Tuesday, February 07, 2023

The Feast of St Romuald

The incorrupt body of St Romuald was transferred to the church of St Blaise in the Italian city of Fabriano on February 7, 1481. When Pope Clement VIII added his feast to the general calendar in 1595, in the second edition of the Breviary of St Pius V, it was assigned to the anniversary of the translation, since the day of his death, June 19th, had been from very ancient times the feast of the Milanese martyrs Ss Gervase and Protase. On the calendar of the post-Conciliar Rite, he is kept on the latter date.

Born in the mid-10th century, an age in which religious life had in many places fallen into terrible decadence, Romuald became one of the great monastic reformers in an age of great reformers. The pattern of Benedictine monasticism which he created was formed by bringing together two different ways of life. The first of these was the traditional communal life, as practiced at the monastery of Sant’Apollinare in Classe near Ravenna, in accord with the Cluniac reform. To this day, there stands right in the middle of the church’s nave the altar where St Romuald was praying, when Apollinaris, an early martyr buried therein, appeared to him in a vision, and confirmed his monastic vocation.

The second was the eremitical life, a tradition more focused on personal austerity, which he learned under a spiritual master named Marinus. Romuald’s biographer, St Peter Damian, describes Marinus as “a man of simple spirit... driven to the eremitical life only by the impulse of his good will,” while referring also to his “severity lacking in judgment.” The monastery founded by Romuald at Camaldoli near Arezzo would thus become the model for a rather loosely organized order, formerly divided into five separate congregations, in which the cenobitic and eremitical life were united.

In the year 1365, the Florentine painter Nardo di Cione executed an altarpiece for the chapel of St Romuald in the Camaldolese house in Florence, St Mary of the Angels. (He is better known today as the first painter of Dante’s Divine Comedy. including what was once an exceptionally vivid, though now much-ruined vision of Hell, in the Strozzi Chapel at Santa Maria Novella.) The central panel shows the Trinity, in the form known as the Mercy Seat, with St Romuald on the left, and St John the Evangelist on the right.

The Lamb of God, as described in the fifth and sixth chapters of the Apocalypse of St John, is represented at top, on the book with the seven seals.

On the left of the predella is shown the appearance of Saint Apollinaris to Romuald.
On the left part of the middle panel, Marinus is shown disciplining Romuald by hitting him in the face with a stick. St Peter Damian tells us that after enduring many such blows, Romuald humbly asked that Marinus might beat him on the right side of his face, since he was starting to loose his hearing on the left side. (Hence the reference to “severity lacking in judgment.”) On the right, Romuald overcomes the assaults of demons, like many great monks before him, such as St Anthony the Abbot.
On the right panel, the famous vision of St Romuald is depicted, in which he beholds a ladder by which monks in the white Camaldolese habit ascend to heaven, “in the likeness of the Patriarch Jacob”, as the Roman Breviary says.

Doesn’t it Cost Too Much To Make Things Beautiful?

Why a culture of beauty pays off both economically and spiritually

On the whole, the beauty of artifacts is a function of design rather than materials. This means that, contrary to what many believe, mass production and industrialization are not processes that automatically create ugly products. It is as easy to mass produce something beautiful as it is something ugly. The ugliness of today’s culture is not driven by economics, but rather by poor design, because artists and designers are no longer aware of how traditional values are manifested in design, or else because they deliberately reject those values. A large basilica built in modern design is typically more expensive than one built in, say, a traditional Romanesque design, as evidenced by the recent building of the Neo-Romanesque church of St Mary in Kansas, which compares favorably with say, Los Angeles cathedral. 

The Immaculata church at St Mary’s Kansas. This is still under construction.

Sometimes the cost can be greater but not because designing beautifully is intrinsically more costly, but rather because, particularly for lower priced housing which might ordinarily rely on mass produced units, the current templates of mass productions, e.g., for window dimensions, are not reflective of traditional harmony and proportion.  But this could change in time if the demand for better proportioned units increases . Furthermore, even if greater cost is incurred before we reach that point, it is an investment that pays off economically. Houses that are now being built in traditional proportions typically have a higher price on the open market that more than offsets any additional costs in their building. This was the experience of building the experimental village in Dorset, Poundbury, which is an urban extension of the larger town of Dorchester.

I would argue that if we wish also to consider the souls of those who use what we create, then we must endeavor to make beautiful objects, and to do so in a cost effective manner. An ‘investment’ in the souls of men will always pay off. For example, when faced with the dilemma about whether or not money should be spent on beautiful churches and sacred art, some object and say that it would be better given to the poor.

This is an old but false argument that I would counter as follows: consider the Gospel account of Martha, Mary and Judas (John 12, 1-9). The two women acted as hostesses, Mary washed Jesus’s feet with expensive nard, while Martha attended to the other guests’ need. Judas, who was the keeper of the funds for the apostle, also complained that the money spent on expensive nard would be better given to the poor.

Tintoretto, Italian 16th century: Martha and Mary with Christ in Bethany, with Judas looking on,

Here is a lesson about allocation of resources: Mary made the right choice, we were told, in choosing Christ even before giving to the poor. There is an equivalent choice facing us today every time we have to decide about having beautiful churches and art, intricate vestments, ornate jewel-studded chalices and so on. Is it right to direct money to these things when there is poverty? The answer is yes, when these things, through the liturgy, elevate the souls of the faithful to Christ. This is greater than giving these resources to the poor directly. Why would we say this?

First, all of us, rich or poor, can go to church and we all need our souls saved. So in church the poor benefit from this spiritually as much as the rich do. Beauty is a common-good equally available, and equally beneficial, to all who encounter it, rich and poor alike.

But second, the poor will benefit materially as well. Faith inspires charity and so it will inspire the rich to give to the poor directly. Furthermore , it will allow for the creation of greater wealth for the benefit of the poor in such a way that their dignity is elevated. This is the principle of superabundance at work. Superabundance is the creation of something out of nothing, or of more from less. The Christian life, lived according to the principle of love is always fruitful in so many ways – and when it is it invokes the principle of superabundance.

Benedict XVI speaks of this principle of superabundance through charity in the economic sphere in his encyclical, Caritas in veritate (CV). He tells us how love might be present even in the ordinary economic transaction. When it is, it not only creates wealth, as all economic transactions do, but also builds up the dignity of all concerned, for even economic transactions suffused with love are raised to a level that goes beyond the material. A community is created which through every interaction, including the economic, builds up the dignity of those involved and in turn generates greater material wealth by encouraging more economic activity.   

Benedict writes:  
“Because it is a gift received by everyone, charity in truth is a force that builds community, it brings all people together without imposing barriers or limits. The human community that we build by ourselves can never, purely by its own strength, be a fully fraternal community, nor can it overcome every division and become a truly universal community. The unity of the human race, a fraternal communion transcending every barrier, is called into being by the word of God-who-is-Love. In addressing this key question, we must make it clear, on the one hand, that the logic of gift does not exclude justice, nor does it merely sit alongside it as a second element added from without; on the other hand, economic, social and political development, if it is to be authentically human, needs to make room for the principle of gratuitousness as an expression of fraternity.

“35. In a climate of mutual trust, the market is the economic institution that permits encounter between persons, inasmuch as they are economic subjects who make use of contracts to regulate their relations as they exchange goods and services of equivalent value between them, in order to satisfy their needs and desires. The market is subject to the principles of so-called commutative justice, which regulates the relations of giving and receiving between parties to a transaction. But the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy, not only because it belongs within a broader social and political context, but also because of the wider network of relations within which it operates. In fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well.” (CV, 34)
A Church whose liturgy inspires holiness will inspire an atmosphere of mutual trust that Benedict speaks of.

During his papacy, Pope Francis has made headlines with regular calls to charity towards the poor, citing St Francis of Assisi as a model. To this day, the Franciscan order is characterized by a mission of charity for the poor. But it should not be forgotten that St Francis was commissioned by God to rebuild Christ’s Church, and he did both lovingly and beautifully, for both missions, ministering to the poor and building up the Church, are connected. We must not forget that the regeneration of the Church that St Francis of Assisi inspired involved a powerful cultural renewal too. This was the Church that inspired Franciscans to help the poor. So many of the great artists from the time of Francis were third order Franciscans or were commissioned by Franciscans to work on their churches – Giotto, Cimabue, Simone Martini, Raphael, Michelangelo. There is no austerity in the Franciscan churches of the past - the basilica at Assisi is richly decorated from floor to ceiling.  

The interior of the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi. The Franciscan order felt that there is no contradiction between spending money on such decoration, and care for the poor.

If we are to help the poor of America, we must begin as the Franciscans did in medieval Italy, by transforming the Church into one that has beautiful liturgy and beautiful art and architecture. This will in turn evangelize the culture and change all men’s hearts so that they are more inclined to help the poor  as part of their own community. It will also create a national culture that will foster the rise in mutual trust by which the economy will grow in such a way that the poor will have jobs and greater dignity; in other words, they will cease to be poor.

Monday, February 06, 2023

Was Liturgical Latin Introduced As (and Because It Was) the “Common Tongue”?

In a lecture published recently at Church Life Journal, “In the Swarm: The Liturgy and Liquid Identity,” Angela Franks offers an intriguing analysis of “solid” and “liquid” aspects of Christianity and the impact this should have on our concept of pastoral care. The article — a keynote address for the Society for Catholic Liturgy — contains much insight: her general line is reminiscent of John Henry Newman’s emphasis on ecclesial development as an enrichment and articulation of what is always already given in Christ and in the deposit of faith.

One must, however, take exception to an illustration Dr. Franks offers from liturgical history, where she unfortunately repeats a misconception that has shown a remarkable resilience against all attempts to correct it. Here is what she writes:
We need solidity… Let us not, however, dismiss too quickly the balancing reality of liquidity. The history of the development of the liturgy and of sacramental theology bears this out as well. I will not attempt to delve into this history, but let us take one simple example: the changes in the liturgical languages of the Church. Very early Christian liturgy privileged Greek (although not exclusively), as the language of Scripture and the universal “common” (koine) tongue, but other rites in the vernacular have ancient roots, such as Coptic and Syrian. The standardization of Latin as the Western liturgical language began to occur when Latin became the “common” tongue. In this and in many other ways, liturgy has developed and changed under the guidance of the Church.
The assertion here is a familiar one: the Christian liturgy was “done in the vernacular,” and whenever the vernacular changed, the language of the liturgy also changed (or, presumably, should have changed). The Latinization of the liturgy in the fourth century is therefore explained simply in terms of wishing to move from an earlier but no longer accessible vernacular (koine Greek) to the vernacular of the day (Latin).

The trouble with this assertion is that it is highly misleading, to say the least, and downright incorrect in some respects. In her classic work Liturgical Latin: Its Origins and Character, published by CUA Press in 1957 (and happily back in print), Christine Mohrmann (1903–88) explained at length, with an abundance of examples, that the Latin of the early Roman liturgy is anything but the vernacular Latin of its time. It abounded in archaicisms, Hebraisms, legalisms, odd or intricate syntax, and rhetorical tropes. In this respect it was similar to the unusual Greek of the Septuagint and of early Greek Christian liturgies—which should hardly surprise us, given that the Jews themselves continued to use Hebrew in their worship, which, by then, was a language no longer commonly spoken. Indeed, the Son of God would have conducted the Last Supper at least partially in an archaic sacral language. [1]

The discussion of language in Michael Fiedrowicz’s The Traditional Mass: History, Form, and Theology of the Classical Roman Rite is quite illuminating. The entire section (153–78) is well worth reading; I shall quote here only the most immediately pertinent passages.
…Latin translations of the Bible originated in the middle of the second century. But even these developments were not simply a colloquial element within the divine worship. These texts also possessed a sacred stylizing, insofar as the Latin translations bore a strong biblical complexion through a certain literalism, that is, a close following of the scriptural forms of speech, and in this way they acquired a peculiarly foreign style, soon felt to be holy….
       An appreciation for the sacred formation of the holy texts was the inheritance of old Roman religiosity. In order to conform to the requirements of a hieratic style, Christian Latinity first had to be perfected to a certain degree and be capable of rising above everyday speech. If the development of a Christian sacred language thoroughly drew on particular elements of style of old Roman traditions, then such an impartial use of Rome’s cultural inheritance was conceivable only in the later peacetime of the Church (from 313 on) when the pagan religion no longer presented a serious threat to Christianity; and just as confidently as the Church introduced the spoils of heathen temples into her own basilicas, she made the stylistic forms of ancient prayer texts her own. (156–57)
       The use of Latin as a sacred language that stylistically tied in with old Roman traditions would especially have won over to the Christian Faith the influential elite of the empire, who at this time [fourth century] had just begun to discover anew their texts of classical literature. The Church had at its disposal a language of prayer whose content was renewed by revelation and at the same time formally bound to the Roman tradition. (157–58)
And most to the point:
The introduction of Latin into the Roman liturgy, then, certainly did not indicate the abandonment of the principle of a sacred language. In that sense, Latinization cannot be understood as an argument for the vernacular, as though with the change of the liturgical language, the Church in Rome were simply accounting for the fact that the majority of the faithful by then were no longer Greek-speaking, but Latin-speaking Christians. The Latin of the liturgy was identical with neither the classical Latin of Cicero nor the colloquial language, Vulgar Latin. It was, at least in the texts of prayers, a highly stylized form of language, which was not readily understandable to the average Roman of the fourth and fifth centuries: “No Roman had ever spoken in the language or style of the Canon or the prayers of the Roman Mass.”
       It was rather a language that sought to awaken the experience of the sacred and to raise man above the things of this world to God. This rising up to God was accomplished neither by a complete renunciation of language (holy silence, silentium mysticum) nor in the form of glossolalia, the gift of tongues (cf. 1 Cor 14:2), which no longer possessed its communicative character; rather, it was accomplished by means of a sacred language that drew from biblical sources as well as from the hieratic idiom of pagan Rome and, not least of all, also made use of ancient rhetoric. As a glance at the historical development demonstrates, the Church did not slip Latin on as a garment that could be replaced with another at any time. Rather, the Roman Church artistically forged for herself her own Latin for her liturgy, and in it she uniquely expressed her identity. (158)
In his new book The Liturgy, the Family, and the Crisis of Modernity—which, incidentally, engages with many of the issues raised by Dr. Franks in her lecture—Dr. Joseph Shaw summarizes and comments on Dr. Mohrmann’s research:
The argument from “expedience” may seem particularly weak today, in light of the stress laid by the reformist party on how the liturgy was translated into Latin to aid the comprehension of the faithful, and how it has been translated into a number of other languages by the churches of the East. This argument, familiar as it is, is misleading. We do not have any records of the reasoning behind the composition of the Latin liturgy, but the kind of Latin used suggests that popular comprehension was not the overriding consideration, in contrast to the importance of appropriating the tradition of solemn and sacred Latin for the use of the Church at a moment when Paganism was no longer a threat….
       The Roman Canon would have been at least as incomprehensible to fourth-century prostitutes and bums as Cicero’s convoluted orations would have been to their predecessors. In such cases the style, vocabulary, and in general the register is not designed for immediate and universal comprehension. In the case of the Roman Canon, we find archaisms, neologisms, Hebraisms and other foreign loan words, and echoes of the unnatural syntax of sacred and legal language. In any case, from an early date, and quite possibly from the start, it was said silently, by a celebrant hidden from the congregation in the nave by curtains. If verbal comprehension was the object of the Latin liturgy’s composition, Pope Damasus (if it was he) and his collaborators went about their task in a most surprising way. (60, 72)
With considerations like these in mind, it becomes clear why we need to be extremely cautious about making claims like “Christian liturgy privileged…the universal ‘common’ tongue” and “the standardization of Latin as the Western liturgical language began to occur when Latin became the ‘common’ tongue.” Both of these claims are demonstrably false.

As to the first, Christian liturgy, even when first rendered in the language of a certain people or cultural sphere, always exhibited peculiar traits that linguists describe as sacral or hieratic, and which would already have sounded that way even to those at the time it was first used, but much more so to those who come in the generations after, given both the continual development of the vernacular and the tendency toward a strong conservatism of forms on the part of the Church in every one of its historic rites.

As to the second claim, Latin was spoken for centuries before the Roman liturgy was rendered in Latin; the reason for the delay, therefore, was not that Latin was not a “common tongue” prior to this, but rather, that it still had pagan associations and lacked the resources needed for a distinctively Christian register suitable for divine worship. When Roman society (above all, in its aristocracy) had become more Christianized and an abundant Christian literature was available, the time was ripe for the Latinization of the Roman liturgy. As Fr Uwe Michael Lang writes in his recently published The Roman Mass: From Early Christian Origins to Tridentine Reform:
The formation of a Latin liturgical idiom was a major contribution to this project of evangelising Roman culture and thus attracting the influential elites of the city and the empire to the Christian faith. It would not be accurate to describe this process simply as the adoption of the vernacular language in the liturgy, if ‘vernacular’ is taken to mean ‘colloquial’. The Latin of the canon, of the collects and prefaces of the Mass transcended the conversationl idiom of ordinary people. This highly stylised form of speech, shaped to express complex theological ideas, would not have been easy to follow by the average Roman Christian of late antiquity. (109)
Fr Lang also explains why the East saw a profusion of languages (including the Coptic and Syrian of which Dr. Franks makes mention):
The Christian East was in a position to make use of several languages that carried with themselves a certain cultural, social and political weight: in addition to Greek, which retained a strong presence well into the fifth century, Syriac, Coptic Armenian, Georgian and Ethiopic began to be employed in the liturgy. In the Christian West, vernacular languages were not used in divine worship. The case of Roman North Africa is instructive: Augustine held Punic in esteem and made sure that the bishop chosen for a Punic-speaking region knew the language needed for his ministry. However, there are no extant documents of a Punic liturgy, whether Catholic or Donatist. The religious prestige of the Roman church and its bishop helped Latin become the only liturgical language of the West. This would prove an important factor in furthering ecclesiastical, cultural and political unity. Latinitas became one of the defining characteristics of Western Europe. (109–10) [2]
So successful was this endeavor that Latin would remain the mother tongue of the Western Church at prayer for the next 1,600 years. The core of the Roman rite continued intact, while growing organically in its calendar, prayer texts, lectionary, rubrical codification, and artistic externals. Truly one and the same Roman rite, as a person is one and the same, though he was once a child and is now a man; yet also the source of an endless profusion of cultural riches on every continent. Truly, the traditional liturgy demonstrates the most harmonious interplay of the “solid” and the “liquid” in Western history, in support of a transnational and transcultural unity of religion—an interplay and a unity that have been lost in the demotic babelization and ritual fragmentation caused by the postconciliar reforms.


[1] “At the time of Christ, the Jews used the language of Old Hebraic for their services, though it was incomprehensible to the people. In the synagogues, only the readings and a few prayers relating to them were written in the mother tongue of Aramaic; the great, established prayer texts were recited in Hebrew. Although Christ adamantly attacked the formalism of the Pharisees in other respects, He never questioned this practice. Insofar as the Passover Meal was primarily celebrated with Hebrew prayers, the Last Supper was also characterized by elements of a sacred language. It is therefore possible that Christ spoke the words of Eucharistic consecration in the Hebrew lingua sacra” (Fiedrowicz, Traditional Mass, 153).

The same author defines “the characteristics of a sacred language” as: “(1) a conscious distancing from the words of colloquial language, which makes the “complete otherness” of the divine felt; (2) an archaizing or at least conservative tendency to favor antiquated expressions and adhere to certain speech forms from centuries ago, as is well-suited for the worship of an eternal and unchanging God; (3) the use of foreign words that evoke religious associations, as, for example, the Hebrew and Aramaic forms of the words alleluia, Sabaoth, hosanna, amen, maranatha in the Greek books of the New Testament; and finally, (4) syntactic and phonetic stylizations (e.g., parallelisms, alliterations, rhymes, and rhythmic sentence endings) that clearly structure the train of thought, are memorable and allow for easy recollection, and strive for tonal beauty” (154–55).

[2] Regarding Roman prestige: one can well understand why Charlemagne would have adopted for the Franks the Latin liturgy of Rome.

Sunday, February 05, 2023

The Book of Genesis in Stone

Since the Church begins to read the book of Genesis in the Divine Office on Septuagesima Sunday, I saved these pictures of the exterior of one of my favorite churches in Italy, the Romanesque cathedral of Modena, for today. (We saw the interior on Tuesday, the feast of the St Geminianus, Patron of the church and of the city, and more on Friday.) The façade, constructed at the very beginning of the 12th century, is decorated with four panels by a sculptor named Wiligelmo, representing stories of the Creation, the Fall of Man, and the Flood. These stories are placed on the outside of the church to remind us of our fallen condition and consequent removal from the presence of God, a presence which for Christians is regained inside the Church. The plant and animal motifs inside the church and on its doors show us where the garden of Paradise may now truly be found.

God the creator; the creation of Adam; the creation of Eve; the Serpent speaks to Adam and Eve.

God rebukes Adam and Eve; He expels them from the garden; Adam and Eve begin to work the earth.
Cain an Abel make their offerings to God; Cain kills Abel; God rebukes and curses Cain.
Lamech kills Cain; Noah’s Ark; Noah and his sons leave the ark.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

The Five Prayers of the Candlemas Blessing and the Five Books of Moses

The Gospel of the feast of the Purification, St Luke 2, 22-32, says in its first verse that the Christ Child was presented in the temple in Jerusalem “according to the Law of Moses.” This refers to Leviticus 12, which states that “(i)f a woman having received seed shall bear a man child, she shall be unclean seven days … and on the eighth day the infant shall be circumcised, but she shall remain three and thirty days in the blood of her purification. … And when the days of her purification are expired, … she shall bring to the door of the tabernacle of the testimony, a lamb of a year old for a holocaust, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for sin, and shall deliver them to the priest, who shall offer them before the Lord, and shall pray for her…” In the Tridentine reform of the Roman Breviary, this chapter was made the second and third reading of Matins on February 2nd.

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, 1620, by the Flemish painter Cornelis de Vos (1584-1621). Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.  
From the very beginning, as the Church wrestled with the question of whether the observances of the Mosaic law remained valid for its members, one of the strongest arguments in favor of them was that Christ Himself, who said that “not one jot or tittle should pass away from the Law” (Matt. 5, 18), had observed them Himself. The Church Fathers, therefore, emphasize that He did so in order to indicate to us the true meaning of the Law of Moses, as a prefiguration of the new Law of the Gospel. In the mid-3rd century, the great Biblical scholar and commenter Origen, who was very influential on subsequent generation of the Fathers, writes that Christ “ ‘was made under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law’, and subject them to another Law.” (Homily 14 on Luke, citing Gal. 4, 5) In St Ambrose’s time, the Presentation of Christ in the temple was celebrated on January 1st along with the Circumcision, and he comments on this passage of St Luke: “he that is circumcised of vices was judged worthy of the sight of the Lord… you see that the whole succession of the old Law was a figure of the future, for even circumcision signifies the purification of sins.” (Exposition on the Gospel of Luke, II, 56)

St Cyril of Alexandria also comments on the two episodes, the Circumcision and Presentation, at the same time. “(T)oday we have seen Him obedient to the laws of Moses, or rather we have seen Him Who as God is the Legislator, subject to His own decrees…” But the sacrifice of the birds that accompanied the latter has a mystical significance. “The (turtledove)... is the noisiest of the birds of the field: but the (pigeon) is a mild and gentle creature. And such did the Savior of all become towards us, showing the most perfect gentleness, and like a turtledove moreover soothing the world, and filling His own vineyard, even us who believe in Him, with the sweet sound of His voice. For it is written in the Song of Songs, ‘The voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land.’ (Cant. 2, 12) For Christ has spoken to us the divine message of the Gospel, which is for the salvation of the whole world.” (Sermon III on the Gospel of St Luke, ad finem.)

Finally, we may note the words of St Bede the Venerable, that neither Christ nor His Mother were subject to the conditions of the Law. Moses writes that a woman shall do these things when “she has received seed,” and born a child, to distinguish from Her that conceived and bore a Son as a Virgin. Christ “was free from the condition of the Law, but deigned to accept it for this reason, that He might approve it as holy, just and good, and by the grace of Faith, free us from the service and fear thereof.” (Exposition on the Gospel of Luke, Liber I in cap. 2)

In the Byzantine Rite, the feast of the Purification is called “the Meeting of the Lord with Simeon”, and the liturgical texts of the feast lay great emphasis on Christ as the giver of the Law which He obeys, and from the observance of which He then releases the Church. This hymn from Vespers typifies the motif: “Today Simeon receiveth the Lord of glory in his arms, even He whom Moses saw of old beneath the darkness on Mount Sinai, giving him the tablets. This is the One who spoke in the Prophets, and the Maker of the Law; this is the One whom David proclaimeth, feared of all, that hath great and rich mercy.”
A painting in the cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Kyiv, Ukraine, based on Proverbs 9, 1-11, the first words of which are written in Greek on the building’s cornice. God the Father, with the seven great archangels to either side sends the Holy Spirit down upon the Virgin Mary, who stands in the middle of Wisdom’s house, with the Christ Child in a halo on Her chest, the icon type known as the “Virgin of the Sign.” The steps ascending towards Her are labelled “Faith (cut off by the frame), Hope, Love, Purity, Humility, Grace, Glory”; to the left are shown David, Aaron, and closest to Her, Moses, to the right, the four Major Prophets. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Several other texts on the feast and during its Afterfeast (the Byzantine equivalent of an octave) refer to the darkness that enveloped Mt Sinai when Moses when up to receive the Law, which is implicitly contrasted with the “light unto the revelation of the gentiles” of which Simeon speaks in the Nunc dimittis. Thus, the old Law, including the rites of circumcision and the sacrifice of purification, was revealed in darkness, and applicable only to the Jewish people. But it was intended to serve as a figure of the new Law, in which circumcision is replaced with baptism which is applicable to all, “male and female, Jew and Gentile.” And thus, the feast on January 6th, which celebrates the Baptism of the Lord, is called the Theophany, but also simply “the lights.”

The Roman Rite prefers great simplicity and subtlety in its rhetoric. In the context of this feast, it asserts this relationship between the Lawgiver and the Law, and the passage from the Old Law to the New, through the five prayers of the candle blessing, each of which refers, in order, to one of the five books of the Law of Moses.

The first prayer, corresponding to Genesis, begins with the words “Lord, … who created all things from nothing…”, a reference to the creation of the world. This also explains the statement that candles are made for the use of men, and the health of their body and souls, “whether on land or at sea”, since Moses’ account of creation includes the division of the land from the waters, and the creation of man “as a living soul.” (Gen. 2, 7) This is the only one of the five prayers that mentions the Virgin Mary, the new Eve; it asks for the prayers of “all Thy Saints”, perhaps in reference to the holy Patriarchs of the Old Testament. The last part asks that that God “be merciful to all those who cry out to Thee, whom Thou hast redeemed by the precious blood of Thy Son”, a reference to the blood of the just Abel that cries to God from the earth.

The second prayer, which corresponds to Exodus, states that the faithful received the blessed candles “unto the magnificence of Thy name.” This refers to the Canticle of Moses in chapter 15, a passage familiar to all Christians from its presence among the prophecies of the Easter vigil. “Let us sing to the Lord: for he is gloriously magnified… The Lord is my strength and my praise, and he is become salvation to me: he is my God and I will glorify him: the God of my father, and I will exalt him. The Lord is as a man of war, Almighty is his name.”

(Exodus 14, 24 -15, 1, followed by the Tract from chapter 15, verses 1 and 2, sung at the vigil of Pentecost.)
The third prayer corresponds to Leviticus, and asks that the faithful may “be without the blindness of all vices, so that… we may be able to see those things which are pleasing to Thee and useful to our salvation.” This refers to the Church’s distinction between the perennially valid precepts of the moral law contained in Leviticus, and in the Law generally, and the ritual prescriptions to which She is no longer bound. Notice also here the contrast between light and darkness of which the Byzantine liturgy speaks: “so that after the dark ‘discrimina’ (both ‘hazards’ and ‘decisions’) of this age, we may merit to come to the light unfailing.”

The fourth prayer begins with a reference to God’s command to Moses to prepare oil for the lights that burn before Him in the tabernacle of the covenant. In St Jerome’s Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible, this is mentioned three times in Exodus, and twice more in Numbers, the fourth book of the Law, with the verb “concinnare – to make, prepare”, which is also used in this prayer. The prayer that “the light of Thy spirit not be lacking inwardly to our minds” refers, perhaps, to the sharing of Moses’ spirit with the seventy elders of Israel described in chapter 11.

Finally, the fifth prayer, which corresponds to Deuteronomy, asks that we may be “enlightened and taught by the Holy Spirit.” This refers to the canticle of Moses in chapter 32, which begins with the words, “Let my doctrine gather as the rain, … I will invoke the name of the Lord: give ye magnificence to our God.” At the Easter vigil, after these words are sung in the Tract after the eleventh prophecy, the Church states in the prayer that follows that God “willed to teach the people by the singing of His holy song.” The prayer concludes with the petition that “we may truly know and faithfully love” God, a reference to the words of chapter 6, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength.” This commandment appears nowhere else in the Law of Moses, and is, of course, commended by the Lord Himself as the first and greatest commandment. (Matt. 22, 37)

Friday, February 03, 2023

More Pictures of Modena Cathedral

Following up on Tuesday’s post, here are some more pictures of one of my favorite churches in Italy, the cathedral of Modena, dedicated to a St Geminianus, bishop of the city in the later 4th century, and the Virgin of the Assumption.

Romanesque capitals in the crypt.
A polyptych of the Coronation of the Virgin Mary, with Ss. Nicholas, Christopher, Geminianus and Anthony the Abbot, by Serafino de’ Serafini, 1385. This chapel is at the very top of the large staircase that leads to the highly elevated main sanctuary.
The decorative slab on the front of this altar was carved in the 9th century.
Modern work in the main apse of the church.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Ambrosian Processional Chants for the Purification

In Rome, the blessing of candles on the feast of the Purification was traditionally done at the church of St Adrian in the Roman Forum, followed by a procession to the oldest church in the city and the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Santa Maria Maggiore on the Esquiline Hill. This custom gradually fell into disuse, and no station is mentioned in the Roman Missal on February 2, but of course, the blessing and procession are still held.

The Ambrosian Rite underwent a similar development. The clergy of the cathedral would traditionally bless the candles at a church called Santa Maria Beltrade, founded in 836, less than half a mile from the modern Piazza del Duomo, and then process back to the cathedral for the Mass. This procession has long since been transferred to the cathedral itself, which is also dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but a very ancient custom has been preserved of carrying an image of the Virgin and Child, known as the “Idea”, in the Candlemas procession. This is seen in a relief carving of the 12th century formerly in Santa Maria Beltrade; since the church was demolished in 1934, it has been at the Museum of the Castello Sforzesco. Pictures of the Idea currently used, and of Santa Maria Beltrade, are given below.) 
The procession with the Idea in the Duomo of Milan in 2013.
The Ambrosian form of the blessing is rather simpler than the Roman. It begins with the same introductory formula used at the hours of the Divine Office in both the Roman and Ambrosian Rite (“Deus in adjotorium, etc.”), followed by a triple “Kyrie eleison” (a very frequent feature in all things Ambrosian), and then a prayer which is proper to the Rite.

“Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui hodierna die cum legalibus sacrificiis in templo præsentari, et justi Simeonis ulnis gestari, dignatus es: benedic, quæsumus, hanc papyrum cerea pinguedine superductam; ut tuus eam populus, igne caritatis tuæ accensus, ad laudem, et gloriam nominis tui gestans; pietatis tuæ dono, indeficiens se lumen habere cognoscat. Qui vivis.
Almighty and everlasting God, who on this day deigned to be presented in the temple with the sacrifices of the Law, and borne in the arms of Simeon the just, bless, we pray, this papyrus covered in the richness of wax, that Thy people, enkindled with the fire of Thy love, bearing it to the praise and glory of Thy name, may know by the gift of Thy love, that it hath the unfailing Light who liveth and reigneth with Thee, etc.”
The candles are then sprinkled with holy water and incensed as in the Roman Rite, and distributed to the clergy and faithful, without any prescribed chant accompanying the distribution. This is the form found in the earliest Ambrosian liturgical sources, such as the 10th century Manual of Valtravaglia, but in the post-Tridentine reform of the Ambrosian Missal, several elements were added to the ceremony from the Roman Rite: the fourth and first of the five Roman prayers of the blessing, the Nunc dimittis with its antiphon, the antiphon Exsurge, and the concluding prayer. In the 1902 reform of the Missal, all of these elements were removed, and the ceremony returned to its original form.
The procession then begins, with the same ceremonies as in the Roman Rite (incense, processional cross, etc.) and is accompanied by a repertoire of 21 antiphons. The following recording has 8 of these, beginning at 2:15.
I Virgo Dei Genitrix,
quem totus non capit orbis
in tua te clausit viscera
factus homo.
Virgin Mother of God, He whom
the world could not contain enclosed
Himself within Thy womb, having
become a man.
II Beata progenies
unde Christus natus est:
Quam gloriosa est Virgo
quae caeli Regem genuit!
Blessed is the daughter from whom
Christ was born: how glorious is
the Virgin who begot the King of
VI Virgo Verbum concepit,
Virgo permansit,
Virgo genuit Regem
omnium regum.
The Virgin conceived the Word;
a virgin She remained;
the Virgin begot the King of all kings.
VII Beata es Maria,
quae credidisti;
perficientur in te
quae dicta sunt tibi a Domino.
Blessed art Thou, o Mary, who be-
lieved; the things which were said to
Thee by the Lord shall be brought
to pass.
X Beatam me dicent genera-
quia ancillam humilem
respexit Deus.
The generations shall call me blessed,
for God hath regarded the low estate
of His handmaid.
XIII Magnificamus te, Dei Ge-
quia ex te natus est Christus,
salvans omnes qui te glorificant:
sancta Domina Dei Genitrix,
sanctificationes tuas transmit-
   te nobis.
We magnify Thee, o Mother of God;
for from Thee was born Christ, who
saveth all that glorify Thee; holy Lady,
Mother of God, impart to us Thy
XV Virgo hodie fidelis,
etsi Verbum genuit incarnatum,
Virgo mansit et post partum;
quam laudantes omnes dicimus:
Benedicta tu in mulieribus.
Today the faithful Virgin, though She
begot the Word incarnate; remained a
virgin even after birth; who we all
praise and say, Blessed art Thou
among women.
XVII Sub tuam misericordiam
confugimus, Dei Genitrix,
ut nostram deprecationem
ne inducas in temptationem,
sed de periculo libera nos,
sola casta et benedicta.
Unto Thy mercy do we flee, o Mother
of God, that Thou may not bring our
supplication unto trial, but deliver us
from danger, who alone are chaste and

If the procession has gone out of the church, when it returns to the door, the processional cross stops before it, while the clergy and servers stand facing each other in two lines, with the celebrant facing the cross. The choir sings Kyrie, eleison, twelve times, six low and six high, and then an antiphon called a psallendum. As the choir sings Gloria Patri, all bow to the cross, and at Sicut erat, to the celebrant, and the procession then enters. (If the procession is done within the church, this ceremony is done at the chancel of the main sanctuary.)  

Psallendum Senex Puerum portabat, Puer autem senem regebat: quem Virgo concepit, et post partum virgo permansit; ipseum quem geniut, adoravit. Gloria Patri... Sicut erat... Senex Puerum...

Psallendum The old man carried the boy, but the boy ruled the old man, even He whom the Virgin conceived, and after the birth, remained a virgin; She adored Him whom She begot. Glory be... As it was... The old man...

The two sides of the Madonna dell’Idea, painted by Michelino and Leonardo da Besozzo in the 2nd quarter of the 15th century. (Both images from Wikimedia Commons by Dimitris Kamaras, 
CC BY 2.0)
The church of Santa Maria in Beltrade, reconstructed as seen here in 1601. 

The Presentation of the Lord and Purification of the Virgin 2023

Simeon received a revelation from the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death before he had seen the Anointed of the Lord; * And he blessed God, and said: Now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, o Lord. ℣. When His parents brought the Child Jesus, to do for Him after the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms. And blessed God... (The fifth Matins responsory of the Purification.)

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, 1342, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290-1348). Originally commissioned for one of the side altars in the cathedral of the artist’s native city, Siena, now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
℟. Responsum accépit Símeon a Spíritu Sancto, non visúrum se mortem, nisi vidéret Christum Dómini: * Et benedixit Deum, et dixit: Nunc dimittis servum tuum in pace, quia vidérunt óculi mei salutáre tuum, Dómine. ℣. Cum indúcerent púerum Jesum parentes ejus, ut fácerent secundum consuetúdinem legis pro eo, ipse accépit eum in ulnas suas. Et benedíxit Deum...
This very nice recording corresponds to the text given above for the first part, but adds the words of Nunc dimittis, “Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel. – A light for the revelation of the gentiles”, and begins the repetition at “Nunc dimittis...”
A beautiful polyphonic version of the first part by William Byrd.

And another by the Italian composer Luca Marenzio.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Photopost Request: Candlemas 2023

Our next major photopost will be for tomorrow’s feast of Candlemas; please send your photos of the blessing of candles, the procession and the Mass, Vespers etc. to photopost@newliturgicalmovement.org for inclusion. As always, we will be very glad to receive photographs of celebrations in either Form of the Roman Rite, any of the Eastern rites, the Ordinariate Use, etc. We will also include photos of the blessing of throats in honor of St Blase, whether it is done on the feast itself, or anticipated on February 2nd. Please be sure to include the name and location of the church, and always feel free to add any other information you think important. Evangelize through beauty!

From our first Candlemas photopost of last year: a statue of the Virgin Mary carried in procession at the church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar, home of the FSSP apostolate in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The blessing of throats in honor of St Blase at the Oratory of St Mary in Wausau, Wisconsin, a church of the Institute of Christ the King.

From the second post: the festal icon is brought out to the nave of St Basil the Great Byzantine Catholic Church in Los Gatos, California.

The Gospel at Mass in the Ordinariate Rite at the church of St John the Baptist in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania.

New Videos of Old Liturgies on YouTube

We are glad to see that after some years of inactivity, the very interesting YouTube channel Caerimoniale Romanum has begun posting new videos again - feliciter! More than 80 have gone up in the last few weeks, so here are just a few recent example (unfortunately without sound), footage of liturgies celebrated by His Eminence Manuel Cardinal Gonçalves Cerejeira, who was Patriarch of Lisbon from 1929 until 1971. The first is of a Mass celebrated in 1959.

Another from 1960.
And another from Pentecost Sunday of 1968, which shows him wearing the fanon.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Cathedral of Saint Geminianus in Modena (Part 1)

Today is the feast day of Saint Geminianus, the patron Saint of the small but lovely city of Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy; he died in the year 397. Not very much is known about him, (he is not even included in Butler’s Lives of the Saints), but devotion to him flourished in northern Italy. His name was even adopted by the much smaller Tuscan city of San Gimignano about a hundred miles away, one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. The cathedral of Modena is dedicated to him and the Virgin of the Assumption, and is one of my favorite churches in all of Italy. Later this week, we will have some more pictures of the interior. Since this coming Sunday is Septuagesima, on which the Church begins to read Genesis in the Divine Office, I will post some pictures of the exterior, which is decorated with sculpted panels of some of the stories from that book.

The cathedral museum preserves this decorated folio for the use of the bishop when he presided over Vespers of the Patronal feast; it contains only the opening verse “Deus, in adjutorium...”, the intonations of the first antiphon, the hymn, and the antiphon of the Magnificat, and the prayer.
The main sanctuary is considerably elevated above the floor of the nave, accessed by staircases on either side, while the crypt beneath is only a few steps lower. The reliefs on the liturgical pulpit show Christ and the Four Evangelists; those on the balustrade show the Passion of Christ. For obvious reasons, the Last Supper is given a prominent place, perhaps in deliberate imitation of the Byzantine custom of representing it on the iconostasis. Note also that the rood screen was never removed.
The entrance to the crypt.
The crypt itself is a small forest of well preserved Romanesque columns and capitals of the 12th century.
The sarcophagus which preserves the relics of St Geminianus, made in the late 4th century.

Candlemas with the St Ann Choir in Palo Alto, California

On Thursday, February 2nd, the St Ann Choir will sing a Latin Mass for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord and the Purification of the Virgin Mary at the church of St Thomas Aquinas, located at 751 Waverly St (at Homer) in Palo Alto, California. The ceremony begins at 8pm with the blessing of candles and a procession; the music will include the Mass O magnum mysterium by Tomas Luis de Victoria, and the proper Gregorian chants.

We Must Recognize the Utility of Beauty if We are to Transform American Culture

It is common for people who wish to see beauty in contemporary culture to be critical of architecture, say, for being ugly because it is designed on ‘utilitarian’ principles. What they mean by this is that the architect has not considered how to make his design beautiful, because he is only interested in creating a building that serves its function. For example, a newly built library is ugly because the architect only considered how it could house and give people access to books, and made no effort to incorporate a beautiful design. The critics of such a library would argue, typically, that the artist ought to have made the library beautiful as well as creating a design based upon its utility (or to use another word, ‘usefulness’). 

I would argue slightly differently. I would say that when any human artifact is made well it is beautiful. Beauty is not something that is an add-on to its usefulness. Rather when the library is as useful in the fullest sense of the word, it is inevitable that it will  be beautiful. Beauty, as I see it, is intimately bound up with utility, because when it has integrity, everything about it is in conformity to its purpose.  

The problem with our ugly library is not that the architect was utilitarian. Rather, because he only considered the material instead of the spiritual needs of readers, he did not understand the full purpose of a library. In fact he was not utilitarian enough! If people are to be at ease and able to read in peace and tranquility, the building must be a beautiful environment for reading. These functions of a beautiful library are related to our spiritual needs. Any information that we read and which is grasped by the intellect will have an impact on our spiritual lives too and it is important that the environment predisposes us to open to both spiritual and intellectual formation through what we read. Traditional church architecture has been proven over time to create the environment leads to contemplation of God. The main focus on the design of churches is as a place of worship, however activity of worship properly  includes the engagement of the intellect through the reception of information that is imparted to us via written and spoken word. It is appropriate, therefore that the design of a library should draw on that of a church, so that we learn what we read in such a way that it raises our hearts to God. And, traditionally this is precisely what we see. It is no accident that the libraries of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges are built in the gothic style. The design of the library is not identical to the college chapel, being proper to the function of a library, but it is closely related to it.
The cloister at Boston Public Library, early 20th century
This is not suggesting that every human activity has a spiritual component. Rather, since the human person is a unity of body and soul,  even activities directed primarily towards the good of the body,  must impact the soul as well. 

Take the most mundane of activities, say, cleaning our teeth. I brush my teeth every day because I want to be healthy and I don’t want my breath to smell bad. I cannot for the life of me see how I can brush my teeth spiritually! However, to have bodily health contributes to my well being as a person and hence contributes in some indirect way to my spiritual health too, thereby enhancing my capacity to undertake the work of the Lord. A toothbrush suited to its purpose will therefore have a beauty that speaks of this greater picture of the benefits of cleaning our teeth in a way that is in harmony with its primary purpose, and will incline us to use it for the benefit of our health. This is the utility of beauty in a toothbrush! It would be perfectly reasonable, therefore, to incorporate traditional proportions, which are rooted in the beauty of the cosmos, into the design of toothbrushes. 

The mundane: English Edwardian toothbrushes

When, unlike a toothbrush,  the object we are considering does have a direct impact on the spiritual life, such as how we pray, then it is all the more obvious that its beauty, which directs us to God, has a direct impact on our ability to carry out that activity well. The beauty of sacred art plays a direct role in raising our hearts to heaven which is what we must do to pray well. This means that everything associated with the liturgy for example, the art, music, architecture, vestments and so on, must be appropriately beautiful in order to serve its purpose well. 

And the sacred! Both should be beautiful

Monday, January 30, 2023

A Follow-up on Vocal Prayer and Mental Prayer: Wisdom from Benedict XVI

As we approach the one month anniversary of the death of Joseph Ratzinger, I wish to share with NLM readers one of my favorite parts of the ever-quotable Jesus of Nazareth series — namely, the place in volume 1, From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, where Ratzinger is commenting on the Our Father.

He has what strikes me as a perfectly balanced understanding of the relationship of vocal prayer to higher forms of prayer: he sees how they are intrinsically and necessarily connected, so that the lower is not reduced to a ladder to be kicked away. Since my own article “The Denigration of Vocal Prayer in the Name of ‘Mental Prayer’: A Recipe for Disaster” was misunderstood by some as a denigration of mental prayer (!), I thought it would be worthwhile to share the wisdom of Benedict XVI on the matter. After the selection from this book, I have included a pertinent passage from Spe Salvi.

* * *
This is what prayer really is — being in silent inward communion with God. It requires nourishment, and that is why we need articulated prayer in words, images, or thoughts.

The more God is present in us, the more we will really be able to be present to him when we utter the words of our prayers. But the converse is also true: Praying actualizes and deepens our communion of being with God. Our praying can and should arise above all from our heart, from our needs, our hopes, our joys, our sufferings, from our shame over sin, from our gratitude for the good. It can and should be a wholly personal prayer.

But we also constantly need to make use of those prayers that express in words the encounter with God experienced both by the Church as a whole and by individual members of the Church. For without these aids to prayer, our own praying and our image of God become subjective and end up reflecting ourselves more than the living God. In the formulaic prayers that arose first from the faith of Israel and then from the faith of praying members of the Church, we get to know God and ourselves as well. They are a “school of prayer” that transforms and opens up our life.

In his rule, St Benedict coined the formula Mens nostra concordet voci nostrae — our mind must be in accord with our voice (Rule 19,7). Normally, thought precedes word; it seeks and formulates the word. But praying the Psalms and liturgical prayer in general is exactly the other way round: The word, the voice, goes ahead of us, and our mind must adapt to it. For on our own we human beings do not “know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26)–we are too far removed from God, he is too mysterious and too great for us. And so God has come to our aid: He himself provides the words of our prayer and teaches us to pray. Through the prayers that come from him, he enables us to set out toward him; by praying together with the brothers and sisters he has given us, we gradually come to know him and draw closer to him.

In St Benedict’s writings, the phrase cited just now refers directly to the Psalms, the great prayer book of the People of God of the Old and New Covenant. The Psalms are words that the Holy Spirit has given to men; they are God’s Spirit become word. We thus pray “in the Spirit” with the Holy Spirit.

This applies even more, of course, to the Our Father. When we pray the Our Father, we are praying to God with words given by God, as St Cyprian says. And he adds that when we pray the Our Father, Jesus’ promise regarding the true worshipers, those who adore the Father “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23) is fulfilled in us. Christ, who is the truth, has given us these words, and in them he gives us the Holy Spirit.

This also reveals something of the specificity of Christian mysticism. It is not in the first instance immersion in the depths of oneself, but encounter with the Spirit of God in the word that goes ahead of us. It is encounter with the Son and the Holy Spirit and thus a becoming-one with the living God who is always both in us and above us. […]

The fact that Luke places the Our Father in the context of Jesus’ own praying is therefore significant. Jesus thereby involves us in his own prayer; he leads us into the interior dialogue of triune love; he draws our human hardships deep into God’s heart, as it were.

This also means, however, that the words of the Our Father are signposts to interior prayer, they provide a basic direction for our being, and they aim to configure us to the image of the Son. The meaning of the Our Father goes much futher than the mere provision of a prayer text. It aims to form our being, to train us in the inner attitude of Jesus (cf. Phil 2:5).

This has two different implications for our interpretation of the Our Father. First of all, it is important to listen as accurately as possible to Jesus’ words as transmitted to us in Scripture. We must strive to recognize the thoughts Jesus wished to pass on to us in these words. But we must also keep in mind that the Our Father originates from his own praying, from the Son’s dialogue with the Father. This means that it reaches down into depths far beyond the words. It embraces the whole compass of man’s being in all ages and can therefore never be fully fathomed by a purely historical exegesis, however important this may be.

The great men and women of prayer throughout the centuries were privileged to receive an interior union with the Lord that enabled them to descend into the depths beyond the word. They are therefore able to unlock for us the hidden treasures of prayer. And we may be sure that each of us, along with our totally personal relationship with God, is received into, and sheltered within, this prayer. Again and again, each one of us with his mens, his own spirit, must go out to meet, open himself to, and submit to the guidance of the vox, the word that comes to us from the Son. In this way his own heart will be opened, and each individual will learn the particular way in which the Lord wants to pray with him. [1]

* * *
For prayer to develop this power of purification, it must on the one hand be something very personal, an encounter between my intimate self and God, the living God. On the other hand it must be constantly guided and enlightened by the great prayers of the Church and of the saints, by liturgical prayer, in which the Lord teaches us again and again how to pray properly.

Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, in his book of spiritual exercises, tells us that during his life there were long periods when he was unable to pray and that he would hold fast to the texts of the Church's prayer: the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the prayers of the liturgy.

Praying must always involve this intermingling of public and personal prayer. This is how we can speak to God and how God speaks to us. [2]


[1] pp 130-33 in Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1
[2] Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi, n. 34

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Two Ambrosian Saints

On the Ambrosian calendar, today is the feast of a martyr of the early 11th century called Aquilinus, who was born to a noble family in Würzburg, Bavaria, and ordained a priest after studying in the cathedral school of Cologne. Shortly thereafter, his parents both died, and he returned home to distribute his inheritance to the poor; when he returned to Cologne, the bishop died, and Aquilinus was unanimously elected to replace him by the cathedral chapter, an honor which he refused (like so many saintly bishops) by fleeing, in this case, to Paris. There he was also elected bishop on account of his evident holiness, and so he fled again, this time to northern Italy, and after passing through Pavia, came to Milan to venerate the relics of St Ambrose, to whom he was greatly devoted.
Aquilinus distinguished himself, in one of the more decadent periods of the Church’s life, in his defense of the Catholic Faith against both the Cathars, and some local form of renascent Arianism. In the year 1015 or 1018, he was attacked by heretics while making his way to the basilica of St Ambrose, stabbed in the throat, and his body thrown into a canal. An old tradition has it that a group of workmen who transported merchandise along the Ticino river between Pavia and Milan found the body, and brought it to the nearby basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore, one of the oldest churches in the city. They were placed in the chapel of St Genesius, which was henceforth named for Aquilinus.

The first attestation of the life of St Aquilinus dates to 1465, when a confraternity named for him was established; his cultus was formally approved by the Holy See in 1469, and his feast appears in the Ambrosian Missal of 1475 on January 29. In 1581, St Charles Borromeo declared him co-patron of the city of Milan, especially to be invoked against the plague. He is traditionally shown dressed as a priest, with a dagger at his throat and the palm of martyrdom in his hand. His remains are now in an urn of silver and rock crystal on top of the altar in which they were formerly buried. Until the 19th century, it was the custom in Milan for movers and transporters to hold a procession in his honor every year on the feast day, in which they would offer candles and a flask of oil for the votive lamp before his relics.

Tomorrow is the feast of a matron called St Savina. She was born in Milan to the noble family of the Valerii in the 260s, and as an adult, married to a patrician from the nearby town of Laus Pompeia, now called Lodi. She was soon left a widow, and dedicated herself to the works of religion and charity, especially on behalf of the victims of the Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians. In her own house, she secretly buried the martyrs Ss Nabor and Felix, two soldiers of the Theban Legion who were decapitated at Lodi around 300-304. Once the persecution had ceased, in the year 310, she brought their relics to Milan, where they were laid to rest in the chapel of the Valerii. Some years later, after spending her life in vigils and prayers, Savina herself died, and was buried next to the martyrs. In 1798, the relics of all three Saints were translated to the basilica of St Ambrose in Milan; since 1868, they have been kept on the altar of a chapel dedicated to them within the basilica.

A reliquary of St Savina, together with St Bassianus, the first bishop of Lodi.
According to a traditional story, when Savina brought the relics of the martyrs to Milan, she hid them in a barrel. While passing through a place between Lodi and Milan, some soldiers who were guarding the city gates asked what was in it, she told them it was full of honey. The guards insisted on checking inside, and when they opened the barrel, did indeed see nothing but honey, and she was allowed to continue on her way. This place, just over ten miles southeast of Milan, is now called Melegnano, from the Latin word for honey, “mel.”

This post is the work of Nicola de’ Grandi, translated by myself.

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