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  • 04/08/16--22:14: Easter Sunday 2016 Photopost
  • To finish our Holy Week photoposts for this year, we finally bring you photos from Easter Sunday. Thanks to those who sent them in!

    St. Stephen, Portland, OR

    St. Peter, Steubenville, OH

    Christ The King, Kansas City, MO

    Our Lady of Mt Carmel (FSSP), Littleton, CO

    St. Mary Cathedral, Peoria, IL

    St. John XXIII, Pittsburgh, PA

    St. Anne, Belmont, Western Australia

    St Marys Shrine, Warrington, UK

     Extraordinary Form Community, Archdiocese of Singapore

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    The relics of St Charbel Maklouf, the famous Maronite monk, will be at St Basil’s Melkite Greek Catholic Seminary in Methuen, Massachusetts, from Monday Aptil 25th to the following Wednesday. See the program of liturgical events in the poster below; click here for a recent post with information about their upcoming visit to a Maronite church in Jamaica Plain.

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    In all the discussion that is happening over the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, undoubtedly the question of who may or may not receive Holy Communion will remain at the forefront. In the Church today, many seem to be wholly unaware of the terrifying consequences of approaching the sacred banquet without being in a state of grace, that is to say, receiving the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin. Such a communion not only does not and cannot help us, it heaps punishment upon our souls and makes our state worse than it was before.

    It is St. Paul who first and most clearly teaches us this truth:
    Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink of the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the Body and of the Blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself; and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. For he that eatheth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Body of the Lord. (1 Cor 11:27–29).
    In his final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope John Paul II quotes St. John Chrysostom:
    I too raise my voice, I beseech, beg and implore that no one draw near to this sacred table with a sullied and corrupt conscience. Such an act, in fact, can never be called “communion,” not even were we to touch the Lord’s body a thousand times over, but “condemnation,” “torment,” and “increase of punishment.”[1]
    John Paul II explains the reason why:
    The celebration of the Eucharist … cannot be the starting-point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists, a communion which it seeks to consolidate and bring to perfection. … Invisible communion, though by its nature always growing, presupposes the life of grace, by which we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and the practice of the virtues of faith, hope and love. … Keeping these invisible bonds intact is a specific moral duty incumbent upon Christians who wish to participate fully in the Eucharist by receiving the body and blood of Christ. The Apostle Paul appeals to this duty when he warns: “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor 11:28). … I therefore desire to reaffirm that in the Church there remains in force, now and in the future, the rule by which the Council of Trent gave concrete expression to the Apostle Paul’s stern warning when it affirmed that, in order to receive the Eucharist in a worthy manner, “one must first confess one’s sins, when one is aware of mortal sin.” … Christ is the truth and he bears witness to the truth (cf. Jn 14:6; 18:37); the sacrament of his body and blood does not permit duplicity.[2]
    There is no way around it: Catholics are obliged to pay careful heed to “stern warning” of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:27–29.

    Now, in the traditional Latin Mass, the message of these verses is heard at least three times every year: once on Holy Thursday (where the Epistle is 1 Cor 11:20–32),[3] and twice on Corpus Christi (where the Epistle is 1 Cor 11:23–29, and the Communion antiphon is 1 Cor 11:26-27). Catholics who preferentially attend the usus antiquior will never fail to have St. Paul's challenging words placed before their consciences.[4]

    Baronius Missal, Feast of Corpus Christi (MR 1962)
    One might have assumed, as a matter of course, that when Coetus XI of the Consilium devised a new vastly expanded Lectionary spanning three years of Sundays and two years of weekdays, they would certainly have included all of the readings already found in the traditional Roman liturgy (as per Sacrosanctum Concilium 23 and 50), and that, in the wide scope allotted to New Testament books, no key passages would be omitted.

    Instead, in keeping with a programmatic decision to avoid what they considered “difficult” biblical texts,[5] the revised Lectionary altogether omits 1 Corinthians 11:27–29. St. Paul’s “sterm warning” against receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord unworthily, that is, unto one’s damnation, has not been read at any Ordinary Form Mass for almost half a century.[6]

    Let us be frank: the concept of an unworthy communion has disappeared from the general Catholic consciousness, at least in the affluent, self-satisfied West. I recall the surprise of more than a few commentators when the Synod fathers were debating whether anyone should refrain from receiving communion. Surely, doesn’t everyone — almost without exception — go forward at communion time?[7]

    It might be thought that I am exaggerating the gravity of the problem. In that case, listen not to me, but to the words of the Curé of Ars, St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests:
    A pagan emperor, in hatred of Jesus Christ, placed infamous idols on Calvary and the holy sepulchre, and he believed that in doing this he could not carry further his fury against Jesus Christ. Ah! great God! Was that anything to be compared with the unworthy communicant? No, no! It is no longer among dumb and senseless idols that he sets his God, but in the midst, alas!, of infamous living passions, which are so many executioners who crucify his Saviour. Alas! What shall I say? That poor wretch unites the Holy of Holies to a prostitute soul, and sells him to iniquity. Yes, that poor wretch plunges his God into a raging hell. Is it possible to conceive anything more dreadful?[8]
    Next week I will post more excerpts from St. John Vianney on this subject.

    Summorum Pontificum has provided to the Church an urgent medicine in this era of misunderstood mercy and forgotten dogma. Pope Benedict XVI recognized that the usus antiquior is a treasure for the entire Church, one that must be given its due place for the benefit of all. One of the most valuable contributions it makes, together with the culture of piety it sustains, is to keep alive the integral teaching of Scripture and Tradition precisely on matters that are “difficult” for modern man.

    In the ambit of the traditional Mass, one often finds that the faithful are well aware of the requirement to examine their consciences, and, if they are aware of any mortal sin, they will go to confession first — something rendered far easier by the ready availability of confession before (and sometimes during) Mass, particularly on Sundays. At communion time, it simply does not happen that everyone goes up, row after row. A number of people remain in the pews; as a result, those who, for whatever reason, cannot receive the Eucharist do not feel oddly isolated or uncomfortably noticed. Finally, the faithful who wish to receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ  — and who are not conscious of any unrepented and unconfessed mortal sin — step forward, kneel down in adoring reverence, and receive the King of Kings and Lord of Lords on their tongues, from the consecrated hand of the priest. It is all done in a manner proper, just, and right. Man comes before God and begs to receive the awesome gift of His divine life, of which, as creatures and sinners, we will always be unworthy: Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea.


    [1] Homiliae in Isaiam, 6, 3: PG 56, 139; cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia 36.

    [2] Ecclesia de Eucharistia 35–36. The pope goes on to speak of the inseparable relationship between the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance. We are dealing here with doctrine that stretches from St. Paul to the present Magisterium in an uninterrupted crescendo of unambiguous affirmation.

    [3] On Holy Thursday in the Novus Ordo, the second reading is 1 Cor 11:23–26, simply narrating the institution of the Eucharist. The longer reader found in the usus antiquior provides the full context for what St. Paul is saying and makes clearer the connection between the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the present gathering of Christians for the celebration of the Mass.

    [4] If the faithful happen to attend a votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament — a popular choice among usus antiquior votive Masses — they will encounter these verses yet again. Moreover, 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 is part of the ninth reading of Tenebrae on Maundy Thursday and the third reading of Matins on Corpus Christi.

    [5] See General Introduction to the Lectionary76; for commentary, see Anthony Cekada, Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI (West Chester, OH: Philothea Press, 2010), 265–72.

    [6] Consider the following comparison: in any place where the usus antiquior has been celebrated since the introduction of the new Lectionary 46 years ago, 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 (or vv. 26-27, which deliver the same message) has been required reading 138 times. In the same period, it has been required to be read zero times in the sphere of the Ordinary Form. How could this not make a difference in the formation of the faithful, clergy and laity alike? The same Pauline passage has, moreover, been altogether removed from the Liturgy of the Hours, where it once appeared twice (see note 4 and here).
              I have noticed in recent years a growing awareness of this glaring lacuna and others like it, but the entire problem deserves to be much more widely known, so that we can begin (or continue) to ask difficult questions in earnest. The work will now be rendered significantly easier on account of a scholarly resource that has just come out: Index Lectionum: A Comparative Table of Readings for the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Riteby Matthew P. Hazell. NLM will review this book in a future post.

    [7] Joseph Ratzinger addressed this problem head on: “It is one of the happy features of worship in the wake of the Council that more and more people participate fully in the Eucharist by receiving the body of the Lord, communicating with him and, in him, with the whole Church of God. Yet do we not feel a slight uneasiness at times in the face of an entire congregation coming to communion? Paul urgently insisted that the Corinthians should 'discern' the Lord’s body (1 Cor 11:29): is this still happening? Occasionally one has the feeling that 'communion' is regarded as part of the ritual—that it goes on automatically and is simply an expression of the community’s identity. We need to regain a much stronger awareness that the Eucharist does not lose all its meaning where people do not communicate. By going to Communion without 'discernment,' we fail to reach the heights of what is taking place in Communion; we reduce the Lord’s gift to the level of everyday ordinariness and manipulation. The Eucharist is not a ritual meal; it is the shared prayer of the Church, in which the Lord prays together with us and gives us himself. Therefore it remains something great and precious, it remains a true gift, even when we cannot communicate. If we understood this better and hence had a more correct view of the Eucharist itself, many pastoral problems — the position of the divorced and remarried in the Church, for instance — would cease to be such a burden” (The Feast of Faith, trans. Graham Harrison [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986], 151–52).

    [8] From Sermon sur la Communion indigne, quoted in Eucharistic Meditations: Extracts from the Writings and Instructions of St. John Vianney, by Abbé H. Convert, trans. Sr. Mary Benvenuta (Wheathampstead: Anthony Clarke Books, 1923, repr. 1964), 94–95.

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    I have been invited by the OQ Farm in beautiful farmland close to Woodstock, Vermont, to lead a weekend study centered around the traditional formation that would been given to the great Catholic artists of the past. This will certainly be of interest to artists of any creative discipline, but not just to artists, I think. It is open to anyone seeking a traditional formation in beauty and an inculturation that engenders creativity and openness to inspiration. It takes place from the 3-5th June, 2016.

    St John Paul II said, in his 1999 Letter to Artists, that every individual has a personal vocation to contribute creatively and beautifully to the culture in some way as we go about our daily lives. In that sense, we may become artists through supernatural means: by being united to Christ, we are transformed and participate in the divine nature. St Athanasius referred to this supernatural transformation in the 4th century AD when he said that, “God became man, so that we might become god.” St Maximus the Confessor reiterated this in the 7th century, saying “One becomes all that God is, except an identity in being, when one is deified by grace.” Benedict XVI said that through this each of us can participate in the “creative love of God.” It is an extraordinary privilege, yet it is one that is offered through the Church to every single person.

    This call to be raised up so that God may work through us, and to contribute creatively and beautifully to society, is the essence of the New Evangelization. You can read about this in this article, published in the past here on NLM, the New Evangelization and the Domestic Church - Pope Benedict XVI on the Connection Between the Two. Through grace, we lead a life of beauty and contribute creatively to a new culture. It is by this beauty and love in our lives that others see Christ and are drawn to the Faith. This result is described by Benedict in his paper on the New Evangelization, written in 2001; and in the same paper he gives us the method by which we can participate in this. The method of the “New” evangelization is rooted in the one which worked so successfully for the early Church. It is a traditional pattern of prayer, which incorporates different sorts of prayer and contemplation, and has the worship of God in the sacred liturgy at its heart. This will be a journey in which together we will study this short document (under 10 pages) and put into practice what he describes.

    This is what formed the great evangelists of the past; and it also what enabled so many of the great painters of the past to create beauty for the greater glory of God. In many ways, it is building on what was described in the book written by Leila Lawler and myself, The Little Oratory - A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home. In this weekend, we will go more deeply into the subject, learning more about how the beauty of the Catholic traditions of sacred art (as specified by Benedict XVI in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy), through both form and content support the prayer life and the themes that he highlights in his paper on the New Evangelization. We will experience the methods he describes first hand, the prayer that it describes, with additional insights.

    As such, it is a small example of Catholic inculturation from which you can benefit personally, and which you can take with you to your domestic church. In fact, the hope of this weekend is that what you get will not stop when you leave. Prayer at home, as well as in our parish church, is a vital component to what Pope Benedict described when he told a synod on the family in 2008 that “The new evangelization depends largely on the Domestic Church. The Christian Family, to the extent it succeeds in living love as communion and service as a reciprocal gift open to all, as a journey of permanent conversion supported by the grace of God, reflects the splendor of Christ in the world and the beauty of the divine Trinity.” The point should be made here that this does not apply only to families, it is true for and open to everyone, no matter what their state in life. We all have a home, and so we can all create a domestic church! It is how we turn a house into a home.

    In the beautiful and peaceful surroundings of rural Vermont you will:
    • Learn to pray the Divine Office in English using traditional chant, so that you can do it at home or parish (no previous music training necessary.)
    • Engage with visual imagery in your prayer - in the liturgy and in devotional and contemplative prayer.
    • Learn how to choose images, based upon traditional principle, for your own domestic church that will promote this supernatural transformation.
    • Understand why the great figurative traditions of the sacred art of the Church are formed so as to engender such a transformation, both through the content - what they portray; and style - how they portray it.

    Weekend Retreat Package: $375 per person
    Arrive on Friday, 6/3 by dinner, depart by noon on Sunday, 6/5 Includes semi-private lodging and all weekend meals. A limited number of private rooms are available for an additional cost.

    Saturday Commuter Package: $125 per person Arrive by 8am Saturday, joining for all daytime activities and shared lunch -- departing before dinner

    To book, and for more information please contact the Director of Arts Initiatives, Keri Wiederspahn:; 802.230.7779 or follow the link here.

    Below a beautiful icon of the transfiguration, painted by monks at Mount St Angel Abbey, Oregon. This is a painting of the event that anticipated Christ in glory in heaven. It is also a painting of the mystical body of Christ, the Church. When we are transformed, in Christ, in this life, we can be a pixel of light in his body, drawing people to the Faith.

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    Newman House Press has just published a work by Fr John Cunningham, a Dominican priest from Ireland, called “It Is Right and Just - Responses of the Roman Missal”, an analysis of and reflection on the new and improved English responses of the congregation for the Mass. In the preface, His Eminence Cardinal George Pell, chairman of the Vox Clara committee, writes as follows.

    “This book reveals the layers of riches contained in the beautiful ancient prayers, rooted in the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers, which have now been translated faithfully and accurately into contemporary English. ... (It) will help those preparing sermons or classes, and those seeking to understand the prayers of the Mass more deeply... why the Church insists on ‘consubstantial’ or why the response is ‘and with your spirit.’ It is pointed out here that ‘invisible’ has a different meaning from ‘unseen’... We are informed why we properly say ‘I believe’ and ‘I confess’, rather than shifting to the collective we.

    “It takes time to get used to new translations, and this was true even of the King James Bible. One early critic... threatened to burn it, and raged that ‘I had rather be rent in pieces ... than any such translation by my consent be urged upon poor churches.’ Human nature does not change.

    “This learned and lively booklet helps us understand why this English translation will serve us well for any decades, and why it is well received in the United States of America.”

    Dom Alcuin Reid writes “To pray the liturgy is to immerse oneself in the Church’s rites and prayers, allowing them to penetrate our hearts and minds with their meaning and thus to feed our souls and to fire our Christian life and mission in the world. In illuminating the meaning of many of the texts of the Order of Mass, It is Right and Just facilitates precisely this. It is a small but important tool for liturgical formation, for unlocking some of the riches of the Church’s Sacred Liturgy for Catholics celebrating the newer or the older rites. Whether you have never read a book on the liturgy before, or have read (or even written) many of them, Father Cunningham is to be thanked for providing something for each of us so that we might draw more deeply and more fruitfully from the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church.”

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    Eduard Bendemann (1811-1889), Die trauernden Juden im Exil

    Good drama makes us feel good. We experience deep satisfaction when bad guys get their just deserts, and good guys emerge victorious despite the odds. Similarly, there’s a certain happy sadness when we follow the downturn of a mostly good character: we feel empathy and understanding.

    The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle outlined both of these plot structures in his Poetics. A good drama, says Aristotle, makes us feel better. When we watch a good drama, we participate at a distance with the emotions and plot, such that our emotions and very soul are cleansed. While we might not want to be on the Titanic while it is sinking, we might enjoy a movie about it. The cleansing of the soul – which is the goal of good drama – is catharsis. 
    Catharsis depends on certain defined plot structures; namely the rise and fall of a good character, especially due to hubris“blind pride” or hamartia“a tragic fault”. The audience can see and sometimes even anticipate the downfall, but nonetheless feels sympathy for the character in question. Sophocles’ Oedipus is the textbook example. When everything is said and done, it all makes sense, but beforehand no one in the audience could have expected the reversals which lead to his downfall. If any of the parts of the plot are missing, there will be no catharsis.
    Christianity has its own version of catharsis which depends deeply on similar rhetorical structures. Consider the text of the classic American hymn Amazing Grace: I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see. The basic progression is darkness to light, sin and error to freedom and truth, death to life. Sometimes we even see a subsequent return to error, darkness, and sin. 
    The Old Testament is a series of examples of this rhetorical pattern. God redeems fallen humanity, and soon after humanity falls again. Israel enters captivity due to sinfulness, and God rescues them and restores them again. Redemption originates with God, though humanity is at fault. 
    It is useful to tell these stories, not simply because they are true, but because they can remind us of God’s redemption and salvation in our own circumstances. Hope comes in a moment of difficulty, when we see our own life fitting the larger patterns of God’s redemption and salvation. For the Christian, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the ongoing source of faith and virtue. What was accomplished at a national and collective level for the people of Israel, is now accomplished at an individual, universal, “catholic” level through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 
    The rhetorical pattern nonetheless remains constant, if we wish to experience the holy “catharsis.” Sin, darkness, grief, despair, blindness, anxiety, sickness, and fear are transformed into love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This pattern is made present universally in Jesus, anecdotally in the lives of the saints, and personally in our own conversion. 
    There are three distinct stages of the “rhetorical pattern” of redemption: sin, redemption, and gratitude. One need not look too far to encounter the first stage: here we’re talking about the burdens of humanity, the crushing guilt and onus of sin, the lack of hope and freedom and vision. We’ve all been there. This brings us to the end of ourselves, where we need redemption. In this second stage – redemption – we say to God, with the prophet Isaiah, “But now, O LORD, You are our Father: We are the clay, and You our potter” (Is. 64:8). Lastly, having been set free, we remember where we were and acknowledge where we have come with God’s help. We are grateful and say with the Psalmist “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for his mercy is everlasting. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary” (107:1-2). 
    This three-stage story is the eternal and ongoing rhetorical pattern of redemption. Wherever we hear this story told, the light of the Gospel is "on" and we can find freedom from the burden and pain of sin. It would be absolutely tone-deaf and dysfunctional, however, to presume that all of our congregations are in the “redeemed” category at all times. Far from it! I may intentionally come to Mass precisely because I am burdened and confused, anxious, or darkened by sin and error... and I know it. The entire story – the entire rhetorical pattern of redemption – must be told if the holy “catharsis” is to take place. To the extent that we consider ourselves Christians, isn’t this “catharsis” or redemption exactly the holy and central purpose of our coming together, the source and summit of our Christian life, the reason for giving thanks in the Eucharist? 
    As Catholics, however, we feel uncomfortable talking about the last aspect: our own participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. What happens in the confessional rightfully remains private; we don’t like to acknowledge publicly where we have been, and we don’t like to say thank you publicly for the redemption we have received. We do, however, take inventory of our state in the penitential rite, and in a minor way with "Domine, non sum dignus..." or "Lord, I am not worthy..." before Holy Communion. But gratitude is also needed. The story of the ten lepers is particularly telling (Luke 17). Jesus healed ten lepers, but only the Samaritan returned to thank Jesus. As Catholics, we shy away from telling long and elaborate personal testimonies. And I thank God for that, but we do need to express gratitude in some way. It is right and just. 
    We do encounter in our tradition a way in which the individual can express gratitude publicly: the Psalms. In addition to the Liturgy of the Hours, the Psalms are employed in the Mass in the vast majority of Introits, Graduals, Alleluia verses, Offertories, and Communion Antiphons.  
    Just as we say together “credo” “I believe,” we can say together “Ego clamavi, quoniam exaudisti me, Deus” “I called out because you will answer me, O God” (Introit for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Psalm 16) Of note in both cases is the use of first person singular “I ” or “ego.” Far from being an expression of ego or wanton emotion, the “Ego” here is the personal and perhaps most meaningful outworking of the pattern of redemption.

    Nonetheless, catharsis depends on the whole story. We can't omit a single part. And lastly, in this Easter season, I would hope that like the good leper, we return to say "thank you."

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    Regarding the various graces conferred upon a rational creature, it is the general rule that whenever the divine grace chooses someone for a particular grace, or for a particular exalted state, it also endows that person with all the gifts of grace which are necessary for the person so chosen, and for the duty (to which he is called), and does so in abundance. This is most especially verified in the case of Saint Joseph, the putative father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and true spouse of the Queen of the world, and Lady of Angels. He was chosen by the Eternal Father as the faithful protector and guardian of His chief treasures, namely, His Son, and Joseph’s own Wife. This duty Joseph discharged most faithfully, wherefore the Lord hath said to him: Good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.

    St Joseph and the Infant Christ, by Juan Antonio Frias y Escalante, 1660-65
    Remember us, therefore, o blessed Joseph, and by the support of thy prayers, intercede for us with thy supposed Son! And also make gracious to us thy Virgin Spouse, the Mother of Him Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth though all ages. Amen. (From the sermon at Matins, by St Bernardin of Siena.)

    The feast of St Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, was originally called “the Patronage of St Joseph,” and fixed to the Third Sunday after Easter. It was kept by a great many dioceses and religious orders, particularly promoted by the Carmelites, before it was extended to the universal Church by Bl. Pope Pius IX in 1847, and later granted an octave. When the custom of fixing feasts to particular Sundays was abolished as part of the Breviary reform of Pope St Pius X, it was anticipated to the previous Wednesday, the day of the week traditionally dedicated to Patron Saints. It was removed from the general Calendar in 1955 and replaced by the feast of St Joseph the Worker, one of the least fortunate aspects of the pre-Conciliar liturgical changes; the new feast itself was then downgraded from the highest of three grades (first class) in the 1962 Missal to the lowest of four (optional memorial) in 1970.

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    A former student of mine, a graduate of Thomas More College in New Hampshire, who is now studying at CUA and attends the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington DC has contacted me about this project. The shrine has issued a call for icon painters to undertake the painting of icons for the iconostasis and for selected walls. Go here to find out more about the commission.

    The Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family is the face of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the capital of the United States. Located adjacent to the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, on the campus of Catholic University of America, and less than 4 miles from the Capitol Building, it is not only a center for worship for Ukrainian Catholics but has been built to convey information about the Ukrainian Catholic faith and about Ukrainians and their history. It has recently completed two phases of a three-phase building process, and is now ready to go forward with the third - the commission of sacred art for the interior.

    The front of the nave as seen while looking East.
    Over 35 years, thousands of generous Ukrainian Catholics have contributed financially to the construction of the church. The shrine, designed by architect Myroslav Nimciw, was built in three phases: the lower level in 1979, the upper sanctuary shell in 1988, and the sanctuary interior in 1999. The final phase, as mentioned, is to install icons in the sanctuary, both within the structure of a new iconostas, designed by architect Larysa Kurylas, and on select walls of the sanctuary.
    You can click on the lower of the two images given above for a larger version in which can read the schema of the program for the iconostasis.

    For information about the commission follow the link here.

    This is an ambitious and worthy project, and a great opportunity for a good icon painter. Oh that more of our Roman Rite churches would embark on such a systematic and informed process in the commissioning of art! 

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    In his great encyclical on Sacred Scripture, Providentissimus Deus, Pope Leo XIII writes:
    With the age of the scholastics came fresh and welcome progress in the study of the Bible. … The valuable work of the scholastics in Holy Scripture is seen in their theological treatises and in their Scripture commentaries; and in this respect the greatest name among them all is St. Thomas Aquinas. (n. 7)
    It is therefore with complete confidence that we can and should take up the Angelic Doctor’s commentaries on the Apostle to the Gentiles. These commentaries, from Aquinas’s maturest period, are some of the best reflections of his primary work as a Magister Sacrae Paginae at the university.

    Earlier this week at NLM, I discussed the astonishing exclusion of 1 Corinthians 11:27–29 from the postconciliar liturgy (Mass and Office), in spite of the fact that it had been present in many places in the preconciliar Mass and Office. Our astonishment will be all the more complete when we read St. Thomas’s probing comments on these verses.

    St Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:27–29

    Therefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. [nn. 687–94] But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice. [nn. 695–96] For he who eats and drinks unworthily eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. [n. 697]
           687. After showing the dignity of this sacrament, the Apostle now rouses the faithful to receive it reverently. First, he outlines the peril threatening those who receive unworthily; second, he applies a saving remedy, at but let a man prove himself.
           688. First, therefore, he says, therefore, from the fact that this which is received sacramentally is the body of Christ and what is drunk is the blood of Christ, whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.
           In these words must be considered, first, how someone eats or drinks unworthily. According to a Gloss this happens in three ways.
           First, as to the celebration of this sacrament, namely, because someone celebrates the sacrament in a manner different from that handed down by Christ; for example, if he offers in this sacrament a bread other than wheaten or some liquid other than wine from the grape of the vine. Hence it is said that Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, offered before the Lord “unholy fire, such as he had not commanded them. And fire came forth from the presence of the Lord and devoured them” (Lev 10:1).
           689. Second, from the fact that someone approached the Eucharist with a mind not devout. This lack of devotion is sometimes venial, as when someone with his mind distracted by worldly affairs approaches this sacrament habitually retaining due reverence toward it; and such lack of devotion, although it impedes the fruit of this sacrament, which is spiritual refreshment, does not make one guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, as the Apostle says here. However, a certain lack of devotion is a mortal sin, i.e., when it involves contempt of this sacrament, as it is said: “but you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted and its food may be despised” (Mal 1:12). It is of such lack of devotion that the Gloss speaks.
           690. In a third way someone is said to be unworthy, because he approaches the Eucharist with the intention of sinning mortally. For it is said: “he shall not approach the altar, because he has a blemish” (Lev 21:23). Someone is understood to have a blemish as long as he persists in the intention of sinning, which, however, is taken away through penitence. By contrition, indeed, which takes away the will to sin with the intention of confession and making satisfaction, as to the remission of guilt and eternal punishment; by confession and satisfaction as to the total remission of punishment and reconciliation with the members of the Church. Therefore, in cases of necessity, as when someone does not have an abundance of confessors, contrition is enough for receiving this sacrament. But as a general rule, confession with some satisfaction should precede. Hence in the book On Church Dogmas it says: “One who desires to go to communion should make satisfaction with tears and prayers, and trusting in the Lord approach the Eucharist clean, free from care, and secure. But I say this of the person not burdened with capital and mortal sins. For the one whom mortal sins committed after baptism press down, I advise to make satisfaction with public penance, and so be joined to communion by the judgment of the priest, if he does not wish to receive the condemnation of the Church.”
           691. But it seems that sinners do not approach this sacrament unworthily. For in this sacrament Christ is received, and he is the spiritual physician, who says of himself: “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt 9:12). The answer is that this sacrament is spiritual food, as baptism is spiritual birth. But one is born in order to live, but he is not nourished unless he is already alive. Therefore, this sacrament does not befit sinners who are not yet alive by grace; although baptism befits them.
           Furthermore, as Augustine say in his Commentary on John, “the Eucharist is the sacrament of love and ecclesial unity.” Since, therefore, the sinner lacks charity and is deservedly separated from the unity of the Church, if he approaches this sacrament, he commits a falsehood, since he is signifying that he has charity, but does not. Yet because a sinner sometimes has faith in this sacrament, it is lawful for him to look upon this sacrament, which is something absolutely denied to unbelievers, as Dionysius says in Ecclesiastical Hierarchy.
           692. Second, it is necessary to consider how one who receives this sacrament unworthily is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. This is explained in three ways in a Gloss.
           In one way materially: for one incurs guilt from a sin committed against the body and blood of Christ, as contained in this sacrament, which he receives unworthily and from this his guilt is increased. For his guilt is increased to the extent that a greater person is offended against: “how much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God and profaned the blood of the covenant?” (Heb 10:29).
           693. Second, it is explained by a similitude, so that the sense would be: he shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord, i.e., he will be punished as if he had killed Christ: “they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt” (Heb 6:6). But according to this the gravest sin seems to be committed by those who receive the body of Christ unworthily. The answer is that a sin is grave in two ways: in one way from the sin’s species, which is taken from its object; according to this a sin against the godhead, such as unbelief, blasphemy and so on, is graver than one committed against the humanity of Christ. Hence, the Lord himself says: “whoever says a word against the son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matt 12:32). And again a sin committed against the humanity in its own species is graver than under the sacramental species.
           In another way, the gravity of sin is considered on the part of the sinner. But one sins more, when he sins from hatred or envy or any other maliciousness, as those sinned who crucified Christ, than one who sins from weakness, as they sometimes sin who receive this sacrament unworthily. It does not follow, therefore, that the sin of receiving this sacrament unworthily should be compared to the sin of killing Christ, as though the sins were equal, but on account of a specific likeness: because each concerns the same Christ.
           694. He shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord is explained in a third way, i.e., the body and blood of the Lord will make him guilty. For something good evilly received hurts one, just as evil well used profits one, as the sting of Satan profited Paul.
           By these words is excluded the error of those who say that as soon as this sacrament is touched by the lips of a sinner, the body of Christ ceases to be under it. Against this is the word of the Apostle: whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily. For according to the above opinion, no one unworthy would [be able to] eat or drink. But this opinion is contrary to the truth of this sacrament, according to which the body and blood of Christ remain in this sacrament, as long as the appearances remain, no matter where they exist.
           695. Then when he says, but let a man prove himself, he applies a remedy against this peril. First, he suggests the remedy; second, he assigns a reason, at for he who eats; third, he clarifies the reason with a sign, at therefore, there are many.
           696. First, therefore, he says: because one who receives this sacrament unworthily incurs so much guilt, it is necessary that a man first examine himself, i.e., carefully inspect his conscience, lest there exist in it the intention to sin mortally or any past sin for which he has not repented sufficiently. And so, secure after a careful examination, let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice, because for those who receive worthily, it is not poison but medicine: “let each one test his own work” (Gal 6:4); “examine yourselves to see whether you are holding to your faith” (2 Cor 13:5).
           697. Then when he says, for he who eats, he assigns the reason for the above remedy, saying: a previous examination is required, for he who eats and drinks unworthily eats and drinks judgment, i.e., condemnation, to himself: “those who have done evil will rise to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29). Not discerning the body of the Lord, i.e., from the fact that he does not distinguish the body of the Lord from other things, receiving him indiscriminately as other foods: “anyone who approaches the holy things while he has an uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from my presence” (Lev 22:3).
    In the foregoing text, we see St. Thomas Aquinas lucidly expounding 1 Cor 11:27–29 in accord with the great majority of Catholic theologians and magisterial documents down through the ages. In striking contrast, we find Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia stating outright (as modern scriptural exegetes are wont to do) that vv. 27–29 are more correctly interpreted in a social sense, in accord with the context of 1 Cor 11:17–34; indeed he goes so far as to dismiss the traditional reading as being out of context and generic. Pay careful attention to n. 186:

    Pope Francis’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:27–29

           185. Along these same lines, we do well to take seriously a biblical text usually interpreted outside of its context or in a generic sense, with the risk of overlooking its immediate and direct meaning, which is markedly social. I am speaking of 1 Cor 11:17–34, where Saint Paul faces a shameful situation in the community. The wealthier members tended to discriminate against the poorer ones, and this carried over even to the agape meal that accompanied the celebration of the Eucharist. While the rich enjoyed their food, the poor looked on and went hungry: “One is hungry and another is drunk. Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (vv. 21-22).
           186. The Eucharist demands that we be members of the one body of the Church. Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members. This is what it means to “discern” the body of the Lord, to acknowledge it with faith and charity both in the sacramental signs and in the community; those who fail to do so eat and drink judgement against themselves (cf. v. 29). The celebration of the Eucharist thus becomes a constant summons for everyone “to examine himself or herself” (v. 28), to open the doors of the family to greater fellowship with the underprivileged, and in this way to receive the sacrament of that eucharistic love which makes us one body. We must not forget that “the ‘mysticism’ of the sacrament has a social character” (Pope Benedict XVI). When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily. On the other hand, families who are properly disposed and receive the Eucharist regularly, reinforce their desire for fraternity, their social consciousness and their commitment to those in need.
    Now, it requires no special expertise to see that a social reading of 1 Cor 11:27–29 and a moral-dogmatic reading of it are not incompatible; indeed, it is part of the genius of St. Paul that he often interweaves the communal, the spiritual, and the sacramental. The problem consists rather in the downplaying or sidelining of the dominant traditional reading in a document tackling the thorny question — debated intensely now for some time — of who should and should not be admitted publicly to the banquet of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ. The classic interpretation of this passage, epitomized in the Church’s Common Doctor, is particularly relevant and profoundly needed in our times. A refusal to pay heed to it, or, worse, a dismissive attitude towards it, is symptomatic of precisely that hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity so keenly diagnosed by Pope Benedict XVI.

    And this brings us back to the heart of the problem: the desire to sweep under the rug the demanding message of 1 Cor 11:27–29, on the necessity of individual examination of conscience and a sincere turning away from mortal sin. Concerning this and other “hard teachings” of Scripture — passages included in the old lectionary but deemed “too difficult” for modern man and therefore excised from the revised one — Peter Kreeft has some incisive words:
    We want it all. We want God and… But we can’t have God and… because there is no such thing. The only God there is, is “God only,” not “God and.” God is a jealous God. He himself says that, many times, in his word. He will not share our heart’s love with other gods, with idols. He is our husband, and his love will not tolerate infidelity. A hard saying, especially to our age, which is spiritually as well as physically promiscuous. But if we find the saying hard, that is all the more reason to look at it again and look at ourselves in its light, for the fact that we find it hard means that we have not accepted it yet, and need to. It’s precisely those parts of God’s revealed word that we don’t like or understand that we need to pay the most attention to.  (Making Choices: Practical Wisdom  for Everyday Moral Decisions [Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1990], 151)

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    Matthew Hazell & Peter Kwasniewski (foreword), Index Lectionum: A Comparative Table of Readings for the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite (Lectionary Study Aids, vol. 1), Lectionary Study Press, 2016. xxxviii + 232 pp. Available from Amazon (USA $16.95; UK£11.99; Germany, France, Spain, Italy€15,49 + tax).

    The Index Lectionum is a new tool that makes the comparison of the lectionaries of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms easier than it has been up until now. All the readings at Mass in both forms of the Roman Rite have been arranged side-by-side in biblical order, with their use in each form documented. This book thus makes it possible to look up a biblical reference and quickly find out if it is used on the same day or celebration in the OF and EF, or where a reading in the EF has been transferred to in the OF, and so on.

    As Dr Kwasniewski writes in the foreword:
    [T]his Index also facilitates, in fact for the first time, fruitful scholarly comparisons between the old and new lectionaries... We have waited close to half a century for the opportunity to hold in our hands a single resource that indicates, with painstaking detail, just what the reformers added and, perhaps of far greater interest, what they chose to omit that had once been present in the Church’s worship. Thus equipped, we are at last in an optimal position to carry further the kind of comparative studies on the lectionary that Dr. Lauren Pristas has perfected in regard to the collects of the Mass. (p. vii)
    Sample page of the Index, from Matthew's Gospel
    This is the first volume in the series; subsequent volumes will take up the use of the Psalms in the two Missals, as well as comparing the psalms and readings of the Liturgia Horarum (2000)/Breviarium Romanum (1961).

    For all those who love the Church's liturgy, the Index Lectionum is a vital comparative tool for further study of and research into the lectionaries of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms: their relationship to one another, their similarities and differences, and their respective pastoral advantages and disadvantages.
    Sample page of the Index, from Jeremiah
    Sample page of the Index, from 1 Peter

    Foreword: "Not Just More Scripture, but Different Scripture" (Peter Kwasniewski) (vii)
    The Index Lectionum: An Introduction and User's Guide (Matthew Hazell) (xxxi)

    Index Lectionum (1)

    Appendix 1: Comparison of Sundays in the Proper of Time (181)
    Appendix 2: Comparison of Proper of Time for Weekdays in Lent (191)
    Appendix 3: Comparison of Saints' Days (195)
    Appendix 4: Readings of the Commons of MR 1962 (218)
    Appendix 5: Comparison of the OF and EF Commons (223)

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    This is an annual conference that grew out the a one-off event organized speculatively two years ago. To the surprise and delight of all involved, it attracted a large and engaged crowd of people wanting to hear about and discuss Catholic literature. Now in its third year, it has become an established annual event. The speakers this year are Joseph Pearce, Gary Bouchard, William Fahey, president of Thomas More College, and Fr Michael Kerper, pastor of St Patrick’s in Nashua, New Hampshire.  
    For more details go to the Thomas More College site, here. You save $5 if you book before April 20th.
    The conference is sponsored by Christ the King Parish, Concord, and Thomas More College of Liberal Arts

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    A university student in the American Midwest sent in this guest article to NLM, which we are happy to share with our readership.

    A Conceptual Tripod: Liturgical Law, Tradition, and Culture
    by Aelredus Rievallensis
    Recently reading Peter Kwasniewski’s article “Sacred Music vs. Praise & Worship—Does It Matter?”, which contains many points worth pondering, I was struck by the following paragraph:
    The worst thing would be for a society to have no laws whatsoever. But the second worst thing is to have good laws and not to follow them, or even to know they exist. The latter is the current condition of the Catholic Church in regard to many aspects of her life. The consistent legislation on sacred music affords a notable example of law unknown, ignored, or held in contempt. A society whose members routinely violate its laws is in perilous condition and certainly cannot be said to be flourishing.
    There’s a wonderful leisure about the old Mass that makes it almost indifferent to time as we usually experience it. The mechanical motion of the pendulum or watch-hand, mere action and reaction, cause and effect in strict logical progression, find no place here. Catching us up in its celestial rhythms, it frees the attention to wander from the directly sensible, concrete action at hand, to contemplate the eternal actions and mystical realities enveloping this changing world. Whether during the Gradual chant or the silent canon, or as the congregation files up (so inefficiently) for the Communion, I always seem to find room for fruitful meditations: on the nature of the Church at prayer, on the world of Scripture or the moral life, etc., that I wouldn’t find within a different liturgical ethos that constrained participants to a more reduced, one-track version of “active participation.”

    This sort of contemplative “wandering” is not distraction, but actually the supreme goal of the liturgical ceremony; it is precisely the state in which that famous maxim is actualized: lex orandi, lex credendi. The believer takes on the mind and heart of the Church at prayer, which is the cosmic Christ, and where the sacred actions become like a transparent window through which the mysteries of the Trinitarian life stream in. The whole mystical reality of the Church is present and gathered together in Her liturgy, just as the whole person of Christ is present under the Eucharistic species. What take place as independent activities outside (preaching, teaching, governing, private prayer, etc.) collect themselves in liturgy, just as the Bride gathers up her whole train to approach Her Bridegroom.

    The Adoration of the Trinity, also known as the Landauer Altarpiece, by Albrecht Dürer, 1509-11
    In his Meditations Before Mass, Guardini is getting at something similar when speaking about the church building. The walls are not the real church. The real church is rather created inside the faithful congregation by the liturgy. If our hearts are still, then the Word speaking through the liturgy can become incarnate within us. Scripture sprouts there, the Holy Spirit blows freely, Christ is born in us, and we become new temples, or rather stones in the one Temple. By allowing the mystical Christ at work in liturgy to possess the soul, the congregation becomes the Church.

    Something even a brief contemplation of the Church at prayer will uncover, is the importance of liturgical law. While looking around the little village of our amateur choir (complete with hosts of cherubs who do double duty as angel choirs and demons in distress), it struck me what an uncanny state of affairs we have at St. ----. In a tiny parish founded just a few months ago, composed mostly of working class townspeople, we have a fully functioning choir that sings some of the most sublime and religious music ever written by mankind. What’s more, we’re the only parish in the area with such a choir. What accounts for this astonishing fact? I glanced around at the singers: few have special vocal training, fewer still had ever sung modal music before. I turned to the choir director. The woman herself, for all her good will, moral fiber and ceaseless dedication, could never compose pieces like this. Few directors do. The explanation, I realized, did not lay in any of us at all.

    The simple reason that our parish has exquisite music, while the surrounding parishes and cathedrals offer (sub)standard fare, is because our director obeys liturgical law. With crystal clarity and precision, the Church has legislated concerning the music most apt to accompany the divine services: chant and polyphony. The parish, priest and parishioners all, conform to the law eagerly and naturally. Why? Because they have a Catholic sense of liturgy. Because of the choir director’s self-abnegation in the face of tradition, and wholehearted devotion to it, and obedience to ecclesiastical law, this little parish resonates with the songs of the angels, while most of those round about vaguely ring with worn out hymns from saccharine hymnals whose spontaneous compositions perhaps once expressed a fresh, if immature personal experience of faith, but whose vitality has long exhausted itself in an impossible bid to be the Atlas of the Church’s great liturgical action.

    But maybe our director has some unfair advantage over her colleagues in a neighboring parish. Perhaps she is paid more, runs longer practices, has singers who are more musically talented, or possesses a unique genius to determine the music most pleasing to our Eucharistic Lord? Probably none of these is true. She obeys liturgical law. What if she had been indisposed to do so? Considering the mediocre liturgical culture and lax rubrical discipline prevalent in many places, such Masses as we sing here would be entirely unthinkable, for a number of reasons. First, where would she get the moral authority to assert her choice for the music to be performed? Chant would be entirely unknown to her experience. Some other style would appeal more to her tastes. Even if she liked chant, how would she convince the pastor to replace the time-honored (and time-worn) hymns his congregation is accustomed to, exchanging the traditions of men with the law of Holy Church? Any argument in favor of the old would be relativized as a subjective “taste”, which even if it be magnanimously gratified, would be counter-balanced by the “tastes” of the majority. Who could she possibly convince to undertake the hardship of learning to sing modal and polyphonic music? That would require some deeply ingrained notion that proper celebration of the Mass requires us to sacrifice our personal preferences and allow ourselves to be formed by what has been handed on.

    The difference is night and day, and hinges entirely on whether one has a Catholic sense of worship. Do I sing what I want, what I happen to find in a hymnal, or do I go ask Mother Church to tell me what I ought to sing?

    Of course, nothing in the Novus Ordo or its rubrics rejects traditional musical forms. Current Church legislation supports them. Unfortunately, however, it only supports them equivocally, as one among a set of innumerable options. The liturgical culture fostered by episcopal negligence and the structural laxity of the NO rite itself makes the Mass a jostling marketplace of competing visions of the good, out of which only at best a hybrid can be hoped for, as many choir directors know from experience.

    Let us rejoice that the classical Roman rite, together with the liturgical culture it fosters, is a bastion of stability and a monumental bulwark of the Church’s true heart. Let us embrace liturgical law, since we see how fruitful our devotion to it can be. It’s yoke is easy, and its burden light. In the Church’s Mass and its musical heritage we find a most exquisite worship. We find that here Christ’s Spirit has hovered over the waters and brought forth most choice expressions of his eternal love for the Father. Christ’s liturgical heart beats here, carefully ensconced in the bosom of firm liturgical law and organic liturgical tradition. Here is the green pasture where he leads his flocks to lay down, to graze and gaze on the treasures he has made, and thence to wander worshipfully with him towards the eternal fold.

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    On Saturday, April 23, the Oratory of Christ the King Sovereign Priest at Saint Anthony of Padua, West Orange, New Jersey, invites you to a pilgrimage through the Holy Doors of the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark for the first Traditional Latin Mass at the high altar since Vatican II. Solemn Mass will begin at 10:00 a.m., and the celebrant will be Canon Jean-Marie Moreau of the Institute of Christ the King. The pilgrimage walk is for 2.5 miles through Branch Brook Park, while praying for the Holy Father, and will begin at 8:00 a.m., at the Heller Parkway Parking Lot.

    The Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart at 89 Ridge Street, Newark, New Jersey, is the fifth-largest cathedral in North America and a National Historic Site. “This magnificent building stands in the heart of Newark as a powerful reminder of God's steadfast love for his People and as a sign of faith in Christ, our hope of glory.” (Pope St John Paul II, Papal Visit, October 1995)

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    This was sent in by a reader from Hong Kong, a video made by Father Cyril Law, to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Hong Kong Tridentine Liturgy Community. Father Law, a diocesan priest of Macau currently studying in the UK, is one of the founders of the Community, which asks for our prayers; we have been very glad to include photos of their ceremonies in many of our photoposts.

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    Two Miracles of the Host (tapestry, French?, between 1505 and 1518)
    In my article last week, I spoke about one of the most glaring lacunae of the modern Roman Liturgy, namely, its deliberate suppression (in the Mass, in the Lectionary, and in the Liturgy of the Hours) of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 — verses that contain a warning particularly important to hear in an age of laxity, indifferentism, and horizontal humanism in worship.

    Our forebears in the Faith thought it was crucial to reinforce St. Paul's warning. The early 16th-century tapestry above, hanging in one of the innumerable galleries of the Louvre,[1] depicts two miracles — not miracles of healing or salvation, but miracles of dire punishment of unworthy communicants. The left panel tells the story of a man who received the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin, and it burned a hole through his neck. The right panel tells the story of a priest who was celebrating Mass in a state of mortal sin, and his hands burst into flames.

    A modern Christian may smile at such "medieval fantasies" and reassure himself that God does not act so harshly. Perhaps we have forgotten the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the Acts of the Apostles (5:1-11), where God strikes two Christians dead for telling lies about their donation of wealth.[2] St. Paul tells us, in 1 Corinthians 11:30, that due to unworthy communions some have become sick and others have died. Is that a superstitious view, or did St. Paul know something we have forgotten?

    It is true, nevertheless, that in the ordinary course of His Providence, God does not punish sinners immediately; we know this from Scripture, from history, and from experience. The vast majority of unworthy communicants or celebrants do not erupt into flames. This does not, however, mean that their communions are not unworthy; it means that the Lord has refrained from punishing them on the spot, in view of their possible repentance, conversion, and restoration to His divine friendship by the gift of sanctifying grace. All the same, each and every Catholic is under a serious obligation to examine his or her conscience prior to approaching the sacred banquet, in order to avoid offending God and incurring further guilt.

    In our tradition we find great preachers who took seriously their obligation to prepare the faithful for Holy Communion by, on the one hand, extolling the joy, peace, and glory that come to us through grace-filled communions, and, on the other hand, by warning, in no uncertain terms, of the destruction of soul that results from a wicked communion. An exemplary preacher in both of these respects is the Curé of Ars, St. John Vianney, whose meditations on the Holy Eucharist are magnificent and worthy of much study by today's clergy.

    Since the positive side of the message is just about the only thing one hears nowadays, as if the negative side did not even exist, it will be more beneficial in our present situation to have some excerpts from his "Sermon on Unworthy Communion," in tome IV of his Sermons inédits.
    Unworthy Communions are frequent. How many have the temerity to approach the holy table with sins hidden and disguised in confession! How many have not that sorrow which the good God wants from them, and preserve a secret willingness to fall back into sin, and do not put forth all their exertions to amend! How many do not avoid the occasions of sin when they can, or preserve enmity in their hearts even at the holy table! If you have ever been in these dispositions in approaching Holy Communion, you have committed a sacrilege — that horrible crime, on the malice of which we are going to meditate.
              1. It outrages God more than all other mortal sins. It attacks the Person of Jesus Christ himself, instead of scorning only his commandments, like other mortal sins.
              2. Whoever communicates unworthily crucifies Jesus Christ in his heart. He submits him to a death more ignominious and humiliating than that of the Cross. On the Cross, indeed, Jesus Christ died voluntarily and for our redemption: but here it is no longer so: he dies in spite of himself, and his death, far from being to our advantage, as it was the first time, turns to our woe by bringing upon us all kinds of chastisements both in this world and the next. The death of Jesus Christ on Calvary was violent and painful, but at least all nature seemed to bear witness to his pain. The least sensible of creatures appeared to be affected by it, and thus wishful to share the Saviour’s sufferings. Here there is nothing of this: Jesus is insulted, outraged by a vile nothingness, and all keeps silence; everything appears insensible to his humiliations. May not this God of goodness justly complain, as on the tree of the Cross, that he is forsaken? My God, how can a Christian have the heart to go to the holy table with sin in his soul, there to put Jesus Christ to death?
              3. Unworthy Communion is a more criminal profanation than that of the holy places. A pagan emperor, in hatred of Jesus Christ, placed infamous idols on Calvary and the holy sepulchre, and he believed that in doing this he could not carry further his fury against Jesus Christ. Ah! great God! Was that anything to be compared with the unworthy communicant? No, no! It is no longer among dumb and senseless idols that he sets his God, but in the midst, alas!, of infamous living passions, which are so many executioners who crucify his Saviour. Alas! What shall I say? That poor wretch unites the Holy of Holies to a prostitute soul, and sells him to iniquity. Yes, that poor wretch plunges his God into a raging hell. Is it possible to conceive anything more dreadful?
              4. Unworthy Communion is in certain respects a greater crime than the deicide of the Jews. St. Paul tells us that if the Jews had known Jesus Christ as the Saviour they would never have put him to suffering or death; but can you, my friend, be ignorant of him whom you are going to receive? If you do not bear it in mind, listen to the priest who cries aloud to you: “Behold the Lamb of God; behold him that taketh away the sins of the world.” He is holy and pure. If you are guilty, unhappy man, do not draw near; or else tremble, lest the thunders of heaven be hurled upon your criminal head to punish you and cast your soul into hell.
              5. Unworthy Communion imitates and renews the crime of Judas. The traitor, by a kiss of peace, delivered Jesus Christ to his enemies, but the unworthy communicant carries his cruel duplicity yet further. Having lied to the Holy Ghost in the tribunal of penance by hiding or disguising some sin, he dares, this wretch, to go with a hypocritical reverence on his face, and place himself among the faithful destined to eat this Bread. Ah! no, nothing stops this monster of ingratitude; he comes forward and is about to consummate his reprobation. In vain that tender Saviour, seeing that he is coming to him, cries from his tabernacle, as to the perfidious Judas: “Friend, whereto art thou come? What, thou art about to betray thy God and Saviour by a sign of peace? Stop, stop, my son; I pray thee spare me!” Neither the remorse of his conscience nor the tender reproaches made him by his God can stop his criminal steps. He steps forward. He is going to stab his God and Saviour. O heavens! what a horror! Can you indeed behold this wretched murderer of your Creator without trembling?[3]
    Thus St. John Vianney, who, like St. John Chrysostom, did not flinch when it came to calling out evils and urging their amendment. Now, if someone were to ask: Why am I posting such sobering, fear-inspiring reflections?, here is how I would answer:
    1. In communion with the Catholic Church of all times and places, I accept the reality of hell and, following Scripture and Tradition, and contrary to the temerarious ravings of Hans Urs von Balthasar and others like him, accept that many unrepentant sinners have already gone and will continue to go there to join the devil and his angels in eternal fire.[4]
    2. In keeping with Christian charity, I do not want to see any soul end up there by dying in a state of unrepented mortal sin — or, what is worse, by compounding that state with still further sins of “eating and drinking condemnation upon oneself,” as St. Paul says (1 Cor 11:29), referring precisely to this problem that the Curé of Ars preached against.
    3. The Church and her faithful people always have many needs; but undoubtedly one of those needs today is identifying sin and turning away from it with disgust, rather than compromising with it, condoning it, hiding it, or being afraid to call it by name. We need preachers like St. John Vianney to combat the indifferentism, relativism, universalism, and hedonism in which modern Christians are submerged. Such is the exhortation we receive from Saints Peter and Paul, whose inspired letters proclaim the unadulterated Gospel.


    [1] Deux Miracles de l'Hostie de la tenture L'Histoire du saint Sacrement, aux armes d'Isabelle de La Jaille, abbesse de 1505 à 1518 de l'abbaye du Ronceray, près d'Angers. France (?), between 1505 and 1518. Tapestry, linen.

    [2] Acts 5:1-11 is found neither in the old lectionary nor in the new. The difference, of course, is that the old lectionary includes very little of Acts, whereas the new includes vast swathes of it, which makes the skipping of these verses more interesting.

    [3] Quoted in Eucharistic Meditations: Extracts from the Writings and Instructions of St. John Vianney, by Abbé H. Convert, trans. Sr. Mary Benvenuta (Wheathampstead: Anthony Clarke Books, 1923, repr. 1964), 92–96.

    [4] We find the healthy Catholic attitude in a short story by Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, where a priest is getting ready his holy oils and pyx for a sick call to a Catholic woman who was a public sinner and who had not set foot in a church for over a decade: “I know very well she is out of grace, and I know what will be the end of her if I do not come.” The Supernatural Stories of Monsignor Robert H. Benson (Landisville, PA: Coachwhip Publications, 2010), 207.

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    Ave Maria University in Florida has been offering interested students a unique opportunity for the past five years: summer courses in beginning and intermediate Latin and Greek, teaching students to read as well as speak Greek or Classical Latin. Participants build a basic 1,000-word vocabulary, learn to read and analyze in the target language, as well as speak and compose basic sentences. This year the program is growing. Classes will now meet, on average, six hours per day and will run for a total of eight weeks, from May 16 to July 8. The program will provide the equivalent of four or more semesters of elementary and intermediate Latin or Greek and lead to fluency in reading the ancient languages, and helps students otherwise unable to gain basic competence in the ancient languages during the regular academic year an opportunity to do so through immersion and intensive study in an exciting and academically rigorous environment.

    They have taken the successful formula of intensive summer courses in Latin and Greek and added a methodology inspired by applied linguistics: reading skills built through communicative competence.

    Students have welcomed the methodology. “I think this course was incredibly well designed,” wrote Scott Wolcott, a past participant who is a PhD candidate in philosophy at University of Albany (SUNY). “Not only do I now feel as though I can speak and read Latin, but I feel confident that I can continue to progress with the language on my own. I wasn’t just given vocabulary. I was given tools to understand the way the language works.”

    “I’ve taught Latin in a summer intensive language program at Berkeley very similar in length and scope to our program at Ave Maria University,” notes the program director, Bradley Ritter. “Its duration and intensity are well-designed to bring students to a good knowledge of how to interpret Latin texts. But I wanted to add something to our program not seen in other summer intensive programs. I wanted to bring the fruits of my experience in immersion programs in modern languages and apply that to the world of Classics. It was my intense experience as a young student learning to read German and Hebrew in immersion programs in Germany and Israel which has left me with an ability, to this day, to pick up texts in those languages and read with ease and fluency. That is what this program is designed to do for Latin and Greek, to start students on the path to fluency in reading the rich literature of Greece and Rome.”

    Latin courses are designed and taught by Dr. Bradley Ritter, who received his Ph.D. in Classics from the University of California at Berkeley. He has published on Hellenistic and Roman history and Judaism in the ancient world (most recently, Judeans in the Greek Cities of the Roman Empire, published by Brill in 2015). Greek courses are designed and taught by Dr. Christophe Rico, who received his Ph.D. in Greek linguistics at the Sorbonne and has published on general linguistics, Greek linguistics, and Koine Greek. He is also the founder of Polis, an institute in Jerusalem which offers a two-year M.A. program in Classical languages, philology, and the culture of the Holy Land.

    You can visit their site to learn more at, or contact them directly at for more information.

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    Our Ambrosian correspondent Nicola de’ Grandi was recently in Paris, and took these photographs of some of the ancient Christian artworks kept at the Louvre Museum.

    A gilded piece of glass of the type frequent used as grave markers in ancient Christian burial sites; this was a fairly precious object both for its gold, but also because glass was difficult to make in antiquity, and considered a kind of jewel. The image is of the Prophet Jonah being thrown out of the boat, and swallowed by the “whale”, here a large sea monster. (The Hebrew word “bechamah” can also mean either. Jonah was a very popular subject for the ancient Christians as a symbol of the Resurrection of Christ, and of its necessary premises, the Incarnation and Passion. 
    A processional cross in silvered bronze, 6th-7th century. 
    A container for relics, silver, partly gilded, first half of the 5th century, from Brivio, Italy. On the lid, Christ calls Lazarus out of the tomb, while Mary Magdalene prays before Him; on the box, the Magi bringing their gifts to the Christ Child on the lap of His Mother.
    A glass cup decorated with Biblical scenes, 4th century. (details in diagram below)
    In the middle: Chrismon surrounded by stars. On the border (starting at 11 o’clock) : Adamo, the serpent, and Eve; Daniel in the Lions’ Den; Susanna and the Elders; Daniel before the serpent of Babylon.
    Sarcophagis with con Christ teaching the Twelve. from Rignieux-le-Franc (Ain), end of the 4th century.

    Christian funerary mosaic, with Chrismon (detail below), birds and vine; from Tunisia, end of the 4th or beginning of the 5th century 

    Sarcophagus with the Traditio Legis scene; from the mausoleum of the Anicii under the apse of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican; beginning of the 4th century.
    The Ascent of Elijah represented on the side.
    A pre-Constantinian funerary inscription, “Livia Nicarus made this for her sister Livia Primitiva, who lived for 23 years and 8 months.” Below the inscription, the Good Shepherd is represented between a fish and an anchor, three of the most commonly used ancient Christian symbols.

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    A devout Anglican reader of this blog send me the following texts from the Book of Common Prayer, as evidence that the points made by St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Vianney, and, well, the entire Catholic tradition, have a notable place in the Anglican tradition as well. As I read through these texts, I marveled at the strength and clarity of the exhortations — no beating around the bush here, no mincing of words, no political correctness. One might wonder why the Roman Catholic Church today has such a difficult time speaking the selfsame truths.

    Obviously, Latin Catholic, Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and other Protestant readers of NLM have their well-known disagreements about Eucharistic theology; that is not the point at present. The point is that we can find, across the confessional spectrum, brilliant examples of forthright preaching of the Christian’s moral responsibility in the face of the meaning of the sacrament of the Eucharist. This is what has been lost in so many places, and, as the Anglican Ordinariate has abundantly demonstrated, we can continue to learn from the best traditions of our baptized brethren in Christ. (We might call this "highest common denominator ecumenism," rather than the lowest common denominator variety that has prevailed in the past half-century.)

    Besides all this, we should savor the lofty eloquence of this Authorized Version-style English, which runs circles around our feeble attempts today to find a “sacral register.”
    This Exhortation may be used, in whole or in part, either during the Liturgy or at other times. In the absence of a deacon or priest, this Exhortation may be read by a lay person. The people stand or sit.

    Beloved in the Lord: Our Savior Christ, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood as a sign and pledge of his love, for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of his death, and for a spiritual sharing in his risen life. For in these holy Mysteries we are made one with Christ, and Christ with us; we are made one body in him, and members one of another.
              Having in mind, therefore, his great love for us, and in obedience to his command, his Church renders to Almighty God our heavenly Father never-ending thanks for the creation of the world, for his continual providence over us, for his love for all mankind, and for the redemption of the world by our Savior Christ, who took upon himself our flesh, and humbled himself even to death on the cross, that he might make us the children of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and exalt us to everlasting life.
              But if we are to share rightly in the celebration of those holy Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food, we must remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament. I therefore call upon you to consider how Saint Paul exhorts all persons to prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and drinking of that Cup. For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s Body. Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord.

    When the Minister giveth warning for the Celebration of the Holy Communion, (which he shall always do upon the Sunday, or some Holy Day, immediately preceding,) he shall read this Exhortation following; or so much thereof as, in his discretion, he may think convenient.

    DEARLY beloved, on —— day next I purpose, through God’s assistance, to administer to all such as shall be religiously and devoutly disposed the most comfortable Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; to be by them received in remembrance of his meritorious Cross and Passion; whereby alone we obtain remission of our sins, and are made partakers of the Kingdom of heaven. Wherefore it is our duty to render most humble and hearty thanks to Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that he hath given his Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, not only to die for us, but also to be our spiritual food and sustenance in that holy Sacrament. Which being so divine and comfortable a thing to them who receive it worthily, and so dangerous to those who will presume to receive it unworthily; my duty is to exhort you, in the mean season to consider the dignity of that holy mystery, and the great peril of the unworthy receiving thereof; and so to search and examine your own consciences, and that not lightly, and after the manner of dissemblers with God; but so that ye may come holy and clean to such a heavenly Feast, in the marriage‐garment required by God in holy Scripture, and be received as worthy partakers of that holy Table. 
              The way and means thereto is: First, to examine your lives and conversations by the rule of God’s commandments; and whereinsoever ye shall perceive yourselves to have offended, either by will, word, or deed, there to bewail your own sinfulness, and to confess yourselves to Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life. And if ye shall perceive your offences to be such as are not only against God, but also against your neighbours; then ye shall reconcile yourselves unto them; being ready to make restitution and satisfaction, according to the uttermost of your powers, for all injuries and wrongs done by you to any other; and being likewise ready to forgive others who have offended you, as ye would have forgiveness of your offences at God’s hand: for otherwise the receiving of the holy Communion doth nothing else but increase your condemnation. Therefore, if any of you be a blasphemer of God, an hinderer or slanderer of his Word, an adulterer, or be in malice, or envy, or in any other grievous crime; repent you of your sins, or else come not to that holy Table.
              And because it is requisite that no man should come to the holy Communion, but with a full trust in God’s mercy, and with a quiet conscience; therefore, if there be any of you, who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other Minister of God’s Word, and open his grief; that he may receive such godly counsel and advice, as may tend to the quieting of his conscience, and the removing of all scruple and doubtfulness.

    & Or, in case he shall see the People negligent to come to the Holy Communion, instead of the former, he may use this Exhortation.

    DEARLY beloved brethren, on —— I intend, by God’s grace, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper: unto which, in God’s behalf, I bid you all who are here present; and beseech you, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, that ye will not refuse to come thereto, being so lovingly called and bidden by God himself. Ye know how grievous and unkind a thing it is, when a man hath prepared a rich feast, decked his table with all kind of provision, so that there lacketh nothing but the guests to sit down; and yet they who are called, without any cause, most unthankfully refuse to come. Which of you in such a case would not be moved? Who would not think a great injury and wrong done unto him?
              Wherefore, most dearly beloved in Christ, take ye good heed, lest ye, withdrawing yourselves from this holy Supper, provoke God’s indignation against you. It is an easy matter for a man to say, I will not communicate, because I am otherwise hindered with worldly business. But such excuses are not so easily accepted and allowed before God. If any man say, I am a grievous sinner, and therefore am afraid to come: wherefore then do ye not repent and amend? When God calleth you, are ye not ashamed to say ye will not come? When ye should return to God, will ye excuse yourselves, and say ye are not ready? Consider earnestly with yourselves how little such feigned excuses will avail before God. Those who refused the feast in the Gospel, because they had bought a farm, or would try their yokes of oxen, or because they were married, were not so excused, but counted unworthy of the heavenly feast. Wherefore, according to mine office, I bid you in the Name of God, I call you in Christ’s behalf, I exhort you, as ye love your own salvation, that ye will be partakers of this holy Communion. And as the Son of God did vouchsafe to yield up his soul by death upon the Cross for your salvation; so it is your duty to receive the Communion in remembrance of the sacrifice of his death, as he himself hath commanded: which if ye shall neglect to do, consider with yourselves how great is your ingratitude to God, and how sore punishment hangeth over your heads for the same; when ye wilfully abstain from the Lord’s Table, and separate from your brethren, who come to feed on the banquet of that most heavenly food. These things if ye earnestly consider, ye will by God’s grace return to a better mind: for the obtaining whereof we shall not cease to make our humble petitions unto Almighty God, our heavenly Father.

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    Since January 1st of this year, the Catholic university chaplain of Krems, Austria, has his seat at the Piarist Church of that city, which has become the center of the Campus Ministry. There are over 10,000 students in Krems, a great many international students among them; services are offered in various languages, including English, as well as Bible studies, discussions and spiritual direction. This past Sunday, the Campus Ministry celebrated a special thanksgiving Mass for the establishment of this new location; the Danube Private University choir sung Schubert’s Mass in G. The Mass was well attended and many young people were present. The chaplain, Fr Patrick Schöder, belongs to the Benedictine Abbey Göttweig, near Krems, and was appointed in 2014. The movement for liturgical renewal has reached Austria, and asks for our support in prayer!

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    One of the greatest masterpieces ever painted, the Ghent Altarpiece (also known as the “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”) was created in the 15th century by Flemish brothers Hubert and Jan Van Eyck. While broad appeal is not the only necessary indicator of merit, it is, in my opinion, one of them. This being so, the Adoration of the Lamb passes the test with flying colors - it is the second most visited and viewed work of art in history, after the Mona Lisa.

    My consideration of it was prompted by the publication of a book about the altarpiece, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, published by Ignatius Press and Magnificat (the one that produces a portable Liturgy of the Hours, sent out monthly). The book is an excellent resource, with large (12in x 12in) reproductions of details, which are as sumptuous as I have ever seen. The commentary, written by French art historian Frabrice Hadjadj, is excellent in its description of the historical background, provenance, and in the details of the content, viewing it as a pedagogical tool. Every figure is identified, and every Latin inscription is translated.

    In this article, I want to examine additional elements that pertain to the consideration of the altarpiece as a piece of liturgical art, focusing especially on how its design, medium, and Gothic style are all in harmony with its purpose of promoting the right worship of God. These are the things that an artist or patron needs to be aware of when creating new works of liturgical art suited to their purpose.

    I was invited by Chris Carstens, the new editor of Adoremus Bulletin, to write a review of the book, and what I present here is an adaptation of what I wrote for him. I would recommend, by the way, that this be read in conjunction with Chris’ excellent accompanying piece contained in the bulletin, called Mystagogy of the Lamb, in which he explains in detail the meaning of symbol of the lamb for Christians.

    Looking now at the famous reredos: when the panels are closed we see, painted largely in monochrome, white and graded tones of sepia through to black, a depiction of the Annunciation watched by a congregation of figures, including two Sybils, the prophets Zachariah and Micah, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. Also making an anachronistic appearance in the scene are the Van Eycks’ patrons, Joos and Isabelle Vijd. To include one’s patrons in a work of art is a typical device for honoring those whose generosity helped make the work of art possible. The figures of the two Johns are of statues in stone, lifeless as well as colorless.

    When the doors are opened, the scene is in notable contrast, with glorious and bright color. It is dominated by the two largest central panels. The lower of the two is the image which gives the whole piece its name, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, in which the heavenly hosts adore the Lamb of God – Christ – standing ‘as if slain’ (as it is cryptically described by the Book of Revelation 5:6). Above this is the figure of God enthroned who looks down blessing us with his right hand.

    There is some ambiguity as to whether this figure is intended to be the Son or the Father (I will discuss this later).
    He is flanked on the left by Our Lady, as Queen of Heaven and, in contrast to the monochrome rendering of her in the Annunciation scene, in this depiction she is painted in gorgeous blue.

    On the right of the enthroned figure of God is John the Baptist, now painted in living color and clothed in apple-green robes.

    On the upper extremes stand Adam on the left and Eve on the right, looking inwards at the event in history that began the redemption of the Fall which they caused. Our first parents are depicted by the Van Eycks after the Fall, hiding their full nudity with hands and fig leaves, and in deep shadow. In accordance with tradition, the redeemed saints in the scene (not Adam and Eve), are the source of their own saintly light, which means that there is minimal shadow cast around them.

    The Van Eycks’ manipulation of contrasting shadow, light and color conforms to the tradition in which shadow represents the presence of evil and suffering in a fallen world, and Light represents ‘overcoming the darkness.’

    Also, the lack of vegetation and life in the image when the panels are closed points us to a time prior to the historical event of the life, death and resurrection of Christ; this is contrasted with the lush garden of Paradise restored in the interior image (when the panels are opened) with plants in full bloom.

    The commentary in the book tells us of the prophecies of the prophets and of the Sybils (who are present, incidentally, because their prophecies in classical Roman literature were seen by the Church Fathers as anticipating the coming of the Messiah).

    The themes are strongly Eucharistic, most obviously evoking the phrase of John the Baptist, ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ and connecting this phrase to the Eucharist. Nevertheless, even greater emphasis could have been placed on some more broadly liturgical aspects of the work as a whole.

    Liturgical art is not intended primarily as decoration or even to teach us about the underlying theology, although it does fulfill these functions. Rather, as architectural historian Denis McNamara pointed out in his recorded presentation on this site, the liturgical art is a part of the liturgy itself, and reveals those aspects of the ritual that we cannot immediately perceive. For example, when the panels of this work are opened we are seeing the heavenly hosts who join us here on earth, in reality, through the sacred liturgy in their perpetual worship of God. At that moment ours is a temporal participation in this eternal reality.

    Despite the title, the Ghent altarpiece is not only about the adoration of the Lamb, but also about the worship of the Father, through the Son – the Lamb of God - in the Spirit. When we worship God in the liturgy we are drawn into the mystery of the Trinity. The altarpiece reinforces this point.

    This focus on God the Father explains also, perhaps, the ambiguity in regard to the identity of the central figure of God. As Hadjadj explains, in some respects the figure of God has the characteristics of the Son – his youth for one thing - and in other respects, for example his attire and his crown, the figure has attributes generally associated with the Father.

    Upon further consideration, this ambiguity seems intentional. It appears to be a depiction of the Father seen through our understanding the Son. Perhaps we are meant to take the figure as both Father and Son at once. Other things in the painting seem to point to the Trinitarian mystery. For instance,the sun is rising in the East above the horizon, which is the symbol of the risen Christ, Christ in glory. But the viewer only sees half of the sun. Its upper half is replaced by an image which is, perhaps, the Son enthroned but which we are meant to see as the ‘visible image of the invisible God’. Through Christ, the Ghent piece seems to want to make clear, we see the Father.

    But further details of that semi-sun also reward study. Within the image of the risen semi-sun there is a dove, which represents the Holy Spirit; therefore, not only do we see the Father through the Son, but we see him in the Spirit. To emphasize this point, we see rays of light, lines of gold leaf emanating from the Spirit, that touch all of those who are gathered. We who participate in the earthly liturgy are part of the mystical Body of Christ too, and so, like the adoring saints and angels in the painting, are in reality touched by the uncreated light of divinity.

    In the Eastern Church, the dominating image in a liturgical setting is that of the glorified Christ. (The suffering Christ on the cross will be there too, but less prominently.) However, when the faithful address the Father in prayer, they will pray to the image of the Son, because those who ‘see the Son see the Father’. Years ago I was struck by how the family of my icon painting teacher, who is Orthodox, sang the Our Father: the entire family would turn and face an image of the risen Son as they prayed.

    We do not know the exact intention of the artist here in regard to this visual personification of God, but if I was painting it, I don’t think I would allow for such ambiguity. I feel somewhat uneasy with the visual conflation of two divine persons into one. Rather, as Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox do, I would have an unambiguous image of the Son through whom I could address the Father. The alternative, as the Western tradition allows, is to have two contrasting yet complementary images: one of the Christ in Glory and the other a traditional symbolic image of the Father, such as the grey-bearded Ancient of Days in the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo.

    How would congregations at the time of Van Eyck have engaged with this painting in the liturgy itself? The Ghent altarpiece is a reredos,a painting or program of images installed behind the altar. According to some liturgical historians, the reredos developed in the Roman Rite in the Middle Ages because of the growing liturgical emphasis on the visible elevation of the host and chalice by the priest. As a backdrop to this event, the reredos is intended to draw our attention to the elevation and to increase our understanding of what is happening.

    Therefore, an artist who paints a reredos should be aware of two things in particular: first at this critical point in the Mass, the images behind the visible elevated host should illuminate the fact that Christ is really present with us. Second, the portion of the reredos which serves as backdrop for the elevated host ought to allow us to see the small white circular wafer in clear relief against the reredos. Which part of the Ghent image is designed to serve as a backdrop for the host, I wonder? Is it designed, for example, to be contrasted with the green of the foliage or with the red on the face of the altar. I like to think that the Van Eycks designed their altar so that the elevated host appears directly in front of the rising sun, straddling the conjunction of the two panels, the one featuring the sacrificial Lamb and the other, the glorified Christ/the Father. It is exciting to think that at the point of elevation the congregation would see the golden rays of the semi-sun as if they were emanating from the host itself.

    Because the reredos is no longer in its original location, but in a side chapel and no longer services the liturgy, we do not know exactly what worshipers would have seen. We also have no information about when the reredos panels would have been opened or closed in the course of ordinary use. It was common in the middle ages for monochrome images to be be used during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent; and then brightly colored for Easter and the rest of the year. If this was the case for the Adoration of the Lamb in Ghent, then during these periods prior to Christmas and Easter, the panels would have been closed so that congregations saw the Annunciation scene. This scene would be doubly appropriate because Advent and Lent are also periods of anticipation of the coming of Christ, and this anticipation would have been enhanced by portraying the Biblical scene which inaugurated the incarnation. Nevertheless, without precise information in regard to this particular painting, it is difficult for us to say exactly how the painting helped those attending Mass relate to the actual celebration of the liturgy.

    It is interesting to note that the Ghent altar’s scheme contains no image of the crucifixion. But since this reredos was very likely not the only image in the church, it was probably painted to be seen in relation to all other images that were present – including that of a crucifixion elsewhere in the church. During the Middle Ages, altar rails were customarily expanded upwards into a chancel screen or ‘rood’ screen, which consisted of transparent tracery and was perhaps carved in wood. This screen would often be surmounted by a sculptural representation of the crucifixion (the word ‘rood’ is an old English word for cross). If there was something similar in Ghent cathedral, then the congregation would have been able to see all three: the Lamb, the enthroned figure of God and the Crucifixion simultaneously. After the Council of Trent, the call for greater visibility of the celebration of the Mass resulted in many chancel screens being removed, although in fact they weren’t condemned explicitly. I believe Ghent underwent this same sort of revision.

    As for the methods of the artists: the Van Eyck painted in glazes and never used painted whites. The white we see is the polished white gesso ground (a powdered chalk, or something similar, set in an animal glue) showing through. This technique is unusual for oil painters, but is similar to the way that a contemporary watercolor artist might integrate the white of the paper into the painting. The Van Eycks built up multiple glazes of color, giving the finished product a deep, jewel-like luster with deep pearlescent colors. In order to understand how this works it is worth considering first just what paint is.

    No matter which medium an artist uses, the color in all paintings is always derived from the same inert pigment. For instance in yellow ochre, the yellow comes from iron oxide dug up from the ground. In order to get the pigment to stick to the surface, the artist must apply it after suspending it in some sort of medium which can be brushed on as a liquid, is viscous enough to adhere to the surface, and capable of solidifying so that the paint has permanence. If the paint is egg tempera, the medium is egg yolk; if it is oil paint, then the medium is linseed oil or some other commonly available vegetable oil; in watercolour the medium is gum arabic. It should be noted that the oil paint used by the Van Eycks was not the tube oil paint found in art shops today. In the 19th century, artists mixed the oil medium with wax to give it bulk, and the physical properties that would allow manufacturers to mass produce the paint in factories, and put in tubes that might sit in a shop for long periods of time without degenerating.

    This change in the quality of the paint – which before this would have been mixed by the artist in his studio - affected how artists painted. It is much easier for artists such as Monet or Van Gogh to use thickly brushed opaque layers of waxy oil paint in a style called impasto. In contrast, the oil paint that the Van Eycks used would have had a much more fluid quality to it, and been a genuinely ‘oil-like’ paint. Therefore, the paint used in the Ghent altarpiece had been worked into very thin, smooth and transparent layers called glazes. The deep colors that we see in this work would have been created not by a single application but by having perhaps as many as 15 or 20 layers, each just a few microns thick.

    Artists favored this method because it achieved a certain special optical effect. As the light hits the surface of the painting, some of the light is reflected and takes on the color of the paint and some is transmitted through the first layer of paint until it hits the interface between the second and third layers, where the process is repeated. If a strong light, such as flickering candlelight, shines onto the painting, it creates an especially jewel-like richness on the smooth surface, as if the painting itself were the light’s source, the light rays emerging from deep within its surface. The artist who knows what he is doing manipulates this effect by subtly changing the relative tone and the precise colour of each layer. It is no accident that this effect is called ‘pearlescent’. In pearls the same optical effect is created by many layers of the translucent deposit put down by the oyster around a irritating piece of grit.

    In art history books, Van Eyck’s painting style is described as part of the ‘Northern Renaissance.’ Whatever we call his style, it is to my mind more a culmination of the Gothic that preceded it than an anticipation of the High Renaissance that followed it. Certainly it is highly naturalistic, a trait which it shares with the Renaissance style. But this increased interest in natural appearances and curiosity about the natural world did not begin with the Renaissance nor with Van Eyck, but over two hundred years earlier, under the influence of the newly rediscovered philosophy of Aristotle inter alia.

    What links Van Eyck to the Gothic stylistically is the sense of emotional distance between the figure and the observer. The whole Gothic movement has this same sense of emotional distance in common with the iconographic styles that preceded them. Although sometimes we do observe some emotion in the figures, these emotions do not engage us directly; we are still in some way detached, observing from a distance.

    This placement of the figures at a distance - in the middle ground rather than in the foreground - affects the dynamic of the observer’s interaction with the image. The beauty of the painting draws us in and we want to engage, but we cannot because that distance is inherent within the composition and style. It is there even if we have our noses pressed against the panel. Our desire to be part of what we see then takes our attention beyond the painting itself to the reality that it portrays, which is heaven. So the painting first pulls us in and then it sends us up to heaven. This dynamic of prayer is built into the style of the painting and is part of what makes it a skillful execution of the artist’s talents, and stylistically appropriate for the liturgy.

    A Christian artist must paint man so that he is recognizably human – in short, the image must look like a person. At the same time the artist must indicate those invisible truths by deviating from a strict adherence to physical appearances. It is through a controlled partial abstraction that the artist reveals a fuller truth about the human person. It is in the way that an artist executes this abstraction,we recognize characteristic styles.

    Such styles can be done well or badly. The three authentic liturgical traditions – iconographic, Gothic and baroque – are described by Pope Benedict XVI as communicating this balance of naturalism and abstraction well. Good Christian art is always a controlled balance between the representation of the physical appearances of the person, and partial abstraction by which the soul is symbolically revealed. (Any artists or lovers of art who are interested in knowing more about this process and how Christian artists have done accomplished it in the past should read my book, the Way of Beauty.)

    The process of balancing naturalism and abstraction is done badly by swinging too far in one direction or another. Either the artist renders an excessive naturalism on the one hand, or he neglects appearances, leading to a grave distortion on the other. While there is always room for new and fresh art, to be Christian art it must reflect this balance. Pius XII said as much in Mediator Dei (195): “Modern art should be given free scope in the due and reverent service of the Church and the sacred rites, provided that they preserve a correct balance between styles tending neither to extreme realism nor to excessive ‘symbolism,’ and that the needs of the Christian community are taken into consideration rather than the particular taste or talent of the individual artist.”

    The 20th century artists painted in styles that reflected a worldview that is governed by a dualism in which the spiritual aspects of man are exaggerated at the expense of the physical. These modern artists were not reflecting a Christian anthropology, and furthermore they knew it – the explicit aim of abstract expressionists exhibited by Newman and Rothko was to represent man as pure disembodied spirit. The corollary to this is the style known as photorealism, in which there is total neglect of the spiritual and only the material aspects of man are considered and represented.

    As far as our understanding of the Ghent altarpiece is concerned, the Van Eyck’s work was both naturalistic and also incorporated a symbolic element. While the surface of each object he paints is represented in exquisite and minute detail, the overall form of what he paints, the substrate to which all that detail is fused, is distorted according to Gothic sensibilities so as to give a sense of the sacred.

    One of these Gothic aspects is compositional - that portrayal of the figures in the middle distance, (already described above) which creates a particular dynamic of interaction with the observer, especially in the context of prayer. Another is found in the form of the figures. In many ways, the Gothic is a naturalized form of the iconographic tradition that began in the early Church. You can see this gradual increase in the naturalism of surface appearances of figures if you follow a path historically from the late Romanesque/early gothic art of the 13th century (as in this illumination from the Westminster Psalter (link to example here) through later Gothic art, such as the work of Duccio (link to examples here) and culminating in Flemish artists such as the Van Eycks’ and Van Der Weyden (below is Last Judgement altarpiece, from about 1440)

    and a detail of the central section...

    Gothic naturalism is very different from the naturalism of the High Renaissance which followed Van Eyck. In the High Renaissance, the figures were painted in the foreground and engage with the observer much more directly than in Gothic depictions. The High Renaissance’s underlying form (to which this naturalistic surface detail is fused) is a copy of Greek and Roman (i.e. classical) art. From the High Renaissance on, and through to the 19th century, artists such as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael copied Greek and Roman statues as part of their training, which in turn affected their style profoundly. So when the baroque artist Rubens painted Theresa of Avila in prayer in the 17th century, the stylistic difference which we see in his work emerged from his training for thousands of hours by copying Greek and Roman statues.

    The Van Eycks’ did not train by copying classical statues, and so stylistically were influenced much more by the art forms that they saw around them of the Gothic and Romanesque. Despite the fact this this painting is over 500 years old, the glory of what is true and good is radiating out the Van Eyck’s work, even today. When we perceive this quality in art, or anything else for that matter, we call it beautiful. And that beauty is irresistible. This is the message of St John Paul II’s Letter to Artists and the numerous writing about the via pulchritudinis - the Way of Beauty - by Benedict XVI.

    Thus, the lesson that artists today can learn from Van Eyck is that if people are not climbing over each other in their eagerness to see our work, the reason is simple. It is not beautiful enough. For proof of this truth, I suggest we need look no further than the Adoration of the Lamb. Hundreds of years after it was painted, this altarpiece is still the second most viewed painting in history. Modern man has voted with his feet – or to be more precise, with adoration.

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