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    Our next major photopost will be for tomorrow’s feast of the Assumption; please send your photos (whether of the Ordinary or Extraordinary Form) to for inclusion. We are always very glad to include photographs of celebrations in the Eastern rites and the Ordinariate rite, as well as Vespers and other parts of the Divine Office, blessings, processions, the vigil Mass etc. Please be sure to include the name and location of the church, and always feel free to add any other information you think important. Evangelize through beauty!

    Pontifical First Vespers of the Assumption at Heilignekreuz Abbey in Austria, from our second Assumption photopost of last year.

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    Shortly after Pope Pius XII made the formal dogmatic definition of the Assumption in 1950, he promulgated a new Office and Mass for the feast. The Gospel of the new Mass, known from its Introit as Signum Magnum, is St Luke 1, 41-50, the words of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, to the Virgin at the time of the Visitation, and the first part of the Magnificat. Before the promulgation of this new Mass, the Gospel had been for many centuries that of Mary and Martha, Luke 10, 38-42.

    Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, by Henryk Semiradzki, 1886
    At that time, Jesus entered into a certain town, and a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sitting also at the Lord’s feet, heard his word. But Martha was busy about much serving; who stood and said, “Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? speak to her therefore, that she help me.” And the Lord answering, said to her, “Martha, Martha, thou art full of care, and art troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

    This Gospel was received, like the feast of the Assumption itself, from the Byzantine tradition, in which it is read on various feasts of the Blessed Virgin, with two verses from the following chapter appended to it, Luke 11, 27-28. In the traditional lectionary of the Roman Rite, these two verses are separated from the previous Gospel, and read on the Vigil of the Assumption.

    And it came to pass, as He spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck.” But He said, “Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.”

    The Church Fathers traditionally explained Mary and Martha as symbols of the contemplative and active life respectively, as is seen already in St Ambrose’s Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke, although he does not use the terms “active” and “contemplative”.

    “One of them listened to the Word, the other was busy about serving, and stood and said, ‘Lord, hast thou no care etc.’ Therefore, the one applied herself more to attention, the other to the service of action: nevertheless, there was in both equally zeal for both forms of virtue. For indeed, if Martha did not hear the Word, she would not have undertaken her service, the doing of which indicates her intention; and Mary took such great grace (as she had) from the perfection of both virtues. (1.9)

    Nor is Martha rebuked in her good ministry, but Mary is set before her, because she chose for herself the better part; for Jesus abounds in many things, and gives many things. Therefore, she is judged the wiser, because she perceived and chose what was is first, as indeed the Apostles deemed it was not the best thing to leave the word of God and serve tables (Acts 6, 2). (7.86)”

    Ss Ambrose and Augustine, by Fra Filippo Lippi, ca. 1437
    This is stated even more clearly by St Augustine, in the homily which was traditionally read in the Office on the feast of the Assumption.

    “In these two women are figured two lives, the present and the future, one full of labor, the other restful, one full of trouble, the other blessed, one in time, the other eternal. … Therefore, there remained in that house which received the Lord two lives (represented) in the two women; both innocent, both praiseworthy; one full of labor, the other at rest; neither sinful, neither idle… In that house, there were these two lives, and the fountain of life itself. In Martha was the image of the things that are present, in Mary of those that will be. What Martha was doing, there are we; what Mary was doing, this do we hope for; let us do the former well, that we may have the latter in full.” (Sermon 104, alias 27)

    In the middle of the 9th century, Amalarius of Metz, in his treatise On the Offices of the Church, uses the terms “active” and “contemplative” life, although not specifically in reference to the feast of the Assumption, which he does not mention.

    “Thus there are in our Church today two kinds of the elect who are baptized. One kind is in the active life, the other in the contemplative, and these two kinds are signified by Martha and her sister Mary. The better part was allotted to Mary by the Lord, but that of Martha was not reproved, for it is good.” (4.27)

    By the middle of the 12th century, this tradition is fully well-established. In the Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, John Beleth explains that some Gospels are chosen as historical narrations of the events which the liturgy celebrates, such as that of the Epiphany, while others are chosen as allegories.

    “According to an allegory (is) one such as that which is customarily read on the Assumption of the Blessed Mary, concerning Mary Magdalene and her sister Martha ... since in Mary is signified the contemplative life, and through Martha, who was serving (the Lord), the active life. By this Gospel it is taught that in the Blessed Virgin Mary was the perfection of both lives...” (29 de Evangelio)

    Commenting on the feast itself, he writes: “That fact that a Gospel (of the allegorical sort) is read, indicates that both lives, the contemplative and the active, were in the Virgin Mary. For she was Magdalene, that is, the one who was taken up with the contemplative life. She was Martha, that is, the one who was wholly occupied with the active life ... For these words declare sufficiently that She was  constantly taken up with the contemplative life, ‘But Mary kept all these words in her heart. (Luke 2, 52)’ ” (146 de Assumptione)

    The Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin Mary, by Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci; from the Gradual of Santa Maria degli Angeli, ca. 1370, now in the British Library.
    At the end of the same century, Sicard of Cremona adds an allegorical explanation of the “town” which the Gospel mentions as the place where Mary and Martha lived, since the Latin word for it, “castellum”, also means “a little castle.”

    “In the Mass is read the Gospel of Martha and Mary Magdalene, according to an allegory; for the blessed Virgin was the little castle, because She secured herself well against the devil. She was Martha, for there was none better in action; she was Mary, for there was none better in contemplation, of which it is said, ‘But Mary kept all these words in her heart.’ ” (Mitrale 9. 40)

    William Durandus’ commentary on the liturgy, also called Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, stands in relation to the earlier commentaries as St Thomas’ Summa theologica does to earlier Summae, bringing together all of the threads of the tradition with great thoroughness and clarity. He writes thus on the traditional Gospel of the Assumption.

    “The Gospel is read about Martha and Mary, which at first sight appears to have no relevance, and yet it is indeed relevant, according to an allegory. For Jesus entered into a certain ‘small castle’, that is, into the Virgin Mary, who is called a castle since She is terrible to demons, and armed Herself well against the devil and against vices. But She is called ‘a small castle’ in the diminutive (castellum) because of her humility, and because of Her unique condition, since ‘neither before nor henceforth hath there been or shall be another such as Her.’ (quoting the 2nd antiphon of Lauds on Christmas day.) And Martha, that is, the active life, received Him. For She most diligently reared Her Child, and brought him into Egypt, and showed her goodness in the active life, by going to Elizabeth, and serving her, and just as She was (like) Martha in the active life, so also she was (like) Mary Magdalene in the contemplative life. Whence in another Gospel is read, “Mary kept all these words in her heart.” (Luke 2, 50) Now these two sisters signify the active life and the contemplative life, which were clearly in the Blessed Virgin Mary, and through them she exaltedly, honorably, and with great delight, received Christ in Herself.” (7.24)

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    We are very grateful to a Chinese reader for sharing with us this article about the tsikin (also transcribed jijin), the Chinese-style hat formerly worn by priests in China. This was also the subject of one of our NLM quizzes.

    The early Jesuit missionaries to China obtained many concessions from the Holy See to adapt Catholic rites and customs to the genius of the Chinese people. Beginning with Pope Paul V’s bull of 1615, permission was granted for a translation of the Roman Missal and Breviary into Chinese, for the continuation of ancestor worship (considered a merely political, social, and cultural practice, not a religious ceremony), and for other unique customs aimed at local inculturation.

    The Chinese Rites Controversy that ensued and conflicts of interest between the missionaries’ national sponsors blocked many of those concessions from being carried out, but one permission was applied from the very beginning, and stayed in use for more than 300 years, a considerably long tradition for a place where the Church is merely 400 years old: the use of a distinctive Chinese biretta.
    From the Thirteen Emperors Scroll, by Yan Liben (7th century), now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
    The Chinese considered a bare-headed man a disgrace and always appeared covered before a superior. Therefore, all their sacred rituals involved an often ornate sacrificial headwear. Furthermore, Chinese sacrificial vestments were covered with sacred symbols with allegorical meaning, as in the image below. In consideration of this fact, the Jesuits invented a special, symbolic, sacrificial hat for Chinese clergy, the Tsikin (祭巾). Chinese clergy were permitted to wear the Tsikin not only outside choir in place of the Roman biretta, but also during Mass and all sacred functions.

    Ming Emperor Shenzong (1563-1620) wearing the most formal Royal Robe of Twelve Ornaments. One of the occasions to wear this robe was to offer sacrifice to heaven. You can see the hat also has a square top and a round bottom. The hat for sacrifice was usually black. The origin of the twelve ornaments on the robe can be traced back to pre-historic period. (
    The following text, our translation from a classic Chinese explanation of the Mass, the Sacrificii Missae Explicatio 《彌撒祭義》(1629), written by the Jesuit missionary priest Giulio Aleni, explains the tsikin, and gives the hat a mystical significance:

    “Besides the six pieces of the vestment of the priest, currently in China the Pope has permitted the use of a black hat. It has a square top, a round bottom, and four faces. To the top of each face an embroidered square panel is fixed, with three strings hanging from each top corner. One corner faces the front, and from the back hang two long ribbons. This is the sacrificial hat [literally “sacrificial cloth”, pronounced as Jijin or Tsikin祭巾], signifying the immobility of the uppermost layer of the celestial bodies created by God and the unceasing rotation of those beneath it. The panels of the sacrificial hat face east, west, south, and north, and each face [with its three strings] represents the Trinity of our Lord. Since man is vacillating and not completely faithful, he is not able to enter heaven directly, therefore it also resembles the image of one who is inconstant and errant. Nevertheless, the Holy Cross always rules from above. The whole world has the same origin, and in the beginning there was no difference between one another. Only when man has the constant virtue of humility and the love for both God and man will our Lord grant him to ascend into heaven. The sacrificial hat also represents the crown of thorns worn by our Lord in His passion.” [1]

    While Alenio explains that the three strings of the sacrificial hat represent the Trinity, a French Jesuit priest of the 17th c., Théophile Raynaud, in his book Tractatus de Pileo (pp. 148-149) claims that all twelve together represent the twelve gates of Jerusalem. Raynaud further explains why a unique sacrificial hat was so necessary for the Chinese:

    “Here we should recall what I mentioned above, that among the Chinese it is a taboo, or at least extremely impolite, ever to leave one’s head uncovered, since this is the way criminals are taken to the gibbet. For this reason Chinese Christians only bare their heads when they confess their sins, to show that they are guilty and worthy of punishment. Since it would have been a scandal for a sacrificing priest to appear without a head covering, they pleaded with Paul V to permit them to respect local custom and not command them to disgrace the sacrifice by allowing the priest to be bareheaded. The pope gave his assent, as long as the head covering was suitable for the sacred and divine action, and differed from a profane hat.” [2]
    In an article “Une Pratique Liturgique propre à la Chine” published in Bulletin Catholique de Pekin in 1924, the author repeats the same reasons justifying the concession for the use of the sacrificial hat, saying that according to the traditional Chinese view, the uncovering of head is a sign of contempt and humiliation. He also proposes another reason: the cold winter in China, a problem for a people who typically wore their heads completely shaven besides a pigtail. This reason can be discounted, however, since the hairstyle in question was imposed on the Chinese people by the Manchus in 1644, while the sacrificial hat was permitted decades before, in 1615.

    Terracotta Warrior from the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, with typical traditional Chinese hairstyle, 3rd. century BC. (
    The priests kept the same Manchu haircut as the local people, for the convenience of their mission.(
    For the Chinese Christians, the sacrificial hat was more than a simple vestment; it was a potent symbol of their people’s veneration for sacred sacrifice handed down through 3000 years of civilization, vindicated for Christ. Permitting a Chinese form of the sacrificial hat allowed the missionaries to capture this spirit of veneration, fulfilling the Apostle’s mandate to “lead every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10, 5), much as early Christians in Rome assigned the clergy vestments and signs of veneration usually reserved for the Roman Emperor.

    The Tsikin was used in China until the early 20th century, by which time many of the ancient concessions requested by the Jesuits had finally been withdrawn or phased out and a uniform Romanization was enforced by the First Chinese Council of 1924. To Roman officials and local clergy alike, it appeared that the original moral reason for the hat’s introduction had disappeared along with the introduction of European civilization and etiquette into the cities and even the interior of the country. Therefore, the time had come for more rigorous Romanization. From this point of view, as a contemporary author observes, “the sacrificial hat had fallen victim to the social evolution of the Chinese.” [3]

    The “social evolution” in question was the advent of western modernism. The 1920s, when the use of the sacrificial hat was officially terminated, was a time of radical social change in China. The spread of western ideas and the overthrow of feudalism began a period of voluntary abandonment of traditional manners by the Chinese themselves. Caught up in this spirit, Catholic priests voluntarily abandoned the ancient hat, so that by the time the order for Romanization came down, there were few who still used it.

    Chinese men in western clothes in the 1920s (
    In its social context, therefore, official Romanization actually fell in step with the march toward total westernization in China. As a result, it impoverished the local ecclesial tradition and left the Church less able to face the coming storms. The Church and society both were swept into the violent revolutions of the 20th century, with little traditional culture left to resist.

    As mentioned above, the Tsikin was more than a simple vestment. It was one of the most visible ways in which the Church redeemed what was good in Chinese culture: its deep and ancient veneration for divine sacrifice. Since sacrifice was the essence of civilization, the removal of the hat when offering sacrifice was, so to speak, a beheading of the spirit of ancient Chinese culture, a decision not to redeem this beautiful element of its ancient civilization. Moreover, de-Sinisation left the Church even more vulnerable to the Communist charge that the Roman Catholic Church was an instrument of the western powers.

    We may suppose that, if the sacrificial hat had been preserved, it would have acted as a living reminder to modern Chinese people of their own splendid tradition, and could have been a rallying symbol for cultural resistance, first to modernism, then to the Cultural Revolution. Instead, tradition was abandoned both by the larger society and by the Church together, and the Church missed the opportunity to play its accustomed role as the defender of civilization. In this respect, what happened in China somewhat resembles the situation in the West, where a misguided aggiornamento divested the Western Church of the very resources needed to combat the philistinism and cultural revolution of the post-conciliar period.

    [1] Pp. 28-29 of the PDF linked above
    [2] [...] In quam rem est recolendum quod supra attigi, apud Seres, sive Sinas, nefas, et saltem apprime inurbanum esse, capite unquam esse nudo. Is enim est habitus eorum qui ad patibulum rapiunter. Itaque Sinae Christiani, tunc tantum capita aperiunt, cum de peccatis confitentur. Tunc enim ut se criminosos ac reos profiteantur, nudant capita. Cum ergo esset apud eos probrosum, quod sacerdos sacrificans, esset aperto capite, insistere apud Paulum V ut pateretur eos servire consuetudini, nec sacrificium dehonestari vellet nudatione capitis, sacerdotis sacrificantis. Annuit Pontifex, dummodo tegmen capitis, super sacrum dumtaxat et rem divinam, usui esset, et a profano discreparet (Raynaud, 148-149).
    [3] “Mais la raison morale, d’autre part, semble bien disparaître au fur et à mesure que la civilisation et la politesse européenes s’introduisent dans les villes et à l’intérieur même des campagnes. A ce point de vue, le bonnet de Messe aura été une victim de l’évolution sociale des Chinois” (Bulletin Catholique, 405).

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    In February of 1638, the wife of King Louis XIII of France, Anne of Austria, was in the early months of her fifth pregnancy, after four stillbirths; this was in the twenty-third year of their marriage, the Queen then being thirty-seven years old. Hoping to obtain by the Virgin Mary’s intercession the safe birth of a royal heir, the king declared a vow of consecration to Her of his own person and family, and of France itself, promising to honor Her by a special procession every year on the feast of the Assumption. On September 5 of that year, the Queen gave birth to a son who was called Louis “Dieudonné - given by God”, the future Louis XIV, who would rule France for so long (1643-1715) that he was succeeded by his great-grandson. In the 19th-century editions of the Parisian Missal and Breviary, this event was even marked by a special feast on the Sunday within the Octave of the Assumption, called “The Commemoration of the Vow of the Most Christian King Louis XIII.”

    The Vow of Louis XIII by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, an 1824; from the Cathedral of the Assumption in Montauban. (Public domainimage from Wikipedia.)
    In this video taken yesterday at the church of St Eugène in Paris, you can hear Second Vespers of the feast of the Assumption sung by our friends of the Schola Sainte-Cécile, with a particularly good polyphonic Magnificat, followed by the procession. The Litany of Loreto is sung as the procession makes it way to the Lady altar, where the choir sings Sub tuum praesidium, followed by a versicle and prayer; the celebrant then reads the text of the vow of King Louis. Psalm 19 as the choir procession returns to the main sanctuary, followed by the another versicle and the following prayer. “O God, governor and guardian of kings and kingdoms, Who will that Thy only-begotten Son our Lord should be subject upon the earth to the most holy Virgin Mother, that Thou might show us in Him an example of humility and obedience; bestow Thy merciful favor upon the vows of Thy servant the most Christian King Louis: so that those who consecrate themselves to the protection of the same Virgin by this devout promise, may obtain the rewards of perpetual tranquility in this life, and everlasting freedom in heaven.” The full progam of the ceremony can be seen here in Latin and French; the text of the vow is available here in English.

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    In the year 1303, a Paduan money-lender named Enrico Scrovegni commissioned the painter Giotto to cover the whole interior of his family’s chapel with frescoes. The program, which required two years of work to complete, contains almost forty scenes of the Lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary, plus a large Last Judgment on the back wall, a series of monochromes of the Virtues and Vices, and a blue vault with stars. The cycle also includes the traditional account of the Virgin’s conception as given in the Protoevangelium of St James, an apocryphal Gospel of the mid-2nd century which is the first source for the names of Her parents, Joachim, whose feast is kept today in the Extraordinary Form, and Anne, whose feast is on July 26th. I have abbreviated the text, which is taken from the first five chapters, and slightly modified the translation.

    In the histories of the twelve tribes of Israel was Joachim, a man rich exceedingly; and he brought his offerings double, saying, “All the people shall have of my superabundance, and there shall be the offering to the Lord for forgiveness as a propitiation for me.” For the great day of the Lord was at hand, and the sons of Israel were bringing their offerings. And there stood over against him Rubim, saying, “It is not meet for you to bring your offerings first, because you have not made an offspring in Israel.” ...

    The Expulsion of Joachim from the Temple
    And Joachim was exceedingly grieved, and did not come into the presence of his wife; but he retired to the desert, and there pitched his tent, and fasted forty days and forty nights, saying to himself, “I will not go down either for food or for drink until the Lord my God shall look upon me, and prayer shall be my food and drink.”

    Joachim Among the Shepherds in the Desert
    And his wife Anna mourned in two mournings, and lamented in two lamentations, saying: I shall bewail my widowhood; I shall bewail my childlessness. ... And she saw a laurel, and sat under it, and prayed to the Lord, saying, “O God of our fathers, bless me and hear my prayer, as You blessed the womb of Sarah, and gave her a son Isaac.” ... And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying, “Anna, Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth; and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.” And Anna said, “As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life.”

    The Annunciation to Anne
    And, behold, two angels came, saying to her, “Behold, Joachim your husband is coming with his flocks.” For an angel of the Lord went down to him, saying, “Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God has heard your prayer. Go down hence; for, behold, your wife Anna shall conceive.”

    The Dream of Joachim. (The Protoevangelium does not explicitly state that it was in a dream that the Angel spoke to him, as recounted above.)
    And Joachim went down and called his shepherds, saying, “Bring me hither ten she-lambs without spot or blemish, and they shall be for the Lord my God; and bring me twelve tender calves, and they shall be for the priests and the elders; and a hundred goats for all the people.” And, behold, Joachim came with his flocks; and Anna stood by the gate, and saw Joachim coming, and she ran and hung upon his neck, saying, “Now I know that the Lord God has blessed me exceedingly; for, behold the widow no longer a widow, and I the childless shall conceive.” And Joachim rested the first day in his house.

    The Meeting of Ss Joachim and Anne at the Golden Gate
    And on the following day he brought his offerings, saying in himself, “If the Lord God has been rendered gracious to me, the plate on the priest’s forehead will make it manifest to me.” And Joachim brought his offerings, and observed attentively the priest’s plate when he went up to the altar of the Lord, and he saw no sin in himself. And Joachim said, “Now I know that the Lord has been gracious unto me, and has remitted all my sins.” And he went down from the temple of the Lord justified, and departed to his own house.

    Joachim’s Offering
    And her months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anna gave birth. And she said to the midwife, “What have I brought forth?” And she said, “A girl.” And Anna said, “My soul has been magnified this day.” ... And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary.

    The Birth of the Virgin Mary

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    A couple of days ago, we published a guest article by a Chinese reader about the tsikin (also transcribed as jijin), the liturgical hat worn by priests in China, where traditionally it was considered a matter of shame for a man to appear in public without a hat. Here are some additions photos from our guest author of the hat being used during various liturgical function. The first four of these pictures were taken by an Italian priest, Fr Leone Nani, between 1905-1914, in Hanzong, Shanxi.

    Consecration of a new bell in the cathedral by the Apostolic Vicar Bishop Pio Giuseppe Passerini, PIME, in the Vicariate Apostolic of Scen-Si Meridionale, China.

    Priests wearing the tsikin during the liturgy.
    Also worn by altar-servers - tradition will always be for the young!
    Vestments and embroidery made at the school of the Canossian Sisters, with a tsikin in the middle background.
    A priest celebrating Mass in the chapel of Xujiahui (Zi Ka Wei) Cathedral, Shanghai, in the 1870s. (Public domainimage from the Chinese Wikipedia.)
    His Excellency Théodore-Herman Rutjes, C.I.C.M, the first bishop of the Vicariate Apostolic of Eastern Mongolia.

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    The cathedral of St Domnius in the Croatian city of Split is the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world still being used in its original structure. About half of the historical center of Split sits within the walls of an enormous palace which the Emperor Diocletian constructed at the end of the third century as the place of his eventual retirement; the octagonal structure seen below in the first photo was originally built as his mausoleum. It was consecrated as a church at the beginning of the seventh century, and has had numerous additions made to it since. The Romanesque bell-tower was added in the 12th century, and a large choir was built behind the very small main sanctuary in the 17th. Our thanks once again to Nicola for sharing these photos with us; there are too many beautiful pictures to fit them all into one post, so we will do a second part tomorrow.

    The peristyle of Diocletian’s palace, an internal colonade, still encloses the cathedral, and runs through other parts of the city as well. On the lower right is seen a granite sphinx brought by the Romans from Egypt for the decoration of the palace.

    A relief image of St Domnius on the bell-tower, with a local Saint named Anastasius on the left, St Peter on the right, and an acolyte between them. Domnius was bishop of the nearby city of Salona at the end of the third century, martyred in the persecution of Diocletian. Local tradition has made him one of the Seventy Disciples mentioned in the Luke 10, and states that he came to Rome with Peter, and from there was sent to evangelize the Dalmatian coast. Salona was destroyed by the invasion of the Avars and Slavs in the 7th century, and Split was founded by refugees from it settling within the walls of the palace. (Technically, the cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the bell-tower to Domnius.)
    Another relief on the bell-tower, of the Annunciation.
    Strange as it may seem, this tiny space is the main sanctuary of the cathedral. In the 17th century, part of the wall behind it was knocked out and the choir built behind it.

    The other side of the altar, seen from the choir.

    The mausoleum of Diocletian, who is depicted with his wife several times in the frieze below the dome, is now the “nave”, so to speak, of the cathedral.

    This inscription records a major restoration of the cathedral completed in 1885 in the reign of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph.
    The undecorated cupola of the mausoleum.

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    Peter recently participated in an episode of the Josias Podcast, a discussion of the deep and essential connection between the liturgy and the common good, along with the regular hosts, and Mr Jonathan Culbreath, whose recently published an interesting article on Liturgy and the Common Good at Peregrine Magazine. Along the way, they discuss the liturgy as focal point for the common good in the Church and in secular society, public versus private devotion, and compare Charles de Koninck’s defense of the common good against personalists and totalitarians with Erik Peterson and Romano Guardini’s defense of the liturgy against certain members of the liturgical reform movement. Several links to further reading on the topic are given over at their website.

    An allegory of St Francis Xavier as the patron of Lucerne, Switerland, on the ceiling of the church dedicated to him in that city. At the top, he is shown riding a chariot like the prophet Elijah, which is pulled by exotic animals (an elephant, a cheetah and a camel), symbolizing the various parts of the world reached by his missionary activities. On the white and blue banner of the city is written “To St Francis Xavier, Protector of the City and Region.” To the left, the citizens, led by the bishop, look to him in heaven; the façade of the church is seen at the bottom.

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    Here is the second part of Nicola’s photos from his recent visit to the cathedral of St Domnius in Split, Croatia; part one was published yesterday.

    Altar containing the relics of St Domnius.
     The pulpit
     One of the elaboratedly carved capitals of the pillars that support the pulpit.

     Decorations of the vault over St Domnius’ altar.

    The two wooden doors of were carved by the sculptor and painter Andrija Buvina around 1220, with fouteen scenes from the life of Jesus Christ.

    More of the choir, which was added to the rather small church behind the main altar in the 17th century.

    The Baptistery of St John, built within the remains of a temple dedicated the Jupiter, who was the Emperor Diocletian tutelary deity. (As explained in the previous post, the cathedral is built in part out of the remains of Diocletian’s mausoleum.)
    The sarcophagus of a canon and rector of the cathedral, called “Jacobus Selembrius” in Latin, who died in 1533.

    The baptismal font was built in the 12th century, partly out of pieces of earlier altars; this image of Christ the King and two subjects is from the 11ht century.

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    The essence of the Mass is not that it is a communal gathering, for there are many sorts of communal gatherings that are not Masses, and, as the Church has consistently taught, a Mass celebrated privately by a priest and a server, or even in a case of necessity, by a priest alone, is still a true and proper Mass. No, the essence of the Mass is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary, made present anew in the immolation of the Victim under the species of bread and wine, and offered again to the Father as a sweet-smelling oblation for the salvation of the world. This, and not the circle of people who may or may not gather around the table, is the essence of the Mass.

    As a consequence, the Mass is a theocentric prayer. It is ordered to God. As the Gloria sings: propter magnam gloriam tuam, for the sake of Thy great glory; or in the words of the doxology at the end of the Canon: “All glory and honor are Thine, Almighty Father…” Yes, the Mass was given to us by Our Lord at the Last Supper for our benefit, but it benefits us precisely by ordering us to God first, giving Him the primacy that is His by nature and by conquest. We are benefited by being subordinated to God, yielding ourselves to Him as a rational sacrifice (cf. Rom 12:1); we profit from being decentered on ourselves and recentered on Him, our first beginning and last end.

    It is exactly for these reasons that celebration of the Mass versus populum or “facing the people” is not merely an unfortunate aberration based on poor scholarship and democratic-socialist habits of thought endemic to modern Westerners. It is a contradiction of the essence of the Mass and a distortion of the proper relationship of man to God. Because of its inversion of the proper directionality of the worshiping community, people and priest alike, to the uncreated Font and Origin, it functions as a sort of “immunization” against the rational self-sacrifice that turns our souls and our bodies towards the Father, in union with His beloved Son, whose meat is to do the Father’s will, not His own as a man (cf Jn 4:34; Jn 6:38).

    To privilege a partial, secondary truth over the fundamental truth is to inculcate untruth.

    We can see this if we look at the history of Christian heresy. When the Arians privileged the truth that the Son is in some sense less than the Father (cf Jn 14:28) but neglected the more fundamental truth that He is God—God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God—they inculcated an untruth, for the Son is not less than the Father simply speaking.

    When the Pelagians privileged the truth that man is not saved without his own effort, but neglected the more fundamental truth that even our efforts are God’s gift and that without His aid we can do nothing, they inculcated an untruth, for we are saved not by works simply speaking.

    When the Protestants privileged the truth that Jesus Christ is our Savior but neglected the truth that He saves us in and through a visible body, the Church, of which we must become members in order to benefit from His saving action, they inculcated an untruth, for there is no salvation outside of the body of the Savior. A subjective conviction that “I am saved” has nothing to do with what we see happening in the New Testament, let alone the history of the early Church.

    When modern-day European liberals privilege the truth that man has innate dignity but neglect the truth that his dignity is not absolute or independent of his social nature with its ensuing obligations towards society and its susceptibility to just punishment up to and including death, they inculcate an untruth, for neither death nor the punitive sovereignty of civil authority is contrary to human dignity simply speaking.

    In all of these examples (and of course they could be multiplied almost indefinitely), we see how the emphasis of a partial truth taken out of the context of the network of truths that give it meaning results in the establishment of a false system of belief, an -ism that separates itself from Catholicism.

    I maintain that the same is true of versus populum. When liturgical reformers privileged the idea of a communal gathering for table fellowship, but neglected the more fundamental truth (recognized as de fide dogma by Trent) that the Mass is the unbloody representation of the bloody Sacrifice of the Cross, they inculcated an untruth, for the Mass is not first and foremost a group doing something together, but Jesus Christ offering Himself in sacrifice and granting us the opportunity to unite ourselves to this perfect, all-sufficient offering, in which our very salvation consists. It is the man who has, over his lifetime, become one with Jesus on the Cross who will be saved, not the man who gets together with friends to reminisce about the itinerant preacher of kindness from Nazareth. The emphasis of a partial truth (that the Mass is a social or communal event involving edible refreshment), when taken out of the context of the larger dogma that gives this event its meaning and power (that the Mass is the sacrifice of Christ, Head and members), falsifies the partial truth and in fact makes it to be harmful, in the same way as Arianism, Pelagianism, and Protestantism are harmful, although each is built upon a truth.

    Celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist facing the people necessarily decontextualizes and falsifies the social nature of the Mass and unavoidably (even if, in many instances, contrary to the devout wishes of its celebrant) suppresses its theocentric essence. For this reason, it inculcates a false understanding of the Mass, effectively decatechizing the faithful as to its true nature. It does not simply tilt the emphasis to one side or the other; it cancels out the orientation that is demanded by the very meaning of sacrifice, which is to be offered manifestly to God alone. He alone, moreover, deserves and demands our adoration, and if it is not clear that we are united together in adoration of the One who alone is worthy of latreia or divine worship, then the unique right of God to such worship in spirit and in truth has been compromised or canceled out.

    If we recall that “religion” names for St. Thomas Aquinas the moral virtue by which we offer to God what is owed to Him by means of external signs and rites (cf. Summa theologiae II-II, q. 81), it would be accurate to say that ad orientem worship and versus populum ‘worship’ are the expression of different “religions,” at least in the sense that something different is being displayed and given.

    The problem, then, is not merely that the practice of celebrating Mass “towards the people” has no foundation whatsoever in the history of Catholic or Orthodox worship. No, it is much worse than an unfortunate sociological aberration, like the current fashion of body-piercing. The use of versus populum erodes and corrupts the faith of the people as to the very essence of the Mass and the adoration of God propter magnam gloriam eius — the absolute primacy of God over man, and the corresponding duty of man to subordinate himself to God, as opposed to the ancient sophists and enlightened moderns who unite in the error that “man is the measure of all things.”

    The "Benedictine altar arrangement" in a Mass versus populum
    Years ago, I used to think that the “Benedictine altar arrangement,” whereby six candles and a crucifix are placed on the front of the altar between the congregation and the celebrant (with the crucifix facing the celebrant as a resting point for his gaze), was an imperfect but valid temporary solution to the dramatic pastoral crisis of the anthropocentric inversion of the Mass. I still believe it is better, all things considered, if only to break up the closed circle and offer visual respite from the tête-à-tête, but I can no longer see it as adequate to the magnitude of the problem.

    The placement of six candles and a crucifix on the west side of the altar, useful though it may seem as an “instant fix,” creates two major problems of its own. First, it leaves the false orientation intact, as the priest is still standing with his back to the East (and, in a church with a centrally-located tabernacle, his back to the Lord!), towards the West which — as indicated in the Byzantine rite of baptism — symbolizes the kingdom of darkness. The idea of a “virtual East” represented by the crucifix, while clever, is too cerebral; it is contradicted by the “body language” of the sanctuary, the altar, and the priest.

    Second, it throws up an arbitrary barrier between the celebrant and the people, in a way that never happens in ad orientem worship, where everyone faces the same direction and feels the unity of this common orientation.  That is, it could subtly accentuate the “priest over against people” mood that is already such an annoying characteristic of the Novus Ordo, which was composed by clericalists masquerading as populists.

    I am not at all opposed to the existence of real, permanent barriers in a church whenever they make sense liturgically and ceremonially: the ancient curtains around the baldachin, the chancel screen or rood screen, the iconostasis, the communion rail. Such barriers articulate liturgical space and provide for a meaningful progression of ministers and actions, while catechizing the faithful about hierarchy, sacredness, and eschatology. But introducing a line of furnishings on the western end of an altar in order to make up (somehow) for the lack of a proper common orientation is arbitrary. It looks temporary and temporizing, as it is, and more often than not, marks an awkward caesura in the sanctuary, like a divider between office cubicles.

    In versus populum is symbolized and promoted the anthropocentrism of modernity; its forgetfulness of God; its refusal to order all created reality to the uncreated source; its humanistic this-worldliness, which does not decisively subordinate the here and now to the Lord, the Orient, who has come and who will come again to judge the living and the dead. With this change alone, the liturgical ethos or consciousness of Christianity was shattered. If the old Mass were suddenly to be celebrated versus populum, in the manner in which the Novus Ordo generally is, it would be totally undermined by this one change; if the reformed Mass were to be celebrated ad orientem, this liturgical prodigal son would, by that metanoia, have already begun its journey back to the father’s house.

    So much depends on the priest and the people facing east together, that it would be no exaggeration to say that orthodox Christianity will thrive only where public prayer is thus offered, and will suffer attrition wherever it has been abandoned.

    The eastward stance and all that it symbolizes and implies is not a mere accident, an incidental feature that we can take or leave, like this or that style of chasuble. It is a constitutive element of the rite of the Holy Sacrifice. We should stop pretending that this is a matter of “six or one-half dozen,” a case of de gestibus non disputandum. A Mass that refuses to orient itself in continuity with the universal tradition and theology of Christian worship is irregular, harmful to the priest and people whom it malforms in an anthropocentric mentality, harmful to the Mystical Body in which it perpetuates rupture and discontinuity, and less pleasing to God whom it deprives of due adoration.