Monday, December 11, 2017

Hand-drawn Altar Cards by Daniel Mitsui

Daniel Mitsui is an artist quite well known to readers of NLM for his exquisite work in calligraphy and iconography. He was recently commissioned to produce a set of altar cards and went at it with his customary thoroughness, ingenuity, love of detail, and delight in the Gothic aesthetic. I received a set of these cards to examine, and I must say that they are simply stunning. The overall design is harmonious and pleasing to the eye; the font comes across as strong, slightly ornate, and yet highly legible; the illuminated initials add considerable interest; and the iconographic program followed in the ample margins is a microcosm of the entire liturgical year and indeed the history of salvation. As a teacher, I found myself thinking: "I could teach a catechism course just using these altar cards." More to the point, they embody the entire Catholic theology of the sacred liturgy.

Here are some photos; afterwards I shall quote the artist's explanation of the iconographic program.

The central altar card (16" x 20"), with my hand for the sake of scale:

(A straight-up JPG of this card may be accessed here.)

The Gospel card and Lavabo card (each 9" × 12").

(Again, JPGs of the above two cards may be found here and here.)

The Lavabo card with my hand, for scale:

Some details of the central card:

Two details from the Gospel card:

The artist's website offers a full explanation of the choice and arrangement of scenes, which evince a deep grasp of liturgical symbolism and patristic commentary:
The Gospel side card contains the beginning of the Gospel of St. John (In principio erat Verbum), and the pictures on it reflect the themes of Creation and Incarnation. Running down the left border and across the bottom, a series of eight small scenes illustrate the six days of Creation, with the Creation of Adam and the Creation of Eve depicted individually. Following the older iconographic tradition, and the words of the Gospel itself (Omnia per ipsum facta sunt: et sine ipse factum est nihil, quod factum est), the Creator depicted in these miniatures is God the Son. The preaching of John the Baptist appears in the historiated initial.
          In the bottom corners I drew the Annunciation and the Nativity of Jesus Christ, which begin a sequence of events in the life of Christ that runs across the bottoms of all three cards.
          It continues on the Epistle side card, with the Adoration of the Magi and the Baptism of Christ. The historiated initial and the eight small scenes depict nine of the prophecies read at the ancient ceremonies of the Easter Vigil: the Deluge and Noah’s Ark, Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea, a prophecy of Isaiah, a prophecy of Baruch, Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, another prophecy of Isaiah, the repentance of Nineveh, the Canticle of Moses and Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego in the furnace. These prophecies are associated with Baptism, and thus fitting to the psalm on the card (Lavabo inter innocentes).
          On the central card, in each of the four corners is the scene of an Old Testament prefigurement of the Eucharistic sacrifice: the Sacrifice of Abel, Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, the Sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb and the Sacrifice of Melchizedek. Three of these are mentioned in the Canon of the Mass; two of them, together with the Creation depicted on the Gospel cards and the nine prophecies depicted on the Epistle card, complete the twelve prophecies of the Easter Vigil.
          Running along the bas-de-page are six scenes from the life of Christ: the Temptation in the desert, the Transfiguration, the Last Supper, His washing St. Peter’s feet, the Resurrection and the Ascension. The historiated initials that begin the Gloria and Credo contain, respectively, pictures of the Annunciation to the Shepherds and the Descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. I drew a large picture of the Crucifixion at the top of the central column of text.
          The arrangement of scenes summarizes the liturgical year: the Gospel card represents Advent, as the Preaching of John the Baptist is the subject of the Gospel reading for the 3rd and 4th Sundays, and the Annunciation Gospel is read on the Ember Wednesday. Advent of course concludes with the Nativity, which begins the Christmas season.
          Continuing in chronological order to the Epistle side card, the Adoration of the Magi and the Baptism of Christ represent Epiphany; both are manifestations of Jesus Christ’s divinity. The two scenes below the left column on the central card have a longstanding iconographic association, being recounted in the Gospel readings for the first two Sundays of Lent. In the central column of the central card, the Last Supper, the washing of feet, an the large Crucifixion together represent the Holy Triduum, the center of the liturgical year. The images in the next column (Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost) represent the Easter and Pentecost seasons.
          On the left and right borders of the central card I drew standing figures of six saints. On the left are the first three mentioned in the Confiteor: the Blessed Virgin Mary, Michael the Archangel and John the Baptist. On the right are three more mentioned in the Libera nos: the Apostles Peter, Paul and Andrew. 
You have to see these cards to believe them. I am looking forward to framing this set for local liturgical use. I would certainly recommend these altar cards to priests, deacons, and any laity who are looking for a special Christmas gift for your TLM-celebrating clergy.

The commissioned set was drawn in ink on calfskin vellum with gold and palladium leaf details, and hand lettering. What I have photographed here is an open-edition giclée print on Lexjet archival matte paper, with a custom typeface, Benedict, utilized instead of handwritten letters, to improve readability.

The cards may be ordered directly from the artist.

Time for the Soul to Absorb the Mysteries — Part 2: The Offertory and the Canon

Last week, we looked at how the traditional Roman Rite, from the entrance to the Gospel, gives ample “time for the soul to absorb the mysteries.” Today I shall speak of how the Offertory and the Canon do the same.

The Offertory

It hardly needs to be said that the Offertory, with its richness of content and ample length, is one of the parts of the traditional liturgy most appreciated by clergy and laity alike. One does not feel, as in the usus recentior, rushed on to the Eucharistic Prayer, as in a supersonic flight from Word to Eucharist; there is generous time and space for preparing the gifts thoroughly, making the significance of this offering known, felt.

In the Novus Ordo, the meaning of the presentation of bread and wine risks being lost due to the rapidity and superficiality with which they are treated.[1] One does not recognize them as proto-sacrificial offerings that will subsequently be transformed by divine power into the actual sacrifice that wins our redemption and, as a result, into the banquet that unites us to the Savior; emphasis is placed rather on man’s own work in preparing food and drink, which will become food and drink — a true sentiment as far as it goes, but not at all the focus of the authentic Offertories of historic liturgical rites.

The old offertory is a dramatic caesura, a long drawn-out breath in which we clearly show forth what we are about to do and how it will redound to our benefit, unworthy though we are to approach the awesome mysteries of Christ. The Offertory makes it possible for us to participate fruitfully in the Canon of the Mass. Without it, something vital is missing. Even worse, when the modern quasi-Offertory is combined with the second Eucharistic Prayer, the sacrificial portion of the Mass  —  its very essence  —  can pass by so rapidly that one might be forgiven for thinking that the Mass is a lengthy liturgy of words followed by a rapid distribution of tokens of our confidence in words, which is to say, a purely Protestant conception.

The Canon of the Mass

Much can be said on behalf of the absolute fittingness of the silent Canon. I have gone into this topic elsewhere.[2] Suffice it to say that many among the clergy and the faithful are sharply aware of the loss of this contemplative reservoir at the heart of the holy Sacrifice. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy:
Anyone who has experienced a church united in the silent praying of the Canon will know what a really filled silence is. It is at once a loud and penetrating cry to God and a Spirit-filled act of prayer. Here everyone does pray the Canon together, albeit in a bond with the special task of the priestly ministry. Here everyone is united, laid hold of by Christ, and led by the Holy Spirit into that common prayer to the Father which is the true sacrifice — the love that reconciles and unites God and the world.[3]
Citing this passage in his magnificent book The Power of Silence, Cardinal Sarah observes:
I am familiar with the regrets expressed by many young priests who would like the Canon of the Mass to be recited in complete silence. The unity of the whole assembly, communing with the words pronounced in a sacred murmur, was a splendid sign of a contemplative Church gathered around the sacrifice of her Savior.[4]
A priest with whom I was conducting a correspondence once wrote these words to me, as if to confirm Cardinal Sarah’s observation:
If I were permitted the quasi-papal power to make just one change to the present Ordinary Form, it would be to bring back the silent canon. As one who regularly celebrates both forms of the Mass, that is the single difference that I find makes the most spiritual impact. And quite a few lay people I know have made similar comments. That silence, after all, is much more obviously noticeable to the congregation than, say the omission of certainly medieval offertory prayers.
At a Novus Ordo Mass, it is all I can do to focus my wandering attention on the mystery taking place, since there is a constant washing of words over my ears — words that lose their force either from their familiarity (I’ve heard Eucharistic Prayer II, a.k.a., the “Roman Canonette,” so many times it sounds like an eye-rolling cliché) or from their length (the historic Roman Canon said out loud in English, facing the people, is phenomenologically interminable) or from their grating unfamiliarity (as when a priest, in a sudden Lucretian swerve, picks out one of the Eucharistic Prayers of Reconciliation).

None of this is conducive in any way to prayer, to the adoration and spiritual longing we should cultivate in the presence of our Savior as we join our hearts to His Sacred Heart in the most holy offering at the altar. This is no less true, indeed it is rather more true, for the poor celebrant who gets hardly a moment of mental peace, hardly a moment to repose his head against the Lord’s breast, in company with St. John. The rite keeps the faucet of loquacity nearly always turned on.

I’m afraid there are many new Masses after which one says to oneself: “Did I pray at all during that long harangue from the sanctuary?” And one cannot be sure that one has done so. Sometimes, one is aware, on the contrary, of a suffocating lack of time and space to pray. But I cannot remember a single traditional Mass at which I did not experience, at least for a few fleeting moments, a vivid awareness of the prayer of Christ and a palpable sense of the mystery of God, a real connection with the divine. In stark contrast with its intended replacement, the old Mass — whether Low, High, or Solemn — seems built, from the ground up, to connect one to the divine in this way. Its whole raison d’être is union with God, and it pursues this with relentless determination, the preoccupation of a lover. It reminds me of Kierkegaard’s statement that “purity of heart is to will a single thing.”

Next week: how the usus antiquior allows ample “interior space” for the communion of the priest and the people.


[1] As we know, the Consilium originally proposed having no prayers for the bread and wine at all, but simply lifting them up and putting them back down. This was too much even for Paul VI, an otherwise enthusiastic proponent of Bauhaus liturgy; he ordered that the actions had to be accompanied by some words. Bugnini and Co. complied, but looked to Jewish precedent rather than Catholic.

[2] See two articles at the New Liturgical Movement weblog: “The Silent Canon: Is Worship Supposed to be Aweful?,” posted on October 14, 2013; “The Silence of the Canon Speaks More Loudly Than Words,” posted on January 5, 2015.

[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 215–16.

[4] Robert Cardinal Sarah, with Nicolas Diat, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, trans. Michael J. Miller (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), n. 249, p. 129.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

2018 Ordo for the Dominican Rite Breviary Now Available

Just in time for Christmas! I am delighted to announce that Breviarium S.O.P. has completed the 2018 Dominican Rite Calendar for praying the 1962 Dominican Breviary. Once again, the calendar includes notations for the 15 Tuesdays devotion to Our Holy Father St. Dominic. You can purchase your copy of this Ordo at Dominican Liturgy Publications.

The format is similar to that of the Ordo published by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The calendar contains the entire liturgical year, according to the 1962 Breviarium Iuxta Ritum Ordinis Preædicatorum, updated with the most recent canonizations of Dominican saints.

In addition, the obituaries of the Masters General and the anniversaries of the Order are given, as well as the list of Dominican blesseds and the days of their votive offices. Reminders are given for days when members of the Dominican Laity (formerly called the “Third Order”) can obtain indulgences during the year. As in the past, the Office of Prime is also included.

Each day is annotated with the feast, the rank, commemorations (if any), and reminder notes, if the day includes an anniversary or the obit of a Master General of the Order. The list of obituaries of the Masters General has been updated to include the Masters who have died since the last Dominican Breviary was published in 1962.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Notitiae - Available Online!

Back in February 2016, it was announced on NLM that Notitiae, the periodical of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS), was changing the way it was published, moving to an online-only format. Moreover, it was announced that the CDWDS "planned to make the whole collection of Notitiae available online eventually", something that is obviously of interest to many NLM readers.

Well, someone at the Congregation has been very busy, as at the time of writing this aim is close to being completed!

On the website of the CDWDS (not the Vatican website), every issue of Notitiae from 1965-1992 and 2003-2015 is now available, either in the online viewer or as a downloadable PDF, for free.

This is obviously still a work-in-progress (like much of the Congregation's website), as the general and thematic indices to Notitiae do not exist online as yet. But this is a wonderful contribution to liturgical scholarship, especially as the very earliest issues of Notitiae are quite difficult to obtain.

Many thanks are due to the CDWDS for making these freely available, and I look forward to the current 1993-2002 gap being filled in the months to come!

Friday, December 08, 2017

An Original Setting of Psalm 116 by Henri de Villiers

We are very pleased to share with our readers this recording of Psalm 116, Laudate Dominum, in an original composition by one of our long-time contributors, Henri de Villiers. This was made live at the church of St Eugène in Paris on November 26, during Mass of the external solemnity of St Cecily, patron Saint of the church’s choir, the Schola Ste Cécile, which Henri has directed for many years now.
As you can see from the title in the video, the setting was written for three choirs (12 voices), but here they are reduced to two (8 voices total). The original setting for three choirs was composed to be sung at Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini in Rome, at the end of Benediction during the Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage in 2015.

The complete Mass can be seen here:
Masses for Sundays and feast days can now be followed live from St Eugene at the Youtube channel Ite, Missa est:

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception 2017

The choir of the prophets proclaimed of old the Maiden unblemished and holy, whose child is God, whom Anna conceived, that was sterile and without progeny; with rejoicing of heart, let us who have been saved through Her today bless Her, as the only one who is wholly without blemish. (From the first kathisma of Orthros on the Conception of St Anne.)

The Byzantine Rite celebrates the conception of the Virgin Mary under the title “the Conception (in the active sense) of St Anne”, on December 9th. This 18th century Russian icon depicts the traditional story that St Joachim (upper left) went out into the desert to mourn his and Anne’s barrenness, for the sake of which his offering in the temple had been refused. An angel then came to tell him to return to Anne, and that God would grant them a child who would become the Mother of the Savior. In the upper right, the same message is delivered to Anne herself. The legend goes on to say that they then went to find each other, meeting at the gate of Jerusalem called “the Golden Gate.” The depiction of their embrace and kiss is often used not only to decently represent the act of Anne’s conception, but to distinguish the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin from that of the virginal conception of Christ. This same legend was well known in the West, and referred to in many artworks and liturgical texts.
The following three troparia are all taken from the third canon at Orthros of the same feast.
From Thee, that art without stain of sin, receiving the Lord incarnate beyond the order of nature like a burning coal, we are purified from the fullness of transgressions.

The mysteries of God’s hidden wisdom are truly made clear to us today, as the Conception of the immaculate Virgin and only Mother of God is proclaimed.

He that is uncircumscribed in the immaculate bosom of the Father, in Thee, o immaculate Virgin, is carried about in the flesh, through His ineffable compassion; whence also He admits representation in an image, who is Good above all.

From the canon of the Dedication of the Holy Sepulcher, celebrated on the same day.
Thou alone among all generations, Immaculate Virgin, were shown to be the Mother of God; Thou hast become the dwelling place of the Godhead, that art wholly without blemish, and not burned by the fire of the unapproachable light; whence do we all bless Thee, Mary, bride of God.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

A Boy-Bishop for St Nicholas’ Day

Chavagnes International College, a Catholic boarding school for boys located in Chavagnes-en-Paillers in western France (near Nantes), is well known for cultivating a strong liturgical life. In accordance with the old English tradition, a boy-bishop is appointed from among the students on the feast of St Nicholas, who presides over the celebration of Vespers and sits at the high table for the meal following. (See below for a bit more about this tradition.)

These photos are reproduced with the College’s permission, and our thanks. File this under two of our favorite labels, Fostering Young Vocations and Tradition is for the Young.

Pontifical vestments laid out on the altar.

At the incensation during the Magnificat.

The Relics of St Ambrose

Partly as a follow up to last month’s post on the relics of St Charles, here are a few interesting photos related to the relics of St Ambrose, whose feast is today, courtesy of Nicola de’ Grandi.
The relics of St Ambrose, photographed during a canonical recognition in the late 19th century.
In 386 A.D., St Ambrose had uncovered the relics of two Milanese martyrs, the brothers Protasius and Gervasius, after been shown the place of their long-forgotten burial in a dream. Nothing is known for certain of these saints, not even the era of their martyrdom, but devotion to them was once very widespread; they are even named in the Roman version of the Litany of the Saints, last among the company of the martyrs. Ambrose brought their relics to a newly built basilica, then called simply “the Basilica of the Martyrs”, and laid them in the place he had originally intended for his own burial; he also attests to the miraculous healings which accompanied the translation, as do his secretary, Paulinus, who would later write his Life, and by St Augustine.

Ambrose himself died on April 4th of the year 397, which was Holy Saturday that year; since that date so frequently occurs in Holy Week or Easter Week, his feast is traditionally kept on the day of his episcopal ordination. He was laid to rest next to Ss Protasius and Gervasius, and the basilica is now officially named after him. In the mid-ninth century, the abbot of the attached monastery placed the relics of all three saints in a large porphyry sarcophagus, which was later sunk into the floor and covered over; it was rediscovered in 1864 during a major restoration project, and the three bodies are now seen in the Confession of the church under the altar. The feast day of the two martyrs is on June 19th, and the traditional Ambrosian Calendar also has the feast of the “Raising up of the Bodies of Ss. Ambrose, Protasius and Gervasius” on May 14th.

The relics photographed today. The body of St Ambrose rests between those of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius, dressed in red. The two martyrs also hold palm branches in their hands, while the sainted bishop holds a crook. Several ago, I visited this church and was told by a senior cleric that St Ambrose’s skeleton was found “all of a piece” in 1867, but that those of the martyrs had been “mixed up, so at the Final Judgement, some of the pieces will be flying back and forth.” This was followed by a smile and the classic Italian “no problem” shrug.
As part of the celebrations for the fifteenth centenary of the Saint’s death in 1897, the relics were taken from the basilica to the Duomo in an enormous procession, and exposed there for the veneration of the faithful from May 13-15. In the first photo, we see a huge banner depicted St Ambrose, which was first blessed and used by St Charles on September 8, 1566, the patronal feast day of the Duomo, and has regularly been used in solemn processions ever since. (Three other photos of it are given below.)

Here we see the relics carried under a baldachin; going before them, many of the mitered heads are those of canons, rather than bishops.
In 1974, for the 16th centenary of the Saint’s episcopal ordination, at the conclusion of a local jubilee held in preparation for the Holy Year of 1975, the relics were once again brought to the Duomo. At the time, significant repair works were being done to the church, and it was impossible to display them; they were therefore placed on a temporary altar in the nave.

Photopost Request: Immaculate Conception 2017

Our next major photopost will be for tomorrow’s feast of the Immaculate Conception. Please send your photos (whether of the Ordinary or Extraordinary Form) to for inclusion. We are also always glad to receive photographs of celebrations of Vespers and other parts of the Office, and particularly of any ceremonies celebrated with blue vestments, in accordance with the famous Spanish indult. Please be sure to include the name and location of the church, and always feel free to add any other information you think important. Evangelize through beauty!
From last year’s Immaculate Conception photopost, Pontifical Mass at the Oratory of the Immaculate Conception in Birmingham, England.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Legend of St Nicholas in Liturgy and Art

The traditional Roman liturgy assigns to the feast of St Nicholas the common Office of Confessor Bishops Ecce sacerdos magnus, with the proper lessons at Matins recounting his life, and the common Mass Statuit, with proper prayers. The Collect of his feast refers to the “innumerable miracles” wrought through his intercession, for which he is often called by the Byzantines “the Wonderworker”; the Secret is borrowed from the Mass of the first Confessor Bishop venerated in the West, St Martin.

A Russian icon of St Nicholas, painted ca. 1500-50, showing episodes from his life and his miracles in the small panels that form the border. 
In the Middle Ages, a proper Office was composed for his feast, which is described thus by the liturgical commentator Sicard of Cremona, writing at the end of the 12th century.
The teachers of the Greeks have written down the life of the blessed Nicholas, and the miracles done in his life, … saying that he was born of an illustrious family, and filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, or from his childhood. He delivered three virgins from the infamous dealings of their father; he was promoted to the episcopacy by divine revelation; he came to help sailors in danger of shipwreck; he multiplied grain; … he delivered some people from a death sentence, and others from prison. From his tomb there comes forth an oil, which heals various ailments. … No pen can suffice to write down all the miracles with which he has shone forth after his death, nor can any man’s eloquence tell of them all. Out of this legend, today’s ‘history’ is put together. (Mitrale IX, 2)
In Sicard’s time, and for long after, the Latin word “historia” (history) was the common technical term for what we would now call the proper Office of a Saint. Many such Offices were composed by setting to music texts from the Saints’ lives; a “historia” was the sum of the antiphons, responsories and (somewhat more rarely) hymns, composed for such an Office. The “legend”, on the other hand, (Latin “legendum – something to be read”), is the story of the Saint’s life as read in the lessons of Matins. Therefore, when Sicard says that today’s “history” is put together out of this “legend”, what he means is that the propers of St Nicholas’ Office are composed from texts taken from the account of his life and miracles.

The proper Office of St Nicholas is called O Pastor aeterne, the first words of the Magnificat antiphon at First Vespers; it has been attributed (not with absolute certainty) to a monk named Isembert, of the monastery of St Ouen in France, who lived in the middle of the 11th-century. It was adopted very widely, but not in Rome; hence it is found in the proper Breviaries of the religious orders (Dominicans, Premonstratensians etc.), but not the Roman Breviary. Writing about a century after Sicard, William Durandus tells the following story about the use of this Office.
It is said that in a certain church, … since the historia of blessed Nicholas was not yet sung, the brothers of that place asked their prior insistently that he permit them to sing it; but he refused, saying that it was improper to change the ancient custom with novelties. But since they kept asking, he answered indignantly, “Leave me alone; these new songs, or rather, these jokes, will not be sung in my church!” Now when the feast of the Saint had come, the brethren sadly finished the night vigils (i.e. Matins). And when they had all gone to bed, behold, the blessed Nicholas appeared visibly to the prior in a terrible guise, and, pulling him out of bed by his hair, dashed him to the floor of the dormitory. Then, beginning the antiphon O Pastor aeterne, at each change of note he smacked him heavily on the back with the two rods he held in his hand, and thus sang the antiphon morosely through to the end. Since all were wakened by the noise, the prior was taken to his bed half-alive; and when he had recovered he said, “Go, sing the new historia of St Nicholas.” (Rationale Div. Off. VII, 39)
It must be granted that this behavior seems wildly out of character for the Nicholas described by the Office O Pastor aeterne itself, of which the first responsory says:
R. The confessor of God, Nicholas, noble of birth, but nobler in his manners, * having followed the Lord from his very youth, merited to be promoted to the episcopacy by divine revelation. V. For he was greatly compassionate, and moved by holy pity for the afflicted. Having followed…
And likewise, the fifth antiphon of Matins:
Aña Surpassing the customs of youth with innocence, he became a disciple of the law of the Gospel. 
On the other hand, the Byzantine tradition tells a story that Nicholas, when he was present at the First Council of Nicea, was so moved with righteous indignation at Arius’ denial of the divinity of Christ that he slapped him in the face. At his Vespers in the Byzantine Rite, the following hymn is sung which refers to this tradition.
With what melodic hymns may we praise this Hierarch, the antagonist of impiety, the defender of piety, the great leader of the Church, both champion and teacher, who putteth to shame all those who believe wickedly, the destroyer and ardent opponent of Arius, through whom Christ, Who hath great mercy, has cast down the latter’s pride.
The Greek word “ὀφρύς” in this hymn, like its Latin equivalent “supercilium”, means “pride” in the negative sense, also “scorn, arrogance.” (Hence the English word “supercilious.”) In both languages, however, its original meaning is “brow.” Greek has plenty of other words for “pride” that might have been used here; the idiomatic expression “cast down the brow” seems clearly to have been chosen to refer to the slapping of Arius.

St Nicholas slaps Arius in face, as depicted in a 14th-century fresco within the monastery complex of Panagia Sumela, in modern Turkey.
The image above is part of a much larger fresco, only one panel of which is seen here below, depicting the Council of Nicea. The Emperor St Constantine, as he is called in the Byzantine churches, presides over the Council; Nicholas slapping Arius is in the lower left. The monastery has been abandoned since 1923, and the frescos are sadly much damaged by vandalism.
The legend goes on to state that the council fathers were scandalized by this inappropriate loss of temper, and despite his immediate repentance, stripped Nicholas of his insignia and remanded him to jail to await their judgment. During the night, however, Christ and the Virgin Mary appeared to him, and gave him a Gospel book and an omophorion (the large Byzantine episcopal stole), while undoing his chains; this was taken as a sign that his repentance was accepted, and he was reinstated in the council.

The miracles attributed to his intercession are indeed innumerable, for the sake of which he became, as Fr Hunwicke marvelously described him, “a saint with as large a portfolio of Patronages as a Renaissance cardinal.” The story to which Sicard refers when he says that St Nicholas “delivered three virgins from the infamous dealings of their father” is of course the part of the legend that has turned him into Santa Claus. As told by Durandus’ contemporary, Jacopo de Voragine, in the Golden Legend, a man of his city could not dower his daughters, and was considering selling them into prostitution.
But when the saint learned of this, he abhorred this crime; and he threw a lump of gold wrapped in a cloth into the man’s house through the window at night, and departed in secret. Rising in the morning, the man found the lump of gold, and giving thanks to God, celebrated the wedding of his first daughter. Not long after, the servant of God did the same thing (again.) And the man upon finding it, burst forth with great praises, and determined thenceforth to keep watch, so that he might discover who it was that had aided his poverty. After a few days, (Nicholas) threw a lump of gold twice as big into the house. At the sound of this, the man was awoken, and followed Nicholas as he fled, … and so, by running more quickly, he learned that it was Nicholas … (who) made him promise not to tell the story while he lived.
This story is also referred to repeatedly in O Pastor aeterne, for example, in the eighth responsory of Matins:
R. The servant of God Nicholas by a weight of gold redeemed the chastity of three virgins; * and put to flight the unchaste poverty of their father by a gift of gold. V. Being therefore deeply rich in mercy, by the metal which he doubled, he drove infamy from them. And put to flight…
For this reason, he is often represented holding three golden balls, as in this painting by Gentile da Fabriano, the Quaratesi polyptych, done in 1425.

In the old chapel of the Lateran complex in Rome known as the “Sancta Sanctorum – the Holy of Holies”, (not because of its status as a Papal chapel, but because it used to contain one of the most impressive relic collections in the world), the story is represented in two parts. On the right, St Nicholas tosses the gold though the window; on the left, the father catches him, and is told by the Saint to keep the story secret. This shows how old the custom really is of staying up late at night to try to catch Santa Claus when he comes to the house to deliver presents. (For some reason, this never works any more.)
St Nicholas and the Gift of the Dowries, by the anonymous painter known as the Master of the Sancta Sanctorum, ca. 1278-79, commissioned by Pope Nicholas III (1277-80).
This is an updated version of an article originally published in 2014.

Advent and Christmas Liturgy Schedule for St Stephen’s Church, Portland, Oregon

For anyone within striking distance of St Stephen’s Catholic Church in Portland, Oregon, here is the church’s liturgical schedule for Advent and Christmas. This is an ambitious and upgraded program, reflecting the fact that the church has just appointed a new musical director.

New Reprints of Three Theological Classics

People who enjoy reading theological books quickly discover, in the vaults of university libraries, at used bookstores, or by lucky links online, a lot of hidden gems out there — books that were first published 50, 75, 100 years ago or even more, which have long since fallen out of print and yet very much deserve to be back in print for new readers. This seems all the more true now that there is a real appetite among conservative and traditional-leaning Catholics for substantial, reliable, and profound writing after decades of featherweight pablum and heavyweight heresy. Moreover, a lot of people still prefer, if they can get it, a real printed book to a clunky PDF or a messy etext. Finally, in spite of the ongoing digitization of texts, a vast number of books are still unavailable from any source, whether a used bookseller or an online database.

For all these reasons, I am happy to announce that I have just republished three extremely interesting theological books, all of which have helped me a great deal in my own studies. For each, I shall offer photos and a brief summary.

The Life of Worship: Grace, Prayer, Sacraments, and the Sacred Liturgy. By a Seminary Professor. Originally published in French in 1895; this English version from 1920. xvi + 814 pp. $29.95. Available at or its affiliates.

This book is a fascinating glimpse into what catechetical training was once like before the meltdown of modernism and the onset of postconciliar dementia. Originally entitled Exposition of Christian Doctrine, Part III: Worship but retitled here The Life of Worship the better to convey its content, this hefty volume is part of a series produced in 19th-century France by anonymous seminary professors for the Brothers of the Christian Schools. The English version was published in Philadelphia in 1920 (this seventh edition is from 1927).

An exemplar of catechetical literature, The Life of Worship, laid out in question and answer format, is amazingly comprehensive in its treatment of grace, prayer, sacraments, sacramentals, liturgy, and liturgical places, objects, vestments, ceremonies, feasts, and devotions. The questions are well considered and logical in order, with answers that are precise, clear, and eloquent, full of scriptural quotations and valuable spiritual considerations.  When I first came across this book last summer, found myself thinking: "I wish someone had handed me this book two decades ago; it would have filled in so many gaps in my religious training!" Most delightful of all (at least to me, a scholastic at heart), every chapter ends with a schematic diagram of the entire content of that chapter, with all the pertinent distinctions and subdivisions. These charts are just brilliant.

The Life of Worship is an excellent book for personal study, homeschool or private school religion class, a parish study group, or a book club.

St. Thomas Aquinas: Papers from the 1924 Summer School of Catholic Studies at Cambridge. Ed. Cuthbert Lattey. xii + 311 pp. $19.95. Available at or its affiliates.

This collection of papers given at a summer school at Cambridge in 1924 includes the following:
  • Rt. Rev. H. L. Janssens, "The Study of the Summa theologica"
  • Rev. Peter Paul Mackey, "The Autograph of St. Thomas"
  • Rev. Richard Downey, "St. Thomas and Aristotle"
  • Rev. Francis Aveling, "St. Thomas and Modern Thought"
  • Rev. Michael Cronin, "The Moral, Social, and Political Philosophy of St. Thomas"
  • Rev. A. B. Sharpe, "The Ascetical and Mystical Teaching of St. Thomas"
  • Very Rev. Bede Jarrett, "St. Thomas and the Reunion of Christendom"
  • Edward Bullough, "Dante, the Poet of St. Thomas"
  • Rt. Rev. G. A. Burton, "The Liturgical Poetry of St. Thomas"
  • (plus several appendices and indices)
I learned of this book when researching my doctoral dissertation on ecstasy and rapture in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. My pursuit led me to Fr. Sharpe's contribution to this volume, which I recommend as one of the finest summaries of the saint's ascetical-mystical doctrine to be found anywhere.

The Incarnation: Papers from the 1925 Summer School of Catholic Studies at Cambridge. Ed. Cuthbert Lattey. xviii + 261 pp. $18.95. Available at or its affiliates.

The year after the papers gathered in the preceding volume, another conference was held, this time on Christology, yielding a collection of exceptionally fine papers from biblical, historical, and scholastic angles on the defining mystery of the Christian Faith: the Incarnation of the Son of God. The contents:
  • Rev. Patrick Boylan, "Messianic Expectations in the Old Testament"
  • Rev. J. P. Arendzen, "The Preparation of Jewry"
  • Rev. C. C. Martindale, "The Preparation of the Gentiles" and "The Gospel of John"
  • Rev. Hugh Pope, "The Synoptic Gospels"
  • Rev. Christopher Lattey, "Saint Paul"
  • Rev. Canon Myers, "The Fathers and Councils"
  • Rev. Maurice de la Taille, "The Schoolmen"
  • Rev. Thomas Garde, "Our Lady in the Early Church"
  • Msgr. Ronald Knox, "Kenotic Theories"
  • Rev. Richard Downey, "Rationalist Criticism." 
The writings in this volume are deserving of praise above all for their wonderful readability.  Christology is no easy area to discuss accurately without quickly descending into a morass of linguistic and philosophical issues. These authors, with great mastery of their material, give us a feast of reflections on the Incarnation as it was dimly anticipated by Jews and pagans, as it is unfolded in the Gospels and in the Epistles of Paul, as it was fought over and clarified in the patristic age and in the first seven Councils, as it was refined and systematized by the medieval scholastics, how it relates to the Blessed Virgin, and finally, how it is threatened by certain modern theories. Most of these chapters could serve as ideal introductions to their subjects and would enrich any private study or academic course -- above all Canon Myers on "The Fathers and Councils," who furnishes one of the best and most succinct accounts of the Christological controversies I have yet found.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Rorate Masses in New York City

This year, the Church of the Holy Innocents in New York City is holding 10 Rorate Masses, the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Advent, during the first part of the holy season. The Mass takes its title from the first words of the Introit, from Isaiah 45, 8: “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just one: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior.”; it is celebrated by candlelight, in white vestments are worn instead of violet. In the dimly lit setting, priests and faithful prepare to honor the Light of the world, Who is soon to be born, and offer praise to God for the gift of Our Lady. As the Mass proceeds and sunrise approaches, the church becomes progressively brighter, illuminated by the sun as our Faith is illumined by Christ. The readings and prayers of the Mass foretell the prophecy of the Virgin who would bear a Son called Emmanuel.
The Rorate Mass will be celebrated at the Church of the Holy Innocents on the following days of Advent, all of them starting at 6 a.m.: Monday, December 4, Tuesday, December 5, Wednesday, December 6, Thursday, December 7, Saturday, December 9, Monday, December 11, Wednesday, December 13, Thursday, December 14, Friday, December 15, Saturday, December 16. The church is located at 128 West 37th Street.
The words of the Introit are used repeatedly both at the Mass and in the Divine Office during the season of Advent, expressing the longings of the Patriarchs and Prophets, and of the entire human race since the fall of Adam, for the coming of the Redeemer. The celebration of this Mass by candle light had originally a more practical reason: for many centuries, no Mass was allowed to be celebrated after noon, and when these Masses were celebrated very early in the morning (before dawn) it was still very dark, especially in winter-time. In the course of time and through the power of religious tradition, a spiritual meaning attached to the custom; the use of candles symbolizes the bright light of Christmas to which Advent leads us.

Before the liturgical revolution after the Second Vatican Council, this Mass was celebrated very early in the morning on all Saturdays, and in some countries such as Poland and Germany, during some or all weekdays during the season of Advent. As the season’s votive Mass of the Virgin Mary, it presents Her as the perfect model to imitate throughout the season of Advent, and teaches us its real spirit as we await the coming of the Messiah. During the nine months of pregnancy, Our Lady lived a hidden life, in silence and intimacy with Christ. During the period of Advent, we should cultivate that same spirit of silence and intimacy by listening attentively to God’s message and by obedience to His word, through devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that, like the shepherds of Bethlehem, we may always find Jesus through Mary “So (the shepherds) went with haste, and they found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.” (Luke 2, 16).

Thanks to Mr Eddy Toribio for the text above, and to one of our most faithful photopost contributors, Diana Yuan, for these photos of the Rorate Mass celebrated at Holy Innocents yesterday morning:

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