Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Blast from the Past: The 50th Anniversary of Cardinal Villot’s Letter to Cardinal Siri on Sacred Music

The choice before us
Those who specialize in liturgy will often find themselves picking up a doorstopper of a book called Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979. If you ever want to know what bureaucracy and overly enthusiastic reformism looks like, make sure you weight-lift this 1,500-page tome and flip through its contents: it is probably the best way to get a vicarious sense of how much was being constantly put up for discussion, questioned, changed, and changed again in the period of years covered in the book.

That is all by way of preface. I happened to notice the other day a letter written by the then-Secretary of State, Cardinal J. Villot, to Cardinal G. Siri of Genoa, on the occasion of a national meeting on sacred music in Genoa, Italy, 26-30 September 1973... exactly 50 years ago.

Let’s have a look at what this letter (DOL n. 521, pp. 1325-26) was saying, and how infinitely remote it was from the conditions on the ground, at that time or for many decades to come.
We must avoid and bar from liturgical celebrations profane types of music, particularly singing with a style so agitated, intrusive, and raucous that it would disturb the serenity of the service and would be incompatible with its spiritual, sanctifying purposes. A broad field is thus opened for pastoral initiative, the effort, namely, of leading the faithful to participate with voice and song in the rites, while at the same time protecting these rites from the invasion of noise, poor taste, and desacralization. Instead there must be encouragement of the kind of sacred music that helps to raise the mind to God and that through the devout singing of God’s praises helps to provide a foretaste of the liturgy of heaven.
          Pope Paul VI therefore invites all composers of sacred music to devote themselves completely to supplying music for the Church’s liturgy that is truly alive and contemporary, yet without disregarding the ancient heritage, as a source of inspiration, enlightenment, and direction. The liturgical reform still in progress offers to composers “an opportunity to test their own abilities, their inventiveness, their pastoral zeal” (Address to Cecilians, 24 September 1972); the reform initiates “a new epoch for sacred music” (General Audience, 22 August 1973). The Church awaits a new springtime in the art of sacred music that will also interpret the ritual texts in their vernacular versions.
          It remains Pope Paul’s firm expectation that Gregorian chant will be preserved and performed in monasteries, religious houses, and seminaries as a privileged form of sung prayer and as an element of the highest cultural and instructional value. He notes the many requests worldwide to preserve the Latin, Gregorian singing of the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster, and Agnus Dei. The Pope again recommends, therefore, that every appropriate measure be taken to transform this desire into fact and that these ancient melodies be treasured as the voice of the universal Church and continue to be sung as expressions and demonstrations of the unity existing throughout the ecclesial community.
Fine sentiments, dashed hopes, empty encouragements, and a wasteland instead of a new springtime. This is the legacy of Paul VI.

Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s Substack “Tradition & Sanity”; personal site; composer site; publishing house Os Justi Press and YouTube, SoundCloud, and Spotify pages.

The Art of Virtue and the Virtue of Art

This is the foreword to The Shape of the Artistic Mind, by Fr Bradley T. Elliot, OP, recently published by Pontifex University Press on September 6. It is written by Margarita Mooney Clayton.

What is art for? For many, the answer is that art is simply for self-expression or for enjoyment. Listening to music is pleasing (who chooses to listen to ambulance sirens?) Anyone who appreciates art can see that a Picasso is not a Rembrandt—the imprint of each artist is distinct.

What is moral virtue for? Moral virtue is a means of human perfection. Moral virtue is doing good; moral virtue requires effort, perhaps sacrificing something short-term for a longer-term material or spiritual benefit. 

The idea that art is related to moral virtue will strike many as quite odd. Art, understood as self-expression or enjoyment, is a spontaneous realm apart from the calculating, choosing, and sacrificing of virtue. Art as self-expression or enjoyment must therefore allow for total freedom to explore one’s desires; by contrast, the hard-won perfection of moral virtue requires restraint and discipline.

Modern Romantic notions of art have emphasized the subjectivity of human creativity, purportedly to free human instincts in order to reach their fulfillment. But by separating art from reason, Romanticism opened the way for what we see today: much of the art produced today is kitsch—excessively sentimental—or transgressive (seeking to shock or produce outrage).

Catholic kitsch: prayer cards from the 20th century
But in his book The Shape of the Artistic Mind,,  Fr. Brad Elliott, O.P., provides a crucial philosophical grounding that will connect art back to moral virtue. Re-thinking the relationship between art and virtue leads to very different answers to the questions: What is art for? What is moral virtue for?

Through a thorough review of Thomistic principles, Elliott moves from considerations about art as an imitation of God’s creation to art as a virtuous participation in God’s governance. For Elliott, both art and moral virtue are ways that humans imitate God; by imitating God, we therefore participate in His governance, as he draws all things back to Himself. To some finite degree, all creation, from small living organisms like molecules to inanimate things like stones, participate in God’s being. But Elliott emphasizes that only the rational human person participates in God's governance through the activity of acting and making.

By bringing new things into being, humans co-create with God. Apart from virtue, the power to bring new things into being will be disordered. As he writes, “art and morality are merely two aspects of man’s participation in the reason and creativity of God.” Hence, art seen as a practical virtue extends God’s governance over creation. Humans move towards their proper ends, contribute to their own governance, through co-creation with God.

Elliott contrasts this view with Plato, for whom human creativity could only ever represent a shadow of the ultimate reality. For Plato, no human advancement in knowledge or art could ever get us out of the cave—we are forever seeing only shadows of reality.

By contrast, Elliott explains that our rationality is not purely speculative or abstract. Rather, the human person has the unique capacity to take an idea and impress it upon the external world, making what we create something that shares in the spark of God’s reason. As he explains, building on St. Thomas Aquinas, Etienne Gilson and other Catholic thinkers, “by learning to imitate nature and her laws through skill or craft, the human intellect is also learning to imitate the Divine creator… Simply put; God, nature, human intellect, and art all relate by a mysterious pattern of imitation spanning the whole range of the cosmos.”

By emphasizing the intellect as a commonality between art and moral virtue, Elliott does not dis-regard human enjoyment or self-expression. The problem is that not all things that humans create, think, or do are good. If we are fallen and wounded creatures, why would we magically expect all art to be morally good? And why do so many people seem to think that there is no objectivity in what we enjoy or how we express ourselves?

Elliott’s Christian anthropology—his understanding of who we are as humans—underlies his entire argument. Human beings are a unity of body and soul; we have the capacity to make things and to contemplate. Elliott brilliantly describes how humans imitate God in a finite manner by bringing the outside world into the mind through contemplation and then going back out, perfecting things in art. As he writes:

“This bringing the outside world into the inside world terminating in the perfection of the inside, the intellect’s perfection of knowing, is the intrinsic operation of which St. Thomas speaks. By this action, the created intellect imitates God-as-artist in an unprecedented way, by imitating, in a finite manner, the oneness and unity of its creator…Art or craft is the mode by which the perfection of the inside world (the act of knowledge) impresses its likeness on the outside world; perfective action moving from the inside out.”

If moral virtue is imitating God’s goodness, and artistic creation is imitating God’s creation, then co-creating through art is one of the ways we participate in God’s governance. Art and moral virtue, thus, participating in God’s governance: using human freedom to direct our thinking and action towards their true ends.

Art understood as a practical virtue makes visible the invisible inner world of the human person and the goodness of God. By participating in God’s governance, art understood as a practical virtue contributes to the right ordering of creation.

St Joseph with Our Lord, by Georges De La Tour, French 17th century.
In spite of our woundedness as experienced in laziness, idle curiosity, and self-centeredness, we can grow in virtue through art. Elliott provocatively states that “it is the virtue of art that emerges as the supreme master coordinator between man’s internal and external worlds.” The very act of writing this short essay is an expression of art as a practical virtue: I’ve fought many distractions as I read and pondered Elliott’s words and crafted my own thoughts into words to share with readers.

Art is not moral as in a command about how to act, but art can “indirectly influence morals by providing an ‘aptness’ to act well.” Like books and articles which encapsulate ideas into form, the music, paintings, nature, we encounter are an invitation to contemplate God’s goodness. Focusing my attention to craft this article forms my inner life to be more apt in moral virtue. By co-creating with God, we imitate His goodness, participate in His governance, and bring more of creation into the divine unity.
St Bonaventure Receiving the Blessed Sacrament, by Francisco Herrera the Elder, Spanish, 17th century.

Margarita Mooney Clayton is founder and Executive Director of the Scala Foundation, a non-profit which has the mission of promoting beauty in education and the transformation of American culture.

Fr Bradley T. Elliot is a priest of the Western Dominican Province of the USA.

Monday, September 25, 2023

St. Jerome on Care for Churches and Reverence in Divine Worship

Fray José de Sigüenza (1544-1606)
In the run-up to the September 30th feast of the great Father and Doctor of the Church, St Jerome, it seems highly appropriate to share with a broad readership some fascinating material from a biography of the saint written in 1595 by Spanish monk Fray José de Sigüenza and published in English for the first time (it seems) in 1907 in London. A PDF of the entire book may be found here.

Book IV, discourses 1 and 2, speak of Jerome’s contributions to the Church’s liturgy. It must be born in mind that Fray José, like many authors of his era, simply assumes that customs which were universal in his time went back to the Patristic age. Thus he can speak of a chasuble which was believed to belong to the Saint, even though there were no such things as special vestments for the liturgy in his time. Likewise, there is no chain of custody to show the authenticity of his supposed chalice.Nonetheless, the rich quotations from Jerome’s works and the moral applications made by the learned author are certainly still relevant—at times, strikingly so, as when we read Jerome’s complaints about those who neglect the beauty of churches and the reverence that should be brought to divine worship.

I will publish these excerpts over the next couple of weeks. The notes are in the original text, but renumbered here for convenience.

The Life of St. Jerome
The Great Doctor of the Church
in Six Books

from the Original Spanish of The Reverend Father Fray José de Sigüenza
Professed Monk of the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo, Madrid

Translated by
Mariana Monteiro
London: Sands and Co., 1907

* * *
Book the Fourth.
Fifth Age—Manhood, Virility
Discourse the First
(pp. 259–70)
St. Jerome establishes the Order of Divine Worship in Rome, and draws up the Holy Ceremonies of the Church. He prescribes the “Alleluia” to be sung in the Roman Liturgy. [This part on the Alleluia will be published later this week. — PAK]

ALTHOUGH St. Jerome had so much occupation in Rome fulfilling the offices of cardinal and chancellor, nevertheless he so thoroughly discharged the duties relating to his sacred priesthood and ministry that it would seem he had naught else to attend to. I do not wish in this discourse to treat of those duties which related to him as Doctor of the Church, but only of those labours which, as a good priest, he fulfilled, leaving aside all others for future discourses. It seems impossible that one man could have attended to so much, and have done so many things with such thoroughness. I believe it was because, as his food was scanty, his allotted time for sleep so short, he had time for what would appear no time could be enough.

He said Mass very frequently, and with all the devotion and fervour which can be imagined in so saintly a soul. Our Lord during these performances gave him great lights for all things, and favoured him with many graces and favours, as His Divine Majesty is wont to do on behalf of such like servants of His, who, fully aware of what they are called to do, prepare first their soul, most earnestly awaiting the coming of so great a Bridegroom. And as the reverence for, and fear of, so much majesty absorbs their minds, turning their eyes to their own littleness and vileness, they empty themselves of all that they have within them, so that nothing should embarrass them, in order that such royal eyes be not offended and their capacity be not curtailed. Hence, when He enters these, He enriches them with His presence, and leaves them replete with His gifts. In this way do saints grow in grace; in this way are they made so great that, compared with them, the rest bear no proportion whatever; as the astrologers say that the earth bears no comparison with the heavens, similarly do these men of heaven bear an immeasurable advantage to worldly ones. This kept our saint in a continual guard in all things—custody of the eyes, great prudence and consideration in his words, his intercourse and conversation. He feared lest there should enter in by these windows, unless well guarded, what in the time of need would suffice to close the gates to the coming of God. Thus did he himself express it in the Epitaph of Marcella: “I proceeded with great modesty in my eyes, in order not to look on the Roman matrons.” [1]

It is a very difficult matter that the images of things seen which remain impressed in the soul, should not obstruct or intervene at the time when the priest needs to be gazing so closely upon Christ; and it is a great deceit and dangerous presumption to trust to one’s self, and make so little account of God, as to think that He will establish in them His dwelling, and work the effects which from His corporeal presence is assumed, they themselves doing nothing on their part to warrant such a hope; for they have thought it of small moment that the dwelling should be well guarded and prepared for His coming, nor even when He is within (which is worse) do they linger a moment to thank Him for His coming, nor to ask of Him those mercies which they might have obtained by some of these efforts.

And the truth of all this is apparent to many of us; for, after many years’ enjoyment of these great benefits, we find ourselves buried in the deepest poverty. Nor can I persuade myself that so great a treasure, if it were within, could possibly remain so concealed that it should of itself afford so few or no proofs of its dwelling there. It is impossible that a bright fire, so many times multiplied, should not warm and shed its radiance on all objects around—that so brilliant a light should not diffuse a reflection, for this is its principal effect, and the sun itself does not wish to be obscured, but that it should be seen by its works and effects, and glory be given to the Father of the light which is in the heavens, and be declared, “This is the chaste generation which the Lord has blessed.”

This was seen in St. Jerome, who came forth from that sacred banquet “like a lion darting gleams of fire from his mouth” (for thus does St. Chrysostom declare of good communicants), turning for the divine honour, appalling to devils, unbearable to the bad. [2] In memory of this and as most precious relics and of great esteem does the city of Rome preserve the chalice in which St. Jerome consecrated, and it is shown to the people with great reverence, together with the chasuble which he wore. Perchance this may be the same chasuble which was sent to him by his great friend Nepotian, nephew of Heliodorus, when at the point of death, as a precious legacy in proof of his friendship. The saint himself says in the epitaph which he subsequently wrote upon him, and dedicated to the said uncle:
Tears are coursing down my cheeks, and despite that I wish to resist them with the Spirit, I cannot disguise the sorrow I feel. Who would have thought that Nepotian, placed at the point of death, should have remembered my friendship? and that his soul, being in agony, should not have forgotten the sweetness of our desire? And taking the hand of his uncle, he said: ‘This chasuble which I used in the holy ministry of the altar of Christ, send it to my beloved, in age my father, and in office my brother, and by all the affection that you bear to your nephew, pass it on to him whom you love on an equality with me.’ Saying these words he swooned away, grasping the hand of his uncle and bearing me in his memory. [3]
He was in an extreme manner tender towards his friends; and it seemed as friend after friend departed, that he himself expired with each, and their memory was always present with him.
The chasuble said to have been St Jerome’s
He was skillful in handling all things that were under his care and that appertained to the divine worship, keeping them all scrupulously clean. He considered that the church was the palace of the most exalted of kings, and the table that of the greatest of lords. He well knew the respect described in the Old Testament for the holy of holies, which was no more than the shadow of these present things, and he judged that all diligence was all too little. He could not endure those who on this point were careless and without decorum, and therefore to the contrary he experienced great delight when he found anyone who excelled in these matters; he greatly admired this same priest Nepotian for this quality of circumspection and carefulness in his office.

In the same Epistle [4] he says, a little above:
In comparison to what we have said little can I add; but in small things is made manifest the inclination and the spirit. Because in the same manner as we judge the Creator admirable, not only in the heavens and on the earth, in the sun and in the ocean, in the elephant, camel, horses, buffaloes, tigers, bears, and lions, so also in the smaller form of the animal kingdom—such as the ant, the fly, the caterpillar, and insects and grubs, which we know better by their foms than by their names, and examining each we are struck with admiration and reverence at the skill of the Great Artificer, so also does the soul that is truly dedicated to Christ, careful of what is great and what is small, because it knows that even of one idle word it will have to give an account. Therefore he [Nepotian] was careful that the altar should be very clean, that there be no speck of dust on the walls, that the floor be well swept; the doorkeeper to assist at the doors and watch assiduously, that the tabernacle and sacristy be properly cleaned, the vessels thoroughly washed, and all the ceremonies performed with pious solicitude and diligence. He did not neglect either the greatest or the smallest office; and whenever you sought for him you would always find him in the church. The side chapels in the church, the sepulchres and altars of the martyrs, he would adorn with a variety of flowers, branches, the fresh green shoots of the vine, so that the whole was decorated with loving care and by the labour of his hands.
I have inserted this here, not only because in itself it breathes all that is fresh, beautiful, and comely, and that we may see what was the care and pious inclination our saint had towards all these things (which in truth was my purpose), but that in passing we should consider how impious are those [5] who reprehend all they see in the church of holy ceremonies and ornamentation, saying that all these things are novelties and of little fruit, whereas these have been in use from primitive ages, fostered and increased, and well established, and received, since the time of St. Jerome, down to the present time—even the smallest customs—a truth proved learnedly by those who have written treatises in defense of this truth against the monsters of these times [a reference to the Protestant ‘reformers’—PAK].

It is through St. Jerome being so particular and strict on the things appertaining to the Divine worship that it has resulted, as though by inheritance, that his Order and spiritual sons are distinguished by this same love of cleanliness and extreme care in the Divine service, and even so they consider themselves far behind what ought to be. It fosters devotion to witness the neatness and spotless cleanliness of the altars, sacristies, and temples of this Order; whilst it altogether destroys devotion to see the neglect of all these qualities in many places of worship, and in a matter where all care is insufficient; and it is a true inference what the interior life of the soul must be when the outside is thus neglected.

[1] Epist. 16
[2] Marianus, in Vita D. Hieronymi.
[3] Epist. 3, c. 6, ad Heliod.
[4] Epist. 3, ch. 5.
[5] Fere omnes haeretici a Vigilantio usque ad impium Kemnicium.

Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s Substack “Tradition & Sanity”; personal site; composer site; publishing house Os Justi Press and YouTube, SoundCloud, and Spotify pages.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Feast of St Thecla, First-Martyr Among Woman

In the Byzantine and Ambrosian Rites, today is the feast of the virgin and martyr St Thecla; in the Roman Rite, she is kept as a commemoration on the preceding day.

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Shesmax, CC BY-SA 3.0
Her story is told in a document known as the Acts of Paul and Thecla, generally dated to roughly 180 AD; the narration is often confused and disjointed, and I here give only a very basic summary of it. When St Paul went to Iconium (Acts 14, 1), he was received by a man named Onesiphorus, whose house (i.e. the community gathered in his house) is mentioned twice in II Timothy; in verse 3, 11, Paul also mentions “the persecutions and suffering such as I underwent at Antioch, Iconium and Lystra.” Inspired by his preaching particularly on the subject of virginity, one of the young women present, Thecla, determined not to marry the man to whom her parents had betrothed her, a nobleman called Thamyris. The latter, blaming Paul for his fiancée’s change of heart, hauled him before the city officials, who remanded the Apostle to prison. When Thecla visited Paul there, she was discovered by Thamyris, who then had them both brought before the governor of the city; Paul was scourged and expelled from Iconium, and Thecla condemned to be burnt alive.

As is so often the case, nature refused to cooperate with the persecutors of one of God’s Saints, and the fire was extinguished by a sudden rain. Thecla was then let go, and after finding Paul, accompanied him to Antioch, where she was assaulted by a powerful man named Alexander. For rebuffing his advances, she was twice condemned to the wild beasts, which on the first occasion refused to touch her; on the second, one of them, a lioness, defended her from the rest, and was herself killed in the process. The governor, impressed by this miracle, released her; she then went to find Paul again, catching up with him at Myra (later the see of St Nicholas). From there she returned to Iconium, and then went to Seleucia in Asia Minor, where she lived an ascetic life in a cave for 72 years.
The apse of the ruined church of St Thecla in Seleucia, built at the site of her cave by the Emperor Zeno ca. 475. (Image by Klaus-Peter Simon from Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License.)
During her time at Seleucia, she made many converts to the Faith, and performed many miraculous healings, which raised the ire of the local pagan physicians. They therefore plotted to assault her, but she was protected from them when the rock wall of her cave opened up to receive her, and closed when she had passed into it. The story ends here, and seems to imply that this was the manner of her death. Her tomb at Seleucia became an important pilgrimage site, and was seen there in the 4th century by St Gregory of Nazianzus and the pilgrim Egeria among others.
This document has often been attributed, at least in its inspiration, to an heretical sect of the later 2nd-century called the Encratites (“the continent”, or more accurately, “the self-controlling”), who completely rejected the use of marriage. It is true that when he is preaching at the house of Onesiphorus, St Paul is represented delivering a set of Beatitudes partly of his own devising which lay strong emphasis on virginity: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matt. 5, 8); blessed are they that have kept the flesh chaste, for they shall become a temple of God (1 Cor. 6, 18-19); blessed are they that control themselves, for God shall speak with them: … blessed are they that have wives as not having them, for they shall receive God for their portion (1 Cor. 7, 29) … blessed are the bodies of the virgins, for they shall be well pleasing to God, and shall not lose the reward of their chastity.” Shortly after this, Thecla’s mother, Theocleia, says to Thamyris, “(Paul) will overturn the city of the Iconians, and your Thecla too besides; for all the women and the young men go in beside him, being taught to fear God and to live in chastity.”
However, the Encratites taught that all sexual activity is intrinsically immoral, even within marriage, and that virginity or perfect continence are necessary for salvation. The “Beatitudes” given above do not say this, nor do they really stray from the words of Paul and Christ Himself in the canonical writings of the New Testament. In point of fact, the closest thing to the Encratite teaching within the story is not said by Paul or Thecla or the narrator, but rather by two characters called Demas and Hermogenes. These are described as “hypocrites” who are “jealous” of Paul, and attribute to him the belief that “(T)here is for you a resurrection in no other way, unless you remain chaste, and pollute not the flesh, but keep it chaste.” But of course, even these words can certainly be understood in a perfectly orthodox sense.
The Preaching of Ss Paul and Barnabas, by Giovanni Paolo Panini, 1744
At her second appearance in the arena with the wild beasts, Thecla baptizes herself by throwing herself into a ditch of water, saying “In the name of Jesus Christ I am baptized on my last day.” Later on, when she departs from Paul to return to Iconium, he says to her, “Go, and teach the word of God.” The first known reference to the Acts of Paul and Thecla is in the treatise On Baptism by Tertullian (cap. xvij in fine), who says that these episodes should not be used to justify women teaching and baptizing, since the document was forged by a priest in Asia Minor, who did this “out of love for Paul”, and having confessed to the forgery, was deposed from his office. St Jerome also refers to them as apocryphal, on the grounds that if they were not, St Luke would have included some mention of the episodes they narrate in the Acts (De viris illustr. 7); they are likewise rejected by a document of the 6th century known as the Gelasian Decree, which lists the books accepted and rejected by the Church.
Despite this diffidence towards the written account of her life, the Church’s tradition has accepted devotion to Thecla as a Saint. In a letter to one of his spiritual daughters, Jerome himself writes that on her death she will be received in heaven by the Virgin Mary, by Miriam, the sister of Moses, and by Thecla, who “shall fly with joy to embrace you.” (Ep. 22, ad Eustochium, cap. 41) St Ambrose, in his treatise On the Virgins (lib. II, 3, 19) also pairs Thecla with the Mother of God: “Let, then, holy Mary instruct you in the discipline of life, and Thecla teach you how to be offered (i.e. how to die), for she, avoiding nuptial intercourse, and condemned through her (would-be) husband’s rage, changed even the disposition of wild beasts by their reverence for virginity.” In his 14th sermon on the Song of Songs, St Gregory of Nyssa comments on the words “His lips are as lilies, dropping a rich myrrh” (5, 13) as follows: “(Myrrh) is contempt for this corporeal life … such myrrh did Paul pour forth from his mouth, mixed with the pure lily of temperance, into the ears of a holy virgin. This was Thecla, who, having nobly received these drops within her soul, mortified the outer man, and extinguished every carnal thought and desire.” (PG 44, 1067-68) Many other references might be adduced to the point.
St Thecla and the Wild Beats; relief probably made in Egypt n the 5th century, now at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons by R. Huggins, CC BY-SA 3.0)
There is no reason to be surprised at this. Modern scholars of hagiography have long recognized that there are many Saints whose written lives as they have come down to us are, either wholly or in part, not reliable historical documents, but who are nevertheless themselves indisputably real. In St Thecla’s case, we may rightly say that the Church simply recognized this about her a very long ago.
In the traditional Roman prayers for the dying, known as the “Commendation of a soul (to God)”, the last invocation is “And as Thou didst deliver Thy most blessed Virgin and Martyr Thecla from three most cruel torments, so may Thou deign to deliver the soul of this Thy servant, and cause him to rejoice with Thee in the goods of heaven.” Prior to the Tridentine reform, however, this was the only mention of her in the Roman liturgical books; although her feast was celebrated or commemorated almost everywhere else in Europe, in Italy, it was kept only at Milan. She was added to the Roman calendar as a commemoration on the feast of Pope St Linus on September 23, in the first liturgical book to be published after the council of Trent, the breviary issued by Pope St Pius V in 1568, followed two years later by his missal.
As with certain other Saints (Catherine of Alexandria, Gregory the Wonderworker, Timothy), the inclusion of Thecla on the Tridentine calendar is part of the Catholic Church’s answer to the ideas of the Protestants. Despite their supposed emphasis on the teachings of St Paul (whom Luther made the lens by which to read the rest of the Bible), the churches of the Reformation in practice rejected his teaching on virginity and continence from the very start, abolishing the discipline of clerical celibacy, and every form of monasticism or canonical life. This abolition in turn left no formal place at all for women in their institutional life. The figure of Thecla, a personal disciple of St Paul, therefore stands as a witness to the value of virginity, the apostolic origins of the Church’s teaching about it, and the importance of women in consecrated life as both leaders and teachers.
The Duomo of Milan as it stands today is the result of a project which began in 1386, to replace the two cathedrals which had hitherto served the see of St Ambrose. The “winter church” as it is still called in Ambrosian liturgical books, was the smaller of the two, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and used from the Third Sunday of October, the feast of its Dedication, until Holy Saturday; it stood where the modern cathedral stands, but was much smaller. The larger “summer church”, which was demolished in 1543, stood on the opposite end of the modern Piazza del Duomo; in the Carolingian period, it was endowed with a relic of St Thecla’s skull, and her name was added to its dedication. She is therefore included in the list of Saints in the Nobis quoque of the Ambrosian Mass; within the new church, a large altar is dedicated to her at the end of the left nave.
The altar of St Thecla in the Duomo of Milan, by Luigi Bisi, 1872
In the Byzantine Rite, Thecla is called a “Great Martyr”, the title of those who suffered many different torments, and “Equal to the Apostles.” The texts of her Office refers to her over 20 times as the “first martyr” or “first to contend”, not, of course, to the despite of St Stephen, but as the first among women. For this reason, in the preparation rite of the Divine Liturgy, she is named first among the female martyrs. At Vespers of her feast, one of the hymns sung during the major incensation of the church reads, “O Lord, though Thy chaste First-Martyr was given over to the fire, yet she was not burned up within it, having received Thee as a dewfall, and among the many wild beasts, she remained unassailed, protected by Thy hand, who art the Savior of our souls.”

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Torah and Haftarah in the Roman Liturgy (Part 2): The Ember Saturday of September

In the first part of this series, I described the Jewish liturgical custom of pairing readings from the Law of Moses (the Torah, as it is called in Hebrew) with readings from the Prophets called “haftaroth”, which are selected to match them thematically. I also described how this very ancient custom seems to have had an influence on some very ancient parts of the Roman lectionary, as evidenced by the choice of readings for the Ember Wednesdays of Lent and September. The Ember Days of September coincide with the period during which several important Jewish feasts may occur, and in the Masses of the Friday and Saturday, this influence is even more notable.

The first two of the five Scriptural readings on Saturday are taken from the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus. The first, verses 26-32, is about Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. “Upon the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the day of atonement, … a day of propitiation, that the Lord your God may be merciful unto you.” The second, verses 39-43, describes the feast of Tabernacles (“booths” in the King James translation, Sukkoth in Hebrew, which Yiddish-speakers pronounce “sukkus.”)

The celebration of the feast of Tabernacles: illustration from a Bible printed in the Dutch city of Dordrecht in 1682. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
“…when you shall have gathered in all the fruits of your land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord for seven days… and you shall dwell … in tabernacles, that your posterity may know, that I made the children of Israel to dwell in tabernacles, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” In fulfillment of this passage, observant Jews still keep this feast by “dwelling” in a temporary structure covered in palm branches outside their houses, i.e. at least taking their meals in it, but sometimes sleeping in it as well.
On the Sabbath before Yom Kippur, the haftarah reading is Hosea 14, 2-10, with a passage added to it at the end, either Joel 2 (11-27 or 15-27), or Micah 7, 18-20. (It is now a common custom to add them both, with Micah first.) At the afternoon service on Yom Kippur itself, the haftarah is the entire book of Jonah, with the same three verses of Micah appended, an especially appropriate choice for the Day of Atonement: “He will turn again, and have mercy on us: he will put away our iniquities, and he will cast all our sins into the bottom of the sea.”
In the Roman lectionary, the exact same passage from Hosea serves as the Mass epistle of the Ember Friday of September. The third reading of Ember Saturday is verses 14, 16 and 18-20 of Micah 7, a slightly longer version of the end of the Yom Kippur haftarah. It seems obvious that this cannot be a coincidence, and is intended as a way of Christianizing the ancient Jewish feast.
The Prophets Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Micah, Joel and Zachariah; mosaic in the dome of the parekklesion of the Pammakaristos Church in Constantinople, early 14th century. (The complex of which this side chapel is part served as the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople from 1456 to 1587. Image from Wikimedia Commons by Dosseman, CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Following the pattern that the third reading serves as a kind of haftarah for the first, the fourth does the same for the second, but here, the Roman lectionary departs from the Jewish tradition. The haftarah for the first day of Sukkoth is the whole last chapter of Zachariah (14, 1-21); the fourth reading of Ember Saturday, however, is chapter 8, 14-19 of the same book. This choice would seem to be motivated by the fact that the Ember Days are a period of fasting, rather than a feast like Sukkoth, which is here redesigned, so to speak. In fact, the first part of this passage is rather more consonant with the penitential spirit of Yom Kippur.
“As I purposed to afflict you, when your fathers had provoked me to wrath, saith the Lord, and I had no mercy: so turning again I have thought in these days to do good to the house of Juda, and Jerusalem: fear not.”
The last verse from Zachariah is especially interesting for its connection with the Ember Days.
“Thus saith the Lord of hosts: The fast [of the first month, and] of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Juda, joy, and gladness, and great solemnities: only love ye truth and peace.”
In the oldest Roman liturgical books, the Ember Days are not called “Quatuor Temporum – of the four times”, as they are in the Tridentine books. Those of Pentecost are called “the fast of the fourth month”, and those of September and December, “of the seventh” and “of the tenth month” respectively, according to the ancient Roman system in which March was originally the first month of the year. For this reason, several early epistle lectionaries add the words “the fast of the first month” (bracketed above) to the Biblical text, in order to include the Ember days of Lent.
The fourth prophecy of Ember Saturday of September, Zachariah 8, 14-19, in the so-called Lectionary of Alcuin, an epistolary of the 9th century whose contents represent the state of the Roman lectionary in the early 7th century. The words “jejunium primi” are in the 5th and 4th line from the bottom. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 9452; folio 99r, image cropped.)
The very end of the reading serves as the ferial chapter of Prime in the Roman Breviary, a reminder to continually cultivate the virtues which the Church seeks to instill in us by periods of fasting throughout the year.
In the oldest lectionaries of the Roman Rite, the fifth reading of Ember Saturday is not from Daniel 3 as it is now, but Exodus 32, 11-14.
“In those days, Moses prayed to the Lord his God, saying, ‘Why, O Lord, is thy indignation kindled against thy people, whom thou hast brought out of the land of Egypt, with great power, and with a mighty hand? Let not the Egyptians say, I beseech thee, “He craftily brought them out, that he might kill them in the mountains, and destroy them from the earth”; let thy anger cease, and be appeased upon the wickedness of thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou didst swear by thy own self, saying, “I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and this whole land that I have spoken of, I will give to your seed, and you shall possess it forever.” ’ And the Lord our God was appeased from doing the evil which he had spoken against his people.”
This reading is obviously intended to speak to the penitential character of the Ember days, but also refers to the feast of Tabernacles, which God instituted so that the “posterity” of the Jewish people, i.e., the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Israel which He swore to multiply, “may know, that (He) made the children of Israel to dwell in tabernacles, when (He) brought them out of the land of Egypt.”
The Tabernacle of the Covenant, represented in a cartouche on a map of the Holy Land made in Germany in 1720. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
The lesson from the Epistle to the Hebrews which follows it, chapter 9, 2-12, serves as a haftarah for this reading. It explains that the Tabernacle of the Covenant was divided into two parts. The first was the one into which “the priests indeed always entered, accomplishing the offices of sacrifices… but into the second, the high priest (entered) alone, once a year, not without blood, which he offereth for his own, and the people’s ignorance.” The latter part of this is the rite of Yom Kippur, described in detail in Leviticus 16.
In Exodus 25-30, Moses receives a detailed description of the Tabernacle, with its many furnishings and rites, during his forty days and nights on Mt Sinai. But while he is there, the Israelites rebel and begin to worship the golden calf; God therefore says to him, “Let me alone, that my wrath may be kindled against them, and that I may destroy them, and I will make of thee a great nation.” The reading given above from Exodus 32 is Moses’ reply to this, which stays God’s anger.
(The Offertory of the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, which comes from this same reading: “Precátus est Moyses in conspectu Dómini, Dei sui, et dixit: Quare, Dómine, irásceris in pópulo tuo? Parce irae ánimae tuae: memento Abraham, Isaac et Jacob, quibus jurasti dare terram fluentem lac et mel. Et placátus factus est Dóminus de malignitáte, quam dixit fácere pópulo suo. – Moses prayed in the sight of the Lord his God and said, ‘Why, o Lord, art Thou angered with Thy people? Spare Thine anger; remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to whom Thou sworest to give a land flowing with milk and honey.’ And the Lord was appeased from doing the evil which He had spoken of doing against His people.”)
The letter to the Hebrews goes on to say that the Tabernacle of the Covenant was but “a parable of the time present… but Christ, being come an high priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hand, that is, not of this creation: neither by the blood of goats, or of calves, but by his own blood, entered once into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption.”
Perhaps these readings were paired for the sake of those among the early Christians who still felt themselves to be close to their Jewish roots, and remembered mid-September as the time of the High Holy Days. Might they not have been tempted to see the refusal of their former coreligionists to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah as a rebellion against God similar to that of the golden calf episode? The reading from Exodus would thus serve to remind them that God had been merciful at the appeal of Moses, and suggest that He would be similarly merciful through the appeal of Christ, the high priest of the good things to come, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption by a greater and more perfect tabernacle.

An Excellent New Series in Defense of the Roman Rite, by Dr John Lamont

There are many good reasons to hope that the traditional Roman Rite will be restored to full citizenship within the Church, and with it, the liturgical peace achieved by Pope Benedict XVI. One such reason is as follows. We are told that its adherents are a tiny, indeed, statistically negligible minority, notable for their loudness, but “tragicomic, peripheral human failures”, in the exquisitely charitable bon mot of Karl Rahner. We are told that the post-Conciliar Rite has been so magnificent a pastoral success that it is “irreversible.” And yet that glorious success somehow cannot speak for itself, and must be defended by an endless succession of apologias for the suppression of both the Roman Rite and the communities that love it. If one were a Freudian (and of course, one is not), one might suspect that a bad conscience is at work here, over the catastrophic failure of the reform to produce any of the fruits that the first paragraph of Sacrosanctum Concilium said it wanted to come from the reform of the liturgy.  

Another is that such apologias seemingly cannot be made without resorting to the grossest errors in matters of history, anthropology, philosophy, theology, and every other subject that matters. Last year, Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal treated us to just such an apologia, in which Dom Alcuin Reid, with gentlemanly tact, rightly noted a “paucity of … liturgical history and the lack of range of sources in (the) footnotes.” The first article in the series originally included the astonishing assertion that Fr Louis Bouyer “joined the Congregation of the Oratory, founded by Cardinal John Henry Newman.” Bouyer was a member of the Congregation of the Oratory of Jesus and Mary Immaculate, founded by Card. Pierre de Bérulle in 1611, and sometimes called simply “the French Oratory.” The Oratory to which St John Henry Newman belonged was founded by St Philip Neri, 226 years before Newman was born. (This error was only corrected after I brought it to the attention of one of CHJ’s contributors.) The last mention of Bouyer in the series states that he was “not entirely happy” with the reform; this is one possible way of summarizing his ferocious criticism of the insane haste and atrocious scholarship that went into creating it, but perhaps not the best way. [note]

Screen-shot of the CLJ website made on Dec. 19, 2022.
Now it is the turn of Fr Henry Donneaud, a Dominican of the French province of Toulouse, professor of fundamental theology and sacramental theology at both his order’s studium and the Institut Catholique in that city. In an article in the Nouvelle revue théologique, and in a review of the French translation of Peter Kwasniewski’s True Obedience in the Church in the Revue Thomiste (of whose editorial board he is a member), he has offered yet another attack on the traditional rite, and another large dose of the suppressio veri and suggestio falsi on which all such attacks rely.

For those who take little interest in such matters, Fr Donneaud very kindly offers (in his review of True Obedience) a one-sentence summary of his own “paucity of … liturgical history.” “The changes to the missal introduced by Paul VI were no more than a return to earlier features of the Roman rite.” This is true of no more than a tiny number of texts imported into the liturgy from ancient sources in their original forms, and is absolutely false in regard to all of the structural and systemic changes (the use of multiple canons, the three-reading system, the epiclesis, the revamping of the liturgical year, etc.), without exception. This falsity is of course extremely well-documented, and it is simply inexcusable to pretend otherwise. And since a great deal of Fr Donneaud’s argument depends on the idea that the post-Conciliar Rite is simply a reform of the Roman Rite, most of his argument falls with that demonstrable falsehood.

But such falsehoods ought not to go unchallenged, and Dr John Lamont, a Canadian philosopher and theologian, has written a splendid and very detailed refutation of them, recently published in four parts on Rorate Caeli, and also available to download as a single pdf document.


The document form runs to 32 pages of 11-point type, and I can hardly pretend to do any greater justice to it than by encouraging all our readers to take the time to read and consider it carefully.

I do, however, wish to draw special attention to an argument which Dr Lamont makes in the fourth part, trusting to his indulgence as I make so brief a summary of it. Essentially, the Roman Rite is the product of centuries of Christian civilization, a civilization that stretches back in time to the Roman Empire in which Our Lord elected to be born. As such, its replacement by a new rite invented by an academic committee could not be anything other than the “savage rupture” it was rightly called by a confrere of Fr Donneaud, Fr Thierry-Dominique Humbrecht. This, Lamont argues, is why proponents of the hermeneutic of rupture, those who wish to see that civilization destroyed, and replaced by another of their own devising, or by nothing, cannot bear to see the Roman Rite continue to exist in the Church. I add for myself and many others that this is, of course, exactly why it MUST continue to exist in the Church, and I thank Dr Lamont for his superb defense of it.
Note:Illusions of Reform”, a detailed reply to this series, was published by Os Justi Press earlier this year, featuring the articles of a five-part series by Dr Janet Smith, several articles by Peter Kwasniewski, the editor of the volume, the article by Alcuin Reid linked above, and others by Dr Joseph Shaw, Fr. Samuel Keyes, Roland Millare, an expert on Joseph Ratzinger and Fr Peter Miller. The authors and editors of the original CHJ series have either ignored this reply, or expressed their lack of an interest in engaging with it, which is not surprising, nor will it be surprising if Fr Donneaud does the same.

Friday, September 22, 2023

“The Musical Shape of the Liturgy: Celebrating the Life & Work of William P. Mahrt” – Conference in Menlo Park, California, Nov 7-9

The Catholic Institute of Sacred Music cordially invites you to a timely and fitting conference celebrating the immense contributions of Dr. William Mahrt of Stanford University, who serves also as the president of the CMAA, the editor of the CMAA’s Sacred Music journal, and the publisher of NLM.
The Musical Shape of the Liturgy: Celebrating the Life and Work of William P. Mahrt
November 7–9, 2023
St. Patrick's Seminary, Menlo Park, California
More information and registration are available here.
Having devoted his life and scholarly activity to the study and praxis of the Roman rite and its music, Dr. William Mahrt has made his work a touchstone for countless scholars and active church musicians. His insights into the characteristics of the various forms of Gregorian chant have elucidated the nature of the chant as something integral to the sacred liturgy, and the nature of the sacred liturgy itself. His exposition of the nature of beauty and its embodiment in Catholic sacred music, liturgical gestures, symbols and architecture has served as an important guide in the Church’s understanding of the purpose of artistic beauty in divine worship. His work with the polyphonic masters of the Renaissance has illuminated the performances and scholarship of many choirs and students, and his devoted direction of the St. Ann Choir and Stanford Early Music Singers remains a pillar in the practice of sacred music in the United States.
On the occasion of the 150th volume of Sacred Music, which Dr. Mahrt has edited since 2006, and on the establishment of a new chair in sacred music at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park in his name, as well as the 125th anniversary of the founding of St. Patrick’s Seminary, the organizing committee is very pleased to announce a conference entitled “The Musical Shape of the Liturgy: Celebrating the Life and Work of William P. Mahrt.”
The conference is open to all, and will feature presentations and lecture recitals by nearly forty scholars from around the country, covering a wide variety of topics within the Church’s treasury of sacred music, nearly all of which Dr. Mahrt has likewise written about with his typically insightful prose and genuine love of the music.
The four keynote spekaers of the conference are:
  • Dr. Joseph Dyer – “De Hierusalem exeunt reliquiæ – Music for the Dedication of the Church of Santa Prassede (Rome)”
  • Sr. Maria Kiely, O.S.B. – “O quam metuendus est locus iste (Gen. 28, 17): the Spiritual Foundations of Liturgical Prayer”
  • Dr. William Mahrt – “Dynamic Parallelismus Membrorum”  
  • Dr. Kerry McCarthy – “Low Style and High Style in Catholic England”
The other topics are:
  • Dr. Alison Altstatt – “Children in Anna von Buchwald’s Buch im Chor: Pedagogical Lessons from a Fifteenth-Century Convent”
  • Dr. Erick Arenas – “Mozart’s Requiem and Eighteenth-Century Liturgical Music Aesthetics Between the Church and the Concert Hall”
  • Fr. Brian T. Austin – “Music and Text in the Twelfth-Century Dulcis Iesu memoria
  • Br. Mark Bachmann, O.S.B. – “A Portrait of a Church Musician drawn from the Holy Rule of St. Benedict”
  • Jacob Beaird – “Chanting the Face of God: Iconography, Arvo Pärt, and James MacMillan”
  • Alex Begin – “Regional Music Team Buildling”
  • Dr. Horst Buchholz – “From The Old World to The New World: How Sacred Music in the U.S.A. was Shaped by European Composers “
  • Dr. Kevin Clarke – “The Pipe Organ in the Mass in Pre- and Post-Reformation England”
  • Kevin Faulkner – “Fulfilling Messiaen’s Prophecy, Resurgence of Chant and the Work of Charles Tournemire”
  • Duane Galles – “Canonical Aspects of Organ Care, Repair and Rebuilding”
  • Br. John Glasenapp, O.S.B. –  “Authoritative Problems: The Challenge of Chant History”
  • Dr. Jane Schatkin Hettrick – “Reforming Music and Liturgy in Catholic Worship around 1780 in Austria:  Prescriptions for Congregational Hymns”
  • Dr. William Hettrick – “Cantus Firmi in the Sacred Works of Johann Herbeck (1831–1877)”
  • Dr. Christopher Hodkinson – “The Ordo Cantus Missæ at Fifty
  • David Hughes – “Eucharistic Piety in the Earlier and Later Renaissance: The Agnus Dei in the Sixteenth Century”
  • Dr. Aaron James – “On the Legacy of Morales: Musical Shapes in the Polyphonic Magnificat”
  • Dr. Deborah Kauffman – “Music for the ‘Ceremonie du Sacre d’un Evesque’ at Saint-Cyr”
  • Christina Kim – “The Musical Shape of Exequies”
  • Dr. Ann Labounsky – “Jean Langlais: Servant of the Church”
  • Bruce Ludwick – “Shaping the Liturgy through Music: A Cathedral (or Parish) Journey”
  • Crista Miller – “Wonderful Splendor: A Survey of Newer Chant-based Organ Works”
  • Steven Ottományi – “Native Language Isochrony and the Rhythm of the Gregorian Chant”
  • Dr. John Pepino – “Louis Bouyer’s assessment of Sacrosanctum Concilium: retrieving the liturgical intent of Vatican II”
  • William V. Riccio – “One Man’s History of the Revival of the Traditional Mass (1963–Present)”
  • Dr. Jesse Rodin – “How Josquin Makes Chant an Engine of Invention”
  • Dr. Joseph Sargent – “The Magnificats of Bernardino de Ribera (c.1520-80)”
  • Roseanne Sullivan – “The Remarkable Sixty-Year Survival of Prof. Mahrt’s St. Ann Choir” 
  • Dr. Christoph Tietze – “Teaching Solfège to Children through Square Notation”
  • Dr. Edward Schaefer – “Chant and the Theology of the Mass”
  • Dr. Charles Weaver – “Dom Mocquereau and Music Theory”
  • Mary Ann Carr Wilson – “Melisma and Meditation: The Graduals of Advent”
Sung Lauds, Mass, and Vespers
Of course, the event will be anchored by the celebration of the sung liturgy, beginning with Vespers on Tuesday, and presenting Lauds, Mass, and Vespers on Wednesday and Thursday. Archbishop Cordileone will celebrate the opening (Tuesday) Vespers.
If you’re available to come early, we’ll have rehearsals on the morning and afternoon of Tuesday, Nov. 7th, to prepare the sung offices and Mass for Wednesday. Led by Dr. Mahrt and a team of other conductors (Horst Buchholz, Jennifer Donelson-Nowicka, and David Hughes), singers will prepare the chants of the liturgies, as well as the Byrd Mass for Four and motets by Ciprianus (Sicut Cervus), Isaac (Beata Viscera), and De la Rue (O Salutaris). In order to sing for the liturgies, you must be present at all the rehearsals on Tuesday and select the “Sing with St. Ann Choir + friends” option at registration. 
The registration fee includes several meals, and hotel options are provided as a convenience to attendees to find affordable accommodations nearby. Please see the registration page for more details. 
Conference Sponsors
  • The Catholic Institute of Sacred Music at St. Patrick’s Seminary
  • The Church Music Association of America
  • Stanford University Department of Music (Alexander Lecture)
  • The St. Ann Choir
  • The Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship
Registration for the event is $225. No clergy or student discounts are available, and the registration fee is non-refundable, though event insurance is available for purchase to registrants through the registration platform. The registration deadline is October 16th. 

Care-Cloths: The Mystagogical Value of Traditional Wedding Customs, Part II

Last week, we looked at the use of coins in traditional Catholic weddings. Now, we look at an ancient veiling ceremony and some of its later usages.

Contributors to the New Liturgical Movement have already enriched our understanding of what is variously known as the carecloth, cerecloth, velatio nuptialis, pallium nuptiale, etc. (see here, here, here, and here). The following reflections and overview are offered as a supplement to these contributions--and possibly a clarification about its origins.

A French medaille de mariage, nineteenth century, depicting the carecloth during the Solemn Nuptial Blessing. 
A History of the Care-Cloth
A reader who sees the above illustration might be tempted to conclude that the custom being depicted was inspired by the Jewish wedding canopy or chuppah. The Christian care-cloth or wedding veil, however, is derived from or at least partially inspired by the marriage customs of ancient Rome. A flammeum (so-called because of its fiery red color) was a veil worn by a Roman bride during the torchlit procession from her father’s home to her husband’s known as the deductio; it was this veil and this procession that marked her transition from betrothal to wedlock. The flammeum is mentioned several times in Latin literature and even became proverbial: Juvenal uses the phrase “she wears out veils” (flammea conterit) for a woman who changes husbands repeatedly. Moreover, the taking of the flammeum is responsible for one of our English words for wedding. The verb nubo/nubere, from which comes the adjective “nuptial,” originally meant to cover or veil oneself as a bride in order to wed; only later was its meaning broadened to signify the bridegroom’s marrying as well. Curiously, then, a couple’s “nuptials,” their “crowning,” or their chuppah—words for a wedding in the Western Church, the Eastern Churches, and the Jewish synagogue, respectively—are all derived from ceremonies not of the hands or the ring but the head.
Tertullian (160-225) rejected a Roman custom of wedding crowns as idolatrous, but he accepted the veil on the grounds that it accorded with the Pauline teaching on women in church and with the exemplary modesty Rebecca showed in veiling herself before Isaac; he subsequently writes of a lex velaminis and a disciplina velaminis for betrothed and married women lasting even after the ceremony. Tertullian uses the word flammeum only once, when contrasting a wedding done properly, which involves torch and flammeum, with what he suspects is the fiery nuptial eschatology of the Valentinian heretics. It is possible that Tertullian is merely invoking well-known wedding props that, because of their use of or association with fire, can be neatly juxtaposed with the Valentinians’ incendiary version of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. As David G. Hunter notes, “it was a common rhetorical pattern in Tertullian’s thought to contrast pagans and Christians by re-describing the Christian in pagan terms” without implying that Christians actually engaged in those practices. Nevertheless, Hunter concludes that the evidence in Tertullian’s writings points to Christians in North Africa celebrating “their betrothals and nuptials with the same rituals as… non-Christians.”
An unadulterated use of pagan customs by the Church would not last long, but the exact metamorphosis is difficult to reconstruct. By the end of the third century the word flammeum had been dropped from the Christian lexicon (if it had ever really been picked up in earnest at all), but Church Fathers continued to praise the veiling of a betrothed woman or of a bride; indeed, the nuptial custom of “taking the veil” also came to designate the religious life of consecrated virginity. Moreover, the ceremonial act of veiling occurred along with a blessing from a priest or bishop, not only conferring grace but sealing, from the Church’s perspective, the promises of betrothal or wedlock. In A.D. 385, Pope Siricius answered a question about conjugal veiling (conjugalis velatio) posed by Himerius, the Archbishop of Tarragona, as to whether someone can take to wife a girl (puella) who has been betrothed to another. Siricius replies in the negative on account of illa benedictio quam nupturae sacerdos imponit, “that blessing which the priest placed on the fiancée,” thereby implying a link between the veiling and the priest’s blessing. At the very least, both correspondents knew of Christian betrothal (which in some places was almost as binding as matrimony) as a velatio.
The same year that Pope Siricius was writing to Himerius, St. Ambrose of Milan (340-397) was writing to St. Vigilius of Trent and asserting that it “behooves [the priest] to sanctify the marriage with a priestly veil (velamen sacerdotalis) and blessing.” Ambrose’s diction suggests that both the bride and the groom were veiled, since it is the marriage and not the bride being blessed. In another writing Ambrose describes the indissolubility of the marital bond regardless of whether the husband is present or away; his description is of interest because it may also echo the Christian wedding of his time:
The same law connects those who are together and those who are apart; the same bond (vinculum) of nature has bound tight the rights of conjugal charity between the absent as well as the present; by the same yoke (jugum) of blessing are both necks joined together, even if one should go out a long way away to distant regions; for they have received the yoke (jugum) of grace not by the neck of the body but by that of the soul.
It is possible that Ambrose is not merely speaking metaphorically about the yoke of marriage but alluding to a wedding veil that acted as a yoke and bound the couple at the neck (i.e., was placed over their shoulders). This veil, in turn, would be associated with the grace their souls received at their nuptials, mostly likely from the priestly blessing that he mentions to Vigilius. Lastly, there may be an additional ceremonial element with the vinculum that is related to the marital act and to the conjugal rights of the spouses.
What remains ambiguous in Ambrose becomes clearer in St. Paulinus of Nola (354-431). Around A.D. 400, Paulinus describes the wedding of two people from prominent clerical families:
He [Bishop Aemilius], joining the heads of them both under a nuptial peace,
Veils them with his right hand, sanctifying them with prayer.
Whereas Ambrose speaks of a jugum on the necks of the bride and groom, Paulinus speaks of a pax jugalis over or on their heads that is presumably identical to the veil associated with the bishop’s sanctifying prayer or blessing. Pope Pelagius I (556-61) employs similar language when discussing the case of a woman who was veiled with a man (cum alio velata) during their betrothal and who died before their wedding.
To what degree the Christian velatio nuptialis—as the early sixth-century Leonine Sacramentary calls it—emerged from the Roman flammeum is a matter of dispute. Kenneth Stevenson, following Anné, writes that the “Roman blessing of the bride, duly veiled, is a superb example of the Christianizing of a pagan custom, the old flammeum.” But Philip Reynolds contends that the Christian “veil, which the priest applied with his blessing, was distinct from the” flammeum. The Church Fathers would probably have been content to let it remain a moot point. Before describing the veiling of the couple by the bishop, Paulinus of Nola declares in the same poem that he wants no “profane pomp” or “alien smells” from heathen sources to spoil this Christian wedding. Clearly, he saw the velatio as either purely Christian in origin or at least thoroughly purged of any objectionable pagan residue, and for him it probably did not matter which.
St. Isidore of Seville’s witness to the Spanish liturgy of the sixth century also provides data that can be interpreted in a number of different ways. He mentions two nuptial objects: 1) a veil called a mavors in the vulgar tongue (an old Latin name for the god Mars) that is worn by the bride as a sign of her subjection to her husband in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 11, and 2) a vitta, the Latin word for a fillet or headband such as those worn by the Vestal Virgins as symbols of their chastity but used here as something by which the priest, after the blessing, joins (copulare) the couple in a single bond (unum vinculum). Isidore adds that the vitta is a mixture of white and the color purpura: the white signifies the periodic continence that Paul allows for married couples (I Cor. 7:5) and the purpura the times when the couple may render to each the conjugal debt for the sake of offspring or “the posterity of blood” (sanguinis posteritas). (Given Isidore’s pairing of the family bloodline with purpura, the color in question was probably more of a deep scarlet than purple or violet.)

As for the vitta, Reynolds thinks of it as a second veil, but Stevenson refers to it as a garland. Oddly, both may be right since, as we will see later, in early modern Spain there was a veil that went over the couple as well as a long cord or jugale. Whatever it was, Isidore’s vitta was a vinculum that bears significant similarities in meaning to the vinculum naturae characterized by Ambrose in terms of conjugal rights. Lastly, it is my conjecture that the mavors worn by the Spanish bride was the flammeum or a direct descendant of it, named by the common folk after the god of war because its color reminded them of Mars, whose bright color was that of freshly spilled blood. If my interpretation is correct, then the use of the mavors would indeed be an instance of a Christian use of the flammeum, since Isidore assigns to it a Pauline meaning. On the other hand, Reynolds would be correct in distinguishing the Christian velatio of both bride and groom from the flammeum, since the mavors pertains only to the bride and is distinct from the mysterious vitta—although it does not rule out the likelihood that the velatio was in some way inspired by the flammeum. In any event, there may be several correct answers to these questions since Christian adaptations of Roman customs (or their wholesale replacements) did not always occur uniformly throughout the different regions of Christendom.
The veiling of the shoulders of the bride and groom, however, invites further inquiry and reflection. If the Christian care-cloth was not an adaptation of the flammeum, why did it develop? And if it was, why “veil” the bridegroom? Ambrose, Paulinus, and Isidore speak of a yoke-like quality to the veil and its blessing, which could easily hearken to the yoke of Christ (Mt. 11:30) and, more specifically, to the couple’s new shared labors and responsibilities as husband and wife. These shared responsibilities, moreover, include prescriptions on Christian chastity, prescriptions that are equally binding on both. The Latin Fathers departed sharply from their pagan counterparts in their rejection of a double standard. Roman law only recognized the adultery of a married woman as a crime and as grounds for divorce; men were only culpable if they slept with another man’s wife or were conspicuously indiscreet with their extramarital affairs. The Church, on the other hand, expected husbands and wives to be equally faithful to their marital vows. One possible reason for binding both the man and the woman under the yoke of the wedding veil, then, may have been as an instruction in total monogamy and fidelity. That the vinculum in Ambrose and the vitta in Isidore are understood as pertaining to sexual matters would support this reading.
The first extant liturgical manuals from the seventh and eighth centuries as well as Pope Nicholas I’s letter to the Bulgarians place the velatio in the nuptial Mass rather than at a betrothal, and it is relatively safe to assume that the ceremony almost always included both the bride and the groom, as Nicholas’ letter explicitly attests. By the twelfth and thirteen centuries the wedding veil was known by a variety of names, such as velamen caeleste, velum, pallium album, linteus, pannum, and mappa. In French, it was called the voile sur les époux or the poêle nuptiale. In English, it was a “care-cloth,” a term that may be derived either from the French carré for square or from the old English “carde,” a fabric used in making canopies, curtains, and linings.
As this diversity of nomenclature would suggest, the custom of the wedding veil was widespread throughout Europe during the medieval and early modern periods. The veil was used during the solemn nuptial blessing which, fittingly, includes the line sit in ea jugum dilectionis et pacis—“may [her wedlock] be for her a yoke of love and peace.” The blessing was typically given either before the Pax or after the Pater Noster of the nuptial Mass (it was assigned the latter place in the 1570 Missale Romanum). No official reason was given for either position, but we may speculate that bestowing the blessing in the wake of the Consecration, with the risen Christ now present on the altar, was considered an especially auspicious time to call down an abundance of grace on the new marriage. Piously looking upon Christ’s Body and the Precious Cup at the elevations, the reception of the Pax, and the reception of Holy Communion were all considered significant moments of grace and blessing; it was a tribute to the dignity of matrimony and to the power of the solemn nuptial blessing that the latter would be inserted into this array. And the solemn nuptial blessing was most likely given after the Our Father because it was the first place after the Consecration that the blessing could be added without disrupting the integrity of the sacrificial action that began with the Preface. Unlike the Eastern rites, the Our Father in the Roman liturgy does not appear to have been viewed as the introduction to the Communion rite but as the epilogue to the Canon, just as the Preface was its prologue. The “book-end” function of the Preface and the Pater Noster may also be gleaned from their similar execution: the celebrant intoned both the Preface and the Pater Noster alone and was followed by the choir or congregation with a response, be it the Sanctus or Sed libera nos a malo.
The wedding veil, which was usually white in color and made of silk or linen, continued to be placed on the shoulders of the couple (or the head and shoulders of the bride and the shoulders of the groom) in Spain, central France, and other parts of Europe. In northern France and England, however, it came to be held over their heads by two or four canopy-bearers, either clerics or witnesses or sometimes children. Additional significance was attached to this variation of the custom. Because the veiling partially obscured or hid the couple, it signified that they should be discreet and modest, careful to avoid untoward public displays of affection and cognizant of the “importance of secrecy in family affairs.” But the care-cloth also betokened the marriage bed and its sheet, and thus it tied into the solemn nuptial blessing’s prayer for a marriage fruitful in offspring as well as the Patristic associations of the veil with the virtuous regulation of the marital act. Finally, according to medieval canon law, there was an additional benefit to the suspended care-cloth that links it to the marriage bed: placing any children born out of wedlock under it during the solemn nuptial blessing automatically legitimated them. Indeed, some dioceses in the seventeenth century added a special prayer imploring God for pardon and for the legitimation of the child. 
Beginning in the same century, however, the care-cloth went into gradual decline. The 1584 Rituale Romanum of Gregory XIII had mentioned it, but it was not included in the 1614 Rituale of Paul V. “Indeed,” writes J. Wickham Legg, “so forgotten was the custom in Italy that when in 1789, at the marriage of a prince of the house of Savoy, the practice was restored, it was denounced as an innovation, and a pamphlet had to be written in proof of its antiquity”— M. Gianolio’s De antiquo ecclesiae ritu expandendi velum super sponsos in benedictione nuptiarum. In England the custom had fallen into oblivion by the mid-nineteenth century and had to be explained to English readers, although there is a report of an Anglican wedding in the late nineteenth century involving a blue silk veil held over the heads of the bride and groom. On the Continent, the custom fared in France into the late nineteenth century and was included in most diocesan manuals, despite a reproving decree from the Congregation of Rites in 1850. (In the diocese of Bourges, it survived into the twentieth century. ) The custom also appears to have been practiced in Spain well into the twentieth century, though not universally and not without adaptation. A liturgical manual in Salamanca in 1532 instructs the priest to cover the man’s shoulder and the woman’s head with a linen cloth and to place over the cloth a girdle or cord called a cingulum benedictum. A similar custom is mentioned in southern France around the same time, where the cord is called a jugale or jugalis.
Mexican lasso rosary
As with the coin ceremony, the wedding veil thrives mostly in Spain’s former colonies, where it is still practiced in areas of Central and South America. In Mexico, the veil is less common while the cord has become a lasso or lazo rosary, a large set of double-looped rosary beads placed on the couple by a pair of elder sponsors or padrinos. The lazo is then kept by the couple as a keepsake of their wedding, sometimes displayed in the home by itself on the wall or next to an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  n In Cuba, there is a wedding shawl called a manteleta.
Filipino veiling
And once again, it is the Philippines that has best preserved the ancient nuptial rituals mentioned by the Church Fathers. The Filipino velo is made of white tulle (no doubt a prudent adaptation to the islands’ steamy climate) and is placed onto the groom’s shoulders and the bride’s head and shoulders by two specially designated sponsors, a ninong and ninang. It is said that the veil represents the bride and groom or their families becoming one, as well as hope for the couple’s health and protection. After the veil is pinned in place, another pair of sponsors places the cord, or yugal, in the shape of a figure eight over the heads of the couple to symbolize the infinite bond of married love. The yugal is usually a white silk rope, although it can also be made of flowers, links of coins, and even diamonds.
A Theology of the Care-Cloth
The wedding veil or care-cloth mystagogically invites the couple to make sense of their own story in light of the biblical narrative and to model their behavior on biblical protagonists. The scriptural image of a yoke is rich and polyvalent, providing much fodder for pious rumination, as does the story of the veiling of Rebecca. Further, the care-cloth symbolizes aspects of married life that are as relevant to a new couple today as they were in the Patristic and medieval eras, aspects such as: a single standard for both sexes regarding the vows of fidelity and chastity; the Pauline parameters for periods of sexual abstinence; the purity of Christian marital love and the sanctity of the marriage bed; the yoking of two souls who will now labor in the Lord’s field together as one; the hope for protection; the need for discretion, modesty, and appropriate public displays of affection; and the goodness of (legitimate!) offspring and of the continuation of the family name or bloodline. The veiling ceremony as it has come to be practiced also serves to highlight the Roman rite’s solemn nuptial blessing, drawing the couple and congregation’s attention to it in much the same way that a baldachin guides the eye to the altar. Such an emphasis, which underlines the importance of having one’s marriage not only ratified or recognized but blessed by the Church, further conditions the faithful to take this blessing and its content seriously.
An earlier version of this article appeared as part of article entitled, “Coins and Care-Cloths: The Mystagogical Value of Traditional Wedding Customs,” Antiphon 18:2 (Summer 2014), pp. 115–143. Many thanks to its editors for allowing its publication here.

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