Tuesday, June 22, 2021

A Classic Book on Art and Beauty to Be Republished: “The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty”

Fr John Saward’s classic theological meditation on the works of Fra Angelico is to be re-published by Angelico Press, almost 25 years after it first appeared. You can purchase it here.

In October 2001, I decided to make a trip to the USA from London, where I was living at the time. I had just read John Paul II’s Letter to Artists. This short text, a survey of the range of Christian art over the centuries, and an exhortation for contemporary artists to emulate the greats of the past, was the first coming out of the contemporary Church that I had read that had any stamp of authority on it and which seemed to be making a case for the re-establishment of a Catholic culture of beauty. I knew nobody in the US, but wanted to try to connect with Catholic universities over here to persuade them to establish a new sort of Catholic art school that might create artists capable of responding to the Holy Father’s call.

I didn’t know the world of Catholic education at all, and approached, without any introduction and out of the blue, a number of big-name “Catholic” universities. In some cases, I just walked unannounced into the art departments on campus and asked to speak to the head. I was, naively, hoping to persuade them to stop teaching secular art and start forming Catholic artists.

Unsurprisingly, most couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. Here was a strange Englishman waving papal encyclicals at them and telling them they had been getting it wrong for years. It was not something they particularly relished, it seems. However, some did listen and explained that it was not as easy as I thought to transform the teaching goals of an established art school. They tried to connect me with students who they knew would feel as I did. As I started to talk to these two names kept on cropping up. Nearly all suggested first that I go back to England and approach someone called Stratford Caldecott, who lived in Oxford and published a journal called Second Spring (this I did, and he became a mentor to me). Second, they suggested that I read this book by Fr John Saward. By coincidence, Fr John also lived in Oxford, and Stratford Caldecott introduced me to him on one of my subsequent trips there.

I was captivated by this book, a work on Catholic art that was actually sympathetic to Catholic culture, and written by someone who unapologetically believed in the truth of the subjects portrayed in the paintings. Until then, every account of Catholic culture and painting I had read (with the exception of the very brief Letter to Artists) came under the category of art history, and was written by people who were clearly non-believers. They spoke of Catholic art - even if they appreciated its beauty - as the product of antiquated superstitious thought and formed by socio-economic factors (what I now realize is the standard Marxist critique, although they never said so). But this was different. Here was someone who not only talked about the content knowledgeably, but extended his discussion to the necessity for art and beauty in the culture. It was as much about philosophy and theology as it was about art. The name alone told me that this was different.

As a result, I understood that there was a Catholic way of discussing and appreciating art and culture that could begin to explain why the Church had been the source of so much beauty through the centuries...and why it had ceased to be so in recent times. The cleverness of the name alone captured my attention and told me that this was special. So much of what I have tried to do in the years since then in the mission to re-establish a Catholic culture of beauty has been inspired by what I read in this book.

Below are the reviews that appear on the book itself, including one by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, whose The Spirit of the Liturgy was first published around the same time as Fr Saward’s book, and translated from German into English by Saward himself.

The first, unattributed, is the summary from the publisher:
“Beauty will save the world,” said Dostoyevsky. In this book, John Saward presents a study of two ways in which the saving beauty of Christ shines upon the world: in the lives of His saints, and in the works of Christian art—“the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty.” This unique and unprecedented theological meditation centers on several works of art of the Dominican blessed, John of Fiesole, known to the world as Fra Angelico. Drawing on the wisdom of the Church’s Fathers and Doctors, Saward has written a book not on art history, but on the attractive radiance of Catholic truth. Its goal is to help Christians grow in wonder at the glory of Divine Revelation, to which both the Church’s saints and the Church’s art bear witness.
“The importance of this luminous book can scarcely be overestimated. The substance of Saward’s scholarship and his understanding of culture are dazzling. His vision is of utmost urgency. This is wise, deeply moving, and invigorating—a masterpiece!”
“The more I read of John Saward’s work, the more I am inclined to include his name on the very short list of preeminently important twentieth-century Catholic writers. He opens to us yet another rich aspect of the Faith that seems scarcely to have been touched on before. Read it, and find your vision vastly deepened and heightened.”
“Professor Saward provides his readers a great service by his careful treatment of the connection between sacred art, the heroic virtue of saintly people, and the fullness of truth taught by Christ and His Church. The numerous citations of Catholic artists, poets, and musicians demonstrate how the Catholic Faith elevates civilization. Perhaps through efforts such as Professor Saward’s, we will see the prevailing culture of death in our day pale in the light of a civilization of life and love radiating from the beauty of holiness, and the holiness of beauty, that truth inspires.”
You can purchase it here.

FR. JOHN SAWARD is a Fellow of Blackfriars’ Hall and priest in charge of the parish of SS. Gregory and Augustine, Oxford.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Formation and Malformation: Why Catechesis Isn’t Enough if the Liturgy is Countercatechetical

In many discussions online, I have encountered versions of the view that we should not be “fussy” about liturgy, because as long as we are attending a Catholic rite, and we are sincere in our intentions, we will be led to God. Those who hold this view fail to recognize, however, that bad liturgy damages the spiritual lives of the faithful; it actually sets them back. A letter I received some time ago from a friend really brought this out, and I share it now with NLM readers, along with my briefer reply.

Dear Dr. Kwasniewski,

I’ve been reflecting on the idea of malformation in the liturgy. What is the effect (if it can even be measured) of the liturgy of the past 50 years on the faithful? Specifically, in the way that it has formed us (or malformed us)?

Reflecting on this, I realize that I first thought of this problem about seven years ago. I can still picture myself driving in the car listening to Catholic Answers. The new translation of the Missal had just been issued and the host was discussing the repetition of “through my fault” in the Confiteor. I believe the caller was troubled by an “overemphasis on sin.” The host was lamenting a “loss of the sense of sin” in our culture.

However, as I listened (and I had not studied the liturgy at all), I couldn’t help but think that the liturgy itself, in the old ICEL translation, had itself downplayed the sense of sin (at the time, I didn’t know that this was more than just the translation, but was also the fact that the Consilium deliberately removed this type of language from the Missal). And so, I found myself actually somewhat upset with the host. His caller probably wasn’t a “now-and-again Catholic”; most likely, this was someone who had attended Mass faithfully over the past several decades. Part of the reason this person had lost the “sense of sin” wasn’t just “the culture,” but was the fact that the liturgy itself fails to adequately convey this.

I’ve worked in faith formation in a variety of roles over the past several years. We were always lamenting the “failures in catechesis” regarding things like sin, the Mass as Sacrifice, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, marriage, the importance of Confession, the reality of hell. We thought all we needed to do was to teach people about these things and to explain their meaning and importance, developing programs and faith formation series, making more resources available, getting priests to talk more about them in homilies.

While all of those endeavors are certainly helpful, what we failed to comprehend was that the liturgy itself was working against us. Week after week, the average Catholic’s experience of the liturgy was malforming them in all these areas. And this is something, it seems to me, that catechesis can never overcome. Catechesis, the lex credendi, should flow out of liturgy, the lex orandi. I can remember a relative of mine—a very faithful man, and something of a “postconciliar exile”—being so struck by John Paul II’s Ecclesia de Eucharistia. He would say again and again that at the Mass, we are at Calvary. Years later, I realized that when I’m at the TLM, it actually feels like I’m there at the Cross. At the NO, I have to direct my intention and make a greater effort to be mindful of what’s taking place on the altar.

Another common thing I’ve heard in discussions of evangelization is the fact that “only 5–7% of people in the pews are evangelized.” What I always thought about this was that we need to have different in-parish evangelization programs to help these people understand what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus. We have to understand the “thresholds of conversion” (Sherry Weddell) and help guide people through them to the place of “intentional discipleship.” Then they will be ready and in a position to benefit from the Mass.

While there is probably some truth to this, my thinking is starting to shift in this area as well. If these people are at Mass, presumably they have some faith, some relationship with Christ. What if it’s been the liturgy that has actually been an obstacle to them deepening this relationship? What if they have actually gone backwards in their journey, because they are not being drawn into a deeper encounter with mystery and a richness of prayer? I don’t think we’ve sufficiently considered this as a real possibility as we try to find “solutions” to these problems. Generally the thinking seems to be that these people won’t “get anything out of the Mass” until they are evangelized and have a personal relationship with Christ. But isn’t the liturgy the very place where this relationship is fed? What about situations where the liturgy does not instill the habits that allow us to grow closer to Him?
In my own life, I see this struggle especially with the Liturgy of the Hours. I have prayed the LOTH on and off for about fifteen years. Lately, however, I’ve been using either the Roman Breviary or, more recently, the Anglican Use Office (which allows for the continuous reading of the whole psalter over the course of a month). I notice that I’m actually formed differently. Using the Anglican Use Office, I’ve been going through all 150 psalms, with no omitted verses. It conveys a very different sense of God, of myself, of what I should ask for in prayer, than the LOTH does. I guess my point is that even if someone is immersed in the new Mass and the LOTH, they aren’t going to get a lot of those things that we (from the “faith formation” perspective) most want them to get: the sense of sin, the importance of penance/fasting, a deepening immersion in the liturgical year, the Mass as Sacrifice, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the uniqueness of the ordained priesthood, the four last things (death, judgment, heaven, hell).

Having come to this, I’m understanding more and more your call for a wholesale return to the traditional Latin Mass and the other traditional rites. Even if the Novus Ordo is celebrated beautifully (along with Vespers at the parish, for example), it still seems that in some way we have to put back in all sorts of elements that have been removed (through homilies, catechesis, explanations, etc.). But this is incredibly laborious, never totally successful, and finally, doesn’t seem to be what the liturgy is intended to be. It should be able to do what it does just by being what it is, rather than needing constant life-support from a team of doctors.

Nowadays, when people are bored at Mass or “don’t get anything out of it,” we often ask: well, what are you bringing to it? Again, there’s some truth here, I don’t deny it. But am I right in thinking that this is fundamentally a wrong way of looking at liturgy?The liturgy is supposed to call these things out of us. We aren’t meant to simply put ourselves, by our own effort, into the proper dispositions. The liturgy is intended to draw these things from us, demand them of us.

Yours in Christ,
Parish Catechist

Dear Parish Catechist,

You have hit the proverbial nail on the head. Obviously, the rudiments of faith and catechetical knowledge are presupposed to engaging the liturgy—but the liturgy is then supposed to take that and nourish it, carry it further, like Christ multiplying the few loaves and fishes the disciples offered Him. If the liturgy is not assisting in the development of a deep interior life and a reliance on sacramental grace and an awareness of the sacred mysteries of Christ in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, then it is simply failing in its proper work as liturgy. I talk about this in a few chapters of Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright, especially 5, 7, and 19 (online versions of which can be found here, here, and here).

The Divine Office was destroyed by the Liturgy of the Hours. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but it’s the sober truth. For the first time in the history of the Roman church, the full psalter is not recited. In the old breviary the 150 psalms are recited each week; in the LOTH, it’s not quite 150 over a month—and with plenty of verses skipped, as you know. The Anglican book, which I’m not familiar with, sounds very good. It’s clearly superior to the LOTH, and if you find it spiritually fruitful, I’d say stick with it. It’s better, all things considered, to pick one book and make it your go-to for the office than to bounce between several.

What you have described can be rephrased this way: the reformed liturgy simply lacks whole dimensions of the traditional Catholic faith—heck, whole dimenions of the Old Testament and the New Testament. So it really doesn’t matter if you add all the “smells and bells.” It’s like putting royal clothing on a starved and shivering waif. There’s a disjunct that cannot be overcome by piling up externals but only by restoring the fullness that already existed in the old rites. It seems to me plausible to believe that Divine Providence, with a “severe mercy,” permitted the “mystery of iniquity” of the liturgical revolution in order to send the most almighty wake-up call and cold shower in the history of the Church. “O my people, pay attention to the riches you have—or I will take them away.” He says this a thousand times in the Old Testament. We are still Israel journeying through the wilderness of this world en route to the Promised Land of heaven, equipped with laws and rites that we seldom perfectly observe or appreciate. He bestows what is good; He tries the hearts and reins; He chastens whom he loves; He sends into exile; but He always promises to relent, for a remnant, and He does relent, letting the sweetness of His love be tasted and seen. This is the very logic of salvation history, and we have seen it playing out before our eyes.

I have no more to add to your excellent analysis. Would that more pastors and religious educators would wake up to the sharp inadequacy of reformed means to accomplish traditional ends; would that they could turn again to what the Lord has already provided in the history of the Church, and feed the people with liturgical bread, not stones!

In Domino,
Dr. Kwasniewski

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Corpus Christi 2021 Photopost (Part 2)

My apologies to everyone who sent in these beautiful photos for the delay in getting to this post; I had meant to do it while I was in Mexico, but my computer had a significant problem, and I was unable to do anything with it at all. We also include here a Rogation Mass and a first Mass by a priest; there will be at least one more post in this series, possibly two. Keep up the good work of evangelizing through beauty!
Our Lady of Loreto – Cold Spring, New York

Friday, June 18, 2021

Life in a Dominican Studium before Vatican II (Oakland, 1961)

I originally posted these videos some ten years ago, but I thought some of our readers who never saw them might find them interesting. Enjoy!
The video “Life a Monastery” was broadcast on Oakland Channel 6 in 1961. It shows life in the Western Dominican Province House of Studies, Saint Albert the Great Priory, in Oakland, California.

VIDEO ONE The film begins with clips of our House of Studies, still the same today in Oakland CA. Then follows film of the Dominican Rite Solemn Mass, the center of the liturgical day at the House of Studies. The film than moves to the class room, and then highlights different aspects of the life.

A list of those appearing is below the video. The times listed for each of the scenes in the identification list tell where you can find that segment on the video.

The Priory and Grounds (time 0:00)

Members of the Choir (time 1:35) are identified for Second Video

Solemn Mass Ministers (time 2:43) Celebrant: Fr. Martin Giannini; Deacon (l): Bro. Aquinas Wall; Subdeacon (r): Bro. Nicholas Prince; Senior Acolyte (r): Bro. Bernard Cranor; Junior Acolyte (l): Bro. Brendan O’Rourke; Thurifer: Bro. Bertrand Pidgeon

Classroom (time 5:07): Instructor: Fr. Fabian Parmisano

Student in his Room (time 7:00): Bro. Jordan DeMan

Library Stacks (time 7:26): Bros. Terence McCabe and Sean Doherty

Studying in Library (time 8:36): Bro. Peter Cole


Student Discussion by the Fire (time 9:11): Bros. Philip Valera, Benedict DeMan, Bertrand Pidgeon, Albert Linkogle, Brendan O'Rourke, and Edmund Ryan

Chess Players (time 9:58) : Bros. Stephen Coughlin and Lawrence Ackerman

Music Room (time 10:20) : Bros. Thomas More McGreevy, Salvador Calderon (Mexican Province) and Francisco Brenes Camocho, O.P. (Spanish Province)

Drama Practice (time 10:43) : Director: Bro. Lawrence Ackerman; with Bros. Sabastian Haterias, Gerald Elher, and Fr. Fabian Parmisano

Weather Service (time 11:30) : Bro. Stanislaus Sharlach

Art Studio (time 11:56) : Bro. Aquinas Wall

VIDEO TWO The second part of the film highlights the fine arts and the domestic life of the house. It then returns to the Solemn Mass and ends with the chanting of the Exsultet according to the Dominican chant. The credits were actually added later, I am told, by Fr. Finbar Hayes.

Music Session (time 0:00) : Trumpeter, Bro. James Aymong; Guitar, Bro. Louis Fronk

Print Shop (time 0:30): Bro. Antoninus Everson, T.O.P.

Wood Shop (time 1:25) : Bros. Daniel Thomas and Raphael Goodfriend

Visiting the Infirm (time 2:39) : Fr. Bertrand Clyne and Bro. Gregory Lira

Student and Teacher (time 2:60) : Fr. Leo Thomas and Bro. Giles Wentworth

Priest Leaving for Sunday Supply (time 3:30): Fr. Mark McPhee

Gardens (time 4:06) : Bro. Matthias Lockett (weeding)

Dominican Sisters at Grotto (time 4:35) : Sisters Assumta Vorndran, Maria Goretti Eder, Nicolina Kohler, and Melita Wolf

Sisters in the Kitchen (time 5:02) : Sisters Rosalia Steinbach and Maria Goretti Eder

De Profundis Line and Refectory (time 5:19) : Fr. William Lewis, the Prior

Reader in Refectory (time 6:35) : Bro. Stephen Coughlin

Friars at Table (time 7:03) : Frs. Dominic Deniz Ortega, (Spanish Province), Martin Giannini, Mark McPhee, and Fr. John Flannerty

In the Cloister (time 7:40) : In garden (unknown); in archway, Bro. Thomas Thierman, T.O.P.

The Choir at Mass (time 8:35) : The Cantors (left to right): Bros. Francisco Brenes Camacho (Spanish Province), Louis Fronk, Bertrand Pidgeon, and James Aymong.

Front Row on Left (left to right): Bros. Daniel Thomas, Gregory Lira, Antoninus Everson (T.O.P.), Albert Linkogle, Lawrence Ackerman, Augustine Hartman, Anthony Chavez, Patrick Labelle, Bede Wilks, Philip Valera, and Fr. Peter Miles.

Back Row on Left (left to right): unidentified

Front Row on Right (left to right): Bros. Sebastian Haterias, Gerard Elher, Giles Wentworth, Stephen Coughlin, Edmund Ryan, Frederick Narberes, and Adrian Rivera (lay brother postulant). plus four others unidentified,

Back Row on Right: empty stalls, then Bro. Terence McCabe

Solemn Mass (time 10:00) ministers are identified for first video.

The Exsultet (time 11:34) : Bro. Kieran Healy

Credits (time 14:00) : Frs. Mark McPhee, Fabian Parmisano, Finbar Hayes and Leo Thomas/

I thank Bro. Lupe for his help with the production of this video and Fr. Edmund Ryan for his help in identifying the friars. I also thank the many friars who have written me with corrections and new identifications.

A Personal Note of Thanks to the FSSP and FIUV in Mexico

On behalf of Dr Kwasniewski and myself, I would like to express our profound gratitude to the Mexican apostolate of the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter, especially to the head of their house in Guadalajara, Fr Daniel Heenan; and likewise, to the Mexican branch of the International Federation Una Voce, and particularly to the president, Mr Edgar Fernández, for their warm and generous hospitality over the past week as we attended the recent Summorum Pontificum conference in Guadalajara. I would also like to thank the many people who were kind enough to express their appreciation of the papers we delivered at the conference, and of the work we do at NLM in general. It was a pleasure to meet you all, we will both be very glad to return to Mexico when occasion arises. We also offer our heartiest congratulation to Fr Joel Pinto Rodríguez FSSP, who was ordained to the priesthood by H.E. Raymond Cardinal Burke during the conference, on June 11th, the feast of the Sacred Heart. This was the first priestly ordination in the traditional rite to be celebrated in Mexico since the post-Conciliar liturgical reform.

While we were in Mexico, however, my computer suffered a catastrophic automatic update, which is why we have had so few posts this week. My clever nephew has solved the problem, and we will, Deo volente, be getting back to a more regular posting schedule soon, including some of Peter’s pictures of the various sites we visited. In the meantime, just a little preview...

the FSSP church in Guadalajara, dedicated to Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the patroness of Spain...
and the laying-on of hands at Fr Rodríguez’s ordination. (Both photos by Peter.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Virtual Sacred Music Colloquium 2021

Virtual Sacred Music Colloquium 2021 | June 21-25, 2021 | CMAA


Make plans to join the Church Music Association of America for this summer’s Virtual Sacred Music Colloquium, from June 21-25, 2021.

Our virtual program offers opportunities for learning, singing, listening, and interacting with some of the best minds and musicians in the Catholic world today! We will offer three tracks for the breakouts this year, with an eye toward providing a broader range of information that you can use to expand your knowledge.

Three Tracks

One track will be in Spanish. One English track will be more focused on the basics; the other will address more advanced topics and issues.

You can choose from either English track as you wish for each breakout time. The Spanish track will be held on its own day so that more can participate in it. 

The CMAA Virtual Colloquium will be primarily focused on instruction in topics related to chant, polyphony and the Catholic sacred music tradition, lectures and daily night prayer. 

We are also pleased to include three plenary talks this year as well. During the week, you’ll be able to participate in all these sessions via your home computer using the Zoom app. At the end of each breakout session there will be a question and answer session.

Plenary Talks

June 21 – Welcome and Plenary Talk, Dr. William P. Mahrt, CMAA Board President

June 22 – Plenary Talk, Most Reverend Salvatore J. Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco

June 24 – Plenary Talk, Rev. Joseph Koterski, S.J., Fordham University

For information about all the details of Schedule, Breakout Session topics, Faculty bios, and more, visit our website at:



Can’t make all the sessions you wish to attend? Registrants will have access to the recordings for several days following the completion of each session.

To register online: REGISTER NOW.

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Campaign Against Musically-Shaped Memory

Research has demonstrated what everyday experience already knew: music is the most powerful of all memory aids. The reason we can so easily remembered twenty-six pieces of unrelated information when we memorize the alphabet as a small child is that we learn a song about it. Years after one has last heard a certain song, all it takes is a snatch of its melody for the whole thing to come flooding back. People in comas have reawakened when their loved ones sang or played familiar music to them. Music embeds itself deep in the psyche; its highly articulate structure secures for it a permanence that is often missing from mere text. It takes ten times longer to memorize a spoken poem than the same poem set to a melody.

We know that before the Council, there were still many places that, in spite of St. Pius X’s best intentions, did not use the full chanted propers, but substituted for them “Rossini Propers” or something similarly dreadful; we know that the majority of Masses were recited, not sung or solemn. Nevertheless, there were High Masses and fully chanted Propers; this cannot be denied, for many eyewitnesses and historical records confirm it. For many communities of religious, a fully chanted Mass was normative. Popular liturgical writers could confidently refer to and comment on the chants of Mass, expecting to be understood. “Ad te levavi,” “Puer natus est,” “Nos autem,” “Resurrexi,” “Spiritus Domini,” “Requiem aeternam,” were texts and melodies that enjoyed currency and, more importantly, embedded themselves into the collective ecclesial consciousness. They were the stuff of the Church’s long-term memory. Everyone knew what “Gaudete” and “Laetare” referred to, namely, the Introits of the particular Sundays in Advent and Lent when rose-colored vestments could be worn.

In his letter Sacrificium Laudis of 1966, Paul VI encouraged monks and nuns to retain chant (though in the eleventh hour Rembert Weakland torpedoed his efforts, which were never more than Hamletesque), but he certainly expected Mass everywhere else to be characterized by a lack of chant. In his infamous General Audience of November 26, 1969, right before the Novus Ordo Missae was to go into effect, he said:

It is here that the greatest newness is going to be noticed, the newness of language. No longer Latin, but the spoken language will be the principal language of the Mass. The introduction of the vernacular will certainly be a great sacrifice for those who know the beauty, the power and the expressive sacrality of Latin. We are parting with the speech of the Christian centuries; we are becoming like profane intruders in the literary preserve of sacred utterance. We will lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant. We have reason indeed for regret, reason almost for bewilderment. What can we put in the place of that language of the angels? We are giving up something of priceless worth. But why? What is more precious than these loftiest of our Church’s values?
He replies, not too convincingly: 

The answer will seem banal, prosaic. Yet it is a good answer, because it is human, because it is apostolic. Understanding of prayer is worth more than the silken garments in which it is royally dressed. Participation by the people is worth more—particularly participation by modern people, so fond of plain language which is easily understood and converted into everyday speech. 

It would be difficult to believe that the Supreme Pontiff, Pope of Rome, actually said these words, had they not been carefully recorded and committed to print and were they not readily available. Later in his address, the Pope cautiously suggests that Latin will not perish, but never says that chant will survive. The fact that he rushed to promulgate a missal in 1969 for which there was no corresponding chant book—a glaring defect that would be repaired only in 1974 when the monks of Solesmes published the revised Graduale Romanum, at which point the horses had not only bolted from the barn, but the barn had been razed and the ground unrecognizably planted over—points to the same conclusion: this pope had absolutely no intention of following one of the teachings of Vatican II that could not be called ambiguous or ambivalent, namely, the assignment of “chief place in liturgical services” to Gregorian chant, as signed by 2,147 council fathers and promulgated by the same pope only six years earlier (Sacrosanctum Concilium 116).

The loss of chanted propers of the Mass was therefore a deliberate strategy, not an accidental fallout. The appearance of the 1974 Graduale Romanum was a sad afterthought that made no impact on parochial life; the tradition had already been severed. Stories are rife of monks, nuns, friars, and laity chanting from the Liber Usualis one week, and the following week singing folksy English songs from binders or booklets, never to take up the chant again. What this means, if we go back to our opening remarks about music as a repository and vehicle of memory (indeed, of an ever-deepening memory that lives and grows while it endures), is that the Church was systematically deprived of her most precious liturgical memories in the form of the cantillated scripture verses with which her worship had been adorned for at least a millennium and a half.

The result? A rupture or dissolution of memory that, at least as far as individuals and communities are concerned, would be comparable to severe amnesia or to Alzheimer’s, with a superficialization of the meaning and content of worship. It is not that one treasure was substituted for another, but a treasure was lost, and in its place was put a random collection of vastly inferior items that enjoyed neither diachronic nor synchronic universality. The power of music to retain and transmit the Faith was fragmented, atomized, and fluxified.

The replacement of the annual reading cycle with two-year and three-year reading cycles; the abolition of many priestly prayers in the Mass (at the start, at the offertory, before communion), the distension of the integral one-week psalter to an expurgated four-week psalter, the optionitis and opportunities for presidential improvisation—all of these moves run strongly against the formation of memory by continual repetition. Together they guaranteed that almost no Catholics—including, tragically, the clergy—would be able to internalize the liturgy to such an extent that it became bone of one’s bone, flesh of one’s flesh. Or, at any rate, what was internalized would be inadequate compared to the inheritance of the Faith. Instead, due in part to the sheer quantity of text and in part to the assumption of recited liturgy as normative, the clergy would have to remain largely at the level of reading texts out of “official books.” This reinforced legal positivism and cut off Catholics from an ingrained, intuitive sense of what is and is not liturgy, what is and is not in keeping with tradition. If one has the liturgy within oneself because of its stability of form, relatively narrow compass, rhythm of language, and most of all its standard assigned music, then one attains much more readily that experiential knowledge called by St. Thomas Aquinas “connnatural knowledge,” that is, intimate acquaintance of something’s essence not by reasoning but by sympathy. One would therefore be in a position to tell when a note jarred against this harmony, when a word or phrase grated against the ear.

In short: the ancient liturgy is capable of planting itself within, while the reformed liturgy is spread out in so many texts and books, and multiplied by options, that it would be well-nigh impossible to “have it” within. This makes its user less offended by deviation and more pliant to officialdom, from which the books are handed down.

The Introit for Pentecost, from the Codex Gisle (ca. 1300)

Imagine Roman clergy from the Middle Ages who had somehow been transported to our time and had sat through a parish Novus Ordo Mass. Their first question would be: “Where was the Ad te levavi?” or “Where was the Puer natus? We didn’t hear it anywhere.” They knew what the Roman liturgy was not because it had been dictated to them by a pope or any conference of bishops, but because they had it in their ears, their mouths, their hearts. This was true, be it noted, well before and well after 1570, since the text, music, and ceremonial aspects of the various Latin rites and uses enjoyed considerable analogy with one another and a stability of form akin to the massive stone architecture of their churches: they were recognizably from and for the Catholic Church. Nothing substantial in the Roman rite had changed or would be changed until 1907 when Pius X laid hands on the Breviary, and after World War II, when Pius XII disfigured the Holy Week ceremonies.

The worst part about loss of memory is that, after a certain point, the one suffering from it no longer realizes that he has lost it. Traditionalists in the Church today are like nurses trying to remind a patient of who she is or where she came from or who her relatives are, showing pictures from the past, singing a bit of chant, trying in some way, in any way, to reactive the memory of a beloved mother.

Thanks be to God, not all hope of recovery is lost. For indeed the Church is not a monolithic entity with merely mortal powers but is composed of many members united in their Head. The Head of this Body has never lost His memory and never will; He sends the Spirit of truth to remind the disciples of all that He has taught, not only in His lifetime but in the lifetime of the Church that He governs from heaven, and on which He has bestowed the treasures of liturgical rites and their traditional music. The memory is present in actuality in Him, and in a mixture of act and potency among us, as in a body with some healthy limbs and some diseased or damaged limbs. With the prophet we can say: “Strengthen ye the feeble hands, and confirm the weak knees” (Is 35:3). The rigor mortis of legal positivism is giving way to the warm love of tradition for its own sake.

To change metaphors, rebuilding a bridge that has collapsed is difficult but not impossible, if there is a willingness to reconnect the two sides over the abyss. I have been singing the proper chants for the usus antiquior for thirty years now, and have reached a point where they are totally ingrained in me. Every Sunday of the year, practically every holy day, the chants are right there in my soul, brought up instantly when the singing begins. And the same is true for many of my friends around the world, a growing number that includes new recruits, new reverts and converts, cradle Catholics who have been driven by a longing for more to seek out a worship that has and is more. The memory of the Church that was thought to be obliterated has, by the grace of God, returned to the Mystical Body; a bridge, even if a narrow and rickety one, has been erected again, joining the past to the future by way of the present. What a privilege to be a part of the rebuilding—part of the reactivating and transmission of beautiful, noble, gracious memories.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

An Exhibit of Episcopal Dress in Covington, Kentucky

Our friend Fr Jordan Hainsey has just sent us the following. “The Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, blessed and dedicated 24 new statues and two tympana for the façade of the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption on Sunday, June 6. To honor Bishop Camillus Paul Maes (1846-1915), who built the cathedral and façade, a temporary display of his clothing and personal effects is on view through the end of June the crypt chapel where his remains are entombed, visitors can see items ranging from episcopal clothing to the trowel used at the ’athedral’s cornerstone laying ceremony in 1910.” (Below, there are two historical photographs of Bishop Maes, one in the standrard cassock and rochet, and the other in the winter cappa magna. There is also a portrait Mark A Thiessen, who served as the bishop’s train bearer from 1906-09, wearing the formal costume seen in the 4th photo.) Fr Hainsey will soon be sharing photos of the new statues with us.

The formal costume of Bishop Maes’ trainbearer, very typical for its time.

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