Friday, August 07, 2020

Running Humble: The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

James Tissot, Le pharisien et le publicain(1886-94)
Lost in Translation #11

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost teaches us much about Christian humility. The Introit urges us to cast our care upon the Lord (Ps. 54, 17; 18; 20; 23), and the Offertory Verse speaks of trusting in God rather than ourselves (Ps. 24, 1-3). Trust in God is needed in order to have humility, the subject of both the Epistle and the Gospel. Jesus tells the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18, 9-14) to correct those who “trusted in themselves as just and despised others.” The hero of the story, a humble Publican, is justified by God while the proud Pharisee is not, for “every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” In the Epistle, St Paul’s admonitions to the Corinthians are an implicit call to humility. Don’t get cocky, he is basically saying: you were once all as dumb as the idols you worshiped, and if you have the ability now to recognize Jesus as Lord, it is only by virtue of the Holy Spirit. Further, if you have any special talents or position within the Church, those too are a gift from God and have nothing to do with your innate merit. (1 Cor. 12, 2-11)
All of which makes the Collect somewhat puzzling, thanks especially to one word:
Deus, qui omnipotentiam tuam parcendo máxime et miserando manifestas: multíplica super nos misericordiam tuam; ut ad tua promissa curréntes, caelestium bonórum facias esse consortes. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
O God, who dost manifest Thine omnipotence chiefly by sparing and showing mercy: increase Thy mercy upon us, that Thou mayst make us, who are running towards Thy promises, partakers of Thy heavenly goods. Through our Lord.
The puzzle is not the appeal to mercy or its connection to humility, which the Publican demonstrates clearly when he strikes his breast and says “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” I remember hearing that Church officials a century ago, perhaps affected by a Jansenist spirit, were startled by St. Faustina’s claim that God’s greatest attribute was His mercy. Apparently these officials didn’t pay much attention to what they were praying every year on this Sunday.

No, the puzzle is the use of currentes, which is from the verb to run or hurry up. The image in the Gospel is of a humble man practically hiding in the shadows and not even daring to raise his eyes. The Publican is not exactly a picture of alacrity. But the Collect gives us an image of God's faithful racing, hustling to His promises, eager to partake of His heavenly treasures. Are these two images incompatible?

Rubbing these two sticks together, it seems to me, triggers an important spark of insight into the nature of humility. Christian humility is not masochism or self-defeat. On the contrary, as St Thomas Aquinas so marvelously explains, whereas pride is the disordered and excessive pursuit of excellence and despair the disordered and defective pursuit of excellence, humility is the well-ordered and smoothly running pursuit of excellence, including even one’s own excellence (Summa Theologiae II-II.160.2, II-II.161.6). Let that sink in for a moment. Humility is the habit for the pursuit of excellence. It is not the state of thinking and acting like a doormat but, “so to speak, a certain disposition to man’s free access to spiritual and divine goods.” ( 4). And when that access is free, we run to it freely, unencumbered by vice or a delusional self-regard. Notice the similarity between Aquinas’ wording (“spiritual and divine goods”) and the Collect’s (“heavenly goods”). Was the Angelic Doctor inspired by this prayer when he wrote his treatment of humility?

The point is that humility is a paradox. The virtue of lowliness gains the heights; the virtue of trusting in God and not in oneself imputes a confidence that all the pep talks in the world about high self-esteem cannot muster; and the virtue of looking down contritely and staying put looks up gleefully and runs to the prize. So run as to obtain it.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

The Psalms of the Transfiguration

The feast of the Transfiguration was adopted into the Roman Rite from the Byzantine in the reign of Pope Callixtus III (1455-58), in thanksgiving for the Christian victory against the Turks at the siege of Belgrade on August 6th, 1456. Coming only three years after the fall of Constantinople, this victory signaled an important halt to the Turkish invasion of Europe; in fact, the common custom of ringing church bells at noon began as a reminder to pray for the defense of this bulwark of Christendom.

Icon of the Transfiguration, attributed to Theophanes the Greek (called ‘Feofan’ in Russian), the teacher of the famous iconographer Andrei Rubliev; early 15th century. Originally painted for the Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Pereslavl, now in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
The nature of the Byzantine Divine Office is such that it would be impossible to construct an Office in the traditional Roman form by merely translating the Byzantine texts. Offices and Masses for new feasts could either be composed ex novo, or reused from older sources, or both. In the pre-Tridentine period, there was no uniformity in this regard, and a variety of liturgical texts were used on the Transfiguration. At Augsburg in Germany, the Office was simply that of the Holy Trinity, with different Matins lessons and a different collect, while the Mass propers were borrowed from the season of Christmas and Epiphany, again with proper prayers and lessons. There were also various proper Offices in circulation; the one found in the Roman Breviary of St Pius V was used by the Franciscans before Trent, but changed in several respects for the Tridentine edition.

One such change was the addition of the doxology for the feast of the Epiphany: “Glory to Thee, o Lord, who didst appear today, etc.” (A new doxology was created in Pope Urban VIII’s reform of the hymns, but the older one was retained by the Benedictines, Dominicans and others.) This is noteworthy because at the Mass of the Transfiguration, the preface is that of Christmas, not Epiphany. But the connection between the “new” feast and the manifestations of the Lord celebrated by older liturgical feasts is expressed most clearly in the third nocturn of Matins, where the psalms and their antiphons were clearly not chosen merely for accidental references to “glory” and “light”, but as a deliberate echo of these same older feasts.

The first psalm (seventh of Matins as a whole) is Psalm 88, which is used at Matins on only one other feast day, namely Christmas. The antiphon reflects the common tradition, not stated in the Gospels themselves or in the Second Epistle of St Peter, that Mt Tabor in Galilee was the “high mountain” on which the Transfiguration took place. “Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name: Thy arm is with might.” This reflects the fact that at Christmas we celebrate the manifestation of God’s humanity, whereas at the Transfiguration, we celebrate the manifestation of Christ’s divinity.

Mt Tabor (Image from Wikimedia by Eliot from the Negev.)
The second psalm, 96, is said with the same antiphon as on the feasts of Apostles, “Light is risen to the just, and joy to the right of heart,” but with two “alleluias” removed. This refers to the fact that in addition to Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament, three preeminent Apostles, Peter, James and John, were chosen as witnesses of the Transfiguration. This psalm is also sung on the Epiphany, and it is certainly not a coincidence that each of the three nocturns of the Transfiguration has a psalm from the Epiphany: 28 in the first, 86 in the second, and 96 in the third.

The third psalm, 103, is also sung on only one other feast day, Pentecost. As a group, together, therefore, these psalms indicate that the mystery of God’s Incarnation, which is revealed privately at Christmas and Epiphany, to Israel in the shepherds, and to the gentiles in the Magi, is now revealed privately to the Apostles, who will preach it publicly to the world once the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost.

The Church traditionally marks the public manifestation of Christ with the feast of His Baptism, which in the Roman Rite is celebrated as the Octave of the Epiphany, and in the Byzantine is the main object of Epiphany itself. The Apostles, however, were chosen after the Baptism. We must note therefore, that the same words of the Father at the Baptism, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” (Matt. 3, 17) are repeated at the Transfiguration, with the addition of a special commission to the Apostles “Hear ye him!”

Just as the Creeds of the Apostles and Nicaea focus on the events of the beginning and end of Christ’s earthly life, (“born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate”), so does the liturgical year. We do not keep feasts as such to mark events of Christ’s public ministry like the many miraculous healings or the multiplications of the loaves and fishes, although many of these stories are read in the Sunday Gospels. The Transfiguration is uniquely chosen among these events to be celebrated with a particular feast, because it marks the point at which both the Incarnation and its purpose, the Passion and Resurrection, are revealed to the Apostles, who in the fullness of time will reveal them to the rest of the world.

The Church of the Transfiguration on Mt Tabor (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Zairon.)

Mass of the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity in the Use of Hamburg-Bremen, 1450

Readers may be interested in this video of a representation of the Mass of the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity in the use of Hamburg-Bremen, which was that of the Baltic region and Scandinavia in the Middle Ages. (I have had to divide the video into two parts because of its size and the limits of Blogger uploading.) The first part shows the Mass from the priest’s preparation to the Creed, the second shows the Mass from the people’s Offertory Procession to the final blessing. If you want to view the video as a single file, click here. If you would like a program in Latin and English, click here.
As you watch the first part, you will notice a number of interesting rubrical differences from the Mass of St Pius V, in particular, the singing of the Creed before the sermon. In this video I have cut the sermon, as well as a scholarly introduction and the people’s prayers (Apostle’s Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, Sign of the Cross) because they are in Swedish. If you want to see these, you may at this YouTube link, which has the entire video. As you can see in the program, the Mass follows the order of chants and readings used in the north of Europe before the Tridentine reform. They come mostly from the 17th and 18th Sundays after Pentecost. Also note the variants in the Latin text, including one in the Gloria. You will notice the priest removing his vestments to preach during the Creed.
Here is the second half, beginning with the Offertory Procession:

Of special interest is the people’s Communion. Only two people go to Communion (on the altar steps because of the Rood Screen), since this is not one of the four “General Communions” that were typical of medieval practice. The ambry-tabernacle is also authentic and still in the church. Virtually all the art, as well as the manuscript altar Missal, are actual medieval artifacts. Note also the manner of giving the Blessing with the paten, and the absence of the Last Gospel; only added in the 1500s.  The date of this Mass given at the beginning of the Video would be October 5, 1450.

Finally, those familiar with the Dominican Rite, which is also part of this northern liturgical family, will notice a number of things in common, such as the extension of the priest’s arms after the Consecration. You can read more about this lovely little church at Endre, Sweden, here.

Sadly, I do not know the origin of this project, but I believe it was put together by a professor of liturgy at the University of Copenhagen. They certainly went to great lengths to make it authentic.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

The Dedication of St Mary Major

The Roman basilica of Saint Mary Major, whose dedication is celebrated today, is also known by several other titles, among them “the Liberian Basilica”, after its putative founder, Pope Liberius (352-366). I say “putative” because although Liberius did certainly build a church on the site, it was badly damaged in a riot that broke out over the contested election of his successor, St Damasus I; it was then abandoned until the next century, when St Sixtus III (432-440) replaced it with a completely new church. Despite a great many alterations and additions, the nucleus of the structure as we have it today is Pope Sixtus’ building, the oldest church in the world dedicated to the Mother of God; there is no reason to believe that Liberius’ structure was so dedicated. Nevertheless, the title “Liberian” has stuck; the basilica’s chapter of canons is normally referred to in Italian as “il Capitolo Liberiano.”

The Miracle of the Snows, by Jacopo Zucchi, ca. 1580; from the Vatican Museums
Pope Liberius is also a protagonist of the famous legend concerning the church’s founding, which has given it another one of its titles, “Our Lady of the Snows.” The story is that a wealthy Roman patrician named John and his wife, having no heirs, wished to leave their patrimony to the Virgin Mary, and prayed to Her to let them know how they might do so. On the night of August 4th, the Virgin appeared to both of them, and also to the Pope, and told them that in the morning, they would find a part of the Esquiline hill covered in snow, and in that place they should build a church in Her honor. (Snowfalls are exceedingly rare in Rome even in the winter.) The next morning, coming up to the Esquiline, they did indeed find the place covered in snow, and thus the church was founded.

Each year, during the principal Mass of the Dedication, a shower of white jasmine petals, representing the miraculous snowfall, is let fall from the roof of the basilica during the Gloria; the ceremony is repeated in the evening during the Magnificat of Vespers. It is seen here in a video taken by John Sonnen of Orbis Catholicus in 2010.

Painful as it is to impugn the story behind such a beautiful liturgical tradition, it is now regarded as purely legendary. The text of Pope Sixtus III’s dedicatory inscription is preserved, and does not mention it; indeed, the story is not heard of until several hundred years after it supposedly took place. The legendary character of the episode is also implicitly recognized in the Tridentine liturgical reform. In a Roman Breviary printed in 1481, the story is told in six unusually long lessons at Matins, each almost a full column in length; the Breviary of St Pius V preserves the essence of the legend, but reduces it to the bare facts at just over 200 words. The feast also had a proper collect, which reads as follows: “O God, who, to declare the glory of Thy Mother, the glorious Virgin Mary, by a snowfall in the heat of summer didst deign to show forth the place in which a church should be built for Her; grant, we ask, that, devoting ourselves to Her service, by the cooling of concupiscence, we may be cleansed in the brightness of innocence.” In the Tridentine reform, this prayer was replaced by the generic prayer from the common Office and Mass of the Virgin.

The upper left section of the mosaic on the triumph arch of Saint Mary Major, with the Annunciation above and the Adoration of the Magi below; to the right of the Annunciation, the angel comes to reassure St Joseph. In the Adoration of the Magi, Christ is shown as a young child, not an infant, since the Gospel of St Matthew does not say how long it was after His Birth that they came to Him.
In the Liturgy of the Hours, historical lessons are no longer read at Matins (now called the Office of Readings), with a few rare exceptions. For today’s feast, the second reading is a passage from St Cyril of Alexandria’s “Homily against Nestorius”, delivered at the Council of Ephesus in 431. In the Breviary of St Pius V, this passage was read on September 15th, the Octave of the Virgin’s Nativity, but it also makes an especially appropriate choice for the Dedication of St Mary Major. The church was built by Sixtus III, and decorated with mosaic images of the Virgin’s life, in the wake of the great controversy stirred up by Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who declared that it was wrong to refer to the Virgin Mary with the title “Theotókos – Mother of God”, and that She ought rather to be called “Christotókos – Mother of Christ.” The Council of Ephesus was called to respond to Nestorius’ heresy, and at that Council, St Cyril was the adamant defender of the orthodox faith, the “unconquered teacher that the most blessed Virgin Mary is Mother of God”, as the traditional collect of his feast calls him.

I see here the joyful company of holy men, all willingly gathered together, called by the holy Mother of God, Mary, the ever-virgin. The arrival of the holy Fathers has brought me from the great grief wherein I dwelled unto joy. Now is fulfilled among us the sweet word of David the psalmist: Behold how good and pleasant it is for brothers to live together as one.” (Psalm 132)

Therefore, rejoice with us, holy and mystical Trinity, that called us all to this church of Mary, the Mother of God. Rejoice with us, Mary, Mother of God, the venerable treasure of the whole world, the ever-shining light, the crown of virginity, the scepter of orthodoxy, the indestructible temple, the place of Him whom no place can contain, Mother and Virgin; through whom is named in the Holy Gospels the Blessed One, who comes in the name of the Lord.

Rejoice, thou who in thy virginal womb held Him who cannot be held; through whom the Trinity is sanctified; through whom the cross is called precious and is venerated throughout the world; through whom heaven exulteth; through whom the angels and archangels rejoice; through whom demons are put to flight; through whom the devil, that tempter, fell from heaven; through whom the fallen race is taken up to the heavens; through whom all creation, possessed by the madness of idols, hath come to the knowledge of truth; through whom cometh baptism to them that believe, and the oil of gladness; through whom the Church hath been established throughout the world; through whom the nations are led to repentance.

What need is there to say many more things? (This is somewhat ironic, since St Cyril goes on to say a great deal more than can be reproduced here.) Through Thee, the only-begotten Son of God hath shone as a light upon those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death; the prophets foretold, the apostles preached salvation to the nations; the dead are raised to life, and kings rule through the holy Trinity.

The famous icon of the Virgin Mary titled “Salus Populi Romani,” painted in the 6th or 7th century, and now housed in the Borghese Chapel at Saint Mary Major. The jewels and crowns seen here have been removed in subsequent restorations.

Cardinal Schuster’s Masterpiece Back in Print for the First Time in Nearly a Century

I am pleased to share with readers of NLM the excellent news that Arouca Press, a Catholic publisher based in Ontario, has just released an affordable reprint of Cardinal Ildephonse Schuster’s classic commentary on the Roman rite, The Sacramentary, in both paperback and hardcover editions, with discount rates for buying the entire 5-volume set directly from Arouca (US $100 for the complete paperback set, $140 for the hardcover set). As far I have been able to ascertain, Schuster’s work has been out of print since the late 1920s and the early 1930s when it was first published in English translation, and used copies fetch outrageous sums on the used book market. The Arouca edition is a high-quality and crisply legible reproduction of the original, with a new Foreword by NLM’s own Gregory DiPippo, discussing Schuster’s life, career, and publications.

It would be hard to exaggerate the importance and continuing relevance of Schuster’s work. He brings a formidable scholarship, an insightful mind, and a Thomistic clarity to bear on the history and meaning of the elaborate network of signs and symbols that make up the classical Roman rite in its millennial development. One would be hard-pressed to find a work comparable to The Sacramentary in richness of detail. Like all the members of the Liturgical Movement to one degree or another, Schuster sometimes let his theories get the better of him (see herehere, and here for examples), and later wrecking-ball reformers invoked such theories as their warrant. It is all the more important then to bring both the positive contributions and the occasional lapses of this giant figure back into the conversation as we continue to sift through the legacy of the original Liturgical Movement. It deserves to be emphasized that Schuster is, above all, a man of deep prayer and immense love for the liturgy; this radiates from every page, and places him in the company of Dom Guéranger as one from whom tradition-loving Catholics have much to learn today.

A brief synopsis of the contents:

The Sacramentary [Liber Sacramentorum]: Historical and Liturgical Notes on the Roman Missal

Volume I
Part I. Songs of Zion Beside the Waters of Redemption: General Conceptions of Sacred Liturgy
Part II. The Inauguration of the Kingdom of the Messiah
- Introduction
- The Sacred Liturgy from Advent to Septuagesima

Volume II
Part III. The New Testament in the Blood of the Redeemer
- Introduction
- The Sacred Liturgy from Septuagesima to Easter
Part IV. Baptism by the Spirit and by Fire
- Introduction
- The Sacred Liturgy During the Easter Cycle
- Euchological Appendix

Volume III
Part V. The Eternal Nuptials of the Lamb
- Introduction
- The Sacred Liturgy from Trinity Sunday to Advent
- Euchological Appendix
Part VI. The Church Triumphant
- Introduction
- The Feasts of the Saints during the Christmas Cycle

Volume IV
Part VII. The Saints in the Mystery of the Redemption
- Introduction
- The Feasts of the Saints in the Paschal Cycle (March to August)
- Euchological Appendix

Volume V
Part VIII. The Saints in the Mystery of the Redemption
- Introduction
- The Feasts of the Saints from August 14 to November 28
- Euchological Appendix

The paperback and hardcover sets may be ordered here; see here for a listing of individual volumes. The books may also be purchased at Amazon and affiliates.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

The Basilica of St Dominic in Bologna

On the General Calendar of the EF, today is the feast of St Dominic, who died in Bologna, Italy, on August 6th of the year 1221. He was originally buried in the floor of the choir of San Niccolò delle Vigne, the church which had then been recently given to his order, and which has now for many centuries been named after him. In 1233, his remains were moved to a major chapel added to the side of the building, which was then rebuilt in the first part of the 17th century.

The Arc of St Dominic, as it is called, which contains the relics, is actually a collection of pieces from different periods. The sarcophagus, showing six episodes from the Saint’s life, was carved by Nicola Pisano in 1267; the upper part was added from 1469-73 by Niccolò da Bari, whose work was so admired that from it he came to be known as “Niccolò dell’Arca - Nicholas who worked on the arc.” At the top is God the Father, and below, the dead Christ, with two angels on either side, and the four Evangelists at the corners. The angel kneeling on the left just above the mensa of the altar is also his work; Michelangelo added the one on the right in 1494, when he was just 19, along with the statue of St Petronius (the patron Saint of Bologna; second from left right above the sarcophagus) and a statue St Proculus on the back. The 16th century predella just above the altar by Alfonso Lombardi shows further episodes of St Dominic’s life, while his burial is represented on the front of the altar itself in a relief by Carlo Bianconi done in 1768.

Inside the arc at the back is kept this magnificent reliquary of his skull, made in 1383; it is still taken out for a procession every year on his feast day.

The chapel seen from the cloister.
The Chapel of the Holy Rosary on the opposite side of the building from St Dominic.
The choir stalls were formerly in the nave of the church in front of the principal altar, and further separated from the main nave by a choir screen. The latter was removed after the Council of Trent, the choir then disassembled and rebuilt in a vastly expanded apse behind the main altar.

In addition to numerous other decorative details, every seat of the choir has above it an inlaid wooden panel with a Biblical scene. These were executed in only 8 years, 1541-49, by Fra Damian of Bergamo, who also did the lectern shown below.

Five Reasons the World Today is Ugly

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the iconoclasm of the leftist protestors in our cities. There is one tragedy in this phenomenon that I didn’t mention, namely, that on the whole, they are destroying beauty, and creating ugliness and disorder (the two are intimately connected).
As if to make the point, here is a video from Alain de Botton at the School of Life entitled 5 Reasons the Modern World is Ugly. I have one or two quibbles with his arguments, but broadly, I agree with what he says, although I am perhaps less inclined to make classicism the main cause of beauty in the West. I would say that classicism’s integration with Judeo-Christian values is the driving force, with Christianity being the primary driver.

In this, he clearly lays the blame on “modernists” such as the Austrian architectural theorist Adolf Loos, who, as de Botton puts it “forget human nature.”
Adolf Loos’ essay, Ornament and Crime was influential in pushing modernism into architecture
This is charitable. They do not forget human nature; they deny it. At ithe root of their worldview is the same materialism that drives the leftists. He also points out how the ideas of the elites were seized upon by property developers, who took the opportunity not to have to worry about building beautifully while being immune from criticism. The tragedy is that in their search for a “pure” utility, they couldn’t even guarantee that: a modernist, flat-roofed building is more likely to let in the rain than a traditional design.

Ironically, as he points out, this has led to the situation that only the old buildings are beautiful, and the demand for them is so high that only the elites such as university intellectuals and property developers can afford to live in them.

What is gratifying about this video is that de Botton is using rational arguments to support a traditional culture of beauty, but is not to my knowledge Christian or a believer in God. (This is perhaps the reason for his tendency to overemphasize, as I see it, ancient Greece and Rome as the primary driver of traditional beauty, rather than Christianity). It suggests a growing clamor for an end to our sterile, grey city centers.

A cursory look at the School of Life, which produced this and a whole range of other videos has the following stated aims:
At The School of Life, we’re devoted to helping people lead calmer and more resilient lives. We share ideas on how to understand ourselves better, improve our relationships, take stock of our careers, and deepen our social connections - as well as find serenity and grow more confident in facing challenges.
It seems that when human happiness - which is essentially what they are seeking - is the goal, then, as de Botton puts it, beauty is “as much as a necessity as a functional roof'.”

The corollary is also true: when the goal is discord, violence, and misery, - as it is for Marxists - then ugliness is as much a necessity as a dysfunctional roof.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Progressive Solemnity: Traditional Interpretations and Methods

Solemn Mass: the ancient norm and exemplar of the Roman Rite
In the world of the reformed liturgy, one encounters a concept of “progressive solemnity” that has little to do with the Latin liturgical tradition. Basically, the idea is this: start with a spoken Mass as your baseline, and then add things on to it ad libitum: for an ordinary day, sing the “presidential” parts; on a feast, add the propers; on a very special day, bring on the incense and chant the Introit, etc.

In practice, at least in my experience, it ends up being a random series of steps: on weekdays we sing the Alleluia but nothing else; on feasts, we sing the Gloria and the Alleluia; on Sundays we do the four-hymn sandwich and the celebrant sings his parts. Since there is much confusion about what rubrics, if any, govern these sorts of decisions, just about any mix-n-match combination can happen. [1]

With the traditional Roman rite, this confusion is simply not possible: a Mass is either a Low Mass or a Missa cantata or a Missa solemnis, etc., and each has strict requirements about what is to be sung (or not sung). As a result, followers of the traditional rite tend to use the forms of Mass as a way of distinguishing calendrical solemnity: ferias or low-ranking feasts will be Low Masses; high-ranking feasts are Missae Cantatae; Sundays and Holy Days are Solemn High Masses; and, on the most special occasions, a bishop may be invited in for a Pontifical High Mass.

While this is understandable for practical reasons (bishops are not commonly available to pontificate, and even a deacon and subdeacon can be hard to come by), we should recognize that it is not the primary way in which the liturgical tradition of the Church distinguishes degrees of solemnity. In a church sufficiently well equipped with ministers, such as a monastic community or a cathedral with canons, the liturgy will be sung every day; it could be solemn every day. The normative — in the sense of fundamental and exemplary — form of liturgy will always be the chanted rite in the presence of the bishop or abbot, or the nearest thing to it, the Missa solemnis.

On one of my visits to the Benedictine monastery of Norcia, I remember how beautiful it was to attend several solemn Masses in a week. It showed me that this can indeed be a norm rather than an exception. Moreover, since they were so skilled in the liturgy and the chant, and there was no homily, solemn Mass took less than an hour. Each day nevertheless had a distinctive feel to it because of the intelligent use of a plethora of other marks for distinguishing levels of feasts that Catholic tradition has developed over the centuries. In other words, taking the solemn form as normative does not mean placing everything at the same level of solemnity. The solemnity is distinguished rather by the accidents, the manner or mode in which the elements of the liturgy are configured.

Gradations in Gregorian Chant

While every liturgy should ideally be chanted, there are notable distinctions within the repertoire of chant itself. Fr. Dominique Delalande, O.P., observes:
It is too obvious to be denied that a celebration sung in the Gregorian manner is more solemn than a celebration which is merely recited; but this statement is especially true in the modern perspective of a celebration which is habitually recited. The ancients had provided melodies for the most modest celebrations of the liturgical year, and these melodies were no less carefully worked out than those of the great feasts. For them the chant was, before all else, a means of giving to liturgical prayer a fullness of religious and contemplative value, whatever might be the solemnity of the day. Such should also be our sole preoccupation in singing. As long as people look upon the Gregorian chant solely as a means of solemnising the celebration, there will be the danger of making it deviate from its true path, which is more interior. [2]
Put differently, Fr. Delalande is saying that the chant is integral to the expression of the liturgy, not a mere ornament tacked on, like a bow on a Christmas present, and that we do well to utilize the different spheres of chant rather than merely toggling back and forth between recited and sung.

Ordinary. For example, the Mass Ordinary given in the Liber Usualis for ferias is short and simple, while the Ordinaries suggested for Solemn Feasts (Mass II, Kyrie fons bonitatis, or Mass III, Kyrie Deus sempiterne) are melodically elaborate and grand in scope. Five Ordinaries (III–VIII), of varying complexity and length, are suggested for Doubles. Simpler feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, e.g., the Holy Name on September 12, might use Ordinary X, while loftier feasts such as the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption could use the great Mass IX, Cum jubilo.

Creed. Similarly, the Liber makes available six settings of the Creed (and still others are in circulation), which vary considerably in their ornateness or “tonality.” Once again, the choice of a Creed melody can reflect something of the nature of the feast or occasion.

Preface. The missal offers three tones for the Prefaces: simple, solemn, and more solemn (solemnior). For a ferial Mass, a Requiem, or a lesser feast, the simple tone should be used; for a higher-ranking feast, such as that of an apostle or doctor, the solemn tone could be used; for the highest feasts, such as Christmas, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, the Sacred Heart, the Immaculate Conception, or the Assumption, the more solemn tone would be highly appropriate. (In some versions of the anecdote, Mozart is said to have claimed that he would gladly exchange all his music for the fame of having composed the Preface tone. If he said this, he would doubtless have been thinking of the more solemn tone, which is indeed of rare beauty.)

Propers. The Proper chants should be sung in full in any case, but for a special occasion with incense and more ceremonial, a verse from the Offertoriale Triplex might be used, and at Communion time, verses and a doxology to go with the antiphon.

Beyond the chant, there are other obvious and subtle ways to elevate or lower the solemnity of a particular day on the calendar, so that ferias do not seem the equal of feasts of saints, and feasts of saints the equal of feasts of Our Lady, and these, in turn, those of Our Lord. It is true that many of the following presuppose a well-stocked sacristy the contents of which have been assembled over a period of time by people with good taste who understand that there is a symbolic value in having more than one kind of any given item.

In the Realm of Sight 

Since, as Aristotle says, the sense of sight is the one that gives us the most information about things, it is not surprising that the largest number of modes for signaling solemnity pertain to the visual domain.

(Photo courtesy of Liturgical Arts Journal)
1. Copes, chasubles, dalmatics, tunicles. It is obvious that plainer vestments should be used for ferias, more decorative ones for feasts, and over-the-top ones for solemnities. There are churches that have special sets used only at Christmas and/or Easter, or for a patronal feastday, etc.

2. Other vestments. For a feria, the alb can be plain; for a feast, it can be patterned; for a solemnity, with lacework. When worn with a Roman chasuble, the design of the alb becomes an important aesthetic element in itself. Similarly, the surplices of acolytes can be plain white or with worked bordered; the cassocks can be black throughout the year but red for Christmastide and Paschaltide.

3. Chalice, paten, and other vessels. It is obvious that these can be of simple or ornate design; in gold or silver or a combination thereof; with or without stones; taller or more squat, Romanesque, Gothic, or Baroque; engraved or plain; etc. This is one detail that is particularly noticed by the faithful, because of the custom of gazing upon the chalice as it is elevated and praying: “My Lord and my God!”

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Liturgical Notes on the Feast of St Peter’s Chains

The Latin name of today’s feast in the Tridentine Missal and Breviary is “Sancti Petri ad Vincula”, which is translated literally as “the feast of St Peter at the chains”, not “the feast of St Peter’s chains” or “of St Peter in chains.” This title is found in the oldest liturgical books which attest to it, and even earlier, in the list of the station churches given by the lectionary of Wurzburg, from the mid-seventh century. (Stations are kept there on the Mondays of the first week of Lent and the Pentecost octave.)

The beginning of the calendar for August in the Echternach Sacramentary. (895 A.D.; Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 9433) “On the Kalends of August, (the feast of) St Peter at the chains, and the birth of the seven Maccabee brothers with their mother.”
Like many specifically Roman feasts, it began as the dedication feast of a basilica, which in this case is located on the Esquiline hill, within sight of the Colosseum. When a city has more than one church dedicated to the same Saint, they are often distinguished from each other by nicknames; the appellation “at the chains” would therefore serve to distinguish it from the Vatican basilica. Its great antiquity is demonstrated by the fact that it was restored by Pope Sixtus III in the 430s; an inscription which records the restoration mentions that the building was already considered old, and that the Pope re-dedicated it to both Apostolic founders of the See of Rome.

The breviary refers very obliquely to a tradition stated more explicitly in the Golden Legend and elsewhere, namely, that the Romans dedicated the month of August to honoring the Emperor Augustus’ memory, and that this second feast of St Peter was created to supplant this holiday. It is true that the Latin names for the seventh and eighth months of the year were originally “Quintilis” and “Sextilis”, and that the Emperor Augustus renamed the former for his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, and the latter for himself. However, it is not likely that the cult of “the divine Augustus” was so vibrant in the mid-5th century as to require serious opposition from the Church. There are 32 days between June 29th, St Peter’s principal feast day, and August 1st; this perhaps suggests the tradition that Peter was bishop of Antioch for seven years, and bishop of Rome for twenty-five, a total of 32 as the visible head of the Church, one less than the 33 years of Our Lord’s earthly life.

The breviary lessons for the feast day also give the traditional story of the church’s famous relic. When the Empress Eudocia, the wife of Theodosius II, went to Jerusalem in the year 438, she received as a gift the chain by which St Peter was held in prison under King Herod, as narrated in the Epistle of the feast day, Acts 12, 1-11. She then sent it to her daughter Eudoxia in Rome, who in turn presented it to the Pope. When it was exposed for the veneration of the faithful together with the chain by which Peter had been held during his imprisonment in Rome under the Emperor Nero, the two chains were miraculously united, so as to appear to be a single chain.
Photo by Agnese Bazzuchi, from our 2014 Lenten stations series.
In the year 1706, the painter Giovanni Battista Parodi decorated the basilica’s ceiling with a fresco of a famous miracle attributed to the chains, which is also recounted in the breviary. A count of the Holy Roman Empire was possessed by an evil spirit which caused him to bite himself; when he accompanied the Emperor Otto II to Rome in 969, Pope John XIII placed the chain around his neck, at which the demon was expelled.

Image from Wikipedia by Maros Mraz (click to enlarge.)
Many other miracles have been attributed to the numerous fragments of the chain that were shaved off and given by the Popes as gifts, a practice to which Pope St Gregory refers several times in his letters. A medieval sermon on the feast of Ss Peter and Paul, incorrectly attributed to St Augustine and also read in the Roman Breviary, speaks of this when it says, “if the shadow of (Peter’s) body could then bring help (Acts 5, 15), how much more now the fullness of power? … Rightly is that iron of the chains of punishment considered to be more precious than gold throughout the churches of Christ.”

A feast of St Peter’s Chains, (or “chain” in the singular) is also kept in the Byzantine Rite, on January 16. Its very first chant at Vespers refers to the miraculous healing of both body and soul. “Thou didst bind the deceit (of the devil) when thou wert bound in the Lord, and closed up in prison, o Apostle; therefore with love we honor thee, and with faith we embrace thy chain, drawing from it the strengthening of the body, and salvation of the soul. We praise thee, as our duty, who beheld God, and are like unto the Angels.”

Two other chants of the same day refer to a portion of the chains which was given to the church of Constantinople, and kept in Hagia Sophia itself, as noted in the Synaxarion, the Byzantine equivalent of the Martyrology. The apolytikion (dismissal hymn) of Vespers says “Without leaving Rome, thou didst come to us by the precious chains which thou didst bear, o first-enthroned of the Apostles, which we venerate in faith, and pray, that by thy intercessions before God, He may grant us great mercy.” Likewise, in the Canon of Matins, we read “Thou sanctifiest Rome by the burial of thy holy body, Peter, and by faith enlightenest the New Rome, that keeps thy honorable chain.” And: “The Apostle Peter came forth from Palestine as the bearer of Christ, and having proclaimed him to the world in older Rome, fell asleep, but gave to the New Rome his chain to venerate.”

Despite the antiquity and universality of the feast, it was removed from the calendar in the Breviary reform of 1960. It is hard not to see this as a function of a very modern embarrassment at the very idea of miracles and relics, since the same reform also suppressed the Finding of the Cross, St John at the Latin Gate, the Apparition of St Michael, the Finding of St Stephen’s Body, and St Francis’ Stigmata. It is true that we do not have a chain of custody from St Peter’s time to our own to prove the authenticity of the relics. On the other hand, we should shudder at the implication that so many of our ancestors in the faith were stupidly gullible at best, or liars at worst. St John Henry Newman wrote about this in the Apologia pro Vita Sua; in a note in the appendix “on Ecclesiastical Miracles,” he points out that both Testaments have stories of miracles effected by relics. A corpse is brought to life when it touches the bones of Elisha (4 Kings 13, 21), “and God wrought by the hand of Paul more than common miracles, so that even there were brought from his body to the sick, handkerchiefs and cloths, and the diseases departed from them, and the wicked spirits went out of them.” (Acts 19, 11-12.)

In addition to the relic and the basilica’s dedication, today’s feast also commemorates the Biblical event of St Peter’s release from prison. The importance of this episode is indicated by the fact that the church of Rome chose the relevant passage from the Acts of the Apostles for the text of both the Introit and Epistle, not only for today, but also for June 29th.

When the Apostle was held in prison in Jerusalem, and in danger of being killed by the monarch, he was freed by a direct act of divine intervention. Twenty-five years later, when he was held in prison in Rome, and in danger of being killed by the monarch, he was freed by human intervention, that of his jailers, Ss Processus and Martinian. The Christians of Rome then urged him to leave the city, for fear that he be captured once again, and executed. As he started down the Appian Way, the road leading to the port of Brindisi, where he could find a boat to bring him back to the East, Peter encountered Christ just outside the gates of the city. “And when he saw him, he said, ‘Lord, whither goest thou thus? And the Lord said unto him, ‘I go into Rome to be crucified. And Peter said unto him, ‘Lord, art thou being crucified again?’ He said unto him, ‘Yea, Peter, I am being crucified again.’ And Peter came to himself, and having beheld the Lord ascending up into heaven, he returned to Rome, rejoicing, and glorifying the Lord, for that he said, ‘I am being crucified”, which was about to befall Peter.” (from the apocryphal Acts of Peter.)

This episode, which otherwise would seem to have no connection to the feast, is cited in an antiphon for the Office of St Peter ‘ad vincula’ which was very widely used, although not at Rome itself. “Beatus Petrus Apostolus vidit sibi Christum occurrere; adorans eum et dixit: Domine, quo vadis? Venio Romam iterum crucifigi. – The blessed Apostle Peter saw Christ coming to meet him. Adoring Him, he said, ‘Lord, where art thou going?’ ‘I come to Rome to be crucified again.’ ”

We therefore see in today’s feast that St Peter was freed from prison in Jerusalem because his mission was not finished. He was destined to go to Rome, so that he might preach to all nations, “so that the light of truth, which was revealed for the salvation of all nations, might spread itself more effectively through the whole world from its head.” (Pope St Leo I, first sermon of the feast of Ss Peter and Paul.) The Lord Himself sent him back to the eternal city, choosing it as the place to establish the headship of His Church upon the earth, “the first throne”, as stated above in the Byzantine Office of the feast.

Quo vadis, Domine?, by Annibale Carracci, 1601-2

NLM’s Fifteenth Anniversary

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the New Liturgical Movement, and as always, we cannot let the day pass without a word of thanks to our founder Shawn Tribe for his nearly eight years of dedication to the site, to our long-time contributor Jeffrey Tucker, who succeeded Shawn as editor, to our publisher, Dr William Mahrt, to our parent organization, the Church Music Association of America, as well as to the rest of our team, new and old, and our many guest contributors, for all the work they have put into NLM over these many years. And of course, thanks to all of our readers for your support, encouragement and the inspiration you provide to continue our work.

Keeping to our regular pace, sometime this fall we will reach the 15,000-post mark; past items remain accessible in our archives, although some of the older links within them are now dead, including the link which provided our very first article, a piece by Stratford Caldecott (R.I.P.) entitled, “Why a New Liturgical Movement?”

For your amusement, here are a few screen captures of some of the early designs of the site; after the third one, we’ve stayed pretty much the same. (Click images to enlarge.)




More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: