Monday, January 31, 2022

The Power of Catholic Customs: A Candlemas Procession in the Life of Dom Hubert van Zeller

In his extremely entertaining and somewhat melancholy autobiography One Foot in the Cradle, well-known spiritual writer Dom Hubert van Zeller (1905–1984) describes a particularly memorable February 2nd in his life as a Benedictine novice at Downside Abbey, in the school of which he had been enrolled for a decade as a student. (Since there appear to be no archival photos of any Candlemas at Downside, I found a photo that perhaps suggests a similar spirit: Candlemas at Westminster Cathedral in 1938, with plenty of schoolboys in attendance.)

Dom Hubert had entered religion one year after graduation, in 1924, and so still had friends among the older boys. At this point in his life he is struggling with his vocation — whether to remain in the monastery, or to go back to the world, to which he was drawn by many affections. The account deserves to be shared on this eve of Candlemas. Afterwards I will share four points of reflection.

*       *       *

“It was a little later, when the school reassembled after the Christmas holidays, that the proximity of the boys and of all that went with them began to trouble me. Up till now I had been so busy learning what to do as a novice, and finding satisfaction in the fulfilment of what had been so long awaited, that I had not found the presence of the school within hailing distance any great distraction. But now the whole question of my place in Benedictine education became more acute. The immediacy was brought home to me on February 2, the feast of the Purification.

“At Downside the Candlemas procession, everyone holding a lighted candle, moves round the cloisters. Following the cross and acolytes come first of all the boys, then the monks, then the celebrant and ministers. So it was that together with my fellow junior novice (Brother Maurice, Reggie) I came close upon the heels of the two most senior boys in the school. These were Maurice Turnbull and Robert Arbuthnot — Robert as well as Maurice being a very particular friend of mine. By stretching out my candle I could have singed the hair of either of them. I was as close as I had been to the Field Marshal’s ears in Egypt.

“While the Purification antiphons were going on and we wound our way from one cloister to another I was conscious of a dualism at work inside me which so boiled up as to make me wonder for a moment which part of the procession I was in. I felt that there was a significant difference between belonging to those who walked in front of me and belonging to those who walked behind me. I was caught in the middle between two environments. Spiritually I was in one, emotionally in another. It was like a bad dream, because I could not tell where the one ended and the other began. I knew only that for me there were two quite separate worlds, and that one or other must win in the end. Must, indeed, be winning now. I knew in which world I willed to be — namely among the monks who were just behind me in the procession — but was the will strong enough to override the pull of the emotions which drew me towards those in front?

“This Candlemas procession came to be, during the months which followed, something of a symbol to me. It was one which carried particular urgency as the time for taking vows drew near: I must know in good time where I was in the procession, and where it was leading me.

“Things were not made any easier by such glimpses and echoes of school life as inevitably came my way. The roar of laughter from a classroom well beyond novitiate bounds, light music played on gramophones in rooms whose doors had been open to me eighteen months ago, the sound of a band-practice, the cheering at a rugger match, the sight of teams on their way up to the field, the crowding in to Mass and Benediction, the group of rather cheeky boys whom I had known as fags [i.e., boys who acted as servants to older schoolmates] who would bump into me on purpose in the church and then laugh and look away: all this made for matter of further self-searching.

“It is commonplace to observe that the human mind can want two opposite things at once. I wanted very much to be under the rule which forbad novices to speak to anyone not in the novitiate, and at the same time wanted to talk to people. Everything all round me told me that the school was an essential part of the life, that it was an extension of the community, that the boys belonged to the procession as much as the monks did. It was not even a question of one world impinging on another: they coincided. But until I could myself feel this, and not merely see it as an identification which others could feel, I knew I would never be at peace. Without the experience of such a harmony, I would always be a misfit.

“While in America not long ago I was saying Mass at a convent where the community runs a large high-school for girls. Some few of the students are boarders, but the majority are day-girls. These, the ‘day-hops,’ arrive noisily in cars and school buses just in time for the first class of the day which begins at a quarter to nine. I had said Mass at eight and was about to leave at a quarter to nine when I noticed a young nun rinsing out the cruets at the sacristy sink. Cars were still racing through the campus and skidding to a gritty stop at the school entrance. I could hear the car doors being closed with a rich plunk, the loud cries and shrill laughter, the hurrying of feet and the dropping of books. The young nun was hearing it too, and I watched her face as she looked out of the window. She was too preoccupied to know that I was there, that the tap was running, that the cruet needed no more drying. My guess was that she had been in the school a year or two before. I felt like telling her to keep her wits about her at the next Candlemas procession.” (One Foot in the Cradle: An Autobiography [New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1966], 134–36.)
Downside boys ice-skating in the 1930s

Several things about this account are striking to me.

First, it was precisely by having such a Candlemas procession that the young novice was able to have a sort of “peg” on which to hang his thoughts, a palpable “axis” around which he could arrange his thoughts of discernment. It’s a brilliant example of how the so-called “externals” of Catholicism in fact constitute something like a spiritual gravitational field that gathers our scattered selves into coherent entities. The procession became a symbol of the new monk’s life, and helped him to sort out where he belonged. If we diminish or abolish such symbols — as the postconciliar liturgical reform did, both on paper and especially in its iconoclastic implementation — we are eliminating solid walls, ceilings, windows, and doors for the interior castle in which we are capable of living. We take away the centripetal power of rituals and leave the field open to the centrifugal force of fallen mindlessness and worldly distraction. As conservatives never seem to realize, it is not enough, most of the time, to “desire to be a good Catholic”; the desire has to be suggested, shaped, nourished, solidly built up by the structures of ecclesial life.

Second, only traditional Catholic communities today could actually understand and relate to the liturgical experience van Zeller is describing, since they alone (with a tiny number of exceptions) have retained the candle procession with the Latin Gregorian antiphons Dom Hubert is talking about. Such communities are continuing to do nearly the same thing he was doing (with perhaps some unfortunate modifications from the 1960 code of rubrics).

Third, monastic life at this time was exuberantly flourishing. As van Zeller describes it in the book, every religious community in England was pretty well packed with vocations. This is the kind of record that gives the lie to the myth — propagandistically repeated so often that it is now practically assumed as self-evident — that the Church before the Second Vatican Council was in desperate straits and needed radical reform. In fact, it was precisely the sudden explosion of radical ideas in the 1960s that precipitated the crisis of faith that undermined the consensus and common life of Catholics, leading to a decline from which the Church in the Western world has never recovered (except, incipiently, in those traditional communities against which Pope Francis and his nostalgic advisers have aligned themselves). As Martin Mosebach says somewhere, it was inevitable that there would be some crashing challenges to the Church in the post-War era, but the very best thing churchmen could have done is to meet those shocks with an adamant refusal to budge, rather than with a slippery willingness to move wherever the world moved.

Fourth, the genres of autobiography and detailed historical accounts of individuals and particular places are extremely valuable in achieving an accurate Catholic sense of the past and of what a Catholic culture looks like. Monasteries that still practice refectory reading have long shown a preference for these genres, and one can understand why: a robust awareness of belonging to a tradition is best achieved by learning about those who belonged to it before, and how they faced and either surmounted or failed to surmount the anti-traditional forces that opposed their way of life. General history, fiction, and theology obviously have their honorable places, but let’s not forget about books like One Foot in the Cradle, which have a lot to teach us.

The Dedication of the Downside Abbey Church in 1935

Sunday, January 30, 2022

“If Synodality Can’t Get Young People Interested in the Church, Then What Can?”

It would be perfectly reasonable for you to assume that that questioning headline comes from Eccles or the Babylon Bee, and yet, somehow, you would be wrong in that assumption. It actually comes from an article on Commonweal (which is still, somehow, a thing), and was, somehow, chosen as a good way to highlight the article by whoever manages their Twitter account.

It turns out, to the author’s disconcert (and the surprise of no one who has ever actually met a young person) that students at Catholic universities are more interested in, um, studying and enjoying life, rather than having meetings about meetings about meetings, preparatory to having meetings about meetings, so that their bishops can get together and have a meeting. Shocking, I know...

So, you ask, what DOES keep young people interested in the practice of the Faith? No idea...

Saturday, January 29, 2022

A Reform-of-the-Reform Paladin Throws in the Towel

Denis Crouan, the French founder and president (since 1988 or so) of the organization Pro liturgia, which promotes “the Mass as Vatican II truly intended it”, with Latin, chant, ad orientem, etc., has declared such efforts to be a “waste of time”, and thrown in the towel. The following article is his Final Message on the site, although he states that its activities will continue in a different form on another site. NLM is very grateful to an old and dear friend, Mr Jerome Stridon, for providing this translation. Caveat lector: the reproduction of this text does not imply agreement on the part of anyone associated with NLM with everything that is stated herein. Below is a video in French in which Mr Crouan explains in greater detail his decision to end the activities of Pro liturgia.

Asking present-day clergy to respect the liturgy of the Church is a waste of time: with an obstinacy often coupled with a profound lack of culture, those who occupy the places from which they are supposed to teach, go before, and lead the faithful - at all levels in the Church, from the pope to the simple parish priest - seem to want to systematically sabotage divine worship in a way that remains completely incomprehensible.

We must separate ourselves from a clergy that for years has been trying to dream up, with inexplicable perseverance, liturgical celebrations that only bring together the naive, unthinking conformists who place their need for conviviality and sentimentality above any preoccupation with the truths of faith and liturgical sense, to the point of forgetting them, or even denying them, and depriving those who need them.

We must leave behind a clergy and churchgoers who find their attitudes encouraged and shared by bishops who stray into biased readings of magisterial texts (as evidenced by their ways of reading and applying both the Second Vatican Council and Pope Francis’ Motu proprio “Traditionis custodes”).
Let those who wish to go on making friendship bracelets, filling in coloring books, and singing inanities at Masses that alternate between kitschiness and faddishness do so with complete freedom: they will not transmit anything to the future generations.
Let those who wish to cling to stiff chasubles or to lace albs, the hallmarks of falsely “traditional” celebrations, do so if they find it to their liking: these days, every way of celebrating the liturgy is to be considered acceptable.
Let our bishops who want to be the heralds of a rootless pastoral ministry that has never produced anything do so, if it gives them the feeling of being up to their mission: the extravagances of which they are capable and which no longer surprise are not yet exhausted.
That Pope Bergoglio is more interested in Luther and Pachamama than in the doctrine and morals of the Church is his choice: a choice that everyone is entitled to consider regrettable and more than risky. (editor’s note: I cannot help but wonder if this statement from a promotor of the post-Conciliar liturgy will lead to calls for yet another motu proprio ordering that said liturgy be suppressed.)
In any case, all of this, this way in which the Church and its liturgy present themselves, is no longer of any interest to the simple faithful who want to escape the betrayals of a clergy that wallows in the management of empty parishes where only “committed laymen” swarm and claim to “animate” liturgies that are, at best, lukewarm soups swallowed out of a spirit of sacrifice, and, at worst, poisons for inner peace and psychological balance.
Granted, there do remain harbors of peace, such as the monasteries that have resisted the winds of modernism and have received and applied Vatican II with faith and intelligence. But a monastery, though it may be an occasional place of refreshment, is not the parish sanctuary that the lay faithful should normally frequent, and where they ought to be sure that they can live out and feed their faith in silence and contemplation.
In order to get away from this ecclesial situation, which has become delirious and toxic to the point of harming inner peace and the Catholic faith, it has been decided to put an end to the “adventure” of Pro Liturgia. The current situation has no future and is kept up by a partly unstable clergy and laity that have accepted to be so disoriented that they no longer question what they are made to do during the Mass. As such, this situation demands such a decision of us.
The watchword of our bishops is that Masses should be entrusted neither to “traditionalists” nor to the faithful who respect the decisions of Vatican II on liturgy, but only to those who abuse divine worship. Therefore, to try to have a conversation with these mitred pastors, with their impenetrable way of thinking, is a waste of time (and sometimes even of faith).

Friday, January 28, 2022

Churches in Jerusalem Under Snow

Almost four years ago, I posted pictures of some of the churches of Rome after a snowstorm, a very rare event in the Eternal City. Snow is not quite as rare in Jerusalem, but is definitely not common, happening about once every 3 years or so. A friend who is studying there, Mr Alexandre Newman-Gallot, took some pictures of the Holy Sepulcher and other sites in the Holy City after it snowed there earlier this week, and was kind enough to share them with NLM. Gratias tibi, optime! “Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem: praise thy God, O Sion. ... Who giveth snow like wool.” (Psalm 147)

The Domes of the Holy Sepulcher
The entrance
The roof
The monastery of the Dormition
The outside of the Armenian Orthodox Seminary

The Stormy Orations of the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

James Tissot, Jesus Stilling the Tempest, 1886-1894
Lost in Translation #69

In today’s Gospel, our Lord manifests His divinity by commanding the angry sea and the raging wind, for the Creator of nature has complete power over it. The Church Fathers saw more to the story: the raging wind is a type for the devils whose pride stirs up waves of persecutions against God’s people, and the sea becomes troubled by the passions and malice of men which, as Dom Gaspar Lefebvre, OSB, puts it, is “the great source of disobedience to authority and of fraternal strife.” In the Church (the ship), Lefebvre continues:

The great law of charity prevails, for while in the first three commandments the duty of loving God is laid upon us, by the remaining seven we are bound, as a natural consequence, to the love of our neighbor (Epistle). Herein is the whole mystery of the Epiphany. Our Lord manifests Himself as the Son of God, and all those who acknowledge Him as such, and accept Him as their Leader and Head, become members of His mystical body. Being one in Christ, all Christians should love one another. [1]
The Collect fits the violent image of a storm hand-in-glove:
Deus, qui nos in tantis perículis constitútos, pro humána scis fragilitáte non posse subsístere: da nobis salútem mentis et córporis; ut ea quae pro peccátis nostris pátimur, te adjuvante, vincámus. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
O God, who knowest us to be placed in dangers so great that, on account of human frailty, we cannot withstand them; grant to us health of mind and body: that those things which we suffer on account of our sins we may conquer with Thy help. Through our Lord.
In the prelude (the protasis), we are surrounded by dangers that we are incapable of withstanding because of our frailty or fragility. “Of all the things that breathe and move upon it,” Odysseus laments in the Odyssey, “Earth nurtures nothing feebler than man.” [2] “Man’s days are as grass, as the flower of the field so shall he flourish,” chants the psalmist. “For the spirit shall pass in him, and he shall not be: and he shall know his place no more.” (Ps. 102, 15-16) “Man is nothing but a reed, the feeblest thing in nature.” Pascal adds. “…It is not necessary for the whole universe to arm itself in order to crush him; a vapor, a drop of water, is enough to kill him.” [3]
The solution to weakness is strength, and so we pray for health or vitality in both body and soul. It is good to have both: when the spirit is strong but the flesh is weak, we are at a disadvantage. The image of being weak in both body and soul on a ship during a storm calls to my mind the beginning of the Aeneid. Caught in a terrible storm designed by the gods to capsize the Trojan fleet, Aeneas loses heart and buckles. Vergil describes the pious hero’s limbs growing slack as he wishes in prayer, Job-like, that he had been killed at Troy with his fallen comrades. [4]
The verb subsistere (“withstand”) is an interesting choice. Again with the Gospel story in mind, the verb can take on two other meanings. Subsistere literally means to “remain standing,” which is difficult to do when a ship is pitching and rolling. But it also means to “stop,” as in Jesus immediately stopping the storm in order to bring a “great calm.” Man in his frailty cannot do that.
The petition (apodosis) adds another consideration: our frailty is caused or at least compounded by our sins. And yet despite our feeble, sinful condition, we dare to think that we can prevail with God’s help. The strong verb used for “overcome” (vincere) makes me hear the cry of “Vincerò!” (I will conquer) in the aria “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s opera Turandot.
The Secret also speaks of frailty:
Concéde, quáesumus, omnípotens Deus: ut hujus sacrificii munus oblatum, fragilitátem nostram ab omni malo purget semper, et muniat. Per Dóminum nostrum.
Which I translate as:
Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that the oblation of this sacrifice may ever purify and protect our frailty from all evil. Through our Lord.
Finally, in the Postcommunion we pray:
Múnera tua nos, Deus, a dilectiónibus terrénis expediant: et caeléstibus semper instaurent alimentis. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
May Thy gifts, O God, set us free us from earthly delights, and ever restore us with heavenly nourishments. Through our Lord.
Munus (gift, offering) connects us to the Secret, and the prayer for restoration (instaurare) connects us to the Collect. We need to be restored in order to be strengthened, and the means of our restoration is the heavenly nourishment of the Eucharist. Expedio (set us free) literally refers to the foot being set free from a snare, and that brings us back to standing straight despite the ship’s destabilizing movements. But it also reminds us what the snares in this life are. Earthly delights are not evil per se, but the Evil One can use them to ensnare us and make us beholden to what is lowest in us rather than what is highest in us. May Christ the skipper bring calm to the Barque of Peter and help us stand straight and free as His dignified disciples.
[1] Dom Gaspar Lefebvre, OSB, Saint Andrew Daily Missal (Saint Paul, Minnesota: E.M. Lohmann Co., 1953), p. 156.
[2] Homer, Odyssey 18.138-39. Translated by Stanley Lombardo (Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett, 2000), p. 280.
[3] Blaise Pascal, Pensées (Paris: Georges Crès et Cie, 1919), p. 147, trans. mine.
[4] See Vergil, Aeneid I.91ff.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Fearlessness of St John Chrysostom

Today is the feast of St John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople [1] from 397 until 404, when he was unlawfully deposed from his see. He was one of the first four Eastern Fathers to be officially recognized in the West as a Doctor of the Church, along with Ss Athanasius, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus. The epithet “Chrysostom” means “golden-mouthed”, since he has always been honored as one of the greatest preachers in the Church’s history. In 1908, Pope St Pius X declared him the Patron Saint of orators and public speakers, a role in which he is needed now as perhaps only very rarely before in the Church’s life; I attended a Mass on his feast day many years ago, the celebrant of which repeatedly called him, both while reading the prayers and in the sermon, “St John Christendom.”
Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s great cathedra in St Peter’s Basilica, in which the throne of Peter is supported by two Latin Doctors, Ambrose and Augustine (with miters), and two Greek Doctors, Athanasius and John Chrysostom.
There is a popular notion that with the coming of Constantine and the end of persecution, the Church somehow sold its soul in part or whole to the Roman Empire. The falsity of this was demonstrated long ago by GK Chesterton, who was a convert from Anglicanism, and knew a state-owned church when he saw one. In the chapter of The Everlasting Man called “The Five Deaths of the Faith”, he rightly pointed out that the Creed of most of the early Christian Emperors was not Christianity, but a version of it far more in keeping with the spirit of the age, that which we now call Arianism. Caesar did not usually appreciate the Church’s resistance to his dogmatic meddling, and persecuted the orthodox Fathers such as St Athanasius. St Eusebius of Vercelli, one of the great Western opponents of Arianism, is even honored as martyr, although he did not die a violent death, because he was hounded into exile by an Arian Emperor.

The same might well have been applied to John, who unlike Eusebius, died in his exile, both from the rigors of the journey and the terrible ill-treatment meted out to him; the date of his death was September 14, 407. In his case, Caesar’s wrath was provoked against him not by dogmatic issues, but by moral ones. The Empress Eudoxia was the wife of the famously useless Emperor Arcadius, a man wholly under the control of his ministers and court sycophants. Taking personal offense at John’s words against the immorality and extravagances of the nobility, she had already arranged once before for John to be exiled. He was swiftly recalled, partly because of the popular uprising in his favor, partly because a small earthquake in the city was seen as a sign of divine displeasure, especially by the highly superstitious Empress. However, when a silver statue of her was erected on a pillar in front of Hagia Sophia [2], the dedication of it was celebrated with a series of “games”, as the Romans called them, an immoral spectacle which also disturbed the liturgy. St John had often preached against public license of this very sort, even when a simple priest in Antioch, and did not hesitate to do so on this occasion well.

A mosaic of St John Chrysostom in Hagia Sophia, ca. 1000. (Public domain image from Wikipedia.)
His sermon began with the words “Herodias is again become furious; again she is troubled, again she dances; and again desires to receive John’s head on a plate.” [3] A synod full of bishops hostile to him and in the Empress’ control was convoked, and deposed him on a canonically invalid pretext, but he refused to relinquish his see. A particularly ugly episode followed in which soldiers were sent to drive the people out of the churches on Holy Saturday, resulting in no little bloodshed in the sacred places themselves. The order for the Saint’s banishment was finally and definitively issued during Pentecost week.

The scene of St John preaching before Herodias was painted by two French artists of the later 19th century, Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921) and Joseph Wencker (1848-1919). This choice of subject reflects various events of their era, particularly the conquest of the Papal State, and the subsequent “exile” of Bl. Pope Pius IX, who refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Kingdom of Italy by setting foot on land which it illegally occupied. More broadly, it refers to the general situation of the Church in that period. Italy’s was not the only government hostile to the Church and seeking to reduce or destroy its influence by diminishing or destroying its institutions; this was also era of the German Kulturkampf, and the infamous French law of Separation of Church and State was soon to follow in 1905.

Laurens’ painting is the smaller of the two, but the more forceful. (See a higher resolution version here.) The Empress looks down with an expressionless face at the Saint, confident in her eventual triumph over him, but at the same time, she is almost lost in the trappings of her position, less distinct than St John in his white robes. (John also appears to be rather older than he should; historically, he was only about 55 at the time.) Both artists seem to accept the idea, common in their time, that churches in this period were “still” very austere; note that all of the decoration in both paintings is centered around the Empress, while the pulpits and the walls are very plain.
Jean Paul Laurens, 1872
Wencker’s version, on the other hand, is much larger (almost 14½ feet by 20), and he fills the space by showing the crowd in the church, the clergy, the nobility and the poor, and their varied reaction to the Saint’s words. John is on eye level with the Empress, so that she has to look up in order to pretend not to notice him as he points directly at her.
Joseph Wencker, ca. 1880
[1] It was not until well after St John’s death that the title “Patriarch” was given to the archbishops of Constantinople, at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Even to this day, in the blessing at the end of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy which bears his name, he is referred to as “John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople”, as also in the liturgical calendar, whereas his Sainted successors after 451 are called “Patriarch.”

[2] Not the church which is seen in Constantinople today, a construction of the 6th century, but the original built by Constantine in the 4th century. At the news of John’s second exile, the city was wracked with riots, during which the first Hagia Sophia was burnt down; nothing now remains of it. Its replacement, dedicated in 415, was also destroyed by riots, a very popular pastime in Constantinople, in 532; the present structure was built very shortly thereafter, by the Emperor Justinian.

[3] In the original edition of his Lives of the Saints, Alban Butler wrote that “Montfaucon refutes this slander, trumped up by his enemies. The sermon extant under that title is a manifest forgery.” Modern writers, including Butler’s revisers, all seem to accept its authenticity.

A New Harmonization of the Ambrosian Gloria, by Dr Kwasniewski

Enjoy this new recording of a harmonization of the Ambrosian Gloria in excelsis, composed by our own Dr Peter Kwasniewski.

The Ambrosian Gloria may be found in the Liber Usualis, and used ad libitum; even though Ambrosian chant is perceptibly very different from Gregorian chant, I would say it fits well with most Mass settings. Here is a very nice recording of the original, with images of the notation below.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

No Specific “Spirituality” and No “Charism” of Its Own — Guest Article by Clemens Victor Oldendorf

Part 3 of the detailed analysis of the Responsa ad dubia of the Congregation for Divine Worship: Various restrictions on the celebration of Mass in the “former” Roman Rite and a compelling consequence of this. (For the German original, see hereFor a translation of parts 1 & 2, see here.)

After some interruption, we return to the Responsa ad dubia, with which the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments seeks to clarify details regarding the understanding and implementation of the Motu Proprio Traditionis Custodes. In the analysis today, the focus is on a basic duct of the answers that pervades almost the entire document—and on a resulting inconsistency.

It is already known in principle that Traditionis Custodes refers only to the celebration of Mass celebrated by a simple priest [1] using the 1962 Missale Romanum. Our further considerations are based on the recommendation in the Responsa that the permission to celebrate such Holy Masses be limited in time, then evaluated, as it were, and only thereafter extended or withdrawn, as the case may be.

It is clear from the text as a whole that it is assumed as the usual situation that all priests celebrate predominantly according to the postconciliar Rite of Paul VI, at most inter alia (and to a certain extent incidentally) also in the earlier Roman Rite. Since neither Traditionis Custodes itself nor the responses of the Congregation for Divine Worship addresses the special case of priests who previously had permission to celebrate exclusively in the Tridentine manner, it must be assumed that these priests, whether or not they are members of a previously exclusively Old Rite community, must, like all others, again seek and receive permission to use the Tridentine Missale Romanum in its latest edition under the new legal situation according to Traditionis Custodes. This is especially clear because of the additional stricter provisions regarding new priests who were ordained chronologically after Traditionis Custodes and will be ordained in the future.

On the one hand, it is questionable whether someone who wants to continue to celebrate exclusively Tridentine is still considered suitable to receive permission to use the 1962 Missale Romanum (or whether such a man should be ordained a priest now at all). On the other hand, however, it follows from this that in principle there can be no comprehensive and exclusive attachment to, or a fortiori a complete and permanent commitment to, the traditional Roman liturgy at all. Neither the attachment nor the commitment can be comprehensive, because there is a restriction to the celebration of the Holy Mass [2]; neither of them can be exclusive, because this would imply a refusal to recognize the post-conciliar “reformed” Roman Rite as the “sole expression of the lex orandi.”

Also in the sense of non-exclusivity must be understood the clarification that a permission is only valid within one’s own diocese, for religious or institute priests probably in the diocese where they have their permanent residence. [3] (As with the faculty of confession, it would make sense here if a priest who has permission within his diocese could at least also invoke it within the territory of the respective bishops’ conference. Moreover, anyone who has lawfully received permission to celebrate the Tridentine liturgy somewhere should be able to make use of it wherever he is merely temporarily outside his diocese. [4])

Liturgical tradition-rootedness as an amiable feature?

Considering all this, it was tactically unwise in the past for members of the former Ecclesia Dei communities to represent their personal or corporate rootedness in the traditional liturgy as a specific “spirituality” or as a concrete, particular “charism,” distinct from others, to which a special vocation corresponded. Traditionis Custodes actually puts beyond doubt that, at least in the future and to the extent that it remains in force and is enforced, such a vocation cannot exist at all, since no vocation exists or is experienced only on an individual, personal level, but must be “objectified,” in that a competent ecclesiastical authority examines, recognizes, and accepts the vocation. If the assumptions of Traditionis Custodes were factually correct, one would have to conclude, strictly speaking, that an exclusively Tridentine spirituality and a corresponding vocation to it could never have existed after the post-Vatican liturgical reform.

By assuming a specific spirituality and a charism of one’s own, one (indirectly or somehow tactically) calculatedly retracted the claim that a tradition-oriented liturgical and spiritual sensibility was decisive for the whole Church and thus hoped—in many cases perhaps even unconsciously—for greater tolerance of one’s own liturgical preferences and needs. Now, however, the tables seem to have been turned.

Affirmation of the daily one-time celebration in principle welcome

The Responsa further exclude, within the specific limitations of the Tridentine rite of Mass, bination with the 1962 Missale Romanum, that is, the possibility of allowing a priest to celebrate twice on the same day. In principle, this is expressly to be welcomed, because the Church does not consider the multiple celebration of Holy Mass on one day by one and the same celebrant to be optimal, regardless of the rite, and only permits it in exceptional cases. Nor is this changed by the fact that, owing to a general shortage of priests, the vast majority of priests in parish pastoral care have to regularly binate or say even more than two Masses on Sundays and holy days as well as sometimes the prior evenings in the new rite. (Only in parenthesis is it critically noted here that in many cases this state of affairs would have to consistently put the appropriateness and justification of the post-conciliar practice of concelebration to the test.)

Furthermore, the Responsa are to be unambiguously agreed with when they prohibit, so to speak, a devotional combination. By this, I mean the case of a priest in pastoral care who, because of his official duties, had already celebrated with the current missal of Paul VI, but who on the same day wanted to celebrate again privately in the Tridentine manner. The corresponding regulation is also understandable and to be affirmed when it concerns celebrations for two different groups on a day without Sunday obligation or also on a day with Sunday obligation, if the distance to the place where a Tridentine Mass is celebrated for one group is not so great that it would be unreasonable or impossible for the second group (or individuals from it) to go to the place where the priest celebrates a TLM. If, however, the distance is too great, bination should be possible quite normally, provided that there is an obligation to attend Mass on the day on which bination occurs. The recurring argument in the Responsa of December 18, 2021 that the faithful are, after all, at liberty to join in celebrating Mass in the new rite may well correspond to the stated aim of the Motu Proprio of July 16, 2021, [5] but above all shows a complete lack of understanding for the faithful who are actually at home in the traditional liturgy.

Therefore, on Sundays and obligatory feasts, priests who have already celebrated in the new rite should also be allowed to celebrate a second time a TLM for a group, if necessary.

In all these and in various other details, the bishops’ competence is curtailed by Traditionis Custodes, which in no way strengthens them in their responsibility and authority, but which is a new, hitherto unknown example of the otherwise much-maligned Roman centralism and makes the alleged will for synodality completely implausible.

Tridentine exclusivity not ideal or desired goal already in Summorum Pontificum

It is true that already in Summorum Pontificum the existence of stable groups was presupposed, and as a rule it was also presupposed that priests celebrate predominantly in the then so-defined “ordinary form” and that the faithful, in the sense of mutual enrichment, should naturally attend both forms, but it was practically speaking not excluded that someone may decide to attend exclusively Masses in the usus antiquior. This cannot be prevented even now, but it is made clearer by these documents that the TLMs, which are still permitted at present on the basis of Traditionis Custodes, do not serve the purpose of giving such persons institutional-internal Church “living space” [Lebensraum] or even of offering them ecclesiastical structures and providing suitable places for divine worship.

The inconsistency or contradiction that arises in the responses and explanatory notes of the Congregation for Divine Worship in connection with the notion of a group is that TLMs are understood exclusively as a provisional, temporary concession to such a group. Therefore, they are not to be published in the bulletin, are not to be held in parish churches (or only as an exception), and are not to be held at the same time as other parish activities. All of this obviously serves the purpose of ensuring that, if possible, no one will encounter such a Mass involuntarily, by accident or by chance. It almost seems like an intra-ecclesial quarantine for the infected. Since Corona, this attitude seems very familiar. The only difference is that the virus, which in the eyes of Pope Francis specifically infects Catholics, is apparently called Tridentina-62, along with all its variants going back further.

How is a legitimate membership in the group defined and determined?

Thus the question arises how, or on the basis of which characteristic, someone can at all rightfully belong to such a “group” for which the Tridentine Mass is currently still celebrated. The exclusive or even predominant attachment to the Tridentine rite of Mass can hardly be the criterion, because such an attachment is openly held to be undesirable and thus cannot be the prerequisite by which someone proves his suitability to be able to enjoy or be allowed to enjoy a permission or “concession” on the basis of Traditionis Custodes. Rather, too clear a preference for the Tridentine liturgy would disqualify both priests and faithful in that case.


[1] Significantly, Traditionis Custodes does not deal explicitly with bishops or other higher prelates who use the 1962 Missale Romanum. Another part of the present series of articles on the Responsa ad dubia will be devoted to this problem.

[2] That, analogous to the possibility (!) of allowing the use of the pre-conciliar Rituale Romanum in existing, canonically established personal parishes, such a concession could be made internally (!) to the former Ecclesia Dei communities is possible, but in the general climate since Traditionis Custodes seems nevertheless somewhat unlikely.

[3] Also for certain secular priests who were not ordained for their actual home diocese, but are incardinated in certain dioceses that are considered to be particularly tradition-friendly, the question of permission arises anew, especially if they do not live and work within the diocese to which they belong by incardination.

[4] For example, when traveling or during pilgrimages. That this would happen at least for members of the former Ecclesia Dei communities would normally be obvious, but one can by no means assume it with certainty in this case either.

[5] And ultimately also to the earlier logic of a rite in two forms.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Liturgical Notes on the Conversion of St Paul

In light of the Church’s very ancient tradition of celebrating the Saints’ feasts on the day of their death, when they attain to their heavenly reward, the Conversion of St Paul is almost unique in specifically commemorating the beginning of a Saint’s career. I say “almost” because traditionally, many feasts of bishops are kept on the date of their episcopal ordination. However, this custom arose from cases like that of St Basil the Great, who died on January 1st, where another feast was already in place, or St Ambrose, who died on Holy Saturday of 397, April 4th, a date which frequently occurs in Holy Week or the Easter octave. (A more recent example is Pope St John Paul II, who died on April 2, and is kept on October 22, the day of his Papal inauguration.) There is no feast analogous to the Conversion of St Paul for the callings of the other Apostles, although the Gospel accounts thereof may be read on their feast days.

The Conversion of St Paul, from the Hours of Simon de Varie, 1455 (Public domain image from Wikimedia)
The reason for the choice of date for this feast is unknown. An early martyrology attributed to St Jerome refers to January 25 as the “translation” of St Paul. One would suppose that the feast must therefore be Roman in origin, since the only known major translation of St Paul’s relics took place within Rome. However, it actually originated in the Gallican Rite; it is absent from the oldest Roman lectionary, and the most ancient sacramentaries. At the beginning of the eighth century, the feast first appears with the title of “Conversio” on the calendar of St Willibrord, and by 750, in the second oldest lectionary of the Roman Rite.

With its classic liturgical conservatism, the church of Rome was slow to adopt new liturgical formulae even for some of the most venerated Saints. As I have noted in previous articles, it was almost the only place to have no proper Office for St Nicholas, and only a very partial one for St Mary Magdalene. Likewise, the Roman Mass and Office of St Paul’s Conversion are copied, with some adjustments, from the older and specifically Roman feast on June 30th, originally known as the “dies natalis – the birth (into heaven)” of St Paul, and later as the “Commemoration of St Paul”.

Among the Gregorian propers of the Mass, the Introit, Gradual, Offertory, and Communion are the same on both days, while only the Alleluia differs. Of the three prayers, the Collect of the Commemoration is partly rewritten for the Conversion, the Secret is the same, the Postcommunion differs, but the latter two make no reference to the feast. The Scriptural readings of the Conversion, Acts 9, 1-22 and Matthew 19, 27-29, were both originally used on the Commemoration, and then later changed on that day (since the liturgical conservatism of Rome was strong, but not absolute.) The Roman Office of the Conversion has only two musical propers distinct from those of the Commemoration, the Magnificat antiphon of first Vespers (which was suppressed in 1955) and the Invitatory.

The Introit Scio cui credidi

In his History of the Roman Breviary, Mons. Pierre Batiffol dedicates a large portion of the sixth chapter (almost 40 pages in the 1912 English edition) to a congregation appointed by Pope Benedict XIV (1740-58) in 1741 to make and study various proposals for a reform of the Breviary. The consultors agreed that the Commemoration of St Paul should be suppressed from the general calendar, since the Pope no longer went to the Apostle’s tomb on that day, which was the feast’s original purpose. On the other hand, there was no question that the Conversion of St Paul should be retained. This proposal for the secondary feasts of St Paul was implemented in the post-Conciliar reform, which often claimed to return to the original customs of the Roman Rite, but in this case, completely suppressed a feast which is indisputably Roman and ancient, and retained one which is indisputably not Roman and later.

Batiffol also notes that one of the consultors of the congregation, noticing that the musical propers in the Office of January 25th make no reference to the feast, composed a whole new Office for it based on the reading from Acts 9. The congregation, whose work was never implemented, and whose papers were not rediscovered and published until well over a century later, rejected the proposal. For all his trouble, the poor consultor might just as easily have proposed the adoption of the proper Office for the feast then used by the Dominicans, which contains a number of very beautiful texts, such as the third responsory for Matins.

R. A Christo de caelo vocátus, et in terra prostrátus, ex persecutóre effectus est vas electiónis: et plus ómnibus labórans, multo latius inter omnes verbi gratiam seminávit, * atque doctrínam evangélicam sua praedicatióne complévit. V. Inter Apóstolos vocatióne novíssimus, praedicatióne primus, nomen Christi multárum manifestávit gentium pópulis. Atque. Gloria Patri. Atque.
R. Called by Christ from heaven, and laid low upon the earth, from a persecutor, he became a chosen vessel, and laboring more than all others, sowed the grace of the word much more broadly among all, * and completed the teaching of the Gospel by his preaching. V. Last among the Apostles by vocation, but first in preaching, he made the name of Christ known to the people of the nations. And. Glory be. And.

The Preaching of St Paul at Ephesus, by Eustache Le Sueur, 1649 (Public domain image from Wikimedia.)
In this same Office, the Magnificat antiphon at Second Vespers is the only one taken from one of St Paul’s Epistles, Galatians 1, 15-16.

Aña Cum autem complacuit ei qui me segregavit ex utero matris meae, et vocavit per gratiam suam, ut revelaret in me Filium suum in gentibus, continuo non acquievi carni et sanguine. ~ But when it pleased Him, who set me apart me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal His Son in me among the Gentiles, immediately I condescended not to flesh and blood.

New Anthology of Ecclesiastical Documents on Education from the Last 100 Years

Including many documents translated from Latin and published in English for the first time.

Published by Newman House Press, The Mission of Catholic Schools: A Century of Reflection and Direction, is recommended for all those interested in Catholic education. This is the first full anthology of all pertinent ecclesiastical documents published in the last 100 years, with a large proportion translated and published in English for the first time. That rubric includes papal teachings, texts from the Second Vatican Council, the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Code of Canon Law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Fr Peter Stravinskas, the Program Director of Pontifex Universities Masters in Catholic School Administration, and who co-edited this (with Fr Nicholas Gregoris who did all the translation work) told me:

Although the Church has been engaged in the education apostolate from her earliest days, it was deemed necessary to take on a reasonable focus—a century of reflection seemed to fit the bill, beginning with the pontificate of Benedict XV and ending with that of Francis. 

It is a must for libraries of Catholic schools and colleges, and a perfect resource for curriculum development, Catholic identity assessment, professional development seminars and the creation of mission statements.

To order The Mission of Catholic Schools: A Century of Reflection and Direction, go to Product Code: REL-31-1630, here.

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Monday, January 24, 2022

“Moments of Liturgical Action”: Recovering the Sacramentality of Biblical Lections

In his work Philosophy of Cult — published, so far, only in Russian and in an Italian translation La Filosofia del Culto, from the latter of which the following translation was made by Zachary Thomas — Pavel Florensky articulates the orthodox understanding of Scripture, in contrast to the Protestant one:

The apostolic letters and the Holy Gospel are often considered books. The Holy Gospel and the holy apostolic letters are not “books,” but rather moments of liturgical action, deriving from the liturgy, where they do not have a simply narrative or purely edifying meaning, but one even more important — precisely an active, sacramental meaning.
          In short, even to read the Holy Scriptures is something that acquires its full significance only liturgically, in prayer, and not outside of the liturgy…. To remove it from this context, even if it is very pleasing to do so, would mean to secularize it. Just as it is impossible to walk down the street wearing a chasuble just because it is a beautiful garment; the moment one did so it would be equal to desecrating the holy vestments.
          It is good to reflect on rules of conduct in the same way. The holy fasts, for example, do not have an autonomy or moral order to themselves. They are rather tied to the liturgy; they play a part in the liturgical order akin to the preparation for Holy Communion, the ritual organization of life. They are therefore an ordo, or rather a liturgical moment, a moment of the ecclesiastical function.
          The instruction in our seminaries and in our ecclesiastical schools is mistaken from the start, from the moment that it is characterized by a certain autonomy of theology and even of diverse theologies — “dogmatic,” “moral,” and so on. In this entirely formal program a Protestant mode of thinking is already embedded, because Protestantism is in its essence the negation of the centrality of cult and the substitution of the center of religion with thought that, of its nature, cannot but be autonomous.
          Personally I have not the slightest doubt that orthodox instruction centers itself on cult — not on teaching about cult, but on life in cult — and thus the diverse “subjects” are only moments in the study of cult. But as soon as they become autonomous and forgetful of cult, in spite of their contents they end up in the orbit of Protestantism. In fact, even if they are orthodox in respect to the content delivered, nevertheless by not being centered on cult they are eccentric in respect to orthodoxy — which is to say they are Protestant.
Never have I found so well stated the basic difference between the traditional conception and practice of readings found in the usus antiquior and the modern conception and practice found in the Novus Ordo. The former is orthodox in the broad but precise sense; the latter is Protestant in Florensky’s sense. The observation that the postconciliar liturgical reform emerged from and resulted in protestantization is commonplace, but generally the focus is on something like the reduction and removal of sacrificial language from the Offertory and the Eucharistic Prayer; seldom is it seen how protestantized is the novel approach to the Scriptures.

The Roman tradition shows us attitudes that match Florensky’s account. In his superb biography of the saint, Fr. Augustine Thompson describes St. Francis of Assisi’s attitude towards scraps of parchment that had the words of Scripture or the name of God written on them, which he insisted should be collected and kept in suitable places, because they were a form of divine presence. This would strike many moderns as superstitious only because we live in a world denuded of sacrality, deaf to the transcendent vibration of symbolism:
For Christians of his age, the words of scripture were not merely didactic reminders of past events or moral norms. As divine words, they were a locus of power. Merely pronouncing them, as when the bishop read the beginning of the four Gospels toward the city gates facing the four points of the compass during springtime Rogation processions, put demonic powers to flight. When used by Brother Silvester over the city of Arezzo, the divine words could, by their very power, end civil strife.
          Now, when Francis began to chant from the book of Gospels as a deacon, he himself proclaimed and enacted the words of power. A perplexed brother once asked Francis about his practice of collecting such scraps of parchment, and he replied: “Son, I do this because they have the letters that compose the glorious name of the Lord God, and the good that is found there does not belong to the pagans nor to any human being, but to God alone, to whom every good thing belongs.”....
          Before, as a simple cleric singing the Office, he had chanted the psalms of David; now, as a deacon, he read the very words of Christ. At Solemn Mass, he did so facing north — the direction of darkness and, for medieval minds, paganism, and thus putting both to flight. That certain clerics treated these powerful and holy texts with disrespect outraged Francis’s acute spiritual sense. To leave sacred books on the floor or in dishonorable places was, in its own way, as sacrilegious as the desecration of the Host. Ever more intensely, Francis associated his own experience before the Cross, his transforming encounter with the lepers, and the divine commission to live the Gospel perfectly with the immediate, unmediated presence of Christ given to each Christian in Word and Sacrament.
In the traditional liturgy, the readings are given “eccentrically,” that is, directed away from the people in a different direction (either eastward or northward). This shows that the Word is first of all a glorification of and an exultation in the truth God has spoken, done on behalf of the worshiping congregation, and only secondarily an illumination of the ones present. A sign that this must be right is that the readings are still read even if no congregation is present to be instructed. (Certainly, the priest may be instructed himself, qua baptized Christian, but the scenario seems absurd from an excessively didactic point of view; one would think, on the didactic model, that readings should be skipped when there is no congregation.) Put differently, the Word of God is greater than and exceeds every gathering of the Church; it convokes but also transcends the Church.

Hence the least proper direction for chanting is directly at the faithful, as if the Word is subordinate to them, rather than they to it. Chanting, or speaking, the readings at the faithful betrays precisely that anti-cultic Protestant conception Florensky critiques. In today’s context the directing of readings towards the people has one and only one meaning: this action is enclosed within the present gathering, having its finality in the reception and comprehension (such as it is) of the listeners. This contributes to the “closed circle” phenomenon that Joseph Ratzinger diagnosed as the primary disease of postconciliar worship.

No one denies that the Scripture lessons have an instructional element. They are intelligible words meant to be grasped by intellect. But the most important element of the instruction imparted is not textual biblical knowledge but fear and reverence towards the infallible, inspired, awesome Word of God, such that we intuitively feel that this book is qualitatively different from any other book, that it measures us (our minds are subordinate to its wisdom) rather than being measured by us (the arrogant error of modern biblical criticism).

That I personally should venerate the Word of God as inerrant and infallible, the purest, highest, and most reliable testimony to divine truth available to me in this life, is an attitude and a mentality I learned from the solemnly chanted readings of the traditional Mass, not from the wearisome wordiness of the Novus Ordo that turns the church into a classroom. It is even enough to see the readings devoutly read at a low Mass by the priest facing the altar to acquire a sense that there is something special about these words, since they are being placed on the altar, as it were, as a verbal homage to God.
In words reminiscent of Florensky, Martin Mosebach in The Heresy of Formlessness writes about how the liturgical announcing of the readings in general, and of the Gospel in particular, are not mere declarations of texts, but are ways of making Christ present in the church:
The reading of the Gospel is far more than “proclamation”: it is one of the ways in which Christ becomes present. The Church has always understood it to be a blessing, a sacramental, effecting the remission of sins, as is affirmed by the “Per evangelica dicta deleantur nostra delicta” [by these evangelical words may our sins be blotted out] that recalls the Misereatur after the Confiteor. The Gospel’s sacramental character, effectively remitting sins, is surely the decisive argument for its being read in the sacred language. The liturgical signs of the procession make this character particularly clear…. The liturgy had taken over from the court ceremonial of the pagan emperors the symbolic language for the presence of the supreme sovereign: candles, which preceded the emperor, and the thurible. Whenever candles and incense appear in the liturgy, they indicate a new culmination of the divine presence. At the reading of the Gospel the candles of the Gospel procession and the incensing of the Gospel book as well as of the celebrating priest once more indicate the presence of the teaching Christ. The readings are not simply a “proclamation” but above all the creation of a presence.
It is, needless to say, a minority view that the chanting of the readings at Mass is an act of worship directed to God as well as an instruction for the people. In fact, there is something counterintuitive about this idea. After all, it would seem obvious that the reason Scripture is read in the Mass is to educate the faithful. But it is not so simple as a binary “either/or.” The traditional Roman liturgy tends, over the centuries, to turn everything into a prayer directed to God, as if there should be no place in the liturgy for something that is exclusively “for the people.” A great example of this is how the Creed is recited or sung in the usus antiquior. We all know that the Creed is a confession of faith, that it is basically a list of dogmas held by Christians. It has no obvious characteristics of being a prayer directed to God; rather, it looks like a badge of orthodoxy by which we signify our orthodoxy in the sight of the Church. And yet, in the usus antiquior the priest recites the Creed ad orientem at the high altar, bowing the head at the name of Jesus, genuflecting at the Et incarnatus est, and making the sign of the cross at the Et vitam venturi saeculi, concluding with an “Amen.” In this way the profession of orthodoxy has been turned into a prayer to the Triune God, a manner of communing with the One who has graciously revealed His mysteries to man.

What we see with the Credo is what we see with every element in the Mass, Office, and other sacramental rites. The whole liturgy is for God, and in fact its highest educational value consists precisely in communicating to the people the primacy and ultimacy of God, that He is the Alpha and Omega of all our exterior and interior acts, including the act of listening to readings and comprehending them. In a sense, the readings are offered up to God so that we may be offered up to Him in our understanding of the Word and the affections stirred up by it. This is why it does not matter so much whether or not every word is intelligible; what matters far more is to see that this Word is divine, holy, heavenly, that we are standing on holy ground. The verbal comprehension can follow in due time, but we will never grasp the Word rightly if we do not first venerate it as divine and worship the God from whom it emanates and in whose presence it comes alive.

The traditional Roman Rite indicates again and again its fundamental orthodoxy by not treating “the apostolic letters and the Holy Gospel” as mere “books,” but by treating them as “moments of liturgical action, deriving from the liturgy, where they do not have a simply narrative or purely edifying meaning, but one even more important — precisely an active, sacramental meaning.” Once more we see how the true meeting of East and West must take place not by means of papal visits to Cyprus or other staged events fueled by hot air, but by means of recovering our common catholic liturgical heritage and purging forever its protestantized simulacrum.

I would be remiss if I did not close with the following ironic observation. Catholic clergy and academics for decades have tended to align themselves with liberal Protestant biblical critics who end up undermining the inerrancy of Scripture. “Traditional” Protestants (if I may indulge an oxymoron) hold much more closely to the authentic Catholic position than today's Catholics often do. We can therefore say that a Protestant who really understood the implications of his own claims about Scripture (the journey of Scott Hahn from evangelical to Latin Mass attendee comes to mind) would necessarily gravitate toward the orthodox understanding of the primacy of the liturgical presencing of the Word, that is, what we see in the classical Roman Rite. In this way, traditional Catholics and “traditional” Protestants have much more in common than either of them has with the mainstream of Catholic academia or the mentality of the liturgical reformers.

Eastward reading in an oriental liturgy

Sunday, January 23, 2022

A Byzantine Hymn in the Ambrosian Rite

In the Ambrosian Rite, the Third Sunday after Epiphany presents a nice example, one among many, of a text borrowed from the Byzantine liturgy. The Ambrosian corpus of Mass antiphons is much smaller than the Roman one, and many pieces are used on several Sundays over the course of the liturgical year. These are arranged in the antiphonary in a Common of Sundays, and sung in rotation. On the Sundays after the octave of Epiphany, however, an exception is made for the Transitorium, the equivalent of the Roman Communion, of which there are proper ones used only in that period, with particularly beautiful texts.

On the Third Sunday, the transitorium is a Latin translation of a hymn sung on Christmas in the Byzantine Rite, composed by St Andrew of Crete, who was born in the mid-7th century; the year of his death is variously given as 712, 726 or 740. This is the first of a series of “stichera”, as they are called, texts sung between verses of the Laudate Psalms (148-149-150) towards the end of the longest (by far!) of the canonical Hours, Orthros.

Laetamini justi, caeli exultate, jucundate montes, Christo genito; Virgo sedebat, Cherubim imitans, in gremio portans Dei Verbum incarnatum. Pastores stellam mirantur; Magi Domino munera offerunt; Angeli Salvatorem adorantes clamant: Incomprehensibilis Domine, gloria tibi! – Rejoice, ye just; exsult, ye heavens, be glad, ye mountains, at the birth of Christ. The Virgo sat, imitating the Cherubim, bearing in Her lap the Word of God Incarnate. The shepherds wonder at the star, the Magi offer their gifts to the Lord; the Angels, worshipping the Savior cry out, ‘O incomprehensible Lord, glory to Thee!’ (Video by Antonio Maria Abate; cantor Andrea di Martino)

The Greek original, which does not include the phrase “the shepherds wonder at the star” found in the Latin version.
In the following video of the All-Night Vigil of Christmas at the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow this year, the Church Slavonic version of this hymn begins at 19:00. (On the Julian calendar, Christmas is currently celebrated on the Gregorian date of January 7th. - Due to whatever scheduling mix-up, the camera was not turned until Orthros was about half-way over, so most of the vigil is missing here.)
This transitorium is also used on the fifth Sunday after Epiphany, which is very rarely celebrated, and also at the Mass of any feria occurring in the weeks following these Sundays. (As in the Roman Rite, the Ambrosian calendar of Saints is very full in January and the beginning of February, so this doesn’t happen very often.)

The texts of the other transitoria of the season after Epiphany are also very beautiful.

II after Epiphany Mysterium magnum factum est in Babylonia, ut caminus extingueretur. tribus pueris exsultatnibus, dicentibus, “Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.” – A great mystery happened in Babylon, that the furnace should be extinguished, as the three children rejoiced, saying “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

IV after Epiphany Te laudamus, Domine omnipotens, qui sedes super Cherubim, et Seraphim, quem benedicunt Angeli, Archangeli, et laudant Prophetæ, et Apostoli. Te laudamus, Domine, orando, qui venisti peccata solvendo. Te deprecamur magnum Redemptorem, quem Pater misit ovium Pastorem. Tu es Christus Dominus Salvator, qui de Maria Virgine es natus. Hunc sacrosanctum Calicem sumentes, ab omni culpa libera nos semper. – We praise Thee, Lord Almighty, who sittest upon the Cherubim and Seraphim, whom the Angels and Archangels bless, and the Prophets and Apostles praise. We praise Thee, o Lord, in our prayer, who came to destroy (our) sins. We beseech the great Redeemer, whom the Faher sent as the shepherd of the sheep. Thou are Christ the Lord, the Savior, who wast born of the Virgin Mary. As we received this most holy Chalice, deliver us always from every sin.

The Mass of the “Sixth Sunday after Epiphany” is always said on the Sunday before Septuagesima, and the transitorium reflects the beginning of the passage to the penitential season of Fore-Lent.

VI after Epiphany Convertimini filii hominum, dum habetis tempus, dicit Dominus, et ego scribam nomina vestra in libro Patris mei, qui est in caelis. – Be converted, ye sons of men, while ye have time, saith the Lord, and I will write your names in the book of My Father who is in heaven.

As always, thanks to Nicola de’ Grandi, who provided part of the material for this post.

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