Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Feast of St Petronilla

Long before either the Visitation or the Queenship of the Virgin Mary were celebrated on this day, and before those, St Angela Merici, the founder of the Ursulines, May 31st was the feast day of St Petronilla. Although she is missing from the oldest Roman liturgical books, she is seen in a painting of the mid-4th century in the catacomb of Domitilla, where she was buried, and her name appears on lists of the venerated tombs of martyrs in the sixth and seventh centuries. In the reign of Pope St Paul I (757-67), an ancient sarcophagus containing her remains was translated from the catacomb to the basilica of St Peter, the treasury of which still preserves a large metal reliquary with her skull inside it.

Fresco of the mid-4th century, with the martyr Petronilla on the right, leading a young woman named Veneranda into the garden of Paradise. (Image source.)
The true history of her life and martyrdom has long since been lost, but she was for many centuries believed to be the daughter of St Peter. This idea seems to have come partly from her name and the location of her relics, partly from a Gnostic “Acts of St Peter”, which speaks of a daughter of St Peter, without giving her a name. (In the Middle Ages, this apocryphal document would not have been understood as a work of heretical origin.)

The first edition of the Breviary of St Pius V carried over from its late medieval predecessors two brief Matins lessons of her life, which state that she was miraculously healed of paralysis by her father, relapsed, and while she was recovering again, a “count” named Flaccus conceived a wish to marry her sight unseen. Petronilla, “understanding that the human race’s most bitter enemy was readying an assault on her virginity, which she had dedicated to Jesus Christ”, prayed and fasted for three days, and then, after receiving the Eucharist, died. When St Robert Bellarmine and Cardinal Cesare Baronio revised the Saints’ lives for a new edition of the Breviary, published in 1602, these lessons were replaced with a generic one from the common of Virgins, a clear sign that the traditional story was considered wholly unreliable.

A reconstruction and partial cross-section view of old St Peter’s Basilica, with the mausoleum mentioned below on the far left. This structure was round on the outside, but octagonal on the inside. A narthex was later constructed between the left transept of the basilica and the rotunda, and doors opened up to form a passage from the church into the mausoleum. Another passage connected the mausoleum with its twin next door, also demolished by Vignola in the 1570s.
In the middle of the 5th century, a large mausoleum was built next to the left transept of the Constantinian basilica of St Peter. Six of its eight internal niches later became chapels, with that opposite the door being dedicated to St Petronilla; for a long time, this chapel was under the patronage of the kings of France. In 1498, Cardinal Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas, the French ambassador to the Papal court, commissioned his own funerary monument to be added to the chapel, from a 23-year-old Florentine sculptor named Michelangelo Buonarroti. This is, of course, one of the most loved and admired sculptures in the entire world, the Pietà.

Michelangelo did not know, of course, that only 7 years after the sculpture’s completion and the Cardinal’s death, both in 1499, Pope Julius II and the architect Donatello Bramante would begin (though just barely) the process of replacing the ancient basilica, then in a pitiable state. Much less did he know that, after decades of delays, he himself would take the project in hand in 1545, at the age of 70, and spend the last 19 years of his life working on the monumental church which we have today. Although he lived to an extraordinary age for that era, dying 2 weeks before his 89th birthday, he did know full well that he would not live to see the project finished. It fell to his successor as chief architect of St Peter’s, Giacomo Vignola, to demolish the mausoleum where the Pietà originally stood, in order to make way for the left transept of the vastly larger new basilica.

The Pietà now stands in its own chapel at the back of St Peter’s, and most of the thousands of people who come to see it every day never visit the chapel dedicated to St Petronilla on the opposite end of the building. (The new church is so much larger than the old one that this chapel in the northwest corner stands entirely outside the former footprint of the Constantinian structure.) Around the year 1623, the painter Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666), known by the nickname “Guercino” (“squinty” in the dialect of his native region, the Emilia Romagna), was commissioned to do a painting of the Burial of St Petronilla for this chapel.

Guercino was especially admired for a remarkably vivid blue paint of his own invention, which he uses for two figures in this painting, as well as the sky in the background. In the upper part, it clothes Christ as He receives St Petronilla into heaven. Although the historical St Petronilla was certainly honored as a martyr, as the legendary daughter of St Peter, she is honored as a virgin, but not as a martyr, and here she is shown receiving the crown of virginity, but not the palm of martyrdom.

Below, notice the intense realism of the scene of her burial; we see the hands of a man standing in her grave, but only his hands, reaching up to help lower her body into it. The fellow dressed in blue on the left is the painter’s tribute to Michelangelo, whose most famous sculpture formerly graced the chapel of the same Saint for whom Guercino himself made this painting. The face of this man is taken from a bust of Michelangelo carved by the latter’s disciple Daniele da Volterra, and his massive forearm is very much that of a sculptor. (Even as a very elderly man, Michelangelo never ceased to work in his favorite medium, sculpture in white marble, a labor-intensive and muscle-building activity.) Surely by design and not coincidence, the chapel immediately next to that of St Petronilla in the modern basilica is dedicated to Michelangelo’s name-saint, the Archangel Michael.

Portrait of Michelangelo by Marco Venusti, one of his friends and colleagues, ca. 1535. (Public domain image from Wikipedia.)

Photopost Request: Pentecost 2017

Our next major photopost will be for Pentecost, this coming Sunday, June 4th; please send your photos to for inclusion. As always, we are glad to receive images of celebrations in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form, including the Vigil, as well as any of the Eastern rites, the Ordinariate Use, Vespers and other parts of the Office, and Confirmations. Please be sure to include the name and location of the church, and feel free to add any other information you think important. Evangelize through beauty!

From last year’s first Pentecost photopost - Divine Liturgy at St Michael’s Russian Catholic Chapel in New York City

Pentecost - Solemn Vespers & Benediction with the Washington Oratorians

Solemn Vespers & Benediction of Pentecost will take place at St Thomas Apostle, Washington DC at 4pm this Sunday, with a Chant Rehearsal immediately beforehand at 3.30pm. See poster for more information.

Pentecost at St Vincent Ferrer in NYC

On Saturday, June 3rd, there will be a Solemn Mass for the Vigil of Pentecost at 7:30 pm at the Dominican church of St Vincent Ferrer in New York City, located at 869 Lexington Avenue. This Vigil Mass, similar in form to the Easter Vigil, includes readings and prayers added by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. The readings will be chanted and accompanied by chants from the Dominican Graduale. The Schola Cantorum will sing Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s Missa Dum complerentur, Hans Leo Hassler’s Dum complerentur, and Giovanni Gabrieli’s Jubilate Deo á 8.

On Sunday, June 4th, Solemn Mass for Pentecost Sunday will be celebrated at 12:00 pm. The Schola Cantorum will sing William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices and his polyphonic settings of the Propers for the Mass. That evening at 5:30 pm, Solemn Vespers will be celebrated with chants from the Dominican Antiphonarium.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Singing of Ministers in the Eucharistic Celebration: Guest Article by Aurelio Porfiri

Once again, our thanks to Maestro Aurelio Porfiri for sharing an article with NLM, this time on the importance of singing the Mass. It will shortly be available in the May issue of Altare Dei, which can be purchased at the following link:

When speaking about a topic like the singing of ministers in the celebration of the Eucharist, there is a risk of seeing it in a manner that is distorted or incomplete, since we often concentrate only upon how or what the choir ought to sing, or about what instruments ought or ought not to be permitted in the liturgy, or whether the people ought to sing everything or are sometimes allowed to rest. The answers to these questions are available to anyone; all they have to do is glance at the existing documents. We shall speak about these themes below, merely repeating what everyone knows: there is a real and an imaginary Second Vatican Council. The real Council is the one we see in its documents; the imaginary is the one moved by that ineffable “spirit” that, “blowing where it will,” blows curiously often in the direction of many of today’s new-fangled liturgists. Unfortunately, their direction is saturated with immanentism, relativism, historicism, and so many other such things, to the point that it renders the true dictates of the Council a dead letter.

Lingering a bit over the question of the ministers’ singing in the liturgy, we can observe the mirabile dictum of Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Liturgical worship is given a more noble form when the divine offices are celebrated solemnly in song, with the assistance of sacred ministers and the active participation of the people” (113). Now let’s try for a minute to understand this passage. It says that liturgical worship has a more noble form when the divine offices are vested with solemnity. Further, this solemnity is achieved by means of song. And further, this song comes from the sacred ministers and from the active participation of the people. Now there is much brouhaha about the fact that the people ought to participate, and there has been ample debate over what is meant by this participation. (note 1) Yet to me one thing remains clear and worthy of note: the fact that the sacred minister’s singing is just as necessary as that of the people (in their proper participatory modes, and not in the frenetic “participationism” in vogue for the last few decades). The singing of the sacred minister is given such importance that, in the paragraph dedicated to musical formation, the document affirms as follows:

“Great importance is to be attached to the teaching and practice of music in seminaries, in the novitiates and houses of study of religious of both sexes, and also in other Catholic institutions and schools. To impart this instruction, teachers are to be carefully trained and put in charge of the teaching of sacred music.

It is desirable also to found higher institutes of sacred music whenever this can be done.

Composers and singers, especially boys, must also be given a genuine liturgical training” (115).

Courtesy of the Fraternity of St Peter (from this post back in January)
As we read, training in seminaries and in the novitiates and houses of study of religious of both sexes is singled out first, before training in any other category, however necessary. We must not think that this training should be only a kind of cultural education, since in these places everything is ordered toward forming the priest in his role as alter Christus for the celebration of the Eucharist. In fact it says “teaching and practice,” thereby uniting the theoretical and cultural part with the practical, of which the singing of the ministers is an essential element. This conception is explained even better by the official Instruction Musicam Sacram of 1967, which very clearly affirms:

“Between the solemn, fuller form of liturgical celebration, in which everything that demands singing is in fact sung, and the simplest form, in which singing is not used, there can be various degrees according to the greater or lesser place allotted to singing. However, in selecting the parts which are to be sung, one should start with those that are by their nature of greater importance, and especially those which are to be sung by the priest or by the ministers, with the people replying, or those which are to be sung by the priest and people together. The other parts may be gradually added according as they are proper to the people alone or to the choir alone” (7).

It follows that the parts pertaining to the priest are to be considered the most important ones with regard to singing. A not insignificant statement! It should be read together with comes next:

“Whenever, for a liturgical service which is to be celebrated in sung form, one can make a choice between various people, it is desirable that those who are known to be more proficient in singing be given preference; this is especially the case in more solemn liturgical celebrations and in those which either require more difficult singing, or are transmitted by radio or television. If, however, a choice of this kind cannot be made, and the priest or minister does not possess a voice suitable for the proper execution of the singing, he can render without singing one or more of the more difficult parts which concern him, reciting [declamando] them in a loud and distinct voice. However, this must not be done merely for the convenience of the priest or minister” (8).

This paragraph has received very scanty attention in commentaries. Here we see that the case of reciting alta voce is not considered the normal situation but is only an option when the priest or the minister is not able to follow the singing parts; it also says that recitation alta voce ought to be “declaimed [declamando]”, not simply read in a loud voice. Declamation requires a controlled recitation and in some cases should also be accompanied by gestures. Thus it is a ritualized recitation, not a simple reading. But we must remember, this is considered a remote possibility (“this must not be done merely for the convenience of the priest or minister”) compared to the priest or minister singing the parts appropriate to him. Furthermore, it says it is permitted to declaim the more difficult parts, but not everything that is meant to be sung. Musicam Sacram specifies this conception even more neatly further down (16), where we read:

“One cannot find anything more religious and more joyful in sacred celebrations than a whole congregation expressing its faith and devotion in song. Therefore, the active participation of the whole people, which is shown in singing, is to be carefully promoted as follows: (a) It should first of all include acclamations, responses to the greetings of the priest and ministers and to the prayers of litany form, and also antiphons and psalms, refrains or repeated responses, hymns and canticles. (b) Through suitable instruction and practices, the people should be gradually led to a fuller—indeed, to a complete—participation in those parts of the singing which pertain to them. (c) Some of the people's song, however, especially if the faithful have not yet been sufficiently instructed, or if musical settings for several voices are used, can be handed over to the choir alone, provided that the people are not excluded from those parts that concern them. But the usage of entrusting to the choir alone the entire singing of the whole Proper and of the whole Ordinary, to the complete exclusion of the people's participation in the singing, is to be deprecated.”

We need to understand as a priority point “(a)”, which refers to the dialogues of the priest with the assembly. How should the contributions of the sacred minister be performed? Here we should again consult Musicam Sacram. At number 28 it introduces the following criterion for discerning the use of music in the liturgical celebration: “The distinction between solemn, sung and read Mass, sanctioned by the Instruction of 1958 (n. 3), is retained, according to the traditional liturgical laws at present in force. However, for the sung Mass (Missa cantata), different degrees of participation are put forward here for reasons of pastoral usefulness, so that it may become easier to make the celebration of Mass more beautiful by singing, according to the capabilities of each congregation. These degrees are so arranged that the first may be used even by itself, but the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first. In this way the faithful will be continually led towards an ever greater participation in the singing.”

Now, in light of this tripartite division of the grades of participation in the sung Mass, it interests us to know what especially the first one comprehends, since it is the most basic one and can be used even by itself: “The following belong to the first degree: (a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer. (b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel. (c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord's prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal” (29). Now, it is enough simply to realize that here also it is speaking about the singing proper to the priest.

Once all of this has been said to systematize and clarify the legislative aspect, it remains to ask ourselves why priests still do not sing, or rather explicitly refuse to sing. In fact, it is quite remarkable that those priests who loath polyphonic music because it “excludes the assembly from participating” (demonstrating that they have an “activistic” conception of participation, different from active participation) are the first ones to say that they “are unable to sing”. This would be a mystery for anyone who does not realize that we are dealing with a tragedy, a tragedy of formation (not only liturgical) of priests in recent decades, who have imbibed false hermeneutics of the Council and are imbued deeply with sentimental “liturgical” songs that have ruled the house in the long season after the Council.

There’s no need to trouble ourselves here with neuroscience—a discipline that would be able to teach us about mirror neurons, the kind activated when others perform the same action. We do not need to know this to realize that we can’t pretend others will sing when the principal actor of song stands there silent and mute on the altar and fixes his eyes on them impassively. And the priest does not sing because he was not trained to sing, as we’ve already said, because he is the son of a liturgical and musical formation of the post-Conciliar period that has thrown away centuries of ecclesial practice per niente (no+ens), for an empty sentimentalism (which is not true sentiment) that has taken over our celebrations, suffocating them in its fatal embrace. There are priests who sing, but these are a minority compared to the vast majority.

I realize that many priests will be thinking of Pope Francis at this point, who as we all know does not sing. But we should not make the mistake of thinking that this is any license for other priests to do the same. This is a situation unique to him and which is definitely not found in his immediate predecessors, such as John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Paul VI himself, who probably was a poor singer, sometimes chanted recto tono. It made me very sad to see the ceremony of the opening of the Jubilee when Pope Francis recited the Psalm verses for the opening of the porta santa and the choir of the Sistine Chapel responded in song (it made very little sense to me.) But for Pope Francis there may be reasons of health that do not permit him to sing: “Very soon after his election the new pope showed he would not sing, but probably not by choice; rather, due to a surgical operation he had on his lungs as a young man. It is possible that this has caused a certain coldness toward music (including liturgical, sacred and classical), as we’ve seen in these first three months and a half of the pontificate. (...)

It is well known that Pope Francis has chosen to prefer the urgency of action over contemplation, just as he prefers the ‘existential peripheries’ to the more or less comfortable sacristies, and daily concreteness to cultural cliques: the first objective is to re-evangelize the people—without resorting to the traditional means available—with words and simple, essential actions, making sure to give hope to the one who suffers, since he is a part of the ‘suffering flesh’ of Christ. But it is also true that sacred music, liturgical music and to some extent classical music was and still is a privileged instrument of evangelization. Music can bring us close to God: ‘He who sings prays twice,’ said St. Augustine. And what sense does it make in any way to humiliate choirs and orchestras (even involuntarily) by ignoring their presence (as on Monday 17th June)?

His words to his collaborators might also cause perplexity, distinguishing ‘work’ from listening to music (considered, it seems, a waste of time). This is all quite enough to discourage people in the Church who have dedicated and continue to dedicate great and (according to us) much needed attention to sacred, liturgical, and classical music—in line with the previous pontificates. In sum, we should not wish that, in his peculiar desire to highlight what is essential in the Church and abandon the superfluous (for example certain tenacious accretions cemented by so many years of history), Pope Francis should reduce to the same category of ‘superfluous’ that which for its part is a fundamental part of evangelization, such as the music we have been speaking about. For walking together toward God cannot prescind from the emotions that impart beauty. True beauty” (note 2).

I wanted to include such a large passage of Rusconi’s excellent article because it points out something of interest not only regarding Pope Francis but the clerical world in general: we need to recover that fundamental part of evangelization which is true liturgical music. And true liturgical music is not whatever piece happens to be written by priests, considered liturgical just because it has a liturgical text or because a priest has written it. The way is becoming more and more difficult and there is no evidence on the horizon of a serious reform of seminaries that takes these concerns into account. And our liturgies continue to be infested with songs that do not befit their dignity, sacrality, and grandeur.

- Aurelio Porfiri is an Italian composer, conductor, writer and educator whose music is published in Italy, France, Germany, the USA and China. He has published 23 books, including “I would like to meet a saint: A Spiritual Diary.” Together with Prof. Peter Kwasniewski he promoted the Declaration on Sacred Music on March 5, 2017. He is the chief editor of ALTARE DEI, a magazine on liturgy, sacred music and Catholic culture.

note 1: Porfiri, A. (2016). Partecipazione al canto nella messa. Taken on March 20, 2016 from Paix liturgique: http://it.paix‐

note 2: Rusconi, G. (2013, June 22). Papa Francesco e la musica: un rapporto problematico. Taken on March 28, 2016 from‐francesco/254‐papa‐francesco‐e‐la‐musica‐un‐rapporto‐problematico.html

The Vigil of Pentecost According to Divine Worship in Oxford

The Vigil of Pentecost will be celebrated according to Divine Worship, the Missal for the Personal Ordinariates, at Holy Rood Catholic Church in Oxford, England, on Saturday 3 June, starting at 5 pm. The music of the Mass will be Mozart’s Spatzenmesse, and Loquebantur variis linguis by Thomas Tallis.

The history of the Pentecost Vigil, its lamentable suppression and partial restoration, are well known to our readers. There may be some interest in the form of the Vigil given in Divine Worship, which provides two forms for it. The first is the Extended Form, the second is simply the Mass of the Vigil by itself, as is the case in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms. The Extended Form may be celebrated before or after First Vespers, but there is no provision in Divine Worship for the combination of Vespers and Vigil.

The Vigil begins without ceremony. At the sedilia, the priest reads a short exhortation, a ‘traditional language’ version of that found in the Ordinary Form. Four Old Testament Lessons are read, with their Tracts, and a Collect after each one. There are four Lessons in the Ordinary Form, but this was not uncommon in other Uses of the Roman Rite, including Sarum. The texts for the Lessons and Tracts are those in the Ordinary Form: there do not seem to be Gregorian melodies for the Tracts, which are derived from the responsorial psalms set for the Ordinary Form Vigil. The collects, however, are almost all different. 1) is found the Sarum Missal, where it is the collect that concludes the Vigil, prior to the blessing of the font; it is given in A. H. Pearson’s translation; this collect is the Collect of the Mass in the Ordinary Form; 2) is the same as the Ordinary Form’s collect; 3) is identical to the pre-Pian Roman Vigil, and follows the same reading, from Ezekiel 37; 4) is a collect from the Church of England’s proposed 1928 Book of Common Prayer, for the Mission of the Church, derived from Acts 17:26, and found in other liturgical collections throughout the Anglican communion.

After the Lessons, the priest and ministers proceed to the altar and lie prostrate before it. After a period of silent prayer, they kneel, while the Litany of the Saints is chanted, as at the Easter Vigil. This was the practice in churches where there was no font to bless. Then, omitting the Introit, Mass continues. The possibility of the administration of the sacraments of initiation is explicitly foreseen, and is to take place after the homily. This may include baptism, reception, and/or confirmation. If these do not follow, the renewal of baptismal promises takes place (here called “the Memorial of Holy Baptism”), either at the font or done from the chancel. Sicut cervus may be sung if a procession goes to the font. Then, omitting the Prayers of the People and the Penitential Rite (which, in Divine Worship, comes at this point), Mass continues with the Offertory. The propers of the Mass are the same as the Extraordinary Form Vigil Mass, excepting the alleluia, which in Divine Worship is Emitte Spiritum, and the Offertory, which has the same incipit, but is shortened.

Art Workshops Organized by the Sacred Arts Guild of Alberta

Some of you will be aware of the summer art schools that have been taking place in Calgary for the past few summers; classes have been offered by Catholic artists in naturalistic, Gothic and iconographic styles, and are of the highest quality. There are great sacred artists involved, teachers such as Martinho Correia, a Calgary native who teaches in both Canada and Europe, and the Englishman Peter Murphy, who travels to Alberta to teach and give talks on icon painting in a Western Romanesque style.

The man who pulled all of this together was Mark Charlton, PhD who until his recent retirement was on the faculty at St Mary’s University in Calgary; the summer workshops were held at the university campus. Now that he has retired, Mark is devoting much of his time to building on the great work that has been done, and has launched the Sacred Arts Guild of Alberta. He has a deep understanding of Catholic art and culture, and his vision is inspired especially by the writings of Pope Benedict XVI.

I would encourage people to support what they do. Their workshops are worth travelling to Canada to attend; the prices quoted are in Canadian dollars, so it will be a lot cheaper to those who hold US dollars. I was invited to teach a class there a few summers ago and loved it. Aside from meeting so many like minded people, we travelled to Banff to see the Canadian Rockies, which is a very beautiful part of the world! Below are a Crucifixion by Peter Murphy, and a Madonna and Child by Martinho Correia

See more information at their website,

Monday, May 29, 2017

Does the Christian Tradition Have a Problem with Smiling and Laughing?

I once heard a speaker claim that one of the reasons it is hard for ordinary Christian families to see themselves in the Holy Family is that all the famous paintings we see of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph always show them utterly serious, dour, and pious, without making room for smiling, laughter, and recreation.

It is an interesting claim. On the one hand, nearly 2,000 years of Christian art, Eastern and Western, concur in rarely portraying Jesus smiling, even as a child; he is never shown smiling as an adult. The Gospels never once show Jesus laughing or smiling, which led G. K. Chesterton to one theory and Umberto Eco to another. Can we say that the entire tradition of countless thousands of images from apostolic times to the present is off-base? Gives us the wrong impression? A false spirituality? The third wave of Iconoclasm which followed in the wake of Vatican II was based on just such loose and facile reasoning. The artistic traditions of the Church are to be praised, not denigrated.

St. Benedict in his Rule warns the monk against coarse or excessive laughter as a form of frivolity, and while laymen are not monks, the monastic life has always been seen as furnishing a high standard for all Christians to live up to, in whatever ways they can internalize its virtues. St. Teresa of Jesus was cheerful and couldn’t stand dour-faced people, that’s for sure. But she bitterly lamented the time she wasted in her youth as a frivolous and talkative religious, and spent her later years tirelessly reforming the Carmelites to make their life more strict, more ascetical, more silent, and more ordered to prayer. She would not tolerate any worldliness.

Yet there is more to the story of Christian art than seriousness. Medieval sculptors and painters had a brilliant knack for making smiling saints who do not look ridiculous or goofy. I have long thought that we can find in the Middle Ages the secret to all beautiful things, for it is an age of faith far removed from the paganism that preceded it and yet innocent of the humanism, rationalism, and the host of further -isms that beleaguered and shattered Christendom in later centuries. Whatever one might make of my grandiose claim, there can be no question about the success of the following images, which must be the envy of modern artists who know that any attempt on their part to carve or paint such naïvely joyful expressions would end in frightful parody.

I took these pictures in three places: the Cloisters in New York; the Musée de Cluny (Musée National du Moyen Âge) in Paris; and the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia in Prague.

The Cloisters



The last painting, from the cloister walk of the Norbertine monastery of Strahov, is especially striking. While I don't care much for it artistically, the artist has, it seems, attempted to place serene and even joyful expressions on the faces of Mary and John, in contrast to the usual extreme grief shown in portrayals of the crucifixion.

The Catholic Tradition is always both/and, not either/or. Therefore, one must make the effort to wrestle with the tensions or paradoxes in the Tradition—those, for example, between action and contemplation, liturgical prayer and personal prayer, seriousness and playfulness, marriage and virginity. It will not do to speak or act dismissively towards either side; neither will it do to arrive at an idiosyncratic interpretation that arises from ignorance and lack of thought. It seems to me that there are profound reasons why Our Lord, Our Lady, and the saints are normally depicted with serious (but bright and penetrating) countenances and that the exceptions do not cancel out this fundamental rule. Immense inward joy is not at all incompatible with an earnest mien: both express the truth that life is not a joke, a lark, a game, an entertainment, but an ecstasy of love from God and to God.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Priestly Character of Ad Orientem Worship: Guest Article by Zachary Thomas (Part 3)

Click to read the earlier parts of this article: part 1, part 2.

At the Sermon on the Mount, in the Beatitudes, at the heart of Christ’s preaching, where he appears most merciful and gentle, where he is most incorrectly caricatured as a “nice guy” or modern peace activist, precisely here the Sinai prophecy is fulfilled, that when God comes among us we must die. How is this so? Because the Beatitudes lived so perfectly by Christ lead inexorably to the Cross, a reality foreshadowed in the last and longest part of that holy list: “Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you.”

Christ’s startling new revelation requires that every disciple take up his cross and die with him. Monastic asceticism just takes seriously the work of killing the old man. In other words, communion with Christ is essentially found on the cross, and there is nothing more terrifying to sinful flesh than that idea. In the old system, God’s mercy spared us and only the animal had to die, while we were left whole. Now, if we would truly follow Christ, we must follow all take up Isaac’s cross and follow a new Abraham to a new martyrdom on Calvary. A palpable fear on Sinai is now made a positive command: we must all be willing to die in Christ. It is literally required of some of us, more today than ever. Therefore, in the Beatitudes and the martyrdom that is signified by our Baptism, the sacrificial system is not actually abolished, but shown for what it always was: a proleptic participation in the sacrificial rites of Christ’s priesthood in the Church.

The Sacrifice of Abraham, depicted in fresco in a church in Raduil, Bulgaria. (Image from Wikimedia Common by Edal Anton Lefterov)
The great sacrifice of martyrdom—red or white—is something we are all called to accomplish, at least mystically, by putting on Christ; truly, it is the heart of the Christian mystery. Nothing has changed metaphysically since the Old Testament: we owe our very being to God, and so cannot dare to approach him without our whole being in our hands, without acceptance of our condition as creatures, which is our death. Therefore, what is enacted on the altar is precisely our own martyrdom, in the person of the priest, who stands in the person of Christ. All the gory reality of martyrdom is entailed in each and every “unbloody” renewal of Christ’s sacrifice, as much as we affluent Westerners must struggle to see it. The Copts surely see it. (see note below) We must see that when the priest stands up there on the altar, he is re-enacting a martyrdom, a terrible ritual murder that in a mysterious way is the source of our salvation. If contemplation of that reality doesn’t call for a terrible reverence, and a profound gratitude for the role of the priest who represents Christ dying for us, I’m not sure what does. It is this spirit of the fear of God, born of the clairvoyant creaturely feeling of absolute dependence upon our Lord, that fashioned the forms of the old rites, with all of their mysterious ritual elements.

In complete opposition to our fears about “clericalism,” and some peoples’ demands for more “lay participation” in clerical roles, the ancient Hebrew saw nothing attractive about the role of the priest. The job was terrifying. The priest-prophet had to stand in the breach and bear in full the anger of God directed against his sinful people. Because he was closer to God, the priest was constantly in mortal danger, and the Old Testament has more than one story of the destruction of attendant offending God’s presence in the tabernacle. Any Israelite was perfectly glad that someone else had that role, and wanted to stay as far away as possible!

“But that is the Old Dispensation – Christ’s followers need not fear, for they have a loving Father in heaven!” St. John Chrysostom sees it otherwise:

“For the priestly office is indeed discharged on earth, but it ranks among heavenly ordinances; and Fearful, indeed, and of most awful import, were the things which were used before the dispensation of grace, as the bells, the pomegranates, the stones on the breastplate and on the ephod, the girdle, the mitre, the long robe, the plate of gold, the holy of holies, the deep silence within.
very naturally so: for neither man, nor angel, nor archangel, nor any other created power, but the Paraclete Himself instituted this vocation, and persuaded men while still abiding in the flesh to represent the ministry of angels. Wherefore the consecrated priest ought to be as pure as if he were standing in the heavens themselves in the midst of those powers.

But if any one should examine the things which belong to the dispensation of grace, he will find that, small as they are, yet are they fearful and full of awe, and that what was spoken concerning the law is true in this case also, that what has been made glorious has no glory in this respect by reason of the glory which excels (2 Cor. 3:10). For when you see the Lord sacrificed, and laid upon the altar, and the priest standing and praying over the victim, and all the worshippers empurpled with that precious blood, can you then think that you are still among men, and standing upon the earth? Are you not, on the contrary, straightway translated to Heaven, and casting out every carnal thought from the soul, do you not with disembodied spirit and pure reason contemplate the things which are in Heaven? Oh! What a marvel! What love of God to man! He who sits on high with the Father is at that hour held in the hands of all, and gives Himself to those who are willing to embrace and grasp Him. And this all do through the eyes of faith! Do these things seem to you fit to be despised, or such as to make it possible for any one to be uplifted against them?” (On the Priesthood, III.4)

This “casting off of every carnal thought” is the martyrdom of the flesh we are all called to. And we ought to be glad that we are not held to account as a priest standing in persona Christi, for we are not worthy, our faith is too little, our devotion too tepid. If his martyrdom were asked of us, could we take it up? Against whom will God’s judgment burn more intensely at the Judgment? Each time we allow the priest to go up to the altar of God, we confess again our unworthiness, our unreadiness and failure to enact our daily martyrdom. Each time the priest goes up to the altar to face God, confessing his unworthiness, it is a reminder of the great Substitution Christ made for our own sins, of his entry into the Holy of Holies to intercede on our behalf, and so an incitement to make the same total sacrifice, in imitation of him. Traditional liturgies forcibly present this drama of sacrifice to us in their ceremony, and thus allow us better to enter into the mysteries of our redemption.

In the modern ritual, we are scarcely permitted to think that the priest, and therefore the Christ that he represents, is doing any great work. He seems to be there, watching, approving; he has something to say to us in the homily. But there seems nothing of majestic instance, nothing awesome or indispensable about his presence. This insignificance of the priestly role reflects, of course, directly on our reverence for Christ and our perception of his work for us. If Father does not have a manly priestly role, I suppose Christ didn’t do much either! Why should he have to die anyway? All these doubts can fill the vacuum left by a ritual that no longer focuses on priestly mediation but on vague “participation” and “inclusion.” This ritual also removes all the expressions of unworthiness, fear, and reverence with which all traditional liturgies are replete—Confiteor, Domine non sum dignus, bows and genuflections and signs of the cross—in favor of a cool and casual confidence in the sanctuary.

The force of ritual symbolism ought to be mostly independent from the sanctity of the priest himself, which again leaves the priest free to be a sacramental channel instead of an imposer of liturgy. This is the genius of truly sacramental ritual, that by yielding to it we become effective sacramentals for one another, even if our own lives leave something to be desired. Many priests say the new Mass with presence of mind and true holiness. But before the denuded symbolic language of the modern rite, the people are entirely at the mercy of the celebrating priest, his personal holiness and charisma. That means many such masses are reverent and effective instruments of grace. But since this an accident of the celebrant’s charisma, not the internal logic of the forms themselves, we are still left with a dangerous clericalism that puts liturgical efficacy in the hands of an individual celebrant.

Courtesy of the Fraternity of St Peter (from this post back in January.)
Therefore, the “priestly posture,” as we ought to call it, in opposition to the protestant “presider” posture, preserves the possibility of true fear of God, of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit perhaps the most under-valued in our day. It teaches us that God is not one to be treated lightly, by just anyone, in just any manner. Of course, he extends the offer of adoption to each and every person, his mercy endures forever, and he always knocking sweetly at the doors of our hearts. But this is not the whole picture; the God of mercies is also the God of judgments. The two truths must be held in tension.

So, let our priests turn East to face the Risen Lord. Let them turn to denounce theologies of merely political liberation and the sociological assembly that would reduce the Church to a social service organization at best, to political revolution at worst. But let them also face East to show that there is only One who dispenses the food that alone can satisfy all human thirst, only one Savior who brings us, all unworthy, the blessings of that divine life which is the only acceptable material for constructing God’s Kingdom on Earth.

Note: Fr. Roberto Spataro meditates on this connection between sacrifice and the widespread martyrdom of Christians today: “On the peripheries, or the eastern part of the world, especially where the majority, radical form of Islam holds sway, the believers ‘going forth’ and even those who prudently remain at home undergo a bloody or semi-bloody martyrdom caused by vexations of various kinds. According to trustworthy statistics, the numbers are horrifying: every five minutes a Christian is killed. As of this year, the word has acquired a new entry, with a sinister sense: Christianophobia. The Church ‘going forth’ of the twenty-first century is a Church of martyrdom.

It is unfortunate that even shepherds with grave responsibilities and Catholic intellectuals who have wide platforms—when according to their own tastes they design the profile of what they call, in a rather debatable expression, the ‘Church of Francis’—forget this drama that ought to have an absolute priority in the teaching and action of the Church ‘going forth’. True, the VO Missae—as we know well—is not that ‘happening’ party to which the Sacrifice of Christ on the altar is sometimes painfully reduced. It is the Mass in which we all rise mystically to Calvary and not just for a pleasant stroll. We are immersed in a story of persecution, that of the Holy Innocent par excellence, His blood is poured out, His Passion is renewed, the Martyr at the head of all the martyrs is immolated on the Altar. The believer is so escorted, admonished, prepared to confront his martyrdom, whether white or bloody. (From a lecture given at the conference ‘The Latin Mass for a Church Going Forth?’, held last 20th March in Lecce. Forthcoming in the May edition of Altare Dei magazine)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Latin Compline with Dominican Elements Booklet Now Available

I am pleased to announce that Dominican Liturgy Publications has now published a convenient booklet with the complete text of Compline from the Liturgia Horarum (Liturgy of the Hours) furnished with all the elements from the traditional Dominican Rite that were approved for use with the Proprium Officiorum Ordinis Prædicatorum: Liturgia Horarum (Romæ: Ad S. Sabinæ, 1982).

The Compline section of this Proprium was published as a pamphlet but only contained the Psalm and short reading for Compline after Sunday Second Vespers.  And that pamphlet has long been out of print.  This new edition contains the Psalms and readings for the entire week. It is a pocket-sized paperback and inexpensive. See or order it at Dominican Liturgy Publications.

If you want the same texts with all the Dominican chant music, do not order this item. Order this one or this one instead.

A Rogation Procession and Mass in Hungary

This past Monday, the “Community of St Philip Neri” ( celebrated the first Rogation Day with a traditional procession and solemn Mass at Balatonederics, a small village located on the north shore of Lake Balaton in Hungary. The community was founded in 2016 by priests and faithful of the diocese of Veszprém to organize and promote celebrations of the traditional rite. Below we include a video of their Mass celebrated on the feast of the Annunciation this year, with some very nice music.

Reminder; Be a Benedictine Monk for 48 hours!

Here’s a reminder for an event I publicized earlier in the month.

Fr Dunstan and Fr Gregory of St Mary’s Benedictine Monastery in Petersham, Massachussetts, dropped me a line about their next monastic experience weekend, in which they hope to give people an experience of monastic life, and men the opportunity to explore a vocation to the religious life. One of the attendees from the last year’s event is now novice, so let’s hope for more.

It takes place on the weekend of June 2-4. For further information you can contact Father Gregory at, or call him at 978–724–3350. For a printable flyer, click here.

St Mary’s Monastery is a contemplative Benedictine community of monks in Petersham, in central Massachusetts. They pray the office in Latin and...
live monastic life as described in the Rule of St. Benedict -- an ancient and proven way still vibrant in today’s world. It is a life of prayer and work within the monastery, radically centered on Christ, and structured around the Seven Hours of the Divine Office. We sing this great prayer in Latin using Gregorian Chant with the nuns of St. Scholastica Priory, our “twin community”. We are inviting single men (18-40 years old) for an opportunity to experience from within the rhythm and balance of Benedictine monastic prayer and community life in a house of Benedictine monks.

The Woman

In the Gospels we hear Jesus refer to his mother Mary as “Woman”. This reference should draw our attention to the woman mentioned in Genesis, as well as in the book of Revelation. But who is this “Woman”, and why is she so central in the history of Salvation?

The latest film from St Anthony Communications considers the Catholic teaching about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her important role in the Church and in the lives of Christians today. The dogmas of Mother of God, Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity, and Assumption are explained along with other traditional beliefs and devotions to Mary.

Insightful commentary is provided by Fr Marcus Holden, Fr Andrew Pinsent, Sr Mary of the Trinity, Fr Jeff Steel, and Joanna Bogle, along with a number of young people speaking about their faith and love of Our Blessed Lady.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Rogation Procession in Southern France

Our friends of the Fraternity of St Joseph the Guardian in La Londe Les Maures, France, were recently welcomed by a parishioner to his vineyard for a Rogation procession and Mass. For logistic reasons, the event had to be moved at the last minute from Rogation Monday to the previous Saturday, so the procession was held to invoke God’s blessing upon the fields, followed by the Mass of the day, St Bernardin of Siena. (Hence the white vestments.)

The Ascension of the Lord 2017

Truly it is fitting… though Christ our Lord. Who after the Resurrection, which is glorious unto all ages, appeared openly to His disciples, visible to their sight and palpable to the touch, unto the fortieth day, and was raised up unto heaven as they watched; from which time they did so profit, that what they believed might become more certain, and that they might learn more fully what to teach. Through the same Christ our Lord. (The Ambrosian Preface of the Ascension)

The Ascension of Christ, from an antiphonary decorated by Lorenzo Monaco, ca 1410
Vere quia dignum et justum est...per Christum, Dominum nostrum. Qui post resurrectionem sæculis omnibus gloriosam, discipulis suis visu conspicuus, tactuque palpabilis, usque in quadragesimum diem manifestus apparuit, ipsisque cernentibus, est elevatus in cælum: in id proficientibus intra has moras primitivas, ut et certius fìeret quod credidissent, et plenius dìscerent quod docérent. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Per quem majestatem tuam...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Priestly Character of Ad Orientem Worship: Guest Article by Zachary Thomas (Part 2)

Click here to read the first part of this article.

The versus populum posture fashionable today suggests that the priest is there only to give, without first receiving something from God. And, since the laity must all “participate” in this activity-privileging event, we often have a whole sanctuary full of actors and givers who don’t seem to have received anything in the first place. It is no wonder, then, if the modern priesthood is in a crisis of identity and self-respect. The public ritual role he has been given, his highest responsibility, contradicts his essence at every point. Indeed, the usual ceremony provides precious little evidence of the awesome dignity and terrible responsibilities of his office, and often forces him to pawn off nearly all his functions on laymen in the democratic sanctuary, where he begins to look rather superfluous.

In sum, what the Novus Ordo needs is not only a renewed eschatological perspective, not only a more emphatic turning towards the Lord, but most basically a return to a priestly posture, through a more honest ritual actualization of the priest’s intercessory role, and a sacred choreography that better expresses the metaphysical reality of priesthood. Is the priest a true mediator like Christ and Moses, ascending and descending the mountain to stand in the breach before God, or is he a rebellious Aaron down below, cleaving to the people, fashioning for them a Golden Calf, the idol that always faces the people to give them what they want, because he dare not turn his face to God?

The comparison is not unjust; this foundational story is offered to warn us about the fundamental shape of all true worship of the Lord. The sacred authors all see Christ’s priestly ministry as a recapitulation of Old Testament models, and so should we. Just as Moses prays and toils on the mountain, entreating for his people in the cloud, so the Israelite priest ascended the Holy of Holies, and so also Christ does carry His cross to Golgotha to make His eternal sacrifice, and after death enter the true Holy of Holies. Scripture provides us these ancient models as the lens through which to understand Christ and Christian worship.

In contrast, there is idolatry. When we fear turning to the Lord, we make gods in our own image. The static, tame, and visible bull-idol is contrasted in Exodus with a fiery God shrouded in shadow, attended by a tireless Moses, who toils up and down the mountain, hidden in the cloud, descending without warning. This divine encounter at Sinai is the paradigm for all true worship of God: a matter of distance, holy fear, intercession, hopeful expectation. Salvation is never in our possession, but always a gift, radically dependent and contingent. The Israelites did not want to receive God’s frightful gift, and so they made their own gods, a laughable thought and a lie. Only God can reveal himself and the way He desires to be worshipped. (See Pope Benedict XVI’s The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.23)

In this respect, as in many others, the new Mass’s ritual forms as commonly practiced, statically versus populum, almost contra Deum, are a misrepresentation, a failure to recapitulate the divine economy of Christ the High Priest mediating and governing His Kingdom from the bosom of the Trinity. The harried priest relentlessly “engaging” his “assembly” is a ritual expression of the worried tyranny of the idolatrous soul, caught in a spiral of self-contemplation from which he cannot escape. This daily spectacle is harmful not only to the faithful, but to the priest’s own spiritual life and sense of self-worth.

This is not at all to say that when we worship with the new Mass, we necessarily fail to pray it with the proper spiritual dispositions, or must deny our dogmatic understanding of sacrificial action, or definitely receive less grace. Of course not! It is to say that the rite itself, as a structure of symbols and actions meant to guide our mind and heart toward the sacramental action at hand, simply fails to express its own interior nature and thus to weld us onto itself. Like a poorly acted drama that fails to engage our attention, it fails to dispose us properly to receive what it communicates: Christ himself. We may know what the action means notionally, and even be able to reproduce it, if we are well formed, in our own hearts; but we are not offered the awesome, stable, visual, physical expression of sacrifice that would be required for us to confess and enact it properly with our whole being, and thus cooperate most fully with the fountain of grace. The old Mass’s sacred choreography, combined with all the riches of its other forms of expression—music, text, artistic forms, etc.—is an awesome expression of the theology of sacrifice whose power for spiritual formation never ends.

I have suggested that the Old Testament, particularly the Sinai episode, offers models for understanding the proper shape of divine worship. The New Testament picks up on these references, and so did those who crafted the liturgical life of the various churches during their nursery period. It is the going-up to the altar of God, a holy place, on the part of a High Priest by Whose action we are saved. I propose therefore to explore the ways Scripture in which offers perennially valid orientations for Catholic worship, orientations expressed more richly in the ritual language of traditional rites than in those constructed by mid-20th century scholars.

“Noli me tangere”: Ad Orientem as Offense

Revelation and redemption both began with God’s offense to man. Placed in the garden of delights, Adam is given almost everything, “but of the tree in the middle of the garden you shall not eat.” Here is the smallest obstacle to Adam’s godlike dominion over the earth. When God prepared the way for his Son in the Church, he “called out” Abraham from the bosom of his family and made him a sojourner in a foreign land; later, he even asked him to kill his only son! From then on, one could read the whole fabric of Israelite religion as an attempt to preserve the nature of God as an offense to man: the presence of the Lord cannot be confined in idols, manipulated through ritual, detained within the nation-state (which thus becomes divine!), worshipped as we please. Under no circumstances is He to be touched. The God of Israel is a god of boundaries, which are meant to protect the Israelites from sacrilege, and teach them the true nature of the transcendent God in a world always guilty of bringing God down to its level.

Offense is inseparable from faith, because fallen man is incapable of true faith. He is too willing to believe the serpent’s whisper, that God is just a jealous man like us, or the grumblings of the people, who want nothing more from God in the end than the abundant flesh-pots of Egypt, even if that means a miserable slavery to passion. True freedom comes only when man renounces his graspings after God and adores Him in His transcendent majesty. Only after a long training in “offenses” can the people of Israel understand their God, and even then, it takes the rebukes of countless prophets to awaken them from their indifference.

This leads us to another Scriptural perspective on the priestly posture—and despite the expanded lectionary, our liturgical disorientation is at root a loss of Scriptural perspective—that is, its fearfulness. The Pharisee in the Gospel proudly faced the Lord in the Temple, sitting in the front row to be as close as possible to the holy forms; for what should stand between him who was so pure and the sacred? By contrast, the publican sat far to the rear, covered his head, and sighed over his own sinfulness. If a priest had descended from his place at the altar to come near to him, he might have fled away. In this parable, surely Our Lord was trying to teach us something about the proper attitude at Holy Mass? Surely He did not rebuke, because He was not displeased by, a sinner’s expression of fear at His approach: “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinner!”

In an age without comfort, in “the silent society [which] abandons [man] to himself: not one lesson, no advice, no support...”, it is good and right for the Church to emphasize Christ’s nearness, his mercy and all-embracing love. But we miss the mark, and fall into an even greater error, I think, if we do not also stress his remoteness as the Holy One of Israel, as the King of the Universe, as the High Priest in the Holy of Holies at the right hand of the Father. Without realizing God’s awesome distance from us—which is not incompatible with his tender closeness!—we risk collapsing Him into another piece of mental furniture in our comfortable existence, a therapeutic presence for the bad times, rather than a Lord, the majestic object of our religious devotion. Man’s initiative is first to fear and repent, God’s response is to heal and console; but the dramatic integrity of this exchange must be preserved. Christ never heals those who do not ask for it in faith and repentance, loathing their own spiritual leprosy and crying out “Save me, son of David!”

We could multiply examples of the “distant” Christ in the Gospels, who runs away from his parents, flees to the mountains, speaks in riddles and gets exasperated with his disciples, drives people out of the temple, and bitterly disappoints Messianic expectations by dying on the Cross. The whole Gospel of John is a sustained excursus in ironies and perpetual misunderstanding between one speaking “from above” to those “from below”! Just as much as the jealous God of the Old Testament, Christ resists being pigeon-holed or tied down to human conceptions, and his closest relationships are tinged with alienation.This is an important point of catechesis for our time. We are too willing to think that the religious worldview of the Old Testament has been largely abrogated and tossed out; but this is an error, and an ancient one at that. Rather, it was elevated and purified, as grace does to nature.

This dogmatic truth entails that all the basic attitudes and practices of the Old Testament are still valid and good, if understood in the light of Christ; further, they are an ineluctable part of the totus Christus. The fear of God apparent on every page of the Old Testament (and for that matter on the lips of all good ecclesiastical writers) is therefore still a Christian virtue. In Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI observed that the perennial fear of the Israelites, that seeing God would bring death, was not proved invalid in Christ’s coming, but is precisely fulfilled by Our Lord.

Easter at St Peter’s Eastern Catholic Church in Ukiah, California

In the Byzantine tradition, the day before the Ascension is known as the “Leave-taking” of Easter; this is the official end of the Paschal season, marked by dropping certain features from the liturgy. (E.g., the famous chant which begins every Divine Liturgy in the Easter season, “Christ is risen from the dead; by death He trampled death...”, is discontinued after today.) I thought it would be good to mark the day with one last bit of unfinished business from our most recent photopost series. These photos of the major ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter were taken at St Peter’s Eastern Catholic Church in Ukiah, California, which labors mightily to make the richness and beauty of the Byzantine liturgical tradition accessible to all and sundry. The last few were taken on Bright Wednesday, when Fr David Anderson and his parish welcomed a visit from the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa, they of the famous amice ties. Our thanks to Mr Philip Gilbert, a member of the parish who is now studying for the Greek-Catholic priesthood, for sending these in.

Good Friday Matins of the Passion Gospels

Royal Hours of Good Friday

Good Friday Vespers

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