Saturday, December 31, 2016

Te Deum on New Year’s Eve

It has long been a custom in Catholic churches to sing the Te Deum, the hymn of thanksgiving par excellence, on New Year’s Eve, to thank God for all of the blessings received over the course of the previous year, and then to invoke His blessings for the coming year by singing the Veni, Creator Spiritus on New Year’s Day. In Rome, the Pope and cardinals resident in the city traditionally attended the Te Deum ceremony on December 31st at the church of the Holy Name of Jesus, popularly known as “il Gesù”, the mother church of the Jesuit order. In recent years, however, it has generally been celebrated, even by the first Jesuit Pope, at St Peter’s, together with First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and Eucharistic Benediction.

Before the Breviary reform of St Pius X, the Te Deum was titled “the hymn of Ss Ambrose and Augustine”, in reference to the tradition that Saints Ambrose and Augustine composed it as if by divine inspiration, immediately after the baptism of the latter at the Easter vigil of 387. (Incidentally, this was one of the extremely rare years on which Easter fell on its terminus post quem non, April 25th.) “Te Deum laudamus!”, exclaimed Ambrose, “Te Dominum confitemur!”, replied Augustine, and so on. For this reason, in many illustrated breviaries the Te Deum is decorated with an image of the two bishops together.

The Te Deum in a Psalter created in the mid-16th century for a canon of the Duomo of Milan. (Bodleian Ms. Canon. Liturg. 275)
This ceremony took place in the baptistery of St John “ad Fontes”, the remains of which can still be visited under the floor of the modern Duomo. (Many years ago, I visited this space and sang the Te Deum together with two priests of the FSSP, while in Milan to attend a traditional Ambrosian Rite Mass in the cathedral in honor of the Blessed Ildefonse Schuster.) A plaque on a wall close to these remains of the ancient font notes that in 1987, the 16th centenary of St Augustine’s baptism, Card. Carlo Maria Martini, the archbishop of Milan, baptized three African converts on Easter night, giving them the names Ambrose, Augustine and Adeodatus; the last was the name of St Augustine’s son, who was baptized alongside him, and died the following year at the age of only 16.

The baptistery of St John “ad Fontes” is seen in the drawing below as the octagonal building between Milan’s two cathedrals. The larger one on the left, dedicated to St Thecla, was also known as the summer church, used from Easter until the 3rd Sunday of October; the smaller one on the right, the winter church, was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and used from that Sunday until the Easter vigil. St Mary’s also had a baptistery, named for St Stephen the First Martyr, which is not seen here, and of which nothing now remains; this would have been where St Ambrose himself was baptized. The modern Duomo is built over and oriented the same way as St Mary’s, but is very much larger; St Thecla was demolished in the 16th century, but its memory is preserved by the presence of an altar dedicated to her in the cathedral’s left transept, and by the fact that the cathedral parish as a corporate entity is named for her.

(This post is largely the work of our Ambrosian correspondent Nicola de’ Grandi.)

Friday, December 30, 2016

St Ambrose’s Christmas Hymn Veni, Redemptor Gentium

The Roman Breviary traditionally has only two proper hymns for Christmas, Jesu Redemptor omnium, which is said at Vespers and Matins, and A solis ortus cardine at Lauds. The church of Rome took a long time to accept the use of hymns in the Office at all, and in its habitual liturgical conservatism, adopted fewer of them than other medieval Uses did; although the major liturgical seasons have three proper hymns, one for Matins, one for Lauds and one for Vespers, most feasts have only two, that of either Vespers or Lauds being sung also at Matins.

One of the gems which is therefore not found in the historical Roman Use is the Christmas hymn Veni, Redemptor gentium, which is attributed on strong evidence to St Ambrose himself. It is quoted by Ss Augustine and Pope Celestine I (422-32), both of whom knew Ambrose personally, the latter attributing it to him explicitly, as does Cassiodorus in the following century. It was sung at Vespers of Christmas in the Ambrosian Rite, of course, in the Sarum Use, and by the religious orders which retained their proper liturgical Uses after Trent, the Dominicans, Carmelites, and Premonstratensians.

In many parts of Germany, it was sung in Advent, rather than Christmas; the last stanza before the doxology “Praesepe jam fulget tuum – Thy cradle here shall glitter bright” was omitted, however, until it was sung for the last time at First Vespers of Christmas. In the post-Conciliar Office, it is sung in Advent without the German variant, and without the stanza “Egressus ejus a Patre.”

Here are two versions, one in plainchant, and a second in alternating chant and polyphony. The English translation by John Mason Neale (1851) is one of his finest such efforts, both for its literary merit as English and its exactitude as a translation.

Veni, Redemptor gentium,         Come, Thou Redeemer of the earth,
Ostende partum Vírginis:           And manifest Thy virgin birth:
Mirétur omne saeculum:            Let every age adoring fall;
Talis decet partus Deum.           Such birth befits the God of all.

Non ex viríli sémine,                   Begotten of no human will,
Sed mýstico spirámine               But of the Spirit, Thou art still
Verbum Dei factum caro,           The Word of God in flesh arrayed
Fructusque ventris flóruit.        The promised Fruit to man displayed.

Alvus tumescit Vírginis,             The virgin womb that burden gained
Claustra pudóris pérmanent,    With virgin honor all unstained;
Vexilla virtútum micant,            The banners there of virtue glow;
Versátur in templo Deus.           God in His temple dwells below.

Procédens de thálamo suo,       Forth from His chamber goeth He,
Pudóris aulo regia,                     That royal home of purity,
Géminae gigans substantiae     A giant in twofold substance one,
Alácris ut currat viam.               Rejoicing now His course to run.

Egressus ejus a Patre,                From God the Father He proceeds,
Regressus ejus ad Patrem:        To God the Father back He speeds;
Excursus usque ad ínferos        His course He runs to death and hell,
Recursus ad sedem Dei.            Returning on God’s throne to dwell.

Aequális aeterno Patri,              O equal to the Father, Thou!
Carnis trophaeo accíngere:      Gird on Thy fleshly mantle now;
Infirma nostri córporis             The weakness of our mortal state
Virtúte firmans pérpeti.            With deathless might invigorate.

Praesépe jam fulget tuum,        Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
Lumenque nox spirat novum,   And darkness breathe a newer light,
Quod nulla nox intérpolet,        Where endless faith shall shine serene,
Fidéque jugi lúceat.                    And twilight never intervene.

Gloria tibi, Dómine,                   O Jesu, Virgin-born, to thee
Qui natus es de Vírgine,            Eternal praise and glory be,
Cum Patre et sancto Spíritu,    Whom with the Father we adore
In sempiterna sæcula. Amen.    And Holy Spirit, evermore.

Christmas 2016 Photopost - Part 2

We continue with your photos of Christmas liturgies; this special international edition includes photos from Lithuania, France, Chile and Singapore. We have received enough submissions to make a third, so if you sent photos in and don’t them here, they will be included in the next one. (They are posted in the order received.) We will also be doing photoposts for Epiphany; a reminder will be put up next week. As always, our thanks to all those who sent these in, and best wishes to all our readers for a Happy New Year!

Church of the Holy Cross - Vilnius, Lithuania

Church of the Nativity of the Virgin - La Londe Les Maures, France
The blessing of wine on the feast of St John the Evangelist, and Masses of Christmas celebrated by the Fraternity of Joseph the Guardian.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Four Bloggers Submit Dubium to Eye of the Tiber Concerning Its Status as Satire

Four prominent members of the Catholic blogosphere – Fr John Zuhsldorf of Fr Z’s Blog (formerly called “What Does the Prayer Really Say?”), canonist Dr Edward Peters, author of the blog In the Light of the Law, Amy Welborn of Charlotte Was Both, and Matthew Archbold of Creative Minority Report – have presented a formal request to S.C. Naoum, the author of the blog Eye of the Tiber, asking him to clarify whether the items which he posts are in fact satirical.

Although EOTT is thought by many to be a purely humorous website, it has long suffered from what is sometimes known as an “Onion problem.” This term derives from the website The Onion, (which bills itself as America’s Finest News Source,) many of whose articles have been mistaken for true news stories over the years; this has happened so often, in fact, that the Wikipedia article about The Onion has a whole subsection dedicated to the occasions on which its articles have been mistaken for actual news.

Even on its own website, EOTT says “We are proud to have recently been nominated for Best Catholic News Satire, narrowly losing out to the National Catholic Reporter, proving thus that, more trusted Catholic news sources aside, Eye of the Tiber is your most trusted Catholic news source.” “The confusion runs deep here,” noted Fr Z. “NCRep. (a.k.a. ‘The Fishwrap’) is the most self-serious publication outside all of Christendom. How are we supposed to take this?”

Screen shot of Eye of the Tiber taken today.
In a forward to their dubium, the four bloggers write, “The sending of this letter to Eye of the Tiber derives from a deep pastoral concern. We have noted a grave disorientation and great confusion of many faithful regarding extremely important matters for the life of the Church.”

Several specific articles are cited as examples of those in which it is difficult or impossible for the ordinary Catholic to discern the difference between truth and fiction. Here we give only a small selection of the items of greatest concern:

Second Year Of Mercy To Allow An Individual’s Conscience To Absolve One’s Own Sins
Dissident Theologian Hans Kung Petitions Pope To Reconsider Dogma Of Christ’s Resurrection
Man Whose Every Word Is Misrepresented Thinks 12,000 Word Interview A Good Idea
“Most Of The Words That Come Out Of My Mouth Are Invalid,” Pope Francis Suggests

As may be imagined, reactions to the publication of the dubium have varied through the world of Catholic internet journalism. One writer thought to be very close to Naoum has stated that EOTT’s satirical intent is perfectly unmistakable, needs no clarification, and has also been thoroughly clarified. He even went so far as to point out that “Naoum” is a variant of the name of the Biblical prophet Nahum, which means “consoled”, and “since the Holy Spirit is called ‘the Paraclete’, a Greek word which means ‘the consoler’, Naoum’s satirical work is obviously inspired by the Holy Spirit. To deny this is practically blasphemy, and those who don’t accept this will simply be left behind as the Church moves on to the next act of satire.”

Others have come out in support of the four bloggers, citing EOTT’s own comments’ section on many of its articles, and innumerable postings on Facebook which demonstrate how significant its “Onion problem” has become. One blogger who writes under the pseudonym Vapulabitis told the National Catholic Register, “Just before Christmas, an excruciatingly serious Catholic internet publication posted an article which claimed (among other things) that the Enneagram was invented by the Desert Fathers. The line between news and satire has gotten blurred… dangerously blurred.”

NLM will certainly be the first to bring you updates on this breaking story.

Some Rubrical Notes on the Octave of Christmas

The most ancient sacramentaries and lectionaries of the Roman Rite attest to an order for the Octave of Christmas which is essentially the same as that in the Missal and Breviary of St Pius V, with a few minor variants. The feasts of Ss Stephen the First Martyr, John the Evangelist and the Holy Innocents are absolutely universal on the three days after Christmas. (These are sometimes referred to as a group with the term “Comites Christi – Companions of Christ.”) The very ancient feast of Pope Silvester I (314-335) on December 31st, one of the very first non-martyrs to be venerated as a Saint, is missing from some manuscripts of the Gelasian Sacramentary. In many books, such as the Wurzburg lectionary, the oldest of the Roman Rite, the feast of the Circumcision is called “the Octave of the Lord.” There was also clearly some uncertainty about the Sunday after Christmas, which is missing from some books; the liturgical texts proper to it can also be found in some cases after January 1st, for the Sunday occurring between the Circumcision and the Epiphany.

A page of the Sacramentary of Corbie, (853-875; folio 12v), with the end of the Mass of the Vigil of Christmas, and the beginning of the Midnight Mass. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Latin 12051.
The only general addition made to the calendar for this period is the feast of St Thomas à Becket, whose feast is kept on the day of his martyrdom in 1170, December 29; his cultus was embraced so rapidly and universally that the absence of his feast from a liturgical calendar is treated as an absolutely reliable indicator that the manuscript predates his canonization in February of 1173.

By the time of the Tridentine reform, the custom was well-established, and had been for centuries, that the Sunday after Christmas was transferred to December 30th whenever it coincided with one of the major feasts within the Octave, as it does in most years. (In the Use of Sarum, it was permanently fixed to that day every year.) It may seem rather odd to us to celebrate Sunday on a Friday, as we would this year according the older rubrics, but the logic behind this custom was that all of the Masses assigned to the Christmas octave had a place, and the very ancient feasts from December 26-28 could never be disturbed.

This remained the custom until the 1960 reform of the Missal, when the Sunday within the Octave was given precedence over the Comites. Since the right of transference was removed from their rank of feasts (Second Class, formerly “Doubles of the Second Class), they are simply reduced to a commemoration on the Sunday. This poorly conceived change was actually made worse in the Novus Ordo, when the Sunday within the Octave was replaced by the feast of the Holy Family. The Novus Ordo also abolished all but a handful of commemorations, which means that last year, the feast of St John the Evangelist, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and the author of the Gospel that proves the divinity of Christ, was entirely omitted in favor of a devotional feast which has only been on the General Calendar of the Roman Rite since 1921.

This year, however, the Sunday within the Octave is simply omitted, since Christmas itself falls on a Sunday, and the custom of transferring or anticipating Sundays was abolished in 1960. It should be noted that the text of the Introit of this Mass, “While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne,” is generally believed to be at least in part the origin of the tradition that Christ was born in the middle of the night, and hence of the celebration of the Midnight Mass of Christmas. In the Novus Ordo, on the other hand, the Holy Family is transferred to December 30th.

Among the handful of commemorations left in the Novus Ordo, ironically, are the feasts of Ss Thomas à Becket and Sylvester, who were both already demoted to that rank in the 1960 reform, in favor of the ferial days within the Octave of Christmas; exceptions are made for St Thomas in all the dioceses of England, and for any churches dedicated to either of them, which still keep them as their patronal feast.
A very early reliquary of St Thomas, made at Limoges, France in the 1180s, showing the scene of his assassination in the lower part, his burial and the ascent of his soul into heaven in the upper. Devotion to him was incredibly powerful in the Middle Ages and afterwards, especially in England until the Reformation. (It is to his shrine that the pilgrims of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are making their way.) More than 40 such reliquaries are still extant.
The 1960 reform also changed the name of the Circumcision to the “Octave of the Nativity”, which was then abolished in favor of a newly invented “Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God” less than a decade later. (The Gospel of the Circumcision, Luke 2, 21, is included in the Gospel of the new feast. Some readers may remember that at the beginning of this year, a Jewish man suggested to the Pope during his visit to the main synagogue of Rome that he restore the feast of the Circumcision.)

This new feast is sometimes referred to as a Roman version of the “Synaxis of the Mother of God” which the Byzantine Rite keeps on December 26th. The latter observance, however, arises from a particular Byzantine custom by which several major feasts are followed by the commemoration of a sacred person who figures prominently in the feast, but who is, so to speak, overshadowed by another. These are usually, but not invariably, called “σύναξις (synaxis)” in Greek, “собóръ (sobor)” in Old Church Slavonic; that of St John the Baptist is kept on January 7th, the day after the Baptism of the Lord, that of St Gabriel the day after the Annunciation, that of the Twelve Apostles after Ss Peter and Paul, and that of Ss Joachim and Anne, the Virgin’s parents, on the day after Her Nativity. These are not the principal feasts of the persons honored by these “synaxes”, and one also finds in the Byzantine Calendar the feasts of St John on June 24 and August 29, of St Gabriel on June 11, the Apostles each on their own day (rarely the same as in the Roman Rite), and St Anne on July 26. The Byzantine Rite also keeps the feast of the Circumcision on January 1st.

The beginning of the Office of Christmas, from an Ambrosian Breviary printed in 1539. Clockwise from upper right are shown God the Father, the infant Christ with Mary, Joseph, the ox and the ass, the martyrdom of St Stephen, St John the Evangelist holding a cup of wine, the appearance of the Angel to the shepherds, the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents, and within the central panel, another version of the Christ Child in the manger.
The modern reform of the Ambrosian Rite was done with a great deal less haste than that of the Roman, although as a result, there were several years of rather chaotic liturgical experimentation in Milan and the neighboring territories that use the Rite. The imitation of the new Roman customs became so widespread and thoroughgoing in places that the abolition of the Ambrosian Rite was seriously considered even at fairly high levels. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, and those charged with the task of officially reforming it in many cases not only preserved its authentic customs, but also corrected some of the more egregious mistakes of the Roman reform.

In the modern Ambrosian Rite, therefore, the feasts of the Comites Christi are still celebrated even when they fall on a Sunday. The feast of the Circumcision is still kept on January 1st, part of the rationale for this being that the Sixth and last Sunday of Advent is to all intents and purposes a Marian feast, and a second solemnity of the Virgin so close to it was felt to be superfluous. The feast of the Holy Family is assigned to the last Sunday of January.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas 2016 Photopost - Part 1

As has been the case for the last couple of years, we have received a very large number of photographs of Christmas liturgies, and so we will be doing at least one other photopost of them, possibly more. We will also be doing one for Epiphany; a reminder will be posted next week. In the meantime, we will be very glad to receive any photos of liturgies celebrated during the Octave of Christmas, the singing of the Te Deum on New Year’s Eve etc. Thanks to all those who have sent them in, and a blessed New Year to all our readers.

St Peter’s Eastern Catholic Church - Ukiah, California
Matins and Divine Liturgy of Christmas; a Baptism celebrated on the vigil is seen in the last two photos. In the Byzantine Rite, Christmas is one of the occasions on which Baptisms are traditionally celebrated, as witnessed by the fact that the Trisagion chant is replaced by the words “All ye that have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ, alleluia!”, one of a handful of days on which this is done.

TLM Events in Chicago Tomorrow and Friday

Chicago’s Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica will host its first Traditional Latin Mass in over 40 years at 3:00 pm on Friday, December 30. The Mass will be part of the annual Christmas week bus tour of historic Chicago churches organized by Prayer Pilgrimages, featured in Extraordinary Faith Episode 4, along with another High Mass in the Extraordinary Form at St Mary of the Angels Parish at 12:30 PM on Thursday, December 29. Everyone is invited to both Masses; you do not need to be part of the bus tour.

Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica is well-known for being the site of the film narrated by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, The Immemorial Tridentine Mass.

Why Aren’t All Other Dioceses Looking to Lincoln?

This is the title of a blogpost from Liturgy Guy about Lincoln, Nebraska. The facts and figures seem to back up the argument that orthodoxy in liturgy and catechesis keeps the faithful in the Church and the seminaries full.

Even so, it is not as though Bishop Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln is resting on his laurels. I attended a weekend conference in Lincoln last August in which Adam Bartlett (of Illuminare Publications and Simple English Propers renown), Matthew Meloche and several other excellent speakers (apologies for not listing you all) gave a number of presentations about the music in the liturgy. Bishop Conley lead the way in catechizing his flock with talks and homilies on all aspects of beauty and the liturgy. This included, if I recall, an explanation of ad orientem celebration. I don’t know what the numbers were precisely, but a large proportion of the parishes were represented, usually by more than one person, and many were choir directors and pastors.

Furthermore, this indicates that the battle is not about EF vs OF. Rather it is about liturgy done well vs liturgy done badly, and orthodoxy vs unorthodoxy in catechesis. I encourage you to read the article.

As a symbol of what’s going on, the picture that follows is of the old church at the Newman Center of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

And now here’s the new church, St Thomas Aquinas at the Newman Center of University of Nebraska.

What does this tell us? Modern is old and tired, traditional is radical and new! Here’s the movement for today - radical traditionalism. Are there any more 'tradicals' out there? Let’s hope so!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Blessing of Wine on the Feast of St John the Evangelist

The Roman Ritual contains two different forms for the blessing of wine on the feast of St John the Evangelist. The first consists simply of three prayers; the second is slightly more elaborate, with three different prayers, preceded by a Psalm and a series of versicles. Both versions contain references to the origin of the blessing, an interesting example of how the Church has embraced and preserved a non-Biblical story about the life of an Apostle.

Many people have heard of New Testament Apocrypha such as the Protoevangelium of James, the traditional source for the names of the Virgin Mary’s parents and the story of Her presentation in the Temple. Some of these have had a significant influence on the Church’s devotional life and its artistic traditions. Irresponsible scholars have also created a whole cottage industry of foolish writings about Our Lord and the early Church based on some of the Gnostic Gospels, while generally ignoring the apocrypha of the New Testament’s other literary categories, Acts, Epistles and Apocalypses. Like the apocryphal Gospels, the majority of these were clearly written to lend credit to one heresy or another, and therefore rejected by the Church. In some cases, however, once the heresy in question had faded into obscurity, the relevant apocrypha regained popularity, since their heretical content was no long understood or perceived as such.

One example is the apocryphal Acts of John, a work of the second century with strong overtones of the Docetic heresy, which taught that Christ had only the appearance of a human body. It tells the story that when St John was brought before the Emperor Domitian (81-96), he offered to prove the truth of his preaching about Christ by drinking a deadly poison, in accordance with the Lord’s words at the end of St Mark’s Gospel (16, 18), “if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.” The poison did him no harm; this has given rise to the traditional representation of John holding a chalice with a serpent or dragon emerging from it, which symbolize either the poison or its effectiveness leaving the cup.
St John the Evangelist, by El Greco, 1604, now in the Prado Museum in Madrid.
When the Emperor thought he had been saved by trickery, the poison’s toxicity was proved on a condemned prisoner, who died instantly, but was later raised to life by John. For this, he was exiled to the Greek island of Patmos, as recorded in the authentic book of the Apocalypse, where he stayed until Domitian’s death; when the acts of the latter were rescinded by the Senate on account of his extreme cruelty (as reported by St Jerome), John was permitted to return to Ephesus, where he lived out his days.

St John’s Vision on Patmos, by Giotto, 1317-20, in the Peruzzi Chapel of the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Florence.
This story is referred to explicitly in the rubrics of the Ritual, and in the first prayer of the first form of the blessing of wine, as follows: “And just as the blessed John, drinking poison from a cup, remained altogether unharmed, so may all who drink of this cup today in his honor, be set free by his merits from every illness (inflicted by) poison, and all other harmful things…” Likewise, the second prayer asks that all who drink of the blessed wine “may receive of Thy gift health in both body and soul.”

The second version of the blessing begins with the Psalm “The Lord is my shepherd”, certainly chosen because of its best known verse, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” as well as for the words “my chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly is it!” The versicles said after it include the verse of St Mark’s Gospel mentioned above. The first of its three prayers begins with an explanation of the Incarnation: “Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, who willed that Thy Son, coeternal and consubstantial with Thee should come down from heaven, and be incarnate in the world of the Virgin Mary in this fullness of time.” The last part of this beginning, “this fullness of time”, rather than “the fullness of time”, seems to refer to the Christmas season, in which the Divine Incarnation is made manifest, as witnessed by St John above all others, and during which his feast day is kept.

The prayer continues, “that He might seek the lost and wandering sheep and bring it back to the sheepfold upon His shoulders; and further, that he might cure the man who fell in among thieves from the pain of his wounds.” This refers to a story recorded by St Clement of Alexandria, and repeated by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History (3, 23), that a young convert of St John turned to a life of violence as a brigand; the Apostle, though now very elderly, pursued the fellow into the mountains where he was wont to hide, and brought him to repentance. The second prayer says, “Lord Jesus Christ, who willed Thyself to be called the true Vine, and Thy Holy Apostles the branches”, citing the long discourse of Christ at the Last Supper recorded only in John’s Gospel. The third adds a reference to the creation of bread alongside the fruit of the vine, in reference to the Eucharistic discourse of chapter six of the same Gospel; it also says that John “not only passed unharmed from the drinking of poison, but also raised from the dead those laid low by poison”, referring to the story of the prisoner cited above.

The Painted Word! No, We Don’t Write Holy Icons

Here’s a quiz: I am holding a paint brush. I am dipping it in paint. I am applying the paint to the surface so as to manifest a two dimensional picture of an image that is held as an ideal in my imagination. What am I doing?

Answer: painting, right?

Wrong. It’s writing. Or at least it is according to some people, if the object you are working on is a holy icon. So, for example, they might say that St Luke not only wrote inspired scripture, he also wrote an icon of Our Lady and Our Lord!

But is this right? Is painting really an activity inherently distinct from and inferior to writing, as the insistence on the use of the word write would seem to suggest? Also, why pick out a verb that relates to one particular aspect of Christ every single time, i.e. the Word? We say also that Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1, 15), so why not make this aspect govern the use of verbs in reference to creating holy images? If Christ is an image, then it seems that references to the “painting” of an image are reasonable. After all, this is part of the justification for creating images worthy of veneration, according to the Seventh Ecumenical Council. And if we really do have to only think of Christ as the Word, then (reductio ad absurdum) why not be consistent and rather than talking of Our Lady giving birth to Our Lord, why not say she “wrote” the Word made flesh?

Furthermore, why not use the principle of hierarchical vocabulary when we are talking as writing as well: writing - stringing words together to make sentences and paragraphs. We might say that the writer St Luke wrote his gospel, but hack David Clayton only hacked this blog piece together, for example.

To my knowledge it is only in the English language, and only since the 20th century, that people have referred to the writing of icons in this particular way. It is true that in Greek and (I discovered recently) Russian, that the verb used for “painting” a picture is the same word for “writing.” However, the same word is used for the painting of all pictures: not just icons, but landscapes, portraits, and so on. The verb “to paint” which does exist in Russian is used for a lesser form of painting, as in the painting of houses and fences.

This doesn’t mean that those of us who speak English can’t decide to use the word “write” for an icon if we want to. Perhaps it would be valuable to distinguish the creation of holy icons not only from the painting of the walls of a room, but also from other, lesser forms of art. However, as Catholics we do not necessarily acknowledge that the iconographic style is inherently superior to other all other styles of sacred art. If we follow the ideas of Benedict XVI, then we could refer to Gothic and baroque art as works that are “written” too. So Blessed Fra Angelico wrote this Annunciation:

To be consistent, we should extend the use of the word “write” beyond just icons, or stop using it for paintings altogether and be happy with saying that just as Fra Anglico painted, so did St Luke.

Also, contrary to what some Catholic believe, it is not the case that all icon painters or Eastern Christians use the word “write” for what they do. My own teacher, who is Orthodox, always used to say that he thought that the use of the word “write” was “a bit precious”. This did not mean that he didn’t think that the painting of icons wasn't a noble activity.

In 1975, Tom Wolfe, author of The Bonfire of the Vanities, wrote a brilliant essay about the absurdities of modern art called The Painted Word. He pointed out that the whole art scene is a business driven by gallery-art, in which the sellers manipulate the market by appealing to the vanity of buyers and intellectuals. They flatter them into thinking they must be very clever to understand the nonsensical art theory that was used to justify the art they were looking at, and which mystifies all clear thinking people who have no pretenstions of being aesthetes.

The title The Painted Word arose from the fact that flattering clients became so important to sales that the ideas behind the theory were considered more important than physical manifestations of them, the art itself. To be an aficionado of modern art is to be clever because you understand it, not necessarily because you like it. The artists, faithfully following the theorists in order to sell their work at inflated prices, gradually moved into greater and great abstraction, trying to show the pure non-physical idea through a physical medium. They struggled to do so because the ideas weren’t really coherent. In the end, the connection between art and ethos was so obscure that they had to write a long explanation to accompany their exhibits in order for anyone to understand what was going on. The natural extension of this, Wolfe points out, is to abandon conventional art altogether and just paint the words that represent the idea. This is indeed what happened to modern art, which became a high stakes game of painted word association.

Wolfe’s description of the inadequacies of modern art highlight by contrast the richness of traditional sacred art. Because the ethos of Christian sacred art is rooted in truth, we can manifest those ideas well. We there have not only have writers who write the Word in words, we also have painters who paint the Word made flesh as an image, and can even do so in such a way, so the Catechism tells us, that they are able to communicate things that words alone cannot. Furthermore, the Christian tradition also has those who paint words beautifully when they write the Word - they are called calligraphers! The creator of the Lindisfarne gospel, shown below, was simultaneously a painter of words, and writer of the Word.

Where do I stand on this issue? Personally, I am less worried about what you call the activity of painting/writing icons than I am about how well it is done. To insist on the use of the word “write” in a way that is not common practice in the English language feels to me like a bit of unnecessary faux-theological political correctness. I don’t mind if others do it, but I feel no need moved to do it myself. I think that it is much simpler to use the words with their common meanings, so that people understand what you are talking about. As far as I am concerned, the word “paint” describes more than adequately what the sacred artist does, and the word “write” describes what I am doing now at the keyboard of my computer. We don’t need to play word games in order to raise the status of the artist’s vocation. Ultimately, it is artists themselves who will do that by raising the quality of the art that they paint...just as the nobility of the bloggers’ vocation will be judged on the quality of their writing.

Postscript: those who wish to know a range of views held by Orthodox Christians on this matter might be interested in these three thoughtful articles in the Orthodox Arts Journal, here: Is Write Wrong?, here: A Symptom of Modern Blindness; and here: From Logos to Graphos, Lost in Translation. (I love the headlines of the articles by the way. Congrats to the OAJ sub-editor who composed them - they’re so good I thought of stealing them for myself!)

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Blast from the Past: The 1926 Eucharistic Congress in Chicago

People who read NLM and therefore take a keen interest in the use and abuse of the sacred liturgy are probably aware that the concept of the Eucharistic Congress, while noble and excellent in itself, has fallen in recent decades on very hard times. I won't go through the horror stories (there's enough bad news already), but anyone with a strong stomach can find photos and videos for themselves, which exhibit all the progressive liturgists' worst tendencies, so frequently and justly skewered by the theological pen of Joseph Ratzinger. Whether it be dancing or balloons, ridiculous vestments or happy-clappy music, space-age arena sanctuaries or brutherly luv, it's all there. The only thing lacking is . . . well, an appropriately reverent and beautiful celebration of that most profound mystery of the faith, the Most Holy Eucharist, the true Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Sacrifice by which He works out our salvation.

But it wasn't always this way -- far from it. Not long ago I had the opportunity to linger lovingly over a splendid book produced in commemoration of the 1926 Eucharistic Congress in Chicago, which was in so many ways a land of thick Catholicism, before the postconciliar collapse. This volume had such treasures, both historical and liturgical, that I wished to share photos of it with the readership. It's also just a marvelous example of publishing, back when ecclesiastical publishers knew what a "commemorative volume" of this sort should look like. One of the things I find most striking is the extravagant welcome extended to the papal legate, who was honored, feasted, coddled, and exalted much more than even a pope is today when he visits the USA. These pictures speak a thousand words about the massive post-1960s collapse of societal dignity, formal respect, and veneration for religious authority. Plus, things like the Gregorian Children's Choir of 62,000 (I'm not kidding) point up the absurdity of saying that the Church "was in desperate need of renewal." In one sense, she always does; but never more so than after the Council that was called for that purpose.

For me, the most remarkable thing of all is the outdoor Mass. A noble baldachin modeled after that of St. Paul's-Outside-the Walls in Rome was constructed for the occasion, and a massive pipe organ was installed. While one may reasonably question (as did Ratzinger) the trend towards ever-larger outdoor liturgical events, it seems to me that the Chicago Congress proved that it could be carried out well -- something we have rarely seen at World Youth Days.

One of many "chapel train cars" that traveled around the USA bringing the Mass to Catholics in remote places

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Hodie nobis caelorum Rex de Virgine nasci dignatus est, ut hominem perditum ad caelestia regna revocaret: * Gaudet exercitus Angelorum: quia salus aeterna humano generi apparuit. V. Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. R. Gaudet exercitus Angelorum: quia salus aeterna humano generi apparuit. V. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. R. Hodie nobis caelorum Rex ... (The first responsory of Christmas Matins.)

Illustration for Christmas Day from a Missal printed by the Desclée publishing house, late 19th century.
R. Today the King of heaven deigned to be born of a Virgin for us, that He might bring back to the kingdom of heaven man who was lost. * The host of Angels rejoiceth, because eternal salvation hath appeared to the human race. V. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth. peace to men of goodwill. The host of Angels... Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. Today...

On behalf of the publisher and writers of New Liturgical Movement, I wish all of our readers a Merry Christmas, and every blessing from the Child that is born unto us! By the prayers of the Holy Mother of God and all the Saints, may God grant the world peace in the coming year.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Midnight Mass at the London Oratory 2016

Some photographs taken tonight at Midnight Mass at the London Oratory. Merry Christmas!

Liturgical Notes on the Vigil of Christmas

A Vigil is traditionally a full liturgical day, penitential in nature, in preparation for a major feast, including the whole day’s Office from Matins to None. The Mass of a Vigil is not an anticipation of the feast, but a part of the preparation for it, said after None, without Gloria in excelsis, Alleluia or the Creed; First Vespers said after Mass is then the official beginning of the feast itself.

In various medieval uses of the Roman Rite, although not in that of Rome itself, the Vigil of Christmas was often extended back to include the Vespers of the preceding day, December 23rd, with the addition of a special responsory to be sung between the chapter and the hymn. (A similar custom is found in the Breviary of St. Pius V on the Epiphany, the vigil of which runs from Vespers of January 4th to None of the 5th.)
R. De illa occulta habitatione sua egressus est Filius Dei; descendit visitare et consolari omnes, qui eum de toto corde desiderabant. V. Ex Sion species decoris ejus, Deus noster manifeste veniet. Descendit. Gloria Patri. Descendit.

R. From that hidden habitation of His, the Son of God shall go forth; He hath come down to visit and console all those, who long for Him with all their heart. V. Out of Sion the loveliness of His beauty, our God shall come manifestly. He hath come down. Glory be. He hath come down.
In his curious work On the Correction of the Antiphonary, the first liturgy critic, Agobard of Lyon (ca. 780-840), says that this responsory should be rejected “with great severity”, since its “vain and presumptuous author … lyingly asserts that He visited and consoled all those who long for Him, when rather He caused those whom He deigned to visit, to acknowledge and long for Him.” His opinion was not accepted, and the responsory is found in a great number of medieval antiphonaries and breviaries; in the post-Tridentine period, however, it appears to have been retained only by the Premonstratensian Order and a few local uses.

A page of the Breviary according to the Use of Prague, 1502; the responsory De illa occulta is in the middle of the left column.
The Office and the Mass of the Vigil begin with almost the same words, adapted from Exodus chapter 16, “This day ye shall know that the Lord shall come, and will save us, and on the morrow ye shall see His glory.” The medieval commenter Rupert of Deutz, (a man of much finer poetic sensibility than Agobard), explains the sense of this text in the liturgy of the day. Speaking first of the Office, in which these words are sung six times:
On the vigil of the Lord’s Birth, that beautiful prophecy of divine consolation is most frequently and solemnly spoken by the Church. “This day ye shall know that the Lord shall come, and on the morrow ye shall see His glory.”
And then, in reference to Introit of the Mass:
When the Lord had said to the sons of Israel, “Behold, I will rain bread from Heaven for you,” Moses and Aaron said to them, “In the evening you shall know that the Lord hath brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord.” (Exod. 16, 4 and 6-7) … (this) invites us to consider that that manna, which was given to the sons of Israel when they had come out of the land of Egypt, and were marching for the promised land, was a figure of the Word of God, which took on the flesh through the Virgin, and came to feed us that believe in Him, … The interpreter of this similitude is not just any man, but the very One who said, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that if any man eat of it, he may not die.” (John 6, 48-51)
The Miracle of the Manna in the Desert, by Tintoretto, 1577
The homily at Matins in the Breviary of St. Pius V, is taken from St. Jerome’s commentary on the days’ Gospel, St. Matthew, 1, 18-21, explaining the reasons why Christ was born of a virgin.
Why was the Lord conceived not simply of a virgin, but of one espoused? First, that by the begetting of Joseph, the origin of Mary may be shown. Secondly, lest she be stoned by the Jews as an adulteress. Third, that She might have a protector as She fled to Egypt. The martyr Ignatius (of Antioch) added a fourth reason why He was conceived of one espoused, saying, “that His birth might be concealed from the devil, who would think that He was begotten not of a virgin, but of one married. “Before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” She was found so by no other, but only by Joseph, who had already almost an husband’s privilege to know all that concerned his wife. But where it is said “Before they came together,” it followeth not that they came together afterwards; but the Scripture showeth what did not happen.
On Christmas Day itself, there are three different Masses; at Matins of Christmas, therefore, there is read in the Third Nocturn a brief homily on the Gospel of each of the three, the first by St. Gregory the Great, the second by St. Ambrose, the third by St. Augustine. The inclusion of a passage of St. Jerome completes the number of the four doctors of the Latin Church; between the vigil and feast, each of the four preaches to us on the Nativity of the Lord.

The Ascension of Christ, depicted in the cupola of the church of Saint John the Evangelist in Parma, Italy. In the corners are depicted the Four Evangelists, each of which is accompanied by one of the Four Doctors. St. Matthew and St. Jerome are depicted together in the lower right.
Nowadays, the most famous liturgical text of Christmas Eve is certainly the notice of the feast of Christmas from the Martyrology. In the traditional Office, the Martyrology’s entry for the following day is read at the Hour of Prime, after the first prayer. Christmas Eve is the only day on which this is done with a particular ceremony, rather than simply being sung by a reader. A priest in violet cope, accompanied by a thurifer and two candles, incenses the book, and then sings the following notice of the Christ’s Birth.
In the year from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, five-thousand, one hundred and ninety-nine; from the Flood, two-thousand, nine hundred and fifty-seven; from the birth of Abraham two-thousand and fifteen; from Moses, and the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt, one-thousand five-hundred and ten; from the anointing of David as King, one-thousand and thirty-two; in the sixty-fifth week, according to the prophecy of Daniel; in the one-hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the seven-hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome; in the forty-second year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus; while the whole earth was at peace, in the sixth age of the world, Jesus Christ, Eternal God and Son of the Eternal Father, wishing to hallow the world by His most gracious coming, having been conceived of the Holy Spirit, nine months having passed after His conception, at Bethlehem of Juda is born of the Virgin Mary, having become Man.
The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
At the words “at Bethlehem of Juda” he raises his voice, and all kneel. The final words, “The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh,” are sung “in the tone of the Passion” according to the Martyrology’s rubric, a reminder that the coming of Christ was also so that He might suffer, die and rise for our salvation.

In the Roman Use, the priest who has sung the Martyrology departs at the end of this notice, and those of the other Saints of December 25th are sung by another reader. In the Premonstratensian Use, however, the Breviary directs that all shall prostrate themselves and say Psalm 84 Benedixisti, followed by Kyrie, eleison, Pater noster, a versicle, and the prayers of the vigil of Christmas and the Advent Mass of the Virgin.
O God, who gladden us by the annual expectation of our redemption, grant that we who now joyfully welcome thy Only-begotten Son as our Redeemer, may also behold Him without fear when He cometh as our Judge.
O God, Who didst will that Thy Word should, by the message of an Angel, take flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grant unto us, we beseech thee, that all we who do believe Her to be truly the Mother of God, may be helped by Her prayers before Thee.
The rubric continues thus: “Giving thanks to God, who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, let them for a time in silence, with devout elevation of the mind, consider the grace of the divine goodness, which is so great towards man.”

With the abolition of the Hour of Prime, the liturgical use of the Martyrology has all but vanished from the revised Roman Rite; a new version for the post-Conciliar liturgy was not published until 2001. A prominent exception is the proclamation of the notice for Christmas, which is now often read before Midnight Mass. In the following video, taken in St. Peter’s Basilica, a more-or-less official revised version of the text is sung in a special tone written for the purpose, a tone which was also widely used before the modern reform. It begins with the date according to the famously inconvenient and complicated Roman dating system, in which “December 25th” is “the eighth day before the Kalends of January”. This is followed by the phase of the moon, the nineteenth in this case.

When numberless ages had passed from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and made man according to His image; and likewise many ages, from when after the Flood, the Most High had placed the rainbow among the clods, as a sign of His covenant and peace; in the twenty-first century from the migration of Abraham, our father in the Faith, from Ur of the Chaldees; in the thirteenth century the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt, led by Moses; in roughly the one-thousandth year from the anointing of David as King; in the sixty-fifth week, according to the prophecy of Daniel etc. (The rest of the text is the same as above, except for the omission of the words “in the sixth age of the world”)

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Royal Hours of Christmas Eve

The Royal Hours are a special service which is held three times a year in the Byzantine Rite, on Christmas Eve, Epiphany Eve, and Good Friday. It consists of the Hours of Prime, Terce, Sext and None, followed by a service called the Typika, the closest parallel to which in the Roman Rite would be the so-called dry Mass, although it has no Scriptural readings. (These five parts are said one after the other without interruption.) They are known as “Royal” from the tradition that the Byzantine Emperor and his court would attend them at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople; a memory of this is preserved in the singing of “Many Years” during the service in cathedrals and monasteries, now in a modified form, but originally for the Emperor, whose presence was understood to be an act of submission to Christ the King, and also for the imperial court and the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
Royal Hours of Good Friday at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Toronto in 2014. (Photograph from Wikipedia by ΙΣΧΣΝΙΚΑ-888)
Several features mark the Royal Hours off from the service of the same Hours on other days. It is served by a priest and deacon in their sacred vestments, where these Hours are usually sung by a reader, with a priest saying only the conclusions of the prayers (e.g. “for Thine is the kingdom…”) and the blessing at the end. A bell is rung at the beginning of each Hour, once for Prime, thrice for Terce, etc., and twelve times for the Typika.

In addition to a large number of very beautiful proper chants, a group of Scriptural readings, consisting of a prophecy from the Old Testament, a New Testament epistle (called “the Apostle” in Byzantine terminology) and a Gospel are added to each Hour as well. (Normally, there are no Biblical readings at the minor Hours; however, they are often done at Vespers.)

The psalms of the Hours are the same every single day, but at the three sets of Royal Hours, special ones more appropriate to the day are chosen to replace some of the regular ones, although one of the daily ones is retained. (The Byzantine Rite does not have antiphons for the Psalmody analogous to those of the Roman Rite.) For those of Christmas, at Prime, Psalms 5, 44, and 45 are said, instead of 5, 89 and 100; at Terce, 66, 86 and 50, instead of 16, 24 and 50; at Sext, 71, 131, and 90, instead of 53, 54 and 90; and at None, 109, 110 and 85 instead of 83, 84 and 85. This selection is taken in part from the group traditionally known as the Messianic Psalms (2, 44, 71, 88 and 109), all of which are said in the Office of Christmas Day in the Roman Rite.

The readings which are added are as follows:
At Prime, Micah 5, 2-4, Hebrews 1, 1-12 (the Roman Epistle of the Day Mass of Christmas), and Matthew 1, 18-25.
At Terce, Baruch 3, 36 - 4, 4, Galatians 3, 23-29, and Luke 2, 1-20 (the Roman Gospels of the Midnight and Dawn Masses of Christmas.)
At Sext, Isaiah 7, 10-16, and 8, 1-4 & 8-10, Hebrews 1, 10 - 2, 3 and Matthew 2, 1-12, the Gospel of the Roman Epiphany, which is also read at the Divine Liturgy of Christmas.
At None, Isaiah 9, 6-7, Hebrews 2, 11-18, and Matthew 2, 13-23.

During the reading of the Apostle, there is always an incensation of the Church, whether at this or any other service; some churches add an extra incensation at the beginning of Prime and at the end of the Typika service as well. Another interesting feature is that the Royal Hours are considered to be a service for a fasting day, and penitential services may not be held on either Saturday or Sunday. Therefore, whenever Christmas or Epiphany falls on either a Sunday or Monday, the Royal Hours are said on the preceding Friday. This may seem rather odd, but in point of fact, Christmas is preceeded by a series of 5 days, December 20-24, which are known as the “pre-festal” days; the Royal Hours thus anticipated to either the 22nd or 23rd of December fall within this special period of preparation.

On the evening of December 24th, Vespers is served together with the Divine Liturgy of St Basil; this is one of the ten occasions on which the anaphora of St Basil, which is much longer than the daily-use anaphora of St John Chrysostom, is said. The service contains a series of eight prophecies, although in practice, some of these may be omitted, since four of them are repeated from the Royal Hours. Here again we see a practice which is broadly analogous to that of the Roman rite, in which the Midnight Mass of Christmas was traditionally preceded by Matins and followed by Lauds. (The other occasions on which the Liturgy of St Basil is celebrated are St Basil’s feast day, January 1st, which is also that of the Circumcision; the eve of the Epiphany; the Sundays of Lent except Palm Sunday; Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. However, if Christmas or Epiphany falls on Sunday or Monday, Vespers are celebrated without the Divine Liturgy at all, and the Liturgy of St Basil is used for the feast itself.)

The full text of both of these services can be read at the following links.
Royal Hours:
Vesperal Divine Liturgy:

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: