Monday, December 11, 2023

Searching Out the Origins of St Louis de Montfort in 17th-century Spain

In between the two great Marian feasts of the first half of Advent — the Immaculate Conception on the 8th and Our Lady of Guadalupe on the 12th — it seems appropriate to make mention of a recent publication, Slavery to the Mother of God, that brings an important Marian devotional work to light for the first time in English.

Two 17th-century Observant Franciscan Friars, Fray Juan de los Angeles and Fray Melchor de Cetina, authored two works, Fray Juan’s Marian Slavery (1609) and Fray Melchor’s Exhortation toward Devotion for the Virgin Mother of God, for the sake of a Confraternity founded by the Conceptionist Nuns of Alcalá de Henares in Spain. This Confraternity was “exported” to Belgium and France by the Spanish, and from there exercised an influence on the French School’s “total consecration to Mary” as we find it in culminating in the much-better-known St. Louis de Montfort.

For those who are devotees of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the manner in which Fray Juan and Fray Melchor develop their theology of consecration will be familiar, as it is based on the Immaculate Conception and on the Absolute Primacy of Christ as emphasized in the Franciscan tradition (Bonaventure, Scotus). Interestingly, while St. Maximilian shows no indication of having come across these works, he not only arrives at the same conclusions as his two 17th-century confreres, but even develops the same formulas — a confirmation of the profound basis of this school of spirituality in orthodox Christology and Mariology. The conclusion they reach is identical: unlimited consecration to Mary, for the sake of unlimited attachment to Jesus.
A volume of Franciscan mystical writings that includes the two works under discussion here

In the words of Fray Juán de los Ángeles:
From whence comes so much honor to such an infamous title in the laws of the world [viz., slave]? From the Virgin Herself and of Her Most Holy Son. She took possession of it, at the same moment that the divine Word took possession of Her heart, and cast Himself into Her womb, and became Her Son. She willed that alongside “Mother,” which calls for infinite respect, there should walk beside it a title of so great humility, which denotes and proclaims subjection: Ecce ancilla Domini—behold, the slave of the Lord…. The works of the slave, and all his actions, belong to his owner (they are his possession), as does the person himself (who is his property): everything belongs to him who purchased him. Who more belongs to the eternal Father than Christ?
And in the words of Fray Melchor de Cetina:
God, because he is the greatest Goodness, must be loved above all things; but since, after God, the Goodness of his Mother is the greatest, She must be, after Him, the most loved. This is the Power that the Virgin, Our Lady, has of carrying away after Herself hearts captured by Her supreme goodness. And what greater sign is there than that they wish to imitate the ways of this heavenly Princess and follow her footsteps: “Keep Her ways with all thy power,” since they trace her footsteps from the first steps of life when she set foot on the ground, which was Her Immaculate Conception?
These two short works count as important forerunners and contributors to de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary, insofar as this Spanish Confraternity and the devotional literature it carried served as the foundation for the wave of enthusiasm that spread throughout Christendom in the seventeenth century under the banner of “total Consecration to Mary as Her slaves” (“totus tuus,” a motto re-energized by John Paul II in opposition to the anti-Marian spirit that, with the smoke of Satan, had entered the late twentieth-century Church).

The Franciscan Friars who prepared this translation sought to rescue these works from the oblivion to which historical circumstances had consigned them. Given that they were among the sparks that prompted a “revolution” in Marian spirituality, it seemed long past time to make them available. At this link, those who are interested may read the four-page preface to the book, which is available for purchase here.

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

Sunday, December 10, 2023

The Second Sunday of Advent 2023

Gradual (Ps. 49) Out of Sion the loveliness of his beauty. God shall come manifestly. V. Gather ye together his saints to him, who set his covenant before sacrifices. Alleluia, alleluia. Ps. 121 I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord. Alleluia.

Graduale Ex Sion species decóris ejus: Deus manifeste veniet. V. Congregáte illi sanctos ejus, qui ordinavérunt testamentum ejus super sacrificia. Allelúja, allelúja. Laetátus sum in his, quae dicta sunt mihi: in domum Dómini íbimus. Allelúja.

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Photopost Reminder for December: Tradition Will Always Be for the Young

This year, Christmas being on a Monday, Advent is the shortest it can be (three weeks and one day), and we are already at the end of the first week, so I thought it would be a good idea to put out a distant-early-warning photopost request. As we do every year, we will have a photopost series for Rorate Masses, which will also include photos of Gaudete Sunday liturgies, yesterday’s feast of the Immaculate Conception, and anything else people care to share with us. Of course, we welcome photos of the EF, the OF, the Ordinariate Rite, the Eastern liturgies etc., as well as pictures of other services such as Vespers and processions. Please send them to, and remember to include the name and location of the church, and any other information which you think important.

Last year, we reached a record-breaking six posts in this series, with over 270 photos from churches in 19 American states and 11 other countries (with several duplicates: three Canadian provinces, three locations in England etc.) By the time the last of them went up on December 29th, it had been announced that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI was in his final illness, and he died two days later. I mention this first and foremost as a reminder to pray for his eternal repose, and to thank God for all the benefits that accrued to the Church from his great pastoral wisdom.

But I also mention it because two days ago, a student senator at a Catholic university told a cardinal that the question he was asked most often by his fellow students is “Why is there no traditional Latin Mass on campus?”, and asked the cardinal for advice on how he ought to respond. That very day being His Eminence’s own 76th birthday, his response was that the young people need to get with the times, and that “tradition dies a slow death, sometimes a bloody death.” The rest of his response made no mention of Pope Benedict at all, much less of any of the reasons why he chose to issue Summorum Pontificum, after decades of serious consideration of the state of the liturgy, and the importance of preserving continuity with our history, and the inestimable treasures of the Roman liturgical patrimony.

Let’s see what we can do to show the world that tradition is not dying, and will always be for the young!
From the first post in last year’s Advent series: the feast of the Immaculate Conception at the church of the Annunciation in Imperia, Italy.
From the second post: Mass in the Dominican Rite on the feast of St Lucy, celebrated more rorante by our long-time contributor Fr Lawrence Lew O.P. at Our Lady of the Rosary and St Dominic in London, England.

From the third post: Rorate Mass at the church of St Paul in Birkirkara, Malta.

From the fourth post: a procession in honor of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the Premonstratensian Abbey of St Michael in Silverado, California.

From the fifth post: Vespers of Gaudete Sunday at the Church of the Assumption in Nashville, Tennessee.

From the sixth post: Rorate Mass at the Church of St Peter in Waco, Texas.

Friday, December 08, 2023

Allegories of the Immaculate Conception

Our readers are all familiar, I am sure, with the classic manner of depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception, based on the words of St John in Apocalypse 12, 1: “And a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” This tradition was popularized especially by Spanish Baroque painters, from the early 17th to mid-18th century, known as the Golden Age in Spain, where devotion to the Immaculate Conception was particularly strong. The white garment represents the immaculate state of Her human nature, while the blue mantle over it represents the royal dignity which comes from Her election by God to be His Mother. (Many of the materials that made for good blue pigments were rare and expensive, and thus often reserved for the most important figures, making it a popular color for the Virgin Mary.)

José Antolínez, ca. 1665 (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (who did more than a dozen paintings of the Immaculate Conception in the classic Spanish vein), ca. 1678. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
There is, however, a different iconographic tradition for the Immaculate Conception, a very complex one which reflects the complexity of the subject, and of the Church’s long discussion of it. This is broadly called the Allegory, in which ideas are conveyed primarily by symbols, and was a prominent feature of all kinds of works in the artistic period which preceded the Baroque, known as Mannerism. Mannerist art tends to be very didactic, as seen below in the painting by Juan de Juanes, in which each symbol is diligently labelled. (Contrast this with the Baroque artists above, who do not need to use labels or Scriptural quotes to let the viewer know that he is looking at a picture of the Immaculate Conception.)

Mannerists liked to multiply symbols to a level where an encyclopedia is needed to decipher their works. This often creates an impression of chaos, while the symbols themselves frequently lean or fall over the line that separates the subtle from the obscure. Today, we tend to think of the Baroque as a very busy style, but the artists of the Baroque considered themselves to be the simplifiers of art compared to their Mannerist predecessors, and rightly so. Simply put, a Mannerist would paint many different symbols of the Immaculate Conception, while a Baroque artist would paint a lot of figures (there are about 20 angels in the Antolínez above), but far fewer kinds of things (a woman, angels, flowers, a palm branch, and a bird.)
In religious paintings, these symbols are often drawn from the Bible, and in an allegory of the Immaculate Conception, from the Song of Songs in particular. The various Litanies of the Virgin Mary were another popular source. (The form which we now call the Litany of Loreto is one among many, and hardly the earliest.)
The wooden paneled ceiling of the Roman basilica of Santa Maria in Domnica, made in the time of Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici, who held the title of this church from 1489 until his election to the papacy in 1513, with the name Leo X. Each section represents a title of the Virgin Mary from an earlier form of the Litany of Loreto. (Photo by Mr Jacob Stein, from the third post in this year’s series on the Lenten station churches.)
The choice of symbol was also often inspired by texts used in the theological debates over the Immaculate Conception. These debates became especially vivid in the later 15th century, since the Dominicans, who formed an important presence in all the major theological faculties (and a lot of the minor ones) were mostly opposed to the doctrine. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that in reaction, “In 1497 the University of Paris (long the most prestigious in Europe) decreed that henceforward no one should be admitted… who did not swear that he would do the utmost to defend and assert the Immaculate Conception of Mary.” Paris was followed in this by several others, including both the English universities, and the two oldest in the New World, at Lima and Mexico City, both founded in 1551.
The painting which got me interested in this topic is called, “God the Father Painting the Immaculate Conception”, made in 1659, by the Sicilian artist Matteo Cristadoro. He was born in Agrigento ca. 1635, but the date of his death appears to be unknown; the painting was commissioned by the Benedictine abbey of San Martino delle Scale near Monreale. This specific approach to the subject is inspired by the Church’s liturgical application of the figure of Wisdom in the Old Testament to the Virgin, as in the Epistle for today’s Mass, Proverbs 8, 22-35: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made.”
This tradition is also reflected in the bull Ineffabilis Deus, by which Bl. Pope Pius IX proclaimed the formal definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854: “From the very beginning, and before the ages, (God) chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother, from whom He would become flesh and be born in the blessed fullness of time.”
As God paints the Virgin, who stands on a rose (“rosa mystica” from the litany), Saints Joachim and Anne, Her parents, hold the canvas for Him. Between them, an angel chains the devil, while other angels make paints for God out of material in this world, and pass them up to Him in heaven. Other angels supply Mary’s crown and scepter, the crown of twelve stars from the Apocalypse, and a lily, a symbol of purity. The angel at the upper right holds a banderole with the words of Psalm 45 (vs. 9), which is read at Matins of Marian feasts, “Come and see the works of God.”
At the time this was made, Mannerism had been completely supplanted by the Baroque in major artistic centers like Rome and Bologna for decades, and to the sophisticated eyes of Cristadoro’s contemporaries in, say, the Papal court, this would have looked as old fashioned as a movie like Casablanca does to us. The composition is fairly chaotic, not so much for the number of figures (26 of them), as for the fact that almost all of them are caught in motion. Bright colors contrast everywhere, such as the blue of the Virgin’s robes against the grey background of the canvas, or Joachim’s robe, which stands out as almost the only red in the picture. The banderole harkens back to the older, more obviously didactic approach typical of the Mannerists, and the painting of God as a painter is very typical of their self-referential tendency (a reaction to the naturalism of the Renaissance) to draw their inspiration from art, rather than from life.
An older and more obvious example of Allegory, made ca. 1535-40, comes from the prolific Spanish painter Vicente Juan Masip, also known as Juan de Juanes, (1507-79). As the Trinity crowns the Virgin Mary, dressed in white and blue, banderoles to either side give us one of the Scriptural quotations most often applied to the Immaculate Conception, Song of Songs 4, 7: “Thou art all fair, my love, and there is not a spot in thee.” (This is the verse in the Alleluia of today’s Mass.) Another unfolds at Her feet, “beautiful like the moon” (6, 9), and eight symbols are shown to either side of Her: “chosen like the sun” (ibid.), “star of the sea” (from the hymn of the Virgin at Vespers) etc.
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

The Feast of St Ambrose 2023

Truly it is worthy and just... eternal God. Who in Thy Holy Catholic Church dost so arrange and order the priests as to make for Thyself a Church having no spot or wrinkle. (Eph. 5, 27) Who didst of old on the solemnity of this day deign to raise up the throne of Thy disciple Ambrose, confessor and priest, that when he had laid down secular office, and renounced public honor, Thou might make him the teacher and judge of Thy flock, and strengthen him before the Church as a shepherd. For his sake, we your subjects ask that Thou who didst suddenly exalt him as a bishop for Thy sheep, and through the voice of the people, choose Him as pastor for Thy flock, may by his prayers make us holier, having driven away our sins, and render Thy people more just, as it celebrates the solemnity of this day; that as shepherd and sheep together, by following in his footsteps, we may merit to come to the heavenly kingdom. (The Ambrosian Rite preface for the feast of St Ambrose.)

St Ambrose Bars the Emperor Theodosius from Entering the Cathedral, 1619-20, by the Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641). The holy bishop had excommunicated the emperor after his troops had massacred a large number of civilians during a riot in the Greek city of Thessalonica; the excommunication was not lifted until the emperor had publicly repented. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
VD: Qui in Ecclesia tua sancta Catholica, ita sacerdotes disponis et ordinas, ut efficias tibi Ecclesiam non habentem maculam, neque rugam. Qui olim diei huius sollemnitate alumni tui Ambrosii, Confessoris et sacerdotis, sublimare dignatus es cathedram, ut fasce saeculari deposito, et publico honore abiecto, Doctorem et iudicem gregis tui efficeres, et pastorem Ecclesiae praefirmares. Pro quo precamur subiecti, ut qui eum extemplo ovibus tuis sublimasti pontificem, et ex voce plebis gregi tuo praeelegisti pastorem, nos eius precibus explosis piaculis efficias sanctiores, et plebem tuam, huius diei sollemnia celebrantem, efficias iustiorem: ut pastor cum ovibus, eius sequendo vestigia, simul mereamur pervenire ad caelestia regna. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Per quem maiestatem tuam laudant angeli, venerantur archangeli, Throni, Dominationes, Virtutes, Principatus et Pot estates adorant. Quem Cherubim.

Sacrosanctum Concilium at 60: Still Dead and Buried

As we all remember, just a few short days ago we had the grand celebrations of the sixtieth anniversary of the promulgation of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (4 December 1963), the magna carta of the liturgical reforms that followed the Council, and that faithfully implemented its provisions.

Or, at least, this is what could have happened, if things had turned out differently. The reality is that this anniversary has gone by almost completely unnoticed: nothing from the Vatican (unless one speaks Albanian!), very little mention from bishops (apart from the Irish), and even liturgists do not seem to have been all that bothered. An exception is provided by Mr Paul Inwood, but even he does not actually seem all that enthusiastic about this anniversary!
Contrary to this general all-round apathy (and not forgetting the contribution of NLM's editor or of Dr Kwasniewski!) is an article by Dom Alcuin Reid, in which he states that:
[I]t has to be said frankly that Sacrosanctum Concilium does not celebrate its sixtieth birthday as tranquilly as we might ourselves hope to do, for the shocking fact is that it has been battered, beaten and abused for decades since its infancy. Sixty sees it staggering across the line without, frankly, much hope of lasting very much longer—despite the ingenious and valiant attempts throughout the different stages of its life of popes, prelates and scholars to prop it up, heal its wounds and get it back on its feet.
Why is this? He goes on to explain:
Putting it quite bluntly, Sacrosanctum Concilium was like a newborn child left out in the cold and ignored whilst people stole its authority to advance their own liturgical agendas… 
Sacrosanctum Concilium had been systematically and thoroughly abused—and the Council made to look foolish—by an adeptly orchestrated Consilium intent on its own modernising liturgical agenda, which had the good fortune of having a pope who would authoritatively sign off its proposals.
Preliminary results of liturgical formation in the Novus Ordo,
June 1971, "Hofheimer Mess-Festival", Germany
This abuse of the Council’s liturgical constitution necessarily came alongside a rewriting of liturgical history, in which certain features of the reformed Roman Rite – supposedly “recovered” through ressourcement – were deemed to be “more traditional” when compared to the usus antiquior. This rewriting of history continues today and, post-Traditionis custodes, is perhaps more prevalent now than it has been for some time. For instance, in a rather poor attempt at satire a few weeks ago, one particular website provided “A brief critical study of the Novus Ordo Missae (1570) by a group of Roman theologians”. The article itself is risible, and a thorough critique by Dr Peter Kwasniewski can be found here, but one part stood out to me in particular (emphasis mine):
The changes we have recalled so far, though disadvantageous, are not necessarily harmful to the faithful. Not so, however, the Offertory Rite. If any part of the Roman rite needed reform, it was surely this. The peculiarity of offering the “unspotted host,” which is still bread, is of course done in anticipation of what it will become, and is perfectly orthodox in context. Nevertheless, in the light of the claim of the Protestants that the elements of bread and wine are not changed, it would be easy for the unlearned to be scandalised… It seems to us that the revisers of the missal might have delved into the treasury of liturgical tradition to suggest some better worded formulae.
The claim here is that the offertory of the traditional Roman Rite is potentially “harmful to the faithful” and that the post-Tridentine reform should “have delved into the treasury of liturgical tradition” for “better worded formulae.” The subtext is that this is precisely what the post-Vatican II Missal does in its reformed offertory texts: the usus recentior is thus more “traditional” and perhaps even theologically superior to the usus antiquior in this regard. Still, for satire to work, it needs at least some basis in reality – and in this case, such a basis is entirely lacking, historically and theologically. How so?
Well, Coetus X of the Consilium ad exsequendam were responsible for the reform of the Order of Mass, and like the failed ‘satirist’ above, they were quite open about their opinion that the traditional offertory prayers were too “anticipatory” of the Canon and needed changing. Indeed, this is expressed very early on in their work, in June 1964:
Everything, therefore, that prefigures the appearance of the oblation of the Body and Blood of Christ and in some way anticipates the manner of speaking proper to the Canon of the Mass must be removed or changed. [1] 
This was done so that “what the offertory really means may be expressed more clearly and be more easily perceived by the Christian people.” [2] However, by May 1966 they had ran into unexpected difficulties with regard to this:
We have tried to achieve this end in various ways, either by adapting the Ambrosian and Dominican rites, or by using oratio super oblata formularies taken from the [ancient] sacramentaries, or by drawing up new texts to accompany the rites. It does not seem sufficient simply to lay down the bread and the chalice without reciting any text and only reciting the super oblata prayer, as was done in antiquity. But it was very difficult to find texts which did not anticipate either the super oblata prayer or the Canon of the Mass. [3]
It is almost as if this anticipatory and proleptic nature of the offertory prayers is part of the “treasury of liturgical tradition,” in both East and West, going all the way back to the earliest extant manuscripts we have. Fancy that! Who could have foreseen this? But, of course, this did not mean that the Consilium rethought their working assumptions and ideological viewpoints about the ritual texts of the offertory. They just proceeded to make up entirely new prayers that were in line with what they thought the liturgical tradition ought to have been, rather than what it actually is. Scholars and liturgists often seem to think that: 
the “authentic” and “original” liturgy is to be found in reconstructions of what scholars believed, or wanted to believe, things must have been like before the period from which we have our earliest sources. [link]
A scholarly "reconstruction" of "Piltdown Man", ultimately based on
a hoax combination of human, chimpanzee and orangutan bones
And as if they were trying their best to demonstrate this, for their reformed offertory Coetus X started with adapting a text from chapter 9 of the Didache and Proverbs 9:1-2 – with changes and omissions they considered ‘suitable’: 
Schema 170
Sicut hic panis erat dispersus et collectus factus est unus,
ita colligatur Ecclesia tua in regnum tuum.
Gloria tibi, Deus, in saecula.
[As this bread was scattered and, having been gathered, is now one,
so may your Church be gathered into your kingdom.
Glory to you, O God, for ever.]
Didache, ch. 9
Sicut hic panis erat super montes, et collectus factus est unus, ita colligatur Ecclesia tua a finibus terrae in regnum tuum.
[As this bread was scattered upon the mountain tops and, having been gathered, is now one, so may your Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.] 
Schema 170
Sapientia aedificavit sibi domum,
miscuit vinum et posuit mensam.
Gloria tibi, Deus, in saecula. [4]
[Wisdom has built herself a house;
she has mixed her wine and set her table.
Glory to you, O God, for ever.]
Proverbs 9:1-2
Sapientia ædificavit sibi domum:
excidit columnas septem.
Immolavit victimas suas,
miscuit vinum,
et proposuit mensam suam
[Wisdom has built herself a house;
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has immolated her victims,
mixed her wine,
and has also set her table.]
By March 1968, these prayers had been changed for those used today in the Novus Ordo (“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation…”)—but without the phrase “we offer you.” Coetus X explained these revised prayers as follows: 
In these new formulas various elements may be seen as organically composed: the bounty of God, from whom all gifts come; the work of the earth, which yields fruit in its season; the industry and labour of men; the holy Eucharist, for the preparation of which these gifts are offered. No element is contained that might possibly be falsely understood: either as ‘a sacrifice of bread and wine,’ or as an anticipated offering of the body and blood of Christ, or as a consecratory epiclesis. [5]
Notably, at this point, Paul VI had to step in and effectively force Coetus X to insert quem/quod tibi offerimus to these new formularies. [6] It perhaps should also be noted that no sources are given for these newly-composed prayers: their Jewish berakah background, often cited, [7] is not actually mentioned by the group. But all this is more incidental to my main point, which is that far from being rooted in the liturgical tradition of the Church, whether East or West, the revision of the offertory – or, rather, its changing into the “Preparation of the Gifts” (Præparatio donorum: see GIRM 33, 43, 72-77, 214) – is a thoroughly modern, rationalist innovation, one that goes against Sacrosanctum Concilium 23: “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them, and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.” 
The idea of Coetus X and others that everything that anticipates the Eucharistic Prayer “must be removed or changed” finds no basis in the liturgical tradition, which prominently and frequently features prolepsis and anticipatory language. And although the group wanted their ideology to be adopted by the other working groups of the Consilium, [8] this did not happen – indeed, unless one were to completely rewrite many of the super oblata prayers, it could not have happened! For example, on the most solemn day in the liturgical calendar, Easter Sunday, the following super oblata is prayed in the Novus Ordo, where one will note that the word “offer” is in the present tense:
Exultant with paschal gladness, O Lord,
we offer [offerimus] the sacrifice
by which your Church
is wondrously reborn and nourished.
Battered, beaten, distorted, little-read, unloved... still relevant?
At the conclusion of his recent article, Dom Alcuin Reid states that:
Are we to celebrate Sacrosanctum Concilium’s 60th birthday? That hardly seems possible. It is surely a moment for sombre recollection—of remembrance of its noble aims and sound principles, certainly, but also of realistic recognition of the abuse and distortion and banishment it has suffered since its infancy at the hands of those who were charged faithfully to implement it.
The ink was barely dry on the signatures of the Council Fathers before the reformers cast aside the liturgical constitution in favour of their own ideologies and pet theories for ‘reform.’ And today, Sacrosanctum Concilium arguably remains as dead and buried as it was a few short years after its promulgation. As Gregory DiPippo has said:
Sacrosanctum Concilium begins with a statement of what the Council hoped to achieve: “This sacred Council… desires to impart an ever-increasing vigour to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church.” None of this has happened. The Christian life of the faithful has not become more vigorous; its institutions have not become more suitably adapted to the needs of our times; union has not been fostered among all who believe in Christ; the call of the whole of mankind into the household of the Church has not been strengthened…
[T]he gardeners are not always correct in discerning which plants are flourishing and which are not. We can only continue to pretend for so long that the recent ones have made a good job of it, or that the garden in its current condition is anywhere near as beautiful or fruitful as it used to be. For the time being, the current chief gardener is busy with a sad and doomed attempt to make the new plants flourish by yelling at the remaining old plants. The day will come, however, later than we hope, but sooner than we realise, when another chief gardener will have the honesty to say, “I don’t care who put these here or why. They are not growing properly at all. I hear there used to be some other plants that grew quite well in this soil…”
It seems inevitable that, at some point in the future (God willing), the colossal legislative mistake that is Traditionis custodes will be abrogated, and questions about a “reform of the reform” will no longer be completely verboten. But at that point – the seventieth anniversary? eightieth? – perhaps it may be time for the Latin Church to consider whether or not to exhume Sacrosanctum Concilium and attempt to stich back together and reanimate its corpse, or to leave its remains discreetly buried with the little dignity they still possess and quietly return in large part to her traditional liturgical praxis.

[1] Schema 16 (De Missali, 2), 17 June 1964, p. 7: Tollenda ergo vel mutanda sunt omnia quae speciem oblationis Corporis et Sanguinis Christi prae se ferunt et modum loquendi Canoni missae proprium quodammodo anticipiant.
[2] Ibid., pp. 6-7: Omnibus rei liturgicae peritis constat preces et ritus offertorii plus aliis recognitione indigere, ut id, quod offertorium revera significat, clarius exprimantet a populo christiano facile percipiantur (cfr. [Sacrosanctum Concilium] art. 21, 2).
[3] Schema 170 (De Missali, 23), 24 May 1966, p. 11: Variis modis conati sumus ad hunc finem pervenire, sive adaptando ritum ambrosianum et dominicanum, sive adhibendo formulas orationis super oblata e Sacramentariis desumptas, sive exarando novos textus, qui ritus comitentur. Non sufficere videtur simplex depositio panis et calicis sine ullo textu recitando, oratione super oblata tantum subsequente, sicut agebatur in antiquitate. Sed difficillimum erat invenire textus, qui nec orationem super oblata, nec Canonem Missae anticiparent.
[4] This text is also one of the antiphons for Corpus Christi (Ant. 1, Lauds) in the Breviarium Romanum, but, of course, the function of an antiphon is different from that of an offertory prayer!
[5] Schema 281 (De Missali, 47), Addendum I, 23 April 1968, p. 5: In his novis formulis varia elementa organice composita videntur: largitas Dei, a quo omnia dona perveniunt; opus terrae, quae fructum praebet suo tempore; industria ac labor hominum; sacra Eucharistia, ad quam praeparandam haec dona afferuntur. Nullum elementum continet quod forte false intelligi possit: vel tamquam "sacrificium panis et vini"; vel tamquam oblatio corporis et sanguinis Christi anticipata; vel tamquam epiclesis consecratoria.
[6] Annibale Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990), p. 371, fn. 37: “In the schema, which was then submitted for study to the prefects of the curial agencies and to the Holy Father, the phrase “which we offer to you” (quem/quod tibi offerimus) was lacking. The Pope was the one who added it.”
[7] See, for example, Michael Witczak, “The Sacramentary of Paul VI,” in Anscar J. Chupungco (ed.) Handbook for Liturgical Studies. Volume III: The Eucharist (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999), pp. 133-175, at p. 153: “The Consilium had proposed a rite in which the basic action was simple and clear: preparing the altar and placing the gifts upon it with prayer. The new prayers, beautiful adaptations of the Jewish berakah, complicate the action somewhat. The texts proposed in the experimental liturgy spoke of unity and preparation; the new texts praise God for creation and for giving us bread and wine to offer, a return, obliquely, to the language of offering that was so dominant in the former Missal of 1570.”
[8] See Schema 16, p. 7: “The discussion about the application of these principles in each coetus continued in both the first and second sessions, but the members felt that the matter still needed a longer discussion, to be resumed in the third session” (Horum de principiorum applicatione ad singula coetus et in prima et in secunda sessione disceptationem protraxit, tamen sodalibus visum est rem longiore adhuc indigere deliberatione in tertia sessione iterum resumenda).

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

The Legend of St Nicholas in Liturgy and Art

The traditional Roman liturgy assigns to the feast of St Nicholas the common Office of Confessor Bishops Ecce sacerdos magnus, with the proper lessons at Matins recounting his life, and the common Mass Statuit, with proper prayers. The Collect of his feast refers to the “innumerable miracles” wrought through his intercession, for which he is often called by the Byzantines “the Wonderworker”; the Secret is borrowed from the Mass of the first Confessor Bishop venerated in the West, St Martin.

An icon of St Nicholas with scenes from his life, late 17th cent., by the Greek painter Ioannis Moskos (1635-1721). Upper register: his episcopal ordination; the episode of the dowry (explained below); the destruction of a pagan temple. To either side of the central panel: the rescue of a ship from a storm; demons expelled from a ship. Lower register: Nicholas saves three tribunes who had been unjustly accused to the emperor Constantine, and sentenced to death. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Tzim78, CC BY-SA 4.0.)
In the Middle Ages, a proper Office was composed for his feast, which is described thus by the liturgical commentator Sicard of Cremona, writing at the end of the 12th century.
The teachers of the Greeks have written down the life of the blessed Nicholas, and the miracles done in his life, … saying that he was born of an illustrious family, and filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, or from his childhood. He delivered three virgins from the infamous dealings of their father; he was promoted to the episcopacy by divine revelation; he came to help sailors in danger of shipwreck; he multiplied grain; … he delivered some people from a death sentence, and others from prison. From his tomb there comes forth an oil, which heals various ailments. … No pen can suffice to write down all the miracles with which he has shone forth after his death, nor can any man’s eloquence tell of them all. Out of this legend, today’s ‘history’ is put together. (Mitrale IX, 2)
In Sicard’s time, and for long after, the Latin word “historia” (history) was the common technical term for what we would now call the proper Office of a Saint. Many such Offices were composed by setting to music texts from the Saints’ lives; a “historia” was the sum of the antiphons, responsories and (somewhat more rarely) hymns, composed for such an Office. The “legend”, on the other hand, (Latin “legendum – something to be read”), is the story of the Saint’s life as read in the lessons of Matins. Therefore, when Sicard says that today’s “history” is put together out of this “legend”, what he means is that the propers of St Nicholas’ Office are composed from texts taken from the account of his life and miracles.

The proper Office of St Nicholas is called O Pastor aeterne, the first words of the Magnificat antiphon at First Vespers; it has been attributed (not with absolute certainty) to a monk named Isembert, of the monastery of St Ouen in France, who lived in the middle of the 11th-century. It was adopted very widely, but not in Rome; hence it is found in the proper Breviaries of the religious orders (Dominicans, Premonstratensians etc.), but not the Roman Breviary. Writing about a century after Sicard, William Durandus tells the following story about the use of this Office.
It is said that in a certain church, … since the historia of blessed Nicholas was not yet sung, the brothers of that place asked their prior insistently that he permit them to sing it; but he refused, saying that it was improper to change the ancient custom with novelties. But since they kept asking, he answered indignantly, “Leave me alone; these new songs, or rather, these jokes, will not be sung in my church!” Now when the feast of the Saint had come, the brethren sadly finished the night vigils (i.e. Matins). And when they had all gone to bed, behold, the blessed Nicholas appeared visibly to the prior in a terrible guise, and, pulling him out of bed by his hair, dashed him to the floor of the dormitory. Then, beginning the antiphon O Pastor aeterne, at each change of note he smacked him heavily on the back with the two rods he held in his hand, and thus sang the antiphon morosely through to the end. Since all were wakened by the noise, the prior was taken to his bed half-alive; and when he had recovered he said, “Go, sing the new historia of St Nicholas.” (Rationale Div. Off. VII, 39)
It must be granted that this behavior seems wildly out of character for the Nicholas described by the Office O Pastor aeterne itself, of which the first responsory says:
R. The confessor of God, Nicholas, noble of birth, but nobler in his manners, * having followed the Lord from his very youth, merited to be promoted to the episcopacy by divine revelation. V. For he was greatly compassionate, and moved by holy pity for the afflicted. Having followed…
And likewise, the fifth antiphon of Matins:
Aña Surpassing the customs of youth with innocence, he became a disciple of the law of the Gospel. 
On the other hand, the Byzantine tradition tells a story that Nicholas, when he was present at the First Council of Nicea, was so moved with righteous indignation at Arius’ denial of the divinity of Christ that he slapped him in the face. At his Vespers in the Byzantine Rite, the following hymn is sung which refers to this tradition.
With what melodic hymns may we praise this Hierarch, the antagonist of impiety, the defender of piety, the great leader of the Church, both champion and teacher, who putteth to shame all those who believe wickedly, the destroyer and ardent opponent of Arius, through whom Christ, Who hath great mercy, has cast down the latter’s pride.
The Greek word “ὀφρύς” in this hymn, like its Latin equivalent “supercilium”, means “pride” in the negative sense, also “scorn, arrogance.” (Hence the English word “supercilious.”) In both languages, however, its original meaning is “brow.” Greek has plenty of other words for “pride” that might have been used here; the idiomatic expression “cast down the brow” seems clearly to have been chosen to refer to the slapping of Arius.

St Nicholas slaps Arius in face, as depicted in a 14th-century fresco within the monastery complex of Panagia Sumela, in modern Turkey.
The image above is part of a much larger fresco, only one panel of which is seen here below, depicting the Council of Nicea. The Emperor St Constantine, as he is called in the Byzantine churches, presides over the Council; Nicholas slapping Arius is in the lower left. The monastery has been abandoned since 1923, and the frescos are sadly much damaged by vandalism.
The legend goes on to state that the council fathers were scandalized by this inappropriate loss of temper, and despite his immediate repentance, stripped Nicholas of his insignia and remanded him to jail to await their judgment. During the night, however, Christ and the Virgin Mary appeared to him, and gave him a Gospel book and an omophorion (the large Byzantine episcopal stole), while undoing his chains; this was taken as a sign that his repentance was accepted, and he was reinstated in the council.

The miracles attributed to his intercession are indeed innumerable, for the sake of which he became, as Fr Hunwicke marvelously described him, “a saint with as large a portfolio of Patronages as a Renaissance cardinal.” The story to which Sicard refers when he says that St Nicholas “delivered three virgins from the infamous dealings of their father” is of course the part of the legend that has turned him into Santa Claus. As told by Durandus’ contemporary, Jacopo de Voragine, in the Golden Legend, a man of his city could not dower his daughters, and was considering selling them into prostitution.
But when the saint learned of this, he abhorred this crime; and he threw a lump of gold wrapped in a cloth into the man’s house through the window at night, and departed in secret. Rising in the morning, the man found the lump of gold, and giving thanks to God, celebrated the wedding of his first daughter. Not long after, the servant of God did the same thing (again.) And the man upon finding it, burst forth with great praises, and determined thenceforth to keep watch, so that he might discover who it was that had aided his poverty. After a few days, (Nicholas) threw a lump of gold twice as big into the house. At the sound of this, the man was awoken, and followed Nicholas as he fled, … and so, by running more quickly, he learned that it was Nicholas … (who) made him promise not to tell the story while he lived.
This story is also referred to repeatedly in O Pastor aeterne, for example, in the eighth responsory of Matins:
R. The servant of God Nicholas by a weight of gold redeemed the chastity of three virgins; * and put to flight the unchaste poverty of their father by a gift of gold. V. Being therefore deeply rich in mercy, by the metal which he doubled, he drove infamy from them. And put to flight…
For this reason, he is often represented holding three golden balls, as in this painting by Gentile da Fabriano, the Quaratesi polyptych, done in 1425.

In the old chapel of the Lateran complex in Rome known as the “Sancta Sanctorum – the Holy of Holies”, (not because of its status as a Papal chapel, but because it used to contain one of the most impressive relic collections in the world), the story is represented in two parts. On the right, St Nicholas tosses the gold though the window; on the left, the father catches him, and is told by the Saint to keep the story secret. This shows how old the custom really is of staying up late at night to try to catch Santa Claus when he comes to the house to deliver presents. (For some reason, this never works any more.)

St Nicholas and the Gift of the Dowries, by the anonymous painter known as the Master of the Sancta Sanctorum, ca. 1278-79, commissioned by Pope Nicholas III (1277-80).

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

A New Series of Traditional Catholic Mugs

Looking for a stocking stuffer for an altar boy? Wondering what to get for the priest who has everything? Want to surprise someone in the family? Or equip the tradbros with new slingshot rejoinders? Are you a firm believer (as am I) that children’s education takes place in the quiet interstices of life and not just in the official homeschooling lessons?

Enter the Os Justi Press line of ceramic coffee (or tea) mugs with traditional Catholic quotations and artwork. With quotations chosen by me, artistically designed by Julian Kwasniewski, and produced by Gelato, these are handsome items that should wear up well under repeated washings. They are bound to please those who agree with them and to prompt interesting conversations with anyone else.

Since the main point here is the text and artwork, I’ll let the mugs speak for themselves. (Please pardon the slightly blurry photos, this was my old camera that has since died. You can see additional photos at the links.) Also, please note that a few of the mugs have subsequently been updated with full blue or red handles and interiors.

Edmund Burke Ancient Opinions” & Gihr “Storm of Persecution

blue or red available
Anglo-Irish politician and philosopher Edmund Burke wrote: “When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment we have no compass to govern us; nor can we know distinctly to what port we steer.” Joined to a medieval illumination of peasants going to Mass.

Decades before the persecution of Catholics attached to the Latin Mass began, Nicholas Gihr (1839-1924) wrote of previous persecutions: “When the storm of persecution raged throughout the whole world, the stream of grace and benediction poured from the Holy Mass celebrated in the catacombs, or underground caverns; just as at a much later period this Holy Sacrifice, persecuted by Protestantism, took refuge in the garrets. But even in this dire extremity the attractive power of the Mass was not weakened. Catholics went down into underground dens, into the catacombs, and climbed up under the rafters of houses, to pray for those whose hatred had driven to the most wretched nooks what was most holy to them and who were vaunting themselves in edifices reared by Catholic piety.” This sentiment is paired with a painting of “Mass in a Connemara Cabin” by Aloysius O’Kelly.

Guardini “Incense” & St Brigid “Numberless Angels

in blue
In Sacred Signs, Romano Guardini writes of incense: "The offering of an incense is a generous and beautiful rite. It is a prodigal waste of precious material. It is a pouring out of unwithholding love. It is as free and objectless as beauty. It burns and is consumed like love that lasts through death. It is the offering of a sweet savor which Scripture tells us is the prayers of the Saints. Like pure prayer, incense has in view no object of its own; it asks nothing for itself. It rises like the Gloria Patri at the end of a psalm in adoration and thanksgiving to God for his great glory." This mug features the painting "Palm Sunday (1891)" by  Zdzisław Jasiński.

"One day, when a priest was celebrating Mass, I saw, at the moment of Consecration, how all the powers of heaven were set in motion. I heard, at the same time, a heavenly music, most harmonious, most sweet. Numberless Angels came down, the chant of whom no human understanding could conceive, nor the tongue of man describe. They surrounded and looked upon the priest, bowing towards him in reverential awe. The devils commenced to tremble, and took to flight in greatest confusion and terror."—St. Bridget of Sweden. This mug features a stain glass window of the miraculous Mass of St Gregory, from a 15th-century stained glass window is in All Saints' North Street in York (photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, OP).

The Spirit of Sacrosanctum Concilium

It is impossible to deny that a great deal of progress has been made to restore beauty and dignity to the Sacred Liturgy after the post-Conciliar eclipse, and will continue to be made, despite ongoing efforts to hamper it. But it is equally impossible to deny that there is still a great deal that needs to be done. The spirit of Sacrosanctum Concilium is alive and well, and, as Dietrich von Hildebrand once observed, with Vatican II, a strange inversion took place, and it is now the spirit that killeth, and the letter that giveth life. Case in point: we still live in a Church in which a priest can interrupt the Mass in order to yell at the choir for... doing what Vatican II said should be done.

“Don’t you have a Gloria in Portuguese? I’m asking you. Excuse me, please. Let’s go, please. (starts singing the Gloria in Portuguese) Do you guys know any hymns in Portuguese, do you? I’d like one. Please. (If not) then don’t sing. No; I want you to sing in Portuguese. (inaudible) Can you stop that hymn/singing please. It’s bothering me. Can you stop it?” (Thanks to Mr Marco da Vinha for the translation.)

I waited a day to post this after yesterday’s 60th anniversary of the publication of Vatican II’s first document, partly to see whether it would be met with the same general indifference as the 50th anniversary (it was), partly as my vivax repraesentatio of the amount of time it took for the spirit of the document to begin killing the letter. But much more importantly, I wanted to mull over another superb essay on the topic by Dom Alcuin Reid, whose expertise in this matter is known to all, published yesterday at OnePeterFive.
Back in January, we shared his essay in response to a series published by Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal (republished in one post just over a year ago), a series which, while admitting that the post-Conciliar reform goes well beyond the letter of Sacrosanctum Concilium, basically contends that the Church was inspired to do so by the Holy Spirit, so that’s alright. At the time, I wrote “In the meantime, I also vehemently encourage all of our readers to read and share as widely as possible this absolutely superb column by Dom Alcuin Reid... which no summary can do justice”, and the same holds true for the one he published yesterday, an assessment of how Sacrosanctum Concilium is doing at the 60-year mark.
The simple answer is, of course, Not well, as the video above (one of hundreds of possible examples) shows. Dom Alcuin, who has spent decades researching this topic, gives a very useful explanation and summary of why this happened, tracing all the important steps: the drafting of the document, and what the Council Fathers actually intended and approved; the willful betrayal of it by the Consilium ad exsequendam (with Paul VI’s permission); St John Paul II’s halting attempts to correct the problem; and finally, the solution proposed by Pope Benedict XVI, after a lifetime of thoughtful consideration.
I say “finally” because I firmly believe that the Church will rediscover the profound pastoral wisdom of Pope Benedict, later, perhaps, than we wish for, but sooner than we hope, and that the current rejection of it will be forgotten as thoroughly as... well, as thoroughly as Sacrosanctum Concilium was by Paul VI and the Consilium. And so, if I had to chose one paragraph to sum up Dom Alcuin’s essay, it would be this one.
“...the brutal imposition of ideological diktats has convinced no one where the reasoned and truly pastoral arguments of Pope Benedict and Cardinal Sarah long since did. Many good priests thus formed—and a number of bishops also—are simply not able to support such oppressive and divisive measures that are predicated on gross falsehoods. They may be forced into external obedience in their parishes and dioceses (in some cases causing great harm and suffering and damage to souls) whilst Ratzingerians who are young enough yet to be ambitious may hide in the shadows, but the argument has not been won. Sacrosanctum Concilium has now been joined in exile by Summorum Pontificum, but their integrity has never successfully been impugned.”

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