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Articles on this Page
- 12/06/17--09:00: _Advent and Christma...
- 12/06/17--14:55: _The Legend of St Ni...
- 12/07/17--08:16: _Photopost Request: ...
- 12/07/17--10:30: _The Relics of St Am...
- 12/07/17--13:32: _A Boy-Bishop for St...
- 12/08/17--08:41: _The Feast of the Im...
- 12/08/17--14:59: _An Original Setting...
- 12/09/17--15:18: _Notitiae - Availabl...
- 12/10/17--15:44: _2018 Ordo for the D...
- 12/11/17--07:12: _Time for the Soul t...
- 12/12/17--00:31: _Hand-drawn Altar Ca...
- 12/12/17--06:49: _Rorate Mass This Sa...
- 12/12/17--08:38: _New Book on Dominic...
- 12/12/17--09:51: _Substance and Symbo...
- 12/12/17--13:00: _Photopost: December...
- 12/13/17--08:28: _St Lucy - A Saint o...
- 12/13/17--09:00: _Rorate Mass This Sa...
- 12/13/17--17:49: _Traditional Ambrosi...
- 12/14/17--06:46: _Guest Article: Dom ...
- 12/14/17--14:18: _Immaculate Concepti...
- 12/06/17--14:55: The Legend of St Nicholas in Liturgy and Art
- 12/07/17--08:16: Photopost Request: Immaculate Conception 2017
- 12/07/17--10:30: The Relics of St Ambrose
- 12/07/17--13:32: A Boy-Bishop for St Nicholas’ Day
- 12/08/17--08:41: The Feast of the Immaculate Conception 2017
- 12/08/17--14:59: An Original Setting of Psalm 116 by Henri de Villiers
- 12/09/17--15:18: Notitiae - Available Online!
- 12/10/17--15:44: 2018 Ordo for the Dominican Rite Breviary Now Available
- 12/12/17--00:31: Hand-drawn Altar Cards by Daniel Mitsui
- 12/12/17--06:49: Rorate Mass This Saturday in Jewsey City, NJ
- 12/12/17--08:38: New Book on Dominican Lay Brothers, Including their Liturgical Life
- 12/12/17--09:51: Substance and Symbol, and Why Life Depends on Such Abstract Ideas
- 12/13/17--09:00: Rorate Mass This Saturday in Santa Rosa, California
- 12/13/17--17:49: Traditional Ambrosian Mass for the Feast of St Ambrose
- 12/14/17--14:18: Immaculate Conception Photopost 2017
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.
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 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).
From last year’s Immaculate Conception photopost, Pontifical Mass at the Oratory of the Immaculate Conception in Birmingham, England.
|The relics of St Ambrose, photographed during a canonical recognition in the late 19th century.|
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 patronal feast day of the Duomo, and has regularly been used in solemn processions ever since. (Three other photos of it are given below.)
The original preparatory design of the “gonfalone - big banner (16½ x 11½ feet)” of St Ambrose, by Filippo Meda.
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.
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.
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.
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: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIz1_vK-gfwd26Q3cIvDxPg
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!
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.
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. 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.
Much can be said on behalf of the absolute fittingness of the silent Canon. I have gone into this topic elsewhere. 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.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.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.
 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.
 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.
 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 215–16.
 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.
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:
The Gospel card and Lavabo card (each 9" × 12").
The Lavabo card with my hand, for scale:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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)
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).
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.
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!