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.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

“Enrichment” by Impoverishment? The Fate of the Propers for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany in the Modern Missale Romanum

The collect, secret and postcommunion in the traditional Roman Rite for this coming Sunday, the 4th after Epiphany, have over a millennium of attested use in the liturgy. It is concerning, therefore, to note that, despite this, neither the collect nor the postcommunion for this Sunday are contained anywhere in the Novus Ordo, a book so often described as an “enrichment” of the Roman Rite, and more recently as containing “all the elements” of it. Let us take a brief look at the history of this Sunday’s prayers, and their fate in the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms.
The 4th Sunday after Epiphany (Dom IIII post Theophaniam), in the
Sacramentarium Triplex, Zürich, Zentralb. Ms. C 43, ff. 35r-35v
Collect (CO 1898)
Deus, qui nos, in tantis perículis constitútos, pro humána scis fragilitáte non posse subsístere: da nobis salútem mentis et córporis; ut ea, quæ pro peccátis nostris pátimur, te adiuvánte vincámus.
O God, who know that our human frailty cannot stand fast against the great dangers that beset us, grant us health of mind and body, that with your help we may overcome what we suffer on account of our sins.
The Corpus orationum tells us that this prayer appears in a total of forty-three manuscripts, dating from the 8th century. In all of these, it is an Epiphanytide collect, and in the vast majority of them (thirty-seven), it is used on the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, just as we find in the 1962 Missale Romanum.
It has completely disappeared from the Novus Ordo. It seems more than likely that the phrase in tantis perículis constitútos, pro humána scis fragilitáte non posse subsístere was deemed not suitable for the new, post-Vatican II “modern mentality”. [1]
Secret (CO 749)
Concéde, quǽsumus, omnípotens Deus: ut huius sacrifícii munus oblatum fragilitátem nostrum ab omni malo purget semper et múniat.
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that what we offer in sacrifice may cleanse us in our frailty from every evil and always grant us your protection.
This prayer has a variety of use in the tradition, the two main groups being:
  • as an Epiphanytide secret, in forty manuscripts from the 8th century onwards (thirty-three of which use it on the 4th Sunday after Epiphany);
  • as a Lenten secret: thirty-one manuscripts, from the 9th century onwards (note that in twenty-five of these, it is also used as an Epiphanytide secret).
The Corpus orationum also gives a third group of ten manuscripts, dating from the 8th century onwards, which use this prayer in diverse ways, with frequent duplication: in Advent (five manuscripts), Lent (three manuscripts), the Proper/Common of Saints (four manuscripts), and Votive Masses (two manuscripts). In one of these manuscripts, this secret/super oblata prayer is actually used as a collect!
In the 1962 Missal, this secret is used on Saturday in Week 3 of Lent as well as the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, and in every one of the thirty-one manuscripts where this prayer occurs in Lent, it is duplicated on the 4th Sunday after Epiphany. As per the policies of Coetus XVIII bis of the Consilium, [2] in the Novus Ordo this duplication is eliminated, in this case by removing the prayer’s (slightly earlier and better-attested!) use in Epiphanytide, and retaining its Lenten use. However, it has been moved to Thursday in Week 4 of Lent, a day on which it is never attested in the manuscript tradition. Of course, the post-Vatican II liturgical reformers couldn’t possibly have retained this prayer on a Sunday – after all, the phrase fragilitátem nostrum ab omni malo purget semper et múniat is obviously much too difficult for most of the faithful!
Postcommunion (CO 3321 b)
Múnera tua nos, Deus, a delectatiónibus terrénis expédiant: et cæléstibus semper instáurent aliméntis.
May your gifts, O God, detach us from earthly pleasures and ever renew us with heavenly nourishment.
The Corpus orationum informs us that there is some limited variation in the use of this prayer: three manuscripts use it in the Proper/Common of Saints, with relevant textual additions. In the vast majority of manuscripts (forty-two), however, it is an Epiphanytide postcommunion, with thirty-five manuscripts using it on the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, as we find in the 1962 Missal.
But, like this Sunday’s collect, this postcommunion is nowhere to be found in the Novus Ordo. And, like the collect, it is highly likely it is the phrase a delectatiónibus terrénis expédiant that was deemed unsuitable for “modern man” and what Fr Carlo Braga called the “new perspective of human values”. [3] The only changes the Consilium was originally going to make to this postcommunion were two minor “restorations” to the text as it is given in the Gelasianum Vetus (n. 1267; cf. CO 3321 a): Múnera tua nos... was to become Mensa tua nos... and instáurent adjusted to instruat. Furthermore, it should be noted that all the prayers for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany were originally going to be kept intact as a set in the reformed Missal on the same Sunday: see Schema 186 (De Missali, 27), 19 September 1966, p. 18. [4]
Schema 186 (De Missali, 27), 19 September 1966, p. 18
So, this coming Sunday provides yet more material in the traditional Roman Rite – prayers used for at least 1,200 years in the Church – that was omitted from the post-Vatican II Missal because it was sifted through the ideological filter of the 1960s “experts” and considered “too difficult”. It is difficult to see this so-called “enrichment” of the Roman Missal as anything but an impoverishment in many respects. As Fr John Hunwicke has aptly put it:
[T]he motives controlling the selections [the Consilium] made, and their editorial alterations, have a consistent mens, videlicet, to enforce a levelling-down: [in the Novus Ordo] we end up with a liturgical culture squeezed everywhere into the straight-jacket of one decade. On the other hand, the Authentic Use, having evolved organically over two millennia, picking up like a glacier diverse materials from every age it passed through, contains within it so much more cultural diversity.
[1] See, e.g., Lauren Pristas, “The Orations of the Vatican II Missal: Policies for Revision”, Communio 30 (Winter 2003), pp. 621-653, at p. 633 (quoting a 1971 essay by Dom Antoine Dumas): “In the liturgical renewal, from the beginning the revisers regarded concern for truth and simplicity to be particularly indispensable so that the texts and rites might be perfectly—or at the least much better—accommodated to the modern mentality to which it must give expression while neglecting nothing of the traditional treasury to which it remains the conduit.” Of course, more often than not, for the Consilium “accommodating the modern mentality” took priority over “neglecting nothing of the traditional treasury” of prayers, as the statistics show.
[2] See Schema 186 (De Missali, 27), 19 September 1966, pp. 1-2: Ergo, pro unoquoque textu, pluries in missali occurrente, perpaucis exceptis, usum antiquiorem retinuimus. Pro missis, quae exinde orationibus carent, novas selegimus. I QUAESITUM: Placetne Patribut ut, in missali romano recognito, textus orationum non repetatur? (“Therefore, for every text that frequently occurs in the Missal, its ancient use is to be retained, with very few execptions. For Masses which lack orations after this, new texts are to be selected. QUESTION 1: Does it please the Fathers that, in revising the Roman Missal, the text of orations not be repeated?”) It should be noted that this policy is a direct result of Coetus XVIII bis taking n. 51 of Sacrosanctum Concilium out of its original context, and applying it in a manner which was never envisaged by the Council Fathers: see my article “Continuity or Rupture, Again: An Example of the Consilium’s (Ab)use of the Constitution on the Liturgy”.
[3] See part four (of five) of my translation of Braga’s essay “Il «Proprium de Sanctis»”, Ephemerides Liturgicae 84.6 (1970), pp. 401-431 (at p. 419).
[4] For more on Schema 186, and an arrangement of it in parallel with the 1962 and 1970/2008 Missals, see my book The Proper of Time in the Post-Vatican II Liturgical Reforms (Lectionary Study Press, 2018) (Amazon USA, UK; PDF)

St Ambrose’s Hymn for St Agnes

In honor of the Second Feast of St Agnes, which is kept today in the Roman Rite, here is one of the very first Western hymns ever written in her honor, a work of St Ambrose (♰397). The Ambrosian Rite does not keep the Second Feast, but uses this hymn at both Vespers and Lauds of St Agnes on January 21st. It was never previously adopted at Rome itself, but in the post-Conciliar Liturgy of the Hours, it is assigned to Lauds.

Most of the translation given here is by Kathleen Pluth. Hers was done for the Liturgy of the Hours, which omits the half or whole of several of Ambrose’s original stanzas. These omitted parts are printed in italics, as is the accompanying prose translation, my own, very much inferior work. The recording has the whole of the original text.

Agnes, beatae virginis,
natalis est, quo spiritum
caelo refudit debitum,
pio sacrata sanguine
The blessed virgin Agnes flies
back to her home above the skies.
With love she gave her blood on earth
to gain a new celestial birth.
Matura martyrio fuit,
matura nondum nuptiis;
nutabat in viris fides,
cedebat et fessus senex.
Mature enough to give her life,
though still too young to be a wife,
the faith wavered in the men,
and the tired old man yielded.
Metu parentes territi
claustrum pudoris auxerant;
solvit fores custodia
fides teneri nescia.
Her parents struck with fear, had increased
guards of her virtue; the guardians open
the doors, knowing not how to keep to
their duty.

Prodire quis nuptum putet;
sic laeta vultu ducitur,
novas viro ferens opes,
dotata censu sanguinis.
what joy she shows when death appears
that one would think: her bridegroom nears!
bringing new riches to her Husband
endowed with the price of blood.
Aras nefandi numinis
adolere taedis cogitur,
respondet: Haud tales faces
sumpsere Christi virgines;
Her captors lead her to the fire
but she refuses their desire,
“For it is not such smold’ring brands
Christ’s virgins take into their hands.”
Hic ignis extinguit fidem,
haec flamma lumen eripit:
hic, hic ferite, ut profluo
cruore restinguam focos.
“This flaming fire of pagan rite
extinguishes all faith and light.
Then stab me here, so that the flood
may overcome this hearth in blood.”
Percussa quam pompam tulit!
Nam veste se totam tegens,
curam pudoris praestitit,
ne quis retectam cerneret.
Courageous underneath the blows,
her death a further witness shows,
she took care of her modesty
lest anyone see her uncovered.
In morte vivebat pudor,
vultumque texerat manu;

terram genu flexo petit,
lapsu verecundo cadens.
In death, her modesty lived,
and she covered her face with her hand,

for as she falls she bends her knee
and wraps her robes in modesty.
Gloria tibi, Domine,
gloria Unigenito,
una cum sancto Spiritu
in sempiterna sæcula. Amen.
O Virgin-born, all praises be
to You throughout eternity,
and unto everlasting days
to Father and the Spirit, praise. Amen.
The meter which St Ambrose uses here, the iambic dimeter, has eight syllables per line. The very first word of this hymn, “Agnes”, should be in the genitive (possessive) form “Agnetis”, but that would make for nine syllables. He therefore treats “Agnes” as if it were a Greek genitive ending in -es, from “Agne”, which means “holy, pure”, and is very frequently used in the Byzantine liturgy to refer to the Virgin Mary. The Ambrosian Breviary changed the line to the more Latin “Agnetis almae virginis.”
Kathleen Pluth has done over 150 versions of Latin hymns into English poetry, for the Adoremus Bulletin, Magnificat, and Word on Fire’s Liturgy of the Hours; this one was originally published in a collection of the lives of young Saints: Radiate: More Stories of Daring Teen Saints. (It was also published on one of our sister sites, the Chant Café.) She has a license in Sacred Theology, and was formerly director of sacred music in a large parish and separately in a classical school. Our thanks to her for sharing her work on NLM.

Friday, January 27, 2023

“The Beauty of the Sung Mass” - Public Lecture by Dr. William Mahrt

The Catholic Institute of Sacred Music at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, CA invites you to the first event of its inaugural public lecture and concert series.

“The Beauty of the Sung Mass”
A Lecture By Dr. William Mahrt (Stanford)
About the Lecture: The fundamental beauty of the Mass is the action of Christ offering a sacrifice to the Father, in which the people are essential participants. The music of the Mass creates a sense of transcendent order and purpose, and in a dynamic motion, focuses upon the action of Christ. The various elements of chant and polyphony, of celebrant, choir, and people each makes a unique contribution to this Christocentric beauty. The lecture will focus on the beauty of the action of Christ in the Mass and the people’s participation in his sacrifice. Sung examples will illustrate the various ways in which music creates a dynamic motion supporting this action. The roles of celebrant, choir, and congregation will be described as each making a unique contribution to this Christocentric beauty.
Sunday, Feb. 26th
4:00–5:00 p.m. PST
(7:00-8:00 p.m. EST)
Sancta Maria Hall at St. Patrick’s Seminary
320 Middlefield Road., Menlo Park, California
Tickets and streaming access are available at beautyofthesungmass.eventbrite.com The in-person event will be followed by a reception. Ample guest parking is available on-site. Live-streaming and archived viewing of the event are also available. An RSVP (see below) is appreciated, but not required. This free event is open to the public.

About the Speaker
William Mahrt is Associate Professor and Director of Early Music Singers in the music department at Stanford University, President of the Church Music Association of America, and editor of Sacred Music, the oldest continuously published journal of music in North America. Dr. Mahrt grew up in Washington state; after attending Gonzaga University and the University of Washington, he completed a doctorate at Stanford University in 1969. He taught at Case Western Reserve University and the Eastman School of Music, and then returned to Stanford in 1972, where he continues to teach early music.

Since 1964 he has directed the choir of St. Ann Chapel in Palo Alto, which sings Mass and Vespers in Gregorian chant on all the Sundays of the year, with masses in the polyphonic music of Renaissance masters for the holy days. His research interests include theory and performance of Medieval and Renaissance music, troubadours, Machaut, Dufay, Lasso, Dante, English Cathedrals, Gregorian chant, and Renaissance polyphony. He has published articles on the relation of music and liturgy, and music and poetry. He frequently leads workshops in the singing of Gregorian chant and the sacred music of the Renaissance.

In 2022, St. Patrick’s Seminary established the William P. Mahrt chair in sacred music to honor Dr. Mahrt’s lifetime of commitment to scholarship, beauty, and the Catholic faith.
About the Series
The Public Lecture & Concert Series of the Catholic Institute of Sacred Music welcomes the general public to St. Patrick’s Seminary to hear from preeminent scholars about topics which have a profound impact on the Church and humanity, inviting them especially to consider the Church’s wisdom on matters related to the worship of God, the spiritual life, beauty, and works of art. The recitals in this series feature world-class artists performing the transformative music of the Church’s treasury of sacred music, presented in a concert format accompanied by a brief lecture and rich program notes.We invite you to join us for these important and inspiring events.

About the Catholic Institute of Sacred Music
Founded in 2022, the mission of the Catholic Institute of Sacred Music is to draw souls to Jesus Christ through the beauty of sacred music and the liturgy. The Institute offers a substantial program of accredited, graduate-level coursework designed to help church musicians and clergy better to know and love the Church’s treasury of sacred music and her teachings on sacred music. Our goal is to equip students with the theological, philosophical, and historical knowledge, as well as the practical skills (singing, playing, conducting, composing, organizing, fundraising) necessary to build excellent sacred music programs in parishes and schools. We aim to help others revitalize the faith of Catholics and instill vitality in parish and school life through a vibrant sacred music program.

We are committed to a faithful and generous service of the Church. We cultivate fidelity, resiliency, a healthy sense of creativity, and selflessness within our student body and faculty as characteristics of our service as we labor together in the vineyard of the Lord to bring in a rich harvest.

About St. Patrick’s Seminary
For the past 125 years, St. Patrick’s Seminary has successfully prepared men to become Roman Catholic priests in conformity to Christ. Its expansive park-like grounds, historic chapel, modern classrooms, and extensive library provide an ideal environment for prayer, meditation, and study, within close proximity to major urban centers that provide rich field education opportunities. The integrated process of human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation at St. Patrick’s Seminary revolves around our core values of spiritual fatherhood, fidelity, holiness, wisdom, evangelization, resiliency, and compassion.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

St Paula of Rome

The Roman Martyrology notes today as the anniversary of the death of a Saint named Paula in the year 404. She was a disciple of St Jerome, and the principal source of information about her is one of the longest among his many letters (108), written to console her daughter Eustochium. It recounts a great deal of information which the daughter certainly already knew, but of course, Jerome wrote with the expectation that his letters would be widely copied and read. He therefore takes the opportunity to present Paula as a model Christian, and describes his work with the opening words of one of Horace’s odes (3.30): “Exegi monumentum aere perennius – I have raised up a memorial more lasting than bronze.”
The Madonna and Child with Ss Paula of Rome and Agatha, ca. 1500, by the Italian painter Michele Ciampanti (from Lucca in Tuscany), formerly known as the Stratonice Master. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
Paula was born in 347, a descendent of some of the wealthiest and most ancient families in Rome; at 16, she was married to a nobleman of similarly ancient lineage called Toxotius. They had four daughters, Blaesilla, Paulina, Eustochium, and Rufina, and a son named for his father. When she was thirty-two, her husband died, and after a period of extreme grief, she was encouraged by another widow, St Marcella, to devote herself to a kind of monastic life. This was not a formal enclosure in a religious house, solemnized by vows, a custom which barely existed in her time, but a life of great austerity, study and prayer, commonly shared with other women of similar station, and charitable works, for which the resources at her disposal were vast.
In 382, she was introduced to Jerome, who came from Bethlehem to the Eternal City in the company of two other Saints, Paulinus, the bishop of Antioch who had ordained him a priest, and Epiphanius of Salamis, the author of a well-known (but rather careless) treatise against heresies. Jerome became the spiritual director of the circle of devout women to which Paula belonged, a fact which invited a good deal of unpleasant and jealous gossip. This was also the period in which he undertook the first of his Biblical projects, at the behest of Pope St Damasus I, the revision of the Latin text of the Gospels.
Damasus died in 384, and Jerome, finding the atmosphere of Rome uncongenial (to say the least), returned to the Holy Land. Shortly thereafter, Blaesilla died, and Paula decided to leave Rome and join her spiritual father. Her second daughter Paulina was well married to another wealthy nobleman, Pammachius, also a friend of Jerome, and the builder of the Roman basilica of Ss John and Paul. Eustochium had always been much more inclined towards her mother’s way of life, and would be her constant companion for the rest of her life, but at the time of her departure, Rufina and Toxotius were still very young. Jerome describes in the aforementioned letter how she overcame her motherly affection to go where she knew Christ to be calling her. After visiting Epiphanius in his see on the island of Cyprus, they met Jerome at Antioch; from there, they proceeded to a pilgrimage of the major sites of the Holy Land, and visited the emergent monastic communities of Egypt and the Sinai desert.
St Paula Embarking on Her Journey at Ostia; after 1642, by the French painter Claude Lorrain (1604-82). Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
After this pilgrimage, Paulina and Eustochium settled in Bethlehem, where Jerome had long been previously established, and lived as they had in Rome, with him as their spiritual director. She used her fortune to build two monasteries, one for men and one for women, governing the latter herself, as well as a hospice for pilgrims. Her financial support was also essential to Jerome in his great work of translating the Hebrew parts of the Old Testament, and she and her daughter helped him on a scholarly level as well, since they knew both Greek and Hebrew. Jerome’s prefaces to Esther, Isaiah, Daniel and the Twelve Prophets, and that of his second revision of the Psalms (the so-called Gallican Psalter, used in the Roman Breviary) are all addressed to Paula and Eustochium, as are his commentaries on some of the Pauline Epistles. The preface to Joshua, Judges and Ruth was written to Eustochium “after the death of St Paula.” An author of the ninth-century, St Paschasius Radbertus, successfully passed off a treatise of his own on the Assumption, known from its opening words as “Cogitis me”, as the work of St Jerome by pretending to address it to the same two women. A passage of it is still read to this day in the Divine Office on the feast of the Immaculate Conception under Jerome’s name, and indeed, it has proved to be far more influential than any of Paschasius’ works published under his own name.
The younger Toxotius married a woman called Laeta, the Christian daughter of a pagan priest, and from this union was born a girl named for her paternal grandmother. One of St Jerome’s most influential treatises is a letter addressed to Laeta concerning her daughter’s education, which is placed in his epistolarium right before the letter to Eustochium. It concludes with the advice that Rome may prove a less-than-ideal place for the child’s rearing, in which case, she should send her to her grandmother and aunt in Bethlehem once she was old enough, which did in fact happen.
After Paula’s death, Eustochium took over the administration of the monastery until her own death 15 years later, at which it passed to the younger Paula. She was buried with her mother, and when Jerome passed away a year and two days later, he was buried next to them.
The Holy Trinity, with Ss Jerome, Paula and Eustochium, ca. 1453, by Andrea del Castagno, in the Montauti chapel of the basilica of the Annunciation in Florence. Image from Wikimedia Commons by Sailko, CC BY 3.0)
Around the same time, a Greek named Palladius wrote a book about the lives of the early desert fathers known as the Lausiac History, which contains this very funny story about Paula and Jerome. “A certain Jerome, a priest, distinguished Latin writer and cultivated scholar as he was, showed qualities of temper so disastrous that they threw into the shade his splendid achievements. Posidonius, who had lived with him many days, said in my hearing, ‘The noble Paula, who looks after him, will die first and be freed from his bad temper…’ ”

Wars and Rumors of Wars

By now, I am sure that all of our readers have heard of the various reports that further restrictions of the celebration of the traditional Roman Rite may be coming, within perhaps a few months. Rorate Caeli reported some days ago that their sources have heard nothing of it, while Robert Moynihan of Inside the Vatican reports that it certainly exists in some form. I have heard other reports contradicting and agreeing with them both, including one denial that any such restrictions are planned, and another that gave an outline of them which, if even partially true, would be disastrous. I have no information of my own to offer. It remains only to encourage everyone to pray fervently and constantly that God in His infinite mercy and wisdom avert such a calamity from the Church, and prevent the useless infliction of even greater suffering and sadness on followers of the traditional rite, such as is narrated in this video by a couple from Wisconsin, who recently lost their traditional Mass, one which predated Summorum Pontificum.

In the meantime, I also vehemently encourage all of our readers to read and share as widely as possible this absolutely superb column by Dom Alcuin Reid, published last week on One Peter Five, to which no summary can do justice:

This article is written in large part as a response to a series published last fall by the University of Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal, written by Professors John Cavadini, Mary Healy, and Thomas Weinandy OFM Cap. The five articles, later republished as a unit, offer a defense of the post-Conciliar liturgy which relies heavily on the same combination of suppressio veri and suggestio falsi that all such defenses rely upon. Dom Alcuin is right to point out the “paucity of their liturgical history and the lack of range of sources in their footnotes”; I do not hesitate to assert, more bluntly, that the presentation is selective throughout, and simply ignores mountains of evidence that contradict its narrative.

Dom Alcuin outlines out a few of the broader points on which Cavadini, Healy and Weinandy (henceforth CHW, brevitatis causa) run aground. Simply put, they accept the false premise that to question the reform is to question the Second Vatican Council. (We will return to this later.) “... the intellectual and pastoral argument about the theological, liturgical, and most especially the pastoral superiority of the reformed liturgical rites has long since been lost. ... it is a well-established fact that the new rites promulgated by Paul VI after the Council were not the modest, organic development of the heretofore Roman rite for which the Council called (see Sacrosanctum Concilium 23) but were a radically new product of the body entrusted by Paul VI to implement the Council’s liturgical Constitution ... The Consilium intentionally went beyond the Constitution—with, in the case of many of its members, the best of intentions, and certainly, in the end, with the backing of papal authority. ... it is intellectually false to assert that to question or reject the reformed liturgy is in some way to ‘undermine Vatican II,’ as our three authors, and others, would have us believe.” (Or, as this fellow rightly put it:)

Their second major flaw (by far the most common with this particular genre of post-Conciliar apologetic) is to ignore the fact that the reform has not been the success that the Church was promised. Dom Alcuin writes: “... as repeated statistical studies from various countries demonstrate, the reformed liturgy has simply not delivered the ecclesial renewal promised. Promised? Yes: the assumption that guided (‘motivated’? ‘sold’?) the introduction of the new rites was that if the liturgy were simplified, modernised, made more contemporary, then people would participate in it more fruitfully and a new springtime in the life of the Church would be ushered in. Alas, the opposite has proved to be true. ... the modern liturgical rites have not of themselves proved to be part of the solution (to the problem of the decline in religious practice); of themselves they have not retained, let alone attracted, people to the practice of the Faith. Today we may, then, legitimately raise questions about their pastoral utility and about the wisdom of following the policies of sixty years ago that led to their production.”

The CHW narrative also relies on the idea that the entire process of liturgical reform, going back to the original Liturgical Movement, was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, to question its value is to “inherently den(y) the validity of the liturgical renewal as a genuine work of Holy Spirit in the contemporary Church.” (I make bold to insert here an observation of my own and my colleagues, that their presentation of the Liturgical Movement in their first article is inexcusably sloppy, since it falsely treats it as if were ONE movement with ONE set of ideas, which then flowed perfectly into Sacrosanctum Concilium and the post-Conciliar reform. This ignores both the range of ideas within the Liturgical Movement, and the flagrant contradiction between its aspirations and the results of the reform.) As Dom Alcuin rightly points out, this simply assumes too much: “they are practically making the liturgical reforms themselves a matter of faith, of Divine Revelation, to be believed in by all the faithful. But the reforms are not. They are the product of prudential judgements of men... Certainly, these men did (we hope) fervently invoke God the Holy Spirit to assist them in their work—and in this life we shall never know to what extent He did so assist them. (Could God the Holy Spirit really have been personally responsible for all the errors that resulted in Eucharistic Prayer II?) It is therefore not the sin of blasphemy to question the liturgical reform any more that it is blasphemy to assert that the College of Cardinals is perfectly capable of invoking the Holy Spirit at the beginning of a conclave and then of electing a truly bad pope, as any history of the papacy more than clearly demonstrates.”

Esto. It has been more than fifty years since the reforms were promulgated, and at this point, it would be unreasonable to expect anything else or anything better. In regard to CHW specifically, it remains only to note that they are open to the idea of a future correction of some of the more infelicitous aspects of the reform. However, as Dom Alcuin notes, this puts them, of course, into direct conflict with the current party line that the reform is “irreversible”, which either means that the Church is stuck with (e.g.) Eucharistic Prayer II forever, or it means nothing at all.

All that being said, it is the introductory section of this essay that really makes it a permanently valuable contribution to the on-going debate in the Church about reform and renewal, and the reason why I urge you so strongly to read and share it. Simply put, there is a healthy, reasonable, theologically sound approach to Vatican II, which is to treat it as one among many ecumenical councils, which (Dom Alcuin writes), “outlined policies which were judged to be expedient at the time and which were to be interpreted in a hermeneutic of continuity with the Church’s Tradition, including the dogmatic definitions of the other twenty Ecumenical Councils of the Church.”

But there also exists an unhealthy, unreasonable, and theologically unsound version of Vatican II which can be summed up in six words: “Vatican II changed all of that.” Dom Alcuin explains more fully: “Vatican II changed all of that, radically, irreversibly,” where ‘that’ stands for any previous liturgical, doctrinal, moral, or pastoral teaching or practice that is deemed inapplicable (read ‘inconvenient’) to contemporary man.” This is what he calls the “super-dogma.” The post-Conciliar reform is the most immediately tangible sign of this super-dogma, and the unhealthy grip which it has on the Church, and therefore, to question the reform is to question not the legitimate Vatican II, one council among many in a line of continuity that goes back to Christ and the Apostles, but the super-dogma wrongly built out of it.

“When we recognise this super-dogma for what it actually is—a lie upon which generations of clergy and laity have built their ecclesiastical careers ... we can begin to understand the manic severity that is meted out to those who refuse to subscribe to it and, indeed, we can begin to comprehend the extreme lengths to which its devotees will go in propping up and jealously defending everything that they have built upon this foundation, most especially the reformed liturgy. For the new liturgy is the touchstone of Vatican II. It is the single thread by which (in the minds of many) the Council (of their own conception) hangs.”

As I said above, I do not pretend to do this essay justice by summarizing it here, and it is important to qualify that Dom Alcuin does not ascribe the fullness of this super-dogma to CHW. However, whether they will it so or no, their attempt to brand the embrace of the historical Roman Rite as a rejection of Vatican II cannot stand UNLESS Vatican II is accepted in its super-dogma version, which is unhealthy, unreasonable, and theologically unsound, and now, after sixty years, possibly THE single greatest obstacle to authentic reform in the Church as a whole. I therefore congratulate Dom Alcuin for his elucidation of this very important point, and repeat my encouragement to everyone to read the essay in full.

ADDENDUM: just today, One Peter Five has another superb article, this time by Mr John Byron Kuhner, a fitting commemoration of the octave of Dom Alcuin’s piece. This paragraph gives a neat de facto summary of the most basic problem with CHW’s article.


“That the (Novus Ordo) Mass is a papal rather than a conciliar creation does not make it any less valid for Catholics, of course; but it does make it clear that discussions of it should be separated from discussions of the Council. (my emphasis) And whereas Paul permitted resistance from clerics of a modernizing tendency, even to his own decrees, Chiron is able to document his forceful crackdown on the use of older form of the Mass. He was capable of resolve against Tradition more than resolve against experimentation.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Periti of Vatican II: A New Research Project by Sharon Kabel

The indefatigable Sharon Kabel, whose superb research work we have shared several times, has just announced an important new project, documenting the careers of the theological experts, or “periti”, as they were generally known, who advised the bishops at Vatican II: https://sharonkabel.com/periti-of-vatican-ii/ A spreadsheet with all the information she has gathered so far, with more than thirty datapoints, is available from her website here:
Please note that this is an open-source project, and people are encouraged to contribute any further information they may have via this submission form: https://sharonkabel.com/#contact. We are very glad to share Mrs Kabel’s summary and introduction to the project, and to congratulate her for her extraordinarily diligent and useful work - feliciter!

We know (or at least debate) a great deal about the Second Vatican Council, but how much do we really know about who was there? Apart from the Council Fathers, the press, and the observers were the conciliar periti, priests who had expertise in a particular area, appointed to assist the Council and its commissions. These men ran the gamut of theological, pastoral, academic, political, and media experience and influence. During the Council, they assisted and advised, but they also edited, debated, and in some cases, were the leading authors of the Council documents. Some would even become bishops during the Council, and at the stroke of a pen becoming voting members of the Council they had just advised.

After (even during) the Council, the periti gave themselves the weighty responsibility of explaining, interpreting, and implementing the Council to the press, to the Church, to the world, to their home dioceses, even to other periti and Council Fathers. Many became bishops and cardinals after the Council; one became pope.

And yet they remain largely unknown. While the names of some will sound familiar, such as Joseph Ratzinger, Edward Schillebeeckx, OP, or Hans Kung, there is no complete open access list of periti. There have been some studies on the national, such as the Americans and the Belgians, but nothing systematic. These men of influence, learning, and (one hopes) holiness are, as a group, a mystery to us.
The Periti of Vatican II is a new project cataloging information about them; for the first time, you can browse a list not only of 479 Conciliar periti, but of several dozen private periti.
As an example of how unexpectedly time-consuming it was simply to retype the Vatican’s list and to check the first names, here are three:
Jose Moss Tapajos’ name order is wrong, Placid Podipara’s religious and non-Western name has been transmuted (the Latinized abbreviation of his religious order causing even more mayhem), and John Courtney Murray is missing a Ioannes entirely.
I have added over 30 data points to each name, to both verify their identities, and to make this sheet a robust research tool. I also have a Zotero library with references about the periti, and by the periti - including articles, books, and archival finding aids. The list is here, my reference library is here, and you can read more about the project here. The spreadsheet and reference library are freely available to download.
Since I started the project in summer 2022, three periti have passed away: Bill Hunt (left priesthood, married), Donald Dietz, OMI, and of course, Pope Benedict XVI. To my knowledge, the only living conciliar peritus is Archbishop John Stephens Cummins.
Overwhelmingly, the periti occupied roles related to media and education/formation: radio stations, newspapers, journals, magazines, publishing houses, books, television shows, universities, schools, seminaries, etc. The infamous and hugely popular press panel at Vatican II was run largely by periti. Many wrote columns about their experiences and opinions while the Council was still going on. These men, then, were involved not only in the inception, writing, and revising of the Council documents; they also made themselves the emissaries of the Council to the world, interpreting everything to other Council members, to the press, and to ordinary Catholics back home. We need look no further than Father Edward Schillebeeckx’s relationship with the media to see how incredibly messy all of this could get.
After the Council, many became bishops and Cardinals. One wonders if their influence at all stages of the Council, and their relationship with media, is one answer to the perpetual debate and frustration in trying to figure out what the Council really, or “really”, said, did, and meant.
There are so many interesting research rabbit holes to pursue, such as:
● Piero Marini, perhaps the youngest (private) peritus at 20, ordained a priest only a few months before the Council closed.
● John L. Swain, SJ, who has the interesting distinction of being the only person to go from Council Father (session III) to peritus (session IV)
● Thomas F. Devine, who has a golf tournament named after him
● Fabian Flynn, known around the world and confessor to Nuremberg Nazis
● Manuel Bonet y Muixi, survivor of the Spanish Civil War, now forgotten, but once a colleague of Annibale Bugnini and key drafter of Sacrosanctum Concilium
● Basil Frison, CMF, amateur composer whose cassette tapes were found and digitized in the early aughts and sent to WFMU’s 365 Days music project, and you can hear the tapes here and here.
● Georges Marie Martin Cottier, OP, anti-Lefebvre; theologian of the papal household
● Placid (Max) Jordan, OSB, radio pioneer, later-in-life convert, and columnist on the Council
● Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, and his influence (positive and negative) on fellow periti Fenton and Chenu
● Herman Mizzi, OCD, the Maltese with the most interesting obituary, but no other records…
There are some conciliar periti whose identity I could not verify, and I am sure there are more private periti out there. I hope that other readers and researchers will be able to help me solve some of those mysteries!

The Conversion of St Paul 2023

Truly it is worthy ... eternal God: who allowest not Thy Church, that standeth fast in the preaching of Thy blessed Apostle Paul, to be injured by any deception. For nothing is deemed to abide in the true religion that agreeth not with his teaching, who today became a chosen vessel, and whom, having changed his name to Paul, Thou didst make the Master and teacher of the gentiles. Through Christ our Lord, through whom the Angels praise Thy majesty... (The Ambrosian preface for the Conversion of St Paul.)
The Conversion of St Paul, 1600-1, by Michelangelo Merisi (1571-1610), better known as Caravaggio, a native of Milan. This is one of two versions by him, also known as the Odescalchi Conversion, to distinguish it from the better known version in the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Vere quia dignum... aeterne Deus: Qui Ecclesiam tuam in Beati Apóstoli tui Pauli praedicatióne constantem, nulla sinis fallacia violári: quia nihil in vera religióne manére censétur, quod ejus non convénerit disciplínæ: quem hodie Vas factum electiónis, Magistrum et Doctórem gentium, mutáto in Paulum nómine, constituisti. Per Christum Dóminum, per quem majestátem tuam laudant Angeli...

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Liturgical Conference with Marcel Peres in St. Louis, Feb. 14-19

As previously announced, the St Louis, Missouri, based Cantores Sancti Ludovici will host Marcel Peres, the famous chant scholar and director of the Ensemble Organum, from February 14-19 for an unprecedented series of workshops, lectures, and liturgies. The full program is given below; these events are free and open to all, but an RSVP is requested to info@scholastl.org. All events are at the Oratory of Sts. Gregory and Augustine, located at 7320 Dale Avenue in St Louis, unless otherwise noted.

Tuesday, Feb 14
10AM: Colloquium 1
4PM: Colloquium 2
6PM: Vespers
7PM*: Evening conversation cum vino (*Location TBD)

Wednesday, Feb 15
10AM: Colloquium 3
4PM: Colloquium 4
6:30PM: Mass
7:15PM: Compline

Thursday, Feb 16
10AM: Colloquium 5
4PM: Colloquium 6
6:00PM: Vespers
7PM*: Evening conversation cum vino (*Location TBD)

Friday, Feb 17
10AM: Colloquium 7
4PM: Colloquium 8
6PM: Vespers
7PM*: Evening conversation cum vino (*Location TBD)

Saturday, Feb 18
8:15AM: Mass
9:15AM: Breakfast
10AM: Conversation with Marcel Peres

Sunday, Feb 19
7:20AM: Prime
11:10AM: Terce
11:30AM: High Mass
4:30PM: Vespers

Colloquium Topics:
• Psalmody as the Central Aspect of Worship
• Rediscovering the 1st Millenium of Catholic Traditions
• Improvisation/Cantare Super Librum/Fauxbourdon
• Individual Styles (Ambrosian, Old Roman, Mozarabic, etc)
• Practical Applications of Chant Techniques (trills, runs, etc)
• Liturgical Performance Practice
• Motion and Space

Respect for Tradition is Vital if We Want a Culture of Beauty

Without it we have nothing to guide us

The traditional assumption is that when we apprehend beauty in the world around us, we are discerning a property that belongs to the objects regarded. Consistent with this, we call beauty an objective quality. This is to distinguish it from the subject - the person who views the object and makes a judgement on its beauty.

The strongest argument in favor of this assertion, I would say, is that when the assumption of the objectivity of beauty was broadly accepted, the culture that emerged from that society was more beautiful that it is today. Each of you ask yourself: which art, architecture or music is the most beautiful? Most people pick something from the past when people believed this. Similarly, I might ask which part of Oxford do the 10 million visitors visit each year? Or which part of Florence do similar number of tourists go to look at? Is it the part of town with the old buildings with designs rooted in the assumption of objective beauty and incorporating traditional harmony and proportion, or the new buildings built sine WW2 by architects who abandoned the old principles. It is the former. If you do not agree with me on this, you are entitled to your opinion, and you are very unlikely to accept the rest of my argument.

Would you rather pay for a holiday in Florence to see the Duomo…?

….or this 21st century student accommodation?

To categorize beauty as an objective quality is not to say that everyone makes the same judgements. Clearly there is a subjective element too, because we see differences in opinion from person to person on what is beautiful.

When there is a difference of opinion, one might ask, how do we know who is right? What standard is there to help us make such a judgement?

This is not an easy question to answer. In another context, if we were considering the morality of someone’s action for example, we might look to the Magisterium or to Scripture directly for an authoritative judgement. We can know that murder is wrong because Scripture tells us so!

However, there are no equivalent ‘Ten Commandments of beauty’ that God has revealed to us. As a consequence, it is usually fruitless to attempt to make rational arguments that one thing is more beautiful than another, or that my judgment is more accurate than yours, because there is no accepted visible standard that we can use to back up such a claim.

What about those criteria already mentioned - integrity, clarity and due proportion - some might ask? Can’t I apply these criteria to get a definitive answer?

These can help to a degree, but the difficulty here is that we still have to make a personal judgment on the degree of integrity, clarity and due proportion that the object possesses, and so are effectively left with the same difficulty, except multiplied by three!

The capacity of unaided human reason to judge beauty is so variable that we cannot be sure of the validity of any single judgment.

All is not lost, however; just because it is difficult to be sure that any single human judgement is good, it doesn’t mean that we have no measure at all. We know that human nature is drawn to beauty just as it is drawn to the common good, and so we can look at the broad pattern of likes and dislikes of most people over time in a society to consider what is beautiful. We might term this the ‘common taste’ and it is analogous to concepts such as common sense, common law and the highest of these, the common good.

This ‘common taste’ or, put another way, the common sense of what is beautiful, is that standard that emerges over time, and in the consideration of most people in a society. Another word for this common taste over generations is tradition. As an aspect of the culture, the artistic traditions of a society can vary from society to society even while retaining universal principles. So, for example, within the iconographic tradition of sacred art, each national church will tend to develop it’s own style: Greek icons are distinct from Russian icons, which are in turn distinct from English Romanesque icons.

The best way to decide if a piece of art is beautiful, therefore, is to ask what tradition tells us about it. If something has been considered beautiful by many people for a long period of time, there is a greater chance that it is beautiful than for those objects which only a few people appreciate for a short period of time. Tradition is not an infallible guide, but more reliable than a panel of elite intellectuals in a university art department!

In consulting tradition, we consider the society for whom a beautiful object was intended. So we would say that the cosmos was made for all men to behold and so if we want to consider whether or not the cosmos is objectively beautiful we ask ourselves if generally, men have thought that it was.

Similarly, when we look at sacred art, the best guide to the goodness of the style is consideration of the impact that it has on the worshipers in the churches for whom it was intended. Does it on the whole draw people to God as hoped? The pool of people to draw on in this latter category is much smaller than ‘all men’ and so the reliability of the judgment of the effect will be less certain, but nevertheless it is still the best that we have.

Popular culture vs tradition
This appeal to general opinion is likely to disturb some readers who, sensing that popular art and culture is low-brow and superficial, worry about an overreliance on democracy and popularity. However, if we give at least as much weight to the past as to the present, we have a good chance of overcoming the vagaries of fashion. Much of what is popular today will not even be known by the next generation. Some popular items will remain known and appreciated in subsequent generations, however, and it is these are more likely to be truly beautiful. Chesterton called this approach of considering both past and present opinion, the ‘democracy of the dead’. The more we look at the art that transcends its own time and has been considered beautiful by many people in the society for whom it was intended, the greater chance we have of being able to choose the best.

I would argue that we should be so respectful of tradition that in judging the best art we should adopt a general principle referred to by Benedict XVI as a ‘hermeneutic of continuity.’ By this principle, the default position is always with tradition. We assume that tradition has the best answer, the best content, the best style, unless we have compelling evidence that it does not. If current needs are identical to those of the past, we conform to tradition. Where needs are different, it must respond in accordance with the needs of the community (not to the mere whim of the artist). This principle was articulated in a different way by Pius XII in the encyclical Mediator Dei when he said the following:
What we have said about music, applies to the other fine arts, especially to architecture, sculpture and painting. Recent works of art which lend themselves to the materials of modern composition, should not be universally despised and rejected through prejudice. Modern art should be given free scope in the due and reverent service of the church and the sacred rites, provided that they preserve a correct balance between styles tending neither to extreme realism nor to excessive “symbolism,” and that the needs of the Christian community are taken into consideration rather than the particular taste or talent of the individual artist. (195)
These principles guide our judgment. There is room for much variation, and individual expression and taste even while remaining in conformity to the principles that Pius articulates. This is true of all artistic traditions. They conform to principles which can be applied differently according to different needs. This is not the same thing as having unbending rules that cannot be adapted to different situations. Indeed it is the mark of a living tradition that it can always adapt to contemporary needs without contravening the principles that define it. It is clear that Pius XII understood this.

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