Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Relics of St Andrew

In the Roman Breviary, the life of St Andrew the Apostle ends with the statement that “When Pius II was Pope, his head was brought to Rome, and placed in the basilica of St Peter.” This statement gives no idea of what an extraordinary event the translation of this relic was in the life of the Church at the time.

St Andrew is traditionally said to have died in the city of Patras on the northwestern coast of the Peloponnese, which was usually called “the Morea” in the Middle Ages. In 357, under the Emperor Constantius, his relics were brought to Constantinople, and remained there until the city was sacked during the Fourth Crusade, when they were brought to the Italian city of Amalphi; his head, however, had remained at Patras.

(Each year, for the feast of St Andrew, the reliquary kept in the crypt of the Duomo of Amalphi is taken out for a long procession though the city, and then returned to the church in a rather remarkable fashion, as seen in this video.)

In the later years of the Byzantine Empire, the Peloponnese was made into its own principality within the Empire, ruled by relatives of the Emperor, and called the “Despotate of the Morea.” (“Despotes” in Greek simply means “prince.”) The last two princes, Demetrius and Thomas, were the brothers of Constantine XI, under whom the Great City fell to the Turks in 1453. The Morea, however, was not immediately invaded, and the despotate continued to exist for seven years afterwards. Partly as a gesture to gain the Latin Church’s support for a new Crusade to drive the Turks out of Greece and the Balkans, partly to prevent the relic of the Apostle’s head from being destroyed in the by-then inevitable invasion, the despot Thomas decided to consign it to Pope Pius II.

Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini was known as one of the great men of letters of the Italian Renaissance, although much of his writing as a layman, and most of his personal life, would hardly suggest a man fit for the clerical state, much less the Papacy. However, after years of involvement with important matters of both Church and State, he underwent a profound moral conversion; after receiving the subdiaconate in 1446, he was made a bishop about a year later, a cardinal by 1456, and elected Pope in 1458. His papal name “Pius” was chosen as partly in reference to his secular name “Aeneas”, since Virgil constantly calls the hero of his Aeneid “pius Aeneas.”

Pope Pius II Canonizes St Catherine of Siena, from the famous Piccolomini library in the cathedral of Siena, by Pinturicchio, 1502-8. Pius was born in a small town within the territory controlled by Siena, where his family became especially important upon his election to the Papacy, and he was particularly proud of the fact that he was able to canonize a great “home-town hero” among the Saints. The proper Office of St Catherine still used to this day in the traditional Dominican Breviary was composed by him.
We may be tempted to dismiss this as no more than a clever literary reference from an age very much enamored with clever literary references, but this would be unjust. The Latin word “pius” means “one who fulfils his duty”, duty to God, to one’s country, and to one’s family, and therefore, among its many meanings are “pious, devout, conscientious, affectionate, tender, kind, good, grateful, respectful, loyal, patriotic.” Under the heading of the last of these, Pope Pius died while attempting to rally the Christian princes to the defense of Europe, as the Turks prepared to press further into the Balkans, and cross the Adriatic into Italy.

Under the heading of the first two meanings, “pious and devout”, Pope Pius devoted several pages of his autobiography to the events surrounding the reception of St Andrew’s head. After the despot Thomas had rescued the head from Patras, he brought it to Ancona, a major Italian port on the Adriatic, protected by its presence from severe storms during the crossing. Pius’ legate was sent to examine it, and declared it authentic, after which it was brought to the city of Narni, and left there for a time on account of political and military disturbances then flaring up in Italy. When these had died down, preparation was made for it come to Rome; the Pope had thought to go meet it by bringing with him the heads of Ss Peter and Paul which were kept in the Lateran, but gave up on this idea because the reliquary in which they were enclosed was too heavy to conveniently move.

The high altar of St John in the Lateran; in the enclosed area above may be seen the reliquary containing the skulls of Ss Peter and Paul. (These are not the reliquaries which Pope Pius II found too heavy to move, which were likely destroyed during the sack of Rome in 1527, but later replacements. Image from Wikipedia.)
On Holy Monday, the Pope and his court, along with an enormous crowd of Romans, went forth from the Flaminian gate to meet the three cardinals charged with bringing the relic from Narni, close to the Milvian bridge, the site of Constantine’s famous victory so many centuries before. A large platform was erected in the middle of a field, so that all could witness the event, with two staircases on either side, and an altar in the middle. As Pius II describes the event, “as the Pope ascended the one side, weeping with joy and devotion, followed by the college (of cardinals) and the clergy, (Card.) Bessarion with the two others ascended from the other side, bearing the small arc in which the sacred head was contained, and set it on the altar… the arc was then opened, and Bessarion, taking the sacred head of the Apostle, weeping, handed it to the weeping Pope.” Pius then gives his address before the crowd.

“Thou hast finally come, most sacred and adored head of the Apostle! The furor of the Turks has driven thee from thy place; thou hast fled as an exile to thy brother. … This is kindly Rome, which thou seest nearby, dedicated by thy brother’s precious blood; the blessed Apostle Peter, thy most holy brother, and with him the vessel of election, St Paul, begot unto Christ the Lord this people which stands here. Thy nephews, all the Romans, venerate, honor and respect thee as their uncle and father, and doubt not of thy patronage in the sight of God. O most blessed Apostle Andrew, preacher of the truth, and outstanding asserter of the Trinity! With what joy dost thou fill us today, as we see before us thy sacred and venerable head, that was worthy to have the Holy Paraclete descend upon it visibly under the appearance of fire on the day of Pentecost! … These were the eyes that often saw the Lord in the flesh, this the mouth that often spoke to Christ! …

We are glad, we rejoice, we exult at thy coming, o most divine Apostle Andrew! … Enter the holy city, and be merciful to the Roman people! May thy coming bring salvation to all Christians, may thy entrance be peaceable, thy stay among us happy and favorable! Be thou our advocate in heaven, and together with the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, preserve this city, and in thy devotion take care for all the Christian people, that by thy prayers, the mercy of God may come upon us.”

The Pope then lifted up the head for all to see, and the entire crowd knelt, most of them already moved to tears by the Pope’s oration. The relic was brought to the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, just inside the gates of Rome; from there, it was carried on Holy Wednesday under a golden processional canopy through the streets of the Eternal City to St Peter’s Basilica, accompanied by thousands of Romans and pilgrims.

Less than 50 years later, Pope Julius II would begin the process of tearing down the ancient basilica of the Vatican, which was then close to twelve centuries old, and in several places on the point of collapsing under the weight of its own ceiling. The new basilica, not the work of Pope Julius’ original architect, but of the genius of Michelangelo, is centered upon a massive elevated dome, directly over St Peter’s tomb. The base is pierced with enormous windows to show us that St Peter is God’s privileged instrument, who opens for us the doors of Heaven with the keys which Christ gave him, and that it is through Peter that God brings us up to Himself. The four enormous pillars which support the dome are each dedicated to one of the church’s major relics, among them the head of St Andrew, which was kept in a room behind the balcony seen here above François Duquesnoy’s statue of the Apostle. (In 1966, this relic was returned to the custody of the Orthodox Church in the city of Patras.)

The pillar of St Andrew in St Peter’s Basilica. (Image from Wikipedia)

Why Do Scholars Dismiss Accounts of Miracles Performed By Saints as “Mere Hagiography”?

Here are two images of St Nicholas, whose feast is December 6th. He was bishop of Myra in Lycia (in modern-day Turkey), and has been venerated throughout the Church. Tradition has passed on to us many different stories from his life. For example, because of his help to the poor, he is the patron Saint of pawnbrokers, whose insignia of three golden balls represent the three purses of gold which Nicholas gave secretly to a poor man who could not afford dowries for his three daughters. 

Paolo Veneziano, 15th-century Italian
He is known also as one of the Fathers of the Council of Nicea, where he was temporarily barred from attendance for losing his temper and striking and Arian heretic. Another story, depicted below, tells how raised from the dead three young men who had been killed by a butcher several years earlier.

Nicholas is a Saint of whom more and more was written as devotion to him increased, especially after the 10th century. The story of three boys only appears in later accounts of the life, the most well known being a book called The Golden Legend, a series of lives of saints compiled in Italy in the late13th-century by Bl. Jacobus de Voragine, in which he pulls together many different popular accounts. The relatively late appearance of this story in the historical record means that it will often be dismissed as mere ‘hagiography’ today. This is meant to indicate that is part of a growing mythology surrounding the person, and is probably not historically true. However, we do not need to accept this argument, which rests on an assumption, born of lack of faith, that accounts of miracles should be viewed with skepticism, and that word of mouth and oral tradition are not reliable mechanisms for the preservation of truth.

The fact that this particular story only appears in writing relatively late doesn’t mean automatically that it was an invention of the writer, which is what seems to be assumed. It is possible, alternatively, that it did happen, and was preserved faithfully by oral tradition up until this point.  

While we must acknowledge the possibility that details can be added in the repeated telling of a story, without evidence that the author of the book composed the story, it seems to me that it is just as reasonable to assume that it is true. The question that I ask myself first is, Does this narrative portray the Saint in a manner that is consistent with our beliefs as Catholics, and with what is generally known of him as a person, and which can in turn reasonably inspire us to greater virtue? The answer to this question, in this case, is for me unequivocally yes. As one who believes that through faith miracles happen today, I do not wonder that they happened in the past too. Given this, I see no reason to doubt the truth of the story.
A south Nederlandish carving in wood dating from about 1500

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Collects of Advent: Who is Being Addressed, and What Difference Does It Make?

Some time ago, when my duties with two different choirs had me attending both the traditional and post-Conciliar rites, I noticed a striking difference in content and tone in the Advent Collects of the two rites, so I decided to look into the contrast between the totality of their Advent Collects. [1]

In the traditional rite, the Collects of the first, third, and fourth Sundays of Advent address the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity:
Stir up Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come: that from the threatening dangers of our sins we may deserve to be rescued by Thy protection, and to be saved by Thy deliverance: Who livest and reignest with God the Father… (Collect, Sunday I, MR 1962)
Incline Thine ear, we beseech Thee, O Lord, to our petitions: and, by the grace of Thy visitation, enlighten the darkness of our minds: Who livest and reignest with God the Father… (Collect, Sunday III, MR 1962)
Stir up Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come, and with great might succour us: that by the help of Thy grace that which is hindered by our sins may be hastened by Thy merciful forgiveness: Who livest and reignest with God the Father… (Collect, Sunday IV, MR 1962)
On the Second Sunday, the Father is addressed:
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the ways of Thine only-begotten Son: that through His coming we may deserve to serve Thee with purified minds: Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost… (Collect, Sunday II, MR 1962)
If we look at the Ember days, the picture is more complex. Ember Wednesday’s first Collect addresses the Father (“Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God … through our Lord”) while its second Collect addresses the Son (“Hasten, we beseech Thee, O Lord, tarry not”). Ember Saturday’s six different Collects address the Father four times — namely, the second through the fifth Collects — but the first and last are to the Son:
O God, who seest that we are afflicted because of our iniquity, mercifully grant that we may be comforted by Thy visitation. Who livest and reignest with God the Father… (Ember Saturday, first Collect, MR 1962)
Mercifully hear, O Lord, we beseech Thee, the prayers of Thy people: that we who are justly afflicted for our sins may be comforted by the visitation of Thy loving kindness: Who livest and reignest with God the Father… (Ember Saturday, last [sixth] Collect, MR 1962)
The Collect on Ember Friday likewise addresses the Son:
Stir up Thy might, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come: that they who trust in Thy loving kindness may be the more speedily freed from all adversity: Who livest and reignest with God the Father… (Ember Friday, MR 1962)
Apart from special Collects for certain feast days (e.g., the Immaculate Conception), these are the only Collects found in the traditional Roman Missal for the Advent season as such (and, importantly, they are never omitted, because even on feasts, the Advent feria is always commemorated). Therefore the missal furnishes a total of 7 distinct collects addressed to the Son, and 6 to the Father, in the following pattern:

          First Sunday – SON
          Second Sunday – FATHER
          Third Sunday – SON
          Ember Wednesday – FATHER, SON
          Ember Friday – SON
          Ember Saturday – SON, FATHER, FATHER, FATHER, FATHER, SON
          Fourth Sunday – SON

Going out on an allegorical limb with my betters, such as William Durandus, I would note that, according to the Fathers of the Church, the number 6 represents creation, because of the 6 days in Genesis, and because 6 is one of those rare numbers whose component parts, 1, 2, and 3, are equal whether they are added (1+2+3) or multipled (1x2x3), suggesting the relative integrity and solidity of the created order: “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” At the same time, six falls one short of the number seven, the number of perfection and of rest, indicating that creation, particularly the rational creature, is incomplete until it rests in God — and that, after the fall of Adam, it is groaning for redemption from sin. Jesus Christ, in other words, is the One who, “added” to creation, brings it to its perfection and ultimate rest in the beatific vision. Thus, a group of six Collects for the Father, to whom is appropriated the power of creating the universe, and a group of seven collects for the Son, to whom is appropriated the wisdom and mercy of redemption, appears beautifully fitting.

In the post-Conciliar redaction, on the other hand, many of the ancient Advent Collects were scrapped or reconfigured, and nearly all of the Collects were forced into the Patricentric mold so favored by reformers in the grip of archaeologism or antiquarianism, who removed prayers directed to the Son whenever and wherever possible. [2] We have this new series of Sunday Collects, none of which addresses the Son:
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom. Through our Lord Jesus Christ… (Sunday I, Collect, MR 1970/2002)
Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company. Who lives and reigns with you… (Sunday II, Collect, MR 1970/2002)
O God, who see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity, enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing. Through our Lord Jesus Christ… (Sunday III, Collect, MR 1970/2002)
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection. Who lives and reigns with you… (Sunday IV, Collect, MR 1970/2002) [3]
The ferial Collects added to the new missal also follow the same subordinating pattern, with only two exceptions addressed to the Second Person: Friday of the first week uses the same prayer as the first Sunday of Advent in MR 1962, and the Collect of the morning Mass on December 24 uses a version of the second collect for Ember Wednesday in MR 1962. Because there is a different Collect every day in the MR 1970/2002, while the MR 1962 uses certain prayers again and again, a little math will give us telling results. Of all the Advent Collects in the usus recentior, 27 are addressed to the Father, and only 2 to the Son. During the same season, the usus antiquior will have prayed Collects addressed to the Son as God 21 times, and to the Father 12 times.

What do we make of this difference?

These Christocentric Collects of the usus antiquior, both in their addressee and in their repetition, emphasize the urgency of the Church’s cry during the Advent season, the cry of all mankind and of all creation longing for its very Lord to come, by an ineffable miracle, into its bosom, to heal it and elevate it from within: VENI, DOMINE — Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay. Maranatha. Rise up and save a fallen race. Come to rescue us from our misery and sin. We are calling out to the Messiah, the Christ of Israel, who has already come to earth, whom we wish to invite again into our hearts, and who will return to judge the living and the dead. Advent is the season of expecting the long-awaited Redeemer and Savior, and we, in our holy impatience, cannot resist calling out to Him. EXCITA, we boldly say, over and over: Stir up Thy power and come, do not delay, do not be silent, do not be invisible, do not leave us to our wretchedness. O Word, eternal Life, take on flesh and touch us with Thy flesh. Only Holy Mother Church, filled with the Spirit of God, could dare to pray thus, placing these words on the lips of our ancestors and of so many saints who worshiped with the traditional Roman Rite.

In short, the usus antiquior missal presents us with a spirituality of Advent that is distinctive and fitting to it, whereas the usus recentior missal conforms its prayers to a generic rule prescribed by academic liturgists. The old Collects are highly expressive, emotionally charged, as of the longing of the bride for her Bridegroom, to whom she sings and whispers directly. In her passionate love she is more caught up in beseeching Him whose face she longs to see than in politely asking His Father to send Him when the time is right (though, of course, with her gentle courtesy, she also speaks humbly to His Father, since the two are inseparable in their Godhead). It is the fervor of the Song of Songs carried over into liturgical prayer. [4]

Modern liturgists approach liturgy as if it were an a priori science: you start with principles and deduce consequences. Therefore you have to change around the Collects (for instance) if they don’t conform to your particular set of principles. In reality, liturgy is thoroughly a posteriori: it is an historical testament to which countless individuals contributed, a massive organic complexus of particulars that could have been otherwise but are the way they are, a river running down the ages into which innumerable streams have flowed. Thus, we must look to the liturgy as it is and seek to understand why it unfolded in this manner, rather than doing violence to it by forcing it to embody one’s mental presuppositions.

The change to the Advent Collects is a good example of the cold rationalism of the reformers. It would be one thing if a liturgical rite had always addressed prayers to the Father on a certain feast or in a certain season. No one, obviously, is saying there is anything wrong with doing that, for it is the customary mode of address in all historic missals. But it is quite another thing if one’s actual liturgy for many centuries, perhaps for as long as we have records (and, moreover, the liturgy that one had prayed oneself!) always prayed to the Son on certain days, marking them out as special and deserving of a special devotion to the Lamb of God. To care little or nothing about the fact that, by a series of committee decisions, one would be cutting out and ceasing to utter those hallowed prayers to Our Lord in the weeks running up to His Nativity shows the extent to which the liturgy, for these men, must have already ceased to be something deeply felt and lived. It had become, instead, the prey and sport of their theories of improvement, and in this sense, something believed to be inferior to their wills and intellects. This is perhaps the worst indictment of their entire modus operandi: that prayers for which Catholics would in former ages have been prepared to lay down their lives were treated as so many raw ingredients to be chopped and mixed in an industrial kitchen.

Indeed, it is more than a little ironic that the Epistle for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in the traditional Roman Rite is 1 Corinthians 4, 1-5, wherein St. Paul says, in words that are repeated four times in the Divine Office:
Brethren: Let a man so account us, as ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now here it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful/trustworthy.
St. Paul is telling us that the minister of Christ, the steward of His mysteries, is required to be faithful to that which he is dispensing or administering, namely, the sacraments, the liturgy, the heritage he receives from another, in regard to which he is not a master but a servant. Of course, this reading, too, disappeared from Advent in the sack of the Roman Rite, no doubt because it was deemed seasonally inappropriate.

These final days of Advent, when we address the Son of God in the great “O Antiphons” at Vespers, let us cherish the many subtle and obvious blessings He has given to us through the traditional liturgy. Let us thank Him for the countless ways it forms and nourishes our souls in the school of the Lord’s service. And let us seek its return on the widest possible scale to churches everywhere. For this intention, too, we pray to our Sovereign King and Eternal High Priest: Excita, quaesumus, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni.


[1] Lauren Pristas is naturally the preeminent scholar on all such questions. See chapter 3 of her The Collects of the Roman Missals.

[2] I discuss the many instances of this subordinating tendency and their implications in chapter 6 of my book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis.

[3] I am aware that much of the language in these prayers is drawn from historical sources, but their placement and arrangement here, and the corresponding displacement of the customary prayers, is, for the Roman Rite, an innovation pure and simple.

[4] Readings and antiphons from the Song of Songs are found much more often in the traditional Missal and Divine Office than in the Novus Ordo books, but to explore the reasons behind that anti-medieval shift would require a separate article.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

The First Sunday of Advent 2021

Looking from afar, behold I see the power of God coming, and a cloud covering all the land: * go ye to meet him and say: * Tell us if thou art the one, * who art to rule in the people of Israel.
V. All you that are earthborn, and you sons of men: both rich and poor together, go ye out to meet him and say.
V. Give ear, O thou that rulest Israel: thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep; tell us if thou art the one.
V. Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates: and the King of Glory shall enter in, who art to rule in the people of Israel.
Glory be unto the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Looking from afar, behold I see the power of God coming, and a cloud covering all the land: go ye to meet him and say: tell us if thou art the one, who art to rule in the people of Israel. (First responsory at Matins of the First Sunday of Advent)

The Prophet Isaiah, painted by Raphael in the basilica of St Augustine in Rome in 1512. On his scroll is written in Hebrew, from chapter 26 of his book, verses 2-3, “Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. Whose mind is stayed on thee, Thou wilt keep him (in perfect peace).” The dedicatory inscription in Greek above reads “To Anne, the mother of the Virgin, to the virginal Mother of God, and to Christ the Redeemer, John Goritz” (hellenized as ‘Joannes Corycios’). Goritz, a merchant from Luxembourg, commissioned both the painting, which is on one of the pillars of the basilica, and the altar to St Anne originally located beneath it. The influence of Michelangelo, who was completing the Sistine Chapel ceiling when Raphael painted this, is very strong in this work; a famous story claims that when Goritz complained to Michelangelo about the price of it, he replied, “The knee alone is worth the price!”
R. Aspiciens a longe, ecce video Dei potentiam venientem, et nebulam totam terram tegentem: * ite obviam ei, et dicite: * Nuntia nobis, si tu es ipse, * qui regnaturus es in populo Israël.
V. Quique terrigenæ, et filii hominum, simul in unum dives et pauper: ite obviam et, et dicite.
V. Qui regis Israël, intende, qui deducis velut ovem Joseph: nuntia nobis, si tu es ipse.
V. Tollite portas, principes, vestras, et elevamini portæ æternales, et introibit Rex gloriæ, qui regnaturus es in populo Israël.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
R. Aspiciens a longe, ecce video Dei potentiam venientem, et nebulam totam terram tegentem: ite obviam ei, et dicite: Nuntia nobis, si tu es ipse, qui regnaturus es in populo Israël.

A very interesting setting in English, based on a motet by Palestrina, from the choir of Wells Cathedral.
Click here to listen to a beautiful recording of the Latin original in Gregorian chant, made several years ago at St Stephen’s in Sacramento, California.

Friday, November 26, 2021

The Five Week Advent

The most ancient liturgical books of the Roman Rite attest that the Roman Advent was originally five weeks long, rather than four. The oldest surviving sacramentary, known as the Old Gelasian Sacramentary, dates to about 750 AD, and represents the Roman Rite as it stood about 50 years earlier; it has five Masses “de Adventu(m) Domini” (although these are not assigned to specific Sundays), and Masses of the three Ember days of December. About 30 years later, in the Gellone Sacramentary, we find five Sundays of Advent, the first of which is placed after the Mass of St Chrysogonus on November 24; these are counted backward from Christmas as “the fifth Sunday before the birth of the Lord, the fourth Sunday”, etc. All the prayers of the First to Fourth Sundays of Advent in the Missal of St Pius V are found in the same places in Gellone on the Second to Fifth Sundays.

Folio 122r of the Gellone Sacramentary, with the Mass of the “Fifth Sunday before the birth of the Lord”, under the header “Here begin the prayers of the Advent of the Lord.” (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 12048)
The Wurzburg lectionary, the oldest of the Roman Rite, was copied out in about 700 AD, but its contents date to about 650. The Gospel section has no readings for Advent at all, nor any hint of the season’s existence. The Epistle section places the readings for the December Ember days after the feast of St Andrew on November 30th; all but one of these are identical to those of the Tridentine Missal. They are followed by five Epistles “de Adventu Domini”, which include the four Sunday Epistles read in Advent today, in a slightly different order.

The Roman Missal still preserves a reminder of this older custom, even though in the final decades of the 8th century, with the transition to the so-called Gregorian Sacramentary, Advent was shortened to four weeks. The Collect of the last Sunday of the liturgical year begins with the same word, “Excita – stir up”, as those of the 1st, 2nd and 4th Sundays and Ember Friday of Advent, and the Gospel, Matthew 24, 15-35, has an apocalyptic theme similar to that of the First Sunday of Advent, Luke 21, 25-33.
Another relic of this is found in the Divine Office. Normally, any given week of the year (or set of weeks) has about 8-12 responsories for Matins. Depending on the season, 7 or 9 of these are said on Sunday, the rest on Monday, with some series running into Tuesday; once they have all been said, those of Sunday are repeated on the remaining weekdays. In Advent, however, there is a special set of responsories which are said on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of both the first and second weeks of Advent. This set was apparently originally said in the second week of a five-week Advent; when the season was shortened, these texts were preserved by means of a unique arrangement found nowhere else in the Office, which fits five weeks’ worth of responsories into only four weeks.
This table shows the distribution of the Matins responsories of the first two weeks of Advent; those of the first Sunday are marked with red numbers, those of the second with blue numbers, and those of the extra series with green numbers. (Click to enlarge.)
In the Ambrosian and Mozarabic Rites, Advent is six weeks long, beginning on the Sunday after November 11, the feast of St Martin. The keeping of a fast similar to that of Lent in preparation for Christmas, and beginning around St Martin’s day, is first attested towards the end of the fifth century. The oldest sources agree that it was less strict than that of Lent, originally kept only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and over time, it gradually fell out of use altogether. However, nothing in the ancient sources indicates that this was ever the liturgical custom of the Roman Rite, or that the Roman Advent was ever tied to the feast of St Martin, which is not in the Old Gelasian Sacramentary or the Wurzburg epistolary. The oldest Roman liturgical texts for Advent speak of fasting only in connection with the Ember days.
All of these customs long predate any period when people thought to write down explanations of why they made specific additions or changes to the liturgy, although we are often able to glean such reasons from other writings or historical facts. In the case of the Roman Advent, we can reasonably speculate, but perhaps no more than that, that its varying lengths derive from the different ways the Fathers of the Church divided the history of the world before the coming of Christ.
In his book “On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed” (22.39), St Augustine divides the history of the world into six periods, each marked by a covenant between God and His people.
“…five ages of the world having passed, the first of which is from the beginning of the human race, that is, from Adam, who was the first man to be made, down to Noah, who constructed the ark at the time of the flood; then the second goes to Abraham, who was chosen as the father indeed of all those nations which should follow the example of his faith, … the third age is from Abraham to King David, the fourth from David to that captivity by which the people of God migrated to Babylon, and the fifth from that migration down to the coming (adventum) of our Lord Jesus Christ. From His coming, the sixth age begins, so that now that spiritual grace, which was then known to a few patriarchs and prophets, may be made manifest to all nations…”
In this context, the conclusion of this passage could very well be taken as a reference to the liturgical season which runs from Christmas to Epiphany, in which God’s grace is indeed “made manifest to all nations.”
Ss Gregory and Augustine, ca. 1510, by the Spanish painter Juan de Borgoña (1470 ca. – 1536; public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
St Gregory the Great became Pope 160 years after the death of St Augustine; it hardly needs to be said that his writings were especially influential on the Roman liturgical tradition. In his sermon on the Gospel of Septuagesima Sunday, Matthew 20, 1-16, he modifies Augustine’s division of time as follows, according to the hours at which the workers are hired to work in the vineyard. “The morning of the world (i.e., the first hour) is from Adam to Noah; the third hour is from Noah to Abraham; the sixth is from Abraham to Moses, the ninth from Moses to the coming of the Lord; and the eleventh is from the coming of the Lord to the end of the world.” This may also have been inspired by a different tradition found in various writings of Augustine himself, which gives a four-fold division of the entire history of humanity: “before the Law”, from creation to Moses; “under the Law”, from Moses to Christ; “under grace” from Christ to the end of the world; and “in peace”, which is to say, eternity. (De diversis questionibus LXXXIII 66.3, cited in “Bede and the End of Time” by Peter Darby, p. 24, footnote 40.)
The original Roman Advent of five weeks would therefore correspond to St Augustine’s six-fold division of time: five weeks to represent the five ages of the world before the coming of Christ, and the season from Christmas to Epiphany to represent the sixth age. The reduction of Advent to four weeks would correspond to St Gregory’s four ages before the coming of Christ, with one age after. The fourth week of Advent is only complete in those years in which Christmas falls on a Sunday; this would represent the fact that humanity has not yet come to the fullness of time in which it will live “in peace” after the end of this world, and the coming of the new creation.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

A Sermon on the Death of a Poor Man

Just under two weeks ago, a Sicilian man by the name of Gaetano Tinnirello, who had long lived homeless on the streets of Rome, passed away in hospital about a month after his 33rd birthday. He had long struggled with addiction; this was not the immediate cause of his death, which was brought on by a pulmonary infection, but had certainly weakened him. In recent years, he had taken to spending much of his time on the steps of the FSSP church in Rome, Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, and as he himself stated, “Since I have come close to this church, I feel better. I feel changed.” (This is written on the back of his funeral card.) Despite the many serious adversities of his life, he was always a cheerful man. After his death, the parish celebrated his funerary rites, and arranged for his body to be returned to his family in Sicily for burial.

The following sermon was preached at his funeral Mass by Fr Vilmar Pavesi, who had attended Gaetano in the hospital; it is, I think, one of the most beautiful sermons I have ever read. Particularly in the winter, and in the holiday seasons, let us not forget that all thanksgiving belongs above all to One who was born in the poverty of a stable, and that we are charged by Him to care for the least of His brethren. And please offer a prayer for the repose of the poor man Gaetano. (Our thanks to Fr Pavesi and Fr Brice Messonier, the pastor of Santissima Trinità, for permission to reprint the sermon, and to Mr Jacob Stein, author of the blog PassioXpi, for the pictures. The text has appeared elsewhere; I have here corrected it against the original Italian.)
“I am thirsty”. On the Cross, in his agony, Jesus was thirsty. It was an immense thirst, caused by his wounds. But it was above all a spiritual thirst. Jesus was thirsty, and He still thirsts for souls, because He seeks souls to save them, without despising any of them.
Gaetano also felt thirsty. When I met him in the hospital, his mouth was dry. “Father, I’m thirsty, give me something to drink”, was the first thing he asked me. After asking if I could do this, I started giving him a drink using a syringe and a straw. He couldn’t move. After he drank half a bottle of water, I told him, “Gaetano, think of Jesus Christ on the Cross. He too was thirsty, but no one gave Him anything to drink. Now you can understand it better.” He nodded his head. Then I asked him if he wanted to confess. He said yes. He was perfectly lucid. He didn’t get tired. He confessed with the best dispositions of the soul, with humility and sincerity. And then we prayed his penance together. Afterwards, seeing signs of suffering in his face, for his pains, I advised him to offer everything up for the love of God: “Jesus, I offer this up for love of you.” And he repeated with me, like a child, “Jesus, I offer this up for love of you.”

Then I told him that I also wanted to give him Extreme Unction, and he agreed. After the Extreme Unction he asked me for more water, because he was still thirsty. Our poor Gaetano, who was still thirsty, with his Confession and with the Extreme Unction had instead eased the thirst which God felt in His soul. Before leaving him, we talked about various things and his life after the hospital. So he asked me to find him a place to live, and I promised him I would.
Then he asked me where he was at that moment. “At the San Camillo hospital”, I replied. “How far is it from the parish?” “10 minutes by tram,” I told him. “When will I take the tram again?” “When God wills, you don’t have to worry about the future. Lord, your will be done.” And he once again, like a child, repeated: “Lord, your will be done.”
I brought to Gaetano the greetings of all the priests of the parish, especially the parish priest, and of the people who cherished affection and pity for him. At some point I had to leave. “Ah, you have to go. So, please give me some more water and then you can leave.” After the last blessing and greeting, he said to me, “Father, thank you. You made me very happy.”
The first time I went to see him in the hospital was on Saturday, after the first surgery. He was in a coma and in grave danger of death. Normally, I always carry the oil of the sick with me, but that day, by chance, I didn’t have it. And since it was too late, they didn’t let me see him. So I returned on Monday, this time with the holy oil. Gaetano was perfectly lucid. The next day he would go back into a coma, undergo another operation, and remain in a coma until the day of his death. He would seem to have returned to a state of lucidity only for a few hours, like that child who was resurrected at the time of San Filippo Neri, only to be able to confess and receive the Extreme Unction, and then die again.
Speaking of St. Philip Neri, without knowing it, Gaetano lived one of his counsels. In fact, every day he entered the church, greeted all the saints, and then when he approached the main altar, he prostrated himself on the ground, kissed the floor and prayed. This was exactly what St. Philip Neri taught: “When you have little time or can’t pray well, go into a church and greet the saints. You will have said an excellent prayer.” I always thought that the Lord would save him for this act of piety, done with such sincerity, and also for the rosary and the Miraculous Medal that he wore around his neck.
Once I found him in the church fixing the floor. Do you remember when the marbles in the back were moved out of place? Without saying anything to anyone, he began to arrange the marble plaques, which more than one person had tripped on. “Gaetano, what are you doing?” “I’m fixing the marbles! It’s dangerous as it is. I’m not doing it for money. I’m doing it because it is God’s house and God’s house is mine too.”
He wanted to work. He wanted to be helpful. He cleaned the street because he said he lived there, and therefore he wanted it clean. He also cleaned the church’s staircase. I have seen him more than once spontaneously helping the garbagemen to collect the garbage. He did it without any self-interest, just to help out.
When he got here, he wore earrings. I can’t stand men with earrings, so one day I asked him to sell me his earrings. When Gaetano understood the reason why I wanted to buy them, he took them off, went to throw them in the sewer, and promised me that he would no longer wear them, and did not want the money. And so it was.
Gaetano’s death at the age of 33 is a great grief for all of us. His presence gave a picturesque face to the parish. His was a good presence. He knew how to make everyone love him. Even his dog looked so good together with him. The death of Gaetano is a great grief for everyone, because in the depths of our soul, we all feel a little responsible. He was one of those littlest brothers of Christ, because he had an immense need to be helped in his body and in his soul. More than money, he needed sincere affection and opportunity.
How many times did we repay his spontaneous “Good evening” with indifference, coldness or haste? How many times did we pass by him, without even looking at him, when he was not well? “Whenever you have done these things to one of these least of my brothers, you will have done it to me.” (Matt. 25)
Lord, before this body we ask your forgiveness for all the good we could have done for Gaetano, and did not do. Lord, before this body, we promise you to receive with generosity and love the poor whom your Providence will deign to send us.
However, I would be unjust if I only had reproaches before this body. Gaetano’s death has already begun to bear fruit. Many felt touched in their hearts and opened themselves more to charity. Very edifying is the number of people who continually ask for Masses for his soul. This is a great charity. Others offered to give him a decent burial. This too is a work of mercy, pleasing to the Lord. Some young people took care of Gaetano with true love during his last weeks. They are the ones who took brought and accompanied me to the hospital. May the Lord bless you.
Gaetano still has a great mission among us. Indeed, his mission has just begun. He, poor, but blessed by the Lord, must teach us to be charitable. He must teach us to have great hope in God. The Lord brought him close to this parish. He caused him to find the Christian affection of His faithful and priests, because He wanted to give him the eternal happiness of Heaven. Gaetano also has the mission of giving to the Archconfraternity of the Most Holy Trinity a new impetus in its works of spiritual and corporal charity.

Saint Philip Neri, pray for him.
Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, pray for him.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for him.

Sacred Art Conference for Young Adults in Manhattan, Dec. 11

On Saturday, December 11, Juventutem NYC will host a Sacred Art Conference at the church of the Holy Innocents in New York City. The event will begin at 1:00pm with Holy Mass in the traditional Roman Rite, followed by talks on topics such as “Sanctifying Grace and Sacred Beauty” and “Churches as sacred spaces that consecrate and defend the consecrated.” The conference is held in honor of St Nicholas, and seven notable Italian Baroque paintings of the Miracles of Saint Nicholas from the private Papenhoek Collection will be presented for private devotion. The afternoon will round off with a young adult social with refreshments. Register by December 10th at JuventutemNYC.com/Events. Admission is $20 to help defray some of the costs and additional donations are gratefully appreciated. The Shrine of the Holy Innocents is located at 128 West 37th Street (at Broadway) in Manhattan. The parish is readily accessible by regional transit and is at walking distance from Penn Station.

About Juventutem: The Fœderatio Internationalis Juventutem, based in Switzerland, promotes the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, and, in particular, the offering of the Traditional Latin Mass. Based at Holy Innocents in Manhattan, Juventutem NYC is the local chapter of this global movement and network of Catholic young adults, ages 18-40, fostering the sanctification of youth worldwide according to the Roman traditions of the Church. Visit JuventutemNYC.com for more information.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Patronal Feasts of the Schola Sainte-Cécile

Our good friends of the Schola Sainte-Cécile recently celebrated the feast of St Eugenius, the principal patron of their home church in Paris, as an external solemnity on the Sunday after his feast day (Nov. 15), followed immediately on Monday by the feast of the church’s other patron, St Cecilia, for whom the Schola itself is also named. The church was built in 1854, in the reign of the last French Emperor, Napoleon III, and named for St Eugenius, a 7th-century bishop of Toledo, Spain, partly to honor the emperor’s Spanish-born wife, Eugénie. In 1952, St Cecilia, the patron of musicians, was added as a second patron of the church because of its proximity to the Paris Conservatory.

All of the ceremonies in the church are broadcast live on their YouTube channel,  and then permanently reposted. Below, I have also included links to their website, which gives the complete musical program (in French) for each ceremony. (Those pages include links to pdfs with the musical scores as well.) The Mass of St Eugenius begins with a rousing Christus vincit, as a relic of the Saint is carried though the church in procession – Feliciter! Feliciter!

Mass on the feast of St Eugène (program)
Vespers (program)
Mass on the feast of St Cecilia (program)

The Life and Afterlife of St. Catherine of Alexandria

Lorenzo Lotto, Saint Catherine of Alexandria,1522
Note: The following article appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of The Latin Mass magazine on pages 48-52 (vol. 24, issue 3). Many thanks to the editors of TLM for allowing its publication here.

“When the legend becomes fact,” asserts a famous John Ford movie, “print the legend.” But would the patron saint of philosophers agree? Perhaps, if the legend were about herself.

St. Catherine of Alexandria was a devout noblewoman or princess who was so well educated in the liberal arts that by the age of eighteen she surpassed most learned men. Catherine reportedly had a vision in which she married Jesus Christ: according to one account, He appeared as an Infant and placed a ring on her finger. This mystical marriage also foreshadowed Catherine’s participation in the sufferings of her Spouse.
Around the year 305, when the Emperor Maximinus began persecuting Christians, Catherine courageously upbraided him. Marveling at her boldness, Maximinus imprisoned her and summoned fifty philosophers to debate her. Instead of being overwhelmed, Catherine won many of them over to Christ, so much so that they vowed to die a martyr’s death. Catherine had a similar effect on the Emperor’s wife and on his chief general, both of whom converted to Christianity and were subsequently martyred.
After various attempts to bribe and intimidate her failed, the Emperor sentenced Catherine to die on a wheel spiked with sharp knives. The wheel, however, was struck by lightning and exploded, the shrapnel killing several onlookers. This miracle inspired more conversions, but it did not quell the Emperor’s wrath, who ordered Catherine to be beheaded. After she died, Angels transported the saint’s remains to Mount Sinai.
Caravaggio, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, 1598
In the early ninth century, the monks of the Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai discovered the saint’s body, its hair still growing and a miraculous healing oil emanating from its bones. Ever since, the monastery (now nicknamed St. Catherine’s) has been a popular pilgrimage site. Even the Muslims who had recently conquered Egypt treated the site as sacred and sought its healing oil. [1]
Saint Catherine’s Ossuary, Mount Sinai
Holy Influence
St. Catherine cult’s spread quickly through Europe with the return of the Crusaders in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Priests began blessing oil in honor of the saint as a remedy for arthritis, asthma, and festering sores. [2] In the wake of the Plague, Catherine was numbered among the Fourteen Holy Helpers, invoked against sudden death.
Saint Catherine’s association with a wheel made her the patron saint of anyone linked to wheels or wheel-like devices: carters, wheelwrights, rope makers, seamstresses, weavers, wool spinners, milliners, millers, tailors, potters, and grinders, to name a few. Her association with intellectual excellence and forensic skills also inspired notaries, attorneys, orators, scholars, philosophers, preachers, theologians, students (especially female), the Sorbonne in Paris, and St. Catharine’s College in Cambridge to claim her as their patroness.
Because of the manner of her martyrdom, St. Catherine is invoked against head ailments such as headache, migraine, and brain tumors. And because of her virginal marriage to Christ, she is called upon as a protector of purity, a matchmaker for unwed girls, and a patroness of childcare and nurses. Catherine was even asked to protect against shipwreck, perhaps for no other reason than that she had a reputation for powerful intercession.
Moreover, St. Catherine is credited with helping others become saints. St. Paul of Latrus (d. 956), a hermit who lived in present-day Turkey, “kept her feast with extraordinary solemnity and devotion.” [3] St. Gertrude the Great (1256-1302) is said to have had a special attraction to St. Catherine from her infancy. When Gertrude asked how great were the saint’s merits, Our Lord showed her a vision of St. Catherine “seated on a throne so lofty and so magnificent that it seemed her glory was sufficient to have filled the courts of heaven had she been its sole queen; while from her crown a marvelous brightness was reflected on her devout clients.” [4]
St. Catherine also appeared along with Our Lady to Blessed Reginald of Orleans (1180-1220) and to Saint Dominic (1170-1221), which is why she is one of the Dominicans’ special patronesses.
One Dominican tertiary, St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), knew of her namesake’s mystical marriage and prayed as a child for a similar destiny. At the age of twenty-one, her prayer was answered when she was supernaturally betrothed to Our Lord. Just as St. Catherine of Alexandria’s espousals to Christ prepared her for martyrdom, so too did Catherine of Siena’s prepare her for the stigmata.
For seven years St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431) was guided by several heavenly voices that she called her “counsel.” Among those that visited her, the Maid of Orleans recognized St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Margaret of Antioch, and St. Michael the Archangel. It was probably these voices that told her to look for an ancient sword buried behind the altar of a chapel. The name of the chapel: Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois. During the trial that would end her life, St. Joan resisted efforts to entrap her over details concerning the saints’ appearance or how she was able to recognize them. But she nevertheless declared to her judges: “saw them with these very eyes as well as I see you.” [5]
Hermann Anton Stilke, Life of St. Joan of Arc, 1843
Cultural Impact
St. Catherine’s name retains a steady popularity through its multiple variations: Katherine, Kathleen (Irish), Karen (Danish), Kateri, etc. The saint has inspired other kinds of naming as well. In France, the senior advocate or head of the legal system is called a batônnier (“banner holder”) because it was his privilege to carry St. Catherine’s banner in procession. [6] In English, a “catherine" was once a kind of carriage, pear, and plum, [7] while a “Catherine wheel” can refer to a pin-wheel firework, a wagon-wheel window, or a cartwheel summersault. [8] California’s Santa Catalina Island, Arizona’s Santa Catalina Mountains, Brazil’s state of Santa Catarina, and the Catharina crater on the moon are also named after the saint. [9]
A Catherine wheel, photograph by Peter van der Sluijs, 2018
Catherine’s cult was immensely popular in the Middle Ages, and her first-class feast day was kept with great festivity. Many people, especially students, were free from class or toil that day. And because St. Catherine’s Day is so close to the beginning of the subdued season of Advent, it became a “last call” for merriment and an excellent day for weddings. Hence the rhyme:
On Catherine’s day
Your wedding is gay;
But Andrew’s day [10]
Takes the feasting away. [11]
Capping Saint Catherine
Saint Catherine’s Day was assiduously observed in France, where it was a holy day of obligation until the seventeenth century and where unmarried women twenty-five and older became known as “catherinettes.” These, ahem, spinsters formed confraternities to care for St. Catherine’s statue and to adorn it on her feast day with a special cap made in St. Catherine’s colors of yellow (for faith) and green (for knowledge).
The catherinettes likewise wore a similar hat on their patron’s feast day. In some parts of France, the eldest catherinette in the village wore a starched cap while the others wore a paper bonnet as they pleaded with the virgin martyr for a husband. From these customs, the expression “to cap St. Catherine” (coiffer Sainte-Catherine) came to mean reaching the age of twenty-five as an unmarried woman. Passersby would wish the easily recognizable ladies a speedy end to their singlehood, and special balls in their honor would be held.
In twentieth-century Paris, attention converged on the midinettes or shop girls, especially those who worked in the fashion or milliner industry. Seamstresses shut their doors on St. Catherine’s Day and made merry with champagne, oysters, sweets, and dancing. If there were any catherinettes among them, outrageous hats were made for them. Often the highlight of the day was a visit from the head designer (a rare honor), who toured the richly decorated facility and bestowed treats.
Parisian catherinettes would keep the vigil of the feast by locking arms and strolling down the Rue de la Paix, first to pay homage to the statue of St. Catherine, then to celebrate into the night in nearby cafes. These parades sometimes grew riotous as young men tried to steal a kiss from the participants. In 1925, police had to intervene when 300 to 400 Frenchmen crowded around one woman and fought enthusiastically “for the honor of planting the first kiss on her fair cheeks.” [12] Was the damsel that beautiful, I wonder, or was she wearing a really fetching hat?
Catherinettes, Paris, 1909
The Fete des Catherinettes has declined considerably, but it is still kept by the hat-making and dressmaking trades. In 2015, the Club Chapeau Passion (Club Hat Passion) in France sponsored an international competition in which contestants submitted a yellow and green hat that was judged by “a highly qualified jury.” The event consisted of a parade, an awards ceremony, and “a festive evening.” [13]
Catherinette Hat Competition, Paris, 2015
Women’s Day and Catterning
While St. Catherine’s Day may be linked to old maids in France, in Estonia the feast is used to honor all women. Kadripäev, as the holiday is called, survived a half-century of Soviet occupation and is still celebrated widely today, especially by students and the rural population. The day is marked by freedom from servile labor (especially sewing and shepherding, an Estonian woman’s traditional job), songs, and light-colored women’s clothing, which even men may wear on this day in honor of the saint and the coming winter.
Kadripäev, or rather the night before, is also an occasion of ritual almsgiving. On the vigil of the feast, Kadrisants or kadris (Catherine beggars) go door-to-door and beg for food and supplies in exchange for songs and blessings. In this respect, modern-day Estonia is not that different from medieval England, when “Katterners” would “go katterning,” begging for apples and beer while serenading homes with such memorable ditties as:
Cattern and Clemen be here, here, here,
Give us your apples and give us your beer. [14]
Katterning or catterning, needless to say, was similar to the practice of souling on All Hallows’ Eve.
Catherine Treats
As the goal of catterning implies, one cannot celebrate on an empty stomach. In northern France a heart-shaped cake called coeur de Sainte Catherine (St. Catherine’s heart) was given to a catherinette, though we do not think the saint would mind if the whole family enjoyed the treat. [15] In England, “Cattern cakes” made with caraway seeds were baked by lace-makers who invoked St. Catherine as their patron. [16]  In French Canada, unmarried girls would make “St. Catherine’s taffy” and give it to eligible boys. The holiday is nicknamed Taffy Day by some French Canadians.
And if sugar is not your preferred vice, turn to the “Cattern bowl,” a mixture of wine, spices, etc. once given to the members of Worcester College, Oxford by their dean. An easier option is a Bijou, a semi-sweet and complex cocktail recommended in my book Drinking With the Saints. [17]  And be sure to decorate your Cattern Cocktail Party in yellow and green.
Art and Literature
St. Catherine left an indelible mark on art. The Alexandrian saint with her recognizable wheel and mystical marriage were popular subjects for artists from the late Middle Ages on. Raphael painted her, and so did the Master of the Virgo inter Virgines, Caravaggio, Jusepe de Rivera, Il Correggio, and countless others.
One depiction that deserves special mention is the stained glass of St. Catherine in Christ Church in Oxford, England. The face of the virgin martyr in the depiction is that of Edith Liddell, the younger sister of Alice Liddell, after whom Alice in Wonderland is named. While one Liddell girl was inspiring Lewis Carroll to write, the other was inspiring Sir Edward Burne-Jones to stain glass.
Edward Burne-Jones, Saint Catherine Window, Christ Church, Oxford, 1878
In literature, Saint Catherine was praised in every language, including the Latin of Adam of St. Victor in his sequence Vox Sonora nostri chori; the medieval Irish of an unknown poet in Réalta an chruinne Fhíona, “Catherine, Star of the World;” the Middle English of John Capgrave’s The Life of St. Katharine of Alexandria; and the mellifluous French of Bishop Bossuet’s panegyric to St. Catherine. Father Robert Hugh Benson’s Alphabet of Saints has a touching poem, “K for Saint Katherine.”
Counter-Reformation Decline
In contrast to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the modern period proved to be unkind to Catherine’s cult. In the seventeenth century, great orators like Bossuet were still eulogizing the saint, but by the eighteenth century an editor of Bossuet’s works, the Benedictine Dom Deforis, was declaring the ode to be in large measure false. A century earlier, holy sages like Robert Bellarmine had recommended that certain improbable legends about St. Catherine be expunged. By the end of the eighteenth century, St. Catherine’s feast had been removed from the Paris Breviary.
What happened? Most likely, fantastical elements in St. Catherine’s biography made it difficult for Catholic apologists to defend the historical reliability of the Church from Protestant detractors. Alban Butler in his Lives of the Saints writes that her acts “are so much adulterated that little use can be made of them,” [18]  while the great scholar Cardinal Cesare Baronius, who dedicated twelve volumes to chronicling the history of the Church, regretted that “extreme critics” were seizing on the stories of St. Catherine to undermine devotion to the saints and, ultimately, the Church’s credibility. [19] To right the Barque of Saint Peter, it appeared that some jetsam needed to be discarded. That effort to save the ship, however, did not include throwing Saint Catherine herself overboard. Summing up the Catholic scholarly position at the beginning of the twentieth century, the 1915 Catholic Encyclopedia states: “Although contemporary hagiographers look upon the authenticity of the various texts containing the legend of St. Catherine as more than doubtful, it is not therefore meant to cast even the shadow of a doubt around the existence of the saint.” [20]
Post-Vatican-II Plight
Precisely this shadow, however, was cast by Archbishop Bugnini’s Consilium in charge of reforming the Roman liturgy after Vatican II. Saint Catherine’s existence was not denied outright nor her cult suppressed, but the insinuation was clear enough when her feast was removed from the general calendar in 1969. The Consilium looked askance at saints whose lives could not be verified according to the canons of modern historical scholarship, and so Catherine joined the ranks of other popular folk saints such as Christopher and Valentine in no longer being liturgically venerated by the universal Church. One of the most cherished saints of the Middle Ages was now to be quietly forgotten.
Progressive theologians hailed the new calendar and its rationale as “long overdue.” [21] “If the very existence” of a saint is in doubt, one of them asked, “what does that say about invoking her?” [22]
It is a valid question. Certainly, the documentation on Catherine of Alexandria is far from ideal. There is no contemporary evidence of her existence and no biography of her until the tenth century. Pilgrims’ journals to Mount Sinai in late antiquity make no mention of her relics, and certain aspects of her story, such as her mystical marriage, do no not appear until 1337—and only then in the Latin West rather than the Greek East which first spread her cult. Even her name is puzzling. The name Aikaterinē appears to have originated with her, and although it is believed to be derived from “pure” (katharos), not even this is clear. [23]
The most tantalizing evidence we have is an account from the fourth-century historian Eusebius, who writes of a noble, virtuous, and singularly learned lady from Alexandria who, unlike her peers, refused to be debauched by Maximinus and was subsequently banished. [24] Could this be the pure one later known as Catherine?
On the other hand stand the testimonies of the saints whose lives were changed by St. Catherine. Even if we grant that Catherine of Siena’s hopes for a mystical marriage were based on a pious fiction, this concession would not mean that Catherine of Alexandria’s cult has no ground in reality and that no saint dwells in Heaven who has been answering to the name of Catherine. Even under the threat of being burned alive at the stake, St. Joan of Arc affirmed that she saw St. Catherine as clearly as she saw her condemners. Are we ready to call her delusional? And whose miraculous bones were those that were discovered?
Saint Catherine and Angels, 16th century
The controversy surrounding St. Catherine is one of the clearest examples of the conflict between what Chesterton calls “old wives’ tales” and “old maids’ facts,” between the valuable scholarly discipline of history and the invaluable lived memory and experience of the Church. Although historical scholarship deserves to be taken seriously, Chesterton nonetheless sides with the old wives. “It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history,” G. K. writes. “The legend is generally made by the majority of people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad.” [25] How ironic that in 1969 the patron saint of old maids succumbed to old maids of a different kind.
The triumphant spinsterism of liturgical experts, however, was short-lived. In 2002, St. Catherine of Alexandria returned to the general calendar, her liturgical veneration reappearing as an optional memorial on November 25. Just as no official reason was given for her omission, none was given for her re-inclusion. Some speculate that Pope Saint John Paul II was making an ecumenical gesture to the Eastern Orthodox, who continue to venerate St. Catherine as a Great Martyr; others that the pope, a lifelong student of philosophy, wished to see the cult of the patron saint of philosophers restored.
But perhaps the real reason is that the Pope saw something that the Consilium had overlooked, something that a Franciscan friar had also once observed in 1943:
To suppress all legend would take from us in some cases the only way which can lead us across a chasm separating us from our forebears. Legend is indeed a precarious bridge to cross such a gap, but a bridge it remains. It may be weighted down with the accumulations and parasitic growths of centuries, and it may be weakened under its own enormous weight of improbability. But the very ivy of fancy which at one time forced its way between the stones, today keeps those poorly-jointed arches from falling into oblivion. We cannot cross a chasm on such a bridge, but the fact that there is a bridge tells us that we are face to face with a chasm and not a void—that beyond the dark and seemingly impassible gorge there is a solid foundation which offers a firm support to the mossgrown and picturesque bridge of legend.[26]
St. Catherine of Alexandria, pray for us!
[1] Francis X. Weiser, SJ, The Holyday Book (Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1956), 192.
[2] Weiser, 192.
[3] Alban Butler, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, Vol. 4 (St. Bonaventure, 1997 reprint), 254.
[4] Guéranger, Liturgical Year, vol. 15 (St. Bonaventure, 1949/2000), 350.
[5] Herbert Thurston, “St. Joan of Arc,” Catholic Encyclopedia.
[6] Guéranger, 350.
[7] “Catherine, n.,” 2, Oxford English Dictionary.
[8] “Catherine wheel, n.,” OED, 2, 3, and 4.
[9] Catharina is part of a chain of three lunar craters; the other two are named after Sts. Cyril and Theophilus of Alexandria.
[10] November 30. The First Sunday of Advent can fall between November 27 and December 3.
[11] Weiser, 193.
[14] “Kattern, n.,” OED. The “Clemen” is St. Clement, whose feast day falls on November 23.
[15] For a recipe, see Evelyn Birge Vitz, A Continual Feast (Ignatius Press, 1985), 283.
[17] Drinking With the Saints (Regnery, 2015), 327.
[18] Butler, 253.
[19] Annales Ecclesiastici 3, ad ann 307; see Gueranger’s summary on page 350 of volume 15.
[20] Léon Clugnet, “Catherine of Alexandria,” Catholic Encyclopedia.
[21] James F. White, Roman Catholic Worship: Trent to Today (Liturgical Press, 2003), 136.
[22] White, 137.
[23] See Christine Walsh, The Cult of Saint Katerine of Alexandria in Early Medieval Europe (Ashgate, 2007), 1, n. 1; 7-22.
[24] Eusebius, Histories 8.14.
[25] Orthodoxy (Ignatius Press, 1908/1995), 53.
[26] Peter Biasiotto, The History of the Development of Devotion to the Holy Name (St. Bonaventure, 1943), 14. My thanks to Peter Kwasniewski for sharing this citation with me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Announcing a New Printed Edition of Traditional Roman Compline

Those who have sung traditional Compline may remember the flimsy blue booklet with tiny print, prepared by the Fraternity of St. Peter ages ago, and published by Saint Austin Press in England. The booklets have been out of print for so long that extant copies fetch exorbitant prices. People who have wanted to do Compline have been forced to throw together their own booklet or photocopies. Ignatius Press published a nice Compline book some years ago, but it was for the Novus Ordo Liturgy of the Hours. There has long been a huge need for a new edition of the old Roman Compline.

And now, after a year of painstaking development, it is here at last.

Our friends at the blog Canticum Salomonis have just published Traditional Roman Compline, containing the entire office from the Antiphonale Romanum of 1912, fully notated musically, and accompanied throughout by an English translation. Not only are the antiphons, hymns, and responsories notated, but also the versicles and collects, all of which make things as limpid as possible for the beginner and as complete as possible for the expert (all the seasonal and proper festal melodies of the hymn Te lucis, as well as the special Offices said during the Holy Triduum and the Octave of Easter, are present; no other book will be needed for any day of the year).

The traditional Roman office of Compline, as codified by the 1568 breviary, had only a minimal amount of variation in the course of the liturgical year, apart from the special offices said during the Holy Triduum and the Easter Octave. Even in these proper offices, the psalms—4, 30 (verses 2–6), 90, 133—and the concluding canticle Nunc dimittis remained unchanged. Here we can see the perfect alignment of the Roman and Monastic uses. With its unvarying daily psalms, traditional Compline is therefore an excellent starting point for persons and communities who wish to begin to sing the hours of the Divine Office.

This beautiful edition, freshly typeset by Gerhard Eger, who also compiled the Benedictiones mensae published by Pax inter Spinas, includes ceremonial notes for the recitation of Compline in choir. Those unable to say Compline in church, however, can easily adapt these rubrics for their own circumstances. The booklet opens with a meditation, borrowed from a 15th-century English Brigittine prayer-book, on the spiritual significance of Compline.

I heartily recommend this booklet to all who wish to unite their voices with those of generations past in a liturgical conclusion to the day’s toils.

Traditional Roman Compline (based on Antiphonale Romanum of 1912, itself in direct continuity with the 1568 Breviarium Romanum), typeset by Gerhard Eger. Paperback, $12. Available from Amazon and affiliates.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: