Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Paschal Candle: An Artist Explains

The paschal candle holds a place of great antiquity in the Roman rite, as well as others. As readers of this blog undoubtedly know, beginning at the Easter Vigil, it is lit at all Masses through the Feast of the Ascension as a symbol of the Risen Christ. In the old rite, it is extinguished after the Gospel on the Feast of the Ascension as a sign of our Pasch's departure to prepare a place for His faithful.

The following pictures are of a paschal candle prepared for use in the liturgy at the FSSP church of St. Francis in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The candle was painted by Mrs. Elizabeth Lemme, a church musician and talented iconographer. Her work (illuminations, paintings, iconography) can be seen at www.adorientemsacredart.com
Regarding her work on this year's Paschal candle for the parish, she offers these reflections:

Symbolism of the Paschal Candle: Christ, the Divine Gardener

While the focal point of a Paschal Candle is the Alpha, Cross, and Omega, the rest of this candle is adorned with theologically symbolic images and ornaments which further elaborate the meaning of our Lord’s Resurrection.

When we process into the dark church at the Easter Vigil, our way is illuminated by one point of light: the flame of holy fire atop the Paschal candle, and we sing “Lumen Christi, Deo Gratias.” This small flame contains within it a portrait of the Heavenly Jerusalem for which we yearn; it is our true home for which we strive. St. John the Beloved Disciple writes about the Heavenly Jerusalem and its celestial light, which is God Himself, in the Apocalypse: “And the city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine upon it. For the glory of God lights it up, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof.” And so, above the Alpha and Omega is pictured the Lamb, the lamp of the Heavenly Jerusalem, Christ, “standing as though slain,” atop the book with seven seals.

The Lamb is framed with vines which wind around blossoming forth flowers and berries. This ornamentation is inspired first of all by the heart of Our Lady, who stood faithfully by the Cross even though almost everyone else fled. She was the “Lily among brambles.”

The ornamentation of vines and flowers also symbolizes the story of our salvation, which began in a garden: “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, to the east, and put there the man he had formed.” Man was expelled from this garden by sin…however, our means of salvation was won by our Lord Jesus Christ in a garden; a detail which Christ’s beloved disciple notes in his gospel: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” The very first person who saw the resurrected Christ, St. Mary Magdalene, received this revelation in a garden: “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why art thou weeping? Whom dost thou seek?’ She, thinking that he was the gardener, said to him, ‘Sir, if thou hast removed Him, tell me where thou hast laid him and I will take him away.’” In the beautiful course of events which followed, St. Mary Magdalene’s words to the mourning disciples were these: “I HAVE SEEN THE LORD.” Thus our Lord’s first revelation of his glorious body took place in a garden, a place of beauty. Flowers should remind us of the entire story of our salvation, from beginning to end.

The vines and flowers symbolize the hidden Christ “peering through the lattice,” as it says in the Canticle of Canticles, present among us on earth. Christ says to His Church on Easter morning: “Arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away, for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come.” The passing of winter yields to the visual appeal of flowers, and the aural appeal of birds singing. The passing of our day-to-day sorrows yields to the beauty of visual art in our churches, and of beautiful sacred music during the Liturgy. The passing of our earthly life yields to the celestial and surpassing beauty of, please God, eternal life in heaven.

The ornamentation on the Paschal candle symbolizes Christ as the source of all Life. Master iconographer, Nikita Andrejev, writes in The Prosopon Journal Issue No. 10, “In the Christian cosmology, nature is never contemplated in isolation from the mysterious seeds of the divine Presence which are considered as the foundational principles and upholding forces in all created things.” The new life surging forth in a tiny spring blossom preaches the truth that St. John preached in his gospel: “and in Him was LIFE.” And thus the role of ornament in sacred art (and in sacred music, such as melismas in Gregorian chant) allows us to see the depth and meaning of life, which cannot be found outside Christ. Andrejev says that we “perceive through and beyond the visible phenomena to that which is the source of all meaning, the wellspring which never runs dry, and does not allow banality.” Ornamentation is a stylized portrait of vegetation, the “lowest common denominator” of earthly existence, and yet the expression of the presence of God appears even in “the most remote reaches of the universe and into the smallest, molecular spaces of matter as it makes its way into the very tips of newly grown tree branches … ornament is the transposition and functioning of divine Life on even the most insignificant level of the cosmos.” It gets better. Andrejev concludes that “ornament is also the image of a certain blooming forth of divine Ideas within simple natural shapes of creation, as if from the dust of a divine star that has passed overhead. With its intertwining forms, ornament is also a mirror of the rich complexity, unexpected wonderfulness and inimitability of the ‘Ways of the Lord.’”

Because the story of our salvation began in a garden, was fought for and won in a garden, it is supremely important that the very place where we encounter the Person of our salvation is as beautiful as a garden. The garden is a portrait of the inner heart of Our Lady. The garden is the concrete, specific place here on earth where our Lord chose for the most significant events in the story of salvation: the origin and fall of man, the battle for salvation, the victory of our salvation, and the first revelation of the glorious, risen, Christ. The sacred place where we attend Mass should be like a garden full of beautiful objects and beautiful sounds. The melisma heard in our Gregorian chant is echoed in the vines seen in this little Paschal candle, is echoed in every stitch of the sacred vestments, and in each brush stroke on the walls surrounding the High Altar. All of this diligent and meticulously sung, sewn, and painted work points directly to and comes from our Lord, and creates a small portrait of the hope of heaven.

Why Developing the Skill of Drawing Is So Necessary for the Artist - And Where You Can Learn to Do It Well

All figurative Christian art, and especially sacred art, is a balance between natural appearances and idealisation. Idealisation is the controlled distortion from natural appearances that enables the artist to communicate invisible truths.

Some people assume that working in a style such as the gothic or iconographic is easier than in more naturalistic styles, but in fact to be able to work in a style well is takes great skill. The artist must be aware of span the divide between the two worlds he is representing. If there is too great an emphasis on natural appearances, then it lacks mystery. If the distortion so too great, then we lose a sense of the material. Artists should be aware too, that in sacred art the degree of naturalism should be less than in mundane art - for example landscapes and portraits.

Pius XII spoke of this in Mediator Dei (195) he refers to this balance (he uses the word 'realism' for my naturalism; and 'symbolism' for my idealism): 'Modern art should be given free scope in the due and reverent service of the church and the sacred rites, provided that they preserve a correct balance between styles tending neither to extreme realism nor to excessive "symbolism," and that the needs of the Christian community are taken into consideration rather than the particular taste or talent of the individual artist.'

The first step in getting this right is  studying the tradition to develop a sense of where the balance lies. Even so, different artists will have a different sense of exactly where this balance lies, but even recognition of the fact that there can be excessive naturalism and excessive abstraction and that he should seek the temperate mean goes a long way to getting it right.

The second step is getting the skill to represent precisely both the naturalistic and the idealistic (by reflecting accurately the idea of the mind in the artist). The artist who cannot draw well from nature cannot do this, for no matter how well conceived his ideas may be he cannot represent them accurately if he cannot draw well. Therefore learning to draw well is an essential part of the training of any artist. Regardless of the style in which he ultimately intends to paint in, I would recommend everyone to learn to draw rigorously. The best drawing training that I know is the academic method. I spent a year learning this in the Florence atelier of Charles H Cecil with the blessing of my icon painting teacher even though the style is very different. As a result the quality of my icon painting went up by orders of magnitude. A danger of learning the academic technique is that of being so dazzled by how ones drawing improves that one forgets that technique is only the means to an end and not the end. The artist must realise that he cannot succeed on technique alone and so should not neglect the development of his understanding tradition and how to direct those skills in the service of God.

Those who wish to learn this technique can come along to the Thomas More College summer school art program. This is done in conjunction with the world reknowned Ingbretson Studio, featured here:


In this class a day spent in the studio is supplemented by a series of lectures explaining the basis of the tradition and placing the use of it within the context of Catholic sacred art so that you always control the technique in the service of the Church.

Just to illustrate the level of drawing skill achieved by the academic method. Here is work from the Russian 19th century Master Vasiliy Polenov. He is highly skilled. You can see a couple of examples of his drawings including one of a bibilical scene - the raising of the daughter of Jairus. I have also included a couple of his landscapes. In my personal judgement, he was a superb draughtsman and has dazzling technical skill. This works wonderfully in the landscapes. However, it is not sufficiently abstracted or symbolic for sacred art and so his bibilical scenes look more like what we used to seeing as color plates in children's bibles than devotional art. It is interesting to note that in Russia in the 19th century, this is how art for churches was painted and part of process of reestablishing the Russian iconographic tradition, which happened in the 20th century as reaction to this by figures at the turn of the last century such as Fr Pavel Florensky. His analysis was then picked up by painters such as Ouspensky and Kroug in the mid-20th century.

The purpose of this not to argue against the validity of the academic training. In fact it is the opposite, I would argue that it has great value; but if one is to use it in the services of sacred art, one must be aware of how to direct that skill towards the right balance of naturalism and idealism.

Below: a drawing - portrait of an art critic; a superb landscape of a Russian rural scene; then two bibilical scenes - 'he who is without sin' and the boy Jesus found in the temple teaching the teachers. By way of contrast I show Duccio's version of the same subject that has a much more abstracted style.

For those who are interested here the details of Thomas More College's Summer School at the Ingbretson Studio

Monday, April 21, 2014

John XXIII in His Own Words (3): Devotion to Saint Pius X and Blessed Pius IX

Pope John on the sedia gestatoria
It seems ironic, to say the least, given the polarization that postconciliar developments have produced in the Church, with the Society of Saint Pius X as a kind of flashpoint, that one of the deepest and tenderest of Blessed John XXIII’s personal devotions was to none other than Giuseppe Sarto, whom he constantly recalls in his private notes and public discourses. Today it would be harder to imagine a saint further removed from “the spirit of Vatican II” than Pius X—and (although to a lesser degree) John XXIII himself, who sought to live, think, and pray in that saint’s footsteps. Some passages in John XXIII's Journal of a Soul bring out his tender and profound devotion to both Pius IX and Pius X, papal saints and heroes of traditionalism.

Of special note is the fact that Angelo Roncalli, on the day of his first Mass, was blessed personally by Pope Pius X, as we will see mentioned in two of the following diary entries.
[Prayer to St. Pius X]
         On the day of my first Mass your hands were laid on my head, the head of a newly ordained priest kneeling as you passed by in the Vatican.
           I have always treasured in my heart the memory of that gesture and of the gentle words of good wishes and blessings which accompanied it.
         Now fifty years have passed.  You are a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem, you rejoice in the glory of the saints, and all Christians pray to you.
         The humble young priest of long ago has been placed in the Chair of St. Mark, where you, too, presided with such splendour of doctrine, virtue, and example.        O Holy Father Pius X, I put my trust in you.  I do not fear to die.  I do not refuse to work.  May your powerful arm assist me, so that all that is still left for me to do in my life may be to the edification, the blessing and the joy of these beloved children of Venice, your children and mine, with whom it is sweet to live but still more precious and joyful to sacrifice myself in an outpouring of lovingkindness and pastoral care.  [Prayer for the 50th anniversary of Roncalli's ordination as priest, August 1954, while Patriarch of Venice.]
It is interesting, in this passage, that John XXIII spontaneously thinks of Pius IX after outlining the virtues necessary for a saintly soul (and shepherd):
The maxim “Know thyself” suffices for my spiritual serenity and keeps me on the alert.  The secret of my success must lie there: in not “searching into things which are above my ability” and in being content to be “meek and humble of heart.”  Meekness and humbleness of heart give graciousness in receiving, speaking and dealing with people, and the patience to bear, to pity, to keep silent and to encourage.  Above all, one must always be ready for the Lord’s surprise moves, for although he treats his loved ones well, he generally likes to test them with all sorts of trials such as bodily infirmities, bitterness of soul and sometimes opposition so powerful as to transform and wear out the life of the servant of God, the life of the servant of the servants of God, making it a real martyrdom.  I always think of Pius IX of sacred and glorious memory and, by imitating him in his sufferings, I would like to be worthy to celebrate his canonization.  (Journal, p. 299, between 29 Nov. and 5 Dec. 1959)
Pope St. Pius X
And an outpouring of gratitude for his priestly ministry:
My heart is touched when I think of this anniversary of my ordination as a priest—10 August, 1904—in the church of Santa Maria in Monte Santo, Piazza del Popolo. … I remember it all, at a distance of fifty-seven years.  Ever since then I have felt ashamed of my worthlessness.  “My God, my mercy.” … After my first Mass over the tomb of St. Peter I felt the hands of the Holy Father Pius X laid on my head in a blessing full of good augury for me and for the priestly life I was just entering upon; and after more than half a century (fifty-seven years precisely) here are my own hands extended in a blessing for the Catholics, and not only the Catholics, of the whole world, in a gesture of universal fatherhood.  I am successor to this same Pius X who has been proclaimed a saint, and I am still living in the same priestly service as he, his predecessors and his successors, all placed like St. Peter at the head of the whole Church of Christ, one, holy, catholic and apostolic.  (Journal, p. 302; on 10 August 1961)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Day: Solemn Vespers and Benediction at the London Oratory

The last of the photographs from the Triduum at the London Oratory show Solemn Vespers and Solemn Benediction this afternoon.

Easter Sunday

The Resurrection of Christ, by Passignano, ca. 1600

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free. He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into Hades and took Hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted His flesh! And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed: “Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions”. It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains! It took a body and came upon God! It took earth and encountered Ηeaven! It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen! O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb! For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept. To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages. Amen. (from the Paschal Homily of Saint John Chrysostom)

TO all our readers, to their friends and families, we wish you an Easter filled with every joy and blessing in the Risen Lord - He is truly risen!

The Easter Vigil at the London Oratory

Photographs of last night's Vigil of Easter & Solemn Sung Mass at the London Oratory. The final photograph is of an object which was used during the course of the Vigil. Answer in the comments if you know what it is for! Happy Easter to you all.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday

The Harrowing of Hell, by Duccio di Buoninsenga, 1308-11
R. Recessit pastor noster, fons aquae vivae, ad cujus transitum sol obscuratus est; * nam et ille captus est, qui captivum tenebat primum hominem: hodie portas mortis et seras pariter Salvator noster disrupit. V. Destruxit quidem claustra inferni, et subvertit potentias diaboli. Nam et ille.

R. Our Shepherd hath departed, the font of living water, at Whose passing the sun was darkened; * for he that held the first Man captive, was himself taken: today our Savior hath broken asunder the doors and bars of death. V. Indeed, he destroyed the fortress of hell, and overthrew the powers of the devil. For he that held. (Tenebrae of Holy Saturday, fourth responsory)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

‘Ο εὐσχήμων ’Ιωσήφ, ἀπὸ τοῦ ξύλου καθελὼν τὸ ἀχραντόν σου σῶμα, σινδόνι καθαρᾷ εἱλήσας καὶ ἀρώμασι, ἐν μνήματι καινῷ κηδεύσας ἀπέθετο.

Благообразный Иосиф, с Древа снем Пречистое Тело Твое, плащаницею чистою обвив, и вонями, во гробе нове покрыв положи.

The noble Joseph took down from the Cross Thy spotless Body, and when he had wrapped It in a clean shroud with spices, he laid It for burial in a new Sepulchre.

Good Friday Liturgy of the Passion at the London Oratory

Photographs of Good Friday Liturgy of the Passion at the London Oratory. All photographs of the Oratory Liturgies also appear on the London Oratory Facebook Page with explanatory captions. [Photos: Charles Cole]

Holy Thursday in Rome

The first three photographs here were taken by our friend Agnese at the FSSP’s Roman Parish, Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini. (I was not able to visit as many churches as I did last year.)
Singing of the Gospel at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper

The Sacrament Chapel of St John in the Lateran on Holy Thursday morning. 
The Sacrament Chapel of Santa Maria Maggiore before the Mass of the Lord’s Supper begins. 
The high altar prepared for Mass
Matins of the Twelve Gospels at the Russicum

The Sacrament Chapel of Santa Maria Maggiore shortly before closing at midnight.
San Martino ai Monti
San Clemente (morning of Good Friday)
San Clemente - Veils for Passiontide are making a notable comeback in Rome.
The Sacrament Chapel of St John in the Lateran (Good Friday morning); Lauds are being sung by the canons of the Basilica.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Solemn Mass of the Lord's Supper at the London Oratory

Here are photographs taken this evening at the London Oratory during Solemn Mass of the Lord’s Supper with Mandatum and Procession to the Altar of Repose. There are 27 photographs in total, including the Stripping of the Altars, so be sure to click on 'Continue reading this article'. There will be more photographs from SW7 over the next few days. [Photos: Charles Cole]