Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Photopost: December 9th Rorate Mass at St Stephen’s Church in Portland, Oregon

Thank you to Daniel Page, the Director of Sacred Music at St Stephen’s Catholic Church in Portland Oregon. The celebrant is Fr Eric Andersen





Substance and Symbol, and Why Life Depends on Such Abstract Ideas

What do you see here?

I’m guessing most of you thought something like this: a clear stream with a rocky bottom and grassy banks, with ripples on the surface revealed by shimmering reflections of the sunlight. Perhaps some of you might have said, “It is a painting of a clear stream...etc.” (The painting, incidentally, is a watercolor by John Singer Sargent.)
How many of you, I wonder, had a first thought like this: I am looking H₂O molecules, silica compounds and carbon compounds?
The scientific analysis of this scene would describe in this way. Science has its place. In fact, scientific analysis, which in its broadest sense means the study of discrete parts of the whole body of Truth, is natural for man; without it, there would be very little knowledge of anything. But the analysis is only useful if we subsequently synthesize, that is, understand it in relation to everything else that we know. We are as inclined to synthesize as we are to analyse, but faculties can be either developed or stifled. I’m guessing that even the most scientifically inclined would, unless specifically asked to give a scientific analysis, look at this scene and describe rocks and stream and grass. 
Put one thing in relation to another, and something new, a relationship, is created out of nothing. Put many things in relation to each other, and we have a network of relationships, which, together with its constituent elements become a community of beings. In this case “a rock.” Philosophically, we call the created entity a “substance” and, for the Christian at least, it is a real thing. Mountains, skies, plants, animals and people are more than simply atoms obeying the laws of physics and chemistry. 
If we see a rock in this picture, this indicates that, whether we are aware of it or not, we recognize the whole to be more than the aggregate of its individual parts. When you put all the silica compounds in that rock in relation to each other, the result is a new entity, something that exists in its own right, something that previously did not exist and is brought into being by virtue of the reality of the relationships between its parts. 
This applies to society as well by the way. It is often said (particularly by Catholic critics) that the American Constitution is flawed because it views man as an individual, and hence wrongly envisions society as the sum of individual actions. I would say that it is not wrong to see society as the sum of its individual parts, rather, that it is an incomplete description. Whether that incompleteness is crucial to the validity of the American Constitution is a discussion for another time and probably another place (I can hear my editor sighing with relief at this point), but my point here is that all beings are simultaneously both individual entities and beings in relation. 
Does it matter what we think we are looking at in such a situation? Not always, but in one crucial way, I would say yes. For without substance, there is no symbolism. And without relation, we have no sense of the symbolic, and our capacity to be in relation to God is eroded, at the very least, and in some cases eradicated.
Here’s why. Take a look at this traditional font:
It is eight-sided to symbolise the Eighth Day of Creation, the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The number 8, communicated through the shape of the font, connects the font to Christ. In so doing, through the symbol of the font, and the baptisms that take place in it, our minds solidify and deepen something that is already true but more dimly perceived, that we are in relation to Christ Himself. 
None of this would be possible if we did not think the number 8, the font, baptism and were real things, and not simply a collection of ideas or random groupings of molecules fluctuating in time, and which are interconnected only in my imagination. If we perceive the font as something real, then we are more like to think the same of what it points to, namely, Christ and all the spiritual realities connected to the font.
Similarly, all of creation, and all the works of man in the culture (depending on how well he makes them) point to God, through their natural relation to Him as Creator and author of inspiration. Without a sense of symbolism, we cannot read the book of Nature. All created things, through their beauty, draw us into and then beyond themselves to the source of all beauty, God. It is natural to us to see this, but this instinct can be both stimulated or dulled by our formation as people.
So what makes us read the world symbolically? I would say that it is not the study of philosophy per se. It is important to understand the philosophical principles that make this so, especially if you want to be a good artist who must know how to make an image that points to a reality. (That is why there are mandatory philosophy classes in the Master’s of Sacred Arts program at Pontifex University.) But I suggest that only rarely will the study of it in a classroom convince the student to take it as a truth to live by. Faith comes first, and philosophy imparts understanding to what is already believed.
It is interesting, for example, how modern physics - natural philosophy - now seems to support the ideas of a traditional philosophy of nature. Fr Norris Clarke, in his wonderful little book The One and the Many, explains how developments in astrophysics (he was writing in the 1980s) seem to support the idea that the universe is not a huge empty space occupied by atoms. First of all, in fact, it looks as though there even less than nothing in a vacuum! Secondly, the universe consists of bodies - substances - interacting at long or short range via relationships between them, and in accordance with the pattern of physical laws. This was fascinating for me because it harmonized even more with my beliefs about physical and spiritual realities. If I had not been a believer, however, I don’t think I would have changed my mind. Instead, I would very likely have done what most non-believing scientists do when faced with anomalies, namely, come up with an alternative hypothesis that is consistent with my atheistic worldview.
I would say instead that is the example of our lives to others, and most powerfully, the worship of God that forms us, so that we are open to believing the truth of this. This is certainly my experience. Long before I had even heard the word “transubstantiation”, I knew there was something special about that wafer of bread because of one trip to Mass. It was the actions of the people at the Brompton Oratory which communicated to me the reverence with which they held it. Later, when I started to participate myself, the same actions reinforced in me the belief with which they are consistent.
The truth of the interrelatedness of all things to each other and God was articulated centuries before Fr Clarke was alive, in Scripture. For example, the Canticle of the Three Children describes how all aspects of Creation give praise to the Lord: “O Let the Earth bless the Lord, praise him and magnify him forever.” At first, this might seem strange. The earth is an inanimate being and cannot praise Him. But it can direct our praise, provided we see it as glorious, and connect that glory to God. The language of the canticle arises from an assumed acceptance of the ideas of symbol and substance on the part of the writer.
By singing this canticle, therefore, in harmony with the three companions of Daniel in the furnace, that we are so formed so as to accept the truths it articulates. In fact, we can go further: we are not only formed, but transformed, purified by the Spirit like precious metal in a crucible. We partake of the divine nature, and through our personal relationship with Christ, enter into the mystery of the Trinity, in relation to the Father in the Spirit.

The theological symbol of the principle that establishes the relatedness of all things to each other, and ultimately to God, is light. Light flows across the divide between beings and communicates to each what it is.
To know something fully, we need more than sunlight can give us, however bright. But the uncreated light, the divine light of heaven, can impart to those who are supernaturally transformed and purified things which are otherwise not knowable. It is by this that we can know God, and see what the world around us reveals of Him.
The Doxology which is sung at Orthros in the Byzantine Rite opens with the phrase “Glory to You, O Giver of Light”, and as part of its conclusion says, “For with You is the Fountain of life, and in Your Light, we shall see light.”
The faithful are seers of light. For them, everything speaks of God, emanating from Him and directing us back to Him. And they participate in this radiance of God themselves shining with the Light of Christ which in turn draws others to Him.
This is why, in my opinion, the core aim of the process of initiation into the Catholic Church must be to make us such “seers.” This requires, therefore, first of all a liturgical catechesis that brings the symbolism and the realities they point to alive. It presupposes, of course, a form of ritual, art, music,  and architecture that speaks symbolically and sacramentally too (a big assumption, I know.)
Once we have this, then it seems to me that all other things come easily for people thus formed. Their faith will deepen every time they go to Mass and their openness to and ability to grasp all other teachings of the Church will be greater. This would involve less work than nearly all Catholic formations that do not operate on this principle, whether RCIA or Catholic high school or college, and it would be more effective.
What I describe would be the stuff of futuristic fantasy...

were it not for the fact that not only is it true,
but it offers us something greater, right here, right now! We can be the seers, ourselves shining with the Light.

New Book on Dominican Lay Brothers, Including their Liturgical Life

Although it might seem that my newly published book on Dominican lay brothers (now called "cooperator brothers") would have little to do with liturgy, it, like my book on the religious life of the medieval Italian cities, Cities of God, actually has a large liturgical component.

In Dominican Brothers: Conversi, Lay, and Cooperator Friars (Chicago: New Priory Press, 2017), I discuss the pre-Vatican-II "Office" of the brothers, that is their recitation of differing numbers of Pater nosters during their attendance at the cleric's choral office, the forms of their suffrages for the dead. and their sacramental and ritual life. In addition, I trace their work as the architects of churches, most famously of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, and as sacristans.  For the early modern period, I trace the central role of the brothers in introducing the common recitation of the Holy Rosary by all the friars in choir.

The book also includes behind-the-scenes descriptions of the debates on the transition from the Latin Divine Office to the nearly universal use of the vernacular, in which the desire to involve the brothers more directly in the liturgical life of the Order played an important role.  For this part of the history I draw on unpublished documents in the General Archives of the Order in Rome.

In addition to liturgy, the book describes many other activities of the brothers in social service, the missions, maintaining our houses, and teaching, as well as their countless martyrs in Asia, Eastern Europe, and during the Spanish Civil War. The image on the cover shows the two most famous Dominican brothers saints, Martin de Porres on the left and Juan Macias on the right.

This book would make a very suitable Christmas gift for any Dominican priest or brother. Dominican Brothers can be ordered here.

Rorate Mass This Saturday in Jersey City, NJ

The church of St Anthony of Padua in Jersey City, New Jersey, will have a Rorate Mass in the traditional rite celebrated by candlelight this coming Saturday, December 16th, starting at 6am. The church is located on Monmouth Street between 6th and 7th St.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Hand-drawn Altar Cards by Daniel Mitsui

Daniel Mitsui is an artist quite well known to readers of NLM for his exquisite work in calligraphy and iconography. He was recently commissioned to produce a set of altar cards and went at it with his customary thoroughness, ingenuity, love of detail, and delight in the Gothic aesthetic. I received a set of these cards to examine, and I must say that they are simply stunning. The overall design is harmonious and pleasing to the eye; the font comes across as strong, slightly ornate, and yet highly legible; the illuminated initials add considerable interest; and the iconographic program followed in the ample margins is a microcosm of the entire liturgical year and indeed the history of salvation. As a teacher, I found myself thinking, “I could teach a catechism course just using these altar cards.” More to the point, they embody the entire Catholic theology of the sacred liturgy.

Here are some photos; afterwards I shall quote the artist’s explanation of the iconographic program.

The central altar card (16" x 20"), with my hand for the sake of scale:

(A straight-up JPG of this card may be accessed here.)

The Gospel card and Lavabo card (each 9" × 12").


(Again, JPGs of the above two cards may be found here and here.)

The Lavabo card with my hand, for scale:

Some details of the central card:







Two details from the Gospel card:


The artist’s website offers a full explanation of the choice and arrangement of scenes, which evince a deep grasp of liturgical symbolism and patristic commentary.
The Gospel side card contains the beginning of the Gospel of St. John (In principio erat Verbum), and the pictures on it reflect the themes of Creation and Incarnation. Running down the left border and across the bottom, a series of eight small scenes illustrate the six days of Creation, with the Creation of Adam and the Creation of Eve depicted individually. Following the older iconographic tradition, and the words of the Gospel itself (Omnia per ipsum facta sunt: et sine ipse factum est nihil, quod factum est), the Creator depicted in these miniatures is God the Son. The preaching of John the Baptist appears in the historiated initial.
          In the bottom corners I drew the Annunciation and the Nativity of Jesus Christ, which begin a sequence of events in the life of Christ that runs across the bottoms of all three cards.
          It continues on the Epistle side card, with the Adoration of the Magi and the Baptism of Christ. The historiated initial and the eight small scenes depict nine of the prophecies read at the ancient ceremonies of the Easter Vigil: the Deluge and Noah’s Ark, Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea, a prophecy of Isaiah, a prophecy of Baruch, Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, another prophecy of Isaiah, the repentance of Nineveh, the Canticle of Moses and Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego in the furnace. These prophecies are associated with Baptism, and thus fitting to the psalm on the card (Lavabo inter innocentes).
          On the central card, in each of the four corners is the scene of an Old Testament prefigurement of the Eucharistic sacrifice: the Sacrifice of Abel, Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, the Sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb and the Sacrifice of Melchizedek. Three of these are mentioned in the Canon of the Mass; two of them, together with the Creation depicted on the Gospel cards and the nine prophecies depicted on the Epistle card, complete the twelve prophecies of the Easter Vigil.
          Running along the bas-de-page are six scenes from the life of Christ: the Temptation in the desert, the Transfiguration, the Last Supper, His washing St. Peter’s feet, the Resurrection and the Ascension. The historiated initials that begin the Gloria and Credo contain, respectively, pictures of the Annunciation to the Shepherds and the Descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. I drew a large picture of the Crucifixion at the top of the central column of text.
          The arrangement of scenes summarizes the liturgical year: the Gospel card represents Advent, as the Preaching of John the Baptist is the subject of the Gospel reading for the 3rd and 4th Sundays, and the Annunciation Gospel is read on the Ember Wednesday. Advent of course concludes with the Nativity, which begins the Christmas season.
          Continuing in chronological order to the Epistle side card, the Adoration of the Magi and the Baptism of Christ represent Epiphany; both are manifestations of Jesus Christ’s divinity. The two scenes below the left column on the central card have a longstanding iconographic association, being recounted in the Gospel readings for the first two Sundays of Lent. In the central column of the central card, the Last Supper, the washing of feet, an the large Crucifixion together represent the Holy Triduum, the center of the liturgical year. The images in the next column (Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost) represent the Easter and Pentecost seasons.
          On the left and right borders of the central card I drew standing figures of six saints. On the left are the first three mentioned in the Confiteor: the Blessed Virgin Mary, Michael the Archangel and John the Baptist. On the right are three more mentioned in the Libera nos: the Apostles Peter, Paul and Andrew. 
You have to see these cards to believe them. I am looking forward to framing this set for local liturgical use. I would certainly recommend these altar cards to priests, deacons, and any laity who are looking for a special Christmas gift for your TLM-celebrating clergy.

The commissioned set was drawn in ink on calfskin vellum with gold and palladium leaf details, and hand lettering. What I have photographed here is an open-edition giclée print on Lexjet archival matte paper, with a custom typeface, Benedict, utilized instead of handwritten letters, to improve readability.

The cards may be ordered directly from the artist.

Time for the Soul to Absorb the Mysteries — Part 2: The Offertory and the Canon

Last week, we looked at how the traditional Roman Rite, from the entrance to the Gospel, gives ample “time for the soul to absorb the mysteries.” Today I shall speak of how the Offertory and the Canon do the same.

The Offertory

It hardly needs to be said that the Offertory, with its richness of content and ample length, is one of the parts of the traditional liturgy most appreciated by clergy and laity alike. One does not feel, as in the usus recentior, rushed on to the Eucharistic Prayer, as in a supersonic flight from Word to Eucharist; there is generous time and space for preparing the gifts thoroughly, making the significance of this offering known, felt.

In the Novus Ordo, the meaning of the presentation of bread and wine risks being lost due to the rapidity and superficiality with which they are treated.[1] One does not recognize them as proto-sacrificial offerings that will subsequently be transformed by divine power into the actual sacrifice that wins our redemption and, as a result, into the banquet that unites us to the Savior; emphasis is placed rather on man’s own work in preparing food and drink, which will become food and drink — a true sentiment as far as it goes, but not at all the focus of the authentic Offertories of historic liturgical rites.

The old offertory is a dramatic caesura, a long drawn-out breath in which we clearly show forth what we are about to do and how it will redound to our benefit, unworthy though we are to approach the awesome mysteries of Christ. The Offertory makes it possible for us to participate fruitfully in the Canon of the Mass. Without it, something vital is missing. Even worse, when the modern quasi-Offertory is combined with the second Eucharistic Prayer, the sacrificial portion of the Mass  —  its very essence  —  can pass by so rapidly that one might be forgiven for thinking that the Mass is a lengthy liturgy of words followed by a rapid distribution of tokens of our confidence in words, which is to say, a purely Protestant conception.

The Canon of the Mass

Much can be said on behalf of the absolute fittingness of the silent Canon. I have gone into this topic elsewhere.[2] Suffice it to say that many among the clergy and the faithful are sharply aware of the loss of this contemplative reservoir at the heart of the holy Sacrifice. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy:
Anyone who has experienced a church united in the silent praying of the Canon will know what a really filled silence is. It is at once a loud and penetrating cry to God and a Spirit-filled act of prayer. Here everyone does pray the Canon together, albeit in a bond with the special task of the priestly ministry. Here everyone is united, laid hold of by Christ, and led by the Holy Spirit into that common prayer to the Father which is the true sacrifice — the love that reconciles and unites God and the world.[3]
Citing this passage in his magnificent book The Power of Silence, Cardinal Sarah observes:
I am familiar with the regrets expressed by many young priests who would like the Canon of the Mass to be recited in complete silence. The unity of the whole assembly, communing with the words pronounced in a sacred murmur, was a splendid sign of a contemplative Church gathered around the sacrifice of her Savior.[4]
A priest with whom I was conducting a correspondence once wrote these words to me, as if to confirm Cardinal Sarah’s observation:
If I were permitted the quasi-papal power to make just one change to the present Ordinary Form, it would be to bring back the silent canon. As one who regularly celebrates both forms of the Mass, that is the single difference that I find makes the most spiritual impact. And quite a few lay people I know have made similar comments. That silence, after all, is much more obviously noticeable to the congregation than, say the omission of certainly medieval offertory prayers.
At a Novus Ordo Mass, it is all I can do to focus my wandering attention on the mystery taking place, since there is a constant washing of words over my ears — words that lose their force either from their familiarity (I’ve heard Eucharistic Prayer II, a.k.a., the “Roman Canonette,” so many times it sounds like an eye-rolling cliché) or from their length (the historic Roman Canon said out loud in English, facing the people, is phenomenologically interminable) or from their grating unfamiliarity (as when a priest, in a sudden Lucretian swerve, picks out one of the Eucharistic Prayers of Reconciliation).

None of this is conducive in any way to prayer, to the adoration and spiritual longing we should cultivate in the presence of our Savior as we join our hearts to His Sacred Heart in the most holy offering at the altar. This is no less true, indeed it is rather more true, for the poor celebrant who gets hardly a moment of mental peace, hardly a moment to repose his head against the Lord’s breast, in company with St. John. The rite keeps the faucet of loquacity nearly always turned on.

I’m afraid there are many new Masses after which one says to oneself: “Did I pray at all during that long harangue from the sanctuary?” And one cannot be sure that one has done so. Sometimes, one is aware, on the contrary, of a suffocating lack of time and space to pray. But I cannot remember a single traditional Mass at which I did not experience, at least for a few fleeting moments, a vivid awareness of the prayer of Christ and a palpable sense of the mystery of God, a real connection with the divine. In stark contrast with its intended replacement, the old Mass — whether Low, High, or Solemn — seems built, from the ground up, to connect one to the divine in this way. Its whole raison d’être is union with God, and it pursues this with relentless determination, the preoccupation of a lover. It reminds me of Kierkegaard’s statement that “purity of heart is to will a single thing.”

Next week: how the usus antiquior allows ample “interior space” for the communion of the priest and the people.


NOTES

[1] As we know, the Consilium originally proposed having no prayers for the bread and wine at all, but simply lifting them up and putting them back down. This was too much even for Paul VI, an otherwise enthusiastic proponent of Bauhaus liturgy; he ordered that the actions had to be accompanied by some words. Bugnini and Co. complied, but looked to Jewish precedent rather than Catholic.

[2] See two articles at the New Liturgical Movement weblog: “The Silent Canon: Is Worship Supposed to be Aweful?,” posted on October 14, 2013; “The Silence of the Canon Speaks More Loudly Than Words,” posted on January 5, 2015.

[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 215–16.

[4] Robert Cardinal Sarah, with Nicolas Diat, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, trans. Michael J. Miller (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), n. 249, p. 129.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

2018 Ordo for the Dominican Rite Breviary Now Available

Just in time for Christmas! I am delighted to announce that Breviarium S.O.P. has completed the 2018 Dominican Rite Calendar for praying the 1962 Dominican Breviary. Once again, the calendar includes notations for the 15 Tuesdays devotion to Our Holy Father St. Dominic. You can purchase your copy of this Ordo at Dominican Liturgy Publications.


The format is similar to that of the Ordo published by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The calendar contains the entire liturgical year, according to the 1962 Breviarium Iuxta Ritum Ordinis Preædicatorum, updated with the most recent canonizations of Dominican saints.



In addition, the obituaries of the Masters General and the anniversaries of the Order are given, as well as the list of Dominican blesseds and the days of their votive offices. Reminders are given for days when members of the Dominican Laity (formerly called the “Third Order”) can obtain indulgences during the year. As in the past, the Office of Prime is also included.


Each day is annotated with the feast, the rank, commemorations (if any), and reminder notes, if the day includes an anniversary or the obit of a Master General of the Order. The list of obituaries of the Masters General has been updated to include the Masters who have died since the last Dominican Breviary was published in 1962.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Notitiae - Available Online!

Back in February 2016, it was announced on NLM that Notitiae, the periodical of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS), was changing the way it was published, moving to an online-only format. Moreover, it was announced that the CDWDS "planned to make the whole collection of Notitiae available online eventually", something that is obviously of interest to many NLM readers.

Well, someone at the Congregation has been very busy, as at the time of writing this aim is close to being completed!

On the website of the CDWDS (not the Vatican website), every issue of Notitiae from 1965-1992 and 2003-2015 is now available, either in the online viewer or as a downloadable PDF, for free.

This is obviously still a work-in-progress (like much of the Congregation's website), as the general and thematic indices to Notitiae do not exist online as yet. But this is a wonderful contribution to liturgical scholarship, especially as the very earliest issues of Notitiae are quite difficult to obtain.

Many thanks are due to the CDWDS for making these freely available, and I look forward to the current 1993-2002 gap being filled in the months to come!

Friday, December 08, 2017

An Original Setting of Psalm 116 by Henri de Villiers

We are very pleased to share with our readers this recording of Psalm 116, Laudate Dominum, in an original composition by one of our long-time contributors, Henri de Villiers. This was made live at the church of St Eugène in Paris on November 26, during Mass of the external solemnity of St Cecily, patron Saint of the church’s choir, the Schola Ste Cécile, which Henri has directed for many years now.
As you can see from the title in the video, the setting was written for three choirs (12 voices), but here they are reduced to two (8 voices total). The original setting for three choirs was composed to be sung at Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini in Rome, at the end of Benediction during the Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage in 2015.

The complete Mass can be seen here:
Masses for Sundays and feast days can now be followed live from St Eugene at the Youtube channel Ite, Missa est: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIz1_vK-gfwd26Q3cIvDxPg

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception 2017

The choir of the prophets proclaimed of old the Maiden unblemished and holy, whose child is God, whom Anna conceived, that was sterile and without progeny; with rejoicing of heart, let us who have been saved through Her today bless Her, as the only one who is wholly without blemish. (From the first kathisma of Orthros on the Conception of St Anne.)

The Byzantine Rite celebrates the conception of the Virgin Mary under the title “the Conception (in the active sense) of St Anne”, on December 9th. This 18th century Russian icon depicts the traditional story that St Joachim (upper left) went out into the desert to mourn his and Anne’s barrenness, for the sake of which his offering in the temple had been refused. An angel then came to tell him to return to Anne, and that God would grant them a child who would become the Mother of the Savior. In the upper right, the same message is delivered to Anne herself. The legend goes on to say that they then went to find each other, meeting at the gate of Jerusalem called “the Golden Gate.” The depiction of their embrace and kiss is often used not only to decently represent the act of Anne’s conception, but to distinguish the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin from that of the virginal conception of Christ. This same legend was well known in the West, and referred to in many artworks and liturgical texts.
The following three troparia are all taken from the third canon at Orthros of the same feast.
From Thee, that art without stain of sin, receiving the Lord incarnate beyond the order of nature like a burning coal, we are purified from the fullness of transgressions.

The mysteries of God’s hidden wisdom are truly made clear to us today, as the Conception of the immaculate Virgin and only Mother of God is proclaimed.

He that is uncircumscribed in the immaculate bosom of the Father, in Thee, o immaculate Virgin, is carried about in the flesh, through His ineffable compassion; whence also He admits representation in an image, who is Good above all.

From the canon of the Dedication of the Holy Sepulcher, celebrated on the same day.
Thou alone among all generations, Immaculate Virgin, were shown to be the Mother of God; Thou hast become the dwelling place of the Godhead, that art wholly without blemish, and not burned by the fire of the unapproachable light; whence do we all bless Thee, Mary, bride of God.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

A Boy-Bishop for St Nicholas’ Day

Chavagnes International College, a Catholic boarding school for boys located in Chavagnes-en-Paillers in western France (near Nantes), is well known for cultivating a strong liturgical life. In accordance with the old English tradition, a boy-bishop is appointed from among the students on the feast of St Nicholas, who presides over the celebration of Vespers and sits at the high table for the meal following. (See below for a bit more about this tradition.)

These photos are reproduced with the College’s permission, and our thanks. File this under two of our favorite labels, Fostering Young Vocations and Tradition is for the Young.

Pontifical vestments laid out on the altar.





At the incensation during the Magnificat.

The Relics of St Ambrose

Partly as a follow up to last month’s post on the relics of St Charles, here are a few interesting photos related to the relics of St Ambrose, whose feast is today, courtesy of Nicola de’ Grandi.
The relics of St Ambrose, photographed during a canonical recognition in the late 19th century.
In 386 A.D., St Ambrose had uncovered the relics of two Milanese martyrs, the brothers Protasius and Gervasius, after been shown the place of their long-forgotten burial in a dream. Nothing is known for certain of these saints, not even the era of their martyrdom, but devotion to them was once very widespread; they are even named in the Roman version of the Litany of the Saints, last among the company of the martyrs. Ambrose brought their relics to a newly built basilica, then called simply “the Basilica of the Martyrs”, and laid them in the place he had originally intended for his own burial; he also attests to the miraculous healings which accompanied the translation, as do his secretary, Paulinus, who would later write his Life, and by St Augustine.

Ambrose himself died on April 4th of the year 397, which was Holy Saturday that year; since that date so frequently occurs in Holy Week or Easter Week, his feast is traditionally kept on the day of his episcopal ordination. He was laid to rest next to Ss Protasius and Gervasius, and the basilica is now officially named after him. In the mid-ninth century, the abbot of the attached monastery placed the relics of all three saints in a large porphyry sarcophagus, which was later sunk into the floor and covered over; it was rediscovered in 1864 during a major restoration project, and the three bodies are now seen in the Confession of the church under the altar. The feast day of the two martyrs is on June 19th, and the traditional Ambrosian Calendar also has the feast of the “Raising up of the Bodies of Ss. Ambrose, Protasius and Gervasius” on May 14th.

The relics photographed today. The body of St Ambrose rests between those of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius, dressed in red. The two martyrs also hold palm branches in their hands, while the sainted bishop holds a crook. Several ago, I visited this church and was told by a senior cleric that St Ambrose’s skeleton was found “all of a piece” in 1867, but that those of the martyrs had been “mixed up, so at the Final Judgement, some of the pieces will be flying back and forth.” This was followed by a smile and the classic Italian “no problem” shrug.
As part of the celebrations for the fifteenth centenary of the Saint’s death in 1897, the relics were taken from the basilica to the Duomo in an enormous procession, and exposed there for the veneration of the faithful from May 13-15. In the first photo, we see a huge banner depicted St Ambrose, which was first blessed and used by St Charles on September 8, 1566, the patronal feast day of the Duomo, and has regularly been used in solemn processions ever since. (Three other photos of it are given below.)

Here we see the relics carried under a baldachin; going before them, many of the mitered heads are those of canons, rather than bishops.
In 1974, for the 16th centenary of the Saint’s episcopal ordination, at the conclusion of a local jubilee held in preparation for the Holy Year of 1975, the relics were once again brought to the Duomo. At the time, significant repair works were being done to the church, and it was impossible to display them; they were therefore placed on a temporary altar in the nave.

Photopost Request: Immaculate Conception 2017

Our next major photopost will be for tomorrow’s feast of the Immaculate Conception. Please send your photos (whether of the Ordinary or Extraordinary Form) to photopost@newliturgicalmovement.org for inclusion. We are also always glad to receive photographs of celebrations of Vespers and other parts of the Office, and particularly of any ceremonies celebrated with blue vestments, in accordance with the famous Spanish indult. Please be sure to include the name and location of the church, and always feel free to add any other information you think important. Evangelize through beauty!
From last year’s Immaculate Conception photopost, Pontifical Mass at the Oratory of the Immaculate Conception in Birmingham, England.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Legend of St Nicholas in Liturgy and Art

The traditional Roman liturgy assigns to the feast of St Nicholas the common Office of Confessor Bishops Ecce sacerdos magnus, with the proper lessons at Matins recounting his life, and the common Mass Statuit, with proper prayers. The Collect of his feast refers to the “innumerable miracles” wrought through his intercession, for which he is often called by the Byzantines “the Wonderworker”; the Secret is borrowed from the Mass of the first Confessor Bishop venerated in the West, St Martin.

A Russian icon of St Nicholas, painted ca. 1500-50, showing episodes from his life and his miracles in the small panels that form the border. 
In the Middle Ages, a proper Office was composed for his feast, which is described thus by the liturgical commentator Sicard of Cremona, writing at the end of the 12th century.
The teachers of the Greeks have written down the life of the blessed Nicholas, and the miracles done in his life, … saying that he was born of an illustrious family, and filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, or from his childhood. He delivered three virgins from the infamous dealings of their father; he was promoted to the episcopacy by divine revelation; he came to help sailors in danger of shipwreck; he multiplied grain; … he delivered some people from a death sentence, and others from prison. From his tomb there comes forth an oil, which heals various ailments. … No pen can suffice to write down all the miracles with which he has shone forth after his death, nor can any man’s eloquence tell of them all. Out of this legend, today’s ‘history’ is put together. (Mitrale IX, 2)
In Sicard’s time, and for long after, the Latin word “historia” (history) was the common technical term for what we would now call the proper Office of a Saint. Many such Offices were composed by setting to music texts from the Saints’ lives; a “historia” was the sum of the antiphons, responsories and (somewhat more rarely) hymns, composed for such an Office. The “legend”, on the other hand, (Latin “legendum – something to be read”), is the story of the Saint’s life as read in the lessons of Matins. Therefore, when Sicard says that today’s “history” is put together out of this “legend”, what he means is that the propers of St Nicholas’ Office are composed from texts taken from the account of his life and miracles.

The proper Office of St Nicholas is called O Pastor aeterne, the first words of the Magnificat antiphon at First Vespers; it has been attributed (not with absolute certainty) to a monk named Isembert, of the monastery of St Ouen in France, who lived in the middle of the 11th-century. It was adopted very widely, but not in Rome; hence it is found in the proper Breviaries of the religious orders (Dominicans, Premonstratensians etc.), but not the Roman Breviary. Writing about a century after Sicard, William Durandus tells the following story about the use of this Office.
It is said that in a certain church, … since the historia of blessed Nicholas was not yet sung, the brothers of that place asked their prior insistently that he permit them to sing it; but he refused, saying that it was improper to change the ancient custom with novelties. But since they kept asking, he answered indignantly, “Leave me alone; these new songs, or rather, these jokes, will not be sung in my church!” Now when the feast of the Saint had come, the brethren sadly finished the night vigils (i.e. Matins). And when they had all gone to bed, behold, the blessed Nicholas appeared visibly to the prior in a terrible guise, and, pulling him out of bed by his hair, dashed him to the floor of the dormitory. Then, beginning the antiphon O Pastor aeterne, at each change of note he smacked him heavily on the back with the two rods he held in his hand, and thus sang the antiphon morosely through to the end. Since all were wakened by the noise, the prior was taken to his bed half-alive; and when he had recovered he said, “Go, sing the new historia of St Nicholas.” (Rationale Div. Off. VII, 39)
It must be granted that this behavior seems wildly out of character for the Nicholas described by the Office O Pastor aeterne itself, of which the first responsory says:
R. The confessor of God, Nicholas, noble of birth, but nobler in his manners, * having followed the Lord from his very youth, merited to be promoted to the episcopacy by divine revelation. V. For he was greatly compassionate, and moved by holy pity for the afflicted. Having followed…
And likewise, the fifth antiphon of Matins:
Aña Surpassing the customs of youth with innocence, he became a disciple of the law of the Gospel. 
On the other hand, the Byzantine tradition tells a story that Nicholas, when he was present at the First Council of Nicea, was so moved with righteous indignation at Arius’ denial of the divinity of Christ that he slapped him in the face. At his Vespers in the Byzantine Rite, the following hymn is sung which refers to this tradition.
With what melodic hymns may we praise this Hierarch, the antagonist of impiety, the defender of piety, the great leader of the Church, both champion and teacher, who putteth to shame all those who believe wickedly, the destroyer and ardent opponent of Arius, through whom Christ, Who hath great mercy, has cast down the latter’s pride.
The Greek word “ὀφρύς” in this hymn, like its Latin equivalent “supercilium”, means “pride” in the negative sense, also “scorn, arrogance.” (Hence the English word “supercilious.”) In both languages, however, its original meaning is “brow.” Greek has plenty of other words for “pride” that might have been used here; the idiomatic expression “cast down the brow” seems clearly to have been chosen to refer to the slapping of Arius.

St Nicholas slaps Arius in face, as depicted in a 14th-century fresco within the monastery complex of Panagia Sumela, in modern Turkey.
The image above is part of a much larger fresco, only one panel of which is seen here below, depicting the Council of Nicea. The Emperor St Constantine, as he is called in the Byzantine churches, presides over the Council; Nicholas slapping Arius is in the lower left. The monastery has been abandoned since 1923, and the frescos are sadly much damaged by vandalism.
The legend goes on to state that the council fathers were scandalized by this inappropriate loss of temper, and despite his immediate repentance, stripped Nicholas of his insignia and remanded him to jail to await their judgment. During the night, however, Christ and the Virgin Mary appeared to him, and gave him a Gospel book and an omophorion (the large Byzantine episcopal stole), while undoing his chains; this was taken as a sign that his repentance was accepted, and he was reinstated in the council.

The miracles attributed to his intercession are indeed innumerable, for the sake of which he became, as Fr Hunwicke marvelously described him, “a saint with as large a portfolio of Patronages as a Renaissance cardinal.” The story to which Sicard refers when he says that St Nicholas “delivered three virgins from the infamous dealings of their father” is of course the part of the legend that has turned him into Santa Claus. As told by Durandus’ contemporary, Jacopo de Voragine, in the Golden Legend, a man of his city could not dower his daughters, and was considering selling them into prostitution.
But when the saint learned of this, he abhorred this crime; and he threw a lump of gold wrapped in a cloth into the man’s house through the window at night, and departed in secret. Rising in the morning, the man found the lump of gold, and giving thanks to God, celebrated the wedding of his first daughter. Not long after, the servant of God did the same thing (again.) And the man upon finding it, burst forth with great praises, and determined thenceforth to keep watch, so that he might discover who it was that had aided his poverty. After a few days, (Nicholas) threw a lump of gold twice as big into the house. At the sound of this, the man was awoken, and followed Nicholas as he fled, … and so, by running more quickly, he learned that it was Nicholas … (who) made him promise not to tell the story while he lived.
This story is also referred to repeatedly in O Pastor aeterne, for example, in the eighth responsory of Matins:
R. The servant of God Nicholas by a weight of gold redeemed the chastity of three virgins; * and put to flight the unchaste poverty of their father by a gift of gold. V. Being therefore deeply rich in mercy, by the metal which he doubled, he drove infamy from them. And put to flight…
For this reason, he is often represented holding three golden balls, as in this painting by Gentile da Fabriano, the Quaratesi polyptych, done in 1425.


In the old chapel of the Lateran complex in Rome known as the “Sancta Sanctorum – the Holy of Holies”, (not because of its status as a Papal chapel, but because it used to contain one of the most impressive relic collections in the world), the story is represented in two parts. On the right, St Nicholas tosses the gold though the window; on the left, the father catches him, and is told by the Saint to keep the story secret. This shows how old the custom really is of staying up late at night to try to catch Santa Claus when he comes to the house to deliver presents. (For some reason, this never works any more.)
St Nicholas and the Gift of the Dowries, by the anonymous painter known as the Master of the Sancta Sanctorum, ca. 1278-79, commissioned by Pope Nicholas III (1277-80).
This is an updated version of an article originally published in 2014.

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