruction of religion all the way to its entire visible material system of power.[6] For this reason, therefore, the post-modern critique has to be rejected at its root. In its place we must put the Pseudo-Dionysian principle of excess, even super-excess. While we may not prefer the results of the Baroque aesthetic to those of the Byzantine, the Romanesque, or the Gothic, we can recognize in it the Christ-loving, creation-loving exultation of the Catholic soul, which serves as an antidote to the poisonous reductionism of our time and an exemplar of the disciplined abandon to holy things, rejoicing in every pound of spikenard it can spill out to anoint the feet of the Lord.


[1] Holy Rule, ch. 63 (McCann trans.). Perhaps the most astonishing example of Benedict's analogical thinking is found in ch. 7, under the fifth degree of humility. The chapter begins: "The fifth degree of humility is that he [the monk] humbly confess and conceal not from his abbot any evil thoughts that enter his heart, and any secret sins that he has committed." Straightforward. But then Benedict backs up this advice with three authorities: "To this does Scripture exhort us, saying: Make known thy way unto the Lord and hope in him. And again: Confess to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endureth for ever. And further: I have made known my sin to thee, and my faults I have not concealed. I said: I will be my own accuser and confess my faults to the Lord, and with that thou didst remit the guilt of my sin." The patriarch has virtually equated "confessing to the Lord" with "confessing to the abbot." This can make sense only because the abbot is a true and authoritative 'icon' of the Lord, an alter Christus, along the lines of Jesus' statement: "He who hears you, hears me."

[2] William J. Doheny, C.S.C., The Revelations of  Saint Gertrude, Part III, ch. LXI.

[3] It was thought that hardly anyone would come to this Mass. When it began, the church was so full that no seats were left and latercomers had to stand or sit wherever they could. It is doubtful that this abbey has seen so many worshipers for a very long time. It is almost always this way with Pontifical Masses: the People of God are famished and they come to the feast whenever and wherever it is set forth.

[4] Vicars of Christ: A History of the Popes (Arcadia: Tumblar House, 2014), 389–90.

[5] By “poverty of doctrine” I refer to the superficiality, messiness, ambiguities, contradictions, and unclarity of this pope’s teaching, in contrast to the rich truthfulness of those of his predecessors who took seriously the Lord’s command to “let what you say be simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’” (Mt 5:37); cf. 2 Cor 1:17–19, Jas 5:12.

[6] For more thoughts about the deconstruction of symbolism, see the superb recent article on Alfred Lorenzer's 1981 study The Council of the Bookkeepers.

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