Thursday, February 28, 2019

FSSP Subdiaconal Ordinations

On Saturday, February 9th, His Excellency Robert Finn, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph, ordained nine men to the subdiaconate at the FSSP seminary of Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska. Seven of the men are members of the Fraternity itself, and two are of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer on the island of Papa Stronsay, Scotland. (Their superior is seen at the back of the choir in the first photo.)

The ordinands stand at the call to Holy Orders read by the assistant priest.
The bishop briefly addresses them on the duties of the subdiaconal order, according to a text prescribed by the Pontifical.
The bishops and major ministers kneel at the altar, while the ordinands lie prostrate in front of it, for the singing of the Litany of the Saints.
Towards the end of the Litany, the bishop rises, receives his crook and miter, then turns to the ordinands, and sings the invocations, “That Thou may deign to bless 🜊 these chosen ones. - That Thou may deign to bless 🜊 and sancti🜊fy these chosen ones. - That Thou may deign bless 🜊, sancti🜊fy and conse🜊crate these chosen ones.”, (making the sign of the Cross over them where I have put the 🜊 sign.)

Forty Hours in Grand Rapids, Michigan, March 3-5

Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Parish in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will celebrate the Forty Hours Devotion at the traditional time between Quinquagesima Sunday (March 3rd, starting at 12:30 p.m.) and Shrove Tuesday (March 5th, ending at 7:45 a.m.) The Masses of Exposition and Deposition will be in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, featuring Gregorian Chant and polyphony by Duruflé and Lotti. This devotion serves as one of the main events of the parish’s nine-month novena of reparation for the sins of the clergy. The church is located at 156 Valley Avenue SW.

Guest Article: “The Armenian Liturgy as a Home away from Rome”

Fr John Henry offering the Armenian Divine Liturgy
Editor's Note: NLM is always interested in showcasing all rites of East and West. We are therefore very pleased to present to our readers today a guest article by Fr John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., who on Sundays celebrates the Armenian Divine Liturgy at the Armenian Catholic Cathedral in Los Angeles. We publish it in connection with the February 27th feastday of the latest Doctor of the Church, the Armenian St Gregory of Narek.

Of all the Eastern rites, the Armenian is the one whose shape mirrors most closely that of the traditional Latin Mass. During extended periods of reunion, the Armenians were very receptive to Latin influence. For example, there are extended prayers at the foot of the altar, with Psalm 42. On the other hand, there are things peculiar to the Armenian rite, such as not mixing water with wine during the preparation of the chalice: the Armenians just use pure, unmixed wine.

The Armenian rite is a great example of a traditional rite that tranquilly maintains its traditions within the context of the modern world. Like other “smaller” rites within the Church, it was preserved from great damage after Vatican II because it was so “off the beaten track” that fashionable liturgists scarcely paid attention to it. Also, the spirit of ecumenism worked to the advantage of the East and always to the disadvantage of the West. The Armenians were told after Vatican II (especially under Pope St John Paul II) to restore whatever needed restoring in their rite. All the same, the Armenian liturgy needed little repair. In any case, the idea of root-and-branch change is unthinkable to Armenians, due in large part to the ancient culture their liturgy preserves, and which has given the people such a strong sense of identity over so long a time.

Encountering the Sacred Mysteries East of Byzantium:

The Armenian Liturgy as a Home away from Rome 

Fr John Henry Hanson, O. Praem.

Being only partially Armenian in ancestry (a quarter, to be exact), it’s not surprising that I was not raised in the rite of my ancestors. It was only after ten years of ordination as a priest of the Norbertine Order that the opportunity of exploring the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Rite was unexpectedly given me, when my assistance on Sundays was requested by the Armenian Catholic Cathedral in Glendale, California.

Before beginning public celebrations of the Armenian Soorp Badarak (“Holy Sacrifice”), I was tutored in its rituals by His Grace, Mikael Mouradian, Eparch of the Armenian Church in North America. And although it differed much from the Roman rite, I found enough of the liturgical terrain familiar territory. If the surface of the altar may be likened to the “compact” holy city of Psalm 122, then the monuments, edifices, and lanes looked a lot like home.

Over and again I found myself registering the similarities between the traditional Latin Mass and the Armenian, while also noting those ways in which the mystery of Christ is celebrated in a uniquely Armenian way. These likenesses are no coincidence, but rather the fruit of lengthy periods of reunion between Rome and the Armenian Church, most notably from 1198-1375, when much Latin influence was assimilated. Today, the division between Catholic and Orthodox Armenians prevails, although their liturgy is substantially the same.

The rare opportunity of seeing one’s native rite from the outside — from the inside of another rite — has afforded me a wholesome compare-and-contrast, increasing my appreciation for both. For westerners, in fact, the special beauty of Eastern Christian liturgies is primarily one of fresh perspective: experiencing the mysteries of Christ through a new lens. Each rite preserving its own proper character gives a special glory to God by revealing an aspect of Christ not fully revealed by another rite.

Pope Benedict XVI alluded to this quality of the sacred liturgy in the letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum. Explaining the attraction felt by many young people to the traditional liturgy of the Latin rite, he regarded their attraction as rooted in “a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them.” While the Mystery remains the same, the form of encounter differs, and should be held in reverence by those drawn to a different form of worship.

The idea of liturgy as the venue of encounter with Christ in the Eucharistic mystery is key to understanding not only the genius of one’s own rite, but of other rites as well. As one Byzantine abbot put it in a homily I heard several years ago, the eastern rites should not function merely as a “side show” for western Catholics. If the end of the sacred liturgy is worship pleasing to God, coupled with its inseparable purpose of uniting man to God, then it behooves Christians of any rite to explore the ways in which their brethren worship and how their liturgies do the work of bringing them into communion with the Lord.

In a particular way, the Popes of modern times (from Leo XIII on) have insisted on the equality, the shared dignity, of all Catholic rites. Pope Pius XI, perhaps more than any pre-conciliar pope, vigorously defended the legitimate diversity of rites while encouraging deeper familiarity with them, especially on the part of Latin clergy. Appreciation for their cultural antiquity and unique expression of the Christian mysteries can provide, as Pius XI said, “a more adequate knowledge of Catholic theology … while conceiving a more ardent love for the true Bride of Christ, whose enchanting comeliness, and unity in the diversity of the various rites, will shine forth more clearly in their [i.e. the clergy’s] eyes.”

This balanced and appreciative Magisterial thinking is a welcome antidote against the often superficial and uninformed polemics launched from various sides of ongoing liturgical debates (discussions which also exist, in their own way, in the oriental churches). Easterners tend to do better at respecting the sacred liturgy as a sacred inheritance, a family heirloom, and this is a wholesome corrective against liturgical fads, the pressure to reinvent, or reduce the liturgy to its bare essentials (whose ironic side-effect is a quasi-demystification of the mysteries). Mysteries need to be presented with an air of mystery, of the transcendent, or else we fallen creatures will never rise from the mud of daily life.

This is not to say that our liturgy is a kind of museum piece, to be admired from afar, and curated (not to say comprehended) only by a select few. Nor is it frozen in time. The liturgy is alive and, like all living things, grows and develops organically — which is why Benedict XVI asserted: “In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture.”

Put simply: In liturgy, there needs to be a part we get and a part we don’t get. The “food” part of the Eucharist we get, the God part we don’t. It is the nature of a sacrament to present incomprehensible realities under the form of comprehensible signs. But to treat those signs with great dignity and solemnity better points us to the invisible workings of grace than using common and ordinary things which can’t effectively point beyond themselves.

Easterners have a deeper sense of the cultural and apostolic lifelines preserved in their liturgy than do Latin Catholics. What Benedict XVI said in Summorum Pontificum itself is very applicable to the eastern rites: “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too…. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.” Whereas the Latin rite emerged from Greco-Roman culture, with its unique modes of verbal expression and ritual, the contemporary Catholic in the pew is not likely to perceive a connection between the liturgy of their mainstream parish and that of their ancient ancestors — a sad result of inauthentic application of the Council’s intentions for the liturgy.

Where the Latin rite is often characterized by a kind of austerity and sobriety of expression — a holy restraint reflecting our inability to express the ineffability of the mysteries we celebrate — the Eastern rites tend to express themselves in superlative fashion. Mining human language for its richest expressions, utilizing poetry where prose falls short, and employing ritual gesture that engages the outer man as much as the inner, are some of the most conspicuous marks of eastern liturgies.

This has not prevented at least one eminent Armenian Orthodox scholar and prelate from describing the divine liturgy as somewhat “dysfunctional,” in that modern Armenian-Americans bring along their inevitably modern mentality to church and fail to find meaning in the ancient rituals, language, and chants of their native rite. Even if the dysfunctional culture in which the people are immersed is the more likely culprit, the problem is a real one: ritual relevance. The solution of many in the western Church has been to introduce novelties that might engage some for a time, but in the end lack the weight of tradition to sustain them.

Armenians manifest a healthy balance between preservation and adaptation. The lectionary is more or less invariable like that of the Tridentine missal, and valuably preserves closer than any other rite the primitive Jerusalem lectionary. And although the liturgical language is classical Armenian, modern Armenian is often employed in the proclamation of the Scriptures — often, as in the extraordinary form, read in addition to reading in the classical language.

Individual eparchies are also free to employ the vernacular for other parts of the Mass at the discretion of the Eparch. Hence, you will find Armenian Catholic parishes celebrating good portions of the liturgy in, for example, Arabic, French, and English. But although modern languages are utilized, the ritual remains the same. What the priest and ministers do at the altar admits of no variation, but reflects the Armenian mode of worship. The altar is always eastward in orientation, priests and sacred ministers wear liturgical slippers during the liturgy, duel thuribles are almost continually in use, along with metal liturgical fans, and the laity (in general) are not given access to the sanctuary.

Armenian worship is unique in the family tree of Christian rites, standing independent of the other eastern liturgical offshoots. Armenians have uniquely assimilated Syrian, Byzantine, and Latin influences — so much so that Catholics who regularly attend the extraordinary form will find in the Armenian rite much to remind them of home: Prayers at the foot of the altar, including Psalm 42, unleavened communion bread (given on the tongue after intinction), normally a rectangular stone altar instead of the square Byzantine style, a single canon recited silently (although accompanied by the chanting of the hauntingly beautiful Armenian Sanctus), the Last Gospel (chanted rather than recited), and an open sanctuary not permanently covered by the iconostasis. At those several moments in the liturgy requiring a veiling of the sanctuary, a large curtain is drawn instead.

The liturgy is generally traced back to that of St Basil, although the Greek liturgies of St James and of St John Chrysostom are clearly in evidence. Combine this with generous Latin influence, and you have a rite all its own. One may argue that it has absorbed the best features of both eastern and western rites, forming a kind of ecumenical liturgical bridge between east and west.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

FSSP Spanish Immersion Program in Mexico

The St Junipero Serra Institute is accepting registration for its fourth summer of Spanish Immersion for priests and seminarians in Guadalajara, Mexico. SJS Institute provides a full immersion in the Spanish language and traditional Catholic culture. As the program is under the direction of the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter, seminarians have daily Traditional Latin Mass and singing of the divine office. They have four hours of Spanish class each day plus opportunities for private tutoring. There are also classes in Mexican history and sightseeing trips, (e.g. shrines of the Mexican Cristero martyrs). Participants take part in a variety of apostolic activities such as visiting orphanages and hospitals, providing an excellent chance to put their Spanish in practice. Former students of the program have commented that not only was SJS Institute excellent for learning Spanish, but it was also one of the most valuable pastoral experiences of their seminary formation.

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Beauty of the Liturgy, Beauty of the Soul: An Essay by Dom Karl Wallner, O. Cist.

Dom Karl Wallner, O. Cist. is a monk of Heiligenkreuz Abbey and former Rector of the Pontifical University of Heiligenkreuz (1999- 2017), where he is currently a professor of Dogma and Sacramental Theology. In this essay, consonant with the themes he invoked in “The Profanation of the Sacred and the Sacralization of the Profane,” Dom Wallner reflects on the ways that the beauty and order of liturgical celebrations form the soul toward God.

The editors and the translator, Tobias Philip, an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, have added several footnotes and slightly modified the text, putting the pontificate of Benedict XVI into the past tense. The piece is translated and published with Dom Wallner’s permission; it was also posted yesterday on Canticum Salomonis. A version of paper delivered in German may be found here.

The Creation, God Introducing Adam and Eve, from ‘Antiquites Judaiques’, c.1470-76, Jean Fouquet, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France
1. The Fight for the Beauty of the Liturgy
I.I The Meaning of the Liturgy
In Benedict XVI, we had a pope who was profoundly a German intellectual. It is worth our while to ponder his essential message, in order to discover where the Holy Spirit is working in it. Benedict XVI very clearly saw how the Christian Faith is in danger of ruin, and to this crisis he opposed his broad education, keen intellect, and the authority of the Petrine office, inviting us to rediscover the essence of the Faith. Indeed it was a matter of the substance of the Faith. Considering this focus, it is notable that it was Pope Benedict’s personal wish for the first volume of his entire corpus, which has now been published [1], to have the liturgy as its theme. For the pope the liturgy was not an ornamental detail, but the key to the future of the Christian Faith. The Christian God is indeed not an abstract system of speculative terms, or an airy fantastic image, but one who willed to approach us in person and in history. We are the religion of God made man - of the God who expresses himself in a particular earthly existence as universal love. And this religion of the God who has drawn near to us in finite form necessarily appropriates the sensible world - hence the liturgy. In what we call the Liturgy, the divine Logos, who has expressed himself in human form by becoming man, has left his church nothing less than himself: “Do this in memory of me!”

My subject is the beauty of the liturgy in its relationship to the beauty of the human soul. I do not want to give you an overly speculative or scholarly presentation, but simply to offer you a few theses; I think that the liturgy can affect the soul in a way that uplifts, broadens and heals it, and that the soul can affect the liturgy in the same way. But I must begin by saying that I am not using the term “soul” philosophically, as Plato’s “psyche,” nor as Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung, with his “anima” and “animus.” I am not interested in the specialized meaning of the “forma corporis,” as Thomas Aquinas defined it, either. In the end, what I mean by “soul” is not exclusively that which occupies the attentions of a psychotherapist or a confessor.

That there is an interaction between inwardness and outwardness, between ritual and emotion, is an experience that I, as a monk, am able to have daily within the world of a God-focused life, whose ordering frame is the liturgy. Through these experiences I subsequently speak less as a theologian and more as a monk and, moreover, the long-serving Master of Ceremonies for a monastery that has for centuries taken a special care for the beauty of the liturgy in its form and its chant. Therefore, I would also like to tell you how I myself experience the effects of the liturgy on my soul - and vice versa.

I.2. Beauty in Danger

First, it is rather astonishing that it has become possible once again to speak about the “Beauty of the Liturgy.” Astounding, because a few decades ago my subject “Beauty of the Liturgy - Beauty of the Soul” would have been no subject at all. In the mid-1960s, in both church and society the post-war sense of triumph suddenly collapsed into a cold, concrete-gray-colored modernity, and within theology the only one who concerned himself with the theme of “Beauty” was the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. (pictured right) In 1961, the first volume of his magnum opus came out as a “trilogy,” which he actually concluded with the 15th volume in 1987, a year before his death. Balthasar describes the fact that he was not invited to be an advisor at the Second Vatican Council with some regret, but regarded it as a blessing, since it gave him time to write this theological summa, which is organized according to the three transcendentals - beautiful, good, and true. What is astounding about this first part of the work, unparalleled in the history of theology, is that its theme is beauty. It is entitled “The Glory of the Lord,” and the two other parts are the “Theo-drama” and “Theo-logic.” It is notable that he didn’t choose to call the first part the “Theo-aesthetic” or the “Beauty” of divine Revelation, since “aesthetics” always has a sense of the purely external, ornamental or decorative. For Balthasar, God’s beauty centered on the “kabod,” the Hebrew expression in the Old Testament for the “splendor” with which God shines upon man and enlightens him in his Revelation. Beauty’s power of fascination in the natural world is a universal sign that God grants us. He places it also at the summit of revelation, allowing his own beauty to stand out as the most beautiful object of all and to be comprehended in the ugly unbeauty of the scorned crucified one.

His work is important because Balthasar and Ratzinger were friends, and we may suppose that, as prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger encouraged Pope St. John Paul II to make Balthasar a cardinal in 1988. In the early 60’s, when Balthasar discusses Christian Revelation from the point of view of beauty, it is a direct provocation. At that point, under the influence of the Zeitgeist, theology was about to dissolve into a highly contested battleground, and the contest became visible most of all in the realm of the Liturgy-- where it can still be seen. In the subsequent decline of the beautiful in the liturgy two false models were proposed: formalist rubricism and destructive anti-aestheticism.
a. Rubricism
One false model is formal rubricism. “Rubrum” means “red” in Latin and the “rubrica” are the red texts that explain the formal instructions for carrying out the service - where the priest stands, where he goes, how he holds his hands, and so on. They tell him which gestures and rituals he has to perform, as well as how, when, and where to do so. Precise observance of these rubrics in the post-Tridentine liturgy leads to an impressive sacral liturgical magnificence. Precise instruction in the often complicated rituals was a point of difficulty in seminary education. Psychologically, rituals always provide a sense of home. Like a skeleton, they carry the body of the soul along the road of its inward conversion towards the divine. At the same time, they can become a constraining corset. But this rarely happens when one goes beyond their exterior form to their inner meaning.

One consequence of rubricism was a certain psychological defect, one that today has almost entirely died out, but which before the council was prevalent among clerics and was supported by Tridentine rubrical rigorism: I am referring to liturgical scrupulosity. Rubrical scrupulosity was a symptom of viewing the liturgy as the exact fulfillment of a ritual that was owed to God more than as the expression of a love-filled prayer of God “in spirit and in truth.” There were priests who anxiously pronounced the words of consecration very slowly, and even repeated them several times, but these have largely disappeared today. There are numerous anecdotes, which despite their humorous content still show that a deformity existed. The formulas of speech from that time are demonstrative, like the “persolvere” (completion) of the Breviary and the “perficere” (carrying out) of the ceremonies etc. Rubrical ritualism is wrong, because it one-sidedly makes the effect of the liturgy on the soul dependent only on outward form; it transforms the liturgy into the legalistic pharisaism that Jesus rejects.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Corpus Christi Watershed’s Fourth Sacred Music Symposium, June 24-28

Corpus Christi Watershed is pleased to announce that its Fourth Sacred Music Symposium will take place in Los Angeles from June 24-28; this year’s event is designed especially for (but certainly not limited to) choir directors and dedicated parish singers, those who sing at either form of the Roman Rite, Ordinary or Extraordinary.

The theme is “Hymnody and your volunteer choir”; participants will learn clever ways Catholic hymns can be sung during the sacred liturgy, as well as different compositional techniques for hymns. They will also sing for the first Mass of a newly-ordained FSSP priest, which will take place on the evening of Thursday, June 27; the setting will be Palestrina’s Missa Jam Christus, which is based on a famous hymn tune, and the Agnus Dei will be the exquisite Mille Regretz (6-voice) by Fr Cristóbal de Morales. Participants will also sing at Solemn Vespers with His Excellency, Bishop Joseph V. Brennan, including a polyphonic setting of the Magnificat by Francisco Guerrero.

(From last year’s symposium: Dr. Horst Buchholz conducts Kevin Allen’s Agnus Dei)

The Symposium offers
  • Opportunity to sing under the baton of leading conductors
  • Opportunity for private study (composition) with world-renowned composer Kevin Allen
  • Opportunity for private study (conducting) with Dr. Calabrese, protégé of Robert Shaw
  • Hands-on Training for multi-track rehearsal videos, such as those on CCWatershed
  • Fascinating seminar on counterpoint and hymn voice-leading
  • Gregorian Chant “Crash Course”—how to implement it without getting fired!
  • Magnificent choral piece with a text by Cardinal Newman (soon-to-be canonized)
  • Sung Vespers every night
  • Survival tips, repertoire ideas, and encouragement for succeeding in what is without question a very challenging vocation.
The Symposium draws upon the expertise of leading conductors and composers in the field of sacred music to inspire, challenge, and encourage those who provide music for Holy Mass, and not just as a theoretical exercise—participants will also learn practical tips for running volunteer choirs and introducing sacred music at their parishes. Advanced musicians and choral directors will have the opportunity to study conducting with Dr Alfred Calabrese and composition under Mr Kevin Allen.

Registration is now open; to obtain an application, send an email to The entire cost of the Symposium—which includes deposit, conference fee, and meal plan—is just $275. We call it the “everything fee.” Please submit your application no later than 31 March 2019. Participants should plan on arriving in Los Angeles on Sunday night or Monday morning; the Symposium begins Monday evening, June 24. See the tentative schedule here: 

The Sculpture of Lee Lawrie, 1877-1963

I was recently delighted to hear from a reader, Gregory Paul Harm, who brought to my notice the work of Lee Lawrie, a sculptor who died in 1963, a pioneer of the art deco style in the US. This style, which I imagine many will be familiar with, is a 20th-century incarnation of neoclassical sculpture, also influenced by Egyptian art. In this sense, it similar in inspiration to the Beuronese art of the 19th century. I can find no direct connection between the two styles, but wonder if the painting in some way inspired the later sculptors. The article Mr Harm refers to about the architect Ralph Adams Cram is here. (Lee Lawrie, incidentally, should not be confused with the writer of Cider With Rosie, Laurie Lee!)

Lawrie seems to have been able to create works in a more conventional neo-classical style, as well as work for neo-Gothic Episcopalian churches. Here, for example, is his reredos at St Thomas Church in Manhattan, also designed by Cram.

Mr Harm writes: I read an older post you had on the Nashua, New Hampshire, Library done by Cram. Cram was partners with Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue and another architect named Ferguson.

A German-American immigrant named Hugo Belling was raised in Chicago, and eventually changed his name to Lee Lawrie, sometime in his youth.

Lawrie worked with Goodhue from 1895 until 1924, when Goodhue died suddenly of heart failure at age 54. Lawrie went on working as an architectural sculptor for other architects and independently, up until his death at age 85, in 1963.

Lawrie created a great deal of sacred art. He created at least 2 angels at St John the Divine, in which Cram was involved, but also all of Goodhue’s churches in New York City and across the nation. They worked on more than a hundred buildings together, including many opulent homes and many commercial and military buildings. These include buildings at West Point, and in Manhattan, Goodhue built St Bart’s, St Thomas Episcopal on Fifth Avenue, St Vincent Ferrer, Grace Church (of whose location I’m not sure,) the Church of the Intercession, in which he was interred in a tomb designed by Lawrie, dedicated in 1929.

I’ve written a book about Lawrie’s work at the Nebraska Capitol, which turns out to have been the largest sculptural commission in his seven-plus-decades long career as a sculptor.

By and large, Lawrie’s work served to honor God and Country. He created many war memorials, in addition to his secular work.

He taught sculpture at Yale from 1908-18, and I theorize that this influenced a major swing in his career, away from the mostly secular, to becoming one of the nation’s chief pioneers and practitioners of Moderne-styling, which we now know as Art Deco. Lawrie created the mighty Atlas at Rockefeller Center and sculpted the highly dramatic facade of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, as well as about a dozen or so more works in that area.

I have added numerous examples of Lawrie’s work to the Smithsonian Institute’s Catalog of American Painting and Sculpture, of which the Institute had no previous knowledge. (Courtesy of Gregory Paul Harm, M.A and

Here are some more photos of the reredos above and then as a selection of his art deco work from the Nebraska Capitol.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Useful Repetition in the Divine Office

On Thursday, February 14, I gave a lecture at St Mary’s parish, Norwalk, Connecticut, on “Poets, Lovers, Children, Madmen—and Worshipers: Why We Repeat Ourselves in the Liturgy.” (The full text of the lecture may be found here.)

Ever since I first read the words of Sacrosanctum Concilium §34 about how “useless repetitions” (repetitiones inutiles) needed to be removed from the traditional Roman liturgy, I have been on the lookout for instances of repetition as I pray the old Divine Office — or to be more precise, the monastic office as it stood in the 1940s — and as I attend Mass in the usus antiquior, and receive or observe other sacraments in the older use. After over twenty years of observation and reflection, I have still not been able to find a single example of a repetitio inutilis.

Yes, yes, I know the examples that people like to toss out, and in my foolish youth, I would do the same thing. It sounds sophisticated to be able to criticize liturgical practices that have endured for centuries: “You know, those poor Catholics were so conservative that they just kept these irrational customs in place, even though we now see clearly that they make no sense. Far better to streamline the rite, make it more logical.”

That juvenile point of view was replaced by a growing appreciation for the subtlety of the elements of the liturgy, small and large — even those that seem to have come about “by accident.” As Padre Pio once said: “With God, there’s no such thing as chance.” Such appreciation requires both the patience to await meaning and the imagination to see it, neither of which seem to be widespread in our times.

Examples from the Divine Office

After the hour of Prime [1] the Martyrology is read, and then prayers before the day’s work. These prayers commence with a triple “V. Deus, in adjutorium meum intende. R. Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina,” followed by a Gloria Patri, a Kyrie/Christe/Kyrie, a Pater Noster, versicles, another Gloria Patri, and an oration.

There is a lot of repetition here. I have no elaborate rationale to offer, but my experience, having prayed it for a long time, is that this arrangement has a steadying effect and is well suited to begging God’s help at the start of the day's work. The one who begs asks for what he needs more than once, indeed insistently. This is the origin of the Jesus Prayer and of every litany that has ever existed. Praying the Lord’s Prayer a second time, only a few moments after having said it at the end of Prime, typically alerts me to the fact that I had not prayed it the first time with due attention, which prompts me to make my second go at it more earnest. The same is true of the doxology: resisting the temptation to rush through it, one enters more deeply into the origin and goal of all of our actions, the supreme actuality of the Blessed Trinity.

A second example, and one of the most familiar: the Benedicite. Talk about a repetitious prayer! But once one is familiar with it and realizes that we are standing in for the whole of creation, transforming its mute necessities into voluntary praise, there is a special privilege in uttering the verses and a comfort in their lilting succession, like the rolling of waves: “Benedicite omnia opera Domini, Domino: laudate et superexaltate eum in saecula. Benedicite, Angeli Domini, Domino: benedicite caeli, Domino.”

The interruptions of the pattern prompt a reawakening of attention. After saying “Benedicite” 17 times, we say: “Benedicat terra Dominum.” After 8 more iterations of “Benedicite,” we say: “Benedicat Israël Dominum.” Then “Benedicite” is said 5 more times, until we reach “Benedicamus Patrem et Filium cum Sancto Spiritu” and “Benedictus es, Domine.” 30 times we say “Bless” as an imperative; 3 times we say “Let this or that bless” in the subjunctive; and 1 time we say “Blessed art Thou” in the indicative. A pronounced Trinitarian and Christological numerology undergirds this hymn, which is placed on our lips as a kind of litany of blessing admirably suited to Sundays and Holy Days.

A third example, also from Lauds, is the daily repetition of Psalms 148 to 150, which was done by everyone in the West for at least 15 centuries but now remains alive only among the monks and nuns who retain their ancient cursus. This trio of psalms puts on our lips some form of laus or laudare 23 times, giving Lauds its very name, and emphatically stamping it the principal office of pure praise in the Church. There is something captivatingly beautiful in a prayer that has no obvious “use value,” one that is not directed to obtaining a benefit or ridding oneself of an evil. The “gratuitous” repetition, as one might call it, both symbolizes that for-itselfness and serves as a vehicle for inculcating it in us impatient beings who are too often preoccupied with ulterior motives.

A fourth example is the refrain quoniam in aeternum misericordia ejus, repeated 27 times in the recitation or chanting of Psalm 135. A psalm praising the eternity of God’s mercy distantly echoes eternity in its unchanging refrain, like an anchor holding a ship in place, despite the churning waves. It may be hard at times to keep our minds from wandering as we repeat the phrase, but obviously the divine Teacher designed this psalm, as He did all the others down to their last letter, with the spiritual needs of each and every disciple in view.

A final example, and of a rather different character, is the indirect repetitiousness found in Psalm 118, recited daily in the Roman Breviary and once a week in the monastic (namely, divided over the little hours of Sunday and Monday). It takes no great intimacy with Psalm 118 to see that it is conceptually highly repetitive, weaving as many variations with “law, testimonies, commandments, statutes, precepts, judgments, justifications, and sayings” as the psalmist can devise. The Church puts this psalm consistently before us in order to fix our meandering minds and rebellious hearts on the unchanging law of the Lord, which is ultimately His eternal law, His very self, His mercy expressed to us as a rule of life in which we will find life. The layout of the psalm implies that in all the variety we see, in all the vicissitudes we suffer, and even in the seeming pointlessness of the neverending cycle to which Ecclesiastes bears witness, there is a single order of wisdom, a single manifestation of the mystery of God’s love.

So far I have spoken only of textual repetition, but a thorough treatment of our subject would have to include repetitions and seeming redundancies in personnel, ceremonial, gestures, and chant.

The Fate of Repetition

Some of these elements of repetition in the Divine Office were retained in St. Pius X’s breviary and later on in Paul VI’s Liturgy of the Hours, but sadly, many of them were lessened or abandoned. As the Mass was simplified by the reformers to make it briefer and self-explanatory, transparent and accessible, so too was the Office simplified and abbreviated for busy clergy — and this, in spite of the fact that a majority of the Council Fathers, judging from their speeches in the aula, supported neither major changes in the Mass nor a major reduction of the breviary.

Nevertheless, after decades of the new liturgy running alongside the somewhat unexpected survival of the old, it has been possible not only to conceptualize but to experience how the trend toward simplification, the abandonment of formalities, and the rude dismissal of aesthetic principles has brought about a damping of spiritual impact and a lessening of spiritual discipline.

Even the late Fr. Robert Taft, outspokenly anti-Tridentine though he was, admitted this point:
The West might learn from the East to recapture a sense of tradition, and stop getting tripped up in its own clichés. Liturgy should avoid repetition? Repetition is of the essence of ritual behavior. Liturgy should offer variety? Too much variety is the enemy of popular participation. Liturgy should be creative? But whose creativity? It is presumptuous of those who have never manifested the least creativity in any other aspect of their lives to think they are Beethoven and Shakespeare when it comes to liturgy. [2]
What he failed to note, however, is that the liturgy as it came down to us is already the equivalent, albeit on a far greater scale, of a symphony by Beethoven or a romance by Shakespeare. Like the cycles of medieval mystery plays, traditional Catholic worship has a depth, variety, color, and subtlety that defies simple explanation and resists simplification. Patterns of intelligent repetition are one of its most common and effective means for achieving a formal expression of earnestness and a mounting intensification of desire.

Whether, in practice, repetition always retains this value is a subject for the examination of conscience, but it is surely not difficult to see why it is a feature of every historic Christian liturgy, indeed of every religion known to man. From this perspective, the rather ruthless purge of repetitions from the Divine Office, the Mass, and many other rites is yet another angle from which to demonstrate the essentially unhistorical, unliturgical, and irreligious drive behind the liturgical reforms of the last century.


[1] It may be noted in passing that the suppression of the very ancient office of Prime, in and of itself, is sufficient to prompt serious doubts about the entire campaign of revision announced in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and allows us to bury once and for all the lie that the liturgical reform was about “restoring ancient worship.” See Wolfram Schrems, “The Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy: Reform or revolution?,” published online at Rorate Caeli on May 3, 2018.

[2] “Return to Our Roots: Recovering Western Liturgical Traditions,” published online at America, May 26, 2008.

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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sexagesima Sunday 2019

Arise, why dost Thou sleep, o Lord? Arise, and drive us not away forever; why dost Thou turn Thy face away, forgetting our tribulation? Our belly cleaveth to the earth; arise, O Lord, help us, and deliver us. Ps. 43 O God, our ears have heard, our fathers have declared to us. Glory be. As it was. Arise. (The Introit of Sexagesima Sunday.)

Exsurge, quare obdormis, Dómine? exsurge, et ne repellas in finem: quare faciem tuam avertis, oblivísceris tribulatiónem nostram? adháesit in terra venter noster: exsurge, Dómine, ádjuva nos, et líbera nos. Ps. 43 Deus, áuribus nostris audívimus: patres nostri annuntiavérunt nobis. Gloria Patri. Sicut erat. Exsurge.

Friday, February 22, 2019

A Historic Dominican Gradual Online

The Coates Library at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, has just made available through their website a Dominican Gradual dated roughly 1480-1520, a useful resource for chant scholars and the study of the Dominican Rite. The book is missing a couple of folios, but is in otherwise fairly good condition; it has decorated initials, but no illustrations. The provenance is listed as “Spain?” on the site, but no further information is given; from the date, it is tempting to speculate that this may be one of the earliest choirbooks to be brought over during the Spanish settlement of the New World and the establishment of the first missions. (h/t Michael Carroll)

Folio 1r, the Introit of the First Sunday of Advent, which is noted with the term Officium used by the Dominicans inter alios.

Pontifical Low Mass and Confirmations in Detroit

On Sunday, February 10th, His Excellency Donald Hanchon, Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit, celebrated the first Sunday Mass in the traditional rite in decades at Detroit’s Old St Mary’s Parish, followed by Confirmations, also in the old rite. The church hosts a regular High Mass each First Friday at 7:00 pm; on this occasion, the Oakland County Latin Mass Association was able to have the Mass here because its regular Sunday venue, the Chapel of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills, was being used for another event that day. The archdiocese online newspaper The Detroit Catholic wrote a nice article about the Mass, quoting Mons. Ronal Brown, Judicial Vicar of the Detroit Archdiocese and chaplain of the OCLMA. “The Oakland County Latin Mass Association has only been in existence since 2013, started by laypeople who petitioned the archbishop and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to recognize the organization and have Masses. ... Most of the (regular) congregation at Sacred Heart is under 40 years of age. I’ve asked some of the younger people why they choose to worship in this form, and they tell me there is a deep reverence in the celebration. They said there is something comforting with the routine, the ritual.” Thanks to reader Alex Begin for bringing this to our attention, and photographer Paul Duda.

The Pro Civitate Dei Conference in France, June 7-14

The Pro Civitate Dei Summer Program is a weeklong Anglophone program, hosted and organized by the Fraternity of St Joseph the Guardian, which seeks to foster the restoration of Western culture in a rich liturgical and intellectual environment inspired by Christian conviviality and traditional Catholic life. The program will be held in La Londe-les-Maures, France, June 7–14, on the French Riviera; young adults will gather from around the world for a schedule of lectures on topics of contemporary and historical interest in Catholic philosophy, theology, liturgy, and politics. Mass is sung every day according to the traditional rite, along with Vespers and Compline. Pro Civitate Dei is open to undergraduates, graduate students and young professionals aged 18–30; registration is open on a first-come basis. For more information, see; for all inquiries contact

Mass at the church which houses the relics of St Roseline in Les Arcs de Provence
One of the lectures.
His Excellency Dominique Rey, Bishop of Fréjus-Toulon, addresses the participants of the last year’s conference.
At Pro Civitate Dei you will:
* Learn why—and how—the restoration of Christian culture is possible
* Explore integralism and Catholic political and social thought
* Gain experience in the fundamentals of Gregorian chant
* Visit sites of Christian pilgrimage, including the incorrupt relics of Ste Roseline des Arcs-de-Provence
* Experience Provençal culture in the French Riviera
* Pray the Divine Office and enter more deeply into the Church’s liturgy

I have spoken at this conference three years in a row, and each time it was indeed a most enjoyable experience, with liturgies celebrated very well, and excellent conversations thoughout the day. My first year, we visited the cave of St Mary Magdalene, the Sainte-Baume, and the church which keeps the relic of her skull. The second year, we had Mass one day in a 12-century chapel on a very tall hill, with an incredible view of endless miles of the Riviera. The FSJC also has the pastoral charge of a church dedicated to St Anne on the beautiful island of Pourquerole, where celebrated solemn Mass, visited an Orthodox monastery, and spent the afternoon on a perfect beach.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Basilica of St Andrew in Vercelli, Italy

Two days ago, the basilica of St Andrew in the northern Italian city of Vercelli celebrated the 800th anniversary of the laying of its cornerstone by Cardinal Guala Bicchieri (ca. 1150-1227), a native of the city and one of the most prominent churchmen of his era. After studying in Bologna and obtaining the very prestigious laurea utriusque (a degree in both civil and canon law), he became a canon of his city’s cathedral; he was made a cardinal in 1205, and served as papal legate first in northern Italy, then France, and finally England. In this last capacity, he was a supporter of the royal cause during the rebellion of the English barons that concluded with the signing of the Magna Carta, of which he was one of the signatories. In gratitude for his support, King Henry III granted him the rights to the income of a certain church in England, arrangements of this sort being very common in the High Middle Ages. These revenues were used in part to pay for the construction of the new church in Vercelli, and for the installation therein of canons regular from the church of St Victor in Paris, an important center of the reformed canonical life.

The basilica is an interesting example of the transition from Romanesque to Gothic; inspired by Cistercian architecture, and in the spirit of Cistercian austerity, it does not have a lot of decoration inside, but is an impressively large and luminous space. (Photos by Nicola de’ Grandi.)

The façade of the church is far closer to the sensibilities of the Romanesque than the Gothic, with long stretches of solid wall; the arched windows of the bell-towers, which grow in size as they go higher up, are also very typical of the Italian Romanesque.

A rare Italian example of external buttresses, typical of Gothic architecture in France and western Germany, but generally disliked in Italy; as a result, most Italian Gothic churches are far lower than buildings like the cathedrals of Chartres, Amiens, or Cologne.
The internal vaulting of the church, on the other hand, is classically Gothic. Unlike central Italy, and especially Rome, northern Italy is fairly poor in marble, and therefore makes a lot of use of the decorative arrangement of bricks, as we see here.
The cupola
The martyrdom of St Andrew, depicted over the central door; this sculpture and the one below are both from the original construction of the church at the beginning of the 13th century.
Over the left portal of the façade, the cardinal is depicted presenting the church to St Andrew seated on a throne.

Re-Published Series of Essays by Fr. Vincent McNabb O.P.

God’s Dealings with the Minds of Men: Essays in Biblical Inspiration, Mysticism, and the Imagination by Fr Vincent McNabb, O.P., available online here.

Vincent McNabb, O.P. (1868-1943), is perhaps best known today as one of the fathers of the Catholic Land and Distributist movements. Irish by birth, he would join the English Province Dominicans as a young man and spend much of his life in England, where he became friends with another leader of the Distributist movement, G.K. Chesterton. He also spent periods living and teaching in the United States, and through this, as much as through his writing and close association with Chesterton, became known to American Catholics.

Less appreciated now is that McNabb, a well-rounded theologian steeped (as one might expect of a Dominican) in the works and method of St Thomas Aquinas, wrote extensively not just on agrarianism and economics, but on a wide range of issues. In this collection of essays, first published in 1903 under the title Where Believers May Doubt, he addresses subjects with which his name is no longer usually associated: the distinction between divine revelation and inspiration, the nature of mysticism, the challenges that imagination can pose for belief, and the relationship between theology and natural science. Some of these topics have been, and continue to be, the objects of contentious debate, and the insights that McNabb offers in regard to each of them remain relevant in the present day.

For example, the manner and extent to which modern historical-critical methods of approaching the Bible can be harmonized with the traditional approach to Sacred Scripture taken by the Church Fathers continue to be a live issue for Catholics. (No less a thinker than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has seen fit to devote his attention to it in recent years.) McNabb ventures into these dangerous waters; the result is two thought-provoking essays on inspiration and revelation, in which he manages to avoid the excesses of an extreme literalism that would ignore the insights of modern scholarship, and of a critical approach that would compromise the Catholic Faith.

Another example: 20th-century Thomists Norris Clarke, S.J., and Cornelio Fabro, C.S.S., encouraged the creative retrieval of St Thomas in light of the data of modern science. Decades before either of them had begun his scholarly career, McNabb was endeavoring carefully to show the significance of St Thomas’s understanding of the Biblical account of creation to the possibility of reconciling the discoveries of modern science with the truths of divine revelation.

In other interventions, McNabb offers general principles that are readily applicable to the modern-day problem of how to re-evangelize an increasingly post-Christian culture. His essays on the topics of mysticism and the imagination are particularly relevant here.

At the conclusion of his essay on mysticism, McNabb laments the “sad dearth” in the modern age “of that truly Christian luxury, the Mysticism of Christ’s Saints.” The qualifier is important: one of the questions to which McNabb will turn his attention in the essay is that of how to distinguish between true and false mysticism.

In the first decades of the 21st century, mysticism of a sort is apparently not all that uncommon. According to a 2009 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 49% of Americans surveyed reported having had “a religious or mystical experience, defined as a ‘moment of sudden religious insight or awakening.’ ” Yet the title of the report, “Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths,” should give Catholics pause. Distinguishing between true and false mysticism is no less imperative today than it was when McNabb’s essay was first published.

Imagination, too, is presently a topic of significance in the Catholic milieu. Many Catholics today regard beauty as a forgotten quality and insist that we must rediscover ways to harness its power so that creative Catholic can once again become cultural leaders in a secular world. In this way, it is envisaged, the Church will be able to draw people to the Faith by manifesting the glory of God in all things, and especially in the everyday aspects of life. For those invested in the rediscovery of beauty, discussions regarding the place of the “Catholic imagination” in artistic creativity are commonplace. All too often, the investigation of these questions is distorted and misdirected by an adoption, usually unconscious, on the part of the investigator of aspects of the Romantic ethos that still dominates the secular worldview. The result is an approach that overplays the role of emotion in creativity. This is common, in my experience, even for Catholics who would consider themselves orthodox, even traditionalist, in their faith, and who might even argue their point of view with the aid of scholastic terminology.

The approach of Fr McNabb is a refreshing antidote to this tendency. While he is interested in the positive role of the imagination in creativity, he is just as quick to warn against the possibility of its undermining right reason at the foundational level. This line of thinking leads him to some conclusions that may surprise the 21st-century reader—for instance, that “[o]ne of the most common triumphs of the imagination is the disdain felt for miracles.” This stands in stark contrast to the assertion that one frequently encounters today, that such disdain comes about for the opposite reason, due not to the use of an overly wild imagination, but to its suppression.

Similarly, for McNabb, a poem is a work not purely of the imagination, but—fundamentally—of reason. The imagination has a role to play in setting the poet off in the right direction, but it is right reason that ensures that he expresses what is true and, hence, beautiful. Some creatives today, Catholic and otherwise, may regard this judgment as a dismissal of the art of writing from one who is himself unimaginative, but that is not so. McNabb was a lover of poetry and wrote regularly and insightfully on the subject. His desire was to understand deeply, perhaps more deeply than some would appreciate, how the poet can create under the guidance of inspiration and use both the imagination and reason in harmony.

These are lessons that contemporary artists in any creative discipline would do well to learn.

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