Sunday, July 14, 2024

Durandus on This Sunday’s Introit

William Durandus explains why the Introit of the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost is repeated from the feast of the Purification.

“There follows the Eighth Sunday, on which the Church teaches us to avoid all vanity. For this must be the effect of its teaching within us, because in its teaching it teaches us to become spiritual men, and be removed from bodily desires, unto the likeness of the Blessed Virgin, whose feast (i.e. the Assumption) is approaching. For this reason the Introit begins, ‘We have received Thy mercy’, that is, Thy Son, Jesus Christ, given to us out of mercy, ‘in the midst of Thy temple’, that is, in Thy universal Church. ‘According to Thy name, o God’, for God is named everywhere; ‘so also is Thy praise unto the ends of the earth’, that is, everywhere. For the ‘temple’ is also the Blessed Virgin, in whom we have truly received the mercy of God; wherefore, reasonable do we sing the current Introit around the time of Her feast, since she is the temple of the Lord, and the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit.” (Rationale Divinorum Officium, VI.122.1)

Durandus’ understanding that on the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost the Church “teaches us to avoid vanity”, depends on an assumed correspondence between the Scriptural readings at Matins and specific Sundays, based on a rather late date for Easter, and a period of 24 weeks after Pentecost. This would put the Eighth Sunday on the second Sunday of August, when the Scriptural readings at Matins are taken from Ecclesiastes, with its famous opening words “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.” In point of fact, this correspondence rarely occurs because of the variable date for Easter; the Eighth Sunday can fall as early as July 5th, which is closer to the Visitation (which did not exist as a feast in Durandus’ time) than the Assumption. For all this, we can nevertheless appreciate his understanding that the Church’s received liturgical texts, like the Scriptures themselves, may be explained as having a mystical significance greater than their mere letter.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel, Living Icon of the Incarnation

The primary feast day of the archangel Gabriel in the Byzantine rite is March 26th, but the calendar also includes the Synaxis of Gabriel on July 13th. The latter feast is especially dedicated to all of Gabriel’s beneficent interventions in salvation history.

As Michael Foley explained in an article posted on NLM a couple years ago,

Along with Saints Michael and Raphael, Gabriel is one of only three angels mentioned by name in the canonical Scriptures. Unlike Michael, the Bible does not refer to Gabriel as an archangel, but he is nonetheless recognized as such by the Church. As Pope St. Gregory the Great explains, angels as an order are the spirits that deliver messages of lesser importance, and archangels are, among other things, the order of spirits that deliver messages of greater importance. Since the message that Gabriel was delivering was of the utmost importance, it stands to reason that he was an archangel.

The name “Gabriel” is thus of exceptional significance: this chosen messenger announced the Incarnation of the eternal God, and furthermore, out of the innumerable host of angelic beings, Holy Scripture assigns names only to three of them. The name “Gabriel” is typically explained as meaning “man of God” or “strength of God.” Even if we concede that ancient cultures naturally associated physical strength with masculinity, the two interpretations are rather different.

The Annunciation. France, late fifteenth century. Tempera and shell gold on parchment.

The first part of the name derives from the Hebrew noun גֶּבֶר (gever), which means “man” but more in the sense of Latin vir than of Latin homo. The uncertainty arises because gever may also refer, by the metonymic extension that is common in biblical Hebrew, to a man’s strength. In the Book of Job, for example, God twice exhorts Job to “gird up now thy loins like a man,” where “like a man” translates כְגֶבֶר, i.e., the preposition כְ (“like, as”) prefixed to gever. The evident meaning is that Job should gird himself with (manly) strength, or perhaps even with the strength and courage of a warrior, for gever (by another metonymic extension) can signify “soldier.” The word’s connection to strength is more direct in Isaiah 22, 17: “Behold, the Lord will carry thee away with a mighty captivity, and will surely cover thee”; in this rendering from the King James Bible, the adjective “mighty” corresponds to the noun gaver (gever with a vowel change). The verse is a difficult one and was thoroughly reworked in the 1885 Revised Version: “Behold, the Lord will hurl thee away violently as a strong man; yea, he will wrap thee up closely.”

This is all to say that “Gabriel” can indeed convey either “man of God” or “strength of God,” but “man of God” is more faithful to the core meaning of gever. It is also more faithful to Gabriel’s role in salvation history, and this is what I wish to emphasize: given the literary sophistication of the Bible—which of course reflects the supreme literary sophistication of its Author, whose words are also deeds, and whose stories are scenes in the factual drama of human history—we would expect to find poetic resonance between Gabriel and the incomparably momentous message that he brought to Mary of Nazareth. His name supplies this resonance, and his appearances in the Old Testament intensify it.

The Annunciation. Switzerland, early fourteenth century. Tempera, ink, and gold on parchment. 

As shown above, Hebrew gever is a terrestrial sort of word, denoting the physical, male being called man and expanding to man’s strength, man’s vocation as warrior, man’s role as husband (Proverbs 6, 34), and male offspring (Job 3, 3). To name an immaterial, celestial being “man of God” is highly paradoxical—and yet eminently fitting, for this is the celestial being whose privilege it was to announce the all-surpassing Paradox of the hypostatic union. Gabriel is thus a living icon of the Incarnation, and the Hebrew Scriptures surround him with incarnational language. When Gabriel is sent to explain the vision that Daniel received, Daniel saw someone standing before him “as the likeness of a man” and heard “a man’s voice” (Daniel 8, 15–16). Later, Daniel identifies the archangel as “the man Gabriel” (9, 21), not because he is a man but because he, like Christ, appears in the form of a man; here, “man” is אִישׁ (ʾish), which is closer than gever to Latin homo (or to English “human being”).

Gabriel interprets Daniel’s vision. Spain, thirteenth century. Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum.

Finally, Daniel speaks of “a certain man” who may again be Gabriel, and if not, he is some other glorious being who is certainly much more than a man:

Then I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with finest gold: his body also was like chrysolite, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like the color of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude. (Daniel 10, 5–6)

Troparion of the Archangel Gabriel

O people, with a candlelight assembly let us sing the praises of the leader of heaven’s hosts. He is the servant of light sent from the Light divine to enlighten all who sing with love: O Gabriel, leader of the angels, rejoice with all the powers of heaven. 

Friday, July 12, 2024

Ss Nabor and Felix, Martyrs at Milan

July 12th is traditionally the feast day of two early martyrs of the church of Milan, Ss Nabor and Felix, who have long occupied a prominent place in the Ambrosian Rite. Together with their fellow soldier St Victor, they are named in the Communicantes of the Ambrosian Canon, and their Mass has some interesting propers. In the Roman Rite, they have been kept as a commemoration on the feast of St John Gualbert since the early 17th century. But well before that, in both the pre-Tridentine editions of the Roman liturgical books, and the edition of St Pius V, their feast was kept at the lowest rank, and had no proper hagiographical lesson in the breviary, a sure sign that the traditional account of their lives was considered historically unreliable.
The Virgin Mary Crowned by the Holy Trinity, with Saints Francis, Claire, John the Baptist, Saint Mary Magdalene, Catherine of Alexandria, and (in the foreground) Nabor and Felix; painted by Orazio Samacchini ca. 1575 for the church of San Francesco Grande in Milan, now in the National Painting Gallery in Bologna. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Sailko, CC BY-SA 4.0)
The hymn for Vespers of their feast, which was composed by St Ambrose himself, refers to them as “Mauri genus – Moors by birth”, since they were from the Roman province of Mauretania. (The modern nation of Mauritania in western Africa was named by the French during the 19th century colonial period after the Roman province, but includes none of the same territory.) It is also sung on the feast of St Victor on May 8th, since he was also a Moor, and martyred in the same persecution; they may have all belonged to a Berber tribe known as the Gaetuli, a great many of whom served in the Roman armies in the 3rd and 4th centuries. A later tradition associates all three of them with the Theban Legion, partly because they were in Milan in service to the Emperor Maximian, who made his headquarters in that city, and was the persecutor of that legion.
Their 5th century acts recount that they refused to sacrifice to the gods worshipped by the Empire and the army, and were therefore beheaded at the city of Laus Pompeia (now called Lodi Vecchio). A noblewoman named Savina, a native of Milan married to a patrician of Laus Pompeia, is said to have comforted them in prison, and then to have secretly buried them in her own house after their execution. Once the persecution had ceased, in the year 310, she brought their relics to Milan, where they were laid to rest in the chapel of her family, the Valerii; this chapel then came to be known as the Basilica Naboriana.
Within the basilica of St Ambrose in Milan, the chapel known as “San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro – St Victor in the heaven of gold” contains a mosaic portrait of the bishop of Milan at the time of this translation, St Maternus, with the martyrs to either side of him. On the opposite wall are St Ambrose with Ss Gervasius and Protasius, underlining the parallels between the two bishops in their devotion to the martyrs. And in point of fact, the place where St Ambrose discovered the relics of Gervasius and Protasius was very close to the Basilica Naboriana.
By 1249, the ancient church was in very poor condition, and it was decided to entrust it to the then very new order of the Franciscans, recently arrived in Milan. A much larger church was built to replace it, which was long known as San Francesco Grande. Devotion to the martyrs was renewed to such an extent that in 1396, their feast was declared a public holiday in Milan. In 1472, the relics were moved to be closer to the high altar; the skulls of the two martyrs were separated from the other bones, and placed in their own bust-shaped reliquaries, which were traditionally exposed on the altar on major feast days.
An inscription formerly in the atrium of San Francesco Grande, which lists the relics kept in the church, a copy made in 1464 from the 13th-century original.
In 1798, when the French armies under Napoleon invaded northern Italy, and the religious orders were suppressed throughout the region, the church of San Francesco Grande was destroyed. The martyrs’ relics were fortunately saved, and brought to the Basilica of St Ambrose; since 1960, they have been enclosed within this reused Paleo-Christian sarcophagus.
A reliquary with some of the martyrs’ relics.
It was probably at this point that the reliquaries containing the skulls disappeared, most likely stolen by French soldiers. It was not until 1959 that they were rediscovered, with both the relics and authentication papers sealed and intact, in an antique shop in Namur, Belgium. The bishop of Namur, André Charue, to whom they had been handed over, then generously returned them to Milan; the cardinal archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, had them installed in a new parish built on the outskirts of the city, where they remain to this day, after solemn expositions at both Milan and Lodi.
The high altar of the parish church of Ss Nabor and Felix, dedicated in 1959.
The recovered reliquary busts of Ss Nabor and Felix.
The New Testament Epistle for their feast, Ephesians 2, 13-22, begins with the words “you, who some time were afar off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” This refers to the shedding of the martyrs’ blood in a land far from that of their birth, by which Milan became the place of their true birth into heaven. This same verse is repeated in the Hallelujah that follows it. The Gospel is St Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, chapter 9, 28-36, an unusual choice which seems to present the three martyrs as privileged witnesses of God’s glory, like the Apostles Peter, James, and John. This same theme pervades their very beautiful proper preface.
Truly it is worthy… through Christ our Lord. Who so enkindles the hearts of His faithful with fiery love, that they disdain the failing glory of the world, and through torments, come to the fellowship of the citizens of heaven. For this also, the most learned martyrs of Christ Nabor and Felix, having departed from the furthest ends of the earth, handed themselves over as exiles to this land, lest they be subject to the bloody rule of Caesar. And so that they might come to the court of heavenly King, they chose long to lie hidden beneath the cloak of earthly military service, awaiting the call of the Rule on high. Having firmly taken up the shield of Hope and the breastplate and helmet of Faith, fearlessly they ran into the enemy’s line. They overcome the most fierce torments, prison, beatings, the rack, fire and claw; they bow their neck beneath the groaning of chains, with their hands bound, they are drawn away by the wicked. In the end, their blood being shed by a sword, distinguished by the gory of their triumph, they came unto the citizens of heaven with the palm branch of victory. Through the same Christ our Lord. Through whom the Angels praise Thy majesty…
VD. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Qui suorum fidelium corda ignifero amore ita succendit, ut mundi caducam contemnant gloriam, et per tormenta consortium adeant civium supernorum. Ob hoc et doctissimi milites Christi Nabor et Felix, a summis terrarum digressi finibus, huic terrae se exules tradiderunt, ne cruento Caesaris subjacérent imperio. Et ut ad aulam Regis aetherei pergerent, sub chlamyde terrenae militiae latére diutius voluerunt, praestolantes desuper vocationem Imperii. Acceptoque constanter Spei clypeo, sumpta Fidei lorica et galea, securi incedunt in hostis aciem. Vincunt poenarum tormenta saevissima, carcerem, et verbera, equuleum, ignem, et ungulas: stridoribus catenarum colla subjiciunt, trahuntur a noxiis manibus vinculati. Ad ultimum mucrone sanguine fuso, triumphali gloria decorati, ad cives superos cum palma victoriae pervenerunt. Per eundem Christum.

The Gloria in Excelsis (Part 1)

Gloria in excelsis (Italy, 16th century)
Lost in Translation #99

In January of this year, we began a new “Lost in Translation” series on the Ordinary of the Mass and got as far as the Kyrie. Today, we resume the series by examining the Gloria in excelsis. But before we turn to some of the hymn’s linguistic oddities, let us consider its development and use, which can shape our understanding of its meaning.

Also called the Angelic Hymn and the Greater Doxology (in contradistinction to the Lesser Doxology “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit…”), the Gloria in excelsis is one of the most recognizable features of the Mass of the Roman Rite even though it was not composed for the Mass or in Latin. One of our earliest versions of the hymn is from the fourth-century Apostolic Constitutions, where it is recommended for use in the morning Office of Lauds. Here is a translation of the Greek:
Glory be to God in the highest, and upon earth peace, good will among men.
We praise You, we sing hymns to You, we bless You;
We glorify You, we worship You by Your great High Priest;
You who art the true God, who art the One Unbegotten, the only inaccessible Being:
For Your great glory, O Lord and heavenly King, O God the Father Almighty,
O Lord God, who takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.
You who sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us, for You only art holy;
You only art the Christ, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen. (VII.xlvii).
The Churches that use the Byzantine Rite or the Alexandrine Rite (e.g., the Coptic) continue to chant some version of this doxology in their morning Divine Office.
Changing Use
The Roman and Ambrosian Rites, on the other hand, incorporated the Gloria into the Mass. Beginning sometime in the sixth century, a bishop intoned the hymn during the Christmas Midnight Mass; later, the privilege was extended to Sunday and the feasts of the martyrs. A bishop was seen as the natural mouthpiece for the Angelic hymn for he was considered to be a messenger or “Angel of the Church.” (see Rev. 2, 1 - 3, 22) One vestige of this association is the rubric in place until 1960 that paired the Gloria with the Ite, missa est. If the Gloria was not said at Mass, then Benedicamus Domino would be said instead of the dismissal, for both were considered the purview of the bishop. Eventually, however, priests were given permission to say the Gloria. Beginning in the eleventh century, they could intone the hymn on Easter Sunday and later, other feasts.
Over time, the Gloria had more to do with the focus of the occasion than with the rank of the celebrant. Even though the Gloria contains petitions for mercy, the hymn’s content overall is more joyful than the Kyrie eleison which precedes it. For St. Thomas Aquinas, the Kyrie commemorates our present misery while the Gloria commemorates the heavenly glory towards which we strive. The Gloria thus fits naturally with feasts, since heavenly glory is a prominent theme during a feast, but it is out of place with “mournful liturgies, which pertain to a commemoration of our misery.” [1]
Consequently, in the 1962 Roman Missal the Gloria is also used for all feasts (first, second, and third class) and every day of the Church’s two most joyful seasons, Christmastide and Eastertide. During the “green” Times after Epiphany and Pentecost, the Gloria is used on Sundays but not on ferias. And during the “violet” seasons of Advent, Septuagesima, and Lent, the Gloria is not used at all. Adam Wood has rendered these rules into a clever poem:
If red or white, to sing it’s right.
(Excepting Palms or Friday night)
Pink, purple, black—you best cut back,
The rites a “glory” that day lack.
With green o’er rabbat, the usual habit
Is sing it only on the Sabbit.
And there are interesting exceptions. Prior to 1955, the Church could not bring herself to experience joy as her first reaction to mass infanticide. The feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28 was therefore celebrated with violet vestments, the suppression of the Gloria, and a Tract instead of an Alleluia. Once this grief had been expressed (and within the Christmas Octave no less), the Church could then rejoice in the heavenly glory that the Holy Innocents are enjoying by celebrating the same Mass on January 4 (the octave day of the feast) but with red vestments, the Gloria, and an Alleluia. This touching tradition was destroyed in two stages. When Pope Pius XII suppressed the Octave of the Holy Innocents in 1955, the “red Mass” on January 4 was dropped. And with the changes to the rubrics in 1960, the “red Mass” took the place of the “violet Mass” on December 28, which is the current configuration in the 1962 Missal.
The Massacre of the Innocents: Not a happy occasion
But with the death of a baptized person who has not reached the age of reason, the Church insists on joy from the start. When a baptized infant dies, a Votive Mass of the Angels is celebrated instead of a Requiem Mass, and the Gloria is used. It is as if the Church is inviting the child’s grieving family to picture their little loved one in Heaven singing the Gloria with the Angels. And it is an astonishing practice: the Church shows greater joy over the entrance of one infant into Heaven than she initially does over the same entrance of the Holy Innocents, who are canonized saints.
Votive Masses
Another peculiarity are the rules governing the use of the Gloria at Votive Masses. In the Tridentine Missal, if a pope or bishop ordered a Votive Mass to be said for a certain grave occasion (pro re gravi), the Gloria was to be used unless the color was violet. The Gloria also appears in Votive Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday and the Votive Mass of a Saint on a day in which the Saint is named in the Martyrology or during his or her octave. And the Gloria is always said, as the Missal explicitly states, during a Votive Mass of the Angels.
As for a Nuptial Mass, which is a Votive Mass for the Bride and Groom, the Gloria was not said until the rubrics were changed in 1960, even though the liturgical color has long been white.[2] The official reason is that the Nuptial Mass is a private Votive Mass, and private Votive Masses do not have a Gloria. It also makes sense that even though a wedding is a celebration, it should also have a plaintive aspect (to which an omitted Gloria contributes) as a way of poignantly begging God for a successful, happy, and long marriage. Not inviting the Gloria to a wedding is therefore liturgically appropriate, so long as one does not go on to call weddings “mournful liturgies, which pertain to a commemoration of misery.” The bride might not like that.
[1] Summa Theologiae III.83.4, trans. mine.
The third part commemorates heavenly glory, which we are striving for after this present misery, by saying, "Glory to God in the highest." [The hymn] is sung during feasts, on which heavenly glory is commemorated, but it is omitted during mournful liturgies, which pertain to a commemoration of our misery.
Tertia autem pars commemorat caelestem gloriam, ad quam tendimus post praesentem miseriam, dicendo, gloria in excelsis Deo. Quae cantatur in festis, in quibus commemoratur caelestis gloria, intermittitur autem in officiis luctuosis, quae ad commemorationem miseriae pertinent.
[2] But apparently, exceptions to this rule were made, as when the daughter of General William Tecumseh Sherman was married in 1874.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

The Solemnity of St Benedict 2024

O caelestis norma vitae, doctor et dux, Benedicte, cujus cum Christo spiritus exsultat in caelestibus, gregem, pastor alme, serva, sancta prece corrobora, via caelos clarescente fac te duce penetrare. – O rule of the heavenly life, teacher and leader, whose spirit rejoiceth with Christ in heaven, Benedict, preserve thy flock, a kindly shepherd, strenghten it with thy holy prayer; lead it and bring into the heavens by the bright path. (The antiphon for the Magnificat at Second Vespers of the Solemnity of St Benedict.)
The Triumphal Way of St Benedict, by Johann Michael Rottmayr, 1722; fresco on the ceiling of Melk Abbey in Austria. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Uoaei1; click to enlarge.) – The pomp of the world is represented on the left side by a book full of alchemical symbols, two demons, one of which holds a censer, and a figure with a theatrical mask, being speared in the throat by an angel. (The censer refers to the pagan sacrifices which St Benedict found still happening on Monte Cassino when he moved there, and to which he put an end.) On the right, a figure with a Cross and a whip drives away two other female figures, one bare-chested, the other holding rich clothing and a crown; below them, a figure with thorny branches drives away another demon, a reference to St Benedict’s conquest of the vice of lust by rolling around in a bramble. Underneath St Benedict are angels holding a miter and crook, used by the abbot of Melk, a book with the opening words of the Rule, and a glass with serpent emerging from it; the last refers to an attempt by some very bad monks to poison St Benedict, who made the sign of the Cross over the glass, “which broke as if he had thrown a stone.”
St Benedict died on March 21 in the year 543 or 547, and this was the date on which his principal feast was traditionally kept, and is still kept by Benedictines; it is sometimes referred to on the calendars of Benedictine liturgical books as the “Transitus - Passing.” There was also a second feast to honor the translation of his relics, which was kept on July 11. The location to which the relics were translated is still a matter of dispute, with the Abbey of Monte Cassino in Italy, founded by the Saint himself, and the French Abbey of Fleury, also known as Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, both claiming to possess them. This second feast is found in many medieval missals and breviaries, even in places not served by monastic communities. (It was not, however, observed by either the Cistercians or Carthusians.). The second feast was in a certain sense the more solemn in the traditional use of the Benedictines; March 21 always falls in Lent, and the celebration of octaves in Lent was prohibited, but most monastic missals have the July 11 feast with an octave. In the post-Conciliar reform of the Calendar, many Saints, including St Benedict, were moved out of Lent; in his case, to the day of this second feast in the Benedictine Calendar.

Fr John Berg Elected Superior General of the FSSP

The General Chapter of the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter, which is currently being held at Our Lady of Guadalupe International Seminary in Denton, Nebraska, has elected Fr John Berg as Superior General for a third (non-consecutive) term of 6 years; he previously held the office from 2006-18. The election of the Assistants and Counselors will follow in the next few days. NLM is pleased to congratulate Fr Berg and the Fraternity, as we urge all of our readers to continually remember the leadership of all the traditional rite groups and orders in their prayers.

Born in the United States in 1970, Fr Berg studied philosophy at St Thomas Aquinas College in California, and theology at the FSSP’s International Seminary of St. Peter in Wigratzbad, Germany; he holds a licentiate from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. Ordained a priest in 1997, he was a professor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary. After serving as Superior General of the Fraternity from 2006-18, for the past six years he returned to parochial work as the pastor of the Fraternity’s parishes in Providence, Rhode Island, and Omaha, Nebraska.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

A New Collection of Historical Catholic Films

Thanks to Peter for bringing to my attention a new YouTube channel called Catholic Archive (, which has only existed for a few weeks, but has already posted quite a lot of very interesting historical videos of liturgical celebrations and other events of Catholic interest. Here are a few examples.

The priestly ordination of Father (and future Cardinal) Avery Dulles, SJ, in 1956; he got his own newsreel because his father, John Foster Dulles, was Secretary of State. (His uncle Allen Dulles was at the same time head of the CIA; this fact is not mentioned.)

Mass celebrated in the ruins of the cathedral of Nagasaki, Japan, in 1949; the cathedral, which is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, is located less than a third of a mile from ground zero of the atomic bomb that was dropped on the city in 1945. (no soundtrack.)
Pope Pius XI proclaims the Extraordinary Jubilee of Human Redemption in 1933; His Holiness, one of the most politically astute men to sit on the throne of Peter in modern times, had no illusions as to whether the War to End All Wars had really done so, and the Jubilee was also proclaimed “that God most merciful might bring it about that the Holy Year ... may bring back peace to souls, due liberty to the Church in all places, and true harmony and prosperity to all peoples.” (from the Apostolic Constitution Quod nuper, the indiction of the Jubilee.)
The canonization of St Pius X, by Pius XII in 1954, the first canonization of a pope since that of Pius V over 240 years previous, with footage of a grand procession held through Rome on the following day.
Footage of the Holy Land taken at Christmastide of 1930, including Bethlehem, Nazareth and the River Jordan.

The Father of the Romans and Joseph Ratzinger, His German Son

Virgil’s Aeneid is one of the modern world’s many illustrious victims. The gradual abandonment of Latin has turned this epic masterpiece, one of the literary cornerstones of Western Civilization, into something that only a minuscule group of inveterate Latinists can truly enjoy in the original language. I’m sad to say that I’m not in that group—Virgil’s Latin is so rich and dense, so intricate and elegant, that reading quickly becomes laborious to the point of exhaustion, and the translations on my bookshelf appear as an oasis in the desert of my own incompetence. I take comfort in the fact that John Dryden, a Latinist of the old stripe and one of the Aeneid’s most famous English-language translators, also strained under the weight of Virgil’s genius:

Virgil called upon me in every line for some new word, and I paid so long, that I was almost bankrupt, so that the latter end must needs be more burdensome than the beginning or the middle; and, consequently, the Twelfth Aeneid cost me double the time of the First and Second. What had become of me, if Virgil had taxed me with another book?

Aeneas builds a fleet after escaping Troy. Sixteenth century, painted enamel on copper.

Written in the first century BC, the Aeneid recounts the journey of Aeneas out of defeated Troy, around Greece, over to eastern Italy, down to Sicily, across the sea to Carthage, back to Sicily, and finally up to western Italy, where he founded Lavinium, a port city in Latium and an ancestor of Roman civilization. Saint Augustine knew the story well and adopted it as an allegorical framework for his own spiritual journey from pagan Rome to Christian Rome:

I was obliged to learn the wanderings of Aeneas, and yet I was forgetful of my own wanderings. I learned to weep for the death of Dido, because she killed herself for love, while in the midst of these things I was miserable and dying, separated from Thee, my God and my Life, and I shed no tears for myself. (Confessions I, 13)

The Aeneid is the story of the founding of Rome, but the poem is more about the people than the city. A central question at stake is the Roman character—what does it mean to be Roman? Virgil’s very long poem offers a very short answer: to be a Roman is to be a child, culturally speaking, of Aeneas. And what was Aeneas? He was, above all, pius.

Aeneas is Virgil’s epic hero, and his fundamental virtue—his renowned pietas—is an epic headache for translators. The classical Latin word pius doesn’t mean “pious,” and pietas doesn’t mean “piety.” In fact, these words have no adequate English equivalent. In his 2016 translation, the eminent classicist Barry Powell gave up and included the Latin terms in square brackets whenever they appeared, so that readers could form a better idea of what Virgil was actually saying. Powell’s attempt to convey the semantic field of classical pietas requires quite the bevy of English words: “sense of duty,” “religious behavior,” “loyalty,” “devotion,” “filial piety.” From Lewis and Short’s Latin–English dictionary we can add “affection,” “gratitude,” “love” (for one’s parents, benefactors, or homeland).

Dido weeps as Aeneas departs from Carthage.

Perhaps Virgil’s pius Aeneas is more easily understood through example than through explanation. Perhaps the best way for modern Catholics to really grasp the meaning of Roman pietas is to consider how the Roman Church treated (note the past tense) its liturgical tradition. We can reflect on the days when priests and prelates felt a sense of duty toward this tradition—the duty to preserve and reverentially enrich it as a sacred inheritance from the saints, scholars, sages, and heroes that preceded them in the great and perilous odyssey of human life. We can think of the devotion and loyalty of the faithful, who built the temples of Christendom with their labors and filled them with their prayers; who practiced and defended the Faith while humbly accepting that a layman is a layman and not a priest; who taught their children to savor the mysteries and silences and candlelit symbols of a ceremony whose object is the worship of the Triune God, not the exaltation of two-faced man with his long history of betraying himself, his friends, and his heavenly Father.

We can imagine a time when the liturgical rites of our fathers were received with gratitude and love, because they bring pleasure and beauty and divinity into the gritty, messy struggle to live as good Christians in this vale of tears. I dare say that we have our fill of utilitarian efficiency, experimental aesthetics, and prosaic banality from our earthly lives—and thus Catholics once cherished and honored a liturgy that gave them, if only for an hour or two, a vision and a foretaste of heaven.

Seventeen years ago, Joseph Ratzinger wrote that “what earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too.” Resolved to liberate western Christendom’s ancient Mass from humiliating shackles that it did nothing to deserve, he insisted that “the Church’s Latin liturgy in its various forms has inspired countless saints in their spiritual life, confirmed many peoples in the virtue of religion, and enriched their devotion.” Though a German by birth, this priest sat on a Roman throne, and he proved himself a man of pietas—a faithful son of Aeneas.

The funeral of Joseph Ratzinger. Photo courtesy of

In Book II of the Aeneid, Troy is conquered and burning, and Aeneas rescues his elderly father in a manner that gave Western culture one of its most enduring and emblematic scenes of filial piety:

“Come then, dear father! On my shoulders I
Will bear thee, nor will think the task severe.
Whatever lot awaits us, there shall be
One danger and one safety for us both.”

Pope Benedict XVI has, Deo volente, gone to his reward, and his successor has chosen a different path. We must be patient, then, until a new hero comes to carry our paternal liturgy out of the flames.

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Colorado Sacred Music Conference, August 7-8

This year’s Sacred Music Conference in Colorado promises to be an excellent one, and we are very glad to share the following information from the organizer, Diana Corliss. The conference will take place on August 7 and 8 at the church of St Mark, located at 9905 Foothill Canyons Blvd in Highlands Ranch.

How far can you take your parish’s music program?

Building on the success of last year’s conference, we will continue exploring ways to build a successful music program grounded in the truth and beauty of the Catholic tradition. This year, we are excited to welcome acclaimed composer Kevin Allen, who will share with us his philosophy on sacred music in the Church. Kevin will focus his discussion on sacred polyphony—why it’s uniquely suited to the liturgy, and how we can incorporate it into our own music programs. Highlights:
  • Sacred Polyphony: Learn the role of polyphony in the treasury of the Church's sacred music, how to sing it effectively, and how to (gradually) incorporate into your music program.
  • Two beautiful sung Masses that include practical resources for English Propers and chanting the Mass Ordinary.
  • Practical instruction on rehearsal techniques, improving the sound of your choir, tips for music programming based on your singers and faithfulness to the Church.
  • Breakout Sessions: Kevin Allen will offer two sessions on composition, and our organists will offer two organ sessions (beginner and advanced).
  • Expanded Clergy Track: A special track for clergy will include instruction in singing the Mass dialogues, how to introduce better music to your parish, and building strong relationships between pastors and musicians.
  • A valuable panel discussion that will include faculty and clergy to answer relevant questions of participants.

    Learn more and register here.

How to Beautify Ugly Sacred Spaces When Bureaucracy Is Opposed and Costs Are High

Recently, I was talking to a good priest of a parish saddled with an ugly and liturgically inappropriate concrete church designed in the decades after the Second World War. He told me how difficult it would be to improve the interior.

First, he would have to raise money, which was not easy, but that was the least of his problems. Then, he would have to get the design approved by the diocesan architectural committee, and he was pretty sure they wouldn’t approve anything he and the parish proposed. And third, even assuming he could get past those obstacles, the building was listed as a structure of special architectural interest. (Of interest to whom, one wonders?)

So what can he do? Here’s an idea that might work. Commission a limited number of beautiful portable works of art in carved wooden housings. By commissioning and owning their own beautifully crafted but portable pieces, such as a rude screen, a reredos, or other well-placed images and religious statuary, clergy could reintroduce traditional iconography and sacred artistic elements into these otherwise uninspiring spaces. This not only adds beauty to the space, but also allows for a personal connection to the art, making the space more meaningful and engaging for the congregation.

Rogier van der Weyden, Flemish, 15th century: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
My inspiration for this comes from my observations of the approach of Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox churches in response to having to worship in ugly spaces. When such communities celebrate liturgies in borrowed buildings or churches of other denominations, which is often the case in regions that are traditionally of the Roman Rite, I am always impressed at the way they can transform a badly designed space, or even a space one not originally intended for the Divine Liturgy, into one of beauty. Often, with little more than the basic minimum requirements for the liturgy, such as select icons, candles, embroidered cloths and other liturgical items, these communities seem to be able to turn the blandest antiseptic interior into a place worthy of worship. When the liturgy is over, they pack everything away, ready for next time. 
For example, here is St Elias Melkite Church in northern California, a mission parish without a permanent home which currently rents a barn on a farm south of San Jose. I attended the Divine Liturgy here recently, and my eyes were drawn to the icons and the objects of beauty, which dominate one’s attention, rather than the steel and prefabricated structure. This effect doesn’t seem to come out in the photographs, in which the modern backdrop dominates the visual impact more than in real life. I think this is because the liturgy is a dynamic event, and while it is being celebrated, the eyes are drawn also to the movement and the source of the voices and sounds. 
I am wondering if there isn’t a reason Roman Rite churches couldn’t do something similar. The costs would be less than those involving permanent structural change, and since these are movable personal possessions, rather than permanently installed renovations, no special permissions would be required from the diocese or local historical commissions. 

Monday, July 08, 2024

The Excision of the Institution Narratives from Pius XII’s Holy Week

This past Holy Week I was once again able to assist at the Roman Rite in its ancient-medieval-baroque plenitude, or, to put it more simply, “pre-55.” I have now attended for several years, and the contrast between it and the rite of Eugenio Pacelli is nothing less than astonishing: I would say it is of the same kind of contrast as one finds between the old and new missals in general, if the new be done in the most conservative way possible. Indeed, the ultimate irony is that there are features in the Novus Ordo Triduum that restore what Pacelli had removed—one of the few times in the year when Tridentine and Montinian rub shoulders, so to speak.

Each year I assist at the pre-55 ceremonies, my love and appreciation for them grow. If I had to use a single word, I would say they are sublime. The texts and actions are coherent in a way that those of the Pius XII remix aren’t. These rites move with a majestic, unhurried inevitability, dense with interlocking symbolism. Something about their sheer massiveness, and their utter indifference to pragmatic considerations, makes it easier to lose the sense of time; one surrenders to something so great that it can just as well exist without you, but you are humbly glad to be a part of it. It is not always the case that shortening and simplifying a rite in fact makes it feel easier and shorter. The flow of a rite, and the sacral atmosphere it creates, is far more important for pulling a man out of himself than anything a clock can measure.

The problems with Pius XII’s “restored” Holy Week—which was officially in force from 1955 to 1969, only fourteen years, not long enough to constitute any kind of custom worthy of preservation, as compared with the many centuries of the traditional Holy Week—begin on Palm Sunday and continue throughout nearly every Mass and office till Easter. I provide an overview of some of these points in chapter 12 of The Once and Future Roman Rite, though of course Gregory’s series here at NLM is already a classic, as is Stefano Carusi’s article, and the critique of Pius XII’s master of ceremonies Msgr. Léon Gromier. A simple comparison may be found here.

This year I was more struck than usual by the jarring absence of the Last Supper from the Passion accounts as read in the ’62 missal (the TLM reads all four Passions in Holy Week every year, unlike the NOM which cycles through the Synoptics on Palm Sunday). Everyone who knows about the Roman Tradition (pre-55) vs. Pius XII’s neo-Holy Week talks about this, but I think it has more of an impact if you can see it visually.

Here is what happened to the Passion according to St. Matthew, from Palm Sunday. The images are taken from my 1948 St. Andrew's Daily Missal.

Here is what Pius XII did to the Passion according to St. Mark, read on Tuesday of Holy Week. The ending is intact, but not the beginning: once again, the institution of the Holy Eucharist is completely removed.

Here are the verses chopped out of St. Luke’s Passion on the Wednesday of Pius XII’s Holy Week. 

The upshot of these cuts is that nowhere in the 1962 missal, except for a rarely-used votive Mass, are any of the institution narratives read.

But were the readings too long?

One objection that has been made to the Roman tradition of reading the Passion narratives in their entirety—a practice done for many centuries prior to 1955, and which was to a large extent resumed with the Novus Ordo (!), albeit with a rotation cycle for the Synoptics—is that these accounts are just too long.

Well, yes, they are very long. However, that hardly seems like a serious objection during Holy Week. Do we have anything better to do during Holy Week than read Scripture and pray? If one is going to read the Passion, then one ought to read about the “Sacrament of the Passion” (as St Thomas calls the Eucharist), in order to underline, as Our Lord Himself did at the Last Supper, the intimate connection between the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrifice of Calvary, and the perfect charity of which the former is a sign and the latter is the principal act. It is hard to defend the theological coherence of skipping out on the sign Jesus gave us of His loving atonement and atoning love. As my esteemed colleague Gregory wrote on social media: “The whole aim of the 1955 Holy Week reform is to divorce the Mass from the Passion and the Cross.”

Regarding length of readings, Gregory added:

Objecting to the length of the Roman Passion accounts is just foolish; the Roman arrangement is the simplest and shortest of all the historical liturgies. In the Ambrosian Rite, the narrative of all the principal services from Spy Wednesday to the Easter vigil inclusive is carried entirely by St Matthew, so the Passions of Mark, Luke, and John are all read at one ceremony: the Matins of Good Friday. The Byzantine Rite does something similar with St Matthew, starting at the beginning of chapter 21 at Matins of Palm Sunday, and getting to the end of the Gospel (chapter 28) at Vespers of Holy Saturday. On Good Friday, there are twelve Gospels of the Passion at Matins, the first of which is more than four full chapters of John (!), then large parts of all four Passions are repeated at the Royal Hours. And this, in the midst of a huge number of other readings, endless canons and other kinds of hymns, etc., with almost none of the typical features of the Divine Office omitted.
A deacon commented:
I remember attending the Paschal Divine Liturgy at an Orthodox monastery one year, which begins with the chanting of the entire book of Acts. The liturgy was about four hours, and since there was no electricity at this monastery (and no pews), two of the monks threaded their way through the church replacing peoples’ candles as they burned down. Nobody complained about the length of the service. When it was over, the people went to their cars or tents to get a few hours sleep while two monks took turns tolling the bells all night long. Early in the morning, we were all up again for Divine Liturgy, followed by a meal. Let’s face it: we’ve become sissies. 

The question is forced: What in the world was going on with Pius XII that he allowed such liturgical tomfoolery under his watch?

The first thing we have to rule out—sorry, conspiracy theorists—is that Bugnini was the “author” of the Pacellian Holy Week. He was no such thing. At the time, he was a lowly secretary to the secret committee for proposing liturgical reforms, but the major players, older than he and more influential, steered the entire project. It was other Vatican officials, not Bugnini, who pushed through the new Holy Week. The secretary, for his part, watched open-eyed, learned the tricks of the trade, acquired the insider rolodex, and prepared for his day in the sun under Paul VI.

Here is how historian Yves Chiron puts it in his biography of Bugnini:

On May 28, 1948, Pius XII set up a Pontifical Commission for the Reform of the Liturgy that was eventually to be termed Commissio Piana. It was created within the Congregation of Rites, with Cardinal Micara, the new prefect of the same Congregation, as its president. Its creation was not made public; for a long time it worked in secrecy. Only when the first of the reforms it had prepared was promulgated was its existence revealed to the greater number, including most liturgists. It numbered few members and, unlike the commissions that later pontificates were to establish, it relied on few liturgy experts.
            With Cardinal Micara as president, the Pontifical Commission for the Reform of the Liturgy originally numbered only six members: Archbishop Alfonso Carinci, undersecretary of the Congregation of Rites; Fr Ferdinando Antonelli, OFM, relator general of the historical section of the Congregation of Rites; Fr Josef Löw, CSSR, vice-relator general of the same historical section; Fr Anselmo Albareda, OSB, prefect of the Vatican Library; Fr Augustin Bea, SJ, rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute; and Fr Bugnini who, in his capacity as director of Ephemerides Liturgicae, was named secretary of this commission.
            Later on Bugnini would exercise the same function of secretary in the conciliar preparatory commission on the liturgy as well as in the postconciliar Consilium for liturgical reform. Yet whereas he played a decisive role in the preparatory commission and in the Consilium, he did not have a leading role on the Commissio Piana. He was an invaluable worker11 and rarely intervened in the discussions. He learned and observed much, probably became aware of certain problems, but never exerted a decisive influence. 

As to what might have been going on with Pius XII, readers may consult two articles of mine:

Quite simply: it is time to let go of the postwar experiments and return, humbly and gratefully, to the Roman tradition embodied in the 1570 missal and its line of continuous successors.

Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s Substack “Tradition & Sanity”; personal site; composer site; publishing house Os Justi Press and YouTube, SoundCloud, and Spotify pages.

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