Tuesday, February 28, 2023

A Roman Pilgrim at the Station Churches 2023 (Part 1)

This year marks the tenth time we have run this series on the Lenten station churches in Rome! However, the professional circumstances of our dear friend Agnese, the original Roman pilgrim, have changed of late, such that she will likely be unable to attend many of them this time around. In past years, she has sometimes been joined in this series by other people; one of them, Mr Jacob Stein, whose work we have shared many times, will be providing most of the photos this year, as well as videos from his YouTube channel Crux Stationalis. We thank him for helping us to keep up one of our favorite Lenten traditions, and we are very pleased to begin this year’s series by wishing him a very happy birthday: ad multos annos, optime!

Thursday after Ash Wednesday – San Giorgio in Velabro
His Eminence Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology, comes each year to personally celebrated the station in his title church, which he holds in the illustrious company of (among many others) Bl. John Henry Newman; his predecessor in the title was Alphonse Card. Stickler.
Friday after Ash Wednesday – Ss John and Paul
The building within which the lower part of the church’s medieval bell-tower is now partially enclosed is the generalate of the Passionist order. Their founder, St Paul of the Cross, had a brother named Giovanni Battista (John the Baptist), himself now a Venerable, to whom he was very close, and who was instrumental in helping him found the order. Many years after the latter’s death, Pope Clement XIV (1769-74) gave the basilica to St Paul to be the first “retreat”, as the order’s houses are called, in Rome, in remembrance of his beloved brother, since the martyrs John and Paul were also brothers.

Does the Church Need Artists Who Are Humble Scribes? Or Original Geniuses?

Looking At Rabanus Maurus, St Dunstan, the anonymous painter of the San Damiano Crucifix, and Matthew Paris: how they are connected, and what they can teach us today.

Recently, I was put in touch with a small group of artists at the newly established sacred art studio at Ealing Abbey, the Benedictine house in West London. These artists are learning their craft under the guidance of the British iconographer Aidan Hart, and forming a group that learns together, and passes on what it learns to others, so as to encourage the spread of the iconographic tradition in the Roman Church.

I was interested in talking to them about their vision of past forms of iconography that might appeal to the modern eye, and so serve as a launch pad for what might in time be the development of a distinct contemporary, but nevertheless authentic, tradition of iconography in the Roman Church. I was very pleased to learn that they shared my enthusiasm for the line-based Romanesque and early Gothic styles of the English church. (Regular readers know that I tend to focus on the work of the 13th-century Gothic artist Matthew Paris.) The artists of the Ealing Abbey studio directed my attention to the work, previously unknown to me, of St Dunstan, who lived in the 10th century, a reformer of English monasticism who was based in Glastonbury for a large part of his life. He is less known as an artist: here is his drawing of Christ in which he has painted himself adoring the Saviour.

The inscription above him reads: Dunstanum memet clemens rogo, Christe, tuere. Tenarias me non sinas sorbsisse procellas (I ask you, merciful Christ, to watch over me, Dunstan, and not let the Taenarian storms swallow me.)

In their book The Image of St Dunstan, Nigel Ramsay and Margaret Sparks suggest that the idea for placing himself in the image came to St Dunstan from a 9th-century manuscript by another monk, Rabanus Maurus. Maurus wrote and illuminated “De laudibus sanctae crucis - On the praises of the Holy Cross”, a collection of poems presenting the sacred symbol in words, images, and numbers. One of the illuminated poems (in which every line has the same number of letters) can be seen here: as we can see, Rabanus Maurus portrayed himself adoring the cross.

When I looked at the St Dunstan image. It immediately brought to mind two others. The first was from the 13th-century England, by the monk Matthew Paris.
Here Paris has referred to himself as “Frat[er] Mathias Parisiensi[s] - Brother Matthew Paris.” It might be that he got the idea of including himself from Dunstan, who first got the idea from Maurus, I cannot say. But it occurs to me that it is just as likely that all three, Maurus, St Dunstan and Paris, were working within a tradition in which the scribe portrays himself in this manner, humbling himself before a holy patron. This being the case, it might be that none is aware of the work of any of their predecessors directly.

Another connection that occurred to me as I look at the St Dunstan image is that of the San Damiano crucifixion in the Basilica of St Claire in Assisi.

The facial features of each are striking, to me at least, as being similar to the other. I had always been under the impression that the San Damiano crucifixion had its origins in 9th century Syria, but most references I can find nowadays seem to have revised that idea, and suggest that it was painted by an Italian artist in the 12th century. So assuming the latter to be true, we might ask where the 12th century artists saw the St Dunstan image? Or are both following a established tradition for what the face of Christ looks like, with each being aware of a number of similar images? Again I do not know the answer to this question.

What does seem to be apparent, however, is that artists in the past were looking at each others’ work and happily replicating and adapting what they saw in order to create their own work. This is good practice, for it is the means by which tradition is passed on. 
Following traditional forms in art is almost antithetical to the modern mindset, in which everyone tries to be different from those who preceded them in order to demonstrate “originality.” However, as Christians, until we re-establish a mindset in which artists copy each other’s works with understanding, and deliberately seek to adapt or change only what is necessary to meet the needs of their commission, we cannot re-establish a tradition of sacred art in the Church today. A hermeneutic that dictates that artists do as little original work as possible, rather than as much as they can, is one that respects the past and, paradoxically, allows for the development of steadily better work in the future. In this sense, tradition has its hands on the tiller that guides present day artists as they develop new and inspired work. 
So whichever works from the past eventually do inspire the new tradition of the future, it will take a team of artists who view themselves as humble scribes, in the manner of Paris, Dunstan and Maurus, rather than celebrated original geniuses, for it to happen!

Monday, February 27, 2023

New Expanded Edition of Pre-55 Holy Week Congregational Book

I’m pleased to announce the second revised and expanded edition of Roman-Seraphic Books’ Pre-1955 Hebdomada Sancta (Holy Week) congregational book, containing all the ceremonies and texts, in parallel Latin & English, with spiritual and historical commentary. The book also contains the pre-55 Vigil of Pentecost as well.

The Second Edition now including the full text of the offices of Tenebrae for the Sacred Triduum, alongside other appendices for Stations of the Cross, the Seven Sorrows, and more.

Nearly 400 pages and with full-color illustrations, the book is quite comprehensive yet printed in a font that is easy to read — truly a book that can be used by congregations year after year.

The Second Edition is available from Roman Seraphic Books (www.romanseraphicbooks.com) at a reduced price from last year, down to $24.97 (from $28.97). International shipping options and bulk orders available.

Roman-Seraphic Books aspires, over time, to preserve and spread the traditional (pre-55) liturgical books, as well as the books pertinent to the Franciscan spiritual patrimony.

Books may be obtained here.

The restoration of tradition continues!

Lectio Divina (2): What, Where, and When

Last week, we saw St. Gregory the Great speaking about the immense value of the practice of lectio divina or praying with the Scriptures, and I gave a simple sketch of how it works, recommending it as a practice to take up this Lent (and then to continue beyond Lent!) if you are not already doing it.

Naturally, questions arise. How do we decide, in practical terms, what to read each day—where to go in the Bible, how much, and for how long?

What we should bear in mind is that lectio divina is not meant to be an elaborate, burdensome obligation, but a childlike encounter with God in His Word, something that will refresh us and give us light for our journey. It will stretch us and challenge us, to be sure, but in such a way that we are still led to the peace of Christ. It’s not an academic study or a rote recitation. A personally fruitful lectio divina can be done by everybody.


First, as to quantity. Usually several verses, up to about half a chapter, is the right amount for people living in the world. A person could read an entire chapter, but that’s a lot to read slowly and meditatively, and it’s far more important to be able to ponder what we're reading and pray about it than to “get through” a certain book. Even one verse can furnish enough material for lectio divina, if the verse really hits one in the gut. The Gospels are ideally suited to lectio for many reasons, one of which is the way they are divided into small chunks or pericopes (e.g., a parable, miracle, or conversation) that can be taken by themselves.

It is important to read slowly, really thinking about what we are reading, and if something strikes us in a new way, or if we have a sense that this particular “word” (phrase or sentence) is what we need to take to heart, we should stop and ponder that word. There is no requirement to “finish” a section of the text; one can always resume there next time. On the whole, it will do us more good to meditate and pray than to continue reading. Indeed, our powers of concentration are limited, so even if we had all day at our disposal, we would do better with several shorter times of reading mixed with a variety of other activities.

The great Thomist Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange once stated:
One single sentence from Sacred Scripture can nourish the soul, illuminate it, strengthen it in adversity. Sacred Scripture is something far superior to a simple exposition of dogma, subdivided into special tracts: it is an ocean of revealed truth in which we can taste in advance the joys of eternal life.


Second, as to choice of text: there are 73 books in the Bible. They fall into groupings that are extremely different from one another, not only in genre—historical or narrative, prophetic, poetic, epistolary, legislative, apocalyptic—but also in their immediate accessibility or usefulness for personal prayer. The Fathers, Doctors, and mystics of the Church reached a level of spiritual maturity that enabled them to reap a harvest from any verse in Scripture, but since we are not their equals, we need to be more humble and more realistic. Some books clearly lend themselves to lectio divina for beginners, and indeed these books are the ones that all the saints keep going back to. They are: the Psalms (and the Wisdom literature in general); the prophets, both major and minor; and every book in the New Testament, with the Gospels holding pride of place. Simply put, if we choose one of the Gospels or a psalm, it is almost impossible not to profit from meditating on that reading.

Still, there will be dry moments when we can’t make heads or tails of a reading, and that’s also a healthy experience for us: we need to realize that we are not in charge. Any fruit we reap is God’s gift to us, and when we don’t seem to be reaping fruit, it’s because He’s preparing a larger harvest for us that demands a greater faith and trust in him before it can happen. The more experienced we become with lectio, the more freely we can launch out into the deep of other parts of Scripture and find nourishment there, as well.


Third, as to when and where: one need not do lectio divina in a church; what is necessary is to choose a time and place of quiet, where we can let our mind and heart go into the Word of God. For some people, this could be a conveniently situated church or chapel—it is one of the few places in our noisy world that is (usually) still recognized and respected as a haven of silence. But if there is a quiet place in one’s home early in the morning, that, too, would be well suited for lectio. Indeed, so great is the dignity of the Word of God that the Church has granted a plenary indulgence, with the usual conditions, to the devout reading of Scripture for one half-hour, anywhere.

The timing is also important: we need to find a time of day that is not so busy that we will be utterly distracted. For most people, this is early in the morning; once we get started with the work day, there’s too much going on. The morning has a special quality to it that strongly recommends it as a time for lectio.

We may conclude with the rousing words of the Benedictine monk Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel (c. 760–c. 840):
For those who practice it, the experience of sacred reading sharpens perception, enriches understanding, rouses from sloth, banishes idleness, orders life, corrects bad habits, produces salutary weeping, and draws tears from contrite hearts . . . curbs idle speech and vanity, awakens longing for Christ and the heavenly fatherland.
          It must always be accompanied by prayer and intimately joined with it, for we are cleansed by prayer and taught by reading. Therefore, whoever wishes to be with God at all times must prayer often and read often, for when we pray it is we who speak with God, but when we read it is God who speaks with us.
          Every seeker of perfection advances in reading, prayer, and meditation. Reading enables us to learn what we do not know, meditation enables us to retain what we have learned, and prayer enables us to live what we have retained. Reading Sacred Scripture confers on us two gifts: it makes the soul’s understanding keener, and after snatching us from the world’s vanities, it leads us to the love of God.
(Part II of a five-part series. Here is Part I.)

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The First Sunday of Lent 2023

Here is a very interesting recording of the Tract for the First Sunday of Lent by the French ensemble Dialogos, with only female voices. The verses Scapulis suis and Scuto circumdabit are omitted; at A sagitta, it veers off into some really nice polyphonic effects, and then resumes the Gregorian. The verses In manibus and Super aspidum are also omitted.

He that dwelleth in the aid of the most High, shall abide under the protection of the God of Jacob. V. He shall say to the Lord: Thou art my protector, and my refuge: my God, in him will I trust. V. For he hath delivered me from the snare of the hunters: and from the sharp word. [V. He will overshadow thee with his shoulders: and under his wings thou shalt trust. V. His truth shall compass thee with a shield: thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night.] V. Of the arrow that flieth in the day, of the business that walketh about in the dark: of ruin, or of the noonday devil. V. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand: but it shall not come nigh thee. V. For he hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways. [V. In their hands they shall bear thee up: lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. V. Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk: and thou shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon.] V. Because he hoped in me I will deliver him: I will protect him because he hath known my name. V. He shall call upon me, and I will hear him: I am with him in tribulation, I will deliver him, and I will glorify him. V. I will fill him with length of days; and I will show him my salvation. (Psalm 90, 1-7 and 11-16)

Tractus Qui hábitat in adjutorio Altíssimi, in protectióne Dei caeli commorábitur. V. Dicet Dómino: Susceptor meus es tu et refugium meum: Deus meus, sperábo in eum. V. Quoniam ipse liberávit me de láqueo venantium et a verbo áspero. V. Scápulis suis obumbrábit tibi, et sub pennis ejus sperábis. V. Scuto circúmdabit te véritas ejus: non timébis a timóre nocturno. V. A sagitta volante per diem, a negotio perambulante in ténebris, a ruína et daemonio meridiáno. V. Cadent a látere tuo mille, et decem milia a dextris tuis: tibi autem non appropinquábit. V. Quoniam Angelis suis mandávit de te, ut custodiant te in ómnibus viis tuis. V. In mánibus portábunt te, ne umquam offendas ad lápidem pedem tuum. V. Super áspidem et basiliscum ambulábis, et conculcábis leónem et dracónem. V. Quoniam in me sperávit, liberábo eum: prótegam eum, quoniam cognóvit nomen meum. V. Invocábit me, et ego exaudiam eum: cum ipso sum in tribulatióne. V. Eripiam eum et glorificábo eum: longitúdine diérum adimplébo eum, et ostendam illi salutáre meum.

While we’re at it, here’s a very good recording of the Gradual which precedes the Tract, with repetition of the first part, by the Consortium Vocale.

He hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways. V. In their hands they shall bear thee up: lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. (Psalm 90, 11-12)
Graduale Angelis suis Deus mandávit de te, ut custódiant te in ómnibus viis tuis. V. In mánibus portábunt te, ne umquam offéndas ad lápidem pedem tuum.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

New Liturgical Anathemas for the Post-Conciliar Rite

Yesterday, we looked at the Byzantine Rite’s liturgical reading on the first Sunday of Lent (tomorrow on the Gregorian calendar, next Sunday on the Julian) of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, a decree of the Seventh Ecumenical Council that anathematizes the iconoclasts and various other heretics. Since the post-Conciliar Rite adopted into itself so many oriental customs wholly extraneous to the Roman Rite, well might one wonder why this custom was not among them.
The frontispiece of a Byzantine Catholic Rite archieratikon, the liturgy book containing the bishop’s parts of the major liturgies, printed at Supraśl, Poland in 1716.
Wonder no longer. With a decree issued on Tuesday, the Sacred Congregation for Rites has finally closed this gap, promulgating a set of liturgical anathemas that admirably reflect the most exciting new developments in ecclesiology and liturgical theology. NLM is very honored to be the medium by which the Sacred Congregation has chosen to divulge these, while we wait for the official Latin text of the decree, which will be titled Ludens feci, to be officially published in the Acta Sanctae Sedis.
The very first encyclical letter of the current pontificate warned the Church against the temptation to self-referentiality, and as more recent events have shown us, the best possible way to combat this temptation is for the Church to spend four years talking to itself about itself. This will explain the fact that these anathemas are all, as it were, inward-looking, a part of the necessary process of self-reflection by which the Church will shake itself free of that temptation. In the finest tradition of the post-Conciliar liturgy, these anathemas may be adapted to local realities, but never, of course, to local ideas, and indeed, the careful reader will immediately note that it is only ideas that are anathematized, and not realities. Of course, we cannot but admit that we were very surprised to see where some of these ideas that are now being anathematized come from, but such is the way of the god of surprises.
The beginning of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy in that same edition.
It is foreseen that the text will be re-written continually, year by year, as the process of liturgical inculturation initiated by the Council continues to bear ever more mature fruits which even the Council itself never envisioned.
Rubrics for the proclamation of the new anathemas.
1. Following the Byzantine tradition, these anathemas may be proclaimed on the first Sunday of Lent, but also on any other Sunday of Lent, or a Sunday of another season, or on any other day. The authority to determine another appropriate day for their proclamation rests with the local bishops’ conferences, which, however, are strictly forbidden from making any such determination without the approval of the Sacred Congregation for Rites, to be requested in writing.
2. As in the Byzantine tradition, the ordinary minister of the anathemas is the deacon, but if there is no deacon, they may be proclaimed by a lay person, who, for this occasion only, may also wear a dalmatic if one is available. Whether worn by a deacon or a lay person, the color of the dalmatic may be violet, since the traditional day for their proclamation is the first Sunday of Lent, in which the liturgical color is violet, in order to symbolize in a more profound and meaningful way that the season is Lent. However, it may also be white, to symbolize the purity of intention with which the Church proclaims them; red, to symbolize the fervor with which She proclaims them; or green, to symbolize the flourishing of the Faith that comes from proclaiming them. The authority to determine the liturgical color for the proclamation of the anathemas rests with the local bishops’ conferences, which, however, are strictly forbidden from making any such determination without the approval of the Sacred Congregation for Rites, to be requested in writing.
Copes for the proclamation of the anathemas at the cathedral of Namur in Belgium. The authority to determine the use of a cope rather than a dalmatic for their proclamation rests with the local bishops’ conferences, which, however, are strictly forbidden from making any such determination without the approval of the Sacred Congregation for Rites, to be requested in writing. (Photo courtesy of Liturgical Arts Journal.)
3. The anathemas are to be proclaimed from the same pulpit from which the Scriptural readings, general intercessions, sermons, and announcements are proclaimed. But they may also be proclaimed during a procession, after the Mass, before the Mass, or in a separate “service of the Word” to be held apart from the Eucharistic celebration, if local pastoral realities determine this to be useful. The authority to determine another appropriate occasion for their proclamation rests with the local bishops’ conferences, which, however, are strictly forbidden from making any such determination without the approval of the Sacred Congregation for Rites, to be requested in writing.
4. In keeping with the Byzantine tradition, the response of the people to the anathemas may be “Anathema, anathema, anathema.” However, other responses more appropriate to local pastoral realities may be used instead, such as a verse from Scripture. A brief period of meditation may also follow the proclamation of each anathema, in place of a vocal response. The authority to determine another appropriate response rests with the local bishops’ conferences, which, however, are strictly forbidden from making any such determination without the approval of the Sacred Congregation for Rites, to be requested in writing.
The anathemas.
1. If anyone shall say that the bishops of the Catholic Church “have the sacred right and the duty before the Lord to make laws for their subjects, to pass judgment on them and to moderate everything pertaining to the ordering of worship and the apostolate”, let him be anathema.
2. If anyone shall say that the bishops of the Catholic Church are “(not) to be regarded as vicars of the Roman Pontiffs, for they exercise an authority that is proper to them, and are quite correctly called ‘prelates,’ heads of the people whom they govern”, let him be anathema.
3. If anyone shall say that it is “up to the bishop, as moderator, promoter, and guardian of the liturgical life of the Church of which he is the principle of unity, to regulate the liturgical celebrations, to authorize in his churches, as local Ordinaries, the use of the Missale Romanum of 1962, applying the norms of the motu proprio ‘Traditionis custodes’, and to determine case by case the reality of the groups which celebrate with this Missale Romanum”, let him be anathema.
4. If anyone shall say that authority over the liturgy in a diocese resides with the local bishops rather than with the Roman Curia, let him be anathema.
5. If anyone shall say that “there must be no innovations (made to the liturgy) unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing”, let him be anathema.
6. If anyone shall say that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” or that “Gregorian chant, being especially suited to the Roman liturgy, should have the chief place in liturgical services”, let him be anathema.
7. If anyone shall say that “that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity”, or “that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way”, let him be anathema.
8. If anyone shall say that “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful”, let him be anathema.
9. If anyone shall say that the Holy See should “guarantee respect for the rightful aspirations of all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition”, let him be anathema.
10. If anyone shall broaden his tent to include those who love the traditional Roman Rite, show them mercy, accompany them, dialogue with them, or listen to them, let him be anathema.
(NLM editor’s note: this is the place where, in keeping with the spirit of the Byzantine Synodikon of Orthodoxy, there should be a commendation of the inventors of the post-Conciliar Rite, as the Synodikon commemorates the defenders of the orthodox faith. But of course, despite the magnificence of their achievements, the Holy See has traditionally drawn a veil of humility over them. If thou seekest their monument, look around...)

Sacred Music Workshop in Dickinson, North Dakota, April 14-15

Please join us on April 14 and 15 at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church in Dickinson, North Dakota, for a two-day workshop on sacred music, featuring Dr. Jennifer Donelson-Nowicka, Director of Sacred Music at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California. 

The workshop will feature:
  • Talks about the Church’s vision for sacred music and praying with sacred music
  • Study of the Church's sacred music and liturgy
  • Instruction in reading and singing Gregorian chant
  • Sung liturgies
  • Opportunities for confession and prayer
  • Fellowship with area musicians

Cost of attendance is $40, which includes meals during the workshop. More information and registration are available at the conference website.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Singing for Pope Benedict XVI

In 2019 the London Oratory Schola — which sings the 6pm Mass at the Oratory Church on Saturday evenings — was invited to Rome to sing at the canonisation of John Henry Newman. During the days we spent in Rome, we sang on a number of occasions, including the canonisation itself. However, the most memorable highlight was a private recital for the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI.

The London Oratory Schola, Fr George Bowen, Charles Cole, Daniel Wright (headmaster) and Dominic Lynch with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
The night before the recital, the Schola gave a concert at the Collegio Urbano, where Newman himself studied. This seminary sends missionary priests into some of the most challenging and even dangerous parts of the world. Its students are a thriving group of young men who are incredibly committed to their faith. After the concert in the college chapel, the forty boys of the Schola were ushered into the large refectory for dinner with over a hundred seminarians. The boys sat amongst the seminarians and some of the stories they learned during the course of the meal were very striking indeed.

I particularly remember two boys telling me later that they had been speaking to a young seminarian whose uncle, a priest, had been sent to Pakistan where he was executed for baptising a Muslim. His nephew was absolutely frank about the fact that it was very likely the same could happen to him when he, too, returned to Pakistan, yet he was absolutely at peace with the path he had chosen. It brought to mind the words of Saint Philip Neri to the newly ordained priests of the English College in Rome as they were sent back to an almost certain death in Tudor England: ‘Salvete Flores Martyrum’ (Hail, flowers of the martyrs).

At the end of dinner, the Rector of the Seminary gave a wonderful speech and invited the Schola Prefect and the Student Prefect of the Seminary to come forward and shake hands together as a sign of friendship between us. He went on to tell the boys that as they had some spare rooms, any of them who wished to remain and begin life as seminarians immediately were most welcome to do so — to much laughter. Finally, he announced to his students that the following day, the boys were going to be singing for Pope Benedict. The words were barely out of his mouth before the seminarians erupted with huge applause and cheering. As we all walked back down the Janiculum to our hotel, I remember one of the Oratory school staff remarking to me “It’s going to be hard to top that experience.”
Walking from the Sistine Courtyard to the Vatican Garden
The following day we arrived at the Porta Sant’Anna, the entrance to the Vatican, and we were led through a courtyard and up a staircase into the imposing San Damaso courtyard, right at the heart of the papal palace. We were asked to wait there for a moment, during which a Swiss guard, in full regalia, came over to the boys and started asking them which football teams they supported. The boys were of course delighted, oblivious to the surreal nature of the scene, as they discussed the merits of Chelsea, Fulham et al with a Swiss Guard in bright blue, yellow and red plumage, complete with halberd in hand. We were then led up to the Sistine courtyard, where the director of the Sistine Choir had very kindly given us permission to use the Sistine vestry to robe in readiness for our recital. Anita Morrison, our vocal trainer, gave the boys a warm-up in the vestry after which we lined up in single file to be led up into the Vatican Gardens. Walking in silence, we climbed the path which wound its way upwards behind St. Peter’s, the sound of Roman traffic and bustling life melting away to be replaced by a beautiful stillness and birds singing in the trees. As we reached the upper part of the garden, I heard excited whispers from the boys behind me as one exclaimed “there he is!“ Looking to my left, at the far end of an avenue, two figures were seated on a bench, one wearing white, unmistakably papal, and the other in black.
The Schola warming up in the Sistine Vestry
As we were a few minutes early, our guide led us past the avenue to the Vatican’s replica of the Lourdes Grotto where we waited for the Pope Emeritus to finish his daily rosary. Moments later we were asked to walk down towards the bench. As we did so, the figure in black, Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, walked towards me, holding out his hand to greet me with a warm smile, “I am Father George, thank you for coming!” He asked us to line up in front of the bench where Benedict sat looking up with great wide eyes of wonderment. We sang Victoria’s Ave Maria, then Salvator mundi (I) by Tallis.

It is never easy to sing outdoors as there is usually a lack of acoustic or resonance. However, we could feel the sound lifting upwards and carrying far across the garden. I wondered what the tourists high up on the dome of St Peter’s would make of it, as we were out of sight underneath the trees. Benedict turned to Father George Bowen, our school chaplain who was seated beside him, and repeated in wonder “Tutti ragazzi!“, they are all boys, amazed that even the Tenors and Basses were schoolboys, with no professional men. After these two pieces and wary of tiring the Pope Emeritus, I turned to Archbishop Gänswein and asked if we should sing more or draw to a close. Turning to Benedict he said “Holy Father, would you like to give the boys your blessing now?” “No!” came the surprising response, “I want to hear more singing!“ So we sang Byrd’s Haec dies.

The Schola singing for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Afterwards, Pope Benedict blessed us and presented us with medals with his image upon them. Some of us spoke to him, and I took the opportunity to thank him for everything he has done for the liturgy. I was quite taken aback by how tightly he held my hand and the intensity of his gaze. I told him that I had been conductor of the brass for MacMillan’s Tu es Petrus as he entered Westminster Cathedral during his Papal visit in 2010. “Oh yes!” His eyes lit up even more as he recalled the moment, and Archbishop Gänswein leant in, saying, “Of course, we remember that don’t we! What an amazing occasion!”

We bade him farewell and Archbishop Gänswein thanked me once again for bringing the choir. We walked back down the hill, elated, yet with a sense of sublime calm, leaving the small man in white sitting on the bench, gazing out serenely over the garden.

Charles Cole is Director of the London Oratory Schola (www.londonoratoryschola.com) This article was originally published in the February 2023 edition of the London Oratory Parish Magazine.

The Sunday of Orthodoxy

As we approach the First Sunday of Lent, we are happy to share this article by Fr Deacon Philip Gilbert on the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy in the Byzantine tradition. Father Philip is a deacon of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church; we have previously published his articles on the week preceding Great Lent, and on the first ceremony of Lent in the Byzantine Rite, Vespers of Forgiveness Sunday. We also published photographs and a video of his subdiaconal ordination in 2018.

In the Byzantine tradition, the first Sunday of the Great Fast was at one time the commemoration of the holy prophets, but in contemporary usage it is known as the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy and commemorates the restoration of the icons in the year 843. Iconoclasm began with the emperor Leo the Isaurian who, in 726 “inaugurated imperial support for iconoclasm.. and in 730 convoked a silention to ratify an edict condemning icons.” [1] To put it briefly, the iconoclasts held that the veneration of icons was idolatry, since these were only boards and paint. This position become increasingly popular, and the topic was hotly debated, to say the least, sparking two councils: the iconoclast Council of Constantinople (claiming to be the seventh ecumenical council) in 754 which anathematized iconophiles [2], and the Seventh Ecumenical Council (II Nicaea) in 787, sponsored by the Empress Irene, which defended the veneration of icons. Part of the text of II Nicaea reads:
We, having received the grace and strength of the Spirit, and having also the assistance and co-operation of your royal authority, have with one voice declared as piety and proclaimed as truth: that the sacred icons of our Lord Jesus Christ are to be had and retained, inasmuch as he was very man; also those which set forth what is historically narrated in the Gospels; and those which represent our undefiled Lady, the holy Mother of God; and likewise those of the Holy Angels (for they have manifested themselves in human form to those who were counted worthy of the vision of them), or of any of the Saints. [We have also decreed] that the brave deeds of the Saints be portrayed on tablets and on the walls, and upon the sacred vessels and vestments, as has been the custom of the holy Catholic Church of God from ancient times; which custom was regarded as having the force of law in the teaching both of those holy leaders who lived in the first ages of the Church, and also of their successors our reverend Fathers. [We have likewise decreed] that these images are to be reverenced (προσκυνεῖν), that is, salutations are to be offered to them. The reason for using the word is, that it has a two-fold signification. For κυνεῖν in the old Greek tongue signifies both to salute and to kiss. [3]
A Greek icon of the late 14th or early 15th century, representing the restoration of the icons, with the Empress St Theodora, her young son Michael III, and the Father of the Second Council of Nicea. From the icon collection of the British Museum.
Despite II Nicaea definitively defending the veneration of the icons, a second period of iconoclasm began in 814, again initiated by the ruling emperor, this time Leo the Armenian. It wasn’t until 843 that Theodora (regent for the emperor Michael III in his minority) presided over the Synod of Constantinople and ended the iconoclast controversy. After the first session of the synod, there was a triumphant procession from the church of Blachernae, the city’s most important Marian shrine to Hagia Sophia, restoring the icons to the church buildings. This took place on the first Sunday of the Great Fast, and it was decreed that this would be commemorated every year on the anniversary of the feast, named the “Sunday of Orthodoxy.” The icon of the Restoration of the Holy Icons depicts this triumphant procession with the icons.
The hymnography of the services of this Sunday (which are contained in the Triodion, the collection of liturgical texts for Forelent, Lent and Holy Week) expound the theology of the defense of the icons, and revel in their veneration. The troparion of the feast very pointedly says: “We venerate Thy holy ikon, loving Lord, asking Thee to pardon our transgressions, Christ our God. For Thou of Thine own will wast pleased in the flesh to ascend upon the Cross, so to deliver from the bondage of the enemy those whom Thou has fashioned. Therefore in thanksgiving we cry aloud to Thee: Thou has filled all things with joy, our Saviour, when Thou hast come to save the world.” [4] A sticheron at Vespers is even more explicit: “The grace of truth has shone forth upon us… for behold, the Church is clothed in a beauty that surpasses all things earthly, through the ikon of the incarnate Christ that was foreshadowed by the ark of testimony. This is the safeguard of the Orthodox faith; for if we hold fast to the ikon of the Saviour whom we worship, we shall not go astray. Let all who do not share this faith be covered with shame; but we shall glory in the ikon of the Word made flesh, which we venerate but worship not as an idol. So let us kiss it, and with all the faithful cry aloud: O God, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance.” [5] Another from the aposticha at Vespers says: “Advancing from ungodliness to the true faith, and illumined with the light of knowledge… with due honor let us venerate the holy ikons of Christ, of the all-pure Virgin and the saints, whether depicted on walls, on wooden panels or on holy vessels, rejecting the impious teaching of the heretics. For, as Basil says, the honour shown to the ikon passes to the prototype it represents...” [6]
This video was made at the Lavra of the Dormition in Univ, Ukraine, about 30 miles east of L’viv, on the evening before Orthodoxy Sunday, 2021; Vespers, which include the texts cited above, begins at 11:25 (None is said before, and Compline after.)  
There is a tradition that on this day, the faithful come to church with icons, and hold them throughout the services. Furthermore, the Sunday of Orthodoxy is often celebrated with a procession, usually around the church, each person triumphantly holding their icon, in commemoration of the triumphant procession to Hagia Sophia in 843. Sometimes in Slavic churches this is accompanied by the prayer for the blessing of icons and sprinkling them with holy water. (Greeks do not bless icons this way).
Orthodoxy Sunday procession at the Univ Lavra; reproduced from their Facebook page.
Yet the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” in this Sunday is not limited to the triumph over the iconoclasts. Archbishop Job Getcha comments that “we should not forget that, after the victory of the hesychasts in 1351, the Sunday of Orthodoxy took on an additional meaning. It commemorated not only the victory over iconoclasm, but the victory over all heresies, including the victory of the hesychast monks over their enemies.” [7]
This additional meaning is especially apparent in those places where the Synodikon of Orthodoxy is read in conjunction with the festal procession. This is the decree of the Council of II Nicaea, which proclaimed its decisions and definitions regarding the veneration of icons, and anathematized the heretics, not only the iconoclasts, but also Arius, Eutyches, Nestorius, and others. [8]
The ceremonial reading of the Synodikon varies in structure from place to place, but generally includes: the singing of “Memory Eternal” to the defenders and teachers of the faith who have gone before us, as well as “Many years” to the current civil authorities and hierarchs; the recitation of the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith with the beginning “We believe” as at the Council: and, the proclamation of anathemas of various heresies and heretics.
The Anathema Service at Holy Transfiguration Greek Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia, on Orthodoxy Sunday of 2019.
The service of the proclamation of the Synodikon has somewhat lost its popularity, or perhaps has just been forgotten, in the Greco-Catholic Churches. However, the text of it can be found in various places, specifically in Greek in the 1879 Vatican edition of the Triodion, in Church Slavonic in the 1740 edition of the archieratikon from the Univ monastery in Ukraine, as well as the 1716 edition of the same from Suprasl in what is now Poland. These latter two, being Uniate Ruthenian editions, even anathematize such figures as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli “and their disciples”.
The Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy celebrates the victory of the Church and Her teaching over the lies and destruction of the heretics. Byzantine Christians revel in their icons, covering nearly every inch of their churches with the likenesses of the Saints and the saving acts of God. Since God became man and took on flesh, we are able to depict Him and know Him. And since we can know Him, we can know what He taught us and has passed on to us by way of the holy Apostles and Fathers. This, too, we celebrate on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, repeating the anathemas of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. While the proclamation of anathemas may strike some as odd, in today’s politically correct and high-tolerance world it is rather a refreshing thing to hear, reminding us that truth exists, and the teachings of the Gospel are not relative.
[1] “Leo III” in Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991) 1208. Available at https://archive.org/details/odb_20210521/page/1208/mode/2up
[2] The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, trans H. R. Percival, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, ed. P. Schaff and H. Wace, (repr. Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1955), XIV, pp 543-44. Available at https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/icono-cncl754.asp
[3] “Second Council of Nicæa” on New Advent, www.newadvent.org/fathers/3819.htm
[4] The Lenten Triodion, Trans. Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, (South Canaan, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1994), 302.
[5] Triodion, 300.
[6] Triodion, 301.
[7] Archbishop Job Getcha, The Typikon Decoded, (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 2012), 185.
[8] “The Decree” in “Second Council of Nicæa” on New Advent, www.newadvent.org/fathers/3819.htm

Thursday, February 23, 2023

St Peter Damian on Liturgical Prayer

St Peter Damian died on the feast of St Peter’s Chair, February 22, in the year 1072, a very appropriate day for one who spent so much of his life in service to the Church and to the Holy See. His feast was extended to the general calendar in 1828 by Pope Leo XII, who also made him a Doctor of the Church, and assigned to the day after his death; in the new calendar, St Polycarp of Smyrna was moved to February 23rd, his date in the Byzantine Rite, and so St Peter was moved to the 21st.

The Madonna and Child with Ss Anne, Elizabeth, Augustine and Peter Damian, by Ercole Roberti, 1479-81. Executed for the church of Santa Maria in Porto outside Ravenna, now in the Brera Gallery in Milan.
The revised Butler’s Lives of the Saints describes Peter Damian very well as “one of those stern figures who seem specially raised up, like St John the Baptist, to recall men in a lax age from the error of their ways and to bring them back into the narrow path of virtue.” He was born in the early years of the 11th century, an age in which the Church in western Europe lay very low indeed. Lay control of ecclesiastical offices and the attendant vice of simony were rampant, and the discipline of clerical celibacy was widely ignored; the years of his youth also saw the appalling spectacle of Pope Benedict IX, whom St Robert Bellarmine called “the nadir” of the Papacy. It is perhaps difficult to for us even imagine the career of this man, who was temporarily driven off the Papal throne by violence for his personal immorality, reinstated, then sold the Papacy (see note below), attempted to take it back, and was deposed again by the Holy Roman Emperor.

However, even the darkest days of the Church’s history are not without their Saints. As France gave Her the abbey of Cluny, which was ruled by six Saints in a row over a 190 year period, to pave the way for reform, Italy saw a new flourishing of strict and reform-minded monastic orders in the 11th century, led by St Romuald, the founder of the Camaldolese Order, and St John Gualbert, the founder of the Vallombrosians. It was among these communities that Peter Damian was formed as a religious, and was called to serve as abbot of an important Camaldolese house at Fonte Avellana.

It is often darkest before the dawn; after the deposition of Benedict IX and the extremely brief (24 day) reign of Damasus II, the Papal throne was occupied by Leo IX (1049-54), an active and enthusiastic reformer, now canonized as a Saint. From this time, the reform party within the Church was very much in the ascendant, with St Peter Damian as one of its most powerful leaders and spokesmen. In 1057, Pope Stephen IX made him the Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia, to which office it then belonged to crown the Pope, but he was later released from this position at his own request by Pope Alexander II. He continued to serve as a Papal legate and ambassador, and to write a great deal by way of exhortation to the clergy at all levels to a stricter and more disciplined life. Two particularly famous example of his severity are his rebuke to the canons of Besançon in France for sitting down during the Divine Office (!), although he was willing to allow this during the lessons of Matins, and to the bishop of Florence for playing a game of chess.

King Otto IV of Brandenburg indulges in frivolity. (From the Codex Manesse, 1305-13; public domain image from Wikipedia)
In his large body of writings, three of his letters were regarded as especially important treatises for the reformers of the age, and circulated widely as “books.” The “Liber gratissimus” treats of the problem of simony, which he condemns in the harshest possible terms. (“Judas sold the Lord, … but soon thereafter cast away the price of blood… you, on the other hand, … keep the profit from the sacrilege you commit.”) The “Liber gomorrhianus” treats of the worst aspects of sexual immorality among the clergy. The third is known by the odd title “Liber ‘Dominus vobiscum’ ”, and is of particular interest in the field of liturgical history.

It was addressed to a monk and hermit named Leo, who had written to St Peter to inquire whether he ought to say “The Lord be with you” and “Pray, lord, give the blessing” when saying the Divine Office alone in his cell. St Peter’s answer is argued at length and with great thoroughness, but what it really boils down to is “the liturgy is not about you.” Since it is the public prayer of the Church, which is made of many members and yet One in the Holy Spirit, the liturgy may rightly speak in the singular in choir (he cites Psalms such as “Incline to me Thy ear, o Lord” and “I will bless the Lord at all times”), and in the plural when celebrated by only one. He also notes, perhaps more persuasively, that a very large part of the Divine Office is said in the plural, invitatories such as “Come, let us worship the Lord”, hymns such as “Rising in the night let us all keep watch” etc.; so much, in fact, that to switch it to the singular in private prayer would mean to either omit most of it or mutilate it.

(Note: The man who bought the Papacy from Benedict IX was his godfather, an archpriest named John Gratian, who did so for the worthiest of motives, namely, to get Benedict out of the way; as Pope he was called Gregory VI. Although he was deposed for this act of simony, he was held in such high regard that almost 30 years later, when St Gregory VII was elected, certainly no laxist in matters of Church discipline, he chose his Papal name in John Gratian’s honor.)

Candlemas 2023 Photopost (Part 2)

As always, we are very grateful to all those who contributed these photos of recent Candlemas liturgies, a final look back at the beauty of the Christmas solemnities as we embark on the austerities of Lent. As with the previous post, we include two sets of pictures of Requiem Masses said for Pope Benedict XVI, one of which was said with the Requiem Mass of Mozart.

Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini – Rome, Italy (FSSP)

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Liturgical Notes on Ash Wednesday

It is a universal custom of all historical Christian rites not to fast on the day of the Lord’s Resurrection, even in Lent and Holy Week. The original Roman Lent of six weeks therefore comprised forty-two days, but only thirty-six days of fasting, which St Gregory the Great describes as “the tithe of the year.” (Hom. XVI in Evang.) The Roman Missal preserves a reminder of this in the Secret for the Mass of the first Sunday of Lent, which speaks of the “sacrifice of the beginning of Lent.”

Not long afterwards, however, perhaps by Gregory himself, the four days preceding the first Sunday were added to the fast to bring the number of days to exactly forty, the length of the fast kept by the Lord Himself, as well as by the prophets Moses and Elijah. This extension of Lent back to Ash Wednesday, which was once commonly known as “in capite jejunii – at the beginning of the fast”, is a proper custom of the Roman Rite, attested in the earliest Roman liturgical books of the century after St Gregory. It was copied by the Mozarabic liturgy, but never by the Ambrosian, and indeed, the Milanese traditionally make a point of eating meat on this day. In the Eastern rites, Great Lent begins on the Monday of the First Week, two days before the Roman Ash Wednesday.

The Gospel of the Transfiguration, Matthew 17, 1-9, is read on the Ember Saturday of Lent in reference to the forty-day fast of Christ, which is mentioned on the previous Sunday (Matthew 4, 1-11) and of the two Prophets who appeared alongside Him at the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah, both of whom appear in the readings of Ember Wednesday. (Icon by Theophanes the Greek, early 15th century, now in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.)
The Breviary of St Pius V and its medieval predecessors also preserve a memory of the fact that Ash Wednesday is a later addition. Although the fast begins on that day, the proper features of the Lenten Office (the hymns, chapters, versicles etc.) only begin to be sung at Vespers of Saturday before the First Sunday. This is also reflected in the traditional nomenclature of the three days after “Ash Wednesday (Feria IV Cinerum)”, which are called “post cineres – after the ashes,” rather than the first Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Lent. In the titles printed in liturgical books, and in the prayers of the Mass, the use of the Latin word for Lent, “Quadragesima,” only begins on the first Sunday. (An apparent exception is the Secret of the Friday “post cineres”, which contains the words “observantiae quadragesimalis”, but this is a revision of the Tridentine editors; the original reading was “observantiae paschalis.”)

The blessing and imposition of ashes was originally a rite for those who were assigned to do penance publicly during Lent for grave or notorious sins, an extremely ancient discipline and practice of the Church. The extension of this custom to all the faithful began in the later part of the 10th century, and was solidified by the end of the 11th, when Pope Urban II prescribed it at the Council of Benevento in 1091. The rite of “expelling” the public penitents from the church on Ash Wednesday, and receiving them back on Maundy Thursday, remained in the Pontifical for centuries after it had faded from use; another trace is the prayer “for the penitents” among the Preces said at Lauds and Vespers in penitential seasons. Many medieval uses also added a special commemoration of the public penitents to the suffrages of the Saints; in the Sarum Use, it was said as follows at Lauds:

Aña Convertímini ad me in toto corde vestro, in jejunio et fletu, et in planctu, dicit Dóminus.
V. Peccávimus cum pátribus nostris. R. Injuste égimus, iniquitátem fécimus.
Oratio Exaudi, quaesumus, Dómine, súpplicum preces, et confitentium tibi parce peccátis: ut páriter nobis indulgentiam tríbuas benignus, et pacem.

Aña Be ye turned to me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning, sayeth the Lord.
V. We have sinned with our fathers. R. We have acted unjustly, we have wrought iniquity.
Prayer Graciously hear, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the prayers of Thy supplicants, and pardon the sins of those who confess to Thee: that Thou may kindly grant us both pardon and peace.

The expulsion of the public penitents, in an illustration from a 1595 edition of the Roman Pontifical. (Reproduced by permission of the Pitts Theological Library, Candler School of Theology at Emory University)
In the Missal of St Pius V, the blessing of the ashes is introduced by a chant which is called an antiphon in the rubrics, but is structured like an introit. The blessing itself consists of four prayers, the sprinkling of the ashes with holy water, and their incensation, after which they are imposed on all present, while two antiphons and a responsory are sung. The rite concludes with a brief prayer, and then the Mass begins.

In the Middle Ages, the Ash Wednesday ceremony generally included a procession as well. Historically, processions are regarded as penitential acts by nature; this is the reason why even those of Candlemas and the Rogations were traditionally done in penitential violet, although the Mass of the former and the season of the latter require white vestments. (See note below.)

In the year 1143, a canon of St Peter’s named Benedict wrote the following brief description of the Ash Wednesday ceremony in his treatise on the rituals of Rome and the Papal court, now known as the Ordo Romanus XI. “The ‘Collect’ (i.e. gathering is held) at St Anastasia, where the Pope comes with the whole curia; and there is he dressed, and all the other orders go up to the altar. There the Pope gives the ashes, and the primicerius sings with the schola the Antiphon Exaudi nos, Domine. When the (ritual at the Collect church) is finished, the Pope and all the others go bare-footed in a procession to Santa Sabina, followed by the primicerius with the schola, as they sing (the antiphon) Immutemur habitu. When they reach the church, the subdeacon lays aside the (processional) cross, and goes to the altar during the litany (of the Saints)… the Pope sings the Mass without the Kyrie, because of the Litany”, (i.e., it has already been sung at the end of the Litany.)

Later descriptions of this ceremony, such as the various recensions of the Ordinal of Innocent III (1198-1216), mention that the ashes were made at the church of St Anastasia by burning the palms left over from the previous year’s Palm Sunday, a common custom to this very day. During the Papal residence in Avignon, however, many long-standing traditions of the Papal court dropped out of use and were never revived; thus, the procession is not included in the pre-Tridentine Missal of the Roman Curia, the antecedent of the Missal of St Pius V.

A penitential procession led by St Gregory the Great, from the Très Riches Heures du Duc du Berry, by the Limbourg brothers, 1412-16.
Note: The ancient processions of the Roman Rite, all of which were once regarded as obligatory at major churches, were those of Candlemas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and the Rogation Days. Corpus Christi was added last, as the culmination of the liturgical year; the white vestments used at the procession indicate its purely celebratory character, wholly appropriate to the nature of the feast. However, it should be noted that the procession is not even mentioned in the Missal, nor is any particular music prescribed for it; of course, the Litany of the Saints, the penitential prayer par excellence, is not sung, and the procession is done after the Mass, rather than before it.

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