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    From our friends of the Schola Sainte-Cécile, here is a beautiful proper tone for the traditional epistle of the feast of the Holy Innocents, Apocalypse 14, 1-5. (Click here to see a downloadable pdf version in two pages.)

    Here are Henri de Villiers’ notes on the chant, translated by Zachary Thomas; they are also being published on Canticum Salomonis.

    This special chant was formerly sung in places with interwoven French verses that paraphrased the Latin text, a “farced epistle”, as they were called. These epistles were chanted by two or three subdeacons on certains feasts of the year, especially during the period around the feast of Christmas, from St Nicholas to Epiphany. We find farced epistles very frequently in liturgical manuscripts from the 12th to the 13th centuries, after which the practice seems to decline and disappear. Some however were composed as late as the 14th century, and were still sung with their texts in Old French in certain parts of France into the middle of the 18th century, especially the epistle of St. Stephen, which is probably the most ancient. For linguists who study the history of the French language, these farces are very valuable because they represent some of the most ancient written witnesses of French, as expressed in numerous regional forms.

    Here is the beginning of the Epistle of the Holy Innocents transcribed by Fr. Lebeuf in his famous Treatise on ecclesiastical chant, with tropes in Old Picard. [The text in square brackets is not included in the music here, but can be seen in this book. Translation by Gerhard Eger.]

    Now listen, old and young, draw near to this writ. If ye listen to what this lesson sayeth and what it singeth, I ask you all that each one pray that the Lord God dwell in us, and take his rest in our hearts, and not forget not our end.
    A Lesson from the book of the Apocalypse of blessed John the Apostle. Hearken ye to the sense and reason of Saint John’s vision. They call it “Apocalypse,” the raising of the house, and of the lofty house that God promiseth us in his name, by the Gospel and by the sermon. We must not doubt that he sayeth in his lesson.

    In those days, I saw the Lamb standing upon Mount Sion, and with Him a hundred and forty-four thousand having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. In those days whereof I sing to ye, Saint John saw a very large mount. Sion is its name, and on its slope there is a standing Lamb. Accompanying Him are a hundred and forty thousand children, and four thousand more withal, and in the midst of their forehead above their faces they bear the name of the living God. [Mount Sion is the Holy Church, which the Lord God made and placed upon a firm and well-founded stone, and He taught Her with Scripture, which doth crush and break the haughty, and doth blow and kindle charity. But the sinner hath chosen another way, by evil counsel and by lust. He rendereth a smoky wind for flame, and doth separate himself from God’s love exceedingly. This Lamb is atop the mount, very beautiful, very good, with true wool. With Him is a very large company, but none in this multitude matches Him. It is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Who through the heavens on a broad plain taketh up again and again the Innocents, they who praise God with healthy voice.]

    And I heard a voice from heaven like a voice of many waters, and like a voice of loud thunder; and the voice that I heard was as of harpers playing on their harps. [From afar I heard the waters turn, just like the sea, and then I heard loud thundering and the clash of thunder. Then I heard the sound of harps, harpers with song. Now, we must explain this well: Our deeds, our words, and our thoughts, that we can bring together, we must give over to the Lord God. The waters are the great multitude, the bad, the good, and the incredulous, which God made to be born on earth, as many as there are flowing waters. All must in their lives praise the Lord God almighty. And the thundering I heard from God is what he shall threaten us with, thrashing us with want, and chastising us with hunger and war, as a father his child. The harps produce a melody, while man says a psalmody, and he afflicts himself with fasting when he hath no hypocrisy. Without pride and without envy, he singeth to God in symphony, and rendereth to Him a sweet harmony.]

    And they were singing as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except those hundred and forty-four thousand, who have been purchased from the earth. [Those whom I mentioned, the children, will sing a song the like whereof no man hath ever heard. The news was of a new sound: it is called the Gospel, and none can hold the tone, besides the companions.]

    These are they who were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb wherever He goes. [Those who love virginity, and resolved in their hearts to keep their bodies in purity, can serve the Majesty that is of such great power. Those who have besmirched themselves and amused themselves in filth, and have shriven themselves well, and purified and cleansed themselves, shall be able to follow in tranquillity the Lamb of such great holiness.]

    These were purchased from among men, first-fruits unto God and unto the Lamb, and in their mouth there was found no lie. [These Innocents are the first whom God suffered to be martyred, and be struck and broken down, and be defleshed on the rocks. The tyrant and the butcher, for the sake of Jesus Christ our prince, sought to kill and slay them, for Herod who wished to reign alone, with no other heir. When the tyrant beheaded them, their vermilion blood did flow, and while milk appeared, which they had first suckled from their mother, from the mouth that held her. And when the children beheld the bright sword that shone, they laughed on account of their age, for without fail when they looked they bethought that they were playing in that spot.]

    They are without blemish before the throne of God. For they are without any blemish, and without care of this world. [To God’s holy nature they have well offered their likeness and figure as a pure offering. They shall never suffer a harsh word, if, as Holy Scripture sayeth, throughout all the days that the world should last, God shall grant them sweet pasture, and God, as good nourishment! Now, let us pray to God very simply that He might grant us amendment, and He shall sweetly hearken to us. He desireth to take us at His will hither to our end, and stand for us soit on the judgement day. Thereafter he shall give us a dwelling in Paradise, as His gift. Now, say ye all: Amen! Amen!]

    The French paraphrase is set in the same 7th mode as the cantillation for the Latin text, but the chant is not set to the same melody. In other farced epistles, all the strophes reproduce the same melody, distinct from that of the Latin, which develops more freely from one verse to the other. It is probable that the French verses were composed to be inserted into the pre-existing Latin cantillation. Are these cantillations, at least with regard to the Latin text, very ancient? Probably. They are found with similar melodies from one diocese to another. The two examples Fr Lebeuf gives of the farced epistle of the feast of St Stephen (26th December), taken from the books of Amiens (1250) and from a church in the province of Lyon or Sens (1400) contain very similar melodies—both French and Latin—but with different words for the French paraphrases (except the first strophe).

    Hence, the farced Epistles are precious because they let us hear an echo of the great variety of liturgical cantillations that must have been in use to chant the various Epistles and Gospels of the year. Thus they are a memory of an ancient stage of the liturgy, much richer than what has come down to us. (The Roman liturgical books since the 17th century contain only two tones for the Epistle, one of which is just recto-tono.)

    The chant for the Epistle of the Holy Innocents cited by Lebeuf is taken from the ancient liturgical books of Amiens. The French trope contains a full 130 verses all in masculine rhymes to facilitate their adaptation to plain-chant. Our schola preserves the chant of the Latin verses, without the French paraphrases, and we have completed the first verses provided by Fr Lebeuf based on a 19th-century work by Dr. Rigollot. The 7th mode, which naturally has a wide range, was perhaps chosen based on the meaning of the text. The melody rises in the second verse to express the text:

    “Et audivi vocem de coelo, tamquam vocem aquarum multarum, et tamquam vocem tonitrui magni. – And I heard a voice from heaven, as the noise of many waters, and as the voice of great thunder.” (Apocalypse 21, 14)

    Note that the 4th verse especially (and to an extent the 5th verse) imitates the psalmody of the 7th mode, and this psalmody might have inspired the entire cantillation for the Epistle on Childermas.

    Although the Parisian books do not preserve any farced epistles, this might be because few liturgical manuscripts from Paris from before the middle of the 18th century have survived. Must we conclude that the diocese of Paris rejected the singing of farced epistles?

    No! In an interesting ordinance promulgated in 1198 by bishop Odo of Sully to regulate the celebration of the feast of the Circumcision on the 1st of January in Paris, we find the following passage, which demonstrates that this city, like the other dioceses of France, also farced epistles. “Missa similiter cum ceteris Horis ordinate celebrabitur a aliquo prœdictorum, hoc addito quod Epistola cum farsia dicetur a duobus in cappis sericeis. – The Mass shall be celebrated like the rest of the Hours by one of the aforesaid, with the addition of a farced Epistle which shall be said by two [ministers] in silken copes.”

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  • 12/28/18--09:58: The “Coventry Carol”
  • One of the most haunting of all Christmas-season carols is the “Coventry Carol,” whose text, melody, and harmony come from a medieval play, the sixteenth-century Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors.

    In 2010, I wrote an arrangement of this carol for unaccompanied SATB choir. While retaining the basic structure, the arrangement uses counterpoint, polytonality, and sustained notes to lend the work a heightened intensity. I also added an ostinato line from the Preface of the Mass for the Dead—vita mutatur, non tollitur,“life is changed, not destroyed”—and a final invocation of the Holy Innocents, orate pro nobis, Amen.

    The performance in the video, sung by the Ecclesia Choir, took place at St. John Cantius in Chicago on June 25, 2017, under the direction of Deacon Timothy Woods.

    The Coventry Carol

    Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
    By, by, lully, lullay.

    Vita mutatur, non tollitur.

    1. O sisters too,
    How may we do,
    For to preserve this day
    This poor youngling
    For whom we do sing
    By, bye, lully, lullay?

    2. Herod, the king,
    In his raging,
    Charged he hath this day
    His men of might,
    in his own sight,
    All young children to slay.

    3.That woe is me,
    Poor child, for thee!
    And ever morn and day,
    For thy parting
    Neither say nor sing,
    By, by, lully, lullay.

    Orate pro nobis. Amen.

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  • 12/29/18--21:45: St Thomas of Canterbury 2018
  • St Thomas à Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on December 29th, 1170, less than a month after he had returned from six years of exile in France, where he had been driven by a long persecution at the hands of King Henry II of England. The murder was followed by a wave of revulsion throughout Europe, which did much to promote the reforms within the Church that St Thomas had died to defend. He was canonized by Pope Alexander III, who had received him in audience during his exile just over two years after his death, in no small measure because of the innumerable miracles that took place at his tomb.

    The following piece is one of the earliest known musical compositions that refers to St Thomas, and very cleverly associates him the Holy Innocents, whose feast is kept the day before his; England is likened to Rama, King Henry to King Herod, and Thomas to the first-born sons whom Herod killed. France then becomes Egypt, and since Egypt was also the place of the exile of the Patriarch Joseph, St Thomas is called “the Joseph of Canterbury.” The implication of this is, of course, that just as Christ’s exile delayed His unjust death, so did that of St Thomas.

    In Rama sonat gemitus / plorante Rachel Anglie: / Herodis namque genitus / dat ipsam ignominie. / En eius primogenitus / et Joseph Cantuarie / Exulat si sit venditus, / Egiptum colit Gallie.

    Lamentation sounds forth in Rama, as the “Rachel” of England weepeth. A new Herod gives her unto ignominy. Behold the first-born of the realm, the “Joseph” of Canterbury, as if he were sold, dwells in the “Egypt” of France. (On the YouTube channel that posted this, the first word of the 7th line is correctly transcribed “exulat,” but the singers clearly say “exsultat.” Thanks to Dr Jeffrey Morse for bringing this to my notice. UPDATE: Jesson Allerite has linked a source in the combox that gives a better reading for that line, “exsul, ac si sit venditus - an exile, as if he had been sold.”)

    Here is a very early reliquary of St Thomas, made at Limoges, France in the 1180s, showing the scene of his assassination in the lower part, his burial and the ascent of his soul into heaven in the upper. Devotion to him was incredibly powerful in the Middle Ages and afterwards, especially in England until the Reformation. (It is to his shrine that the pilgrims of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are making their way.) More than 40 such reliquaries are still extant.

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    Man, the human person, is defined by thirst: “O God, my God, to thee do I watch at break of day. For thee my soul hath thirsted; for thee my flesh, O how many ways!” (Ps 62:2). This existential thirst never goes away as long as we live, year in, year out. Indeed, in a healthy man, it should increase until it becomes unbearable, and he dies from it, to satisfy it at last.

    Our thirst, our primal need, is to worship — to be filled, sated with the presence of God, the reality of God. “In a desert land, and where there is no way, and no water: so in the sanctuary have I come before thee, to see thy power and thy glory” (Ps 62:3). This mortal life, so obviously good that we cling to it rather desperately, is yet a place of constant change, where it often seems there is no way, and no water, except when we go to the sanctuary. There we find the power to be, to live, to suffer, and to die. There we find intimations of glory that beckon us forward, out of a desert land and into a watered garden (Is 58:3).

    Socrates said that the purpose of philosophy was to prepare for death. “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better,” as St. Paul said (Phil 1:23). The Apostle saw that his thirst for life could be quenched only in the beatific vision, which he himself tasted in the rapture he narrates in 2 Corinthians 12. In this vision there would be, at last, surcease of restless desire in the intensity of blissful unshakable possession. “They shall be inebriated with the plenty of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of thy pleasure” (Ps 35:9).

    For him who seeks God and dwells in Him, life, however confusing and difficult, is never a parched and trackless desert in which one wanders aimlessly. For the atheist or nihilist or hedonist, however, could it be anything else? Our temporal pleasures are evanescent and, in a way, unreal, as they disappear into the maw of inexorable time, with the passing of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, millennia. This, perhaps, explains the somewhat melancholy cast that, for many, hangs over the Christmas season and into the start of the New Year, a melancholy many attempt to drown in spirited celebrations that have, as their only lasting result, the killing of time.

    Catholics, however, think and act differently about time. We find ourselves in the unfolding of the liturgy’s temporal and sanctoral cycle; we situate our lives upon a calendar that precedes and supersedes the civil calendar, and opens onto eternity. We do not say that January 1st is our new year, although, as the Epistle to Diognetus has it, we politely go along with the conventions of our place and time, when they are not wicked. Our newness is in Christ, who is before and after the ages, and within all ages: He is the beginning of the cycle in Advent, and the end of the cycle in the Last Sunday after Pentecost, when His ominous discourse about the end of the world places us in mind of the termination of time itself and of the whirling change that threatens to sweep away God’s immortal handiwork. “The Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8).

    The passage from life to death and death to life, a passage of which we never cease to be reminded by the cycle of seasons and the two off-rhythm calendars we live by, does not, fundamentally, leave the Christian melancholy. He see himself as a “work in progress,” even as is the entire cosmos, and the Church in those of her members who are living in time. Our reality is not all at once, like a “fact,” but a reality that God is shaping as He leads it towards Himself. St. Thomas Aquinas expresses this point well:
    ‘He who is’ is the most proper name of God among other names. . . . For that is perfect outside of which there is nothing. But our being has something of it outside itself, for it is without something of itself which is now past and something else which is future, but in the divine being nothing is either past or future; and therefore He has His whole perfect being and on account of this, to Him properly belongs Being. (Sent. I.8.1.1)
    What lends reality to our being, variable and sequential as it is; what constitutes us as one and permanent, so that we are not fractured and dissipated, is our resting in the Alpha and Omega, free from every shadow of change. If the Holy Spirit has made the liturgy the center of His working in our souls, as Dom Guéranger claimed, we might add: the Holy Spirit has made the liturgy the anchor for our ship in time of turmoil, the sail in times of fair weather, the harbor in time of need, the open ocean in time of peace. We are centered in the king and center of all hearts, rex et centrum omnium cordium.

    This is why a liturgy that is theocentric, stable, determinate, orderly, and saturated with content is exactly suited to the nature of man-in-time, man in via, en route to the beatific vision. It must be theocentric or else it fails altogether to be worship. It must be stable, determinate, and orderly if it is to give shape, meaning, and direction to our passage through this mutable, variable, and often chaotic life. It must be saturated with ritual, textual, musical content in order to be suitable food and drink for rational animals defined by their capacity for the infinite. Man’s ever-recurring thirst is both slaked and newly awakened by the peaceful rhythm of the one-year lectionary, the rich sanctoral cycle, the alternating thinness and density of liturgical seasons, the comfort of familiar set prayers in the same ancient tongue and the provocation of the newly-noticed detail.

    This is why, at the end of each year, whether ecclesiastical or civic, Catholics — instead of succumbing to bouts of melancholy or fending them off with feeble weapons — have every reason to look forward to the sobria ebrietas, the sober drunkenness, of another year fruitfully spent in worshiping the Lord with the traditional rites He has bestowed on His Church. “In the sanctuary have I come before thee, to see thy power and thy glory.”
    Visit for information, articles, sacred music, and Os Justi Press.

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    I was travelling this weekend, so we’re off to late start with this year’s Christmas photoposts; this means there’s still plenty of time to send in your photos of Christmas liturgies, since we will definitely have at least one more before we move on to Epiphany. ( Since this will be the last post of the year 2018, I wish to express my gratitude to all our of readers who have sent in material for photoposts and of all kinds other things (church restorations, Pontifical ceremonies, etc.) over the course of year. Your generosity in sharing information about the good things happening in your local churches contributes mightily to the important work of evangelizing through beauty.

    Our Lady of China Parish - Hong Kong
    Celebrated by His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Zen, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong

    Our Lady, Gate of Heaven - Cebu City, Philippine Islands

    Monastère Saint-Benoît - La Garde-Freinet, France

    St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Aldershot, Hampshire, England
    Mass in the Ordinary Form, with the ordinary sung in Latin from the Kyriale. As of the beginning of Advent all Masses are now offered ad orientem, and all Sunday Masses use the Roman Canon.

    St Mary’s Parish - Providence, Rhode Island (FSSP)
    Our Lady, Star of the Sea - Jackson, Michigan

    St Mary’s Parish - Kalamazoo, Michigan

    St Catherine of Siena - New York City
    Mass in the Dominican Rite

    San Simon Piccolo - Venice, Italy (FSSP)

    Sacred Heart - Columbus, Ohio

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    It is a commonplace of pre-Conciliar liturgical scholarship that the title of today’s feast as that of the Circumcision is a later development in the Roman Rite, imported from the Gallican Rite and elsewhere. The revised Butler’s Lives of the Saints states “On the whole it would seem that outside Rome—in Gaul, Germany, Spain, and even at Milan and in the south of Italy—an effort was made to exalt the mystery of the Circumcision in the hope that it might fill the popular mind and win the revelers from their pagan superstitions. In Rome itself, however, there is no trace of any reference to the Circumcision until a relatively late period.” Similar statements are made in the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the feast, in the Bl. Schuster’s The Sacramentary, in Dom Suitbert Bäumer’s History of the Breviary, and in Mons. Pierre Battifol’s History of the Roman Breviary. [1] This assessment is based on a very superficial reading of the day’s original title and liturgical texts; in reality, the Circumcision was a prominent feature of today’s liturgy from the very beginning.

    The title “feast of the Circumcision” is first attested in the 540s, in a non-Roman lectionary, known as the Lectionary of Victor of Capua. However, it may well be rather older than that. A council held at Tour in France in 567 refers explicitly to the Circumcision as a feast of long-standing: “our fathers established … that on the Calends (of January) the Mass of the Circumcision should be celebrated.” The words cited above from Butler’s Lives about “win(ning) the revelers from their pagan superstitions” refer to a common feature of the liturgies of January 1st, that they were designed at least in part as an answer to and reproof of riotous pagan celebrations of New Year’s Day; the same canon of the Council of Tours speaks of three day of litanies instituted in this season “to trod down the custom of the pagans.”

    In the most ancient Roman liturgical books, however, the title is simply “the octave of the Lord”, as we find for example in the Lectionary of Wurzburg and the Gelasian Sacramentary. Nevertheless, even though the word “circumcision” is not used as the title of the liturgical day, or in the prayers, it is not true that “there is no trace of any reference to the Circumcision” in the early Roman liturgy.

    Part of the Mass of “the Octave of the Lord” in the Gellone Sacramentary, a sacramentary of the Gelasian type written in 780-800 AD. The preface cited below begins with the stylized VD towards the top of the page. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 12048)
    The Breviary and Missal of St Pius V are very much in the minority in having as the Collect for the day the prayer “Deus, qui salutis aeternae”, which refers principally to the Virgin Mary as the one “through whom we merited to receive the Author of life.” The great majority of liturgical uses (Sarum, Dominican etc.) have instead a collect which is attested in the Gelasian Sacramentary in the 8th century. “O God, who grant us to celebrate the eighth day of the Savior’s Birth; strengthen us (or ‘defend us’ – fac nos muniri) by the everlasting divinity of Him, by whose dealing in the flesh we have been restored (or ‘renewed’ – reparati).” [2]

    The verb “reparo”, of which “reparati” is the past participle, is used especially in mercantile language to mean “to procure by exchange; to purchase, obtain.” In the context of this prayer, it is deliberate chosen in reference to the words immediately before it, “dealing (commercio) in the flesh.” This language of commerce and purchase reflects the fact that the Circumcision was the very first shedding of Christ’s blood, of which St Paul says, “you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body” (1 Cor. 6, 20), and St Peter, “you were not redeemed (literally ‘bought back’) with corruptible things as gold or silver, from your vain conversation of the tradition of your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ …” (1 Pet. 1, 18-19)

    The first antiphon of Lauds on the feast of the Circumcision also refers to this “commerce” or “exchange.” “O wondrous exchange (commercium)! The creator of the human race, taking on a living body, hath deigned to be born of a Virgin; and without seed, coming forth as a man, hath bestowed on us His divinity.” [3] Like the Collect cited above, this is one of the many places where the liturgy of the Christmas season reflects upon the fact that in the process begun with His Incarnation and Birth, and completed in His Passion and Resurrection, Christ does not merely rescue Man from sin and death, but bestows upon him glory and immortality, which the Eastern Fathers call the “divinization” of man.

    It is not true, as is too often stated by people who have every reason to know better, that the early Church had to persuade people of the divinity of Christ. The idea of a divine being of some sort descending from heaven and doing something beneficial for the human race was very congenial to the Greco-Roman mind. What the Church had to persuade the world of was not the divinity of Christ, but rather the humanity of God: the idea that the being that took so much interest in the welfare of the human race that He joined it is none other and none less than God Himself. The language of “commerce” and “exchange” between “divinity” (specified as “everlasting” against the teaching of Arians that the Son of God had a beginning) and “the flesh” is eminently appropriate to the Circumcision, not only because it was the first shedding of Christ’s blood, but also because the manner of its shedding demonstrates the reality and fullness of His temporal human nature which He unites to His eternal divine nature.

    The Circumcision, by Friedrich Herlin, 1466
    The Gelasian Sacramentary has a second collect for the feast which reads as follows: “Almighty and everlasting God, who in Thy only-begotten Son made us to be a new creature; preserve the works of Thy mercy, and cleanse us from every stain of oldness: so that by the help of Thy grace, we may be found in the form of Him in whom our substance is with Thee, Our Lord Jesus Christ, etc.” [4] The expression “new creature” in the context of the feast of the Circumcision refers to one of the two places where St Paul uses the same expression, Galatians 6, 15: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision [5], but a new creature.” This explains, then, that the “oldness” of which we are being cleansed is the rites of both Judaism and paganism, looking forward to the washing of sins in baptism, which is commemorated in a few days time on the feast of the Epiphany.

    It is well known that the Roman Rite anciently used far more prefaces than we have in the later medieval Missals, and that of the Gelasian Sacramentary for January 1st is particularly elaborate. “Truly is it worthy… through Christ our Lord: and as we celebrate today the octeve of His Birth, we venerate Thy wondrous deeds, o Lord. For * She that bore (Him) was both Mother and Virgin; He that was born was both an infant and God. Rightly did the heavens speak, and the Angels give thanks; the shepherds rejoiced, the wise men were changed, kings were troubled, and the little children crowned in their glorious passion. Suckle, o Mother, (Him that is) our food; suckle the bread that cometh from heaven, and was laid in a manger, as if to feed the devout beasts. For there did the ox know his owner, and the ass his master’s crib, namely, the circumcision and the uncircumcision. * Which also our Savior and Lord, being received by Simeon in the temple, deigned entirely to fulfill. And therefore with the Angels etc.” [6]

    The section marked between the stars here is taken from a Christmas sermon by St Augustine [7]; the words “the circumcision and the uncircumcision” stand in apposition to “the ox … and the ass.” This refers to an exegetical tradition of the Church Fathers which goes back to Origen [8], that the ox, a clean animal according to the Law of Moses, represents the Jewish people, the people of the circumcision, while the ass, an unclean animal, represents the gentiles, the people of the uncircumcision. The presence of both at the manger indicates the universality of Christ’s mission as the redeemer and savior of all men, Jew and gentile. He submitted to the Old Law, which He Himself had instituted, but also replaced it with a truly universal rite, since circumcision can only be done to men, but baptism can be done to all, as St Paul teaches: “For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3, 27-28)

    The so-called Sarcophagus of Stilicho, in the Basilica of St. Ambrose in Milan. ca. 400 A.D. The Gospel of St Luke does not say which animals were present in the stable, but an ox and an ass are mentioned in Isaiah 1, 3 in connection with a manger. Once this verse was connected with the Gospel passage, the ox and the ass alone became so indicative of the scene that in a small space, Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, the Magi, the star, and even the stable could all be omitted, as we see here.
    In the Missal of St Pius V, the Gospel of the Circumcision is the shortest of the liturgical year, consisting of a single verse, Luke 2, 21. “After eight days were accomplished, that the Child should be circumcised, His name was called Jesus, which was called by the Angel, before He was conceived in the womb.” Anciently, however, a much longer Gospel was read, and I believe it was because of this that the day was called “the octave of the Lord”, rather “the feast of the Circumcision.”

    In the two oldest lectionaries of the Roman Rite, the Gospel is Luke 21-32, recounting both the Circumcision and the Presentation of Christ in the temple (up to the Nunc dimittis), of which we now celebrate the latter on Candlemass. In the oldest lectionary of the Ambrosian Rite, the same Gospel was read up to verse 40, including also the words of Simeon to the Virgin Mary, and Luke’s account of the prophetess Anna. Although the Ambrosian Office for January 1st makes many explicit references to pagan celebrations of New Year’s Day, as does the first Scriptural reading of the Mass, the original Preface is wholly concerned with the Circumcision and the Presentation. [9] The ancient Gallican and Mozarabic liturgies also read this longer version, and the very lengthy preface of the latter speaks of both the Circumcision and the Presentation.

    There is good reason to believe that this conjunction of the Circumcision and Presentation of Christ in a single feast is extremely ancient. St Jerome translated a homily of Origen on Luke 2, 21-23, which appears as the Gospel for January 1 in the Gallican Missal of Bobbio. [10] In his commentary on the Gospel of St Luke, which is in part collected from notes on sermons preached in the churches of Milan ca. 389-90, St Ambrose interrupts his thoughts about the Circumcision to say, “ ‘To present him to the Lord.’ (Luke 2, 22) I would explain what it means for Him to be presented to the Lord in Jerusalem, had I not explained it earlier in my comments on Isaiah.” [11] This indicates that both episodes were read at the same time. In a Christmas sermon different from the one cited above, St Augustine concludes his explanation of Christ’s circumcision by saying “I ask you, dearest brothers, what greatness did the elderly Simeon see in the little one? What he saw was what the Mother carried; what he understood was the ruler of the world.” [12]

    The celebration of the Circumcision and the Presentation together would perhaps explain why the liturgical title of January 1st was not originally “the feast of the Circumcision”, nor “the octave of the Nativitity”, but rather “the octave of the Lord”, which is to say, a feast that celebrated all the later events of the Lord’s infancy after His Birth. It remains therefore only to note that all Western traditions agree in highlighting the Circumcision by beginning the day’s Gospel at verse 21, without repeating any of the verses from the Nativity itself.

    My heartfelt thanks to Nicola de’ Grandi for helping me with the research on this article.


    [1] Schuster vol. 1, p. 395: “(The Octave of Our Lord) ... was the original designation of today’s synaxis until, though the influence of the Gallican liturgies, was added to it that of the Circumcision.” Bäumer, vol. 1, p. 270: “En Gaule également, il y eut des additions; on ajouta les fêtes de la Circumcisio Domini (au lieu de l’Octava Domini des livres romains).” Batiffol, p. 251, footnote: “This title is, in fact, the ancient Roman one, while the custom of keeping the festical of Our Lord’s circumcision is of pre-Carolingian Gallican origin.”

    [2] Deus, qui nobis nati Salvatóris diem celebráre concédis octávum: fac nos, quaesumus, ejus perpétua divinitáte muníri, cujus sumus carnáli commercio reparáti.

    [3] O admirábile commercium! Creátor géneris humáni, animátum corpus sumens, de Vírgine nasci dignátus est; et procédens homo sine sémine, largítus est nobis suam Deitátem.

    [4] Omnípotens sempiterne Deus, qui in Unigénito tuo novam creatúram nos tibi esse fecisti; custódi ópera misericordiae tuae, et ab ómnibus nos máculis vetustátis emunda: ut per auxilium gratiae tuae, in illíus inveniámur forma, in quo tecum est nostra substantia, Jesu Christi, Dómini nostri.

    [5] The term “uncircumcision” is used by the Douay-Rheims and King James Bibles as a slightly more delicate term for “foreskin.”

    [6] VD. Per Christum, Dóminum nostrum. Cujus hodie octávas nati celebrantes, tua, Dómine, mirabilia venerámur; quia quae péperit et mater et virgo est; qui natus est, et infans et deus est. Mérito caeli locúti sunt, Angeli gratuláti, pastóres laetáti, Magi mutáti, reges turbáti, párvuli gloriósa passióne coronáti. Lacta, Mater, cibum nostrum; lacta panem de caelo venientem, et in praesépi pósitum velut piórum cibaria jumentórum. Illic enim agnóvit bos possessórem suum, et ásinus praesépe Dómini sui, circumcisio scílicet et praeputium. * Quod etiam Salvátor et Dóminus noster a Simeóne susceptus in templo pleníssime dignátus est adimplére. Et ídeo.

    [7] Sermon 369. Its authenticity as a genuine work of St Augustine was considered long doubtful, and it is listed as such in the Patrologia Latina, but seems to have been vindicated by more recent scholarship.

    [8] Homily 13 on the Gospel of Luke.

    [9] This Gospel was later shortened to match the older Roman Gospel, and again in 1594, when it was shortened to the single verse of the Missal of St Pius V, and the section of the preface related to the Presentation excised.

    [10] PL 26, 246C-251C

    [11] Book 2 on chapter 2 of St Luke, read in part as the Homily on the Gospel of the Circumcision in the Roman Breviary (PL 15, 1572B)

    [12] Sermon 196/A

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    It is commonly supposed that abstract art - using the term here to mean non-figurative art - is an invention of the 20th century, starting, perhaps, with figures such as Kandinsky. It might surprise some to discover that this is not the case. The Christian tradition of abstract art which aims to represent number through geometric form has existed as long as there has been Christian art. And because, like Christian figurative art, it owes its inspiration to the ancient Greek and Roman art which preceded it, we can say that it has its roots in Western culture that go back well before the Christian era.

    Examples of mathematical art in the Christian tradition are the decorative patterns that we might see in the architectural details, borders, and tiled floors of a Gothic or Romanesque church. If we do not know what we are looking at it, is easy to overlook these or to dismiss them as the frivolous self-indulgences of artisans. They are not. They are very likely carefully thought out and designed to connect the numbers or mathematical relationships they portray to the artifact they adorn, and in so doing, connect any symbolic association of the mathematics to that artifact too.

    We might think of a simple six-fold design on a church floor. This one is a detail of one in Santa Maria in Cosmedin, in Rome.

    In addition to this crystalline, geometric-based art, there is a softer, calligraphic decorative art that might also be considered mathematical in concept. The sweeping intricate lines of a Celtic illuminated manuscript, of an idealized acacia plant in a Romanesque mosaic, or in the baroque scroll of an ornate gilt frame are all inspired by the grace and flow of the patterns of nature particularly as observed in vegetation. The shapes are idealized by introducing symmetry to highlight order. This was done, one assumes, intuitively by the artists, but to the modern eye, they are evocative of the mathematics of nature as expressed by modern science; they bear the mark of the exponential curves, parabolas, and sine waves that the scientist uses to describe the natural order.

    Here is a picture of idealized vegetation, a detail of a 12th century mosaic in the church of San Clemente in Rome. The crucifixion is a Tree of Life springing forth from idealized vegetation. There are additional limbs emanating from this base which morph into more abstracted decorative scroll designs.

    In this illumination from the mid-15th century, we can see the border pattern extending the degree of idealization so that is closer to an abstract design. It is attributed to an anonymous artist called the Master of Girart de Roussillon.

    In the border of this illumination of St Matthew in the 7th century Book of Durrow, we see similar smooth flowing lines which are pure form. They are not representations of vegetation but the flow of line is derived from it.

    I am often struck by how much effort was put into such art, and how little it is noticed today. Look, for example, at this picture, one of the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican Museums. Some may recognize the fresco on the right as the School of Athens. Every square inch of this room has been decorated in some way.

    The floor has ornate geometric art, and the patterned borders around the frescoes contain both geometric art and ornate patterns based upon idealized forms of the flowing pattern of nature. My guess is that for every commentary that discusses the basis of these patterns, there are a thousand that ignore them and focus exclusively on the figurative art.

    Number Symbolism
    Anyone who has read the Church Fathers’ commentaries on Scripture will be aware of the importance they attached to the symbolism of numbers. A number not only describes the quantity, but also can communicate a relationship with something else closely associated with that number, and so has a qualitative, that is symbolic, aspect to it. We could say that it not only tells us ‘how much’, but also ‘how’.

    A word of warning here. This is not meant to be a secret code that only the cognoscenti can read. This is supposed to speak naturally of underlying truths. We should remember, for example, that when something is said to have happened three times, that doesn’t automatically mean that it is connected to the Trinity. The author might simply be giving us a historical detail that has no further symbolism. Symbolism works when a group of three seems naturally connected to the Trinity in other ways. So, for exmaple, the three angels who appeared to Abraham and Sarah in the book of Genesis are often seen as representing the Trinity, not merely because there were three of them, but because their words and conduct and the nature of their interaction with Abraham also indicated such a connection.

    Nor is the numerical pattern a cause of such a connection. Again, we can’t make something trinitarian simply by doing it three times or having three of it. Rather, the numerical pattern is symbolic when it is a reflection, an outward sign, of what is already there.

    In thinking about the interpretation of Scripture and how it might usefully translate into art, consider the genealogy of Jesus given at the beginning of St Matthew’s Gospel. He begins with Abraham and tells that there are 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 from David until the Babylonian exile, and 14 from the Babylonian exile to Christ. The significance of the numbers here has been disputed, but the fact that they are important generates less controversy. Given that Matthew specifically mentions the numbers, and he seems to stretch and squeeze the lineage a bit so as to create these three even divisions in his presentation, one can assume at least that he thought it was important.

    The interpretation that seems most convincing to me is that 14 is important because it is a number that symbolizes David. According to the Fathers of the Church, the Gospel according to Matthew was written in Palestine, almost certainly in Aramaic, and was addressed mainly to Jews living in that region. In this language, the characters of the alphabet are also used for numbers, and therefore, every name also has a numerical value. When the letters that comprise the name David are treated as numbers and added together, they create the number 14. This speaks additionally to the point that Christ is in the line of David, from whom, according to prophecy, the Messiah would emerge. But why three bundles of 14? The common explanation does connect this to the Trinity as the number of perfection.

    How do we represent this artistically? There would be many reasons why one might wish to represent this geometrically and associate it with Christ, but if we try to do so, we can see quickly that the number 14 does not lend itself to geometric representation. If you were to see a design with a 14-sided geometric shape (a tetradecagon) most of us would have to stop and carefully count the sides in order to know which number it represented. It isn’t obvious in the way that we can instantly see that a triangle speaks of three. Also, they are difficult to construct geometrically, and difficult to incorporate into repeat designs that would enable tiles to be created and pieced together. Nevertheless, I did find this pattern from in a Gothic church in the Italian town of Civita Cosmedin, which has a 14-pointed start at its center.

    The number 8 is another number associated with Christ. His life ushers in a new covenant, and His life, death and resurrection are described as the Eighth Day of creation. This connection is more widely accepted and more broadly rooted in the tradition than that of the number 14, and so its symbolic power is greater. Furthermore, octagons are easily created geometrically, and more easily recognized than tetradecagons. This is why baptistries and fonts are traditionally octagonal and not 14-sided. Also, octagonal shapes are relatively easily incorporated into repeated patterns that can be used on tiled floors. So we very often see patterns built around the multiple octagons in the central aisle of a church. It is a geometric representation of Christ who described himself as ‘the Way’. Here is an example from the cathedral of Monreale in Sicily.

    Both of these last two designs are created in an art form called ‘cosmatesque’, which is characterized by colored marble cut to shape before being placed into the design. The name comes from the Roman Cosmati family, which over four generations in the 13th century provided seven expert artisans capable of doing such work. Cosmati work is different from a mosaic in which the design is made of different colored pieces of glass or stone called tesserae, which are all the same size.

    This point about the ease of design and of reproducing it in the material suitable for a floor is an important one. It doesn’t matter how expansive or imaginative the design is; if it is too difficult to turn it into a cut stone floor it is never going to be made. Similarly, this might also mean that the design is more decorative than symbolic. We should not assume that every geometric shape is imbued with deep spiritual significance. One could imagine that at times the designers of church floors, as much as the hallway in a suburban house, were happy to make use of those shapes that were most easily made into tiles and fitted together without gaps - triangles, squares and hexagons, or a combination of octagons and squares - and content merely to not run contrary to any spiritual principle. The beauty they lend to a place is profound nevertheless, and will effect on us for the good.

    The number six is important in geometric art because of the ease of creation of patterns with sixfold symmetry. It has a symbolic importance in that six is a ‘perfect number’ in traditional mathematics. A perfect number is one in which the sum of all numbers that are perfect divisions of the number equals the number itself. That sounds complicated in words, but more easily explained with examples. The numbers that are perfect divisions of 6 ie can be divided into it perfectly, are 1, 2, and 3. The sum of 1, 2 and 3 is 6. So six is a perfect number. Similarly, the numbers that are perfect divisions of 28 are 14, 7, 4, 2 and 1. The sum of 14, 7, 4, 3, 2 and 1 is 28. So 28 is a perfect number.

    The Church Fathers commented on how the world was made in six days. This period is called the hexaemeron. St Augustine tells us of the hexaemeron that ‘These works are recorded to have been completed in six days (the same day being six times repeated), because six is a perfect number — not because God required a protracted time, as if He could not at once create all things, which then should mark the course of time by the movements proper to them, but because the perfection of the works was signified by the number six. For the number six is the first which is made up of its own parts, i.e., of its sixth, third, and half, which are respectively one, two, and three, and which make a total of six.’

    As a final example in this brief run through the subject of number symbolism and its representation in art, another common shape that we see in geometric art is the quincunx. This originated in Roman times and began as a pattern on a 5 denarii coin. It seen today in the arrangement of five dots on a domino, which has a central circle surrounded by four with their centers tracing a square. It came into the Christian tradition and is common in sanctuary floors and churches. This might be considered to be a geometric representation of a common figurative image of Christ in Majesty, in which the central figure Christ, the Word, sends the four Evangelists out to the four corners of the world. This one is from a 13th-century German manuscript called the Codex Bruschal. The four evangelists are depicted as the four faces of the angels described by Ezekiel in his vision. The Church Fathers differ on which Evangelist each represents, but today we generally go with the symbolism that was adopted by St Jerome: St Matthew is the man, St Mark is the lion, St Luke is the ox, and St John is the eagle.

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    As they do every year, our friends of the Schola Sainte Cécile have posted on their website the current year’s Proclamation of the Movable Feasts, which is traditionally sung after the Gospel on the feast of the Epiphany. Also known from its first word as the Noveritis, its tone is basically the same as that of the Exsultet. Here it is in a jpg, which you can click to enlarge; click here to see a pdf version with some nice decorations.

    “Know, dearest brethren, by the gift of God’s mercy, as we have rejoiced for the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, so also we announce to you joy for the Resurrection of the same Our Savior. On the seventeenth day of February will be Septuagesima Sunday. On the sixth of March, the day of Ashes, and the beginning of the fast of most holy Lent. On the twenty-first of April, we will celebrate with joy the holy Easter of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. On the thirtieth of May will be the Ascension of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. On the ninth of June, the feast of Pentecost. On the twentieth of the same month, the feast of the most holy Body of Christ. On the first of December, the first Sunday of the Advent of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, to whom belong honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

    From previous years, I repeat a special tone for the chanting for the Gospel of the Epiphany; I have heard this used at Mass, and it is really quite beautiful. You can click these photos to enlarge them, or see it here in another very nice pdf format.

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    Back in September, I posted some videos of the one of the highlights of the Schola Sainte Cécile’s summertime pilgrimage in northern Italy, an Ambrosian Rite Missa cantata celebrated in one of Milan’s most beautiful churches, San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore. A video of the complete Mass is now available, in which you can appreciate not just the ceremonial aspects of the rite, but also some splendid music sung by one of the world’s finest liturgical choirs. The Mass took place on August 25th, the feast of St Genesius, an actor who was performing a mockery of the Christian faith for the amusement of the Emperor Diocletian, when he was suddenly inspired to embrace it, and subsequently martyred. The ordinary of the Mass is taken from the Missa Exsultate Deo by François Cosset (1600-64), choir-master of Rheims cathedral and one of the favorite composers of King Louis XIV; the score can be seen here at the Schola’s website. (There is no Kyrie or Agnus Dei in the Ambrosian Mass.) Our own Nicola de’ Grandi is the MC; our thanks to him and to the group Messa Tradizionale Milano for making this video available. The differences between the Ambrosian and Roman Rites are too numerous to explain them all here, but if anyone is curious about anything in particular, feel free leave a question in the combox, and I will be happy to answer it.

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    Next week, on Wednesday and Thursday, I will be in Minneapolis giving talks, as follows.

    “Why Catholic Tradition is Not Optional or Incidental—Especially in the Liturgy” 

    (Open to the general public)

    Wednesday, January 9, 2019

    6:30 p.m. Traditional Latin High Mass
              The Church of All Saints (FSSP Parish)
              435 4th St NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413

    7:30 p.m. Dr. Kwasniewski’s Presentation, Q&A
              St Maron’s Catholic Church (two blocks away)
              600 University Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413

    St. Anne's

    “Ten Ways to Get More Out of Mass, with the Help of Catholic Tradition” 

    (Please note: This event reserved to men and boys)

    Thursday, January 10th 

    6:45 p.m. Rosary
    7:00 p.m. Dr. Kwasniewski’s Presentation, Q & A
              Church of St Anne
              200 Hamel Rd, Hamel, MN 55340

    I look forward to meeting whomever attends either event. My books will be on sale and I will be glad to sign copies.

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    Our photopost series for Christmas continues; we have received a very large number of submissions, so once again, a reminder that if you don’t see yours here, they will be posted in the next one. This set includes some Pontifical ceremonies, Masses for St Stephen and the Holy Innocents, and the blessing of wine on the feast of St John the Evangelist. As always, we are grateful to all those who contribute to the work of evangelizing through beauty by sharing these with our readers throughout the world. Merry Christmas!

    St Theresa’s Home for the Aged - Singapore
    Mass celebrated in the Ordinary Form by His Excellency Archbishop Marek Zalewski, Apostolic Nuncio to the Republic of Singapore, and Pontifical Representative for Vietnam.
    Mass in the Extraordinary Form.
    Et incarnatus est.
    St Stanislaus - Nashua, New Hampshire (FSSP)
    Cathedral of St Eugene - Santa Rosa, California
    St Anthony of Padua - Temperance, Michigan
    The parish’s first EF Solemn Mass since the reform
    St Gianna Beretta Molla - Northfield, New Jersey
    Sacred Heart - Copenhagen, Denmark
    The blessing of wine on the feast of St John the Evangelist.
    Church of St John the Evangelist - Encinitas, California
    The feast of St Stephen the First Martyr
    Holy Innocents - New York City
    Mass of the patronal feast
    Cathedral of the Holy Rosary - Vancouver, British Columbia
    Midnight Mass celebrated by H.E. Michael Miller, Archbishop of Vancouver
    St James - Vancouver, British Columbia

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    From the Servite church of the city of Siena, Santa Maria dei Servi (click image to enlarge.)

    This was painted in the 1330s by Pietro Lorenzetti, along with the brothers Francesco and Niccolò di Segna. The scene is set in Siena itself, the famous cathedral of which is seen at the middle of the top. Below the border is a famous quotation from Macrobius, a writer of the early fifth century, from the second book of his Saturnalia, “Melius esse porcum Herodis quam filium. - It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son.”

    The full citation is as follows: “Cum audisset inter pueros quos in Syria Herodes rex Iudaeorum intra bimatum iussit interfici, filium quoque eius occisum, ait: Melius est Herodis porcum esse quam filium. - When (Augustus) heard that among the children whom Herod, the king of the Jews, ordered to be killed in Syria, within the age of two years, his own son was killed, he said, ‘It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son.’ ” As a Jew, King Herod would have no reason to kill a pig which he could not eat (a Jewish dietary custom which Roman writers often remarked upon,) but did not scruple to massacre the children in Bethlehem, and several of his own relatives. (The Wikipedia article about King Herod cites the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia to the effect that he was “prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition.”) In Greek, which Augustus knew well, these words would make a pun, since the word for “pig” is “hus (ὗς)”, while the word for “son” is “huios (υἱός).”

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    Una Voce of Lafayette, Indiana, announces that there will be a Dominican Rite High Mass tomorrow for the vigil of the Epiphany, with the blessing of water, at the Saint Elizabeth Chapel, 1501 Hartford St in Lafayette, beginning at 7 pm. This will be the last Mass celebrated in the historic chapel, before the start of renovations of the Franciscan Central Health hospital complex. The music featured will be Dominican chant, and a Mass setting by St Hildegard of Bingen, along with Baroque organ music by Jessica Earle, the organist of St Joseph’s in Chelsea. Those who wish to do so are welcome to bring their own water for the blessing.

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    For our final Christmas photopost, we are glad to welcome some of our friends from the Eastern Catholics Churches. We start, however, with a great example of a medieval custom being revived, in this case, by the ICKSP at their oratory in Wausau, Wisconsin; the triptych over the high altar is kept closed during the Advent season, and opened at the Midnight Mass. (They do the same for Lent and Easter night.) Our next photopost will be for the ceremonies of Epiphany, and a reminder will be posted tomorrow. As always, our thanks to everyone who sent these in.

    St Mary’s Oratory of the Immaculate Conception - Wausau, Wisconsin (ICKSP)
    St Benedict - Chesapeake, Virginia (FSSP)
    Immaculate Heart of Mary Oratory - San Jose, California (ICKSP)
    The IHM Oratory is hosted at Five Wounds Portuguese National Church in San Jose.
    St Peter Eastern Catholic Church - Ukiah, California
    Vespers and Divine Liturgy of St Basil on the evening of December 24
    Epiphany of Our Lord Byzantine Catholic Church - Roswell, Georgia
    Vespers and Divine Liturgy of St Basil on the evening of December 24
    St William the Confessor - Greenville, Texas
    St Agnes - New York City
    Veni, Creator Spiritus after Mass on January 1
    National Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon - North Jackson, Ohio
    Old St Patrick Oratory - Kansas City, Missouri (ICKSP)
    Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar - São João Del Rei, Minas Gerais, Brazil
    Celebrated by H.E. Valdemar Chaves de Araújo, Bishop Emeritus of São João Del Rei
    Immaculate Heart of Mary - Belmont, California
    St Margaret Mary - Oakland, California (ICKSP)
    St Helena - Bronx, New York

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    Our next major photopost will be for liturgies celebrated on the Epiphany, whether in the OF or the EF, or any of the Eastern Rites, Ordinariate Use, etc.; as always, we will be very glad to include other liturgical ceremonies such as the blessing of the waters, of chalk etc. Please send your pictures to, and don’t forget to include the name of the church and its location, along with any other information you think worth noting. Evangelize through beauty!

    From our second Epiphany photopost of last year, the blessing of the waters at St Peter Eastern Catholic Church in Ukiah, California.

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    It is a well-known fact that there are several different themes to be found in the Mass and Office of January 1st, which is simultaneously the feast of the Circumcision, the octave of Christmas, and a celebration of the divine maternity of the Virgin Mary. Another element is one of protest against the excesses of the pagan celebration of the New Year; anciently, this was expressed in the Roman Rite by a special Mass “ad prohibendum ab idolis – to prohibit from idols”, also to be sung on that day.

    The flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, with an idol falling from its pillar in the background, a traditional representation inspired by the words of Isaiah 19, 1, “Behold the Lord will ascend upon a swift cloud, and will enter into Egypt, and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence.” (From the Hours of Chrétienne de France, 1470-75; Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Ms-562 réserve)  
    As I noted in an article earlier this week, liturgical scholars in the pre-Conciliar period mistakenly believed that the commemoration of the Circumcision was adopted into the Roman Rite from the Gallican. This leaves the question of how the Roman Rite celebrated January 1st before this took place. In 1933, Dom Bernard Botte OSB proposed, on the evidence of some ancient antiphonaries, that in the first half of the 7th century, January 1st was celebrated in Rome as a feast of the Virgin Mary. It was then transformed a few decades later into the “octave of the Lord”, the title which it has in the oldest manuscripts, and still later, renamed as the Circumcision. Although his deduction was not universally accepted at the time, it was of course the theory behind the invention of the Solemnity of Mary, which replaced the ancient celebration in the post-Conciliar reform.

    In a 1994 article in the journal Ecclesia Orans, which is published by the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of St Anselm in Rome, Dom Jacques-Marie Guilmard OSB, a monk of Solesmes Abbey, demonstrated that in point of fact, the exact opposite is the truth. (Une antique fête mariale au 1 janvier dans la ville de Rome? Ecclesia Orans 1-1, 1994) “For Rome at the beginning of the 7th century, January 1st is not a religious festival, nor a Mass for the entire city, nor truly a Marian celebration, nor a preparation for the great Marian feasts. … The laudable novelty which consists of celebrating Our Lady eight days after Christmas was inspired by a liturgical mistake. The initiative came from Gaul at the end of the 8th century.”

    In a Gelasian Sacramentary of the early 8th century (ms. Vatican Reginensis 316), the Mass of the “Octave of the Lord” is that described in my previous article on this subject; the only references to the Virgin Mary are those contained in the preface. Immediately after it is the Mass “ad prohibendum ab idolis.” In the Gellone Sacramentary, another of the Gelasian type written within the last two decades of the same century, the same two Masses appear, with all the same prayers; however, “another Mass of the Octave of the Lord”, as it is labelled, has been inserted between them. The Collect of this latter, Deus qui salutis, is that said on the Circumcision in the Missal of St Pius V: “O God, Who by the fruitful virginity of blessed Mary, have bestowed upon the human race the rewards of eternal salvation: grant, we beseech Thee, that we may experience Her intercession for us, through whom we have been made worthy to receive author of life.”

    Folio 9r of the Gellone Sacramentary, with the second Mass for the Octave of the Lord, beginning with the prayer Deus qui salutis. The Mass “ad prohibendum ab idolis” begins next to the fellow with the handbar mustache; there is very often no discernible connection between the liturgical text and the marginal illustration, as is the case here.
    This second Mass has a second collect, two secrets (but no preface of its own), and a post-communion, none of which mention the Virgin Mary. It also has a prayer “ad populum”, like those said in the Roman Missal on the ferial days of Lent, which refers to “Simeon the Just”; this relates to the longer Gospel from Luke 2 (verses 21-40 or 21-33) attested in the ancient lectionaries for this day. The first Secret (Muneribus nostris) and the Postcommunion (Haec nos communio) of this Mass are also those found in the Missal of St Pius V, but without the words “intercedente beata Virgine Dei Genitrice Maria” in the latter, which are a later interpolation.

    Most of the Gregorian Sacramentaries of the post-Carolingian period (mid-9th – 10th centuries) reproduce this same group of prayers, taken as a unit from the Gelasian. In all of them, however, the Mass is entitled “the Octave of the Lord,” and none of them uses the title found in those antiphonaries which give a Mass of the Virgin, known from its Introit as Vultum tuum. Those among them which retain the proper preface for the day also change its beginning, from “as we celebrate today the octave of His Birth” to “as we celebrate the day of His Circumcision, and the octave of His Birth.” In this period, we also find a solemn blessing added to Pontifical Mass after “Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum”; this is still noted in the last editions of the Sarum Missal, and was the inspiration for the optional solemn blessings in the post-conciliar reform. In the Sacramentary of Drogo, bishop of Metz (845-55), the three proper invocations of this blessing for January 1st all refer solely to the Circumcision, and not at all to the Virgin Mary.

    Folios 32v and 33r of the Sacramentary of Drogo, Bishop of Metz, 845-55 (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 9428) showing the first two pages (out of three) of the Mass of the Octave of the Lord: the Collect, Secret (called Super oblata), the Preface, and the solemn Pontifical blessing.
    The later medieval Uses adapted these varying traditions of the early sacramentaries in many different ways. The Collect of January 1st may be either Deus, qui nobis nati from the older Mass of the octave, or the newer Marian Collect Deus qui salutis, with their accompanying Secrets and Post-Communions. However, there is almost absolute uniformity that the Gregorian chant parts are repeated from the third Mass of Christmas day (Puer natus est), with the exception of the proper Alleluia Multifarie. The words “intercedente beata Dei Genitrice Maria” are often found interpolated into the Secret and Post-Communion of the later set, but not always; as late as 1578, they are absent from the Premonstratensian Missal. These same prayers are almost invariably found in medieval Missals in the Votive Mass of the Virgin Mary for the season between Christmas and the Purification, very often with the Introit Vultum tuum, but also with Salve, Sancta Parens. (This latter is appointed for the Solemnity of Mary in the post-Conciliar Missal.)

    In short, then, the Marian elements in the Mass of January 1st consist of a single Collect, one which was certainly very widely diffused through the many Uses of the Roman Rite, and a later, parenthetical interpolation in the accompanying Post-Communion, and occasionally also in the Secret.

    The Virgin Mary is certainly more prominent in the texts of the Office than of the Mass, and this is often adduced as evidence of the day’s original Marian character. The Catholic Encyclopedia exaggerates when it says, in its article on the feast of the Circumcision, “in the Office, the responses and antiphons set forth her privileges and extol her wonderful prerogatives. The psalms for Vespers are those appointed for her feasts, and the antiphons and hymn of Lauds keep her constantly in view.” In the Roman Breviary, the antiphons of Matins all refer solely to Christ; it is tempting to speculate that the antiphon of Psalm 23, “Be lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in” refers to the ancient custom by which the account of Christ’s Presentation was also read at the Mass. The first three responsories in the Roman Breviary also refer only to Christ, and five to both Him and His Mother, but in the Monastic Breviary, the proportion is 7 and 5. Among the antiphons for the Psalms of Lauds, the Virgin is mentioned in passing in the first two, and the subject of one clause in each of the last two; only the middle one, “Rubum quem viderat” is principally about Her. The hymns are simply repeated from Christmas. Of the three antiphons for the Gospel canticles, that of Second Vespers, Magnum hereditatis mysterium, mentions Her prominently, but the other two not at all.

    As stated above, it is a common feature of the Western liturgies of January 1st to have some element by which the Church responds to the riotous pagan celebrations of the New Year. This theme is very prominent in the Ambrosian Rite; most of the antiphons of its Office for the day refer to it, and not to the Birth or Circumcision of Christ, nor to the Virgin Mary. Even here, however, the prayers of the Mass and Office are all taken from the old Gelasian Masses of the Octave of the Lord, and not from that “to prohibit from idols.” The only one that mentions the Virgin Mary is the Collect Deus qui salutis; in the rest of the Mass and Office, She hardly figures at all.

    In the Roman Rite, there remains only one small references to the ancient Mass against the idols. Although the Gregorian parts of the Circumcision are mostly repeated from the third Mass of Christmas, the Epistle, Titus 2, 11-15, is repeated from the first, because of the following words: “the grace of God our Saviour hath appeared to all men; Instructing us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world,”

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    Seeing the star, the wise men rejoiced greatly, * and entering the house, they found the Child with Mary His Mother, and falling down they worshipped Him; * and when they had opened their treasures, they offered Him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. V. The star which the wise men had seen in the East went before them, until it came and stood over where the young Child was. And entering... Glory be ... And when they had opened... (The eighth repsonsory for Matins of the the Epiphany.)

    The Adoration of the Magi, by Gerard David, ca 1515. (Public domainimage from Wikimedia Commons)
    R. Videntes stellam Magi, gavísi sunt gaudio magno: * et intrantes domum invenérunt púerum cum María matre ejus, et procidentes adoravérunt eum: * et apertis thesauris suis obtulérunt ei múnera, aurum, thus, et myrrham. V. Stella, quam víderant Magi in Oriente, antecedébat eos, usque dum veniens staret supra ubi erat puer. Et intrántes domum. Gloria Patri. Et apértis thesáuris suis.

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    This article appeared on January 2nd at OnePeterFive. NLM is reprinting it today with permission from the original source.

    Fr. Longenecker has written some fine books and articles. Years ago, I enjoyed and benefited from his book on St. Benedict and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and his recent book on the historical veracity of the Magi is interesting.

    It would appear that in matters liturgical, however, Fr. Longenecker is out of his depth. Each claim he puts forward in his article “Twelve Things I Like about the Novus Ordo Mass” can be and has been refuted in the ample literature written on the subject, of which he appears to be ignorant. Indeed, the article betrays minimal knowledge of the history, process, and content of the liturgical reform (as, for instance, well documented in this biography of Annibale Bugnini) and of the contrasting richness of the traditional Mass.

    Let us walk through Fr. Longenecker’s Twelve Things (printed in boldface).

    1. It’s accessible. Having the liturgy in the vernacular helps it to be understood by the people. How can that be a bad thing?

    It is characteristic of the rationalism of the liturgical movement (based on its Enlightenment precursors) to prioritize verbal comprehension over a more synthetic and holistic understanding of the mystery of faith, which draws on all the senses and appeals to the heart as well as the intellect. The use of Latin, in addition to being simply what the Western Church did for over 1,500 years, creates for worshipers a numinous and sacral atmosphere that invites meditation and adoration.

    Moreover, seeking the goal of easy intelligibility led the reformers to dumb down much of the content of the Mass so that it might not be “too hard.” What is the heavy price we pay for the all too obvious “accessibility” of the Novus Ordo? Superficiality and boredom. It’s so accessible that it “fails to grip,” as P.G. Wodehouse would say. This is why we have a new self-help genre on getting over one’s boredom with Mass and various faddish movements like LifeTeen for pumping up the Novus Ordo. In contrast, the traditional Latin Mass is steep, craggy, and sublime, offering the worshiper the kind of challenge that befits his rational dignity and supernatural destiny, and opening up an endless vista of new discoveries in the age-old prayers and gestures.

    Finally, no literate person is incapable of using a daily missal, where all the antiphons, prayers, and readings may be found in vernacular translations – but without any attempt at an “official” translation of the impossible-to-translate ancient Latin texts, thus avoiding the intractable battles over what “style” and “register” of vernacular should be used in the liturgy. The major prayers of the Mass are fixed and repeated from week to week, so it is not difficult to follow them, as one can see from wee lads and lasses who do this at the traditional Latin Mass.

    2. It’s flexible. We’re supposed to honor Latin as the language of our church and it is easy enough to integrate a little or a lot of Latin into the Novus Ordo Mass. It is also flexible musically. You don’t have to use Haagan Daz, hootenany and soft rock music. Learn Gregorian chant and polyphony. It fits.

    The idea that a liturgy should be a matter of “picking and choosing” among options is foreign to the historical development of Christian liturgy in East and West, which has always been toward greater definition, consistency, and stability of liturgical texts, chants, and ceremonies. A liturgy is a ritual action in which the actors lose their idiosyncratic individuality and adopt a persona that befits the mysteries enacted. The clergy should come across not as the ones steering and coloring the enterprise, but as stewards of a treasure they receive and place humbly before the people; the people, for their part, find it easier to pray when the liturgy is not a moving target, but one can enter again and again into the same sacred routine. This intrinsic quality of good liturgy is absent from the Novus Ordo by design.

    Concretely, what does this flexibility end up looking like? We can choose the Roman Canon, that which defines the Roman Rite, or a Eucharistic Prayer patterned after a pseudo-anaphora written by pseudo-Hippolytus and finished on a napkin in Trastevere. We can have the chant that grew up for a thousand years with the rite, or some sentimental piano tune by an ex-Jesuit. We can have Mass facing East in accord with apostolic tradition (as St. Basil and others testify), or we can try our luck with the novel “closed circle” approach of versus populum. We can have people line up for communion in the hand like customers queuing for bus tickets, scattering fragments of the Body of Christ hither and yon, or place the Lord on the tongue of believers kneeling in a posture of adoration.  All this great flexibility! The devil delights in it, since it usually plays in his favor.

    Such flexibility has also destroyed, for all intents and purposes, the distinctions among a Low Mass, a Missa cantata or High Mass, and a Solemn High Mass. In practice, one usually gets a bizarre mixture of high and low elements with no discernible order or hierarchy.

    I address the spiritual dangers of this flexibility in a talk called “Liturgical Obedience, the Imitation of Christ, and the Seductions of Autonomy” (full recording here; some excerpts here).

    The old Mass "traveling well"
    3. It travels well. As much as we love beautiful architecture, music, vestments and pipe organs, there are times when the Mass is celebrated at camp, in prison, on the battlefield, in a tin hut or on a mission field, a mountaintop or a beach. The simplicity of the Novus Ordo means it can be celebrated more easily in such situations.

    This is probably the flimsiest of the twelve reasons, given that thousands of the greatest missionaries the Church has ever known, as well as military chaplains in many wars (including both World Wars, as plenty of vintage photos online give testimony), offered exclusively the traditional Mass and carried on their backs what they needed for it.

    Indeed, one of the objections raised by missionary bishops at the Second Vatican Council is that the proposed liturgical reform would greatly multiply the number of books necessary for liturgy. All a priest needs to celebrate the old Latin Mass in its integrity is a single altar missal. To celebrate the new liturgy in anything approaching completeness, on the other hand, one needs the altar missal, the lectionary, and a gradual or book of antiphons. A “sung Mass” requires a veritable library of books, as I know from firsthand experience as a choir director for many years at the Novus Ordo.

    Here is a gallery of photos of priests celebrating the traditional Latin Mass outdoors, showing how well it can be done, including on backpacking trips many weeks long. Besides, as Martin Mosebach says, it’s not ultimately the architecture that makes the difference, but the Mass. The great Catholic Mass of tradition takes possession of the place where it is offered and dominates it; the Novus Ordo brings even a lofty cathedral down to its own impoverished simplism. This is why it usually feels so out of place in the great churches of the past.

    It should also give us pause that prisoners would respond so positively to the Latin Mass coming into their lives. I received a letter from a prisoner in Louisiana who prays the old breviary and is requesting a weekly Latin Mass. Don’t prisoners also deserve and respond to that which is beautiful, rich, and profound? The modern world is already too much awash in abridgements, shortcuts, diet drinks, and lite snacks; we would benefit from the original version, the scenic route, the robust nourishment.

    4. There is more Scripture read, and it is read in the language people can understand. How can it be a bad thing for there to be a wider range of Sacred Scripture being made available to the people?

    All things being equal, familiarity with more of Scripture is better for the Christian people. But all things are not, in fact, equal.

    First, the new lectionary is so cram-jammed with Scripture that it works against familiarity, whereas the old (indeed, ancient) lectionary features a more limited number of readings of optimal length and liturgical appropriateness, which encourages a deep familiarity with them. Since the Mass is not meant to be a Bible study, and no Catholic can be expected to acquire a well rounded understanding of the Bible from the liturgy (even the new lectionary features only 13.5% of the Old Testament and 54.9% of the New Testament outside of the Gospels), the claim that it is better to read more Scripture at the Mass is simply begging the question.

    Second, the old lectionary, as limited as it deliberately is, demonstrably features more of the “tough sayings” of Scripture. It is not afraid to present the wrath of God, the evil of sin, or the danger of sacrilegious communions – the kind of passages that are frequently left out of the new lectionary, in spite of its much greater size. In other words, the new lectionary suppresses parts of Scripture that are “difficult” to “modern man.” Thus, it presents less of the total message of Scripture, even as the Liturgy of the Hours presents a reduced Psalter, expurgated of politically incorrect material.

    Six major arguments against the appropriateness of the new lectionary may be found here; an explanation of the nature of the omissions and distortions in it may be found here; and a case study on the exclusion of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 may be found here.

    How the Word is proclaimed in the Solemn Mass
    5. The gospel procession is restored. Moving the book from one side of the altar to the other? That’s not really a procession is it? In the Sarum rite – the ancient English rite–there were a good number of processions–the gospel procession being one. Nice to have that ancient custom restored.

    The old rite in its normative form, the Solemn High Mass, has a magnificent Gospel procession that starts at the high altar and comes over to the front of the sanctuary, where the deacon chants the Gospel to the north, to symbolize confronting the world of unbelief and evangelizing it. Even in a Missa cantata, the transition from epistle side to Gospel side is accompanied with candles, incense, and a striking change in chant tone, making it an impressive moment in the liturgy. The ceremonial of the Novus Ordo is pathetic in comparison.

    Fr. Longenecker speaks as if the daily Low Mass is the epitome or measure of the ancient Roman Rite, whereas it is a monastic devotional version of it. Nevertheless, even in a Low Mass the transition from the epistle to the Gospel by way of the Gradual and Alleluia, the profound bow at the center and the prayer invoking the prophet Isaias – all conducted upon the altar of sacrifice, where the Word rises up as a sweet fragrance to the Father, showing in a striking way the inherent unity of the “liturgy of the word” and the “liturgy of the Eucharist,” as well as the ordering of the one to the other – is still far more impressive than a priest strolling over to the ambo to read out the Gospel in Nabbish.

    6. The prayers of the faithful. These are often abused, but when they are well composed and fitting they are a great assistance in leading the people in prayer.

    This point gives us the opportunity to state Fr. Longenecker’s central weakness, which he shares with all the tinkering liturgists of the mid-twentieth century – namely, if there’s a “good idea,” we should insert it in the liturgy. It doesn’t matter how it’s been done since time immemorial; our “good ideas” deserve their day in the sun – pontifically legislated, no less! The “Prayer of the Faithful” was added to the Mass on the basis of scholarly theories that maintained that the early Mass always featured such intercessions, as one finds them in full flower in the Good Friday liturgy. However, better scholarship has argued that the Good Friday Mass is not a model for the rest, but a unique day, which is what common sense would have suggested.

    In any case, there is no evidence that the Roman liturgy featured lengthy litanies or intercessions along the lines of the Byzantine rite. Almost all of the things we usually pray for are already prayed for in the Roman Canon and in various other parts of the Mass. The “Prayer of the Faithful” is just another novelty inserted into the Mass because the experts thought it was a grand idea. As Joseph Ratzinger noted more than once, it is a dangerous business to yoke one’s public liturgy to the theories of scholars, which are proposed and overturned every quarter-century or so.

    7. The offertory procession is restored. The offertory procession is an ancient part of the liturgy in which the people of God bring forward the gifts of the altar. That’s a beautiful restoration of an ancient tradition.

    The “offertory procession” as it was fashioned by the Consilium bears little resemblance to any historical precedent in the West; it is a fanciful creation loosely based on the custom of people handing in bread and wine before the service began. (See Paul Bradshaw’s article “Gregory Dix and the Offertory Procession.”) Its current form seems to be another method for giving jobs to lay people, like the Works Progress Administration for the unemployed in the Depression.

    Besides, Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mediator Dei (1947) warned liturgists against the “exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism” of those “who, in matters liturgical, would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by the disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation.” In other words, the simple fact that something seems to have been done a thousand years ago or more is no compelling reason to reintroduce it today, when it would certainly take on a different meaning based on the very different context in which it is performed. As the same pope explained:
    Ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savor and aroma of antiquity. ... It is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive table form; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts.
    Curious, isn’t it, how every example given by Pius XII as a case of “straying from the straight path” turned out to be characteristic of the liturgical reform as it was implemented everywhere – replacing the ad orientem altar with a versus populum table, excluding black for Requiems, destroying images, installing weird crosses, and repudiating polyphonic music?

    Fr. Longenecker decries the loss of these meaningful customs, since he is on the side of the “reform of the reform.” But the presupposition of many of his points is precisely the false antiquarianism that led to the loss of so much that was distinctive of Catholicism, in favor of supposedly “more ancient” practices. Taking away what we gained from the Middle Ages and the Baroque period and replacing it with questionable and always selective reconstructions of antiquity is the hallmark of liturgical eggheadedness. It always looks better on paper than it does in reality.

    8. The offertory prayers. That’s a connection with the Jewish prayers Jesus would have said at the Last Supper. So that’s a bad thing?

    This point had me scratching my head. The Novus Ordo faux Jewish offertory is a fabrication that bears no relation to the liturgical offertories found in all Eastern and Western rites from the Middle Ages until 1969. Nor should we be surprised that Christian rites as they developed over time did not reach back to unaltered Jewish material for inspiration, much less for specific texts.

    In reality, the Consilium wanted to abolish all offertory prayers and have the “offertory” consist simply in the gesture of a symbolic raising up of the bread and wine. Pope Paul VI objected to the lack of a text and requested the “drawing up” of one (since there was apparently complete agreement among the architects of the new rite that the way the Church had prayed for about 1,000 years was obviously mistaken). The Jewish table blessing was conveniently laid hold of. Shabbat shalom!

    Is it really possible that someone of Fr. Longenecker’s intelligence is unaware that it is a serious problem to go about constructing liturgy in this manner, when liturgy is and has always been seen as the corporate prayer of the Church handed down from one age to the next, augmented by the devotion of each generation? The idea of canceling out a significant part of the rite and replacing it with something never in currency among Christians was inconceivable, and so it should remain.

    9. It’s adaptable. The adaptability means the abuses have come in, but it also means all sorts of traditional customs can be retained. Pope Benedict wished for the Extraordinary Form to inform the celebration of the Ordinary Form. So it can be celebrated ad orientem, with altar rails, communion administered to the faithful kneeling and on the tongue, well-trained altar servers, good music, vestments, architecture and art. Yes, bland and banal is possible, but so is grand and glorious.

    This is a bit like saying, “The great thing about our political system is that it allows the March for Life to flourish alongside funding for Planned Parenthood.” No, this shows the catastrophic failure of our political system to adhere to the natural law and promote the common good.

    In like manner, the fact that the Novus Ordo is a matrix of possibilities that can be realized by each community according to its own ideas of what is right and fitting is not a perfection of it, but a sign of its internal incoherence, anarchy, and relativism. The traditional rites of the Church follow time-honored rules that require (even if they do not always guarantee) serious, reverent, orderly, and theocentric worship. The result is that anywhere I go in the world, I can walk into a traditional Latin Mass and know what I am going to see and hear. The same texts, the same gestures, the same ethos, the same Catholic religion. As long as the priest follows the rubrics, the Mass will be prayerful, focused, and edifying. Tragically, this cannot be said for the Novus Ordo.

    10. Hymns. Yes, I know hymns are supposedly a modern “Protestant”’s debatable, but simply taking them for what they are, there are some excellent hymns which really do help the people lift their hearts in worship, express their faith and help to catechize. Used to complement the liturgy they can be a good thing.

    This point is faint praise. Hymns are not an exclusive preserve of the Novus Ordo world: communities that worship with the traditional Latin Mass often include a processional hymn on Sundays, prior to the Asperges, and a recessional hymn after the Last Gospel. Be that as it may, the over-use of hymns long predates the Novus Ordo. The “four-hymn sandwich” comes from a sick phase of the Liturgical Movement where the ideal of some clergy (especially American) was a Low Mass into which an Entrance Hymn, an Offertory Hymn, a Communion Hymn, and a Closing Hymn had been inserted for the “people’s participation.” Sound familiar?

    The real story is that hymns began in the Divine Office, which is their proper home. Every hour, from Matins and Lauds through Prime, Terce, Sext, and None, to Vespers and Compline, has a hymn. This body of poetry and music is among the richest that Catholics possess, yet almost no one encounters it “in the wild.” It seems that shepherds of souls have still not taken to heart Vatican II’s recommendation that the faithful be introduced to the public chanted celebration of the Divine Office.

    On the other hand, the idea of paraphrasing Scripture or writing devotional poetry and having a congregation sing it during the “Lord’s Supper” is unquestionably a Protestant invention, one that tends to give a Protestant feel to the Eucharistic liturgy – as its ecumenical proponents intended. I’m sorry, Fr. Longenecker: it really doesn’t matter how nice the hymns are. The Catholic Mass has its own hymns, the Gloria and the Sanctus, as well as its own native music: the Gregorian antiphons and Mass parts, or their great polyphonic settings down through the ages.

    The point of the Mass is not to give catechesis, nor to foster “praise” (in the sense in which charismatics use the term), but to offer worship to the Triune God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. No one has explained this point better than Fr. Christopher Smith in this article and this follow-up. The liturgy does not need “complementing”; it needs to be celebrated with integrity and purity, for that is how it will be most effective in doing its proper work. Without a doubt, there are other occasions when hymns may be used to better effect.

    11. Its accessibility makes it better for evangelization. I know the Mass is not primarily for evangelization, but when potential converts start attending Mass, to be able to understand and follow the words and actions eases their entrance into the church and enables the process to be more welcoming.

    I am disappointed to see Fr. Longenecker parroting the usual rhetoric of the liturgists, who always assume that what potential converts are seeking is rational content, verbally delivered. We have already touched on this point above. Here it may suffice to note that traditionalism is above all a youth movement (see here, here, and here, for starters). As anyone can see from paying a visit to them, traditional Latin Mass parishes attract a disproportionate number of young adults and young families. Conversions and reversions are numerous, which is striking when one considers the ghetto-like marginalization under which traditional communities still suffer in dioceses where the bishops have chosen to ignore Summorum Pontificum.

    All of this suggests that what “modern man” is looking for may not be this now old-fashioned notion of “accessibility” or “being welcomed,” but an encounter with mystery, a confrontation with the divine, a brush against the ineffable, an immersion in the sacred. The Novus Ordo is singularly poorly equipped to accomplish any of that, nor does its sleek Bauhaus design naturally prompt it or encourage it. By 2019, the new liturgy looks and feels dated; many adhere to it from custom or lack of awareness that there is any alternative. The old liturgy has a perpetual freshness that beckons world-weary pilgrims who stumble across it into the haven of the Church.

    Where is simplicity appropriate?
    12. It’s simple. The plain words and actions of the Novus Ordo provide for a celebration with noble simplicity.  Just saying the black and doing the red has a down-to-earth dignity – not overly ornate and fancy nor banal and vulgar.

    Should the mystical representation of the supreme sacrifice of Christ, which collapses the 2,000 years that separate us from Calvary and brings us right to His Cross, into His holy wounds, His precious Blood, His pierced Heart; the awesome crossing of the abyss that separates man from God and Earth from Heaven; the revival in our midst of the mysteries of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord; the commingling of His acts of love, adoration, sorrow, supplication, thanksgiving, with our own, so that we, the members of His Mystical Body, may glorify God in union with our Head – should this be “simple”? Could it ever be? Only at the price of falsifying it utterly. Liturgical rites, Greek or Latin, Eastern or Western, developed under the beneficent hand of Providence toward ever greater fullness of expression of these glorious realities, ever greater amplitude, exuberance, and detail. The contrary motion appears in history as iconoclasm: the will to destroy the inexhaustible beauty of God that has found expression in material things.

    “Saying the black and doing the red” is only as valuable as the black to be said and the red to be done. The theological inadequacy and spiritual narrowness of the texts of the Novus Ordo have been thoroughly documented and critiqued (e.g., in this book, this book, and this book), and as for the rubrics, they were a standing joke from the first printing of the missal to its latest edition. No wonder a private cleric on his own initiative had to supply a complete set of rubrics; the Vatican apparently felt that Catholic liturgy was better off without taking into account such fussy details as where ministers should be positioned or when and how they should bow. What we see with the Novus Ordo is a contradiction in terms: an unliturgical liturgy, an unceremonious ceremony, a relaxed ritual, a do-it-yourself template for collective devotion.


    Comprising the usual bromides on behalf of the Novus Ordo, none of which stands up to critical scrutiny, Fr. Longenecker’s article is yet another restatement of the neoconservative party line that “the postconciliar Church is fundamentally sound, ladies and gentlemen, so keep moving along.” Those who are going to defend the monumental rupture that is the Novus Ordo are going to have to find much better arguments than the ones proffered to us by Fr. Longenecker.

    It is a classic straw man to claim, as Fr. Longenecker does at the start of his article, that “there are some who seem to think every problem in the church and the world can be laid at the door of the dreaded Novus Ordo.” I have never read any traditionalist author who thinks this or says it. Yes, we all think the Novus Ordo is a rupture with Catholic tradition and a disaster in the life of the Church, but we are well aware that it does not exist in a vacuum. Other problems regularly pointed out include modernism, consequentialism, hyperpapalism, feminism, the homosexual clerical power caste, the liberal separation of Church and State – indeed, the list is lengthy. All of these problems are, sooner or later, connected with one another. The liturgical reform is the “poster child” of the revolution that has divorced today’s Catholic mainstream from the Catholicism of all ages, but behind every poster is a propaganda office and an ideology.

    The traditional liturgy has taught me that my likes and dislikes do not and should not have any effect on the Mass. Rather, it is the Mass, preexisting in its solidity and density, that shapes my loves and hatreds, in accord with what it shows me, impresses on me, leads me to understand after a long apprenticeship. It was the same way with the disciples and Jesus. He was not as they expected He would be, but He did not bend to the likes and dislikes of zealots, Pharisees, tax-collectors, or fishermen. He patiently but authoritatively made them conform to Him.

    I can understand a priest wishing to believe that the liturgy he has been given by “the Church” may be simply accepted as it is, no worries, no bones about it. But the Lord is extending a special mercy to us during this seismic reign of Pope Francis: the opportunity to wake up to the dangers of an exaggerated ultramontanism that prompts Catholics to swallow whatsoever a reckless pope wants to shove down their throats, even when it runs against the papacy’s ministry of receiving, preserving, and defending tradition.

    This new year of grace is an invitation to rediscover, or renew our appreciation for, the inheritance we have received as Catholics. One place to begin might be a different list from the one we have critiqued: “Ten Reasons to Attend the Traditional Latin Mass.”

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    Anyone seeking to understand just how powerful and detrimental to modern society the feminist movement has been, and the reasons. for this should read this book. You can get it from the publisher’s website here:

    “Toxic” is the right word for the forces that have wreaked such havoc. If this book comes to their notice - and I hope it does - it is likely to elicit a response containing all the characteristic viciousness that those who typically object to such a thesis can muster.

    We should be clear. This is not a call for the subjugation of women. Rather it seeks a place for women in a society that asserts authentic femininity, and which expresses itself in harmony with, not in opposition to, authentic masculinity. Only the Christian understanding of the human person can conceive of this fully. The first society to which we belong is family, and it is from this all other aspects of authentic society are it developed. The destruction of family relationships not only destroys the family, but detrimentally affects every person who is denied full participation in it - women, men, and children.

    I spoke to Carrie on Episode 16 of my podcast recently, and we discussed her book. She told me that the Anti-Mary of the title is not envisaged as an individual who actually exists; rather, it is a personification of the radical feminist philosophy that is so powerful an influence on society today. It hates the true femininity which genuinely “empowers” women. That femininity is embodied, in contrast, in a real person, Mary, the Great Mother of God. The grace of God can overcome all things, of course, and there is always hope for the innocents who are affected by this, for every single one of us is given a way to happiness through Christ from where we are at this moment in time. But this does not excuse what has happened.

    I reproduce the publisher’s description here:

    In the late ’60s, a small group of elite American women convinced an overwhelming majority of the country that destroying the most fundamental of relationships—that of mother and child—was necessary for women to have productive and happy lives.

    From the spoiling of this relationship followed the decay of the entire family, and almost overnight, our once pro-life culture became pro-lifestyle, embracing everything that felt good. Sixty million abortions later, women aren’t showing signs of health, happiness, and fulfillment. Increased numbers of divorce, depression, anxiety, sexually transmitted disease, and drug abuse all point to the reality that women aren’t happier, just more medicated.

    Huge cultural shifts led to a rethinking of womanhood, but could there be more behind it than just culture, politics, and rhetoric?

    Building off the scriptural foundations of the anti-Christ, Carrie Gress makes an in-depth investigation into the idea of an anti-Mary—as a spirit, not an individual—that has plagued the West since the ’60s. Misleading generations of women, this anti-Marian spirit has led to the toxic femininity that has destroyed the lives of countless men, women, and children.

    Also in The Anti-Mary Exposed:
    • How radical feminism is connected to the errors of Russia, spoken of by Our Lady of Fatima.
    • The involvement and influence of the goddess movement and the occult. 
    • The influence of “female” demons, such as Lilith and Jezebel.
    • The repulsive underbelly of radical feminism’s chief architects.
    • A look at the matriarchy, a cabal of elite women committed to abortion, who control the thinking of most women through media, politics, Hollywood, fashion, and universities.
    The antidote to the anti-Mary is, of course, Mary, the Mother of God, known widely as the most powerful woman in the world and the source of the belief that women ought to be treated with dignity. She is a beacon of all the virtues and qualities—purity, humility, kindness, beauty—that oppose this sinister force that has cast its spell upon so many women. Mary’s influence is unparalleled by any woman in history. She is the perfect model of Christian femininity, who desires to be a spiritual mother to us all, leading us to her Son, and to the fulfillment of our heart’s deepest desires.

    For those who are interested, you can watch the podcast here:

    And here is the wonderful painting by Tiepolo, from which the detail on the cover is taken. This is my favorite Immaculate Conception and I analyze its content and stylehere. It conveys simultaneously gentleness and strength, grace and power so brilliantly!

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    The feast of the Epiphany is one of the richest of the Church’s liturgical year, commemorating several different events in the life of Our Lord. The Roman and other Western Rites have traditionally laid the strongest emphasis on the visit of the three Magi to the infant Jesus, which is recounted in the Gospel of the feast; the paintings and sarcophagi from the catacombs of Rome attest to the great antiquity of this tradition. In the Byzantine Rite, on the other hand, the visit to the Magi is read on Christmas Day, and the Epiphany is principally focused on the Baptism of the Lord, as may be seen in the icon of the feast. The historical Roman Rite assigns the celebration of this latter event to the octave day of the Epiphany, which was officially renamed “the Baptism of the Lord” in the 1961 rubrical reform; this change was carried over into the post-Conciliar liturgy. The Epiphany is also traditionally the day on which the date of Easter is announced to the faithful, and the feast and its vigil are the occasion of several blessings in the Rituale.

    The Adoration of the Magi, depicted on a Christian sarcophagus of the 4th century, now in the Pio-Christian collection of the Vatican Museums.
    At the first Mass of Christmas, the Church reads the revelation of the Incarnation to the people of the ancient covenant, represented by the shepherds; at the dawn Mass, these men of humble estate come to Bethlehem, and behold the Creator of the Universe as an infant sleeping in a manger. This private manifestation of God to the people of Israel on Christmas is complimented by a similarly private manifestation on Epiphany to the nations of the world, in the persons of the Magi. As St Fulgentius says in a sermon read during the octave of the Epiphany, “The shepherds were the first-fruits of the Jews; the Magi have become the first-fruits of the gentiles.” St Matthew does not say that the Wise Men found the Holy Family still at the stable in Bethlehem, where they had been found earlier by the shepherds, but the Church’s artistic tradition has depicted it thus, precisely to emphasize the connection between these two “epiphanies”.

    The last antiphon of Christmas Matins is “God hath made known, alleluja, his salvation, alleluja,” words which are repeated at both Lauds and Vespers; the psalm from which they are taken, Psalm 97, has been associated with the Nativity of the Lord from very ancient times. A subsequent verse of the same psalm is sung as the communion antiphon of the third and most solemn of the three Christmas Masses, and is repeated several times during the octave: “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” These words are fulfilled in the Epiphany, when the representatives of the ends of the earth, the Magi, come to worship the Christ Child, God Incarnate for our salvation. Therefore, although the Gospel does not say how many they were, Christian art from the earliest times (and especially in Rome) has usually shown them as three, representing the three parts of the world known to ancient peoples, Asia, Africa and Europe, descendents of the three sons of Noah.

    The Adoration of the Magi, by Flemish painter Gerard David, ca. 1490.
    From the earliest times, the Roman Gospel of the third Mass of Christmas has been the Prologue of St John (1, 1-14); this is attested already in the middle of the seventh century in the very oldest lectionary of the Roman Rite, the Comes Romanus of Wurzburg. In the high Middle Ages, the custom emerged of reading this same text at the end of the Mass, as part of the celebrant’s thanksgiving. At the third Mass of Christmas, therefore, the Gospel of the Epiphany was read in its place, uniting the revelation of the Incarnate Word to Israel with His revelation to the nations. It is worth noting that the Gospels of both Christmas and Epiphany end with a genuflection, by which we imitate the Magi in kneeling before the Divine Infant, just as we honor the Incarnation every Sunday by genuflecting during the Creed at the words “Et incarnatus est.” (The 1961 rubrical reform of Pope John XXIII prescribes that there be no last Gospel at this Mass.)

    In the Middle Ages, another pair of Gospels was added to the liturgy to associate the feasts of Christmas and Epiphany. At Matins of Christmas, the Genealogy of Christ according to St Matthew (1, 1-16) was sung before the Te Deum and the Midnight Mass, at Epiphany Matins, the Genealogy according to St Luke (3, 21 – 4, 1). Both of these were normally sung with the same ceremonies that accompany the singing of the Gospel at Solemn Mass. Since these texts are fairly repetitive, musicians composed special and elaborate music for them; they were often set for two deacons or groups of deacons, who would alternate the verses.

    St Matthew’s genealogy was clearly chosen for Christmas because it ends with St Joseph, “the husband of Mary, from whom was born Jesus, that is called Christ.” In German-speaking lands, it was usually follow by the antiphon “O mundi Domina”, a final O antiphon on the cusp between Advent and Christmas. That of St Luke was then assigned to Epiphany because it is preceded by an account of the Baptism of Christ (vs. 21-23), one of the principal events commemorated by the feast. This Gospel ends with Christ departing into the desert “lead by the Spirit”, a distant prelude to the coming Lenten fast. Commenting on the reason why these two Gospels are read on their respective feasts, Sicard of Cremona writes in about 1200, “Matthew reckons (the genealogy) by descending (from Abraham to Joseph), because he is describing the humanity of Christ, by which He descends to us. Luke recounts (the genealogy) ascending, since from the baptized One he ascends to God, showing the effects of baptism; because the baptized become sons of God.” (Mitrale, V, 6)

    Folio 19r of the Schuttern Gospels, an early 9th century illuminated manuscript produced at the Abbey of Schuttern in Baden-Württemberg, Germany.
    These texts occur in virtually every use of the Roman Rite except that of the Roman Curia itself, the ancestor of the Breviary of St. Pius V; they were retained after the Tridentine reform in the proper breviaries of certain religious orders, including the Premonstratensians, Dominicans, and Carmelites of the Ancient Observance.

    Here is a marvelous recording of the Genealogy  of Christ according to St Luke from Epiphany Matins by the ensemble Stirps Jesse.

    An equally nice version of the Genealogy according to St Matthew from Christmas Matins, sung by the Schola Hungarica; brevitatis causa, the names between “the wife of Uriah” and Jacob, the father of St Joseph, are omitted in this recording. (There is small mistake at the very beginning; the word “autem” is incorrectly added after the name of Abraham.)

    Also from the Schola Hungarica, the antiphon “O mundi Domina”; the music is very similar to that of the standard seven O antiphons of Advent.

    Aña O mundi Domina, regio ex semine orta, ex tuo jam processit Christus alvo, tamquam sponsus de thalamao; hic jacet in praesepio, qui et sidera regit. ~ O Lady of the world, born of royal descent, Christ hath now come forth from Thy womb, as a bridegroom from his chamber; he lieth in a manger, that also ruleth the stars.

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