Wednesday, July 01, 2015

New Commissioner for the FFI

The Italian website Corrispondenza Romana reports that a new Apostolic Commissioner for the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate has been appointed, following the recent death of the first Commissioner, Fr Fidenzio Volpi.

“The new Apostolic Commissioner of the Institute of the Francescans of the Immaculate is the Salesiano Fr Sabino Ardito, a well-known canonist, professor for many years at the Pontifical Salesian University, and collaborator with various dicasteries of the Roman Curia. Fr Ardito will be assisted by two coadjutors, a Jesuit and a Capuchin, who were also chosen as specialists in the field of canon law, which has been so little respected in the previous commissarial administration. Fr Ardito replaces Fr Fidenzio Volpi, who passed away on June 7 at the age of 75, after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage on April 29 of this year.”

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Mass in Melbourne, Australia

On Saturday, June 27, in Melbourne, Australia, Rev Fr Francis Denton was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne in the local Cathedral of St Patrick’s. On Monday, Fr Denton celebrated Mass in the Extraordinary Form at the Parish of Bl. John Henry Newman in Melbourne for the feast of Ss Peter & Paul. Bishop Athanasius Schneider attended the Mass in choir; the music for the Ordinary was Antonio Lotti’s Mass for Three voices. Attached are some photos from the Mass; more are are available at the Newman Parish website.

The Protomartyrs of the Church of Rome

At Rome, the commemoration of very many holy martyrs, who were falsely accused by the Emperor Nero, to turn away from himself the hatred incurred by having set the city on fire, and were ordered by him to be put to death most cruelly in various ways. Some were covered up in the skins of wild beasts and put to be torn by dogs, some were crucified, while some were burnt as torches to give light by night. These were all disciples of the Apostles, and the first martyrs whom the Church of Rome, a field fruitful in martyrs, sent to be with the Lord, even before the slaying of the Apostles themselves. (From the Roman Martyrology. Before the feast of the Roman Protomartyrs was added to the general Calendar in 1969, this notice was read on June 24.)

The Torches of Nero, by Henryk Siemiradzki, 1876
But all human efforts … did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration (which destroyed much of Rome in July of 64 A.D.) was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed. (Tacitus, Annals book XV, chapter 44)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Two Books for Children — One New and One Classic Reprint

M. Cristina Borges. Of Bells and Cells. Illustrated by Michaela Harrison. N.p.: St. Bonosa Books, 2014. 44 pp., paper. List: $13.50. Purchase at

Maria Montessori. The Mass Explained to Children. [Unaltered reprint of the original publication from Sheed & Ward, 1933.] Foreword by Rev. Matthew A. Delaney. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2015. i + 88 pp., paper. $9.95. Purchase at

As parents know, the work of educating children in the Faith starts at the very beginning and never really ends. It might end formally when they leave for college or move out of the home, but that's still a good 17 to 20 years' worth of education. Those crucial years should be marked by exposure to good (as in: beautiful and reverent) liturgy, an introduction to orthodox theology, and an initiation into traditional spirituality. What I've seen in homeschooling families is that formation in the faith is happening more or less all the time, and this is a large part of the reason why the boys and girls know their faith, love it, practice it, and run circles around their peers. You simply can't put students with an otherwise secular mentality in a religion class for an hour a week and expect them to get anything out of it.

But parents, like all educators, need good resources to lean on. We can't be making everything up as we go along. After decades of relative drought, it is heartening to be witnessing a downpour of solid, traditionally Catholic books being published for children. Some of these have already been reviewed here at NLM (see here, here, and here). Recently I received two more that I can highly recommend to our readers.

The first is M. Cristina Borges' Of Bells and Cells. This book endeavors to present vocational discernment, religious life, and priesthood to small children in a way that they will understand, but without cutting corners, dumbing down the truth, or lessening the radical nature of the calling. Indeed, her strategy seems to be very much that of Pope Benedict XVI, namely, to present the reality in all its demanding grandeur precisely because this is when we can see most clearly how wonderful a gift it is, how worthy of Our Lord, and how appropriate to His holy Church. I do not know exactly which sources Borges is drawing upon, but her theology of vocation is both traditional and profound, yet clearly and simply expressed. She emphasizes the universal call to holiness while underlining the unique conformity to Christ present in religious vows and the priestly character.

Borges devotes several fine pages to the three evangelical counsels, which she explains with admirable simplicity but without the slightest hint of that wishy-washy embarrassment so typical of modern discussions of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In this book, the vows are presented as the ways in which men and women make a total gift of themselves to the Lord, rely completely on Him, surrender all to Him, and emulate, as perfectly as they can, His life and virtues. (Indeed, I cannot help thinking that this children's book would make a better introduction to the subject than many highschool and college texts out there.) I also appreciated her entering into how religious life is structured, its daily round, the steps of entering and making vows, the taking of a new name, the rationale behind wearing the habit (some of the best pages of the book!), the differences between religious orders, and the active and contemplative lives.

The portion of the book dedicated to the priesthood is equally luminous and inspiring. Once again, the fact that the author is willing to explain things like the difference between a secular/diocesan priest and a religious priest, why the clergy wear black (and, in particular, the cassock), how the priest is made "another Christ" through ordination such that he can then offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and forgive sins, sets this book in a class by itself.

An appendix contains brief accounts of the Benedictines, Carmelites, Carthusians, Conceptionists, Dominicans, Franciscans, Poor Clares, Missionaries of Charity, Redemptorists, Little Sisters of the Poor, and Jesuits, to give children some basic information about their founders, most famous saints, and characteristics. This is an especially nice touch, because it helps children to start thinking about how God has provided many different "realizations" of the Gospel and raised up many different kinds of saints who are all living out the baptismal vocation of holiness.

Turning to the reprint of a 1933 classic, The Mass Explained to ChildrenI doubt that Maria Montessori needs an introduction to readers here. This book saw many printings in the days before the auto-demolition of the Church, and we owe Angelico Press a debt of gratitude for reprinting it as a handsome and affordable paperback, now that so many in the Church are worshiping once again in the classical Roman Rite, for which Montessori obviously wrote this and all her other books on the liturgy. In its pages we find Montessori's remarkable gift for explaining objects, movements, texts, and other signs to children in a way they can relate to, bolstered by her conviction that children have a capacity for wonder, symbolism, and sacred action that most adult educators leave entirely untapped.

Montessori explains in her Preface that this book is not meant to be used at Mass, but before Mass, to help prepare children to understand what they will be seeing and hearing and doing. It serves that catechetical purpose admirably. It strikes me as an ideal religion text for somewhere in the grammar school years, depending on the aptitude of a given child. Again, I have placed a few photos below to give a better sense of it.

(Attention Montessori teachers and admirers: I've been wondering for a long time if anyone has developed a "Catechesis of the Good Shepherd" approach that fully comports with the traditional Latin Mass for which Maria Montessori originally designed her catechetical materials and approaches. If anyone has any information on this matter, I'd be grateful if you would write it into the comments below, or send me an email.)

Pages from Cristina Borges, Of Bells and Cells

Pages from Maria Montessori, The Mass Explained to Children
Look at the text: it's amazing how far we have fallen away from the sense of reverence!

Written in 1933, this deep reverence for the priesthood became almost unknown after the Council.

Note how Montessori lovingly explains the details rather than demanding their simplification.

The holding together of the fingers is connected with the awesome mystery on the altar.

The Feast of Ss Peter and Paul 2015

At that time: Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep. Amen, amen I say to thee, when thou wast younger, thou didst gird thyself, and didst walk where thou wouldst. But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldst not. And this he said, signifying by what death he should glorify God. (John 21, 15-19, the Gospel of the Vigil of Ss Peter and Paul)

The Crucifixion of St Peter, depicted in the Papal Chapel known as the Sancta Sanctorum at the Lateran Basilica in Rome, ca. 1280.
At that time: Jesus said to his disciples: Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of men. For they will deliver you up in councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. And you shall be brought before governors, and before kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles: But when they shall deliver you up, take no thought how or what to speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what to speak. For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you. Simple: That is, harmless, plain, sincere, and without guile. The brother also shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the son: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and shall put them to death. And you shall be hated by all men for my name' s sake: but he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved. (Matthew 10, 16-22, the Gospel of the Commemoration of St Paul.)

The Beheading of St Paul, also from the Sancta Sanctorum. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Concelebration Tomorrow - From Dom Alcuin Reid’s Foreword to “The Holy Eucharist - The World’s Salvation”

Peter Kwasniewski just published a notice and review of “The Holy Eucharist—The World’s Salvation. Studies on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, its Celebration, and its Concelebration,” by Fr. Joseph de Sainte Marie OCD. This is the long-awaited translation of a work originally published over thirty years ago, not long before the author’s death, which Peter describes as “the most important book ever to appear in English on the subject of concelebration.” It appears in this new edition from Gracewing Publishers with a foreword by Dom Alcuin Reid, OSB, entitled “Concelebration Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow”.

In the first part of this foreword, under the subtitle Concelebration Today, Dom Alcuin outlines the many (and sadly common) abuses which have become almost part and parcel of the practice of concelebration as done in the modern Roman Rite. The second part, Concelebration Yesterday, summarizes Fr de Sainte Marie’s extensive research into the history of concelebration, and particularly “his identification of the profound historical error on the origins and practice of sacramental concelebration that was contained in the materials and draft texts presented to the Fathers of the Council.” This would lead to the approval of paragraph 57 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, of which Dom Alcuin writes, “the historical error in respect of both Eastern and Western liturgical history contained in article 57 § 1, which forms part of the premise for the reform authorised, is an embarrassment of the first order (as Father de Sainte-Marie makes perfectly clear). It was, nevertheless, an error that was widely accepted and promoted.”

We here reproduce the final section, Concelebration Tomorrow, with the kind permission of Dom Alcuin and Gracewing.
Father de Sainte-Marie’s principal concern is the theological and pastoral impoverishment of the life of priests and of the Church through the reduction of the number of Masses offered as a direct result of the unforeseen spread of concelebration. “Which manner of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass can be the source for the greatest glory of God and for the greatest treasury of redeeming graces for the Church?” he asks, insisting that “the need for the latter in today’s world explains the urgency of this question.”

His questions, surely, remain pertinent. So too, his exegesis of the conciliar reform and text is sound. Father de Saint Marie is not opposed to the Council’s permission for concelebration on more occasions, indeed he himself made appropriate use of it in his priestly life. What concerns him profoundly is the radical reduction in the number of Masses being offered. For:
Each Mass, being the very sacrifice of Christ, the one redemptive sacrifice of Calvary, has an infinite value. Each Mass is an act of the entire Church; for, she is present there both in Christ, Who offers Himself for her as her Head, and in the priest, who represents her, and prays for her and in her name… It is this which establishes the value of Masses said ‘privately,’ that is, those celebrated by a priest in the absence of any assistants: each Mass pours the redemptive Blood of Christ upon the Church and the whole world.
While each Mass has in itself an infinite value, the dispositions of men for receiving its fruits are always imperfect and in this sense limited. For this reason the number of celebrations of the Mass is so important for multiplying the fruits of salvation.
If he is right  both historically and theologically  it is high time that we look again at the practice of concelebration as it has become today. Before it is asserted that ‘universal concelebration’ is now customary, let us remember Saint Cyprian of Carthage’s adage, consuetudo sine veritate vetustas erroris est (custom without truth is simply error grown old. Letter to Pompeius, 73/9). Before this error grows too old, it is necessary to revisit it with theological, historical and liturgical truth.

This The Holy Eucharist  The World’s Salvation most certainly does. Since its original publication there has been much talk of a “reform of the liturgical reform,” and of a “new liturgical movement.” That the practice of concelebration be reviewed in the light of the abuses to which it has given rise and which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council most certainly could not have imagined they were authorising  most especially large-scale concelebrations which situate priests at great distances from the altar, and the indignity and indecorous behaviours in priests which such events often bring forth  is surely an important element of such liturgical renewal.

In such a review competent authority may wish to consider the implications of the erroneous historical assumptions in article 57 § 1 of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Experience of concelebration since the Council, and theological arguments such as those of Father de Sainte-Marie, might even suggest a prudent restriction of its practice in the future. Formation “in the spirit and power of the liturgy” itself, and specifically on why and how priests can and should offer Mass privately and on how they can assist at Mass when not concelebrating, would seem urgently to be necessary in many places. It may even be appropriate for the competent authority to modify the rite of the ordination of priests and the blessing of abbots in the Pontificale of the usus antiquior of the Roman rite to ensure sacramental concelebration on those occasions.

Let concelebration in the Roman rite tomorrow be what the Council truly intended: an occasional, edifying and dignified rite by modest or at least manageable numbers of priests. And let the Church of today and tomorrow continue to benefit from more and more devout and, where necessary, individual celebrations of Holy Mass  something the Second Vatican Council never intended to abolish  for the Holy Eucharist is indeed the world’s salvation.

Joseph de Sainte-Marie, OCD. The Holy Eucharist—The World’s Salvation. Studies on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, its Celebration, and its Concelebration. With a Foreword by Dom Alcuin Reid, OSB. Leominster: Gracewing, 2015. xxxix + 557 pp. Available from Amazon (USA $40, UK £25, Germany €38) or the publisher.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Feast of Ss John and Paul, Martyrs

The Passion of the Holy Martyrs Saints John and Paul, as recounted in the pre-Tridentine Breviary according to the Use of the Roman Curia.

At Rome, (the passion) of John and Paul, brothers… when the Caesar Julian was taken by sacrilegious lust for money, he sought to color his greed by the witness of the Gospel. For as he took from the Christians their goods and properties, he would say, “Your Christ says in the Gospel, ‘Who renounceth not all that he possesseth cannot be my disciple.’ ” Now it came to his notice that Paul and John were helping the crowds of Christians by means of the riches which the virgin Constantia (the daughter of Constantine, whom John and Paul had formerly served) had left to them. And he sent a man to see them, and say that they must adhere to him. But they answered … “Because of your iniquity we have desisted from greeting you, and withdrawn ourselves entirely from all association with your rule. For we are not false, but true Christians. … We do not do you this injury, that we prefer any sort of human person before you. We prefer to you the Lord, who made the heaven and earth, the sea and all things that are in them.” (The saints also declare their refusal to return to the court, where they had formerly served Constantine, and greet the emperor.) Julian said to them, “I give you a pause of ten days. When they have passed, if you come to me willingly, I will hold you as my friends; if you do not come, I will punish you as public enemies.”

Despite the great antiquity of the cultus of Ss John and Paul, and the presence of their names in the Roman Canon, they are rarely represented in art. These paintings decorate the place within their house where they were originally buried; other martyrs whose connection to them is not altogether clear, Ss Crispus, Crispinian and Benedicta, are represented alongside them. The relics have long since been moved into the altar of the church dedicated to them, which was built on top of the house. 
Then the holy men John and Paul, calling the Christians to themselves, gave orders concerning all the things which they could leave behind, and for the whole of the ten days busied themselves with almsgiving day and night. But on the eleventh day they were confined within their house. (A military officer named Terentian is then sent to their house and says to them) “Our lord Julian has sent a little golden statue of Jove to you, that you may adore it and burn incense. But if you do not do this, you will both be struck with my sword. … ” John and Paul said, “If Julian is your lord, have peace with him. We have no other Lord, but the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whom he (i.e. Julian the Apostate) did not fear to deny. And because he was once cast away from the face of God, he wishes others to come down with him to destruction.” (Terentian has them decapitated and buried in their house.)

The exterior of the church of Ss John and Paul, which was completely rebuilt in the 12th century. 
Julian was at once slain in the war with Persia, and when Jovinian had become the most Christian emperor, the churches were opened, and the Christian religion began to rejoice. (Following this, many possessed persons are healed in the house of Saints John and Paul, including the son of Terentian, who himself converts to Christianity, and writes the passion of the Holy Martyrs.)

A later and apocryphal tradition says that Julian the Apostate was killed by a Christian soldier in his army named Mercurius, (who is honored in the East as a Saint), as depicted here in a Coptic icon. (image from wikipedia.) The true historical date of Julian’s death is the same as the feast of Ss John and Paul, June 26th.
R. Hæc est vera fratérnitas, quæ numquam pótuit violári certámine: qui effúso sánguine secúti sunt Dóminum: * Contemnentes aulam regiam, pervenérunt ad regna caelestia. V. Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum habitáre fratres in unum. Contemnentes. Gloria Patri. Contemnentes.

R. This is the true brotherhood, which could never be injured in the struggle; who by shedding their blood, followed the Lord. * Disdaining the palace of the king, they came to the heavenly kingdom. V. Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity. Disdaining. Glory be to the Father. Disdaining.

In the Breviary of St Pius V and its predecessors, this responsory is said on the feasts of Several Martyrs who are also brothers. The devotion to John and Paul is one of the oldest in the city of Rome, and the responsory was almost certainly originally written for their feast day.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Notice: The Definitive Study of Concelebration

Joseph de Sainte-Marie, OCD. The Holy Eucharist—The World’s Salvation. Studies on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, its Celebration, and its Concelebration. With a Foreword by Dom Alcuin Reid, OSB. Leominster: Gracewing, 2015. xxxix + 557 pp. Available from Amazon (USA $40, UK £25, Germany €38) or the publisher.

Let me begin with the bottom line. This is the most important book ever to appear in English on the subject of concelebration. It ought to be read by every bishop, priest, religious, teacher of liturgy, and seminary formator, and absolutely anyone with a desire to learn about this complex and sometimes contentious issue.

Fr. Joseph de Sainte-Marie (1931–1985), a professor and specialist in Carmelite spirituality at the Pontifical Theological Faculty ‘Teresianum’ in Rome, published this substantial collection of his writings in 1982, only a few years before his death. One may regret that it has taken over 30 years for an English translation to appear — or better, one may rejoice that it has finally come out for the benefit of those who do not read French. Lest a nearly 600-page tome prompt any dismay, I hasten to repeat that this is a gathering together of a dozen finely-chiseled essays on the Mass and the Holy Eucharist, with special attention to concelebration. Most of the essays could be read in one sitting; the lovely style of writing and the vigorous argumentation make the book hard to put down once begun!

While this book contains eloquent essays on the Mass as a true and proper sacrifice, the sacramental system, and the relationship of sacrifice and banquet, far the greater part of its bulk is given over to a careful, systematic, and exhaustive study of concelebration under every aspect — historical, liturgical, theological, pastoral, magisterial. For example, Fr. Joseph de Sainte-Marie provides a detailed synopsis of the elements of the question as they make their appearance in the ancient and medieval periods down through the twentieth century Liturgical Movement and into the Second Vatican Council; he sifts all the pertinent texts of and interventions at the Council to establish just what was being proposed, debated, changed, agreed to, and subsequently applied or misapplied; he compares and contrasts Eastern and Western practices; he patiently gathers evidence to show the ways in which agenda-driven reasoning and sleight-of-hand were employed to put across a novel reinterpretation of concelebration and to ensure its enforcement.

The author reaches many important conclusions in this work of highly readable scholarship. Among the more immediately practical conclusions are: (1) although concelebration is licit and occasionally opportune, particularly when the presbyterate is led in worship by the bishop, it was never historically, and should not now be, the normal or default mode of offering the Mass; (2) much of our contemporary theory and praxis are based on a fundamentally flawed concept of what concelebration historically was—a flaw that found its way into the Council debates and subsequent implementation; (3) in either sacramental or ceremonial concelebration, no differently than in a ‘private’ Mass, one sole Mass is offered to God; (4) because “each Mass pours the redemptive Blood of Christ upon the Church and the whole world,” the Church and the world benefit from a multiplication of Masses and suffer loss from their reduction; (5) it can be demonstrated from documents of Tradition and of the Magisterium that the Church herself greatly desires that Masses be thus multiplied; (6) habitual reliance on or presumed choice of concelebration constitutes a genuine liturgical abuse. These statements are, of course, conclusions, and therefore they must emerge from valid argumentation based on thoroughly evaluated evidence. Fr. Joseph de Sainte-Marie takes nothing for granted and establishes each of these conclusions with rigorous research and argumentation that goes far beyond anything I have seen when reading on this question.[1]

It is an exhilarating, sometimes distressing, and always enlightening work, one that is written by a priest who is deeply in love with our Lord Jesus Christ in the most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Indeed, he makes it clear that his motivation for the painstaking work that went into his studies is a desire to give glory to God and sanctify souls through the sacrifice of the Mass, coupled with an anxiety (quite legitimate, as anyone who takes up the book will discover) that leaders in the Church had been both deceiving and deceived as they walked down a path of innovation, inversion, and incoherence.

Let me sum up my enthusiasm for The Holy Eucharist—The World’s Salvation: if you have any interest at all in the question of concelebration or in the manner of its current practice in the Latin Rite, you would do yourself an immense favor to get this book and read, for starters, the Foreword by Dom Alcuin Reid (pp. xvii–xxxix) and chapter 1 by the author (pp. 3–27). As you find yourself brought to a greater depth of awareness of the issues, an appropriate subtlety of discernment, and a new strength of practical judgment, you will wonder how we managed to get anywhere before this book was in our hands.


Introduction (xi)
Foreword (xvii)

Part I: A Disputed Question
1. Reflections and Questions on the Subject of Concelebration (3)
2. A Critical Note on a ‘Theology of Concelebration’ (29)
3. Concelebration: Sensus Fidei and Theology (81)

Part II: The Historical Inquiry
4. Concelebration: The History of a History (123)
5. Concelebration: An Historical Summary (179)
6. Eucharistic Concelebration in the Magisterium of the Second Vatican Council (203)
7. ‘Useless and Superfluous Masses’ (273)
8. The Church Asks for the Multiplication of Masses (297)

Part III: Theological Reflection
9. ‘Sacrificium Missae’ (323)
10. The Liturgy: Mystery, Symbol, and Sacrament (355)
11. The Mass: Meal, ‘Blessing’, Congregation, or Sacrifice? (425)
12. The Celebration and Multiplication of the Sacrifice (483)

Conclusion (539)

The back cover
Sample pages

[1] Having given much thought to this matter (see "The Loss of Graces: Private Masses and Concelebration" in Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis, and the NLM article "Celebration versus Concelebration: Theological Considerations"), I was overjoyed to find in Fr. Joseph de Sainte-Marie an author who pursues the inquiry with an unprecedented breadth and depth.

Restoration Completed on “The Sistine Chapel of Milan”

Italian tour books and journalists will often call a church which is particularly impressive for its artworks “the Sistine Chapel of ” such-and-such a place, period or artist. The Scuola di San Rocco may be referred to as “the Sistine Chapel of Venice”, the crypt of Anagni cathedral as “the Sistine Chapel of the Middle Ages,” the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua as “the Sistine Chapel of Giotto.” The city of Milan abounds in impressive churches and artworks of every kind, notwithstanding the terrible damage it suffered in the Second World War, but the “Sistine Chapel of Milan” is certainly the church of San Maurizio “at the Greater Monastery,” formerly its principal houses of Benedictine nuns.
The nave and sanctuary of the public church. The nuns’ choir was originally separated from it by a grill, but this was turned mostly into a solid wall in the time of St Charles Borromeo, increasing the strictness of the community’s enclosure.
The monastery was founded in the Carolingian era, and included a church building that was much older, but the current church was begun in 1503. It is divided into two parts, one for the faithful and another for the nuns, who were quite strictly enclosed. By 1509, the basic structure of the church was completed, and the decoration of the church and its many side-chapels began, mainly through the patronage of the Bentivoglio family, four of whose daughters entered the convent, and other families associated with them. The painting of the church would continue though the rest of the 16th-century; the result is an impressive, if somewhat uneven, collection of frescoes, beginning with the disciples of Leonardo Da Vinci, chief among them Bernardino Luini, continuing through the early Mannerists, and completed at the end of the 1570s with the façade, the frescoes on the counterfaçade, and the main altarpiece for the nave of the public church, by Antonio Campi.

Since the suppression of the convent by Napoleon, the complex has been put to a variety of secular uses, and its two cloisters have been destroyed; it is now part of the Civic Archeological Museum of Milan. With the building of modern streets next to it, (one named for the painter Luini), the structural integrity of the building has been compromised by traffic vibrations, and the frescoes have been damaged by excess humidity. However, beginning in 1986 with an anonymous donation made for this specific purpose, the church has undergone a complete restoration, which has just now been brought to a successful conclusion after nearly 30 years.

The website of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica has a series of very nice photos of the church, now seen without any scaffolding, and close-ups of the individual frescoes. Another set can be seen in a slide-show on the website of the Corriere della Sera. (Some of the commentariat on the latter dispute the title “Sistine Chapel of Milan” in favor of the Milanese charterhouse at Garegnano; I have seen them both and, with all due respect, I must disagree.)

God the Eternal Father and Saints, by the school of the painter Vincenzo Foppa 
Noah's Arc, by Aurelio Luini (1530-92), son of Bernardino Luini 
The upper gallery of the church, with images of female Saints.
A closer view of the main altar in the public church.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Liturgical Notes on the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Reprint)

This was the first in my occasional series of Liturgical Notes for major feasts. It is here reprinted with some adjustments to the original version; I have also added a video with a recording of the famous hymn for Vespers of St John’s Day Ut queant laxis.

The Birth of St. John the Baptist is one of the most ancient of all the Church’s feasts; it is mentioned several times by St. Augustine in his sermons, and in a Martyrology written around 440 A.D. and falsely attributed to St. Jerome. The date is determined by the words of the Gospel of St. Luke that St. John’s mother Elizabeth was six months pregnant at the time of the Annunciation (chap. 1, 36). The feast is kept on the 24th, however, where Christmas and the Annunciation are kept on the 25th of their respective months, because of a peculiar feature of the ancient Roman calendar. The Romans counted the days backwards from three points in each month, called the Kalends, the Nones and the Ides (“Kalendae”, “Nonae” and “Idus” in Latin). Thus Julius Caesar was killed on the Ides of March, which we call March 15th, but the Roman name for March 14th was “the day before the Ides of March”. Therefore, the birth of both the Savior and His Forerunner are kept seven days before the Kalends of the following months.

The feast was formerly kept with two different Masses, one of which was to be said early in the morning, and the other after Terce. This custom gradually died out and was observed only in a very few places at the time of the Tridentine liturgical reform; the Mass in the Missal of St. Pius V is the second of these two. St. Augustine notes that John the Baptist is the only Saint whose birth the Church celebrates apart from that of the Savior Himself, the feast of Our Lady’s Birth having not yet been instituted in his time. This custom is observed in fulfillment of the words of the Angel Gabriel to John’s father Zachariah that “Many shall rejoice in his birth,” (Luke 1, 14) which are read on the vigil the day before.

The Gospel of the vigil, Luke 1, 5-17, was formerly continued at the first Mass of the feast with verses 18-25, recounting Zachariah’s doubt and punishment, and the conception of the Baptist, ending with the words of his mother, “Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he hath had regard to take away my reproach among men.” The Gospel of the second (now only) Mass, Luke 1, 57-68, is one of very few that does not begin with the words “At that time,” but rather starts directly with “Elizabeth’s full time of being delivered was come, and she brought forth a son.” The name of St John’s mother is also the first word of the first antiphon of Lauds and Vespers, which reflects the fact that it was she, and not Zachariah, who declared St John’s name, the name which, as St Ambrose notes, “Elizabeth learned by prophecy, ... not from her husband.”

A 16th-century Russian icon of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. The arrangement of the figures is very similar to that of icons of the birth of the Virgin Mary, but here Zachariah is shown at the foot of the bed writing “John is his name.”  
The liturgical commentator William Durandus, writing at the end of the 13th century, says that “the Church solemnizes three births, namely, those of John the Baptist, the Blessed Mary, and Christ. And indeed John was the morning-star, for just as the morning-star precedes the sun, so he preceded Christ; for he preached Him first. Mary was the dawn. The birth of Christ was the rising of the sun, because in Him the splendor of the Father appeared.” (Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, 7, 28) The feasts of the Birth of Christ and of John the Baptist are preceded by penitential vigils, Masses celebrated in violet, without the Gloria in excelsis or Alleluia, since John preached a baptism of repentance, and Christ came to call sinners, but the Virgin had no need of repentance, and so the feast of Her birth has no vigil.

It has often been noted that the days of the year begin to grow shorter right after the Birth of John the Baptist, which is three days after the summer solstice, and begin to grow longer right after the Birth of Christ, four days after the winter solstice. The priest who taught me to serve the traditional Mass once explained in a beautiful homily of two sentences how this symbolizes the words in which St. John “summed up the entire Gospel in a single sentence, ‘I must decrease, that He may increase.’ ” (John 3, 30)

Many popular customs are attached to this feast. Durandus notes that it was a custom in places to make bonfires of the bones of animals, to drive away evil influences (such as dragons!) that were believed to pollute the waters in summertime, a custom which he is astute enough to note was inherited “from the gentiles”. But he also notes that bones were burned to commemorate the fact that the bones of John the Baptist were burnt “in the city of Sebaste.” (Rationale 7, 14) In point of fact, to this day, the city of Genoa preserves in its cathedral relics that are venerated as the ashes of St. John the Baptist, the tradition being that the bones were deliberately burnt to make the relics easier to transport and hide from iconoclasts. As any good medieval liturgist would, Durandus also sees in this custom an allegory of the passing of the Old Law and the coming of the New, noting that torches were also made of the bones to symbolize that John was “the light, the lantern that burned and preceded, the forerunner of the true light that enlighteneth every man.” A vestige of this custom is preserved in the Rituale Romanum of Pope Paul V, which provides for a blessing of a fire on the eve of St. John.

It is also a well-known fact that the Vesper hymn of St. John provided the names of the notes for the first diatonic scale, noted by Guido of Arezzo in the 11th century. The opening stanza reads
Ut queant laxis / resonare fibris
Mira gestorum / famuli tuorum,
Solve polluti / labii reatum,
   Sancte Ioannes.
The six notes of the original scale are named for the syllables at the beginning of each half-line, each such syllable occurring on a higher note than the one preceding. The names of the notes were thus originally, “ut – re – mi – fa – sol – la”; the scale was later increased to seven notes with the addition of “si”, from “Sancte Ioannes”. In Italian, “ut” was changed to “do” to make it easier to pronounce and sing, since words do not end in hard consonants in Italian, and “si” was changed to “ti” in the English-speaking word in the 19th century.

Less well known is the story of how the hymn was composed by a monk of Monte Cassino called Paul the Deacon, who also wrote an important “History of the Lombards”, and compiled the collection of homilies and sermons which forms the traditional corpus of patristic writings in the Divine Office. According to Durandus, Paul had lost his voice one Easter when he was supposed to sing the Exsultet, and “wrote the hymn Ut queant laxis in honor of John the Baptist that his voice might be restored, at the beginning of which he asks for the restoration of his voice, which he obtained, as it was also restored to Zachariah by the merits of St. John.” (Rationale ibid.)
So that these thy servants can, with all their voice, sing thy wondrous deeds, clean the blemish of our spotted lips, O Saint John! 
The Birth of John the Baptist, by Domenico Ghirlandaio, in the Tornabuoni Chapel of Santa Maria Novella, the Dominican parish in Florence, 1485-1490.

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