Friday, October 09, 2015

The Greek Mass of St Denys of Paris

Through most of the Middle Ages, knowledge of the Greek language was extremely limited in Western Europe. It is well-known, for example, that St Thomas Aquinas frequently cites the writings of Aristotle, but only knew them in the Latin translation of his friend William of Moerbecke. Nevertheless, from time to time we see evidence of interest in Greek in various types of liturgical texts, such as a number of medieval hymns with Greek words in them. One stanza of the Vesper hymn for Advent Conditor alme siderum originally began with the words “Te deprecamur, Agie – we beseech Thee, holy one”, a reading which may still be found to this day in the Uses of the monks and religious orders.

Sometime in the 12th-century, the monks of the Abbey of St Denys outside Paris, a major center of learning, developed enough interest in Greek that they instituted the custom of singing the entire Mass on the Octave day of their Patron Saint in that language, a custom which continued until the French Revolution. This was not the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, but the Mass of the Roman Rite translated into Greek. By that period, St Denys was believed to be the same person as “Dionysios the Areopagite”, who is mentioned at the end of Acts 17 as one of the persons converted by St Paul’s discourse to the Athenians. (The name “Denys” derives from “Dionysios.”) The legend continued that he was the first bishop of Athens, who had then gone to Rome and been sent by Pope St Clement I to evangelize Paris, of which city he was also the first bishop, and where he was martyred.

The martyrdom of St Denys, and his companions Rusticus and Eleutherius, depicted in the tympanum of the north portal of the Abbey of St Denys. (12 century - image by Myrabella from Wikimedia Commons.) Denys is shown holding his own decapitated head, which his legendary medieval life says he picked up and walked with from Montmartre (“the mount of the martyrs”) to the place which would later become the site of the Abbey.
In the year 827, the Byzantine Emperor Michael II sent to the Western Emperor Louis the Pious a copy of the collection of Greek theological treatises and letters ascribed to the Areopagite, which are actually works of the late 5th or early 6th century. These happened to arrive in Paris and be taken to the Abbey of Saint-Denis on the very eve of his feast day. The abbot Hilduin translated them into Latin, a translation which, although not very accurate, and later supplanted by better ones, made “Dionysius the Areopagite” one of the most important influences on the theological writers of the Middle Ages. (He is actually cited more often in St Thomas’ Summa Theologica than Aristotle.) Hilduin also wrote a biography of the Saint, the first to identify all three personages as the same man; this imposture, which contradicts much of what earlier writers say about him, has unfortunately become an all-too-useful stick in the hands of hagiographical skeptics for beating on the legends of other Saints. (It also contradicts the tradition of the Byzantine Rite, which honors him on October 3rd as the first bishop of Athens, but knows nothing of his association with Paris.)

The Greek Mass was certainly instituted to honor the Abbey’s patron not only an important writer of theology in Greek, but also the first bishop of the most important cultural center of the ancient Greek world. The complete text of the Mass was published at Paris in 1777; it can be found on googlebooks by searching for “Messe grecque en l’honneur de Saint Denys”, but due to who-knows-what mysteries of copyright law, cannot be downloaded in every country. Here are a few pages of it, in honor of his feast day.

The Gregorian Introit “Sapientiam Sanctorum” from the Common of Several Martyrs (continues on following page). The Greek font used here is different from that used in modern printed editions of classical texts, since it is based on medieval Byzantine handwritten scripts. 

The Collect and the beginning of the Epistle, Acts 17, 22-34
The Gregorian Offertory “Exsultabunt Sancti”
The Roman Common Preface above, and the neo-Gallican proper preface below.

Denis McNamara on the Theology of Sacred Architecture

Here is the first of a series of 10 short videos (about six minutes each) presented by the architectural historian Denis McNamara of the Liturgical Institute in Mundelein. I had the pleasure of meeting him recently and sitting in on one or two of his excellent classes.

These talks introduce succinctly and well, I feel, some of the themes that I heard him talk about in his classes. He is a good and entertaining teacher and speaker, and this comes across in the videos. You can find more detail of the subject matter in his book Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy.
What was of great interest to me was to see how he tackled issues for which there are parallel problems in sacred art. For example, how do you reconnect with tradition without falling in the error of historicism? Historicism is an undiscerning respect for the past that says, in simple terms: “Old is always good; new is always bad.”
The corrollary of this has to be considered too: to what degree should we use aspects of contemporary architecture? How can we ensure that the form we are using connects with people today, while ensuring that we don’t compromise the timeless principles that are essential to make it appropriate for its sacred purpose? You might say that what we want is to be able to innovate if necessary while avoiding the errors of modernism (“new always good; old always bad”) or post- modernism (“anything is good if I think it is.”)
When I was considering these very questions in art, the only way I could respond was to try to look for a theology of form that connected the material form to the truths that the artist was trying to convey. If we understood this, I thought, then it would give us the freedom to innovate without stepping outside the authentic traditions of liturgical art. (A large part of my book, the Way of Beauty is devoted to consideration of this.)
It seems to me that this is just the conclusion that Denis has drawn too. In this video he introduces the idea of the theology of form for architecture by which the church building becomes a symbol of the mystical body of Christ. You might say the church manifests the Church in material form and in microcosm, He refers to this as a “sacramental theology” of architecture.
In the nine videos that follow (which I will be posting weekly, each with a short introduction,) he unpacks some important parts of this theology for us. If you are impatient to see them, you’ll find them on YouTube!

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Dominican Rite Calendar for 2016 Available

I am pleased to announce that the 2016 Liturgical Calendar for the Dominican Rite is now available on the left sidebar of Dominican Liturgy under "Dominican Rite Texts---Downloadable.  This calendar is especially intended for use by those saying the Dominican Rite Mass but is also useful for the Office.

Included in the calendar are all feasts proper to the United States.  An appendix gives the local feasts for dioceses where friars of the Western Dominican Province live or minister.  Finally, an appendix gives a list of those Dominican blesseds not on our general calendar, but celebrated only in particular provinces.

Should any reader notice errors on this calendar, please let me know by email and I will correct them.

Solemn Music for a Wedding

Probably more than a few of our readers have experienced an important life event like a wedding or an ordination which, if not ruined, was at least diminished by bad music in the liturgy. I recently received notice about the following blog, Sed Una Caro, which documents the wedding in July of Alexander Ruder and Esther Kim at the church of St John the Evangelist in Lambertville, New Jersey. The couple put a great deal of thought into their wedding ceremony, as most couples do, but with particular and serious attention to the program of music to be used at the liturgy. The wedding was celebrated in the OF, with the chant Mass De Angelis, and a number of pieces by Mozart, Bach and Monteverdi, and some very good organ music. As one might imagine, it was well received by the guests, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. The whole set of musical pieces is linked on the blog; here is just one selection, Mozart’s Laudate Dominum from the Solemn Vespers of a Confessor sung at the bride’s entrance.

The church was also renovated recently, with the walls of the sanctuary redecorated, and a new organ installed, as documented on this page.

The front page of the wedding program includes an image by well-known Catholic artist Daniel Mitsui.

Congratulations to Alexander and Esther, and our thanks to them for sharing the images and sounds of their wedding, which they have done in the hopes of inspiring other Catholic couples in arranging theirs.

Solemn High Mass of Bl. Karl of Austria, Oct. 21 in Washington, D.C.

A Solemn Mass will be celebrated in honor of Blessed Karl, Emperor of Austria-Hungary (1916-19; died 1922, beatified 2004), at Old St Mary’s Church in Washington, D.C. (Chinatown), on Wednesday, October 21, at 7 p.m. (Click here for the facebook event page.)

This promises to be a very interesting musical event. Before Mass, the St. Benet’s Schola will sing the Latin verses of the hymn Tu, Christe, Nostrum Gaudium. For the Mass itself, the ensemble Musikanten will sing Philippe de Monte’s Missa Tertia Inclina cor meum for five voices, (SATTB); de Monte (1521-1603) was a Flemish composer who spent the most prolific part of his career working as music director and composer at the Habsburg court. They will also sing William Byrd’s Ave Verum and two other of his motets. The St. Mary’s Schola will sing the propers of the Mass for a Confessor not a Bishop Os justi, and the chants Sub tuum praesidium at the Offertory and Anima Christi at Communion. After the Mass, a first-class relic of Blessed Karl will be venerated, during which, the St. Mary’s and St. Benet’s Scholas will sing a variety of chants, including Vexilla Regis, Ave Maria and Ave Maris Stella.

A reception will follow the Mass at the Market-to-Market café across the street, at no cost for attendees. The hosts of this event are pleased to announce that the Princess Maria-Anna Galitzine is to attend the Mass and reception. Parking is available in a parking lot and on the street. St. Mary’s is equidistant between the Judiciary Square and Chinatown Metrorail stations off the Red Line. (below: photos from last year’s Mass, and the veneration of the relic.)

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Order of a Synod in the Traditional Pontifical - First Day (Reprint from Last Year)

Since we are now in the midst of the second round of sessions of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, our readers might find interesting the traditional order for holding a synod, according to the 1595 Pontifical of Clement VIII. The attentive will have no trouble finding inspiration here for their own prayers for the good outcome of the current assembly. It is divided into three days, and seems to presume that much of the Synod’s business will be determined by the bishop and his assistants beforehand. The rubrics are given here in summary, omitting several of the less pertinent details, such as the places where the bishop removes his miter etc.

On the first day, the bishop who has called the synod processes to the church, accompanied by the clergy who are called to the synod “by right or custom”, all in choir dress, and celebrates a Mass of the Holy Spirit. When this is over, a faldstool is placed before the altar in the middle, and the bishop, in red cope and precious miter, accompanied by deacon and subdeacon also in red, kneels before the altar, and intones the following antiphon. “Exáudi nos, * Dómine, quoniam benigna est misericordia tua: secundum multitúdinem miseratiónum tuárum réspice nos, Dómine. – Hear us, o Lord, for kindly is Thy mercy; according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies look upon us, o Lord.” The choir continues the antiphon, followed by the whole of Psalm 68, “Save me o God, for the waters have entered unto my soul”, during which the bishop sits until the psalm is finished and the antiphon repeated.

The bishop then turns to the altar and says:
We are here, o Lord, Holy Spirit, we are here, hindered by the enormity of sin, but gathered especially in Thy name; come to us, be here with us, deign to come down upon our hearts. Teach us what we ought to do; show us, where we ought to go; work Thou what we ought to accomplish. Be thou alone the one who prompts and effect our judgments, who alone with God the Father and His Son possess the name of glory. Permit us not to be disturbers of justice, Thou who love righteousness most mightily; that the evil of ignorance may not lead us, that favor may not sway us, that the receiving of gift or person may not corrupt us. But unite us to Thee effectually by the gift of Thy grace alone, that we may be one in Thee, and in no way depart from the truth. And thus, gathered in Thy name, in all things we may hold to justice, ruled by piety, in such wise that in this life our decree agree with Thee entirely, and in the future life, we may obtain eternal rewards, for the sake of what we have done well.
All answer “Amen”, and the bishop adds a second prayer.
Let us pray. Almighty and everlasting God, who by Thy mercy hast safely gathered us especially in this place, may the Comforter, who procedeth from Thee, enlighten our minds, we beseech Thee; and bring us unto all truth, as Thy Son did promise; and strengthen all in Thy faith and charity; so that, stirred up by this temporal synod, we may profit thereby to the increase of eternal happiness. Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ etc.
The bishop then kneels at the faldstool, and all others present also kneel, as the cantors sing the Litany of the Saints. After the invocation, “That Thou may deign to grant eternal rest to all the faithful departed”, the bishop rises, takes his crook in hand, and sings the following invocation; at the place marked, he makes the sign of the Cross over those gathered for the synod . “That Thou may deign to visit, order and + bless this present synod. R. We ask Thee, hear us.” The cantors finish the Litany.

All rise, and the bishop sings, “Oremus”, the deacon “Flectamus genua”, and the subdeacon, after a pause, “Levate”, after which the bishop sings this prayer.
Grant to Thy Church, we beseech Thee, o merciful God, that gathered in the Holy Spirit, She may merit to serve Thee in sure devotion. Through our Lord Jesus Christ etc.
A session of the Council of Trent in the Cathedral of St Vigilius. (Image from Italian wikipedia)
The deacon then sings the following Gospel, (that of the Thursday within the Octave of Pentecost, Luke 9, 1-6,) with the normal ceremonies of a Pontifical Mass.
At that time: Calling together the twelve Apostles, Jesus gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And He sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. And He said to them: Take nothing for your journey; neither staff, nor scrip, nor bread, nor money; neither have two coats. And whatsoever house you shall enter into, abide there, and depart not from thence. And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off even the dust of your feet, for a testimony against them. And going out, they went about through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing everywhere.
The bishop kneels to intone the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, which is continued by the choir. He then sits at a chair which is set up facing the assembly, and addresses it. A brief model for his address is given, but the rubric specifies that he speaks “in hanc sententiam - along these lines.” (In many rites, such as ordinations, sermons of this kind are part of the rite, and must be read exactly as they given in the Pontifical.)
My venerable fellow priests and dearest brethren, having first prayed to God, it is necessary that each one of you take up the matters upon which we must confer, whether they concern the divine offices, or sacred orders, or even our own mores and the needs of the Church, with charity and kindliness, and accept them, by the help of God, with supreme reverence, and all his might; and that each one may faithfully strive with all devotion to amend the things that need amendment. And if perchance what is said or done displease anyone, without any scruple of contentiousness, let him bring it forth before all; that by the Lord’s mediation, such matter may also come to the best result. And in this way, let strife or discord find no place to undermine justice, nor again the strength and solicitude of our order (i.e. the clerical order) grow lukewarm in seeking the truth.
Before or after this address, a “learned and suitable man” delivers a sermon “on ecclesiastical discipline, on the divine mysteries, on the correction of morals among the clergy”, as determined by the bishop. Complaints may then be heard (“querelae, si quae sunt, audiuntur”), presumably in accord with the matters the synod has been called to address.

The archdeacon then reads several decrees of the Council of Trent on disciplinary matters pertaining to synods, and the Profession of Faith known as the Creed of Pope Pius IV. Finally, all are “charitably admonished that during the synod, they conduct themselves honestly in all regards, even outside the synod itself, so that their behavior may worthy serve to others as an example. The bishop gives the Pontifical blessing, and all depart.

Fire at the Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in Chicago

There was a significant fire this morning at the Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (formerly the Church of St. Gelasius), the home of the Institute of Christ the King in Chicago. News reports are here and here. The Canons Regular of St John Cantius have asked NLM readers for their prayers.

UPDATE: A reader who happened to be in the area has sent in the photographs below. The fire apparently began in the upper window near the bell tower. The fire commander instructed the battalions not to hit the sides of the church. The roof has gone, but it should be possible to rebuild using the existing walls thanks to the commander and fire department.

FURTHER UPDATE: The fire crew rescued a famous early eighteenth century statue of Christ the Infant King (pictured below) as well as the tabernacle. Canon Matthew Talarico gave an interview which you can see below.

Pope Leo XIII on the Holy Rosary

In the course of his Papacy, the fourth longest in history, Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) issued eleven encyclicals on the Rosary, in the years 1883, ’84 and ’87, and then each year from 1891-98. All of them were published in September (except one, at the very end of August), looking forward to the feast of the Holy Rosary, which in his time was kept on the first Sunday of October. The feast was later fixed by Pope St Pius X to October 7, the date of the famous Battle of Lepanto which it commemorates, inter alia. Much of what Pope Leo writes is every bit as germane to the condition of society and the Church as it was when it was written over a century ago. The following is an excerpt from the 1891 Encyclical Octobri mense adventante, in my own corrected translation; on the Vatican’s website you can read the full text in Latin, and a rather sadly bowdlerized English version of it.

At the coming of the month of October, which is consecrated and dedicated to the most Blessed Virgin of the Rosary, we are greatly pleased to recall how greatly in preceding years We have commended to you, venerable brethren, our wish that the faithful throughout the world, urged by your authority and by your zeal, should redouble their piety towards the great Mother of God, the mighty helper of the Christian people, and should pray to her throughout the month, and invoke Her by that most holy rite of the Rosary, which the Church, especially in uncertain and most difficult times, has ever used and celebrated for the accomplishment of all desires.
This year once again do We take care to publish Our wishes, once again to encourage you by the same exhortations. We are urged and persuaded to this in love for the Church, whose sufferings, far from being mitigated, increase daily in number and in gravity. Well-known to all are the evils we deplore: war made upon the sacred dogmas which the Church holds and transmits; derision cast upon the integrity of that Christian virtue which she has in keeping; … attack made, with most impudent audacity and criminal malice against Christ Himself, as if to utterly abolish or destroy from its foundation the Divine work of His Redemption – that work which, indeed, no adverse power shall ever destroy.

The Battle of Lepanto, by Paolo Veronese, ca. 1572, now in the Academy Gallery in Venice
No new events are these for the Church militant. Jesus foretold to His disciples that She must enter upon a daily battle and struggle in order to teach men the truth and guide them to eternal salvation. And indeed, throughout the course of ages She fights undaunted, even to martyrdom, rejoicing and glorying in nothing more than the fact that She can dedicate Her own blood along with her Founder’s, wherein She holds the most certain hope of the victory promised to Her. …

Through this storm of evils, in the midst of which the Church struggles so fiercely, all her devout children see by how holy a duty they are bound to pray to God with greater instance, and especially the reason for which they must strive to give to their prayers the greatest possible efficacy. Faithful to the example of our most religious fathers and elders, let us have recourse to Mary, our holy Sovereign. Let us call upon Mary, the Mother of Christ and our own, and with one heart beseech Her, “Show thyself to be a mother; through Thee, may He accept our prayers Who, born for us, consented to be Thine.” (from the Vesper hymn of the Office of the Virgin Mary Ave, Maris Stella) …

Now, among the several rites and manners of paying honor to the Divine Mother, since some are to be preferred, inasmuch as we know them to be more powerful and more pleasing to Her, for this reason We specially mention by name and recommend the Rosary … which recalls to our minds the great mysteries of Jesus and His Mother, their joys, sorrows, and triumphs... As the faithful devoutly call to mind and contemplate these august mysteries, it is wondrous to see how great is the aid they receive in the nourishment of their faith, in defense against ignorance and the disease of error, and in the lifting up and supporting of the mind towards virtue.

Indeed, the thought and memory of him who thus prays, enlightened by the light of the Faith, are drawn towards these mysteries with the greatest joy and zeal, are fixed and absorbed therein, and cannot sufficiently wonder at the ineffable work of the Redemption of mankind, achieved at such a price and by events so great. Then the mind is filled with gratitude and love before these proofs of Divine love; its hope is strengthened and increased; its desire is increased for the heavenly rewards which Christ has prepared for those who have united themselves to Him by the imitation of His example and the sharing of His sufferings. Prayer is poured forth in the midst of these things by words coming from God Himself, from the Archangel Gabriel, and from the Church; full of praise and of saving petitions, it is renewed and continued in an order at once fixed and various, and the fruits of its devotion are ever new and sweet.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

“You Have the Rite to Remain Silent” - Discovering Silence in Praying the Mass

Kudos to Kevin DiCamillo, both for this very nice article published a few days ago on National Catholic Register, and the clever pun in the title. He recounts his discovery of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and the virtue of silence within it. You can read the whole article over there at the link given above: note that he was born in 1970, and came to the EF purely by happenstance, with no axes to grind against the OF, and not from any sense of mere nostalgia. (Cited from NCR/EWTN).
Having never been to a “Low Tridentine Mass“ ”, I had no idea what to expect. It was, in a sense, like getting contemplative bends: instead of barking out “Amen“ ” (this chapel does not do the “dialogue Mass”), or the Confiteor or the Kyrie or ... anything, there was just silence. And more silence. Even the responses from the server were so muted it was almost impossible to tell (without a 1962 Missal which mercifully I had, as a gift from my late grandmother) what was going on.
What was going on was an “active contemplation”: I was very much a neophyte that night, but the twenty or so souls around me were edifying to see: the women wore mantillas, the men even had on neckties. There was no musical fillip, no “Let’s-try-to-sing-Holy-God-We-Praise-Thy-Name-acapella“ ”. Just ... silence. And still more silence. A pure, nearly unbroken sacred quiet. ... a world where we each have more email, voicemail, texts, meetings, and Skype-chats than we could possibly digest in a lifetime, the Tridentine Mass offers a complete contemplative oasis. You have the right to be silent when you pray.

Film Review: The Intern starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway

Entertaining, funny, easy to watch...and noble (mostly). This film offers us lessons in how to promote the New Evangelization and offer the Mass to the masses. Really, I mean it!

The Intern is an entertaining and very funny feelgood movie which has a good story and along the way reinforces good traditional values. It has greater depth than most critics give it credit for and furthermore, I think that this shows us how the mass culture could be used constructively to draw people back to the Church and the Mass more powerfully, entertainingly and in about the half the viewing time that Into Great Silence ever could. It also shows us what the strengths of movies are in this regard.

It is not without flaws, but I suggest these could be easily remedied, in such a way that it could have made a strong endorsement of Catholic social teaching. I am hoping there are some Catholic film makers watching who might take note.

I have to come clean here regarding my view of what makes a good film. I hate self-consciously arty films that stress character development or visual beauty at the expense of the plot. I think that all these have to be there, but a movie is successful when everything in it serves the narrative. For this reason, that in my view, the American film industry which understands this is superior to those of Britain and Europe; as a rule I avoid anything that has sub-titles because I assume I’m going to be bored to death. The famous line that sums up why the British film industry is so unsuccessful (a question that discussion panels on BBC tv and radio programs have discussed ad infinitum) is that the British directors always make films to impress their friends at dinner parties and nobody else...and they do it very well.

For this film, I read the reviews first, and the critics seemed to split. Some found it entertaining and funny, while others disliked it for being shallow and lacking philosophical depth. Given what most film critics require to be philosophically stimulated - angst and doom - I took both types of review as an endorsement.

As it turned out, it certainly wasn’t self-consciously philosophical, but in fact it reveals a natural philosophy of life that is, broadly speaking, good and derived from Christian principles. It doesn’t feel deep because it doesn’t challenge our sense of what is good; it affirms it.

The plot is simple. A retired 70-year-old business executive and widower, Ben (Rober De Niro), is bored and looking to “fill the hole” in his life. He had already tried getting out and being involved in activities that gave him some human contact, but this was not enough. He needed to a have purpose and so he applied for a job at a new internet startup that had subscribed to a “senior intern” program as part of a publicity exercise. He had a job interview with the “talent acquisition” executive, during which he was asked what was obviously a standard question given to all applicants, regardless of the job: “Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?” De Niro’s perfectly timed response was, “You mean when I’m 80?”

This being an internet startup, Ben is just about the only employee over thirty. The comic moments relate to the clash of the generations in which each misunderstands the other. Without pushing himself on them, or complaining, he gently offers his wisdom based upon life experience, as the younger people around him realise that he can help them in their work and their personal lives.

Gradually, the founder and CEO of the company, Jules Austin, (played by Anne Hathaway) starts to rely on him for advice in the same way. We realize that he is filling the hole in his life, not by getting a second career, but rather by being of service to all around him in the workplace. His new job is his opportunity for service. Through his example, others start to adopt his approach in what would otherwise be a cut-throat commercial environment. We see how, through his personal interactions with the people around him, he is affecting this society in microcosm for the good, and helping to make it a community.

The climax of the film revolves around troubles in Jules’ marriage. Her husband, a stay-at-home dad who gave up his career when hers took off, feels neglected and retaliates badly (avoiding spoilers now). The film does not justify the behavior of either one, but instead takes them to a point of reconciliation whereby each reflects on the situation and admits independently the part they have played. Each resolves to make personal sacrifices for the other and for their marriage (there is a synchronicity to it that reminds us of O. Henry’s famous Gift of the Magi).

The story is simple, believable, and the wisdom imparted through it seems true. It was also very funny, largely because of a great performance by Robert De Niro, whose timing and delivery are impeccable.

On the negative side, there’s one embarrassing risque joke, which stands out in contrast with the tone rest of the film and, unfortunately, appears in all the trailers. Also, incidental to the plot, there are moments that go against Christian morality - for example, there is some reference to promiscuity that presents it in a positive light. These are almost to be expected nowadays, sadly.

Aside from these, the major regret that I had is the writer and director, Nancy Myers, did not in some way connect the good standards that De Niro’s character lives up to to their true source - God and His Church. I wouldn’t expect a scene in which a character reads a passage from the Catechism, but it would have been nice if we had found out that Ben was a virtuous man because he was a Christian. I am guessing that the reason that this was not done is that Myers doesn’t believe.

However, she almost did it.

There is an allusion to spirituality, at least, as the source of his strength. In the opening scene of the film we see Ben in the park participating in a controlled exercise routine - it looked to me like the Chinese practice of Qigong. We hear him in the voiceover describing his general dissatisfaction with life as we see him doing it. In the final scene of the film, all seems to have turned out well and Jules is looking for Ben at work to thank him. She is told that he took the day off. She eventually found him in the park, back with the Qigong group. There was no discussion of what he was doing or reference to it in any other way. We just saw it as an aspect of his previous life that was something good and he he wanted to retain. This was reinforced by the fact that he asked her if she wanted to join in with him before they talked, and she did so.

I don’t know if this was the director’s intention, but occurred to me that in an understated but powerful way, what the film had portrayed was a bit of Qigong New Evangelization! She had portrayed (perhaps unintentionally) the Christian idea of the cycle of worship: the exitus and reditus (exit and return) by which we are inspired by God, and are dismissed to go out to love our fellow man. Then, transformed by our love for God through man, we come back to God as greater lovers, and the positive cycle is repeated.

How wonderful this film would have been if this little detail - the topping and tailing of the film with a spiritual reference - had been a one by which he went to a beautiful Mass. And rather than joining the stretching in the park, Jules had sat silently in the pews at church, contemplating what was going on and listening to Ave Verum Corpus before they left to have their conversation.

If we want to get more people back into the Church, this film is showing us, is a small way, how to do it. So, Catholic screenwriters, here’s your challenge! Create a Catholic version of a film like this. Once you have your script, all you need is several million dollars and Robert De Niro and you’ll have a box-office hit that promotes the Faith.

Monday, October 05, 2015

A Tale of Three Holy Cards

One of the most hackneyed of all clichés is that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” But there’s a reason certain familiar sayings arise in the first place, and that’s because they express a truth beyond gainsaying.

This past summer, as I was visiting with a dear Benedictine friend of mine, I happened to notice two holy cards in his monastic breviary. The first was a card with nutty looking geometric shapes and a font that screamed 1970s. The other was a card that could have been from the 19th century.

I told the monk I’m a collector of vintage holy cards (sometime I’ll have to put pictures of some of them up on NLM), and that I’d enjoy giving these two a closer look. My guess of the 1970s was off just a little. The card featuring geometric shapes and the saying “The Creator has made the world…Come and see it” from the Pima Indians was an ordination holy card from May 30, 1965.

Ordination Holy Card (1965)
The other card, once I held it, felt surprisingly new. It turned out to be an ordination holy card from May 24, 2014. The text on the back of this card (not shown here) was not taken from the Pima Indians but from Hebrews 5, in the Knox translation no less:
The purpose for which any high priest is chosen from among his fellow men, and made a representative of men in their dealings with God, is to offer gifts and sacrifices in expiation of their sins. He is qualified for this by being able to feel for them when they are ignorant and make mistakes, since he, too, is all beset with humiliations, and, for that reason, must needs present sin-offerings for himself, just as he does for the people. His vocation comes from God, as Aaron’s did; nobody can take on himself such a privilege as this. … Thou art a priest for ever, in the line of Melchisedech.
Ordination Holy Card (2014)
I went to my holy card collection and pulled out a holy card from 1909, printed in Csákova, Romania, for the first Mass of a German priest. This card is smaller and narrower, as is often the case with older cards, and says at the bottom: “Das Himmelsbrod will ich empfangen und anrufen den Namen des Herrn,” “I will receive the bread of heaven and call upon the Name of the Lord.” On the back, it says: “Heiliges Herz Jesu, ich vertaue auf dich!,” “Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee!”

First Mass Holy Card (1909)
What do we notice when we look at this progression—1909, 1965, 2014?

The 1909 card, with sensitive rendering, evokes the natural order elevated to the supernatural through the liturgy, with the wheat and grapes yielding themselves into the chalice surrounded by light, mounted on an altar book that is wrapped in a stole embroidered with crosses, the whole graced by a Eucharistic text. Two world wars and fifty-six years later, the 1965 card lacks any Christian symbols or texts, any indication that it has anything to do with the priesthood, or even any representational art to speak of. Forty-nine years later, the 2014 card shows a priest bowing humbly before the altar, where, in mystic vision, the High Priest blesses him as he mediates for the people, in the midst of a great church. Light—the light of grace and truth—cascades from Jesus, the Head of the Mystical Body, to the priest and people, in that hierarchical order. The 2014 card, with different imagery, is saying the same thing as the 1909 card: here is the source of light and life; here is the elevation of nature by grace; here is the special work of the ordained minister.

When we look with pained embarrassment at the 1965 card, we cannot help feeling that the 1960s are, with rare exceptions, thoroughly dead—and never was a death so welcome. Like the priests of centuries past, today’s youthful clergy have surrendered themselves to a genuine priestly vocation, with a spirit of awe, reverence, and veneration for the sacred mysteries. They are (just as the Letter to the Hebrews teaches) chosen mediators who offer gifts and sacrifices. The luminous liturgical theology of Pope Benedict XVI and the joyful rediscovery of the ancient Roman Rite of Mass have had much to do with this renewal. May they continue to bring in a harvest of vocations, men who wish to serve in union with, and in imitation of, the Heart of Jesus.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

A New Image of the Coptic Martyrs of Libya, by Nikola Sarić

I recently stumbled across this interesting new piece of work by Mr Nikola Sarić, a Serbian artist currently living in Hannover, Germany. (Reproduced here with his kind permission.) It represents the martyrdom of the Coptic Martyrs of Libya, a group of Egyptian Copts who, as I am sure most of our readers will remember, were working in Libya when they were captured by Islamic fanatics, and had their throats cut on the seashore this past February. With them was a man named Matthew Ayariga, from the Subsaharan nation of Ghana, who was not himself a Copt, but on witnessing the martyrs’ courage in choosing death over denial of their Christian faith, joined them in confessing Christ, and professing their faith as his own, saying “Their God is my God. ” The Coptic Pope, His Holiness Tawadros II, officially recognized them as martyrs, and ordered that their commemoration be inserted into the Synaxarium; their feast is kept on February 15th.

Notice how the waves of the sea stained with the martyrs’ blood are shown around the edge of the image; Matthew Arayiga is distinct among the group on the top right. The men were killed wearing orange prisoners’ jumpsuits; all them are looking at Christ except for the one at the bottom, who is looking out at us.

The original 100x70 cm watercolor is currently displayed at the Brenkhausen Monastery in Höxter, a town in the Westphalia region of Germany; this is a former Cistercian house which since 1994 has been a Coptic Orthodox monastery and the seat of the Coptic bishop of Germany. Mr Sarić plans to sell the work and donate the money to the families of the martyrs.

You can read more about Mr Sarić and his various works at his website (in both German and English.)

Friday, October 02, 2015

Vesper Hymn for the Feast of the Guardian Angels

A very nice alternation of chant and polyphony, by the Ensemble Venance Fortunat. 

1. Custodes hominum psallimus angelos,
Naturae fragili quos Pater addidit
Coelestis comites, insidiantibus
Ne succumberet hostibus.

Angel-guardians of men, spirits and powers we sing,
Whom our Father hath sent, aids to our weakly frame,
Heavenly friends and guides, help from on high to bring,
Lest we fail through the foeman's wile.

2. Nam quod corruerit proditor angelus,
Concessis merito pulsus honoribus,
Ardens invidia pellere nititur
Quos coelo Deus advocat.

He, the spoiler of souls, angel-traitor of old,
Cast in merited wrath out of his honoured place,
Burns with envy and hate, seeking their souls to gain
Whom God's mercy invites to heaven.

3. Huc custos igitur pervigil advola,
Avertens patria de tibi credita
Tam morbos animi, quam requiescere
Quidquid non sinit incolas.

Therefore come to our help, watchful ward of our lives:
Turn aside from the land God to thy care confides
Sickness and woe of soul, yea, and what else of ill
Peace of heart to its folk denies.

4. Sanctae sit Triadi laus pia jugiter,
Cujus perpetuo numine machina
Triplex haec regitur, cujus in omnia
Regnat gloria saecula. Amen.

Now to the Holy Three praise evermore resound:
Under whose hand divine resteth the triple world
Governed in wondrous wise: glory be theirs and might
While the ages unending run. Amen.

Dominican Compline - A Video by Fr Lawrence Lew

Fr Lawrence Lew, a long-time contributor to NLM and a diligent photographer and videographer, has just posted this video which he made to youtube. It has the singing of the antiphons at the end of Compline: Sub tuum praesidium, translated into English, followed by O Lumen Ecclesiae, the antiphon of the Magnificat at Second Vespers of St Dominic in the Dominican Use. The latter is traditionally sung each day, along with the Salve Regina, in honor of the Order’s patron and founder.

The video was made at the Dominican House of Studies in DC, with a large number of guests in the house for the recent Papal visit. Fr Lew notes in his comments on youtube, “On the vigil of Pope Francis’ historic Mass for the Canonization of St. Junipero Serra, Dominican Friars (with representation from all four US provinces) gathered in DC to welcome our Holy Father, Pope Francis. It was a huge joy to pray with our friars from all four provinces on this historic occasion!” 

O lumen Ecclesiae, doctor veritatis, rosa patientiae, ebur castitatis, aquam sapientiae propinasti gratis; praedicator gratiae, nos junge beatis.

O light of the Church, teacher of truth, rose of patience, ivory statue of chastity, freely you gave the water of wisdom to drink; preacher of grace, join us to the blessed.

More about the Art in the Newman Center, Lincoln, Nebraska

A good approach to re-establishing a cultural tradition

In my recent posting about newest edition of the Adoremus Bulletin, I showed the cover photo of the publication, which is of a beautiful wall panel.

I was delighted to hear just now from the architect James McCreery, whose firm was the design architect for the Thomas Aquinas Chapel of the Newman Center. He sent me this fine photo of the panel in its setting, which shows that this was a detail of an arched recess designed as a backdrop for the chapel’s Baptismal font...hence the descending dove! The painting work was done by artists at the Evergreene Studios, he tells me.

He explained to me that the font itself is hand-carved oak dating from the English Arts and Crafts / Gothic Revival period of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. This is the movement that came out of the work of Pugin, Ruskin and Morris particularly.

I am an admirer of this style, what might be termed Victorian neo-Gothic art and architecture. Some talk of it as though it is a pale version of what went before. I don’t think of it that way at all. To me this is an authentic model of Christian art and architecture that characterizes the 19th century. 

In many ways I see theirs as a lesson of how revivals ought to take place, one which can help us today. Their method was to study the underlying principles from the great models of the past - in this case looking at Gothic architecture, and Gothic and Romanesque art and decoration - and then apply those principles to a contemporary setting - the 19th century. The desire was to change as little as possible, but it was not an unthinking copying of the past. There was a willingness to modify or change those aspects that were no longer appropriate to needs of the Church of the time, and those aspects which, when considered in humility, might be improved upon.

Now, 100 years or so later, the same process goes on. This time the model of the past is the Victorian style and the Church to which it must relate is that of the early 21st century. This is how it works!

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