Friday, May 27, 2022

Mass of the Ages: Episode 2

As I am sure many of you have already seen, the second part of the Mass of the Ages trilogy premiered yesterday. This part talks a good deal about what the Second Vatican Council asked for, and how its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium was betrayed by the machinations of Abp Annibale Bugnini and the other members of the Consilium ad exsequendam. Among the speakers featured are our own Dr Peter Kwasniewski and Matthew Hazell, as well as Dom Alcuin Reid, and Joseph Shaw of the Latin Mass Society. Once again, our congratulations to Cameron O’Hearn and his many collaborators on a job very well done; we are definitely looking forward to part 3. Feliciter! You can find more information about the project at the website:

Take the ‘Mas’ Challenge

Ralph Fiennes in Quiz Show, 1994

Attention all lovers of the Roman liturgical tradition and the English language: We have a three-part challenge for you.

First, without scrolling down and seeing the answers, write down as many single-word names as you can of feast days and other liturgical occasions known by a name ending in “mas” or “mass.” The most obvious is Christ’s Mass or Christmas, but there are at least twenty one others (although one entry consists of two words).

Second, after you have compared your list with ours and graded yourself, see how many of the names you can properly define. Some are easy, others surprisingly difficult.
Third, see if you can surpass our list. We found almost all these words by scouring the Oxford English Dictionary, but our search was by no means exhaustive and there may be more. Write your own discoveries in the combox below.
We recently turned this challenge into a parlor game, and it was great fun, especially if your friends fit into that small Venn diagram of being both liturgical and linguistic nerds.
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen on What’s My Line?
The following is an alphabetical listing of masophorous words, that is, words bearing “-mas” (a horrible neologism I just made up):
  1. Andrewmass
  2. Candlemas
  3. Childermas
  4. Christmas or Christenmas
  5. Crouchmas
  6. Ellenmas
  7. Georgemas
  8. Hallowmas
  9. Johnsmas
  10. Kermas
  11. Ladymas
  12. Lammas
  13. Latter Marymass
  14. Lukesmas
  15. Martinmas
  16. Martlemas
  17. Marymass
  18. Michaelmas or Michmas
  19. Petermas
  20. Roodmas
  21. Saumas
  22. Uphalimass
Ann Arbor Dominicans beating a team of Protestant ministers on The American Bible Challenge
The definitions of these words, in chronological order, are:
  1. Uphalimass, Epiphany, January 6--“up” can mean "completed, over" and “hali” is short for haliday or holiday. Epiphany is the end of the Christmas holidays
  2. Candlemas, The Purification of the BVM, February 2--from the blessing of candles on this day
  3. Ladymas, The Annunciation of the BVM, March 25 (although it can also pertain to just about any Marian feast)
  4. Georgemas, St. George, April 23
  5. Crouchmas, “Cross Mass,” the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross, May 3
  6. Johnsmas, St. John the Baptist, June 24
  7. Petermas, St. Peter [and St. Paul], June 29. Originally, though, it was the Feast of St. Peter in Chains, August 1
  8. Lammas, “Loaf Mass”, August 1. Lammas Day was never officially on the calendar, but it was still a big deal in England and Ireland, when a loaf made from the first grains of the harvest was taken to church and blessed
  9. Marymass, The Assumption of the BVM, August 15
  10. Ellenmas, St. Helen, August 18 [1]
  11. Latter Marymass. The Nativity of the BVM, September 8. If Assumption Day is the first Mary Mass of the season, Mary’s birthday is the occasion for the “later Mary Mass”--at least before the institution of the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the BVM on September 15 centuries later
  12. Roodmas, The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, September 14.  A “rood” is a crucifix placed on top of a rood screen, that is, lifted high or exalted, as in the "Dream of the Rood". It's amazing how precise our language can be about crosses
  13. Michaelmas, St. Michael the Archangel, September 29
  14. Lukesmas, St. Luke, October 18
  15. Hallowmas, All Saints’ Day, November 1
  16. Saumas, All Souls’ Day, November 2 (not to be confused with a “Soul Mass,” i.e., a Requiem Mass)
  17. Martinmas, St. Martin of Tours, November 11
  18. Martlemas, ibid.
  19. Andrewmass, St. Andrew, November 30
  20. Christmas or Christenmas, December 25
  21. Childermas, Holy Innocents, December 28
  22. Kermas or Kermis, a “church Mass,” that is, the anniversary of the dedication of a church. The term quickly migrated to an “annual fair or carnival, characterized by much noisy merry-making” or, in the U.S., a festival held for charitable purposes.
And in the odd category of pseudo-occasions is #23 1/2, Nevermas, “a time or date which never comes.” The phrase may have been inspired by the use of “latter Lammas,” which means the same thing: Lammas Day commemorates the very beginning of the wheat harvest, so a later Lammas is a contradiction in terms and thus an impossibility. A third liturgical term for never, incidentally, is “when two Sundays come together.” Casually work any of these into conversation when you want to say no to someone.
Did we miss anything? If so, let us know!

The author wishes to thank Dr. Melinda Nielsen, Dr. Reid Makowsky, Katherine Makowsky, Alexandra Foley, and Rosie for making the maiden voyage of this game a grand success.
[1] According to the OED: “St. Helena’s day; but the date intended is uncertain. Two saints of the name were commemorated in England: ‘St. Helen the virgin,’ perhaps the one whose day is May 22; and Helena the mother of Constantine. The latter is probably intended here; her festival is August 18, but the Sarum Martyrology assigns ‘Saynt Elene’ to May 18, the date of her translation.”

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Ascension of the Lord 2022

Men of Galilee, why do you wonder looking up to heaven? alleluia. As you have seen Him going into heaven, so shall He come, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Ps 46 All ye nations, clap your hands: shout unto God with the voice of joy. Glory be... Men of Galilee... (The Introit of the Ascension)

The Ascension, 1495-98, by Pietro Perugino (1448-1523); public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
Introitus Viri Galilaei, quid admirámini aspicientes in caelum? allelúja: quemádmodum vidistis eum ascendentem in caelum, ita veniet, allelúja, allelúja, allelúja. Ps. 46 Omnes gentes, pláudite mánibus: jubiláte Deo in voce exsultatiónis. Gloria Patri... Viri Galilaei...

A motet by Palestrina on a similar text.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Durandus on the Minor Litanies

The following excerpts are taken from book VI, chapter 102 of William Durandus’ treatise on the Divine Offices.

On the three days before the feast of the Lord’s Ascension, the Rogations, which are also called the Litanies: the Greek word “litania” in Latin is “supplication”, or “rogation” (from ‘rogare – to ask’), on which the Holy Church asks God… to destroy the counsel of those who wish to live outside Her peace. At the same time, we also beseech God that He may defend us from a sudden death, and from every infirmity, and we ask the Saints, that they may intercede for us before God. …

The Procession of St Gregory the Great, by an anonymous Sienese painter of the mid-16th century. The traditional story recounts that when the procession described below reached the Mausoleum of Hadrian, which is fairly close to St Peter’s Basilica, an angel appeared over it with a drawn sword in his hand, which he then sheathed, symbolizing the end of the plague as in 2 Samuel 24.
Now the Litanies are two, the Greater and the Lesser. The Greater is on the feast of the blessed Mark, and was created by the blessed Gregory (the Great), because of a plague, which caused a swelling of the groin. Paul, a monk of Monte Cassino, the author of “The History of the Lombards”, wrote the story of its institution, saying that in the time of Pope Pelagius (II, 579-90) there was so great a flood in Italy, that the waters rose as high as the upper windows of the temple of Nero in Rome … Then there came forth up the Tiber a multitude of serpents, and one very large dragon among them, whose breath corrupted the air; from this came the plague in the groin, from which men died suddenly all over the place. When nearly the whole population of Rome had been destroyed, Pelagius declared a fast and procession for all, but during it, he himself died, along with seventy others. Gregory I, who is also called the Great, took his place, and commanded that this Litany be observed throughout the world; it is therefore called the Gregorian or Roman Litany. It is also called “Black Crosses”, since, as a sign of mourning for the death of so many men, and as a sign of penance, people wear black clothing, and the crosses and altars are veiled in black.

A folio of the Echternach Sacramentary, 895AD, with the stational prayers for the Greater Litanies as they were done in Rome; the stations are at the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, St Valentine (very far up the Tiber), “ad Pontem Olbi”, a corruption of “ad Pontem Milvium – at the Milvian bridge”, “at the Cross”, whcih was a station set up along the way, and two “in the atrium” of St Peter’s Basilica. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 9433; folio 76r.)
The Lesser Litanies, which are also called Rogations and processions, take place on the three days before the Ascension, … they were created in Vienne by the blessed Mamertus, bishop of that city. Because of a plague of wolves and other wild beasts, who were ferociously killing men in Gaul, and because of the dangerous earthquakes which were frequently taking place there, he enjoined a fast of three days on the people, and instituted the Litanies. But when the danger had passed, the fast became a custom of annual observance … This latter is called the Lesser Litany, because it was instituted by a lesser person, that is, by a simple bishop, and in a less important place, Vienne, while the Greater (Litany) is so called because it was instituted in a more important place, namely, Rome, and by a greater person, namely, Gregory the Great, and because of a great and very serious plague. However, the Lesser Litany is older, since it was instituted when Zeno was Emperor (ca. 470 AD), and the Greater in the time of the Emperor Maurice (582-602)

Litanies are also held for many other reasons, wherefore Pope Liberius established that a litany should be held for war, famine, pestilence, and other imminent adversities of this sort, so that we may escape from them by supplications, prayers and fasts. Therefore, because in this time of the year especially wars are wont to break out, and the fruits of the earth, which are still in bud or flower, can easily be corrupted in many different ways, the litanies are held, so that we may ask God to turn these things away from us, and to defend and deliver us from bad weather, and war, and the enemies of the Christian religion, as we also implore the patronage of the Saints …

… we beseech the Saints, because of our poverty, and their glory, and reverence for God. And when we celebrate the Litany because of imminent dangers, in penitential and mournful garb, we represent that last procession of the women who wept after the Lord when He was being led to the Cross, weeping, according to the Lord’s command, for ourselves and our children.

The imposition of ashes before the Rogation procession celebrated in 2017 in Milan; in the Ambrosian Rite, the penitential character of the Rogation days is far more marked than in the Roman Rite.
The Litanies also take place in this time, since the Church now asks more confidently, because Christ ascends, Who said, “Ask and ye shall receive.” (In the Gospel of the Sunday before the Ascension, John 16, 23-30.) She fasts at this time and prays, that through the mortification of the flesh, She may have little to do with it, and gain wings for herself through prayer, which is the wing by which the soul flies up to heaven. Thus is She is able to freely follow Christ as He ascends, and opens the way for us, and flies upon the wings of the wind. This is the reason why we join the last litany, the last fast, to the Ascension, so that through prayers and fasts, we may be able to lay aside the weight of the flesh, and follow Christ as He ascends.

Therefore, during the Litanies, there is a procession, and in some churches, (the antiphon) Exsurge, Domine is sung at the beginning. The Gospel canticle “Holy God, holy mighty one, holy immortal one, have mercy on us,” is also to be sung repeatedly by the boys’ choir, for John of Damascus tells the story … that in Constantinople, litanies were held because of some trouble, and a boy was taken up to heaven from the midst of the people, and there taught this chant; and returning to the people, sang it before everyone, and at once the trouble ceased. This chant was approved by the Council of Chalcedon, and therefore it is considered praiseworthy and authoritative …

… in the procession itself, the Cross goes first, and the reliquaries of the Saints, so that by the banner of the Cross, and the prayers of the Saints, demons may be repelled…

A banner is also carried to represent the victory of Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, since He went up to heaven with great spoils … just as the multitude of the faithful follow the banner in the procession, so also a great gathering of the Saints accompanies Christ as He ascends. Banners are also carried in imitation of that which is said by Isaiah (11, 12), “And he shall set up a standard unto the nations, and shall assemble the fugitives of Israel, and shall gather together the dispersed of Juda from the four quarters of the earth.” The Church took the carrying of banners and crosses from Constantine, who, when in a dream he saw the sign of the Cross, and heard the words ‘By this sign thou shalt conquer’, ordered the Cross to be marked on his war banners. The fact that in the Litanies the cross-bearer takes his cross from the altar reminds us that Simon of Cyrene took it from Christ’s shoulders.

A Rogation procession held in the village of Balatonderics, Hungary in 2017.
In some places, the litany is done in the fields, so that demons may be expelled from the crops, or rather, so that the crops may be preserved by the Lord. … It has also become the custom that a dragon with a long tail, upright and inflated, should go before the Cross and banners on the first two days, but on the last day, looking back, with its tail deflated and lowered, it follows behind. For this dragon symbolizes the devil, who in three periods, that is, before the law, and under the law, and in the time of grace, which these three days symbolize, has deceived men, and even now seeks to deceive them. In the first two periods, he reigned, and as if he were the lord of the world, had a long tail, which shows his power, and inflated, which symbolizes his pride. For this reason, Christ calls him the prince of this world (John 12, 31) and John says in the Apocalypse (12, 4) that the dragon, falling from heaven, drew with him the third part of the stars, which symbolize people. And the Lord says in the Gospel, “I saw Satan falling like a lightning bolt from heaven” (Luke 10, 18), as a figure of which, on two days he goes at the head … But in the time of grace, he is beaten by Christ, and power is given to the Apostles to cast out unclean spirits; therefore, on the third day he follows after the Cross, to show that his power is lost through the spread of the Faith, and his tail is deflated, and hangs down, and is not long, because he does not dare to reign as mightily as he formerly did, but rather seduces men through suggestion, and in a hidden way, those whom he sees to be lazy and remiss in good works, and who follow not the way of life, as if he were looking back like a thief, to see if someone may wander and fall away from the righteousness of the Faith, so that he can draw that person to himself …

A page from an 1882 scholarly edition of the Sarum Processional, by W.G. Henderson, showing the order of the Rogation procession. The rubric above the image mentions both a dragon and a lion carried in the procession, the latter presumably in reference to the words of Apocalypse 5, 5, “Behold the lion from the tribe of Judah hath conquered.”
On the Litanies, all must abstain from servile labor, … and be present for the procession until the end, so that, just as all have sinned, so all may ask for forgiveness, and all raise their hearts to God, with their hands, that is, raise up their zeal for prayer.

But since on the preceding days, a double Alleluia, is sung, why on these days is only one sung? And again, since Alleluia is not said on other fast days, why is it said on this one? To the first question, we answer that ... a double Alleluia is sung on the preceding days because of the double stole which will be given in the general resurrection, namely, that of the soul and of the body. But the liturgy of Easter, which this signifies, is now finished, and therefore, the cause being taken removed, the effect is also removed . To the second, we answer that on the other fast days, Alleluia is not sung because it is a song of joy, and those fasts are held because of sins, wherefore they are called fasts of mourning; but this fast, and that of Pentecost, are matters of rejoicing, because they are not held for sins, but so that the power of the devil, and the plague, may be removed; and therefore, Alleluia is sung on them.

The Meaning and Customs of Ascension Thursday

Ascension Folio 13v of the Rabula Gospels (Florence)

The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ occurs forty days after Easter (which this year is May 26). According to the Bible, Jesus took His Apostles to Mount Olivet forty days after He rose from the dead where He predicted the coming of the Holy Spirit and told them that they would be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. He was then “lifted up before their eyes, and a cloud took Him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9).

In a previous article, we discussed the meaning of the Collect; today, let us turn to the broader meaning of the feast and some paraliturgical customs that grew out of it.
It is tempting to see the Ascension as a sad occasion, for Jesus in the flesh has left us and we can no longer physically look upon His Holy Face. But the New Testament list several reasons not to lament but to rejoice.
First, Jesus tells us that it is good for Him to leave in order to send the Holy Spirit, who guides us unswervingly back to God (John 16:7).
Second, Jesus not only does not leave us orphans by sending the Paraclete, there is a way in which He never leaves us in the first place. While it is true that Jesus ascended body and soul into Heaven, it is equally true that He is really present in the Eucharist. Saint Luke, whom we believe wrote the Acts of the Apostles (which contains an account of the Ascension) also wrote the third Gospel, which includes the story of the disciples of Emmaus encountering the risen Jesus, where they recognize Him “in the breaking of the bread.” When Jesus of Nazareth walked the face of the earth, He was only visible to a handful of people. When Jesus is present in the Eucharist, billions can look upon His Holy Face behind the sacramental veils.
Third, there is a way in which the Ascension was not the end but the beginning. When Jesus was raised up to Heaven, there was no “Mission Accomplished” celebration, after which the Son of God took a well-deserved vacation. No, His work was just beginning. After passing through the Pearly Gates, the High Priest Jesus Christ entered the Holy of Holies with His own Precious Blood in atonement for our sins. He then took His seat at the right hand of the Father where He continually intercedes for us, pleading for us and showing His merciful Father His still-open wounds. The Ascension is the final—and ongoing—step of the Paschal Mystery, for which we spent all of Lent preparing and all of Eastertide celebrating.
Fourth, the good news about the Ascension is that Heaven is now open to us. Heaven was closed to man after the fall of Adam and Eve; indeed, they were even kicked out of the Garden of Eden. But when the Son returned to the Father, He brought with Him His entire humanity (which He assumed when He became incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary). Indeed, it is likely that He brought with Him a whole comet tails of souls which He rescued from Limbo when “He descended into Hell” on Good Friday. As St. John Chrysostom notes:
Through the mystery of the Ascension we, who seemed unworthy of God's earth are taken up into Heaven .... Our very nature, against which Cherubim guarded the gates of [earthly] Paradise, is enthroned today high above all Cherubim.
Our humanity is in Heaven, which makes us sharers in Divinity. Not a bad deal, that!
Pageantry. The Ascension was originally the occasion of long processions that started in the city, exited through the gates, and culminated at the top of a hill, just as Jesus Christ led the Apostles towards Bethany (Luke 24:50). Jerusalem, Rome, and Constantinople all had their preferred routes and destinations. 
Over time, the processions waned and were replaced by pageants, less liturgical or nonliturgical reenactments of Christ's ascending into Heaven. The "pageant" could be as simple as a priest raising a crucifix when he read during the proclamation of the Gospel the verse Assumptus est in caelum (He was taken up into Heaven); such was the custom in Germany. More often than not, full-fledged pageants were performed after Mass but still in the church. In churches with a hole in the ceiling, a statue of Jesus would be hoisted up by ropes and disappear from sight as the people below raised their hands longingly towards it.
Plate with a black crow on it
Food. It was once a custom in Europe to eat fowl on the great Feast of the Ascension  “because Christ ‘flew’ to Heaven.” Pheasants, partridges, pigeons, and even crows found their way to the dinner table—so what does it mean to eat crow on Ascension Thursday? Perhaps this is what the other Apostles served St. Thomas to needle him about his earlier doubts concerning the Resurrection. In any event, bakers in western Germany picked up on the volucrine theme and made far more delicious pastries for the occasion in the shape of various birds. Finally, there is a first-fruits tradition for Ascension Thursday. In some parts of France, apple fritters (beignets des pommes) are a popular choice.
Dos and Don'ts. The English once kept this day with games, dancing, and horse races, while in Central Europe, the idea was to picnic on a high place by hiking there. Mountain-climbing was therefore a yes, but swimming was a big no-no; you were more likely to drown on Ascension Thursday than on any other day of the year. Similar misfortunes awaited anyone who on this holy day worked in field or garden or sewed anything, for any clothing that has been touched by a needle on the Ascension will attract lightning and kill the wearer. Such superstitions are believed to be residues of old pagan fears about demons of death who roam the earth this time of year.
At the very least, these silly beliefs point to something true that is easily forgotten in our own day and age of phrenetic work and moveable feasts, namely, that the Ascension is one of the most important events of the year. If it is important enough to attract the attention of devils, it should be important enough to attract our attention as well and celebrate it with great solemnity, reverence, and joy.[1] Keep holy the Ascension: take off work if you can, assist at Mass even if your diocese has transferred the feast to Sunday, climb a mountain, eat a bird, and avoid bodies of water.
[1] Indeed, according to Blessed Columba Marmion it is, in a certain sense, the greatest Feast of Our Lord of the entire year insofar as it is "the supreme glorification of Christ Jesus" (Christ in His Mysteries, trans. Alan Bancroft [Zaccheus Press, 2008], p. 347).

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Feast of the Translation of Saint Dominic

Our thanks to Mr Calder Claydon for sharing with us this article about one of the proper feasts of the Dominican Rite.

On the Dominican Calendar, May 24 is the feast of the Translation of St Dominic’s relics, the only such feast remaining after the revisions of the early 1960s. Previously, the Dominicans also kept feasts of the translation of St Catherine of Siena on the Thursday after Sexagesima, and before the reforms of St Pius X, of Ss Peter Martyr and Thomas Aquinas. (These latter two were relegated to proper calendars of specific provinces of the Order.) Many other orders have similar feasts, e.g. the Franciscans, who celebrate the translation of their holy founder’s relics tomorrow.
The translation of St Dominic took place in 1233, twelve years after his death at the age of fifty, and only sixteen years after he had officially founded the Order of Preachers at Toulouse in France. The event is described as follows in the Dominican Martyrology:
“At Bologna, the transferal of the body of our Father Saint Dominic. At the time of Pope Gregory IX, his sacred body was transferred to a worthier place. In addition to the other miracles which occurred, his body gave forth an aroma of such great fragrance that all who were present were filled with a wonderful joy. Thus did God beautifully indicate how pleasing to Him was the excelling sanctity of His apostle.”
The tomb of St Dominic in the church of his order, which is also named for him, in Bologna, Italy. Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew OP.
And in the proper Matins lesson (1967) for the feast:
“…there came a delightful perfume which, when the casket was opened, issued forth to gladden the people of Bologna with its all-pervading perfume.”
The second master of the Order, Blessed Jordan of Saxony, wrote thus about this event:
“Present were the venerable Archbishop of Ravenna, surrounded by bishops and a large number of prelates, as well as by a vast multitude of people of different languages who gave remarkable witness to their devotion. Present also was the Bolognese militia, which would not let this holy body, that they considered to be in their safekeeping, be snatched from them. As for the brethren, they were anxious: although they had nothing to fear, they were seized with misgivings lest the body of Saint Dominic, which had lain in a mean tomb exposed to water and heat for such a long period of time, should be found eaten with worms and giving off a foul odor in the same way that might be expected with other corpses, thus destroying the devotion of the people for so great a man. Nonetheless the bishops approached devoutly. The stone that was firmly cemented to the sepulcher was removed with instruments of iron. Within the tomb was a wooden coffin, just as it had been placed there by the venerable Pope Gregory when he was bishop of Ostia. The body had been buried there, and a small hole remained in the top of the coffin. The upper part of the coffin was moved a little bit.
A reliquary of St Dominic’s skull, made in 1338, now kept at the back of the altar shown above. It is still taken out every year for a procession on his feast day.  
As soon as the stone was taken away, the body gave forth a wonderful odor through the opening; its sweetness astonished those present, and they were filled with wonder at this strange occurrence. Everyone shed tears of joy, and fear and hope rose in all hearts. We ourselves also smelled the sweetness of this perfume, and we bear witness to what we have seen and smelt. Eager with love, we remained devotedly near the body of Dominic for a long time, and we were unable to sate ourselves with this great sweetness. If one touched the body with a hand or a belt or some other object, the odor immediately attached itself to it for a long period of time. The body was carried to the marble sepulcher where it would rest—it and the perfume that it poured forth. This marvelous aroma which the holy body emitted was evidence to all how much the saint had truly been the good odor of Christ.”
Fr Simon Tugwell, O.P., notes that Blessed Jordan knew St Dominic personally, and began to write his “Libellus de principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum – Little book on the beginnings of the Order of Preachers” in the same year that the translation occurred, to preserve the memory of St Dominic’s life and legacy.
The Pope Gregory mentioned above testified to the holiness of St Dominic by saying, “I knew him as a steadfast follower of the apostolic way of life. There is no doubt that he is in heaven, sharing in the glory of the apostles themselves.”
As is generally the custom, the feast of the translation of the relics takes most of its liturgical texts from the Saint’s principal feast. The Mass is almost identical to the main feast, except for the following:
The Collect for both feasts of St. Dominic:
O God, who were pleased to enlighten Your Church with the merits and teaching of blessed Dominic, Your confessor and our father; grant, by his intercession, that she may not be wanting in temporal help, and may always increase in spiritual growth: Through our Lord.

Rogation Procession and Mass Tomorrow in Bridgeport, Connecticut

Tomorrow, which is both the vigil of the Ascension and the Wednesday Rogation day, the Oratory of Ss Cyril and Methodius, the Institute of Christ the King’s church in Bridgeport, Connecticut, will have an outdoor Rogation procession at 6 pm, followed by solemn Mass, and then afterwards, a light reception in the church hall. The church is located at 79 Church St.

Six Talks on the Eucharist: A Mystagogical Catechesis by Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen, Scotland

I am grateful to the monks at Pluscarden Abbey, the Benedictine Monastery situated near Elgin in Scotland, for alerting me to the publication on YouTube of a series of talks by Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen on the Eucharist.

Bishop Hugh was previously the abbot of Pluscarden Abbey, where I am an oblate (although I haven’t visited for a long time now, as I live in the United States). Anything from Bishop Hugh is worthy of note and I encourage all readers to investigate.

These talks are intended as a mystagogical catechesis for the faithful of the diocese of Aberdeen, and apply equally well to all forms of the Roman Rite. I have watched the first five and they are a rare treat.

Each link below will take you to a recorded video for the dates in the past. The talk for the future dates will be broadcast live on the day, and then the recording will be uploaded immediately after that. You can access that through the link either live or when posted as a recording.

21 April: The Eucharist in the Christian Worldview

28th April: The Origins of the Eucharist in the Last Supper and Paschal Mystery

5th May: The Introductory Rites of the Mass

12th May: The Liturgy of the Word

19th May: The Eucharistic Prayer

26th May: Holy Communion

2nd June: Living the Mystery

Here is the first recording, an introduction to the series, as a visual link:

Allegory of the Eucharist: anonymous, 18th century
Pluscarden Abbey, Elgin, Scotland

Monday, May 23, 2022

Cathedrals of Mordor and Zen-like Meditation Rooms: Some Churches That Fail as Churches

Saint Ignatius, Tokyo, Japan (Sakakura Associates, 1999)
Last week, we looked at a High Church Anglican theologian's reflections on what makes a church building worthy of being called a church, that is, a spatial representation and habitation of what the church is in its mystical essence (my words, not his).

Since we're on the subject of architecture, which is endlessly fascinating and has not been featured as much as NLM as it used to be, I thought I would take this opportunity to share a remarkable gallery of photos by the French photograph Thibaud Poirier of ultra-modernist churches.

Most of them are impressive for their sheer size, but nearly all of them transmit either a cold, oppressive, sinister feel (as if they were chapels for the religion of Sauron in Mordor) or, on the contrary, a religiously vague, mildly comforting, functionally neutral spaciousness that is artistically far superior to “the Shed” (the name of the space in which the Mars Hill Bible Church meets, which we featured last week) yet lacking for the most part in the qualities that make for a recognizable, inhabitable, incarnational dwelling.

I was particularly struck by how many of these churches were built in the 1950s, well before Vatican II, or at any rate during Vatican II, before the Novus Ordo. It prompted me to wonder if such trends in architecture were a small part of the psychological reason behind simplifying, abbreviating, and modernizing the liturgy, for the simple reason that it's very hard to imagine a solemn Mass in such spaces. It would seem awkward to say the least, and bizarrely out of place. Of course it can be done (and surely was done for a short period of time in these buildings), but I can only think of the tensions involved in, say, a super-minimalist production of Shakespeare on a barren stage with actors all in black, where the Elizabethan language clashes with the plain constumery and the vacuous setting.

Here are a few examples of the sinister ones featured in the gallery, with location, architect, and year of completion: 

Saint Mary's Cathedral, Tokyo, Japan (Kenzo Tange, 1964)

Saint-Rémy de Baccarat, Baccarat, France (Nicolas Kazis, 1957)

Sainte-Thérèse-de-l'Enfant-Jésus, Metz, France (Roger-Henri Expert, 1959)

Saint Joseph, Le Havre, France (Auguste Perret, 1956)

Notre Dame du Royan, Royan, France (Guillaume Gillet, 1958)

Saint Anselm's Meguro, Tokyo, Japan (Antonin Raymond, 1954)

Again, note the dates of these: 1964, 1957, 1959, 1956, 1958, 1954.

And now for a few examples of the more comforting but deistic-agnostic designs:
Église du Saint Esprit, Viry-Châtillon (Anton Korady, 1964)

Kruiskerk, Amsterdam (Marius Duintjer, 1956)

Notre dame du Chêne, Viroflay, France (Louis, Luc and Thierry Sainsaulieu, 1966)

Obviously these structures, unlike Mars Hill, have a permanence, massiveness, and artfulness (in a certain sense) that marks them as important public buildings with religious overtones, but still they seem to thwart their purpose; indeed, the very modernism draws too much attention to itself, and becomes like a Pharisee standing in front and saying: “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like other churches…” Whereas the traditional church design kneels in the back and says: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner like everyone else.”

The photography is brilliant. Some of the churches Poirier photographs are quite inspiring (I have not included here the semi-traditional designs); others, intriguing; still others send chills down the spine. It is clear that no cost was spared in building these edifices, and that they represent something other than mere utility. They are built on a grand scale. Unfortunately, some of them hardly transmit anything of the Christian message and could just as well be United Nations meditation rooms. At their worst, they are cold and terrifying, and would certainly not draw ordinary people in, except those who are curious about feats of modern architecture. One cannot envision Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus there; not even a cozy nook exists to escape into.

Speaking of United Nations, I shared on Facebook not too long ago the following two pictures. The first is of the main hall of the UN; the second is of the Cathedral of Light in Oakland. Family resemblance? What is the message of either building? What is the message of their analogy?

It does no good to pretend that a building is not a silent language and a philosophy embodied.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

An Ambrosian Solemn Mass on the Fifth Sunday after Easter

Thanks to Nicola for reminding me of this video of an Ambrosian Mass celebrated on the Fifth Sunday after Easter in Rome in the year 2003 by the late Monsignor Angelo Amodeo, whose memory is cherished by all those who love the venerable liturgical tradition of the See of Milan. The Mass was sung by the Schola-Sainte Cécile, led by Henri de Villiers, who with their usual diligence, not only learned the Ambrosian Ordinary, but also a polyphonic Mass written specifically for that rite, and as always, sang it very beautifully. I was the first acolyte, and my usual nervous self while serving in a rite which I had only seen a few times before, but Nicola is a very good MC, and steered us through it very well. The church is Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, which had not yet been given to the FSSP in those days. Unfortunately, the video camera was small, and the quality is not that great, but we are nevertheless very blessed to have this record of a very blessed time. (I think this might have been the very first time I ever met the members of the Schola in person.) Haec meminisse certissime juvat!

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The First Ukrainian Printed Book: An Epistle Lectionary of 1574

A few days ago, the YouTube channel of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University posted this video about the oldest printed book in Ukrainian, an Epistle lectionary with the text of the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline and Catholic letters. A friend of mine, Dr Daniel Galadza, who is an expert on the liturgical history of the Ukrainian church, informs me that the book was definitely made for liturgical use, and is not just a section of the Bible. This is why it also has an appendix which includes information about the Sunday antiphons (the chants which begin the Divine Liturgy), according to practices which are still observed to this day in the region of Galicia, which is now partly in western Ukraine, and partly in southern Poland, and at the Pecherskaja Lavra in Kyiv, also known as the Monastery of the Caves.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Pope Francis Mandates Ad Orientem Worship

Our readers will perhaps remember that in 2016, His Eminence Cardinal Robert Sarah, then Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, called upon the Church to return to its authentic custom of offering the Mass ad orientem, as a way of “putting God back at the center” of Christian worship. (Original interview in French here: They will also likely remember that was met with a swift Papal intervention on behalf of retaining the inauthentic custom of worshipping versus populum, which cannot perish soon or thoroughly enough.

This controversy does not impinge solely on the Roman Rite. The Syro-Malabar Church suffered a number of very unfortunate Latinizations in the 20th century, which the Congregation for the Eastern Churches has spent a good deal of time undoing, in obedience to the one decree of Vatican II that the Vatican itself seems to take seriously these days, Orientalium Ecclesiarum. In recent months, this has become such a very sharp controversy that (lamentabile sane dictu!), some members of the faithful even went so far as to publicly burn in effigy the prefect of the Oriental Congregation, H.E. Leonardo Sandri, and the Major Archbishop of the Syr-Malabar Church. H.E. Mar George Alencherry. In January, over 100 Syro-Malabar priests staged a protest and hunger-strike in front of Cardinal Alencherry’s residence in favor of the continuation of the inauthentic custom.

Given the events of 2016 in regard to the Roman Rite, we are very pleased to be able to report via the German website (brought to my attention by Peter) that the Pope has now changed his mind, and ordered the Syro-Malabar in toto to accept the proposed return to the authentic custom of the Church. Like the recent denunciation of the Novus Ordo by Abp Roche, we can only say that this bodes well for the future!

“Pope Francis settled a dispute by ordering that all (Syro-Malabar) diocesesthroughout the Church celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass ad orientem, versus Deum. Together, Francis said, priests and people have to look to the East, from where, according to apostolic tradition, the Second Coming of the Lord is expected. No satire. You read correctly. But how can this be?” Read the full article here: (German is a language which the automatic translator of Google Chrome handles very well.)
His Excellency Mar Joseph Pallikaparampil, bishop emeritus of the Eparchy of Palai in India, celebrates the Holy Qurbana ad orientem in the grotto of St Peter’s basilica in 2015. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Emmanuel Parekkattu, CC BY-SA 4.0)


Edouard Jérôme Paupion, Les Rogations

Immediately before the crescendo of Ascension Thursday, before that triumphant culmination of the Pasch (a time so glorious that it was forbidden to fast), we encounter three days of violet vestments and anxious pleading. For in the traditional Roman rite, the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before the Feast of the Ascension are the Lesser Rogation Days.

What are Rogations? They are times in which entreaties for safety, salvation, and a good harvest are made through a litany to God and the saints. The prayers’ plaintive aspect gives the days their name: “rogation” is from the Latin rogare, to petition earnestly. These litanies are meant to be made during a procession in which the priest blesses his parishioners’ land. The processions were not mandatory, but reciting the litany was required of clerics if they missed them before Mass. Indeed, the word litaneia means essentially the same thing in Greek as the Latin rogare; and so powerful was the association of Rogationtide with processing that they were once called “Gang Days,” from an Old English word for walking.[1]
Rogation procession litany, Holy Cross Catholic Church, Kenya
In the traditional calendar there are two sets of Rogation Days. The first, the “Major” or “Greater” Litanies, are celebrated on April 25th (coincidentally, also the Feast of St. Mark). On that day the ancient Romans held the Robigalia, a procession to appease Robigo, the god of blight. Since the Church had no objection to praying for the harvest, it threw out Robigo and the ribald games held in his honor while keeping the procession; it even kept much of the same route.
The “Minor” or “Lesser” Litanies, as we noted above, are celebrated on the three days preceding Ascension Thursday. While the Major Rogation Day is quintessentially Roman, the Minor Rogations are the product of Gaul, instituted in A.D. 470 by Bishop Mamertus of Vienne in response to a terrifying series of catastrophes (storms, floods, earthquakes, etc.). In cooperation with the civil authorities, Mamertus decreed that the faithful should fast, abstain from servile work, and do penance. The practice soon spread throughout France and Germany, and eventually Charlemagne pressured Pope Leo III to add them to the Roman rite. The Pope acquiesced on condition that the fast be removed; in gratitude the Franks removed theirs as well.[2]
Rogation Procession in Westphalia, Germany, 1992
Universally Christian
Despite the unmistakable stamp of the Latin West, the essence of Rogationtide goes back to the Old Testament, when the cantor would recite something and the congregation would reply with a verse such as “His mercy endureth forever” (Ps. 135). Litanies are the most sensible form of prayer for pedestrians, as they enable both cantor and congregation to catch their breath between verses. The Israelites also prayed for blessings on their crops and homes at certain key points of the year. In fact, two of the three great annual feasts—the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) and of Tabernacles—were related to the harvest.
Christianity retained the spirit of both practices, and rightfully so, as everything in the Old Testament is meant to instruct us on a deeper figurative level in the art of living well.[3]  Litanies such as the Kyrie eleison, for example, were treasured by both Eastern and Western Christians, as were blessings over the fruits of the earth. And processions not only dramatize the radiation of the Light from the Church to the world, they epitomize our status as pilgrims passing through this earthly way station.
Usefully Natural
But the Rogation Days ground us in more than our Catholic heritage. The Major and Lesser Litanies are the only prescribed days in the calendar that are explicitly agricultural and that explicitly concern the all-too-real dangers of natural disasters. While the Ember Days (which we visit in a different article) commemorate nature from the perspective of its four seasons, Rogationtide commemorates nature in relation to man and the city, from his tilling of the soil to his collective aversion of meteorological and seismic calamities. This not only invites a deeper meditation on our stewardship of the earth, it adds a communal dimension to Rogationtide’s acknowledgement of nature as both a source of bounty and potential harm. As one introduction puts it, “the processions are a reminder to feeble man to turn with humility and confidence to the Giver of all good.”[4]
Rogation procession with dragon
The Rogation Days’ roots in the agrarian led to a number of memorable rural customs. In England processions would wind their through field and fen and stop at various stations in order for the priest to read a Gospel and for the laity to fortify themselves with ale and victuals. Because these stations were marked by a cross and because of the cross heading the procession, the Lesser Litanies were sometimes known as “Crosse weke” or Crosstide. On the first two days of Cross week, the processions would be led by the standard of a dragon with a long cloth tail; on the third day the dragon was moved to the back of the procession and his tail cut, symbolizing the expulsion of the demonic from the blessed territory.[5]
Assumption Chapel, Cold Spring, Minnesota
In America the Church probably never hosted such colorful Rogation spectacles, but it does have one story worth telling. In 1876, millions of Rocky Mountain grasshoppers descended upon Minnesota, destroying the year’s crops and laying eggs that would destroy next year’s as well. Minnesota’s governor declared April 26 of the following year a day of prayer and fasting. The Catholic folk of Cold Spring (near St. Cloud) added a vow of their own: if the Blessed Virgin Mary “would rid them of the grasshoppers, they would build a chapel and offer prayers to her for the next fifteen years.”[6] When April 26 arrived,
all businesses, theaters, stores and bars were closed. Churches were filled. Midnight approached, the sky clouded over, and a cold rain began. The wind shifted from the south to the north and the rain turned to heavy snow. The storm raged throughout the following day. The next day, farmers hurried to their fields and found that the vast majority of grasshoppers had been frozen just as they were hatching.[7]
The inscription over the entrance to the Assumption Chapel reads "Mary has been taken up." Two grasshoppers bow in homage to the Queen of Heaven.
True to their word, the people of Cold Spring built Assumption Chapel (a.k.a. Grasshopper Chapel) on a high hill. And every Rogationtide, they would process up to the chapel in gratitude for Our Lady’s protection, up to the front doors and under the archway depicting grasshoppers bowing down to her.
As these stories illustrate, while the Rogation Days stem from the traditions of ancient Rome and Gaul, they are easily “inculturated” into any number of local settings. Perhaps this is why the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) has been promoting Rogation processions for decades. In the 1950s it published booklets such as A Manual of Ceremonies for the Parish Observance of the Rogation Days[8] and pamphlets like “Rogations at Maranatha” that ruminate on the “sacramentality of the land and the spirit of the Church.”[9] The author of the latter was a Mrs. Josephine Drabek who was new to farming as well as Rogationtide, but the experience of both helped her see more clearly “the intimate link between the life of the Church and the cycle of the land.” For, she explains,
The liturgy had given significance and dignity to all our work on the farm, and our life on the land had opened new vistas to our understanding and appreciation of the liturgy.[9]
The Rogations were even allowed to be moved in order to accommodate the inverted seasons below the equator. In the 1950s Pope Pius XII gave permission to some Catholic missions in the Pacific islands to hold major and lesser litanies in October or November.[11]
Jules Breton, "The Blessing of the Fields," 1857
Fostering Community
The Rogation stations in England also marked the boundaries of the parish, and thus the processions took on additional meaning as a parish activity. “Beating the bounds,” i.e., circling the parish territory in procession, was a way of affirming parish identity and fostering charity, and it was an effective occasion for healing old rifts. (This should come as no surprise given the communal dimension we noted above.) Of course, every good thing can be abused. While the processions increased charity within the parish, they sometimes led to scuffles outside it, as when two different parochial processions came into contact![12]  Nevertheless, beating the bounds remained a popular tradition in England despite the Reformers’ condemnation of it as “wholly popish,” which is why high church Anglicans still practice it today.
Blessing the fields on Rogation Sunday (Anglican), Hever, Kent, February 1967
Personally Prayerful
Even if one cannot participate in a procession, the litany and Mass of Rogation (which are the same throughout Rogationtide) are worth praying. In the prescribed Litany of the Saints, God and His holy ones are first invoked in so perfect a theological and historical order that one can survey most of Church history simply by reciting it. The litany then prays for deliverance from a host of physical and spiritual evils, reminding one of the fragility of life. Next, the faithful request a series of blessings, such as a restoration “to the unity of Church all who have strayed from the truth,” “the fruits of the earth,” and “eternal rest to all the faithful departed.” Finally, after chanting or reciting Psalm 69, the priest prays ten collects of exceptional quality. When the litany is finished, the Mass begins, the central theme of which is the efficacy of prayer, especially for the righteous and humble. Thus, the Epistle mentions Elias’ successful prayer for rain and the Gospel contains the passage, “Ask and it shall be given you.” Happily, Holy Church still grants a partial indulgence for praying the Litany of the Saints.
The Lesser Litanies are also a good preparation for Ascension Thursday. Psychologically, it is difficult to maintain the jubilance of Paschaltide for forty consecutive days. The penitential character of Minor Rogation allows for an emotional dénouement so that we may rejoice all the more for the novena from Ascension Thursday to Whitsunday.
The Ebbing Tides of Rogation
Rogation Days were removed from the universal calendar in 1969, but they were not suppressed. The Sacred Congregation of Divine Worship’s General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar from February 14, 1969 states:
In order to adapt the rogation and ember days to various regions and the different needs of the people, the conferences of bishops should arrange the time and plan for their celebration (46).
One can sympathize with the goal: as we saw with Pius XII’s adaptation, in a Church spanning every inhabitable latitude, not every parish will be able to link April 25 or the three days prior to Ascension to their agricultural rhythms, especially not in the southern hemisphere. Yet the CDW also weakened, perhaps inadvertently, the link between Rogationtide and agriculture by allowing adjustments for “the intentions of the petitioners” (47):
the celebrations may be varied, e.g., for rural or for urban settings, and may relate to different themes, like the harvest, peace, the unity of the Church, the spread of the faith, etc.[14]
By contrasting rural and urban and by listing a number of equally valid themes (as opposed to one primary theme and several ancillary), the norms conceivably allow for a Rogation that has nothing to do with the land.
As far as I can tell, however, the U.S. bishops’ conference never arranged a new time and plan for rogations, and so in the few places where the litanies are still practiced, they remain agricultural.[15]  The Catholic Conference of Illinois published its own version of Rogationtide in 1989[16]  while every year the NCRLC continues to receive requests from farming communities for information about the practice. Some rural parishes have become quite ingenious in their methods. According to a 2002 issue of Faith and Family, “in recent years, the Diocese of Fargo, North Dakota, has sent out a priest in a crop-duster plane to sprinkle holy water across the sprawling family farms!”[17]  This news surprised but tickled the chancellor of Fargo when I recently asked him to confirm it, but he did tell me that he could think of three priests in his diocese “just crazy enough to do it.”[18]
On average, contemporary Catholics are ignorant of the Rogation Days, leading us to conclude that something good was lost, and at one of the worst possible times. We live in an age marked by an unprecedented disconnect from the land and by a growing anxiety over it. On one hand, we fret over the barbaric or hazardous treatment of livestock, commercial pesticides, genetically modified foods, the demise of the family farm, and the rise of food cartels (did you know that 80% of the beef market is controlled by only four firms?[19]); and we call for agrarian reform, farm subsidies, the fair treatment of migrant workers, and more organic foods. On the other hand, at no point in American history have so many of us lived away from the farm: we buy our produce in supermarket cellophane and never think it odd that we can eat watermelons in January.
Obligatory traditional Rogation Days are the religious antidote to this schizophrenia. They call all believers, be they city slickers or country bumpkins, to recognize at the same time and in a shared way our common dependency on the land and on God’s mercy for putting food on the table. They ask us to pray for farms and fields and in so doing remind us that there are farms and fields that need praying for. They reconnect us to the soil, which even reconnects us to the bounds of our neighborhood, our parish, and each other. They remind us of the earth’s fragility as well as its awesome powers.
Vatican agencies such as the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace pursue some of these topics with great vim, even at the risk of recommending policies not always thought through; but their impact will always be limited. We have forgotten what Pope Pius XI said when he instituted the Feast of Christ the King:
People are instructed in the truths of faith and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all. The former speak but once, the latter speak every year—in fact, forever.
Well, almost forever. The beautiful springtime processions to Grasshopper Chapel are now a distant memory for the older residents of Cold Spring, but we can hope that some day the annual celebration of these mysteries will again “bring the faithful to a fuller knowledge of their dependence on God for all things... and a greater love of God as their Divine Provider.”[22] In addition to assisting at Mass according to the 1962 Missal where possible, Catholic families can “beat the bounds” of their properties while sprinkling it with holy water and chanting or reciting the litanies (such private paraliturgical perambulations were fairly common in the Middle Ages). Or, they can bless their gardens with holy water in the same manner.

This article, which first appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of The Latin Mass magazine, has been since updated. Many thanks to the editors of TLM for allowing its publication here.

[1] Specifically, the Lesser Litanies (cf. Oxford English Dictionary, “gang-days”).
[2] Francis Weiser, Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1958) pp. 41-42.
[3] See Rom. 15:4, 1 Cor. 10:11.
[4] Diocesan Catholic Rural Life Conference, A Manual of Ceremonies for the Parish Observance of the Rogation Days (National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 1953), p, 5.
[5] Eoman Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), p. 279.
[6] See here.
[7] From the Metro Travel Guide, which is no longer online.
[8] Undated, p. 4. [9] P. 3.
[10] Weiser, Handbook, 42.
[11] Eoman Duffy, Stripping, pp. 136-39.
[12] One wonders, following Pius XII’s example, if the problem could not have been solved by a process of local addition rather than universal subtraction.
[13] Response to the query “How should rogation days and ember days be celebrated?” (, retrieved 2/20/08).
[14] This is an interesting confirmation of the principle that omission of a practice in a new liturgical edition does not eo ipso mean its suppression.
[15] Mary Jo Valenziano, Rogation Days (Oak Park, IL: C.E. Dienberg Printing Co., 1989).
[16] “April 25: Major Rogation Day,” Faith and Family Magazine (April 2002), p. 25.
[17] Many thanks to the Very Rev. Brian Moen for his generous time.
[18] A Time to Act: A Report of the USDA National Commission on Small Farms, Jennifer Yezak Molen, Director, January 1998, p. 4.
[19] See Towards a Better Distribution of Land: The Challenge of Agrarian Reform (1989).
[20] Quas Primas, 21.
[21] Bishop William A. O’Connor, D.D., in A Manual of Ceremonies, foreword.
[22] Portions of this article are taken from an earlier treatment of mine posted on the internet under the title, “Ember Days, Rogations Days, and Station Churches,”

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Ambrosian Feast of Mid-Pentecost

Even though it was called by a different name, the Ambrosian Rite originally had a feast which was the equivalent of the Byzantine Mid-Pentecost, which I wrote about yesterday, borrowed from that tradition. This article is mostly a translation of notes about it by Nicola de’ Grandi.

In the Ambrosian Rite, the Wednesday between the third and fourth weeks after Easter was a feast known as “In mediante die festo – in the middle day of the feast.” This custom is attested from the very earliest pertinent liturgical books of the rite until the Missal of 1560, the last edition before the post-Tridentine reform and the revised Missal of 1594. The name comes from its Gospel, John 7, 14-31, which begins with the words. “About the midst of the feast, Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.”

The Mass “in mediante die festo” in an Ambrosian Missal printed in 1548
Like the Byzantine feast from which it derives, and unlike the other feasts of the temporal cycle, this feast has the particular characteristic that it does not commemorate a specific event in Christ’s life, or celebrate a particular deed of His. Rather, it underlines the unity of the Easter season, marking its middle point, and at the same time, giving a particular reading of its liturgical significance.

In the Gospel, Jesus compares Himself to Moses, reproving those who declare that they want to follow the law of Moses, while they attempt to kill Him who gives the Law. He does not cancel the Law, but fulfills it, bringing salvation to all of humanity, represented by the paralyzed man whom He heals on the Sabbath.

These words illuminate the authentic meaning of the Christian Pentecost as the replacement of the Jewish Pentecost. The latter celebrates the revelation of God on Mount Sinai, seven weeks after the Jewish Pascha, and the gift of the Law, (“was it not Moses who gave you the law?”); the Christian Pentecost, seven weeks and one day after the Christian Pascha, celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This parallelism between the Jewish and Christian Pentecosts is certainly very ancient, and is found in the West in a work entitled “Questions about the Old and New Testament” (95, 3), which can be dated to the pontificate of St Damasus (366-84), a contemporary of St Ambrose.

“Therefore, the law was given through Moses to the sons of Israel on the third day of the third month, as is written in the book of Exodus, which day, counting from the fourteenth day of the first month, on which the Pasch took place in Egypt, is the fiftieth, that is, Pentecost. And from this it happened that the Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles on Pentecost to preach the law of Faith, so that the deeds of the elders might serve as images of those deeds that were to come, and this for the assurance of our faith, for that cannot seem false which was foretold from the beginning.”

Likewise in St Jerome, who was Damasus’ secretary (Epistle 22):

“Wherefore also the solemnity of Pentecost is celebrated, and afterwards, the mystery of the Gospel is fulfilled by the descent of the Holy Spirit; so that, just as the law was given to the former people, on the fiftieth day, in the true jubilee, and the true year of remission, and by the true fifty and five-hundred denarii, which were owed to the debtors: so also the Holy Spirit came down to the Apostles and those who were gathered together with them, unto the number of 120, (which is also the age of Moses), and the whole world was filled with the preaching of the Gospel by the sharing of the speech of those who believed.”

St Jerome Presents His Biblical Translations to Pope St Damasus I; from the ceiling of the Gaddi Chapel of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Sailko; CC BY 3.0)
Therefore, we can say with certainty that by at least the end of the fourth century, this parallelism was known in Rome. However, its solemn celebration in the liturgy is proper to the tradition of northern Italy.

We know in fact that this feast was celebrated in the same position on the liturgical calendar by all the churches of that region, as attested by the most ancient and important manuscripts: for the Ambrosian tradition, the capitulary and Gospel book of Busto Arsizio, and the Biasca Missal; for the broader province of Milan; the Codex Mediolanensis, Vercellensis, and Vat. Reg. Lat. 9; from the province of Aquileia, Codex Rehdigeranus and Forojuliensis.

Therefore, although it looks back to a reading of the Easter season already known in the area of Rome, the solemn liturgical celebration of Mid-Pentecost is a trait strongly distinctive of the liturgical tradition of northern Italy, led by the metropolitan sees of Milan and Aquileia.
The Ambrosian Missal of Biasca, dated between the end of the 9th century and the middle of the 10th. 
The feast is first mentioned in the West in two homilies attributed to St Peter Chrysologus, the first metropolitan of the new ecclesiastical province of Ravenna, in the 2nd quarter of the fifth century.

“Even though some matters seem obscure for the very depth of their mystery, nevertheless, no solemnity of the Church’s worship is without fruit: the divine feast is not to kept holy in accordance with our wills, but ought rather to kept for the sake of its own virtues. The true Christian spirit has no notion of bringing those things which come from the tradition of the Fathers, and have been strengthened by the passage of time, to oblivion, but desires rather to venerate them with all the eloquence of its devotion.

Now in the middle of the feast, the Scripture says, the Lord went up to the temple. Which temple? You are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells within you. Today the Lord deigned to go up to the temple of our heart, who so mercifully came down into the form of our body.” (Serm. 85,1-2)

The Mass of this feast is the same as that of the preceding Sunday, but with its own proper prayers, Gospel and Preface. The “oratio super populum”, the Ambrosian equivalent of the Collect, is the only one of the prayers that refers specifically to the character of the feast, as it looks back to Easter and forward to Pentecost.

“Deus, per cujus providentiam nec praeteritorum momenta deficiunt, nec ulla superest expectatio futurorum: tribue permanentem peractae, quam recolimus, solemnitatis affectum; ut quod recordatione percurrimus, semper in opere teneamus. Per. – O God, through whose providence the remembrances of things past do not fail, nor does any hope of the things to come remain unfulfilled; grant us abiding affection for the solemnity which we have completed and now remember; so that what we pass through in remembrance, we may also keep hold of in deed. Through…”

The prayer “over the shroud” which closes the Mass of the Catechumens, is more oblique. “Populus tuus, quaesumus, Domine, renovata semper exultet animae juventute, ut qui antea in peccatorum veternosae mortis venerat senio, nunc laetetur in pristinam se gloriam restitutam. Per. – May Thy people, we ask, o Lord, always exult in renewed youth of the soul; so that, having formerly come to the old age of that languid death caused by sins, it may rejoice that it has been restored to its former glory. Through…”

The preface is first attested in the second half of the 9th century in sacramentaries of the Roman Rite, in which it is appointed to be said on the Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent, when the same Gospel is read. This is also indicated by the reference to “the devotion of the saving fast.” On the other hand, the references to Resurrection and Ascension certainly seem to fit more with its Ambrosian placement in Eastertide.

“VD: Per mediatorem Dei et hominum, Iesum Christum, Dominum nostrum: Qui mediante die festo ascendit in templum docere, qui de caelo descendit mundum ab ignorantiae tenebris liberare. Cuius descensus genus humanum doctrina salutari instruit, mors a perpetua morte redemit, ascensio ad caelestia regna perducit. Per quem te, summe Pater, poscimus, ut eius institutione edocti, salutaris parsimoniae devotione purificati, ad tua perveniamus promissa securi. Per quem maiestatem. – Truly it is worthy… through the mediator of God and men, Jesus Christ, our Lord: who when the feast was at its middle day, went up unto the temple to teach, even He who came down from heaven to free the world from the darkness of ignorance. Whose coming down instructs the human race with saving teaching, whose death redeems it from everlasting death, whose ascension bringeth it to the heavenly kingdoms. Through whom we ask Thee, Father most high, that we, being taught by his institution, and purified by the devotion of the saving fast, may safely come to Thy promises. Through whom the Angels praise Thy majesty…”

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