Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Cathedral of Siena (Part 12): Paintings and Sculptures in the Cathedral Museum

The remaining three parts of our series on the cathedral of Siena (which began two months ago!) will all be of items now in the church’s museum. This first part will cover major artworks (apart from the most important, the Maestà of Duccio di Buoninsegna, which had its own post) which were formerly in the cathedral, the second liturgical objects, and the third vestments. Our thanks once again to Nicola for sharing these photos with us.
The Crevole Madonna, by Duccio, ca. 1284, one of his very earliest works, named for a small town about 12 miles to the south of Siena where it was originally displayed. The Byzantine influence on the artist, who was then about 30 years old, is particularly evident in the use of gold lines to create the sense of depth in the Virgin’s robes. By the time he painted the Maestà, about 25 years later, he had shifted, very much under the influence of Giotto, towards one of the key techniques of Renaissance painting, omitting the lines and creating the sense of depth with different shades of color.
Part of an altarpiece by another Sienese native, and one of the best painters of the generation after Duccio, Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290 ca. – 1348), a real master of optical perspective; ca. 1320-30. From left to right: St Benedict in the white habit of the Olivetan Benedictines, who were founded by a native of Siena, St Bernard Tolomei; St Catherine of Alexandria; St Mary Magdelene; St Francis. In the cuspids, left to right, St Peter, St John the Evangelist, St John the Baptist, and St Paul.
Sano di Pietro (1406-81) another Sienese native, (“Sano” is a nickname for “Ansano”, from St Ansanus, the evangelizer of Siena), The Preaching of St Bernardine of Siena, 1440s. The incomplete façade of the church in the background has black and white stripes, reminiscent of the “balzana”, the city’s official banner and shield, which is white above and black below. St Bernardine, who died in 1444, was a great promoter of devotion to the Holy Name, a subject on which he preached through the length and breadth of Italy, bringing peace to its many faction-torn cities. He was such an effective and reknowned preacher that the crowds which came to hear him were very often too great to fit into even the largest churches, and had to gather in the piazzas instead, despite the fact that (as is clearly seen in many early depictions of him) he had no teeth. (Notice also that the crowd is separated into a men’s and women’s section.)
An image of the Virgin and Child known as “The Madonna of the Large Eyes”, painted in the second quarter of the 13th century by an anonymous artist known as the Master of Tressa. This was the first image of the Virgin Mary to be venerated on the main altar of the cathedral, the one before which the Podestà (chief magistrate) of Siena, Bonaguida Lucari, at the head of all the city’s leaders and a large crowd of the citizenry, made the vow dedicating their city to the Virgin before the crucial battle of Montaperti in 1260. At the time, the panel was almost certainly incorporated into a much larger reredos, and surrounded by smaller images (now lost) of the principle episodes of the Virgin’s life.

St Paul Enthroned, with scenes of his conversion to the left and beheading to the right; ca. 1516, by Domenico Beccafumi (1486 – 1551), who also worked in the cathedral itself. The artist was born at Montaperti, where Siena had so signally defeated her rival Florence in 1260; it is an interesting irony that a native of that place should be the last painter of the Sienese School as a truly separate artistic current of the Renaissance. Four years after his death, Siena was conquered by Florence, which by then had long been the dominant power in Tuscany, and became thenceforth to a large degree culturally dependent on it. It is also the case that by the mid-16th century, the Italian Renaissance had run its course and shifted to Mannerism, the prelude to the Baroque; while the elderly Michangelo (also a Tuscan), working on the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica, and the forces of the Counter-Reformation had made Rome the new artistic capital of Italy.

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Orations of the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Wedding at Cana, 1308-1311
Lost in Translation #34

The Second Sunday after Epiphany is one of my favorite “green” Sundays of the year. The Church catches her breath after the grand merrymaking of Christmastide, but she continues the trajectory of Epiphany by contemplating the different ways in which Christ manifested (epiphainein) His divinity. After the epiphany to the Magi, the next stop is the epiphany of Christ’s divine glory during His first public miracle at the Wedding of Cana. In Drinking with the Saints, I recommend going to your wine rack or cellar and pulling out your best bottle of wine for Sunday dinner, because if you are anything like my wife and me, you have been saving such a bottle for a special occasion but you keep forgetting about it, and by the time you remember to use it, it has turned. By drinking it now, you pay homage to Christ’s making wine so fine that it even impressed the local sommelier (as we imagine the steward in the story to be).

The orations for this Sunday offer sober sentiments that mix well with this miracle. The Collect is the following:
Omnípotens sempiterne Deus, qui caelestia simul et terréna moderáris: supplicatiónes pópuli tui clementer exaudi; et pacem tuam nostris concéde tempóribus. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Almighty and everlasting God, who dost moderate things in heaven as well as on earth, mercifully hear the supplications of Thy people, and grant us Thy peace in our times. Through our Lord.
The use of “supplication” (a public petition) and “in our times” suggests that the peace being sought is a public peace. [1] Hence the Collect carries forth the Christmas theme of peace on earth and our New Year’s wish for a peaceful civic year, but reminds us that the peace we desire can only come from God. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you.” (John 14, 27) The theme of peace also anticipates the Epistle reading (Rom. 12, 6-16), which portrays the Church in all her ministries united and at peace with herself.
But the Collect also subtly pairs well with the Gospel, for Jesus’ transubstantiation of water into wine proves that He too, like His heavenly Father, moderates and has power over the things of heaven and earth. And the use of the verb to moderate or regulate (moderari) calls to mind the virtue of moderation, a most important habit to have where wine is concerned: “Wine was created from the beginning to make men joyful, and not to make them drunk,” writes the divinely inspired Sirach. “Wine drunken with moderation is the joy of the soul and the heart.” [Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 31, 35-36]
The Secret for this Sunday is:
Obláta, Dómine, múnera sanctífica: nosque a peccatórum nostrórum máculis emunda. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Sanctify, O Lord, the offerings, and cleanse us from the stains of our sins. Through our Lord.
The succinct wording mirrors the Secret for the third Mass of Christmas, and thus faintly reconnects us to the Christmas season. And the plea for cleansing forms a subtle contrast with the water in the six stone vases that the Jews used for purification and that Jesus used to make wine. But whereas the Jewish purification only concerned ritual impurity, the Secret prays for purification from moral stain.
Finally, the Postcommunion is:
Augeátur in nobis, quáesumus, Dómine, tuae virtútis operatio: ut divínis vegetáti sacramentis, ad eórum promissa capienda, tuo múnere praeparémur. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
May the operation of Thy power be increased within us, we beseech Thee, O Lord: that being quickened by Thy divine sacraments, we may by this gift of Thine be ready to take possession of that which they promise. Through our Lord.

The Collect contains an image of restraint (God moderating or regulating the things of heaven and earth), but the Postcommunion contains images of acceleration: an increase of power and a quickening of soul. Intentionally or not, the prayer again forms an interesting contrast with the Gospel reading. An increase of physical inebriation leads not to a quickening but a slowing (a decline in motor control and mental alacrity), and it generally renders a person less ready to take possession of something promised. Being filled with the Holy Spirit instead of spirits, however, vivifies and delivers. Even though the lay communicant receives Holy Communion only under the species of bread in the traditional Roman Rite, he should meditate here on the inebriating Precious Blood that is present in the “divine sacraments” he has just received. For if water-made-wine cheers the heart of man (Psalm 103, 15), how much more does water-and-wine-made-the-Blood-of-Christ.


[1] Sr. Mary Gonzaga Haessly, Rhetoric in the Sunday Collects of the Roman Missal (Ursuline College for Women, 1938), 34.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Christmas and Epiphany Photopost 2020 (Part 2)

Our second Christmas and Epiphany photopost takes us to several different places, and offers us some of the OF, the EF, the Carmelite Use and Byzantine Rite. As always, thanks to everyone who sent these in, with out best wishes to you for a most blessed New Year.

St Joseph’s – Troy, New York (Carmelites of the Old Observance)
Carmelite Missa cantata on the feast of Pope St Silvester I was followed by four hours of Adoration, and then Benediction at Midnight for the beginning of the New Year.
Mass on the feast of the Circumcision, which is celebrated in red in the Carmelite Use.
St Catherine of Siena  – Trumbull, Connecticut
Mass of the Epiphany, with the blessing of chalk and the marking of the doors with 20+C+M+B+21

Follow-up on a Recent Article about the Byzantine Office

At the end of last month, I published an article about the Byzantine ceremony of the Royal Hours of Christmas, and earlier this month, another about those of the Epiphany. Both of these were revisions of articles which I had originally done four years ago, very much expanded by the addition of my own translation of most of the hymns proper to these services, and several videos in both Greek and Church Slavonic with recordings of some of them. (On April 2nd, which is Good Friday this year, I will do the same for my original article on the Royal Hours of that day.)
The original version of the first article included an audio-only recording of the ceremony from the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, whose choir is justifiably considered one of the best representatives of the Russian choral tradition. However, the YouTube channel on which it was hosted was later deleted. Since the pandemic, the monastery has been regularly broadcasting live on its own channel, and so I thought this video, in which one actually sees the ceremony would be interesting, and of course also enjoyable for the beautiful music. In many respects, the Byzantine Rite is still where the Roman Rite was in the high Middle Ages, which is to say, there are many variations of custom analogous to those which constitued the various medieval Uses of the Roman Rite. Here the most notable is that there is no incensation at the Epistle readings, and the vestments are white, where many churches use dark vestments for the Royal Hours.
The video begins with the Hour of Prime; Terce starts at 21:46, Sext at 38:11, None at 1:00:47, and the Typika (a service broadly analogous to the medieval “dry Mass”) at 1:25:11, ending at 1:34:30.
After a brief pause, there begins a service which occupies most of the video, which I did not include in my previous article, since it is quite lengthy and complicated to describe. On the eves of Christmas, Epiphany, and on Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday, the Byzantine Rite merges Vespers and the Divine Liturgy, which is celebrated according to the much longer form of St Basil the Great, rather than the shorter daily anaphora of St John Chrysostom. (The liturgy of St Basil is otherwise used only his feast day, January 1st, and the Sundays of Lent except for Palm Sunday.) On Christmas Eve, the ceremony also includes eight prophecies before the Epistle, and on Epiphany thirteen, but most of them are quite short; on Holy Thursday, there only three, but on Holy Saturday, fifteen, several of which are quite lengthy. In practice, many churches will omit some of the prophecies, but in the video above, all eight are said; there is a very pretty canticle after the third (1:58:00) and sixth (2:05:20.)
The full text of both of these services can be read at the following links.
Royal Hours:

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Special Antiphons for the Baptism of the Lord

In the Tridentine Missal, the Mass of the Octave of the Epiphany is the same as that of the feast itself, except for the Gospel, John 1, 29-34, and the three prayers. In the Office, the lessons of the second and third nocturns are proper to the Octave day, but the rest is repeated as on the days within the Octave, with the same antiphons at the Magnificat and Benedictus as on the feast day.

In regard to the Office, this represents a significant change from the late medieval Breviary of the Roman Curia, upon which that of St Pius V is based. The former had a complete set of proper antiphons for the day, which date back to the Carolingian period, and focus on the event recounted in the Gospel, the Baptism of the Lord. The vast majority of medieval liturgical Uses sing some of these with the psalms and canticles of Lauds and Vespers, but the Roman Use is atypical in having them also for the psalms of Matins, which are different from the psalms of January 6th.

Their complete removal from the Roman Breviary is something highly unusual, since the Tridentine reform was in most respects extremely conservative, and nowhere more so than in the repertoire of proper musical pieces like antiphons. Although I have never seen this written down anywhere, I suspect that the reason for this was that they are obviously inspired by liturgical texts of the Byzantine Rite, and were therefore regarded as not authentically Roman. They continued to be sung in many other Uses, such as those of the Dominicans, Cistercians and Old Observance Carmelites, none of which, however, have the nine antiphons of Matins.

Russian icon of the Baptism of Christ, 15th century, school of Andrej Rubliev 
Here I give the Latin text of each, along with my own translation, and indications of their position in the liturgy.

First Vespers
At the Magnificat Descendit Spiritus Sanctus corporali specie sicut columba in ipsum, et vox de caelo facta est: Hic est Filius meus dilectus, alleluja. The Holy Spirit descended upon Him with a bodily appearance as of a dove, and a voice came forth from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, alleluia.”

Matins, First Nocturn
Aña 1 Veterem hominem renovans, Salvator venit ad baptismum: ut naturam, quae corrupta erat, per aquam recuperaret, incorruptibili veste circumamictans nos. (Psalm 8) - Renewing the old man, the Savior came to baptism, that through water He might restore the nature that was corrupted, clothing us around with an incorruptible garment.
Aña 2 Te, qui in Spiritu et igne purificas humana contagia, Deum ac Redemptorem omnes glorificamus. (Psalm 18) - We all glorify Thee as God and our Redeemer, who in the Spirit and in fire purify the immorality of man.
Aña 3 Caput draconis Salvator contrivit in Jordanis flumine, et ab ejus potestate omnes eripuit. (pPsalm 23) - The Savior crushed down the head of the dragon in the river Jordan, and delivered all from his power. (These first three psalms are the same in the first nocturn of the Offices of the Virgin Mary, and were probably chosen as a reference to the Incarnation.)

Second Nocturn
Aña 4 Baptista contremuit, et non audet tangere sanctum Dei verticem; sed clamat cum tremore: Sanctifica me, Salvator. (Psalm 28) - The Baptist trembled, and dared not touch God’s holy head; but cried out with dread: Sanctify me, o Savior.
Aña 5 Magnum mysterium declaratur hodie, quia Creator omnium in Jordane expurgat nostra facinora. (Psalm 41) - A great mystery is declared today, for the Creator of all things in the Jordan purgeth our crimes.
Aña 6 Aqua comburit peccatum, hodie apparens liberator, et rorat omnem mundum divinitatis ope. (Psalm 45) - The water burneth sin, as our Deliverer appeareth, and falls like dew upon the whole world with the richness of divinity. (The first and third psalms of this nocturn are repeated from Epiphany; the second, the famous Sicut cervus, has been associated with baptismal rites from the most ancient times.)

Third Nocturn
Aña 7 Pater de caelis Filium testificatur; Spiritus Sancti praesentia advenit, unum edocens qui baptizatur Christus. (Psalm 71) - The Father from the heavens beareth witness to the Son; the presence of the Holy Spirit cometh, showing us the one who is baptized, Christ.
Aña 8 Peccati aculeus conteritur hodie, baptizato Domino, et nobis donata est regeneratio. (Psalm 76) - The sting of sin is blunted today, as the Lord is baptized, and regeneration is granted to us.
Aña 9 Baptizatur Christus, et sanctificatur omnis mundus, et tribuit nobis remissionem peccatorum; aqua et Spiritu omnes purificamur. (Psalm 97) - Christ is baptized, and all the world is sanctified, and He granteth to us remission of sins; by water and the Spirit we are all purified. (The first psalm of this nocturn is repeated from both Christmas and Epiphany; the second is chosen for the words “The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee: and they were afraid, and the depths were troubled.” The third has a prominent place in the Office of Christmas because of the words that form its antiphon on that feast “God hath made known, alleluia, His salvation, alleluia.” In the longer Monastic Office, it is sung on both Christmas and Epiphany with this same antiphon.)

The Baptism of Christ by Giotto, from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, 1305
At the Psalms of Lauds (repeated at the minor Hours and at Vespers)
Aña 1 Baptizat miles Regem, servus Dominum suum, Joannes Salvatorem: aqua Jordanis stupuit, columba protestatur: paterna vox audita est: Hic est Filius meus dilectus. - The soldier baptizeth the King, the servant his Lord, John the Savior; the water of the Jordan is astounded, the dove beareth witness; the voice of the Father is heard, “This is my beloved Son.”
Aña 2 Caeli aperti sunt super eum, et vox facta est de caelo dicens: Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui. - The heavens were opened up above Him, and a voice came forth from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”
Aña 3 Christo datus est principatus, et honor regni; omnis populus, tribus et linguae servient ei in aeternum. - To Christ is given the rule and honor of the kingdom; every people and tribe and toungue shall serve Him forever.
Aña 4 Fontes aquarum sanctificati sunt, Christo apparente in gloria orbi terrarum: haurite aquas de fontibus Salvatoris: sanctificavit enim nunc omnem creaturam Christus Deus noster. - The fountains of the waters were sanctified, as Christ appeared in glory to the world; draw ye water from the fountains of the Savior, for now Christ our God hath sanctified every creature.
Aña 5 Vox de caelo sonuit, et vox Patris audita est: Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui; ipsum audite. - A voice sounded forth from heaven, and the voice of the Father was heard: “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.”

At the Benedictus Præcursor Joannes exsultat, cum in Jordane baptizato Domino, facta est orbis terrarum exsultatio: facta est peccatorum nostrorum remissio. Sanctificans aquas, ipsi omnes clamemus, miserere nobis. - John the Forerunner exsulteth when, as the Lord was baptized in the Jordan, rejoicing was given to the world, and forgiveness of our sins. Let us all cry unto Him, “O Thou that sanctifiest the waters, have mercy on us.”

Second Vespers
At the Magnificat Super ripam Jordanis stabat beatus Joannes, indutus est splendore baptizans Salvatorem. Baptiza me, Joannes, baptiza, et tu, Jordanis, congaudens suscipe me. - On Jordan’s bank the blessed John stood, and was clothed in splendor as he baptized the Savior. Baptize thou Me, o John, baptize; and thou, o Jordan, rejoicing with him receive Me.
Many medieval Missals (for example, that of the Sarum Use) have a special Epistle for the Octave of Epiphany, a cento of verses from the Prophet Isaiah which follows the text of the Septuagint and the Old Latin, rather than that of the Vulgate, except for the part between the two red stars.

Isa. 25, 1 “Domine Deus meus, honorificabo te, laudem tribuam nomini tuo, qui facis mirabiles res. Consilium tuum antiquum verum fiat. 26, 11 Domine, excelsum est brachium tuum, 28, 5 Deus Sabaoth, corona spei quae ornata est gloria. 35, 1 Exultet desertum, et exultent solitudines Jordanis, 2 et populus meus videbit altitudinem Domini et majestatem Dei, 10 et erit congregatus et redemptus per Deum. Et veniet in Sion cum gaudio et laetitia sempiterna: super caput ejus laus et exultatio. 41, 18 Et aperiam in montibus flumina, in mediis campis fontes dirumpam, et terram sitientem sine aqua infundam. 52, 13 Ecce puer meus * exaltabitur, et elevabitur et sublimis erit valde. 12, 3 Haurietis aquas in gaudio de fontibus Salvatoris, et dicetis in illa die: 4 Confitemini Domino, et invocate nomen ejus, notas facite in populis * virtutes ejus; 5 cantate Domino, quia mirabilia fecit, annuntiate haec in universa terra: dicit Dominus omnipotens.
The reading from Isaiah for the octave of Epiphany in the 1502 Missal of the Use of Prague. The Gospel, Matthew 3, 13-17, is also different, a common medieval variant.
O Lord, my God, I will honor Thee, I will give praise to Thy name, who dost wonderous deeds. Let Thy ancient council come true. O Lord, high is Thy arm (i.e. might), o God of hosts, cornw of hope that is adorned with glory. Let the desert exult, and the wildernesses of Jordan, and my people shall see the height of the Lord and the majesty of God, and will be gathered and redeemed by God. And they will come to Sion with joy and everlasting happiness; upon their heads will be praise and exultation. And I will open up the rivers in the mountains, and break open the fountains in the midst of the fields, and pour it upon the thirsting land without water. Behold my servant shall be exalted, and raised up, and shall be exceedingly lofty. Ye shall draw waters in joy from the fountains of the Savior, and say on that day, ‘Praise ye the Lord, and call upon His name, make known among the peoples His might deeds; sing to the Lord, for He hath done wonders, proclaim these things in all the earth’: saith the Lord almighty.”
This may also have been inspired by a ceremony of the Byzantine Rite, the great blessing of the water on Epiphany, at which are read three prophecies from Isaiah, an Epistle and a Gospel; the first and third of the prophecies, Isa. 35, 1-10 and 12, 3-6, partly coincide with this Roman Epistle.
Our friend William Durandus has this to say about these features of the liturgy of the octave of Epiphany. (Rat. Div. Off. VI, 17)
“On the octave of the Epiphany, all the chants and the reading from Isaiah… treat of baptism, whence it is said “Let the wildernesses of the Jordan exult”, because in the Jordan, the Lord conferred a certain regenerative power on the waters by instituting baptism, and because the nations, which previously were formerly, so to speak, far from God in the wilderness of the desert, return to Him. The octave is therefore a compliment to the Epiphany itself… since on the feast we recall that Christ was baptized, and on the octave, the antiphons of that day show us for what purpose He was baptized. …
The first page of the proper antiphons for the octave of the Epiphany in an antiphonary made for the Abbey of St Denys outside Paris, 1140-60. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 17296; folio 50r)
The antiphons are in the seventh tone, because they pertain to baptism, in which the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit is at work, and there are nine of them, since it is though the door of baptism that we shall come to the company of the nine orders of angels. … And the Invitatory is sung on this day (although it is omitted on the feast itself) because men are invited and come to baptism at the preaching of the Apostles.”

Christmas and Epiphany 2020 Photopost (Part 1)

Over the last couple of weeks, I had a serious problem with slowing down of internet service, which made it difficult or impossible to download picture files, so I am only now getting to processing your Christmas and Epiphany photopost submissions, since the problem has (hopefully) finally been fixed. There is plenty of time to send in more if you have them, whether of the OF, EF, Byzantine Rite etc., to; remember to include the name and location of the church, and any other information you think important. As always, we are very glad to include celebrations of other feasts during the season, blessings (of water, chalk etc.), and the Divine Office. Have a blessed final day of the Epiphany, and continue to evangelize through beauty!

Monastère St Benoit – Brignoles, France
During this past year, the community moved into its new home, a church first given to the Benedictine monks of the abbey of St Victor in Marseilles in 1025, then held by the Knights Templar, and later by the Knights of Malta, until it was closed at the French Revolution. This was the first midnight Mass of Christmas to be held in the church since its closure over 230 years ago. Multa cecidere quae jam renascentur!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Historic Photos of a Cardinal’s Funeral Procession

January 7th was the anniversary of the death of Eugenio Cardinal Tosi, who was created archbishop of Milan in March of 1922 by his predecessor in that see, Achille Ratti, shortly after the latter’s elevation to the Papacy with name of Pius XI. Raised to the cardinalate at the end of that same year, he served in the see of St Ambrose until 1929, and was succeeded within a few months of his passing by the Bl. Ildephonse Schuster. Nicola recently found some images of Cardinal Tosi’s funeral procession, which was held three days after his death. The procession departed from the archiepiscopal palace, made its way on a long route through the center of the city, and then back to the Duomo. In that period, it was still considered very improper to take photos or film of religious ceremonies, and so this set unfortunately includes only the outdoor procession, and not the funeral itself; the number of ecclesiastics and religious gives us at least a hint of how magnificent the funeral Mass would have been.

The archpriest and canons of the cathedral chapter prepare for the funeral procession. As in many other  important churches in Europe, the cathedral canons of Milan have the right to wear miter; they can also traditionally celebrate a slightly reduced form of Pontifical Mass much as abbots do.
Decoration of the central door of the Duomo with a commendatory inscription in honor of the newly deceased cardinal.
The standard of the city of Milan 

Three Epiphanies in One: The Nativity, the Visit of the Magi, and the Baptism of the Lord

We have just seen three feasts that are all interconnected, and all part of what we might think of as the greater season of Epiphany; these are Christmas, Epiphany (which tends to focus on the arrival of the Magi), and the Baptism of the Lord.

My understanding is that originally all would have been celebrated together as different aspects of a single celebration of Epiphany (and which is called Theophany in the Eastern Church). Over time the interest in different aspects of this mystery expanded, hymns were written were given their own days of celebration so that now they form a cluster of connected feasts. There are hints of all three in the icon of the first of these feasts, the Nativity.
All the ancient hymns of the liturgy explain the allegorical understanding of relevant Scriptural passages, and their connection to the feast. The traditional art of the Church simply reflects visually what is presented poetically in written form in such hymns. 

For example, anyone who prayed Morning Prayer on Christmas Day in conjunction with looking at the traditional icon would be able to decipher the image. First, by tradition, Our Lord was born in a cave, not a wooden stable. The dark interior of this cave is a symbol of heaven; Our Lady is a symbol of the throne of cherubim upon which the Resurrected Christ sits in heaven. In order to make this connection apparent visually, the baby Jesus is seen resting on a reclining figure of Our Lady in such a way that it suggests this throne. Instead of the transfigured Christ at its heart, we see the baby in swaddling clothes. This portrayal of a figure wrapped in cloth, in the dark heart of a cave, is intended to evoke a connection between the birth of Our Lord and His death in the tomb when he was wrapped in a shroud and embalmed with myrrh. Through this representation, the depiction of the birth of Christ directs our attention to His future death and resurrection. This is just a small part of the icon of the Nativity, and also just a small part of the detail that is referred to in the liturgical hymns sung on Christmas Day.

For example, here is part of the Ninth Ode sung at Morning Prayer:
Behold a strange and wonderful mystery: the cave is heaven, the Virgin a cherubic throne, the manger a noble place where reposes Christ the Uncontainable God.
Here is a description of the icon by the artist, Aidan Hart, in which he explains why he chose not to show the cave as heaven, but as the absence of God ready to receive Christ:
“The black cave points towards the harrowing of Hades, especially when the Lord is in white swaddling clothes to indicate the glorious white garments of the resurrection. The darkness of the cave presents the world waiting for the Sun of Righteousness, and as such represents the subjective ‘absence’ of God (though of course, God is present everywhere). Christ is ‘enthroned’ in the Virgin, and is dressed in His royal pallium, a King born of the Queen of heaven. The mountain is red since the Virgin is sometimes referred to as the bush that burns without being consumed. The mountains reach upwards, reflected in Paul’s verses in Romans 8:22-24. The Magi represent the Gentiles, the wealthy, and the learned, while the shepherd represents the Jews, the poor, and the unlearned. They come together in Christ, the King of kings, creator and owner of the universe, and source of all Wisdom.”
The visual sign of Our Lady as the Burning Bush creates a connection to the Baptism in the Jordan. The burning bush from which the voice of God spoke to Moses in the wilderness, and which was not consumed by the fire, is likened in liturgical hymns to the womb of the Virgin, containing our Lord without compromising her virginity. Both are likened to the three men in the furnace, described in the Book of Daniel, who were protected from the fire of the furnace. The “mechanism” of that protection is likened to a cooling dew sent by God to shield them. In the same way, it is said, a cooling dew protected the Virgin from being consumed by the Fire of the Spirit, so that She remained pure through Her conception, pregnancy, and birthing of Our Lord. That dew is a type also for the waters of baptism that maintain perfection and clean all imperfection away. In the Baptism in the Jordan, Christ imparts the cleansing power of that holy dew to the waters of the Jordan, so that we, through the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, might be cleansed and protected from the fire of the Holy Spirit in the same way.

Icon reproduced with the permission of the artist:

Monday, January 11, 2021

What Vernacular Hymns Can Be: The Case of Old Polish Songs

Many Catholics suffer week after week from a repetitious diet of Four-Hymn Sandwiches, first imported decades before the Council by well-meaning liturgists who thought it would be a nice way to add calories to the Low Mass and give the folks mandibular exercise. When Fr. Longenecker once claimed that good hymns “lift hearts in worship, express faith, and help to catechize,” it made me wish that the U.S. bishops had appointed him a one-man censor librorum over all hymnals to be produced in the country. The number of trees destroyed would dramatically decline, and the catchy but scratchy catechesis of our modern-day Arianizers would suffer a major blow. Yet we mustn’t be narrow-minded about what vernacular hymnody might sound like if it emerged within a real Catholic culture, rather than being fabricated by ecumenists with John Denver envy.

A friend contacted me some time ago to tell me about the so-called “Polish Mass.” This refers not to a vernacular Novus Ordo, but to a Low Mass in the usus antiquior where the dialogue is done between a priest and a server while the congregation is occupied in singing a Mass-long hymn in Polish. There are many such hymns in Poland; they are sung in a special style, mostly in minor tonality, meditative, slow and sober. Their theologically sound lyrics are designed to bring the minds into meditation on the life and especially the Passion of Christ. The hymn starts at the beginning and continues throughout Mass, pausing only at the Sanctus (for which the Sanctus bells are quite useful!), and picking up again after the consecration. This “Polish Mass” is said to have been the standard way of celebrating Mass in Poland before the Second Vatican Council (and before the Soviet times, most probably).

Although it would not meet the demands of the Liturgical Movement for “participatio actuosa” (and it’s a bit too close for comfort to the German Schubert Masses), one could maintain that this deep and rich folk tradition is not incompatible with the liturgy, but rather harmonizes with it and enhances the faithful’s access to the mysteries. It’s hard to describe these hymns adequately in English (a rhymed translation would be a great challenge), but we have, thanks to Justyna Krukowska, an accurate translation of a 23-stanza Polish Mass hymn, from which a popular Christmas song has subsequently been derived. This is probably one of the most famous Christmas carols in Poland, and is often used as the entrance hymn at Mass. It may be worth noting that in Poland everyone has a number of Christmas carols committed to memory, so if you got a random group of Poles together and started singing it, the odds are that most, if not all, would be able to join in.

Here is how it looks, with the corresponding parts of the Mass indicated. In stanza 10 one can even see the “rubric” which says “kneeling,” because the words are the paraphrase of “et incarnatus est.”


1. In the silence of the night, a voice emanates:
“Rise, shepherds, God is being born unto you:
Go as fast as you can,
Rush to Bethlehem to greet the Lord.”

2. They went and found the Child in the manger,
With all the signs that had been given to them.
They honored him as God, and greeting him,
They called out with great joy.

3. Welcome, O Savior, desired for so long,
Expected for four thousand years.
Kings and prophets have been waiting for You,
And this night You have revealed Yourself to us.

4. We are also waiting for You, O Lord,
And as soon as You come at the voice of the priest,
We will fall down on our faces before You,
Believing that You are under the veil of bread and wine.


5. The singing of the angels
resounds all the way to heaven.
Let us sing along with them:
“Glory to God in the highest
And peace to men here below.”

6. Eternal Father, heavenly King
Who gave us the Son, we adore You.
“Glory to God…”

7. O Son of God, accept our thanksgiving
For Your birth to us today.
“Glory to God…”

8. You, in the glory of the Father, are Yourself holy,
Together with the Holy Spirit, God inconceivable.
“Glory to God…”


9. I believe in one God in heaven,
The Father, who created this world for Himself,
And in Jesus, his Son,
In all things equal to the Father, Our Lord.

10. Who in order to save us, the human race,
Descended down to earth from upper heavens, [kneeling]
Conceived of the Holy Spirit,
Is born among the beasts, of the Virgin Mary.

11. He died, and then when he rose alive
He went up to heaven, God and true man,
Whence, when the trumpet will wake us up for the judgment
He will come to judge all men on judgment day.

12. I equally believe in the Holy Spirit,
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
I believe in the Church: in her there is salvation.
I believe in the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.


13. Let us hurry to the manger with our gifts;
Let us give to the Child the sacrifices of our hearts.
Along with the offering of wine and bread,
May the Divine Child accept them as his property.

14. May he deign to make these hearts holy
And may he forgive us all our trespasses.
After all, this Jesus, for love of us,
Came down to save us.


15. Sing together with your voices
Angels in heaven, and we on earth:
Holy, Holy, always Holy God of hosts,
Incomprehensible in his majesty!

16. The heavens are full of Your glory, O God,
The earth is full and the whole world.
May they all be amazed,
May they all sing: Holy to our God.


17. Welcome, Jesus, born today
And hidden in this Sacrament!
We fall down on our faces before You,
Believing that You are under these veils.

18. Blessed are You, who came for us,
Came out of the pure Virgin womb.
We sing Hosanna to You,
Who were born of the Virgin Immaculate.


19. Lamb of God, Who came to take away
Human faults, O One and only God,
And immediately from birth
You commence Your sufferings:
Forgive us, O Lord.

20. Lamb of God, Who took upon You
The debts of the world in the form of a servant,
And Who pay out superabundantly,
Sacrificing Your life for us:
Forgive us, O Lord.

21. O Lamb of God, Immaculate,
Who bore wounds on the Cross for us,
To You we sinners call out,
Your mercy we seek:
Forgive us, o Lord.


22. O dear Jesus, we desire You so!
Through You we will reach heaven.
Even though we are poor, we are dear to Your heart.
Come and console us!


23. Through the Mass they brought You gifts,
Gifts greater than the royal gifts [of the Magi],
Since we gave to the Almighty—
Even though we are all small before You—
Infinite honor.

(I’ve placed the original Polish text at the end of the article.)

Such were the old Polish hymns: they were a catechism and, even more, a “lifting of the hearts up to the Lord.” There were plenty of hymns and chants for any occasion and liturgical season.

In this video of a Dominican-rite Low Mass at Ars Celebrandi in 2017, notice how the chanting goes on throughout the entire liturgy, not even stopping for the Gospel or the Canon! It is the purest example of “parallel liturgy” I have ever seen. Showing it to a Western liturgy professor might earn you a sentence for first-degree manslaughter. As beautiful as the modal chanting is, it cannot be ideal, from a liturgical point of view, to superimpose one gigantic hymn onto the entirety of the liturgy. Not even the German “paraphase Masses” are quite so continuous and monotonous (in the literal, not pejorative, meaning of the word):

Another type of traditional Polish Mass music is mediaeval vernacular music based on Gregorian chant tones, as well as rhymed offices for Polish saints like St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr. Here are two videos of Bartosz Izbicki, a musicologist, organist, and choir director, conducting such music:

The Poles also had their own interesting variants of Roman chant in liturgical books revised after the Council of Trent, as well as excellent Baroque composers who contributed richly to both Latin and vernacular repertoire.

So, before we complain about vernacular hymns, we should pause and ask: Which vernacular hymnody are we referring to, and why is ours today, in the modern West, so singularly rotten? Well, that is a question for another day. 

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

Saturday, January 09, 2021

“Why The Youth Want Tradition” : Another Excellent Commentary from Brian Holdsworth

Brian Holdsworth has just posted another superb video on why traditional forms of worship are so appealing to the young, and why attempts to “relate” to young people by aping the forms of popular culture in the liturgy inevitably fail. Any further commentary on this from me would be quite superfluous, apart from urging all of our readers to share this around as much as they can.

Friday, January 08, 2021

The Cathedral of Siena (Part 11): Artworks in the Cathedral Museum

Over the course of ten previous posts in this series, we have seen a great many (but by no means all!) of the artworks that grace the the cathedral of Siena, going back to the 13th century. Some of its more important artistic treasures, however, are no longer in the church itself, having been removed for preservation because of their great age, and replaced with copies. In this post, we will cover the room on the ground floor of the cathedral museum which houses several of these.
In 1287 or 1288, the Sienese artist Duccio di Buoninsegna, who would later paint the famous Maestà for the cathedral’s high altar, was commissioned to make this stained glass window (a rarity in Italy at the time) for the oculus of the apse. The central panel shows the Assumption, which is the church’s titular feast, with the Dormition of the Virgin below, and Her Coronation above it. To the left of the central panel are the Apostle Bartholomew, then much venerated in Siena as a protector of the city, and St Ansanus, its first evangelizer; to the right, the early local martyrs Crescentianus and Savinus; at the corners, the Four Evangelists.
In 1457, the sculptor Donatello, who had previously worked on the font of Siena’s baptistery, returned to the city to take up a new commission, a set of bronze doors for the churches façade, a project which was never completed. At the time, he also executed the tondo sculpture of the Madonna and Child for a door known as the Door of Pardon (Porta del Perdono), the church’s jubilee door. When the door was destroyed in 1660 to make way for the chapel of the Madonna del Voto, the tondo was of course saved.

This mid-14th century sculptural group of Christ in Majesty adored by two angels was originally placed over the large side portal of the so-called New Cathedral, the massive (and failed) expansion project which would have turned the church in it then-current size into the transept of a vastly larger edifice.

In the third post of this series, we saw the pulpit sculpted by one of the most important figures in the history of Italian sculpture, Nicola Pisano. Between 1285 and 1297, his son Giovanni served as the chief-of-works of Siena cathedral, and not only built the lower part of the façade, but also (with the help of a good number of assistants) made statues of several Biblical personages to decorate it. These were particularly vulnerable to weather damage, and have all long since been brought into the museum and replaced with copies.

Among them is this image of Joshua ben-Sirach, author of the Biblical book known to the Latin-speaking West as Ecclesiasticus. Despite the fact that he is one of the very Biblical writers who explicitly identifies himself as the author of his own book, and despite the broad liturgical use of his book, he very rarely appears as a subject in art. The verse written on the banderole in his hand, “Grace upon grace is a chaste and reverent woman” (26, 19), was likely chosen in reference to the Virgin Mary, to whom the cathedral is dedicated.

The prophet Simeon, with the words of the Nunc dimittis “for my eyes have seen Thy salvation” written on his banderole.

The Collect of the Feast of the Holy Family

Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato, The Holy Family, 1640-1650
Lost in Translation #33

In the 1962 calendar, the feast of the Holy Family falls on the Sunday after Epiphany rather than the Sunday after Christmas. One advantage of this arrangement, as Peter Kwasniewski notes, is allowing “the central mystery of the Incarnation of the Eternal Son of the Father to ‘breathe’ or occupy central stage”:

In terms of the “psychology” of the season, one notes that the more modern feast of the Holy Family is not permitted to “intrude” until the great event of the Nativity in all its facets—including its cluster of special companion saints who, as it were, surround the cradle of the infant King—has been given plenty of room to shine. Our gaze is intently focused on the mystery of the Incarnate Word: Christmas for eight days, the Circumcision when the Redeemer first shed His blood, the Holy Name he was given and by which we are saved, the Epiphany or revelation of God as savior of the Gentiles. Only after this do we turn expressly to the family in which Our Lord grew up, His baptism in the Jordan, His first miracle at Cana (2nd Sunday after Epiphany), and the start of His preaching and miracles (subsequent Sundays). [1]
Another advantage of the old ordo is that it allows the mystery of the Holy Family to breathe as well. Although some of the propers of the feast in the new Missal likewise take up the life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Nazareth, many Catholics find it difficult to think of anything else except the Bethlehem infancy narratives when the feast is celebrated so close to Christmas and prior to the liturgical acknowledgement on January 1 of the Circumcision, the ritual act that formally incorporated Jesus into the Holy Family. [2] But when the feast occurs after Epiphany, it is easier to imagine the Holy Family over the long arc of their lives together, from Bethlehem to Egypt and back to Nazareth.
The “big picture” of the Holy Family is also on the mind of the Church when she prays the Collect for this feast:
Dómine Jesu Christe, qui Maríae et Joseph súbditus domésticam vitam ineffabílibus virtútibus consecrasti: fac nos, utriusque auxilio, Familiae sanctae tuae exemplis ínstrui; et consóortium cónsequi sempiternum: Qui vivis et regnas.
Which I translate as:
O Lord Jesus Christ who, by being subject to Mary and Joseph, didst consecrate domestic life with ineffable virtues: grant that by assistance of both we may be instructed by the examples of, and gain eternal fellowship with, Thy Holy Family: Who livest and reignest.
It is rare for the Roman orations to address the Son rather than the Father, and rarer still to address Him by His Holy Name, but by mentioning Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in that order, the Collect ranks the members of the Holy Family according to their degree of sanctity. In the Holy Family, the order of holiness is the opposite of its order of subjection, with Joseph as head, Mary as subject to him, and Jesus subject to both (see the Gospel of the day, Luke 2, 42-52). This divinely-ordained discrepancy is worth contemplating. Astonishingly, the omniscient and omnipotent Second Person of the Holy Trinity has voluntarily placed Himself under the authority of two mere mortals; and the holiest “mere mortal” of all time has chosen to place herself under the authority of Saint Joseph, a simple carpenter. Among the lessons to be learned from this mystery is that the Christian concept of subjection does not entail any insinuation that the subordinate person is ontologically or spiritually inferior. There is a difference between value, dignity, and excellence on one hand, and an economy of authority based on role or office on the other.
The Maker of all has placed Himself under the authority of two of His creatures, and in so doing has consecrated (consecrare) the home with ineffable virtues. Consecration is literally the act of making something sacred, setting it apart from profane use and dedicating it to God. But in Christian parlance it can also mean to “make holy by means of a sacrament.” [3] In the Solemn Nuptial Blessing of the traditional rite of matrimony, the Church prays: “O God, who hast consecrated the conjugal joining [conjugalis copula] by so excellent a mystery...” Just as Our Lord took a natural good like marriage and elevated it to the dignity of a sacrament, so too has He done something similar with the family. Thanks to the early life of Jesus Christ, domestic life has a new dignity as a potential channel of grace.
The Collect calls the virtues with which Jesus consecrates domestic life “ineffable.” Initially it seems strange to describe virtues as indescribable; after all, can’t the virtues be named and defined? (If they can’t, then the Secunda Pars of St Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae is a massive waste of time.)
The adjective “ineffable”, it seems to me, serves two purposes. First, it speaks to Christ’s sanctification of the home: insofar as the Christian home becomes a channel of grace, it is participating in a supernatural mystery, and insofar as it is participating in a mystery, it is participating in something ineffable. The Church uses a similar logic in the Collect for Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent when she speaks of God as He who “renews the world with ineffable sacraments.”
Second, it speaks to the fact that the domestic life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was by and large a hidden life. We cannot describe the virtues of the Holy Family as they lived their quotidian lives insofar as we cannot observe them either with our own eyes or through the sacred text.
The Collect does not ask for grace directly from God but for the assistance of Mary and Joseph, and it asks them to do two things for us: help us be instructed by their examples and help us attain eternal fellowship with them. The prayer uses the plural exempla rather than the singular exemplum. Our attention is directed not to the example of the Holy Family but to their examples, to the different members of the family (each of whom had a different role to play) and to the different chapters of their lives.
Seeking eternal fellowship with the Holy Family, on the other hand, is a reminder of our status as divinely adopted sons. If we are the adopted sons of God the Father, then Jesus is our brother, Mary our mother, and Joseph our foster father. If we are the adopted sons of God, we have also been adopted into the Holy Family of Nazareth.
Seeking eternal fellowship with the Holy Family also ties into the Postcommunion petition “that at the hour of our death the glorious Virgin Mother and blessed Joseph may run to meet us and that we may be found worthy to be received by Thee into Thy eternal dwellings.” Saint Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death because He reputedly died in the arms of Jesus and Mary, and we pray for a similar fate. There is no better way to live or die than as a beloved member of the Holy Family.
[2] Both the 1962 and 1969 Missals include Luke 2, 21 in the Gospel reading on January 1: “And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called Jesus, which was called by the angel, before he was conceived in the womb.”
[3] Sr. Mary Pierre Ellebracht,Remarks on the Vocabulary of the Ancient Orations in the Missale Romanum (Dekker & Van de Vegt N.V.), 145.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Durandus on the Epiphany (Part 2)

We continue with the second part of the section of William Durandus’ Rationale Divinorum Officium that discusses the Epiphany, Book 6, chapter 16 (7 med. - 17). Click here to see the first part.

In some churches, “Lord, thou shalt open my lips”, “God, come to my assistance”, “Glory be” and the hymn are not said on this day at the nocturns, to indicate the readiness of the nations, which came as soon as the star appeared. Therefore, we come abruptly to the nocturns, as if the Church were saying by this, “they to whom it was not told of him, Have seen: and they that heard not, have beheld.” (Isa. 52, 15) One can also say that on this feast especially, mention is made of the conversion of the gentiles, whom the three Magi preceded from the beginning. Therefore, because the conversion of the gentiles was still imperfect, since it took place in very few people, namely, in the three Magi, as a sign of this the Church omits those songs which seem to belong to those who are already converted and perfected, like the Glory be, the hymn and such. For this reason, “Lord, thou shalt open my lips” and “God, come to my assistance” are not said beforehand, because, according to the Apostle, “By the heart does one believe unto justice”, but first, “but by the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10, 10), that is, after (one has converted).
The invitatory of Christmas and the Epiphany are the same musically, but with a slight change of wording on the latter feast, “apparuit” instead of “natus est”; this also underlines the connection between the two feasts, which Durandus discusses earlier in his treatment of the Epiphany.
The invitatory is also not said for four (other) reasons. First, to show that the Church in its first-fruits came to the Lord from the nations, not invited, or called by any herald, but only led by the star, according to the words “No one has hired us.” (Matt. 20, 7, in the parable of the workmen in the vineyard; in the original context, the verb “conduxit” means “hired”, but here, Durandus is playing off its derivation from “ducere – to lead.” The Church Fathers traditionally saw the workmen hired at the eleventh hour as a symbol of the gentiles coming into the Church in the last age of the world.) And thus might shame be inculcated in those who are late to believe, though that have many preachers, for the Magi came to adore Christ though they were not called.
Secondly, (it is omitted) so that we who are daily invited and urged on to worship and pray to God may be seen to detest the deceitful invitation of Herod when he said to the Magi, “Go and inquire diligently about the Child etc.” (Matt. 2, 8)
The meeting of Herod and the Magi; mosaic on the triumphal arch of the basilica of St Mary Major in Rome, ca. 435 AD. The Magi are shown wearing what would have appeared to 5th-century Romans as the typically outlandish dress of Eastern peoples, including the conical Phrygian cap, and pants, which the Romans disliked. At the time this was made, a halo designated importance, not goodness or holiness, and is therefore given to Herod as a king. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by MM, CC BY-SA 3.0)
The third reason is that the thing itself invites us, namely, the star, by which is signified faith, which leads us to God, and enlightens us in the night of this age.
The fourth (reason is) that the psalm Venite, which says the same thing (as the star), is said in the nocturns, and so the same text would be repeated. For although the invitatory is not said on this day, nevertheless the invitatory Psalm “Come let us exult unto the Lord” is said in the third nocturn with the seventh antiphon, to show that in the third age, namely, that of grace, the Church has been sufficiently called from the gentiles. And no one can excuse himself (Luke 14, 16-24, the parable of the great feast), because “their sound has gone out into all the world”, (Ps. 18, 5, traditionally understood as a reference to the preaching of the Apostles to every part of the world), and because in the third age, that of grace, the same grace is given (to all) in fullness. (The “third age” refers to St Augustine’s four-fold reckoning of time as “before the Law” from the creation to Moses, “under the Law” from Moses to Christ, “under grace” from the Christ to the end of the world, and finally “in peace.”) Also, (the Psalm) is said with the seventh antiphon to indicate that by baptism is given the sevenfold Spirit. During the week (i.e., the octave), the Invitatory is said in the person of the Magi, who announce to others who had not seen. Three readings are read from Isaiah, who speaks the most clearly about Christ’s birth, with which this feast is concern along with His appearance.
Notice also that the antiphons in the first nocturn refer to priests, in the second to the kings, and in the third we reach the angels. (Our friend Durandus might well have explained himself at greater length here. He means that two of the antiphons of the first nocturn of Epiphany Matins are imperatives, as if the priests were inviting us to prayer, e.g. “Sing ye unto God”; those of the second nocturn, e.g., “Let all the earth worship thee” from Psalm 65, refer to the three kings as representatives of all the nations that come to worship Christ, and those of the third refer twice to the Angels.)
The Baptism of Christ, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, ca. 1655
The following section refers to a custom found in almost every medieval use of the Office apart from that of the Papal court, the ancestor of the Breviary of St Pius V, by which the Gospel of Our Lord’s Genealogy according to St Matthew, 1, 1-16, is sung after the ninth responsory of Christmas Matins, and that of St Luke, 3, 21 – 4, 1, after the ninth responsory of Epiphany Matins.
After the third nocturn is sung the Gospel of Luke, “And it came to pass”, which deals fully with the Saviour’s baptism, and describes His genealogy, because, as has been said before, this feast is (also) that of His birth.
Now it should be noted that Matthew in the Gospel “The book of the generation” counts that generation by beginning with Abraham, and descending to “Joseph, the husband of Mary, from whom was born Jesus etc.”, showing by this that “His going forth was from the height of heaven” (Ps. 18, 7), and how the Lord came down to us. Likewise Isaiah (11, 3), when counting the gifts of the Holy Spirit, puts fear last, saying, “and the spirit of fear of the Lord filled him.” But Luke in the Gospel “And it came to pass” counts it by ascending, because he puts it after the baptism. Nor does he stop with Abraham, but at Adam he proceeds to God by steps thus” “who was of Heli”, showing by this that the way to God begins with baptism, but is made, as it were, by certain steps of the virtues, which are signified by the fathers arranged in steps. And it touches on sons according to the Law, not according to nature, thus: “who was of Mathat, who was of David”, understand, “the adoptive son.” Therefore one generation is described by descending, the other by ascending, since one is of the flesh, and the other of the spirit. In one (Matthew’s) is used the word “begat”, where the begetting according to the flesh, and succession in time are spoken of; in the other is used “who was of”, to denote the adoption of spiritual generation may be noted, and it is described by ascending, to denote a spiritual ascent.
The first ends with the Virgin’s childbearing; the second begins for us with baptism. Therefore there are three Gospels of this solemnity: one is of the baptism, namely, “It came to pass”; the second is of the Magi, namely, “When Jesus was born,” which is said at the Mass (Matt. 2, 1-12), …; the third is the Gospel of the Wedding (at Cana), which is said on the Sunday after the feast of St Hilary. … After the Gospel, the Church says with rejoicing, “We praise Thee, God” (the Te Deum.)
A very beautiful recording of the Gospel of the Genealogy of Christ according to Luke.
In the night Office, very little is said about the Lord’s Baptism, but this is supplied on the octave day, which treats of the appearance made at the Baptism, and especially in the antiphons of Lauds (i.e. the series of proper antiphons for the octave of the Epiphany, which are not included in the Breviary of St Pius V), which show the effect of Baptism in us, namely, that we are baptized so that we may be washed from sins in this laver. For they all have the same notes, and are of the seventh tone; the same, to show the unity of the Church, and of the seventh tone, to show that in baptism is given the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit, or else because through baptism we come to the seventh age (of man), that of those who rest. For if someone should die immediately after worthily receiving baptism, he at once receives the first stole, which is given in the seventh age … But the antiphon at the Magnificat is in the eighth tone, because at the end of the world the second stole will be given to us, that is, the glory of the body, which we hope we will receive in the eighth age.
For there are two evenings of the world. The first is the sixth age, according to which the Lord was born in the evening of the world, as it “As the evening of the world inclined” (from the Vesper hymn of Advent Conditor alme siderum); the second is the end of the world, in which we will at last be given the grace of the flesh, of which it is said “At the evening shall weeping abide” (Ps. 29). For until then there will be the weeping of our misery, but then there will be the end …
The Mass… likewise pertains to the first, principle and most important miracle, namely, to the first-fruits of the gentiles, to the gifts of the Magi, and to Christ’s birth, whence the Introit, which is taken from Isaiah, although not as a direct quotation. (In modern Missals, the Introit of the Epiphany is cited to Malachi 3, 1 and 1 Chronicle 29, 12, but it is not an exact quotation of any passage of the Bible.) … For the Church, chosen from the nations, rejoicing for the beginning of its calling, offers to God a pleasing public act of praise for its salvation, … as if it were saying, “Behold, it is revealed that He who is Lord by nature has come as a ruler in effect, that is, He has come to us, and taken on the flesh.” Or, so that we may refer it specifically to the present day, “He has come to us”, that is, He who lay hidden in the flesh, by many signs hath appeared as God: by the star, by the gifts of the Magi, by the Father’s voice, and by the Holy Spirit in (the form of a) dove. For this reason, it uses the adverb of demonstrating “Behold”, showing the appearance of the Son of God as it were to the eye by these things aforementioned.
Now the Introit of today’s Mass denotes the joy of the nations as they rejoice at the coming of the Saviour; and in the Collect, the nations are exhorted to contemplate His appearance (or ‘beauty’), which they know by faith. All the rest is about the day’s miracle, that is, of the nations led by the star.
We must not pass over the fact that in Italy, at this day’s Mass, the next Easter is announced to the people. So after the Offertory, a priest or someone else says in a loud voice, “I announce to your charity a great joy, which shall be to all people (an echo of the Gospel of Christmas), that Septuagesima will be on such a day, and Easter on such.

A New Sacristan’s Guide to the Traditional Roman Rite

We are very glad to share the news of a recently-published resource which I am sure many of our readers will find extremely useful, A Sacristan’s Guide to the Traditional Roman Rite, by Mr Nicholas Morlin. The 90+ page document is free to download at the following link:

Donations can be made to the author at the following link: Inquiries and possible corrections may be sent here: (One of the benefits of having such resources in electronic format, as opposed to print, is that they are so much easier to revise.)

This guide covers all of the major things which a sacristan needs to know to properly prepare for the celebration of the traditional rite: vessels, veils and vestments, and the use of liturgical colors; other ceremonial items; the altar; the furniture in the sanctuary, with notes for particular ceremonies. There is also a section on the specific events of the whole liturgical year, based on the customs of the Roman Rite before the pre-Conciliar changes (folded chasuables, old Holy Week etc.); the celebration of the other Sacraments, the Divine Office and Benediction.

His Excellency Bishop Athnasius Schneider has written about this publication as follows: “The worldwide rediscovery of the riches of the traditional Latin liturgy, especially in its older (pre-1955) form, has brought about the need for adequate handbooks. The present guide is intended specifically for sacristans who play a usually unseen but nevertheless vital role in preparing for the ceremonies and ensuring that all is done in accordance with the best principles, customs, and authorities. I warmly commend this text and hope that it will bring further beauty to the liturgy and greater glory to God.”
Our own Dr Peter Kwasniewski contributed a foreword, in which he writes “With plentiful experience of the classical Roman Rite at his disposal, Nicholas Morlin has done us all a service by creating the present guide as to how these liturgical ceremonies should be prepared. I thank him for his effort and express my hope that this work will come in handy at places where the traditional liturgy is the norm as well as those that are yet to experience the solemn beauty of the classical Roman Rite. ... As we see a younger generation stepping forward to embrace their inheritance as Catholics, we can offer up thanks to Almighty God that He who inspired our great liturgical tradition to begin with will not in the end abandon it, but will keep it alive in the hearts of believers, and in their churches. ”

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Durandus on the Epiphany (Part 1)

As one would expect for a feast of such importance, William Durandus’ commentary on the Epiphany is quite lengthy, and so I have broken it up into two parts. He was a bishop and a man of prayer, but not a man of science as we understand it today, which will perhaps makes some of these observations seem rather naive to us, but no less charming for that. (Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, Liber VI, cap. xvj, 1-7)

There follows the feast of the Epiphany, a Greek word which means “manifestation” or “appearance”, which forms one feast together with Christmas; for it would have profited nothing that He be born, if He had not also appeared. (This is a paraphrase of a sentence in the Exsultet, “for it would have profited us nothing to be born, had it not profited us also to be redeemed.”) Now the Church keeps a solemnity today because of three different appearances, and for this reason, in the old codices, this day of the Epiphany has several different titles, and therefore is called by three names, namely, Epiphany, Theophany and Bethphany. It is called Epiphany in regard to that apparition of the Lord which was made to the Magi by means of a star.
A fresco of Virgin and Child with a Prophet, in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome, ca. 180 AD. The prophet is variously understood to be Balaam because of the star over the Virgin’s head to which he is pointing in reference to the prophecy from Numbers 24 cited below, or Isaiah, the prophet of the Virgin par excellence.
The Magi were called Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar, and they were kings, according to the word of the Psalmist, “Kings shall offer thee gifts” (Ps. 67, 30), and again, “The kings of Tharsis and the islands will offer gifts; the kings of the Arabs and Saba will bring presents.” (Ps. 71, 10) ... And they are called “Magi” from the magnitude of their knowledge (a typically medieval folk etymology), for by the study of the stars, they knew that that star was not one of those set (in heaven) from the beginning, but rather the star of which their master Balaam had prophesied, “A star shall rise from Jacob, and a rod arise from Israel, and from Jacob will come one to rule.” (Numbers 24, 17 and 19). And therefore they were moved to come to Bethlehem, led by that star, so that they might adore the new-born king, whom Balaam had prophesied to them. (St Jerome asserts in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 2, 2, that the Magi were the successors of the prophet Balaam, a gentile like them.) And it is called Epiphany from “epi”, which means “above”, and “phaneia”, which is “appearance”, because the appearance was made to them from above, that is, from heaven, or else … because it is written, “Until it came and stood over the place where the Child was.” And indeed, it was closer to the earth than the other stars; and these things came to pass on the thirteenth day from the Lord’s birth, on which day the star led the Magi to the manger.
Now some people say that that star was the Holy Spirit, which afterwards descended upon the Lord at His Baptism in the form of a dove, and (appeared) to the Magi in the form of a star. Others says that it was the Angel who had appeared to the Jewish shepherds, which is to say, it appeared to them as to rational creatures in a rational form, but to these gentiles as to non-rational creatures in a non-rational form. (This idea comes from the homily of St Gregory the Great read in the Office of the Epiphany, which deems the shepherds, as representatives of the Jews, “rational”, since they worship the true God, and are therefore told of His birth by a rational creature, an angel; the gentiles, on the other hand, as idol worshippers, are deemed “irrational, and therefore led to God by an irrational creature, the star.)
Others say, more rightly, that the star was newly made, and having fulfilled its office, returned into the primordial material. Others say that it fell into a well, and is still seen to appear there, but only to virgins.
The Adoration of the Magi, by Giotto, in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy, completed ca. 1305. The appearance of the star over the stable is based on Halley’s Comet, which Giotto saw when it passed close enough to Earth to become visible in 1301. In 1985, the European Space Agency launched the first probe to closely observe Halley’s Comet, which was named ‘Giotto’ because of this image; in March of the following year, it came within 370 miles of the comet. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons. )
It is often asked how (the Magi) had come so quickly, that is, within 13 days, from the most distant regions of the earth to Jerusalem, which is said to be in the middle of the world, according to the words of the Psalmist, “Our king hath wrought salvation in the midst of the earth.” (Ps. 73, 12) Isidore says that that star had appeared to them before the Nativity, so that they could be there on time. Jerome says that it was seen by them on the day of the Lord’s birth. (Commentary on Daniel, 2, 2) But they came on dromedaries, according to the prophecy, “The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Madian and Epha” (Isa. 60, 6), which run very fast. And they take their name from “dermos”, which is “running” and “aros” which is “might”, and are smaller than camels, but run faster than they do, namely, as far in one day as a horse does in three. (Like most Western Europeans of his era, Durandus did not know Greek, and his etymology is fanciful. “Dromedary” derives from the Greek word “dromas – runner”; in his Life of St Malchus, St Jerome refers to dromedaries as “exceedingly fast”, but nowhere in connection with the Magi.)
Another question is why the Magi brought gifts when they came? I answer that according to Bede, in ancient times, no one went in to a king or lord empty-handed, which the Persians and Chaldeans observed. Secondly, according to Bede, they offered gold to the Virgin to alleviate Her poverty, incense against the stench of the stable, and myrrh for the consolidation of the Child’s members, and to chase away worms. Thirdly, because gold pertains to tribute, incense to sacrifice, and myrrh to burial; therefore, by these three were indicated in Christ royal power, divine majesty, and human mortality. Fourth, because gold signifies love, incense prayer, and myrrh the mortification of the flesh, three things which we must offer to God.
The Baptism of Christ, by Piero della Francesca, ca. 1450 (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
The second appearance was on the same day, at the Baptism, after many years had passed, that is, on the thirteenth day of the thirty-first year, wherefore Luke says “And Jesus Himself was beginning, about 30 years old.” Therefore this appearance is called “Theophany”, from “theos”, which means “God”, and “phaneia”, which means “appearance”, because at that time the Trinity appeared, the Father in the voice, the Son in the flesh, and the Spirit in the dove.
But some heretics said that baptisms should only be done on the day of the Epiphany, since Christ was baptized on that day, and the Holy Spirit was not given to the baptized on another day., and the Greeks baptize on the same day: and for the sake of extirpating this heresy, the Holy Fathers decreed that no one should be baptized on this day, except in case of necessity.
The third appearance was afterwards, likewise on the same day, when a year had passed, and He was thirty years and thirteen days old, namely, when He made Himself manifest as God by changing the water into wine, which was the first public miracle, which the Lord did at Cana of Galilee, or was simply the first which He did. And this appearance is called “Bethphania”, from “Beth”, which means “house”, and “phaneia”, which means “appearance”, because the appearance took place in the house during the wedding feast.
On this day takes place the solemnity of these three appearances, but because the Church cannot perfectly solemnize all three on one and the same day, therefore the whole service is done about the star, but it mixes something about the other appearances (into the feast), so that it may be noted that there were three appearances in one day, which are read in the Gospel, as if they all took place on the same day. But the whole liturgy is sung today of the first miracle, because by it especially was the Lord’s birth made known to the Gentiles.
Two responsories are sung about the second miracle, namely, “Today in the Jordan”, and “In the likeness of a dove”, which many churches put after the ninth reading. (In the Roman Breviary, they are the first and second.) And it is in the first and ninth place for this reason, because baptism is the first sacrament of our redemption, by which we are reformed, and made like the angels, of which there are nine orders.
The feast on this day about three miracles was instituted for this reason, that anciently, it was a day of celebration in honor of Caesar Augustus, because of his three-fold triumph, by which in his time he subjected three regions to the rule of Rome, namely, Parthia, Egypt and Media. The Church changed that celebration for the better, namely, to celebrate Christ for His threefold miracle. (Durandus’ history is confused. Octavian, nephew and successor of Julius Caesar, was proclaimed emperor and given the title Augustus on January 16th, 27 BC, but there was no Roman feast in his honor on January 6th. He did annex Egypt into the Roman Empire, but not the empires of either the Parthians or the Medes, which occupied roughly the same areas, Iran, Iraq, and the Caucasus, in two different periods.)

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