Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Blessing of Palms in the Reforms of 1955 and 1969

This article is the third in an ongoing series about the theology of the various forms of the rites of Palm Sunday; the previous parts may be read here: part 1, part 2. Because the blessing in both of the modern reforms is so short, and they are so similar to each other, they are here combined into a single article. The procession will be covered in the next two articles in the series, followed by the discussion of the Mass.

In my 2017 series on the theology of the Good Friday ceremonies, I described how the rite informally known as the Mass of the Presanctified deliberately imitates the rite of the Mass, and how the reform promulgated in 1955 goes to extreme lengths to divorce it from the rite of Mass. I also explained some of the ways in which the post-Conciliar reform undid this. A similar process is seen in the changes made to the blessing of the palms in 1955 and 1969.

The blessing of the palms at Mary, Help of Christians in Hong Kong; from our first Palm Sunday photopost of 2014.
The 1955 reform retains four elements from the traditional blessing: the opening chant, the blessing, which is effected with one prayer rather than five, the distribution of the palms accompanied by antiphons, and the Gospel, in that order. There is no longer any hint of the imitation of the rite of Mass, which is the particular characteristic of the traditional version.

The one prayer of blessing which was kept, the fifth in the older version, is the only one among the original five which refers only to Palm Sunday. “Bless, we beseech Thee, o Lord, these branches of palms, and grant that what Thy people do today bodily in veneration of Thee, they may perfect spiritually with the highest devotion, by gaining victory over the enemy, and ardently loving the work of mercy.” All of the other textual elements (Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Secret, Preface, Sanctus, the first four of the five prayers of the blessing, and the two final prayers) are removed, and with them, all of the references to the other days of Holy Week, and to the Passion and the Resurrection.

The older version of the blessing was clearly designed as part of a thematic unity that included the whole of Holy Week and Easter, a unity which begins with the exclusively Roman custom of reading the Passion on Palm Sunday. The new version is isolated as a completely separate ceremony from the Mass that follows it, and from the rest of Holy Week, not only on a textual level, as described above, but also on the ritual level.

The blessing is now done in red, a color which is used in no other part of Holy Week, while the Mass remains in violet. It is done not at the altar like a Mass, but at a table which is set in the middle of the sanctuary, in such a way that the celebrant faces the people. (This is also, incidentally, the point at which versus populum worship, conceived as such, was first introduced into the Roman Rite.) The branches can also be held by the faithful in their hands from the beginning of the ceremony. In this case, they are not blessed at the altar, and do not come to the faithful from the altar, or even from the sanctuary; the priest does still sprinkle them with holy water and incense them, either from the entrance to the sanctuary, or by passing through the church. Otherwise, they are distributed to the faithful as previously. The Gospel is then sung, with all of the normal ceremonies of the Mass, except that the celebrant is not incensed, and the blessing is thus finished.

Since the two antiphons which are sung at the distribution of the palms, Pueri Hebraeorum, portantes ramos and Pueri Hebraeorum vestimenta prosternebant, are quite short, and the distribution itself may be quite long, the Missal of St Pius V specifies that they may be repeated until it is finished. It was also customary, but informally so, to sing them with verses of the Psalms, as may also be done with the Communions at Mass. In the 1955 reform, this custom is formalized by the addition of part of Psalm 23 (vss. 1-2 and 7-10) to the former, and Psalm 46 to the latter, and indications where to repeat the antiphon. In both cases, the doxology is also added, contrary to the principle that it is not said in the Masses of Passiontide.

The blessing of the palms at the church of St Monica in Edmond, Oklahoma; from our first Palm Sunday photopost of 2016.
In the post-Conciliar reform, the blessing of the palms is essentially the same as that of the 1955 reform, but like everything else, blighted by a series of poorly conceived options. The most notable alteration is that the branches are no longer distributed at all, but held by the faithful from the beginning. [8] (The chants which formerly accompanied the distribution are now assigned to the procession.) The color of the vestments is still red, but that of the Palm Sunday Mass has been changed to red. This restoration of an important sign of unity between the two parts of the ceremony is taken to a silly extreme by making the use of a cope at the blessing optional; the celebrant may wear a chasuble instead. [9]

The opening chant Hosanna filio David is kept, but may be replaced “by another suitable chant”, in accordance with one of the deadliest rubrics in the modern rite. The priest then begins the ceremony as he begins the Mass, with “In the name of the Father…”, one of the formulae of greeting, and a brief “monitio” (reminding, admonition) “by which the faithful are invited to actively and consciously participate in the celebration of this day.” This introduction is not repeated for the beginning of the Mass proper, which also serves to reunify the two parts of the ceremony.

The Missal provides a set text for the “monitio”, which is accompanied, as always, by the spoken-word version of the same deadly rubric: “in these or similar words.” However, the set text itself reintroduces a principle that had been eliminated by the 1955 reform, namely, that the rites of Holy Week form a unity, and that the Palm Sunday ceremony is part of the commemoration of the Lord’s Passion. “(T)oday we are gathered, so that with the whole Church, we may keep the prelude of Our Lord’s Paschal mystery, namely, His Passion and Resurrection, for the fulfillment of which, He entered His city, Jerusalem. … let us follow the Lord, that being made partakers of His Cross through grace, we may share in (His) Resurrection and life.”

There are two prayers for the actual blessing, neither of which is the one prayer retained by the 1955 reform. The first one contains the words “sanctify these branches with Thy blessing”, and the cross that tells the priest to make the sign of the Cross over them. The second prayer is a bowdlerization of the prayer that stands in the place of the Secret in the traditional blessing; in accordance with one of the worst conceits of the post-Conciliar reform of blessings, it does not actually bless anything. (The words in italics here are omitted from the previous version).

“Increase the faith of them that hope in Thee, o God, and mercifully hear the prayers of Thy suppliants; let Thy manifold mercy come upon us: let these branches of palms or olive trees be blessed; and as in a figure of the Church, Thou didst multiply Noah going forth from the ark, and Moses going out of Egypt with the children of Israel; so that we who today show these branches to Christ in His triumph, may bring to Thee in Him the fruits of good works. (original: so that we who go forth to meet Christ with good works, bearing palms and olive branches); and through Him enter into everlasting joy.”

The branches are then sprinkled with holy water; for no discernible reason, incense is no longer used. The Gospel is then sung. In year A, the traditional Gospel of St Matthew, 21, 1-9, has been lengthened by two verses; in year B, a choice is made between St Mark (11, 1-10) and St John (12, 12-16), in year C, it is from St Luke, 19, 28-40.

Notes (continuing the numeration from the previous posts):

[8] Thanks to one of our readers, Jehan-Sosthènes Boutte, for pointing out that the option to distribute the branches to “the concelebrants, ministers and some of the faithful” remains in the 1984 Caerimoniale Episcoporum (268), even though it is not mentioned in the most recent edition of the Missal.

[9] The rubric is in fact stated in such a way that the chasuble seems to be the preferred option. “The priest and deacon, wearing the red sacred vestments required for the Mass, … In place of the chasuble, the priest can wear a cope…”

An Update on the Restoration of Shrewsbury Cathedral

At the beginning of this month, we published some pictures of the newly begun restoration project of the cathedral of Our Lady, Help of Christians and St Peter Alcantara in Shrewsbury, England. We are happy to share this update from Fr Edmund Montgomery, the cathedral administrator; as you can see, a lot of progress has been made in less than a month. “Despite the difficulties presented by the pandemic, we used the sanctuary for the first time ad experimentum. The statues do have ornate canopies, but we have not gained the permissions to move these as yet. The platform is temporary but will allow a period of consideration as to position of the altar, the cathedra, etc.”

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Blessing of Palms in the Missal of St Pius V (Part 2)

As noted in the first article in this series, the various parts of Holy Week are united to each other by the uniquely Roman custom of reading each of the four Passions as a unit, and spreading them through the week. This thematic unity is also very much evident in the prayers that form the second part of the blessing of Palms, which are arranged in a manner analogous to the Secret, Preface and Canon of the Mass.

After the Gospel, the following prayer, which stands in the place of the Secret, is sung out loud. “Increase the faith of them that hope in Thee, o God, and mercifully hear the prayers of Thy suppliants; let Thy manifold mercy come upon us: let these branches of palms or olive trees be blessed; and as in a figure of the Church, Thou didst multiply Noah going forth from the ark, and Moses going out of Egypt with the children of Israel; so may we go forth to meet Christ with good works, bearing palms and olive branches; and through Him enter into everlasting joy.”

The Old Testament episodes mentioned in this prayer, Noah and the Ark (Genesis 6-8) and the Crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14-15), are read among the twelve prophecies of the Easter vigil. In accordance with the tradition of the Fathers [3], the prayers which follow these readings also refer to these episodes as figures of the Church, multiplied by the addition of new children in the sacrament of Baptism. The Flood is also mentioned in the blessing of the baptismal font, and the Crossing of the Red Sea in the Exsultet.
Noah Receives the Olive Branch from the Dove; from a psalter which belonged to King St Louis IX of France, and was commissioned for use at the Sainte Chapelle, 1270. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 10525.
The conclusion of this prayer segues into the preface dialog and a preface, which in the Roman tradition is a feature of many of the more solemn blessings and rites. For example, there is a preface in the ordination rites of bishops, priests and deacons, but not in those of subdeacons, the minor orders, or the giving of the clerical tonsure. No other blessing in the Roman Missal includes a preface, nor do any of the ordinary blessings in the Rituale. [4]

The preface itself reads as follows.

“Truly it is meet and just … Who art glorified in the assembly of Thy Saints. For Thy creatures serve Thee, because they acknowledge Thee as their only Creator and God, and all Thy creation praiseth Thee, and Thy Saints bless Thee. For with free voice they confess that great Name of Thine only-begotten Son before the kings and powers of this world. Before Whom the Angels and Archangels, the Thrones and Dominions stand; and with all the host of the heavenly army, sing the hymn of Thy glory, saying without ceasing: Holy…”

In the Gospels, direct references [5] to Christ as a king occur almost exclusively during the two events which the Roman Rite commemorates this day, His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His Passion. In St Matthew’s account of Palm Sunday, “king” occurs in the prophecy of Zachariah which he cites (9, 9), “Tell ye the daughter of Sion, ‘Behold thy king cometh to thee’ ”, which is also quoted by St John (12, 15). In Ss Mark and Luke, it occurs in the words spoken by the crowds, but obliquely in the former: “Blessed be the kingdom of our father David that cometh: Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11, 10), “Blessed be the king who cometh in the name of the Lord, peace in heaven, and glory on high!” (Luke 19, 38).

The first chant of the ceremony, analogous to the Introit of the Mass, is based on these words: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. O King of Israel: Hosanna in the highest!” In the Missal, this is cited to Matthew 21, 9, the last verse of the Gospel which is read at the blessing, but the words “King of Israel” are added from John 12, 13.

All of the other direct references to Christ with the word “king” occur in the Passion narratives, with two exceptions. In the Gospel of the Epiphany, Matthew 2, 1-12, the Magi are the first to call Him “the King of the Jews”, and do so in the presence of one of “the kings and powers of this world”, Herod the Great, who then sought to kill Him, and whose son, Herod Antipas, later mocked Him in His Passion (Luke 23, 11). In the first chapter of John, Nathanael says to Christ, “thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel”; the latter title is used elsewhere in the Gospel only in the Palm Sunday narrative cited above.

The Preface therefore declares that on this day, as the Church and her members “confess that great Name of (God’s) only-begotten Son before the kings and powers of this world”, they are naming Him as King. Although this theme does not occur again in the prayers by which the palms are blessed, it is very prominent in the chants that accompany the procession, and most particularly, in the famous hymn sung at the door of the church, “Gloria, laus et honor.”

From our second Palm Sunday photopost of last year, the singing of the “Gloria, laus et honor” at the door of the Oratory of Ss Cyril and Methodius, the Institute of Christ the King’s church in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
“The kings and powers of the world”, who were driven to kill the Lord because He was proclaimed the King of Israel, are not only Pontius Pilate and those in whose name he acts. They are also the chief priests and Pharisees, who in the Gospel of the preceding Friday (John 11, 47-54) plot against Jesus for fear that “all will believe in him; and the Romans will come, and take away our place and nation.” St John explains that the high priest Caiphas’ words “it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people”, were in fact a prophecy “that Jesus should die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but to gather together in one the children of God, that were dispersed.”

Although a Preface is used in many rites and blessings, the blessing of the palms is the only one in which it is followed by the Sanctus as it is at the Mass. [6] This is the only part of Ordinary of the Mass that is used in the blessing, which was obviously done to include the words by which the children of Israel hailed the coming of the Messiah, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest.”

The five prayers which follow and form the “canon” of the blessing are also replete with references to these themes, and to the other parts of Holy Week. (It must be noted that the prayers assume that both palms and olive branches are blessed.) The first prayer speaks of the olive “which the dove, returning to the ark, bore in its mouth”; this is repeated in the fourth, which states that God “ordered the dove to announce peace to the lands through the branch of an olive.” The second prayer begins with the words “O God, who gather what is scattered, and preserve what is gathered”, which refer to the unwitting prophecy of Caiphas cited above; the words “these branches which Thy servants faithful take up to the honor of Thy name” echo the Preface.

The third and longest prayer, like the Collects of both the blessing and the Mass, mentions both the Passion and the Resurrection. Since the palm branch was in ancient Rome a symbol of victory, “the palm branches await (Christ’s) triumphs over the prince of death”, and the shoots of olives, the source of oil, and hence of anointing, “cry out in a certain way that the spiritual anointing (i.e., of the Messiah, the anointed one) has come.” “For already then, that blessed multitude of men understood that it was prefigured that our Redeemer, taking compassion on human miseries, was about to fight with the prince of death for the life of the whole world, and by dying to triumph.” [7] The fifth prayer is the only one that contains no overt references to the Passion or the other parts of Holy Week, but does speak vaguely of “victory over the enemy.”

After the five prayers, the branches are sprinkled with holy water and incensed in the usual way; from this point on, the focus of the rite turns almost entirely to the matter at hand. The prayer which follows the blessing speaks of Christ “humbling Himself to us”, alluding to the Epistle of the Mass, Philippians 2, 5-11, but the rest of it is about the crowds that accompanied Him, and of us “following in His footsteps.” The branches are then distributed to the clergy and the faithful, while two antiphons are sung. “The children of the Hebrews, bearing the branches of olives, went forth to meet the Lord, crying out, and saying, ‘Hosanna in the highest.’ ” “The children of the Hebrews spread their garments in the way, and cried out, saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David: blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The prayer after the distribution is also focused entirely on the events of Palm Sunday.

As I have written before more extensively, the liturgical celebration of the events of Our Lord’s life is not a series of commemorations of events in the dead past. We live though these events as things for which we are really present, and in which we really participate. With this idea of the liturgy as the living representation of the events of Christ’s life, the blessing of the palms changes tenor in this final part to prepare us for the procession, for the first in a series of events in Holy Week in which we truly “follow in His footsteps.”

Notes (continuing the numeration from the previous post):
[3] E.g. St Jerome, Letter 69, to Oceanus (PL XXII, 660): “The world sins, and is not cleansed without the flood of waters, and immediately, the dove of the Holy Spirit … flies down to Noah, as if he were Christ in the Jordan, and with the branch of refreshment (or ‘restoration’) and light, proclaims peace to the world. Since he would not let the people of God go out from Egypt, the Pharaoh with his army is drowned, as a type of baptism.” The olive branch is called “the branch of refreshment and light” because of the use of olive oil for both healing (Luke 10, 34) and light; Pharaoh is a type of baptism because he represents sin that it washes away.

[4] In some other Uses of the Roman Rite, this custom is extended to other blessings; so e.g. at Sarum, the blessing of candles on the Purification included a preface, although the blessing of ashes on Ash Wednesday did not.

[5] By “direct references”, I mean those in which He is explicitly referred to with the word “king”, as opposed to the indirect (and, in the Synoptic Gospels, far more numerous) references to His kingdom. (E.g. Matt. 13, 41, “The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity.”)

[6] Many editions of the Rituale Romanum have a blessing of water on the vigil of the Epiphany that includes many elements of the Mass, among them, a Preface which did in fact segue into the Sanctus. It does not, however, imitate the rite of Mass anywhere near as closely as the blessing of the Palms does; its construction is by any standard entirely sui generis. This blessing was used at Venice, various dioceses in Germany and Hungary, and at least two churches in Rome. It was not, however, included in the original edition of the Rituale issued by Pope Paul V in 1614, and is omitted from most Italian editions; it was also not, apparently, used in either France or the Iberian peninsula.

Sometime in the first quarter of the 18th century, a priest of the diocese of Brescia named Pietro Lucatello inserted several elements into this blessing, a change which was officially repudiated by the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1725. This seems to have brought the rite into bad odor, and in 1890, it was officially replaced by a more classically Roman blessing, still in use today, which contains no elements of the Mass whatsoever. (Many thanks to Gerhard Eger and Zachary Thomas, the authors of the blog Canticum Salomonis, for their help in researching this matter.)

[7] This sentence is inspired by a passage in St Augustine’s Treatises on the Gospel of St John (51.2), which is also read at Matins on the day before Palm Sunday in the Breviary of St Pius V. “... erat Dominus mortem moriendo superaturus, et tropaeo crucis de diabolo mortis principe triumphaturus. – the Lord was about to overcome death by dying, and triumph over the devil, the prince of death, by the monument of the Cross.” Compare the text of the prayer: “Redemptor noster ... cum mortis principe erat pugnaturus, et moriendo triumphaturus.”

The Central Point in the History of Mankind

Mikhail Vasilievich Nesterov, Crucifixion (1908)

THE DEATH OF A GOD, dying for the salvation of men, is the central point in the history of mankind. All ages bear witness to and converge towards it: the preceding centuries point to its coming, the others are destined to harvest its fruits.

The death of Christ is the centre of history, and also the centre of the life of each man in particular. In the eyes of God every man will be great in proportion as he takes part in that deed; for the only true and eternal dignity is that belonging to the divine Priest. The degree of each one’s holiness will be in exact proportion as he participates in that bloody immolation. For the Lamb of God alone is holy.

But although Jesus Christ the divine High Priest appeared only once on earth, to offer up His great sacrifice on Calvary; yet, every day He appears in the person of each one of His ministers, to renew His sacrifice on the altar. In every altar, then, Calvary is seen: every altar becomes an august place, the Holy of holies, the source of all holiness. Thither all must go to seek Life, and thither all must continually return, as to the source of God’s mercies.

Those who are the Master’s privileged ones, never leave this holy place, but there they “find a dwelling,” near to the altar, so that they never need go far from it; such are monks, whose first care it is to raise temples worthy to contain altars. Making their home by the Sanctuary, they consecrate their life to the divine worship, and every day sees them grouped around the altar for the holy sacrifice. This is the event of the day, the centre to which the Hours, like the centuries, all converge: some as Hours of preparation and awaiting in the recollection of the divine praise — these begin with Lauds and Prime continued by Terce, the third Hour of the day; the others, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline, flow on in the joys of thanksgiving until sunset when the monks chant the closing in of night.

Thus the days of life pass, at the foot of the altar; thus the life of man finds its greatness and its holiness in flowing out, so to say, upon the altar, there to mingle with that Precious Blood which is daily shed in that hallowed place: for, if the life of man is as a valueless drop of water, when lost in the Blood of Christ it acquires an infinite value and can merit the divine mercy for us.

He who knows what the altar is, from it learns to live; to live by the altar is to be holy, pleasing to God, — and to go up to the altar to perform the sacred Mysteries is to be clothed upon with the most sublime of all dignities after that of the Son of God and His holy Mother.

Meditation by Dom Pius de Hemptinne (1879–1907), a discipline of Dom Columba Marmion.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Blessing of Palms in the Missal of St Pius V (Part 1)

This article is the first in a series which will discuss the theology of the Palm Sunday ceremonies of the Missal of St Pius V, the revised version of Pope Pius XII, and the Novus Ordo. It is of a length that requires splitting it into two parts; in 2017, I published a series similar to this one on the ceremonies of Good Friday, the arrangement of which was revised halfway through, so I am not quite sure how many articles this one will come to, but all aspects of the ceremonies will be covered.

For reference, complete descriptions of the first two versions of Palm Sunday are given in part 1 and part 2 of my series on the 1955 Holy Week reform, which was published in 2009; only part 1 is really pertinent to this article. The purpose of this series is not to discuss the origins of the traditional ceremony, or the variants thereof used in the Middle Ages.

To begin with, we must note two important characteristics of the Roman Holy Week. First, among the historical rites of Christendom, it is the only one in which the Passion narratives are read before the days on which the events which they recount originally took place, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. In the traditional arrangement, the Passion of St Matthew is read on Palm Sunday, that of St Mark on Holy Tuesday, St Luke on Spy Wednesday, and St John on Good Friday. [1]

The beginning of the Passion of St Matthew in a Gospel lectionary of the last quarter of the ninth century, originally made at the monastery of San Gallen in Switzerland, now in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Département des Manuscrits, Latin 9453). Note the signs which can be seen above the letters in various places, indicating the three different voices in which the Passion is sung.
Secondly, it is almost the only rite in which the Passion narratives of the four Evangelists are read as a whole; which is to say, both chapters of each Passion are taken together as a single reading. I say “almost” because in the Ambrosian Rite, the Passions of Ss Mark (14, 12 – 15, 46), Luke (22, 1 – 23, 53) and John (13, 1 – 14, 6, and the whole of chapters 18 and 19) are also read in this fashion. However, these three are all read at a single ceremony, Matins of Good Friday; in the Ambrosian Masses from Spy Wednesday to the Easter vigil, and in the other major services of the Triduum, the narrative is carried, so to speak, entirely by St Matthew.

Because of this arrangement, by which the accounts of the Lord’s Supper and the events of His Passion are always joined together, and spread through the whole week, the Roman Holy Week should be understood as a conceptual unity, within which each part is intimately connected with the others. It is in this light that we should examine the different ceremonies, and the results of the changes subsequently made to them.

This principle can in fact already be discerned in the Mass of Passion Sunday, the day on which the tenor of the Roman liturgy undergoes a notable shift from the theme of penance and baptismal preparation to meditation on the Passion. In the Gregorian propers of this Mass, we hear the voice of the Lord speaking in His sufferings: in the Introit (Psalm 42) “from the unjust and deceitful man deliver me,” in the Gradual (Psalm 142), “Deliver me, o Lord, from my enemies,” and in the Tract (Psalm 128), “Often have they fought against me from my youth … The wicked have wrought upon my back.” The Communion, however, looks forward to Holy Thursday, when, on the day before He suffered, Christ gave us the Mass as the memorial of His death: “This is (My) Body, which shall be given up for you: this is the cup of the new covenant in My Blood, says the Lord; do this, as often as you receive it, in remembrance of Me.” (1 Cor. 11, 24-25)

The first ceremony of Holy Week, the blessing of the Palms, is unique within the Roman Rite as the only example of a blessing that imitates the rite of Mass. It has an Introit, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, and Gospel, followed by a Secret (which, however, is sung aloud), a Preface dialog and Preface, the Sanctus, several prayers for the blessing, analogous to the Canon of the Mass, and then the distribution of the palms accompanied by antiphons. This imitation is close, but not perfect; there is no equivalent to the Offertory antiphon, and the Sanctus is the only part of the Kyriale included, in reference to the closing words of the Gospel which is read at this blessing, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” This was clearly done to underline the tremendous solemnity and importance of the rite, as the greatest of the major blessings incorporated into the liturgical year and mandatorily celebrated therein.

The liturgical texts are full of references to the other events of the week, as for example, the opening Collect, which mentions both the death of the Lord and His Resurrection. The use of the rite of Mass looks forward to Holy Thursday, the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper and of the institution of the Mass.

The most notable example of the way the rite is connected to the other parts of Holy Week is the Epistle, Exodus 15, 27 – 16, 7, which lays out the program for the week to come, and unites all of the main ceremonies of the Triduum with Palm Sunday.

“In those days, the children of Israel came into Elim, where there were twelve fountains of water, and seventy palm trees: and they encamped by the waters. cap. 16 And they set forward from Elim, and all the multitude of the children of Israel came into the desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month, after they came out of the land of Egypt. And all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat over the flesh pots, and ate bread to the full. Why have you brought us into this desert, that you might destroy all the multitude with famine?’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you; let the people go forth, and gather what is sufficient for every day, that I may prove them whether they will walk in my law, or not. But the sixth day let them prepare to bring in, and let it be double that which they were wont to gather every day.’ And Moses and Aaron said to the children of Israel, ‘In the evening you shall know that the Lord hath brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord.’ ” (Vespere scietis quod Dominus eduxerit vos de terra Aegypti, et mane videbitis gloriam Domini.)

The Gathering of the Manna, from a Flemish book of Hours, end of the 15th century. (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, CLM 28345; CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
The reading begins with a mention of palms, in reference to the rite of Palm Sunday. The fickleness of the Israelites, who have just crossed the Red Sea in the previous chapter, and now murmur against God’s prophet and priest, the very ones who led them out of Egypt, represents the fickleness of those who were in Jerusalem at the time of the Lord’s triumphal entry, crying out “Hosanna,” and five days later, gathered before Pilate and cried out “Crucify him!” The gathering of twice as much manna on the day before the Sabbath refers to the consecration of two Hosts on Maundy Thursday, one of the Mass, and one which is reserved for the Mass of the Presanctified on the following day. [2]

The words of Moses and Aaron towards the end of the reading, “Vespere scietis – In the evening you shall know”, refer to the Gospel of the Easter vigil, Matthew 28, 1-7, which begins with the words “Vespere autem Sabbati – on the eve of the Sabbath.” The Easter vigil is not a first Mass of Easter, an anticipation of the Resurrection, but rather a vigil in the true sense of the word, “a keeping watch.” At that point, we know in the celebration of the liturgy that Christ has risen, but we do not yet see Him in His glory, a fact which is symbolized by the incomplete character of the Mass, at which there is no Introit, Creed, Offertory, or Agnus Dei, and the Peace is not given. (The story of how the Lord “brought you forth out of Egypt” is of course also a part of the Easter vigil.) The words “et mane videbitis gloriam Domini – and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord” look forward to the second verse of the Gospel of Easter morning, Mark 16, 1-7, “Et valde mane una sabbatorum – And very early in the morning, the first day of the week.” In both of these Gospels, the Risen Lord is mentioned, but does not appear in person. However, with the restoration of the Introit after two days on which it was not sung, on the third day He speaks directly and in person: “I have risen, and am still with thee.” It is at this Mass, on the morning of Easter, that the fullness of solemnity is restored to the liturgy, and the glory of the Lord is indeed seen.

The Epistle is followed by one of two responsories, which take the place of the Gradual. The first of these looks back to the Gospel at the Mass of the previous Friday, John 11, 47-54, which tells of the conspiracy of the chief priests and Pharisees against the Lord.

R. The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do, for this man doth many miracles? If we let Him alone so, all will believe in Him, * and the Romans will come, and take away our place and nation.” V. But one of them, called Caiphas, since he was the high priest that year, prophesied, saying, “It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” From that day, therefore, they devised to put Him to death, saying, “And the Romans will come, and take away our place and nation.”

The second one is borrowed from Matins of Holy Thursday; the text is from Matthew 26, which is part of the Passion Gospel read at the Mass that follows.

R. On Mount Olivet He prayed to the Father, “Father, if it may be, let this chalice pass from Me. * The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh weak; Thy will be done. V. Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit…”

Both of these texts remind us that the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a prelude to His Passion, plotted by His enemies even before He came to the Holy City, and now fully imminent, as indicated also by the uniquely Roman custom of reading the Passion as part of the liturgy of Palm Sunday.

The Gospel, St Matthew 21, 1-9, is the ritual declaration of the occasion on which, and in imitation of which, the palms are blessed.

Notes: [1] In the Ambrosian and Mozarabic Rites, the Gospel of Spy Wednesday consists of events which took place on that day (Matthew 26, 1-5 in the former, Matthew 26, 2-5 and Mark 14, 3-11 in the latter), but only these, and not the Last Supper itself, or any of the subsequent events of the Passion.

[2] For the Church Fathers, the manna was understood as a clear prefiguration of the Eucharist. St Cyprian, Epistle to Magnus (PL III, 1150A): “We see the mystery of this equality (among all believers) celebrated in Exodus, when the manna flowed down from heaven, and as a prefiguration of the things to come, showed the nourishment of the bread of heaven and the food of Christ when He would come.”

St Ambrose, De Sacramentis (PL XVI, 444B), immediately after explaining the words of Consecration: “It was indeed a great and venerable thing, that the manna rained down upon the Jews from heaven: but understand this. What is greater, the manna from heaven, or the body of Christ? The body of Christ, to be sure, who is the maker of heaven. And then, he that ate the manna, died: who shall eat this Body, it shall be unto him the forgiveness of sins, and he shall not die forever.”

Ambrosiaster, Commentary on the Epistles of St Paul (PL XVII, 234A-B): “ ‘And they all did eat the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink; and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.’ (1 Cor. 10, 3-4) He calls the manna and water (Exod. 16, 15; 17, 6) ‘spiritual’... having in themselves a figure of the future mystery, which we now receive in commemoration of Christ the Lord.”

Passion Sunday 2020

Here is a beautiful recording of the Passiontide hymn Pange, lingua, in the traditional Gregorian setting. This hymn was composed by St Venantius Fortunatus (ca. 530-600), bishop of Poitiers, to celebrate the arrival there of a relic of the True Cross which was given by the Byzantine Emperor Justin II to Venantius’ dear friend St Radegund, Queen of the Franks. In the Roman Breviary, it is traditionally divided into two parts, the first of which (five stanzas plus a doxology) is sung at Matins, the second (five more stanzas plus the same doxology) at Lauds. At the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday, it is sung during the adoration of the Cross.

This recording includes the stanzas traditionally sung at Matins, the first two from Lauds, and the doxology once. Venantius also composed the hymn Vexilla Regis, sung at Vespers of Passiontide, for the same occasion. This is the version of the text found in the Breviary of St Pius V, as revised in 1629 by Pope Urban VIII, which is not markedly differt from Venantius’ original; the English translation is by the Anglican cleric John Mason Neale (1818-66), one of his finest efforts among many.

Pange, lingua, gloriosi
Lauream certaminis,
Et super Crucis trophaeo
Dic triumphum nobilem,
Qualiter Redemptor orbis
Immolatus vicerit.
Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle
Sing the last, the dread affray;
O’er the cross, the victor’s trophy,
Sound the high triumphal lay:
Tell how Christ, the world’s Redeemer,
As a victim won the day.
De parentis protoplasti
Fraude Factor condolens,
Quando pomi noxialis
In necem morsu ruit
Ipse lignum tunc notavit
Damna ligni ut solveret.
God, his Maker, sorely grieving
That the first-made Adam fell,
When he ate the fruit of sorrow,
Whose reward was death and hell,
Noted then this wood, the ruin
Of the ancient wood to quell.
Hoc opus nostrae salutis
Ordo depoposcerat,
Multiformis proditoris
Ars ut artem falleret
Et medelam ferat inde,
Hostis unde laeserat.
For the work of our salvation
Needs would have his order so,
And the multiform deceiver’s
Art by art would overthrow,
And thence would bring the medicine
Whence the insult of the foe.
Quando venit ergo sacri
Plenitudo temporis
Missus est ab arce Patris
Natus orbis conditor,
Atque ventre virginali
Carne amictus prodiit.
Wherefore, when the sacred fullness
Of the appointed time was come,
This world’s Maker left his Father,
Sent the heav’nly mansion from,
And proceeded, God Incarnate,
Of the Virgin’s holy womb.
Vagit infans inter arcta
Conditus praesepia;
Membra pannis involuta
Virgo Mater alligat
Et Dei manus pedesque
Stricta cingit fascia.
Weeps the infant in the manger
That in Bethlehem’s stable stands;
And his limbs the Virgin Mother
Doth compose in swaddling bands,
Meetly thus in linen folding
Of her God the feet and hands.
Ad Laudes
Lustra sex qui jam peregit
Tempus implens corporis,
Sponte libera Redemptor
Passioni dedictus,
Agnus in Cruce levatur
Immolandus stipite.
At Lauds
Thirty years among us dwelling,
His appointed time fulfilled,
Born for this, he meets his passion,
For that this he freely willed:
On the cross the Lamb is lifted,
Where his life-blood shall be spilled.
Felle potus ecce languet;
Spina, clavi, lancea,
Mite corpus perforarunt
Unde manat et cruor;
Terra, pontus, astra, mundus
Quo lavantur flumine.
He endured the nails, the spitting,
Vinegar, and spear, and reed;
From that holy body broken
Blood and water forth proceed:
Earth, and stars, and sky, and ocean,
By that flood from stain are free.
Sempiterna sit beatae
Trinitati gloria,
Aeque Patri, Filioque,
Par decus Paraclito:
Unius Trinique nomen
Laudet universitas.
To the Trinity be glory
Everlasting, as is meet;
Equal to the Father, equal
To the Son, and Paraclete:
Trinal Unity, whose praises
All created things repeat. Amen.

The three stanza at Lauds not included in the recording.

Crux fidelis, inter omnes
Arbor una nobilis:
Silva talem nulla profert
Fronde, flore, germine:
Dulce ferrum, dulce lignum,
Dulce pondus sustinent.
Faithful cross! above all others,
One and only noble tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peers may be;
Sweetest wood and sweetest iron!
Sweetest weight is hung on thee.
Flecte ramos, arbor alta,
Tensa laxa viscera,
Et rigor lentescat ille
Quem dedit nativitas:
Et superni membra Regis
Tende miti stipite.
Bend thy boughs, O tree of glory!
Thy relaxing sinews bend;
For awhile the ancient rigour,
That thy birth bestowed, suspend;
And the King of heavenly beauty
On thy bosom gently tend!
Sola digna tu fuisti
Ferre mundi victimam,
Atque portam praeparare
Arca mundo naufrago
Quam sacer cruor perunxit
Fusus Agni corpore.
Thou alone wast counted worthy
This world’s ransom to uphold;
For a shipwrecked race preparing
Harbour, like the ark of old;
With the sacred blood anointed
From the smitten Lamb that rolled.

Friday, March 27, 2020

A 15th Century Gospel Book

On Tuesday, I published a piece with the illustrated pages of an epistle lectionary produced at the end of the 15th century, or very beginning of the 16th, according to the Use of Amiens, another of the endless treasures on the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The same couple who donated it to the church of St-Martin-au-Val near Amiens, a mayor of Amiens named Antoine Clabault, and his wife, Ysabel Fauvel, also commissioned a Gospel lectionary (Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal. Ms-661 réserve), but from a different artist, who is known from one of his other works as the Master of the Dresden Hours. The 13 illustrated pages here are all for the same liturgical days as in the epistle book. It is not altogether clear to me what is happening in a few of the marginal images, and I will be happy to hear suggestions from readers in the combox.

The First Sunday of Advent. In many medieval Uses, especially in the north of Europe, the Gospel for this Sunday was that of the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, Matthew 21, 1-9, which is shown here in the main panel. At the upper right, Christ preaches in the temple; below that, the apostles get the donkey. At the bottom, angels play trumpets and a drum, while another holds the coat of arms of the mayor.
Christmas Day: the Adoration of the Shepherds. At the upper right is depicted a legendary episode which was very popular in the Middle Ages, in which one of the pagan prophetesses known as the Sybils shows a vision of the Virgin and Child to the Emperor Augustus. Below that is the appearance of the angel to St Joseph, followed by the appearance of an angel to Gideon (Judges 6). This last one is included because the episode of the fleece at the end of the same chapter has traditionally been understood as a prophecy of the virginal Incarnation, as stated in one of the antiphons of the Circumcision: “When Thou wast born ineffably of the Virgin, then were the Scriptures fulfilled; like the dew upon the fleece Thou camest down, that Thou might save the human race; we praise thee, O our God!”; the fleece is seen at the bottom of the circle. On the left side are shown in descending order the Saints whose feasts follow Christmas, Ss Stephen, John the Evangelist, and one of the Holy Innocents, with his mother weeping over him. Note the very elaborate jeweled framework around the initials A and Y for Antoine and Ysabel at the bottom; the artist is much more creative in these parts than his counterpart who did the Epistle book.
The Epiphany, with the flight into Egypt and the Wedding at Cana on the left, and the Baptism of Christ below.
Easter Sunday, with the Appearance to St Mary Magdalene and the Supper at Emmaus on the left.
The Ascension, with the Descent into Hell at the upper right; I am unsure about the episode in the panel below that. The small panel shows St Mark the Evangelist, whose Gospel is rarely read in the Roman Rite, but does have two of the most important major feasts, Easter and the Ascension.

New Prefaces and New Saints: Press Release from the FIUV

NLM was asked to post this press release from the International Federation Una Voce. We share this as an item potentially of interest to our readers, not as an endorsement of everything it says.

A PDF version may be found here.

From the President and Officers of the FIUV
26th March 2020

Yesterday the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), now exercising the functions of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, has issued two decrees, one on Prefaces to be added to the 1962 Missal (Quo Magis), and the other on the possibility of saints, canonised since 1962 to have Masses celebrated in their honour (Cum Sanctissima). (English translation here.)

The Federation was consulted on both issues, and we would like to thank the CDF for taking the views of our members into account in developing these decrees.

The Federation welcomes in particular the possibility of making a liturgical commemoration of saints canonised since 1962, without excessive disruption to the Sanctoral Calendar as it has come down to us. We wish, however, to issue some notes of caution.

On Prefaces, we note that the Note presenting the decree explains that while three of the seven newly permitted Prefaces are of the ‘Neo-Gallican’ tradition (of 18th century French origin), the other four are Prefaces used in the Ordinary Form, though not composed from scratch for the reformed Mass: ‘their central section(s), known as the “embolism”, appear in ancient liturgical sources’.

This implies that these ancient Prefaces have been adapted for use in the Ordinary Form, a process which makes them conform less, rather than more, with the spirit of the Extraordinary Form. If the value of these Prefaces lies in their antiquity, it is not clear what is to be gained by their being used in the Extraordinary Form in a redaction designed to make them conform to the themes and preferences of the Ordinary Form.

Further, we would like to appeal to priests celebrating the Extraordinary Form to bear in mind the great antiquity, theological importance, and centrality to the ancient Roman liturgical tradition, of the Preface of Trinity Sunday, and the Common Preface, whose use would become less frequent if the newly optional Prefaces were systematically employed. These two Prefaces have been of such centrality to the celebration of ancient Mass up to this point, that to downgrade them to mere options among others would be to make a fundamental change in the balance of texts and theological ideas which the Missal presents to the Faithful over the course of the year.

On the Saints, we note the list of saints celebrated as 3rd Class feasts, whose celebration remains obligatory. We recognise that in order to make possible the celebration of the new saints room must somehow be made for them, and we endorse the method proposed. We have reservations, however, about the composition of this list.

We note with particular dismay that the only male lay saints on the list are SS Cosmas and Damian: this seems an omission in need of correction, particularly as the excluded category include men central to the development of their countries: St Louis of France, St Stephen of Hungary, St Henry the Emperor of Germany, St Edward the Confessor of England, and St Wenceslas of Bohemia, outstanding examples of the vocation of the laity to ‘to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel’.

Also completely absent are female founders of religious orders, such as St Angela Merici, St Juliana of Falconieri, and St Jane Francis de Chantal.

Although we are pleased to see two widows on the list—St Monica and St Francis of Rome—it would seem in general that non-clerical vocations, of the active or the religious life, which are richly represented in the ancient sanctoral calendar, have been set aside as of marginal importance.

Another category poorly represented on the list are Doctors of the Church. Some of the highest importance have been excluded: St Isidore, St John Damascene, St Bede, and St Irenaeus.

The imbalance represented by the list of obligatory saints appears to have been inherited from the list of non-optional Memorials found in the sanctoral cycle of the Ordinary Form, which it closely resembles. The lack of interest in the lay vocation and in the Doctors of the Church shown by the reformers of the 1960s should not be allowed to distort the presentation of the Church’s great patrimony of saints in celebrations of the Extraordinary Form today.

In choosing when to avail themselves of the option to celebrate newly ordained saints, we would like to appeal to priests celebrating the Extraordinary Form to consider carefully the balance of the categories of the saints, the importance of maintaining the connection to the distant past represented by the most ancient saints, and the value of the Marian devotional feasts also now rendered optional, such as Our Lady of Lourdes and the Presentation of Mary.

As an indication of feasts which we regard as particularly worthy of continued celebration, we give the following, non-exhaustive, list.

14/01   St Hilary
10/02   St Scholastica
11/02   Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary (of Lourdes)
17/03   St Patrick
18/03   St Cyril of Jerusalem
27/03   St John Damascene
04/04   St Isidore
27/05   St Bede
03/07   St Irenaeus
15/07   St Henry, Emperor
25/08   St Louis, King
30/08   St Rose of Lima
02/09   St Stephen, King
28/09   St Wenceslas, Duke and Martyr
08/10   St Bridget, Widow
13/10   St Edward, King
24/10   St Rafael the Archangel
15/11   St Albert the Great
21/11   Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
25/11   St Catherine of Alexandria

[1] Second Vatican Council Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam actuositatem 5.

Live Streaming Choral Evensong 4:45 pm PDT Each Day During Lockdown

Are you getting bored with TV shows during the lockdown? Here’s an idea for something you can do instead.

These are difficult times. As I sit at home in what feels at times like a state-enforced secular penitential retreat, I have been thinking about how I can contribute to help the situation, beyond complying with the guidelines for self-distancing. I live in an old convent building in El Cerrito, California, and some of us who live there have committed, as best we can, to offer Choral Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer as it might be sung by those from the Anglican Ordinariate. This will happen every night at around 4:45 pm PDT: see the Facebook page here. If you want materials to sing along, contact me via thewayofbeauty.org, and I will give you a link to a folder containing the arrangments, including a full pointed Coverdale Psalter with psalm tones.

This is part of a broader response to this strangest of situations. First, I daily analyze my resentments and fears as I was taught in the Vision for You process, and ask God to forgive my sins, voluntary and involuntary, known and unknown. This removes the sources of all my unhappiness. Then I will be more ready to offer something positive, whatever that may be in response to anything that happens in the world around me. I don’t want to give the devil his chance to use me, which is more likely if I am anxious or prone to despair. As St Paul puts it, “Do not let resentment lead you into sin; the sunset must not find you still angry. Do not give the devil his opportunity.” (Eph. 4, 26, Knox translation)

Second, I try to cultivate gratitude. Every day I write a gratitude list in which I itemize the blessings that God gives me: for example, I woke up today and was able to draw breath, I have food, and a roof over my head. I also thank God for permitting the bad things in my life. Objectively I know that God loves me, and even the Wuhan virus is permitted by Him so that a greater good can come from it. It is not my natural reaction to think like this. My instincts are to focus on myself and to say, “Why is God doing this to me? Why is he doing it to my loved ones?” So every day, perverse though it may seem, I thank God for the Wuhan virus and ask Him to show me the good that will come from this. To these prayers of thanks and praise for blessings known, I add similar prayers for blessings unknown.

Then I try to look for opportunities to be of service to those around me, as best I can. My best is not good, I will freely admit. I am not a cheerful giver by nature, and again, I have had to do work to develop the habit of giving regardless of how I feel, through regular voluntary commitments of time in service. By this, I can move incrementally towards that ideal of one whose nature is to be generous. David, my sponsor when I was received into the Church (30 years ago now), suggested to me that I should always “give until it hurts.” I used to joke that this is easy for me because I’m so selfish, it hurts me just to give someone the time of day.

So here is part of the service that we have committed to fulfill as best we can. Each day we are going to make a “sacrifice of praise” and sing Choral Evensong as a prayer for our community and for all, as part of the mystical body of Christ. We are putting it out live on Facebook at around 4:45 pm, so that anyone who is isolated can pray with us. If anyone wants the basic materials for this, then please feel free to contact me, and I will get them to you via a link to a Google Docs folder. Although we'd be thrilled if it happened, the hope here is not primarily that lots of people listen to us (we are pretty ordinary singers as you'll find out). The thought is that it might encourage some to do this themselves, and do it even better! The very best will inspire many more than we can!

Every person in the world is in relation, in some way, to every other, directly or indirectly. By contributing positively, as best I can, to those relationships that I am aware of, then by the network of personal relationships in the Body of Christ and the whole human race, I am adding by degrees to the good of all.

Note, we are not choristers. We endeavor to pray, not to perform, but I hope we are at a basic level that we can add to the world with our efforts. If like me you work on the maxim that if you think you can do it least as badly, then you might as well do it yourself, then think about this: at the very least, join in with us at home. The music you will hear is part Gregorian chant, part Anglican chant, part Byzantine chant. The style with which we pray is influenced by Byzantine (Greek Catholic) chant - we sing at a clip and wherever possible add a drone. This means at the very least you can ummm or ahhh the ison (drone) with us. Even better still, do it in your own way and then offer that to the world!

Hope to see you in the coming weeks!

If you don’t want to do this and think you can do it at least as badly as we can, then why don’t you offer your own prayer for us, or anything else that helps. What are you doing for the Wuhan virus lockdown?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Raising the Dead in Lent

Before the early eighth century, the church of Rome kept the Thursdays of Lent (with the obvious exception of Holy Thursday) and the Saturdays after Ash Wednesday and Passion Sunday as “aliturgical” days. (The term aliturgical refers, of course, only to the Eucharistic liturgy, not to the Divine Office.) This is attested in the oldest liturgical books of the Roman Rite, and in the collection of papal biographies called the Liber Pontificalis, which tells us that Pope St Gregory II (715-31) instituted the Masses of these days. This is why even in the Missal of St Pius V, the Thursdays of Lent borrow their chant parts (the introits, graduals, offertories and communions) from other Masses; the respect for the tradition codified by St Gregory the Great was such that it was deemed better not to add new pieces to the established repertoire. (The two formerly aliturgical Saturdays simply repeat the Gregorian propers from the previous day, indicating perhaps that their Masses were added by a different Pope.)

This change was made in the midst of significant controversies between the Popes and the Byzantine Emperors, first over the Quinisext Synod, and later over the iconoclast heresy. The former, also known as the “Synod in Trullo”, was held in Constantinople in 692 to supplement the work of the fifth and sixth ecumenical councils, which had both adjourned without issuing any disciplinary decrees; hence its peculiar name, which means “Fifth-Sixth.” The Emperor Justinian II called it to legislate for the whole Church, without reference to Rome, and attempted to impose its decrees by force. The response of Pope St Sergius I (687-701) was not only a defiant refusal to recognize or approve the synod; he also added the Agnus Dei to the Mass, “a protest against canon 82 of the Synod in Trullo, which forbade the symbolic representation of the Savior in the form of a Lamb.” (Msgr. Louis Duchesne, in his critical edition of the Liber Pontificalis, quoted in the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on the Agnus Dei.)

Pope Sergius also added this mosaic to the triumphal arch of the church of Ss Cosmas and Damian, where Pope Gregory II instituted another one of the new Thursday stations, that of the third week of Lent. (Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew O.P.)
Before his election to the Papacy, Gregory II served the church of Rome under four Popes. Ordained a subdeacon by Sergius, in 710 he accompanied Pope Constantine on a year-long visit to the imperial capital, and negotiated a compromise with Justinian II on Rome’s acceptance of the Trullan decrees. Two months after their departure, the emperor was deposed and executed, and succeeded first by an active supporter of the heresy condemned by the sixth ecumenical council, then, after two very brief reigns, by Leo III, the inventor of Iconoclasm. As the latter initiated a brutal persecution which gave many martyrs to the Church, relations between him and the Pope deteriorated; in a famous letter, Gregory writes “It grieves us that the savages and barbarians are becoming tame, while you, the civilized, are becoming barbarous.” (The “savages” are the peoples of northern Europe, then being converted to Christianity by St Boniface, whom Gregory himself had sent to Germany.)

In such a climate of tension between the Pope and Emperor, the institution of the Lenten Masses of Thursday should be seen as another rejection of Byzantine practice as codified at the Quinisext Synod, the 52nd canon of which decrees, “On all days of the holy fast of Lent, except on the Sabbath, the Lord’s day and the holy day of the Annunciation, the Liturgy of the Presanctified is to be said.” Since the Byzantine council had established that the Eucharist not be celebrated on the ferial, fasting days of Lent, Gregory II all but abolished the practice in Rome.

The liturgy thus instituted for today, the Thursday of the fourth week of Lent, copies several features from that of the following day. In the Epistle of the older Mass on Friday, the prophet Elijah raises a dead child to life (3 Kings 17, 17-24); in that of Thursday, his disciple Elisha does the same (4 Kings 4, 25-38). The Gospel on Friday is the raising of Lazarus (John 11, 1-45), on Thursday, that of the son of the widow of Naim (Luke 7, 11-16). The older Lenten station on Friday is kept at the church of St Eusebius; the newer station on Thursday is kept less than a third of a mile away, at the church of Ss Sylvester and Martin on the Esquiline Hill. (In Italian it is now usually called “San Martino ai Monti.”)

The stational Mass at San Martino ai Monti in 2016. (Photo by our favorite Roman pilgrim, Agnese Bazzucchi.)
The church of St Eusebius was chosen for the reading of the Gospel of Lazarus because it stands right next to a large necropolis, a “city of the dead”, which dated back even before the founding of Rome itself. In this way, the Church, led by the bishop of Rome, proclaimed to the ancient pagan world Her belief in the resurrection of the body, made possible by the death and resurrection of the Savior. San Martino stands on the opposite side of the necropolis, in an area where even more tombs have been discovered than in the part closer to St Eusebius.

Eusebius himself was a Roman priest traditionally said to have died in the mid-4th century after several months of forced confinement in his house, inflicted on him because of his stance against the Arian heresy. As such, he was venerated as a “Confessor”, a title which originally meant one who had suffered for the Faith, without being violently killed. (The distinction between Martyrs and Confessors is sometimes a bit blurry.) Pope Sylvester I and Martin of Tours, to whom the station church of Thursday is jointly dedicated, were the first two Saints venerated as “Confessors” in the modern sense of the term, a male Saint who was not an Apostle or Martyr. Among the titular Saints of the Lenten station churches, these are the only Confessors. (The station of the following Saturday is now held at the church of St Nicholas ‘in the Prison’, but was originally at St Lawrence Outside-the-Walls.)

The question then arises as to why it was felt necessary or useful to have two stational Masses so similar to each other on two successive days. The answer lies in the theological controversies of the era, and the resulting clashes between the Old and the New Rome.

For most of the 7th century, the Church was plagued with the Monothelite heresy, the teaching that in Christ, the human faculty of the will is absent, replaced by the divine will. The history and purpose of this heresy are very complicated matters; suffice it to say here that its chief promotor, the Emperor Heraclius (610-41), enshrined it in law by a decree known as the Ecthesis, supported by the contemporary Patriarchs of Constantinople. In 648, his grandson Constans II (630-68) attempted to impose silence on the resulting controversy by an imperial edict; Pope St Martin I, elected in July of the following year, held a synod at the Lateran basilica very shortly thereafter, which condemned the edict of Constans, the Ecthesis, three Patriarchs of Constantinople, and one of Alexandria.

In response to this, the Pope was arrested by Constans’ exarch and brought to Constantinople, where he was kept in a jail for months and subjected to appalling mistreatment; eventually tried for treason, he was sent to the city of Kherson on the Crimean peninsula (the very end of the earth for a Roman), where he died of the hardships of his exile. He is the last Pope venerated as a martyr, although he would perhaps have been called a Confessor by his contemporaries, since he did not die a violent death. (The title “Confessor” has become the standard epithet of the greatest opponent of Monothelitism, St Maximus, whom Constans tortured and maimed by cutting out his tongue and cutting off his right hand.)

A 17th-century Russian icon of St Maximus the Confessor, with events of his life in the surrounding panels. He is shown being tried and imprisoned more than once; the removal  of his tongue and right hand is the second panel from the bottom on the right side. (Public domain image from Wikipedia.)
It was the son of Constans, Constantine IV (668-85), who called the Sixth Ecumenical Council of the Church, which definitively condemned the Monothelite heresy and its supporters, while vindicating the memory of Pope Martin and St Maximus. This was the third held at Constantinople, from 680-81, and took place in the same domed hall, or “trullo”, where the Quinisext Synod would be held 11 years later.

During the 15th session (April 681), there occurred one of the strangest events (among many) in the long and checkered history of the Ecumenical Councils. A leading Monothelite, a priest named Polychronius, offered to prove the truth of the doctrine by raising a man from the dead, and was allowed to put this claim to the test before the assembled council fathers. In a public square, he laid a copy of the heretical profession of faith on the chest of a corpse, and prayed whispering in the dead man’s ear for several hours, to no effect. Despite his promise to the contrary, he refused to recant after his failure, and was condemned as both a heretic and a blasphemer. (Mansi XI, p. 609)

All of this was very recent history when Pope Gregory II instituted the Mass for this day, and the station at the church dedicated to the first two Confessors. One of these, St Sylvester, was Pope at the time of the First Ecumenical Council, Nicea I, which condemned Arianism, and was also called by an Emperor named Constantine; the other, St Martin of Tours, was likewise an opponent of the Arians, the namesake of Pope Martin (see note below), and known to have raised three persons from the dead. (As he himself was wont to note, two before his episcopal consecration, but only one after.) The Epistle of the day recalls how Elisha raised the dead child by laying on top of him, “and his flesh grew warm”; surely this would have reminded those who were present for the first celebrations of this Mass of the failed attempt at the recent council to raise a dead man by laying something on his chest.

Within St Gregory II’s lifetime, imperial Byzantium had twice professed and repudiated the Monothelite heresy, and was then moving on to Iconoclasm, and once again persecuting the orthodox. The stational Mass of this day may thus be read as a declaration that it is the Church of Rome which professes the true doctrine of the Incarnation, and the fruit thereof, when She says at the end of the Creed, “I await the resurrection of the dead.”

The Raising of the Widow of Naim’s Son, by Mario Minniti, 1620
Note: It is also stated in various sources, but with some uncertainty, that the relics of Pope St Martin I were later brought to the church; I cannot find any clear reference as to when this is supposed to have taken place.

Book Notice: The Post-Communion Prayers of the Missale Romanum (1970/1975/2002)

The Post-Communion Prayers of the Missale Romanum (1970/1975/2002). A Comparison of Translations, with the Sources of Each of the Prayers

497 pp; Lectionary Study Press, 2020

Kindle e-Book, $5.99 / £4.79 / € 5,49

Available from Amazon: USA, UK, Italy, Germany, France, Spain (and other localised Amazon sites)

*  *  *

Long-time readers of NLM may recall that, at the end of 2014, I uploaded the first part of a comparative study of the post-communion prayers of the Novus Ordo, with the second part following shortly afterwards. In these documents, there were two aims. The first was to allow easy comparison of the different English translations of these prayers, stretching from the early 1970s to ICEL’s most recent renderings. The second aim, and perhaps the more important one in the long-term, was to provide the source texts for every one of the 385 unique post-communion prayers in the post-conciliar Missal, along with parallel English translations of these in order to assist those whose Latin is not as strong as it could be.

I am very happy to be able to say that this project is now finally complete, and available as a Kindle e-Book from Amazon! [1]

In this liturgical resource, all the post-communion prayers are organised in the order they appear in the reformed Missal: i.e. Proper of Time (126 unique prayers), Proper of Saints (78), Commons (60), Ritual Masses (19), Masses for Various Needs and Occasions (54), Votive Masses (17), and finally Masses for the Dead (31). First, the Latin text of the oration is given, along with its different English translations. This is followed by the Latin text of the source(s), which is provided with an English translation and paralleled alongside the post-communion so any similarities and/or differences can be seen at a glance.

Sample page: 29th Sunday per annum (click to enlarge)
Sample page: St Josaphat, 12th November (click to enlarge)
Sample page: VNO 17, Unity of Christians,
formulary C (click to enlarge)
Detailed appendices are also provided, giving an index of sources, some statistics, extracts from documents relating to the revision of the Mass propers (including two translated from the unpublished schemata of Groups XIII and XVIII bis of the Consilium ad exsequendam), an index of where post-communion prayers are duplicated in the Missal, and finally an index of first lines.

Sample page from the index of sources (click to enlarge)
Sample page from the statistics (click to enlarge)
For those who wish to dig into the history of the post-communion orations of the Roman Missal for the forma ordinaria, I hope that this e-book makes for an excellent place to start. It should also be helpful for more seasoned researchers and students of the liturgy, as all the source references are (where possible) keyed into the Corpus Orationum series, thus making it easier to look up each prayer for more detailed study and comparison.


[1] Or, more precisely, as complete as it reasonably can be at the moment. I suspect that many of the prayers designated as “new compositions” have, at the very least, texts that have inspired their authors. This would require much more in-depth research than has been carried out by anyone up until now. My own feeling is that the documents of the Second Vatican Council likely provided a good portion of the creativity behind these new prayers.

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