Monday, February 29, 2016

St. John Cassian, Feb. 29

Icon of St. John Cassian the Roman
Today on the Byzantine calendar is the feast of St. John Cassian. There is a nice biography of this link between East and West at the Orthodox Church of America’s website. But for some fun reading, I thought I would offer Vladimir Soloviev’s interpretation of a Russian legend as to why St. John Cassian had a feast day on leap year. One might object to his interpretation, but it seems a worthy reflection for this feast day.
A popular Russian legend tells how St. Nicolas and St. Cassian were upon a visit to the earth. On their journey they met a poor peasant who had got his wagon, with a load of hay upon it, stuck in the mud and was making fruitless efforts to get his horses on.
“Let’s go and give the good fellow a hand,” said St. Nicolas.
“Not I; I’m keeping out of it,” replied St. Cassian, “I don’t want to get my coat dirty.”
“Well, wait for me,” said St. Nicolas, “or go on without me if you like,” and plunging without hesitation into the mud he vigorously assisted the peasant in dragging his wagon out of the rut. When he had finished the job and caught his companion up, he was all covered in filth; his coat was torn and soiled and looked like a beggar’s rags. St. Peter was amazed to see him arrive at the gate of Paradise in this condition.
“I say! Who ever got you into that state?” he asked. St. Nicolas told his story.
“And what about you?” asked St. Peter, turning to St. Cassian. “Weren’t you with him in this encounter?”
“Yes, but I don’t meddle in things that are no concern of mine, and I was especially anxious not to get my beautiful clean coat dirty.”
“Very well,” said St. Peter, “you, St. Nicolas, because you were not afraid of getting dirty in helping your neighbor out of a difficulty, shall for the future have two feasts a year, and you shall be reckoned the greatest of saints after me by all the peasants of holy Russia. And you, St. Cassian, must be content with having a nice clean coat; you shall have your feast day in leap-year only, once every four years.” 
We may well forgive St. Cassian for his dislike of manual labor and the mud of the highroad. But he would be quite wrong to condemn his companion for having a different idea of the duties of Saints towards mankind. We may like St. Cassian’s clean and spotless clothes, but since our wagon is still deep in the mud, St. Nicolas is the one we really need, the stout-hearted Saint who is always ready to get to work and help us.
The Western Church, faithful to the apostolic mission, has not been afraid to plunge into the mire of history. After having been for centuries the only element of moral order and intellectual culture among the barbarous peoples of Europe, it undertook the task not only of the spiritual education of these peoples of independent spirit and uncivilized instincts but also of their material government.
In devoting itself to this arduous task the Papacy, like St. Nicolas in the legend, thought not so much of the cleanliness of its own appearance as of the urgent needs of mankind. The Eastern Church, on the other hand, with its solitary asceticism and its contemplative mysticism, its withdrawal from political life and from all the social problems which concern mankind as a whole, thought chiefly, like St. Cassian, of reaching Paradise without a single stain on its clothing. 
The Western Church aimed at employing all its powers, divine and human, for the attainment of a universal goal; the Eastern Church was only concerned with the preservation of its purity. There is the chief point of difference and the fundamental cause of the schism between the two Churches. 
It is a question of a different ideal of the religious life itself. The religious ideal of the separated Christian East is not false; it is incomplete. In Eastern Christendom for the last thousand years religion has been identified with personal piety, and prayer has been regarded as the one and only religious activity.
The Western Church, without disparaging individual piety as the true germ of all religion, seeks the development of this germ and its blossoming into a social activity organized for the glory of God and the universal good of mankind. The Eastern prays, the Western prays and labors. Which of the two is right?
Jesus Christ founded His visible Church not merely to meditate on heaven, but also to labor upon earth and to withstand the gates of hell. He did not send His apostles into the solitude of the desert, but into the world to conquer it and subject it to the Kingdom which is not of this world, and He enjoined upon them not only the innocence of doves but also the wisdom of serpents. If it is merely a question of preserving the purity of the Christian soul, what is the purpose of all the Church’s social organization and of all those sovereign and absolute powers with which Christ has armed her in giving her final authority to bind and to loose on earth as well as in heaven?
The monks of the holy mountain of Athos, true representatives of the isolated Eastern Church, have for centuries spent all their energies in prayer and the contemplation of the uncreated light of Tabor. They are perfectly right; prayer and the contemplation of uncreated things are essential to the Christian life.
But can we allow that this occupation of the soul constitutes the whole Christian life? — or that is what we must do if we try to put the Orthodox East, with its peculiar character and special religious tendencies, in the place of the Universal Church. We have in the East a Church at prayer, but where among us is the Church in action, asserting itself as a spiritual force absolutely independent of the powers of this world?
Where in the East is the Church of the living God, the Church which in every generation legislates for mankind, which establishes and develops the formulation of eternal truth with which to counteract the continually changing formulas of error? Where is the Church which labors to re-mould the whole social life of the nations in accordance with the Christian ideal, and to guide them towards the supreme goal of Creation — free and perfect union with the Creator?
The advocates of an exclusive asceticism should remember that the perfect Man spent only forty days in the wilderness; those who contemplate the light of Tabor should not forget that that light appeared only once in the earthly life of Christ, Who proved by His own example that true prayer and true contemplation are simply a foundation for the life of action.
If this great Church, which for centuries has done nothing but pray, has not prayed in vain, she must show herself a living Church, acting, struggling, victorious. But we ourselves must will that it be so. We must above all recognize the insufficiency of our traditional religious ideal, and make a sincere attempt to realize a more complete conception of Christianity. There is no need to invent or create anything new for this purpose. We merely have to restore to our religion its Catholic or universal character by recognizing our oneness with the active part of the Christian world, with the West centralized and organized for a universal activity and possessing all that we lack.
We are not asked to change our nature as Easterns or to repudiate the specific character of our religious genius.
We have only to recognize unreservedly the elementary truth that we of the East are but a part of the Universal Church, a part moreover which has not its center within itself, and that therefore it behooves us to restore the link between our individual forces upon the circumference and the great universal center which Providence has placed in the West. There is no question of suppressing our religious and moral individuality but rather of crowning it and inspiring it with a universal and progressive life.
The whole of our duty to ourselves consists simply in recognizing ourselves for what we are in reality, an organic part of the great body of Christendom, and in affirming our spiritual solidarity with our Western brethren. This moral act of justice and charity would be in itself an immense step forward on our part and the essential condition of all further advance.
St. Cassian need not become a different person or cease to care about keeping his clothes spotless. He must simply recognize that his comrade has certain important qualities which he himself lacks, and instead of sulking at this energetic worker he must frankly accept him as his companion and guide on the earthly voyage that still lies before them.

Exquisite Altar Cards from Notre Dame in Paris

Until this past September, I had never been to Paris, and a fortiori, had never been to the Musée de Cluny (Musée Nationale du Moyen Âge), or the medieval collection at the Louvre, or the treasury of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. My son and I visited these three remarkable places, looking closely at the liturgical treasures they contain. Although we told ourselves ahead of time that we were going to favor our eyes and brains and not take pictures of everything, I allowed myself photos of items that struck me as having, for one reason or another, high interest to NLM readers.

In the past, NLM has drawn attention to custom-made altar cards for the traditional Latin Mass and has recommended that people commission altar cards from artists or, at very least, search around for more artistic diversity than the standard cards that are reproduced in vast numbers, as useful as they are unquestionably are. When one is just starting up a TLM apostolate, the budget is usually tight and what matters is having an affordable set of altar cards available for Mass. As time goes on, however, and especially in the context of a stable community, a dedicated parish or a religious house, we may want to give serious thought to how we might augment the beauty of the furnishings of the altar and the sanctuary, and even, if possible, use the occasion for offering patronage to a promising Catholic artist. The fine arts will never take off again in the Church if we who claim to love beautiful things do not step forward and donate for this specific purpose.

It is no insult if a patron asks an artist to emulate an historical model, and no shame if an artist produces excellent copies of past models. So much great art of the past, particularly in the Middle Ages, was born in the midst of a well-defined system of apprenticeship, with successive artists able to achieve better work thanks to the humble discipline of faithful imitation. The modern cult of the artistic genius and his or her “originality” has led only to an accelerating debasement and derangement of art. If today’s artists start off by patiently and humbly emulating historic models, tomorrow’s artists, under the guidance, might stand a chance of producing something more brilliant and unique, while yet beautiful.

Today, I would simply like to share photos of a set of altar cards kept in the treasury of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Their exquisite calligraphy and ornamentation, set within the Baroque frames, elevates them above the realm of the everyday or the utilitarian. These are no longer mere textual prompts but works of beauty that give glory to God, the Greatest and Best.

While I’m at it, let me share a photo of a side altar at St. Catherine of Siena church in New York City, an altar dedicated quite obviously to the celebration of Masses for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Notice how the altar cards here are exceptionally well integrated into the overall scheme, and how they make their own artistic contribution to the ensemble. It is as if the craftsman said to himself: “These cards have a certain function, but since they are going to be visible throughout, I will make them worth looking at.” It is one more example of the Catholic way of raising up the mundane and making a virtue of necessity.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

How is Your Latin OF Doing?

Last month, in response to this article by Mons. Charles Pope at the National Catholic Register, warning that many EF congregations may not be growing, or even shrinking, I posed to our readers the question “How is Your TLM Doing?” The responses, which you can read in the combox attached to that article, unsurprisingly, ranged all over the place, some of them very much cause for optimism, others not so much, and there was also a great deal of commentary on Mons. Pope’s article.

At the suggestion of one of our regular commenters, I would like to pose a second question in a similar vein, and invite all of our readers to sound off in the combox.

Since it was not even remotely the will of the Second Vatican Council that the use of Latin disappear from the majority of our churches, what is your church or apostolate doing to promote greater interest in, understanding of, and love for the Ordinary Form of the Mass in Latin, and is it working? And conversely, if attendance at your Latin OF is shrinking, why do you think this is happening, and what do you think could be done to change it?

Please read this before commenting: I realize that we need to define some terms here, before this question can be answered, since it is almost unheard of for any Mass in the post-Conciliar Rite to be said entirely in Latin. For the purposes of this survey, a Mass counts as “a Latin OF” if the Ordinary is sung or said in Latin, and the Canon is said in Latin.

As I wrote vis-à-vis the TLM survey question, I believe I can trust our readers to contribute to such a discussion in a constructive manner, without bashing people or airing grievances. If you want to report that your Latin OF is not doing well for whatever reason, DO NOT mention anything specific to identify it, such as the names of people (clergy or lay), dioceses, churches, congregations, choir directors etc. Comments which stray out of these boundaries will be deleted.

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Roman Pilgrim at the Station Churches 2016 (Part 3)

Monday of the Second Week of Lent - San Clemente

Our pilgrim-on-the-scene Agnese has really outdone herself with some very beautiful images of the Stational liturgy at San Clemente this week. The procession before the Mass began as usual in the ruins of the ancient basilica below the current one, made its way upstairs and through the large portico, before entering for the Mass. San Clemente has been home to the Irish Dominican friars in Rome since the later 17th century, and we see them participating in the procession. Also notice in the 7th photo the custom of strewing greenery on the floors of churches during the station Masses. (Nobody seems to really know where this comes from or why it is done.)
The basilica is famously built on three levels; the 12th-century church seen below in the 7th and 8th pictures sits on top of a church of the 4th century, which in turn sits on top of two ancient Roman buildings, one of the late first and another of the mid-2nd century. All three of these levels are accessible to the public. When the second level, the church of the 4th century, was dug out in the middle of the 19th century, no remains of an altar or any part of the sanctuary were found. The archeologists soon realized that in the process of building the newer church on top of the older, the 12-century builders had dismantled them entirely, moved them upstairs, and reassembled them in their current place. The altar and baldachin seen here were then newly made so that the newly rediscovered spaces of the older church could be used once again for worship.
On the left can be seen some of the fresco work which survives in the 4th-century basilica.

Lenten Exercises at Princeton

Last weekend, Fr Carlos Hamel of the Fraternity of St Joseph the Guardian, a community based in the French Diocese of Frèjus-Toulon, was at the Church of St John the Baptist in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to preach an Ignatian Retreat; the participants were able to attend a number of sung Masses, with a Solemn Mass on Sunday, as well as the singing of Prime, Vespers and Compline, and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Fr Hamel also celebrated a Mass at the chapel of Princeton University, shown in the first several pictures below from the Facebook page of the FSJG; the rest are from the church in Allentown.

Adult Coloring Books - A Business and An Evangelization Opportunity for Catholic Artists?

My brother sent me a link to this article on the MPR website. This story seems to be getting around - it was on the New Yorker website too! It seems that there is a new trend of adults buying coloring books for themselves. Within a couple of years this has gone from nowhere to sales of millions, yes millions, of books. The top sellers are based upon intricate line drawings of decorative arrangements, with flora and scenes from fantasies that stimulate the imagination.

It strikes me that the possibilities of engagement with non-Catholics and even non Christians are huge here. What about a coloring-in Book of Kells, or any other illuminated manuscript such as the Westminster Psalter? How about the sort of illuminations that one sees on altar cards? If adults find the coloring-in of scenes from Game of Thrones or Harry Potter absorbing and therapeutic, I suggest that the effect would be even better if the imagination was directed towards heavenly realities.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why is the Feast of St Matthias Moved in Leap Years?

A reader wrote in to ask why, in the traditional rite, the feast of St Matthias the Apostle is moved from February 24th to the following day every leap year. The answer lies in the very ancient Roman calendar, which is still part of the Church’s liturgy to this day; it is used in the calendars printed at the beginning of the Missal and Breviary, and in the Martyrology, the names of the days are still read out according to the Roman system.

In the Roman calendar, each month has three days which are called the Kalends, Nones and Ides; the first of these three is the first day of each month. In March, May, July and October, the Nones are on the 7th, and the Ides on the 15th; in all other months, they are on the 5th and 13th. These designations probably arose, like most features of most calendars, from some sort of religious observances fixed to those days, perhaps connected to a very primitive lunar calendar, but we know nothing for certain about their origin.

The first page of the calendar from a 13th century Missal according to the Use of Paris. The large KL at the top is the abbreviation of “Kalendae.” The numbers in the third column give the number of days until the following Nones, Ides or Kalends; the fourth column has abbreviations of “Nonae”, “Idus ” or “Kalendae.” Note that the modern system of dating is not used at all here. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 1112)
The Romans named the days of each month by counting backwards from these three points. Thus, Julius Caesar was killed on the day which we call March 15, but which they called “the Ides of March”; their name for the 14th was therefore “the day before the Ides of March.” As every Latin student knows, this system becomes difficult to keep track of because the Romans counted inclusively, not exclusively; therefore, the day we call “March 13” was called “three days before the Ides of March” (not “two days before”), including the day itself, the day before the Ides, and the Ides themselves. We can only assume that this system is not an example of complexity created for complexity’s sake, and that it served as a way of counting down to and preparing for whatever religious observance was connected to the three points.

When the Julian Calendar was instituted in 46 BC, establishing the regular leap day every four years, the leap day itself was added by counting “the sixth day before the Kalends of March” twice. From this, the Latin term for “leap year” is “annus bisextilis”, meaning “a year in which the sixth day (before the Kalends of March) occurs twice.” This term for leap year is still used in all the Romance languages, as in Italian “anno bisestile”, and was even adopted by the Greeks, (“disekto etos” in the modern language), even though the ancient Greeks had their own very different calendar. (The Romans had an idiom “ad kalendas graecas – until the Greek kalends”, meaning “postponed forever,” since there were no kalends in the Greek calendar; it was a favorite expression of the Emperor Augustus, and also survives in the Romance languages.)

Pilgrims venerating the relics of St Matthias the Apostle in the crypt of the abbey named after him in the German city of Trier. He is commonly said to be the only Apostle whose relics are kept anywhere north of the Alps, but the Roman Basilica of St Mary Major also has relics venerated as his since the beginning of the 11th century.
When the feast of St Matthias came into the Roman Rite sometime between the 9th and 11th centuries, it was fixed to this “sixth” day before the kalends of March, which we call February 24. The precise reason for this choice is unknown, but it is surely not mere coincidence that nine other months have the feast of an Apostle or Evangelist within their last ten days, thus distributing them more or less evenly through the year. In a leap year, when there are two such days, Matthias’ vigil is kept on the first of the two, and his feast on the second. Thus, although his feast is transferred on the modern calendar, it remains in its place on the Roman calendar. This also applies to the feast of St Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, which is kept on the 27th in a regular year, the 28th in a leap year; in both cases, his feast is on “tertio Kalendas Martii” on the Roman calendar. The same would apply to any local feast occurring between February 24 and 28.

The backwards reckoning of the Roman Calendar is also relevant for the dating of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, one of the most ancient of all the Church’s feasts, as it relates to the Birth of Christ. Its date is determined by the words of St. Luke’s Gospel that John’s mother Elizabeth was six months pregnant at the time of the Annunciation. It is kept on June 24th, however, where Christmas and the Annunciation are kept on the 25th of their respective months, because on the Roman calendar, all three feasts are on the “eighth” day before the Kalends of the following months.

St Matthias, by the workshop of Simone Martini, 1317-19. (public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
In the post-Conciliar calendar, St Matthias has been moved to May 14th, so that his feast may occur roughly after the Ascension, since the very first thing the Apostles did after the Ascension was elect him to replace the traitor Judas. Easter can occur within a range of 35 days, from March 22 to April 25. So in point of fact, on the first five days of this range (March 22-26), St Matthias’ new feast day will occur on or after Pentecost; on the last 21 (April 5-25) it will occur on or before the Ascension. This may seem to make the transfer of St Matthias’ day highly illogical; however, the occurrences of Easter are not distributed evenly over this range. The earliest date, March 22, has occurred only four times since the Gregorian Calendar was instituted in 1582, and will not occur again until 2285; the latest date comes only once a century. Factoring in the lamentable and lamentably widespread custom of celebrating the Ascension on Sunday, St Matthias’ feast occurs after it roughly 40% of the time.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

An Interesting Fact About Today’s Lenten Station

Several years ago, I read a very interesting book called Mourning into Joy: Music, Raphael, and Saint Cecilia, by Thomas Connolly. (Yale Univ. Press, 1995). The principal subject is Raphael’s painting The Ecstasy of St Cecilia, but it also contains a great deal of information about devotion to the Saint, at whose basilica the Lenten station is held today. I am here paraphrasing what Connolly writes about this station, and its connection to Cecilia; the credit for putting this information together is entirely his.
The Ecstasy of St Cecilia, by Raphael, 1515-17, now in the National Gallery of Bologna. To the left of St Cecilia we see Ss Paul and John the Evangelist, to the right, Ss Augustine and Mary Magdalene. The broken instruments at her feet symbolize that she has rejected the things of this world in order to “sing only to God in her heart”, as is stated in her Office.
In 1744, three inscriptions were found very close to the Basilica of St Cecilia in the Trastevere area of Rome, referring to a small shrine of the “Bona Dea”, as she was called, “the good goddess.” Although she was quite popular in ancient Rome, we know very little about this goddess, since men were excluded from participation in her cult, and it was forbidden to write down what took place at her two annual festivals. One of these was held at a temple dedicated to her on the Aventine hill, the other in the house of the senior magistrate of the Republic, presided over by his wife. During the rites, all men and male animals were excluded from the house; in fact, “Good Goddess” is a euphemistic name, since men were not allowed to speak or even know her true name. One of the most famous episodes in the history of the late Roman Republic, involving all of the leading political figures of the day, including Cicero, Pompey and Julius Caesar, took place when these rites were held in the latter’s house in 62 BC. A man named Clodius Pulcher dressed as a woman in an attempt to sneak into the rites and seduce Caesar’s wife, creating an enormous and long-lasting scandal.

The Bona Dea was a goddess very much associated with female chastity, and therefore, anything to do with the goddess of sexual desire, Venus, was also removed from the house where the rites of the Bona Dea were held. This would include any statues and images of Venus, and most particularly the plant myrtle, which was woven into crowns and worn on the head by her worshippers at her principal festivals.

When the Lenten Station is held at the Basilica of St Cecilia on the Wednesday of the Second Week, next door to a shrine of the Bona Dea, the traditional Epistle is taken from the Deuterocanonical additions to the book of Esther, the only reading from that book in the Missal. (This reading was later borrowed from this day for the votive Mass “against the pagans.” It has been suppressed in the post-Conciliar rite.) In chapter 13, Mardochai is praying for the delivery of the Jewish people from their enemy Haman, who has arranged for the Persian Emperor to order the massacre of all the Jews in his dominions.

“In those days, Mardochai prayed to the Lord, saying, ‘O Lord, Lord, almighty king, for all things are in thy power, and there is none that can resist thy will, if thou determine to save Israel. Thou hast made heaven and earth, and all things that are under the cope of heaven. Thou art Lord of all, and there is none that can resist thy majesty. And now, O Lord, O king, O God of Abraham, have mercy on thy people, because our enemies resolve to destroy us, and extinguish thy inheritance. Despise not thy portion, which thou hast redeemed for thyself out of Egypt. Hear my supplication, and be merciful to thy lot and inheritance, and turn our mourning into joy, that we may live and praise thy name, O Lord, and shut not the mouths of them that sing to thee, O Lord, our God.’ ” (vss. 9-11 and 15-17)

This is the reading as it appears in the Missal of St Pius V, but before the Tridentine reform, it began as follows: “In those days, Esther prayed to the Lord, saying…” And this, despite the fact that it is Mardochai who offers this prayer in the Bible.

A leaf of a Roman Missal printed at Lyon in 1497. The Mass for today’s station begins in the middle of the right column.
It might seem that by taking the words of a man and putting them in the mouth of a woman, the Church has somehow adopted or absorbed an aspect of the Bona Dea cult when reading these words right next door to her shrine at the Basilica of St Cecilia. This is not the case, however. In chapter 2, 7, it is stated that Esther, (who becomes the Queen of Persia, and saves the Jews from Haman) was called “Hadassah,” (הֲדַסָּה) which is the Hebrew word for “myrtle”, the plant of Venus that was excluded from the rites of the Bona Dea. This would therefore be a deliberate critique of the Bona Dea, and a statement of rejection of the many pagan cults that excluded one class of persons or another.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Magnificent New Russian Cathedral Inspired by Western Iconographic Forms

The latest edition of the Orthodox Arts Journal has a feature on the recently dedicated Cathedral of the Protection of the Mother of God at Yasenevo, which overlooks Moscow. It is was dedicated by Patriarch Kirill and appropriately (given his recent meeting with Pope Francis) the mosaics especially draw inspiration from traditional Western iconographic forms. As the article explains, they looked to the Romanesque churches of Sicily which were built in the Byzantine-influenced Romanesque style in the 12th century under the patronage of the Norman king, Roger II. In doing this, the art conforms fully to the principles that define the iconographic tradition, but in an exciting way that is unusual in Russia. 

Below, the interior mosaics and exterior of the cathedral:

Contrast those with the interior and exterior of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo, Sicily

I have only seen the photographs that are included in the article, but based upon these I would say that this is a model lesson in how to draw into your own tradition influences from outside without compromising core principles. It is fresh and exciting, and this is the mark of a truly living tradition. Furthermore, there is plenty of more conventional, Eastern style iconography here too, and the external appearance of the Church is clearly that of an Eastern church.

I suggest that Catholics in the West should look at the way in which the Eastern Church so successfully reestablished its iconographic tradition of art in the  mid-20th century under figures such as Ouspensky and Kroug. They have done so much more than recreate pastiche. The best of the icon painters of today who work in this tradition are producing work that bears the mark of its time and place and can stand alongside the great artists of the past. This is what I hope to see applied to our distinctly Western traditions of liturgical art in the future.

Colloquium 2016 - Early Registration by March 1st

June 20 - 25, 2016

Register by March 1st for the 2016 Colloquium to receive Early Bird Tuition Rates and Save $50

If you register and pay in full by March 1st, you'll receive Early Bird tuition rates for this summer's Church Music Association of America Colloquium. The Colloquium is to be held in St. Louis, MO, at the St. Louis City Center Hotel, June 20-25, 2016.


Three Great venues: the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, the Shrine of St. Joseph, and the Pro-Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist and Apostle.

The Shrine of St Joseph, St Louis, Missouri
Are you a composer? Plan to participate in our New Music breakouts with David Hughes.

Sing Mozart, Palestrina or a variety of motets in your chosen polyphonic choir. There is also a beginning polyphonic choir again this year, which will sing a motet later in the week. See all the details and begin making your choir selections now.

NEW! Repertory Listing Uploaded to our Website!

Questions about accommodations, schedule, or any other detail? Visit our webpage about Colloquium detail here. Read the biographical information about our faculty to help choose your choirs and breakout sessions.

Planning to apply for a scholarship? Don’t delay. Application and recommendation forms must be received by us by April 7, 2016.

For any other questions, don't hesitate to contact the CMAA at

Monday, February 22, 2016

Should Christians Celebrate a “Seder Meal”? [UPDATED]

UPDATE on February 24: My colleague, Dr. Jeremy Holmes, has pointed out to me an excellent resource on his own blog: "Gearing up for Holy Thursday." Here, he walks through how his family does an educational Passover reenactment to help them understand better what Our Lord Jesus Christ did at the Last Supper when He transformed the Passover ritual into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They do not perform a rabbinical Jewish or quasi-Jewish ritual, which, as I explain below, is completely beside the point and actually a bad thing. Dr. Holmes also published a lengthier, more theological account in his article "Our Passover Eucharist" in Homiletic & Pastoral Review.--PAK

At this time of year, one not infrequently hears about Catholics or other Christians planning “seder meals” as part of their Lenten or Holy Week observances. To many, it seems like a good idea to reconnect with Jewish roots, but the purpose of this article is to demonstrate how wrong-headed this idea is, how it flirts with heresy, and what we might do differently if we’d like to do anything at all in this direction.

The Last Supper was a Passover meal. The original Passover was celebrated during the exodus from Egypt, when the people slaughtered a lamb and put its blood over their doorposts so that the angel of death would “pass over” them. Because they had to leave in a hurry, they did not have time to let their bread rise, and so they ate unleavened bread. This became a yearly celebration for Israel — something done “in remembrance” of the sparing of the firstborn’s life, and of the consequent exodus. The Passover lamb had to be taken to the Temple and sacrificed, and then the people would eat of the sacrifice; it was a sacrificial meal, and made visible the fact that even the laypeople of Israel were a “kingdom of priests.”

Now that the Temple has been destroyed, Jews do not eat the Passover meal; instead, they eat the “Seder,” which is not a sacrificial meal. Orthodox Jews refuse even to eat lamb at a Seder because no sacrificial lamb is possible for them now.

The ritual by the time of Jesus involved four cups of wine, parsley or some other green, unleavened bread, and the singing of certain psalms. Jesus transformed the Passover meal into a new ritual — the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. By identifying the bread as his own body and offering it to the disciples to eat, he pointed to himself as the new lamb of sacrifice (22:19): “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Before giving the Eucharistic bread, Jesus had already given them a cup of wine; this was the second of the four cups of wine. But after he gave them the Eucharistic bread, he identified the third cup as his own blood (22:20): “And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Each of the four Passover cups had a name, and the third cup was known as the “cup of blessing.” Note 1 Corinthians 10:16, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?”

Note that when Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration, they were discussing Jesus’ “exodus” which he was to accomplish (Luke 9:31). Jesus’ passion and resurrection are the new exodus. Correspondingly, he gives his disciples a new Passover ritual to go with the new exodus. In this new Passover, Jesus is the lamb whose blood averts the angel of death; instead of Egypt, we are delivered from the state of sin and a heart inclined to evil (as represented by Pharaoh’s “hardened heart”).

In this way, the sacrifice Jesus offered on the cross founds a new ritual of sacrifice for us. As Jesus’ death and resurrection fulfilled the history and mission of Israel, so the liturgy he gave us to commemorate and re-offer his death fulfills the Passover and the creation of Israel as a nation. The celebration of the Eucharist creates the Church as the new Israel, the kingdom of God. As Jesus’ death took the punishment for the sins of the whole world, so the Mass is offered for the sins of all of us. But there is more than sin and redemption. Jesus’ perfect offering to the Father was also the fulfillment of man’s mission as cosmic priest to bring all of creation back to God in an act of worship. There is a cosmic aspect to the Mass; it is the fulfillment of creation’s purpose. This is why John Paul II said that every Mass, wherever it is offered, is offered “on the altar of the world.”

On Holy Thursday last year, a colleague of mine gave a talk before an evening Jewish-style meal. He explained that it does not make sense to celebrate a Seder Meal as a way to “reenact” the Last Supper. Historically, the Seder Meal was invented as a way to make up for the lack of the Passover Supper because there was no longer temple sacrifice after 70 AD. In other words, the Seder as now practiced postdates our Lord’s institution of the Eucharist, and is, in part, an ongoing sign that the Jews do not acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the one Messiah and Savior of mankind, apart from whom there is no salvation. For these reasons, my colleague advocated a Passover-style dinner, not a Seder Meal. During this dinner, he commented on the different dishes at the tables, explained their Old Testament symbolism, and showed how their meaning was fulfilled in the sacrifice of the true unblemished Lamb, which is made present for us in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

So much, then, for why a Seder Meal would be a totally incoherent thing for Christians to do. There is, moreover, this theological consideration: separating the Jewish meal from the act of animal sacrifice, as the Seder deliberately does, fundamentally confuses the actual symbolism of the Passover supper, and therefore bars any understanding of how this supper foreshadows the Passion. Among other things, the anthropological significance of Jesus Christ replacing the sacrifice of another by His own self-sacrifice is lost.

Then, a practical consideration. A Seder meal is a currently practiced religious ritual for the Jews who do it. Hence, Catholics attending a Seder meal, even if no rabbi were present, would rightly be at a loss to know whether they were play-acting, going through an academic exercise, attempting to turn a Jewish custom into a Christian meditation, or even attempting to pray like Jews (as if we could momentarily function as people of a different religion). In short, it is not possible to simulate a Seder without implying that one is conducting a religious observance. In contrast, as we have shown, it is possible to serve a Passover-like meal for educational purposes, since the Jewish Passover, narrowly speaking, has not been observed as a religious ritual for close to 2,000 years. Such a meal can indeed be a welcome opportunity for sound catechesis about the Passion of our Lord and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

CMAA Summer Chant Courses, June 27- July 1

The CMAA is pleased to announce new chant courses for 2016, to be held from June 27 to July 1 at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The church on Duquesne University’s Campus
Ward I - That All May Sing

Results from our Colloquium survey last summer indicated that our membership is clamoring for more information and training about teaching children. Covering the topics in one-hour breakout sessions at a Colloquium, no matter how valuable, isn't sufficient time to allow participants to gain the skills needed.

In response, for the first time, we will be offering a beginning course in the Ward method concurrent with our Chant Intensive course.

The five-day course will be taught by Scott Turkington, providing training to allow participants to teach groups of children using these tried and true methods. Read the entire description at the CMAA Summer Chant webpage.

Gain the skills and tools you need to begin teaching the Catholic leaders of tomorrow to sing using Justine Ward's methods.

(The CMAA Ward course does not have any official Ward accreditation and is not affiliated with the Center for Ward Studies.)

Summer Chant Intensive for Directors

The CMAA has offered Chant Intensive courses since 2008. Each year, new attendees take the knowledge home and use it in their home parishes, increasing their skill level and sharing the information with others. What has been a consistent request from CMAA program attendees has been more information and training on effective chant direction. This summer's Chant Intensive will do just that.

This course (Monday – Friday) will be taught by Wilko Brouwers, focusing on directing techniques for current and prospective chant directors.

Through the use of,
- General directing exercises
- Individual practice with the choir group (participants choose their own chant pieces), and
- Video analysis
participants in the directing course will gain knowledge and practical experience during the 5-day course. The class will have two sections -- for prospective directors and for singers -- see the complete description at our Summer Chant Course webpage.

The basics of chant will not be taught in this course, other than as illustrations for the directing course.

Because of the nature of our summer course offerings, we must limit class sizes to allow time for adequate interaction with the instructors.

So... if you have been waiting for the opportunity to study with a master director to gain the skill and confidence to direct your own schola or would like to gain the skills to improve the sound of your choir, please make plans to join us this summer in Pittsburgh.


Wilko Brouwers
Scott Turkington

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Roman Pilgrim at the Station Churches 2016 (Part 2)

We continue following our friend Agnese’s visits to the Lenten Station Masses.

Ember Wednesday - St Mary Major
The traditional Mass readings for the three Ember Days in Lent form a group which are meant to be taken together, along with those of the Second Sunday, and are chosen in particular reference to the churches at which the stations are held in those days. Shawn and I wrote an article about this together in 2010, and I wrote another about these station days in 2012, which you might find interesting.

The procession held before the Mass, which, as you can see below in the fourth picture, passed into the church’s atrium, and then entered the church again through the now-open Holy Door.

The Second Sunday of Lent 2016

At that time: Jesus taketh unto him Peter and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart: And he was transfigured before them. And his face did shine as the sun: and his garments became white as snow. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him. And Peter answering, said to Jesus: Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. And as he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them. And lo, a voice out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him. And the disciples hearing, fell upon their face, and were very much afraid. And Jesus came and touched them: and said to them, Arise, and fear not. And they lifting up their eyes saw no one but only Jesus. And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying: Tell the vision to no man, till the Son of man be risen from the dead.
The Transfiguration, by Guido da Siena, ca 1270 
In illo tempore: Assumit Jesus Petrum, et Jacobum, et Joannem fratrem ejus, et ducit illos in montem excelsum seorsum: et transfiguratus est ante eos. Et resplenduit facies ejus sicut sol: vestimenta autem ejus facta sunt alba sicut nix. Et ecce apparuerunt illis Moyses et Elias cum eo loquentes. Respondens autem Petrus, dixit ad Jesum: Domine, bonum est nos hic esse: si vis, faciamus tria tabernacula, tibi unum, Moysi unum, et Eliæ unum. Adhuc eo loquente, ecce nubes lucida obumbravit eos. Et ecce vox de nube, dicens: Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi bene complacui: ipsum audite. Et audientes discipuli ceciderunt in faciem suam, et timuerunt valde. Et accessit Jesus, et tetigit eos : dixitque eis: Surgite, et nolite timere. Levantes autem oculos suos, neminem viderunt, nisi solum Jesum. Et descendentibus illis de monte, præcepit eis Jesus, dicens: Nemini dixeritis visionem, donec Filius hominis a mortuis resurgat.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Church of St Maurice in Milan

As I noted in an article last June, when the restoration of the Church of St Maurice (San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore) of Milan was completed, it is a commonplace of Italian cultural reportage to describe a church which is especially rich in artworks as the “Sistine Chapel” of such-and-such. A classic example of this is the magnificent Scuola di San Rocco, “the Sistine Chapel of Venice.” As far as the city of Milan is concerned, the title is contested between two churches, the Charterhouse at Garegnano, and the church of St Maurice, attached to a now-suppressed convent which was formerly the most important female monastery in the city (whence its title “Greater Monastery.”) Since we just last week published some photographs of the former, taken by our Ambrosian correspondent Nicola de’Grandi, here are some of images of the latter.

The monastery was founded in the Carolingian era, and included a church building that was much older, but the current church was begun in 1503. It is divided into two parts, one for the faithful and another for the nuns, who were quite strictly enclosed. By 1509, the basic structure of the church was completed, and the decoration of the church and its many side-chapels began, mainly through the patronage of the Bentivoglio family, four of whose daughters entered the convent, and other families associated with them. The painting of the church would continue though the rest of the 16th-century; the result is an impressive, if somewhat uneven, collection of frescoes, beginning with the disciples of Leonardo Da Vinci, chief among them Bernardino Luini, continuing through the early Mannerists, and completed at the end of the 1570s with the façade, the frescoes on the counterfaçade, and the main altarpiece for the nave of the public church, by Antonio Campi.

The altar of the public church, with frescoes by B. Luini surrounding the altarpiece of the Adoration of the Magi by Antonio Campi.

Noah’s Ark by Aurelio Luini, Bernardino’s son, 1556
The nuns’ choir

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Religious Procession in Macau, China

Thanks to Fr Cyril Law for bringing this video o my attention, and providing this description of the procession in honor of Our Lord’s Passion held each year on the Chinese island of Macau.

The two-day procession of the Senhor Bom Jesus dos Passos (The Good Lord Jesus of the Steps) is part of a more extensive novena in honor of Our Lord in His Agony. The typical southern European devotion has been a fixture on Macau’s religious calendar for at least two centuries. One legend about the origin of this particular statue of Jesus in Macau says that in a deep winter night, the sleeping sexton heard someone knocking on the cathedral door, but did not answer the call; so the Hallowed Guest ended up going to St Augustine’s Church, where the statue is kept throughout the year, to be processed back to the Cathedral once a year and spend that missed long winter night there. Another story claims that after a terrible storm, huge wooden crates were washed ashore, and they turn out to contain mountable body parts that were eventually pieced together to form this miraculous statue. Locals affectionately call it “Daai Yea So” in Cantonese, “The Grand Jesus.”

The night procession takes place on the vigil of the First Sunday of Lent, which almost invariably occurs around the same time as Chinese New Year. It is a rather unique scene to see the buzz of traditional Chinese festivity punctuated by Chopin’s sober Funeral March, accompanying the Via Crucis amidst cartoonish decorations and gaudy red lanterns.

After a conventual Mass on Saturday morning at the Church of St Augustine (built 1591), a Via Crucis in Chinese takes place in the afternoon, followed by the Vigil Mass and the Via Crucis in Portuguese. At 7 pm, the Statue of the cross-bearing Bom Jesus, (veiled in purple lace to symbolize Our Lord being brought to trial), is carried down to the Sé Catedral da Natividade de Nossa Senhora (1576). The Dean of the Cathedral Chapter leads the procession, escorted by the magenta-clad members of the Confraria (Confraternity). The Macau Police Brass Band provides the beating march music to this annual event. The Bishop of Macau welcomes the Statue at the Cathedral and the vigil concludes with a sermon in Portuguese.

On Sunday, the statue is brought back to St Augustine’s Church through the major thoroughfares of the city centre. The bishop, carrying the relic of the True Cross under a canopy, participates in the procession together with the Canons, clergy, twelve children dressed in white, torch-bearers and banner-bearers representing each parish. A young girl is chosen each year to perform the role of Veronica, and sings the O Vos Omnes while unveiling the cloth depicting the Holy Face each time the procession stops for a stational shrine. The faithful all respond likewise in Latin singing Parce Domine with the short refrain Senhor Deus, misericordia in Portuguese.

Click here to see a report on the procession from Macau television. (via Facebook.)

The day procession, from the year 2013.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Rioting Over Jonah

When reading Peter’s recent article about the prophet Jonah, I was reminded of one of my favorite stories from the writings of the Church Fathers. I saved it for today, since in the traditional lectionary, the Gospel is Matthew 12, 38-50, in which (among other things) Christ explains Jonah as a symbol of Himself. “For as Jonah was in the whale’s belly three days and three nights: so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” This is a crucial passage for the early Church, since it was read as a prophecy not only of Christ’s Passion, but also of the necessary premise of the Passion, namely, the Incarnation. For that reason, the Lenten Station is held today at St Mary Major, the oldest church in the world built in honor of the woman in whose womb the Incarnation took place.

A third-century sarcophagus from the Pio-Christian collection of the Vatican Museums. This is one of the best preserved and most elaborate representations of the Jonah story, and is therefore known as the Jonah Sarcophagus, although there are many other ancient representations of the prophet. Note that Noah is seen standing in a square ark above the sea-monster on the right, a clever use of the extra space to add another important Biblical episode.
When, in the later 4th century, St Jerome began his great project of translating the Bible from Hebrew into Latin, the Church in the West had been using for over two centuries a set of Biblical translations made from the Greek text of the Septuagint. These Old Latin translations (as they are now called) were so frequently corrected and revised that Jerome famously complained “there are as many versions (of the Bible) as there are copies.” Hoping to recover for the Latin-speaking West the original text of the Sacred Scriptures, he originally thought to revise the Old Latin by meticulously comparing it with the Septuagint. However, on discovering that the latter had become just as much of a hopeless muddle, he abandoned the project, and decided instead to make a new translation of the whole Bible directly from the “Hebraica veritas”, as he habitually called it, “the Hebrew truth.”

In a letter written in the year 403 A.D., St Augustine reports to Jerome on how these labors were being received.

“One of our brother bishops, when he had decreed that your version should be read in the church over which he presides, came upon a word in the prophet Jonah which was very different from that which had long been familiar to the senses and memory of all, and had been chanted for so many generations. There arose so great a tumult among the people, especially among the Greeks, who reproved it and denounced the translation as false, that the bishop was compelled to ask for the testimony of the Jews. (This was in the town of Oea.) These, whether from ignorance or malice, answered that what was in the Hebrew books was the same that the Greeks and Latins had and read. ... The man was compelled to correct (your version) as if it were faulty, since he did not wish, after this great danger (to himself), to be without a congregation.” (ep. 71 ad Hieronymum)

Augustine therefore exhorts Jerome to return to his project of providing the Church with a better Latin translation of the Greek version of the Old Testament, as he had successfully done with the New. The Hebrew word in question is the name of the plant which grows over Jonah’s head to shield him from the sun in chapter four; Jerome had rendered this as “ivy”, where the Septuagint, and the Old Latin which derives from it, had “gourd.” In his reply, therefore, Jerome explains that it was the Septuagint, not himself, that was wrong on this point, and that three other Greek translations of the Bible, all made by Jews, all agreed in calling it an ivy. He also suggests rather archly that the Jews whom the good bishop of Oea had consulted on the matter were either ignorant of Hebrew, or had played a trick on him “in mockery of the gourd-planters”. (ep. 75, Hieronymi ad Augustinum)

Stories of Jonah in a late 2nd century fresco in the Catacomb of Callixtus. From right to left, Jonah is thrown into the sea, where a monster is about to swallow him; Jonah is spat out of the sea-monster; Jonah rests under the ivy (or gourd). The Greek and Latin words for “whale” can also mean “sea-monster”, and the creature that swallows the prophet is usually shown as such in early Christian art. His nudity represents the reality of the physical body which Christ took upon Himself in the Incarnation.

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