Saturday, October 21, 2017

Three-Dimensional Wooden Crucifix Icon by Francis Koerber

I received a note from the multifaceted artist Francis Koerber of Jackson, Wyoming, concerning a project he recently completed: an interpretation, in three dimensions, of the traditional Byzantine crucifixion scene, using woods and paints. Here is the completed work:

The woods utilized are, back, quarter sawn oak; crucifix, Brazilian cherry; corpus; quarter sawn oak; hair and beard, walnut; halo, cherry; loincloth, poplar; Mary: outer garment, walnut; inner garment, cherry; hand and shoes, light cherry; St. John: cherry, hair, walnut; headplate and footplate, cherry. The colors of the wood are all natural; Koerber does not use paints or stains (the only paint is the crimson blood). A clear coating of Tung oil brings out the subtleties of the color and grain of the wood simply by accentuating what is already there.

On one of Koerber's many websites, Teton Craftworks, he shares with the reader the process of putting together this icon. I will post only a few of the photos here; the rest may be viewed there.

The artist wrote the following to me:
My basic philosophy on Catholic Art is that I value the tradition of iconography from the Byzantine (Russian and Greek) schools. In my opinion, the religious art from the Middle Ages and beyond fell into the decay of anthropomorphism, which for me, presents more of an opaque view into spiritual realities. I prefer the transparent view of those earlier styles which allows one to see ‘through’ the artwork into the spiritual realm. For me, it is a purer art form. This is not a hard and fast rule because you can certainly find wonderful works of sacred art that aren’t a part of those early traditions, but in general, I believe it is true. I think this ideology also mirrors the anthropomorphism of the liturgy, where the music has also become opaque, the end of its own means, and is heavily marked by a sense of time and gravity (Mozart for instance) that weighs one down. The polyphony of the earlier years maintains the same artistic transparency of the iconography of the East.
This account from Koerber largely parallels that given by Ratzinger in The Spirit of the Liturgy when he defends the suitability of Byzantine, Gothic, and (to a lesser extent) Baroque styles for sacred visual art, and severely critiques the Renaissance. In the sphere of music, as Koerber notes, we would have to say that medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music are better suited for the liturgy and for prayer than the later Classical and Romantic styles. David Clayton also goes into these topics in his book The Way of Beauty, which we use at Wyoming Catholic College as one of our texts for the Visual Arts in the Western Tradition course that all seniors take.

This admirable wooden icon is available for purchase; please contact Francis Koerber if you are interested or if you would like to discuss a commission.

You can find out more about Francis Koerber's creative activities at his main website. He has a composer website (I particularly love his A minor prelude and fugue for organ), a performer website, and a site for fine handmade rosaries, among others.

Friday, October 20, 2017

St. Thomas’ Earliest Treatment of the Sacraments Now in Print — and a 50% Sale on Other Volumes

As we have covered in the past (e.g., here and here), The Aquinas Institute has undertaken the project of publishing a Latin/English Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor in approximately 60 hardcover volumes. The progress has been impressive so far: the Summa Theologiae; the Pauline Commentaries; the Matthew and John Commentaries; the Job Commentary. All of these books, due to their high-quality texts and bindings and their comparatively low cost, have now become standard go-to editions for teachers, students, theologians, philosophers, and general readers.

After years of work under an NEH grant, The Aquinas Institute is happy to announce that the edition of Book IV of St. Thomas's early masterpiece, the Scriptum super Sententiarum or Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, is starting to be available in print, with volume 1, distinctions 1-13, just released. If you order this book directly from The Aquinas Institute, you can get it at a 50% discount (more on that below).

This past July I had the privilege of teaching the Albertus Magnus Summer Program in Norcia, devoted to the subjects of sacraments in general, baptism, and the Eucharist, using a preliminary copy of this volume. It was a great experience getting into the youthful Aquinas's wrestling with major questions of his day (and of ours, such as his treatment of whether and when sinners, and what kind of sinners, should be admitted to holy communion!). Once again, as with my own collection of parts of the Scriptum on love and charity, I found that reading the Scriptum on sacraments significantly enriched and enhanced my understanding not only of Aquinas's process of thinking and maturation, but, more importantly, of the sacred realities themselves, which are the end of all theology. It was a true intellectual banquet, and one that I highly recommend to readers with a serious interest in scholastic theology. (Earlier at NLM, I published a portion of text from this volume: St. Thomas's "division" of the Mass into its parts.)

Also worth of note is that the Latin edition of the Scriptum that is printed in this volume (and that will be used for all the volumes of the Scriptum) is derived from the classic Mandonnet-Moos volumes and corrected against the not-yet-released critical edition of the Leonine Commission, with whom the Aquinas Institute is collaborating. That feature makes these volumes the best Latin editions as well as the only English editions.

Please note, as well, that there is a 50% sale on all Aquinas Institute books during October only:
  • Summa theologiae (8 hardcover vols.): normally $360, on sale for $180
  • Commentaries on Paul (5 hardcover vols.): normally $225, on sale for $112.50
  • Commentaries on Matthew and John (4 hardcover vols.): normally $180, on sale for $90
  • Commentary on Job (1 hardcover): normally $45, on sale for $22.50
  • Commentary on Book IV of the Sentences (4 hardcovers--the first in print, the others to follow over the coming year): each volume normally $45, on sale for $22.50
To take advantage of the sale, visit The Aquinas Institute website.

The Aquinas Institute is well under way with Books II and III, with a new NEH grant. Other works will appear from time and time. Their publication will be duly noted here and at

Here are some photos of the new volume of the Opera Omnia.

St Nicholas Upgraded in Italy

I recently learned that last year, the Congregation for Divine Worship approved a request of the Italian Bishops’ Conference to make the memorial of St Nicholas obligatory in Italy; on the General Calendar of the OF it remains at the lowest grade of feasts, optional memorial, on his traditional day, December 6th. As Fr Hunwicke pointed out, with his great talent for witty expressions, St Nicholas has “as large a portfolio of Patronages as a Renaissance cardinal”, and there are of course plenty of places and ecclesiastical institutions where his feast is kept with a higher degree of solemnity as that of a patron.
Altarpiece of Saint Nicolas, by the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy (active ca. 1480-1510 in Bruges).
In a circular letter to the Italian bishops, the head of the Conference, Angelo Card. Bagnasco, the Archbishop of Genua, highlighted not only the strength of devotion to St Nicholas among Italians, who boast the possession of his major relics in the city of Bari in Puglia, but also the ecumenical importance of this devotion. His feast is extremely prominent in the Byzantine tradition, as evidenced by the popularity of his name among the Greeks and Slavs. (In the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, there is a scene in which the groom is introduced to his Greek fiancée’s family, including ten cousins named Nick and one Nicky.) He is named in the preparation rite of the Divine Liturgy, alongside such Doctors of the Church as Ss Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, John Chrysostom, Athanasius and Cyril. The Russians traditionally honor him as a patron of the nation alongside St Andrew the Apostle, and prior to the 1917 revolution, the imperial government maintained a pilgrim hospice at Bari. On Thursdays, there is a special commemoration of him alongside the Apostles when there is no major feast to celebrate, roughly the equivalent of the Roman Saturday office of the Virgin, and the translation of his relics is celebrated on May 10th.

In the beautiful Byzantine custom of giving distinctive epithets to the more important Saints, that of St Nicholas is “thaumatourgos – wonderworker.” The liturgy refers to this repeatedly, as for example this text from the beginning of Orthros: “Thou shinest forth upon the earth with the rays of miracles, wise Nicholas, and movest every tongue to the glory and praise of Him who glorified Thee upon the earth; do Thou, elect among the Fathers, beseech Him, that those who honor thy memory with love and faith may be delievered from every pain.”

The traditional Roman Collect for his feast also refers to this tradition: “O God, Who didst glorify the blessed Bishop Nicholas with innumerable miracles; grant, we beseech Thee, that, by his merits and prayers, we may be saved from the fires of hell.” In the post-conciliar reform, it was determined that Modern Man™ is better off not hearing about miracles or hell when at prayer, and a shiny new Collect was put in the Missal to replace the dusty old one: “We humbly beseech Thy mercy, o Lord, and, by the intervention of the blessed bishop Nicholas’ prayer, keep us safe in all dangers, that the way of salvation may lie freely open to us.” It often seems to me that the ecumenical implications of such reforms were hardly considered, back when this sort of thing seemed like a good idea; and likewise, that we should give more attention to the ecumenical implications of Pope Benedict’s achievement in giving the traditional texts back to the Church by the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. It is much to be hoped for that this decree will be made general for the whole Roman Rite.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Santa Maria Antiqua in the Roman Forum

Among the ruins of the Roman Forum, the center of public life in the ancient city, there lies half-hidden an ancient church called Santa Maria Antiqua. It was constructed sometime in the second half of the 6th century within an older building at the north-west corner of the Palatine hill, and remained in use until 847, when it was partly buried by a mudslide off the hill caused by an earthquake, and abandoned. It remains came to light in 1702 when another church built on the same site much later was being restored; in 1901-2, the newer church was demolished to free it up. With the completion of extensive restoration work, it was for a time reopened to the public as part one the regularly visitable areas of the Forum archeological zone, but has recently been closed again; the possibility of future visits is apparently “under review.”

Santa Maria Antiqua contains a remarkable amount of Byzantine fresco work from several different periods of its brief (by Roman standards) life. Many of these are in fairly bad shape, but many others are remarkably well preserved, considering how long they lay buried and neglected, and they give us an interesting sense of what Christian churches might have looked like in antiquity. Our thanks to Fr Alex Schrenk, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, for sharing with us these photos taken during a recent visit.

The roofed structure next to the trees on the right is an Oratory dedicated to the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste; Santa Maria Antiqua is to the right of it from this point of view.
A frescoed niche with three holy mothers and their children: St Anne holding the Virgin Mary, Mary Herself holding Jesus, and St Elizabeth holding St John the Baptist.
The mother of the seven brothers whose martyrdom is described in 2 Maccabees 7, here given the name of Salome, with Eleazar to her left. They are the only Old Testament Saints whose feast is traditionally kept on the general Calendar of the Roman Rite, as a commemoration on the feast of St Peter’s Chains. The Byzantine tradition holds that Eleazar, whose martyrdom is recounted in 2 Maccabees 6, 18-31, was her husband and the father of her seven sons, although this is not stated in the Biblical text.
One of the most famous things in the church is this “palimpsest”, in which frescoes from two different periods can be seen, one on top of the other, the older layer revealed by the partial disintegration of the newer. 
A frescoed column
The ancient building within which the church is located was part of a large structure that led into the Imperial palace on the Palatine hill. (The word “palace” actually comes from “Palatine.”) It is believed that at first, Santa Maria Antiqua principally served the Greek-speaking imperial administrators housed within the ancient palace; there majority of the Saints depicted in the church are Greek, as indicated by the names written in the frescoes.

EF Pontifical Mass with Bishop Schneider in Charlotte NC, October 26th

Next Thursday, October 26th, the church of St Ann in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Charlotte Latin Mass community, will welcome Bishop Athanasius Schneider for the celebration of a Solemn Pontifical Mass in honor of Blessed Karl of Austria. The Mass will begin at 7pm; the church is located at 3635 Park Road.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Proper Office of the Evangelists

In the Roman Breviary, the Evangelists are treated liturgically as a subcategory of the Apostles, and their common office consists solely of proper readings for Matins; everything else is said from the common Office of Apostles. This in part reflects the habitual conservatism of the church of Rome, which was always much slower to accept new proper Offices, and is partly due to the fact that a proper Office for the Evangelists has a very limited application.
St Luke, from the Gospel Book of Otto III, ca. 1000 AD
Nevertheless, there does exist such a proper, which is found in most medieval Uses, including those of the Dominican, Carmelite and Premonstratensian Orders. It has a complete set of nine proper antiphons for the psalms of Matins, five for the Psalms of Lauds (repeated through the day hours and at Vespers) and the three major antiphons for the Magnificat of both Vespers and for the Benedictus at Lauds. It also includes nine responsories, all texts from the vision of the four animals in the first chapter of Ezekiel, which also provides the readings for the first nocturn of Matins and the Mass Epistle of Ss Matthew and Mark. These responsories were not received by the Dominicans, and I do not include them here, since they aren’t particularly interesting.

Ad Matutinum
In I nocturno
Aña 1 Convocatis * Jesus duodecim Apostolis, misit illos praedicare regnum Dei: egressi autem evangelizabant et curabant ubique. - Calling together the twelve Apostles, Jesus sent them to preach the kingdom of God; and going forth, they preached the Gospel and everywhere wrought cures.
Aña 2 Mittens Dominus * et alios ad praedicandum, dicebat illis: Messis quidem multa, operarii autem pauci. - The Lord, sending also others to preach, said to them: The harvest is great, but the workers are few.
Aña 3 Jesu Christi * Domini gratia, credentibus populis Doctores et Evangelistae sunt in ministerium fidei missi. - By the grace of Jesus Christ the Lord, Doctors and Evangelists were sent to the peoples that believe for the ministry of the Faith.

In II nocturno
Aña 4 Sapientia Domini * Evangelii eruperunt abyssi, et annuntiantes, foecundati rore caelesti, mundo intonant. - By the wisdom of the Lord the depths of the Gospel burst forth, and made fruitful by the dew of heaven, thunder their proclamation to the world.
Aña 5 Labia eorum * salutarem disseminaverunt scientiam, opus sanctum, dignum, benedictione plenum fecerunt: ministerium sibi traditum devote impleverunt. - Their lips spread abroad the knowledge of salvation; they did a holy work, worthy and full of blessing; devoutly they fulfilled the ministry given to them.
Aña 6 Elegit eos * ex omni carne et dedit illis praecepta, et legem vitae et disciplinae. - He chose them from among all flesh, and gave them precepts, and the law of life and discipline.

In III nocturno
Aña 7 Electi sunt * in Christo ante mundi constitutionem, ut essent sancti et immaculati in conspectu Dei in caritate. - They were chosen in Christ before the establishment of the world, that they might be holy and immaculate in God’s sight in charity.
Aña 8 Sapientiam eorum * narrabunt omnes populi, et laudem eorum pronuntiat omnis Ecclesia sanctorum. - All peoples shall tell of their wisdom, and all the Church of the Saints proclaims their praise.
Aña 9 Sapientiam antiquorum * exquisierunt sancti Evangelistae, et prophetarum dictis narrationem suam confirmaverunt. - The holy Evangelists sought out the wisdom of the ancients, and by the sayings of the prophets, confirmed their narration.

Ad Laudes
Aña 1 Dilecti Deo * et hominibus sancti Evangelistae, qui ordinaverunt tempora Christi bono odore, usque ad consummationem vitae. - Beloved unto God and men are the holy Evangelists, who set in order the times of Christ in a good odor, until the completion of His life.
Aña 2 Dederunt * in celebratione operis sancti decus: ideo memoria eorum in benedictione est in sæculum sæculi. - They gave glory in the celebration of a holy work; therefore memory is in blessing for all ages.
Aña 3 Implevit eos * Dominus Spiritu sapientiae et intellectus; jucunditatem et exsultationem thesaurizavit super eos. - The Lord filled them with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding; He gathered rejoicing and exultation upon them.
Aña 4 Ex omni corde * laudaverunt nomen sanctum Domini, ut amplificarent nomen sanctitatis. - From all their heart they praised the holy name of the Lord, that they might magnify the name of holiness.
Aña 5 Datum est * opus eorum in veritate; ideo in terra sua duplicia possidebunt, et lætitia sempiterna erit eis in Christo. - Their work was given in truth; therefore in their land they shall have a double portion, and eternal happiness in Christ.

Detail of the St John Altarpiece by Hans Memling, 1474-79, showing the vision of St John in Apocalypse 4.
Ad Magn. Aña Ecce ego Joannes vidi ostium apertum in caelo; et ecce sedes posita erat in eo, et in medio sedis et in circuitu ejus quattuor animalia plena oculis ante et retro: et dabant gloriam et honorem et benedictionem sedenti super thronum, viventi in saecula saeculorum.
At the Magnificat of First Vespers Behold, I, John, saw a door was opened in heaven, and behold there was a throne set in heaven, and in the midst of the throne, and round about it were four living creatures, full of eyes before and behind; and they gave glory, and honor, and blessing to him that sitteth on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever.

Ad Bened. Aña In medio et in circuitu sedis Dei quattuor animalia senas alas habentia, oculis undique plena, non cessant nocte ac die dicere: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus omnipotens, qui erat et qui est, et qui venturus est.
At the Benedictus In the midst and round about the throne of God, four living creatures, having wings, full of eyes on all sides, rest not day and night, saying: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.

Ad Magn. Aña Tua sunt haec, Christe, opera, qui sanctos tuos ita glorificas, ut etiam dignitatis gratiam in eis futuram praeire miraculis facias: tu insignes Evangelii praedicatores animalium caelestium admirabili figura praesignasti: his namque caeleste munus collatum gloriosis indiciis es dignatus ostendere: hinc laus, hinc gloria tibi resonet in saecula.
At the Magnificat of Second Vespers These are Thy works, o Christ, who so glorify Thy Saints, that Thou also cause the grace of dignity that will be in them to be first preceded by miracles. Thou marked beforehand the wondrous preachers of the Gospel by the marvelous figure of the heavenly animals; for by these glorious signs, Thou deigned to show the heavenly gift given to them; hence let praise, hence glory resound to Thee forever.

USA Tour of the Schola Cantorum of London Oratory School

Those in the northeast will be delighted to learn of the upcoming USA tour of the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School, undoubtedly one of the finest choirs in the world. This should certainly should be an occasion of joy for anyone who loves Catholic sacred music; the Schola is a model for the spiritual and musical formation of children at the service of the worship of God in the sacred liturgy.

The Schola will be in the USA from October 22 to 29, visiting Boston, New York, and Washington DC. In keeping with their mission as a group, which finds its home primarily in the sacred liturgy, they will be singing for Masses as they go.

I am looking forward to taking the groups of children that I teach to see one of the concerts; others might consider doing likewise, for the concerts and Masses will be inspiring in every way. The concerts will feature music by Monteverdi, Guerrero, Byrd, Tallis, Purcell, Stanford, Britten, La Rocca, Bruckner, and Holst. 

Short Forms of the Readings: Distorting the Gospel?

As chance would have it, this last Sunday (OF: 28th Sunday per annum, Year A; EF: 19th Sunday post Pentecosten) the Gospel reading was the same in both forms of the Roman Rite: the Parable of the Marriage Feast from Matthew 22:1-14.

Or, in some places at least, it was nearly the same. For this particular Sunday is one of the over 40 occasions in the three-year Sunday cycle of the reformed lectionary where there is the option of reading a shorter form of one of the lessons. Suffice to say, there are no conditions laid out by the reformed books for when it may or may not be suitable to use any given short form aside from “pastoral reasons”, and the (somewhat deceptive) observation that “In the case of certain rather long texts, longer and shorter versions are provided to suit different situations. The editing of the shorter version has been carried out with great caution.” (General Introduction to the Lectionary, 75; cf. GIRM 360)

In this case, the short form of the Gospel misses out the last four verses of the parable (in bold):
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the streets, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Mt. 22:1-14, RSV2CE)
Previous to this Sunday in Year A, the 15th, 16th and 17th Sundays per annum have also had an optional short form for the Gospel readings. Criticisms can be levelled at each of these short forms, particularly for the 17th Sunday per annum, but though it is not much of a defence, it can at least be said that one parable is preserved in toto for each Sunday. [1] Here, though, it is part of the parable itself that has been edited out of the short form, with the consequence, intentional or not, of distorting its message. It is much easier, for example, to force an heretical universalist or annihilationist viewpoint on to the short form, or to emphasise the happier aspects of the parable to the practical exclusion of anything that could be perceived as negative (as most of that material is omitted). And, given that this parable is read every year in the Extraordinary Form in its totality, [2] it is difficult to see the existence of this short form as anything but an impoverishment - liturgically, biblically and homiletically.

In future posts, I hope to explore in a little more detail the many liturgical and theological problems with both the theory and praxis of the lectio brevior in the Ordo lectionum Missae. Thankfully, any problems associated with their use can be very easily and instantly fixed, by parish priests resolving never to use them and making sure that other priests, deacons and lectors (instituted or temporary) in their parishes do not use them either. It is also to be hoped for that all short forms of readings are suppressed in any future edition of the Ordo lectionum Missae.


[1] For the 15th Sunday per annum (A), the short form is just the Parable of the Sower, with the disciples’ question to Jesus and the explanation of the Parable omitted (Mt. 13:1-23; short form = vv. 1-9); for the 16th Sunday per annum (A), the short form is just the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, with its explanation along with the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven omitted (Mt. 13:24-43; short form = vv. 24-30); for the 17th Sunday per annum (A), the last of the three Parables of the Kingdom along with the saying about treasures new and old are omitted (Mt. 13:44-52; short form = vv. 44-46).

[2] Indeed, this Gospel lection has been part of the Church’s liturgical patrimony for some considerable time, as homilies on this passage have come down to us from St Augustine (Serm. 90) and St John Chrysostom (Hom. Matt. 69) among others.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Liturgical Splendor and the Image of God (Part 2): Guest Article by Zachary Thomas

We continue with the second part of this essay by Mr Zachary Thomas; to read the first part, click here.

The full experience of liturgy as participation in and becoming simultaneous with the whole divine Act of redemption is indispensable to an integrated Christian life. Only fortified by this complete expression and completion of the whole Christian Mystery can we go into the vale of tears to work Eucharistically through our Golgotha. Indeed, liturgy is a mountainous, unshakeable, insistent foundation for all the cardinal and theological virtues, but especially of hope.

In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis lamented that modern Christians often lose the hope of salvation because, mired in the ugliness of modern life, and fed a dry moralizing or dogmatizing sort of religious piety, they can conceive no vision of the grandeur and glory of the Christian vocation. It is precisely the liturgy that the Church has always offered as the sturdy support of these virtues, a gargantuan “substance of things hoped for.” After attending evening services at a Catholic chapel in Philadelphia (rosary, Vespers and Benediction) the strict Puritan John Adams wrote, “I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell?” The liturgy is indeed the Church’s spell, which charms the soul irresistibly toward that end to which she calls it. Faced by the claims of the Church’s cultic life, the only two honest responses are a wholesale cynical rejection or wholesale embrace of its full implications.
The Christian liturgy is the most profound exegesis of man as imago Dei, far surpassing the combined letters and arts of all civilizations of all history. It carves this image into the flesh, impregnates the imagination, breathes itself into the soul’s affections, overtakes the mind’s perceptions, directs the will’s resolutions. Cardinal Ratzinger speaks thus of God’s crafting work in us.

“With an artist’s eye, Michelangelo already saw within the block of stone he had before him the masterpiece secretly waiting to come to light and be freed. According to him, the task of the artist was only to remove that which still covered the image. Michelangelo understood that the true artistic act was to bring something to light and freedom, not to produce something. The same idea, applied to the human realm, is already found in St Bonaventure, who, basing himself upon the metaphor of the sculptor, explains the way by which man becomes authentically himself. The sculptor does not do anything, says the great Franciscan theologian. His work is rather an ablatio: it consists in eliminating and removing what is inauthentic. Thus, through an ablatio emerges the nobilis forma, the precious form. Likewise man, in order that the image of God may shine in him, must above all and first of all receive that purification by which the sculptor—i.e. God—frees him from all the dross that obscures the true appearance of his being and makes him seem like a crude block of stone, while in reality the divine form dwells within him.” Cited in “Pourquoi la liturgie de l’eglise ennuie-t-elle tant de fidèles?” by Denis Crouan, trans. Gerhard Egar.)

The third question of the Baltimore catechism (Why did God make us?) can rightly be answered in a declarative sentence. But the immeasurably stronger affirmation is found in the splendor of the liturgy. “God made us to show forth his goodness and to share with us his everlasting happiness in heaven.” Each of these terms only achieves its full meaning in liturgical action: in orthodoxy (right worship) the lovable face of God shines forth. Here most particularly we see his goodness, his loving kindness, and get a taste of the everlasting happiness he holds out to us. Liturgy is truly heaven on earth.

What does orthodoxy require, then? What can make the splendor of the divine image shine forth in man for all the world to see? Only the advent of God taking up—“overshadowing”—our actions, as Christ took up his carpenter’s hammer. As a strict matter of validity, this is possible through any of his ordained ministers using the minimum of matter and form.

But this is only half the theological truth. A sacrament looks like what it does. Grace descends fully only with nature’s assent. The covenant requires faithfulness also from God’s people. Therefore, in her public worship, the Church must offer herself as a fitting and unblemished sacrifice, as the womb of Mary, as a fitting vessel in which the Holy Sacrament can come forth.

It is necessary that, in the public rite of the Catholic Church, the juridically instituted public expression of the Church’s whole life, history, and being, there be exemplary standards of liturgical splendor that properly show forth the imago Dei and display the cosmic history of redemption with glory and clarity. For the full public worship performed by the Mystical Body of Christ, head and members, is nothing else than the celebration of the marriage between God and the whole sanctified cosmos, including the Church triumphant and suffering. It must look like what it does.

If we take this dogmatic and historical fact seriously, it has several implications. First of all, it means the acceptance of all reality, which has all been redeemed. The full reality of the Eucharist demands that we consent fully to the mediation of body and matter, not try to escape from it.

Thus, liturgical splendor requires excellence of craft, in every sense. God the sculptor uses the hands of human artists: singers, painters, brick-layers, and their donors. It requires excellent and well-paid musicians. Most of all, it requires abundant monastic houses and cathedral canons to set the gold standard in a diocese.

This is all as much to say that God asks for the full benefits of human culture to help elaborate the fullness of the Mystery he continues to reveal in His Church. This implies complete dependence upon one’s artistic inheritance. It is hubris to think that one age alone can surpass the careful accumulation of centuries.
Image from Wikimedia Commons by Beckstet, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)
In the Sainte Chapelle, St. Louis has taken care that the sacred iconography takes up the whole life of his realm. The art depicts his own kingdom, the angels and saints, Scriptural figures, and wraps them all into the history of salvation, with its center on the altar of Christ. All of this, with no expense spared in materials and craft.

We cannot adopt art forms that deny the nobility of man’s nature, or the glory of his gratuitous redemption. This is not to say that modern forms are per se forbidden, as an abundance of contemporary artists working in modern idioms can testify. But it does forbid art that does not exalt the liturgical mystery in its full splendor. Art that obscures or distorts the beauty of natural form is a form of Gnosticism that denies the salvation of the flesh. Intentionally minimalist church art has the effect of denying the beauty and joy of salvation.

All of this aesthetic endeavor and ceremony must be deeply tied to silence and prayer as its source. Contemplation is the workshop in which God molds each soul, and from which he brings out these gifts to adorn his Church.

Too often, Catholic liturgies have gotten rid of everything that could remind man he is a cosmic priest, made in the image of God. Not a glimmer of the glory of God’s adopted sons shines through the morass of our dreary “worship spaces.” This is largely because the last century’s reformers simply got theological anthropology dead wrong, misunderstanding entirely the nature of cult as man’s cooperation in the doing of divine things. Men do not want a didactic session scribbled by expert seers of the spirit of the world, or the spontaneous eruptions of emotion that surprise, but do not last. They do not want a Scripture lesson or political agitation. They do not want an industrial liturgy. They certainly doesn’t want their pastors’ ingenuity. They want to see, and participate in, the spectacle of God made man in the world, the mystical feast of the Groom with the Church of all ages. They want to be borne down by the weight of glory that is the Trinitarian economy represented in the sanctuary.

Instead, we are often given a depressing image of ourselves, which may indeed have the benefit of being always simple and easily accessible, but has the downside of being rather boring. We are “present to ourselves as a worshipping community,” but we do not confront the host of Saints before the Throne. Transfixed in this narcissistic gaze, we waste away before a pool of self-loving and self-loathing, unable to escape from a lethal self-intuition. It is no wonder so many have left in despair.

Until we unwrap our liturgical theology from the quasi-Hegelian and quasi-Marxist bands in which it is slowly suffocating, the true glory and attractiveness and loveliness of the Gospel, the light of Christ’s countenance shining nobly through her saints, will remain obscured, and we cannot hope for a resurrection of Christian life and vocations.

This means rejecting wholesale, if not every practical reform of the last five decades, certainly the flawed anthropology that largely motivated them. It means learning again from our liturgical tradition—and that of the East. We have to learn again what it means to celebrate liturgy, as sons redeemed, dancing like David in the light of God’s face, as a divine economy of salvation in which every man and every community surpasses itself, exceeds the bounds of its own temporality and enters into the great Mystery which is Christ in his Church, for all ages, unto the ages of ages.

Gustave Doré, Illustration for Canto XXXI of the Divine Comedy, Dante and Beatrice See the Highest Heaven.
I have argued that the liturgy is the place par excellence where the image of man-in-God and God-in-man are projected, displayed, and performed by the Church. As such, they are the chief support of the theological virtues by which alone man can reach heaven, and the model for all Eucharistic work. It follows that the manner in which we celebrate the sacred liturgy—with consummate decorum, the highest artistic standards, and a true super-abundant splendor and solemnity—is essential to her mission in the world. She is simply not performing the Christian Mystery if her liturgy amounts to an implicit denial of cult, a half-hearted iconoclasm or outright idolatry; because to deny cult is to deny the imago Dei at its very root, to deny man his vocation as cosmic priest.

Liturgical splendor must be at the root of the New Evangelization, because Evangelization is divinization, and only from the liturgy can the believer learn what it is to act divinely.

The Psalms - Unlocking David’s Code for Slaying Cultural Philistines Like Me

Anyone who has read my book The Way of Beauty knows that I consider myself unliterary. I have never much enjoyed reading poetry or “great-book” fiction, and I managed to get through high school and university without doing a single literature class.

Woody Allen was once asked if he had any regrets and replied that he did - he wished that he had never read Beowulf. I am one up on Woody Allen: I have never read Beowulf and have no intention of ever doing so.

I was not always so firm in the conviction that literature isn’t for me. When I left university, I did wonder if I had missed out and decided that I would start to read some literary greats. So, for several years afterward, going to and from work on the Tube, I often pulled out a Penguin Classic and buried my nose in it (and hoped people would notice, of course). I found that if I persevered I might enjoy it to a degree, but in the end, I decided, it wasn’t worth my effort.

The purpose of reading novels and poetry, it seemed to me, was primarily entertainment. Certainly, there were lessons about life, the universe and everything that could be drawn from great literature, but given that there were other ways to learn those lessons, why bother puzzling over a poem that seemed to me to be written to mystify rather than reveal the truth? I found it far more stimulating to read about the important things in life directly in Scripture, or theology or philosophy books, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church, than to winkle them out from some impenetrable text.

So, I gave it a fair go and concluded that high literature isn’t for me. I don’t feel I'm missing out - I can enjoy music, art, architecture, a beautiful garden, a walk in the country, or many other aspects of the culture, high and low (I play the banjo and secretly sing along to 1970s disco greats such as Shalamar and The Real Thing in the car! The Real Thing are the second best band to come out of Liverpool, by the way).

But please, don’t invite me to a poetry recital.

I should say, at this point that I am aware that not everyone is like me, nor should they be. Many people love literature and derive great pleasure from reading it, and provided that the reading contributes in some way to the highest end, the worship of God in the liturgy -  as all human activity should - then I say, follow your passion!

There is one exception to my literary philistinism, and appropriately, that is the poetic form that is associated with the man who defeated the Philistines in battle, David. I love the Book of Psalms and the canticles from Scripture that are sung in the Divine Office. For me, they are a well of wisdom and inspiration that can never run dry and which flows from the pages like honey.

I reflect on this now because I am currently sitting in on Father Sebastian Carnazzo’s course, The Psalms in Words, Images, and Prayer, offered by Pontifex University. (I am teaching too, cover the traditional illumination of Psalters as part of the class). I am only partly through it, but am finding it hugely enriching.

A couple of things have struck me particularly so far. First is that the fact there is no existing pure and unadulterated original text from which all translations derive. The oldest texts we have are themselves three, four or who knows how many more steps removed from the original composition, given to us by the work of scribes or translators. And do we know that the “original” was even written? Perhaps it was first preserved through an oral tradition. This lack of a first text should not be a cause of worry; God can inspire scribes and translators too. He does not reveal anything new by this, but rather, guides them so that their work of inscription and translation can be done well.
So whether it’s St Jerome, Myles Coverdale, Ronald Knox, or Mr. and Ms. Revised Standard Version, each in his own way has polished a facet of the prism that directs the Light to us faithfully. God also inspires us in our prayer and understanding as we read and chant the text, and to the degree that we follow that inspiration, each of us can say “I have more understanding than my teachers, for thy testimonies are my study.” (Psalm 119 (118), verse 99...through the prism of the 1928 Coverdale psalter!)

Second is that the poetic structure of the Psalms is much more related to a thematic pattern than it is to a pattern of the language itself. The Psalms don’t rhyme, for example; they use devices such as synonymous parallelism in which the thought of the first line is repeated in different words in the next line or lines.

Lord, how they are increased that trouble me; many are they that rise up against me. (Ps. 3, 1)

There are a number of other such thematic devices, by which themes are contrasted, reinforced and developed. The great value of this approach is that unlike rhyme, it is relatively easy to bring across into a translation, in a way that allows the translator to express the truth elegantly and beautifully without having to compromise the sense of it.

In the light of this, it occurred to me that there may be lessons for the modern poet who wants to do what a poet ought to do, create noble and accessible work might connect with the millions of literary philistines in the modern world, such as me. (Of course, what he wants to say must also be of interest; it doesn’t matter how noble and accessible the style, of the content is dreary!) So, other things being equal, here is what our modern poet might do:

First, he should use thematic patterns as Scripture does. Not only will this prime people to receive the Word through the Psalms, but also, it will probably be more popular. Just as scripture is inspired by God, so man is made by God to respond to it and to be sensitive to its structure. If the Psalms can appeal even to a philistine like me, then perhaps, so could your poetry could too if you use a similar device!

Second, it will be easily translated, and so potentially reach a much wider market and transcend its own time. Such your writing will speak of God in the four corners of the world; it will declare the works of the Lord amongst all peoples! People of all nations will understand it; and if you declare the truth, generations through all time will delight in its form.

And you might save people like me from cultural destitution by showing them that there is something higher...

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fatima Centenary Celebrations at St John Cantius

There have been celebrations at St John Cantius, Chicago on the 13th of every month since last May to celebrate the centenary of the Fatima apparitions. This Friday, October 13th, over 3000 attended the final event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 'Miracle of the Sun'. Bishop Joseph Perry celebrated Pontifical High Mass which was attended by a large number of the faithful, including many religious and clergy, as well as a large group of seminarians from Mundelein Seminary. Father Rocky Hoffman, Executive Director of Relevant Radio preached the sermon. Following Pontifical Mass, there was a candlelight ceremony to crown the statue of Our Lady of Fatima on the steps of the church. The statue was carried by members of the Chicago Police Department. More photos here.

Homogeneity vs. Hierarchy: On the Treatment of Verbal Moments

Chanting the Epistle
In discussions of problems with the Novus Ordo Missae, its advocates will frequently say that its opponents are always assuming the “worst practices,” that is, the panoply of liturgical abuses so prevalent that they almost constitute an unspoken set of rubrics as rigidly required as that of any Latin altar missal. This is a fair point. As Cardinal Sarah has tirelessly pointed out, the Novus Ordo allows for many of the elements that Catholics devoted to the Church’s Latin liturgical tradition value: first and foremost, the ad orientem stance, which is presupposed in the very rubrics of the Missal of Paul VI; the use of Latin, Gregorian chant, the Roman Canon, incense, and beautiful vestments and vessels; a prominent place for silence; only men in the sanctuary, and always liturgically vested. True as all of this may be — and we must protest, with Martin Mosebach, that it is a profound problem for such elements to be merely allowed and not required — we are nevertheless confronted in the Novus Ordo with elements of rupture that no “hermeneutic of continuity” can heal or overcome. This post will consider one of the most obvious of these, namely, how what I shall call “verbal moments” are treated in terms of their spatial and positional differentiation.

Think about a Sunday Mass in the Ordinary Form: the first reading, the psalm, the second reading, the Gospel, the homily, and the prayer of the faithful are usually all recited, all at the same place (the ambo), always versus populum in just the same way. The Eucharistic Prayer, high point of the liturgy, is also recited from the nearby altar, versus populum, in the same voice as the Gospel is read. A huge swath of the liturgy is being performed in exactly the same manner: read aloud, in the vernacular; read towards the people; read from more or less the same place; read in the same auditorium voice. It has the effect of evening everything to the same level. There is no ascent; there is only succession. It is reminiscent of Newton’s notion of time as equably flowing at the same pace. One moment of time is the same as any other. The liturgy becomes a homogenous block of undifferentiated verbiage. It is almost a demonstration of how much greater time can be than space — as in waiting in a doctor’s or a dentist’s office.

How different, I reflected, is the traditional Roman liturgy, in the way it has developed over the centuries![1] Acknowledging the ceremonial differences between Low Mass, High Mass, Solemn High Mass, and Pontifical Mass, there is a commonality of approach whereby one can see the “genetic derivation” of the later simpler forms from the earlier and more elaborate forms.[2]

Chanting the Gospel at a Missa cantata

Chanting the Gospel at a Missa solemnis
In the Low Mass as well as in the Missa Cantata, the priest begins at the foot of the altar, where he tarries to prepare himself for the arduous ascent. He works his way up to the altar to kiss it, and commences the Introit at the southern side. All throughout the liturgy he is weaving back and forth, like a figure-skater tracing out a pattern. He reads or chants the Epistle on the side that represents the faithful — the Mediterranean south, where the Faith was first planted. The Gradual and Alleluia are chanted by the Schola somewhere else in the church, usually in a choir loft or side chapel. After these interlectional chants, the priest crosses over to read or chant the Gospel towards the side that represents the unconverted pagan world — the cold and barbaric north, where many fought to plant the Faith. He leaves the altar for the ambo, where he will explicate the Word of God to the people. When he is finished, he returns to the altar, kisses it in reverence, asks the people to join him in prayer, and enters into the heart of the Mass with the Offertory. From this point onwards, apart from a momentary excursion to the south, he is firmly fixed at the middle of the altar for the oblation of the Victim, offered to the East, facing the same way the people are. All are caught up in the same orientation — to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The Solemn High Mass expresses all of this differentiation of “verbal moments” even more dramatically, when the subdeacon chants the Epistle, the deacon chants the Gospel, and the priest, after the homily, offers the Holy Sacrifice.

What we see here in the original Roman rite is the tracing out of a sacred geography, whereby the “verbal moments” in the Mass are hierarchically and symbolically ordered. The Epistle at the south, the Gospel towards the north, the homily towards the people, and the Canon towards the Lord demonstrate in a bodily way, with the vividness of the immediately sensible, the differentiation and articulation of liturgical acts. The multiple qualities of each “verbal moment,” whether proclaimed aloud or whispered sotto voce, gives to each its own profile, a dignity that corresponds to its function:

epistle tone

melismatic tone

Gospel tone
incense, candles
plain speech

incense, candles, bells

The Epistle can be fully and simply the Epistle, and retains its dignity as the sacrament of the Word by not being announced to the people as if it were merely instructional. The homily, as instructional, is rightly directed to the people. Last and best of all, “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), comes the Canon of the Mass, “the dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God” (Eph 3:9), which is uttered in silence, as the Word was made flesh in silence (Dum medium silentium), with nothing of the priest’s individual face or voice edging into the perfect embodiment of the suffering and glorified Christ. There is an arc of spiritual progression from one moment of the liturgy to the next. We are caught up in pilgrimage. We sense ourselves to be nearing a destination, one stage of a journey after another, towards the Promised Land. Rather than one thing after another, as in a modern agenda, each step is qualitatively different — a fact impressed on us unmistakably by the use of space, posture, orientation, chant tone, and voice level.

Preaching the homily
In contrast, we see in the reformed rite an anti-hierarchical egalitarianism that levels, equalizes, homogenizes, verbalizes, and externalizes. With it comes the loss of any order of acts of intimacy — the varied series of communications from outward to inward, from echo to source, from shadow to light, from memory to reality, from word to flesh. The monotony of “out loud, versus populum” makes the entire experience uniform, contiguous, blurred, unimpressive, and unmemorable; it sends a message that all of this is book learning, directed to this congregation, in keeping with congregationalist theology. It is far different with the unreformed rite, in which hierarchy is the very soul of the liturgical event. Everything that is to be done must be done in its due (distinctive) place, making full use of compass points, background and foreground, levels of voice, contour of tones. It places heterogenous utterances at different levels, in complex relationships, driving always towards internalization of meaning, and this it does precisely through the senses, so that we see and hear and even smell the stages of the journey. The liturgy is in motion, driving towards a destination, and we are privileged to be carried along with it.

As mentioned above, hierarchical differentiation, sacred geography, and progressive motion are carried to their fullest extent in the distinctive roles and places allotted to priest, deacon, and subdeacon in the Missa solemnis or Solemn High Mass. The subdeacon’s chanting of the Epistle; the deacon’s chanting of the Gospel, using a book held by the subdeacon, flanked by acolytes bearing torches and incense; the priest’s preaching aloud and then praying in silence at the Canon, not to mention the priest’s blessing of the deacon and the latter’s return to the priest after chanting the Gospel — all of these articulations of liturgical action show a profound awareness of the language of the body and the bodiliness of language, so that we never have the feeling of being trapped in tedious talk, but are borne from one station to the next, as if we were following the Lord through the desert to the Jordan, from the Jordan to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to the heavenly sanctuary. He moves in us and among us; His ministers move; we move with Him and with them.

As is so often the case, I feel inadequate to express what I have experienced, but I take consolation in knowing that those who assist at the traditional Mass will grasp that of which I speak — and in hoping that those who have not yet had the happiness of assisting at it may be moved to seek it out, so that they, too, may join the same pilgrimage. “And it came to pass, when the days were well-nigh come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51).

Silently offering the Divine Victim

[1] I say “as it has developed,” because the locations from which certain parts of the liturgy are conducted have changed over the centuries, as the architectural layout of the church and especially its sanctuary and ambo underwent various modifications. Nevertheless, every age of the Church shows us a keen awareness of the spatiality of liturgical actions, and the fittingness of assigning different moments to different places in the building, different ministers, and distinctive stances and tones.

[2] I say this deliberately because, as in the history of human languages, so in the history of liturgy, the idea of evolution from simpler to more complex is only partially true. We can find many examples where ancient forms are more complex or elaborate than later forms. Just as classical Greek is more complex than classical Latin, Latin than Italian, and 19th-century Italian than 21st-century Italian, so too is the pontifical liturgy of the Middle Ages more complex than the Missa solemnis, the Missa cantata, and the Missa recitata.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: