Monday, April 15, 2024

The “Private” Mass from Its Origins to the Thirteenth Century (Conclusion)

The “Private” Mass from Its Origins to the Thirteenth Century

Canon Gilles Guitard, ICRSP

(Part 1, providing the history of this topic from antiquity to the 13th century, may be found here.)

The Franciscans

Now, there were some who wanted to classify the “private” Mass itself as an abuse and who sought a return to the celebration of a single Mass per day in a given community of priests. This was particularly the case with the Friars Minor.

In the introduction we already noted that in 1226 Saint Francis prescribed that each house of friars should have only one Mass a day, celebrated by one of them and attended [i.e., not concelebrated] by any other priests in the community. It seems that the founder of Assisi wanted to avoid the lure of financial gain for his brothers [1], but we can also see in this choice the desire to emphasise the community aspect of the Mass, since we know the particular importance given to the bond of charity by the saint. Moreover, the rest of the letter mentioned in the introduction says the following: “If there were several priests in this place, let each priest, for the love of charity, be content to hear the celebration of the other” [2]. Celebrating “in private” was clearly considered by him to be a breach of this great virtue. The attendance of all the brothers, whether priests or not, at a single Mass at which they all took communion [3], was the best way of effectively maintaining the bond of charity between the brothers; and this was precisely the priority that the saint of Assisi had set himself. [4]

We know what happened next. The Order of Friars Minor nevertheless adopted in their missal the rubric cited in the introduction [5], inherited from the papal court, which explicitly legitimises “private” celebration. Thus, despite their founder’s encouragement to favour the community Mass, the Friars Minor were free to celebrate “in private” if they so wished. No doubt they did not make use of this possibility every day.

In any case, a balance was eventually found, since around 1240, the General of the Order, Aymon of Faversham, compiled the ordo missæ “Indutus planeta”, which is a highly detailed ceremonial of the “private” Mass and the conventual festive Mass. It seems that the itinerancy required for the mission, combined with the brothers’ life of evangelical poverty, contributed to reducing the liturgical display and the length of community ceremonies on the less solemn days of the year. This ceremonial book is in fact a vademecum for celebrating Masses (community or individual) “deprived of solemnity”.

In this way, the legitimacy of the “private” celebration was confirmed and its ritual process spread from Rome to the whole of Christendom.

To conclude this historical overview, it should be noted that, as is often the case, errors and abuses provide an opportunity for the Church to clarify its doctrine. In this case, their appearance was an opportunity to reaffirm the intrinsically communitarian character of every Eucharistic celebration, even “private” ones.

It should also be noted that these disciplinary clarifications, which were essential for correcting certain abusive practices, were only known within the Latin Church, suggesting that the Eastern Churches did not experience the evolution of the Mass “deprived of solemnity” towards the “private” Mass properly so called, as was the case in the West between the 4th and 6th centuries.

Then, after the Gregorian reform, the growing opposition in practice — especially in the monasteries — between public conventual Mass and “private” Mass provided an opportunity to finally establish the definitive legitimacy of the latter and its complementarity with the former.

15th-century German missal (source)

The ritual form

We present here the results of research carried out on three sources: the Ordo romanus XV [6], the Cluniac customs of the XI century [7] and the Ordo missæ “Indutus planeta” [8]. These sources form a rather happy sequence: they are spread out over time and they have had a major impact in time and space.

Here is the synopsis summarising the study of these sources, which shows us the evolution over time of the ritual of the “private” Mass. N.B. The first two stages predate the sources studied. They were conjectured on the basis of minor contemporary sources, which we came across when drawing up our first historical section.

Early centuries: from the origins to the end of the fourth century

For this period, we have conjectured that the “private” Mass was reduced to the pure sacrificium, according to the hypothesis formulated by M. Righetti. [9] Here are the elements that probably made up the “private” Mass:

- Preparation and offering of the oblata, probably accompanied by improvised prayers,
- Eucharistic anaphora,
- Communion for the priest and any assistants,
- Prayers of thanksgiving, probably improvised.

No liturgical book from this period has survived. It is likely that the celebrant — at least until the fourth century — did not use a written text to celebrate this Mass. The Eucharistic anaphora, like all the eminently sacred texts of this period, is probably known by memory.

From the end of the 4th century to the 7th century (the period of the first libelli and sacramentaries)

We continue with the initial hypothesis of a “private” celebration reduced to the pure sacrificium, which would evolve organically over the centuries and according to the region. [10] It would gradually be enriched by new elements, which were already present in the solemn public Mass but performed by other ministers (cantors, deacon, subdeacon). Since the celebrant was not accustomed to reciting them at public Mass, he began to do so at “private” Mass, with the intervention of the authorities. [11]

The celebrant is provided with a single book: a libellus or sacramentary.

At the beginning of the VII century, the course of the “private” Mass could look like this:

  • Kyrie [12], concluded by the Collect. [13].
  • Offertory:
    • “Oremus,
    • offering of oblata,
    • prayer super oblata. [14]
  • Eucharistic anaphora:
    • Dialogue and preface, [15]
    • Sanctus,
    • Roman canon, [16]
    • Pater.
  • Communion rites.
  • Final prayer.

From the end of the 8th century (according to the Ordo romanus XV and the Paduensis Gregorian Sacramentary)

We are thus leaving the realm of the probable and the hypothetical to enter into considerations that are virtually certain. With the help of the Ordo Romanus XV, we can give the following details of the course of the “private” Mass: [17] 

  • Introit (composed of an antiphon and verses from the psalms, concluded by Gloria Patri).
  • The Kyrie consists of nine invocations.
  • The Gloria in excelsis Deo (for certain days).
  • The Collect is preceded by a greeting (probably “Dominus vobiscum”).
  • Epistle and Gospel (if portable missal or lectionary available)
  • The sacrificium is unchanged, except for the following:
    • the Roman canon is certainly the one we know (from Te igitur to Per ipsum), and is recited in a low voice,
    • the Pater is certainly followed by the embolism Libera nos.
  • Communion rites now certainly include:
    • the Pax domini,
    • commingling,
    • apologies (private priestly prayers),
    • Communion antiphon with psalm verses concluded by Gloria Patri
  • Conclusion unchanged, with the oration Ad complendum, and possibly an additional oration Super populum.

From the XI century (according to Cluniac monastic customs)

It is clear from the customary documents analysed that the “private” Mass underwent considerable ritual enrichment between the 8th and 11th centuries, at least in the monasteries dependent on Cluny.

The only book used at the altar was the missal, which occupied two places during the Mass: on the right at the beginning and end, and on the left from the epistle to the ablutions.

A lay brother serves Mass.

The volume of the voice is modest, even secretive for certain parts.

Here is an outline of the elements of the celebration revealed by these traditional practitioners [18]

  • Washing of hands and preparation of the oblata (placing the host on the paten and pouring the wine and water into the chalice) before Mass, in the sacristy.
  • Preparation of the altar on arrival.
  • Vesting at the altar.
  • Confiteor of the priest, then of the server, at the foot of the altar steps.
  • Finger washing and brief prayer after going to the altar.
  • Introït, Kyrie, no Gloria.
  • “Dominus vobiscum” and Collect (there may be several Collects).
  • Epistle, then Gospel (introduced by “Sequentia...”).
  • Credo (for Sundays and feast days).
  • Offertory:
    • “Dominus vobiscum”,
    • placement of the corporal on the altar,
    • then oblata, brought by the server,
    • washing of hands, then joining the first two fingers of each hand,
    • In spiritu humilitatis prayer,
    • exhortation to pray Orate pro me,
    • “Oremus” and secret (in a low voice), with the conclusion Per omnia in an elevated voice.
  • Preface introduced by the dialogue, followed by the Sanctus.
  • Roman canon, concluded by the Per Ipsum doxology (during which the celebrant makes signs of the cross with the host on the chalice, then raises the host slightly).
  • Communion rites:
    • Pater to “Et ne nos inducas in tentationem”, the server replies “Sed libera nos a malo”, the celebrant “Amen” (in a low voice),
    • Libera nos embolism, with fraction during the doxology,
    • Pax Domini (with signs of the cross made with the host over the chalice),
    • commingling,
    • Agnus Dei,
    • kiss of peace to the minister [19],
    • communion of the priest, then of the server, with the host,
    • communion of the priest, then of the server, with the precious blood[20]
    • ablutions: purification of the mouth, fingers and chalice,
    • corporal folding,
    • communion antiphon,
    • “Dominus vobiscum” and then the post-communion.
  • Concluding rituals:
    • “Ite missa est” (or “Benedicamus Domino”)
    • Placeat prayer,
    • verse Animæ omnium Fidelium (if there was a collect pro defunctis).

To this must be added all the gestural details, of which there are many throughout the text (signs of the cross, bows, kissing the altar and the book, position of the speaker, fingers joined), but which we cannot mention here. Both the manner in which they are to be performed and the moment at which they are to be performed are indicated. The overriding concern seems to be to leave nothing to chance or to the free execution of the celebrant.

In the 13th century (according to the ordo missæ “Indutus planeta”)

The regulars [i.e., the religious bound by rule] were still at work, but this time they were inspired by the ceremonial of the papal court. The fruit of their labours would be used by all priests, regular and secular, sedentary (like monks and canons) and itinerant (like the Friars Minor).

The gestural prescriptions for the celebrant found in the Cluniac customs are largely to be found in this ordo missæ, with a few additions that we will describe below. It should also be noted that these prescriptions are now codified by the Indutus, to make them clearer, more universal and more permanent.

Let us see, then, in the order of execution, the elements of the Indutus that change in relation to the Cluniac rite:

  • Codification of gestures that are repeated several times during the Mass:
    • two types of inclination (deep and medium),
    • a kiss from the altar,
    • how to join hands,
    • how to hold them apart and elevated (the modest and measured attitude of the speaker was already described in the course of the Cluniac Mass),
    • how to bless the host and chalice together,
    • very little indication of voice volume.
  • No washbasin at the beginning of Mass.
  • No genuflection on arriving at or leaving the altar. In fact, there is no prescribed genuflection during the entire Mass. [Custom, of course, may have dictated such.]
  • Bow to the altar (in the middle) before moving away from it, during Mass, but not at the beginning or end.
  • Recitation of the proper pieces between the epistle and the Gospel (gradual, tract, alleluia).
  • The missal was moved to the left later: for the gospel and not for the epistle.
  • The chalice is prepared during the Mass (the wine is poured into it before the offertory, the water — after it has been blessed — during the offertory).
  • The offertory has more prayers:
    • the offertory antiphon after the initial “Oremus”,
    • a different one for each of the two oblations (Suscipe sancte Pater and Offerimus tibi),
    • another for the blessing and infusion of the water in the chalice (Deus qui humane),
    • an epiclesis prayer (Veni sanctificator),
    • one in honour of the Holy Trinity (Suscipe sancta trinitas).
  • The position of the host on the corporal in relation to the chalice is planned: the chalice is on the right, the host on the left.
  • Elevation of the host after consecration.
  • The joining of the fingers begins later (after the consecration of the chalice).
  • Beginning of reverence (bowing) before the holy species.
  • The chalice is uncovered/covered more frequently, which is more convenient thanks to the second corporal (folded), which serves only this purpose.
  • Bow while reciting the Agnus Dei.
  • Prayers in preparation for the kiss of peace and communion.
  • More precise mode of communion:
    • prayers, taking the paten and the chalice,
    • he prepares himself with Domine non sum dignus,
    • he signs himself with the paten or chalice before taking communion with the body and blood,
    • he communes with the body through language.
  • Only the celebrant receives communion.
  • Two ablutions only (the first for the chalice and mouth, the second for the fingers).
  • Washbasin after ablutions.
  • Final blessing.


At the end of this study, we can establish that the Mass celebrated “in private” could date back to the first centuries of the Church, even if we have no irrefutable evidence at our disposal dating from before the eighth century. Its existence in the VI century is highly probable; it is of the order of very suitable to very likely for the first centuries. It was practised above all by sedentary priests living in communities (monks and canons) and by hermits, as well as by itinerant missionary priests. A certain development took place in the monasteries, at the time of the Carolingian reform, in particular when the foundations of Masses celebrated for the souls of the deceased appeared.

The ritual form of the “private” Mass has evolved over time and according to circumstances.

a) Over time, we have seen that its content has expanded. As the priest was the only liturgist, he did not provide the elements that were the responsibility of the ministers of the solemn Mass. This is why it was most likely reduced to pure sacrificium in the early days. It then gradually acquired the elements of the public Mass, from the 6th century onwards, and eventually became aligned with the latter. This was already the case, apart from a few elements, at the end of the XI century in the monasteries of the Cluniac order in France and the Empire.

Another development over time can be observed in the customs of these places: the considerable progress in the precision required of the celebrant in the sequence of gestures and words. So much so that by the end of the 11th century, in Cluny, the ritual of the “private” Mass — which was much more detailed than that of the solemn conventual Mass in terms of the celebrant’s gestures and attitudes — began to supplant it in its normative prerogative. This trend was confirmed in the ordo missæ “Indutus planeta”, in which the “private” Mass is clearly presented as the norm for all celebrations, even solemn ones. This ordo is the direct ancestor of the Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae of the 1570 missal, which clearly presents the “private” Mass as the basis on which the actions prescribed for the deacon and subdeacon of the solemn Mass are grafted from time to time.

b) We can also deduce from our study that the form of the “private” Mass may have varied according to circumstances.

A sedentary priest living in a community (particularly a monk), because he has little time to celebrate (he may have to celebrate several Masses a day) and also attends the conventual Mass, may be content with a more restrained ritual form, beginning directly at the start of the offertory. [21]

On the other hand, an itinerant priest, who may not have a server and who does not attend conventual Mass, will more naturally follow a more complete ritual.

A true organic development

In retrospect, it seems logical that the ritual of the “private” Mass should necessarily have become closer to that of the solemn Mass over time, in order to show outwardly that it was identical in nature to the solemn Mass. We have just emphasised that this is precisely what happened.

However, our analysis also shows that this rapprochement was not without its difficulties. For example, it seems that the more the “private” Mass ritually resembled the public Mass, the more it distracted the faithful from the latter. There were certainly other reasons for the decline in interest in the solemn public Mass between the 10th and 13th centuries, but competition from the “private” Mass was certainly one of them. A certain balance was found, notably by allowing monk-priests the option of not taking communion at conventual Mass[22]. Apart from this question of communion, the priest was entirely free to celebrate “privately” or not. Clearly, there was never any obligation to celebrate it, nor, conversely, any lasting and general prohibition. The rare prohibitions related to the abusive use made of the “private” Mass (solitary Masses, domestic Masses, multiple daily celebrations or others) and not to the principle itself; the judgment of Saint Francis, which did not last, was advice rather than an obligation.

We can therefore reasonably affirm that this ritual development took place organically: slowly, progressively, with interventions by the authorities — both in terms of the conditions to be met in order to celebrate “in private” and the ritual form to be followed — which remained discreet and limited to cases of manifest abuse[23]. Consequently, the “private” Mass is indeed traditional in the Roman Church.

A morning in Fontgombault, like the one Card. Ratzinger would have seen

Replies to objections

Allow us to respond to a legitimate objection to “private” celebrations.

Many rightly point out the risk of losing the communal dimension of the Eucharistic sacrifice by attending or celebrating “private” Mass. This is the case of Vogel, who points out that in the past the fermentum made it possible not to isolate one Mass from another. [24] This rite manifested outwardly the unity of all celebrations with that of the pope and, through it, with the paschal mystery that it makes present. Each Mass is therefore linked to Christ’s redemptive action, performed “once and for all” [25], and is thus united with all the other Masses. Moreover, this rite of fermentum also shows that the Mass is not a simple ascetic exercise or private devotion [26]: the Mass is not an action of the celebrant and the assistants, but is truly the action of Christ and the Church.

It seems to us that the rubrics, which have developed considerably and reached such a degree of precision that nothing seems to have been left to chance, providentially play the role that the fermentum once played. They ensure that all the Masses are united by the observance of common rules. They also show the communion of the priest with his hierarchy, by asking him to obey the rules emanating from it. Finally, by obeying, the priest imitates the example of the Son, the High Priest, who did not come to do his own will, but that of his Father.

After recalling that “priestly spirituality is intrinsically Eucharistic”, Benedict XVI, in the apostolic exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, recommends that priests “celebrate Mass daily, even without the participation of the faithful” [27]. He added:
This recommendation corresponds first and foremost to the objectively infinite value of each Eucharistic celebration; it then draws from it a reason for particular spiritual effectiveness, because, if it is lived attentively and with faith, the Mass is formative in the deepest sense of the term, in that it promotes conformation to Christ and strengthens the priest in his vocation. [28]
I’ll leave the last word to Benedict XVI. When he was still Cardinal Ratzinger and visiting Notre-Dame de Fontgombault Abbey in 2001 for the Liturgical Days, he confided something to Dom Antoine Forgeot, the Abbot. During his stay, the cardinal had been able to celebrate the conventual Mass alone, which all the monks — including priests — had attended. At dawn on the morning of his departure, the Father Abbot invited him to walk through the abbey church one last time before returning to his car. This was precisely the moment when nine monk-priests were offering the holy sacrifice, as they did every morning, at the same time, “in private”, each on his own altar. The cardinal admired this timeless spectacle in silence for a few moments; then, as he left the car, he whispered in his host’s ear: “Now that’s the Catholic Church!” [29]


[1] Cf. S.J.P. Van Dijk — J.H. Walker The Origins 51-52. We were unable to investigate this question further.

[2] Quoted in: G. Derville (2011) La concélébration eucharistique. Du symbole à la réalité Wilson & Lafleur Ltée, Montréal, 15.

[3] It is clear that for a brother priest, the “private” celebration can be compatible — with a little organisation — with attending community Mass. On the other hand, it prevents him from taking Communion. The same can be said for the non-priest brother who serves “private” Mass. Cf. in particular: R. Grégoire (1967-1968) La communion des moines-prêtres à la messe d’après les coutumiers monastiques médiévaux: “Sacris Erudiri” 18, 524-549, and more particularly the first point of the conclusion on page 547.

[4] This way of doing things was also in force for cardinals during conclaves until 1922: a single Mass celebrated by just one, at which all attended and received communion, without being able to celebrate “in private”, let alone concelebrate sacramentally as we understand it today.

[5] “Si sunt plures sacerdotes in loco secrete possunt cantare missam quam volunt.

[6] Ordo romanus XV, 121-156: M. Andrieu Les Ordines III, 120-125. We have added the Paduensis Gregorian Sacramentary: A. Catella — F. dell’Oro — A. Martini Liber Sacramentorum Paduensis 375-383.

[7] We studied four customs: the Cluniac customs of Bernard (Bernardus Ordo Cluniacensis 72: M. Herrgott Vetus disciplina monastica 263-265), the Cluniac customs of Ulrich (Udalricus Cluniacensis Antiquiores Consuetudines Cluniacensis Monasterii II, 30: PL 149, 724A-725A), the customs of Hirsau (Wilhelmus Constitutiones Hirsaugienses I, 86: PL 150, 1015C-1020C) and the customs of Farfa (Odilo Abbas Liber tramitis aevi II, 24: Corpus Consuetudinum Monasticarum 10, 232-233).

[8] It can be consulted here: S.J.P. Van Dijk [edr] (1963) Sources of the Modern Roman Liturgy. The Ordinals by Haymo of Faversham and related documents (1243-1307), II: Texts, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1-14.

[9] Cf. M. Righetti La Messa 148-149. The hypothesis is based first and foremost on common sense: deprived of the assistance of the faithful and the presence of several ministers, the celebrant — from the moment the existence of Masses “deprived of solemnity” is admitted — reproduces in these celebrations the essentials of the rite of the Mass (which he usually celebrates in public), but suppresses the parts that are properly communal (such as the psalmodic chants, the readings and the homily). Righetti bases this hypothesis on a passage by Tertullian in which he evokes the alternative between offering the (Eucharistic) sacrifice and serving the Word of God: “aut sacrificium offertur, aut Dei verbum administratur” (Tertullianus De cultu fœminarum II, 11: PL 1, 1329B), one excluding the other, and vice versa. Let us acknowledge that this written proof is far from incontestable, but that it nevertheless enjoys a certain degree of probability.

[10] We can identify five main regions in which the Roman liturgy developed from around 375 AD: Africa, Gaul, Spain, Italy (outside Rome) and Rome (cf. C. Vogel Introduction 20-30).

[11] This is the case for the Sanctus, the recitation of which is explicitly requested at “private” Mass (since it is recited at public Masses) by a canon of the Second Council of Vaison (529).

[12] The Kyrie consists of the simple invocations “Kyrie eleison” and “Christe eleison”. It is both a penitential rite, preparing the priest inwardly for the sacrifice that is to follow, and a prayer of intercession. Indeed, it is the probable descendent of the Deprecatio gelasiana, which was itself a prayer of intercession, and its concluding oration (the collect) is precisely the descendent of the oration concluding the Deprecatio gelasiana.

[13] The formula for the Collect is given in the libellus or sacramentary.

[14] The formula for the oration super oblata is given in the libellus or sacramentary.

[15] The formula for the preface is given in the libellus or sacramentary.

[16] We know that at least the central part of the Roman canon was already in force in the Roman rite at the time of Ambrose of Milan. He quoted entire passages from it in his De sacramentis in 390 (cf. Ambrose of Milan Des Sacrements: Botte, B. [edr] (1961) (SCh 25 bis), Cerf, Paris, 114-116).

[17] Additional elements from the previous stage are marked in bold.

[18] Additional elements from the previous stage are marked in bold.

[19] The kiss of peace does not take place at Masses for the dead.

[20] The celebrant alone receives communion at Masses for the deceased.

[21] This seems to have been the case in Rome, for the solemn Mass on Holy Thursday, in the seventh century.

[22] It was precisely the communion of all priests at the same conventual Mass that Saint Francis of Assisi wanted to restore to honour.

[23] Cf. the criteria for the organic development of the liturgy put forward by A. Reid and mentioned in the introduction.

[24] Cf. C. Vogel Une mutation 246.

[25] Hb 9, 12.

[26] C. Vogel seems to contrast the individual opus bonum dimension of the Mass with its dimension as a community act (cf. C. Vogel Une mutation 247-248). Yet the two are complementary and not opposed.

[27] Benedict XVI Sacramentum Caritatis 80.

[28] Id. 80.

[29] Dom Antoine Forgeot, mb, confirmed these facts on oath in a handwritten letter dated 14/02/2014 addressed to the author.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Good Shepherd Sunday 2024

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep. But the hireling, and he that is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and flieth: and the wolf catcheth, and scattereth the sheep: And the hireling flieth, because he is a hireling: and he hath no care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know mine, and mine know me. As the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father: and I lay down my life for my sheep. And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd. (John 10, 11-16)

The Good Shepherd, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-82), ca. 1660; Museo del Prado, Madrid. The ruined classical building in the background on the left represents the fallen world renewed by Christs coming, as it does also in Nativity scenes; the flock on the right alludes to the 99 sheep whom the shepherd leaves behind to seek the one that has wandered (Matthew 18, 12-13). The Christ Child wears a purple garment, the color of royalty, to indicate His divinity, and a rough skin in brown over it, to indicate His humbling of Himself in the Incarnation. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Tenebrae 2024 Photopost (Part 2)

This post concludes the Tenebrae part of our Holy Week photopost series; we will move on to the other ceremonies of the Triduum next week. Many thanks to all the contributors - feliciter!

Oratory of Ss Gregory and Augustine – St Louis, Missouri
Courtesy of Kiera Petrick

Blessed Rolando Rivi

On this day in the year 1945, a 14-year old Italian seminarian named Rolando Rivi died as a martyr in a little town called Monchio, in the province of Modena. Rolando was born in 1931, and began serving Mass at the age of five; he made his first Communion on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 16, 1938. In 1942, at the age of 11, he entered the minor seminary at Marola, and was admired by his teachers as an exemplary student, and a boy of sincere and serious devotion. As was the custom in those days, he was clothed in the cassock, and wore the saturno as part of the regular clerical dress; already at that tender age, he expressed the desire to become a missionary. He was noted as both an excellent singer and musician, and participated enthusiastically in the seminary choir.

The young Rolando was the kind of fellow who shows himself to be a leader in every activity, and his grandmother is reported to have said, with the special wisdom of Italian grandmothers, that he would end up as “a saint or a scoundrel.” Many stories are told of him encouraging his friends to come to church for Mass or devotions after a soccer game. During his summer vacation, he continued to dress and live as a seminarian, with no remission from his devotional life of daily Mass, rosary, meditation and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Many times he said that the cassock was a sign “that I belong to Jesus.”

In the summer of 1944, the seminary at Marola was occupied by German troops, and Rolando was forced to return home; he was able, however, to continue his studies with the local parish priest. He continued to wear the cassock in public, despite his parents’ concerns that this would make him a target of the anticlerical violence then rampant in north-central Italy. And indeed, by the time Rolando returned home from the seminary, his former parish priest had been moved out of the area for safety’s sake. In the years immediately after the collapse of Italian fascism in July 1943, nearly 100 priests were murdered by Communist partisans in the part of the Emilia-Romagna known as the “red triangle.”

On April 10, 1945, a group of these partisans kidnapped Rolando as he was studying in a little grove near his home; his parents discovered both his books and a note from the partisans warning them not to look for him. He was taken to a farmhouse, beaten and tortured for three days, under the absurd accusation that he had been a spy for the Germans; he was then dragged into a woods, stripped of his cassock, and shot twice in the head. The partisans rolled his cassock up into a ball and used it to play soccer.

His father and parish priest discovered his body the following day. He was buried temporarily in the cemetery of the town where he was killed, but translated a month later to his native place, San Valentino. Since the day of his death often falls in Holy Week or Easter week, his liturgical feast is kept on the day of this translation, May 29th. The decree recognizing that his violent death was inflicted “in odium fidei” was signed by the Pope on March 28, 2013, and his beatification as a martyr was celebrated on October 5th of that year. His relics now repose in the church of San Valentino di Castellarano; on his tomb is written “Io sono di Gesù”, Italian for “I belong to Jesus.”

I make bold to suggest that Bl. Rolando is a good person to appeal to if you know any seminarians who need prayers, and especially those who are persecuted for their love of the Church’s traditions; and further, that it would not be a bad idea to consider what it was about the Church that Rolando Rivi lived in that enabled him to face martyrdom so bravely at the age of only 14. Beate Rolande, ora pro nobis!

Friday, April 12, 2024

A Review of Eleanor Parker’s Winters in the World

St. Augustine preaching to Ethelbert and Bertha
Eleanor Parker’s Winters in the World: A Journey Through the Anglo-Saxon Year (London: Reaktion Books, 2022)

It is said that when Pope St Gregory the Great commissioned St Augustine of Canterbury to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons to Christianity after they displaced the Celtic Christian Britons in the sixth century, he instructed the missionary to respect local customs and uproot only what is harmful or impious. If the Anglo-Saxon Christian culture that emerged a hundred years later is the fruit of Augustine’s efforts, then the Apostle of England and his spiritual descendants earn an A+ in inculturation. As Eleanor Parker writes in her latest book, Winters in the World: A Journey through the Anglo-Saxon Year, the Anglo-Saxon liturgical calendar and its attendant beliefs were “at one and the same time, firmly rooted in Anglo-Saxon culture and fully part of the wider international church [sic]” (21).

Parker is well equipped to explain how. The author of two other books on medieval England and of the award-winning blog, A Clerk of Oxford, Parker has a confident command of the primary sources of Anglo-Saxon literature and a good instinct for how to interpret them. She is also a fine storyteller, beginning her chapters with a fetching scenario and perhaps not explaining it until the end.
Parker’s goal in Winters is twofold: to reconstruct the Anglo-Saxon year and to introduce her audience to the under-appreciated but “immensely rich and creative literature of Anglo-Saxon England” (7). The year in question was in some respects profoundly different from our own. Prior to their conversion to Christianity in the seventh century (and by default, to the Roman reckoning of time), the Anglo-Saxons had a lunisolar calendar that consisted of ten months and only two seasons: winter and summer. While we think of late December as the beginning of winter, Anglo-Saxons thought of the same date as “midwinter,” halfway through its course. Similarly, while we think of June 24 as a few days after the start of summer, our forebears thought of it as “midsummer.”
Anglo-Saxon authors often used the seasons of winter and summer as a synecdoche for the year. Folks counted their age by how many “winters in the world” they had spent, while our word year is derived from gear, an Old English word for summer (16). The Christian calendar was itself a synthesis of Jewish and Roman calendars, but at least both were anchored in the Mediterranean. Now that calendar was being applied to a country on the edge of northern Europe with significantly different seasons and agricultural cycles. Yet somehow a successful fusion occurred and was “remarkably durable,” (21) more or less surviving the Vikings, the Normans, and the Reformation until the twentieth century alienated the average Englishman from the rhythms of agriculture and changed the meaning of his holidays.
Henrietta Marshall, “Stories of Beowulf,” 1908
On the surface, the Christian Anglo-Saxon year might appear to be only partially converted. In contrast to other languages, English has a number of ostensibly pagan holdouts: “Yule” and “Midwinter” are used for Advent and Christmas (68-73) while “Lent” (Spring) and “Easter” (a goddess) signify the Great Fast and the Feast of the Resurrection, respectively (17, 123-24). Yet Parker sets the record straight. “For Anglo-Saxon writers, adopting [these] terms…into Christian vocabulary was a way of interpreting their own culture and environment in the light of their Christian faith, finding in these terms a new meaning that was, in their eyes, more true and powerful” (73).
Examples abound. The season of Advent, with its anticipation of the Second Coming, found resonance in Old Norse fears of a winter apocalypse (62). Candlemas, the feast of the Purification on February 2, heralds the coming of Spring, when winter is “carried out of the dwellings”; just as Mary bears Christ to the Temple, so too is winter borne away (89). Lent, the name for which is derived from the Anglo-Saxon for to grow or lengthen, is a reminder that bodily mortifications facilitate spiritual growth (108-17). On Good Friday, Anglo-Saxons interpreted the Crucifixion through their warrior culture, worshiping Christ as the conqueror of death and Hell (133): the Dream of the Rood, Parker notes, “resonates in many ways with the liturgy of Good Friday” (130). The feast of the Holy Cross on May 3 had special significance in the Anglo-Saxon imagination, for according to Scandinavian myth mankind was made from a tree, and trees were associated with a parent’s loss of his child (216) The lesser Rogationtide (or “Gang Days,” from “walking about”) were replete with meaning to the Anglo-Saxon mind, providing a time for social interaction and a blessing of the land (159-62). On Ascension Day, Christ was envisioned as a springtime bird, “moving with ease between heaven and earth” (163):
So the beautiful bird took to flight.
Now he sought the home of the angels,
That glorious country, bold and strong in might;
Now he swung back to earth again,
Sought the ground by grace of the Spirit,
Returned to the world (163).
Ascension folio, 13th century
The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24 mixed with the awe and fears of midsummer (172-78). August 1 was Lammas Day (“Loaf’s Mass Day”), when the wheat harvest reminded Anglo-Saxons that the “lord” was the “bread-guardian” and the “lady” was the “bread-kneader” (193). For Michaelmas on September 29, Michael was a “psychopomp” (a new word for me) “who guided souls to the afterlife and the bearer of the scales of divine justice” (206). In other words, Michael, like the laborers who honored him during this season, was a harvester.
Unlike the Celts who turned their Samhain into All Hallows’ Eve on October 31, the Anglo-Saxons preferred Hallowmas Day on November 1, “which reflected a profound devotion to the saints which was as deeply felt in Anglo-Saxon England as it was anywhere in the medieval church [sic]” (221). “To believe in the saints,” Parker writes, “was to be part of a vast community, a fellowship that encompassed the living and the dead in one” (ibid).
Parker is also good at debunking myths about the Anglo-Saxon appropriation of Christianity. Contrary to popular belief, no literature from the period mentions the Easter bunny or Easter eggs. Eggs are not linked to Easter until the late Middle Ages (after the Norman conquest in 1066), and references to hares and rabbits are much later (126).
Winters in the World is enlightening and entertaining. It is a reminder of the universality of the Gospel, and a testimony to the power of the Gospel to inform, enrich, and transform every people, tribe, and tongue. Would that all evangelizations were so successful.

This review first appeared in  Antiphon: A Journal for Liturgical Renewal 27:2 (2023), pp. 270-273. Many thanks to its editors for allowing its publication here.

Tenebrae 2024 Photopost (Part 1)

Marching on into the Triduum, here is the first set of photos of Tenebrae services. As always, there is always room and time for more, so please feel free to send yours in to, and don’t forget to include the name and location of the church; and of course, our thanks to all the contributors - feliciter!

St Mary’s Oratory – Wausau, Wisconsin (ICRSS)
Tenebrae of Holy Thursday

Thursday, April 11, 2024

The Newly Restored Façade of Trinità dei Pellegrini in Rome

Thanks to our dear friend Agnese Bazzucchi, the Roman Pilgrim, for sharing with us these pictures of the newly restored façade of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, the Fraternity of St Peter’s church in Rome. It was fully uncovered earlier today after a restoration project of several months’ duration. Felicissime!

In addition to basic repairs, the restoration also cleared off a layer of brown-ochre plaster which was added to the building in the 19th or early 20th century. (There was a major vogue for this at the time, and a lot of buildings in Rome especially, but also in many other parts of Italy, have been returned to their original appearance by removing these layers of colored plaster.) In the first photo above, you can see what the former color was like on the building next door; likewise, in these photo from a 2015 post about the splendid Corpus Christi procession which the church has every year.

Ambrosian Music for Eastertide

Here are three very nice pieces of Ambrosian chant for the Paschal season, sung by the Gruppo di Canto Ambrosiano (Ambrosian chant group) conducted by maestro Luigi Benedetti.

The first is the Confractorium of Low Sunday, the variable chant sung during the Fraction, which in the Ambrosian Mass takes place immediately after the Canon, before the Lord’s Prayer. “Rising, Jesus our Lord stood in the midst of His disciples and said, ‘Peace be with you, alleluia.’ The disciples rejoiced when they had seen the Lord, alleluia.”

The second and third pieces are both Transitoria, the equivalent of the Roman Communion antiphon, but generally rather longer, and very often not taken from the Scriptures. The former is one of a series of twelve sung in rotation on the Sundays after Pentecost, also sung on the Fifth Sunday after Easter; the latter is that of Easter Sunday, and has a particularly beautiful text very much reminiscent of the Eastern liturgies. “Let us love one another, for God is love, and he that loveth his brother, is born of God, and seeth God, and in this the love of God is made perfect; and he that doth the will of God abideth forever, alleluia.

“Come, o ye peoples: the sacred, immortal and pure mystery is to be treated with reverence and faith. Let us come forth with clean hands, let us share the gift of penance; for the Lamb of God has been set forth as a sacrifice to the Father for our sake. Let us adore Him alone, let us glorify Him, crying out with the Angels, Alleluia, alleluia.”

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Palm Sunday 2024 Photopost (Part 4)

This post concludes the Palm Sunday part of the this year’s series of Holy Week photoposts, and as always, we want to thank all the contributors for sharing these beautiful pictures with us. We will start in with the Triduum soon, and there is always room for more (we just got a large batch of Tenebrae photos yesterday), so please feel to send in yours to, and don’t forget to include the name and location of the church. We wish you all most blessed and peaceful Eastertide!

Church of St Aloysius Gonzaga – Oxford, England (Oratorian Fathers)
Photo taken by Fr Lawrence Lew on Holy Monday
Notre Dame de Lourdes – Libreville, Gabon (ICRSS)
Yes, of course, tradition will always be for the young!

The Exsultet, The Happy Fault, and the Queen of Heaven: Guest Article by Robert Keim

Robert W. Keim is a secular brother of the London Oratory of St. Philip Neri, a linguist, and a literary scholar specializing in the poetic and dramatic literature of the English Renaissance. A longtime student of the arts and spirituality of sacred liturgy, he teaches university courses in rhetoric and is pursuing research into the devotional, scriptural, and liturgical culture of medieval England. We are grateful to him for sharing this article with us.

Roman rite Catholics recently had their once-per-year opportunity to savor the praeconium paschale, an ancient liturgical hymn known in English as the Easter Proclamation and commonly referred to by its supremely fitting first word: exsultet, [1]  “let (the angelic host of the heavens) rejoice.” Chanted by the deacon during the liturgy of Holy Saturday, the Exsultet is a poetic masterpiece that fills the opening moments of the Easter vigil with mystical pathos and brings key paschal motifs—luminosity, deliverance, communal joy—into glorious relief.

A chant setting of the Exsultet from a late-fourteenth-century book of epistle and Gospel readings (Epistolarium et Evangeliarium, Lübeck Municipal Library, MS theol. lat. 2° 5, folio 91 recto ).
O Necessarium Peccatum...
Originally one among various prayers with which western European rites celebrated the lighting of the paschal candle, the Exsultet dates to the fourth or fifth century and came to Rome with the Gelasian sacramentaries. It appears to have been influenced by the thought of St. Ambrose, and it may have been composed by him. As we see in other early Christian writings (and in Holy Scripture), the Exsultet draws much poetic and spiritual energy from the eloquent pairing of opposites that rhetoricians call antithesis. The antithesis of light and darkness is especially prominent and informs the entire hymn; the following examples are from the opening and concluding sections of the text:
Let the earth also rejoice, illumined by such brightness: and, enlightened with the splendor of the eternal King, may it know that the darkness of all the world has been dispersed.
We pray Thee, therefore, O Lord: that this candle, consecrated unto the honor of Thy Name, to destroy the darkness of this night, may unfailingly endure.
The Easter Proclamation treats of another antithetical relation—namely, the mysterious kinship of Adam’s ruin and Christ’s Redemption—that culminates in our most well-known formulation of a famous theological paradox: O felix culpa..., “O happy fault, that deserved to have such and so great a Redeemer!” Holy Church is bold indeed to speak thus of Original Sin, which the Exsultet describes also as the “truly necessary sin of Adam.” [2]  But lovers tend to be bold in their use of language, and so do poets, and since the Church is both a lover and a poet, we should not be too surprised. Theologians, however, must be more circumspect, and indeed, the metaphysical implications of a “happy,” “fortunate,” or “fruitful” sin—all of these meanings are possible with Latin felix—have long been controversial:
Augustine was ambivalent about the idea, while other church fathers opposed it or maintained a discreet silence. In fact, the felix culpa verse was contested and at times even stricken from the liturgy. It does not appear in the influential Romano-German Pontifical (tenth century), and Abbot Hugh of Cluny (d. 1109) purged the offending sentences from the Cluniac Easter rite. [3]
Thankfully, the felix culpa survived and is still with us, returning every Easter to supply the overly analytical modern mind with some much-needed paradoxicality. And though it is sufficiently sublime to regard a disastrous transgression as “necessary” because it occasioned the Incarnation and salvific death of our dear Lord, the piety of the Middle Ages saw fit to exalt also Our Lady as the cherished fruit of Adam’s fateful yet fertile sin.
Folio 93 verso in the manuscript mentioned above, which proceeds directly from ut servum redimeres, filium tradidisti to O (vere) beata nox, quae sola meruit scire tempus et horam. In other words, the references to Adam’s “necessary sin” and “happy fault” were omitted.
Adam, the Apple, and “Heuene Qwen”
The early-fifteenth-century Middle English poem “Adam lay ibowndyn” is found, along with verse of a much less edifying nature, in an artifact known as Sloane Manuscript 2593.
The poem “Adam lay ibowndyn” begins on folio 11 recto, under the first horizontal line, in MS Sloan 2593. Image courtesy of the British Library.
Dr. Kathleen Palti transcribed the text as follows:
   Adam lay ibowndyn bowndyn in a bond
   fowr’ þowsand wynter þowt he not to long
   And al was for an appil An appil þat he tok
   as clerkis fyndyn wretyn in her’ book
   Ne hadde þe appil take ben þe appil taken ben
   ne hadde neuer our lady a ben heuene qwen
   Blyssid be þe tyme þat appil take was
   þerfor’ we mown syngyn deo gracia
Below is a rendering in quasi-modern English.
   Adam lay bound, bound in a bond,
   four thousand winters thought he not too long;
   and all was for an apple, an apple that he took,
   as clerics find written in their book.
   Had not the apple taken been, the apple taken been,
   nor had never our lady been the queen of heaven.
   Blessed be the time that apple taken was,
   therefore we can sing, “Deo gratias.”
When I first came across this otherwise unremarkable specimen of late medieval religious poetry, I had never seen a literary or liturgical text that explicitly connects the celestial reign of the holy Virgin to the felix culpa. It turns out that this theme is not unique to “Adam lay ibowndyn,” but it is perhaps uniquely memorable and touching when encountered in such a homely and heartfelt expression of western European folk piety. And though the text is clearly the work of an unpretentious poet, the rhetorical craftsmanship may be more refined than it initially appears: the author specifically celebrates the coronation of Mary; this event carried a sense of finality and completion because in the mystical chronology of Catholic devotional practice, it was subsequent to the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the descent of the Holy Ghost. [4] The queenship of Our Lady thus functions as a synecdoche for all the glorious moments that followed the seminal triumph of Good Friday, and perhaps even for the glorious totality of salvation history.
A fifteenth-century illumination depicting the coronation of Mary. Ink, tempera, and gold on vellum; image courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.
The folk theology of “Adam lay ibowndyn” is a lovely complement to the profound liturgical theology of the Church’s praeconium paschale. The readings and ceremonies of the Easter vigil, which are utterly preoccupied with Christ’s momentous and long-awaited victory over sin and death, do not lead us directly into reflections on Our Lady’s role in the paschal mysteries. Thus, I am grateful for the work of an anonymous English poet who reminds me that Adam’s necessarium peccatum brought Mary of Nazareth into my life—O happy fault, that gave us so great a Queen and Mother!
The Marian inflection of the felix culpa also reminds us to honor Our Lady’s subtle presence in the Exsultet. The hymn’s affection for bees [5]  is somewhat curious until we recognize that these favored creatures, whose virginal labors produced the paschal candle, beautifully symbolize the virgin Mother of Him who, as a pillar of fire, led the Hebrews out of bondage: “And now we know the praises of this pillar, which the glowing fire enkindles unto the glory of God.... It is nourished by the melting wax, which the mother bee brought forth for the substance of this precious lamp.”
The Modern Life of a Medieval Poem
Certain works of art have a mysterious ability to survive the ravages of time. The author of “Adam lay ibowndyn” could never have dreamed that this short, simple, vernacular poem would—some five hundred years in the future—inspire several choral compositions and even reach the status of a paraliturgical text. But this is precisely what has occurred, and I myself heard the poem sung by a professional choir as part of a solemn musical oratory of Advent. It was a delightful experience, and I would be even more delighted to hear a fine polyphonic setting of “Adam lay ibowndyn” during this sacred and joyous tide of Easter.
[1] As with other Latin words in which an initial S is preceded by the prefix ex- (e.g., exspiro, exstasis, exsurgo), exsultet can also be spelled exultet (expiro, extasis, exurgo). The available evidence suggests that the exs- spelling was preferred in the classical period.
[2] The complete locution is “O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod Christi morte deletum est! - O surely necessary sin of Adam, which has been blotted out by the death of Christ!” The notion of a necessary sin is, from a strict theological perspective, highly problematic. Some scholars have argued that, despite the apparent similarity, “necessary” may not be the intended meaning of necessarium. The only proposed alternative that I find plausible is “unavoidable.”
[3] Barbara Newman, Medieval Crossover: Reading the Secular against the Sacred (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), 14.
[4] In the York cycle of mystery plays, for example, the coronation of Mary was dramatized in the second-to-last play; the last was “The Judgment Day.”
[5] This affection is more conspicuous and emphatic in pre-sixteenth-century texts of the Exsultet, which included an additional section that praised bees as “truly blessed and wonderful” and explicitly mentioned their symbolic connection to the Virgin Mary.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Palm Sunday 2024 Photopost (Part 3)

Hoping to do some justice to the large number of beautiful photos we have received, I have decided to split those that remain from Palm Sunday into two posts, before we move on to the Triduum and Easter Sunday. But of course, we can always make is always room for more, so please feel free to send in images of your Holy Week and Easter liturgies to Don’t forget to include the name and location of the church, and another information which you think important, and keep up the good work of evangelizing through beauty!

Cathedral of St Demetrius the Great-Martyr – Piana degli Albanesi, Sicily
Palm Sunday procession of the Italo-Albanian community of the Byzantine Rite.

Sarum Use Vespers and Liturgical Art – Heaven on Earth

Some NLM readers will already be aware of the Sarum Use Vespers and Benediction that took place on March 1 at the Princeton University Chapel. Here, I present an account of a talk I gave before the event about the art used in the ceremony, which was commissioned especially for the occasion, explaining the choice of content and style, and how it harmonises with the activity of worship.  

I don’t think I have ever seen a more complete harmony of words, music, art, architecture, and action in the liturgy. The music by 16th-century English composers Thomas Tallis and Robert White was sung magnificently by Gabriel Crouch and the Gallicantus early music group. The spectacular Magnificat by White can be heard at the 39-minute mark in the video below, which I give you now in case you missed it the first time. 

The second video is of the three short talks given before the service. The first, by James Griffin of the Durandus Institute, explained the history of the Sarum Use. I gave the second one about sacred art as a part of worship. In my capacity as Artist-in-Residence of the Scala Foundation - a co-sponsor of the event - I was invited to choose the art which was commissioned especially for this occasion. The third was by Gabriel Crouch, the Director of Choral Activities at Princeton University and the Musical Director of the choir Gallicantus, who spoke about the history of music and its composers. 

Peter Carter, who founded The Catholic Sacred Music Project and is the music director for The Aquinas Institute at Princeton University, was a strong driving force behind the evening. In large part, thanks to his vision and hard work, an estimated 1,000 people attended this incredible event at the Princeton University Chapel, built in the 1930s. I wonder whether so many people have ever knelt in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in this magnificent space. Here is the video of Vespers and Benediction.
...and here is the video of the talks...
The following is what I prepared prior to the occasion, and is a combination of what I said and what appeared in the program:
Choosing Contemporary Art for Sarum Use Vespers Today
St Chad and the Holy Face of Christ were painted by a young artist named Ander Scharbach (, from Baltimore, Maryland. The Crucifixion and the Mother of God are painted by an established artist, Ioana Belcea (, based in Princeton, New Jersey. Their work is for sale, and they take commissions.

St Chad by Ander Scharbach
The Crucifixion and St Chad were painted especially for this occasion. Each artist was asked to draw personal inspiration from the English Gothic style of the 13th century School of St Albans, a period when the Sarum Use Liturgy was at its height. This tradition of sacred art is characterized by the description of form with the elegant flow of line, a limited palette with muted colour, and by having ornate, patterned borders.

The results are contemporary yet traditional. No artist would have painted like this in 13th-century England. Still, everyone in 13th-century England would have been able to relate to the images every bit as much as the worshipers in 21st-century America, who excitedly mobbed the artists after the Vespers were over, to ask about the beautiful icons they had seen. This is because the art conforms to traditional principles of liturgical art, which are universal.

Crucifixion by Ioana Belcea, based on the 12th century Winchester Psalter
Sacred art shows us what we do not see with our eyes in the here and now. It portrays the saints and angels praying with us in heaven eternally. It illuminates the truths behind the actions of the liturgy and focuses our attention on what is important at any given time in the course of our worship.

There is a reason that we follow tradition. The art we chose conforms to a style developed gradually over generations and centuries, going back to the early Church, to fulfil its purpose well, which is to aid us in a deep participation in the worship of God. How would one measure such a thing? It is not primarily by whether people like it, or how we respond emotionally. Instead, the Church, in her wisdom, observes the fruits of that worship. Does the art incline people to go out and serve the Lord and love our neighbors as ourselves? Does it lead to lives of greater virtue? While we always hope that all will like the art and wonder at its beauty, there are other goals than this. The purpose of this art is to influence the lives of Christian worshipers so that they become better Christians. Getting this right takes patience and careful observation of many iterations of style and so once we get it right we mess with traditional forms at our peril. If we arbitrarily change things for no good reason, we are playing with people’s souls.

The sanctuary and altar, with the images forming a temporary rood screen,
in the traditional pre-Reformation Catholic manner
The choice of images
Following tradition, we have placed three images at the core of our schema today. Together, they symbolize the broad themes of salvation history and the mysteries of the Faith made present every time we worship God. In addition, we have added St Chad of Mercia (died A.D. 672), the great evangelist of western England and the Midlands, whom we remember today. May we imitate his Christian faith and good works in our lives.

The three core images are:On the left: the Mother of God with her Son. This image symbolizes the life of the historical Jesus and his human nature, which he received from Mary, and we share with Him.
Center: the suffering Christ on the cross. This image portrays the sacrifice he made for us, his suffering, and his death. It reminds us of our spiritual deaths in baptism. This image gives meaning to our suffering in this life, particularly when placed next to the image of the Risen Christ because it reinforces the message that there is always hope in the Resurrection. Christian hope transcends suffering just as the Light overcomes the darkness.

Right: the Holy Face of the Risen Christ in Glory. The halo of supernatural, uncreated light around his head is prominent, constituting the whole background, which is commonly considered ‘negative’ space but here becomes heavenly ‘positive’ space. This tells us visually that we are looking at a heavenly vision of the Saviour. This image speaks of his Resurrection and victory over death, by death. Through the Church, we ‘put on Christ’ (to use St Paul’s words) and rise with him supernaturally, partaking of the divine nature through participation in the sacraments of confirmation and communion.

We are all people loved by God. Each human life is a unique story that simultaneously and paradoxically mirrors the pattern of the life of Christ and the pattern of the whole of salvation history, the story of the people of God. We share in the life, the suffering, the death of Christ and, as Christians, in His resurrection, partaking in the divine nature. This is a supernatural transformation, a great gift, and is our joy as Christians in this life and the next.

Gabriel Crouch and Gallicantus are on the left
How to pray with the sacred art
The worship of God, which we are participating in at Vespers, is the worship of the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. Scripture tells us that the Son is the image of the Father, and no one comes to the Father except through the Son. Accordingly, it is a traditional practice to pray to the Father through the Son, who is the image of the Father. This establishes the legitimate principle of praying to a person through their image.

So, each time a prayer is addressed to the Father, let the Holy Spirit draw you in and pray to the Father through the image of Christ. Look at the face in the image and imagine you are speaking to him as he stands before you.

We can use the image of the Son to pray directly to both the Son a much as the Father. So, each time a prayer is addressed to the Son, again, turn to the image and pray to Him through the image. Similarly, each time a prayer is addressed to Mary or St. Chad or is invoking their memory, turn and face their holy icons as the words are sung or recited.

The Magnificat, which the Church sings at every Vespers, is the great hymn of Mary taken from the Gospel of Luke. At this moment, we pray with her, using her words as recounted in Scripture, and it is appropriate to look at Mary’s image when we do so. All the images are incensed during the singing of the Magnificat to draw our attention to them at this heightened moment of prayer.

The censing of the images during the Magnificat
We do not pray to or worship the image itself, as that would be idolatry. Rather, when we pray to anyone other than God, such as Mary or St. Chad, we ask them to join in our prayers and to intercede to God for us, just as we might ask any friend or family member to pray for us.

St Augustine said famously that those who sing their prayers pray twice. In this Vespers, our prayer is not simply two-fold, but multi-faceted: music, art, and incense engage the senses, helping to direct the posture, intellect and will. The heart is the human center of gravity, so to speak, the place where we are, as a person at any moment – the vector sum of our thoughts, feelings and actions. The hope is always that through this multi-faceted engagement, we raise up our hearts to the Lord.

The beauty of the art, the architecture and the music participates in the beauty of the cosmos, which bears the thumbprint of the Creator. This transforming beauty harmonises with the poetic language of the psalms, and of the hymns and the prayers of the liturgy so that the worship stimulates our spiritual imaginations and impresses the pattern of Christ upon our souls. Then we go out and contribute, gracefully and beautifully, in all that we do to the pattern of human life in society. By this, we establish once more a beautiful culture that, like the cosmos, bears the mark of Christ, who did not create it directly but inspired its creation by people.

The Scala Foundation has a mission of transforming American and, hence, Western culture through beauty in education and worship so that we are formed by grace to change society, one personal relationship at a time. To the degree that each of us contributes to this ideal, we will help to create culture of beauty that speaks of the Christian Faith and Western values.

Some may wonder how much an ancient English liturgy such as this might be relevant to Americans in Princeton today. The answer is: a great deal! The American nation emerged out of English culture and the values it incarnated and which were formed by its pre-Reformation liturgy and faith, primarily the Sarum Use of the Roman Rite. It is a truth that worship is the wellspring of culture. These values of English culture were preserved in America subsequently through the liturgical cousins and liturgical descendants of the Sarum Use, and their associated churches formed by them. These are as well as the Catholic Church, the Anglican, Episcopalian and all Christian churches which routinely sang the psalms especially those that used the psalter from the Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer developed directly from the Sarum liturgy.

The practice of praying the psalms can, it occurs to me, be a principle of unity for the American nation today. I speak with such hope, and as one who was born and grew up in England and recently became an American citizen. The hope is that the beauty and the dignity of the worship we participate in tonight, may be simultaneously grounding and elevating for us.

On the one hand, it will establish in us in the desire for humble prayer in the home that mirrors, in spirit at least, tonight’s Vespers. We can pray the psalms in the domestic Church. We may not be able to match the great skill and sublime beauty of this occasion, but in our own humble way, we can daily participate in the ideal it presents. This grounding, humble prayer can be elevating in that it inclines us to cooperated with grace and inspire us in our daily activities, contributing to a noble and accesible culture of beauty. Humble prayer and high culture! That is the motto we bring to you.

Tonight we can raise our hearts to heaven in yet another way. It is a participation in something yet more beautiful, the heavenly liturgy in which the saints and angels worship God, who is Beauty itself. This is our destiny as Christians. Every time there is a pause in the singing, you will hear a faint echo enriched by harmonics and resonance created by the acoustics of the majestic gothic architecture of Princeton University Chapel. At these moments, imagine that the angels and saints singing with us in heaven and worshiping God in the perpetual heavenly liturgy are whispering in your ear, urging you to join in with their worship, in which they accept the love of God and return it to Him in the perpetual song of praise.

I pray that we may all be inspired to pray humbly and to love God and our neighbor.

The celebrants and 1,000 people were on their knees before the Blessed Sacrament during Benediction. I wonder if Princeton University Chapel – built for Presbyterians – has ever seen this before.

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