Friday, May 31, 2019

The Carmelite Rite Procession on the Feast of the Ascension

Yesterday, St Joseph’s Church in Troy, New York, which is served by Carmelites of the Ancient Observance, celebrated the feast of the Ascension with the traditional stational procession before the Mass, as prescribed in the order’s ancient rite. (Similar processions are done on Candlemas, Palm Sunday and the Assumption.) The four stations of the procession are accompanied by the singing of responsories at the first and third station, and their verses at the second and fourth; on entering the church, the antiphon of Vespers O Rex gloriae is sung, and on entering the sanctuary, the versicle of Lauds, and the Collect of the feast. Here are a few photos, with our thanks to Genevieve Holmes for sharing them with us; the texts sung at the stations are given below from the 1935 edition of the Carmelite Missal.

Extinguishing the Paschal candle after the Gospel.
R. O ye men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven? alleluia.* As ye saw Him going to heaven, so shall He come, alleluja, alleluja.
V. And while they were looking at Him going to heaven, behold two men stood nigh to them in white garments.
who also said: As ye saw Him going to heaven, so shall He come, alleluja, alleluja.

R. Father, while I was with them, I kept them, whom Thou gavest to me; but now I come to Thee. I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil.
V. Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; I pray not...

Aña O King of glory, Lord of hosts, Who in triumph hast ascended this day above all the heavens: leave us not as orphans, but send the Promise of the Father unto us, even the Spirit of truth, alleluia.

V. God hath ascended with rejoicing.
R. And the Lord with the sound of trumpet, alleluia.
(In the Carmelite Use, alleluja is not said with the verse, but only with the response.)
Let us pray. Grant, we ask, almighty God, that we who believe that Thy Only-Begotten Son, our Redeemer, hath on this day ascended into the heavens, may also in mind dwell with Him in heaven. Through the same Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Mutual Enrichment: O Salutaris Hostia after Bortniansky

Here is an interesting example of mutual liturgical enrichment between the East and the West, published last year on the blog of the Schola Sainte-Cécile; somehow, I missed it when it was originally posted, but happened to stumble across it yesterday. Towards the end of the Byzantine Hour of Orthros, a chant called an exapostilarion is sung right before the Laudate Psalms (148-149-150.) Many exapostilaria speak of Christ as the Light, since they would originally have been sung around the time of sunrise; they are therefore also called “hymns of light” (φωταγωγικόν - светилен). On Easter Sunday, the text is as follows: “Having fallen asleep in the flesh as a mortal, O King and Lord, on the third day Thou didst rise again, raising up Adam from corruption, and abolishing death, o Pascha of incorruption, Salvation of the world!” Dmitry Bortniansky (1751-1825), one of the greatest Slav composers of ecclesiastical music, set this to his own polyphonic version, as he did many famous parts of the Byzantine Rite. Henri de Villiers, who directs both the Schola Sainte-Cécile and the choir of the Russian Catholic Church in Paris, adapted Bortniansky’s setting of it for this version of O salutaris hostia, from St Thomas’ Office of Corpus Christi, which is often sung at Mass and Benediction.

Little Children and the Sacred Liturgy

If you’re a parent, pastor, director of religious education, or regular pewsitter, chances are that you’ve come across some problematic notions about what the participation of children in the sacred liturgy means or looks like.
In episode 12 of Square Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast, we tackle some of these issues, and propose a more rooted understanding of what authentic participation for children is based on. The guest for the show is the academic director of Notre Dame’s Center for Liturgy, Dr. Timothy P. O’Malley.

Of particular interest to readers might be Tim’s article on this subject from the ND Church Life Journal, “The Liturgy is for (Little) Kids.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Chapel of the Ascension in Jerusalem

During his recent trip to the Holy Land, Nicola visited the Mount of Olives, the site on which the Ascension, which we celebrate today, took place. A church was built on the site in the year 376, but there now remains only the octogonal structure seen below, a work of the Crusader period, which contains within it the stone said to be the very one from which the Lord ascended into heaven, and some remains of an octagonal precinct around it.

The stone of the Ascension, worn smooth by centuries of pilgrims touching and kissing it.
The precinct around the rotunda contains the barest remains of a Byzantine church formerly on the site, and the altar seen below.

The Ascension of the Lord 2019

After His Passion, appearing to them over forty days, and speaking to them of the kingdom of God, alleluia: * and while they beheld, He was taken up, alleluia, and a cloud received Him out of their sight, alleluia. V. And, eating together with them, He commanded them that they should not leave Jerusalem, but rather wait for the promise of the Father. And while they beheld, He was taken up, alleluia, and a cloud received Him out of their sight, alleluia. (The first responsory of Matins of the Ascension.)

The Ascension Dome of the Basilica of St Mark in Venice; mosaics ca. 1175-1200. (click to enlarge) The words written in a circle that separate Christ and the four angels around him from the Virgin Mary and Apostles are four hexameters, “Dicite quid statis, quid in aethere consideratis. / Filius iste Dei, Christus, cives Galilaei, / Sumptus ut a vobis abit et sic arbiter orbis / Judicii cura veniet dare debita jura.” (Tell us what you are standing and looking at in Heaven. This Son of God, Christ, o ye citizens of Galilee, being taken from you, goes; and so He will come as the judge of the world, with right judgment to give all their due.)
R. Post passionem suam per dies quadraginta apparens eis, et loquens de regno Dei, alleluia: * Et videntibus illis elevatus est, alleluia: et nubes suscepit eum ab oculis eorum, alleluia. V. Et convescens praecepit eis, ab Jerosolymis ne discederent, sed exspectarent promissionem Patris. Et videntibus illis elevatus est, alleluia: et nubes suscepit eum ab oculis eorum, alleluia.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Durandus on the Minor Litanies

The following excerpts are taken from book VI, chapter 102 of William Durandus’ treatise on the Divine Offices.

On the three days before the feast of the Lord’s Ascension, the Rogations, which are also called the Litanies: the Greek word “litania” in Latin is “supplication”, or “rogation” (from ‘rogare – to ask’), on which the Holy Church asks God… to destroy the counsel of those who wish to live outside Her peace. At the same time, we also beseech God that He may defend us from a sudden death, and from every infirmity, and we ask the Saints, that they may intercede for us before God. …

The Procession of St Gregory the Great, by an anonymous Sienese painter of the mid-16th century. The traditional story recounts that when the procession described below reached the Mausoleum of Hadrian, which is fairly close to St Peter’s Basilica, an angel appeared over it with a drawn sword in his hand, which he then sheathed, symbolizing the end of the plague as in 2 Samuel 24.
Now the Litanies are two, the Greater and the Lesser. The Greater is on the feast of the blessed Mark, and was created by the blessed Gregory (the Great), because of a plague, which caused a swelling of the groin. Paul, a monk of Monte Cassino, the author of “The History of the Lombards”, wrote the story of its institution, saying that in the time of Pope Pelagius (II, 579-90) there was so great a flood in Italy, that the waters rose as high as the upper windows of the temple of Nero in Rome … Then there came forth up the Tiber a multitude of serpents, and one very large dragon among them, whose breath corrupted the air; from this came the plague in the groin, from which men died suddenly all over the place. When nearly the whole population of Rome had been destroyed, Pelagius declared a fast and procession for all, but during it, he himself died, along with seventy others. Gregory I, who is also called the Great, took his place, and commanded that this Litany be observed throughout the world; it is therefore called the Gregorian or Roman Litany. It is also called “Black Crosses”, since, as a sign of mourning for the death of so many men, and as a sign of penance, people wear black clothing, and the crosses and altars are veiled in black.

A folio of the Echternach Sacramentary, 895AD, with the stational prayers for the Greater Litanies as they were done in Rome; the stations are at the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, St Valentine (very far up the Tiber), “ad Pontem Olbi”, a corruption of “ad Pontem Milvium – at the Milvian bridge”, “at the Cross”, whcih was a station set up along the way, and two “in the atrium” of St Peter’s Basilica. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 9433; folio 76r.)
The Lesser Litanies, which are also called Rogations and processions, take place on the three days before the Ascension, … they were created in Vienne by the blessed Mamertus, bishop of that city. Because of a plague of wolves and other wild beasts, who were ferociously killing men in Gaul, and because of the dangerous earthquakes which were frequently taking place there, he enjoined a fast of three days on the people, and instituted the Litanies. But when the danger had passed, the fast became a custom of annual observance … This latter is called the Lesser Litany, because it was instituted by a lesser person, that is, by a simple bishop, and in a less important place, Vienne, while the Greater (Litany) is so called because it was instituted in a more important place, namely, Rome, and by a greater person, namely, Gregory the Great, and because of a great and very serious plague. However, the Lesser Litany is older, since it was instituted when Zeno was Emperor (ca. 470 AD), and the Greater in the time of the Emperor Maurice (582-602)

Litanies are also held for many other reasons, wherefore Pope Liberius established that a litany should be held for war, famine, pestilence, and other imminent adversities of this sort, so that we may escape from them by supplications, prayers and fasts. Therefore, because in this time of the year especially wars are wont to break out, and the fruits of the earth, which are still in bud or flower, can easily be corrupted in many different ways, the litanies are held, so that we may ask God to turn these things away from us, and to defend and deliver us from bad weather, and war, and the enemies of the Christian religion, as we also implore the patronage of the Saints …

… we beseech the Saints, because of our poverty, and their glory, and reverence for God. And when we celebrate the Litany because of imminent dangers, in penitential and mournful garb, we represent that last procession of the women who wept after the Lord when He was being led to the Cross, weeping, according to the Lord’s command, for ourselves and our children.

The imposition of ashes before the Rogation procession celebrated last year in Milan; in the Ambrosian Rite, the penitential character of the Rogation days is far more marked than in the Roman Rite.
The Litanies also take place in this time, since the Church now asks more confidently, because Christ ascends, Who said, “Ask and ye shall receive.” (In the Gospel of the Sunday before the Ascension, John 16, 23-30.) She fasts at this time and prays, that through the mortification of the flesh, She may have little to do with it, and gain wings for herself through prayer, which is the wing by which the soul flies up to heaven. Thus is She is able to freely follow Christ as He ascends, and opens the way for us, and flies upon the wings of the wind. This is the reason why we join the last litany, the last fast, to the Ascension, so that through prayers and fasts, we may be able to lay aside the weight of the flesh, and follow Christ as He ascends.

Therefore, during the Litanies, there is a procession, and in some churches, (the antiphon) Exsurge, Domine is sung at the beginning. The Gospel canticle “Holy God, holy mighty one, holy immortal one, have mercy on us,” is also to be sung repeatedly by the boys’ choir, for John of Damascus tells the story … that in Constantinople, litanies were held because of some trouble, and a boy was taken up to heaven from the midst of the people, and there taught this chant; and returning to the people, sang it before everyone, and at once the trouble ceased. This chant was approved by the Council of Chalcedon, and therefore it is considered praiseworthy and authoritative …

… in the procession itself, the Cross goes first, and the reliquaries of the Saints, so that by the banner of the Cross, and the prayers of the Saints, demons may be repelled…

A banner is also carried to represent the victory of Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, since He went up to heaven with great spoils … just as the multitude of the faithful follow the banner in the procession, so also a great gathering of the Saints accompanies Christ as He ascends. Banners are also carried in imitation of that which is said by Isaiah (11, 12), “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.” The Church took the carrying of banners and crosses from Constantine, who, when in a dream he saw the sign of the Cross, and heard the words ‘By this sign thou shalt conquer’, ordered the Cross to be marked on his war banners. The fact that in the Litanies the cross-bearer takes his cross from the altar reminds us that Simon of Cyrene took it from Christ’s shoulders.

Rogation procession held in the village of Balatonderics, Hungary in 2017.
In some places, the litany is done in the fields, so that demons may be expelled from the crops, or rather, so that the crops may be preserved by the Lord. … It has also become the custom that a dragon with a long tail, upright and inflated, should go before the Cross and banners on the first two days, but on the last day, looking back, with its tail deflated and lowered, it follows behind. For this dragon symbolizes the devil, who in three periods, that is, before the law, and under the law, and in the time of grace, which these three days symbolize, has deceived men, and even now seeks to deceive them. In the first two periods, he reigned, and as if he were the lord of the world, had a long tail, which shows his power, and inflated, which symbolizes his pride. For this reason, Christ calls him the prince of this world (John 12, 31) and John says in the Apocalypse (12, 4) that the dragon, falling from heaven, drew with him the third part of the stars, which symbolize people. And the Lord says in the Gospel, “I saw Satan falling like a lightning bolt from heaven” (Luke 10, 18), as a figure of which, on two days he goes at the head … But in the time of grace, he is beaten by Christ, and power is given to the Apostles to cast out unclean spirits; therefore, on the third day he follows after the Cross, to show that his power is lost through the spread of the Faith, and his tail is deflated, and hangs down, and is not long, because he does not dare to reign as mightily as he formerly did, but rather seduces men through suggestion, and in a hidden way, those whom he sees to be lazy and remiss in good works, and who follow not the way of life, as if he were looking back like a thief, to see if someone may wander and fall away from the righteousness of the Faith, so that he can draw that person to himself …

A page from an 1882 scholarly edition of the Sarum Processional, by W.G. Henderson, showing the order of the Rogation procession. The rubric above the image mentions both a dragon and a lion carried in the procession, the latter presumably in reference to the words of Apocalypse 5, 5, “Behold the lion from the tribe of Judah hath conquered.”
On the Litanies, all must abstain from servile labor, … and be present for the procession until the end, so that, just as all have sinned, so all may ask for forgiveness, and all raise their hearts to God, with their hands, that is, raise up their zeal for prayer.

But since on the preceding days, a double Alleluia, is sung, why on these days is only one sung? And again, since Alleluia is not said on other fast days, why is it said on this one? To the first question, we answer that ... a double Alleluia is sung on the preceding days because of the double stole which will be given in the general resurrection, namely, that of the soul and of the body. But the liturgy of Easter, which this signifies, is now finished, and therefore, the cause being taken removed, the effect is also removed . To the second, we answer that on the other fast days, Alleluia is not sung because it is a song of joy, and those fasts are held because of sins, wherefore they are called fasts of mourning; but this fast, and that of Pentecost, are matters of rejoicing, because they are not held for sins, but so that the power of the devil, and the plague, may be removed; and therefore, Alleluia is sung on them.

First Masses at St John Cantius in Chicago

On Saturday, May 18th, two members of the Canons Regular of St John Cantius, Matthew Schuster and David Yallaly, were among the eight men ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral of the Holy Name in Chicago by H.E. Blase Card. Cupich. The following day, they both celebrated their first Masses at the church of St John Cantius, Fr Schuster in the Ordinary Form, and the Fr Yallaly in the Extraordinary Form. We thank the Canons for sharing these photos with us, and offer our heartiest congratulations to the newly ordained priests, to their families and friends, and to their religious community. Ad multos annos!

Fr Schuster
Tradition is for the young!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

How Medieval Christians Celebrated the Rogation Days (with a Dragon)

The following description of the Rogation Processions comes from a canon of the cathedral of Siena named Oderico, who in the year 1213 wrote a detailed account of the liturgical texts and ceremonies used in his church.

“Mindful of that promise of the Gospel, ‘Ask, and ye shall receive,’ (John 16, 24; from the Gospel of the Sunday which precedes the Lesser Litanies) St Mamertus, bishop of Vienne, in this week instituted the three days of the Litanies, because of an urgent necessity … days which are greatly celebrated by every church with fasts and prayers. The Greek word ‘litany’ means ‘supplication,’ because in the Litanies we beseech the Lord that he may defend us from every adversity, and sudden death; and we pray the Saints that they may intercede for us before the Lord. … The Church celebrates the Litanies with devotion in these three days, with (processional) crosses, banners, and relics She goes from church to church, humbly praying the Saints that they may intercede with God for our excesses, ‘that we may obtain by their intercession what we cannot obtain by our own merits.’ (citing a commonly used votive Collect of all the Saints.) ...

It is the custom of certain churches also to carry a dragon on the first two days before the Cross and banner, with a long, inflated tail, but on the third day, (it goes) behind the Cross and banners, with its tail down. This is the devil, who in three periods, before the Law, under the Law, and under grace, deceives us, or wishes to do so. In the first two (periods) he was, as it were, the lord of the world; therefore, he is called the Prince or God of this world, and for this reason, in the first day, he goes with his tail inflated. In the time of grace, however, he was conquered by Christ, nor dares he to reign openly, but seduces men in a hidden way; this is the reason why on the last day he follows with his tail down.” (Ordo Officiorum Ecclesiae Senensis, 222)

Oderico does not describe the dragon, but given that Siena is in Tuscany, still a major center of leather-working to this day, we may imagine that the dragon itself was a large wooden image mounted on wheels or a cart, and the inflatable tail something like a leather bellows. It should be noted that in addition to the processional cross, Oderico mentions both banners and relics as part of the processional apparatus. In the medieval period, it was considered particularly important to carry relics in procession; so much so that, for example, a rubric of the Sarum Missal prescribes that a bier with relics in it be carried even in the Palm Sunday procession. A typical bier for these processions is shown in the lower right corner of this page of the famous Book of Hours known as the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry. made by the Limbourg brothers between 1411 and 1416.

Divine Liturgy with Music by Roman Hurko, Sunday June 2, in NYC

St Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church in New York City will have a celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, with music by Roman Hurko, this coming Sunday, June 2, at 6:00 p.m. The Liturgy will be sung in English and Church Slavonic; the church is located at 246 East 15th Street, and the event is free and is open to the public. This is fourth and final part of the church’s current program of classical Slavic Church music, presented in the context for which it was written, as the music of the Divine Liturgy, giving the congregation the opportunity to be immersed in the experience as part of their worship.

A member of the Composers’ Union of Ukraine since 2004, Roman Hurko began writing music while still in high school; his first composition, “Ave Maria” for SATB choir, was premiered by the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir, at the Guelph Spring Festival in 1983. A graduate of the University of Toronto (Music History and Theory), as well as the Yale Institute of Sacred Music (Masters of Arts in Religion), he has also studied privately with composer Ivan Moody in Portugal. In the fall of 1985, he co-founded the St Evtymyj Youth Choir at St Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Toronto. Hurko soon began setting parts of the liturgy for his choir, and in 1999 decided to complete and record the entire Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, to commemorate the second millenium of Christianity. He has composed and recorded five major pieces of sacred music: three complete settings of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, as well as a Panachyda (Requiem) for the Victims of Chornobyl, and Vespers.

Hurko’s setting of Kindly Light from Byzantine Vespers.
The music will be performed by St Mary’s choir-in-residence, the Theoria Chamber Choir, directed by Andrew Skitko, Artistic Director/Conductor. Mr Skitko earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music at Westminster Choir College, and has performed with the world’s leading conductors and orchestras at venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. He sings regularly with several choirs, and is a cantor for the Byzantine-Ruthenian Church; he is also an alumnus of the Studium Carpatho-Ruthenorum of the University of Presov, Slovakia, having completed courses in Carpatho-Rusyn history, language, and culture. He has studied Russian choral music and conducting at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary with maestro Vladimir Gorbik, musical director and conductor at the Moscow Representation Church of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery, and has participated in the PaTRAM Russian-American Music Institute.
The backdrop for the choral event is sure to just as inspiring. St Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church is one of the most unusual religious buildings in Manhattan and provides a beautiful venue for the program of Slavic Liturgical Music. For more information call 212-677-0516, or visit

A Grand Miniature! A 6th Century Illumination of the Ascension

To commemorate the upcoming feast, here is a painting of the Ascension from a Syriac illuminated manuscript originating in Mesopotamia in the 6th century, the Rabula gospels. As such it represents a very early formulation of an authentic iconographic style.

The Mother of God is shown in an orans pose, wearing the traditional earth red outer robe that characterizes Eastern portrayals of her. Notice the geometric patterned border, which one would tend to associate with Western illuminations and would not be painted, ordinarily, on the raised border of icons made today.
Also, while there is some modeling in tonal variation, this is acting as a supporting player to the description of form by line. This is consistent with the general iconographic approach.
Illuminations in manuscripts are called miniatures. This is not due to their size, but due to the fact that typically the pigment lead oxide - red lead - was used to lay down the first lines of the drawing. This pigment was called minium in Latin, and later gave its name to the whole genre. Because many of these were of a small size (compared to liturgical art in churches) the word miniature came to be associated with that property too. In time, in the English language, it became the word used to denote any object of a small size.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Why the Confiteor Before Communion Should Be Retained (or Reintroduced)

The Confiteor at the start of Mass
In this article, I will defend the fittingness of the repetition of the Confiteor by the ministers immediately before their communion — sung by the deacon and subdeacon at Solemn Mass, said by the acolytes at the Missa Cantata and Low Mass. I shall argue that it not only deserves to be retained, but that it should be used everywhere in the usus antiquior, and not omitted.

Before moving to this question, let us consider for a moment why there ought to be a double Confiteor at the start of the Mass, in the penitential section at the foot of the altar, prior to the ministers’ ascending the mountain of the Lord to offer the twofold sacrifice: first, the verbal sacrifice of the readings, followed by the unbloody sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

At first glance, it might appear that there should be only a single Confiteor of priest and people together, and indeed, this is what the Novus Ordo Missae provides, having relied on scholars to purge it of “useless repetitions.”

Nevertheless, the double Confiteor is far from useless. It strongly brings out the dialogical nature of liturgical worship, where the celebrant acts as a mediator for the people, and where each member of the body is praying for the other. The doubling formalizes the mediation as well as the mutual assistance. It reinforces the humility needed in the celebrant, who confesses his sins alone coram omnibus, and also exhibits the dignity of the servant who says to the master: “May almighty God have mercy on thee, and having forgiven thy sins, lead thee to eternal life.” It reflects the truth of cosmic and ecclesiastical hierarchy and pushes against one of the dominant errors of our time, that of democratic egalitarianism, which lumps everyone together into an undifferentiated mass (or Mass).

Bishop Athanasius Schneider once told of a Low Mass he was offering in Africa at a large traditional Catholic school for girls. When he had confessed his sins, he heard all these little girls say to him, in perfect Latin, “Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus, et dimissis peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam aeternam.” He was overcome with feelings of humility, littleness, and joy. This experience of the priest confessing his own sins in front of the people—or, for that matter, the bishop, or the pope—is something we could use a great deal more of in the Church today, together (of course) with the confession of the people. And all of this in the humbling and strengthening presence of the saints invoked by name, twice: “Blessed Mary ever-virgin, St. Michael the Archangel, St. John the Baptist, the holy apostles Peter and Paul, and all the saints” — not (as we were just saying) lumped together in an undifferentiated mass of “all the angels and saints,” mentioned only once, for efficiency’s sake. There are no shortcuts in penance and forgiveness.

Now, moving to our main topic — the Confiteor before communion — it was not only the repetition at this moment of something that had “already been done” earlier in the Mass that the liturgical reformers objected to; it was rather the impression that the communion rite for the faithful is “tacked on to” the Mass as an extrinsic piece rather than something intrinsic to it. Eliding the communion rite(s) was a way of underlining the unity of liturgical action.

Yet the old practice makes theological sense, at least from the vantage of the dogmatic teaching of the Council of Trent. The communion of the offering priest is essential to the completion of the sacrifice in a way that the communion of no one else is. In fact, the obscuring of this point by having a single communion rite in which the priest announces “Ecce Agnus Dei” prior to receiving Christ and distributing Him to the faithful is among the many factors that have contributed to the obscuring of the difference in kind between the ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of the faithful.

Moreover, one should not evaluate this practice only from a low Mass standpoint, but also from the Solemn High Mass, the normative Mass of the Roman Rite. Seeing the priest flanked by his close companions, the deacon and the subdeacon, with the deacon chanting the Confiteor, throws into sharp relief how the sacrifice is essentially complete with the communion of the priest, who stands in for Christ the High Priest, and that the further communions are an extension of this sacrifice to the ministers and the faithful, a sacramental “rippling out” comparable to the rippling out of the Pax, the gesture of peace, passed down from on high — much as the higher angels communicate illuminations to lower angels.

The one offering brings the sacrifice to completion by himself partaking of the sacrificial Victim. No other communion is necessary for this completion, although obviously the Church rejoices in the participation of as many faithful as are in a state of grace and prepared to receive Our Lord. The scholastic distinction between intensity and extension is helpful here. For example, the separated soul in heaven fully possesses beatitude intensively, but when the body is reunited to it in the resurrection, that happiness will overflow into the flesh and so the beatitude will be greater extensively, i.e., it will have a greater extension.

The separate communions of priest and people, with the Confiteor as a visible and audible caesura, is the liturgy’s way of representing the dogmatic truth spoken of by Pope Pius XII in Mystici Corporis Christi when he distinguishes between the “objective redemption” that Christ accomplished in full on the Cross and the “subjective redemption” of Christians, which occurs through the application of the merits of His Passion to our souls in the sacraments of the Church. St. Thomas speaks of this point often, as when he explains why the faithful need not receive the chalice: “The perfection of this sacrament does not lie in the use of the faithful, but in the consecration of the matter. And hence there is nothing derogatory to the perfection of this sacrament, if the people receive the body without the blood, provided that the priest who consecrates receive both” (Summa theologiae III, q. 80, a. 12, ad 2). “Our Lord’s Passion is represented in the very consecration of this sacrament, in which the body ought not to be consecrated without the blood. But the body can be received by the people without the blood: nor is this detrimental to the sacrament, because the priest both offers and consumes the blood on behalf of all; and Christ is fully contained under either species, as was shown above (q. 76, a. 2)” (ibid., ad 3).

This aspect of the usus antiquior points unambiguously to the essence of the Mass as the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of the Cross at the hands of the ordained minister, and forcefully sets aside the Protestant conflation of the Mass and the Last Supper, i.e., the simple identification of the Eucharist with communion — an error so ubiquitous in our day that Catholics not only take it for granted but are unaware that there is any other way of thinking about the matter.

Again, at a high Mass, the faithful are usually not able to hear the Confiteor of the priest and the servers at the beginning, as these preparatory prayers in the sanctuary are muffled under the soaring sound of the Introit. Thus, when the deacon sings or the servers say the Confiteor right before communion, everyone is able to hear it and make it their own, since there is nothing else “covering over” this action.[1] Holy Mother Church offers all the faithful one final opportunity to bow low before the altar, express contrition for sins, call upon saints and angels as intercessors, and receive a minor absolution prior to approaching the Sanctissimum, the Most Holy One, before whom even the Cherubim and Seraphim veil their faces. Thus we see that this Confiteor is both theologically appropriate and spiritually profitable.

To my mind (and probably, I’ll admit, for quite incidental reasons), the suppression of this Confiteor before communion in the missal promulgated by Pope John XXIII serves as the “poster child” of all that went wrong during that strange no-man’s-land between Mediator Dei (1947) and the imposition of the Novus Ordo (1969). In this period of two decades, official papal language still paid lip service to the binding force of tradition and the non-negotiable good of continuity, while at the same time three Popes in succession permitted changes to the liturgy — at first tentatively and in smaller ways, but subsequently growing in audacity to embrace whole sacramental rituals from top to bottom — that led with a kind of inevitability to the jettisoning of the historic Roman Rite and its replacement by the “modern papal rite” (as Gamber calls the Novus Ordo).

Let there be no mistake about it: the incremental changes of Pius XII and John XXIII to the Mass and its rubrics — the abolition of most octaves and vigils, multiple collects, doubled lections, the “Benedicamus Domino,” folded chasubles, etc. — are also corruptions, even if lesser corruptions than Montini’s, and deserve to be rejected by those who care for the Roman Rite in its integrity and plenitude just as readily and easily as the more egregious novelties of the late sixties.

A last consideration, since we are on the subject of the Confiteor and the role of penitence in the rite of Mass: I read in an article at PrayTell about the proposal, fashionable among today’s “with-it” liturgists, to move the penitential rite to after the “Liturgy of the Word.” Their theory (fine on paper, as always) is that we should first hear the Word of God summoning us to faith and repentance, and then express our acceptance of the message in the Creed and a penitential rite immediately prior to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Probably the sign of peace would be moved into this intermediate section as well, so that we can take care of all the Eucharistic preliminaries at once.

Now, I have two reactions to this idea.

First, this proposal and any other like it would make sense only if liturgy is just something we make up according to our own brilliant ideas, rather than a form of prayer we receive from those who came before us and whom we revere as our fathers in Christ, from whom we receive the faith together with its enactment in rites. And surely this is a tempting view, since modern people are seen consistently to have better ideas and to produce greater art than their predecessors. Just think of primitives like Plato and Aristotle, Dante and Shakespeare, Bach and Mozart, and compare them with Rorty and Derrida, Cummings and Kerouac, the Beach Boys and Eminem. We are clearly in a better position to design liturgy than the men who built Hagia Sophia or Notre Dame Cathedral.

What is astonishing to me is that such proposals can be made, let alone taken seriously. Do we know better than the millennia of Latin Catholics who started off the liturgy with penitential preparation—or for that matter, Eastern Christians who can’t help chanting “Lord, have mercy” from the get-go? But we can forgive them and, well, ignore them; after all, among professional liturgists, Byzantines get a pass for everything, no matter how outlandish; the more litanies, processions, blessings, and chants, the better. The East is the exotic “other” whose presence allows us to loathe ourselves in a perpetual inferiority complex, which prompts us to “act out” irrationally from time to time by lopping off another ancient feature that connects us with the East.

Second, in an irony that repeats itself on a regular basis, what the fashionable liturgists say they want is already present in the unreformed (I mean, pre-1962) traditional Mass. They say they want a moment, after the Word and before the Eucharist, in which to express our repentance. The old Mass gives us the Confiteor before communion and the threefold “Domine, non sum dignus...” with the minor absolution from the priest. The old rite, embodying a deep instinct for symmetry, has in that sense two penitential rites: the one prior to receiving the Word, and the one prior to receiving the Word-made-flesh.

The more we ponder the inherited liturgy, the more riches we find in it, and the less we are inclined to tinker with it or accept the tinkering of others, bereft of the fear of God the Father, the love of Christ the High Priest, and the unction of the Holy Spirit. We give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for beginning to deliver His people from the seventy-year Babylonian captivity of liturgical reform (ca. 1948–2018), stretching from Pius XII’s creation of the committee that would produce the neo-Tridentine Holy Week to the year when Ecclesia Dei granted permission to the ICKSP and FSSP to return to the unreformed Holy Week. We are coming full circle at last, and there is no turning back.

(Portions of this article are excerpted from my lecture at St. Mary’s in Norwalk, “Poets, Lovers, Children, Madmen — and Worshipers: Why We Repeat Ourselves in the Liturgy.”)


[1] Needless to say, if it is to serve a corporate purpose, the Confiteor needs to be heard at this point rather than mumbled or muttered into the acolyte's sleeve. No need for loudness; an articulate voice and a reasonable pacing will suffice to make the prayer audible even in a large church. For more thoughts along these lines, see my article "Two Modest Proposals for Improving the Prayerfulness of Low Mass."

Visit for events, articles, sacred music, and classics reprinted by Os Justi Press (e.g., Benson, Scheeben, Parsch, Guardini, Chaignon, Leen).

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Procession and Mass of the Ascension in the Traditional Carmelite Rite in Troy, New York

This coming Thursday, St Joseph’s Church in Troy, New York, which is served by Carmelites of the Ancient Observance, will celebrate the feast of the Ascension in the ancient Carmelite Rite. Before the Mass, a procession will be held with a series of four stations, as proscribed by the Carmelite Missal; similar processions are done on Candlemas, Palm Sunday and the Assumption. The ceremony will begin at 7pm, the church is located at 416 3rd St.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Postconciliar Lectionary at 50: A Detailed Critique

Today is the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the revised Lectionary by the decree Ordo Lectionum of May 25, 1969. As readers of NLM will know from personal experience, this lectionary tends to be hailed as a great -- even the greatest -- success of the liturgical reform. Almost every other aspect of the reform has been criticized, but this piece is assumed to be "good as gold."

Upon more careful examination, however, there are many serious reasons to question the revised Lectionary in its entire conception, its underlying principles, and its specific content. When I came around to writing my talk on the subject for Sacred Liturgia 2015 in New York City, I learned that many authors over the years had made particular criticisms but none (as far as I could ascertain) had offered a thoroughgoing critique. This I attempted to provide, demonstrating how profound a rupture with the Catholic liturgical tradition this lectionary represents, how destabilizing and disunifying it proves to be within the structure and rhythm of the Roman rite, and why the old lectionary of the usus antiquior is, in fact, superior on numerous grounds.

Rorate Caeli obtained permission to publish the full text of this talk, but without its 59 supporting and amplifying footnotes. Here are some excerpts from the talk:
To be sure, there are gains in the new lectionary, such as the splendid selection of prophetic readings for the ferias of Advent, the selection of readings for Paschaltide, and the felicitous pairing of certain Old Testament and New Testament pericopes. Nevertheless, lone voices over the decades have pointed out various problems with it, ranging from the selection, length, and sheer number of readings, to the academic structuring of the cycles, to worrying omissions, to incidental problems that have arisen in practice.
Before examining any particular principle behind the new lectionary, however, there is the more fundamental question of the very purpose or function of the reading of Scripture in the Mass. Is it a moment of instruction for the people, or is it an element of the latreutic worship offered by Christ and His Mystical Body to the Most Holy Trinity?
       It can and should be both, but in a certain order. The Word of God is proclaimed at Mass as part of the spiritual preparation for the sacrifice of our Redeemer and the communion of God and man in the sacrament of His Passion. Because it is the sacrifice of the Mystical Body, head and members, it is also the sacrifice we, as children of the Church militant, offer to God in union with the Church triumphant and on behalf of the Church suffering. Consequently, the lessons have an ecclesial identity, a sacerdotal orientation, and a Eucharistic finality, all of which ought to determine which lessons are the best for their purpose and how they are best to be proclaimed. The readings at Mass are not so much didactic as iconic, pointing the way beyond themselves.
       The goal of liturgy is not to make us familiar with Scripture in the manner of a Bible study or catechism class — which, of course, ought to be taking place at some other time — but to give us the right formation of mind and heart with regard to the realities of our faith so that we may worship God in spirit and in truth. In the traditional rites of East and West, Scripture serves as a support to the liturgical action; it illustrates or magnifies something else that the worship is principally about.
The criteria we have considered in this paper — the function of Scripture in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the internal cohesion of the Mass as an ‘ecosystem’, the psychology of memory, the natural unit of the year, the due place of the sanctoral cycle, the spiritual role of difficult passages, the aesthetic and ceremonial treatment suited to the divine Word, and, not least of all, the authority inherent in traditional practice—permit us to draw a number of general conclusions.
       First, like much else in the liturgical reform conducted under Pope Paul VI, the new lectionary exhibits signs of unseemly haste, overweening ambition, and disregard of principles approved by the council fathers. The Council’s call for “more Scripture” was open to different and even conflicting realizations. The revised lectionary, while it does represent one possible implementation of numbers 35 and 51 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, ends up contradicting outright numbers 23 and 50 of the same Constitution, which enunciate the controlling principle of continuity with tradition as well as the request that elements already present in our tradition be restored. It is worth noting that the bulk of the readings in the preconciliar Missale Romanum represent an inheritance from the early centuries of Catholic worship, a stable body of lessons on which generations of pastors, preachers, theologians, and laity had been nurtured, a tradition deserving of immense respect for its venerable antiquity. It is, to speak plainly, outrageous that this unbroken tradition, which had withstood all the ravages of time, fell victim to the scalpels of liturgical specialists. The result has been an obvious rupture and discontinuity at the very heart of the Roman rite, in spite of legal fictions and constructs necessary to help us through this period of crisis.
       Second, quite apart from whether or not it can be seen as faithful to the Council’s desiderata, the Novus Ordo lectionary is gravely flawed because of its overall conception, its unwieldy bulk, its politically correct omissions, and its watering down of key spiritual goods emphasized in the old readings. No human mind can relate to so great a quantity of biblical text spread out over multiple years: it is out of proportion to the natural cycle of the year and its seasons; it is out of proportion to the supernatural cycle of the liturgical year. The revised lectionary does not lend itself readily to the sacrificial finality of the Mass but, inasmuch as it appears to serve a didactic function, sets up a different goal, quasi-independent of the offering of the Sacrifice. The use of the names “Liturgy of the Word” and “Liturgy of the Eucharist” underlines the problem: it is as if there are two liturgies glued together. They are seldom joined by the obvious connection of being related to one and the same feast, since the new lectionary prefers to ignore the saints in its march through the books of Scripture. Nor has it often been the custom to join the two liturgies by means of ceremonial practices that show the chanting of Scripture to be one phase of the journey towards Jerusalem and the hill of Calvary (cf. Lk 9:51).
Read the whole talk here.

*       *       *

Over the years, I have published a number of other articles on the lectionary. For convenience, here are links to the more substantive ones:

"Not Just More Scripture, But Different Scripture — Comparing the Old and New Lectionaries"

"A Tale of Two Lectionaries: Qualitative versus Quantitative Measures"

"The Omission that Haunts the Church — 1 Corinthians 11:27-29"

"How Typical Lector Praxis Transmits a Pelagian and Protestant Message"

"A Great Example of an Expurgated Reading in the New Lectionary"

"Is Reading More Scripture at Mass Always Better?"

"The New Lectionary and the Catholic Wedding"

Of related interest:

"The Omission of 'Difficult' Psalms and the Spreading-Thin of the Psalter"

Sacred Music in Nigeria and NYC

Two places on opposite sides of the globe, two musicians working for the glory of God and the sanctification of souls through sacred music.

Check out episodes 10 and 11 of Square Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast as we interview Fr. Jude Orakwe—a priest who has built impressive academies in the Archdiocese of Onitsha which educate parishioners in sacred music—and James Wetzel—a fantastic musician who has put together an amazing professional music program, and catechized parishioners in singing the Mass and vespers.
We hope these examples will inspire you to open your heart to what God may be calling you to do for his flock, and to sing His praises, in whatever corner of the world you reside.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Fifty Days of Easter?

I recently had occasion to cite an article by Fr Hunwicke from about four years ago, in which he explains the rationale for many of the changes made to the liturgical texts of the Easter season. “The post-Conciliar reforms made much of Easter being 50 days long and being one single Great Day of Feast. … I wonder just how securely founded in both the Bible and the patristic traditions, of West as well as East, this newly minted view of Eastertide is.” Here I propose to give at least a partial answer, but a short answer would be “Not very.”

“Pentecoste” is the feminine singular of the Greek adjective “fiftieth”, the noun “hemera – day” being understood; it is one of several terms which the Western Church used from very early on in their Greek form (like “diaconus”), without translating it, and it would always have sounded like a foreign word to Latin speakers. The Latin Fathers therefore often explain that the feast is called “Pentecost” because it occurs on the fiftieth day after Easter.

There are also two customs which they solidly agree should not be observed in the whole period from Easter to Pentecost, namely, fasting and kneeling. Just to give two among many possible examples: in his book “On Prayer” (chapter 23), Tertullian writes that “We (Christians)… just as we have received, only on the day of the Lord’s Resurrection ought to guard not only against kneeling, but every posture and office of solicitude (or ‘anxiety’); … and likewise, in the period of Pentecost, which we distinguish by the same solemnity of exultation.” In one of his epistles, St Jerome writes “I do not say that I think one ought to fast on feast days, or that I remove the weekdays covered by the fifty days (i.e., remove them from the number of days without fasting – Ep. 71 ad Lucinium, cap. 6).

Immediately after this, however, Jerome writes “Each province may follow its own inclinations, and the traditions which have been handed down should be regarded as apostolic laws”; this clearly implies an awareness of other customs. The passage from Tertullian is specifically about kneeling; it is too much to generalize from it that the fifty days of Easter were celebrated the same way in every other respect. In any case, we know far too little about the liturgy in the Patristic era to speculate about other customs that may have been common to the whole Paschal season.

St Ambrose gives a brief but far more explicit statement of this idea. “Our elders handed down (tradidere) to us that all fifty days of Pentecost are to be celebrated as days of Easter.” (Exposition of the Gospel of St Luke, 8.25) In this he is followed by St Maximus of Turin, who writes “Your holiness [1] must know, brethren, in what manner we take care (to celebrate) this holy day of Pentecost, and why it is for us a perpetual and continued festivity for the number of these fifty days…” (Homily 61, first on Pentecost.) Maximus’ expression “continuata festivitas” seems to be a popular one to cite in modern scholarly literature.

However, both of them immediately state that the principal manifestation of this is that the Church does not fast between Easter and Pentecost. Ambrose concludes the paragraph by saying “Therefore, for these fifty days the Church knows no fast, as on the Sunday when the Lord rose, and all the days are like Sunday”, at which point he is finished with the topic. Maximus concludes the sentence given above as follows: “so that in the whole season we do not proclaim the observance of any fast, nor do we fall on our knees to pray the Lord….”

Whatever the thoughts of the Church Fathers on the subject, the Roman liturgy historically always articulated a clear difference between Easter with its octave and the rest of the Paschal season. The oldest liturgical books of the Roman Rite agree in calling the period after Low Sunday either “after Easter” or “after the octave of Easter”. Fr Hunwicke rightly notes that they also use the term “clausum Paschae – the close of Easter”, albeit inconsistently, and some of the Sundays of the season are denoted in the Gelasian Sacramentary as “post clausum Paschae” rather than “post octavas Paschae.” Even though Easter night sees the return of Alleluia to the liturgy after nine weeks, the Masses of Easter and its octave retain the use of the Gradual after the Epistle; only on the Saturday of the octave is it replaced by an Alleluia, which continues through the rest of the Paschal season.

The prayers of that same day, and of the next, Low Sunday, which come into the Missal of St Pius V from the tradition of the Gregorian Sacramentary, also clearly refer to the idea that Easter itself is in some sense over. That of Saturday reads “Grant, we ask, Almighty God, that we who have kept (egimus) worshipfully the feasts of Easter, may merit through them to come to eternal joys.”, and that of Low Sunday, “Grant, we ask, almighty God, that we who have completed (or ‘passed through – peregimus’) the Paschal feasts, may, by Thy bounty, keep them in our manners and our life.”

It is true that neither of these collects is found on these days in the older Gelasian Sacramentary. However, those of the five Sundays that follow, none of which makes any reference to Easter, are attested in both the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries in the same order in which we find them in the Missal of St Pius V. As Fr Hunwicke also notes, in order to create a fifty day “continual festivity” in the new rite, all of them had to be changed. That of Low Sunday is moved to the last day before Pentecost, and those of the remaining Sundays are moved to “ordinary time.” The Gregorian prayer for Low Saturday is replaced by a bowdlerized version of the Gelasian one, which makes no reference to Easter being complete. Likewise, the Sundays “after Easter” have been renamed “of Easter”, and like Easter itself, cannot be impeded by any feast.

What makes the forcing of this conceit into the Roman Rite so odd is not merely that so many ancient texts were displaced in order to make the liturgy conform to it. The same Fathers and the same ancient liturgical books, and indeed the entire liturgical tradition of historical Christianity, agree far more strongly and consistently that Pentecost itself is a baptismal feast. In the course of researching this, I found several articles in Italian that cite two words from Tertullian’s On Baptism (chapter 19), “laetissimum spatium – a most joyous period”, in support of the idea that he regarded the whole Paschal season as one great feast. [2] The full sentence, however, is this: “After (Easter), Pentecost is a most joyous period for conferring baptisms; in which also the Lord’s resurrection was repeatedly proved among the disciples, and the grace of the Holy Spirit prepared, the hope of the Lord’s coming indirectly pointed to, since, when He had been received back into the heavens, the Angels told the apostles that He would come, just He had ascended into the heavens; at Pentecost, of course.”

The same is said explicitly by Pope St Siricius (384-399) in a letter to bishop Himerius of Tarragon (Ep. ad Himerium cap. 2 : PL XIII, 1131B-1148A); Pope St Leo I (440-461) also asserts that this was the practice of the Church in a letter to the bishops of Sicily, exhorting them to follow the example of the Apostle Peter, who baptized three thousand persons on Pentecost day. (Epist. XVI ad universos episcopos per Siciliam constitutos: PL LIV, 695B-704A) The so-called Leonine Sacramentary, which predates even the Gelasian, contains a series of prayers “on Pentecost, for those coming up from the font.” In the Gelasian itself, the vigil of Pentecost begins with the rubric “On the vigil of Pentecost, you will celebrate baptism as on the holy night of Easter”, followed by the imposition of hands and exorcism of the catechumens, etc.

Despite the antiquity and universality of this custom, the baptismal character of Pentecost, which has a far better pedigree than the “fifty days” of Easter, was partly expunged by the Holy Week reform of Pius XII, and completely expunged in the post-Conciliar reform.

[1] In their sermons, the Fathers often address the congregation as “Your (plural) Holiness”, “Your charity” etc.
[2] Tertullian’s Latin is generally quite difficult and idiosyncratic, but it would appear that the correct reading is rather “latissimum spatium – a most broad period.”

The 11th-Century Verdun Sacramentary

Among the many precious liturgical manuscripts kept at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France is a sacramentary of the 11th century, originally produced for use at the cathedral of Verdun. Several of the most important feasts are accompanied by an illustration, with an illuminated letter on a violet background for the beginning of the Collect. The use of a whole page for just a letter or two, in an age in which paper and parchment were quite expensive, indicates that the manuscript was a bit of a luxury item. Here are all of its illustrations, and a small selection of the decorative letters, which can be found on basically every page; the entire manuscript can be seen and downloaded for free from the BnF website (Département des manuscrits. Latin 18005.)

Folio 20v, the beginning of the Preface; the decorative ligature of V and D for the words “Vere dignum” was extremely common, and still being used when the first printed Missals were made in the later 15th century.

Folio 21r, the end of the Preface, and the Cross used as the T of “Te” at beginning of the Canon.
Folio 27v, the Nativity.
Folio 28r, a very complex ligature for “Concede”, the first word of the collect for the Third Mass of Christmas. (The other major feasts have a very similar letter or word after the picture.)

Folio 34v, the Epiphany

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Live Broadcast of FSSP Priestly Ordinations Tomorrow

Tomorrow, May 24th, four deacons of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter will be ordained to the priesthood by His Excellency Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, at St Thomas Aquinas Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. For those who cannot be present personally, the ceremony will be broadcast on LiveMass, the Fraternity’s online apostolate, beginning at 10 a.m. Central Time, (11 a.m. Eastern, 8 a.m. Pacific.) You can watch on the LiveMass site ( or download the iMass app. (; once the ceremonies are finished, they are also available to watch on the LiveMass YouTube channel. The ordinandi are Deacons John Killackey, Ralph Oballo, Daniel Powers, and Jesus Valenzuela; please pray for them and all those who be receiving the Sacraments of Holy Order in the coming days and weeks.

A Pilgrimage to Elgin Cathedral in Scotland

Thanks to our friends of the Confraternity of St Ninian, which organizes celebrations of the traditional Mass in Scotland, for this account of their recent pilgrimage to Elgin Cathedral, and the celebration of the traditional Mass within its ruins. (Photos by Maciej Zurawski.)

Last weekend, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass returned to one of Scotland’s most impressive ruined cathedrals for the first time in over four centuries. The Mass, celebrated in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite by Fr Ross Crichton on Saturday, May 18, was sung in the cathedral’s Huntly Aisle and heard by around thirty people, many of whom were participating in the Confraternity of St Ninian’s weekend retreat to nearby Pluscarden Abbey. It is locally understood that no previous celebration of Mass had taken place within the ruin since it was abandoned by the Church during the Reformation c.1560. The cathedral, which was founded in 1224, was one of the most prominent centres of the mediaeval Church in Scotland and its impressive structure was widely famed as the “Lantern of the North.”

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