Friday, September 17, 2021

By Nothing But Prayer and Fasting

Because of the movable date of Easter, and of everything that depends on it, the Ember Days of September can occur within any of the weeks after Pentecost from the 13th to the 19th inclusive. This year, they occur within the 16th week, but next year, they will fall within the 15th week. In the Roman Missal, they are traditionally placed after the 17th week [1], a textual arrangement which reflects a very ancient theme that permeates the Masses of this set of Ember Days

The Collect of the 17th Sunday after Pentecost is a very ancient one, found in different places in the various versions of the Gelasian Sacramentary, but already fixed to the 17th Sunday in the Gregorian Sacramentary by the end of the 8th century. “Da quaesumus, Domine, populo tuo diabolica vitare contagia, et te solum Deum pura mente sectari. – Grant to Thy people, o Lord, to shun (or ‘avoid, escape from’) diabolical contamination, and to follow Thee, who alone art God, with a pure mind.” [2] This is the only Mass Collect of the ecclesiastical year that refers directly to diabolical influence, but the Secret of the 15th Sunday has a similar theme: “May Thy sacraments preserve us, o Lord, and always protect us against diabolical incursions.”

Folio 115r of the Gellone Sacramentary, a sacramentary of the Gelasian type dated 780-800, with the prayer “Da quaesumus...” assigned to the 20th week after Pentecost. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 12048)
On the Ember Wednesday of September, the Gospel is St Mark’s account of the healing of a possessed child, chapter 9, 16-28. Apart from Easter and the Ascension, the ancient Roman lectionary makes very little of use of St Mark, notwithstanding the tradition that the Evangelist was a disciple of St Peter and composed the Gospel while he was with him in Rome. Here, his version was surely chosen for the moving account of the exchange between Christ and the child’s father, which is less detailed in St Matthew’s version.

“And He asked his father, ‘How long time is it since this hath happened unto him?’ But he said, ‘From his infancy, and oftentimes hath he cast him into the fire and into waters to destroy him. But if thou canst do any thing, help us, having compassion on us.’ And Jesus saith to him, ‘If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.’ And immediately the father of the boy crying out, with tears said, ‘I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief.’ ”

The lower half of Raphael’s Transfiguration, the story which precedes the Gospel of Ember Wednesday. The possessed child’s father, on the right side in green, presents him to the Apostles; Raphael beautifully captures the pleading in his facial expression. The brightness of the figure symbolizes his faith, as it does likewise in that of the possessed child, for devils, as St James says, have no doubts about God. (“Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” 2, 19). The brightest figure, the woman kneeling next to the boy and pointing at him, is an allegorical figure of Faith itself; where the light on these figures expresses their belief, the nine Apostles on the left are wrapped in shadow to symbolize the lack of faith that prevented them from casting out the devil.
At the end of the passage, the disciples ask Christ why they could not expel the devil, to which He replies, “This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” In the Office, these words are sung at Lauds as the antiphon of the Benedictus.

On Ember Friday, the Gospel is that of the woman who anoints the Lord’s feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee, St Luke 7, 36-50. This is one of the very few examples of a Gospel which is repeated from another part of the temporal cycle; it is also read on the Thursday of Passion week, and again on the feast of St Mary Magdalene, with whom the woman is traditionally identified in the West. This identification is partly reinforced by the words of St Luke which come immediately after it (chapter 8, 1-3), although they are not read in the liturgy.

“And it came to pass afterwards, that He travelled through the cities and towns, preaching and evangelizing the kingdom of God; and the twelve with him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary who is called Magdalen, out of whom seven devils were gone forth, and Joanna the wife of Chusa, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who ministered unto him of their substance.”

On Saturday, the Gospel is two stories from St Luke, chapter 13, 6-17, the parable of the fig tree, and the healing of the woman “who had a spirit of infirmity… and was bowed together, (nor) could she look upwards at all.” The choice of this Gospel for the Saturday is a very deliberate one, since it takes place in a synagogue, the ruler of which, “being angry that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, answering, said to the multitude, ‘Six days there are wherein you ought to work. In them therefore come, and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” To this Christ answers, “Ye hypocrites, doth not every one of you, on the Sabbath day, loose his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead them to water? And ought not this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

An ancient Christian sarcophagus known as the Sarcophagus of the Two Brothers, made in the second quarter of the 4th century, now in the Vatican Museums. The healing of the crippled woman is depicted in the upper left.
Each of these Gospels, therefore, refers to the same theme as the Collect of the 17th Sunday, the Church’s prayer to the Lord to protect Her and Her individual members from the malign influence of the devil.

It is a well-known fact that the Ember Days are one of the very oldest features of the Roman Rite. Pope St Leo I (444-61) preached numerous sermons on them, and believed them to be of apostolic origin, as he says, for example, in his second sermon on Pentecost. “To the present solemnity, most beloved, we must also add such devotion, that we keep the fast which follows it, according to the Apostolic tradition. For this must also be counted among the great gifts of the Holy Spirit, that fasting has been given to us as a defense against the enticements of the flesh and the snares of the devil, by which we may overcome all temptations, with the help of God.” (Sermon 76, PL 54, 411B)

Likewise, in his second sermon on the Ember Days of September, he refers to Christ’s words about fasting which are read on Wednesday. [3] “In every contest of the Christian’s struggle, temperance is of the greatest value and utility, to such a degree that the most savage demonic spirits, who are not put to flight from the bodies of the possessed by the commands of any exorcist, are driven out just by the force of fasts and prayers, as the Lord sayeth, ‘This kind of demons is not cast out except by fasting and prayer.’ The prayer of one who fasteth, therefore, is pleasing to God, and terrible to the devil…” (Sermon 87, ibid. 439b)

The collect of the 17th Sunday after Pentecost is one of the more obvious cases of a prayer deemed unsuitable by the post-Conciliar reformers for the ears of Modern Man™, who must never be confronted with any “negative” ideas while at prayer. Despite its antiquity and the universality of its place within the Roman Rite, it was removed altogether from the Missal, along with the Ember Days, most references to fasting, and all references to the devil. In a similar vein, when the pseudo-anaphora of pseudo-Hippolytus was adapted as the Second Eucharistic Prayer, the original version of the section that parallels the Qui pridie, “Who, when he was delivered to voluntary suffering, in order to dissolve death, and break the chains of the devil, and tread down hell, and bring the just to the light, and set the limit, and manifest the resurrection,” was reduced to “At the time He was betrayed and entered willingly into His Passion…”

However, as Fr Zuhlsdorf once noted, the 2002 revised edition of the Missal contains certain hints of an awareness that the post-Conciliar reform wantonly threw out far too much of the traditional Roman Rite. Among the things which it restored is the traditional prayer of the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, which now appears as an optional collect among the Masses “for any necessity”, raising the total number of references to the devil in the Missal to one.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal contains an exhortation (and no more than that) to the effect that Rogation Days and Ember Days “should be indicated” (“indicentur”, not “indicandae sunt – must be indicated”) on local calendars, and a rubric (I.45) that it is the duty (“oportet”) of episcopal conferences to establish both the time and manner of their celebration. Unsurprisingly, this rubric has mostly been ignored. However, it has become impossible for any Catholic who loves the Church to ignore the hideous consequences of the almost total abandonment of any kind of formal, liturgically guided ascetic discipline, and the free reign which this seems to have given to the devil. A permanent and universal restoration of the traditional discipline of fasting, including the Ember Days, would be a small but important step in the direction of ending that free reign.

[1] In many medieval liturgical books, they are placed after the last Mass of the season after Pentecost, as for example in the Sarum Missal.

[2] The earliest manuscripts read “dominum” instead of “Deum”; the change would have been made since “Domine” is already said at the beginning. Many manuscripts read “puro corde – with a pure heart” instead of “pura mente.”

[3] It is tempting to think of this as proof that the Roman lectionary tradition, which is first attested in the lectionary of Wurzburg ca. 700 AD, was already set down 250 years earlier in Pope Leo’s time. This is quite possible, of course, but it is equally possible that the unknown compiler of the lectionary was inspired to choose this Gospel by reading Pope Leo’s sermon.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Another Lesson from a Conciliar Failure

A reader’s comment on my article yesterday about one of the failures of Lateran V reminded me of another instructive episode from the history of the ecumenical councils.
In 2002, one week before the 40th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, George Weigel, a great admirer of that assembly, wrote the following:
“I’ve been much struck recently by the question of whether, in the mid-third millennium, Vatican II will be remembered as another Lateran V or another Trent. Lateran V was a reforming council that failed; Trent was a reforming council whose success defined Catholic life for almost four centuries. Lateran V’s failure was one cause of the fracture of Western Christianity in the Reformation -- and thus of the wars of religion, the rise of the modern state, and the gradual erosion of Christian culture in Europe. Getting it wrong, in this business of conciliar reform, can carry high costs.”
But by its 40th anniversary, Vatican II was already neither another Lateran V nor another Trent. Forty years after the start of Trent puts us in the year 1585. By that point, the Church had already made huge strides in implementing the reforms ordered by the Council, and the movement to continue doing so was gaining strength every day, with the strong leadership and support of the Papacy. The spread of Protestantism had been halted in much of Europe, and even in some places reversed; the evangelization of the New World was proceeding apace. New religious orders such as the Jesuits and Oratorians were thriving and spreading, and inspiring the older ones to highly successful reforms. The model of Counter-Reformation bishop, St Charles Borromeo was still alive, and a leading figure in the implementation of Council’s decrees.
St Charles Borromeo Giving Communion to Victims of the Plague, ca. 1616, by Tanzio da Varallo (1575-1633); from the church of Ss Gervasius and Protasius in Domodossola, Italy. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
It hardly needs saying that forty years out from Vatican II, the Church was not thriving as it was in 1585.
On the other hand, forty years after the start of Lateran V puts us in the year 1552… smack in the midst of the Council of Trent. Forty years after Lateran V had so spectacularly failed to bring about any of the reform that the Church so desperately needed (and helped trigger the Reformation), the Church did not content itself with monomaniacal repetition of the catchphrase, “You have to accept Lateran V!”, and ignoring the fact that everything was burning down around it. Rather, it recognized that its previous feint at reform had failed catastrophically, and set about at Trent to do well what it had done badly at Lateran V.
It hardly needs saying that forty years out from Vatican II, the Church wasn’t doing this either.
If we wish to find a more useful parallel between Vatican II and another ecumenical council, we will find it, rather, in that which was held in the Swiss city of Constance between 1414 and 1418. I hope I will not try the reader’s patience too much with some necessary historical background.
In 1309, the Popes took up permanent residence in the French city of Avignon. The reasons behind this are irrelevant to my purposes; what is relevant is that the Pope himself thus became the Church’s most prominent absentee bishop. (Since he was also the temporal ruler of Rome and environs, the ensuing long papal absence also reduced the Eternal City to an appalling state.) This scandal of almost 70 years’ standing was ended in 1376, to be replaced within a year by a far greater scandal, the Great Schism of the West, which lasted for forty years, during which there were at first two, and then three different claimants to the throne of St Peter. By the time the Council of Constance began in 1414, the reputation of the Papacy was deservedly at one of its lowest ebbs.
The former cathedral of Comnstance (which ceased to be a diocese in 1821), seat of the sixteenth ecumenical council. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Fb78, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Constance itself was the high-water mark of the movement now known as Conciliarism, which is based on the idea that the ecumenical council as an institution within the Church is superior in authority to the Pope. And in a great wave of enthusiasm for such councils (which will, I think, strike almost any modern reader as completely bizarre), in October of 1417, it issued the decree Frequens, establishing that henceforth, they would be held continually: five years after the close of Constance itself, seven years after the close of that council, and thenceforth, every ten years.
The Pope whose election finally settled the Great Schism, Martin V, closed Constance the year after his election, announcing that the next council would be held, according to the schedule laid out by Frequens, at Pavia in 1423. He was still alive five years later, and in due course sent his legates to Pavia; they arrived to find two abbots waiting for them. Over the following weeks and months, they were joined by fewer than 30 other prelates, whose assembly achieved nothing other than to announce that the next council would be held in the Swiss city of Basel in 1431. In that year, Martin V was succeeded by Eugenius IV, whose legates found the same tiny numbers at Basel that his predecessor’s had found at Pavia.
The Church now recognizes Basel (which lasted for 14 years, changing its location twice, and its purpose on the way) as an ecumenical council, but not Pavia; the reasons for this are very complicated, and not germane to my purpose. My point is rather that noted by Mons Philip Hughes in his book The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils: “Almost nowhere, it seemed, were bishops interested in General Councils. The great wave of enthusiasm which had carried the decree Frequens had crashed more rapidly than it had risen.”
This is the truest parallel we will find among the ecumenical councils with Vatican II: a wave of enthusiasm for something new, something which everyone hopes will bring great benefit to the Church, followed by the sudden and almost inexplicable dissipation of that enthusiasm. Just as the bishops who attended Constance and issued Frequens did not bother to attend the council which they themselves had called for, the bishops who wrote and approved the documents of Vatican II seemed afterwards to care nothing for what they had written during it.
The versus populum altar installed in Notre Dame de Paris by Cardinal Lustiger in 1989, destroyed by the collapse of the church’s ceiling in the fire of April 15, 2019. An innovation never asked for by Vatican II.
To stick to the purview of NLM: they wrote in Sacrosanctum Concilium that “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them,” and showed no interest in the fact that any number of innovations were introduced into the liturgy that the good of the Church genuinely and certainly did not require. They wrote that “Gregorian chant … should be given pride of place in liturgical services,” and that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” and showed no interest in the fact that the ensuing reform permitted them both to vanish almost entirely. They wrote that “(T)he accounts of martyrdom or the lives of the saints” which have been read in the liturgy from the very earliest days of the Church, “are to accord with the facts of history”, and showed no interest in the fact that such accounts were removed from the Divine Office almost entirely.
Similar examples might be drawn from any of the Council’s documents; here I offer only one more. In Dei Verbum, they wrote very rightly that “Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels … faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation…” They then showed no particular interest in the fact that teachers in seminaries and Catholic theological faculties embraced the worst of modern Biblical “scholarship” and openly denied this very point.
What, then, do we learn from all of this? No more, perhaps, than to ask a question. “If the very authors of the document of an ecumenical council showed no enthusiasm for its implementation, why must I be required to show even more enthusiasm for it than they did?

Ss Cornelius and Cyprian

Today is the feast of one of the most important of the Latin Fathers of the Church, St Cyprian of Carthage, who was martyred on September 14, 258. With the introduction of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, his feast was moved forward to September 16th. In the Roman Rite, he has long been celebrated in joint feast with his contemporary Pope St Cornelius, with whom he corresponded, and with whom he was joined in opposition to an heretic sect called the Novatianists, who denied the possibility that serious sins committed after baptism could be forgiven. The latter was martyred in June of 253, in the third year of his papacy.

Between 1565 and 1571, the painter Paolo Caliari, usually known as Paolo Veronese (Paul from Verona) painted an altarpiece for the high altar of the abbey of St Anthony the Abbot on the island of Torcello in the Venetian lagoon. This abbey was suppressed and destroyed during the Napoleonic invasion of Italy, and the painting is now in the Brera Gallery in Milan.
At top we see St Anthony, the patron of the church, represented as a mitred abbot, holding a crook decorated with a pannisellus, a piece of cloth that originally served to protect the metal of the shaft. (See this article from 2008: Veronese paints his rough and dull habit, typical of an Eastern hermit, in intense contrast to his bright green and gold cope, a reminder to us from a wiser age that the poverty of religious is not practiced by impoverishing the house or the worship of God.

Standing beneath him are Ss Cornelius on the left, and Cyprian on the right. I was unable to discover why they were chosen for inclusion in this painting, and if anyone knows, I would be glad to hear from them in the combox. UPDATE: thanks to commenter Alberto for noting that relics of Ss Cornelius and Cyprian were kept in the altar over which this painting was displayed.

Artists of the Venetian school like Veronese excelled at painting rich cloth like the colored and brocaded copes of the three Saints, but tended to be weak on their drawing, and as a result, their lines are often rather hazy. (Michelangelo, very much a product of the Florentine school which excelled at drawing, is supposed to have said of the Venetian artist Titian that he would be a superb painter if he would just learn how to draw.) This is evident when one looks at the painting in a closer view; it almost gives the impression that one could feel the texture of the brocade if one were to touch the painting, but the drawing of the designs on the copes is very vague.

Also note that Cornelius is wearing white, although he is a martyr no less than Cyprian, who is wearing red; this was certainly done for the sake of contrast and nothing else, just as St Anthony’s liturgical color would be white rather than green. The artist is clearly not aiming at any particular kind of accuracy, since the server who holds a liturgical book would never be dressed like the page seen here is.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Lessons from a Failed Council and a Failed Reform

One of the most important reforms of the Council of Trent was the abolition of a very common and long-standing abuse known as “plurality of benefice”, or “pluralism” for short. The history of this abuse, and how it was not remedied by the previous ecumenical council, Lateran V, is, I think, something quite instructive for us today. However, because Trent did remedy it so effectively, it is a matter now totally removed from the experience of most Catholics, and thus first requires some historical explanation.
A painting of the choir of the cathedral of St Vigilius in Trent, showing how it was set up for the sessions of the ecumenical council. Photo by Nicola de’ Grandi.
“Benefice”, from the Latin “beneficium – a benefit”, is the term for the material means by which the clergy were paid for the performance of their liturgical, sacramental, and administrative duties. The word is, of course, related to the term “benefactor.” In the earliest days of the Church, when a benefactor made a donation of either money or property, the administration thereof was generally left entirely to the discretion of the bishop, who as head of the local church received the donation in its name. It is not difficult to imagine how this system, especially when in the hands of less worthy successors of the Apostles, could become unpopular with both the clergy and laity alike.
Therefore, already beginning in the 6th century, it became common to earmark such donations, as we would say today, for specific purposes, the purposes in question being very often the performance of specific jobs within an ecclesiastical institution. To give a purely theoretical example: if the Duke of Alicubi wished to dedicate the revenues of some of his properties to the use of the Church, he would not simply give them on a regular basis to the bishop to do with as the latter pleased. He would rather legally assign the rents of a certain farm to become part of the salary of the dean of the cathedral chapter, the tolls collected on a certain bridge to the salary of the precentor, the tithes collected at a certain mill to the cathedral schoolmaster, etc. In return, the recipients of his benefices were generally required to say specific prayers (often a great many of them) for his welfare and intentions, in honor of his patron Saint, and for the eternal repose of him and his family members.
A portion of the choir stalls of Sarum Cathedral. Within the medieval benefice system, it would not be unusual for individual stalls within the same choir to be differently endowed by different families (note the various crests above the seats), and thus offer different salaries to the clerics who held them. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Hugh Llewelyn, CC BY-SA 2.0)
By the 11th century, such earmarking was established as a nearly universal custom in Western Europe. As a system, it brought many benefits to the Church, guaranteeing the maintenance of the clergy, and hence the regular performance of their duties, as well the upkeep of church buildings, schools, and vast charitable activities of every conceivable sort. Remnants of it exist in various places to this day, and will be familiar to the readers of certain English writers; for example, the clerical “livings” mentioned in Jane Austen’s novels are essentially the same as medieval benefices. The Warden, the first novel in Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles (if indeed an almost wholly plotless book can be called a novel), concerns the clerical administration of a charitable institution and the lucrative benefice (although not named as such) attached to the job of running it.
But like all systems created by human beings, it was liable to any number of abuses, one of the worst of which was called “plurality”, the holding of more than one benefice at a time by the same person. Originally, this emerged because many of them were small and limited in scope, and thus, it was possible for a single person to fulfill the duties attached to more than one of them. Over time, however, as many benefices became spectacularly lucrative for their holders, the abuse arose by which a cleric, often the scion of a noble or powerful family, was granted a formal dispensation to hold more than one of them, even though it was impossible for a single person to do all the work required by the various positions. From the huge income thus accumulated, he would pay “vicars” (from the Latin “vicarius – one who holds the place” of someone else), generally men of lower societal class, to do the work which the benefices had been created to pay for.
Pope Sixtus IV Making Bartolomeo Platina the First Librarian of the Vatican; fresco by Melozzi da Forlì, 1477, now in the Painting Gallery of the Vatican Museums. The cardinal facing the Pope, his nephew Giuliano, was at the time was simultaneously bishop of the French sees of Carpentras, Avignon and Coutances, plus Lausanne in Switzerland and Catania in Sicily, and cardinal priest of St Peter in Chains. Before becoming Pope in 1503 with the name Julius II, he would acquire two more French sees, Viviers and Mende (resigning the latter after 5 years), as well as Bologna, the suburbicarian sees of Sabina and Ostia, and be made archpriest of the Lateran basilica.
Thus, for example, the same person might be simultaneously bishop of a see in Italy, abbot of an abbey in France, archpriest of a church in Germany, and archdeacon of a church in Spain, drawing the salaries attached to these offices, but doing little or none of the work required of any of them. Not only is such a theoretical scenario not an exaggeration; this form of corruption ascended to the very highest levels of the Church. In the ten years before his election to the Papacy as Clement VII, Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici was at one point simultaneously bishop of three different sees (one in Italy and two in France), and the holder of three cardinalitial titles. From 1525 until his election to the Papacy in 1534 as Paul III, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese held five of the seven suburbicarian sees whose bishops are ex-officio members of the college of cardinals, while also being bishop of Parma and archpriest of the Lateran basilica in Rome. One of the many reasons why St Charles Borromeo stood out as a model Counter-Reformation bishop was that his eight predecessors had left the running of the see of Milan to vicars, and he was the first archbishop to actually reside there in 80 years. (The highly deleterious practice of episcopal non-residence was also strictly forbidden by Trent.)
Of course, many less prominent pluralists (say, the cousin of an Irish duke who held stalls in the choirs of four different churches) passed unnoticed by the Holy See. But a man does not hold five of the seven suburbicarian sees simultaneously without the full knowledge of the Pope and his curia, and the issuance of the pertinent dispensations. The first lesson to be drawn from this is, therefore, that it is perfectly possible for the Pope do something which is legal, in the sense that he has the authority to do it, and nevertheless completely immoral. Plurality of benefice, from which many important prelates benefitted, and more than one future Pope among them, was just such a thing, because after all, it was no more than a legalized form of theft, by which the monies donated to the Church for the performance of specific duties were given over to other purposes.
A reconstruction of the Lateran complex as it stood in the Middle Ages; the hall where five of the ecumenical councils were held is in the structure in the middle with five small apses sticking out the side. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
The Fifth Lateran Council was called in 1512 by a very successful pluralist, Pope Julius II (once the holder of eight sees simultaneously), but he did not live to preside over it. That duty fell to his successor, Pope Leo X, who had personally never been more a cardinal resident in Rome and the administrator of a single see, but showered his cousin Giulio with incompatible ecclesiastical jobs. Nevertheless, the council recognized that plurality of benefice was a scandal that needed to be addressed, and therefore decreed that no one was allowed to hold more than four of them simultaneously.
Here, then, is the second lesson to be drawn from this matter: it is perfectly possible for an ecumenical council (such as Lateran V) to correctly identify a problem within the Church (plurality of benefice), without correctly identifying the solution to that problem. Indeed, it is perfectly possible for said council to correctly identify a problem, and offer as a solution the exact opposite of what was needed to solve it, by de facto allowing it to continue. And it is perfectly possible to say this without denying the legitimacy of Lateran V as an ecumenical council.
Likewise, it is perfectly possible that Vatican II correctly identified a problem within the Church, the then-current state of its liturgical life, without correctly identifying the solution to that problem. Indeed, it is perfectly possible for said council to have correctly identified the problem, and offered as a solution the exact opposite of what was needed to solve it. (Of course, no two councils or the events that follow them are exactly alike, and so we must here once again note that the post-Conciliar reform is what it is in large measure because it rejected what Vatican II had said about the liturgy.) And it is perfectly possible to say this without denying the legitimacy of Vatican II as an ecumenical council.
In his book The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325-1870, Mons Philip Hughes wrote that “Of all the chronic scandals of the fourteen to the sixteenth centuries none had given rise to more continuous resentment than the papal licences to ecclesiastics to hold more than one see, or abbey, or parish simultaneously--scandals connected with what is called compendiously, the benefice system. Trent utterly forbade this practice--even where the beneficiaries were cardinals--and the council ordered all existing pluralists to surrender all but one of the benefices they held.” A third lesson, therefore: there is no reason to be scandalized at the idea that an ecumenical council can fail in one way or another, or indeed, fail completely. Trent was a success because it did correctly what Lateran V had done incorrectly. We may well hope that the firestorm of problems which have emerged in the Church in the wake of Vatican II will likewise be remedied by a future Council, and we may hope for this without “rejecting” Vatican II any more than we “reject” Lateran V.

A New Website of the Little Office of the Virgin Mary

Today, the feast of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady, our own Ben Yanke has published a new website with the full text of the Little Office of the Virgin Mary, including the special forms of it said in Advent and the Christmas season: Under settings, the Hours can be set to two different versions, pre-Divino Afflatu (1910) or 1962. To say the Office according to the Divino Afflatu reform, set it to 1910, and omit Psalms 66, 149 and 150 from Lauds. In 1962, the antiphons are all doubled, where they were traditionally semi-doubled, and there are a couple of other minor differences. Ben also has a website with a much simpler Little Office, that of the Sacred Heart (, and he is planning on creating more such sites in the future. Feliciter!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Music for the Exaltation of the Cross

O Crux, splendidior cunctis astris, mundo celebris, hominibus multum amabilis, sanctior universis: quae sola fuisti digna portare talentum mundi: dulce lignum, dulces clavos, dulcia ferens pondera: salva praesentem catervam in tuis hodie laudibus congregatam. (Antiphon of the Magnificat at First Vespers of the Exaltation of the Cross.)

“O Cross, more splendid than all the stars, renowned in the world, much beloved of all men, holier than all things, who only were worthy to bear the Price of the world: o sweet wood, that bearest the sweet nails, the sweet burdens; save the present company, gathered this day in praise of thee.”

This is not, of course, the Gregorian version of this text for use as an antiphon, but a polyphonic motet made from it by the Netherlandish composer Adrian Willaert, (ca. 1490-1562), and sung by the ensemble Henry’s Eight. (They are named for King Henry VIII, the founder of Trinity College, Cambridge, where they originally formed in 1992.)

The Exaltation of the Cross also provides an opportunity to sing once again at Vespers the famous Passiontide hymn Vexilla Regis, one of the masterpieces of the 6th century writer St Venantius Fortunatus. Here the ensemble AdOriente (which is correct Italian, not Latin) alternates the classic Gregorian melody with an unnamed polyphonic setting.

The alternation of Gregorian and polyphony was a popular way of setting hymns especially in the Counter-Reformation, and some of the best examples are those of Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victória. This version is particularly interesting for two reasons; the melody of the Gregorian parts is quite different from the Roman one, and the text of the hymn is that used before it was revised by Pope Urban VIII, (given here with Spanish translation.)

In the Byzantine Rite, the Exaltation of the Cross is one of the few days on which the Trisagion, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!” is replaced by a different text, “We adore Thy Cross, o Lord, and we glorify Thy holy Resurrection.” (The Trisagion is sung between the kontakia, the variable hymn of the Sunday or Saint’s feast, and the Prokimen which introduces the Epistle.) The latter text is also sung the 3rd Sunday of Lent, the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross, as seen here in the Orthodox cathedral of Kropyvnytskyi in central Ukraine.

Many texts from the Byzantine Rite have also been recast as motets; this setting of “We adore Thy Cross” is sung by the choir of the Trinity Lavra of St Sergius, one the most important monasteries in Russia.

The 7th Century Song of the Holy Rood by St Caedmon, and the Ruthwell Rood (Cross)

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I love this feast, for it draws our attention once again to the great paradox of the Christian faith, which in my estimation, once accepted would convince any person, without exception, to convert to Catholicism. When we die and put on Christ, through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Communion, our gift is Christian joy, the greatest happiness available to humanity. This happiness is deeper, more permanent, and more powerful than any human suffering.

Last week I focused on the Eastern troparia that celebrate this wonderful feast. Today, I want to direct you to a contemporary setting of an Old English poem, the Song of the Holy Rood. (“Rood” is a medieval English word for the Cross; h/t Gina S.) The Song (or Dream) of the Holy Cross is thought to have been written by a 7th-century English poet from the northeast of England, St Caedmon, although this is not certain. The musical setting was composed by Mr. Dallas Gambrell and was commissioned by Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia. To hear the recording performed by this humble church choir, go this webpage and scroll to the bottom.
One verse and chorus presented here encapsulate this mystery of the Cross which spans the divide between lamentation and glory:
Rood: I bore the Wielder’s pain and death,
and bracing felt His final breath.
Now came forth men abandoned, lost,
and saw what wage of sin had cost.
I knelt and freed the Lord from chains,
arms lifted Him from off my frame.
With heavy hearts they gave us rest
beneath the earth a stone cold nest.

Lamentation: Oh, oh…

Chorus: Let all Creation sigh and weep
for the Lord of Life doth sleep.
Lamentations now let us sing
for Christ, our great and fallen King.
Yet, this is wondrous victory
for Him who died upon the tree.

Gloria, Gloria, Gloria, Gloria…
The poem is long, over 150 verses, and is a dialogue between the cross and the chorus (or narrator). The cross speaks as though suffering with Christ. A large proportion of it is inscribed, in Latin and runic, on an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon cross which is at Ruthwell in southwest Scotland, dating from when that area was part of the Kingdom of Northumbria. The cross itself was smashed into pieces in the 17th century by Presbyterian, that is Calvinist, iconoclasts and then pieced together again in the 19th century. It now resides in Ruthwell Church.
Ruthwell Church

The washing of Our Lord’s feet

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Return of the “Care Cloth” at the Traditional Nuptial Mass

On May 1, 2021, I had the great privilege of leading the choir and schola for the wedding of a dear friend and former student of mine, who used to sing in my college choir. The liturgy was a Solemn High Nuptial Mass—the kind of thing one could barely imagine back when I first got involved in the movement for the restoration of the Roman Rite. (My own Nuptial Missa Cantata was difficult enough to pull off back in 1998!) The church where the Mass was held, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fennimore, Wisconsin, was a perfect home for this grand event.

The bride and bridegroom took great care in planning their wedding—so much so, in fact, that they chose to incorporate into the ceremony an old custom called the “care cloth.”

The velatio nuptialis is an ancient tradition of the Catholic Church, well established since at least the fourth century. During the nuptial blessing, which is said between the Canon and Communion, a white cloth (pallium) is held over the couple. St. Ambrose, fourth-century bishop of Milan, writes, “It is fitting that the marriage be sanctified by the imposition of the veil and the blessing of the priest.” The white cloth signifies the bright cloud, which is at once a sign of God’s protection accompanying the chosen people wandering in the desert (Ex. 13:20–22), the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary (Lk. 1:35), and the bright cloud of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor (Lk. 9:28-36; 2 Pt. 1:17–18). It also signifies that the couple becomes one flesh through marriage. In France, the poêle, which is another word for the veil, is also used to honor the Blessed Sacrament on the feast of Corpus Christi, which appropriately connects the wedding of the couple to the wedding feast of Christ and the Church, represented and effected by the Blessed Sacrament. While the velatio nuptialis experienced widespread use in the Middle Ages in the Roman Rite, it fell out of use almost everywhere outside of France, although the tradition is seeing a slow revival.

As for where the name “care cloth” comes from, we read in Michael Foley's book Wedding Rites:
The couple’s wedding veil, or carecloth, was once so important in the Western imagination that it literally gave the wedding event its name. When a woman in ancient Rome was married, she put on a fiery red veil as a sign of the new obligations and dignity she was taking on as a matron. In Latin this act of covering oneself with a veil was known as nubere, from which comes our word “nuptial.” Latin Christians adopts the veil in the 300s (or perhaps earlier) but put the man under it as well, to stress the fact that both bride and groom were expected to live up to their marital obligations. This explains why it came to be called a carecloth in English, as “to care” once meant “to lay a burden on.” After the Renaissance, the carecloth was itself overshadowed by the bridal veil in most parts of Europe (a pale substitute, in our humble opinion), though it continues to be used in several areas of the world today. (p. 77)
After the Lord's Prayer, the bride and bridegroom ascend the steps into the sanctuary and kneel; the priest stands at the corner of the altar to say the nuptial blessing, during which the cloth is held above the couple by two altar servers:

Let us pray. Be gracious, O Lord, to our humble supplications: and graciously assist this Thine institution, which Thou hast established for the increase of mankind: that what is joined together by Thine authority, may be preserved by Thine aid. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. 
Let us pray. O God, who by Thine own mighty power, didst make all things out of nothing: who having set in order the beginnings of the world, didst appoint Woman to be an inseparable helpmate to Man, made like unto God, so that Thou didst give to woman’s body its beginnings in man’s flesh, thereby teaching that what it pleased Thee to form from one substance, might never be lawfully separated: O God, who, by so excellent a mystery hast consecrated the union of man and wife, as to foreshadow in this nuptial bond the union of Christ with His Church: O God, by whom Woman is joined to Man, and the partnership, ordained from the beginning, is endowed with such blessing, that it alone was not withdrawn either by the punishment of original sin, or by the sentence of the flood: graciously look upon this Thy handmaid, who, about to be joined in wedlock, seeks Thy defense and protection. May it be to her a yoke of love and peace: faithful and chaste, may she be wedded in Christ, and let her ever be the imitator of holy women: let her be dear to her husband, like Rachel: wise, like Rebecca: long-lived and faithful, like Sara. Let not the author of deceit work any of his evil deeds in her. May she continue, clinging to the faith and to the commandments. Bound in one union, let her shun all unlawful contact. Let her protect her weakness by the strength of discipline; let her be grave in behavior, respected for modesty, well-instructed in heavenly doctrine. Let her be fruitful in offspring; be approved and innocent; and come to the repose of the blessed and the kingdom of heaven. May they both see their children’s children to the third and fourth generation, and may they reach the old age which they desire. Through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth God.

The couple return to their kneelers and the priest continues into the embolism.

The care cloth used in this nuptial Mass, which was sewn and embroided by a close friend, is fittingly made from linen, the same material used for altar cloths. Pope John Paul II describes the family as the ecclesia domestica (the domestic church), so the cloth symbolizes that the family coming into being is a participation in the fruitful union Christ and His Church. The veil is, as it were, the altar cloth of the new family. The Marian auspice is embroided on the cloth in blue; the design includes symbols from Mary, Star of the Sea, who “makes our way secure till we find in Jesus joy forevermore,” as the ancient prayer says. The auspice is flanked by lace, which belonged to the bridegroom’s grandmother.
The "auspice"

For more information on the care cloth, see M. Henri de Villiers, “The Velatio Nuptialis: An Ancient (and Forgotten) Part of the Latin Marriage Rite.”

Although it was not in itself the most important moment in the ceremony (there are surely several others that would, theologically, lay superior claim to that honor), it was for me the most strikingly beautiful; the photos will, I think, suggest just how special a custom it is. I hope others who are planning their Latin Mass weddings will take it up, as well. To my mind, in this period of new incomprehension and persecution directed at our patrimony as Latin rite Catholics, young people must bend the stick in the opposite direction and go for uncompromising maximalism: a Solemn High Nuptial Mass with polyphony and pipe organ—and a care cloth. That is a beautiful and decisive way of saying: I choose the old ways, and I am content with them, in fact, they lift my soul. Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.

(All photos by Mattson Photography LLC.)

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Most Holy Name of Mary

Whosoever thou art that knowest thyself to be here not so much walking upon firm ground, as battered to and fro by the gales and storms of this life’s ocean, if thou wouldst not be overwhelmed by the tempest, keep thine eyes fixed upon this star’s clear shining. If the winds of temptation rise against thee, or thou run upon the rocks of trouble, look to the star, call on Mary. If thou art tossed by the waves of pride, or ambition, or slander, or envy, look to the star, call on Mary. If anger or avarice or the enticements of the flesh beat against thy soul’s barque, look to Mary. If the enormity of thy sins trouble thee, if the foulness of thy conscience confound thee, if the dread of judgment appall thee, if thou begin to slip into the deep of despondency, into the pit of despair, think of Mary.

The Apparition of the Virgin Mary to St Bernard, 1486 by Fra Filippo Lippi (1457-1504); public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
In dangers, in difficulties, in doubts, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let Her not be away from thy mouth or from thine heart, and that thou may obtain the succour of Her prayers, turn not aside from the example of Her conversation. If thou follow Her, thou wilt never go astray; if thou pray to Her, thou wilt never despair; if thou keep Her in mind, thou wilt never wander. If She hold thee, thou wilt never fall; if She lead thee, thou wilt never be weary; if She help thee, thou wilt reach home safe, and so prove in thyself how rightly it was said, “And the Virgin’s name was Mary.” (From the sermon of St Bernard of Clairvaux in the Office of the Most Holy Name of Mary.)

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Photos of the Latin Mass Society Walsingham Pilgrimage

We are very grateful to Mr Charles Bradshaw for sharing this account of the recent pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in England, organized by the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, and likewise to Dr Joseph Shaw for sharing his pictures of the event. Links are given below to two flickr albums where you can see many more.

We’re on the road again!” The past few years have seen a sharp increase in off-grid living, and with it a deep desire to give the modern world the heave ho. Off-grid traditional Catholicism is certainly what it feels like as you pack the car for the annual Walsingham Pilgrimage, not just with your backpack and tent but an entire sacristy, from vestments right down to grains of incense. Blessed with Solemn High Mass on each of its three days, the pilgrimage offers a chance to shed the cares of this world for a brief moment and connect with the essential: God; carefully lifting every second of the liturgy from suitcase to sanctuary.
But beyond the complex infrastructure of organization, there’s a sense in which each Mass stops to speak to the pilgrim on the way. As dawn rises on the first day around the relic of St Eltheldreda, there’s a palpable sense of expectant hope as the bleary-eyed pilgrims confide their joys, cares and intentions to the once great Queen and Abbess of Ely.
Yet as the 56 mile walk advances, it’s like a monastery on the move, 130 pilgrims strong, a power house of prayer and fellowship on the march, determined to keep going for God, where the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” of the Creed meaningfully sung, seems to sink into the walls of the chapel at Oxborough Hall the following day breathing a deep sigh of relief, united as it were with the martyrs whose blood has shaped the unshakeable Faith of the recusant families of our land.
And from that persecuted Church of yesteryear and now, emerges on the final leg a yet stronger band of pilgrims, restored now by Grace and Sacraments, unstoppable on their quest to reach England’s beating heart. Mid-afternoon on Sunday, it is the Church triumphant at the feet of Her Mother at Walsingham, as She walks singing and praying along the Holy Mile after Mass. As the High Street opens out, there’s not a pilgrim who isn’t moved as they glimpse the sight of the Abbey where once that Holy House stood.

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