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    The church of the Holy Rosary in the Bronx, New York, will have an EF Missa Cantata on February 25th for the Second Sunday of Lent, beginning at 1pm. The church is located 1510 Adee Avenue; see for more information.

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  • 02/14/18--13:32: Ash Wednesday 2018
  • Let us amend for the better the sins we have committed in ignorance; lest suddenly seized by the day of death, we seek time for penance and be not able to find it. * Harken, o Lord, and have mercy, for we have sinned against Thee. V. Help us, o God our salvation, and for the honor of Thy name, o Lord, deliver us. Harken, o Lord. Glory be. Harken, o Lord. (The Fourth Responsory of Matins on the First Sunday of Lent, also sung at the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday.)

    Vanitas, ca. 1642, by Adriaen van Utrecht (1599-1652)
    R. Emendémus in melius, quae ignoranter peccávimus: ne súbito praeoccupáti die mortis, quaerámus spatium poenitentiae, et inveníre non possímus: * Attende, Dómine, et miserére, quia peccávimus tibi. V. Adjuva nos, Deus salutáris noster, et propter honórem nóminis tui, Dómine, líbera nos. Attende, Dómine. Gloria Patri. Attende, Dómine.

    The responsory in the polyphonic setting of William Byrd.

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    Several Italian newspapers and agencies reported yesterday that, after many months of debate and discussion, the Italian government has signed off on some of the official arrangements necessary to rebuild the Basilica of St Benedict in Norcia, which was severely damaged by earthquakes in August and October of 2016, and January of 2017. (See e.g. this article in La Stampa.) The Ministry for Cultural Properties (Ministero per i Beni Culturali, or MiBACT) will still have to issue any number of decrees and documents relative to the project, so there will still be a long while to wait; an international competetion will then be held for the design.

    Particularly encouraging is the fact that Dr. Antonio Paolucci will be at the head of the commission that will judge the design proposals. Dr Paolucci has previously served in the Italian government as Minister of Culture; he has also been the director of the entity that runs the public museums of Florence (the Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti etc.), and more recently of the Vatican Museums, a position from which he retired at the end of 2016. After the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi was damaged by an earthquake in 1997, (much less severely than that of St Benedict), he was an Extraordinary Commissioner for the lengthy and complicated restoration project, which had to gather up and put back in their places literally thousands of fragments of fresco that had fallen off the church’s ceiling.

    As we noted in an article in June of 2013, Dr Paolucci has been an outspoken critic of the fashionable trends in modern church building, “clever” designs of the kind that win awards, but have nothing to do with any idea of a sacred space. (This trend is painfully evident in the newer suburbs of the major Italian cities.) In an interview with the newspaper La Repubblica, he spoke of them as buildings that “look like warehouses. ... (s)paces that do not invite (us) to meditation, devoid of the sense of the sacred, without a breath of mystery or religion.” It was precisely such a modern, design-award winning airplane hangar that the bishop of Norcia and Spoleto apparently wished to build in place of the collapsed medieval basilica, to the extreme consternation of the locals. Given his past statements, we may reasonably hope that Prof. Paolucci will be able to head off any further proposals in that direction.

    The exterior of the Basilica of St Benedict before the earthquakes, from this article by Peter Kwasniewski, “In Memoriam: The Basilica of Norcia.”

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    The Pitti Palace in Florence was originally constructed by a banker named Luca Pitti in the mid-15th century, but purchased by the Medici family in 1549, and greatly enlarged. Francesco I, the second member of the family to rule as Grand Duke of Tuscany, made it his primary residence, and as such, the center of the ever-growing art collection; since 1919, it has been a national museum. It is now visited primarily for the sake of the Palatine Gallery, which contains over 500 painting from the Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque periods, featuring several works by Raphael, Titian and Rubens to name a few. It also contains a huge number of works in the so-called minor arts, of which a good many are liturgical objects; here is just a selection of some of the more beautiful ones. As one might imagine, given the Medici family’s fame as patrons of the arts, the quality of some of these objects is truly extraordinary.

    A pax-brede made in Rome in the 16th century of African marble and gilded silver. The Roman basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, the “altar of heaven”, syands on the part of the Capitoline hill where in ancient times there was a platform known as the auguraculum, from which soothsayers would observe the flights of birds and make predictions from them. According to a popular medieval legend, one of the Sybils brought the Emperor Augustus onto the platform and showed him a vision of the Mother of God, after which Augustus prohibited the construction of new temples to the pagan gods; this is the story depicted here.
    A German reliquary of the 14th century.
    A German reliquary in the form of a triptych, 1430-40.
    A German reliquary ca. 1350-75, in the form known as an “encolpium”, a pendant designed to be worn as a necklace.
    A portable altar made in Venice in the 14th century of jasper, mother-of-pearl and rockcrystal, with miniatures of the symbols of the Evangelists in the corners, the Crucifixion above and the Virgin and Child below.
    A 14th-century French ditych with scenes of the Passion.
    A Florentine reliquary of the late 15th century. It is interesting to note that while Florence was at that time the very epicenter of the Renaissance, its taste in liturgical objects remained very Gothic.
    A triptych in enamel on copper made in the 16 century in Limoges, which was a famous center of enamel work, with scenes of the Passion (note the very vivid Harrowing of Hell in the middle right) and the Resurrection.
    A bucket for holy water, or situla, in rock crystal, gold and enamel, with the arms of Pope Leo X (1513-21), son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and the first of the four Medici Popes. (One of these, Pius IV, was a rather distant relative of the Florentine Medicis, and the last, Leo XI, was Pope for 27 days.)
    The remaining objects come from a part of the collection which had almost no didactic panels. This is an portable tabernacle made especially for the reposition of the Blessed Sacrement on Holy Thursday, sometimes referred to as an urn. The door has a step mounted onto it on the inside, on which the chalice with the Sacrament was set when the procession had reached the altar; the Sacrament was incensed, then placed inside the urn, and the door closed. (I have seen several others like this in various churches and other museums.)
    A carved wooden representation of the major events of the life of Christ; I believe this must be of Eastern origin, since most of the events shown are among the Twelve Great Feasts of the Byzantine tradition. (The Annunciation, Birth of Christ, Presentation, Baptism, Transfiguration, Raising of Lazarus, Entry into Jerusalem, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, the Dormition of the Virgin.)
    A miter made in Mexico in the 16th century.
    One of the chapels in the residential part of the palace next to the Palatine Gallery.
    A very nice prie-dieu; it’s good to be the Medici.
    A holy-water stoup in one of the bedrooms.

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    To our readers in Florida, I am happy to announce that I will be out there in the Naples area next weekend to give a lecture on “Reconnecting with Tradition: The Church’s Hope for the Future.” 

    The lecture will be held in the Great Room at the St. Laurent Condominium, 6849 Grenadier Blvd., Naples, FL, 34108. All are welcome to attend. I will be signing copies of both of my books, Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis and Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness, for any who might be interested. Following the lecture there will be an information sesson about Wyoming Catholic College as well. I would certainly enjoy meeting fellow lovers of Catholic tradition, including NLM readers.

    On Sunday I will be singing with the Schola Corpus Christi at the 8:45 am High Mass at St. Agnes Catholic Church, 7775 Vanderbilt Beach Rd., Naples, FL 34120, and again, I'd be delighted to meet anyone afterwards.

    More details in the poster below.

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    A Solemn Traditional Latin Mass will be celebrated for the feast of St Peter’s Chair, Thursday February 22nd, starting at 7:00 p.m., at Our Lady of Peace Church in Fords, New Jersey. The church is located at 620 Amboy Avenue.

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    The following selections are taken from William Durandus’ important liturgical commentary, the Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, book 6, chapter 27, which treats specifically of Ash Wednesday, but also of Lent in general. Some of the elisions here are made for the sake of a more succinct presentation of his thought; several of them are made in places where he directs the reader to matters he has discussed elsewhere in the work. The translation is my own.

    After Quinquagesima follows Quadragesima, (“fortieth”, the Latin word for Lent), which is the spiritual number of penance, in which the Church fasts, and repents of its sins; for by the penance which is accomplished in Lent, we arrive at the fifty days (of Easter), which is to say, the jubilee year, which symbolizes the forgiveness of sins. Lent (Quadragesima) begins on the following Sunday, on which (the Introit) Invocavit me is sung but the fast begins on Wednesday, as will be mentioned below.

    In medieval liturgical books, the days of Lent are often noted by the Sunday Introits; the first Sunday of Lent is “Dominica Invocavit”, the first Monday “feria secunda post Invocavit” etc. Here we see a folio from the 1502 Missal of Liège, in which today’s Mass is desgnated in the header as “Feria vj ante Invocavit - Friday before the Introit Invocavit.”
    The Blessed Peter first instituted the fast of Lent before Easter. Nor is the fact that we are in abstinence for 46 days from the beginning of the fast to Easter without symbolic meaning. For after the Babylonian captivity, the temple of the Lord was built in 46 years; whence we also after the captivity of Babylon, that is, of the confusion caused by the vices, for 46 days build ourselves as a temple to God through abstinence and good works. … (“Babylon” is the Greek form of the Hebrew word “Babel”, which means “confusion”, the site of the confusion of tongues in Genesis 11. Durandus refers the forty-six years of the building of the temple, as stated in John 2, 20, to the post-exilic rebuilding in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah at the end of the 6th century B.C.; historically, the Jews speaking to Christ in the Gospel were referring to the reconstruction under Herod the Great in the first century B.C.)

    Again, the fasts were instituted, because in the Old Law, it was commanded to render tithes and first-fruits from all goods to God; wherefore, we must also do the same in regard to ourselves, that is, from our body, our mind and our time. … For indeed, we offer tithes and first-fruits to God when we do good. In Lent a tithe of days is paid, according to Gregory (the Great, hom. 16 in evang., cited by Gratian de consecr. dist. 5, 16). From the first Sunday of Lent until Easter six weeks are numbered, which make 42 days; from these, the six Sundays are removed from the fast, and there remain 36 days of abstinence, which are almost a tenth of the year. Therefore, in order that the number of forty day in which Christ fasted may be fulfilled, four days are recovered in the previous week… To the thirty-six days which are the tithe, four are added … the first of which is a day of sanctification and cleansing, for then do we purify the soul and body by sprinkling ashes on our heads. …

    But we in Provence (Durandus was bishop of Mende in the Occitan region of France) begin the Lenten fast on the Monday of the preceding week (i.e. the day after Quinquagesima), and thus we fast two days more than the other nations. This is not only for honesty’s sake, that is, so that being thus purified in these two days, we may begin the holy fast on Wednesday, but also because Lent ends on the great Thursday of the (Lord’s) Supper… Therefore, on the last two days (i.e. Good Friday and Holy Saturday), we fast, not because it is Lent, but because … of the holiness of those days. …

    The Cathedral of St Privatus in Mende. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Myrabella; CC BY-SA 3.0)
    But since in Lent we are invited (to go) through Christ’s fast … and He began His fast immediately after the Baptism, which is (commemorated on) Epiphany, the question arises as to why we begin the fast at this time, and not at the same time in which He fasted, especially since His deeds should be our instruction. There are four reasons for this. The first is that in Lent we represent the people of Israel, who were in the desert for forty years, and immediately after celebrated the Passover.

    The second is that in the spring, men are naturally moved to desire (libido), and fasting was instituted in this period to restrain it.

    The third is that the Resurrection is joined with Christ’s Passion; therefore, it was reasonable that our affliction should be joined with the Passion of the Savior. For since He suffered for us, we must suffer along with Him, so that we may finally reign with Him; and after the Passion, the Resurrection follows immediately, according to the Apostle’s word, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.” (2 Tim. 2, 12) Likewise, a sick man is more afflicted (by his illness) when he is getting healthier.

    An icon of the type known as “Christ the Bridegroom” (ὁ Νύμφιος, Женихъ), placed on the site of Golgotha within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This icon is placed in the church during the first three days of Holy Week, and the Matins of those days are known as Bridegroom Matins. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Adriatikus; CC BY-SA 3.0)
    The fourth reason is that just as the children of Israel afflicted themselves before they ate the lamb, and ate wild, that is, bitter lettuce, (Exodus 12, 8, from the Epistle of the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday) so also we, through the bitterness of penance, must first be afflicted, so that immediately after we may worthily eat the Lamb of life, that is, the body of Christ, and so mystically receive the Paschal sacraments.

    Now in the Lenten Masses, “Bow (humiliare) your heads to God” is often said, since in that period the devil attacks us even more; for which reason, we must humbly pray God, and humble ourselves before him, …

    The prayer over the people (at the end of the Lenten ferial Masses) is also said after “Bow (your) heads”, because of the holiness of the season, and to indicate that in this life, prayer must be offered for us, that in the future we may merit to hear, “Come, ye blessed of my Father etc. (Matthew 25, 34, from the Gospel of the first Monday of Lent.) This prayer takes the place of Holy Communion. For once upon a time, all communicated and the deacon would invite those who were to receive communion to kneel; but now, because many receive the Lord’s body unworthily, in place of Communion we use a prayer, and the deacon fulfills his office as before, saying “Bow your heads to God”, because whosoever humbleth himself shall be exalted (Matthew 23, 12, from the Gospel of the second Tuesday of Lent), and whoever is blessed by good deeds in this life, will be deputed to eternal blessing afterwards. In this prayer, therefore, the priest commends the soldiers of Christ to the fight, to combat the ancient enemy and snares of the enemies, and so he first arms them through his minister (the deacon) with the weapons of humility, saying “Bow your heads to God”. And thus at last, when they have bowed their heads, he pours the protection of his blessing upon them, strengthening them, as it were …

    (In many medieval Uses, “Oremus. Flectamus genua. Levate” were said before the Collect of every ferial Mass in Lent, not just on the Ember Days as in the Roman Use. This custom is still kept by the Dominicans, who say it in addition to, not in place of, “Dominus vobiscum etc.” In the image above from the Missal of Liège, they are noted in the 7th live from the bottom of the right column.) At the first Collect we kneel in accord with the struggle of the present life, representing the affliction of labor and continence; but at the last prayer, which is for thanksgiving, we bow the head, by which is designated humility of the mind, because in the life eternal, every labor will be excluded, but humility will always remain. …

    Now in these days the Church, being set in the great struggle of Lent, frequently repeats the Psalm He that dwelleth, because this psalm tells those who are in a struggle to place their hope in the Lord, and seek all their help from him. (This is Psalm 90, from which are taken all the propers of the Mass of the First Sunday, and the versicles and short responsories of the Office.) …

    The Temptation of Christ, from Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry, a Book of Hours illuminated by the Limbourg Brothers, 1416. During this episode, the Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent (Matthew 4, 1-11), the devil quotes Psalm 90 to the Lord: “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written, ‘That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone.’ ” From this comes the famous line in Shakepeare’s The Merchant of Venice, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”
    Also, from Ash Wednesday until Palm Sunday the preface of the fast is said every day, and in some places, even on Sunday. But on Palm Sunday and the following days is said the Preface of the Passion. But it seems to be incongruous that the preface of the fast should be sung on Sundays, since one does not fast on those days, and therefore some people say the daily preface on those Sundays. But even though they are not counted as fast days, they are kept as a fast in the kind of food that is eaten, which is like that of the other days.

    (Concerning the anticipation of Vespers on ferial days) … it must be noted that the season of Lent is a time of mourning and penance; but while the penitents are converted to Christ, they pass from darkness to light. Now the evening, because of the failing of the light and the (ensuing) darkness, signifies imperfection. Therefore, because the penitents are pressing forward, not towards imperfection and failure, but rather towards perfection and the light of truth, in regard to Vespers the aforementioned time of light is appropriately anticipated, according to a decree of the Council of Chalon. (Cited by Gratian, de consecr., dist. 1, 50) Vespers are thus said immediately after Mass, though they are otherwise wont to be said close to the night-time.

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    At that time, Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry. And the tempter coming said to him: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. Who answered and said: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said to him: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me. Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil left him; and behold angels came and ministered to him. (Matthew 4, 1-11, the Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent.)

    The Temptation of Christ, mosaic in the Basilica of St Mark in Venice, 12th century.
    In illo tempore: Ductus est Jesus in desertum a Spiritu, ut tentaretur a diabolo. Et cum jejunasset quadraginta diebus, et quadraginta noctibus, postea esuriit. Et accedens tentator dixit ei: Si Filius Dei es, dic ut lapides isti panes fiant. Qui respondens dixit: Scriptum est: Non in solo pane vivit homo, sed in omni verbo, quod procedit de ore Dei. Tunc assumpsit eum diabolus in sanctam civitatem, et statuit eum super pinnaculum templi, et dixit ei: Si Filius Dei es, mitte te deorsum. Scriptum est enim: Quia angelis suis mandavit de te, et in manibus tollent te, ne forte offendas ad lapidem pedem tuum. Ait illi Jesus: Rursum scriptum est: Non tentabis Dominum Deum tuum. Iterum assumpsit eum diabolus in montem excelsum valde: et ostendit ei omnia regna mundi, et gloriam eorum, et dixit ei: Hæc omnia tibi dabo, si cadens adoraveris me. Tunc dicit ei Jesus: Vade Satana: Scriptum est enim: Dominum Deum tuum adorabis, et illi soli servies. Tunc reliquit eum diabolus: et ecce angeli accesserunt, et ministrabant ei. 

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    As a liturgical theologian, I am keenly interested in the question of how little points of ceremonial have an effect on what we believe is happening at Mass. For it is not simply the text that counts as a lex orandi indicative of a lex credendi, but also, and at times more influentially, the actions—for example, the bowing of the head during the Gloria, the osculations of the altar, or the genuflections at the consecration.

    Over a period years attending the usus antiquior, I found myself noticing more and more the custom of the priest holding his thumb and forefinger together from the time of the consecration until the ablutions, a practice some call ‘canonical digits’ or ‘liturgical digits.’ As an observing layman, this custom struck me as entirely fitting, given our faith in the Real Presence, and I began to wonder about the implications of its disappearance in the Novus Ordo.

    Recently the idea occurred to me of surveying a number of priests to ask them how they perceive and experience this custom, since they are uniquely situated to know its benefits (or the lack thereof). The survey is all the more valuable with the growing presence of the usus antiquior in the Church and the way it is enriching day by day the celebration of the Novus Ordo, where we find the custom of ‘liturgical digits’ making a return today.

    I wrote to 30 priests, and received responses from 19.

    The five questions I posed to each priest were as follows:
         1. When you celebrate the usus antiquior, does the act of holding together thumb and forefinger from the consecration until the ablutions make a psychological or spiritual difference for you? If so, how would you describe it?
         2. If you began your priestly life celebrating only the usus recentior and later learned the usus antiquior, did learning to hold the fingers together strike you as more devout, or as a nuisance, or something else?
         3. Has this traditional practice affected the way you view the corresponding lack of rubric in the usus recentior? Have you considered adopting, or do you adopt, the traditional practice in the modern rite? Why or why not?
         4. In your mind, how does this practice fit into the overall “ethos” or spirit of the classical Roman liturgy?
         5. In your pastoral experience, has any layman ever commented on or asked about the holding-together of the fingers? Do you think it is noticed and has any bearing on the piety of the laity?
    Over the next three weeks, on Mondays and Thursdays, I shall publish all the responses I received (they are well worth reading!), separating them into five posts according to the questions. In this way, priests are permitted to speak for themselves, in their own words.

    QUESTION 1. Does This Custom Make a Difference?
    When you celebrate the usus antiquior, does the act of holding together thumb and forefinger from the consecration until the ablutions make a psychological or spiritual difference for you? If so, how would you describe it?

    Fr. A.P.
    I will preface my response by saying that the usus antiquior as a whole constantly helps turn my attention to the adoration of Christ and His offering on Calvary and to the flow of the various prayers and intentions throughout the Mass—from the many suppliant cries of prayers such as the Confiteor and Kyrie, to the praise of the Gloria, to the supplications of the Canon, etc. Hence, as such, the many prescribed gestures of the usus antiquior are usually not at the forefront of my mind. Rather they come and go as aides to what is more essential acts of the soul.
           The holding together of thumb and forefinger has not been for me one of the more impactful gestures of the usus antiquior. Nonetheless, it is a real help. It serves as a reminder and sign that my other movements, and the movements of my heart, should be particularly reverent from the consecration until the ablutions.
    Fr. B.H.
    Holding the thumb and forefinger together (which I also do in celebrating the Novus Ordo, since there’s nothing forbidding it) helps in a little way to remind me and reinforce the fact that I am now holding the Lord’s Body with those fingers, and no longer just bread. But I wouldn’t call it a spiritual or psychological ‘big deal’ for me.
    Fr. B.J.
    God has blessed me with a strong faith in the Real Presence, and even before I had studied the usus antiquior I had a sense of awareness and concern about the particles of the Most Blessed Sacrament that result from the ordinary carrying-out of the Holy Sacrifice.
           At the Mass in which I was ordained a deacon (alone, no other ordinands), the Eucharist was “served” from a glass dish of sorts (from which hosts or particles thereof easily could have fallen, and I purified it with great care after Holy Communion; it required a rather noticeable period of time to do so, which was obviously more than local clergy and people were used to. After that Mass both the vocation director and the ordaining bishop “corrected” me on this matter, with the bishop reminding me that the purification was only a “ritual purification” and that such care was not needed in carrying it out, since a sacristan would wash everything after. (A totally incoherent position.)
           This was my introduction – and a rather painful one, at that – to the practical lack of faith on the part of the clergy in the Real Presence, which I have witnessed and experienced many times in the 11 years since then. I say “practical” because few would deny the Real Presence and most would even defend it quite eloquently. But the way they actually handle the Eucharist betrays their lack of understanding and/or belief. (This is particularly the case with how they handle the Precious Blood, the purificator, etc.—but this is the topic of another discourse.)
           Therefore, when I began to study the usus antiquior and learned about the detailed and systematic process of purification, which really leaves little room for error, and of the practicalities such as holding the consecrating digits together until purification, my faith was confirmed. And, although knowledge of the Church’s historic practice served, perhaps, to heighten my awareness of just how bad things generally can be now, and thus heightened my sense of pain, yet at the same time, it was a consolation to know that I was on the right track.
           In short, yes, the custody of the digits does make an important and positive psychological and spiritual difference for me.
    Fr. D.C.
    I find that it certainly makes a difference both psychologically and spiritually. Psychologically it has the effect of reminding me what I am doing and Who I am touching and holding. Spiritually, it helps deepen my faith in the Holy Eucharist. Again, it is a reminder of Who am I holding, and what I am doing. It keeps me grounded in reality, and focused on the presence of Jesus.
    Fr. D.F.
    For me, I would describe it primarily as a difference of logic. There is also some element of psychological and spiritual difference, as well as devotional. Primarily, however, the practice seems like the logical conclusion of the Church’s belief. Although holding together these fingers may not be an absolute necessity, it seems like a natural outgrowth of her liturgical and doctrinal development—the logical and fitting thing to do.
           Spiritually, I find that the practice has given new meaning to the ablutions (or ablution cup) for me. Even when there are no discernible particles that seem to require purification, the act of holding my fingers closed until their ablution conveys the larger spiritual truth (to both priest and people) that something out of the ordinary—something outside the natural order—has transpired in the consecration. The ablution then takes on the role not only of a practicality, but reveals itself to be also a symbolic act whereby things are set back in right order. 
    Fr. D.N.
    Holding together the thumb and forefinger in “liturgical digits” after the first of two consecrations costs so little mentally and has such great rewards psychologically. What I mean by the first is that after offering Mass several times, liturgical digits become pretty natural. What I mean by the second is that the knowledge that no crumbs of Our Lord’s Sacred Body will fall to the ground becomes a great reward psychologically or spiritually.
    Fr. E.W.
    Holding thumb and forefinger together is one of one of the differences between the two uses that most contributes to giving the older use a different “feel.” In general, the older use has a highly stylized and formalized feel. Whereas, the newer use has a more informal feel. This is also felt, for example, in the narrow limits set to the orante posture in the older use—in the newer use the rubrics are vague, but the style is a more expansive orante. The more formalized approach of the older use emphasizes the importance of what is being done, and the self-effacement necessary. In particular, the holding of thumb and finger together emphasizes the awesome, and as it were “dangerous” reality of the real presence.
    Fr. E.P.
    There is certainly a greater awareness, through the observance of this practice, of the reality of the divine Presence in the sacred species. It is in this way not unlike the discipline of folding one’s hands properly with fingers closed and closely joined to those of the other hand. It helps focus the mind while it binds his hands.
    Fr. J.F.
    I think it gives me a greater awareness of the Real Presence. The reality that every particle, visible to my eyes, is the whole Christ. Not that I did not believe this before. I have always had a deep Eucharistic spirituality. But this practice deepens it.
    Fr. J.K.
    The God of heaven is beyond our ability to comprehend. The universe cannot contain Him. This allows us to grasp, however imperfectly, the depth of the love that He had for us; to become so small as to enter the womb of the Virgin Mary as a child. The knowledge that the God of heaven became so tiny as to be only available to sight under a microscope, leads me to accept without question what some liberals have called crumb theology. Yes, that tiny crumb on the paten is the God of majesty who became fully what we are without ceasing to be fully His divine self.
           Our faith has everything to do with the body. All we need do is look at our religious language to see that Truth: Body of Christ, Precious Blood, Sacred Heart, and Immaculate Conception. Awareness of my own body and its participation in this mystery makes me realize that the crevices of my fingerprint might contain trace elements of the Host I have just raised in my hands.
           So yes, holding thumb and forefinger together does make a spiritual difference. Reverence for the Most Precious Body of the Lord means that I should preserve these trace elements until the ablutions are available.
    Fr. J.S.
    I’ve never celebrated a mass without holding thumb and forefinger together. So, while it was a conscious choice at the beginning of my priesthood due to the clearly apparent fittingness of the expression (though I might not make an “argument from fittingness” with the same strong weight that such a term carries in Thomist language, simply on account of the gesture lacking in other ancient revered rites) it is hard to say how much of a psychological and spiritual difference it makes in the daily celebration—for me as the celebrant. For it is and has been for a long time completely automated. I do not consciously dwell on the act of holding my fingers a certain way. It is second nature. The conscious attention is focused on the liturgical action as such (the prayers). The only point it is more in focus is at the time of purification, but even then the mind is fixed more on the real presence and less on the actual act of holding or releasing the fingers. I would reckon that the greatest psychological and spiritual difference can probably found in what seeing that gesture (and knowing what it means) does to the faithful.
    Fr. J.M.
    There is no difference, as I do the canonical digits at Novus Ordo anyway. True, it was learning the EF that led me to do this practice, which I was already familiar with by watching other young priests do it. Regardless of the form of the Mass, canonical digits is a reminder of what it is that one has touched and consequently how much reverence is due to even the smallest fragment.
    Fr. J.B.
    I see/experience it as a reminder of and a gesture expressing attentiveness to the presence of Christ on the altar under the sacred species, and of reverence and care for the Sacrament of the Eucharist. While it may have origins in the desire to keep particles from falling, I do not consider it on its own—in particular, apart from the act of rubbing any fragments left on the fingers after picking up the host into the chalice—a very reliable means to keep fragments from falling; so I see its character as an act of reverence deriving from its significance as a reminder of the reverence due to the eucharistic Presence in even the smallest fragment.
    Fr. M.K.
    Yes, it most certainly does foster an interior awareness of the immensity of the Mystery that lies before me on the corporal. It focuses and centres me in the real presence of the Christus Passus.
    Fr. M.C.
    It is hard to say. I’m used to hold the fingers together in both forms, after the consecration until the ablution. Thus I cannot say how I would “feel” if I did not so. For me it is such a fixed custom that it would be hard not to hold the fingers together when I touch the consecrated species. For example, if I join a celebration just for helping to distribute holy communion if there are too many faithful for one priest—some weeks ago I was in a seminary and I had to help in such a way. In this case only my right hand comes into contact with the species of bread (since the left hand holds the ciborium). In this case it takes special “effort” not to hold also the fingers of the left hand together, just intuitively! I think this is a great thing, since it highly facilitates the reverent treatment of the Blessed Sacrament.
    Fr. M.B.
    I do not celebrate the usus antiquior, though I have had some training in it. Thus, I cannot answer this question.
    Fr. P.M.
    After celebrating the Mass of blessed Paul VI for 17 years, my first experiences of holding my thumb and forefinger together seemed a bit exaggerated. It did not take long, however, before I had the real sense that I could not have that which had touched and handled the Consecrated Host touch anything else prior to their proper cleaning. Similarly, at the Qui Pridie, though I just moments earlier had the Lavabo, I consciously wipe my fingers and thumbs on the corporal, one final preparation before handling that which is to become the Sacred Species, an action that I now use in celebrating any Mass.
    Fr. T.K.
    I understand the reason for the practice, just as I understand the rubric that directs me to keep my hands within the bounds of the corporal while at the altar from the consecration until the ablutions. The purpose is to prevent the loss of particles of the Host that may have stuck to my thumb or forefinger; if they should fall from my thumb or forefinger, they would fall onto the corporal.
    Fr. W.S.
    The practice raised my alertness to a far higher level of the fact of the Real Presence and of my solitary and sublime responsibility as a priest.

    Part 2 will appear on Thursdsay. Subsequent parts will be published alternately on Mondays and Thursdays.

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    When I was studying portrait painting in Florence several years ago, I was struck by the charm of the old street shrines that can be seen built into the walls of the narrow streets all over Italy. Many date back to the time of the building itself.

    Not all are still obviously the focus for prayer; many seemed to unnoticed in cities in which Renaissance art abounds, and much of the population has fallen away from the practice of the Faith.
    Since then, I have wondered from time to time if this is something we could do today, in a time and in places where Catholicism is not the dominant faith and the driving force the culture?
    My feeling is we might, in many instances, struggle to persuade local government to go along with such a thing. However, perhaps if done tastefully and discretely on private property that is visible from the public street, it might be possible.
    I believe that if such a thing is truly beautiful, even non-believers would want it; and its beauty would to a large degree disarm potential critics by removing their desire to take offense from outward signs of the Faith. I have a friend who runs a menswear shop in the UK, and he always places a small icon of the face of Christ, (of the Mandylion type) low down on the wall behind the counter. While it is not an obviously bold statement of faith, he deliberately places in such a position that when people pay for their clothes, they will see it on the wall behind the till; this gives the impression that they are peeking into his personal space and seeing an image that is there for his private devotion. He says that nobody ever objected, and many asked about it.
    Non-Christians (and for that matter many Christians too) are much more likely to be irritated if the art is ugly or sentimental. I have often wondered, for example, if the militant secularists are perhaps doing us a favor by objecting to the kitschy shopping mall Nativity scenes that seem to be standard issue for retailers nowadays. Perhaps they are the unwitting agents of the Holy Spirit? Before my conversion in my early thirties, piped carol music and brightly-colored plastic McChristmasses gave me the impression that Christianity was for saddoes who didn’t even know that they ought to be embarrassed by being associated with this stuff. This did far more to put me off the Church than tales of Popes fathering illegitimate children or the brutality of the Teutonic Knights in the Baltic and the Middle East!
    If we did decide to do this, what form should it take?
    Well, here’s an idea. I recently posted a photo of my first stab at creating an outdoor icon corner in a balcony garden.
    I am hoping that as the plants grow through spring and summer that the hard edges will soften and grow a little bit over the images. The paintings are prints on rustic wooden planks that I obtained from a website; I have varnished them and fixed them to the stool, which came from a consignment store. 
    A reader saw the photos and got in touch with me, suggesting that someone might like to start producing ceramic tiles with the standard core images of the icon corner - Our Lady on the left, the Crucifixion in the center and the Risen Christ on the right, which could then be set into the wall. 
    I do not know the economics of tile production, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have beautiful triple sets of tiles? I imagine they might be something like the Della Robbia ceramics, except stylistically Gothic or iconographic (just to suit my personal taste) and polychrome, maybe in the form of a Jonathan Pageau relief carving!
    Here is an original Della Robbia.
    I once wrote a feature on my blog,, on how houses in southern Spain have tiles containing geometric patterns set into the walls of their houses, a Christianization of the Islamic cultural inheritance. (Geometric Tile Patterns in Andalusia.)
    Perhaps we could have a combination of the two ideas, in which we start to have simple icon-corner triple sets set into such patterns? If done well, it could perhaps even put the house prices up - even if you are selling to an atheist!

    Just a thought.