Monday, June 27, 2016

Incense as the Sacramental of Devotion

Dirigatur, Domine, oratio mea, sicut incensum in conspectu tuo. Let my prayer, O Lord, be directed as incense in Thy sight. (Psalm 140[141]:2)

St. Thomas Aquinas, in the fourth book of his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, states: “Figures that signify what should always be done should not end, as is clear in the example of using incense, which signifies devotion.”[1] In context, Aquinas is arguing about whether circumcision should cease once baptism is in place, but what I was struck by is his matter-of-fact statement — said without any fear of contradiction — that the use of incense is just one of those symbols that we will always be using in our rites, since it signifies devotion, which ought always to be present.

At this point in the text, the editors of the Parma edition of Aquinas decided to insert a lengthy note, which is rather unusual. Evidently they thought readers would wish to know just how and when incense was used to express devotion:
Incense in Italy was not used in antiquity in the sacred rites of the Gentiles. Each one used to bring to the gods what he had at hand: honey, wine, milk, but mostly fruits or the first fruits; then they used to give those things that come from grains, like spelt and liba (cakes).  However, after this incense was imported from Arabia into Greece and Italy, although it was brought at great expense to Rome, people of every class could nevertheless purchase a little bit easily, even the poorest, which they would use as an offering.  The poor would offer three grains of incense with their three fingers. But the use of incense in the cult of the true God is extremely ancient. Whence Henry Cannegieter [1691-1770] must be rebuked for asserting the following propositions: 1) Christians abhorred the use of incense in the Sacred Rites or Mass. 2) There were no thymiamata [resin compositions of incense] in the ancient Church.[2]
Where Henry Cannegieter doubted the use of incense in the ancient Church or in the Mass, considering it an abomination, G. W. F. Hegel in Phenomenology of Spirit considered its use a sign of “the Unhappy Consciousness,” which, for him,
is only a movement towards thinking, and so is devotion. Its thinking as such is no more than the chaotic jingling of bells, or a mist of warm incense, a musical thinking that does not get as far as the Notion [or Concept], which would be the sole, immanent objective mode of thought. . . . What we have here, then, is the inward movement of the pure heart which feels itself, but itself as agonizingly self-divided, the movement of an infinite yearning . . . . At the same time, however, this essence is the unattainable beyond which, in being laid hold of, flees, or rather has already flown.[3]
For Hegel, devotion means abortive thinking, a gesturing towards conceptual clarity without attaining it. Devotion substitutes the ringing of bells and clouds of incense for rigorous thought; it settles for music rather than science. Yet what I find so delightfully odd is that Hegel has portrayed not an imperfection but, on the contrary, one important reason why the Christian is superior to the mere logician or scientist: the fact that the Christian is possessed of an infinite longing for the divine — this, a gift of God’s grace! — and that he is agonizingly self-divided, since he sees in himself, fallen creature that he is, both a renewed spirit that belongs to Christ and an old Adam that stubbornly clings to the earth. It is precisely through the virtue of devotion that he yields himself up again and again, like incense, to God, as to one who is not only ineffable and inaccessible but also nearer to me than I am to myself, present in all things as the one who holds them in being and endows them with their forms, capacities, energies, and destinies. It is only from the unbeliever that devotion’s object flees or has flown, only to him that it is unattainably beyond.

The saint has become incense that burns upwards to God and in so doing diffuses to men the sweet fragrance of divine gifts. He is flame that, in the intensity of his desire to keep burning and set others aflame, consumes whatever dares oppose it, the last remnants of selfish preoccupations and preferences. In unison with all voices of the Catholic tradition, St. Thomas teaches that holiness — which in one place he defines as “purity consecrated to God”[4] — is judged strictly in terms of charity, whereby one’s very self is handed over, yielded up, made wholly sacred.

We can learn much from pondering the narrow-mindedness of Cannegieter and Hegel. Cannegieter thinks the use of incense either superfluous or idolatrous; Hegel thinks it primitive and prephilosophical. For the one it is a form of excess, for the other a defect or retardation. What neither seems to grasp is the realm of symbol as symbol, and man as homo liturgicus whose path between creation and eternity is strewn with signs that clue him in or lead him astray. We cannot not be immersed in a world of signs; our only choice is which signs to surround ourselves with and what to make of them. Indeed, the result of iconoclasm and minimalism is the anti-trinitarian sign of emptiness, coldness, and barrenness, as we have seen and heard in all too many modern churches and liturgies.

It was fashionable for people in the sixties and seventies to talk about how Catholics had “grown up” (or how they needed to grow up… with a finger wagged at the stubborn folks who clung to the old ways), and thus had outgrown the need for medieval accretions and Baroque courtly excrescences. But such talk betrays an utterly superficial way of thinking, a fusion of the imbecilities of Cannegieter and Hegel. In reality, man matures by growing out to the things he loves and the signs he communicates with, and growing in to his own soul, which is experienced as more real and more important than the ephemeral and transient world.

This is the Christian addressed by (and, in a certain sense, created by) the traditional liturgy. This liturgy, too, has matured over great ages, expanding outward to encompass all the symbols it could reach, and moving inward by developing fully its own inner potentialities, becoming ever more itself.[5] This liturgy beckons and forms man in its image. Its sign-saturation becomes, over time, our sign-language. We think and feel in the images, words, and gestures it offers to us and inculcates in us.

Let us remember, with St. Thomas, the profound symbolism of incense, which should be in front of our eyes, filling our nostrils, clouding our imagination, and concentrating our minds. Its burning up, releasing billows of smoke and fragrance, is the offering of our hearts to God in sweet sacrifice that lifts us up to His throne in adoration. It is the outward sign of our inward devotion, and while it does not effect what it signifies, it affects what it permeates.


[1] In IV Sent., d. 1, q. 2, art. 5, qa. 1, obj. 3: “Praeterea, figuralia quae significant id quod semper faciendum est, non debet cessare, sicut de thurificatione, quae significat devotionem, patet.”

[2] “Thus in Italia non erat antiquitus adhibitum in Sacris Deorum Gentilium. Quisque ad Deos ferebat quod obvium erat, mel, vinum, lac, plerique vero fruges, aut frugum primitias; deinde dabant quae ex frugibus his fiebant, farra et liba. Verum posteaquam Thus ex Arabia in Graeciam, atque in Italiam advectum est, quanquam magnis impensis Romam asportabatur, facile tamen tantillum inde comparabant cujusque fortunae homines etiam tenuissimi, quod Deo libarent. Pauperes tribus digitis tria grana thuris offerebant. Sed thuris usus in cultu veri Dei antiquissimus est. Unde reprobandus est Henricus Cannegieter asserens propositiones sequentes: 1. Christiani abhorruerunt a thuris usu in sacris; 2. Thymiamata ex thure in vetere Ecclesia nulla fuerunt.”

[3] Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), §217, p. 131.

[4] “Sanctitas enim importat puritatem consecratam deo” (Super ad Heb. 7, lec. 4). At Summa theologiae II-II, q. 81, a. 8, Thomas notes that the word sanctus may be derived from sanguine tinctus, sprinkled in blood. This purifying consecration and consecrated purity comes not from ourselves, but from Christ alone (cf. Heb. 9:14–15; Heb. 10:19; Jn. 1:12–13; 1 Th. 4:3).

[5] Nota bene, ever more itself—which is precisely why one must question the bizarre Byzantinisms grafted on to the Roman rite in the liturgical reform.

EF Solemn Mass for Ss Peter and Paul Near Vancouver

Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, will hold a Solemn Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the feast of Ss Peter and Paul this Wednesday, starting at 7 pm. The church is located at 3141 Shaughnessy St.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

NLM at Sacred Music Colloquium XXVI

As has been true of each Colloquium in past years, the Sacred Music Colloquium XXVI in St. Louis, which concluded today, was uplifting in its liturgies, abundant in musical glories, and rich in friendships. Next year's Colloquium, in St. Paul, Minnesota, promises to be a worthy successor.

Seven members of the New Liturgical Movement site participated this year: Charles Cole, William Riccio, Fr. Robert Pasley, Peter Kwasniewski, Jennifer Donelson, William Mahrt, and Joel Morehouse. (The last two were not available for the photo.) We are standing here before the right-hand entrance of the front of the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica -- one of the most magnificent spaces in which I have ever had the privilege to sing! The Palestrina Missa Papae Marcelli, with the six seconds of resonance, truly brought us into the precincts of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Rediscovering the Imprecatory Psalms

After much debate among some members of the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy, Pope Paul VI decreed that the so-called imprecatory psalms be omitted from the new Liturgy of the Hours. Consequently, 120 verses of the Psalter, comprising three whole psalms and additional verses from nineteen others, were edited out of the official prayer of the Church. As far as I know, the question whether the (supposed) “psychological difficulty”1 and “spiritual discomfort”2 caused by these passages justifies their removal has not been widely explored in studies of the liturgical reform following Vatican II.

Father Gabriel Torretta, O.P., addresses that lacuna in a recent edition of The Thomist. In his essay “Rediscovering the Imprecatory Psalms,” Torretta first covers the history of the removal of these imprecatory verses from the liturgical hours. He then examines the state of scholarship on the nature and meaning of these passages, and extensively analyzes St Thomas Aquinas’s “subtle and fruitful” approach to the phenomenon of biblical imprecation. Thomas’s interpretive framework, Torretta argues, can bolster a broader rationale for reintroducing these sacred verses into the liturgical prayer of the Church.3 With the caveat that “any reintroduction must proceed carefully and with much education,” the author makes a useful contribution to the question of the necessity of reforming the reform, however narrowly or broadly one may conceive that project.

1 General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, no. 131.
2 Annibale Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy (1948–1975), trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1990), 503.
3 Within the Catholic Church, the question concerns only the ordinary form of the Roman Rite.

The Tomb of St Peter Martyr in Milan's Portinari Chapel

Here are some great photos from our Ambrosian correspondent Nicola de’ Grandi of the Portinari Chapel at the Basilica of St Eustorgio in Milan. They were taken during a special night-time opening made possible by a new lighting system; as one might well imagine, the Italians are extraordinarily good at this sort of thing, and more and more museums throughout the country are now offering occasional visits in the evening or night. The chapel is famous as the place where the relics of St Peter Martyr are housed in a large medieval “ark”, which, as noted last year in a guest article by our friend Dr Donald Prudlo, was designed so that the faithful could pass under it to touch and kiss it.

The ark of St Peter Martyr was carved by Giovanni di Balduccio in 1339, but has only been in the Portinari Chapel since the 18ht century. The major panels on the front show St Peter’s funeral, his canonization, and a posthumous miracle by which he saves a ship in danger.
On the back, St Peter heals a mute, causes a cloud to cover the sun while he preaches outdoors, and heals a sick man and an epileptic.
This inscription records the praises of St Peter by his confrere St Thomas Aquinas. “When St Thomas Aquinas had visited the grave of St Peter as he was traveling to France in the year 1265, wondering at so great a martyr, he said ‘A herald, lantern, fighter for Christ, for the people and for the faith, here rests, here is covered, here lies, wickedly murdered. A sweet voice to the sheep, a most pleasing light of spirits, and sword of the Word, fell by the sword of the Cathars. Christ makes him marvelous, the devout people adore him, and the Faith which he kept by martyrdom adorns him as a Saint. But Christ makes this place new signs, and new light is given to the crowd, and the Faith spread (thereby) shines in this city.”
The dome and vaults of the chapel were painted by Vincenzo Foppa from 1464-68.
On the left, the miracle of the cloud; on the right, a very famous apparition in which the devil appeared to St Peter in the guise of Virgin, but is driven off when St Peter shows him a Eucharistic Host and tells the apparition, “If you are truly the Mother of God, then adore your Son!”

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Relic of St John the Baptist

Oft in past ages, seers with hearts expectant / Sang the far-distant advent of the day-star; / thine was the glory, as the world’s Redeemer / First to proclaim him.

A reliquary of a finger of St John the Baptist, from the museum of the cathedral of Florence, where he is honored as Patron Saint of the city. Attributed to Matteo di Giovanni; first half of the 15th century.
The text given above is a rather free translation of the third stanza of the Matins hymn for today’s feast, the Nativity of St John the Baptist, taken from George Herbert Palmer’s translation of the hymns of the Sarum Breviary. The Latin is:

Ceteri tantum cecinere Vatum
Corde praesago iubar affuturum:
Tu quidem mundi scelus auferentem
Indice prodis.

Translated literally, “The rest of the prophets in their foreseeing heart told only that the day-star would come; but Thou with Thy finger reveal Him that taketh away the sin of the world.”

EF Pontifical Mass Tomorrow at Holy Innocents in NYC

On Saturday, June 25, there will be an EF Pontifical Mass at the Church of the Holy Innocents in New York City starting at 1 p.m. The church is located at 128 West 37th St.

The Mass will be celebrated by His Excellency Matthieu Madega Lebouankehan, Bishop of Mouila in Gabon. Bishop Madega is the president of Gabon’s Bishop Conference, and was the representative of the African continent on the committee during the recent Synod on the Family to oversee the draft of the final document. Additionally, Bishop Madega was one of the Bishops who signed the “Filial Appeal to His Holiness Pope Francis” asking the Holy Father to clarify and preserve Church doctrine on the family and the sacrament of matrimony.

At the end of the Mass, there will be a small reception in the parish hall where parishioners will have the opportunity to meet Bishop Madega.

Bishop Madega conferring tonsure on seminarians of the Institute of Christ the King.

Dominican School Offers Formation for Artists- Now Including Sacred Geometry and English Gothic Illumination Practicum

Here is a reminder (with some additional details) of a four-course certificate intended as a formation for artists in any creative discipline. It is an exciting new course offered by the The Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, which is part of the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley University in California. The Certificate in Theological Studies is a Master’s level, four-course (12-unit) certificate which is recommended for those who already have a working knowledge of a specific medium (visual arts, music, architecture etc.), and wish to increase their expertise with a specialized focus in the relationship of the fine arts to Catholic worship and culture. These courses are open to people not otherwise studying at the DSPT.

The new information is that I have been invited to teach the elective in the Spring 2017, which will be a practical course including the creation of a Gothic image in the style of illuminations from the 13th century School of St Albans, and sacred geometry. In the geometry course, students will construct a traditional geometric pattern as found in Cosmatesque floors of the period. In support of the practical skills, I will teach the supporting theory as described in my book, the Way of Beauty.

The approach to this certificate program assumes the “cross-disciplinary approach” between philosophy and theology that uniquely characterizes all DSPT curricula. Furthermore, in this particular program there will be a focus on the integration of theory with praxis, particularly as it applies to Catholic worship and culture. An emphasis of the outcomes of this course is on the evangelization of the culture through a well-discerned engagement with contemporary cultures, so that the artist’s creativity may be directed towards the engagement of contemporary man, without compromising the core principles of a traditional Christian culture.

The Certificate program of studies is organized by the Academic Dean of the DSPT, Fr Chris Renz; readers may remember that I highlighted his excellent article on liturgy and culture recently published in Antiphon.

Fr Renz will use my book the Way of Beauty as one of the texts for the opening course of the Certificate program. Anyone who has read any of my writings over the years will see why I am enthusiastic about this – these themes of inculturation, worship and fresh creativity are at the heart of my own ideas about the evangelization of the culture.

The first course of the four to be offered this coming Fall is called the Foundational Principles of Catholic Liturgy and Worship. To complete the Certificate in Theological Studies program with a specialization in Sacred Arts, the student must complete the four courses indicated below, typically over two or more semesters.
1. Foundational Principles of Catholic Liturgy and Worship (next offered Fall 2016)
2. Liturgical Piety: Anthropological Foundations of Catholic Worship (next offered Spring 2017)
3. One elective offering from any advisor-approved Religion and the Arts course. These are the courses that will particularly focus on practical elements, such as painting.
4. Christian Iconography (offered Fall 2016)

The format for all courses is once-per-week for just under 3 hours. They will typically be offered on a weekday, which means that you have to be within traveling distance of Berkeley, California in order to take it.

The named goals are:
• to imbue students with an understanding of sacred art and its relationship to sacred liturgy;
• to provide students with the philosophical and theological foundations for the anthropological as well as the transcendent aspects of art;
• to provide basic principles for using the fine arts as a vehicle for “preaching the gospel” to the contemporary culture.

Application Process 

Applicants must complete the DSPT Certificate of Theological Studies application (found at the DSPT website), including a statement of purpose, official transcript, and two letters of recommendation. Application is on a rolling admission process.

Tuition and Fees 

Tuition rate for 2016-2017 academic year is $715 per semester unit (all courses are 3 units). For further information, contact Fr. Chris Renz, O.P. at, or 510-883-2084. You can read about this course on the DSPT website at

Thursday, June 23, 2016

164 Stained Glass Windows (Church of St Paul in Westerville, Ohio)

Our thanks to Mr Mark Cousineau for providing us these photos of the church of St Paul the Apostle in Westerville, Ohio, and to Mr Bruce Buchanan for his description of the project to install in the church 164 stained glass windows, many of which were rescued from recently closed churches in the Diocese of Cleveland. The project was just completed a few days a Click here to read an article about the project from the Columbus Dispatch, which quotes Dennis McNamara, whom we have featured here many times, one the return to traditional church designs, and away from “churches that look like airplane hangars.” 

In June 2010, the church of Saint Paul the Apostle in Westerville, Ohio, celebrated the dedication of its new building. About a year earlier, the artists and craftsmen of Cleveland-based Henningers Inc started work on what would eventually be 164 new and refurbished stained glass windows for the new building. Now, years later, the last of these windows are finally being installed, the end of a long and complicated process.

Working on a window of Our Lady of t Carmel
The finished product, along with St Sebastian
In 2009, the parish was about to begin construction of a new church, the third building in its history, and the largest Catholic Church in Ohio. As the building project itself was such a large one, there were no immediate plans for stained glass; that would come later, or so it was thought. The Diocese of Cleveland, however, had just undergone a significant downsizing and consolidated many of its parishes, leaving many buildings empty, and a great many stained glass windows in crates. The opportunity to re-use these discarded windows was one which could not be passed up.

Saint Paul purchased stained glass windows, all between 70 to 100 years old, from three separate closed churches. One set had incredibly colorful geometric patterns and dozens of medallions of saints and religious symbols, another group had large narrative scenes of the New and Old Testament, with ornate painted scrollwork borders. The third set had large round windows with scenes from the life of Christ. All of the windows were beautiful in their own way, but markedly different in style; the challenge would be to synthesize the windows into a cohesive overall scheme.

A decorative zig-zag border pattern was pulled from the geometric windows, then copied and used in
every new window in the church. The elaborately painted scrollwork from the narrative windows was duplicated and repeated in nameplates and decorative flourishes throughout the church, while stenciled rosettes were copied and incorporated in newly created windows over the front doors. A new background grid pattern of brown and clear swirled glass would provide a unifying framework for the various scenes and saints and symbols. Every window in the church was designed to fit in the new openings with mixed stylistic elements that could harmoniously sit together.

Given that the windows were so old, they all benefited from being taken apart, cleaned, and rebuilt with new lead, a typical procedure with older, time-worn stained glass panels. Once apart, they could be re-arranged to the new specifications. Some parts, like the geometric knot patterns and the painted scenes were rebuilt exactly as they had been. Other decorative painted pieces were too good not to re-purpose and incorporate wherever possible. New glass borders and backgrounds were cut to frame the painted scenes and medallions.

There were dozens of windows to re-arrange and fit into the new church’s design scheme, but one could hardly expect the found treasures to meet all of the needs of the new church. There were Saints and symbols that would need to be made from scratch to match the old glass. In the end, two dozen new medallions were painted to complete the clerestory, confessionals, and shrines. A series of 40 new standing-figure Saint windows were created to line the ambulatory around the perimeter of the church. Working with the parish and the donors to design the medallions and Saint windows was an incredible learning process, which gave us the opportunity to research lesser known Saints and learn more about the ones we thought we knew.

St Charles Borromeo
Preparatory work for a window of St Damian of Molokai, and the final product.
Perhaps the most satisfying design challenge of the whole project was the 12 foot rose window, with a crucifixion scene surrounded by twelve petals. The image of Christ on the cross with adoring angels was originally a tall thin lancet in three panels. Here, new glass was added to expand the sky and clouds and make a round center for the rose. The twelve petals around it, while mostly new, incorporate old glass and design motifs from all of the churches from which the old stained glass had been purchased. This kaleidoscope of glass is a new creation made from the old, so that the grandest window of this new church pays homage to the old churches that made this project possible.

Over the course of the years, it has been satisfying to see Saint Paul the Apostle Church slowly filled with stained glass. Bit by bit, window by window, patron by patron, the place has been transformed. It will be satisfying to install the last of the remaining windows, but the biggest change came last December when the final windows in the sanctuary itself were installed. The natural light in the church was forever changed. The outside world was obscured, and the sacred space inside felt different, becoming quieter and more serene. Old stained glass windows that had watched over worshippers for 100 years were once again doing their work.

(more pictures below)

Why We Do What We Do

Here at the 26th Annual Colloquium of the Church Music Association of America, at Masses, workshops, sessions, rehearsals, and plenary talks, the various speakers are quite literally “preaching to the choir.” Of course we’re all in it because we love excellent sacred liturgy in all its aspects: beautiful music, fine visual arts, reverent clergy, well-prepared servers, and resounding participation. In such circumstances, it’s easy to find support and encouragement for the often thankless work we do in our home parishes.

But one might ask, why do we do what we do? 
I once heard a little story, which I will re-tell here for the truth it illustrates. A pious little lady once came upon an old man working diligently in a beautiful perennial garden. “Why, isn’t God’s creation wonderful? Look at all of these flowers he created, with such variety and color. What a beautiful garden God made!” The old man responded, “You should have seen the garden when God had it all to himself… it was nothing but weeds!” Horticulture reveals the beauty of creation in greater variety and intensity.

As bearers of the image of God the Creator, and following Adam himself, our most basic vocation is to tend God's garden, to cultivate and create using the material and plot God has given us. As musicians, liturgists, pastors, and really as human beings, we’re given opportunity either to cultivate or neglect these little “gardens.” Our life's work is arranging the "plants" in a proper relationship with the sun and each other (Matthew 22:36-40).

Our “cultus” or "worship" stems from what we cultivate, from what we love most deeply. What we hold in highest esteem will, without a doubt, inform and direct our worship and our character. For this reason, we ought to cultivate "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, [whatever is] excellent or praiseworthy..." (Philippians 4:8).  Culture, a word very much related to "cultus," is not just what turns milk into cheese; it is the outworking of our mores and deepest values. Culture is the fruit of the things we cultivate. Culture in this sense is part of our conversion. Not to create, not to cultivate, not to care, not to "work at it," is a violation of the best and most fundamental aspect of our identity, the imago dei that we bear. Accordingly, worship requires the cultivation of the arts. We must not neglect the "garden" God his given us.

Speaking of our relationship to each other and to the "sun," Catholic culture, worship, and community, if they are truly rooted in the Incarnation, must maintain a healthy and sustaining relationship with our tradition, because we preach the life, death, and resurrection of the real, historical Jesus. There is one story of salvation and one Messiah, and he is the "root" (Rev. 22:16). The leaf can neither curse the branch, nor the trunk, nor the root. If it does, it will wither (John 15:6).

To claim that Catholics simply "got it dead wrong" for centuries until Martin Luther came along, or the Second Vatican Council came along, or Karl Rahner came along, or really any other person or movement came along, is to deny the ongoing and irrevocable action in every age of the Holy Spirit, the teacher Jesus promised would "lead us into all truth" (John 16:13). What hubris! Rather, there is no "new" and "old," no "hard break" with the past, but rather all things are made new for those who remain in Christ, who is the fullness of God's revelation (II Cor 5:17). And so our relationship with tradition must be healthy and sustaining, and our future must be understood in a hermeneutic of continuity with our past. It's never the root or the trunk that is pruned and tossed aside, but rather the withered branches which do not bear eternal fruit.

The crisis of liturgy and sacred music today is not a mere question of taste. It is the garden left untended. It is the withering leaf that cursed the branch. It is the lukewarm pablum, neither hot nor cold, which even God himself wants to spit from his mouth (Rev. 3:14-18).

The 26th CMAA Colloquium wins high marks for good taste; for loving, diligent, and scholarly renditions of sacred music in their proper liturgical context; and perhaps most interestingly for outsiders -- diversity. Musical selections range from medieval chants, Esquivel, Byrd, and Purcell to Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcellae; Sweelinck, Bach, and Lotti to Mozart's Sparrow Mass; Stanford, Franck, and Bruckner to new compositions by Frank La Rocca, not to mention numerous modern chant adaptations. New compositions written by participants are read and critiqued each day. The repertoire spans centuries and continents. Diversity is not only present in the repertoire, it is present in the participants. Men and women are equally represented; and numerous clergy and religious representing dozens of dioceses, monasteries, and congregations are participating alongside laypersons of all stripes. As a participant, the overwhelming feeling is, to quote Rosie the Riveter, "we can do it." Whether you are keen on simple or complex, easy or difficult, ancient or modern, beauty is within your reach. There are flowers that can bloom in your "garden" with just a little care and effort.

CMAA is growing and building a future on quality foundations. Young musicians and young priests from across the country and the world are majority of the attendees at this conference. The participants I met are quality people pursuing advanced degrees, working in growing parishes and cathedrals, and teaching in schools, colleges, seminaries, and universities. Look out! This is the future, folks; and this is why we do what we do. We love Sacred Music: we love our story, we love our God, and we love each other. Not to mention, it's fun! 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

CMAA Colloquium Day 1

Rev. Jason J. Schumer, Director of Worship and Assistant Professor at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, St. Louis, celebrated Holy Mass in the Ordinary Form at the Pro-Cathedral of St. John. Dr. Paul Weber was organist, performing J.S. Bach's Prelude and Fugue in Eb Major, BVW 552. Dr. Horst Buchholz composed the Mass Ordinaries.
"Every Liturgical a sacred action surpassing all others." Sacrosanctum Concilium I.1.7
"Do you promise to celebrate faithfully and reverently the mysteries of Christ... especially the Sacrifice of the Eucharist...?" Rite of Ordination
A copy of Raphael's Transfiguration (1520) adorns the apse
Various choirs from the Colloquium sung throughout the Mass
Dr. Paul Weber at the console of the Wicks/Hauptwerk organ

Bishop Athanasius Schneider to Pontificate in Rhode Island, June 28–29

Readers in New England may want to know that Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who is becoming ever more widely known in traditional Catholic circles (e.g., here, here, and here), will visit Holy Ghost Church in Tiverton, Rhode Island, next week.
On Tuesday, June 28th, at 6:00 pm, he will speak on the crisis of faith in the world today ($10 ticket required) and then preside at Solemn Vespers in the ordinary form (Latin and English). A reception in the church hall will follow. Copies of his book Dominus Est—It Is the Lord! will be available for purchase.
On Wednesday, June 29th, at 6:00 pm, he will celebrate Solemn Pontifical Mass at the faldstool (extraordinary form) for the Feast of SS Peter & Paul.
For tickets and more information, visit the parish website.

A New Institute for the Study of Scholastic Theology and Philosophy

We recently receive this information about The Scholasticum, a new institute for the study of scholastic theology and philosophy which has recently been established in Bagnoregio, Italy, the native city of St Bonaventure. You can see their website at is link; Also, see the poster below.

In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI, a great student and admirer of St. Bonaventure, made a pastoral visit to Bagnoregio, the saint’s hometown. On that historic visit, the Pope gave a speech about St. Bonaventure in which he invited priests “to learn from this great Doctor of the Church, to deepen their knowledge of his teaching on wisdom rooted in Christ.” Since that time, there has been renewed interest in Bagnoregio as a tourist destination.

In the summer of 2016 the Scholasticum Institute, a graduate institution dedicated to the Scholastic Theology of St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio and St. Thomas Aquinas, opened its doors in the very town where Bonaventure was raised and where Benedict XVI urged further study of the Seraphic Doctor of the Church.

Pope Sixtus V explained the importance of Scholastic Theology: “[T]here has been discovered by Our ancestors, most wise men, Scholastic Theology, which two Doctors glorious above all, the angelic Saint Thomas, and the seraphic Saint Bonaventure, most brilliant professors in this capacity…with excellent genius, assiduous study, great labors and vigils have refined and decorated, and have passed on to those who would come after…” He went on to say that “a salutary understanding and practice of this science [Scholastic Theology]… could certainly always bring the greatest assistance to the Church.” (Triumphantis Hierusalem, § 10)

The Scholasticum is the only institute dedicated to reviving the study of Scholastic Theology in the modern world. Students can pursue graduate programs in Medieval Philosophy, Medieval Biblical Studies, and the Scholastic Theology of St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas. These three cycles of two years each will not simply teach about Scholastic Theology, rather they aim at reproducing the course of study in thirteenth-century Paris that produced St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure. Since the mastery of Latin is a prerequisite to any thorough treatment of Philosophy and Theology, the Scholasticum also offers a premier education in the language of the Church, which can be taken as a prerequisite course of study or for its own sake. While our immediate object is to study the works of the greatest minds of Scholasticism, we hope to form thinkers who will be the Thomases and Bonaventures of tomorrow.

In God’s Providence, the Scholasticum has obtained a 25-year lease on the Franciscan Convent in Bagnoregio. As a result, the institute can offer a world-class education with extremely inexpensive room and board for those who choose to enjoy the historic buildings, town, and landscape in residence. The institute also offers residential students a two-week special course on The Manuscript Libraries of Rome and several trips to medieval sites of special interest.

One characteristic that sets Scholasticum apart is that students have the option of studying telematically (i.e., through the Internet) from anywhere in the world. In fact, a number of the courses are taught through video conferencing by professors who are engaged in cutting-edge research related to Scholastic Theology at universities throughout North America and Western Europe. This pioneering approach to collecting expert faculty has created a concentration of youthful zeal and scholastic competency that could hardly be matched by a traditional institution.

Our faculty are enthusiastic about advancing Scholastic Theology and thereby the good of the Church. They are a sign of hope for the future in an age where so much seems to have gone wrong. The time is ripe for a revival of Scholastic Theology, and students graduating from the Scholasticum will be in the best position to bring this about, for the good of the church and of the whole world. Considering the low cost and the immeasurably high value of learning to practice theology like two of the Church’s greatest theologians, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure, the Scholasticum offers the opportunity of a lifetime, or perhaps of a millennium.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

FSSP Ordinations in Auxerre Cathedral

The website of the Fraternity of St Peter’s European seminary at Wigratzbad, Germany, has posted photographs of the priestly ordinations held this past Saturday in the cathedral of Auxerre, France. His Eminence Jean-Pierre Cardinal Ricard, archbishop of Bordeaux, ordained Fathers Pierre-Emmanuel Bonnin, Cyrille Perret, Antoine de Nazelle et Sébastien Damaggio. (Shown from left to right before processing into the church.)

Here is a just a small selection (which was not easy to make among so many beautiful images) of the more than 200 photos; the complete set can be seen via Googlephotos or Flickr. Below the break, you can see a photo of one of the most beautiful customs associated with the traditional ordination rite, although not formally part of it. After the priest’s hands are anointed, they are bound with a cloth to keep the oil in place for the rest of the ordination ritual. Once the ritual is complete, he presents the cloth to his mother; it is a long-standing tradition that when a priest’s mother dies, she is buried with the cloth between her hands, to symbolize that she gave a priest to God, and will be rewarded for this in heaven. (Last year, we posted a photo of a priest giving the cloth to his mother to our Instagram account, which automatically reposts everything to our Facebook page, where it surpassed every record for views and likes by an enormous margin.)

NLM is very happy to offer warmest congratulations to the newly ordained priests and to their families, as well as to the Fraternity of St Peter, and likewise, our thanks to Card. Ricard for his pastoral solicitude on behalf of the Fraternity and the faithful who follow the traditional liturgy. In this season when so many priestly ordinations are taking place throughout the world, let us remember to thank God for all the blessings and mercies He gives us through the ministry of the priesthood, for the families in whom religious vocations are born and fostered, to pray for their increase, and for all of our bishops and clergy.

The sermon, preached at the beginning of the ceremony, rather than after the Gospel.
Fr John Berg, the Superior General of the F.S.S.P., reads the call to orders.

Towards the end of the Litany of the Saints, (for which the ordinands proestrate, while all other kneel) the bishop rises, receives his crook and miter, then turns to the ordinands, and sings the invocations, “That Thou may deign to bless + these chosen ones. - That Thou may deign to bless + and sancti+fy these chosen ones. - That Thou may deign bless +, sancti+fy and conse+create these chosen ones.”, making the sign of the Cross over there where I have put the + sign.
The imposition of hands by the Bishop.

Modern Russian Iconographers Who Break the Rules but Conform to the Principles

Thanks to Gina Switzer (an artist whose decorated Easter candles have been featured on the NLM to great interest) for drawing my attention to this write-up in the Orthodox Arts Journal of an exhibition that took place in Moscow earlier this year, a presentation of contemporary Russian icon painters.

What is interesting is the variety of styles on dsiplay that nevertheless all sit within bounds of what could legitimately be considered a holy icon. Many incorporate stylistic features that might not have been seen in the icons of Rublev in the 15th century. I would characterize what they are doing in the following way: the artist may be breaking past rules, but they never contravene the timeless principles that define the tradition. In the way I am using these words, a “rule” is precise and unbending, the particular application of a “principle” suited to a particular time and place. For example, a rule would be “only use gold for the background in an icon,” which is what I was told when I first started to learn iconography. The underlying principle, on the other hand, is flexible, and is applied in different ways according the needs of the time and place. The principle behind the use of gold for backgrounds is that the background must seem flat and not create the illusion of space, in order to suggest the heavenly realm which is outside time and space. If you look at such icons, you see a variety of background colors and even geometric patterned art, something I was told in my first icon classes should never be seen in an icon! However, they can all be used to suggest flatness, and therefore work well in conforming to the underlying principle.

Similarly, when I first learned icon painting I was told that I had to start with a dark background, and then build the form by putting successive layers of lighter toned paint on top; there was even a theological argument used to justify this. Then it was discovered that ancient iconographers used a method whereby a monochrome underpainting was laid down first, and then both light and dark transparent layers washes of paint were put over it. Because the end result - what the final icon actually looks like - was the most important principle, my icon-painting teacher immediately adopted this quicker and easier method of building form.

This flexibility is the sign of a vibrant living tradition, one in which individual expression is allowed, but always in conformity to the principles that define it. As a result, the tradition reinvents itself with each new generation and so is able to connect with the people of its day. No tradition can rely exclusively on its canon of past works to maintain its relevance; it must always create anew, or else it will die. 

This is what Benedict XVI calls for in his analysis of culture in his book, Sing a New Song, in which he explains that it is the responsibility of the artist to connect with people beyond the esoteric circle of the artists and academics who “understand” the tradition. In Benedict’s phrase, he must connect with “the many.” Furthermore, he says that it is “the mark of true creativity” that the artist is able to do this. In other words, the responsibility of the artist is to be popular by creating good and beautiful works of art.

Art that is popular isn’t necessarily good, but the very best art will be popular. If the most popular aspects of mass culture today are not edifying and uplifting, then it is the responsibility of Christian artists to produce work that is and which, importantly, connects with modern people. If the artists fail to do so, the fault lies not with the audience, but with the artists for failing to create something that is beautiful enough to command a decent price. This simple test of quality is often seen as too harsh, and I find that there is resistance to it from practicing artists, especially those whose work doesn’t sell.
It is to the credit to those who in the mid-20th century reestablished the iconographic tradition in its modern form, that they laid down the foundational principle that allowed for the right sort of flexibility, and so created a living tradition. These people were Russian ex-pats living in France in the mid-20th century, most notably Vladimir Lossky and Leonid Ouspensky. Lossky was a theologian, Ouspensky was a practicing artist as well as a deep thinker. A third artist whose work was influential in the same regard was Gregory Kroug.

Oupensky and Lossky had to develop the greater part of these principles themselves. There were no detailed writings about art by the Church Fathers that they could draw on to define the stylistic elements in the way that was necessary to guide artists, and which anyone who has done an icon class will hear from his teacher. They analysed icons that they judged to be good and holy, and developed a theology of form that seemed consistent with what they were looking at. This is what artists needed in order to create work. The principles of this newly established iconographic tradition tell us not so much what artists did in the past, but rather what artists ought to do in the future in order to produce work that bears the mark of the holy icon.

The test of the validity of this is not historical accuracy of the principles as proposed, but rather the quality of the work produced by the artists who follow them, and the resilience of the tradition they established - can it outlast the generation that created it? We simply don’t know if the formulae that Ouspensky and Lossky developed correspond precisely to what Rublev would have been aiming for hundreds of years ago.

I feel that iconography has passed the test. We are now several generations of teachers and students past Ouspensky. The very best of today’s icon painters are producing icons in this style that stand alongside the great works of the past. and moreover, they are engaging with modern people in the place where they are meant to, in the context of the liturgy.

The analysis of these 20th century Russian ex-pats may very well have little credibility in the art history departments of our secular universities, where, I am guessing, it would be dismissed as purely personal speculation. But that doesn’t prevent what they proposed from being good and valid, given the end that they had in mind, namely, the creation of beautiful art that is in harmony with the liturgy.

I have to admit that I do not know how flexible Ouspensky and Lossky were themselves in their presentation of this. I once had some excellent classes from someone who was taught directly by Ouspensky in Paris, and who constantly referred to him. The instructions of how to do it were presented as inviolable laws; there was no room for discussion, and from the way that she described Ouspensky, it seems this is how it was presented to her. Nevertheless, she did explain the reason for the rule in each case. Once we understand why we are doing something - the end towards which the rule is directed - then regardless of how flexible Ouspensky would have been himself, this builds the possibility of changes that can be justified, provided they bring about the same end.

Even if we discover in the future that these principles are at variance with those used centuries ago - perhaps with the discovery of the some set of ancient scrolls - this in no way alters the validity of what has been developed in the 20th century. It simply gives us an alternative set of principles available to the artist who wishes to paint for the Church.

We can look to this pattern for reestablishing artistic traditions in the Western Church too. There are different things we can do. First is to work within the iconographic style and produce styles that connect with those who worship in the Roman Rite. Icon painters such as Aidan Hart have been doing this. Aidan is Orthodox, but he looks for inspiration to the styles of the Church in the West prior to the schism that were consistent with the iconographic prototype, such as the Romanesque. As a result, he is creating a 21st century style of Western iconography that connects with worshipers in the West, who worship in both the Roman and Byzantine Rites. Moreover, he passes the Benedict XVI “creativity test” - his work connects with the many and is in great demand.

The other thing that we can do is apply the Ouspensky/Lossky type of analysis to the other liturgical traditions of the Roman Church, the Gothic and the Baroque. St John Paul II understood this, and for this reason called in his Letter to Artists for a renewed dialogue between the Church and artists. The final section of my book The Way of Beauty is my attempt to do just this. You can judge for yourself the validity of what I propose, but regardless, we need our own Losskys and Ouspenkys in the Roman Church!

I present my favorites from the article - for the credits for the artists go to the Orthodox Art Journal. The one name I will mention here is the painter of the first icon below, Fr Zinon, who is perhaps the most famous icon painter of the present day.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: