Friday, February 22, 2019

A Historic Dominican Gradual Online

The Coates Library at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, has just made available through their website a Dominican Gradual dated roughly 1480-1520, a useful resource for chant scholars and the study of the Dominican Rite. The book is missing a couple of folios, but is in otherwise fairly good condition; it has decorated initials, but no illustrations. The provenance is listed as “Spain?” on the site, but no further information is given; from the date, it is tempting to speculate that this may be one of the earliest choirbooks to be brought over during the Spanish settlement of the New World and the establishment of the first missions. (h/t Michael Carroll)

Folio 1r, the Introit of the First Sunday of Advent, which is noted with the term Officium used by the Dominicans inter alios.

Pontifical Low Mass and Confirmations in Detroit

On Sunday, February 10th, His Excellency Donald Hanchon, Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit, celebrated the first Sunday Mass in the traditional rite in decades at Detroit’s Old St Mary’s Parish, followed by Confirmations, also in the old rite. The church hosts a regular High Mass each First Friday at 7:00 pm; on this occasion, the Oakland County Latin Mass Association was able to have the Mass here because its regular Sunday venue, the Chapel of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills, was being used for another event that day. The archdiocese online newspaper The Detroit Catholic wrote a nice article about the Mass, quoting Mons. Ronal Brown, Judicial Vicar of the Detroit Archdiocese and chaplain of the OCLMA. “The Oakland County Latin Mass Association has only been in existence since 2013, started by laypeople who petitioned the archbishop and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to recognize the organization and have Masses. ... Most of the (regular) congregation at Sacred Heart is under 40 years of age. I’ve asked some of the younger people why they choose to worship in this form, and they tell me there is a deep reverence in the celebration. They said there is something comforting with the routine, the ritual.” Thanks to reader Alex Begin for bringing this to our attention, and photographer Paul Duda.

The Pro Civitate Dei Conference in France, June 7-14

The Pro Civitate Dei Summer Program is a weeklong Anglophone program, hosted and organized by the Fraternity of St Joseph the Guardian, which seeks to foster the restoration of Western culture in a rich liturgical and intellectual environment inspired by Christian conviviality and traditional Catholic life. The program will be held in La Londe-les-Maures, France, June 7–14, on the French Riviera; young adults will gather from around the world for a schedule of lectures on topics of contemporary and historical interest in Catholic philosophy, theology, liturgy, and politics. Mass is sung every day according to the traditional rite, along with Vespers and Compline. Pro Civitate Dei is open to undergraduates, graduate students and young professionals aged 18–30; registration is open on a first-come basis. For more information, see; for all inquiries contact

Mass at the church which houses the relics of St Roseline in Les Arcs de Provence
One of the lectures.
His Excellency Dominique Rey, Bishop of Fréjus-Toulon, addresses the participants of the last year’s conference.
At Pro Civitate Dei you will:
* Learn why—and how—the restoration of Christian culture is possible
* Explore integralism and Catholic political and social thought
* Gain experience in the fundamentals of Gregorian chant
* Visit sites of Christian pilgrimage, including the incorrupt relics of Ste Roseline des Arcs-de-Provence
* Experience Provençal culture in the French Riviera
* Pray the Divine Office and enter more deeply into the Church’s liturgy

I have spoken at this conference three years in a row, and each time it was indeed a most enjoyable experience, with liturgies celebrated very well, and excellent conversations thoughout the day. My first year, we visited the cave of St Mary Magdalene, the Sainte-Baume, and the church which keeps the relic of her skull. The second year, we had Mass one day in a 12-century chapel on a very tall hill, with an incredible view of endless miles of the Riviera. The FSJC also has the pastoral charge of a church dedicated to St Anne on the beautiful island of Pourquerole, where celebrated solemn Mass, visited an Orthodox monastery, and spent the afternoon on a perfect beach.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Basilica of St Andrew in Vercelli, Italy

Two days ago, the basilica of St Andrew in the northern Italian city of Vercelli celebrated the 800th anniversary of the laying of its cornerstone by Cardinal Guala Bicchieri (ca. 1150-1227), a native of the city and one of the most prominent churchmen of his era. After studying in Bologna and obtaining the very prestigious laurea utriusque (a degree in both civil and canon law), he became a canon of his city’s cathedral; he was made a cardinal in 1205, and served as papal legate first in northern Italy, then France, and finally England. In this last capacity, he was a supporter of the royal cause during the rebellion of the English barons that concluded with the signing of the Magna Carta, of which he was one of the signatories. In gratitude for his support, King Henry III granted him the rights to the income of a certain church, arrangements of this sort being very common in the High Middle Ages. These revenues were were used in part to pay for the new church’s construction, and for the installation therein of canons regular from the church of St Victor in Paris, an important center of the reformed canonical life.

The basilica is an interesting example of the transition from Romanesque to Gothic; inspired by Cistercian architecture, and in the spirit of Cistercian austerity, it does not have a lot of decoration inside, but is an impressively large and luminous space. Photos by Nicola de’ Grandi.

The façade of the church is far closer to the sensibilities of the Romanesque than the Gothic, with long stretches of solid wall rather; the arched windows of the bell-towers, which grow in size as they go higher up, are also very typical of the Italian Romanesque.
A rare Italian example of external buttresses, typical of Gothic architecture in France and western Germany, but generally disliked in Italy; as a result, most Italian Gothic churches are far lower than buildings like the cathedrals of Chartres, Amiens, or Cologne.
The internal vaulting of the church, on the other hand, is classically Gothic. Unlike central Italy, and especially Rome, northern Italy is fairly poor in marble, and therefore makes a lot of use of the decorative arrangements of brick, as we see here.
The cupola
The martyrdom of St Andrew, depicted over the central door; this sculpture and the one below are both from the original construction of the church at the beginning of the 13th century.
Over the left portal of the façade, the cardinal is depicted presenting the church to St Andrew seated on a throne.

Re-Published Series of Essays by Fr. Vincent McNabb O.P.

God’s Dealings with the Minds of Men: Essays in Biblical Inspiration, Mysticism, and the Imagination by Fr Vincent McNabb, O.P., available online here.

Vincent McNabb, O.P. (1868-1943), is perhaps best known today as one of the fathers of the Catholic Land and Distributist movements. Irish by birth, he would join the English Province Dominicans as a young man and spend much of his life in England, where he became friends with another leader of the Distributist movement, G.K. Chesterton. He also spent periods living and teaching in the United States, and through this, as much as through his writing and close association with Chesterton, became known to American Catholics.

Less appreciated now is that McNabb, a well-rounded theologian steeped (as one might expect of a Dominican) in the works and method of St Thomas Aquinas, wrote extensively not just on agrarianism and economics, but on a wide range of issues. In this collection of essays, first published in 1903 under the title Where Believers May Doubt, he addresses subjects with which his name is no longer usually associated: the distinction between divine revelation and inspiration, the nature of mysticism, the challenges that imagination can pose for belief, and the relationship between theology and natural science. Some of these topics have been, and continue to be, the objects of contentious debate, and the insights that McNabb offers in regard to each of them remain relevant in the present day.

For example, the manner and extent to which modern historical-critical methods of approaching the Bible can be harmonized with the traditional approach to Sacred Scripture taken by the Church Fathers continue to be a live issue for Catholics. (No less a thinker than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has seen fit to devote his attention to it in recent years.) McNabb ventures into these dangerous waters; the result is two thought-provoking essays on inspiration and revelation, in which he manages to avoid the excesses of an extreme literalism that would ignore the insights of modern scholarship, and of a critical approach that would compromise the Catholic Faith.

Another example: 20th-century Thomists Norris Clarke, S.J., and Cornelio Fabro, C.S.S., encouraged the creative retrieval of St Thomas in light of the data of modern science. Decades before either of them had begun his scholarly career, McNabb was endeavoring carefully to show the significance of St Thomas’s understanding of the Biblical account of creation to the possibility of reconciling the discoveries of modern science with the truths of divine revelation.

In other interventions, McNabb offers general principles that are readily applicable to the modern-day problem of how to re-evangelize an increasingly post-Christian culture. His essays on the topics of mysticism and the imagination are particularly relevant here.

At the conclusion of his essay on mysticism, McNabb laments the “sad dearth” in the modern age “of that truly Christian luxury, the Mysticism of Christ’s Saints.” The qualifier is important: one of the questions to which McNabb will turn his attention in the essay is that of how to distinguish between true and false mysticism.

In the first decades of the 21st century, mysticism of a sort is apparently not all that uncommon. According to a 2009 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 49% of Americans surveyed reported having had “a religious or mystical experience, defined as a ‘moment of sudden religious insight or awakening.’ ” Yet the title of the report, “Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths,” should give Catholics pause. Distinguishing between true and false mysticism is no less imperative today than it was when McNabb’s essay was first published.

Imagination, too, is presently a topic of significance in the Catholic milieu. Many Catholics today regard beauty as a forgotten quality and insist that we must rediscover ways to harness its power so that creative Catholic can once again become cultural leaders in a secular world. In this way, it is envisaged, the Church will be able to draw people to the Faith by manifesting the glory of God in all things, and especially in the everyday aspects of life. For those invested in the rediscovery of beauty, discussions regarding the place of the “Catholic imagination” in artistic creativity are commonplace. All too often, the investigation of these questions is distorted and misdirected by an adoption, usually unconscious, on the part of the investigator of aspects of the Romantic ethos that still dominates the secular worldview. The result is an approach that overplays the role of emotion in creativity. This is common, in my experience, even for Catholics who would consider themselves orthodox, even traditionalist, in their faith, and who might even argue their point of view with the aid of scholastic terminology.

The approach of Fr McNabb is a refreshing antidote to this tendency. While he is interested in the positive role of the imagination in creativity, he is just as quick to warn against the possibility of its undermining right reason at the foundational level. This line of thinking leads him to some conclusions that may surprise the 21st-century reader—for instance, that “[o]ne of the most common triumphs of the imagination is the disdain felt for miracles.” This stands in stark contrast to the assertion that one frequently encounters today, that such disdain comes about for the opposite reason, due not to the use of an overly wild imagination, but to its suppression.

Similarly, for McNabb, a poem is a work not purely of the imagination, but—fundamentally—of reason. The imagination has a role to play in setting the poet off in the right direction, but it is right reason that ensures that he expresses what is true and, hence, beautiful. Some creatives today, Catholic and otherwise, may regard this judgment as a dismissal of the art of writing from one who is himself unimaginative, but that is not so. McNabb was a lover of poetry and wrote regularly and insightfully on the subject. His desire was to understand deeply, perhaps more deeply than some would appreciate, how the poet can create under the guidance of inspiration and use both the imagination and reason in harmony.

These are lessons that contemporary artists in any creative discipline would do well to learn.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Vetus Ordo Missae for a “Church Going Forth”

In late March, Angelico Press will be coming out with a translation of selected speeches by Fr. Roberto Spataro, SDB, a professor at the Pontifical Salesian University and the Secretary of the Pontifical Institute for Higher Latin Studies. The tentative title of the volume is In Praise of the Tridentine Mass and of Latin, the Language of the Church. The volume will include an introduction by Dr. Patrick Owens, a widely respected Latinist, on the history of spoken Latin, and a preface by Cardinal Burke, who recommends the work in these words:

“Dom Roberto Spataro is a Salesian father, who bases his thinking on the sound pastoral praxis of the Church, which is always firmly rooted in study and respect for doctrine, as well as on his own magisterial knowledge of the Latin language. In these brief pages, he offers us words full of pastoral charity, love for souls, and love for the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ.

Dom Spataro does not speak about the Usus Antiquior or the Vetus Ordo of the Mass as a historical reality to be recovered, but as a living sacramental vehicle through which Christ encounters us, trains us, and fills us with the grace of the Holy Spirit. All the texts in this collection are filled with a genuine pastoral sensibility. They show us the heart of a faithful Salesian priest, a true son of St. John Bosco, and a scholar inspired by profound love for the living Church, and for the many souls that thirst to know, love and serve Christ, the one Savior of the world.” (Translation by Zachary Thomas.)

The Road to Emmaus, by Fritz von Uhde, 1891
Honored Sir, distinguished gentlemen, dear friends,

I am honored to have received an invitation to this gathering. Our meeting is held in Lecce—one of the capitals of art and culture of southern Italy, the seat of a vivacious coetus Summorum Pontificum, where the national coordinator Dr. Capoccia is based. We owe the splendid pilgrimage days of October 2014—in the presence of the grandi cardinali so esteemed by the great Pope Emeritus—to his initiative. This kind of gathering helps us to reflect on the spiritual riches of the Vetus Ordo Missae (VO Missae), that authentic thesaurus of doctrine and piety that Benedict XVI has restored to the Church intact in order for it to accomplish its mission in history: to give glory to God and to be an instrument of grace for the salvation of souls.

The reflections I intend to share are based on a concern of which, I am sure, none of us is unaware. It is an objection on the part of those who look with little sympathy on the vetus ordo, a challenge we could formulate in this way: the Extraordinary Form of the Roman liturgy is an anachronism, divorced from the Church’s current life and needs as indicated by the pontificate of Francis, who is urging the Church to make a bold pastoral turn toward the peripheries of the world, without hesitation or retreat. The world’s poverty calls for options very different from that of an ancient ritualism that is incomprehensible to modern sensibilities. Some go even further in their evaluation of the Tridentine liturgy, saying that there is an insurmountable distance between the magisterium of the current Pope and the groups who promote the Mass in Latin. In order to sentire cum ecclesia (think with the Church), it is necessary, therefore, to renounce the liturgia antiquior.

I see the matter differently. I maintain, in fact, that the Tridentine Mass offers a resource for realizing the program that the Supreme Pontiff has espoused in the most relevant and authoritative document of his magisterium to date, the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG), summed up in the already well-known expression “a Church that goes forth.”

What he means by “a Church that goes forth” is illustrated in n. 24 of EG: “The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice.”

We should read this citation alongside another, drawn from the passage immediately preceding. Here Francis explains that the actions of these disciples, which constitute the movement of the Church going forth, is nothing other than what we call evangelization and mission. We have to take the initiative, involve ourselves, accompany, bear fruit, and rejoice because there is a content to transmit the Gospel!

“Evangelization obeys the missionary mandate of Jesus: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.’ Today in this ‘Go’ of Jesus are present all the scenarios and challenges of the evangelical mission of the Church, and we are all called to this new missionary ‘going forth.’”

A Church that “goes forth” means, therefore, nothing more or less than a missionary Church that evangelizes people and their cultures, a task that must be undertaken in the diverse situations and numerous challenges of the world today.

The Latin Mass is certainly part of this ecclesiology of “going forth,” and this for three reasons:

1) Above all for a doctrinal reason. Before testifying, before accompanying, before celebrating, the community of disciples who “go forth” and reach the existential peripheries do not arrive empty-handed. They pass on their most precious treasure to the men and women they encounter, their own reason for existence: their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Supreme Pontiff has reminded us of this, citing the words of the missionary mandate that is valid for all times: Teach and observe all that I have commanded you.

My dear friends, my claim is that the VO Missae is a summarium (summary) of the teachings and commandments of our Lord.

The First Mass celebrated in Brazil, by Victor Meirelles, 1860
“What are the two principal mysteries of the faith?” asked the timeless catechism of St. Pius X. “The unity and trinity of God, the Incarnation, Passion, and death of Jesus Christ.

Using a ritual language composed of gestures and speech, the VO Missae is a dialogue going out from the Holy Trinity and returning to the Most Holy Trinity. Take one example. In the priestly prayers, the priest twice addresses himself directly to the Holy Trinity: first, at the conclusion of the Offertory when he implores the three Divine Persons to gather the offering presented in memory of the Passion and glorification of Jesus Christ and in honor of His Mother and the saints: Suscipe, Sancta Trinitas, hanc oblationem . . . At the end of Mass, the priest begs the Holy Trinity to accept the offering that the Son has renewed. And how could the Three Divine Persons refuse the propitiatory gift of Jesus Christ: Placeat tibi, Sancta Trinitas, hoc obsequium servitutis meae . . . ? Unfortunately, these two prayers have disappeared in the Novus Ordo (NO), and what’s more, in the Ordinary of the Mass the Most Holy Trinity is never mentioned once. This is rather curious, to say the least.

The second principal mystery of the Faith, the Incarnation, is constantly recalled in the celebration of the Extraordinary Form. What do the faithful who assist at this Mass see? Physically, they see a crucifix depicting the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the one who became Incarnate and suffered for our salvation. In this way, the lex credendi penetrates with luminous simplicity into the lex orandi. The vetus ordo Missae presents, in all their integrity and essential nature, the divine teachings that together form the content of the evangelical mission of the Church “going forth.”

The Mass of St John of Matha, by Juan Carreño de Miranda, 1666
We could multiply examples to show how the Tridentine Mass, in se et per se, is a sort of catechism for everyone, suited for evangelizing both believers and non-believers alike. We see, for instance, that the framework of salvation history—creation, sin, incarnation, redemption, grace, glory, and eternal life—is assumed into the prayers in words that recall the teaching, not of a post-conciliar liturgical expert (however great), but of the Fathers of the Church, of great teachers like St. Leo the Great. For example, there are the words the priest pronounces at the moment of the infusion of the water into the chalice: Deus qui humanae substantiae dignitatem mirabiliter condidisti [creation] et mirabilius reformasti [redemption], da nobis per huius aquae et vini mysterium eius divinitatis esse consortes [divinization or the life of grace] qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps [incarnation].

Burying the Alleluia 2019

I am sure that most of our readers have read or heard something of the various customs related to the removal of the word “Alleluia” from the liturgy on Septuagesima Sunday. In the Roman liturgical books, this is done in a typically simply fashion; at the end of Vespers of the previous Saturday, “Alleluia” is added twice to the end of “Benedicamus Domino” and “Deo gratias”, which are sung in the Paschal tone. It is then dropped from the liturgy completely until the Easter vigil. In some medieval uses, however, “Alleluia” was added to the end of every antiphon of this Vespers, and a number of other customs, some formally included in the liturgy and others not, grew up around it as well.

One of the most popular was to write the word on a board or piece of parchment, and then after Vespers bury it in the churchyard, so that it could be dug up again on Easter Sunday, and brought back into the church. Our friends from the Fraternity of St Joseph the Guardian in La-Londe-les-Maures, France, observe this every year, with the black cope otherwise used only at funerals. (If any others readers have photos of this ceremony which they would like to send in, we will be very glad to share them with our readers:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Reading of Genesis in Septuagesima

The children of Israel served the king of Babylon for seventy years, and afterwards, were set free and returned to Jerusalem. Likewise, we ourselves must serve all of this life, either for our faults and their punishment, or at least in hardship. For this reason, the Church, being set, as it were, in the captivity of Babylon, that is, in this world, and wishing penance to be done, so that She may someday be set free and come to the heavenly Jerusalem, keeps Septagesima (i.e. the “70th”). Therefore, She begins to read the five books of Moses, since the usefulness of penance is set out in them setp by step as follows.

The first book, namely Genesis, instructs us in the first stages of penance, namely, in faith and fear, which are the essence of penance, since penance is conceived through them. It instructs us in the Faith in the same way as the Creed does, for what is said there, “of things visible and invisible”, is also said here: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth,” which is to say, the empyreal heaven, and the things which are in it, which are invisible, and the earth, that is, all these visible things. Just as in the Creed the persons of the Father and the Son are mentioned, so also in Genesis “In the beginning” (that is, in the Son,) God (that is, the Father,) created heaven and earth. Afterwards, the person of the Holy Spirit is named, when it says “And the spirit of the Lord was borne over the waters”, that is, the Holy Spirit, who created and rules over all things.

The Genesis Dome of the Basilica of St Mark in Venice; mosaic by unknown artist, 1215-35.
It also instructs us in the faith of the Incarnation and Passion, so that we might believe that Christ suffered in so far as he is a man, and not in so far as he is God; this is expressed through Isaac, who was not sacrificed, but rather a ram (took his place). Again it instructs us to believe that Christ was given by grace, and not for the sake of our merits, as Isaac (was given to Abraham by grace.) It also instructs us in the faith of the Resurrection and the Ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit through the figure of Joseph, who after being sold was exalted in Egypt, distributing wheat through all of that land, just as Christ, after being sold, was exalted unto the world, and distributes the wheat of the word of God throughout the world through his preachers. …

Also, in the figure of Adam, it instills fear, lest through the vice of gluttony or through inobedience we be cast out of the spiritual Paradise, as he was cast out of the earthly Paradise. In the figure of Cain, it instructs us to guard against murder; in the cities which were completely destroyed, to stay away from the vice of Sodom; and in the flood, to abstain from every vice; and again, in the figure of Esau, to abstain from the vice of gluttony, since he was rejected he ate the red beans (i.e., the food which Jacob sold him for his birthrights). Furthermore, because in Septagesima we remember the misery which we incur because of the sins of our parents, we read the book of Genesis, which treats of the expulsion of the first parents from Paradise, … To signify how great our wretchedness is, first we read and sing (in the responsories) about the dignity of man, namely, that he was made in the image and likeness of God, that he was set in Paradise, that a companion was made for him, and that he could not die, nor suffer any other penalty, except that it came from his own fault.

The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, by Thomas Cole, 1828
Now the introit of the Mass is “The groans of death have surrounded me” in which the Church confesses that it is in suffering and afflictions because of Sin … But, lest this mourning beget sloth or sadness within us, which lead to (spiritual) death, in the verse it speaks of consolation: “I will love Thee, o Lord, my strength.” … And notice that these words (of the Introit) are also the voice of the Church of the early days, weeping enable the first martyr, whose blood cries out to the Lord from the earth, which opened up its mouth and received it from the hand of Cain, his brother. For this reason, the station is at (the tomb of) St Lawrence, whose precious death by a new and unheard-of kind of suffering cried out to heaven, and was heard in all the world; wherefore also the authority of the Roman church was declared above all others in the martyrs. (William Durandus, Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, 6, 25, 1-4)

The TLM Returns to a New York Parish

On Monday, February 11th, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the parish of Notre Dame in New Hyde Park, New York, held its first Solemn High Mass since the Second Vatican Council. The church was filled for the celebration of its patronal feast day (on the property, there is a grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes dedicated by the then-Monsignor Fulton Sheen), which was also the 60th anniversary of its dedication. The new pastor, Fr Joseph Scolaro, ordained only five years, writes to say that he has found a very positive response to the reintroduction of many traditional practices of the faith. While there were some requests for the Mass on the part of parishioners, he thought exposure to the usus antiquior would be an opportunity for the entire parish to grow in a greater awareness of the rich tradition of the Church. Many attended for the first time and found it to be a beautiful experience. He was assisted at the Mass by the canons from a nearby parish. (Photos courtesy of Nick Castelli.)

Once again, we are also very much encouraged to see that it is predominantly the young who are taking responsibility for keeping this tradition alive, and sharing it with their fellow Catholics - feliciter!

A New Regular TLM in the Diocese of Boise, Idaho

In response to a request from the Treasure Valley Latin Mass Society, St Joseph Chapter of Una Voce America, Bishop Peter Christensen of the Diocese of Boise has established a regular Traditional Latin Mass, to be offered on the 2nd Sunday of each month, starting March 10, at 2:30 pm, at St Paul Catholic Church, located at 510 W. Roosevelt in Nampa, Idaho. Nampa is about 22 miles west of Boise, which is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the United States, but has had no regular Traditional Latin Mass since 1996. Interested parties are invited to check the TVLMS web site at, or contact TVLSM at:
Thomas Lester, Chairman:  (208) 891-9980
Mrs. Pamela Gross O.P., Vice-Chairman:  (208) 761-1188

Monday, February 18, 2019

Is Passivity Mistaken for Piety? On the Perils and Pitfalls of Participation

This essay will have two contrasting parts. In the first part, I will defend being a “silent spectator” at Mass, one who looks and listens, or perhaps prays the Rosary. In the second part, I will suggest that there is, in postconciliar times, a danger of bending the stick so far in this direction that one risks cultivating a habit of liturgical passivity rather than true devotion. I am confident that each part will offend a different cohort of my beloved fellow traditionalists, and I only ask in return their prayers.

Part I: Pope Pius XII subtly corrects Pope Pius XI
A recent NLM article commemorated the 90th anniversary of Pope Pius XI’s Apostolic Constitution on Sacred Music Divini Cultus, promulgated on December 20, 1928. This document has many fine passages (as the quotations in the commemorative article demonstrate.) Nevertheless, there is one phrase in section 9 that should give us pause:
In order that the faithful may more actively participate in divine worship, let them be made once more to sing the Gregorian Chant, so far as it belongs to them to take part in it. It is most important that when the faithful assist at the sacred ceremonies, or when pious sodalities take part with the clergy in a procession, they should not be merely detached and silent spectators [non tamquam extranei vel muti spectatores], but, filled with a deep sense of the beauty of the Liturgy, they should sing alternately with the clergy or the choir, as it is prescribed.
The notion that laity who sit or kneel quietly at Mass and do not vocally participate are “disengaged and mute onlookers” is something of a caricature, and the mantra-like use made of this phrase in subsequent decades of the increasingly audacious Liturgical Movement culminated in a fascist enforcement of “active participation” that numbered among its casualities the interior participation that often thrives on silence and sacred music. The majority of the faithful, even those who may be utilizing paraliturgical devotions, are still participating in the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice; following a missal word-for-word, which seemed to be the ideal of the Liturgical Movement, is not only not required, but can even be an impediment to offering up the holy oblation in peace. [1]

Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei contains the best treatment of participation — and of the related topics of the priesthood of the faithful and how they offer the sacrifice of the Mass in union with the priest — to be found in any magisterial document. [2] In paragraph 80 he writes:
It is, therefore, desirable, Venerable Brethren, that all the faithful should be aware that to participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice is their chief duty and supreme dignity, and that not in an inert and negligent fashion, giving way to distractions and day-dreaming, but with such earnestness and concentration that they may be united as closely as possible with the High Priest, according to the Apostle, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2, 5). And together with Him and through Him let them make their oblation, and in union with Him let them offer up themselves.
Pius XII explains in paragraph 106 the purpose of any actions by which the faithful join in more directly with the liturgy taking place, such as following a daily missal or chanting the responses and the Ordinary — “their chief aim is to foster and promote the people’s piety and intimate union with Christ and His visible minister and to arouse those internal sentiments and dispositions which should make our hearts become like to that of the High Priest of the New Testament” — but then cautions against those who, “led away by false opinions, make so much of these accidentals as to presume to assert that without them the Mass cannot fulfill its appointed end”:
Many of the faithful are unable to use the Roman Missal even when it is written in the vernacular; nor are all capable of understanding correctly the liturgical rites and formulas. So varied and diverse are men’s talents and characters that it is impossible for all to be moved and attracted to the same extent by community prayers, hymns, and liturgical services. Moreover, the needs and inclinations of all are not the same, nor are they always constant in the same individual. Who, then, would say, on account of such a prejudice, that all these Christians cannot participate in the Mass nor share its fruits? On the contrary, they can adopt some other method which proves easier for certain people; for instance, they can lovingly meditate on the mysteries of Jesus Christ or perform other exercises of piety or recite prayers which, though they differ from the sacred rites, are still essentially in harmony with them.
This was Pius XII’s typically nuanced response to a complex situation. On the one hand, he applauded efforts made to inform and involve the laity in the actual liturgical rites — in this regard no different at all from Dom Guéranger’s purpose in writing The Liturgical Year and Explanation of the Prayers and Ceremonies of Holy Mass. [3] On the other hand, he rebuked the haughty proponents of “objective piety” who considered it wrong for Catholics to “tell their beads” during the Mass. It is as if the Pope is saying to each Catholic who assists at Mass: Pursue whatever it is that will most unite you in mind and heart to the mysteries of Christ and especially to His Sacrifice. For different people, this will take different forms; and even for the same person it will take different forms at different times.

Medieval manuscript showing layfolk at Mass.
When my son Julian interviewed Bishop Athanasius Schneider in June 2018 at the Sacred Liturgy Conference in Oregon, he asked him how the Rosary and the Mass complement one another, how they might “work together.” I was delighted to read the good bishop’s profound answer:
The Rosary is a beautiful synthesis of the entire mystery of the Incarnation, redemption, and work of salvation. And the Holy Mass is the recapitulation of the work of salvation. Christ became incarnate for what reason? To offer Himself as the Lamb of God and to offer Himself on the Cross for the salvation of humankind, and to glorify the Father. This is what it means. When we pray the Rosary, which we can pray even during Mass, we do participate very actively in the Joyful Mysteries, centered around the Incarnation — and the holy Mass is a continuation of the coming of Christ in the Incarnation, under the veils of the sacred species of bread and wine. And then the Sorrowful Mysteries, of course, they are the specific meditation of the holy Mass: they help us to contemplate the real presence of Golgotha under the sacramental veil. And then the Glorious: Christ present in the holy Host is the Risen One, the Glorified One, with His luminous wounds.
          So we have in the prayer of the Rosary a really beautiful synthesis of the entire Mass. And therefore in ancient times, those who could not read, I mean the peasants and farmers, did participate in the Mass with the Rosary. Often times after the Council, priests ridiculed these people, and humiliated them for praying the Rosary. But this is bad; it is unjust. They participated more deeply with praying the Rosary because they are meditating on what is now going on at the altar with the Rosary, the prayer of the Gospel, because the words of this prayer are of the holy Gospel.
          And so, of course, I do not want to say that we should only pray the Rosary during holy Mass, but it is a possible way of participating — not the only one, maybe not the main one, but it is legitimate. This I would say for people who have a special affinity for this.
As Pius XII said, and as Bishop Schneider beautifully explained, we should have no objection to people praying the Rosary during the traditional Latin Mass. I remember when I used to parrot the fashionable objections against such “private devotions” and “subjective piety.” But sooner or later, I learned a different lesson, thanks to my encounters with priests who say the old Mass especially slowly. This was a new phenomenon: I had so much time on my hands that I could read the propers of the Mass five times and still be left wondering what to do with myself. So I tried praying the Rosary and was surprised as how well it worked. (These “peasants and farmers” knew a thing or two! — a tough lesson for a kid who grew up in suburban New Jersey.) Or I will pray the preparatory Psalms printed in my St Andrew’s Daily Missal of 1945 — Psalms 83, 84, 85, 115, and 129 — or a Litany during the Offertory and the Canon, and often the prayer of St Ambrose or St Thomas while the priest is reciting his prayers immediately before communion. So far from detaching me as a silent spectator, all of these practices have enriched my offering of the prayer of the Mass, the prayer of Christ.

Part II: Liturgical Quietism and the Deactivation of the Laity
All this being said, however, I have noticed in some pockets of the Catholic traditionalist world a pendulum swing to an extreme opposite to outward participation and intelligent assimilation of the liturgy. I will call it a refusal to engage the liturgy at a bodily level, be this in the manner of gestures, reading, or singing; almost a taking pride in saying or singing nothing, and making as few motions as possible. There are many examples of the phenomenon; I will offer a few for consideration.

If you are literate and can follow the orations (collect, secret, postcommunion), or ponder the Epistle and Gospel, why would you not do it — at least sometimes? Why sit there and let the foreign words float over your head while you think about something else than what the liturgy is presenting to God on your behalf and with you (at least partly) in mind? Yes, it’s efficacious ex opere operato, but you can also make it your own prayer and your own meditation. It seems a perfect occasion for having the Church’s words in your soul, illuminating your mind and warming your heart. [4]

If the priest makes the sign of the cross at the start of his homily, and doesn’t himself say “Amen,” as if expecting the people to say it, why should they not say “Amen”? Yet I have seen congregations sit there, silent as stone, and never say “Amen.” Are we worried that it would be Protestant to hear the sound of our voices?

If you know the melody of Credo III and can sing it, why would you not sing it? The profession of faith is yours, too, and there’s no reason to consider it exclusively the property of the choir or schola. Congregational singing of the Ordinary is something the 20th century popes spoke consistently in favor of, and for good reason.

If you know that it’s a custom to strike your breast three times with the servers at the Confiteor, or during the Agnus Dei and the “Domine, non sum dignus,” why wouldn’t you do it? And if the faithful don’t know it, why couldn’t the priest tell them about it in a sermon? The same could be said of the many times when the priest makes the sign of the cross (“Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini…”; “Indulgentiam, absolutionem, et remissionem peccatorum nostrorum…”; “in gloria Dei Patri”; “vitam venturi saeculi”; etc.). Admittedly, many of the faithful do cross themselves at these moments, which is a beautiful custom; why should it not be universal? What about the slight bowing of the priest’s head at certain points in the Gloria and in the Creed? Such actions, for me at any rate, remind me all the more forcibly of what is being prayed and why. When bowing the head at “simul adoratur et conglorificatur,” one is aware in one’s very muscles as well as in one’s intellect that the Holy Spirit is God, deserving of latria.

When the priest turns towards us with the Blessed Sacrament, why shouldn’t we say together: “Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea”? Of all the moments in the Mass, this one seems the most appropriate for a corporate exclamation before the corporate action of processing forward for Communion.

Now, I am not suggesting (quod absit!) that rubrics be imposed on the faithful to that effect, for we have seen how harmful such regimentation has been in the sphere of the Novus Ordo. I am merely pointing out a kind of passivity among the faithful that inhibits a fuller response to the texts and motions of the liturgy. [5] For, as Hilary White insightfully put it, liturgy is “theology in motion,” and this means our motion, to the extent that it pertains to us. [6]

A friend of mine once quipped that traditional Catholics too often “dress like Amish and pray like Quakers.”

At this point many readers may be itching to accuse me in the comments of being in cahoots with the tumid Liturgical Movement, of trying to sacerdotalize the laity, of importing Novus Ordo expectations into a classical context where they do not belong, of confusing participatio actuosa with activism, etc. But all of this I have argued against elsewhere repeatedly and at great length, and nothing I am saying need be construed as implying or promoting those errors.

What I object to is a situation where there is nothing in common between the two parts of the church — the nave and the sanctuary — except that the people in each part happen to be in the same building at the same time with the same generic intention. This strikes me as a low-water mark in the practice of liturgy, and a fruitful cause of the evils of liturgical reform. The solution isn’t to change the liturgy, or to force laity to do something; the solution is that clergy and laity alike learn to know and love the liturgy as it stands, and to insert ourselves into it with our powers of soul and body. Unlike the “pastoral priests” who are bent on repeating the errors of the past, we must be intelligent supporters and sustainers of the liturgical tradition as it comes down to us.

This does require some preaching specifically on the liturgy; it requires catechesis and ongoing education. The family of St Thérèse of Lisieux read aloud Dom Guéranger’s The Liturgical Year, which formed the souls of the Martins. Lest it be thought that no one today could read such a book within the family, I happen to know of a family that did it — with about a dozen children, ranging from infants at the breast to young adults. More is possible than we tend to think possible.

I am convinced that it is too trite and simplistic to say “well, all that the priest says at the altar belongs to him, it’s his business; all the stuff the schola sings is their business; and the laity should just do their own thing.” No. The liturgy belongs to everyone in the church, because it belongs to Christ our Head. It is our common inheritance and activity. We have different offices and roles within it, but the liturgy is not like a pie divided up into different pieces that are served up to different people. It is a common good, like a philosophical truth or a theological mystery that can be equally and fully possessed by everyone at the same time. What the priest is doing and saying is also mine, albeit in a different mode. [7] When the schola sings the propers, they are my prayer, too, sung on my behalf — words that the Church places before me and within me.

It is also trite and simplistic to say “participation is interior.” Yes, it is principally interior and spiritual; as we all know, without this inner component, any amount of physical activity is useless or worse. But “principal” implies a comparison with something else that is secondary. The soul of man is primary and his body is secondary, yet you cannot have a man without both. The liturgy is a physical action and the man who participates in it is a physical being who engages with it through his bodily senses. Thus the body should be engaged as much as is consistent with the role a given person has in the liturgy. To my mind, that means not only kneeling, but also beating the breast, making the sign of the cross, bowing the head, singing the responses, and singing the Ordinary.

Ultimately the right disposition is not passivity, where we sit or kneel and otherwise keep still as if we were schoolchildren in the 1950s, afraid to call down on our heads the displeasure of the sister in charge. The right disposition is receptivity — and this means receiving not simply invisible graces but the particular goods the liturgy itself, in all its human richness, offers us.

The inscription reads: "Joseph, rising from sleep..."

[1] In Yves Chiron’s biography of Annibale Bugnini, we learn about the latter’s radical liturgical experiments in the 1940s, where he began manipulating the liturgy for the sake of “participation.” In Bugnini’s own words: “I suddenly wondered: how could I have this people, with their elementary religious instruction, participate in the Mass? Above all, how could I make the children participate? I started out by painting big signboards with the easier responses for the people to say in Latin… Then I did the same with signposts in Italian… I knew that I had found the formula: the people willingly followed the Mass. The ‘inert and mute’ assembly had been transformed into a living and prayerful assembly” (p. 25). Note how Bugnini himself reverts to the formula of Pius XI.

[2] See sections 76 to 111. As to the common priesthood, there is no question that the traditional liturgy accentuates the one who is sacramentally configured to Christ in Holy Orders and who represents the Head of the Church within the assembly, the ekklesia. However, this would seem to cancel out the priesthood of the faithful only if one had an activistic notion of what it means to exercise this universal baptismal priesthood, which, in reality, is one of consent and self-offering.

[3] For the latter, I recommend this new edition from Angelico.

[4] I do not take into account the relatively rare situation of a layman who is so capable in Latin that he can perfectly understand what the priest is saying or singing. But a missal is still useful because often, perhaps even more often than not, issues of church architecture, acoustics, idiosyncratic pronunciation, or the speed of delivery make it difficult to follow the Latin of the priest even when it is spoken aloud.

[5] For the record: I am not a proponent of the so-called “dialogue Mass.” The kind of responses I have in mind are those that are sung during a High Mass (“Et cum spiritu tuo,” “Gloria tibi, Domine,” “Amen,” etc.) and the Ordinary of the Mass (from the “Asperges” through the final “Deo gratias”).

[6] For many examples of bodily participation in the usus antiquior, see my article “How the Traditional Latin Mass Fosters More Active Participation than the Ordinary Form,” which became the center of chapter 8 in my book Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017).

[7] As mentioned above, Pius XII’s explication of this point in Mediator Dei remains unsurpassed, whatever the flaws of that encyclical may be in regard to the axiom of Prosper of Aquitaine.

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Septuagesima 2019

When, dearest brethren, you begin a new season, you must renew your lives. … For this does the Apostle admonish, saying “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind (Eph. 4, 23), and again, “though our outward man is corrupted, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4, 16). For just as he is renewed who passes from evil to good, so also is he renewed who passes from good to better. He who passes from wantonness or any sort of impurity to chastity, has renewed his life. He who was wont to take unjustly what belongs to another, if he begins to distribute in mercy what is his own, renews his life. The proud man who passes to humility, the detractor of his brethren who begins to love them, without a doubt renews his life; since he who was a member of the devil by living badly, begins to be in the body of the new man, that is, Our Lord Jesus Christ, through right faith and good works.

The Creation of the World and Expulsion from the Garden, by Giovanni di Paolo, 1445. These passages from the first chapters of Genesis are read in the traditional Roman form of the Divine Office on Septuagesima and the following week.
You have frequently heard, dearest brethren, that there are two men, that is, Adam and Christ: the former is called the old man, the latter is called the new. And therefore, he who was evil, was old, by imitating him who in paradise was proud and disobedient; but he that is good, is new, by following Him who said, “Learn from me, for I am meek and lowly of heart,” (Matt. 9, 29); of whom also the Apostle said “He became obedient unto death.” (Phil. 2, 8). …

Let none of us be sure (of his spiritual condition, merely) because he is baptized; for, just as not all those who run in the stadium receive the prize, (1 Cor. 9, 28, from the Epistle of Septuagesima), that is, the intended reward, but he who in the running arrives first; so also not all who have faith are saved, but only those who persevere in the good work who they have begun. And just as he who fights against another abstains from all things, so also you must abstain from all vices, so that you may be able to overcome the devil who persecutes you. … Since you have already been called through faith unto the vineyard, that is, to the unity of the Holy Church, live and abide in such a way that you may be able to receive the denarius, that is, the happiness of the heavenly kingdom, from the bounty of God. (Matt. 20, 1-16, the Gospel of Septuagesima). … Far be it from (even the inveterate sinner) to despair of God’s mercy, for some are called to His vineyard at the first hour, some at the third, some at the sixth, some at the ninth, some at the eleventh; that is, some in childhood, some in adolescence, some in youth, some in old age, are drawn to God’s service. …

The Workers in the Vineyard, by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich (1712–74), ca. 1750 (Public domain image from Wikimedia.)
May almighty God grant that you be not of that number, who crossed the Red Sea on dry land, ate manna in the desert, and drank the spiritual drink, and because of their murmuring, perished in the desert. May He grant rather that you be of that number who entered the promised land, and by working faithfully in the vineyard of the Church, may merit to receive the reward of everlasting blessedness; so that with Christ our Head, you who are His members may reign for the infinity of ages.

This sermon on Septuagesima by an anonymous author was traditionally included among the works of St Ambrose, but, as noted in the Patrologia Latina (XVII, 631A-632C) is certainly not his, since Forelent had not yet been instituted in his time.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Meeting of the Lord Celebrated in L’viv

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

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

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

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Beginning of Ambrosian Forelent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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