Friday, May 24, 2024

The Mass of the Ember Friday of Pentecost

Like the Mass of the Ember Wednesday of Pentecost, that of the Ember Friday does not have a clear overarching theme, although there are many literary connections between its various parts. The Introit is taken from Psalm 70. “Repleátur os meum laude tua, allelúja, ut possim cantáre, allelúja; gaudébunt labia mea, dum cantávero tibi, allelúja, allelúja. Ps. In te, Dómine, sperávi, non confundar in aeternum: in justitia tua líbera me et éripe me. Gloria Patri. Repleátur... – Let my mouth be filled with Your praise, alleluia, that I may sing, alleluia; my lips rejoice as I sing to Thee, alleluia, alleluia. Psalm In Thee, o Lord, have I hoped, let me never be put to confusion; in Thy justice, deliver me and rescue me. Glory be. Let my mouth be filled…” The first part of this was perhaps intended to remind us that at Pentecost, the mouths of the Apostles were filled in such a way that they were able to speak in various tongues of the wondrous of God. (Act. 2, 11, the last verse of the Epistle of Pentecost.)
The Epistle, Joel 2, 23-24 and 26-27, begins with the words, “O children of Sion, rejoice, and be joyful in the Lord your God, because he hath given you a teacher of justice” “Rejoice” looks back to the Introit, while “a teacher of justice” looks forward to the Gospel, in which Christ appears as the teacher of justice foretold by the prophet. “At that time, it came to pass on a certain day, as Jesus sat teaching.” Among those who sat with Him to hear Him were “Pharisees and the teachers of the law.” The words “qui fecit mirabilia vobiscum… – who did wonders with you” also join the Epistle to the Gospel, which ends with the words “we have seen wonders today.”
The Prophet Joel, depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1508-12. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Some ancient lectionaries attest to a different Epistle for this day, Acts 2, 22-28, the continuation of the first reading of Ember Wednesday, verses 14-21 of the same chapter, which recount St Peter’s preaching on the first Pentecost; this custom remained in use in some places until the era of the Tridentine reform. This reading is also very cleverly chosen in reference to the Gospel; St Peter says that God did wonders through Jesus “in your midst”, while the Gospel says that the friends of the paralytic let him down through the roof “into their midst.” Durandus notes (De Div. Off. 6.120.1) that the Apostle’s words about the Lord’s passion and death were chosen because the reading is assigned to a Friday: “Jesus of Nazareth… you by the hands of wicked men have crucified and slain, Whom God hath raised up… For David saith concerning him, ‘… my tongue hath rejoiced… moreover my flesh also shall rest in hope. Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, nor suffer thy Holy One to see corruption.’ ” Part of this citation of Psalm 15, “My flesh also shall rest in hope”, is sung as the third antiphon of Tenebrae of Holy Saturday, which would normally have been sung on the evening of Good Friday.
The first Alleluja verse is taken from the book of Wisdom, 12, 1. “O quam bonus et suávis est, Dómine, Spíritus tuus in nobis! – O how good and sweet is Thy Spirit, o Lord, within us!” This reading of this verse differs from the Greek, which says simply “For Thy spirit is incorrupt in all things”, and from several manuscripts of the Vulgate which read “For Thy spirit is good in all things.” The chant itself is a relatively new composition, not attested in any of the early graduals catalogued by the musicologist Dom René-Jean Hesbert, a monk of Solesmes Abbey, in his “Antiphonale Missarum Sextuplex.”
The paralytic lowered through the roof, in a fresco of the 8th or 9th century preserved in the basilica of St Sabbas on the Aventine Hill in Rome. On the left side is shown the calling of Ss James and John.
For the Church Fathers, the healing of the paralytic read in today’s Gospel, Luke 5, 17-26 (with Synoptic parallels Matthew 9, 1-8 and Mark 2, 1-12), is particularly important as a symbol of the forgiveness of sins granted to us by Christ, which is one of the articles of the Creed. This is justified, of course, because when asked to heal the paralytic, Jesus first says to him, “O man, your sins are forgiven”, and only heals the man physically when challenged, as if His first statement were a blasphemous usurpation of God’s authority. As St Ambrose says in the Breviary lesson for today, “although we must accept the truth of the story, and believe that the body of this paralytic was truly healed, nevertheless, recognize also the healing of the interior man, whose sins are forgiven him.” (Expos. in Evang, Lucae 5, 5) This is important enough a point to merit the repetition of the story in St Matthew’s version later on in the year, on the 18th Sunday after Pentecost.
Indirectly, this episode also shows the divinity of Christ, since He does not deny what the Pharisees assert, that only God has authority to forgive sins. The confession of the Christ’s divinity, and the refutation of heresies that deny it, seems to be an important theme of the Pentecost octave, as noted earlier this week in regard to the Mass of Tuesday.
The Offertory is repeated from the Mass of the Third Sunday after Easter, perhaps continuing the theme of praising God from the other parts of the Mass. “Lauda, ánima mea, Dóminum: laudábo Dóminum in vita mea, psallam Deo meo, quamdiu ero, allelúja. – Praise the Lord, my soul; I will praise the Lord in my life, I will sing to my God as long as I shall live, alleluia.”
The Secret is noteworthy as the only prayer of Pentecost week that refers directly to the historical event of the feast itself. (It is also a very fine rhetorical composition, whose word order defies direct translation into English.) “Sacrificia, Dómine, tuis obláta conspéctibus, ignis ille divínus absúmat, qui discipulórum Christi, Filii tui, per Spíritum Sanctum corda succendit. – May that divine fire consume the sacrifices offered in Thy sight, o Lord, even that which through the Holy Spirit enkindled the hearts of the disciples of Christ, Thy Son.”
The same catalog by Dom Hesbert mentioned above shows that the Communio of today’s Mass was originally “Spiritus ubi vult spirat”, which is now sung on Ember Saturday, and that of today was originally sung tomorrow. Until the Tridentine reform, the original order seems to have been preserved everywhere except for Rome itself. There is no obvious reason for them to change places, and that which is now sung today, which begins “I will not leave you orphans”, seems like a much better choice for the last day of Pentecost. “Non vos relinquam órphanos, veniam ad vos íterum, allelúja, et gaudébit cor vestrum, allelúja. – I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you again, alleluia, and your heart with rejoice, alleluia.”
A very nice polyphonic setting by William Byrd, who would have known this as a text for the Ember Saturday.

Bankrupting the Banquet: Reflections on the Distribution of Holy Communion

Among other things, the National Eucharistic Revival launched by the USCCB is an invitation to reflect on our treatment of the Holy Eucharist and the way it may influence our beliefs. Two decades ago the Reverend Massimo Salani made international news by accusing fast food of being Protestant. Characterizing the popular form of eating as the complete oblivion of food’s “sacred nature,” the Italian Patristics scholar went on to opine that fast food “reflects the individualistic relation between man and God introduced by Luther” and is thus “the fruit of a Protestant culture.”[1] While Salani’s theory won praise from the Italian Minister for Agricultural Resources, both the German Lutheran community and the McDonalds Corporation were quick to issue letters of rebuttal, almost as if both were equally insulted by association with the other.

Regardless of where one stands on the value of fast food, the topic raises a question about the relationship between dining and the Catholic sacramental life. Indeed, Fr. Salani could just as easily have asked not whether fast food is Protestant, but whether fast food is now, thanks to the way we currently administer Holy Communion, Catholic.
Specifically, while the rite of communion in the traditional Latin Mass (and in all other historic apostolic rites) takes on the form of a high banquet or feast, communion in the typical Novus Ordo Mass celebrated in the U.S. today generally resembles the experience of eating at a fast-food restaurant. I stress “today,” for it would be simplistic and misleading to lay blame on the 1969 Missal per se.[2] But we can at least suggest the following. Even when the communion rite of the traditional Latin Mass is celebrated poorly by a hasty priest, the form of it remains unmistakably that of a grand banquet. On the other hand, the more negotiable form of the Novus Ordo communion rite, together with the implementations of the USCCB and the guidance of some American liturgists, have clearly made possible a number of practices that more often than not sell our banqueting birthright for a bowl of McPottage.
At the Lamb’s High Feast
In a traditional Latin Mass, everything about the communion rite betokens participation in a great feast. Only the choicest vessels, made out of silver or gold, are used and only the finest linens. The atmosphere, even when there is only a single priest in somewhat of a hurry, is one of solemn leisure. The communicant stops, kneels, and waits. He is honored by the approach of the priest himself, not a lower minister and certainly not a fellow layman, just as diners at a fine restaurant are particularly honored when the chef comes out and visits their table (I apologize for the profane comparisons here and throughout, but they are necessary for the argument).
When the priest arrives, accompanied by his “waiter,” a formally-dressed acolyte, precious dishware (a gold paten) is placed under the communicant’s chin and he is treated to three things: a beautiful invocation directed specifically to him, “May the body of Our Lord Jesus Christ keep thy soul unto eternal life. Amen”; a mini-Benediction (for the priest makes the sign of the cross with the Host in his hand before distributing it); and the sacred Host itself. The prayer is particularly relevant to our discussion. The chef at a fine restaurant is likely to “pray” that his patrons obtain the intended effects of the fare he has served: hence he says something like, “Enjoy your meal.” The purpose of Holy Communion, on the other hand, is not pleasure for the body but bliss for the soul: hence the priest’s precise yet succinct prayer to each and every communicant.
The communicant then usually lingers for a little while in gratitude. In some parishes, kneelers even wait until everyone on their side of the aisle has received before rising and returning to their pews, both to prolong their adoration but also to show good manners in not rising from the table until everyone has finished.
Of particular importance throughout this ritual feasting is the communion rail. Its opponents depict it not only as a barrier between God and man but as an impediment to the Lord’s supper, for it keeps the congregation segregated from the altar, which in the great tradition has been understood as both the locus of sacrifice and a mensa, a table on which a meal is shared. Yet they overlook how the chancel rail, like the Byzantine iconostasis, is not a partition separating but a seam uniting heaven and earth, sacred and profane; and subsequently, it is more of a window than a wall. Moreover, the communion rail is a table, a banquet setting for the communion of God and His children in the congregation. Underscoring this function was the custom in some parishes of placing a fine white linen communion cloth—a tablecloth, if you will—on the chancel rail.
The Happy Meal
The ethos for Holy Communion at the average American Nouvs Ordo is noticeably different. The communion rail now gone and the striking descent of the priest from the high altar now ameliorated by architectural changes to the sanctuary and by the team of Eucharistic ministers diluting his distributive office, the communicants form a single file line from which they never fully escape. As they hasten forward (in my experience, the line usually moves quickly), they are advised to make some gesture of reverence as they approach the Blessed Sacrament as long as it is not the traditional genuflection—presumably because it might impede efficiency.[3] In the traditional communion rite, the line breaks as individual communicants find a place at the rail and then prepare for Holy Communion. In the most common current dispensation, by contrast, there is no local (and possibly no psychological) transition from reaching the head of the line to receiving the Eucharist.
All of this smacks of a fast-food arrangement, with its focus on speed and efficiency. Customers form single file lines either in the restaurant or in the drive thru, and their food is ready for them before they are seated.
Instead of receiving from a priest, chances are that the communicant will be receiving from an “extraordinary minister of Holy Communion,” often located at various points throughout the church (again to aid efficiency). As has been mentioned already, it is an honor to receive one’s fare from the chef himself (the “high priest,” as it were, of the dinner), but in a decent restaurant one can at least expect to be served by a duly-uniformed waiter. What one would not expect is to have diners from the next table suddenly stand up and serve you your food. Yet this is precisely what happens with lay Eucharistic ministers. They are not priests, they are not members of a minor order (acolyte), and they are not even laymen performing the function of a minor order (altar boys).[4] They are fellow diners who may or may not have taken a workshop on how to distribute God.
Instead of a precious vessel made out of gold or silver, the priest or Eucharistic minister may be holding in his or her hand cheap earthenware. From it he/she proffers a Host and says, “The Body of Christ.” This brief declarative statement, no longer than “Have a nice day,” replaces the beautiful prayer addressed to the individual for his eternal salvation as well as the mini-Benediction. Gone too are the gold patens and the communion cloth that add to the festive splendor and that reinforce belief in the Real Presence of every particle of the Host.
Although one is still permitted to receive on the tongue, it is more common for communicants to receive on the hand, a practice that further facilitates a fast-food mentality. Under this arrangement, it is easy to begin the return to one’s pew before the Host is actually in one’s mouth. Such an impatient action, should it occur (and it does), is roughly comparable to the fast-food customer who pops some fries into his mouth as he takes his tray and finds a table. McDonalds refers to the counter area where orders are picked up as the “grab and go” zone. The term is also a fitting description of Holy Communion at the average Novus Ordo parish. And should the communicant try to slow things down by kneeling down and receiving on the tongue, he may be denied Holy Communion. 
It is not difficult to see, incidentally, which of the two dining paradigms we have described better accords with the Eucharistic passages of the Bible. With the exception of the miracle of the fish and loaves (a picnic setting, so to speak, necessitated by the circumstances), scriptural foreshadowings of the Eucharist tend to involve grand or traditional feasts, such as the Wedding of Cana or the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Moreover, the Last Supper itself took place during no mere meal but the Seder, the highest and most solemn banquet of the Hebrew year, with every its dimension steeped in ritual and ceremony. Finally, the earthly liturgy that Christ instituted in the cenacle is itself a participation in His heavenly wedding feast described in the Book of Revelation. Since every Mass not only synthesizes all of the just sacrifices from Abel on but anticipates this great eschatological banquet in Heaven, it is fitting to have this hidden reality reflected in signs and gestures that are suitably august.
Reply to Objections
Two objections can be raised against our thesis, the first being that, despite the “grab and go” temptation, Communion in the hand as well as Communion standing up remain closer in form to that of a banquet. Few people at a feast, after all, are either spoon-fed by another or take their food on their knees. Yet this is precisely where the analogy—as all analogies eventually do—begins to fail. At an earthly banquet, an adult must indeed be somewhat active in taking food to his mouth. At the heavenly banquet, however, we are more like what St. Paul refers to as “little ones”—helpless infants seeking sustenance from our Parent. The gesture that a communicant takes in the traditional Roman rite is one of perfect receptivity (which is not to be confused with passivity).[5] He is like a fledgling chick, head tilted back, mouth open, pleading for Life.
The pelican, a type for the Eucharistic Christ, on a tabernacle door
This image may be mildly insulting to those who think of themselves as all grown up, but it is evocative of the gala logikos, the “rational milk” (or “milk of the Word”) that St. Peter admonishes us to receive as newborn babes (1 Pet. 2:2); and it hearkens to the ancient association of Christus passus with the mythical pelican. According to a Greek legend, a male pelican returned to the nest after a three-day absence to find his young killed by a serpent. To bring them back to life, he tore open his breast and let his blood trickle onto them. Church Fathers like St. Jerome saw in this tale an allegory of the Eucharist, which is why in Eucharistic hymns like St. Thomas Aquinas’ Adoro Te, Devote, Jesus is addressed with the words, Pie Pelicane, and why tabernacle doors sometimes contain the relief of a pelican immolating itself. And if Jesus is the Pelican whose blood is life-giving Logos-milk, then we are certainly His newborn babes, smitten by the old serpent of sin and recumbent before Him.[6]
The pelican’s affinity with Our Lord also puts into perspective the inappropriateness of recent experiments in intinction, where the communicant takes the Host and then dunks it in the Precious Cup. This chips-’n’-dip motion of the layman is far removed from the practice of several Eastern rites, where the communicant receives both species (the Body intincted in the Blood) from the priest in a fledgling manner similar to that of the believer at a Tridentine Mass. And, of course, it gives the rite of communion an additional air of nonchalant informality, at least in cultures affected by the habits of Super Bowl Sunday snacking.
Second, it may be objected that Communion under both kinds is more banquet-like, since obviously banquets involve drink as well as food. As with Communion in the hand, there is an ancient Roman precedent for this practice, though likewise it is debatable that what we are doing today actually restores the tradition. Few proponents of the former, for example, seem to realize that the original practice, in some places at least, required a woman’s hands to be covered by a cloth when she received the Host.
The issue with Communion under both species is not so much that the Precious Blood is shared (which is theologically unproblematic and even in some respects commendable), but how it is shared. The answer to that question today is, again, fast-food-like. The communicant moves to a second station, almost always staffed by a lay Eucharistic minister, as if he were driving up to the second window of a drive thru. There he takes the Chalice in his hands (further undermining his fledgling orientation), imbibes his share, and goes. Having this second station can also undermine respect for the Eucharist, for invariably—in order not to hold up “traffic”—other communicants pass by the Chalice without acknowledging the presence of their Eucharistic Lord. And it hardly resembles the ancient practice, where only the deacon (the sous-chef of the Sacrifice, so to speak) took a golden straw called a fistula, lowered it in the Chalice, and put his finger over one end so that it would hold the Precious Blood. Then, moving to the communicant (not vice versa), he would suspend the fistula over the person’s open mouth and release his finger so that the Blood would empty into it, pelican-like.
two fistulae
Entitling this article “Bankrupting the Banquet” is not intended to be sensationalist or to suggest that when Mass is celebrated in a fast-food manner the Sacrament loses any of its efficacy. Both “bankrupt” and “banquet” come from bancus (the Latin for bench), the former in reference to a banker’s counter, the latter to a dining table. Keeping this etymology in mind sets into relief the content of our critique: by removing the communion rail and all the other elements of grand feasting, we have literally bankrupted the Roman rite, ruptured or broken the banquet bench on which the communion between God and man appropriately takes place.
Consequently, nature abhorring the vacuum that it does, an ethos of efficient consumption comparable to that of the American fast-food industry has crept into our solemn worship. The result is an atmosphere and an etiquette at odds not only with the sacrificial, regal, and divine character of the Eucharistic liturgy but with its festive, leisurely nature. Exorcizing the spirit of Burger King from the banquet of the Heavenly King remains an urgent and pastorally pressing task. If, as National Eucharistic Revival would suggest, the Church is serious about restoring a sense of reverence for the Eucharist, she may wish to reconsider how she distributes It.
An earlier version of this essay appeared in The Latin Mass magazine 16:3 (Summer 2007), pp. 38-41. Many thanks to the editors for allowing its publication here.
[1] From an interview that appeared in Avvenire, November 8, 2000. English translation from 2000 Religion News Service Star Telegram, Ft. Worth, Texas.
[2] Indeed, many of the features of a contemporary American Mass I am about to describe are not at all mandated by the 1969 Missal. On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that the new Missal and many post-conciliar directives either permit or insufficiently guard against the encroachment of “fast-food” practices in the liturgy.
[3] While the American adaptations to the General Instructions for the Roman Missal discourage kneeling or genuflecting during the reception of Communion (the bishops’ effort to forbid the practice outright was rejected by the Vatican), they do not state why these practices are now so objectionable. One respected liturgical scholar once suggested to me that the motive was purely logistical: kneeling and genuflecting interrupt the flow of the communion line.
[4] Even tonsured clerics were not permitted to distribute Holy Communion: only the major order of priest (for the Body) and the major order of deacon (for the Precious Blood) had such privileges.
[5] The Blessed Virgin Mary, for instance, was utterly receptive to the Angel Gabriel’s announcement, not utterly passive.
[6] The pelican metaphor also underscores the inappropriateness of Eucharistic ministers whose activity alienates the priest—acting in persona Pelicani, as it were—from the Divine Pelican’s blood and brood. For the pelican does not ask some other bird to revive his young after his act of self-sacrifice but carries the act through to its completion himself.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

New Pictures of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini in Rome

We recently reported that the façade of FSSP’s church in Rome, Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, had been beautifully restored to its original color.

As a follow up, here are some pictures of the interior; the staff have been hard at work on slowly improving the decorations, and the results are very lovely indeed. Here we see the high altar on Pentecost Sunday, decorated with a red antependium and several reliquaries. 
Another very nice and relatively recent addition to the church is this baptismal font at the back, which is kept covered when not in use. Note the finial on top carved as an image of the Holy Trinity. 
This is a copy of a picture which is kept at the Roman Oratory, which shows St Philip caught in a candid pose while he was washing the feet of pilgrims in the great pilgrim hospice formerly attached to the church, which he founded, along with its confraternity. As explained by a caption in Italian at the bottom, one of his penitents sketched the Saint while he was working, and made the original painting from his sketch; when Philip saw it, he laughed and said, “You have secretly stolen me!” This picture was formerly in the sacristy, but has now been happily moved out into the nave where it can be seen by all. 
A banner church’s primary patron, the Holy Trinity, is hung from the “coretto - little choir loft” on the left side of the sanctuary...

A Hymn to the Holy Ghost by St. John of the Cross

The epic romance that was the life of John of the Cross began before he was born. His father, Gonzalo de Yepes, married for love, choosing a poor maiden named Catalina Álvarez over the good favor of his wealthy, merchant-class family. Their union was blessed with three children, among whom was Juan de Yepes, but Gonzalo’s ultimate reward for following his heart was poverty and death; his parents disowned him, leaving him burdened by hardships that brought his life to a premature end. Catalina, now both impoverished and widowed, did what she could to provide for her children’s needs, but John’s prospects were dim. Malnutrition had left him physically frail, stunted, and therefore barely qualified even to perform the manual labors that were the likely destiny of a boy with no money, no education, and no social connections.
John of the Cross (artist unknown). Oil on canvas.

It turns out that Juan de Yepes did not become a manual laborer. He died in 1591 as Fray Juan de la Cruz of the Discalced Carmelites, having reached the heights of sanctity and of literary achievement. Canonized in the eighteenth century and declared a Doctor of the Church in the twentieth, St. John of the Cross composed some of the most sublime poetry in the history of the Spanish language. His writings on the spiritual life have been immensely influential, and they are a compelling reminder of poetry’s exalted status in pre-modern Christianity: his famous prose treatises, noted for their systematic theology and rigorous philosophy, were originally conceived not as independent works but as commentaries on his poems.

This remarkable artifact, still on display in the museum of the Monastery of the Incarnation in Spain, is a sketch made by St. John of the Cross after he received a vision of Christ crucified.

Some of John’s poetic excellence was surely born of his extraordinarily poetic life, which is a tale of privations, wanderings, godsends, mystical yearnings, and heroic austerities interspersed with betrayal, torment, and exile. A turning point in his earthly journey was the cruel imprisonment imposed by his own Carmelite confreres, whose twisted logic marked him as a “rebel.” These misguided religious were, however, the unwitting instruments of the divine Author, for they offered John a personal rebirth worthy of well-crafted fiction: his narrow cell was perpetually dark, like the womb, and his captivity ended—after nine months—with an agonizing midnight escape. It was during this period of purgatorial silence and solitude that he composed some of his finest verse. Indeed, the overpowering darkness of that cell may have been the seed of John’s most enduring spiritual metaphor: the dark night of the soul.

A manuscript of John’s Spiritual Canticle, with marginal additions in the saint’s own hand. Courtesy of Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes.

Llama de amor viva (“Living Flame of Love”), a lyrical poem written relatively late in the saint’s life, was an attempt to express the inexpressible fulfillment of contemplative union with God. It does not identify the “living flame” to whom it is addressed, but St. John’s commentary on the poem states clearly that it is the Holy Ghost:

This flame of love is the spirit of her [i.e., the soul’s] Spouse, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the soul feels within itself, not only as a fire that has consumed and transformed her in tender love, but also as a fire that burns within her and casts a flame ...; and that flame bathes the soul in glory and refreshes her in the aura of divine life.

A vivid masterpiece of strong emotion and ecstatic paradox, Llama de amor viva challenges us to truly believe that human love, even during its most romantic and passionate stages, is but a pale reflection of the mystical love that unites the soul to her Creator.

Wishing all of NLM’s readers a most blessed Pentecost, a feast whose solemnity is second only to that of Easter, I offer below my translation of Llama de amor viva. For those who, like me, must sometimes groan under the burden of prosaic liturgies, I hope that it helps your Whitsuntide celebrations to feel a bit more poetic.

O living flame of love alight,
you who tenderly wound my soul,
you who deeply wound my heart,
since you no longer look away,
if you should wish, perfect me now:
break the thread of this embrace.

O burning, healing, tender fire,
O wound delightful as a gift,
O hand so soft, O touch so fine,
which savors of immortality,
which pays all debts most generously:
by giving death you make death life.

O fiery lamp, O gleaming torch
that shines into the depths of sense:
sense that once was dark and blind,
and now is giving warmth and light
—with beauty, rare and wondrous bright—
so near the Beloved’s side.

How tenderly, how lovingly,
you are awaking in my heart
and dwelling there, alone and true;
your breathing is to me delight,
—is glory, goodness in my sight—
so gently I fall, in love with you.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Mass of the Ember Wednesday of Pentecost

The question of the historical relationship between the octave of Pentecost and the Ember days is a very complicated one, which I have written about previously. and therefore do not propose to explore in depth here. Suffice it to say that the sermons of Pope St Leo I (440-61), who believed the Ember days to be of apostolic institution, make it very clear that they were originally part of the octave. For example, in the first chapter of his second sermon “on the fast of Pentecost”, he says, “It is most evidently clear that among God’s other gifts, the grace of fasting, which follows upon today’s festivity without interruption, was then (i.e. at Pentecost) also granted (to us).” (PL 54, 419A) This is fully in harmony with what we find in the very earliest surviving liturgical books of the Roman Rite. For example, in the oldest Roman Sacramentary, known as the Old Gelasian Sacramentary, the Masses of the Ember days are placed between the feast and octave day of Pentecost.
It is true that in the Carolingian period, starting about 780 AD, the two observances were separated; many liturgical books (but not all) place the Ember days after the octave of Pentecost, and attest to a completely separate set of Masses and readings for them. One very odd point, however, which admits of no ready explanation, is that none of the surviving chant books attest to any Gregorian propers for the Ember day Masses thus observed. In any event, it appears certain that in the reign of Pope St Gregory VII (1073-85), whose feast day is on Saturday, the Ember days were definitively reincorporated into the octave. This commentary will therefore discuss the Mass as it stands in the Missal of St Pius V, without reference to prior historical variants.
The Mass of Ember Wednesday of Pentecost, celebrated in 2021 at the church of St Eugène in Paris, home of our dear friends of the Schola Sainte Cécile.
The Introit is taken from Psalm 67, which is sung at Matins of the whole octave, and also provides the Offertory of the feast itself.
Introitus Deus, dum egrederéris coram pópulo tuo, iter faciens eis, hábitans in illis, allelúja: terra mota est, caeli distillavérunt, allelúja, allelúja. Ps. Exsurgat Deus, et dissipentur inimíci ejus: et fugiant, qui odérunt eum, a facie ejus. Gloria Patri. Deus, dum egrederéris…
Introit O God, when Thou went forth before Thy people, making a way for them, dwelling among them, alleluia, the earth was shaken, the heavens rained down, alleluia, alleluia. Ps. Let God arise, and let His enemies are scattered, and those that hate Him flee before His face. Glory be. O God, when Thou went forth.
This chant looks forward to the Epistle, Acts 2, 14-21, in which St Peter in his sermon on the first Pentecost cites the prophet Joel, “And I will shew wonders in the heaven above, and signs on the earth beneath.” In its original context, these verses of the Psalm speak of God’s manifestation as He led the Israelites from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai. The rest of the line after “the heavens rained down” is “at the presence of the God of Sinai, at the presence of the God of Israel.” Although these words are not sung here as part of the liturgy, the Introit would remind the attentive listener of the second reading of the vigil of Pentecost, repeated from Easter night, which is the Crossing of the Red Sea at the end of Exodus 14.
The station on this day is at the basilica of St Mary Major, as on every Ember Wednesday, but also on Christmas night; the words “when thou went forth” may also be intended to remind us of the birth of Christ, who came forth from the Virgin. “Dwelling among them” would then be a reminiscence of the Gospel of Christmas day, which says that “the Word dwelt among us”; “the heavens rained down” is vaguely similar to the second responsory of Christmas Matins, which says that “heavens have become flowing like honey.”
The Preaching of St Peter at Pentecost, by Masolino da Panicale, 1426-27, in the Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence.
Most of the first Epistle (verses 17-21) is St Peter’s quotation of the second chapter of Joel, verses 28-32a, following a different recension from the Hebrew text and the Vulgate of St Jerome which depends on it. The original passage is read as the first prophecy of Ember Saturday, and the verses preceding it (23-24 and 26-27) on Ember Friday.
The Psalm verse said with first Alleluja was often used by the Church Fathers as a proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. “Verbo Dómini caeli firmáti sunt, et spíritu oris ejus omnis virtus eórum. – By the word of the Lord the heavens were established; and all the power of them by the spirit of his mouth.” (Ps. 32, 6) For example, St Ambrose says, “Since the Holy Spirit also proceeds from the Father and the Son, he is not separated from the Father, he is not separated from the Son. For how can he be separated from the Father, who is ‘the Spirit of his mouth’? And this indeed is both a proof of his eternity, and expresses the unity of the divinity.” (De Spiritu Sancto libri tres ad Gratianum Aug., 11, 120; PL 16, 733A)
As I noted yesterday, certain aspects of the Mass of Pentecost Tuesday suggest that it may have been a day associated with the reconciliation of heretics. Today, therefore, the Church unites this verse of the Psalm to an account of the first Pentecost, to proclaim that the orthodox teaching on the Trinity is the very same doctrine held and taught by the Apostles, which began to be diffused through the world on Pentecost. This is also suggested by the preface which we now use on the feast of the Holy Trinity, but which first appears in the Old Gelasian Sacramentary two centuries before that feast was instituted as the preface of the octave of Pentecost.
In the Gospel of the vigil of Pentecost (John 14, 15-21), Christ says that He “shall give you another Paraclete,” which, as St Augustine explains in the Breviary homily, shows that He is also a paraclete, a Greek word which means inter alia “advocate”, “intercessor” and “consoler.” As the Introit refers to God “dwelling among them”, perhaps specifically in reference to the Incarnation, the second prayer asks that “the Holy Spirit may come and make us a temple of His glory by dwelling worthily (therein).” This effectively equates the Son and the Spirit just as the verse of the preceding Alleluja does, and establishes the Holy Spirit’s role as “another Paraclete.” The word “temple” also looks forward to the “porch of Solomon”, a part of the Temple of Jerusalem, mentioned in the next reading as the place where the Apostles and the faithful gathered, but doomed to be destroyed, as Our Lord Himself predicted. This shows that with the coming of the Holy Spirit, each individual follower of Christ becomes the true temple of God.
The Holy Trinity, by a follower of the Flemish painter Artus Wolffort (1581-1641); public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The second reading, Acts 5, 12-16, begins with the statement that “by the hands of the Apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people.” The Church Fathers often understood the first words of Psalm 18, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God”, to symbolically mean the Apostles’ proclamation of the faith. The Breviarum in Psalmos attributed to St Jerome states that “ ‘The heavens’ are the Apostles, ‘glory’ is (God’s) work, and ‘proclaim’ means ‘announce’, because they preach the glory of God.” (PL 26, 872C) This is also stated by St Augustine (Enarr. in Ps. 18) and St Gregory the Great (Hom. 30 in Evang.) among others. Since the Apostles work wonders, and “the heavens” symbolically means the Apostles, they are thus represented as the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Joel quoted by St Peter, “I will show wonders in the heaven above.”
The Gospel, John 6, 44-52 is part of the Eucharistic discourse which takes up most of that chapter. The reason for this choice of passage is not clear, but perhaps, since these Ember days are intended to prepare the Church for the longest stretch of the liturgical year, the time after Pentecost, it was intended as a reminder that on our pilgrimage through this time, we are always sustained by the Bread of Life, “the living bread that cometh down from heaven.” If the Introit is indeed to be read as a reference to the Incarnation as I posit above, then perhaps this Gospel would also be a reference to the today’s station at Mary Major. The chapel attached to the ancient basilica which housed the relics reputed to be those of the crib of Christ was known as “Sancta Maria in Bethlehem”, and as St Gregory the Great points out in his Christmas homily in the Roman Breviary, “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” The words “Your fathers ate the manna in the desert, and died” look back to the Introit, in which God made the people’s way though the desert to Mount Sinai.
The Offertory chant is sung at the three of the four Ember Wednesdays, those of Lent, Pentecost (with an ‘alleluia’ added for Eastertide), and September. “Meditábor in mandátis tuis, quae dilexi valde, et levábo manus meas ad mandáta tua, quae diléxi, allelúja. – I will meditate upon Thy commands, which I have loved exceedingly, and I will lift up my hands to Thy commands, which I have loved, alleluia.” (Ps. 118, 47-48) The tense of the first verb is changed from the reading of the Vulgate and Septuagint, “meditabar” in the imperfect (“I was meditating”), to the future, for no clear reason. (This is more consonant with the tense, but not the meaning of the verb in Hebrew, “eshta‘asha‘ – I will delight”, but it is unlikely that the composer of the chant knew that.)
A beautiful polyphonic setting by Palestrina.
The Communio, like that of Monday and the first Alleluia of Tuesday, is taken from the Gospel of the feast, to which it therefore unites the Ember day. “Pacem relinquo vobis, allelúja: pacem meam do vobis, allelúja, allelúja. – Peace I leave to you, alleluia; My peace I give you, alleluia, alleluia.” (John 14, 27)

London Oratory Schola Sings Gems from Venice: The Latest Fantastic Album by Charles Cole

It is a splendid thing to compile and record an album of late Renaissance Venetian choral music, especially since the ordinary forces of parish choirs (and even cathedral choirs) can only occasionally muster enough musical forces to mount this mostly polychoral repertoire. There is certainly much to choose from in the programming, for the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th witnessed a prodigious production of masterpieces emanating from the lofts of St Mark’s Basilica, many of which had a profound effect on the course of Western music history as it evolved into the various Baroque styles.
Even more splendid, however, is to produce an album with such an interesting and varied program, sung magnificently entirely by choristers brought up from within the ranks of just one school in London. 
We find such an album in the recent Sacred Treasures of Venice, released on the Hyperion label, with NLM’s own Charles Cole directing the boys of the London Oratory Schola Cantorum - no hired ringers here! Featuring the music of three Giovannis (Bassano, Croce, and Gabrieli), alongside the older Gabrieli (Andrea), Claudio Merulo, and Giacomo Finetti, this album draws together compositions which run the gamut of affective expressivity, and compass conventional harmonies as well as daring experiments in late Renaissance voice leading. The honesty of the sound accompanies the wonder of what the boys can produce under so able a tutor and conductor as they have in Mr. Cole. 
Some of my favorites on the album are Croce’s In spiritu humilitatis, a setting of the prayer from the Offertory of the Mass, with its earnestly homophonic setting of the text, a fitting musical offering to accompany the sacrifice offered at the altar by its priest composer. 
In spiritu humilitatis et in animo contrito suscipiamur a te, Domine: et sic fiat sacrificium nostrum in conspectu tuo hodie, ut placeat tibi, Domine Deus.
In the spirit of humility and with contrite heart, may we be accepted by Thee, o Lord, and grant that the sacrifice which we offer this day in Thy sight may be pleasing to Thee, o Lord God.
And, of course, there is the masterpiece O quam suavis Giovanni Gabrieli, which paints the text in a harmonically sophisticated manner.
O quam suavis est, Domine, spiritus tuus,
qui ut dulcedinem tuam in filios demonstrares
pane suavissimo de caelo præstito,
esurientes reples bonis,
fastidiosos divites dimittens inanes. 
O how sweet, O Lord, is thy spirit,
who, to show thy tenderness to thy children,
feedest them with thy sweetest bread from heaven,
feeding the hungry with good things,
and sending the disdainful rich away empty.
I had the opportunity to chat with Charles about the album’s music, composers, and singers on a recent episode of Square Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast, which includes some clips from the album. Do give this latest album in the Sacred Treasures series produced by the schola a listen—it is inspiring in every aspect. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Mass of Pentecost Tuesday

As I noted earlier this week, Psalm 67 is one of the most difficult texts in the Psalter; even though many individual lines of it are easy to understand, the psalm as a whole is extremely disjointed. But it is this very quality of it that makes it an appropriate choice for Matins of Pentecost, at which it represents the confusion felt by those who heard the Apostles speaking in various tongues. Something similar may be said of the Mass of Tuesday within the octave of Pentecost; there is no immediately evident connection between the various parts of the Mass as there is on the feast itself or on the following Monday.
The Introit is one of a handful of texts taken from one of the apocryphal books commonly included in medieval manuscripts of the Vulgate, known in Latin as the Fourth Book of Esdras (cap. 2, 36 & 37). “Accípite jucunditátem gloriae vestrae, allelúja: gratias agentes Deo, allelúja: qui vos ad caelestia regna vocávit, allelúja, allelúja, allelúja. Ps. 77 Atténdite, pópule meus, legem meam: inclináte aurem vestram in verba oris mei. Gloria Patri. Accipite. – Receive the delight of your glory, alleluia, giving thanks to God, alleluia, Who hath called you to the heavenly kingdoms, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Psalm 77 Attend, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. Glory be. Receive.”
A setting by the Italian composer Giuseppe Tricarico (1623-97)
There has never been a law, divine or human, that every chant in the Mass must be taken from the canonical Scriptures, although the great majority certainly are, and there is no reason to suppose that the derivation of this text from an apocryphal book is significant. In the context of the traditional baptismal character of Pentecost, the words “giving thanks to God who has called you to the heavenly kingdoms” should be read as a reference to the newly baptized who were called into the Church during the vigil on the previous Saturday.
The Epistle, Acts 8, 14-17, tells of Ss Peter and John confirming the Samaritans after they had received the word of God. Like the Epistle of the previous day, in the context of a stational Mass in Rome, a city populated by men from every nation of the Empire, this reminds us of the calling of those nations into the Church, which began with the Apostolic preaching on Pentecost.
Ss Peter and John Confirming the Samaritans, 1557, by Giorgio Vasari (1511-74); public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The Gospel, John 10, 1-10, is the first part of Christ’s Good Shepherd discourse, and may have been chosen for the words “I am the door”, i.e., the door through which the baptized enter into “the heavenly kingdoms” mentioned in the Introit.
Very tentatively, I offer a theory (and no more than that) as to a possible connection between these two readings. The Samaritans were regarded as heretics by the Jews, as we know inter alia from the exchange between Christ and the Samaritan woman. “Our fathers adored on this mountain, and you say that the place where men must adore is at Jerusalem.” (John 4, 20) But both peoples awaited the coming of a redeemer: “I know that the Messiah cometh (who is called Christ). … Jesus saith to her, ‘I am he, who am speaking with thee.’ ” (ibid. 25-26) The conflict between them is resolved by the Good Shepherd, who says that “salvation cometh from the Jews” (vs. 22), but also that He has “other sheep not of this flock.” “There shall be one fold and one shepherd” (John 10, 16), and at the hour of His coming, “you (i.e. the Samaritans and the Jews together) shall neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, adore the Father. … the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth.” (John 4, 21) Therefore, in Acts 8, we see Christ reconciling the heretical Samaritans to God in the one flock, His Church.
Christ and the Samaritan Woman, 1508, by the Dutch painter Jan Joest van Kalkar (1455 ca. - 1519); public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
In his Treatises on the Gospel of John, a part of which is also read in the Divine Office, St Augustine understands the “thieves and robbers” of which Christ speaks in verse 1 to mean all those who would lead men away from Him. But he also speaks of those who are reconciled to the Church as follows: “many are joined to the flock of Christ, and from heretics, become Catholics; they are taken away from the thieves, and given back to the shepherd.” (Tract. 45 in Joannem).
In the earliest surviving sacramentary of the Roman Rite, known as the Old Gelasian Sacramentary, which dates to about 700 A.D., five prayers for the reconciliation of heretics are placed immediately after the octave day of Pentecost: “The blessing upon those who return to Catholic unity from the Arian (faith)”, “another for those who come from various heresies”, “the reconciliation of one rebaptized by the heretics”, and two variants of this last for minors. The first two of these ask the Lord to send the Holy Spirit upon them, and pray that they will receive the seven gifts of the Spirit named in Isaiah 11, 2. The third states that “we dare not close the door of reconciliation to him that returns and knocks”, although the Latin word for “door” in this case, “januam”, is different from the word in the Gospel, “ostium.”
The prayer for the “reconciliation of one baptized by heretics” in a pontifical dated 870-80; Bibliothèque nationale de France, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Ms-227
Perhaps it is not too much to speculate that this placement is not coincidental, and that this Mass may once have been the occasion for such reconciliations. These prayers are placed after the octave, and not within it, but this could be because they were not always used, and in any case, the arrangement of materials in the ancient sacramentaries does not always strictly follow the order in which they were used. [1] Pentecost Tuesday is the last day before the Church, having gathered into itself all the baptized, prepares itself for the longest stretch of the liturgical year with the Ember day fasts; it might well have been seen as an appropriate day to complete this gathering with the reconciliation of its lost sheep. [2]
This may also explain the language used in the petitions of the Mass prayers: that the “power of the Holy Spirit may purge our hearts” (the Collect); that “the offering of the present service may purify us” (the Secret); and that “the Holy Spirit may restore our minds” (the Post-Communion.)
In this light, the words of the Communion could be understood specifically as a confession of faith in the Trinity against the “thieves and robbers” mentioned in the Gospel, i.e. the heretics. “Spíritus qui a Patre procédit, allelúja, ille me clarificábit, allelúja, allelúja. – The Spirit, who proceedeth from the Father, alleluia, He shall glorify me, alleluia, alleluia.”
The Offertory is repeated from Easter Wednesday. “Portas caeli apéruit Dóminus: et pluit illis manna, ut éderent: panem caeli dedit eis, panem Angelórum manducávit homo, allelúja. – The Lord opened the gates of heaven, and rained manna upon them, that they might eat; He gave them the bread of heaven, men ate the bread of the angels, alleluia. ” As the bridge between the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful, this chant unites the “heavenly kingdoms” of the Introit, and the Gospel, in which Christ is both the Good Shepherd and the door by which the sheep enter, with the offering of the Holy Eucharist
Notes: [1] For example, in the Gellone Sacramentary, which postdates the Old Gelasian by about 30 years, the Masses for the Sundays after Epiphany are followed by the feasts of the Saints from February 14 to March 12. The manuscript then goes back to Septuagesima, which can occur as early as January 18th.

[2] The strongest argument against my theory is the fact that the Old Gelasian Sacramentary has no proper Masses for the Monday, Tuesday or Thursday of Pentecost, the last of which was originally an aliturgical day like the Thursdays of Lent. However, Scriptural readings for these days are attested in the Epistle lectionary of Alcuin and the lectionary of Würzburg, both of which predate it in their contents by about 50 years.

The Manuscript Illumination, Calligraphy and Icons of Nicholas Hughes

Nicholas Hughes is an Antiochian Orthodox monk living as a hermit in West Virginia; he tells me that he has been a monk for over 40 years. He contacted me because he had questions about a traditional story about the time spent by the Holy Family in Egypt, perhaps apocryphal, which concerns a miraculous wheat. He wanted to know if there was an original source for the story, which appears in many books of hours from the Middle Ages. He is looking to produce a series of contemporary illuminations of the story and sent me images of his work so far.

I had never even heard of the miraculous story before and couldn’t help him, so if any readers can supply some details, please do contact him at In the meantime, I was so taken with his work that I asked if I could feature it here.

Nicholas is taking commissions and can be contacted at the same email address given above: he is a calligrapher, illuminator and icon painter.

Monday, May 20, 2024

The Mass of Pentecost Monday

From the most ancient times, Pentecost has been celebrated in the Roman Rite as one of the Church’s great baptismal feasts, and it therefore shares some important characteristics with Easter, the baptismal feast par excellence. One very notable point on which they differ, however, is the relationship between the texts of the Mass and the station churches at which they are celebrated. The stations of the Easter octave are arranged according to the hierarchical order of their dedication: first, the vigil at the cathedral of Rome, which is titled to the Lord, then St Mary Major on Easter Sunday, followed by the tombs of the city’s three Patron Saints, Peter, Paul and Lawrence, and then the basilicas of the Twelve Apostles and of all the martyrs. With the exception of Easter itself, the Masses of the octave contain many references and allusions to those Saints. During Pentecost week, on the other hand, the station churches are arranged in deliberate imitation of those of the first week of Lent, since both weeks include the celebration of the Ember days. The Masses celebrated at them contain almost no references to their station churches, with one notable exception, that of Pentecost Monday, when the station is kept at the church of St Peter in Chains.
The Introit, which begins with the words “He fed them with the finest of the wheat”, might seem more appropriate for Ember Wednesday, when the Gospel, John 6, 44-52, is taken from the passage known as the Bread of Life discourse. And indeed, St Thomas Aquinas would later borrow this same introit for the Mass of Corpus Christi. In this case, however, the second part of it, “and filled them with honey out of the rock,” is a reference to the very ancient tradition that when St Peter was jailed in the Mamertine prison in Rome, held with the very chains that the church was built to house and honor, he converted his jailers, Ss Processus and Martinian. For lack of any water with which to baptize them, Peter, like Moses before him, knocked on the solid rock of the prison walls, making water flow from them. This also refers to the baptismal character of Pentecost, since those who had been newly baptized on the vigil the previous Saturday would then, of course, also have partaken of the Bread of Life for the first time.
An ancient Christian sarcophagus known as the Sarcophagus of the Two Brothers, made in the second quarter of the 4th century, now in the Vatican Museums. The episode of St Peter making water run from the rock is at far left of the lower register.
The Collect of this Mass is the only prayer within the week that refers to the Apostles. “O God, Who gave the Holy Spirit to Thy Apostles, grant to Thy people the (desired) effect of their devout prayer; that Thou may bestow also peace upon those to whom Thou hast given faith.”
On Easter Monday, when the station is at the church of St Peter in the Vatican, the Epistle, Acts 10, 37-43, is taken from the Apostle’s discourse in the house of Simon the tanner, and refers to both baptism and the Resurrection.
“You know the word which hath been published through all Judea: for it began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached, Jesus of Nazareth: how God anointed him with the Holy Ghost, and with power, who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things that he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed, hanging him upon a tree. Him God raised up the third day, and gave him to be made manifest, not to all the people, but to witnesses preordained by God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he arose again from the dead; And he * commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is he who was appointed by God, to be judge of the living and of the dead. To him all the prophets give testimony, that by his name all receive remission of sins, who believe in him.”
On Pentecost Monday, the Epistle repeats the last two verses from Easter Monday (beginning at the star noted above), then continues to verse 48, with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon all those who hear Peter speaking, and their subsequent baptism.
“While Peter was yet speaking these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word. And the faithful of the circumcision, who came with Peter, were astonished, for that the grace of the Holy Ghost was poured out upon the gentiles also. For they heard them speaking with tongues, and magnifying God. Then Peter answered, ‘Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Ghost, as well as we?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Baptism of the Centurion Cornelius, 1658 by Michel Corneille l’Ancien (1601-64); Museum of the Hermitage, St Petersburg.
The reference to “the gentiles” in a Roman station church reminds us that Ss Peter and Paul both came to Rome as the ideal place from which to preach of the Christian faith to people from every corner of the world.
The first Alleluja verse paraphrases the end of the Epistle of Pentecost Sunday, in words which also appear repeatedly in the Divine Office: “In varied tongues the Apostles were speaking the wondrous deeds of God.” The second Alleluja and the Sequence that follow are sung at every Mass of the octave.
(A particularly good motet of the words “Loquebantur variis linguis” by Thomas Tallis.)
The Gospel, John 3, 16-21, clarifies the words of St Peter in the Epistle that speak of Christ as the one “appointed by God to be judge of the living and of the dead.”
“For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting. For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him. He that believeth in him is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment: because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil. For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. But he that doth truth, cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God.”
The Offertory is repeated from Easter Tuesday: “Intónuit de caelo Dóminus, et Altíssimus dedit vocem suam, et apparuérunt fontes aquárum, allelúja. – The Lord thundered from heaven, the Most High gave forth His voice, and the fountains of waters appeared, alleluja.” (Psalm 17, 14 and 16)
This was clearly chosen in reference to the story of St Peter making water run from the rock noted above, but also perhaps because the station on Easter Tuesday is kept at the basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls, which houses the tomb of the Roman church’s other Apostolic founder. Just as the two Apostles share a feast day, and almost always appear together in early Christian and medieval art, likewise, the church of St Peter in Chains was originally dedicated also to St Paul.
A modern copy of a dedicatory inscription placed in the basilica of St Peter in Chains by Pope St Sixtus III (432-40), who says that he adorns the church with the names of Peter and Paul together (“Petri Paulique simul ... nomine signo”), and asks them both to receive it from him as a gift (“pares unum duo sumite munus.”) - Image from Wikimedia Commons by Luciano Tronati, CC BY-SA 4.0.
An ancient commentary on the Psalms, attributed with uncertainty to Rufinus of Aquileia, says that the “fountains of water are the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” (Commentarius in LXXV Psalmos; Ps. XVII, 16; PL XXI, col. 705D). Another commentary on the Psalms, uncertainly attributed to Rufinus’ friend and correspondent St Jerome (with whom he later had a very sharp and long-running theological dispute), says that “the fountains” are the Apostles themselves. “The fountains are the Apostles, as if (to say that) they were given to drink from the one fountain… which is Christ… as it says in the Gospel, ‘He that shall drink the water which I shall give him will not thirst forever.’ (John 4, 14) And in another sense, the fountains of water are those who through the sacrament of baptism have become a fountain of the living water springing up for sinners unto eternal life.” (Breviarium in Psalmos, Ps. XVII; PL XXVI, col. 866D) Either interpretation makes this Psalm an appropriate choice in light of both the baptismal character of the feast and the celebration at this particular station.
Finally, the Communio is also taken from the Gospel of Pentecost, words addressed by Christ to the Apostles. “The Holy Spirit will teach you, alleluja, all things whatsoever I shall say to you, alleluja, alleluja.” The plural “you” is perhaps also reminiscent of the church’s ancient dedication to both Peter and Paul.

Summer Feasts and Multiple Feasts

On July 11, 2022, I published an article here entitled “The Feasts of St. Benedict and Their Proper Texts in Benedictine Churches,” in which I discussed how certain very eminent saints have multiple feastdays. St. Benedict has at least five proper Masses that developed in the monastic tradition: his dies natalis or transitus on March 21; July 11 as the translatio of his relics; July 18 as the octave of the translation (with different texts); December 4 for the “illation,” that is, rediscovery, of at least some of his relics; and its octave on December 11 for the veneration and reinstatement of the holy relic of the head of St. Benedict. Maybe there are still others I don’t know about.

St. Walburga’s Many Feasts

A reader of this blog notified me that Benedict isn’t the only monastic to enjoy so many feasts. At the glorious Benedictine Abbey of Saint Walburga (founded in Eichstätt, Germany, in 1035), four feasts are still observed for Saint Walburga:

February 25: The Solemnity of Saint Walburga (the anniversary of her death) [see A Benedictine Martyrology, Feb. 25, pg. 54]

Last Sunday of April: The Memorial of Saint Walburga’s remains being found incorrupt in her grave (see A Benedictine Martyrology, May 1, pg. 118]; traditionally, however, May 1st was the feastday, and this is why April 30th earned the name “Walpurgisnacht” (Walburga’s Night).

August 4: The Memorial of Saint Walburga’s arrival from England

October 12: The Memorial of the first flowing of the Holy Oil from Saint Walburga’s bones

Regarding April 30:
Because Walpurgisnacht falls on the same date as Beltane Eve, one of the four great pagan Gaelic holidays, this will be, for some pagans and witches, a night much like Hallowe’en (the Eve of All Saints), when the pagan Samhain coincides calendrically with our Feasts for the dead. In Germany, where sometimes this night is called “Hexennacht,” witches are said to fly to the top of the often mist-covered mountain named the Brocken (or Blocksberg) in order to rendezvous with the devil. And like Hallowe’en, the veil between this world and the afterworld is said to become thin tonight, the damned dead are believed to become restless, and devils are said to cause trouble…. The spooky nature of Walpurgisnacht because of witches’ doings is recalled in Goethe’s Faust, and in his poem The First Walpurgis Night which was set to music by Felix Mendelssohn.
Saint Benedict’s summer feast brings mind to the tradition of other saints who have summer feasts in addition to their usual feasts.

The translation of St Thomas Becket’s relics. (Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew)

Other Summer Feasts

July 4: Translation of Saint Martin of Tours, which is also the anniversary of his ordination as a bishop
In German, “Sommerfest des heiligen Martin,” or “Martinus aestivus.” Gregory DiPippo talks about this here. Martin’s main feast is November 11.

July 7: Translation of Saint Thomas Becket

According to an article by Dr. John Jenkins:
The organisation of Becket’s translation was the work of Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, and one of the most important figures in the drafting of Magna Carta. In his own struggles against King John, he saw himself as something of a Becket figure, and in translating Becket’s relics he wanted to make a powerful statement about the importance of the cause—the rights and freedoms of the Church – that the saint had died for. The date chosen for the event, 7 July 1220, was both symbolic and practical. It was the ‘jubilee’ anniversary of Becket’s martyrdom, not simply 50 years but calculated according to the Biblical definition of 49 years, 7 months, and 10 days after the event. It fell on a Tuesday, a day of great significance in Becket’s life as supposedly it was also on a Tuesday that he was born, was condemned by the King’s council, fled into exile, had a vision of his martyrdom, returned from exile, and was martyred.
But this next bit is of particular importance, as it verbalizes something one often notices when studying the sanctoral calendar—namely, that summer feasts are often preferred to winter ones for reasons of weather, or a summer feast is added in order to heighten a figure’s importance:
The date of the anniversary of Becket’s martyrdom, 29 December, was awkward as it not only fell during the Christmas celebrations but was at a time in midwinter when pilgrims were unlikely to travel. By establishing another anniversary of equal importance in the middle of summer, at the height of the pilgrimage season, and at a time when it would not clash with other church feasts, Archbishop Langton ensured that the feast of the translation would become one of the highlights of the English religious calendar.
July 29: Translation of the Blessed Emperor Charlemagne

Celebrated in Aachen for about a century, ending in 1932. Ripe for integralist restoration? Aachen currently celebrates a Mass in honor of the emperor on the last Sunday of January, which is near to his dies natalis of January 28. (I am not saying Charlemagne was above-board in all his actions; but if the Emperor Constantine can be venerated by our Eastern brethren as “Equal to the Apostles,” then we can make some room for an analogous figure in the West.)

August 3: The Finding of Saint Stephen

Sadly, this is one of many long-observed feasts that was abolished in the 1960 revisions to the Roman calendar that guide the rubrics of the 1962 missal. This feastday commemorates the “invention” or finding of the body of the Protomartyr Stephen:
His relics were found in the year 416 by a priest named Lucian. A church was built and dedicated to him at the site of the discover—outside the Damascus Gate—and his relics were housed there for centuries. In 1882, the ruins of the church were discovered by the Dominicans, and a new church was built there; however, his relics were subsequently moved to the Papal Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls (San Lorenzo fuori le Mura) in Rome, Italy. The church is one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome, and it is a fitting place for Stephen’s relics to reside, as the church commemorates the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, one of the first seven deacons of Rome to be martyred in 258.
So, it sounds like Stephen was found not just once, but twice—reminiscent of the entry in the Roman Martyrology for the “third finding of the head of St. John the Baptist”!

August 17: Festival of Saint Agatha

The Festival of Saint Agatha is the most important religious festival of Catania, Sicily, commemorating the life of the city’s patron saint. It takes place annually from 3 to 5 February and (again) on 17 August. The earlier dates commemorate her martyrdom, while the latter date celebrates the return to Catania of her remains, after these had been transferred to Constantinople by the Byzantine general George Maniaces as war booty and remained there for 86 years. (source)

A site devoted to Sicily notes:
The night of the 17th August the sound of bells woke up the people of Catania announcing the return of the mortal remains of St. Agatha from Constantinople. The citizens came out their houses barefoot and in their nightgowns to greet the arrival of the Saint. This is the reason why during the feast devotees wear white dresses (called “sacco”), that represent the white clothes of those citizens…. The celebration starts in the morning with different liturgies at the Cathedral dedicated to St. Agatha. In the evening at 20.30, there is a short procession near the Cathedral and piazza Duomo. The reliquary casket and the half bust of St. Agatha go around from piazza Duomo to Uzeda Door, via Dusmet, via Porticello, piazza San Placido, via Vittorio Emanuele II and then come back to piazza Duomo. As every celebration of the Patron Saint of Catania, this feast is also features spectacular fireworks in piazza Borsellino when the relics leave and return to the Cathedral.
However, the February celebration of St. Agatha is considerably more extensive, lasting for days. And that’s good, because I’ll be leading a pilgrimage to Sicily in February 2025, accompanied by a chaplain who will offer the traditional Mass daily (sung whenever possible), and we’ll be in Catania for the feast. Read more about that trip here or here.

Sr. Wilhelmina (courtesy of Benedictines of Mary)

New Summer Feasts?

The tradition continues as a new summer feast seems to be emerging:

August 11: Saint John Henry Newman

Although he died on August 11, his appointed feastday is October 9—but one notices that a number of people privately celebrate August 11 in addition to the official feast of October 9. On the other hand, the weather in most places in early October is pleasant, and the two dates are quite close together, so it would be improbably that an August date would ever attract broad observance, let alone find its way on to a liturgical calendar.

And one may well speculate about this date:

May 29: Death of Sr. Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB

Yes, she is not yet a saint, nor has a process for her beatification been officially opened (as far as I know); and yet, she has four things very much in her favor: (1) a reputation for holiness among the many sisters who lived with her for years at the monastery she founded; (2) an incorruptible body exhumed on April 28, 2023; (3) a steady flow of pilgrims to her body, on a scale that has not been seen in this country since the Council, and who knows how long before that, indicating popular devotion, that once-indispensable adjunct to any valid case for canonization; (4) many stories of healings and other possible miracles attributed to her intercession, which are being carefully collected.

May 29 is already observed on the old calendar as the feast of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, but a future Benedict XVII or Leo XIV could certainly add a commemoration, if it ever comes to that…

Celebrating in style: The Feast of Saint John by Jules Breton (1875)

Lost jewels of May

A last note about the month of May itself.

Given the wonderful, edifying second feasts in the traditional Roman calendar—the Conversion of Saint Paul; the Chair of Saint Peter; the Second feast of Saint Agnes on January 28—it is most regrettable that a number of second feasts were abolished under John XXIII in the 1960 calendar: think of the Finding of the Holy Cross on May 3, Saint John at the Latin Gate on May 6, and the Apparition of Saint Michael on May 8. All of these fall in the merry merry month of May, which, although not technically summer, is, as Newman says at the beginning Meditations and Devotions, “the month of promise and of hope.” He continues: “Even though the weather happen to be bad [at least in the UK…], it is the month that begins and heralds in the summer” (italics in original).

Indeed, even Christmas is reprised in the summer. As Gueranger observers in his Liturgical Year: “The Nativity of St. John Baptist [June 24], indeed made holy [in the womb], is celebrated with so much pomp…because it seems to enfold within itself the Nativity of Christ, our Redeemer. It is as it were midsummer’s Christmas day. From the very outset, God and his Church brought about, with most thoughtful care, many such parallel resemblances and dependences between these two solemnities.”

One might make the same observation about the thoughtful care that went into many other parallelisms between feasts.

It is good to do what we can to remember, to retain, and to celebrate these special feasts, at least for saints that have a connection to our parish or community, or to whom we have a personal devotion, or some other connection such as when one bears the saint’s name.

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