Monday, December 31, 2018

Christmas 2018 Photopost (Part 1)

I was travelling this weekend, so we’re off to late start with this year’s Christmas photoposts; this means there’s still plenty of time to send in your photos of Christmas liturgies, since we will definitely have at least one more before we move on to Epiphany. ( Since this will be the last post of the year 2018, I wish to express my gratitude to all our of readers who have sent in material for photoposts and of all kinds other things (church restorations, Pontifical ceremonies, etc.) over the course of the year. Your generosity in sharing information about the good things happening in your local churches contributes mightily to the important work of evangelizing through beauty.

Our Lady of China Parish - Hong Kong
Celebrated by His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Zen, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong

At the End of One Year and the Start of Another: Stability within the Cycle

Man, the human person, is defined by thirst: “O God, my God, to thee do I watch at break of day. For thee my soul hath thirsted; for thee my flesh, O how many ways!” (Ps 62:2). This existential thirst never goes away as long as we live, year in, year out. Indeed, in a healthy man, it should increase until it becomes unbearable, and he dies from it, to satisfy it at last.

Our thirst, our primal need, is to worship — to be filled, sated with the presence of God, the reality of God. “In a desert land, and where there is no way, and no water: so in the sanctuary have I come before thee, to see thy power and thy glory” (Ps 62:3). This mortal life, so obviously good that we cling to it rather desperately, is yet a place of constant change, where it often seems there is no way, and no water, except when we go to the sanctuary. There we find the power to be, to live, to suffer, and to die. There we find intimations of glory that beckon us forward, out of a desert land and into a watered garden (Is 58:3).

Socrates said that the purpose of philosophy was to prepare for death. “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better,” as St. Paul said (Phil 1:23). The Apostle saw that his thirst for life could be quenched only in the beatific vision, which he himself tasted in the rapture he narrates in 2 Corinthians 12. In this vision there would be, at last, surcease of restless desire in the intensity of blissful unshakable possession. “They shall be inebriated with the plenty of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of thy pleasure” (Ps 35:9).

For him who seeks God and dwells in Him, life, however confusing and difficult, is never a parched and trackless desert in which one wanders aimlessly. For the atheist or nihilist or hedonist, however, could it be anything else? Our temporal pleasures are evanescent and, in a way, unreal, as they disappear into the maw of inexorable time, with the passing of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, millennia. This, perhaps, explains the somewhat melancholy cast that, for many, hangs over the Christmas season and into the start of the New Year, a melancholy many attempt to drown in spirited celebrations that have, as their only lasting result, the killing of time.

Catholics, however, think and act differently about time. We find ourselves in the unfolding of the liturgy’s temporal and sanctoral cycle; we situate our lives upon a calendar that precedes and supersedes the civil calendar, and opens onto eternity. We do not say that January 1st is our new year, although, as the Epistle to Diognetus has it, we politely go along with the conventions of our place and time, when they are not wicked. Our newness is in Christ, who is before and after the ages, and within all ages: He is the beginning of the cycle in Advent, and the end of the cycle in the Last Sunday after Pentecost, when His ominous discourse about the end of the world places us in mind of the termination of time itself and of the whirling change that threatens to sweep away God’s immortal handiwork. “The Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8).

The passage from life to death and death to life, a passage of which we never cease to be reminded by the cycle of seasons and the two off-rhythm calendars we live by, does not, fundamentally, leave the Christian melancholy. He see himself as a “work in progress,” even as is the entire cosmos, and the Church in those of her members who are living in time. Our reality is not all at once, like a “fact,” but a reality that God is shaping as He leads it towards Himself. St. Thomas Aquinas expresses this point well:
‘He who is’ is the most proper name of God among other names. . . . For that is perfect outside of which there is nothing. But our being has something of it outside itself, for it is without something of itself which is now past and something else which is future, but in the divine being nothing is either past or future; and therefore He has His whole perfect being and on account of this, to Him properly belongs Being. (Sent. I.8.1.1)
What lends reality to our being, variable and sequential as it is; what constitutes us as one and permanent, so that we are not fractured and dissipated, is our resting in the Alpha and Omega, free from every shadow of change. If the Holy Spirit has made the liturgy the center of His working in our souls, as Dom Guéranger claimed, we might add: the Holy Spirit has made the liturgy the anchor for our ship in time of turmoil, the sail in times of fair weather, the harbor in time of need, the open ocean in time of peace. We are centered in the king and center of all hearts, rex et centrum omnium cordium.

This is why a liturgy that is theocentric, stable, determinate, orderly, and saturated with content is exactly suited to the nature of man-in-time, man in via, en route to the beatific vision. It must be theocentric or else it fails altogether to be worship. It must be stable, determinate, and orderly if it is to give shape, meaning, and direction to our passage through this mutable, variable, and often chaotic life. It must be saturated with ritual, textual, musical content in order to be suitable food and drink for rational animals defined by their capacity for the infinite. Man’s ever-recurring thirst is both slaked and newly awakened by the peaceful rhythm of the one-year lectionary, the rich sanctoral cycle, the alternating thinness and density of liturgical seasons, the comfort of familiar set prayers in the same ancient tongue and the provocation of the newly-noticed detail.

This is why, at the end of each year, whether ecclesiastical or civic, Catholics — instead of succumbing to bouts of melancholy or fending them off with feeble weapons — have every reason to look forward to the sobria ebrietas, the sober drunkenness, of another year fruitfully spent in worshiping the Lord with the traditional rites He has bestowed on His Church. “In the sanctuary have I come before thee, to see thy power and thy glory.”
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Saturday, December 29, 2018

St Thomas of Canterbury 2018

St Thomas à Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on December 29th, 1170, less than a month after he had returned from six years of exile in France, where he had been driven by a long persecution at the hands of King Henry II of England. The murder was followed by a wave of revulsion throughout Europe, which did much to promote the reforms within the Church that St Thomas had died to defend. He was canonized by Pope Alexander III, who had received him in audience during his exile just over two years after his death, in no small measure because of the innumerable miracles that took place at his tomb.

The following piece is one of the earliest known musical compositions that refers to St Thomas, and very cleverly associates him the Holy Innocents, whose feast is kept the day before his; England is likened to Rama, King Henry to King Herod, and Thomas to the first-born sons whom Herod killed. France then becomes Egypt, and since Egypt was also the place of the exile of the Patriarch Joseph, St Thomas is called “the Joseph of Canterbury.” The implication of this is, of course, that just as Christ’s exile delayed His unjust death, so did that of St Thomas.

In Rama sonat gemitus / plorante Rachel Anglie: / Herodis namque genitus / dat ipsam ignominie. / En eius primogenitus / et Joseph Cantuarie / Exulat si sit venditus, / Egiptum colit Gallie.

Lamentation sounds forth in Rama, as the “Rachel” of England weepeth. A new Herod gives her unto ignominy. Behold the first-born of the realm, the “Joseph” of Canterbury, as if he were sold, dwells in the “Egypt” of France. (On the YouTube channel that posted this, the first word of the 7th line is correctly transcribed “exulat,” but the singers clearly say “exsultat.” This book gives a better reading for the same line “exsul, ac si sit venditus - an exile, as if he had been sold.” Thanks to Dr Jeffrey Morse and Jesson Allerite for this information.)

The martyrdom of St Thomas took place as he was presiding over Vespers, which were those of the day within the octave of Christmas. Here is a recording of the ceremony as it would have been sung on that day, up to the Chapter, when the bells start ringing as the knights burst into the church. Roughly half of the cathedrals of pre-Reformation, including Canterbury, were served by monks, rather than canons, so the Vespers follows the monastic rite, with only four Psalms (109-110-111-129.) The antiphons are semidoubled, as was generally the custom in the Middle Ages.

Here is 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.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The “Coventry Carol”

One of the most haunting of all Christmas-season carols is the “Coventry Carol,” whose text, melody, and harmony come from a medieval play, the sixteenth-century Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors.

In 2010, I wrote an arrangement of this carol for unaccompanied SATB choir. While retaining the basic structure, the arrangement uses counterpoint, polytonality, and sustained notes to lend the work a heightened intensity. I also added an ostinato line from the Preface of the Mass for the Dead—vita mutatur, non tollitur, “life is changed, not destroyed”—and a final invocation of the Holy Innocents, orate pro nobis, Amen.

The performance in the video, sung by the Ecclesia Choir, took place at St. John Cantius in Chicago on June 25, 2017, under the direction of Deacon Timothy Woods.

The Coventry Carol

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Vita mutatur, non tollitur.

1. O sisters too,
How may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling
For whom we do sing
By, bye, lully, lullay?

2. Herod, the king,
In his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might,
in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

3.That woe is me,
Poor child, for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting
Neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Orate pro nobis. Amen.

A Special Chant for the Epistle of the Holy Innocents

From our friends of the Schola Sainte-Cécile, here is a beautiful proper tone for the traditional epistle of the feast of the Holy Innocents, Apocalypse 14, 1-5. (Click here to see a downloadable pdf version in two pages.)

Here are Henri de Villiers’ notes on the chant, translated by Zachary Thomas; they are also being published on Canticum Salomonis.

This special chant was formerly sung in places with interwoven French verses that paraphrased the Latin text, a “farced epistle”, as they were called. These epistles were chanted by two or three subdeacons on certains feasts of the year, especially during the period around the feast of Christmas, from St Nicholas to Epiphany. We find farced epistles very frequently in liturgical manuscripts from the 12th to the 13th centuries, after which the practice seems to decline and disappear. Some however were composed as late as the 14th century, and were still sung with their texts in Old French in certain parts of France into the middle of the 18th century, especially the epistle of St. Stephen, which is probably the most ancient. For linguists who study the history of the French language, these farces are very valuable because they represent some of the most ancient written witnesses of French, as expressed in numerous regional forms.

Here is the beginning of the Epistle of the Holy Innocents transcribed by Fr. Lebeuf in his famous Treatise on ecclesiastical chant, with tropes in Old Picard. [The text in square brackets is not included in the music here, but can be seen in this book. Translation by Gerhard Eger.]

Now listen, old and young, draw near to this writ. If ye listen to what this lesson sayeth and what it singeth, I ask you all that each one pray that the Lord God dwell in us, and take his rest in our hearts, and not forget not our end.
A Lesson from the book of the Apocalypse of blessed John the Apostle. Hearken ye to the sense and reason of Saint John’s vision. They call it “Apocalypse,” the raising of the house, and of the lofty house that God promiseth us in his name, by the Gospel and by the sermon. We must not doubt that he sayeth in his lesson.

In those days, I saw the Lamb standing upon Mount Sion, and with Him a hundred and forty-four thousand having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. In those days whereof I sing to ye, Saint John saw a very large mount. Sion is its name, and on its slope there is a standing Lamb. Accompanying Him are a hundred and forty thousand children, and four thousand more withal, and in the midst of their forehead above their faces they bear the name of the living God. [Mount Sion is the Holy Church, which the Lord God made and placed upon a firm and well-founded stone, and He taught Her with Scripture, which doth crush and break the haughty, and doth blow and kindle charity. But the sinner hath chosen another way, by evil counsel and by lust. He rendereth a smoky wind for flame, and doth separate himself from God’s love exceedingly. This Lamb is atop the mount, very beautiful, very good, with true wool. With Him is a very large company, but none in this multitude matches Him. It is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Who through the heavens on a broad plain taketh up again and again the Innocents, they who praise God with healthy voice.]

And I heard a voice from heaven like a voice of many waters, and like a voice of loud thunder; and the voice that I heard was as of harpers playing on their harps. [From afar I heard the waters turn, just like the sea, and then I heard loud thundering and the clash of thunder. Then I heard the sound of harps, harpers with song. Now, we must explain this well: Our deeds, our words, and our thoughts, that we can bring together, we must give over to the Lord God. The waters are the great multitude, the bad, the good, and the incredulous, which God made to be born on earth, as many as there are flowing waters. All must in their lives praise the Lord God almighty. And the thundering I heard from God is what he shall threaten us with, thrashing us with want, and chastising us with hunger and war, as a father his child. The harps produce a melody, while man says a psalmody, and he afflicts himself with fasting when he hath no hypocrisy. Without pride and without envy, he singeth to God in symphony, and rendereth to Him a sweet harmony.]

And they were singing as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except those hundred and forty-four thousand, who have been purchased from the earth. [Those whom I mentioned, the children, will sing a song the like whereof no man hath ever heard. The news was of a new sound: it is called the Gospel, and none can hold the tone, besides the companions.]

These are they who were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb wherever He goes. [Those who love virginity, and resolved in their hearts to keep their bodies in purity, can serve the Majesty that is of such great power. Those who have besmirched themselves and amused themselves in filth, and have shriven themselves well, and purified and cleansed themselves, shall be able to follow in tranquillity the Lamb of such great holiness.]

These were purchased from among men, first-fruits unto God and unto the Lamb, and in their mouth there was found no lie. [These Innocents are the first whom God suffered to be martyred, and be struck and broken down, and be defleshed on the rocks. The tyrant and the butcher, for the sake of Jesus Christ our prince, sought to kill and slay them, for Herod who wished to reign alone, with no other heir. When the tyrant beheaded them, their vermilion blood did flow, and while milk appeared, which they had first suckled from their mother, from the mouth that held her. And when the children beheld the bright sword that shone, they laughed on account of their age, for without fail when they looked they bethought that they were playing in that spot.]

They are without blemish before the throne of God. For they are without any blemish, and without care of this world. [To God’s holy nature they have well offered their likeness and figure as a pure offering. They shall never suffer a harsh word, if, as Holy Scripture sayeth, throughout all the days that the world should last, God shall grant them sweet pasture, and God, as good nourishment! Now, let us pray to God very simply that He might grant us amendment, and He shall sweetly hearken to us. He desireth to take us at His will hither to our end, and stand for us soit on the judgement day. Thereafter he shall give us a dwelling in Paradise, as His gift. Now, say ye all: Amen! Amen!]

The French paraphrase is set in the same 7th mode as the cantillation for the Latin text, but the chant is not set to the same melody. In other farced epistles, all the strophes reproduce the same melody, distinct from that of the Latin, which develops more freely from one verse to the other. It is probable that the French verses were composed to be inserted into the pre-existing Latin cantillation. Are these cantillations, at least with regard to the Latin text, very ancient? Probably. They are found with similar melodies from one diocese to another. The two examples Fr Lebeuf gives of the farced epistle of the feast of St Stephen (26th December), taken from the books of Amiens (1250) and from a church in the province of Lyon or Sens (1400) contain very similar melodies—both French and Latin—but with different words for the French paraphrases (except the first strophe).

Hence, the farced Epistles are precious because they let us hear an echo of the great variety of liturgical cantillations that must have been in use to chant the various Epistles and Gospels of the year. Thus they are a memory of an ancient stage of the liturgy, much richer than what has come down to us. (The Roman liturgical books since the 17th century contain only two tones for the Epistle, one of which is just recto-tono.)

The chant for the Epistle of the Holy Innocents cited by Lebeuf is taken from the ancient liturgical books of Amiens. The French trope contains a full 130 verses all in masculine rhymes to facilitate their adaptation to plain-chant. Our schola preserves the chant of the Latin verses, without the French paraphrases, and we have completed the first verses provided by Fr Lebeuf based on a 19th-century work by Dr. Rigollot. The 7th mode, which naturally has a wide range, was perhaps chosen based on the meaning of the text. The melody rises in the second verse to express the text:

“Et audivi vocem de coelo, tamquam vocem aquarum multarum, et tamquam vocem tonitrui magni. – And I heard a voice from heaven, as the noise of many waters, and as the voice of great thunder.” (Apocalypse 21, 14)

Note that the 4th verse especially (and to an extent the 5th verse) imitates the psalmody of the 7th mode, and this psalmody might have inspired the entire cantillation for the Epistle on Childermas.

Although the Parisian books do not preserve any farced epistles, this might be because few liturgical manuscripts from Paris from before the middle of the 18th century have survived. Must we conclude that the diocese of Paris rejected the singing of farced epistles?

No! In an interesting ordinance promulgated in 1198 by bishop Odo of Sully to regulate the celebration of the feast of the Circumcision on the 1st of January in Paris, we find the following passage, which demonstrates that this city, like the other dioceses of France, also farced epistles. “Missa similiter cum ceteris Horis ordinate celebrabitur a aliquo prœdictorum, hoc addito quod Epistola cum farsia dicetur a duobus in cappis sericeis. – The Mass shall be celebrated like the rest of the Hours by one of the aforesaid, with the addition of a farced Epistle which shall be said by two [ministers] in silken copes.”

Thursday, December 27, 2018

St John the Evangelist 2018

This is John, who at the supper rested upon the breast of the Lord; * blessed is the Apostle, to whom the secrets of heaven were revealed. V. He drank in the running waters of the Gospel directly from sacred fountain of the Lord’s breast. Blessed is the Apostle, to whom the secrets of heaven were revealed. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. Blessed is the Apostle, to whom the secrets of heaven were revealed. (The eighth responsory of Matins of St John)

St John on the island of Patmos, by the Flemish painters Tobias Verhaecht (1561-1631) and Gillis Coignet (1542-99), 1598; now in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.
R. Iste est Joannes, qui supra pectus Domini in cena recubuit: * Beatus Apostolus, cui revelata sunt secreta caelestia. V. Fluenta Evangelii de ipso sacro Dominici pectoris fonte potavit. Beatus Apostolus, cui revelata sunt secreta caelestia. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Beatus Apostolus, cui revelata sunt secreta caelestia.

A Beautiful Restoration in Chattanooga

The Basilica of Ss Peter and Paul in Chattanooga, Tennessee (diocese of Knoxville), has recently completed a major restoration of its sanctuary, with the installation of three new altars and a reredos, the removal of the red carpeting from the sanctuary and nave, and the restoration of the original hard pine flooring in the nave. The Blessed Sacrament has been returned to the center of the church, behind the main altar; a new tabernacle will soon be installed. The traditional altar rail will also soon be put back. Here is an overview of the various changes made to the sanctuary over the years (click to enlarge):
A closer view of the sanctuary before the most recent restoration.
The project as it currently stands.
A plan for the completed restoration, with the upcoming installation of the altar rail.

All the altars have been replaced with newly carved wooden bases; the marble tops from the 1930s were retained in all but the new main altar. The stone for the new main altar, a beautiful blue sandstone, was quarried locally, in Morgan County, Tenn.; it now contains the original altar stone from the 1890 altar, with relics of Ss Peter and Paul within it. The electrical and lighting systems were upgraded, highlighting the beautiful artwork in the sanctuary and nave. During the renovation process, two historical alcoves were discovered behind walls in the vestibules. They have since been uncovered and restored to their former beauty. A restoration of the church’s pipe organ is due to be completed by Easter, with 122 additional pipes to form the two final ranks of its original design, the trompettes and clarinets.

On Sunday, December 23rd, His Excellency Richard Stika, Bishop of Knoxville consecrated the new altar of renovated sanctuary. The Mass was sung by a combined choir from the English- and Spanish-speaking communities of the parish, including the youth schola, with Gregorian chant and polyphony, in keeping with the Basilica’s mission of preserving the traditional elements of Catholic worship. (Photos by Christina Bankson, reproduced by permission.)

Guest Article: The Octave and the Twelve Days of Christmas

NLM is pleased to publish this reflection by Canon Aaron B. Huberfeld, Rector of St. Mary’s Oratory in Wausau, Wisconsin.

When people pursuing the devout life first undertake to deepen their life in the liturgical year, they are often astonished by the feasts they encounter during what is known as the Octave of Christmas (“octave” means “series of eight”, which can also be confusing, since of course we speak of Twelve Days of Christmas — more on that later). No sooner do we conclude the office of Christmas Day than we celebrate the feast of the first Martyr. Why is this so? Does the feast of St Stephen just happen to fall on December 26? Why would the Church turn so quickly from the creche to consider the deacon who was stoned to death after Our Lord's Resurrection? And what about the feasts of the following days? What is their connection with Christmas?

The first three feasts of the Christmas Octave have been observed since antiquity. They were always devoutly referred to as the Three Companions. We begin with St Stephen, murdered at the direction of Saul of Tarsus, whose conversion we shall celebrate one month later. Stephen was a martyr loquendo et moriendo, by his words and by his death. The next day we return to white vestments, for St John is the only Apostle not celebrated in red. He was the only Apostle who did not abandon his Savior at Calvary, and so God decreed that he should be a martyr loquendo sed non moriendo, by his words but not by his death, for he would be miraculously preserved from his execution and end his life in peace on the island of Patmos. Then on December 28 we celebrate Childermas, the feast of the Holy Innocents, those little ones of Bethlehem who, as we pray in the collect of their Mass, bore witness to Christ non loquendo, sed moriendo, not by their words, but by their deaths, for they were killed by raging Herod on the chance that one of them might be the newborn King.

Herods are to be found in every age, for sinful rulers always view the kingdom of Christ as a threat to their earthly power. And so on December 29 we keep the feast of Thomas Becket, the holy bishop of Canterbury who upheld the freedom of the Church from the interference of the state and so was cut down by King Henry II’s men during Christmas Vespers.

On December 30 we take up again the Mass and Office of Christmas, like a beautiful refrain, and then remain in white vestments for the conclusion of the Octave. December 31 is the feast of St Sylvester, celebrated in white because he is the first pope who was not a martyr, bringing the age of martyrs to a close with the peace of Constantine. On this Seventh Day of Christmas, the Church has emerged from the catacombs, and she brings with her the fullness of her sacramental life. She is mindful of the words of her greatest prophet which have been so wondrously fulfilled:
There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. (Isa. 11, 1-3)
These seven gifts of the Spirit of God which rest upon the Anointed One are given in turn to all those who are associated with His Passion by their reception of the Seven Sacraments:
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand the second time to possess the remnant of his people...And he shall set up a standard unto the nations, and shall assemble the fugitives of Israel, and shall gather together the dispersed of Juda from the four quarters of the earth...And the Lord shall lay waste the tongue of the sea of Egypt, and shall lift up his hand over the river in the strength of his spirit: and he shall strike it in the seven streams, so that men may pass through it in their shoes. (Isa. 11, 11-12, 15)
The day after, on January 1st, this Son of David will submit to the Old Law by His circumcision—but only to bring the Old Covenant to fulfillment. Twelve days later, on the Octave of the Epiphany, we shall see Him fulfill all righteousness with His baptism in the Jordan. Righteousness comes from the wood of the Cross, at which we draw waters in joy from the seven sacramental founts of our Savior’s pierced Heart. (Isa. 12)

Why, then, do we not conclude Christmas with its Octave day? Why count “Twelve Days of Christmas”? To find the answer, we must draw from the treasures of the Church’s full liturgical tradition during this season. If we look to the liturgy before the reforms of the mid-twentieth century, we find that the Three Companions have not left the Christ Child. Each in turn takes his bow as we celebrate the Octave days of St Stephen, St John, and Childermas on January 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively. And note the prayer for St Stephen’s Octave, which differs only in its opening words from that of December 26:
Almighty and eternal God, who hast dedicated the first fruits of the martyrs in the blood of Blessed Stephen the Levite...
And that of Twelfth Night, Eve of the Epiphany:
Almighty and eternal God, direct our actions according to thy good pleasure, that in the Name of thy Son we may abound in good works.
If the first seven days of Christmas bring us the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost, it is the Twelve Days as a whole that allow us to yield His Twelve Fruits in our moral and spiritual lives. (Gal. 5, 22-23, Apoc. 22, 2)

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Ambrosian Gospel of St Stephen

In the Roman Rite, the Gospel of the feast of St Stephen is traditionally St Matthew 23, 34-39, as attested in the very oldest surviving lectionaries.

“Behold I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you will put to death and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: That upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar. Amen I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldest not? Behold, your house shall be left to you, desolate. For I say to you, you shall not see me henceforth till you say: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

This passage was perhaps chosen because of what St Jerome writes about it in his commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew, as read in the Breviary, that among the prophets, wise men and scribes named by Christ, “Stephen was stoned, Paul killed, Peter crucified, and the disciples scourged (as stated) in the Acts of the Apostles.” (Commentary on Matthew, book 4)

In the Ambrosian liturgy, on the other hand, a completely different passage is used, Matthew 17, 23-26. This is the only Milanese Gospel of the Christmas octave which diverges completely from the Roman lectionary tradition. [1]

“When they were come to Capharnaum, they that received the didrachmas, came to Peter and said to him: Doth not your master pay the didrachmas? He said: Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying: What is thy opinion, Simon? The kings of the earth, of whom do they receive tribute or custom? of their own children, or of strangers? And he said: Of strangers. Jesus said to him: Then the children are free. But that we may not scandalize them, go to the sea, and cast in a hook: and that fish which shall first come up, take: and when thou hast opened its mouth, thou shalt find a stater: take that, and give it to them for me and thee.”

The Tribute Money, by Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone (1401-28), better known as Masaccio, 1425; in the Brancacci Chapel of the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence.
St Hilary of Poitiers (ca. 310-365, bishop ca. 350) interpreted the fish in this episode as a figure of St Stephen, the first to be caught by the hook of St Peter’s preaching, (Commentary on Matthew, cap. 17, 13), who then “preached the glory of God, beholding the Lord Christ in his passion.” St Ambrose, who became bishop of Milan roughly a decade after St Hilary’s death, repeats this interpretation in three different places.

“Therefore, he cast the nets, and seized hold of Stephen, who was the first to arise from the Gospel, having the stater of justice in his mouth.” (Hexameron, 5, 6, 16)

“And perhaps this first fish is the first martyr, having the didrachma, that is, the price of the census, in his mouth. Christ is our didrachma. Therefore, the first martyr, Stephen, had in his mouth the treasure, when he spoke of Christ in his passion” (Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke, 4, 75)

“In this ship, Peter is fishing, and is ordered to fish now with the net, now with a hook. A great mystery! For this seems to be a spiritual fishing, by which he is ordered to cast the hook of teaching into the world, so that he might raise up the first martyr, Stephen, from the sea, who contained the price of Christ within himself; for Christ’s martyr is the Church’s treasure. Therefore, that Martyr who was the first to come up to heaven from the sea, captured as a minister of the altar by Peter, is lifted up not with a net, but with a hook, so that by the stream of his blood he might be lifted up to heaven. And in his mouth was the treasure, when the spoke of Christ in his confession.” (On Virginity 120)

We see, therefore, that St Ambrose was well aware of the tradition that linked this Gospel to the passion of St Stephen. As in many other cases, he bears witness to the earliest stage of the codification of a liturgical tradition, which he receive from his predecessors, and from which he then draws inspiration for his own theological and catechetical reflections. And indeed, this tradition is also attested in the very oldest liturgical books of both the Ambrosian and Gallican rites, although they date from several centuries later.

In yet another example of the false irenicism so predominant among the post-Conciliar reformers, the traditional Roman Gospel for St Stephen was not just changed on the feast itself, but deleted from the lectionary entirely. When the time comes to reform the liturgy correctly, and fix the innumerable mistakes of this sort which plague the new lectionary, we would do well the follow the example of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, who received what was passed on to them, and faithfully transmitted it to the generations that followed, rather than change liturgical tradition to chase after the approval of the passing age.

The lighting of the “faro” at the parish church of St Stephen in Santo Stefano Ticino (west of Milan), earlier today.

[1] At the three Masses of Christmas, the Ambrosian Rite reads the same Gospels as the Roman, but exchanges the places of those of the Midnight and Day Masses. At the Midnight Mass, the Prologue of St John is shortened to just five verses (9-14), but the complete passage is read at the Mass within the octave on December 31. The Ambrosian Gospel of St Thomas of Canterbury is longer by two verses (John 10, 11-18).

This article is partly taken from an item written by Nicola de’ Grandi.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!

What may we bring Thee, o Christ, since Thou hast appeared upon the earth as man for our sake? For each of the creatures made by Thee bringeth its thanksgiving to Thee: the Angels bring a hymn, the heavens a star, the wise men their gifts, the shepherds their amazement, the earth a cave, the desert a manger; and we, the Virgin Mother. O God before the ages, have mercy on us! (A hymn for Vespers of Christmas in the Byzantine Rite.)

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.

Christianity’s Neglected Cultural Weapons - Signs and Symbols

I recently interviewed the accomplished artist and teacher of icon carving, Jonathan Pageau. He is also one of the co-founders of the excellent Orthodox Arts Journal. Some will be aware that he has been gaining an increasingly high profile in social media - it doesn’t do any harm when Jordan Peterson regular retweets you! He has been posting movie reviews and talks on his YouTube channel, and they are gaining interest from a wide and increasing audience that includes many non-Christians and even atheists.

I wanted to know why.

What he is doing, he told me, is analyzing the culture, and especially movies, in terms of the symbols of the Christian faith. As an iconographer, he is conversant in traditional symbolism, a field that is called “iconology” (in contrast to “iconography”, the creation of the images.) He explains in the interview that his analyses are based on the premise that traditional Christian symbolism is not arbitrary, but appeals to something that is part of our nature, and which is placed there by God, so that we might have faith and see Him in all that is beautiful and good around us, especially in creation. The interconnectedness of all things forms a network of relationships in the cosmos; this allows us to make the mental leap to grasp the truth that all the created order relates to something greater and uncreated, but invisible, which is, of course, God.

Christian symbolism powerfully stimulates this facility in us, precisely because it participates in the natural symbolism of creation, perceived at the very least as its beauty.

Many successful filmmakers use it, often unknowingly and instinctively, to make a connection with their audiences. If he is right (and I think he is) then what he is explaining is something that could be used consciously and, if done well, even more successfully, both to increase viewing figures for films and to evangelize the culture. While it might be possible to do this cynically, the more that it is distorted or used for wrong purposes, the more its power is undermined. It is like a charism; as soon as we try to misuse it, it disappears. The reason that Jonathan’s message resonates with atheist and believer alike is that they recognize the pattern of interconnectivity as something that reflects an underlying truth. Jonathan’s YouTube channel, called The Symbolic World, is here; I encourage you to investigate.

Two points that will be of interest to NLM readers: he graciously told me that we were the first to feature his work anywhere, and as a result, eight years ago, he obtained a commission from a bishop which was the endorsement that launched his career as an artist. Furthermore, he explained that the inspiration for the Orthodox Arts Journal was the approach to writing about Catholic culture and the liturgy that was being used by the New Liturgical Movement!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Happy 200th Birthday, “Silent Night” — and Why Singing Carols Is So Important

Exactly 200 years ago today, on December 24, 1818, the beloved Christmas carol “Silent Night” (Stille Nacht), with words by the priest Josef Mohr, set to music by organist Franz Xaver Gruber, was given its first performance at St. Nikolaus Parish Church, in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria.

It may come as a surprise to learn that the original carol featured a guitar accompaniment. The Wyoming Catholic College Choir recorded this version (taken from The New Oxford Book of Carols) on its Christmas in God's Country CD in 2008. One senses immediately the music's kinship with the charming folksongs of the Austrian countryside:

Partly from affection for the lovely tune, and partly from a desire to give the piece a somewhat darker complexion, I made my own arrangement of it in 2010, for SATB choir, with a double descant on the second verse and an optional flute accompaniment on the third verse. For anyone who might be interested in singing it, I have placed the score (which is contained in my book Sacred Choral Works) at the foot of this article. The following rendition, sung by the St. Mary’s Oratory Choir under the direction of Patrick Burkhart, uses the SATB setting for all three verses, without descant or flute:

There is an emotional power and spiritual force in certain Advent and Christmas carols that never fades, even as so much else changes in the Church and in the world. “Silent Night” is a particularly fine example: for all its simplicity and even, in a way, its sentimentality, in lands where the carol has taken root Christmas would somehow seem incomplete without it. “Adeste, Fideles” is another such, and many more could be cited.

In a book called The Ministry of Catechising, which originally appeared in French in 1868 (an English translation appeared in 1890 in London), Bishop Felix Dupanloup recalled memories of his First Communion:

We were delighted with the hymns. We sung them with all our heart, and gradually, by the sweetness or the energy of the singing, the thoughts and maxims of the faith were grafted in our souls. To say the truth, it was the life of the Catechism. Without the hymns, it would all have been very cold. For me, it was the hymns more than anything which converted me and bound me forever to religion.

While we know that the Mass itself is not the optimal place for hymns, which belong more correctly in the Divine Office (with the exception of the Gloria and, if one considers it a hymn, the Sanctus), nevertheless there is an important truth to which Dupanloup bears witness: the value of singing together beautiful vernacular religious songs that have the power to shape the senses, imagination, and memory, and through them, to shape the heart and mind.

We are so blessed with a rich repertoire of famous Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany carols, hymns, and songs, and we should use them abundantly in our homes, in youth groups, in prayer meetings or Adoration, when caroling in the neighborhood, visiting a nursing home or prison, or any other appropriate setting. Let us not surrender the world of sound to secular content, but fill it with joyful singing! It is, in more ways than one, a corporal and spiritual work of mercy.

Children, especially, deserve to have glowing memories of carols, just as Dupanloup recounts. This is a preaching of the Gospel “before the age of reason,” a preaching to all the powers of the soul, not just to the intellect, which has been excessively emphasized in recent decades. Catechesis begins with the senses and the imagination.

In their memoirs, the Ratzinger brothers Joseph and Georg recount how their family circle was often enlivened by the sound of singing and instruments, and how their earliest memories are bound up with music and Christian songs. One of these men went on to become an eminent musician and choral director, while the other went on to become Pope Benedict XVI. While I can’t promise that your boys will have such illustrious careers, there is no question that part of the restoration of Catholic culture is a robust culture of family and community singing.

Visit for information, articles, sacred music, and Os Justi Press.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas 2018 Photopost Request

Our next major photopost will be for the liturgies of Christmas, whether in the OF or the EF, or any of the Eastern Rites, Ordinariate Use, etc.; as always, we will also be very glad to include other liturgical ceremonies, such as Prime on Christmas Eve, Vespers, the vigil Masses, and any liturgies celebrated during the Octave. Please send your pictures to, and don’t forget to include the name of the church and its location, and any other information which you think worth noting. Evangelize through beauty!

From last year’s first Christmas photopost, the church of St Anthony of Padua in Jersey City, New Jersey 
From the second post, the Gospel book at St Peter Eastern Catholic Church in Ukiah, California 
From the third post, Mass of the patronal feast day at Holy Innocents in New York City

The Fourth Sunday of Advent 2018

The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him: to all that call upon him in truth. V. My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord: and let all flesh bless thy holy name. (The Gradual of the Fourth Sunday of Advent.)

Prope est Dóminus ómnibus invocántibus eum: ómnibus, qui ínvocant eum in veritáte. V. Laudem Dómini loquétur os meum: et benedícat omnis caro nomen sanctum ejus.

The Journey to Bethlehem: mosaic in the Chora Monastery in Constantinople, 1320 (Public domain image from Wikipemia Commons)

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Gaudete Sunday and Rorate Mass Photopost 2018 (Part 3)

Our third and final post of your photos of Gaudete Sunday liturgies and Rorate Masses; once again, our thanks to all those who sent them in. Our next set of photoposts will be for Christmas and its octave; a reminder will be posted during the coming week.

St Stephen - Portland, Oregon
Pontifical Mass celebrated by His Excellency Alexander Sample, Archishop of Portland (Photos courtesy of Michelle Ivezic).
Tradition is for the young!

Christmas Notices for San Francisco and New York City

The Traditional Latin Mass Society of San Francisco will have the Midnight Mass of Christmas at the church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Belmont, California, (on the San Francisco peninsula) located at 1040 Alameda de las Pulgas. The traditional proclamation of the Birth of Christ (the Martyrology entry for Christmas day) will be chanted, followed by a procession with a statue of the Christ Child around the church.

The Pontifical Shrine of Our Lady of Mt Carmel in Manhattan will open at 10:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, with Confessions starting at 11:00, the Proclamation of the Nativity of the Lord at 11:50, followed by the Midnight Mass in the Extraordinary Form. The Missa in Aurora will be celebrated as a Low Mass at 1:30 a.m., followed by a Mass in English at 9:15, an EF High Mass of Christmas Day at 10:30, and a Mass in Spanish at 11:45. The church is located at 448 East 116th Street.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Gaudete Sunday and Rorate Mass Photopost 2018 (Part 2)

We continue with your photos of Gaudete Sunday liturgies and Rorate Masses, which are still coming in! Yesterday’s post was mostly the latter, today, we have several more rose-colored vestments. There will be another of these, so once again, if you sent photos in and don’t see them here, they will be included in the next one. Thank you all once again!

St Francis de Sales - Benedict, Maryland
Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12
St Lucy, December 13
Gaudete Sunday
Cathedral of St Paul - Birmingham, Alabama
Rorate Mass celebrated by the rector of the cathedral, Fr Bryan Jerabek, which seems to be the first ever in Birmingham. The photo of the elevation shows nicely how the sun was beginning to rise as the Mass proceeded. (Courtesy of Mary Dillard.)

Book Review: Yves Chiron, Annibale Bugnini: Reformer of the Liturgy

Yves Chiron, Annibale Bugnini: Reformer of the LiturgyBrooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2018. $26.00/£21.00 cloth (ISBN 978-1-62138-412-0), $17.95/£14.50 paper (ISBN 978-1-62138-411-3). 214 pp. (Amazon USA, UK)

For readers of New Liturgical Movement who, like me, had previously heard that an English translation of this very important book was in the works, the wait is finally over. What are you waiting for? Go get a copy and read it!

For everyone else, I hope that the following review spurs you to obtain a copy of Yves Chiron’s Annibale Bugnini: Reformer of the Liturgy. It is a vital contribution to liturgical studies, and one of the best introductions to the history of the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms I have read.

It may surprise some people to learn that, aside from his own autobiographical works, at the time of writing, this is the only full-length biography of Annibale Bugnini to have ever been published. [1] This timely work of Yves Chiron, which extensively utilises many sources not well-known by most people, therefore fills a large gap in the history of the Church in the 20th century. 

In Chapter 1, Chiron gives a brief insight into Bugnini’s childhood, then his life as a young priest who was gradually drawn into the liturgical movement of the 1940s. Chiron notes the beginnings of Bugnini’s liturgical experimentation, quite radical for the time, and quotes Bugnini’s own recollections of assisting the priests in charge of a Roman suburban neighbourhood around the year 1943:
I suddenly wondered: how could I have this people, with their elementary religious instruction, participate in the Mass? Above all, how could I make the children participate? I started out by painting big signboards with the easier responses for the people to say in Latin… Then I did the same with signposts in Italian… I knew that I had found the formula: the people willingly followed the Mass. The “inert and mute” assembly had been transformed into a living and prayerful assembly. (p. 25)
Chapters 2 and 3 detail encounters that Bugnini had with some of those who he would later collaborate with in the work of liturgical reform, such as Dom Bernard Capelle, O.S.B., Dom Bernard Botte, O.S.B., and Fr Aimé-Georges Martimort, as well as his meetings with organisations such as the French CPL (Centre de pastorale liturgique) and the Italian CAL (Centro di Azione Liturgica). His role in the liturgical reforms of Pope Pius XII, as secretary of the Commissio Piana, is also briefly examined. Chiron proceeds to demonstrate that:
whereas he [Bugnini] played a decisive role in the preparatory commission and in the Consilium, he did not have a leading role on the Commissio Piana. He was an invaluable worker and rarely intervened in the discussions. He learned and observed much, probably became aware of certain problems, but never exerted a decisive influence. (p. 41)
In chapters 4, 5 and 6, Chiron looks at some of Bugnini’s initiatives as editor of the journal Ephemerides Liturgicae, his involvement in the various liturgical congresses of the 1950s, and his work as secretary of the Preparatory Liturgical Commission for Vatican II. All of this practical and administrative experience crystallises in the preparation for the Council, in what Chiron terms “the Bugnini method”:
On the one hand, it [the method] consists in having groups of experts work separately on restricted subjects and having the members vote during very few plenary meetings (the Committee had only three…) On the other hand, it also consists in refraining at the outset from excessively bold proposals [for liturgical reform] that might be rejected at the Council and putting certain questions and reforms off until later… Remittatur quaestio post Concilium (“Let the question be postponed until after the Council”) is a recurring note during the preparation of the preconciliar commission. (p. 81)
Bugnini’s “first exile” during the Council itself, where, contrary to his own expectations, he was not made secretary of the Conciliar Commission on the Liturgy, and also withdrawn from his position teaching ‘pastoral liturgy’ at the Pontifical Lateran University, is covered as well.

In chapter 7, Chiron goes into some detail about Bugnini’s “rehabilitation” by Pope Paul VI, and his role as secretary of the Consilium. The chapter covers the period from 1964 to 1967 in some detail, making clear that, along with his almost daily access to the Pope, Bugnini “embodied a perfect mix of know-how and communication skills” (p. 109), which was the driving force behind the breakneck speed the Consilium worked at.

Chapters 8 and 9 are given over to the reform of the Mass (chapter 8) and some of the other liturgical reforms such as the Divine Office and liturgical music (chapter 9), ending with Bugnini being consecrated titular Archbishop of Diocletiana, and at the height of his influence. 

In chapters 10 and 11, Chiron briefly details Archbishop Bugnini’s “fall from grace” and his assignment as Apostolic Nuncio in Iran. Chiron does deal with the rumours of Bugnini’s involvement in Freemasonry, but comes to the conclusion that this accusation
was not the determining factor in Archbishop Bugnini’s dismissal… there was opposition from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, from the International Theological Commission, and from the Secretariat of State… There is also the fact that Paul VI progressively withdrew his trust from Archbishop Bugnini, as Fr [Pierre-Marie] Gy, who knew both men quite well, pointed out no less than thirty years ago. (p. 174)
Chiron also relates a very interesting detail from Bugnini’s time in Iran, regarding the Society of Saint Pius X and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. In 1976, Bugnini personally suggested that, under certain conditions, the celebration of the traditional Mass might once more be authorised by the Pope (pp. 178-180). In our times, the issue of whether or not the traditional Mass had ever been abrogated has, of course, been definitively settled. Still, it is worth taking note of this surprising intervention from a man whose own, clearly complex motivations regarding the liturgical reform he organised have often been over-simplified by both his critics and his supporters.

Finally, both a bibliography and index, always very handy things in any book, are provided. 

Weighing in at around 200 pages, this biography is a veritable tour de force of one of the most controversial figures in the 20th century Catholic Church. As Archbishop Bugnini’s personal papers are evidently still being kept under lock and key by Fr Gottardo Pasqualetti [2], Chiron’s book is not a complete history, but it makes for an excellent starting point for those who are after an objective and fair treatment of one of the key figures in the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms. I should also point out that, as Bugnini’s own memoirs remain only in Italian, and the English translation of his La riforma liturgica remains out of print [3], Chiron’s book is one of the very few English-language works devoted to Bugnini. Many thanks are due to the translator, Dr John Pepino, and Angelico Press for their sterling work in making this wonderful book much more accessible to the English-speaking world.

In conclusion, I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending Annibale Bugnini: Reformer of the Liturgy to not only liturgists and historians, but everyone who is even remotely interested in the Catholic liturgy. Yves Chiron's important contribution to liturgical studies would certainly make a suitable Christmas or Epiphany gift for your parish Priest, or your friends and family—or if you just wanted to treat yourself!


[1] Though in 2012, on the 30th anniversary of his death, Bugnini's autobiographical memoirs were published as “Liturgiae Cultor et Amator, Servì la Chiesa.” Memorie Autobiografiche (Rome: Edizioni Liturgiche, 2012). As Chiron points out in his preface (p. 10), however, this manuscript, completed in 1977, was clearly written in self-defence, and cannot be relied upon in isolation.

[2] As noted in Dom Alcuin Reid’s Foreword to Chiron’s book (p. 5). Fr Pasqualetti became one of Bugnini’s closest collaborators, along with Fr Carlo Braga, during the early phases of the Consilium ad exsequendam.

[3] Namely The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990), a book that commands pretty high prices on the secondhand book market. I live in hope (but not expectation!) that Liturgical Press will eventually bring this book back into print, with the additions made in the Italian 2nd edition.

Call for Papers for Conference on Eastern and Western Liturgies

Ss Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary will hold a conference next May 21-23, entitled “East, West, and Beyond: Enriching One Another’s Liturgical Traditions”, to examine liturgical synthesis in Eastern liturgical theology and practice with other Eastern and Western theological and liturgical traditions, and showcase general cross pollination between Eastern and Western liturgy. The keynote speaker, Dr John Demetracopoulos, is the leading expert on the influence of Latin Scholastic texts on Greek Orthodox writers, including their liturgical commentaries.

The organizers of the conference are currently inviting proposals for papers; scholars are welcome to explore or analyze (though are not limited to) the following suggested areas of research:
  • Latin or Western influences on Byzantine liturgical rites and praxis
  • Eastern influences on Latin or Western liturgical rites and praxis
  • East-West mutual influences on sacramental theology
  • Byzantine and Oriental interaction and mutual influence (ancient/modern)
  • The use of Latin, Byzantine, Armenian, and Syriac texts outside of their original liturgical family 
  • Methodologies and principles for evaluating adoption of e limine sources from other liturgies 
  • Comparative study of Eucharistic Prayers from East and West
  • Eastern and Western spirituality within the liturgical context
  • Ecology, environment, and cosmos in Eastern and Western liturgy
For more detailed information, see the website,
Proposals can be sent to the following email address:

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Gaudete Sunday and Rorate Mass Photopost 2018 (Part 1)

As was the case the previous two years, the response to our request for photos of Gaudete Sunday liturgies and Rorate Masses has been pretty remarkable, we will definitely make three posts of them, possibly four. If you sent photos in, but don’t see them here, know that they will certainly be posted, and that we are very grateful for your submissions.

Rose vestments are optional, and can only be used twice a year, while Rorate Masses are entirely optional. Once again, we can all take encouragement from this, seeing how many Catholics are not just letting these things drop as unimportant or inessential, but rather, positively encouraging and promoting them as part of our tradition and heritage; not asking “Why was not this vestment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?”, getting up extra early for Mass before sunrise. So thank you all also for your good example - evangelize through beauty!

Chapel of the Holy Cross at Jesuit High School - Tampa, Florida
Tradition will always be for the young!

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