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    For anyone within striking distance of St Stephen’s Catholic Church in Portland, Oregon, here is the church’s liturgical schedule for Advent and Christmas. This is an ambitious and upgraded program, reflecting the fact that the church has just appointed a new musical director.

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    The traditional Roman liturgy assigns to the feast of St Nicholas the common Office of Confessor Bishops Ecce sacerdos magnus, with the proper lessons at Matins recounting his life, and the common Mass Statuit, with proper prayers. The Collect of his feast refers to the “innumerable miracles” wrought through his intercession, for which he is often called by the Byzantines “the Wonderworker”; the Secret is borrowed from the Mass of the first Confessor Bishop venerated in the West, St Martin.

    A Russian icon of St Nicholas, painted ca. 1500-50, showing episodes from his life and his miracles in the small panels that form the border. 
    In the Middle Ages, a proper Office was composed for his feast, which is described thus by the liturgical commentator Sicard of Cremona, writing at the end of the 12th century.
    The teachers of the Greeks have written down the life of the blessed Nicholas, and the miracles done in his life, … saying that he was born of an illustrious family, and filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, or from his childhood. He delivered three virgins from the infamous dealings of their father; he was promoted to the episcopacy by divine revelation; he came to help sailors in danger of shipwreck; he multiplied grain; … he delivered some people from a death sentence, and others from prison. From his tomb there comes forth an oil, which heals various ailments. … No pen can suffice to write down all the miracles with which he has shone forth after his death, nor can any man’s eloquence tell of them all. Out of this legend, today’s ‘history’ is put together. (Mitrale IX, 2)
    In Sicard’s time, and for long after, the Latin word “historia” (history) was the common technical term for what we would now call the proper Office of a Saint. Many such Offices were composed by setting to music texts from the Saints’ lives; a “historia” was the sum of the antiphons, responsories and (somewhat more rarely) hymns, composed for such an Office. The “legend”, on the other hand, (Latin “legendum – something to be read”), is the story of the Saint’s life as read in the lessons of Matins. Therefore, when Sicard says that today’s “history” is put together out of this “legend”, what he means is that the propers of St Nicholas’ Office are composed from texts taken from the account of his life and miracles.

    The proper Office of St Nicholas is called O Pastor aeterne, the first words of the Magnificat antiphon at First Vespers; it has been attributed (not with absolute certainty) to a monk named Isembert, of the monastery of St Ouen in France, who lived in the middle of the 11th-century. It was adopted very widely, but not in Rome; hence it is found in the proper Breviaries of the religious orders (Dominicans, Premonstratensians etc.), but not the Roman Breviary. Writing about a century after Sicard, William Durandus tells the following story about the use of this Office.
    It is said that in a certain church, … since the historia of blessed Nicholas was not yet sung, the brothers of that place asked their prior insistently that he permit them to sing it; but he refused, saying that it was improper to change the ancient custom with novelties. But since they kept asking, he answered indignantly, “Leave me alone; these new songs, or rather, these jokes, will not be sung in my church!” Now when the feast of the Saint had come, the brethren sadly finished the night vigils (i.e. Matins). And when they had all gone to bed, behold, the blessed Nicholas appeared visibly to the prior in a terrible guise, and, pulling him out of bed by his hair, dashed him to the floor of the dormitory. Then, beginning the antiphon O Pastor aeterne, at each change of note he smacked him heavily on the back with the two rods he held in his hand, and thus sang the antiphon morosely through to the end. Since all were wakened by the noise, the prior was taken to his bed half-alive; and when he had recovered he said, “Go, sing the new historia of St Nicholas.” (Rationale Div. Off. VII, 39)
    It must be granted that this behavior seems wildly out of character for the Nicholas described by the Office O Pastor aeterne itself, of which the first responsory says:
    R. The confessor of God, Nicholas, noble of birth, but nobler in his manners, * having followed the Lord from his very youth, merited to be promoted to the episcopacy by divine revelation. V. For he was greatly compassionate, and moved by holy pity for the afflicted. Having followed…
    And likewise, the fifth antiphon of Matins:
    Aña Surpassing the customs of youth with innocence, he became a disciple of the law of the Gospel. 
    On the other hand, the Byzantine tradition tells a story that Nicholas, when he was present at the First Council of Nicea, was so moved with righteous indignation at Arius’ denial of the divinity of Christ that he slapped him in the face. At his Vespers in the Byzantine Rite, the following hymn is sung which refers to this tradition.
    With what melodic hymns may we praise this Hierarch, the antagonist of impiety, the defender of piety, the great leader of the Church, both champion and teacher, who putteth to shame all those who believe wickedly, the destroyer and ardent opponent of Arius, through whom Christ, Who hath great mercy, has cast down the latter’s pride.
    The Greek word “ὀφρύς” in this hymn, like its Latin equivalent “supercilium”, means “pride” in the negative sense, also “scorn, arrogance.” (Hence the English word “supercilious.”) In both languages, however, its original meaning is “brow.” Greek has plenty of other words for “pride” that might have been used here; the idiomatic expression “cast down the brow” seems clearly to have been chosen to refer to the slapping of Arius.

    St Nicholas slaps Arius in face, as depicted in a 14th-century fresco within the monastery complex of Panagia Sumela, in modern Turkey.
    The image above is part of a much larger fresco, only one panel of which is seen here below, depicting the Council of Nicea. The Emperor St Constantine, as he is called in the Byzantine churches, presides over the Council; Nicholas slapping Arius is in the lower left. The monastery has been abandoned since 1923, and the frescos are sadly much damaged by vandalism.
    The legend goes on to state that the council fathers were scandalized by this inappropriate loss of temper, and despite his immediate repentance, stripped Nicholas of his insignia and remanded him to jail to await their judgment. During the night, however, Christ and the Virgin Mary appeared to him, and gave him a Gospel book and an omophorion (the large Byzantine episcopal stole), while undoing his chains; this was taken as a sign that his repentance was accepted, and he was reinstated in the council.

    The miracles attributed to his intercession are indeed innumerable, for the sake of which he became, as Fr Hunwicke marvelously described him, “a saint with as large a portfolio of Patronages as a Renaissance cardinal.” The story to which Sicard refers when he says that St Nicholas “delivered three virgins from the infamous dealings of their father” is of course the part of the legend that has turned him into Santa Claus. As told by Durandus’ contemporary, Jacopo de Voragine, in the Golden Legend, a man of his city could not dower his daughters, and was considering selling them into prostitution.
    But when the saint learned of this, he abhorred this crime; and he threw a lump of gold wrapped in a cloth into the man’s house through the window at night, and departed in secret. Rising in the morning, the man found the lump of gold, and giving thanks to God, celebrated the wedding of his first daughter. Not long after, the servant of God did the same thing (again.) And the man upon finding it, burst forth with great praises, and determined thenceforth to keep watch, so that he might discover who it was that had aided his poverty. After a few days, (Nicholas) threw a lump of gold twice as big into the house. At the sound of this, the man was awoken, and followed Nicholas as he fled, … and so, by running more quickly, he learned that it was Nicholas … (who) made him promise not to tell the story while he lived.
    This story is also referred to repeatedly in O Pastor aeterne, for example, in the eighth responsory of Matins:
    R. The servant of God Nicholas by a weight of gold redeemed the chastity of three virgins; * and put to flight the unchaste poverty of their father by a gift of gold. V. Being therefore deeply rich in mercy, by the metal which he doubled, he drove infamy from them. And put to flight…
    For this reason, he is often represented holding three golden balls, as in this painting by Gentile da Fabriano, the Quaratesi polyptych, done in 1425.

    In the old chapel of the Lateran complex in Rome known as the “Sancta Sanctorum – the Holy of Holies”, (not because of its status as a Papal chapel, but because it used to contain one of the most impressive relic collections in the world), the story is represented in two parts. On the right, St Nicholas tosses the gold though the window; on the left, the father catches him, and is told by the Saint to keep the story secret. This shows how old the custom really is of staying up late at night to try to catch Santa Claus when he comes to the house to deliver presents. (For some reason, this never works any more.)
    St Nicholas and the Gift of the Dowries, by the anonymous painter known as the Master of the Sancta Sanctorum, ca. 1278-79, commissioned by Pope Nicholas III (1277-80).
    This is an updated version of an article originally published in 2014.

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    Our next major photopost will be for tomorrow’s feast of the Immaculate Conception. Please send your photos (whether of the Ordinary or Extraordinary Form) to for inclusion. We are also always glad to receive photographs of celebrations of Vespers and other parts of the Office, and particularly of any ceremonies celebrated with blue vestments, in accordance with the famous Spanish indult. Please be sure to include the name and location of the church, and always feel free to add any other information you think important. Evangelize through beauty!
    From last year’s Immaculate Conception photopost, Pontifical Mass at the Oratory of the Immaculate Conception in Birmingham, England.

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  • 12/07/17--10:30: The Relics of St Ambrose
  • Partly as a follow up to last month’s post on the relics of St Charles, here are a few interesting photos related to the relics of St Ambrose, whose feast is today, courtesy of Nicola de’ Grandi.
    The relics of St Ambrose, photographed during a canonical recognition in the late 19th century.
    In 386 A.D., St Ambrose had uncovered the relics of two Milanese martyrs, the brothers Protasius and Gervasius, after been shown the place of their long-forgotten burial in a dream. Nothing is known for certain of these saints, not even the era of their martyrdom, but devotion to them was once very widespread; they are even named in the Roman version of the Litany of the Saints, last among the company of the martyrs. Ambrose brought their relics to a newly built basilica, then called simply “the Basilica of the Martyrs”, and laid them in the place he had originally intended for his own burial; he also attests to the miraculous healings which accompanied the translation, as do his secretary, Paulinus, who would later write his Life, and by St Augustine.

    Ambrose himself died on April 4th of the year 397, which was Holy Saturday that year; since that date so frequently occurs in Holy Week or Easter Week, his feast is traditionally kept on the day of his episcopal ordination. He was laid to rest next to Ss Protasius and Gervasius, and the basilica is now officially named after him. In the mid-ninth century, the abbot of the attached monastery placed the relics of all three saints in a large porphyry sarcophagus, which was later sunk into the floor and covered over; it was rediscovered in 1864 during a major restoration project, and the three bodies are now seen in the Confession of the church under the altar. The feast day of the two martyrs is on June 19th, and the traditional Ambrosian Calendar also has the feast of the “Raising up of the Bodies of Ss. Ambrose, Protasius and Gervasius” on May 14th.

    The relics photographed today. The body of St Ambrose rests between those of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius, dressed in red. The two martyrs also hold palm branches in their hands, while the sainted bishop holds a crook. Several ago, I visited this church and was told by a senior cleric that St Ambrose’s skeleton was found “all of a piece” in 1867, but that those of the martyrs had been “mixed up, so at the Final Judgement, some of the pieces will be flying back and forth.” This was followed by a smile and the classic Italian “no problem” shrug.
    As part of the celebrations for the fifteenth centenary of the Saint’s death in 1897, the relics were taken from the basilica to the Duomo in an enormous procession, and exposed there for the veneration of the faithful from May 13-15. In the first photo, we see a huge banner depicted St Ambrose, which was first blessed and used by St Charles on September 8, 1566, the patronal feast day of the Duomo, and has regularly been used in solemn processions ever since. (Three other photos of it are given below.)

    Here we see the relics carried under a baldachin; going before them, many of the mitered heads are those of canons, rather than bishops.
    In 1974, for the 16th centenary of the Saint’s episcopal ordination, at the conclusion of a local jubilee held in preparation for the Holy Year of 1975, the relics were once again brought to the Duomo. At the time, significant repair works were being done to the church, and it was impossible to display them; they were therefore placed on a temporary altar in the nave.
    The original preparatory design of the “gonfalone - big banner (16½ x 11½ feet)” of St Ambrose, by Filippo Meda.
    The banner itself, now kept at the museum of the Castello Sforzesco.

    According to one tradition, it was Saint Paul who revealed the location of the bodies of Ss Gervasius and Protasius to St Ambrose, as depicted by Philippe de Champagne (1658, Musée du Louvre).

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    Chavagnes International College, a Catholic boarding school for boys located in Chavagnes-en-Paillers in western France (near Nantes), is well known for cultivating a strong liturgical life. In accordance with the old English tradition, a boy-bishop is appointed from among the students on the feast of St Nicholas, who presides over the celebration of Vespers and sits at the high table for the meal following. (See below for a bit more about this tradition.)

    These photos are reproduced with the College’s permission, and our thanks. File this under two of our favorite labels, Fostering Young Vocations and Tradition is for the Young.

    Pontifical vestments laid out on the altar.

    At the incensation during the Magnificat.

    Presiding over the high table.
    The tradition of the boy bishop, elected each year on December 6th from among the choristers of cathedrals, colleges and large parish churches, dated in England back to the 12th century. The bishop would symbolically stand down at the moment in the Magnificat when the choir saing “deposuit potentes de sede” (He hath puts down the mighty from their thrones.); then the boy bishop would ascend the throne at the words “et exaltavit humiles.” (And He hath exalted the lowly.)

    Apart from the celebration of Mass, and the important Vespers and Lauds of Christmas itself, the boy would officiate at many services and make decrees as to the obligations of the other choristers (usually extra food, less work, etc.) It was a popular custom. Eton College elected two boy bishops each year, and all the cathedrals had them, including St Paul’s. The boy’s reign would come to an end on Holy Innocents’ Day, after he had himself preached a sermon at Mass. His fellow scholars would then have to give him a penny as a Christmas offering. Like many similar traditions in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it served to teach children about the dignity of high office, and especially the importance of the bishop's role in the Church. It also demonstrates to those in authority the fragility of honor and rank; a warning that they should not cling to earthly honours.

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    The choir of the prophets proclaimed of old the Maiden unblemished and holy, whose child is God, whom Anna conceived, that was sterile and without progeny; with rejoicing of heart, let us who have been saved through Her today bless Her, as the only one who is wholly without blemish. (From the first kathisma of Orthros on the Conception of St Anne.)

    The Byzantine Rite celebrates the conception of the Virgin Mary under the title “the Conception (in the active sense) of St Anne”, on December 9th. This 18th century Russian icon depicts the traditional story that St Joachim (upper left) went out into the desert to mourn his and Anne’s barrenness, for the sake of which his offering in the temple had been refused. An angel then came to tell him to return to Anne, and that God would grant them a child who would become the Mother of the Savior. In the upper right, the same message is delivered to Anne herself. The legend goes on to say that they then went to find each other, meeting at the gate of Jerusalem called “the Golden Gate.” The depiction of their embrace and kiss is often used not only to decently represent the act of Anne’s conception, but to distinguish the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin from that of the virginal conception of Christ. This same legend was well known in the West, and referred to in many artworks and liturgical texts.
    The following three troparia are all taken from the third canon at Orthros of the same feast.
    From Thee, that art without stain of sin, receiving the Lord incarnate beyond the order of nature like a burning coal, we are purified from the fullness of transgressions.

    The mysteries of God’s hidden wisdom are truly made clear to us today, as the Conception of the immaculate Virgin and only Mother of God is proclaimed.

    He that is uncircumscribed in the immaculate bosom of the Father, in Thee, o immaculate Virgin, is carried about in the flesh, through His ineffable compassion; whence also He admits representation in an image, who is Good above all.

    From the canon of the Dedication of the Holy Sepulcher, celebrated on the same day.
    Thou alone among all generations, Immaculate Virgin, were shown to be the Mother of God; Thou hast become the dwelling place of the Godhead, that art wholly without blemish, and not burned by the fire of the unapproachable light; whence do we all bless Thee, Mary, bride of God.

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    We are very pleased to share with our readers this recording of Psalm 116, Laudate Dominum, in an original composition by one of our long-time contributors, Henri de Villiers. This was made live at the church of St Eugène in Paris on November 26, during Mass of the external solemnity of St Cecily, patron Saint of the church’s choir, the Schola Ste Cécile, which Henri has directed for many years now.
    As you can see from the title in the video, the setting was written for three choirs (12 voices), but here they are reduced to two (8 voices total). The original setting for three choirs was composed to be sung at Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini in Rome, at the end of Benediction during the Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage in 2015.

    The complete Mass can be seen here:
    Masses for Sundays and feast days can now be followed live from St Eugene at the Youtube channel Ite, Missa est:

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  • 12/09/17--15:18: Notitiae - Available Online!
  • Back in February 2016, it was announced on NLM that Notitiae, the periodical of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS), was changing the way it was published, moving to an online-only format. Moreover, it was announced that the CDWDS "planned to make the whole collection of Notitiae available online eventually", something that is obviously of interest to many NLM readers.

    Well, someone at the Congregation has been very busy, as at the time of writing this aim is close to being completed!

    On the website of the CDWDS (not the Vatican website), every issue of Notitiae from 1965-1992 and 2003-2015 is now available, either in the online viewer or as a downloadable PDF, for free.

    This is obviously still a work-in-progress (like much of the Congregation's website), as the general and thematic indices to Notitiae do not exist online as yet. But this is a wonderful contribution to liturgical scholarship, especially as the very earliest issues of Notitiae are quite difficult to obtain.

    Many thanks are due to the CDWDS for making these freely available, and I look forward to the current 1993-2002 gap being filled in the months to come!

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    Just in time for Christmas! I am delighted to announce that Breviarium S.O.P. has completed the 2018 Dominican Rite Calendar for praying the 1962 Dominican Breviary. Once again, the calendar includes notations for the 15 Tuesdays devotion to Our Holy Father St. Dominic. You can purchase your copy of this Ordo at Dominican Liturgy Publications.

    The format is similar to that of the Ordo published by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The calendar contains the entire liturgical year, according to the 1962 Breviarium Iuxta Ritum Ordinis Preædicatorum, updated with the most recent canonizations of Dominican saints.

    In addition, the obituaries of the Masters General and the anniversaries of the Order are given, as well as the list of Dominican blesseds and the days of their votive offices. Reminders are given for days when members of the Dominican Laity (formerly called the “Third Order”) can obtain indulgences during the year. As in the past, the Office of Prime is also included.

    Each day is annotated with the feast, the rank, commemorations (if any), and reminder notes, if the day includes an anniversary or the obit of a Master General of the Order. The list of obituaries of the Masters General has been updated to include the Masters who have died since the last Dominican Breviary was published in 1962.

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    Last week, we looked at how the traditional Roman Rite, from the entrance to the Gospel, gives ample “time for the soul to absorb the mysteries.” Today I shall speak of how the Offertory and the Canon do the same.

    The Offertory

    It hardly needs to be said that the Offertory, with its richness of content and ample length, is one of the parts of the traditional liturgy most appreciated by clergy and laity alike. One does not feel, as in the usus recentior, rushed on to the Eucharistic Prayer, as in a supersonic flight from Word to Eucharist; there is generous time and space for preparing the gifts thoroughly, making the significance of this offering known, felt.

    In the Novus Ordo, the meaning of the presentation of bread and wine risks being lost due to the rapidity and superficiality with which they are treated.[1] One does not recognize them as proto-sacrificial offerings that will subsequently be transformed by divine power into the actual sacrifice that wins our redemption and, as a result, into the banquet that unites us to the Savior; emphasis is placed rather on man’s own work in preparing food and drink, which will become food and drink — a true sentiment as far as it goes, but not at all the focus of the authentic Offertories of historic liturgical rites.

    The old offertory is a dramatic caesura, a long drawn-out breath in which we clearly show forth what we are about to do and how it will redound to our benefit, unworthy though we are to approach the awesome mysteries of Christ. The Offertory makes it possible for us to participate fruitfully in the Canon of the Mass. Without it, something vital is missing. Even worse, when the modern quasi-Offertory is combined with the second Eucharistic Prayer, the sacrificial portion of the Mass  —  its very essence  —  can pass by so rapidly that one might be forgiven for thinking that the Mass is a lengthy liturgy of words followed by a rapid distribution of tokens of our confidence in words, which is to say, a purely Protestant conception.

    The Canon of the Mass

    Much can be said on behalf of the absolute fittingness of the silent Canon. I have gone into this topic elsewhere.[2] Suffice it to say that many among the clergy and the faithful are sharply aware of the loss of this contemplative reservoir at the heart of the holy Sacrifice. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy:
    Anyone who has experienced a church united in the silent praying of the Canon will know what a really filled silence is. It is at once a loud and penetrating cry to God and a Spirit-filled act of prayer. Here everyone does pray the Canon together, albeit in a bond with the special task of the priestly ministry. Here everyone is united, laid hold of by Christ, and led by the Holy Spirit into that common prayer to the Father which is the true sacrifice — the love that reconciles and unites God and the world.[3]
    Citing this passage in his magnificent book The Power of Silence, Cardinal Sarah observes:
    I am familiar with the regrets expressed by many young priests who would like the Canon of the Mass to be recited in complete silence. The unity of the whole assembly, communing with the words pronounced in a sacred murmur, was a splendid sign of a contemplative Church gathered around the sacrifice of her Savior.[4]
    A priest with whom I was conducting a correspondence once wrote these words to me, as if to confirm Cardinal Sarah’s observation:
    If I were permitted the quasi-papal power to make just one change to the present Ordinary Form, it would be to bring back the silent canon. As one who regularly celebrates both forms of the Mass, that is the single difference that I find makes the most spiritual impact. And quite a few lay people I know have made similar comments. That silence, after all, is much more obviously noticeable to the congregation than, say the omission of certainly medieval offertory prayers.
    At a Novus Ordo Mass, it is all I can do to focus my wandering attention on the mystery taking place, since there is a constant washing of words over my ears — words that lose their force either from their familiarity (I’ve heard Eucharistic Prayer II, a.k.a., the “Roman Canonette,” so many times it sounds like an eye-rolling cliché) or from their length (the historic Roman Canon said out loud in English, facing the people, is phenomenologically interminable) or from their grating unfamiliarity (as when a priest, in a sudden Lucretian swerve, picks out one of the Eucharistic Prayers of Reconciliation).

    None of this is conducive in any way to prayer, to the adoration and spiritual longing we should cultivate in the presence of our Savior as we join our hearts to His Sacred Heart in the most holy offering at the altar. This is no less true, indeed it is rather more true, for the poor celebrant who gets hardly a moment of mental peace, hardly a moment to repose his head against the Lord’s breast, in company with St. John. The rite keeps the faucet of loquacity nearly always turned on.

    I’m afraid there are many new Masses after which one says to oneself: “Did I pray at all during that long harangue from the sanctuary?” And one cannot be sure that one has done so. Sometimes, one is aware, on the contrary, of a suffocating lack of time and space to pray. But I cannot remember a single traditional Mass at which I did not experience, at least for a few fleeting moments, a vivid awareness of the prayer of Christ and a palpable sense of the mystery of God, a real connection with the divine. In stark contrast with its intended replacement, the old Mass — whether Low, High, or Solemn — seems built, from the ground up, to connect one to the divine in this way. Its whole raison d’être is union with God, and it pursues this with relentless determination, the preoccupation of a lover. It reminds me of Kierkegaard’s statement that “purity of heart is to will a single thing.”

    Next week: how the usus antiquior allows ample “interior space” for the communion of the priest and the people.


    [1] As we know, the Consilium originally proposed having no prayers for the bread and wine at all, but simply lifting them up and putting them back down. This was too much even for Paul VI, an otherwise enthusiastic proponent of Bauhaus liturgy; he ordered that the actions had to be accompanied by some words. Bugnini and Co. complied, but looked to Jewish precedent rather than Catholic.

    [2] See two articles at the New Liturgical Movement weblog: “The Silent Canon: Is Worship Supposed to be Aweful?,” posted on October 14, 2013; “The Silence of the Canon Speaks More Loudly Than Words,” posted on January 5, 2015.

    [3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 215–16.

    [4] Robert Cardinal Sarah, with Nicolas Diat, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, trans. Michael J. Miller (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), n. 249, p. 129.

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    Daniel Mitsui is an artist quite well known to readers of NLM for his exquisite work in calligraphy and iconography. He was recently commissioned to produce a set of altar cards and went at it with his customary thoroughness, ingenuity, love of detail, and delight in the Gothic aesthetic. I received a set of these cards to examine, and I must say that they are simply stunning. The overall design is harmonious and pleasing to the eye; the font comes across as strong, slightly ornate, and yet highly legible; the illuminated initials add considerable interest; and the iconographic program followed in the ample margins is a microcosm of the entire liturgical year and indeed the history of salvation. As a teacher, I found myself thinking, “I could teach a catechism course just using these altar cards.” More to the point, they embody the entire Catholic theology of the sacred liturgy.

    Here are some photos; afterwards I shall quote the artist’s explanation of the iconographic program.

    The central altar card (16" x 20"), with my hand for the sake of scale:

    (A straight-up JPG of this card may be accessed here.)

    The Gospel card and Lavabo card (each 9" × 12").

    (Again, JPGs of the above two cards may be found here and here.)

    The Lavabo card with my hand, for scale:

    Some details of the central card:

    Two details from the Gospel card:

    The artist’s website offers a full explanation of the choice and arrangement of scenes, which evince a deep grasp of liturgical symbolism and patristic commentary.
    The Gospel side card contains the beginning of the Gospel of St. John (In principio erat Verbum), and the pictures on it reflect the themes of Creation and Incarnation. Running down the left border and across the bottom, a series of eight small scenes illustrate the six days of Creation, with the Creation of Adam and the Creation of Eve depicted individually. Following the older iconographic tradition, and the words of the Gospel itself (Omnia per ipsum facta sunt: et sine ipse factum est nihil, quod factum est), the Creator depicted in these miniatures is God the Son. The preaching of John the Baptist appears in the historiated initial.
              In the bottom corners I drew the Annunciation and the Nativity of Jesus Christ, which begin a sequence of events in the life of Christ that runs across the bottoms of all three cards.
              It continues on the Epistle side card, with the Adoration of the Magi and the Baptism of Christ. The historiated initial and the eight small scenes depict nine of the prophecies read at the ancient ceremonies of the Easter Vigil: the Deluge and Noah’s Ark, Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea, a prophecy of Isaiah, a prophecy of Baruch, Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, another prophecy of Isaiah, the repentance of Nineveh, the Canticle of Moses and Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego in the furnace. These prophecies are associated with Baptism, and thus fitting to the psalm on the card (Lavabo inter innocentes).
              On the central card, in each of the four corners is the scene of an Old Testament prefigurement of the Eucharistic sacrifice: the Sacrifice of Abel, Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, the Sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb and the Sacrifice of Melchizedek. Three of these are mentioned in the Canon of the Mass; two of them, together with the Creation depicted on the Gospel cards and the nine prophecies depicted on the Epistle card, complete the twelve prophecies of the Easter Vigil.
              Running along the bas-de-page are six scenes from the life of Christ: the Temptation in the desert, the Transfiguration, the Last Supper, His washing St. Peter’s feet, the Resurrection and the Ascension. The historiated initials that begin the Gloria and Credo contain, respectively, pictures of the Annunciation to the Shepherds and the Descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. I drew a large picture of the Crucifixion at the top of the central column of text.
              The arrangement of scenes summarizes the liturgical year: the Gospel card represents Advent, as the Preaching of John the Baptist is the subject of the Gospel reading for the 3rd and 4th Sundays, and the Annunciation Gospel is read on the Ember Wednesday. Advent of course concludes with the Nativity, which begins the Christmas season.
              Continuing in chronological order to the Epistle side card, the Adoration of the Magi and the Baptism of Christ represent Epiphany; both are manifestations of Jesus Christ’s divinity. The two scenes below the left column on the central card have a longstanding iconographic association, being recounted in the Gospel readings for the first two Sundays of Lent. In the central column of the central card, the Last Supper, the washing of feet, an the large Crucifixion together represent the Holy Triduum, the center of the liturgical year. The images in the next column (Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost) represent the Easter and Pentecost seasons.
              On the left and right borders of the central card I drew standing figures of six saints. On the left are the first three mentioned in the Confiteor: the Blessed Virgin Mary, Michael the Archangel and John the Baptist. On the right are three more mentioned in the Libera nos: the Apostles Peter, Paul and Andrew. 
    You have to see these cards to believe them. I am looking forward to framing this set for local liturgical use. I would certainly recommend these altar cards to priests, deacons, and any laity who are looking for a special Christmas gift for your TLM-celebrating clergy.

    The commissioned set was drawn in ink on calfskin vellum with gold and palladium leaf details, and hand lettering. What I have photographed here is an open-edition giclée print on Lexjet archival matte paper, with a custom typeface, Benedict, utilized instead of handwritten letters, to improve readability.

    The cards may be ordered directly from the artist.

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    The church of St Anthony of Padua in Jersey City, New Jersey, will have a Rorate Mass in the traditional rite celebrated by candlelight this coming Saturday, December 16th, starting at 6am. The church is located on Monmouth Street between 6th and 7th St.

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    Although it might seem that my newly published book on Dominican lay brothers (now called "cooperator brothers") would have little to do with liturgy, it, like my book on the religious life of the medieval Italian cities, Cities of God, actually has a large liturgical component.

    In Dominican Brothers: Conversi, Lay, and Cooperator Friars (Chicago: New Priory Press, 2017), I discuss the pre-Vatican-II "Office" of the brothers, that is their recitation of differing numbers of Pater nosters during their attendance at the cleric's choral office, the forms of their suffrages for the dead. and their sacramental and ritual life. In addition, I trace their work as the architects of churches, most famously of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, and as sacristans.  For the early modern period, I trace the central role of the brothers in introducing the common recitation of the Holy Rosary by all the friars in choir.

    The book also includes behind-the-scenes descriptions of the debates on the transition from the Latin Divine Office to the nearly universal use of the vernacular, in which the desire to involve the brothers more directly in the liturgical life of the Order played an important role.  For this part of the history I draw on unpublished documents in the General Archives of the Order in Rome.

    In addition to liturgy, the book describes many other activities of the brothers in social service, the missions, maintaining our houses, and teaching, as well as their countless martyrs in Asia, Eastern Europe, and during the Spanish Civil War. The image on the cover shows the two most famous Dominican brothers saints, Martin de Porres on the left and Juan Macias on the right.

    This book would make a very suitable Christmas gift for any Dominican priest or brother.Dominican Brothers can be orderedhere.

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    What do you see here?

    I’m guessing most of you thought something like this: a clear stream with a rocky bottom and grassy banks, with ripples on the surface revealed by shimmering reflections of the sunlight. Perhaps some of you might have said, “It is a painting of a clear stream...etc.” (The painting, incidentally, is a watercolor by John Singer Sargent.)
    How many of you, I wonder, had a first thought like this: I am looking H₂O molecules, silica compounds and carbon compounds?
    The scientific analysis of this scene would describe in this way. Science has its place. In fact, scientific analysis, which in its broadest sense means the study of discrete parts of the whole body of Truth, is natural for man; without it, there would be very little knowledge of anything. But the analysis is only useful if we subsequently synthesize, that is, understand it in relation to everything else that we know. We are as inclined to synthesize as we are to analyse, but faculties can be either developed or stifled. I’m guessing that even the most scientifically inclined would, unless specifically asked to give a scientific analysis, look at this scene and describe rocks and stream and grass. 
    Put one thing in relation to another, and something new, a relationship, is created out of nothing. Put many things in relation to each other, and we have a network of relationships, which, together with its constituent elements become a community of beings. In this case “a rock.” Philosophically, we call the created entity a “substance” and, for the Christian at least, it is a real thing. Mountains, skies, plants, animals and people are more than simply atoms obeying the laws of physics and chemistry. 
    If we see a rock in this picture, this indicates that, whether we are aware of it or not, we recognize the whole to be more than the aggregate of its individual parts. When you put all the silica compounds in that rock in relation to each other, the result is a new entity, something that exists in its own right, something that previously did not exist and is brought into being by virtue of the reality of the relationships between its parts. 
    This applies to society as well by the way. It is often said (particularly by Catholic critics) that the American Constitution is flawed because it views man as an individual, and hence wrongly envisions society as the sum of individual actions. I would say that it is not wrong to see society as the sum of its individual parts, rather, that it is an incomplete description. Whether that incompleteness is crucial to the validity of the American Constitution is a discussion for another time and probably another place (I can hear my editor sighing with relief at this point), but my point here is that all beings are simultaneously both individual entities and beings in relation. 
    Does it matter what we think we are looking at in such a situation? Not always, but in one crucial way, I would say yes. For without substance, there is no symbolism. And without relation, we have no sense of the symbolic, and our capacity to be in relation to God is eroded, at the very least, and in some cases eradicated.
    Here’s why. Take a look at this traditional font:
    It is eight-sided to symbolise the Eighth Day of Creation, the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The number 8, communicated through the shape of the font, connects the font to Christ. In so doing, through the symbol of the font, and the baptisms that take place in it, our minds solidify and deepen something that is already true but more dimly perceived, that we are in relation to Christ Himself. 
    None of this would be possible if we did not think the number 8, the font, baptism and were real things, and not simply a collection of ideas or random groupings of molecules fluctuating in time, and which are interconnected only in my imagination. If we perceive the font as something real, then we are more like to think the same of what it points to, namely, Christ and all the spiritual realities connected to the font.
    Similarly, all of creation, and all the works of man in the culture (depending on how well he makes them) point to God, through their natural relation to Him as Creator and author of inspiration. Without a sense of symbolism, we cannot read the book of Nature. All created things, through their beauty, draw us into and then beyond themselves to the source of all beauty, God. It is natural to us to see this, but this instinct can be both stimulated or dulled by our formation as people.
    So what makes us read the world symbolically? I would say that it is not the study of philosophy per se. It is important to understand the philosophical principles that make this so, especially if you want to be a good artist who must know how to make an image that points to a reality. (That is why there are mandatory philosophy classes in the Master’s of Sacred Arts program at Pontifex University.) But I suggest that only rarely will the study of it in a classroom convince the student to take it as a truth to live by. Faith comes first, and philosophy imparts understanding to what is already believed.
    It is interesting, for example, how modern physics - natural philosophy - now seems to support the ideas of a traditional philosophy of nature. Fr Norris Clarke, in his wonderful little book The One and the Many, explains how developments in astrophysics (he was writing in the 1980s) seem to support the idea that the universe is not a huge empty space occupied by atoms. First of all, in fact, it looks as though there even less than nothing in a vacuum! Secondly, the universe consists of bodies - substances - interacting at long or short range via relationships between them, and in accordance with the pattern of physical laws. This was fascinating for me because it harmonized even more with my beliefs about physical and spiritual realities. If I had not been a believer, however, I don’t think I would have changed my mind. Instead, I would very likely have done what most non-believing scientists do when faced with anomalies, namely, come up with an alternative hypothesis that is consistent with my atheistic worldview.
    I would say instead that is the example of our lives to others, and most powerfully, the worship of God that forms us, so that we are open to believing the truth of this. This is certainly my experience. Long before I had even heard the word “transubstantiation”, I knew there was something special about that wafer of bread because of one trip to Mass. It was the actions of the people at the Brompton Oratory which communicated to me the reverence with which they held it. Later, when I started to participate myself, the same actions reinforced in me the belief with which they are consistent.
    The truth of the interrelatedness of all things to each other and God was articulated centuries before Fr Clarke was alive, in Scripture. For example, the Canticle of the Three Children describes how all aspects of Creation give praise to the Lord: “O Let the Earth bless the Lord, praise him and magnify him forever.” At first, this might seem strange. The earth is an inanimate being and cannot praise Him. But it can direct our praise, provided we see it as glorious, and connect that glory to God. The language of the canticle arises from an assumed acceptance of the ideas of symbol and substance on the part of the writer.
    By singing this canticle, therefore, in harmony with the three companions of Daniel in the furnace, that we are so formed so as to accept the truths it articulates. In fact, we can go further: we are not only formed, but transformed, purified by the Spirit like precious metal in a crucible. We partake of the divine nature, and through our personal relationship with Christ, enter into the mystery of the Trinity, in relation to the Father in the Spirit.

    The theological symbol of the principle that establishes the relatedness of all things to each other, and ultimately to God, is light. Light flows across the divide between beings and communicates to each what it is.
    To know something fully, we need more than sunlight can give us, however bright. But the uncreated light, the divine light of heaven, can impart to those who are supernaturally transformed and purified things which are otherwise not knowable. It is by this that we can know God, and see what the world around us reveals of Him.
    The Doxology which is sung at Orthros in the Byzantine Rite opens with the phrase “Glory to You, O Giver of Light”, and as part of its conclusion says, “For with You is the Fountain of life, and in Your Light, we shall see light.”
    The faithful are seers of light. For them, everything speaks of God, emanating from Him and directing us back to Him. And they participate in this radiance of God themselves shining with the Light of Christ which in turn draws others to Him.
    This is why, in my opinion, the core aim of the process of initiation into the Catholic Church must be to make us such “seers.” This requires, therefore, first of all a liturgical catechesis that brings the symbolism and the realities they point to alive. It presupposes, of course, a form of ritual, art, music,  and architecture that speaks symbolically and sacramentally too (a big assumption, I know.)
    Once we have this, then it seems to me that all other things come easily for people thus formed. Their faith will deepen every time they go to Mass and their openness to and ability to grasp all other teachings of the Church will be greater. This would involve less work than nearly all Catholic formations that do not operate on this principle, whether RCIA or Catholic high school or college, and it would be more effective.
    What I describe would be the stuff of futuristic fantasy...

    were it not for the fact that not only is it true,
    but it offers us something greater, right here, right now! We can be the seers, ourselves shining with the Light.

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    Thank you to Daniel Page, the Director of Sacred Music at St Stephen’s Catholic Church in Portland Oregon. The celebrant is Fr Eric Andersen

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    St Lucy is a Saint of the 3rd century, a virgin martyr who was venerated from the moment of her death and whose feast is celebrated on December 13th in both East and West. An account of her life can be found here.

    As with all worthy images intended for use in worship, we see in this portrayal of her by the great 18th century Venetian Tiepolo an account of her story and the characteristics that identify her uniquely. She is shown receiving her final Holy Communion; the instrument of her impending death, the dagger by which she was stabbed in the throat, is placed at the bottom right of the composition, along with her eyes on a plate. This latter symbol is the one most commonly associated with her, although it developed relatively late in the Middle Ages, linked to her name, which is derived from the Latin word for light. (Tiepolo, incidentally is the painter of what in my estimation is the best Immaculate Conception ever painted!)

    Other attributes we will see are a palm branch - which is appropriate to all martyrs - as seen in this famous Renaissance period painting by Francesco della Cossa, ca. 1473.
    During her passion, the consul Paschasius ordered that she be removed to a brothel and abused until she died. However, teams of men tried but failed to move her. We see this in the painting below in this 15th-century depiction, in which teams of oxen are being used. This is referred to in the Magnificat antiphon for her Second Vespers: “With such great weight did the Holy Spirit set her, that the Virgin of Christ remained unmoved.” (Master of the St Lucy Legend, 1480. Click to enlarge.)
    A tradition iconographic image has the saint holding a cross as a sign of martyrdom as in the beautiful fresco.
    I finish with Caravaggio and his Burial of St Lucy. This is a late painting done when he was in exile, so to speak, from Rome and living in Sicily, the home of St Lucy. It is an altarpiece, and in my opinion, one of his most brilliant paintings. I do not know if the stylistic development is by accident or design, but regardless, I like the result, which reflects the developing baroque style better than his early work. It is shrouded in more mystery, with disappearing edges, far more numinous monochrome rendering and less colouration than he might have painted in his youth. The composition is brilliant; the arcs formed by the limbs of the two figures in the foreground create a mandorla, which frames the figure of St Lucy. The only bright color is the red robe of a bystander that vertically bisects the mandorla shape, striking to the heart of the martyr.
    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 Cathedral of St Eugene in Santa Rosa, California, will have a candlelit Rorate Mass in the traditional rite on Saturday, December 16th, starting at 6 a.m. The church is located at 2323 Montgomery Drive.

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    Here is a great set of photographs taken on the feast of St Ambrose at the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione, the home of the traditional Ambrosian rite. This was a Missa cantata; these photos very nicely illustrate some of the particular customs of the ancient and venerable liturgical Rite named for the Patron Saint of the city of Milan. Our thanks once again to Nicola de’ Grandi, who also served as the MC of this Mass.

    Before the Mass proper begins, the celebrant and ministers enter to the singing of a chant called a Psallendum, which is repeated from the end of Lauds. This is followed by a hymn, 12 Kyrie eleisons (6 low and 6 high), and another Psallendum, Gloria Patri, Sicut erat, and the repetition of the second Psallendum. At Gloria Patri, all bow to the Cross, at Sicut erat, to the celebrant, and the procession enters the sanctuary as the Psallendum is repeated.
    The thurible has no cover, and is swung in a pattern of circles which keep the coals from flying out!

    On a limited number of feast days, including that of St Ambrose, a brief account of the Saint’s life and death, called the Depositio, is read in place of the lesson from the Old Testament. The reader is accompanied by two acolytes, as are the subdeacon and deacon in a solemn Mass.
    Incensing the Missal for the Gospel

    At the antiphon “after the Gospel” which precedes the Offertory. The default position for the acolytes is standing in front of the altar, not to the sides as in the Roman Rite.
    The epicletic gesture of spreading out the hands over the elements to be consecrated is done during the Offertory prayers, but also at the Hanc igitur as in the Roman Rite.
    During the incensations, the traditional Ambrosian custom is to hold the chasuble up perpendicular to the floor, as seen here.
    If there is a cleric in attendence at a Missa cantata, he incenses the celebrant, rather than the MC or an acolyte.

    The Lavabo is done in silence immediately before the words Qui pridie in the Canon.

    As in a great many medieval Uses of the Roman Rite, after the Consecration, the priest holds his arms out in the form of a Cross from Unde et memores to the first sign of the Cross over the Host at hostiampuram.
    The Mass was sung by the choir Aurora Totus.

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    NLM is pleased once again to publish a reflection by Dom Mark Kirby, O.S.B., Prior of the Benedictine Monks of Perpetual Adoration of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland, this time comparing marriage and the monastic vocation from the vantage of the sacrificial commitment to lifelong fidelity, come what may — an urgent matter in an age that finds it difficult to accept either indissoluble marriage or total commitment to religious life.

    “Your Bodies a Living Sacrifice”:

    Infirmity and Stability in the Rule of Saint Benedict

    Dom Mark Daniel Kirby, O.S.B.
    Silverstream Priory

    Of Matrimony and Monasticism
    The marriage vow, such as it has been passed down in the Christian liturgical tradition, takes into account the eventuality, I should even say, the inevitability, of sickness. As early as the fourteenth century, bridegrooms were saying to their brides: I take you to be my wife and my spouse and I pledge to you the faith of my body, that I will be faithful to you and loyal with my body and my goods and that I will keep you in sickness and in health and in whatever condition it will please the Lord to place you, and that I shall not exchange you for better or worse until the end.

    Professions: Matrimonial and Monastic

    There is a striking similarity between the monastic vow of stability and the marriage vow. The difference lies in the consequences of both commitments: for the life of the monk on the one hand, and for the life of the husband on the other. Monastic profession is made to God in the presence of witnesses:
    Let him who is to be received make before all, in the Oratory, a promise of stability, conversion of life, and obedience, in the presence of God and of His saints, so that, if he should ever act otherwise, he may know that he will be condemned by Him Whom he mocketh. Let him draw up this promise in writing, in the name of the saints whose relics are in the altar, and of the Abbot there present. (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 58)
    Matrimonial profession is also made in the presence of witnesses, but unlike monastic profession, it is addressed to one’s spouse rather than to God. Whereas a husband gives Himself to God through the mediation of his wife, and a wife through the mediation her husband, the monk gives Himself directly to God. Matrimony is a sacrament because it signifies the union of Christ with the Church; monastic profession is a sacrifice, that is, a consecration, because by it the monk becomes a whole burnt offering to God, a victim laid upon the altar.

    Sacrament and Sacrifice

    This is not to argue that the sacrificial dimension is absent from holy matrimony, nor that the sacramental dimension is absent from monastic profession. In marriage the sacrificial offering of self is mediated through one’s spouse, just as the offering of Christ and of the Church are interdependent in the sacred liturgy: Christ offering through the Church, and the Church offering through Christ. In the monastic life, Christ’s self-offering — His victimhood — is made visible in the humble fidelity of the monk who, having once placed himself mystically upon the altar, remains there until the consummation of his sacrifice. While marriage is a sacrament bearing within itself a sacrificial quality; the monastic state is a sacrifice — a consecration — bearing within itself a sacramental quality.

    In both instances there is the gift of one’s body and goods. In marriage one pledges the faith of one’s body and goods to one’s spouse; this is a sacrament of Christ giving Himself, together will all the merits of His Blessed Passion, to the Church. In monastic profession a man pledges the faith of his body and goods to God; in this way, he unites himself to the sacrifice of Christ, offering Himself to the Father upon the altar of the Cross, for the sake of His Bride, the Church. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich he became poor, for your sakes; that through his poverty you might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). The word of the Apostle finds a mystic fulfillment in what Saint Benedict writes: “Whatever property he hath let him first bestow upon the poor, or by a solemn deed of gift make over to the monastery, keeping nothing of it all for himself, as knowing that from that day forward he will have no power even over his own body” (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 58). For Saint Benedict, then, the monk is a man offered, an oblation, a victim made over to God in sacrifice. By monastic profession, a man places himself upon the altar together with the oblations of bread and wine. Doing this, he becomes, according to the teaching of Saint Augustine a sacrificium.
    A true sacrifice is every work which is done that we may be united to God in holy fellowship, and which has a reference to that supreme good and end in which alone we can be truly blessed. And therefore even the mercy we show to men, if it is not shown for God’s sake, is not a sacrifice. For, though made or offered by man, sacrifice is a divine thing, as those who called it sacrifice meant to indicate. Thus man himself, consecrated in the name of God, and vowed to God, is a sacrifice in so far as he dies to the world that he may live to God. (The City of God, Book X, Chapter VI)

    The Gift of One’s Body

    Just as the husband gives his body to his wife, and the wife, her body to her husband, saying, in effect, Suscipe me (Receive me, take me unto thyself), so too does the monk make the offering of his body to God, saying Suscipe me, according to the word of Saint Paul, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).

    Saint Paul’s injunction is addressed, it is true, to all the baptized. In the case of one married, however, the offering of one’s body to one’s spouse, making of the two one flesh, cannot be dissociated from the offering made to God; the husband does not make his offering to God apart from his wife, nor the wife apart from her husband.

    In the case of one consecrated in monastic profession, it is by virtue of sacramental union with Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist, that the offering of one’s body is made, symbolically and really, from the altar, directly to God. This is why Saint Benedict enjoins the monk making profession to place the legal instrument of his self-offering upon the altar. The legal instrument, a document written out by the hand of the novice himself, represents his body and all his goods; it is, for all intents and purposes, an extension of himself.
    Let him write it with his own hand; or at least, if he knoweth not how, let another write it at his request, and let the novice put his mark to it, and place it with his own hand upon the altar. When he hath done this, let the novice himself immediately begin this verse: “Receive me, O Lord, according to Thy Word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my expectation. (Rule, ch. 58)

    In Sickness and in Health

    The marriage vow says explicitly that the reciprocal gift of self in matrimony is irrevocable “in sickness and in health”. Sickness is no less a reality in the monastic state than it is in marriage. Monks fall ill. Monks are, like anyone else, susceptible to suffering every manner of infirmity and sickness of mind and body. Infirmity and sickness do not diminish or dissolve the sacred bond of monastic profession, any more than they do the bond of holy matrimony. Infirmity and sickness are, rather, consecrated by monastic profession; the very suffering by which a monk is brought low becomes part of the offering lifted high above the altar in union with the sacrifice of Christ renewed in Holy Mass. One catches a glimpse of this in the Supplices te rogamus of the Roman Canon:
    We humbly beseech thee, almighty God: command these offerings to be brought by the hands of thy holy Angel to thine altar on high, in sight of thy divine majesty: that all we who at this partaking of the altar shall receive the most sacred Body and Blood of thy Son, may be fulfilled with all heavenly benediction and grace. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
    A monk brought low by sickness enters into an intimate identification with the suffering Christ. Although he may not feel this, he believes it, repeating as often as necessary the words of the Apostle: “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24) and, again, “And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. And that I live now in the flesh: I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

    For Saint Benedict, the sick brethren are a real presence of Christ in the monastery:
    Before all things and above all things care is to be had of the sick, that they be served in very deed as Christ Himself, for He hath said: “I was sick, and ye visited Me.” And, “What ye have done unto one of these little ones, ye have done unto Me.” And let the sick themselves remember that they are served for the honour of God, and not grieve the brethren who serve them by unnecessary demands. Yet must they be patiently borne with, because from such as these is gained a more abundant reward. Let it be, therefore, the Abbot’s greatest care that they suffer no neglect. And let a cell be set apart by itself for the sick brethren, and one who is God-fearing, diligent and careful, be appointed to serve them (Rule, ch. 36).
    The Declarations on the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict of Silverstream Priory are particularly compelling on this point:
    The community, for their part, will show their sick brethren the most tender compassion in both word and deed. Believing that, save in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, Our Lord is nowhere more present in the monastery than in the person of a monk brought low by infirmity, the monks will treat him with the greatest charity, making allowance for his weaknesses and bearing his burdens.
    Infirmity and sickness are not impediments to fulfilling the monastic vocation, any more than they would be impediments to a married couple’s growth in holiness. Infirmity and sickness can be, in the monastic life as in marriage, the occasion for an exponential growth in charity, that is, in self-sacrificing love.

    In Whatever Condition It Will Please the Lord to Place You

    To fidelity “in sickness and in health”, the marriage vow adds (in the words of an old French formula) “and in whatever condition it will please the Lord to place you, and that I shall not exchange you for better or worse until the end”. The monk, by vowing stability in a particular monastic family, binds himself in the same way to the community that receives him. He vows to remain faithful to his monastic family “in whatever condition it will please the Lord to place it”, promising that he “shall not exchange it for better or worse until the end”. This means, not only, in sickness, infirmity, and poverty, but also in persecution, exile, war, and famine. The annals of monastic history attest repeatedly to acts of heroic fidelity to the vow of stability. The community, for its part, pledges loyalty to each monk “in whatever condition it will please the Lord to place him”, promising not to exchange him for better or worse until the end”.

    Just are there are romantic notions of marriage in which neither spouse never grows sick, or weak, or old, and never loses his or her attractive looks, hearing, memory, and mobility, so too are there romantic notions of monastic life in which the community is fixed in an immutable physical and moral perfection, untouched by illness, weakness, poverty, and persecution. Such romantic notions fail to withstand the message of the verbum Crucis, the message of the Cross. “The word of the cross, to them indeed that perish, is foolishness; but to them that are saved, that is, to us, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

    In the end, as a monk is confronted with the vicissitudes of life, with his own weaknesses, and with those of his brethren in hac lacrimarum valle, he takes comfort in the words of Christ to the Apostle and makes them, in every way, his own: “My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Chastened and humbled by the experience of his own infirmity, he begins to say in truth, “By the grace of God, I am what I am; and his grace in me hath not been void” (1 Corinthians 15:10), and again, “Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).

    Spiritual Fatherhood

    The monk, by abiding in the stability of the monastic family, like the husband and wife, abiding in the stability of matrimony, transcends himself and opens himself to the gift of a supernatural generativity. The journey into a mystic — that is, a hidden — fatherhood is rendered possible by the monk’s fidelity to the grace of monastic consecration “in sickness and in health and in whatever condition it will please the Lord to place him”, and this until death, and even into eternity.

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    As always, we are very grateful to everyone who sent in their photographs of liturgies celebrated on the Immaculate Conception. We have a good variety in this one, with several different countries represented, blue vestments being used in the Philippines and in a Byzantine liturgy, the Ambrosian Rite, and a Pontifical Mass. I also include here the Mass celebrated by our good friends of the Fraternity of St Joseph the Guardian on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe; although they are based in France, most of the members of the order are Chilean, and celebrate it as a patronal feast.

    A note about Rorate Masses: we have already received several sets of photos of Rorate Masses. We will do at least one photopost of them next week, possibly two, which will also include photos of Gaudete Sunday liturgies and anything else that might come up for Advent. If you have already sent some in, know that we will definitely be glad to use them. Evangelize thoguh beauty!

    San Paolo Maggiore (Chapel of St Cajetan) - Naples, Italy (IBP)
    Organized by the Coetus Fidelium of St Cajetan and St Andrew Avellino and the Royal Circle Francesco II of Bourbon; celebrated by Don Giorgio Lenzi, IBP, Chaplain of Merit of the Sovereign Constantinian Military Order of St George, and secretary of the Order’s Grand Prior, Card. Castrillon Hoyos. Several members of the Constantinian Order were present for the celebration, and some very nice floral decoration were set up in front of the church, in one of the city’s most crowded and chaotic piazzas.

    Mary, Mother of the Church Chapel - Maleizen, Belgium (Servants of Jesus and Mary)

    Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary - Legnano, Italy (Ambrosian Rite)

    St Mary’s Parish - Kalaazoo, Michigan

    Basilica of the Immaculate Conception - Fribourg, Switzerland (FSSP)
    For the patronal feast, the Fraternity’s parish in the city where the order is headquartered welcomed His Excellency Thomas Gullickson, Apostolic Nuncio to Switzerland and Lichtenstein, for the celebration of a Pontifical Mass, and an evening procession in honor of the Virgin Mary through the streets of the city.

    St James the Great - Ayala Alabang, Muntinlupa City, Philippines

    Immediately after Mass, the Consecration of the Philippines to the Immaculate Conception, which was mandated by the First Plenary Council of the Philippines, was renewed.
    Pontifical Shrine of Our Lady of Mt Carmel - Manhattan, New York City
    The National Night of Prayer for Life began on Friday, December 8, at 7:30 PM with Solemn High Mass of the Immaculate Conception, followed by exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. The full set of Mysteries of the Holy Rosary were recited, along with various hymns, the Prayers and Chaplet to St Michael, the recitation of Psalm 51 with arms outstretched, as part of the National Hour of Life beginning at midnight; this was observed in 20 other parishes in the Archdiocese of New York and many others around the country. The all night vigil before the Sacrament continued with Prayers to the Holy Black Nazarene and Our Lady of Caysasay, the Chaplets of the Most Precious Blood and Divine Mercy; Adoration concluded with a Procession and Benediction, followed by a Rorate Mass.

    St Joseph Oratory - Detroit, Michigan

    St Agnes - St Paul, Minnesota

    St John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church - Minneapolis, Minnesota

    Cathedral Basilica of Ss Peter and Paul - Philadelphia, Pennsylvnia

    Church of the Navitity of the Virgin - La Londe les Maures, France (Fraternity of St Joseph the Guardian.

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