Monday, September 27, 2021

The Maronite Liturgy’s Corruption under Modern Western Influence

A Maronite altar ad orientem—something rarely seen
It is often assumed by Roman Catholics that the Eastern Catholic rites have been “preserved intact” and that the destructive aspects of the liturgical reform took place only in the sphere of the Latin-rite Church. It is sometimes even suggested that Roman Catholics may find a “refuge” in the East if things in the West continue to go in the downward direction that Pope Francis and his new officers are proposing to enforce. As both Joseph Shaw and I have argued (see here, here, and here), there is no good reason to think that Traditionis Custodes will lead to substantive improvements in the Novus Ordo; on the contrary, it is more likely to lead to the suppression of elements that look anything like the Tridentine rite, in the effort to enforce a progressive liturgical vision.

While it is true that the most wanton destruction did, in fact, take place in the Roman Rite (with similar depradations in the Ambrosian Rite), Western-educated liturgists within Eastern Catholicism have too often shown themselves eager to follow the path of false antiquarianism and modernization, usually in the form of dramatic abbreviations and simplifications, as well as the abolition of traditional features.

The Maronites are perhaps the most notorious example of this Western-influenced self-destruction: their liturgy has evolved into the Novus Ordo of the East. For example, in “The Transfer of Gifts” (which corresponds to the “Great Entrance” in the Byzantine Liturgy), traditionally a deacon or subdeacon transferred the gifts from the side altar to the main altar. In the parishes now, lay people are employed to make the transfer, in imitation of the Novus Ordo offertory procession—a thing that was introduced on antiquarian grounds as a revival of ancient practice, although better scholarship has shown that it is no such thing: the modern offertory has little to do with the ancient one (see here and here).

A knowledgeable correspondent once gave me an outline of the bigger picture, so that I could understand how one kind of Latinization, which had had its positive aspects, had simply given way to another kind, which occasioned severe damage.

“The Maronite Church has gone through several periods of Latinization since the 16th century, most especially at the Synod of Mt Lebanon in 1736 where a papal legate was instructed to ‘correct’ our practices. Adoption of these Latinizations were not uniform or universal, and often were manifested in externals (e.g., vestments); yet we retained our sacral language and the vast corpus of our distinctive liturgy and prayers. In the 1940s, Patriarch Arida wished to restore our tradition and a liturgist by the name of Chorbishop Michel Raji began thorough research to restore our tradition. His sacramentary was the major fruit of his work; it preserved ancient liturgies such as a ca. fifth-century baptismal liturgy.

“The intimate and longstanding connection between France and Lebanon/Syria meant, however, that the liturgists who studied in France began to internalize and imitate the Western Liturgical Movement; Maronites began to hold reformatory ideas, which culminated in a book in 1965 called Avant-messe maronite by Pierre-Edmond Gemayel, who would later become archbishop and chair of the liturgical commission. Gemayel’s approach was essentially that everything he didn’t like was or must have been a fifteenth-century accretion, ‘Jacobite’ or authentic but not pastoral. It is difficult to respond to such baseless and subjective claims charitably; an example of this is Gemayel’s claim that the prothesis (which all Eastern liturgies and some Western liturgies have in common, equivalent to the offertory) is a 15th–16th century accretion; to this, all Baby Varghese (a present-day West Syriac liturgical scholar) can say is that ‘Gemayel’s analysis of the contents of various manuscripts was not always accurate’ (give that man an award for understatement).

“Regarding ‘Jacobite’ elements, Gemayel attacked anything that made us West Syriac, such as the antiphonal doxology that previously began all liturgies—‘P: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit from our beginning and until our concluding; R: and may mercy and compassion be poured forth upon us weak sinners in this world and the next. Amen.’ As for supposedly ‘non-pastoral’ elements, an example is the recitation of Psalm 50 at the beginning of the liturgy, which was undeniably the practice of the Maronite Liturgy for a millennium and a half; but they say it is redundant to ask for forgiveness multiple times. Prayers that are ‘self-deprecative’ were also removed—e.g., for the imposition of incense, the priest now says ‘To the glory and honor of the glorious Trinity,’ whereas previously it was ‘My weak sinful hands impose incense for the glory and honor of the holy and glorious Trinity. Let us all ask for mercy and compassion from the Lord’; prayers from the various anaphorae were similarly redacted.

“Given the Lebanese Civil War that lasted from the seventies into the early 90s, a new missal was never promulgated to replace the 1596. In 1992, however, Gemayel finally enacted his Bugninian vision, removing all but three lines of the prothesis and any ideas of sacrifice, cutting the fore-liturgy in half, greatly truncating or entirely removing rubrics, infantilizing language, removing anything that refers to the liturgy as sacrifice, and introducing various Novus Ordo ideas (e.g., whereas previously the lections were all read from the center, two podiums are now mandatory, the southern one for the epistle and the northern one for the Gospel). Laypeople often serve as deacons. The sacerdotal office has no particular significance; prayers from the fraction in which the priest offers the Eucharist back to God were made to be recited by all. A previous trope in Syriac prayer is that priest prays on behalf of all: ‘Lord God, make us worthy to do X...’; before communion and, with the new book of rubrics, before the reading of Scripture, everyone recites these prayers in common. The anamnesis must be recited by all the concelebrants. I have personally asked for sources or evidence of any of these practices, but my requests never meet with a response; rubrics at this point are simply arbitrary. Individuals who have neither studied theology nor gained familiarity with the history of the faith continue to contribute to liturgical reform! An example is Guilnard Moufarrej, who wrote on the reform of our funerary rites. She purports that we removed verses that are exact citations of Ephesians 2:2 because they do not ‘agree with Roman dogmas’ (conveniently not citing which ‘Roman dogmas’ they disagree with).

“Reform continues arbitrarily, and to the denigration of our tradition. There is now a steady stream of proposed rites, which all replace the first half of the Eucharistic liturgy and have an Anaphora tacked on the end because Mass has come to be seen as the only real form of prayer (whereas a sixteenth-century Jesuit commented on how surprised he was at the ubiquitous lay attendance at the divine offices in the Maronite Church). The byword of the liturgical reform continues to be ‘progress,’ though without any definition. Ultimately, the catchall term ‘pastoral’ is given as justification for all changes.

“At least the Novus Ordo is based upon the Latin tradition, however denigrated. The current Maronite Missal from 2005 does things incredible and incomprehensible to the ordo for any Eastern. As mentioned, the Prothesis/Preparatory Rite (equivalent of the offertory) has been completely excised. One of the two canonical hours has been removed. Psalm 50 [51], whose inclusion in the Syriac liturgy is attested to from at least the 6th century, has been removed. The first canonical hour of the Eucharistic liturgy has been replaced with propers ‘inspired’ by offices. The propers for the Season of Pentecost are made up almost wholesale.

“There’s been extreme rubrical simplification; no secret prayers remain. Versus populum is essentially mandated (at this point, I’ve seen more ad orientem Novus Ordos than Maronite ones!). It was introduced to the Maronite Church in the US in the 1960s, around the same time as it entered the mainstream of the Latin Church. It is purely innovative. Many of our traditional prayers refer to facing the rising sun—alluding to both the physical East and the expectation of the eschaton—and these have been excised to accommodate the new (dis)orientation. A dubium on this topic was submitted to the Congregation for Oriental Churches. Archbishop Cyril, the Secretary, responded that Oriental bishops do not even have the competence to permit, let alone mandate, versus populum. This, however, makes no difference, because official internal literature makes it clear that ‘reform’ will be pursued at all costs.

“As in the old Roman rite, in the Maronite liturgy there were many more signs of the cross—one could write a treatise on the sign of the cross in Syriac theology; it is of such utter importance that the East Syriacs include it in the list of sacraments!—and not just during the Institution Narrative. The West Syriac tradition has many special doxologies accompanied by signs of the cross: at the beginning of the Anaphora, the paten, the chalice, then both were signed, each time saying a doxology that professed the indivisibility of the Holy Trinity. There were signs of the cross during the post-Sanctus. There were more signs of the cross during the fraction. They are of such antiquity that St. Jacob of Sarug (5th century) gives us the number of signs of the cross to be made throughout the liturgy. They were all eliminated in virtue of Bugnini’s fixation on eliminating ‘duplication’ and ‘accretion’; this has become a driving force in eliminating lots of different things unique to our Syriac tradition.

“In my view, what underlies this idea of the redundancy of the sign of the cross is simple: the liturgists do not believe the ancient words ‘By Your cross, Your mysteries are accomplished’ which peppers all our prayers. Everything is simply reduced to a pedagogical sign or communal engagement—very Calvinist. However, in Lebanon these things are not seen as Protestant simply because they are done by Maronites, as absurd as that sounds. I have personally expressed my frustrations with their Protestantism to them but it’s completely incomprehensible to them because being ‘Maronite’ is a sociopolitical/ethnic identity as much as (if not more than) it is religious. Perhaps you have seen how the cedar even supersedes the cross at times.

“Polyester vestments are effectively required. Sanctuary veils and ripidia have been prohibited for a long time. The Anaphora has been needlessly changed (e.g., you must sit for the rite of peace); two prayers of peace are moved to after the sign of peace; there is a significant truncation of prayers, removal of diaconal litanies, removal of a fifth-century portion of the fraction rite, removal of rubrics, removal of traditional “major elevation” with accompanying hymn, removal of graded communion (i.e., communion of clergy, faithful, dead). We have even become the freaks of the Apostolic Churches: we removed all hand washings from our liturgy, so we’re the only liturgy of an Apostolic Church without a ritual ablution.

“In all this, the Maronite liturgy was changed to resemble the Latin liturgy. A new offertory was created. The liturgy was split into the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (not coherent with the traditional Syriac paradigm). Two podiums have been introduced, to mimic the way the Novus Ordo handled readings in the 70s, etc.

“A professor in Lebanon insisted to me (reciting almost verbatim P. Gemayel’s Avant-messe maronite) that there was no manuscript proof before the sixteenth century of a preparation rite beyond just plating a piece of bread and pouring wine into a cup—which is patently false. A few days later I had the opportunity to mention this claim to Sebastian Brock, the foremost Syriac scholar in the world. He responded that it is not only erroneous, it is off by about a millennium (i.e., we have evidence of a larger preparation rite in the sixth century!). But the liturgists will continue to lie and make things up because hardly any of them can actually read Syriac, so they can make any claims they’d like—in fact, they often claim our liturgical language is no longer Syriac, so it’s a moot point.

“The Liturgical Commission is not comprised of educated men. Not one of the persons who contributed to the English missal has any formal training or even understanding of the liturgy. It shows mostly in the hymns they produced, which are often incoherent. Even very basic things like why we used the exact same wording of the Latin Church’s creed (when the Arabic follows the Syriac, such as Christ shall come in great glory, and the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets and apostles), the response I received was that uniformity is unity. When I asked why we retained ‘we believe’ in the Creed, the individual just scoffed at me and told me I don’t know what I’m talking about. Likewise, I asked why, in the Lord’s Prayer, we move from hieratic to contemporary English as we go from the main prayer to the doxology, and the individual didn’t understand why that would be an issue. There are a multitude of holes one can poke simply in its language—like the use of sentence fragments as complete sentences in hymns. Our liturgy has been in shambles since we decided the Novus Ordo was the proto-liturgy of all traditions, and its getting exponentially worse. The problem is compounded by the fact that the patriarchal university in Lebanon purposefully doesn’t allow open access to manuscripts, and because Syriac is not as widely studied or translated as Latin. As a result, teachers, scholars, liturgists, bishops, can say whatever they like and there are too few people who can challenge their ignorance and errors. An example would be the uncritical, superficial, revisionist arguments one finds at a blog like ‘livingmaronite.com,’ which today seems to be on the cutting edge—of the 1960s. They are blissfully unaware of any scholarship from the past half-century that challenges their narrative.”

To all of which I, as a Roman Catholic, could only respond: “Sounds awfully familiar.” I was shocked to hear about all of this corruption. It made me realize that authentic Christian liturgy is endangered throughout the entire Christian world to the extent that it is allowed to fall under the influence of the liturgical progressivism of Western educational institutions and, crucially, to be treated as the plaything of any powerful individual, be he a pope or patriarch.

What follows is a comparative chart between the 1908 Maronite missal (which is a reprint of the 1596) nd and the current 2005 missal. There is a lot that can be said about the details, but for our purposes it is enough simply to look at the enormous difference, which is arguably even greater than that between the Tridentine Roman rite and the modern rite of Paul VI.





A downloadable PDF of these four pages may be accessed at this Google drive link.

So, before anyone thinks that “going East” will be a solution, he will need to do some homework in order to find out which Eastern rites have been corrupted by the Novus Ordo influence, and which ones have retained their integral tradition in spite of pressure and temptation from the West.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Abbey of Grottaferrata

Today is the feast of St Nilus, who founded the important Byzantine Rite monastery of Grottaferrata, about 13 miles to the southeast of Rome, fairly close to the famous Papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. He was originally from a town called Rossano in the southern Italian region of Calabria, and lived an ordinary life until he was about 30 years old, when his wife and daughter both died within a short time of each other, and then he fell serious ill. These events set him on the path to a religious conversion, and the embracing of monastic life in one of the many Byzantine communities in southern Italy, in which state he earned a great reputation for sanctity and learning. The political vicissitudes of the era brought him north to Rome; in 1004, while passing through the Alban hills, he had a vision of Our Lady, from which it was made known to him that he was to found a community in that place. Nilus is reckoned the first abbot and founder of the monastery because he obtained from a local nobleman the grant of land in Grottaferrata on which it was built, and established the community, but he did not live to the see building of it even begun. This was accomplished by his successor Bartholomew, who is also a Saint. I recently stumbled across the following documentary about the abbey, which tells some of its history and shows many of the church’s interesting artistic and architectural features. (It was posted only a year and a half ago by the Italian Basilian monks, but it seems to have been made some time ago, and is rather grainy.)


Saturday, September 25, 2021

Blessed Hermann the Cripple

Blessed Hermannus, whose feast day is kept in some Benedictine houses on September 25, is usually called “Hermann the Cripple” or “the Lame” in English, but his Latin appellation “Contractus - the deformed” (literally ‘the contracted one’) is really more accurate, as is so often the case with Latin. The combination of congenital defects from which he suffered made him “not simply a cripple, but ... practically helpless”, writes Alban Butler. Born in 1013 to a noble family in Swabia, modern southern Germany, he survived childhood by some miracle of God’s providence, and was entrusted at the age of seven to the Benedictine abbey on Reichenau Island on the lake of Constance. He was professed at the age of twenty, and lived as a monk for twenty years more.

Although he was barely able to move without assistance, he was a polymath and a genius, well-versed in theology, music, astronomy, mathematics, Latin, Greek and Arabic. Students came to learn from him from many parts of Europe, and his intellectual achievements were such that he was known as the wonder of his age. Among his works are the earliest surviving medieval chronicle of the whole of human history, and a treatise on mathematics and astronomy; he was also able somehow to build both musical and astronomical instruments. Above all, however, his name will live in blessed remembrance as that of the composer of the Marian antiphons Alma Redemptoris Mater and Salve Regina. His cultus was officially approved by the Holy See in 1863. Beate Hermanne, ora pro nobis!

A manuscript illustration of one of Bl. Herman’s treatises on astronomy.

Friday, September 24, 2021

The St Ann Choir Celebrates Its 58th Anniversary

Thanks to one of our long-time guest contributors, Roseanne Sullivan, for this tribute to Dr William Mahrt (who is also our publisher) and the St Ann Choir, for the extraordinary work they have done over almost six decades to preserve the great tradition of Catholic liturgical music.

Lovers of the traditional music of the Roman Catholic liturgy may want to stop a moment and marvel about the St Ann Choir’s unique achievement: fifty-eight years of continual performance of Gregorian chant and polyphony at weekly liturgies in diocesan churches—even while this kind of music was out of favor in the Church.
Dr William Mahrt and the St Ann Choir
This coming Sunday, September 26, will be the choir's fifty-eighth anniversary; they began singing on the last Sunday of September in 1963, and have almost miraculously managed to keep chant and sacred polyphony alive as it should be performed, as part of sacred liturgies, during the long decades since then when the Church’s traditional sacred music was virtually banned. The choir now sings at St Thomas Aquinas Church, which is located at 751 Waverly St. in Palo Alto, California. Every Sunday at noon, the choir and congregation sing the ordinary chants of the Mass, at Latin Masses in the Ordinary Form, and the choir also sings the proper chants for the day of the Church year —in addition to polyphonic motets from great Renaissance composers, with organ preludes and postludes. For special feasts, the choir also sings polyphonic Mass settings by Renaissance composers for the ordinary, along with chanted propers for the feast. All are welcome to these Masses with their unique musical enrichment.
A poster advertising the choir’s patronal feast in 2018, with music by Josquin des Prez.
The choir is directed by Stanford Professor William Mahrt, who also leads the Stanford Early Music Singers, is president of the Church Music Association of America, and editor of the CMAA journal Sacred Music. Mahrt joined the St Ann Choir when he was a Stanford graduate student, and has directed it, with some breaks totaling about five years breaks, since 1964, its second year of existence.
“The main achievement of our choir is to have maintained the traditional music of the Roman Catholic Church. We began singing Gregorian chant and classical polyphony and included organ music in liturgies before the council, and our program is pretty much the same as it was when we started,” says Prof. Mahrt. “Our choir started one year before the language changed [from Latin to the vernacular]—if we had tried to start one year later, we might not have been able to do it.”
The choir got its name because they originally sang at the St Ann Chapel in Palo Alto, which was the Stanford University Newman Center at the time. In 1998, the diocese decided to move the Newman Center to Stanford Memorial Church and an on-campus office. After efforts to keep the chapel as a place for Catholic worship failed, it was sold to a conservative Anglican group in 2003.
The chapel has a remarkable history of its own. It was built by Clare Booth Luce as a memorial for her daughter Ann, who was a Stanford senior when she was killed in a car accident while returning to campus in 1944 after Christmas vacation. The loss of her daughter precipitated a crisis that showed Luce the meaninglessness of her own life. After months of instruction and counsel from then-Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen, Luce converted to Catholicism.
Luce intended the chapel to illustrate her conviction that modernity and sacred art are compatible. She commissioned artists to decorate the chapel with expressionistic (and experimental) painted windows instead of stained glass, painted Stations of the Cross, a cubist-inspired mosaic of the Madonna, and a steel mesh flat baldachino decorated with mosaics and Cubist-inspired angels. It was dedicated in 1951. For years after the chapel was sold to the Anglican group, the choir was allowed to sing Vespers and some occasional liturgies there, until COVID precautions suspended those arrangements. Prof. Mahrt says, “I anticipate that we will go back, not for the expressionism and cubism, but the acoustics.”
As Susan Benofy wrote in Adoremus 20 years ago, “It is rare to hear chant in Catholic churches, and it is rarely taught in Catholic institutions. Catholoics who are familiar with the chant and polyphonic repertoire are more likely to have gained this familiarity from listening to recordings than to have experienced this music as an integral part of the solemn liturgy.” (Adoremus Online: March 2001) Another very telling commentary comes from René Girard, Stanford Professor Emeritus, and one of only 40 members, or ‘immortals,’ of the Académie Française: “When I first attended, I assumed that the Catholic Church and the University actively supported this unique contribution to the spiritual and cultural life of the community. The truth is that ever since 1963, Professor Mahrt has been very much on his own in this enormously time-, talent- and energy-consuming enterprise.” 

“The Devil in Music” - A Myth Debunked

Here is a video which I found very interesting and enjoyable: musician Adam Neely thoroughly debunks one of the sillier legends about the medieval Church, namely, that it banned a particular musical interval called a “tritone”, because people thought it sounded so bad that it could summon the devil. For this reason, the interval is popularly known as “diabolus in musica – the devil in music”, although as Mr Neely explains, this nickname is not very old, and did not originally mean what people think it means. Along the way, he offers some useful thoughts about HOW people came to accept such silly and essentially baseless ideas about the Middle Ages, its culture and society, thoughts which are very much worth paying attention to, and applying more broadly to our history as a Church.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Basilica of Saint Vitalis in Ravenna (Part 1)

After a pause of over a month, we return to our series of Nicola’s photographs from his visit to Ravenna at the beginning of the summer; in the meantime, he has recently been traveling again, and before this series is over, he will undoubtedly have many more pictures of beautiful Italian churches to share with us.
St Vitalis was the father of the Milanese martyrs Gervasius and Protasius, and said to have suffered martyrdom at Ravenna; he is named in the Communicantes of the Ambrosian Canon, right after St Apollinaris, the founder of the church of Ravenna and its patron Saint. The church which bears his name is one of the most important early Christian churches in Italy, particularly because of the magnificent mosaics in the main sanctuary, which are not only very well-preserved, but also contain a very precious testimony to the early history of the Roman liturgy. Founded by a man named Julianus Argentarius, who was both a banker and an architect, the building was begun in 526 under the bishop of Ravenna Ecclesius, and consecrated in 548 his third successor, Maximian. The main body of the church is octagonal (a shape normally used in that era for baptisteries), surmounted by a cupola.
A view of the external ring of the basilica and its mosaic pavement.
The main sanctuary; the various parts of the mosaics are shown in detail in the photos below.
The main apse: a young and beardless Christ is accompanied by two angels, and on the left, St Vitalis, on the right, bishop Ecclesius, who offers the church to Christ. The naturalistic representation of the ground, with greenery, rocks and flowers, is typical of the older tradition of Roman mosaics, while the gold background, which represents heaven, and gives the viewer the sense of looking into the sacred place where Christ dwells with his Saints, is more in keeping with the then-emergent conventions of Byzantine art.

A New Recording from the FSSP’s European Seminary

The FSSP’s International Seminary of St Peter, located in Wigratzbad, Germany, will soon be releasing a recording in both chant and polyphony of Christmas Matins, which is traditionally sung before the Midnight Mass of Christmas. The YouTube channel of the distributor, DeMontfort Music, published this trailer a few days ago; you can find more information about the recording, which will be available as of next Tuesday, on their website: https://www.demontfortmusic.com/sancta-nox-christmas-matins-from-bavaria.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Photopost Request: House Chapels and Oratories

Following up on Peter’s post this past Monday, let’s do a photopost of your house chapels, oratories and prayer corners. Please send your photographs, along with any information you think pertinent, to photopost@newliturgicalmovement.org. If you would prefer that your name and location not be published, that’s certainly not a problem, just make sure to let me know that in your email.

I got the idea to do this from a spontaneous submission which we received on our Facebook page from Fr Rinaldo Damian, who is semi-retired and living in the diocese of Providence, Rhode Island. When he moved back there after serving for many years in Miami, he acquired the former convent of St Augustine’s parish, and restored it to use for the celebration of Mass. The chapel has several artifacts from churches that were closed in Paris. Bishop Robert McManus of nearby Worcester, Massachusetts (who was ordained a priest for Providence, and then served as its auxiliary bishop) consecrated the chapel last year and dedicated it to St Damien of Molokai. Our thanks to Fr Damian for sharing these pictures with us.

A Look Back on the Festival of Saint Louis 2021 (Guest Article and Photos)

NLM thanks Anna Kalinowski for her detailed commentary on the second annual Festival of St. Louis, once again a great success (as the stirring photos help convey).

The Apotheosis of St. Louis in Forest Park, where Catholics of St. Louis, Missouri, meet weekly year-round to pray the Holy Rosary

A few weeks ago, Catholics in Saint Louis, Missouri, outdid themselves once again in celebrating the feast of their city’s beloved patron. Faithful from all over the archdiocese and many out-of-state visitors came together to participate in an impressive series of liturgical and paraliturgical events known as The Festival of St. Louis.

The celebrations, which were organized primarily by the Oratory of SS. Gregory and Augustine, began officially in the Archdiocese’s mother church, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, with Solemn First Vespers on the evening of Tuesday, August 24th. Solemn seven-cope vespers may very well have been a first in the basilica’s history of a hundred-plus years.

The proper chants for Vespers were taken from a manuscript of an Office composed just after St. Louis’s canonization in 1297 for use at the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. It was for many years the most widely celebrated Office for Louis, King of France.

Procession into the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis for Solemn First Vespers

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The St Matthew Triptych by Orcagna

In 1367, the Florentine money-changers’ guild commissioned the painter Andrea di Cione, generally known by the nickname Orcagna, to make a triptych of their patron Saint, the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew. Orcagna, who was then running one of the busiest artistic workshops in the city, fell ill in the course of the work, and left it to be finished by his brother Jacopo when he died the following year. The emblem of the guild is seen at the top of the two side panels above the pinnacles.

Public domain images from Wikipedia; click to see in high resolution.
Its peculiar shape is owed to the fact that it was originally hung on one of the octagonal pillars of the famous church and guildhall known as the Orsanmichele. The central panel, which is mostly Orcagna’s own work, shows St Matthew with a pen and the Gospel book in his hands, the latter identified as his by the opening words “The Book of the Generation of Jesus Christ…” In accordance with the convention of the times, the beautiful decorative carpet on which he is standing is vertical, so that it can be seen; this was probably done by Jacopo. In the pinnacles above him, angels hold the crown and palms of martyrdom.

The side panels show four stories from the Saint’s life, running clockwise from the lower left. In the first one, Christ calls him away from the tollhouse, as described by Matthew himself in chapter 9 of his own Gospel. The Lord is accompanied by the four Apostles, Peter, Andrew, James and John, whose calling has already been described before this point, but the rest, who are named in chapter 10, are not yet with him.

The remaining panels show stories from the life of St Matthew as recounted in the Golden Legend. In the second one, when he had gone to Ethiopia to preach the Gospel, he came to a place where two magicians had gained control of the populace, and were worshipped as gods. At Matthew’s preaching, the people were converted to the faith; the magicians therefore planned to punish them by turning two dragons loose on them. Signing himself with the cross, the Apostle went out to confront them, at which the dragons lay down asleep at his feet.

In the third panel, he raises the son of a king named Hegippus from the dead, which the magicians were unable to do. This leads to the conversion of the king; furthermore, at St Matthew’s exhortation, his daughter embraces the state of consecrated virginity, a proposal in which she is followed by many other young women.
Hegippus is then succeeded by his brother Hirtacus, who turns against Christianity, and has St Matthew killed at the altar when he had just finished celebrating Mass, as seen in the fourth panel. Iphigenia, who is seen at the lower right, is still named to this day in the traditional Martyrology of the Roman Rite.

The story goes on that the people wished to avenge the Apostle’s murder by burning down the royal palace, but were restrained from doing so by the clergy, who rather celebrated his martyrdom. Since Iphigenia and the other virgins would not abandon their consecration, Hirtacus set her house on fire, but the Apostle turned the fire back on his house, which was destroyed. Hirtacus, afflicted with incurable leprosy, then kills himself, and is succeeded by Hegippus’ son, who effects the complete conversion of Ethiopia to Christianity, filling it with churches.
Just over half a century later, in 1419, the same guild commissioned the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti to make this bronze statue of the Apostle for one of the building’s external niches. It is now kept inside for preservation...

(Image from Wikimedia Commons by Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0)
while a copy is displayed in the niche itself.
(Image from Wikimedia Commons by Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0)

How Do Friendships Endure? by a Monk of Pluscarden Abbey

Here is an essay on the nature of friendship by a monk of the community of Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland, reproduced with permission from the Pentecost edition of their magazine, Pluscarden Benedictines. Friendship is an important aspect of the life of Benedictine monks, who are, in principle, bound to live in community with the same people for may well turn out to be several decades. As such, their lives as celibates in long-lasting and stable communities puts them in a position to consider the nature of human friendship and its relation to friendship with God. The bond that unites the community is the noble call of their common work of the worship of God, the opus Dei.

This essay is similar in theme, but at the same time in stark contrast to the series of three, I posted recently on the pictorial allegories of love as described in the Song of Songs: part 1, part 2, and part 3. Whereas the Song is a romantic and passionate love poem in which spousal love is portrayed as analogous to and participating in our love of God and God’s love for us, caritas, our wise Benedictine focuses on friendship (philia, amicitia), in which is there is no romantic component, and makes the argument that this too, if authentic, is a participation in ‘divine friendship’, which is an alternative way of referring to that same caritas. Caritas is a love which is simultaneously multi-faceted, superabundant and yet, paradoxically simple. Friendships, as with the spousal relationship in marriage, are therefore a training ground for heaven.

While the writer’s focus is primarily (though not exclusively) on deep and lasting friendships, my thoughts ran as I read it to the significance of superficial and temporary friendships. One thing that the last 18 months of enforced wearing of face-hiding masks and social isolation has taught me is how important regular and superficial contact with people is. For the most part, in the time of COVID, I have managed to maintain in some form at least my close friendships, but the number of regular face-to-face contacts with strangers has reduced dramatically, and I can feel the difference. Saying, ‘hello’ to strangers or to a person only seen in that one context regularly, say at the checkout of the local store, and who then returns the greeting with a smile, has a part to play in relieving loneliness too. Perhaps even these simple short interactions can also be small but significant occasions that lead us and others to heaven!
Photos by Peter Chalmers
There is a scene in the film About a Boy in which a couple asks the protagonist, played by Hugh Grant, to be godfather to their new baby girl. Grant plays an aging pop star who is drifting in life, and has for years been living off the royalties of the only hit single of his career. Though capable of personal charm, he is a cynic who claims he delights in a life of selfishness and irresponsibility in his personal relationships. At the beginning of the story, when asked to be a godfather he immediately refuses. The parents respond by suggesting that maybe he has hidden depths to his personality and that taking on this responsibility might help to bring them out. ‘Now that’s where you’re wrong,’ he replies, ‘I really am this shallow.’
However, in the course of the film, he meets a boy who draws him into friendship by stimulating his latent instincts to be a father. This in turn opens him up to other deeper and more satisfying loving relationships that he previously claimed he did not need. Its ring of truth for me was that it was not presented as a story of transition from misery to ecstasy, but rather, from relative contentedness to a far richer and more joyful life: from grayscale to glorious technicolor. It’s not that the friendships he had were nothing, rather, they were not enough, and he didn’t realize it until one of them developed into the life-changing friendship between himself and the boy.
I am not suggesting that shallowness and superficiality are all we need in our personal interactions, but I am going to say that shallow and superficial human interactions are underrated! Most of us need the full spectrum ranging from superficial and temporary to deep and permanent; one might say that God’s love is a single utterance that draws all loves, grey and colored, into itself.
Here then, is the essay.
HOW DO FRIENDSHIPS ENDURE?
How do friendships endure? It is certainly an interesting question. Both classical philosophy and St Thomas Aquinas applied the term friendship (philia, amicitia) to a wider range of human relationships than we are used to doing. Or rather, to be more precise, the Greek and Latin words which they used covered a wider range of meanings. Still, these terms obviously included our ordinary friendships. I cannot help but think of my best friend Paul in this context. We have known each other for over twenty years now. Our friendship endures and thrives, even though twelve years ago I entered a contemplative Benedictine monastery, while he has since become a husband and a father of four. That, plus a busy professional life, consumes more than 100% of his physical, mental and spiritual energies. We see each other a couple of times a year, at best, and yet the bond between us is stronger than ever, I would say. Why is this? Basing myself solely on Aristotle, I could already say a great deal: true human friendship is based on virtue, on worth; there has to be a certain equality between friends and the attachment must be mutual, but once it exists, friendship provides an ideal setting for growth in virtue; this growth in its turn strengthens the bond, and so it goes...
For St Thomas, this is how we prepare “the ground” for charity, which alone can carry us to God and life everlasting. Still, Aquinas would obviously want me to move beyond these basic truths and see my natural love for a friend itself as (with the help of grace) charity – so not just a mere setting for something greater, but the privileged means of achieving life everlasting. This is how we make our way to heaven: “not by bodily movements but by the soul's affections”, by enlarging the scope and the intensity of our human loves (2a2ae.24,4). Even though there can be no “natural” equality between God and man, charity (what God is in his essence and that thing “with which” we love him in our turn) is a kind of friendship! Charity “is our friendship for God arising from our sharing in eternal happiness” (2a2ae.24,2). It “is not based principally on human virtue, but on the divine goodness” 10 (2a2ae.23,3), expressed in “his sharing his happiness with us”.
In this present life, we can only experience it within our souls where “we have intercourse with God and the angels, though imperfectly” (2a2ae.23,1). My friendship with Paul then is ultimately a participation in this “divine friendship” – a unique virtue, the highest of all virtues, which alone “attains God himself so as to rest in him without looking for any gain” (2a2ae.23,6). Let me take a few steps back and start again. I could say that my friendship with Paul has endured because somehow we found each other equal in worth (more or less), and we mutually affirmed one another with (more or less again) the same intensity. Before that could happen, “life” somehow had to throw us together. We started off as what people would call “colleagues” nowadays (as students in the same department of the University of Warsaw) and teammates (representing our university in volleyball), not friends as such. But Aristotle would already apply the term philia to both of these fairly superficial connections, and St Thomas took up this broad understanding: “the chief concern of any friendship is with the main source of that shared good on which it is based” (2a2ae.26,2).
In other words, any shared good can become the basis of an amicitia. Yet I had studied and played volleyball with dozens, if not hundreds of people over those five years, and the vast majority of these “friendships” lasted only as long as the shared good on which they were based lasted, that is, only as long as we had the same preoccupations. Moreover, I had been in relationships with women which, at the time, seemed deeper and stronger than anything else in my life – but they all ended. Not so with Paul. Our friendship has survived all sorts of losses of lesser goods over the years. Why? Because we found each other good somehow, I think.
Man always aims at some good, Aristotle would say, even when in the middle of making a complete mess of his life. We love and desire “goodness” naturally, wherever we see it, even when we are deluded and the good is only apparent. So I can love the genuine good that comes with playing volleyball and, by extension, “love” all those who share this experience with me, especially when they are on my team and play well. But it is 11 slightly different when it comes to good people as such, because the “shared good” is hardly separable from them. What is more, it is also hardly separable from me, as I want to be good too. Not in some flat, moralistic sense; I just want to be a good instance of man, or even simply a good me. What happens when I see a man who appears good? “There are two things that we love in friendship,” wrote Aquinas, “our friend himself, for whom we desire good things; and the very good itself that we desire for him” (2a2ae.25,2). This “very good” in the case of people has to do with virtue, according to the classical tradition: a good man is a virtuous man; his virtue constitutes his worth as a man.
Our friendship began because Paul’s goodness somehow manifested itself to me through the dispositions which constitute his character, and vice versa – though back then we would never think of it this way. It endured because these dispositions are stable, repeatedly manifest themselves in what he does, and so they tend to strengthen the initial affirmation. This provides an ideal setting for growth in virtue for both of us; these “two things that we love in friendship” – we love them more and more, as the “two loves” and the two friends reinforce one another. St Thomas went further by placing friendship in the grandest of all possible schemes of things – “within” the theological virtue of charity, which then, in its turn, takes it right “into” God. I am able to love other people, including my friend Paul, because God loved me first – and that, for Aquinas, is specifically by sharing his eternal happiness with me. This is how God's love manifested itself, this is “God's virtue”, so to speak, through which I am able to know what he is like, to know his “character”.
Astoundingly, since eternal life is what I have in common with God now, I am able to have a personal relationship with a Being utterly beyond my reach otherwise. And this, in turn, enables me to love others (with various types of love and degrees of intensity), even my personal enemies and grave sinners, ultimately as also belonging to God, as his (potential) friends. Love, says Aquinas, “derives its species from its object, but its intensity from the lover” (2a2ae.26,7). Therefore, I will naturally desire greater good for 12 people whom I consider nearer to God, but the nearer the person is to me, the more intense this desire. No two relationships in my life will be the same then; their quality will depend on people's nearness to God and their nearness to me. Or perhaps, more precisely, on my inevitably skewed perceptions of these “nearnesses”. So really, in the final analysis, my friendship with Paul endures because, to a large extent, it has eternal life as the shared good on which it is based. Consequently, our friendship provides us with an ideal setting not merely for further growth in virtue, though it does – it is rather a training ground for heaven. In eternity “the entire order of love will be determined with reference to God, so that the closer another is to God the more dearly will we love him and see him as our own,” says St Thomas (2a2ae.26,13). In other words, the closeness to God will be the same as nearness to me. There is therefore no form of amicitia better than true friendship in approximating what will go on in heaven.
This is the best “simulator” available, if you like. But it does not stop at this, there is one more final consolation: Paul and I will still be friends “up there”, according to Aquinas (providing we both make it, of course, one can never presume that). True, closeness to God will be by far the most important factor in determining the order of our loves in heaven, but our earthly attachments will survive also – grace does not supplant nature, it perfects nature.

Monday, September 20, 2021

In Uncertain Times, House Chapels Proliferate

In Western history, house chapels are a phenomenon associated mostly with aristocrats who lived on large estates and could afford to employ a resident chaplain. In times of persecution, these chapels often became important places of refuge, since their remoteness, together with the status of the family owners, introduced a kind of safety buffer between the outside world and the services that took place within. This safety was not always enough, alas, to prevent priests from being surprised and captured by hostile state forces.

While some house chapels of the aforementioned sort are still in existence and functional, it is becoming more common to see modest chapels being built in the homes of ordinary Catholic laity. A basement renovation, a small spare room, an attic, all offer possibilities for building an altar and setting up a space that is appropriate for the Mass and other devotions in a time of necessity. Some families simply wish to create a prayerful space where they can gather for individual or group prayer, in an environment that reminds them of and connects them with the parish or chapel where they usually go for Mass. Others, keenly aware of the grave and deteriorating situation in which the Church finds itself in the West, have decided to “plan ahead” by making a suitable space for eventual underground or “canceled” priests. One diocese has already outlawed private traditional Masses altogether, and there may be more that follow suit. Priests in such dioceses will benefit from having places of refuge where they can bypass the unjust restrictions and offer Mass to God, in the presence of grateful laity.

In January, I published an article at NLM called “Building a Home Altar,” which offered practical advice about specs that could be used for an altar, as well as some other desiderata. Afterwards I received some interesting photographs, a selection of which I wish to share for the edification and inspiration of readers who may be thinking along similar lines.

The first set of photos is of a lovely chapel in a basement. The family has plans for further decoration.

The second set of photos shows another basement chapel. The owner is friends with a woodworker who built for her, out of spare parts, a shrine to the Sacred Heart, located in the same room. One notes the Stations of the Cross as well: it seems that this space is well appointed for personal and family prayer. We all know of families who have to drive long distances to get to a traditional Mass. For such families, having the Stations at home, set up along the perimeter of a sufficiently large room, would be a boon, especially during the season of Lent.
 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

The Hymn of the Ember Saturday Masses

As I noted yesterday, the Ember Days are one of the oldest parts of the Roman Rite; Pope St Leo I (444-61) preached many sermons on them, and believed them to be of apostolic institution. One liturgical feature which argues strongly in favor of their great antiquity is the inclusion in all four of the Saturday Masses of a reading from the third chapter of Daniel, in which the three children, Ananiah, Azariah and Misael, are thrown into a furnace as punishment for refusing to worship the statue of the Babylonian Emperor. This is the single most frequently represented Biblical story in pre-Constantinian Christian art, since it reflects exactly the situation of the Christians in the Roman Empire, who were persecuted for refusing to worship the statue of the Roman Emperor. (Already in the New Testament, Babylon, the persecutor of the Jews, is twice taken as a symbol of Rome, the persecutor of the Christians: in 1 Peter 5, 13, and six times in the Apocalypse.) The universal custom of singing the canticle which the children sing in the furnace, the Benedicite, as part of the Divine Office, also attests to its great significance for the ancient Church.
Detail of a Christian sarcophagus of the Constantinian period (ca. 305-335), known as the Sarcophagus of Adelphia, discovered in the church of St John in Syracuse, Sicily, in 1872. On the far left, the Emperor Nebuchadnezzar points to a bust of himself set on a column, the gesture by which he commands the three children to worship it. Even though the Biblical text states quite unmistakably that the Emperor made an enormous “statue”, in early Christian art it is usually represented as a bust on a column, since that it what the Romans used. (On the right side are represented the Miracle at Cana and one of the three Magi. Image from Wikimedia Commons by Davide Mauro; CC BY-SA 4.0)
The reading consists of only five verses, Daniel 3, 47-51, which are presented in a slightly different order from that of the Biblical text, as noted below; the words in italics are paraphrased from verse 46. (We may note in passing that no historical Christian lectionary presents all of its readings according to the strict letter of the Bible itself.)

Lectio Daniélis Prophétae. In diébus illis: 49 Angelus Dómini descendit cum Azaría et sociis ejus in fornácem: et excussit flammam ignis de fornáce, 50a et fecit medium fornácis quasi ventum roris flantem. 47 Flamma autem effundebátur super fornácem cúbitis quadraginta novem: 48 et erúpit, et incendit, quos répperit juxta fornácem de Chaldáeis, ministros regis, qui eam incendébant50b Et non tétigit eos omníno ignis, neque contristávit, nec quidquam molestiae íntulit. 51 Tunc hi tres quasi ex uno ore laudábant, e glorificábant, et benedicébant Deum in fornáce, dicentes:

A reading of the Prophet Daniel. In those days, 49 the angel of the Lord went down with Azarias and his companions into the furnace: and he drove the flame of the fire out of the furnace, 50a And made the midst of the furnace like the blowing of a wind bringing dew. 47 And the flame mounted up above the furnace nine and forty cubits: 48 and it broke forth, and burnt such of the Chaldeans as it found near the furnace, the ministers of the king who were heating it. 50b And the fire touched them not at all, nor troubled them, nor did them any harm. 51 Then these three as with one mouth praised, and glorified, and blessed God in the furnace, saying:

The reading ends abruptly (and should always be chanted without the notes that indicate the conclusion) to segue into the following hymn, the only case where a reading is followed by a hymn instead of a gradual, tract, or alleluia. The text is closer to that of the Septuagint version, and the Old Latin version which depended upon it, rather than the Vulgate, a fact which also indicates its great antiquity. The words “and praiseworthy and glorious unto the ages” are very cleverly incorporated into the doxology.

Benedictus es, Dómine,
Deus patrum nostrórum.
Et laudábilis et gloriósus
in sáecula.
Blessed art Thou, o Lord, God of
our fathers,
And praiseworthy and glorious
unto the ages.
Et benedictum nomen glo-
riae tuae, quod est sanctum.
Et laudábile et gloriósum
in sáecula.
And blessed is the name of Thy
glory, which is holy,
And praiseworthy and glorious
unto the ages.
Benedictus es in templo
sancto gloriae tuae.
Et laudábilis et gloriósus
in sáecula.
Blessed art Thou in the holy
temple of Thy glory,
And praiseworthy and glorious
unto the ages.
Benedictus es super thronum
sanctum regni tui.
Et laudábilis et gloriósus
in sáecula.
Blessed art Thou upon the holy
throne of Thy kingdom,
And praiseworthy and glorious
unto the ages.
Benedictus es super
sceptrum divinitátis tuae.
Et laudábilis et gloriósus
in sáecula.
Blessed art Thou upon the scepter
of Thy divinity,
And praiseworthy and glorious
unto the ages.
Benedictus es, qui sedes super
Chérubim, íntuens abyssos.
Et laudábilis et gloriósus
in sáecula.
Blessed art Thou who sittest upon
the Cherubim, looking upon the
depths, And praiseworthy and
glorious unto the ages.
Benedictus es, qui ámbulas su-
per pennas ventórum et super
undas maris.
Et laudábilis et gloriósus
in sáecula.
Blessed art Thou who walkest
upon the wings of the winds,
and upon the waves of the sea,
And praiseworthy and glorious
unto the ages.
Benedícant te omnes Angeli et
Sancti tui.
Et laudent te et gloríficent
in sáecula.
Let all Thy Angels and Saints
bless Thee,
And praise Thee, and glorfy Thee
unto the ages.
Benedícant te caeli, terra, mare,
et omnia quae in eis sunt.
Et laudent te et gloríficent
in sáecula.
Let the heavens, the earth, the sea
and all things that are in them bless
Thee, And praise Thee, and glorify
Thee unto the ages.
Gloria Patri, et Filio,
et Spirítui Sancto.
Et laudábili et glorióso
in sáecula.
Glory be to the Father, and to the
Son, and to the Holy Spirit, And
praiseworthy and glorious unto
the ages.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc,
et semper, et in sáecula saecu-
lórum. Amen.
Et laudábili et glorióso
in sáecula.
As it was in the beginning, is now
and ever shall be, and unto the ages
of ages. Amen.
And praiseworthy and glorious
unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Benedictus es, Dómine,
Deus patrum nostrórum.
Et laudábilis et gloriósus
in sáecula.
Blessed art Thou, o Lord, God of
our fathers, and praiseworthy and

glorious unto the ages.

On the Ember Saturday of Pentecost, the reading is the same, but the hymn is replaced with an Alleluia, which is then repeated the following day on the feast of the Holy Trinity. “Alleluia. Benedictus es, Dómine, Deus patrum nostrórum. Et laudábilis et gloriósus in sáecula.”

Friday, September 17, 2021

St Satyrus, the Brother of St Ambrose

On the calendar of the Ambrosian Rite, which has neither Ember days nor the feast of St Francis’ Stigmata, today is the feast of St Satyrus, the brother of St Ambrose. Our only sources for his life are two orations delivered by his brother, one on the day of his death, and the other a week later. We know that he was the second of their parents’ three children, born after a sister named Marcellina (who is also a Saint); this puts his birth somewhere around 335, before his brother’s in about 340, at either Trier, where their father sat as governor of a Roman province, or at Rome. Being of the senatorial aristocracy, both brothers followed in the path of their father’s career and served as governors of Roman provinces, but that assigned to Satyrus is unknown. In 374, when Ambrose was made bishop of Milan, his brother left public office in order to help him with the administration of the diocese, as well as to care for their sister and of the family patrimony. St Ambrose praises him for his chastity in terms that clearly indicate that he was not married.
The altar of St Satyrus in the basilica of St Ambrose in Milan.
More than once, these duties required Satyrus to travel to Africa. Like many men of his class and period, whose public responsibilities were difficult to reconcile with the discipline of a Christian life, he long remained a catechumen. (St Ambrose himself was a catechumen at the time of his election as bishop by popular acclamation; the Ambrosian Rite adds a commemoration of his baptism to the Mass of St Andrew the Apostle on November 30, and keeps his principal feast only a week later, on the day of his episcopal ordination.) Ambrose, however, notes the following episode in proof of his strong faith.
On Satyrus’ return from the last of his African trips, his ship was wrecked on shoals just off the coast of either Sicily or Sardinia. Before jumping off the boat, one of his fellow passengers gave him, at his request, a small piece of the Blessed Sacrament, which he then wrapped up in a small cloth, and fastened around his neck. St Ambrose attributes his safe deliverance from the sea to this, noting that Satyrus’ faith in God was so strong that he did not even bother to grab onto one of the planks of the broken vessel. After safely reached land, he decided to be baptized; he had, however, evidently already contracted the unknown disease which would take his life shortly thereafter. Having returned to Milan, he died in either 378 or 379 in the arms of his siblings.
The Shipwreck of St Satyrus, by Giambattista Tiepolo, 1737; in the chapel entitled to him where his relics were formerly kept, also within the basilica of St Ambrose. 
Ambrose had his brother’s mortal remains placed by those of the martyr St Victor, in a chapel attached to the basilica now named for Ambrose himself, but then called “the Basilica of the Martyrs.” Both Satyrus and Victor were later removed from this chapel, known as “St Victor in the golden heaven”, into a reused pagan sarcophagus. (Victor was later moved again to the basilica named for him with the appellation ‘ad corpus’.) In 1941, an examination of the relics ordered by the Blessed Card. Schuster showed that they are those of a man of about 40 years of age, quite similar in body type to Ambrose. Since 1980, they have been kept in a crystal urn in the first chapel on the right side of the basilica.
The original location of Satyrus’ burial within the chapel of St Victor.
An inscription which notes the site as the place of his burial, alongside several early martyrs of the church of Milan.
A closer view of the relics as they are today.
Devotion to St Satyrus is first attested in the ninth century, when Anspert, archbishop of Milan, built a small church dedicated to him, his brother, and St Silvester. This was later absorbed into a church constructed by the architect Donatello Bramante in 1476-82, which is still to this known as “St Mary near St Satyrus.” His name first appears in liturgical books of the Ambrosian Rite in the 10th century. In view of his role as his brother’s assistant in the administration of the diocese, he is traditionally honored in Milan as the patron Saint of sacristans.
The story told above about the shipwreck forms a large part of the Ambrosian preface for the Mass of St Satyrus.
Vere quia dignum … aeterne Deus: Tuam incessanter gloriam collaudantes, tuamque in tuis Sanctis magnificentiam prædicantes. Qui talem beato Confessori tuo Satyro virtutum copiam tribuisti, ut germani sui gloriosi Pontificis Ambrosii, Doctoris et magistri Ecclesiarum praecipui, in multis exercitiis consors effectus, fidelissimus et probatissimus athleta Christi Filii tui ipsius industria censeretur. Nam in ipso tirocinio fidei ita clarus enituit, ut inter undas pelagi, cum dissoluta compage navis durum fuisset perpessus excidium, quamvis adhuc nondum Baptismate sancto perfusus, de tuo tamen non esset diffisus auxilio. Sacramentum denique Corporis Dominici sudario inditum collo circumdedit, et se tali remigio fultum spumante aequori committere non dubitavit. Sed tua potentissima dextera, quæ Apostolorum Principem Petrum in fluctibus ne mergeretur erexit, hunc quoque non dissimili potentia illæsum atque incolumem perduxit ad litus. Haec tua est, Domine, totius virtutis operatio. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Per quem majestatem tuam laudant Angeli…
Truly it is worthy… eternal God: unceasingly praising Thy glory, and proclaiming Thy greatness in Thy Saints. Who didst grant Thy blessed confessor Satyrus such an abundance of virtues, that he, having become in many affairs the colleague of his brother, the glorious bishop Ambrose, the foremost doctor and teacher of the churches, was for his diligence deemed a most faithful and excellent champion of Christ, Thy Son. For while yet in the first service of the Faith, he so distinguished himself that amid the waves of the sea, when he would have perished miserably by the wreck of his ship, although he was not yet washed by holy Baptism, he still did not lack for trust in Thy help. Therefore, he placed the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body, enclosed in a cloth, around his neck, and did not hesitate to entrust himself to the frothing sea, supported by such an oar. And Thy most mighty right hand, which in the waves lifted up Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, lest he drown, with like power also brought this man safe and unharmed to the shore. This, o Lord, is the working of the fullness of Thy might. Through the same Christ our Lord. Through whom the angels praise Thy majesty…

By Nothing But Prayer and Fasting

Because of the movable date of Easter, and of everything that depends on it, the Ember Days of September can occur within any of the weeks after Pentecost from the 13th to the 19th inclusive. This year, they occur within the 16th week, but next year, they will fall within the 15th week. In the Roman Missal, they are traditionally placed after the 17th week [1], a textual arrangement which reflects a very ancient theme that permeates the Masses of this set of Ember Days

The Collect of the 17th Sunday after Pentecost is a very ancient one, found in different places in the various versions of the Gelasian Sacramentary, but already fixed to the 17th Sunday in the Gregorian Sacramentary by the end of the 8th century. “Da quaesumus, Domine, populo tuo diabolica vitare contagia, et te solum Deum pura mente sectari. – Grant to Thy people, o Lord, to shun (or ‘avoid, escape from’) diabolical contamination, and to follow Thee, who alone art God, with a pure mind.” [2] This is the only Mass Collect of the ecclesiastical year that refers directly to diabolical influence, but the Secret of the 15th Sunday has a similar theme: “May Thy sacraments preserve us, o Lord, and always protect us against diabolical incursions.”

Folio 115r of the Gellone Sacramentary, a sacramentary of the Gelasian type dated 780-800, with the prayer “Da quaesumus...” assigned to the 20th week after Pentecost. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 12048)
On the Ember Wednesday of September, the Gospel is St Mark’s account of the healing of a possessed child, chapter 9, 16-28. Apart from Easter and the Ascension, the ancient Roman lectionary makes very little of use of St Mark, notwithstanding the tradition that the Evangelist was a disciple of St Peter and composed the Gospel while he was with him in Rome. Here, his version was surely chosen for the moving account of the exchange between Christ and the child’s father, which is less detailed in St Matthew’s version.

“And He asked his father, ‘How long time is it since this hath happened unto him?’ But he said, ‘From his infancy, and oftentimes hath he cast him into the fire and into waters to destroy him. But if thou canst do any thing, help us, having compassion on us.’ And Jesus saith to him, ‘If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.’ And immediately the father of the boy crying out, with tears said, ‘I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief.’ ”

The lower half of Raphael’s Transfiguration, the story which precedes the Gospel of Ember Wednesday. The possessed child’s father, on the right side in green, presents him to the Apostles; Raphael beautifully captures the pleading in his facial expression. The brightness of the figure symbolizes his faith, as it does likewise in that of the possessed child, for devils, as St James says, have no doubts about God. (“Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” 2, 19). The brightest figure, the woman kneeling next to the boy and pointing at him, is an allegorical figure of Faith itself; where the light on these figures expresses their belief, the nine Apostles on the left are wrapped in shadow to symbolize the lack of faith that prevented them from casting out the devil.
At the end of the passage, the disciples ask Christ why they could not expel the devil, to which He replies, “This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” In the Office, these words are sung at Lauds as the antiphon of the Benedictus.

On Ember Friday, the Gospel is that of the woman who anoints the Lord’s feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee, St Luke 7, 36-50. This is one of the very few examples of a Gospel which is repeated from another part of the temporal cycle; it is also read on the Thursday of Passion week, and again on the feast of St Mary Magdalene, with whom the woman is traditionally identified in the West. This identification is partly reinforced by the words of St Luke which come immediately after it (chapter 8, 1-3), although they are not read in the liturgy.

“And it came to pass afterwards, that He travelled through the cities and towns, preaching and evangelizing the kingdom of God; and the twelve with him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary who is called Magdalen, out of whom seven devils were gone forth, and Joanna the wife of Chusa, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who ministered unto him of their substance.”

On Saturday, the Gospel is two stories from St Luke, chapter 13, 6-17, the parable of the fig tree, and the healing of the woman “who had a spirit of infirmity… and was bowed together, (nor) could she look upwards at all.” The choice of this Gospel for the Saturday is a very deliberate one, since it takes place in a synagogue, the ruler of which, “being angry that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, answering, said to the multitude, ‘Six days there are wherein you ought to work. In them therefore come, and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” To this Christ answers, “Ye hypocrites, doth not every one of you, on the Sabbath day, loose his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead them to water? And ought not this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

An ancient Christian sarcophagus known as the Sarcophagus of the Two Brothers, made in the second quarter of the 4th century, now in the Vatican Museums. The healing of the crippled woman is depicted in the upper left.
Each of these Gospels, therefore, refers to the same theme as the Collect of the 17th Sunday, the Church’s prayer to the Lord to protect Her and Her individual members from the malign influence of the devil.

It is a well-known fact that the Ember Days are one of the very oldest features of the Roman Rite. Pope St Leo I (444-61) preached numerous sermons on them, and believed them to be of apostolic origin, as he says, for example, in his second sermon on Pentecost. “To the present solemnity, most beloved, we must also add such devotion, that we keep the fast which follows it, according to the Apostolic tradition. For this must also be counted among the great gifts of the Holy Spirit, that fasting has been given to us as a defense against the enticements of the flesh and the snares of the devil, by which we may overcome all temptations, with the help of God.” (Sermon 76, PL 54, 411B)

Likewise, in his second sermon on the Ember Days of September, he refers to Christ’s words about fasting which are read on Wednesday. [3] “In every contest of the Christian’s struggle, temperance is of the greatest value and utility, to such a degree that the most savage demonic spirits, who are not put to flight from the bodies of the possessed by the commands of any exorcist, are driven out just by the force of fasts and prayers, as the Lord sayeth, ‘This kind of demons is not cast out except by fasting and prayer.’ The prayer of one who fasteth, therefore, is pleasing to God, and terrible to the devil…” (Sermon 87, ibid. 439b)

The collect of the 17th Sunday after Pentecost is one of the more obvious cases of a prayer deemed unsuitable by the post-Conciliar reformers for the ears of Modern Man™, who must never be confronted with any “negative” ideas while at prayer. Despite its antiquity and the universality of its place within the Roman Rite, it was removed altogether from the Missal, along with the Ember Days, most references to fasting, and all references to the devil. In a similar vein, when the pseudo-anaphora of pseudo-Hippolytus was adapted as the Second Eucharistic Prayer, the original version of the section that parallels the Qui pridie, “Who, when he was delivered to voluntary suffering, in order to dissolve death, and break the chains of the devil, and tread down hell, and bring the just to the light, and set the limit, and manifest the resurrection,” was reduced to “At the time He was betrayed and entered willingly into His Passion…”

However, as Fr Zuhlsdorf once noted, the 2002 revised edition of the Missal contains certain hints of an awareness that the post-Conciliar reform wantonly threw out far too much of the traditional Roman Rite. Among the things which it restored is the traditional prayer of the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, which now appears as an optional collect among the Masses “for any necessity”, raising the total number of references to the devil in the Missal to one.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal contains an exhortation (and no more than that) to the effect that Rogation Days and Ember Days “should be indicated” (“indicentur”, not “indicandae sunt – must be indicated”) on local calendars, and a rubric (I.45) that it is the duty (“oportet”) of episcopal conferences to establish both the time and manner of their celebration. Unsurprisingly, this rubric has mostly been ignored. However, it has become impossible for any Catholic who loves the Church to ignore the hideous consequences of the almost total abandonment of any kind of formal, liturgically guided ascetic discipline, and the free reign which this seems to have given to the devil. A permanent and universal restoration of the traditional discipline of fasting, including the Ember Days, would be a small but important step in the direction of ending that free reign.

[1] In many medieval liturgical books, they are placed after the last Mass of the season after Pentecost, as for example in the Sarum Missal.

[2] The earliest manuscripts read “dominum” instead of “Deum”; the change would have been made since “Domine” is already said at the beginning. Many manuscripts read “puro corde – with a pure heart” instead of “pura mente.”

[3] It is tempting to think of this as proof that the Roman lectionary tradition, which is first attested in the lectionary of Wurzburg ca. 700 AD, was already set down 250 years earlier in Pope Leo’s time. This is quite possible, of course, but it is equally possible that the unknown compiler of the lectionary was inspired to choose this Gospel by reading Pope Leo’s sermon.

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