Saturday, May 31, 2014

From Solesmes: A Beautiful Facsimile of a Montecassino Manuscript and a Flying Drone

Solesmes has published the latest volume in the Paléographie Musicale series. This beautiful volume is the 23rd in the series which began in 1889 and is the first to be published in colour. It is a facsimile of Montecassino MS 542, a 12th century antiphonary and a beautiful example of the distinctive Beneventan Chant which originated in the south of Italy. The book has an introduction and explanation (in French) of the notation by the scholar and musician Katarina Livljanić as well as a comprehensive index.

The photograph below shows the original manuscript and the first antiphon from Lauds on the Feast of the Holy Innocents: Herodes iratus occidit multos pueros in Bethlehem Judae civitate David. The damage sustained in a fire can be seen at the top.

The new edition can be purchased directly from Solesmes.

The video of Solesmes below was recently filmed by a drone and shows parts of the monastery usually hidden out of sight. The opening shot starts in the French Garden, the Abbey Church visible to the right, and moves towards the Maurist Priory building which contains both the Atelier of the Paléographie Musicale as well as Dom Gueranger's cell, exactly as he left it. The charming garden of the smaller Maurist Cloister can be seen, as well as the Great Cloister, in the corner of which is the small building (with turret roof) where the Abbot washes the hands of guests before they enter the refectory. The Abbot's octagonal cell juts out at first floor level over a small internal courtyard (1:30) next to the library at the heart of the complex. The classic view of Solesmes which ends the short video is taken from a little further upstream on the River Sarthe.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Fr. Dwight Longenecker on Worship Ad Orientem

Many readers of NLM will be aware that Fr. Longenecker has, over the years, written a number of fine articles on the contemporary relevance and permanent value of certain traditional liturgical practices. Yesterday he posted a piece on his experience of celebrating the Mass ad orientem:
Sometimes in the midst of my incredibly busy life the door opens and I have a glimpse of what it is really all about.
          Quite often this happens on a Wednesday. On Wednesday evening I hear confessions and then say Mass. I celebrate the Mass ad orientem. It is the only time in the week I do so.
          I celebrate facing the same way as the people because I actually feel closer to them that way. I also feel closer to God.
          I celebrate most masses facing the people, but I have to admit that whenever I do, try as I might, I feel like I am on show – kind of like I am in entertainment mode. When I stand at the other side of the altar and face the Lord with the people I find that my own celebration of Mass is more intimate and mystical. I feel like I am able to focus more on the Lord and what is happening. If I need to weep I can do so without people seeing me. If I need to pause and pray I can do so without worrying what people are thinking.
          So this week on Wednesday evening as I celebrated Mass a strange awareness came over me. As I read the words from the missal it was as if the words themselves were alive and vivid. I cannot explain what I was seeing except to say that the words were thronged with the meaning of the words. The words on the page were distinct and that made every doctrine and truth distinct. It was as if each word and even each letter stood out with cosmic significance – not that the words themselves were so alive, but that the eternal meaning and truths that the words communicated were alive and throbbing with the meaning – meaning that was alive as far above me as the stars, and as close to me as my own breath.
          Then I thought of the mysterious meaning of “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
          It was as if this eternal mystery of the incarnation was coming true again within the simple speaking of the words. Something happened. A transaction was made between this world and eternity. The words and the actions of the liturgy came alive as I know they always come alive even though I do not always realize it.
          Then coming away after Mass the thunderstruck realization of why it is so important (as Fr Z says) to “say the black and do the red”. The priest is servant to the liturgy. The liturgy is not servant to the priest. It is only as I submit to the liturgy and live the liturgy and let it live through me that it comes to it’s fullest meaning.
          This is why it is such a travesty and mistake for a priest to try to make the liturgy “meaningful” by adding his own emphasis, his own comment and his own frightful personality. Instead, the formality of the actions, the simplicity of the gestures and the dignity of the words stand alone and communicate the mystery.

Would that clergy everywhere could read this humble and heartfelt narration and then make "the experiment of tradition" themselves! Experience is indeed the best teacher, and many things, indeed the most important ones, never become clear except along that path.

Many laypeople also go through the same process of discovery. The first time I ever saw Mass offered eastwards was when I was around the age of 17 (that would have been in the late 1980s). It was a poor venue for the Mass, a long conference room with low ceilings, very crowded, and I could hardly follow the liturgy, since it was completely unfamiliar to me at that time. And yet the moment the priest began to pray, facing the altar, with the entire congregation utterly silent, I knew with a strange certainty that here was a man who, like the child Jesus in the temple, was "busy about the Father's business," and the rest of the people were joining him in spirit with their prayers. The whole thing felt very real, although still very foreign. The moment of interior insight had not yet occurred, since I was still thinking of the Mass as a community event, as something the priest and the people do with and for each other, facing one another in a sort of lecturer/audience relationship.

As the years went on, participation in Masses celebrated ad orientem came to feel more and more right, as I absorbed the lesson of this most ancient Christian symbol. We are all facing together towards the Lord, we are all engaged upon the same act of adoration in spirit and in truth. Later on, I acquired language with which to talk about it: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the worship of Christ, the head of the Church, and of his members united with Him, forming one Mystical Body. The priest leads us in prayer, for he represents Christ the head of the Church -- and the head is attached to the body facing in the same direction as the rest of the body, not backwards. Moreover, the East, where the sun rises on our dark world, is a cosmic symbol of Christ, so the priest and people are simply praying towards their Lord and God, who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

I can't say when exactly it was, but at a certain point, it all went "click": the whole thing made perfect sense: the Mass is not about us, it's about Him -- and our posture should make that absolutely, transparently clear.

This is the way that experience works. As Aristotle says at the end of the Posterior Analytics:
From perception there comes memory, as we call it, and from memory (when it occurs often in connection with the same thing), experience; for memories that are many in number form a single experience. And from experience . . . there comes a principle of skill and of understanding -- of skill if it deals with how things come about, of understanding if it deals with what is the case. . . . as in a battle when a rout occurs, if one man makes a stand another does and then another, until a position of strength is reached. (Book II, ch. 19)
May there be among the People of God, laity and clergy alike, many perceptions, memories, and experiences that, like valiant soldiers making a stand, serve to bring about the rediscovery and permanent reestablishment of worshiping ad orientem, towards Christ who is our true Orient.

The Ordinariate Church in London re-establishes links with the Portuguese Embassy

The Portuguese ambassador to the United Kingdom is to attend Mass at the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham's central church in Warwick Street, Soho, London next month as part of efforts to restore historic links between that church and the Portuguese Embassy. His Excellency João de Vallera, along with other representatives from the Portuguese community in London, will be at the 10.30 a.m. Solemn Mass on Sunday 15 June, which falls at the end of a week of celebrations to mark Portugal's National Day on 10 June.

The Warwick Street Catholic Church, Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory, which Cardinal Vincent Nichols dedicated to the life of the Ordinariate in 2013, was built on the site of a Catholic chapel which had served the Portuguese embassy in London in the early eighteenth century, when the embassy was located in Golden Square, Soho. That original chapel, built during the Marques de Pombal's term as ambassador from 1724 to 1747 (and subsequently leased to the Bavarian Embassy), was badly damaged during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780. It was rebuilt in 1789-90.

The Mass will include music by the Portuguese composer, Manuel Cardoso alongside pieces by English composers including Herbert Howells and John Stainer, and will be celebrated according to the Ordinariate Use. The principal celebrant will be the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the Rt Revd Monsignor Keith Newton. This will be followed by a reception for all at which Portuguese wine and canapes will be served. Mass is at 10.30 a.m. Sunday 15 June. Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, Warwick Street, London, W1B 5LZ. All are welcome.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

“The Offertory Chant is Necessary at Mass” - Fr Eric Andersen on Sacred Music and the Virtue of Religion

We are very grateful to Fr. Eric Andersen for sharing with us the text of this very interesting talk he recently gave as part of the ongoing “Dominican Forum” series, at the church of the Holy Rosary in Portland, Oregon, entitled “Sacred Music and the Virtue of Religion.”
Recently, I was speaking to an editor of a Sacred Music publication and asked him to suggest something about which I could research and write. He responded: “Prove that the Offertory chant is necessary at Mass.” I had already been pondering such things, but not so precisely the necessity of the Offertory.
In order to narrow the focus down to the Offertory alone, one must begin by looking at all the texts of the Roman Missal that are to be sung, and then understand who sings what. Next, one must understand the answer to the question, “why?”. Why must all of these texts be sung, even the Offertory? This question will direct us to consider the virtues of justice and religion. In the end, we should see clearly that the Offertory chant is indeed necessary at Mass.
To begin with, let us look at the sung texts of the Mass to see who sings what. We can understand the sung parts of the Mass to belong to three categories of people: 1) the faithful in the pews; 2) the schola cantorum (or choir); and 3) the clergy and the ministers in the sanctuary. The faithful in the pews sing five parts that comprise the Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei). The schola cantorum sing five parts that comprise the Proper (Entrance, Gradual/Responsorial, Alleluia/Tract, Offertory, Communion). The clergy sing roughly five parts, including the dialogues, readings, prayers, and dismissal.
Each of these designated groups within the celebration of Mass “expresses its cohesion and its hierarchical ordering”, whether lay faithful, schola, or clergy, by carrying out “solely but totally that which pertains to them” (GIRM art. 91). A member of the faithful in the pews fully participates at Mass by reciting or singing the Ordinary parts of the Mass and responding to the liturgical dialogues of the celebrant. A member of the schola cantorum fully participates by singing the Propers of the Mass as a member of the schola, and the Ordinary of the Mass as a member of the faithful. Each person, depending on his hierarchical ordering, fully participates by singing that part which belongs to him.
In many if not most parishes, each group does not sing all that belongs to them. It is rare, for instance, to hear the Credo sung at Mass, even though the new Roman Missal provides two alternate chant settings for it in English. It is also rare to hear the Entrance, Offertory and Communion chants sung at Mass, as they are given in the official liturgical books (Missal and Gradual). When each group does not sing all that belongs to them, then people say that they feel like they are not participating. The people understand that there is something missing, but they have not been formed to know what is missing. Since the faithful are not singing all that belongs to them, and in the absence of a schola singing the propers, the people feel a need to replace the propers of the Mass with hymns.
It can work reasonably well. Here is a typical example of how the Mass might take shape in the normal parish using good hymns in place of most of the propers. We will look at the First Sunday of Advent (Year A).
Entrance Hymn: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
First Reading: Isa 2:1-5: The Lord will gather all nations into the eternal peace of the Kingdom of God
Resp. Psalm: Ps. 122. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
Second Reading: Rom 13:11-14: Our salvation is nearer.
Alleluia: Ps. 85:8: Show us, Lord, your love; and grant us your salvation.
Gospel: Mt. 24:37-44: Stay awake, that you may be prepared.
Offertory Hymn: Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying
Communion Hymn: Creator of the Stars of Night
Recessional: Alma Redemptoris Mater.
The hymns chosen are very good in my opinion. They are Advent hymns and they communicate to the people the character of the liturgical season. But there is nothing to say that those hymns must be the hymns chosen for the First Sunday of Advent. I chose them. I could just as easily have chosen other Advent hymns. The music sung at this Mass communicates my will, my spirituality, and my taste in hymns. I cannot fault it because I chose it. In my opinion it is next to perfect, except that it does not reflect the liturgical books. I planned it instead of preparing it. Archbishop Sample writes:
“It is important to keep in mind that we do not plan the Mass; the Church has already provided us with a plan. We prepare to celebrate the Mass. This is a subtle yet important distinction. The plan is found in the liturgical calendar and the official liturgical books: the Ordo, the Missal, the Lectionary and the Graduale. Our celebrations should carry out the Church’s plan as far as we are able, according to the resources and talents of the community, formed by knowledge of the norms and the Catholic worship tradition. (Pastoral Letter “Rejoice in the Lord Always” p. 11, e.)
How would this Mass look different if I had prepared it rather than planning it? Let’s look at the same Mass for the First Sunday of Advent as given to us by the official liturgical books themselves.
Entrance Antiphon Ps. 25 (24): 1-3 Unto you, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul; O my God, I trust in you, let me not be put to shame; do not allow my enemies to laugh at me; for none of those who are awaiting you will be disappointed. V. Make your ways known unto me, O Lord, and teach me your paths.
Gradual Ps. 25 (24): 3, 4 They will not be disappointed, O Lord, all those who are awaiting you. V. Make your ways known unto me, O Lord, and teach me your paths.
Alleluia Ps. 84:8 Show us your mercy, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
Offertory Ps. 25 (24): 1-3 Unto you have I lifted up my soul. O my God, I trust in you, let me not be put to shame; do not allow my enemies to laugh at me; for none of those who are awaiting you will be disappointed.
Communion Ps. 84:13 The Lord will bestow his loving kindness, and our land will yield its fruit.
In this case, we end up with a very different message. I couldn’t have chosen these texts on my own. These are the ancient and current texts of the Mass for this particular Sunday. These are the propers. The hymns I chose communicate a different message. These texts have are not governed by my spirituality, my will, or my taste. They are not about me at all. They are God’s word given to us. Notice that these propers are all taken from the scriptures.
What we see emerging here is an altogether different plan for music at Mass from that experienced by many Catholics. Conforming to the plan given by the liturgical books of the Church would mark a significant change in practice for the majority of parishes. Such a change is not easy, especially when we are so attached to our beloved hymns and religious songs. In order to conform ourselves to the plan given to us by the Church in her official liturgical books, a change of heart is needed. The Catholic people must desire to please God by giving Him the worship that He asks for, because He asks for it, in the way that He asks for it, and for as long as He asks for it (cf. Pope Clement XI. Universal Prayer. Roman Missal. Appendix VI). That is where the virtue of religion enters into this discussion.
Religion falls under the moral virtue of Justice. St. “Isidore says (Etym. x), a man is said to be just because he respects the rights (jus) of others” (qtd. ST II-II., Q 58, art 1). St. Thomas says that “justice, before all, subjects man to God” but “Since justice implies equality, and since we cannot offer God an equal return, it follows that we cannot make Him a perfectly just repayment.…Nevertheless justice tends to make man repay God as much as he can, by subjecting his mind to Him entirely.” (Q. 57, art 1, Obj. 3; reply Obj. 3). 
Therefore, we understand that subjecting our minds to God, and giving him a just repayment as much as we can, is a participation in the virtue of justice. Justice is an infused moral virtue that we hold when we are in a state of sanctifying grace. We receive it in order to cultivate it and cooperate with it. When we cultivate the virtue of justice and cooperate with it, then it slowly grows in us until it becomes as second nature. A virtue becomes as a second nature to us, but only after much practice and discipline. Therefore, to grow in the virtue of justice is not understood to be an easy thing. We must will it and then persevere.
The same goes for religion. The virtue of religion is a subcategory of the virtue of justice. We must will it and practice it and cooperate with it and participate in it, and over time, it becomes like second nature. When asked whether religion is a virtue, St. Thomas replies:
I answer that…a virtue is that which makes its possessor good, and his act good likewise, wherefore we must needs say that every good act belongs to a virtue. Now it is evident that to render anyone his due has the aspect of good, since by rendering a person his due, one becomes suitably proportioned to him, through being ordered to him in a becoming manner. …Since then it belongs to religion to pay due honor to someone, namely, to God, it is evident that religion is a virtue. (ST II-II., Q. 81, art 2).
Rendering to God his due defines the virtue of religion. It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give Him thanks. The Catechism also teaches us this:
“You shall worship the Lord your God” (Mt 4:10). Adoring God, praying to him, offering him the worship that belongs to him, fulfilling the promises and vows made to him are acts of the virtue of religion which fall under obedience to the first commandment (CCC 2135).
We understand from this that divine worship belongs to the virtue of religion and that we offer divine worship to God in order to render to Him what belongs to Him––that which is His due. We also understand that divine worship is not determined by us, but by Him. He determines the way we will offer Him worship. In fact, it is He Himself who offers the worship. Christ Himself offers the worship through the ministry of priests in His Church. We unite ourselves with His worship of the Father. It is His work, the work of God (opus Dei). We call this work of God also the Officium Divinum, or Divine Office. All liturgy is the Divine Office or divine work of God.
When we participate in this work of God, it is called public worship. Public worship means that it belongs to the whole Church and not to any individual or group of individuals. In other words, the texts of the Mass are part of the public worship of the Church because they are taken from liturgical books (Missal, Gradual, Lectionary). The liturgical books are objectively the same for everyone. But if I choose hymns to replace the propers of the Mass, that part of the Mass becomes a product of my private judgment and therefore an act of private worship.
The Church officially teaches that there is a distinction between public and private worship. Public worship, or liturgy, is the prayer of Christ and His Church. Liturgy is defined as “an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. …In it full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 7). The Head (Jesus Christ) and His members (the Church) are configured in a hierarchy of clergy, religious and laity. In the Mass, this hierarchy is expressed through the clergy, the schola cantorum, and the faithful in the pews. What if there is not a schola cantorum? Or what if the schola cantorum is not available at every Mass?
We understand in the Church that we are represented by others in the hierarchy. A priest is set apart from the faithful to offer sacrifice on their behalf. A priest is also obliged by his ordination to pray on behalf of the Church. He prays the public worship of the Church (the Breviary) in addition to his own private time in prayer. Both public and private prayer are important, but public prayer has priority. All the faithful are obliged to pray, but the lay faithful are not obliged to pray the canonical hours of the Divine Office each day as the clergy and religious are obliged to do. The laity are only obliged to pray the Divine Office in so far as they assist or participate at Mass once a week on Sundays and on all holy days of obligation.
Priests fulfill their obligation to the Divine Office by praying their breviary several times every day. The highest form of the Divine Office is celebrated when the Mass and the canonical Hours are chanted. Communities of choir monks and nuns must chant the Divine Office. They do so on behalf of the rest of the Church, and on behalf of busy priests who recite the Office. Choir monks and nuns are also obliged to chant the Mass everyday. If their community does not chant the Mass, their obligation for the praying of the Divine Office is not fulfilled. The 1917 Code of Canon Law specifies the Divine Office as follows: “The divine office includes the psalms of the canonical hours along with the celebration of a sung conventual Mass...” (Can. 413.2; trans. Edward N. Peters. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2001). This canon is not found in the 1983 Code, but nevertheless it remains true that the sung Conventual Mass is part of the Divine Office and that someone somewhere must sing it on behalf of the Church in order to fulfill the praying of the Divine Office in full.
A priest can pray a quiet Mass in private that is completely spoken or even whispered and fulfill his obligation to celebrate the Mass. Even alone, it is an act of public worship. A community of choir monks or nuns must assist at a conventual Mass by singing the choral Mass in order to fulfill their obligation to the choral office. In total, the Divine Office to be sung includes Matins/Office of Readings, Lauds, (Prime), Terce, Mass, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline in that order throughout the day, every day.
The inclusion of the sung Mass within the Divine Office suggests that there is a work that is fulfilled in the singing of the Mass which is a different work than that of the priest offering the Holy Sacrifice. The work of the schola cantorum in singing the psalms, antiphons, responsories, and other propers is a participation in the Divine Office. The schola cantorum in a parish, when it is made up of lay men and/or women, takes up the duties of the choir religious. The schola sings it on behalf of the whole Church. They render to God what is His due on behalf of those who cannot do so. The priest cannot do so because he is engaged in praying the Mass as it pertains to the priest. The lay faithful cannot sing the propers because the propers require an advanced skill and proficiency that do not belong to everyone. The schola cantorum sings the propers for the good of the Church and for the fulfillment of the Divine Office, which is the work of God. It is a noble duty and it belongs first to the virtue of justice and, secondly to the virtue of religion. The propers are an essential part of the Mass that must be prayed by someone somewhere in the world.
Remember how we considered that the people might be singing songs while the priest is praying the Mass? We know that the priest fulfills his obligation and his office by offering the Mass as it is given in the liturgical books. How do the faithful fulfill their obligation to Mass on Sundays? The faithful fulfill their obligation by being present. Ideally, the faithful will also be mindful, reverent, and prayerful. Ideally the faithful will sing the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei. They will recite the Confiteor and the Domine, non sum dignus. They will adore God at the elevation of the consecrated Host and the Precious Blood. They will receive Holy Communion in a state of grace, and they will ideally make an act of thanksgiving after Mass. In doing all these things, they give to God what belongs to Him. They belong to Him.
What remains is an obligation on the part of some in the Church to chant the Mass in the entirety of its texts from the Missal, the Gradual, and the Lectionary. Since there are some who are obliged to do so, therefore the Offertory chant is necessary. Somewhere in the world, this must be done. Let it be done here, and there, and everywhere. It is a service to God and to all the faithful that it is done; not for our glory, but for God’s glory and to render Him what is due to Him.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Three Medieval Art Classes this July - Learn the Style of the English Gothic School of St Albans

For any who are interested, here are the contact details for three residential summer schools that offer instruction in painting illuminations in the style of the gothic Masters of the School of St Albans (which flourish in the 13th century England). I am the teacher at each. In this week of the Feast of the Visitation, as an example I offer a modern illumination in this style.

From mid-July, there are courses in

Diocese of Kansas City, Kansas (July 14- 18th);
Contact: Kimberly Rode at

St Mary's University College, Calgary, Canada (July 21-25th),

Thomas More College in Merrimack, NH (July 27-August 2). Contact: Gwyneth Holston,

All come in at under $600. Although each is taught as a class in which we work together, each class is taught so that each person gets a high level of individual attention and personalized instruction. This allows everyone work at his own pace and level. Each course will be suitable therefore, both for beginners and the more experienced. If you have already done one of these courses this will be for building on what you already know - you will be able to choose your own image and will benefit from more instruction. Students will learn the traditional technique of egg tempera.

At all three, I will teach people also how to pray with visual imagery (a lot more straightforward than many imagine) and explain how to set up an icon or image corner as a focus of prayer in your home (as described in the book, The Little Oratory). At the courses in Kansas and at Thomas More College the singing of the Divine Office will run through the course, so people who wish to will have a chance not only to sing the psalms, but potentially also learn to do so at a level that they can start doing it at home or parish - perhaps in front of your own icon corner.

The icon class at Thomas More College coincides with a lecture series the college is presenting that features myself, NLM's own Matthew Alderman, the founder and director of the Catholic Artist's Society Kevin Collins, the well known sculptor Andrew Wilson Smith and finally, but not least, Dr Ryan Topping the author of Rebuilding Catholic Culture. All lectures are open to the public and free to attend.

Notes from Norcia [UPDATED]

Last week, I enjoyed the tremendous blessing of a brief visit to the great Monastero di San Benedetto in Norcia, at the birthplace of Saints Benedict and Scholastica. I was in Austria giving a course on the theology of sacred music at the International Theological Institute, and, as I had long wished to make my final oblation as a Benedictine oblate of Norcia, it seemed the right time to do so. This post really is nothing more than a series of notes and pictures; perhaps on a later occasion I will have the chance to share some liturgical reflections that occurred to me during my stay with the monks.

The first thing that caught my attention, upon entering the basilica, was a side altar in honor of St. Peter Celestine. I had noticed the altar on previous visits but this time it really struck me, both because the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI tends to sharpen one's attention to his distant predecessor, and because the week before, on Sunday, May 18, when I happened to be dining in the refectory of the Cistercian abbey of Heiligenkreuz near Vienna, I heard the lector reading the Martyrology entry for St. Peter Celestine, which made me aware of his feastday on Monday, May 19. 
The refectory at Heiligenkreuz
(Curiously enough, the Heligenkreuz lector proceeded to give a rather lengthy description of the saint's abdication and mentioned that it was an historical precedent for Pope Benedict -- none of which could have been in the Martyrology itself. This must have been a local elaboration!)

Back to the Norcia Basilica of Saint Benedict and its side altar:
Side altar in Norcia to St. Peter Celestine
Close-up of the image of the saint
Another thing I was pleased to see was the subtle and powerful transformation of the sanctuary of Norcia thanks to the addition of an historic altarpiece, free-standing altar, and matching ambo. For many years, the sanctuary had a rather modern altar and a crucifix against the back wall, which did not have sufficient presence and beauty to focus the attention upon the center of the sanctuary. I'm afraid I don't have a very good photo of the "before" status -- this one was taken years ago with a poor camera.
Thursday, May 22, was the feast of St. Rita in the Diocese of Spoleto-Norcia, and I felt very fortunate to be there for the conventual High Mass of the community, because these propers are seldom used in traditional Catholic communities in the United States -- the general calendar of the usus antiquior does not include St. Rita, who, it would appear, was remembered only in certain dioceses or communities. In the Baronius Missal that the monks had left in the guest house, I found the propers for St. Rita on page 2087, which states: "May 22, Los Angeles, ST. RITA OF CASCIA, Widow." As the texts of this Mass are particularly beautiful, I offer here a few of them.

The collect makes mention of the stigmata that St. Rita bore:
COLLECT. O God, Who didst vouchsafe to confer on St. Rita so great grace that she loved her enemies and bore in her heart and on her brow the stigmata of Thy love and passion, grant us, we beseech Thee, by her intercession and merits, so to spare our enemies and to meditate on the pains of Thy passion that we may obtain the rewards promised to the meek and to them that mourn. Who livest and reignest.
The EPISTLE was from the Canticle of Canticles, 2:1-13: "I am the flower of the field, and the lily of the valleys..." It's always a delight to encounter a liturgical reading from this most sublime and mystical book of Scripture, more commented on than any other book and yet so rare in the liturgy itself (less rare in the traditional, but almost non-existent in the modern Roman rite). Hearing the Song of Songs chanted by one of the monks truly gave wings to these already intense words.

The Offertory strikingly takes a text from Genesis and applies it to St. Rita's husband and two children, all three of whom were converted before their deaths because of her prayers:
OFFERTORY (Gen 40:9-10). I saw before me a vine, on which were three branches which by little and little sent out buds, and after the blossoms brought forth ripe grapes. Alleluia.
SECRET. Pierce our hearts, we beseech Thee, O Lord, by the merits of St. Rita, with the thorn of that sorrow which is from heaven, so that, being delivered by Thy grace from all sins, we may be able to offer to Thee the sacrifice of praise with pure hearts. Through our Lord.
The Communion antiphon is a very familiar verse, Psalm 20:4, yet with a different twist than usual in its application to a female saint:
COMMUNION. Thou hast prevented her, O Lord, with blessings of sweetness: Thou hast set on her head a crown of precious stones. Alleluia.
POSTCOMMUNION. Regaled with heavenly delights, O Lord, we humbly entreat Thee that, by the intercession of St. Rita, we may bear in our souls the marks of Thy charity and Thy passion, and constantly enjoy the fruit of perpetual peace. Through our Lord.
The town of Cascia is a close neighbor to Norcia, so not surprisingly May 22nd is a huge celebration over there and throughout the region.

Immediately after Vespers on this feastday, Fr. Cassian Folsom, Prior of the community, received me as an oblate of the monastery in the presence of the other monks. The ceremony was short, solemn, and beautiful, culminating in the reading of the hand-written oblate chart, the signing of it upon the altar, and the chanting of the "Suscipe" together with all the monks.
The oblation ceremony 
The chanting of the Suscipe
Then there is the time for rejoicing! As many NLM readers know, the monks of Norcia are famous for their home-brewed Belgian-style beer, Birra Nursia, which has become so popular in their region that they can hardly brew enough to supply the demand. Br. Francis, the brewmaster, gave me a tour of the brewery, which had expanded considerably since my last visit.
Br. Francis and a tank

Br. Anthony with more tanks

Storage of malt

The bottling machine
One last highlight of the visit was hiking up into the mountains to see the ruined monastery that the monks of Norcia often flee to in the summertime for peace, quiet, and a bit of coolness -- a sort of earthly image of the locus refrigerii, lucis, et pacis. The regional government of Umbria has given the monks a grant of 400,000 Euros to continue the repair work on this beautiful structure, located in such a splendid spot, but of course it will cost a lot more, and take many years, to bring these buildings back into regular use. The monks have chanted parts of the Divine Office in the chapel here.
Entrance to the mountain retreat

The chapel in the mountains

A view from the path

May the Lord continue to bless the good monks of Norcia, whose warm hospitality is rivaled only by their edifying devotion to the Work of God, the sacred liturgy.

The Apodosis, or Leavetaking, of Pascha

Today is the last day of Pascha for Christians of the Byzantine tradition.  Each major feast on the Church calendar has an Apodosis that comes, normally, at the end of the octave.  The hymns for Matins, the hours, Vespers, Compline, and the Divine Liturgy are repeated as on the first day of the feast.  For Pascha, however, the Leave-Taking is on the vigil of the Ascension, but, with the exception of the changed lectionary, the services are the same as for Easter Sunday.

Two years ago, Orthodox blogger, John Sanidopoulos, had a nice reflection on the reason for an Apodosis:

Every major feast has its Apodosis.  Why? The main reason is that the Church once again gives us the opportunity to celebrate the beauty of the feast.  When we see or experience something beautiful, it is human nature to desire to have that experience again.  When we taste delicious food, we desire to eat it again.  The feasts of Christ and the Theotokos are a sweetness to the soul which arouses the desire to celebrate more than once.
I have found this to be true in my own experience.  The beauty and richness of the Paschal Canon and the Paschal Stichera, the joy of the chants on Sunday morning are so marvelous that I am thrilled to repeat them every day of the first Bright week, and then repeat echoes of them each Sunday of the Easter season.  But there is a special delight on this day of Pascha in being able to re-pray all of the services one last time, forty days later.  It is like an anniversary party for a happily married couple, hosted at the same site as the original celebration.

At the same time, in every remembrance there is a sense of incompleteness, a yearning for a future that more perfectly embodies that original greatness.  And so today, the Apodosis is on a Wednesday, a fast day.  For those who observe the fasting rules in all their rigour, ordinarily today would be no meat, dairy, fish, wine or oil.  But every Wednesday and Friday of Pascha are allowed wine and oil, and today fish is allowed as well.  But even for those keeping a more minimal fasting observance, today is a meatless Easter.  We sing the hymns, but our fasting reminds us that it is not Pascha Sunday, and we are at the beginning of the end of this feast of feasts.

After today's end, we cease chanting the Paschal hymns.  The canon, the stichera, even the ubiquitous tropar: Christ is Risen... all come to an end.  Today, is the last day to rejoice in the pure Paschal joy in the presence of the Risen Lord before his Ascension.  For the next nine days there is a kind of silence hovering over the Church's liturgy.  There is still a certain pascal joy and expectation for Pentecost; for example we still do not kneel...but there is an air of waiting, of not quite full Paschal joy...  But for today, sing your heart out!  It is the last chance till next year.

To help you, here is a link with the Paschal Tropar chanted in different melodies and languages:  Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs, granting life.


Blessed Sacrament Procession in Central London

There will be a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament in London on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Sunday, 22 June, jointly organised by the parishes of Spanish Place and Farm Street. The Procession will begin at the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street at 5:15pm, walking via the Ukrainian Cathedral on Duke Street, over Oxford Street and past Selfridges to St James’, Spanish Place, concluding around 6:30pm with Solemn Benediction. It is hoped that the Procession will become an annual event.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rogation Days and Ascension Photo Request

My sincerest apologies for delaying in this post. Nevertheless, if any readers took pictures of their processions and/or Masses during these Rogation days we currently are in (for those who attend the EF or follow the 1962 calendar), please submit them for inclusion in our photopost!

Also, with Ascension coming up, we will also be accepting photos for an Ascension photopost. As always, please submit to: and please place either "Rogation" or "Ascension," respectively, in the subject.

The Lumen Christi Simple Gradual - from Adam Bartlett

This is a wonderful new resource for the Mass in the vernacular...and perhaps the EF too?

Adam Bartlett is the composer who created the Simple English Propers that have been featured on this site regularly and I am an enthusiast of his past work. I was pleased to learn, therefore, that he had produced a new set of chant propers and to receive a copy of the new Lumen Christi Simple Gradual recently.

It comes attractively bound with one version for choir and one for congregation. It turned out to be more than just propers: it has three sections. The first is the Order of the Mass in which there are scores for all parts that could be sung by priest or congregation. When some of those parts that might commonly be sung in Latin even in a predominantly English Mass, the chants in Latin are given as well - eg dominus vobiscum/ et cum ...

The second has eighteen Mass settings - most of which are the commonly sung gregorian Masses in Latin covering the main seasons and feasts of the year. There are four English chant Masses, the first is the ICEL Mass, there are two composed by Bartlett and one by his mentor Columba Kelly. This inclusion of the Latin chants is consistent with the mission of not only producing something that is good in itself for English, but something that is derived from and points to the greater tradition of chant of the Church. My hope for the future is that we see a true flowering both of the vernacular liturgy and the traditional Latin.

The third section is a set of propers, more complex than the Simple English, for the complete liturgical year - Introit, Offertory and Communion antiphons, with psalm meditations.

There is also a very well written introduction in which Bartlett explains the reasons for the production of the book and gives very helpful suggestions as to how to sing the chants for those with relatively little experience; and practical ways to introduce them gradually in congregations that might have had no exposure to chant at all.

In the end, the test of quality of this music will be time. If the music it contains is beautiful enough then congregations and choirs will want to sing it, and if it is simple enough for them to do so, they will. I can only give my personal sense so far in this regard, but for what it is worth, I think Bartlett has hit the mark here. I have had a chance to sing some of the propers in a Mass. The response of my choir and the congregation where was sang it has been positive so far.

I sing in a choir run by my friend Tom Larson, which he calls his Catholic Basics Choir. We are a choir of adults and children from our families and most of us had little experience in singing chant before they joined the choir. Until recently, we have had a program of singing the Simple English Propers and then the Latin gregorian. Our experience of this has been very good. The SEPs are easy to learn, allow for a clear articulation of the text so that the congregations can understand it, and are modal so that they connect musically to the gregorian which follows in Latin. Doing it in this way, we found that congregations are introduced to the Latin in such a way that they are less likely to feel intimidated by being presented with text they don't understand, and instead meditate on the English they have just heard, while listening to the gregorian.

Recently we have been singing these new propers. Compared to SEPs they are a step up in both complexity and beauty. They retain the advantages of the SEPs, they are still easier to learn than the gregorian if you have not done chant before; and the melodies fit the text very naturally and easily allowing for clear articulation.

In these new propers I was struck particularly by how the examples we sang anticipated the gregorian proper, not just by being in the same mode but also by using echoes of the patterns of the melody in the gregorian chant. In our case it is 'anticipated' because we learn and sing the English first. I mentioned this to Tom afterwards and he agreed. He put it like this: these are perhaps 25% more difficult to sing, but the return on the effort in terms of beauty is much more than that. 'He has nailed it with these! ' he said. Tom is not easily impressed and has been a proponent of Latin chant for years. He actually said to me that for the first time, if he went somewhere and they only did English, if they did these chants he would be happy. There is an even greater endorsement, and that is to see our soprano section, average age 7, singing both the English and then the gregorian Latin and picking them up very quickly under Tom's guidance with the help of these chants; and enjoying it!

St Augustine famously said (in his commentary on Psalm 32) that the beauty of the music can communicate a truth that words alone cannot. This is only true when the melody is of the highest calibre and when music and text are in harmony. I dare to suggest based upon my experience of these so far that these propers do this. There is as sense that the melody itself is an interpretation and illumination of the meanings of the words. 

Resources such as this used well in our parishes will not only deepen our active participation in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, but by their connection to the Latin tradition, will also open the way to a greater appreciation of the Extraordinary Form. However, as I sang these I wondered if there might be another possibility also. In a sung Mass, there places where choir directors are permitted to choose additional hymns and motets and often they will chose English texts - I have heard Victorian hymns or Anglican music (for example Tallis's If Ye Love Me). If there were a full selection of propers in the vernacular that could be sung at the appropriate juncture (in the way that the texts of the readings are read from the pulpit prior to the homily for example) of the quality of these these, I think that singing these as well would help to de-mystify and so add to the mystery. There is some overlap of course, so already it could be done partially, but there are many gaps too, so there's your next project Mr Bartlett....

You can purchase the Lumen Christi Simple Gradual here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

For the Feast of St Philip Neri: The Oratory of Naples

The Naples Oratory was founded in 1586 by three disciples of St. Philip Neri, Antonio Talpa, Giovanni Giovenale Ancina (later bishop of Saluzzo, beatified in 1889) and Francesco Maria Tarugi (later cardinal), only 11 years after the Congregation of the Oratory was officially approved by Pope Gregory XIII. It was the Congregation’s first house outside of Rome, and since the founders came from the church where St Philip lived, San Girolamo della Carità, the Neapolitans have always called them the “Girolamini”. (“Girolamo” is Italian for “Jerome.”) It was immediately a tremendous success, and for centuries one of the most important religious institutions in Naples; the complex of buildings (including a huge church, two cloisters, one of which is also very large, and several smaller oratories) occupies a full hectare of land right in the middle of the city, across the street from the Cathedral. In its heyday, it was patronized by most of the important families in the city, which was then the capital of a large independent kingdom; it became famous for its art collection and magnificent sacristy. Like many of the great cultural and religious institutions of the former Kingdom of Naples, the Oratory has suffered much from various acts of suppression and confiscation; the center of Naples was also bombed during World War II, and a part of the complex which was damaged, the Oratory of the Assumption, is still in need of restoration over 70 years later. Nevertheless, the Girolamini remains one of the great monuments of St Philip’s apostolic labors, and those of his sons throughout the world.
The façade of the church, seen from the via dei Tribunali, the ancient decumanus maximus of Naples in Roman times.
The central nave seen from the door.

The coffered ceiling (partly missing) with an image of St. Philip.

The high altar.

An angel holding a candlestick at the corner of the sanctuary, carved by the Neapolitan sculptor Giuseppe Sanmartino, better known for the famous image of the veiled Christ in the nearby Sansevero Chapel. (see linked article)

The right side-aisle. As in many Italian Counter-Reformation churches, the side-aisles are deliberately arranged as a kind of blind that separates the side chapels from the central nave, so that the faithful would not be distracted from the principal ceremony at the main altar.

A side altar dedicated to St Charles Borromeo. St Philip and St Charles knew each other personally, and the latter made generous donations towards the building of the Chiesa Nuova, the Oratory of Rome; they are pictured together in the altarpiece. In the statue, St Philip is shown trampling on a cardinal’s hat, a symbol of the many ecclesiastical dignities offered him, and always refused. The two busts on either side may be Ss. Cosmas and Damian, since a church named for them was pulled down to make way for the Girolamini; when this was done in the Counter-Reformation period , it was often on such terms that the new foundation was required to preserve devotion to the titular saints of the old one.

The main side-altar of the left transept contains relics of St Ignatius of Antioch, and the Roman martyrs Ss. Nereus and Achilleus. Another disciple of St Philip, the renowned historian Cesare Baronius, was made cardinal of the church of Ss Nereus and Achilleus in 1596, and presumably donated these relics. (It was Baronius who read the commendation prayers for St Philip as he lay dying.) I have never before seen a sepulcher in an altar decorated like this.

An emblem representing the heart of St Philip, enflamed with the love of God, in the floor close to the main door. Neapolitan Baroque churches are often filled with this elaborate kind of mosaic known as entarsia, in which the pieces of stone are cut as much as possible in the shape the artist wishes to make, rather than into lots of tiny pieces which are then used to build the images. (Some kinds of stone, however, are too brittle for this to be very practical, and more, smaller pieces are used, as with the yellow stone around the heart.)

The small cloister though which one now enters the church, with the dome above.

The great cloister.

The dome of the chuch seen from the great cloister.

The façade of the cathedral, seen from the former buildings of the community.

On the right side of the Duomo is the large chapel of Naples’ Patron Saint, Januarius (San Gennaro), the relic of whose blood famously liquifies on his three feast days. The chapel houses over 40 silver busts of various Saints, including this one of St. Philip; these are often carried in procession though the heart of the city by various confraternities on the three feasts.

The Feast of St Philip Neri at the London Oratory

High Mass was celebrated at the London Oratory this evening for the Feast of St Philip Neri. The Preacher was Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of Astana, Kazakstan, Titular Bishop of Celerina. The Choir of the London Oratory sang the Mariazellermesse by Haydn and Pangamus Nerio by Wingham. Happy Feast to Oratorians everywhere!

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: