Monday, April 22, 2024

“Aquae Sanctae Terrae”: The Spiritual Signification of the Waters of the Holy Land (Part 1)

NLM is grateful to S.K., a seminarian from the Midwest, for sharing this recent paper with us. – PAK

Jordan River as it runs through northern Israel

“Aquae Sanctae Terrae”: The Spiritual Signification of the Waters of the Holy Land

Part 1: The Jordan’s Sources and Lake Hula


In the Fourth Book of Kings, Naaman the Syrian, derides the Jordan River when Elisha tells him to wash in it. He declares, “Are not the Abana, and the Pharphar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel, that I may wash in them, and be made clean?” [1]

At first glance, Naaman’s assessment seems accurate. Although the Jordan River, the springs that feed it, and the Sea of Galilee, are attractive bodies of water, they are not physically impressive. The Jordan is only 223 miles long. In comparison, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers each measure well over 1,000 miles. The Nile flows over 4,000 miles from its source in Lake Victoria. The Sea of Galilee at thirteen miles long and eight miles wide is equally unimpressive. It could fit into Lake Michigan 350 times. The other Holy Land lakes have even less to speak of. In most biblical maps, one will notice a small lake ten miles to the north of the Sea of Galilee. This is Lake Hula, or the Waters of Merom. At about three miles long and three miles wide, it is barely noted in the scriptures at all. The last lake, the Dead Sea, is the largest, but also the most repulsive. It is about three times larger than the Sea of Galilee. The sea’s water is so salty it cannot support any forms of life and is bitter to the taste. After a few minutes, it will also sting the flesh of those who swim in it.

Thus, if the waters of the Holy Land are not that special, why must Naaman wash in the Jordan? What makes this river and the waters of the Holy Land significant? The answer can be found on a map, but not a physical one. Hiding beneath the underwhelming marks these waters make on a physical map, is another map — a spiritual one. In this essay, I will do some spiritual cartography and map out the spiritual places these waters represent — revealing their true significance.

Water is one of the richest symbols in the scriptures. The Bible is packed with stories set in or around water. In the Old Testament, a few examples include: the gathering of the oceans during the creation narrative, the great flood, the crossing of the Red Sea, Moses striking the rock, and the crossing of the Jordan in the book of Joshua. In the New Testament, we read of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, the miracle at the wedding in Cana, Christ sleeping in the boat during the storm on the Sea of Galilee, Christ walking on the Sea of Galilee, and water flowing from Christ’s side during the passion. Since I cannot cover every reference to water in this essay, I will limit myself primarily to the major events that occurred at the Jordan River and its lakes (Lake Hula, the Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea). Water is an important element because it is a symbol of life. Water by its purity also signifies cleanliness and innocence. Finally, water is the matter used in the sacrament of baptism, which means there is a real material connection between water and sanctifying grace. These are the main attributes of water that will be covered in this essay.

Photo by Lawrence Lew OP (source)
Sources of the Jordan

The first place to pin on the spiritual map is Heaven. Where does this overlap with the physical map of the Holy Land? The answer is at the sources of the Jordan River.

The Jordan is formed by three small spring fed rivers that converge in the Hula Valley to form the Jordan River. [2] The three springs are located at an elevation of around 1,800 feet and are all near the foot of Mount Hermon in Lebanon. With their constant outflow of water, springs have an everlasting character, which reminds us of God, eternity, and Heaven.

There are also several places in the scriptures where we see springs and rivers flowing out of Heaven or places that resemble Heaven. In Genesis, we read that the Garden of Eden, a type of proto-heaven, was watered by a spring, “But a spring rose out of the earth, watering all the surface of the earth.” [3] This spring forms a river several verses later, “And a river went out of the place of pleasure to water paradise.” [4] Adam and Eve lost paradise through their sin. God, however, promises to make a new Heaven, which is symbolized by Ezekiel’s vision of a rebuilt Jerusalem. [5] The exiled Israelites returning to their home represent all believers (of the Old and New Testaments) returning to their true home of Heaven.

A life-giving spring is also depicted as flowing from the temple of this new Jerusalem. We know this does not represent a physical place, because no such spring flows or has ever flowed from the temple in Jerusalem, which means this is a depiction of something spiritual, such as spiritual temple or heavenly temple. This spiritual temple is Christ’s own body which was pierced on the right side and released a flow of purifying water. The verse from Ezekiel predicts this, “And behold there ran out waters on the right side.” [6] We read further that the spring forms a river which heals wherever it flows. The waters represent the healing effects of sanctifying grace which was merited by Christ’s passion and death. There is one place, however, that cannot be healed — Hell. This is signified by the verse, “But on the shore thereof, and in the fenny places they shall not be healed, because they shall be turned into saltpits.” [7] The springs in Eden, the temple of the new Jerusalem, and Christ’s side, all provide support for the idea that the three springs of the Jordan River represent Heaven.

Since there are three springs, a connection can be made between them and the three persons of the Holy Trinity. The formula for the sacrament of Baptism can also be linked with the three springs. In the sacrament, the minister pours a separate stream of water as he names each member of the Holy Trinity, one pour for each spring.

On a map, the three springs roughly form an inverted triangle. In the northwest, there is the spring which feeds the Hasbani River, in the middle/south, there is the spring which supplies the Dan River, and in the northeast, there is the spring which turns into the Baniyas River. All of the springs are renowned for their purity and natural beauty. The eastern spring and river get their names from the Greek nature god, Pan, who had a shrine located in a niche outside the cave where the spring begins. Above the cave is a massive rock wall about 200 feet high and 500 feet wide. [8] Located within sight of the cave, Philip the tetrarch, built the city of Caeserea Philippi in honor of Caesar Augustus. [9] On top of the rock wall, there was a white marble temple dedicated to Caesar. [10]

Father Stanley Jaki, a contemporary Bible scholar, argues that this was the location where Christ chose Saint Peter to be the head of the Church. He bases his theory on the verses from Matthew beginning with, “And Jesus came into the quarters of Cesarea Philippi: and asked his disciples, saying: Whom do men say that the Son of man is?” [11] Peter replies, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.” [12] To which our Lord responds,

Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. [13]

Father Jaki proposes that this scene took place outside of Pan’s cave under the large rock wall. Jesus and the Apostles would not have gone right up to the spring because of the presence of the pagan shrine. [14] He writes, “Standing at a distance, Jesus and the Twelve must have been impressed by the massive wall of rock rising over the source of the Jordan.” [15] The rock wall provides an appropriate background for Christ to speak these words to Peter. In the presence of the pagan temples and false gods, who vie conspicuously close to Christ and the source of the holy Jordan River, Peter boldly declares Jesus as the true God. The symbolism is obvious. Peter (whose name means rock) is likened to the massive rock wall. Christ rewards Peter’s faith by promising to build the Church on top of him. Christ is asserting His power over the false gods that dwell above and below the physical rock wall that they are standing in front of. Any remnants of these pagan images will be washed away by the Jordan.

If Father Jaki’s theory is correct, it would also fit with the theory that the source of the Jordan represents Heaven. The Church is erected as the gate through which believers must enter Heaven. Christ appoints Peter as the gatekeeper of this gate and gives Him the keys. It is also interesting that this particular spring is the one that flows from the east. Throughout the scriptures, God and His power are always depicted as coming from the east.

Lake Hula

Following the Jordan River south, we come to the Jordan’s first lake, Lake Hula, also referred to as the Waters of Merom. Historically it measured about three miles by three miles, and was five to ten feet deep. [16] The lake was drained in the 1950’s because it was a breeding ground for malarial mosquitoes. [17] Today only a small wetland remains.

On the spiritual map, Lake Hula represents Purgatory. At an elevation of about 230 feet, it is nestled between the Jordan headwaters at around 1,800 feet in elevation and the next lake down, the Sea of Galilee, which sits about 700 feet below sea level. Lake Hula is only mentioned once in the scriptures, and is referred to as the Waters of Merom in the book of Joshua. The lake is the sight of a major battle between the Israelites and a coalition of pagan nations. God promises Joshua that he will be victorious in battle and commands him to take no quarter. [18] Joshua is a figure for Jesus. We know that Jesus’ victory on the cross merited enough grace for all to be saved, but the grace is only efficacious for those who believe in God and do His will. The strict command to annihilate all of the enemies is a warning to all those who reject God’s grace. There is no salvation for those who oppose God. After the battle, Joshua purges the area of all pagan influence. We read of Joshua capturing Asor, “Now Asor of old was the head of of all these kingdoms. And he cut off all the souls that abode there: he left not in it any remains, but utterly destroyed all, and burned the city itself with fire.” [19]

Like the land around Asor and Lake Hula, Purgatory is also a place of fiery purification. It is the place where God’s refining fire cleanses souls of any remaining earthly attachments. This fire, however, is deadly for God’s enemies. The historical presence of malaria around this lake also points to additional suffering for those who dwell around it. Lake Hula then is a fitting spot for Purgatory. It is a place of painful purgation where only the saved can go, but one which they would rather bypass.


[1] 4 Kings 5, 12 (All Bible quotes are from the Douay-Rheims translation)

[2] “Jordan River.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, inc., 25 Nov. 2023,

[3] Genesis 2, 6

[4] Genesis 2, 10

[5] Ezekiel 47

[6] Ezekiel 47, 2

[7] Ezekiel 47, 11

[8] Rev. Stanley Jaki, And on This Rock, (Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 1997), 10.

[9] Rev. Stanley Jaki, And on This Rock, 10.

[10] Rev. Stanley Jaki, And on This Rock, 15.

[11] Matthew 16, 13

[12] Matthew 16, 16

[13] Matthew 16, 17-19

[14] Rev. Stanley Jaki, And on This Rock, 77.

[15] Ibid. 77.

[16] “Jordan River.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, inc., 25 Nov. 2023,

[17] Ibid.

[18] Joshua 11, 6

[19] Joshua 11, 10-11

Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Sunday of the Paralytic

Raise up my soul, o Lord, that is grievously paralyzed in sins of every kind, and unseemly deeds, by Thy divine care, as of old Thou didst also raise up the paralytic, that I may be saved and cry out: o Compassionate Christ, glory be to Thy might! (The Kontakion for today in the Byzantine Rite, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, on which is read the Gospel of the healing of the Paralytic, John 5, 1-15.)

A Romanian icon of the healing of the Paralytic. 
The Ikos O Thou Who holdest the ends of the earth in the palm of Thy hand, Jesus our God, Who with the Father hast no beginning, and with the Holy Spirit rulest over all things: Thou didst appear in the flesh, healing infirmities, and having driven away passions, gave sight to the blind; and, by a divine word, Thou didst raise up the paralytic, commanding him to walk straightway, and to take up upon his shoulders the bed that had borne him. Wherefore, together with him, we all praise Thee and cry out: o Compassionate Christ, glory be to Thy might.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Holy Thursday 2024 Photopost (Part 2)

This second Holy Thursday photopost shows us very nicely the beauty of the special ceremonies of that day: the Mass and procession to the altar of repose, the decoration of the latter, the washing of the feet, and the stripping of the altar. Thanks once again to everyone who contributed; next week, we move on to Good Friday. Keep up the good work of evangelizing through beauty!

Nuestra Señora del Pilar – Guadalajara, Mexico (FSSP)
Yes, of course tradition will always be for the young! 

Friday, April 19, 2024

More on the Restored Façade of Trinità dei Pellegrini in Rome

We recently noted that the façade of the FSSP church in Rome, Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, has been beautifully restored to its original appearance, after a cleaning project of several month’ duration. Our friend Jacob Stein, author of the blog Crux Stationalis, was on hand yesterday for the official unveiling, and has graciously shared with us some photos, as well of a video of the moment when the nighttime lighting was turned on for the first time. The Italian really excel at the design and set-up of this kind of outdoor illumination, and it has been used to magnificent on important buildings up and down the peninsula.

A beautiful shot which also captures the church’s artistic masterpiece, Guido Reni’s Trinity over the high altar.

For comparison, this is what the façade looked like before restoration. The reddish-brown ochre was added in the late 19th century, very much in the taste of the era, which dislike the clean white so typical of early Roman Baroque buildings.
Image from Wikimedia Commons by Dedi62, CC BY-SA 4.0

Review of Harry Crocker, Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church - A 2,000 Year History (Regnery, 2023)

Siege of Constantinople, Chronique de Charles VII by Jean Chartier

Harry W. Crocker III is no stranger to traditionalist debates and The Latin Mass magazine. In the 2002 Summer issue, Thomas Woods robustly endorsed his monograph Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church - A 2,000 Year History. In the next issue, he wrote a review of Vladimir Soloviev’s The Russian Church and the Papacy, which argues that Eastern Orthodox churches desperately need the papacy. His positive review drew the vehement ire of TLM’s few Eastern Orthodox readers and led to a lively exchange in the Winter 2003 issue between him and his critics. One can see why Orthodox feathers were ruffled. Crocker begins his review with: “As Newman might have said, but didn’t, ‘To be deep in history is to realize that the Eastern Orthodox are crazy.’ They are now, they were then, and they always have been.” [1]

Twenty years later, Crocker has published an updated and expanded edition of Triumph, with additions that cover the Francis pontificate. And the controversy continues.
In order to appreciate Triumph, one must understand what kind of book it is and is not. Harry Crocker is not a professional historian but an amateur (in the best sense of the word) who has deeply imbibed 2,000 years of Church history, ruminated on it, and summarized it for the general reader in light of his own judgment. For a history book that is replete with empirical facts and strives for impartiality, look elsewhere; for a history book that is unabashedly opinionated and never boring, look no further.
Every author must assume a certain persona, and Crocker’s is that of a stalwart Catholic and a somewhat aristocratic snob. He is willing to forgive popes with mistresses so long as they defend Church doctrine and attack the Church’s enemies. “On matters of sex,” he opines, “one can say that some of the Renaissance popes simply surrendered to their Mediterranean temperament or were premature Protestants” (258). And if selling indulgences is what it takes to cover Michelangelo’s salary, Crocker avers, it is money well extorted (258).
He also betrays an old-school belief that every ethnicity has its own distinctive character. Rather than shy from stereotypes, he indulges in them. After describing medieval tumult in the lands surrounding the Black Sea, Crocker quotes with approval Ambrose Bierce’s aphorism: “All languages are spoken in Hell, but chiefly those of Southeastern Europe” (224). And when commenting on the Franks’ attempt to control parts of Byzantium, he writes: “The French, however, continued to be hampered by there being too few of them—a crying need that the world has not often recognized” (180). Pope Paul II is described as “handsome and concomitantly vain” because “he was Italian, after all” (266).
And as one might expect from the 2002 Latin Mass magazine debate, Crocker saves his best zingers for our separated Eastern brethren. Before its conversion to Christianity, the Eastern Roman Empire was prone “to extremism and emperor worship” (40); afterwards, it was filled bishops who “bowed to imperial demands like reeds beaten by the winds” (106) and monks “prone to almost absurd acts of mortification” (112). Already in the early centuries of the Christian era, the Eastern churches had “febrile, hate-filled fissiparous tendencies” (119) that were only held in check when they were tethered to Rome. From the fourth to the ninth century, the East was in schism one third of the time; since it was but “a footstool for the Byzantine emperor,” it often followed the emperor’s heretical bent. The Crusaders were not impressed with the Byzantines when they first met them, regarding them “as gay Greeks—effeminate, scheming, and bitchy” (175). The sacking of Constantinople was not a travesty but condign punishment for the Byzantine court’s intrigue and backstabbing.
Crocker’s criticism of the schismatic East, incidentally, has new relevance today. Recent years have witnessed the rise of the so-called “Orthobro,” a single, usually bearded male from the Millennial or Generation Z generation who is a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy and who spends most of his time trolling the internet and excoriating the Filioque rather than asking a girl out on a date. If you have an Orthobro in your life, I highly recommend that you give him a copy of Triumph and then sit back and enjoy the fireworks. Schadenfreude is not a sin when the suffering that you delight in observing is for their own spiritual good.
Crocker’s tendentiousness (much of which is deliberately provocatory and, he admits, satirical) [2] all but guarantees that the reader will sooner or later be offended (for me it was his line that Henry II’s conquest of Ireland was a “necessary project of civilization that remains uncompleted even a thousand years later” [192]). The overall effect of Triumph, however, is—at least for orthodox Catholics—quite satisfying. Although Crocker is imprecise at times and impolitic at all times, he almost always lands in the right place. The Renaissance, he charges, was not the rejection but the fulfillment of the Middle Ages, which also revered the classical world (259). His explanations of controversial topics such as the Crusades, the Babylonian Captivity, the Inquisition, the Protestant Reformation, the American Founding, and the Napoleonic era are excellent, and he is a fine raconteur, often weaving together different threads of a story out of their chronological sequence in order to tell a more vivid tale.
Crocker’s treatment of the twentieth century is also good. After summarizing the great works of the early- and mid-twentieth-century Popes (including Pius XII’s heroic actions to save Jews from the Holocaust), he moves on to the organizers of Vatican II, whom he characterizes as misguidedly optimistic. Oddly, he spends more time on Humanae Vitae than the Second Vatican Council, and he does not address at length the liturgical revolution that ensued except to lament illicit and unwelcomes innovations such as
hand-holding during the Our Father and cupping one’s hands in imitation of the priest—offenses that should have been dealt with under sharia law, adopting the Islamic punishment for thievery, as part of the Church’s new openness to other religions (516).
As for the Francis pontificate, he is surprisingly restrained. The author who lets loose the haymaker that the Sack of Byzantium should be made a feast day puts on kid gloves to describe Pope Francis “as a sometimes charismatic, generally well-meaning, but occasionally spiteful and authoritarian man of muddle, vulnerable to liberal flattery” (535-36). Not bad, but H. J. A. Sire’s 2018 The Dictator Pope, which Crocker did not consult, paints a darker but well-documented picture. Similarly, regarding the doctrinal controversies surrounding this Pontiff, he dances like a butterfly but forgets to sting like a bee, perhaps because he published this new edition before the promulgation of Fiducia Supplicans, which in the eyes of many is when the gloves of the current pontificate have finally come off.
That said, Crocker draws a wise conclusion from the bizarre chapter of Church history in which we find ourselves:
But if Francis’s pontificate made anything clear, it was that the Church needed to move on from the liberal platitudes about the spirit of Vatican II, platitudes that would (even if this was not his intention) have the Church conform to the liberalism of the world, the dictatorship of relativism, as the only acceptable dogma (536-37).
Not all of Crocker’s facts are straight. On page 330, he states Pope Paul IV excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I, but ten pages later he states that it was Pope St. Pius V (the correct answer is Pius V). He also claims that the Church celebrates the Battle of Lepanto every year as the feast of the Holy Rosary on the first Sunday after October. In fact, the feast has been celebrated on October 7 since Pope St. Pius X changed the date in 1913. And his claim that Calvinism today is either moribund or dead is proof that he has never visited the campus of Baylor University or Wheaton College.
But overall, Triumph is an impressive achievement: a well-written, judicious, and entertaining presentation of 2,000 years of tumultuous Church history. I strongly recommend it to all faithful Catholics and sincere truth-seekers, especially those who feel embarrassed by the Church’s historical record or are disheartened by the Church’s current state of affairs. Triumph does not whitewash, but it puts the black marks in their proper perspective. Moreover, it cogently defends its main thesis, which is expressed in the final paragraph:
The triumph of the Catholic Church, from its beginnings with the Apostles filing out from the Holy Land, to its rising to be monarch over kings, to its continued survival and worldwide development against every conceivable persecution, is the most extraordinary story in the world (541).
“La Jérusalem céleste“, extraite de la Tapisserie de l'Apocalypse du Château d'Angers, France

[1] “To Russia with Love,” TLM 11:4 (Fall 2002), 63.
[2] TLM [Winter 2003], 5.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Bells of Easter, Part 1: The Golden Bells of the High Priest - Guest Article by Robert Keim

Onec again, we are grateful to Mr Robert Keim for sharing some of his writing with us, this time in a two part article on the subject of the liturgical use of bells. Mr Keim is a secular brother of the London Oratory of St. Philip Neri, a linguist, and a literary scholar specializing in the poetic and dramatic literature of the English Renaissance. A longtime student of the arts and spirituality of sacred liturgy, he teaches university courses in rhetoric and is pursuing research into the devotional, scriptural, and liturgical culture of medieval England.

One of my most cherished experiences during the liturgical year is made possible by a rather unhistorical mingling of rites. I typically entrust my Lenten journey to the plaintive beauty and deprivation of the Roman liturgy. But after enduring six weeks of penance and ritual austerity, my soul is thirsty for paschal joys, and I prefer to seek them in the effusive Easter Sunday celebrations of the Byzantine rite. Honestly, though, one hardly needs to seek them, for they are all but inescapable at certain moments—for instance, when the priest, vested in the brilliant white of the Resurrection, walks among the faithful and reminds them again and again that “Christ is risen.” His voice is exultant and insistent, and his words are accompanied by the gladsome song of thurible bells.

It is a noble object indeed that can simultaneously delight three of the five senses: an Eastern rite censer, which adds the pleasures of sound to those of sight and smell, has twelve bells that symbolize the twelve apostles. (Some Eastern censers have a thirteenth bell that makes no sound—it represents Judas.)
As anyone knows who regularly attends the Roman Mass or the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, bells are prominent features of Catholic worship throughout the liturgical year. Christians of centuries past would also be thoroughly familiar with their continual use as signals—signum, in fact, was one of the medieval Latin words for a church bell—that announced hours of prayer and worship from morning till evening. However, bells also have a special connection with the Easter season, and give us an opportunity to contemplate the Resurrection of our dear Lord through the material realities of sacred liturgy.
The Golden Bells of the Old Testament
Bells of various types have been favored instruments in Christian liturgical life for well over a thousand years. This relationship, which is unique among world religions, began in the early days of the Hebraic covenant, but remained rather dormant until the early medieval period.
The Hebrew scriptures contain two words for bells. One of these, metsillah, appears only once (in Zechariah 14, 20) and probably denoted instruments that we would identify as cymbals rather than bells. The other word, paʿamon, is also uncommon, but it appears in a passage of far greater significance:
And thou shalt make the tunic of the ephod all of violet.... And beneath at the feet of the same tunic, round about, thou shalt make as it were pomegranates, of violet, and purple, and scarlet twice dyed, with little bells set between: so that there shall be a golden bell and a pomegranate, and again another golden bell and a pomegranate. And Aaron shall be vested with it in the office of his ministry, that the sound may be heard, when he goeth in and cometh out of the sanctuary, in the sight of the Lord, and that he may not die. (Exodus 28, 31, 33–35)
Truly, the God of Israel scrupled not to let His chosen people glimpse the divine realities of heaven through the sensual realities of earth. And Aaron must have been a formidable minister indeed as he approached the altar of sacrifice arrayed in exotic garments, splendid colors, precious metal, stone engravings, and the gleaming bells that turned his very movements into a song of protection against the overwhelming holiness of God’s sanctuary.
An eleventh-century mosaic of the high priest Aaron. The censer alludes to an event, recounted in the Book of Numbers, when Aaron’s intercession, aided by the appeasing aroma of incense, saved the fractious Israelites from divine chastisement: “he offered the incense: and standing between the dead and the living, he prayed for the people, and the plague ceased.” The narrative is rich with the possibilities of allegorical and prefigurative interpretations. [1]
Hearing the Harmony of the Cosmos
Ancient Jewish commentators assigned various interpretations to the bells of the high priest. Among these was a view shared by Philo of Alexandria and Flavius Josephus, who both understood the golden bells as a liturgical manifestation of harmony in God’s Creation. Philo, for example, savors the visual poetry of the high priest’s vestments, which were “ornamented with golden pomegranates, and bells, and wreaths of flowers; ... a most beautiful and skillful work ... of hyacinth color, and purple, and fine linen, and scarlet, gold thread being entwined and embroidered in it.” He observes that the flowers symbolize earth, the pomegranates symbolize water, and “the bells are the emblem of the concord and harmony that exist between these things” – for only in the union of earth and water does the natural world bring forth abundant life.
The harmonious sound of bells, then, evokes the primordial harmony of the cosmos, which Our Lord both restored and sublimated through His victory—on Easter Sunday, the “eighth day” of consummate re-Creation—over sin and death. Philo’s imagery of flower, earth, fruit, and water also has strong sacramental resonance; we are reminded of the waters of Baptism, the chrism of Confirmation (made from olive oil and aromatic balsam), the natural fecundity of matrimony, and the supernatural fecundity of the wheat and grapes that become our divine nourishment. Thus, we might imagine the complex yet unified tonality of altar bells as signifying the deep spiritual unity of the Sacraments.
This thirteenth-century illumination depicts King David, the archetypal religious musician, playing a set of bells. The text is from Psalm 80: “Exultate deo adiutori nr̄o: iubilate deo iacob. Sumite psalmum et date tīpanum: psalterium iocundū cum cythara” (“Exult ye to God our helper: sing aloud to the God of Jacob. Take ye up a psalm and give the timbrel: the pleasing lute with the lyre”).
Hearing the Harmony of the Church
The liturgical bells of the Old Covenant also prefigure the harmony that, as a distinctive feature of Christ’s mystical body [2], is the fruit of His Resurrection and the subsequent outpourings of divine grace. Aaron’s bells were woven into his robe, and the psalmist surrounds this robe with themes of brotherly love, sanctification, renewal, and everlasting life:
Lo, how good and pleasant it is,
      for friends to dwell together:
like precious oil upon the head,
      flowing down upon the beard:
Aaron’s beard, that cometh down
      to the edge of his robe;
like dew of Khermón, that cometh down
      upon the hills of Syón;
for there the Lord ordained a blessing:
      life, to ages and forever. (Psalm 132)
Golden bells, being both luminous and sonorous, reach what may be their poetic apogee when we see them as symbols of the saints in heaven, who live in perfect charity, shine with divine splendor, and offer to Almighty God an unceasing sacrifice of ineffably harmonious song. As Aaron’s priestly garment was made specially rich and sacred by the presence of bells, so is the mystical body of the eternal High Priest singularly adorned with the gleaming, ever-praising souls of the blessed in heaven. The ringing of the altar bells and the tolling of the church bell remind us that we are called to join them some day.
Dante and Beatrice were in the Sixth Heaven when “all those living lights, ever more luminous, began to sing”—heavenly music that il sommo Poeta described as the chiming of angelic bells (Paradiso, canto 20).
The Bells of Christendom
Bells never attained further prominence in Judaic liturgy. Their historical moment would arrive along with the gradually developing liturgical life of Christian civilization, and in the next article part of this article, we will look more deeply into the paschal theology of bells.

[1] “And when there arose a sedition, and the tumult increased, Moses and Aaron fled to the tabernacle of the covenant. And when they were gone into it, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. And the Lord said to Moses: Get you out from the midst of this multitude, this moment will I destroy them. And as they were lying on the ground, Moses said to Aaron: Take the censer, and putting fire in it from the altar, put incense upon it, and go quickly to the people to pray for them: for already wrath is gone out from the Lord, and the plague rageth. When Aaron had done this, and had run to the midst of the multitude which the burning fire was now destroying, he offered the incense: and standing between the dead and the living, he prayed for the people, and the plague ceased” (Numbers 16, 42-48, Challoner-Douay-Rheims translation).
[2] “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13 35)

The Hours of Catherine de’ Medici, Queen of France

After I did a post on Tuesday about the book of hours of King Henry II of France (born 1519; reigned 1547-59), reader Steven Hensley noted in the combox that his Queen, Catherine de’ Medici (1519-89), also had a very beautiful book of Hours, illuminated in a similar style. Fortunately, this is also in the public domain through the website of the Bibliothèque national de France (Smith-Lesouëf 42.)

Like many Books of Hours, this one begins with a calendar; a Saint or feast is noted every single day of the year, but many of them were not celebrated liturgically. Ten of the months are headed by images which represent agricultural activities typical of that month, but two, April and May (shown here), by scenes of courtly life.
Books of Hours commonly include a group of four Gospels, one from each of the Evangelists: John 1, 1-14, the Gospel of Christmas day; Luke 1, 26-38, the Annunciation; Matthew 2, 1-12, the Epiphany; and Mark 16, 14-20, the Ascension. This image introduces the Gospel from St John, who is shown being illuminated directly from heaven, as he says, “and we have seen His glory”; the other three evangelists are represented by small portraits at the beginnings of their respective Gospels.

Saint Luke, painting a portrait of the Virgin.
Many also have the Passion of St John (chapter 18 and 19); here we see the first episode, the confrontation between Christ and the soldiers in the garden, when they fall back at His words “It is I.”

A fairly small number of pages have a colored border decorated with animals and floral motifs; this is part of the Passion of St John.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Holy Thursday 2024 Photopost (Part 1)

We continue with our regular series of photoposts of your liturgies of the Triduum. As is usually the case, it’s a slow process to gather all the albums together, select the photos among the larger albums, size them down, etc., which means there is plenty of time to send more in to, remembering to include the name and location of the church, and any other information you think important. As always, many thanks to the contributors for keeping up the good work of evangelizing through beauty.

Oratory of Ss Gregory and Augustine – St Louis, Missouri
Photos courtesy of Kiera Petrick
Yes, of course tradition will always be for the young.

The Solemnity of St Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church 2024

From the decree of the Sacred Congregation for Rites Quemadmodum Deus, dated Dec. 8, 1870, by which St Joseph was formally recognized with the title “Patron of the Catholic Church”. Translation from the website of the Oblates of St Joseph, modified by myself.

Just as God had placed Joseph, son of the Patriarch Jacob, in charge of all the land of Egypt, that he might save grain for the people, so when the fullness of time had come, and He was about to send His only-begotten Son upon the earth as the Savior of the world, He chose another Joseph, of whom the first had been a type, whom he made the lord and chief of His house and possessions, the guardian of His greatest treasures. For indeed, he had as his spouse the Immaculate Virgin Mary, from whom was born by the Holy Spirit our Lord Jesus Christ, who deigned among men to be thought the son of Joseph, and was subject to him. And Him whom so many kings and prophets had longed to see, Joseph not only saw, but conversed with Him, and embraced with fatherly affection, and kissed, and most wisely reared, even Him whom the faithful were to receive as the bread come down from heaven, to obtain eternal life.
St Joseph as Patron of the Catholic Church; this image was used as the header of his feast under that title in liturgical books printed by the German company Frideric Pustet, from the later 19th to mid 20th century. The Papal crests of Popes Bl. Pius IX and Leo XIII are seen to either side of St Peter’s Basilica.
Because of this sublime dignity which God conferred on his most faithful servant, the Church has always most highly honored and praised the blessed Joseph, after the Virgin Mother of God, his spouse, and has besought his intercession in her troubles. And indeed, since in these most sad times the Church is beset by enemies on every side, and weighed down by such grave calamities that wicked men assert that the gates of hell have finally prevailed against Her, the venerable bishops of the whole Catholic world have for this reason presented to the Supreme Pontiff their own requests, and those of the faithful entrusted to their care, asking that he would deign to declare St Joseph the Patron of the Catholic Church. Thereafter, since they renewed these same petitions and requests all the more earnestly at the Sacred Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, our most holy lord Pope Pius IX, moved also by the most recent and lamentable state of affairs (i.e., the fall of the Papal States), that he might entrust himself and all the faithful to most powerful patronage of the Holy Patriarch Joseph, has chosen to satisfy the bishops’ request, and solemnly declared him Patron of the Catholic Church.

Bl. Pope Pius IX; portrait by George Healy, 1871. (Public domain image from Wikimedia.)
The feast of St Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, was originally called “the Patronage of St Joseph,” and fixed to the Third Sunday after Easter. It was kept by a great many dioceses and religious orders, particularly promoted by the Carmelites, before it was extended to the universal Church by Bl. Pope Pius IX in 1847, and later granted an octave. When the custom of fixing feasts to particular Sundays was abolished as part of the Breviary reform of Pope St Pius X, it was anticipated to the previous Wednesday, the day of the week traditionally dedicated to Patron Saints. It was removed from the general Calendar in 1955 and replaced by the feast of St Joseph the Worker, one of the least fortunate aspects of the pre-Conciliar liturgical changes; the new feast itself was then downgraded from the highest of three grades (first class) in the 1962 Missal to the lowest of four (optional memorial) in 1970.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Hours Of King Henry II of France

Here is another very beautiful illuminated manuscript from the website of the Bibliothèque national de France (Département des manuscrits, Latin 1429), a book of Hours made for King Henry II of France, who was born in 1519, and reigned from 1547 until his death in 1559. (During a tournament, he was injured in the eye by a fragment of his opponent’s lance, and died of sepsis after only ten days, an event which did much to end the popularity of jousting.) There are only 20 illustrated pages in the manuscript of 124 folios, and three of the images are very small, but they are all of an exceptionally high quality, and clearly show the strong influence of the Italian Renaissance. The majority of the images represent Biblical stories, some of which have no readily discernible relationship to the text they accompany.

Many books of Hours included a group of four Gospels, one from each of the Evangelists: John 1, 1-14, the Gospel of Christmas day; Luke 1, 26-38, the Annunciation; Matthew 2, 1-12, the Epiphany; and Mark 16, 14-20, the Ascension. This image (folio 3v) introduces the Gospel from St John; note the three faces of God, a type of representation which will be formally banned not long after this, in the wake of the Council of Trent. The eagle of St John has an inkpot and scroll case in its mouth.

Folio 5r, the beginning of the Gospel of St Luke. The lettering type seen here was popular with the Italian humanists of the 15th and 16th centuries, partly for the practical reason that it is easier to read than the Fraktur typefaces normally used by the Germans who invented movable type, partly because they believed it to be ancient Roman. (It actually comes from manuscripts of the Carolingian era.) The book has almost no abbreviations in the text, an unmistakable sign that it was made for a very wealthy person not concerned about saving space on the expensive paper.
Folio 8r; in the background, the Prophet Jonah is thrown into the sea, and in the foreground is spat out onto land by the whale. This precedes the Passion of St John, which covers the next 13 pages, and is followed by a prayer; Jonah is of course a symbol of Christ in His Passion.

Folio 15v, the Prophet Elisha multiplies the widow’s oil, (4 Kings 4, 1-7, the Epistle of Tuesday of the 3rd week of Lent). This precedes Matins of the Little Office of the Virgin Mary, perhaps in reference to the words of Psalm 44, “Thou hast loved justice, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows,” words eminently suitable to emphasize to a king. Note the ruins in the background, which derive from the Renaissance interest in the classical world; the building to the left is very reminiscent of the Colosseum.
Folio 28r, Jacob wrestles with the Angel (Genesis 32, 23-32); this is placed before Lauds of the Little Office, perhaps in reference to the words of the Benedicite “let Israel bless the Lord”, since it was at this episode that Jacob received the name Israel.

Important Conference in London: The Royal Priesthood and the Renewal of the Church

June 20-22, at St Mary’s University in London: Register Today.

My friend Fr Andrew Marlborough sent me information about what promises to be a great conference, which he is helping to organise, on “The Royal Priesthood and the Renewal of the Church”. Readers may recognise his name from articles of his which we have shared here on sacred art and artefacts appearing in auction houses in the UK and Europe.

The poster is below. As you can see (click to enlarge), there is a great list of speakers, including highly respected names from both sides of the pond. I am delighted that Fr Brad Elliott, OP, was also recently added to the list of speakers; he is the author of the book I recently featured, The Shape of the Artistic Mind, about creativity and the virtue of art according to St Thomas.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: