Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Myth of a Sunday with No Mass

Those who follow the traditional Divine Office and Mass closely will have noticed in them an unusual feature this weekend. In the Mass, the same Gospel, St Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration (17, 1-9), is read on both Ember Saturday and today. In the Divine Office, there are only four antiphons taken from this Gospel, where the other Sundays have six; those of the Benedictus and Magnificat are the same on both days, and today, the same antiphon is said at both Prime and Terce, which happens nowhere else. At today’s Mass, all of the Gregorian propers except for the Tract are repeated from the Mass of Ember Wednesday.
The traditional explanation for this given by Dom Guéranger (The Liturgical Year, vol. 4. p. 183 of the 1st English ed.), the Bl. Schuster (The Sacramentary, vol. 2, p. 73 of the English ed.) and others is as follows. In many ancient liturgical books, the Masses of the Ember Saturdays are titled “duodecim lectionum – of the twelve readings” or something similar. This was understood to mean that there were originally ten readings from the Old Testament, rather than the five which we have now, plus the Epistle and Gospel. (Mario Righetti, Manuale di Storia Liturgica, vol. 3, p. 232) According to a custom attested in several ancient sources, the readings at the papal Mass were each done twice, once in Latin, and again in Greek; a form of this custom is still to this day kept from time to time. (A friend of mine who is a priest of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church served as the Greek deacon at two Masses celebrated by St John Paul II.)
The chanting of a Gospel in Church Slavonic at a Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Croatia in June 2011.
This would mean an effective total of twenty-four readings. These were also the traditional days for ordinations in Rome, which were held at St Peter’s Basilica. The combination of twenty-four readings and seven ordination rites within a single Mass would have made for an extraordinarily long service that lasted through the length of the night. Therefore, the Mass of the Ember Saturday effectively became the Mass of Sunday morning.
What was taken to be further confirmation of this is found in several ancient liturgical books of various kinds, in which the Second Sunday of Lent is marked with the rubric “Dominica vacat – the Sunday is empty”, i.e., had no Mass of its own. The liturgical texts for this Sunday would therefore have their current arrangement because it was only given its own Mass and Office later. According to this theory, the custom of saying the Saturday Mass with so many readings and the ordinations was specifically Roman; when other places received the Roman Rite, they did not observe this same lengthy service through the night, and having confined the Ember Saturday to Saturday itself, could not leave the Sunday without a Mass.
This would also explain why in many Uses of the Roman Rite, the Mass of the Second Sunday of Lent differs in one detail or another from that of the Missal of St Pius V. To this very day, for example, the Dominican Missal has two Tracts on this Sunday, rather than a Gradual and Tract. Many medieval liturgical books also attest to a different Gospel on the Sunday; at Sarum, that of the Canaanite woman was read (Matthew 15, 21-28), preceded by a unique Tract taken from the Gospel itself, rather than from a Psalm. (This Gospel is read in the Roman Rite on the previous Thursday.)
Folio 29r of the Gellone Sacramentary, ca 780 AD., with the rubric “Dominica vacat”, followed immediately by the words “II Domi(nica) in Quadra(gesima) – the Second Sunday in Lent.” (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 12048)
For several reasons, I believe this explanation to be incorrect on every point.
First of all, there is a strong antecedent improbability (I do not say an absolute impossibility) to the very idea of doing such a lengthy service at all under any circumstances. The median date for the Ember Saturday of Lent is March 3rd; in Rome, the sun sets on that date just after 6 p.m., and rises the next morning at 6:40 a.m. Assuming the liturgy started after None, in accordance with the well-attested ancient custom of the Church, this would make for a ceremony about 17-18 hours long. (I do not grant the absurd and unattested possibility of a liturgy designed with breaks for food, sleep, and visits to the bathroom in mind.) This is made all the more improbable by the fact that the main celebrant, the Pope, would usually be elderly, and in the days of the Church’s more serious Lenten fasting discipline, would have to do this on an empty stomach.
Secondly, there is not a single liturgical source that attests to the supposed twelve different readings on any of the Ember Saturdays. The Wurzburg lectionary, the oldest of the Roman Rite (ca. 650 AD), has four Old Testament readings in Lent and after Pentecost (without the reading from Daniel 3 that is now common to all four Ember Saturdays), plus an Epistle and a Gospel; “twelve readings” would therefore refer to the custom of doing each of these six readings twice, in Latin and in Greek. This source also has six Old Testament readings at the Ember Saturday of September, and five in Advent, indicating that there was originally some flexibility to this rite. But in every subsequent lectionary, every Mass of an Ember Saturday has five Old Testament readings, plus an Epistle and a Gospel. The term “twelve readings” would therefore have been understood to refer to the six before the Gospel, each done twice.
Furthermore, all of the ancient lectionaries, including Wurzburg, also have the two different epistles for the Ember Saturday and the following Sunday (1 Thess. 5, 14-23 on the former, chapter 4, 1-7 of the same epistle on the later), in the same order, and in the same place. If the Mass of Ember Saturday was in fact the Mass of the following Sunday, celebrated in the early hours after the ceremony had lasted through the night, what need would there be of this second epistle?
Folios 27v and 28r of the 9th century Lectionary of Alcuin, with the Epistles of the Ember Saturday and Second Sunday of Lent. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 9452)
Third, even doing all seven of the readings twice would not have made the liturgy so inordinately long that it would last through the night. The Roman Rite is almost always more succinct in its presentation and use of Scripture than any other historical Christian rite, and the Ember Saturdays are no exception to this; the longest of them in terms of the Scriptural readings is that of September, in which they amount to 51 verses, just under 900 words. Likewise (and this is a far more significant point), the ordination rituals which are attested in the oldest liturgical books of the Roman Rite are very much shorter and less complicated than the ones we know today, which began to take something more like their current (EF) form in the mid-10th century. The Ember day Masses also have no Gloria and no Creed, and were instituted before either the Offertory prayers or the Agnus Dei were added to the Mass.
Fourth, and I think most decisively, the ancient sacramentaries of the Roman Rite ALL have separate Masses for the Second Sunday of Lent. The very oldest, the Old Gelasian Sacramentary, simply titles it “the Second Sunday in Lent”, but many others include the rubric “Dominica vacat” in the title. This is noteworthy because the Old Gelasian and certain other manuscripts like the Wurzburg lectionary attest to the very ancient arrangement by which the Thursdays of Lent had no Mass at all, but these Thursdays do not have a rubric “feria quinta vacat”; there is simply nothing at all between Wednesday and Friday. Clearly, there was a distinction between a day with NO Mass and a day that “vacat”.
To this it may be objected that these manuscripts are of the Roman Rite, but are not from Rome; they were all copied out in Merovingian or Carolingian Gaul. We may therefore legitimately surmise that what they attest to on the Ember Saturdays represents an adaptation of the Roman custom, dropping the liturgy that lasts through the night. To this I answer that all these manuscripts preserve many things that are Roman, but were clearly not of any use outside of Rome, or at any rate, not useful in Gaul. For example, the Wurzburg lectionary lists all the Roman stational churches, and the Old Gelasian Sacramentary gives the text of the Creed in Greek for the day when the catechumens had to show that they had learned it. In the absence of any source attesting the custom of twelve separate readings, and any source that specifically states that the liturgy was done over the night and into the morning, we have no reason to believe that these Gallic manuscripts have in fact changed the Roman custom in this regard. Quite the contrary, the general tendency in the history of the liturgy is the opposite; places which receive a liturgical tradition from somewhere else tend to be MORE conservative in maintaining its oldest forms, while it continues to evolve in its place of origin.
What, then, did the rubric “Dominica vacat” actually mean? It seems clear that originally, it must have simply meant a day without a Lenten station. Although the Mass of Ember Saturday was not as monstrously long as proposed by the scenario given above, it was still, of course, lengthy, and likely very taxing to the elderly celebrant, who would have had to travel with his court across the city from the ancient papal residence at the Lateran to get to the Ember Saturday station at St Peter’s Basilica, and then back. The Popes therefore gave themselves a well-deserved day of rest by staying home on the Second Sunday of Lent, before resuming the regular observance of the stations on the following afternoon.
A modern drawing of the old St Peter’s Basilica.
We know from certain features of the ancient liturgical books that there was not an absolute uniformity of practice even within Rome itself, and it can also hardly be supposed that every person in Rome would attend the Papal Mass at St Peter’s. Therefore, the parishes would have had their own separate Masses on Sunday morning, and this would explain why the Gospel (but again, not the Epistle) was repeated from the previous day. The people who attended Mass in the parishes on the Sunday would thus hear the important story of the Transfiguration, which did not get its own feast day until the 15th century, and was read nowhere else in the liturgy.
A 16th-century Russian icon of the Transfiguration
This would also explain the discrepancies between the Gregorian propers of the Mass of the Second Sunday as it appears in various Uses of the Roman Rite. In Rome, the cantors would know their own tradition well enough to know which Mass they sang on the day with no propers of its own. When people outside of Rome received their copies of the Roman liturgical books, the Second Sunday of Lent was marked as “Dominica vacat”, so they filled in the gaps in their chant book and lectionary as they saw fit. But even here, the variation is limited to a very narrow range; already by the 10th century, it had become the established custom to repeat the Mass of the previous Ember Wednesday.
If the repetition of the Gospel of the Transfiguration was instituted in Rome for the benefit of those who had not been present at the previous day’s station, it seems likely that the custom of repeating the chants of Ember Wednesday on the Second Sunday of Lent also originated in Rome. The two Masses are connected by the fact that the two Epistles of that Wednesday are about the forty day fasts of Moses and Elijah respectively, who appear in the Gospel of the Sunday as witnesses to the Transfiguration. This custom also does not fit at all with the idea that the Mass of Ember Saturday was said on Sunday morning; if this had ever been the case, one would reasonably expect that the Mass chants of the Saturday would be used on the Sunday.
Finally, in regards to the Divine Office, the oldest Roman Office antiphonary does in fact have on Ember Saturday six antiphons taken from the Gospel of the Transfiguration, three of which are repeated on Sunday. The current arrangement by which two of these have dropped out of use appears to be an historical accident of no significance.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

A Roman Pilgrim at the Station Churches 2021 (Part 2)

Some of the churches in the second post of our annual series on the Roman stational Masses make a point of putting out a large number of the relics on the day of the station, especially St Mary Major and St Peter’s, the stations of the Wednesday and Saturday Ember Days. Thanks as always to our friend Agnese for sharing these with us.

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent - St Anastasia
The statue of St Anastasia in the niche in front of the high altar was planned by a sculptor called Francesco Aprile, in imitation of a similar statue of St Cecilia by Stefano Maderno, and Bernini’s Blessed Ludovica Albertoni. Aprile died in 1684 at the age of 30, and the work was executed by Ercole Ferrata, who was already in his 70s, and died very shortly after completing it.
Portraits of recent pope and cardinals in the sacristy.
Ember Wednesday - St Mary Major

Friday, February 26, 2021

The Station Churches of the Ember Days of Lent

During all four sets of Ember Days, the stations are held at the same three churches: on Wednesday at St Mary Major, on Friday at the church of the Twelve Apostles, and on Saturday at the basilica of St Peter in the Vatican. In Advent, Pentecost week, and September, there is often no clear connection between the station church and the actual text of the day’s Mass. On the Lenten Ember Days, however, the Gospel of the Mass each day makes a clear reference to the saint or saints in whose church it was intended to be said.

The high altar of St Mary Major, decorated with relics for the Lenten station in 2017. Photo by the great Agnese.
On Ember Wednesday, the Gospel is St Matthew 12, 38-50, in which the Lord rebukes the Pharisees who wish to see Him perform a sign. “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh a sign; and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah was in the whale’s belly three days and three nights, so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.”

In the Christian perspective, Jonah is unique and uniquely important among the prophets for two reasons. First, he personally does not say anything about Christ, as, for example, Isaiah says that a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son. In Jonah’s case, it is what happens to his body that prophesies the destiny of Jesus’ body, His death and Resurrection. Secondly, this prophetic explanation of his story is given to us by Christ Himself. He therefore became at a very early period one of the most frequently represented subjects in Christian art.

Stories of Jonah, from a late 2nd century fresco in the Catacomb of Callixtus. From right to left, Jonah is thrown into the sea, where a monster is about to swallow him; Jonah is spat out of the sea-monster; Jonah rests under the vine. The Greek and Latin words for “whale” can also mean “sea-monster”, and the creature that swallows the prophet is usually shown as such in early Christian art.
In the ancient paintings and sarcophagi from the catacombs of Rome and elsewhere, Jonah is almost invariably shown nude, whether he is depicted being thrown into the water, swallowed by the whale, vomited out by the whale, or lying down under the vine that God uses to shield him from the sun. His nudity emphasizes the reality of his human nature, and therefore emphasizes the reality of Christ’s human nature. It must be born in mind that early heretics like the Docetists, Gnostics, and later the Arians, were concerned to deny not so much the divinity of Christ as the humanity of God. In antiquity, the idea of a savior, sage or miracle-worker sent from heaven was not particularly difficult to accept; what many in the Roman world found much harder to believe was that God took such interest in the welfare of the human race that He actually joined it. The nude figure of Jonah, therefore, is as much an assertion of the Incarnation, against the early heresies, as it is a proclamation of the death and resurrection of Christ.
A third-century sarcophagus in the Vatican Museums’ Pio-Christian collection. This is one of the most elaborate versions of the Jonah story, and is therefore known as the Jonah Sarcophagus, although there are many other ancient representations of the prophet. Note that Noah is seen standing in a square ark above the sea-monster on the right, a clever use of the extra space to add another important Biblical episode.
This tradition was already well established when the basilica of Saint Mary Major was built right after the ecumenical council of Ephesus, both to honor the chosen vessel of God’s Incarnation, and to re-assert this dogma of our salvation against the heretic Nestorius; the station is kept at the natural choice of church in which to read this crucial Gospel passage. Oddly enough, the traditional Roman Rite uses only one passage from the book of Jonah itself at Mass in the whole of the year; chapter 3, in which Jonah preaches repentance to the Ninivites, is read on the Monday of Passion week, and repeated at the Easter Vigil. In the traditional Ambrosian liturgy, on the other hand, the entire book (actually one of the shortest in the Bible, only 48 verses) is the first reading of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper; in the Byzantine Rite, it is read at the Easter vigil.

At the end of the same Gospel, the Mother of God Herself appears in person: “And one said unto him, ‘Behold thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking thee.’ But He answering… said: ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?’ And stretching forth His hand towards His disciples, He said: Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.’ ” These words are explained by St Gregory the Great to mean that the disciples of Christ are His brethren when they believe in Him, and His Mother when they preach Him; “For as it were, one gives birth to the Lord when he brings Him into the heart of his listener, and becomes His Mother by preaching Him, if through his voice the love of God is begotten in the mind of his neighbor.” (Homily 3 on the Gospels).
The Coronation of the Virgin, apsidal mosaic of St. Mary Major by Jacopo Torriti, 1296
On Friday is read at the basilica of the Twelve Apostles the Gospel of the man healed at the pool of Bethesda, John 5, 1-15, wherein “lay a great multitude of sick, of blind, of lame, of withered.” This healing may be seen as a prophecy of the mission given by Christ Himself to the Apostles, and in them to the whole Church. During His earthly ministry, when He first sent the Apostles forth, He “gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of diseases, and all manner of infirmities. And the names of the twelve Apostles are these: The first, Simon who is called Peter, etc. (saying) ‘Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils.’ ” (Matthew 10, 1-2 and 8). Likewise, on the feast of the Ascension, we read that He renewed this commission to the Apostles, giving as one of the signs that shall follow those that believe in Him, “they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover.” Here, when Christ heals the man who is too lame to reach the pool as the Angel of the Lord stirs the water, He says to him, “Arise, take up thy bed, and walk.” In the Acts of the Apostles, the very first miracle of healing reported after the first Pentecost is that of the lame man to whom their leader says “Arise and walk.” (chapter 3, 1-16)
Three images of Christ as healer on a 3rd-century sarcophagus, also in the Pio-Christian Collection of the Vatican Museums. From left to right, the healing of the paralytic, who is shown carrying his bed; the healing of the blind man; the healing of the woman with the issue of blood. The fourth image is Christ transforming water into wine at the wedding of Cana. In antiquity, Christ was often shown holding a magic wand to indicate that He is working a miracle; some commentators have most unfortunately chosen to understand this to mean that the early Christians thought of Christ principally as a magician.
The Synoptic Gospels tell the story of another paralytic healed at Capharnaum, whose friends had to take the roof off the building to lower him down into the place where Jesus was preaching. (Mark 2, 1-12 and parallels) When Christ says to him first “Son, thy sins are forgiven thee.” the Pharisees grew indignant at this usurpation of God’s prerogatives. He therefore heals the man of his bodily infirmities to show that “the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins,” and then addresses him in the same terms He uses with the man at the pool of Bethesda, “Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house.”

The healed paralytic carrying his bed is another motif of great importance in early Christian art, representing the forgiveness of sins, an article of the faith which we still profess in every recitation of the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Such images usually consist only of Christ and the man carrying his bed, and it is impossible to say whether we are meant to see him as the paralytic of Capharnaum or Bethesda. More likely, we are meant to think of them both at once.
The healing of the paralytic of Bethesda, from the basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, ca. 550 A.D. In the same church, the paralytic of Capharnaum is shown being lowered through the roof, a rare case in which the two are clearly distinguished.
The latter, however, represents another idea of great importance to the early Church, namely, that gentiles are not obliged to live according to the religious laws of the Jews. In the early centuries, many Christians still felt themselves to be very close to their Jewish roots, and continued to follow the Mosaic law; a small but apparently rather vocal minority of these held that the same law should be binding upon all Christians. The paralytic of Bethesda, however, when reproved for violating the strict interpretation of law that no work may be done on the Sabbath, replies “He that made me whole said to me, ‘Take up thy bed, and walk.’ ” He therefore symbolizes the fact that Christ Himself has given the Church a new law, by which Christians are freed from the observance of the law of Moses.

The same idea is expressed by another common motif in early Christian art, the scene referred to as the Traditio Legis – the Handing-Down of the Law. In these images, Jesus is shown with a scroll representing the new law of the Christian faith, in the company of at least the Apostle Peter, usually also Paul, and sometimes all twelve; very often, He is passing the scroll directly to them. The Apostles, who had of course discussed this same question at the very first Council of the Church, that of Jerusalem (Acts 15), hand down to the Church and its members the new law that permanently dispenses us from the religious observances of the Old Covenant. This is certainly one of the reason why the story of the paralytic of Bethesda is read in the basilica of the Twelve Apostles.
The Traditio Legis with Ss. Peter and Paul, from the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus (prefect of Rome, died 359 A.D.) Note that as Christ is handing the scrolls of the law to the Apostles Peter and Paul, He is also stepping on the face of the sky god, here used as a symbolic figure, to represent His dominion over the heavens.
The Traditio Legis with all twelve Apostles, from a late-4th century imperial mausoleum in Milan, now the chapel of St Aquilinus in the basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore. Here, Christ has one scroll in His hand, and six in the case at His feet, a total of seven; this number symbolizes perfection, and hence the perfection of the new law.
At the Mass of Ember Saturday, the Church reads St Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration (chapter 17, 1-9) at the basilica of St Peter in the Vatican. In his homilies on this Gospel, St. John Chrysostom teaches that the purpose of the Transfiguration was to strengthen the Apostles’ faith in Christ’s divinity, so that they might not be overwhelmed with sorrow at His Passion or lose faith in His Resurrection. The Greek Church instituted a feast of the Transfiguration long before it was adopted by the West, fixing the day to August 6th, forty days, the length of Lent, before the Exaltation of the Cross. This association of the Transfiguration with the Passion is beautifully expressed by the early Byzantine mosaic in the apse of Sant’Apollinare in Classe near Ravenna, built in the mid-6th century. The witnesses of the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah above, the Apostles Peter, James and John below, represented as three sheep, are standing around a great jeweled Cross, rather than Christ in in His glory and majesty; only the face of the Lord appears, within a small medallion in the middle of the Cross, an expression of the humility with which He accepted the Passion.

The three witnesses of the Transfiguration, Ss Peter, James and John, often appear together in the Gospels as the disciples closest to Christ. Along with Peter’s brother St Andrew, they were the first disciples called to follow Him, and were present for the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4, 38-39); they were also the witnesses of the healing of the daughter of Jairus, (Mark 5, 37) and the agony in the garden (Mark 14, 33). They alone receive new names from Christ as a sign of their mission, (Mark 3, 16-17) Peter, “the Rock”, being the name given to Simon, James and John receiving the name Boanerges, “sons of thunder”. But at the Transfiguration, as in so many other places, it is Peter alone whose words the Evangelists record for us, words which the church of Rome sings this days at his very tomb, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

The Transformative Collect of the Second Sunday of Lent

Giambettino Cignaroli, Transfiguration of Christ (1741)
Lost in Translation #40

The Collect for the Second Sunday of Lent is:

Deus, qui cónspicis omni nos virtúte destítui: interius exteriusque custódi; ut ab ómnibus adversitátibus muniámur in córpore, et a pravis cogitatiónibus mundémur in mente. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
O God, who seest that we are bereft of all virtue, guard us inside and out: that we may be defended from all adversities to our bodies and cleansed from all perverse thoughts in our minds. Through our Lord.
The noun virtus is not easy to translate. Although it can mean moral virtue, as we have rendered it here, in the Roman orations it is generally used in reference to God’s supernatural power, especially His power to make man’s cultic act divine. And when it is used in reference to man himself, it is usually as a divinely-infused, superhuman power like the courage of the martyrs. [1] Declaring that man is bereft of all virtus, then, is not an endorsement of the doctrine of total depravity; it is an assertion that holiness is impossible without God.
Those Christians who believe in man’s total depravity also tend to subscribe to a doctrine of “imputed righteousness,” the idea that God does not really transform fallen man, but throws a cloak of justice over him which enables him to enter Heaven, like a blanket of snow on a pile of dung. The Collect, by contrast, presupposes that salvation and holiness thoroughly transform the human person both inside and out. We first want to be protected from bodily adversity, which can disturb our inner peace and strain our trust in God, as it did to Job. Once protected, we ask God to clean out our perverse or crooked thoughts. Cleansing is an important theme of Lent: all of our mortifications are meant to have a purgative value. But cleansing our thoughts is especially difficult. It is easier to control our actions than the promptings and musings of our mind, and therefore even the best of men can be plagued with the worst of thoughts. The difference between a saint and the average man is not that the saint has only pure thoughts, but that he trains his mind to reject, calmly yet firmly, bad thoughts as soon as they arise. And should they persist, he refuses to let them lead him to discouragement but throws himself all the more passionately on the mercy of God. Perverse thoughts are a stubborn, many-headed hydra, yet we are confident that God can cleanse us of even them.
On a linguistic note, there is a pleasing juxtaposition between “defended” and “cleansed”, since there is a slight pun on the words muniamur and mundemur. It is also difficult to express in English the tight contrast between in corpore and in mente.
Body, soul, and holiness are also the subjects of the Sunday readings. In the Epistle from 1 Thessalonians, St Paul reminds us that God does not call us to uncleanness (immunditia is related to the Collect’s mundemur). Rather, He wills our sanctification, and that involves knowing how to possess our vessels (bodies) in honor. The Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Lent, on the other hand, is Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration (17, 1-9), when Jesus is transfigured on (presumably) Mount Tabor as Peter, James, and John look on. The traditional interpretation of this event is that our Lord was preparing these three Princes of the Apostles for the brutal and demoralizing spectacle of the crucifixion by giving them a foreshadowing of His glorious resurrection. (They are the same three Apostles who will be called to witness Christ’s agony in the garden). And similarly, in order to inspire the faithful during the penitential season of Lent, the Church on this Sunday anticipates the glory of Easter by calling to mind Christ’s transfiguration.
But we can also think of the Transfiguration as the goal to which the Collect aspires. Jesus’ glorified, transfigured body is free from bodily adversity, and His soul is either free of perverse thoughts or is constantly being cleansed of them. [2] Romano Guardini once defined a beautiful work of art as one in which “its inner essence and significance find perfect expression in its existence.” The brilliant clothes and face of Jesus Christ during the Transfiguration are the perfect expression of His inner beauty, a beauty we adore, strive to imitate, and God willing, will some day resemble.

[1] Sr. Mary Pierre Ellebracht, Remarks on the Vocabulary of the Ancient Orations in the Missale Romanum (Dekker & Van de Vegt N.V., 1963), 127-9.
[2] I hesitate to say which because it depends on the definition of “perverse thought.” As we know from last week’s Gospel, Jesus was truly tempted in the desert. Does temptation always include a perverse suggestion?

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Vespers in the Morning?

In the Breviary of St Pius V, the following rubric is placed before Vespers of Ash Wednesday. “Today and the following two days, Vespers are said at the accustomed hour. But on Saturday, and thenceforth until Easter, they are said before eating (ante comestionem), both on feasts and on ferias, except on Sundays, on which they are said at the accustomed hour.” This is based on the rubrics to the same effect which appear in the Ordinal of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), the ancestor text of the Tridentine missal and breviary; it appears in all the revisions of the Tridentine books subsequent to St Pius V, until it was expunged in the revision of 1960. This custom derives from the Church’s very ancient discipline of Lenten fasting, and its connection to the celebration of the Mass and the Divine Office.
The relevant rubric in the first edition of the Breviary of St Pius V
In the traditional missal, there is a rubric “on the hour of celebrating Mass” (rubr. gen. xv), which gives the liturgical schedule for the celebration of conventual Masses, the main public Masses celebrated in choir by the community of clergy or religious who have the charge of a particular church. This schedule ties the conventual Mass to certain Hours of the Office; on double and semidouble feasts, it is said after Terce, on simple feasts and ordinary ferias after Sext, and on fast days, after None.
This custom is attested in some of the oldest liturgical documents of the Roman Rite, and analogous customs are found in most other historical rites. For example, in the first surviving Roman sacramentary, known as the old Gelasian Sacramentary, the Mass of Christmas Eve includes a notice in its title that it is to be celebrated “at None.” There are several references to this tradition in Gratian’s Decretals, the collection of canons which formed the basis of all medieval canon law. This collection dates to the middle of the 12th century, but contains decrees from various councils and Popes that are much older. In the article of the Summa Theologiae that discusses the rite of the Mass, St Thomas sums up the reason for this very simply by saying “since our Lord’s Passion was celebrated from the third to the ninth hour, therefore this sacrament is solemnly celebrated by the Church in that part of the day.” (S.T. III q. 83 a. 2 co.)
Folio 1v of the Gellone Sacramentary, ca 780 AD., with the rubric before the Mass of Christmas Eve, “On the vigil of the birth of the Lord, at the ninth hour, (station) at St Mary (Major.)” In the ancient liturgical books of the Roman Rite, the year begins with Christmas Eve, and ends with Advent. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 12048)
There is furthermore a very ancient custom of the Roman Rite and others that Vespers was to be celebrated immediately after any Mass that was said after None. Therefore, back in the days when the discipline of Lenten fasting was still kept very strictly, the liturgical schedule of a Lenten feria would go as follows.
In Rome, where the observation of the station churches formed an integral part of the liturgy, the people would gather in the later part of the day in a church not far from the stational church, which was known as the “collect church.” There None would be sung, and the Pope and his ministers would vest for the Mass; then everyone would process to the station church, where Mass would be celebrated, followed by Vespers. It was only after all of this was done that it was permitted to break the fast. (It was also a common custom for the people in attendance to break the fast together in the church’s courtyard, or at least nearby; this is why the Lenten Masses traditionally ended with “Benedicamus Domino”, rather than “Ite, missa est”, since the faithful did not actually depart.)
From the second post of our 2019 series of the Roman station Masses - the procession on Ember Friday from the church of the Holy Name of Mary to that of the Twelve Apostles.
Of course, very few cities in antiquity had anywhere near as many churches as Rome did, and according to their circumstances, either kept a limited schedule of stational observances, or none at all. However, the principle that one fasted on Lenten ferias until after Mass and Vespers was universal, and again, similar customs are found in other liturgical traditions both of the East and the West. This would require one to eat nothing from midnight to roughly 4-5 p.m., a discipline which many people would, of course, find it very difficult to keep up six days a week for six weeks.
From this comes the rule that Vespers was to be said “before eating”, which is to say, before breaking the fast. And this is why this rule does not apply to the Sundays of Lent. Sunday is never a fast day in the West, and the conventual Mass on a Sunday is always said after Terce; there was an obligatory fast for Communion, but once the clergy had celebrated and communicated in the morning, they were free to eat. (In practice, however, it was very common to sing Sext and None immediately after Mass, and then eat.)
It is no secret, of course, that over the centuries, the discipline of fasting was much relaxed in the Church, although it did not become the official farce that it is now until Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini, one of the worst mistakes of his pontificate, was promulgated in 1966. As a matter of fairness, it also has to be said that this relaxation began in the High Middle Ages, when the liturgical duties of the clergy had increased considerably over what they had been when the discipline was first formed. Most of them were required by the terms of their benefices to say a private Mass in addition to their participation in the various conventual services, which was not the case in antiquity. The Lenten Office in particular had also become very long with the addition of frequent recitation of the Gradual and Penitential Psalms, the Office of the Dead, and in many places, the Litany of the Saints.
Therefore, as part of this relaxation, there arose the custom of maintaining the liturgical schedule in its long-standing order (None, Mass, Vespers, breaking of the fast), but anticipating to the morning (or later morning) the services which were originally proper to the afternoon and evening, so that one could break the fast earlier.
A screen-shot taken last year of the website of the Ionisky Monastery in Kyiv, Ukraine, which keeps a Lenten schedule similar to that of the older Roman tradition. Beginning at 7am, they celebrate the Hours up to and including Vespers, and in the evening, Great Compline, and Matins of the following day. (This was the first day of Lent on the Julian calendar last year. I took this in order to ask a Ukrainian friend about the weird mistakes in the automatic translation, which turns “Hours” into “clocks”, thinks the word “izobrazitelny” means “fine” in Ukrainian but “pictorial” in Russian, and calls “litia”, a prayer for the dead similiar to the Roman absolution, “lithium.”)
This combination of rules and traditions has sometimes been misunderstood to mean that prior to the reform of 1960, the Church positively required Vespers be celebrated in the morning in Lent. And of course, this perception was reinforced by the common custom of celebrating all major Masses in the morning, including those of the Triduum; hence the oft-criticized blessing of the fire and singing of the Exsultet (“This is the night…”) at the Easter vigil in the full sunlight of a spring morning.
The truth of the matter is more complex. It is true that this was very widely done, but it was in point of fact never mandatory. The rubric states clearly that Vespers were done “before eating”, not “before noon.” Furthermore, the rubric “on the hour of celebrating Mass” states that private Masses must be celebrated after the recitation of Matins and Lauds, anytime from one hour before dawn until 1 pm, but this did not apply to conventual Masses. In theory, therefore, a religious community of any sort was always free to observe the ancient discipline, which is to say, to keep the strict fast during the day, say None, Mass and Vespers at the appropriate time in the afternoon, and then break the fast. And indeed, the rubrics do not require that these things all be done in immediate succession, so they would also be free to say None at 3pm, the conventual Mass immediately after, then continue to fast until Vespers at 6pm, and finally take their first meal of the day.
One final note needs to be added to properly understand this custom, namely, that in the Roman Divine Office, more often than not, Vespers makes no reference of any kind to the time of day. In the original Tridentine Breviary, the weekday Vespers of the current week would be evenly split between feasts (Monday – Wednesday) and Lent. (Thursday to Saturday.) In all the liturgical texts of these Vespers from start to finish, there is exactly one reference to the evening, and that purely incidental, the words “the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice” in Psalm 140. I call this incidental because it is not said at Vespers specifically because it refers to the evening, but rather, because that Psalm is in the part of the weekly cursus which is assigned to Vespers.
Breaches of the veritas horarum have long been a favorite subject for moral panic among modern liturgists, but liturgical time is not ordinary time, and there is no historical liturgical tradition that has ever considered it necessary above all else to always follow the hours of the sun or the clock exactly in keeping the liturgical Hours.

A Dominican Missa Cantata in L’viv, Ukraine

For the last year, there has been a regular weekly celebration of the Dominican Mass in L’viv, Ukraine; hitherto, always a low Mass, but this past Sunday, it was celebrated as a Missa cantata for the first time. Of course, we are always glad to report on the continued restoration of the traditional rites per se, but I also wanted to share these in particular because of the very particular decoration of the chapel where it was celebrated. As you can see in several of the photos, the frescoes on the walls are imitated from illuminated medieval liturgical manuscripts, a very clever idea! Our thanks to the photographer, Vita Jakubowska, for permission to reproduce these. (They go as far as the genuflection during the Creed.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

“Let My Prayer Rise as Incense” by Pavel Chesnokov - Byzantine Music for Lent

As we have noted a number of times (examples here and here), in the Byzantine Rite, the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on the weekdays of Lent, but only on Saturdays and Sundays. (An exception is made for the feast of the Annunciation.) Therefore, at the Divine Liturgy on Sundays, extra loaves of bread are consecrated, and reserved for the rest of the week. On Wednesdays and Fridays, a service known as the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is held, in which Vespers is mixed with a Communion Rite. (It is also held on the first three days of Holy Week, and may be done on other occasions, but twice a week is the most common practice.)

The first part of this ceremony follows the regular order of Vespers, and the second part imitates the Great Entrance and the Communion rite of the Divine Liturgy. After the opening Psalm 103 and the Litany of Peace, as the Gradual Psalms are chanted in 3 separate blocks, a portion of the Presanctified Gifts is moved from the altar to the table of the preparation. There follow the general incensation of the church to the singing of 4 psalms (140, 141, 129 and 116) with the hymns known as “stichera” between the verses, then the entrance procession with the thurible and the hymn Phos Hilaron. Two readings are done from the Old Testament (Genesis and Proverbs in Lent, Exodus and Job in Holy Week), after which, the priest stands in front of the altar and incenses it continually, while the choir sings verses of Psalm 140, with the refrain “Let my prayer rise before Thee like incense, the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.” (See note below.)

This setting, sung here by the choir of the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, is by one of the great modern Russian composers, Pavel Chesnokov (1887-1944), a remarkably prolific author of sacred music, with over 400 pieces to his name. Very sadly, when the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, where he had served as choirmaster, was destroyed in 1933, he became so distraught that he stopped composing altogether. (The church was demolished to make way for a gigantic public building that was never realized, and reconstructed on the same site from 1995 to 2000.)

Note: in some traditions, the verses of Psalm 140 are sung by the celebrant, and the choir sings the refrain. The priest may also move around the table, standing first in front of it, then to one side, than at the back etc., changing places as the choir sings the refrain. He will also incense the Presanctified Gifts at the table of preparation during this part of the rite.

Betting on Heaven! Using Pascal’s Wager to Evangelize Others

“Try this for 30 days, and if you don’t like it, we'll return your misery with interest!”

More than thirty years ago, I met by chance a man called David Birtwistle, who asked me this question: Are you as happy as you can be? It was an easy one for me to answer: “No.” “Would you like that to change?” “Yes.” “Let me show you how,” David said. I am using the image of the Prodigal Son as featured in yesterday’s post to represent myself in this scenario.

The Prodigal Son, by John Macallan Swann, English, 19th century
David was older than me - I was 26 and he was in his sixties - and I was introduced to him by a mutual friend whom he had helped and in whom I had seen great change.

What David offered me was the chance to discover a fulfilling role in life through a series of spiritual exercises. I didn’t have to believe in God, he said, I just had to be willing to act as though He existed. I was a bitter and unhappy atheist at this point, and would have run a mile if I had been asked to believe in Christ. But being willing to take actions consistent with the idea of God, this seemed possible. I had seen the effect that this process had had on my friend, so was willing to give it a try.

David gave me a daily routine of prayer, meditation and good works that took up about 10-15 minutes of my day. “Try it for 30 days,’ he said, ‘and if you don’t like it, we’ll return your misery with interest!”

Pascal studying the cycloid, by Augustin Pajou, 1785
What I didn’t know was that David was a devout Catholic, and he was presenting to me his own version of Pascal’s Wager. Pascal, the 17th century French philosopher and mathematician, was a Catholic, and used his ‘wager’ as a rational argument to draw people into the Faith. He proposed that people bet with their lives that God either exists or does not. A rational person, he suggested, should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas if God does exist, he stands to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).

I remember hearing this argument when I was a high school, and had always though that it didn’t work because, it seemed to me, it wasn’t enough for me to live a life consistent with faith in God. If I wanted to go to heaven, I had to believe in God as well, and that was, I thought not possible. ‘I can’t flick a switch and believe,’ I thought.

The difference with David’s approach as it was presented to me was that he knew, I think, that he could persuade me to take the actions, knowing that I would feel different as a result, and would become a believer, provided I was open to the possibility at the outset. This is exactly what happened to me. Within just one day of trying a routine that included praying to be cared for by a God that I thought might exist, saying thank you at night (‘it’s good manners to say thank you’) and writing a gratitude list of good things that occurred in the day, I was feeling noticeably different. This encouraged me initially to keep doing it and look for psychological explanations for why it worked, based upon the assumption that God doesn’t exist. Very quickly - well before the 30 days were up - I had concluded that these simple actions work for the reason that David said they did: God does exist and He is helping me. I was now a believer. Simple as that.
Blaise Pascal, a contemporary portrait
I suspect that David’s presentation was what Pascal intended as well. Pascal is also credited with saying, “If you are looking for God, then rejoice you have found Him.”
It was a long way from a generic faith in God to being received in the Church, but because I had started on a foundation of truth, continued practice of the principles that David had passed on led inexorably to my conversion. I was received into the Church about four years later at Farm Street Catholic Church in London, and David was my sponsor!

The only condition that David attached to passing this on to me was that I should be ready to hand on to others what he had given to me. This is what drove me to write the two books about the process, The Vision for You - How to Discover the Life You Were Made For, and a condensed presentation of the same process, The Vision for You - A Short Summary of the Spiritual Exercises & a Manual to Accompany Workshops. A group of us who have been through this process have now started to run video-conference workshops that explain the process to inquirers, and allow you to meet mentors who can guide you through the Vision for You Process one-to-one. Anyone who is interested and would like guidance is free to contact me. We endeavor to pass on to others freely what was freely given to us.

The process leads me first to establish a deep relationship with God and then to the discernment process. Under David’s guidance, from this first foundation of a daily routine, he took me through a series of thorough spiritual exercises, in the manner of Ignatian Spiritual Exercises or perhaps the 12-Steps. It culminated in a discernment process by which I discovered God’s plan for me and how to follow it. At no point was I required to be a believing Christian, but everything David asked me to do was consistent with and informed by David’s Catholicism. David seemed content to allow God to call me to Him on that one!

After completing the first part of the process by which I found a deep connection with God, David asked me a question: “If you inherited so much money that you never again had to work for the money, what activity would you choose to do, nine to five, five days a week?” One thing that he said he was certain about, he said, was that God wanted me to be happy. Provided that what I wanted to do wasn’t inherently bad (such as drug dealing!) then there was every reason to suppose that my answer to this question was what God wanted me to do. This process did not involve ever being reckless or foolish, or abandoning my everyday responsibilities, but I would always need faith to stave off fear. He couldn’t guarantee that my dreams would happen exactly as imagined, although it was certainly possible. What he did guarantee though was that by following this call and taking small and sensible steps towards it, I would be fulfilled and discover what God wanted me to do because it would materialize in my life. As He put it to me, “Thy will be done,” is a fact, not an aspiration.

I answered this question immediately. I wanted to be an artist.

In response David told me that there were two reasons why I wouldn’t achieve my dream: the first was if I didn’t try to follow the call; the second was that, assuming that I did try, en route I would find myself doing something even better, perhaps something previously unimagined. When this happens, he said, you will be enjoying it so much you stop looking further.

David also stressed how important it was always to be grateful for what I have today. He said that unless I could cultivate gratitude for the gifts that God is giving me today, right here, right now, then I would be in a permanent state of dissatisfaction. In which case, even if I got what I wanted I wouldn't be happy. This gratitude should start right now, he said, with the life you have today. Aside from living the sacramental life, he told me to write a daily list of things to be grateful for and to thank God daily for them. Even if things weren’t going my way there were always things to be grateful for, and I should develop the habit of looking for them and giving praise to God for his gifts. He also stressed strongly that I should constantly look to help others along their way.
Blaise Pascal’s death mask
My experience is this. Most important first, I became Catholic. Next, I was offered a job at a Catholic liberal arts college in New Hampshire as Artist in Residence which brought me to the United States from the UK. Then my goal developed into more - I wanted to create of offer a formation for Catholic artists. This was created in my next job, when I designed a Master of Sacred Arts program for Pontifex University, where I am now Provost. This also the home of the wonderful Masters program offered in conjunction with Dr Christopher West and the Theology of the Body Institute on the Theology of the Body and the New Evangelization.
Some years after meeting David, and before I came to the US, I was offered the chance to study portrait painting in Florence (I couldn’t believe it!). While I was there, I went to see a priest who was an expert in Renaissance art, an American living at the Duomo. I wanted to know if my developing ideas regarding the principles for an art school were sound. He listened and encouraged me in what I was doing. Then he remarked in passing, even though I hadn’t asked him this, that he thought that it was my personal vocation to try to establish this school.
The Duomo, Florence, Italy
I don’t know what I had said that had made him think this, but I was pleased to hear it and he seemed pretty certain. Then he said something else that I found interesting. He warned me that I couldn’t be sure that I would ever get this school off the ground but he was certain that I should try. As I did so, he said, my activities along the way would attract people to the Faith (most likely in ways unknown to me). This, he said, is what a vocation is really about, drawing people to Christ.
Dice players, Roman fresco, Pompeii, 1st century AD
David Clayton is Provost at Pontifex University, which partners with the Theology of the Body Institute on the wonderful Master’s program in the Theology of the Body and the New Evangelization. You can contact David at on any of the topics mentioned below. Go to www.Pontifex.University for information on the Master’s, and Theology Doctorate programs; to to find his publications; and to for information on the Vision for You process for discernment of personal vocation and spiritual exercises for the conversion of the heart.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A Roman Pilgrim at the Station Churches 2021 (Part 1)

This year makes the eighth in row in which our friend Agnese Bazzucchi, the Roman Pilgrim, shares with us her photos of the daily Lenten stational Masses in Rome, for which we offer her our heartfelt thanks. (Last year, the series, like the station Masses, was cancelled after Ember Saturday because of the pandemic, but we did manage two posts.) Let us all be sure to dedicate this Lent to pray that the situation will continue to improve; and indeed, there is perhaps no better occasion than Lent in which to ask for God’s mercy and a swift end to the crisis by fasting and penance.
I would also ask all of our readers, and especially those who have enjoyed the many posts to which Agnese has contributed over the years (which includes quite a lot of things apart from this series), to remember a special intention; her mother, Maria Teresa Bazzucchi, passed away last October, so please be so good as to offer prayers for her eternal repose.
Thursday after Ash Wednesday – San Giorgio in Velabro
His Eminence Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology, comes every year to celebrate the stational Mass at his cardinalitial title, which he holds in very illustrious company. His predecessor in the title was Alphonse Card. Stickler. In 1879, because the titular Saint, George, is the Patron of England, Pope Leo XIII have it to St John Henry Newman, who held it until his death in 1890.

Friday after Ash Wednesday – Ss John and Paul
This year, the Passionist order, which has had charge of this church since 1773, celebrates its 300th anniversary. The founder, St Paul of the Cross, had a brother named Giovanni Battista (John the Baptist), himself now a Venerable, to whom he was very close, and who was instrumental in helping him establish the order. Many years after the latter’s death, Pope Clement XIV (1769-74) gave the basilica to St Paul to be the first “retreat”, as Passionist houses are called, in Rome, in remembrance of his beloved brother, since the martyrs John and Paul to whom the church is dedicated were also brothers.
The dome seen in the middle of this photo is not that of the main church, but of the large side-chapel where St Paul of the Cross is buried. 
In accordance with a very ancient custom, many of the stational churches bring out relics for the procession before the Mass.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15, 11-32) forms a narrative for repentance at its different stages, and like that of the Publican and Pharisee, is a traditional subject for reflection for Christians entering into the Lenten period. Sin is exile, repentance is the return from exile to our true home. We also learn of three things through this parable: the condition of the sinner, the rule of repentance, and the greatness of God’s compassion and mercy. These are themes also, of course that are applicable generally during the Lenten season.

This painting by the English artist John Macallan Swan was done in the year 1888, and is now in the Tate Gallery in London. He uses a naturalistic style; the focus is on the light that emanates from the torso of the son and makes the connection in our minds with the person of Christ, the Son, who is the Light of the World. Notice how the artist draws our attention to it by rendering most of the rest of the painting in reduced color and dark tones, as the Prodigal Son dreams of home, represented by the distant heavenly light on the horizon.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Follow-Up on the Thanksgiving Indult, by Sharon Kabel

Our thanks once again to Sharon Kabel for sharing her research with NLM, this time following up on her November article on the day-after-Thanksgiving indult for eating meat.

In November of last year, I shared a provocative hypothesis: thanks to the discovery of new evidence, it was possible for the first time to confirm that the long-rumored American “Turkey Indult” directly from the Pope did in fact occur, although not quite the way we thought.
Participants in the “Turkey Indult” conversation generally fall into three camps:
● No, the Turkey Indult did not happen; it has been conflated with diocesan permissions for indults.
● Yes, Pope Pius XII did issue a Turkey Indult in 1958 that remained applicable beyond 1958.
● You’re still talking about this?
My position was a fourth way: The papally-issued Turkey Indult happened in 1958 only, and was likely issued by Pope St. John XXIII, not Pius XII. And yes, we are still talking about it, thank you. (For brevity’s sake, I will refer to the event in question as the Turkey Indult throughout the article.)
In this follow-up post, I will briefly respond to the objections raised after my initial article, before revealing additional new discoveries which further confirm my original hypothesis. I would also like to share several new discoveries that paint a picture of growing laxity regarding fasting and abstinence, even before the Second Vatican Council.
Considering the murky origins of this story, and the strident and conflicting opinions held on the matter, it is increasingly obvious that the Turkey Indult Mythos has come to symbolize a preconciliar flash point. The Turkey Indult - its existence and its historiography - is a drama in miniature of rapid relaxation of traditional practices, and of the difficulty of reconstructing mid-twentieth century reforms with any surety.
Origins and Objections
One of the first substantial Internet discussions of the Turkey Indult appeared on Rorate Caeli in 2010 (archived article). Articles with mostly similar wording appeared in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017. The story lacked definitive sourcing, but provided a clear frame for the discussion. The Turkey Indult, the story went, was not merely a privilege granted by the Pope to American bishops (who could use or ignore it diocese by diocese), but instead a direct papal indult from Pius XII to Americans.
In subsequent years, several writers challenged this story because of the lack of evidence. My article, suggesting that the Turkey Indult happened but not quite the way we think, produced a wide range of responses.
Followers of the Turkey Indult have cited three main sources to argue that a papal dispensation did not occur. I will now examine these sources to provide an honest look at the critiques I received.
Source 1: Homiletic and Pastoral Review
Three websites referenced the Homiletic and Pastoral Review (HPR) to argue that the Turkey Indult never happened (Louis Tofari, Romanitas Press; Matthew Plese, (article); Matthew Plese, A Catholic Life). The specific HPR articles cited are:
• Aidan M. Carr, O.F.M.Conv., “Questions Answered: Friday’s Turkey,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review (December 1962; Vol. LXIII, No. 3).
• Aidan M. Carr, O.F.M.Conv., “Questions Answered: Friday’s Turkey Rehashed,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review (February 1963; Vol. LXIII, No. 5): “If my original questioner meant - as he most probably did - that the bishop had dispensed the whole diocese from the law of abstinence on Friday after Thanksgiving, then I should have stated that his subjects could not, in that case, avail themselves of the favor when outside the territory of their ordinary.”
These HPR articles confirm that Rome granted US bishops permission to dispense the faithful from abstinence on holidays or days surrounding holidays. However, as these clippings are concerned with diocesan dispensations in 1962-63, rather than a papal indult in 1958, they do not have bearing on the question of the Turkey Indult.
Source 2: Fr. Bouscaren’s Canon Law Digest
Two writers called upon a weighty source to similarly argue that the Turkey Indult likely did not happen (Matthew Plese, A Catholic Life; Dale Price, Dyspeptic Mutterings). The specific source cited is:
● Father T. Lincoln Bouscaren, Canon Law Digest, vol. 5 (1963, Bruce Publishing Company), pp. 557-8, 565: “In a letter of 13 January 1962 His Eminence, the Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Council, has graciously informed me that the faculty of the Most Reverend Ordinaries of the United States to dispense from the laws of fast and/or abstinence on civil holidays has been renewed for another period of five years...Note: To avoid misunderstanding, it should be remembered that it does not necessarily follow from the above document that all Ordinaries make full use of their faculties. [...] Dispensation Faculty Available for the Friday After Thanksgiving Day: The U. S. Apostolic Delegate can delegate to local Ordinaries who request it, the faculty to dispense from abstinent on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day. The faculty, when granted, is valid for five years.” [emphases added]
Interestingly, it is worthwhile to note that while Thanksgiving itself is obviously a civic holiday, the Friday after Thanksgiving is not. The fact that the Friday after Thanksgiving was addressed separately a few pages later supports the idea that indults for civic holidays did not automatically include the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Despite this, Fr. Bouscaren’s Digest did not address a 1958 papal Turkey Indult. The writers citing this source merely suggested that the 1958 Turkey Indult was in reality a diocesan dispensation that fell under the existing permissions.
Source 3: The Arkansas Catholic newspaper
One reader shared the following newspaper article:
● Arkansas Catholic, March 1, 1963, “Regulations on Fast and Abstinence: Diocese of Little Rock, 1963“: “By reason of special faculties, His Excellency, the Most Reverend Bishop, grants herewith the following dispensations:...from the Law of Abstinence on Friday, November 29, (day after Thanksgiving)...”
This article described diocesan indults in force for 1962-3 for the Friday after Thanksgiving (and several other days). This newspaper article did not address a 1958 papal Turkey Indult.
New Discoveries
In preparation for this second installment, I redoubled my efforts to find additional confirmation of the Turkey Indult described by Fr. Daniel Brennan in The Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper. As I mentioned at the end of my first article, the phrasing of Fr. Brennan’s response and the date of John XXIII’s election to the papacy make it highly suggestive that the Turkey Indult was granted by John XXIII and not Pius XII.
In the course of research, I sadly could find no additional sources besides the already-linked Pittsburgh Catholic article. I did, however, discover three additional dramatic papal indults granted by John XXIII within the first 10 months of his papacy.
Friday, December 26, 1958 (not a feast, vigil, or civic holiday)
Pope Okays Meat Friday Dec. 26,” The Herald-Press, Saint Joseph, Michigan (16 Dec 1958)
Friday, May 1, 1959 (a new feast)
Pope John Says Catholics Can Eat Meat Today,” Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Minnesota (01 May 1959)
Friday, August 14, 1959 (a vigil)
Catholics Can Eat Meat Friday, Pope Declares,” Galesburg Register-Mail, Galesburg, Illinois (11 Aug 1959)
These newspaper articles demonstrate that these papal dispensations were not routine or familiar and caused confusion amongst the bishops and the faithful.

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