Friday, April 30, 2021

A New Ceremonial Book for the Old Holy Week

Pax inter Spinas, the publishing house of the Monastère St Benoît in Brignoles, France, has just announced the upcoming publication of a ceremonial book specifically for the traditional rites of Holy Week as they were before the reform of 1955, as well as the vigil of Pentecost. It will include the relevant portions of the last edition of Fortescue-O’Connell before the reform (1953), edited by Dom Alcuin Reid in such a way that the single volume contains everything necessary to do Holy Week. The final publication price will depends on the amount of interest in the book, its final size after typesetting, etc., but it will certainly be a worthy edition, hardback with a marker ribbon, designed to last much reference over many Holy Weeks. To register interest, and to receive full publication details and a special pre-publication discount offer, please email the publisher by September at:

The School of Love in the Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Giovanni Battista Lucini, St Francis de Sales, 1665
Lost in Translation #50

If the Eucharist is, as Pope Benedict XVI calls it, the “great school of love,” [1] then it is fitting that the prayers of the Eucharistic liturgy should at least on occasion attempt to school our desires. The Collect of the Fourth Sunday after Easter is a fine example of this effort:

Deus, qui fidelium mentes uníus éfficis voluntátis, da pópulis tuis id amáre quod práecipis, id desideráre quod promittis: ut inter mundánas varietátes ibi nostra fixa sint corda, ubi vera sunt gaudia. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
O God, who makest the minds of the faithful to be of one purpose, grant to Thy people to love that which Thou dost command, to desire that which Thou dost promise; so that, amidst the changing things of this world, our hearts may be there fixed where joys are true. Through our Lord.
Although neither the Resurrection nor the Ascension is mentioned, the Collect indirectly echoes the themes of the season. God is described as He who makes the minds of the faithful to be of one will. This statement of fact offers a pleasing juxtaposition of intellect (mens) and will (voluntas), but it also hearkens to the Easter Vigil, when some of the children of wrath and discord were baptized and became adopted members of one harmonious family. Similarly, the apodosis’ eloquent contrast between the changing things of this world and the place “where joys are true” anticipates the Epistle reading’s characterization of the “gifts from above” coming from a God in “whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration,” (James 1, 17) while the petition to fix our hearts where joys are true foreshadows the Collect of the Ascension, which prays that our minds may dwell amidst heavenly things.
The final petition regarding our hearts is also the culmination of the Collect’s initial double petition for love of what God commands and for desire of what He promises. The importance of this twofold petition is highlighted by asyndeton, the deliberate omission of the conjunction “and” between the two separate requests. Asyndeton also quickens the pace, lending to the prayer a certain breathless urgency. 
Each request is noteworthy. It is not enough to do what God commands; one must love His commandments as well. A citizen who obeys the law merely out of fear of punishment is not truly just, and a believer who avoids sin merely to avoid Hell is not truly holy. As Aristotle reminds us, the happy life consists of knowing the good, doing the good, and loving the good. And God’s commandments are surely good.
The petition to desire what God promises is also important but perhaps a little puzzling. One can understand the need to pray for a deeper love of God’s commandments. How many people, for example, truly love the command to be moderate? I may appreciate moderation because of the benefits that it brings me (better health and appearance, longer life, no DUIs, etc.), but it is difficult to get excited about the virtue of temperance, that is, to love it for its own sake. The things that God promises to His elect, however, should be things that are easy to desire. Who would not be thrilled about eternal bliss, about seeing God and the Saints face to face, about the resurrection of our bodies and their transfiguration into super “spiritual bodies”? (1 Cor. 15, 44). And yet human frailty being what it is, even these things can be viewed apathetically, and even by believers. Original sin and the allures of this world are such a powerful combination that even the people of God need divine help in getting excited about Heaven.
That said, it is significant that the Collect does not ask for an escape from the changing things of this world but for an Archimedean point from which to remain unaffected by them. I recently heard a dreadful sermon by a new and allegedly traditionalist order in which the speaker implied that it was all but impossible to be saved unless one entered the cloister. Apparently the good friar had never heard the words of St. Francis de Sales:
It is an error, or rather a heresy, to say that devotion is incompatible with the life of a soldier, a tradesman, a prince, or a married woman. [2]
Saint Francis also has a delightful extended metaphor that I believe illustrates the Collect’s final petition and on which I end:
Just as the pearl oyster lives in the sea without ever taking in a drop of salt water, and just as by the Chelidonian Islands springs of fresh water may be found in the midst of the sea, and just as the firefly passes through the flames without burning its wings, so also can a vigorous and resolute soul live in the world without being infected by worldly ways, can discover sweet springs of piety amid its salt waters, and can fly through the flames of earthly lusts without burning the wings of the holy desire for a devout life. [3] 
Thanks be to God, once schooled in love, there is no place that a Christian heart cannot thrive.
[1] 2007 World Youth Day address.
[2] Introduction to the Devout Life, 1.3
[3] Introduction, Preface.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Blessed Carino, the Assassin of St Peter Martyr

One of the most unusual true stories in the annals of Catholic hagiography is that of Bl. Carino, the assassin of the Saint whose feast is traditionally kept today, Peter the Martyr. Carino was one of the two men hired to kill Peter for his work against the Cathars, as he was traveling in the area of Milan; the other, Albertino, fled in fear at the moment of the attack, and it was Carino who dealt the martyr his death-blow with a knife to the skull, and fatally wounded his companion, brother Dominic. Carino was taken to Milan, where he would certainly have been tried and executed, if not lynched by popular uprising beforehand; the mayor of the city, however, was involved in the plot against St Peter, and arranged for Carino’s escape.
The Assassination of St Peter Martyr, ca. 1507, by the Veneatian painter Giovanni Bellini (1430 ca. - 1516; public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Intending to make his way to Rome and obtain a Papal pardon, he took gravely ill at Forlì, where he confessed his sin to the local Dominican prior. After recovering, he respected the promise made as part of his penance, to enter a religious house as a “conversus”; he then lived forty years in the Dominican house of Forlì. The totality of his conversion after his terrible deed, and the humility of his life of penance, were popularly recognized after his death in 1293. The story is told that at his own insistence, he was buried in the unconsecrated ground reserved for violent criminals, but the people of Forlì prevailed upon the Dominican Fathers to move him into their church, first in the sacristy, and later in a chapel with two other blesseds of the same house, James Salomoni and Marcolino Amanni.

In 1879, before the Dominican house of Forlì was confiscated by the Italian state, the relics of Bl. Carino were moved to the cathedral. In 1934, at the behest of the Blessed Ildefonse Schuster, his head and part of his body were translated to the church of St Martin in Balsamo, his native town, to be followed by the rest of the relics thirty years later. The seminary of Seveso, close to where the actual martyrdom took place, retains one of the most particular relics in history, the weapon which he used to kill St Peter.

The knife which Carino used to kill St Peter the Martyr
From Italian Wikipedia, two images of the translation of Carino’s relics in 1934, before their transfer, and newly arrived at San Martino in Balsamo.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker

Gerrit van Honthorst, The Childhood of Christ, ca. 1620
Note: The following article appeared in the Winter-Spring 2020 issue of The Latin Mass magazine, the second in a series of articles on the cultus of Saint Joseph in honor of the Year proclaimed in his honor by Pope Francis. Many thanks to the editors of TLM for allowing its republication here.

Devotion to Saint Joseph can be an interesting “sign of the times,” a barometer of the crises that the Western believer faces. It is said that one of the reasons why Catholics in the late Middle Ages began praying to the Holy Family (which develops alongside Josephite piety) is that their own families were being confronted with new challenges. And devotion to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph became popular in the New World in part because it counterbalanced damage to the family caused by colonization. We also speculate that Joseph was a beloved saint in twentieth-century America because he was the kind of man most Catholic men at the time aspired to be: a quiet, strong patriarch who kept his head down but provided for his family and never failed to protect them.

The Popes and the Worker
And so it is not surprising that the last century and a half, which have witnessed massive social and economic upheavals, have brought into ever greater focus the importance of Joseph as a worker. Just as Pope Pius IX declared Joseph the universal patron of the Church in the mid-nineteenth century after the Papal States had been lost, Pope Leo XIII extolled Joseph as a model laborer in the late nineteenth century after the working class had been transformed by industrialization. One on hand, the Holy Father worried that capitalist employers might ignore the good of the working man’s soul and encourage his neglect of home and family. [1]  On the other, Leo saw that socialists “act against natural justice and destroy the structure of the home” when they replace family with State. [2]
Pope Leo XIII
Joseph was the solution to both extremes. Although the universal patron has something for everyone, he belongs by special right to “workmen, artisans, and persons of lesser degree,” for this royal son of David deigned to pass “his life in labour, and won by the toil of the artisan the needful support of his family.” [3]  Joseph’s example is a powerful reminder of the dignity of work: “The work of the labourer is not only not dishonouring,” Leo writes, “but can, if virtue be joined to it, be singularly ennobled.” [4] 
On the other hand, Joseph’s longsuffering acceptance of poverty cautions against an idolatrizing of work or profit and teaches us that the goods of the soul are far greater than those of the body. Above all, the just man Joseph is a model of magnanimity and law-abiding patience in the face of misfortune and mistreatment. The poor should look to his example and patronage rather than the mad and violent “promises of seditious men.” [5]
One of Leo’s favorite words to describe Joseph is opifex, the Latin for worker or laborer. In the original Greek, the Gospels describe Our Lord’s foster father as a tektōn or craftsman (faber in Latin), [6]  while tradition, private revelation, and later biblical translations further designate his trade as that of a carpenter. By referring to Joseph chiefly as a worker, Leo is casting the net as wide as possible to include not only skilled artisans but anyone who must work by the sweat of his brow. Joseph truly is everyman’s saint for daily toil.
Leo XIII’s successors built on this appreciation of the saint. In 1920, Benedict XV wrote that workers should follow Joseph as their patron instead of socialism, for “nothing is more inimical to Christian wisdom” than socialist ideology. [7] On March 19, 1937 (the Feast of Saint Joseph), Pius XI placed “the vast campaign of the Church against world Communism under the standard of Saint Joseph, her mighty protector.” [8] Joseph “belongs to the working-class,” the Pope explains, “and he bore the burdens of poverty for himself and the Holy Family, whose tender and vigilant head he was.” But Joseph was no Bolshevik. On the contrary, he was “a living model of that Christian justice which should reign in social life.” [9]
Pius XII shared the concerns of the pontiffs before him about the plight of the modern worker, who was crushed by a capitalist “machinery which is not only not in accordance with nature, but is at variance with God's plan and with the purpose He had in creating the goods of the earth.” [10] The main enemy, however, remained communism. When he was an apostolic nuncio in Munich in 1919, the future Pope got a taste of these “seditious men” when they stormed his quarters brandishing revolvers. Pius XII detested the agreement that Roosevelt and Churchill made with Stalin at Yalta to surrender Eastern Europe to Soviet totalitarianism, and he supported the Italian Christian Democratic Party and the lay movement Catholic Action in their anticommunist political efforts. In 1949, the Pope decreed that Christians who profess, defend, or promote materialistic communist doctrine incur the penalty of excommunication as apostates from the Christian faith, with the penalty reserved so that it may only be lifted by the Holy See. [11]
Feast of the Worker
Pius XII likewise considered Saint Joseph crucial to the Church’s defense of the working class and opposition to global communism, but instead of issuing an encyclical on the subject, he converted his conviction into liturgical worship. [12] In 1955, Pius XII established the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker on May 1. The Pope explained that he was instituting the new feast “so that the dignity of human labor…might sink more deeply into souls,” [13] yet clearly another goal was to supplant the communist celebration of May Day. The American and Canadian bishops understood this motive and petitioned Rome (unsuccessfully) to celebrate the feast in their countries on Labor Day. Italians jokingly call the feast San Giuseppe Comunista, but some conspiracy theorists have accused Pius XII of instituting it in deference to communism, an astonishing claim given the Pontiff’s track record against the Reds. If there is any controversy to the new feast, it is what it replaced. The Sacred Congregation for Rites was not pleased with the Pope’s decision because it displaced the ancient Feast of Saints Philip and James (which was subsequently moved to the first free day, May 11), [14] while the beautiful Solemnity of Joseph Patron of the Universal Church was abrogated. [15]
International Workers' Day in London
The feast’s propers for the Mass and Breviary are also not above criticism. The Psalm verses for the Gradual, Tract, Alleluia, and Offertory are taken from the so-called Bea Psalter, a Latin translation of the Psalms that was completed in 1944 under the supervision of Fr. Augustine Bea (president of the Pontifical Biblical Institute) at the behest of Pope Pius XII. Cardinal Eugène Tisserant, president of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, deplored the translation’s “German pedantry,” but the chief defect was its preference for the classical Latin of Cicero and Horace over the ecclesiastical Latin forged by the Church Fathers. As the old saying has it, Accessit latinitas, recessit pietas: Latinity comes near, and piety goes away. [16]
That said, the defects of these verses in the feast’s propers are not glaring, and in translation they are practically invisible. And their use creates a trivia question that only the nerdiest of traditionalists can answer: “How many different Latin translations of the Bible are in the 1962 Roman Missal?” Three: the Vulgate, the Bea Psalter, and the “Old Itala,” the predecessor of the Vulgate that is preserved in most of the Introits and Graduals because the lay faithful had grown fond of chanting them and could not be bothered to learn Saint Jerome’s new renderings. [17] “Nothing is so conservative as liturgical instinct,” writes Fr. Adrian Fortescue, and this early example of congregational stubbornness is proof of it. [18]
Further, just as the feast’s translations have been criticized for not using “churchy” language, so too has its music been accused of a similar failing. According to Dr. William Mahrt, president of the Church Music Association of America, the Gregorian chant for the feast is not Gregorian enough. When I asked him to explain what he meant in layman’s terms, he replied, “It’s too choppy; it jumps from one note to another.” [19] Real Gregorian chant has gradual transitions, giving it its sinewy, mellifluous, and ethereal quality.
Despite these problems, the feast’s propers nicely illustrate the theological significance of Saint Joseph as a worker, weaving together biblical passages from Wisdom, the Psalms, Colossians 3, 17 (“All whatsoever you do in word or work, do all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”), and Matthew 13, 55 (“Is not this the carpenter’s son?”). The effect of these texts is first and foremost a deeper appreciation of how Saint Joseph preserved and increased his sanctity in the midst of his labors. But the feast also reveals a theology of work that is applicable to all of us today, no matter what our occupation. We shall return to this point later.
John Everett Millais, Christ in the House of His Parents, 1850
Novus Ordo
In 1969, the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker was demoted from the highest possible rank (first class) to the lowest (optional memorial). The official reason given in Pope Paul VI’s Calendarium Romanum is that while the feast may have been celebrated with gusto by “associations of Christians workers,” it was celebrated with less enthusiasm by others. [20] It is a curious logic. Pius XII had wanted the feast to inculcate in everyone a proper respect for work and the worker, but because the feast was more popular with trade unions, this lesson was no longer to be mandatory.
It is also noteworthy that the feast was being demoted because it was liked only by blue collar slobs. One would think that the Church would want to do everything in her power to foster folk piety, but the 1969 calendar betrays a fairly consistent disdain for popular saints such as Valentine, Nicholas, Christopher, and Catherine of Alexandria. One detects a whiff of elitism in the decisions of the calendar’s creators about which saints they considered worthy of continued universal liturgical veneration.
The architects of the new calendar may have also demoted the feast because it was only fourteen years old. Despite Pope Pius XII’s warning against an archeologist mentality that privileges the old over the new and ignores authentic development, [21] the committee responsible for the 1969 General Calendar abolished the eighteenth-century Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (later restored), the nineteenth-century Feast of the Most Precious Blood, and the twentieth-century Feast of Christ the King. [22] Ironically, a calendar that abounds in novelties betrays an odd allergy to the relatively recent.
But there may have been an additional and more determinative consideration. Just as Pope Pius XII never explicitly mentioned the feast’s opposition to communism, Paul VI may have refrained from mentioning his ulterior motive for demoting the feast: his adoption of Ostpolitik, the policy of appeasing the Soviet bloc.
John XXIII and Paul VI saw communism differently than their predecessors. Historical sources now reveal that John XXIII badly wanted to have representatives from the Russian Orthodox Church present at the Second Vatican Council, even though their hierarchy had been infiltrated by the KGB. He therefore struck a deal with the Soviet Union: Russian Orthodox observers could attend, and the Council in turn would not utter a word against communism or Soviet tyranny. [23] John XXIII’s final encyclical, his 1963 Pacem in Terris, also gives the impression that it is overturning the Church’s condemnation of communism. 
Paul VI, who received Soviet authorities in 1966 and 1967 in the Vatican, wanted to help Christians behind the Iron Curtain, and indeed the plight of “the Silent Church” improved somewhat during his pontificate. But it came at the cost of betraying living martyrs. To appease the Hungarian government, Paul VI ordered József Cardinal Mindszenty, who had been tortured by the communists, to leave Budapest, solemnly promising him that he would remain primate of Hungary as long as he lived. The Pope relocated the Cardinal in Vienna and then reneged on his promise, appointing someone else as primate who was more acceptable to the communist leaders. Mindszenty died a broken man.
József Cardinal Mindszenty in 1956
My aim is not to condemn Vatican Ostpolitik, which had its successes: for example, it secured the 1963 release of Josyf Cardinal Slipyj, the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainians who spent eighteen years in a Soviet gulag. I simply point out that a feast designed to oppose communism is surely out of place in an era of détente; it is a “sign of contradiction.” What is surprising about the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker in the 1969 Missal is not that it was demoted but that it was retained at all.
Going Forward
The 1955 Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker is not perfect. It displaced or eliminated other feasts, uses a lame Psalter, and has clunky chant. Perhaps someday these shortcomings will be worked out by a process of organic development under wise and pious shepherds. In the meantime, there are compelling reasons to cherish this feast, warts and all.
First, communism is still alive and well, and because it is, it is appropriate to have a feast that defies it. Pope John Paul II rejected Paul VI’s Ostpolitik and joined forces with President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to confine Soviet communism to the ash heap of history. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI offered a brief but brilliant post-mortem of a century of “appalling destruction” wrought by communism. [24]
But history is filled with ironies. The Roman military conquest of ancient Greece led to the Greek cultural conquest of Rome, and the Allies’ victory over the Axis powers during World War II has been followed by an increasing triumph of Nazi doctrines in Allied countries, starting with Nietzschean nihilism and the legalized killing of the unwanted. Similarly, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain may have left only a handful of communist nations worldwide, but as socially acceptable ideologies, communism and socialism have gained new footholds in most Western nations—the glaring exception being the Eastern European countries that actually experienced communist rule.
More disturbingly, amnesia about the evils of communism appears to have affected the highest echelons of the Church. According to some, Pope Francis’s recent agreement with the People’s Republic of China makes Paul VI’s betrayal of Mindszenty look mild by comparison. Retired Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen describes the deal as “suicide” and a “shameless surrender” [25] that could result in the “annihilation” of the Church in China, [26] and he cites the resurgence of the “double game” of Ostpolitik as the culprit behind this disastrous decision. [27] It is safe to say that every quadrant of Western society, both secular and sacred, could use a refresher course from Joseph the Worker.
Joseph Cardinal Zen
Second, the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker offers an important corrective to capitalism, or rather the “greed is good” doctrine that all too often animates it. For the Catholic, free enterprise and work are for the sake not of wealth but of exercising generosity; they are not an engine for comfort but an occasion for holiness. According to a mystical vision by Mary of Agreda, after Joseph and Mary were espoused, Joseph asked his young bride if he should continue his trade as a carpenter in order “to serve her and to gain something for distribution among the poor.” [28] Note the two reasons: Joseph wished to make money not in order to hoard it or to spend it on that bass boat with the new sonar he’d had his eye on but in order to provide for his family and the poor. Imagine if every wage-earner in the world thought and acted the same way!
Third and most importantly, the Feast of Joseph the Worker teaches us how to be holy in our work. As Peter Kwasniewski points out, the feast is not “a glorification of work” but a reveling in the contemplation of the Beatific Vision. [29] One of Our Lord’s commands is “Labour not for the food which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto life everlasting, which the Son of man will give you” (John 6, 27)—the everlasting food, of course, being the Eucharist. And the man whose life best exemplifies the idea of laboring for the Eucharist (even though he died before its institution!) is Saint Joseph. [30] For Joseph was the perfect “contemplative worker;” his daily chores were subordinated to and infused by a loving contemplation of his wife, the new Ark of the Covenant, and his foster son, the Bread of Life.
The feast hints at this contemplative dimension through what we might call the Adamic priesthood. The opening antiphon for Vespers is: “God, Maker of the world, put man to dress and keep the earth.” The Bible uses the terms for dressing and keeping (abad and shemar) to describe Adam’s work in Eden (Gen. 2, 15) as well as the Levites’ work in the Tabernacle (Numbers 8, 26). Just as Adam was the “High Priest” of Eden, Joseph is the priestly High Caretaker of the Holy Family. And since all who are baptized share in a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2, 9), we lowly laborers also participate to some extent in this sacerdotal dignity.
The same antiphon also makes an intriguing connection between divine and human work. Opifex Mundi or Maker of the World is an uncommon title for God lifted from Patristic literature, [31] and it invites a comparison with Joseph as an opifex. Work, even dirty work, has a nobility to it because God is a Worker too. As Gerard Manley Hopkins once preached in a sermon:
Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall… sweeping, scouring, everything gives God some glory if being in His grace you do it as your duty… A man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a sloppail, give Him glory too. He is so great that all things give Him glory if you mean they should. [32]
The May 1 feast rightly proclaims that God has given us a “brilliant and marvelous role model” and a “faithful protector of our labours” in the person of Saint Joseph. [33] While contemporary ideas about the nature and purpose of work remain as disordered as ever, let us heed the voice of the Church and go to Joseph until his title of Worker.

[1] Rerum Novarum 20.
[2] Rerum Novarum 14.
[3] Quamquam Pluries 4.
[4] Quamquam Pluries 4.
[5] Quamquam Pluries 5.
[6] See Matthew 13, 55.
[7] Bonum sane: AAS 12 (1920), 315, trans. mine.
[8] Divini Redemptoris, 81.
[9] Divini Redemptoris, 81, emphasis added.
[10] Pius XII, Evangelii Praecones, 52.
[11] See the “Decree against Communism.” On April 4, 1959, the Holy Office stipulated that the 1949 decree implied a prohibition on voting for parties that were helping Communists, even if such parties themselves had inoffensive doctrines or called themselves Christian.
[12] That said, he also spoke on the subject. See Pius XII, Discourse (March 11, 1945), 4: AAS 37 (1945), p. 72: Discourse (May 1, 1955): AAS 47 (1955), p. 406.
[13] See the Matin readings.
[14] See Gregory DiPippo, “Some Liturgical Notes on St Joseph the Worker (and a Few Dominican Saints),” May 1, 2014,
[15] Michael P. Foley, “Patron par Excellence,” TLM 28:2 (Summer 2019), pp. 50-54.
[16] See Yves Chiron, Annibale Bugnini (Angelico Press, 2018), 38-39.
[17] Adrian Fortescue, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy (Longmans, 1914), 223.
[18] Fortescue, 53. 
[19] Conversation at the Society for Catholic Liturgy conference in Providence, Rhode Island, September 2019.
[20] See Calendarium Romanum, 66-67.
[21] Mediator Dei, 59.
[22] Contrary to popular opinion, the Feast of Christ the King was not transferred from the last Sunday of October to the last Sunday of the liturgical year: it was replaced. See Foley, “Reflecting on the Fate of the Feast of Christ the King,” TLM 26:3 (Fall 2017), pp. 38-42.
[23] Edward Pentin, “Why Did Vatican II Ignore Communism?,” December 10, 2012,
[24] See Spe Salvi, 20-21.
[25] Elise Harris, “Cardinal Zen Calls China Deal 'Suicide,'” Catholic News Agency, February 28, 2018,
[26] “Cardinal Zen: The Vatican is Badly Mishandling China Situation,” Catholic News Agency, October 26, 2018,
[27] Harris, “Cardinal Zen Calls China Deal.”
[28] Mystical City of God, trans. Geo. J. Blatter (W.B. Conkey, 1914), I.XXII.765.
[29] Peter Kwasniewski, “The Danger of Activism,” May 1, 2017,
[30] The Mystery of Joseph (Zaccheus Press, 2009), 49.
[31] Ambrosiaster, Commentarius in Paul epistuluam ad Romanos (recensio gamma) 8.7; Quaestiones veteris et novi testamenti (Quaestiones numero CXXVII) qu. 3; Augustine, Contra adversarium legis et prophetarum 1.1.14; Prudentius, Amartigenia 116.
[32] “The Principle or Foundation,” pp. 523-527 in Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins, vol. 5, eds. Jude V. Nixon and Noel Barber, S.J. (Oxford, 2018), 526.
[33] Antiphon 3 and Second Vespers versicle, resp.

Cardinal Pell and Bishop Strickland at Catholic Family Conference, May 1, Irving, Texas (and Online)

The 2nd annual Catholic Family Conference, presented by Regina Caeli Academy and Carmel Communications, will be held on Saturday, May 1, 2021 at the Westin Irving Convention Center, located at 400 West Las Colinas Blvd in Irving, Texas.

Cardinal George Pell and Bishop Joseph Strickland headline this year’s conference. Last year’s fully virtual event attracted over 40,000 people; the 2021 conference offers attendance virtually or in-person. Dr. Ralph Martin, Noelle Mering, Trent Horn, and Steve Ray are among the impressive lineup of speakers.

The purpose of the conference is “to inspire, strengthen and enlighten families with the truths of the Faith.” In this year of St Joseph, the Catholic Family Conference will consider in a special way this patron of the Universal Church and head of the Holy Family. The speakers, both lay leaders and prelates of the Church, will address the concerns, struggles, and joys facing today’s Catholic families in a world and culture that are rapidly changing.

Visit the website to register and learn more about this exciting event!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Tradition is for the Young - Rogation Photopost 2021

I haven’t forgotten about our final photoposts in the Holy Week series, for the Easter vigil and Easter Sunday, but at this point, I’m so far behind schedule that a few more days won’t make a difference. In the meantime, here are some nice pictures which we received of various Masses and processions on the Greater Litanies, which were celebrated this past Sunday. As always, we will be glad to publish more if people would like to share them: send them to, remembering to include the name and location of the church, and any other pertinent information.

I encourage our readers to take a close look here, and notice that for the most part, those who are working to revive this most ancient and salutary part of our liturgical tradition are far too young to remember when it was removed from the liturgy of the post-Conciliar reform. Feliciter!
St Thomas Aquinas Parish – Charlotte, North Carolina
The liturgy and procession were offered by the pastor, Fr Matthew Codd, his first Rogation Mass, and possibly the first public Rogation Mass offered in Charlotte since the diocese was established in 1971. Photos courtesy of the Charlotte Latin Mass Community.

Sacred Art at Antique Auctions - A Crisis and An Opportunity

This week, I present a guest article by a friend of mine, Andrew Marlborough, who worked in the art gallery business for 10 years before joining seminary in England. He told me recently that he sees a lot of high-quality art going to auction that could still have a Catholic purpose, and so I asked him to describe what he sees at the auction houses. He suggests the creation of a non-profit to collect these. Given the prices that he quoted below, these are items that churches and individuals can consider buying directly if they can get some guidance on where and when they are sold. The auction houses Andrew is looking at are listed below.

Andrew writes: It’s a sad fact of these times that the Church in the West is hemorrhaging its material culture at an alarming rate. Every week across Europe and America, thousands of sacred and devotional artworks are sold through live and online auctions, and by dealers. Some come from declining religious orders or closing parishes; others are perhaps inherited by non-practicing family members who sell them. Among the many objects being sold, it is especially disturbing to see so many sacred vessels and relics.

But as we know, a crisis can also be an opportunity. The crisis of faith which underpins this situation can help us return to the Lord when we realize we are lost without Him. Seeing so much Catholic art being sold can motivate us to assess the importance of beauty and culture in the Church’s mission, and to do all we can to ensure it is once again used to glorify God. This means we need Catholics with the funds and interest who are willing to buy things back from the open market. To do this is an act of charity not to be underestimated.

It would be wonderful if someone were to establishe a non-profit organisation with the mission of rescuing Catholic sacred and devotional art, and other cultural material, from the open market, to restore its use or preserve it respectfully. A good model which could be adapted from a secular context is that of the National Art Collections Fund in the UK, which provides funding for museums and institutions to save nationally important works of art from the open market. As this doesn’t exist yet for a Catholic context, it is necessary to engage directly with auction houses and dealers. This can be a little daunting but also enjoyable, and many of these businesses have made great improvements in customer service in recent years. Whilst the more expensive objects sometimes make the Catholic news, many more affordable things appear frequently. What follows is a small snapshot of things sold in recent months. Prices given exclude the auctioneer’s commission, which is generally between 20% and 25% of the sellingprice.

An historically important Irish recusant chalice
On November 24th, 2020, the London auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb offered a very rare Irish recusant chalice (fig.1), which had been used by Fr John Barnewall to celebrate Mass during penal times in Ireland in the late 17th and early 18th century. It sold for £3,000. Even though several times the estimate, it still seems a low price. Surely in the highest category of importance, it is both a sacred vessel used for the Holy Eucharist and a witness to the survival of Catholic Faith under persecution.
Figure 1
The Rev John Barnewall (ordained in 1680) was registered as a “Popish Priest” of Ardbraccan, Martry and Rathboyne, and living in Neilstown. Under great persecution, he celebrated secret Masses in the hills, under hedges or other hiding places. Noted for his charity, learning and selflessness, he had many narrow escapes from the priest hunters. It is thought that he was martyred for his faith towards the end of his life after many years of heroic perseverance.
Paintings dispersed from Grace Dieu Chapel
On December 1st, 2020, Gildings Auctioneers in Leicestershire sold a group of paintings and furniture which came from the chapel of Grace Dieu Manor. This historic property played a vital role in the restoration of Catholicism in England in the 19th century; it was from this base that the great Rosminian Fr Aloysius Gentili (1801-1848) and his brethren evangelised much of the area. The sale included an unsigned portrait of Gentili (fig. 2) which sold for £300.
Figure 2
The auction also included a stunning painting of St Joseph holding the baby Jesus (fig.3) in the style of Franz Ittenbach (1813-1879). Thankfully bought by a devout young Catholic, and just in time for the Year of St Joseph, it realised £1,300.
Figure 3
Sacred vessels and art from the former Capuchin Friary in Bruges
More recently, on 18th and 19th February this year, the Belgian auctioneers Carlo Bonte sold 19 lots from the Capuchin Friary in Friday Market, Bruges. The Order seems to have decided to sell the property in 2018 and the building is being repurposed for tourism. The collection consisted of many fine sacred vessels and paintings.

These included a large and sensitively-painted study of the Adoration with St Francis (fig.4) attributed to Jacob van Oost (1603-1671), and dated 1648. It outstripped its 3,000-5,000 Euro estimate to sell for 18,500 Euros. The work had been previously inventoried by the Belgian Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, suggesting its importance.

Figure 4

Monday, April 26, 2021

How Liturgical “Forms” Concretely Define Religious Belief — or Undermine It

For a thousand years, priests offering Mass in the Roman rite observed the rule that they should hold their thumb and forefinger together from the time of the consecration until the ablutions (a rule still observed, of course, wherever the traditional Latin Mass is celebrated). This custom reflects the Church’s profound faith in the Real Presence. After the consecration, Our Lord is really, truly, substantially present wherever the outward appearances of bread and wine are present, which means in every last particle of the host. For this reason, the priest should not casually handle other things after touching the host, but keep those two fingers together except when distributing communion, until he is able to wash them in the ablutions. In this way, too, the priest is continually reminded of the awesome mystery he is handling with his fingers — and so are the laity.

As a layman, it bothered me that this longstanding and sensible custom had disappeared, so I decided to pose a number of questions to a sizeable group of priests who celebrate the usus antiquior, primarily to learn the importance they themselves attach to the custom. The results were published at NLM in five installments, with a concluding reflection (links may be found here). One priest responded to the series with the following account:
At the Mass in which I was ordained a deacon, the Eucharist was “served” from a glass dish of sorts … I purified it with great care after Holy Communion; it required a rather noticeable period of time to do so, which was obviously more than local clergy and people were used to. After that Mass both the vocation director and the ordaining bishop “corrected” me on this matter, with the bishop reminding me that the purification was only a “ritual purification” and that such care was not needed in carrying it out, since a sacristan would wash everything after. (A totally incoherent position.)
          This was my introduction — and a rather painful one, at that — to the practical lack of faith on the part of the clergy in the Real Presence, which I have witnessed and experienced many times in the 11 years since then. I say “practical,” because few would deny the Real Presence and most would even defend it quite eloquently. But the way they actually handle the Eucharist betrays their lack of understanding and/or belief. (This is particularly the case with how they handle the Precious Blood, the purificator, etc. — but this is the topic of another discourse.)
          Therefore, when I began to study the usus antiquior and learned about the detailed and systematic process of purification, which really leaves little room for error, and of the practicalities such as holding the consecrating digits together until purification, my faith was confirmed. And, although knowledge of the Church’s historic practice served, perhaps, to heighten my awareness of just how bad things generally can be now, and thus heightened my sense of pain, yet at the same time, it was a consolation to know that I was on the right track.
This author has put his finger (if I may say so) on the nub of the problem. The Catholic faith is not something purely abstract that we learn and assent to as an intellectual exercise. We learn our faith and we discern its meaning through practice, through what we do with or to the words, things, and persons that embody this faith. How we speak to Our Lord or about Him; how we handle the sacramental signs and, above all, His all-holy and life-giving Body and precious Blood; how we treat our priests and how they treat their people. This is where we find out, experientially, day after day, what the Catholic religion is — and whether it has been replaced by a rival system of belief.

In our practice, we teach ourselves; by our example, we teach those around us, especially children. This is where modern liturgy has grievously failed, in numerous ways and as a matter of practice, through its repudiation of the meaning of vital forms of expression, forms that convey the essence and purpose of the Mass. What is at stake in the escalating tensions between divergent liturgical “sensibilities” is not just mere “form” (as if we were talking about matters of taste or fine art), but rather, the meaning inherent in form and expressed by it — that is to say, truth. And not truth alone, but justice, as in the virtue of justice by which we give to God and the things of God that which they rightly demand and which we owe as His creatures and dependents. Thus, the divergence between “old rite” and “new rite” is a divergence of truth and justice: two different “religions,” taking this word in its Thomistic acceptation.

Just as the reverent forms and practices of the traditional liturgy point to and express vital truths for our faith, the numerous casual practices that permeate Novus Ordo liturgies are not coherent with the meaning and the purpose of the Mass. A friend of mine, a young lady who transitioned a few years ago from the Novus Ordo to the traditional rite, sent me a reflection that illustrates this point:

In my years attending the N.O. at very mainstream parishes (not like Oratorians at all), I experienced a palpable and oppressive sense of what I can only describe as a dictatorship of the casual. It wasn’t that I didn’t personally wish for more reverence, but the atmosphere just made it feel very out of place. It felt strange to be one of the few who bowed in the creed (we never dreamed of making a genuflection). It felt equally strange to show extra reverence such as bowing of the head after adoring the host at the consecration. Some faithful received on the tongue, but this was unusual. If one stayed in the pew, even for a moment, to make acts of thanksgiving after Holy Mass, one was most certainly in the minority. Then of course there was the chit-chat about sports games, social events, and all kinds of trivialities that took place in the Sacred Presence. Also there were frequent rounds of applause tucked into liturgies. Rounds of applause for a good joke in the homily, for a speaker advertising the parish picnic, for the choir upon completion of the rousing recessional song — the occasions were all too frequent.
          There is a pervading “bad attitude” that results in this oppressive dictatorship of the casual. It is a mystery to me what drives this insidious force. It took root years ago, but why does it still thrive when many good people in these parishes desire, if only in a vague way, greater reverence? Now, I know that we should all be willing to openly express our faith in God even unto death. However, something has gone terribly wrong when one feels a furtive sense, almost guilt — a feeling of “Well, who do you think you are, acting all holy!” — when one expresses reverence in a visible act.
          I’ll give a vignette that comes to mind. My sisters and I thought wearing veils would be kind of nice, but I remember my argument against it was: “We’re already such a distraction up in front of church playing our instruments in view of everyone. Then we’re going to throw veils into the equation? Besides they don’t ‘go’ with the kind of music we play.” I really don’t know if that reasoning was sound, but it illustrates the conundrum of reverence-hungry faithful who find themselves in the rigid N.O. framework. It’s a framework where piety and devotion often look ridiculous. Think of it: we have on our hands an atmosphere where showing due honor to Our Lord in what is supposed to be His house, at what is His Sacrifice, looks ridiculous. This is a brazen evil.

It is ironic that some Novus Ordo proponents criticize those who favor the traditional liturgy as people fixated on form, when in reality it is impossible not to care about form, since there is no truth accessible to us humans without the clothing of form. Every liturgy comes to us as a definite concrete set of forms with their own inherent meaning, and this meaning will be either full, rich, accurate, and nourishing of orthodoxy, or banal, impoverished, ambiguous, and inadequate to our needs. In this sense, everyone is fixated on form because human language and spiritual activity are formal through and through. The primacy of form, and the corresponding priority of getting it right, are inescapable; there is no “essential thing” independent of form that is “enough” for us.

No doubt, truth is known by the divine intellect apart from any created form; but men know the truth as expressed in a definite way, under sensible and intelligible signs. Some signs are well suited to the truth they signify, and others are not. For example, solemnity is compatible with, indeed required by, the notion of the sacred, while casualness and spontaneity are not.

Martin Mosebach’s The Heresy of Formlessness illuminates the folly (and ugliness) of imposing on ourselves the modern faith in abstract society and an abstract world with abstractions reigning globally and governing relationships individually, in contrast to the real spiritual vitality that can be found in things, real things, and how real things and actions resonate in the spiritual realm. This sensitivity to material reality is something our society has lost — not only the idea that there is a spiritual reality encompassing the material world, but also that we touch the spiritual through what we do with matter, or, in other words, that the form of things and what we do with them matters in the life of the spirit. One sees the same Cartesian contempt for the flesh in the liturgical reform, which strips barren the inherited treasury of forms in order to present as purely verbal and conceptual a worship as is still consonant with public human activity.

As the historical record indicates, Modernity fears Catholicism because Catholicism reminds it — reminds us — that reality includes the supernatural, that which encompasses and penetrates the natural with mysterious powers that reason can approach, but only through faith and analogy. This approach requires a surrender to the divine and an acceptance of tradition that modern epistemology in its egocentric rationalism and voluntarism cannot tolerate. Like liberalism in Newman’s analysis, a halfway house between Catholicism and atheism, the Novus Ordo is a halfway house between a time-embracing and time-transcending tradition and a modernity trapped in its own death spiral.

In conclusion, the past fifty years of liturgical praxis have taken a serious toll on the faith life in our communities. The Novus Ordo perspective dwells erroneously on abstractions like validity and fails to recognize the deep (human and divine!) connection between form, meaning, and truth. The consequences of this error are now unmistakable. According to Bishop Barron, for every new Catholic, six are leaving the Church. In a survey of Catholics, 80% under age 50 do not believe in the Real Presence. The pandemic has only accelerated the already glaring differences between the traditional practice of Catholicism and its modern substitute. The loss of faith evidenced statistically is understandable, even predictable, given that the main catechism for most Catholics is the Mass. A concerted return to the traditional liturgy is not simply beneficial but necessary for the continued life of our churches. Bishops who do not grasp this in time will preside over the white-chasubled funerals of their cremated dioceses.

In the cycles of history, including the history of salvation unfolded for us in Scripture, we perceive times of exile, as well as the varied responses people make to their exilic condition. It seems that we are living in a peculiar time marked by institutional self-exile, as if the Church had become its own Pharaoh and Pilate. That is no excuse for failing to do what we can and must as children of Israel, as disciples of Christ; rather, it is the perfect opportunity to pray for and seek a return to Catholic tradition, having at its heart a liturgy that is worthy of — and truly communicative of — the most important work the Church does, and, consequently, that is capable of serving as the foundation for a coherent future.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Feast of St Mark the Evangelist

Thou hast protected me, o God, from the assembly of the malignant, allelúja; from the multitude of them that work of iniquity, allelúja, allelúja. Ps 63 Hear, O God, my prayer, when I beseech (Thee): deliver my soul from the fear of the enemy. Glory be... Thou hast protected me... (A very nice recording of the Introit from the Common Mass of Martyrs in Eastertide, also sung today for the Mass of St Mark the Evangelist, with some bell-ringing added for good measure.)
Introitus Protexisti me, Deus, a conventu malignantium, allelúja: a multitúdine operantium iniquitátem, allelúja. allelúja. Ps 63 Exaudi, Deus, oratiónem meam, cum déprecor: a timore inimíci éripe ánimam meam. Gloria Patri... Protexísti me...

Friday, April 23, 2021

Catch Up with the Latest Episodes of Square Notes Season 3

quare Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast is back after a winter hiatus, and we’ve got some great episodes available for you in season 3. Episode 7, “Modality in Gregorian Chant” with Dr. William Mahrt, offers tools for analyzing Gregorian chant, especially with a mind to unlocking the meaning of the text as it is set in the music.

In episode 8, an interview with Dr Francis Brancaleone, we look at a model institution for sacred music education, the Pius X School of Liturgical Music at Manhattanville College.
The brilliant Renaissance scholar Dr Kerry McCarthy offers us a view of Reformation-era liturgical changes in England through the lens of the composer Thomas Tallis in episode 9.

Russophiles will enjoy episode 10’s discussion, with Dr. Richard Fountain, of Russian bell ringing and chant, and their impact on the compositions of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The Joyful Orations of the Third Sunday after Easter

Andrea Solario, Madonna with the Green Cushion, ca. 1507
Lost in Translation #49

During the forty days between Easter and Ascension Thursday, the Church exults in the sheer joy of the Resurrection, a joy likened to the euphoria of a mother holding her baby in her arms for the first time. “A woman, when she is in labour, hath sorrow, because her hour is come,” says Our Lord in the Gospel for the day, “but when she hath brought forth the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.” (John 16, 21)

But the Church is also mindful of the neophytes who were given new life during the Easter Vigil, and continues to pray for them and instruct them. In the Epistle (1 Pet. 2, 11-19), St Peter tells us not to use our newly-gained liberty as a cloak for malice, but to think of ourselves as pilgrims passing through this world on our way to the eternal joy which our earthly Easter celebrations betoken. Such admonitions, of course, are equally applicable to all Christians, whether their baptism occurred weeks or years ago.
The orations for the Third Sunday after Easter are similarly well-suited to Christians both new and old. The Collect is:
Deus, qui errántibus, ut in viam possint redíre justitiae, veritátis tuae lumen ostendis: da cunctis qui christiána professióne censentur, et illa respúere, quae huic inimíca sunt nómini; et ea quae sunt apta sectári. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
O God, who dost show to them that go astray the light of Thy truth, that they may return to the path of justice; grant to all those who are marked by their profession of the Christian faith to reject those things which are hostile to this name, and to follow those things that befit it. Through our Lord.
The author plays upon the double meaning of errare, which in Latin can mean either “go astray” or “err.” Mankind does both, which is why it needs the light of truth to correct its errors and someone to put it back on the right path. Both the intellectual (light of truth) and the moral (path of justice) thus appear in the Collect's protasis or first part. And so does our risen Lord, who is the Light of the World, the Truth, and the Way (via, which we have translated as “path,” can also mean “way”). I also wonder if the idea of people going astray is a faint echo of Good Shepherd Sunday, for it evokes the image of sheep going astray and who need a Good Shepherd to reign them back in (see Isa. 53, 6).
The apodosis or second half of the Collect may have the neophytes in mind when it refers to the faithful as “those marked by their Christian profession,” for they had to make a profession of faith when they were received into the Church on Holy Saturday. But the Collect is clearly praying for all who claim to be Christian, that they live up to their calling: first, by driving out the bad (literally, “spitting out” whatever is hostile to the Christian faith), and second, by following after what is fitting for the Faith. The use of the word “Christian” is rare in the Sunday orations (while “Catholic” makes no appearance at all). Usually, reference to the Church or her members is made with terms like “Thy faithful” or “Thy household.” Here, we see the name “Christian” come to the fore as an indication of the Christian vocation to which the neophytes are called and of which veteran Catholics are reminded.
The Secret, in turn, discloses more about living out this Christian faith:
His nobis, Dómine, mysteriis conferátur, quo terréna desideria mitigantes, discámus amáre caelestia. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Grant, O Lord, that by these mysteries it may be conferred upon us to mitigate our worldly desires and to learn to love the heavenly. Through our Lord.
Contemptus mundi, or disdain of the world, is not a virtue much talked about these days, but it is essential to the Christian life. For it is only when we see through the false allures of this world (and reduce our desires for them accordingly) that we get our priorities straight and learn to love what is above us. Note that it is not a question of quashing our desires, but of finding their true source of satisfaction, of heightening our desires for what is truly satisfying (the heavenly). The Secret calls not for a contraction of our desires but their expansion.
The Postcommuinon Prayer, on the other hand, guards against a Gnostic interpretation of the contrast between the worldly and the heavenly:
Sacramenta quae súmpsimus, quáesumus, Dómine, et spirituálibus nos instaurent alimentis, et corporálibus tueantur auxíliis. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
May the sacraments that we have received, we beseech Thee, O Lord, restore us with spiritual nourishment and protect us with bodily aids. Through our Lord.
Instaurare, which we have translated as “restore,” is the same verb used in Ephesians 1, 10, “to restore all things in Christ,” or as the Douay Rheims puts it, “to re-establish all things in Christ.” We can only restore or re-establish all things in Christ once we have been restored by the saving mysteries of Christ. And we also pray, in a subsidiary way, that we may be protected from bodily harm, so that we may do the work of restoring all in Christ. The spiritual comes first, but it is not opposed to the bodily, for we were put on this earth as embodied beings to integrate the two and sanctify, as it were, our material existence. And what better reminder of this happy integration is there than the figure of the risen Christ, whose broken body is restored and walks among us during the forty days of Easter.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Ambrosian Liturgy of Easter Week - Part 4: the Masses of Friday and Saturday

We continue with Nicola de’ Grandi’s notes on the Ambrosian liturgy of Easter week; previous parts of this series may be read at the following links: part 1; part 2; part 3.

As on the previous days, the Ambrosian Mass “for the baptized” on Easter Friday contains elements of the mystagogical catechesis centered on the sacraments administered to the neophytes during the Easter vigil, baptism and the Eucharist. The first reading is the famous episode of the meeting between Abraham and Melchisedek, priest and king of Jerusalem (Genesis 14, 18-24).
Melchisedek Offers Tithes to Abraham; mosaic in the basilica of St Mary Major in Rome, 440 A.D, one of a series of 42 such panels which date back to the church’s original construction. (Twenty-seven of the originals survive.) It is located to the right of the altar from the point of view of the priest as he stands at it facing into the nave; its placement is clearly deliberate, and may be taken as an attestation of the words of the Roman Canon “quod tibi obtulit summus sacredos tuus Melchisedech”, which is also attested in St Ambrose’s De Sacramentis, 4, 27.
We have direct proof that this passage was already in ancient times part of the system of catechetical readings of Easter, since it is omitted from the continual reading of Genesis on the ferias of Lent. Like some of the passages discussed earlier in this series, this one also is also mentioned in the Easter catecheses of St Ambrose himself, who writes in the De Mysteriis, 16, 45-46:

“The lesson from Genesis just read shows that (the sacraments of the Church) are more ancient (than those of the synagogue). For the synagogue took its origin from the law of Moses, but Abraham was far earlier, who, having conquered his enemies, and recovered his own nephew, as he was enjoying his victory, was then met by Melchizedek, who brought forth those things which Abraham reverently received. It was not Abraham who brought them forth, but Melchizedek, who is introduced ‘without father, without mother, having neither beginning of days, nor ending, but like unto the Son of God’, of Whom Paul says to the Hebrews, that He remains a priest forever. (Hebr. 7, 3), and whose name means ‘king of justice’ and ‘king of peace.’
Do you not recognize Who this is? Can a mere man be king of justice, when he himself is hardly just? Can he be king of peace, when he can hardly be peaceable? Without mother according to His divinity, for He was begotten of God the Father, of one substance with the Father; without father according to the Incarnation, for He was born of a Virgin; having neither beginning nor end, for He is the beginning and end of all things, the first and the last. The sacrament, then, which you received is the gift not of man but of God, brought forth by Him Who blessed Abraham, the father of the faith, even him whose grace and deeds we admire.”
St Ambrose, by the Neapolitan painter Cesare Fracanzano (1605-51)
In this case also, there is a parallel in the Saint’s other mystagogical catechesis, the De Sacramentis (3, 12):
“Melchizedek, therefore, offered bread and wine. Who is Melchizedek? ‘Without father,’ it says, ‘without mother, without order of generation, having neither beginning of days nor end of life’; this is in the Epistle to the Hebrews. He is without father, it says, and without mother. Like unto whom? The Son of God. The Son of God was born without mother in his heavenly generation, because he was born of God the Father alone, and again, he was born without father, when he was born of the Virgin; for he was not generated of the seed of a man, but born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary (Matt. 1, 20), brought forth from a virginal womb, in all things like to the Son of God. Melchizedek was also a priest, since Christ too is a priest, to whom it is said, ‘Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek?’ (Ps. 109, 4)”
As with the passages from the books of Kings on the preceding days, we thus have proof that this reading was already in the fourth century an important part of the neophytes’ post-baptismal instruction in the Milanese tradition, carefully preserved over the many centuries.
The Gospel of Low Saturday
Among the Masses of the Ambrosian Easter week, that of Low Saturday is the certainly the most interesting.
The prophetic reading of the day, Isaiah 61, 10 – 62, 3, begins with these words: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God: for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation: and with the robe of justice he hath covered me, as a bridegroom decked with a crown, and as a bride adorned with her jewels.” This is clearly an allusion to the white garments which the newly baptized wore for the last time on this day, and which was removed from them at Vespers. This rite is attested in an Ambrosian Ordo written by a priest named Beroldus ca. 1140, and in another of the following century. The former says, “Two of the younger priests (from the lesser of the two cathedral chapters) must uncover the heads of the children, while standing at the doors of the church of St John, saying, ‘May the Lord bless you from Zion, and may you see the good things of Jerusalem all the days of your life.’ ” (Ps. 127, 5)
The oldest Ambrosian lectionaries, one of the 9th and the other of the 10th century, attest to various Gospel readings from St John on this day: chapter 6, 1-14 (the multiplication of the loaves); 21, 1-14, the appearance of Christ to the disciples at the lake of Tiberias; and 13, 4-15, the washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. The last of these, a shorter version of the Roman Gospel for the Mass of Holy Thursday (verses 1-15) is the one now used. However, the writings of St Ambrose named above tell us that in the later 4th century, it was read at the Easter vigil instead, in connection with the custom by which, after the catechumens had been baptized and anointed, the archbishop would wash their feet. This is a very ancient tradition known throughout northern Italy, and also found in the rite of Aquileia. (cf. St Chromatius of Aquileia, Sermon 15)
Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples, 1548-49, by the Venetian painter Jacopo Robusti (1518-94), more commonly known by the nickname Tintoretto. This painting, which is now in the Prado Museum in Madrid, is one of the artist’s six version of this subject; the companion piece of the Last Supper still hangs in its original location, the choir of the church of San Marcuola in Venice. The paintings are quite large, 7½ feet tall by 17½ wide. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
St Ambrose describes the rite as follows in the De Mysteriis (6, 31):
“You went up from the font; remember the Gospel reading. For our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel washed the feet of His disciples. When He came to Simon Peter, Peter said, ‘Thou shalt never wash my feet. He did not perceive the mystery, and therefore he refused the ministry, for he thought that the humility of the servant would be injured, if he patiently allowed the Lord to minister to him. And the Lord answered him, ‘If I wash not thy feet, thou wilt have no part with Me.’ ”
In the parallel passage of the De Sacramentis (3, 1; 4-7), he defends the legitimacy of the Ambrosian tradition in its discrepancy from Rome in the use of this passage.
“You came up out of the font. What followed? You heard the lesson. The high priest was girt up; for though the priests also did this, nevertheless, the ministry is begun by the high priest. The high priest, I say, was girt up, and washed your feet. What is this mystery? Doubtless you heard that when the Lord had washed the feet of the other disciples, He came to Peter, and Peter said to him, ‘Dost Thou wash my feet?’ That is, dost Thou, the Lord, wash the feet of a servant? Dost Thou, the spotless, wash my feet? Dost thou, the maker of the heavens, wash my feet? You have this in another place also: He came to John, and John said to him, ‘I have need to be baptized by Thee, and comest Thou to me?’ (Matt. 3, 14) I am a sinner, and dost thou come to me a sinner, that Thou mayest as it were lay down Thy sins, who hast done no sin? See all justice, see the humility, see the grace, see the sanctification: ‘Unless I wash thy feet, he saith, thou wilt have no part with me.’
We are not unaware that the Roman Church has not this custom. In all things we follow her model and form; however, she has not this custom of washing the feet. See then, perhaps she has refused it on account of the numbers. (i.e. the large numbers of people being baptized.) There are some, however, who say and try to urge that this ought to be done, not as part of the sacrament, not at baptism, not at the regeneration, but only as we should wash the feet of a guest. One is a matter of humility, the other of sanctification. Hear, then, that it is a sacrament and a means of sanctification: ‘Unless I wash thy feet, thou wilt have no part with me.’ Therefore I say this, not to reprove others, but to recommend my own usages. In all things I desire to follow the Roman Church, yet we too are men of good sense, and what other places have done well to retain, we too do well to maintain.
St Ambrose Baptizing St Augustine; Folio 37v of the book of Hours known as the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, by the Limbourg Brothers, ca. 1412-16. The image is inserted into the text of the Te Deum because of the tradition that the two Saints composed this hymn on this occasion; note that Augustine is identified by an anachronistic (in many ways) episcopal miter. (Now at the Musée Condé in Chantilly; public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
It is the Apostle Peter himself that we follow, to his devotion do we cling. What does the Roman Church answer to this? Certainly we hold the Apostle Peter himself to be the author of our claim, he who was priest of the Roman Church. Peter himself says, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.’ See his faith. His first refusal was an act of humility; the offer that followed was an act of faith and devotion.

Because he had said ‘my hands and my head’, the Lord answered him, ‘He that hath washed needeth not to wash again, save to wash his feet only. Why is this? Because in baptism all guilt is washed away. Guilt therefore vanishes, but because Adam was tripped up by the devil, and poison was poured over his feet, therefore you wash your feet; so that at the very point where the serpent made his attack, a stronger help of sanctification may be applied, and thus he may not be able to trip you up afterwards. Therefore do you wash your feet, to wash off the serpent’s poison. It is a help towards humility also, that in a sacrament we should not shrink from that which we scorn in an act of service.”
This custom is clearly attested in the Middle Ages. An Ambrosian Manual of the 10th or 11th century prescribes that after the ceremonies of baptism during the Easter vigil, “then the archbishop must wash the infants’ feet.” Likewise Beroldus: “And then the archbishop washes the feet of the aforementioned three children, wipes them with a cloth, and kisses them.”
This Gospel is not, however, attested on the Easter vigil in any surviving Ambrosian liturgical manuscript, and appears to have been moved to its present position on Low Saturday sometime in that part of the early Middle Ages from which no evidence of the rite exists. Whatever the reason for removing it from the Easter vigil, its placement on Low Saturday may perhaps be explained as follows. Given its historical importance, it could not be deleted altogether from the liturgy, but placing it on Holy Thursday, in imitation of the Roman custom, would have jarred too much with the already established Ambrosian practice, by which the latter day is more focused on the Passion. It was therefore moved to a day which emphasized its historical connection to the baptismal rites, since the purpose of the Masses “for the baptized” was precisely to explain these rites to the neophytes in greater depth.
The Transitorium of this Mass (the equivalent of the Roman Communio) is taken from this Gospel; the text is similar to the second antiphon that accompanies the ceremony of the mandatum in the Roman Rite. In the Rite of Benevento, it was used as the Introit of Holy Thursday.
“Postquam surrexit Dominus de Cœna, misit aquam in pelvim, cœpit lavare pedes discipulorum suorum. Hallelujah. Si ego dominus et magister vester lavi pedes vestros. Hallelujah. Quanto magis vos debetis alter alterius pedes lavare. Hallelujah. – After the Lord rose up from the supper, He put water in a basin, and began to wash the feet of His disciples, alleluja. If I, your Lord and master, have washed your feet, alleluja, how much more must ye wash one anothers’ feet, alleluia!”

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: