Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Palm Sunday 2021 Photopost (Part 2)

The sacred Triduum is now upon us, and a reminder/request for photos of the ceremonies of those days will be posted very soon. But first, we finish our Palm Sunday series; as always, our thanks to everyone who sent these in, helping with the good work of evangelizing though beauty!
Hacienda La Providencia, Zapopan Jalisco, Mexico (FSSP)

Spy Wednesday 2021

It is worthy and just that we should always give Thee thanks, Lord, holy Father, eternal and almighty God, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who willed to suffer for the impious, and be unjustly condemned for the wicked; Who forgave the praying thief his crime, promising him Paradise by His most agreeable will, Whose death wiped away our crimes, and resurrection brought us justification. Therefore we entreat Thee, our God, that today Thou forgive us our sins, and on the morrow, refresh us with Thy sweetness. Having today accepted the confession of our sins, grant also tomorrow an increase of spiritual gifts. Today, cast away from our bodies whatever Thou hatest, and tomorrow, refresh us with the wounds of Thy cross. Today, fill our mouth with joy, and our tongue with rejoicing, such that now and forever we may praise Thee, proclaiming Thee as a most loving Savior, and so saying: Holy… (The Preface of Spy Wedneday in the Mozarabic Rite.)

The Man of Sorrows (with a Eucharistic chalice), by the Dutch painter Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, ca. 1500-33. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Dignum et justum est nos tibi semper gratias agere, Domine, sancte Pater, eterne omnipotens Deus: per Jesum Christum, Filium tuum, Dominum nostrum. Qui pati pro impiis voluit, et pro sceleratis indebite condemnari. Qui latroni deprecanti omisit delictum, promittens ei voluntate gratissima paradisum. Cujus mors delicta nostra detersit, et resurrectio justificationem nobis exibuit. Ob hoc te, Deus noster, exposcimus, ut hodie dimittas nobis peccata nostra, et cras reficias nos dulcedine tua. Hodie nostrorum peccaminum confessione accepta, et cras donorum spiritualium tribue incrementa. Hodie quicquid odis a nostris corporibus abjice, et cras nos refice vulneribus crucis tuae. Hodie os nostrum reple gaudio, et lingua nostra exultatione, qualiter nunc et usque in seculum laudemus te, piissimum Salvatorem proclamantes, atque ita dicentes. Sanctus…

Palm Sunday 2021 Photopost (Part 1)

Over the years, many of our readers have expressed to me how encourging they find it to see in our photoposts evidence of the world-wide movement to rediscover and preserve our Catholic liturgical patrimony. Such readers will, I think, find this post particularly enjoyable. We have a very ancient liturgical custom preserved in Poland, a beautifully done OF Mass in South Carolina, and something which we have also featured in past years, a Mass in Use of Braga. (Click here for an explanation.)
There will be another post in this series before we move on the to the Triduum, so more photos of your Palm Sunday liturgies are still welcome. Send them to, and remember to include the name and location of the church. We wish you all a most blessed Sacred Triduum.
Sacred Heart of Jesus and St Florian – Poznan, Poland
Following a local custom of long-standing, after opening the door of the church by triple striking with the processional cross, there takes places a rite called ‘the scourging of the Cross.’ The procession stops outside the sanctuary, and an unveiled cross is laid on a pillow. The priest and servers kneel down and struck the cross three times with the palm, chanting the antiphon Scriptum est enim, at a higher pitch each time, and repeated by the choir. ‘For it is written: I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.” The priest then stands, takes up the Cross and raises it three times, the first two times intoning the penultimate stanza of the Vexilla Regis (O Crux, ave, spes unica), which is completed by the choir.
Putting the cross back on the pillow, the celebrant incenses it three times and kisses it, then stands and says the following prayer: ‘O God, who whilst ruling savest and by sparing justifiest: through the Passion of Thy only-begotten Son, and our Lord Jesus Christ, free us from worldly distresses and grant us eternal joy. Through the same Christ our Lord.’ The origins of this rite can be traced back to the Romano-German Pontifical; after the Tridentine reform, it was preserved in local editions of the Rituale.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A Final Passiontide Photopost

Before we move on to photos of your Palm Sunday liturgies, and then the other ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter, we have a few extra items from last week: a Mass for St Joseph in Poland, a Pontifical Mass on the Annunciation, and Passiontide veils in seven different churches in Brazil, and were sent in by one of our most regular photopost contributors, Mr João Melo. As always, thanks for those who shared these with us.

Passiontide Veils in Brazil
Parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Laranjeiras, Sergipe, the first parish in the Americas dedicated to the Sacred Heart, in 1835.
Cathedral Basilica of Nossa Senhora do Pilar, in São João Del Rei, Minas Gerais

The Harrowing of Hell

This week I am considering the period between the Crucifixion and Resurrection when Christ, the second Adam, born of the Virgin Mary, the second Eve, descended into hell and brought salvation to the souls held captive there since the beginning of the world, including the first Adam and the first Eve, our parents. The term “the Harrowing of Hell” is a poetic description used in English in the Romanesque and Gothic periods.

This image, a dramatic and evocative composition, is a miniature from the Winchester Psalter,  most likely commissioned by Henry of Blois, brother of Stephen, King of England, and Bishop of Winchester, England, from 1129 until his death in 1171. Using the Romanesque style, which is in accordance with the iconographic style, the artist relies on the flow and varying breadth of line skillfully to describe form using tonal change and color with restraint, so that we are aware of the vellum substrate. This helps to retain a sense of flatness and lack of depth in the image, which evokes the heavenly domain that is outside time and space. Notice how the satanic serpent is shown in profile, not in full-face, in accordance with the convention (explained in a recent post) that the devil is faceless or partially faced to indicate deceit.

I am always struck by the fact that Adam and Eve got a second chance! If even the people responsible for all the suffering and sin in the world could be forgiven, then I have a hope! Through God’s mercy, we can join them in paradise, and each of us will become like Christ, a flower in the new Garden of Eden, blooming through Him in the Spirit.

By the way, I use the term ‘miniature’ here as a generic word for all medieval illumination; it did not originally refer to size, but rather to a particular commonly used color. One of the main pigments used to build up the foundational establishment of line and tone was ‘red lead’, a lead oxide called in Latin, minium, and a “miniature” was originally an image made with it. But because illuminations are generally smaller than the artworks churches, it gradually became a general term for any manuscript illumination, and then the term was applied to all art on a smaller scale. Finally, in English, it became a descriptor for any object of a small size.

The depiction of the opening to hell as a serpent’s gaping jaws is part of the Hellmouth tradition that flourished in England from Anglo-Saxon times. Here is the Winchester Psalter’s depiction of an angel locking the door to hell, indicating the impossibility of passage from hell to Heaven.
On a personal note, as I was writing this I recalled a family holiday when I was 5 years old. We visited Hell’s Mouth, Porth Neigwl on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales (place names which are easier to write than pronounce unless you grew up in Wales), a 4-mile sandy beach with prominent headlands at either end. On the map, its shape mimics the gaping mouth of a dragon; it was named for this and for the dangerous currents and choppy waters in the bay in which sailors and more recently swimmers have died. I was always forbidden to swim in the sea there by my parents whenever we visited.

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Mosaics of the Basilica of St Praxedes

This past February 11th, on the feast of Pope St Paschal I (817-22), I did a post about the mosaics which he had installed in three basilicas in Rome, Santa Maria in Domnica, St Cecilia, and St Praxedes. At the first two, the only part of this work that survives is in the apses, but at the latter there is a great deal more. Since it was too much to cover all three churches in a single post, I waited until today to do St Praxedes, since the Lenten station is traditionally held there on Holy Monday. Most of these photos are by Nicola de’ Grandi; a few are from Fr Lew, and are noted as such. The post linked above explains the historical and cultural background which determines a good deal of the content and style of these works.
The apse and high altar seen from the nave; the 13th-century cosmatesque pavement of the basilica is also very well preserved.

On the external arch is depicted the golden city seen by St John in Apocalypse 22, with Christ, the Virgin Mary, St John the Baptist, the Apostles, St Praxedes, and four Angels inside. To either side, Angels lead crowds of Saints into the city. At the lower part on either side is seen a crowd of martyrs with their palm branches; these are partially destroyed by tabernacles which were inserted into the arch in the 16th century to house relics, which could be displayed and used to bless the people from the small balconies below them. (Photo by Fr Lew)
Detail of the center by Fr Lew
The mosaic in the apse itself borrows its motif from the basilica of Ss Cosmas and Damian, which was made about 300 years earlier. Christ is in the middle, larger than the other figures, descending from heaven on a series of colored clouds arranged like a staircase. He is wearing a golden robe like that of the Roman Emperor, and has a scroll in his hand, a symbol of His role as a teacher (John 13, 13). At St Praxedes, the hand of God the Father comes from above to crown him; at Cosmas and Damian, this was certainly originally present, although it has long since fallen out. To either side of Him are seen the patron Saints of Rome, the Apostles Peter and Paul, dressed in the toga and sandals of Roman senators. Next to them stand the patron Saints of the Church, Cosmas and Damian in the older mosaic, Praxedes and her sister Pudentiana in the newer one. On the left, we see in each case the Pope who commissioned it, and on the right, another Saint to balance the composition. (At Cosmas and Damian, this is St Theodore, an easterner like them who has a small church very close to theirs; at St Cecilia, their brother St Timothy. (Photo by Fr Lew)

Christ’s Life is the Church’s Life

The great English writer Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson believed that, because the Church is Christ’s Body extended over time and space, the life of the Church as it unfolds throughout the course of history must follow the pattern of the earthly life of Christ. His divine-human life is the pattern of her own origin, growth, and destiny, for He lived her life in concentrated form, and weaves anew the tapestry of His mysteries as each century passes. If the Church is Christ’s bride, she will enjoy a perfect union not only with His triumphant entry into Jerusalem and His glorious resurrection, but also with His sufferings, His passion and death on the Cross. Christ is the microcosm, and His Church, journeying through history, is the macrocosm which mirrors His own earthly mission.

Christ was born in humble surroundings, the son of a virgin, protected by a guardian; His Church is born from the humble throne of the Cross, the handiwork of the virginal High Priest, shrouded with a protecting veil by His Mother. Christ was obscure in His hidden life at Nazareth; the Church, too, remains hidden beneath the surface of the Roman Empire, and slowly comes to light as paganism exhausts itself in lupercalian gasps. Christ came into public prominence and was subjected to persecution by the authorities; His Church is the subject of imperial anger, sword, and fire. Christ was crucified by His own people; His Church will be martyred in every land where she dwells, as long as she gives living testimony to His Gospel. Christ is risen from the dead; His Church rises like the phoenix from every bed of ashes into which she seems to be dissolved.

The cycle began long ago and will continue until the end of time. Whatever was made manifest in the life of Christ will take place within His Church, in her sacred history. In every age of the Church there will be obscure births, a hidden and a public life, trials and crucifixions, resurrection and ascension. The whole of reality exists from Him, through Him, and towards Him: He is Alpha and Omega.

Wisely did the fathers of the Council of Nicaea name Pontius Pilate in the Christian Creed. For all time he represents the profane world. His voice can be heard across the centuries uttering the cry of despair “What is truth?,” which has become the modern question par excellence. Thinking himself generous and fair, Pilate haughtily “finds no crime” in Christ, the very Sun of Justice (cf. Jn 18:37–39). In the eyes of the contemporary West, Christ is nothing but a moral teacher, thanks to the efforts of Thomas Jefferson and his Enlightenment peers who felt quite comfortable with Pilate’s cowardly indifference. Having judged Christ innocent, the ruler hands the master over to the slaves to be crucified.

Pilate foreshadows the modern democratic leader, appealing to the people for a final decision and washing his hands of their irrational choice, while the Sanhedrin gloat over the conquered prophet: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum. Here we see the frightening consequence of indifference to truth: the Good is handed over to be crucified, in favor of Barabbas, an insurrectionist, a rebel from order, a violator of natural law. The monied rulers and avaricious slaves who populate our cities, from America to Europe, the Middle East to the Far East, acknowledge Caesar—the secular city, the civil state, the temporal realm—as their sole king. We who wish to follow Our Lord hail a different, higher, nobler, immortal King: Gloria, laus et honor tibi sit, Rex Christe, Redemptor.

Almighty Father, draw all men to your Son, draw them into the bosom of His holy Church. Lord Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords, draw us all into the safe haven of your Sacred Heart, that we may not be lost in the growing confusion and darkness, but remain ever united to you in a love that knows no end. O Holy Spirit, raise up prophets of conviction and preachers of truth in your Church, to confront and unmask the lying spirit in the mouth of the false prophets (cf. 1 Kgs 22:22). O Holy Trinity, eternal, unchanging Good and source of all life, save us, have mercy on us, for You are gracious and you love mankind. Amen.

Artwork by Daniel Mitsui.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Palm Sunday 2021

O God, whose Son came down from heaven to earth for the salvation of the human race, and as the hour of His passion approached, willed to come to Jerusalem sitting upon a donkey, and be named and praised as king by the crowds, deign Thou to bless these branches of palms and other trees, so that all who shall bear them may be so filled with Thy blessing, that they may be able to overcome the temptations of the ancient enemy in this world, and in the world to come, appear before Thee with the palm of victory and the fruit of good works. Through the same Our Lord… (A prayer from the oldest form of the blessing of the palms in the Roman Rite.)
The Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, fresco from the church of San Baudelio de Berlanga in Caltojar, Spain, ca 1125; now in the Indianapolis Museum of Art (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Deus, cujus Filius pro salúte géneris humáni de caelo descendit ad terras, et appropinquante hora passiónis suae Hierosólymam in ásino sedens veníre, et a turbis rex appellári ac laudári vóluit, benedícere dignáre hos palmárum ceterarumque árborum ramos, ut omnes qui eos latúri sunt ita benedictiónis tuae dono repleantur, quátenus et in hoc sáeculo hostis antíqui temptamenta superáre, et in futúro cum palma victoriae et fructu bonórum óperum tibi váleant apparére. Per eundem.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Photopost Request: Palm Sunday 2021

Holy Week is already upon us, so please send photos of your Palm Sunday services, whether in the OF or EF, Ordinariate or any Eastern Rite, etc., to; don’t forget to include the name and location of the church, and any other information you think important.
I would also ask people as much as possible to send the pictures as zipped files, which are a lot easier to process, and to size them down so that the smaller dimension is around 1500 pixels.
Reminders will be posted for the rest of Holy Week and Easter fairly soon. Evangelize through beauty!
From our first Palm Sunday photopost of 2019: the celebrant holding a decorated palm during the procession at the National Shrine of St Philomena in Miami, Florida.
From the second post: the church of St Catherine of Siena in Trumbull, Connecticut.
From the third post: the station at the door of the church of St Joseph in Troy, New York, in the ancient Use of the Carmelite Order, which prescribes a white cope rather than violet.
From the fourth post: the procession at the Nuestra Señora del Pilar, home of the FSSP apostolate in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Passiontide Photopost 2021 (Part 2)

The response to our request for photos of Passiontide veils has been really strong, and I am hopeful that we will see the same for Holy Week and Easter; a reminder will be posted later today about Palm Sunday. As always, many thanks to everyone who shared these with us!
St Catherine Labouré – Middletown, New Jersey
Holy Innocents – New York City
The feast of St Joseph
Our Lady of Mt Carmel – Newark, New Jersey
The feast of St Joseph
Our Lady of Mt Carmel – New York City

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Mass of Passion Friday

As I noted earlier this week, the fifth Sunday of Lent marks an important shift in emphasis in the Roman liturgy. The first part of the season is largely concerned with penance, and lessons for the catechumens as they prepare to be baptized at the Easter vigil. The liturgy of the fifth week focuses much more on the Lord’s Passion, which is why by the end of the ninth century, the term “Fifth Sunday of Lent” was abandoned in favor of “Passion Sunday.” This shift is particularly evident in the Mass chants, many of which speak in the person of the Lord in the midst of His sufferings, as for example the Introit of Monday, “Have mercy on me, O God, for man hath trodden me under foot; all the day long he hath afflicted me fighting against me. My enemies have trodden on me all the day long; for they are many that make war against me.” (Psalm 55, 2-3)
Folio 48r of the Echternach Sacramentary, 895AD, with the Mass “of the Sunday of the Lord’s Passion”; Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 9433
Today’s Mass marks another shift, and one which originally stood in especially high relief, since the days before and after were “aliturgical” days, on which no Mass was said; this was therefore the last Mass celebrated before Holy Week. Each of the Gospels of this week from Sunday to Wednesday (all from St John) refers in one way or another to the Passion, but they are read out of order, and in that sense, do not form a narrative. Today’s Gospel, on the other hand, John 11, 47-54, serves as a bridge between that of the previous Friday, on which raising of Lazarus is read (verses 1-45), and Holy Week, beginning the account of the Passion with the conspiracy of the priests and Pharisees against Christ. And indeed, this same reading also provides the text for one of the two chants which may sung between the Epistle and the Gospel at the blessing of the Palms.
The Epistle, Jeremiah 17, 13-18, also has a different tenor from those read earlier in the week. The Epistle of Passion Sunday, Hebrews 9, 11-15, speaks of the redemption wrought by the shedding of Christ’s blood. On Monday, the third chapter of Jonah is read as a final exhortation to penance; on Tuesday, Daniel appears in the lion’s den as a figure of Christ in His Passion and Resurrection; on Wednesday, a final catechumenal lesson is taken from Leviticus. Today’s Epistle, on the other hand, is the first of Passiontide in which words of a prophet are read which are spoken in the first person, as a representation of Christ in His sufferings.
“Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed: save me, and I shall be saved, for thou art my praise. … Let them be confounded that persecute me, and let not me be confounded: let them be afraid, and let not me be afraid: bring upon them the day of affliction, and with a double destruction, destroy them.”
The prophetic readings of the following day (Jer. 18, 18-23), those of Holy Monday (Isa. 50, 5-10) and Holy Tuesday (Jer. 11, 18-20), and the first of the two readings on Spy Wednesday (Isa. 62, 11; 63, 1-7), are similarly spoken in the first person.
The Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, depicted on the outsides of the two wings of a closable altarpiece of the Entombment of Christ, by the Dutch painter Maerten van Heemskerck (1498-1574), ca. 1560. Isaiah is holding a saw, in reference to the tradition that he was sawn in half by the wicked King Manasseh; Jeremiah has at his feet the rocks with which he was traditionally said to have been stoned to death.
In the Gospel, the high priest Caiphas proposes that Jesus should die lest all believe in Him, and the Romans “come and take away our place and nation.” This did of course eventually come to pass anyway, as Christ Himself predicted both before (Luke 19, 44) and during (Luke 23, 28-31) His Passion; Jerusalem was destroyed because it knew not the time of its visitation, fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah that those who persecuted Him would be confounded, and a day of affliction brought upon them. The emphasis on prophecy is also highlighted by the words of St John that Caiphas “spoke not of himself, but being the high priest of that year, he prophesied 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.” (verses 51-52)
This same stress on the Passion is also found in the chants of this Mass, no less than in those sung earlier in the week: the Introit, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am afflicted: free me, and deliver me out of the hands of my enemies; and from them that persecute me. O Lord, let me not be confounded, for I have called upon thee.” (Psalm 30); the Gradual, “Peaceably did my enemies speak to me” (i.e. feigning peaceful intentions; Psalm 34); and the Offertory, “and do not hand me over to the proud that calumniate me.” (Psalm 118)
The Communion is the final chant in a series taken from the Psalms in order, starting with Psalm 1 on Ash Wednesday, but interrupted several times. “Deliver me not, o Lord, over to the will of them that persecute me; for unjust witnesses have risen up against me, and iniquity hath lied to itself.” A shorter version of this text is sung one week later as the third antiphon of Matins of Good Friday, together with Psalm 26, from which it is taken.
The Roman station on the first Friday of Lent is kept at the church of Ss John and Paul, who were among the most popular of the early Roman martyrs. Today, the same church serves as the collect, where the people would gather over the course of the day, and from which they would process to the station, which is kept about a third of a mile away at the first Roman church to be dedicated to the first martyr, St Stephen. This is not just a matter of coincidence or convenience. John and Paul were the first martyrs to be buried within the walls of the city itself, rather than in a cemetery outside the city. This fact is noted as something unusual and significant in the very first surviving collection of Roman liturgical texts, the so-called Leonine Sacramentary. The church of St Stephen also has a burial which was, by the standards of ancient Roman custom, unusual and significant. In the reign of Pope St Theodore I (642-49), the relics of two martyrs named Primus and Felician, who were brothers like John and Paul, were translated from their original burial place at the 14th milestone of the Via Nomentana to this church; this is said to be the very first such translation of the relics of the Saints.
The apsidal mosaic of the chapel within the basilica of St Stephen where the relics of Ss Primus and Felician are kept. Although it has been frequently restored, a large part is the original material from the 7th century.
Thus, as the Church turns the focus of the liturgy even more intently to the events of Our Lord’s Passion, one week before His death on Good Friday, she celebrates the memorial of His death and resurrection at the church of the martyr who, as she sings in his Office, “first rendered back to the Savior that death which He deigned to suffer for our sake.” (8th responsory of Matins of St Stephen.)

The Collect of Palm Sunday

Pietro Lorenzetti, The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem; fresco in the lower basilica of St Francis in Assisi, 1320.
Lost in Translation #44

Palm Sunday in the traditional calendar continues the Passiontide theme of the Cross that began a week ago, inaugurates Holy Week, and looks ahead with hope to Easter Sunday, our light at the end of the Lenten tunnel. All of this is evident in the Collect of the Mass:
Omnípotens sempitérne Deus, qui humáno géneri ad imitándum humilitátis exémplum, Salvatórem nostrum carnem súmere et crucem subíre fecísti: concéde propítius; ut et patiéntiæ ipsíus habére documénta et resurrectiónis consórtia mereámur. Per eúndem Dóminum nostrum.
Which I translate as:
Almighty and everlasting God, who, so that the human race might have an example of humility, hast made our Savior to take our flesh and undergo the Cross; graciously grant that we may deserve to have both the lessons of His patience and the fellowship of His resurrection. Through the same our Lord.
The Collect is an excellent example of what we might call “spiritual eructation.” Debates about the so-called two forms of the Roman Rite often involve a quantitative analysis of how much of the Bible is explicitly included, the assumption being that the more biblical passages there are in a liturgical event, the better. Historically, however, apostolic liturgies developed along a different set of priorities. Obviously, Sacred Scripture is cited in the introit, readings, etc., but in addition to the sacred liturgy proclaiming or chanting biblical passages in order to give us instruction or channel our emotions and cause prayer, the liturgy includes prayers that are the effects of having appropriated Scripture. Psalm 44, 2 in the Douay Rheims translation is “My heart hath uttered a good word,” but a more literal translation is “My heart hath belched [eructavit] a good word.” The idea is that in hearing and keeping the Word of God, we appropriate it (which literally means to make it our own) and, after having properly digested these verbal victuals from above, we release our own good words in life, prayer, or preaching. Saint Augustine writes:
You eat when you hear, you belch forth when you preach, and yet you belch forth what you have eaten. That most eager feaster John, for whom the very table of the Lord was not enough unless he leaned on the Lord’s breast and drank in divine secrets from His hidden [heart]; what did he belch out? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” (John 1, 1 - Enarratio in Psalmum 145.7.9)
Just as the Bible is the product of a good "eating" and "belching" of divine revelation, so too are the prayers of sacred liturgy the product of a good eating and belching of the Bible. We see this principle in action in the Palm Sunday Collect, which appropriates and rearticulates the New Testament teaching on Jesus Christ, especially two verses: “He humbled [humiliavit] Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the Cross (Phil 2, 8)”, and “Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example [exemplum], that you should follow His steps. (1 Pet 2, 21)”
Both allusions also foreshadow future worship: the first verse is used prominently during the Divine Office of the Triduum, and the second appears in the Epistle for the Second Sunday after Easter.
Another “spiritual eructation” occurs in the Collect’s synonym or complement of exemplum, the rather curious documenta, which we have translated as “lessons.” Christ is our Teacher precisely because of His humility: “Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart.” (Matt. 11, 29) And we have His lessons of humility thanks to the documents of the New Testament.
Imitation is critical to Christian life: we imitate our exemplum Jesus Christ, and we imitate those who imitate Him, that is, the Saints. (See 1 Cor 4, 6; 11, 1; Phil. 3,17; 1 Thess. 1, 6; 2, 14.) “The imitation of Christ,” writes St. Basil the Great,
is necessary for the perfection of life, not only in His living example of humility, patience, and freedom from anger, but also in that of His very death. As Paul, the imitator of Christ, says, ‘I am conformed to His death, that I may somehow obtain the resurrection from the dead.’ (Phil 3, 10-11 - On the Holy Spirit 15, 35)
The theme of imitation therefore highlights our part in the drama of the Passion: we too must take up our cross and follow Him in order to complete the sufferings of Christ (see Col 1, 24). It is especially appropriate to recall this aspect of our faith at this moment of the liturgical year, and at this moment on Palm Sunday. Presumably, when the priest prays this oration, he and the faithful have just finished participating in the blessing of palms and the procession that literally imitates Our Lord’s humble entry into Jerusalem, humble because He rode in on a donkey rather than on a horse like a triumphant war king.
The word fecisti, which we have translated as “hast made,” sounds a little strong; it could give the impression that the Father forced the Son to undergo these humiliations. But understood in the right theological framework, the wording is sound. The Preface of the Cross used for this Mass includes the line:
Father almighty and everlasting God, who didst set [constituisti] the salvation of mankind upon the tree of the Cross, so that whence came death, thence life might rise again; and that he who overcame by a tree might be overcome by a tree.
“Making” and “setting” up the Son, however, does not happen without the Son’s full consent and cooperation. As we sing during the Passiontide hymn for Lauds, “Se volente natus ad hoc / Passioni deditus – Of His free choice He goeth / To a death of bitter pain.” (From the original wording of the hymn Pange lingua by Venantius Fortunatus.)
Finally, the Collect is elegantly constructed. Together, the double description of our Savior’s activity and our double petition to the Father form a chiasm, an ABBA pattern:
The Savior taking our [mortal] flesh (A)
The Savior enduring the Cross (B)
Our learning from His endurance (B)
Our fellowship with His risen flesh [His resurrection] (A)
We can imagine this chiasm as a V of descent and ascent. Christ descends first with His Incarnation and then even lower with His humiliating death. We meet Him at the bottom of the V by imitating Him, and hence participating in His Passion (wiping His brow like Veronica and carrying His Cross like Simon of Cyrene) and are thus able to ascend with Him in His Resurrection. We pray that just as art imitates life, our life may imitate this beautiful oration.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Annunciation 2021: Dante and the Virgin Mary

This year, Italy is having a series of special celebrations to honor the great poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) on the 7th centenary of his death. The precise date of his birth (sometime in late spring) is unknown, but this Saturday, March 27th, is the anniversary of his baptism, which took place during the Easter vigil of 1266. The language which we call “Italian” today originated as the dialect of his native region of Tuscany (more specifically, of the city of Florence, but with some small differences), essentially because of his best known work, The Divine Comedy, along with those of two other Tuscans, Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-75) and Francesco Petrarch (1304-74).

In the concluding cantos of the Divine Comedy (Paradiso 31-33), Dante is guided to the final vision of “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” by St Bernard of Clairvaux, who at the opening of canto 33, delivers this beautiful prayer to the Virgin Mary. (Translation by Alan Mandelbaum.)

“Virgin mother, daughter of your Son,
more humble and sublime than any creature,
fixed goal decreed from all eternity,

you are the one who gave to human nature
so much nobility that its Creator
did not disdain His being made its creature.

That love whose warmth allowed this flower to bloom
within the everlasting peace—was love
rekindled in your womb; for us above,

you are the noonday torch of charity,
and there below, on earth, among the mortals,
you are a living spring of hope.

Lady, you are so high, you can so intercede,
that he who would have grace but does not seek
your aid, may long to fly but has no wings.

Your loving-kindness does not only answer
the one who asks, but it is often ready
to answer freely long before the asking.

In you compassion is, in you is pity,
in you is generosity, in you
is every goodness found in any creature.”
An illustration of the Divine Comedy by Giovanni di Paolo (1403 ca. - 1482), in a manuscript now in the British Library. At the left, Beatrice, Dante’s guide through heaven, introduces him to St Bernard, while at the right, the Angel Gabriel speaks to the Virgin Mary; below them are St Peter and St Anne. (Paradiso XXXII, 133-135; public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
In his encyclical In Praeclara Summorum, written for the 6th centenary in 1921, Pope Benedict XV beautifully sums up this passage as follows: “in this poem shines out the majesty of God One and Three, the Redemption of the human race wrought by the Word of God made Man, the supreme loving-kindness and charity of Mary, Virgin and Mother, Queen of Heaven, and lastly the glory on high of Angels, Saints and men.”

Fr Anselmo Lentini OSB (1901-89), a monk of Monte Cassino and a skilled Latinist, led the subcommittee which revised the Latin hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours. It cannot be denied that they made many questionable decisions in their collective work, not the least of which is that Lentini himself became the single most represented author in the new corpus, by a margin of four-to-one over second-place Prudentius, and almost five-to-one over third-place St Ambrose. However, one of his best ideas was to translate this text into Latin, so it could be used as a hymn for the Saturday Office of the Virgin; the first part, which is assigned to Matins, would also be highly appropriate for today’s feast. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any recording of it available, but the meter is such that it could easily be sung with same music as the traditional hymns of the Virgin Mary for Matins and Lauds, or any other music that fits the 8-syllable iambic dimeter.
Here is the Latin text, and a prose translation.

O Virgo Mater, Filia
tui beata Filii,
sublimis et humillima
præ creaturis omnibus,

Divini tu consilii
fixus ab aevo terminus,
tu decus et fastigium
naturæ nostræ maximum:

Quam sic prompsisti nobilem,
ut summus eius Conditor
in ipsa per te fieret
arte miranda conditus.

In utero virgineo
amor revixit igneus,
cuius calore germinant
flores in terra cælici.

Patri sit et Paraclito
tuoque Nato gloria,
qui veste te mirabili
circumdederunt gratiæ. Amen.
O Virgin Mother, blessed daughter of Thy Son, exalted and most humble above all creatures, Thou art the goal of the divine counsel, fixed from eternity; Thou are the glory and highest dignity of our nature, which Thou didst manifest so noble that its Maker Most High, by marvelous design, through Thee became part of it. In the virginal womb that fiery love so revived by whose heat the flowers of heaven bud forth upon the earth. To the Father and the Paraclete and to Thy Son be glory, who clothed Thee in a wondrous garment of grace. Amen.
The second part is assigned to Lauds, and concludes with the same doxology.
Quæ caritatis fulgidum
es astrum, Virgo, superis,
spei nobis mortalibus
fons vivax es et profluus.

Sic vales, celsa Domina,
in Nati cor piissimi,
ut qui fidenter postulat,
per te securus impetret.

Opem tua benignitas
non solum fert poscentibus,
sed et libenter sæpius
precantum vota prævenit.

In te misericordia,
in te magnificentia;
tu bonitatis cumulas
quicquid creata possident.
Who art the gleaming star of charity, o Virgin, for those on high; for us mortals, the living and flowing font of hope. Such power Thou hast, o exalted Lady, over the most loving heart of Thy Son that he who asks with confidence surely obtaineth through Thee. Thy kindliness bringeth aid not only to them that ask, but often and willingly comes before their prayers. In Thee are mercy and magnanimity; Thou dost heap goodness on whatever any created thing possesseth.
Perhaps the most famous painting of the Annunciation by a Tuscan artist, a fresco of Fra Angelico in the convent of San Marco, the second Dominican church of Florence, 1442. 
In Purgatory X, 34-45, Dante describes a sculpted image of the Annunciation which he sees on the first ledge, where the vice Pride is cured (again in Mandelbaum’s translation).

The angel who reached earth with the decree
of that peace which, for many years, had been
invoked with tears, the peace that opened Heaven

after long interdict, appeared before us,
his gracious action carved with such precision,
he did not seem to be a silent image.

One would have sworn that he was saying, “Ave”;
for in that scene there was the effigy
of one who turned the key that had unlocked

the highest love; and in her stance there were
impressed these words, “Ecce ancilla Dei,”
precisely like a figure stamped in wax.
Perhaps the most famous sculpture of the Annunciation by a Tuscan artist, a work of Donatello known as the Cavalcanti Annunciation, in the Franciscan church of the Holy Cross in Florence, ca. 1435. The grey sandstone known as “pietra serena” is partly gilded; originally made for the now-lost tomb of the Cavalcanti family, this is one of the artist’s very few works still in its original location.

A Tenebrae Service with the St John Choir Schola on Spy Wednesday

The St John Choir Schola in Calgary, Alberta, will hold a Tenebrae service on the evening of Spy Wednesday, March 31st, starting at 7:30pm local time (MDT), and livestreamed on YouTube from Our Lady of the Assumption Church: Due to pandemic restrictions, all of the beautiful music was pre-recorded last weekend. The full program can be seen here, and an abbreviated form with just the lyrics of the hymns here. The service will be will also be recorded and available on the same YouTube channel for those in different time zones who would like to watch it later.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Rioting Over Jonah

Peter’s recent article about the prophet Jonah reminded me of one of my favorite stories from the writings of the Church Fathers. Jonah makes three appearances in the traditional Roman lectionary in Lent. During the first week, on Ember Wednesday, the Gospel is Matthew 12, 38-50, in which (among other things) Christ explains Jonah as a symbol of Himself. “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.” This is a crucial passage for the early Church, since it was read as a prophecy not only of Christ’s Passion, but also of the necessary premise of the Passion, namely, the Incarnation. For that reason, the Lenten Station is held on that day at St Mary Major, the oldest church in the world built in honor of the woman in whose womb the Incarnation took place. The third chapter of his book is then read on Passion Monday, then repeated at the Easter vigil.

A third-century sarcophagus from the Pio-Christian collection of the Vatican Museums. This is one of the best preserved and most elaborate representations 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.
When, in the later 4th century, St Jerome began his great project of translating the Bible from Hebrew into Latin, the Church in the West had been using for over two centuries a set of Biblical translations made from the Greek text of the Septuagint. These Old Latin translations (as they are now called) were so frequently corrected and revised that Jerome famously complained “there are as many versions (of the Bible) as there are copies.” Hoping to recover for the Latin-speaking West the original text of the Sacred Scriptures, he originally thought to revise the Old Latin by meticulously comparing it with the Septuagint. However, on discovering that the latter had become just as much of a hopeless muddle, he abandoned the project, and decided instead to make a new translation of the whole Bible directly from the “Hebraica veritas”, as he habitually called it, “the Hebrew truth.”

In a letter written in the year 403 A.D., St Augustine reports to Jerome on how these labors were being received.

“One of our brother bishops, when he had decreed that your version should be read in the church over which he presides, came upon a word in the prophet Jonah which was very different from that which had long been familiar to the senses and memory of all, and had been chanted for so many generations. There arose so great a tumult among the people, especially among the Greeks, who reproved it and denounced the translation as false, that the bishop was compelled to ask for the testimony of the Jews. (This was in the town of Oea.) These, whether from ignorance or malice, answered that what was in the Hebrew books was the same that the Greeks and Latins had and read. ... The man was compelled to correct (your version) as if it were faulty, since he did not wish, after this great danger (to himself), to be without a congregation.” (ep. 71 ad Hieronymum)

Augustine therefore exhorts Jerome to return to his project of providing the Church with a better Latin translation of the Greek version of the Old Testament, as he had successfully done with the New. The Hebrew word in question is the name of the plant which grows over Jonah’s head to shield him from the sun in chapter four; Jerome had rendered this as “ivy”, where the Septuagint, and the Old Latin which derives from it, had “gourd.” In his reply, therefore, Jerome explains that it was the Septuagint, not himself, that was wrong on this point, and that three other Greek translations of the Bible, all made by Jews, all agreed in calling it an ivy. He also suggests rather archly that the Jews whom the good bishop of Oea had consulted on the matter were either ignorant of Hebrew, or had played a trick on him “in mockery of the gourd-planters”. (ep. 75, Hieronymi ad Augustinum)

Stories of Jonah in 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 ivy (or gourd). 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. His nudity represents the reality of the physical body which Christ took upon Himself in the Incarnation.

Passiontide Photopost 2021 (Part 1)

We’ve already had a good response to our request for photos of Passiontide veils, so there will definitely be at least one other post in this series, before we move on to Palm Sunday and Holy Week. There is always room for more, so if you have photos you would like to contribute, there is plenty of time to send them in to; remember to include the name and location of the church. We will also be glad to include photos of the recently passed feast of St Joseph, and tomorrow’s feast of the Annunciation. Once again, we should all take encouragement in seeing this beautiful Catholic tradition gaining more and more ground each year - evangelize through beauty!
Church of St Peter – Radovljica, Slovenia
Our Lady of Grace – Żabbar, Malta
The feast of St Joseph
Little Flower Catholic Church – Memphis, Tennessee
...and after.

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