Friday, January 31, 2020

The Gospel Book of the Royal Chapel at Versailles

Most of the liturgical books which I have featured from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France are of the Medieval or Renaissance periods, but today I came across this Gospel book which was made in 1776, and used at the French royal chapel at Versailles (Département des manuscrits, Latin 8897). No further information about it is given on the BnF website, but almost every page has at least one illustration of some kind; here is a selection of some of the more interesting ones. The French court adopted the Roman Use in 1580, and never took on any of the neo-Gallican reforms, so this book is pure Roman; there is an accompanying Epistle book, which I will post about next week.

“(The book) of Gospels for the use of the royal chapel of Versailles.”
The disturbance of the lights of heaven, after the Gospel of the First Sunday of Advent, Luke 21, 25-33. “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars.”
The end of the Gospel of the Immaculate Conception, which before the new Mass promulgated by Bl. Pope IX in 1867, was the same that of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, Matthew 1, 1-16. This image refers to Her title in the Litany of Loreto, “Foederis arca – Arc of the Covenant.”
Christmas Day
The feast of St Stephen
The feast of St John the Evangelist, with one of his traditional symbols, a serpent rising out of a chalice, at the bottom of the page.

First Vespers of Candlemas in Kansas City, Missouri

Old Saint Patrick Oratory, the Institute of Christ the King’s apostolate in Kansas City, Missouri, will celebrate First Vespers of Candlemas tomorrow evening, beginning at 6:30pm; the Sursum Corda polyphonic ensemble will sing the Magnificat Primi Toni by Cristóbal de Morales (1500-53). The church is located at 806 Cherry Street.

Morales’ Magnificat Primi Toni; how much better to not just hear it, but to pray it in the liturgy for which it was written!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Two Ambrosian Saints

On the Ambrosian calendar, today is the feast of a matron called St Savina. She was born in Milan to the noble family of the Valerii in the 260s, and as an adult, married to a patrician from the nearby town of Laus Pompeia, now called Lodi. She was soon left a widow, and dedicated herself to the works of religion and charity, especially on behalf of the victims of the Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians. In her own house, she secretly buried the martyrs Ss Nabor and Felix, two soldiers of the Theban Legion who were decapitated at Lodi around 300-304. Once the persecution had ceased, in the year 310, she brought their relics to Milan, where they were laid to rest in the chapel of the Valerii. Some years later, after spending her life in vigils and prayers, Savina herself died, and was buried next to the martyrs. In 1798, the relics of all three Saints were translated to the basilica of St Ambrose in Milan; since 1868, they have been kept on the altar of a chapel dedicated to them within the basilica.

A reliquary of St Savina, together with St Bassianus, the first bishop of Lodi.
According to a traditional story, when Savina brought the relics of the martyrs to Milan, she hid them in a barrel. While passing through a place between Lodi and Milan, some soldiers who were guarding the city gates asked what was in it, she told them it was full of honey. The guards insisted on checking inside, and when they opened the barrel, did indeed see nothing but honey, and she was allowed to continue on her way. This place, just over ten miles southeast of Milan, is now called Melegnano, from the Latin word for honey, “mel.”

The previous day is the feast of a martyr of the early 11th century called Aquilinus, who was born to a noble family in Würzburg, Bavaria, and ordained a priest after studying in the cathedral school of Cologne. Shortly thereafter, his parents both died, and he returned home to distribute his inheritance to the poor; when he returned to Cologne, the bishop died, and Aquilinus was unanimously elected to replace him by the cathedral chapter, an honor which he refused (like so many saintly bishops) by fleeing, in this case, to Paris. There he was also elected bishop on account of his evident holiness, and so he fled again, this time to northern Italy, and after passing through Pavia, came to Milan to venerate the relics of St Ambrose, to whom he was greatly devoted.

Aquilinus distinguished himself, in one of the more decadent periods of the Church’s life, in his defense of the Catholic Faith against both the Cathars, and some local form of renascent Arianism. In the year 1015 or 1018, he was attacked by heretics while making his way to the basilica of St Ambrose, stabbed in the throat, and his body thrown into a canal. An old tradition has it that a group of workmen who transported merchandise along the Ticino river between Pavia and Milan found the body, and brought it to the nearby basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore, one of the oldest churches in the city. They were placed in the chapel of St Genesius, which was henceforth named for Aquilinus.

The first attestation of the life of St Aquilinus dates to 1465, when a confraternity named for him was established; his cultus was formally approved by the Holy See in 1469, and his feast appears in the Ambrosian Missal of 1475 on January 29. In 1581, St Charles Borromeo declared him co-patron of the city of Milan, especially to be invoked against the plague. He is traditionally shown dressed as a priest, with a dagger at his throat and the palm of martyrdom in his hand. His remains are now in an urn of silver and rock crystal on top of the altar in which they were formerly buried. Until the 19th century, it was the custom in Milan for movers and transporters to hold a procession in his honor every year on the feast day, in which they would offer candles and a flask of oil for the votive lamp before his relics.

This post is the work of Nicola de’ Grandi, translated by myself.

Dominican Rite Solemn Mass in Oakland, California, Feb. 1

A Solemn Mass in the Dominican Rite will be celebrated at the Western Dominican Province House of Studies, located at St Albert the Great Priory, 6170 Chabot Road in Oakland, California, on February 1, starting at 10:30 a.m. There is ample parking on Chabot Road.

Why AA Works! The Value of Non-Sacramental Confession and House Groups, Part 2: AA and the Methodists

This posting is in two parts. In the first, which appeared on Tuesday, I considered the value of regular detailed confession, both outside and inside the Catholic Church, as evidenced by my own experiences. In this second part, I consider the value of the process of confession in others such as addicts and alcoholics in 12-step fellowships, and alcoholics in England in the 18th century whose reform came through the influence of the spiritual method of John Wesley and the Methodist Church. Then I consider why, given the effectiveness of these personal and lay practices of confession, we Catholics need to go to confession in the church at all, and should Catholics consider creating home groups of the sort seen in protestant churches today?

Confession in AA and the Methodist Church
I know that such an approach to confession is effective because of the transformation in my own life that occurred even before I became a Catholic, and the change in the lives of others who are not part of the Church but undertake a daily review of conscience. For example, I have seen people going through the Vision for You process report dramatic relief and change in their lives as a result of this. Also, I have met others - addicts and their families - who go through a similar process of what is called “moral inventory” in 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and who experience similarly dramatic changes in personality. The AA “moral inventory” process recognizes resentments and fears, and attributes them to self-centered impulses called “defects of character”. The vocabulary may be different, but it is a process of the recognition, repentance, and confession of sins nevertheless. The benefits of the AA process are so profound that the alcoholic or addict stops drinking or taking drugs.

To illustrate, the book Alcoholics Anonymous, the instructional text for the organization published in 1939, says (page 86) that the alcoholic who wishes to recover should do the following:
When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life? But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review we ask God's forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken.
A typical AA meeting with the book, Alcoholics Anonymous in the foreground. The organization does not own venues, but typically hires space weekly which is paid for by the contributions of the members who attend. Many take place in the halls of Catholic churches!
A similar malaise and solution were seen in England in the 18th century, when the country was undergoing an epidemic of alcoholism.

Gin Lane by William Hogarth, English, 1750. The gin house at bottom left has a legend over the door: Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for tuppence, clean straw for nothing.
The influence of the Methodist Church, founded by John Wesley, is credited with stemming this epidemic. It is worth remembering that the Methodist Church of this time still practiced the spiritual “method” for which it was named; Methodists met weekly and were expected to observe weekly repentance, confession, and accountability to each other. According to the Methodist Rule of Band Societies, published in 1738, they met “(t)o speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.”
John Wesley Preaching to Native Americans, 18th-century engraving. 
Given this, why should Catholics go to confession in the church at all? 
These examples of the profound effect of personal and lay confessions raise the question as to why we should bother to participate in the formal Sacrament of Confession offered by the priest at our church? Perhaps it’s not necessary? The Church, of course, tells us that we must at least once a year, but is this always necessary theologically?

I will leave it to the theologians to answer this question precisely, but I offer some thoughts as to the value that I have been aware of. First, I have always felt that the power and effectiveness of personal and lay confessions is due in part to the presence of the Church on earth. At a personal level, participating in the Sacrament reinforces my sense of this, and helps inspire greater clarity and care in looking for sin in myself, and greater contrition. But I think it goes beyond this: regardless of whether or not those involved acknowledge the fact, they are participating in that sacramental process. One AA member who is a friend of mine once told me that he thought that Christ was present in an AA meeting in a special way. Referring to the fact that Jesus told us that whenever two or three gather in his name, He is there also, he thought that Christ was present in a meeting in the same way, except because it was AA, He was anonymous!

This being the case, my participation in the Sacrament does not only benefit me personally; it also helps to maintain the presence of the Sacrament on earth, and thus benefits others as well. This is a sacrificial act by which I participate, as a member of the Church, in the mystical body of Christ, in the work of the restoration of the kingdom, and the creative work of God. I personally am not necessary to this, but I can choose to participate in it for my greater joy.

Another benefit is that while Confession in Church is discreet, in that only confessor and penitent know what is said, it does take place secretly. We line up in church as visible signs of people acknowledging their need for forgiveness. Especially when this was done prior to and during Mass, it that emphasized for me the point that, even with all that I was given by God’s grace prior to being received into the Church, there is a greater joy and happiness available to me by participation the ultimate Sacrament, which is the Eucharist.

One reason why I began to investigate the Church in the first place was the desire for something greater, on seeing people lining up for Confession; the message was transmitted to me that what I had already been given was seen by the Church as mere preparation for something even greater. I understood as a result of my catechesis that I should go to Confession before taking Communion, but the point was made so much more profoundly on the rare occasions that I saw people in lines before the confessional before and during Mass itself. This is the consummation of all that had gone on before.

Creating fellowship and community that directs people to the Church
One of my motivations in writing The Vision for You book was the hope that it might inspire lay groups to take the exercises in the context of groups of the sort that has already been proven to change society - as evidenced by the 18th-century Methodist Church and 12-step fellowships. It is written so as to connect explicitly such spiritual exercises, which offer community and fellowship and a life-changing encounter with God, to the Sacraments of the Church. Why not replicate this in such a way that engages people from all backgrounds, which primes them psychologically for reception into the Church?

Home groups of lay people are common in Protestant churches, but don’t seem to occur in Catholic groups, which seem to rely on the presence of the priest for everything. How much more profound would the effect on society be if we could offer such groups that are more connected to the life of the Church! I have tried to create such a group in my own home. My small group meets at my house regularly to sing Choral Evensong, in accordance with the form used by the Ordinariate, and to discuss the practice of the Vision for You process. It is attended regularly by people of a variety of backgrounds. We have one who does not attend church regularly, a Southern Baptist, an Anglican, several Presbyterians and myself, the only Catholic. I have invited them to attend my church as a result of this contact and so far, some have dipped their toes into the vivifying Catholic water, so to speak. They know why I invite them, and I always try to do so in a way that makes it easy to say no so they don’t feel pressured.

When the Catholic Church makes apparent that it gives us what we desire, through signs - the images, the liturgical practice, the music - that speaks to our desire for a union with God that all people feel, then we can see something more powerful and dramatic than either the change in British society in the 18th century or in addicts today. This is driven by a mystery that all these component parts direct us to if we wish to make them apparent. They speak of a profound unity that is the fulfillment of our faith. We are part of a unity that is from above and is closer and more intimate than any fellowship of man, but certainly does not exclude such fellowship . It is the mystic unity of the Holy Trinity, which we are admitted to by the Eucharist, and which illuminates all aspects of fellowship and unity that it transcends.
Tents house the homeless in Portland, Oregon; the modern version of 18th-century London’s Gin Lane? If it is true, as often claimed, that many of these people are homeless because they are mentally ill or addicts, perhaps the answer to this problem is as likely to be spiritual as it is social or political? Unfortunately, outreach projects, even by churches, have policies of avoiding offering any sort of spiritual guidance.
People must see Jesus if they are to choose Him

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Relics of St Francis de Sales

Today is the EF feast day of St Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, and Doctor of the Church. He died in 1622 on the feast of the Holy Innocents; when he was beatifed 40 years later, his feast was assigned to January 29th, the first free day on the calendar after his death. Bl. Pius IX declared him to be a Doctor of the Church, and Pius XI named him the patron Saint of journalists. In the post-Conciliar reform, his feast was moved to January 24th. Both of his feast days are also reported, depending on the source, as that of the translation of his relics from the place of his death, Lyon, to the convent in Annecy of the Visitandine Order, which he had founded together with his spiritual daughter, St Jeanne Françoise Frémiot, the Baroness de Chantal.

Our friend Fr Adrian Hilton of the Cincinnati Oratory very kindly sent us these photos of relics of St Francis from his private collection. The first is a reliquary which contains a first class relic of him, together with Ss Philip Neri, Camillus de Lellis, Nicholas of Bari, Alexius, and Donatus. The other three are letters from St Francis to St Jeanne Françoise, whom he addresses as “my dear daughter.” The last one concludes with the salutation “May He (i.e. the Lord) always live and reign in our hearts.” Amen!

Announcing the 2020 Sacred Liturgy Conference, June 9-12, in Spokane, WA

In this day and age, to have a successful liturgical conference is already a great accomplishment; but to be announcing the eighth annual occurrence of it is something to boast about!

The Sacred Liturgy Conference has taken place at various locations in the Pacific Northwest for the past seven summers, under the auspices of the Schola Cantus Angelorum. This year, it will be held June 9-12 in Spokane, Washington, once again on the campus of Gonzaga University, St Aloysius Catholic Church, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, where it was successfully hosted last year.

This year’s theme is “Incarnation in the Eucharist.” His Eminence Gerhard Cardinal Müller will give the keynote address, and will celebrate the Pontifical Mass of Corpus Christi, with Eucharistic Procession, and Benediction at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Other distinguished faculty members include:
  • Rev. Cassian Folsom, OSB
  • Dom Alcuin Reid
  • Dr. John Haas
  • Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God, OSB
  • Rev. Pius Pietrzyk, OP
  • Rev. Gabriel Mosher, OP
  • Dr. Anthony Clark
  • Dr. Kevin Clarke
  • Dr. Ed Schaefer
  • Rev. Theodore Lange
  • Lucas Viar
  • Alex Begin
  • Doug Schneider
The Sacred Liturgy Conference is the largest liturgical conference in North America, with participants coming from all over the world. Its mission is to enrich knowledge and understanding of the liturgy so that Catholics may participate ever more deeply in the sacrificial offering of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Mass. The 2020 faculty will illuminate the Incarnation as inseparable from the Cross, Resurrection, and the Holy Eucharist. The four Masses will be celebrated in the two forms of the Roman Rite and in the Dominican Rite, with the sacred music prescribed by the Church.

To find out more specifics about the schedule, accommodations, and how to register for the conference, go to You may also call (503) 558-5123 or email An “Early Bird Special” rate is available through March 1, 2020.

A video about this year’s conference:

Last week, Dr. Tom Curran of My Catholic Faith Ministries interviewed Dr. Lynne Bissonnette, executive director of the Sacred Liturgy Conference, to discuss the origins of the conference, the gift of the Sacred Liturgy and the Incarnation. Later in the program, Tom explores the different rites of the Mass and the stewardship of perpetual Adoration. The audio may be accessed or downloaded here.

MOGA (Make Octaves Great Again): Photos from the Christmas Octave of Solemn Masses in St. Louis

As Candlemas approaches, and the final days of the Christmas season slip away, let’s look back on a unique liturgical event that took place this Christmas in St. Louis. Below is a brief account from one of the members of the Schola of St. Hugh.

It all started with a conversation between two seminarians last summer. Both St. Louis natives, these friends met for dinner and pondered the upcoming academic year. One of them, who has a devotion to St. Stephen, mentioned how great it would be if they could assist together at a Solemn Mass in honor of his Saint’s feast day on December 26th. Better yet… Why not have Solemn Masses for the entire Christmas Octave?

Thus, the plan for a Solemn Christmas Octave in St. Louis — lovingly nicknamed MOGA (Make Octaves Great Again) — was born.

While these seminarians studied during the fall, a lay friend of theirs kept the idea alive. He worked with the rector of the Oratory of Ss. Gregory and Augustine to schedule Masses at the oratory for each of the Octave days. Things escalated during Advent with a flurry of choir rehearsals, clergy training, server training, and volleys of emails to keep everyone informed.

St Luke’s Church in St. Louis Missouri, home of the Oratory of Saints Gregory and Augustine.
Finally, the beautiful midnight Mass of Christmas arrived, and it was followed by seven glorious Solemn Masses. Throughout the Octave, various clergy from across the archdiocese ministered to over 1000 lay faithful who assisted at these Masses. Many of the lay faithful commented on how the solemn liturgies deeply moved them and drew them into the mysteries of Christmas. Some of the lay faithful even made it a point to come to every one of the Octave Masses.

Feast of St Stephen
The oratory’s regular choir collaborated with the Schola of St. Hugh, a small task force of musicians from both the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Bellville diocese, to provide polyphony, organ fanfares, and chant. Some of their musical selections included Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium, Palestrina’s Alma Redemptoris Mater, and the rarely heard chant settings III and V from the Kyriale.

Some readers may ask if a solemn octave was really necessary and assert that Low Masses are perfectly acceptable. To understand what motivated the participants of the Solemn Octave, one must first recall that divine worship is the supreme act of religion, which is the highest of all moral virtues and a part of justice (Summa theologiae, q. 81, aa. 5-6). A thirst for justice leads to the desire to worship God with the greatest possible solemnity.

The Church needs an abundance of solemn liturgies because the Church needs justice. She needs priests, deacons, subdeacons, masters of ceremonies, processions, incense, chant, and the rich rubrics of the solemn liturgies because it is in these that She praises God with worship par excellence. If a lack of ministers and choristers precludes a Solemn Mass or at least a Sung Mass, then a Low Mass is good and, of course, always a great blessing. But when clergy and gifted musicians find themselves spurred on by a hunger to give their utmost in divine worship, then this inspiration should not go unheeded.

The organizers of the Solemn Christmas Octave were grateful to pay court to their newborn King and, according to their abilities, render Him His due. The Solemn Christmas Octave was the occasion of many graces, and plans are already underway for a Solemn Easter Octave in St. Louis.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Processions for St Agatha in Catania, Sicily

In the days leading up to the feast of St Agatha on February 5th, the Sicilian city of Catania, which honors her as a native daughter and heavenly Patron, holds a series of processions in which her relics are brought to various sites. One relic in particular, her veil, is an object of special devotion there; the Benedictus antiphon of her Office mentions the traditional story that it was once brought by a group of pagans to the place where a lava flow from nearby Mt Etna threatened the city, and stopped it. On the last Saturday of January, it is taken to the Collegiate Church of St Maria dell’Elemosina, and then on the following day, the provost and chapter bring it to the cathedral. Our thanks to Mr Piersanti Serrano for these photos; two videos of the ceremonies are included below.


Why AA Works! The Value of Daily Non-Sacramental Confession and House Groups, Part 1: Avoiding Scrupulosity

This posting is in two parts. In this first one, I consider the value of regular detailed confession both outside and inside the Catholic Church as evidenced by my own experiences. In the second part, which will appear on Thursday, I consider the value of the process of confession for others, such as addicts and alcoholics in 12-step fellowships, and alcoholics in England in the 18th century whose reform came through tthe spiritual method of John Wesley and the Methodist Church. Then I consider why, given the effectiveness of these personal and lay practices of confession, we Catholics need to go to confession in the church at all, and whether Catholics should consider creating home groups of the sort seen in protestant churches today.
Bill Wilson and Bob Smith were Protestants who founded Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s. Under their inspiration, thousands of gatherings take place weekly in which a program that contains a systematic approach to confession allows alcoholics to recover from their addiction.
I began a process of daily examination of conscience long before I became Catholic and made my first confession to a priest. I did this as part of a series of spiritual exercises given to me by a Catholic layman, which are described in my book The Vision for You, and the sense of freedom it gave me was dramatic. As I result, I came to the point where I couldn’t imagine a happy life without incorporating such a process into my life.

In light of this positive experience, the insistence upon the need for confession was one of my main reasons for later becoming Catholic. There were a number of other reasons, but the most important was not one of them; only after becoming Catholic did I come to understand that it is the worship of the Father, through the Son in the Spirit that crystallizes what the Church is and my part in it, and that this is what opens the door to the fullness of joy available to me as a Catholic. The gradual realization of this came in part through my experience of being a worshipping Catholic, and partly through continued reading and study of what the Faith is. However, it was my appreciation of the value of this lesser sacrament that it became a sign of a hierarchy of sacraments, of which the pinnacle is the Eucharist.

I reflected recently on just how much the Sacrament of Reconciliation was a sign that directed me to the Sacrament of Sacraments when I was asked questions about the value of a daily personal review of conscience. These questions came from Catholics who are already participating in the Sacrament on a regular basis, and are going through The Vision for You process. Many heard about it after I gave a series of presentations on the VfY spiritual exercises for the Institute of Catholic Culture, and were worried that a daily review of conscience might encourage scrupulosity. This worry about scrupulosity typically seems to arise from two aspects of the Vision for You spiritual exercise in particular.

The first is that it guides us to look at our consciences in such great detail. If I am going to analyze every minor feeling of guilt and unhappiness and attribute them to sin, then the worry is that searching for them unearths and magnifies these things unduly, and I spend my life preoccupied with minor emotions unnecessarily.

The second is that by ascribing all unhappiness to sin, as the Vision for You spiritual exercises do, it seems to be saying that we are to be blamed for our own unhappiness. Surely, people respond, I can’t help being unhappy? This seems to be a double whammy, they would say: not only am I unhappy, but it seems to be telling me that my unhappiness is my fault, which makes me feel guilty for being unhappy. This just serves to intensify my unhappiness even more.

As Catholics we are required to go to the Sacrament of Confession a minimum of once a year, but how necessary is it theologically and what is the relation of the sacrament to personal and lay confessions?
My experience with this process is that it does not encourage scrupulosity at all, but gives greater freedom and greater happiness. I will deal with these points one at a time in explaining why I think this has been the case for me, and so can be for others too.

1. A daily and detailed examination of conscience
One of the luxuries of the VfY process is the ability to address the minor sins as well as the major ones. I would say that, provided that the sins we highlight are true, acknowledging them and asking for forgiveness is a good thing, which gives us a clearer conscience and a closer relationship with God. Other things being equal, this increases happiness and holiness.

The danger for me is not when I confess such sins, but when I do so with a lack of faith in God’s love and mercy. It is almost impossible for me to fully grasp what infinite love and mercy can be like. The tendency, as a fallen person, therefore, is to create a false God in my own image. Just as I struggle to forgive others, I start to doubt that God forgives me. To overcome this doubt, I might start to assume that forgiveness depends upon the quality of my confession in a false, perhaps even neurotic way. This has led at times to my anxiously presenting the same sin in several different ways or in unnecessary detail, so as to ensure forgiveness by making sure nothing is left out. This is tantamount to my trying to manipulate God, or the priest into forgiving me through the sheer effort and care I put into a confession.

I realize now that this is not necessary. I only have to do my best to explain the nature of it briefly and succinctly, and God will forgive me if I am sincere. When I do my daily examination of conscience at home, I try to make each request for forgiveness brief, to the point, and done once. Then I draw a line under each item and move on. To be preoccupied with my sins afterward only serves to increase my self-centeredness and to separate me from God. This is the hope of the devil who wants to reduce my capacity to serve God and others happily.

The Good Shepherd, wall painting from the catacombs, c200AD
With this in mind, I thought you might be interested in a letter from my pastor encouraging us to Confession and what he was expecting from us. This is a Melkite Catholic church:
Dear St. Elias Faithful,

With the new year before us and all of us trying to clean up and have a fresh start, we should also have a desire to cleanse our souls and have a fresh start spiritually through the reception of the Holy Mystery of Reconciliation. This is a wonderful Mystery (Sacrament) and goes by different names: Confession, Penance, Reconciliation. I like the last one since it best describes this Mystery, but whatever the case, it is important to understand what it does. It is, in essence, a restoration of our baptismal grace and thus a reconciliation of our relationship with God.
Have you ever wished you could be re-baptized and start all over again? Well, this is what this Mystery provides, a renewal of God’s life-giving life within us. Some of you are in the habit of receiving this Mystery weekly. This is excellent. But if you are unable, due to time, you should at least come once a month, and as an absolute minimum, once a year! If you haven’t been for a few years then it's time to get washed and clean things up!
I always try to provide an opportunty for this Mystery before the Divine Liturgy each Sunday. So if you would like to receive it, try to come at least a half-hour before. That will help ensure that you have a chance. Sometimes the lines can be quite long so don't wait until the last minute. But if you miss that chance then let me know when you receive the antidoron (bread after Divine Liturgy) and I’ll make sure to stay in the church afterward for you. When you do come up for the Mystery, I will be standing just to the left of the cross. I leave the space in front of the cross open for you. Come right up and stand next to me while facing the cross. When you come I will immediately begin praying with you the penitent's prayer: “O God be propitious to me a sinner and have mercy on me.” Together, we will say this three times with bows while making the sign of the cross. I am saying this with you as a fellow sinner. So this is a prayer you should be saying as well.
Next, I will bless you making the sign of the cross over your head and say, “Have you asked Jesus for the forgiveness of any sins you may have committed.” The hoped-for response is, “Yes,” since before you come to this Mystery you should have already asked God for forgiveness of whatever sins you have on your conscience.
I will then ask, “Are there any sins you feel you need to confess at this time?” I am saying this because, while we all have many sins that we deal with on a regular basis, there are usually some that stand out and it is for these reasons that you are probably coming for reconciliation. So, the answer would be, “Yes, I........etc.” This is when you explain to me the more significant things with which you are struggling. There is no need to get into major details but just enough for me to understand some of the issues so that I can offer some help. But the basic principle regarding details here is: less is better. I’ll ask if I need to know more.
I will then attempt to give you some recommendations, maybe it is some advice about the issues, maybe it is a Scripture passage to read, or maybe it is about improving your fasting as a way to increase your willpower to resist temptation. After I have given you the recommendations, then I will say, “Now bow down your head and pray for God's blessing.”
You then bow toward the cross and I will put my epitrachelion (stole) over your head and say, depending on time, a long or short variation of the following prayer, “As God, through the hand of Nathan the prophet, forgave David when he confessed his sins, so may the same God, through the hand of me a sinner, forgive you all the sins which you have confessed in this life and in the world to come and cause you to stand uncondemned before his awesome judgment seat.”
I will then make the sign of the cross over your head and remove the epitrachelion saying, “Now having no further care for the sins which you have confessed, depart in peace.” At this point, it is traditional to kiss the cross on the epitrachelion and then the hand of the priest and embrace as a sign of your reconciliation to God. As you depart I will ask you to pray for me. Please remember to do so since I also am a sinner!
I recommend starting out this year with the Holy Mystery of Reconciliation. You never know when it will be your last year to do so.
May God grant you a happy, healthy, and HOLY New Year!
In Christ,
2. Unhappiness is caused by sin
One of the great blessings of the VfY spiritual exercises is to be able to analyze all my unhappiness and to see that it arises from my sinful tendencies. In my experience, every unhappy thought can be attributed to a selfish response to events around me. This can be manifested as resentment about past events, in the form of anger, irritation, annoyance against others, and guilt, remorse, and shame about my own past actions and thoughts. Or in fear and anxiety, which occur when we anticipate that something unpleasant will happen in the future. Such fear and anxiety can be attributed to the same self-centered impulses.
The Penitent St Peter, by Jose Ribera, Spanish, 17th century. 
Many who go through the Vision for You process say to me that while they acknowledge these reactions and see that they arise from self-centeredness, they say also such reactions are not voluntary, and so they feel that it is somehow unjust to call them sins. This arises from a misunderstanding, which I once held also, that all sin arises from voluntary actions. In fact, sin is any disruption to our relationship with God and can be voluntary or involuntary. If we accept that happiness arises from a union with God, then we must accept that unhappiness arises from separation from God and therefore that sin, defined as any rupture to our relationship with God, is the cause of all unhappiness. While it is vital to acknowledge willful acts of sin, many of our sins are involuntary too - they are instinctive and self-centered reactions to events around us.

In this sense, we are like sheep who stray from the flock and so the watchful eye of its shepherd. No shepherd blames such a sheep for being disobedient or blameworthy, but that doesn’t save it from danger. As the desire for greener pastures causes the sheep to drift away from safety, concupiscence causes our drift from God. When we recognize this and ask for mercy from sins voluntary, involuntary, known and unknown, reconciliation with the Good Shepherd is always given.

This is part of the tradition of the Church. For example, the Estonian theologian, Fr Alexander Schmemann (d.1983) describes in his book Of Water and the Spirit - A Liturgical Study of Baptism the prayers for the mother of a newborn child in the Orthodox liturgical rite of the first day. The second prayer has the words,
…show mercy also upon this Thy servant, who today has borne this child; and forgive her sins, both voluntary and involuntary and preserve her from every oppression of the Devil.
Eastern Christians, I am told, habitually thank God for all of His blessings, both known and unknown, and for the forgiveness of all of sins, known and unknown, voluntary and involuntary. I am not aware of this happening in the Roman Church in the same way, (but am happy to be told otherwise).

As with all sin, we have not harmed a God who can never be harmed, but we have harmed ourselves by damaging our relationship with Him. Many times we are doing things that are destructive to that relationship but don't actually realize it. The requests for forgiveness are a request for reconciliation with God. When thought of in this way, the unhappiness we feel is a sign that tells us that we are drifting away from God, and so we should be grateful for it as much as the release from the unhappiness that occurs with reconciliation. The need for forgiveness reflects the fact that harm has been done, but not whether or not that harm was caused voluntarily or involuntarily.

What a blessing it is to be aware of this and to be reconciled with God as a result.

Part Two on Thursday....
Megachurches build community by breaking up into many home groups that meet during the week and provide opportunities for confession and fellowship in the manner of the old Methodists, perhaps this is a model that Catholic parishes should encourage. I discuss this next week.

Monday, January 27, 2020

In Defense of Side Altars

Side altars in a splendid German neo-Baroque church: St. Anna in Altötting (built 1910-12)
A reader of NLM wrote to me:
I attended a conference in Rome in which a respected liturgist gave a talk about church art. He criticized the phenomenon of “side altars” as a deviation from early Christian practice. I’m not sure if there’s something online that defends not only private Masses for priests but also the architectural phenomenon of side altars, and why, further to that, it is okay for different Masses to be happening simultaneously in one church — say, the parish Mass and a priest’s (or priests’) private Masses.
The critique of side altars is, like so much else, an expression of unsophisticated antiquarianism and misplaced Byzantinophilia.

It is true that the Christian East has held on tightly (as they have done with so many features of worship) to the original architectural plan of a sanctuary centered on a single altar, which signifies Christ, the one and only High Priest and Mediator between God and Man. This is why the altar is dedicated and anointed, and later, kissed and incensed. Liturgy is celebrated solemnly in song once a day at this altar.

The symbolism is magnificent, yes, but it is not exhaustive of the possibilities of the cult of the saints and devotional liturgy, which were to develop prodigiously in the West. In the first millennium, side altars developed as a way to house the relics of the saints. Most side altars, even to this day, are associated with a particular saint or devotion, while the high altar retains an obvious primacy, prominence, and centrality for the solemn conventual Mass. As Enrico Finotti comments:
The side altar keeps its liturgical function intact and it is rather harmful to transmit to the faithful the idea that the emergence of the side altars is the sign of a decadent and incorrect phase of liturgical development. The side altars celebrate with amazing artistic expressions the wonderful fruits of the only Sacrifice of Christ: the Saints and their works. Their memory, erected in connection with the altar, affirms that from the Sacrifice of Christ they received the grace of their holiness and the efficacy of their witness. Wanting to deprive such monuments of the table [i.e., the mensa for offering Mass] is to disrupt them theologically from their divine source. The multiplicity of the side altars is the visual manifestation of the infinite prism of the fruits of the one Altar and of the only Sacrifice, Christ Jesus. This is why the side altars cannot be “museified,” but must remain “alive” with all their own signs, open to the exercise of their liturgical function.
In the West, with the general absence of concelebration, and with the proliferation of monastic and cathedral clergy, the custom arose of priests offering their own daily low Mass, a Missa lecta or Missa recitata or Missa privata — as still occurs in a number of traditional religious and clerical communities today. Therefore, quite apart from the cult of the saints, which requires suitably beautiful repositories for their relics, the essential defense of side altars rests on the legitimacy in itself, and the value for the Church, of the priest’s daily, individual, “devotional” offering of the Mass, over against the postconciliar imposition of the alien custom of concelebration in a feeble imitation of the East.[1]

Nor should it cause any surprise to recall that the claim that there should only be one altar in each church was specifically condemned by Pope Pius VI in the Bull Auctorem Fidei as one of the numerous errors of the Synod of Pistoia:
Propositio Synodi enuntians, conveniens esse, pro divinorum officiorum ordine et antiqua consuetudine, ut in unoquoque templo unum tantum sit altare, sibique adeo placere morem illum restituere: temeraria, perantiquo, pio, multis abhinc saeculis in Ecclesia, praesertim Latina, vigenti et probato mori iniuriosa.
       [The proposition of the synod enunciating that it is fitting, in accordance with the order of divine services and ancient custom, that there be only one altar in each church and, therefore, that it is pleased to restore that custom: rash, injurious to the very ancient pious custom flourishing and approved for these many centuries in the Church, especially in the Latin Church.] (Denzinger 2631)
In response to the reader’s question, let me mention that the definitive study has been written by the Carmelite priest Joseph de Sainte-Marie, OCD, The Holy Eucharist—The World’s Salvation. Studies on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, its Celebration, and its Concelebration (reviewed here). I have defended the fittingness of the daily private Mass in chapter 10 of my book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (“The Loss of Graces: Private Masses and Concelebration”) and in two articles at NLM (“Celebration vs. Concelebration: Theological Considerations” and “The Mounting Threat of Coercive Concelebration”). Dr. Joseph Shaw has also made a contribution on this topic (“What Are Side Chapels For?”).

Once one admits the legitimacy of a priest offering his Mass each morning (when not otherwise engaged for public Mass), the existence of side altars is basically unavoidable, for the clergy cannot be reasonably accommodated otherwise.

In the monastery . . . 
. . . and during retreats or workshops . . .
. . . and at times of pilgrimage or international events.
From a symbolic point of view, it may not seem appropriate to have many priests offering many Masses at many altars in a church, as if this detracts from the unity of Christ, His priesthood, and His sacrifice. On the other hand, since symbolism cuts many ways, a counterargument can be made that the many offerings symbolize the multiplication of Christ’s priestly power in His ministers and into His Mystical Body, which has many members, all of which, being persons, are temples of the Holy Spirit. The very fact that the one all-sufficient sacrifice is renewed unbloodily at many altars glorifies and exalts the priestly power of Christ, who sanctifies all places and all times, giving rise to many springs from one reservoir, gathering all streams together in a measureless ocean. Moreover, it emphasizes the subordinate nature of the ministers and of the liturgy as compared with the one Mediator Himself and His heavenly self-offering “beyond the veil” in the true Holy of Holies. In other words, as we can see to be typical of Western liturgy, it both welcomes Christ into our midst and emphasizes, in obvious and subtle ways, the distance between the earthly realm and the heavenly kingdom, unlike the Eastern liturgy which tends to see the earthly liturgy as a direct reflection of and immediate participation in the heavenly kingdom.

I do not want to overemphasize this contrast, as one can find features of the Eastern liturgy that deeply express man’s fallen condition and his exile from heaven, just as there are aspects of the Western liturgy that symbolize or enact the union of earth with heaven (most notably, the “Supplices te rogamus” of the Roman Canon). We also find Sacrosanctum Concilium giving prominence to this point, in a paragraph that would become all but unintelligible in the wake of the Consilium’s reform:
In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle; we sing a hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory. (n. 8)
Two, then, can play this game of symbolism. A symbolic argument will never, by itself, be sufficiently determinate to decide between two conflicting practices. One has to justify any liturgical practice based on theological, spiritual, pastoral, and aesthetic arguments — not simply on the basis of archaic practice or Eastern practice or a modern penchant for simplicity, which usually comes out as horizontal, democratic, undifferentiated, and plain, when not ugly.

As for side altars, we may well say: in the East, anathema sit; in the West, “multiply and fill the earth.”

Stift Wilten (Norbertine) in Innsbruck
St. Gallus, Bregenz (h/t Fr Jerabek)


[1] Additionally to the question of relics, there is another major motivator for the creation of side-altars, which really takes off in the age of the canons regular (who emerge as a major force within the Church in the 12th century) and the mendicants (13th century): since they were largely an urban phenomenon, and did not have stable foundations based on owning land, as monks did, canons regular and mendicants had to provide for themselves from their apostolic works; as St Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:18, “the worker is worthy of his wage.” Within a large house of (e.g.) Dominicans like Santa Maria Novella in Florence, each side-altar was privately owned by a family, who paid for everything, including all the accoutrements necessary for saying Mass, and the priest’s salary. All the Masses were therefore said for that family’s intentions. This was one of the things that made the apostolic ministry of such communities possible, and in addition, gave us a lot of really amazing art, since the families that could afford their own chapel could generally also afford to hire the best artists to decorate it.

Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s website for articles, sacred music, and classics reprinted by Os Justi Press (e.g., Newman, Benson, Scheeben, Parsch, Guardini, Chaignon, Leen, Roguet, Croegaert), his SoundCloud page for lectures and interviews, and his YouTube channel for talks and sacred music.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: