Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Meeting of the Lord Celebrated in L’viv

On the Julian Calendar, yesterday was the feast of the Meeting of the Lord, as the Presentation of Christ is called in the Byzantine Rite. As one final photopost for the feast, here are some images and video of the celebration at the parish of the Annunciation to the Mother of God in L’viv, Ukraine, which was sung by the Kliros choir. Great Vespers with Litiya started at 11 pm, followed by an break for agape, then Matins and Divine Liturgy, ending at 5 am.

Part of the singing of Psalm 103 at the beginning of Vespers; more videos are available at the parish’s website.

Here we can see the loaves of bread prepared for the blessing at litiya. These are the cut up and distributed to those present at the end of Vespers.
A reader chants the six Psalms at the beginning of Matins.

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Beginning of Ambrosian Forelent

The Ambrosian season after Epiphany presents some interesting and unique characteristics compared with the same period in the Roman Rite. In the latter, from its first attestation in the Lectionary of Würzburg, the season has a full compliment of Gospel readings; in the Ambrosian Rite, on the other hand, the liturgical texts of the season were slow to evolve, but their evolution can be traced out from the surviving ancient manuscripts.

The traditional Roman rubrics are organized in such a way that none of the Sundays between Epiphany and Septuagesima are omitted; in the Tridentine reform, a system was created, and is still in use, of moving those which cannot be celebrated in their regular place to the end of the season after Pentecost. The Ambrosian Rite has no such tradition, with the exception of the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, which is never omitted, and always celebrated as the last Sunday before Septuagesima. (Prior to the Borromean reform of the Ambrosian liturgical books, this Sunday was called the Fifth after Epiphany, and there was no Sixth, since Easter very rarely occurs late enough for one to be necessary.) This custom is first attested in a liturgical ordo called the “Beroldus Novus” in the 13th century; its origin is to be found by tracing out the history of the period in Ambrosian liturgical books.

A page of an Ambrosian Missal printed in Milan in 1522, wth the Mass of the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, preceded by the rubric that it is always celebrated “next to” (juxta) Septuagesima.
A codex kept in the Capitular Library of the basilica of St John the Baptist in Busto Arsizio contains a very ancient order of readings, one which certainly predates the Carolingian period, when the Ambrosian lectionary underwent a major reform. This codex has two different lists of Gospels, a “capitulary”, which is older, and gives only the incipits, and a later “evangeliary”, which gives the full texts. The differences between these two bear witness to two different phases in the evolution of the lectionary tradition. The capitulary has readings for only the first two Sundays after Epiphany, with no signs of any later corrections, while the evangeliary gives Gospel pericopes for the first four Sundays, with corrections added later in a Romanizing direction.

Neither list mentions a Fifth Sunday, which in most medieval missals was given as the last of the season, since the Sixth Sunday only very rarely occurs. The Ambrosian Rite borrowed the three Sundays of the Roman Forelent at least two stages, and while both lists include the Sundays of Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, the capitulary does not include Septuagesima.

In the Ambrosian Missals of Bergamo (mid-9th century) and Biasca (end of the 9th century), which are fully in line with the Carolingian reform, the order of readings agrees with that of the “corrections” in the evangeliary of Busto. Furthermore, both of these have as the Gospel of the Fifth Sunday that which is now read on the Sixth, Matthew 17, 14-20. (As noted above, this will remain in place until the minor adjustment of the Borromean reform.)

“At that time: there came to the Lord Jesus a man falling down on his knees before him, saying: Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic, and suffereth much: for he falleth often into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said: O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out? Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you. But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.”

The healing of the possessed boy; folio 166r of Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry. Here it is used to illustrate the Gospel of the Third Sunday of Lent, Luke 11, 14-28, which begins with the expulsion of a devil from a mute, and in which Christ goes on to say “if I cast out devils by Beelzebub; by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I by the finger of God cast out devils; doubtless the kingdom of God is come upon you.” (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons
The fact that this pericope is always found just before Fore-Lent provides a useful clue as to its origin. Unlike the other Gospels of this season, it has no parallel at all in the Roman Rite, and therefore clearly does not derive from the Romanizing tendency attested by the corrections in the Busto manuscript. The final admonition to the practice of prayer and fasting gives it a clearly penitential character, which explains why it is always read just before the Ambrosian Forelent.

The introduction of this final Sunday is further explained by a shrewd observation of the scholar Patrizia Carmassi about another lectionary in the Ambrosian Library (A 23 bis inf.), a codex of the 13th century, but certainly copied from a much older archetype. This contains a list of the prophetic readings for the whole liturgical year, with a very significant correction for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; the rubricated title “Dominica Quinta post Epiphaniam” is cancelled out and replaced with “Dominica in Septuagesima.” We may therefore suppose that the archetype did not include Septuagesima, but did have the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, a problem which the later copyist remedied simply by changing the title, treating it as simply an alternative for the older title.

In the Codex Mediolanensis, an evangeliary from the area of Milan with liturgical notes that date it to the 7th or 8th century, Septuagesima is still missing. Nevertheless, in the early Carolingian period, when the liturgical books of Milan were being revised and Romanized, the fourth and fifth Sundays after Epiphany were added. From this, we may deduce that these Sundays were seen as part of Forelent, along with Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, and the adoption of Septuagesima was therefore felt to be unnecessary. The custom of always reading Matthew 17, 14-20, on the Sunday before Septuagesima therefore reflects an ancient understanding of it as part of Forelent, regardless of what that Sunday is actually called.

There are some interesting parallels to the Ambrosian Gospel in other non-Roman western rites. In the oldest form of the Mozarabic lectionary, there is only one Sunday of Forelent, called “ante carnes tollendas – before taking away meat.” The Gospel of this Sunday, Matthew 17, 1-20, includes both the episode of Christ’s Transfiguration, and that of the possessed child read in the Ambrosian Rite. In two lectionaries of the ancient Gallican Rite, that of Luxeuil (6th century) and a fragmentary manuscript at Würzburg (7th century) the Gospel of the same Sunday, which is called “the Sunday after St Peter’s Chair”, is only the first part, Matthew 17, 1-9, which the Roman Rite reads on the Second Sunday of Lent, and the preceding Ember Saturday.

The Transfiguration, by Raphael 1517-19; in the lower part, the possessed child and his father are seen before the remaining nine Apostles.
In this episode, Moses and Elijah, who appear to either side of the Lord, represent the catechumens, since they both undertook a fast of 40 days in preparation for a vision of the Lord, as the catechumens do in Lent, to prepare themselves for the illumination of baptism at Easter. The antiquity of the association between this episode and the discipline of Lent is shown by a passage of St Ambrose’s commentary on the Song of Songs.

“Moses, set on the mountain for forty days, and receiving the Law, required no food for his body: Elijah, hastening to his rest, asked that his soul be taken from him: Peter, also on a mountain, looking upon the glory of the Lord’s resurrection, did not wish to come down, saying ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here.’ ”

This passage is ideally placed between the Baptism of Christ celebrated on Epiphany, and his passion, as Ambrose again explains in his book “On the Holy Spirit” (16, 755b).

“So that you may know that (God) made mention of the Lord Jesus descent (from heaven in the Incarnation), he further adds that he proclaimed his Anointed one unto men (Amos 4, 13); for at the Baptism, he proclaimed this, saying, ‘Thou are my most beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ (Matthew 3, 17). He proclaimed this on the mountain, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him. (Matthew 17, 17). He proclaimed this in His Passion, when the sun departed, and the seas and land trembled.”

The Mozarabic Rite, however, extends the Gospel of the Sunday “ante carnes tollendas” to include the episode of the possessed boy. This can be explained from a sermon of St Isidore of Seville, who compares the exorcism which Christ performed on the boy to the one performed as part of the rite of baptism.

“Exorcism is a word (or ‘speech’) of rebuke against an unclean spirit in regard to the possessed, but is also done for the catechumens, and by it, the most wicked power of the devil and his ancient malice, or his violent incursion, is expelled and put to flight. This is signified by that lunatic whom Jesus rebuked, and the demon went out from him. But the power of the devil is exorcized, and they are breathed upon, so that they may renounce him, and being delivered from the power of darkness, may be taken over to the kingdom of their Lord though the sacrament of Baptism.”

However, it still remains to be explained why the Gallican tradition includes only the episode of the Transfiguration, the Mozarabic that of the Transfiguration and the possessed boy, while the Ambrosian includes only the latter.

This article is mostly a translation of notes written by Nicola de’ Grandi.

Martin Mosebach on the Coptic Martyrs of Libya

Today is the fourth anniversary of the martyrdom of a group of 20 Egyptians and one Ghanaian, collectively known as the Coptic Martyrs of Libya, who were beheaded by Islamic terrorists on the Libyan seashore. These men were working abroad to provide for their families, braving the dangerous conditions in Libya; several of them were married, the oldest among them was only forty-six, the youngest twenty-two. The Ghanaian, Matthew Ayariga, was seized along with them, and although he was not a member of the Coptic Church, refused to embrace Islam, even at the threat of being beheaded; seeing how the others prayed and called upon the Holy Name of Jesus as they died, he said of them, “Their God is my God,” and was slain in their company. They were canonized as martyrs by the Coptic Pope Tawadros II very shortly after their death; one year ago, a large church named in their honor was dedicated in the village of El-Aour, Egypt, where thirteen of them came from. Their relics, which were recovered in September of 2017, were brought back to Egypt, and are now housed in this church.

A widely-diffused icon of the Coptic Martyrs of Libya, by Antoun Rezk.
Last year, Martin Mosebach, who is well-known to our readers, published a book about them in German; the English translation, The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs, an account not only of the Saints and their martyrdom, but also of the author’s visit to Egypt and meetings with several members of the martyrs’ families and community. A essay adapted from the book, typical of Mosebach’s simple and beautiful writing, has just been published on First Things, and is very much worth your time.

“So the martyrs’ family members weren’t surprised when people came to visit. Their husbands, sons, and brothers had experienced the most amazing transformation of all: they had left home as poor migrant workers, and would never return, but had become saints and were now more present than ever, albeit in a different form. They now wore crowns, even though they had only done what was expected of them, and what all their brothers were equally prepared to do. Unexpectedly, this natural fulfillment of duty that would otherwise be taken for granted was surrounded by the greatest splendor—but this served only to prove that little more than the thinnest tissue separates earthly life from the heavenly sphere. One must always be prepared for the possibility that this tissue could tear, letting a golden ray of light fall into the realm of everyday life. Precisely by accepting such a cruel fate, their husbands, sons, and brothers were magnificently exalted. The martyrs’ relatives made no pretense of sharing their late loved ones’ glory, but they did take calm pride in the dead.”

Thursday, February 14, 2019

St Antoninus of Sorrento

February 14th is of course known throughout the world as St Valentine’s day, and in the post-Conciliar calendar, is celebrated liturgically as the feast of Ss Cyril and Methodius, the evangelizers of the Slavs, since the former died on this day in the year 869. However, the southern Italian city of Sorrento, on the bay of Naples, keeps the day as the feast of its patron Saint, the abbot Antoninus.

A statue of St Antoninus in the piazza in front of his basilica in Sorrento. One of the miracles attributed to him is the rescue of a child that had been swallowed by a whale or sea-monster, but was recovered safe and sound from the creature’s belly through the prayers of the Saint. The sea-monster is here seen under his foot, copied from representations of such creatures on ancient Roman sarcophagi.
He was born near Ancona in the later part of the eighth century, and early in life became a monk in one of the many dependent houses of Monte Cassino. The Italian peninsula was wracked by endless wars and chaos in that era, which drove Antoninus to leave his monastery and migrate to Castellamare, a town at the beginning of the peninsula of Sorrento, where he became fast friends with the local bishop, St Catellus. An oratory which the two of them founded on nearby Monte Faito in honor of St Michael the Archangel (who has a special fondness for southern Italy) after receiving a vision of him there is still visited by pilgrims to this day. For a time, Antoninus lived at this oratory, but later, at the insistent invitation of the citizens of Sorrento, left his solitary life and entered a monastery in the city, later to become its abbot.

The story is told that shortly before his death in the year 830, Antoninus said that he wished to be buried neither inside nor outside the city wall, and was therefore buried within the wall itself. Not long after, the city was beseiged by the Duke of Benevento, and his attempts to knock down the section of wall near the Saint’s tomb with battering rams completely failed. The Saint then appeared to him in a dream and not only rebuked him, but administered to him a severe beating; on waking, the duke was not only covered in bruises, but learned that his daughter had been possessed by a devil at the very moment when he had begun his attack on the city. This led him to abandon the seige and pray to the Saint for the healing of daughter, which was granted. Twice in the 14th century, Sorrento was beseiged by the Saracens; the successful defense of the city on both occasions was attributed to the St Antoninus’ intercession, and he is therefore honored as the city’s principal heavenly Patron.

An oratory dedicated to him was constructed close to the place of his burial in the 9th century, and transformed into a much larger basilica in the 11th; this latter was entrusted to the Theatine Order in 1608, who extensively rebuilt it in the decoratively rich Neapolitan Baroque style. Staircases to either side of the main sanctuary lead down to the crypt where the Saint’s relics are kept.

Looking from the staircase back up into the basilica.
Ex votos thanking St Antoninus for his intervention in saving ships from being wrecked, attached to the wall of the crypt. Sorrento is fairly small, but has a good port which is quite busy, home to a lot of fishing boats; the bay of Naples can be especially turbulent in the winter months.

Choral Divine Liturgy in New York City, March 10

The feast of Ss Cyril and Methodius is a propitious day to announce that St Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church in New York City will present the second part of its ongoing program of classical Slavic Church music on Sunday, March 10, at 6:00 p.m., with music by Artem Vedel (1767-1808) and Mykhailo Verbytsky (1815-70). The Liturgy will be sung in English and Church Slavonic; the church is located at 246 East 15th Street, and the event is free and is open to the public.

Artem Vedel (1767-1808) composed most of his choral works at the turn of the 18th century, when Tsar Paul I banned choral music outside of the Divine Liturgy. An often misunderstood composer and musician, Vedel was never able to fully recover from the blow this prohibition had on his career, and died in a mental asylum in the early 1800s. Verbytsky (1815-1870), born soon after Vedel’s death, was both a musician and a Greek-Catholic priest. These two vocations made the composition of music for the Divine Liturgy and other religious events a natural outlet for his talents, but he also ventured into theatrical music. He is best known for composing the Ukrainian national anthem Shche ne vmerla Ukraïna (“Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished”) to a text by Pavlo Chubynsky, composed in 1862.

The music will be performed by St Mary’s choir-in-residence, the Theoria Chamber Choir, directed by Andrew Skitko, Artistic Director/Conductor. Mr Skitko earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music at Westminster Choir College, and has performed with the world’s leading conductors and orchestras at venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. He sings regularly with several choirs, and is a cantor for the Byzantine-Ruthenian Church; he is also an alumnus of the Studium Carpatho-Ruthenorum of the University of Presov, Slovakia, having completed courses in Carpatho-Rusyn history, language, and culture. He has studied Russian choral music and conducting at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary with maestro Vladimir Gorbik, musical director and conductor at the Moscow Representation Church of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery, and has participated in the PaTRAM Russian-American Music Institute.

Fr. Edward G. Cimbala, D.Min, pastor of St. Mary’s will be the celebrant and homilist. The backdrop for the choral event is sure to just as inspiring. St Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church is one of the most unusual religious buildings in Manhattan and provides a beautiful venue for the program of Slavic Liturgical Music. For more information call 212-677-0516.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Tradition is for the Young (17) - Pontifical Mass with Card. Burke in St Louis

On Sunday, January 20th, His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke celebrated a solemn Pontifical Mass in the traditional rite at the Oratory of Ss Gregory and Augustine in St Louis, Missouri, where he was archbishop from December 2003 until June 2008.

Once again, it should be a great source of encouragement for us all to see how young the people are who made the effort and committment to put together this kind of ceremony, which requires a good deal of work and rehearsal. This is plainly not based in nostalgia, but a real love for the richness and beauty of our Catholic liturgical tradition. We should also note that the Oratory is a parish of the archdiocese; for decades, Pontifical ceremonies in the traditional rite were almost unheard outside of the Ecclesia Dei orders. Finally, we also note that there were no deacons at the throne, but for the best of reasons, namely, that such a large portion of the diocesan clergy were away for the March for Life.

 The Epistle
The Deacon is blessed before singing the Gospel.
The Cardinal is incensed by the assistant priest after the singing of the Gospel.

A Litany Based on the Writings of St Thomas

Yesterday, we posted pictures of the Mass and procession held in honor of St Thomas Aquinas at the former Dominican convent of Toulouse, France, where his relics are kept. During the procession, a special litany is chanted, calling upon God with various attributes and titles taken from the writings of St Thomas; the full text is given in the jpg, which you can click to enlarge. At least part of this overlaps with a troped Kyrie Rex immense, Pater pie, of which I give a recording below; I don’t know if the Kyrie comes from words of the Saint, or vice versa, and I wasn’t able to find any further information. If anyone knows anything more about it, please share your information in the combox.

Lenten Pilgrimage in Port Arthur, Texas, March 9

The Latin Mass Society of Beaumont, Texas, will hold its 8th annual Lenten Pilgrimage in the city of Port Arthur on Saturday, March 9th, beginning at 9am with Mass at the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, located at 3648 S. Sgt Lucian Adams Blvd. There will be time for confessions 45 minutes before Mass. Afterwards, the procession will make its way to various Catholic sites as the pilgrims pray the Rosary and sing hymns; inter alia, a spiritual talk will be given at the church of St Catherine of Siena, and the Way of the Cross will be celebrated at St James the Greater. The pilgrimage will end at Our Lady Queen of Peace Shrine (located at 800 9th Ave), which was built by Vietnamese Catholics who settled in Texas after the fall of Saigon; the Solemn Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and final blessing conclude the day’s events.

Photos of last years pilgrimage.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Feast of St Thomas Aquinas in Toulouse

On January 28th, a Pontifical High Mass was celebrated for the feast of St Thomas Aquinas in the former Dominican Convent of Les Jacobins in Toulouse, France, where the Saint’s relics are kept. This convent is no longer owned by the order, who have another, much more recent structure in Toulouse, but one can still celebrate Masses at Les Jacobins for certain occasions, one of which is this annual celebration. St Thomas died on March 7, his traditional feast day, but prior to the reform of St Pius X, the Dominican Order kept a second feast of the translation of his relics to Toulouse on January 28th, which was then chosen for his feast day on the post-Conciliar calendar to free up the feria of Lent.

The Mass was celebrated by His Grace Robert le Gall, the archbishop of Toulouse; the chasubles and dalmatics are from the 15th century. After the Mass, a procession around the cloister of Les Jacobins, with the relics of the Angelic Doctor carried by four Dominican friars.

2019 BC Sacred Music Symposium

The organizers of the B.C. Sacred Music Symposium are pleased to announce that the 2019 Symposium will take place this summer from August 2-4, at Saints Joachim and Ann Parish in Langley, British Columbia. Early registration is now open through March 3.

This will be a weekend for musicians of all skill levels, and all people of good will with a general interest in sacred music, to gather for instruction, collaboration and fellowship. There will be an opportunity to attend choral workshops (beginner, intermediate, advanced, professional, and new this year, chant intensive) and lectures; and to experience the riches of the Church’s musical tradition in the celebrations of Mass and the Divine Office. The keynote speaker and celebrant of the symposium’s principal Mass will be Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, Executive Director of ICEL. For more information, or to register please visit the website:

The BC Sacred Music Symposium is an annual gathering of the Catholic faithful, and all those of good will, with an interest in sacred music, especially Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony. Its purpose is to promote the sacred music and liturgy of the western tradition celebrated according to the norms established by Holy Mother Church. Since “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. (SC 10)”, the worthy celebration of the liturgy is the single greatest act that the Church can perform for the glorification of God and the salvation of souls. Among the many treasures with which the Church adorns the sacred liturgy, we believe that sacred music holds a unique place, and that the Church’s musical patrimony, especially Gregorian chant, should be available in every parish. To this end, this annual gathering is held for the formation, education, and training of sacred musicians, through workshops, lectures, fellowship and the celebration of Holy Mass and the Divine Office.

Monday, February 11, 2019

“The Way is the Goal”: Against Reducing the Mass to a Sacramental Delivery System

In the years when I lived in Austria, I used to see a popular bumpersticker that read: “Der Weg ist das Ziel” — “the way is the goal.” This statement has been attributed to Confucius, although it might sound like the motto of a postmodern German relativist who does Yoga on the weekends and, having spurned the Cardinal Marxes of the world, directs her church tax to the upkeep of the EU. If, moreover, one is fortunate enough to have an Audi, a Mercedes, or a BMW, as many Germans and Austrians do, one might be tempted to drive with no particular goal in mind. But here I should like, perhaps unexpectedly, to suggest that this motto admits of a special application to Catholic liturgy.

Unlike a business trip where the whole point is to get to a meeting or conference and the journey stands somewhere between a necessary evil and an inconvenience, liturgy is not just about getting a certain result or outcome.

“Results” there may and should be, of course: Holy Communion may be consumed, a newly-wed couple may walk out of the church, a new priest may step forth into the sunshine, a body may be carried off to the cemetery. But such results do not exhaust, much less cancel out, the intrinsic reasons why we worship, and the inherent needs and demands of that worship.

Liturgy — the formal, solemn, public cultus of God, wherein the Church, on behalf of mankind and all of creation, adores, blesses, glorifies, and gives thanks to the Most Holy Trinity — is the reason we do liturgy. The way is the goal. If liturgy truly is our participation in the heavenly worship of the angels and saints gathered around their High Priest in the sanctuary not made by human hands, then we are participating in this heavenly worship now, and, depending on how we worship, will be participating well or poorly.

Put it this way: what Our Lord expects of us in worship is not that we get something or get somewhere, but that we be a certain way in His presence, that we know and love Him in a certain way. This is the precondition for being fitted to receive any gift He wishes to give, most especially His Body in the Eucharist. In that sense, if we do not take seriously the way, we are not taking seriously the goal, either. We do not reach the goal except by the way thither, and, in the spiritual realm, our behavior or attitude on the way determines our worthiness or fitness to come to the goal.

Liturgy mirrors our earthly pilgrimage. If we expect to come to heaven, the only determining factor is how we live our lives en route. It’s not as if we can live a slipshod life and die a godless death, and then expect to be rewarded for it with beatitude. It’s not as if we’re given another chance after death. The way we live is the way we die. If we live for God now, even the now that verges on death, we are already at the goal: union with God in love.

As Pope Leo XIII says in his encyclical Divinum Illud Munus, the difference between a soul in the state of grace and a soul in the state of glory is the hiddenness of the presence of God: in this life His indwelling is invisible to us, while in the next we see Him face-to-face in the beatific vision. But in both states He is truly present in us, and we in Him. In a sense, then, one may say of the Christian life as a whole what one may say of the liturgy: the way is the goal.

Vespers at Blackfriars in Oxford
Where we see this truth most splendidly is the Divine Office, which is pure verbal incense, burned up in the presence of the Lord, and for His sake. This is not to say that we do not benefit from it; quite the contrary. St. Thomas Aquinas says plainly enough that since we cannot improve God by our worship, any benefits must accrue to us. But the benefit consists in the very doing of it, not in something other than the doing of it. Perhaps this is why the Office has fallen on such hard times: for pragmatic, utilitarian, materialistic people such as we modern Westerners are — even, at times, in spite of our best intentions — the Office fails to “deliver the goods.” Where’s the thing we get at the end of it? The ashes, palm branch, bulletin, anointing, host? We tend to look at the Office through the lens of the Mass and find it wanting, because it seems to be unable to compete with the sacramental results of the latter.

What is needed, rather, is to see the Mass through the lens of the Office. We need to see the Mass as a sweet-smelling sacrifice of praise offered up in psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles, thanking God for His great glory, adoring, placating, supplicating Him. Only after that does it make sense to see it as a banquet to which we are invited. We are invited to a sacrifice of which we may then partake if we are properly disposed; we reap spiritual fruit in proportion to how well we have been prepared by the very liturgical action in which we have participated.[1]
* * *
Some weeks ago I published an article here entitled “The Continual Spectre of False Antiquarianism,” in which I expressed my amazement that there are Catholics who, having been exposed to the traditional liturgy or having some awareness that it exists and is richer than its streamlined modern counterpart, still seem to shrug their shoulders and say, in effect, “it’s not such a big deal.” Arguably, a precondition for arriving at this stance is the implicit or explicit acceptance of a reductionistic conception of the Mass that equates it with the consecration: as long as we have Jesus in the Eucharist, that’s all that matters.[2]

It sounds plausible, and yet it is not, for several reasons.

The Mass is not a utilitarian process designed to maximize the efficient delivery of goods. The Mass is not, as such, a communion service. It is a complex ceremony of repentance, adoration, petition, and thanksgiving, with a sacramental sacrifice at its core. It was given to us by our Lord and His Church as the highest form of prayer, which prepares for, culminates in, and gives thanks for the gift of His Most Holy Body and Blood. It does not begin and end with that gift.

So, the first problem with the Novus Ordo Missae is that, given its very content and ceremonial, it tends not to cultivate and prompt acts of repentance, adoration, petition, and thanksgiving nearly as well as the old Mass does. The next problem, intimately linked with the foregoing, is that it does not prepare us for the reception of the Most Holy Eucharist as well as the old rite does. Hence, it falters even if we view the Mass under the more restricted aspect of being an opportunity for sacramental communion.[3]

Think of it this way: If you were Mary of Bethany, sitting at the feet of Jesus and soaking in His words, would you want to sit there quietly, for quite some time, preparing yourself deeply for the spiritual marriage with Him — “the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath prepared herself” (Rev 19:7) — or would you want to listen for a few minutes, jump up, give Him a hug and a kiss, and be off to the next thing? Or worse, what if Mary greeted Him with a smile, said “Gotta do some stuff — be with you in a moment,” busied herself with a few chores, and then came back with hors d’oeuvres, in order to be “actively participating” in this colloquy? Meanwhile, Jesus patiently and humbly sits there, waiting until Mary will stop goofing around and sit down. In the contemporary Church, it’s mostly Martha, very little Mary; mostly busyness, little contemplation; efficiency, in place of wasteful love.

James Tissot, Martha and Mary
Beyond this devotional angle, we must consider the Mass in its diachronic continuity. The Mass is handed down to us from apostolic tradition, developed over the centuries of faith by the real devotional life of the People of God. It is therefore like a living, breathing, growing organism, reflecting and, in a mysterious way, sharing in the divine and human life of the Son of God and of His Mystical Body. The Mass is something we gratefully and humbly receive, just as we do our human nature and our supernatural life in baptism. Thus, even if per impossibile the Mass were no more than a glorified communion service, we would STILL have no right, no business, deconstructing and reconstructing the Mass of the Roman Rite, an inheritance the Church always considered it her duty to guard and protect.

It was and is a crime for Church leaders to treat the Church’s tradition in such a contemptuous way; it was and is an incalculable loss for the spiritual vitality and sanctification of her members; it was and still is the principal cause of the crisis of faith through which we have been passing in the decades since the Council. The only way we will restore an integrally Catholic way of life is with an integral liturgy, the liturgy that the Holy Spirit built up over twenty centuries with the living stones of clergy, religious, and laity, with the breath of their orations, lections, and chants, with the fire of the Spirit poured forth upon the Church at Pentecost. No matter how valid a new sacramental rite may be, no one can create for it a history ex nihilo, no one can make it to be a treasure handed down when it is not. No matter how valid it may be, if it is defective in regard to the way of worship, it will be defective also in leading people to the end of worship. The way and the goal cannot be divorced: “what God has joined together, let no man (and no committee) put asunder.”

In short: the Mass is not just about communion. It is a many-sided service of prayer, part of which is a careful preparation for communion and thanksgiving for it[4] — and it is a prayer handed down to us along the line of the apostolic tradition to which we belong. For both of these reasons, a stripped-down, heavily redacted, modified, and innovated rite of Mass is a bad thing for the life of the Church and the life of individual Catholics, regardless of whether or not the consecration is valid.

Let us consider this fact. It would have been a lot “simpler” if Jesus had remained among us under His natural appearances until the end of time. He surely could have done that; the Ascension was not necessary, in the strict logical sense of necessity. He chose nevertheless to depart and to communicate His grace and truth to us in other ways — in specifically sacramental, liturgical, ecclesial ways, which therefore deserve our trust, our homage, our best efforts, and our gratitude.

The liturgy is not a mere shell for the Real Presence, like a monstrance holding a host, nor is it a mere container for a product, like a tube full of toothpaste; it is the privileged way He becomes present to us and we to Him. And that way is not a modern highway along which we speed as quickly as we can to reach our exit, not paying much attention to the road; it is a path along which we are sanctified, prepared to reach our goal worthily.[5]

Allow me to draw out a corollary from the foregoing discussion. A liturgical rite is constituted by its particular texture and content of chants, texts, ceremonies, the language it has made its own, the stance of the priests, the motions of the ministers, and so forth. These things are not supplementary to or decorative of the liturgy; they simply are the liturgical rite. Thus, it can be said with precision that the Novus Ordo is not a form of the Roman Rite; it is not the same liturgy as the Roman Rite. For it is possible to have a Novus Ordo celebration in which almost nothing said and done is held in common with what is said and done in the Roman Rite as it historically existed: one can have different proper antiphons (or none at all), different orations, different readings, a different anaphora, the contrary stance of the priest, etc.; and even if all of the “right” options were chosen, they remain essentially “at option” and thus not inherent and constitutive of the rite.

So the next time someone says: “It doesn’t matter which Mass you go to, the OF or the EF — Jesus is present in both!” (which is usually said with a triumphant assurance that this is the end of the discussion, when in fact the real discussion hasn’t even begun), you might want to slow them down and ask what their conception of the Mass is. Are they reducing it to consecration and communion? We may be dealing here with a sort of Catholic parallel to the popular Protestant notion of “salvation by faith alone,” namely: “liturgy by Eucharist alone.” To the oft-posed Fundamentalist question “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” would correspond the sacramentally reductionist question: “Has your Mass transubstantiated bread and wine?”

If such a position were true, the ultimate Novus Ordo — the Novissimus Ordo, as it were — would start off with a priest standing over bread and wine, who, right after a greeting, immediately says the words of consecration, distributes communion, and closes with a blessing. Over and done with in less than three minutes (particularly if armies of EMHCs are called upon), and, don’t you know, “we’ve got Jesus.” What more could we ask for?[6]

Our Lord Himself gives us the kernel of a response: “I came, that they may have life — and have it in abundance.” This abundance is the mysteries of His human and divine life, unfolded and elaborated, made real and present for us, in the sacred liturgy developed and delivered over twenty centuries. The children of the Church should settle for nothing less, as they continue to resist the reductionism of the liturgical reform.


[1] See “The Priority of Religion and Adoration over Communion,” NLM, October 9, 2017.
[2] For more on this point, see “The Long Shadow of Neoscholastic Reductionism,” NLM, July 3, 2017; cf. “Is the Mass ‘Just’ the Mass?,” OnePeterFive, February 3, 2016. Readers may charge me with being unfair by suggesting that Catholics who frequent the Novus Ordo have this mentality. But I have heard this countless times in discussions: If the Eucharist is present, what more do you want? What more do we need? The fact that this is such a common reaction suggests a systemic problem in the way of our thinking, since the Church has never held to such reductionism.
[3] For a detailed exposition of the claims of this paragraph, see the five-part series at NLM: “Time for the Soul to Absorb the Mysteries” (all links available here), and “Bad Liturgical Parenting,” OnePeterFive, November 8, 2018.
[4] See “Priestly Preparation Before Mass and Thanksgiving After Mass,” NLM, September 28, 2015.
[5] See, for an application to the usus antiquior,Two Modest Proposals for Improving the Prayerfulness of Low Mass,” NLM, November 12, 2018.
[6] Indeed, it would be even “better,” from this reductionist vantage, for a priest to consecrate a bushel or two of hosts at a given location, and then to allow lay ministers to distribute communion daily for the next several months. This would at once solve the problem of the priest shortage and empower laity with new forms of active participation! Absurdity aside, what we see is that the Catholic Faith demands the figure and function of the priest to remain what it is and to carry on the worship to which we are deputed in our baptism. Therefore, we are obliged to seek the liturgical form that most fully reflects the sacramental identity and unique activity of the priest, and to resist anything that dilutes it or farms it out to those to whom it is foreign.

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

Dominican Rite Candlemas Photopost

On February 2, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, commonly called Candlemas, a Dominican Rite Solemn Mass with the blessing and procession of candles was celebrated at St Albert the Great Priory in Oakland, California, the house of studies of the Western Dominican Province. Our new prior provincial, the Most Reverend Christopher Fadok, O.P., assisted and received the friars’ candle-offering. Some of the sixty or so faithful who attended came from as far away as Fresno and Fullerton!

The celebrant was Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P., professor of history at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley CA; deacon was Fr. Christopher Wetzel, O.P., parochial vicar of St Dominic’s Church in San Francisco; subdeacon was Bro. Joseph Selinger, O.P.; first acolyte, Bro. Nathaniel Maria Mayne, O.P.; second acolyte, Bro. Matthew Heynen, O.P.; thurifer and holy water carrier, Bro. John Peter Anderson; crucifer and pax-bearer, Bro. Paul Maria Müllner, O.P.  The music from the Dominican Gradual was lead by the cantors, Bro. Patrick Rooney, O.P. and Bro. Elias Guadalupe Ford, O.P.

Highlights of the Mass follow.

Blessing of the candles.
The Provincial receives his candle.
The laity receive their candles.
The procession enters the cloister garden, led by the holy water carrier.
Statue of our holy father Dominic in the cloister garden.
Some of the laity following the procession.

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