Friday, October 22, 2021

An Ordinariate Pilgrimage in Scotland

On Saturday, October 16th, the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham held a highly successful day pilgrimage to St Ninian’s, Tynet and St Gregory’s, Preshome in Morayshire, northern Scotland. The theme of the day was to look at the ways the Catholic community had survived the penal periods of the 17th and 18th centuries, and to acknowledge that many of the same strictures faced Episcopalians in Scotland at that time. Indeed, many who attended the day had been received into full communion with the Catholic Church from the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The day began at St Ninian’s with a glorious Sung Mass according to the Ordinariate Rite. This church, sometimes referred to as ‘the Bethlehem of Banffshire’, is a place where the Catholic Faith was ‘cradled’ during the harsh and difficult days following the Reformation in Scotland. It was built in 1755, at a time when Catholic worship was still not legally permitted in Scotland, the oldest surviving Catholic church in the country to have been built after the Reformation. On the outside, it looks like a row of cottages…
however when one enters there is a simple but beautiful 18th century church.
The liturgy was enriched by a small schola of talented singers from Aberdeen, brought together for the day by Dr Shelagh Noden. Matthew McVey played the organ superbly, which his grandfather actually built, and which had its first public performance at the Mass. The principal celebrant of the Mass was Fr Len Black, Group Pastor of the Scottish Mission of the Ordinariate with fellow Ordinariate priests, Fr Cameron Macdonald and Fr Stanley Bennie concelebrating. It was a great joy to be able to welcome 3 novices from Pluscarden Abbey, who with Fr Abbot’s permission, joined us for the day pilgrimage and served at the Mass.

Thinking Out Loud? The Collect of the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Michiel Coxie, Render unto Caesar (1583)

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost continues the apocalyptic theme of this final phase of the liturgical year. For the last two Sundays, the Epistle has made reference to a special day, e.g., the days that are evil or the day of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This Sunday’s reading continues along the same lines. Philippians 1, 6-11 mentions “the day of Christ” twice, along with our need to be to be ready for it. The Introit and the Secret, however, mention our iniquities and our guilt before the Lord, and if He observes them, who shall endure it? (Ps. 129, 3)

The Gospel, the famous passage from Matthew 22 that includes the command to render unto God what is God’s, reminds us of the obligation to make a sacrifice of our entire selves to God, for just as Caesar can have his silly lucre because it is made in his image, so too must we make a complete self-donation to God, for we are made in His image. And that’s a tall order. Perhaps it is this undercurrent of heightened alert that explains the Offertory Verse, which prays for the ability to pray:

Remember me, O Lord, Thou who rulest above all power; and give a well-ordered speech (sermonem rectum) in my mouth, that my words may be pleasing in the sight of the prince (Esther 14.12,13).
We are so nervous, the Church seems to be saying, we need your help to avoid getting tongue-tied.
It is in light of these considerations that the Collect of the day is so interesting:
Deus, refugium nostrum et virtus: adesto piis Ecclesiae tuae précibus, auctor ipse pietátis, et praesta: ut, quod fidéliter pétimus, efficáciter consequámur. Per Dóminum nostrum.
Which I translate as:
O God, our refuge and our strength: be present to the pious prayers of Thy Church, O very author of piety! And grant that what we ask in faith we may obtain in effect. Through our Lord.
The Collect is distinctive for having two appositions, one in the prelude (protasis) and one in the petition (apodosis), and the second apposition comes as a surprise, interrupting the petition. It is as if the author were working it out as he was going along, thinking (or rather, praying) out loud. First he addresses God Who, he realizes, is our refuge and strength. And because He is, He can answer our prayers. But of course, God will not answer all prayers but only those that are pious or just. Thus, the author asks God to be present to the pious prayers of the Church. I like the use of the imperative “be present” (adesse) when another expression could have been used like “incline Thine ear to” or “hearken to.” From the verb “to be” (sum) and the preposition “towards” (ad), the verb adsum can almost mean “Be yourself towards us” or perhaps, “bring your Being here.”
Then comes the surprising second apposition, the vocative phrase, “O very author of piety.” In terms of the structure of a Roman Collect, this outburst is unique and disrupts the normal order of the prelude, and yet it follows the logic of the author who, we continue to surmise, is acting as if he is working it out as he goes along. As Sr. Mary Gonzaga Haessley observes:
The Church prays God to be attentive to her piis precibus; the word piis reminds her that prayers cannot be piae unless God Himself, the Author of pietas, inspires them. [Rhetoric in the Sunday Collects of the Roman Rite, (Ursuline College for Women) 117]
And so the Church exclaims as if she just remembered something fundamental or just discovered something new: “O very author of piety”! Our prayers cannot be pious unless God infuses them with piety.
The final petition, “grant that what we ask in faith we may obtain in effect,” works within the same paradigm. Just as the prelude limits the prayers in question to those that are pious, the petition is limited to what is asked for in faith (fideliter). And just as God is the grounding and source of our piety, so too is He the grounding and source of our petitions’ efficacity. Thus, despite the appearance of being extemporaneous and haphazard, the Collect amply qualifies as an example of “well-ordered speech” (sermo rectus). Perhaps there is hope after all that we will be ready, thanks be to God, for the day of Christ.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Legend of Saint Ursula

The annals of Catholic hagiography contain many legends which are recorded in documents written long after the lifetimes of various Saints, but which per se present no particular challenge to the credulity of anyone who believes in a personal God and the reality of miracles. Many Saints have lived in such a way that we would not expect to find material proof of their doings, any more than we would expect to find a first-century shop with a sign over the door reading “Joseph son of Jacob, Carpenter.” For such as these, we must trust to Providence, the good faith of their biographers, and the Church’s tradition.

There are others, however, which even a very basic knowledge of history demonstrates cannot be accepted as reliable; such a one is the legend of St Ursula and Companions, Virgins and Martyrs at Cologne in Germany. The vast collection of hagiographical learning known as the Acta Sanctorum devotes 230 pages of small type to parsing out how their legend developed from a single inscription in a church in that city into a famously extravagant story. Here we can give only a brief summary of the case; a fairly thorough account is given in the relevant article in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The Martyrdom of St Ursula, by Caravaggio, 1610, generally believed to be his last work. The Saint is shown at the very moment she is struck in the breast by an arrow, an example of the vivid realism for which Caravaggio was praised by many as the greatest painter of his times.
The inscription in question, made in the later fourth or early fifth century, states that a man of senatorial rank named Clematius restored a basilica in Cologne “in the place where the holy virgins shed their blood,” with no further details. The fact that it was “restored” should be taken as an indication that a martyrdom of some Christian virgins did take place before that period. Five centuries later, an anonymous sermon says that nothing was known of them for certain, but gives the local tradition that they were a large company, and their leader’s name was “Pinnosa.” They are absent from many early liturgical manuscripts where one would reasonably expect to find record of a martyrdom as spectacular as the later legend tells it, but an early martyrology mentions Saints Martha, Saula and companions at Cologne on October 20th. Other documents give a variety of names and numbers, including “Ursula”; it is not known how she came to be thought of as the foremost among them, nor how the number 11,000 was eventually settled on as the size of the group. It is possible that an abbreviation such as “XI M.V.” for “undecim martyrum virginum – eleven virgin martyrs” was misunderstood as “undecim millia virginum – eleven-thousand virgins.”

The Clematius inscription, now in the Basilica of St Ursula in Cologne, built in the 12th century over the site where the putative relics of the Virgin Martyrs were discovered.
Their passion as told in the later tenth century is summarized as follows in the revised Butler’s Lives of the Saints. “Ursula, the daughter of a Christian king in Britain, was asked in marriage by the son of a pagan king. She, desiring to remain unwed, got a delay of three years, which time she spent on shipboard, sailing about the seas; she had ten noble ladies-in-waiting, each of whom, and Ursula, had a thousand companions, and they were accommodated in eleven vessels. At the end of the period of grace, contrary winds drove them into the mouth of the Rhine, they sailed up to Cologne and then on to Bâle (Basle in Switzerland), where they disembarked and then went over the Alps to visit the tombs of the apostles at Rome. They returned by the same way to Cologne, where they were set upon and massacred for their Christianity by the heathen Huns, Ursula having refused to marry their chief. The barbarians were dispersed by angels, the citizens buried the martyrs and a church was built in their honor by Clematius.”

The inherent logistic improbabilities of assembling and moving such a company are obvious, especially given the chaos of the mid-5th century, to which the medieval legend assigns their martyrdom at the hands of the Huns. In the year 1155, a large cemetery was discovered at Cologne, and the remains therein were accepted as the relics of the 11,000, notwithstanding the presence of many men and children among them. A later elaboration identified both the epitaph and relics of “Pope Cyriacus”, who, after receiving the future martyrs in Rome, abdicated the papacy in order to accompany them back north, where he shared in their martyrdom. This version goes on to say that the cardinals, displeased at the abdication, later expunged his name from the catalog of the Popes, bringing the story down to the grotesque level of the Pope Joan legend; but the story is even found in a breviary printed in 1529 for the use of the Franciscans.

Relics of the 11,000 displayed in the crypt of the Basilica of St Ursula at Cologne, known as the Golden Chamber.
Devotion to these Saints was very strong in the Middle Ages, despite the reservations of scholars who identified the incongruities and anachronisms in their legend. Among the Premonstratensians, who took their liturgical use from the area around Cologne, their feast was celebrated with an octave until the early 20th century. St Angela Merici gave the name “Ursulines” to the religious congregation she founded in 1535, the very first women’s teaching order, and before that, Christopher Columbus chose to honor them in the naming of the Virgin Islands. In the Tridentine liturgical books, however, they are treated with great reserve, kept only as a commemoration on October 21, the feast of the abbot St Hilarion; St Ursula is mentioned by name, but no number of her companions is given. It is supremely ironic that they should share their feast day with a Saint whose life is quite well documented, by no less a personage than St Jerome; however, neither feast was retained on the Calendar of the post-Conciliar reform.
St Ursula and Companions, depicted on the rood screen of the church of Ss Peter and Paul in Eye, Suffolk, England. Photo courtesy of Dr Simon Cotton. 
Numbering as they do in the thousands, their putative relics have been given to churches all over the world. In 1489, the Hospital of St John in the city of Bruges received a portion of them, and commissioned the painter Hans Memling to make a shrine in which to house them, one of his masterpieces. The Gothic shrine has six panels on the two sides showing the story of the Saints.

The Arrival of the 11,000 at Cologne (left), Basel (middle), and Rome (right), where they are greeted by Pope Cyriacus. (Click images to enlarge) In the background of the Cologne scene is depicted the cathedral with its unfinished bell-towers; work on the towers was broken off in 1473 and not resumed until 1842, and the bells installed in the 1870s. The crane on one of the towers remained a landmark of the city for hundreds of years.

The company departs from Basel (left); the group is martyred (center); the martyrdom of St Ursula (right).

Home Altars etc. by M.A.M. Woodworking

Pursuant to our recent articles about home altars and oratories, we received the following pictures from Mr Matthew Manoni of M.A.M. Woodworking ( in Stratford, Connecticut, who makes altars, shrines for home enthronement to the Sacred Heart, and other pieces for home chapels. He has recently teamed up with master carpenter Phil DeFelice, who has done work for a good number of churches and homes; the first seven items here are from Mr Manoni’s website, the altars below them are by Mr DeFelice.

Tenebrae hearse
A home shrine for the enthronement of the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart. (This was made by Mr Manoni from an idea of Mr DeFelice, to whom he gives all the credit.)
An outdoor Station of the Cross
sacristy cupboard

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Vesper Hymn of St John Cantius

Today is the feast of St John Cantius (1390-1473), a priest of the diocese of Krakow, Poland, who spent most of his life as a professor at the Krakow Academy, which is now known as the Jagiellonian University, and counts the astronomer Copernicus and Pope St John Paul II among its other illustrious alumni. The revised Butler’s Lives of the Saints recounts two beautiful traditions of the university long observed in the Saint’s honor. (vol. 4, p. 154) He was well known for his generous charities to the poor, and the story is told that once, on seeing a famished beggar pass by the dining hall, he brought the man all of his food; on returning to his seat, he found his plate miraculously filled up again. This was long commemorated by the custom of setting aside a meal for a poor man every day; at the beginning of dinner, the vice-president of the university would cry out in Latin, “A poor man is coming!”, to which the president would reply, “Jesus Christ is coming!”, and the man was then served. The other is that in the ceremonies at which degrees were conferred, the candidates were vested with the Saint’s doctoral gown.

The tomb of St John in the right transept of the church of St Anne in Krakow, the collegiate church of the Jagiellonian University. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons by Gryffindor.)
When St John was canonized in 1767, and his feast added to the general calendar, his Office was given three proper hymns: one which is said at both Vespers, another at Matins, and another at Lauds. Butler’s Lives states that he is the only simple Confessor whose Office has its own hymns in the Roman Breviary; this is both inexact and irrelevant. It is certainly true that the Roman Rite as observed in Rome itself was always very conservative in its use of hymns, and very few Saints of any class have their own proper hymns. But the feast of the Seven Founders of the Servite Order, who were all simple Confessors, have proper hymns for their collective feast on February 12th, and plenty of Confessors, both bishops and non-bishops, have proper hymns which are used in specific places or by certain religious orders. (See these articles on the hymns of St Augustine, Anthony the Abbot, and Bernard of Clairvaux.) The author of these hymns is unknown, but they were composed around the time of the canonization.

Here is a beautiful recording of the Vesper hymn by the choir of St John Cantius church in Chicago, made at the church of St Anne in Krakow where St John is buried. The English translation given below is by Mons. Hugh Henry, taken from the book The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal, by Dom Matthew Britt OSB. (Benzinger, 1922)
Gentis Polónae gloria,
Cleríque splendor nóbilis,
Decus Lycáei, et patriae
Pater, Joannes ínclite.
O glory of the Polish race,
O splendour of the priestly band,
Whose lore did thy lyceum grace,
John, father of the fatherland.
Legem superni Núminis
Doces magester, et facis.
Nil scire prodest: sédulo
Legem nitámur éxsequi.
The law of the supernal will
Thou teachest both in word and deed;
Knowledge is naught—we must fulfill
In works, not barren words, our creed!
Apostolórum límina
Pedes viátor vísitas;
Ad patriam, ad quam téndimus,
Gressus viamque dírige.
On foot to apostolic Rome
Thy pilgrim spirit joyful hied;
Oh, to our everlasting home
The path declare, the footstep guide!
Urbem petis Jerúsalem:
Signáta sacra Sánguine
Christi colis vestigia
Rigasque fusis flétibus.
Again, in Sion’s holy street,
Anew thou wet’st with tearful flood
The pathway of the Saviour’s feet
Erst wet with His redeeming blood.
Acerba Christi vúlnera,
Haeréte nostris córdibus,
Ut cogitémus cónsequi
Redemptiónis pretium.
O sweet and bitter wounds of Christ,
Deep in our hearts imprinted stay,
That the blest fruit the sacrificed
Redeemer gained, be ours for aye!
Te prona mundi máchina,
Clemens, adoret, Trínitas,
Et nos novi per gratiam
Novum canámus cánticum.
Then let the world obeisance due
Perform, O God, to Thy high Will;
And let our souls, by grace made new,
Sing to Thee a new canticle!

Events for the Feast of Bl. Charles of Austria

Tomorrow is the feast day of the Blessed Charles, Emperor of Austria, which is kept on the day of his marriage in 1911 to the Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma. He was beatified on Oct. 3, 2004, by Pope St John Paul II; Zita’s cause for canonization is also in process, and she was declared a Servant of God by Pope Benedict XVI. Our good friend Fr Jordan Hainsey, who works with the Emperor Charles League of Prayer for Peace (Gebetsliga), wrote in to remind us that there are several events in honor of the Blessed going on tomorrow. Details are also available from the calendar of the Gebetsliga website.

In Gainesville Virginia, His Excellency Athanasius Schneider will celebrate a Pontifical High Mass at the church of the Most Holy Trinity, starting at 6:30 pm. The Mass will be followed by the veneration of a 1st class relic of Blessed Charles, and a reception in the parish hall. The church is located at 8213 Linton Hall Road; one of the Bl Charles’ grand-daughters, Princess Maria-Anna Galitzine, Archduchess of Austria, will be present as guest of honor.

In Washington, D.C., a solemn Mass will be celebrated at the church of Mary, Mother of God, starting at 7:00 pm. The Mass will be followed by the veneration of a 1st class relic of Blessed Charles, and a reception in the lower level of the parish building (south of the church), with a presentation by the guest of honor, His Excellency Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen, Ambassador of Hungary to the Holy See and to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The church is located at 5th and H Streets NW (727 5th St), metro exit at Gallery Place/Chinatown or Judiciary Square.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, a High Mass of the Blessed Charles will be celebrated at the church of St Thomas Aquinas, starting at 7:00 p.m. The church is located at 1400 Suther Road.
In Scranton, Pennsylvania, a Low Mass of the Blessed Charles will be celebrated at the church of St Michael Archangel, which is in the charge of the Fraternity of St Peter, starting at 7:45 a.m. The church is located at 703 Jackson Street.
In Funchal, Portugal, on the island of Madeira, His Excellency Nuno Brás, Bishop of Funchal, will celebrate and preach at a Mass for the Blessed Charles at the Santuário de Nossa Senhora do Monte, where his body rests, beginning at 6:00 p.m.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A Very Liturgical Home Oratory

After seeing our recent photoposts of home altars and prayer corners (part 1 and part 2), reader John Ryan Debil sent us these pictures of his home oratory, a project into which he has put a great deal of time and effort, with truly wonderful results. You can see more about it on Facebook page ;“The Home Oratory and YouTube channel of the same name. Mr Debil also very kindly asked me to mention that much of his inspiration for this project came from reading both New Liturgical Movement and Liturgical Arts Journal. Our thanks to him for sharing these pictures and the write-up with us.

I started this project in 2018, and having this “home oratory” space became very useful, especially during the first lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic. I had a carpenter friend build a “gradine” that I could put on top of an Ikea bookcase that I have, while I personally rendered the faux marble effect on it. Here is how it initially looked:

I found the wooden statue of Our Lady of Bavaria on eBay, and the resin statues of the Apostles, Evangelists and other saints (called Veronese Statues) on various online shops. I then decided to transform my prayer space to the next level by trying to make a miniature version of the high altars seen in many Italian Baroque churches. My main inspirations were the altars of Santissima Trinità Dei Pellegrini, the FSSP church in Rome, and various high altars in Malta.
I hid the storage area of the bookshelf with a 10mm thick foam sheet, on which a painted a faux marble effect.
Here’s the final result:

The Philadelphia Art Museum - Site of the Iconic Rocky Steps and a House for Beautiful Art

I recently made a very enjoyable trip to Philadelphia, which included an afternoon at the Philadelphia Art Museum. This is the building featured in the film Rocky, in which the title character played by Sylvester Stallone runs up the steps as part of his grueling training routine. In this clip, he runs through the city neighborhoods and, as a metaphor for the inspiring narrative of an against-the-odds rise from poverty to success (mirrored in the life of Stallone himself), he finishes on the top of the steps of the beautiful building, the Art Museum, that overlooks the whole city. Stories such as this can play two ways. On the one hand, it can be viewed as the triumph of human effort against the odds. When, however, this rise is identified with a narrative of good triumphing over evil, as is the case with Rocky, a simple narrative well told transcends one of material gain, and becomes a type for the attainment of the ultimate good that we yearn for. This is part of what gives such stories the power to connect with us; the imagery would not have worked in the film if the site of the summit had not been grand, beautiful, and in many ways a symbol of the idealized city.

The building was completed in 1928 in a neo-classical (I would have said Palladian) style. It has classical columns and portico, and windows in harmonious proportion. Each story is a different size in accordance with principles of visual harmony. The two architects generally credited with its design are from the two local firms that collaborated on the work, Howell Lewis Shay for the building’s plan and massing, and Julian Abele for the detail work and perspective drawings. Abele, incidentally was the first African American to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Architecture, in 1902. 

The stone is a beautiful honey-colored dolomite, quarried in Minnesota. It is common nowadays, for those who wish to retrieve traditional values in building to insist that only local stone will work. I have never understood this argument. As far as I am aware, builders of grand buildings have always used the most beautiful and appropriate materials they could afford, as suited to the purpose of the building. If this meant importing marble from a distance, so be it. Certainly, it is not the case that the art museum used local stone.

I can’t let the moment pass without some reference to the art collection inside the building. Here are two examples that caught my eye. The first is a diptych by the 15th century Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden, a Crucifixion in the high Gothic style.
And then a landscape painting of the 19th-century by a Norwegian artist whom I had never heard of before, Fritz Thaulow.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Against Vernacular Readings in the Traditional Mass

The motu proprio Traditionis Custodes has reignited the debate over doing readings at the TLM exclusively in the vernacular. As most are aware, Summorum Pontificum had already opened up this possibility for low Masses, but it was seldom used, since people tend to understand that the readings are an integral part of the missal and of the act of worship, and that a continuity ought to be kept among all elements of the liturgical action. In addition, readings were already being given in the vernacular from the pulpit prior to the homily, and most of the faithful have translations in their hand missals. By and large, it is a non-question and a non-starter within the TLM world, and the latest assault on the integrity of the Latin liturgical tradition has met with principled and pragmatic resistance (see here and here).

Nevertheless, this question deserves to be revisited from time to time in order to understand better the rationale for sticking with the tradition. Here’s what a friend who is quite sympathetic to the TLM wrote to me:
I personally find that one of the best things about the Novus Ordo is vernacular readings. I take a via media approach; I don’t believe “pastoral” adaptions should be made in the liturgy, but I do enjoy how, in the Novus Ordo, the Word is proclaimed in the vernacular. When I have been at Latin Masses, I love the chanting of the Epistle & Gospel, but then when the priest goes and reads it from the pulpit before the homily, it is often done in a rushed, sloppy, and awkward manner. Perhaps you have written a response to my objection, and I missed it. What is the justification for retaining the readings in chanted or spoken Latin? Like I said, I think it’s beautiful, but in my idealized liturgy which I imagine to be the fruit of a Third Vatican Council called for by Cardinal Sarah-turned-Pope Benedict XVII, it largely looks like the 1962 Missal but with vernacular readings.
This is indeed a complex question. There are two aspects of the issue. First, what is the purpose of the reading of Scripture at Mass? And second, how can we practically overcome the language barrier that Latin presents to most?

In terms of the first aspect, there is no doubt that the traditional liturgy understands everything as doxological and latreutic. Nothing is merely didactic or informative. (In fact, this is why the homily strikes us as an interruption in the action: it is certainly merely didactic and informative, and therefore doesn’t smoothly harmonize with the rest of the liturgy, which is a ritual, a sacred action.) Because of this orientation to God, the readings are chanted like prayers, incense is used, a ceremonial with a procession is followed. The Novus Ordo was unfortunately composed at a time when it was all the rage to think of readings at Mass as a sort of communal Bible study, and that is why the Liturgy of the Word is so dreadfully verbose and static. Everything is read (almost never sung), towards the people, from the ambo, and without a sense that this Word is being offered up to God and raising the minds of the faithful up to Him in prayer. [1]

At the Latin Mass, everything is done for God as well as for the people: nothing is “just for the people,” as if we’re turning our backs on God and saying: “Pardon us, we have some business to take care of now; we’ll come back to You later.” The classical phrases used to describe the two main parts of the Mass — “Mass of the Catechumens” and “Mass of the Faithful” — each speaks of a missa, and this, not only because there are certain categories of people “sent away” (first, the catechumens, and then the faithful), but also because, as the medieval commentators explain, missa est means “it is sent”: our offering to God is sent up to Him by the hands of angels! In ancient Israel as in the Church, much of our worship consists in offering words up to God as a verbal sacrifice, parallel to our offering up of incense to Him. As incense pervades the church but also rises up, so too does the Word of God: it is not shot forth to the people (as if they are the pupils drilled by a teacher), but exalted so that it may rain down on them. Yes, there is something sacramental and mystical in this descent: there is a blessing in the repetition of the hallowed words of the liturgy that goes beyond their rational content. In the Liber specialis gratiae, St. Mechtild of Hackeborn says that Christ spoke to her these remarkable words:
You shall understand that when you say any psalm or prayer which any saints prayed when they were alive on earth, then all of those saints pray to me for you. Additionally, when you are in your devotions and speak with me, then all of the saints are joyful and worship and thank me.

It is surely no small thing for us to be reciting and singing the very same words that most of the saints of the Latin or Western half of the Church have had on their lips across all the centuries. These are words of diachronic unity, reverberating harmony, and revelatory power.

In terms of the second aspect mentioned above, it seems there are better ways to accomplish the good of comprehension than chucking out a stable practice of over 1,600 years’ duration and replacing it with the use of embattled and prosaic compromise translations that please no one, being (depending on who you are talking to) dated, too casual or too formal, too loose or too literal, etc. Most modern Westerners are still literate enough to find following along in a missal no difficulty, and since the translations in the missals are not official, they can vary in style. I have come to prefer this multi-sensory and more laissez-faire approach. If the reading from the pulpit is done well, it reinforces the proclamation. On most Sundays I engage with the reading multiple times: at Mass when I hear it in Latin and possibly read it; again when it’s read from the pulpit; and then in the parts that come up in Vespers. The old approach in fact saturates you slowly in Scripture rather than spraying you with it in great buckets.

We can and should also make a concerted effort to be teaching Latin to all Catholics, children and adults. Any serious religion teachers serious stuff to its followers: the Jews teach Hebrew, the Moslems teach classical Arabic, etc. If we cared about our heritage, you can bet that every schoolchild would be translating passages from the Vulgate, which is a more enormously consequential text in the history of the West than Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, or [insert favorite famous name].

I deliberately place the next consideration after the foregoing points because I do not wish to be accused of aestheticism. However, it is quite true, and rather obvious, that the Tridentine liturgy possesses a colossal unity of form and substance, a unity to which the use of Latin makes a significant contribution. I’m reminded of a passage from Samuel Johnson, commenting on an epitaph he saw that was half in English, half in Latin:

It may be proper here to remark the absurdity of joining in the same inscription Latin and English or verse and prose. If either language be preferable to the other, let that only be used; for no reason can be given why part of the information should be given in one tongue, and part in another on a tomb, more than in any other place, or any other occasion; and to tell all that can be conveniently told in verse, and then to call in the help of prose, has always the appearance of a very artless expedient, or of an attempt unaccomplished. Such an epitaph resembles the conversation of a foreigner, who tells part of his meaning by words, and conveys part by signs.[2]
At the same time, the liturgy, which is too great for any one of us to say he “understands” in full, can legitimately be compared to Johnson’s “foreigner who tells part of his meaning by words, and conveys part by signs.” For the words alone are not enough, nor are the non-verbal signs, but together they constitute a whole that is greater than its parts. We understand the uniqueness and the divine authorship of the words of Scripture better when we hear them read or chanted in Latin than if we heard them only in the vernacular; but their exalted status is no less emphasized by the treatment of the book, the kissing of it, the incensing of it, the processing with it. We don’t do that kind of thing to ordinary books.

It is often said that a major driving force in the Catholic liturgical reform was the secret Protestantizing sympathies of many of the liturgists and their not-so-secret obsession with lowest-common-denominator ecumenism. That seems to be true in all kinds of ways. We should not forget, all the same, that most of the early Protestants were a good deal more conservative, more “traditional” in their instincts, than the Catholic liturgists of the 1960s or their ragtag sympathizers today. I wrote about this elsewhere in connection with the manner of receiving Holy Communion, but here is a quotation from Martin Luther talking about his desire to preserve the ancient languages in worship:
Now there are three different kinds of Divine Service. The first, in Latin, which we published lately, called the Formula Missae. This I do not want to have set aside or changed; but, as we have hitherto kept it, so should we be still free to use it where and when we please, or as occasion requires. I do not want in any way to let the Latin tongue disappear out of Divine Service; for I am so deeply concerned for the young. If it lay in my power, and the Greek and Hebrew tongues were as familiar to us as the Latin, and possessed as great a store of fine music and song as the Latin does, Mass should be held and there should be singing and reading, on alternate Sundays, in all four languages—German, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. I am by no means of one mind with those who set all their store by one language [in context, this seems to mean German].[3]
Of course, I wouldn’t say we should do anything, or keep something, because Luther said so or did so. Rather, the point is that the “Catholic” liturgical reformers and implementers — including Paul VI — were, in certain ways, more Lutheran than Luther himself. That’s why the pope’s good friend Jean Guitton was right to say in an interview that Paul VI’s intention was “to get the Catholic Mass closer to the Calvinist Mass [sic].”

Meanwhile, the truly universal or catholic, and dare I say Pentecostal, attitude of the Catholic Church was well expressed by Maisie Ward in 1937, in sentiments that have been echoed and reechoed by countless laymen and clergy down through the centuries:
This union of localization and universality finds expression in the miracle of tongues on Whit Sunday and to-day in the language and liturgy which unites, at one altar, men severed by national languages and national interests.[4]

[1] I recommend the FIUV position paper on this subject, which packs a lot into a few pages.
[2] On the “Epitaph to James Craggs,” from Johnson’s Life of Pope.
[3] Documents Illustrative of the Continental Reformation, ed. B. J. Kidd (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911), 195.
[4] The Wilfrid Wards and the Transition, vol. 2: Insurrection versus Resurrection (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1937), 7.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Offertory Vir erat from the Book of Job

As noted by our good friends at Canticum Salomonis, today’s Offertory chant is taken from the beginning of the book of Job, and presents a very unusual text, inasmuch as it recounts only the beginning of Job’s sufferings.

Off. There was a man in the land (of Hus), Job by name, simple and upright, and fearing God, whom Satan asked to tempt, and power was given to him by the Lord against his possessions and his flesh. And he wasted all his substance and his sons, and he wounded his flesh, too, with a grievous ulcer. (In the video below, the words “of Hus” are omitted, but they are in the printed text of the Tridentine Missal.)

Scenes from the life of Job, by an unknown Flemish Master, ca. 1480-90
Part of the reason for this is that originally, like many Offertories, the text was expanded by the addition of other verses, which in this case, were meant to be sung with the frequent repetition of certain words.

V. Oh that my sins were weighed! Oh that my sins were weighed! whereby I have deserved wrath! whereby I have deserved wrath! And the calamity! And the calamity which I suffer would appear heavier!
V. For what is, for what is, for what is my strength that I should hold out? Or what is mine end, that I should bear patiently?
V. Is my strength the strength of stones? Or is my flesh of bronze? Or is my flesh of bronze?
V. For, for, for mine eye shall not turn back for me to see good things, see good things, see good things, see good things, see good things, see good things, see good things, see good things, see good things.

Writing in the 9th century, the liturgical commenter Amalarius of Metz cleverly explained the significance of these repetitions as follows; later writers on the same subject such as Durandus will repeated his explanation.

“I am reminded of the repetition of words in the verses of the Offertory Vir erat, ... (which) is not in the Offertory itself but in its verses. The words of the historical writer are contained in the Offertory; the words of the ailing and suffering Job in the verses. A sick man whose breathing is weak and unhealthy often repeats broken phrases. In order to create a vivid memory of Job in his sickness, the author of the office repeated certain phrases several times in the manner of sick men. The words are not repeated, as I said, in the Offertory itself, because the historical writer was not sick as he wrote the history.”

(Translations by Notkerus Balbus from Canticum Salomonis, with our thanks.)

Saturday, October 16, 2021

A 17th Century Vesperal from the Abbey of St Gall

Today is the feast of St Gall, a disciple of the great monastic founder of the later 6th and early 7th century, St Columban. He was born in Ireland, educated under Columban at the abbey of Bangor, and accompanied his teacher to the continent, where he assisted him in the founding of the important abbeys at Annegray and Luxeuil. From there, they made their way to the area around the Swiss lakes of Zurich and Constance; when Columban went to Italy, Gall remained behind, and having preached and gathered a group of disciples who lived under Columban’s rule, died sometime around 645 AD. The great Swiss abbey of San Gallen is named after him, since it was built over the site traditionally said to be that of his hermitage, about 70 years after his death. (Further details of this are given below in connection with the founder St Othmar.) 
This abbey is the home of one of the most important libraries in the world; among other things, it houses several of the oldest manuscripts of Gregorian chant. Much of the collection is now free to consult via the website, which also includes links to the digital collections of numerous other Swiss libraries. Here is a book from San Gallen which I recently discovered while perusing the site, a magnificently illustrated Vesperal made for the Prince Abbot of San Gallen at the end of the 17th century. This book contains only the intonations of the antiphons and hymns, which were made by the celebrant and dignitaries of the choir, such as the prior and subprior etc. The celebrant’s other parts (the chapter and orations) would be sung out of a different book called a capitularium.
Here are all the all of the decorated pages of the book; I have cropped those on which the decorations are confined to the margins. (Cod. Sang. 1452B; all images CC BY-NC 4.0) The complete book can be seen by following the links at the following url:

The First Sunday of Advent. The book is not very large, about 14½ by 11 inches; for the intonation of the second antiphon, a server would carry it to the next dignitary of the choir, then to the third, and so on.
The O antiphons. The style of note is known in German as “Hufnagelnotation – hoof-nail notation”, from the resemblance of the notes to a common kind of nail for horse-shoes.
Christmas. At top, the Holy Family turned away from the inn; at the upper right margin, the appearance of the angel to the shepherds.
In the margin of the next page, the angelic choirs sing over the stable at Bethlehem.
Decoration from the following page, with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, and angels adoring the Christ Child as He sleeps in the manger, which is shaped like the Cross. Below, Ss Stephen and John.

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