Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Feast of St Anthony the Abbot

St Athanasius of Alexandria is best known as the great champion of the Nicene Faith, for which he was exiled five times over the course of an episcopate of 45 years (328-373); for his witness to the truth of the Incarnation, and his important writings on the subject, he is honored as a Doctor of the Church. But it was also he who brought to the attention of the West the ascetic and anchoretic life, a phenomenon well-established in his native Egypt by the early fourth-century, but at that point just emerging in the West. This was done by writing the Life of St Anthony of Egypt, who is often called “the Abbot” to distinguish him from his later namesake, St Anthony of Padua; in the East he is simply “Anthony the Great.” Of this Life, which was to have an enormous influence in the Church, both East and West, it might well be said what St Thomas Aquinas said about St Bonaventure writing the life of St Francis: “Let us leave the saint to work for the saint.”

St Anthony was not the first monk or hermit, as Athanasius’ Life makes quite clear; and indeed, the Church honors a saint named Paul with the title “the First Hermit.” Anthony was ninety years old, and had been living as an ascetic for over 70 years, before he first met Paul, shortly before the latter’s death at the age of 113. Paul’s feast day was long kept on January 10th, exactly a week before that of Anthony, to symbolize that he preceded him in the ascetic life. (It was later moved to his date in the Byzantine Rite, January 15.) Anthony also had as a contemporary St Pachomius, who is held in particular honor in the East as the founder of the cenobitic life, and the author of an important monastic rule. Nevertheless, Anthony may rightly be called the Father of Monasticism in the East, as St Benedict is in the West; for it was by his example, more than any other, that so many men and women of his own time and subsequent eras were inspired to embrace the monastic life.

A 19th-century Coptic icon of Ss Anthony the Abbot and Paul the First Hermit. (image from  wikimedia commons.)
In the Confessions, St Augustine writes that two officials of the imperial court, (then at Trier, where Athanasius passed his first exile), on reading the life of Anthony, renounced their position to become monks, the one saying to the other, “ ‘Now I have broken loose from those hopes of ours (for preferment in the court), and am resolved to serve God; and this I begin upon, from this hour, in this place. If thou like not to imitate me, oppose me not.’ The other answered, he would cleave to him, and be his fellow in so great a reward, so great a service.” (Book 8.15)

Shortly thereafter, in the famous episode where Augustine, torn about how to free himself of his past sins and follow God, hears children singing “Take up, read; take up, read”, he takes up the epistles of St Paul and reads, “ ‘Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy: But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.’ (Rom. 13, 13-14) No further would I read; nor was there need to: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” But it was the life of St Anthony that convinced him that “Take up, read,” meant to take up the Bible and read it, since Anthony, “coming in (to a church) during the reading of the Gospel, received the admonition, as if what was being read was spoken to him, ‘Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me.’ (Matthew 19, 21) And by such oracle he was forthwith converted unto Thee.” (Book 8, 29)

St Athanasius tells of many times when St Anthony struggled against devils, both by resisting temptations, and suffering bodily harm that the devil was permitted to inflict upon him. On one such occasion, early in his life as an ascetic, “a multitude of demons … so cut him with stripes that he lay on the ground speechless from the excessive pain.” He was discovered unconscious by the local villagers, who thought him dead, and brought him to their church. On recovering, he fearlessly returned to the place where he had been tormented, and
after he had prayed, he said with a shout, ‘Here am I, Antony; I flee not from your stripes, for even if you inflict more, nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ.’ … But the enemy, who hates good, marveling that … he dared to return, called together his hounds and burst forth, … so in the night they made such a din that the whole of that place seemed to be shaken by an earthquake, and the demons, as if breaking the four walls of the dwelling, seemed to enter through them, coming in the likeness of beasts and creeping things. And the place was on a sudden filled with the forms of lions, bears, leopards, bulls, serpents, asps, scorpions, and wolves, …. But Antony … said, ‘If there had been any power in you, it would have sufficed had one of you come, but since the Lord has made you weak, you attempt to terrify me by numbers: and a proof of your weakness is that you take the shapes of brute beasts.’ … So after many attempts they gnashed their teeth upon him, because they were mocking themselves rather than him.” (Life of Anthony 8 and 9)
This passage and others of a similar vein in Athanasius’ Life have provided artists with the opportunity to indulge their strangest fantasies in depicting the demons who attack Anthony. Hieronymus Bosch, not surprisingly, painted a complete triptych on the subject, which was also tackled (also not surprisingly) by Salvador Dalí.

Hieronymous Bosch, Triptych of the Temptations of St Anthony, 1505-06; Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon
Salvador Dalí, The Temptation of St Anthony, 1946; Royal Museums of the Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium.
The art historian Giorgio Vasari records that Michelangelo, while still a young apprentice in the school of Domenico Ghirlandaio, copied the same subject as a painting from an earlier engraving by the German artist Martin Schongauer. A painting of The Torments of St Anthony now in the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, is indisputably of the right period and school, but the debate as to whether it is indeed the one done by Michelangelo will probably never be resolved to the satisfaction of all art historians.

On the left, the original engraving by Martin Schongauer, ca. 1475, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; on the right, the painting attributed to Michelangelo, ca. 1487.
Anthony was also tempted on various occasions by lust, by laziness and by riches. The last of these was depicted by the anonymous painter now called the Master of the Osservanza, but the heap of gold lying by the side of road, originally painted in gold leaf, was later scraped off, leaving Anthony to confront a completely non-demonic looking rabbit.

When St Anthony went to visit St Paul the First Hermit, as recorded in the latter’s biography written by St Jerome, they greeted each other by name as they met, though they had never seen each other before. A crow then brought them a full loaf of bread, at which Paul said to Anthony, “for sixty years I have daily received (from the crow) half a loaf of bread; now at thy coming, Christ has doubled the provision for his soldiers.” Perhaps inspired by the similarity between this episode and that of the crows that brought food to the Prophet Elijah (3 Kings 17), the Byzantine Liturgy explicitly compares Anthony to Elijah in the dismissal hymn (apolytikion) of Vespers on his feast day.
You imitated the zealous Elias by your life, you followed the Baptist by straight paths, our Father Anthony; you became the founder of the desert and strengthened the whole world by your prayers. And so intercede with Christ God that our souls may be saved.
Throughout the Middle Ages, St Anthony was also venerated as the patron Saint against various skin diseases, such as erysipelas and ergotism, some of which are still called “St Anthony’s fire” or “holy fire” in places. A commonly used medieval prayer of his Mass was as follows.
Deus, qui concedis obtentu beati Antonii Confessoris tui, morbidum ignem extingui, et membris aegris refrigeria praestari: fac nos, quaesumus, ipsius meritis et precibus, a gehennae incendiis liberatos, integros mente et corpore tibi feliciter presentari.
God, who grantest by the protection of Thy blessed Confessor Anthony that the fire of illness be extinguished, and refreshment given to sickly members; we ask that by his merits and prayers, we may be delivered from the fires of hell, and happily presented to the Thee, sound in mind and body.

Early Registration for the British Columbia Sacred Music Symposium in July

The organizers of the BC Sacred Music Symposium are pleased to announce that early registration is now open through the end of February. You can find the registration link, and additional information about everything included with registration, at the following page of the website of Ss Joachim and Ann Parish in Aldergrove, British Columbia, which is hosting the event:

As we noted last month, the B.C. Sacred Music Symposium will take place from July 20-22. The aim is to bring together musicians of all skill levels, and all people of good will with a general interest in sacred music, for a weekend of instruction, collaboration and fellowship. There will be an opportunity to attend practical workshops (beginner, intermediate and masterclass) and lectures, and to experience the riches of the Church’s musical tradition in the celebrations of Mass, in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms, and the Divine Office. The keynote speaker and celebrant of the symposium’s principal Mass will be Bishop Joseph Perry, Auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Dynamic Equivalence

It seems that Google has also come out in support of the old vox obscura style of liturgical translation under which we suffered for so many years. Even as we speak, in a theology faculty break room somewhere in Europe, the fellow who contributed this translation is explaining to his colleagues why this is a more fitting translation for the liturgy... after all, “Understatement in English is sometimes the most effective means of emphasis.” (link goes to the Fishwrap; you were warned.)
When this popped up on a friend’s Facebook page, I thought it must have been a joke made by a clever photoshopper, but that really is what Google turns in as a translation of “Kyrie, eleison.” (h/t to JG for the joke about the contributor.) The translation of the second invocation seems to refer to the new tenor of the feast of Christ the King.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

St Peter’s Square, 1956

Our thanks once again to Fr Alex Schrenk, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, this time for sharing with us this marvelous photo of seminarians of the North American College having a snowball fight in St Peter’s Square. The exact provenance of the photo is unknown, but the date would be in February of 1956, when Rome experienced its heaviest snowfall since 1796. Many of the national colleges in Rome had a distinctive design for their cassock, the wearing of which was, of course, absolutely mandatory at all times; that of the North American had blue buttons and piping, and a red fascia, but was only used by students. (The use of such cassocks for formal occasions has made a bit of a comeback in recent years, and not just at the NAC.) Even without the fascia, the fact that they are enjoying the snow, and not desperately huddled around a radiator somewhere inside, clearly marks them as Americans.

A New Regular EF Mass in the Bronx

We are happy to share with our readers news that the church of the Holy Rosary in the Bronx, New York, is adding a monthly Mass in Extraordinary Form to its Sunday schedule, beginning this month. The first one will take place on Septuagesima Sunday, January 28, at 1 pm, with music by Hans Leo Hassler and Cristóbal de Morales. The church is located at 1510 Adee Avenue, and accessible by public transportation; parking is also available.

A Premonstratensian Mass of the Epiphany

We received a late submission of Epiphany photos, but one which deserves its own separate post, since it gives us a chance to enjoy something a little unusual, a Solemn Mass celebrated in the Premonstratensian Rite. These come to us courtesy of Mr Adhika Lie from the church of Ss Peter and Paul in Wilmington, California, which is staffed by the Norbertine Canons of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, one of the most vibrant young religious communities in the United States today. The photos show us very nicely some of the proper customs which distinguish the Premonstratensian Use from the Roman.

At the first “Dominus vobiscum”, the deacon kneels and elevates the front of the priest’s chasuable, as seen here. In The Liturgies of the Religious Orders, Archdale King writes that this was also done by the Cistercians and in some local Uses, but that the custom was in his time (1955) “very generally disregarded.”
The deacon and subdeacon bowing their heads at the Collect.
The subdeacon singing the Epistle.
The subdeacon bringing the burse and corporal to the altar, and in the photo below, setting the corporal on the altar. In medieval Uses, it was commonly the practice to prepare the altar and the chalice either during the Epistle, or between the Epistle and Gospel.

Monday, January 15, 2018

How Typical Lector Praxis Transmits a Pelagian and Protestant Message

When I attended Thomas Aquinas College in California from 1990 to 1994, one of the first things I noticed about their Novus Ordo liturgies — apart from the startling fact that the unchanging parts were always in Latin, a practice they have been following for almost 50 years now — is that the reading was always done by one of the altar servers, vested in cassock and surplice. This struck me immediately as far better than the “normal” approach I had seen everywhere else, where a layman or laywoman gets up from the congregation and goes up to the ambo. Why did it seem better?

First, the server was dressed for a liturgical function, so it made the reading seem more obviously a liturgical act, part of the act of worship in which were were involved. Second, he was already up there in the sanctuary, to which he had processed together with the priest, so he was on hand, ready to perform the function. It no longer looked random but orderly, the right person at the right time and place. Third, each day one of the servers knew ahead of time that he was going to be the reader, and over time the servers tended to become far better lectors than most of the enthusiastic volunteers or appointees who seldom had a clue what they were doing. Fourth, a man’s voice is better suited for such reading. In most cases, it sounds stronger, calmer, more resonant, more authoritative. If “the lector sounds the voice of God,” then one ought to hear God speaking to us in His lordly, fatherly voice. As Psalm 28 has it: “The voice of the Lord is in power … The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars … The voice of the Lord shaketh the desert.” As much as I admire the piety of ladies who eagerly serve as lectors, the timbral qualities one hears — from sweet and soft to schoolmarmish and scolding — are often simply not edifying. Besides, as a psychologist recently argued, it is more distracting to men when women are reading than it is to women when men are reading. There is no parity or equality of the sexes in this regard.

These were some of the reasons why I rather liked the TAC practice after experiencing it, and I can’t say it surprised me when I discovered that the young ladies liked the practice, too. They were traditional in their views of liturgy and the roles of the sexes, and they felt a sense of relief at not being pressed into the modern feminist program of breaking down the “barriers” to an all-male sanctuary. They were quite content to let the men step up to the plate, as men should do — and as they usually will not do whenever women, with their native generosity and piety, are allowed to take over. These are the things that most caught my attention as a college student.

Years later, I was involved in a Catholic community that had been following the TAC practice for a number of years but was forced to abandon it due to pressure from particular clergy who disagreed with it. Watching that sudden transition from vested servers in the sanctuary acting as lectors to plain-clothes laymen and laywomen rising from the pews to read a text and returning to their seats brought home to me how theologically problematic this contemporary praxis really is. In particular, it transmits both Pelagian and Protestant messages — a surprising combination, but nonetheless true.

The Pelagian message is this. The lector walks right up into the sanctuary, although not vested, and usually not having been a part of the liturgical procession. Since liturgy of its essence is symbolic, this symbolizes something (whether intended to or not). Given that the sanctuary of the church represents heaven, walking right up into it symbolizes that any man has immediate, free, and easy access to the Holy of Holies. Heaven is ours for the taking, if we just take to our feet and use our God-given natural talents. A layman sauntering up into the holy place to read is the obliteration of the entire lesson of the Old Covenant — namely, that owing to man’s creatureliness and sinfulness there must be separation between man and God, which is overcome only by Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and man. Christ does not abolish the distinction but takes it into His very Person, so that we have access to God through Him. Therefore the ministerial priesthood and all the lesser ministries that assist it must have this mediational characteristic in order to be true to themselves. The unvested lay lector seated in the nave who walks right up into the sanctuary is a walking, talking contradiction of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The Byzantine tradition, needless to say, underlines this point by forbidding a lay lector (if there be such out of necessity) to read except from the nave, and keeping the holy of holies off limits behind the iconostasis except to those clergy who are allowed to enter it. The West had the same understanding of sacred space even if, at a certain point, we lost our rood screens and other such dividers: while everyone was permitted to see the ritual actions taking place in the sanctuary, no one bodily entered into it except the sacred ministers. The abolition of this distinction, by way of lectors and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, is a symbolic erasure of the distinction between the source of holiness in Christ (who is most properly and clearly represented by the sacred ministers in the mediatorial roles) and the reception of holiness in the people (which is symbolized by their architectural separation and the manner in which they traditionally approach the sacraments — for example, receiving the host on the tongue from the anointed hand of a priest, who blesses them). Such an erasure may justly be called Pelagian, and it will be difficult to uproot a pervasive Pelagian habit of thinking in the people if this is the kind of thing they see whenever they go to church.

Furthermore, there is an implicit Protestant message: anyone can read the word of God; no office is required. The Word of God is free and open to everyone; no one need be specially set apart to read its holy, awesome, fearful, comforting message. Its words are like all other words, for which only mere literacy, that is, a purely natural (not supernatural) qualification, is called for. Thus, these words are not treated as if they are divinely inspired tokens of the ineffable Presence of God, to be handled by men who are formally deputed for this sacred task. For Protestants and modern Catholics there is a democratic availability of the Word that bypasses or sidesteps the hierarchical structure of the Church rooted in the Apostolic Succession of the episcopacy and its assistant clergy.

Contrast this with the traditional practice: only a vested lector — which, in the traditional Roman Rite, will be the subdeacon — may read. And at Low or High Mass, the priest fittingly reads everything because he contains in himself all the lower powers. What the lower may do, the higher may do, but not vice versa.

Now, I do not deny for a moment that the vast majority of lay lectors have the best intentions in the world. They want to be involved; they want to be helpful; they are doing what they have been told is good. I myself was a lector for many years in high school because, well, it just seemed like a thing one does at Mass. So the problem is not one of bad will. The problem rather lies in the “law of unintended consequences.” Quite apart from our subjective good intentions, everything we do in liturgy signifies something. Liturgy is a realm in which nothing done is “merely” practical or useful. Even something as originally practical as the washing of the hands acquired a symbolic meaning of purity from sin that now dominates (most priests don’t have to wash dirt off their hands at the lavabo, but all of us have at least venial sins to wash away). So, too, walking into the sanctuary, mounting the ambo, and reading from the Word of God are not mere human actions; the liturgical context endows them with a meaning of their own. In short, they are signs. Other related signs include the clothing one is wearing (is one vested for a liturgical ministry or wearing plain clothes?), the type of language one is reading from the book (is the Word being delivered in a sacral and poetic register, or is it in an ear-numbing modern dialect like Nabbish?), the quality of the lectionary and evangelary as physical objects (are they beautiful books or are they hideous chunks of self-conscious modernity, with all the charm of rock samples from Mordor?), and so forth. All of these actions, objects, and appearances mean something.

The important question to ask is what these signs are transmitting to us, what belief or attitude is being inculcated by them. When a lay minister distributes Holy Communion, for example, that says something: contrary to the way Catholics behaved for centuries, it turns out we are not, after all, dealing with a divine and fearful mystery, to be handled only by men specially set apart by a holy anointing and clothed in sacerdotal garb; we are dealing with ordinary food and drink that anyone can handle, as at a picnic or snack bar. It is a practical repudiation of the dogma of the Church, although perhaps few (except El Grillo) would think of denying Trent outright, although it should be noted that many people seem only too willing, in verification of Ratzinger’s oft-repeated critique, to make Vatican II the “super-council” that trumps even earlier Councils that are manifestly of greater magisterial weight inasmuch as they defined de fide dogmas and anathematized the contrary errors, while Vatican II purposefully avoided definitions and anathemas.

In any case, what is crucial is not recovering the teaching of earlier Councils (although we shall have to get around to doing this eventually!), but recovering a fundamental sense of the sacredness of everything that pertains to the worship of Almighty God, both in the veneration of His inerrant and infallible divine Word and in the adoration of His all-holy Eucharistic Body — actions for the conducting of which the Church had never failed, and should never fail, to appoint hierarchical ministers.

The ordinary of a Byzantine subdeacon

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Baptism of the Lord 2018

Seeing our enlightenment, that enlightened every man, come to be baptized, the Forerunner rejoices in spirit, and trembles with his hand: he shows Him, and says to the people “Behold Him that ransoms Israel, that delivers us from corruption. O sinless one, Christ our God, glory to Thee! (The first sticheron of Vespers of the Theophany in the Byzantine Rite.)
Mosaic of the Baptism of Christ, early 11th century, from the monastery of Hosois Loukas in Boetia, Greece. (public domain image from Wikipedia; click to enlarge.)
Τὸν φωτισμὸν ἡμῶν, τὸν φωτίσαντα πάντα ἄνθρωπον, ἰδὼν ὁ Πρόδρομος, βαπτισθῆναι παραγενόμενον, χαίρει τῇ ψυχῇ, καὶ τρέμει τῇ χειρί· δείκνυσιν αὐτόν, καὶ λέγει τοῖς λαοῖς· Ἴδε ὁ λυτρούμενος τὸν Ἰσραήλ, ὁ ἐλευθερῶν ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς φθορᾶς. Ὦ ἀναμάρτητε, Χριστὲ ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν, δόξα σοι.

Friday, January 12, 2018

When Does the Christmas Season End?

A friend has just brought to my attention an article by Jennifer Miller on, which discusses the question of when the Christmas season officially ends; I have also seen a few similar discussions on social media. With all due respect to the author, this article incorrectly asserts that in the Extraordinary Form, the Christmas season officially ends with the Baptism of the Lord on January 13th. Liturgically, the Christmas season ends on the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and Our Lady’s Purification, on February 2nd.

Prior to the 1960 revision of the rubrics, the liturgical books of the Roman Rite did not refer to either Christmas or Epiphany as “tempora – seasons”, and indeed, neither the Missal nor the Breviary had a rubric on liturgical seasons per se. In the 1960 rubrics, within the newly-created section on the seasons of the year (title VIII), “the season of the Nativity” (tempus natalicium) is subdivided into two parts, “the season of Christmas” (tempus Nativitatis) which runs from First Vespers of Christmas to None of January 5th, and “the season of the Epiphany” (tempus Epiphaniae), which runs from First Vespers of the Epiphany to January 13th. In the body of the Missal, the Sundays after Epiphany are given a new header, “the time per annum before Septuagesima”, the forerunner of the widely and rightly detested term “ordinary time.”

Folio 11v of the Gellone Sacramentary, a Gelasian type sacramentary dated 780-800. At the top are several Office prayers for the Epiphany, towards the bottom, the prayer of the First Sunday after Epiphany, the same (Vota quaesumus) found in the Missal of St Pius V. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 12048)
The designation of the second part as the “season” of Epiphany serves to explain the position of the Baptism of the Lord on January 13th, after the unjustifiable suppression of the octave of Epiphany, which is older than that of Christmas, in 1955. Apart from that, none of this new terminology describes the liturgical texts of the season particularly well.

In the Temporal cycle, there are a maximum of six Sundays after Epiphany. The Gospels of these Sundays, the arrangement of which is extremely ancient, are as follows.

First Sunday, within the octave of Epiphany – Luke 2, 42-52, the finding of Christ in the Temple. (The feast of the Holy Family was permanently fixed to this Sunday in 1921, but its Gospel is the same; the monastic orders retained the older celebration of the Sunday.)
Second Sunday – John 2, 1-11, the wedding at Cana.
Third Sunday – Matthew 8, 1-13, the healing of a leper and of the centurion’s servant.
Fourth Sunday – Matthew 8, 23-27, the calming of the storm on the sea.
Fifth Sunday – Matthew 13, 24-30, the parable of the wheat and the tares.
Sixth Sunday – Matthew 13, 31-35, the parables of the mustard seed and of the leaven.

Of these six Gospels, the first three always occur before the Purification, the fourth can occur either before or after it, and the fifth and sixth always occur after it. The placement of the Finding in the Temple, the only recorded episode of Our Lord’s life between His infancy and the beginning of His public ministry, is obvious. From the most ancient times, the writings of the Fathers attest that the Wedding at Cana was celebrated as part of the Epiphany, a tradition to which the historical Office of the Epiphany refers several times. (In the post-Conciliar three-year lectionary, this Gospel is now read on this Sunday only in year C; the modern Ambrosian lectionary, which corrects some of the grosser defects of the reformed Roman one, reads it in all three years.) The two miracles read on the Fourth Sunday are the first ones specifically recorded in the Gospel of St Matthew.

The Wedding at Cana, from the Très belles Heures de Notre-Dame, a work of various masters, ca. 1375-1425. (This part of the manuscript is attributed to Pol de Limbourg, 1385?-1416). Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, NAL 3093
These Gospels, therefore, are all very much an extension of the theme of Epiphany, which means “manifestation.” After celebrating the private manifestations of the Savior in His infancy, the Church commemorates the sole recorded episode of His youth, His public manifestation at His Baptism, and His earliest miracles in both the Synoptic and Johannine traditions. However, the two Gospels which can only occur after the Purification break away from this Epiphany theme, being solely parables, as are those of Septuagesima and Sexagesima.

It is true that Septuagesima can arrive before the Purification; its earliest possible date (which has not occurred since 1818, and will not occur again until 2285) is January 18th. It is also true that when this happens, the series of Gospels after Epiphany is interrupted; this year, for example, Septuagesima falls on January 28th, and therefore, the Gospels of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Sundays after Epiphany will be read at the end of the liturgical year. These facts are, however, irrelevant to the original arrangement of the season after Epiphany, in which the first four Gospels continue the theme of that feast, an arrangement which predates the institution of Septuagesima. All of which is to say, the underlying theme of the Christmas season, the revelation of God’s salvation in the Incarnation of His Son, breaks off liturgically with the Purification, and not before.

We should also take note here of a much more significant fact about the arrangement of the liturgical year. The earliest possible date for Ash Wednesday is February 4th; there will therefore always be an interval of at least one day between the closure of the Christmas cycle on February 2nd, and the beginning of Lent.

In the Sanctoral cycle, the month of January is a fairly busy one, and has been for a long time; the feasts of the Saints that occur within it have no bearing on the Christmas season. The article cited above correctly notes that the daily commemoration of the Virgin Mary after Compline is traditionally the same from Christmas to the Purification, and changes on February 3rd. It also states that this is “(t)he only remaining liturgical hint of the Christmas Cycle … within the Liturgy of the Hours.” (Technically, this arrangement is optional in the new Office, and might more accurately be described as the memory of a hint.) However, this is not true of the traditional rite. Between Christmas and the Purification, the Saturday Office and Little Office of the Virgin use the Collect and several antiphons from the feast of the Circumcision. Much more importantly, the Votive Mass of the Virgin for the whole of this period uses the same Collect, as well as the Epistle and Gospel from the Dawn Mass of Christmas; it should be remembered that for a very long time, all major churches had at least one Votive Mass of the Virgin every day.

In practical terms, none of this has much effect on the liturgy, and the discussion on social media seems to focus mostly on the appropriate time for taking down Christmas trees and crèches, whether in church or at home. Both of these are, of course, noble customs which should always be encouraged and maintained, but neither of them has any formal liturgical place. In regards to Christmas trees, it would be perfectly harmonious with the Catholic tradition to leave them up until February 2nd, without ever forgetting that very dry conifers can burn with an incredibly dangerous speed and intensity. In regards to crèches, I have observed a custom in a number of European churches that seems to me very sensible, and a good way to present and celebrate the events of Christ’s life more vividly through the liturgy. Having “arrived” at the adulthood of Christ in the liturgical year, so to speak, with the feast of His Baptism, the manger scene is taken down. A statue of the Infant Jesus continues to be displayed prominently in the church, and only removed after the celebration of His Presentation in the Temple.

The high altar of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, the FSSP parish in Rome, on Christmas night. The Baby Jesus statue seen in the middle remains on the high altar until the evening of February 2nd.

A Powerful Novel Set in Reformation France

I’ve been wanting to mention this book to NLM readers for a long time, but with one thing and another, it's taken me a while to get to it. Angelico Press has recently republished a splendid Catholic novel from the 1940s, The Mass of Brother Michel, that I can highly recommend to those who enjoy historical fiction.

Here is the publisher's description, which I think whets the appetite:
The Mass of Brother Michel, set in the tranquil countryside of southern France during the Reformation, is the story of a young man who “has it all”—until a fateful series of events leads him to a monastery. As Huguenot violence mounts, the characters of the story are pushed to extremes of hatred and love. The reader is swept along by a narrative as twisting and turbulent as a mountain stream, which culminates in a sovereign sacrifice as unforgettable as it was unforeseen. This is a story that shows with utter vividness the power of romantic love to cripple and deform, the power of suffering to undermine illusions and induce the labor of self-discovery, the power of prayer to reassemble the shards of the shattered image of God in the soul, and the power of the priest as the divine Physician’s privileged instrument.
          At the center of the novel is the awesome mystery, scandal, consolation, and provocation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. To it some of the characters are irresistibly drawn; against it, others are violently arrayed. Here is a passionately told tale of their inner struggle and outward confrontation. The Mass of Brother Michel is a gripping story of adventure, renunciation, redemption, and ultimate victory. No reader will fail to be astonished at its outcome and touched by its inspiring and miraculous climax.
The Mass of Brother Michel has been out of print for decades and not always easy to get hold of. In fact, I enjoyed the book so much that I agreed to write the Foreword to this new edition, in which I attempt to say why the novel has such a peculiar shimmering quality to it, such a compelling fascination. There are its intrinsic qualities as a ripping good story with many startling plot twists, but there are also its many theologically penetrating lines on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which read sometimes like the disputes of a medieval scholastic, other times like the diary of a medieval mystic. I have copied down some of my favorite bits. Here are a couple of samples:
Every Crucifix was now a living figure. It was no longer necessary to dwell on the Passion of Our Lord as an essential part of his spiritual exercises. The Passion dwelt in him; engulfed him; possessed him with its agony, as the love of Mass had possessed him with its joy; nor were the two separate, but one, wearing only a different aspect, as light and darkness are both of the same day.
For Michel could no longer be said to possess the love of Mass, but rather the love of Holy Mass possessed him. At first it had risen in his heart like a little stream, clear and singing and beautiful; now it was become a torrent, sweeping him along in full flood.
I'd recommend this book for priests, religious, and laity, and in the last category, especially for high school and college students, and parents who are looking for excellent historical fiction to enrich a homeschool curriculum. It's on my list of the top ten "Catholic novels" (alongside Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, Greene's The Power and the Glory, and Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop).

The book is available from and affiliates.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Basilica of Our Lady in Fribourg, Switzerland

The subject of our most recent quiz was an item from the Basilica of Our Lady in Fribourg, Switzerland, which was entrusted to the care of the Fraternity of St Peter in 2012 by His Excellency Charles Morerod, O.P., Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg. The church was originally constructed in the 12th century, but has subsequently undergone a number of rebuildings and redecorations; its current appearance is mostly from the late 17th century, and it was given a thorough restoration done between 1990 and 2011. It is also the seat of a confraternity originally known as the Confraternity of the Assumption, founded in 1582 by St Peter Canisius, who lived in Fribourg for the last 20 years of his life. (He died there in 1597, and is buried in the city’s Jesuit church of St Michael.) Subsequently, it was united to other confraternities and pious associations under the title “Marian Congregation (Congrégation Mariale).”

As a reminder, this is also one of the four churches from which Mass is broadcast live every day on the Fraternity’s LiveMass website: The previous Sunday’s sung Mass is always available to watch, and the choir in Fribourg is really excellent.

The Asperges before the Sung Mass on Sunday, December 31st. The church has a large crew of young servers, and there are many young families with lots of children, singing along well and enthusiastically!
The basilica’s processional umbrella, also known as a “synnichium” in Latin. Back in the days when canonical chapters were required by diocesan custom or statute to participate in certain processions, they were usually also obliged to carry their umbrella and “tintinnabulum”, a bell suspended on a frame which is mounted on a pole, with them.
The tintinnabulum is seen on the far left of the Gospel-side choir stalls; the frame in which the bell is suspended is small and not very attractive. The two other objects mounted in the stalls, the candle stick in the middle and the pole on the right, can also be carried in procession.
The Epistle side choir stall, with the same processional objects.
The pulpit, which is being still used for preaching.

Address by Dom Karl Wallner: “The Profanation of the Sacred and the Sacralisation of the Profane”

Extracts from a major (and fascinating) address given by Dom Karl Wallner, O. Cist., Rector of the Pontifical University of Heiligenkreuz and national director of Missio for Austria, have been translated and are posted at the new liturgical site Canticum Salomonis, the unveiling of which NLM announced to readers last week. A taste:
Along with desacralisation inside the Church there was another phenomenon, which I was able to experience personally in my encounters with the profane world of show business: a form of sacralisation of the profane, a ritualisation of the banal, the promotion of non-religious objects to the level of cult objects. From the backstage of the show to which I had been invited, I could observe how the show was designed down the last detail as a sort of dramaturgy, so that the viewer in front of the television participated in a kind of “Pontifical Mass of Entertainment.”
          Several years ago, after celebrating a vigil service with a youth group, I had an experience that struck me profoundly and became the key to understanding.
          For the past 20 years at Heiligenkreuz, we have organised prayer retreats for young people between the ages of 15 and 28. Since the majority of young people that age suffer a severe lack of enculturation in everything related to Catholicism, and must still learn how to pray and adore, these vigils represent a real challenge. That is why we could not even imagine celebrating a Mass with them: we must first render these young capable of receiving the Eucharistic mystery. First and foremost they need to have a personal relation to Jesus Christ. In that regard, the Catholic liturgy offers a range of possibilities, a whole sacred repertoire that is able to create an ambiance that permits the young people to open their hearts so that they may be touched by the presence of God.
A side-note: when Canticum Salomonis was launched last week and many visited it, the social media links and RSS feed had not yet been set up. They are now in place, so please do pay them a visit, and read Pater Wallner's remarkable talk.

Bishop of Salford Offers Church to Anglican Ordinariate

It was with great excitement that a reader of my blog contacted me recently, to tell me the that the Bishop of Salford, John Arnold, has very generously offered the Anglican Ordinariate a home in his diocese, which is in the north of England. I thought New Liturgical Movement readers might want to know about this too!
At the beginning of February, the Manchester Ordinariate Mission will move from a new home at St Joseph’s Heywood to St Margaret Mary, New Moston in Manchester. The site includes a church, hall and presbytery and the Bishop says in his letter that he believes it will “form a fitting base for building up the worship and other activities of the Ordinariate community.”
The main Sunday Mass will be in the Ordinariate Use, but Fr Starkie, the Ordinariate Mission Pastor, will also assume pastoral care for the diocesan Catholics of the parish and make arrangements for a Sunday Mass in the Ordinary form, and their other sacramental and pastoral needs.
I have no comment beyond this except to say that this is great news! I would like to offer Fr Starkie and his congregation very best wishes and my prayers as you establish yourselves in your new home!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Epiphany 2018 Photopost (Part 2)

As promised, the Byzantine Rite arrives in force for our second Epiphany photopost, including some photos from a church we have never shown before, the Greek-Catholic cathedral of Athens. Our thanks as always to everyone who sent these in - evangelize through beauty!

St Peter Eastern Catholic Church - Ukiah, California

Tradition is always for the young!
St Stephen the First Martyr - Sacramento, California (FSSP)
I visited this church many years ago, before it was given a complete top-to-bottom restoration. It was originally built as a Lutheran church in the late 1960s, not so much ugly as featureless. It’s almost hard to believe that it looks like this now.

The Parisian Sequence for Epiphany

The Schola Sainte Cecilé has just published on their Youtube channel a recording of the sequence for Epiphany from the Parisian Missal of 1685, Ad Jesum accurrite; this was made during the Mass of Epiphany at the church of St Eugène in Paris. Note that the odd numbered verses are “sung”, so to speak, by the organ, a practice sometimes called “alternatim”, and very common once upon a time. (A single cantor sings them along with the organ, although he can hardly be heard in this recording.) Below the video, we reproduce from their website the text with notation, followed by my own prose translation.

1. Run to Jesus, subject your hearts to the new King of the nations.
2. The star preaches abroad; within, the faith shows the Redeemer of all.
3. Bring here gifts of your free will, but gifts of the heart.
4. This will be a most pleasing offering to the Savior, the sacrifice of the heart.
5. Charity offers gold, austerity myrrh, desire incense.
6. By gold, he is acknowledged as king, by myrrh, as a man; by incense, worshipped as the god of the nations.
7. Judea, show no envy to the nations who rejoice at the mystery revealed.
8. After the shepherds, the Magi join the company of the faithful.
9. Even He that calls the Jews, calls together the nations into one fold.
10. Bethlehem becomes today the beginning of the whole Church as it is born.
11. Let Christ reign in our hearts, and His rule advance, the rebellious being conquered.
Amen. Alleluia.

A reminder that Masses for Sundays and feast days can now be followed live from St Eugène at the Youtube channel Ite, Missa est:

Fota XI Liturgical Conference in Cork Ireland, July 7-9, 2018

St. Colman’s Society for Catholic Liturgy is pleased to announce that the Fota XI International Liturgy Conference will be held in Cork, Ireland, from July 7-9, 2018. The subject of the conference is Psallite Sapienter: The Liturgy of the Hours, which will explore the role of the Divine Office in the life of the Church. Further details will be released before Easter.

Pontifical Mass celebrated by His Eminence Raymond Card. Burke  in the church of Ss Peter and Paul in Cork, as part of last year’s Fota Conference.

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