Monday, October 26, 2020

An Allegorical Rationale for the Ministers Sitting During the Gloria and Credo

Seated clergy removing birettas at the Name of Jesus
In discussions of the classical Roman rite and the twentieth-century liturgical reform, one example that always comes up of “something that just had to change” in the Tridentine Mass — one among many things targeted as supposed flaws by reform-minded people — is the custom whereby the ministers (the priest at a Missa cantata, the priest, deacon, and subdeacon at a Missa solemnis) return to their seats for the duration of the sung Gloria and Credo after they have recited the text themselves at the altar.* The reform-minded protest against both the “duplication” of the text and the alleged oddity of everyone sitting during the singing of these parts of the Mass Ordinary. Shouldn’t the clergy sing the texts together with the people, and everyone remain standing?

In an earlier article at NLM, “Is It Fitting for the Priest to Recite All the Texts of the Mass?,” I defended an affirmative answer to that question on spiritual and liturgical grounds. I shall not rehash the same arguments here. Nor will I comment on practical reasons for sitting, such as lengthy pieces of polyphony, or giving older or infirm clergy a chance to rest. I also would not dispute that the monastic custom (at least, I have seen it most often at monasteries) of the ministers remaining standing during the entirety of the Gloria and Credo is fitting for the relatively short duration of chanted Ordinaries; I do not maintain that the ministers should always sit down. The rubrics allow them to remain at their places; sitting is a concession.

Rather, taking it for granted that there are theological reasons for duplicating and practical reasons for sitting, I would like to consider some theological connections that have occurred to me over the years as I have watched this custom and thought about it. The contemplative atmosphere of the classical Roman liturgy has nurtured in me a patient, open-minded, speculative disposition towards texts, music, and ceremonies. My habit of mind is now to ask, in accord with the allegorical method of our ancestors: “What meanings can I glean from the liturgy as it exists in front of me?,” rather than: “How ought it to be improved?”

I can honestly say that I had never pondered the mystery of the “session” or seatedness of the Son of God until I had seen ministers moving from the altar in a liturgically dignified manner and sitting down ceremonially at the High Mass and Solemn Mass. Until then, “sits [or is seated] at the right hand of the Father” had been no more than a line rattled off when reciting the Apostles’ Creed or the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. Yet it is a mystery important enough to receive many mentions in the New Testament (cf. Mk 16:19, Acts 7:55, Rom 8:34, Heb 1:3, Rev 3:21), and in liturgical texts. In the Gloria itself: Qui sedes at dexteram Patris, miserere nobis: “Thou who art seated at the right [hand] of the Father, have mercy on us.” In the Credo: Et ascendit in caelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris: “And He ascended into heaven, [and] is seated at the right [hand] of the Father.”

Moreover, in a church that had no pews in the nave, the sitting of the clergy would more obviously accentuate their special role in the liturgy. St. Thomas Aquinas quotes St. Gregory the Great (Hom. xxix in Evang.): “It is the judge’s place to sit, while to stand is the place of the combatant or helper” (Summa theologiae III, q. 58, a. 1, ad 3).

It is not exactly scripted in the rubrics when the ministers are to sit down, nor are they required to do so; they may remain standing the whole time, a posture that will always retain its resurrectional significance, as it does to this day in the Eastern tradition. Nevertheless, it was the Solemn High Mass that made the custom of being seated “click” for me.

At the "Et incarnatus est"
The ministers all kneel at the altar, as is appropriate, for the Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine: et homo factus est. Then they rise and return to the sedilia at the side of the sanctuary. The priest, who primarily represents Christ in the offering of the Mass, is seated. Around this time, the schola (and in some places the people too) are singing: passus et sepultus est — Christ, having suffered, was laid in the tomb. The Creed almost suggests this natural moment of rest as it mentions the lowest and humblest point of the Savior’s descent among us.

At the same time, the subdeacon remains standing while the deacon proceeds to the credence, receives the burse from the MC, and brings it to the altar to set forth the corporal. During this time the schola is usually singing Et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas, et ascendit in caelum. The reason we can turn from the Scriptural part of the service (the Mass of the Catechumens) to the Eucharistic sacrifice (the Mass of the Faithful) is that Christ is indeed risen from the dead, and death hath no more dominion over Him. He is able to renew His sacrifice among us sacramentally precisely because He is glorified. His rising on the third day was the great opening not only of the kingdom of heaven but of the sevenfold font of sacramental grace that brings us to heaven.

Deacon carrying the burse and corporal to the altar during the Credo

Call it accidental if you wish, but I find it very beautiful that as this Christological confession is sung, the principal minister occupies a seat as does Christ the Lord in heavenly glory, while the deacon, also bearing His image, prepares the altar for the “return” of the King, and the subdeacon stands at attention. The Creed then acknowledges the seating of Christ at the right hand of the Father, and His return in glory: sedet ad dexteram Patris: et iterum venturus est cum gloria. Around this time, the deacon returns to the side, and both he and the subdeacon take their seats. In this way, the various intertwined mysteries the Creed mentions at this point (around the resurrection, ascension, and session) are all somehow put on display, as if being acted out before our eyes.

Then, when the schola sings: Et vitam venturi saeculi, “[and I believe] in the life of the world to come,” all make the sign of the Cross, the ministers rise, and the people rise as well. This final strophe of the Creed has just mentioned the general resurrection of the dead and the life without end in heaven, when all the blessed will share the glory of the risen Lord. How appropriate that the “general rising” takes place right at this point in the Creed!

It is as if we are permitted to “act out,” in a sense, certain of the mysteries confessed, even as the priest during the Canon “acts out” some of Christ’s gestures, as Michael Fiedrowicz describes:
The traditional rubrics of the Roman Canon call for a “reenacting” of Christ’s actions through the celebrating priest. He not only reads aloud the words of institution, but copies Christ’s gestures as they are described: at the moment of the accepit panem/calicem he takes the offerings in his hands, which were anointed by the blessing (in sanctas et venerabiles manus suas), lifts his eyes (elevatis oculis), gratefully (gratias agens) bows his head, makes a sign of the Cross at the benedixit, and in a humble attitude completes the transubstantiation, with his arms touching the altar, once more emphasizing the union with Christ. (The Traditional Mass, p. 274)

Years after the above “picture” was formed in my mind, I decided to consult William Durandus, whose Rationale Divinorum Officiorum had recently entered my library. Sure enough, he had beat me to the main point, once more demonstrating that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles 1:9). Book IV, chapter 18 concerns “Of the Seating of the Bishop or the Priest and the Ministers,” of which the following lines are apropos (pp. 168–69 in the Thibodeau trans.):
He is seated in a prominent place, so that just as the vinedresser cares for his vineyard, he cares for his people; for the Lord, seated in the highest heavens, guards His city (cf. Ps 126:1)…. Sitting down after the prayer signifies the seating of Christ at the right hand of the Father after His Ascension, for the seat naturally goes to the victor. Thus, the seating of the priest designates the victory of Christ… The seating of the ministers signifies the seating of those to whom it is said: You shall also sit on the twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt 19:28): namely, those who now reign in heaven; those who labor in the choir signify those who are as yet pilgrims in this world… Some ministers sit with the bishop, through whom is understood that the members of Christ at last have repose in peace, about which the Apostle says: He seated us together in heaven, in Christ (Eph 2:6), or else those who judge the twelve tribes of Israel; others remain standing, through whom is understood those members of Christ who continue with the struggle in this world.

* NOTE: I have decided not to address here the question of the sitting of the clergy during the Kyrie, although the enterprising reader will find it pleasant to meditate on the allegorical interpretations that might be proffered.

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Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Feast of Christ the King 2020

He hath on his garment, and on his thigh written: King of kings, and Lord of lords. To him be glory and empire for ever and ever. (The antiphon at the Magnificat for 2nd Vespers of Christ the King.)

The Rider on the White Horse and the Army of Heaven (Apocalypse 19); from an illustrated manuscript of the Commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liebana, made by a scribe called Facundus for King Ferdinand I of Castille and Leon, 1047 AD, now in the National Library of Madrid. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Aña Habet in vestimento et in fémore suo scriptum: Rex regum, et Dóminus dominantium. Ipsi gloria et imperium, in sáecula saeculórum.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

A Very Curious Legend of St Raphael

The revised version of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, in the notes to the entry for the feast of St Raphael the Archangel, says that “In the Ethiopic Synaxarium... is a curious account of the dedication of a church to St Raphael in an island off Alexandria early in the fifth century.” A reference is given for an English translation of this Synaxarium, which is basically the Eastern version of the Martyrology, but no further information is given about the dedication or what makes it curious. In the marvelous age of the internet, I was able to track the text down at the following website, ( where I discovered what a spectacular understatement “curious” is in describing this legend.

“On this day are commemorated the glorious angel Raphael the archangel, the third of the vigilant, holy and heavenly archangels; and the dedication of his church, which was built to him on an island outside the city of Alexandria in the days of Saint Theophilus the Archbishop (385-412, the predecessor of St Cyril); and the miracle which was made manifest therein, and took place thus.

A certain rich woman from the city of Rome came to Saint Theophilus the Archbishop, and with her were her son and a picture of the glorious Archangel Raphael, and much money, which she had inherited from her parents. ... And Saint Abba Theophilus built many churches, and among them was the church, which was on the island outside the city of Alexandria, and was dedicated in the name of the glorious Archangel Raphael; and Abba Theophilus the Archbishop finished the building thereof and consecrated it as it were this day.

And whilst the believers were praying in the church, behold the church trembled, and was rent asunder, and it moved about. And they found that the church had been built upon the back of a whale... on which a very large mass of sand had heaped itself. Now the whale lay firmly fixed in its place, and the treading of the feet of the people upon it cut it off from the mainland; and it was Satan who moved the whale so that he might throw down the church.

And the believers and the archbishop cried out together, and made supplication to the Lord Christ, and they asked for the intercession of the glorious Archangel Raphael. And God, the Most High, sent the glorious angel Raphael, and he had mercy on the children of men, and he drove his spear into the whale, saying unto him, ‘By the commandment of God stand still, and move not thyself from thy place’; and the whale stood in his place and moved not.

And many signs and wonders were made manifest, and great healings of sick folk took place in that church. And this church continued to exist until the time when the Muslims reigned, and then it was destroyed, and the whale moved, and the sea flowed back again and drowned many people who dwelt in that place.”

The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore has a mid-19th Ethiopian painting in tempera on canvas which represents this legend, in which we see the Archangel fixing his spear through the church building. Unfortunately, the lower part of it, which would have shown the whale, is missing.

Here is a more complete representation of the story, depicted in a mural in a monastery in Ethiopia. This image is reproduced by the kind permission of Sara Genene, author of the blog Ethiopian Wanderlust.

The Grave of St Peter and the Ancient Vatican Basilica

Here are a couple of interesting things I recently stumbled across about the grave of St Peter and the basilica originally built over it by the Emperor Constantine in 320s. The first video gives a detailed explanation of each archeological phase of the site, from the original burial to the time of the first church’s construction. The site was rediscovered by excavations that began after the death of Pope Pius XI in February of 1939, when his tomb was being installed in the Vatican grottos. Workman accidentally broke through the floor, revealing open spaces underneath it whose existence was until that point unknown.

The second video is a “sketch” made with a modern architect’s model-drawing program, which shows how the ancient basilica would have been built step-by-step. (A lot of time is devoted to the large courtyard in front of the basilica.)

This video, which I have shared before, gives a good sense of the interior, although not of the decorations.

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Orations of the Feast of Christ the King

Jan van Eyck, Detail from the Ghent Altarpiece

Lost in Translation #22

In an earlier article, we described some of the differences between Pius XI’s original Feast of Christ the King and Paul VI’s feast that replaced it, the chief difference being the stress that the original places on the social reign of Jesus Christ in the here and now. Today, we examine all three orations of that feast in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of what this social reign entails.

But first, a stylistic curiosity. Most orations in the Roman Missal are addressed to God the Father, and most do not mention the Son until the conclusion. When the Son is mentioned at the beginning of the prayer, the ending is changed from “Through our Lord Jesus Christ” to “Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ.” And when the Son is mentioned near the end of the prayer, the ending is changed to “Who with Thee liveth and reigneth...” It is rare to have all three orations in the same Mass--the Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion--end like this. In fact, the only two times in the 1962 Missal that it does are the Christmas Midnight Mass and the Feast of Christ the King.

The Collect
Omnípotens sempiterne Deus, qui in dilecto Filio tuo, universórum Rege, omnia instauráre voluisti: concéde propitius; ut cunctae familiae gentium, peccáti vúlnere disgregátae, ejus suavíssimo subdantur imperio: Qui tecum vivit. 
Which I translate as:
Almighty everlasting God, who in Thy beloved Son, King of all men, hast willed to restore all things; mercifully grant that all the families of nations, rent asunder by the wound of sin, may be placed under His most pleasant rule. Who liveth. 
A few observations about diction. Used in the plural as it is here, universus can mean either “the whole word” or “all men”, and thus has more of a social or political connotation than a cosmic one. Disgregatae, the past participle translated as “rent asunder,” is a nice choice. Grego means to gather, and grex can be a flock of sheep. Disgrego means to break up, but with the ovine association, one cannot help but think of what Jesus told the disciples before His agony in the Garden: “All you shall be scandalized in me this night. For it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be dispersed.” (Matthew 26, 31) Finally, “to restore all things in Christ” is from Ephesians 1,10, as well as the motto of Pope St. Pius X, Pius XI’s predecessor but one, who likewise wished to see a renewed Christian society replace a rudderless or pernicious secularism.
Pope St. Pius X
The Collect diagnoses an international disease and prescribes a spiritual cure. The cause of division and rancor among nations is not nationalism per se but sin, and the solution is not a one-world government or a stronger United Nations or any other international agency, but global subjection to the most sweet rule of Christ (imperium suavissimum). “Subjection” is, of course, a dirty word these days, an affront to our egalitarian sensibilities. But Jesus Christ Himself deigned to be subject to Mary and Joseph, (Luke 2, 51); indeed, as St. Gregory of Nazianzus points out, He made Himself “subject to all that He saved,” becoming a slave to flesh, to birth, and to all our human experiences. [1] To be subject to such a King, who lovingly subjected Himself to death for our sake, is to accept a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. To be subject to such a Lord is at last to breathe the air of freedom. 
Such subjection, incidentally, need not involve changes to existing political structures since it is an internal conversion, but it will obviously have beneficent social effects.
The Secret
Hostiam tibi, Dómine, humánae reconciliatiónis offérimus: praesta, quáesumus; ut quem sacrificiis praeséntibus immolámus, ipse cunctis géntibus unitátis et pacis dona concédat, Jesus Christus, Filius tuus, Dóminus noster: Qui tecum vivit.
Which I temporarily translate as:
We offer Thee, O Lord, the victim of human reconciliation; grant, we beseech Thee, that He whom we immolate in the present sacrifices, may Himself concede to all nations the gifts of unity and peace, our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, who with Thee liveth and reigneth. 
The arresting phrase “human reconciliation” is found in the Collect of Easter Friday, “O God, who didst institute the Paschal Sacrament as a covenant of human reconciliation,” where it is unclear whether paschale sacramentum means the actual events of the Paschal Mystery or the Blessed Sacrament. The adjective keeps the focus on the Atonement; through Christ all things have been reconciled to the Father (Col. 1, 20), but we are particularly interested in His reconciliation of us (2 Cor. 5, 18). And, of course, He reconciles us by “making peace through the Blood of His Cross” (Col. 1, 20), the same peace we pray that God will give to all the nations and the same Blood that, even if we receive only the Host, we will be receiving shortly.
The clause ut quem sacrificiis praeséntibus immolámus indirectly reminds us of the importance of a good translation. The word immolare here is potentially dangerous, which may explain why the 1969 Missal omits this phrase entirely in its Prayer over the Offerings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The St. Andrew Daily Missal, for which I have great respect, translates the clause as: “He whom we immolate in the present sacrifíces.” Usually in the 1962 Missal, the Church immolates the “victim of praise” (hostia laudis) or the offertory gifts (munera) or the “sacrifice” (sacrificium), which in this case means the ritual action itself. But to say that we are immolating Jesus Himself makes it sound like we are sacrificing Him on the altar repeatedly (which was Martin Luther’s fear) and that the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacrifice of Calvary are not one. The solution is to recall that immolare can also mean to “present as an offering” and does not require the shedding of blood. “Offer up” is therefore a much safer translation than the English “immolate,” which maintains a link to ritual violence. If you have a St. Andrew Daily Missal, pencil out “immolate.”
The Postcommunion
Immortalitátis alimoniam consecúti, quáesumus, Dómine: ut, qui sub Christi Regis vexillis militáre gloriámur, cum Ipso in caelesti sede júgiter regnáre possímus: Qui tecum vivit.
Which I translate as:
Having received the food of immortality, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that we who glory in our service under the standards of Christ the King, may be able to reign with Him forever on His heavenly throne. Who with Thee.
Immortalitatis alimonia is not a common phrase in the Roman orations, but when it does occur, it is in a Postcommunion Prayer. (Coincidentally, the such occurrence in the Time after Pentecost besides the Feast of Christ the King is the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, which happens to fall on this Sunday as well). Alimonia means food, but it also means provisions or support (hence the word “alimony”), and thus fits in well with the military imagery of this prayer. And biblically, alimonia has a liturgical meaning: in the Vulgate’s Leviticus 3, 16 and 1 Maccabees 14, 10, it is the food used in a burnt offering.
Christi Regis vexillis. The phrase is adapted from Fortunatus’ magnificent hymn Vexilla Regis, which was composed for a grand procession of a relic of the True Cross from Tours, France, to St. Radegunda’s monastery in Poitiers on November 19, 659. [2] A vexillum (in the singular) is a military ensign or standard or banner. As orations on the Feasts of the Holy Cross and the Finding of the Holy Cross make clear, the supreme vexillum of Jesus Christ is the Cross on which He was crucified. Fortunatus and the Postcommunion Prayer for Christ the King, however, speak of the standards (plural) of Christ. According to one theory, the various instruments of the Passion, such as the lance and the scourge, are Our Lord’s other vexilla.
“We glory in our service under the standards of Christ the King.” This stirring image is worthy of a scene from The Lord of the RingsThe Chronicles of Narnia or Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech (say, St. Crispin’s Day is October 25, the date of the Feast of Christ the King this year!). Clad in the armor of God (see Eph. 6, 10), we hear the call of the trumpet and join our lion-hearted Lord on the field of battle, where we enter into spiritual combat to advance the Kingdom of God in ourselves and others, all the while suffering the slings and arrows of a world that increasingly holds us in contempt. The word translated as “in our service” is militare, which literally means to serve in the army as a solider; it is the source of our term “the Church Militant.” 
Apparently, this muscular martial metaphor was deemed too militaristic for the cosmological focus of the Ordinary Form’s Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, which replaces this clause with “we glory in obedience to the commands of Christ.” I can’t quite see Good King Harry winning the Battle of Agincourt with that one. The new wording is also out of tune with the biblical and liturgical use of “glory” and “obedience” and omits all reference to spiritual combat or struggle in the public square. But “if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?” (1 Cor 14, 8).
Eugene Lenepveu, Jeanne d’Arc au siège d’Orléans, ca. 1886

The Ordinary Form also replaces the petition that we may reign with Him with the less ambitious “live with Him.” I can understand why. Although the idea of co-reigning with Christ is taken from 2 Timothy 2, 12, it sounds too good to be true. We started out as mere creatures (and sinful ones at that), then we were promoted to servants of God and then to His friends (see John 15, 14-15). Moreover, we were endowed with the incredible dignity of being adopted sons of God (see Ephesians 3, 20) who participate in His divinity and are coheirs of the Kingdom (see Galatians 4, 1-7). And now we dare to look forward to sharing in Christ’s rule--and on His very own throne no less. In a transferred sense, in caelesti sede means “in His heavenly abode” (the St. Andrew rendering), but it literally designates Christ’s “heavenly seat” and thus hearkens to Matthew 19, 28: “Amen, I say to you, that you who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the seat (sedes) of His majesty, you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” [3] In one oration, we move from being lowly privates in the trenches to Joint Chiefs of Staff working with the Commander-in-Chief in the Situation Room, where together we shall rule the earth (Rev. 5, 10) and judge angels (1 Cor 6, 3). [4] Christ’s rule is indeed most sweet and rewarding.
[1] Oration 30.3.
[2] The hymn is used during Passiontide in the traditional Breviary.
[3] That said, the only other time that in caelesti sede is used in the Roman Missal (an alternative Collect for a deceased priest), it means “heavenly abode:” Praesta, quaesumus, Domine: ut anima famuli tui N. Sacerdotis, quem, in hoc saeculo commorantem, sacris muneribus decorasti; in caelesti sede gloriosa semper exsultet. Per Dominum. Here, I think, context supports a more literal translation.
[4] For other instances of co-reigning or co-judging with Christ, see Rev. 20, 4, 6; Daniel 7, 27; 1 Cor. 6, 1-3.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Hopeless Ambiguity of Sacrosanctum Concilium

Recent events of all kinds have provoked yet another round of discussions on the meaning of the documents of Vatican II, and their relevance (if any) to the life of the Church today. It is not my intention to address the issue as a whole, a task for much wiser and more learned heads than my own. For what little it may be worth, I believe that, as has been the case in the past, the only thing that can bring much-needed clarity to the subject is another council, much as Trent was needed to address the hopeless and embarrassing mess left behind by the Council that preceded it, Lateran V. (Whether a council held in present conditions would in fact bring any clarity to anything is at best highly debatable.)
I do, however, wish to address the subject of the ambiguity which is often imputed to the documents of Vatican II, particularly because it is of great relevance to the Apostolic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the very first document issued by the Council, and the most pertinent to the subject and interest of NLM.

Photo taken before a Papal Mass during Vatican II. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Lothar Wolleh, CC BY-SA 3.0)
I got to thinking about this when I stumbled across an FAQ about Vatican II on the Word on Fire website, which addressed the question: “Did thinkers behind Vatican II deliberately use ambiguity to change Church teaching?” Their answer is as follows.
“Theologian Edward Schillebeeckx has been quoted as saying, ‘We have used ambiguous phrases during the Council and we know how we will interpret them afterwards.’ The suggestion is that conspirators planted certain phrases within the Vatican II documents that appeared vague and innocent on the surface, but would later be exploited by those wishing to overturn traditional Church teaching.”
For our younger readers, Fr Edward Schillebeeckx was a Belgian Dominican who served during the Council as a “peritus”, an “expert” theologian and consultant, to the Abp of Utrecht, Bernard Cardinal Alfrink. He was actively involved in the preparation of various documents at the Council, although Word on Fire correctly notes that, not being a bishop, he had no vote on the final form which the drafting committees would submit to the Council for approval. Less than a year after the Council ended, he and a Jesuit named Piet Schoonenberg published the shameful Dutch Catechism, an unmistakable sign of just how rapidly the Church had already declined less than five years into the New Pentecost™. Later on, his writings on the Resurrection of Christ and ministerial priesthood, inter alia et multa, were the subject of so much concern (as one might say today) that he was called to explain himself to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. And these writings were indeed very ambiguous, never (e.g.) flat out denying Our Lord’s bodily resurrection, while giving every suggestion that the author thought it at best irrelevant, and most likely untrue.
Fr Schillebeeckx in 1979, wearing the updated habit of a Dominican Doctor of Theology. (Image from Wikimedia Commons, CC0 1.0)
These being the mad years after the Council, when the Church’s very highest authorities had mostly surrendered control of the asylum to the lunatics, he was not, of course, actually made to either assert his belief in the bodily Resurrection or leave the Church, but the mere fact that the CDF took any action at all is nevertheless highly significant. (Schoonenberg was also censured by the CDF.) Schillebeeckx is therefore, in short, one of the most likely candidates both to have deliberately introduced ambiguities into the documents of Vatican II, and to have exploited them afterwards, as stated in the quotation given above.
However, Word on Fire points out that the quotation does not, apparently, come from anything that he himself wrote or said, but rather, from Abp Lefebvre’s Open Letter to Confused Catholics, and is not otherwise corroborated. And in point of fact, almost every result of a Google search of those words comes back to either Abp Lefebvre himself or someone else quoting him, and none to Schillebeeckx directly. (Google is not, of course, either infallible or comprehensive, and if anyone knows more about the veracity of this quote one way or the other, I would be glad to hear from them.)
Word on Fire then turns to this statement taken from the autobiography of the Ven. Fulton Sheen, as a “far more trustworthy and reasonable” assessment of the matter.
“Those who read the Documents of Vatican Council II have no idea how much care and preparation went into every word they contained. . . . I can testify to how we would discuss various Latin words for a day in order to arrive at a precise meaning. Then, after a chapter was prepared, printed, and given to the Council Fathers, the debates on each subject went on for months until finally there were hammered out documents that were acceptable to all except a very few who voted against them.”
One is, of course, immediately struck by how forcefully the first sentence of this suggests the very opposite of what Abp Sheen clearly meant when he wrote it, and what Word on Fire’s FAQ wants to prove by it. If so very much care and preparation went into every word contained in the documents of Vatican II, how is that fact not immediately evident to those who read them?
I do not know whether Sheen was personally involved in the drafting of all sixteen of the Council’s documents, but we have his good reputation to assure us of the truth of the statement that a great deal of careful preparation was in fact put into the drafts “to arrive at a precise meaning”, even discussing specific (individual?) words for a whole day. Furthermore, the text was then debated “for months” in the Council itself in order to hammer out documents that were acceptable to all.
Image from Wikimedia Commons
It hardly needs to be said that none of this proves in any way that the documents of Vatican II are devoid of ambiguities.
First of all, it should be obvious that a good way to get any large group of people (in this case, more than 2,600 of them) to agree on any kind of statement is to make it ambiguous, so that each one thinks it means what he wants it to mean. I do not assert that this WAS in fact done at Vatican II, only that the agreement of the bishops on a particular text is no proof of its lack of ambiguity. And indeed, Word on Fire admits exactly this when it states that “sometimes, including in the Councils of Trent and (First) Nicaea, theologians are not in full agreement and so somewhat ambiguous statements must be used in the final documents.” (In regards to First Nicaea, this is historically inaccurate; the details of the theological discussions at that Council are unknown to us.)
But more to the point, assuming that Bishop Sheen is correct, and that the greatest care and attention were indeed put into every word of every document, that is also no proof whatsoever against ambiguity.
A few years ago, I was thrilled when an editor at National Review asked me to review Dr Kwasniewski’s book Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness, in part because my mother had worked for that publication back in the 1960s. I tried to be particularly careful with what I wrote, knowing that many of the eventual readers would likely not be conversant in the subject, only to hear back from the editor that one of his non-Catholic colleagues had read my piece over, and not been able to follow it at all. Likewise, I have often reread one of my own articles and realized that on one point or another, I had not been anywhere near as clear as I thought I was when I first wrote it.
I am certain that other writers have this experience, and I can cite one particularly good example to the point. In 1959, 14 years after the original publication of Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh revised the book. In his introduction to this revision, he states that in his then-current frame of mind, he would not have even attempted to write the famous passages in which we “hear” the interior monologues of Julia Flyte and Lord Marchmain, precisely because he didn’t think his readers realized that they were the characters’ thoughts, and not things they said out loud.
All of which is to say, if the Fathers at Vatican II did indeed try their best to avoid ambiguity, as Bishop Sheen states, that does not preclude the possibility that their documents did nevertheless wind up being ambiguous. And if they are in fact ambiguous, the question of whether they got to be so by deliberate machinations, malign or benevolent, is a merely historical one, which has no bearing on their ambiguity per se.
And the fact remains that, however it got to be so, Sacrosanctum Concilium is indisputably full of ambiguities. It says that “a broader place (amplior locus) can be given” to the use of the vernacular in the liturgy (36.2), without stating how much broader. Does this exclude or include the possibility that such a place will in fact be so broad as to eliminate Latin from the liturgy altogether? The text does not say. It says that “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” (116) Which “other things”, and how shall we know them to be equal? The text does not say. Does this exclude or include the possibility that the Church will “lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant?” as the Pope himself, less than six years after Sacrosanctum Concilium was issued, stated would happen? (General audience, Nov. 26, 1969). The text does not say. Further examples could be adduced almost endlessly.
Is there a single document of the Council about which similar questions cannot be asked?
The text does not say.

The Divine Office as a Mirror of the Mass

Here is a very cleverly drawn up graphic which Peter found, that uses the Hours of the Divine Office as a frame for explaining the parts of the Mass. Detailed explanations are given in the smalled type at the bottom; right click to open in a separate window or tab, so it will be legible.
A couple of things to note. For a very long time, it was the standard custom to say Mass in choir after either Terce, Sext or None, depending on the quality of the liturgical day: after Terce on Sundays and greater feast days, after Sext on ferias and minor feasts, and after None on fast days. As a general rule, the next Hour was said after the Mass in part as an act thanksgiving. Here the center of the Mass is placed between Terce and Sext.
The first part of the Mass up to the Collect is associated with Matins and Lauds, since the latter Hours ends with the Collect that will later be said in the Mass. This also reflects the traditional discipline that before a priest said his “private” Mass (so-called), he was supposed to have said at least Matins and Lauds.
The Hour of Prime is associated with the readings, sermon and Creed, just as the creeds known as those of the Apostles and St Athanasius are said at that Hour; the hymn of Prime begins with the words “Now that star of light is risen”, which is associated with the lights carried at the Gospel procession. In the Middle Ages, there also existed the custom of reading either a passage from the Gospels or the Rule followed by the community at the end of Prime; perhaps the creator of the graphic was also inspired by that.
The hour of Terce, at which the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles at Pentecost, is associated with the Offertory prayers, which include the prayer “Veni Sanctificator.” The Communion rites are associated with Sext, and the conclusion of the Mass with None, and the rest of the day’s activities with Vespers and Compline.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Reflection on the Fate of the Feast of Christ the King

Andrei Rublev, Christ Enthroned in Glory

Note: The following article appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of The Latin Mass magazine on pages 38-42 (vol. 26, issue 3). Many thanks to the editors of TLM for allowing its publication here.

The first time that the Feast of Christ the King was celebrated was October 31, 1926. In Mexico, 200,000 faithful went to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, among whom was the Jesuit priest and future martyr José Ramón Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, S.J., better known as Blessed Miguel Pro. The faithful had come on pilgrimage, but they were also protesting the repressive anti-Catholic “Calles Law.” Pro writes:

On October 31st, the Feast of Christ the King, we had the biggest, most sublime demonstration that the entire world has seen in the last four centuries. The pilgrimage to the Basilica started at four in the morning and ended at 7:30 at night… It was around five p.m., when I was about to return home with Mendez Med, when we saw a resolute group of housemaids who arrived with some one hundred industrial workers. They approached, singing along the streets leading to La Villa; but the singing was a little bit of a mumble. Then I told my partner, “C’mon buddy, now is the time,” and pushed my way into the group using my elbows. Then, following the leading voice of my partner I sang “Thou Shalt Reign” at the top of my lungs. [1]

It is difficult to imagine a more dramatic inauguration to a liturgical feast.

Blessed Miguel Pro

To understand how a mere Sunday in the Church calendar could have such an impact, it is necessary to turn to the feast as it was originally conceived by Pope Pius XI.

Quas Primas

In December 1925, Pope Pius XI announced a new Feast of Christ the King in his encyclical Quas Primas. The Supreme Pontiff makes it clear that the purpose of the new celebration is not merely to honor Christ’s Kingship, but to encourage individuals, families, and entire societies to submit to the yoke of Christ the King (17). After a beautiful reflection on how Jesus Christ exercises full judiciary, executive, and legislative power over all of mankind, he adds, “It would be a grave error…to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to Him by the Father, all things are in His power” (17).

According to Quas Primas, the “pest of our age” is secularism (laicismus), the attempt to build society without God (24). Secularism began with a political curtailment of the Church’s ability to govern her flock with respect to their eternal salvation and escalated into either the subordination of the Church to a powerful State or outright persecution. The result of the secular marginalization of “Jesus Christ and His holy law,” the Pope argues, is constant war between nations, an assault on the family, domestic strife, insatiable greed, and a blind and immoderate selfishness—“in a word, society shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin” (24).

According to the teaching of Pius XI, the solution to this plague is to “look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ” (1) by recognizing, “both in private and in public life, that Christ is King” (19). When this happens, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony. Our Lord’s regal office invests the human authority of princes and rulers with a religious significance; it ennobles the citizen’s duty of obedience” (19). It was to facilitate this solution to modernity’s ills that Pius XI instituted a feast in honor of Christ the King, “that the kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood” (21).

The Feast of Christ the King, then, is designed to instruct the minds of the faithful about the social reign of Jesus Christ and to warn them of the errors of secularism. But it is also designed to move and strengthen their hearts. Without saying it in so many words, the Pope is just as concerned about the silence of the good as he is about the ideological delusions of the bad. Secularism thrives on the pusillanimity of the pious; it sets a public tone of silence about God and then twists that silence into a form of acquiescence and even apostasy. Pius XI’s response to this hostile silent treatment is not the further privatization of religion or more “dialogue.” It is a rebel yell:

While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim His kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm His rights (25).

The Feast of Christ the King is designed not to recover an ancien régime or to establish a theocracy or even necessarily a Catholic confessional state, but to embolden Catholics to march into whatever public square in which they find themselves a part and declare Christ’s gentle but firm sovereignty over their society, as Blessed Miguel Pro literally did on that first feast day in Mexico City. Pius’ vision is aptly captured in the following verses from Te Saeculorum Principem, the Vespers hymn for this Sunday:

The wicked mob screams out:
“We don’t want Christ to reign!”
But we rejoice and say:
“Thou art the Supreme King of all.”

May the leaders of nations publicly honor and extol Thee;
May teachers and judges reverence Thee;
May the laws and the arts
Be a reflection of Thee.

May the insignias of kings shine forth
In their submission and dedication to Thee.
And bring under Thy gentle rule
Our country and the homes of its citizens.

In sum, the exhortatory goal of the Feast of Christ the King is the renewal of a Christian public spiritedness that can meet the political and social challenges of the age and work manfully towards the inner transformation of contemporary society.

The Original Date

Pius assigned the Feast of Christ the King to the last Sunday of October. [2] The Holy Father wanted it to fall on a Sunday so that not only the clergy but the laity could fully participate in it (29). And he wanted it on the last Sunday of October for two reasons. First, by being near the end of the liturgical year, the feast “sets the crowning glory upon the mysteries of the life of Christ already commemorated during the year” (29). Second, by celebrating it before All Saints’ Day on November 1, “we proclaim and extol the glory of Him who triumphs in all the Saints and in all the Elect” (29).

Pope Pius XI
It has also been speculated that Pius XI chose the last Sunday of October because several Protestant churches observe on that day Reformation Sunday. The first Protestant reformers were hardly champions of secularism (Calvin’s Geneva and Zwingli’s Zurich leaned more towards theocracy); nevertheless, the secularization of the West was one of the unintended consequences of the Reformation. Either way, the last Sunday of October is an ideal choice. As Pius XI mentioned, there is a fitting transition from the triumph of Christ in His Headship to the triumph of Christ in His members—the Communion of Saints (November 1) and the Holy Souls in Purgatory (November 2). The Church Triumphant and Church Suffering follow on the flowing trains of their King.

Second, celebrating the feast near the end of the liturgical year gives it an eschatological note. The final Sundays of the Church calendar become increasingly focused on the End Times until the year culminates with the Last Sunday after Pentecost, known in some quarters as “the Sunday of Doom” because of its Gospel on the destruction of the Temple and the world. [3] Then, the Church year begins anew with Advent, which is likewise about the Last Day, for in preparing for the celebration of Christ’s First Coming in Bethlehem we are also to prepare for His Second Coming in glory. [4] Thanks to the pairing of Christ the King and All Saints, we can therefore trace a shift from a sense of wonder and awe at heavenly glory to a holy fear about if we will ever reach such a stage. This shift, in turn, conditions the faithful to convert this holy fear into actual preparedness during Advent, so that we may greet Christ our Judge “without dread” when the time comes (see the December 24 Collect). Paradoxically and ingeniously, the period from late October to Christmastide uses a fear of Doomsday to help us appropriate and properly move beyond it.

Although this holy fear reaches its height on the “Sunday of Doom,” it is present in ovo in the Feast of Christ the King. The Pope hoped that as a result of this annual celebration, nations will recall “the thought of the Last Judgment, wherein Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults” (32). Pius XI also expressed the wish that it would encourage the faithful to live their lives in such a way that Christ will count them among the good and faithful servants (33).

Third, by having it near but not at the very end of the liturgical year, the feast teaches that the social reign of Christ the King has already begun and that we are subject to it now. Such a placement also fits in nicely with the current season in the Roman Breviary, which in October includes passages from II Maccabees, which chronicles Jewish defiance of the pagan ruler Antiochus IV. One such reading, proclaimed on the Fifth Sunday of October, recounts the story of ninety-year-old Eleazar, who chose to be flogged to death by public officials rather than eat a piece of pork and defy the law of the Lord. Here was a man who had a sense of God’s social reign avant la lettre.


Pius XI ordained only one custom on the new feast: that the Dedication of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which Pope Leo XIII inaugurated and Pope St. Pius X commanded to be renewed yearly, be recited on this day (28). Given the historic ties between devotion to the Sacred Heart and Christ the King, the association is appropriate. The Church continues to grant a plenary indulgence, under the usual conditions, for the devout recitation of this prayer on the feast.

In his encyclical the Pope also praised Adoration and procession of the Blessed Sacrament by which “men unite in paying homage to Christ, whom God has given them for their King” (26). Because they are public, processions make precisely the kind of assertion that Quas Primas seeks to promote. “It is by a divine inspiration that the people of Christ bring forth Jesus from His silent hiding-place in the church and carry Him in triumph through the streets of the city,” the Pope muses, “so that He whom men refused to receive when He came unto his own, may now receive in full His kingly rights” (26). Consequently, many parishes using the 1962 Missal have a Eucharistic procession on this feast similar to that of Corpus Christi.

New Name

The post-Vatican-II calendar makes three changes to the original feast: a new name, a new date, and new propers.

First, the title has been modified from the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King to the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe. Theoretically, the addition could signify that as Lord of the universe, Jesus Christ has dominion over all things and all men, thereby reinforcing His social reign. But the intention of the architects of the new calendar was the opposite: instead of highlighting Christ’s social reign they sought to deemphasize it.

Pierre Jounel was the priest in charge of the subcommittee that revised the calendar. After summarizing the feast’s original purpose (and implicitly pooh-poohing Pius XI for still dreaming “of a possible Christendom”), Jounel explained the new rationale:

The compilers’ aim was to emphasize more the cosmic and eschatological character of Christ’s kingship. The feast is now the feast of Christ “King of the universe” and is assigned to the last Sunday in Ordinary Time. [5]

In other words, Christ Pantokrator is being replaced by cosmic Jesus.

Pantokrator, Monreale, Sicily

New Date

As Jounel’s statement indicates, changing the date was likewise meant to emphasize the “cosmic and eschatological” at the expense of the social. In 1968, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was allowed to review the proposed new calendar. Writing back in June of that year, the CDF stated that “The feast of Christ the King ought to keep its social dimension and be celebrated in October as in the past.” [6] Note the reasoning: the October date bespeaks the feast’s “social dimension,” that is, its promulgation of the social kingship of Jesus Christ.

To iron out their differences, members of the CDF met with Archbishop Bugnini’s Consilium in charge of reforming the liturgy. Bugnini states that the CDF, despite their “nostalgia” and “fears,” were dazzled by his committee’s “expertise and care,” and so the two groups soon came to an agreement “even though in the process many requests of the Congregation were effectively denied,”[7] including retaining the original date of Christ the King.

New Propers

The new propers for the Mass and Divine Office also make clear that Christ’s social reign is no longer the reason for the feast. The inspirational hymn verses cited above were removed, as were various references to Christ’s rule and the world’s opposition to it (for a full analysis of these liturgical changes, see Fr. Dylan Schrader’s fine article [8]).

And it is expected that the pulpit now be used to reinforce this new emphasis. The Congregation for Divine Worship’s 21015 Homiletic Directory [9] recommends that for the solemnity preachers consult seventeen different paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, only one of which, citing Quas Primas, explicitly affirms Christ’s kingship over human societies (2105). The rest teach that Christ is the “Lord of the cosmos and of history” (668-672) and that we participate in Christ’s Kingship not by making our laws reflect God’s order (to paraphrase the afore-mentioned hymn) but by serving the poor (786) and exercising self-control (908). Similarly, in his influential The Liturgical Year, Father Adrian Nocent, O.S.B. (one of the periti who revised the Lectionary) avoids the concept of Christ’s social reign and writes instead of the folly of the Church wanting “political authority in the world,” an assertion that is true so far as it goes but prone to secularist misinterpretation without proper qualification. [10]

New Feast

Moreover, according to no less an authority than Pope Paul VI, the Feast of Christ the King was not merely changed or moved; it was replaced. In Calendarium Romanum, the document announcing and explaining the new calendar, the Pope writes:

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe occurs on the last Sunday of the liturgical year in place of the feast instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and assigned to the last Sunday of October. By this reasoning, the eschatological significance of this Sunday is placed in a clearer light. [11]

The key word is loco, which means “in place of” or “instead of.” The Pope could have simply stated that the Feast occurs on a different date (as he did with the Feast of the Holy Family) or that it is being moved (transfertur) as he did with Corpus Christi, but he did not. The Novus Ordo’s Solemnity of Christ the King, he writes, is the replacement of Pius XI’s feast.


We can draw three conclusions about the new solemnity.

First, it changes the liturgical year. On the positive side, the date of the new feast affirms the triumph of Christ the King over all things at the end of time and serves as a fitting capstone to the season of Ordinary Time, which began in January after the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Thus configured, Ordinary Time is bookended by the beginning and end of Christ’s ministry (of course, whether Ordinary Time is itself a good idea is another matter). [12]

On the other hand, because of the new location the feast loses its link to All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, and without this link there is no mini-season celebrating the relationship between the Head and its members. Consequently, the progression from glorious awe to a righteous fear of the Lord to Advent’s joyfully penitential preparation for the Second Coming is weakened.  Instead, the last Sunday of the liturgical year is now expected to carry a rather overwhelming list of themes (Christ’s kingship, the Last Judgment, and the Kingdom of God), the risk being that justice is done to none of them.

Second, the new feast guts the original of its intended meaning. Pius XI instituted Christ the King to proclaim Christ’s social reign; its eschatological dimension was subordinate to this goal. The new feast, by contrast, uses the eschatological in order to replace the social. By doing so and by dropping all critical references to godless societies, it gives the overwhelming impression that the new eschatology, as Peter Kwasniewski puts it,

Betrays weak knees before the challenge of modern secularization, as well as hesitation about the perceived “triumphalism” of the earlier papal social teaching. In other words, the kingship of Christ is palatable and proclaimable so long as its realization comes at the end of time, and does not impinge too much on the political and social order right now—or on the Church’s responsibility to convert the nations, invigorate their cultures, and transform their laws by the light of the Faith. [13]

Or to put it more cynically, the liturgical innovators kicked the can of Christ’s reign down the road to the end of time so that it will no longer interfere with an easygoing accommodation to secularism.

Although vestiges of a social element remain in the new solemnity (such as the Gospel for Year A), these are usually manifested in the form of social justice rather than Christ’s social reign. The USCCB uses this Sunday to collect donations for the Campaign for Human Development and to defend religious liberty. [14]

Certainly, conforming to Christ’s reign includes caring for the poor, but it is also much more than that. The reduction of Christ’s social kingship to social justice is a betrayal of its meaning. And while the erosion of religious liberty in the United States is a very serious concern, one cannot help note the irony of using Pius XI’s feast to defend it, since the Pontiff ostensibly rejected the American model of religious freedom when he deplored the legal practice of “ignominiously placing” the true religion of Christ on the same level as false religions. [15]

Third, the feast has lost its strong exhortatory character. Pius XI wanted this day to be a spiritual call to arms, emboldening Catholics with a courageous public spiritedness unashamed of Jesus Christ, zealous of sound morality, and fearless in applying the high standards of the Gospel. We may even say that the old feast aimed at reanimating a kind of Catholic chivalry that channeled manly assertiveness into publicly defending God’s honor. The new feast has none of these rousing elements; it is, quite frankly, wimpy by comparison. One can hardly imagine the current solemnity inspiring the same kind of muscular civil disobedience exhibited by Miguel Pro and his coreligionists. 

Father Miguel Pros Martyrdom


Blessed Miguel Pro only lived to celebrate two Feasts of Christ the King before giving his life for the Lord. After being arrested in November 1927 on the bogus charge of conspiring to assassinate the president of Mexico, Pro was executed without trial on the 23rd of that month. As he faced the firing squad, the holy priest extended his arms cruciform and shouted ¡Viva Cristo Rey!—“Long Live Christ the King!” Pius XI’s feast had become the inspiration for the battle cry of the Cristeros rebellion against atheistic tyranny and the motto of martyrs.

Now that Blessed Pro is part of the Church Triumphant, we pray that through his intercession the Church Militant may never forget the true meaning of this powerful feast and never fail to put it into practice. And in times such as ours, when the Barque of St. Peter “is taking on the waters [of secularism] to the point of capsizing,”[16] it is good to remember the words of Quas Primas:

We may well admire in this the admirable wisdom of the Providence of God, who, ever bringing good out of evil, has from time to time suffered the faith and piety of men to grow weak, and allowed Catholic truth to be attacked by false doctrines, but always with the result that truth has afterwards shone out with greater splendor, and that mens faith, aroused from its lethargy, has shown itself more vigorous than before (22).

[1] Marisol López-Menéndez, Miguel Pro: Martyrdom, Politics, and Society in Twentieth-Century Mexico (Lexington Books, 2016), 4.

[2] Quas Primas 28. During its first year in 1926, however, it was held on October 31.

[3] The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden, which more or less retained the traditional readings of the Roman Rite, uses this sobriquet.

[4] See my “The End and Beginning of the Church Year: Interlocking Clasps in the Hidden Season,” TLM 22:3 (Fall 2013), 46-50.

[5] Pierre Jounel, “The Feasts of the Lord in Ordinary Time,” in The Church at Prayer, vol. 4, The Liturgy and Time, ed. Aimé Georges Martimort, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (Liturgical Press, 1986), 107.

[6] Annibale Bugnini, Reform of the Liturgy (Liturgical Press, 1990), 311.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “The Revision of the Feast of Christ the King,” Antiphon 18.3 (2014), 227-253.

[9] Congregation for Divine Worship, “Homiletic Directory,” Prot. N. 531/14 (2015).

[10] Adrien, Nocent, OSB, Liturgical Year: The Liturgical Year: Sundays Two to Thirty-Four in Ordinary Time, vol. 4 (Liturgical Press, 1977), 298.

[11] Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), 63.

[12] See my “The Time after Pentecost vs. Ordinary Time,” TLM 26:2 (Summer 2017), 46-50, or my essays in New Liturgical Movement here and here.

[15] Quas Primas, 24.

[16] Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Funeral Message for the late Joachim Card. Meisner.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Abbey of Sant’ Antimo (Part 2)

On Saturday, we published the first set of photos from Nicola’s visit earlier this summer to the abbey of Sant’Antimo in Tuscany, showing the church's exterior, so today we continue with the interior. As I mentioned in the previous post, the exterior of the church is decorated with a number of sculptures of animals (zoomorphs), which represent the dangers of the world, while sculpted capitals of the interior are most decorated with vegetable motifs (phytomorphs), to represent the Church as a garden and a place of refuge. This is particularly notable within the central nave.

The church contains one storied capital, the second from the back on the right side, which represents the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Daniel in the center, surrounded by lions, raises his hands in a gesture very similar to that of the priest at Mass during the Our Father; the angel, immediately to the right, is the deacon, and the prophet Habakkuk, holding his basket of food under a veil, is the subdeacon holding the paten. The anonymous Romanesque sculptor who did this capital in the second half of the 12th century is known as the Master of Cabestany, so called from a small town near Perpignan, France, where he did a particularly beautiful sculpted tympanum over the door of one of the churches. Well over 100 pieces have been attributed to him and his workshop, in a wide range of places throughout southern France and northern Spain. The presence of three of his pieces in Tuscany suggests that he may have traveled as a pilgrim to Rome, and financed the trip by doing sculptures at various stops along the way. In his time, Sant’Antimo was a very rich and important territorial abbey which governed a large tract of Tuscany, fully able to pay him a good price for his work, as well as a popular stop for pilgrims on the via Francigena.
Like many churches of the Romanesque period, the building was designed with pilgrims in mind, creating an itinerary for them to follow which went up the north aisle, through the ambulatory (behind the main sanctuary), to the crypt under the main altar, down the south aisle, and into the nave. Some zoomorphs are therefore also included in the interior, especially on the north side, which represents the dangerous world through which the pilgrim journeys to reach the garden of the church. Here we see bears...

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