Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Westminster Cathedral Celebrates its Centenary

Via Luke Coppen we learn that Westminster Cathedral is celebrating its centenary. As part of the centenary celebrations, a ‘Treasures of the Cathedral’ exhiibition has been organized which will display vestments, church plate and other precious items in the cathedral's treasury.

A Mass of Thanksgiving was recently offered by Archbishop Vincent Nichols in Westminster Cathedral.

The vestments worn were designed by A.W.N. Pugin
Photo: Copyright Mazur/

Testimonies to the Roman Martyrs

As already noted, today in the modern Roman calendar we mark the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church. Speaking personally, over the years I have developed a great interest in and devotion to the early Roman martyrs. One of my first introductions to the topic of the martyrs was the devotional classic of St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Victories of the Martyrs. Later, I turned toward the Roman Martyrology and to the testimonies of various of the Fathers of the Church, such as Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History for instance.

Another interesting set of sources, however, are the writings of some of the Roman historians and other Romans whose writings have come down to us. Take for example this quotation (which I shared with you last year as well), from the Annals of Tacitus (A.D. 56–117) which accounts for some of the cruel torments inflicted by the Emperor Nero (A.D. 37-68):

Nero fastened the guilt [for the great fire of Rome] and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but
to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.

(Annals, 15, 44)

The Torches of Nero, by Henryk Siemiradzki

As well, I have lately been reading Suetonius's (ca. A.D. 69-130) account of the lives of the first twelve Caesars, De vita Caesarum, and this work, while not giving the bloody details specific to Christians such as is related by Tacitus, certainly does make reference to the persecution of the Christians at Rome. In his life of the Emperor Claudius (10 B.C. - A.D. 54) he speaks of how Claudius "banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus [Christus]."

Finally, I will make mention of the Roman magistrate Pliny the Younger who, in his Letters, also discusses how he would have confessed Christians executed, "[f]or I felt certain that whatever it was that they professed, their contumacy and inflexible obstinancy obviously demanded punishment."

The early Roman martyrs are great witnesses to courage and constancy in the Faith in the midst of persecutions and trials and can serve as a source of great inspiration and source of encouragement for us today. Let us familiarize ourselves with these our courageous ancestors in the Faith.

It's Official: New Prefect for Congregation for Bishops

VATICAN CITY, 30 JUN 2010 ( VIS ) - The Holy Father:

- Appointed Cardinal Marc Ouellet P.S.S., archbishop of Quebec, Canada, as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America . He succeeds Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, whose resignation from the same office the Holy Father accepted, upon having reached the age limit.

The Vatican Necropolis and Other Online Vatican Goods

By way of the Polish site, Nowy Ruch Liturgiczny, I ran into a very interesting mini-site off of the Holy See's website -- and one rather pertinent, I think, given the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul yesterday, and, in the modern Roman calendar today, the Feast of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church.

The mini-site is is dedicated to the Papal Basilicas and Chapels. Various bits of information are provided, as are virtual tours of these places -- including the like of the Pauline chapel.

However, what I was particularly struck by myself -- and hence my reference to the current feasts -- is the tour of the ancient Vatican Necropolis.

This particular tour shows aspects which are not as readily seen by the broader public touring St. Peter's -- aspects of significant interest, both Christian and Roman. I think many of our readers will appreciate these pages and what they have to offer.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Five Things Any Parish Can Do to Improve Sacred Space

I am currently involved or looking into a number of interior or church furnishing design projects, which are becoming more prevalent these days as parishes attempt to bring a sense of tradition and beauty to their chancels and naves without having to break the bank by resorting to the wrecking ball. There are two paralell issues here: one is re-renovating churches that had their furniture disarranged or their paintwork dulled-down in the sixties and seventies, while the other involves trying to add a traditional element to a more modern interior. While there may be lavish budgets in places, often this has to be done on a shoestring. Here are five suggestions that can be done with a modest budget:

1. Rearrange the Furniture. The rather Zen-like, insubstantial quality of most modern church furnishings--except when they are Flinstones-style neo-primitive monstrosities--may actually be to your advantage here. Moving the freestanding portable altar in a few feet, shifting the clergy seating so they face inward rather than at an angle, and moving the tabernacle stand back to the center may be enough, at least initially, to restore order to a seriously compromised sanctuary. Such items can be slowly replaced by more dignified furnishings over time, or augmented with new additions such as a tester, altarpiece, or new paraments and hangings. The main issue here is ensuring that the new arrangement confirms to sound liturgical principles, such as highlighting the tabernacle and altar, as well as allowing for easy circulation of the sacred ministers. This is particularly important in older churches which were not designed with freestanding altars in mind.

This private chapel, with furnishings collected and arranged by a Benedictine monk, shows what can be achieved with a logical, liturgical and orderly arrangement of even fairly simple furnishings. While this is intended as a temporary chapel, in a more permanent situation the interior could be ennobled further with color and stencilling intended to highlight the altar and crucifix.

Alternately, one solution might be to eliminate some of the furnishings, or temporarily remove them on an ad experimentum basis. Most older churches were designed to focus on their high altar, and the removal of a freestanding altar--either temporarily, for special occasion masses said at the old high altar, or non-Eucharistic liturgies such as vespers--can do much to restore a sense of ordered clarity to an interior, especially if accompanied by an appropriate liturgical catechesis. More and more parishes are opting to consider this idea, which might have been unthinkable only a few years ago, and rediscovering the wisdom and beauty of facing liturgical East during mass. You will also be amazed at how much circulation space it opens up.

Fr. Chris Marino, a priest of the archdiocese of Miami, renovated Visitation Parish during his time there. Note the results that adding a little color and marble (above) can achieve to an otherwise unremarkable interior (below).

2. Consider a New Color-Scheme. Many older church interiors have been whitewashed or painted beige over the past forty years, while new ones are often characterized by fairly timid paint-jobs. If new furnishings are not possible, it may be possible to restore a sense of sacrality and hierarchy to an interior by using color strategically in such a way that it highlights the altar and sanctuary. A predominantly white interior might have greater amounts of color and guilding within the sanctuary, while an interior with a light-colored marble altar or reredos might be repainted with deeper, vivid colors on the surrounding walls. It is important to avoid large uninterrupted blocks of color or striping along cornices to avoid a cartoonish look; stencilling and ornamented borders can help break up such areas and create a sense of texture and variety within the space. The strategic addition of marble or other stonework in some areas may fulfill a similar function.

Note how stencilling can break up and add interest to large unrelieved areas of color.

3. Add New Paraments and Hangings. Wall-hangings can cover a multitude of sins, from cracked plaster walls to hideous glass-block windows, and, when placed strategically, can highlight the most important elements of an interior. A simple cloth dossal behind the altar and tabernacle, well-draped, can do a lot to restore a proper sense of directional focus, especially if paired with matching frontals. Color is an important factor here. It may not be practical to change large-scale hangings with the liturgical seasons. A color should be selected that harmonizes with the interior, though one should note traditionally green was used as the color of choice for permanent sanctuary hangings. An inexpensive alternative to a proper hanging tester might be one made of draped cloth hung over a couple of ornamental rods. Spreading a good-quality Oriental carpet on the sanctuary floor would also revive a medieval tradition in this context. With regards to windows, the Italian and Spanish habit of hanging light canvas curtains over them to control lighting might be revived here, though in an effort to dull the brash colors and crude patterns of much modern stained glass.

This interior, already handsome, could be made even more beautiful by removing its carpeting, moving the server's chairs to one side of the sanctuary, and either replacing the existing altar or disguising with new frontals. I note, with approval, that the freestanding altar has its own footpace or predella as opposed to being simply left at the same level as the chancel, though perhaps at the expense of some of the liturgical circulation space.

4. Put in a New Floor. In older churches that were lightly re-ordered in the 1960s, often the only thing that cannot be set right by rearranging the furnishings a bit is the floor, which is often covered with an ugly, sound-deadening layer of carpet, often in a dubious color. Wall-to-wall carpeting plays havoc with accoustics, is often dingy and hard to clean, and instills an uncomfortable institutional or domestic note in otherwise glorious interiors. Simply removing the carpeting may reveal a perfectly usable floor underneath. Damaged floors can be replaced with tiles, woodwork, stained concrete--which can be surprisingly handsome--or even some artificial floor-coverings. New flooring can be added gradually, beginning with the sanctuary or the central aisle of the church and expanded over time.

There is nothing wrong with each of the individual elements here, but they have been combined in a somewhat muddled way. While placing relics within an altar--even visible through a glass front--is traditional and appropriate, this sort of arrangement on shelves is more suitable for a large reliquary cabinet independent of the altar, much less below the mensa of one. Reliquary altars work better if all the relics are placed in a large casket occupying much of the interior, or within a recumbent figure of the saint. The individual statues, each of different sizes, seem placed somewhat haphazardly. Perhaps if they were on brackets underneath the arms of the cross it might be better. The stenciling could also be altered to highlight them in some way, while the presence lamps would be better suspended on chains rather than crowding the gradine.

5. Re-Organize Well-Meaning Clutter. Quite a few parishes assume simply adding catalog-bought statuary, flowers, and candelabra to a bland contemporary design they will be able to bring beauty and tradition to their church. Often the result is distracting and the contrast can even make older elements, not properly engaged with their surroundings, appear museum-like, more like artifacts than aids to devotion. New statuary should never simply be plunked down on a pedestal without considering their place within the church. Rather than simply installing a statue, consider creating some sort of aedicule or altarino-like shrine to mediate between the sculpture and its surroundings. It should feel like a permanent element of the interior and not merely a late addition. The same goes for indiscriminately-arranged flower arrangements, potted ferns, and other odds and ends. Try to create logical relationships between these elements and other furnishings like votive candle racks and kneelers. Nartheces, with their pamphlet-racks and literature tables can fall particular victim to this disease.

An example of one of the Stations of the Cross in a traditional style that could harmonize with a more modernistic interior.

A good example of a consistent application of a modernistic style to a traditional layout. The reredos, while somewhat abstracted, nonetheless includes a centrally-placed tabernacle, crucifix, and prominent images of the saints, and ennobles the style of the interior without clashing with it.

Finally, one overall principle: Work with what you have, and don't work against it. You may not be able to turn your 1950s A-frame church into Chartres, but if you try to find art that harmonizes with its perhaps now rather quaint attempts at futurism, while at the same time seeking to reconnect it with tradition, the result may have a pleasing consistency to it. Simply dropping garish plaster statuary in a dull modern church results in a museum diorama of the history of American Catholic bad taste. Try instead to find common ground, while at the same time ennobling it in some fashion. Many of the examples of the "other modern" we have showcased on this website may give you ideas. While it may lack the grandeur of Rome or Florence, it can still become a beautiful, unified expression of the Faith.

A stylistic "clash," though a fairly minor one. This image of Our Lady of Grace is a very good quality example of a more traditional plaster statue, unlike many today. However, it is somewhat removed in style from its more modernistic/art-deco influenced surroundings, which are actually fairly traditional in their symbolism and layout if not their lines. A more simple Art Deco or Romanesque-influenced sculpture might complement the interior with more success. The placement of a votive-candle stand tucked to one side of the altar shows a very intelligent and orderly use of space that minimizes clutter while filling up largely unusable space, though two smaller flower-vases on either side of the devotional statue, towards the back of the mensa, might work better.

Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul

With today being the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, both of whom where martyred in Rome, I thought it fitting to mark today's feast by first showing these fourth century portraits of the two saints which have come to light and prominence within the past year, having been recently discovered in the Catacomb of Saint Tecla in Rome.

Left: St. Paul. Right: St. Peter

Additionally, yesterday evening in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Holy Father celebrated the First Vespers of the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul.

Today in St. Peter's, the Holy Father celebrated Mass for the feast and, as is traditionally done, also imposed the pallium on the new archbishops.

Photos courtesy of

The Anglican Ordinariate and the Question of the Parish Church

Fr. Sean Finnegan has been an active commentator on the matter of the Anglican Ordinariate, and this past weekend I noted that he asked a rather pertinent question: Will church buildings be shipped over the Tiber?

Father begins: "An Englishman's home is his castle, it has been said, and it strikes me that a lot of the adherence that an Englishman has to his parish church is because it is to do with home. Perhaps it partly defines one: the place where our family have sometimes worshipped, but at least been baptized, married, and funeralled, sometimes for generations. It is a highly important symbol of the stability of life, a still spot in a changing world."

Read the rest on Father's blog.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Four Centuries of Precious Vestments from Niedermünster Abbey, Germany

A reader in Germany sends in the news of this story about an important vestment collection which was part of Niedermünster Abbey, historically a house of canonesses in Regensburg, Germany.

Here is the story in an English translation:

The Vestment Treasury of Niedermünster

The findings' worth is in the millions of Euros, yet priceless: 500 pieces of liturgical vestments from four centuries!


REGENSBURG. To the glory of God, generations of women from Stift Niedermünster embroidered the most precious chasubles of Lyonnaise silk with threads of silver and gold. After the liturgical reforms these precious garments fell into oblivion. They were stored away in cabinets and forgotten. Now the new pastor of the cathedral parish, Fr. Harald Scharf, called an aspiring art historian for an inventory. The findings from Niedermünster caused the raising of heads among the specialists. The German "silk papess" Barbara Beaucamp and art historians of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg showed interest in these findings. Now an inventory is made of them together with exact descriptions. On high feasts the pastor may use them again at the altar. There are planned a little exposition and a publication.

Photo: Art Historian Dr. Matthias Mayerhofer with historic vestments of Niedermünster church. Foto:

Source: Der Paramentenschatz vom Stift Niedermünster

Chapel of St. Anthony's High School, South Huntington, New York

Some while ago, March 2008 to be precise, we made note of a new chapel which had been constructed at St. Anthony's High School in South Huntington, New York. We are very pleased to be able to follow that up now with some photographs of the completed chapel -- thanks in great part to our friends at the journal Sacred Architecture who put us into contact with the appropriate people at St. Anthony's.

By way of a preface, the mention of a high school chapel likely excites little in the imagination of many. Indeed, one would probably not be out of sorts to expect something of a rather modest (if not a functionalist-minimalist) nature, curtailed either by rather limited means or by rather limiting priorities. But such is not the case here. In point of fact, what we see is a design which builds a chapel of no little note; one which many of us would be delighted to have as a parish church and which, in my estimation, excels over and above the architecture and art of many a typical parish church indeed. We are presented with a chapel clearly designed in continuity with our tradition and which also includes elements of an "Other Modern"; a chapel which further employs qualitative materials and original craftsmanship and artistry. A chapel which can be clearly understood as manifesting a noble beauty, well suited to the spirit of the Roman liturgy.

The overall architectural vision and direction for the chapel was set by the principal of St. Anthony's, Br. Gary Cregan, OSF, who was inspired by the Fuentiduena Chapel, which now forms a part of the Cloisters Museum in New York City.

A particularly remarkable and noteworthy aspect of the chapel is the apse fresco which not only brings an immense visual and architectural impact, but which was also designed and executed by an art teacher of St. Anthony's, Jennifer Baldwin-Schafer, and approximately seventy of her own art students.

Here are some further looks at the chapel:

The stone on the walls is a pale, warmly colored limestone from the Middle East and the floors are constructed of marble. Do also take note of the roof.

A view looking back toward the narthex. You will note the traditional confessionals to either side of the door.

The design on the face of the altar is marble coming from the 16th century, purchased from a closed church in Viterbo, outside of Rome. The tabernacle design, which was crafted specially for this chapel, is modelled after the Portiuncula chapel found in Assisi.

The cross, which is suspended high above the altar, while exactly modelled after the San Damiano crucifix of course, is not a mass-produced or industrially produced replica; instead, it was instead crafted by Demetz artisans, a family of craftsmen from the Tyrolean region of Italy.

The apse fresco

A few words about the fresco in the apse. It has a strength and depth of colour which ought to be emulated in my estimation. Speaking personally, I certainly far prefer it over the pastel tonalities that were so popular in the Victorian period of church design in North America.

The fresco depicts the Mother of God holding the Christ Child of course, surrounded by St. Padre Pio, St. Clare, St. Francis, St. Anthony, St. Bonaventure and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. One will no doubt note the young men and women in formal, modern dress which further surround these figures; these represent the students of St. Anthony's, dressed in the uniform of the school. This would not have been easy do successfully and is a rather daring inclusion, but in this school context particularly and with the dominant traditional iconography of Christ, the Mother of God and the saints so clearly in the foreground, from what I can see I think it works.

As noted above, the fresco was designed by an art teacher of St. Anthony's, Jennifer Baldwin-Schafer, assisted by 70 student apprentices; students of the school.

Postscript: Some Thoughts

Many of our readers will also share in my delight to have read the following from our contact at the school [my emphasis]:
The acoustic created by the stone, wood and marble is especially conducive to the Gregorian Chant provided by the Gregorian Schola. This was evidenced at the Dedication Ceremonies in September 2008, which were solemnly accompanied by the ageless strains of the chant.

It is good to know that the school has not only endeavoured to design and build a chapel of this sort, but is apparently also pursing other traditional liturgical aspects such as Gregorian chant.

If I were to give one recommendation, it would certainly be to consider adopting the use of the "Benedictine arrangement" rather than placing the candlesticks around the altar, thereby giving further prominence to the altar, while also emphasizing and assisting in the proper orientation of the sacred liturgy.

That said: well done.

Sculpture: The Art of Bronze Casting using the Lost Wax Method

Recently we showed you some of the work of Stuflesser Studios in Italy, including some lovely bronzes:

One of the artisans at Stuflesser -- in fact, one of the Stuflesser family itself -- after I commented on these, offered to provide a technical description of their studio's process for casting such statuary. I very gladly took them up on this offer. They also very kindly provided some photographs of the process.

* * *

At Ferdinand Stuflesser 1875 we have a history of 5 generations. In our long history we have been casting altars, bronze statuary and bronze doors for cathedrals, churches and chapels throughout the world, always modeled to our customer’s wishes and cast with the finest bronze with the ancient system of lost wax.

Bronze is ideal for casting art work; it flows into all crevices of an artistic mould, thus perfectly reproducing every detail of the most delicately modeled sculpture. Bronze is used to designate alloys of copper with zinc, pewter and sometimes other smaller components. The Egyptians used bronze, cast and hammered, for utensils, armour, and statuary far in advance of the Bronze Age in Europe. The Greeks were un-excelled in bronze sculpture. The Romans took quantities of bronze statues from Greece and made thousands themselves. They employed bronze for doors and for furniture and candelabra, using the same procedure as we still use at our Stuflesser workshops now, more than 2000 years later.

The system of lost wax is the sculptural process of metal casting. As always, we start out with a small clay model, modeled to the clients wish. As we get the clients okay to proceed, our sculptors and artists create a solid and light structure in polystyrene. On top of this structure the actual art work is done, the sculpture is formed in soft clay, based on the small clay model in scale. A “negative” of this clay sculpture is taken in order to remake a “positive” in pure wax. This wax sculpture is then covered with a perforated clay mould. While heated in a giant oven for 10 days, the mould will “lose” the wax (hence the name of the method) as it runs out of the holes. Molten lead (bronze) is then poured into the space formerly occupied by the wax. After cooling of the work, the sculptor breaks the mould, removes the core, and polishes the metal art work. All that remains of this 4 to five month time procedure is the Sculpture in bronze, a metal layer only ¼ inch thick. Different types of patina can be applied. The most important advantage of the lost-wax method is that it eases the casting of a sculpture with elaborate curves and it definitely underlines the art work itself through its antique and noble procedure.

* * *

The Process in Pictures
(As seen in the Studio of Stuflesser)

First Step: A miniature clay model in scale is created according to the specifications of those commissioning the bronze statuary

Second Step: A polystyrene structure in the actual size of the sculpture is created, everything accordingly to the small clay model which you recognize in the back.

Third Step: On top of the polystyrene, the sculpture is modeled in clay in every detail and perfect proportions.

Fourth Step: in order to reproduce the clay sculpture in wax, through a complicated procedure, all the details are taken through different negatives (as depicted).

Fifth Step: A final check at the perforated clay mould with the wax sculpture inside. Now the sculpture will go inside the oven for 10 days where the mould will lose the wax since this is melting away.

Sixth Step: After the heat of the oven the mould is buried under a clay and sand mixture in order to endure the hot bronze casting. Now the molten lead is poured into the space formerly occupied by the wax.

Seventh Step: After un-burying the sculpture from the ground the cleaning procedure is started. Only at this point the sculpture is finished, getting now protected and embellished by the patina of the client's wish.

Detail of the completed statue

Those interested in this process, or the work of Stuflesser generally, may be interested in visiting their website, or contacting them by email at

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Avoiding Mere Ritualism and Mere Activitism

I recently took note of this opinion piece in this week's online edition of The Catholic Herald. I am sure it is bound to excite many thoughts on behalf of many individuals -- and may also incite some wrong conclusions if not carefully read.

I believe it is important to first note that the author clearly does not intend to denigrate elements like beauty, ceremony and other such visible expressions of the Faith as witnessed in the liturgical tradition; this is not an argument contra a place and value of these things -- which the Church and Holy Father indeed speak to the importance of. Neither is it a rejection of activism understood in the sense of the apostolate and the social dimensions and teaching of the Catholic Faith. These too are important and good. Instead, this is a criticism -- to borrow a bit from C.S. Lewis -- of what might be called a "mere" form of each of these; in short, a reductionism that thus results in a shallowness and ultimately a lack of rootedness in the Faith, hence resulting in a distortion.

This, of course, is a constant struggle and temptation to be avoided; one which goes beyond the two aspects discussed and which can touch on most anything, inclusive of the pursuit of theology, the study of the Faith and so on. This same point was well summed up approximately 600 years ago by Thomas a Kempis in the Imitation of Christ when, in the very first book and first chapter of that spiritual classic he comments:

"What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? ... what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God?"

The lesson here is evident and, importantly, without trading reductionisms or introducing new one's, it is a matter well borne in mind.

Newman calls us to leave behind stale arguments

by Dominic Scarborough

On Wednesday, June 9, the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, addressed 4,000 priests from around the world. They were gathered at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome for the conclusion of The Year for Priests.

He told them that nothing is more important for a priest than conversion of heart because only this will enable them to fulfil their mission to bring Christ to others. He went on to say that making “corrections” to ecclesial structures is not sufficient to evangelise priests, but rather a change of heart must occur because “the greatest obstacle to the transmission of Christ is sin”.

The cardinal’s words echo those of the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris who once said that the necessity and aim of the Second Vatican Council was to recognise that the Catholic world as it existed then had been catechised but not evangelised. However justified the late cardinal’s remarks about the pre-conciliar Church might be (one suspects he was not the only one, then or now, to take the battleship-grey paintbrush of modernity to the delicate fresco of Catholic tradition, devotion and praxis of the previous two millennia), the subsequent experience of the post-conciliar era did not achieve Cardinal Lustiger’s dream.

My own experience of growing up in that era was that we were neither catechised nor evangelised, but more frequently jeopardised.

Perhaps what lies at the root of this failure is the point now being made by Cardinal Meisner, that Catholicism is dead if it is only about externals and not about a lived experience of faith which must be internalised. Perhaps the mistake in the post-conciliar era has been to attempt merely to replace one set of externals – that of devotions, catechism, the ancient liturgy and all the other associated practices – with another comprising activism in the social arena, lay ministries and other acts of “doing” or “being Church”, which still lack any significant development of what used to be called “the interior life” (often now called “the life of the spirit”).

The most vociferous critics of the revival of the Traditional Latin Mass and the apparent traditionalism of many young priests always point to the externals – the splendid vestments, the cassocks and Roman collars and the ritual – as though this is all they can themselves see is at stake and it tends to say more of their own activist agenda than accurately critique the return of tradition as a source of spiritual nourishment.

This is where the figure of Cardinal John Henry Newman is so important for the life of the Church not just in this country but throughout the world. Newman understood that religion can never be imposed on someone from without, nor can it ever truly consist only in externals of either variety.

For him, ritualists were “gilt-gingerbread men”. But equally he rejected mere activism and social improvement as being equivalent to authentic religion. For Newman, to attempt to heal the soul by an activism aimed only at bodily and social needs was a confusion of the physical and spiritual which was equivalent to “recommending a canonry as a cure for the gout”. Rather, true religion must come from within and be a transformative experience. It is a process of conversion of the heart arising from the gradual realisation from within the person that God exists which impels the soul towards seeking out this hidden God. For Newman, the proof of God’s existence did not come from learned books or even from the Intelligent Design arguments of the physical universe.

Rather, this proof came from the undeniable reality of the human conscience and not because this conscience divinised Man to be his own arbiter of truth but because its existence revealed the existence of the objective moral law. This starting point provided the only sound foundation from which the whole person could move towards a faith enlightened and informed by the truths of Revelation as entrusted to the Catholic Church.

In short, then, true religion must begin and end as a supernatural experience of the reality of the soul, of God and of sin. Everything else flows from this or all that is left is a hollow institution standing on its own power and prestige or else a hollow activism that cannot compete with a well-organised and efficient welfare state.

Those priests who have been revealed as sexual abusers have all too often failed to internalise their faith, to make it a truly transformative experience. Instead, they have allowed the externals either of the traditional trappings of clerical power (or the more subtle modern narcissistic ones of egocentric personality-based ministry) to act as a mask concealing the weak, unreconstructed and unconverted sinner beneath, too often protected by the institution concerned with power and reputation.

It is time for the Church to move beyond arguments over ritualism versus activism. These arguments belong to an era in the Church which has failed to see the inner spiritual reality of which Newman speaks. The Church must look again at her roots and her raison d’être to discover again true faith in God. If the Year for Priests was about anything it was about a call to dispense with the mask and live the priesthood as a reality from within.

If the return of the traditional liturgy to our parishes is not to be empty ritualism it is about this liturgy offering us a different way to participate actively in Christ’s self-offering, by internalising what we see in front of us in the rich signs and symbols of hallowed stylised ritual to communicate an inner reality to our spiritual selves.

If activism and “being Church” is not to be mere secular social activity it must be about an activism motivated by love of God and our neighbour as an act of the will and not by simply the need to belong to a group or assuage guilty sentiments. Only if we all, clergy and laity alike, look inside ourselves can we truly pray the words of the Psalmist: “A clean heart create for me O God.”

Source: Catholic Herald Online

Friday, June 25, 2010

Mediæval Bishops & their Mitres

A recent post reminded me that church art can give us a valuable glimpse of the historical form of vestments. Below are various examples of bishops vested for Mass, which all date to the 14th - 15th century.

The distinctive episcopal vestment, of course, is the mitre, which is said to come from the Greek word for 'turban'. My Greek teacher once commented that 'mitra' was the name given to the distinctive headdress of prostitutes, although I have not found any evidence for this assertion!

The mitre's origin is uncertain although some scholars attribute it to the Phyrgian cap, but this is variously said to have been worn by freed slaves, or athletes. Certainly, only freed men could cover their heads. Dom Gregory DIx says that mitres were developed specifically for ecclesiastical use, and he says they are first mentioned in 4th-century Africa as the headgear of the now defunct office of deaconesses(!). He notes that mitres "passed thence to Spain where a 7th-8th century mention of the mitra religiosa in the form for the installation of an abbess... is preserved in the Mozarabic Liber Ordinum".

The clergy of Rome are said to have worn the mitre from the 9th-century, but it gradually becomes restricted. By the 10th-century it was reserved by Pope Leo VIII for non-liturgical use, and in the 11th-century was given by the Bishops of Rome as a mark of distinction to certain bishops, and later abbots as well. An interesting correlation is the gift of Caps of Maintenance, which are soft velvet caps worn under the gold crown, to monarchs as a mark of papal favour. If hats were bestowed as a sign of the dignity of freedmen, one can see how the custom of giving hats as a sign of favour developed.

Whatever its origins, it was originally a soft cap, which developed peaks from around the 12th century.It is worth noting the decoration and scale of the mediæval mitres depicted below. No doubt, as they later became highly decorated, the mitres' peaks had to be stiffened, and they were enlarged to allow for even more embroidery and decoration.

Tomb of Bishop Rodrigo Díaz (d.1339) in Salamanca's Catedral Vieja. The polychrome decoration is well preserved. In addition to the squat mitre, one can see the medallion pattern on the chasuble, and its beautiful full shape and flowing lines. Beneath this he wears a decorated dalmatic, and a long thin stole.

From Burgos Cathedral. This mitre, like the chasuble seems to be decorated with pearls. Dix mentions that the crozier is first mentioned in early 7th-century Spain and they were borne by Spanish abbots and abbesses as well as bishops as symbols of their pastoral office. From the crozier hangs the mappula, or sudarium, which is a large handkerchief used to wipe away perspiration (so it is said) where the bishop gripped the crozier. The ceremonial handkerchief, which some say became the maniple, was carried by Roman consuls and magistrates. After Constantine, bishops were given the rank of magistrate, hence it became part of episcopal insignia.

From St Nicholas' church in Burgos. Three mites are shown here, as well as another fine mediæval chasuble, and the mappula attached to the crozier.

Are Reproductions Legitimate Art?

If we are going to have a new epiphany of beauty then someone has to pay for it. It would be nice to think that there will be growing market for original works, but at the moment very few artists receive prices for their work that correspond to an hourly rate of even a plumber or a kitchen fitter. Why is this? I believe that beauty creates its own market. The price I receive corresponds to the perception of its value. So if I want to stimulate demand for my art, I should strive to be a better artist and make it more beautiful. If people like it enough they will be prepared to pay more for it. If they don’t want to buy it then it probably isn’t good enough. Marketing is important too but I am pretty sure that if a new Velazquez popped up, word would get around pretty quickly and people would be hammering at his door.

I have thought about other ways to try to sell my work in today’s marketplace. It had occurred to me that perhaps a way to make it pay would be through high quality reproductions. I could aim for a lower priced product and a higher volume of sales. With the quality of photographic reproductive techniques nowadays, it could be a way of making good art affordable to many.

Assuming that reproductions will sell, however, it does raise another issue. Is the sacramental nature of a reproduction of sacred art less than an original? Instinctively one feels so. But reading the theology of St Theodore the Studite, it would seem not. For Theodore, the great theologian whose work closed the iconoclastic period of AD853 says that what gives an icon its sacramental power is the captured likeness of the individual portrayed. If the likeness goes, then does the icon. It is reduced to wood, gold, paint and has no value beyond the price of the materials from which it is composed. This seems to imply that provided the reproduction is good and the characteristics of the saint in question are passed on from original to reproduction then, other things being equal , then it is legitimate to pray with reproduced, even mass reproduced, images.

In fact, I think there is no need for a defensive attitude to reproductions. Rather than assuming that we should aim to have as little change as possible between original and its copy, I think it would be an idea to consider reproduction as an authentic part of the creative process. It is conceivable that it could be manipulated to enhance the beauty of the original. One could even envisage the best artists would be able to understand the visual changes that take place during the reproduction process and paint so that the final reproduction corresponds to his idea, rather than the ‘original’.

I have worked recently on two illustrated books for children and, out of respect for me I think, the publishers were very keen to have an accurate reproduction that deviated as little as possible from my original. However, my attitude was that no one who reads the book is going to see the originals, and it really doesn’t matter if there is a difference. Provided that the final version is beautiful and does the job required of it on the page, then I will be happy.

Archbishop Chaput: Professional Liturgical Establishment Shaped Liturgy According to World

By way of Catholic News Agency (and in turn first noticed by way of Luke Coppen) we read of a lecture delivered by Archbishop Charles Chaput at the Liturgical Institute of Mundelein. Here is a taste:

The archbishop said Chicago priest Fr. Robert Barron is one of the few to have wrestled with such issues. For him, the liturgy is not to be shaped according to modern suppositions; rather, the liturgy should “question and shape the suppositions of any age.” While modern man is probably incapable of the liturgical act, this is no grounds for despair. Instead, we should “let the liturgy be itself,” the priest has said.

Archbishop Chaput agreed with Fr. Barron that in recent decades the “professional liturgical establishment” chose to shape the liturgy according to the world, which has proven to be “a dead end.” Seeking relevance through “a kind of relentless cult of novelty” has only resulted in confusion and division between the faithful and the true spirit of the liturgy, continued the archbishop.


To this end, the Archbishop of Denver offered several suggestions: the need to recover the “intrinsic and inseparable connection” between liturgy and evangelization; the need to see the liturgy as a participation in the “liturgy of heaven” where Christians worship “in Spirit and truth” with the Church and the communion of the saints; and the need to recover and live the early Christians’ “vibrant liturgical and evangelical spirituality.”

“Liturgy is both the source of the Church’s mission and its goal,” explained the prelate. “The reason we evangelize is in order to bring people into communion with the living God in the Eucharistic liturgy. And this experience of communion with God, in turn, impels us to evangelize.”

Source: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

The full text of the Archbishop's address is available.

Mass and Procession Planned at Vatican for First Martyrs of Rome

Vatican City, Jun 24, 2010 / 05:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The annual celebration of the feast of the First Martyrs, or "Promartyrs," of the Church of Rome will be observed in a special way in the Vatican next week. The ceremony for the feast day will be carried out on the very ground where the martyrs, lost their lives at the bidding of Emperor Nero in the year 64 A.D.


The Eucharistic celebration will take place in the church of St. Maria della Pietà in Camposanto, which is adjacent to St. Peter's Basilica. The procession will begin in the church and end in the Square of the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome just outside. In the square a headstone commemorates Nero's persecution and martyrdom of the first Christians in Rome.

Source: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

Cardinal Newman Society Pilgrimage to Birmingham for Newman Beatification; Change of Beatification Venue

The NLM, given its own affinity for the person of Cardinal Newman, was asked if it might help make the following pilgrimage better known; we are more than happy to do so of course. [NLM emphases]

U.S. Pilgrims to Attend Newman Beatification with Pope Benedict

A group of American Catholics are preparing to attend the Beatification of the 19th century convert John Henry Cardinal Newman in September at a Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI.

“The Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory, which was founded by Newman, have graciously invited us to attend the Beatification Mass and visit Newman’s own room and library,” said Patrick J. Reilly, President of The Cardinal Newman Society, which is sponsoring the pilgrimage. “It will be an extraordinary experience, especially given Newman’s relevance for our times and Mass with the Holy Father.”

The pilgrimage, dubbed “official” because of the endorsement of the Cause for Newman’s Canonization and guaranteed seats at the Beatification Mass, is mostly full but still accepting late registrations. Details and registration information can be found here.

Father Michael Barber, S.J., a Newman scholar and friend of the Birmingham Oratory, will be a spiritual guide on the pilgrimage.

“Cardinal Newman’s teachings and example have extraordinary influence on the Church today,” Father Barber said. “Three popes, including Benedict XVI, have predicted he will be declared a Doctor of the Church.”

Participants will visit Catholic sites in Oxford and London and will hear lectures from Father Ian Ker, the leading biographer of Newman, and Deacon Jack Sullivan, whose back was healed miraculously by Newman’s intercession.

The pilgrimage is part of the Newman Legacy Project, an effort by The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS) to help preserve and promote Newman’s legacy in the United States. Newman is patron to the work of CNS in Catholic higher education, because of his famous book The Idea of a University and his lifelong campaign to warn against the dangers of relativism and secularism.

CNS is working with the Birmingham Oratory to identify donors to help preserve more than 10,000 of Newman’s original, handwritten sermons, letters and other texts that remain in the care of the Oratory. Plans include building a permanent archive and a museum and visitor’s center in Birmingham, England. For more information, contact CNS at

Source: Cardinal Newman Society

For more information, or to register, also see the following itinerary and registration form.

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Speaking of the Newman beatification, Luke Coppen notes on his blog today that "The Pope will beatify Cardinal Newman in Birmingham rather than in Coventry and tour the Birmingham Oratory..."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Architectural Details: Franciscan Basilica of St. Margaret's of Cortona, Tuscany

[Awhile ago, one of our readers in Italy took these to share with NLM readers. Enjoy. I particularly would make note of the details of the facade as well as the beautiful detail, colour and patternwork within and around the dome.]

Rubens Ignatius Paintings

The artist Peter Paul Rubens has a few paintings which pertain to the life and person of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and of those of which I am familiar, these scenes and portraits capture some rather glorious chasubles -- chasubles of a style which, of recent, have seen something of a revival.

Here are two details which show such chasubles, noteworthy both for their artistic merit as paintings, as well as for the artistic merit of the vestments themselves.

Here, for example, is a detail taken from "The Vision of Saint Ignatius of Loyola" of 1616:

(Image source)

However, there is another example which I would particularly bring to your attention, namely, Rubens' "Saint Ignatius of Loyola", painted between 1620 and 1622. To view it, I would point you to the collections of the Norton Simon Museum which have provided an extremely high resolution version of the painting. (Click on it to keep zooming in.)

What is particularly spectacular in this latter example is the degree to which Rubens was able to capture the embroidery on the chasuble and how it would have played in the light. It also captures a simply spectacular vestment.

Highlights from Issue 17 of "Sacred Architecture"

The latest edition of the excellent architectural journal, Sacred Architecture, has recently come out and aside from the article we recently pointed out on the history of the reredos, I wished to note a number of other articles which are available online from the current issue.

Some of the offerings include, An Offering of Beauty by Evan McWilliams, Back to the Future: Ecclesiastical Art after Postmodernism by Dr. Janet Rutherford and Praise with Majesty and Reverence, written by a member of the Maronite Patriarchate of Antioch. Amongst the many book reviews available online is a review of Dr. Denis McNamara's book, Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy.

Rather than summarizing each of these, I will simply draw your attention to them for your own consideration and reading pleasure.

While Sacred Architecture does give a very liberal dose of its articles online, I would certainly encourage you to consider taking out a subscription (which costs but $9.50 USD per year). While only published twice per year, aside from the interesting articles, it always includes a number of beautiful colour reproductions of sacred architecture within, as well as an always interesting survey of news related to the world of sacred architecture -- something not available online to my knowledge.

It is an excellent periodical; one I am always delighted to receive in my mailbox.

* * *

Related to the matter of the photographic imagery found in the journal, I wished to point out the following two images found within the context of Dr. Rutherford's piece, "Back to the Future: Ecclesiastical Art after Postmodernism" which show work from the Beuron School.

The Mother of God Enthoned in Glory with Saints Benedict and Scholastica, Saint Maurus Chapel, Beuron, Germany. Architect Desiderius Lenz, artist Gabriel Wüger. Photo: Andreas Praefcke

Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom in the sanctuary of the Church of Annunciation in Prague-Smíchov, in the Beuron School.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

U.K. Cathedrals: Southwark

by Nick Gale, Director of Music, Southwark Cathedral

I thought readers may be interested in a series on the Roman Catholic Cathedrals of the U.K. and their musical provision. I wrote an article recently on the Choral Outreach Programme at Leeds Cathedral which seemed to interest readers on NLM, so I will follow this up with a profile of each UK Catholic Cathedral, beginning with my own, St George's Cathedral, Southwark.

St George’s Cathedral was the first Roman Catholic Cathedral to be built in the UK after the Reformation. The original building (1848) was the work of the great Victorian Architect Pugin. Although much of the Cathedral was badly bombed in 1941 during the Second World War, a great deal of his design remains, and is incorporated into the rebuilt Cathedral, which was re-opened in 1958.

The Cathedral seen from the Imperial War Museum

St George's is the Mother Church of the Archdiocese of Southwark, which covers the actual Diocese of Southwark (South London, North Surrey, and Kent), and also the Dioceses of Arundel and Brighton, Portsmouth, and Plymouth.

The Cathedral occupies an historic site close to the Imperial War Museum, a few minutes walk from London's South Bank and the Thames, Westminster Bridge, the London Eye, and landmarks such as St Thomas' Hospital and Waterloo Station. It serves a lively and cosmopolitan community from all over London, and has a strong parish identity in addition to its role as a Cathedral. For example, the vibrant Latin American community is served with a Spanish Mass every Sunday at 1pm, delivered completely in the Spanish language. On top of this, every Mass is attended by people of different ethnicities and ages, ranging from African to Asian to European. The Cathedral is proud to be a religious home to all these people.

The Cathedral Nave

The Cathedral’s Music Department was founded in 1848 with a choir of boys and men, thus making it the oldest RC Cathedral Choir in the UK. This Choir still sings the weekly Solemn Mass on Sunday morning, as well as occasional extra services such as Christmas and Holy Week. In addition there is a new Cathedral Girls’ Choir which sings the weekly Family Mass on Sunday mornings. The Cathedral has a Director of Music (Nick Gale), who is also responsible for training the Boys' Choir, an Organist (Nicholas O’Neill) and an Assistant Organist (Norman Harper), who is responsible for training the Girls' Choir.

The Cathedral Boys’ Choir is made up of 18 boy choristers, 6 choral scholars and 9 lay-clerks and sings a repertoire ranging from polyphonic settings by composers like Tallis, Byrd and Palestrina through to works by modern composers such as James MacMillan, Arvo Pärt and Judith Bingham, to name but a few. We are also fortunate to have an in-house composer – Nicholas O’Neill – who has composed 3 Masses and numerous motets for us. Gregorian Chant plays a major role in the Solemn Mass – all propers are sung in full, and the people also sing a Chant Gloria, Credo and Marian Antiphon.

When I took over as Cathedral Director of Music ten years ago, things had reached a point of stagnation. There were four choristers left, no lay-clerks or choral scholars, and the diet of music on Sunday mornings was largely hymns and simple congregational Mass settings. Thanks to supremely supportive clergy and a newly-assembled team of dedicated, enthusiastic, professional musicians, we have managed to restore our great musical heritage and return the Chant to its rightful place in the Liturgy.

The Cathedral Choristers receiving Holy Communion

Now, thanks to the wonderful team of musicians and clergy, a typical Sunday Solemn Mass involves the Introit, a congregational hymn to accompany the long procession down the vast nave, a choral setting of the Kyrie followed by a Chant Gloria. The Psalm is sung in the vernacular in directum (no response) by choir and congregation alternatum, followed by the proper Alleluia with verse. A Chant Credo follows the homily and, after a congregational hymn, the Chant Offertory precedes a choral Sanctus and Agnus Dei. The Communio is sung with psalm verses in Latin (from the CMAA's wonderful Communio books) followed by a motet. After the blessing the seasonal Antiphon to Our Lady is sung, usually to Chant or, occasionally, to a polyphonic setting, such as Robert White's wonderful 6-part Regina Caeli. The organ then leads us out of the Cathedral.

At the Family Mass the Girls' Choir leads a more congregational-style liturgy, with an English Language Mass Setting (John Bertalot, David Thorne and one composed especially for the Girls by our in-house composer Nicholas O'Neill) and vernacular hymnody, with a sparing use of Taizé-style chants. However, they lead the Mass extremely effectively and regularly sing parts of the Mass to the Chant. They have been a blessing and a real asset to the Cathedral community.

As I mentioned earlier in this article, the Cathedral has been blessed with a wonderfully supportive Dean (Canon James Cronin), who has been so helpful and kind over the past 10 years, and a series of Archbishops (most recently ++Michael Bowen and ++ Kevin McDonald) all of whom have encouraged the choirs both spiritually, morally and financially, and it is due to this support that we are able to continue doing the work that we do.

Canon James Cronin (left) and Nick Gale (right)

The Cathedral Boys’ Choir tours every other year – recent destinations include Cologne and Rome – and has broadcast live twice on BBC Radio 4 and once on BBC 1 Television in recent years. The Cathedral also played host to Pope John Paul II on his visit to the UK in 1982. Particularly noteworthy is the recently-dedicated shrine to St Francesca ‘Mother’ Cabrini, a former worshipper in the Cathedral Parish before her emigration to the USA. The Cathedral Choir recently sang for the blessing of this beautiful new shrine.

Archbishop Peter Smith

The original Cathedral Organ (Willis) was destroyed by the bombing during the War. It was replaced by an extension organ by John Compton, an inadequate solution and one that is now in need of serious attention, ideally replacement. However, the Cathedral has recently had to spend an enormous amount repairing its roof, replacing the obsolete and dangerous electrics and rebuilding the condemned Archbishop Amigo Hall, which now looks resplendent outside the West End of the Cathedral. The Cathedral is a poor parish, and the people have already dug deeply and given generously and, at present, funds do not allow us to do anything about the organ situation, which detracts from the otherwise wonderful music-making that takes place in this noble, historic and prayerful building in South London.

Please pray for Archbishop Peter, Canon James and the Choirs of St George's Cathedral for their continued work.

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