Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Cathedral of Siena (Part 14): Vestments in the Cathedral Museum

This is the final post in our series on the cathedral of Siena, which started just over two months ago on November 18, the anniversary of the church’s dedication. Here we show a few of the very nice vestments displayed in the cathedral museum; these are kept behind glass for protection, obviously, which makes for less-than-ideal photography. (The museum also doesn’t provide much information about them.) Thanks once again to Nicola for sharing these pictures with us.
A burse embroidered with images of two early local martyrs, Abundantius and Abundius; originally made for a monastery dedicated to them, which was the oldest in the city. (The relics of these Saints were translated to the main Jesuit church in Rome by order of Pope Gregory XIII in 1583.)
A chasuble decorated with images of the Last Supper, Resurrection and Ascension, evidently designed to be used on the relevant feast days. This is known as “the Raphael chasuble” from the tradition that it was designed by the painter Raphael while he was in Siena as a young man, and working as an assistant to Pinturicchio in the decoration of the Piccolomini library.  
An unusually well-preserved late medieval chasuble, made in Lucca in the early 14th century.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Upcoming Eucharistic Reverence and Reparation Novena, January 24 to February 1, 2021

It has become increasingly clear that the year 2020 was, by God’s providence, a wake-up call on many levels. Massive disruption has been caused by draconian civil and episcopal responses to COVID-19, and these may well worsen in 2021. In our churches, where we might have expected to find strength and consolation, faithful Catholics have faced demoralization from liturgical tinkering, shutdowns, arbitrary rules, and institutionalized abuses. The message has been transmitted that Mass is optional, resulting in what appears to be a permanent dramatic dropoff in attendance. Crowdedness now seems to be a “problem” only at liturgies offered in a more traditional manner, where Catholics have found to their relief a spirit of reverence lacking elsewhere. This, indeed, is a silver lining on an otherwise dark cloud.

In so fraught a situation, at least a few should “stay awake and watch” with Our Lord in His Agony in the Garden, uniting themselves to His Cross and begging Him for His mercy on mankind and on the household of believers. The Lord assured Abraham He would spare a city where only a few just men lived. Our prayers and sacrifices will strengthen us and contribute to the eventual restoration of the Church and of the Faith.

Sophia Institute Press has announced a “Novena for the Eucharist,” to take place over the nine days from January 24 to February 1. The website is Those who sign up pledge to do as much of the following as they can:

  • pray a daily Rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet
  • attend daily Mass
  • fast by skipping one meal
  • give alms
  • abstain from media

The Novena of the Eucharist is linked with the release of my book The Holy Bread of Eternal Life: Restoring Eucharistic Reverence in an Age of Impiety, which take a no-holds-barred look at the evils committed daily against the Blessed Sacrament due to decades of liturgical deformation and abuse, and argues for immediate and urgent concrete solutions. Not everyone is equally well-positioned to implement every solution, yet we should all do what we can: pray and do penance. As Jesus said, some demons are driven out in no other way—and there are a lot of demons on the loose right now.

I will certainly be doing this novena, so help me God, and I strongly encourage NLM readers to join the over 5,000 who have signed up for it. Even if you don’t think you can do all of the recommended practices of piety, it would be worthwhile to do at least some. When you sign up at the website, Sophia will send you, for each day of the novena, a short daily meditation from Scripture and a prayer.

The Secret for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Giambattista Tiepolo, the Prophet Isaiah and the Burning Coal, 1726-1729

Lost in Translation #35

When I first came across the Epistle for the Third Sunday after Epiphany as a boy, I thought that this verse

But if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink: for doing this, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. (Prov. 25, 22, Rom. 12, 20)
meant that the best way to deal with an enemy is to be nice to him, because that will really infuriate him. Little did I know that a lit coal is a symbol of purification, and that the Bible is admonishing us to purify our enemy, [1] not tweak him with sanctimonious passive aggression.

Purification is also the theme of the Secret for the Third Sunday after Epiphany:
Haec hostia, Dómine, quásumus, emundet nostra delicta: et ad sacrificium celebrandum, subditórum tibi córpora mentesque sanctíficet. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
May this offering, O Lord, we pray Thee, cleanse away our offenses, and sanctify the bodies and minds of Thy subjects for the celebration of this sacrifice. Through our Lord.
Hostia (“offering”) is not an easy word to translate. It is a common term for a victim (that which is sacrificed), but it can also refer to an offering or the act of sacrifice itself. It appears 43 times in the orations of the traditional Roman Missal, always in the Secret. In these prayers hostia usually refers to the gifts brought by the faithful but sometimes, as it does here, it also has "a ritual, sacramental character." [2]
Delicta (“offenses”) can also be surprisingly slippery. It is usually, and not inaccurately, translated as “sins.” But delictum is derived from delinquo, to fail in one’s duty or to fall short. According to a Gloss on Ephesians 2, 1 with which St. Thomas Aquinas was familiar, delictum signifies a sin of omission. [3] On the other hand, St. Jerome uses delicta as the genus and sins of thought, word, and deed as the different species. [4] What paradigm the authors of the ancient Roman orations had in mind is difficult to determine.
Subditi (“subjects”) is often translated as “servants,” but a more literal rendering is “those who are subject to Thee.” As we have discussed earlier, subjection is not a popular concept in an egalitarian age such as ours, yet the biblical worldview sees only two alternatives: you are either subject to God or subject to the devil (see Jas. 4, 7). Subjection to God is paradoxically liberating; the more we are subject to Him, the more we are truly free and truly ourselves.
But the most curious part of this prayer is the second petition to sanctify our bodies and minds. The mind or soul is sanctified by an infusion of sanctifying grace and by a healthy reordering of one’s desires. But how is the body sanctified? What indeed is the meaning of Romans 12, 1, from which this prayer is no doubt drawing?
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service.
I await your thoughts.
[1] See Isaiah 6, 7 and the prayer Munda cor meum before the Gospel.
[2] Sr. Mary Pierre Ellebracht, Remarks on the Vocabulary of the Ancient Orations in the Missale Romanum (Dekker & Van de Vegt N.V.), 76.
[3] The verse is “And you, when you were dead in your offences, and sins” (Et vos, cum essetis mortui delictis et peccatis vestris). See St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II.72.6.
[4] Tria sunt generalia delicta quibus humanum subiacet genus, aut enim cogitatione, aut sermone, aut opere peccamus (Commentary on Ezechiel 43.23, as cited by Aquinas in Summa Theologiae I-II.72.77, sed contra).

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Domenichino’s Martyrdom of St Agnes

In the year 1619, the painter Domenico Zampieri, who is generally referred to by the nickname “Domenichino – little Dominic”, was commissioned to do a monumental altarpiece for the Dominican convent of his native city of Bologna, which was dedicated to Saint Agnes, whose feast is kept today. The result was his Martyrdom of St Agnes, completed over a period of two years, which stands at 17½ feet tall by 11¼ wide. The convent was one of the Order’s oldest, established in the lifetime of St Dominic himself barely half a mile from the church where he is buried; it was suppressed during the Napoleonic sack of Italy, and the painting is now in the National Gallery in Bologna.
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons
During the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church was very much concerned with the position of women, particularly in response to the Protestant reformation, which abolished all forms of canonical and monastic life, leaving no institutional role for women. It also completely erased the Church’s traditional esteem for virginity as a state in life (whether formally blessed by the Church itself or not), despite its purported emphasis on St Paul, upon whose words in 1 Corinthians 7, 25-40 that esteem is based. Part of the Catholic answer to this, therefore, was to stress the importance of certain very ancient martyrs like Agnes, who died at least in part because of their refusal to marry, and were praised and held up as models by the same Church Fathers to whose writings the Protestants often looked for justification of their teachings.
In Domenichino’s time, Bologna was the second city of the Pontifical State, which had conquered it in 1506; on the ecclesiastical level, it had been a diocese directly dependent on the Holy See well before that. Just a year after the artist was born there in 1581, it was elevated to an archbishopric; the first archbishop, Gabriele Palleotti, was also the author of a treatise on painting, and especially religious painting, which was highly influential on the art of the Counter-Reformation. This treatise strongly highlighted the ability of art to preach and teach the Faith, and the idea that it preaches most effectively when it is not just beautiful, but also dignified, and when the subject matter is shown in a manner appropriate both for a church and for the Church.
Notice, therefore, how in the lower part of the painting, we see the moment of St Agnes’ death, but without any of the ugliness that a painter like Caravaggio would have brought to such a moment. (Caravaggio was sharply criticized by another very influential writer on art of this period, Giovanni Bellori, for the excessively stark realism with which he depicted scenes of this kind.) It captures the very moment when she is stabbed in the neck, but her martyrdom is shown not so such by blood coming from the wound as by her white garment, the symbol of its cause, and the red robe over it, symbolizing the martyrdom itself.
The face of the man stabbing her is obscured in shadow, to indicate that although he is the one acting at the moment, he is not the focus of the painting; indeed, he is irrelevant to the true significance of what is taking place. Agnes’ face, even though it is right next to his, is brightly illuminated, and at the very center of this part of the composition, looking upwards towards heaven. We see less of her actual suffering, not because it is unimportant, but because it is far less important than her love for God, and the courage which it gives her to accept a violent death as the way to enter into His presence. To her left we see her traditional emblem, a lamb, also another symbol of virginity.
Particularly interesting is the group of three women to the right of the Saint, each of whom represents a state of life honored and consecrated by the Church in different ways: a young woman, representing virgins, an older woman representing widows, and a young mother, representing the state of matrimony (which the Protestants rejected as a sacrament.) This last is very similar, both in the position of her body and the way her hair is done, to a figure in the same part of Raphael’s last painting, the Transfiguration of Christ, an homage to one of the artists of the later Renaissance most admired by those of the Baroque era.
In the upper part, Christ passes to an angel the crown of virginity and the palm of martyrdom to bring down to Agnes. Domenichino places just one part of the angel, the left foot, within the architectural element that separates the upper section from the lower, to indicate that this is the last moment before Agnes receives them, passing definitively from earth into the glory of the Saints. The angels playing musical instruments (each one different) are included here not just as a conventional symbol of heaven, but also as a reminder of the importance of music to Catholic worship (in contrast to the generally rather more austere services of the Protestants), and the vital role which music played in women’s religious houses, and in women’s education generally.
In response to the elitism inherent in many forms of Protestantism, and especially Calvinism, we see that God is taking a direct and personal interest in Saint Agnes, a person of absolutely no account to the world, but who will in just one moment be welcomed into heaven as a witness to the true Faith, and honored by the Church as one of the greatest of her many Saints.
By a nice coincidence, a Dominican friend happened to recommend this polyphonic setting of the antiphon for the Magnificat at First Vespers of St Agnes by the highly prolific English composer Peter Philips (1560 ca. 1628), who lived most of his life in exile on the Continent. After the death of his wife and child, he was ordained a priest sometime in the first decade of the 17th century; he composed hundreds of motets, and a large number of pieces for various instruments and ensembles.
Beata Agnes in medio flammarum expansis manibus orabat: “Te deprecor, omnipotens, adorande, colende Pater metuende; quia per sanctum Filium tuum evasi minas sacrilegi tyranni, et carnis spurcitias immaculato calle transivi; et ecce venio ad te quem amavi, quem quaesivi, quem semper optavi.” – The blessed Agnes, in the midst of the flames, prayed with her hands outstreched, “I beseech Thee, almighty Father, who art to be adored, and worshipped, and feared; because through Thy holy Son, I have escaped the threats of the impious tyrant, and have passed with feet unstained through the filth of the flesh (this refers particularly to the traditional story that during her martyrdom, Agnes was sent to a house of prostitution, but miraculously defended from the young men who would have dishonored her); and behold I come to Thee whom I have loved, whom I have sought, whom I have ever desired.”

The Feast of the Espousals of Mary and Joseph

Pietro Vannucci, known as “il Perugino”, The Marriage of the Virgin, 1497.
Note: The following article appeared in the Christmas 2019 issue of The Latin Mass magazine on pages 52-56. Many thanks to the editors of TLM for allowing its publication here.

In 2015, Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and four other nuns, became the first spouses in Church history to be canonized as a couple. Prior to that, in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared that July 12 would be the date of their joint feast on the liturgical calendar. It was their wedding anniversary.

Assigning a feast day on the basis of a wedding is unique in sacred liturgy, but it is not entirely unprecedented. Indeed, in the days when the Martins were practicing their faith and becoming saints, the Church was keeping a centuries-old feast honoring the union of another holy couple, the Feast of the Espousals of Mary and Joseph.
Jewish Background
What exactly are espousals? In the first century, a Jewish marriage was contracted in two distinct stages. In the first, the consent of the couple was obtained (usually implicitly), the marriage contract was signed, and the wedding ring given to the bride. Kiddushin, as it is called in Hebrew, is far more than an engagement or betrothal, which is a mere promise to marry. According to the Mosaic Law, a woman whose “betrothed” died was considered a widow, and an actual divorce (such as the one Saint Joseph was briefly contemplating after he discovered that Mary was with child) was required to sever the bond formed by kiddushin. Kiddushin essentially constitutes an act of marriage. 
After kiddushin, the couple continued to live apart so that they could prepare for their new life. Sometimes, the husband had to save enough money to pay the bride price; at other times, it offered an opportunity for the very young bride to mature more. This period of preparation could take up to a year, although the average time is believed to have been about three months. When all was ready, the husband would formally process to the wife’s home and then formally process her back to his house. 
Consummation typically took place soon after the procession, followed by a great celebration such as the Marriage Feast at Cana (John 2, 1-11). In the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25, 1-13), ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to arrive at the bride’s home, at which point there is a lighted procession to his house. 
The Feast of the Espousals, therefore, celebrates the de facto wedding anniversary of Joseph and Mary because it celebrates their kiddushin. Catholic literature shows a historical preference for “espousal” and “spouses” rather than “wedding” or “husband/wife” because traditionally the former two terms indicate a valid marriage that is unconsummated. [1]  But given contemporary usage—and to stress the full nuptials of the Holy Couple—it is equally appropriate to use for them the terms “wedding” or “marriage,” as Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke did in a homily on the subject. [2]
Admittedly, this ancient Jewish practice is an odd arrangement; indeed, not even Judaism could keep it up. By the Middle Ages, the time gap between the two stages of marriage had been eliminated. Today, a Jewish wedding is a single event consisting of two consecutive ceremonies: kiddushin (still the signing of the marriage contract and the giving of the ring) is immediately followed by nissuin, which now consists of placing the bride and groom under the familiar canopy called the chuppah as a symbol of their new home rather than escorting them to their actual house. And in the Ashkenazi tradition, nissuin is followed by yichud, a span of ten minutes or so for the newly married couple to spend time with each other in complete privacy. Once the time for physical consummation, yichud is now used more for emotional consummation or an opportunity for the bride and groom to catch their breath. Following it is the wedding feast or reception.
Why did God in His almighty providence want the earlier, more unwieldy arrangement for the marriages of His Chosen People? Perhaps for no other reason than to prepare the world for understanding the stages of His Son’s marriage to the Church. As Brant Petri explains in his riveting Jesus the Bridegroom, [3]  the Old Covenant is God’s kiddushin with His people, Christ’s Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem is the procession, His crucifixion is His consummation of the marital covenant (His last words being consummatum est or “It is finished” [John 19, 30]), and the apocalyptic Wedding Feast of the Lamb is the glorious celebration. 
But surely another reason for God’s providential arrangement was to ensure the full legitimacy of His incarnate Son from the virginal womb of Mary. Joseph and Mary were fully married when she agreed to become the Mother of God; Jesus is therefore a legitimate member of the Holy Family and the House of David, with all the rights and privileges (and prophetic fulfillments) attached thereto. But because He was conceived before Joseph and Mary “had come together” (Matt. 1, 18) by living together under the same roof, [4]  the virginal conception prophesied in Isaiah 7, 14 (“A virgin shall conceive”) is also guaranteed.
I also wonder—and this is purely a matter of personal conjecture—if the events surrounding the Annunciation threw Joseph and Mary’s associates off the scent about their Divine Secret by ironically placing them under the suspicion of unchastity. As Pope St. John Paul II notes, “whereas Adam and Eve were the source of evil which was unleashed on the world, Joseph and Mary are the summit from which holiness spreads all over the earth.” [5]  Yet did the world see a summit of holiness, or did they see two people who jumped the gun before the final formal stage of marriage? Joseph and Mary may have had to endure the smirks and winks of their neighbors as they lived their hidden life of incredible purity. If so, they were humiliated in this way for the sake of Christ, a suffering that only added to their sanctification. And perhaps when they saw others smirking at them, they looked at each other and exchanged a sly smile of their own, a smile that radiated from the great mystery kept mutually in their hearts.
Courtship of the Holy Couple 
We know little for certain about the hidden life of the Holy Family at Nazareth, nor do the Sacred Scriptures reveal anything about how Joseph and Mary were ever paired. There is an ancient tradition, liturgically commemorated on November 21 and corroborated by private revelation, that the Blessed Virgin Mary was presented in the Holy Temple when she was three years old and that she lived there until she was fourteen. During this time, it is believed that Mary made a vow of virginity, a rare act for a Hebrew maiden, especially at a time when childlessness was considered a curse. But her response to the angel Gabriel implicitly corroborates the existence of this vow. When the angel tells her (after her espousal with Joseph) that she will be the Mother of God, she replies, “How shall this be done, because I know not man?” (Luke 1, 18). Mary would not have been confused if she had been planning to lead a standard marital life with her husband; her statement “I know not man” most likely indicates not simply the present moment but a permanent state. [6]
Before leaving the Temple, Mary was engaged to Joseph. According to a mystical vision by Venerable Mary of Agreda, Mary had a large number of suitors who threw their hats—or rather, staffs—into the ring for her hand. Each was given a stick by Simeon the high priest, and as they all prayed, Joseph’s miraculously blossomed.[7]  Whatever the details, consent was necessary for a valid marriage then as now, and so however Joseph and Mary met, he chose her and she chose him.
And at some point, it was necessary for Mary to tell Joseph about her vow. According to Mary of Agreda, Mary did not tell him until after they were espoused in Jerusalem and had moved to Nazareth. [8] Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, on the other hand, contends that Mary would have forewarned him “from the very moment Joseph chose Mary and loved her.” [9]  Either way, Joseph must have loved her a great deal to consent to this special partnership even if, as Mary of Agreda asserts, Joseph had also made a vow of celibacy from his youth and both were relieved to learn of each other’s consecrated virginity.
As these reflections would suggest, the Espousals of Joseph and Mary is an event replete with meaning. In a recent homily on the subject, Cardinal Burke identified two reasons why a feast in its honor is important. First, the feast points to an “accurate understanding of the marital status of Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary,” which is crucial “for our fuller knowledge and love of the Mystery of Faith.” [10]  Without it, we cannot understand the mystery of the Incarnation or God’s eternal plan for our salvation that hinged on a maiden’s “Yes” and the cooperation of her faithful spouse.
Second, “we see in the marriage of Mary and Joseph, in a most remarkable way, the beauty of marriage, established by God at the Creation and restored to its original perfection by God the Son Incarnate at the Redemption.” And the splendor of the sacrament of matrimony shines through in this marriage even though it did not involve the conjugal embrace. As Fulton J. Sheen explains, the act of uniting the flesh is a symbol of spiritual consummation, and spiritual consummation is a foretaste of union with the Divine. “If there is satiety and fed-up-ness in marriage,” he observes, “it is because it falls short of what it was meant to reveal, or because the inner Divine Mystery was not seen in the act.” But in the case of Mary and Joseph, there was no need of any carnal ratification of unity, since they already possessed God: 
Why pursue the shadow when they had the substance? Mary and Joseph needed no consummation in the flesh for, in the beautiful language of Leo XIII: “The consummation of their love was in Jesus.” Why bother with the flickering candles of the flesh, when the Light of the World is their love? Truly He is Jesu, voluptas cordium. [11]
Based on this “possession of the substance,” Sheen also concludes that “no husband and wife ever loved one another so much as Joseph and Mary.” The great “torrents of love” that coursed through their hearts bring us to a third lesson that we may draw from the Feast of the Espousals: the tremendous faith that the Holy Couple had not only in almighty God but in each other.  
Joseph is generally believed to have been either thirty-three or thirty-six when he was wedded to Mary. It would be easy for a man his age to dismiss Mary’s report of a vow of virginity as the ravings of a religious nut or the skittish rationalizations of a neurotic teenaged girl. But he did not: he believed her. Even when Joseph later discovered that Mary was with child, he did not assume infidelity on her part but reasoned that because she was a faithful virgin, whatever had happened was by the hand of God and it was therefore best that he step aside. If he had believed infidelity to be the cause of her pregnancy, the just thing to do—and Joseph was a just man (Matt. 1, 19)—would have been to expose her as an adulteress.
As for Mary, it took courage to entrust herself to and confide in an older, stronger man whom she barely knew, especially in light of the vow she had made. 
Betrothal of the Virgin, Pfullendorf Altar, Stuttgart
Feast of the Espousals
Despite its many riches, a liturgical feast in honor of the marriage of Our Lord’s mother and foster father has taken a long time to develop, and in some respects its development is still incomplete. It was not until the early 1400s that Father Jean Gerson, a pioneering promoter of Josephite piety, composed an Office of the Espousals of Joseph. Despite the exclusivity of the name, Gerson’s goal was to have a special votive feast honoring both Joseph and Mary on the Thursday of Ember week in Advent, but whether or when the feast was ever celebrated remains uncertain.
The first definite feast honoring the Espousals was celebrated on October 22, 1517 by Saint Jane of Valois’ Nuns of the Annunciation; however, it honored the Blessed Virgin exclusively and thus did not conform to Gerson’s ideal. The same goes for a Feast of the Espousals of Mary that the Franciscans celebrated on March 7 after they received permission to do so in 1537 and that the Servites began celebrating around the same time on March 8. [12]
In 1556, the diocese of Arras instituted the Espousals of Mary on January 23, but thanks to the Dominican liturgical composer Pierre Doré, its celebration followed Gerson’s idea of honoring both the bride and the groom. The idea and the date caught on although other dates, such as July 18 in Moravia, were also used. The post-Tridentine revisions, however, made the feast once again a feast of Mary only; beginning in the eighteenth century, St. Joseph could only be commemorated in Mass, Vespers, and Lauds by a special privilege. Happily, with the reform of St Pius X, a commemoration of Saint Joseph (taken from his feast on March 19) is a required part of the Mass, and its official title finally reincorporates Saint Joseph. [13]
The Holy See was initially reluctant to approve the spread of the (Marian) Feast of the Espousals, denying it, for example, to Spain in 1655. Rome, however, gradually loosened up, granting it to Austria (1678), Spain and the German Empire (1680), the Holy Land (1689), the Cistercians (1702), Tuscany (1720), the Papal States (1725), the United States (1840), and so on. Essentially, the Holy See began to grant the feast to any diocese or religious community that asked for it. January 23 was the most common date, although France and Canada observed the feast on January 22 and Spanish-speaking countries kept it on November 26 so as not to conflict with the feasts of Saint Ildephonsus and Raymond of Peñafort. Although the feast has never been on the general or universal calendar of the Roman Rite, it was fairly common prior to Vatican II. 
The Holy See’s relatively open policy continued until 1961 when, as a harbinger of things to come, the Congregation of Sacred Rites removed the feast from particular calendars unless the local community could demonstrate some special connection to it. This law remains in force. For example, in 1989 the Oblates of St. Joseph obtained permission to celebrate “The Holy Spouses Mary and Joseph” on January 23 but only because of their well-established Josephite spirituality. As a result of this policy, the vast majority of Catholics today have never heard of the Feast of the Espousals. 
January 23
In Mary of Agreda’s account, the miracle of Joseph’s staff took place on Mary’s fourteenth birthday (liturgically celebrated on September 8), but no one knows exactly when the Holy Couple were wed. The Spanish tradition of celebrating the feast in late November has the advantage of contemplating the Espousals a week before the Church’s contemplation of the early life of the Holy Family during the season of Advent. But late January is also a fitting time to commemorate the nuptial union of Mary and Joseph, both as a beginning and as an end. 
As a beginning, the Espousals initiate a yearlong meditation on the early life of the Holy Family. January 23 occurs almost two months before the Annunciation (March 24): had the kiddushin taken place then—and assuming a three-month interim between the two stages of marriage—Mary would have conceived of the Holy Spirit about one month before the bridal procession to Joseph’s home. The Annunciation interrupted these plans; according to Luke 1, 39 and 1, 56, Mary went with haste to the hill country of Judea to help her aged cousin St. Elizabeth and would not return until after the birth of St. John the Baptist (and presumably his circumcision). When Joseph saw her again in early July (assuming that John was born on June 24), she was showing the signs of expectancy. Joseph’s subsequent confusion was resolved thanks to an angel (Matt. 1:20-25), whereupon he immediately “took unto him his wife” (Matt. 1, 24), that is, processed Mary to his home—or perhaps, he moved into her home. The child Jesus was then born (at least according to this liturgically useful timeline) on December 25. 
As an end, the Espousals fittingly appear near the close of the Christmas cycle, regardless of whether that close is viewed as the Feast of the Purification on February 2 or the Saturday before Septuagesima Sunday. Having liturgically lived through the expectation of the Messiah (Advent), His birth (Christmas) and circumcision (Octave of Christmas), the flight into Egypt and slaughter of the Innocents (Childermas), the visit of the Magi (Epiphany), and the hidden life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Nazareth (Feast of the Holy Family), it is appropriate to have one final glance at the young mother and foster father but as bride and groom. When viewed as a part of the Christmas cycle, the Espousals function as a flashback sequence near the final scenes of a beautiful movie. 
It is high time to jettison the 1961 policy that thwarts the celebration of this feast; moreover, the Espousals should at long last be put on the universal calendars of both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Roman rite. (This promotion would be especially easy to do with the 1962 Missal, many editions of which already have the propers for the feast.) A universal celebration of this feast would bring many blessings and lessons to a world increasingly confused about the nature and practice of marriage. And as a small bonus, it would also mean that the wedding anniversary of Saints Louis and Zélie Martin will no longer feel alone on the Church calendar. 
After the publication of this article, a reader helpfully noted: “It seems there has been opposition to extending this feast to the universal calendar because it could unduly promote ‘Josephite marriages’. On the historical ‘oscillation’ between promoting strict imitation of Sts. Mary & Joseph's marriage vs. promoting a reverence but not imitation of it, see the fascinating history, Dyan H Elliott, Spiritual Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993).” 
Fair enough, but: 1) I doubt the Catholic Church today stands in danger of a plague of Josephite marriages; and 2) the feast can be celebrated intelligently without promoting sexual scrupulosity or a Gnostic disdain for conjugal intimacy. In fact, it can be used to affirm the goodness of this intimacy, for Mary and Joseph’s sacrifice would be no big deal unless what it was they were sacrificing were good in and of itself.

[1] Frederick Holweck, “Espousals of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 5 (Robert Appleton Company, 1909)
[3] Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told (Image, 2018)
[4] And, of course, the Greek word for “before,” together with biblical usage of the word, does not imply that they eventually consummated their marriage physically. 
[5] Redemptoris Custos 7. 
[6] See St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III.28.4. 
[7] Mystical City of God: Divine History of the Virgin, Mother of God, trans. Rev. Geo. J. Blatter (W.B. Conkey Co., 1914), I.XXII.755-764. 
[8] Mary of Agreda states that the conversation took place in their new home after a wedding celebration, but it seems more likely that the Blessed Virgin was still living alone, for Joseph would not take her to wife (process her home and live under the same roof with her) until well after the Annunciation (Matt. 1, 24). 
[9] The Mystery of Joseph (Zaccheus Press, 2010), 8. 
[10] Burke, “On the Marriage of the Virgin Mary with Saint Joseph.” 
[11] The World’s First Love (McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1952), 92. 
[12] Most information in this section is taken from Frederick Holweck, “Espousals of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 5 (Robert Appleton Company, 1909) 
[13] Desponsatio Beatae Mariae Virginis cum Sancto Joseph
[14] Mary of Agreda writes that after the Espousals, Mary and Joseph journeyed to Nazareth “in the company of attendants who were some of the more distinguished laymen in the service of the Temple” (no. 578). But whether this constituted the bridal procession is uncertain, for it was not followed by the Holy Couple living under the same roof (see Matt. 1, 18). 
[15] According to Mary of Agreda, the house where Mary was born and where the angel saluted her is also the house where the Holy Family lived, for the Blessed Virgin inherited it from her parents Joachim and Anne when they passed away during her time in the Temple.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Guest Article: Bishop Athanasius Schneider on the Significance of Minor Ministries in the Sacred Liturgy

NLM is grateful to His Excellency Bishop Athanasius Schneider for offering us the first publication of his profound analysis of the ancient origins of the minor orders and their liturgical-theological rationale, together with a critique on that basis of the novel path taken in the post-conciliar period, from Ministeria Quaedam of 1972 to Spiritus Domini of 2021.

Ordination of lectors in the traditional Roman rite

The Significance of Minor Ministries in the Sacred Liturgy

1. The principle of Divine law in the liturgy

Regarding the nature of the sacred liturgy, that is, of Divine worship, God himself has spoken to us in His Holy Word, and the Church has explained it in her solemn Magisterium. The first basic aspect of the liturgy is this: God himself tells men how they must honor Him; in other words, it is God who gives concrete norms and laws for the development, even exterior, of the worship of His Divine Majesty.

In fact, man is wounded by original sin and for this reason he is profoundly characterized by pride and ignorance, and even more profoundly by the temptation and tendency to put himself in the place of God at the center of worship, that is, to practice self-worship in its various implicit and explicit forms. Liturgical law and norms are therefore necessary for authentic Divine worship. These laws and norms must be found in Divine Revelation, in the written word of God and in the word of God transmitted by tradition.

Divine Revelation transmits to us a rich and detailed liturgical legislation. An entire book of the Old Testament is dedicated to liturgical law, the Book of Leviticus; partially also the Book of Exodus. The individual liturgical norms of Divine worship of the Old Testament had only a transitory value, since their purpose was to be a figure, looking to the Divine worship that would reach its fullness in the New Testament. However, there are some elements of perennial validity: firstly, the very fact of the need for liturgical legislation; secondly, that there is a detailed and rich legislation of Divine worship; and finally, that Divine worship takes place according to a hierarchical order. This hierarchical order presents itself as concretely tripartite: high priest–priest–levite; in the New Testament, respectively: bishop–presbyter–deacon/minister.

Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to bring it to its fullness (cf. Mt 5:17). He said: “Until heaven and earth have passed away, not one iota or a sign of the law will pass, without all being completed” (Mt 5:18). This is particularly valid for Divine worship, since the adoration of God constitutes the first commandment of the Decalogue (cf. Ex 20, 3-5). The purpose of all creation is this: angels and men and even irrational creatures must praise and worship the Divine Majesty, as the revealed prayer of the Sanctus says: “The heavens and the earth are full of Thy glory” (cf. Is 6:3).

Old Covenant hierarchy
2. Jesus Christ, the supreme worshiper of the Father and the supreme liturgical minister

The first and most perfect worshiper of the Father is Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. His work of salvation had as its main purpose to give honor and glory to the Father in place of sinful humanity, unable to give a worthy and acceptable worship to God. The re-establishment of true Divine worship and the atonement of Divine Majesty, outraged due to the innumerable forms of perversion of worship, constituted the primary purpose of the Incarnation and the work of Redemption.

By constituting His apostles true priests of the New Covenant, Jesus left His priesthood to His Church and with it the public worship of the New Testament, which has for its ritual culmination the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice. He taught his apostles through the Holy Spirit that the worship of the New Covenant was to be the fulfillment of the worship of the Old Covenant. Thus the apostles transmitted their power and their liturgical service in three degrees, that is, in three hierarchical orders, in analogy with the three degrees of the ministers of the cult of the Old Covenant.

The supreme performer of the liturgy is Christ (in Greek: hó liturgós). He contains in himself and exercises all the Divine worship, even in the smallest functions. The following words of Christ can also be referred to this fact: “I am among you as one who serves” (Lk 22:27). Christ is the minister; he is also the “deacon” par excellence. So too is the bishop, as the supreme possessor of the liturgical service of Christ. The episcopate contains all the ministries and services of public worship: the ministry of the presbyterate, the ministry of the diaconate, the ministry of the minor orders, that is, also, the service of ministers (“altar boys”). In the pontifical Mass according to the most ancient form of the Roman rite, the bishop dresses in all the robes, even of the lower orders. In the absence of all the lower ministers, the bishop himself performs all the liturgical functions of the presbyter, of the deacon, and even of the minor orders, that is, of the altar servers. In the absence of the deacon, the presbyter himself performs all the liturgical functions of the deacon and of the minor orders, that is, of the altar servers. In the absence of the deacon, the sub-deacon, the holders of the minor orders, or the altar servers can perform some of the functions of the deacon.

The vesting of a pontiff
3. The tradition of the apostles

The apostolic tradition has seen in the triple hierarchical order of the Church the fulfillment of the typology of the triple hierarchical order of Divine worship in the Old Covenant. This is what Pope Saint Clement I, the disciple of the Apostles and third successor of the Apostle Peter, testifies to us.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Saint Clement presents the liturgical order divinely established in the Old Covenant as an exemplar for the right order of the hierarchy and worship of every Christian community. Speaking of Divine worship, he states:

We must do everything in order with regard to what the Lord has ordered to do according to the appointed times. He ordered the oblations and worship services to be performed not by chance or without order. By his sovereign decision, He Himself has determined where and by whom these services are to be performed, so that all things will be done in a holy manner according to His good pleasure and pleasing to His will. For the high priest has been assigned liturgical services (liturghíai) reserved for him, priests have been given their own proper place, on the levites devolve special ministrations (diakoníai), and the layman (ho laikòs ànthropos) is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen (laikóis prostágmasin). (1 Clem 40:1-3.5)
Pope Clement understands that the principles of this order divinely established in the Old Covenant must continue to operate in the life of the Church. The most evident reflection of this order should be found in the liturgical life, in the public worship of the Church. Thus the Holy Pontiff draws this conclusion, applied to the life and worship of Christians: “May each of you, brothers, in the position that is proper to him, be pleasing to God in good conscience and with reverence, without transgressing the established rule of liturgical services (kanón tes leiturghías)” (1 Clem 41:1).

Later (cf. 1 Clem 42:1ss.) Pope Clement describes the hierarchy of the New Covenant, contained in the Lord Jesus Christ himself and concretized in the mission of the apostles. This reality corresponds to the order (táxis) willed by God. Here Saint Clement uses the same terms with which he had previously described the liturgical and hierarchical order of the Old Covenant.

From the first centuries, the Church was aware that Divine worship had to take place according to an order established by God in keeping with the example of the Divine order established in the Ancient Covenant. Therefore, in order to carry out a task in public worship, it was necessary to belong to a hierarchical order. Consequently, Christian worship, that is, the Eucharistic liturgy, was carried out in a hierarchically ordered manner by persons officially appointed for this purpose. For this reason, these agents of worship constituted an order, a sacred order, divided into three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate, paralleling the three degrees of ministers of Old Covenant worship: high priest, priests, and levites. Pope Saint Clement in the first century designated the service of the Old Testament levites with the word “diakonia” (1 Clem 40:5). We can therefore identify here the foundation of the ancient ecclesiastical tradition, since at least the fifth century, of designating the Christian deacon with the word “levite,” for example in the Constitutiones Apostolicae (2, 26:3) and in the writings of Pope Leo the Great (cf. Ep. 6:6; Ep. 14:4; Serm. 59:7; 85:2).
St. Peter ordains St. Stephen a deacon (Fra Angelico)

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Cathedral of Siena (Part 13): Liturgical Objects in the Cathedral Museum

The next-to-last part of our series on the cathedral of Siena focuses mostly on liturgical items, including a very beautiful set of all the items needed for solemn Mass donated by Pope Alexander VII Chigi (1655-66), a native of the city who showered the church with gifts and artistic commissions. We also see here some very nice reliquaries, medieval ivory crooks, and pax bredes.

A golden rose designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and gifted to the cathedral by Pope Alexander in 1658; the base represents the six hills on which the city stands, also seen below in the Pope’s coat of arms. The celebrated artist was a close personal friend of the Pope and worked for him on many artistic projects in Rome and environs. 
A papal tiara also donated by Pope Alexander VII...
whose coat of arms is seen on the outside of its box. The Sienese banking family of the Chigi had moved to Rome at the beginning of the 16th century, and restarted their bank with a large loan from Pope Julius II Della Rovere. The “interest” which Pope charged was not monetary, but a promise to quarter their arms with his wherever they were publically displayed; hence the quartering of the six hlls of Siena (Chigi) with the oak tree (Della Rovere.)

Statues with relics of several Saints brought from Roma embedded in the busts, including Saints Peter, Paul and Lawrence.

A complete set of liturgical accoutrement donated by Pope Alexander for the altar of the chapel which he had built in 1660 for the Madonna del Voto.

A Quiz for Greek Scholars - Who Is The Figure Kneeling Before Melchizedek in this Icon?

A reader wrote to me recently asking me to identify the kneeling figure in the icon below. The two standing figures are Abraham on the left and Melchizedek on the right. The question he had was, who is the figure kneeling before Melchizedek? It originates from the monastery of St Catherine on Mt Sinai, and is part of a catalog of color transparencies and slides stored at Princeton University which are part of the total documentation that was produced by the Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Expeditions to Sinai in 1956, 1958, 1960, 1963, and 1965. These images document the icons at Sinai; the remainder of the photographic archive is stored at the University of Michigan.

In his note, he suggested that the vestments which the figure is wearing indicate that he is a bishop, and the text written above him appears to read Adelphostheos...“which I think is a Greek name (James Adelphos) used for James the Just, the first bishop of Jerusalem (which perhaps connects him to Melchizedek, the first priest of Jerusalem).”
I was no help to him whatsoever! I can’t read Greek, I didn’t recognize the icon and I don’t know anything about James the Just. I thought therefore, I would throw the question open to NLM readers. Any ideas?
I have an additional question of my own for you. Why would this figure be kneeling in front of Melchizedek? The attitude the figure adopts is such a deep prostration that my instincts tell me that this is one of worship, which is due to God alone. Am I overreacting here, do you think?
A number of possible explanations for this do occur to me:
First, worship is primarily an interior act. Clearly, there is deep respect here, but this prostration doesn’t necessarily indicate worship, so perhaps and I am simply misreading the posture. Our bishop is in fact venerating Melchizedek.
Second, perhaps James is not kneeling before Melchizedek, but before Christ, who is shown at the top of the icon. It would be easy for someone who wandered into any Catholic Church during Mass when the congregation was kneeling and didn’t understand what they were seeing to look at the assembly and seeing them kneeling en masse before the celebrant and interpret that as priest worship. There is a practical difficulty that the artist has to overcome here that might have pushed him into portraying the figure this way. If he was to paint the bishop kneeling before Christ, as portrayed, he would be kneeling so that the only view of him that we would have would be his rear end. This is not only undignified, it breaks the convention of iconography which says that all saints must be seen in full or three-quarter profile so that both eyes can be seen. In order to accommodate this, the iconographer, one might argue, has played with the perspective here, and shown the figure looking upwards as though Christ is above him and nearer to us than he is, so allowing the bishop to turn around and face us. A similar argument, incidentally, might apply to the gaze of the standing figures too.
Third, he is kneeling before Melchizedek, but only insofar as he recognizes him as in persona Christi.
Again, any thoughts on this? There might be a clue here (which again I am not able to interpret) in that the bishop is holding something. Again, I am not sure what this is. There is very little information about the original icon on the Princeton website.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Lay Ministries Obscure Both the Laity’s Calling and the Clergy’s

The recent motu proprio Spiritus Domini has a personal resonance for me. Under the regime of progressive Catholicism in which I grew up, I recall hearing one message loud and clear: “Show your faith by signing up for XYZ ministry.” The underlying assumption was that merely assisting at Mass was not quite good enough; that was for the uncommitted, the uninterested, the unmotivated.

So I dutifully signed up to be first an altar boy, then a lector, and finally, an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion (this would have been in the 1980s). Throughout boyhood and adolescence, I didn’t understand at all what the Mass was about; I hardly had a clue what the Eucharist was; I’m not even sure my views would have differered, in essence, from how Protestants view their services. Actually, that’s not true; a Protestant would have had a much higher view of Biblical inspiration and inerrancy than I would have had. I was serving at something, I knew not what; I was reading something, I knew not what; I was distributing something, I knew not what.

It was for me a huge breakthrough, a profound liberation, to discover through the traditional Latin Mass that one can simply be at the liturgy and soak it in like a sponge; one can come to find this receptivity utterly fulfilling. Perhaps that is the saddest lesson of Spiritus Domini: its change to canon law makes sense only in the context of a liturgy that has lost its raison d’être.

The motu proprio once again raises the question of the vocation of the laity. What are laypeople supposed to be doing? Have they a proper work of their own, or do they just collect the scraps that fall from the clergy’s table — better yet, climb up and jostle elbows?

The Church’s answer has always been consistent: the laity’s work is to influence, purify, and elevate temporal affairs, bringing them as much as possible into conformity with the law of God and the Church’s mission to glorify God and save souls. The Second Vatican Council espoused this traditional point of view: Gaudium et Spes exhorts the laity “to impress the divine law on the affairs of the earthly city” (n. 43), while Apostolicam Actuositatem sets as our goal “rectifying the distortion of the temporal order and directing it to God through Christ” (n. 7).

The latter document establishes a distinction between those who teach principles and those who implement them: on the one hand, “Pastors must clearly state the principles concerning the purpose of creation and the use of temporal things and must offer the moral and spiritual aids by which the temporal order may be renewed in Christ” (ibid.); on the other hand, the “apostolate in the social milieu,” which is proper to laity, involves “the effort to infuse a Christian spirit into the mentality, customs, laws, and structures of the community in which one lives” (n. 13). As John Paul II wrote in Ecclesia in Oceania: “It is the fundamental call of lay people to renew the temporal order in all its many elements. In this way, the Church becomes the yeast that leavens the entire loaf of the temporal order” (n. 43).

Police taking part in a Sacred Heart procession
Thus, in spite of Pope Francis’s talk about the “co-responsibility” of the ordained and the lay faithful, we may say that the true responsibility of the laity is not the taking on of tasks inside the church, but taking on the world outside the church. Confronting unbelief with Christian witness, defeating secular narrowness with the grandeur of the Gospel, leavening temporal occupations with a supernatural perspective and motivation, and doing all this consistently and courageously, is far more challenging — and far more urgent — than mounting an ambo and reading a text, or donning an alb and passing cruets. In fact, the more that laity see themselves as fulfilled in aping the clergy, the more they will be deceived into thinking that they have done what they were supposed to do as Catholics. They have, as it were, punched their religion ticket, and can get back to secular life in its total secularity.

In the sacred liturgy, the laity exercise the Marian role of receiving divine gifts, which is the creature’s highest activity. No charism can be more honorable or more important than this receptivity. The gifts bestowed upon the clergy, and the various liturgical ministries, are at the service of the charity and holiness of the Church; they do not exist as ends in themselves, but as instruments for the pilgrimage of mankind to the City of God, where there will be no sacraments and no temple, since God will be “all in all” (cf. Rev 21:22–23; 1 Cor 15:28). The Marian receptivity of laymen and laywomen furnishes the light and strength necessary for their active, transformative mission in the family and in the world. Without drinking deeply from the wellspring, there can never be watered gardens. How ironic and how tragic that the laity’s misplaced liturgical activism seems inversely proportional to their zeal for the irreplaceable mission that is theirs in the home, on the land, in the city! The laity are meant to offer themselves up in sacrificial love (cf. Rom 12:1), so as to be a leaven in the world. That is their domain, that is their honorable and salvific “service.”

The Catholic peasants and aristocrats of the Vendée lived a pure Marian faith during the Terror by fully assuming their role to defend the Faith, to protect Catholic cities and families, to do battle against hostile forces; never did they try to substitute for clergy when their priests went missing. They knew, intuitively, the teaching of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 — how the Body of Christ has many diverse and unequal members that depend one upon another; that the eye has to be the eye, the hand the hand; each part has to be just what it is, to the best of its ability, and not a poor substitute for some other one. The “dignity” of the laity is in no way augmented by their taking on of quasi-clerical liturgical functions, just as neither is their dignity diminished by being spouses, parents, workers, citizens.

The Virgin Mary receiving her Son from the hand of St John
I couldn’t help noticing this past weekend in the usus antiquior, in which we celebrated the Second Sunday after Epiphany, that “the liturgical providence of God” furnished us with an Epistle and a Gospel that both referred expressly to “ministries.” We can learn some important lessons from meditating on these readings.

The Epistle is Romans 12:6–16:

Brethren: Having different gifts, according to the grace that is given us: either prophecy, to be used according to the rule of faith; or ministry, in ministering [Vulg.: ministerium in ministrando]; or he that teacheth, in doctrine; he that exhorteth, in exhorting; he that giveth, with simplicity; he that ruleth, with carefulness; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without dissimulation. Hating that which is evil, cleaving to that which is good: loving one another with the charity of brotherhood, with honour preventing one another: in carefulness not slothful: in spirit fervent: serving the Lord: rejoicing in hope: patient in tribulation: instant in prayer: communicating to the necessities of the saints: pursuing hospitality. Bless them that persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that rejoice, weep with them that weep: being of one mind one towards another; not minding high things, but consenting to the humble.

The Apostle gives us here a rich portrait of the true variety of gifts to be found in the Holy Church of God. There are gifts of ministry, but there are also gifts of prophecy, teaching, exhorting, ruling, and works of mercy. The passage then shifts from special charisms to the fundamental Christian vocation of loving: loving without dissimulation, with the charity of brotherhood; hating what is evil and cleaving to what is good; honoring, serving, praying, and offering hospitality.

When we read about offering hospitality, should we not be thinking of the baptized and confirmed laity? Hospitality has always been seen as one of the great duties and privileges of lay people: to open their homes, to share with the needy, to welcome friends and strangers. Indeed, what greater hospitality can husband and wife exercise than by giving food and shelter, love and education, to the children who are their common bond and the chief calling of their life? They own and manage property precisely for that reason: to share generously. Their primary calling is to bring Christian prayer, witness, and virtues into the home, and thence, into the workplace and marketplace, the political arena, the broad world of culture. The sanctuary is not their home, but their home can become an extension of the sanctuary. They do not “mind high things,” as if seeking a rank or a task that does not belong to them; rather, they consent to be found among the humble (another translation has: “do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly”).

The clergy, stewards of the mysteries of Christ, are busy with their own proper work, according to the gifts bestowed on them in the Mystical Body. Their primary calling is within the temple of God, offering Him exalted praise and ministering to the people, and in this work they will find fulfillment and sanctity, if — and this is a crucial if — they enjoy the freedom to be fully what they are and to utilize fully the armory and treasury of the Church’s liturgical inheritance. In short, they must have the best wine, drink it freely, and give it to others to drink.

The Gospel for the Second Sunday after Epiphany is John 2:1–11:

At that time there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee: and the mother of Jesus was there. And Jesus also was invited, and His disciples, to the marriage. And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to Him: They have no wine. And Jesus saith to her: Woman, what is that to Me and to thee? My hour is not yet come. His mother saith to the waiters [ministris]: Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye. Now there were set there six water-pots of stone, according to the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three measures apiece. Jesus saith to them: Fill the water-pots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And Jesus said to them: Draw out now, and carry to the chief steward of the feast. And they carried it. And when the chief steward had tasted the water made wine, and knew not whence it was, but the waiters [ministri] knew who had drawn the water: the chief steward calleth the bridegroom, and saith to him: Every man at first setteth forth good wine: and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee; and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

In this Gospel, Jesus is the Eternal High Priest who will offer the perfect sacrifice when “his hour” has come to glorify the Father (note how His Holy Name is mentioned seven times, which underlines His perfection as God and man — readers of St. John will know that this is anything but accidental); wine will be the symbol of the sweetness and abundance of His redemption. The architriclinus or chief steward is like the deacon who ministers to the priest at Solemn Mass; the “waiters” (ministri in Latin) are like the subdeacon and the acolytes who minister, in turn, to their superiors.

The guests at the wedding feast are the congregation. They are not serving, they are not busy with providing the food and drink; they are simply taking it all in and feasting. Theirs, in a sense, is “the better part” of Mary of Bethany.

The Virgin Mary is neither a minister nor a simple guest. Like the ministers, she brings about results, but in the mode of an intercessor — one who joins the power of the priest to the needs of the people, even as she joined in her womb the supreme deity with the neediness of human nature. Like the guests, she gratefully and joyfully receives good things from the Lord.

The Epistle and Gospel of the Second Sunday after Epiphany remind us of the wisdom of the Catholic Church in her traditional hierarchical and Christocentric liturgical praxis. Compared with the irrefutable coherence of the usus antiquior as it returns to more and more altars, the “polyesterdays” of liturgical experimentation are shown to have no staying power, no future — even on the artificial life support of canon law. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Feast of St Anthony the Abbot 2020

St Athanasius of Alexandria is best known as the great champion of the Nicene Faith, for which he was exiled five times over the course of an episcopate of 45 years (328-373); for his witness to the truth of the Incarnation, and his important writings on the subject, he is honored as a Doctor of the Church. But it was also he who brought to the attention of the West the ascetic and anchoretic life, a phenomenon well-established in his native Egypt by the early fourth-century, but at that point just emerging in the West. This was done by writing the Life of St Anthony of Egypt, who is often called “the Abbot” to distinguish him from his later namesake, St Anthony of Padua; in the East he is simply “Anthony the Great.” Of this Life, which was to have an enormous influence in the Church, both East and West, it might well be said what St Thomas Aquinas said about St Bonaventure writing the life of St Francis: “Let us leave the saint to work for the saint.”

St Anthony was not the first monk or hermit, as Athanasius’ Life makes quite clear; and indeed, the Church honors a saint named Paul with the title “the First Hermit.” Anthony was ninety years old, and had been living as an ascetic for over 70 years, before he first met Paul, shortly before the latter’s death at the age of 113. Paul’s feast day was long kept on January 10th, exactly a week before that of Anthony, to symbolize that he preceded him in the ascetic life. (It was later moved to his date in the Byzantine Rite, January 15.) Anthony also had as a contemporary St Pachomius, who is held in particular honor in the East as the founder of the cenobitic life, and the author of an important monastic rule. Nevertheless, Anthony may rightly be called the Father of Monasticism in the East, as St Benedict is in the West; for it was by his example, more than any other, that so many men and women of his own time and subsequent eras were inspired to embrace the monastic life.

A 19th-century Coptic icon of Ss Anthony the Abbot and Paul the First Hermit. (image from  wikimedia commons.)
In the Confessions, St Augustine writes that two officials of the imperial court, (then at Trier, where Athanasius passed his first exile), on reading the life of Anthony, renounced their position to become monks, the one saying to the other, “ ‘Now I have broken loose from those hopes of ours (for preferment in the court), and am resolved to serve God; and this I begin upon, from this hour, in this place. If thou like not to imitate me, oppose me not.’ The other answered, he would cleave to him, and be his fellow in so great a reward, so great a service.” (Book 8.15)

Shortly thereafter, in the famous episode where Augustine, torn about how to free himself of his past sins and follow God, hears children singing “Take up, read; take up, read”, he takes up the epistles of St Paul and reads, “ ‘Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy: But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.’ (Rom. 13, 13-14) No further would I read; nor was there need to: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” But it was the life of St Anthony that convinced him that “Take up, read,” meant to take up the Bible and read it, since Anthony, “coming in (to a church) during the reading of the Gospel, received the admonition, as if what was being read was spoken to him, ‘Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me.’ (Matthew 19, 21) And by such oracle he was forthwith converted unto Thee.” (Book 8, 29)

St Athanasius tells of many times when St Anthony struggled against devils, both by resisting temptations, and suffering bodily harm that the devil was permitted to inflict upon him. On one such occasion, early in his life as an ascetic, “a multitude of demons … so cut him with stripes that he lay on the ground speechless from the excessive pain.” He was discovered unconscious by the local villagers, who thought him dead, and brought him to their church. On recovering, he fearlessly returned to the place where he had been tormented, and
after he had prayed, he said with a shout, ‘Here am I, Antony; I flee not from your stripes, for even if you inflict more, nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ.’ … But the enemy, who hates good, marveling that … he dared to return, called together his hounds and burst forth, … so in the night they made such a din that the whole of that place seemed to be shaken by an earthquake, and the demons, as if breaking the four walls of the dwelling, seemed to enter through them, coming in the likeness of beasts and creeping things. And the place was on a sudden filled with the forms of lions, bears, leopards, bulls, serpents, asps, scorpions, and wolves, …. But Antony … said, ‘If there had been any power in you, it would have sufficed had one of you come, but since the Lord has made you weak, you attempt to terrify me by numbers: and a proof of your weakness is that you take the shapes of brute beasts.’ … So after many attempts they gnashed their teeth upon him, because they were mocking themselves rather than him.” (Life of Anthony 8 and 9)
This passage and others of a similar vein in Athanasius’ Life have provided artists with the opportunity to indulge their strangest fantasies in depicting the demons who attack Anthony. Hieronymus Bosch, not surprisingly, painted a complete triptych on the subject, which was also tackled (also not surprisingly) by Salvador Dalí.

Hieronymous Bosch, Triptych of the Temptations of St Anthony, 1505-06; Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon
Salvador Dalí, The Temptation of St Anthony, 1946; Royal Museums of the Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium.
The art historian Giorgio Vasari records that Michelangelo, while still a young apprentice in the school of Domenico Ghirlandaio, copied the same subject as a painting from an earlier engraving by the German artist Martin Schongauer. A painting of The Torments of St Anthony now in the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, is indisputably of the right period and school, but the debate as to whether it is indeed the one done by Michelangelo will probably never be resolved to the satisfaction of all art historians.

On the left, the original engraving by Martin Schongauer, ca. 1475, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; on the right, the painting attributed to Michelangelo, ca. 1487.
Anthony was also tempted on various occasions by lust, by laziness and by riches. The last of these was depicted by the anonymous painter now called the Master of the Osservanza, but the heap of gold lying by the side of road, originally painted in gold leaf, was later scraped off, leaving Anthony to confront a completely non-demonic looking rabbit.

When St Anthony went to visit St Paul the First Hermit, as recorded in the latter’s biography written by St Jerome, they greeted each other by name as they met, though they had never seen each other before. A crow then brought them a full loaf of bread, at which Paul said to Anthony, “for sixty years I have daily received (from the crow) half a loaf of bread; now at thy coming, Christ has doubled the provision for his soldiers.” Perhaps inspired by the similarity between this episode and that of the crows that brought food to the Prophet Elijah (3 Kings 17), the Byzantine Liturgy explicitly compares Anthony to Elijah in the dismissal hymn (apolytikion) of Vespers on his feast day.
You imitated the zealous Elias by your life, you followed the Baptist by straight paths, our Father Anthony; you became the founder of the desert and strengthened the whole world by your prayers. And so intercede with Christ God that our souls may be saved.
Throughout the Middle Ages, St Anthony was also venerated as the patron Saint against various skin diseases, such as erysipelas and ergotism, some of which are still called “St Anthony’s fire” or “holy fire” in places. A commonly used medieval prayer of his Mass was as follows.
Deus, qui concedis obtentu beati Antonii Confessoris tui, morbidum ignem extingui, et membris aegris refrigeria praestari: fac nos, quaesumus, ipsius meritis et precibus, a gehennae incendiis liberatos, integros mente et corpore tibi feliciter presentari.
God, who grantest by the protection of Thy blessed Confessor Anthony that the fire of illness be extinguished, and refreshment given to sickly members; we ask that by his merits and prayers, we may be delivered from the fires of hell, and happily presented to the Thee, sound in mind and body.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: