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    Hans Memling, Last Judgment, 1467-1471
    In the usus antiquior, the Mass for the last Sunday after Pentecost and the Mass for the first Sunday of Advent feature parallel Gospel pericopes about the end of the world. These Gospels contain a number of striking verses that seem more relevant than ever — an abomination of desolation in the holy place, the warning against false Christs and false prophets so persuasive or powerful that they will tempt even the elect to go astray; the mention of Christ’s coming from the east, frequently mentioned by the Church fathers as one of the reasons why we worship facing eastwards, “awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13); but above all, in their concluding statements, which match exactly.

    The traditional Gospel for the last Sunday after Pentecost is taken from Saint Matthew, chapter 24, verses 13–25:
    At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: When you shall see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (he that readeth, let him understand), then they that are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains; and he that is on the housetop, let him not come down to take anything out of his house; and he that is in the field, let him not go back to take his coat. And woe to them that are with child, and that give suck, in those days. But pray that your flight be not in the winter, or on the sabbath: for there shall be then great tribulation, such as hath not been found from the beginning of the world until now neither shall be: and unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved; but for the sake of the elect, those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say to you: Lo, here is Christ, or there; do not believe him; for there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect. Behold I have told it to you beforehand: if therefore they shall say to you: Behold He is in the desert, go ye not out; behold He is in the closets, believe it not. For as lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Wheresoever the body shall be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together. And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be moved; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty; and He shall send His angels with a trumpet and a great voice, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them. And from the fig tree learn a parable: when the branch thereof is now tender, and the leaves come forth, you know that summer is nigh. So you also, when you shall see all these things, know ye that it is nigh even at the doors. Amen I say to you that this generation shall not pass till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.
    The traditional Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent one week later is taken from Saint Luke, chapter 21, verses 25–33:
    At that time Jesus said to His disciples: There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves: men withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world. For the powers of heaven shall be moved. And then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud with great power and majesty. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand. And He spoke to them a similitude: See the fig tree and all the trees: when they now shoot forth their fruit, you know that summer is nigh. So you also, when you shall see these things come to pass, know that the kingdom of God is at hand. Amen, I say to you, this generation shall not pass away till all things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but My words shall not pass away.
    With these final statements of Matthew and Luke — Cælum et terra transíbunt, verba autem mea non præteríbunt — Holy Mother Church sets a challenge, as it were, to the entire created order, throwing down the gauntlet to everyone and everything that would attempt to efface or corrupt the words of the Lord, the corrosive effects of long stretches of time, the explosive effects of cultural revolutions, the pervasive effects of original and actual sin. None of it, nothing, will cause the words of the Lord to pass away. Sooner will heaven and earth, the sun, moon, and stars, the land and the sea, and all creatures, pass away into the new heavens and the new earth. This is the solemn, apocalyptic, triumphant message with which the Church closes each liturgical year and immediately starts it again. It is as if the Church desires above all that we hear, and know, and impress forever on our souls, that Christ God is the one and only Teacher and Master (cf. Mt 23:10), that He alone has the words of eternal life (cf. Jn 6:68), that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).[1]

    We see a confirmation that this is, indeed, the mind of the Church when we turn to the traditional Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons for the Last Sunday after Pentecost. These antiphons, always derived from the day’s Gospel, provide an interpretive key to the Gospel in its entirety. They give us an authoritative angle from which to approach it, a truth we are especially urged to ponder, as we move from Lauds in the early morning to Vespers in the evening. The Benedictus antiphon is stark:
    When you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place: let him who reads understand.
    This antiphon brings before our eyes the frightening prospect of a massive desecration or desacralization, an emptying or evacuation of the temple, a violation of the innermost precincts of holiness comparable to the violent crime of rape. The abomination in question, whatever it is, is said to stand, as if firmly established, taking possession of the place, imparting to it its own qualities. So horrible is the prospect that the antiphon is not even a grammatically complete sentence: it trails off: When you see this… let the reader understand. What are we supposed to understand? There are almost as many opinions as there are commentators, but this much we can say: we are dealing here with an attack on the most sacred thing, an attack on the temple and what ought to be present in it.

    Then, almost as if to give us comfort and strength in the midst of this dire prophecy, the Magnificat antiphon tells us:
    Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have been accomplished. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away, says the Lord.
    There it is again: that ponderous and decisive verse, the simultaneously visible and invisible boundary that no heretic, no schismatic, no apostate, no infidel, may ever cross. Thus, for example, should anyone arise who dares to question or in any way weaken the indissolubility of marriage, he is met with the resounding voice of the Lord in Matthew 19: “What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. … I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.” Should anyone dare to set aside or relax the superior discipline of celibacy, he is met with “the voice of the Lord upon the waters” (cf. Ps 28:3) — the “many waters” of a millennium and a half of Catholic teaching clearly defending and confirming this discipline as an intimate counterpart to the calling to the clerical state, in which a cleric is made the husband of one wife, the Church.[2] As Challoner sums it up in his heading for Matthew 19: “Christ declares matrimony to be indissoluble: he recommends the making one’s self an eunuch for the kingdom of heaven; and parting with all things for Him. He shews the danger of riches, and the reward of leaving all to follow Him.”

    Against the backdrop of our times, the Benedictus antiphon puts us in mind of our liturgical crisis, while the Magnificat antiphon points to our moral and dogmatic crisis. This pair of antiphons reminds us anew of the indissoluble marriage between the lex orandi and the lex credendi.

    The usus antiquior Gospels end and begin each liturgical year in a seamless overlap that illustrates and evokes the continuity between time rushing to its end and the now of eternity. The stability of this pair’s recurrence allows us to sense how the words of the Church at prayer and the eternal Word of God in glory are profoundly united — a mystery well expressed in Eliot’s Four Quartets:
    …the end precedes the beginning,
    And the end and the beginning were always there
    Before the beginning and after the end.
    In my beginning is my end.
    A final observation: it is not only the Gospels that seamlessly overlap, but the Collects of the Masses as well. The Collect of the Last Sunday after Pentecost begins with the audacious imperative that will characterize several of the Collects of Advent: "Excita, quaesumus, Domine..."
    Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the wills of Thy faithful: that more earnestly seeking this fruit of the divine work, they may receive more abundantly the remedies of Thy loving kindness. Through our Lord...
    One week later, in the newly begun penitential season of Advent, Holy Mother Church cries out in the same manner:
    Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy power, and come: that from the threatening dangers of our sins we may deserve to be rescued by Thy protection, and to be saved by Thy deliverance: Who livest and reignest with God the Father…
    We see here the lex orandi reminding us that without God's grace powerfully at work in our wills, we can do nothing pleasing to Him or salvific of our souls; that the fruit we must seek is precisely the Holy One of Israel, the fruit of the opus Dei of the Mass; and that in so seeking, we shall find healing, protection, deliverance. This is a message of and for the end times in which we are always living, and the end we are progressively nearing with the passing of each liturgical year. Excita, Domine: stir up our languid and passive wills, make us actively hunger and thirst for Thy righteousness, now and forever. Amen.


    [1] Apart from a general eschatological atmosphere, the reformed calendar with its “Ordinary Time” and the lectionary with its three Sunday cycles makes no such specific connection between the end of the Temporal cycle and its beginning, nor, as I shall show later this week, between the end of the Sanctoral cycle and its beginning.

    [2] See Ignace de la Potterie, S.J., “The Biblical Foundation of Priestly Celibacy.”

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    I have just been creating a new online course on the mathematics of beauty, as part of which, I wanted to show how to represent the symbolic meaning of number in the context of the liturgy, in such a way that it might deepen participation. The obvious way to do this is to have a pattern with the symmetry of the number. This will require also some catechesis of the congregations, so that they are reminded of what it is pointing to every time they see it.

    It can be part of the decoration of the church, incidental, as it were, to the structure,

    or it can be more intimately and obviously bound with the form of the church, as it is in the medieval rose window. Here is a window dating from about 1500 in the cathedral at Amiens in France.

    It is important to awaken our innate sense of the symbolism of the natural world and all that is created, as this also stimulates our natural sense of the divine. The awe and wonder that we feel when we contemplate the world around us is, for all its seeming profundity, little better than a shallow emotion generated artificially by a drug if we stop there and do not allow it to draw us closer to its source, which is God. This is its true consummation: we are made to see the glory of God in His creation, and it will be to His greater glory and our greater joy if we allow the beauty of the world to take us to what it points to.

    We can consider this to be a form of relationship. Creation is in relationship to its Creator. By virtue of its existence, it is relational, for it is connected to its Creator by the mark of divine beauty which He has impressed upon it. This interconnectivity of all that exists, therefore, is not a mental construct thrust upon the cosmos artificially by mankind. Rather, it is a property of the object that we see. All being is relational by nature, a patterned lattice that has the Creator at its heart.

    As created beings ourselves, we also participate in this dynamic, seeing a natural connection between ourselves and the rest of the cosmos. All of mankind is endowed by the Creator with intellect and the capacity to observe the world around us in such as way that we can derive from it an understanding of our place within it. Ultimately, this points to and sheds light on our relationship with the Creator.

    Part of our task as people seeking to evangelize the world is to re-awaken the final link in the chain of connection between creation and Creator by re-establishing a culture that is rooted in this principle of interconnectivity through its beauty. This process of evangelization of the culture begins in the church, in which all that we perceive and all that we do participates in this language of symbol and is there to connect us to God.

    Coming back to the symbolism of number, it is widely accepted, even in the secular culture, that the natural world is connected to mathematics. The connection is so strong that, for example, few if any doubt the power of mathematics to help the natural scientist describe the processes of the natural world. However, I think we should stop for a moment and consider about this - it need not automatically be the case. Once I realised this, it became a source of great wonder to me that the abstract world of mathematics is so intimately bound in its structure with the behaviour of the natural world.

    This had to be noticed before the connection could be made, and it is a figure such as Boethius commented, in his De Institutione Arithmetica, (1.2) that “number was the principal exemplar in the mind of the Creator.” From this is derived the pattern of its existence that the scientist observes.

    The natural scientist of today is generally less aware of the symbolism that runs through both nature and mathematics. The medieval thinker would not have rejected the method of today’s natural scientists, but would have added to his description of the natural world the symbolic language of number, which is largely forgotten today. If scientists were to do this today, the technology which they use would enhance their work, and allow its applications to grow in harmony with the flourishing of man. The proponent of sacred number has something that can help him to be a better scientist, rather than stand in conflict with him.

    Geometry expresses number in space through matter, which why geometric patterned art ought to be right at the heart of the evangelization of the culture and any sacred art. It is also why the study of the symbolic meaning of number in conjunction with the study of geometry is so important in a Catholic education today. What I propose is a study of geometry that is so much deeper, and more exciting than the dull task of memorizing Euclidian proofs, which sadly seems to be the way it is taught in Great Books schools today. Such a study would connect the pattern of the universe to the creative impulse of man, so that the beauty of the culture can direct us to God even more powerfully than the most beautiful sunset you have ever seen.

    This is why I would like to see the rebirth of the Rose Window in our new churches. This is more than simple decoration; if done well, it has the power to stimulate in us a profound sense of our place in the world and in relation to God. Assuming that, even if we got as far as putting them in churches, the catechesis available would be minimal or poor (we’re Catholics!), they would need to be designed in such a way that the symbolism was obvious. There is no reason why Scriptural quotes or other texts could not be added in order to make their symbolism clear, as may also be done in figurative art.

    Here I give some examples of such windows with three-, four-, five- and seven-fold symmetry. I have obtained these photographs from a great resource that I discovered online called, run by Painton Cowen, who kindly gave us permission to reproduce his photographs here. This sitehas photos of windows based upon numbers that aren’t typically used with Christian symbolism, 11 and 13, for example. I would want to consider carefully the basis of these before replicating them today. The past has must to teach us, but not everything that it tells us is true!

    Here are some images.

    Three, 15th century, Barrien, France

    Four and three in a quincunx arrangement of five objects, 15th century, Agen, France

    Five, Exeter, England, 13/14th century

    Seven, Beaulieu en Rouergue, France, possibly 14th century

    If you want to know more about the symbolism of number and the philosophy behind it, I suggest that you either read The Way of Beauty or take the course The Mathematics of Beauty, which will soon be offered at www.Pontifex.University, through the Masters in Sacred Arts program.

    In the meantime...believe it or not, lucky thirteen! Larino Duomo, Italy, 

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    The PBS NewsHour Youtube channel has posted a great video from the PBS/NPR affiliate in Nebraska, NET, about the Fraternity of St Peter’s seminary in Denton, Nebraska, and specifically about their best-selling recording of the traditional funeral services, titled “Requiem.”

    As a seminarian interviewed in the video says, “Here we’re singing sacred music, Gregorian chant. We’re not necessarily performing the music, we’re praying the music.” Feliciter!

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    As anyone who has ever used an altar missal or a hand missal knows, the traditional Missale Romanum is laid out in different sections: the Temporal cycle, beginning with the first Sunday of Advent and culminating in the last Sunday after Pentecost; the Sanctoral cycle, beginning with the Vigil of St. Andrew (if one is using the pre-1955 edition) or the commemoration of St. Saturninus with the Feast of St. Andrew on its heels (if one is following the 1962 edition) and ending with the Abbot St. Sylvester Gozzolini on November 26; the Commons, beginning with the Vigils of Apostles (pre-1955) or the Popes (post-1955) and ending with the Blessed Virgin Mary; the votive Masses; and lastly, diverse prayers, the Mass for the Dead, and local Masses.

    While missals have not always been organized thus,[1] it is obvious that the Temporal cycle as it has existed for quite some time makes perfect sense: we say that the Church’s liturgical year begins with the season of Advent and ends with the last Sunday after Pentecost. But, taking St. Andrew as the official beginning of the Sanctoral cycle[2] and Abbot St. Sylvester as its official ending, can we discern a similar fittingness to the way this cycle is set forth in the Missale Romanum?

    Before proceeding further, I would like to make two qualifications. First, Abbot St. Sylvester Gozzolini, O.S.B. (1177-1267), founder of the “Sylvestrines,” is a relatively late addition to the General Calendar, having been introduced by Pope Leo XIII in 1890. As a result, he is not found on the calendars of some dioceses and of a number of religious orders.[3] Nevertheless, for the vast majority of Catholics who worship with the usus antiquior, the last saint in the Sanctoral is, in fact, Abbot St. Sylvester.

    Second, while the medieval commentators on Scripture (such as William Durandus) say very little about the relationship between the Temporal and Sanctoral cycles, and while many details are initially the result of chance or practicality, we nevertheless know that the liturgy, as it organically develops under the care of Divine Providence, often exhibits a remarkable fittingness in the arrangement or disposition of its parts that goes well beyond the limited scope of human intentions.[4] This is the reason why we can aim the question of fittingness at any aspect of the liturgy and expect to find plausible answers, even as the medieval allegorists could look at the ceremonial actions — the kissing of the altar, the turning around of the priest, the making of signs of the cross — and see in them representations of phases in the life of Christ or of His bitter Passion.[5] Thus, there is every reason for us to offer a symbolic explanation of why the traditional Sanctoral begins and ends as it does.

    St. Sylvester Gozzolini, O.S.B.
    Let us begin with the ending. As my St. Andrew Daily Missal explains, St. Sylvester “owed his religious vocation to the sight of a relative’s dead body. He at first lived a solitary life, but later founded a monastery under the Rule of St. Benedict.” The slightly macabre story of his “conversion” in the old-fashioned sense of the term is, in fact, thematized in the Collect of the feast:
    Most merciful God, who, when the holy abbot Sylvester, by the side of an open grave, stood meditating on the emptiness of the things of the world, didst vouchsafe to call him into the wilderness and to ennoble him with the merit of a singularly holy life: most humbly we beg of Thee, that like him, we may despise earthly things, and enjoy fellowship with Thee for evermore. Through our Lord.
    We are not surprised to find the theme of “despising earthly things” in our pursuit of the unum necessarium, since it is a defining feature of the spirituality of the traditional liturgy.[6] We find it present, for example, in the potent Secret of the Last Sunday after Pentecost, which reads, in part: “...turn to Thyself the hearts of us all, that we may be freed from earthly covetings and pass over to heavenly desires [omnium nostrum ad te corda converte, ut a terrenis cupiditatibus liberati, ad coelestia desideria transeamus].” Yet the Collect of St. Sylvester takes on a peculiar appropriateness, falling as it does in the season of Fall. At least in climates of the northern hemisphere, the end of the liturgical year coincides with the time when the natural world darkens and sleeps. The vegetation has lost much of its green, as if the viridescence of the Pentecost season has finally worn off for sheer remoteness from its origin (“when the Son of Man returns, will He find faith left on the earth?”); leaves have browned and fallen to the ground like so many bodies of mortal beings ready to corrupt in their graves. Notable for its melancholy associations, the autumn is nature’s season of letting go and preparing for the long winter that precedes the paschal season of Spring and its supernatural analogue of resurrection. Indeed, the month of November is observed as the month of the dead, and we should see in this no mere accidental association with All Saints.[7]

    The traditional Sanctoral, in fact, seems to concentrate our attention on what might be called “personal eschatology”: each of us must be vigilant, sober, ready for the coming of Christ our Judge. The eschatological note of the end of the year was furnished by the Gospels for the feasts of St. Cecilia on November 22nd (Matthew 25:1–13, the wise and foolish virgins) and of Pope St. Clement on November 23rd (Matthew 24:42–47, “be watchful, for you know not the hour…”). The former Gospel was then repeated on November 25th when St. Catherine’s feast took off in the West after the 11th century. Add to this the intensity of the prayers that were appointed for St. John of the Cross on November 24th (not December 14th as in the Pauline missal), and one sees an escalating theme of mortification with a view to our sinful mortality and our longed-for immortality.

    Instead of wrapping the end of the liturgical year in the otherworldly, Teilhardian triumphalism of “Christ the King of the Universe,”[8] the feast of St. Sylvester on November 26 lends this juncture a more sober, introspective and retrospective note, as of a memento mori: look at the dead body in the open grave and see your own end; meditate on this in preparation for the start of Advent, when we celebrate the coming of the One who saves man from his sinfulness and mortality; see through the pomps and vanities of what the world counts as valuable, and set your sights on holiness, in imitation of the many saints who, beginning with the precursor St. John the Baptist, sought out the wilderness, or rather, sought God who called them and ennobled them. There is something of irony or paradox in the way the traditional liturgy winds down the year and starts it up again — as if illustrating T.S. Eliot’s line: “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.”[9] At least, that is how the world ends at the death of each one of us, at the moment we breathe our last. The quiet of the grave leads to the quiet of a wintry season that brings before our eyes a poor family, a stable, a manger, an infant in swaddling clothes, and no prospect of divine victory — except for the almost imperceptibly increasing daylight.

    Turning to the beginning of the Sanctoral cycle, we find traditionally the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle on November 30th. Since the Sanctoral is concerned with remembering, venerating, and calling upon the disciples of the Lord, it is supremely fitting that the first saint is St. Andrew, who is the first disciple of the Lord in His public ministry. The Byzantine Church gives to Andrew the official liturgical epithet “Πρωτόκλητος,” that is, “the first-called,” and we see in the Roman calendar’s arrangement an analogous priority and prominence.

    In this way, the Sanctoral as printed in the altar missal and in our daily missals reflects the priority of the calling of the disciple of Christ — “Come, follow Me” — and the necessary self-renunciation and via crucis this will entail, as we follow Him to eternal glory. We are to follow Christ, “in whom the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9), rather than the emptiness of the things of this world. The entire Christian life is a passage through the wilderness to reach the fellowship of the promised land — and of this passage, the Sanctoral cycle, in general and in detail, is a vivid representation.

    The feast of the Apostle Andrew has been celebrated for over a thousand years, while that of Abbot St. Sylvester has been celebrated only for a century and a quarter. But if one views the liturgical calendar as being like the construction of a great cathedral — say, that of Milan, which was begun in 1386 and was officially ended in 1965, taking almost 600 years to complete — we see how its development adds stone after stone, statue after statue, until the whole structure is finished. In adding St. Sylvester Gozzolini to the Sanctoral, Pope Leo XIII added a fitting final stone to the Sanctoral structure, making it yet more spiritually fruitful for those who avail themselves of the usus antiquior.

    As a postscript, one must sadly point out that the way in which the new (Pauline) Roman Missal arranges the Sanctoral cycle departs from the framework, stable for over half a millennium, that starts on the cusp of December and ends in the last week of November. In a move illustrative of the conflation of aggiornamento with secularization, the new Sanctoral cycle conforms itself to the now-triumphant secular calendar by starting on January 1st (actually, January 2nd) and ending on December 31st, even though these dates have no special significance in the liturgical year as it unfolds from Advent to the season after Pentecost. The usus antiquior, in its Temporal and Sanctoral cycles alike, bears consistent witness to a more ancient and more authoritative structuring of time.

    The beginning of the Sanctoral in the Novus Ordo


    [1] There was no uniformity in the layout of missals in the Middle Ages. The very oldest liturgical books began the Temporal cycle with the vigil of Christmas, and ended with Advent (if they had it; some don’t), while the feasts of the Saints were woven in among the Temporal Masses. Obviously, this was not a very satisfactory arrangement, since things move relative to the Temporal every year. Later on, when the Temporal and Sanctoral Masses were separated, one finds books in which St. Andrew is the first Saint, but others in which it is St. Hilary on January 14, since all of the Saints from December 26 to January 13 were integrated into the Temporal.

    [2] I speak of Andrew as coming first because the Vigil of his feast, which was observed until the drastic changes of Pope Pius XII in 1954, did come first and obviously took precedence over the Commemoration of St. Saturninus. Therefore it is more correct to say that the Roman Sanctoral begins with St. Andrew. The collateral damage of the removal of this Vigil included the loss of the Gospel unique to it, John 1:35–51. As if to make reparation, the 1962 Missale Romanum included a new votive Mass for Vocations featuring this Gospel.

    [3] For example, the Franciscans, along with a large number of Italian dioceses, observe on this day St. Leonard of Port Maurice; the Dominicans never received his feast, but have one of their blesseds on that day, and, before 1911, were running the octave of St. Catherine of Alexandria; the Carmelites were running the octaves of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of St. John of the Cross, the Cistercians never received him, etc. He was removed without compunction by the Consilium in its revision of the General Calendar in the late 1960s.

    [4] It makes no difference whether those who disposed the parts consciously intended a certain signification; for they are working with pieces that are ultimate provided to them by God and are orchestrared by Him into a whole that is greater not only than its part, but even than the sum total of its parts.

    [5] The number of such interpretations, moreover, is indefinite, for the same reason that Scripture may be legitimately interpreted in many (perhaps even infinitely many) different ways, as St. Augustine explains in De Doctrina Christiana.

    [6] As I recently demonstrated here in “A Tale of Two Collects: Different Worldviews in Old and New Prayers.”

    [7] All the more, then, is it necessary for symbolic reasons that Christ the King take place at the end of October, prior to this season of decline.

    [8] See my article at OnePeterFive, "Between Christ the King and 'We Have No King But Caesar.'"

    [9] From Eliot's poem “The Hollow Men.”

    My thanks to Gregory DiPippo for assistance with this post.

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    The crypt and church of St John “Domnarum - of the Women” in the city of Pavia, was founded about the year 654 by a Lombard queen named Gundeperga, daughter of King Agilulf and Queen Teodolinda. (We published photos of the chapel dedicated to her mother back in January.) Its name derives from its original purpose as the women’s baptistery of the city; it was also Gundeperga’s burial place. Since the Lombards were Arians, and only slowly converted to Catholicism, it may very well have been the first Catholic place of worship in Pavia.

    The crypt, whose very existence was forgotten for centuries, was rediscovered in 1914 by Mons. Faustino Gianani, who began digging for it after researching the history of the church. A good deal of fresco work was found from the 12th century, in varying states of preservation. Here are some photos taken by our Ambrosian correspondent Nicola de’ Grandi during a recent visit.

    Frescoed vaulting dated 1140-60
    St Eventius, an early bishop of Pavia
    St Theophilus, a local warrior Saint.

    St John the Baptist proclaiming “Behold the Lamb of God.”

    St Syrus, traditionally said to be first bishop of Pavia; to the left, part of St Gregory the Great.

    Two local warriors Saints.
    As with so many buildings of the Middle Ages, the crypt was largely constructed with building materials despoiled from early Roman buildings.

    An inscription commemorating the rediscovery of the crypt.

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    Early risers in the East Bay area of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, and other locals who, in the quasi-penitential spirit of Advent, are willing to rouse themselves before dawn on a Saturday morning, may wish to attend this “Rorate Mass” at Holy Ghost Church in Tiverton, Rhode Island — a Missa cantata celebrated by Father Jay Finelli (the “iPadre”). (Holy Ghost Parish has been the subject of NLM posts several times, most recently HERE). Tapers and Mass propers will be provided. Coffee and doughnuts will be available in the church hall immediately after Mass. The church is located at 316 Judson Street in Tiverton, Rhode Island.

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    As Henri de Villiers discussed earlier this year in a series of four articles, it is a universal Christian custom to approach Easter gradually, first in a Fore-lent, followed by Lent proper, then Holy Week, within which the Sacred Triduum forms a distinct part. (See “The Antiquity and Universality of Fore-Lent”: part one; part two; part three; part four.)

    The Roman Rite traditionally has a series of subtle transitions within the nine-week period from Septuagesima to Easter which is unique to itself, although in some regards later imitated by other western rites. Ash Wednesday is a Roman invention, instituted somewhat later than Lent; its Divine Office, together with that of the three days “after the ashes”, is distinct from that of Lent proper. Passiontide is also a uniquely Roman development, with ritual customs like the veiling of images, and textual variants like the omission of the doxology from the Mass, which are not part of the first four weeks of Lent. Even more notable is the particular character of the Triduum, during which the Mass and Office are stripped very bare, before all things are restored in the splendor of Easter.

    Tenebrae at Holy Innocents in New York City, 2016 (Photo by Diana Yuan)
    In the post-Conciliar reform, this series of transitions has been largely removed, or the features that accentuated the differences between them made optional. Septuagesima was suppressed, while the days “after the ashes” and Passiontide were in most respects assimilated to the rest of Lent. Some of the most traditional features of these periods, such as the complete omission of the doxology during the Triduum, were also suppressed. Among those made optional, we may note the veiling of statues and images, (happily making a strong comeback), and the use of the Passiontide hymns in what is now called the fifth week of Lent.

    At the same time, however, a series of transitions very much like what was traditionally observed before Easter was instituted for the weeks leading up to Christmas.

    This newly created series begins with the feast of Christ the King, moved from its original place on the Sunday before All Saints (Mystical Head before Mystical Body) to the last Sunday of the liturgical year. It is no secret that its texts were recast to remove almost every reference to the purpose for which Pope Pius XI created it in 1925, namely, to assert and celebrate the doctrine of the Social Kingship of Christ. Like so many Catholic things, this had become suddenly and mysteriously quite unfashionable in the heady years after the most recent ecumenical council. (Fr Hunwicke has written very well about this, as he always does.)

    The new version of the feast emphasizes the eschatological reign of Christ at the end of the world. The Collect, for example is changed, with the removal of the words in italics. “Almighty and everlasting God, who in thy beloved Son, the King of the whole world, hast willed to restore all things: mercifully grant that all the families of nations, now kept apart by the wound of sin, may be subjected to His most sweet rule.” In the new Missal, it reads, “Almighty and everlasting God, who in thy beloved Son, the King of the whole world, hast willed to restore all things: mercifully grant that all creation, delivered from servitude, may serve Thy majesty and praise Thee without end.

    In the traditional Roman Rite, the collect of the last Sunday of the year forms a trait d’union with Advent. Like four of the Advent Collects (those of the 1st, 2nd and 4th Sundays, plus the Ember Friday), it begins with the word “Excita – Stir up.” Unlike those of Advent, however, it is addressed to God the Father. “Stir up, we beseech Thee, o Lord, the wills of Thy faithful, that they, more willingly bringing forth the fruit of divine work, may receive more abundantly the assistance of Thy loving kindness.” The new rite retains this collect without alteration for the weekdays following Christ the King. (Most of the Collects of Advent, and of this season alone, are traditionally addressed to God the Son, to symbolize how the world longed for His coming; here, the new rite has obscured the transition by changing them to address the Father.)

    On the same weekdays in the Liturgy of the Hours, the Dies irae is given as a hymn, split into three parts for the Office of Readings, Lauds and Vespers. In his book Te decet laus, Dom Anselmo Lentini, O.S.B., who headed the committee that revised the Office hymns, leaves little doubt as to his low opinion of its removal from the Requiem Mass, describing it as something which the faithful knew very well and sung with enthusiasm. His committee decided to give it a place in the Office, lest it be lost altogether from the liturgy, since the revisers of the Mass had decided that death was henceforth to be treated as a rather cheerier affair. Although its use is optional, its presence in theory continues the new eschatological theme of Christ the King through the rest of the week.

    The Prophet Daniel and the Cumean Sybil, by Michelangelo Buonarroti, in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, 1508-12. In accordance with a tradition known to the Fathers, it was believed the the pagan prophetesses known as the Sybils had also foretold the coming of Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of the human race. This is referred to in the Dies Irae in the words “Teste David et Sibilla - as David and the Sybil witness.” 
    This theme is further emphasized by the choice of Mass readings for the same period. In year 1, they are taken from the book of Daniel, culminating with his vision of the Ancient of Days, and of strife among the kingdoms of the world, represented by wild animals. (chapter 7) In year 2, readings from the Apocalypse (properly censored to avoid some potentially unpleasant ideas or images) begin in the 33rd week, and continue after Christ the King. On Friday of the last week, the vision of “a great white throne, and one sitting upon it, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away,” cleverly parallels the Friday reading of year 1.

    The week’s Gospel readings, which are the same in both years, conclude the lectio continua of St Luke with all but the last two verses of chapter 21: the widow’s mite (1-4), Our Lord’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (5-24), and the signs of His coming at the end of the world (25-36). The last two sections are Luke’s parallel to the Gospel traditional read on the last Sunday of the year, Matthew 24, 15-35, and the traditional Gospel of First Advent (Luke 21, 25-33), partially retained in year C.

    Having thus created a special preparatory period right before Advent, analogous to Septuagesima, the new rite also intensifies a traditional distinction within Advent between its first and second parts, analogous to the distinction between Lent and Passiontide. This distinction was traditionally marked by the singing of the O antiphons at Vespers, and the special antiphons that go with them at Lauds and the minor Hours. In the new rite, these features of the Office for the last days of Advent have all been retained as far as possible within its new structure. Furthermore, special hymns never previously used in the Roman Breviary have been added to this period, much as Passiontide is distinguished from Lent most particularly by its hymns.

    The Gospels of the season are traditionally divided into two groups, one before and one after the Ember Days. The first three move backwards, from the end of the world (1st Sunday, Luke 21, 25) to St John the Baptist in prison (2nd Sunday, Matthew, 11, 2-10), to the beginning of his ministry (3rd Sunday, John 1, 19-28). With the Gospel of the Annunciation on Ember Wednesday, and that of the Visitation on Ember Friday, the Church begins looking forward again, to the manifestation of Christ’s Incarnation on Christmas Day.

    The Annunciation, by Jan de Beer, 1520, now in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid (Public domain image from Wikimedia.)
    The new Mass lectionary expands the corpus of readings very considerably, and although the Ember Days were removed, the distinction between the first and second parts of Advent remains. Until December 16th, the Sunday Gospels stick to the traditional themes, centered on the end of the world and St John the Baptist, although the order in which they are presented is changed. The weekday Gospels focus on miracles and discourses; it has to be said that as a group, they give the impression that the committee was struggling to find passages suitable to the season.

    When December 17th comes, however, the theme switches to the events leading up to Christ’s birth, in the first chapters of Matthew and Luke. From the former are read the Genealogy of Christ and the Angel’s appearance to St Joseph (verses 1-17 and 18-24); from the latter, the Angel’s appearance to Zachariah and the conception of John the Baptist (5-25), the Annunciation (26-38), the Visitation (39-45), the Magnificat (46-56), the birth of the Baptist (57-66), and the Benedictus (67-79). Three of these Gospels are assigned to the Fourth Sunday of Advent, which always occurs between December 17th and 24th. (Year A, Matt. 1, 18-24; B, the Annunciation; C, the Visitation.)

    We therefore have, in the Christmas cycle of the post-Conciliar rite, the parallel of Septuagesima in the redesigned feast of Christ the King and the weekdays that follow it, the parallel of Lent in the first part of Advent, and the parallel of Passiontide in the second part of Advent.

    A second part of this article will examine the changes to the liturgy of Christmas Eve.

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    Today is the Feast of St Andrew who, as an Apostle, is mentioned in the Roman Canon of the Mass.
    Before he was called to follow Christ he was a follower of John the Baptist, and like him, he is depicted with unkempt hair.

    Here are two more icons that caught my eye. The second of the two was painted by Sr Petra Clare; it now hangs in Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland. I remember seeing it many times when I visited.

    The cross upon which he was martyred, during the persecution of Nero has a characteristic X shape. As someone from the British Isles, I am well aware of this because he is the patron saint of Scotland, and the Scottish flag depicts it symbolically. This was incorporated into the Union Jack sometime after the formal union of the two countries in the 18th century.

    The martyrdom itself is depicted in Western portrayals of the Saint. For example here is one by Rubens in characteristically dramatic style. In accordance with tradition he is shown bound, not nailed, to the cross.

    Andrew was the brother of St Peter and the portrayal of the calling of the two as fishermen who will become 'fishers of men' is another common scene in Western portrayals, such as this one by Duccio di Buoninsegna.

    Here he is represented in an early mosaic from Ravenna; note that Christ is beardless. (I do not know who the figure in the toga is on the right.)

     Below is a baroque painting of the same scene.
    The Calling of St. Peter and St. Andrew, c.1626-30 (oil on canvas) by Cortona, Pietro da (Berrettini) (1596-1669); 28.7x57.4 cm; Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, UK; Italian, out of copyright
    This is one of a series of articles written to highlight the great feasts and the saints of the Roman Canon. All are connected to a single opening essay, in which I set out principles by which we might create a canon of art for Roman Rite churches, and a schema that would guide the placement of such images in a church. (Read it here.) In these, I plan to cover the key elements of images of the Saints of the Roman Canon - Eucharistic Prayer I - and the major feasts of the year. I have created the tag Canon of Art for Roman Rite to group these together, should any be interested in seeing these articles as they accumulate. For the fullest presentation of the principles of sacred art for the liturgy, take the Master’s of Sacred Arts, www.Pontifex.University.

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    The church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Brooklyn, New York, located at 245 Prospect Park West, will have a Solemn Mass in EF starting at 5:00. There will also be confessions heard from 4:15 until the start of Mass. Readers may remember Holy Name as the subject of a beautifully done de-wreckovation almost four years ago.

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    On October 29, Old St Patrick’s Oratory in Kansas City, Missouri, an apostolate of the Institute of Christ the King, welcomed Bishop Athanasius Schneider for the celebration of a baptism in the traditional Pontifical Rite. I am told that this was a first not only for the church, but also for His Excellency and the ICK clerics at this church. Once again, I take the opportunity, at the beginning of the second decade of Summorum Pontificum, to point out what an encouraging sign this is. It is true that apart from the Mass, Pontifical ceremonies are still fairly rare, even those as simple of a baptism, but 10 years ago, they were almost completely unheard of. This is the 3rd or 4th one of which we have published pictures on NLM, and just among my own friends and acquaintances, I know of several other such occasions; we will certainly see many more in the years and decades to come.

    Yes, this is where you find the young people...
    ...and their kids.
    Blessed Karl, pray for us!

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    Dear readers,

    Perhaps you can help identify an object that was found in strorage at the Episcopalian diocese of Oregon office.  A Episcopalian priest of the diocese has asked  my help, but I myself haven't a clue.

    Notice that this glass dish has a cover with four holes in it.  I would have assumed a dish for chrism, but I don't understand the need for the holes.   Three photographs of the object follow:

    Thanks for your help!

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    St Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Chicago, under the care of the Congregation of the Resurrection, is returning to the historical custom of the Church and facing East for the Advent and Christmas season. The pastor, Fr Anthony Bus C.R., posted this very nice explanation for the change on the parish’s Facebook page, which we reproduce here with permission. (Click to enlarge.)

    Mass on the Patronal Feast this November.

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    St Hyacinth Parish in Detroit will have an EF Missa cantata for the first Sunday of Advent, celebrated by a newly ordained Jesuit priest, Fr Stephen Wolfe. The Mass will start at 1:30 pm; the church is located at 3151 Farnsworth St.

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    As many people are aware, surveys are being taken throughout the world to canvas the views of the Young People™ who will be the topic of a synod be held next year in Rome. A few days ago, the Catholic Herald published an article about the results of the survey in England and Wales, made public by the local Bishops’ Conference, and what it says is not especially encouraging. NOT, I hasten to add, because of what the respondents to the survey said, but because of the analysis of it.

    “Describing the two main groups, the report said the first is ‘a small but vocal group who want to draw the Church back into an era which they have been told (my emphasis) was far better than it is today’. The other group, which the report describes as ‘much larger, though less evident’ (come again?), adheres to the “predominant narratives in society, wanting the Church to follow suit”.

    Of course, if this analysis is correct, it is appalling that the majority of young people in the Church today “adhere to the predominant narratives in society and want the Church to follow suit.” At the same time, it is also so completely unsurprising that one hardly bothers why they needed to have a survey to begin with. Chesterton very rightly once said “We do not want a church that will move with the world. We want a church that will move the world.” This statement is every bit as true if you change the verb“want” to “need”, and young people know this just as well as anybody else.

    But frankly, I find the presence of that phrase “which they have been told” every bit as appalling. It carries a condescending assumption that if the Young People™ are looking back at the tradition and heritage which is rightly theirs, and which no one has the right to deprive them of, that they could not be doing so of their own initiative, but are ignorant and being misled. Again, if this is what people are hearing when they “listen” to the young Catholics who love the Faith and the traditions through which they live it, why bother with a survey? Or as this fellow put it (from the Catholic Memes Facebook page):

    And this fellow as well:

    In my humble opinion, we should strongly encourage the future participants in the Synod to watch this video from the folks at the hilarious Youtube channel Lutheran Satire, who have really hit the nail on the head when it comes to evangelizing the young. Perhaps as an ecumenical gesture to mark the fifth centenary of Protestantism...
    Hat-tip to the Hat-maker!

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  • 12/03/17--10:24: First Sunday of Advent 2017
  • Indeed, when the most holy Gregory poured forth prayers to the Lord, that he might give him the gift of music for the chants, then the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the likeness of a dove, and enlightened his heart; and so at last he began to sing, saying thus: Introit To thee have I lifted up my soul; in thee, O my God, I put my trust; let me not be ashamed. Neither let my enemies laugh at me: for none of them that wait on thee shall be confounded. Psalm Show, O Lord, thy ways to me, and teach me thy paths. Glory be... To thee...” (The Introit for the First Sunday of Advent, preceded by a Trope of the 11th or 12th century. The trope reflects the ancient tradition that Pope St Gregory the Great established the order of chants for the liturgical year in the Roman Rite.)
    Sanctíssimus namque Gregorius cum preces effúnderet ad Dóminum ut músicum donum ei désuper in carmínibus dedísset, tunc descéndit Spíritus Sanctus super eum, in spécie colúmbæ, et illustrávit cor ejus, et sic demum exórtus est cánere, ita dicéndo: Introitus Ad te levavi animam meam: Deus meus, in te confido, non erubescam: neque irrideant me inimici mei: etenim universi qui te exspectant, non confundentur. Ps. Vias tuas, Domine, demonstra mihi, et semitas tuas edoce me.

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    The season of Advent has always felt to me as if it is, and should be, a time of quiet meditation. Moving in a direction contrary to that of secular society in its frenzied rush towards Christmas exhaustion, a Catholic ought to be able to push away the distractions and focus on preparing inwardly for the mystery of the coming of Christ — the One who has come into the world as Savior, the One who will come at the end of time as Judge, the One who comes into my soul by His grace. And the sacred liturgy, it seems to me, ought to help us to be still, to be receptive, to be attuned to His voice. Ideally, it should immerse us in an expectant silence from which true and redemptive joy can proceed.

    As the liturgy developed historically and its ritual and aesthetic elements became more fully developed, it seems that the Christian clergy and people followed an unerring instinct towards the creation of prayers, chants, and ceremonies that allow TIME for the soul to absorb the meaning of what is happening.

    This psychological-spiritual opening up of space and time for the soul’s growth is accomplished in many ways in different rites or rituals. It is done through repetitious prayers, as in the Byzantine litanies, many of them redundant, though always eloquently worded; it is done through periods of silence in between periods of proclamation; it is done through motions, processions, non-verbal actions; it is done most of all through meditative chants that do not seem to be in any hurry to be finished, and which allow the mind a certain holy leisure or rest. There are repetitions, gaps, spaces, pauses, and visual signs that do not demand of the mind the constant tackling of new ideas or concepts, but permit it to dwell or linger somewhere before moving on.

    The liturgy is like a winding path up a steep mountain, with open ledges on which one can rest before continuing. In this way, it emulates the spiral motion, the combination of the straight and the circular, that Pseudo-Dionysius envisages as the soul’s path into God. There is a forward progression, yes, but it takes its time winding around, in order to move up at a human pace. Attempting to go straight up or straight in would defeat us.

    The classical Roman Rite of Mass, particularly in the form of the High Mass or Solemn Mass, admirably displays the spiritual pedagogy of the spiral motion, the frequent ledges, the moments of prayerful repose before continuing on with our climb up Mount Calvary, Mount Tabor, Mount Sion. In contrast, the Novus Ordo is designed in a manner contrary to this spiritual pedagogy, and thwarts the soul’s ascent up the holy mountain.

    The Processions

    Traditional liturgical rites of East and West are fertile in processions. We are pilgrims and we act out our condition. A town, the grounds of a church, the church building inside, offer a symbolic geography to be covered and converted as we move from point to point. The time it takes for a leisurely procession is one of the most important “burnt offerings” we can raise up, since our time is, in a way, our life and energy.

    The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in particular, should open with a stately, unrushed procession of splendidly vested ministers towards the sanctuary, accompanied by grand music (instrumental or choral or both). Those ministers represent us, and we are walking with them towards the Holy of Holies. This is a solemn and wonderful moment, with its own distinctive meaning and satisfaction. Why do we completely spoil the effect by asking people to put their noses in a hymn book? The choir or schola should be lifting up our minds to God and allowing us to experience this procession as a procession, with all our senses in act. Where the procession is well done, it becomes one of these occasions of journeying without the baggage of the nagging necessities of the workaday world.

    The Prayers at the Foot of the Altar

    Then we come to those marvelous preparatory prayers, which I always miss so much in any Novus Ordo Mass, where we suddenly start BANG!, without taking time to prepare well for what is to come. The traditional liturgy pauses for a breath at the end of the procession and, rather than rushing into the sanctuary, recites Psalm 42, the Confiteor (twice), and versicles and prayers expressive of the forthcoming sacrifice. We are suspended between the entrance and the commencement, the intention and the execution, and our souls can expand, adjust, collaborate, get ready to move on. It reminds me of the process whereby one’s eyes adjust themselves to the indoors when one enters a dark room from a bright sunny day outside. Our spiritual sight is accustomed to the garish day, with its obvious objects and confident navigation. At divine worship we are being drawn into the interior, the innermost, the mystery that is luminously dark, caliginously blazing, and we do not know our way. We need some time to adjust. What blessed minutes, which carry us so gently and yet so irresistibly into the sphere of the divine!

    From the Introit to the Lesson

    Whether we are at a Low Mass or a High Mass, one of the greatest blessings of the TLM is that, on the one hand, we are gently drawn into prayer, as if by an invisible hand nudging us forward, and, on the other hand, we are not immediately talked to and expected to talk back. We are surely participating in the unfolding drama, but we are not targeted and harried; the activity does not get bogged down in a closed circle, like a boring classroom. The liturgy seems to be going on over our heads or around us or in front of us, and we can relate to it all the more deeply because it is outside our grasp, beyond what we can access, with no possible illusions that we are the ones driving it forward. Of course we have a role to play, and this will sometimes include verbal responses; but the overall effect is one of a giant motion that we can join, if we will, that will take us somewhere our own resources could never get us. The unfailing Introit, announcing the day’s mystery, throws down a sort of spiritual gauntlet: “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” (Mt 26:50).[1] The cascading Kyries, the exultant Gloria, the richly compact Collect, the apt Lesson, invite us to come deeper and deeper into worship, putting on the mind of Christ.

    The Interlectional Chants

    If the preparatory prayers seal the door to the world and habituate us to the new climate of worship, and if the subsequent prayers and lesson demand of us the exercise of our spiritual capacities, it is the interlectional chants, sung in full, that have the special power to plunge us into meditation and even contemplation.[2] At other points in the Mass, multiple things can be happening at once (the peculiar perfection called “parallel liturgy”), but here, during the Gradual and Alleluia  —  or the Gradual and Tract in Lent, or the double Alleluia in Paschaltide  —  the ministers take their seats, the people are seated. A restfulness descends with the sound of the chant; time stands still. The melismatic melodies draw out lovingly, syllable by syllable, the exquisitely beloved words of God, so that we cannot rush past them, or treat them in a utilitarian way, or think of them as mechanical responses made to a dreary rehearsal of psalms. They exist in and for themselves, living monuments of God’s faithfulness and love, and we are permitted to have them on our lips, in our ears, in our hearts. They are a ladder let down from above on which we are bidden to climb up. In this way, the Lesson and all that has come before has a chance to sink in, and the soil is plowed with deep furrows for the Gospel and all that will come after.

    I shall continue next week with the Offertory and the Canon of the Mass.


    [1] Interestingly, St. Benedict cites this verse in chapter 60 of his Rule when speaking about a priest who desires admission into the monastery. He says that the priest may be admitted only on condition of agreeing to abide by the entire rule, as if to say: Why are you coming here, unless to embrace and benefit from the monastic discipline? The liturgy, too, is something we should approach only if we are ready to embrace its discipline, which is the only way to obtain its benefits.

    [2] I am indebted to Dr. William Mahrt for opening my eyes and ears to the theological and liturgical significance of the interlectional chants (Gradual, Tract, Alleluia). They are the contemplative and musical high-point of the Gregorian Mass prior to the consecration.

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    News from the north: Saints Joachim and Ann Parish in Aldergrove, British Columbia, will be hosting the inaugural B.C. Sacred Music Symposium from July 20-22, 2018.

    The aim is to bring together musicians of all skill levels, and all people of good will with a general interest in sacred music, for a weekend of instruction, collaboration and fellowship. There will be an opportunity to attend practical workshops (beginner, intermediate and masterclass) and lectures; and to experience the riches of the Church’s musical tradition in the celebrations of Mass, in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms and the Divine Office.

    We are also very excited to announce that our keynote speaker and celebrant of the symposium’s principal Mass will be Bishop Joseph Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Early registration for the symposium opens January 2018. Please see the parish website for more information:

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    And Why Should It Go In A Baptistry?

    Have a look at this wall painting of the prophet Daniel’s companions in the fiery furnace. It is from the Roman Catacomb of Priscilla, one of the images that is included in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But why?

    Scripture tells us of the fate of Daniel’s three friends (Daniel 3: 49, Knox translation): “An angel of the Lord had gone down into the furnace with Azarias and his companions and drove the flames away from it, making a wind blow in the heart of the furnace, like the wind that brings the dew. So that these three were untouched, and the fire brought them no discomfort. Whereupon all of them, as with one mouth, began to give praise and glory and blessing to God, there in the furnace.” Afterwards, the King Nebuchadnezzar, who had thrown the youths into the fire, said he saw four figures, and the fourth was “as it had been a son of God.” (v. 92)

    I recently examined this passage because the song that the three children sang in the furnace is sung on feast days at Lauds. I was looking at the background to this and considering why it is sung in the liturgy.

    My understanding is that in the interpretation of the Church Fathers, the reference to the wind and the dew in the Scriptural account has been connected to the Creation story, in which the Spirit of God was over the water, and then to the baptism of Christ in which the Holy Spirit comes down and the sacrament of baptism is initiated. Baptism through water is spiritually the instrument of the death old self, so that we can be resurrected, also spiritually, in Confirmation or Chrismation by the action of the Holy Spirit.

    There is a similar connection to the passages describing the crossing of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan by Joshua, in which the water and wind are connected. Wind is the action of the Spirit, as is fire, such as the fire seen at Pentecost which the Church Fathers also connected to the burning bush seen by Moses.

    These common themes are the reason why these scenes were traditionally depicted in baptisteries.

    So who is the fourth figure?

    He can be represented simply as “an angel of the Lord”, as in this contemporary icon by Nicola Saric.

    Some Church Fathers identified the figure as a pre-incarnational appearance of Christ, as also in the three figures who appear in the story of Abraham’s hospitality (Genesis 18, 1-10), and in the voice in the Burning Bush speaking to Moses. (Exodus 3, 1-15) In this icon, this is made explicit by the “IC XC” and the cross which tell us that the figure is Christ.

    In the catacomb painting shown above, the fourth figure is not to shown at all, but rather a bird over the three children. The branch in its beak suggests to me that the artist is connecting it to the dove in the story of Noah. This story of redemption in the Old Testament is connected to the New through that image of the dove, who also appears at the Baptism of the Lord.

    This is of course an event that opens the way for our salvation. This New Testament resurrection in the spirit is available to all men through the Church, right now in this life, and is every bit as miraculous and wonderful as the saving of the three youths. We are partake in the divine nature and live out the sacramental life of the Church, which opens the way to a life of the greatest joy, if only we could believe it. The artist is connecting all of these events together through this painting, and it is why, I suggest, it would be appropriate for a baptistery in order to help deepen our faith.

    There is something else that occurs to me. My understanding is that bodily resurrection is referred to by St Peter as a process of purification by fire; in so doing, he is echoing Wisdom 3 and Malachi 3, which both refer to purification by the Spirit.

    The passage from Malachi 3, 1-4, refers to purification by fear, but begins as follows: “See where I am sending an angel of mine, to make the way ready for my coming. All at once the Lord will visit my temple; that Lord, so longed for, welcome herald of the divine covenant. Aye, says the Lord of hosts, he is coming; but who can bear the thought of that advent? Who will stand with head erect at his appearing? He will put men to a test fierce as the crucible...”

    This passage from Malachi is quoted directly in Matthew 11,10, which tells us that John the Baptist is this messenger (angelos) who shows us Christ.

    Here is an icon of John the Baptist, also known as the Forerunner, painted by Dr Stephane Rene, who works in the Neo-Coptic school. He is portrayed as an angelos,  a messenger in the manner of an angel along with the Baptism of Christ and the Holy Spirit appearing as a dove.

    The angel of the Lord who appears in the furnace of in the book of Daniel could also be also seen, therefore, as a type of John the Baptist.

    Regardless of the precise aspect of the theology that each artist has decided to portray, the full story that they reveal really should give us cause to praise God daily, just as the youths did, and sing their canticle in the Liturgy of the Hours!

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    This year, the Church of the Holy Innocents in New York City is holding 10 Rorate Masses, the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Advent, during the first part of the holy season. The Mass takes its title from the first words of the Introit, from Isaiah 45, 8: “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just one: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior.”; it is celebrated by candlelight, in white vestments are worn instead of violet. In the dimly lit setting, priests and faithful prepare to honor the Light of the world, Who is soon to be born, and offer praise to God for the gift of Our Lady. As the Mass proceeds and sunrise approaches, the church becomes progressively brighter, illuminated by the sun as our Faith is illumined by Christ. The readings and prayers of the Mass foretell the prophecy of the Virgin who would bear a Son called Emmanuel.
    The Rorate Mass will be celebrated at the Church of the Holy Innocents on the following days of Advent, all of them starting at 6 a.m.: Monday, December 4, Tuesday, December 5, Wednesday, December 6, Thursday, December 7, Saturday, December 9, Monday, December 11, Wednesday, December 13, Thursday, December 14, Friday, December 15, Saturday, December 16. The church is located at 128 West 37th Street.
    The words of the Introit are used repeatedly both at the Mass and in the Divine Office during the season of Advent, expressing the longings of the Patriarchs and Prophets, and of the entire human race since the fall of Adam, for the coming of the Redeemer. The celebration of this Mass by candle light had originally a more practical reason: for many centuries, no Mass was allowed to be celebrated after noon, and when these Masses were celebrated very early in the morning (before dawn) it was still very dark, especially in winter-time. In the course of time and through the power of religious tradition, a spiritual meaning attached to the custom; the use of candles symbolizes the bright light of Christmas to which Advent leads us.

    Before the liturgical revolution after the Second Vatican Council, this Mass was celebrated very early in the morning on all Saturdays, and in some countries such as Poland and Germany, during some or all weekdays during the season of Advent. As the season’s votive Mass of the Virgin Mary, it presents Her as the perfect model to imitate throughout the season of Advent, and teaches us its real spirit as we await the coming of the Messiah. During the nine months of pregnancy, Our Lady lived a hidden life, in silence and intimacy with Christ. During the period of Advent, we should cultivate that same spirit of silence and intimacy by listening attentively to God’s message and by obedience to His word, through devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that, like the shepherds of Bethlehem, we may always find Jesus through Mary “So (the shepherds) went with haste, and they found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.” (Luke 2, 16).

    Thanks to Mr Eddy Turibio for the text above, and to one of our most faithful photopost contributors, Diana Yuan, for these photos of the Rorate Mass celebrated at Holy Innocents yesterday morning:

    and these of the First Sunday of Advent celebrated in the Dominican Rite celebrated at St Vincent Ferrer.

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    People who enjoy reading theological books quickly discover, in the vaults of university libraries, at used bookstores, or by lucky links online, a lot of hidden gems out there — books that were first published 50, 75, 100 years ago or even more, which have long since fallen out of print and yet very much deserve to be back in print for new readers. This seems all the more true now that there is a real appetite among conservative and traditional-leaning Catholics for substantial, reliable, and profound writing after decades of featherweight pablum and heavyweight heresy. Moreover, a lot of people still prefer, if they can get it, a real printed book to a clunky PDF or a messy etext. Finally, in spite of the ongoing digitization of texts, a vast number of books are still unavailable from any source, whether a used bookseller or an online database.

    For all these reasons, I am happy to announce that I have just republished three extremely interesting theological books, all of which have helped me a great deal in my own studies. For each, I shall offer photos and a brief summary.

    The Life of Worship: Grace, Prayer, Sacraments, and the Sacred Liturgy. By a Seminary Professor. Originally published in French in 1895; this English version from 1920. xvi + 814 pp. $29.95. Available at or its affiliates.

    This book is a fascinating glimpse into what catechetical training was once like before the meltdown of modernism and the onset of postconciliar dementia. Originally entitled Exposition of Christian Doctrine, Part III: Worship but retitled here The Life of Worship the better to convey its content, this hefty volume is part of a series produced in 19th-century France by anonymous seminary professors for the Brothers of the Christian Schools. The English version was published in Philadelphia in 1920 (this seventh edition is from 1927).

    An exemplar of catechetical literature, The Life of Worship, laid out in question and answer format, is amazingly comprehensive in its treatment of grace, prayer, sacraments, sacramentals, liturgy, and liturgical places, objects, vestments, ceremonies, feasts, and devotions. The questions are well considered and logical in order, with answers that are precise, clear, and eloquent, full of scriptural quotations and valuable spiritual considerations.  When I first came across this book last summer, found myself thinking: "I wish someone had handed me this book two decades ago; it would have filled in so many gaps in my religious training!" Most delightful of all (at least to me, a scholastic at heart), every chapter ends with a schematic diagram of the entire content of that chapter, with all the pertinent distinctions and subdivisions. These charts are just brilliant.

    The Life of Worship is an excellent book for personal study, homeschool or private school religion class, a parish study group, or a book club.

    St. Thomas Aquinas: Papers from the 1924 Summer School of Catholic Studies at Cambridge. Ed. Cuthbert Lattey. xii + 311 pp. $19.95. Available at or its affiliates.

    This collection of papers given at a summer school at Cambridge in 1924 includes the following:
    • Rt. Rev. H. L. Janssens, "The Study of the Summa theologica"
    • Rev. Peter Paul Mackey, "The Autograph of St. Thomas"
    • Rev. Richard Downey, "St. Thomas and Aristotle"
    • Rev. Francis Aveling, "St. Thomas and Modern Thought"
    • Rev. Michael Cronin, "The Moral, Social, and Political Philosophy of St. Thomas"
    • Rev. A. B. Sharpe, "The Ascetical and Mystical Teaching of St. Thomas"
    • Very Rev. Bede Jarrett, "St. Thomas and the Reunion of Christendom"
    • Edward Bullough, "Dante, the Poet of St. Thomas"
    • Rt. Rev. G. A. Burton, "The Liturgical Poetry of St. Thomas"
    • (plus several appendices and indices)
    I learned of this book when researching my doctoral dissertation on ecstasy and rapture in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. My pursuit led me to Fr. Sharpe's contribution to this volume, which I recommend as one of the finest summaries of the saint's ascetical-mystical doctrine to be found anywhere.

    The Incarnation: Papers from the 1925 Summer School of Catholic Studies at Cambridge. Ed. Cuthbert Lattey. xviii + 261 pp. $18.95. Available at or its affiliates.

    The year after the papers gathered in the preceding volume, another conference was held, this time on Christology, yielding a collection of exceptionally fine papers from biblical, historical, and scholastic angles on the defining mystery of the Christian Faith: the Incarnation of the Son of God. The contents:
    • Rev. Patrick Boylan, "Messianic Expectations in the Old Testament"
    • Rev. J. P. Arendzen, "The Preparation of Jewry"
    • Rev. C. C. Martindale, "The Preparation of the Gentiles" and "The Gospel of John"
    • Rev. Hugh Pope, "The Synoptic Gospels"
    • Rev. Christopher Lattey, "Saint Paul"
    • Rev. Canon Myers, "The Fathers and Councils"
    • Rev. Maurice de la Taille, "The Schoolmen"
    • Rev. Thomas Garde, "Our Lady in the Early Church"
    • Msgr. Ronald Knox, "Kenotic Theories"
    • Rev. Richard Downey, "Rationalist Criticism." 
    The writings in this volume are deserving of praise above all for their wonderful readability.  Christology is no easy area to discuss accurately without quickly descending into a morass of linguistic and philosophical issues. These authors, with great mastery of their material, give us a feast of reflections on the Incarnation as it was dimly anticipated by Jews and pagans, as it is unfolded in the Gospels and in the Epistles of Paul, as it was fought over and clarified in the patristic age and in the first seven Councils, as it was refined and systematized by the medieval scholastics, how it relates to the Blessed Virgin, and finally, how it is threatened by certain modern theories. Most of these chapters could serve as ideal introductions to their subjects and would enrich any private study or academic course -- above all Canon Myers on "The Fathers and Councils," who furnishes one of the best and most succinct accounts of the Christological controversies I have yet found.

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