Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Liturgical Notes on the Commemoration of St Paul

The joint commemoration of the Apostles Peter and Paul is one of the most ancient customs of the Roman Church, attested already in the oldest surviving Roman liturgical calendar, the Depositio Martyrum, written in 336 A.D. A verse of the hymn Apostolorum passio, agreed by most authorities to be an authentic work of St Ambrose († 397), and still used in the Ambrosian liturgy, says that “the thick crowds make their way through the circuit of so great a city; the feast of the sacred martyrs is celebrated on three streets.” These “three streets” are the via Cornelia, the main street running up to and over the Vatican hill; the via Ostiensis, where the burial and church of St Paul are; and the via Appia, on which sits the cemetery “in Catacumbas”.

This last is the ancient Christian cemetery now called the Catacomb of St Sebastian; the word “catacomb” was in fact originally the name of the site of this cemetery specifically, and only later came to be used as a generic term for ancient subterranean Christian burial grounds. The basilica over the cemetery, now also entitled to St Sebastian, was originally known as the “Basilica Apostolorum”, in memory of a tradition that the bones of Peter and Paul were kept there for a time, probably to save them from destruction in the era of persecutions. This is referred to in various ancient sources, including the Depositio Martyrum, and confirmed by modern archeological research. The celebration of the feast “on three streets” would refer then to a procession to visit the site of St Peter’s burial at the Vatican, that of St Paul on the via Ostiensis, and the cemetery where their remains were once kept.
The building of which this wall is a part was constructed over the Catacomb of St Sebastian about 250 A.D., and is covered with dozens of devotional graffiti like the one seen here. “Paule ed (et) Petre, petite pro Victore - Paul and Peter, pray (lit. ‘ask’) for Victor.” 
The poet Prudentius, writing in the very early fifth century, calls the day “bifestum – a double feast”, and attests that on that day the Pope would say a Mass at the Basilica of St Peter, and then hasten to say another at St Paul’s. He does not refer to a visit to the Catacombs on the via Appia, but assuming this visit was made on the way back to the Papal residence at the Lateran, the total circuit is nearly nine-and-half miles, to be made at the height of the Italian summer. However, only seven years after Prudentius visited Rome in 403, the city was sacked by the Goths, then sacked again by the Vandals in 455; over the sixth and seventh centuries, it was largely reduced to ruins and depopulated by the long wars between the Goths and Byzantines, and the invasion of the Lombards.

It should not be surprising, then, that at a certain point the double feast was divided, and kept in a more manageable way as two separate feasts. In the Gelasian Sacramentary, we find three Masses of Ss Peter and Paul assigned to June 29th; the oldest copy of the Gelasianum dates to roughly 750, but much of the material is considerably older, some of it reaching back even to the days of St Leo the Great 300 years earlier. In some manuscripts, however, one of the three, “the proper Mass of St Paul”, has already been assigned to June 30th. In the Gregorian Sacramentary, written roughly a century later, we find the feast of St Peter on June 29th, and that of St Paul on the 30th; each Mass contains references to the other Apostle, but they are nevertheless clearly distinct. Thus, by the time of Charlemagne, the “bifestum” of Prudentius had already been separated into a two day feast.

At the traditional Mass of June 29th, the majority of the texts refer either to St Peter alone (Introit, Epistle, Alleluia, Gospel, Communion) or to Apostles generically, as in the Gradual “Thou shalt make them princes over all the earth.” The sole reference to St Paul is in the Collect, “O God, who hast consecrated this day by the martyrdom of Thy Apostles Peter and Paul, grant Thy Church to follow in all things the teaching of those through whom she first received the faith.” The Office is likewise dedicated almost entirely to St Peter, the notable exceptions being the hymns of Vespers and Lauds, and the antiphon of the Magnificat at Second Vespers. This latter is in both the structure of its text and in its Gregorian melody very similar to the Magnificat antiphon at Second Vespers of Pentecost, to indicate that the mission of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled in the lives and deaths of the Apostles, and thereafter in their successors.

Ant. Hodie * Simon Petrus ascendit crucis patibulum, alleluia: hodie clavicularius regni gaudens migravit ad Christum: hodie Paulus Apostolus, lumen orbis terrae inclinato capite pro Christi nomine martyrio coronatus est, alleluia.

On this day, Simon Peter ascended the gibbet of the cross, alleluia: on this day, he that beareth the keys of the kingdom of heaven passed rejoicing to Christ: on this day, Paul the Apostle, the light of the world, inclining his head, for the name of Christ was crowned with martyrdom, alleluia.

The following day, therefore, the whole of the liturgy is dedicated to St Paul, and is not called a day within the octave of the Apostles, but rather “the Commemoration of St Paul.” The variable texts of the Mass all refer to him, but a commemoration of St Peter is added to the feast, in accordance with the tradition that the two are never entirely separated in the veneration paid them by the Church. (The same is done on the feast of St Paul’s Conversion, and commemorations of him are added to the feasts of St Peter’s Chairs and Chains.) The Office is likewise dedicated entirely to him; both the Mass and Office, however, make use of St Paul’s own testimony in Galatians 2 to the mission of the two Apostles: “For he who worked in Peter for the apostleship of the circumcision, worked in me also among the gentiles; and they knew the grace of God that was given to me.” In the 1130s, a canon of St Peter’s Basilica named Benedict writes that it was still the custom in his time for the Pope to keep the feast of St Peter at the Vatican, but then celebrate Vespers at the tomb of St Paul in the great Basilica on the Ostian Way, “with all the choirs” of the city.

The apsidal mosaic of the St Paul’s Outside-the-Walls, executed in the 1220s, and heavily repaired after most of the ancient church was destroyed by fire in 1823. To the left of Christ are St Luke and St Paul, on the right St Peter and his brother St Andrew.
Originally, the Gospel for the feast was St Matthew 19, 27-29, and from this passage are taken the antiphon of the Benedictus and the Communion of the Mass. This same Gospel is used on several other feasts of Apostles, including the days within the octave of Ss Peter and Paul, and the feast of St Paul’s Conversion. It was changed in the Tridentine liturgical reform to St Matthew 10, 16-22, evidently because of the words “you shall be brought before governors, and before kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the gentiles,” an eminently appropriate choice for this feast. It is also used on the feast of St Barnabas, who, after Paul’s conversion, when the members of the Church feared that it was perhaps a ruse to further the persecution, “took him, and brought him to the Apostles, and told them how he had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken to him.” (Acts 9, 27) The Epistle of the Mass, Galatians 1, 11-20, has been added to the traditional readings for the vigil of Ss Peter and Paul as the Epistle of the vigil Mass in the new rite.
The Apostles Paul and Barnabas at Lystra (Acts 14, 5-18), by Jacob Jordaens, 1645; Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna.
In the Novus Ordo, the Commemoration of St Paul has been abolished, and the texts of both Mass and Office for June 29th rewritten to give equal space to both Apostles. So for example, of the two responsories in the Office of Readings, the first refers to Peter, and the second to Paul. (Inexplicably and unjustifiably, the Magnificat antiphon “Hodie” cited above was not retained in the Liturgy of the Hours.) June 30th is now the feast of the “Protomartyrs of the Roman Church”, the Christians whose martyrdom at the hands of the Emperor Nero is described in a famous passage of the Annals of Tacitus.
But all human efforts … did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration (which destroyed much of Rome in July of 64 A.D.) was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.
Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed. (Book XV, chapter 44)
The Torches of Nero, by Henryk Siemiradzki, 1876
Despite the early and explicit attestation of this martyrdom by an historian with no bias in favor of the Christians, there is no historical tradition of devotion to this group of martyrs “whose number and names are known only to God”, as we read in Donald Attwater’s revision of Butler’s Lives of the Saints. A notice of them was added to the Roman Martyrology in the post-Tridentine revision of Cardinal Baronius, but their feast was not added to the calendar of the diocese of Rome until the early 20th century, by Pope Benedict XV.

The “circus” to which Tacitus refers as the site of the martyrdom was a chariot-racing facility that sat immediately to the south of the via Cornelia, next to where St Peter’s Basilica is today. It was allowed to fall to ruins after the death of Nero, and apparently razed to the ground by Constantine to make space for the original basilica. Left in place, however, was the Egyptian obelisk brought to Rome by Caligula, and set up on the “spine” of the circus, as the Romans called it, the wall down the middle around which the chariots raced. The turning posts on the end are called “metae” in Latin, and the apocryphal Acts of Peter, a work of the mid-2nd century, say that Peter was crucified “inter metas”; the obelisk, then, would have been among the last things St Peter saw in this world. After sitting next to the old Basilica for over 12 centuries, it was moved in 1586 to the area in front of the new church, then still under construction, later to be surrounded by Bernini’s Piazza. Its former location is marked by a plaque in the ground to the side of the modern basilica; the surrounding area was renamed by Benedict XV “Piazza of the First Martyrs of Rome.”

The Basilica of St Peter in 1450, according to the reconstruction of H.W. Brewer, 1891. The obelisk is seen immediately in front of the first rotunda on the left side of the basilica.
Gratias quam maximas refero Bono Homini, quo sagacior et diligentior consulendus non invenitur!

The Fallacy of the Claim that Christian Art Generally Portrays Christ as a Northern European

Why I think that those who criticize the Christian artistic tradition for always presenting Christ as a northern European are wrong and it reveals a Eurocentric bias in their interpretation of history.

The following first appeared in January 2016. I am reposting it as a response to the recent highly publicized calls in the US by the Marxist left for the destruction of Christian images on the basis of the idea that they promote a white-European stereotype of Christ as a symbol of oppression. Iconoclasm is a heresy that has appeared before, going back many centuries. This particular justification for image destruction is more recent, dating, to my knowledge, only as far as the period of the Marxist theorists of the US who developed their ideas after the Second World War. The accusation that Christians think Christ is white European is false, as a survey of Christian art shows. The claim seems to be based upon an ignorance of art history influenced, ironically, by a Western, Eurocentric bias in the interpretation of history.


The arguments I made four years ago were in response to some newspaper articles which were anti-Christian, but much tamer in their tone than what we are seeing at the moment. Anyway, here is what I wrote:

I have read a number of articles over the years that criticize the traditional representation of Christ as historically inaccurate and exemplary of historical northern European cultural bias.

Twice recently, I have heard this discussion sparked off by the discovery of human remains in the Holy Land which date from the time of Christ, which have allowed scientists to create an image of the person from whom the bones came. The figure that is recreated is, surprise, surprise, olive-skinned and Semitic-looking, and so this indicates, so the logic goes, what Christ would probably have looked like. This being so, it demonstrates how narrow-minded Europeans are, and how culturally narrow Christianity is for portraying Christ as a white Caucasian.

In short, it would be said, Christ didn’t look like this painting by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, as the Church has often represented:

He looked instead more like this scientific reconstruction of a man, developed from a skull discovered in the Holy Land, according to this article.


Here is my reaction: first, if ever there was a concocted news piece, this was one - do we really need the discovery of a skull as evidence that a Jew living in the Middle East about 2,000 years ago might have been dark-skinned and Semitic-looking? I think nearly every Christian today would at least be open to the idea without feeling that their faith was threatened, and it wouldn’t require the discovery of a skull to convince them.

Second, I think that the argument reveals a narrow understanding of the Christian artistic tradition and a lack of appreciation of just how universally inclusive it is. I will acknowledge that there is a tradition of artists who present Christ as their own race, or the race of those for whom the painting is intended. The idea behind this is to encourage people to believe that Christ is a person to whom they can relate on a personal level. This is natural. Sir Anthony Van Dyck, who was northern European and who spent most of his professional life working in England, might very well naturally paint Christ as a northern European. But why shouldn’t he? I feel that it is as reasonable for a European to paint Christ as European as it is for him to be painted as an African for an African congregation, or as Chinese for a Chinese audience, as in this painting:


This desire to portray Christ in a form that the intended viewers will relate to can manifest itself in other ways. This famous crucifixion by Grunewald shows Christ with the open sores of a fungal infection transmitted through rye grain eaten in the bread of 16th-century France. Those who suffered from this horrible disfiguring disease were given care in a hospital, and this painting was made for the chapel in the hospital. The intention was to give them solace by showing that Christ not only bore the pain of their sins, but was suffering with them physically too. 


On the whole, the depiction of Christ in the Christian artistic tradition does look more like the Van Dyck image than anything else. However, what I would contest the idea that this results from a northern European cultural bias. Look at these two images, first this one:

Monday, June 29, 2020

Ordination and First Mass for the Fraternity of St Joseph the Guardian

On the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, His Excellency Dominique Rey, bishop of Fréjus-Toulon, France, ordained Dcn Danka Pereira, a member of the Fraternity of St Joseph the Guardian, to the priesthood in the traditional rite. Three days later, Fr Pereira celebrated his first solemn Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help; both of these celebrations took place at the church of St Trophime in the town of Bourmes Les Mimosas, which is under the Fraternity’s care. Our thanks to them for sharing these photos with us, and our congratulations to Fr Pereira, to his family, friends, religious family, and diocese - ad multos annos!
Bishop Rey reads the admonition to the ordinand from the Pontificale.
The Litany of the Saints is sung, led by two cantors who kneel at the entrance to the sanctuary; the ordinand prostrates himself, while all others kneel.
After the bishop has imposed hands on the ordinand, all the priests in the church do the same.

The Feast of Ss Peter and Paul 2020

Truly it is fitting and just, right and profitable to salvation to give Thee thanks always, here and everywhere, in honor of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Whom Thy election did so deign to consecrate, that it might change blessed Peter’s worldly trade as a fisherman into divine teaching; so that he might deliver the human race from the depths of hell with the nets of Thy precepts. And then Thou didst change the mind of his fellow Apostle Paul, along with his name; and whom the Church at first feared as a persecutor, She now rejoices to hold as the teacher of divine commandments. Paul was blinded that he might see; Peter denied, that he might believe. To the one Thou gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to the other, knowledge of the divine law, that he might call the nations; for the latter brought them in, as the other opened (the door of heaven). Therefore both received the rewards of eternal virtue. Thy right hand did raise up the one, lest he sink as he walked upon the water, and rescued the other from the dangers of the deep when he was shipwrecked for the third time.

The Stefaneschi Triptych, painted by Giotto and assistants for the high altar of St Peter’s Basilica, ca. 1330. On the left, the Crucifixion of St Peter; in the middle, Card. Giacomo Stefaneschi kneels before Christ in majesty; on the right, the beheading of St Paul. In the upper part of the right panel, Angels bring St Paul’s blindfold to one of the women of the Roman church after his death, as Paul promised her would happen. (Public domain image from Wikipedia; click to enlarge.)
The one did conquer the gates of the hell, and the other the sting of death; and Paul was beheaded, for he was shown to be the head of the Gentiles’ faith, while Peter, followed in the footsteps of Christ, the head of us all. Whom together with Thee, almighty Father, and the Holy Spirit, the Angels praise, the Archangels venerate, the Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Principalities and Powers adore; whom the Cherubim and Seraphim with shared rejoicing praise. And we pray that Thou may command our voices to be brought in among them, saying with humble confession: Holy, Holy, Holy… (The Preface of Ss Peter and Paul in the Ambrosian Missal.)

Vere quia dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper hic et ubique in honore Apostolorum Petri et Pauli gratias agere. Quos ita electio tua consecrare dignata est, ut beati Petri secularem piscandi artem in divinum dogma converteret; quatenus humanum genus de profundo inferni praeceptorum tuorum retibus liberaret. Nam Coapostoli ejus Pauli mentem cum nomine mutasti, et quem prius persecutorem metuebat Ecclesia, nunc caelestium mandatorum laetatur se habere doctorem. Paulus caecatus est, ut videret; Petrus negavit, ut crederet. Huic claves caelestis imperii, illi ad evocandas gentes divinae legis scientiam contulisti. Nam ille introducit, hic aperit. Ambo igitur virtutis aeternae praemia sunt adepti. Hunc dextera tua gradientem in elemento liquido, dum mergeretur, erexit; illum autem tertio naufragantem, profunda pelagi fecit vitare discrimina. Hic portas inferni, ille mortis vicit aculeum: et Paulus capite plectitur, quia gentium caput fidei probatur: Petrus autem praemissis vestigiis caput omnium secutus est Christum. Quem una tecum, omnipotens Pater, et cum Spiritu Sancto laudant Angeli, venerantur Archangeli; Throni, Dominationes, Virtutes, Principatus et Potestates adorant. Quem Cherubim et Seraphim socia exsultatione concelebrant. Cum quibus et nostras voces, ut admitti jubeas, deprecamur, supplici confessione dicentes: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus…

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Choirs: An Appeal for Common Sense

Choirs throughout the world face extraordinary challenges at present. Effectively silenced for several months, they have been unable to sing together in rehearsal or in the context of liturgical or concert performance. Even as countries begin, ever so cautiously, to emerge from lockdown, a considerable amount of debate has arisen surrounding the circumstances of viral transmission through singing. This panic was initially precipitated by the spread of the virus in a choir in the USA, pre-lockdown, with the assumption that it was the singing, rather than the lack of social-distancing, which caused this. A number of preliminary studies, including two carried out in Freiburg and Munich, demonstrate that singing is perfectly safe as long as sensible precautions are put in place.

However, Britain’s choral tradition is now under major threat due to the UK government’s proposed guidance which will make it difficult or impossible for choirs to meaningfully rehearse or perform. Even though there is no scientific evidence to prove the dangers of singing, the negative narrative means that the onus is now on us to prove that singing is safe: so much for ‘innocent until proven guilty’. However in a world which seems unable to accept any risk at all, the UK government’s response is ultimately driven by concerns about liability.

Aside from the obvious impoverishment of the Liturgy and the wider cultural heritage, many professional musicians now face very bleak times. Amateur musicians will suffer too. However in the case of children’s choirs, and those which include children such as cathedral choirs, this situation is nothing short of catastrophic.

Children’s choirs are in a constant state of flux and development and boys’ voices undergo pronounced change which requires particular management. Throughout a choir, individuals are at different stages of sight-reading proficiency, pitching ability and general musical awareness. The younger ones apprentice from the older ones, with every child at a different stage on the journey. Through this process the transmission of the choral tradition itself takes place, encompassing the shared musical experiences, the collegiate knowledge of specific repertoire, and the choir’s unique sound itself, melded by the building in which it sings.

None of this can be simply put on hold; it has to be active in order to exist. This is certainly the case for the two choirs which I direct, the London Oratory Junior Choir and the London Oratory Schola, on whose behalf I wrote to Oliver Dowden MP, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to express these concerns. Over a week later his department has yet to respond; however, a number of other Members of Parliament including Sir Edward Leigh have contacted me to assure me of their support.

In my letter I wrote that, unlike adult choirs, a boys’ or children’s choir cannot simply pick up where it left off. The process of nurturing and developing cannot be put on ice and then resumed at a later date without significant consequences. It could take three to five years to recover the damage and rebuild, and a generation of singers could easily be lost. Time is of the essence, and the clock is always ticking for a boy treble.

Science is not absolute, even when preceded by the definite article. The risks to the young are absolutely minute. Will institutions such as Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College disappear from the landscape? Will there be no choir at the next coronation in Westminster Abbey? Of course not – common sense will prevail in the end, but the sooner the better.

UPDATE: Today (Fri 3 July 2020) I received a response to my letter to Oliver Dowden MP. The response came from Caroline Dinenage MP, Minister of State, DCMS. The letter does not address any of my concerns nor does it make any mention, specific or otherwise, of Children's Choirs.

Kicking St Irenaeus Around

June 28 is traditionally the feast day of Pope St Leo II, who died on this day in 683, after a reign of less than 11 months. The Liber Pontificalis records that on the previous day he celebrated the ordination of nine priests, three deacons, and twenty-three bishops; it is not said that it was the ordination ceremony that killed him, but the heat of Rome in June and the inevitable length of such a ceremony make this seem likely more than coincidence. The principal achievement of his pontificate was the confirmation of the acts of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, the third of Constantinople, which condemned the Monothelite heresy; being fluent in Greek as well as Latin, he personally made the official Latin translation of the council’s acts. It is one of the oddities of hagiography that his predecessor St Agatho, in whose reign the council was held, and whose intervention (through his legates) in its deliberations was acclaimed with the words “Peter has spoken through Agatho!”, has never been honored with a general feast day in the West, but is kept on the Byzantine Calendar. Leo, on the other, was a Sicilian, and therefore born as a subject of the Byzantine Empire, but is not liturgically honored in the East.

In this altar in St Peter’s Basilica are kept the relics of three Sainted Popes named Leo, the Second (682-3), the Third (795-816) and the Fourth (847-55). The altar of Pope St Leo I (440-61) is right next to it, and Pope Leo XII (1823-29) is buried in the floor between them.
Even older than the feast of Pope Leo is the vigil of Ss Peter and Paul. The vigils of the Saints originally consisted solely of a Mass, penitential in character, celebrated after None in violet vestments, without a Gloria, Alleluia or Creed; prior to the Tridentine reform, they had no presence in the Office in the Use of Rome. (Back when there were plenty of canonical and monastic churches, such foundations would have celebrated two Masses in choir, that of St Leo after Terce, and that of the vigil after None, just as was done with the feasts of Saints which occur in Lent.) In the Breviary of St Pius V, vigils were extended to the Office, following a custom of medieval German Uses, an unusual example of change in an otherwise very conservative reform. At Matins, a homily on the day’s Gospel is read, and the prayer of the vigil Mass is said at the Hours; everything else is done as on the feria until Vespers, which are the First Vespers of the feast. However, the vigil of Ss Peter and Paul, because it coincides with St Leo, was reduced in the Office to one lesson at Matins (the ninth) and a commemoration at Lauds.

At Lyon, the ancient primatial see of Gaul, the day was kept as the feast of St Irenaeus, and the vigil as a commemoration. In his book On Illustrious Men, St Jerome mentions the famous martyrdom of St Pothinus, who was Irenaeus’ predecessor in the See of Lyon, but says nothing about the latter’s death, the date and circumstances of which are unknown; it is a rather later tradition that he died a martyr. It may very well be that his feast found its way to the vigil of Ss Peter and Paul at Lyon because of the famous passage in his book Against the Heresies (3.3.2) in which he attests to the primacy of the Roman See as follows. “For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority – that is, the faithful everywhere – inasmuch as the Apostolic Tradition has been preserved continuously by those who are everywhere.” In 1921, Pope Benedict XV extended his feast to the general Calendar on his traditional Lyonese date, moving Pope Leo II to July 3rd, the next free day on the calendar, and the day of his burial according to the Liber Pontificalis.

The crypt of the church of St Irenaeus at Lyon. In 1562, the church was severely damaged by the Huguenots, who also destroyed the Saint’s relics, and played a game of soccer with his skull. After more destruction in the revolution, it was rebuilt in 1824, and the crypt renovated in 1863. Despite these vicissitudes, the crypt may still be regarded as one of the oldest religious buildings in France; relics of certain local martyrs were venerated there already in the later part of the 5th century. The church was originally dedicated to St John the Baptist. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Xavier Caré.)
In the Breviary Reform of 1960, St Irenaeus was moved to July 3rd, and Pope Leo II suppressed, in order to free June 28th up entirely for the Mass and Office of the vigil of Ss Peter and Paul. This was fundamentally a rather odd thing to do, since so many of the vigils then on the general Calendar, (including all those of the other Apostles, and, inexcusably, those of the Epiphany and All Saints) were abolished by the same reform. Less than a decade later, however, with the promulgation of the Novus Ordo, vigils in the classic Roman sense, penitential days of preparation for the major feasts, were simply abolished altogether, “freeing” June 28th from the one observance which had hitherto been absolutely universal on that date, the vigil of Ss Peter and Paul. St Irenaeus was therefore moved back to that date, freeing July 3rd for the transfer of the Apostle St Thomas from his historical Roman date, December 21st, to the date on which the Syrian church commemorates the transfer of his relics from India to Edessa.

This may seem to be just another case of what Fr Hunwicke once described as the freezing in pack ice of the EF Calendar, which keeps Irenaeus on a day which he held for ten years, while the OF has restored him to his historical Lyonese date. It should be noted, however, that Lyon itself moved his feast 4 times. After it had been kept on June 28th for centuries, Archbishop Camille de Neufville de Villeroy (1654-93) formally raised St Irenaeus to the title of Patron of the archdiocese, and moved his feast to November 23rd, displacing the very ancient feast of Pope St Clement. Patronal feasts were holy days of obligation in the Ancien Régime, and since adding another holiday to the end of June, right in the middle of harvest season, was judged excessive, his feast was transferred. (Thanks to Mr Gerhard Eger, one of the authors of Canticum Salomonis, for this information.) In the Neo-Gallican reform of Abp Antoine de Montazet (1758-88), which was a catastrophe for the Use of Lyon, it was fixed to the Sunday after the feast of Ss Peter and Paul. In the 1860s, the Missale Romano-Lugdunense was promulgated (basically the Missal of St Pius V, with a great many Lyonese customs added to it, including the rites of Holy Week), and St Irenaeus was fixed to July 3rd. Finally, in the 20th century, he was returned to his traditional date.

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Cathedral of St Vigilius in Trent

Last month, we published pictures of the basilica of St Simplician in Milan, which houses the relics of Ss Sisinnius, Martyrius and Alexander, a group missionaries who were martyred at Anaunia, north of Trent, where they had been sent by St Ambrose at the behest of St Vigilius, the bishop of Trent. Today is the feast of Vigilius himself, who followed in their footsteps, and was also martyred while preaching to the pagans, in the year 405. The cathedral of Trent is dedicated to him, and is of course is also famous as the site of the great ecumencial council of the 16th century. Here are some photos taken by Nicola de’ Grandi during a recent visit.

The church was begun in the year 1212 at the initiative of bishop Federico Vanga, under the architect Adamo D’Arogno, to replace a much older structure. The Romanesque façade was meant to be seen up close, since the piazza in front of it was quite small until the 19th century. The original plan was to have a bell-tower on either side, but only one was completed; in the 18th century, it was capped with an onion dome of the kind seen all over the Adige valley. (In point of fact, this architectural form, which is thought of as typically Russian, was introduced into that country by Italian and German architects during the great Westernization movement of Tsar Peter I.)
On the north side of the church, with a rose-window designed to represent the Wheel of Fortune, and the bishop’s palace behind the church (to the left in this photo).
The “bishops’ door”, which they would use to enter the church for major ceremonies, made in the 16th century wiht pieces of an earlier version: the image of St Vigilus above the door, the two lions on which the front columns rest, and the lunette above the door with Christ the Pantocrator and the symbols of the Four Evangelists. 

Spanish-Language CMAA Virtual Colloquium Event

As part of the Church Music Association of America's July 6–10 virtual colloquium this summer, the CMAA is venturing further into providing resources and programming for Spanish speakers.

We’re delighted to be able to host two online workshops on Thursday, July 9th, presented by Dr. Heitor Caballero, and they are integrated into a fuller day which includes a streamed Requiem Mass and Compline, both in Latin. Admission to these events is free, but advance registration is required

Rebel Wills: The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost Secret

Lost in Translation, #5

The fall of the first rebel.
The Secret for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost is:
Oblatiónibus nostris, quæsú­mus, Dómine, placáre suscép­tis: et ad te nostras étiam rebélles compélle propítius voluntátes.Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Be pleased, we beseech Thee, O Lord, with our offerings, which have been received [by Thee], and graciously force our wills [back] to Thee, even when they are rebellious.
At this point of the Mass, the priest has more or less completed the Offertory Rite and has offered bread, wine, himself, and all of us as an oblation to God. Understandably, he now implores God to be pleased with these offerings.
There is a subtle word play between rebelles and compelle in the second half of prayer: “even when we rebel, [don’t forget to] compel.” It is a marvelous petition. During every “Our Father” we pray “Thy will be done,” but how often do we mean it without reservation? It is easy to pray: “Thy will be done, as long Thy will doesn’t include for me cancer, bankruptcy, a bad cup of coffee, etc.” It is far more difficult to echo Job’s response to misfortune--“if we have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10)--or to say with Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, Thy will be done” (Matt 26:42).
So even though we are good Christians who go to Mass, such as Mass on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, our wills still recoil at the idea of total acquiescence to the will of God. We continue to rebel even after our baptism. How fitting that this Secret is prayed during the Mass that has as its Gospel Luke 5:1-11, the story of Jesus ordering Peter to “launch out into the deep and let down” his nets. When Peter obeys and takes in an enormous haul of fish, he poignantly says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” To which Our Lord replies, “Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Peter acknowledges Jesus as Lord and yet tells Him to go away! Clearly, he fears that he will not be up to whatever task to which Jesus may call him, for he knows that his will is rebellious. But Jesus instead not only keeps him but makes him a fisher of other rebellious wills, a fisher of men. 


The Church Fathers were quick to point out that the great difference between fishing for men and fishing for fish is that when you are fishing for men, you are fishing something out of the sea that does not belong there and will die without being rescued. Even so, drowning victims are infamous for often taking their would-be rescuers down with them: you might say that even though folks who are drowning want nothing more than to be saved, their wills are rebellious, or at least not fully cooperating. It is a terrible and self-destructive reflex, and yet we sinners do it all the time as well.
And so we pray, Almighty God: drag us, kicking and screaming if you have to, into a conformity with Your will while there is still time, for we know that as a Gentleman who respects our final decisions, You drag no one kicking and screaming into Heaven.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Corpus Christi Photopost 2020 (Part 2)

Our second Corpus Christi photopost starts with something quite interesting from the church of St John Cantius in Chicago, and also includes some photos from another one of our favorite photographers, Mt Arrys Ortañez. Thanks once again to everyone who sent these in!

St John Cantius – Chicago, Illinois
The church steps are decorated for Corpus Christi with an image which is projected onto them...
and the projection used as a guideline for the painters - very clever!

The New Prefaces of the EF Mass, Part 7: The Preface of the Dedication of a Church

The first article in this series contains a history of the preface as a feature of the Roman Mass to which the reader may find it useful to refer.

The final preface of the seven recently permitted for optional use in the Mass of the Extraordinary Form, that for the Dedication of a Church, is one of the group originally composed for the neo-Gallican use of Paris and promulgated by the reform of Abp. Charles de Ventimille in 1738. As noted previously, when the neo-Gallican Uses were gradually suppressed over the course of the 19th century, some of their features were retained by being incorporated into the French supplements “for certain places” in the Roman liturgical books, this preface among them.

His Excellency Fabian Bruskewitz, then bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska (emeritus since 2012), draws the Latin and Greek alphabets on the floor of the chapel of the FSSP seminary of Our Lady of Guadalupe during its dedication in 2010.
VD: Qui hanc oratiónis domum, quam aedificávimus, bonórum omnium largítor inhábitas, et Ecclesiam, quam ipse fundasti, incessábili operatióne sanctíficas. Haec est enim vere domus oratiónis, visibílibus aedificiis adumbráta, templum habitatiónis gloriae tuae, sedes incommutábilis veritátis, sanctuarium aeternae caritátis. Haec est arca, quae nos a mundi ereptos diluvio, in portum salútis indúcit. Haec est dilecta et única sponsa, quam acquisívit Christus sánguine suo, quam vivíficat Spíritu suo, cuius in sinu renáti per gratiam tuam, lacte verbi páscimur, pane vitae roborámur, misericordiae tuae subsidiis confovémur. Haec fidéliter in terris, sponso adiuvante, mílitat, et perénniter in caelis, ipso coronante, triumphat. Et ídeo…

Who being the giver of all good things, dwellest in this house of prayer which we have built, and sanctifiest the Church, which Thou didst found Thyself, with unceasing work. For this is truly the house of prayer, represented by visible buildings, the temple wherein dwelleth Thy glory, the seat of unchanging truth, the sanctuary of eternal charity. This is the ark, which rescueth us from the flood of the world, and bringeth us unto the port of salvation. This is the beloved and only spouse, which Christ got with His own blood, even she whom he quickeneth with His Spirit, in whose bosom we, being reborn through Thy grace, are fed with the milk of the word, strengthened with the bread of life, and fostered with the aid of Thy mercy. Faithful doth she strive upon the earth with the help of Her Spouse, and triumpheth forever in heaven as He crowns Her. And therefore...

It is not difficult to see why this particular preface was not taken into the post-Conciliar Missal. The “negative” image of the world as a flood, and of the Church as an ark which delivers us from it, hardly fits in with the naive optimism about the modern world so much in vogue in the 1960s. In passing, we may note that the story of Noah’s ark and the flood was deleted from the Easter vigil in 1955, and not restored in the post-Conciliar reform. (It is read on two days in the sixth week of Ordinary time, year 1.) Likewise, the words “we renounced ... the world, which is the enemy of God”, originally included in the renewal of baptismal promises added to the vigil in 1955, were deleted in 1969. Expressions like “unchanging truth”, “only Spouse”, “strive” (“militat”, as in “the Church militant”), and above all “triumph”, clash mightily with the much-vaunted “Spirit of Vatican II”, even that Spirit that killeth, where the letter giveth life. I remember a pastor of mine, who had lived and suffered through the very worst of the post-Conciliar crazy days, once saying, “Back in the ’70s, the very worst sin you could commit was to triumph over something, and you could get away with almost anything if you could label its opposite ‘triumphalism!’ ”

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Oratory of St John the Baptist in Urbino, Italy

In honor of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, here are some pictures which I have been saving for almost a year from a visit to an oratory dedicated to him in the city of Urbino, in the Marches region of Italy. The oratory was built from 1365-93 as the seat of a confraternity named for the Saint, near a hospice which cared for both pilgrims and the sick. At the beginning of the 15th century, the brothers Lorenzo and Jacopo Salimbeni were commissioned to decorate it with stories of the Baptist’s life, which cover most of the right wall, as well as the large Crucifixion scene over the altar; their work was completed by 1416. Although the cycle is not perfectly preserved (most of the work on left and back walls is gone), what remains is one of the best examples in the Marches of the rich International Gothic style. Thanks to Nicola for bringing me to see this artistic gem; I plan on posting some more photos from Urbino soon.
Upper register, the Annunciation to Zachariah; Zachariah writing because he cannot speak; the Visitation; lower register, the young John the Baptist in the desert.
The birth and circumcision of John.
The departure of the Virgin after Her visit to Elizabeth.

Corpus Christi Photopost 2020 (Part 1)

Despite the lockdowns and restrictions, we had just enough nice photos to be worth making two posts out of them. We are especially pleased to share some photos of the first Mass celebrated in the traditional rite by His Excellency Joseph Strickland, bishop of Tyler, Texas, and some work by one of our favorite photographers, Allison Girone.

We’ll be very glad to include any late submissions in the next post; you can send your photos of Corpus Christi liturgies and other recent events to photopost@newliturgicalmovement.org; don’t forget to include the name and location of the church.

Damenstiftkirche – Munich, Germany (FSSP)
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception – Tyler, Texas
Prelatitial Mass celebrated by His Excellency Joseph Strickland, Bishop of Tyler

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Vigil of the Nativity of St John the Baptist

In the Roman Rite, the term “vigilia – vigil” traditionally means a penitential day of preparation for a major feast. The Mass of a Saint’s vigil is celebrated after None, as are the Masses of the ferias of Lent or the Ember Days, and in violet vestments; however, the deacon and subdeacon do not wear folded chasubles, as they do in Lent, but the dalmatic and tunicle. The Mass has neither the Gloria nor the Creed, the Alleluja is simply omitted before the Gospel, not replaced with a Tract, and Benedicamus Domino is said at the end in place of Ite, missa est.

Folio 89r of the Gellone Sacramentary, 780 AD; the Mass of the vigil of the Nativity of St John, which is here called “jejunium Sancti Johannis Baptistae - the fast of St John the Baptist”, begins with the large decorated P at the bottom of the page. Note the hole where the parchment gave way in the process of preparation; the text is copied out around it on both sides. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 12048)
The vigil of the Nativity of St John the Baptist is attested in all liturgical books of the Roman Rite until 1969, when vigils in the traditional sense were abolished. The same chants and Scriptural readings which it has in the Missal of St Pius V are already found in the oldest graduals and lectionaries, and the same prayers are all in place in the Gregorian Sacramentary at the beginning of the 9th century. The Baptist’s conception is noted on September 24th in many early Western calendars and martyrologies, but does not seem to have been kept as an actual feast as it is in the Byzantine Rite (one day earlier). This is because the vigil itself serves as the liturgical commemoration of his conception, the announcement of which by the Angel Gabriel to his father Zachariah is read as the Gospel of the day. This custom mirrors that of the Ember Wednesday of Advent, on which the Gospel of the Annunciation is read in preparation for Christmas.

The introit of the vigil sums up the Angel’s message, and prepares us for the great feast of the following day, on which “many will rejoice at his birth.”

Introitus Ne tímeas, Zacharía, exaudíta est oratio tua: et Elísabeth uxor tua pariet tibi filium, et vocábis nomen ejus Joannem: et erit magnus coram Dómino: et Spíritu Sancto replébitur adhuc ex útero matris suae: et multi in nativitáte eius gaudébunt. V. Dómine, in virtúte tua laetábitur rex: et super salutáre tuum exsultábit vehementer. Gloria Patri. Ne tímeas. (Do not be afraid, Zachary, thy prayer hath been heard, and Elizabeth thy wife shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John; and he shall be great before the Lord, and shall be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb; and many will rejoice at his birth. V. O Lord, in Thy strength the king shall be glad; and in Thy salvation shall he rejoice exceedingly. Glory be. Do not be afraid.)

It has very often been noted that the birth of the Baptist occurs shortly after the summer solstice, when the hours of daylight begin to grow shorter, and the birth of Christ occurs shortly after the winter solstice, when the hours of daylight begin to grow longer. This arrangement is traditionally understood as a reflection of St John’s words about Christ, “He must wax, and I must wane.” (John 3, 30) The Collect of the vigil seems also to refer to this when it speaks not of the upcoming festivity, but rather of John’s role in sending us to Christ.

“Præsta, quáesumus, omnípotens Deus: ut familia tua per viam salútis incédat; et, beáti Joannis Praecursóris hortamenta sectendo, ad eum, quem praedixit, secúra perveniat, Dóminum nostrum Jesum Christum, Fílium tuum etc. – Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that Thy household may walk in the way of salvation and, by following the exhortations of blessed John the Forerunner, safely come to Him whom he foretold, even our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, etc.”

The Preaching of St John the Baptist, ca. 1665 by Mattia Preti (1613-99); public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The Epistle, Jeremiah 1, 4-10, is chosen particularly for the words of verse 5, “Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee: and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and made thee a prophet unto the nations.” This makes a perfect complement to the Gospel, since it parallels the words of the angel to Zachariah so closely. “For … and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. … And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias (i.e. of a prophet).”

The association of this passage with John the Baptist goes back to the very origins of Latin Christianity, already cited in Tertullian’s treatise On the Soul, chapter 26. “Elizabeth exults with joy, (for) John had leaped in her womb; Mary magnifies the Lord, (for) Christ had so impelled Her. The mothers recognize each other’s offspring, being each herself recognized by them, who were of course alive, and not merely souls, but spirits also. So also do you read the word of God (spoken) to Jeremiah, ‘Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee.’ … And God made a man, and breathed into him the breath of life, and God would not have known him to be a man in the womb, unless he were whole: ‘and before thou camest out of the womb, I sanctified thee.’ ”

The Prophet Jeremiah, by Piero della Francesca, 1452-66, in the church of St Francis in Arezzo.
And likewise, in St Ambrose’s highly influential commentary on the Gospel of Luke (1.33): “There is no doubt that this promise of the Angel is true; for indeed, Saint John, before he was born, while still in his mother’s womb, showed the grace of the Spirit received. For when neither his father nor his mother had done any wonders, leaping in the womb of his mother, he proclaimed the good tidings of the coming of the Lord to his mother. For thus do you read, that when the mother of the Lord had come to Elizabeth, she said to Her, ‘For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.’ For he had not yet the spirit (i.e. breath) of life, but the spirit of grace. And then, we have also been able to note elsewhere that the grace of sanctification precedes the essence of living, since the Lord saith, ‘Before thou camest forth from the womb, I sanctified thee, and set thee as a prophet among the nations.’ ”

The Gradual is one of only two in the historical corpus [1] of the Roman Missal whose texts are taken from the Gospels, the other being that of the feast of John the Evangelist. This acknowledges the unique roles that the two Saints John played in Our Lord’s life on this earth, and perhaps also reflects the fact that they share the dedication of the cathedral of Rome with Him. Both graduals are in the fifth mode, but their music is different.

Graduale Fuit homo missus a Deo, cui nomen erat Joannes. V. Hic venit, ut testimonium perhibéret de lúmine, paráre Dómino plebem perfectam. (There was a man sent by God, whose name was John. V. This man came to bear witness concerning the light, to prepare for the Lord a perfect people.)


The Gospel, Luke 1, 5-17, is titled in the Missal “The beginning of the Holy Gospel according to Luke”, since the first four verses, which are not traditionally read in the Roman Rite, are treated as a prologue. This part explains who John’s parents were, and tells us of their childlessness and of the Angel’s words to Zachariah when he appears to him in the temple. However, the second part, verses 18-25, which narrates Zachariah’s doubt and punishment, and the actual conception, is not read. Originally, the Nativity of the Baptist was celebrated with two Masses, one at dawn and one during the day, which are analogous to the second and third Masses of Christmas. Luke 1, 18-25 was historically read as the Gospel of the dawn Mass, but disappeared from the Roman Rite when that Mass fell out of use. In the post-Conciliar lectionary, these verses have been restored to the lectionary, not in connection with the Birth of St John, but in Advent, on December 19th when that day is a feria.

In our almost-finished series on the seven new prefaces recently permitted for use in the Extraordinary Form of Roman Rite, the second one described was that for the two feasts of St John, which is borrowed from the Ordinary Form. The main putative source for this preface is a text found in the so-called Leonine Sacramentary, which also contains a special preface for the vigil. A shortened version of the latter is found in many manuscripts of the Gregorian sacramentary and in the traditional Ambrosian rite; here is the older Leonine form.

VD: exhibentes sollemne jejunium, quo beati Johannis baptistae natalicia praevenimus. Cujus genitor et verbi Dei nuntium dubitans nasciturum vocis est privatus officio, et eodem recepit nascente sermonem; quique Angelo promittente dum non credit obmutuit, magnifici praeconis exortu et loquens factus est et profeta: materque pariter sterilis aevoque confecta non solum puerperio fecunda processit, sed etiam, quo beatae Mariae fructum sedula voce benedictione susciperet, spiritu divinitatis impleta est; ipseque progenitus, utpote viae caelestis adsertor, viam domino monuit praeparari, seraque in suprema parentum aetate concretus et editus, procreandum novissimis temporibus humani generis disseruit redemptorem.

Truly it is worthy… holding the solemn fast, by which we anticipate the birth of blessed John the Baptist. Whose father, when he doubted the message of God’s word that he was to be born, was deprived of the use of his voice, and received it back when he was born; who grew silent when he did not believe the Angel’s promise, but at the birth of the glorious herald, gained his speech and became a prophet. And likewise his mother, being sterile and worn by old age, did not only become fruitful in childbearing, but was also filled with the Holy Spirit, so that she might receive the fruit of the Blessed Mary with a blessing with eager voice. And himself that was begotten, as the one who shows the way to heaven, urged that the way of the Lord be prepared, and being lately conceived and brought forth in the last age of his parents, proclaimed that the Redeemer of the human race would be born in the last times.

[1] The graduals of two very late Masses, both promulgated by Pope Pius XI, also take their text from the Gospels, those of St Thérèse of Lisieux (1925) and the votive Mass of Christ the Eternal High Priest (1935).

An Embroidered Chalice Pall in the Style of the St Albans Psalter

A student from Pontifex University’s Master of Sacred Arts program, Kathryn Laffrey, has just sent me this example of her work, a design created to decorate a chalice pall. It is based on an image in the St Albans Psalter, which was produced in the 12th century in a late Romanesque / early Gothic style for the Abbey of St Albans in southern England. Kathryn’s image is approx. 5”x5”, the pall will be 6.5” x 6.5”

The embroidered image on the chalice pall
The original in the St Albans Psalter
I asked about the inscription and this is what she told me.
The inscription is Confitemini Domino, the opening phrase of Psalm 105 (Give praise to the LORD) in Latin. At first, I choose this to pay tribute to the initial “C” inspiration from the St Albans Psalter, also for Ps 105. But after reading through the psalm a few times it spoke strongly of God’s saving power and it made me think of our “source and summit”. I was greatly missing the Eucharistic presence during this time of “lockdown” and this helped me to see Him right here, with me.
Traditionally, chalice palls are given as gifts to priests to celebrate ordination or anniversaries of ordination. Anyone who wishes to contact Kathryn about this can do so at thelaffreys@charter.net.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Can Modernity Bring Anything to the Liturgy?

Photo by Lucas Carl on Unsplash
Today’s revival of traditional approaches in the fine arts and particularly of traditional liturgical practices has been greeted by many with skepticism and disapproval. “Surely, it is not possible to ‘go back’ to an earlier age, whose ideals are so different from ours? Have we not made significant progress in doing what none could do before? As for anything we might need, it will not be what former generations needed.”

The history of the arts and of reform/renewal movements tells a different tale. All great artists began by apprenticing themselves to a tradition and copying its masterpieces. In like manner, all great movements of reform in Church history looked back for inspiration to what worked in the past in order to fix what was broken in the present. The noble cultural ideals of Western civilization — largely imparted to it by the vigorous activity of the Catholic Church — are possessed of a perennial vitality and creative fecundity against which the self-consciously “modern,” with its fading faddishness, cannot successfully compete.

The reinveintion of the liturgy after the Council was merely the last and most tragic of a long series of unnatural dislocations and distortions of human forms in the 20th century. This was a century that prided itself on taking everything apart, breaking it down, and gutting it out: first painting and poetry, then dance and music, social customs, politics, education. It was only a matter of time before the liturgy, the cumulative and culminating art form, the king in his court, was also deposed. Once all the subsidiary arts, both material and spiritual, that made liturgy possible were reviled and denied, how could liturgy itself stand? If all of culture was declining throughout the modern period, how could liturgy — that supreme expression and concentration of culture — be left unaffected? Would there not be a terrible risk that men without chests and without taste would eventually hold the reins of power and change it to reflect their simplistic rationality? And so it happened.

In the aftermath of this sad story, is it inopportune and premature to ask whether or not there might be something, anything, that modernity can bring to Catholic ritual in a positive sense? Let me explain the basis for the question.

Each era seems to have added — one might say, grafted — something distinctive onto the tradition. The Christians of the Middle Ages were masters of symbol, Scripture, and allegory, and gave us rites and commentaries in that spirit. The medieval liturgy in its tropes, ritual elaboration, architectural framework, and commentary tradition, is an exquisite glorification of the sacrifice on which salvation history centers. The Baroque brings something startlingly new: the unveiled sanctuary, the focus on ecstatic vision and overwhelming sensual experience, even a surprising penchant for the dramatic (i.e., stages, machines, flying angels for the Forty Hours’ devotion). In one way, it is a departure from tradition, even in some way a narrowing, as the Neo-Classical and humanist mind shied away from the dense layers of Scripture and mystery in medieval liturgy and tended toward an “open” sanctuary, emphasizing in ritual the adoration of Christ in His Real Presence rather than placing weight on the many symbolic words and gestures of the rites. Nevertheless, all of this seemed well-suited to the times, fruitful in sanctity, and eventually absorbed into our heritage.

It is a sign of vitality and true mastery of the tradition to be able to enrich it with the gifts of one’s own time. Every vigorous age has produced its own liturgical spirit and forms. Could modernity, too, add to the tradition, enriching it? Has it any legitimate aspirations? Can the excruciating pains and confusion expressed in modernist literature and architecture be given some liturgical answer, spoken in the same dialect? We might look to the composer Arvo Pärt as an example: his music is distinctly modern, but also grounded in tradition. Is there a liturgical analogy to Pärt? What might it look like?

Would that a positive answer were easier to give. “Modernity” is, or at least has been characterized by, waves of disorder: the progressive dismantling, doubting, destabilizing, and distorting of elements that were deemed inopportune, inefficient, oppressive, clericalist, etc. It is defined by its rebellion against classical and Christian order. This is unmistakably seen in the fine arts. Atonal music is defined with an alpha privative. Abstract art is not representational, not recognizable, not indwelling in this world, but flying off to some uninhabitable world where man cannot dwell, a cold planet hung in empty space, lacking water or life. Moreover, since modernity is not one positive spiritual-cultural force, the way that (say) English Gothic and French Baroque were, it is hard to see how it could exercise causality per se. Privation does not act.

Leaving it at this point would, however, be too pessimistic. Human nature and God’s grace reassert themselves. Past culture never completely dies out but is passed along in the “genes” of a society or a civilization. “Modernity,” whatever it means, includes within it that which is not rebellious, not unnatural, not privative, but rather in a loose continuity with the preceding cultural matrix, with some openness to the transcendent, like poor soil still capable of nourishing a plant, awaiting the sower and the seed. This, it seems to me, explains why young people can encounter the traditional liturgy, which is so very unmodern, and immediately resonate with it. In a corner of modern man’s soul is found a desire, vague and tentative though it may be, to escape from the prison that recent generations have built.

Perhaps this, then, is a special grace of modernity: it has placed people into a hunger and thirst for expressions of the sacred and the divine that lift them out of the horizontal immanent void and confront them with the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the overpowering and the alluring. Would we not be in a better position than any earlier generation to be struck by such a thing — what Benedict XVI called “the shock of the beautiful” — since we no longer live familiarly with it, take it for granted, or even expect to have it around us?

Now, of course, I’m not one to say that men of today are essentially different from their predecessors, such that they would need something radically different in their Catholicism from the ample treasury already at hand in our tradition. The tradition as it is can save him, whether in its more monastic-medieval or more Baroque instantiation. Love of the Church’s tradition is always totally contemporary and totally ageless. Modern man needs what every man needs — or even more of it! — and that is sacredness, solemnity, beauty, and a deep sense of connection with the human race, the Church, and his fellows. Only the use of the same fundamental forms of life, worship, and art, however varied in presentation, can accomplish this diachronic and synchronic unity.

My answer, then, to the question posed in the title would be this. Modernity left the Church a long time ago; it partly fled in rebellion, and was partly driven forth as a demon. It can therefore contribute nothing to the restoration of the sacred. All it can do is bring moderns to the Church’s threshold, and leave them there, like orphans abandoned on the doorstep of a convent. The traditional sacred liturgy will take them up in its arms and provide for their healing and elevation. It is our job to let ourselves be cared for (yes, that will take swallowing some pride), and if the Lord deigns to raise up a new Christendom over many centuries, He will give us the light and strength right now to play our small part in paving the way for its emergence.

Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s website, SoundCloud page, and YouTube channel.

This stained glass window, to me, speaks volumes...

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