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    Our Ambrosian correspondent Nicola de’ Grandi sent me a link to this video, one of a series of 15 which show the liturgy of Candlemas celebrated according to the Use of Sarum. This took place at Merton College in Oxford in 1997; Shawn Tribe wrote up a bit about some of the particular rituals in this post from 2006: “Some images of the Sarum Use.” You can follow this link to a Youtube playlist which has the whole ceremony; the video quality is not the best, but the music is very nice indeed.

    The celebrant of the Mass also has a blog called Aspicientes in Jesum (the url is based on its former name, Valle Adurni); on the right sidebar there are links under the heading “Sarum Things” which give a good deal of useful information about how the Sarum Use was done.

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    Beginning on Sunday, February 7, 2016, the Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena will offer a three-part series of workshops on Dominican chant, the dialect of Gregorian chant used by the Order of Preachers.

    Led by Fr. Innocent Smith, o.p., the workshops will take place on three successive Sundays, February 7, 14, and 21, from 3:00–3:50 pm in the Parish Hall of the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer (in the undercroft the Church, accessible from Lexington Ave. to the right of the front steps of the Church). On February 14 and 21 the workshop will be followed by Vespers at 4:00 pm in the Church, giving participants a chance to sing some of the chants they have studied in the workshop.

    To RSVP for the workshops, please email

    A leaf of a Missal decorated by Saint Fra Angelico, the famous Dominican painter, from the museum of the Dominican church of San Marco in Florence, ca. 1430.

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    A reader sent me notice of a film made ca. 1964 for the Belgian television network BRT, about the Premonstratensian Abbey of Park (Abdij van ’t Park), just outside Leuven. There is a small amount of commentary in Dutch at the beginning, but most of the film just shows images and sounds from the abbey rather than commentary. There is a lot of nice footage of the interior of the church, with altars prepared for Mass, the sacristy, the choir, and the chant, and some footage of the Norbertine liturgy, with pontifical Vespers, and a procession of the canons. It has to be said that the music which is added by the film-maker on top of the footage is in many places extremely weird, but perhaps typical of the era. The video is not embeddable, so I can’t put it here, but you can watch it at this link: It will only be available for a month.

    The Abbey’s website also overs a nice virtual tour of the complex, which dates back to the very beginning of the Premonstratensian order; it was founded in 1129, within St Norbert’s lifetime.

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    Here at NLM we do all we can to let people know about good things happening throughout the Church, in the ambits of Eastern and Western rites, in parishes, religious communities, and lay institutions. It is true that contributors have a variety of points of view about what is the best way forward, but it is no less true that we welcome any and every positive development in the realm of liturgy, especially as the example and teaching of Pope Benedict XVI spread their influence more and more among thoughtful members of the Church.

    Today I would like to showcase a new video produced by Saint Bernard’s Abbey in Cullman, Alabama. A chant maestro and a friend of NLM suggested that we share this video with our readers, as it offers a hopeful glimpse into the lives of Benedictine monks who, while not completely traditional in orientation, are striving to live their monastic life within a hermeneutic of continuity.[1] The video shows them, among other things, using real chant books (they do most of their office in English plainchant, following the psalter of the Rule of St. Benedict), using incense and better vestments than one might find elsewhere, giving communion on the tongue, and other ROTR-type things. (One might say: “This should all be non-negotiable!”, but anyone who has visited Benedictine monasteries knows that it’s far from being the norm.)

    The community is growing and attracting new vocations. Judging from what they are showing about themselves, it would seem to me that they will keep moving more and more in the direction of the monastic tradition. One may hope to see in the future a place for the usus antiquior, so beautifully attuned to the contemplative religious life.

    For high-definition:

    [1] Please don’t write in the combox that “Pope Benedict didn’t say ‘hermeneutic of continuity,’ he said ‘hermeneutic of reform in continuity...’ ”, blah blah blah. This Rhonheimer canard -- a partial truth, at best -- has been thoroughly deconstructed (see here) and yet it never seems to die the death.

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    The Catholic Artists’ Society series of talks entitled The Art of the Beautiful continues this Saturday in New York City, with a presentation from architectural historian Denis McNamara entitled Incarnation and Transfiguration: Rediscovering the Iconic Nature of Church Buildings.

    Anyone who has attended one of Denis’ lectures or seen the series of talks produced by the Liturgical Institute in Mundelein, where he works, will know that this promises to be a stimulating and enjoyable evening. As usual with the CAS events the talk is followed by a reception and Compline. 

    Just in case you can’t make out the detail on the poster above, the talk is at the Catholic Center, NYU, 238 Thompson Street.

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    Just a few more pictures of one of my favorite cathedrals in Italy.

    Romanesque capitals in the crypt

    Polyptych of the Coronation of the Virgin Mary, with Ss. Nicholas, Christopher, Geminianus and Anthony the Abbot, by Serafino de’ Serafini, 1385. This chapel is at the very top of the large staircase that leads to the highly elevated main sanctuary.
    The decorative slab on the front of this altar was carved in the 9th century.
    Modern work in the main apse of the church.
    The rood screen of the church was never removed.
    A closer view of part of the liturgical pulpit.

    An early 19th century altar frontal
     From the Cathedral Museum

    The green stone of this portable altar was made as such in the 4th century; the metalwork in which it is encased is perhaps from the 12th.
    A Gospel book of the early 12 century. 

    At the base of the bell-tower is the Chamber of the Stolen Bucket, which soldiers from Modena stole in 1325 from a public well in their city’s long-time rival, Bologna. The cage seen on the lower left of this photograph covers the whole door, since the room was create to store precious objects of the cathedral treasury, including relics.
    The cathedral roof seen from the top of the bell-tower.
    A view of the city from the bell-tower. The imposing structure on the right is the palace of the Dukes of Modena, which was ruled by the Este family from 1452 to 1859. The building is now a military academy.

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  • 02/05/16--08:02: The Feast of St Agatha 2016
  • Truly it is fitting and just, meet and profitable to salvation, that we sing of Thee especially on this day with praise worthy of this celebration, on which a triumphal victim was offered to Thy majesty; one to whom Thou gavest so great a victory, that her very torments, though fierce and bitter, trembled before their conqueror. With such bright flashes of light did her lamp shine, that she might enter the gates of heaven thrown upon. O happy and reknowned virgin! who merited to glorify her martyrdom with blood, for the praise of her faithful Lord. O honorable and glorious woman, and rendered doubly glorious! who in the midst of bitter torments, shown forth by every sort of miracle, and mighty with hidden support, merited to be healed by the vistation of Thy Apostle, and sing of Thee, true and supreme God, in sacred hymn. Thus wedded to Christ, the heavens received her, while; thus did she shine forth in a glorious service as her body was laid to rest, when a choir of Angels proclaimed the holiness of her mind and the liberation of her country. Through Christ our Lord, through whom the Angels praise Thy majesty etc. (The Preface of St Agatha in the traditional Ambrosian Missal.)

    The Martyrdom of St Agatha, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, ca 1756. 
    Vere dignum et iustum est, aequum et salutare, nos te in hoc praecipue die digna laude praeconii canere: in quo triumphalis hostia tuae maiestati oblata est. Cui tantam contulisti victoriam, ut ipsa saeva et aspera victricem tremerent tormenta. Cuius lampas coruscis emicat fulgoribus, ut reseratas poli ingredi valeat ianuas. O felix et inclyta Virgo! Quae meruit, Domini pro laude fidelis, martyrium sanguine clarificare suum. O illustris et gloriosa, gemino illustrata decore! Quae inter tormenta aspera, cunctis praelata miraculis, et mystico pollens suffragio, Apostoli tui meruit visitatione curari, et te, verum summumque Deum, sacro carmine concinere. Sic nuptam Christo susceperunt aethera, sic humandi artus glorioso fulgent obsequio, ubi Angelorum chorus sanctitatem mentis et patriae indicant liberationem. Per Christum, Dominum nostrum.

    I undertook the hazard of translating this highly rhetorical piece of Latin because it refers at the end to one of my favorite hagiographic legends. The story is that when the Christians of St Agatha’s city, Catania in Sicilia, had brought her body to her burial place, “there came a young man dressed in silken garments, followed by more than one hundred children in white garments; and he entered the place where the holy virgin’s body was being laid, and set there a small marble plaque on which it was written, ‘A holy mind, willing, honor to God, and the liberation of the fatherland.’ And he stood there until the sepulcher was diligently closed, and then departing was seen no more in all the province of Sicily; whence there is no doubt that he was and Angel of God.” (From an edition of the Roman Breviary printed in 1529.)

    In the Ambrosian Mass, the Fraction is done immediately after the Canon, before the Lord’s Prayer, and accompanied by an antiphon called the Confractorium, which on the feast of St Agatha reads as follows:

    An Angel of the Lord came and laid down a small plaque of marble, on which was written: A holy mind, willing, honor to God, and the liberation of the fatherland. - Veniens Angelus Domini. posuit tabulam brevem ex marmore, in qua scriptum erat: Mentem sanctam, spontaneam, honorem Deo, et patriae liberationem.

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    After seeing a recent post by Matthew Alderman entitled “A Visigothic Hermitage in the Province of Burgos”, reader Mervyn Samuel was kind enough to send in the following photographs and some information about them. Mr Samuel is a member of a cultural association in Spain called Urbs Regia, which seeks to promote great knowledge and appreciation of the Visigothic culture and its role in the formation of Spain. Their website is currently being redone; we will post notice when it comes back online. Of course, we have written here from time to time about one of the most important survivals of Visigothic Spain, the Mozarabic Liturgy.

    “I was pleased to see your recent mention of the Visigoths in Spain in relation to the little church of Nuestra Señora de las Viñas. They were so important in Spanish and European history yet are little remembered nowadays. Precisely for this reason an association, Urbs Regia, has been established in the Visigothic capital, Toledo, to examine what remains of their culture in Spain and other countries (a previous capital was Bordeaux).

    We have recently visited the ruins of the palatine city of Recopolis (in the modern province of Guadalajara), and the Visigothic section of the National Archaeological Museum here in Madrid. A few photos are attached.

    Above all, I would suggest that the Visigoths were in no real sense ‘barbarians’ when they came into Hispania as allies of Rome to try to prop up Roman civilisation in this peninsula. Originally Arian heretics, they accepted full Christianity in its Catholic form as a result of the conversion of King Recaredus I, formalised at the 3rd Council of Toledo in 589. They included such glorious figures of European culture as Saint Isidore, Archbishop of Seville. They united Hispania for the first time by overcoming the Suevians in the north-west, and expelling the Byzantine or Eastern Roman forces from the south-east. Always a small proportion of the total population, they allowed the long-established Hispano-Roman cities to continue under Roman Law, while their own affairs were governed by Germanic Common or Customary Law.

    The two remaining arms of a processional cross (third photo) are of such high quality that they were probably saved from Toledo Cathedral during the Islamic invasion of 711 and hidden with the remainder of the Guarrazar Hoard. The fourth photo shows votive crowns from the same hoard, probably also from the Cathedral; the fifth shows the votive crown of King Recesvintus.”

    Kind Recaredus speaks to the bishops at the Third Council of Toledo

    Remains of a basilica at Recopolis
    Remains of a palace

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    I have been invited to speak at the International Institute for Culture in Philadelphia next Saturday evening, February 13th. The talk is entitled, What Do Catholic Believe About Icons?

    Commonly described as “windows to heaven,” images painted in the iconographic style have enjoyed a growth in popularity in the western Catholic Church in the last 50 years, although the style is still associated most strongly with the Eastern Churches and Rites.

    I will describes the theology of icons, what precisely makes them worthy of veneration, and where and when this theology was developed. Also, I will address the myths and the mystique that are associated with icons and consider their place in the Roman Rite. In doing so, I will compare and contrast beliefs about icons held by members of the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches. I will address some commonly asked questions such as: Is the icon superior to traditional Western forms of liturgical art such as the Baroque or the Gothic? Is the person depicted present in the icon in a way analogous to the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament? Does the artist “write” icons or does he “paint” them, or both? And, does the artist have to be a monk or have to fast and pray before working?

    This is part of a series of lectures called In the Beauty of Holiness - Art, Architecture and the Transcendant, organized by the International Institute for Culture.

    Hope to see some of you there.

    For more information about this and other events organized by the IIC, visit their website at

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    Rejoice, faithful Egypt; rejoice, holy Libya; rejoice, o chosen Thebaid; rejoice, every place, and city, and land that nourished the citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and raised them in self-discipline and toil, and showed them forth to God as men perfect in their desires. They were revealed as those who give light to our souls; these very same, by the glory of their miracles, and the wonders of their deeds, shone forth to our minds, unto every corner of the world. Let us cry out to them, “All-blessed fathers, pray that we may be saved!”

    Scenes from the Lives of the Desert Fathers, or “Thebaid”, by Blessed Fra Angelico, 1420; now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest.
    Χαῖρε Αἴγυπτε πιστή, χαῖρε Λιβύη ὁσία, χαῖρε Θηβαῒς ἐκλεκτή, χαῖρε πᾶς τόπος, καὶ πόλις, καὶ χώρα, ἡ τοὺς πολίτας θρέψασα τῆς Βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν, καὶ τούτους ἐν ἐγκρατείᾳ καὶ πόνοις αὐξήσασα, καὶ τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν τελείους ἄνδρας τῷ Θεῷ ἀναδείξασα. οὗτοι φωστῆρες τῶν ψυχῶν ἡμῶν ἀνεφάνησαν, οἱ αὐτοὶ τῶν θαυμάτων τῇ αἴγλῃ, καὶ τῶν ἔργων τοῖς τέρασιν, ἐξέλαμψαν νοητῶς, εἰς τὰ πέρατα ἅπαντα. Αὐτοῖς βοήσωμεν· Πατέρες παμμακάριστοι, πρεσβεύσατε τοῦ σωθῆναι ἡμᾶς.

    On the Saturday before Great Lent begins, the Byzantine Rite commemorates “All of the God-bearing Fathers and Mother Who Shone Forth in the Ascetic Life.” This text, from Vespers of the preceding day, beautifully recalls the origins of monasticism and the ascetic life in the deserts of Egypt and north Africa. The “Thebaid” to which it refers is one of the provinces into which Egypt was divided by the reforms of the Emperor Diocletian in the later 3rd century; this province had its capital at Thebes, the impressive ruins of which are now within the city of Luxor, including some of the most famous ancient temples. Likewise, the first Ode of Matins for this day begins with the words “Let us all sing together in spiritual songs, of those who shone forth in asceticism, our godly Fathers, whom Egypt, Libya and the Thebaid bore, and every place and city and land.”

    One of the most influential writings on Western monasticism is John Cassian’s Institutes, which refer very frequently to the Egyptians as the models of monastic life, as, for example, at the beginning of the third book, in which he speaks of “the perfection and inimitable rigor of the discipline of the Egyptians.” Likewise, when St Benedict’s Rule commands that the entire Psalter should be said in the Office within a week, since “we read that our holy forefathers promptly fulfilled (this recitation) in one day,” he is referring to the common practice of the early ascetics. As the Fra Angelico painting above, and various others like it show, the Western Church never forgot the origin of the ascetic and monastic life; and the motif of the “Thebaid” serves to recall all religious of whatever sort to the ideal expressed by the words of Christ, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect.”

    Pope St Leo the Great writes in his fourth sermon on Lent that very few have the strength to remain continually in a spiritual condition such as the feast of Easter ought to find them in, and with the relaxation of the more strict observance of Lent, and the general cares of this life, “even religious hearts must grow dirty with the dust of this world.” Therefore, the forty days exercise of Lent was instituted by Divine Providence, so that the devotions and fasts of Lent might purify us of the sins which we have committed in the rest of the year. The Byzantine Rite therefore concludes its Fore-Lent with a commemoration of those Saints who did have such strength, and by embracing the ascetic life, lived as it were a continual Lent, invoking their intercession on behalf of the whole Church on the eve of the Great Fast.

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    Following on from Gregory DiPippo's recent post about the Burying of the Alleluia, we are pleased to reproduce this article by Rev. Scott A. Haynes about the burial of the Alleluia under the Altar Cloth of the Lady Altar which takes place at St John Cantius today. This article originally appeared on the St John Cantius website here.

    The Burial of the ‘Alleluia’ is a beautiful custom repeated each year at St. John Cantius Parish. On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, we bid this sacred word a fond farewell for the duration of Lent.

    At the end of Mass, a placard with the ‘Alleluia’ in ornate gold letters is taken from the Sanctuary and processed to Mary’s Altar where it is “buried”—placed under the altar cloth. The ‘Alleluia’ will only emerge again at the Easter Vigil after the 40 days of Lent, we hear the Church proclaim the Resurrection of Our Lord.

    The Alleluia will only resound again with the ‘Light of Christ’ on Easter Night
    In the language of prayer, some words need no translation. Amen is such a word, a Hebrew word of assent meaning “so be it,” by which a congregation affixes its signature, if you will, to the official prayer of the Church. The Kyrie eleison (i.e., “Lord, have mercy”) remained in Greek even after the Roman Rite adopted Latin as its mother tongue. Alleluia is a word familiar to all Christendom, whether the language of the local liturgy is Latin or Greek, Spanish or Ukrainian, Polish or Vietnamese. It is the Latinized form of Hebrew’s Hallelujah (i.e., “Praise the Lord”). In the West, we associate Alleluia with the joy of the Resurrection and Easter. Consequently, the Church buries the Alleluia while we put on the ashes and sackcloth of penance.

    Pope Alexander II decreed that the dismissal of the Alleluia be solemnly marked on the eve of Septuagesima Sunday (i.e., three Sundays before Ash Wednesday) in the chanting of the Divine Office by inserting Alleluias in the sacred text. This custom also inspired the creation of new hymns sung at Vespers honouring the Alleluia. The best-known of these hymns is Alleluia, dulce carmen (i.e., “Alleluia, Song of Gladness”), composed by an unknown author of the tenth century:

    Alleluia, song of gladness, voice of joy that cannot die;
    Alleluia is the anthem ever dear to choirs on high;
    In the house of God abiding thus they sing eternally.

    Alleluia thou resoundest, true Jerusalem and free;
    Alleluia, joyful mother, all thy children sing with thee;
    But by Babylon’s sad waters mourning exiles now are we.

    Alleluia we deserve not here to chant forevermore;
    Alleluia our transgressions make us for a while give o’er;
    For the holy time is coming bidding us our sins deplore.

    Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee, grant us, blessèd Trinity,
    At the last to keep Thine Easter in our home beyond the sky;
    There to Thee forever singing Allelúia joyfully.

    During the Middle Ages, the practice of “burying the Alleluia” on the eve of Septuagesima Sunday was enhanced by a popular ritual guided by the choir boys. We find a description of it in the fifteenth-century statute book of the church of Toul, France:

    “On Saturday before Septuagesima Sunday all choir boys gather in the sacristy during the prayer of the None, to prepare for the burial of the Alleluia. After the last Benedicamus Domino [i.e., at the end of the Vespers service] they march in procession, with crosses, tapers, holy water and censers; and they carry a coffin, as in a funeral. Thus they proceed through the aisle, moaning and mourning, until they reach the cloister. There they bury the coffin; they sprinkle it with holy water and incense it; whereupon they return to the sacristy by the same way.”

    This burial of the Alleluia was nicknamed the deposition (i.e., “the giving on deposit”). Curiously enough, gravestones in Catholic cemeteries traditionally had the inscription Depositus, or simply “D,” to indicate a Christian’s burial. When this term indicates the burial of the Alleluia or of the faithful departed, the Christian belief in resurrection is clear. As we bury those who have been “marked with the sign of faith,” (Roman Canon), and as we enter into the fasting of Lent, we do not silence our tongues because of despair or permanent loss. Rather, we do so with confidence that what has been deposited into the earth—our dead, our Alleluia—will rise again.

    Yet in this period of preparation, we remain keenly aware of the mystery of sin and of our exile from the place where Alleluia abounds. So until we return to the New Jerusalem, let us not forget the sin that continues to devastate our world and our mission to heal what has been broken.

    “We desist from saying Alleluia, the song chanted by angels, because we have been excluded from the company of the angels on account of Adam’s sin. In the Babylon of our earthly life we sit by the streams, weeping as we remember Sion. For as the children of Israel in an alien land hung their harps upon the willows, so we too must forget the Alleluia song in the season of sadness, of penance, and bitterness of heart.”

    Chicago’s St. John Cantius Parish has adopted the noble custom of the Burial of the Alleluia for use in the Modern Roman Rite (i.e., Ordinary Form). On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday after Holy Mass, as the choir and congregation sings the traditional Alleluia, dulce carmen, an altar boy holds a large ornate board on which is inscribed Alleluia in golden letters. He leads the joyous procession to the Lady Altar where the board is solemnly buried underneath the altar cloth until the Alleluia is resurrected at the Easter Vigil, as the great moment arrives when the deacon approaches the Bishop with the words, “I announce to you a great joy: it is the Alleluia.” And the priest sings it in three different keys before the gospel of the Holy Saturday Mass, the choir repeats it jubilantly, and we all rejoice again: Alleluia!

    Rev. Scott A. Haynes SJC

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    We are approaching the great penitential season of Lent. If we live the season as we ought, we will invariably think a good deal about sin — how we can avoid it, repent of it, get it forgiven, root it out of our lives, and pay the temporal penalty for it.

    As the great spiritual masters remind us, mortal sin rarely arises suddenly, with no habitual dispositions favoring it. True, our disordered concupiscence can indeed catch us by surprise and we fall into grave sin without an obvious path to it, but most of the time, the way to mortal sin is paved with lots of venial sins, which make us accustomed to a little bit of this or that bad behavior, weaken our resistance, lead us astray. If one tells a lot of small lies, one is greasing the axle for the big lies. If one eats and drinks a little too much again and again, one is laying a foundation for gluttony. And so on, with all the deadly sins. It’s spiritual common sense.

    This being so, it seems a sort of enlightened self-love (so to speak) that we should strive to discover how best to avoid venial sins; how best to rid ourselves of them and their bad effects; if habituated to them, how to break the habit.

    Fortunately, Holy Mother Church in her age-old treasure chest has gathered for us many means by which our venial sins can be remitted and prevented, and our charity enkindled. Some of these means were tossed aside after the Council, when even the basic elements of the doctrine of sin and grace were being called into question. Happily, such practices are still cherished in traditional enclaves, and their frequent and consistent use is one among many reasons to prefer such enclaves. It goes without saying that these practices ought to be taken up everywhere, whether in connection with the traditional Latin Mass or not, but there is no question that their use is easier to revive or continue in the setting of the TLM.

    The Angelic Doctor observes:
    [T]here are many remedies against venial sins; for example, beating of the breast, sprinkling with holy water, extreme unction, and every sacramental anointing; a bishop’s blessing, blessed bread, general confession, compassion, the forgiveness of another’s faults, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Prayer, and other sorts of light penance.[1]
    This is a very interesting list of examples, and prompts a number of thoughts.

    1. The beating of the breast (tunsio pectoris) is the first example that comes to St. Thomas’s mind. That’s not to say it’s the most important, but there is something rather obvious about it as a sign of repentance. Thomas is reminding us here that, done with devotion, the beating of the breast actually remits or prevents venial sins. As I noted here, a Catholic attending the TLM will beat his or her breast as many as 15 times during the liturgy.[2]

    2. When we read of the "sprinkling with holy water" (aspersio aquae benedictate), the importance of the Asperges comes to mind immediately (or the Vidi aquam in Paschaltide). Why did this ritual ever pass out of use? In any case, TLM communities should be aspiring to a Sunday High Mass preceded by the Asperges. It is a beautiful blessing, a reminder of our baptism, and a perfect preparation for the sacrifice of the Mass — a symbolic bath before the banquet, one might say. Everyone washes (or should wash) before partaking of a meal, and our approach to the passover Lamb should be no different spiritually.[3]

    3. Extreme unction, sometimes called anointing of the sick, obviously remits venial sins, because it remits repented mortal sins as well, and, to invoke a scholastic axiom, that which can do the greater can do the lesser. The "sacramental anointings" that go along with baptism, confirmation, and holy orders are also efficacious against venial sins.

    4. "A bishop's blessing." When a bishop processes down the aisle making the sign of the cross over the gathered faithful, this isn't simply a formal way of saying hello or of establishing episcopal credibility. He is imparting his blessing, which, as Thomas points out, has the same sort of effect as the beating of the breast or the sprinkling with holy water.

    5. It's fascinating that St. Thomas mentions "blessed bread," a custom long since lost among Roman Catholics but still preserved among the Eastern Orthodox and the Byzantine Catholics, who share out, after liturgy, bread baked for the liturgy that was not consecrated in the anaphora. For Eastern Christians who may be reading this, the partaking of the antidoron remits your venial sins.

    Confiteor Deo omnipotenti...
    6. By “general confession,” St. Thomas is referring to the saying of the Confiteor or a similar prayer that is recited in common and refers to sins generally. It is noteworthy, again, that at every Mass celebrated in the usus antiquior, the Confiteor will be recited at least twice — once by the priest and once by the servers — if not three times, wherever the laudable custom of the Confiteor immediately before communion is retained.

    7. "Compassion, the forgiveness of another's faults." Here we are reminded by St. Thomas that our interior attitude towards our suffering brethren or those guilty of having injured us is itself a potent factor in the remission and prevention of venial sins.

    8. "The Lord's Prayer." It should come as no surprise to find Thomas listing this sovereign prayer among the various means given to us to combat venial sin. What bears noting is the manner in which the Divine Office in its pre-1960 form utilized the Lord's Prayer frequently throughout the day, whereas later reforms to the Divine Office tended to minimize its use, presumably in deference to "ancient practice" and with the theory that repetition kills devotion. While the ancient practice may have been as they say, the theory that undergirds the anachronistic attempt to revive it is highly questionable, to say the least. Those who pray the Divine Office in its organically developed form come to appreciate the many times a day it places the Lord's sublime prayer on our lips.

    Looking back over this list, we then ask the question: "Why is it that all these things are effective against venial sin?" St. Thomas provides a clear answer:
    To the fourth question it should be said that, as has been said, venial sin is forgiven through the fervor of charity, which explicitly or implicitly contains contrition; and so those things that are in themselves of a nature to excite the fervor of charity are said to remit venial sins. Of this sort are the things that confer grace, like all the sacraments, and things by which impediments to fervor and grace are removed, like holy water, which represses the power of the Enemy, and a bishop’s blessing, or another exercise of humility on our part, like beating the breast, or the Lord’s Prayer, and the like.[4]
    And again:
    Our act is required for the remission of venial sin, but these acts are said to remit venial sin as acts that excite our fervor.[5]
    For more thoughts on all of these topics, see my article "St. Thomas on the Asperges."

    So, Reverend Fathers, get ready to douse your people this Lent with holy water before the Sunday High Mass! With this simple but potent means, you are driving back Satan's kingdom. Faithful Christian souls, get ready to take advantage of the plethora of tools Holy Mother Church offers you for combating the world, the flesh, and the devil.


    [1] In IV Sent. d. 16, q. 2, a. 2, qa. 4, sc 1: "Sed contra est quod communiter dicitur, quod multa sunt remedia contra venialia peccata; scilicet tunsio pectoris, aspersio aquae benedictae, unctio extrema, et omnis sacramentalis unctio; benedictio episcopi, panis benedictus, generalis confessio, compassio, alieni delicti dimissio, Eucharistia, oratio dominica, et alia quaecumque levis poenitentia."

    [2] See "Beat Your Own Breast" for further thoughts on this custom.

    [3] See Fr. Kocik on how to incorporate the Asperges into the Ordinary Form.

    [4] In IV Sent. d. 16, q. 2, a. 2, qa. 4, resp.: "Ad quartam quaestionem dicendum, quod, sicut dictum est, veniale peccatum dimittitur per fervorem caritatis, qui explicite vel implicite contritionem contineat; et ideo illa quae nata sunt de se excitare fervorem caritatis, peccata venialia dimittere dicuntur: hujusmodi autem sunt quae gratiam conferunt, sicut omnia sacramenta, et quibus impedimenta fervoris et gratiae auferuntur, sicut aqua benedicta, quae virtutem inimici reprimit, et episcopalis benedictio, vel etiam exercitium humilitatis ex parte nostra; sicut tunsio pectoris, et oratio dominicalis, et hujusmodi."

    [5] Ibid., ad 1: "Ad primum ergo dicendum, quod actus noster requiritur ad dimissionem venialis; sed ista dicuntur peccatum veniale remittere, inquantum in actum, nostrum fervorem excitant."

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    I was recently sent this interesting article in the Catholic Business Journal. Tomorrow evening, a Vespers will be sung by professional choir, The Sixteen. and attended by both Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, and the Anglican Bishop of London, Richard Chartres

    As the CBJ article tells us, “On the evening of February 9, 2016, Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Nichols will celebrate Vespers and the Bishop of London, Dean of the Chapel Royal will preach in Henry VIII’s chapel- the first Catholic service held in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace since the 1550s...” [see full article here]

    It has been created as an initiative to allow “dialogue” between churches and religions. Whatever form that dialogue takes outside the praying of Vespers itself, I have always been a great fan of using the Liturgy of the Hours to unite Christian worshipers. The texts are biblical and the prayers can legitimately be presented to avoid raising anti-Catholic prejudice without compromising Catholic principles. When we sang our Vespers regularly at the VA hospital in Manchester (as I have described in the past); we had a priest presiding, but we were only allowed to do it because it could be presented as “ecumenical.” All we had to do in order to allow all present to feel comfortable was to change the wording of a few of the prayers (as the General Instruction allows) so that there were no references to the Pope. As a result, I think some who would have felt uneasy knowing they were attending a Catholic service didn’t realise that they weren’t supposed to like it.

    It is a good thing to have such luminaries present at this event at Hampton Court, but in fact, the Liturgy of the Hours does not even need a priest presiding in order to be authentically liturgical, other things being equal. A baptized Christian has sufficient standing to do this. Given this fact, I wonder if some of those Vespers that took place in this chapel in the protestant era might be considered Catholic nevertheless?

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    I am a great enthusiast for the Liturgy of the Hours. It holds a key, I believe, to the evangelization of the culture. (If you want to know my arguments, I have included them in both books, the Little Oratory and the Way of Beauty).

    Whatever our thoughts on the appropriateness of the vernacular in the Mass, I do think that the availability of the Liturgy of the Hours in the vernacular is one great gift of the Council. I am not a Latin scholar, and certainly in my personal reading, in order to pray the psalms properly I need to be able to understand the text as I read it. Reading or singing Latin while looking across the page at a translation on a regular daily basis does not work for me. The Mass is Latin does not present the same difficulty for me - the bulk of it is repeated and so with relatively little reference to additional texts I can participate.

    I have often wondered if this question of language is why some traditionalists are not enthusiastic about the Liturgy of the Hours - tending to promote a piety that excludes it. Certainly, some I have met are reluctant to acknowledge any legitimate case for the vernacular in the liturgy, for fear that it would undermine the argument for an exclusively Latin Mass. A piety focused on the Mass and the Rosary is wonderful, of course, but one oriented to the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours is, I suggest, even better, and for me that means going to the English for the latter.

    Ever since Pope Emeritus Benedict created the Anglican Ordinariates, I have felt that they have given the move for greater dignity and beauty in the liturgy in English a huge boost. I wrote about the general principle of this when Pope Francis strengthened the mission of the Ordinariate in an article called Has Pope Francis Saved Western Culture?

    It has taken time, quite reasonably so, for the approved and final versions for the texts to come forth. Now that the texts have been set for the Mass, I am hoping that we will see a final version of the Office in the US very soon. As a preview I use the version produced for England and Wales, which is in the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham. It has been recently approved for continued use in England and Wales, as I understand it.

    It was difficult to get hold of over here. I tried to order it from several places and it was always out of stock. (I couldn’t afford to have it sent from England). In the end I gave up, and then about six months later, out of the blue a copy arrived in the post; I have no idea who it was who finally sent it to me.

    The Customary follows the general scheme recommended for the Ordinariate; you can read this at the bottom of this article, it is very short and simple. In essence, Morning Prayer is like a merging of the Matins (the Office of Readings) and Lauds. I am wondering if this is what the old Anglican Office of Mattins always was. The morning readings correspond exactly to those of the Office of Readings in the Roman Rite, with some approved alternatives for the second reading for English readers. Other than the psalms, there is a traditional hymn, an Old Testament canticle or the Te Deum, depending on the day, and structured prayers.

    Similarly, Evening Prayer, like Choral Evensong, looks a bit like a running together of Vespers and Compline in form. So we have psalms, traditional hymn, readings, both the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis, and again structured prayers.

    From what I have seen I am excited. I think it provides great possibilities for lay people especially to start praying the Office. The Anglican Office has a proven record not only in enabling laity as well as clergy to pray the Office, but also as a public celebration of Morning and Evening Prayer. I heard recently from Mgr Andrew Burnham in England, who was instrumental in producing this, that this continues to this day. As he told me, the English Anglican cathedrals and choral foundations are in the midst of a golden age, as regards both attendance and music, and clearly meet a very deep need.”

    Here are my reasons for suggesting that lay people look at the Anglican Ordinariate Office:

    First, convenience and simplicity: the psalm cycle is designed such that it is possible to sing the whole Office with just two Offices in the day - the hybrid Morning and Evening Prayer which allow us, one might say, to sing four Offices as two, and to sing the whole psalter in the course of the monthly psalm cycle. This means that it really is the Office for those who do not have many hours in each day to devote to singing the psalms. However, for those who do have more time, and wish to add more Offices in the day from time to time, there are simple options to add Prime (yes Prime!), Terce, Sext, None and Compline.

    Second, as I mentioned, it has the full psalter, all 150 psalms, in its cycle. I am not aware of another version approved for use in English that has this. The other vernacular option is an approved translation of the Paul VI Psalter, in which even if all the Offices are sung (a minimum of five in a day), you will still not sing the whole Psalter, since the three imprecatory psalms are omitted altogether, and many others have had verses removed. According to my count, 24 psalms that are included in the Paul VI Psalter are incomplete and have missing texts. I am happy that now the Church has decided in her wisdom to allow for a translation of the full Psalter to be available for praying in the Liturgy of the Hours. (I wrote about this in more detail in the past, here - Where Have All the *!*?ing Psalms Gone?).

    Third is beauty. I love the approved translation of the psalms that the Anglican Ordinariate uses, which is a form of the Coverdale Psalter. I have to say I am not negative about the Grail translation either, but I do find the Coverdale Psalter especially good. It is has an elegant, poetic, Shakespearean feel to it, but is nevertheless accessible. I had have had to look up the meaning of the occasional word, (froward and peradventure for example) but not so often that I lose the flow of text as I sing or read it. (Just fyi, I am not the sort of person who finds the actual Shakespeare easy to understand at all. If I attend a performance of even a top quality companies - such as the Royal Shakespeare Company - I always have to buy a program with a one-page synopsis of the plot, otherwise I lose track of what on earth is going on!) I think that if this version of the psalms was sung in the domestic church of the Catholic family, the impact it would have on the formation of children as they growlistening to, reading and praying such texts would be profound.

    There is of course a centuries old tradition of chanting these psalms within the Anglican church, and this is now available to us. The text is set out with traditional chant in mind - with couplets. Again, this is one of the great drawbacks of the American version, at least, of the Paul VI Psalter; it’s almost as if it was set out deliberately to make any form of singing that might be close to a traditional chant very difficult (the British version is better in this respect).

    To indicate how adaptable this text is for singing, when I sing the Office, I use the Coverdale Psalter set to psalm tones based upon traditional chant that we used in the Office when I was teaching at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire. I use these because if the pointing is done according to the natural emphasis of speech, regardless of which tone is sung, it is designed to match this pointing pattern, and so every psalm tone can be sung to any psalm. As a result, you don’t need to have a full repertoire of tones in order to be able to sing the whole Office, but it does mean that as your repertoire of tones increases, you can apply them to any psalm. The setting of this Psalter means that with a quick exercise in pointing, with a pencil, you can sing it with your family. For more information on these psalm tones, you can follow the link here.

    Below is a photo of the text with my pointing marks...

    These were also the tones that we used when singing an Evening Prayer (with both the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in English) in the VA Hospital for the Veterans in Manchester, NH. This was very well received by patients and nurses alike. (Some readers may remember me writing about this in the past, here)

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that something similar and easily available will be produced here. 

    Note, you don’t have to be a member of the Ordinariate to legitimately sing the Office. I mention this because after Leila Lawler and I first suggested, in our book the Little Oratory, that readers think about this as an option at home, some people thought that we were suggesting that people who were already part of the Catholic Church should leave their parishes and become official members of Ordinariate parishes. We were not!

    As an interim that isn't as expensive or difficult to get hold of in the US as the Customary, some might like to use the St Dunstan's Psalter, which is not produced by the Ordinariate, but has the same psalm cycle and the Coverdale translation and other approved translations for the canticles. You could combine this with the readings from the lectionary for the Office of Readings and Evening Prayer for the Paul VI psalter, by getting them online your smart phone at Universalis.

    Below is a copy of the CDF approved outline for the layout of Morning and Evening Prayer for the Personal Ordinariates.

    • Required elements appear in bold, while elements in [squared brackets] are occasional or optional. • The Old and New Testament Lessons are to be taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition.
    • The Collect of the Day should correspond to the relevant Collect in Divine Worship: The Missal. • If the Litany is to be recited at Morning or Evening Prayer, it is to be taken from Divine Worship: The Missal (Appendix 8).
    • The Invitatory may be accompanied by seasonal antiphons.
    • In place of one of the scriptural Lessons, a non-scriptural reading drawn from the 2nd Reading from the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours may be included. Other non-scriptural readings may be added, but may not replace one of the scriptural Lessons.
    • When a lay person leads a public prayer of the Divine Office, the invitation “The Lord be with you” is omitted or substituted by “O Lord, hear our prayer” and the response “And let our cry come unto thee.”
    • Night Prayer (Compline) may be recited apart from Evening Prayer, in which case the Nunc Dimittis is always included.
    • This Guideline does not exclude the addition of an optional, supplemental provision for the Lesser Hours (Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Compline).

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    The monks of Silverstream Priory are no stranger to the pages of NLM. This new and vibrant Benedictine foundation in Ireland celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the monastic Divine Office in all of their traditional fullness.

    I was delighted to learn that they have recently launched an online gift shop, which they intend to expand over time. For now, they are selling a beautiful new set of altar cards for the usus antiquior, designed by their own Dom Benedict Andersen and inspired by the so-called "Editio Lacensis” of the Missale Romanum published by the Abbey of Maria Laach in 1931. The set is available (unframed) from the Priory for €23 (including shipping in Ireland), €24 (with shipping in the UK), and €25 (shipping in the rest of the world). They have also made available their “Prayers at the Foot of the Altar” and a Litany for the Holy Father (which we featured here), printed on nice card stock.

    In the near future other products will be added, such as Father Prior’s Way of the Cross for Priests, Dom Morin’s book The Ideal of the Monastic Life Found in the Apostolic Age, and various prayer cards. Please give their shop a visit and check it out from time to time.

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    A reader has sent us a notice that the Congregation for Divine Worship is changing the way its bulletin Notitiae is published. Here is a note “To our subscribers” which prefaces last year’s first-half issue:

    Having celebrated its 50th year, the review Notitiae is revising its periods of publication and rethinking the way in which it is communicated. It will keep unchanged its particular goal of offering information and documentation on the liturgical-celebrative and disciplinary fields that are proper to the Dicastery as well as information about its activity. In 2015 two half-yearly volumes will be published which have the same number of pages as the volumes published in previous years. In 2016, however, Notitiae will become a solely online review made up of a single annual volume published in PDF format and freely downloadable from the website of the Congregation (there will be no need to renew your subscription for 2016). It will draw together the Acts of the Congregation, information and contributions on re liturgica that periodically appear on the Dicastery’s website, allowing you to cite the source. The review is simply changing its “clothes”, thus making itself more accessible everywhere. Libraries, archives, institutes, and all those who are interested can print it and collect it. It is planned to make the whole collection of Notitiae available online eventually.

    This last piece of news will be of particular importance to liturgical scholars. Here is the link to the Notitiae webpage.

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  • 02/09/16--18:35: Candlemas 2016 Photopost
  • We have many great photos from Candlemas Masses and blessings this year. Thanks to all the readers who sent in their pictures.
    Church of the Holy Innocents, New York City

    A parishioner from Poland adorned her candle, in
     accordance with Polish tradition on Candlemas

    St. Rose of Lima Church, Quincy, IL

    Holy Ghost Chapel, Tiverton, Rhode Island

    Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, 
    Grand Rapids, Michigan

    Saint Matthew Church, Dis Hills NY

    Epiphany Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida

    St. John XXIII Parish, Pittsburgh, PA

    Saint Mary's Basilica, Phoenix Az

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    Following the promulgation of Divine Worship: The Missal on the First Sunday of Advent 2015, the communities of the personal ordinariates in the United States and Canada, England and Wales, and Australia, have been adjusting to the texts and ceremonies of the new missal, which draws from the tradition of the Book of Common Prayer, and the Anglican missals of the early to mid twentieth century. As the liturgical life of the ordinariates begins now to develop and to flourish, communities and their clergy will no doubt wish to commission works of art to accompany their worship. Examples of this have already been seen with a chalice and paten, commissioned by Saint Gregory the Great in Beverly Farms, MA [].

    Another example of this is a newly designed handmade set of altar cards, by DC-based artist Katherine Quan []. The cards seek to reflect the medieval illuminated manuscript tradition of the 13th and 14th centuries, while also acknowledging the artistic heritage and ongoing life of the personal ordinariates. Painted with egg tempera and natural pigments, gold gouache was added for the leaves that decorate the cards, and 23k gold was used for the halos, outer frames, letters, and central crucifix. To create this effect the artist boiled down a bottle of stout for six hours, until it condensed into a molasses-like consistency, and then painted it onto the cards. The next day she breathed onto the beer-based glue, warming it up in order to allow the direct application of the gold leaf.

    Each element of cards has symbolic meaning. The focal point of the central card is obviously the crucifix, based on the 13th century Weingarten Missal. The crucified Christ, whose halo is reminiscent of the work of Martin Travers (whose own work adorns the pages of Divine Worship: The Missal), is the source of all things, and it is from his sacrifice that the life of the Church flows. Thus from his wounded side comes the first of twenty-four branches, which each represent one of the Ritual Churches in communion with the See of Peter.

    These, in turn, are made of three trees: the olive (Ps. 52:8), the sycamore fig (Song of Songs 2:13; John 1:48), and the holly (the symbol of the crown of the thorns). The olive leaf has single point representing the unity of the Godhead, the sycamore fig has three points representing the Most Holy Trinity, and the holly has seven points representing not only the passion of Christ but also, drawing on the heraldic tradition, truth, the guiding principle of the journey of former Anglicans into the Catholic Church.

    Each of these branches is also decorated with flora, many drawn from Sacred Scripture. These are, the Crown Flower (Rev. 12:1); lily (Song of Songs 2:1, Hos. 14:5, Matt. 6:28); mustard blossom (Matt. 13:32); violet (the humility of Our Lady); myrtle blossom (Isa. 41:19, 55:13); pomegranate (Deut. 8:8; Song of Songs 4:3; Hag. 2:19); grapes (John 2:11; 15:1); wheat (John 12:24); fig (Deut. 8:8; Luke 21:29); cedar of Lebanon (Ps. 92:12; Hos. 14:5-6, Song of Songs 15:5).

    At the corners of the frame of the central card we also find two red crosses, based on the cross of Saint Augustine (itself a Roman-style cross), which not only reflects the English Anglican patrimony of the personal ordinariates, but act as a reminder of the Roman origins of English Christianity: Pope Gregory the Great sent Saint Augustine to England, and it is to the propagation of that same faith that members of the ordinariates have pledged themselves.

    Three animals are also found on this card. On the left hand side we find a peacock, the symbol of the resurrection and eternal life, who rests near the first of the offertory prayers. On the right hand side we find two turtle doves (Song of Songs 2:12; Luke 2:24), representing sacrifice, and also a reminder of the date of the consecration of the first ordinariate bishop, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. The large number of birds in the branches also remind us of Matthew 13:32: “Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.” This is a thought close to the hearts of the nascent ordinariates, their clergy and people.

    At the base of the central card, seen to be waiting for water to fall from the branches of the Church, are two deer, or hart (Ps. 42:1). These are not only common in the artwork of the liturgical movement, but are also mentioned in Psalm 42 which is recited before the Priest ascends the altar. Thus, at the bottom of the card, they are the first thing to which the Priest will come as he arrives at the altar, to venerate it with a kiss. They also offer a play on words, referring to the motto Blessed John Henry Newman, Cor ad cor loquitur—Heart speaks unto heart—and thus provide a connection with that most famous of Anglican converts, and the secondary patron of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

    The Last Gospel card has a prominent depiction of Our Lady of Walsingham herself, under whose patronage the personal ordinariate in the United Kingdom was established, and who is the titular patron of the Cathedral Church of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter in Houston, Texas, and the secondary patron of the personal ordinariate in the United States and Canada. The image itself is based on the work of Enid Chadwick, whose art adorns the Anglican shrine in Walsingham.

    This card also depicts two animals. First, the sparrow (Matt. 10:29) and, secondly, the eagle as the sign of Saint John the Evangelist, the author of the traditional Last Gospel. The symbols of the sacraments of initiation are also found here, with Mary who is “full of grace”: baptism, represented by the pilgrims’ shell, confirmation, represented by the Holy Spirit, and the Most Holy Eucharist, represented by the chalice and paten.

    The Lavabo card is notable for the coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI, whose 2009 apostolic constitution Anglicanorum cœtibus established the personal ordinariates. By the Prayer of Thanksgiving, drawn from the Book of Common Prayer, we find the pelican in her piety representing charity and the Most Holy Eucharist.

    On the right of the card, an owl represents wisdom. The sacraments of Holy Orders (first) and Holy Matrimony (secondarily) are found to the left of the card, and those of Penance and Extreme Unction are found to the right. There is an obvious pattern between the sacrifice and charity of the pelican, and ordination and marriage; and between penance and anointing, and the owl of wisdom.

    A set of these cards was presented to Bishop Steven Lopes, the first Bishop-Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, on the occasion of his episcopal consecration on February 2, 2016, and, with his permission, they are now available from the artist. It is hoped that in some small way these altar cards will add further beauty to celebrations of the Mass according to Divine Worship: The Missal, and will also encourage others to undertake similar work for this form of the Roman Rite. For further information, or to order a set of the altar cards, please contact the artist directly:

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  • 02/10/16--12:00: Ash Wednesday 2016
  • Dómine, non secundum peccáta nostra, quae fécimus nos: neque secundum iniquitátes nostras retríbuas nobis. V. Dómine, ne memíneris iniquitátum nostrárum antiquárum: cito antícipent nos misericórdiae tuae, quia páuperes facti sumus nimis. Hic genuflectiturV. Adjuva nos, Deus, salutáris noster: et propter gloriam nóminis tui, Dómine, líbera nos: et propitius esto peccátis nostris, propter nomen tuum.

    Tract O Lord, not according to the sins which we have committed, nor according to our iniquities do Thou repay us. V. Lord, remember not our former iniquities: let thy mercies speedily come before us, for we are become exceeding poor. All kneel. V. Help us, O God, our Savior: and for the glory of Thy name, O Lord, deliver us: and be merciful to our sins for Thy name’s sake.

    This beautiful tract is sung every Monday, Wednesday and Friday of Lent until Holy Monday, with the exception of Ember Wednesday. Here is a polyphonic version by the Spanish composer Juan de Anchieta (1462-1523.)

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    As mentioned in David Clayton’s post on Monday, a Catholic Vespers was sung in the Chapel of Hampton Court Palace yesterday evening. This historic event was conceived and promoted by Genesis Sixteen, the outreach offshoot of The Sixteen, the well-known concert and touring choir. The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nichols, presided, and the music, sung by The Sixteen and Genesis Sixteen, included a Tallis Magnificat, Salve Regina by William Cornysh and John Taverner’s ‘Leroy’ Kyrie. For a non-Catholic choir to sing a Vespers from scratch is not easy (they were fortunate to have some help from Westminster Cathedral music department beforehand) even for a top-flight choir like The Sixteen. There is a rhythm and flow to the psalms which can only be accrued over time and is difficult to achieve ‘straight out of the box’. Genesis Sixteen, founded by a generous Catholic philanthropist, aims to give people of university age a launch into the professional world of singing. A few similar schemes have appeared over the past few years, including the Monteverdi Choir’s Apprentice Scheme, providing mutually beneficial arrangements for the host choir in terms of finance and publicity, as well as the obvious benefits for the young singers who audition to the requisite high standard.

    Vespers in the Chapel of Hampton Court Palace yesterday.
    (From The Sixteen’s Facebook Page)

    However, sometimes philanthropy is needed in less obvious or visible situations, and sometimes philanthropists want to know where they can help. Towards the very end of the political TV drama series The West Wing, the Bartlett Administration is preparing to leave the White House and the senior staff weigh up their options and mull over various offers of employment from the private sector and other walks of life. Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg is approached by a billionaire philanthropist who tries to persuade her to head up his charitable foundation. He is determined to make a big difference and solve the problems of famine in Africa by bombarding it with aid. She explains to him that Africa’s problems are caused not so much by a lack of aid, but by a lack of roads. The solution therefore does not lie in flooding it with aid, but in building roads. With those roads, the aid can reach the places it needs to.

    We learn to read and write at an early age. Music too, is a language, and ideally also needs to be learned at an early age. An ability to read music gives a young person the ability to freely access and experience all the music the world contains. I can say with absolute certainty that I learned more about music in my six years as a chorister at Westminster Cathedral (aged 8-13) than I have in the rest of my life put together. The choristers who sing there today have the same experience: a daily encounter with the highest standards, against which they will measure every other musical note they utter for the rest of their lives, and a total musical literacy, not just the grammar, but a sensitivity and understanding of every nuance and structure. (This is to say nothing of the Catholic experience and the nurturing of the Faith, but I am focusing on the raw music here.)

    This is the same experience I work to bring to the boys in the Schola at the London Oratory. These boys, who at Mass this morning in the London Oratory sang Allegri’s Miserere with its famous top Cs, sing a wealth of Catholic liturgical music. Soon they will have sung, in the space of two years, both of J.S. Bach’s settings of the Matthew and John Passions, his B minor Mass, his motet Singet dem Herrn and Monteverdi’s Vespers, to name some of their recent concert repertory. The girls and boys of the Oratory Junior Choir have a similar experience which requires of them the highest standards of singing at the Oratory’s liturgies.

    These liturgical choirs and others like them, which aspire to raise the musical standards and aspirations of Catholic children and young adults, need to be supported. They are as essential to Catholic Music as the roads in Africa, and there need to be more of them. (I was delighted to receive a letter from an NLM reader recently seeking advice about a children’s choir they are founding within a major Catholic institution in the USA.) Such choirs are not choral finishing schools. They do not get much publicity. They are fundamental, providing the bedrock support, the nuts and bolts of music if you will. They are founded upon hours of daily toil, and the considerable achievements of the children are earned through hard graft. There are no short-cuts, no quick fixes. And although it is at this age that attention and support most need to be given, most of these liturgical choirs are woefully underfunded. It may not be particularly glamorous to write cheques for replacement cassocks, or new copies of sheet music, or bursary funds, but those few good souls who do this, quietly and unnoticed, are building roads for the future.

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