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- 10/07/17--15:31: _Pope Leo XIII on th...
- 10/09/17--15:17: _The Priority of Rel...
- 10/09/17--15:13: _CD Review: Renaissa...
- 10/10/17--05:00: _St Abraham the Patr...
- 10/10/17--12:22: _“Why Pro-life Catho...
- 10/11/17--05:00: _A Contribution to t...
- 10/11/17--12:27: _Public Lecture on N...
- 10/11/17--13:50: _Why Did Vatican II ...
- 10/12/17--05:05: _Benedictine Monasti...
- 10/12/17--11:04: _EF Pontifical Mass ...
- 10/12/17--14:31: _Historical Images o...
- 10/13/17--07:22: _1967: Reaching the ...
- 10/13/17--22:48: _Liturgical Splendor...
- 10/15/17--12:52: _The Feast of the Ho...
- 10/16/17--05:00: _Homogeneity vs. Hie...
- 10/16/17--12:54: _Fatima Centenary Ce...
- 10/17/17--07:36: _The Psalms - Unlock...
- 10/18/17--01:57: _Liturgical Splendor...
- 10/18/17--11:36: _Short Forms of the ...
- 10/18/17--13:59: _The Proper Office o...
- 10/07/17--15:31: Pope Leo XIII on the Holy Rosary 2017
- 10/09/17--15:17: The Priority of Religion and Adoration over Communion
- 10/09/17--15:13: CD Review: Renaissance Polyphony of Portugal for Our Lady of Fatima
- 10/10/17--12:22: “Why Pro-life Catholics Should Strive for a Higher and Deeper Life”
- 10/11/17--13:50: Why Did Vatican II Open on October 11?
- 10/12/17--11:04: EF Pontifical Mass with Bishop Serratelli on Saturday
- 10/12/17--14:31: Historical Images of the English Benedictine Abbeys
- 10/13/17--07:22: 1967: Reaching the Bottom of the Slippery Slope
- 10/15/17--12:52: The Feast of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council
- 10/16/17--05:00: Homogeneity vs. Hierarchy: On the Treatment of Verbal Moments
- 10/16/17--12:54: Fatima Centenary Celebrations at St John Cantius
- 10/18/17--11:36: Short Forms of the Readings: Distorting the Gospel?
- 10/18/17--13:59: The Proper Office of the Evangelists
|The Madonna of the Rosary, by Caravaggio, 1607|
3. This devotion, so great and so confident, to the august Queen of Heaven, has never shone forth with such brilliancy as when the militant Church of God has seemed to be endangered by the violence of heresy spread abroad, or by an intolerable moral corruption, or by the attacks of powerful enemies. Ancient and modern history and the more sacred annals of the Church bear witness to public and private supplications addressed to the Mother of God, to the help she has granted in return, and to the peace and tranquillity which she had obtained from God. Hence her illustrious titles of helper, consoler, mighty in war, victorious, and peace-giver. And amongst these is specially to be commemorated that familiar title derived from the Rosary by which the signal benefits she has gained for the whole of Christendom have been solemnly perpetuated. ...
6. Moved by these thoughts and by the examples of Our Predecessors, We have deemed it most opportune for similar reasons to institute solemn prayers and to endeavour by adopting those addressed to the Blessed Virgin in the recital of the Rosary to obtain from her son Jesus Christ a similar aid against present dangers. You have before your eyes, Venerable Brethren, the trials to which the Church is daily exposed; Christian piety, public morality, nay, even faith itself, the supreme good and beginning of all the other virtues, all are daily menaced with the greatest perils.
7. Nor are you only spectators of the difficulty of the situation, but your charity, like Ours, is keenly wounded; for it is one of the most painful and grievous sights to see so many souls, redeemed by the blood of Christ, snatched from salvation by the whirlwind of an age of error, precipitated into the abyss of eternal death. Our need of divine help is as great today as when the great Dominic introduced the use of the Rosary of Mary as a balm for the wounds of his contemporaries.
8. … We, who seek a remedy for similar evils, do not doubt therefore that the prayer introduced by that most blessed man with so much advantage to the Catholic world, will have the greatest effect in removing the calamities of our times also. Not only do We earnestly exhort all Christians to give themselves to the recital of the pious devotion of the Rosary publicly, or privately in their own house and family, and that unceasingly, but we also desire that the whole of the month of October in this year should be consecrated to the Holy Queen of the Rosary. We decree and order that in the whole Catholic world, during this year, the devotion of the Rosary shall be solemnly celebrated by special and splendid services. …
10. (addressing the bishops) And you, Venerable Brethren, - the more you have at heart the honour of Mary, and the welfare of human society, the more diligently apply yourselves to nourish the piety of the people towards the great Virgin, and to increase their confidence in her. We believe it to be part of the designs of Providence that, in these times of trial for the Church, the ancient devotion to the august Virgin should live and flourish amid the greatest part of the Christian world. May now the Christian nations, excited by Our exhortations, and inflamed by your appeals, seek the protection of Mary with an ardour growing greater day by day; let them cling more and more to the practice of the Rosary, to that devotion which our ancestors were in the habit of practicing, not only as an ever-ready remedy for their misfortunes, but as a whole badge of Christian piety. The heavenly Patroness of the human race will receive with joy these prayers and supplications, and will easily obtain that the good shall grow in virtue, and that the erring should return to salvation and repent; and that God who is the avenger of crime, moved to mercy and pity may deliver Christendom and civil society from all dangers, and restore to them peace so much desired.
He, therefore, our God and Lord, though He was about to offer Himself once on the altar of the cross unto God the Father, by means of his death, there to operate an eternal redemption; nevertheless, because His priesthood was not to be extinguished by His death, at the Last Supper, on the night in which He was betrayed — that He might leave, to His own beloved Spouse the Church, a visible sacrifice, such as the nature of man requires, whereby that bloody sacrifice, once to be accomplished on the cross, might be represented, and the memory thereof remain even unto the end of the world, and its salutary virtue be applied to the remission of those sins which we daily commit — declaring Himself constituted a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech, He offered up to God the Father His own Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine. ... This, in fine, is that oblation which was prefigured by various types of sacrifices, during the period of nature, and of the law; inasmuch as it comprises all the good things signified by those sacrifices, as being the consummation and perfection of them all. (Session 22, chapter 1)The Council goes on to speak of the effects of this sacrifice:
And forasmuch as in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner, who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross, the holy Synod teaches that this sacrifice is truly propritiatory and that by means thereof this is effected: that we obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid, if we draw nigh unto God, contrite and penitent, with a sincere heart and upright faith, with fear and reverence. … Wherefore, not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those who are departed in Christ, and who are not as yet fully purified, is it rightly offered, agreebly to a tradition of the apostles. (Sess. 22, ch. 2)Moreover, against the errors of the Protestants, the same Council did not hesitate to affirm the adorable Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ:
In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes, that, in the august sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things. (Sess. 13, ch. 1)After stating that the Eucharist was instituted not only as spiritual food but also as a remembrance of the riches of Christ’s divine love, so that we may venerate His memory and show forth His death until He comes to judge the world, the Fathers continue:
All the faithful of Christ may, according to the custom ever received in the Catholic Church, render in veneration the worship of latria, which is due to the true God, to this most holy sacrament. For not therefore is it the less to be adored on this account, that it was instituted by Christ, the Lord, in order to be received: for we believe that same God to be present therein, of whom the eternal Father, when introducing him into the world, says: And let all the angels of God adore him; whom the Magi falling down, adored; who, in fine, as the Scripture testifies, was adored by the apostles in Galilee. (Sess. 13, ch. 5)These dogmas emerge out of and reinforce the very manner of offering Mass that had developed in the West well before the Council of Trent — in particular, the silent canon and the elevations. The silence and the elevations allow one to connect with and venerate the mysteries for their own sake, because they are worthy of all veneration, and our salvation is symbolized and summarized in them. In this way we are made to see an intrinsic purpose to assisting at Mass besides receiving communion: one is given the opportunity to join in the heavenly adoration of the Lamb, the elders and angels falling down before the throne, or the Magi falling down before the crib. Transubstantiation is the liturgical analogy of the Incarnation. It is a claiming of some corner of the material world for God’s Kingdom: as someone once put it, God is establishing a beachhead in enemy territory, or opening a passage for us by which we can ascend in spirit to the heavenly places. We long for the courts of the Lord and we ask Him to lead us there, as so many Postcommunions beseech.
Whenever the Mass is celebrated more like a meal, versus populum, without silence, without serious elevations and double genuflections, with a memorial acclamation breaking in on our acts of adoring faith, and an overall informal ars celebrandi, such things undermine the aforementioned Tridentine dogmas and weaken the sensus fidelium. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that holy communion becomes the high point of the service, indeed the only point; and if one does not receive, one is “left out.” Why go to Mass otherwise?
But if the focus is the priestly offering of the holy sacrifice as an act of the virtue of religion — giving to God, in justice, the right worship that is His due, which every human being owes to Him perpetually, regardless of his state or condition — then anyone and everyone has a profound, compelling, inescapable reason to go to Mass. In fact, Mass is the only way we can fulfill our debt to God of paying Him a worship with which He is perfectly pleased, and this even apart from whether or not we receive spiritual food in Holy Communion.
For these two reasons alone — that we may exercise the virtue of religion and that we may adore Our Lord with a privileged intimacy — assisting at Mass is the best thing a Catholic can do. Granted, one has to balance religious observances with one’s other duties in life, but if St. Thomas who wrote 50 folio volumes and St. Louis IX who ruled a kingdom and fought crusades could both find time for two Masses a day, we would be hard pressed to find a sufficient excuse for not assisting at one Mass a day (provided that a truly prayerful and reverent Mass is available, which, unfortunately, cannot be taken for granted nowadays). And all this, before we have even broached that most wondrous and most gracious of all the Lord’s condescensions to us, whereby He allows us, nay, invites us, if we are properly disposed, to approach with fear and trembling the altar of the “full, final sacrifice” and partake of the all-holy, life-giving mysteries of Christ, the very flesh and blood of God.
In our own confused times above all, it seems vitally important not to get the inherent order of these elements mixed up, turned around, or otherwise confused.
1. The Mass is first the offering, through the sacrifice of Christ, of the religious worship we owe the triune God, for His own sake, because He is worthy of it and we are damaging ourselves if we do not rightly order our minds and hearts to Him. As St. Thomas says, God is offended by our sins not because they injure Him but because they injure the rational creature, whom He loves (that is, whose good He wills). This worship includes the acts associated with the offering of Mass, namely, adoration, contrition, supplication, thanksgiving, and praise, which have both internal and external aspects, as St. Thomas well develops in the Secunda Secundae of the Summa.
2. Second, because the Mass is the august sacrifice of Christ, we are brought into the very presence of the divine Redeemer, “the Lamb that was slain,” who is “worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and benediction” (Rev 5:12). This is why Augustine says that before receiving, we must adore: we would sin if we did not adore.
3. Third, the Mass is the sacrificial banquet of the Lamb, in which we partake of His flesh and blood for our sanctification and salvation, provided we are not conscious of any unconfessed mortal sin, which includes living in a state of life that is not allowed by divine law.
4. As a distant fourth, one might then speak about the Mass as a social event in which the people of God are seen as a people, in which the unity of the Church is represented and accomplished, and in which certain of our needs as communal beings are met.
But what we have seen in the past fifty years is precisely an inversion of these four, so that the Mass as social event is placed first; going up to receive Communion is placed second; the idea of adoration is a muted third; and the notion of the Mass as a propitiatory and impetratory sacrifice is so foreign as to be unintelligible.
In light of this complete inversion, might we not consider anew Joseph Ratzinger’s provocative proposal of a “Eucharistic fast”: are there not times when, in order to avoid the subtle danger of taking the sacrament for granted or to be in solidarity with others, we might abstain, although we could receive? Should we not at times intensify our Eucharistic hunger and thus compel ourselves to overcome routine, distraction, and trivialization? This need not be construed as in tension with Pope St. Pius X’s encouragement of frequent communion, or, indeed, as in tension with the fact that the Holy Eucharist was instituted for our spiritual nourishment: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”; “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.” As a rule, those who are properly disposed ought to receive: thirsty men in a desert should drink the water provided for them. No doubt Ratzinger would concur.
The overarching point we are arguing for is that there are several mysteries essentially connected with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and that these, as defined with utmost clarity by the Council of Trent, ought to inform our understanding of the nature of the sacred liturgy and our participation in it. There is a nexus mysteriorum, a network of mysteries in which one illuminates and depends on another, in a certain order. The form of the liturgy and the ars celebrandi of the celebrant will either faithfully reflect and amplify these mysteries, which will be to the benefit of the Christian people, or introduce misconceptions, distractions, barriers, and even errors in their regard, which will have a harmful effect on the Church militant as a whole.
 Thus it is false to say that the Mass is first of all a meal, or that it is a meal as much as it is a sacrifice. It is a sacrifice from which we are allowed to partake of the victim, just as there were sacrifices in the old covenant from whose flesh the priests could eat. A meal, in and of itself, is not a sacrifice, but a sacrifice can be a meal. This is why the Mass is not a reenactment of the Last Supper, as most Protestants (and too many uncatechized Catholics) believe, but rather a making-present of the oblation of the Son of God on the Cross on Good Friday. This is why it is not only misleading but heretical to emphasize the table of the Body and Blood of Christ as much as or more than the altar on which this victim is sacramentally sacrificed, and to celebrate the liturgy in such a way that the meal-character takes precedence over the oblation-character. It is for good reason that the Council of Trent, when defining the Mass, calls it repeatedly a sacrifice before speaking of its use by men as food and remedy.
 Enarr. in Ps. 98:9 (CCSL 39:1385).
 The Carthusian method for participating in Mass, shared recently at NLM by Gregory DiPippo, vividly exemplifies this nexus mysteriorum as it leads the worshiper through the various parts and prayers of Mass, and shows him how to unite himself to Christ in each one. This is to see the entire liturgy as an act of prolonged communion, even before one approaches the altar to receive the host.
Renaissance Polyphony of Portugal for Our Lady of Fatimaencompasses pieces by a wide range of lesser-known Renaissance composers, superbly sung by the St. Cecilia Choir. One of the most beautiful pieces is the very first track, Beata Dei Genetrix Maria by Francisco Guerrero. In six parts, this luscious motet sets a text from the feast of the Presentation. Guerrero’s setting of Ave Maria Dulcissima gives us a hint at Guerrero’s personal devotion to the Blessed Virgin. The informative liner notes tell us that “Because of Guerrero’s lively devotion to Our Lady, he composed many motets in her honor, earning the nickname ‘El cantor de Maria’ (the singer of Mary).” Dulcissima Maria, another offering of Guerrero on this disc, is a simple four part piece which flows on in peaceful counterpoint.
Some of the other composers on the recording include Duarte Lobo (1556-1646), Pedro de Escobar (1465-1535), and Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650). Pedro Escobar, a composer who lived earlier in the age of “Renaissance polyphony,” offers a delightful piece in Spanish (the only non-Latin piece on this CD), accompanied by drum, which delights with its more medieval harmonic and rhythmic style.
The twenty-four singers of the St. Cecilia Choir exhibit a beautiful blend of voices; the sopranos gently arc with little vibrato over the peaks of the melody, while the altos and tenors supply beautifully phrased inner counterpoint. The basses are loud and rich, providing a strong underpinning for the whole auditory landscape. The CD is recorded in the church of Saint John Cantius in Chicago, the Cantians’ motherhouse, which has an acoustic perfectly suited to this repertoire. It also features the same church’s Oberlinger Portative Organ on three tracks, including beautiful variations on the hymn Maris Stella and Magnificat with the chant and variations alternating, by the composer Manuel Rodrigues Coelho. The organ variations are meditative and give good opportunity for the woody-sounding flute stops of the Oberlinger organ to be used to great advantage. The organ is also heard in a very pleasant Tiento sobre la Letanía de la Virgen by Pablo Bruna (1611-1679).
A highly recommended CD for your sacred music collection. The link at Cantius has extensive detail about the tracks as well as a short video presentation if you'd like a taste of the music.
It is common for the Saints of the Old Testament to be commemorated in the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern churches, and the Patriarchs and Prophets are commonly patrons of churches, and referred to as Saints. Here is a fresco in which three patriarchs Ss Abraham, Isaac and Jacob appear. These might be life-size on the wall of the church, so that one would get the impression that these figures are praying the liturgy with us.
I started to consider this because this is the latest in the occasional series about images of the Saints named in the Roman Canon, of whom Abraham is one. I realised as I did so that I can't remember ever being present at a Roman Rite church where there was such a commemoration. Perhaps it is time for this to change? Is there a Roman Catholic Church of St Abraham anywhere? Please let me know!
He is clearly a central figure for us. Abraham is referred to in the following passage from the words of the Mass:
Look with favor on these offerings and accept them as once you accepted the gifts of your servant Abel, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the bread and wine offered by your priest Melchizedek.This is not the only daily liturgical reference to Abraham. He is referred to in the Gospel canticles sung daily at Lauds and Vespers, the Benedictus and the Magnificat, and in both of them he is called “Father.” There could be a incensing of his image during either of these on certain days.
The place of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament in salvation history is, as I understand it, that of establishing the practises of faith. In this sense, Abraham clearly has a place in the establishment of liturgical tradition through his being prepared to sacrifice his only son, and ultimately sacrificing a ram.
Here is an image which might be appropriate behind the altar in a church, a 6th century mosaic from Ravenna in Italy.
The more subtle connection with Christ is the placement of the eight-pointed star on the front of the altar, indicating that the altar itself represents Christ, and the eighth day of Creation, as His Resurrection is celebrated on the eighth day of the week, Sunday.
Another mosaic from Ravenna has Abraham as the theme.
|The Hospitality of Abraham, 16th-century, Rostov-Suzdal School|
|Abraham and the Angels, by Sebastiano Ricci, ca, 1694|
|Abraham and the Angels, by Josse Lieferinxe, ca. 1500|
|The Sacrifice of de Isaac, Juan De Valdés Leal, 1657|
NLM readers might be interested in my inaugural article, “Why pro-life Catholics should strive for a higher and deeper life.” Some excerpts:
When people in the world hear the expression “pro-life,” they typically think of one and only one issue: abortion. When Christians hear “pro-life,” they might expand the definition to those who are opposed to the murder of human beings at all stages, whether in the womb, in infancy, or on the deathbed. When Catholics hear the expression, a further nuance should be present: those who take into account not only the worst abuses of human freedom but also the more subtle causes of the anti-life mentality, such as sexual hedonism, feminism, contraception, the divorce mentality, and parent absenteeism. All of this is true as far as it goes. But there is more to being pro-life than this. The roots go deeper and the branches spread further.
[...] We cannot realize our human potential or be mature Christians unless we cultivate our intellectual life in the great disciplines, from literature to philosophy, from the empirical sciences to the queen of all sciences, sacred theology. To be far-seeingly pro-life is to be pro-intellectual life.
[...] Without the inspiration of a true artistic vision, we grow weary on our journey, we cannot see our way forward. It is like abolishing the sun, the moon, and the stars. To be fully pro-life, then, is to be pro-cultural life. A good culture emerges from, creatively celebrates, and dynamically sustains the love of human life.
The highest activity of the human person is to turn his mind and heart to God, His first beginning and last end, and to worship Him: “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory,” as we sing in the ancient hymn of the Gloria. ... That is why to be pro-life in its most profound sense is to be pro-liturgical life.
It occurred to me first that this is the sort of work that would allow the development of a schema of art for the Roman Rite, as I have described in the essay Creating a Canon and Schema for Art for Churches of the Roman Rite. (We explore this topic further in the Pontifex University Masters in Sacred Arts.)
A development that I would like to see come from this would be to find a way to engage with this art directly in the context of the liturgy. For example, I think of processions, during which one might stop to incense relevant images on the feasts that commemorate the theme. This might be done at the entrance, recession or, in the Novus Ordo, during the offering of the gifts which, I think, might be extended into a procession like that which takes place in the Eastern Rite.
Lyn describes the development of the project as follows:
Last year my pastor agreed to allow me to build an art gallery along a long hallway in the classroom wing (I have a Masters in Biblical Theology from the Augustine Institute and am a long-time catechist for adult RE). I saw it as a wasted space that could be filled with beauty and religious art so students and those who never went to classes could be captured by it. The Holy Spirit has such a sense of humor though, since I know very little about art, but I decided to imitate the churches in Europe with the New Testament mysteries on one side and their Old Testament prefigurations on the other, so the art itself could teach the typological understanding of the written Word of God.
I used a variety of religious art and incorporated explanations beside each piece to illuminate the event depicted by the artist and its place in Salvation History. We called it The Art of Salvation (indicating that Salvation History is illuminated by the art but also that God Himself created the artistic masterpiece of Salvation History and the artwork is "sub-created' by man created in God's image). I have attached the booklet of the explanations that we have available for anyone interested for you to see the scope of it. It ended up with 21 pieces of large and beautifully framed prints (10 on each side of the hallway, separated into 3 and 7 by doorways - how do you like those symbolic numbers the Holy Spirit happened to devise!?) with the Dali Christ as the introduction.This is great art catechesis. She is choosing good art from great artists such as Fra Angelico, Lucas Cranach and Raphael, and linking the themes to those of salvation history. There are quite a few that were new to me and I was excited to see, such as David Before the Ark of the Covenant by the 18th century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Pittoni.
Looking at her style of presentation, it occurred to me also, that this could contribute to the development of a canon of art along with a schema for churches of the Roman Rite.
There is a video here in which she introduces the art and the booklet to her church.
Most of her choices in art are from the mainstream of tradition, in the Gothic or Baroque style. Here is an example, a painting by the English artist Augustus John, Moses and the Brazen Serpent, done in 1898.
Fr Robert Johansen is a priest of the diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he serves as Diocesan Theological Consultant and Chaplain. He holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Liturgical Institute of the University of St Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, where he is currently a candidate for the Doctor of Sacred Theology. He is the author of numerous articles on theology and liturgy, and a frequent speaker and presenter at conferences and workshops on liturgy, chant, and the Sacraments.
On a personal note, several years ago, when I was teaching at Thomas More College, I invited him to give a lecture on the evangelization of the culture to the students in my Way of Beauty program, and it was through this that I understood for the first time the Catholic understanding of the connection between the liturgy and the culture. I would recommend all who can get there to do so.
The seven sessions of the Third Ecumenical Council took place at Ephesus between June 22 and July 31 of the year 431, not in October. Against the heretical teaching of Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, it reasserted that it is proper and just to refer to the Virgin Mary with the title “Mother of God”, and this accounts in part for the very frequent use of this term in the Byzantine Rite. Of course, this was decided in function of much larger issues within the great Christological controversies of that era, controversies which Ephesus most certainly did not put to rest. After a false council in 449, also held at Ephesus and famously named by Pope St Leo I “the robber-synod” (latrocinium), a true council was held at Chalcedon in 451, followed by the most important permanent schism which the Church would see until the Great Schism of 1054. This is not to diminish the importance of Ephesus, but in only one other case is there a shorter interval between two ecumenical councils. (see note below)
The question arises, therefore, as to what it was about the date October 11 that called Ephesus to mind, and why the Pope felt the need to do so in the context of the upcoming council.
Pope John had a strong devotion to Bl. Pope Pius IX, whom he once expressed a desire to canonize by acclamation. (It is appropriate that they were beatified together in 2000.) It was, of course, Pius IX who convoked Vatican I, which held its first session on the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1869, fifteen years to the day after he had formally and infallibly defined the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of the Faith.
In 1931, Pope Pius XI extended the feast known as “the Maternity of the Virgin Mary” to the universal calendar of the Roman Rite. October had been well established as a Marian month by the very popular feast of the Holy Rosary, and the importance of this devotion was repeatedly emphasized by Pope Leo XIII. The feast of the Virgin’s Maternity was therefore assigned to October 11th, which was then the first free day of that month.
A Breviary lesson was appointed for the feast, which explains that the Pope intended it to serve as a liturgical commemoration of the fifteenth centenary of the Council of Ephesus. In the wake of Ephesus, Pope Sixtus III (432-40) built the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, the oldest church in the world dedicated to the Mother of God, which still preserves a famous mosaic with episodes of Her life on the arch over the altar. Pius XI also notes in this lesson that had arranged for extensive restorations of the basilica, “a noble monument of the proclamation of Ephesus,” and particularly the mosaic.
The crest of Pope St John XXIII, in the atrium of St Peter’s Basilica; the opening date of Vatican II is written beneath it, without reference to the feast of the Maternity of the Virgin Mary.
Note: The Council of Constance, which was held from 1414-18, represents the high point of enthusiasm for “conciliarism”, the idea that ecumenical councils are superior to the Popes, and have authority over them. As part of this enthusiasm, it decreed that councils would henceforth be held on a regular schedule, five years after its own closure, seven years after the closure of the next council, and thenceforth every ten years. The Council of Siena, called in 1423, is not recognized as an ecumenical council because almost no one showed up for it. The next council opened at Basel in Switzerland in 1431, to an equally unpromising start, and, like Siena, would have ended as no more than an historical footnote, had its purpose not changed; after being transferred first to Ferrara, then to Florence, it became the last great council of reunion between the Eastern and Western churches. Between the closure of Constance and the opening of Basel is an interval of only 13 years, but this interval was determined by Constance itself, and not as the result of an intervening crisis, as was the case with Chalcedon after Ephesus.
The sudden and complete evaporation of enthusiasm for conciliarism in the 15th century is very similar to the sudden and complete evaporation of enthusiasm for “aggiornamento” in the 20th. There is an important lesson to be had here in keeping our perspective on ecumenical councils, the most unpredictable of ecclesiastical events, if we are willing to learn it.
It has one of the best opening lines I have seen in a while: “This is a low quality video about a high quality idea.” And it is indeed a high quality idea! I suggest that this is worth watching even if you are sure you’re not going to the November event and will never get to Petersham. It is a wonderfully clear explanation of what a religious vocation is and why it is worth pursuing.
|The abbot of Prinknash celebrating the Solemnity of St Joseph.|
Less reverence is the order of the day; “the altar is kissed only once”, and signs of the cross and genuflections are rapidly disappearing, most shockingly, the genuflection immediately after the Words of Consecration. As William Riccio wrote earlier this year, the faithful who were made nervous by the seemingly endless barrage of changes to that which was always held to be unchangeable “... were told that the Canon, that most untranslatable prayer, would never be in the vernacular because it is too steeped in meaning. In 1967, it was put in the vernacular.” The pretense that even the barest letter of Sacrosanctum Concilium will be respected, (“let the use of the Latin language be preserved... Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy ... should be given pride of place in liturgical services”) is now almost entirely thrown off.
We may also note that commemorations, a feature against which the reformers had a particular and wholly inexplicable animus, are now basically gone, with almost no exceptions. At the very end, there is a footnote concerning the Divine Office; in the fairly few offices of three nocturnes left at that point, one may choose to say only one. The parts of Matins specific to choir ritual (the blessings before the readings and “Tu autem, Domine...”) may now be omitted, along with the prayer called the Absolution, which is a specifically Roman feature. This presages their complete disappearance from the Liturgy of the Hours. The Ambrosian Liturgy of the Hours was not published until 1981, by which time many people were beginning to realize what a mistake some of these changes really were; it retained the blessings before the readings.
Thanks to Mr Richard Hawker for sharing these scans with us.
Once again, we are very grateful to Mr Zachary Thomas for another fine essay on liturgical theology.
God’s image in man is not, however, something immediately apparent, nor, when he finds it, is it always clean. St Athanasius compares human nature before Christ to an icon disfigured and covered in dirt, which needs to be wiped off and restored before it can be read. What’s more, the vast arc of history, in which man fits, looms obscure and threatening until Christ the cornerstone is revealed. As David Fagerberg wrote:
“We cannot understand history’s plot because its end and its beginning are beyond the range of our natural eye, which has put some people in a quandary. They do not know if existence is beautiful or not, or if it is true or not, and, sadly, some even wonder whether life is good or not, because they are only seeing a piece of it—their piece, this particular moment. But there is a height from which to see the whole, the plot line of history from start to finish.” (“Doing the World Liturgically: Stewardship of Creation and Care for the Poor,” in Authentic Liturgical Renewal in Contemporary Perspective, Bloomsbury 2017, p. 73)
But since Christ’s bodily presence has left us, where is this image? In this life, Christ’s glory, and the glory of his adopted sons, lies hidden under the veil of suffering, “subject to futility” as St Paul says. Too often we live not Tabor but Golgotha, under the brooding silence of God. Where, then, do we find the substance of things hoped for? How can we live without this image before our eyes, or arrive at our destination without a clear vision? The answer par excellence is in the holy liturgy.
Christ is on High, in the Holy of Holies, and as travelers we must follow him. We must be drawn out after Him, reformed, given the form of charity in Christ. What we are to look like, the aspect, shape, smell, taste of that land we are going to, is what the liturgy has always made it its business to show us.
In our in-between state, the image of God is not a possession, it is a projection. It is the ideal form of Christ toward which we progress in grace, into whose body we are daily insensibly knitted. Heaven is there and we are here, covered in our sins and weighed down in our condition as creatures. We suffer as beasts, but are meant to be above the angels. This beings an inherent tension, almost a contradiction in the Christian life, which must be spanned and consistently renewed in the liturgy. As Fr. Pavel Florensky put it:
“Man is the living unity of the infinite and the finite, of the eternal and the transient, of the perishing and the imperishable, the ineluctable and the casual, the fulcrum of the ideal world and the real world [....] And he can only create what is similar to himself, which is to say precisely these contradictions of earthly and heavenly of which he is composed.” (My translation from the Italian edition, La Filosofia del Culto, Edizioni San Paolo 2016, pp. 129–130.)
Sacred worship recapitulates this fundamental tension of man’s journey in dramatic fashion, enacting this metaphysical truth in signs and symbols. Liturgy is the ideal image of our journey. Indeed, what we see on the altar is not human nature nor this cosmos as we know them, but rather these unveiled, as in the apocalypse (unveiling) of what we are to be. Even for the redeemed, we know not what we will be like, “for the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” Liturgy is precisely the “glory about to be revealed to us.”
Our forefathers saw liturgy this way. The ancient apse mosaics of the Christian basilicas quite forcibly confront the worshipper with a glorified environment. They usually show images of paradise. The bishop and the priests ring around him in the apse are reconfigured by the sacred space to be identified with Christ and his saints in heaven. The altar was the tree of paradise from which we eat and live forever, the fount of living water.
|The apsidal mosaic of Sant’Apollinare in Classe near Ravenna|
|The Palatine Chapel at Aachen (image from Wikimedia Commons by Velvet)|
We often say liturgy is man worshipping God—and for one separated from a cultic worldview, unable to conceive of human participation in divine action, it is all he can say. But nothing could be further from the truth. Liturgy is when what is divine in us (Christ—the priest acting in persona Christi, in persona ecclesiae) communicates with the Divine Persons, and repeats the whole swirling cosmic drama of exitus-reditus before our eyes. It is an awesome, divine, life-giving spectacle that lifts us out of this earth to contemplate the entire universe sub specie aeternitatis, sub specie Christi, with the obscuring veils of this age lifted to reveal the true nature of the sons of God: a true revelation.
In liturgy we see ourselves acting as cosmic priests, the hands of the priest do truly divine acts, we are fed celestial food so that this power of doing divine acts extends to our whole body and our whole lives. But such an extension is impossible to conceive without the prior experience of liturgy! And because this role is so far beyond anything we were born for, so far beyond what we could ever dream of, it is super-eminently beautiful. Liturgy is like a refracting prism for human nature. As when white light enters a prism and breaks it into the full visible spectrum, a person entering the liturgy is astounded to encounter the depths of his soul displayed in the sacred actions—all his dearest wishes, sorrows, tears, guilt, joy, hopes, dreams, are realized here. The person blinks to discover concretely realized in the sacred actors and actions, the spiritual power and radiance of transfigured, spiritualized human nature. All his subjective straining toward his divine selfhood is raised up and established in the concrete ideal by the action of the Church, who is Absolute Humanity. “The liturgy is the activity that expresses the deepest essence of man, man in the depths of his being. It is the activity supremely proper to man, who is a homo liturgicus.” (130)
Liturgy is therefore the only place where man can come to full consciousness of himself, where all his scattered thoughts and emotions find their deepest unitary source, a concrete manifestation of his “I.” He can point to the liturgical year—or rather, his lived experience of the liturgical year—and say “this is my nature, to the depths. That is where I am going. That Thing is what I am meant to do forever and ever.” Nowhere else is this possible.
Liturgical action is a fully theandric act where the human and divine natures are mixed wondrously, like the water and the wine at the Offertory: “God, who did wondrous establish the dignity of man’s substance, and more wonderfully reform it, grant us through the mystery of this water and wine to become sharers in His, who deign to take part in our humanity, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord...”
This wonderful joint action of God and man that writes large the countenance of Christ upon the sacred stage, requires the burning away of all impurities. Here every word is eminently pure and spoken only in loving song: “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried by the fire, purged from the earth refined seven times.” (Ps. 11) Every action is perfectly proportioned and circumspect, every syllable is a pure distilled ideal emotion from the beloved heart of Christ, speaking through the mouth of his Church. In the divine liturgy, man sheds his worm-like mortal coil for a few moments to fly with the angels.
Man brings here the choicest materials, whole mines of gold and silver, the collected creativity of whole generations of artists. This overwhelming weight of glory lavished upon the rituals and ritual buildings of the Church is an argument in its own right, apart from any theological considerations, that Christians have always viewed the liturgy as the doorway to heaven, a privileged place of encounter, a small garden of Earthly Paradise on the cusp of heaven.
It can be no other way, if we really know what we are doing. Brought into contact with Christ’s self-immolation in the liturgy, the imago Dei in us glows like heated iron and its divine-human light illuminates the sacred stage upon which the Church enacts the divine sacrifice. That is why the greatest art works the world has ever seen have been the sacred arts of the liturgy.
The rejection of the sacred images, particularly those of Christ, is ultimately a denial of the Incarnation. The very choice of location for the council expressed this idea; at the time it was called, the two previous ecumenical councils and the important synod ‘in Trullo’ had all been held in Constantinople. The Empress Irene, who as regent of her young son Constantine VI, arranged for a council to condemn iconoclasm, had tried to hold it in the imperial capital, but it was broken up by soldiers friendly to the iconoclast heresy. It was therefore moved to Nicaea, where the first ecumenical council had gathered 462 years earlier to condemn the Arian heresy that denied the true divinity of Christ. (To put this in chronological perspective, this is a greater distance in time than that between Trent and Vatican II.)
The refusal to depict Christ is a rejection of the fullness of His humanity, which is real, solid, and “circumscribed”, i.e., subject to limitations, and therefore capable of being expressed in an image. His humanity is the means of our redemption and salvation, as we confess in the Creed every Sunday, “For us men and for our salvation He came down from Heaven etc.” In the eighth and final session, the Council therefore also anathematized all who do not confess that “Christ our God is circumscribed according to His humanity.” The Greek word used here, “perigrapton – circumscribed”, is related to the verb “graphein – to write”, the term which is often used in Greek to refer to the painting of icons. None of this is accidental.
It would be easy, but unjust, to see in this omission nothing more than an unwillingness to offend the offices of the Emperor and Patriarch. The greater truth taught by the Council, and by the Byzantine liturgy, is that the refusal of sacred images is a refusal of the Incarnation. To this point, therefore, the earlier Christological heretics are named repeatedly in the liturgy of the day, as in these texts from Vespers (bold texts are my emphases).
As true shepherds you bravely drove away those who are like Macedonius, Nestorius, Eutyches, Dioscorus, Apollinaris, Sabellius and Severus (of Antioch), exposed as dangerous wolves in sheepskins, far from the Savior’s flock, stripped of their fleeces, making them thrice-wretched; therefore we call you blessed.The following text, sung between the first and second parts of the Doxology at the Aposticha, is particularly noteworthy. One might easily assume it was a part of the commemoration of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council on the Sunday after the Ascension, rather than that of today, again underlining the intrinsic connection between iconoclasm and Arianism, and between veneration of the images and the Incarnation. (A friend of mine who is a great scholar of the Byzantine liturgy tells me that this hymn may very well have been for the commemoration of the Fathers of First Nicaea, and later added to this feast.)
Let us praise today the mystical trumpets of the Spirit, the God-bearing Fathers, who sang a harmonious melody of theology in the midst of the Church, to the one Trinity, unchanging Essence and Godhead; the overthrowers of Arius, the champions of the Orthodox, who intercede with the Lord that He may have mercy on our souls.
Holy Fathers, you have become sure guardians of the Apostolic traditions; for by teaching the orthodox doctrine of the consubstantiality of the Holy Trinity, you overthrew in council the blasphemy of Arius. With him you refuted Macedonius, the opponent of the Spirit, and condemned Nestorius, Eutyches and Dioscorus, Sabellius and Severus the Leaderless. We implore you: beg that we who have been delivered from their error may preserve our life spotless in the faith.
Let us with faith celebrate today the yearly commemoration of the God-bearing Fathers, who were assembled from the whole world in the radiant city of Nicaea, as we reverence the gatherings of the orthodox; for they, their minds attuned to true religion, overthrew the godless teaching of Arius, and in council banished him from the Catholic Church; and in the symbol of faith, which they precisely and devoutly laid down, they taught all to confess clearly the Son of God as consubstantial and co-eternal, and existing before the ages. And so we too, following their divine teachings and firm in our belief, worship the Son and the all-holy Spirit with the Father, in one Godhead, a consubstantial Trinity.
A 19th-century Russian icon of the Fathers of the First Seven Ecumenical Councils. The Byzantine liturgy contains several such commemorations: of the fathers at First Nicaea, at Ephesus, at Second Nicaea, at the Seven Councils collectively.
|St. Theodora, Empress of Byzantium, in a 19th-century Greek icon.|
The final eight anathemas are dedicated to the iconoclasts, (and the iconoclast patriarchs are named explicitly.) The first one says,
On those who accept with their reason the incarnate economy of God the Word, but will not allow that this can be beheld through images, and therefore affect to receive our salvation in words, but deny it in reality: Anathema!And the second:
On those who wickedly make play with the word ‘uncircumscribed’ and therefore refuse to depict in images Christ, our true God, who likewise shared our flesh and blood, and therefore show themselves to be fantasiasts: Anathema!
|Chanting the Epistle|
Think about a Sunday Mass in the Ordinary Form: the first reading, the psalm, the second reading, the Gospel, the homily, and the prayer of the faithful are usually all recited, all at the same place (the ambo), always versus populum in just the same way. The Eucharistic Prayer, high point of the liturgy, is also recited from the nearby altar, versus populum, in the same voice as the Gospel is read. A huge swath of the liturgy is being performed in exactly the same manner: read aloud, in the vernacular; read towards the people; read from more or less the same place; read in the same auditorium voice. It has the effect of evening everything to the same level. There is no ascent; there is only succession. It is reminiscent of Newton’s notion of time as equably flowing at the same pace. One moment of time is the same as any other. The liturgy becomes a homogenous block of undifferentiated verbiage. It is almost a demonstration of how much greater time can be than space — as in waiting in a doctor’s or a dentist’s office.
How different, I reflected, is the traditional Roman liturgy, in the way it has developed over the centuries! Acknowledging the ceremonial differences between Low Mass, High Mass, Solemn High Mass, and Pontifical Mass, there is a commonality of approach whereby one can see the “genetic derivation” of the later simpler forms from the earlier and more elaborate forms.
|Chanting the Gospel at a Missa cantata|
|Chanting the Gospel at a Missa solemnis|
What we see here in the original Roman rite is the tracing out of a sacred geography, whereby the “verbal moments” in the Mass are hierarchically and symbolically ordered. The Epistle at the south, the Gospel towards the north, the homily towards the people, and the Canon towards the Lord demonstrate in a bodily way, with the vividness of the immediately sensible, the differentiation and articulation of liturgical acts. The multiple qualities of each “verbal moment,” whether proclaimed aloud or whispered sotto voce, gives to each its own profile, a dignity that corresponds to its function:
incense, candles, bells
The Epistle can be fully and simply the Epistle, and retains its dignity as the sacrament of the Word by not being announced to the people as if it were merely instructional. The homily, as instructional, is rightly directed to the people. Last and best of all, “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), comes the Canon of the Mass, “the dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God” (Eph 3:9), which is uttered in silence, as the Word was made flesh in silence (Dum medium silentium), with nothing of the priest’s individual face or voice edging into the perfect embodiment of the suffering and glorified Christ. There is an arc of spiritual progression from one moment of the liturgy to the next. We are caught up in pilgrimage. We sense ourselves to be nearing a destination, one stage of a journey after another, towards the Promised Land. Rather than one thing after another, as in a modern agenda, each step is qualitatively different — a fact impressed on us unmistakably by the use of space, posture, orientation, chant tone, and voice level.
|Preaching the homily|
As mentioned above, hierarchical differentiation, sacred geography, and progressive motion are carried to their fullest extent in the distinctive roles and places allotted to priest, deacon, and subdeacon in the Missa solemnis or Solemn High Mass. The subdeacon’s chanting of the Epistle; the deacon’s chanting of the Gospel, using a book held by the subdeacon, flanked by acolytes bearing torches and incense; the priest’s preaching aloud and then praying in silence at the Canon, not to mention the priest’s blessing of the deacon and the latter’s return to the priest after chanting the Gospel — all of these articulations of liturgical action show a profound awareness of the language of the body and the bodiliness of language, so that we never have the feeling of being trapped in tedious talk, but are borne from one station to the next, as if we were following the Lord through the desert to the Jordan, from the Jordan to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to the heavenly sanctuary. He moves in us and among us; His ministers move; we move with Him and with them.
As is so often the case, I feel inadequate to express what I have experienced, but I take consolation in knowing that those who assist at the traditional Mass will grasp that of which I speak — and in hoping that those who have not yet had the happiness of assisting at it may be moved to seek it out, so that they, too, may join the same pilgrimage. “And it came to pass, when the days were well-nigh come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51).
|Silently offering the Divine Victim|
 I say “as it has developed,” because the locations from which certain parts of the liturgy are conducted have changed over the centuries, as the architectural layout of the church and especially its sanctuary and ambo underwent various modifications. Nevertheless, every age of the Church shows us a keen awareness of the spatiality of liturgical actions, and the fittingness of assigning different moments to different places in the building, different ministers, and distinctive stances and tones.
 I say this deliberately because, as in the history of human languages, so in the history of liturgy, the idea of evolution from simpler to more complex is only partially true. We can find many examples where ancient forms are more complex or elaborate than later forms. Just as classical Greek is more complex than classical Latin, Latin than Italian, and 19th-century Italian than 21st-century Italian, so too is the pontifical liturgy of the Middle Ages more complex than the Missa solemnis, the Missa cantata, and the Missa recitata.
I was not always so firm in the conviction that literature isn’t for me. When I left university, I did wonder if I had missed out and decided that I would start to read some literary greats. So, for several years afterward, going to and from work on the Tube, I often pulled out a Penguin Classic and buried my nose in it (and hoped people would notice, of course). I found that if I persevered I might enjoy it to a degree, but in the end, I decided, it wasn’t worth my effort.
The purpose of reading novels and poetry, it seemed to me, was primarily entertainment. Certainly, there were lessons about life, the universe and everything that could be drawn from great literature, but given that there were other ways to learn those lessons, why bother puzzling over a poem that seemed to me to be written to mystify rather than reveal the truth? I found it far more stimulating to read about the important things in life directly in Scripture, or theology or philosophy books, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church, than to wink them out from some impenetrable text.
But please, don’t invite me to a poetry recital.
I should say, at this point that I am aware that not everyone is like me, nor should they be. Many people love literature and derive great pleasure from reading it, and provided that the reading contributes in some way to the highest end, the worship of God in the liturgy - as all human activity should - then I say, follow your passion!
There is one exception to my literary philistinism, and appropriately, that is the poetic form that is associated with the man who defeated the Philistines in battle, David. I love the Book of Psalms and the canticles from Scripture that are sung in the Divine Office. For me, they are a well of wisdom and inspiration that can never run dry and which flows from the pages like honey.
A couple of things have struck me particularly so far. First is that the fact there is no existing pure and unadulterated original text from which all translations derive. The oldest texts we have are themselves three, four or who knows how many more steps removed from the original composition, given to us by the work of scribes or translators. And do we know that the “original” was even written? Perhaps it was first preserved through an oral tradition. This lack of a first text should not be a cause of worry; God can inspire scribes and translators too. He does not reveal anything new by this, but rather, guides them so that their work of inscription and translation can be done well.
Second is that the poetic structure of the Psalms is much more related to a thematic pattern than it is to a pattern of the language itself. The Psalms don’t rhyme, for example; they use devices such as synonymous parallelism in which the thought of the first line is repeated in different words in the next line or lines.
Lord, how they are increased that trouble me; many are they that rise up against me. (Ps. 3, 1)
There are a number of other such thematic devices, by which themes are contrasted, reinforced and developed. The great value of this approach is that unlike rhyme, it is relatively easy to bring across into a translation, in a way that allows the translator to express the truth elegantly and beautifully without having to compromise the sense of it.
In the light of this, it occurred to me that there may be lessons for the modern poet who wants to do what a poet ought to do, create noble and accessible work might connect with the millions of literary philistines in the modern world, such as me. (Of course, what he wants to say must also be of interest; it doesn’t matter how noble and accessible the style, of the content is dreary!) So, other things being equal, here is what our modern poet might do:
First, he should use thematic patterns as Scripture does. Not only will this prime people to receive the Word through the Psalms, but also, it will probably be more popular. Just as scripture is inspired by God, so man is made by God to respond to it and to be sensitive to its structure. If the Psalms can appeal even to a philistine like me, then perhaps, so could your poetry could too if you use a similar device!
Second, it will be easily translated, and so potentially reach a much wider market and transcend its own time. Such your writing will speak of God in the four corners of the world; it will declare the works of the Lord amongst all peoples! People of all nations will understand it; and if you declare the truth, generations through all time will delight in its form.
And you might save people like me from cultural destitution by showing them that there is something higher...
We continue with the second part of this essay by Mr Zachary Thomas; to read the first part, click here.
In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis lamented that modern Christians often lose the hope of salvation because, mired in the ugliness of modern life, and fed a dry moralizing or dogmatizing sort of religious piety, they can conceive no vision of the grandeur and glory of the Christian vocation. It is precisely the liturgy that the Church has always offered as the sturdy support of these virtues, a gargantuan “substance of things hoped for.” After attending evening services at a Catholic chapel in Philadelphia (rosary, Vespers and Benediction) the strict Puritan John Adams wrote, “I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell?” The liturgy is indeed the Church’s spell, which charms the soul irresistibly toward that end to which she calls it. Faced by the claims of the Church’s cultic life, the only two honest responses are a wholesale cynical rejection or wholesale embrace of its full implications.
“With an artist’s eye, Michelangelo already saw within the block of stone he had before him the masterpiece secretly waiting to come to light and be freed. According to him, the task of the artist was only to remove that which still covered the image. Michelangelo understood that the true artistic act was to bring something to light and freedom, not to produce something. The same idea, applied to the human realm, is already found in St Bonaventure, who, basing himself upon the metaphor of the sculptor, explains the way by which man becomes authentically himself. The sculptor does not do anything, says the great Franciscan theologian. His work is rather an ablatio: it consists in eliminating and removing what is inauthentic. Thus, through an ablatio emerges the nobilis forma, the precious form. Likewise man, in order that the image of God may shine in him, must above all and first of all receive that purification by which the sculptor—i.e. God—frees him from all the dross that obscures the true appearance of his being and makes him seem like a crude block of stone, while in reality the divine form dwells within him.” Cited in “Pourquoi la liturgie de l’eglise ennuie-t-elle tant de fidèles?” by Denis Crouan, trans. Gerhard Egar.)
The third question of the Baltimore catechism (Why did God make us?) can rightly be answered in a declarative sentence. But the immeasurably stronger affirmation is found in the splendor of the liturgy. “God made us to show forth his goodness and to share with us his everlasting happiness in heaven.” Each of these terms only achieves its full meaning in liturgical action: in orthodoxy (right worship) the lovable face of God shines forth. Here most particularly we see his goodness, his loving kindness, and get a taste of the everlasting happiness he holds out to us. Liturgy is truly heaven on earth.
What does orthodoxy require, then? What can make the splendor of the divine image shine forth in man for all the world to see? Only the advent of God taking up—“overshadowing”—our actions, as Christ took up his carpenter’s hammer. As a strict matter of validity, this is possible through any of his ordained ministers using the minimum of matter and form.
But this is only half the theological truth. A sacrament looks like what it does. Grace descends fully only with nature’s assent. The covenant requires faithfulness also from God’s people. Therefore, in her public worship, the Church must offer herself as a fitting and unblemished sacrifice, as the womb of Mary, as a fitting vessel in which the Holy Sacrament can come forth.
It is necessary that, in the public rite of the Catholic Church, the juridically instituted public expression of the Church’s whole life, history, and being, there be exemplary standards of liturgical splendor that properly show forth the imago Dei and display the cosmic history of redemption with glory and clarity. For the full public worship performed by the Mystical Body of Christ, head and members, is nothing else than the celebration of the marriage between God and the whole sanctified cosmos, including the Church triumphant and suffering. It must look like what it does.
If we take this dogmatic and historical fact seriously, it has several implications. First of all, it means the acceptance of all reality, which has all been redeemed. The full reality of the Eucharist demands that we consent fully to the mediation of body and matter, not try to escape from it.
Thus, liturgical splendor requires excellence of craft, in every sense. God the sculptor uses the hands of human artists: singers, painters, brick-layers, and their donors. It requires excellent and well-paid musicians. Most of all, it requires abundant monastic houses and cathedral canons to set the gold standard in a diocese.
This is all as much to say that God asks for the full benefits of human culture to help elaborate the fullness of the Mystery he continues to reveal in His Church. This implies complete dependence upon one’s artistic inheritance. It is hubris to think that one age alone can surpass the careful accumulation of centuries.
|Image from Wikimedia Commons by Beckstet, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)|
We cannot adopt art forms that deny the nobility of man’s nature, or the glory of his gratuitous redemption. This is not to say that modern forms are per se forbidden, as an abundance of contemporary artists working in modern idioms can testify. But it does forbid art that does not exalt the liturgical mystery in its full splendor. Art that obscures or distorts the beauty of natural form is a form of Gnosticism that denies the salvation of the flesh. Intentionally minimalist church art has the effect of denying the beauty and joy of salvation.
All of this aesthetic endeavor and ceremony must be deeply tied to silence and prayer as its source. Contemplation is the workshop in which God molds each soul, and from which he brings out these gifts to adorn his Church.
Too often, Catholic liturgies have gotten rid of everything that could remind man he is a cosmic priest, made in the image of God. Not a glimmer of the glory of God’s adopted sons shines through the morass of our dreary “worship spaces.” This is largely because the last century’s reformers simply got theological anthropology dead wrong, misunderstanding entirely the nature of cult as man’s cooperation in the doing of divine things. Men do not want a didactic session scribbled by expert seers of the spirit of the world, or the spontaneous eruptions of emotion that surprise, but do not last. They do not want a Scripture lesson or political agitation. They do not want an industrial liturgy. They certainly doesn’t want their pastors’ ingenuity. They want to see, and participate in, the spectacle of God made man in the world, the mystical feast of the Groom with the Church of all ages. They want to be borne down by the weight of glory that is the Trinitarian economy represented in the sanctuary.
Instead, we are often given a depressing image of ourselves, which may indeed have the benefit of being always simple and easily accessible, but has the downside of being rather boring. We are “present to ourselves as a worshipping community,” but we do not confront the host of Saints before the Throne. Transfixed in this narcissistic gaze, we waste away before a pool of self-loving and self-loathing, unable to escape from a lethal self-intuition. It is no wonder so many have left in despair.
Until we unwrap our liturgical theology from the quasi-Hegelian and quasi-Marxist bands in which it is slowly suffocating, the true glory and attractiveness and loveliness of the Gospel, the light of Christ’s countenance shining nobly through her saints, will remain obscured, and we cannot hope for a resurrection of Christian life and vocations.
This means rejecting wholesale, if not every practical reform of the last five decades, certainly the flawed anthropology that largely motivated them. It means learning again from our liturgical tradition—and that of the East. We have to learn again what it means to celebrate liturgy, as sons redeemed, dancing like David in the light of God’s face, as a divine economy of salvation in which every man and every community surpasses itself, exceeds the bounds of its own temporality and enters into the great Mystery which is Christ in his Church, for all ages, unto the ages of ages.
|Gustave Doré, Illustration for Canto XXXI of the Divine Comedy, Dante and Beatrice See the Highest Heaven.|
Liturgical splendor must be at the root of the New Evangelization, because Evangelization is divinization, and only from the liturgy can the believer learn what it is to act divinely.
Or, in some places at least, it was nearly the same. For this particular Sunday is one of the over 40 occasions in the three-year Sunday cycle of the reformed lectionary where there is the option of reading a shorter form of one of the lessons. Suffice to say, there are no conditions laid out by the reformed books for when it may or may not be suitable to use any given short form aside from “pastoral reasons”, and the (somewhat deceptive) observation that “In the case of certain rather long texts, longer and shorter versions are provided to suit different situations. The editing of the shorter version has been carried out with great caution.” (General Introduction to the Lectionary, 75; cf. GIRM 360)
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the streets, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Mt. 22:1-14, RSV2CE)
In future posts, I hope to explore in a little more detail the many liturgical and theological problems with both the theory and praxis of the lectio brevior in the Ordo lectionum Missae. Thankfully, any problems associated with their use can be very easily and instantly fixed, by parish priests resolving never to use them and making sure that other priests, deacons and lectors (instituted or temporary) in their parishes do not use them either. It is also to be hoped for that all short forms of readings are suppressed in any future edition of the Ordo lectionum Missae.
 For the 15th Sunday per annum (A), the short form is just the Parable of the Sower, with the disciples’ question to Jesus and the explanation of the Parable omitted (Mt. 13:1-23; short form = vv. 1-9); for the 16th Sunday per annum (A), the short form is just the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, with its explanation along with the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven omitted (Mt. 13:24-43; short form = vv. 24-30); for the 17th Sunday per annum (A), the last of the three Parables of the Kingdom along with the saying about treasures new and old are omitted (Mt. 13:44-52; short form = vv. 44-46).
 Indeed, this Gospel lection has been part of the Church’s liturgical patrimony for some considerable time, as homilies on this passage have come down to us from St Augustine (Serm. 90) and St John Chrysostom (Hom. Matt. 69) among others.
|St Luke, from the Gospel Book of Otto III, ca. 1000 AD|
Aña 2 Mittens Dominus * et alios ad praedicandum, dicebat illis: Messis quidem multa, operarii autem pauci. - The Lord, sending also others to preach, said to them: The harvest is great, but the workers are few.
Aña 3 Jesu Christi * Domini gratia, credentibus populis Doctores et Evangelistae sunt in ministerium fidei missi. - By the grace of Jesus Christ the Lord, Doctors and Evangelists were sent to the peoples that believe for the ministry of the Faith.
Aña 5 Labia eorum * salutarem disseminaverunt scientiam, opus sanctum, dignum, benedictione plenum fecerunt: ministerium sibi traditum devote impleverunt. - Their lips spread abroad the knowledge of salvation; they did a holy work, worthy and full of blessing; devoutly they fulfilled the ministry given to them.
Aña 6 Elegit eos * ex omni carne et dedit illis praecepta, et legem vitae et disciplinae. - He chose them from among all flesh, and gave them precepts, and the law of life and discipline.
Aña 8 Sapientiam eorum * narrabunt omnes populi, et laudem eorum pronuntiat omnis Ecclesia sanctorum. - All peoples shall tell of their wisdom, and all the Church of the Saints proclaims their praise.
Aña 9 Sapientiam antiquorum * exquisierunt sancti Evangelistae, et prophetarum dictis narrationem suam confirmaverunt. - The holy Evangelists sought out the wisdom of the ancients, and by the sayings of the prophets, confirmed their narration.
Aña 2 Dederunt * in celebratione operis sancti decus: ideo memoria eorum in benedictione est in sæculum sæculi. - They gave glory in the celebration of a holy work; therefore memory is in blessing for all ages.
Aña 3 Implevit eos * Dominus Spiritu sapientiae et intellectus; jucunditatem et exsultationem thesaurizavit super eos. - The Lord filled them with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding; He gathered rejoicing and exultation upon them.
Aña 4 Ex omni corde * laudaverunt nomen sanctum Domini, ut amplificarent nomen sanctitatis. - From all their heart they praised the holy name of the Lord, that they might magnify the name of holiness.
Aña 5 Datum est * opus eorum in veritate; ideo in terra sua duplicia possidebunt, et lætitia sempiterna erit eis in Christo. - Their work was given in truth; therefore in their land they shall have a double portion, and eternal happiness in Christ.
|Detail of the St John Altarpiece by Hans Memling, 1474-79, showing the vision of St John in Apocalypse 4.|
At the Magnificat of First Vespers Behold, I, John, saw a door was opened in heaven, and behold there was a throne set in heaven, and in the midst of the throne, and round about it were four living creatures, full of eyes before and behind; and they gave glory, and honor, and blessing to him that sitteth on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever.
Ad Bened. Aña In medio et in circuitu sedis Dei quattuor animalia senas alas habentia, oculis undique plena, non cessant nocte ac die dicere: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus omnipotens, qui erat et qui est, et qui venturus est.
At the Benedictus In the midst and round about the throne of God, four living creatures, having wings, full of eyes on all sides, rest not day and night, saying: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.
Ad Magn. Aña Tua sunt haec, Christe, opera, qui sanctos tuos ita glorificas, ut etiam dignitatis gratiam in eis futuram praeire miraculis facias: tu insignes Evangelii praedicatores animalium caelestium admirabili figura praesignasti: his namque caeleste munus collatum gloriosis indiciis es dignatus ostendere: hinc laus, hinc gloria tibi resonet in saecula.
At the Magnificat of Second Vespers These are Thy works, o Christ, who so glorify Thy Saints, that Thou also cause the grace of dignity that will be in them to be first preceded by miracles. Thou marked beforehand the wondrous preachers of the Gospel by the marvelous figure of the heavenly animals; for by these glorious signs, Thou deigned to show the heavenly gift given to them; hence let praise, hence glory resound to Thee forever.