Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Gospel of Nicodemus in the Liturgy of Eastertide

By “the Gospel of Nicodemus”, I mean not the apocryphal gospel of that title, but the passage of St John’s Gospel in which Christ speaks to Nicodemus, chapter 3, verses 1-21. This passage has a interesting and complex history among the readings of the Easter season. For liturgical use, the Roman Rite divides it into two parts, the second of which begins at one of the most famous verses in all the Gospels, John 3, 16, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son …”; the first part anciently included verse 16, but was later cut back to end at 15.

Christ and Nicodemus, by Fritz van Uhde ca. 1886
The oldest surviving Roman lectionary, the “Comes Romanus” of Wurzburg, was written around 700 A.D, and represents the liturgy of approximately 50-100 years earlier, the period just after St Gregory the Great; in it, John 3, 1-16 is assigned to be read twice in Eastertide. The first occasion is on the Pascha annotinum, the anniversary of the previous year’s Easter and baptism of the catechumens. The second is the Octave Day of Pentecost, the observance of which is, of course, much older than the feast of the Holy Trinity which we now keep on that Sunday.

In his Treatises on the Gospel of St John (11.3), St Augustine say that “this Nicodemus was from among those who had believed in (Christ’s) name, seeing the signs and wonders which He did” at the end of the previous chapter. (2, 23) “Now in this Nicodemus, let us consider why Jesus did not yet entrust Himself to them. ‘Jesus answered, and said to him: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ (John 3, 3) Therefore, Jesus entrusts Himself to those who have been born again. … Such are all the catechumens: they already believe in the name of Christ, but Jesus does not entrust himself to them. If we shall say to the catechumen, ‘Do you believe in Christ?’ he answers, ‘I believe’, and signs himself; he already bears the Cross of Christ on his forehead.”

These words refer to the very ancient custom, still a part of the rites of Baptism to this very day, by which the catechumens were signed on their foreheads with the Cross. Augustine here follows his teacher St Ambrose, who says in his book On the mysteries, “The catechumen also believes in the Cross of the Lord Jesus, by which he is also signed: but unless he shall be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he cannot receive forgiveness of sins, nor take in the gift of spiritual grace.” (chapter 4)

Augustine then says (11.4), “Let us ask (the catechumen), ‘Do you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink (His) blood?’ He does not know what we are saying, because Jesus has not entrusted Himself to him.” The fact that Nicodemus first came to Christ at night (John 3, 2) also refers to his status as a catechumen. “Those who are born from water and the Spirit (John 3, 5), what do they hear from the Apostle? ‘For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light.’ (Eph. 5, 8) and again, ‘Let us who are of the day be sober.’ (1 Thess. 5, 8) Those then who have been reborn, were of the night, and are of the day; they were darkness, and are light. Jesus already entrusts Himself to them, and they do not come to Jesus at night as Nicodemus did…”.

Following this interpretation, the Gospel is perfectly suited for the celebration of the Pascha annotinum, in which the catechumens commemorated the day when Christ first entrusted Himself to them in both Baptism and the Eucharist.

Two leaves of a 1491 Missal according to the Use of Passau (Germany). The Mass for the Octave Day of Pentecost begins towards the bottom of the first column on the left, with the rubric “everything as on the feast, except the Epistle and Gospel.” 
On the Octave Day of Pentecost, this Gospel is repeated, although the Wurzburg manuscript here attests to a custom of the Roman Rite observed in northern Europe, but not in Rome itself. Already in very ancient times, baptisms were done on Pentecost as on Easter; this is attested in a letter of Pope St Siricius (384-399) to Himerius, bishop of Tarragon in Spain (cap. 2), and one of Pope St Leo the Great (440-461), in which he exhorts the bishops of Sicily to follow the Church’s custom and the example of the Apostle Peter, who baptized three thousand persons on Pentecost day. (Epist. 16) The Gospel of the vigil of Pentecost, John 14, 15-21, is continued on the feast itself with verses 23-31, both passages referring to the sending of the Holy Spirit. Since Baptism was traditionally administered on Pentecost, the reading of the Nicodemus Gospel on the Octave, a foundational text for the Church’s understanding of that Sacrament, expresses what an important aspect of the feast this really was.

This point is made even more clearly by the Ambrosian rite. The Church of Milan assigns two Masses to the Easter vigil and each day of Easter week, one “of the solemnity”, and a second “for the (newly) baptized”; the latter form a final set of lessons for the catechumens who have just been received into the Church. At the Easter vigil Mass “for the baptized”, the Nicodemus Gospel is read, ending at verse 13. The first prayer of this Mass begins with a citation of it: “O God, who lay open the entrance of the heavenly kingdom to those reborn from water and the Holy Spirit, increase upon Thy servants the grace which Thou hast given; so that those who have been cleaned from all sins, may not be deprived of the promises.” The Epistle, Acts 2, 29-38, is taken from St Peter’s speech on the first Pentecost, ending with the words, “and you will receive the Holy Spirit.”

On Easter itself, the Gospel of the Mass “for the baptized” is John 7, 37-39.
On the great day of the festivity, the Lord Jesus stood and cried out, saying: If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believeth in me, as the scripture saith, Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. Now this he said of the Spirit which they should receive, who believed in him: [for as yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.]
However, the words noted here in brackets are omitted at this Mass. Pentecost also has two Masses, and at its Mass “for the baptized”, this Gospel is repeated, but including the final words, further emphasizing the connection between the two great baptismal feasts.

The remains of the Baptistery of Saint John at the Founts (San Giovanni alle Fonti), the paleo-Christian baptistery of Milan, discovered under the modern Duomo in 1889.
In the second-oldest Roman lectionary, the Comes of Murbach, roughly a century later than the Wurzburg manuscript, the Nicodemus Gospel was added to a third Mass, that of the Finding of the Cross on May 3rd. The origin and gradual diffusion of this feast are not the subject of this article; suffice it to note two points. The Wurzburg lectionary has neither the Finding of the Cross nor the Exaltation, but both are in Murbach, and are well-established by the end of the Carolingian period. The latest possible date for Easter, (occurring only once per century since the Gregorian Calendar was promulgated in 1582), is April 25, making May 2nd the latest date for Low Sunday. It is probably not a coincidence that the Finding of the Cross was fixed to May 3rd, the first date at which it must occur in Easteride, but cannot fall within the Easter Octave itself.

The choice of Gospel was certainly determined by the final words, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him, may not perish; but may have life everlasting.” St Augustine explains, “As those who looked upon the serpent did not perish from the bites of the serpents; so those who with faith look upon the death of Christ are healed from the bites of sins. But they were healed from death to temporal life: here, however, He says “that they may have eternal life.” (Tract. in Joannem, 12, 11)

The Deposition of Christ, by Michelangelo, 1547-53, also known as the “Nicodemus Pietà” from the generally accepted tradition that the hooded figure at the top of the group is Nicodemus, and a self-portrait of the artist. From the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo di Firenze.
It may also have been motivated by the fact that the Pascha annotinum was by this time falling into disuse; Bl. Ildephonse Schuster notes in The Sacramentary (vol. 2, p. 260) that it is only rarely mentioned in Rome after the 8th century. (The Murbach lectionary omits its Epistle.) This is probably due both to the disappearance of the adult catechumenate, and to the fact that it was supposed to be celebrated with the same rites as Easter itself, but will often occur in Lent; it would then have to be transferred, rather obviating the point of it. Assigning John 3, 1-16 to May 3rd may therefore have been intended to maintain its importance by finding it a more prominent position in the liturgy. And indeed, it is as the Gospel of the Finding of the Cross that it will serve as part of the liturgy of Eastertide past the Middle Ages and through the Tridentine period.

Although the Octave of Pentecost is very ancient, Rome and the Papal court never kept the first Sunday after Pentecost as part of it. (This forms another parallel with Easter, since the liturgy of Low Sunday differs in many respects from that of Easter itself.) In northern Europe, as noted above, the Octave Day was a proper octave, repeating the Mass of the feast, but with different readings: Apocalypse 4, 1-10 as the Epistle, and John 3, 1-16 as the Gospel. Both of these traditions were slowly but steadily displaced by the feast of the Trinity, first kept at Liège in the early 10th century; but there was a divergence of customs here as well. When Pope John XXII (1316-34) ordered that Holy Trinity be celebrated throughout the Western Church, he placed it on the Sunday after Pentecost, a custom which became universal after Trent. But even as late as the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Low Countries and several major dioceses in Germany still kept the older Octave Day of Pentecost, and put the feast of the Trinity on the Monday after.

Others compromised between the older custom and the new by keeping the readings from the Octave of Pentecost, but inserting them into the Mass of the Trinity; this was observed at Sarum, and by the medieval Dominicans and Premonstratensians. After the Tridentine reform, however, as part of the general tendency to Romanize liturgical books, this compromise was retained only by the Old Observance Carmelites, leaving the first part of the Nicodemus Gospel only on the Finding of the Cross for all the rest of the Roman Rite.

In 1960, the feast was suppressed from the general Calendar, and relegated to the Missal’s appendix “for some places”, causing the effective disappearance of the crucial Gospel passage from the liturgy of Easteride. This defect been partially remedied in the Novus Ordo; the reading is broken into two pieces, assigned to the Monday and Tuesday after Low Sunday, but not to any major feast of the season.

A second (and shorter) part of this article will consider the second part of the Gospel of Nicodemus, John 3, 16-21, on Pentecost Monday, May 25th.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Sacred Sculptures on Display at the Vatican (Final Post)

Speaking of beauty and humility in the liturgy, here is a final set of images from the new show at St Peter’s Basilica, a display of reliquaries and other liturgical objects from many different parts of central Italian province of Lazio.

Reliquary of St Rosalia in silver and agate, 17th century, from the cathedral of St Lawrence in Tivoli.
Silver reliquary bust of St Blaise, attributed to Nicola Treglia (died in 1721); from the church of St John the Baptist in Monte San Biagio, in archdiocese of Gaeta.
Reliquary statue of St Dolcissima, Virgin and Martyr in the persecution of Diocletian (303-6), Patron Saint of Sutri; mid-18th century, gilded wood, with head, hands and feet in silver.
Reliquary bust of Pope St Soter (ca. 167-174), silver , first half of the 17th century; from the church of St Peter in Fondi, (famous also as the place where the Great Western Schism began in 1378). 
Pax brede in silver and copper, with gemstones, second half of the 15th century; from the Diocesan Museum of Tarquinia.
Reliquary bust of St Margaret, mid-15th century, possibly Sienese in silver, copper and colored stones; from the cathedral of St Margaret in Montefiascone.

Friday, May 01, 2015

“Beauty and Tradition in the ‘Church of the Poor’ ” - An Interesting Article on Catholic World Report

Abbot Nicholas Zachariadis and Benjamin Mann, who are both members of an Eastern Catholic monastery, Holy Resurrection in Saint Nazianz, Wisconsin, have recently published an article on the website of Catholic World Report, on beauty in the liturgy and the truly Christian sense of humility. (Mr Mann, who is soon to receive his monastic tonsure, is also the author of a regular column at Catholic Exchange.) The article contains a number of valuable insights and observations, of which I will give just a few selections here; click the link above for the rest. Especially interesting is the middle section, which is under the subheading “Poor Church, Yes – Iconoclastic Church, No!”

(I am very much in favor of always keeping the combox open, and I try to keep a very light hand on moderating the discussions in it. A gentle reminder, which I know is not necessary for the vast majority of our readers: keep the comments charitable, especially in regards to the Holy Father, and germane to the topic at hand.)
While it has lost much of its momentum since the heyday of the 1970s and 1980s, the iconoclastic approach to liturgy and religious art has not gone away: indeed, it remains deeply ingrained, at the parish level, in much of the Western world. Today, there is a danger that this de-sacralizing attitude will be revived – and Benedict XVI’s efforts toward authentic liturgical renewal rolled back – by a misreading of Pope Francis’ words and ideals: an interpretation that casts Christian humility and liturgical beauty as opposites in tension, or even outright contradiction, rather than as potentially harmonious counterparts.
Notably, this assertion would have been repugnant to Pope Francis’ namesake St. Francis of Assisi – who wrote in his Testament that he wanted “above all” for Christ’s Eucharistic presence “to be honored and venerated and reserved in places which are richly ornamented.” This is in keeping with the saint’s entire view of nature and creation as showing forth the glory of God: for Il Poverello, there is no question of demonstrating our own humility through minimalistic worship. Rather, we show our ultimate poverty before God precisely by offering all created beauty – symbolically present in the Christian temple – back to its Creator. ...
Examples could be marshaled and multiplied, to show that Christian humility and poverty do not require the abandonment of classical beauty and traditional liturgical forms. And such examples would by no means be confined to history. Across the globe even today, many of the world’s humblest and poorest Christian populations – those of the Middle East, or India, for instance – are among those most intent on maintaining their long-established forms of liturgy, art, and architecture, in all their outward splendor.
Ironically, far from expressing a sense of global or social solidarity, the insistence on a minimalistic and exaggeratedly “humble” religious aesthetic actually seems to be a form of modern Western parochialism among an educated elite. The movement toward a contrived informality and secularity in liturgy and art did not come from the poor or the ordinary faithful, but from a class of trained professionals who saw themselves as the most qualified readers of the signs of the times.
Their basic aspiration – to engage and evangelize the modern world more effectively – was good, and remains essential. Yet the result of their iconoclastic experiments can be seen in the “devastated vineyard” of closed seminaries, barren sanctuaries, and dwindling religious orders. The Western Church has already tried the reductive, desacralizing approach to humility and poverty, which claims that the Church must put off her outward signs of holiness and simply meet modern man on his own terms – and garb – in the secular city. Whatever its intentions may have been, this project has proved to be a dismal failure.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Introducing Matthew Hazell, A New Contributor to NLM

Last week, Dr Kwasniewski sent me a link to Matthew Hazell’s latest piece on his blog Lectionary Study Aids. It is, as always, both useful and interesting: a brief summary of Fr Cipriano Vagaggini’s book The Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform, and a link to a scanned copy of the book, now long out of print. (Fr Vagaggini was a major contributor to the post-Conciliar reform of the Ordo Missae.) I was going to write about the post with links to Matthew’s blog, but it occurred to both Peter and myself that since we think our readers should know about all of his excellent projects, it was easier just to ask him to join the writing staff at NLM. I am very pleased to say that he has accepted our invitation. Matthew will continue to post his work and research on Liturgical Study Aids, but also give notices and links here on NLM about what he’s been doing. Welcome aboard, we’re delighted to have you with us!

A biographical notes from the man himself: Hailing from the United Kingdom, Matthew is a convert to the Catholic faith from evangelical Protestantism, and was received into the Church in 2008. He has a B.A. (Hons.) in Biblical and Applied Theology from the University of Wales (Bangor) and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from the University of Sheffield. While studying for his M.A., he met his wife, Lucy, and the two of them currently still live in the glorious city of Sheffield.

Since discovering and becoming attached to the usus antiquior, Matthew has developed a keen interest in the liturgical reforms carried out during and after the Second Vatican Council, as well as the history of the Council itself. Recently, his research has concentrated on the Postcommunion prayers of the usus recentior and their sources, but he has also done work on the post-Conciliar reform of the Roman Lectionary, and the various interim and experimental lectionaries used in various countries during the 1960s. He is also working on a study of the long and short forms of readings on Sundays and solemnities in the usus recentior, from the viewpoints of both biblical theology and liturgical theology, which he hopes to discuss on NLM.

When not working or studying, Matthew likes to play board games and retro video games, preferably with a nice pint of real ale or a bottle of Trappist beer to hand!

A Missa Cantata in Morgantown, West Virginia

A Missa Cantata that will be celebrated this Friday on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker in Morgantown, West Virginia, home of West Virginia University, at St. John University Parish, 1481 University Ave, at 7 p.m. The celebrant is Fr. Boniface Hicks, O.S.B. of the Monastery of St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, known for his work with WAOB Catholic Radio in Latrobe. A choir of students from West Virginia University will sing H.L. Hassler’s Missa super Ecce quam bonum and Gregorian chant.

Registration Deadline Tomorrow - Sacra Liturgia USA

Full-time, single-day, and student-rate registrations available. Scholarships for seminarians still available. 

We look forward to seeing you in New York!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Catholic Artists Society Mass for Artists - May 10, NYC

The Catholic Artists Society will host its annual Mass for Artists at 3.30pm, Sunday, May 10, 2015 at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in SoHo. 

Artists, patrons and friends of the arts are invited to attend. His Excellency Bishop John O’Hara will preside at Solemn Mass in the ordinary form. The Schola Cantorum of St. Agnes will sing the Missa Congratulamini mihi by Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594). There will be a reception following the Mass in the basilica’s courtyard. For more information, contact

The Feast of St Peter Martyr - Guest Article by Dr Donald Prudlo

We are very grateful to Dr Donald Prudlo, Associate Professor of Ancient and Medieval History at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama, for sharing with us this account of the festivities held in Milan in honor of St Peter Martyr a few days ago. Today, April 29th, is the traditional day of the feast, but at the Basilica of Saint Eustorgius, where the Saint’s relics are kept, it is usually transferred to the nearest Sunday. Dr Prudlo is a specialist in the study of the cult of the Saints, and has often provided commentary for Vatican Radio during canonization ceremonies.

Peter of Verona was an early Dominican inquisitor, brutally murdered in 1252 by Cathar heretics. He had been active in public ministry for nearly 30 years in northern and central Italy, and was one of the most powerful preachers of the age; after his martyrdom, he became the fastest canonized saint in history (less than 11 months after his death). His relics are kept in the Romanesque basilica of Sant’ Eustorgio in Milan, formerly also home to the relics of the Magi, which were later looted by Barbarossa and taken to Cologne. St Peter is co-patron of the quarter and the parish, and each year, on the Sunday closest to his feast, the local church celebrates in his honor.

The Basilica of Saint Eustorgius
I was privileged this year to be present for the festivities, which demonstrated the close connection between liturgy and the Saints: an excellent example of liturgical and extra-liturgical devotion, and a witness to an ancient cult still alive and well in the Church. Saints, even those canonized with a universal cult like St. Peter Martyr, are testaments to the intersection of catholicity and particularity. When one attends the feast of a Saint, one sees evidence of the organic growth of liturgy as it took place over the centuries, all the while embedded in the continuous traditions of the broader Church. Saints are the liturgical signposts of the year, marking in their lives the radical following of Christ, in the case of martyrs, even to death. They are the lived Anamneses of the Church. The celebration of their feasts is a present reminder of the unity of their sacrifice with that of Christ, made manifest in the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass over and near their tombs.

Yet even while recalling the universal nature of the Church, each local saint is an incarnational presence in a particular place. Each patron saint comes with interesting local customs, that one can usually only see in a certain location, usually only once a year. Peter’s feast is no different. It is still celebrated near its date on the traditional Calendar, April 29, something which is quite common, at least in Italy. This further increases the special nature of the feast, for it is like according an extra celebration to the patronal saint, one for the locality, and one for the Universal Church. (Peter’s was removed from the universal calendar in the post-Concilar reform, but he retains a commemoration in the Dominican order on June 4, the date of one of his relic translations).

The parish had two Masses on Sunday in Peter’s honor, each with its own particular characteristics. Both were in the revised Ambrosian rite which -- while much simplified -- retains certain carryovers from the old Ambrosian Rite that Peter would have been familiar with in his lifetime. (One particularly medieval moment was when a dog started barking in the back of church during the sermon, particularly apposite for Peter when one recalls the old nursery rhyme “Hark, hark the dogs do bark, the Beggars are coming to town.”) A common point between the two forms is the burning of a paper globe high above the Gospel side of the altar in a special wrought-iron carrier borne by two angels. On the globe was the word “Credo,” which to reminds us that Peter’s was a life lived for the Creed. His story begins with him defending the Creed against his angry heretical uncle as a seven-year-old, and ends as he begins to recite “Credo in unum Deum” when he was struck dead. Peter’s life was dedicated to a radical living out of the doctrine of the Church in all his endeavors: his preaching, his pursuit of heretics, and his warm relations with religious and laity. At Sant’ Eustorgio, the globe is set afire by a triple candle. This represents the fire of Charity which, when added to doctrine, sets afire the whole of the earth; the triple candle also stands for the faith in the Trinity, which is the principle of evangelization to light the world ablaze.

The paper globe which Dr Prudlo describes above, called a “faro” in Italian, is filled with oil soaked cotton, and set alight at the beginning of the liturgy, before the Mass proper begins. This is done only for feasts of Martyrs in their own churches in the Ambrosian Rite.

The first Mass concluded with a procession into the Portinari chapel, usually behind an annoyingly expensive paywall, but open to the faithful for prayer this one day of the year. As the procession entered, the skull of Peter of Verona was displayed in a marvelous reliquary. Discovered to be incorrupt at the translation of his relics in 1253, and again in 1340, his head was removed for the veneration of the faithful. Indeed, one can still see the beard and tonsure of the Dominican, as well as the brutal head wounds that caused his death. So many of the relics one sees in Europe are such remote and sometimes unknown figures it is difficult to associate their bones with their stories. With Peter we have powerful eyewitness accounts, and a clear record of cultic preservation, a fact that brings home the actions of that fateful Sabbato in Albis over 750 years ago and recorded in famous paintings from Fra Angelico to Titian.

Once past the skull, the glorious Portinari chapel was completely opened, a masterpiece of Christian architecture, with perfect renaissance proportions and frescoes painted by Vincenzo Foppa. (One of the more interesting is the rare image of a Virgin Mary with devil horns, an apparition sent by the devil, which Peter dispels by showing it the Blessed Sacrament).

Peter Martyr Routs an Apparition of the Devil, by Vincenzo Foppa, 1462-68. According to this story, when the devil had appeared to a group of heretics, disguised as the Virgin Mary, St Peter unmasked him by showing the consecrated Host and saying “If you are truly hte Mother of GOd, kneel before your Son and worship Him!”
But the crowning glory is Giovanni da Balduccio’s glorious freestanding ark tomb, raised aloft by female statues representing the Cardinal and Theological virtues (with Obedience added, to make a total of eight). Around the ark are masterful bas reliefs of Peter’s life, interspersed with the Doctors of the Church, and all surmounted by Mary and Jesus, who are flank by Peter and Dominic. The high point was that for this one day, the Saint’s ark was returned to its original purpose: people could freely pass right through the master work, underneath the tomb, and press their heads and hands to it, just as was done in the Middle Ages.

After that, deacons were present all day to present a relic of Peter for veneration, including a prayer against headaches very popular with the Milanese. (Peter’s patronage against headaches should be evident from his iconography; he is usually pictured with a giant knife sticking out of his head). This ritual included a prayer composed by Blessed Ildefonse Schuster.
O God, who did grant to your Blessed Priest and Martyr Peter the grace to write with his blood that Symbol of the Faith which, after he had diligently learned it as a child, and then become a Preacher of your Gospel, he preached undaunted to the people against the errors of the heretics; through his prayers grant that Your Church might preach the Faith and confirm it in good works. Through Christ our Lord.
Hundreds of the faithful came through the day to venerate the head and tomb, and to kiss the relic. Such lived devotion to the Saints, so rare in majority Protestant countries, one can find alive and well in the historically Catholic areas of the world. These are the deep roots of the much maligned “cultural Catholics,” whose appreciation of the faith is often far deeper than many realize (even if greatly restricted in scope). Indeed this residual devotion is certainly a foothold in the re-evangelization of the unchurched in these areas.

In the second Mass, we were privileged to see an assembly of various representatives of the Misericordia confraternities. Many ambulance services in Italy are run privately, by volunteers of the Misericordia. These were originally founded by Peter of Verona, and have been in existence for nearly 800 years, helping the sick and wounded. Another aspect of robustly Catholic culture, these fraternities were and, to a certain extent still are, religious in nature; it was Peter’s genius to see it as effective ways for the laity not only to have improved religious observance and to do good works, but to sanctify the world, and to firm up the ranks against heresy. Representatives of the Confraternities had the honor of processing in with the relic of the skull and enthroning it for Mass.

After the Gospel, the priest blessed the short black penitential robes, the symbols of lay piety, bound by a rosary, and including a black mask, originally to preserve the anonymity of the members, who also and promise to take no pay save for a glass of water. Peter knew that doctrine and works go together, and that Mercy has been at the heart of the Church’s mission from the very beginning. The postulants, dressed in their colorful emergency attire, then made their promises to observe the constitutions, and then were helped to vest by their sponsors.

Mass concluded with a solemn blessing in the name of St. Peter, and then the faithful came up for a chance to venerate the skull relic, guided by the new members of the confraternity.

The living veneration of the saints is one of the oldest manifestations of orthodox Christianity in the world, dating from the first years of the Church. It is something we hold in common with our Eastern brothers, a genuinely traditional ecumenical principle. The Saints are like divine strikes of lightning, creations of grace scattered throughout every region and time of the Church, models of the holiness and of the possibilities of graced human nature. The revival and cultivation of their cults, pilgrimages, veneration, and prayers for their intercession, must be a vital part of any genuine renewal.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Opus Sectile work in the Holy Land - Does anyone have any information about these patterns?

I was contacted by an archeologist who is on site in Jerusalem, who wondered if I knew anything of the origins of two opus sectile floor patterns that appear in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They were laid down during the 11th/12th century Crusader renovations of the church. The architect, Frankie Snyder, tells me that the first one shown below appears in 4 places:

1. Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Chapel of the Apparition (just north of the Rotunda) -- late 11th century (with 20th century repairs to the starburst patterns)

2. Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Chapel of the Franks -- 12th century

3. St. John the Baptist Church in Ein Kerem, under central dome -- 12th century

4. St. John the Baptish Church in Ein Kerem, grotto, birthplace of John the Baptist, home of Zachariah -- 12th century

5. Remnants of these tiles have been found on the Temple Mount, so there was evidently another chapel with this same floor built by the Crusaders on the Temple Mount during the 12th century.

Click for larger view
The second appears in 2 places:

1. Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Latin (Franciscan) Chapel of Calvary -- 12th C (20th C replica of original)

2. Inside the Dome of the Rock -- used by Crusaders as a church during the 12th C

Click for larger view
All are made of local black bituminous limestone and hard red limestone, and imported white marble. All tile sizes seem to be based on the inch.

If anyone has any information please let us know. You can email Frankie at:

Announcement: A Votive Mass for Persecuted Christians

This announcement has come in recently from The Latin Mass Society of Winnipeg:

On Wednesday, May 6th, at 7:30 pm, a Votive Mass on behalf of persecuted Christians will be celebrated at St. Ann's Parish, 271 Hampton Street, Winnipeg. 
For more information, see this link.
This is a good opportunity to suggest to NLM readers that it would be highly appropriate, in these times of violent persecution, to consider offering or organizing the celebration of the Missa votiva pro Ecclesiae defensione (In Defense of the Church) with the Commemoration Pro Ecclesiae libertate on behalf of persecuted Christians, which may be used on 4th class ferial days.

The Paschal Troparion in French

Here is a nice arrangement by Iliya Galadza of the Paschal Troparion, translated into French.

“Le Christ est resuscité des morts; par la mort Il a vaincu la mort. À ceux qui sont dans les tombeaux Il a donné la vie. - Christ is risen from the dead; by death He conquered death. To those who are in the tombs He gave life.”

Sung in the Divine Liturgy at the Church of St Elias in Brampton, Ontario, on Easter of 2010. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

In Much Wisdom Is Much Vexation

Sacred Scripture says: “In much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18). The more a devout Catholic studies the history, theology, and spirituality of the Roman liturgy, the more he or she tends to become deeply discontented with the current state of affairs; and if this student has been fortunate enough to discover in a personal way the traditional Latin Mass, Divine Office, sacramental rites, blessings, processions, and so forth, sharp melancholy and intense indignation are bound to ensue. How could it be otherwise? One comes to see the vast, rich treasures that were squandered; one comes to see the shallow, brittle academic novelties that were set up in their place. One sees how it is a replay of Esau trading his birthright for a mess of pottage (or a pot of message), except that this time, it was, grievously, Jacob who did the trading. The Novus Ordo becomes, in a sense, largely spoiled for those who, making an earnest inquiry into the history of the Roman Rite, acquire a keen awareness of the imaginative archaeologisms and audacious innovations introduced by the Consilium in the 1960s and 1970s.[1]

For example, knowing how and why the new “preparation of the gifts” was put together and the old Offertory abolished makes it all the more distracting, even distressing, to hear in person those quasi-Jewish prayers of blessing, which are a total and complete fabrication and aberration in the Roman Rite (or really, in any classical rite).[2] Or knowing how and why the venerable Roman Canon, most ancient of anaphoras, was criticized, nearly cancelled out, and, although retained, eventually marginalized by other manufactured anaphoras that have zero place in the Roman liturgical tradition is enough to make one shudder every time the shorty-sporty Eucharistic Prayer II is selected.[3] It is not easy to go back through those church doors, time after time, fully aware of the spectacle of rupture and discontinuity playing out before one’s eyes and ears in so many texts and gestures — or more often, in so many screaming absences of text and gesture.

How easy, how fruitful, how consoling it would be if one could simply attend the traditional Latin Mass, and peacefully drink in its secrets, its wealth of prayer, its its pure and holy adoration. Yet we are still very far from a situation in which it is possible for most Catholics to attend the TLM on a regular basis.

In fortunate cases, I can find “pegs” in the new liturgy to hang on to, which enable me to yield myself to the liturgical action without too much critical reflection. If, for example, Mass is celebrated in such a way that the preparation of the gifts is done silently while the Offertory antiphon is being sung, I am able to forget about the quasi-Jewish blessing, since my attention is being drawn to the chant, which is truly an element of continuity. Cloaked in this way, the silent Offertory almost looks like the real thing; there is, one might say, a welcome illusion of continuity with the Roman tradition. In general, if Gregorian chants are sung, if there are times of silence, if people kneel for communion, and, above all, if the priest is facing ad orientem, any or all of the above becomes a very substantial help to me in maintaining an interior calm and a focus on the Lord. One ceases to be the theater critic[4] and becomes the simple believer. But when these traditional elements are mostly or altogether absent (as they too often are), what hits me in the face is the massive fact of discontinuity, together with my knowledge of the dubious and, at times, modernist reasons for that discontinuity.

One is hit, as it were, with a left hook and a right hook — an immediate, aesthetic, intuitive reaction, and an intellectual, spiritual, reflective reaction, both negative. And that makes the time at church poorly spent: one can become frustrated and annoyed, and feel that one does not have the right dispositions for receiving Holy Communion. Is it not true for a large number of the faithful — larger than officialdom would ever admit — that the Ordinary Form as typically celebrated puts a serious, almost fatal cap on our genuine “active participation”? Far from helping us along on the road to perfection, attracting us with its inner mystery and outward beauty, such a Mass is an event we just try to get through as quickly and painlessly as possible, hoping we will not think too much about anything we are seeing or hearing. How ironic, that a rite so drastically overhauled and reworked with a view to “reaching the people at last” and soliciting their hearty involvement has, in reality, turned off and distanced so many of the faithful over the decades and made distasteful the very concept of active participation — in spite of the utterly traditional understanding and pedigree of this venerable principle.[5]

With all this spiritual trouble that my decades of studying the liturgy have brought, do I ever find myself wishing that I didn’t know the various things I now know? If I could turn back the clock to a point in time when I naïvely thought the reformed Mass was the cat’s meow, would I prefer that state of ignorance, in order to have an easier time worshiping in this impoverished zone, this region of dissimilitude?

No, in all honesty, I can’t say that. My spiritual life would never have grown as it did, nor my grasp of sacred theology, had it not been for the beauty, reverence, and profundity of the traditional liturgy that I discovered as a young man, fell in love with, and now long for ceaselessly.[6] I would not today be a Benedictine Oblate praying the Divine Office, which is a source of tremendous vitality, light, and consolation to me. My situation is far from optimal, due to the irregular availability of the traditional liturgy in my community, but I do not regret bearing the cross of knowledge, which has opened to me a whole world of wonders to which I would otherwise be blind. It is a flowering cross, and I imagine the same is true for many who love traditional ways.

Sometimes people ask me why it makes such a difference whether one attends the Ordinary Form or the Extraordinary Form. Aren’t they essentially the same — the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Don’t you “get Jesus” at either?

Usually the one asking this common question does not really grasp how great the difference is between the forms, and how much they actually form us, how much they express and shape the very content our faith.[7] The liturgy is an ethical-aesthetic event, it’s not a supernatural slot-machine for receiving a sacrament. How we worship is itself a definite exercise of faith, hope, and charity, one that prepares us well or ill for union with the object of these virtues. Liturgy is a certain icon of Christ and, in a way, an icon of man approaching Christ. Our very self-understanding and our orientation to God, our assimilation of His mysteries, is determined by the rite. One reaches the mystery through the liturgy; the mystery is proportioned to the mind and heart by the texts, actions, music, silence. In a sense, the mystery is given shape by the liturgy, even as it gives shape to the worshiper. Hence, pace the egalitarian conservatives, it is not as simple as “overlooking” the human instruments to allow the divine agent to work; that would be like saying one could overlook one’s wife because she is, after all, a secondary cause, while God is the real primary cause. No child will be conceived that way, nor any marriage problem solved!

It is far more like the relationship between the meaning of a play, the words of it, and the way the words are presented — or even better, between a piece of music and its performance. The music has its real existence in the performance, and one accesses it through the performance. In an odd way, the music has no real existence apart from the performance, and neither has the liturgy some objective or generic essence by which we are perfected, in abstraction from the subjective and specific experience of liturgy here and now, in this or that form. We are perfected by the thing as it actually exists and functions, not by its technical validity or licitness. Attending the Ordinary Form is, in most cases, like listening to amateurs acting out a Shakespeare play bowdlerized by Victorians, or listening to a string quartet badly out of tune and time.

The reduction of liturgy to validity and licitness is truly one of the most subtle and pernicious reductionisms of the modern age, since it has long prevented urgently necessary conversations about the mystical-ascetical ascent to God through the contemplative dimension of the liturgy, with its companion goods of fidelity to tradition and cultural excellence. This is the conversation that we must have, precisely for the sake of encountering the real Christ, the just and merciful Pantokrator, and for the preaching of Him to our contemporaries.


[1] I certainly don’t deny that similarly dark business took place in the 1948-1955 revision of Holy Week, as documented in a number of places, such as Don Stefano Carusi’s extensive essay. Nevertheless, even this revision cannot compare with what was done across the board to the entire order of Mass, lections, calendar, liturgy of the hours, Rituale, Pontificale, etc. in the 1960s.

[2] As Bishop Athanasius Schneider said: “The third wound is the new Offertory prayers. They are an entirely new creation and had never been used in the Church. They do less to express the mystery of the sacrifice of the Cross than that of a banquet; thus they recall the prayers of the Jewish Sabbath meal. In the more than thousand-year tradition of the Church in both East and West, the Offertory prayers have always been expressly oriented to the mystery of the sacrifice of the Cross (see e.g. Paul Tirot, Histoire des prières d’offertoire dans la liturgie romaine du VIIème au XVIème siècle [Rome, 1985]). There is no doubt that such an absolutely new creation contradicts the clear formulation of Vatican II that states: “Innovationes ne fiant . . . novae formae ex formis iam exstantibus organice crescant” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 23).”

[3] Eucharistic Prayer II is an example of both “the exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism” and the “search for novelty” condemned by Pope Pius XII in Mediator Dei (8; 59-64): cobbled together from bits of Hippolytus thought (mistakenly, as it turns out) to be an early Christian anaphora, given a last desperate edit at a Roman restaurant the night before its due date, and nevertheless so inadequate in conveying the theology of the Mass as a true and proper sacrifice that its content was found perfectly unobjectionable by Protestant consultants. The learned and judicious Fr. Hunwicke has written more than once on the groundless innovation of multiple anaphoras in the Roman Rite.

[4] As Mosebach would put it: see my article “Mosebach's Paradox."

[5] On the correct understanding of "active participation," see, inter alia, "A Note on Participation: What Can We Learn from the Word Actuosa?" and "Is Lack of Solemnity a Cause or a Symptom of Our Problems?"

[6] See “A Young Father at Mass in Linz, circa 2000.”

[7] See “Two Different Treasure Chests” and “Is the Mass ‘Just’ the Mass?”

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