Wednesday, December 02, 2020

The Midnight Office of the Byzantine Rite

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Byzantine custom of the Inter-Hours, the second Prime, Terce, Sext and None said after the main ones in certain fasting seasons, including the Nativity fast, which began last Sunday on the Gregorian calendar. As a follow-up, I thought I would write about another feature of the Byzantine Office that has no real parallel in the Western liturgies, the service known as the Midnight Office.
Unlike the Inter-Hours, which emerged relatively late in the history of the rite, and whose presence in the liturgical books is now something of an archaism, the Midnight Office is very ancient indeed, and still said in monasteries. It is attested in the 4th century in the Longer Rule of St Basil the Great (330-79) [1], and included in the regular cursus of Offices in the first complete euchologion [2], a manuscript in the Vatican library known as Barberini Greek ms. 336. I say that it has no parallel in the western Offices because although it is a vigiliary service, it has no readings like those of the western Matins. Even though the Byzantine liturgical day always begins with Vespers, many modern editions of the Horologion, the book that contains the basic structure of the Office and some of the more frequently used variable texts, begin with the Midnight Office, which is celebrated in four different forms.
The Repentance of King David, the episode which, according to the title of Psalm 50, led to its composition, “when the Prophet Nathan came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” (2 Samuel 11-12) At the upper right, the hands of the personification of Repentance indicate contemplation, as David prostrates himself below her. (Illustration from the Paris Psalter, ca. 950 AD; Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des manuscrits. Grec 139, folio 136v.)
On weekdays, it begins with the same opening formula as the other Hours, known as the Usual Beginning, which leads into Psalm 50. This is followed by the whole of Psalm 118, the longest in the Psalter, which the Roman Rite also traditionally said every day, but spread out over the four day Hours. It is divided into three uneven parts, each of which ends with three repetitions of “Allelujas, alleluja, alleluja, glory to Thee, o God”, then “Lord, have mercy” three times, and the doxology; whenever there is a switch between one section and another in this fashion, a different reader may take over, starting with the second part of the doxology.
The Psalm is followed by the Nicene Creed, the Trisagion prayers, which are repeated from the Usual Beginning (omitting the first two parts and the last part), and then a series of three chants called tropars, with the two parts of the doxology between them. These do not vary according to the day or season, but are replaced by a single tropar on the Twelve Great Feasts, and their Fore- and After-feasts. The final tropar in any such group of three is always about the Virgin Mary.
“Behold the Bridegroom cometh in the midst of the night, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching; and again, unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Take care, therefore, oh my soul, lest thou be borne down with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and be shut out of the kingdom; but rouse thyself, crying, Holy, Holy, Holy are Thou O God. Through the Mother of God, have mercy on us! Glory be…
This text is also sung at the beginning of Matins on the first three days of Holy Week, which are usually called “Bridegroom Matins.”
Considering that terrible day, o my soul, keep watch, keeping thy lamp alight and bright with oil; for thou knowest not when the voice shall some to thee, saying, “Behold the Bridegroom!” Beware, therefore, my soul, lest thou slumber and be left outside, knocking, like the five virgins; but be steadfast in thy watching, that thou may come to meet Christ with rich oil, and He may give thee the divine chamber of His glory. Both now…
We supplicate thee, the unassailable wall, the fortress of salvation, o Virgin Mother of God; scatter the counsels of our enemies, change the sorrow of thy people into joy, encompass thy city, fight with the king, encourage thy world, strengthen the pious, pray for the peace of the world, for thou art our hope, o Mother of God.” (The words in italics are omitted in some modern editions.)
On Saturday, Psalm 118 is said at Orthros, and so a different group of Psalms is said in its place at the Midnight Office, 64-66 (first part) 67 (second) and 68-69 (third). The three tropars are also different.
“Uncreated nature, maker of all things, open our lips so that we may proclaim Thy praise, crying our, Holy, holy, holy art Thou, o God. By the prayers of the Mother of God, o Lord, do Thou also save me. Glory be…
Imitating the powers above, we upon the earth bring to Thee the hymn of victory, o Good One; Holy, holy, holy art Thou, o God. By the prayers of the Mother of God, o Lord, do Thou also save me. Both now…
Having raised me up from my bed and sleep, o Lord, enlighten my mind, and open my heart and lips, to sing to Thee, o Holy Trinity. Holy, holy, holy art Thou, o God. By the prayers of the Mother of God, o Lord, do Thou also save me.”
There follows a series of elements also said at the other Hours except for Vespers and Orthros: Kyrie, eleison 40 times, the Prayer of the Hours, Kyrie, eleison 3 times, Glory be, a brief prayer to the Virgin (“Higher than the Cherubim…”), a conclusion said by the priestly celebrant, and then in Lent, a very well-known prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian, accompanied by three prostrations.
The reader than says a prayer attributed to a Saint called Mardarius [3], which is also said at Terce. “O Master God, Father Almighty, o Lord, Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit, one divinity, one power: have mercy on me a sinner, and by the judgments which Thou knowest, save me, Thine unworthy servant; for Thou art blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
The Martyrdom of Ss Mardarius, Eustratius and Companions, depicted in the Menologion of the Emperor Basil II ca. 1000 AD. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
From Sept. 22, the day following the After-feast of the Holy Cross, until Palm Sunday, a second prayer is added, which is attributed to St Basil.
“Lord Almighty, God of hosts and of all flesh, Who dwellest on high and lookest down on things that are lowly, Who searchest the hearts and depths, and knowest clearly the secrets of men; light without beginning and everlasting, in whom there is no change, nor even the shadow of variation: receive our supplications, o immortal King, which in the present time of the night, taking courage from the fullness of Thy mercies, make to Thee from unclean lips; and forgive us the trespasses which we have committed in deed, word, and thought, those done knowingly or in ignorance, and cleanse us from every defilement of flesh and spirit, making us temples of Thy Holy Spirit. And grant us with watchful heart and sober thought to pass through the whole night of this present life, awaiting the coming of the bright day that shall suddenly appear of Thine Only-begotten Son, our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, on which the Judge of all shall come with glory upon the earth, to reward each according to his deeds; so that we may not be found fallen and sleeping, but watchful and vigilant in the doing of His commands, and readily go with Him into the joy and divine palace of His glory, where there is the ceaseless sound of those that keep festival, and the unspeakable delight of those that behold the ineffable beauty of Thy countenance. For Thou art the true Light that enlightenest and sanctifiest all, and all creation doth sing Thy praise, Thee unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
The priest celebrant then raises his hands, and prays, “We bless Thee, o Most High God and Lord of mercy, Who ever doest with us things great and inscrutable, glorious and extraordinary, of which there is no measure; Who hast granted to us sleep as rest from our infirmities, and relaxation from the labors of our much-toiling flesh. We thank Thee that Thou hast not destroyed us together with our iniquities, but hast shown Thy wonted love for mankind, and as we were lying down in despair, didst raised us up that we might glorify Thy might. Therefore, we implore Thy boundless goodness: enlighten the eyes of our understanding, and raise up our mind from the heavy sleep of laziness. Open our mouth and fill it with Thy praise, that we may be able without distraction to sing and chant, and confess Thee Who art God, glorified in all and by all, the Father without beginning, with Thine Only-begotten Son, and Thine All-holy and good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
On Saturday, the prayer of St Mardarius is followed immediately by another prayer attributed to a Saint called Eustratius, and the prayer “We bless Thee” is omitted.
“Greatly do I magnify Thee, O Lord, for Thou didst look upon my lowliness and hast not enclose me into the hands of my enemies, but saved my soul from distress. And now, o Master, let Thy hand shelter me and let Thy mercy come upon me, for my soul hath been troubled, and is pained in its departure from this my wretched and defiled body, lest the evil counsel of the adversary overtake it and cause it stumble because of the sins done by me in this life, in ignorance and with knowledge. Be merciful unto me, o Master, and let not my soul see the gloomy and dark countenance of the wicked demons, but let Thy bright and shining angels received it. Give glory to Thy holy name, and by Thy bring me unto Thy divine judgment seat. When I am judged, let not the hand of the prince of this world take hold of me to draw me, a sinner, down into depths of hell, but stand by me and be unto me a savior and protector. Have mercy, o Lord, on my soul that has been defiled by passions of life, and receive it cleansed by penance and confession, for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
There now begins a second part of the service, which is mostly concerned with praying for the dead. This starts with the last section of the Usual Beginning, Psalms 120 and 133, the Trisagion prayers once again, and a group of four tropars.
“Remember Thy servants, o Lord, in Thy goodness, and forgive all the sins they have committed in life; for no one is without sin but Thee, who can give rest to those who have passed.
Thou who in the depth of wisdom arrange all things with love for mankind, and apportion to all what they need, o sole Creator; give rest, o Lord, to the souls of Thy servants, for they placed their hope in Thee, their Maker and Creator and Our God. Glory be…
With Thy Saints, give rest, o Christ, to the souls of Thy servants, where there is no toil, or grief, or sighing, but life everlasting. Both now… (This text is also sung as a promiment part of the funerary service.)
With all generations we blessing thee, o Virgin Mother of God, for in thee, Christ our God, who is infinite, was pleased to be contained. Blessed are we also, having thee as our patron, for thou intercedest for us day and night, and the scepters of the kingdom are strengthened by thy prayers. Wherefore with hymns do we cry to thee, ‘Hail, o full of grace, the Lord is with thee!’ ”
There follow Kyrie, eleison twelve times, and the following prayers.
“Remember, o Lord, our fathers and brethren who have fallen asleep in the hope of rising to eternal life, and all those who have completed their lives in piety and faith; and forgive them their sins, voluntary and involuntary, (committed) in word, or deed, or in thought. And give them dwelling in places of light, cool and refreshment, whence have fled of all pain, sorrow, and sighing, where the visitation of Thy countenance gladdeneth all Thy Saints from the beginning of the age. Grant to them Thy kingdom a portion of Thy ineffable and eternal goods, and the enjoyment of Thy limitless and blessed life. For Thou art the the life, the resurrection, and the repose of Thy departed servants, Christ our God, and we give glory to Thee, with Thy eternal Father, and Thy all-holy, good, and the life-giving Spirit: now and ever, and unto all ages.
Glorious-above-all, ever virgin and blessed Mother of God, bring our prayer to thy Son and our God, and ask that He may save our souls through thee.
The Father is my hope, the Son, my refuge, and the Holy Spirit, my protector: O Holy Trinity: glory to Thee!
All my hope have I placed in Thee, o Mother of God, protect me beneath Thy shelter. Glory be… both now… Kyrie, elesion (three times) Give the blessing!
The priest then says the common dismissal formula; however the service does not immediately end. There is then said a litany with a series of petitions “for the peace of the world”, the text of which varies according to various recensions.
On Sunday, the Midnight Office takes a very different and shorter form, in part because the Office of Orthros which follows it is much longer on Sundays. Immediately after the Usual Beginning and Psalm 50, Psalm 118 is replaced by a Canon to the Holy Trinity, which is conceptually very similar to the Roman Office of the Holy Trinity. A “canon” in the Byzantine Office is a long series of “hymns” [4] of different types; there is always one sung at Orthros, and often also at Compline. There are eight such canons for the Sunday Midnight Office, which are sung as part of an eight-week rotation of the Office propers according to the eight different musical tones, and each canon has at least 30 hymns, so I will here give just one, the first of the first tone, as an example. (Canons are often in practice abbreviated according to certain recognized conventions.)
“The Seraphim unceasingly glorify one Beginning in Three hypostases, without beginning, everlasting the maker of all things, incomprehensible, which every tongue also faithfully honoreth in song.”
The canon is followed by a group of hymns called Triadika, of which there are four in the Greek books, and eight in the Slavonic. Here is the first one according to both uses:
“It is truly worry to sing of the Trinity that is God above all, the Father without beginning, the word that is also without beginning, the make of all, begotten without change from the Father before all ages, and the Holy Spirit who proceedeth from the Father outside of time.”
After these, the reader says the Trisagion prayers, and then a chant called a Hypakoe is anticipated from Orthros. The name of this chant derives from the Greek verb “hypakouein – to obey”, and its theme is the obedience of the women who came to the tomb to anoint Christ’s body to the command of the angel to proclaim His Resurrection. Here is the Hypakoe of the first tone. “The repentance of the thief stole him Paradise, and the mourning of the Myrrh-bearing women revealed joy; for Thou didst rise again, o Christ our God, granting great mercy to the world!”
This is followed by the normal conclusion of the Hours and the litany as mentioned above, but the entire second part, that which is largely concerned with praying for the dead, is omitted.
There is one final variant, which is that of Easter night; instead of the Canon of the Holy Trinity, the canon of Holy Saturday Matins, which is rightly considered one of the most beautiful in entire rite, is repeated, and all the other proper hymns omitted. Here is its final set of hymns.
Weep not over me, Mother, as Thou beholdest me in the tomb, Thy Son whom Thou didst conceive in the womb without seed; for I shall rise and be glorified, and as God, shall unceasingly exalt in glory them that magnify Thee in faith and love.
Having escaped sufferings at Thy strange birth, I was exceedingly blessed, eternal Son; but now, seeing Thee, my God, without breath and dead, I am terribly pierced with the sword of grief! But rise, that I may be magnified.

The earth covers me of My own will, but the gate-keepers of Hades shudder, seeing me clothed in a garment, o Mother, made bloody with vengeance; for as God, having struck My enemies upon the Cross, I will rise again and glorify Thee.

Let all creation rejoice, let all that dwell upon the earth be glad; for the enemy Hades is despoiled. Let the women come to meet Me with myrrh, for I redeem Adam with Eve and all their descent, and on the third day I shall rise.

[1] See Fr Robert Taft’s The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West, pp. 84-87.
[2] The euchologion, like its western counterpart, the sacramentary, originally contained the prayers said by the celebrant of both the Eucharistic liturgy and the Divine Office.
[3] The prayers attributed to Ss Mardarius and Eustratius are actually excerpted from the account of their Passion; their feast is celebrated on December 13th along with three other martyrs called Auxentius, Eugenius and Orestes.
[4] The Greek word “hymnos” is used generically for all of the variable propers of the Office, of which there is a bewildering variety, each with a proper name according to its function. As literary compositions, however, they are much more like the “antiphons” of the western Offices, and not at all like the western “hymns.”

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

The Frescoes at St Francis of Assisi, Baddesley Clinton, England, Part 3: the Chancel Arch

Here is the third posting about the fabulous frescoes at little St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, in Warwickshire, England, in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, the works of the artist Martin Earle. (To see previous parts click here: part 1, part 2.)

Before showing photographs of the third and final section, the chancel arch, I want to explain why I think this is so important. First, this is a schema that is intrinsically liturgical (as distinct from devotional) in its conception. Second, while it is painted in a contemporary English iconographic style, absolutely appropriate for its time and place, it incorporates discerningly other more naturalistic styles of liturgical art and statues inherited from past communities of this parish, and therefore, one presumes, particularly dear to them. In regard to this Martin told me:
The rather dark and intense colour scheme (though the orange is less saturated in real life) was dictated partly by the pre-existing oil painting. Trying to find a way that the new paintings (which the parish asked to be in a sort of neo-Romanesque style) wouldn’t clash too badly with the old was a headache. In the end, I opted to paint the new murals dark enough so that the oil painting didn’t pop forward, as it would have against a lighter background. We also reflected some of the colours - especially of Christ in Glory - in the new works.

Obviously, the oil painting is incorporated thematically as well. In the end, a curious and good effect is achieved by having the heavenly scene below the nativity. Earth gone up to heaven and heaven come down to earth.
My hope is that every person in this parish is catechized, perhaps through the homilies, so as to understand the images they see and how to engage with them as they pray the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. Then, when people visit the church to see the paintings, as they surely will, any parishioner can be a docent who takes them on a tour of the church, and in so doing becomes an evangelist for the Faith.
The Chancel Arch
On the chancel arch, the liturgical hymn Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the highest) repeats the idea that what is sung in the earthly liturgy echoes the praise of the heavenly liturgy, and the themes of both the First and Second Comings of Christ are both repeated and lead into what is displayed in the sanctuary.
At the apex is the Lord’s Cross, seen as an object of glory and veneration, triumphant, bejewelled and containing the sacred monogram ‘IHS’. Below this, and over the altar, is suspended the crucifix, akin to the Rood in medieval churches, suspended between earth and heaven, the point of entry from one to the other, and contrasting with the triumphant cross above, but also positioned so that, from the nave of the church, Christ in glory on the east wall is seen below it, the bottom of the cross in line with the head of Christ.
Surrounding the cross are angels of the apocalypse, as St John relates in his Revelation, one with a trumpet, the other rolling up the moon and stars; the clouds behind them are red and blue, representing the sunrise at the end of time. The same clouds are repeated on the east wall, surrounding the Hand of God, showing that he is Lord of time and of history.
On the spandrels of the arch are stylised representations of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the two poles of salvation of Incarnation and Redemption, with sheep representing the apostles who continue the saving work of Christ. Jerusalem, of course, is not just an evocation of the earthly city, but also of the heavenly Jerusalem, described in the liturgy of All Saints and in the Dedication of a Church as ‘our mother, where the great array of brothers and sisters gives you eternal praise’ and representative of the Church, the Bride of Christ, ‘mother of countless children.’
Beneath these are four Old Testament prophets, holding scrolls that tell of both Comings of Christ, the Second Coming already foreshadowed in the First Coming, which is completed in the Second Coming:
Isaiah 7, 14 - ‘Behold the virgin will conceive and bear a son [and shall call his name] Immanuel’
Malachi 3, 1 - ‘The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple’
Ezekiel 34, 12 - ‘I will rescue my sheep [from all the places where they have been scattered] on a day of clouds and thick darkness.
Zechariah 9, 9 - ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you, the Just One and Saviour’.

Answer Key for Scanlon and Scanlon’s Latin Grammar Now Available

Greetings to our readers who are interested in learning Ecclesiastical Latin.
There are many books available to help you learn Ecclesiastical Latin, but most require an instructor or tutor. Many seminarians, priests, and lay people want to learn Latin but do not have a readily available instructor. In my years of teaching Latin, I am convinced that the best book for the subject remains Cora and Charles Scanlon’s Latin Grammar for Reading the Missal and Breviary, first published in 1944 by B. Herder Book Co., and still in print from TAN Books.

The one problem with this book is that there was no available full Answer Key. I am happy to announce that we have now published one for all the exercises of every lesson. You may order copies of this Key from Dominican Liturgy Publications, which also has available many other resources for the Dominican Rite and the Latin liturgy.

Monday, November 30, 2020

On the Status of Minor Orders and the Subdiaconate

Roman subdiaconate ordination (post-1973!)
Arising more and more often nowadays is the question: What exactly is the status of the minor orders (porter, lector, exorcist, acolyte) in the Roman rite? We can add to this list the major order of subdeacon. In spite of their immense antiquity, which ought to have gained them the principled support of the liturgical reform — they are, for example, more ancient than the season of Advent — the minor orders were abolished in the form in which they had existed previously (or at least, it seemed to observers that they were abolished) by Paul VI in his Apostolic Letter Ministeria Quaedam of 1973. Yet never since that time have both minor orders and the subdiaconate ceased to be conferred in this or that corner of the vast Catholic world; with increasing frequency thanks to John Paul II’s Ecclesia Dei and Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, these orders are routinely imparted to the many young candidates who flock to traditional orders. It certainly seems like an odd situation.

As far as I can tell, there’s the “conservative” view and the “rad trad” view.

The conservative view, such as one might find it on the faculty of an Opus Dei university, is to say that the minor orders and subdiaconate were in fact abrogated and their functions reassigned, but that, just as the old liturgical tradition continued and was eventually regularized, so, too, the use of the ceremonies for the suppressed orders were regularized in that context, and are efficacious in that context. It’s “praetercanonical.”

The weakness of this position is that it leans too much on canon law. Canon law is not some kind of inerrant or infallible thing; it’s just a compilation of ecclesiastical jurisprudence, and it can be badly done, have omissions, need correction or supplementation, etc. Canon law’s silence on the minor orders and the subdiaconate does not logically preclude the possibility of their continuing existence. Not all things in heaven and on earth are contained in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

With this, we segue into the rad trad position, which maintains that no pope has the authority to abolish a millennial tradition like the minor orders and the subdiaconate, just as no pope, strain he ever so many a pontifical muscle, could abolish the immemorial Roman Mass codified but not created by St. Pius V in 1570. On this view, Paul VI’s attempt to do both of these things wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. This has already, in a sense, been recognized regarding the Mass by Benedict XVI when he said in Summorum Pontificum that the old missal was never abrogated, even though nearly everyone, except a tiny number of traditionalists, acted as if it had been. Due to craven ultramontanism, however, people went along with the pretense and still act as if the minor orders and the subdiaconate were suppressed. Traditional religious and clerical communities, on the other hand, know better, and continue to follow the settled and venerable Roman tradition.

At very least something like the conservative view has to be true; otherwise, in conferring minor orders today (and most of all, the subdiaconate!), one would be guilty of simulating a conferral that cannot happen — a sort of contraceptive liturgy. It is impossible that the Church could continue to use such rites without their being efficacious in accomplishing what they intend to accomplish. A sacramental theologian of Scotistic subtlety might rejoinder that there is a third possibility: these rites are not efficacious in se — they actually do nothing to the recipients — but their content, being piously edifying, offers an occasion of grace for the devout in their progress toward the diaconate and priesthood. It would be essentially fancy playacting in the sight of God, publicly and solemnly marking stages of formation.

All of these positions seem ecclesiologically unsatisfactory in one way or another. The least problematic, it seems to me, is to maintain that the old rites, when used today, confer the orders they intend to confer, while admitting that how the order is regulated in the Church is governed by the 1983 Code of Canon Law. With the 1983 Code, Ministeria Quaedam became a moot point — of historical interest, no doubt, and offering guidelines for acolytes, etc., but it was superseded. Hence, by the only code currently in force, reception of tonsure does not make one a cleric. A man becomes a cleric with the diaconate. He can freely take upon himself the obligations for the Divine Office that once came with the subdiaconate, but he is not strictly bound by law until he is ordained a deacon.

That is not to say, as mentioned above, that this law is a good one and should not be changed in the future. Not is it to say that the commitment is not serious prior to the diaconate. There is a whole culture that goes with the minor orders: they set a person apart for liturgical offices and activities, preparing a man step by step, through lower forms of ministry, to receive the higher forms of the major orders, by which he is decisively inserted into the exercise of the priesthood of Jesus Christ in the Church.

Catholics were told that they should engage in ecumenism, but the one ecumenism that was forbidden was respecting the traditions we hold in common with the East. The minor orders and the subdiaconate abide in the Eastern churches. It is far more plausible to assume that they abide, and must abide, in the Roman Church as well.

Further reading: 
Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s websiteSoundCloud page, and YouTube channel.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The First Sunday of Advent 2020

As this annus horribilis nears its end, the Church wisely reminds us, as She has at the beginning of each new liturgical year for over a millenium, that the end of the world is always nigh, by reading an admonition to that effect from Pope St Gregory the Great, who died over 1400 years ago.

The beginning of today’s Gospel, Luke 21, 25-33, and the beginning of St Gregory’s homily on it, in an Office lectionary copied out ca. 850-75. (Cod. Sang. 430; CC BY-NC 4.0) This lectionary follows a common variant of the Roman Rite by which the Gospel of the First Sunday of Advent was that of the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matt. 21, 1-9), and the other Gospels of Advent each bumped forward one week.
Our Lord and Redeemer, wishing to find us ready (at His second coming), declares what evils accompany the world as it grows old, that He may restrain us from the love of the world. He makes known what great disturbances will come before the end as it approaches, so that, if we will not fear God in times of tranquillity, we may at least be beat down by such disturbances, and so fear His judgment. For right before this reading of the Holy Gospel which you have heard, brethren, the Lord said, “Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be great earthquakes in various places, and pestilences and famines.” Then, after a few other things, (is read) this which you have just heard (Luke 21, 25-33); “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring.”
St Gregory’s words about earthquakes overthrowing cities very likely refer to the destruction of Antioch and various other cities in Syria by a series of six major earthquakes between 526 and 588; the second of these struck on this very day in the year 528. The buildings shown in this fifth-century mosaic (discovered in the Antiochene suburb of Daphne, about 4 miles to the west of it) may be the city’s imperial palace and cathedral. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons) The latter, where St John Chrysostom had preached when he was still a priest of Antioch, was known as the Golden House; it was destroyed and rebuilt three times in those years, and finally abandoned after 588.
Now some of these things have already come to pass, and others we fear are not far off. For in our days we see nation rise against nation, and their distress over all the earth, more than we read in books ever happened of old. You know also how often we hear that an earthquake has overthrown countless cities in other parts of the world. We suffer pestilences without ceasing. Now in truth, we do not as yet clearly see signs in the sun and moon and stars, but from the very change of the air, we gather that they are not far off. (The homily of the third nocturn of the First Sunday of Advent in the Breviary of St Pius V, and many other breviaries before it.)
Pope St Gregory the Great, (ca. 1646-66) by the Flemish painter Lucas Franchoys the Younger (1616-81); public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Cathedral of Siena (Part 5): The Decorative Pavement of the Crossing, Transepts and Sanctuary

This fifth part of our ongoing series on the cathedral of Siena will cover the rest of Nicola’s photos of the inlaid marble pavement which covers almost the whole of the church’s floor. The reader will perhaps find this easier to understand by referring to this plan of the upper half of the church, even though it is not in particularly high resolution. (This was made by Giovanni Pacciarelli in 1884; public domain image from Wikimedia Commons. I have cropped the lower part, which shows the floor of the nave and side aisles.)
The hexagon at the bottom is the floor under the crossing, which is decorated with stories of the Prophet Elijah. The panel to the lower left of it is a battle scene known as The Banishment of Herod; above it is the Massacre of the Innocents. The pavement to the lower right of the hexagon is oriented towards the door a very important side-chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary; it shows the Seven Ages of Man and the Three Theological Virtues; above it is the Sacrifice of Jephthe (Judges 11, 29-40). In the band above the hexagon are (from left to right): Judith and the end of the Seige of Bethulia; Moses on Mt Sinai, with a narrow band showing him bringing water from the rock below it; the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund (who visited Siena in 1431) with his ministers; and the death of Absalom. The band above that, right before the main sanctuary, has purely decorative panels on either end of it; the narrative panels show Joshua’s battle with the Amorrhites, stories of David, and stories of Samson.  The panel in front of the altar is the Sacrifice of Isaac; the altar itself is surrounded by allegorical figures of the Four Philosophical virtues. Many of these are covered over, or difficult to photograph to advantage, and we will here present only a selection; the reason for the choice of images is also not always clear, particularly in regard to the military scenes.
The Philosophical Virtues, by Martino di Barolomeo, 1406: Fortitude
The Death of Absalom, by Piero della Minella, 1447.

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Tempestuous Collect for the First Sunday of Advent

James Tissot, Jesus Stilling the Tempest (1886-1894)
Lost in Translation #27

The First Sunday of Advent and of the liturgical year begins with the second “Stir up” Collect in a row:

Excita, quǽsumus, Dómine, poténtiam tuam, et veni: ut ab imminéntibus peccatórum nostrórum perículis, te mereámur protegénte éripi, te liberánte salvári: Qui vivis et regnas.
Which I translate as:
Stir up Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come: that from the imminent dangers of our sins, we may deserve to be rescued by Thy protection and saved by Thy deliverance: Who livest and reignest. 
Although the Roman orations reflect a Roman rhetorical tradition often distinct in diction and syntax from the Latin translations of the Bible, this Collect draws directly from Psalm 79 (80), 2, “Excita, Dómine, poténtiam tuam et veni, ut salvos fácias nos”,  that is “Stir up, O Lord, Thy might, and come to save us.”
The traditional subtitle for Psalm 79 is “a prayer for the church in tribulation.” As St Robert Bellarmine explains, the psalmist prays for God in this verse to stir up His might because it looks as if His might is buried when God allows us “to be harassed by our unjust persecutors.” Last week, the Church prayed that God stir up our wills to make a good end; this week, she prays that God stir up His power to make a good beginning in the midst of a bad situation.
And not just God in general, but God the Son. Whereas last week’s Collect was addressed to the Father, this week’s is addressed to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity (see the ending “Thou who livest.”) Pleading with the Son to come makes sense during the season of Advent, as we liturgically relive the ages before His Nativity and beg for His arrival in Bethlehem; this “re-enactment,” in turn, helps us prepare for His coming in our hearts and His coming at the end of time. The Collects of Advent reinforce the “B.C.” aspect of the season in a delightfully subtle way. Regardless of whether they address the Father or the Son, all Sunday Advent Collects avoid mentioning the Holy Name of Jesus, even in the conclusion. The Jewish people knew for centuries that the Messiah was coming, but no one knew His proper name until the Angel Gabriel revealed it to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We get a taste of what it was like to live before Christ and not knowing His Holy Name.
And there is another dimension to invoking the Son with excita that brings us back to the psalmist’s plea during a time of tribulation. Excitare is the verb used by St. Mark to describe the Apostles waking up Jesus as He slept in the midst of a storm: “And He was in the hinder part of the ship, sleeping upon a pillow; and they awake Him (et excitant eum), and say to Him: "Master, doth it not concern Thee that we perish?” (4, 38)
The scene is almost comical, with the Apostles’ question coming across as passive aggressive. This Sunday’s Collect is a little more upfront. Wake up, Son of God, it demands, and come! You are sleeping, and the ship that is Your Church is perishing. The Barque of St. Peter, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI remarked a few years ago, “has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.” [2] Of course, we must admit that we deserve all this bilge: the Collect identifies as the chief danger not an external threat but our own sins. Yet that does not make our situation any less tempestuous, and so we pray to be rescued and saved.
The end of the world, which remains on our minds during Advent, will also be a tempestuous time. In this Sunday's Gospel, Our Lord predicts that upon the earth there will be 
distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves: men withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world (Luke 21, 25-26).
And so, in those moments when we are prone to fear and apt to doubt the “sleeping Lord,” let us recall the end of St. Mark's story:
And rising up, He rebuked the wind, and said to the sea: "Peace, be still." And the wind ceased: and there was made a great calm. And He said to them: "Why are you fearful? have you not faith yet?" (4, 39-40)
[1] St. Robert Bellarmine, SJ A Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Preserving Christian Publications, 2008),197.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Cathedral of Siena (Part 4): The Decorative Pavement of the Nave

One of the things for which Siena Cathedral is famous is the inlaid marble pavement which covers most of the floor. Its iconographic program is extraordinarily complex, and not completely unitary, as one would expect from a series of works that was executed over the course of five centuries. In this post, we will cover just the just images in the floor of the nave and the side aisles, which originally date mostly from the later 15th century, with a few earlier sections. Any such pavement will of course be damaged over time from the ordinary wear-and-tear of being trod on for centuries, and as we see it today, this part of the pavement owes its appearance to a massive and much-needed restoration of the later 1860s. The complete scheme can be see in this post on Italian Wikipedia; thanks once again to Nicola for sharing these photos with us.
Just inside the central door is this image of Hermes Trismegistus (Greek for “Thrice-Greatest”), executed ca. 1488. In the first centuries of the Christian era, a series of Greek treatises, strongly colored by both Gnosticism and Platonism, were written in Egypt, and later gathered under this name. By the early fourth century, the Christian writer Lactantius was citing him as a very ancient wise man, believed to be a contemporary of Moses (or even prior to him), who had anticipated in his writings some of the teachings of the true Faith. (St Augustine also talks about him in The City of God, but in a rather more negative way.) Here he is placed at the church’s threshold to indicate that the wisdom of the ancient pagan world, incomplete in and of itself, is nevertheless useful to bring us to Christ and to the truth. (In 1964, a British historian named Frances Yates published an extremely interesting book, “Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition”, the first chapters of which explain how this corpus came to play a significant rule in the culture of the later Italian Renaissance.)
A citation of the Hermetic Corpus, which explains why it was believed that he had foreseen the coming of Christ. “God, the creator of all things, made God-who-is-with-Him visible and made him the first and only, in whom he was delighted, and greatly loved him, his own son, who is called the holy word.” This would be understood as a prophesy, with the caveat that the Son is not, of course “made” by the Father, an idea that a pagan philosopher would not be expected to have understood.
The second panel is a tile mosaic, rather than an inlay, originally made in 1373, which shows the emblem of Siena in the center, and those of several other important central Italian cities around it. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, every town and city wanted to have some connection with the grandeur and glory of ancient Rome. The Sienese therefore claimed that their city had originally been founded by a son of Remus named Senius, who together with his younger brother Ascanius, fled from Rome after Romulus had killed their father; hence the adoption of the she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus. The other cities are (clockwise from the top) Arezzo, Orvieto (a name which comes from the Latin “Urbs Vetus – Old City”), Roma, Perugia, Viterbo (a name which comes from the Latin “Vetus Urbs – Old City”), Pisa, Lucca and Florence. In the corners (clockwise from the upper left) are Massa Maritima, Grosseto, Pistoia and Volterra.

An Old Documentary about Exeter Cathedral

A friend on Facebook discovered this documentary about the cathedral of Exeter, England, which I think you will find very interesting. It was made originally made in 1972 by a Canadian company, and broadcast on television in the UK later that year; it has just recently been made available on the National Film Board of Canada website. In addition to a lot of interesting historical information about the church, it also shows some liturgies in the very “high” Anglican style, with very nice copes and miters and other such Popish mummery. We also see scenes of the boys’ choir rehearsing, and life in the town of Exeter; all in all, it conveys a beautiful impression of the important part a great cathedral would have been played in the lives of ordinary people.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

St Catherine of Alexandria in the Counter-Reformation

The acts of St Catherine of Alexandria tell us that she was a noblewoman of immense learning in all the sciences, who at the age of eighteen went to the emperor Maximin Daia (305-312) to reprove him for his persecution of the Church, denouncing the worship of the false gods of the pagans. Unable to respond to her himself, Maximin had her imprisoned, and then brought a group of fifty philosophers to explain to her the folly of Christianity; all of these she converted to the Faith, for which they were put to death. Catherine was returned to prison, where she was visited by the empress and a captain of the emperor’s troops named Porphyry, both of whom were also converted, and soon after martyred. Catherine was then condemned to die by the famous spiked wheel which has long been known as her emblem, but which broke apart on touching her; like so many Saints whom Nature itself and the persecutors’ devices refused to harm, she was then beheaded. As the traditional Collect of her feast states, her body was carried by Angels to Mount Sinai, where first a church, and later the famous monastery were built in her honor.

An icon of the Presentation of Mary, with St Catherine on the far left. (Greek, 18th century). In the Byzantine Rite, the Entrance of the Virgin in the Temple is one of the twelve Great Feasts, most of which are kept with both a Forefeast and Afterfeast, broadly the equivalent of a vigil and octave in the traditional Roman Rite. Afterfeasts vary in length, and those of the Virgin’s Presentation and Nativity are the shortest, only four days, the final day being known as the Leave-taking; the Leavetaking of the Presentation therefore coincides with St Catherine’s feast day. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons by shakko.) 
She became one of the most popular Saints of the High Middle Ages beginning in the 11th century, when some of her relics were brought to the French city of Rouen. Innumerable churches and chapels were dedicated to her, she appears in an extraordinary number of paintings and statues, and her feast day was kept in many places as a holy day of obligation. She has long been honored as a Patron Saint of philosophers and theologians, orators and preachers, (and hence especially by the Dominicans, who kept her feast with an octave until the early 20th century,) but also of women in religious life, students of every sort, millers and wheelwrights. In France, her prestige was very much enhanced by the fact that she was one of the Saints who spoke to St Joan of Arc. She is honored in the Byzantine Rite with the title “Great Martyr”, and named in the preparation rite of the Divine Liturgy; in the Ambrosian Rite, her name was even added to the Canon of the Mass in the later 15th century.

It is painful to relate that no aspect of the life of St Catherine as given in her acts can be considered historically trustworthy. Just to give one of many possible examples, she is named as the “daughter of a king named Costus”, even though Egypt in the early fourth century was a province of the Roman Empire, and had had no king for over three-hundred years. There is no mention of her in the wealth of Egyptian Christian literature for several centuries after her death, or in the various accounts of pilgrims to the monastery on Mt Sinai, which was not originally named for her.

By the time the Roman Breviary was revised after the Council of Trent, scholars had long known that many of the well-known and loved stories of the Saints were not historically reliable. Thus we find several of the Virgin Martyrs who were very popular in the Middle Ages, such as Ss Barbara, Margaret of Antioch and Ss Ursula and Companions, reduced from full offices of nine readings in the Roman Breviary of 1529 to a mere commemoration in the Breviary of St Pius V. Even Ss Cecilia and Agatha, who are named in the Canon of the Mass, were originally kept at the second of three grades; only Ss Agnes, the Roman martyr par excellence among women, Lucy (a rather random choice), and Catherine of Alexandria were kept at the highest grade.

Virgo inter Virgines (The Virgin Mary among the other holy virgins) by the anonymous Netherlandish painter known as the Master of the St Lucy Legend, ca. 1490. The holy Virgins are Ss Apollonia, Ursula, Lucy, Dorothy, Catherine (receiving a ring from the baby Jesus; her red cloak is covered with her symbol, the wheel), Mary Magdalene, Barbara, Agnes, Margaret, Agatha and Cunera, patron of the Rhenen area near Utrecht, said be one of the 11,000 companions of St Ursula. (Click image to enlarge; click here for a complete explanation of the icongraphy.)
The Breviary of St Pius V, first published in 1568, was revised in the last decade of the same century, and a new edition published in 1602. Pope Clement VIII had entrusted the task of correcting the Saints’ lives to the great Cardinal Cesare Baronius, also the principle editor of the first Tridentine edition of the Martyrology. Among Baronius’ collaborators was St Robert Bellarmine, one of the most learned men of his age, who is supposed to have said in regard to St Catherine, “I wish I could believe that she existed.” In his History of the Roman Breviary, Mons. Pierre Batiffol notes (p. 216) that Baronius often refused, against St Robert’s advice, to alter some of the popular legends, despite the historical problems associated with them; and that he noted of St Catherine specifically, “Her history contains many things which are repugnant to the truth.” Nevertheless, her Office was left unaltered, and remained in the same form until the Breviary revision of 1960.

It was certainly a goal of the Tridentine reform of the Breviary to remove from the Church’s public prayer anything that might offer the Protestants a pretext for attack or ridicule. (Baronius was well aware of this problem, and also produced a massive history of the Church, covering the first 12 centuries, in response to Protestant controversialists.) The question therefore arises as to why a Saint whose life was subject to serious doubts, even on the part of the very revisers of the Breviary, was not merely included in it, but celebrated in one of its most prominent feasts.

In part, we may simply say that scholars must at times take their lesson from the devotion of the people, and accept what they may perhaps not understand. (It is interesting to note in this regard that St Catherine was abolished in the Novus Ordo, but restored to the general calendar by Pope St John Paul II.) But there are three aspects of the story of St Catherine that are particularly significant to the Counter-Reformation, which certainly contributed to the preservation of devotion to her.

The first is her role as the Patron Saint of philosophers, which comes, of course, from the story told above of her converting the fifty men sent to dissuade her of her Christian faith.

The second is her role as patron of women in religious life. This arises from the story that Maximin offered to take her on as a second wife or mistress, and even honor her as a goddess, if she would renounce the Faith. To this Catherine replied, “It is a crime even to think of such things. Christ has taken me to Himself as a bride; I have joined myself to Him as a bride in an indissoluble bond.” Other virgin martyrs like Ss Agnes and Agatha also speak of themselves in similar terms, but for whatever reason, it was seen as especially important in Catherine’s case. Therefore, she is very often represented, both before and after the Counter-Reformation, receiving a wedding ring from the infant Christ as He is held by His Mother, joined to him in a mystical marriage, although this is not specifically said in the text of her acts commonly read in medieval breviaries, nor in the Golden Legend.

The Mystical Marriage of St Catherine, by Guercino, 1620
The third reason has to do with her place among the Fourteen Holy Helpers. In the 1499 Missal of Bamberg, the Collect of a Votive Mass in their honor reads as follows:
Almighty and merciful God, who didst adorn Thy Saints George, Blase, Erasmus, Pantaleon, Vitus, Christopher, Denis, Cyriacus, Acacius, Eustace, Giles, Margaret, Barbara and Catherine with special privileges above all others, so that all who in their necessities implore their help, according to the grace of Thy promise, may attain the salutary effect of their pleading: grant us, we beseech Thee, forgiveness of our sins, and with their merits interceding, deliver us from all adversities, and kindly hear our prayers.
The words “according to the grace of Thy promise” refer to the tradition that during their passion, each of these Saints received a promise from God that their intercession would be exceptionally effective on behalf of those who honored them. Thus, the third antiphon of Lauds in the proper office of St Catherine reads “I await the sword for Thee, o Jesus, good king; set Thou my spirit in Paradise, and show mercy to those who keep my memory.” To this Christ answers in the fourth antiphon: “A voice sounded from heaven: ‘Come, my chosen one, come, enter the chamber of Thy spouse; thou hast obtained what thou asked; those that praise thee shall be saved.” And the fifth concludes, “Because we keep the memory of thee, o virgin, with devout praises, pray for us, we ask, o blessed Catherine.”

In these three roles, as Patron Saint of philosophers, as a bride of Christ, and as a Holy Helper, St Catherine stands out as a perfect response to the novelties of the Protestant reformers.

After serving for many centuries as the “handmaid of theology,” from the Fathers to Boethius to St Thomas, and particularly after the great scholastic conquest of Aristotle, philosophy, and indeed reason itself, were cast out by Martin Luther as “the Devil’s greatest whore… who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom…” And likewise, “Aristotle is the godless bulwark of the papists. He is to theology what darkness is to light. His ethics is the worst enemy of grace. He is a rank philosopher, … the most artful corrupter of minds. If he had not lived in flesh and bones, I should not scruple to take him for a devil.” As for St. Thomas, “he never understood a chapter of the Gospel or Aristotle … In short, it is impossible to reform the Church if Scholastic theology and philosophy are not torn out by the roots with Canon Law.” St Catherine therefore serves as an example of the Church’s true tradition, one who successfully used philosophy in the preaching and teaching of the Faith.

St Catherine and the Philosophers, from the Castiglione chapel in the Basilica of St Clement in Rome, by Masolino da Panicale, 1425-31. Note how she calmly counts off her reasons for believing the Christian faith, as the philosophers look in confusion in different directions. “We firmly confess this to thee, o emperor, that unless thou shall show us a more likely sect than these which we have followed hitherto; behold, we all convert to Christ, because we confess Him to be true God and the son of God.” (from the Sarum Breviary). At this the emperor orders them to be burnt alive, as seen on the right.
The Protestants also completely rejected any kind of monastic or canonical religious life, leaving no formal place at all for women in the institutional life of the Church. (Luther himself, like so many disaffected religious, married a former nun, whose name, ironically, was Catherine.) The tradition of Christ accepting her in a mystical marriage would therefore validate the institution of consecrated life in general, but particularly for women.

Finally, as a Saint renowned for her powerful intercession on behalf of many classes of people, St Catherine stands with countless others in the “cloud of witnesses” against the early Protestant rejection of devotion to the Saints, and their power to intercede for us in this world.

Even within Luther’s lifetime, it was hardly possible to get two Protestant reformers together to agree on any point; hence, the famous dispute at which he carved “EST – it is” into the table, in reply to Zwingli, who was quite certain that the Lord was only kidding when He said “This IS my body.” Broadly speaking, however, they generally accepted that things had really gone wrong in the Church with the coming of the mendicants, (especially the Franciscans), and the flourishing of their teachings in the universities. Although the life of St Catherine may no longer be regarded as historical, it still bears witness to the Church’s historical belief, before the emergence of the mendicants, in the goodness of reason and philosophy, in the value of consecrated life, and the intercession of the Saints on our behalf.

The Cathedral of Siena (Part 3): The Pulpit, Choir and Organ

Continuing with Nicola’s photos of the cathedral of Siena, today we focus on some of the church’s more important liturgical fixtures: the monumental pulpit, the choir stalls, and the organ.
The pulpit is the work of Nicola Pisano (1223-81), executed between 1265-68. His proper last name (if he had one) is unknown, but contemporary documents refers to him as “de Apulia – from (the southern region of) Puglia.” He is now usually called “Pisano – the Pisan” from his long stay in the city of Pisa, where he served as master-builder of the cathedral, and did a monumental pulpit in the baptistery in 1260, similar to the slightly later Sienese one. In a very real sense, he deserves to be considered the first sculptor of the Italian Renaissance, since he was first to closely imitate ancient Roman sculptures in his own works. The style of the seven narrative panels on the outer part of the balustrade, with a large number of figures packed into a tight space, is imitated from ancient Roman sarcophagi. These panels depict (in clockwise order, starting next to the staircase, which was added in the 16th century): the Visitation and Nativity; the Adoration of the Magi; the Presentation in the Temple and the Fight into Egypt; the Massacre of the Innocents; the Crucifixion, and the Last Judgment in two parts, the Elect and the Damned.
At the corners between the panels are statues of: the Virgin of the Annunciation; St Paul with Ss Timothy and Titus; the Virgin and Child; two angels; Christ giving the Eucharist; symbols of the Four Evangelists; Christ as judge; an angel.
A common motif on ancient Roman sarcophagi was a lion devouring a herbivore, usually a donkey or a deer; for the Romans, this may have been intended to represent the victory of death over all things. Here, Nicola Pisano has copied it very successfully; his lions are far more realistic than those commonly seen at the doors of Italian Romanesque churches, which are often just very hairy, elongated cats. Their placement at the base of the pulpit represents the savagery of the world, which is tamed by classical civilization, symbolised by base of the central column, on which are represented Philosphy and the Liberal Arts. Figures of the Virtues on top of the external columns, to represent their role in bringing us to Christ, and the exercise of them through His grace. This same set of motifs was later reproduced by Nicola’s son Giovanni in the pulpit of the cathedral of Pisa.
As was the case in many churches throughout Europe, the liturgical choir was originally set between the high altar and the nave, which in this case put it in the crossing under the dome. (This arrangment can still be seen in many French churches that predate the Counter-Reformation, such as St Germain l’Auxerrois in Paris.) In 1506, however, the church was radically rearranged; the old high altar was dismantled and replaced, and the choir moved behind the new altar (shown in the first post of this series) so that the latter could be better seen, anticipating a development which would become very common in the Counter-Reformation.
The seats were originally made between 1363 and 1397 by several different artists; unfortunately, many of them were lost when the choir was moved. The lighter inlaid wood panels (1503) are the work of an Olivetan monk from Verona named Giovanni, who did similar projects in important churches in many parts of Italy, and in the Papal office (now part of the Vatican Museums) known as the Stanza della Segnatura.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Patronal Feasts of the Schola Sainte-Cécile

Our good friends of the Schola Sainte-Cécile got to celebrate three major solemnities on Sundays this month: first, the feast of All Saints on November 1st, then the feast of St Eugenius, the principal patron of their home church in Paris, on November 15th, and then this past Sunday, the feast of the church’s other patron, St Cecilia, for whom the Schola is also named. The church was built in 1854, in the reign of the last French Emperor, Napoleon III, and named for St Eugenius, a 7th-century bishop of Toledo, Spain, partly to honor the emperor’s Spanish-born wife, Eugénie. In 1952, St Cecilia, the patron of musicians, was added as a second patron of the church because of its proximity to the Paris Conservatory.

As I am sure our readers have seen in the news, France is currently suffering through a second round of lockdowns, and the Masses are being celebrated without a congregation in attendance. Let us remember to pray for all those who are thus deprived of the opportunity to go to Mass, and to receive the other Sacraments, and for the swiftest possible end to such regulations. In the meantime, all of the ceremonies in the church are broadcast live on their YouTube channel,  and then permanetly reposted. Below, I have also included links to their website, which gives the complete musical program (in French) for each ceremony. (Those pages include links to pdfs with the musical scores as well.) The Mass of St Eugenius begins with a rousing Christus vincit, as a relic of the Saint is carried though the church in procession – Feliciter! Feliciter!

Mass on the feast of St Eugène (program)
Vespers (program)
Mass on the feast of St Cecilia (program)
Vespers (program)

The Frescoes at St Francis of Assisi, Baddesley Clinton, England, Part 2: the Schema

Last week I posted images of the spectacular frescoes at St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire, in the West Midlands of England. Once again, the artist who painted these is Martin Earle.

This week I want to share the description of the schema written by the parish priest, Fr John Sharp. Typically, the art in Catholic churches today does not conform to a liturgical schema. Going back perhaps as much as 200 years (from what I have seen), even when the art is beautiful and of high quality, it is more likely to be a collection of the favorite devotions of past priests than what it ought to be, a single, harmonious presentation that reveals the mysteries being celebrated.
I present the document with the introduction and the three sections as written. I have a large number of photographs to show, and so this week I will cover the first two sections, and the third next week in a final post of this series. The introductory paragraphs, which come before the description of the paintings themselves, make an excellent basis for a statement of governing principles for devising a schema in any church.

St Francis of Assisi, Baddesley Clinton: The Iconographic Scheme

Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, paragraph 8, states, “In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem towards which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle. With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until he our life shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory.”

The scheme of decoration in the sanctuary gives visual expression to this. The whole schema encompasses salvation history – the preparation of Israel in the Old Testament (past), the First Coming of Christ in the Incarnation and in His continuing Sacramental Presence (present), and His Second Coming at the consummation of all things (future).

On the east wall, above the tabernacle where He dwells sacramentally in His risen and glorified body, is a representation of Christ in glory, holding in His left hand the Book of the Gospels with the words from the end of Matthew’s Gospel (28, 20), “I am with you always, to the close of the age”, while His right hand is raised in blessing. He is flanked by St Peter and St Paul, founders of the Church of Rome. Their presence is an historical allusion to the paintings of these saints by Rebecca Dering which formerly were in these positions before being removed in the 1960s. They are flanked by our two local martyrs, Blessed John Sugar and Blessed Robert Grissold, who were captured in the lane near Baddesley Clinton Hall on 8th July 1603 and executed in Warwick on 16th July 1604. They, of course, were martyred for their adherence to the Roman Church.

The frieze above here contains the text of the liturgical hymn Te Deum Laudamus (We praise you, O God), which says “the glorious band of apostles … the white-robed army of martyrs all sing your praise.” The text of the hymn begins on the north wall and is preceded by the dates 1870 and 2020 in Roman numerals. 1870 is the date of the opening of the church, and 2020 is the date of the painting scheme and the renovation of the church.
Above this frieze, the surviving painting of the Adoration of the Magi by Rebecca Dering is incorporated into a fuller scheme of the Nativity of Our Lord, with a representation of the appearance of the Angels to the shepherds. These are shown offering lambs to the Lord, mirroring the offering of the gifts by the Magi. This evokes the theme of offering, which is continued in the top band of decoration on the north and south walls. Above this scene is the Hand of God, shown in blessing, which applies to the First and the Second Comings of Christ, both of which are displayed below. The stars of the firmament are carried over to the ceiling of the sanctuary.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Interviews with Catholic Composers — (7) Henrique Coe

It is my great pleasure to resume the Composer Interview series that has already featured six other Catholic composers (a full listing may be found at the end).

Tell us about your musical background: when and how you began singing or playing instruments, your most influential teacher, how your interest in composing sacred music was enkindled. 

Henrique Coe:
I was born in Niterói, Brazil, in 1986. Although my parents are not musicians, they introduced me to music education when I was a child, including piano lessons. In grades 6-12, I studied at Colégio Salesiano Santa Rosa, the Salesian school in my hometown. The school was founded in 1883 and its wind band was founded in 1888. About a century later, the wind band was performing a symphonic repertoire of high complexity. In 1997, right after entering the Salesian school, I joined the symphonic band, which was conducted by Brother Affonso Gonçalves dos Reis (1916-2011) for many decades and by his assistant conductors.

In the symphonic band, after experimenting a few instruments, I started learning the alto saxophone. I really enjoyed playing my new instrument, and the possibility of going to an international competition with the band motivated me to study even more, as I needed to improve quickly to play the required repertoire. Indeed, I would study hours and hours a day. We ended up not going to the competition due to financial reasons, but those myriads of hours of practicing were extremely important for my development as a musician.

In the following years, while I was still playing in the symphonic band, I have also received music formation by other means and played in other ensembles, notably the Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira Jovem (Brazilian Youth Symphony Orchestra). I had private lessons with Cristiano Alves, a famous clarinetist (who also plays the saxophone) from important orchestras in Rio de Janeiro and who used to play in the Salesian symphonic band in Niterói. With other teachers, I studied jazz and Brazilian popular music, flute, guitar, music theory and functional harmony. The latter had a great impact in my career, as I started sketching my first melodies and harmonies. As a side note, I started studying the violin in this year of 2020 (better late than never).

By the time to applying to university, I was not motivated to pursue a career as a classical saxophonist for a few reasons, including the lack of opportunities to play the saxophone in orchestras. Thus, I decided to study economics and management, although I did take some credits in conducting at university. I had the opportunity to conclude my management degree in France, where I was introduced to the boys’ choir Petits Chanteurs d’Aix-en-Provence. I was very impressed with kids singing in such a high level.

Additionally, during my teenage years I did not go to Mass very often, but just before going to France I started going to Mass again. When meeting the boy’s singers, I could appreciate not only the quality of their singing, but also the spiritual aspect of a great part of their repertoire, and I could also sing at Mass with them. Back to Brazil, a priest invited me to start a children’s choir in his parish and so we founded the Pequenos Cantores de São Judas Tadeu.

While working in Rio de Janeiro, I went back to music school and concluded a degree in music education at Conservatório Brasileiro de Música. During this degree, I also studied subjects from the degree of composition, notably harmony, fugue, composition, and counterpoint. The last two were taught by Prof. Armando Lôbo, who introduced me to different composition techniques, including medieval techniques, which became part of my style.

In 2013, I moved to Canada, where I did a master’s degree in composition at Université de Montréal, having studied with Profs. François-Hugues Leclair and Alan Belkin. Right after, I did a doctoral degree in composition at the University of Toronto, having studied with Profs. Christos Hatzis and Norbert Palej. At first, I was surprised that my sacred pieces and my instrumental pieces based on religious themes were being well accepted at university and in the music environment in general. But I also realized that, in addition to its spiritual value, sacred music is an essential part of music history, and that many of the most important composers in the past and in present time write sacred music.

Defend Us in Battle – chamber orchestra version

Is there a sacred music composer—or are there several composers—whose work you find most captivating, either as a source of delight, or as direct inspirations and models for your own work?

Gregorian chant clearly has a great influence in my work, both choral and instrumental. Indeed, many of my compositions are based on Gregorian chant melodies or quote some of them. Yet this influence is not limited to the reproduction of melodies. Indeed, the sonority of Gregorian chant has a great influence in many of my compositions, notwithstanding other techniques that may be used at the same time.

One of the main struggles of contemporary composers is “not to sound like a 19th century composer.” Although almost all orchestras in the world mostly perform tonal music, composition students usually feel pressure at university not to write tonal music, even if there is no written rule prohibiting it. As a result, composers feel they need to “move forward” in their style. Despite the overall aesthetics that emerged in the 20th century, there are modern and contemporary techniques that are very interesting, and I do use some them in my pieces. However, one should realize that “moving backwards” or combining past and new techniques is another way of developing a style.

In my work, very often we find modalism instead of tonalism, although I do like tonal music very much. Another feature present in many of my compositions is what I call the “Medieval sonorities” of parallel fifths and octaves, which were vastly used in the first polyphonies composed by Medieval monks. Interestingly, those are sonorities that we learn to avoid in tonal music, but they are potent and can sound very beautiful when used intentionally in a modal context. In other words, it is an elegant aesthetics based on Medieval polyphony that does not sound like tonal music.

Counterpoint from the Renaissance and from the Baroque has also a significant influence in my writing. I admire the art of the fugue and have learnt much from it. Despite my background in functional harmony, it is common for me to think more of intervals than of chords when writing some passages. Although I do not try to imitate it exactly, I consider the music of Palestrina and his contemporaries as models of sacred polyphony. As stated by Pope Saint Pius X, “Classic Polyphony agrees admirably with Gregorian Chant, the supreme model of all sacred music” (Tra le Sollecitudini, n. 4).

Finally, my work is also influenced by the music of Classicism and of Romantism, and by modern and contemporary music. There are occasions in which I may not enjoy a piece or an entire concert that I attend, but as a composer I can find something interesting in it that could be used differently within another context. Nevertheless, I have in mind that beauty is more important than techniques.

Three pieces for the Dedication of the Montréal Cathedral

If you were given an unlimited budget for musicians for a solemn pontifical Mass, what works would you include?

Many are the possibilities of great works that would serve very well a pontifical Mass. I personally like the sound of boys’ choir very much, with boys singing soprano and alto, and teenagers or adults singing tenors and basses. I also like the sound of a schola cantorum formed by a few men singing Gregorian chant. I love orchestral sound, but I do think the organ has a more “liturgical sound” than an orchestra, although orchestral instruments are not completely excluded from the liturgy. Therefore, I would have a schola cantorum singing Gregorian chant for the Propers, a boys’ choir singing sacred polyphony a capella for the Ordinary and for Offertory and Communion motets, and an organist improvising on Gregorian chant melodies in some parts of the liturgy.

The language of sacred music, as of Catholic worship in general, remains a controversial subject. What are your thoughts about the place of Latin in the liturgy?

As a composer having lived in different countries, I find it more practical to use texts in Latin than in vernacular languages. The sacred texts in Latin can be sung in Brazil, in Canada, in the United States, and anywhere in the world. If the texts were in English, maybe the compositions would not be sung in the liturgy in Brazil, for example. While I appreciate having the translation of the texts, the universality of Latin in sacred music is remarkable. And even secular choirs sing in Latin because Mozart and so many others used texts in Latin in their compositions, which constitute a great part of the choral repertoire.

Exultet Gaudio

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