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.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Feast of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council

In the Byzantine tradition, today is the commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, the second held in the city of Nicaea, at which the Iconoclast heresy was condemned, and the sacred images restored to their rightful places for the veneration of the Christian faithful. At the seventh session of Second Nicaea, the definitive decree on the veneration of images was promulgated, on October 13, 787; the commemoration is fixed according to various traditions to a Sunday close to that date. Some years ago, I heard a sermon at a Byzantine liturgy on this day which recalled an important truth about Second Nicaea, namely, that it did not decree that sacred images are merely good and useful, but that they are necessary!

The rejection of the sacred images, particularly those of Christ, is ultimately a denial of the Incarnation. The very choice of location for the council expressed this idea; at the time it was called, the two previous ecumenical councils and the important synod ‘in Trullo’ had all been held in Constantinople. The Empress Irene, who as regent of her young son Constantine VI, arranged for a council to condemn iconoclasm, had tried to hold it in the imperial capital, but it was broken up by soldiers friendly to the iconoclast heresy. It was therefore moved to Nicaea, where the first ecumenical council had gathered 462 years earlier to condemn the Arian heresy that denied the true divinity of Christ. (To put this in chronological perspective, this is a greater distance in time than that between Trent and Vatican II.)

The refusal to depict Christ is a rejection of the fullness of His humanity, which is real, solid, and “circumscribed”, i.e., subject to limitations, and therefore capable of being expressed in an image. His humanity is the means of our redemption and salvation, as we confess in the Creed every Sunday, “For us men and for our salvation He came down from Heaven etc.” In the eighth and final session, the Council therefore also anathematized all who do not confess that “Christ our God is circumscribed according to His humanity.” The Greek word used here, “perigrapton – circumscribed”, is related to the verb “graphein – to write”, the term which is often used in Greek to refer to the painting of icons. None of this is accidental.
The famous icon of Christ the Pantocrator from the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mt Sinai, 6th century. The collection of icon at St. Catherine’s is particularly important, since it contains a large number of pieces that predate the iconoclast persecutions.
The liturgical texts proper to this commemoration make the point in a very interesting way. At Second Nicaea, the Patriarchs of Constantinople who had supported the iconoclast heresy were all condemned by name. However, they are not referred to in the liturgy, nor are the iconoclast emperors Leo the Isaurian, the real inventor and motivator of the heresy, and his two successors, Constantine V and Leo IV. (The traditional nickname of the second of these, “Copronymus”, means “dung-named” in Greek, a reference to what would now be called a diaper accident that occurred at his baptism; this was taken by those who honored the sacred images as a presage of his impiety. It occurs repeatedly in the Roman Martyrology, in reference to the many Saints killed or otherwise persecuted by him for the sake of the sacred images.)

It would be easy, but unjust, to see in this omission nothing more than an unwillingness to offend the offices of the Emperor and Patriarch. The greater truth taught by the Council, and by the Byzantine liturgy, is that the refusal of sacred images is a refusal of the Incarnation. To this point, therefore, the earlier Christological heretics are named repeatedly in the liturgy of the day, as in these texts from Vespers (bold texts are my emphases).
As true shepherds you bravely drove away those who are like Macedonius, Nestorius, Eutyches, Dioscorus, Apollinaris, Sabellius and Severus (of Antioch), exposed as dangerous wolves in sheepskins, far from the Savior’s flock, stripped of their fleeces, making them thrice-wretched; therefore we call you blessed.

Let us praise today the mystical trumpets of the Spirit, the God-bearing Fathers, who sang a harmonious melody of theology in the midst of the Church, to the one Trinity, unchanging Essence and Godhead; the overthrowers of Arius, the champions of the Orthodox, who intercede with the Lord that He may have mercy on our souls.

Holy Fathers, you have become sure guardians of the Apostolic traditions; for by teaching the orthodox doctrine of the consubstantiality of the Holy Trinity, you overthrew in council the blasphemy of Arius. With him you refuted Macedonius, the opponent of the Spirit, and condemned Nestorius, Eutyches and Dioscorus, Sabellius and Severus the Leaderless. We implore you: beg that we who have been delivered from their error may preserve our life spotless in the faith.
The following text, sung between the first and second parts of the Doxology at the Aposticha, is particularly noteworthy. One might easily assume it was a part of the commemoration of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council on the Sunday after the Ascension, rather than that of today, again underlining the intrinsic connection between iconoclasm and Arianism, and between veneration of the images and the Incarnation. (A friend of mine who is a great scholar of the Byzantine liturgy tells me that this hymn may very well have been for the commemoration of the Fathers of First Nicaea, and later added to this feast.)
Let us with faith celebrate today the yearly commemoration of the God-bearing Fathers, who were assembled from the whole world in the radiant city of Nicaea, as we reverence the gatherings of the orthodox; for they, their minds attuned to true religion, overthrew the godless teaching of Arius, and in council banished him from the Catholic Church; and in the symbol of faith, which they precisely and devoutly laid down, they taught all to confess clearly the Son of God as consubstantial and co-eternal, and existing before the ages. And so we too, following their divine teachings and firm in our belief, worship the Son and the all-holy Spirit with the Father, in one Godhead, a consubstantial Trinity.
A 19th-century Russian icon of the Fathers of the First Seven Ecumenical Councils. The Byzantine liturgy contains several such commemorations: of the fathers at First Nicaea, at Ephesus, at Second Nicaea, at the Seven Councils collectively.
Although Iconoclasm was definitively condemned at Second Nicaea, it was revived in the early 9th century for almost thirty years under the emperors Leo V (813-20), Michael II (820-29) and Theophilus (829-42). Shortly after Theophilus’ son Michael III, (the bearer of another unfortunate nickname, “the Drunkard”), came to the throne as a child of two, his mother and regent Theodora arranged for the definitive restoration of the icons at a synod in Constantinople. (Theodora is venerated as a saint in the Byzantine Rite.)

St. Theodora, Empress of Byzantium, in a 19th-century Greek icon.
The liturgical expression of this final victory is the celebration of the first Sunday of Lent as the “Feast of Orthodoxy.” On that day, the Byzantine liturgy reads a text known as the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy”, a collection of the anathemas of the first seven ecumenical councils. The text has been much altered and added to over the years, but the first rubric in one of the oldest manuscripts describes it thus: “A yearly thanksgiving is due to God on account of that day when we recovered the Church of God, with the demonstration of the dogmas of true religion and the overthrowing of the blasphemies of wickedness.”

The final eight anathemas are dedicated to the iconoclasts, (and the iconoclast patriarchs are named explicitly.) The first one says,
On those who accept with their reason the incarnate economy of God the Word, but will not allow that this can be beheld through images, and therefore affect to receive our salvation in words, but deny it in reality: Anathema!
And the second:
On those who wickedly make play with the word ‘uncircumscribed’ and therefore refuse to depict in images Christ, our true God, who likewise shared our flesh and blood, and therefore show themselves to be fantasiasts: Anathema!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Liturgical Splendor and the Image of God (Part 1): Guest Article by Zachary Thomas

Once again, we are very grateful to Mr Zachary Thomas for another fine essay on liturgical theology.

Christians believe that God created man and woman in his image, capable of knowing Him and living a transfiguring friendship with Him, and called to his likeness by being incorporated into the Body of Jesus Christ.

God’s image in man is not, however, something immediately apparent, nor, when he finds it, is it always clean. St Athanasius compares human nature before Christ to an icon disfigured and covered in dirt, which needs to be wiped off and restored before it can be read. What’s more, the vast arc of history, in which man fits, looms obscure and threatening until Christ the cornerstone is revealed. As David Fagerberg wrote:

“We cannot understand history’s plot because its end and its beginning are beyond the range of our natural eye, which has put some people in a quandary. They do not know if existence is beautiful or not, or if it is true or not, and, sadly, some even wonder whether life is good or not, because they are only seeing a piece of it—their piece, this particular moment. But there is a height from which to see the whole, the plot line of history from start to finish.” (“Doing the World Liturgically: Stewardship of Creation and Care for the Poor,” in Authentic Liturgical Renewal in Contemporary Perspective, Bloomsbury 2017, p. 73)
Indeed, the precise contours of the imago Dei in man and history are only revealed in the loveable face of Christ, perfectly man and perfectly God, wedded to his Saints in the Church perfectly conformed to him. The perfect form of Christ’s life reveals what man was always meant for: what it looks like to live a participation in the supernatural life of the Trinity through Eucharistic love. In Christ, the imago Dei, so long eclipsed by the darkness of sin, is raised and stands refulgent, so bright and terrible that the Apostles on Mt Tabor could not behold him.

But since Christ’s bodily presence has left us, where is this image? In this life, Christ’s glory, and the glory of his adopted sons, lies hidden under the veil of suffering, “subject to futility” as St Paul says. Too often we live not Tabor but Golgotha, under the brooding silence of God. Where, then, do we find the substance of things hoped for? How can we live without this image before our eyes, or arrive at our destination without a clear vision? The answer par excellence is in the holy liturgy.

Christ is on High, in the Holy of Holies, and as travelers we must follow him. We must be drawn out after Him, reformed, given the form of charity in Christ. What we are to look like, the aspect, shape, smell, taste of that land we are going to, is what the liturgy has always made it its business to show us.

In our in-between state, the image of God is not a possession, it is a projection. It is the ideal form of Christ toward which we progress in grace, into whose body we are daily insensibly knitted. Heaven is there and we are here, covered in our sins and weighed down in our condition as creatures. We suffer as beasts, but are meant to be above the angels. This beings an inherent tension, almost a contradiction in the Christian life, which must be spanned and consistently renewed in the liturgy. As Fr. Pavel Florensky put it:

“Man is the living unity of the infinite and the finite, of the eternal and the transient, of the perishing and the imperishable, the ineluctable and the casual, the fulcrum of the ideal world and the real world [....] And he can only create what is similar to himself, which is to say precisely these contradictions of earthly and heavenly of which he is composed.” (My translation from the Italian edition, La Filosofia del Culto, Edizioni San Paolo 2016, pp. 129–130.)

Sacred worship recapitulates this fundamental tension of man’s journey in dramatic fashion, enacting this metaphysical truth in signs and symbols. Liturgy is the ideal image of our journey. Indeed, what we see on the altar is not human nature nor this cosmos as we know them, but rather these unveiled, as in the apocalypse (unveiling) of what we are to be. Even for the redeemed, we know not what we will be like, “for the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” Liturgy is precisely the “glory about to be revealed to us.”

Our forefathers saw liturgy this way. The ancient apse mosaics of the Christian basilicas quite forcibly confront the worshipper with a glorified environment. They usually show images of paradise. The bishop and the priests ring around him in the apse are reconfigured by the sacred space to be identified with Christ and his saints in heaven. The altar was the tree of paradise from which we eat and live forever, the fount of living water.
The apsidal mosaic of Sant’Apollinare in Classe near Ravenna
Consider Charlemagne’s palatine chapel at Aix: the decoration is a programmatic image of the Apocalypse. The angels and saints look down, and the central lamp inscribed with a poem describing the apocalypse, represents the City of God descending even now nearly upon the heads of the worshippers. The Gothic and Baroque, each in their own way, also strive to embody the ideal city of God descending around the altar.
The Palatine Chapel at Aachen (image from Wikimedia Commons by Velvet)
Christian architecture throughout the ages has always brilliantly shone forth the imago Dei and imago hominis, an imago Dei homo facti et hominis Deus facti. Our forefathers grasped better than we do the nature of the action that takes place in churches, whose splendor is only a shadowy reflection of the splendor of the imago.

We often say liturgy is man worshipping God—and for one separated from a cultic worldview, unable to conceive of human participation in divine action, it is all he can say. But nothing could be further from the truth. Liturgy is when what is divine in us (Christ—the priest acting in persona Christi, in persona ecclesiae) communicates with the Divine Persons, and repeats the whole swirling cosmic drama of exitus-reditus before our eyes. It is an awesome, divine, life-giving spectacle that lifts us out of this earth to contemplate the entire universe sub specie aeternitatis, sub specie Christi, with the obscuring veils of this age lifted to reveal the true nature of the sons of God: a true revelation.

In liturgy we see ourselves acting as cosmic priests, the hands of the priest do truly divine acts, we are fed celestial food so that this power of doing divine acts extends to our whole body and our whole lives. But such an extension is impossible to conceive without the prior experience of liturgy! And because this role is so far beyond anything we were born for, so far beyond what we could ever dream of, it is super-eminently beautiful. Liturgy is like a refracting prism for human nature. As when white light enters a prism and breaks it into the full visible spectrum, a person entering the liturgy is astounded to encounter the depths of his soul displayed in the sacred actions—all his dearest wishes, sorrows, tears, guilt, joy, hopes, dreams, are realized here. The person blinks to discover concretely realized in the sacred actors and actions, the spiritual power and radiance of transfigured, spiritualized human nature. All his subjective straining toward his divine selfhood is raised up and established in the concrete ideal by the action of the Church, who is Absolute Humanity. “The liturgy is the activity that expresses the deepest essence of man, man in the depths of his being. It is the activity supremely proper to man, who is a homo liturgicus.” (130)

Liturgy is therefore the only place where man can come to full consciousness of himself, where all his scattered thoughts and emotions find their deepest unitary source, a concrete manifestation of his “I.” He can point to the liturgical year—or rather, his lived experience of the liturgical year—and say “this is my nature, to the depths. That is where I am going. That Thing is what I am meant to do forever and ever.” Nowhere else is this possible.

Liturgical action is a fully theandric act where the human and divine natures are mixed wondrously, like the water and the wine at the Offertory: “God, who did wondrous establish the dignity of man’s substance, and more wonderfully reform it, grant us through the mystery of this water and wine to become sharers in His, who deign to take part in our humanity, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord...”

This wonderful joint action of God and man that writes large the countenance of Christ upon the sacred stage, requires the burning away of all impurities. Here every word is eminently pure and spoken only in loving song: “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried by the fire, purged from the earth refined seven times.” (Ps. 11) Every action is perfectly proportioned and circumspect, every syllable is a pure distilled ideal emotion from the beloved heart of Christ, speaking through the mouth of his Church. In the divine liturgy, man sheds his worm-like mortal coil for a few moments to fly with the angels.

Man brings here the choicest materials, whole mines of gold and silver, the collected creativity of whole generations of artists. This overwhelming weight of glory lavished upon the rituals and ritual buildings of the Church is an argument in its own right, apart from any theological considerations, that Christians have always viewed the liturgy as the doorway to heaven, a privileged place of encounter, a small garden of Earthly Paradise on the cusp of heaven.
The Eucharistic action is God made man, but also man made God; not just Christ’s death on Calvary, but also the application of his divinizing merits upon his Church, for the liturgy acts out the whole Paschal Mystery. And so the human element of the liturgy, if it is to accomplish its side of the deal, has to appear deified, has to “give everything it’s got.” The tabernacle we prepare must be fitting, or the Eucharistic action, even if valid, is incomplete, the incarnation is only partial. If the tabernacle we make for God’s presence is a golden ox, made in our own image, God will refuse his grace to this idolatry. The most perfect tabernacle of all, Mary Most Holy, who has become the type of all tabernacles, was creation’s most beautiful and perfect offering to the Father, when she spoke her “fiat.”

It can be no other way, if we really know what we are doing. Brought into contact with Christ’s self-immolation in the liturgy, the imago Dei in us glows like heated iron and its divine-human light illuminates the sacred stage upon which the Church enacts the divine sacrifice. That is why the greatest art works the world has ever seen have been the sacred arts of the liturgy.

1967: Reaching the Bottom of the Slippery Slope

Here is an interesting bit of history from the post-Conciliar period, a new set of variations to the order of Mass issued in May of 1967, following those implemented in March of 1965. The imprudence of Sacrosanctum Concilium calling for “noble simplicity” and for the rites to be “simplified”, without specifying what exactly that should entail, has by this point become impossible to deny. Less than three and a half years have passed since its promulgation, (the Council itself has been over for less than a year and a half), and the Roman Ordo Missae has already undergone more changes in that period than it had since before Trent. Altars are being turned around throughout the world, so that the faithful can see what the priest is doing at Mass; the time has now come for there to be much less for them to see.

Less reverence is the order of the day; “the altar is kissed only once”, and signs of the cross and genuflections are rapidly disappearing, most shockingly, the genuflection immediately after the Words of Consecration. As William Riccio wrote earlier this year, the faithful who were made nervous by the seemingly endless barrage of changes to that which was always held to be unchangeable “... were told that the Canon, that most untranslatable prayer, would never be in the vernacular because it is too steeped in meaning. In 1967, it was put in the vernacular.” The pretense that even the barest letter of Sacrosanctum Concilium will be respected, (“let the use of the Latin language be preserved... Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy ... should be given pride of place in liturgical services”) is now almost entirely thrown off.

We may also note that commemorations, a feature against which the reformers had a particular and wholly inexplicable animus, are now basically gone, with almost no exceptions. At the very end, there is a footnote concerning the Divine Office; in the fairly few offices of three nocturnes left at that point, one may choose to say only one. The parts of Matins specific to choir ritual (the blessings before the readings and “Tu autem, Domine...”) may now be omitted, along with the prayer called the Absolution, which is a specifically Roman feature. This presages their complete disappearance from the Liturgy of the Hours. The Ambrosian Liturgy of the Hours was not published until 1981, by which time many people were beginning to realize what a mistake some of these changes really were; it retained the blessings before the readings.

Thanks to Mr Richard Hawker for sharing these scans with us.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Historical Images of the English Benedictine Abbeys

We are very grateful to Mr Richard Barton, who runs a blog called btsarnia, for his kind permission to reproduce the following images from one of his recent posts, photographs and drawings of the English Benedictine abbeys in the early 20th century. The first several of these are from Caldey Abbey, which was founded as an Anglican monastic community on the island of Caldey off the southern coast of Wales in 1906; in 1913, most of the community were received into the Catholic Church, while those who remained Anglicans moved first to a house that had belonged to Caldey called Pershore, and then to Nashdom. In 1925, the Catholic Benedictines left Caldey for Prinknash; Caldey itself was taken over in 1929 by the Cistercians, who still have it to this day. Here we give just a selection; there are a great many more to see in the original post.
Caldey Abbey

EF Pontifical Mass with Bishop Serratelli on Saturday

On Saturday, October 14, His Excellency Arthur Serratelli, Bishop of Paterson, New Jersey, will celebrate a Solemn Pontifical Mass at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, beginning at 9:30 am. The cathedral is located at 341 Grand Street in Paterson The Mass is taking place entirely upon the initiative of Bishop Serratelli himself, who is a great supporter of the Traditional Latin Mass.

Benedictine Monastic Experience Weekend, Nov 3-5, Petersham, Massachusetts

Here is notification for this year’s weekend at St Mary’s Monastery in Petersham, Massachusetts. I was pleasantly surprised at how positive the response was last year, and am happy to give notification of the event again. A poster with the details is below, followed by a video of Fr Dunstan describing the event.

It has one of the best opening lines I have seen in a while: “This is a low quality video about a high quality idea.” And it is indeed a high quality idea! I suggest that this is worth watching even if you are sure you’re not going to the November event and will never get to Petersham. It is a wonderfully clear explanation of what a religious vocation is and why it is worth pursuing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Why Did Vatican II Open on October 11?

In a motu proprio issued on the feast of the Purification in 1962, Pope St John XXIII established that the Second Vatican Council, which he had formally convoked on Christmas Day of 1961, would begin on the following October 11, and explains his motivation for choosing this date. “We have chosen this day most especially for this reason, that it calls to mind that great Council of Ephesus, which holds a place of the highest importance in the annals of the Catholic Church.”

The seven sessions of the Third Ecumenical Council took place at Ephesus between June 22 and July 31 of the year 431, not in October. Against the heretical teaching of Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, it reasserted that it is proper and just to refer to the Virgin Mary with the title “Mother of God”, and this accounts in part for the very frequent use of this term in the Byzantine Rite. Of course, this was decided in function of much larger issues within the great Christological controversies of that era, controversies which Ephesus most certainly did not put to rest. After a false council in 449, also held at Ephesus and famously named by Pope St Leo I “the robber-synod” (latrocinium), a true council was held at Chalcedon in 451, followed by the most important permanent schism which the Church would see until the Great Schism of 1054. This is not to diminish the importance of Ephesus, but in only one other case is there a shorter interval between two ecumenical councils. (see note below)

The question arises, therefore, as to what it was about the date October 11 that called Ephesus to mind, and why the Pope felt the need to do so in the context of the upcoming council.

Pope John had a strong devotion to Bl. Pope Pius IX, whom he once expressed a desire to canonize by acclamation. (It is appropriate that they were beatified together in 2000.) It was, of course, Pius IX who convoked Vatican I, which held its first session on the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1869, fifteen years to the day after he had formally and infallibly defined the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of the Faith.

In 1931, Pope Pius XI extended the feast known as “the Maternity of the Virgin Mary” to the universal calendar of the Roman Rite. October had been well established as a Marian month by the very popular feast of the Holy Rosary, and the importance of this devotion was repeatedly emphasized by Pope Leo XIII. The feast of the Virgin’s Maternity was therefore assigned to October 11th, which was then the first free day of that month.

A Breviary lesson was appointed for the feast, which explains that the Pope intended it to serve as a liturgical commemoration of the fifteenth centenary of the Council of Ephesus. In the wake of Ephesus, Pope Sixtus III (432-40) built the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, the oldest church in the world dedicated to the Mother of God, which still preserves a famous mosaic with episodes of Her life on the arch over the altar. Pius XI also notes in this lesson that had arranged for extensive restorations of the basilica, “a noble monument of the proclamation of Ephesus,” and particularly the mosaic.
The upper left section of the mosaic on the triumphal arch of Saint Mary Major, with the Annunciation above and the Adoration of the Magi below; to the right of the Annunciation, the angel comes to reassure St Joseph. In the Adoration of the Magi, Christ is shown as a young child, but not as an infant, since the Gospel of St Matthew does not say how long after the Birth of Christ the Magi came to Him.
John XXIII’s choice of October 11th, therefore, was intended as a sign of continuity not only between his council and Vatican I, but by inference, with all of the previous ecumenical councils. As Bl. Pius had placed his council under the protection of the Mother of God by opening it on one of Her feast days, so did St John, the feast in question being also a commemoration of yet another Ecumenical Council, and one especially associated with the Church’s devotion to the Virgin Mary.
The crest of Pope St John XXIII, in the atrium of St Peter’s Basilica; the opening date of Vatican II is written beneath it, without reference to the feast of the Maternity of the Virgin Mary.
In the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, the feast of the Maternity of the Virgin Mary was suppressed, on the grounds that the newly-created Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, on January 1st made it superfluous; another fine example of the law of unintended consequences, and of the many efforts to obscure and erase Pope John’s intentions for what he wished the Council to achieve.

Note: The Council of Constance, which was held from 1414-18, represents the high point of enthusiasm for “conciliarism”, the idea that ecumenical councils are superior to the Popes, and have authority over them. As part of this enthusiasm, it decreed that councils would henceforth be held on a regular schedule, five years after its own closure, seven years after the closure of the next council, and thenceforth every ten years. The Council of Siena, called in 1423, is not recognized as an ecumenical council because almost no one showed up for it. The next council opened at Basel in Switzerland in 1431, to an equally unpromising start, and, like Siena, would have ended as no more than an historical footnote, had its purpose not changed; after being transferred first to Ferrara, then to Florence, it became the last great council of reunion between the Eastern and Western churches. Between the closure of Constance and the opening of Basel is an interval of only 13 years, but this interval was determined by Constance itself, and not as the result of an intervening crisis, as was the case with Chalcedon after Ephesus.

The sudden and complete evaporation of enthusiasm for conciliarism in the 15th century is very similar to the sudden and complete evaporation of enthusiasm for “aggiornamento” in the 20th. There is an important lesson to be had here in keeping our perspective on ecumenical councils, the most unpredictable of ecclesiastical events, if we are willing to learn it.

Public Lecture on Newman, Mary and the Liturgy in New Hampshire, Friday 13th

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s appearance at Fatima, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts will host a lecture given by Fr Rob Johansen, entitled “Newman, Mary, and the Liturgy: The Reality of Communion.” It will be held on Friday, October 13, 7:00 pm, at Mercy Hall (Anderson House), 90 Concord Street Nashua, New Hampshire. The lecture is free of charge and open to the public; a wine and cheese reception will follow. For more information call Thomas More College at (603) 880-8308 or e-mail Andrew Thompson-Briggs at

Fr Robert Johansen is a priest of the diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he serves as Diocesan Theological Consultant and Chaplain. He holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Liturgical Institute of the University of St Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, where he is currently a candidate for the Doctor of Sacred Theology. He is the author of numerous articles on theology and liturgy, and a frequent speaker and presenter at conferences and workshops on liturgy, chant, and the Sacraments.

On a personal note, several years ago, when I was teaching at Thomas More College, I invited him to give a lecture on the evangelization of the culture to the students in my Way of Beauty program, and it was through this that I understood for the first time the Catholic understanding of the connection between the liturgy and the culture. I would recommend all who can get there to do so.

A Contribution to the Development of a Schema of Art for Churches of the Roman Rite

Here is a document created by Lyn Rooney from St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a booklet containing 21 art works that portray Salvation History through direct quotations from Scripture and the Catechism, and her own words.

[Booklet here]

It occurred to me first that this is the sort of work that would allow the development of a schema of art for the Roman Rite, as I have described in the essay Creating a Canon and Schema for Art for Churches of the Roman Rite. (We explore this topic further in the Pontifex University Masters in Sacred Arts.)

A development that I would like to see come from this would be to find a way to engage with this art directly in the context of the liturgy. For example, I think of processions, during which one might stop to incense relevant images on the feasts that commemorate the theme. This might be done at the entrance, recession or, in the Novus Ordo, during the offering of the gifts which, I think, might be extended into a procession like that which takes place in the Eastern Rite.

Lyn describes the development of the project as follows:
Last year my pastor agreed to allow me to build an art gallery along a long hallway in the classroom wing (I have a Masters in Biblical Theology from the Augustine Institute and am a long-time catechist for adult RE). I saw it as a wasted space that could be filled with beauty and religious art so students and those who never went to classes could be captured by it. The Holy Spirit has such a sense of humor though, since I know very little about art, but I decided to imitate the churches in Europe with the New Testament mysteries on one side and their Old Testament prefigurations on the other, so the art itself could teach the typological understanding of the written Word of God.
I used a variety of religious art and incorporated explanations beside each piece to illuminate the event depicted by the artist and its place in Salvation History. We called it The Art of Salvation (indicating that Salvation History is illuminated by the art but also that God Himself created the artistic masterpiece of Salvation History and the artwork is "sub-created' by man created in God's image). I have attached the booklet of the explanations that we have available for anyone interested for you to see the scope of it. It ended up with 21 pieces of large and beautifully framed prints (10 on each side of the hallway, separated into 3 and 7 by doorways - how do you like those symbolic numbers the Holy Spirit happened to devise!?) with the Dali Christ as the introduction.
This is great art catechesis. She is choosing good art from great artists such as Fra Angelico, Lucas Cranach and Raphael, and linking the themes to those of salvation history. There are quite a few that were new to me and I was excited to see, such as David Before the Ark of the Covenant by the 18th century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Pittoni.

Looking at her style of presentation, it occurred to me also, that this could contribute to the development of a canon of art along with a schema for churches of the Roman Rite.

There is a video here in which she introduces the art and the booklet to her church.

Most of her choices in art are from the mainstream of tradition, in the Gothic or Baroque style. Here is an example, a painting by the English artist Augustus John, Moses and the Brazen Serpent, done in 1898.
When I was a boy, Brooke Bond tea included collectible cards; these would come in sets of 50 and have a picture on one side and a short life story with highlights and achievements on the other. In the set of 50 Great Britons was the artist Augustus John. I remember asking my parents about him. Here is the card!
Augustus John is virtually unheard of nowadays and deserves to be better known in my opinion. His sister Gwen John was also a good artist.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

“Why Pro-life Catholics Should Strive for a Higher and Deeper Life”

Yesterday, LifeSite News launched their new Catholic Edition, which promises to be a marvelous resource. LifeSite has engaged me to contribute a weekly column on Catholic life, liturgy, culture, art, beauty, philosophy — well, pretty much anything that is pertinent to the Faith in our times. I look forward to this work, as I admire the courageous coverage and commentary LifeSite offers. My column will usually appear on Tuesday.

NLM readers might be interested in my inaugural article, “Why pro-life Catholics should strive for a higher and deeper life.” Some excerpts (leaving out all the middle terms of the arguments!):
When people in the world hear the expression “pro-life,” they typically think of one and only one issue: abortion. When Christians hear “pro-life,” they might expand the definition to those who are opposed to the murder of human beings at all stages, whether in the womb, in infancy, or on the deathbed. When Catholics hear the expression, a further nuance should be present: those who take into account not only the worst abuses of human freedom but also the more subtle causes of the anti-life mentality, such as sexual hedonism, feminism, contraception, the divorce mentality, and parent absenteeism. All of this is true as far as it goes. But there is more to being pro-life than this. The roots go deeper and the branches spread further.
       [...] We cannot realize our human potential or be mature Christians unless we cultivate our intellectual life in the great disciplines, from literature to philosophy, from the empirical sciences to the queen of all sciences, sacred theology. To be far-seeingly pro-life is to be pro-intellectual life.
       [...] Without the inspiration of a true artistic vision, we grow weary on our journey, we cannot see our way forward. It is like abolishing the sun, the moon, and the stars. To be fully pro-life, then, is to be pro-cultural life. A good culture emerges from, creatively celebrates, and dynamically sustains the love of human life.
       The highest activity of the human person is to turn his mind and heart to God, His first beginning and last end, and to worship Him: “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory,” as we sing in the ancient hymn of the Gloria. ... That is why to be pro-life in its most profound sense is to be pro-liturgical life. ... Without the Church’s liturgy, we fail to grasp the infinite dignity God has bestowed on us in Christ. We miss out on the flesh-and-blood encounter with the Source of Life, Life incarnate, Life outpoured for eternal life.

St Abraham the Patriarch, October 9th - Do We Commemorate Old Testament Saints?

Yesterday, October 9th, was the feast day of the Patriarch St Abraham, who is called by the Martyrology “The Father of All Believers.”

It is common for the Saints of the Old Testament to be commemorated in the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern churches, and the Patriarchs and Prophets are commonly patrons of churches, and referred to as Saints. Here is a fresco in which three patriarchs Ss Abraham, Isaac and Jacob appear. These might be life-size on the wall of the church, so that one would get the impression that these figures are praying the liturgy with us.

I started to consider this because this is the latest in the occasional series about images of the Saints named in the Roman Canon, of whom Abraham is one. I realised as I did so that I can't remember ever being present at a Roman Rite church where there was such a commemoration. Perhaps it is time for this to change? Is there a Roman Catholic Church of St Abraham anywhere? Please let me know!

He is clearly a central figure for us. Abraham is referred to in the following passage from the words of the Mass:
Look with favor on these offerings and accept them as once you accepted the gifts of your servant Abel, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the bread and wine offered by your priest Melchizedek.
This is not the only daily liturgical reference to Abraham. He is referred to in the Gospel canticles sung daily at Lauds and Vespers, the Benedictus and the Magnificat, and in both of them he is called “Father.” There could be a incensing of his image during either of these on certain days.

The place of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament in salvation history is, as I understand it, that of establishing the practises of faith. In this sense, Abraham clearly has a place in the establishment of liturgical tradition through his being prepared to sacrifice his only son, and ultimately sacrificing a ram.

Here is an image which might be appropriate behind the altar in a church, a 6th century mosaic from Ravenna in Italy.
It connects the sacrifices of Abraham, Abel the Just and Melchizedek with the Mass in ways both obvious and subtle. First the obvious: it connects them with the Mass by placing them in a church and clearly setting Melchizedek’s offering of wine and bread on an altar in greater prominence. The artist tells us directly who they are by writing their names in the picture, something that artists today should perhaps think about. Don’t make the symbolism or connections mysterious; tell us who the people are in writing. If there is an appropriate biblical reference that clarifies things, then write that in the picture too.

The more subtle connection with Christ is the placement of the eight-pointed star on the front of the altar, indicating that the altar itself represents Christ, and the eighth day of Creation, as His Resurrection is celebrated on the eighth day of the week, Sunday.

Another mosaic from Ravenna has Abraham as the theme.

In this we see a depiction of the sacrifice again, but also the scene known as the Hospitality of Abraham, Genesis 18, 1-15, in which he welcomes three strangers. They are three angels under the appearance of men, traditionally seen as symbols of the three persons of the Trinity. This second theme is also the subject of many famous paintings. After an Eastern iconographic depiction, which will be familiar to many through that of Andrei Rublev, I give two Western images. The first is 16th century Italian, the second 15th century Flemish.

The Hospitality of Abraham, 16th-century, Rostov-Suzdal School
Abraham and the Angels, by Sebastiano Ricci, ca, 1694
Abraham and the Angels, by Josse Lieferinxe, ca. 1500

Monday, October 09, 2017

CD Review: Renaissance Polyphony of Portugal for Our Lady of Fatima

As we come very near the centenary of the last apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima, it is an opportune moment to offer a brief review of a recent CD from the Choir of St. Cecilia at St. John Cantius Catholic Church, under the direction of Fr. Scott Haynes, SJC. This stunning disk of Portuguese polyphony brings the listener to the heart of the Iberian Renaissance and the Marian devotion prevalent at that time.

Renaissance Polyphony of Portugal for Our Lady of Fatima encompasses pieces by a wide range of lesser-known Renaissance composers, superbly sung by the St. Cecilia Choir. One of the most beautiful pieces is the very first track, Beata Dei Genetrix Maria by Francisco Guerrero. In six parts, this luscious motet sets a text from the feast of the Presentation. Guerrero’s setting of Ave Maria Dulcissima gives us a hint at Guerrero’s personal devotion to the Blessed Virgin. The informative liner notes tell us that “Because of Guerrero’s lively devotion to Our Lady, he composed many motets in her honor, earning the nickname ‘El cantor de Maria’ (the singer of Mary).” Dulcissima Maria, another offering of Guerrero on this disc, is a simple four part piece which flows on in peaceful counterpoint.

Some of the other composers on the recording include Duarte Lobo (1556-1646), Pedro de Escobar (1465-1535), and Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650). Pedro Escobar, a composer who lived earlier in the age of “Renaissance polyphony,” offers a delightful piece in Spanish (the only non-Latin piece on this CD), accompanied by drum, which delights with its more medieval harmonic and rhythmic style.

The twenty-four singers of the St. Cecilia Choir exhibit a beautiful blend of voices; the sopranos gently arc with little vibrato over the peaks of the melody, while the altos and tenors supply beautifully phrased inner counterpoint. The basses are loud and rich, providing a strong underpinning for the whole auditory landscape. The CD is recorded in the church of Saint John Cantius in Chicago, the Cantians’ motherhouse, which has an acoustic perfectly suited to this repertoire. It also features the same church’s Oberlinger Portative Organ on three tracks, including beautiful variations on the hymn Maris Stella and Magnificat with the chant and variations alternating, by the composer Manuel Rodrigues Coelho. The organ variations are meditative and give good opportunity for the woody-sounding flute stops of the Oberlinger organ to be used to great advantage. The organ is also heard in a very pleasant Tiento sobre la Letanía de la Virgen by Pablo Bruna (1611-1679).

A highly recommended CD for your sacred music collection. The link at Cantius has extensive detail about the tracks as well as a short video presentation if you'd like a taste of the music.

The Priority of Religion and Adoration over Communion

Concerning the “true and singular sacrifice” of the Eucharist, the Council of Trent famously declared (and bade that it be preached to the faithful):
He, therefore, our God and Lord, though He was about to offer Himself once on the altar of the cross unto God the Father, by means of his death, there to operate an eternal redemption; nevertheless, because His priesthood was not to be extinguished by His death, at the Last Supper, on the night in which He was betrayed — that He might leave, to His own beloved Spouse the Church, a visible sacrifice, such as the nature of man requires, whereby that bloody sacrifice, once to be accomplished on the cross, might be represented, and the memory thereof remain even unto the end of the world, and its salutary virtue be applied to the remission of those sins which we daily commit — declaring Himself constituted a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech, He offered up to God the Father His own Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine. ... This, in fine, is that oblation which was prefigured by various types of sacrifices, during the period of nature, and of the law; inasmuch as it comprises all the good things signified by those sacrifices, as being the consummation and perfection of them all. (Session 22, chapter 1)
The Council goes on to speak of the effects of this sacrifice:
And forasmuch as in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner, who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross, the holy Synod teaches that this sacrifice is truly propritiatory and that by means thereof this is effected: that we obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid, if we draw nigh unto God, contrite and penitent, with a sincere heart and upright faith, with fear and reverence. … Wherefore, not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those who are departed in Christ, and who are not as yet fully purified, is it rightly offered, agreebly to a tradition of the apostles. (Sess. 22, ch. 2)
Moreover, against the errors of the Protestants, the same Council did not hesitate to affirm the adorable Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ:
In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes, that, in the august sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things. (Sess. 13, ch. 1)
After stating that the Eucharist was instituted not only as spiritual food but also as a remembrance of the riches of Christ’s divine love, so that we may venerate His memory and show forth His death until He comes to judge the world, the Fathers continue:
All the faithful of Christ may, according to the custom ever received in the Catholic Church, render in veneration the worship of latria, which is due to the true God, to this most holy sacrament. For not therefore is it the less to be adored on this account, that it was instituted by Christ, the Lord, in order to be received: for we believe that same God to be present therein, of whom the eternal Father, when introducing him into the world, says: And let all the angels of God adore him; whom the Magi falling down, adored; who, in fine, as the Scripture testifies, was adored by the apostles in Galilee. (Sess. 13, ch. 5)
These dogmas emerge out of and reinforce the very manner of offering Mass that had developed in the West well before the Council of Trent — in particular, the silent canon and the elevations. The silence and the elevations allow one to connect with and venerate the mysteries for their own sake, because they are worthy of all veneration, and our salvation is symbolized and summarized in them. In this way we are made to see an intrinsic purpose to assisting at Mass besides receiving communion: one is given the opportunity to join in the heavenly adoration of the Lamb, the elders and angels falling down before the throne, or the Magi falling down before the crib. Transubstantiation is the liturgical analogy of the Incarnation. It is a claiming of some corner of the material world for God’s Kingdom: as someone once put it, God is establishing a beachhead in enemy territory, or opening a passage for us by which we can ascend in spirit to the heavenly places. We long for the courts of the Lord and we ask Him to lead us there, as so many Postcommunions beseech.

Whenever the Mass is celebrated more like a meal, versus populum, without silence, without serious elevations and double genuflections, with a memorial acclamation breaking in on our acts of adoring faith, and an overall informal ars celebrandi, such things undermine the aforementioned Tridentine dogmas and weaken the sensus fidelium. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that holy communion becomes the high point of the service, indeed the only point; and if one does not receive, one is “left out.” Why go to Mass otherwise?

But if the focus is the priestly offering of the holy sacrifice as an act of the virtue of religion — giving to God, in justice, the right worship that is His due, which every human being owes to Him perpetually, regardless of his state or condition — then anyone and everyone has a profound, compelling, inescapable reason to go to Mass. In fact, Mass is the only way we can fulfill our debt to God of paying Him a worship with which He is perfectly pleased, and this even apart from whether or not we receive spiritual food in Holy Communion.

Approaching the question from this vantage, we come to understand a hagiographical fact that may seem to us initially surprising, namely, the fact that so many saints assisted at Mass twice a day or even more than that, often without receiving communion. St. Thomas Aquinas celebrated a Mass at which his secretary Reginald served; they then switched places and Thomas served for Reginald. St. Louis the King “heard Mass” (as the saying was) twice a day. This behavior becomes perfectly understandable when we look at it from the perspective of the Tridentine dogmas. Since the Mass is a true and proper sacrifice infinitely pleasing to God in itself, to attend it and join one’s interior homage to that of the priest is a perfect exercise of the most excellent of all moral virtues, the virtue of religion, which honors God as the first Commandment bids us do; and since the Lord Jesus Christ is really, truly, substantially present under the forms of bread and wine, we are also brought into the very throne room of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to pay Him the homage of adoration He deserves and rewards.

For these two reasons alone — that we may exercise the virtue of religion and that we may adore Our Lord with a privileged intimacy — assisting at Mass is the best thing a Catholic can do. Granted, one has to balance religious observances with one’s other duties in life, but if St. Thomas who wrote 50 folio volumes and St. Louis IX who ruled a kingdom and fought crusades could both find time for two Masses a day, we would be hard pressed to find a sufficient excuse for not assisting at one Mass a day (provided that a truly prayerful and reverent Mass is available, which, unfortunately, cannot be taken for granted nowadays). And all this, before we have even broached that most wondrous and most gracious of all the Lord’s condescensions to us, whereby He allows us, nay, invites us, if we are properly disposed, to approach with fear and trembling the altar of the “full, final sacrifice” and partake of the all-holy, life-giving mysteries of Christ, the very flesh and blood of God.

In our own confused times above all, it seems vitally important not to get the inherent order of these elements mixed up, turned around, or otherwise confused.

1. The Mass is first the offering, through the sacrifice of Christ, of the religious worship we owe the triune God, for His own sake, because He is worthy of it and we are damaging ourselves if we do not rightly order our minds and hearts to Him.[1] As St. Thomas says, God is offended by our sins not because they injure Him but because they injure the rational creature, whom He loves (that is, whose good He wills). This worship includes the acts associated with the offering of Mass, namely, adoration, contrition, supplication, thanksgiving, and praise, which have both internal and external aspects, as St. Thomas well develops in the Secunda Secundae of the Summa.

2. Second, because the Mass is the august sacrifice of Christ, we are brought into the very presence of the divine Redeemer, “the Lamb that was slain,” who is “worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and benediction” (Rev 5:12). This is why Augustine says that before receiving, we must adore: we would sin if we did not adore.[2]

3. Third, the Mass is the sacrificial banquet of the Lamb, in which we partake of His flesh and blood for our sanctification and salvation, provided we are not conscious of any unconfessed mortal sin, which includes living in a state of life that is not allowed by divine law.

4. As a distant fourth, one might then speak about the Mass as a social event in which the people of God are seen as a people, in which the unity of the Church is represented and accomplished, and in which certain of our needs as communal beings are met.

But what we have seen in the past fifty years is precisely an inversion of these four, so that the Mass as social event is placed first; going up to receive Communion is placed second; the idea of adoration is a muted third; and the notion of the Mass as a propitiatory and impetratory sacrifice is so foreign as to be unintelligible.

In light of this complete inversion, might we not consider anew Joseph Ratzinger’s provocative proposal of a “Eucharistic fast”: are there not times when, in order to avoid the subtle danger of taking the sacrament for granted or to be in solidarity with others, we might abstain, although we could receive? Should we not at times intensify our Eucharistic hunger and thus compel ourselves to overcome routine, distraction, and trivialization? This need not be construed as in tension with Pope St. Pius X’s encouragement of frequent communion, or, indeed, as in tension with the fact that the Holy Eucharist was instituted for our spiritual nourishment: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”; “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.” As a rule, those who are properly disposed ought to receive: thirsty men in a desert should drink the water provided for them. No doubt Ratzinger would concur.

The overarching point we are arguing for is that there are several mysteries essentially connected with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and that these, as defined with utmost clarity by the Council of Trent, ought to inform our understanding of the nature of the sacred liturgy and our participation in it. There is a nexus mysteriorum, a network of mysteries in which one illuminates and depends on another, in a certain order.[3] The form of the liturgy and the ars celebrandi of the celebrant will either faithfully reflect and amplify these mysteries, which will be to the benefit of the Christian people, or introduce misconceptions, distractions, barriers, and even errors in their regard, which will have a harmful effect on the Church militant as a whole.


[1] Thus it is false to say that the Mass is first of all a meal, or that it is a meal as much as it is a sacrifice. It is a sacrifice from which we are allowed to partake of the victim, just as there were sacrifices in the old covenant from whose flesh the priests could eat. A meal, in and of itself, is not a sacrifice, but a sacrifice can be a meal. This is why the Mass is not a reenactment of the Last Supper, as most Protestants (and too many uncatechized Catholics) believe, but rather a making-present of the oblation of the Son of God on the Cross on Good Friday. This is why it is not only misleading but heretical to emphasize the table of the Body and Blood of Christ as much as or more than the altar on which this victim is sacramentally sacrificed, and to celebrate the liturgy in such a way that the meal-character takes precedence over the oblation-character. It is for good reason that the Council of Trent, when defining the Mass, calls it repeatedly a sacrifice before speaking of its use by men as food and remedy.

[2] Enarr. in Ps. 98:9 (CCSL 39:1385).

[3] The Carthusian method for participating in Mass, shared recently at NLM by Gregory DiPippo, vividly exemplifies this nexus mysteriorum as it leads the worshiper through the various parts and prayers of Mass, and shows him how to unite himself to Christ in each one. This is to see the entire liturgy as an act of prolonged communion, even before one approaches the altar to receive the host.

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