Thursday, February 29, 2024

A Film of Mt Athos More Than A Century Ago

Just a few days ago, a YouTube channel posted this video, containing footage taken on the Holy Mountain of Mt Athos, the famous “monastic republic” on the peninsula of Thessaloniki in northern Greece, more than a century ago. The opening title is in French, and just says “Mt Athos, 1918. Hermitages and Monasteries.” At 8:40, a second title appears, also in French, “Easter procession, Iviron and Vatopedi”. (Iviron is the monastery of the Georgians, founded in the 980s; Vatopedi was founded slightly earlier, by disciples of the founder of monastic life on the peninsula, St Athanasius the Athonite.) The soundtrack, which is liturgical singing in Church Slavonic, is clearly not original, since pictures with sound were not invented until 9 years later. 

We have previously shared a few films which show what life is like in modern times on Mt Athos, to whatever small degree the words “modern times” can be applied to it. One of these was originally broadcast on the CBS program 60 Minutes in 2011, but the post by which we shared it is now functionally useless, since the videos were embedded with the now-defunct Adobe Flash player. Happily, 60 Minutes reposted the piece to their YouTube channel just a couple of months ago, along with others covering Lourdes, the Ethiopian monastic complex at Lalibela, as well as the Vatican Library. Where the 1918 film shows nothing inside the churches of Mt Athos, (which I suspect the makers were formally prohibited from doing), 60 Minutes were allowed to bring their cameras inside and film the liturgy, giving us a very rare close look at the whole monastic life of the Orthodox Church, the liturgy, the buildings, the artistic treasures, and the tremendous natural beauty of the Athos peninsula.

Square Notes Podcast - Season 6 Launch

Season 6 of Square Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast is here! With a lot of episodes forthcoming, make sure you catch it on your favorite app: Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, or Podbean.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Orlando di Lassus’ Readings from the Prophet Job

Here is an interesting discovery via the YouTube suggestion algorithm: a polyphonic setting of the Matins lessons for the Office of the Dead, composed by Orlando di Lassus (1532-94), and published in 1565. Very little information about them is to be found on the internet, but the channel on which this video is hosted has a note that they were composed perhaps as much ten years earlier, when he was only 23. In 1556, Di Lassus began working at the court of Albrecht V, Duke of Bavaria, and would stay there for the rest of his life. A friend of mine who is very knowledgeable about the music of this period tells me that the Bavarian ducal chapel already had an anonymous complete polyphonic setting of the Matins and Lauds of the Dead from around 1550, with settings of the antiphons, faux-bourdons versions of the psalms, and responsories, but not the lessons so perhaps this work was put together in its published form to complete the Office. (In the 1580s, Di Lassus composed a second version of the same texts.) If anyone knows more about these, and specifically, about how they would have been used liturgically, perhaps you could explain more about them in the combox.  

The lessons are divided into two or three parts.

1. chapter 7, 16-21 (2 parts)
2. 10, 1-7 (3 parts)
3. 10, 8-12 (2 parts)
4. 13, 22-28 (2 parts)
5. 14, 1-6 (3 parts)
6. 14, 13-16 (2 parts)
7. 17, 1-3; 11-16 (3 parts)
8. 19, 20-27 (3 parts)
9. 10, 18-22 (2 parts)
He also did a setting of the seven Penitential Psalms, which make for especially appropriate listening in the Lenten season. Before the Tridentine reform, these were said on every ferial day of Lent in the Divine Office according to most Uses of the Roman Rite. The breviary of St Pius V reduced the obligation to all ferial Fridays, and the reform of Pope Clement VIII (1602) reduced it further to just the Fridays of Lent; the obligation was then completely cancelled by St Pius X. 

The Commemorations of the Holy Cross in the Byzantine Liturgical Year

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

In the Byzantine tradition, in addition to the commemorations of the Holy Cross on each Wednesday and Friday, there are three major feasts of the Cross over the course of the year, on September 14, August 1, and the third Sunday of the Great Fast.

The first of these is formally known as “the Universal Exaltation (or Elevation) of the Holy Cross”, and commemorates the discovery of the relics of the True Cross in 326. In the wake of the famous appearance of the cross to the Emperor Constantine just before the battle of the Milvian Bridge, and the ensuing victory which made him master of the Roman Empire, he sent his mother Saint Helena to Jerusalem to find the Cross. In the excavations of Golgatha (where a temple to Aphrodite had been set up by the pagan emperor Hadrian [1]), three crosses were found, but it was impossible to tell which was the saving cross of the Lord, and which belonged to the thieves. A dying widow was therefore brought to the site to see if one of them would heal her, and when one of them did indeed miraculously restore her to health, that cross was determined to be the one upon which our Lord was crucified. The traditional icon of this feast depicts the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Macarius, standing on the ambo of a church and holding up this Cross before the crowd of faithful for all to see. When the people beheld the Holy Cross being thus elevated, they cried out “Lord, have mercy!” Angels or deacons hold his elbows, assisting him as he elevated the Cross, while Saint Helen stands below the ambo, wearing her imperial crown.

The second feast, on August 1st, which is also the feast day of the Holy Maccabee martyrs, is called the Procession of the Holy Cross. The Synaxarion of that day (the equivalent of the Roman martyrology) succinctly says:
Because of the many diseases that occur in the month of August, the custom prevailed of old in Constantinople to carry the precious Wood of the Cross in procession throughout the city for its sanctification and its deliverance from illnesses. It was brought forth from the imperial treasury on the last day of July and placed upon the Holy Table of the Great Church of the Holy Wisdom; and beginning today, until the Dormition of the Theotokos, it was carried in procession throughout the city and was set forth for veneration before the people. [2]
A brief video of a procession with a relic of the Cross held at the beginning of the pandemic four years ago, at the Greek-Catholic cathedral of St George in Lviv, Ukraine.
On this day, holy water is blessed with a rite which includes the reading of John 5, 1-4; this ties the blessing of waters, and the supplication to be healed from disease, to the words of the Gospel, “From time to time an angel of the Lord used to come down into the pool; and the water was stirred up, so the first one to get in after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease afflicted him.” Fr. David Petras explains that “Water was formerly blessed frequently, usually on the first day of each month. The blessing for August 1 is the only one retained in the Typikon (the ordinal of the Byzantine Rite).” [3]
The third major commemoration of the Holy Cross is fixed not to a specific date on the calendar, but instead to the cycle of movable feasts centered on Pascha, and thus Great Lent. The third Sunday of the Great Fast is the Veneration of the Holy Cross, which is continually observed all through the following fourth week of Lent. Archbishop Job Getcha writes:
“The third Sunday of Great Lent is dedicated to the veneration of the lifegiving Cross, … According to Nicephoras Kallistos Xanthopoulos in his Synaxarion, the Cross is offered to us as a comfort and encouragement in our journey through Great Lent, and it announces the approach of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord.” [4] Another Synaxarion reading says:
With the help of God, we have almost reached the middle of the course of the Fast, where our strength has been worn down through abstinence, and the full difficulty of the labour set before us becomes apparent. Therefore our holy Mother, the Church of Christ, now brings to our help the all-holy Cross, the joy of the world, the strength of the faithful, the staff of the just, and the hope of sinners, so that by venerating it reverently, we might receive strength and grace to complete the divine struggle of the Fast. [5]
Another Synaxarion explains: “when a king is coming, at first his banner and symbols appear, then he himself comes glad and rejoicing about his victory and filling with joy those under him; likewise, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is about to show us His victory over death, and appear to us in the glory of the Resurrection Day, is sending us in advance His scepter, the royal symbol – the Life-Giving Cross – and it fills us with joy and makes us ready to meet, inasmuch as it is possible for us, the King himself, and to render glory to His victory...” [6] By having the Holy Cross set before us at the midpoint of the Fast, we are reminded what else is very soon to be set before us: Great and Holy Week, and the commemoration of Christ’s betrayal, passion, death, and victorious and glorious resurrection from the dead.
On all three of these commemorations, an image of the Cross, or if a parish has one, a relic of the True Cross itself, is adorned with flowers and placed on a tray. Some typika prescribe that it be laid on a bed of basil leaves, since some accounts of the finding of the Cross say that basil grew on the place where the Cross was uncovered at Golgatha. But this custom may arise from the fittingness of adorning the cross of our King with a plant whose name has the same root as the word for “royal” and “emperor”. (The troparion to St. Basil the Great employs this same play on words and addresses him as “O royal one”).
After Small Vespers, the Holy Cross is taken from the sacristy to the Holy Table by the priest, the deacon incensing before him as he goes, and is placed on the Table in place of the Gospel Book. At the end of the Great Doxology of Orthros, the Cross is solemnly carried out the north door of the iconostasis and placed in the center of the church on the analogion or tetrapod (a stand for holding up icons). It is incensed on all sides, while the troparion to the Holy Cross is sung three times: “O Lord, save your people and bless Your inheritance. Grant victory to the emperor (or orthodox Christians, or, our country) over his/their enemies, and guard your habitation by Your Cross.”
On September 14, and only on this day, the rite of the Exaltation is performed at this point. The priest takes up the cross, and first facing the East, then in each cardinal direction until he is once again facing East, he says a petition of a special litany for this rite, and then, as the people sing “Lord, have mercy” 24 or 100 times, “the priest slowly bows as deeply as he can, holding the Cross and then rising up again during the chant. This is done for each of the five petitions… The cross is then replaced on the tetrapod.” [7] In some places, fragrant rose water is poured on the Cross as it is elevated, signifying that it is the spring of life for sinners. (In the following video, taken at the church of St Elias in Brampton, Ontario, last September, this part of the ritual begins at 2:32:00.)
Once the adorned Cross is placed on the analogion for veneration, the hymn which replaces the usual Trisagion during feasts of the Cross is sung: “Before Your Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Your holy resurrection we glorify.” This is done three times, and all make a prostration after each. The clergy and faithful then all come forward to venerate the cross by kissing it, customarily making two prostrations before and one after. (Video taken at the Golden-Domed Monastery of St Michael in Kyiv, Ukraine, on the Third Sunday of Lent, 2021.)
During the week after the Third Sunday of Lent, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, there is also a solemn veneration of the Cross at the Third Hour, at which “Before your Cross” is sung again, while the priest incenses it on all sides, followed by the singing of a group of hymns from Matins, while all approach to venerate the Cross. [8] It remains in the center of the temple until the end of the 9th hour and the Typika service on the following Friday. Having been solemnly venerated one last time, it is then returned to the sacristy just before the celebration of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on Friday evening.
It is worth noting that all three of these feasts are days of strict abstinence, regardless of what day of the week they fall on. In many places, dark (burgundy or purple) vestments are worn, but in others, a festal bright red is customary.
[1] Cf. The Great Horologion, trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Boston: 1997), 250.
[2] ibid., 564.
[3] Typicon, arranged Archpriest David Petras, (Pittsburgh: Byzantine Seminary Press, 2024), 61.
[4] The Typikon Decoded, Archbishop Job (Getcha), trans Paul Meyendorff, (Yonkers: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 2012), 191.
[5] The Great Horologion, 604.
[6] A Byzantine Rite Liturgical Year, Julian J. Katrij, OSMB (Detroit: Basilian Fathers Publication, 1983), 111.
[7] Typicon, 72.
[8] Cf. The Typikon Decoded, 193.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Roman Pilgrims at the Station Churches 2024 (Part 2)

We continue with our annual series of photos of the Lenten station churches in Rome, thanks to our friends Agnese, Jacob, and Fr Joseph. Every year, at least one station gets omitted due to something Roman happening; this post does not include the station of Ember Friday, since there was a major strike going on that day. Don’t forget to visit Jacob’s YouTube channel Crux Stationalis, and enjoy his visits to the Eternal City’s many other important religious sites. Gratias vobis, cari amici!

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent – St Anastasia
The statue of St Anastasia in the niche in front of the high altar was planned by a sculptor called Francesco Aprile, in imitation of a similar statue of St Cecilia by Stefano Maderno, and Bernini’s Blessed Ludovica Albertoni. Aprile died in 1684 at the age of 30, and the work was executed by Ercole Ferrata, who was already in his 70s, and died very shortly after completing it.
Photos by Fr Joseph: the stem of the Portuguese cardinal Nuno da Cunha e Ataíde, who commissioned a significant restoration of the church in the early 18th century.

Summer Courses at the Catholic Institute of Sacred Music - Tuition Free!

The Catholic Institute of Sacred Music at St Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California, is proud to announce its second summer term. Through the sponsorship of generous donors, we are delighted to be able to offer all courses with FREE TUITION for all applicants who are accepted into the program for this summer.
The Catholic Institute of Sacred Music offers a rich learning experience for parish and school musicians who want to immerse themselves in the beauty, truth, and holiness of the Church’s sacred music and liturgy. The Institute offers a daily schedule of sung liturgies on campus and opportunities for private prayer, a world-class faculty, dormitory rooms and common meals on a beautiful campus in the temperate climate of Silicon Valley, and opportunities for study, both in-person and online, in subjects that are inspiring, challenging, and practical.

Whether you’re new to sacred music or have studied music at the graduate level, our courses will assist you in unlocking the treasury of Catholic sacred music, helping you grow in your spiritual life, amplifying your knowledge of and love for Christ and the Church’s music, and strengthening the skills needed for faithful service in the Church.

Join us this summer to experience the depths of the Church’s riches, taught by experienced teachers and musicians, faithful to the Church’s magisterium and tradition.

Application deadline: Monday, May 1. Spots will fill up quickly; don’t wait to apply!

More information

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  • Jennifer Donelson-Nowicka
  • Christopher Berry
  • Frank La Rocca
  • William Mahrt
  • Edward Schaefer
  • Charles Weaver

Monday, February 26, 2024

Restoring Lost Customs of Christendom “Brick by Brick”

On December 12, Our Lady of Victory Press published Matthew Plese’s latest book “Restoring Lost Customs of Christendom,” a serialization of his articles published on OnePeterFive over the past few years on customs related to both the temporal and sanctoral cycles. Plese mentions the following in the preface to the book:

The Church’s Liturgical Year is a harmonious interplay of feasts and fasts interwoven in both the temporal and sanctoral cycles that define the rhythm and rhyme of Catholic life. While there are many customs associated with the seasons of the liturgical year and high-ranking feast days, the entire year is replete with opportunities to live out our Catholic heritage through the customs our forefathers instituted.
          The Church’s annual liturgical calendar is comprised of two different, concurrent annual cycles. First, the Proper of the Seasons, or Temporal Cycle, traces the earthly life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Roman Catholic Church, it consists mainly of Sundays related to the various liturgical seasons – that is, the seven liturgical seasons contained in two cycles of its own: the Christmas Cycle and the Easter Cycle. It starts with Advent then goes through Christmas, Epiphany, Septuagesima, Lent, Easter, and Time after Pentecost. The determination of the date of Easter dictates nearly all the other dates in this cycle. But there is a second cycle: the Proper of the Saints, called the Sanctoral Cycle, which is the annual cycle of feast days not necessarily connected with the seasons.
Father John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary defines what is meant by a custom:
A long-standing practice that takes on the force of law. No custom is ever valid that contradicts a divine law, whether natural or positive, nor does a custom abrogate ecclesiastical law unless it is reasonable and has been legitimately in practice over a period of forty full years. Where the ecclesiastical law explicitly forbids contrary customs, the latter can be valid only if they are reasonable and in legitimate existence for at least a century or from time immemorial.
Customs Have the Force of Law
Customs are not simply part a discardable part of our heritage as Roman Catholics. Customs have a deep and permanent place in the lives of Catholics of all Rites. St. Jerome in Letter 71 states, “The best advice that I can give you is this: Church traditions - especially when they do not run counter to the faith - are to be observed in the form in which previous generations have handed them down...the traditions which have been handed down should be regarded as apostolic laws.” St. Thomas Aquinas likewise asserts: “Custom has the force of law, abrogates law, and interprets law.” This is why, for instance, Saturday fasting became law in the West but not in the East by way of custom. (I discuss this traditional understanding of custom as law in further detail here.) 

Customs Illustrate True Liturgical Diversity
Plese reminds us that our customs, which are aligned with the Traditional Latin Mass and the culture around it, are our birthright, which no one, no matter his office, can legitimately take from us:
It’s also important to realize that each rite in the Catholic Church (e.g., Roman, Maronite, Chaldean, etc.) has its own liturgical calendar, and some have multiple uses or forms of the calendar. Even within the same use or form, there are variations according to local customs. For instance, the patron saint of a church or of the cathedral would be ranked higher in the liturgical calendar of that local jurisdiction. Even in the Roman Rite itself, different dioceses, countries, and religious orders would keep some different feastdays. These were listed in the Mass in Some Places (pro aliquibus locis) supplement to the Missal. Beyond the Roman Rite, the Ambrosian, Mozarabic, Lyon, and Bragan Rites are also all part of the Western liturgical tradition. So too are the various Rites for religious orders (e.g., the Carmelite Rite, the Carthusian Rite, the Dominican Rite). These are also part of the Roman Catholic Church. No one has ever doubted the legitimacy of this liturgical diversity.
          Those who try to discredit the Traditional Latin Mass may try to falsely claim that all Catholics must observe the same calendar of saints. But this is not the case as seen in the liturgical calendar diversity in the different Rites of the Church and in the Roman Rite itself. Even Summorum Pontificium affirmed that the continued use of the older Roman calendar in the traditional Mass and Breviary is permissible.
Customs Help Us Live Deeper Liturgical Lives

Initially when people are new to the Traditional Latin Mass, they are in awe of its mystery, splendor, and reverence. But as time goes on, they should go deeper and deeper into the mind of the Church and breathe in and live out catholicity to its core. And one important way of doing just that is to learn and live out Catholic customs. Plese mentions further as to the rationale for the book:

Beyond assisting at Mass and praying the Divine Office, we can and should observe the forgotten customs that further underscored authentic Catholic culture. Catholic culture is more than just going to Mass – much more. Catholic culture is built on fasting periods, assisting at Processions, having various items blessed at different parts of the year (e.g. herbs on August 15th, grapes on September 8th, wine on December 27th). It features days of festivity like during Martinmas and promotes family time and charitable works like visits to grandparents on Easter Monday. It is replete with food customs to celebrate the end of fasting periods and filled with special devotions during periods of penance. It is our heritage. These traditions are our birthright. They are ours as much as they were our ancestors. We must reclaim them. We must spread them. We must love them and observe them. And this book will show today’s Catholic how.
The outline of the book shows the depth covered which goes beyond the “major” seasons of the liturgical year. Customs surrounding the Nativity of our Lady, St. Clement’s Day, St. Anthony’s Day, and many others illustrate the tremendous extent to which customs would permeate Catholic culture. It is no exaggeration to say that they are the substance of a daily life under the sign of the crucified and risen Savior and of His friends, the saints and angels.

Notice that Corpus Christi does not only present the characteristic Procession but also mentions how the day is known as the “Day of Wreaths” in France. This is then followed by indulgences for Corpus Christi as well as some for Thursdays year-round. As such the book is not only concerned with relating former European traditions but giving readers the ability to act on them and pick up the gauntlet in keeping them alive in practice.

Customs Show Diversity in the Midst of Catholicity
Plese draws upon Father Weiser, Dom Guéranger, Cardinal Shuster, the Roman Ritual, and many other sources to present a comprehensive listing of Catholic customs. The book is available in PDF and in Kindle in addition to paperback, and the Kindle and PDF versions also include links to relevant devotions and articles for those wanting even more.

The book also goes beyond mere customs and mentions former laws of precepts in the form of both former Holy Days of Obligation and former obligatory fasting days. Plese shares detail on these so that we can keep devotionally what our forefathers kept under obligation.

I encourage everyone to pick up a copy of this book and live out the customs contained in its pages throughout the new year. Catholic customs are truly part of our patrimony as Father Scott Haynes, a fellow endorser of the book, reminds us:
Catholics who want to integrate the Catholic customs of ages past will deeply appreciate Restoring Lost Customs of Christendom. Beginning with Advent and continuing through the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year, this complete compendium of Catholic traditions by Matthew Plese will help integrate the ancient traditions of our faith in our families and homes. This treasured volume presents the fasts and feasts, the indulgences and blessings which are the patrimony of our Catholic people.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Second Sunday of Lent 2024

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever. V. Who shall tell the mighty deeds of the Lord, or make known all His praises? V. Blessed are they who keep judgment and do justice at all times. V. Remember us, O Lord, in the favor of Thy people; visit us in Thy salvation. (The Tract of the Second Sunday of Lent, Ps. 105, 1-4)

Tractus Confitémini Dómino, quoniam bonus: quoniam in sǽculum misericordia ejus. V. Quis loquétur potentias Dómini: audítas faciet omnes laudes ejus? V. Beáti, qui custodiunt judicium et faciunt justitiam in omni témpore. V. Memento nostri, Dómine, in beneplácito pópuli tui: vísita nos in salutári tuo.

At that time, after six days, Jesus taketh unto him Peter and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart, and he was transfigured before them, and his face did shine as the sun, and his garments became white as snow. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him, and Peter answering, said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.” And as he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them. And lo, a voice out of the cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him.” And the disciples hearing, fell upon their face, and were very much afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said to them, “Arise, and fear not.” And they lifting up their eyes saw no one but only Jesus. And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, “Tell the vision to no man, till the Son of man be risen from the dead.” (The Gospel, Matthew 17, 1-9.)
The Transfiguration, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, one of the panels of the dismembered altarpiece of Siena Cathedral known as the Maestà, 1311; this one is now located in the National Gallery in London. (Image from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Why is the Feast of St Matthias Moved in Leap Years?

In the Roman Rite, the feast of St Matthias the Apostle is moved from February 24th to the following day every leap year. The explanation for this custom is to be found in the very ancient Roman calendar, which is still part of the Church’s liturgy to this day; it is used in the calendars printed at the beginning of the Missal and Breviary, and in the Martyrology, the names of the days are still read out according to the Roman system.

In the Roman calendar, each month has three days which are called the Kalends, Nones and Ides; the first of these three is the first day of each month. In March, May, July and October, the Nones are on the 7th, and the Ides on the 15th; in all other months, they are on the 5th and 13th. These designations probably arose, like most features of most calendars, from some sort of religious observances fixed to those days, perhaps connected to a very primitive lunar calendar, but we know nothing for certain about their origin.

The first page of the calendar from a 13th century Missal according to the Use of Paris. The large KL at the top is the abbreviation of “Kalendae.” The numbers in the third column give the number of days until the following Nones, Ides or Kalends; the fourth column has abbreviations of “Nonae”, “Idus ” or “Kalendae.” Note that the modern system of dating is not used at all here. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 1112)
The Romans named the days of each month by counting backwards from these three points. Thus, Julius Caesar was killed on the day which we call March 15, but which they called “the Ides of March”; their name for the 14th was therefore “the day before the Ides of March.” As every Latin student knows, this system becomes difficult to keep track of because the Romans counted inclusively, not exclusively; therefore, the day we call “March 13” was called “three days before the Ides of March” (not “two days before”), including the day itself, the day before the Ides, and the Ides themselves. We can only assume that this system is not an example of complexity created for complexity’s sake, and that it served as a way of counting down to and preparing for whatever religious observance was connected to the three points.

When the Julian Calendar was instituted in 46 BC, establishing the regular leap day every four years, the leap day itself was added by counting “the sixth day before the Kalends of March” twice. From this, the Latin term for “leap year” is “annus bisextilis”, meaning “a year in which the sixth day (before the Kalends of March) occurs twice.” This term for leap year is still used in all the Romance languages, as in Italian “anno bisestile”, and was even adopted by the Greeks, (“disekto etos” in the modern language), even though the ancient Greeks had their own very different calendar. (The Romans had an idiom “ad kalendas graecas – until the Greek kalends”, meaning “postponed forever,” since there were no kalends in the Greek calendar; it was a favorite expression of the Emperor Augustus, and also survives in the Romance languages.)

Pilgrims venerating the relics of St Matthias the Apostle in the crypt of the abbey named after him in the German city of Trier. He is commonly said to be the only Apostle whose relics are kept anywhere north of the Alps, but the Roman basilica of St Mary Major also has relics venerated as his since the beginning of the 11th century.
When the feast of St Matthias came into the Roman Rite sometime between the 9th and 11th centuries, it was fixed to this “sixth” day before the kalends of March, which we call February 24. The precise reason for this choice is unknown, but it is surely not mere coincidence that nine other months have the feast of an Apostle or Evangelist within their last ten days, thus distributing them more or less evenly through the year. In a leap year, when there are two such days, Matthias’ vigil is kept on the first of the two, and his feast on the second. Thus, although his feast is transferred on the modern calendar, it remains in its place on the Roman calendar. This also applies to the feast of St Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, which is kept on the 27th in a regular year, the 28th in a leap year; in both cases, his feast is on “tertio Kalendas Martii” on the Roman calendar. The same would apply to any local feast occurring between February 24 and 28.

(This year, the situation is complicated further by the fact that the 25th of February is the Second Sunday of Lent. According to the traditional rubrics, the feast would therefore be translated one day further to Monday, Feb. 26; under the 1961 rubrics it is simply omitted.)

The backwards reckoning of the Roman Calendar is also relevant for the dating of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, one of the most ancient of all the Church’s feasts, as it relates to the Birth of Christ. Its date is determined by the words of St Luke’s Gospel that John’s mother Elizabeth was six months pregnant at the time of the Annunciation. It is kept on June 24th, however, where Christmas and the Annunciation are kept on the 25th of their respective months, because on the Roman calendar, all three feasts are on the “eighth” day before the Kalends of the following months.

St Matthias, by the workshop of Simone Martini, 1317-19. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
In the post-Conciliar rite, St Matthias has been moved to May 14th, so that his feast may occur roughly after the Ascension, since the very first thing the Apostles did after the Ascension was elect him to replace the traitor Judas. Easter can occur within a range of 35 days, from March 22 to April 25. So in point of fact, on the first five days of this range (March 22-26), St Matthias’ new feast day will occur on or after Pentecost; on the last 21 (April 5-25) it will occur on or before the Ascension. This may seem to make the transfer of St Matthias’ day highly illogical; however, the occurrences of Easter are not distributed evenly over this range. The earliest date, March 22, has occurred only four times since the Gregorian Calendar was instituted in 1582, and will not occur again until 2285; the latest date comes only once a century. Factoring in the lamentable and lamentably widespread custom of celebrating the Ascension on Sunday, St Matthias’ feast occurs after it roughly 40% of the time.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Gregorian Chant Courses to be Offered this Summer at Clear Creek Abbey

Clear Creek Abbey in northwest Oklahoma (diocese of Tulsa: located at 5804 W Monastery Road in Hulbert) will be hosting a week-long instruction in Gregorian chant, based on the course called Laus in Ecclesia from Monday July 15 to Friday July 19. The course is offered at three different levels of instruction will be offered:

1) Gregorian initiation (Laus in Ecclesia level 1), taking the complete beginner or amateur in Gregorian chant to the level of being able to sing the chant with a certain competence
2) Psalmody and the Divine Office (Laus in Ecclesia, level 2) building on the first degree, sharpening skills in reading notation, and rhythm, with an emphasis on the singing of the Divine Office in Gregorian chant.
3) Direction (Laus in Ecclesia, level 3), bringing all the previous levels to completion: this level is aimed primarily at directors of scholas, with a concentration on chironomy and the interpretation of bigger pieces and (direction).
More information and registration can be found at the Clear Creek Abbey website:

The First Blessing of Incense

Lost in Translation #92

After the priest kisses the altar at a High Mass, he places three spoonfuls of incense onto the lit coals of a thurible and incenses the altar. Even though the priest has, according to the imagery of the prayer Aufer a nobis, entered into the Holy of Holies, this ceremony is still part of the his preliminary activities, for the original beginning of the Mass in the ancient Roman rite occurs moments later, when the priest makes the sign of the cross and reads the Introit. To put it in architectural terms, if the Introit is the front door of the Mass, the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the prayers Aufer a nobis and Oramus Te, and the incensation of the altar are the vestibule or front porch. Fr. Nicholas Gihr rightly describes this first incensing as the “solemn conclusion of the preparatory prayers at the foot of the altar.” [1]

Since our focus is on the Latinity of the Mass Ordinary and not the entire breadth and depth of liturgical meaning, we limit our remarks about the use of incense to three:
  1. Incense is a rich part of Old Testament worship, and thus, when it is used in Christian liturgy, it acts as an allegorical or typological fulfillment of the jots and tittles of the Old Law. (see Matt. 5, 17) For the Mass is not simply a representing of the Sacrifice of the Cross but a grand consummation of all the just sacrifices and just acts of worship that were made since the dawn of time.
  2. Because one of the Magi brought frankincense to the newborn King as an acknowledgement of His Divinity, incense can be both a reminder of our adopted Hebrew ancestry (see no. 1 above) and a symbol of the gifts that we Gentiles bring to God and of our belief that Jesus Christ is true God.
  3. And since incense is mentioned in the Book of Revelation, (Rev. 8, 3-4) the act of incensation in sacred liturgy ties together past, present, and future: the Old Testament, the current age of the New Covenant, and the coming glory of the New Jerusalem.
The Benedicite
But let us turn to the petition for the blessing and the blessing itself – neither of which, incidentally, appears in the 1970 Missal. The priest is first asked to give a blessing: if it is a sung Mass or Missa cantata, the MC does the asking; if it is a Solemn High Mass, it is the deacon. Either way, both use the same formula:
Benedícite, Pater reverénde.
Which I translate as:
Bless [this], O most reverend Father.
The odd thing about this blessing is the verb number. In both classical and ecclesiastical Latin, when “commanding” one person to conduct a blessing, one addresses him with the second person singular, Benedic. In the grace before meals, for example, we pray: Bénedic, Dómine, nos et haec tua dona or “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts.” In the Benedicite, however, the verb is in the plural even though it is only one priest being addressed.
The difference can be explained by the rise of the so-called T-V distinction (from the Latin tu and vos), which began to be used in the fifth century (albeit rarely) and was crystallized and made commonplace in most European languages between the 12th and 14th centuries. In languages that observe the T-V distinction, one person addresses another with the second-person plural form in order to show respect or to acknowledge the other's superior rank. Accordingly, a servant would address his master with the vos form while the master would address his servant with the tu form. The Romance languages use the T-V distinction and English once did too: thou was the second-person singular, and you the second-person plural.
Usually, the T-V distinction does not appear in liturgical Latin. An objection in the Summa Theologiae complains about the priest saying to a single server at a private Low Mass, “The Lord be with you [vos]” and “Let us give thanks.” The objection is that “it is out of keeping to address one individual in the plural number, especially an inferior.” The objector is aware of what is fitting in Latin (at least liturgical Latin), and he is also aware of the T-V distinction. The implication is that even with this distinction, of which the objector does not seem to approve, one should never address an inferior in the plural. [2]
Overall the Mass Ordinary supports the objector’s assumptions, for all the other prayers therein follow the older Latin usage rather than the T-V distinction. The Benedicite prayer, then, is an anomaly, and as such, it testifies to a long, bumpy, and not always perfect liturgical history that, like a seasoned ship, picks up nicks and scratches along the way but wears these imperfections like an English veteran from the Battle of Agincourt proudly baring his scars on St. Crispin’s Day. Even if the prayer does not comply with the expected conventions of Latin, it can still be cherished as part of our shared family heritage.
The Ab illo benedicaris
The celebrant responds to the Benedicite petition with an equally noteworthy blessing.
Ab illo benedicáris, in cujus honóre cremáberis. Amen.
Which I translate as:
Be blessed by Him in Whose honor you will be burnt. Amen.
The Latin words of the prayer are rather straightforward and easy to translate; only cremaberis has an added meaning. As one would expect from our word “cremation,” cremo/cremare means to burn to ash, to cremate. But it also has sacrificial connotations. In the Vulgate translation of Leviticus 5, 12, the priest takes a portion of flour for a sin offering and burns it (cremare) “upon the altar for a memorial of him that offered it.” A similar logic is at play in this blessing, the exception being that incense is being offered not in memory of a sinner but in honor of Him who saves us from sin.
The use of the ablative in the phrase in cujus honore also betrays an ecclesiastical bent. While classical Latin leans towards the use of the accusative (in this case, in cujus honorem), “The Vulgate, the ancient liturgies and the entire vulgar-Latin literature construe the proposition (to the question where? or why?) frequently in the ablative.” [3]
There is an elegant parallelism in the two clauses of the prayer, for each clause begins with a preposition, follows with a pronoun or possessive adjective and noun, and ends on with a verb. A close English equivalent is:
By Him may you be blessed, in Whose honor you will be burnt.
The prayer Ab illo benedicaris is the default blessing of incense during Mass except at the Offertory, where a more elaborate formula is used. It is also used during Solemn Vespers and when a bishop consecrates an altar, and it can be used to bless incense when using the Roman Ritual, which sometimes requires both holy water and incense when blessing a person or thing.
Outside the liturgy, the Ab illo plays the role of punchline in at least two amusing anecdotes. According to one yarn, when a visiting group of Anglican bishops asked Pope Bl. Pius IX (1792-1878) for a blessing, he used the Ab illo on them. According to another, Pope Pius XII did the same thing when an impertinent anti-Catholic journalist crashed a papal audience and asked to be blessed.
Pope Blessed Pius IX: “Burn, baby, burn”?
The blessing is not new. A similar version of it appears in the fourteenth-century Ordo Romanus XIV, where it is mentioned in the papal Masses for the Christmas Mass at Dawn and for the feast of St. Stephen (December 26):
Ab ipso sanctificeris, in cujus honore cremaberis.
Which I translate as:
May you be sanctified by the very One in Whose honor you will be burnt.
In this Ordo, the blessing is used during the Offertory rather than at the beginning of Mass. Ordo Romanus XVI is considered to be the precursor of the Caeremoniale Episcoporum or Ceremonial of Bishops. Most editions of the latter have the current formula but place the blessing before the Introit.
The Ab illo is, I believe, the only time in the Ordinary of the Mass when an inanimate object is personalized and addressed. Usually in a blessing, the priest addresses God and asks Him to bless a person or object. Here, the priest addresses the object and expresses the wish that God will bless it. Were it not for the sign of the cross that the priest makes over the incense after he utters the prayer, we might be tempted to doubt the blessing’s efficacy.
There is nothing unusual for a believer to address inanimate objects or irrational creatures: the psalmist tells fire, hail, snow, ice, stormy winds, mountains, hills, fruit trees, cedars, beasts, cattle, serpents, and feathered fowls to praise the Lord, (Ps. 148, 8-10) and the three young men in King Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace (Ananias, Azarias, and Misael) tell dozens of things, from the winds of the sky to the whales of the sea, to bless the Lord. (Dan. 3, 57-88) Here, however, the priest tells incense not to bless the Lord but to be blessed by Him. While the Benedicite is distinctive for the verb number in its address, the Ab illo with which it is paired is distinctive for the object that it addresses. Both are curios from the wonderful bazaar that is our patrimony.
Plate from the illuminated manuscript “The Cloisters Apocalypse,” French, 13th century

[1] Nicholas Gihr, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Liturgically and Ascetically Explained, 5th ed. (Herder, 1918), 376.
[2] Summa Theologiae III.83.obj. 12. Aquinas’ reply to this objection is that it is acceptable for the priest to address a single server in this way because at a Low Mass he “takes the place of the whole Catholic people.” Earlier authors, such as St Peter Damian in his highly influential treatise, the Liber Dominus vobiscum, maintain that the liturgy should not be changed to suit the circumstances.
[3] Gihr, 376, no. 1.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Durandus on the Feast of St Peter’s Chair

The Church keeps a solemn feast of the chair of Saint Peter, to wit, when he is said to have been raised up to the honor of the chair (or ‘a throne’) at Antioch. And some people say that this raising up was done by Theophilus, the prince of Antioch, whose deceased son Peter raised up after 14 years. (This would be the same Theophilus to whom St Luke addresses his Gospel and the Acts.) And he converted the people of the city, for which reason they built a church there, and set a high throne up in the midst of it, so that Peter could be heard and seen by all, and he sat upon it for seven years. Therefore the Church keeps a solemn feast in regard to this honor, because then did its prelates begin to have the first place and be honored, and the words of the Psalmist (106, 32) were fulfilled, “Let them exalt him in the church.”

In the following video, the Gradual of the feast of St Peter’s Chair is sung as part of the common Mass of Holy Popes, beginning at 19:50. The recording was made on the feast of Pope St Clement I in 2019.
Graduale, Ps. 106 Exaltent eum in Ecclesia plebis, et in cáthedra seniórum laudent eum. V. Confiteantur Dómino misericordiae ejus, et mirabilia eius filiis hóminum. (Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people, and praise him upon the seat of the elders. V. Let the mercies of the Lord give Him thanks, and His wondrous deeds confess Him to the children of men.)
And note that he is exalted in three ways, and therefore a threefold feast is celebrated. First, he is exalted in the Church militant, presiding over it and ruling over it laudably, in faith and morals… Secondly, in the Church of those who work malice *, namely by scattering it, and converting it to the Faith; and to this belongs his second feast, that which is called the feast of the chains. Third, he is exalted in the Church triumphant, namely by happily entering into it, and to this belongs his third feast, that of his passion.

* This refers to an expression which occurs three times in the Psalms, “the council” (21, 17), “church” (‘ecclesia’, 25, 5), or “assembly (63, 3) of those who work malice (malignantium)”, here taken to mean those who need conversion.
He also has a threefold feast for five other reasons. First, because he was privileged above all others, and therefore he is honored above others in authority, since he was the Prince of the Apostles and received the keys of the kingdom of heaven. He was also more fervent in the love of Christ, and more effective in might, since at his shadow the sick were healed.
St Peter Healing the Sick with His Shadow, 1424-25, fresco by the Florentine painter Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone (1401-28), commonly known as Masaccio; in the Brancacci chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)  
Second, because of his office, since he had the office of authority over the whole Church, which is spread out unto the three parts of the world, namely, Asia, Africa and Europe, and therefore the Church keeps a solemn feast for him three times in the year.
Third, because of the good which he does, since he who has the power of binding and loosing delivers us from three kinds of sin, namely, of thought, word, and deed, and because we sin (in three ways), against God, against neighbor, and against ourselves.
This benefit can also be the threefold good which the sinner obtains in the Church by the power of the keys: the demonstration of his release from guilt, the commutation of the punishment of purgatory into a punishment in this world, and the relaxation in part of temporal punishment.
The fourth reason is because of what we owe him, since he has fed us and feeds us in three ways, by word, example, and temporal help.
The fifth is because of his personal example, so that no one may despair, even if he shall have denied Christ three times, as he did, as long as he wishes to confess God along with him, in heart, mouth, and deed. (William Durandus, Rat. Div. Off. 7, 8, 1-3)
The Denial of St Peter, 1610, by Caravaggio (1571-1610). Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

“Ultramontanism and Tradition”: Seeking the Roots of the Present Anti-Liturgical Heresy in Rome

Dom Prosper Guéranger famously described the “anti-liturgical heresy” of the Protestant reformers, who betrayed authentic and continuous tradition in the name of an antiquarian reconstruction imaginatively driven by their theological views. Many traditionalist writers over the past decades have noted the disturbing accuracy with which Guéranger’s critique corresponds as well to the twentieth-century liturgical reforms in the Catholic Church. (An English translation of Guéranger’s comments may be read here.)

The question naturally arises: How in the world did we reach a point where Rome, or the papacy, has given up its historical stance of being a bulwark (remora in Newman’s term) against change—for instance, only reluctantly adding a Creed to the Mass after everyone else had already done so!—and turned into a turbo-driver of innovation? Where instead of being the final court of appeals, it has become a laboratory for doctrinal invention? This is a question that any honest researcher, reviewing the records of history, must ask. At least part of the answer, and an important part at that, is the rise of the phenomenon of ultramontanism, with its panoply of intended and unintended effects.

It gives me great joy to announce, on this feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the latest book from Os Justi Press: Ultramontanism and Tradition: The Role of Papal Authority in the Catholic Faith.

This anthology presents 50 essays by 26 prominent and respected authors: Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke • Bishop Athanasius Schneider • Phillip Campbell • Stuart Chessman • Charles A. Coulombe • Roberto de Mattei • Edward Feser • Timothy S. Flanders • Rémi Fontaine • A Friar of the Order of Preachers • Matt Gaspers • Jeremy Holmes • John P. Joy • Robert W. Keim • John Lamont • Sebastian Morello • Martin Mosebach • Clemens Victor Oldendorf • Thomas Pink • Enrico Roccagiachini • Eric Sammons • Joseph Shaw • Henry Sire • Thomas Sternberg • Darrick Taylor • José A. Ureta

Here is a short video about the book: 

It is not possible to understand the crisis in the modern Catholic Church, much less see how it might be overcome, without a critical understanding of the ecclesial current known as ultramontanism. Originating with nineteenth-century conservatives rallying to the anti-Liberalism of Pius IX, it developed over time into a hyperpapalism that weakened subsidiarity, stifled local custom, and dismantled tradition, until with Pope Francis it has morphed into a veritable engine of progressivism.

What are the historical, theological, and cultural causes of this complex phenomenon—at once a quasi-doctrine, an attitude, and a political regime? Is an ultramontanist papacy the source of our ills, or their only possible remedy—or perhaps both, since “the corruption of the best is the worst”? Might there be a “spirit of Vatican I” as harmful, in its own way, as the later (and rightly denigrated) “spirit of Vatican II”? Can a pope be a heretic, and what, if anything, may be done when such an evil confronts the Church? What is the relationship between moral authority and coercive power? Between papacy and episcopacy? Between legal positivism, blind obedience, and clerical abuse (sexual and otherwise)? In the face of pontifical monarchy, do churches sui iuris; organized communities; subordinate rulers; baptized faithful; immemorial traditions; time-honored liturgies, (still) enjoy their own inviolable rights?

These and related questions are deftly addressed by twenty-six scholars in an anthology of the best of contemporary conservative and traditional writing on these controversial topics.


It is in the nature of an anthology that it brings together previously published essays. The book does, however, include several substantial previously unpublished pieces:
  • a brilliant (and entertaining) interview with Martin Mosebach and Thomas Sternberg;
  • a major study called “What May Be Done about a Heretical Pope?” by a Friar of the Order of Preachers;
  • the essay “The Tower, and the City, of Babel: A Warning against Ultramontanism” by Robert W. Keim;
  • the masterful synthesis “Centripetal Governance and the Loss of Coherence” by Stuart Chessman.
What is more, certain chapters were revised by their authors for this edition; all of the chapters were edited for style and consistency; extensive footnotes, a comprehensive bibliography, and a detailed index were added. All in all, the book is a veritable goldmine on this topic.

Readers will especially appreciate the internal dialectic between the old-school ultramontanists (de Mattei, Ureta), their critics (Chessman, Keim, Mosebach), the mediators (Flanders, Sammons, Pink), those who bring in lots of rich historical detail that complicates the picture (Campbell, Coulombe, Taylor), etc. A very rich anthology that will become a "must-read" for those engaging it.

The Table of Contents, Preface, and a sample of the opening chapters may be found here.


510 pages, "royal size" (6.14 x 9.21 in.), in hardcover, paperback, or ebook

Where you can find it

Available directly from the publisher here, or from here (and all Amazon outlets across the world), or from Barnes & Noble here.

May this work—which is published with a dedication to many saints who, as it were, "spoke truth to power"—assist readers in the urgently necessary process of evaluating the relevant historical and theological data and recalibrating the proper God-fearing relations between hierarchical authority and sacred tradition in the Church. It goes without saying that the authors address liturgical issues along with everything else.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Lenten Hymn for Compline “Christe, Qui Lux Es et Dies”

The breviary and missal of St Pius V derive from the liturgical tradition used by the Papal curia in the high Middle Ages, formally codified at the beginning of the 13th century in a document known as the Ordinal of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216). This tradition was extremely conservative, and relative to many others (e.g. Sarum), much simpler. In the Divine Office, this simplicity is most evident at Compline, which follows the changes common to all Hours in the Easter season, and often varies the doxology of the hymn, but never the hymn itself, nor the chapter, or the antiphon of the Nunc dimittis.

All of these elements, plus the antiphon of the Psalms, were commonly varied for specific seasons and feast days in almost all other Uses of the Roman Rite, although the Psalms (4 – 30, 2-6 – 90 – 133) were the same in all of them every day until the Psalter reform of St Pius X. One of the most common customs in this regard was to sing the hymn Christe, qui lux es et dies in Lent, in place of the default hymn Te lucis ante terminum. The use of this hymn is first attested ca. 500 in the Regula Virginum of St Caesarius of Arles, who prescribes it for the whole year, except Eastertide. It was long attributed to St Ambrose, but this attribution is no longer accepted.

Here is a splendid recording by The Sixteen in alternating chant and polyphony, the latter by the English composer Robert White (ca. 1538-74). The English translation in the table below is by Daniel Joseph Donahoe, from the second series of his Early Christian Hymns (1911), with a slight amendment of the first verse. (His translation does not include the doxology, which I have here rendered in prose.)
Christe qui lux es et dies,
Noctis ténebras détegis,
Lucísque lumen créderis,
Lumen beátum prædicans.
O Christ, who art our light and day
That drivest the shades of night away
The sun, to guide our steps aright
In blessed life and saving light.
Precámur, sancte Dómine,
Defénde nos in hac nocte:
Sit nobis in te réquies,
Quiétam noctem tríbue.
O Holy One, we cry to thee,
This night our strong defender be,
Our souls from sin and danger keep,
And bring us rest and quiet sleep.
Ne gravis somnus írruat,
Nec hostis nos surrípiat:
Nec caro illi conséntiens
Nos tibi reos státuat.
Let no temptations vile or vain,
Or evil will our slumber stain,
Lest by the power of hell beguiled,
Our souls be darkened or defiled.
Oculi somnum cápiant,
Cor ad te semper vígilet:
Déxtera tua prótegat
Fámulos qui te díligunt.
But while our eyes are closed in sleep,
Still let our hearts sharp vigil keep ;
Let thy right hand be with us still
To shield and save from every ill.
Defénsor noster, áspice,
Insidiántes réprime:

Gubérna tuos fámulos
Quos sánguine mercátus es.
Dear Jesus, hear our cry and bless;
All thoughts and deeds of wrong
Our guard, our guide, our ruler be,
Whom thou hast bought upon the tree.
Meménto nostri, Dómine,
In gravi isto córpore:

 Qui es defénsor ánimæ,
Adesto nobis, Dómine.
Remember, Lord, our need and woe,
How weak are we, thy strength
O thou, the soul’s best advocate,
Haste, haste and help our feeble state.
Deo Patri sit glória,
Ejusque soli Fílio,
Cum Spirítu Paráclito,
Et nunc et in perpétuum.
To God the Father glory,
And to His Only Son,
With the Spirit, the Paraclete
Both now and forever.
Lent is also the period for the most common variant (although still rather less common than any of the others) to the short responsory, which is still used by the Dominicans. The first part of it is sung only once at the beginning.

R. br. In pace in idipsum, * dormiam et requiescam. V. Si dedero somnum oculis meis, et palpebris meis dormitationem, dormiam et requiescam. Gloria Patri... dormiam et requiescam. (In peace at once I will sleep and take my rest. V. If I shall give sleep to my eyes, and slumber to my eyelids...)
This was also used in the Sarum liturgy, and hence we have this very beautiful polyphonic version by another English composer, John Sheppard (ca. 1515-58), sung very well in this recording by Stile Antico.

The Station Churches of the Ember Days of Lent

During all four sets of Ember Days, the stations are held at the same three churches: on Wednesday at St Mary Major, on Friday at the church of the Twelve Apostles, and on Saturday at the basilica of St Peter in the Vatican. In Advent, Pentecost week, and September, there is often no clear connection between the station church and the actual text of the day’s Mass. On the Lenten Ember Days, however, the Gospel of the Mass each day makes a clear reference to the saint or saints in whose church it was intended to be said.

The high altar of St Mary Major, decorated with relics for the Lenten station in 2017. Photo by the great Agnese.
On Ember Wednesday, the Gospel is St Matthew 12, 38-50, in which the Lord rebukes the Pharisees who wish to see Him perform a sign. “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh a sign; and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah was in the whale’s belly three days and three nights, so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.”

In the Christian perspective, Jonah is unique and uniquely important among the prophets for two reasons. First, he personally does not say anything about Christ, as, for example, Isaiah says that a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son. In Jonah’s case, it is what happens to his body that prophesies the destiny of Jesus’ body, His death and Resurrection. Secondly, this prophetic explanation of his story is given to us by Christ Himself. He therefore became at a very early period one of the most frequently represented subjects in Christian art.

Stories of Jonah, from a late 2nd century fresco in the Catacomb of Callixtus. From right to left, Jonah is thrown into the sea, where a monster is about to swallow him; Jonah is spat out of the sea-monster; Jonah rests under the vine. The Greek and Latin words for “whale” can also mean “sea-monster”, and the creature that swallows the prophet is usually shown as such in early Christian art.
In the ancient paintings and sarcophagi from the catacombs of Rome and elsewhere, Jonah is almost invariably shown nude, whether he is depicted being thrown into the water, swallowed by the whale, vomited out by the whale, or lying down under the vine that God uses to shield him from the sun. His nudity emphasizes the reality of his human nature, and therefore emphasizes the reality of Christ’s human nature. It must be born in mind that early heretics like the Docetists, Gnostics, and later the Arians, were concerned to deny not so much the divinity of Christ as the humanity of God. In antiquity, the idea of a savior, sage or miracle-worker sent from heaven was not particularly difficult to accept; what many in the Roman world found much harder to believe was that God took such interest in the welfare of the human race that He actually joined it. The nude figure of Jonah, therefore, is as much an assertion of the Incarnation, against the early heresies, as it is a proclamation of the death and resurrection of Christ.
A third-century sarcophagus in the Vatican Museums’ Pio-Christian collection. This is one of the most elaborate versions of the Jonah story, and is therefore known as the Jonah Sarcophagus, although there are many other ancient representations of the prophet. Note that Noah is seen standing in a square ark above the sea-monster on the right, a clever use of the extra space to add another important Biblical episode.
This tradition was already well established when the basilica of Saint Mary Major was built right after the ecumenical council of Ephesus, both to honor the chosen vessel of God’s Incarnation, and to re-assert this dogma of our salvation against the heretic Nestorius; the station is kept at the natural choice of church in which to read this crucial Gospel passage. Oddly enough, the traditional Roman Rite uses only one passage from the book of Jonah itself at Mass in the whole of the year; chapter 3, in which Jonah preaches repentance to the Ninivites, is read on the Monday of Passion week, and repeated at the Easter Vigil. In the traditional Ambrosian liturgy, on the other hand, the entire book (actually one of the shortest in the Bible, only 48 verses) is the first reading of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper; in the Byzantine Rite, it is read at the Easter vigil.

At the end of the same Gospel, the Mother of God Herself appears in person: “And one said unto him, ‘Behold thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking thee.’ But He answering… said: ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?’ And stretching forth His hand towards His disciples, He said: Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.’ ” These words are explained by St Gregory the Great to mean that the disciples of Christ are His brethren when they believe in Him, and His Mother when they preach Him; “For as it were, one gives birth to the Lord when he brings Him into the heart of his listener, and becomes His Mother by preaching Him, if through his voice the love of God is begotten in the mind of his neighbor.” (Homily 3 on the Gospels).
The Coronation of the Virgin, apsidal mosaic of St. Mary Major by Jacopo Torriti, 1296
On Friday is read at the basilica of the Twelve Apostles the Gospel of the man healed at the pool of Bethesda, John 5, 1-15, wherein “lay a great multitude of sick, of blind, of lame, of withered.” This healing may be seen as a prophecy of the mission given by Christ Himself to the Apostles, and in them to the whole Church. During His earthly ministry, when He first sent the Apostles forth, He “gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of diseases, and all manner of infirmities. And the names of the twelve Apostles are these: The first, Simon who is called Peter, etc. (saying) ‘Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils.’ ” (Matthew 10, 1-2 and 8). Likewise, on the feast of the Ascension, we read that He renewed this commission to the Apostles, giving as one of the signs that shall follow those that believe in Him, “they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover.” Here, when Christ heals the man who is too lame to reach the pool as the Angel of the Lord stirs the water, He says to him, “Arise, take up thy bed, and walk.” In the Acts of the Apostles, the very first miracle of healing reported after the first Pentecost is that of the lame man to whom their leader says “Arise and walk.” (chapter 3, 1-16)
Three images of Christ as healer on a 3rd-century sarcophagus, also in the Pio-Christian Collection of the Vatican Museums. From left to right, the healing of the paralytic, who is shown carrying his bed; the healing of the blind man; the healing of the woman with the issue of blood. The fourth image is Christ transforming water into wine at the wedding of Cana. In antiquity, Christ was often shown holding a magic wand to indicate that He is working a miracle; some commentators have most unfortunately chosen to understand this to mean that the early Christians thought of Christ principally as a magician.
The Synoptic Gospels tell the story of another paralytic healed at Capharnaum, whose friends had to take the roof off the building to lower him down into the place where Jesus was preaching. (Mark 2, 1-12 and parallels) When Christ says to him first “Son, thy sins are forgiven thee.” the Pharisees grew indignant at this usurpation of God’s prerogatives. He therefore heals the man of his bodily infirmities to show that “the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins,” and then addresses him in the same terms He uses with the man at the pool of Bethesda, “Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house.”

The healed paralytic carrying his bed is another motif of great importance in early Christian art, representing the forgiveness of sins, an article of the faith which we still profess in every recitation of the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Such images usually consist only of Christ and the man carrying his bed, and it is impossible to say whether we are meant to see him as the paralytic of Capharnaum or Bethesda. More likely, we are meant to think of them both at once.
The healing of the paralytic of Bethesda, from the basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, ca. 550 A.D. In the same church, the paralytic of Capharnaum is shown being lowered through the roof, a rare case in which the two are clearly distinguished.
The latter, however, represents another idea of great importance to the early Church, namely, that gentiles are not obliged to live according to the religious laws of the Jews. In the early centuries, many Christians still felt themselves to be very close to their Jewish roots, and continued to follow the Mosaic law; a small but apparently rather vocal minority of these held that the same law should be binding upon all Christians. The paralytic of Bethesda, however, when reproved for violating the strict interpretation of law that no work may be done on the Sabbath, replies “He that made me whole said to me, ‘Take up thy bed, and walk.’ ” He therefore symbolizes the fact that Christ Himself has given the Church a new law, by which Christians are freed from the observance of the law of Moses.

The same idea is expressed by another common motif in early Christian art, the scene referred to as the Traditio Legis – the Handing-Down of the Law. In these images, Jesus is shown with a scroll representing the new law of the Christian faith, in the company of at least the Apostle Peter, usually also Paul, and sometimes all twelve; very often, He is passing the scroll directly to them. The Apostles, who had of course discussed this same question at the very first Council of the Church, that of Jerusalem (Acts 15), hand down to the Church and its members the new law that permanently dispenses us from the religious observances of the Old Covenant. This is certainly one of the reason why the story of the paralytic of Bethesda is read in the basilica of the Twelve Apostles.
The Traditio Legis with Ss. Peter and Paul, from the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus (prefect of Rome, died 359 A.D.) Note that as Christ is handing the scrolls of the law to the Apostles Peter and Paul, He is also stepping on the face of the sky god, here used as a symbolic figure, to represent His dominion over the heavens.
The Traditio Legis with all twelve Apostles, from a late-4th century imperial mausoleum in Milan, now the chapel of St Aquilinus in the basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore. Here, Christ has one scroll in His hand, and six in the case at His feet, a total of seven; this number symbolizes perfection, and hence the perfection of the new law.
At the Mass of Ember Saturday, the Church reads St Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration (chapter 17, 1-9) at the basilica of St Peter in the Vatican. In his homilies on this Gospel, St. John Chrysostom teaches that the purpose of the Transfiguration was to strengthen the Apostles’ faith in Christ’s divinity, so that they might not be overwhelmed with sorrow at His Passion or lose faith in His Resurrection. The Greek Church instituted a feast of the Transfiguration long before it was adopted by the West, fixing the day to August 6th, forty days, the length of Lent, before the Exaltation of the Cross. This association of the Transfiguration with the Passion is beautifully expressed by the early Byzantine mosaic in the apse of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe near Ravenna, built in the mid-6th century. The witnesses of the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah above, the Apostles Peter, James and John below, represented as three sheep, are standing around a great jeweled Cross, rather than Christ in in His glory and majesty; only the face of the Lord appears, within a small medallion in the middle of the Cross, an expression of the humility with which He accepted the Passion.

The three witnesses of the Transfiguration, Ss Peter, James and John, often appear together in the Gospels as the disciples closest to Christ. Along with Peter’s brother St Andrew, they were the first disciples called to follow Him, and were present for the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4, 38-39); they were also the witnesses of the healing of the daughter of Jairus, (Mark 5, 37) and the agony in the garden (Mark 14, 33). They alone receive new names from Christ as a sign of their mission, (Mark 3, 16-17) Peter, “the Rock”, being the name given to Simon, James and John receiving the name Boanerges, “sons of thunder”. But at the Transfiguration, as in so many other places, it is Peter alone whose words the Evangelists record for us, words which the church of Rome sings this days at his very tomb, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

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