Monday, March 20, 2023

Dr. Kwasniewski’s South Carolina Lecture Tour, April 20-22

In a month’s time I will be in South Carolina giving three lectures (on three different topics), April 20th in Charleston, April 21st in Columbia, and April 22nd in Greer. I look forward to meeting any NLM readers who happen to live in that part of the country!

All the details can be found in the poster below.

Lectio Divina (5): Liturgical Proclamation and Personal Reading

Citing the words of St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and St. Ambrose, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum reminds all members of the Church of our responsibility to cling to the Word of God:
25. Therefore, all the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become “an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly” [St. Augustine], since they must share the abundant wealth of the divine word with the faithful committed to them, especially in the sacred liturgy. The sacred synod also earnestly and particularly urges all the Christian faithful, especially religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” [St. Jerome]. Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere. And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying” [St. Ambrose]. 
This exhortation is something we all need to ponder—including those of us who love and cherish the usus antiquior. We, too, need to pay close attention to the readings read or chanted at Mass; it’s not as if taking Scripture seriously is some kind of Protestant or modernist innovation! In fact, Scripture’s “home” is most of all the liturgy, the Divine Office and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It will not do to react against charismatic excesses or the flaws of the Ordinary Form Lectionary by swinging to an extreme that fails to give to the Word of God the profound reverence it deserves—the homage of our minds and hearts, the deliberate attentiveness and personal application that causes the seed to take root.

I have noticed a strange phenomenon, namely, that traditionalists tend to swing to the opposite extreme on a lot of things, as if overreacting to the abuses around them. "The congregation singing at Mass? Oh, that's a Novus Ordo thing"—forgetting that St. Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII, to name just the most outstanding, repeatedly urged the faithful to chant the Ordinary of the Mass, as indeed is completely fitting and easily done through regular exposure to the chant. "Read Scripture devotionally? Oh, that's a Protestant thing"—forgetting that the Bible is a Catholic book and that the saints of the Church were doing lectio divina for fifteen centuries before the Protestants ever showed up. "Follow along with the readings and prayers at Mass in a Missal? I can't be bothered, I'd rather just pray individually, and be in a pleasant holy haze for an hour." I'm not denying that the old Mass wonderfully promotes interior prayer, and certainly I would never say we should always be reading or singing, but it's no less true that we ought to put on the mind of Christ by joining in the public worship offered by the Mystical Body—and this involves at least some effort at getting acquainted with the content of that worship!

To get back to our main point: Scripture is most of all at home in the Mass, where it is like a jewel placed in a setting of precious metal, and it is our privilege as Catholics to attend to the voice of Almighty God when His very words are being offered up before Him as a sweet-smelling incense. Like everything else in the liturgy, the proclamation of the biblical readings is both for God's glory and for man's sanctification.
A contemporary author has spoken eloquently of these connections:
Liturgical proclamation is obviously the place and privileged means of contact with the sacred text. There the living and active Word is returned to me in all its fullness. . . ‘It is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in church’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium 7).”[1]
This is because the Church’s worship is the activity of the Risen Christ, Head of the Church, together with all the members of His Mystical Body. The liturgy is His personal action for, and with, His people: He saves and sanctifies them, He gives them the grace to respond to Him in adoration, praise, blessing, contrition, supplication, thanksgiving. However, “the Church does not actualize its mystery or carry out its activity only in liturgical acts. It follows from this that, in the liturgy, the Word is living and active maximally though not exclusively”[2].
Of course the book itself is not the Word of God, only the means by which it is transmitted to me. But the reader of the book is a member of the Church. That reading takes place in the context of the ecclesial mystery, where the same Spirit who inspired the prophets and sacred writers is present and active. Therefore the text can be read in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written.
Because we are members of Christ’s Body, we can continue to hear God’s Word outside of the liturgy—and in fact that continuation is what makes the public proclamation bear fruit within us as well as prepares us for the next reception of the Word. “All personal reading of the sacred text finds its center in liturgical hearing—as preparation for it, or as its continuation.”

Let me give some examples about how we might prepare ourselves for, or derive further fruit from, the liturgical hearing of the Bible.
  • On Sundays or Holy Days, we might look at the day’s readings ahead of time, either the evening before or in the morning, and/or look at them again later that day, to impress the word more firmly on our souls. I have been amazed, personally, at how much more I get out of the reading or chanting of the Scriptures at Mass when I have already gone through the text, even if only cursorily, beforehand. It’s as if the ground had been plowed, and now there are furrows where the seeds can fall and find moisture.
  • During Lent, where both the Roman Rite and the modern rite of Paul VI offer us daily readings at Mass, we might take as our lectio divina the very Epistle and Gospel of the day.
  • I have seen it recommended to do lectio divina with the entirety of the Mass, from the Introit through the readings to the Communion, and this has indeed been very fruitful for me on the occasions when I’ve done it.
  • If one is fortunate enough to be able to attend a public Divine Office at a monastery or parish, one may do the same thing: look over the psalms and other parts of the liturgy ahead of time and/or afterwards.
In such ways, we are nourishing our souls from the feast of the liturgy, preparing better for its celebration, returning to it in memory and love. Archbishop Magrassi comments:
A kind of spiritual exchange will take place. The soul, in its moments of prayer, will easily remain influenced by what moved it during the liturgy; it will relive it, probe it more deeply, personalize it in one-to-one dialogue with the divine speaker. On the other hand, what the soul experiences in these moments of prayer will, as it were, flow back to it as it listens during the liturgy. It will be totally present to the reading; it will listen more receptively and be more fully open. The two moments become complementary aspects of a single act.[3]
Lectio divina is an essential instrument in the life of the traditional Catholic. It has been a fundamental element (or better yet, foundation) of monastic life since the very beginning. It has been the recurrent life-giving devotion of countless saints. It has shaped the great theologians and mystics. It is recommended to us again and again by the popes and enriched with indulgences. It is a spiritual bread that feeds our hunger and yet causes us to hunger more and more for the Bread of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ, in His Eucharistic Presence and in His heavenly glory. “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me.”


[1] Archbishop Mariano Magrassi, O.S.B., Praying the Bible: An Introduction to Lectio Divina, 3.
[2] Ibid., 4. The next two quotations are from the same page.
[3] Ibid., 9-10.

(Part V of a multi-part series. Links to the other articles: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.)

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Roman Pilgrims at the Station Churches 2023 (Part 4)

Once again, our thanks to our Roman pilgrim friends Jacob and Agnese for sharing their photos of the Lenten station Masses in Rome with us. This post includes a lot of relics, and, more by coincidence that any deliberate design on my part, shows three different churches which are now below street level, as the many layers of the Eternal City have risen up around them. We also have a good example of a modern revival of the ancient custom of the Collect churches, once an integral part of the Stational liturgy, as explained in this article from 2010

Friday of the Second Week of Lent – St Vitalis
San Vitale was first dedicated in the year 416; modern constructions around it, including the street on which it sits, the via Nazionale, are on a much higher level, and one must now descend a rather large staircase to reach the church. This first photo was taken from the top of the stairs. In Italy, it was also a very common custom once upon a time to hand decorative covers on the columns of a church for a major feast day and other important occasions, as we see here.  
This church has also faithfully maintained the custom of spreading greenery all over the floor on the station day...

and of making a display of its many relics.

Laetare Sunday 2023

Praise the Lord, for He is good; sing praise to His Name, for He is sweet; all that He wills He does in heaven and on earth. (The Offertory of Laetare Sunday)

Offertorium, Ps. 134 Laudáte Dóminum, quia benignus est: psállite nómini ejus, quoniam suavis est: omnia, quaecumque vóluit, fecit in caelo et in terra.

A very nice polyphonic setting by Palestrina.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Woman Caught in Adultery in the Liturgy of Lent

In the Roman Rite, the Gospel of the woman caught in adultery, John 8, 1-11, is joined at today’s Mass with the story of Susanna, who is rescued from an accusation of adultery by the prophet Daniel. Whether by coincidence or design, these two stories are united not just by a textual theme, but also by a text-critical one; both stories were known in antiquity to be later additions to their respective books, but nevertheless accepted as authentic and canonical by the Church.

Christ and the Adulteress, 1620s, by the French painter Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), an unabashed plagiarist of Caravaggio. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons
Susanna is one of two Greek additions to the book of the prophet Daniel, the other being the episode known as Bel and the Dragon. In the Septuagint, it is placed at the beginning of the book, since it describes Daniel as a youth, and Bel and the Dragon at the end. St Jerome placed them both at the end of his Latin translation of Daniel, and they therefore appear in the Vulgate as chapters 13 and 14 respectively. Since the time of the Protestant reformation, they have been included in many non-Catholic English Bibles with the group of books improperly known as the Apocrypha.
But as with the other so-called Apocrypha, the early Church had no serious doubts about the canonicity of either episode. The earliest Patristic commentary on Daniel, written by Hippolytus of Rome in the first half of the 3rd century, accepts Susanna as a part of the book without distinction, and the hugely influential Biblical scholar Origen, his contemporary, explicitly defended its canonicity. It was frequently depicted in art in the Roman catacombs, and both episodes form part of the Roman Mass lectionary.
Susanna as a lamb between two wolves, from the Arcosolium of Celerina in the Catacomb of Praetextatus, mid-4th century.
The pericope of the adulteress, on the other hand, was a bit slower to find acceptance. It is missing completely from a considerable number of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, including several of the earliest and most important ones, such as the Codexes Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus. Other early manuscripts have it marked in such a way that indicates doubt as to its authenticity, and a few place it at the end of Luke 21, which is why it is sometimes known as “the wandering pericope.” It is not mentioned in some important early commentaries on the Gospel of John, such as those by Ss John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria. To this day, the Byzantine Rite’s Gospel for the Divine Liturgy of Pentecost goes from the last verse of John 7 directly to verse 8, 12, and the passage is not included in the semi-continuous reading of St John that runs from Easter to Pentecost. (It is included in the lectionary for the feasts of female penitents.)
In the West, the question of its authority was settled by its acceptance on the part of three of the first four Doctors of the Church. St Jerome included it in the correction of the Latin text of the Gospels which he made at the behest of Pope St Damasus I. St Ambrose refers to it as part of the liturgy in his Second Apology for David, and it is still used to this day in the Ambrosian Rite in the same place in which he attests it. St Augustine includes it in his commentary on the Gospel of John, which is by far the most important and widely read such commentary in the West. In his book “On Adulterous Marriages”, he also gives the following explanation of the passage’s absence from some manuscripts, words which have become, alas, all too relevant to our own age.
“But now, after Christ said to the adulteress, ‘Neither shall I condemn thee; go, sin no more henceforth,’ who could not understand that the husband must forgive since he sees that the Lord of them both has forgiven (her)? Nor should she any longer call herself an adulteress, whose crime was wiped away by God’s mercy when she repented.
But clearly the sense of the faithless abhors this, such that some of little faith, or rather enemies of the true faith, I believe, fearing that free license to sin was being given to their wives, took out of their copies (of the Gospel) that which the Lord did regarding the forgiveness of the adulteress, as if He granted permission to sin when He said, ‘Now sin no longer …’ (De conjugiis adulterinis II, 7.)
The Four Doctors of the Church, by Pier Francesco Sacchi, ca. 1516.
For Hippolytus, Susanna is a figure of the Church beset by her persecutors, but vindicated and saved by the just judgment of God in the person of the prophet Daniel, whose name means “God is my judge.” For St Ambrose, the adulteress is also a figure of the Church, in the broader sense of God’s people, in both the Old and New Testaments, that seeks the Word of God in many places until she finds it in Christ, and is absolved and purified by Him. “And therefore she was waiting about, and everywhere sought the Word of God, because she was wounded, because she was naked, because she was an adulteress in all things, although without blemish in Christ, as she sought a redeemer in her wretched body. Christ joined her to Himself, in order to make her immaculate; He united Himself to her, in order to take away her adultery.” Where Susanna is the symbol of the Church in her fidelity to Christ, and the adulteress is the Church redeemed by Christ when she has been unfaithful to him.
Roughly nine centuries later, William Durandus neatly sums up this union of the two readings as follows: “On Saturday (of the third week of Lent) it is shown that the Lord saves by justice and mercy, whence the Epistle speaks of Susanna, who was saved by justice. The Gospel is that of the woman caught in adultery, whom the Lord delivered through mercy. Therefore, because (she) is saved through mercy, the Church, seeing the weakness of her children, asks to be delivered through mercy in the Introit, saying, ‘Give ear, O Lord, to my words, understand my cry. Hearken to the voice of my prayer, (my king and my God.)’ ” (Rat. Div. Off. 7, 52, 1)
Three further things we may note about this Introit. Psalm 5, from which it is taken, is titled in Greek and Latin “for her that obtaineth the inheritance”, which the Church Fathers naturally took as a reference to the Church. A 4th-century commentary on the Psalms called “Breviarium in Psalmos”, which was long mistakenly attributed to St Jerome, says, “This Psalm is written about the Church, which at the end of the world will obtain the inheritance in all the nations that believe in Christ.” (PL XXVI, 828D-829A)
Secondly, the same commentary explains the words “my king and my God” as follows. “He truly dared to say ‘my king and my God’, even he over whom sin does not reign in his mortal body. ‘My king and my God’, because Thou reignest in me, and sin reigneth not, wherefore Thou art my God. Thou art my God, because my belly is not my God (Phil. 3, 19), because money is not my God, because lust is not my God.” This represents the condition of the Church as symbolized by the adulteress, whose adultery is taken away, and thus lust is no longer her god.
Third, the verse of the Introit continues in the fourth verse of the Psalm, “For to thee will I pray, o Lord; in the morning thou shalt hear my voice.” The story of the adulteress begins when “early in the morning (Jesus) came again into the temple.” This is also a symbol of the adulteress’ conversion, as the Breviarium says: “As long as I am in the darkness of error, He does not hear me, but when the sun of justice (i.e. Christ) shall come into my heart, then He heareth me.”
The Gradual of this Mass is taken from Psalm 22: “If I shall walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils; since Thou art with me, o Lord.” This refers to the fact that both Susanna and the adulteress faced the possibility of being killed, but were saved by the Lord. In many medieval Uses of the Roman Rite, this same gradual was used at the Requiem Mass.
The Offertory is from Psalm 118, verse 133: “Direct my steps according to thy word, that no injustice may have dominion over me, o Lord.” Of this, the Breviarium says simply “and not according to bodily desires, because I am given over to Thy service.” St Hilary of Poitiers comments in a similar vein, “…not according to the ways of the world, not according to the glory of men, not according to the pleasures of the body.” (Tractatus super Psalmos; PL IX, 617D-618A) Thus the Church, freed from the dominion of sin like the adulteress, is able to proceed to the offering of the Holy Sacrifice. And since this Psalm was sung daily for centuries at the hours from Prime to None, those who heard and sang this Offertory would certainly have thought of the first part of the following verse, “Redeem me from the calumnies of men” as a reference to the calumnies made against Susanna, and the second part, “that I may keep thy commandments,” as a reference to the Lord’s command to the adulteress, “Go and sin no more.”
On the ferias of Lent, the Communion antiphons are taken each one from a different Psalm in sequential order, starting on Ash Wednesday with Psalm 1. The days which were formerly aliturgical do not form part of this series, namely, the six Thursdays, and also the first and last Saturday; the ferias of Holy Week are also not included. (See the table below; click for larger view.)

The series is also interrupted on six days when particularly important passages of the Gospels are read, and the Communion is taken from them instead. Here is a magnificent polyphonic setting of the one for today, by the Portuguese composer Frei Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650), a Carmelite friar who worked principally at his order’s house in Lisbon.

Friday, March 17, 2023

The Samaritan Woman in the Liturgy of Lent

In the lectionaries of the various Latin rites, one of the most prominent Gospels of the Lenten season is that of the Samaritan woman who spoke to Christ at the well of Jacob (St John 4, 5-42). Although the Roman, Ambrosian and Byzantine Rites each read this Gospel on a different day, it appears in all three as a lesson of particular importance for the preparation of those who will be baptized at Easter or Pentecost.

In the Roman Rite, it is read on the Friday of the third week, joined with one of the most important epistles of Lent, Numbers 20, 1-13, in which Moses makes water run from the rock in the desert. This story was understood by the early Christians as a prefiguration of the sacrament of baptism, starting with St Paul himself, who tells us that “our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And all in Moses were baptized, in the cloud, and in the sea: and did all eat the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink; and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.” (1 Cor. 10, 1-4) Moses striking the rock to make the water run from it is one of the most frequently depicted Biblical scenes in early Christian art; just in the paintings of the Roman catacombs, it appears over 70 times, along with numerous other representations on ancient sarcophagi.

Moses making the water run from the rock in a fourth-century fresco in the Catacomb of St Callixtus.
On the previous Sunday, the Lenten station is kept at the church of St Lawrence Outside-the-Walls, where anciently the catechumens underwent a formal examination of their Christian faith, the ritual known as the scrutiny. The Gelasian Sacramentary contains a beautiful prayer for them to be said on that day, “that they may worthily and wisely come to the confession of Thy praise; so that through Thy glory they may be reformed to the former dignity which they had lost in the original transgression.” At the same Mass, the Memento of the living has an interpolation to pray for their future godparents, and during the Hanc igitur, the names of the catechumens were read out loud. On the following Friday, the station is kept at another church of Rome’s most venerated martyr, St Lawrence ‘in Lucina’, nicknamed, like so many sacred places in the city, for the woman upon whose property it was originally built. Here, they would hear Christ speaking to the Samaritan woman of the “living water … springing up unto life everlasting”, and understand His words as a clear reference to baptism.

A piece of the gridiron of St Lawrence’s martyrdom, preserved in a reliquary in a side-altar of San Lorenzo in Lucina. Photo courtesy of Orbis Catholicus.
In his treatise on the Gospel of St John (Tract 15, 10), St Augustine explains the woman as a type of the Church, “not yet justified, but waiting to be justified”, like the catechumens themselves. He also reminds us that the Samaritans were not part of the Jewish people; indeed, the Bible itself says that they were a mixed nation of Jews and pagans, observing the customs of both. (4 Kings 17, 24-41) So too, the early Church was a mixture of Jews and pagans, now united in Christ in whom “there is neither Jew nor Greek … for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3, 28) Augustine continues by saying, “Therefore, in her, let us hear ourselves (spoken of), and in her, let us recognize ourselves, and in her, let us give thanks to God for ourselves.” (i.e. for what He has done for us.)

The dedicatory inscription on the counter-façade of Santa Sabina in Rome, the only part of the church’s original mosaic decoration which survives, ca. 425 A.D. The two figures on the sides are “the church from the circumcision” on the left, and “the church from the gentiles” on the right. Photo courtesy of Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.
In the Ambrosian Rite, the first Sunday of Lent is called “in capite jejunii – at the beginning of the fast”, a title also used for Ash Wednesday in medieval liturgical books of the Roman Rite. The remaining Sundays are named for their Gospels, all taken from St John, the second Sunday being that of the Samaritan woman, the third ‘of Abraham’ (chap. 8, 31-59), the fourth ‘of the man born blind,’ (9, 1-38), the fifth of Lazarus (11, 1-45) and the sixth ‘of the Palms’ (11, 55 – 12, 11). On the second Sunday, the following antiphon is sung after the Gospel, while the deacon spreads the corporal on the altar in preparation for the Offertory. (As in the Roman Rite, most of the Mass propers use the Old Latin version of the Scriptures.)
For I will take you from among the gentiles, and I will pour upon you clean water; you shall be cleansed from all your iniquities. I will give you a new heart, and renew a righteous spirit within you. (Ezechiel 36, 24, 25 and 26.)
In the Roman Rite, the same prophecy of Ezechiel (though not exactly the same words) provides both the introit and the first epistle of the Mass of the Wednesday of the fourth week of Lent, on which day the catechumens were exorcized and blessed at the tomb of St Paul, the great Apostle of the gentiles.

The Ambrosian Missal contains proper prefaces for nearly every Mass of the temporal cycle, generally rather longer than the those of the Roman Rite. The Lenten prefaces of the Sundays are each based on the Gospel of the day, and that of the Samaritan woman reads as follows:
Truly it is worthy and just…through Christ our Lord. Who, to instill (in us) the mystery of His humility, being tired, sat at the well, and * asked of the Samaritan woman that a drink of water be given Him, even He that had created the gift of faith in her; and so He deigned to thirst for her faith, so that, as He asked water of her, He might enkindle in her the fire of divine love. * We therefore beseech Thy boundless compassion, that defying the dark depths of vice, and leaving behind the vessel of harmful desires, we may ever thirst for Thee, that art the fountain of life, and source of all goodness, and may please Thee by the observance of our fast. Through the same etc.
The words here noted between the stars form the basis of a Preface used in the post-Conciliar Rite in the first year of the three-year lectionary cycle, when the story of the Samaritan woman is read on the third Sunday of Lent. Since this crucial passage is not included among the readings of the second and third years, a rubric provides that it may be read on Sunday in place of the Gospels assigned to those years, or it may displace one of the ferial Gospels; a similar provision is made for the blind man and Lazarus.

The Orthodox church of Jacob’s Well, also known as St Photini’s, in the city of Nablus on the West Bank. The current church is the fifth structure to stand over the site, which has been venerated by Christians as the Well of Jacob since the fourth century.
In the Byzantine tradition, the story of the Samaritan woman is read in Eastertide rather than Lent, as is that of the man born blind; however, the association of it with the sacrament of baptism is just as clear as in the Latin rites. On the fifth Sunday of Easter, the following three exapostilaria are sung at the end of Matins; the first is that of the Easter season, the second relates to the Gospel of the day’s Divine Liturgy, and the third to the feast of Mid-Pentecost.
Exapostilarion of Easter  Having fallen asleep in the flesh as a mortal, O King and Lord, You rose again on the third day, raising up Adam from corruption, and abolishing death. O Pascha of incorruption, O salvation of the world!
of the Samaritan Woman  You reached Samaria, and talking with a woman, sought water to drink, my all-powerful Savior, who poured out water for the Hebrews from a sharp rock, and led her to belief in you: and now she enjoys life eternally in heaven.
of Mid-Pentecost  At the mid-point of the feast, Lover of mankind, you came to the temple and said: You who are full of thirst, come to me and draw living water welling up, through which you will all revel in delight and grace and immortal life.
Note how the exapostilarion of the Samaritan woman makes the same association between the Lord’s revelations to her and the episode of the water running from the rock that is made in the Roman Rite by the readings of the Mass. This reference to the waters of baptism continues in the third text, which quotes Christ’s second reference to the “living waters” in the Gospel of John, when He speaks in the temple during the feast of Tabernacles. (chapter 7, 37-39.)

The text of this second Gospel of the “living waters” is deferred by the Byzantine Rite to Pentecost itself, a custom which it shares with the Ambrosian and Roman Rites in different ways. The church of Milan preserves to this very day an ancient custom of celebrating two Masses on both Easter and Pentecost, the traditional days for the administration of baptism; one is the Mass “of the solemnity” itself, and another “for the (newly) baptized.” On Easter Sunday, the Gospel at the Mass for the baptized is John 7, 37-39, with the second part of the last verse omitted.
On great day of the festivity, the Lord Jesus stood and cried, saying: If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believeth in me, as the scripture saith, Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. Now this he said of the Spirit which they should receive, who believed in him.
At the Mass for the baptized on Pentecost, this Gospel is repeated, adding the final words of verse 39 which are not said on Easter, “for as yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” In the Roman Rite, the same text provides the Communion antiphon for the Mass of the vigil of Pentecost, although the Gospel itself is read on the Monday of Passion Week.

The Byzantine Rite has traditionally honored the Samaritan woman as a Saint, and she was often called both an Apostle and Evangelist. Her legend states that she, her five sisters and two sons were among those baptized by St Peter and the other Apostles on the first Pentecost, and afterwards traveled to preach in many places; after evangelizing Carthage, they came to Rome, where they were martyred under Nero. Her given name is Photeine (or “Photini” in the modern pronunciation), the Greek word for “bright”; the cognate “photistes – illuminator” is used in the Byzantine tradition as a title for the saint who first evangelizes a people, the best-known example of this being perhaps St Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia. With the latinized form of her name, Photina, she was added to the Tridentine edition of the Roman Martyrology by Cardinal Baronius, along with her family members, on March 20th, the day of her feast in the Byzantine Rite. Her troparion makes the same association between the waters of baptism and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost indicated by the placement of her Gospel on the Sunday after Mid-Pentecost.
Wholly illuminated by the divine Spirit, and sated of your thirst by the springs, you drank deeply of the water of salvation from Christ the Savior, all praiseworthy one, and shared it abundantly with them that thirst; o Great Martyr and Equal to the Apostles, Photini, entreat Christ our God to save our souls.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Catholic Sacred Music Project’s Choral Festival, Paris, France, July 2-8

The 3rd Choral Festival of the Catholic Sacred Music Project will be held in Paris, France, from July 2-8, in collaboration with Lux Amoris, an organization for the promotion of sacred music based in Paris, and will provide formation for Church musicians in choral singing, choral conducting, and organ improvisation. The event will culminate with a performance of the Messe Solennelle Op. 16 by Louis Vierne at a Pontifical Mass at the church of Saint Roch in Paris. Singers, conductors, and organists from all over the world who are devoted to the Church’s sacred music are welcome to come and cultivate their musical skills, and renew their passion for serving the Church through music. The international faculty includes renowned conductors, organists, and teachers from Notre Dame de Paris, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Troirs, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., and Hillsdale College. Applications are accepted until March 29.

The Surprises of St. Patrick and His Feast Day

St Patrick, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1746

Saint Patrick (385-461) is probably one of the Church’s best-known saints, at least in countries influenced by Irish emigration. But despite his popularity, the details of this his life are not well known. In this article, we survey the life and legacy of Saint Patrick and some of their surprising elements.

Ireland’s English Patron
Saint Patrick, who was born in either Scotland or northern England, describes himself as both a Roman and a Briton (who were Celts). His father was a Roman decurion (a senator and tax collector) and a deacon, and his grandfather was a priest. As a youth, however, Patrick was a lukewarm believer, and at the age of fifteen he committed an unknown sin or cluster of sins in the span of an hour. [1] The misdeed(s) do not appear to have been a great crime, but, as we will see, they would come back to haunt him.
At the age of sixteen, Patrick’s life was changed forever when he and other members of his father’s household were abducted by Irish pirates and sold into slavery. (Sidenote: the Irish word for “pirate” is Foley, so you can thank my family for the gift of Saint Patrick to Ireland.)
Patrick spent six years in slavery, probably near the modern village of Killala in the northwest. He was charged with keeping watch over his master’s livestock and had to endure snow, frost, rain, hunger, and nakedness.
The experience was transformative. During that time, he grew in his love of God. He prayed day and night as he tended his master’s flocks, and the hardships he suffered did him no harm, for as he later came to realize, “the Spirit was burning hot” within him. [2] Eventually, he heard the voice of the Lord telling him that it was time to leave. Patrick obeyed and traveled two hundred miles to the east coast, where he found a ship bound for Britain. The problem was that he had no money for the voyage (a problem common among Irishmen), but as he was walking away the sailors invited him to join them.
After the ship landed (probably in Scotland), the crew and their holy passenger roamed the countryside desperately looking for food. Saint Patrick had been telling the sailors, who were pagan, about the infinite goodness and power of God, and so the starving company asked him why he was not praying for help. he told them that if they prayed with their whole hearts, God would answer their prayers. They did, and sure enough they fell upon a herd of wild boar. Guess who you’ll be praying to the next time you are hunting feral hogs.
Saint Martin of Tours, by The Master of Sierentz, 1440-50
Travels and Commission
Patrick was well traveled and well connected. Before returning to Ireland as a missionary, the Saint traveled from one end of the Continent to the other. His biography reads like a Who’s Who of contemporary Christian Europe. He studied under Saint Martin of Tours, was tonsured in the famous island monastery of Lérins in the south of France, ordained a priest by Saint Germanus of Auxerre, consecrated a bishop by Saint Maximus of Turin, and was given his commission to convert the Irish by Pope Saint Celestine I. Celestine gave him the job, by the way, because the first missionary to Ireland had fled in terror.
Patrick was probably not surprised to receive this commission. In his autobiography The Confession, he describes a vision that he had after coming back home to Britain. A man named Victoricus appeared to him carrying many letters from Ireland. Patrick opened one of them, which began with “The voice of the Irish.” As he read these words, he heard a multitude of natives from the place where he had been a slave say with one voice: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.” [3] his heart was deeply moved, and he could read no further.
Patrick’s Name
We do not know Patrick’s real name. When the Pope authorized him to evangelize Ireland, he prophetically named him Patricius or “father of citizens.” Before that, we are not entirely certain what he was called. A later biographer offers three options: Magonus, that is, famous; Succetus, that is, god of war; and Cothirthiacus, “because he served four houses of druids.”
Patrick had a hard life. He was enslaved twice: the second time, possibly as a missionary, lasted two months. When Roman legions withdrew from Britain to protect other parts of the Empire, the region was destabilized. As he knew all too well, abductions and violence were rampant. Saint Patrick once excommunicated a leader and his soldiers who had the audacity to murder or enslave fellow Christians: some of the victims were so new to the Faith that they were still wearing their baptismal robes and the holy oil was still visible on their foreheads. Several times, local chieftains and the Druids had Patrick and his companions beaten, robbed, and enchained.
He was also scrupulous about his ministry and refused to accept gifts. The advantage of such a policy is that it steered clear of simony, but since it was often perceived culturally as an affront, it complicated his evangelizing efforts. Patrick deeply missed his home and family in Britain, and he wrote about how much he would have loved to visit his saintly friends in Gaul, but he felt obligated to remain in Ireland and do the Lord’s work.
His mission was, of course, a great success. According to his own testimony, he baptized thousands and lived to see some of Ireland’s future leaders become monks and nuns. A land that knew nothing of God and that had “served idols and unclean things,” as he put it, had now become “a people of the Lord.” [4] And yet, despite this success, Patrick writes his Confessio near the end of his life in an occasionally defensive tone. Apparently, he was beset by detractors who claimed that he had fabricated the story of his enslavement and who accused him of financial improprieties. He was also betrayed by a close friend to whom he had confided the sins he had committed at the age of fifteen. The friend mentioned this embarrassment to Patrick’s elders (seniores) in Britain, and they held this failing against him and his episcopate, bringing great sorrow to the Saint.
Stories about Saint Patrick’s labors in Ireland abound, although it is not always easy to separate fact from fiction. It is believed that he founded his main church in Armagh, which went on to become the head church in Ireland. He is also credited with founding churches and monasteries throughout the island. Numerous miracles are attributed to him, including restoring sight to the blind and raising nine people from the dead. He died on March 17, 461 in what is now known as Downpatrick, a town in County Down, Northern Ireland. His remains are preserved in Down Cathedral.
Shamrocks and Snakes
As a general rule, the more popular a legend is about Saint Patrick, the more it is dubious. Pace the Baltimore Catechism, Patrick most likely did not teach the Irish about the Trinity by using a shamrock (if he had, he would have been guilty of the heresy of partialism). According to one source, the earliest mention of the legend comes from (gasp!) English botanists in 1571; other accounts point to a travel diary by an English tourist visiting Ireland in 1684. And to complicate matters even more, the shamrock is not a botanically recognized species: the word seamróg (shamrock) is simply Gaelic for young clover. [5] Despite the shaky historical evidence, however, the shamrock is a fitting symbol of the Saint insofar as it is an inseparable symbol of the Irish people, whom he lovingly held in the palm of his hand.
Lutheran Satires, “Saint Patrick’s Bad Analogies”
Second, Patrick did not drive the snakes out of Ireland, at least not the reptilian variety. The last Ice Age had kept the sensitive, cold-blooded creatures from most parts of Europe, and when the earth began to warm up, they took advantage of ice bridges to reach places such as England. There was no ice bridge between Britain and Ireland, however, and so the snakes could not settle in the Emerald Isle. Ireland thus joined the ranks of Iceland, Greenland, New Zealand, and Antarctica in being perpetually snake-free. [6]
That said, it can be argued that Patrick did drive snakes out of Ireland There is a legend that he observed the Lenten fast of 441 A.D. on the mountain that now bears his name, Croagh Patrick or Reek Mountain in County Mayo, Ireland, and that afterwards he expelled the snakes by throwing his bell down the mountain. The bell was originally white, but it is now called the “Black Bell of Saint Patrick” because it pelted legions of demons who were disguised as black birds and venomous snakes. The snakes in question, then, were not reptiles but devils. To this day in Ireland, “Reek Sunday,” the last Sunday of July, commemorates the expulsion. Between 25,000 and 40,000 pilgrims climb Croagh Patrick each year.
Reek Sunday, date unknown
Moreover, according to another story, the same mountain was home to Corra, a frightening serpent-demon and the mother of Satan himself. Corra first sent her servants, the Sluagh, frightening minions in charge of the Wild Hunt who attacked Patrick in the form of black birds. After he banished them to the sea, Corra transformed herself into a fiery dragon and attacked him. The Saint won by clocking her with his bell, which drove her down the mountain slope. The demon is now trapped in a lake nearby (Lough Na Corra) and is allowed to ride the waves on dark and stormy nights. Just as Mary, the new Eve, crushes the head of the serpent through her Immaculate Conception, St. Patrick crushed the head of the serpent in Ireland through his evangelization.
The Last Judgment
Even after defeating the demonic, however, Patrick would not leave the mountain until he wrestled, Jacob-style, with God on behalf of his people. God kept sending an angel to give him more concessions, but the Saint persisting in praying and fasting until all his requests were met. They included: that many souls would be freed from Purgatory by his intercession; that the Saxons who were currently conquering the Britons never conquer the Irish; that the Irish remain Christian until the end of time; that just as the original Apostles will be judges of the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt. 19, 28), he (Patrick) will be judge of the entire Irish race at the end of time; and that the sea rise up and cover the Ireland seven years before the Last Judgment to spare the Irish the horrors of Doomsday. [7] If climate change ever drowns the island, start the countdown.
Patrick has some unexpected patronages. He is obviously a patron saint of Ireland, and he has is also a patron of migrants because of his association with the Irish. He is a patron saint of engineers because he oversaw the construction of churches and, it is said, taught the Irish to build arches of lime mortar instead of dry masonry.
But the Apostle of Ireland is also the patron saint of Nigeria. In 1961, one year after Nigeria wrested its independence from Great Britain, the bishops of Nigeria (most if not all of them Irish) made Patrick the patron of the new nation. (That same day, the Republic of Ireland opened its embassy in the country, the first in Africa.) The bishops’ designation was not simply a case of personal preference. Irish missionaries had brought the Catholic faith to Nigeria in the nineteenth century while organizations like Saint Patrick’s Society for Foreign Missions provided education; at the same time, many Nigerians studied at universities in Ireland such as Trinity College Dublin, and some of them went on to occupy key posts in the Nigerian government. The Irish and Nigerians were natural allies, for both chafed at British colonial rule. And fittingly, after the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, Nigeria consumes more Guinness beer than any other nation, beating out the fourth-ranked U.S.A.
Saint Patrick Cathedral, Awka, Nigeria
I am also of the opinion that Patrick should be named the patron saint of surfers and water skiers. On one occasion, the Saint was transporting a large altar stone from the Continent to Ireland when the captain denied passage to a leper. Patrick threw his altar-stone into the sea, which miraculously floated, and had the leper sit on it. Leper and stone then cruised behind the ship for the entire journey.
Saint Patrick’s Day
Not every apostle to a nation is placed on the General Calendar, but the universal Church has celebrated March 17 as Saint Patrick’s feast day since the early 1600s, thanks to Father Luke Wadding, a native of Waterford and a Franciscan scholar. Wadding was the founder of the Irish Franciscan College of Saint Isidore in Rome and was on the committee to reform the Breviary. The pious priest celebrated the feast of Saint Patrick every year with great solemnity, and so it was only natural for him to persuade others to do so as well.
The celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day varies in different parts of the world. In the United States, the feast has been mixed in with Irish patriotism from an early age. Boston’s Irish Charitable Society sponsored the first organized celebration in 1737, and New York City began Saint Patrick’s Day parades in 1762. [8]
And yes, drunkenness has long been a feature of the Irish-American celebration. A New York Times report on the Saint Patrick’s Day festivities of 1860 is worth quoting at length: 
It must be confessed that there were a great many persons very much intoxicated… The policemen had their hands full….An unbroken procession defiled through [the doorways of the detention center]… of officers in waiting on men and women in all stages of intoxication, from that balmy condition in which a man swears eternal friendship to all the world and is anxious to embrace everyone he meets, to that in which he is unable to walk without tying knots in his legs, though supported by an official friend on either side. Drunken women with infants in their arms, men argumentatively disposed to establish logically the fact of their own sobriety, and victims of pugilistic skill with too much color about the eyes, were yarded like cattle in the fenced inclosure [sic] for prisoners in the Court.[9]
In Ireland, by contrast, Saint Patrick’s Day has been a far more pious occasion. The day has been a holy day of obligation for centuries. There were no parades for the feast until the early 1900s, and all pubs were closed until recently. It is only within the past three decades that Saint Patrick’s Day has become as significant an affair in Ireland as it has been in the Irish diaspora for centuries.
In Nigeria, the Irish Embassy and the local Guinness breweries host different celebrations, while some Catholic parishes commemorate the day with rallies. Guinness is consumed as in other parts of the world, but it is followed by Isi ewu soup, a dish from the Igbo tribe made with goat’s head. Isi ewu, however, is a delicacy. For those who cannot afford it or a pint of Guinness, jollof rice, moi moi bean pudding, and meat straight from the wild (so-called “bush meat”) are consumed alongside locally produced palm wine. [10]
Today, Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival. Unexpected places include Russia, Malta, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia—and outer space. In 2011, U.S. astronaut Catherine Coleman, who is Irish on both sides, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day on the International Space Station by playing a century-old flute belonging to one of the Chieftains.
Other Customs
Pota Phadraig or “Patrick’s Pot” involves drinking a full measure of whiskey. The custom is also called “drowning the shamrock” because a clover leaf is sometimes floated on the drink; the shamrock is either consumed or tossed over the shoulder for good luck. According to legend, during his missionary travels Saint Patrick was given a glass of whiskey that was far from full by a stingy innkeeper (we’ll conveniently ignore the fact that whiskey was centuries away from being invented). Patrick told the man that a devil was living in his cellar which was causing him to be dishonest and that the only way the man could banish the devil was by filling each glass to its brim. When Patrick returned to the inn later, he saw that each cup was full and proclaimed the devil duly exorcised.
Drowning the Shamrock, 1852-1863
Ireland has been associated with the color green since at least the eleventh century, and the wearing of the green came into vogue as an assertion of Irish nationalism under British rule. Today it is customary to wear green clothes or a shamrock on Saint Patrick’s Day; naysayers are pinched for refusing to play along. That practice is yet another American novelty, which probably began in the early 1700s. The rationale is that since green makes one invisible to mischievous Leprechauns, pinching is a pointed reminder to clueless green-abstainers.
Centuries ago, on the other hand, the key thing in Ireland was to wear a cross, and often it was the color red. Saint Patrick’s Day badges, which are now all but extinct, were made of paper and decorated with a cross and other patterns.
In the minds of most Americans, corned beef and cabbage is the quintessential Irish meal to be served on Saint Patrick’s Day. The association, however, is only true for Irish Americans. In nineteenth-century Ireland, beef was expensive and pork was cheap, but in the U.S., it was the opposite. Irish immigrants learned of corned beef (which reminded them of Irish bacon) from their Jewish neighbors in the slums. The cut of beef, which is similar to brisket, is “corned” or salt-cured (the large grains of salt then in use were called corns). The Irish added cabbage because it was affordable, easy (it could be thrown into the same pot as the beef), and delicious.[11]  In our recent cookbook Dining with the Saints, my co-author Father Leo Patalinghug offers an outstanding variation of this classic dish. Back in the old country, the traditional feast-day dinner consists of some kind of meat, a potato dish called colcannon, and Irish soda bread.
Corned Beef and Cabbage
In some respects, Saint Patrick’s cult is as coherent as an Irishman’s drunken expatiations. The legends about him and the current observances surrounding his feast day are often in tension with or are an outright contradiction of the holiness of the Saint (and we didn’t take about green beer and green rivers!). But what we know about Patrick is enough to strengthen our resolve not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Saint Patrick almost single-handedly converted an entire people to Christianity, a people that had been practicing a particularly dark and sinister religion. Those people went on to become a seedbed of saints, scholars, and missionaries—and, until recently, they were a model of unbreakable fidelity to the Catholic Faith. It is not just Ireland but the world that owes a debt of gratitude to the surprising and homesick British ex-slave who heard the voice of the Irish across the sea and answered it.

Michael P. Foley is the author with Father Leo Patalinghug of Dining with the Saints: The Sinner’s Guide to a Righteous Feast (Regnery, 2023).
An abridged version of this article appears in The Latin Mass magazine (Spring 2023). Many thanks to its editors for allowing its publication here.

[1] Patrick, Confessio 26.
[2] Confessio 16.
[3] Confessio 23.
[4] Confessio 41.
[5] MacConnell, Cormac. “Everything You Know about the Saint Patrick’s Day Shamrock is a Lie.” Irish Central. January 30, 2022. Retrieved January 30, 2023 from
[6] Owen, James. “Snakeless in Ireland: Blame Ice Age, Not Saint Patrick.” National Geographic. August 16, 2015. Retrieved January 30, 2023 from
[7] See Moran, Patrick Francis Cardinal. "St. Patrick." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. Retrieved February 23, 2023, from
[8] Cavanaugh, Ray. “The Irish Franciscan Who Gave Saint Patrick His Feast Day.” National Catholic Reporter. March 17, 2016. Retrieved January 30, 2023 from
[9] “Saint Patrick’s Day.” New York Times. March 19, 1860. p. 8.
[10] Egwu, Patrick. “Saint Patrick and Nigeria: The Irish Influence on an African country’s Catholic Mission.” Catholic World Report. May 17, 2020. Retrieved January 30, 2023 from Many thanks to Fr. Augustine Ariwaodo for his additional input.
[11] Glendon, Meaghan. “Learn All About the Origins of Corned Beef and Cabbage.” Westchester Magazine. March 17, 2022. Retrieved January 30, 2023 from

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The Feast of St Longinus

On March 15th, the Roman Martyrology commemorates St Longinus, who is traditionally said to be the soldier who pierced the Lord’s side with a lance on the Cross (John 19, 34), as well as the centurion who said “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27, 54) His legend states that he suffered from a malady of the eyes, which was healed when the some of the blood that came forth from the Savior’s side touched him. The apocryphal “Letters between Pilate and Herod” also claim that he was one of the guards at Christ’s tomb, and not only witnessed the Resurrection, but spoke with the Lord Himself shortly afterwards. After preaching the Gospel and living a monastic life near Caesarea of Cappadocia (later the see of St Basil the Great), he was martyred by beheading.

An illustration from a Syriac Gospel book now kept at the Laurentian Library in Florence, known from the name of the scribe as the Rabula Gospels, dated 586 A.D. The name “Longinos” is written in Greek over the soldier on the left with the lance, but this may be an addition by a later hand. 
There are a great many variants to the story, which cannot be regarded as a reliable hagiography. The city of Lanciano in the Italian region of the Abruzzi claims him as a native son, and that his martyrdom took place there instead. The city of Mantua in Lombardy, birthplace of the poet Virgil, claims that he preached in that region, and was martyred there, and furthermore, that he brought to that city relics of the Lord’s Precious Blood, and the sponge which was used to give Him vinegar during the Passion. These are now kept in the crypt of the basilica of St Andrew, which was begun by the famous Renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti in 1472, but only completed in 1732. Here are some photos of the church from our Ambrosian writer Nicola de’ Grandi.

The chapel of St Longinus. The tomb on the left contains his relics, that on the right, some of the relics of St Gregory Nazianzen, given to Mantua by Matilda of Canossa. (Detailed photos below)

The story is told that the relics of Christ’s Blood brought to Mantua by St Longinus were hidden for safekeeping by Longinus himself, and discovered in 804 when St Andrew the Apostle appeared to someone to reveal their location. (Similar stories are told about many of the famous and more improbable relics of the Middle Ages.) The rediscovery of the relics is here depicted by Giulio Romano, a disciple of Raphael who did an enormous amount of work in Mantua under the Gonzaga dukes; the Crucifixion scene below is also his.

The Mass: Essence & Foundation of Western Civilization - A Talk by Abp Cordileone on March 19th

The Catholic Institute of Sacred Music at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California is proud to present the second lecture in its inaugural Public Lecture and Concert Series — an important perspective on a timely topic.
The Mass: The Essence and Foundation of Western Civilization
A Lecture by His Excellency Salvatore J. Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco
Sunday, March 19th
5:00 p.m. PDT (8:00 p.m. EDT)
Sancta Maria Hall at St. Patrick’s Seminary
320 Middlefield Rd., Menlo Park
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 is appreciated, but not required. This free event is open to the public.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Roman Pilgrims at the Station Churches 2023 (Part 3)

For this installment of our annual Lenten station series, I have changed the title back to “Roman Pilgrims” in the plural, since Agnese was able to attend one of them. Our thanks once again to both her and Jacob for sharing their pictures with us, and be sure to check out the videos from Jacob’s YouTube channel, Crux Stationalis. It just works out that each of the churches shown here has preserved some beautiful medieval mosaics.

The Second Sunday of Lent – Santa Maria in Domnica
The apsidal mosaic of this church is one of three that survived from the time of Pope St Paschal I, who is here shown kneeling at the feet of the Virgin Mary, the titular Saint, with a square blue halo. This was a way of indicating that the person portrayed was alive at the time the image was made, dating it to before the Pope’s death in 822. 
Christ the Pantocrator at the top of the proscenium arch.
The wooden paneled ceiling was made in the time of Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici, who held the title of this church until his election to the papacy, with the name Leo X, in 1513. Each section represents a title of the Virgin Mary from an earlier form of the Litany of Loreto.  

Choosing Candles or Oil Lamps for the Image Corner in Your Domestic Church

Why does it matter? And where to get them from when you decide what you want.

For those of you who have an icon or image corner in your domestic church, you are accustomed to having to decide how to provide flame, safely, for your icon corner. The burning flame is a symbol of the Light of the World which becomes also a sign that, when lit, the household is in prayer time. It is also an important addition to the aesthetics. The flickering light is attractive in itself and renders the icons more beautiful through reflective interplay of light and dark. Also, if you have children, you will know that the presence of fire adds a focus that draws their attention to it, as powerfully as if they were moths. So here are the options that I have considered. I’ll start with the one that I prefer, which is an oil burning lamp.

I bought this ‘lampada’ from Byzantine Catholic Supplies, which mailed it to me from their shop in Philadelphia. Along with this standing lampada, I bought the lamp, wick holders, wick and paraffin. They don’t have to be as ornate as this one - it is possible to buy the colored glass only and that will work perfectly well. Purists will insist upon olive oil as the fuel. Whichever fuel you use - the children of one Byzantine Catholic family did an experiment with a range of vegetable oils and found that crisco was the most cost efficient! - this will provide a constant flame reliably and as needed in an attractive setting. It is many hours before you will need to top up the fuel, and many more before you will need to replace the wick.

Many prefer the hanging lampada, this photo comes from a site by an Orthodox writer on how to set up an icon corner.
I rejected the hanging variety simply because of the practicalities. I was reluctant to start drilling or pinning things to my ceiling!


Monday, March 13, 2023

Lectio Divina (4): Tools of the Workshop

Kate Edwards, of Saints Shall Arise, wrote a thoughtful piece, “Lectio divina: On memory, study and the Rule of Faith,” concerning the dangers of what might be called “raw” or “individualistic” lectio divina—that is, taking up the Bible without preparation, reading it without guidance, trying to figure it out completely on one’s own. This is the kind of thing that has led, in past centuries, to wild new heresies, and, among many people, to confusion.

She starts off by agreeing with the main theme of recent articles and talks on lectio divina:
Every Catholic should know the Bible well, for as St Benedict says in his Rule, "what page or utterance of the divinely inspired books of the Old and New Testament is not a most unerring rule of human life?" And how can we seek to know and imitate Christ if we don't actually really know what he did or taught? The various posts also emphasize that you don't have to have any special knowledge or training to do lectio divina, it is open to everyone.
But then she comes to her difficulty.
All the same, I'm not convinced anyone can or should just open the Bible and read, trusting only to the aid of the Holy Spirit. . . . Most modern advocates of lectio divina point to a twelfth century Carthusian source on the practice, which seems to advocate doing just that.  But can I suggest that a twelfth century Carthusian monk was not exactly operating in the same poorly catechized, theological vacuum that most twenty-first century lay Catholics are?
          St Benedict's monks, when they did their lectio, surely had the model of the Fathers to work from, with their careful probing of issues such as the reasons for differences between the various Gospel accounts of events, and ability to draw in a web of related verses to explain the one under consideration. When a medieval monk pondered a few verses of Scripture, he could draw on a vast volume of memorised knowledge to help him interpret what he was reading in the light of Scripture as a whole. Most monks knew the psalms by heart, and at least large chunks of the Gospels, so could use the common technique of interpreting a verse through others that used the same key words and ideas. They might also have been familiar with the patristic commentaries on the verses, not least from the readings at Matins each day. Above all, the monk would also have been well aware of how to look for the spiritual meaning of verses, looking at Old Testament people and events as 'types' of the New for example.
She turns to the situation today:
Few laypeople people, though, even those relatively well catechized, have much familiarity with the Bible as a whole. Fewer still know it well enough to be able to call to mind related verses. Moreover, for monks and laity alike, more than a century of historico-critical interpretation of Scripture has, as Fr Cassian points out in his talk, rather stripped us of the ability to read Scripture other than in the strictly literal sense, effectively stripping the Old Testament of its Christological content, and the New of its eschatological content. . . . We today, alas, rarely have such knowledge in our mind to draw on. … Accordingly, I really strongly urge readers to consider using in their lectio with something that helps set the verses of Scripture in the light of ‘the rule of faith’.  St Thomas' Catena Aurea, for example, a compilation of Patristic commentaries grouped by Gospel verses, can provide an excellent starting point for study and meditation.
I completely agree with Kate Edwards that taking up the Bible without a strong catechetical foundation and at least some rudimentary theology would be undesirable, and that modern Catholics are often not well situated in this regard. I also agree that there is a place for well-chosen commentaries and reference works in connection with our daily lectio—if not consistently, then at least when we hit a passage that perplexes us or confuses us. My all-time favorite work for this purpose is exactly the one she mentions—St. Thomas’s Catena Aurea, which is always next to me when I’m reading one of the Gospels, whether I happen to use it or not on a particular day. Perhaps it’s become such a familiar companion that I don’t even think to mention it, which is certainly a mistake, and I am glad that Ms. Edwards has prompted me to mention it explicitly.

While we’re at it, let me recommend a few other valuable tools for the Catholic who wishes to do lectio divina. As a true bibliography could go on for pages, I will make this list short, mentioning things that have proved useful to me. Maybe some readers could list their own favorites in the comments?

The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament — There is nothing in the Catholic realm that can compare to this one-volume edition of the NT with copious notes, word studies, essays, maps, etc. The use of the RSV translation is not the least of its many strengths, as we should avoid Nabbish as much as possible.

Catholic Bible Dictionary — A comprehensive reference work; good for those occasions when you read a Hebrew place name or person name and wonder: "Who or what is this? Is it significant?" (hint: the answer is always yes), or you want a short account of God's anger as depicted in the Bible, or the nature and work of the angels, or an introduction to one of the OT prophets, etc.

A Textual Concordance of the Holy Scriptures — This unique concordance doesn't merely give you huge lists of individual words but groups verses by theme, under two major divisions--Moral and Doctrinal. In the moral part, when you look up, e.g., "The Poor," you get such entries as "The poor are pleasing to God," "God is the helper of the poor," "We should do justice to the poor," "Against defrauding the poor," "Oppression of the poor," "Punishment of oppressors of the poor," etc. In the doctrinal part, if you look up "angels," you see all the verses in the Bible about the nine choirs, guardian angels, etc.; or if you look up the Mass, or Justification, or Christ, you get comprehensive collections of verses pertaining to those topics.

And just so you have the link — The Catena Aurea of  St. Thomas Aquinas. If you haven't yet experienced the joy of reading this work, you are in for a treat. St. Thomas acts here not as the scholastic theologian but as the lover of the Fathers of the Church (Eastern and Western), patiently gathering their incisive comments on the individual verses of the Gospel and weaving them into a continuous commentary. There are a lot of cheap editions out there, but do yourself the favor of getting the Baronius Press edition. It is not much more expensive and yet it is completely re-typeset, with nice paper and hardcover binding. Look, this is about God's Word, so we might as well splurge a bit.

The Douay-Rheims and Clementina Vulgata — A parallel edition, with the English and Latin side by side, and some useful notes. This is the Bible I use for lectio divina, not because I prefer the Douay to the RSV, but because for a long time I've wanted to familiarize myself with Scripture in the Latin version that shaped the Western liturgy and the entire Catholic tradition. I want to see and hear and internalize the language that the Western Church prayed in and thought in. (It's a delight to me, as a singer of Gregorian chant, to see where the verses of the Propers come from, their original context.) My Latin is far from fluent, but it's reliable enough to read the text with an occasional glance over at the English column, which faithfully translates the Vulgate.

Walking with God: A Journey Through the Bible — There are several good books out there in the "introduction to the Bible" genre, but this one, by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins, is certainly one of the best: a highly readable, reliable, and insightful tour of Scripture. A friend recently reminded me that a major obstacle to lectio divina can be the frustration good Catholics feel when they try to read a little piece of Scripture without sufficient familiarity with the entire narrative arc and theological "main points" of the Bible. If this is the position you're in, Walking with God is going to set you up for success.

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If I have a slight disagreement with Kate Edwards’ position, it would simply be this: prayer and study, although by no means contradictory, are different kinds of activities. They seem to me (and to many other authors) to go in different directions, each having its own origin, medium, and goal. Study originates in a desire to know something intellectually; its medium is our thoughts about things; its goal is conceptual understanding. Prayer originates in a desire to be united to the beloved; its medium is the things themselves; its goal is to get closer to the reality and to conform oneself to it. When we study, we are taking things into our mind; when we pray, we are being drawn to the thing itself, which, at least at times, forces our mind to be quiet.

These activities absolutely support one another and can even flow freely into each other, but the difference is pronounced enough to make it possible that one might spend a while studying Scripture and never really pray, just as one might spend a while praying over a text, without doing what most people would describe as study. Undoubtedly others have expressed this point more pithily; I’m only noting that we should be careful not to turn our lectio time into a scholarly exercise or a self-catechesis class. This would be, I think, to run the risk of depersonalizing the encounter with the Word of God—which is perhaps the risk contrary to that of reading the Bible in a theological vacuum.

A middle course would be that we continue to consecrate a certain time to the slow, prayerful, personal reading of Scripture (in other words, lectio divina), but that, as we are going along, we flag, with a pencil mark in the margin, something that begs for further study later on. When our time of prayer is through, we can then get the commentary off the shelf and pursue a more intellectual grasp of that particular point. In this way, we gain two great goods, each of which has to remain itself: the good of engaging God's Word as a message spoken directly to me here and now, and the good of an ongoing intellectual formation.

Finally, the only adequate solution to the "Edwards conundrum" (if I may call it so) is to make sure that we are lifelong students of our Catholic faith and that we make time for study as well, which can take many forms: listening to audio books or good lectures while commuting to work, reading a few pages daily from a theological textbook or primary source (recall that Flannery O'Connor used to read an article of the Summa each evening—and no, it wasn't to help her fall asleep), or even reading trustworthy blogs. Everyone would do well to read the classics by Frank Sheed, particularly Theology and Sanity or its little brother, Theology for Beginners.

As many people have pointed out, it seems strange that in our world we expect professionals to be educated through college or graduate school, and yet our knowledge of the Catholic faith usually stops at a grade-school level—if that much. And given that the mysteries of the faith are infinitely knowable and beautiful, why would we stop even at graduate school? We are enrolled in the school of the Faith for our whole life, so we should "redeem the time" by praying well, studying well, and working well.

(Part IV of a series in five parts.  Links to earlier articles: Part IPart II; Part III.)

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