Monday, January 23, 2017

The Fixity of Liturgical Forms as an Incentive to Prayer and Lectio Divina

Catholics who assist at the traditional liturgy of the Church quickly come to love one monumental fact about it: its stability, regularity, constancy. With a few exceptions due to local calendars or unannounced votive Masses, one can come to any usus antiquior liturgy and know within moments which Mass in the missal is being celebrated—and then know, with certainty, exactly how that Mass will unfold for the remaining half-hour or hour, since everything is fixed in place.

What a consolation to know that the celebrant is not being asked to exhibit the state of his mind in extemporaneous remarks, or his pastoral judgment in choices between this or that prayer! The Mass is simply the Mass—older, greater, stronger, and steadier than any of us mere mortals, and we gratefully submit ourselves to its lofty spiritual pedagogy and accumulated wisdom. We are not the drivers but the passengers. The driver is Christ our Lord, and never once in the liturgy (except perhaps in the homily) are we confronted with a jarring disjunct between the principal celebrant and His intelligent instrument.

People who have practiced lectio divina know that it benefits from the slow assimilation of a chosen text. One must mortify the desire to read too much or to skip all over the place. One often has to re-read and re-read a passage before it penetrates the mind. In just the same way, the great strength of the one-year lectionary contained in the traditional Missale Romanum is that it affords the worshiper time to absorb a certain set of luminous biblical passages, extremely well chosen for their liturgical purpose. Meeting these texts repeatedly, one puts them on like a garment, or assimilates them like food and drink. One begins to think and pray in their phrases.

What happens with the lectionary happens, in turn, with the entire liturgy. The fixity of the usus antiquior from top to bottom, from collect to postcommunion, from Psalm 42 to the Prologue of John, faciliates a liturgical lectio divina that can range over the words of the entire missal, in both its repeated (Ordinary) and changing (Proper) parts.

To have the light and warmth of contemplation, you first need the fire of prayer; to fuel prayer, you need the wood of meditation; and to have meditation, there has to be reading. Reading presupposes something fixed and stable to be read, internalized, remembered, pondered. Any improvisation at this level, or any overwhelming quantity of text or a constantly changing text, will tend to thwart the slow and steady building of memory, the shaping of the imagination, and the fertilizing of the intellect. If you throw too much wood on the fire, you put it out. If the wood is green, the fire smokes. And if there is no kindling and no match, the fire can’t be started.

All of these things have to be in place: the right ingredients in the right order, with the right proportions and the right timing. Fifteen hundred years of slow and highly conservative liturgical development produced the right content, the right order, the right proportions, and the right timing. Because the new liturgy has vastly more content and the way things play out is subject to the choices of celebrant and musicians, the proportion of parts is quite malleable and liable to enormous imbalance, and the pacing or feel of the liturgy is not comfortingly invariable and focused.

This, then, is the fundamental problem with praying the new liturgy: it is too pluriform, too gigantic, and too mutable to sustain a meditative or lectio divina engagement with the texts, chants, and gestures. One cannot simply surrender to it and take on its own identity, since the wills and intellects of various secondary agents are too much in play, making its identity like the chameleon’s color. “Will the real Novus Ordo please stand up?”

In the traditional liturgy, the daily stability of the Mass and its relatively limited selection of readings, together with the recurrence of the psalms in the weekly cursus of the Divine Office, strongly supports a liturgical lectio divina that is decisive in deepening the spiritual life of clergy and laity. In particular, one profits from the immensely powerful correlation of the antiphons and readings of the Office with those of the Mass.[1] It would be hard to deny that there are correlations between the character of the revised liturgical books, the customary crowd-oriented ars celebrandi, the lack of ascetical-mystical life among so large a part of the clergy, and the shallowness, if not heterodoxy, of preaching. All these things reinforce one another; there is little to oppose them from within the form of the liturgy itself.

Moreover, the overwhelming fixity of traditional liturgical forms makes the times when there are differences in the prescribed liturgy so much more striking. The omission of Psalm 42 and the doxologies during Passiontide makes us feel we are being stripped and humiliated with Christ. The dona eis requiem of the Agnus Dei at the Mass for the Dead reminds us (as do so many other details of the Requiem Mass) that we are offering up our prayers for the repose of the souls of the faithful departed and not thinking of ourselves.[2] One thinks of the rare times in the year when genuflections are called for during the course of a Tract or a Gospel, such as during the octave of Epiphany or during Lent[3]; one thinks of the peculiarities of the Divine Office on All Souls or in Holy Week—examples are numerous. These changes in an otherwise monolithic and highly determined pattern can be shattering in their psychological effect. It is like a great composer who knows how to use a touch of sharp dissonance that makes the prevailing consonance all the more powerful, or a great painter who adds a touch of bright red to an otherwise subdued canvas. The old liturgy shows a masterful grasp of how human psychology works.

The same rationalistic instinct that multiplied the quantity of texts also abolished almost all such unique features and differentiations, so that there was a simultaneous flattening of rites into uniformity and an uncontrolled expansion of material in the lectionary and missal. Sadly, we can note that both the uniformity and the expansion are characteristic of industrial methods of mass production. Indeed, the word “mass” in contemporary English has two meanings: the density of matter and a widespread group of similarly-minded individuals. The modern Mass exhibits excess of material as well as a democratic leveling of difference within that material. This phenomenon has been demonstrated with regard to the revised lectionary, which, although many times larger than the old one-year lectionary, nevertheless contains less of the total breadth of Scripture’s actual message because of its studied avoidance of any passages that could “offend” or be “misunderstood.”[4]

But we have reason today to be of good cheer, for these problems are more and more widely acknowledged, and the only sensible solution to them—the restoration of the fullness of traditional Catholic worship—is gaining ground, even in spite of semi-official resistance. What will happen when the last barriers fall down is not difficult to predict. The traditional liturgy—both the Missale Romanum and the Divinum Officium—is ideal for the life of prayer to which we are all called by God, and to which our baptism invisibly impels us. As a locus of lectio divina, the classic Roman rite stirs us to ponder and linger over particular phrases of Scripture or particular liturgical prayers hallowed by tradition and to make them the basis of a most fruitful meditation and preparation for Holy Communion. It will continue to gain ground, one prayerful soul after another, one seminarian, priest, or bishop at a time, one altar and parish to the next.


[1] I speak here from personal experience. Although I had already attended the usus antiquior Mass and had fallen in love with it at Thomas Aquinas College, I really came to know it well when, at the International Theological Institute in Austria, I was able to attend a daily 6:00 am Low Mass for several years—something, alas, that has not been possible for the past 10 years, and how I miss it! Going through that cycle day by day profoundly formed me and won my heart and mind over completely to the old prayers and calendar. I believe it would do the same for any serious Catholic who was given the grace of such consistent exposure. Later on, as I began to pray the old Divine Office, the connections were a cause of continual delight and strengthened my life of prayer. I know that a similar discovery happened for the monks of Norcia years ago when they finally saw that there was too much of a disjunct between the monastic office and the Novus Ordo Missae. In order to achieve an internal “reconciliation” of all their daily prayer, they chose the Vetus Ordo, albeit retaining an openness to celebrating the Novus Ordo when assisting local clergy or certain groups of pilgrims.

[2] This in contrast to post-conciliar funerals and Masses for the dead, which are almost entirely focused on the living who are present, due to the assumption (often stated explicitly) that the deceased requires no prayers and is already rejoicing with all his friends and relatives in heaven. The traditional Requiem Mass in a severe manner orders the entire service to the benefit of the deceased soul, which is no doubt why it was particularly loathed by the reformers, both in the 16th century and in the 20th.

[3] As I noticed in my article “In Defense of Preserving Readings in Latin”: “Among the most moving and beautiful signs of the latreutic or adorational function of the readings in the usus antiquior are those times in the course of the liturgical year when the priest, ministers, and faithful genuflect during the reading of the Gospel at a passage that narrates some reality that cries out for the total response of the believer, in body and soul. Thus, on Epiphany and during its octave, when the priest reads or chants that the Magi fell down and worshiped the Christ-child, he, and everyone with him, bends the knee in silent adoration. In Lenten Masses the priest kneels at the Tract Adiuva nos; on the second Passion Sunday, the Finding of the Holy Cross, and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, at the Epistle (‘ut in nomine Jesu omne genu flectatur’); and on a number of other occasions, such as at the third Mass of Christmas, when the Prologue of John is read; at the end of the Gospel for Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent (Jn 9:1-38); during the Alleluia before the Veni, Sancte Spiritus sequence; and at votive Masses of the Holy Spirit, the Passion of the Lord, and Deliverance from Mortality.”

[4] See my article “A Tale of Two Lectionaries: Quality versus Quantity” and the further references given there.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The “Apocrypha” and the Liturgy

At yesterday’s presidential inauguration, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, read as a prayer a selection of verses from the ninth chapter of the Book of Wisdom. In the original, this passage is a prayer delivered as if from the mouth of King Solomon, and all of the first person plurals spoken by His Eminence (“God of our ancestors…”) are in the singular in the Biblical text. (Accommodations of this sort in the context of prayer are a well-established tradition of the Church.) I say “as if” because it is well-known, of course, that the Book of Wisdom was written hundreds of years after Solomon’s lifetime, and its attribution to him (which is strongly implied, but not explicitly stated, within the book itself) was known at the time it was written to be a literary device.

A writer on the website of Christianity Today, Daniel de Silva, published an article explaining to their (I assume mostly non-Catholic) readership why a Biblical reading at the ceremony “Isn’t in Your Bible,” namely, because it is from the group of books which Protestants generally call “the Apocrypha,” and Catholics the “Deuterocanonical books.” Both of these terms are really rather unfortunate, but we are now stuck with them after centuries of use. “Apocrypha” is a Greek word for “hidden”, and would be better reserved for things like the Gnostic so-called Gospels, rather than a group of works whose canonicity was almost undisputed in the Church for 15 centuries. (I say “almost” advisedly, as I will explain shortly.)

The term “deuterocanonical” was coined in 1566 by a scholar called Sixtus of Siena, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, at a point when the Protestant reformation had been going on for almost half a century, and the “disputed” nature of the books had become a fixed feature of Catholic-Protestant debate. I consider it unfortunate because it seems to imply (though this was certainly not Sixtus’ intention) either that there are degrees of canonicity within Scripture, which is heretical, or, as one Biblical commentary states, that their canonicity was recognized later, which is historically false. The Catholic Encyclopedia rightly states, in its article on the Canon of the Old Testament, that “The terms protocanonical and deuterocanonical … require a word of caution. They are not felicitous, and it would be wrong to infer from them that the Church successively possessed two distinct Biblical Canons.”

At a public debate held at Leipzig in 1519, Johann Eck, a very prominent theologian of the era, objected to Luther’s rejection of the doctrine of Purgatory, and therefore of praying for the dead, by citing a well-known passage from Second Maccabees (12, 46), which has been read at Masses for the Dead from time immemorial: “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” To this Luther replied that Second Maccabees was not a part of Scripture, and hence constituted no valid proof; the Catholic Encyclopedia is equally right to term this, in the article cited above, “a radical departure.” Certain other passages, such Tobit 4, 11, “For alms deliver from all sin, and from death, and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness,” became focal points of the controversy as well.

Subsequently, the debate over the place of the “Deuterocanonicals” in the Church has been very largely framed in terms of what the Fathers have to say about them in their writings. St Jerome is a crucial figure in this regard, because he is the only one who ever rejected them on the same grounds as the Protestants, namely, their absence from the Hebrew Bible; he is cited to this effect in the sixth “Article of Religion” of the Church of England. And thus de Silva writes “Jerome …was the loudest voice in this regard.”

St Jerome in His Study, by Joos van Cleve, 1521
Three things call for note here. One is that not even Jerome was consistent on this point; he included Tobit, Judith, and the Deuterocanonical additions to both Esther and Daniel in his great project of Biblical translations, and in some of his later writings, cites some of them without distinction from the rest of Scripture. (The versions of Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch and the two books of the Maccabees included in the Vulgate are not his.) The second is that the other Church Fathers are similarly inconsistent; St Athanasius, for example, in an epistle of the year 367, includes Baruch in the canonical list, and omits Esther. The third is that citations in the New Testament cannot serve as a definitive yardstick for canonicity, since it contains none from certain books whose canonicity was disputed even among the Jews (Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs), two from the book of Wisdom (2, 13 in Matthew 27, 43 and 7, 26 in Hebrews 1, 3), and an explicit citation from the indisputably apocryphal Book of Enoch. (Jude, 14-15)

The opinion of the vast majority of the Fathers is best explained by referring to the great Biblical scholar Origen. (ca. 185-255). A friend of his named Africanus, one of his sponsors in the decades-long production of a massive corpus of Biblical exegesis, claimed that the Greek puns in the story of Susanna proved that it could not be part of the original text of the book of Daniel. Origen’s defense of the story, and of the other deuterocanonical books, repeatedly refers to the “use” of the book in the churches, i.e., in the liturgy. He also cites in its defense a saying of the book of Proverbs, “Thou shalt not remove the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set,” (22:28), a passage long understood by Jewish commentators as a command to preserve the ancient traditions of religious practice. This opinion is confirmed by St Augustine, and several early synods whose acts have come down to us.

As I have written before, the story of Susanna occupies a particularly prominent place in the liturgy of Lent in the West, and in the art of the primitive Church. Readings from almost all of the other Deuterocanonical books are attributed in the ancient Roman lectionaries, most of which carry through right into the Missal of St Pius V. The books of Wisdom and Sirach are particularly prominent, especially on the feasts of Confessors; this is especially significant precisely because St Jerome did not produce either a revised or freshly translated version of either of them. The canticle known from its first word as the Benedicite, Daniel 3, 57-88 and 56, was sung in the Roman Divine Office on every single Sunday and feast until 1913. (It is still, of course, said very often in both Form of the Office to this day.)

One might cite innumerable examples from other ancient rites of the Church, but I will here confine myself to a few particularly interesting ones. The 7th century Lectionary of Luxeuil, the most ancient lectionary of the Gallican Rite, prescribes that the entire book of Tobias be read on Rogation Monday after None, that of Judith on Tuesday, and that of Esther (with the additions) on Wednesday. (It is no wonder that the clergy of Gaul enthusiastically embraced Charlemagne’s forced transition to the Roman Rite.) The Ambrosian Liturgy makes the same use of the Benedicite as the Roman, and places Susanna in an even more prominent position, on Holy Thursday. A passage from Baruch 3 is read on the Third Sunday of October, the feast of Milan cathedral’s dedication; a longer excerpt from the same chapter was read at the Roman vigils of Easter and Pentecost until 1954.

Folio 165v of the Lectionary of Luxeuil, with the rubric for Rogation Monday, “Liber Tobith usque ad finem, postea Evangelium - the Book of Tobit, until the end, and afterwards the Gospel.” (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 9427) 
In the Byzantine Rite, a prayer said every single day at Vespers cites the Song of the Three Children, which also figures among the group of canticles at Orthros called the Odes. The entire third chapter of Daniel, including the additions, is read at the Easter Vigil, with the choir singing “Sing to the Lord and exalt him above all forever” as a refrain. (Video below; Exodus 13, 20 - 15, 19 is also read in a similar fashion.) Many of the more important feasts have three Scriptural readings at Vespers; among those assigned to the feasts of Confessors, there are two which are titled liturgically as “from the Wisdom of Solomon”, but are actually very complicated centos, composite readings from more than one book, mixing the words of the protocanonical books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes quite indiscriminately with those of Wisdom and Sirach. (You can read them at the following link, where they are the first two readings on the feast of St Nicholas:

Friday, January 20, 2017

Ignatian Retreat in Allentown, NJ, Feb. 17-19

Father Carlos Hamel of the Fraternity of Saint Joseph the Guardian will preach a retreat based on the Ignatian Exercises, at the church of Saint John the Baptist, 1282 Yardville-Allentown Road, Allentown, New Jersey. The Spiritual Exercises comprise an ordered series of meditations and contemplations born from the profound spiritual experience St Ignatius, gained from his conversion and his time as the first Superior General of the Society of Jesus. These exercises purpose to help the retreatant discern God’s will for his own life.

The retreat will begin on the early afternoon of Friday, February 17 and finish on the afternoon of Sunday February 19 (Presidents’ day weekend).

In order to cover the expenses (Fr. Carlos’ travel from France, food, donation to the parish, etc) we suggest a donation of $60. Also, please bring a sleeping bag.

In addition to the meditations, the traditional Mass will be sung each day, as well as parts of the Divine Office; there will also be plenty of opportunities for spiritual direction and Confession.

To confirm your attendance please read the following Google doc and fill the registration form

If you have any questions please contact Br. Edmund Kerridge at Feel free to forward this invitation to any else you reckon would be interested.

Blessing of the Waters on Julian Epiphany

Yesterday was the feast of the Holy Theophany on the Julian Calendar, the commemoration of the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan. It is a tradition of the Byzantine Rite to bless not just water in vessels within the church on this day, but also large bodies of water such as lakes and rivers. If the body of water is frozen (as is often the case, especially in the Slavic nations), they will then cut a hole in the ice, so that people can have a polar-bear swim in the newly blessed water. Part of the ritual of the blessing involves submerging a hand-held cross in the water three times; in many places, it is the custom for the bishop or priest who performs the blessing to throw the cross into the water, after which, people dive in to retrieve it. It is popularly believed that the person who gets it will enjoy good health for the coming year, which will definitely be needed after taking that bath.

Here we see part of the ritual at the Greek-Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kyiv Ukraine, celebrated by the Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halych, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, (and some ‘polar-bears’ at the end,) from the Youtube channel of Живе Телебачення (Zhyve Telebachennya), the television channel of the UGCC.

Ordinariate Evensong in the Philadelphia Area

On Friday, February 3rd, at 8 p.m., the church of St John the Baptist in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, a parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, will begin a series of celebrations of choral Evensong and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, featuring the music of composers such as Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons, Jacques Arcedelt and Tomás Luis de Victoria.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tradition is for the Young (Part 5) : More from the FSSP’s German Seminary

On Sunday, I published some photos of the Fraternity of St Peter’s German seminary visiting Buxheim Charterhouse, and celebrating Mass there for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. That same day, the community celebrated Vespers at another famously beautiful abbey, Ottobeuren, just ten miles down the road from Buxheim; here are some photos of the ceremony, once again, reproduced by the kind permission of the FSSP. (Click here to see the full album.) It is especially heartening to see how young the fellows are whose priestly formation is grounded in the fullness of the Church’s liturgical tradition.

Latin and the Latin Mass in Singapore

A regular reader from Singapore brought to my attention this article from the Straits Times (named for the strait that separates the island from the Malay Peninsula) about the TLM community there, and the presence and use of Latin in their small, multi-lingual nation.

“Latin is also alive in St Joseph’s Church in Victoria Street. Every Sunday, some 200 worshippers, most of whom are Singaporeans, fill the pews of the 110-year-old church and sing out phrases such as Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, et mundabor - Thou shall sprinkle me with hyssop O Lord, and I shall be cleansed.  ... most of the 200 congregants of Singapore’s sole Latin Mass, which started in 2008, have a basic understanding of the language. The service includes singing Gregorian chants and reciting liturgical responses and prayers.

... Mr Gregory Tan, 39, a life scientist who sings in the choir for the Mass at St Joseph’s Church, said, up till 50 years ago, Masses worldwide were celebrated entirely in Latin. He added: ‘Latin, being the mother tongue of the Catholic Church, is able to unify Catholics worldwide since it does not belong to any particular country or ethnic community today.’ A number of Catholics, including Mr Tan, aged in their 20s to 40s, became interested in Masses celebrated in Latin as a way of rediscovering the roots of the faith. ... ”

Like the other Mass attendees, he is also enamoured with the way in which the prayers are chanted. ‘The words are taken directly from the Bible, then the music is weaved in to allow the singer to emphasize and highlight words and concepts of theological significance, thereby elevating the level of prayer. We get to sing the same songs that were sung by our Catholic predecessors 1,600 years ago,’ he noted.

... The group was allocated St Joseph’s Church as an official place to worship at in 2013 as part of Archbishop William Goh’s efforts to reach out to all the groups in the archdiocese and encourage them to grow spiritually.”

The Latin Mass Community of Singapore has regularly contributed to our NLM photoposts, for which we are, of course, always very grateful; their presence is one of many beautiful signs of the true universality of our Catholic liturgical tradition.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Two Feasts of St Peter’s Chair

The feast of St Peter’s Chair was originally kept on one of two dates. Some sources, going back to the fourth century, attest to it on January 18th, among them, an ancient Martyrology formerly attributed to St. Jerome. Others place it on February 22nd, such as the Philocalian Calendar, which contains an equally ancient list of liturgical celebrations. It is not at all clear why exactly the same feast is found on two different dates, and even less clear why a surprising number of early Roman sacramentaries and lectionaries make no reference to it at all. However, in the later Middle Ages, the January 18th observance had been completely forgotten, and the liturgical books of the period before the Council of Trent, even those of the Ambrosian and Mozarabic Rites, are unanimous in keeping the feast on February 22.

In 1558, Pope Paul IV, (pictured right) a strong promoter of the Counter-Reformation, added a second feast of St Peter’s Chair to the calendar, on January 18; a response, of course, to the early Protestant Reformers’ rejection of the governing authority of the see of Peter and the bishop of Rome. The newly restored feast was assigned to the day given in the ancient manuscripts, particularly the Martyrology “of St. Jerome,” which the scholars of the era regarded as an especially important witness to the traditions of the Roman Church, where Jerome had once live and served as secretary to the Pope.

Although it was then a very new custom to keep two feasts of St Peter’s Chair, both were included in the revised Breviary called for by the Council of Trent, and issued at Rome in 1568 under the authority of Pope St Pius V. January 18th was now qualified, in accordance with the evidence of certain manuscripts, as the feast of St. Peter’s Chair in Rome, while February 22 was renamed St Peter’s Chair at Antioch, where the Prince of the Apostles was also the first bishop, and where “the disciples were first given the name Christian.” (Acts 11, 25) It should be noted that although the January feast was the more recent in terms of the liturgical practice of not just Rome, but the entire Latin Rite, the more important of the two titles is assigned to it, rather than to the better-established feast in February.

January 18th falls eight days before the Conversion of St. Paul; the restoration of a feast of St Peter to this day was also certainly intended to reinforce the traditional liturgical association of the two Apostolic founders of the church in Rome. The early Protestants claimed justification for their teachings in the writings of St. Paul, several of which became for Luther a “canon within the canon” of the Bible. The two feasts, therefore, form a unit by which overemphasis on Paul is corrected by a renewed emphasis on the ministry of Peter. In accordance with the same tradition, the Use of Rome has always added to each feast of either Apostle a commemoration of the other; thus, the eight day period from January 18 to 25 begins with a feast of Peter and commemoration of Paul, and ends with a feast of Paul and commemoration of Peter.

The same day is also the feast of St Prisca, who remains in the Tridentine Breviary as a commemoration. It is possible, though by no means certain, that an ancient relic believed to be the actual chair of St Peter was first kept at or near the same catacomb where this obscure Roman martyr was buried, and later moved to the church on the Aventine hill dedicated to her. This basilica keeps its dedication feast on February 22; it is probably more than chance that both the feast and the dedication of St Prisca should be on days associated with St Peter’s Chair.
The former cathedral of Venice, San Pietro in Castello, also claims to possess a chair of St Peter, that of Antioch. Laying aside the question its authenticity, the writing on it is certainly Arabic, and of the 13th century.
The Breviary of St Pius V also added on January 24th a feast found in many medieval liturgical calendars, which, however, had not previously been kept at Rome itself, that of St Paul’s disciple Timothy. The addressee of two of the Pastoral Epistles, and the Apostle’s companion in so much of his missionary work, St Timothy is very often called an Apostle himself in medieval liturgical books, as is St Barnabas. In the Tridentine Breviary and Missal, he is given the titles Bishop and Martyr, since he was beaten to death by a mob in his episcopal city of Ephesus, many years after St Paul’s death. His feast forms a kind of vigil to the Conversion of St Paul; by this addition, each of the two great Apostles is accompanied, so to speak, by another Saint prominently associated with him.

Whether by coincidence or design, an interesting group of feasts occurs between that Ss Peter and Prisca on the one end, and Timothy and Paul on the other. January 19th is the feast of a group of Persian martyrs, Ss Marius and Martha, and their sons Audifax and Abacum. They were said to have come to Rome in the reign of the Emperor Claudius II, (268-70), and after ministering to the martyrs in various ways, were themselves martyred on the Via Cornelia by decapitation.

January 20th is traditionally kept as the feast of two Saints who died in Rome on the same day, but many years apart. The first is Pope Fabian, who was elected in 236, although a laymen and a stranger to the city. According to Eusebius (Church History 6, 29), he entered the place where the election was being held, and a dove landed on his head; this was taken as a sign that he was the choice of the Holy Spirit, and he was forthwith made Pope. Fourteen years later, at the beginning of the first general persecution under the Emperor Decius, he was one of the first to be martyred. He shares his feast with St Sebastian, said to be a soldier of Milanese origin, as attested by St. Ambrose himself, but martyred in Rome in 286. The relics of St Fabian are kept in one of the chapels of the Roman basilica of St Sebastian, built over the latter’s grave in the mid-fourth century.

On the following day, the Church has kept since the fourth century the feast of one of Rome’s greatest martyrs, St Agnes, who was killed in the persecution of Diocletian at the age of twelve or thirteen. She is named in the Canon of the Mass, and a basilica built near her grave was one of the very first public churches in Rome, a project of the Emperor Constantine himself, along with those of Ss Peter and Paul, the Holy Cross, and St Lawrence.

St Vincent of Saragossa, another martyr of the last general persecution, has long been held in a special place of honor by the Church, along with his fellow deacons Ss Stephen and Lawrence, all three of them having been killed in particularly painful ways. The church of Rome added to his feast on January 22 a martyr from three centuries later, St Anastasius; he was a Persian who converted to Christianity after seeing the relics of the True Cross, which had been stolen from Jerusalem by the Persian king. This is a proper custom of the city of Rome itself; I have not found his feast in any other pre-Tridentine liturgical calendar. A church was built in his honor by the middle of the 10th century, directly across from the future site of one of the city’s most impressive monuments, the Trevi Fountain.

The 23rd of January was long dedicated to St Emerentiana, the foster-sister of St Agnes, whose murderers she bravely rebuked. While praying at her sister’s tomb two days after the latter’s martyrdom, she was spotted by a gang of pagan thugs, who stoned her to death. She was still a catechumen, but the Roman Breviary of 1529 states, “There is no doubt that she was baptized by her own blood, because she steadfastly accepted death for the defense of justice, while she confessed the Lord.” The mortal remains of both women are currently kept in a silver urn underneath the main altar of the church of St Agnes outside-the-Walls on the via Nomentana, and thus, on the very site of Emerentiana’s martyrdom. (Her feast is now a commemoration on the feast of St. Raymond of Penyafort.)
The Martyrdom of St. Emerentiana, shown on a late 14th century cup in the British Museum.
To sum up, therefore, Peter is accompanied by a Roman martyr, Paul by a martyr of one of the oldest Greek churches, that of Ephesus, where both he and St John the Evangelist had lived and preached. Between their two feasts are celebrated martyrs from the two extremes of the Christian world in antiquity, Persia and Spain; native Romans, one the highest authority in the Catholic Church, and one the least and last of its members; a Roman soldier from the venerable see of Milan, representing the might of the Empire, subjected to Christ; and a young woman who in the pagan world was a person of no standing at all, but in the Church is honored as one of its greatest and most heroic figures. The eight day period from January 18-25, then, becomes a celebration not just of the two Apostles who founded the church in the Eternal City, but of the universality of that church’s mission to “preside in charity” over the whole Church, as St Ignatius of Antioch says, and bring every person of whatever condition to salvation in Christ.

Dominican Rite Candlemas in Youngstown, Ohio

St. Dominic’s Church in Youngstown, Ohio, will have the blessing of candles, procession and sung Mass in the Dominican Rite on the feast of the Purification, Thursday, February 2, starting at at 7 p.m. The church is located at 77 E. Lucius Avenue.

More Earthquakes in Italy - The Monks are Safe

Central Italy was rocked by earthquakes once again today, three of them within an hour. The first took place at 10:25 a.m. local time, 5.1 on the Richter scale, the second at 11:14, a 5.4, and the third at 11:25, a 5.3. All three were centered in the province of L’Aquila, which is within the Abruzzi region, but very close to the part of Umbria which includes Norcia, and where significant earthquakes struck last year at the end of August, and again at the end of October. (L’Aquila itself was hit by a very powerful earthquake in 2009.)

I spoke with someone who is very close to the community of the Benedictine Monks of Norcia, who reports that they are fine; however, there will certainly be damage to many of the communities which were already hit by the earlier seismic events, and are also experiencing an unusually harsh winter this year. Thus far, Italian newspapers are not reporting any casualties.

The Patron Saint of nearby Ascoli Piceno, St Emygdius, a bishop and martyr of the persecution of Diocletian, has long been invoked by the Italians against earthquakes, and was so renowned for this devotion that his feast on August 9th was also adopted by several Californian dioceses. These prayers from First Vespers of his proper Office would be appropriate way to ask that Italy be spared any further harm from this event; I have added the prayer against earthquakes from the Roman Missal.

Aña : Emygdius spíritu oris sui idolórum cultum et templa subvertit; quos in Christo génuit filios, illos fidéliter a ruínis terraemótus servávit.
V. Amávit eum Dóminus et ornávit eum. R. Stolam gloriae índuit eum.
Orémus. Oratio Deus, qui beátum Emygdium, Mártyrem tuum atque Pontíficem, idolórum victoria et miraculórum gloria decorasti: concéde propitius; ut, eo interveniente, malórum spirítuum fraudes víncere et coruscáre virtútibus mereámur.
Omnípotens sempiterne Deus, “qui réspicis terram, et facis eam trémere:” parce metuéntibus, propitiáre supplícibus; ut, cujus iram terrae fundamenta concutientem expávimus, clementiam contritiónes ejus sanantem júgiter sentiámus. Per Christum, Dóminum nostrum. Amen.

Aña : Emygdius by the breath of his mouth overthrew the worship of idols and the temples; he faithfully kept the sons whom he had begotten in Christ from the ruin of the earthquake.
V. The Lord loved him and adorned him. R. He clothed him with a robe of glory.
Let us pray. Prayer O God, who didst honor the blessed Emygdius, Thy Martyr and Bishop, with victory over idols and the glory of miracles: grant in Thy mercy, that by his intervention, we may merit to overcome the deceits of wicked spirits, and shine forth with virtues.
Almighty and everlasting God, Who lookest down upon the earth and makest it tremble, spare those who are afraid, show Thy mercy to those who implore Thee; that we who fear Thine anger, which shaketh the foundations of the earth, may evermore enjoy Thy mercy, which healeth its commotions. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Proper Hymn for St Anthony the Abbot

Here is an interesting and very typically medieval hymn for the feast of St Anthony the Abbot, composed in the 14th century. I stumbled across this in the Breviary according to the Use of Passau, Germany, printed at Augsburg in 1490; Passau is one of several churches in southern Germany that adopted this proper Office, which does not seem to have been very popular in other parts of Europe.

Antonii pro meritis,
Eiusque gestis inclitis,
Claris quoque virtutibus,
Exultet caelum laudibus.
For the merits of Anthony,
and his famous deeds,
and his glorious virtues,
let heaven exult with praises.
Natus ex digno genere,
Verbo puer et opere,
Festinavit ad meritum,
Deus, tuorum militum.
Born of a worthy family,
a child in word and deed,
he hastened to the merit
of thy soldiers, o God.
Tempus aetatis tenerae
Non deducebat temere,
Te diligendo intime,
Lucis creator optime.
Not rashly did he pass
the time of his tender age,
loving Thee deeply,
o great creator of the light.
Hic satanae blanditias
Contempsit et insidias,
Tuo fretus solatio,
Iesu, nostra redemptio.
He disdained the lures
and snares of Satan,
supported by Thy comfort,
o Jesus, our redemption.
Omni degebat tempore
Poenas ferens in corpore,
Memor tuorum operum,
Conditor alme siderum.
Every season he passed
bearing hardship in his body,
mindful of Thy works,
o holy creator of the stars.
Noctes orationibus
Deduxit et laboribus,
Nec cessavit ab opere
Iam lucis orto sidere.
He passed the nights
in labors and prayers,
nor ceased he from work
once the sun had risen.
Ieiuniis se macerans,
Verberibus se lacerans,
Desiderabat ingredi
Ad cœnam Agni providi.
Wearing himself away
with fasts and scourging,
he longed to enter
the banquet of the Lamb.
Virtutum tandem titulis
Imbutus et miraculis
Migravit ad te Dominum,
Iesu, corona virginum.
At last, filled with renown
for virtues and with miracles,
he passed to Thee, his Lord,
o Jesus, crown of Virgins.
Sit laus Patri cum Filio
Semper in caeli solio,
Nosque replendo caelitus,
Veni, creator Spiritus. Amen.
Be praise to the Father with the Son,
ever on the heavenly throne,
and filling us from heaven,
come, Creator Spirit. Amen.

St Anthony the Abbot, by Francisco de Zurbarán, ca. 1640
There are a few interesting things to note here. The hymn is an acrostic, the first letters of each stanza spelling his name as ANTHONIVS. (The H after the T is a common medieval variant, not found in the original Latin form of the name, or in Greek.) The meter is the iambic dimeter, that of the original hymns of St Ambrose and other early Christian poets, short and long syllables alternating four time for a total of eight. (Substitutions are very common, especially since vowel quantities were already weakened in the 5th century, and hardly perceived as such in the High Middle Ages.) As such, it can be sung in any one of a great many melodies, and may very well have been sung in more than one, according to the traditions of various churches.

Medieval hymnographers also loved the trick performed by the author of this hymn, in which the last line of each stanza is the title (i.e. first line) of another hymn. (A similarly constructed piece is sung in the Cisterican Office of St Bernard.) The hymns thus quoted are all from the repertoire generally found in all medieval Uses of the Office.

Exultet caelum laudibus - from the Common of Apostles
Deus, tuorum militum - from the Common of Martyrs
Lucis creator optime - from Sunday Vespers
Iesu, nostra redemptio - from the feast of the Ascension, pre-Urban VIII
Conditor alme siderum - from Vespers of Advent, pre-Urban VIII
Iam lucis orto sidere - the hymn of Prime
Ad cœnam Agni providi - from Vespers of Eastertide, pre-Urban VIII
Iesu, corona virginum - from the Common of Virgins
Veni, creator Spiritus - Pentecost

The difficulty of this trick is to integrate the titles into the words of a new composition in a new sense, and the results here are uneven. Some of the expressions in the vocative case, such as “Lucis creator optime,” could be interchanged with any of the others. (I do not say this as a critique of the author; medievals valued originality far less than we do.) “Deus, tuorum militum,” however, works very cleverly with the second stanza, as “Iam lucis orto sidere” does with the sixth. The citation of the Easter hymn in its original text, “Ad coenam Agni providi,” is the only real flaw, since in the original, the word “providi” does not modify “Agni”, but the main subject of the stanza, which appears in the fourth line. (“Ad coenam Agni providi, et stolis albis candidi, post transitum maris Rubri Christo canamus principi. - Looking forward to the banquet of the Lamb, and shining in white stoles, after the passing of the Red Sea, let us sing to Christ the prince.”) Here, “providi” is left marooned to modify “the Lamb”, who is now “looking forward” to no stated object; I have left it untranslated above.

Monastic Chant Forum at Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight, July 2017

Fr Benedict Hardy of Pluscarden Abbey has sent me details about the next meeting of the Monastic Chant Forum, which will take place at Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight in England this coming July.

The meeting will run from Monday July 17th (arrivals before supper at 7 pm) to Friday, July 21st. (Departures in the morning: the daily Mass at Quarr is at 9:00 am).

The speakers are:

Dr. Giedrius Gapsys of the Ecole de Chant Grégorien de Paris
Dom Xavier Perrin, Abbot of Quarr, and
Sr. Bernadette Byrne, Choir Mistress at Ryde.

The theme is “Gregorian phrase analysis and practice”

Dr Gapsys writes:
“This is one of the most crucial points in Gregorian studies, and still a very practical one! Text, melody, neums and mode are the ‘four points of the compass’ that enable us to find our way to the Gregorian phrase safely, and in this way to bring our chant to life.”
The hope is to attract as many from the monastic world as possible. The presence of monks and nuns from a variety of different communities will be deeply appreciated, but others will also be warmly welcomed, and offered accommodation as space allows.

Fr Benedict said to me:
In my opinion, anyone at all attending this meeting will come away with a much enhanced understanding of Gregorian Chant, and an ever deeper appreciation of its value as great music, as sung liturgical worship, as prayer. They will also have experienced a thoroughly enjoyable few days, in a most fraternal and congenial setting.
There will be a modest residential fee of £150, or £30 for single days, payable to Quarr Abbey, c/o the Procurator, Fr. Brian Kelly. They hope to secure a grant to cover the course costs, as usual, but cannot yet promise success in this, so there may be an additional course fee.

For accommodation at Quarr, please contact Fr. Brian at: Information about St. Cecilia’s Abbey Ryde from Sr. Bernadette Byrne at

We are used to thinking of monasteries as power-houses of prayer that offer the liturgy on behalf the Church and the world. There is an additional, very concrete reason why it is important that religious communities continue to offer ever better chanted liturgies, and why events such as this are to be supported. It is through retreats and visits to the monasteries and convents around the world that many people are first exposed to the beauty of chant and encounter the power of the Liturgy of the Hours. Such visits, whether as part of a group, as guided retreats, or as personal visits are popular with many people who would not normally think of themselves as interested in liturgy or even Catholicism.

This can draw people to the Church and help make more of them aware of what the liturgy can be. Through such contacts, people can come away with a desire to see something better. It might mean recognition that they have a religious vocation, but it is as likely to create a desire for chant in the liturgy in their parishes. It was through my visits to Benedictine monasteries including Pluscarden and Quarr that my eyes were opened to the beauty of chant and the power of the Liturgy of the Hours.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Tale of Two Lectionaries: Qualitative versus Quantitative Measures

In recent years, I have been drawn into research on the revised lectionary, which is often hailed as one of the great gains of the liturgical reform. The fullest presentation of my findings is published in the proceedings of Sacra Liturgia 2015, Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century (pp. 287-320), but additional considerations are found in a chapter of my book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis, the Foreword to Matthew Hazell’s book Index Lectionum, the essay I contributed to a forthcoming volume from Emmaus Road[1], my article on the glaring omission of 1 Cor 11:27–29 from the revised lectionary, and my article on the purging of Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours. It must be admitted that as one delves more deeply into the subject, one finds ever more disturbing things.

In his thought-provoking book Work of Human Hands, Rev. Anthony Cekada claims that the new lectionary “contains more Scripture but less of its actual message.”[2] At first sight, this claim may seem incredible. After all, does not the massive increase in passages read aloud automatically mean that more of the message of God’s word must be present?

It is, however, easy to illustrate the truth of what Fr. Cekada is saying by means of a comparison.

Let us say that an erudite publisher wishes to bring out a collection of “classic Shakespeare texts” and stipulates that the book must be relatively compact. A capable editor, thoroughly familiar with the plays, would range through the Bard’s tragedies, comedies, histories, and romances, selecting famous speeches and favorite characters as well as an occasional lesser-known odd, dark, curious, or lyrical passage. Even though only a small percentage of the whole content will end up included, the resulting florilegium will nevertheless be truly representative of the whole, flavored with all aspects of the Bard’s genius.

Now, imagine another publisher, more up-to-date in his views (and therefore more narrow-minded), who agrees that Shakespeare is, after all, an author to reckon with — but only in those aspects of his work that are acceptable to modern readers, since today’s men and women do not like to be reminded of sin, death, judgment, hell, and other unpleasant things. This publisher also feels that the tragic element has been rather overdone, so he wishes to have excerpts from the comedies, histories, and romances, but nothing from the tragedies. And because typesetting and printing have become so easy and affordable, he decides that he can bring out a multi-volume set. This publisher hires an editor whom he instructs to do all of the above. He must include a far greater quantity of Shakespeare, but he must avoid the “difficult” parts. The work is executed and three shiny volumes roll off the presses.

The notice for Thomas Bowdler's The Family Shakspeare of 1807

Would we not say, in all honesty, that no matter what percentage of Shakespeare finds its way into the latter set of volumes, they are not, in fact, representative of the whole, owing to the politically correct (and thus arbitrary and subjective) editorial policy? Would we not say that the other publisher’s single volume, though much more compact, can better lay claim to being a synopsis of Shakespeare?

Yes, this is exactly what we would say.

This hypothetical example manifests a universal truth: one must first embrace the whole as whole before one can fairly select parts as parts. In other words, to know what parts are important, and to know how they may be used when taken out of their larger context, demands an appreciation of the whole and a sensitivity to the relative weight and function of the parts.

A racial example will make this clear. If one believes that all races are equal, one can reasonably pick out a few individuals for military or government positions and leave the rest behind, without incurring the charge of racial prejudice. That a few got picked, and perhaps only those of a certain race, would not be a matter of prejudice but of practical necessity: there are only so many positions to be filled, and the best men are to be chosen. The best pick, at any given time, will not necessarily include a range of races; that is a matter of divine providence. If, in contrast, one believed that only men of a certain race were human or virtuous, one’s subsequent choice of individuals from that race alone, passing over of individuals from other races, would be problematic.

It is just like this with the lectionaries. The historic lectionaries of the Western tradition contain relatively few passages, but these passages are well chosen for their latreutic and educative functions. They carry a tremendous “punch.” No prejudice against difficult, demanding, or politically incorrect passages guided the redaction. Your traditional lectionary, as small as it is, gives you the rough with the smooth, every type of passage from clear to obscure, consoling to disturbing, pacific to violent. Just like in our hypothetical Shakespeare book.

It is true: the old lectionary lacks some of the favorite stories of the Bible. But since its purpose was never merely to instruct, much less to entertain, and since it contains clear passages on all of the major subjects of doctrine and morality, its incompleteness in this regard is no defect on any reasonable account; such omissions are in no way crippling to its liturgical function. Moreover, there is no reason that a limited number of additional readings could not have been judiciously added to the existing structure, in keeping with Sacrosanctum Concilium 35 and 51. For as we know, organic development of the liturgy occurs most often by means of addition, not subtraction or ex nihilo innovation.

What was done by the Prometheans, instead, was to scrap the existing millennium-old lectionary and start literally from scratch, with two false guiding principles: (1) the purpose of the lectionary is to present as much instructional content to the people as possible; (2) this instructional content should avoid anything that is “too difficult for modern man.” The first principle indicates a faulty liturgical theology; the second, a faulty theology of biblical inspiration and inerrancy. Together they amount to a rejection of the most fundamental principle of all, namely, that liturgical tradition is to be received with veneration and passed on without diminution or corruption.

Hence, the new lectionary is vitiated in its principles and, whatever its benefits may happen to be, as a whole it cannot be seen as a genuine lectionary in the sense in which venerable Christian tradition has produced lectionaries. It is rather a committee product that God, in His mercy, has permitted to be not entirely without fruit. The sooner we recognize this fact, the sooner we can repent of our rashness and return to our traditional lectionary, which emerges from unfiltered Christian faith and piety.

In conclusion, it is quite possible for a lectionary to have more of Scripture quantitatively but less of Scripture qualitatively. The traditional Roman lectionary gives to the people more of the total message of Scripture, even though it has a lower word-count, while the new lectionary gives to the people less of the total message, in spite of its vastly higher word-count.

[1] As we await this publication, the talk is available at my page.
[2] There is much to admire in Fr. Cekada’s research, as Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth said in his review of it in Usus Antiquior.  But, as with Msgr. Wadsworth, I cannot share many of the book’s conclusions.

The Feast of St Agnes in New York City

The church of St Agnes in New York City, located at 143 East 43rd St, will hold a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the feast of its Patron Saint, this coming Saturday, starting at 10:30 a.m. The music will be Palestrina’s Missa Veni Sponsa Christi, with motets by Carissimi and Victoria, sung by the St Agnes Schola Cantorum under the direction of Mr Heitor Caballero.

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