Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Legend of Pope St Silvester I

The Caelian hill in Rome is the site of a very ancient basilica dedicated to the Four Crowned Martyrs; within the complex that surrounds it is preserved an extraordinary gem of medieval art, a chapel dedicated to Pope St Silvester I (314-35), whose feast has been kept on this day since the fourth century. (All images from the relevant page of Wikimedia Commons, by Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0.)
This chapel was built in 1246, for a very particular purpose determined by the proximity of the Four Crowned Martyrs to the Pope’s cathedral, St John in the Lateran, where Papal elections were traditionally held in the Middle Ages. In the 12th century, the Church was very much caught up in the Investiture Controversy, the struggle to free itself from the control of the secular power, and particularly, of the German Holy Roman Emperors; and for most of the century, there was an antipope who took the Emperors’ side. A crucial figure in this long controversy, Pope Alexander III (1159-81), was, like Silvester I, one of the longest reigning Popes of all time, but was unable for most of his reign to enter Rome, which was held by the antipopes with the Emperor’s support. After an agreement was reached between the two sides towards the end of Alexander’s reign, and solidified by the Third General Council of the Lateran in 1179, the conflict was most unhappily renewed in the first part of the 13th century under the Emperor Frederick II.

The chapel of St Silvester was therefore built so that, if the Lateran itself should be occupied by the Emperor, the cardinals would be able to barricade themselves within the fortress-like complex around the basilica of the Four Crowned Martyrs a short distance away, and elect a Pope without outside interference. The program of the frescoes which decorate its walls is very much intended to speak to this potential role of the chapel as the site of a Papal election, and to remind the cardinals that the candidate they should be supporting is the one who will defend the liberty of the Church, which the civil power has no right to usurp. (In the end, however, the chapel was never used for this purpose.)
The cycle begins on the back wall, with the first of several episodes from the life of Constantine, whom the medieval Papacy (mostly with good reason) held up as an ideal emperor because he gave the Church freedom and a great deal of material support, but largely left it alone to manage its own internal affairs. According to the common legend, he suffered from leprosy, which his doctors told him could only be cured by bathing in the blood of young children. (Ancient Roman medical practice had much to do with what anthropologists call sympathetic magic, and the idea that a doctor in antiquity might prescribe such an awful remedy is not per se absurd.) Notice how the faces in the crowd of mothers are all basically the same, and there is only a hint of using their expression to convey their distress at the proposed massacre. Artworks of this kind became very unfashionable in the Renaissance, which sought to differentiate faces in groups more realistically, and use facial expressions to convey emotion.
Constantine (who, like all good monarchs, sleeps in full regalia and a wearing a crown), has a dream in which the Apostles Peter and Paul appear to him, and tell him not to kill the children, but rather to seek out the Christian bishop of Rome, who will cure him. (Notice that the decorative pattern on Constantine’s robe passes through the space delineated by it without conforming to the folds of the cloth, another classic feature of medieval art on which the Renaissance will seek to improve.)
Constantine’s emissaries (who are taller than their horses) ride out to seek Pope Silvester...
and find him (after turning the corner of the wall) on Mt Soracte to the north of Rome, hiding with other members of the clergy from the ongoing persecution of the Church. (Note the sideways treetop in the background.)

Te Deum on New Year’s Eve

It has long been a custom in Catholic churches to sing the Te Deum, the hymn of thanksgiving par excellence, on New Year’s Eve, to thank God for all of the blessings received over the course of the previous year, and then to invoke His blessings for the coming year by singing the Veni, Creator Spiritus on New Year’s Day. In Rome, the Pope and cardinals resident in the city traditionally attended the Te Deum ceremony on December 31st at the church of the Holy Name of Jesus, popularly known as “il Gesù”, the mother church of the Jesuit order. In recent years, however, it has generally been celebrated, even by the first Jesuit Pope, at St Peter’s, together with First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and Eucharistic Benediction.

Before the Breviary reform of St Pius X, the Te Deum was titled “the hymn of Ss Ambrose and Augustine”, in reference to the tradition that Saints Ambrose and Augustine composed it as if by divine inspiration, immediately after the baptism of the latter at the Easter vigil of 387. (Incidentally, this was one of the extremely rare years on which Easter fell on its terminus post quem non, April 25th.) “Te Deum laudamus!”, exclaimed Ambrose, “Te Dominum confitemur!”, replied Augustine, and so on. For this reason, in many illustrated breviaries the Te Deum is decorated with an image of the two bishops together.

The Te Deum in a Psalter created in the mid-16th century for a canon of the Duomo of Milan. (Bodleian Ms. Canon. Liturg. 275)
This ceremony took place in the baptistery of St John “ad Fontes”, the remains of which can still be visited under the floor of the modern Duomo. (Many years ago, I visited this space and sang the Te Deum together with two priests of the FSSP, while in Milan to attend a traditional Ambrosian Rite Mass in the cathedral in honor of the Blessed Ildefonse Schuster.) A plaque on a wall close to these remains of the ancient font notes that in 1987, the 16th centenary of St Augustine’s baptism, Card. Carlo Maria Martini, the archbishop of Milan, baptized three African converts on Easter night, giving them the names Ambrose, Augustine and Adeodatus; the last was the name of St Augustine’s son, who was baptized alongside him, and died the following year at the age of only 16.


The baptistery of St John “ad Fontes” is seen in the drawing below as the octagonal building between Milan’s two cathedrals. The larger one on the left, dedicated to St Thecla, was also known as the summer church, used from Easter until the 3rd Sunday of October; the smaller one on the right, the winter church, was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and used from that Sunday until the Easter vigil. St Mary’s also had a baptistery, named for St Stephen the First Martyr, which is not seen here, and of which nothing now remains; this would have been where St Ambrose himself was baptized. The modern Duomo is built over and oriented the same way as St Mary’s, but is very much larger; St Thecla was demolished in the 16th century, but its memory is preserved by the presence of an altar dedicated to her in the cathedral’s left transept, and by the fact that the cathedral parish as a corporate entity is named for her.


(This post is largely the work of our Ambrosian correspondent Nicola de’ Grandi.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Renovation of Kalamazoo Cathedral by Duncan Stroik

On Gaudete Sunday, His Excellency Paul Bradley, Bishop of Kalamazoo, Michigan, celebrated the Mass for the re-dedication of the cathedral of St Augustine, in which architect Duncan Stroik has just completely the first phase of a major renovation. Bp Earl Boyea of Lansing, Abp Allen Vigneron of Detroit, and two Detroit auxiliary bishops were also present for the ceremony. (All photos courtesy of these are by Duncan G. Stroik Architect.)
The main sanctuary after the new restoration...
...and before.
The church was built as a parish of the diocese of Grand Rapids by the office of Ralph Adams Cram and completed in 1951; when Kalamazoo became a diocese in 1971, St Augustine was chosen as its cathedral. A renovation in 1989 altered the sanctuary and dismantled the high altar, using pieces of its broccatello marble as a backdrop for the cathedra (on the center axis of the sanctuary), and as a pedestal for the tabernacle, which was moved to a side chapel. This most recent renovation, initiated by Bishop Bradley and Monsignor Michael Osborn, Vicar General of the Diocese, has restored the tabernacle to the center of the sanctuary, and aimed to make St Augustine a worthy cathedral. Major plaster repair was also addressed, including completely rebuilding the framing, lath, and plaster of the back wall of the sanctuary. Pieces of the original high altar were put back into place, and a new baldacchino, altar of sacrifice, ambo, cathedra, and sanctuary floor were installed. Side altars with Mary and St. Joseph were also restored. A new decorative paint pattern on the sanctuary walls and ceiling and new pews in the nave complete the first phase. Here are several photos of the rededication ceremony, and below, details of the newly renovated parts of the church.
The relic stone is place in the altar.
The mensa is anointed with chrism.
The anointing of the walls

An Exposition of the Relics of St Norbert

This coming year, the Premonstratensian Order is celebrating a jubilee for the 900th anniversary of its foundation; at the Strahov Monastery in Prague, the shrine which contains the relics of their founder, St Norbert, was recently opened up, and the relics exposed for veneration. A Facebook page dedicated to the various orders and congregations of Augustinian Canons Regular, including the Premonstratensians, published these photographs of the actual bones of St Norbert, which we share by the kind permission of Dom Jakobus, a canon of Herzogenburg Abbey in Austria, who administers the page. (It is frequently updated with many interesting pictures, both modern and historical, of the canons and their liturgies.)

Our best wishes for this coming year to all of the Canons Regular of Prémontré – feliciter!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Medieval Dominican Chants for Christmas

The version of the Roman Rite used specifically at the Papal court in the High Middle Ages, which became the liturgy of the Tridentine reform, was in many respects very conservative, and did not take on many of the elaborations of the liturgy which were done nearly everywhere else. One of the best examples of this from the Christmas season is the singing of the Gospel of Our Lord’s Genealogy according to St Matthew, 1, 1-16, which was done between the ninth responsory of Christmas Matins and the Te Deum in basically every other Use of the Roman Rite. Because the text itself is very repetitive (“Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, etc.”), it was generally set to an ornate tone to keep it interesting. The same was done at Matins of the Epiphany with the Genealogy according to St Luke, (3, 21 – 4, 1); the first three verses of this passage are Luke’s account of Christ’s Baptism, one of the three major events celebrated on Epiphany.
A friend who is a priest of the Fraternity of St Vincent Ferrer wrote to let me know that they have just lately posted a recording of this Gospel as it was sung at Christmas Matins in their church last year. Hopefully they will post the Epiphany one before long.

The Dominicans also preserved the use of the very popular Christmas Sequence Laetabundus, another thing which was never adopted into the Roman liturgical books. Here it is sung by the friars of the OP Chant YouTube channel; the text and translation are given in the notes under their original post.

A Presidential Order on Civic Architecture Will Engender Creativity and Variety

...and the Cultural Elites Who Deride It Are Wrong

I read recently of an Executive Order issued by President Donald Trump declaring the classical style of architecture tobe the preferred style for new government buildings, and that regardless of the style chosen, the building must be beautiful.

Predictably, the architectural institutes and leftists have objected, both parties faithfully reflecting the neo-Marxist theory that rejects all tradition. The problem with such an edict, so the argument runs, is that, among other things, it undermines the principle of cultural diversity and as such is “undemocratic.” And, as we know, in modern critical theory, “diversity” per se is an incontestable good!

I believe, in contrast, that what the President has done is a good thing, and if the EO survives the next administration (whoever that may be), it will likely encourage creativity, authentic originality, and a new richness in architectural style.
The Capitol, Washington DC
I am assuming sufficient goodwill from enough people to make it work for this to be the case, and this is, I admit, a big assumption. For example, to define what is meant by “classical” is probably not so easy. Anyone who has ever seen a photo of the Acropolis or the Capitol building knows classical style when they see it. But to define it so precisely that loopholes can’t be found by people who are determined to find them will be a difficult task. However, assuming that a genuine attempt is made to follow this in spirit for the beauty of our cities, and the good of those who work in the buildings, rather than the self-aggrandizement of the architect, then I believe that the result will be good.

So, to counter the objections: Firstly, if democracy really was the concern of the critics, then I am pretty sure there would be no modernist architecture ever. (I am using modern in a broad sense to mean those styles that arise from a conscious rejection of Western tradition.) The Trump administration said that polls indicated that classical was the preferred style of public and federal workers - those who will actually have to look at and work in the buildings. This does not surprise me. In my experience of decades of talking to people about art, it is “the many”, ordinary people (who don’t consider themselves members of the cognoscenti) who prefer traditional designs. On the other hand, it is the few - elites who are inclined to tell us what we ought to like - who advocate modernist designs and who dominate the teaching institutions that form the architects who go on to design such buildings.
This is the telling statement in the Reuters article cited above:
The White House official said that polling showed a vast majority of Americans prefer traditional designs and said some modern structures weren’t easily identifiable as public buildings. New construction should command respect by the general public and not just architectural elites, the official said.
One argument that I am sure will be used against the EO is that it will stifle creativity. In fact, in my opinion, the opposite will happen. It will encourage a rich and authentic diversity of beautiful architecture than that produced by architects who subscribe to the views of the modernist critics. 
As a rule, in art, if you narrow the width of the constraints, creativity finds room for maneuver by reaching for greater heights and depths. Rather than being a prescription for sameness and sterility, it is exactly the opposite: a mandate for beautiful creativity and variety. Take the iconographic style of sacred art as an example: this is perhaps the most narrowly defined artistic style that I know, yet the range of styles, reflecting time and place, is huge. My icon-painting teacher always used to say that someone who knows iconographic styles can look at an icon and from the style alone, identify when it was painted, to around 50 years, and from which geographical region it originates.
Accordingly, the likely result of this EO is the emergence of a new, American neo-classical style that is simultaneously a full participation in the essence of classicism as established 2,500 years ago, and a unique 21st-century American style. These two principles are not mutually exclusive. 
If we look at history, some of the most admired architectural styles began as attempts to copy the past. Without deliberate intent from the architects, their work was a product of the time and place in which it was created as well. So, for example, the High Renaissance classical style began as an attempt to recreate the classical style of the Roman worldt. It became its own distinct form of classicism known as Palladian architecture and in turn morphed into English Georgian and the American colonial style.

Georgian houses, Bath, England.
Similarly, AW Pugin, who was, ironically, reacting against the neo-classical architecture of the early 19th century (which Trump admires) set out to re-establish the Gothic (or as he called it ‘pointed’) style of architecture. Again, the result was a distinct form of Gothic architecture that was adopted widely because of the power of its beauty. Examples are across the globe in local variations - in India and Russia, across Europe, and in the US, for example. It created some of the most iconic buildings in the world, for example, Big Ben and Tower Bridge.
All of the varieties of architecture mentioned, Gothic or classical, arise from the traditional desire to participate in the beauty of Creation, which in turn bears the mark of the Creator.
In contrast, consider the architecture that is produced, when the mandate is that anything goes as long as it isn’t traditional (which is what dominates today). Look at inner cities around the world that have been developed since WW2. You can barely tell one from another, or what any individual building is for. All these cities in continents across the globe look pretty much the same, and for all the effort that has gone into creating the giant structures, the overall impression is of bland uniformity of ugliness. It is only the elites who push the theories that underlie their design who dare to admit that they like them (and one wonders if even then it is really true that they do in every case.)
This is a reflection, I would say, of the fact that there is no order outside God’s order, only disorder. There is no beauty that is not a participation in divine beauty, only a dull and bland uniformity of ugliness. And there is no originality if the origins of all beauty are no longer the source of inspiration. To shut out the traditional wellspring of inspiration, as modernity has done, is to rely on the despair and isolation of fallen man, and this runs dry very quickly. Looking to the cosmos and to God, on the other hand, is to tap into infinite possibilities of beautiful design.

The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Trump will no doubt continue to be derided by the cultural elites who think they know better and are anxious to preserve their own reputations and jobs, for his supposedly simplistic approach. The irony of this is that he has probably done more to establish a rich and inspiring culture of beauty than his puffed-up critics and their like have done for over a hundred years. If the Executive Order can remain in place, I envisage a cultural renewal that will make American cities the envy of the world.
The Parthenon, in the Acropolis, Athens

Monday, December 28, 2020

Cardinal Zen, Motets, the Ordinariate, Converts, and Dominican Chant

What do these diverse topics have to do with one another? They’re the topics of the latest episodes of Square Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast.

Catch up on episodes here on YouTube, or on our podcast feed

King Herod and the Martyr Children

Why in the world would anyone ever think of killing a child?

If we look at the nature of Herod’s murderous decree and the way in which the Innocents suffered for Christ, we see that the persecution of the child results from a hatred of God, of human nature as the imago Dei, and of Christ who has a special love and welcome for all “little ones”: children, the elderly, the poor, the handicapped, the helpless, the oppressed.

Herod “the Great,” as he was called by some of his contemporaries, slaughtered the children of Christ’s age because he did not want to submit to the reign of Christ the King. He did not want anyone else to rule over him; he wanted only to rule himself—and, of course, to rule others. (As St. Thomas notes: “Mary and Joseph needed to be instructed concerning Christ’s birth before He was born, because it devolved on them to show reverence to the child conceived in the womb, and to serve Him even before He was born, ST III.36.2 ad 2.)

Then Herod, perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry, and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning: Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. (Gospel of the day)

The Roman Emperors who persecuted Christianity in its infancy stand in league with Herod: they sought to extinguish a religion that taught the supremacy of another king, another ruler, to whom all earthly knees must bend. If Christianity had not exacted this otherworldly allegiance, the Emperors would have left it quite alone. Any bizarre mystery cult or intellectual religion was palatable to the cosmopolitan taste of the Romans; as long as the citizens would tip a spoonful of incense into the fire to honor the divinity of the Emperor who commanded all earthly obedience, then they could go about worshiping or not worshiping whatever god they pleased. But Christianity declared that there was a higher kingship, a higher imperium: “You would have no power over me unless it had been given to you from above” (John 19, 11). To this higher authority, all earthly kings and kingdoms must pay homage.

It is truly meet and just, right and availing unto salvation that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty and everlasting God. Because by the mystery of the Word made flesh the light of Thy glory hath shone anew upon the eyes of our mind: that while we acknowledge Him to be God seen by men, we may be drawn by Him to the love of things unseen. (Preface of the Nativity)


As if such a claim were not audacious enough, Christianity went further. It taught that all men who share in the mystery of Christ are adopted sons with Him, co-heirs of the kingdom of heaven—and as a consequence, that all men, from Emperor to slave, are fundamentally equal in the eyes of God. [1] Thus, while in the worldly order the slave negates himself before his master and the citizen falls before his Emperor, in the divine order inaugurated by Christ, the master serves his slave and the Emperor his citizens. [2] All must serve one another in humility and love. The most basic Christian identity is that of servanthood: Jesus tells his disciples that they are to distinguish themselves not as masters but as servants. [3]

Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings, O God, Thou hast perfected praise, because of Thine enemies. Ps. O Lord our God, how admirable is Thy Name in the whole earth! (Introit)

At this late time in the history of the West, when Christianity has become so story-book familiar that its radical message fails to attract notice, can we begin to imagine how offensive this religion must have been to the pagans of ancient empires? We must renew in our minds the impression the Christian faith produced: it was a stumbling block, impious and rebellious. Indeed, it was something that had to be not only rejected but crushed, for it turned upside-down almost everything that fallen mankind takes for granted. In overthrowing the idols of paganism, Christ did more than introduce the worship of the true God; he destroyed an entire world, an entire philosophy of life, based upon the idolatry of power and self-will.

When we venerate martyrs, we venerate those who will not tip a spoonful of incense to the gods of this world; we honor those who by their example, by the offering of their life, prove to a world comfortably entangled in self-love that man is meant to live unto God alone and sacrifice all that he is in the service of others.

O God, whose praise the martyred Innocents on this day confessed, not by speaking, but by dying: destroy in us all the evils of sin, that our life also may proclaim in deeds Thy faith which our tongues profess. (Collect)

A man and woman who conceive a child are bound by natural and divine law to nurture and educate that child, or to give it up for adoption when they cannot take responsibility for its upbringing. They are bound to submit to the demands laid upon them by their children, just as Joseph and Mary devoted their lives to serving the Christchild, and as all faithful parents do when they sacrifice years to the rearing of their children. The child is like a king in that he must be served, but he is absolutely helpless, he is all neediness and dependence, he cannot even survive unless cared for by others. He begs to be welcomed; he needs and demands love. If there is one person whom all should love, it is the child, the infant, who is pure dependency and trust. Where is the human being who cannot find room in his heart to do this much?


Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that the new birth of Thine only-begotten Son in the flesh may set us free, who are held by the old bondage under the yoke of sin.
(Commemoration of Christmas)


Herod was such a man. Just as there was no empty room in the inn of Bethlehem, there was no receptive room in his heart for another person to take precedence. All that Herod knew is that this promised child would threaten his lovable self, his selfish self-rule; and that was enough of a motive for him to send the soldiers on their horrible mission. In a mockery of his own rulership, Herod slaughtered the most innocent of his subjects, simply to ensure that none of them would grow up to manhood and ask of him some sacrifice of honor, freedom, or power. As St. Peter Chrysologus preaches:

Herod’s inhuman cruelty has exposed how far jealousy tends to go, and spite leaps, and envy makes its way. While this cruelty was jealously seeking the narrow limits of temporal reign, it strove to block the rise of the eternal King. … In his earthly fury he hunts Him whom he does not believe to be born from heaven. He moves the soldier’s camp to the bosoms of mothers, and attacks the citadel of love among their breasts. He tests his steel in those tender breasts, sheds milk before blood, causes the infants to undergo death before experiencing life, brings darkness on those just entering into the light of day…. In fear of a successor, he moved against his Creator. He slew the innocent babies, with intent to kill Innocence Himself. … Their tongue has been silent, their eyes have seen nothing, their hands have done nothing. No act has proceeded from them; then, whence do they have any guilt? They who did not yet know how to live got death. The period of their life did not protect them, nor did their age excuse them, nor their silence defend them. With Herod, the mere fact that they were born was their crime. [4]

The ultimate cause of abortion is that some people do not want to have another person “reigning” over them, another life making claims upon them, absorbing their time and their energy—in a word, making them servants. Whether it be parent, relative, doctor, nurse, counselor, politician, employer, or any other who is primarily responsible for the decision to abort or the collective pressures which bring it about, abortion objectively means: I, the adult with power over life and death, will have no ruler but myself alone; non serviam, I will not serve, I will not show mercy. This child is a nuisance, an inconvenience, a hardship, it will change the way we have to live our lives, and that, finally, is what we cannot allow.

The children abandoned by their parents and murdered by the abortionist are rejected, just as the infant boys were rejected, on account of Christ whom they represent. The Holy Innocents shed their blood in witness to Christ “who came to his own and his own received him not” (John 1, 11). Strikingly, St. Peter Chrysologus declaims:

Isaias had foretold that a virgin would bring forth the God of heaven, the King of the earth, the Lord of the regions, the renewer of the world, the slayer of death, the restorer of life, the author of perpetuity. The very occurrence of the Lord’s nativity proved how sad this was for worldly men, how frightening to kings … Fearing a successor, they tried to slay the Saviour of all men. At length, since they could not find Him, they devastated His country, mixed mothers’ milk with blood, and beat to death the infants of His own years. They dismembered the companions of His innocence, because they could not find for punishment sharers in any guilt of His. If they did all this after Christ was already born, what would they in their wild fury have done to Him when He was conceived? (Chrysologus, Sermons, 242)

The Holy Innocents did not meet their death freely confessing a Savior whom they knew; they played no active part in their own martyrdom. They were slaughtered for the same reason Christ was ultimately crucified: self-will, self-rule. That Christ disappointed Jewish hopes for a Messianic leader who would establish political self-rule takes on deeper significance when considered in relation to fallen man’s restless desire for worldly autonomy or autocracy, the desire to be the very rule of behavior, the measure of right and wrong. The kingdom of Christ is not of this world, His rulership is of an entirely different order (John 18, 33-38). There is only one rule of behavior, one measure of right and wrong—the Truth which Jesus himself is (John 14, 6).


These are they who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. These were purchased from among men, the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb: and in their mouth there was found no lie: for they are without spot before the throne of God.
(Epistle of the day)

As the chief priests, the people, and Pilate rejected Christ in the end, so Herod rejected Him in the beginning. The sudden friendship that sprang up between Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas, son of the Herod who ordered the massacre of the Innocents, is not a mere coincidence recorded by Luke (23, 12) for the curious reader. Among other things, it demonstrates the ultimate identity of the first Herodian rejection of Christ the infant and the final Roman-Jewish rejection of Christ the man. The end circles around to meet up with the beginning, just as the legal endorsement of abortion logically necessitates the legal endorsement of euthanasia, or any “purification of unwanted social elements.”

In line with two kinds of persecutions, there are going to be two kinds of martyrs: those who are killed on account of professing a Gospel which their persecutors hate, and those, like John the Baptist, who are killed because their presence prevents someone else from living as he or she pleases. The latter kind of martyr, though not giving an explicitly Christian witness, is by no means unrelated to Christ. As victims of the insidious pride which has the kingdom of God as its formal object, their witness to the Messiah is not personal but cosmological. The Holy Innocents died a death of rejection by the world and its powers long before Christ died on the Cross, despised and rejected; they were killed out of the same hatred for God and for his law that will later propel the enemies of Christ and all who persecute Christians throughout history.

The witness given by a martyr is brought about by persecutors who torture or kill him precisely because he represents the Creator and the Redeemer to an ungrateful and sinful world. To be persecuted is obviously a necessary condition for martyrdom, but it is more. If a sleeping Catholic is attacked and killed by a Moslem out of hatred for the Christian faith, the former can be a martyr—not because he consciously bore witness, but because his very identity as a Catholic was the reason for which the other killed him; the motive specified the generic act of killing as an act of persecution. If, on the other hand, a Moslem judge ordered the death of a Christian because he had committed a serious crime, the Christian would not be a martyr by anyone’s definition. The motive of the killer thus figures crucially in the definition of any “passive” or “unconscious” martyr such as the Holy Innocents.

Although the victims of abortion are not martyrs because they are not incorporated into either the Old Covenant (as were the circumcised Hebrew children slaughtered by command of Herod) or the New Covenant (as would be children who are sacramentally baptized and thus capable of being killed in odium fidei), their death is nevertheless an implicit and analogous rejection of God the Creator and Christ the Redeemer. It is therefore not inappropriate to link the memory of these victims with the story of the Holy Innocents recounted each year, and to pray to God for the conversion of all who lend their support to the ever-crystallizing regime of Antichrist.

[1] See John 1, 12–13; Rom. 8, 14–23; Eph. 1, 5; Gal 4, 4–7; 1 John 3, 1; Acts 10, 34; Rom. 10, 12; Eph. 6, 8-9; Col 3, 11.
[2] See Phlm 1, 15–16; Eph. 6, 9; Col. 4,1; the same teaching is already present in Wis. 6, 2–10 and Sir. 32, 1–3.
[3] See Luke 9, 48; Eph. 5, 21; Phil. 2, 3; Matt. 20, 25–27; Mark 9, 34.
[4] Selected Sermons, trans. G. Ganss [New York: Fathers of the Church, 1953], 254–55; 256–57.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Blessing of Wine on the Feast of St John the Evangelist

The Roman Ritual contains two different forms for the blessing of wine on the feast of St John the Evangelist. The first consists simply of three prayers; the second is slightly more elaborate, with three different prayers, preceded by a Psalm and a series of versicles. Both versions contain references to the origin of the blessing, an interesting example of how the Church has embraced and preserved a non-Biblical story about the life of an Apostle.

Many people have heard of New Testament Apocrypha such as the Protoevangelium of James, the traditional source for the names of the Virgin Mary’s parents and the story of Her presentation in the Temple. Some of these have had a significant influence on the Church’s devotional life and its artistic traditions. Irresponsible scholars have also created a whole cottage industry of foolish writings about Our Lord and the early Church based on some of the Gnostic Gospels, while generally ignoring the apocrypha of the New Testament’s other literary categories, Acts, Epistles and Apocalypses. Like the apocryphal Gospels, the majority of these were clearly written to lend credit to one heresy or another, and therefore rejected by the Church. In some cases, however, once the heresy in question had faded into obscurity, the relevant apocrypha regained popularity, since their heretical content was no long understood or perceived as such.

One example is the apocryphal Acts of John, a work of the second century with strong overtones of the Docetic heresy, which taught that Christ had only the appearance of a human body. It tells the story that when St John was brought before the Emperor Domitian (81-96), he offered to prove the truth of his preaching about Christ by drinking a deadly poison, in accordance with the Lord’s words at the end of St Mark’s Gospel (16, 18), “if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.” The poison did him no harm; this has given rise to the traditional representation of John holding a chalice with a serpent or dragon emerging from it, which symbolize either the poison or its effectiveness leaving the cup.
St John the Evangelist, by El Greco, 1604, now in the Prado Museum in Madrid.
When the Emperor thought he had been saved by trickery, the poison’s toxicity was proved on a condemned prisoner, who died instantly, but was later raised to life by John. For this, he was exiled to the Greek island of Patmos, as recorded in the authentic book of the Apocalypse, where he stayed until Domitian’death; when the acts of the latter were rescinded by the Senate on account of his extreme cruelty (as reported by St Jerome), John was permitted to return to Ephesus, where he lived out his days.

St John’s Vision on Patmos, by Giotto, 1317-20, in the Peruzzi Chapel of the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Florence.
This story is referred to explicitly in the rubrics of the Ritual, and in the first prayer of the first form of the blessing of wine, as follows: “And just as the blessed John, drinking poison from a cup, remained altogether unharmed, so may all who drink of this cup today in his honor, be set free by his merits from every illness (inflicted by) poison, and all other harmful things…” Likewise, the second prayer asks that all who drink of the blessed wine “may receive of Thy gift health in both body and soul.”

The second version of the blessing begins with the Psalm “The Lord is my shepherd”, certainly chosen because of its best known verse, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” as well as for the words “my chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly is it!” The versicles said after it include the verse of St Mark’s Gospel mentioned above. The first of its three prayers begins with an explanation of the Incarnation: “Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, who willed that Thy Son, coeternal and consubstantial with Thee should come down from heaven, and be incarnate in the world of the Virgin Mary in this fullness of time.” The last part of this beginning, “this fullness of time”, rather than “the fullness of time”, seems to refer to the Christmas season, in which the Divine Incarnation is made manifest, as witnessed by St John above all others, and during which his feast day is kept.

The prayer continues, “that He might seek the lost and wandering sheep and bring it back to the sheepfold upon His shoulders; and further, that he might cure the man who fell in among thieves from the pain of his wounds.” This refers to a story recorded by St Clement of Alexandria, and repeated by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History (3, 23), that a young convert of St John turned to a life of violence as a brigand; the Apostle, though now very elderly, pursued the fellow into the mountains where he was wont to hide, and brought him to repentance. The second prayer says, “Lord Jesus Christ, who willed Thyself to be called the true Vine, and Thy Holy Apostles the branches”, citing the long discourse of Christ at the Last Supper recorded only in John’s Gospel. The third adds a reference to the creation of bread alongside the fruit of the vine, in reference to the Eucharistic discourse of chapter six of the same Gospel; it also says that John “not only passed unharmed from the drinking of poison, but also raised from the dead those laid low by poison”, referring to the story of the prisoner cited above.

One Last Photopost for Advent of 2020

We are always glad to receive late entries for our photopost series, so here are four which have come in over the last few days, with our thanks, as always, to those who sent them. Our Christmas series will begin within the next few days; sent your photos to photopost@newliturgicalmovement.org, and remember to include the name and location of the church, and any other information you think important. God bless, and Merry Christmas!
Church of St Francis of Assisi – São João Del Rei, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Mass, procession, consecration of the city to the Virgin Mary, Te Deum and Benediction on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

A Proper Hymn for St Stephen

The Roman Divine Office is traditionally much more conservative than other Uses in the adoption of new texts, and this is particularly true in regard to its use of hymns. Of the 39 Saints named in the Roman Canon apart from the Virgin Mary, only John the Baptist and the Apostles Peter and Paul have their own hymns, the latter only at Vespers; all the rest have hymns taken from the common offices. Of the seven common offices of Saints, only that of Several Martyrs has a separate hymn for each of the three major hours. The Virgin Mary’s common office, adapted from the Office of the Assumption, also has three hymns, which are used on nearly all of Her feasts, in the Saturday Office, and in the Little Office as well. Exceptions like the Matins hymn of the Immaculate Conception are quite late.

One of the gems which is therefore not found in the historical Roman Use is a proper hymn for St Stephen, Sancte Dei pretiose; it was used by the Old Observance Carmelites, Premonstratensians, and the Use of Sarum, just to name a few. Most of these Uses have it at either Matins or Lauds, with the common hymn for one martyr at Lauds or Matins, and again at Vespers. When it was originally composed in the 11th century, it had only three stanzas; a number of others were added to it later, but do not seem to have caught on.


Sancte Dei pretiose
Protomartyr Stephane,
Qui virtute caritatis
Circumfultus undique
Dominum pro inimico
Exorasti populo. 
O Precious Saint of God,
Stephen, the First Martyr,
Who, by virtue of charity
Surrounded on every side
Didst pray to the Lord
For the hostile people.
Funde preces pro devoto
Tibi nunc collegio,
Ut, tuo propitiatus
Interventu, Dominus
Nos, purgatos a peccatis
Jungat caeli civibus.
Pour forth prayers now for
The assembly devoted to thee,
That, appeased by thy inter-
vention, the Lord, may
cleanse us from sin,
And join us to the citizens
of heaven.
Gloria et honor Deo
Usquequaque Altissimo,
Una Patri, Filioque,
Inclyto Paraclito,
Cui laus est et potestas
Per aeterna saecula. Amen.
Glory and honor to God
The most high in every place;
The same to the Father,
and the Son, to the glorious
Paraclete; to whom belong praise
and might for all ages. Amen.

Missa Cantata in Brooklyn This Tuesday

A Missa cantata in the traditional Roman Rite will be celebrated on Tuesday, Dec. 29, at the co-cathedral of St Joseph in Brooklyn, New York, starting at 7:00 pm, and also live-streamed at www.netny.tv. The church is located at 856 Pacific Street.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Divine Adoption Sunday

The Nativity, fresco in the lower church of St Francis in Assisi by Giotto, 1310s
Note: The following article appeared in the Christmas 2016 issue of The Latin Mass magazine on pages 52-56. Many thanks to the editors of TLM for allowing its publication here.

During the Last Gospel in the traditional Latin Mass, the Church recalls several of the great mysteries of our Faith. Two of these especially concern our salvation: that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1, 14), and that this Incarnate Word, the Son of God, conferred upon mankind the “power to become the sons of God” (ibid. 12). The Christmas season obviously celebrates the first of these mysteries, but what may be less apparent is that it also celebrates the second. For in addition to the Incarnation, Christmastide does not fail, through one of its Sundays, to exult in that divine adoption thanks to which, as one Collect so eloquently puts it, “we are called—and are—God’s sons.” [1]

Doctor of Divine Adoption
To understand the significance of the doctrine of divine adoption, one can hardly do better than turn to the works of the Irish-born Blessed Columba Marmion (1858-1923). An abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of Maredsous in Belgium and a Thomist theologian, Marmion has been endorsed by almost all of the Popes since Benedict XV (d. 1922). It is also speculated that if Marmion is canonized a saint (and let us hope that he will), he will be declared “Doctor of Divine Adoption.” 
For one of the keystones of Marmion’s clear and accessible spirituality is the New Testament teaching that we who have been baptized in Christ have been made adopted sons of God. [2]  Marmion explores this dogma of our Faith in his Christ the Life of the Soul, the opening chapter which is entitled “The Divine Plan of Our Adoptive Predestination in Jesus Christ.” [3]  Out of sheer generosity and love, God the Father has willed for all eternity to extend to us His Paternity, to recognize us as His sons so that we can be filled with holiness and share in His eternal happiness. Marmion stresses that although it is in accordance with our nature to call God our Creator, it is not natural for a creature to call his Creator “Father.” That privilege is the result of sheer grace, a purely supernatural act. “By nature God has only one Son,” Marmion observes; “by love He wills to have an innumerable multitude” (emphasis added). [4]
Blessed Columba Marmion, OSB, ca. 1918
God accomplishes His will in this matter through supernatural adoption. On the natural level, adoption entails admitting a stranger into the family, giving him the family name, and entitling him to the family inheritance. All that is really required is that the adopted person be of the same species as the adopting family. For supernatural adoption to occur, God therefore willed that His Son fully assume our human nature through the Incarnation: “It is through the Incarnate Word that God will restore all things.” [5]  Marmion goes so far as to define as the “central point of the Divine Plan” (emphasis added) the fact that “it is from Jesus Christ, it is through Jesus Christ that we receive the Divine adoption.” [6]
Simply put, God’s taking on our nature enables us to participate in His divinity and thus be recognized as His adopted sons. And the more we resemble Christ Jesus, the “first-born of many brethren” (Rom. 8, 29), the more the Eternal Father will recognize us as His own. “Is not the whole substance of sanctity to be pleasing to God?” Marmion asks. And God will be pleased with us if He “recognizes in us the feature of His Son” that come to us through conformity to Him in faith, hope, and love. [7] Divine adoption is thus also a key part of God’s ultimate response to sin, for in making us resemble His Son, divine adoption overcomes our previous status bequeathed to us from the Fall as enemies of God or “children of wrath” (Eph. 2, 3). [8]
In his book on the liturgical year, Christ in His Mysteries, Marmion finds the Octave of Christmas an especially auspicious time to contemplate the mystery of our supernatural adoption (even though he does not use this exact phrase in this section). Marmion dwells on a Vespers antiphon from the evening of January 1: “O wondrous exchange: The Creator of mankind, taking an ensouled body, deigns to be born of a Virgin: and becoming man without human seed, hath bestowed on us His divinity.” As Marmion explains, the first action of this exchange is the Eternal Word asking us (in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary) for a share in our human nature, and the second action is bringing us, in return, a share in His divine nature, making us His adopted brethren. [9]  Our lives as Christians can be summed up as joyfully fulfilling our duties as supernaturally recognized sons of God and brothers of the God-man until we are called home to our eternal inheritance.
Side Note: You may have noticed the “exclusivist” language of son and brother rather than that of the more generic children or siblings. [10]  There is a reason why the Scriptures employ this language, and it is not because the Holy Bible is a “product of its age” written by benighted male chauvinists—although the reason is deeply ingrained in human culture. As we see most clearly in a traditional society like that in biblical times, only sonship captures the link between being a child and being a legitimate heir to a father. A daughter may be the apple of her father’s eye, but when she weds she becomes heir to another man’s fortune. [11]
Of course, the biblical use of this cultural phenomenon to explain our salvation does not mean that Christian women do not receive divine adoption. On the contrary, as Saint Peter points out, wives may be naturally subject to their husbands in the economy of the household, but supernaturally they are coheirs of Christ’s grace (1 Pet. 3, 7). Put differently, female believers have been written into the New Covenant with the full rights and privileges of legitimate sons and on an equal footing with their male counterparts. Just as Christian men are called to see their souls as brides of Christ the Divine Bridegroom (a common theme in the writings of the Church Fathers and medieval doctors), so too are Christian women called to see their destinies as that of male heirs. Christianity abounds in spiritual mysteries that push both sexes outside their comfort zones! 
Divine Adoption in the Liturgical Year 
How does the Church celebrate the mystery of supernatural adoption during her annual sanctification of time? Understandably, the doctrine is much on her mind on the premier day that she reserves for baptism, that sacrament of initiation whereby sinful creatures are transformed into members of the divine family. During the Easter Vigil liturgy, divine adoption is invoked in four separate prayers, including the blessing of the baptismal font. And on the day before, divine adoption is mentioned in the Good Friday Collect for Catechumens. 
Then, as Paschaltide comes to a close with Pentecost and its octave, the Church again remembers the privilege of being divinely adopted. During the Preface to the Holy Spirit, she recalls the outpouring of the Holy Ghost onto the “sons of adoption” as Jesus had promised, a recollection that also sets the stage for the doctrine’s reemergence in the coming weeks. The Epistle for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost is Romans 8, 18-23, which includes the verse: “[we] who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And on the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost the Epistle reading is Romans 8, 12-17, with its culminating passage:
For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father). For the Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God; and if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ.
The Epistle from the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost is also recapitulated in the Sanctoral Cycle for the feast of Saints Marcellinus, Peter, and Erasmus on June 2 and for the feast of St. Andrew Avellino on November 10. Further, the July 20 Collect for Saint Jerome Emiliani, a patron saint of orphans, includes the line about the spirit of adoption quoted in the introduction to this essay. And the feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord on August 6 has a beautiful Collect in which the Father’s voice from the cloud on Mount Tabor is interpreted as a foreshadowing of “the perfect adoption of sons”; the Collect then pleads for our status as “coheirs with Him who is the King of glory.”
Finally, two feasts that were not on the General Calendar but were celebrated in some locales and by certain religious orders also include a liturgical proclamation of the doctrine of divine adoption: the feast of the Most Holy Redeemer on October 23, with its Epistle, Ephesians 1, 3-9, and the feast of St Leonard of Port Maurice on November 26, with its Epistle, Ephesians 1, 3-14. The first chapter of Ephesians opens with Saint Paul praising the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto Himself: according to the purpose of His will: Unto the praise of the glory of His grace, in which He hath graced us in His beloved son (1, 5-9).
Divine Adoption and Christmas
But the first time in the Church year that the Eucharistic liturgy announces our status as adopted sons of God is the Sunday after Christmas. It is on that Sunday and that Sunday alone that we hear in the Mass the following passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
Brethren, as long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all: but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed by the father: So we also, when we were children, were serving under the elements of the world. But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that He might redeem them who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying: “Abba,” Father. Therefore now he is not a servant, but a son: and if a son, an heir also through God (4, 1-7).
This brief passage contains nearly all of the essential elements of the doctrine of divine adoption: the tragedy of creaturely servility to the world and the Father’s early response; the Incarnation of the Son as the Father’s ultimate response; redemption, divine adoption, and inheritance as the result of this response.
José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior, El bautismo de Jesús, 1895
The Epistle, in other words, discloses not only the meaning of Christmas (the Incarnation) but its purpose (our supernatural adoption). Commenting on this passage, Dom Guéranger offers the colorful image of the Holy Infant turning heavenward and saying “My Father!” and then turning to us and saying “My brethren!” Guéranger continues:
This is the mystery of adoption, revealed to us by the great event we are solemnizing. All things are changed, both in heaven and on earth: God has not only one Son, He has many sons; henceforth we stand before this our God, not merely creatures drawn out of nothing by His power but children that He fondly loves. [12]
At the same time (as one might expect for a Mass within the Octave of Christmas), the remaining propers continue our devotion to the Infant Jesus. The Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory, and Preface celebrate different aspects of the Nativity while the Communion Verse makes a passing reference to the Flight from Egypt. These propers balance the Epistle’s emphasis on divine adoption without detracting from it.
Similarly, the Gospel reading for this Sunday is Luke 2, 33-44, which recounts part of the story of the Presentation in the Temple. Significantly, the Presentation is never mentioned; instead the reading is framed by the wonder that Mary and Joseph experience at the things that are said of Jesus (2, 33) and by the grace of God that was in Jesus (2, 44). The result is a focus on the marvelous identity of the God-Man rather than the specific mystery of the Presentation, which is implicitly celebrated instead on the feast of the Purification (February 2). The Gospel does, however, mention how a “sword” shall pierce the heart of Mary (2, 35). This sorrowful note in the midst of jubilance is not meant to make us morose but to supplement the teaching of the Epistle by identifying the price of our adoption. For “the mystery of man’s adoption by God,” Guéranger explains, “is to cost this Child of hers His life!” [13]
The Mass for the Sunday after Christmas, then, meditates in a special way on the wonderful mystery of divine adoption as the fruit of Christ’s birth.
The Novus Ordo
In 1969, the traditional Mass for the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas was replaced by the feast of the Holy Family, which hitherto had been celebrated on the Sunday after Epiphany. The Galatians passage, in turn, was moved to the newly created Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God on January 1, although without its first three verses.
It is commendable that the theme of our divine adoption was retained within the octave of Christmas, and the Galatians reading on our adoption may even be said to provide a link between Our Lady’s motherhood of Jesus and her spiritual motherhood of us the faithful, for Mary is our Mother as well as Jesus’ thanks to our divine adoption. [14]
That said, the Galatians passage included in the new feast on January 1 is abridged in such a way that the focus is clearly on Mary and not on our adoption: Paul’s opening explanation of the significance of our adopted status in verses one through three has been removed. The theme of adoption is further diluted by the fact that none of the other propers of the feast touch upon the subject, being overshadowed instead by the official occasion of honoring the Mother of God. [15]
And there are other considerations regarding these changes to Christmastide. First, the new Solemnity of the Motherhood of God lacks the rich mixture that was in the traditional observance of January 1 (especially prior to 1960), which nicely balanced the themes of the Christmas Octave, the Circumcision, and devotion to Our Lady; the new feast of the Motherhood of God lacks this balance. [16] Second, with the new Solemnity on January 1 came the suppression of the Feast of the Motherhood of God on October 11, which was instituted to commemorate the Council of Ephesus’ definition of Mary as Theotokos or Mother of God. By eliminating the October 11 feast, we lose a liturgical commemoration of an important chapter in Church history.
Third, celebrating the feast of the Holy Family within the octave of Christmas does not enrich the liturgical year by adding another distinctive celebration to our constellation of annual sacred merriment but subtracts from it by creating a vacuum in the calendar on the Sunday after Epiphany that is filled by an intentionally unremarkable Sunday in Ordinary Time and a significantly truncated Christmas season.
Fourth, the transfer of the feast of the Holy Family also diminishes the calendar by obscuring the dominical character of the only Sunday that occurs within the Octave Christmas (except when Christmas itself falls on a Sunday). Dom Guéranger has observed that in addition to its teaching on divine adoption, the Mass for the Sunday after Christmas has a special character: since it is the only day within the Christmas Octave that is not a Saint’s feast, attention is implicitly drawn to its “Sundayness.” According to ancient tradition our Lord was born on a Sunday, and so on those years when December 25 does not fall on a Sunday, it is left to the Sunday after Christmas to honor the connection between the Lord’s Day and His Nativity. [17]  In the new calendar, however, the dominical nature of the Sunday after Christmas is now missing entirely.
It can therefore be reasonably concluded that the new revised General Calendar does not give the same prominence to the doctrine of divine adoption that it enjoys on the traditional Sunday after Christmas and that the distinctive timbre of this Sunday in the 1962 Missal, which allowed this doctrine to be highlighted, is absent from the celebration of Christmas in the Novus Ordo.
Conclusion
Each year in the traditional calendar the Church, still surrounded by choirs of Angels rejoicing over a most wondrous exchange, proclaims from her sanctuaries a humble Epistle reading. Saint Paul’s explanation to the Galatians about the divine adoption of believers reminds us that Jesus’ birth has not only saved us from sin but elevated us to a previously unimaginable status of divine intimacy. We need not change the official title of the “Sunday within the Octave of Christmas” in order to cherish its inaugural role in celebrating the link between the sonship of Our Lord and our own, but it might not be a bad idea to nickname this day “Divine Adoption Sunday”[18]  and to celebrate with gratitude the Lord’s birthday by which we are born into a new inheritance. 
[1] The Collect for St. Jerome Emiliani, July 20. 
[2] The biblical evidence for this doctrine, as we will see in the following section on the Church calendar, is strong. 
[3] Christ the Life of the Soul, trans. a Nun of Tyburn Convent (Angelico Press, 2012), 21-41. 
[4] Ibid., 24. 
[5] Ibid, 33. 
[6] Ibid, 35. 
[7] Ibid., 41. 
[8] Ibid, 33. 
[9] Christ in His Mysteries, trans. Alan Bancroft (Zaccheus Press, 2008), 134-141. 
[10] The Douay Rheims is not incorrect to translate on occasion filii Dei with the expression “children of God,” for the former can refer to both males and females. However, it is important to note the word filius primarily means “son” and, we contend, is meant to have the connotations of sonship that go with it.
[11] Even in our own day and age, when primogeniture is a fading memory and legal documents can just as easily bequeath legacies to daughters as they can to sons, there remains a cultural resonance whereby the son is seen as the heir to the father’s identity. Hence the patrilinear custom of surnames: a daughter may lose the surname of her birth when she marries, but a son carries his father’s surname to his grave. 
[12] Abbot Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year, vol. 2, trans. Dom Laurence Shepherd (St. Bonaventure Publications, 2000), 342-343. 
[13] Ibid., 344. 
[14] See Pope St. Pius X, Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum, 10, issued 2 February 1904. 
[15] For example, although the Vatican’s 2015 Homiletic Directory states that a theme of this solemnity is that Mary is also the Mother of the Church, it does not mention divine adoption as a part of the feast. See ibid., 123.
[16] The diminution of the Circumcision is particularly lamentable, since it is the first time that Our Lord’s blood was shed for humanity. The Gospel for the new feast includes the account of the Circumcision but almost as an afterthought. In the 1962 Missal, by contrast, the Circumcision (along with the Holy Name of Jesus) are the only themes of the Gospel. 
[17] Ibid., 340-341. 
[18] Given the liturgy’s power to shape our imagination, it is not surprising that several Sundays and holy days have taken on nicknames different from their official designation. The traditional Sunday after Easter, for instance, is officially called Dominica in albis (The Sunday for Taking Off the White Garments), but it is better known by its unofficial name of “Low Sunday.”

Merry Christmas!

Hodie nobis de caelo pax vera descendit: * Hodie per totum mundum mellíflui facti sunt caeli. V. Hodie illuxit nobis dies redemptiónis novae, reparatiónis antíquae, felicitátis aeternae. R. Hodie per totum mundum mellíflui facti sunt cæli. (The second responsory of Christmas Matins.)

R. This day is the true peace come down unto us from heaven. * This day throughout the whole world the skies drop down sweetness. V. This day hath shone upon us the day of our new redemption, of the restoring of the old, of everlasting happiness. R. This day throughout the whole world the skies drop down sweetness.

On behalf of all the publisher and writers of New Liturgical Movement, I wish all of our readers a Merry Christmas, and every blessing from the Child that is born unto us! By the prayers of the Holy Mother of God and all the Saints, may God grant the world peace in the coming year.

The Nativity of Christ, by Pietro Cavallini, Santa Maria in the Trastevere, Rome, 1296-1300

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Royal Hours of Christmas Eve

The Royal Hours are a special service which is held three times a year in the Byzantine Rite, on Christmas Eve, Epiphany Eve, and Good Friday. It consists of the Hours of Prime, Terce, Sext and None, followed by a service called the Typika, the closest parallel to which in the Roman Rite would be the so-called dry Mass, although it has no Scriptural readings. (These five parts are said one after the other without interruption.) They are known as “Royal” from the tradition that the Byzantine Emperor and his court would attend them at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople; a memory of this is preserved in the singing of “Many Years” during the service in cathedrals and monasteries, now in a modified form, but originally for the Emperor, whose presence was understood to be an act of submission to Christ the King, and also for the imperial court and the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
Royal Hours of Good Friday at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Toronto in 2014. (Photograph from Wikipedia by ΙΣΧΣΝΙΚΑ-888)
Several features mark the Royal Hours off from the celebration of the same Hours on other days. It is served by a priest and deacon in their sacred vestments, where these Hours are usually done by a reader, with a priest saying only the conclusions of the prayers (e.g. “for Thine is the kingdom…”) and the blessing at the end. A bell is rung at the beginning of each Hour, once for Prime, thrice for Terce, etc., and twelve times for the Typika.

In addition to a series of very beautiful proper chants, a group of Scriptural readings, consisting of a prophecy from the Old Testament, a New Testament epistle (called “the Apostle” in Byzantine terminology) and a Gospel, is added to each Hour as well. (Normally, there are no Biblical readings at the minor Hours; however, they are often done at Vespers.) Several of the chants are evidently inspired by the Scriptural readings that follow them.

Prime starts with the group of prayers that are normally said at the beginning of the Hours, helpfully named “The Usual Beginning.” Whenever Hours are said together as a group, at those that follow the first one, this is reduced to just its final element, “Come, let us worship etc.” In either case, there immediately follows a group of three Psalms, which are said by a single reader. The Byzantine Rite does not have antiphons for the psalmody analogous to those of the Roman Rite, but after the third Psalm are said the doxology, and three repetitions of “Alleluja, alleluja, alleluja, glory to Thee, o God!”

Ordinarily, the psalms of the Hours are the same every single day outside of Easter week, but at the three sets of Royal Hours, special ones more appropriate to the day are chosen to replace two of the regular psalms, with one of the daily ones retained. For those of Christmas, at Prime, Psalms 5, 44, and 45 are said, instead of 5, 89 and 100; at Terce, 66, 86 and 50, instead of 16, 24 and 50; at Sext, 71, 131, and 90, instead of 53, 54 and 90; and at None, 109, 110 and 85 instead of 83, 84 and 85. This selection is taken in part from the group traditionally known as the Messianic Psalms (2, 44, 71, 88 and 109), all of which are said in the Office of Christmas Day in the Roman Rite. The rest (45, 66, 86, 90, 110 and 131) are either daily Psalms in the Roman Rite, or said somewhere in the Office of either Christmas or Epiphany.

There follow the first part of the doxology, and a chant called a troparion, which is the same at all four of the Hours.
“Mary was registered of old in Bethlehem with the elder Joseph as one of the seed of David, being pregnant and bearing without seed. Now the time of Her childbearing was nigh, and there was no place in the inn, but the cave was shown to the Queen as a delightful palace. Christ is born, Who will raise the image that had fallen long ago.”

Then the second half of the doxology is said, and the regular daily tropar of the Virgin Mary, which changes from Hour to Hour.
Next are sung a group of three chants called Idiomels, with verses of the canticle of Habakkuk and the doxology between them. The rubric in the liturgical books says that each chant is done twice, the second after each of two verses of the canticle, the third after each part of the doxology. In practice, they are usually just sung once as noted here.
The Idiomels at Prime: Prepare thyself, o Bethlehem, and let the manger make ready, let the cave receive. The truth hath come, the shadow hath passed, and God hath appeared to mankind from the Virgin, having taken on our likeness and deified our nature. Wherefore Adam is made new with Eve, as they cry out “Goodwill hath appeared on earth to save our race.”
verse (Hab. 3, 3 and 1) God shall come from Theman, and the Holy One from the mountain thick with shadow. O Lord, I heard Thy report, and grew afraid; I knew Thy works, and was amazed.
Now urgeth on the time for the prophecy once made to be fulfilled, that mystically said, “And thou, o Bethlehem of Judah, art not least among princes, who goest before and preparest the cave; for out of thee shall come to me a ruler of nations, incarnate from the Virgin Maid, Christ God, who shall shepherd His people, the new Israel. Let us all give glory to Him.” (The prophecy mentioned here is part of the group of Scriptural readings that follows.)
Glory to the Father…
The altar in the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem over the site of Christ’s birth. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Berthold Werner, CC BY-SA 3.0
Thus saith Joseph to the Virgin: “O Mary, what is this matter which I have beheld in thee? Verily, I am at a loss and astonished, and my mind is amazed. Henceforth do thou secretly depart from me at once! O Mary, what is this matter which I have beheld in thee? For thou hast brought me shame instead of honor, sorrow instead of gladness, blame instead of praise. I can no longer bear the rest, the reproach of men; for I received thee from the priests out of the Lord’s temple (a reference to the traditional story of the Virgin’s presentation in the temple) as one blameless, and what is this which is now seen? (This text, inspired by the reference to St Joseph’s doubt in the Gospel that follows, will be corrected by the parallel texts at the following Hours.)
The three Scriptural readings that follow are introduced a brief psalmodic chant called a prokimen, but there is no Alleluja before the Gospel. During the reading of the Apostle, there is always an incensation of the Church, whether at this or any other service; some churches add an extra incensation at the beginning of Prime and at the end of the Typika service as well.
The readings at Prime:
Micah 5, 2-4
Hebrews 1, 1-12 (the Roman Epistle of the Day Mass of Christmas)
Matthew 1, 18-25 (the first four verses of which are the Roman Gospel of Christmas Eve).
The Idiomels at Terce: This is our God, none other shall be reckoned beside Him (Bar. 3, 36, from the first reading of this Hour), even He that was born of a Virgin, and dwelt among men. The Only-begotten Son, being laid in a poor manger, is seen as a mortal (Bar. 3, 38), and the Lord of glory is wrapped in swaddling clothes. And the star leadeth the Magi to worship Him; and we sing, “O Holy Trinity, save our souls.”
God shall come from Theman etc.
Before Thy birth, o Lord, the spiritual hosts beheld the mystery with trembling, and were amazed; for Thou wast pleased to live as a newborn babe, Who didst adorn the heavens with stars, and to lie in a manger of the dumb beasts, Who holdest all the ends of the earth in Thy palm; for by such a dispensation was Thy compassion made known, O Christ, and Thy great mercy; glory to Thee.
Glory to the Father …
O Joseph, tell us how thou dost now bring the Maiden, whom thou didst receive from the holy places (also a reference to the Presentation of the Virgin), to Bethlehem great with child? I searched the Prophets, he saith, and being warned by an angel, am persuaded that Mary shall bear God in a manner that cannot be explained; and Magi shall come to His worship from the East, adoring Him with honorable gifts. Thou who was incarnate for our sake, glory to Thee.
The readings:
Baruch 3, 36 – 4, 4
Galatians 3, 23-29
Luke 2, 1-20 (the Roman Gospels of the Midnight and Dawn Masses of Christmas.)
The Idiomels at Sext: Come, ye faithful, let us be lifted up in inspiration, and behold the divine condescension, revealed to us in Bethlehem from on high; and being purified in mind, let us in our life bring virtues in place of myrrh, faithfully preparing the coming-in of the Nativity among the spiritual treasures, crying out, “Glory in the highest to God Who is in the Trinity, through Whom good-will hath appeared among men, to deliver Adam from the original curse, as one Who loveth mankind.”
God shall come from Theman etc.
Hear, o heaven, and listen, o earth: let the foundations be shaken, and let trembling seize hold of those upon the earth; for He that is both God and Creator hath put on a creation of flesh; and He Who with a mighty hand made creation is seen as the child of His creation. O the depth of riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways beyond searching out! (The Greek word “splankhnon”, here translated as “child”, literally means “inner parts”, like the Latin “viscera”, whence “womb”, and therefore also “child.” But it also means “the seat of affection”, and in this sense, is used very often in Byzantine hymns in the compound adjective “eusplankhnos – compassionate.” This is a particular beautiful expression of how God saves the human race in the fullness of the Incarnation, from conception, growth in the womb, birth etc. to the Passion, death and Resurrection.)
Glory to the Father …
Come, ye Christ-bearing peoples, let us behold a wonder that astonisheth all understanding, and devoutly worshipping in faith, let us sing: Today the Maiden who conceived cometh to Bethlehem to give birth to the Lord. The choirs of angels hasten before, and seeing these things, Joseph the bridegroom shouted, “What is this strange mystery in Thee, o Virgin? And how shalt thou give birth, o maid who knowest not wedlock?”
The readings:
Isaiah 7, 10-16, and 8, 1-4; 8-10
Hebrews 1, 10 – 2, 3
Matthew 2, 1-12, which is also read at the Divine Liturgy of Christmas. (In the Byzantine Rite, the feast of the Epiphany is wholly dedicated to the Lord’s Baptism, and the adoration of the Magi is read as the Gospel of Christmas day.)
The Idiomels at None: Herod was astonished, seeing the piety of the Magi, and being overcome with wrath, he closely inquired about the time of the birth. The mothers were robbed of their children, and all untimely were the babes bitterly reaped; the breasts dried up, and the springs of milk were stopped short. Great then was the fearful deed! Wherefore, being gathered, ye faithful, in pious worship, let us adore the Nativity of Christ. (This looks forward to the Gospel of this Hour, which recounts the Massacre of the Innocents.)
God shall come from Theman etc.
When Joseph was wounded with grief, o Virgin, as he repaired to Bethlehem, thou didst cry unto him, “Why art thou gloomy and troubled, seeing me with child, wholly ignorant of the awful mystery that is in me? Put away from thee henceforth all fear, considering the unexpected mystery; for God cometh down upon the earth for mercy’s sake, and in my womb hath now taken flesh, Whom thou shalt see as He is born, as it pleased Him, and being filled with joy thou shalt adore Him as thy Creator; Whom the Angels unceasingly praise and glorify with the Father and the Holy Spirit.”
Glory to the Father…
(The final idiomel is sung slowly by the leader of the choir, standing in the middle of the church.)
– Today is born of the Virgin He Who holdeth all creation in His palm. (thrice)
– He who in His essence cannot be touched is wrapped in a strip of cloth.
– God is laid in a manger, Who long ago did fix the heavens at the beginning.
– From the breasts is He nourished with milk, Who in the wilderness showered manna on the people.
– The bridegroom of the Church calleth the Magi.
– Take their gifts, o Son of the Virgin.
– We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ. (thrice)
– Show us also Thy divine Theophany!
The readings:
Isaiah 9, 6-7
Hebrews 2, 11-18
Matthew 2, 13-23
Once the reading are done, the Hours follow their normal pattern: a series of Scriptural verses, which change from Hour to Hour but not from day to day; the Trisagion prayers, which are the same as the Usual Beginning, without its first and last part; then a single chant called the Kontakion, which is the same at all four Hours and the Typika service.
“Today the Virgin comes to the cave to bear ineffably the Word who is before the ages. Rejoice, all the world, as Thou hearest this: with the Angels and the Shepherds, glorify Him who willed to be seen as a new-born child, even He that is God before the ages.”
Each Hour concludes with the same series of elements as on the other days: Kyrie, eleison 40 times, the Prayer of the Hours, Kyrie, eleison 3 times, Glory to the Father, a brief prayer to the Virgin (“Higher than the Cherubim…”), a conclusion said by the priestly celebrant, and a final prayer said by the reader, after which the next Hour begins.
The Royal Hours are considered to be a service for a fasting day, and penitential services may not be held on either Saturday or Sunday. Therefore, whenever Christmas or Epiphany falls on either a Sunday or Monday, the Royal Hours are said on the preceding Friday. This may seem rather odd, but in point of fact, Christmas is preceded by a series of 5 days, December 20-24, which are known as the “pre-festal” days; the Royal Hours thus anticipated to either the 22nd or 23rd of December fall within this special period of preparation.
On the evening of December 24th, Vespers is served together with the Divine Liturgy of St Basil; this is one of the ten occasions on which the anaphora of St Basil, which is much longer than the daily-use anaphora of St John Chrysostom, is said. The service contains a series of eight prophecies, although in practice, some of these may be omitted, since four of them are repeated from the Royal Hours. Here again we see a practice which is broadly analogous to that of the Roman rite, in which the Midnight Mass of Christmas was traditionally preceded by Matins and followed by Lauds. (The other occasions on which the Liturgy of St Basil is celebrated are St Basil’s feast day, January 1st, which is also that of the Circumcision; the eve of the Epiphany; the Sundays of Lent except Palm Sunday; Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. However, if Christmas or Epiphany falls on Sunday or Monday, Vespers are celebrated without the Divine Liturgy at all, and the Liturgy of St Basil is used for the feast itself.)
The full text of both of these services can be read at the following links.
Royal Hours:

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