Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Proper Office of the Evangelists

In the Roman Breviary, the Evangelists are treated liturgically as a subcategory of the Apostles, and their common office consists solely of proper readings for Matins; everything else is said from the common of Apostles. This in part reflects the habitual conservatism of the church of Rome, which was always much slower to accept new proper Offices, and is partly due to the fact that a proper Office for the Evangelists has only a very limited application.

St Matthew, in the Gospel book of St Henry II, ca. 1000 AD.
Nevertheless, there does exist such a proper, which is found in most medieval Uses, including those of the Dominican, Carmelite and Premonstratensian Orders. It has a complete set of nine proper antiphons for the psalms of Matins, five for the Psalms of Lauds (repeated through the day hours and at Vespers) and the three major antiphons for the Magnificat of both Vespers and for the Benedictus at Lauds. It also includes nine responsories, all texts from the vision of the four animals in the first chapter of Ezekiel, which also provides the readings for the first nocturn of Matins and the Mass Epistle of Ss Matthew and Mark. These responsories were not received by the Dominicans, and I do not include them here, since they aren’t particularly interesting.

Ad Matutinum
In I nocturno
Aña 1 Convocatis * Jesus duodecim Apostolis, misit illos praedicare regnum Dei: egressi autem evangelizabant et curabant ubique. - Calling together the twelve Apostles, Jesus sent them to preach the kingdom of God; and going forth, they preached the Gospel and everywhere wrought cures.
Aña 2 Mittens Dominus * et alios ad praedicandum, dicebat illis: Messis quidem multa, operarii autem pauci. - The Lord, sending also others to preach, said to them: The harvest is great, but the workers are few.
Aña 3 Jesu Christi * Domini gratia, credentibus populis Doctores et Evangelistae sunt in ministerium fidei missi. - By the grace of Jesus Christ the Lord, Doctors and Evangelists were sent to the peoples that believe for the ministry of the Faith.

In II nocturno
Aña 4 Sapientia Domini * Evangelii eruperunt abyssi, et annuntiantes, foecundati rore caelesti, mundo intonant. - By the wisdom of the Lord the depths of the Gospel burst forth, and made fruitful by the dew of heaven, thunder their proclamation to the world.
Aña 5 Labia eorum * salutarem disseminaverunt scientiam, opus sanctum, dignum, benedictione plenum fecerunt: ministerium sibi traditum devote impleverunt. - Their lips spread abroad the knowledge of salvation; they did a holy work, worthy and full of blessing; devoutly they fulfilled the ministry given to them.
Aña 6 Elegit eos * ex omni carne et dedit illis praecepta, et legem vitae et disciplinae. - He chose them from among all flesh, and gave them precepts, and the law of life and discipline.

In III nocturno
Aña 7 Electi sunt * in Christo ante mundi constitutionem, ut essent sancti et immaculati in conspectu Dei in caritate. - They were chosen in Christ before the establishment of the world, that they might be holy and immaculate in God’s sight in charity.
Aña 8 Sapientiam eorum * narrabunt omnes populi, et laudem eorum pronuntiat omnis Ecclesia sanctorum. - All peoples shall tell of their wisdom, and all the Church of the Saints proclaims their praise.
Aña 9 Sapientiam antiquorum * exquisierunt sancti Evangelistae, et prophetarum dictis narrationem suam confirmaverunt. - The holy Evangelists sought out the wisdom of the ancients, and by the sayings of the prophets, confirmed their narration.

Ad Laudes
Aña 1 Dilecti Deo * et hominibus sancti Evangelistae, qui ordinaverunt tempora Christi bono odore, usque ad consummationem vitae. - Beloved unto God and men are the holy Evangelists, who set in order the times of Christ in a good odor, until the completion of His life.
Aña 2 Dederunt * in celebratione operis sancti decus: ideo memoria eorum in benedictione est in sæculum sæculi. - They gave glory in the celebration of a holy work; therefore their memory is in blessing for all ages.
Aña 3 Implevit eos * Dominus Spiritu sapientiae et intellectus; jucunditatem et exsultationem thesaurizavit super eos. - The Lord filled them with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding; He gathered rejoicing and exultation upon them.
Aña 4 Ex omni corde * laudaverunt nomen sanctum Domini, ut amplificarent nomen sanctitatis. - From all their heart they praised the holy name of the Lord, that they might magnify the name of holiness.
Aña 5 Datum est * opus eorum in veritate; ideo in terra sua duplicia possidebunt, et lætitia sempiterna erit eis in Christo. - Their work was given in truth; therefore in their land they shall have a double portion, and eternal happiness in Christ.

Detail of the St John Altarpiece by Hans Memling, 1474-79, showing the vision of St John in Apocalypse 4.
Ad Magn. Aña Ecce ego Joannes vidi ostium apertum in caelo; et ecce sedes posita erat in eo, et in medio sedis et in circuitu ejus quattuor animalia plena oculis ante et retro: et dabant gloriam et honorem et benedictionem sedenti super thronum, viventi in saecula saeculorum.
At the Magnificat of First Vespers Behold, I, John, saw a door opened in heaven, and behold there was a throne set in heaven, and in the midst of the throne, and round about it were four living creatures, full of eyes before and behind; and they gave glory, and honor, and blessing to him that sitteth on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever.

Ad Bened. Aña In medio et in circuitu sedis Dei quattuor animalia senas alas habentia, oculis undique plena, non cessant nocte ac die dicere: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus omnipotens, qui erat et qui est, et qui venturus est.
At the Benedictus In the midst and round about the throne of God, four living creatures, having wings, full of eyes on all sides, rest not day and night, saying: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.

Ad Magn. Aña Tua sunt haec, Christe, opera, qui sanctos tuos ita glorificas, ut etiam dignitatis gratiam in eis futuram praeire miraculis facias: tu insignes Evangelii praedicatores animalium caelestium admirabili figura praesignasti: his namque caeleste munus collatum gloriosis indiciis es dignatus ostendere: hinc laus, hinc gloria tibi resonet in saecula.
At the Magnificat of Second Vespers These are Thy works, o Christ, who so glorify Thy Saints, that Thou also cause the grace of dignity that will be in them to be first preceded by miracles. Thou marked beforehand the wondrous preachers of the Gospel by the marvelous figure of the heavenly animals; for by these glorious signs, Thou deigned to show the heavenly gift given to them; hence let praise, hence glory resound to Thee forever.

A New Hymn for the Eucharistic Revival by Kathleen Pluth

Two nationally advertised hymn contests were held recently with the aim of making fresh resources available for parishes during this year of the Eucharistic Revival. The competitions, one sponsored by the USCCB and the other by the Archdiocese of Detroit, were judged anonymously and each received scores of entries. In both cases, texts written by Kathleen Pluth ( were selected as the winning hymn. This is the winning hymn in the Detroit contest:

The hymn is Trinitarian in structure: it thanks each of the divine Persons in turn for the gift of the Eucharist:

• the Father for pouring out the Blessed Sacrament upon the earth.
• the Son for staying with us (Luke 24, 29) in this surpassing way.
• the Holy Spirit for sharing with men the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
Throughout, it acknowledges God’s will to raise us into participation in the divine life. Far from reserving His glory to Himself, God gives us everything we need to grow beyond our nature and to share the abundant life of Communion with Him ever more fully.

The hymn’s final doxological verse ends in the beatific vision, an element borrowed from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Adoro te devote, which ends in the same way.

Set here to the familiar tune HYFRYDOL, most often used in the United States for “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus” and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”, the text can be equally well sung to the tunes NETTLETON, HYMN TO JOY, AUSTRIA, or IN BABILONE, according to local needs. The hymn can be copied or reset freely during this Parish Year of Revival (June 11, 2023 to July 21, 2024.) (PDF)

Sacred Architecture Journal’s 25th Anniversary Gala, Philadelphia, Oct. 14

Sacred Architecture Journal will be holding a gala to mark its 25th anniversary on Saturday, October 14, in Philadelphia. The anniversary celebration will begin with Mass celebrated by the His Excellency Salvatore J. Cordileone, archbishop of San Francisco, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, starting at 3pm. (Open to the public.) Following the Mass, there will be a cocktail reception, dinner, and keynote address by Wall Street Journal architectural critic Michael J. Lewis, from 5:00-9:00 p.m. at Le Méridien Hotel, located at 1421 Arch Street.

For more information and to register, please visit

Discounted hotel rooms at Le Méridien are available until September 23.

SAJ editor Duncan Stroik reflects: It all started in someone’s basement. A new journal dedicated to sacred architecture. With the help of John Stroik, my architect father, and some talented writers, we launched the magazine in 1998. There was nothing like it that I knew of – a journal dedicated to promoting the artistic patrimony of the Church.

The magazine’s godfather was Ralph McInerny at Notre Dame who earlier had asked me to help him on an issue of Catholic Dossier dedicated to church architecture. Ralph was writing books on philosophy, murder mysteries, and editing four journals at the time. Another early supporter, John Powers, convinced me to go full color, and after that we were cheered on by prelates, priests, and architects, especially John Burgee and Thomas Gordon Smith.

It has been great fun to do, and I hope a pleasure to read. People sometimes ask me what we have accomplished in 25 years and I tell them there has been a great sea change in the way American Catholics look at their churches. Where once they thought of their parishes as worship centers, they now see them as they should be, sacred places and houses of God. ~ What are some of the fruits of 25 years of Sacred Architecture?

1. Over forty new traditional parish churches.

2. Upwards of one hundred tasteful renovations and restorations of historic churches.
3. Several new classical cathedrals, shrines, and seminaries.
4. The re-catholicization of many churches built since the 1950s.
5. Numerous classical buildings at Catholic colleges and Newman centers.
6. The commissioning of sacred art with a new generation of classical artists.
7. Choir lofts with pipe organs, both new and borrowed from other churches.
8. Several new architectural firms that specialize in sacred architecture.
9. Five architecture schools where students can once again learn the basics of classical architecture.
10. A generation of priests, bishops, and cardinals who embrace their artistic patrimony and acknowledge the importance of sacred art and architecture for the faithful.

We invite you to join Sacred Architecture and our honored guest The Most Rev. Salvatore J. Cordileone at a gala celebration in Philadelphia on October 14. Mass will be celebrated by the Archbishop at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul at 3:00 p.m. and is open to the public. A ticketed dinner and lecture by Wall Street Journal architectural critic Michael J. Lewis will follow.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Torah and Haftarah in the Roman Liturgy (Part 1)

On the Jewish calendar, the civil New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is the first day of the month of Tishri, but for religious and liturgical purposes, the first month is Nisan, and Tishri the seventh. Because this calendar is lunar, this day falls on the solar Gregorian calendar within a range from September 5th to October 5th. The tenth of Tishri is Yom Kippur, “the day of atonement”; these two feasts together are often called “the High Holy Days.” On the 15th occurs Sukkot, the feast of Tabernacles, which goes on for seven days, the last of which is Hoshanah Rabbah, “the great supplication.” The next day, the 22nd, is a kind of supplementary feast originally known as “the eighth (day) of assembly” (Shemini Atseret), but nowadays often called “Simchat Torah – the joy of the Law.” This is the day on which the annual cycle of readings from the Law of Moses ends with the last part of Deuteronomy, and restarts with the beginning of Genesis. It is traditionally marked by a procession in which the Torah scrolls are removed from the arks in which they are kept, and carried around the synagogue by people as they dance.

The Celebration of Simchat Torah in the Synagogue of Livorno, Italy, 1850, by the English painter Solomon Hart (1806-81), the first Jewish member of the Royal Academy of Art. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Rome is home to the oldest Jewish diaspora community in western Europe, dating back to at least the second half of the 2nd century B.C., and of course, many of the early converts to Christianity in the city were of Jewish origin. Even as late as the early decades of the 5th century, the distinction between Jewish converts and gentiles was evidently still felt. The mosaic dedicatory inscription on the counterfaçade of the Roman basilica of St Sabina, made around 425 AD, has a symbolic figure of “the Church from the circumcision” on the left, and another of “the Church from the gentiles” on the right.
Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.
It should therefore be no surprise to find that these ancient Jewish feasts had some influence on one of the most ancient features of the Roman Rite, the Ember Days, with which they often overlap. Pope St Leo the Great, the first author known to us to speak of the latter, says several times in his sermons about them that they were taken from the Old Law. For example, in his seventh sermon on those of September, he writes, “we take up the fast of the seventh month from the preaching of the old doctrine, for the purification of our souls and bodies, but we do not therefore subject ourselves to the burdens of the law, but rather, we embrace the usefulness of that temperance which serves the Gospel of Christ.”
In the liturgical texts of the September Ember days, there are two very explicit references to the Jewish High Holy Days. The more obvious is the pair of readings from Leviticus 23 on Saturday, which describe the celebration of the Day of Atonement and the feast of Tabernacles. The other is the Introit of Ember Wednesday.

Introitus, Ps. 80 Exsultáte Deo, adjutóri nostro: jubiláte Deo Jacob: súmite psalmum jucundum cum cíthara: cánite in initio mensis tuba, quia praeceptum in Israël est, et judicium Deo Jacob. V. Testimonium in Joseph posuit illud, cum exíret de terra Aegypti: linguam, quam non nóverat, audívit. Gloria Patri … Exsultáte Deo... (The Introit begins at 2:45 in this recording of the Mass celebrated last year at the church of St Eugène in Paris, sung by our good friends of the Schola Sainte Cécile.)

Introit, Psalm 80 Rejoice to God our helper: sing aloud to the God of Jacob. Take up a pleasant psalm; blow the trumpet at the beginning of the month, for it is a commandment in Israel, and a judgment unto the God of Jacob. V. He ordained it for a testimony in Joseph, when he came out of the land of Egypt: he heard a tongue which he knew not.

“The beginning of the month” refers to Rosh Hashanah, and “the trumpet” to the musical horn known as the shofar, which figures prominently in the celebration of it and other observances. The words “for it is a commandment in Israel” refer to the fact that these feasts are all kept in obedience to specific precepts of the law of Moses.
The mosaic floor of a synagogue, dated from the 5th to the 7th century, in the town of Beth Shean, Israel. The torah ark in the middle has a menorah to either side; under each menorah is a shovel for incense and a shofar. ~ This motif is often accompanied by what Jewish tradition calls the Four Species (a citron fruit, a frond of a date palm, a bough of myrtle and a branch of willow), which are carried during the rites of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, in fulfillment of Leviticus 23, 40, “And you shall take to you on the first day the fruits of the fairest tree, and branches of palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God.” Their absence here may indicate that this was a Samaritan synagogue, since their use was associated with the rites of the Jerusalem temple, which the Samaritans rejected. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.) 
The Hebrew Bible is traditionally divided into three parts, the Law (Torah), the Prophets (Nevi’im) and the Writings (Ketuvim). From these divisions comes the acronym “Tanakh”, the common Hebrew term for “Bible.” The Prophets are then subdivided into two groups, Former (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and Latter (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve, but not Daniel as in the Christian tradition.)

In the Jewish liturgy, the Torah is divided into sections called “parashoth – portions”, such that going from Sabbath to Sabbath, the whole of it is read over the course of a year. Each parashah is followed by a reading from the Prophets called a “haftarah – leave-taking.” (Despite the similarity between “torah” and “haftarah” in English transliteration, the two words are completely unrelated.) This custom is very ancient, and several different systems of haftaroth are attested.

Compared to a typical Mass lesson in the Roman tradition, the individual parashoth are quite long, since they need to cover 187 chapters at 52 services, an average of more than 3½ per week. The first, for example, ends at Genesis 6, 8, a total of 144 verses. (And in fact, many synagogues have in modern times adopted a three-year reading system to shorten them… sigh…) It would be impossible to cover the whole of the Prophets (almost 340 chapters) at the same time, and so the haftarah readings are selected to match the parashoth thematically, and rather shorter (although also mostly rather longer than a typical reading of the Roman Rite.)

A page of the Aleppo Codex, a Hebrew Bible copied out ca. 920 AD. The blank line in the upper part of the right-hand column indicates a break between two parashoth. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.) 
It seems that this tradition had some influence on the ancient Roman lectionary, since there are several occasions when readings from the Law and the Prophets are likewise thematically paired. St Leo also refers to this union in his Ember Day sermons a number of times, for example in the ninth on those of September. “The love of neighbor is the love of God, who established the fullness of the Law and the Prophets in this union of two-fold charity, so that no one might doubt that he offers to God what he shall have given to man”, (i.e., by fasting, and therefore not spending money for food on himself.)

By definition, such parings would be found on days which have more than one reading from the Old Testament, most of which are Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays. For example, on the Ember Wednesday of the first week of Lent, the first reading, Exodus 24, 12-18, ends with Moses fasting for forty days and forty nights, and the second, 3 Kings 19, 3-8, ends with the prophet Elijah fasting for forty days and forty nights.

But if the compilers of the Roman lectionary were in fact inspired by the Jewish liturgical tradition, they did not always copy it exactly. On the Ember Wednesday of September, the first reading is the last three verses of the book of the prophet Amos, chapter 9, 13-15. This is paired with a reading which is not from the Law, but about it, Nehemiah 8, 1-10, in which Ezra, Nehemiah and the Levites read and interpret it to the people. It seems unlikely to be a coincidence that in one tradition of the haftaroth, a longer section from Amos 9 (verses 7-15) is read with a parashah which begins with Leviticus 16, explaining the ritual of Yom Kippur.
A portrait of Ezra as a scribe in the Codex Amiatinus, the oldest complete copy of the Vulgate Bible, ca. 700 AD. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.) 
The reading from Nehemiah ends with the words, “And he said to them, ‘Go, eat rich meats, and drink sweet wine, and send portions to them that have not prepared for themselves: because it is the holy day of the Lord, and be not sad: for the joy of the Lord is our strength.’ ” The reading of Amos refers to the richness of the land from which the rich meats and sweet wine come: “Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when the ploughman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed: and the mountains shall drop sweetness, and every hill shall be tilled.” The importance of this second reading is highlighted by the fact that it provides the text of the Communio, which is normally taken from a Psalm or the day’s Gospel. In the context of the Mass, the “rich meats and sweet wine” then come to mean the species of the Holy Eucharist.
The text of the Offertory is taken from Psalm 118, the great praise of the Law, and the longest psalm in the Psalter. And perhaps the double occurrence of “commandments” was chosen as another reference to the “Law and the Prophets”, and the double occurrence of “I have loved” to the two precepts of charity. “Meditabor in mandatis tuis, quæ dilexi valde; et levabo manus meas ad mandata tua, quæ dilexi. – I will meditate upon Thy commandments, which I have loved, and I will lift up my hands unto Thy commandments, which I have loved.” “I will meditate” would therefore be a reference to the contemplative life, and “I will lift up my hands” to the active.
Lastly we may note the second gradual, taken from Psalm 32, 12: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he hath chosen for his inheritance”, a text which originally meant the Jewish people alone. The second part, however, goes back to verse 6: “By the word (Verbo) of the Lord the heavens were established; and all the power of them by the spirit (spiritu) of his mouth.” This combination of the Lord, the Word and the Spirit was naturally understood by the Church Fathers as a reference to the Trinity. God’s people and inheritance thus become all those who are baptized in the name of Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

A Eucharistic Miracle in Ferrara, Italy

On Easter Sunday of the year 1171, a Eucharistic miracle occurred in a church in Ferrara, Italy, called Santa Maria Anteriore; at the moment of the fraction of the Host, blood gushed forth from it and landed on the apse above the altar. The church became a pilgrimage site, but by the later 15th century, was in a very dire condition, so a new church was built nearby called Santa Maria in Vado. (“Vado” is Ferrarese dialect for “guado - a ford”, and interestingly, closer to the Latin “vadum.”) The remains of the blood-spattered apse were later brought into the new church in 1501, and set up as part of a shrine in the right transept, which was then completely rebuilt in 1594. A friend of mine recently visited the church, and kindly agreed to share his pictures of it with us; to these, I have joined several others by Nicola de’ Grandi.

The right transept, with the shrine built in front of the remains of the blood-spattered apse of Santa Maria Anteriore.
This inscription added at the base of the remains of the apse reads, “Here is the precious blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which in the year 1171 on the day of Easter, March 28, leaping forth in the midst of the priest’s hands by a miracle, stuck to the upper part of this apse; wonder, adore, and give thanks to God.”

Other Miracles of St Januarius

Today is the feast of St Januarius, who is also widely known by the Italian form of his name “San Gennaro”, as emigrants from Naples, of which he is the principal Patron, have brought devotion to him wherever they have settled; the feast held in his honor in New York City is particularly famous. September 19th is the day of his martyrdom, which took place at Pozzuoli during the persecution of Diocletian, alongside that of several other Christians from various parts of Campania; he was in point of fact bishop of Benevento, about 33 miles to the north-east of Naples. In the Middle Ages, his relics were transferred to the important monastery of Monte Vergine, and from there to the cathedral of Naples only at the beginning of the 16th century.

He is of course especially well-known for the miracle which takes place on his feast day in most years, when the relic of his blood is brought into the presence of the relic of his skull and liquifies. Perhaps less well-known is the fact that the miracle normally happens three times a year, since Naples celebrates two other feasts of him as well. On the Saturday before the first Sunday of May, the translation of his relics is commemorated; on December 16th, a third feast commemorates a rather spectacular miracle by which St Januarius demonstrated his care for and protection of the city. In 1631, an unusually powerful lava flow from Mt Vesuvius, the crater of which is only 9 miles from the city center, had come down towards the city and threatened to destroy the granaries which would provide bread for the populace through the upcoming winter. The bishop therefore brought the Saint’s relics to the lava flow, which turned aside at that point. I attended this December feast one year, when the relics of the blood are brought from the cathedral to the church of St Clare; I could see very clearly that the liquified blood was moving around inside the crystal vial which contains it, mounted in the reliquary, as it was carried back to the large chapel at the cathedral where it is housed.

Outside the church of Santa Caterina a Formiello in Naples is a monument which commemorates another occasion on which St Januarius saved the city and the region around it from the eruptions of Vesuvius, in 1707.

“To Saint Januarius, chief patron of the city of Naples, because, when (the relic of) his sacred head was shown on an altar set up in this place, he put down and completely pacified the destructive assaults of Mt Vesuvius in the year 1707, as, with a great eruption of fire, it raged with increasing force for a great many days, and thus threatened most certainly to burn the city and all of Campania; the Neapolitans, mindful of his divine favor, as also of the countless others by which he has liberated the city and its region from war, famine, plague and earthquake, set this monument.”
Behind the cathedral, in the Piazza Cardinale Sforza, stands a large baroque obelisk, also still called by the medieval Italian term “guglia”, which was erected in the Saint’s honor after the miracle of 1631. The inscription on the base says that “the grateful city of Naples raised (it) to Saint Januarius, most ready protector of the nation and kingdom, and her most-well deserving citizen.”
And here is really magnificent reliquary formerly used for the processions, now kept in the museum at the church of St Clare, where the December liquefaction happens.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Dr Emily Thelen’s Talk on the Mass of the Seven Sorrows

As promised last week, here is the superb talk which Dr Emily Thelen gave last Monday about devotion to the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin in the Low Countries in the later 15th centuries, and an important manuscript that contains a very beautiful Mass composed for that feast. This talk was held as part of an ongoing lecture series offered by the Catholic Institute of Sacred Music; the next one in the series will be on Tuesday, November 7th, at 5:45 pm Pacific.

Cardinal Sarah on Joseph Ratzinger’s Liturgical Theology and Francis’ Departure from It

New Liturgical Movement has many times featured the name and writings of Cardinal Robert Sarah, whom Benedict XVI chose to be his close collaborator in the sacred liturgy, and who was sidelined during the early years of the present pontificate.

Cardinal Sarah has never ceased to bear clear witness to the priority of the liturgy in the life of the Church, and of the dire need for a return to sane liturgical praxis after the maelstrom of the Council. He has spoken with particular clarity since the release of Traditionis Custodes.

It is therefore of considerable interest to note that he has published a major article in the journal Communio entitled “The Inexhaustible Reality: Joseph Ratzinger and the Sacred Liturgy” (vol. 49, Winter 2022), which has been made available for free by the publication (here). Although the entire article is worth a read, I would like to draw particular attention to the following passages.

On pp. 639-40:

One of the “unnoticed” but important contributions of [Joseph Ratzinger’s] The Spirit of the Liturgy is its reflection on authority—specifically papal authority—and the sacred liturgy. Noting that the Western liturgy is something that (borrowing the words of J. A. Jungmann, SJ) “has come to be,” that is “an organic growth,” not “a specially contrived production,” “something organic that grows and whose laws of growth determine the possibilities of further development,” Cardinal Ratzinger observes that in modern times “the more vigorously the [Petrine] primacy was displayed, the more the question came up about the extent and limits of this authority, which of course had never been considered. After the Second Vatican Council, the impression arose that the pope really could do anything in liturgical matters, especially if he were acting on the mandate of an Ecumenical Council. Eventually, the idea of the givenness of the liturgy, the fact that one cannot do with it what one will, faded from the public consciousness of the West. In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The pope’s authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. It is not 'manufactured' by the authorities. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity. . . . The authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition.” [1]

In this assertion of the objectivity of the sacred liturgy in its developed ritual forms, and of the duty of the highest authority in the Church to respect this reality, [2] Cardinal Ratzinger laid the theological foundations for the consideration of a reform of the liturgical reform, or even for legitimately leaving aside the reformed rites in favor of their predecessors. Uncritical obedience to papal authority—already something long since abandoned in many places, but clung to by others as the guarantee of orthodoxy in turbulent times—was dealt a blow, at least with respect to the liturgical reform, by one of the highest ranking prelates in the Church (albeit writing in a private capacity).
Again, on pp. 643-45:

Pope Benedict’s most famous act of liturgical governance was, of course, his motu proprio Summorum pontificum (2007), “On the Use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970,” establishing that the older liturgical rites were “never abrogated” (1) and could therefore be freely used, and indeed that the requests of groups of the faithful for their celebration must be accepted. Bishops could no longer a priori exclude their celebration. Pope Benedict’s regulation of these principles was permissive, marking a sharp change to the parsimonious approach of too many bishops up to that point.

His accompanying “Letter to the Bishops on the Occasion of the Publication of the Apostolic Letter ‘Motu Proprio Data’ Summorum Pontificum on the Use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970” of the same date, dealt deftly with the loud opposition that this measure had attracted even before it appeared; he noted the pastoral reality that “young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the mystery of the most holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them” [3], and appealed to the bishops: “Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.” The pope stated clearly,

“In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.”

Again, for those who knew the liturgical thought of Joseph Ratzinger, this stance is no surprise. His openness to the realities concerned—historical, theological, and pastoral—is clear. But for those who shared neither his vision nor his openness, these were retrograde acts calling into question the Second Vatican Council and its liturgical reform.

The argument, such as it was, was won over time by what has come to be known as “the liturgical peace of Benedict XVI,” wherein the “liturgy wars” of previous decades which had established “old rite” and “new rite” factions subsided and, certainly thanks to many of the younger generation of bishops, gave way to a peaceful coexistence, tolerance, and even a degree of mutual enrichment between the liturgical forms that lasted well beyond the end of his pontificate, repairing the unity of the Church to some extent and enhancing it while respecting legitimate differences of expression within the Church of God.

It is profoundly to be regretted that the motu proprio Traditionis custodes (July 16, 2021) and the related Responsa ad dubia (December 4, 2021), perceived as acts of liturgical aggression by many, seem to have damaged this peace and may even pose a threat to the Church’s unity. If there is a revival of the postconciliar “liturgy wars,” or if people simply go elsewhere to find the older liturgy, these measures will have backfired badly. It is too early to make a thorough assessment of the motivations behind them, or of their ultimate impact, but it is nevertheless difficult to conclude that Pope Benedict XVI was wrong in asserting that the older liturgical forms “cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful,” particularly when their unfettered celebration has manifestly brought forth good fruits.
Notes (from the original Communio article)

[1] Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 165–66. As Pope Benedict XVI, he would develop this theme with respect to the wider Petrine ministry in his homily on the occasion of taking possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, May 7, 2005.

[2] A reality taught by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, §§1124–25.

[3] Benedict XVI, Letter to the Bishops on the Occasion of the Publication of the Apostolic Letter “Motu Proprio Data” Summorum Pontificum on the Use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970 (Vatican City, 7 July 2007). I also can testify to this reality from many encounters with young people―lay men and women, religious, seminarians, and priests―whose vocations in the world either to Christian marriage or to the religious or the apostolic life are grounded in and nourished by the older liturgical forms in a truly life-giving way. In this respect, I can never forget my visit to the Paris-Chartres Pentecost pilgrimage in 2018: what hope these young people give to the Church of today and of the future!
Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s Substack “Tradition & Sanity”; personal site; composer site; publishing house Os Justi Press and YouTube, SoundCloud, and Spotify pages.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

O Lord, look unto my aid; let them be confounded and ashamed, who seek after my soul to take it away. O Lord, look unto my aid. (The Offertory of the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost.)

Offertorium, Ps. 39 Dómine, in auxilium meum réspice: confundantur et revereantur, qui quaerunt ánimam meam, ut áuferant eam. Dómine, in auxilium meum réspice.

This Offertory is also sung on Friday of the second week of Lent; when I went to search for it on YouTube, this very beautiful polyphonic version written for that season also came up. No information is given about who composed it; if any one knows, please be so kind as to leave a message in the combox.
Today is also the feast of the Stigmata of St Francis. The painter Giotto worked for the Franciscan Order on many occasions, most famously, in the upper basilica of St Francis in Assisi, where he and his assistants painted a cycle of 28 panels of the founder’s life. This altarpiece of the stigmatization was originally commissioned for the church of St Francis in Pisa; the predella panels show three episodes of the Saint’s: the dream by which Pope Innocent III is persuaded to allow the Franciscan order to continue; the approbation of the Rule, and St Francis preaching to the birds.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Photos of the Annual Marie Reine du Canada Pilgrimage

The annual Marie Reine du Canada pilgrimage to Canada’s historic Marian shrine, Notre Dame du Cap, took place on September 2-4. A lay-led endeavour based out of the FSSP’s apostolate in Ottawa, the parish of St Clement, the pilgrimage is an annual three-day trek, covering 100 km (62 miles) in the footsteps of the North American Martyrs along Quebec’s north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Much like the Pentecost pilgrimage to Chartres, pilgrims walk in chapters, and carry banners while singing and praying; chaplains provide confession and spiritual direction en route, and all participants camp in tents. Priests celebrate the Mass in the traditional Roman Rite each day of the pilgrimage in parish churches along the route, with the solemn High Mass taking place in the historic Old Shrine of Notre Dame du Cap, where upon the high altar stands the miraculous statue of Our Lady of the Cape, which opened its eyes on June 1888, in the presence of Fr. Frederic Janssoone (now Blessed), Fr. Luc Desilets, and a layman, Pierre Lacroix.

This year marks twenty years since the pilgrimage’s inception. Approximately 100 walking pilgrims attended, mostly from Ontario and Quebec, with a small cohort from the United States joining in. The chaplain of the pilgrimage, Fr. Jacques Breton FSSP, recently authored a book on the shrine, “The Miraculous Story of Our Lady of the Cape”, which is now available in both English and French. This year Fr. Breton was joined by a priest of the diocese of Pembroke, Fr. Peter Do. Next year’s pilgrimage will be from August 31 to September 2.

Laudato Si’, Laudato No

In function of that peculiar charism (and, in the telling of some, very peculiar) by which the god of surprises goes about his business, the Sacred Congregation for Rites has just announced the promulgation of a novel liturgical tradition. In order to remind us in a more profound and meaningful way that we celebrate every liturgy as a liturgy of creation, it is now permitted to replace the traditional scheme of liturgical colors with the skins of extinct or endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Conservation Status” scheme. NLM is very honored to be chosen once again by the Sacred Congregation as the medium of promulgation for this important new tradition. Here is an outline of the scheme:

Extinct – funerals
Extinct in the wild – Ash Wednesday and Good Friday
Critically endangered – Lent
Endangered – Advent
Vulnerable – Confessors, Virgins
Near threatened – Apostles, Martyrs
Least concern – feasts of Our Lord, Our Lady and the Angels.
The official Latin text is still being composed (it will be called Risu dignum et justum), but a special note has already been released, which recommends the black-and-white striped hide of the quagga as a profound and meaningful expression of the unity of the Paschal mystery, and therefore especially appropriate for funerals. (It is left to the local episcopal conferences to determine which extinct animals’ hides will be most profoundly significant and meaningful for use in funeral liturgies; they are, however, strictly forbidden from making any such determination without the approval of the Sacred Congregation for Rites, to be requested in writing.)
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The Italian church, always especially forwardist when it comes to matters liturgical, has already put the new tradition to good use, for a celebration of the optional memorial of St Tarzanius. (Courtesy of the Facebook page of the Italian blog Messa in Latino.) 
Laudato Si’...
Laudato No!
NLM asked Mons. Giovanni Boidenio, pontifical cerimoniere and titular archbishop of Amafratria, for his comments on the new tradition. He wrote: “I would love to see the orphreys of a Requiem set done in Great Auk, which has a very rich sheen. Less pliable hides such as those of the Sumatran elephant may represent a challenge for vestment design companies. Could they be employed in a mitre? or perhaps the footwear? I think incorporation of each category is important: nothing would raise environmental awareness more than, say, an alb appareled with Pernambuco pygmy owl, or perhaps some California condor.

This raises another question: is the employment of such endangered/extinct species limited to seasonal vestments? What about liturgicalia that are not season-indicated, such as sacred vessels? For example, the Hawaiian gastropod laminella sanguinea is critically endangered/possibly extinct, so it would qualify as decoration. It has a gorgeous deep red shell and would look really nice inset on the base or cup of a chalice or ciborium. Would this be possible? Or is the new custom limited to vestments?”

Of course, with the emergence of new gene-splicing and cloning technologies, it is possible that some extinct species may become unextinct in the not-too-distant future, in which case, the new liturgical market could provide an important incentive for breeding them. NLM will be the first to let you know about any exciting developments in this new tradition.

Friday, September 15, 2023

A Very Beautiful Polyphonic Mass for the Seven Sorrows

This past Monday, I attended a supremely interesting online talk by Dr Emily Thelen, hosted by the Catholic Institute of Sacred Music as part of a recurring lecture series. Her subject was the devotion to the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin, and particularly, its emergence in the later 15th century in the Low Countries, and how it was promoted by some of the secular rulers of the area through art and music. I cannot pretend to do justice to the lecture by summarizing it; fortunately, it will soon be posted on YouTube so we can share it here. However, I can do justice to the work which was her principal subject, a manuscript by one Pierre Alamire, by posting these videos of the magnificent Mass of the Seven Sorrows which it contains, recorded by the Belgium-based Early Music ensemble Capilla Flamenca.

Alamire is a nom-de-plume, the pitch signature A and the musical notes La-Mi-Re. He was born in Nuremberg, Bavaria, ca. 1470, with the last name Imhoff of Imhove, which became van den Hove when he moved to the Dutch-speaking parts of the Low Countries in his youth. He was very talented not only as a composer, but also as a creator of beautifully illuminated musical manuscripts, which were highly sought after. As a result of renown in this field, he traveled a good deal, which led to him serving for a time as a spy for King Henry VIII of England and Thomas Cardinal Wolsey.

The manuscript which Dr Thelen describes in her talk contains inter alia this Mass by the French composer Pierre de La Rue (1452 ca. - 1520), made at the behest of Philip I, Duke of Burgundy (1482-1506; born 1478), who was a great promotor of the devotion to the Sorrowful Mother in a period of great social and political turmoil within his domains.

The name “Capilla Flamenca”, by the way, is Spanish for “the Flemish chapel.” This refers to the fact that the Spanish Habsburg court under the Emperor Charles V and his successor was so generous in its patronage of music that it maintained two full-time choirs, a native choir, the “capilla española”, and another of musicians brought down from its possessions in the Low Countries. 
Agnus Dei

Coins: The Mystagogical Value of Traditional Wedding Customs, Part I

Las arras matrimoniales

Traditional wedding customs have a mystagogical value, teaching and initiating bride and groom into different aspects of the mysterion mega that is Christian matrimony. (Eph. 5, 32) Aside from the wedding ring and the nuptial blessing, both the 1962 and 1970 liturgical books are relatively silent about specific wedding ceremonies, in large part because both make generous allowance for local “praiseworthy customs” that vary according to time and place. In this article, we explore the theological meanings of one such praiseworthy custom that is prominent in the annals of Western liturgical nuptials but less known today: wedding coins.

Historical Overview
The long history of coins in Christian weddings is a testimony to the lingering power of economic considerations in contracting marriage, as well as the importance of local codes of honor. At least in some historical contexts, money was transferred from one party to another not simply for the sake of economic gain or financial security, but as an affirmation of the dignity and self-respect of one’s own family or clan as well as that of the other. Consequently, betrothal and nuptial dotation often involved elaborate gifts and counter-gifts from both families rather than a unilateral “payment” or donation. In the same vein, dotation could be an acknowledgement of the bride’s dignity rather than—as terms like “bride-purchase” and “bride-price” might imply—a reflection of her status as chattel. Among the Franks, for example, dotation was one of the two sine quibus non that distinguished a wife from a concubine.
Money or its equivalent (e.g., jewelry) was especially important for matrimony in Germanic lands, for while Roman law considered the couple’s consent essential for making a marriage, Germanic law laid stress on the betrothal and the dotation. The money in question could be for the husband’s parents, the husband, the wife’s parents, the wife, the wife’s future sons, or a combination thereof. Further complicating matters is that dotation could appear in either a betrothal or in a wedding, each with its own meaning. At a betrothal, coins from a groom could serve as earnest money or a pledge (arrha) to fulfill his promise to marry; should he renege, he would most likely have to forfeit his gift. Coins given after the exchange of marital vows, on the other hand, could either be a down payment or the full sum of what the husband owed his new wife or her parents—or what the bride’s family owed the husband’s. Both practices, which were known as a subarrhatio, were inherited by the Church as she converted the peoples of Europe. It would be left to medieval canonists to sort out the differences between the subarrhatio of a betrothal and of a wedding just as they would be forced to distinguish between the vows of betrothal and those of matrimony.
The most common dotation substitute for coins, both among the Romans and the Germanic tribes, was a ring: for the Visigoths, it could even substitute for a written contract. In the ninth century, Pope Nicholas would use the term arrha in reference to the “ring of faith” (fidei annulum) rather than to the dos (dower or dowry) that he mentions separately; and the subarrhatio often appears in ecclesiastical texts as the subarrhatio cum anulo (sic) or subarrhatio annuli. Nevertheless, the early Christian tendency—as evidenced in St. Isidore et al.—to see the ring as a symbol of the union of two hearts and of the spouses’ mutual fidelity lent to the ring a symbolic significance that went beyond the pecuniary. [1]
It is therefore not surprising to find the ring and coins emerging as two distinct nuptial objects in some of the first fully integrated marriage rituals of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. That said, rings and coins continued to be interchangeable items for centuries thereafter. In some parts of Europe, a couple would break a coin in half and each would keep a piece when they could not afford a ring.
It was customary for the groom to give his bride thirteen coins, thirteen being an auspicious number because it was the number of Christ and His apostles. Deniers (the rough equivalent of a U.S. dime) were the standard coins to use in pre-Revolutionary France, although beginning in the fourteenth century special commemorative medals, which were stamped with loving inscriptions and symbols of love (such as two hands joined), increasingly gained popularity. A single medaille de mariage could also be used. The custom of commemorative coins survives today, among other places, in the minting of special coins on the occasion of a royal wedding.
Coin commemorating the wedding of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Elisabeth of Bavaria (Sissi”) 1854
In those locales where rings and coins were differentiated, each object assumed its own symbolic importance. The ring, as we have seen, was interpreted as a symbol of mutual fidelity and loving union. It was either placed on the right hand to affirm the dignity of marriage (the right hand being higher in standing than the sinister left); or it was placed on the ring finger of the left hand because of a Renaissance belief that a vein ran from this finger straight to the heart. In areas where the priest gave the ring to the groom before the groom gave it to the bride, the ring could also signify that the Church approves of and seals the love of this couple.
As for the coins, during the age of feudalism they denoted the arrha, with the arrha defined not as the bride’s dowry or a bride-price but the “dower,” the portion of the husband’s estate which was guaranteed to the wife in the event of his death. (It is from the dower that we have the English noun “dowager” for a wealthy widow.) As economic and legal systems changed, however, so too did the meaning of the coins. In seventeenth-century France, the thirteen deniers or treizain de mariage were seen as a ritual acknowledgement of the groom’s obligation to provide for his wife and their future family. The money also reminded the newlyweds that God rewards His faithful, while the relatively low value of the coins’ currency admonished them to hold spiritual goods higher than temporal.
The coins were usually kept by the couple as a precious memento of their wedding. In some parts of France they were placed in a purse: in others, in a box of silver or enamel that would have an inscription on it such as “United forever” or “One faith from two hearts.” Sometimes, this box was kept under a glass in the hearth of the home to remind the couple of fiscal responsibility and to protect them from misfortune. It was also customary in several regions for at least some of the coins to be given away either to the poor or to the priest for his services. At Amiens and Rheims in the sixteenth century, the priest kept ten of the thirteen coins, while in Bordeaux the priest took one. In the monastery of Lyre, the coins were distributed to the poor, and in pre-Reformation England, the money was “given to the clerks or poor according to the custom of the country.” This stipend would survive in the rubric of the Book of Common Prayer: “And the man shall give unto the woman a ring, laying the same upon the book, [along] with the accustomed duty to the Priest and Clerk.” [2]
The blessing of thirteen coins was a common feature of French Catholic weddings, especially in rural areas, until around the First World War; but by 1936 they were being studied as mostly a thing of the past. The Catholic Rite of Marriage in Scotland still includes an optional if rarely used ceremony in which the groom gives coins to the bride and says, “This gold and silver I give you, tokens of all my worldly goods.” A similar custom is also available in Ireland. According to the guidelines for marriage in the Diocese of Cork and Ross, the coins are “a symbol of your commitment to complete sharing.” The diocese adds:
You may use small gifts which are known only to the couple. Traditionally, a coin was used and was given by the groom to the bride. It is now considered more appropriate to have two coins and to have a two-way exchange. [3]
In Spain it was once customary for the groom to give the bride thirteen commemorative arras (as they are known in Spanish) immediately before the wedding at the doors of the church so she could carry them with her in procession up the aisle and have them blessed during the ceremony. This custom, however, is less prevalent today, and when it is observed, the coins are usually exchanged as a symbol of shared wealth.
The ancient liturgical use of wedding coins thrives mostly today not in Europe but in the Hispanic New World and in the Philippines, where commemorative coins remain almost as iconic a nuptial symbol as the ring itself. Isidore of Seville mentions the arrha in the sixth century, and the Mozarabic and Visigothic liturgies, as we will see, included a nuptial blessing for coins. The Spanish took the custom to their colonies in the New World and Southeast Asia, where it continued to develop. In Mexico, the new husband takes the coins and says: “Receive these coins; they are a pledge of the care I will take so that we will not lack what is necessary in our home.” The woman, in turn, receives the coins and says: “I receive them as a sign of the care I will take so that our home will prosper.” [4] Such rituals, which are prevalent throughout Central and South America, are becoming increasingly common in the United States due to immigration.
The coin ceremony that has arguably reached the greatest stage of development is the one conducted in a Filipino wedding. The priest empties thirteen loose coins into the groom’s open hand, who then does the same to the bride. The bride, in turn, gives the coins (usually, commemorative medals representing different virtues) back to the groom, who then hands them to an acolyte. The coins cascading from one hand to the next, it is said, represent the bounty and grace of God poured forth on His children, as well as hope for prosperity and security. The handing of coins back and forth between husband and wife symbolizes not only the husband’s obligations but the wife’s as well, who in a traditional Filipino household manages the estate and finances. The ritualized flip-flopping of funds also dramatizes that whatever one of them earns becomes the other’s, thereby teaching the equality of sharing and responsible co-ownership. Filipina bridal processions even have a coin-bearer along with the more familiar ring-bearer.
Filipino arrhae
Lastly, coins often reemerge in some other part of the wedding in places where they have ceased to be a formal part of the nuptial liturgy. In Hungary, the groom would give the bride a bag of coins at the same time that the bride gives the groom three or seven handkerchiefs (lucky numbers). In Poland, brides to this day approach the altar with “some money tucked in their shoe, their bodice or within their wedding wreath.” [5]  And, of course, the coin custom would survive after it was dropped from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer in the heel of every English bride. Hence the wedding rhyme:
Something old, something new;
Something borrowed, something blue;
And a sixpence in her shoe.
Not to be outdone, the traditional Swedish bride had a silver coin from her father in her left shoe and a gold coin from her mother in her right as a guarantee of financial solvency.
English sixpence (minted from 1551 to 1970)
A Numismatic Nuptial Theology
Given the decline of coin usage as a universal wedding token and given their historical association with economic and domestic protocols that are now outdated or no longer practiced, it may be reasonably asked whether coin blessings have any value in a contemporary Catholic wedding that is not Hispanic or Filipino. I believe that we can answer in the affirmative, and for four reasons.
First, the coin ceremony affirms the goodness of material prosperity but not as the highest good. Both points are important for a Christian marriage. There will always be marriages and families threatened by a dearth of finances, lacking “the means necessary for survival, such as food, work, housing and medicine”; and there will always be marriages and families threatened by “excessive prosperity and the consumer mentality, paradoxically joined to a certain anguish and uncertainty about the future.” Both situations, Pope St. John Paul II concludes, “deprive married couples of the generosity and courage needed for raising up new human life,” not to mention militate against several other spiritual goods. [6]  It is therefore appropriate that the Church pray for the financial necessities of the new couple while simultaneously warning them to keep temporal goods in proper perspective, all for the sake of their authentic “blossoming” as human beings and icons of Christ. Each of these elements (including the floral metaphor just used) may be found in a blessing from the eleventh-century Sacramentary of Vich, variations of which can be found in the Mozarabic rite and several French manuals from roughly the same period.
Bless, O Lord, this earnest money, which today Thy servant N. hands over to Thy handmaiden N., as Thou didst bless Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel. Grant them the grace of Thy salvation, an abundance of things, and persistence in [good] works. May they flower as the rose planted in Jericho, and may they fear and adore our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen. [7]
The blessing combines petitions for material and spiritual gain but without falling into the heresy of a “Prosperity Gospel” or the Weberian Protestant work ethic. The following blessing from fourteenth-century Cambrai, France is even more explicit:
Bless, O Lord, these coins, which we bless in Thy name, entreating Thine immense clemency: that whoever is endowed with them, may be divinely endowed with the riches of grace and glory—here, in eternity, and forever and ever. Amen. [8]
No sooner are the coins, the necessary mammon of this world, put into the hands of the bride and groom than their thoughts are turned to everlasting riches, yet not in a way that vilifies money per se or belittles the concern for it. The coin ceremony reminds the newlyweds that for them to be poor in spirit and to reject the false gods of consumerism and materialism, they need not and should not take a vow of poverty.
This latter point brings us to our second and related affirmation of the coin ceremony, namely, that this numismatic tradition teaches several honorable qualities of a successful marriage that do not appear elsewhere in the Rite of Marriage. The ring has long ceased to function as an arrha with monetary connotations and has instead become a symbol of fidelity, union, and love—especially nowadays, when two rings are typically exchanged by the spouses. As such, it is fitting that a second symbol be used for good habits befitting the married life that concern money, habits such as fiscal responsibility, a shared stewardship of their common estate, and a generosity to the Church and to the poor. An inability to handle money prudently and virtuously can harm the freshly-minted union of man and wife, even when that union is sacramental. In 2012, a U.S. study concluded that arguments about money—especially early in the marriage and regardless of a couple’s income, net worth, or debt—were by far the top predictor of divorce, exceeding adultery and substance abuse. [9]
Third, just as the traditional coin ceremony teaches generic lessons that apply equally to bride and groom, it likewise provides a sex-specific template of the husband as the family’s provider and protector and the wife as the family’s treasurer and keeper. In an age of two-income households in which married women (at least in the United States) are now on average more educated than their husbands, this model will no doubt seem obsolete, even constricting and suffocating. It should be noted, however, that the categories of this template are not mutually exclusive: in some sense, a husband also needs to be a responsible keeper and treasurer and a wife also needs to be a responsible provider and protector. Moreover, like any generalized template, the model proposed by the arrha ceremony is one that needs to be worked out by the virtues of prudence and charity in response to particular circumstances, beginning with the individual temperaments and talents of the man and woman in question. Finally, the model needs to be adjusted over the course of a marriage as conditions change, which they can very much do in a protean job market such as ours, rife with career changes and upheavals.
ABC News graphic, 2013
The model remains valuable as a model, however, for at least two reasons. First, it ably targets specific postlapsarian temptations that, even in the face of changing societal gender roles, tend to assault one sex more than the other. The temptation not to be a provider is generally greater in a father than in a mother, as the statistics on “deadbeat dads” and court-ordered alimonies would suggest. Conversely and secondly, the template supplies a basic sex-specific image that, when followed properly and in the right spirit, brings out what is noblest in each sex and actuates their natural gifts. Even in a household in which the woman earns more than the man (an increasingly common phenomenon), a man is more inclined to reject the adolescent Island of the Lotus Eaters (e.g., playing video games all day in his Man Cave) when he is animated by a chivalrous sense of self-sacrifice and a protectiveness concerning women and children, a sense that can be cultivated in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ without succumbing to the lamentable distortions of male chauvinism, machismo, or sexism. Simply put, a man is less likely to become a playboy or a predator when he sees himself as called to be a provider and protector. And similarly, a woman is generally more inspired when she sees herself as the unique keeper of her husband’s trust, as the nurturer of something precious and indispensable, as the maternal center of warmth and life and flourishing that, like the good and faithful servant in the Gospel, turns five talents of gold into ten. (Matt. 25, 16)
Claims about a sex-specific template in marriage are, of course, increasingly unpopular in a society such as ours, but that may be all the more reason to make them. Rather than devalue the traditional coin ceremony with a doctrine of radical egalitarianism or eliminate it altogether, the ceremony should be used as a window into an authentically Catholic theological anthropology and as an opportunity to discuss the non-interchangeable dignities of Christian husbandhood and Christian wifehood. In this respect the Filipino coin ceremony is particularly commendable because it retains the symbolism of the husband and wife’s different obligations as well as their equal co-ownership.
Issac and Rebecca, by Lambert Lombard, 1530-35
Fourth, the traditional liturgical use of wedding coins provides an additional way of locating the new couple’s life together within the biblical narrative. The medieval blessings, such as those cited above, typically invoke figures from the Hebrew Bible (Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel) or use metaphors from the deuterocanonical books, such as the rose planted in Jericho (see Ecclesiasticus [Sirach] 24, 18). Among other things, these instances of intertextuality invite the new husband and wife to find the meaning of their own “story” within that of the Sacred Scriptures, much like St. Augustine does with his life in the Confessions. And while such an invitation occurs in a privileged way during the Liturgy of the Word/Mass of the Catechumens through the proclaimed scriptural readings, it is fitting that the invitation also be extended through ritual enactment; for the goal of the invitation is ultimately a mystagogical participation in the mystery of the union of Christ and His Church. 

An earlier version of this essay appeared as part of an article entitled, “Coins and Care-Cloths: The Mystagogical Value of Traditional Wedding Customs,” Antiphon 18:2 (Summer 2014), pp. 115–143. Many thanks to its editors for allowing its publication here.

[1] See Isidore of Seville, De ecclesiasticis officiis 2.20.8 (PL 83:812).
[2] J. Wickham Legg, “Notes on the Marriage Service in the Book of Common Prayer, 1549,” in The Library of Liturgiology & Ecclesiology for English Readers, ed. Vernon Staley (London: Alexander Moring, Ltd., 1905), 188-89.
[3], retrieved 27 February 2014 but no longer online.
[4] See Timothy S. Matovina, “Marriage Celebrations in Mexican American Communities,” Liturgical Ministry 5 (1996), 23.
[5] Sophie Hodorowicz Knab, Polish Wedding Customs and Traditions (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1997), 76.
[6] Pope St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio 6.
[7] See also J.B. Molin and P. Mutembe, Le rituel du mariage en France du XIIe au XVIe siècle (Paris: Beauchesne, 1974), 319-20.
[8] Ibid., 320.
[9] Jeffrey Dew, Sonya Britt, and Sandra Huston, “Examining the Relationship Between Financial Issues and Divorce,” Family Relations 61:4 (October 2012), 615–628.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: