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Yes, It's Septuagesima Sunday

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Looking toward Holy Pascha

Today is Septuagesima Sunday. In three weeks our heads will be marked with the ashes of penitence. A special time of preparation for Lent emerged in the liturgy of the 6th and 7th centuries. The three Sundays preceding Ash Wednesday were called Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, meaning respectively, the seventieth, sixtieth, and fiftieth days before Pascha. The First Sunday of Lent is, of course, Quadragesima, the beginning of the Lenten fast of forty days.

Evil Limited by Divine Mercy

The seventy-day period that begins with Septuagesima recalls the seventy-year exile of the children of Israel in Babylon. Seventy is the perfect number, signifying that God has fixed for us a delay of mercy to pass from the anguish of sinful Babylon to the beatitude of Jerusalem. “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps 136:4). We do well to recall Pope John Paul II’s assertion that, “the power that imposes a limit on evil is Divine Mercy.” The seventy days before Pascha signify this, and so become a season of hope for all who sit and weep by the waters of Babylon (cf. Ps 136:1).

Seven: A Mystical Number

At the same time, the history of the world is divided into seven ages. The first is from the creation of the world to the flood; the second, from the renewal after the flood to the call of Abraham; the third from the covenant with Abraham to the call of Moses; the fourth from Moses to King David; the fifth from the reign of David to the Babylonian exile; and the sixth from return from captivity to the birth of Christ. With the birth of Our Lord comes the seventh age: the appearance of the Sun of Justice who rises over the world “with healing in his wings” (Mal 4:2). This seventh age of “these last days” (Heb 1:2) stretches until Christ’s second coming as Judge of the living and the dead. The seven weeks before Pascha are a review of salvation history.

The Pastoral Wisdom of Septuagesima

The traditional Roman Rite marks Septuagesima Sunday by putting away the Alleluia; the Gloria is omitted and, already, the priest dons violet vestments in preparation for Lent. Sound psychology and practical pastoral wisdom indicate the need for a kind of countdown before Ash Wednesday. Otherwise Lent arrives all of a sudden, finding us flustered and frightfully ill prepared.

A Few Souls Weep

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Exposition and Adoration

Not long ago, on a Friday evening, while visiting a major international Marian shrine recognized by the Holy See, I attended exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. There are a number of priests on staff at this particular shrine.

The sacristan, a layman who manages to be unfailingly kind and business-like at the same time, emerged from the sacristy; opened the tabernacle; removed from it the monstrance containing the Sacred Host; placed it, rather unceremoniously on the altar; genuflected and left.


There was no singing, no use of incense, and no priest, therefore no use of the humeral veil and none of the marks of reverence and adoration that should accompany such a rite: liturgical minimalism of the most egregious sort.

A Para-Liturgy of the Laity

A couple of devout ladies in the first pew took charge, announcing page numbers and reciting a sequence of vocal prayers at at pace that was more than lively. Their recitation was so fast that I marveled at their ability to crank on without stopping for a breath.

The entire service was conducted by laypersons. At the conclusion there was, given the absence of a priest, no Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The monstrance containing the Sacred Host was summarily removed from the altar, replaced in the tabernacle and . . . well . . . that was it.

A Spiritual Cancer

I found myself grieving over the whole situation. It was an experience of liturgical minimalism such as I have never seen. It was exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament on the cheap. The absence of the priest was symptomatic of a spiritual cancer that, even after the Year of the Eucharist and the Year of the Priest, is metastasizing throughout the Church.

It Was Bound to Happen

What was happening there? The liturgical minimalism and irreverence that have come to characterize the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in so many places have now invaded the rite of exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. It was bound to happen. The ethos of Holy Communion received in the hand, of the abusive use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and of the loss of any awareness of sacred space has now overflowed into the cultus of the Most Holy Eucharist outside of Mass.

The rite of exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament is fast becoming the exclusive purview of the laity, and often of the sacristan, or of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. A rite that, in the mind of the Church, is to be solemn, festive, and hierarchically ordered has become something sad, bland, and common.

The Priest and the Body of Christ

The practice I witnessed first-hand at the shrine of X. is symptomatic of something grievously wrong. A wedge is being driven between the cultus of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the priest who is ordained not only to confect the adorable Body and precious Blood of Christ, but also to offer the Holy Sacrifice, to handle the Sacred Species, and to present the Body of Christ to the gaze of the faithful and to their adoration.

Foretaste of Heaven

In former times, the authorization of the Ordinary was required for exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. I remember well seeing, as a young lad, a framed and beautifully handwritten document on the sacristy wall listing the days on which exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament were permitted. Exposition and Benediction were privileged moments, anticipated with joy: a foretaste of heaven that passed all too quickly, leaving the fragrance of incense hanging in the air.

Something Has Gone Very Wrong

In fifty years time we have come to quite another scenario: a layman in work clothes (or a lay woman) places the monstrance on the altar and walks away. A few ladies begin a series of devotional prayers. And, here and there, in the semi-darkness of the church, a few souls weep, for they understand that something has gone very wrong. Very wrong indeed.

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De retour

I returned from France last evening. Ah, the beauty of France, the intelligence and wit of the French, the grace of so many friendships rooted in the faith, the reverent approach to food, drink, and the shared table! While in France, given the circumstances of my séjour, and for compelling pastoral reasons, I celebrated Holy Mass in the so-called Ordinary Form, something I have rarely been obliged to do since the gift of Summorum Pontificum.

Dignity and Loveliness

Let it be said, straightway, that in both places where I offered the Holy Sacrifice in the Ordinary Form, the setting was impeccable: worthy sacred vessels, exquisite chasubles in wool with hand-embroidered adornment, immaculate altar linens, beautifully arranged flowers, etc. The singing too was lovely -- all in French (even the Ordinary of the Mass) -- but executed with reverence, attention, and artistry.

Introductory Rites

I thought that I might, however, share with my readers and, especially, with my brother priests, some reflections on the experience of the Ordinary Form, given that I have celebrated daily in the Usus Antiquior since 2007. The first thing that struck me was the inappropriateness of beginning the Holy Sacrifice from the chair facing the congregation, rather than at the foot of the altar facing the liturgical east. Beginnings, introductory rites, and the crossing of thresholds are hugely important, precisely because they have such an impact on all that follows. Nowhere is this more true than in the sacred liturgy.

Introibo Ad Altare Dei

It is more than curious that the verse from Psalm 42 traditionally recited at the foot of the altar before the Confiteor was eliminated from the Missal of Paul VI: Introibo ad altare Dei; "I shall go unto the altar of God." I find it strange that in a Missal characterized by a multiplicity of options, the traditional use of Psalm 42 was conceded no place. Instead, other options were invented, adapted, or otherwise introduced into the introductory rites.

Toward the Holy Sacrifice

Upon leaving the sacristy and the entering the church, the heart of the priest is set upon the altar, not the chair, nor the ambo. All that precedes the heart of the Holy Sacrifice (that is, the Canon of the Mass) is ordered to it. Even the proclamation and hearing of the Word of God, culminating in the Holy Gospel, is ordered to the Great Thanksgiving, to the Sursum Corda, and to the mystic actualization of the Sacrifice of the Cross.

Chair and Altar

The priest enters the sanctuary in order to approach the altar, conscious that he will stand before it to offer the Holy Sacrifice. By going directly to the chair, albeit after having venerated the altar, the direction of the liturgical action is skewed. The priest himself becomes the focus of attention. His sign of the cross, and his greeting; his introduction to the Act of Penitence, all tend to deflect the attention of the faithful away from the latreutic finality of the Mass, latria being, of course, the technical term for the worship and adoration due to God alone.

At the Foot of the Altar

By placing the introductory rites, including the Act of Penitence, at the chair, the Mass begins in the configuration of a self-contained, closed horizontality. Even though the Confiteor is addressed to Almighty God, the impact of it is substantially diluted by praying it (a) from the chair, facing the people; (b) while standing erect rather than while inclining profoundly; and (c) into no particular direction, if not into some vague space around one's own feet or above the heads of the people. This particular element of the New Order of the Mass is not a success. It does not do what it is supposed to do. It needs to be corrected. Is it not time to rediscover the significance of praying, and of bowing low at the foot of the altar?

Dominus Vobiscum

The correction of the Introductory Rite and Act of Penitence in reference to the Usus Antiquior and the replacement of the first salutation of the congregation (Dominus vobiscum) after the Gloria (or Kyrie) and before the Collect, will go a long way toward the recovery of a sense of the Godward direction of every liturgical action and, in particular, of the significance of approaching the altar with a view to offering the Holy Sacrifice.

The Poor New Offertory

The second thing that struck me was the paucity of the reformed Offertory rites and prayers. Others have commented on this matter at length. It would seem to me necessary to restore the Offertory Antiphon to the New Order of the Mass and to restore the Offertory prayers and gestures of the Missal of Saint Pius V as well.

Ad Orientem

It goes without saying that the rubric of the New Order of the Mass that assumes the eastward position from the Offertory until Holy Communion needs to become always and everywhere normative. Nothing has done more to distort the ars celebrandi than the habit of offering the Holy Sacrifice facing the people. It is, in many instances, an affront to the Divine Majesty. It is, moreover, a tedious distraction to both priest and people, and a symbolic and, alas, subliminal, but all too effective, devalorization of the sacrificial character of Holy Mass. No amount of catechesis, however well-intentioned, will be able to restore to the ars celebrandi of the New Order of the Mass what the position ad orientem will bring about of and by itself. Here, more than anywhere else, actions do speak louder than words.

The Roman Canon

It was when I came to the Eucharistic Prayer, using the Roman Canon as adapted -- I rather think mutilated -- in the New Order of the Mass, that I found myself most deeply disturbed. The elimination of the traditional signs of the cross and genuflexions is redolent of a puritanical rationalism that either fears the participation of the body in worship or sneers at it; it is, in effect, the divorce of word from action, a kind of disincarnation of the text.

There is absolutely no reason to have altered the age-old and venerable words of consecration in the Roman Canon. Nothing in Sacrosanctum Concilium authorizes or justifies so barbaric an assault on a text universally regarded as sacrosanct and fixed by tradition. Fifty years after the Second Vatican Council, has not the moment at last come to repair the damage done by an erroneous interpretation and brash disregard of the letter of the Conciliar text and the intentions of the Council Fathers?

The Words of Consecration and Mysterium Fidei

I would propose, then, that the words of consecration in the Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV of the New Order of the Mass be brought into conformity with the traditional text of the Roman Canon as found in the Missal of 1962, and as used at the Second Vatican Council and in the years immediately following it. This would entail the replacement of the mysterium fidei within the words of consecration of the chalice and the suppression of the acclamation introduced in the Missal of Paul VI, which, to be honest, would be, to my mind at least, no great loss. Its inorganic insertion into the Canon has the effect of an interruption of the flow and movement of the prayer itself.

Eucharistic Prayers?

Of course, one needs to ask if four Eucharistic Prayers are, in fact, necessary in the New Rite of the Mass. Of the four, Eucharistic Prayer II is the one most widely used, not because of any intrinsic sublimity, but because of its brevity. It is a routinely rattled text that has longed passed its expiration date. It should be given an honourable burial alongside the breviary of Cardinal Quignonez. Eucharistic Prayer IV is used very rarely, if at all, in most places. Eucharistic Prayer III, the so-called Canon of Paul VI is the second most widely used. Has the time not come to reduce the Eucharistic Prayers of the New Order of the Mass from four to two, keeping only the venerable Roman Canon and what is now called Eucharistic Prayer III? It should, I think be legislated that the use of Roman Canon be obligatory on all Sundays, solemnities, feasts of the Apostles and of the saints named in the Communicantes and in the Nobis Quoque.

Domine, non sum dignus

The threefold Domine, non sum dignus needs to be restored to the New Order of the Mass. The single recitation of the centurion's heartfelt prayer sounds pathetically and artificially truncated. The threefold Domine, non sum dignus is no vain repetition; it is a trirhythmic grace of compunction that batters the door of even the most hardened heart.

Holy Communion

The manner of distributing Holy Communion to the faithful has been addressed by the example of the Holy Father, but his example has not garnered the support it deserves in the episcopate. It would seem that most bishops are insensitive to the persuasive language of example and, thus, must be compelled by legislation. Holy Communion in the hand and the scandalously abusive proliferation of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion are matters that must be addressed by clear and binding legislation. The grave scandal among the Eastern Orthodox Churches that these practices cause is, of itself, sufficient to warrant their immediate suppression.

The Last Gospel

Finally, it is, I think, a good thing to close the Holy Sacrifice en douceur with the reading of the Prologue of Saint John. It is, in effect, a kind of final blessing over the heads and hearts of the faithful, a thanksgiving after Holy Communion, and a bridge from the Holy Mysteries into the world that they alone can redeem, heal, sanctify, and elevate. I would argue, then, for the addition of the Prologue of Saint John to the New Order of the Mass, except on those occasions when the Mass itself is immediately followed by another liturgical function.

Reform of the Reform?

These are but a few thoughts on my experience of returning -- out of pastoral necessity -- to the New Order of the Mass for less than a week. I could not wait to resume the Usus Antiquior. The New Order of the Mass is in dire need of correction, enrichment, and consolidation. The "reform of the reform" is the single most urgent task of the New Evangelisation. Is it not time to place clear and binding liturgical law at the service of life? The example of the Holy Father, however edifying and consoling it may be, is not sufficient to curb the liturgical abuses rampant in the Church and to "fix" the New Order of the Mass. Something more is required.

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Image: Dom Tarisse, Superior General of the Congregation of Saint-Maur

I have given Dom Benedict my blessing to pursue his study of the 17th century Monastic Breviary of the Benedictine Congregation of Saint Maur. The Maurist Breviary is a treasury of scriptural and patristic texts, artfully woven together so as to express luminously the mysteries of the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year. The Maurist Breviary is as suitable for lectio divina as it is for choral prayer. Dom Benedict will be sharing his discoveries, as time permits, on a new blog entitled, Pax Inter Spinas, A Modern Monk Discovers the Liturgical Riches of the Benedictine Congregation of Saint Maur (1621-1790). Do visit Pax Inter Spinas today.

Christ in the Psalms

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Christ in the Psalms, by Patrick Henry Reardon

Sheila and Charles Michie, (Oblate Sister and Brother Thérèse and Paul), our monastery's beloved senior Oblates in Tulsa, recently wrote me and asked if I might say something about two books that I recommended to our Novice Oblates as part of their formative reading. Although it has taken me more than a fortnight to get to my desk to do this, I am very happy to do so. The two books in question belong on every Oblate's bookshelf. Today, I will present the first of the two.

The Psalter: A Benedictine's Daily Bread

The Psalter is a Benedictine's daily bread. The Psalter accompanies a monk -- and by extension, an Oblate -- through all of life, day by day, and hour by hour. The 150 Psalms of David were inspired by the Holy Ghost and entrusted to the children of Israel in view of the day when the Word made flesh would stand in need of a human language of prayer in order to express in words -- with rhythm, and inner music, and accent, and poetry -- the mystery of His ineffable dialogue with the Father from all eternity.

Prayer of Christ and of the Church

These same Psalms, that Jesus learned from Saint Joseph, from His Virgin Mother, and in the village synagogue, accompanied Him throughout His earthly life until, from the altar of the Cross, He used them as the final expression of His filial and priestly prayer to the Father. The Church, being Christ's bride and the mother of God's children by adoption, took up the Psalter, and made it her own. By means of the sacred liturgy, she teaches it to her children, from generation to generation, thus transmitting to souls, as if by a sacrament, the prayer of Christ to the Father, uttered in the Holy Ghost.

The Face of Christ in the Psalms

Behold he standeth behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices. Behold my beloved speaketh to me: Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. (Canticle 2:9-10)

In what ways is the Psalter a kind of sacrament of Christ? First of all, the prophetic character of the psalms allows us to catch glimpses of the adorable Face of Christ in His mysteries. One cannot pray the psalms without seeing, at least from time to time, the Face of Jesus appearing, all radiant, through the lattice-work of the text.

The Voice of Christ in the Psalms

The Lord hath said to me: Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee. (Psalm 2:7)

Secondly, the Psalms allow us to hear the voice of Christ as He pours out His Sacred Heart to the Father in prayer. Like the Our Father, the Psalter is Our Lord's answer to the request of His disciples, "Lord, teach us how to pray."

Christ in His Mysteries

They have dug my hands and feet. They have numbered all my bones. And they have looked and stared upon me. [19] They parted my garments amongst them; and upon my vesture they cast lots. (Psalm 21:18-19)
I rose up and am still with thee. (Psalm 138:18)
God is ascended with jubilee, and the Lord with the sound of trumpet. (Psalm 46:6)

Thirdly, the Psalms reveal Christ in His mysteries. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the choice of the Psalms that the Church makes in the celebration of the seasons and festivals of the liturgical year.

The Psalms: Communion with the Prayer of Christ

Finally, the Psalms are the species under which those who pray them receive a real holy communion with Our Lord in the mystery of His prayer to the Father. To pray the psalms, especially in the Divine Office, is to receive the prayer of Christ. The holy communion o the Psalms sustains one all through life. The Psalter is, in its own way, a manna given to sustain us in the exodus of our passage from this world to the Father. At the hour of death, the same Psalms will, God willing, accompany us out of time and into eternity.

A Book to Keep Close at Hand

For all of these reasons, and for many others besides, Father Patrick Henry Reardon's book, Christ in the Psalms, is a resource for all who make the Psalms their prayer, and find their prayer in the Psalms.

Father Reardon's approach is simple, practical, and profound. He takes each of the 150 Psalms in turn, and shows us Christ in it. In one Psalm after another, he helps us recognize the features of the Face of Christ, hear His voice, and enter into His prayer.

Christ in the Psalms is not a book that one reads once and then relegates to an out of the way shelf to collect dust. It is a tool to be used daily. Monks and Oblates will refer to it again and again to deepen their participation in the prayer of the Church. Priests and deacons will find it especially helpful in the preparation of homilies. I regret that, for copyright reasons, I am unable to reproduce a sampling of the book here. Father Reardon's book is a worthwhile investment. You will want to keep it close at hand, alongside your breviary, your missal, and your Bible.

Praying for Rain in Oklahoma

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Answering Paula

Our dear friend Paula Cole (Oblate Sister Lioba), who lives outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, wrote me to ask that we pray for rain there. We will, of course, pray for a soaking downpour in Oklahoma. I also want Paula and her friends to know that the very Roman Missal used in her parish contains a special Collect for Rain. In the edition of the (Novus Ordo) Roman Missal in our library it is Collect 35.

O God, in whom we live and move and have our being,
grant us sufficient rain,
so that, being supplied with what sustains us in this present life,
we may seek more confidently what sustains us for eternity.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.

Ask Your Parish Priest

In times past it was not uncommon for a bishop to command that the Collect for Rain be added to the Collect of the day at Holy Mass until the faithful obtained the needed deluge. There is no reason why this cannot be done now. A parish priest may also conclude the Prayer of the Faithful with the same Collect every day at Holy Mass. A parish might also mobilize all the faithful, men, women, and children in a solemn procession for rain. Make it known to your parish priest that you want a procession for rain.

In this painting, Saint Benedict is saying to Saint Scholastica, "God forgive thee, sister! What hast thou done?" She has just obtained by her prayers a mighty downpour of rain.

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Saint Scholastica

In some Benedictine monasteries, it is not uncommon to organize extraordinary processions for rain. These would include the Litany of the Saints, various Psalms, and antiphons to Saint Scholastica, who by her heartfelt prayer obtained a spectacular downpour from God to keep her brother, Saint Benedict, close to her for one final night together before her death. In other Benedictine monasteries the Collect for Rain is recited nightly after Compline.

In the Roman Ritual

The Roman Ritual -- that most under-used treasury among the liturgical books of the Roman Rite -- provides a procession for rain. The formulae are the same ones used for the Rogation Processions, until the invocation in the litany That you grant eternal rest to all the faithful departed. After this invocation the following is sung twice:

V. That you grant to your faithful the much needed rainfalls.

R. We beg you to hear us.

At the end of the litany the following is added:

P: Our Father (secretly, until)

P: And lead us not into temptation.

All: But deliver us from evil.

Psalm 146

O praise the Lord,
for it is good to sing praises to our God :
and to praise him is joyful and right.

The Lord is rebuilding Jerusalem :
he is gathering together the scattered outcasts of Israel.

He heals the broken in spirit :
and binds up their wounds.

He counts the number of the stars :
and calls them all by name.

Great is our Lord, and great is his power :
there is no measuring his understanding.

The Lord restores the humble :
but he brings down the wicked to the dust.

O sing to the Lord a song of thanksgiving :
sing praises to our God upon the harp.

He covers the heavens with cloud,
and prepares rain for the earth :
and makes the grass to sprout upon the mountains.

He gives the cattle their food :
and feeds the young ravens that call to him.

He takes no pleasure in the strength of a horse :
nor does he delight in any man's legs,

But the Lord's delight is in those that fear him :
who wait in hope for his mercy.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

At the end of the psalm the following prayers are said:

P: Lord, cover the heavens with clouds.

All: And prepare rain for the earth.

P: That grass may spring up in the hills.

All: And vegetation for men's use.

P: Sprinkle the hills from the clouds up above.

All: And the earth will be saturated from the work of your hands.

P: Lord, heed my prayer.

All: And let my cry be heard by you.

P: The Lord be with you.

All: And with your spirit.

Let us pray.

God, in whom we live and move and have our being, grant us rain in plenty, so that as we amply experience your gifts of the present time we may all the more confidently desire those of eternity.

Grant, we beg you, almighty God, that we who put our trust in you in this affliction may ever be shielded from all adversities.

Lord, give us, we pray, a plentiful rainfall, and graciously pour out on the parched earth moisture from the heavenly vaults; through Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

P: The Lord be with you.

All: And with your spirit.

P: Let us bless the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.

P: May the almighty and merciful Lord be pleased to hear us.
All: Amen.

P: May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.
All: Amen.

Bravo, Monsignor Wadsworth!

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Mgr Andrew Wadsworth delivered the keynote address to the Church Music Association of America in Salt Lake City on 27 June. Here is his text. The subtitles are my own.

Listening to the Holy Father

When I am in Rome, I hear very little these days about the 'reform of the reform' - it just isn't within the arena of most people's awareness. In matters liturgical, if anything, we see something of a polarisation and many people seem to have a vested interest in promoting this. Happily, not everyone is of this view and I would like this evening to concentrate on one such person whose view, fortunately for us, will be decisive. I refer to the Holy Father. Just ten days ago, he addressed these thoughts to those gathered in Dublin for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress:

Toward the Year of Faith

'The Congress also occurs at a time when the Church throughout the world is preparing to celebrate the Year of Faith to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, an event which launched the most extensive renewal of the Roman Rite ever known. Based upon a deepening appreciation of the sources of the liturgy, the Council promoted the full and active participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic sacrifice. At our distance today from the Council Fathers' expressed desires regarding liturgical renewal, and in the light of the universal Church's experience in the intervening period, it is clear that a great deal has been achieved; but it is equally clear that there have been many misunderstandings and irregularities. The renewal of external forms, desired by the Council Fathers, was intended to make it easier to enter into the inner depth of the mystery. Its true purpose was to lead people to a personal encounter with the Lord, present in the Eucharist, and thus with the living God, so that through this contact with Christ's love, the love of his brothers and sisters for one another might also grow. Yet not infrequently, the revision of liturgical forms has remained at an external level, and 'active participation' has been confused with external activity. Hence much still remains to be done on the path of real liturgical renewal.' (Pope Benedict XVI - Video Message at the Closing Mass of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, Dublin June 17th, 2012)

During our brief time together, I propose to reflect with you on a few themes taken from this single recent utterance of the Holy Father, as I believe it is highly representative of his thought in relation to this all-important consideration. The Holy Father said that:

1.'The Second Vatican Council is an event which launched the most extensive renewal of the Roman Rite ever known'

The Roman Rite Destroyed

Very few people could have foreseen the wholesale revision of the liturgy which would come in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and certainly few could foresee that the unifying experience of a Latin liturgy would become entirely alien to most Catholics born in the last third of the twentieth century. The unchangeable nature of this characteristic of the Liturgy was a view largely shared by Blessed John Henry Newman, Mgr Robert Hugh Benson, Mgr Ronald Knox and, until the liturgical reform happened, also by Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Commentators such as Fr Joseph Gelineau SJ, composer of the famous psalm tones, went as far as to say: 'the Roman Rite, as we knew it, has been destroyed'!

The Making of the New Liturgy

The factors which fed into the liturgical reform after the Council were complex and in some ways, not entirely contemporary. I think we must admit that until relatively recently there has been very little scholarship that is able to accurately identify the sources of the liturgical reform. In some cases, the scholarly opinions upon which some decisions were based does not stand the test of time. We must hope that scholarly commentary which unravels some of the mystery surrounding the making of the new liturgy becomes more readily available in the near future.

Privatized Views of Common Property

Whether or not we have any scholarly insight, many of us have lived in the Church through this period and have thereby accumulated a vast reservoir of experiences which for good or ill shape our perceptions in relation to the liturgy and guide our expectations when we consider what we would hope to find when we come to worship God in the liturgy. While there is a sort of commonality to these observations across a wide spectrum of liturgical preference, it goes without saying that whether something is considered desirable or not will largely depend on your view of what the liturgy is meant to achieve. I have come to the view that there is little agreement in this important matter and many people proceed on what is essentially a privatized view of something which is by definition common property.

What Has Been Achieved?

In his address to the Eucharistic Congress, the Holy Father said:

2. 'A great deal has been achieved'

Obviously, there have been some very positive developments in the wake of the liturgical reforms that followed Vatican II. Among them, I would cite:

• The liturgies of the Sacred Triduum, largely unknown to a previous generation, have now become the liturgical heart of the year for most Catholics.

• The Liturgy of the Hours, previously largely limited to the clergy, has become more genuinely the Prayer of the Church in the experience of both religious and lay people.

• A wider selection of lections in the Mass and all the Sacramental Rites has strengthened the idea that Scripture is part of the primitive liturgical κήρυγμα.

• In those places where the principles of the liturgical movement have been applied to music, there is a greater appreciation of the various functions of music in different elements of the liturgy.

• The revision of the rites of Christian Initiation has led to a greater understanding of Baptism as the foundational fact of our ecclesial identity.

• Where provision has been made for individual Confession, there has been a return to the centrality of the Sacrament of Penance in the personal journey of conversion.

• The renewal of the Rite of the Worship of the Blessed Eucharist outside Mass has facilitated (if not quite inspired) the widespread adoption of Eucharistic Adoration as a standard element of parish life and as an important means of engendering private prayer.

Misunderstandings and Irregularities

On this recent occasion, the Holy Father also said:

3.'It is equally clear that there have been many misunderstandings and irregularities'

Some examples:

• A sense of the communion of the Church has become limited to local communities that are in many ways self-selecting - many Catholics have a poor understanding of what it means to belong to the Universal Church but a highly developed understanding of what it means to belong to a self-selecting parish community of people like themselves.

• Any notion of the shape of the Liturgical year has been greatly lessened by an ironing-out of those features which characterized the distinctive seasons of the year.

• The universal tendency to ignore sung propers and to substitute non-liturgical alternatives.

• The transference of Solemnities which are holydays of obligation to Sundays destroys the internal dynamics of the liturgical cycle e.g. The Epiphany and The Ascension.

• The frequent tendency to gloss or paraphrase the liturgical texts, supplying continuous commentary, has contributed to an improvised or spontaneous character in much liturgical celebration.

• The multiplication of liturgical 'ministries' has led to considerable confusion and error concerning the relationship between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of the baptized.

• The liturgy often seems to have the quality of a performance with the priest and liturgical ministers cast in the roles of performers and behaving accordingly. Consequently, congregations are often expecting to be 'entertained' rather as spectators might be at a theatre.

• The manner of the distribution and reception of Holy Communion (including the appropriateness of one's reception of Communion at a particular Mass) has led to a casual disregard for this great Sacrament.

• A proliferation of Communion Services presided over by lay people has resulted in a lessening of the sense of the importance of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

• The appalling banality of much liturgical music and the lack of any true liturgical spirit in the use of music in the liturgy has been a primary generating force in anti-liturgical culture.

The Conundrum of Active Participation

The Holy Father then went on to say that:

4. 'Not infrequently, the revision of liturgical forms has remained at an external level, and 'active participation' has been confused with external activity.'

In my view, this is the very crux of the matter and I would like to illustrate it with reference to the Mass at which Pope Benedict's remarks were heard - the closing Mass of the recent Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. The improvements in liturgical culture and particularly the improvements in liturgical music, that have become increasingly evident throughout this papacy, particularly in large-scale celebrations were sadly almost entirely absent from this occasion, giving the event a sort of 'eighties' feel to it. More specifically:

• The entire liturgy had a 'performance' quality to it, with the assembly as the principal focus. This was borne out by the fact that musical items were frequently greeted with applause.

• There was a frequent disregard for the provisions of the GIRM.

This was particularly evident with reference to music:

• None of the antiphons of the proper were sung for the entrance, offertory and communion processions (cf GIRM #40)

• Gregorian Chant was conspicuous by its absence (cf GIRM #41). None of the Missal chants was used for the people's parts of the Order of Mass (with the single exceptions of the gospel and preface dialogues), even though the liturgy was predominantly in English and these chants would have been known by most people present.

• In the Profession of Faith, after the Cardinal celebrant had intoned Credo III, lectors read the Apostles' Creed (which has a different intonation to the Nicene Creed) in a variety of languages, spoken paragraphs were punctuated by the sung response 'Credo, Amen!' This is not recognizably one of the modes for the Creed described in the GIRM (cf GIRM #48).

• Much music did not 'correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action' [GIRM #41] such as the celebrity spot during the distribution of Holy Communion of 3 clerical tenors, 'The Priests', singing the impossibly sentimental song 'May the road rise up to meet you'. I feel like asking, just what is wrong with the Communion antiphon and psalm?

• Despite the international character of the occasion, the use of Latin in the people's sung parts was almost non-existent (cf GIRM#41).

The depressing cumulative effect of the disregard for all these principles in a major liturgy, celebrated by a papal legate, and broadcast throughout the world, is hard to underestimate. If I were given to conspiracy theories, I would almost feel persuaded that this was a deliberately calculated attempt to broadcast a different message and to oppose the better liturgical spirit of recent times. But surely it cannot be so?

I think we have to ask such questions and indeed to surmise that the influence of former barons of the liturgical establishment has found a new and conspicuous arena of activity in which to model their example of poor liturgy. There can be no talk of the reform of the Roman Rite until the GIRM is enforced as the minimum requirement. If it remains a largely fantasy text at the beginning of our altar missals then 'the rebuilding of the broken down city' will take a very long time.

What Remains to Be Done

The Holy Father then concluded by stating that:

5. 'Much still remains to be done on the path of real liturgical renewal'

We must conclude by agreeing with the Holy Father - there is much to be done and happily a week like this one is a prophetic sign of the new liturgical road map - where we are going and how we are going to do it! In an attempt to engender on-going improvement in the quality of our liturgy, and in the hope that Catholics will be able to encounter a liturgy that is self-evidently expressive of our liturgical tradition and conveys a sense of something larger than the purely local, in a highly personal view, I would identify the following as desirable characteristics of the liturgy of the future:

• A sense of reverence for the text: the unity of the Roman Rite is now essentially a textual unity. The Church permits a certain latitude in the interpretation of the norms that govern the celebration of the liturgy and hence our unity is essentially textual: we use the same
prayers and meditate on the same Scriptures. This is more clearly evident now with a single English text for universal use.

• A greater willingness to heed Sacrosanctum Concilium rather than continual recourse to the rather nebulous concept of the 'spirit of the Council' which generally attempts to legitimize liturgical abuses rather than correct them. Currently, these teachings are more likely to be evidenced in a well-prepared presentation of the Extraordinary Form than in most Ordinary Form celebrations. It need not be so.

• In relation to both forms of the Roman Rite, a careful attention to the demands of the calendar and the norms which govern the celebration of the liturgy, not assuming that it is possible or acceptable to depart from these norms.

• A re-reading of the encyclical Mediator Dei of Pope Pius XII in conjunction with more recent Magisterial documents. In this way, the light of tradition might be perceived to shine on all our liturgical celebrations.

• The widespread cultivation of a dignified and reverent liturgy that evidences careful preparation and respect for its constituent elements in accordance with the liturgical norms.

• A recovery of the Latin tradition of the Roman Rite that enables us to continue to present elements of our liturgical patrimony from the earliest centuries with understanding. This necessarily requires a far more enthusiastic and widespread commitment to the teaching and learning of Latin in order that the linguistic culture required for interpreting our texts and chants may be more widely experienced and our patrimony enjoy a wider constituency.

Music With a Liturgical Voice

• We should seek to see the exclusion of all music from the Liturgy which does not a 'liturgical voice', regardless of style.

• The exclusion from the liturgy of music which only expresses secular culture and which is ill-suited to the demands of the liturgy. A renaissance of interest in and use of chant in both Latin and English as a recognition that this form of music should enjoy 'first place' in our liturgy and all other musical forms are suitable for liturgical use to the extent that they share in the characteristics of chant.

• An avoidance of the idea that music is the sole consideration in the liturgy, the music is a vehicle for the liturgy not the other way around!

• A commitment to the celebration and teaching of the ars celebrandi of both forms of the Roman Rite, so that all priests can perceive more readily how the light of tradition shines on our liturgical life and how this might be communicated more effectively to our people.

• A clearer distinction between devotions, non-liturgical forms of prayer and the Sacred Liturgy. A lack of any proper liturgical sense has led to a proliferation of devotions as an alternative vehicle for popular fervour. This was a widespread criticism of the liturgy before the Council and we now have to ask ourselves why the same lacuna has been identified in the newer liturgical forms.

• A far greater commitment to silence before, during and after the Liturgy is needed.

Having travelled the English-speaking world very widely in preparation for the implementation of the English translation of the third typical edition of the Missale Romanum, and having experienced the liturgy in a wide variety of circumstances and styles, I would conclude that I have generally encountered a great desire for change, although not always among those who are directly responsible for the liturgy. I think we are currently well placed to respond to this desire and this is evidenced by the fact that many things which were indicated fifty years ago, such as the singing of the Mass, and more particularly the singing of the proper texts rather than the endless substitution of songs and hymns, are only now being seriously considered and implemented. It is earnestly to be desired that such developments continue to flourish and that an improved liturgical culture is accessible to everyone in the Church.

Liturgy: A Gift Received from the Church

Crucial to this peaceful revolution has been the leadership and example of the present Holy Father who has consistently studied and written about the liturgy in a long life of scholarship which now informs his governance of the Church's liturgical life. Much that he commends was already evident in aspects of liturgical scholarship from the early twentieth century onwards. In our own time, however, it is finally being received with the joy and enthusiasm that it merits. A new generation of Catholics eagerly awaits a greater experience of the basic truth that the liturgy is always a gift which we receive from the Church rather than make for ourselves. The Church Music Association of America and all those who identify with its initiatives and benefit from its prophetic lead have a very serious and a highly significant contribution to make to this process. May God bless us all as we share in his work.

Wasting the Precious Ointment

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Yesterday morning (2 June 2012), during the very lengthy and rich Liturgy for Ember Saturday in Whitsun (Pentecost) Week, I preached to a group of layfolk on liturgical maximalism and the monastic vocation.

You can listen here.

Prime Time

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Back in the late 1940s and 50s, when, in synergy with the Liturgical and Biblical renewals, the Benedictine Oblateship was enjoying something of a springtime, it was not uncommon for Oblates to pray the Hours of Prime and Compline each day, leaving the Great Hours of Matins, Lauds, and Vespers, and the other Little Hours of Tierce, Sext, and None to their brethren in the cloister. Prime and Compline were often promoted as the ideal Hours for working folk.

Adé Prayed Prime and Compline

I remember my old friend and mentor Adé Béthune telling me, almost 40 years ago, that as a young Benedictine Oblate working as a lettercutter in the John Stevens Shop in Newport, Rhode Island, she and her friends would pause to pray Prime and Compline together. Adé's contemporaries, Dorothy Day of Catholic Worker fame, and Catherine de Hueck Doherty of Madonna House, would also have been devoted to Prime and Compline.

A Domestic Prayer

Prime is the Church's second morning prayer. It is to Lauds, what Compline is to Vespers. Unlike Lauds, which can be clothed in a certain liturgical solemnity, Prime has a homespun, domestic quality about it. Whereas Lauds is characterized by the great waves of praise that its very name signifies, Prime is a the humble prayer of one setting out for work. The motif that runs through Prime is one of preparation for the labours and inevitable temptations that the day will bring.

How Prime Unfolds

After the "Incline unto mine aid, O God" that begins all the Hours, a beautiful hymn invokes God's blessing and protection on the waking day.

I remember that in the Béthune household, after reciting Grace Before Meals, Bonne Maman, the indomitable Baroness de Béthune, would energetically invoke Saint Joseph. She referred to him as her "real estate man." The image is Adé's own Saint Joseph the Worker.

St Joseph Worker.jpg

The Hymn

Now doth the sun ascend the sky,
And wake creation with its ray,
Keep us from sin, O Lord most high,
Through all the actions of the day.

Curb thou for us the unruly tongue;
Teach us the way of peace to prize;
And close our eyes against the throng
Of earth's absorbing vanities.

Oh, may our hearts be pure within,
No cherish'd madness vex the soul;
May abstinence the flesh restrain,
And its rebellious pride control.

So when the evening stars appear,
And in their train the darkness bring;
May we, O Lord, with conscience clear,
Our praise to thy pure glory sing.

To God the Father, glory be,
And to his sole-begotten Son,
Glory, O Holy Ghost, to thee,
While everlasting ages run. Amen.

After the hymn comes the Psalmody, the very core of the Divine Office at each of the Hours. There follows a brief lesson from Scripture recited by heart, and a versicle, a vigorous plea to the Christ the King:

V. Arise, O Christ, and help us. (P.T. Alleluia.)
R. And deliver us for Thy Name's sake. (P.T. Alleluia.)

Then comes the customary little litany that closes all the Hours -- Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us -- and the Our Father, recited in silence while bowing profoundly.

The Collect of Prime sums up the spirit of the Hour:


O LORD God almighty,
who hast brought us to the beginning of this day:
defend us in the same by thy power;
that we may not fall this day into any sin,
but that all our thoughts, words and works
may be directed to the doing of what is just in Thy sight.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son:
Who liveth and reigneth with thee
in the unity of the Holy Ghost God:
world without end. Amen.

The Martyrology

In monasteries, once the first part of Prime has been chanted in choir, the monks repair to the Chapter Room to hear the reading of the Martyrology, a listing and short description of the saints of the day.

Work Assignments

Following the Martyrology, the abbot assigns the various works and chores that are a part of family life everywhere. In the Monastic Breviary there are special prayers for the blessing of the daily work, asking the Lord to "prosper the work of our hands."

The Holy Rule

Then follows a short reading from the Rule of Saint Benedict, completed by the abbot's explanation of the text. The daily public reading of the Holy Rule keeps it fresh in the hearts of the monastic family, and affords the abbot an opportunity to teach the souls entrusted to him by kneading into their minds, as into a mass of dough, the leaven of holiness.

The Faithful Departed

It some places it is customary to commemorate the faithful departed, especially those resting in the monastic cemetery, at this point. Psalm 129, the De Profundis, is chanted in supplication for the dead.

The Blessing

Finally the abbot imparts a blessing to all in the house. This paternal blessing is given twice in the Divine Office: at Prime in the morning, and at Compline, before going to bed.

A Strange Suppression

In 1964, the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, laconically decreed in article 89: "The hour of Prime is to be suppressed." As jilted soldiers in World War II used to say, "That's all she wrote."

The suppression of Prime affected only the Roman Breviary. In the monastic Office used by Benedictines, Cistercians, and Carthusians, the beleaguered Office remained -- or was to supposed to remain -- intact.

The suppression of Prime seems strange and illogical when one considers that its counterpart, Compline, was retained. The argument for the suppression of Prime was that it duplicated Lauds as a morning prayer; it was further argued that the distinctive element of Prime, the hallowing of the day's work, could be integrated into the Preces of Lauds. Others argued that Prime was monastic in origin, and therefore was not suitable for clergy and people living, working, and praying in the world. That argument too is specious: Compline is also monastic in origin, and no one contested its significance or suitability.

The framers of Sacrosanctum Concilium seemed to have entertained an illogical antipathy for Prime. Had they any real awareness of just how valuable Prime was to committed layfolk living and working in the real world, they would have not decreed its suppression. On the contrary, they would have taken the pulse of Catholic workers, and promoted it.

The same article 89 of Sacrosanctum Concilium mandates, concerning Compline, "Compline is to be drawn up so that it will be a suitable prayer for the end of the day." Could not, indeed, should not, the same principle have been applied to Prime? The length of the Psalmody, for example, could have been slightly reduced, or another choice of psalms made.

When it came to the Divine Office, the framers of Sacrosanctum Concilium suffered from a narrowly legalistic "all or nothing" vision of ecclesial prayer. There was no need to suppress Prime; it could have been included in a revision of the Divine Office as an Hour especially suited to layfolk having to dash out the door to work in the morning, or get the children breakfast.


For Oblates

My own experience in encouraging and helping Benedictine Oblates to pray ( these would be mothers at home with small children, fathers, husbands, wives, working people in a variety of trades and professions) obliges me to conclude that, in fact, Adé Béthune and her friends were right: Prime and Compline are, as a rule, the most suitable Hours of the Divine Office for layfolk.

Try Prime at Home

Why, some would ask, are Prime and Compline more suitable than the great "hinge Hours" of Lauds and Vespers? I can think of three cogent reasons: First, the structure of Prime and Compline is simple and, apart from the psalmody, invariable. Second, Prime and Compline are relatively brief and, therefore, manageable for working folk. Third, the texts of Prime and Compline speak to the universal experience of beginning and ending the day.

Even little children can be taught to sing the hymn of Prime to a simple chant melody. A psalm should follow, one that children can learn by heart: Psalm 8 (O Lord, our Lord, how glorious is Thy Name) perhaps, or Psalm 22 (The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want). Children can be encouraged to learn by heart and recite a sentence from Sacred Scripture. The versicle, response, little litany, Our Father, and Collect would bring this family Prime to a close. One can also, however, imitate the monastic practice and announce the saints of the day, assign chores, pray for the departed by name, and give a final blessing.

Crux Gemmata Ravenna.jpg

The image shows the mosaic in the apse of Sant'Appollinare in Classe in Ravenna with its glorious Crux Gemmata (bejeweled Cross), having at its centre, the adorable Face of Christ.

The Passion and Cross in Paschaltide

The oldest liturgical traditions in the Church contemplate, celebrate, and adore the life-giving Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Paschaltide. Some benighted souls object to recalling the mysteries of the Passion and Cross after Pascha. Such an opinion betrays little knowledge of the Church's living and abiding tradition in this regard.

The Lamb That Was Slain

In the brightness of the Resurrection, the contemplation of the Passion and Cross becomes suffused with glory; the celebration of the Passion and Cross -- above all in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass -- becomes a foretaste of the triumph of the Prince of Life; the adoration of the Lamb that was slain becomes a real participation, here and now, in the liturgy of heaven described by Saint John in the book of the Apocalypse:

And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the living creatures, and the ancients; and the number of them was thousands of thousands, Saying with a loud voice: The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and benediction. And every creature, which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them: I heard all saying: To him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, benediction, and honour, and glory, and power, for ever and ever. (Apocalypse 5:11-13).

By His Holy and Glorious Wounds

At the very beginning of the Great Paschal Vigil, as grains of incense are being inserted into the Paschal Candle, this prayer evokes the Five Wounds of Christ: By His holy and glorious wounds, may Christ the Lord guard and protect us. This liturgical formula is a fitting invocation at all times, but in Paschaltide it holds a particular resonance. The contemplation of the Wounds of Christ began with His apparitions to the Apostles after the Resurrection. The origin and impetus thus given to devotion to the Five Wounds is essentially biblical and liturgical. I have written elsewhere of the devotion to the Five Wounds as revealed to Sister Marie-Marthe Chambon, a humble religious of the Visitation Order.

Family Prayer

It would be fitting, during Paschaltide, to close family prayers with the above-mentioned liturgical formula. Children might be invited to learn the prayer by heart and recite it after kissing the five wounds of Our Lord depicted on the crucifix or in an icon of the Risen Saviour.

Commemoration of the Cross

In our Benedictine Antiphonal (1934 edition, Solesmes) there is a commemoration of the Holy Cross at Lauds and Vespers during Paschaltide. This liturgical practice keeps the mystery of the Cross present to the eyes, the ears, and the heart. The liturgy of Paschaltide does not obliterate the Church's focus on the Passion and Cross; it transforms it.

At Lauds:
Antiphon: The Crucified is risen from the dead, and hath redeemed us, alleluia.

At Vespers:
Antiphon: He who suffered the Holy Cross and shattered hell, rose on the third day, robed in power, alleluia.

At both Hours:
V. Tell ye among the nations, alleluia.
R. That the Lord hath reigned from the tree, alleluia.

Let us pray.
O GOD, who for our sake
didst will Thy Son to undergo the torments of the Cross,
that Thou mightest drive far from us the power of the enemy;
grant unto us Thy servants
that we may attain to the grace of His Resurrection.
Through the same Christ our Lord.

The Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross

Although the Feast of the Finding (or Invention) of the Holy Cross on 3 May was removed from more recent liturgical books, it remains in the 1934 edition of the Benedictine Antiphonale that is still widely used, and continues to be celebrated in not a few Benedictine monasteries. While the Office is substantially the same as on 14 September (The Exaltation of the Holy Cross), on 3 May it is shot through and through with alleluias. It presents a vision of the Passion and Cross of the Lord in the light of the Resurrection. Theologically, mystically, and catechetically the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross on 3 May is a liturgical piece of genius.

The feast commemorates Saint Helena's finding of the Cross in Jerusalem, and the signs and wonders that accompanied it and verified its authenticity. Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, carried part of the Cross back to Rome, where it was enshrined in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, on the site of the Sessorian palace.

The entire Mass and Office of the Finding of the Holy Cross deserve to be meditated and held in the heart. The liturgical texts of the feast demonstrate and support that, far from being inappropriate during Paschaltide, the contemplation and celebration of the mysteries of the Lord's Passion and Cross emerge, in the light of these fifty days of jubilation, as an inexhaustible wellspring of healing and of hope.

With joy we keep the feast
of the Finding of the Cross,
whose light shineth over all the world, alleluia.
(Antiphon at Matins)

In Personal Devotion

Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion, whose knowledge and love of Sacred Scripture and of the Church's liturgy transformed the piety of generations of priests and layfolk in the last century, made the Way of the Cross every day of his life, including all through Paschaltide. While some would object that the Way of the Cross has no place in a "Resurrection Spirituality", Blessed Marmion and countless other saints demonstrate that there is, in fact, no better time during which to return to the loving consideration of the Passion of the Lord than Paschaltide, for it is only in the light of the Paschal Candle that one can begin to read rightly the Verbum Crucis, the Word of the Cross.

There are other Passion-centred practices of devotion that harmonize fully with the liturgy of Paschaltide. Among them are the Chaplet of Divine Mercy made known by Saint Faustina Maria Kowalska, the Chaplet of the Five Wounds prayed by Sister Marie-Marthe Chambon, and devotions to the Precious Blood, the Holy Face, and the Sacred Heart.

A personal piety that is directed and nourished by the Sacred Liturgy will never become unbalanced or bizarre. The liturgy of Mother Church is broader and deeper than some proponents of a shortsighted and shallow "liturgical renewal" would want us to believe.

Christ, the Crucified King,
O come, let us adore, alleluia.
(Invitatory at Matins of the Finding of the Holy Cross, 3 May)

sacerdote breviario.jpg

Men Who Specialize in Prayer

What I am about to share reflects, without any doubt, the experience of most priests. It is especially true here in Ireland where, in spite of reports of a distressing loss of faith, people still say with a touching confidence, "Will you say a prayer for me, Father?" The Catholic faithful view their priests, first of all, as intercessors, that is, as men who specialize in prayer.

Prayer the First Order of Business

Since coming to Ireland, I am more aware of what people expect of a priest: they expect him to pray, and to make prayer his first order of business. This expectation is rooted in a profound faith in the mediatorship of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ stands facing the Eternal Father on behalf of all men, just as He stands before all men on behalf of the Eternal Father. To be "in Christ" -- as Saint Paul so often says -- is, in effect, to participate in His priestly mediatorship. While this participation is given to all the baptized, in the ordained priest it is heightened, confirmed, and divinely endorsed in a unique way by the indelible seal engraved in his soul. Simple Catholics understand this. Venerable Pope Pius XII writes in Mediator Dei:

In the same way, actually that baptism is the distinctive mark of all Christians, and serves to differentiate them from those who have not been cleansed in this purifying stream and consequently are not members of Christ, the sacrament of holy orders sets the priest apart from the rest of the faithful who have not received this consecration. For they alone, in answer to an inward supernatural call, have entered the august ministry, where they are assigned to service in the sanctuary and become, as it were, the instruments God uses to communicate supernatural life from on high to the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. Add to this, as We have noted above, the fact that they alone have been marked with the indelible sign "conforming" them to Christ the Priest, and that their hands alone have been consecrated "in order that whatever they bless may be blessed, whatever they consecrate may become sacred and holy, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ".
Let all, then, who would live in Christ flock to their priests. By them they will be supplied with the comforts and food of the spiritual life. From them they will procure the medicine of salvation assuring their cure and happy recovery from the fatal sickness of their sins. The priest, finally, will bless their homes, consecrate their families and help them, as they breathe their last, across the threshold of eternal happiness.

Intercessor at the Altar

Nowhere does the mediatorship of the priest in Christ, the Eternal High Priest, shine forth more clearly than when he stands at the altar, with the multitude of the faithful behind him, to plead on their behalf. Just as the Eternal Father sees the priest in Christ, His Beloved Son, so too does He see all the faithful in the priest who enters the sanctuary, and ascends the altar, to bring their needs and their petitions before Him. The widespread practice of Mass "facing the people" has all but obliterated the popular and, I must say, even the clerical, awareness of this mysterious reality.

For both he that sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified, are all of one. For which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: ] I will declare thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the church will I praise thee. And again: I will put my trust in him. And again: Behold me and my children, whom God hath given me. (Hebrews 2:11-13)

The Divine Office

The intercession of the priest (and a fortiori of the bishop) for all the people entrusted to him -- the children whom God has given him -- attains its highest and most perfect expression when he offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but it doesn't begin nor does it end there. The Church imposes upon the priest the daily recitation of the Divine Office as the single most effective means, after the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, of interceding for souls. No one can possibly know or describe in this world the torrents of grace that flood into parishes and dioceses in response to the liturgical prayer of the priest or bishop who recites the Divine Office faithfully and devoutly, day after day. Conversely, no one can possibly no or describe in this world the torrents of graces withheld from parishes and dioceses because a priest or bishop has stopped praying his Hours and, therefore, stopped exercising the mediatorship on behalf of the people for whom God and the Church have set him apart.

Again, consider the teaching of Venerable Pope Pius XII:

The divine Redeemer has so willed it that the priestly life begun with the supplication and sacrifice of His mortal body should continue without intermission down the ages in His Mystical Body which is the Church. That is why He established a visible priesthood to offer everywhere the clean oblation which would enable men from East to West, freed from the shackles of sin, to offer God that unconstrained and voluntary homage which their conscience dictates.
In obedience, therefore, to her Founder's behest, the Church prolongs the priestly mission of Jesus Christ mainly by means of the sacred liturgy. She does this in the first place at the altar, where constantly the sacrifice of the cross is represented and with a single difference in the manner of its offering, renewed. She does it next by means of the sacraments, those special channels through which men are made partakers in the supernatural life. She does it, finally, by offering to God, all Good and Great, the daily tribute of her prayer of praise. "What a spectacle for heaven and earth," observes Our predecessor of happy memory, Pius XI, "is not the Church at prayer! For centuries without interruption, from midnight to midnight, the divine psalmody of the inspired canticles is repeated on earth; there is no hour of the day that is not hallowed by its special liturgy; there is no state of human life that has not its part in the thanksgiving, praise, supplication and reparation of this common prayer of the Mystical Body of Christ which is His Church!"

Verse After Verse

For some reason, while praying the Hours of the Divine Office since my arrival in Ireland, I have had a heightened awareness of the efficacy of this prayer. In every psalm, verse after verse seems to correspond exactly to the particular needs made known to me by people who have approached me, saying, "Will you say a prayer for me, Father?" I am, moreover, aware of the struggles of certain souls, of the sufferings of others, of the concern of parents for their children, of spouses one for the other, and of those afflicted by sicknesses of the mind or body. All of these needs find expression in the psalmody of the Hours. The Psalter, taken up by the Church, and placed on the lips of her bishops, her priests, and her deacons, is the divinely inspired form of their sacerdotal intercession, and the expression of their effective participation in the mediatorship of Christ.*

*I must add that those who have received the Order of Subdeacon, as well as solemnly professed choir monks, choir nuns, canons regular, and other solemnly professed religious are, unless their Constitutions specify otherwise, bound to the daily recitation of the Hours, if not in choir, then in private.

Accountable on the Day of Judgment

The Divine Office is far more than the personal prayer of the priest, circumscribed by his human limitations, and giving voice to his own needs. It is the grand sacerdotal intercession for which he will be held accountable by God and by the souls entrusted to him on the Day of Judgment.

The Weekly Psalter

As a priest who is a monk, I am bound to honour Saint Benedict's injunction in the Holy Rule that the entire Psalter (all 150 Psalms) must be prayed over the course of one week. Increasingly, I experience this weekly repetition of the Psalter not as a burden to be acquitted, but as a privilege, and as the means appointed by God and given me by the Church to adore, to praise, to supplicate, and to make reparation.

The traditional Roman Breviary, reformed by Pope Pius X, held fast to the principle of the entire 150 Psalms being prayed over the course of a week. Only with the post-Conciliar Liturgy of the Hours was the weekly offering of psalmody drastically reduced, to the point of distributing the 150 Psalms over four weeks instead of one. This was done primarily to accommodate the demands of priestly ministry in modern culture. The change was, I think, conditioned by Western society's obsession with tangible results, and shortsighted. The answer to stress is more prayer, not less, particularly in the life of a priest. Curiously, since the post-Conciliar reduction of the weekly obligation of liturgical prayer, the recitation of the Hours by priests as fallen off significantly. More priests were faithful to the daily obligation of the Divine Office when it was more "meaty" and substantial, than now when it has been reduced to a mere vestige of what it formerly was.

Sion's Songs

"Will you say a prayer for me, Father?" Indeed, I will. I do so seven times a day and once in the night, and I will continue to do so, making use of the all-sufficient prayer given me by the Church, the very prayer of Christ, the Eternal High Priest, encapsulated in the Psalms of Israel, "Sion's songs" in this place of exile, and in this valley of tears.

The Feast of Christ the King

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In the Two Calendars

In the traditional calendar of the Roman Rite, the Feast of Christ the King, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, is kept on the last Sunday of October. In the reformed calendar it is kept on the last Sunday per annum, the one immediately preceding the First Sunday of Advent. There are, I think, good reasons that justify both choices. As I have treated extensively elsewhere of the significance of the feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday per annum, I should like, today, to say something about the significance of celebrating it on the last Sunday of October or, if you will, the Sunday preceding the Feast of All Saints.

The Sunday Before All Saints

The Feast of Christ the King, kept on the last Sunday of October, inaugurates a kind of pre-Advent season that is, in some ways, analogous to the pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima. Christ, the "King of Glory" (Psalm 23:7), makes His appearance "arrayed in beauty and clothed with strength" (Psalm 92:1). The splendour of His coming will reveal, on November 1st, "the church of the saints" (Ps 149:1), the children of the heavenly Sion, "joyful in their King" (Psalm 149:2). The royal cortège of the saints follows the appearing (or parousia) of the King of Glory.

The Church on earth peers into the Church in heaven, and catches a glimpse of what God has prepared for those who love Him: "what no eye hath seen nor ear heard, nor hath the heart of man conceived" (1 Cor 2:9). "And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of great thunders, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord our God the Almighty hath reigned. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give glory to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his bride hath prepared herself (Apocalypse 19:6-7).

The Sunday Before All Souls

The radiance of the Face of Christ the King penetrates even into the realm of Purgatory, touching with its purifying rays the souls of those who await their deliverance. The Offertory Antiphon sung in the Requiem Mass clearly makes the link between the Feast of Christ the King and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, or All Souls Day, on November 2nd: "O Lord Jesus Christ, KING OF GLORY, deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of hell and from the bottomless pit."

Towards Advent

The rest of the month of November becomes, in the light of the successive celebrations of Christ the King, All Saints, and All Souls, a kind of eschatological season -- consider also the feasts of Dedication on November 9th and November 18th -- bringing the Sundays after Pentecost to a gracious close, and preparing the Church for the First Sunday of Advent.

Simple English Propers

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Columbkille from Connecticut wrote me today, asking,

Dom Mark, do you recommend the Simple English Propers as a starting place for English-speaking parishes, or would we be better off introducing bits of the traditional music from the Graduale Romanum?

As a rule, the Catholic solution is both/and rather than either/or. As a starting place for Novus Ordo English-speaking parishes, I heartily recommend Adam Bartlett's Simple English Propers. Put this book in the hands of your parishioners! And chant away!

This extraordinary book has been met with widespread acclaim for the beauty and versatility of the music - and also for being the first generally accessible book of chanted propers in English for every parish. It provides complete entrance, offertory, and communion propers in English with Psalms in modal chant, with four-line notation, for all Sundays and feasts. They can be sung by a single cantor or a full choir. The modes from the Gregorian original are wholly preserved to capture the sound and feel of the Graduale Romanum proper chants. They follow a total of 24 chant formulas to make singing easy for any choir in any parish. The project is sponsored by the Church Music Association of America, and is also published by the CMAA.

The contents of this book may be downloaded, printed, used, and shared freely by all, as they are published in the Creative Commons.

For more information please visit here.


I returned late last evening from the Symposium Council and Continuity, which was hosted by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix, at the Pastoral Centre in Phoenix. My contribution to the Symposium was the following paper:


Until the approval of The New Roman Missal by Pope Paul VI on 3 April 1969, there had existed for four hundred years a substantial unity between the texts of the Proper of the Mass contained in the Graduale Romanum and those given in the Roman Missal. The Missal, in effect, reproduced the complete texts of those sung parts of the Mass that in the Graduale Romanum are fully notated.

The Missal takes the text of the Chants of the Proper of the Mass from the Graduale Romanum, and not the Graduale Romanum from the Missal. The Missal, in fact, contains the very same texts found in the Graduale, but in the Missal they are printed without the musical notation that allows them to be brought to life in song and, in a certain sense, interprets them in the context of the liturgy. The melodic vesture of the texts functions as a liturgical hermeneutic, allowing them to be sung, heard, and received in the light of the mysteries of Christ and of the Church.

Originally Mass was always sung. Not until the eighth or ninth century did the so called Low Mass or missa privata come to be celebrated at the lateral altars and private chapels of abbatial and collegiate churches. The Chants of the Proper of the Mass were not omitted at these Low Masses; they were recited by the priest alone. This fact, of itself, suggests that well before the eighth century, the Proper Chants were, in effect, considered to be constitutive elements of the Mass, deemed indispensable to the very shape of the liturgy.

What are the Propers?

Let us, then, review what the Proper Chants of the Mass are:


Were one to open the Roman Missal at the first page, finding there the Mass of the First Sunday of Advent, the very first element proper to that Mass, and to all others, is the Introit.

The Introit is composed of an antiphon; a verse taken from the psalm corresponding to the antiphon or, occasionally, from another; the Gloria Patri; and the repetition of the antiphon.

The Introit as presented in the Roman Missal appears in a somewhat truncated form, though all the essential elements -- antiphon, psalmody, and doxology -- are present. Until about the eighth century the entire psalm would have been chanted, or at least the greater part of it, with the antiphon repeated after every verse, and this until the celebrant reached the altar, at which point the cantors would intone the Gloria Patri, and after the final repetition of the antiphon, end the Introit.

The purpose of the Introit in the tradition of the Roman Rite is not didactic; it is contemplative. The Introit ushers the soul into the mystery of the day not by explaining it, but by opening the Mass with a word uttered from above. The text of the Introit signifies that, in every celebration, the initiative is divine, not human; it is a word received that quickens the Church-at-Prayer, and awakens a response within her.

Concerning the Introit, Maurice Zundel writes:

[The soul] has but to listen, her sole preparation an eager desire for light, to catch the interior music of the words, and understand that Someone is speaking to her who was waiting for her.

He calls the Introit,

. . . a triumphal arch at the head of a Roman road, a porch through which we approach the Mystery, a hand outstretched to a crying child, a beloved companion in the sorrow of exile. The Liturgy is not a formula. It is One who comes to meet us.

Sung examples: Ad te levavi, Introit of the First Sunday of Advent, and Resurrexi, Introit of the Mass of Easter Day.


The Gradual received its name from the Latin word gradus, meaning a step, because a cantor would sing it, standing on a step leading up to the ambo. The structure of the Gradual is an initial phrase, nearly always from the Psalter, followed by a verse entrusted to one or several cantors. The first part may be repeated.

The musical treatment of the Gradual is melismatic, that is to say, lavish, and characterized by great flights and cascades of notes that stretch and embellish the sacred text.

Maurice Zundel writes:

What really matters about words is not their strictly defined meanings which we find in the dictionary, but the imponderable aura wherein the unutterable Presence in which all things are steeped, is faintly perceptible.
It is in the silent spaces which poetry and music open within us that the doctrinal formulae can be heard with their amplest resonance.
It was therefore natural to invoke their aid after the reading of the Epistle. For its message must be allowed to bear fruit in our personal meditation until we make contact with the Presence with which the texts are filled. We must hear this single Word which is their true meaning and which no human word can express.
The chanting of the Gradual provides this interval of silence and this time of rest in which the teaching just received can unfold in prayer, in the sweet movement of the Cantilena distilling in neums of light a divine dew.

Sung example: Laetatus sum, Gradual of the Fourth Sunday of Lent.


The Alleluia, a cry of jubilation at the approach of the Bridegroom King who will arrive in the proclamation of the Holy Gospel, is a chant full of mystery, in that it quits the zone of mere concepts and words, and takes flight to soar into the ecstatic vocalisations of one seized by an ineffable mystery.

Saint John relates that the Alleluia is a heavenly hymn. It is the song of the saints in praise of God and of the Lamb. The Alleluia is universal; it is found in all the liturgies of East and West. This universal presence of the Alleluia in Christian worship attests to its great antiquity.

A verse or phrase, generally, but not always, from the Psalter, follows the Alleluia. After the verse, the Alleluia is repeated.


The sequence prolongs the jubilation of the Alleluia, by gathering up the neums that shower out of it to organize them into a syllabic melody, and by giving free reign to a poetic expression of the mystery being celebrated.

Five sequences remain in the Roman Missal: the Victimae Paschali Laudes of Easter; the Veni Sancte Spiritus of Pentecost, the Lauda Sion Salvatorem of Corpus Domini; the Stabat Mater of September 15th; and the Dies Irae of the Requiem Mass.

The Roman Missal of 1969 retains only four of these; the Dies Irae having been removed to the Liturgy of the Hours where it serves as a hymn for the last two weeks per annum.

Sung example: Veni Sancte Spiritus, Pentecost.


Whereas the Alleluia is the expression of a joy defying all expression, the Tract is characteristic of a liturgy marked by godly sorrow and compunction. It is found in the Mass, notably, from Septuagesima until Easter.

Originally the Tract was sung by the deacon from the ambo, in the manner of a lesson. It was rendered from beginning to end without the interjection of a refrain by the choir; it is from this mode of execution that its name appears to be derived.

The Tract prepares the congregation for the hearing of the Gospel, not by inviting it to stand on tip-toe in joy, as it were, at the arrival of the Bridegroom, but by inviting to a profound recollection. The Tract, more than any other Chant of the Proper of the Mass, illustrates that the Roman Rite is a school of audientes, a school forming listeners to the Word.

The substitution in Lent of an acclamation addressed to Christ for the Alleluia -- a way of expressing the Alleluia without saying the word -- impoverishes the Roman Rite which, in the usus antiquior demonstrates that one can prepare for the hearing of the Holy Gospel in the silence of a godly sorrow and compunction, as well as in jubilation.

Sung example: Qui habitat, First Sunday of Lent.


The Offertory Antiphon, already at the time of Saint Augustine, was sung to accompany the offering of bread and wine by the faithful and clergy. Pope Saint Gregory the Great gave to the chant at the Offertory a form not unlike that of the Introit: an antiphon and several verses from the Psalter. The antiphon was repeated before each verse; the singing lasted until the priest signaled to the cantors that they should stop, after which he would turn to the faithful for the Orate Fratres.

Even after the Offertory procession, as such, fell into disuse, the Offertory Antiphon continued to be sung, shorn of its verses. The Offertory Antiphon is, as a rule, taken from the Psalter, although occasionally it is taken from other Books of Sacred Scripture. In a few cases as, for instance, in the Requiem Mass, it is an ecclesiastical composition.

As for its musical characteristics, the Offertory is one of the richest and most expressive pieces in the Gregorian repetoire. Dom Eugène Vandeur, a Benedictine monk of the first half of the last century writes:

More mystical and profound than either the Introit or the Gradual, it disposes our souls to recollection that thus they may fittingly assist at the Adorable Sacrifice about to be renewed. The Offertory [Antiphon], then, more than any other part of the Mass, is a sublime and inspired prayer rising to the throne of God.

Sung example: Sicut in holocausto, 13th Sunday per annum.


The Communion Antiphon with its psalm, structured like the Introit, accompanies the distribution of Holy Communion. The Communion of the faithful ended, the Gloria Patri is sung, after which the antiphon is repeated.

While the greater part of Communion Antiphons are drawn from the Psalter, a certain number are taken from the Gospel of the day. These particular Communion Antiphons, sung especially during Lent and Paschaltide, signify that the same Lord Jesus Christ who speaks and acts in the power of the Holy Ghost in the Gospel of the Mass, gives Himself to the communicants to fulfill in them what the Gospel proclaimed and announced.

Sung example: Lutum fecit, 4th Sunday of Lent.

The 1965 Missale Romanum

The 1965 revision of the Roman Missal maintained the Chants of the Proper in their integrity as found in the Graduale Romanum. Even as The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium, was being implemented, the place of the Propers was not called into question. They remained constitutive elements of the Mass, having a structural and theological rather than a merely decorative or didactic function within the overall architecture of the Mass.

The Missal of 1969

Four years later however, the fate of the Chants of the Proper of the Mass appears signed and sealed. Concerning the Proper Chants, the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Missale Romanum (3 April 1969) is curiously misleading. It says;

The text of the Graduale Romanum has not been changed as far as the music is concerned. In the interest of their being more readily understood, however, the responsorial psalm (which St Augustine and St Leo the Great often mention) as well as the entrance and communion antiphons have been revised for use in Masses that are not sung.

With all due respect to Pope Paul VI, what the Apostolic Constitution neglects to say is:

1. that the very form of the Introit has been changed to correspond to the Opening Sentence common in Protestant orders of worship;
2. that the text itself of the revised Entrance Antiphon will no longer correspond to the text of the Graduale Romanum and, in some instances, will be an entirely new text susceptible of being integrated into the didactic opening remarks that, in the new Ordo Missae, may follow the salutation.
3. That even the vestigial psalmody of the traditional Introit will disappear entirely from the reformed Missale Romanum;
3. that the traditional texts of the Gradual, Tract, and Alleluiatic verses will be found henceforth only in the Graduale Romanum and will not appar alongside of the Responsorial Psalm as a legitimate option in the reformed Lectionary;
4. that the Offertory Antiphon will disappear entirely from the new Roman Missal entirely, and will be found henceforth only in the Graduale Romanum;
5. that the Communion Antiphon will, like the Entrance Antiphon, become something akin to a Communion Sentence, and often will no longer correspond to the text of the Graduale Romanum.

Thus began the radical deconstruction of the Mass of the Roman Rite. If one posits that the Chants of the Proper of the Mass are not merely decorative, but constitutive of its architecture, then one must admit that by tinkering with them, or removing them altogether, one is weakening or removing supporting beams of the entire edifice, and risking its collapse.

The General Instruction on the Roman Missal, also promulgated in April 1969, in a single phrase --sive alius cantus-- effectively invited the termites to come in and finish the job. Jesting aside, the Latin text of the General Instruction provided three options for the Chants of the Proper of the Mass. These are:

1. The antiphon with its psalm as given in the Graduale Romanum. 2. The antiphon with its psalm as given in the Graduale Simplex. 3. Another chant (alius cantus) suited to the sacred action and to the character of the day or season, the text of which is approved by the Conference of Bishops

The 2002 American Adaptation of the GIRM

The 2002 American adaptation of the same General Instruction on the Roman Missal broadened the options and, in so doing, caused the text of the Proper Chants of the Roman Mass to appear as remote accessories that are, in any case, not indispensable to the architecture of the celebration.

In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

The choices are given in order of preference. The Roman Gradual, which hitherto was the primary reference, falls into second place. The first choice is the text of the antiphon given in the revised Roman Missal; the American "adaptors" were assuming that these texts will have been put to music.

The second choice is the antiphon and psalm in the Roman Gradual; the American adaptation adds, rather tellingly, either in the chant setting or in another musical setting.

The third choice is the Simple Gradual. The Council Fathers had, in fact, in Sacrosanctum Concilium, article 117, mandated the preparation of a Simple Gradual, better suited to use in smaller churches.

The fourth choice, a collection of psalms and antiphons approved by the Conference of Bishops or by the Diocesan Bishop, does not, to my knowledge, exist anywhere in the U.S. or elsewhere in the English-speaking world.

The fifth choice -- clearly the last resort -- is a suitable liturgical song (here, there is a departure from the psalms and antiphons found in choices 1 through 4) similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or by the Diocesan Bishop.

The General Instruction on the Roman Missal continues:

48. If there is no singing at the entrance, the antiphon in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a lector; otherwise, it is recited by the priest himself, who may even adapt it as an introductory explanation (cf. above, no. 31).

Article 48, by suggesting five different ways of reciting the antiphon in the Missal, including its mutation by the priest into an introductory explanation -- note here the primacy of the didactic -- puts the final touches on a insidious operation by which the Proper Chants of the Mass, even in the minimalistic form of texts recited by the celebrant, routinely came to be omitted altogether. The Proper Chants, that in 1964 were still considered to be constitutive elements of the Mass, deemed indispensable to the very shape of the liturgy, were, by 1969, well on their way to being replaced by other compositions alien to the Roman Rite, and erased from the collective liturgical memory.


Allow me to formulate a principle, perhaps even, with a nod to Anton Baumstark, a law of liturgical evolution. It is this: elements of the rite tend to be neglected and, in the end, disappear altogether, in direct proportion to the number of options by virtue of which they may be replaced or modified.

To my mind, one of the most urgent tasks of what has been called The Reform of the Reform is the suppression of the provision for an alius cantus aptus, and the restoration of the traditional texts of the Proper of the Mass, taking care, at the same time, that the texts given in the Missale Romanum correspond to those in the Graduale Romanum. (I would also argue for the restoration of the text of the Offertorium [Offertory Antiphon] to the editio typica of the reformed Missale Romanum.) The replacement, in the current Missale Romanum of the venerable sung texts of the Graduale Romanum with texts destined to be read, was an innovation without precedent, and a mistake with far reaching and deleterious consequences for the Roman Rite.

In conclusion, I would further argue that a wider use of the Missal of 1962, and a careful examination of the so-called interim Missals published prior to 1969, in whole or in part, would be among the most effective means to the rehabilitation and reappropriation of the Proper Chants as indispensable theological and structural elements of the Mass of the Roman Rite.


The aromatic herb, basil (Ocimum basilicum) has long been associated with the Holy Cross. Etymologically, it is related to basileios, the Greek word for king. According to a pious legend, the Empress Saint Helena found the location of the True Cross by digging for it under a colony of basil. Basil plants were reputed to have sprung up at the foot of the Cross where fell the Precious Blood of Christ and the tears of the Mother of Sorrows. A sprig of basil was said to have been found growing from the wood of the True Cross. On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross it is customary in the East to rest the Holy Cross on a bed of basil before presenting it to the veneration of the faithful. Also, from the practice in some areas of strewing branches of basil before church communion rails, it came to be known as Holy Communion Plant Blessed basil leaf can be arranged in a bouquet at the foot of the crucifix; the dried leaves can also be used by the faithful as a sacramental.

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who hath made heaven and earth.

Let us pray.

Almighty and merciful God,
deign, we beseech Thee, to bless
Thy creature, this aromatic basil leaf. +
Even as it delights our senses,
may it recall for us the triumph of Christ, our Crucified King
and the power of His most Precious Blood
to purify and preserve us from evil
so that, planted beneath His Cross,
we may flourish to Thy glory
and spread abroad the fragrance of His sacrifice.
Who is Lord forever and ever.

R. Amen.

The bouquets of basil leaf are sprinkled with Holy Water.

Did anyone else notice this?

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The Modification of a Collect

A few days ago, on the feast of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, the holy Curé of Ars, I preached on the splendid Collect of the day as given in the 1962 Missale Romanum:

Omnipotens et misericors Deus,
qui sanctum Joannem Mariam
pastorali studio
et iugi orationis ac paenitentiae ardore
mirabilem efficisti;
da, quaesumus,
ut eius exemplo et intercessione,
animas fratrum lucrari Christo,
et cum eis aeternae gloriam consequi valeamus.

In English, this becomes:

Almighty and merciful God,
who didst make Saint John Mary wonderful
in his pastoral zeal
and constant prayer and penance,
grant, we beseech Thee,
that by his example and intercession,
we may be able to win the souls of our brethren for Christ,
and together with them attain to glory everlasting.

Later in the day, I had occasion to look at the Collect as it appears in the reformed Missale Romanum, Editio Typica Tertia (2008). Here is the text as given there:

Omnipotens et misericors Deus,
qui sanctum Joannem Mariam
pastorali studio
mirabilem efficisti;
da, quaesumus,
ut eius exemplo et intercessione,
fratres in caritate Christo lucremur,
et cum eis aeternae gloriam consequi valeamus.

In the New English Translation, this same Collect will, as far as I know, appear as:

Almighty and merciful God,
who made the Priest Saint John Vianney
wonderful in his pastoral zeal,
grant, we pray,
that through his intercession and example
we may in charity win brothers and sisters for Christ
and attain with them eternal glory.

Constant Prayer and Penance Deleted

The revised prayer of the 1970 Missal retains only one of the three priestly attributes mentioned in the older prayer, that of pastoral zeal. Constant prayer and penance, the two attributes that sustained Saint John Mary Vianney's pastoral zeal, are deleted from the 1970 version of the prayer. On the other hand, the phrase in caritate was added to the penultimate phrase of the text.

Pastoral Zeal

If one ascribes to the axiom, "Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi" it is clear that this manipulation of the Collect has far reaching consequences for one's understanding of how the priesthood is to be lived out. If what matters is "pastoral zeal" above all else, one risks becoming, and rather quickly, "as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." Constant prayer obtains an inpouring of divine charity; penance makes room for it in the heart. Constant prayer and penance are the context of a pastoral zeal that is supernaturally motivated and not a exercise in clerical narcissism.


The post-Conciliar model of the priesthood placed the emphasis on pastoral zeal, while downplaying the importance of constant prayer and penance. These latter attributes were often dismissed as monastic and, as everyone knows, following the much-quoted worm-eaten old chestnut, "parish priests are not monks!" The difficulty is that pastoral zeal without constant prayer and penance leads to clerical burnout. This is something that I have seen all too often.

The Chicken or the Egg?

I'm left with a question. Did the model of diocesan priesthood change following the liturgical reforms because of the deletions and amendments made to liturgical texts such as the one looked at here? Or were the deletions and amendments to liturgical texts designed to reflect an activistic pastoral vision that had made inroads in the post-war period well before the Second Vatican Council?

A Revision of the Revised Texts?

I have already suggested elsewhere on Vultus Christi that the New English Translation of the Roman Missal, while a small step in the right direction, is far from being the solution to deeper underlying issues. One must be prudent, lest the popular canonization of the euchological texts in the New English Translation of the Roman Missal, appear to suggest that the said translation, and the Editio Typica from which it was made, are, in some way, flawless vehicles of the continuity of Tradition. Perhaps the Editio Typica Tertia itself needs to be revised and brought into a more generous textual conformity with the 1962 Missale Romanum.


The Primacy of Gregorian Chant

The Holy Father's Letter to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music (13-5-11) has prompted me to share with the readers of Vultus Christi some of my own impressions of Sacred Music here in Italy. I write, of course, out of my own very limited experience here over the past ten days. The Holy Father writes:

I wish to highlight a fundamental aspect that is particularly dear to me: how the essential continuity of the teaching on sacred music in the Liturgy has been perceived since St. Pius X up til today, despite the natural evolution. In particular, the Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in the light of the conciliar constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium," wished to reaffirm the end of sacred music, namely, "the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful" (No. 112), and the fundamental criteria of Tradition, which I limit myself to recall: the sense of prayer, of dignity and of beauty; the full adherence to the texts and to the liturgical gestures; the involvement of the assembly and, finally, the legitimate adaptation to the local culture, preserving at the same time the universality of the language; the primacy of Gregorian chant, as supreme model of sacred music, and the wise appreciation of the other expressive forms which form part of the historical-liturgical patrimony of the Church, especially but not only, polyphony; the importance of the "schola cantorum," in particular in the cathedral churches. They are important criteria, which must be considered carefully also today.
At times, in fact, these elements, which are found in "Sacrosanctum Concilium," such as, in fact, the value of the great ecclesial patrimony of sacred music or the universality that is characteristic of Gregorian chant, were considered expressions of a conception that responded to a past to be overcome and neglected, because it limited the liberty and creativity of the individual and the communities. However, we must always ask ourselves again: Who is the authentic subject of the liturgy? The answer is simple: the Church. Not the individual or the group that celebrates the liturgy, it is first of all the action of God through the Church, which has her history, her rich tradition and her creativity.
The liturgy, and consequently sacred music, "lives from a correct and constant relation between healthy 'traditio' and legitimate 'progressio,'" keeping very present that these two concepts -- that the conciliar Fathers clearly underscore -- integrate mutually because "tradition is a living reality that, because of this, includes in itself the principle of development, of progress" (Address to the Pontifical Liturgical Institute, May 6, 2011).

The Mass at San Giuliano Park

A model of what the Second Vatican Council intended was given at the Mass celebrated by the Holy Father on 8 May 2011 in San Giuliano Park on the occasion on his recent visit to Venice. To my edification and delight a schola cantorum sang the complete Proper of the Mass in Gregorian Chant, while the vast crowd of the faithful alternated the Paschaltide Ordinary (Mass I) Lux et Origo with the choir. The organizers of this celebratIon are to be commended and congratulated.

The Beatification Mass in Faicchio

The Mass of Beatification of the Venerable Servant of God Mother Maria Serafina del Sacro Cuore on 28 May 2011 gave me a firsthand experience of what appears to be the norm in most of Italy. As Dom Samuel Weber, O.S.B. is fond of saying, "I'm just reporting."

The Proper of the Mass was completely ignored. The Introit, Offertory, and Communion were replaced by songs composed in the popular style. While these pieces were not entirely devoid of scriptural and theological content they were not "the Mass" itself. Consequently, the faithful were not singing the Mass; they were, rather, singing at Mass.

This, of course, deprives the faithful of the richness of the liturgy itself and, at the same time, deprives the celebrant of the very texts out of which the Church would have him preach the homily.

Low Mass With Hymns

The celebrant of the Mass of Beatification was His Eminence, Angelo Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. His Eminence has a fine singing voice. He chose, nonetheless, to speak nearly all those parts of the Mass that, in so solemn and festive occasion, ought to be sung. To my dismay, HIs Eminence recited in a spoken tone of voice even the Preface of the Mass, the most lyrical and solemn element of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, one that, by its very nature cries out to be sung.

The end result was an anomaly: on this most festive occasion there was, in effect, nothing more than a Low Mass with a sung Ordinary (Mass VIII) De Angelis and with hymns. Very disappointing.

Feast of San Marcellino in Piedimonte Matese

On the morning of 2 June 2011, it was again His Eminence, Angelo Cardinal Amato who celebrated a Pontifical Mass in the glorious baroque Church of San Marcellino in Piedimonte Matese.

A deacon, vested in a splendid red dalmatic and surrounded by a magnificent baroque decor read the Gospel in a spoken tone of voice that rendered it banal. The Gospel could have been, and should have been chanted.

Again, absolutely nothing of the Proper of the Mass was sung. The Ordinary was sung in Italian, using a rather sentimental popular setting of the Gloria with a refrain. The Creed was recited: very disappointing on an occasion when the sung Creed would have been marvelously expressive of the faith of the Church and of her martyrs through the ages.

Again, His Eminence recited in a spoken tone of voice all of the parts belong to the celebrant. This was acutely disappointing, given both his ability to sing, and the solemnity of the occasion. And again, the end result was a Low Mass with a sung Ordinary in Italian and popular hymns.

In the Local Parish

We Southern Italians love to sing, and sing we do! The faithful are deprived, nonetheless, of the authentic chants of the Church. Since my arrival here, not once have I heard the Proper of the Mass (even recited) nor anything even remotely related to it.

The Ordinary of the Mass is trivialized by settings in Italian that are sentimental and that have no organic continuity with the musical tradition of the Church. Not once have I heard a priest sing the orations or the Preface of the Mass and this in a culture where to sing is to love, and to love is to sing.

Usquequo Domine

The Motu Proprio of Pope Saint Pius X, Tra le sollecitudini (22 November 1903) has yet to be implemented. In fact, it continues to be transgressed widely and habitually. In conclusion, allow me to say that the situation is, if possible, even worse in the United States. Usquequo Domine?

Remedy? A New "Tra le sollecitudini"?

Would it not be opportune for the Holy Father to issue a Motu Proprio with, if you will pardon the expression, some teeth in it? Such a document might give to the following the force of law:

1. The distinction between a Missa Recitata and a Missa Cantata is to be clarified, restored, and implemented. At every Missa Cantata, the priest celebrant is obliged to sing the salutations and dialogical elements, the orations, the Preface, the Per Ipsum, the Pater Noster, the LIbera nos, the Blessing, and the Dismissal.

2. At every Missa Cantata, the Gospel is to be cantillated according to the traditional tones provided in the Graduale Romanum and in the Missal. It is moreover fitting and praiseworthy that the First Lesson and Epistle also be cantillated according to the tones provided in the same books.

3. The response to the Prayers of the Faithful will be one of those given in the last edition of the Missale Romanum, even when the intentions themselves are cantillated in the vernacular.

4. The Ordinary of the Mass, including the Credo, is to be sung in Latin and in Gregorian Chant as given in the Kyriale of the Graduale Romanum, or in suitable polyphonic settings.

5. The Proper of the Mass, including the Offertorium, is no longer an optional element, nor may it be replaced by any other chant or song. It may be sung in Latin as given in the Graduale Romanum, or in the vernacular, provided that the melodies used for vernacular text are derived from the corresponding Gregorian Chant and preserve its modal character.

6. At the Missa Recitata, the Proper of the Mass must be recited. The Offertorium is to be restored to the Missale Romanum and to all the vernacular editions thereof.

7. The Gradual Chant and the Alleluia are to be included in future editions of the Missale Romanum and the Lectionary, both in Latin and in the vernaculars, and are to be presented henceforth as legitimate and praiseworthy alternatives to the Responsorial Psalm and Alleluia of the current Lectionary.

P.S. Some will, of course, object that not every priest is capable of singing the parts of the Mass that belong to him. A curious objection. I distinctly remember that in the former dispensation, when the stipend for High Mass was significantly more than the stipend for a Low Mass, priests seem to have had no difficulty in singing their parts, even when their vocal abilities were not outstanding.


The Lex Orandi

Laetare Sunday reminds us that Catholic culture is shaped by the Sacred Liturgy: not only by the calendar of the Church, but also by the Proper of the Mass. I have long argued that the Proper of the Mass is a constitutive element of the Lex orandi -- not just the text of the Proper, but also the melodic vesture of the Gregorian chant that clothes it and expresses its meaning.

Termites in the House

The option of selecting an alius cantus aptus (another suitable chant) has, in no small measure, contributed to the dismantling of the Roman Liturgy. The Proper of the Mass is not a decorative element, added onto the fundamental structure of the liturgy as a kind of embellishment; it is, rather, a supporting beam of the whole edifice. Move it, and the whole structure is weakened and, with time, will collapse. Is that not what we have seen over the past forty-five years? The alius cantus aptus has, in most places, replaced the Proper of the Mass, and liturgical termites have infested the whole structure.

Recover the Propers

To my mind, one of the most urgent tasks of The Reform of the Reform is the suppression of the provision for an alius cantus aptus, and the restoration of the traditional texts of the Proper of the Mass, taking care, at the same time, that the texts given in the Missale Romanum correspond to those in the Graduale Romanum. (I would also argue for the restoration of the text of the Offertorium [Offertory Antiphon] to the editio typica of the reformed Missale Romanum.) The replacement, in the Missale Romanum of 1970, of the venerable sung texts of the Graduale Romanum with texts destined to be read, was an innovation without precedent, and a mistake with far reaching and deleterious consequences for the Roman Rite.

Let us test and examine our ways

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Let us test and examine our ways,
and return to the Lord! (Lamentations 3:40)

Again: Time for An Intervention

I originally wrote this post last September, saying that my heart was heavy because it had been brought to my attention that "accidents" during the distribution of Holy Communion under both species occur not infrequently in parishes, i.e., the Most Precious Blood is spilled during the administration of Holy Communion from the chalice. Recently I learned of other such "accidents." And so I decided to post this entry again.

Even if such "accidents" occur no more than twice or three times a year in a given parish, they give sufficient reason to review, and, I should think, modify the manner in which the Most Precious Blood is distributed.


The use of this photo is in no way a reflection on the good faith of the young people appearing in it. It does, however, effectively demonstrate the great chasm that has opened up between the liturgical practice of the Eastern Churches (see the photo above) and certain liturgical practices that are currently widespread in churches of the Roman Rite. It also demonstrates that some members of the clergy have failed to address the legitimate hopes and praiseworthy aspirations of the faithful, by neglecting to offer a consistent mystagogical catechesis (explanation of the unfolding of the liturgical rites and texts), capable of fostering true, conscious, and actual participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in accordance with liturgical law and in organic continuity with tradition.

A few questions?

Are these incidents reported directly to the Ordinary, so that the he can, when necessary, limit Holy Communion under both forms, and exercise vigilance over the manner in which it is carried out?

Should not parish priests be required to submit to their Ordinary a yearly report of any such incidents, so that the Ordinary, taking into account their number and frequency, can revise existing policies and promulgate suitable stricter norms for his diocese?

Why is there no critical review of a practice that, in fact, poses serious problems of irreverence?

Why are certain passages of Pope Paul VI's Sacramentali Communione (29 June 1970) systematically ignored? I give the relevant passages here in boldface:

Among the ways of communicating prescribed by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, receiving from the chalice itself ranks first. Even so, it is to be chosen only when everything can be carried out in fitting order and with no danger of irreverence toward the Blood of Christ. When they are available, other priests or deacons or even acolytes should be chosen to present the chalice. The method of communicating in which the communicants pass the chalice to one another or go directly to the chalice to take Christ's Blood must be regarded as unacceptable.
Whenever none of the ministers already mentioned is available, if the communicants are few and are to receive communion under both kinds by drinking directly from the chalice, the priest himself distributes communion, first under the form of bread, then under the form of wine.
Otherwise the preference should be for the rite of communion under both kinds by intinction: it is more likely to obviate the practical difficulties and to ensure the reverence due the sacrament more effectively. Intinction makes access to communion under both kinds easier and safer for the faithful of all ages and conditions; at the same time it preserves the truth present in the more complete sign.

Why is this clear statement in favour of Holy Communion by intinction systematically ignored?


Both Orthodox and Eastern Catholic rites have, for centuries, practiced a form of Holy Communion by intinction? Latin Rite Catholics have something to learn from this centuries-old experience.

From Redemptionis Sacramentum:

[103.] The norms of the Roman Missal admit the principle that in cases where Communion is administered under both kinds, "the Blood of the Lord may be received either by drinking from the chalice directly, or by intinction, or by means of a tube or a spoon".[191] As regards the administering of Communion to lay members of Christ's faithful, the Bishops may exclude Communion with the tube or the spoon where this is not the local custom, though the option of administering Communion by intinction always remains. If this modality is employed, however, hosts should be used which are neither too thin nor too small, and the communicant should receive the Sacrament from the Priest only on the tongue.[192]

[104.] The communicant must not be permitted to intinct the host himself in the chalice, nor to receive the intincted host in the hand. As for the host to be used for the intinction, it should be made of valid matter, also consecrated; it is altogether forbidden to use non-consecrated bread or other matter.

Have our Bishops given thought to the grave scandal given to the Orthodox Churches by the current Roman Catholic practices of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, often in casual street attire, distributing the Most Precious Blood directly from the the chalice without so much as a cloth held beneath the chin of the communicant?


Why are Protestants not offended by the same practice? Why are they indifferent to it? The answer is, I think, obvious.

Has Holy Communion under both forms been used as a justification for the multiplication of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion?

In the choice of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, why are the principles and the order for selection of fit persons indicated in Immensae Caritatis (29 January 1973) not followed? Alas, there are even parishes where an open appeal for volunteers is made from the pulpit!

With regard to the first, we read that Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion may be employed:

a. whenever no priest, deacon, or acolyte is available;

Why are acolytes (now, effectively equivalent to subdeacons in the reformed Latin Rite) not employed?

Why have Ordinaries not instituted a course of preparation for acolytes, similar to that in place for deacons?

Why are men preparing for the permanent diaconate, who have already been instituted as acolytes, not preferred to Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion?

b. whenever the same ministers are impeded from administering communion because of another pastoral ministry, ill-health, or old age;

Should not the Ordinary be consulted before determining that such is, in fact, the case?

c. whenever the number of faithful wishing to receive communion is so great that the celebration of Mass or the giving of communion outside Mass would take too long.

This is frightfully vague and subject to misinterpretation.
What is too great a number of faithful? 20? 50? 100? 300? 500?
Who decides this?

What is "too long"? Who decides this?

Further, we read in the same Instruction Immensae Caritatis:

IV. The fit person referred to in nos. I and II will be designated according to the order of this listing (which may be changed at the prudent discretion of the local Ordinary): reader, major seminarian, man religious, woman religious, catechist, one of the faithful--a man or a woman.

There is an order here.
Why, in practice, do instituted readers (lectors) fall below the radar screen?
Are not deacon candidates (at least those in the final years of formation) "major seminarians"?


A Crisis

It is time to address these questions. The use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion is completely out of control, as is the distribution of Holy Communion under both forms. The faithful are confused and misled by current practices. It is not uncommon to hear the Most Precious Blood referred to as "the wine" -- by some Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion themselves!

Might the beginning of a solution not be a "pastoral moratorium" on the appointment of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and on Holy Communion under both forms until these questions are studied, and suitable remedies mandated by the competent authority?

An Element of Solution: Acolytes

The obvious solution, it seems to me, while waiting for the restoration of the subdiaconate, would be the formation and institution of acolytes in accord with Pope Paul VI's Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedam (15 August 1972). Acolytes instituted in accordance with Ministeria Quaedam could, effectively, replace Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and contribute to the resacralization of the ministration of the Holy Mysteries. They could, at solemn celebrations, be vested in amice, alb, cincture, and tunicle; in less solemn celebrations they would vest in cassock and surplice, or otherwise, in amice, alb, and cincture.

The acolyte is appointed in order to aid the deacon and to minister to the priest. It is his duty therefore to attend to the service of the altar and to assist the deacon and the priest in liturgical celebrations, especially in the celebration of Mass; he is also to distribute communion as a special minister when the ministers spoken of in the Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 845 are not available or are prevented by ill health, age, or another pastoral ministry from performing this function, or when the number of communicants is so great that the celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. In the same extraordinary circumstances an acolyte may be entrusted with publicly exposing the Blessed Sacrament for adoration by the faithful and afterward replacing it, but not with blessing the people. He may also, to the extent needed, take care of instructing other faithful who on a temporary basis are appointed to assist the priest or deacon in liturgical celebrations by carrying the missal, cross, candles, etc., or by performing other such duties. He will perform these functions more worthily if he participates in the Holy Eucharist with increasingly fervent devotion, receives nourishment from it, and deepens his knowledge about it.

As one set aside in a special way for the service of the altar, the acolyte should learn all matters concerning public Divine Worship and strive to grasp their inner spiritual meaning: in that way he will be able each day to offer himself entirely to God, be an example to all by his gravity and reverence in church, and have a sincere love for the Mystical Body of Christ, the people of God, especially for the weak and the sick.
(Ministeria Quaedam VI)

Therefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice. For he that eats and drinks unworthily eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you: and many sleep. (1 Corinthians 11:27:30)

Père Garrigou-Lagrange on Psalmody

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Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's remarkable teaching on liturgical prayer in The Three Ages of the Interior Life is a suitable complement to yesterday's post on psalmody. The subtitles in boldface are my own.

The Psalmody of the Divine Office: The Great Prayer of the Church

One of the greatest means of union with God for the religious soul is the psalmody, which in religious orders is the daily accompaniment of the Mass. The Mass is the great prayer of Christ; it will continue until the end of the world, as long as He does not cease to offer Himself by the ministry of His priests; as long as from His sacerdotal and Eucharistic heart there rises always the theandric act of love and oblation, which has infinite value as adoration, reparation, petition, and thanksgiving. The psalmody of the Divine Office is the great prayer of the Church, the spouse of Christ; a day and night prayer, which ought never to cease on the surface of the earth, as the Mass does not.

A School of Contemplation, of Self Oblation, of Holiness.

For those who have the great honor to take part in the chant, the psalmody should be an admirable school of contemplation, of self oblation, of holiness. That it may produce these abundant fruits, the psalmody should keep what is its very essence; it ought to have not only a body which is well organized according to harmonious rules, but also a soul. If it ceases to be the great contemplative prayer, it gradually loses its soul and, instead of being a soaring, a rising toward God, and a repose, it becomes a burden, a source of fatigue, and no longer produces great fruits. Therefore we shall discuss briefly first of all deformed and materialized chant, then true psalmody, which is a deliverance, like the chant of the Church, above all the noises of earth.


Last October I was invited to speak at the National Assembly of the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious in Belleville, Illinois. My subject was: The Psalmody of the Divine Office, A Path to Holiness for the Apostolic Religious. Although I was addressing women religious, nearly all of what I said can also be applied to the faithful in other states of life. I'm happy to share my conference with the readers of Vultus Christi.

The Primary Service of Religious

Addressing a large assembly of men and women religious on 9 September 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said:

From the monastic tradition the Church has derived the obligation for all religious, and also for priests and deacons, to recite the Breviary. Here too, it is appropriate for men and women religious, priests and deacons - and naturally Bishops as well - to come before God in their daily "official" prayer with hymns and psalms, with thanksgiving and pure petition.
Dear brother priests and deacons, dear Brothers and Sisters in the consecrated life! I realize that discipline is needed, and sometimes great effort as well, in order to recite the Breviary faithfully; but through this Officium we also receive many riches: how many times, in doing so, have we seen our weariness and despondency melt away! When God is faithfully praised and worshipped, his blessings are unfailing. . . .
Your primary service to this world must therefore be your prayer and the celebration of the Divine Office. The interior disposition of each priest, and of each consecrated person, must be that of "putting nothing before the Divine Office." The beauty of this inner attitude will find expression in the beauty of the liturgy, so that wherever we join in singing, praising, exalting and worshipping God, a little bit of heaven will become present on earth.

benedetto da norcia11.jpg

The Heiligenkreuz address to religious was the first time Pope Benedict XVI spoke so clearly of the place of the Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, in the life and mission of all religious. In affirming that the primary service of religious to this world is their "prayer and the celebration of the Divine Office," the Holy Father placed the other essential elements of the consecrated life in a compelling and challenging perspective.

Citing a key phrase from the Rule of Saint Benedict, Pope Benedict XVI invited all religious to the interior disposition of "putting nothing before the Divine Office." The application of this principle to the reality of daily life in apostolic communities will, necessarily, oblige religious to review their daily round of prayer and work critically and effectively, so as to give priority to what the Holy Father calls the primary service of religious to the world.

Wherever religious rise to meet this challenge by embracing the Holy Father's vision of a consecrated life characterized, first of all, by the worthy celebration of the Hours, "weariness and despondency will melt away," and "a little bit of heaven will become present on earth."


In order to respond effectively to the liturgical vision of religious life articulated by Pope Benedict XVI, I will focus on the single most important element of the Divine Office in its various forms: the recitation of the Psalter. The Roman Liturgy of the Hours, reformed after the Second Vatican Council in view of the many demands made on the time and energy of the diocesan clergy and apostolic religious, distributes the entire Psalter over four weeks. Each Hour contains, nonetheless, an element of psalmody. The psalms belong, then, to the very substance of the Liturgy of the Hours.

Salterio. Scuola di Reichenau, sec. X. Cividale,.jpg

The psalms, inspired by the Holy Spirit and entrusted to the Children of Israel in view of the day when Christ Himself and, after Him, His Bride, the Church, would pray them, are lyrical poems expressing every sentiment of the human heart, and directing those sentiments Godwards. The psalms are, at once, universal and personal. Rowland E. Prothero, writing over a hundred years ago, says:

The Psalms are a mirror in which each man sees the motions of his own soul. They express in exquisite words the kinship which every thoughtful heart craves to find with a supreme, unchanging, loving God, who will be to him a protector, guardian, and friend. They utter the ordinary experiences, the familiar thoughts of men; but they give to these a width of range, an intensity, a depth, and an elevation, which transcend the capacity of the most gifted.

An outsider, attending an Hour of the Divine Office in any one of your communities, will notice the preponderant place given to the recitation or chant of the psalms and the manner in which the psalmody is carried out. The traditional way of reciting or chanting the psalms, based on the fundamental principle of Hebrew poetry called parallelism, alternates verses of two or exceptionally three lines with an interval of silence at the heart of each verse. The Church has practiced this form of choral psalmody since the time of Pope Saint Gregory the Great (c. 540-604). Consider the following examples:

Blessed is the man who does not guide his steps by ill counsel, +
or linger where sinners walk, *
or, where scornful souls gather, sit down to rest;

the man whose heart is set on the law of the Lord, *
on that law, day and night, his thoughts still dwell.

He stands firm as a tree planted by running water, *
ready to yield its fruit when the season comes,

and never shedding its leaf; *
all that he does will prosper.


Reciting or Chanting the Psalms

The traditional Gregorian Psalm Tones, and the various simplified adaptations to the English text inspired by them, are faithful to the essential characteristics of the Hebrew parallelism reproduced in the Latin Psalters of the West. What are these characteristics? Each verse is formed of two clauses; an interval of silence follows the cadence at the end of the first clause and leads into the second clause, closing the verse with a final cadence.

The American editions of the Liturgy of the Hours, marketed by Catholic Book Publishing Corporation, and other editions derived from them, break with the Church's age-old liturgical tradition by not presenting the psalms and canticles in verses. This indefensible editorial decision reveals an egregious ignorance of what choral prayer requires, and has led to confusion in religious communities attempting to use these editions for their common prayer.

The midway interval of silence (normally indicated by an *) fosters contemplative prayer. It makes the rhythm of the psalmody restful and allows the meaning of the words to descend from the mind into the heart. Almost imperceptibly, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us with ineffable groanings (Romans 8:26), one begins to experience while reciting the psalms, a quiet union with the Heart of Jesus, only-begotten Son of the Father and Eternal High Priest.

The most effective way of reciting or chanting the psalms requires that the text be apportioned verse by verse to two choirs, or to one united choir alternating with two or more cantors. One choir responds to the other with a gentle, rhythmic regularity, taking care to observe midway a notable silence, always of the same length. This silence is an integral part of choral psalmody. Great care must be taken lest it become abbreviated, irregular, or in any way treated as being somehow less important than the verbal element of choral prayer.


Singing on One Note: Recto Tono

In the Teresian Reform of Carmel, in various other reforms, among Institutes founded in the wake of the Council of Trent, and among apostolic Institutes founded in the 19th century, one finds the tradition of chanting the Divine Office on a single sustained note. This is often referred to as recto tono, meaning on a straight or unadorned tone. This practice must not be judged as somehow inexpressive, unnatural, or artificial because it is without melodic modulation. It is, rather, the most unadorned form of chant: chant reduced to its simplest expression. As such, it is eminently suited to the ordinary daily choral prayer of a community engaged in apostolic works. Executed well, the recto tono recitation of the Hours is restful, and pacifying. It can, in effect, foster a contemplative union with the Heart of Jesus that will bear fruit in every apostolic endeavor.

Until fifty years ago, it was not uncommon for Institutes of religious women to chant on a single note The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary or of one of the excellent pre-Conciliar vernacular adaptations of the Roman Breviary that were widespread before the Second Vatican Council. Where this was practiced with care, respecting the intervals of silence and embracing a moderate and serene rhythm of recitation, the choral Office became a daily immersion in the Word of God and an oasis of contemplation in the midst of activity.


Chanting the Evangelical Counsels

Choral psalmody resembles, at more than one level, the virtues corresponding to the three vows of religion: poverty, chastity, and obedience. It gives corporate expression to the evangelical counsels and, at the same time, impresses them, day after day, more vividly in the heart.

Poverty: the melodic formula draws upon very limited musical resources. Recto tono has but a single note. Modal psalm tones are limited to a certain number of closely related notes and combinations. By resolutely choosing to pray within the limitations of a certain tonal poverty, one enters sacramentally into "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who being rich, became poor, for our sakes; that through his poverty we might become rich" (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).

Chastity: the psalmody of the Divine Office is chaste when it abstains from drawing attention to itself. In liturgical psalmody there is nothing that seeks to entertain, to charm, or to possess. One who surrenders to this form of prayer day after day assimilates its attributes. Choral psalmody fosters chastity; it is a school of purity of heart. Rightly does the psalmist pray: Eloquia Domini, eloquia casta, "The words of the Lord are chaste words" (Psalm 11:7).

Obedience: liturgical psalmody is obedient to the sacred text. It obeys the natural accents and verbal harmonics of the inspired Word of God, embracing it, espousing it, and remaining within the limits that it defines. The musical treatment of the psalmody is an ecclesial expression of Our Lady's response to the Archangel Gabriel in the mystery of the Annunciation: "Be it done unto me according to Thy Word" (Luke 1:38).

The psalmody of the Hours, executed in organic continuity with the Church's tradition of choral prayer, fosters the evangelical virtues in an almost imperceptible but entirely effective way. Just as one becomes what one contemplates, so too does one become what one sings. The psalmody of the Divine Office, held in honor by the Church for centuries, is a humble but strong support of the vowed life.

Simplicity and Abnegation

The musical profile of the traditional psalmody is disarmingly simple. One abstains from any subjective interpretation of the melodic formula or of the sentiments contained in the sacred text. One abstains likewise from giving expression to one's personal sentiments of piety, even when these are in harmony with those of the inspired psalmist. This requires detachment and self-abnegation.

The ascetical element involved in choral prayer makes it a school of life and of virtue. The abnegation demanded by the very nature of choral prayer fosters growth in charity, in humility, in courtesy, and in all the other virtues necessary to community life.

The restraint full of respect for the Word of God that marks choral psalmody, and the unadorned and austere beauty that carries it along, fosters within a religious community an atmosphere that draws the heart into a state of vigilant quietude and receptive silence.

Books for Choral Celebration of the Divine Office

In 1942, The Liturgical Press at Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota published The Short Breviary. A second edition appeared in 1954, and a third in 1962 . The Short Breviary was a treasury of authentic liturgical prayer, allowing active religious and layfolk to pray with the Church. Explanatory notes by Dom Pius Parsch (1884-1954), an Augustinian Canon of Klosterneuberg, presented each of the Hours in the context of the Mystery of Salvation, and cast the psalms in a Christological light. The typography and layout of The Short Breviary was conceived in view of choral celebration. The Short Breviary facilitated the choral chant of the Hours by presenting the psalmody in verses of two or exceptionally three lines, marked by a dagger to indicate the flex, and by an asterisk to indicate the mediant. Although the success of The Short Breviary was eclipsed after the Second Vatican Council by the first editions of the reformed Divine Office, it set a standard in Catholic liturgical publishing in the United States that post-Conciliar editions never attained.

In 1974, when Catholic Book Publishing began marketing the first American edition of The Liturgy of the Hours, prepared by ICEL (the International Commission on English in the Liturgy), it was evident that no attempt had been made to prepare volumes suitable for choral celebration by religious communities. The complete edition, as well as Christian Prayer, an abbreviated edition of the reformed Office, were obviously designed and produced to meet the needs of the diocesan clergy and of isolated individuals devoted to reading the Breviary. In contrast, The Divine Office, produced by the Episcopal Conferences of Australia, England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland, and first published by HarperCollins in 1974, was designed with an eye to its use in choral recitation by religious communities.


In 2007, rendering an invaluable service to the English-speaking Church, and to religious communities in particular, The Liturgical Institute at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, produced The Mundelein Psalter, with chant melodies by Father Samuel Weber, O.S.B. Father Weber's psalm tones are entirely faithful to the tonal color of each of the traditional Gregorian modes. Moreover, they espouse the natural accents of the English text in such a way as to render the psalmody intelligent, regular, and peaceful.

Apart from presenting the psalms and canticles in verses suitable for choral recitation, The Mundelein Psalter also offers, in English translation with suitable melodies, the treasury of the official hymns of the Liturgia Horarum. The hymns of the Liturgia Horarum, rich in biblically-inspired poetry, in sacramental imagery, and in patristic theology are a goldmine of authentic Catholic piety.

For those communities eager to enter more fully into the Church's tradition of choral prayer in Gregorian Chant and in Latin, it is now possible (thirty years after the publication of the Liturgia Horarum) to sing Vespers on Sundays and feasts from a single volume containing in full all the elements necessary to do so. With the publication of the Antiphonale Romanum II, the Abbey of Solesmes has made it possible for religious communities (as well as cathedral and parish churches) to sing the Church's evening sacrifice of praise, according to the Liturgy of the Hours, from a book designed to facilitate "plainsong for plain folk."


A Space for Choral Celebration of the Divine Office

The Divine Office is best celebrated in a sacred spaced designed for that purpose. If one considers Pope Benedict XVI's injunction that the primary service of religious to this world must be their prayer and the celebration of the Divine Office, it is reasonable to expect that convent chapels and oratories be arranged in function of this primary service. The traditional arrangement of ranks of choir stalls (or similar seating) facing inward across a central aisle facilitates choral prayer with the corresponding liturgical postures and gestures, while allowing for prayer ad orientem, or facing the altar, at Holy Mass and in times of personal devotion.

Until the Second Vatican Council, many apostolic Institutes bound to the choral recitation of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary benefited from having choir chapels constructed in view of this particular form of prayer. The Venerable Mother Mary Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Religious Sisters of Mercy in 1831, gave an outstanding example of attention to the architecture and dispositions of space that choral prayer requires. Engaging professional ecclesiastical architects, such as A.W. and E. W. Pugin, Mother McAuley and the women formed by her took a lively interest in providing one Convent of Mercy after another in Ireland and England with chapels of remarkable architectural quality, each one having a choir constructed at a right angle to the sanctuary, precisely in order to facilitate a dignified and worthy recitation of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mother McAuley appears to have been keenly sensitive to the aesthetic requirements of community prayer. In addition to building chapels of significant architectural merit, she provided her Sisters with a festive white cloak (patterned after that of the Carmelite Fathers in Dublin) to be worn over their workaday black habits on occasions of greater solemnity. Sacred architecture and sacred vesture are two expressions of the sacramental participation in the Divine Beauty that, in harmony with the liturgy of the Church, should characterize the corporate prayer of apostolic religious.

It would be opportune then, today, before undertaking the construction, renovation, or restoration of convent chapels, to consider that their design ought to facilitate the choral celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours as a primary, indispensable, and constitutive element of Catholic liturgical piety and of the consecrated life.

Through Psalmody to the Trinity

Having briefly considered the material supports of choral prayer--the necessary liturgical books and a suitable sacred space or choir--I should like to return to the core of my thesis: that the psalmody of the Divine Office is a path to holiness for the apostolic religious. The Fathers of the Church have reflected on why and how psalmody engenders interior dispositions favorable to contemplative prayer.

A community engaged in choral prayer is an image of the Mystical Body as defined by Saint Augustine: "one Christ loving Himself." One-half of the choir offers its verse, not only to God through Christ, but also offers the bread of the Word to those of Christ's members who form the other half of the choir. In choral psalmody, the daily bread of the Word is continuously offered and received as it passes from choir to choir, providing believers with a compelling image of one Christ feeding Himself and, by means of that food, uniting His members among themselves, and to Himself, the Head of His Mystical Body. This Eucharistic dimension of the Divine Office is, in its own way, a means of communion with the ceaseless prayer that Christ, Eternal High Priest, offers to the Father in the Holy Spirit.


Saint Ambrose

Saint Ambrose of Milan, rather unexpectedly, in his meditation on the six days of creation, refers to alternation of two choirs when, in a poetic vein, he compares the beauty and the beneficial effect of psalmody to the creation of the sea:

How beautiful and mighty is the sea when the tempest raises her waves. Even more beautiful is she when nothing apart from a light breeze moves over the surface of the waters and her waves break upon the shore with a sound that is gentle, regular, and harmonious, a sound that does not trouble the silence but is happy, rather, to give it rhythm and to render it audible.

Saint Ambrose, in effect, describes the ideal of liturgical psalmody: a sound that does not trouble the silence but rather gives it rhythm and renders it audible. He goes on to say:

What else is that melodic sound of the waves if not the melody of the people . . . as the whole people unite in prayer, there is a whisper of receding waves; the echo of the psalms when sung in responsive harmony by men and women, maidens and children is like the sound of breaking waves. Wherefore, what need I say of this water other than it washes away sin and that the salutary breath of the Holy Spirit is found in it?

By comparing liturgical psalmody to a peaceful breaking of waves upon the shore, Saint Ambrose suggests that each wave receives movement from the other and renders movement in return, sustaining all the while a continual rising and receding that remains ineffably tranquil.


Tranquility of Order

The discipline of liturgical psalmody participates in the wise ordering of things that produces the peace. Saint Thomas Aquinas calls this peace tranquillitas ordinis, "a tranquility of order." Tranquillitas ordinis, psalmody's most necessary quality, fosters profound recollection, and so disposes the soul to an unimpeded operation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in contemplative prayer.

When the psalmody of the Divine Office is executed with a gentle discipline and a joyful élan, it generates a healing experience of the tranquility of order. A guest listening to the psalmody of the Divine Office in my own monastery related to me later that he had the impression of being seated on the seashore, watching the waves cast themselves one after the other on the sand of the beach to carry far away all it's impurities and waste. In the end, he said, nothing more remained apart from the sand made clean.

Psalmody, acting upon the soul in a way not unlike the humble prayer of Our Lady's Psalter, the Rosary, cleanses the soul of the accumulated residue of impurity and decay that impedes the free circulation of grace and prevents it from becoming "a fountain of water springing up into life everlasting" (John 4:14). It is not uncommon that after an otherwise ordinary celebration of the Office, one finds oneself more peaceful, inwardly more joyous, and more disposed to return with a generous heart to the works of the apostolate. The supernatural value of such choral prayer for religious engaged in demanding professional and apostolic works is, I think, evident. It pertains to the very soul of the apostolate.


Saint Basil

In his Exegetic Homilies, Saint Basil the Great profits from his exposition of Psalm 1 to set forth the benefit of all psalmody. Describing the Sacred Scriptures as a general hospital for souls, he demonstrates the outstanding curative and therapeutic effects that are proper to the Psalter.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful, composed by the Spirit for this reason, namely, that we men, each and all of us, as if in a general hospital for souls, may select the remedy for his own condition. For, it says, "care will make the greatest sin to cease." Now, the prophets teach one thing, historians another, the law something else, and the form of advice found in the proverbs something different still. But, the Book of Psalms has taken over what is profitable from all. It foretells coming events; it recalls history; it frames laws for life; it suggests what must be done; and, in general, it is the common treasury of good doctrine, carefully finding what is suitable for each one.
The old wounds of souls it cures completely, and to the recently wounded it brings speedy improvement; the diseased it treats, and the unharmed it preserves. On the whole, it effaces, as far as is possible, the passions, which subtly exercise dominion over souls during the lifetime of man, and it does this with a certain orderly persuasion and sweetness which produces sound thoughts.

Saint Basil emphasizes the medicinal and formative properties of psalmody. It is clear from the following passage that the psalmody of the Divine Office is an integral and indispensable element in the initial formation to the vowed life and at every subsequent stage of it.

When, indeed, the Holy Spirit saw that the human race was guided only with difficulty toward virtue, and that, because of our inclination toward pleasure, we were neglectful of an upright life, what did He do? The delight of melody He mingled with the doctrines so that by the pleasantness and softness of the sound heard we might receive without perceiving it the benefit of the words, just as wise physicians who, when giving the fastidious rather bitter drugs to drink, frequently smear the cup with honey. Therefore, He devised for us these harmonious melodies of the psalms, that they who are children in age or, even those who are youthful in disposition might to all appearances chant but, in reality, become trained in soul.

The psalmody of the Divine Office prepares the soul for union with God by purifying the emotions, by ordering the passions rightly, and by fostering charity, apart from which there is no authentic contemplation. Psalmody accompanies the soul through the purgative, illuminative, and unitive phases of the interior life. At no moment in one's spiritual journey does it become superfluous or redundant.

A psalm implies serenity of soul; it is the author of peace, which calms bewildering and seething thoughts. For, it softens the wrath of the soul, and what is unbridled it chastens. A psalm forms friendships, unites those separated, conciliates those at enmity. Who, indeed, can still consider as an enemy him with whom he has uttered the same prayer to God? So that psalmody, bringing about choral singing, a bond, as it were, toward unity, and joining the people into a harmonious union of one choir, produces also the greatest of blessings, charity.

Here, Saint Basil adopts a lyrical style worthy of the psalms themselves. His teaching makes clear the value of choral psalmody not only in the context of an enclosed monastic life, but also in the context of apostolic religious life in all its expressions.

A psalm is a city of refuge from the demons; a means of inducing help from the angels, a weapon in fears by night, a rest from toils by day, a safeguard for infants, an adornment for those at the height of their vigor, a consolation for the elders, a most fitting ornament for women. It peoples the solitudes; it rids the market place of excesses; it is the elementary exposition of beginners, the improvement of those advancing, the solid support of the perfect, the voice of the Church. It brightens the feast days; it creates a godly sorrow. For, a psalm calls forth a tear even from a heart of stone.

Finally, Saint Basil presents psalmody as a school of the moral virtues: courage, justice, self-control, prudence, penance, and patience. The Psalter is, for the great legislator of the common life a perfect, that is to say, a complete theology.

A psalm is the work of angels, a heavenly institution, the spiritual incense. . . . What, in fact, can you not learn from the psalms? Can you not learn the grandeur of courage? The exactness of justice? The nobility of self-control? The perfection of prudence? A manner of penance? The measure of patience? And whatever other good things you might mention? Therein is perfect theology, a prediction of the coming of Christ in the flesh, a threat of judgment, a hope of resurrection, a fear of punishment, promises of glory, an unveiling of mysteries; all things, as if in some great public treasury, are stored up in the Book of Psalms.

Choral Psalmody: A Test and a School of Charity

The discipline of choral prayer in religious communities is not merely to produce an aesthetically pleasing sound. It is a means to contemplative prayer, a means tested and tried by tradition, towards attaining unity with oneself, unity with others in community, and unity with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Before the grace of unity becomes audible in a community's choral prayer, there must necessarily be an individual and corporate assent to the silence that makes listening possible. A community in which there is no silence is a community in which there is no listening to God, to one another, or to oneself.

Choral psalmody reveals what is going on below the surface in a community. One hears the sound of struggles, rivalries, lack of reconciliation, and want of recollection. When a single voice expresses hostility--either by singing or by not singing--one experiences a kind of acoustical pollution in the choir. Dissonance in choral prayer sounds a call to repentance.


Choral Psalmody and the Apostolic Mission

Psalmody has more to do with listening than with producing sound. If one inclines the ear of the heart to the Word of God, even while it is on one's lips, one begins to experience what Saint Bernard, in a sermon on the Song of Songs, called "visitations of the Word." The presence of the Divine Bridegroom becomes almost perceptible in the manner of chanting and in a certain presence of the voice, the condition for which is a presence of the whole body, for the voice is the clearest sign of the body made present to the presence of God, especially the body of the woman consecrated to Christ in and by the Church.

The voice must articulate the sacred words with care and with reverence. The mission of the voice is to prepare, in a kind of renewal of the mystery of the incarnation, an acoustical body for the Divine Word. The Word thus chanted and heard is the springboard of every ecclesial mission, and the guarantee of any Institute's apostolic fecundity.

An apostolic community resolutely engaged in choral prayer will begin to experience its effect in their apostolic works and professional services. Teaching Sisters, for example, effectively prepare a path for souls into the presence of God by their fidelity to choral prayer. The seeds of more than one religious vocation were planted when a student happened by chance to hear the Sisters who were her teachers in the classroom, spending themselves for her, in another way, in the celebration of the Divine Office.

Similarly , the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Carmelites of the Divine Heart of Jesus, the Hawthorne Dominicans, and so many other religious dedicated to the care of the elderly and the sick will find that the celebration of the Divine Office, surrounding the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and echoing it throughout the day, has a profound effect on residents and patients, even if they do not participate actively in the Hours. I was privileged, some years ago, to visit a nursing community in France where any patient in their hospital can listen to the chant of the Divine Office from his bed. The number of conversions to Christ brought about simply because a patient lying in bed "tuned in" to the Divine Office being chanted in the chapel is impressive.



In conclusion, addressing those of you who are already committed to the choral celebration of the Divine Office, and those of you who are moving towards the renewal of your community prayer by a fresh commitment to the Divine Office, I would reaffirm three principles:

1. The choral celebration of the Divine Office is for all apostolic religious a path to contemplative prayer .

2. The choral celebration of the Divine Office is, according to the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI, your primary service to the world.

3. The choral celebration of the Divine Office assures the supernatural fruitfulness of your apostolic works.

Five Years of "Ad Orientem"

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Taking the Step

December 17, 2010 will mark the fifth anniversary of my standing before the altar ad orientem for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I began offering Holy Mass exclusively ad orientem at the Monastery of the Glorious Cross, where I served for a number of years as chaplain. I prepared the change in Advent 2005 with an appropriate pastoral and mystagogical catechesis.

Then Came Summorum Pontificum

After September 14, 2007, Summorum Pontificum made it much easier to celebrate the traditional rite of Holy Mass and, since undertaking my mission in Tulsa, I have offered the Extraordinary Form daily, having no desire and seeing no need, in the context of contemplative monastic life, of celebrating in the Ordinary Form.

No Going Back

That being said, after five years of offering Holy Mass ad orientem, I can say that I never want to have to return to the versus populum position. While traveling, I am, however, sometimes obliged to celebrate versus populum, notably in Ireland, in France and Italy; it leaves me with a feeling of extreme inappropriateness. I suffer from what I can only describe as a lack of sacred pudeur, or modesty in the face of the Holy Mysteries. When obliged to celebrate versus populum, I feel viscerally, as it were, that there is something very wrong -- theologically, spiritually, and anthropologically -- with offering the Holy Sacrifice turned toward the congregation.

Ten Advantages

What are the advantages of standing at the altar ad orientem, as I have experienced them over the past two years? I can think of ten straight off:

1. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is experienced as having a theocentric direction and focus.
2. The faithful are spared the tiresome clerocentrism that has so overtaken the celebration of Holy Mass in the past forty years.
3. It has once again become evident that the Canon of the Mass (Prex Eucharistica) is addressed to the Father, by the priest, in the name of all.
4. The sacrificial character of the Mass is wonderfully expressed and affirmed.
5. Almost imperceptibly one discovers the rightness of praying silently at certain moments, of reciting certain parts of the Mass softly, and of cantillating others.
6. It affords the priest celebrant the boon of a holy modesty.
7. I find myself more and more identified with Christ, Eternal High Priest and Hostia perpetua, in the liturgy of the heavenly sanctuary, beyond the veil, before the Face of the Father.
8. During the Canon of the Mass I am graced with a profound recollection.
9. The people have become more reverent in their demeanour.
10. The entire celebration of Holy Mass has gained in reverence, attention, and devotion.

Adé Béthune (1914-2002)

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I had the privilege of being apprenticed to Adé Béthune in the early 1970s. We remained good friends until her death. Adé was a person of total integrity, a Catholic steeped in the grand liturgical and spiritual traditions of the old world, a sage with the heart of a child, a friend of the poor, an organic gardener, a master artist, a Benedictine Oblate of Portsmouth Abbey.

In the 1940s Adé founded the Saint Leo League in Newport, Rhode Island to educate clergy and layfolk by making good liturgical art available to them. The monthly meetings of the Saint Leo League continued to draw friends of Adé and friends of the liturgy from all over New England well into the 1980s. Father Giles Dimock, O.P. often celebrated Holy Mass for the group. Adé was editor of the review Sacred Signs; its articles are as timely today as when they were written more than thirty years ago.

Adé did a lot for me. She helped me grow up. She introduced me to the beauty and rightness of compost heaps and of the conical chasuble! She corrected my calligraphy and encouraged by attempts at "making good pictures." She shared my passion for Gregorian chant, calling it "plainchant for plain folk." She defended the traditional square notation on a four line staff, explaining that its "pictographic" quality made it easier to read than modern notation. At my First Solemn Mass twenty four years ago, Adé served as lector.

One of the best impressions of Adé is this one, written by her friend Dorothy Day, foundress of The Catholic Worker:

Whenever I visited Ade I came away with a renewed zest for life. She has such a sense of the sacramentality of life, the goodness of things, a sense that is translated in all her works whether it was illustrating a missal, making stained-glass windows or sewing, cooking or gardening. To do things perfectly was always her aim. Another first principle she always taught was to aim high. "If you are going to put a cross bar on an H," she said, "you have to aim higher than your sense of sight tells you."

Dorothy Day. The Long Loneliness . New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952. p.190-1.

Just Asking

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Preciosisima sangre de Cristo, Anonimo, Oleo sobre tela, 40 X 26 cms, Siglo XVII- XVIII.jpg

The Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist, was promulgated by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments six years ago on 25 March 2004.

Has this Instruction been the subject of study?
Has it been presented to priests and deacons as the subject of ongoing formation?
Are parish priests aware of its implications?
Has it been presented in parish bulletins?

Here is part of what the document says concerning Communion under both kinds:

4. Communion under Both Kinds

[100.] So that the fullness of the sign may be made more clearly evident to the faithful in the course of the Eucharistic banquet, lay members of Christ's faithful, too, are admitted to Communion under both kinds, in the cases set forth in the liturgical books, preceded and continually accompanied by proper catechesis regarding the dogmatic principles on this matter laid down by the Ecumenical Council of Trent.[186]

Hmmm: "Preceded and continually accompanied by proper catechesis regarding the dogmatic principles on this matter laid down by the Ecumenical Council of Trent." Coming soon to a parish near you?

Preciosisima sangre detail.jpg

[101.] In order for Holy Communion under both kinds to be administered to the lay members of Christ's faithful, due consideration should be given to the circumstances, as judged first of all by the diocesan Bishop. It is to be completely excluded where even a small danger exists of the sacred species being profaned. With a view to wider co-ordination, the Bishops' Conferences should issue norms, once their decisions have received the recognitio of the Apostolic See through the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, especially as regards "the manner of distributing Holy Communion to the faithful under both kinds, and the faculty for its extension."

Completed excluded where even a small danger exists of the sacred species being profaned? If, in fact, accidents have occurred during the distribution of the Precious Blood, this principle must be considered seriously.

[102.] The chalice should not be ministered to lay members of Christ's faithful where there is such a large number of communicants that it is difficult to gauge the amount of wine for the Eucharist and there is a danger that "more than a reasonable quantity of the Blood of Christ remain to be consumed at the end of the celebration". The same is true wherever access to the chalice would be difficult to arrange, or where such a large amount of wine would be required that its certain provenance and quality could only be known with difficulty, or wherever there is not an adequate number of sacred ministers or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion with proper formation, or where a notable part of the people continues to prefer not to approach the chalice for various reasons, so that the sign of unity would in some sense be negated.

Are large parish Masses on Sunday suitable occasions for the administration of the chalice?

[103.] The norms of the Roman Missal admit the principle that in cases where Communion is administered under both kinds, "the Blood of the Lord may be received either by drinking from the chalice directly, or by intinction, or by means of a tube or a spoon". As regards the administering of Communion to lay members of Christ's faithful, the Bishops may exclude Communion with the tube or the spoon where this is not the local custom, though the option of administering Communion by intinction always remains. If this modality is employed, however, hosts should be used which are neither too thin nor too small, and the communicant should receive the Sacrament from the Priest only on the tongue.

This article needs to be read in the light of Sacramentali Communione (1970) which states:

Otherwise the preference should be for the rite of communion under both kinds by intinction: it is more likely to obviate the practical difficulties and to ensure the reverence due the sacrament more effectively. Intinction makes access to communion under both kinds easier and safer for the faithful of all ages and conditions; at the same time it preserves the truth present in the more complete sign.

[104.] The communicant must not be permitted to intinct the host himself in the chalice, nor to receive the intincted host in the hand. As for the host to be used for the intinction, it should be made of valid matter, also consecrated; it is altogether forbidden to use non-consecrated bread or other matter.

The Core of Monasticism Is Adoration

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In the address pronounced three years ago at the flourishing Heiligenkreuz Abbey, Pope Benedict XVI offered the whole Church a veritable Charter of Monastic Life for this generation, and for all generations to come. This is, without any doubt, one of the most luminous Pontifical teachings on the monastic vocation ever articulated. I am still humbled and set ablaze by it. It deserves study "on bended knee."


Address of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI

Visit to Heiligenkreuz Abbey
Sunday, 9 September 2007

Most Reverend Father Abbot,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Cistercian Monks of Heiligenkreuz,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Consecrated Life,
Distinguished Guests and Friends of the Monastery and the Academy,
Ladies and Gentlemen!

That Nothing Be Put Before the Divine Office

On my pilgrimage to the Magna Mater Austriae, I am pleased to visit this Abbey of Heiligenkreuz, which is not only an important stop on the Via Sacra leading to Mariazell, but the oldest continuously active Cistercian monastery in the world. I wished to come to this place so rich in history in order to draw attention to the fundamental directive of Saint Benedict, according to whose Rule Cistercians also live. Quite simply, Benedict insisted that “nothing be put before the Divine Office”.(1)

Solemn Choral Prayer

For this reason, in a monastery of Benedictine spirit, the praise of God, which the monks sing as a solemn choral prayer, always has priority. Monks are certainly not the only people who pray; others also pray: children, the young and the old, men and women, the married and the single - all Christians pray. Or at least, they should!

To Be Men of Prayer

In the life of monks, however, prayer takes on a particular importance: it is the heart of their calling. Their vocation is to be men of prayer. In the patristic period the monastic life was likened to the life of the angels. It was considered the essential mark of the angels that they are adorers. Their very life is adoration. This should hold true also for monks. Monks pray first and foremost not for any specific intention, but simply because God is worthy of being praised. “Confitemini Domino, quoniam bonus! - Praise the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy is eternal!”: so we are urged by a number of Psalms (e.g. Ps 106:1).


Such prayer for its own sake, intended as pure divine service, is rightly called Officium. It is “service” par excellence, the “sacred service” of monks. It is offered to the triune God who, above all else, is worthy “to receive glory, honour and power” (Rev 4:11), because he wondrously created the world and even more wondrously redeemed it.

A Yearning for God

At the same time, the Officium of consecrated persons is also a sacred service to men and women, a testimony offered to them. All people have deep within their hearts, whether they know it or not, a yearning for definitive fulfilment, for supreme happiness, and thus, ultimately, for God. A monastery, in which the community gathers several times a day for the praise of God, testifies to the fact that this primordial human longing does not go unfulfilled: God the Creator has not placed us in a fearful darkness where, groping our way in despair, we seek some ultimate meaning (cf. Acts 17:27); God has not abandoned us in a desert void, bereft of meaning, where in the end only death awaits us. No! God has shone forth in our darkness with his light, with his Son Jesus Christ. In him, God has entered our world in all his “fullness” (cf. Col 1:19); in him all truth, the truth for which we yearn, has its source and summit.(2)

The Heart and Eyes of Christ

Our light, our truth, our goal, our fulfilment, our life - all this is not a religious doctrine but a person: Jesus Christ. Over and above any ability of our own to seek and to desire God, we ourselves have already been sought and desired, and indeed, found and redeemed by him! The roving gaze of people of every time and nation, of all the philosophies, religions and cultures, encounters the wide open eyes of the crucified and risen Son of God; his open heart is the fullness of love. The eyes of Christ are the eyes of a loving God. The image of the Crucified Lord above the altar, whose romanesque original is found in the Cathedral of Sarzano, shows that this gaze is turned to every man and woman. The Lord, in truth, looks into the hearts of each of us.

Saints Joachim and Anna

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The Communion of the Saints

We live in the company of the saints. We are in communion with them, and communion implies communication. There is, at every moment, a mysterious exchange taking place between us and the saints who surround us. The Letter to the Hebrews says that we are “watched from above by such a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).

Naming Your Baby

The names of saints are more and more rarely being given to Catholic babies. While there is a part of ignorance here -- today’s parents were the victims of the disastrous lack of catechesis that followed the Second Vatican Council -- there is something more. The pressure to secularize every area of life is picking up momentum. Change what people say, and you will change what they think. The modification of vocabulary -- and in this case the suppression of the glorious heritage of Catholic saints’ names -- will lead to a modification of values and, ultimately, of morality.

Living With the Saints

Monasteries have the splendid custom of attributing a saint’s name or a biblical name to every room and place -- from the cells to the workrooms to the storage rooms. The significance of this age-old custom is as beautiful as it is profound: the monastery is inhabited not only by the visible people who live within its walls, but also by its invisible residents, the angels and the saints. The naming of a room for a saint is a confession of faith; it flies in the face of secularist ideologies that would have us believe that reality stops with what is visible.

Recovery of the Sacred

The movement to secularize every thing and every place is as pernicious as it is aggressive. It is part of the “smoke of Satan” that Pope Paul VI saw penetrating the Church to foment confusion. It is important that we respond to the crisis with courage and with conviction. The invasion of the secular must be countered by a concerted recovery of the sacred, and by re-claiming all things for Christ under the patronage of his saints and his mysteries: our cities, our towns, our homes, our institutions, our rooms, and, yes, our children.

The Motu Proprio and the Saints

Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Letter, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum generated some helpful comparative studies of the Rite of Blessed John XXIII (the Mass actually celebrated during the Second Vatican Council) and the 1970 Rite of Pope Paul VI. One of the observations made is that the newer rite, in a misguided attempt to render the Mass less offensive to Protestant sensibilities, removed several key allusions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the saints, and to their intercession (eg. Confiteor; Suscipe, Sancta Trinitas; Libera nos). In no way was this manipulation of the texts authorized by the Conciliar Fathers. It grieved and alienated the venerable Orthodox Churches (honoured by the inclusion of Saint Andrew the Apostle in the Libera nos), who interpreted it as a rejection of the patrimony of the undivided Church.


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Thanks to Carl Dierschow and Adam Wright, I am able to present to the readers of Vultus Christi recordings of my three lectures at the 2010 Sacred Music Colloquium in Pittsburgh. Here is the link: Scroll down to the bottom of the page until you reach my name under Breakout Sessions.

This Day Was Chosen

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The transfer of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ to Sunday by the Bishops of the United States is unfortunate; it effectively dismantles the mystagogy of the feast by detaching it from its native theological context on Thursday.

Just as the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is celebrated on a Friday, inviting us to return to Calvary, there to look upon the pierced Side of the Lord in the company of Our Lady and the Beloved Disciple, so too does the feast of Corpus Christi on a Thursday invite us to return to the Cenacle, there to relive in adoration and joy the gift and mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. Similarly, the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is celebrated on a Saturday, recalling the Great Sabbath lived by Our Lady who, in her own pierced Heart, kept alive the flame of the Church's faith and hope.

Listen to the Angelic Doctor:

To the end that devotion may be enkindled in the faithful,
we do well to celebrate this solemnity in honour of the institution
of so health-giving and so wonderful a Sacrament,
that thus we may meetly worship our God
who in this Sacrament is present before our eyes,
although in a manner beyond the power of words to describe;
and that thus we may praise God's power,
whereby in this Sacrament are wrought so many and great wonders;
and also that thus we may give God due thanks
for this his bounteous gift so full of health and sweetness.

It is true that special mention is made of its institution
at the celebration of the Mass on Maundy Thursday,
(when we commemorate the Last Supper, at which, as we know,
this Sacrament was instituted;)
but all the rest of the Office on that day
is chiefly concerned with Christ-Suffering,
to the worshipping of whom the Church doth at that season
give all her mind.

In the year of salvation 1264, to the end that the faithful might celebrate
the institution of so great a Sacrament with a complete festal Office,
Urban IV, Bishop of Rome, was moved by his devotion thereto,
to put forth a godly ordinance,
to the effect that the memory of the said institution
should be celebrated by all the faithful
on the Thursday next after the Octave Day of Pentecost.
This day was chosen in order that we,
who from one end of the year to the other
do use this Sacrament to our soul's health,
might particularly celebrate the institution thereof
at that season wherein the Holy Ghost taught the hearts of the disciples
to acknowledge the mysteries thereof;
for then it was, as we read, that they continued stedfastly
in the Apostles' Doctrine and Fellowship,
and in the Breaking of the Bread and the Prayers.

From a Sermon by Saint Thomas Aquinas
Opusculum 57

Aqua Sapientiae

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Tuesday of Pascha

Proper of the Mass

Those of you who follow the preaching of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, will have noticed how consistently he comments on the Proper of the Mass. The Proper of the Mass -- the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Sequence (when there is one), Offertory, and Communion -- are those chants, drawn principally from Sacred Scripture, that form the context for the other variable elements of every Mass: the Collect, Prayer Over the Gifts, Postcommunion Prayer and, of course, the Word of God given us in the Lectionary.

One cannot ignore the Proper of the Mass without deconstructing the theological architecture of the celebration. The Proper Chants of the Mass are not decorative, they are structural. Decorative elements can be changed or moved at will; structural elements cannot. When they are displaced, the harmonious whole of the Mass disintegrates.

Paschal Introits

This being said, let us look at two elements in today's Mass: the Introit and the Sequence. Today we have the third Introit of Pascha. The first, on Easter Sunday morning, allowed us to hear, and participate in, the ineffable conversation of the Risen Son with His Father: "I arose and am still with you, alleluia: you have laid your hand upon me, alleluia: your knowledge is wonderful, alleluia, alleluia (Ps 138:18, 5-6).

The second, yesterday morning, was addressed to the newly-baptized: "The Lord has brought you into a land flowing with milk and honey, alleluia; that the law of the Lord may be ever in your mouth, alleluia, alleluia (Ex 13:5-9).

Water to Drink

Today's Introit, drawn from the book of Ecclesiasticus, recalls what happened to the catechumens baptized in the night of Pascha: "He gave them the water of wisdom to drink, alleluia: it shall be made strong in them and shall not be moved, alleluia, and it shall raise them up forever, alleluia, alleluia" (Ecclus 15:3-4).

This water of wisdom is the very water that Our Lord promised to the Samaritan woman on the Third Sunday of Lent. "He that shall drink of the water that I will give him," says Jesus, "shall not thirst for ever: but the water that I will give him, shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting" (Jn 4:13-14). It is the water of divine grace, the water of Trinitarian life that gushes from the Open Side of the Crucified and Risen Lord, irrigating the souls of the baptized, and making the Church resplendent with holiness. This is an unfailing stream of water. It is an impetuous torrent that will never dry up, because its source is in God. Those who yield to its power will be carried into God to live in His Love and in His Light forever.

The Sacraments

The Aqua sapientiae, the water of wisdom, reaches us, and irrigates our souls, through the channels of the sacraments. One who stays away from the sacraments will suffer from spiritual drought. The fruits of the Holy Spirit will become scarce. Those that do appear will be paltry and, in the end, will dry up. Sin creates a blockage in the irrigation of the soul. Confession and absolution removes the obstacles that clog the flow of grace. Many of you are looking toward the festival of Divine Mercy this coming Sunday: the Sacrament of Penance renews the grace of Baptism, and opens the heart to the living water that flows from the pierced Heart of the Merciful Christ.

Victimae Paschali Laudes

The second element of today's Mass that merits special attention is the Sequence. It is about one thousand years old. The word Sequence means something that follows another: the Sequence of the Mass follows the Alleluia and, in a sense, springs out of it.

Father Maurice Zundel writes of the Sequence in characteristically poetic terms. This is what he says:

When the Alleluia, having soared to its highest point, bends earthward once more to return to vocal chant, a rocket, as it were, dissolves into sparkling stars, the neums spread out into a shower and give rise to the Sequence.

The Easter Sequence, Victimae Paschali Laudes, is attributed to one Wipo (died c. 1050), a court chaplain of the emperors Conrad II and Henry III. It is the most popular of the medieval Sequences. It inspired countless para-liturgical dramas or vivid representations of Mary Magdalene in dialogue with the Apostles within the context of the liturgy itself.

Praise to the Lamb

The first and second verses of the Victimae Paschali Laudes call the sheep, all who share in the redemption wrought by Christ, to offer their praises to Christ the immolated Lamb. Jesus, the "lamb without blemish" (Ex 12:5), reconciles sinners, sheep marred by sin, to the Father (cf. Is 53:6).

Prince of Life

The third verse describes the Passion as an epic struggle between death and the Prince of Life. It echoes 1 Corinthians 15:54-55: "Death is swallowed up in victory." We call our Lord the Dux vitae, the Prince of Life, and the One who leads us into life with Himself.

Mary Magdalene

In the fourth verse, the Apostles interrogate Mary Magdalene: "Tell us, Mary, what thou sawest, as thou wentest on the way." Mary Magdalene, the apostola apostolorum, replies by singing of the glory of the risen Christ (cf. Jn 20:18), of bright angels (cf. Mk 16:5 and Lk 24:4) and of the empty tomb (cf. Jn 20:12-13). She proclaims to the apostles that "Christ, her hope is risen," and obedient to the Lord's injunction (Mt 28:10), announces that he goes before his own into Galilee.

The Victor King

The final verse, a triumphant confession of Christ's resurrection, is sung in unison by the entire chorus: the faithful, Mary Magdalene, and apostles. The very last line, a plea for mercy, addresses Jesus as Victor Rex, the Victor King (cf. Rev 19:16).

What Earlier Generations Held As Sacred

Pope Benedict XVI has given us a guiding principle that we need to put into practice with a joyful docility. Listen to what he says:

What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.

Past, Present, and Future

The Holy Father is setting an example for the whole Church by restoring, with serenity and determination, elements of our Catholic patrimony that were in danger of being relegated to museums. By doing this, he is teaching us that the Church remains forever young: that being Catholic means that nothing of what the Holy Spirit has given to the Church is locked in an irretrievable past. One who negates the past, or attempts to put its treasures into storage, negates the future, and impedes the grace of new life. "Choose therefore life, that both thou and thy seed may live" (Dt 30:19). Christ, our Hope, is risen, and goes before us.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Eight

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Blessed Abbot Marmion's entire chapter XIV, entitled The Divine Office, in Christ, the Ideal of the Priest deserves to be studied, and meditated, and brought to prayer. I never tire of re-reading it. For this next to the last day of our novena in preparation for the anniversary of Blessed Marmion's holy death, I chose but a few paragraphs from a chapter that is, from beginning to end, pure gold.

The Eighth Day of the Novena
Friday, 29 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

The primary object of the Divine Office is to praise God, to pay Him homage. But, in His goodness, the Lord allows the soul who carries out this duty in faith and love to draw from it rich fruits of sanctification.
It is beyond all doubt, as experience teaches us, that the pious recitation of the breviary has the most beneficial effects on the interior life of the priest.
The first and most striking of these is habitual union with Christ in His priesthood of eternal praise. All the glory rendered to God on earth as in heaven ascends to Him only through Jesus Christ. We proclaim this great truth every morning at that solemn moment when we conclude the Canon of the Mass: Per Ipsum et cum Ipso et in Ipso.
When we recite the Hours in communion with the whole Church, Christ, as Head of the Mystical Body and centre of the communion of saints, takes up and unites all our praise in Himself. Even the blessed in heaven must avail of His priestly mediation to sing their heavenly Sanctus: Per quem maiestatem tuam laudant angeli. How imperfect and deficient is our giving of glory! But Christ supplies for our weakness. "If you put in His hands your poor effort," says Blosius, "your lead will be changed into precious gold, your water into the finest wine."

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.


Oil for Our Lamps

The other day, a dear and generous friend of the Cenacle, knowing that oil lamps burn in the Oratory before the Blessed Sacrament and before the icon of the Holy Face of Jesus and that of Our Mother Perpetual Help, arrived with a case of extra virgin olive oil! What a magnificent gift! Heartfelt thanks!

Apart from the Holy Oils (Sacred Chrism, Oil of the Sick, and Oil of Catechumens) sanctified by the Bishop at the Mass of Chrism in Holy Week, the Church, in the Roman Ritual, provides for the blessing of ordinary olive oil as a sacramental. This oil may be burned before the Blessed Sacrament or before sacred images and then used by the faithful in the same way as they would use any other blessed sacramental. Such devotional anointings accompanied by prayer are not to be confused with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, any more than one would confuse the use of Holy Water with the water of Baptism.

Icon Lamp.jpg

Devout Use of Blessed Oil

The Holy Man of Tours, Monsieur Dupont, used to anoint visitors to the oratory in his home with oil taken from the lamp that burned perpetually before his image of the Holy Face. Blessed -- and soon to be Saint -- Brother André Bessette of Saint Joseph's Oratory in Montréal used to recommend the devout use of oil taken from the lamp that burned before his statue of Saint Joseph. In Rome, to this day, one can obtain oil blessed in honour of the Santo Bambino Gesù at the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli.

The rite for blessing of oil (found in Father Weller's incomparable edition of the Roman Ritual) describes the benefits sought by the faithful in making use of this ancient sacramental of the Church.


P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.


God's creature, oil, I cast out the demon from you by God the
Father + almighty, who made heaven and earth and sea, and all
that they contain. Let the adversary's power, the devil's
legions, and all Satan's attacks and machinations be dispelled
and driven afar from this creature, oil. Let it bring health in
body and mind to all who use it, in the name of God + the Father
almighty, and of our Lord Jesus + Christ, His Son, and of the
Holy Spirit, the Advocate, as well as in the love of the same
Jesus Christ our Lord, who is coming to judge both the living and
the dead and the world by fire.
All: Amen.

P: O Lord, heed my prayer.
All: And let my cry come unto you.
P: The Lord be with you.
All: And with your spirit.

Let us pray.

Lord God almighty, before whom the hosts of angels stand in awe,
and whose heavenly service we acknowledge; may it please you to
regard favorably and to bless + and hallow + this creature, oil,
which by your power has been pressed from the juice of olives.
You have ordained it for anointing the sick, so that, when they
are made well, they may give thanks to you, the living and true
God. Grant, we pray, that those who will use this oil, which we
are blessing + in your name, may be delivered from all suffering,
all infirmity, and all wiles of the enemy. Let it be a means of
averting any kind of adversity from man, made in your image and
redeemed by the precious blood of your Son, so that he may never
again suffer the sting of the ancient serpent; through Christ our
All: Amen.

It is sprinkled with holy water.

Winter Reading

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What are you reading during these dark winter days? You may think me a glutton for gloom, given recent events in the land of my forebears, but I decided that I needed to read and reflect on The End of Irish Catholicism by Father D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D. In fact, there is nothing gloomy about Father Twomey's book. I haven't finished reading it yet, but what I have read of it is shot through with hope. Although written seven years ago, it remains pertinent and prophetic.

The Sacred Liturgy

Among the compelling theses of the book is Father Twomey's conviction that the restoration of Catholic life in Ireland will be brought about, principally, through the restoration of the sacred liturgy. It takes courage to affirm this in the face of so many other pressing challenges and calls for action and reform. Father Twomey writes:

There is a need to become aware again of the importance of ritual (rubrics), namely the regular performance of the predetermined small gestures and words of infinite significance, and the rhythm of ritual movement, which is not dependent on the whim of the celebrant.... The minimalist legalistic mentality, which, it seems to me, dominated and still dominates liturgical celebration in Ireland, has even dispensed with many of the rubrics as not being absolutely essential or strictly 'obligatory', for example the position of hands, blessings, kneeling, pause, the use of vestments of a certain kind and colour, and so on. Indeed, ritual movement has been effectively reduced to standing at the ambo or altar or sitting on a chair. To make up for the present sterility of so much liturgical celebration, all kinds of secondary elements have been introduced as substitutes.... But we have to ask whether or not they are perhaps more a distraction from the solemnity and real beauty of the liturgy.... Do they simply entertain, or do they promote a true sense of the sursum corda?
It may seem superfluous to mention such apparently trivial things as the need for clean altar linen, chalices of artistic merit, as well as missals, lectionaries, and sacred vestments that truly worthy of the divine service. In recent times, these sacred instruments and cloths tend to made of cheap materials, and are often in poor condition, torn, unwashed. In a word, they are not exactly edifying. While the modern world is discovering the magic of candles, the Irish Church has reduced them to a minimum (usually of inferior quality, even imitation candles or a flickering electric light instead of a sanctuary lamp). The liturgy is about great events taking place by means of small gestures, where everything used takes on infinite significance. Careful attention to the details (linen, candles, vestments, etc.) expresses the celebrant's awareness of the great mysteries for which he is responsible and conveys to others present something of the awesome presence in the Sacrament. Despite his poverty and his care for the poor (such as the orphanage he ran), the Curé of Ars procured the richest of vestments and most elaborate sacred vessels he could find in the city of Lyons for his humble, rural parish church.

Father Twomey discusses the perennial value of devotion to meet the people's affective religious needs. He recognizes the worth of the parish-based Gaelic Athletic Association, from the ranks of which came countless fine priests. Passing in review such traditional practices as the Pattern Days (patronal festivals), penitential pilgrimages, he outlines his vision for the revitalization of a Catholicism that, long before the clerical scandals of recent years, had become a matter of dreary routine and minimalistic compliance.


Consecrated Life

Turning to the decline of consecrated life in Ireland, Father Twomey's insights can be applied to the same problem in the United States and Canada. His remarks are nlot without relevance to certain concerns being addressed by the Apostolic Visitation of Women Religious that is underway in the United States.

The diocesan structure of various Irish-founded congregations has tended to be replaced by a national (and international) structure, with the accompanying tendency to concentrate authority on a newly established central authority, a superior-general or provincial and their councils (or 'leadership teams').... The paradox is that the conscious effort within religious orders (especially of women) to try to abolish all figures of authority, now seen increasingly as one of the last vestiges of patriarchy, is accompanied by even greater institutionalization -- and endless meetings.
It is evident that each religious congregation must have its own structure of authority and decision-making. Once (and, to some extent, still) the responsibility was invested in someone known personally to each member, who was elected by the community, and lived within the same community. But now it can happen that decisions affecting communities and the lives of individual religious are made by managerial-type boards (sometimes including total outsiders as experts or advisers). The decisions are those of the quasi-anonymous 'leadership team' -- and are often the cause of considerable personal suffering to the individuals affected. Anonymous decision-making, whether within religious congregations or within the bishops' conference, though sometimes necessary, can often be a mask behind which moral weakness and lack of real leadership take refuge. Demoralisation is the result. It is time to change.

From the beginnings of the Church in Ireland, the monastic ideal set the general cultural pattern of Christianity. The renewal of the life of the modern Catholic Church will depend in the final analysis on the extent to which that monastic ideal once again ignites the imagination of the present generation.

The recovery of the various traditions of consecrated life, in particular those devoted to teaching and health care, is greatly needed to promote a genuine plurality of spiritualities and ministries within the Church. There is an urgent need for religious sisters and brothers to witness to Christ, to be the human face of the Church in the schools and in the hospital wards. All religious houses should become once again oases of prayer, personal and communal, within the desert of the modern city. The more strictly contemplative orders (male and female Cistercians, Benedictines, as well as female Dominicans, Poor Clares, Redemptorists, etc.) remain the primary witness to the unum necessarium because of the radical nature of their enclosed way of life. Such orders have often been the pioneers in the liturgical renewal. From the beginnings of the Church in Ireland, the monastic ideal set the general cultural pattern of Christianity. The renewal of the life of the modern Catholic Church will depend in the final analysis on the extent to which that monastic ideal once again ignites the imagination of the present generation.


Beyond Church and State

Father Twomey's discussion of Church--State relations entails, necessarily, an exploration of the immutability and objectivity of natural law, morality in public life, democratic pluralism, and relativism. The following analysis is, to my mind, spot on:

...Partly in reaction to the various ideologies, which in the twentieth century caused such havoc and suffering to millions of people throughout the world, there is an understandable tendency today to shun anything that might smack of ideology, intransigeance, or the 'imposition' of any particular value system. The only option worth considering, it is claimed, is a pluralism not only of various cultural traditions but even a pluralism of what are misleadingly called 'moral values'.... Morality, in the final analysis, it is claimed, is something subjective, even irrational, and thus can be reduced to personal preference or sincere 'feelings', which must be consigned to the private sphere (provided that they cause others no harm). Such subjective 'feelings', obviously cannot be 'imposed' on society as a whole. But moral relativism, as even secular commentators are coming to recognize more and more, is a serious threat to democracy and the moral health of the political community.

I haven't yet finished the book, and if I continue giving copious extracts from the text, I risk violating some sort of copyright law. You don't have to be Irish or Irish-American to benefit intellectually and spiritually from The End of Irish Catholicism. Father Twomey ends the book, however, with this anecdote, and I can't resist ending with it here.

An tAthair Peader Ó Laoghaire in his biography Mo Scéal Féin (p. 25) tells of his own experience in bringing the Viaticum:
When I anointed one of the old people and gave him the Sacred Body and then when he would say, 'My Lord Jesus Christ is my Love! My lasting love is He!' my breath would catch, my heart beat faster and tears pour down from my eyes, so that I would have yo turn aside a little.
This is the 'soul' of the Irish Catholic tradition, the spark that kept the embers glowing in the centuries that saw the destruction of its cultural richness. May it be rekindled among us! Come, Holy Spirit...


Stretching Godward

My own experience is that the Invitatory, with the repetition of its pressing call to adoration, establishes the soul in the realm of "spirit and truth" that is the ground of all prayer. Before entering the quiet vastness of the psalmody, there is the hymn. The rhythm of its poetry, and sometimes its melody, is a kind of "stretching exercise" before settling down for the First Nocturn.


Beginning on December 17th, the hymn at Matins is Veni, Redemptor Gentium, attributed to Saint Ambrose.

Redeemer of the nations, come!
Appear, Thou Son of Virgin womb!
Astonished be the realms of earth,
for Godlike is His wondrous birth.

The first strophe is a plea for the redemption of all nations and for the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaias: "Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (Is 7:14).

He, of no mortal man conceived,
By mystic influence received,
The Word of God, our flesh is made,
O'er woman's fruit is honour shed.

Saint Ambrose says that the Incarnation of the Word took place "mystico spiramine," that is, by means of a secret inbreathing.

The Virgin's breast an offspring hides,
Unharmed yet modesty abides;
There Virtue's banners shine abroad,
Within His Temple walks our God!

In the Latin text Saint Ambrose realistically evokes the swelling of the Virgin's belly: "Alvus tumescit Virginis." Then he uses the charming expression, "Claustrum pudoris permanet" -- but remains the cloister of purity. He goes on to describe what is happening within the Virgin's womb: the banners of virtue shine forth and God is rocked (versatur) in His Temple. The womb of the Virgin is the Temple of God, and His Temple has become a cradle!

Proceeding from His chamber He,
That royal court of chastity,
Of two-fold substance, Giant Son,
Prepares His mighty course to run.

Forth from the Father He proceeds,
Again unto the Father speeds:
His goings e'en to Hell extend,
And at God's Throne returning end.

The imagery in these two strophes is drawn from Psalm 18:6-7. This psalm will be sung at Vigils of Christmas; it also occurs at Vigils in the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He hath set his tabernacle in the sun: and he, as a bridegroom coming out of his bride chamber, Hath rejoiced as a giant to run the way: His going out is from the end of heaven, And his circuit even to the end thereof: and there is no one that can hide himself from his heat.

Here one sings the whole economy of salvation: the exitus a Deo and the reditus ad Deum, the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery of death, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascension.

To Thy Great Father, Equal Son,
O gird Thy carnal vesture on!
The frailties of mortal flesh
With thy unfailing strength refresh.

Carnis tropaeo accingere: The verb accingere links this strophe to another psalm that will be sung at Vigils of Christmas and at Vigils in the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Psalm 44. Whereas the psalm has the Bridegroom-Warrior-King girding his sword upon his thigh, the hymn has Christ, the true Bridegroom-Warrior-King girding on the flesh of our humanity to reinvigorate it by the virtus -- might -- of His Divinity.

Thy manger, lo! effulgent beams,
Night with unwonted lustre teems,
Which never more shall darkness know,
But shine with Faith's immortal glow.

One hears behind this strophe the language of Psalm 138:12, also woven into the Exultet of the Paschal Vigil: "But darkness shall not be dark to thee, and night shall be light as day: the darkness thereof, and the light thereof are alike to thee." The night of Christ's birth, like that of His resurrection, glows with a divine and heavenly light. This imagery is, of course, related to the parallelism evoked by the "virgin tomb" and "virgin womb."

Glory to God, the Father, be!
And Only Son, alike to Thee,
And to the Spirit Paraclete,
Now and for ever as is meet. Amen.

The doxology of the hymn already indicates that it is time to settle down for the psalmody of the First Nocturn. In comparison to the lyrical quality and melody of the hymn, the psalmody is almost murmured. This is the contemplative heart of the Divine Office. Dom Odo Casel, O.S.B. says:

When the hymn is over, the mind is sufficiently awake and prepared. Now we come to the real purpose of night worship, contemplation. Vast, mysterious, difficult psalms pass before the soul's eye; the mysteries of God make themselves known in hard phrases. The soul wrestles with God for salvation, for knowledge of Him. (The Mystery of Christian Worship).

Ut sanaret filium ejus

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Passing On the Tradition

One of the best things about being a very small monastic household is the freedom to make use of the opportunities for passing on the tradition that present themselves in the course of our prayer and our work. This morning, for example, I was able to say a few words about the significance of today's Benedictus Antiphon, right after we sang it at Lauds. Given that we have daily Mass in the Extraordinary Form, today is the 20th Sunday After Pentecost, and the Gospel is John 4:46-53. The Benedictus Antiphon is drawn from it.

He came again therefore into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain ruler, whose son was sick at Capharnaum. He having heard that Jesus was come from Judea into Galilee, sent to him and prayed him to come down and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him: Unless you see signs and wonders, you believe not. The ruler saith to him: Lord, come down before that my son die. Jesus saith to him: Go thy way. Thy son liveth. The man believed the word which Jesus said to him and went his way. And as he was going down, his servants met him: and they brought word, saying, that his son lived. He asked therefore of them the hour wherein he grew better. And they said to him: Yesterday at the seventh hour, the fever left him. The father therefore knew that it was at the same hour that Jesus said to him: Thy son liveth. And himself believed, and his whole house.

Benedictus Antiphon

Antiphonale Monasticum, p. 611.

Erat quidam regulus
cuius filius infirmabatur Capharnaum.
Hic cum audisset, quod Iesus veniret in Galilaeam,
rogabat eum, ut sanaret filium ejus.

The Name of Jesus

The musical summit of the antiphon is over the Most Holy Name of Jesus: The Lord God saves, the Lord God heals, the Lord God makes whole. Everything, then, in the antiphon moves upward to the Name of Jesus or flows therefrom.

Place and Time

The words Capharnaum, and Galilaeam even more so, are given a rich musical treatment, suggesting the importance of place in the economy of the Incarnation. Jesus, our Saving God, is not indifferent to what some would dismiss as mere mundane considerations: place and time. The wonder of the Incarnation lies, precisely, in this: that our God comes to meet each of us in a given place, one that can be circumscribed geographically and pinpointed on a map; at a given moment in time. This given moment on the calendars and clocks of our chronos becomes the moment of the Divine Inbreaking, God's moment, His kairos.

The Magnificat Antiphon

Antiphonale Monasticum, p. 612.

The ruler intercedes with Jesus for his sick son: rogabat eum, ut sanaret filium eius. Only at the Magnificat Antiphon of Second Vespers do we hear the wondrous outcome of the ruler's supplication. "The father therefore knew that it was at the same hour that Jesus said to him: Thy son liveth. And himself believed, and his whole house." Again, the Name of Jesus is given a musical treatment that makes it the heart and centre of the whole antiphon.

The Sacramental Quality of Neums

I explained to my brothers this morning that every neum has a "sacramental" quality. It is, as Saint Gertrude the Great experienced, a vehicle of grace both for the one who sings it and the one who hears it. Inspired by the Holy Ghost, the Church clothes the Word of God in the sacred vesture of her chant. Like a garment that emphasizes and prolongs the movement of a dancer's body, so does the chant emphasize and prolong the movement of the Word in medio ecclesiae.


Days of Fire and of Light

In the traditional Roman liturgical calendar the glorious solemnity of Pentecost has its own Octave: eight days under the grace of the Holy Spirit, eight days of joy in the fire and light of His presence, eight days of thanksgiving for His gifts. The Octave of Pentecost was one of the most beautiful moments in the Church Year, not only by reason of the liturgical texts, but also by reason of its effect in the secret of hearts. Each day of the Octave the Church would sing her “Golden Sequence,” the Veni, Sancte Spiritus: a chant of such unction that one never tires of repeating it.

The Suppression of a Great Joy

In some places in the Catholic world, Whit Monday was a reason to have a civil holiday, as well as a liturgical celebration. In this way, the mysterious presence of the Holy Spirit marked even the secular culture. It came as shock, and brought no little distress to the faithful, when in 1969 the Octave of Pentecost suddenly disappeared from the calendar. It would appear that not even the Pope was apprised of the suppression of one of the Church’s great joys.


This morning, to the accompaniment of birdsong at Vigils, a splendid text of Saint Maximus of Turin. Some of you may recognize this altar from visits to the The Cloisters Museum in New York City.

Rightly then, because Christ is present on the altar, it is fitting to place the martyrs beneath the altar; because the Body of Christ is offered on the altar, it is fitting that the souls of the just should repose beneath the altar. And it is not without reason that the vindication of blood is claimed for the just in that very place where the Blood of Christ is poured out, even for sinners. It was then perfectly right, in virtue of their common destiny, to decide that the martyrs should be buried where the death of Christ is celebrated each day, as He Himself says: So often as you do this, you shall announce My death, even until I come. Yes, it is fitting that those who died for the death of Christ should repose in the mystery of the sacrament of His death.

In aeternum cantabo

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Ex Oriente Lux

I had the privilege, this past Holy Week, of preaching three times in Tulsa's Maronite Catholic Church of Saint Thérèse. The Good Friday liturgy of the Burial of the Lord, with its procession and veneration of the enshrouded image of the Body of Christ, was profoundly moving. It was a first-hand opportunity to witness the richness of an uninterrupted and continuous tradition of liturgical chant. Unlike Latin Rite Catholics, the Maronites have never suffered a rupture in their musical traditions; they sing today the very same chants sung by their fathers and mothers in the faith a thousand years ago. They know them by heart. The people sing as they have always sung, and the chants proper to their splendid tradition continue to be passed on, in their original language, from one generation to the next.

The experience at Saint Thérèse Church compelled me to reflect on the contrasting situation in Catholic churches of the Latin Rite. In the vast majority of parishes, the rupture of organic continuity with the past continues to have dire consequences. An unending and tiresome reinvention of the liturgy, inspired more often than not by principles other than those set forth in the Church's official documents, dismantles and re-assembles the liturgy over and over again, in a futile attempt to get it right.

An Example

One egregious example: the omission of that precious jewel of the Roman Rite that is the solemn intonation of the Great Paschal Alleluia. Note that the Great Paschal Alleluia is prescribed (not merely suggested!) in Article 352 of the Ceremonial of Bishops. In how many churches across the United States (and elsewhere) was another arbitrarily chosen musical setting of the Alleluia used at the Paschal Vigil?

The First and Indispensable Source of the Christian Spirit

In 1903, in terms that would be taken up and amplified by the Second Vatican Council, Pope Saint Pius X called "active participation in the most sacred mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church . . . the first and indispensable source of the Christian spirit." Hearing the Pope affirm that active participation in the public and solemn prayer of the Church is the first and indispensable source of the Christian spirit caused the pioneers of the last century's classic Liturgical Movement to jubilate.

Sing Alternately With the Clergy or the Choir

In 1928, twenty-five years after the Moto Proprio of Pope Saint Pius X, his successor Pius XI enjoined the Catholic faithful "once more to sing the Gregorian Chant, so far as it belongs to them to take part in it. ... Filled with a deep sense of the beauty of the liturgy," he said, "they should sing alternately with the clergy or the choir, as it is prescribed."

A number of interesting, and still quite relevant, points emerge from Pius XI's Apostolic Constitution, Divini Cultus:

All those who aspire to the priesthood, whether in Seminaries or in religious houses, from their earliest years are to be taught Gregorian Chant and sacred music. At that age they are able more easily to learn to sing, and to modify, if not entirely to overcome, any defects in their voices, which in later years would be quite incurable. Instruction in music and singing must be begun in the elementary, and continued in the higher classes. In this way, those who are about to receive sacred orders, having become gradually experienced in chant, will be able during their theological course quite easily to undertake the higher and "aesthetic" study of plainsong and sacred music, of polyphony and the organ, concerning which the clergy certainly ought to have a thorough knowledge.
In seminaries, and in other houses of study for the formation of the clergy both secular and regular there should be a frequent and almost daily lecture or practice - however short - in Gregorian Chant and sacred music. If this is carried out in the spirit of the liturgy, the students will find it a relief rather than a burden to their minds, after the study of the more exacting subjects. Thus a more complete education of both branches of the clergy in liturgical music will result in the restoration to its former dignity and splendor of the choral Office, a most important part of divine worship; moreover, the scholae and choirs will be invested again with their ancient glory.
Those who are responsible for, and engaged in divine worship in basilicas and cathedrals, in collegiate and conventual churches of religious, should use all their endeavors to see that the choral Office is carried out duly - i.e. in accordance with the prescriptions of the Church. And this, not only as regards the precept of reciting the divine Office "worthily, attentive and devoutly," but also as regards the chant. In singing the psalms attention should be paid to the right tone, with its appropriate mediation and termination, and a suitable pause at the asterisk; so that every verse of the psalms and every strophe of the hymns may be sung by all in perfect time together. If this were rightly observed, then all who worthily sing the psalms would signify their unity of intention in worshipping God and, as one side of the choir sings in answer to the other, would seem to emulate the everlasting praise of the Seraphim who cried one to the other "Holy, Holy, Holy."
Lest anyone in future should invent easy excuses for exempting himself from obedience to the laws of the Church, let every chapter and religious community deal with these matters at meetings held for the purpose; and just as formerly there used to be a "Cantor" or director of the choir, so in future let one be chosen from each chapter or choir of religious, whose duty it will be to see that the rules of the liturgy and of choral chant are observed and, both individually and generally, to correct the faults of the choir. In this connection it should be observed that, according to the ancient discipline of the Church and the constitutions of chapters still in force, all those at least who are bound to office in choir, are obliged to be familiar with Gregorian Chant. And the Gregorian Chant which is to be used in every church of whatever order, is the text which, revised according to the ancient manuscripts, has been authentically published by the Church from the Vatican Press.

Musicam Sacram

Pius XI reaffirmed that Gregorian Chant is to hold the first place in the Catholic liturgy, not just theoretically, but practically. This, of course, was reiterated by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. He also assumed that the clergy should be prepared and wiling to sing. One cannot object that Pius XI's vision of a singing clergy was not affirmed by the Second Vatican Council; Musicam Sacram (1967) places the first level of singing at Mass squarely on the shoulders -- not of the choir director, cantor, or organist -- but of the priest and other ministers!

In selecting the parts which are to be sung, one should start with those that are by their nature of greater importance, and especially those which are to be sung by the priest or by the ministers, with the people replying, or those which are to be sung by the priest and people together. The other parts may be gradually added according as they are proper to the people alone or to the choir alone. (Musicam Sacram, art. 7)

Actual Participation: Both Listening and Singing

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, promulgated on 4 December 1963, identified "full and active participation by all the people" as the "aim to be considered above all else in the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy." It is clear that chant fosters "full, conscious, and actual participation" in the liturgy by engaging the assembly in both listening and singing. Abraham Joshua Heschel offers a reflection that is as refreshing as it is realistic: "People may not be able to pray; they are all able to chant. And chant leads to prayer."

The Catholic and Orthodox attribution of various forms of liturgical chant to the priest, deacon, psalmist or cantor, schola, and assembly is neither arbitrary nor optional; it pertains to the essential nature of the liturgy as a corporate action of the whole worshiping Church. Hymn singing, borrowed rather uncritically from Protestant traditions of worship, effectively minimizes, or entirely eliminates, the dialogical and responsorial forms of chant that, in the Catholic tradition, impress and express the hierarchical nature of every liturgical action.

Hymn Singing

I am astonished at the number of clergy and professional musicians in the service of Catholic churches who are ignorant of the proper place of hymnody in the Catholic liturgy. With the exception of the Gloria and the Sanctus (hymns in the very broad sense of the term), and of the Sequences sung for Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, and Our Lady of Sorrows, hymns, as such, are entirely foreign to the celebration of Holy Mass. In the Divine Office, however, there is a metrical hymn at every Hour. Hymns, then, properly belong to the Liturgy of the Hours, while sung dialogues, antiphons, psalmody, and acclamations belong to the Mass.

The standard hymn singing that characterizes Protestant (or protestantized) worship is performed in a relatively uniform and congregational manner. The liturgical chant of our Catholic tradition, on the other hand, privileges the responsorial, dialogical, antiphonal and acclamatory modes of performance. These, being among the most effective forms of actual sung participation, manifest more adequately the mystery of the Church as a Eucharistic organism of different members, characterized by "the order of symphony, an order in liberty and in love." The way we sing at Mass effectively shapes one's understanding -- or misunderstanding -- of the Church, of the priesthood, and of the hierarchical ordering of the liturgical assembly. A protestantized approach to music at Mass will inevitably engender a protestantized ecclesiology.

Sing the Liturgy Itself

A composition that does not belong to the liturgy and lead more deeply into the mystery celebrated, even though it be sung with full-voiced enthusiasm by all, cannot be qualified a true expression of conscious and active participation in the liturgical action. Active participation implies that the assembly is singing the liturgy itself, beginning with the dialogical chants, acclamations and refrains.

The Fully Sung Liturgy Is Normative

Musìcam Sacram presents the sung celebration as normative. Contrary to a widely-held misconception, the fully sung celebration is not a solemnization of the spoken form of the liturgy; on the contrary, the spoken form is derived from the fully sung celebration which is normative.

Chants for the People

The chants of the assembly require a cantilena that springs from the liturgical texts themselves and expresses their natural verbal inflections by means of simple musical formulae adapted to the specific liturgical function of each piece. Examples from the Roman liturgy abound: the various dialogues and acclamations, the simple tone of the Te Deum, the brief responsories of Lauds and Vespers, Gloria XV, Credo I, and Sanctus XVIII.

Where Do We Begin

1. Priests, learn to sing your parts: the dialogical elements, salutations, Preface Dialogue, Preface, Words of Consecration, etc. The official melodies are laid out in the Sacramentary. It may be laborious in the beginning, but repeat it until it becomes "secod nature." Do not reserve your sung parts for so-called special occasions or solemnities. They belong to the very first level of singing at Mass. If you sing your parts, the people will sing theirs.

2. Sing the Ordinary (i.e., unchanging parts) of the Mass. The repertory can be built up by learning one Ordinary at a time. Privilege the Ordinaries of the Roman Kyriale or simple Plainchant Ordinaries in English, such as those available from Musica Sacra.

3. Sing the Propers. The "law" governing the Propers is laid out in the GIRM, art. 48. Let's look at it carefully. Comments in italics are my own.

48. The singing at this time is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone.

Note the four ways of executing the Entrance Chant. On solemn diocesan and parochial occasions I recommend having the people sing a metrical version of the day's Introit in English during the procession, followed by the Chant version of the same Introit from the Graduale during the incensation of the altar.

In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

The choices are given in order of preference! The first choices (not found in the Editio Typica 2002 of the Roman Missal) are the antiphon from the Roman Missal -- the American "adaptors" are assuming that these texts have been put to music -- then the antiphon and psalm in the Roman Gradual, either in the chant setting or in another musical setting.

The second choice is the Simple Gradual, rendered in English under the title By Flowing Waters by Dr. Paul Ford.

The third choice, a collection of psalms and antiphons approved by the Conference of Bishops or by the Diocesan Bishop, does not, to my knowledge, exist anywhere in the U.S.

The fourth choice -- clearly the last resort -- is a suitable liturgical song (here, there is a departure from the psalms and antiphons found in choices 1 through 4) similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or by the Diocesan Bishop. Nowhere is there a blanket authorization to replace the chants of the Proper with "a hymn" making abstraction of all other liturgical criteria.

48. If there is no singing at the entrance, the antiphon in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a lector; otherwise, it is recited by the priest himself, who may even adapt it as an introductory explanation (cf. above, no. 31).

The Entrance Antiphon is, in many places, routinely omitted even at "spoken" Masses.

It's interesting that this American "adaptation" differs from what is found in the GIRM of the Editio Typica Tertia (2002) of the Roman Missal. Compare:

48. Peragitur autem a schola et populo alternatim, vel simili modo a cantore et populo, vel totus a populo vel a schola sola. Adhiberi potest sive antiphona cum suo psalmo in Graduali Romano vel in Graduali simplici exstans, sive alius cantus, actioni sacrae, diei vel temporis indoli congruus [55], cuius textus a Conferentia Episcoporum sit approbatus.

The Graduale Romanum and the Graduale Simplex are given as the primary references. The American accomodation of the text gives the antiphon from the Roman Missal as the first reference; this is very odd, as those antiphons were composed to be recited, not to be sung.

The infamous "alius cantus" (other chant) is very carefully circumscribed. It must be, (1) suited to the action, (2) to the day or season being celebrated, and (3) its text must be approved by the Conference of Bishops.

Si ad introitum non habetur cantus, antiphona in Missali proposita recitatur sive a fidelibus, sive ab aliquibus ex ipsis, sive a lectore, sin aliter ab ipso sacerdote, qui potest etiam in modum monitionis initialis (cf. n. 31) eam aptare.

I don't have time to pursue this entry today, but wanted to offer some modest contribution to the ongoing discussion.


The stained-glass window depicts King Athelstan the Glorious.

Acts 4: 23-31

"And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said,

God Is Addressed
Sovereign Lord, who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who by the mouth of our father David, thy servant, didst say by the Holy Spirit,
The Psalm Quoted: Meditatio
`Why did the Gentiles rage,and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth set themselves in array, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed' --
Historical Fulfillment of David's Prophecy
for truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever thy hand and thy plan had predestined to take place.
The Petition: Oratio
And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness, while thou stretchest out thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of thy holy servant Jesus.
God's Response: An Outpouring of the Holy Spirit
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness."

Praying Out of a Psalm

Today's First Reading at Holy Mass gave us the earliest example of an Oration or Collect based on a psalm. Already in the first centuries of the Church, authorized by the teaching of Our Lord Himself in Luke 24:44-45, the faithful began to recognize Christ and His Mysteries in the psalms they were accustomed to chant. A Trinitarian doxology (Gloria Patri) came to be appended to each psalm, and before long the psalms were enriched with refrains or framed with antiphons.

Collects on the Psalms

In both East and West, it was not uncommon to rise, or kneel, or prostrate, and pray in silence at the end of a psalm. The priest officiating would then gather up (colligere) the silent supplications of the faithful, and express them in an Oration or Collect recited in the name of all. Egeria, writing in about 415 A.D., Cassian, writing in about 420 A.D., and the 6th century Rule of the Master, all attest to the existence of this custom both in urban churches and in monastic assemblies.

The custom of inserting Collects into the psalmody of the Divine Office did not survive the test of time. It seems to have disappeared quite early in the East, and Saint Benedict, so careful to note the details of monastic psalmody in the West, makes no mention of Collects on the psalms.

Even while Collects on the psalms fell out of public liturgical use, they continued to be popular through the Middle Ages in personal devotions. Thus, one finds them in various Psalters for personal use and Books of Hours.

The Orations at the Paschal Vigil

The only place where Collects on the psalms survive in the actual liturgical practice of the Roman Rite is in the orations that, at the Paschal Vigil, conclude each of the Tracts or Responsorial Psalms that follow the readings. The Collect, of course, follows the repetition of the antiphon (or refrain) and never comes between the psalm and the repetition of the antiphon.

A Stupid Editorial Mistake

Some forty years ago the editors of the American edition of the Liturgia Horarum included Collects on the psalms in their books. The editors in question appear to have had no experience whatsoever of the choral celebration of the Divine Office. Consequently, with a total disregard for the musical and theological function of the antiphon -- to indicate the mode of the psalmody, and to serve as a Christological and ecclesiological key to it -- they wrongly inserted the "Psalm Prayers" between the doxology and the repetition of the antiphon. Musically, this is a disaster.

Doing It Right

I would argue that the last thing one needs in liturgical prayer is more wordiness, and the "Psalm Prayers" often give the impression of adding words for the sake of pious bulk. If, however, one judges the inclusion of Collects on the psalms of some pastoral benefit in the public celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, one should model the practice after what is done at the Paschal Vigil:

1) After the final repetition of the antiphon, all rise.
2) The celebrant sings, "Let us pray."
3) After a pause, he sings the Collect, taking care to conclude it using the shorter ending: "Through Christ our Lord," or "Who live and reign forever and ever."
4) The people respond "Amen."

Here is the psalm Collect given for the same Psalm 2 in the prayerbook of Athelstan, King of England from 924 to 939:

O Lord, we beseech Thee,
break the chains of our sins;
so that, bound to the yoke of Thy service,
we may be able to serve Thee in fear and reverence.
Through Christ our Lord.

And here is a Collect I composed to conclude today's General Intercessions:

Almighty and ever-living God
who on Sion your holy mountain
established your Christ as King,
mercifully grant that we may spurn
the insurrection of sinful passions,
so as to stand with humble confidence on the last day
before the Judge of all,
the Lord of clemency,
the Prince of Peace,
who is Lord forever and ever.

Sacred and Great

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Go to Father Tim Finigan's Hermeneutic of Continuity to download and read Sacred and Great, the splendid paper he wrote to help his parishioners enter into the renewal of the Sacred Liturgy in the light of the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI and of Summorum Pontificum.

Take note of Father's wise conclusion:

One day we will agree on the Liturgy. That will be the day when we are fully, consciously and actively participating in the heavenly liturgy described by St John in the Apocalyse. Before then, we will probably all have to spend some time in purgatory where St Justin, St Gregory and St Pius X will patiently explain to our acute embarrassment where we were wrong. In the meantime, let us unite under the inspiring leadership of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict who, like the scribe trained for the Kingdom of Heaven, brings out of his store what is old and what is new.

And be sure to read the whole paper! Thank you, Father Tim. Brilliant.


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1226Detail St Stephen chevalie.jpg

The Prayer of the Faithful

The Prayer of the Faithful for the Ordinary Form of the Mass poses a number of complex problems. The lack of one or more stable texts, or of texts suitable for each Mass, composed according to the norms promulgated from Rome on 13 January 1965 and again on 17 April 1966, is not the least of these. Readers, tell me if you have a Prayer of the Faithful (Bidding Prayers or General Intercessions) at daily Mass? What is the state of current practice in parishes and other communities?

By Whom and in What Manner?

It should be noted that, at the beginning of the restoration of the so-called Universal Prayer, it was envisaged that the intentions would be sung following the models of chant given in the Graduale Simplex and that the act of proposing the intentions to the people would belong 1) to the priest himself in the style of the ancient Roman usage, or 2) to the deacon. Only in the absence of a deacon should the function be assigned to another "suitable person."


Msgr Klaus Gamber argues that, following the oldest traditions, the intentions should be proposed by the deacon standing in front of the altar and facing it. The practice of proposing the intentions from the ambo derives from the late-medieval French Prières du Prône. An instruction from the Congregation of Rites, dated 26 September 1964, says this:

In places where the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful is already the custom, it shall take place before the Offertory, after the Oremus, and, for the time being with the formularies in use in individual regions. The celebrant is to lead the prayer at either his chair, the altar, the lectern, or the edge of the sanctuary. A deacon, cantor, or other suitable minister may sing the intentions or intercessions.

Clearly Confusing

The "instruction" is riddled with options, making it vague and confusing. It was instructions such as these that set the stage for the disorientation and chaos that have so marked the "Church at prayer" in the past forty-five years.

Should the General Intercessions be allowed to fall into abeyance? Can they be salvaged? What are the chances of recovering a form of the Prayer of the Faithful that is dignified, hieratic, and in harmony with what Mr. Edmund Bishop called "the genius of the Roman Rite"?

General Intercessions for the Feast of Stephen

That like Saint Stephen, the praying Church, filled with the Holy Spirit,
may gaze into heaven
and see there the glory of God
and Jesus standing at the right hand of he Father,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That world leaders of good will
may turn from every project of war
to collaborate sincerely and effectively in the pursuit of peace,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That those who suffer for the sake of Christ and the Gospel
may be consoled by the Holy Spirit;
and that the sick and the dying
may be moved by the Holy Spirit
to pray, like Stephen, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,"
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That the deacons of the Church,
and men preparing for the Holy Diaconate,
may find in Saint Stephen a model of the holiness to which they are called,
and a powerful intercessor,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That, like Saint Stephen the Protomartyr,
we may find in the psalms the very prayer of Christ to the Father,
and the words given by the Holy Spirit for our own prayer to Christ
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.


Almighty and ever-living God,
by whose gracious will
the Holy Spirit indwells and overshadows
the Body of your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
mercifully grant that we may experience
in our prayer and in our lives
that glorious unity that is the fruit
not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man
but of the will of your Christ
and of the power of your Holy Spirit.
Through the same Christ our Lord.

The Invitatory: Venite adoremus

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-Peter_von_Cornelius, the wise  and foolish virgins.JPG

Prepare Thy Soul

One might say that, in the structure of monastic Vigils, Psalm 3 (see my previous entry) corresponds to the porch of the vast temple of the Night Office; it is an act of preparation. Does not the wise Sirach say, "Before prayer prepare thy soul: and be not as a man that tempteth God? (Sir 18:23)?

Call to Adoration

Immediately after Psalm 3 comes the Invitatory Antiphon; it is, as its designation suggests, a pressing invitation to adoration. Venite, adoremus. It constitutes the narthex or vestibule of the Night Office; from the narthex the soul peers into the temple and sees, in the distance, the altar and the tabernacle of the Divine Presence, the object of all her desires.

The Invitatory Antiphon is sung twice before Psalm 94, and then repeated in whole or in part between the strophes of the psalm and after the doxology (Glory be to the Father).

The King Who Is to Come

During the first part of Advent, that is, until December 17th, the Invitatory Antiphon is: Regem venturum Dominum, venite, adoremus. "The Lord, the King who is to come: O come, let us adore." The first part of the Invitatory points 1) to Christ whose advent in the flesh will be re-presented (made present again!) in mystery by the sacred liturgy at Christmas; 2) to Christ whose secret advent in the souls of the faithful occurs so often as they are visited by his grace; 3) and to Christ, the Bridegroom-King, whose advent in glory we await. We acclaim Him as our Lord and King; one must listen for the resonances with the entire Advent liturgy and, in particular, with Matthew 25:1-46.

A Masterpiece of Three Notes

The Liber Hymnarius gives two melodies for the Invitatory Antiphon (see p. 4): one for weekdays and one for Sundays. The one for weekdays, in the Sixth Mode, is a masterpiece of musical composition. It makes use of only three notes! Yes, three notes: fa, sol, and la! And yet, musically, it is anything but poor. One never tires of repeating it. Its chaste simplicity is a suitable overture to the Night Office during the week.

Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying

The melody given for Sundays is a trumpet blast in the Fifth Mode. In fact, if you sing the first part attentively, you can hear the beginning of the hymn tune of J. S. Bach's "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme."

Wake, awake, for night is flying;
The watchmen on the heights are crying:
Awake, Jerusalem, at last!
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices;
Come forth, ye virgins, night is past;
The Bridegroom comes, awake;
Your lamps with gladness take;
Alleluia! / And for His marriage feast prepare
For ye must go and meet Him there.

Sung Contemplation

The melody of the Invitatory Antiphon given for Sundays emphasizes three key words with a rich melismatic development: Dominum (Lord), venite (O come), and adoremus (let us adore). This is sung contemplation in its purest form.

Repetition: Sing It Again

Note that the text of the Invitatory Antiphon does not change; it is the same on Sundays as on weekdays, and this until December 17th. This is one of the key principles operative in the liturgy of the Church: repetition. The repetition of the same liturgical texts is indispensable; one takes to heart what one learns by heart. The modern craze for variety and options is fundamentally inimical to "the spirit of the liturgy."

The Ve-níghty

Now, for the Venite, Psalm 94 (95) itself: for over 1500 years this psalm has opened the Church's daily round of praise. I will never forget hearing an English lady -- very C. of E.-- share her pious enthusiasm for what she called "The Ve-nighty" at a meeting some years ago of the Barbara Pym Society of North America. Ve-nighty or Vay-née-tay, it is, day after day, the Church's glorious entrance into the the great work of adoration in spirit and in truth.

When the psalm is sung to any one of the melodies given in the Liber Hymnarius, the text is that of Saint Jerome's old Roman Psalter, translated from the Septuagint. Even after Saint Jerome revised his translation, giving us the Vulgate, the Church retained the older version of Psalm 94.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!
The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!


In choir, it is customary to have two cantors sing the Invitatory Antiphon once; then the whole choir takes it up. The cantors sing the psalm by strophes; the choir repeats the Invitatory Antiphon in whole or in part after each strophe. The Church's tradition of psalmody admits strophic psalmody (i.e. four, five, six, or more lines) only for the Invitatory Psalm and now, more recently, for the Responsorial Psalm when it is sung at Mass. The usual psalmody at the Divine Office is sung by verses of two lines (mediant and ending) with an occasional verse of three lines requiring a flexus for the first line.

Lectio and Meditatio

This interplay of voices is significant; the sacred liturgy obliges us to listen (lectio) and to give voice to what we have heard. The repetition of the Antiphon is a meditatio, in the ancient sense of the word, that is, a repetition in view of the appropriation of the text by the heart.

A Choir of One

In solitary recitation one has to make the necessary adaptations. I sing the Invitatory Antiphon, and recite the strophes of Psalm 94 quietly, except for the doxology, which I sing to the chant indicated in the Liber Hymnarius. It is one of the loveliest moments of my day.

Come, let us exult unto the Lord,
let us raise a jubilant song to God our Saviour:
let us come before His Face with thanksgiving,
and with joyful psalms sing out to Him.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

A great God is the Lord, and a great King above all the gods;
[for the Lord will not cast off His people]:
For in His hand are all the ends of the earth,
and the peaks of the mountains He beholds.

O come, let us adore!

For the sea is His and He made it,
and His hands founded the dry land?

[Here it is customary to kneel. This engagement of the body is integral to Catholic worship. One should feel adoration in one's muscles and joints!]

Come in, then, fall we down before God in adoration,
let us weep before the God who made us.

The Old Roman version and the Vulgate have us weeping, whereas the Hebrew text has us kneeling. With few exceptions, the entire corpus of Catholic and Orthodox commentaries on this psalm address "let us weep before the God who made us." For this reason, the Church holds to it in the sung Office. Saint Peter Chrysologus says that these are "tears of joy, for gladness brings weeping, as well as sorrow, and then grief for our past sins is blended with the hope of blessing and glory to come."

For He is the Lord our God,
and we are His people
and the sheep of His pasture.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

Would you but listen to his voice today!
Do not harden your hearts,
as they were hardened once at Meriba, at Massa in the wilderness.
Your fathers put me to the test, challenged me,
and had proof of my power.

O come, let us adore.

For forty years was I nigh to that generation
and said, These are are ever wayward hearts,
and they know not my ways,
[so] to them I took an oath in my wrath:
They shall never enter into my rest.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

A profound bow -- hands crossed on one's knees -- accompanies the first half of the doxology, and thIs throughout the entire Divine Office Again, there is a physicality to Catholic and Orthodox worship. Even when the Divine Office is prayed in solitude or outside of a choral context, one ought to make the effort to include the traditional gestures that are integral to its make-up.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the begining, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

O come, let us adore.
The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

To be continued.

In the School of the Lord's Service

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Food for the Soul

Over the past several weeks I have been reading two fascinating and inspiring biographies by Dom Guy-Marie Oury, O.S.B. The first is Dom Guéranger, moine au coeur de l'Eglise, and the second, Lumière et force, Mère Cécile Bruyère, première abbesse de Sainte-Cécile. Both books are published aux Éditions de Solesmes. (Yes, rather like a Carthusian, I do attempt to read during my main meal with the book balanced on a stand in front of me. Most of the time, it works.)

Approaches to Prayer

One of the controversies that marked the restoration of Benedictine life at Solesmes had to do with the new -- but, in fact, very ancient -- approach to prayer that both Dom Guéranger and Madame Bruyère practiced and taught. In the nineteenth centuary and even, to a certain extent today, the greater number of Catholics seeking Divine Intimacy are oriented towards the doctrines and methods of prayer that flowered during the glorious Catholic Revival of the Counter-Reformation, following the Council of Trent (1560-1648).

Simple Adhesion to the Sacred Liturgy

To these relatively "modern" methods and systems of meditation and personal prayer -- prayer in secret, oraison, or oración -- Dom Guéranger and Madame Bruyère fostered a simple adhesion to the sacred liturgy of the Church as it unfolds hour by hour and day by day in the Mass and Divine Office. They saw no need to look elsewhere for direction, method, inspiration, or light. Their approach is at once childlike and confident because its rests on the certainty that Our Lord, having sent the Holy Spirit upon the Church, His Bride, has provided her, in the sacred liturgy, with everything necessary for the growth of her children in Divine Intimacy and in holiness. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And He that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because He asketh for the saints according to God" (Rom 8:26-27).

Source and Summit

When I finished the long Office of Vigils this morning I was struck anew by the wisdom of a simple surrender to the prayer of the Church, the Spouse of Christ. It is -- at least for souls willing to commit themselves to immersion in it, and adhesion to it -- the simplest and, I daresay, most fruitful way of growing in Divine Intimacy. While I respect and honour the various schools of holiness that, over time, have grown up in the Church, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, I find in the sacred liturgy the source and summit of them all.

Office of Vigils Revisited

Review with me, if you will, the structure of this morning's Office of Vigils. It began with the sign of the Cross traced over the lips and the threefold invocation taken from David's psalm of spiritual resurrection: "O Lord, open Thou my lips. And my mouth shall declare Thy praise" (Ps 50:15). God Himself opens our lips for prayer, and places within our hearts the very praise of the Son, the Eternal High Priest facing the Father, in the Holy Spirit. Prayer begins from above. It is, first of all, God's gracious gift to us before becoming our gift to Him.

With Confidence to the Throne of Grace

One enters prayer profoundly aware of one's poverty and creatureliness. The cross traced on one's lips, united to the opening verse from Psalm 50, signifies that it is by "the Blood of the Cross" (Col 1:20) and by the grace of the Holy Spirit that we are rendered capable of addressing the Father with a holy boldness. "Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace: that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid" (Heb 4:16).

Psalm 3, A Daily Prayer

Saint Benedict prescribes straightaway the recitation of Psalm 3, and this every day. It is a prophecy of Our Lord's passion, death, and resurrection. Addressed to the Father, it is the prayer of Christ, "Who in the days of His flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to Him that was able to save him from death, was heard for His reverence" (Heb 5:7).

Spiritual Combat

Each day begins on a battlefield; each day is a new engagement in spiritual combat. "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Eph 6:12).

Spiritual Adversaries

See how they surround me, Lord, my adversaries,
how many rise up in arms against me;
everywhere voices taunting me,
his God cannot save him. (Ps 3:1-2)

My Glory and the Lifter Up of my Head

And, yet, in the thick of spiritual combat one grows in confidence, in abandonment to the Father's faithful love. "I am not alone, because the Father is with me" (Jn 16:2). "And Jesus lifting up his eyes said: Father, I give thee thanks that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always" (Jn 11:41-42).

And yet, Lord, thou art the shield that covers me,
thou art my glory and the lifter up of my head.
I have but to cry out to the Lord,
and my voice reaches his mountain sanctuary,
and there finds hearing. (Ps 3:3-4)

The following verse is, without any doubt, the reason for Saint Benedict's choice of Psalm 3 at the beginning of each day. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who before dying, said, "Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46), can also say, "Safe in my Father's hand, I lay down upon the wood of the Cross, and slept the sleep of death, and rose up again." One baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, and nourished with the mysteries of His immolated and glorious Body and Blood from the altar, is, at every moment, immersed in the Paschal Mystery, the ongoing work of redemption. I too can say, with Christ and in Him, "Safe in my Father's hand I lay down, and slept, and rose up again." Sleep and rising, sanctified by the prayer of the Church, are images of our participation in the death and resurrection of Our Lord.

Safe in God's hand I lay down, and slept,
and rose up again. (Ps 3:5)

I Will Not Be Afraid

This participation in the mystery of the Cross is the exorcism of fear and the ground of one's confidence in the triumph of Love. "For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38-39).

Thy Benediction Upon Thy People

And now, though thousands of the people set upon me from every side,
I will not be afraid of them.
Bestir thyself, Lord; my God, save me;
thine to smite my enemies on the cheek, thine to break the fangs of malice.
From the Lord all deliverance comes;
let thy benediction, Lord, rest upon thy people. (Ps 3:6-8)

The psalm ends on a note of assurance and so inspires one to begin the new day in hope. There is a final petition: "Let thy benediction, Lord, rest upon thy people." Even when one prays in the first person singular, even when one prays alone, as I do in the little oratory of my anchorhold, one prays in communion with the whole Church, asking the blessing of the Lord upon all His people and, in my particular vocation, especially upon His priests, my brothers.

To be continued.

Deus, in adjutorium meum intende

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The Divine Office

I am eager to address a number of questions that readers have raised about the Divine Office but, given that a good part of my day is spent praying the Divine Office (essentially in the form given it by Saint Benedict in his Rule), and in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the time I can devote to writing at my desk -- after attending to my ministry, and also after cooking, cleaning, and other chores -- is somewhat limited. So I beg your indulgence, good readers of Vultus Christi.

Here, however, are a few of the exciting topics that I would deem very timely.

1. From Matins to the Office of Readings . . . and back again.

2. The Hours for Layfolk: Prime and Compline re-visited.

3. The Golden Age of the Short Breviary . . . and is it making a comeback? Be sure to visit Theo Keller's brilliant "Short" Breviaries in 20th and 21st Century America.

4. A Liturgical Scandal: the ruthless suppression of the Collegeville Book of Prayer in 1975.

5. A simple guide to the celebration of Vespers in parish and cathedral churches.

6. The General Intercessions at Lauds and Vespers: do they really work in their present form?

7. What can we hope to see in a future English edition of the Liturgy of the Hours?

8. The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary: a treasure hidden in the field.


Lively Interest in the Divine Office

My post on praying Matins gave rise to a number of responses and queries. This is a cause for rejoicing; it demonstrates that the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours) continues to attract people, suffusing all of life with the praise of God. The praise we offer, hour by hour and day by day, sanctifies us, whom God created to be nothing less than "the praise of His glory" (Eph 1:14).

Readings at Matins

I should first want to clarify that for the readings at Matins, I am not using those found in the Editio Typica of the Roman Breviary of Blessed John XXIII, nor those in the corresponding edition of the Monastic Breviary. I use the extraordinarily rich seven volume Lectionarium Monasticum Divini Officii in Latin and French. The readings given therein are the implementation of what was announced when the Liturgy of the Hours was promulgated in 1971, but never made available, that is, a lectionary for the Office of Readings arranged in a two year cycle. I don't know if there is a Latin/English version of this lectionary. One might inquire at Quarr Abbey or at Ryde Abbey, or perhaps at Farnborough.

Still Waiting

One reads in the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours:

145. There are two cycles of biblical readings. The first is a one-year cycle and is incorporated into The Liturgy of the Hours; the second, given in the supplement for optional use, is a two-year cycle, like the cycle of readings at weekday Masses in Ordinary Time.
146. The two-year cycle of readings for the liturgy of the hours is so arranged that each year there are readings from nearly all the books of sacred Scripture as well as longer and more difficult texts that are not suitable for inclusion in the Mass. The New Testament as a whole is read each year, partly in the Mass, partly in the liturgy of the hours; but for the Old Testament books a selection has been made of those parts that are of greater importance for the understanding of the history of salvation and for deepening devotion.

Current Monastic and Roman Lectionaries for the Office

The Solesmes lectionary gives the full two year cycle of Scriptural and Patristic readings, as well as the corresponding responsories. Following the tradition of the Church, the readings are, as I explained in my earlier post, divided into three our four lessons, each with its own responsory. The Roman Liturgy of the Hours, aiming at a more compact Office of Readings, suppressed the division into smaller lessons, as well as the responsories corresponding to them. I discussed the disadvantages of this adaptation here.

Invenisti gratiam apud Deum

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Advent and the Annunciation

Our Lady, the glorious Virgin of Isaiah's prophecy (Is 7:14), is everywhere present in the liturgy of Advent, and this from the very first day. This morning at Matins, I delighted in the beautiful responsories woven around Isaiah's prophecy of the Virgin with Child, and the mystery of the Annunciation.

Praying With a Short Attention Span

The reading from the Prophet Isaiah -- and all the long readings at Matins, for that matter -- are, in the ancient tradition subdivided into small lessons; each lesson is followed by a responsory. This practice is eminently pastoral. It takes into account the weariness that one sometimes brings to the long Night Office and the perennial problem of all who try to remain recollected in prayer: the short attention span! Each lesson is no more than five or six verses long, and is followed immediately by a responsory that engages the listeners in an inter-active meditatio.

This morning, for example:

Lesson I: Isaiah 7:1-6, Take heed, be quiet, do not fear.
Then, the Responsory:

R. The Angel Gabriel was sent to Mary, a Virgin espoused to Joseph, to bring unto her the Word ; and when the Virgin saw the light she was troubled till the Angel said : Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. * Behold thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son, and he shall be called the Son of the Highest.
V. Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
R. Behold thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son, and he shall be called the Son of the Highest.

Lesson II: Isaiah 7: 7-9, If you do not believe, surely you shall not established.
Then, the Responsory:

R. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee : * The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee : therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
V. How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? and the Angel made answer.
R. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee : therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

Lesson III: Isaiah 7: 10-17, Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.
Then, the Responsory, this time with a Gloria Patri:

R. We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ : * Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.
V. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; and make a joyful noise to him with psalms.
R. Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
R. Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.


The wisdom and benefits of this carefully crafted approach to the readings at Matins/Nocturns is, I should think, evident to anyone who has attempted to pray his way through the more turgid reformed Office of Readings which gives them en bloc, as it were.

Advantages of the Traditional Structure

If I were to sum up the advantages of the traditional structure of lessons and responsories at Matins/Nocturns, I would say:

1. The lessons are brief, allowing the listener to extract one significant phrase to be stored up in his heart. See the phrases from each of the lessons that I give above as an example of this. Doing this, one is already practicing lectio and meditatio.

2. The responsories, built around the repetition of a single sentence, deepen one's meditatio and effectively dispose the soul to oratio (prayer) and contemplatio (simple abiding in adoring love).

3. The Gloria Patri added to the last responsory (for which, according to the injunction of Saint Benedict, all rise out of reverence for the Most Holy Trinity) gives to the whole structure a doxological impetus. In Christian prayer, praise has the last word.

A Critique of the Structure in the Liturgia Horarum

Now, if I may be so bold as to critique the structure found in the current reformed Office of Readings of the Liturgia Horarum:

1. The readings are relatively long, giving one the impression of a didactic exercise. One has the impression that the framers of this innovation (and I knew one of them very well) wanted to supply for the average priest's need to have some element of study or spiritual reading in his day. The very designation, Office of Readings, is suspect, reflecting more the goals of its framers in the 1960s than the tradition of the Church. This pragmatic use of the Divine Office -- killing two birds with one stone, as it were -- is foreign to the tradition. Saint Benedict, in fact, reserves the time after the Night Office precisely for study.

2. The suppression of two out of three responsories for each reading is a regrettable impoverishment of the Divine Office. The responsories of Matins constitute, in fact, one of the richest elements in the liturgical corpus of the West.

3. Again, the suppression of two out of three responsories for each reading minimizes the fruitful interplay of listening to the Word and tunefully (chantfully?) repeating it until, at length, it descends into the heart as a seed of contemplation.

4. The doxology in the responsories was completely suppressed by the artisans of the reformed liturgy. A most curious innovation, given the great antiquity of the Gloria Patri in this particular context. A mere detail, one may say -- Not at all, say I. It reveals the shift in the liturgical paradigm from God to man. The liturgy becomes something one can use for one's personal growth as opposed to something one offers gratuitously to God.

Liturgical Haste Makes Liturgical Waste

The current reformed Liturgia Horarum was put together in haste. It reflects the prejudices and limitations of the redactors who were, in fact, more concerned with producing a practical breviary for the modern clergy -- something to be read-- than they were with working in organic continuity with the Church's age-old and perennially fruitful practice of the Divine Office.

The time has come, I would argue, for a complete mise en question of the 1970 reform of the Divine Office. Any future reform of the Divine Office will, I pray, incorporate the recovery of elements such as those discussed above.

Those Noble Hymns

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Those noble hymns, which had solaced anchorites on their mountains, monks in their cells, priests in bearing up against the burden and heat of the day, missionaries in girding themselves for martyrdom--henceforth became as a sealed book and as a dead letter.
(John Mason Neale,1818-1866)

A Disaster

One of the most scandalous post-conciliar ruptures with liturgical continuity occurred with the publication of the American edition of the Liturgy of the Hours by the Catholic Book Publishing Company in 1975. The American Catholic clergy and faithful were given four volumes flawed by scant regard for the model provided by the Editio Typica of the Liturgia Horarum. These volumes betray no understanding or experience of the exigencies of choral prayer.

What Were They Thinking?

The editors had no idea, for example, that the function of antiphons is to launch and repose the psalmody, both musically -- being in function of the mode of the psalm tone -- and theologically, by providing a hermeneutical key to the psalm in a given liturgical context. Stupidly, they placed the psalm prayer after the doxology and before the repetition of the antiphon, thus annihilating one of the antiphon's principal functions and fracturing the natural flow of the ending of the doxology into the antiphon. Is it really possible that no one in the employ of the American bishops noticed this in 1975?

And the Hymns

The most egregious deficiency of the American edition however, is, with precious few exceptions, the arbitrary replacement of the Church's official hymnody with a potpourri of compositions never intended for the Divine Office. This is a problem that John Mason Neale addressed in an article published in 1849:

Hymns of the Western Church

Among the most pressing of the inconveniences consequent on the adoption of the vernacular language in the office-books of the Reformation, must be reckoned the immediate disuse of all the hymns of the Western Church. That treasury, into which the saints of every age and country had poured their contributions, delighting, each in his generation, to express their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows, in language which whould be the heritage of their Holy Mother until the end of time--those noble hymns, which had solaced anchorites on their mountains, monks in their cells, priests in bearing up against the burden and heat of the day, missionaries in girding themselves for martyrdom--henceforth became as a sealed book and as a dead letter.

Day Unto Day and Night Unto Night

The prayers and collects, the versicles and responses, of the earlier Church might, without any great loss of beauty, be preserved; but the hymns, whether of the sevenfold daily office, of the weekly commemoration of creation and redemption, of the yearly revolution of the Church's seasons, or of the birthdays to glory of martyrs and confessors--those hymns by which day unto day had uttered speech, and night unto night had taught knowledge--could not, by the hands then employed in ecclesiastical matters, be rendered into another, and that a then comparatively barbarous, tongue.

Still Expecting in Patience the Rest

One attempt the Reformers made--the version of the Veni Creator Spiritus in the Ordinal; and that, so far perhaps fortunately, was the only one. . . . The Church of England had, then, to wait. She had, as it has well been said, to begin over again. There might arise saints within herself, who, one by one, should enrich her with hymns in her own language; there might arise poets, who should be capable of supplying her office-books with versions of the hymns of earlier times. In the meantime the psalms were her own; and grievous as was the loss she had sustained, she might be content to suffice herself with those, and expect in patience the rest.


The hymn at Vespers of Christ the King evokes both the feast of Corpus Christi and that of the Sacred Heart. This is consonant with the thought of Pope Pius XI who, in instituting the feast of Christ the King in 1925, situated it in the lineage of the two other later Christological feasts. Here are two the two pertinent stanzas:

Ad hoc cruenta ab arbore
pendes apertis bracchiis,
diraque fossum cuspide
cor igne flagrans exhibes.

For this Thou hangedst on the Tree
With arms outstretched in loving plea;
For this Thou shewedst forth Thy Heart,
On fire with love, pierced by the dart.

Ad hoc in aris abderis
vini dapisque imagine,
fundens salutem filiis
transverberato pectore.

And yet that wounded side sheds grace
Forth from the altar's holy place,
Where, veiled 'neath humblest bread and wine,
Abides for man the life divine.

Introibo ad altare Dei

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Gian Lorenzo Bernini - Baldacchino (Roma, San Pietro in Vaticano, 1624-1635).jpg

On this feast of the Dedication of the Roman Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul, my thoughts turn to the mystery of the altar in Christian worship. It was, in fact, at the dedication of the Vatican Basilica of Saint Peter on November 18, that Pope Saint Sylvester, who reigned from 314 to 335, decreed that, henceforth, altars should be made of stone.

"In this Church did the Pope set up an altar of stone, and pour ointment thereon, and ordain that from henceforth no altars should be set up, save of stone." (Lesson at Matins of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul at Rome, 18 November)

Altar, Sacrifice, and Priest

"Then Noah built an altar to the Lord" (Gen 8:20). While both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord (Gen 4:3), they did so without presenting them upon an altar. Noah is the first altar-builder of the Bible. After the flood, Noah builds an altar and offers burnt offerings upon it (cf. Gen 8:20). Thus does the mystic triad of altar, offering, and offerer appear in the Bible for the first time. Noah, his altar, and his sacrifice already foreshadow the mystery of Christ sung in the reformed Roman Missal's magnificent fifth Preface for Paschaltide:

Christ, by the offering of His own Body,
brought to perfection the ancient sacrifices in the truth of the cross
and, in commending Himself to you for our salvation,
showed Himself to be at once the priest, the altar, and the lamb.

Earth Rising Heavenward

After Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all built altars to the Lord. In addition to being the place of sacrifices and libations, the altars built by the patriarchs marked a place of divine intervention. They localized and memorialized the encounter of man with God. Originally a mound of rocks or elevation, the altar symbolizes the earth rising above itself and straining heavenward. It is, at the same time, the place where heaven bends low to touch the earth, to receive man's offering.

Sacrifice and Holocaust

When, in a sacrificial action, a creature is placed upon an altar, it is made over to God and given up to His hands. Jesus Himself says in Matthew 23:19 that it is, "the altar that makes the offering sacred." It is by virtue of being placed on the altar that the offering becomes a sacrifice. Saint Augustine (in Book X of The City of God) teaches that whatsoever is placed on the altar becomes sacrificium, a thing made over to God, a thing made sacred. When the same creature is set ablaze in a holocaust, its rising smoke carries the prayer of the offerer into heaven where God takes pleasure in its fragrance.


The altar is the place of a mysterious exchange. The altar of the sacrifice is, at the same time, the sacred table of a mysterious at-one-ment with God. Offerings of food and libations become the food and drink of God; food and drink received from the altar become the means of communion with God.

Bonding in Blood

The altar is also the place of a bonding in blood. Moses takes the blood of sacrifices, pours it upon altar, and throws it over the people (cf. Ex 24:5-8). Altar-blood becomes the blood of a covenant, the blood-bond between God and the people. "And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. . . . And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, 'Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with these words" (Ex 24:6-8).

Aures habent et non audient

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What is Useless

"A Church which only makes use of 'utility music' has fallen for what is, in fact, useless. She too becomes ineffectual. For her mission is a far higher one. As the Old Testament speaks of the Temple, the Church is to be the place of 'glory', and as such, too, the place where mankind's cry of distress is brought to the ear of God.

The Church must not settle down with what is merely comfortable and serviceable at the parish level; she must arouse the voice of the cosmos and, by glorifying the Creator, elicit the glory of the cosmos itself, making it also glorious, beautiful, habitable, and beloved.

To Turn One's Back on Beauty

Next to the saints, the art which the Church has produced is the only real 'apologia' for her history. It is this glory which witness to the Lord, not theology's clever explanations for all the terrible things which, lamentably, fill the pages of her history. The Church is to transform, improve, 'humanize' the world — but how can she do that if at the same time she turns her back on beauty, which is so closely allied to love? For together, beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of the resurrection.

High Standards

The Church must maintain high standards; she must be a place where beauty can be at home; she must lead the struggle for that 'spiritualization' without which the world becomes 'the first circle of hell'. Thus to ask what is 'suitable' must always be the same as asking what is 'worthy': it must constantly challenge us to seek what is worthy of the Church's worship."

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
On the Theological Basis of Music
The Feast of Faith

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When I first read The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983, about eight years ago, I was struck by Father Schmemann's commentary on the Masses celebrated in Yankee Stadium by Pope Paul VI in 1965 and by Pope John Paul II in 1979. The boldface is my own. Father Schmemann asks some hard questions.

Wednesday, October 3, 1979

The Pope of Rome is in New York. We watched him on television in Yankee Stadium. A mixed impression. On one hand, an unquestionably good man and full of light. Wonderful smile. Very genuine — a man of God. But, on the other hand, there are some "buts"! First of all, the Mass itself. The first impression is how liturgically impoverished the Catholic Church has become. In 1965, I watched the service performed by Pope Paul VI in the same Yankee Stadium. Despite everything, it was the presence, the appearance on earth of the eternal, the "super earthly. Whereas yesterday I had the feeling that the main thing was the "message." This message is, again and again, "peace and justice," "human family," "social work," etc. An opportunity was given, a fantastic chance to tell millions and millions of people about God, to reveal to them that more than anything else they need God! But here, on the contrary, the whole goal, it seemed, consisted in proving that the Church also can speak the jargon of the United Nations. All the symbols point the same way: the reading of the Scriptures by some lay people with bright ties, etc. And a horrible translation: I never suspected that a translation could be a heresy: Grace — "abiding love"!

Crowds — their joy and excitement. Quite genuine, but at the same time, it is clear that there is an element of mass psychosis. "Peoples' Pope . . ." What does this really mean? I don't know. I am not sure. Does one have to serve Mass in Yankee Stadium? But if it's possible and needed, shouldn't the Mass be, so to say, "super-earthly," separated from the secular world, in order to show in the world — the Kingdom of God?

Mercy Has the First Word

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Misericordia Domini

It is curious (and praiseworthy!) that Lutherans have, for the most part, conserved the Catholic practice of referring to a given Sunday by the incipit, or first words, of the Introit of the Mass. I noticed this not along ago while perusing The Brotherhood Prayerbook edited by The Reverend Benjamin T. G. Mayes, an American Lutheran pastor. Catholics are still accustomed to hearing the Third Sunday of Advent referred to as Gaudete Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent as Laetare Sunday and, perhaps, the Second Sunday of Easter as Quasimodo Sunday, but the custom has largely disappeared.

A Triumphal Arch

The Introit of the Mass is, according to Father Maurice Zundel, like a triumphal arch through which we pass into the Holy Mysteries. Each Sunday has its own name derived from the Introit. Today, therefore, is Misericordia Domini Sunday. Mercy has the first word in today's Mass.

The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord, alleluia:
by the word of the Lord were the heavens made, alleluia, alleluia.
V. Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous:
praise is comely for the upright. (Ps 32:5-6)

The Wound of Mercy

The death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ has bathed the whole world in mercy. The Mass, being the sacramental renewal of the Sacrifice of the Cross, remains for all time the wellspring of the inexhaustible torrent of mercy that ever flows from the wound opened by the soldier's lance in Jesus' Sacred Side.

The Lex Orandi

Catholic culture is shaped by the Sacred Liturgy: not only by the calendar of the Church, but also by the Proper of the Mass. I have long argued that the Proper of the Mass is a constitutive element of the Lex orandi — not just the text of the Proper, but also the melodic vesture of the Gregorian chant that clothes it and expresses its meaning.

Termites in the House

The option of selecting an alius cantus aptus (another suitable chant) has, in no small measure, contributed to the dismantling of the Roman Liturgy. The Proper of the Mass is not a decorative element, added onto the fundamental structure of the liturgy as a kind of embellishment; it is, rather, a supporting beam of the whole edifice. Move it, and the whole structure is weakened and, with time, will collapse. Is that not what we have seen over the past forty-five years? The alius cantus aptus has, in most places, replaced the Proper of the Mass, and liturgical termites have infested the whole structure.

Recover the Propers

To my mind, one of the most urgent tasks of The Reform of the Reform is the suppression of the provision for an alius cantus aptus, and the restoration of the traditional texts of the Proper of the Mass, taking care, at the same time, that the texts given in the Missale Romanum correspond to those in the Graduale Romanum. The replacement, in the Missale Romanum of 1970, of the venerable sung texts of the Graduale Romanum with texts destined to be read, was an innovation without precedent, and a mistake with far reaching and deleterious consequences for the Roman Rite.

The Choreography of Faith

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Week of Sexagesima
Tuesday of the Third Week of the Year I

2 Samuel 6:12–19
Mark 3:31–25

The Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant that figures so prominently in the First Reading is, according to Saint Maximus of Turin, a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Maximus explains that King David’s rapturous dance before the Ark was a prophetic gesture: “In high rejoicing he broke into dancing, for in the Spirit he foresaw Mary, born of his own line, brought into Christ’s chamber. . . . The Ark carried within it the tables of the covenant, while Mary bore the master of the same covenant.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Ark of the Covenant contained the Law; the Virgin Mary contained the Word made Flesh, the living Gospel, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The Ark was resplendent both within and without with pure gold; Mary was resplendent both within and without with the dazzling radiance of her virginity. The Ark was adorned with earthly gold; Mary was begraced with an imperishable holiness.

True Devotion to Mary

Every authentic expression of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is a way of “dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.” The Litany of Loreto calls upon Our Lady by means of this very expression: Foederis arca, ora pro nobis! Ark of the Covenant, pray for us.

David was not self-conscious in his dance. He was humble, spontaneous, and single-hearted: figuratively and literally moved by grace. Every encounter with the Mother of God — in the liturgy of the Church, in her images, and in the secret manifestations of her presence that comfort us in this valley of tears — should move us to a similar expression of devotion: humble, spontaneous, and single-hearted.

The Votive Mass of Saint Joseph

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On this first Wednesday after the Octave of the Epiphany, I will celebrate a Votive Mass of Saint Joseph. (Votive Masses are celebrations in honour of a particular mystery of Our Lord or in honour of Our Lady or the saints. They are not linked to a particular date in the calendar and may be celebrated on any ferial day.) Votive Masses of Saint Joseph began to appear in various missals as early as the thirteenth century. In the nineteenth century the Votive Mass of Saint Joseph was assigned to Wednesday.

Apart from the Votive Mass of Saint Joseph, the Roman Missal provides priests with two daily prayers to Saint Joseph, one as part of the preparation for Mass, and the other as part of the thanksgiving after Mass:

O Felicem Virum

O blessed Joseph, happy man whose privilege it was,
not only to see and hear that God
whom many a king has longed to see, yet saw not,
longed to hear, but heard not:
but also to carry Him in thy arms and kiss Him,
to clothe Him and watch over Him!

V. Pray for us, blessed Joseph.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.

God, who hast conferred upon us a royal priesthood,
we pray thee give us grace to minister at Thy holy altars
with hearts as clean and lives as blameless as that blessed Joseph
who was found worthy to hold in his arms
and with all reverence to carry Thy Only-Begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary.
Enable us this day to receive worthily the sacred Body and Blood of Thy Son,
and fit us to win an everlasting reward in the world to come:
through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Virginum Custos et Pater

Saint Joseph, father and guardian of virgins,
to whose faithful keeping Christ Jesus, innocence itself,
and Mary, the virgin of virgins, were entrusted,
I pray and beseech thee by that twofold and most precious charge,
by Jesus and Mary,
to save me from all uncleanness,
to keep my mind untainted, my heart pure, and my body chaste;
and to help me always to serve Jesus and Mary in perfect chastity. Amen.

In Green Pastures

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Another photo taken at Saint-Loup-sur-Aujon. Autumn has been gentle here in northeastern France. The village of Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne, where I am at present, is a marvel of natural beauty. The Jura mountains surround the village, and between the mountain heights are woodlands with brooks that sing, and green pastures. What a gift I have been given in coming here!


I drove several kilometers this morning to connect to the DSL installation in the home of Jean-Baptiste and Thérèse. This evening, and every Wednesday evening, a group of people from the area, including Jean-Baptiste and Thérèse, come to the monastery to pray the rosary and to sing Compline with the community. For the past few weeks I have been giving them a talk as well. Tonight's subject? Purgatory!

The couples who attend will be bringing their children along this evening. French schools are closed this week for the All Saints vacation. All Saints Day remains a national holiday here.

In the monastery, First Vespers of All Saints Day will be marked by the exposition of the treasury of relics of the saints. The holy relics will be placed on a table covered with an embroidered cloth in the middle of the choir. Visibly, the Divine Office will be laus eius in ecclesia sanctorum: the praise of God in the church of the saints! The veneration of the relics of the saints brings with it streams of graces. God is greatly glorified therein, and the intercession of "so great a cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1) is a boon for the whole Church.


When I was a lad in New Haven, Connecticut, I had the privilege of knowing Father Philip T. Weller. He spent a year or two in residence at Saint Francis Parish. For a boy who spent his free time reading The Church's Year of Grace by Pius Parsch, meeting Father Weller and serving his Mass was a dream come true. Father Weller was gifted with a melodious voice and loved Gregorian Chant. He sang Mass with a quiet reverence, with loving attention to the rubrics, and with manly devotion. His preaching was outstanding. Father Weller was a shining example of priestly liturgical piety. For all of that, he was never stuffy or distant. I remember him once interrupting the distribution of Holy Communion to say to Mrs. Zullo, "Madame, you have a lovely voice!" I have never forgotten him.

Preserving Christian Publications has made Father Weller's classic Latin-English three volume version of The Roman Ritual for the traditional Roman Rite available once again. Published originally between 1946 and 1950, the folks at PCP have faithfully and handsomely reprinted all three volumes in simulated leather hardbound with gold-embossing, sewn binding, a marking ribbon, and as in the originals: red and black text throughout with plainchant notation! All three volumes are also completely indexed in both Latin and English!


In his introduction to the books, Father Weller presents a mystagogical catechesis that is itself worth the price of the set. "Christ has sacramentalized the world," he writes, "and Christian man, therefore, is destined to live, and grow, and mature into Christian perfection chiefly by means of sacramental action. This is the ordinary way unto sanctification. . . . The true Christian spirit demands that man accepts the fact that supernatural life is concurrent with physical life, that spiritual contents are wed to material or external forms."

What treasures will you find in Father Weller's Roman Ritual apart from the rites of Sacraments and the Processions of the Liturgical Year? Here are just some of them:

— The Blessing of Holy Water
— The Blessings of an Infant, of a Child, and of Children
— The Blessing of Wine for Saint John's Day
— The Blessing of Chalk for the Epiphany
— The Great Blessing of Epiphany Water
— The Blessing of Homes
— The Blessings of Lamb, Eggs, Bread, New Produce, and Oil
— The Blessing of a Bonfire for the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
— The Blessing of Herbs on the Assumption
— The Blessings of Pilgrims, of Sick Pilgrims, of a Sick Adult, of Sick Children
— The Blessing of an Expectant Mother
— The Blessing of a Mother After Childbirth
— The Blessings of a Cross, of Sacred Images, of a Cincture, of a Votive Habit,
of Lilies in Honour of Saint Anthony of Padua, of an Organ, of a Church Bell, of Sick Animals, of Cattle and Herds, of Bees, of Silkworms, of Salt or Oats for Animals, of a Stable, of Linens for the Sick, of a Wheelchair, of Wine for the Sick, of Medicine, of Bread and Cakes, of Ale, of Cheese and Butter, of Fowl Meat, of Grapes, of a Fishing Boat, and of a Fire Engine.

There is so much more, including the blessings of devotional scapulars and other items at one time reserved to priests of particular Orders. I know of no other set of books containing so complete a collection of the sacramental rites of the Church.

Writing of the use of sacramentals (little sacraments), Father Weller says:

As he leaves the Eucharistic altar and banquet-table of the new Jerusalem, the Christian goes out, oftentimes into the atmosphere of a veritable Babylon. Fortified with Christ's kiss of peace, he launches the attack against Satan, using the auxiliary weapons which the Church, the worthy Spouse of Christ and our holy Mother dispenses with a lavish hand to her children. May the little sacraments treated of in this volume become powerful allies to the Holy Seven, to hasten our sacramental sanctification unto the full stature of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

In their presentation of the The Roman Ritual, our friends at Preserving Christian Publications, affirm that Father Weller "prepared it for the clergy 'as a manual and reference' and for the laity's 'interest and enthusiasm for the rites and prayers of so important a part of the liturgical books of the Church.'"

Weary With Holding In

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I offered the Sunday Vigil Mass in a suburban parish last Saturday in order to help out a friend and brother priest. Father is very dedicated and I have immense esteem for him. The observations that follow are no reflection on him. He inherited a difficult situation and hasn't yet completed his first year in the parish. But, like the prophet Jeremias, I am "weary with holding in." Disclaimer: the images below are in no way related to the place or persons mentioned in this rant. Any resemblance is purely coincidental.



The first thing that disconcerted me was the idle chatter in church before Mass. It was like being in a theatre waiting for the lights to dim and the curtain to go up. People seated in little groups around the church held exchanged news and joked with absolutely no regard for the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the sacredness of the place, or the few faithful who were actually trying to pray. I knelt in the back of the church surrounded by prattle on all sides and felt an immense sadness in my heart. The words of the Mass of the Sacred Heart came to mind: "I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none; and for one that would comfort me, and I found none" (Ps 68:21). Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament was alone among his own: ignored and treated with ingratitude and indifference in His own house. The chatter resumed immediately after Mass.

The Place

The unfortunate architecture of this particular church does not easily lend itself to recollection or to a spontaneous focus on the presence of our Lord. In spite of the large crucifix above the tabernacle, there is something about the building that is inimical to prayer. But there is more: the faithful seem to have lost any awareness of the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. There is no "eucharistic amazement." One does not find there the hush ordinarily commanded by an experience of the sacred.



Not that long ago there was still a lively sense of reverence among Catholics. People would sign themselves with Holy Water upon entering the church. They would genuflect before entering the pew, then kneel in adoration for a few moments. It was not uncommon to see people lighting candles before Mass or visiting the side altars and the shrines of their favourite saints. Some folks would pray the rosary quietly. Others would read over the Mass of the day in their missals. All of this has been swept away. When Pope John Paul II proclaimed the "Year of the Eucharist" his stated aim was the recovery of "Eucharistic amazement" — call it reverence, awe, or the spirit of adoration — in the whole Church. Instead of things improving in the average parish, they seem to be getting worse.

A number of factors have contributed to this desolate situation. I will enumerate a few of them:

1) The loss of any notion of sacred space. I think this is directly related to the removal of the Communion Rail or other effective delineation of the sanctuary of the church. Time to rally 'round the rood screen again! The Tractarians were right.

2) Mass "facing the people." This, more than anything else, undermined and continues to undermine the faithful's experience of the Mass as a Sacrifice offered to God in adoration, propitiation, thanksgiving, and supplication. The altar has become the big desk of the clerical CEO behind it: The Presider. It has become a stage prop for the "performing priest," complete with The Microphone.

3) Holy Communion in the hand. I see it every time I offer Mass in a parish church: the casual approach prevails. If one receives the Holy Mysteries like ordinary bread and a sip of ordinary wine, one begins rather sooner than later, will-nilly, to think of them as mere bread and wine.


4) No bells. Instead of ringing a sacristy bell to announce the beginning of Mass, the organist leaned into His Microphone and said, "Let us stand to greet Father Kirby." Sorry. That is not what the Entrance Procession is about. It is a humble, joyful, and orderly movement into the Holy Place, a crossing-over from chronos (worldly, stressful, clocked time) to kairos (the heavenly, tranquil, timeless moment of God), an entering into the adorable presence of the God who is like a consuming fire, a making-ready for the inbreaking of the Kingdom of Heaven. A bell says it better.

Same thing during the Eucharistic Prayer. People need to be warned of the imminence of the most sacred moment of the Mass, even when the Eucharistic Prayer (Canon) is prayed aloud and in the vernacular. A bell does the job quite nicely. And another thing: saying the whole Eucharistic Prayer aloud and in the vernacular does not automatically guarantee "full, conscious, and actual participation" in the Holy Sacrifice. Silence, on the other hand, at least for certain parts of the Eucharistic Prayer, effectively opens a door onto the Holy Mysteries.

5) Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Alas, they are not extraordinary. They are ubiquitous and, I think, superfluous. Does expediting the distribution of Holy Communion really constitute grave necessity? In the church where I offered Mass last Saturday there were four Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, all of whom were women. Three were wearing casual slacks and one was showing cleavage. They could have been serving lemonade at the parish garden party. It was frightfully inappropriate.

Could there not be properly instituted acolytes for the service of the Holy Mysteries where such are needed? These would be adult men — few in number — suitably vested in amice, alb, and cincture and, most of all, schooled in reverence, attention, and devotion, and carefully trained for the service of the sacred liturgy.

This brings up yet another issue? Where have all the men gone? At last Saturday's Mass, the four Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, the Server, and one Lector were all women. I am not a misogynist. But honestly, this situation does nothing to foster priestly vocations.

6) The Music. Dare I call it that? Oh, the music! Show-tuney, trite, tired, and sickeningly sentimental with the organist/crooner singing into His Microphone. Might we not try singing the Mass itself: the Ordinary and the Propers? More than anything else celebrants must begin taking their sacerdotal obligations seriously by learning to cantillate the dialogical parts of the Mass, the orations, the Preface Dialogue and Preface, and the other elements that belong uniquely to them as priests.

I am not a gloomy person by nature, but last Saturday's Mass left me very sad indeed. "For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?" (Lk 23:31).

Dominus tecum, virorum fortissime

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The Lord Is With Thee

Today’s First Lesson gives us the Angel’s greeting to Gideon. “The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘The Lord is with thee, O most valiant of men” (Jgs 6:12). The Archangel Gabriel greeted the Virgin of Nazareth with similar words: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Lk 1:28). Now that “the fullness of time has come” (Gal 4:4), that greeting from heaven has passed into the liturgy of the Church on earth.

At the beginning of Holy Mass and at key moments within the celebration, the priest greets the people, saying, Dominus vobiscum, “The Lord be with you.” He refers to the presence of the Lord in the midst of the Church. The phrase can be understood either as a wish, May the Lord be with you, or as a declaration, The Lord is with you.

When the Angel says to Gideon, “The Lord is with thee, valiant warrior,” he is inviting him to take heart, trusting in the unfailing presence of the Lord. Thus do we hear Gideon say at the end of the mysterious encounter, “I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face” (Jgs 3:22). “And the Lord said to him: ‘Peace be with thee, fear not, thou shalt not die’” (Jgs 3:23).

Presence of Christ

How are we to understand the Dominus vobiscum of the Mass? It is a solemn and joyful affirmation of the presence of the Lord in the midst of the assembly. By His grace Christ is present and living in each baptized person for He is the Vine and we are the branches (Jn 15:5). According to Our Lord’s promise He is present also in the midst of those who come together in His Name. “Where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20).

The Voice of Thy Salutation


A thrill of jubilation should pass through the church every time the greeting of the priest, ancient and ever new, reaches the ears of the faithful. Recall what happened when the Virgin Mary greeted her cousin Elizabeth: “And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost” (Lk 1:41). At what precise moment did this infilling take place? Elizabeth says, “Behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears” (Lk 1:44).


The musical tradition of the Roman Church has clothed this greeting in a little melody of two notes (sol and la) that is as sublime as it is simple. Dominus vobiscum. Only at the dialogue that precedes the Preface of the Mass does the greeting assume a more ample and solemn musical treatment, and this is to signify that at that very moment the priest and people are poised to enter into the Holy of Holies of the Mass.


In singing these words, the priest extends his arms towards the assembly. He opens his hands as if to embrace all present and draw them into one single prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. This particular gesture is reserved to bishops and priests. Though deacons are allowed to say, “The Lord be with you,” they do so with folded hands. It belongs to the bishop and to the priest to impart the grace of the Lord’s presence to the faithful, and to take them up with him into the prayer of Christ to the Father.

The Ignatius Press RSV Lectionary

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The critique of the NAB Lectionary by Father Neuhaus reminded me that for some time I have wanted to recommend the two volume RSV Lectionary published by Ignatius Press. "The Lectionary has been reviewed and recognized by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to be in conformity with Liturgiam Authenticam, the Holy See's recent norms for biblical and liturgical translations. In fact, this Lectionary is the only English-language lectionary presently recognized as conforming to Liturgiam Authenticam. It is also the only English-language lectionary whose text is identical to that found in a published edition of the Bible . The new RSV Lectionary has been approved for use in the Antilles Bishops Conference." The US Bishops would do well to take a lesson from their brethren in the Antilles.

Thank you to Argent by the Tiber for making me aware of this fine essay by Father Richard John Neuhaus. Bravo, Father Neuhaus! The text should be sent to every American bishop.


70 or 70 x 7?

By Richard John Neuhaus

The New American Bible (NAB), an unfortunate translation episcopally imposed upon Catholics for readings at Mass, has prompted earlier comment in First Things (see here and here). The problem keeps coming back, not least in pastoral counseling. Take the woman who had had it with her husband’s lying to her. I mentioned to her Our Lord’s admonition to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22). That’s the way it reads in every widely used English translation, including the Douay-Rheims, an earlier English translation used by Catholics. Jesus obviously intended hyperbole, indicating that forgiveness is open-ended. Keep on forgiving as you are forgiven by God, for God’s forgiving is beyond measure or counting.

But this woman had been reading her NAB, according to which Jesus said we should forgive not “seventy times seven,” but “seventy times.” She had been keeping count, and her husband was well over his quota. Then there is Matt. 5:32 and 19:9, where in both passages Jesus says: “But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress.” In other widely used English translations, it is “unfaithfulness” or “marital unfaithfulness.” The Douay-Rheims says “excepting in the case of fornication.”

In both passages, the NAB puts it this way: “But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery.” Meaning a previous marriage had not been annulled by the diocesan marriage tribunal? Whatever.

Now to be perfectly fair, in the three passages mentioned there are ancient authorities that lend some support for the NAB translation. For instance, some ancient texts of Matthew 19 read “he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery,” which is closer to the NAB version. But in the tradition of translation, scholars have overwhelmingly decided that the manuscripts referring to unchastity or unfaithfulness are to be preferred.

Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum

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What do these Catholic bloggers do when they meet? Pray. Sing. Talk. Eat. Pray. Sing. Talk. Eat. Did I mention the singing? This photo of Father Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S. of Rifugio San Gaspare, Richard Chonak of Catholic Light, and myself was taken in the entrance garden of the little church of the Monastery of the Glorious Cross, O.S.B. in Branford, Connecticut.


Yesterday we sang the beautiful Ordinary XII (Pater cuncta), together with the Introit Salus autem and the Alleluia Te martyrum from the Mass of SS. Pontian and Hippolytus. Mass at the Monastery of the Glorious Cross is at 11:50 on weekdays and at 11:00 on Sundays and Solemnities. When I am not serving as chaplain the times of Mass may vary, so call ahead.

The monastery church had to be designed in an existing space. The building is the former Connecticut Hospice. The low ceiling posed real problems. We opened it up with two light wells: one directly over the altar, and another directly over the place where Holy Communion is distributed. The low walls surrounding the sanctuary were another challenge. They contain all sorts of pipes and wiring and could not be removed. We integrated them into the design to form a very effective delineation of the the sanctuary. The Benedictine nuns are in two choirs to the right and left of the sanctuary. The lay faithful have chairs and kneelers facing the sanctuary.

The crucifix came from the workshops of the Nuns of Bethlehem and of the Assumption. The icons of the Saviour and of the Mother of God are by a Benedictine of Jesus Crucified in France.

We are presently holding a Novena of Masses for the happy repose of the souls of all those who died in the monastery building while it was The Connecticut Hospice.


Yes, I do celebrate Holy Mass ad orientem. The wrought iron gates in front of the tabernacle are closed during the Holy Sacrifice and remain open outside of Mass. The conical chasuble of red wool is the work of Vincent Crosby. He explains the conical form of the chasuble:

The chasuble originated in the everyday dress of the Roman citizen at the beginning of the Christian era. It was known as the paenula, the outer garment that entirely enveloped the figure and hung in radiating folds. It had a cone-like or conical shape. To free the hands it was necessary to gather up the material into graceful folds across the forearms.

Over the centuries the shape of the chasuble has altered, reflecting changes in liturgical theology and presidential style. But the classic form of the conical chasuble remains the authentic shape of the Eucharistic vestment.

For the artist, it is a more interesting garment to design because unlike the more static “gothic” chasuble, the conical chasuble changes as it responds to the human body. It is also a more rewarding garment to wear because of the beauty of its folds.

About Those ABC Antiphons

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The full set of nine Gospel Antiphons for the Magnificat I, the Benedictus, and the Magnificat II of the Sundays Throughout the Year appear for the first time in the 1985 edition of the Liturgia Horarum with the a decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship that says, among other things, the following:

"Novae antiphonae ad Benedictus et ad Magnificat Evangelio, ex quo depromuntur, conformes in dominicis et sollemnitatibus plerumque sunt inductae."

That may explain why these antiphons appear neither in the American nor Irish/UK editions of the Liturgy of the Hours. All the same, the texts have been available for 27 years. One would think that by now someone would have included them in the various vernacular editions.

Et vos estote parati

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Nineteenth Sunday of the Year C

Wisdom 18:6-9
Psalm 32: 1 & 12, 18-19, 20 & 22 (R. 12b)
Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-19
Luke 12: 32-28 or 35-40

The Liturgy Begins With What is Given

For every Sunday Throughout the Year of Years A, B, and C, the Liturgy of the Hours gives us three antiphons taken from the Gospel: one for the Magnificat at First Vespers, one for the Benedictus, and one for the Magnificat at Second Vespers. Some see in the variety of antiphons given an embarrassment of riches: more than any one choir can master, more than one heart can take in. These subjective appreciations are beside the point; the liturgy begins with what is given. Wisdom begins with our acceptance of the objective givenness of the liturgy; with that acceptance comes the taste of the things of the God, foretaste of the Kingdom.

Note: Nine Gospel antiphons are given for each Sunday of the Time Throughout the Year: three each, destined to be sung at the Magnificat I, the Benedictus, and the Magnificat II for Years A, B, and C. The editors of the American version of the Liturgy of the Hours reduced the nine antiphons to three, thereby deconstructing the magnificent biblical and liturgical harmonics intended by the Church.

The Manifold Mystery of Christ

The Gospel Antiphons of the Divine Office are carefully selected and crafted. Their Gregorian musical expression unlocks for us the hidden meaning of the texts. Like all sacramentals — for that is what the antiphons are — they are a way into the manifold mystery of Christ, mystical portals opening onto the light. Let us then enter today’s Gospel by passing, in succession, through each of this Sunday’s three Gospel Antiphons.

Treasure and Heart

At First Vespers, the Magnificat antiphon was: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also, says the Lord” (Lk 12:34). Immediately, we are obliged to ask ourselves hard questions, incisive questions. Where is my treasure? There is my heart. What do I want above all else? There is my heart. What do I cherish? There is my heart. What things do I protect? There is my heart. For what thing or things am I willing to suffer? There is my heart. In what thing or things have I invested myself, my energy, my talents, and my time . . . especially my time? There is my heart.

The Holy Fathers Benedict

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Benedict XVI: Blessed by Name and by Grace

To shepherd His Church at the beginning of this new millennium, God has given us a Pope blessed by name — Benedictus — and by grace. Pope Benedict XVI has a Benedictine world view. The Holy Father reads life through the lens of the Rule of Saint Benedict. The wisdom of the Holy Rule permeates Pope Benedict XVI. One might say that the style of his pontificate is abbatial; he is Father, Doctor, and Pontiff. His priorities are very much those of his great Benedictine predecessor, Pope Saint Gregory the Great.

Benedictine Zeal for the Work of God

In his Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI reveals his benedictine soul, and alludes to the role of Saint Gregory the Great, and to the mission of Benedictine monks and nuns in the organic development and promotion of the sacred liturgy. He writes:

Up to our own times, it has been the constant concern of supreme pontiffs to ensure that the Church of Christ offers a worthy ritual to the Divine Majesty, 'to the praise and glory of His name,' and 'to the benefit of all His Holy Church.'

Note the three points of the Holy Father’s opening statement:

— the offering of a worthy ritual to the Divine Majesty
— the primacy of praise and doxology
— the affirmation that such worship redounds to the benefit of the whole Church of Christ

Usages Universally Accepted

Since time immemorial it has been necessary - as it is also for the future - to maintain the principle according to which 'each particular Church must concur with the universal Church, not only as regards the doctrine of the faith and the sacramental signs, but also as regards the usages universally accepted by uninterrupted apostolic tradition, which must be observed not only to avoid errors but also to transmit the integrity of the faith, because the Church's law of prayer corresponds to her law of faith.'

Vehicles of Truth and of Light

Pope Benedict XVI teaches that the Church’s law of faith is expressed not only in words and in the signs proper to the seven sacraments, but also in the very way of carrying out the sacred liturgy, in all of the traditional and universally accepted usages accepted by uninterrupted apostolic tradition. He is saying that the traditional ceremonial and rubrical elements of our Catholic liturgy are vehicles of truth and of light. It is, therefore, perilous to the integrity of the faith when these are arbitrarily or lightly changed. Over the past forty years many of these have been abandoned, with dire results for the life of the Church.

The Holy Father Speaks

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From Pope Benedict XVI's Presentation to the Bishops of Summorum Pontificum:

Widen Your Hearts

I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church's leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: "Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return ... widen your hearts also!" (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.

What Earlier Generations Held As Sacred

There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church's faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.

Summorum Pontificum

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I arrived from Ireland yesterday evening, and today I share in the jubilation! The following excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI's Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum especially gladdened my heart. The italicization of certain passages and headings are my own.

The Constant Concern of Supreme Pontiffs

Up to our own times, it has been the constant concern of supreme pontiffs to ensure that the Church of Christ offers a worthy ritual to the Divine Majesty, 'to the praise and glory of His name,' and 'to the benefit of all His Holy Church.'

Usages Universally Accepted by Uninterrupted Apostolic Tradition

"Since time immemorial it has been necessary - as it is also for the future - to maintain the principle according to which 'each particular Church must concur with the universal Church, not only as regards the doctrine of the faith and the sacramental signs, but also as regards the usages universally accepted by uninterrupted apostolic tradition, which must be observed not only to avoid errors but also to transmit the integrity of the faith, because the Church's law of prayer corresponds to her law of faith.'

Pope Saint Gregory the Great

Among the pontiffs who showed that requisite concern, particularly outstanding is the name of St. Gregory the Great, who made every effort to ensure that the new peoples of Europe received both the Catholic faith and the treasures of worship and culture that had been accumulated by the Romans in preceding centuries. He commanded that the form of the sacred liturgy as celebrated in Rome (concerning both the Sacrifice of Mass and the Divine Office) be conserved.

Monks and Nuns Following the Rule of Saint Benedict

He took great concern to ensure the dissemination of monks and nuns who, following the Rule of St. Benedict, together with the announcement of the Gospel illustrated with their lives the wise provision of their Rule that 'nothing should be placed before the work of God.' In this way the sacred liturgy, celebrated according to the Roman use, enriched not only the faith and piety but also the culture of many peoples.

The Spiritual Life of the Saints

It is known, in fact, that the Latin liturgy of the Church in its various forms, in each century of the Christian era, has been a spur to the spiritual life of many saints, has reinforced many peoples in the virtue of religion and fecundated their piety.

The Outstanding Work of Saint Pius V

Many other Roman pontiffs, in the course of the centuries, showed particular solicitude in ensuring that the sacred liturgy accomplished this task more effectively. Outstanding among them is St. Pius V who, sustained by great pastoral zeal and following the exhortations of the Council of Trent, renewed the entire liturgy of the Church, oversaw the publication of liturgical books amended and 'renewed in accordance with the norms of the Fathers,' and provided them for the use of the Latin Church.

Soon To Ireland

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To Mayo and Leitrim

On Saturday 30 June, making my way via Ireland to the United States, I will fly Aerlingus from Rome to Dublin, and then from Dublin to Knock in County Mayo. After a few days in Knock I will travel the short distance northeast to Carrick–on Shannon in County Leitrim to visit Cousin John McKeon.

As a small boy, I heard about Knock from my Grandmother Margaret Kirby (1900–1993). Her Aunt Mary had gone there on pilgrimage and sent her a little bottle of blessed water from the shrine. Grandma told me what she knew about the apparitions. In 1988, when I went to Knock together with my Mom, Dad and brother Terence, I was able to celebrate Holy Mass on the site of the apparitions.

Actuosa Participatio and the Silence of the Mother of God

The apparition at Knock is unusual in that the Blessed Virgin spoke no message and uttered no warning; she asked for nothing. Our Lady was silent and, at the same time, intensely present to the Immolated Lamb upon the altar, and to the people who watched the apparition.

The contemplative silence of the Mother of God speaks to my own understanding of actuosa participatio (actual participation) in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There is a silent inward cleaving to the Mystery of the Eucharist that precedes and perfects all other forms of participation in the Holy Sacrifice. The fifteen parishioners of Knock, young and old, to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared on that rainy night in 1879, were accustomed to "hearing Mass" in silence. By her own silence in the presence of The Mystery, the Mother of Jesus was confirming them in theirs.


Toward the Recovery of Silence

The Irish custom of silence at the Holy Mysteries was, in its own way, an actual participation in the sacramental re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Christ. While silence is not the only mode of actual participation in the Mass, it remains one that is valid, fruitful, and profoundly unifying. It is remarkable that the neglect of spaces and moments of silence within the celebration of the Mass — even of those clearly prescribed by the Roman Missal — had led, in most places, to the complete loss of silence around the Mass, that is to say, in church before and after the celebration.

Knock After the Motu Proprio

If things here in Rome go this week as I rather suspect they will, I will find myself in Knock very shortly after the promulgation of the long-awaited Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI. Coincidence? I don't think so. Knock is the Blessed Virgin's invitation to enter deeply into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The presence of the Lamb upon the altar surmounted by the cross, of angels in adoration, of Saint John proclaiming the Word, and of Saint Joseph reverently inclined toward the Virgin Mother is, in pictorial form, a mystagogical catechesis waiting to be developed.

In Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI writes:

The Church's great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated, offering one's life to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the whole world. For this reason, the Synod of Bishops asked that the faithful be helped to make their interior dispositions correspond to their gestures and words. Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism. Hence the need to provide an education in eucharistic faith capable of enabling the faithful to live personally what they celebrate. Given the vital importance of this personal and conscious participation, what methods of formation are needed? The Synod Fathers unanimously indicated, in this regard, a mystagogical approach to catechesis, which would lead the faithful to understand more deeply the mysteries being celebrated.

A Devout Method

Compare the teaching of the Holy Father with this Devout Method of Hearing Mass Before Holy Communion in my heirloom Treasury of the Sacred Heart published in 1860 in Dublin, that is nineteen years before the apparition at Knock:

To hear Mass with fruit, and to obtain from that adorable sacrifice abundant treasures of grace, there is no method more efficacious than to unite ourselves with Jesus Christ, who is at once our Priest, Mediator, and Victim. Separated from Him we are nothing, but even in the eyes of God Himself, we are truly great, by and with His Beloved Son. United thus with Jesus Christ, covered, as it were with His merits, present yourself before the throne of mercy.

This was written in a widely diffused household manual of Catholic piety 103 years before the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. It is not a complete presentation of the mystery of the Mass. Its genre is that of the pious exhortation, not of a comprehensive theology of the Eucharist. That being said, it strikes me that this little Irish text goes to the heart of what is meant by actual participation: communion with Christ, Priest, Mediator, and Victim. Through Him, with Him, and in Him, all who partake of His Sacred Body and Precious Blood are priests, mediators, and victims, offering, and offered to the Father, in the Holy Spirit.

Saint Joseph and Saint John

One last thing. The presence at Knock of Saint Joseph and of Saint John the Evangelist is especially significant to me. Although it was not so in 1879, both are now named in the venerable Roman Canon. They are the two men chosen by God to share most intimately in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Joseph obeyed the word of the Angel of the Lord: "Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost" (Mt 1:20). Saint John, for his part, obeyed the word of the crucified Jesus: "Behold thy mother." "And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own" (Jn 19:27).

Saint Joseph and Saint John entered in the silence of Blessed Virgin. One cannot live in the company of Mary without being drawn into her silence, that is, into the ceaseless prayer of her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, and into the mystery of the Mass: the Sacrifice of the Lamb renewed in an unbloody manner on the altars of the world.

Per antica tradizione

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Leafing through the 1941 edition of the Usi Monastici of our Congregazione Cistercense di San Bernardo in Italia, I happened upon this interesting prescription:

Per antica tradizione il Matutino durante l'Ottava del Corpus Domini si recita immediatamente dopo la Compieta et coram Sanctissimo in Altari exposito.

By ancient tradition, Matins during the Octave of Corpus Domini are recited immediately after Compline and in the presence of the Most Holy Sacrament exposed on the altar.

The same book prescribes the solemn renewal in every monastery of the consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the presence of the entire religious family, on the feast of the Sacred Heart, according to the formula prescribed by the Chapter of our Congregation.

While the latter practice is, in fact, maintained, no one here seems to remember Matins in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed during the Octave of Corpus Domini.


Days of Fire and of Light

In the traditional Roman liturgical calendar the glorious solemnity of Pentecost has its own Octave: eight days under the grace of the Holy Spirit, eight days of joy in the fire and light of His presence, eight days of thanksgiving for His gifts. The Octave of Pentecost was one of the most beautiful moments in the Church Year, not only by reason of the liturgical texts, but also by reason of its effect in the secret of hearts. Each day of the Octave the Church would sing her “Golden Sequence,” the Veni, Sancte Spiritus: a chant of such unction that one never tires of repeating it.

The Suppression of a Great Joy

In some places in the Catholic world, Whit Monday was a reason to have a civil holiday, as well as a liturgical celebration. In this way, the mysterious presence of the Holy Spirit marked even the secular culture. It came as shock, and brought no little distress to the faithful, when in 1969 the Octave of Pentecost suddenly disappeared from the calendar. It would appear that not even the Pope was apprised of the suppression of one of the Church’s great joys.


Fifth Wednesday of Paschaltide

Acts 15:1-6
Psalm 121: 1-2, 3-4ab, 4cd-5
John 15:1-8


Today’s Gospel of the vine and the branches recurs frequently in the Sacred Liturgy. I have no difficulty whatsoever in the repetition of the same texts. Repetition is integral to the pedagogy of the Church. Anthropologists tell us that ritual is all about doing the same things, in the same way, at the same time, over and over again. Culture flourishes where the same stories are repeated over and over again in the same way. From the point of view of the human sciences, repetition, not variety, is the ground of culture. From the Catholic point of view, it is outward repetition that makes inward change — conversion — possible. It is sameness that makes the difference. It is by hearing the same Word repeated in the same way that our hardened hearts are touched and, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, pierced and opened to holiness.

Always New

Though we may, from time to time, read the same text, the Gospel remains always new. Every time the holy Gospel is proclaimed, the voice of the risen Christ resounds in the Church. The Gospel is a sacrament of Christ’s abiding presence. The Church has always been conscious of this mystery. She has, over the centuries, surrounded the Book of the Gospels and the proclamation of the liturgical Gospel with marks of solemnity and of joy. Unlike other books, the Book of the Gospels may be placed upon the altar. In the Corpus Christi procession in some places, the Book of the Gospels is carried by a deacon, under the canopy with the Blessed Sacrament, to signify that the same Christ, who speaks in the Gospel, gives himself as food in the Eucharist.

Christ the Energetic Word

No one, I think, has better expressed this profoundly Catholic sense of the reality underlying the Gospel than the English writer, Evelyn Underhill. “The reading of the liturgic Gospel,” she writes, “is something more than a mere instruction of the faithful. It is a vital moment in the sacred action of the Church. In it Christ the Energetic Word speaks and acts. The ceremonial and reverence with which all the ancient rites surround it, the psalm of joy with which it was welcomed, the Alleluia which announced the Divine presence — also the sacred character which the Eastern Church still ascribes to the Book of the Gospels, and the deep awe with which its entrance is received — may serve to remind us that the words and deeds, indeed the very life of the Incarnate Logos, are themselves sacramental impartings of the Infinite God to man, and the proper causes of his adoring gratitude and joy” (The Mystery of Sacrifice, 9-10).


Fifth Tuesday of Paschaltide

Acts 14:19-28
Psalm 144:10-11, 12-13ab, 21
John 14:27-31a

My Peace I Give to You

Today’s Gospel gives us the very words of Christ that are repeated in every Mass. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27). “Lord, Jesus Christ, who said to your apostles, Peace I leave you, my peace I give you, look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. Who live and reign forever and ever.” This prayer for peace, addressed to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, is familiar to all of us. We have heard it hundreds of times.

Prayer Reposes on the Words of Christ

The prayer begins by repeating to Christ the words of Christ. Our Lord’s own words are the foundation and support of our petition. The basis of our prayer is not in something we have conjured up; it is in those solemn words of Christ uttered in the Upper Room on the night before His Passion. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27). This is a particular application of one of the universal laws of prayer: prayer begins not with our word addressed to God, but with the Word of God addressed to us.

The Faith of So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

After recalling the words of Christ, the prayer asks Him to turn His gaze from our sins and to fix it, instead, upon the faith of his Church. No matter what the failings, weaknesses, and even betrayals of individual members of the Church may be, the faith of the Church, the Bride of Christ, remains virginal, shining, and indomitable. The faith of the Church encompasses and perfects the faith of Abel, of Enoch, of Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets (cf. Heb 11:1-32). The faith of the Church is the faith of the Mother of God, and of the Apostles. It is the faith of the martyrs and of the saints of every age.


There is comfort in knowing that when our own faith is weak and faltering, we can take refuge in the faith of “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). This is the secret of that strong, efficacious prayer recommended by Christ in the gospel. “I say to you, if two or three agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Mt 18:19). It is helpful, even necessary at times, to lean upon the faith of another in our prayer. It is good to seek the intercession of the saints, good to ask for the prayer of the Church. In the Third Eucharistic Prayer the Church commemorates the saints "whose intercession in Your presence is our unfailing pledge of help.”

Does this make our own prayer less effective or less pleasing to God? On the contrary, the poverty and truth of such a prayer pleases the Lord who takes pity on the lowly and the weak. It makes our prayer resemble that of the father who prayed for his child, saying, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).

Peace: A Gift from Above

Our petition, then, will rest upon a secure foundation: the words of Christ himself, and the faith of Christ’s Bride, the Church. The request itself is direct and unadorned: “Graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.” We are not asking here for a sentimental kind of peace nor are we asking to experience a feeling. Peace is not a feeling. Feelings are subjective; they originate within ourselves. The peace and unity for which we pray originate not in man, but in God. Peace and unity descend from above, “coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jas 1:17).

What will tomorrow bring?

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Then again, there is also May 5th . . .


O God, who raised up Pope Saint Pius V within Thy Church
to uphold the faith
and to provide for a liturgy more worthy of Thee,
grant that, through his intercession,
we may participate in Thy mysteries
with a lively faith and a fruitful charity.
Through Christ our Lord.

O God, who for the confusion of the enemies of thy Church,
and for the restoring of the honour of thy worship,
didst appoint thy blessed Saint Pius to be supreme Pontiff:
grant that we, being defended by his intercession,
may so steadfastly follow after thy commandments,
that we may overcome all the devices of our enemies,
and rejoice in perpetual peace and security.
Through Christ our Lord.


Here it is. I will be studying the document today. More later.

A Ray of Light In Brighton, U.K.

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I am so impressed by Father Ray Blake's reflections on celebrating Holy Mass ad orientem that instead of sending my readers over to his excellent blog I decided to post what he wrote here. The titles and italics are my own.

The Image of the Crucified

The great beauty of celebrating ad orientem is that it is the image of the Crucified that dominates the celebration not the face of the priest, the Pope talks about that in Spirit of the Liturgy. For the priest then the Mass becomes an action through Christ.

The Priest, A Revealer of the Divine

What becomes clear in celebrating Mass "with" the people is that the priest is doing something for them but what I have realised doing it with a growing congregation (normally it has been a side altar in an Italian Church, perhaps with a server, is that the Mass is an Epiphany, in the sense that apart from the elevations ( a late addition to combat heresy), the first time the people see the host is at the Ecce Agnus Dei (Behold the Lamb of God). I can understand that doing it everyday gave a very different theology of priesthood, the priest becomes the "revealer" of the divine. Someone who is called to show forth Christ not just at the Liturgy but in his life.

John, the Friend of the Bridegroom

There is a parallel with John the Baptist who in the Old Rite had a much more prominent part in the Eucharist, as he does in the Eastern Rites. On the iconostasis, in the Deesis, he was always a complimentary figure to Our Lady. Now that is an interesting subject for a doctoral thesis, "John the Baptist Model of Priesthood", Dr Uwe Michael Lang suggests that the image of Our Lady and the image of the Baptist might have designated the women's and men's aisles of a Church, which gives an interesting spin on the model of the relationship of men and women in the pre-modern Church.

Preaching on the Propers — Again

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The Bambino clasping His Mamma's hand is by Michelangelo. Already, I see in this something of the Pietà.

December 22

1 Samuel 1:24-28
1 Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8abcd
Luke 1:46-56

Preaching on the Propers

Some of you have asked why I so often preach on the Collect of the Mass. There are several reasons for this. First, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal recommends that priests preach not only on the Gospel of the day or on the other readings, but also on the Proper and Ordinary of the Mass, that is, on the other parts of the Mass, both those that change according to the season and day, and those common to every celebration.

Devotion to the Collect

The Collect of the Mass is a privileged element of the sacred liturgy. It instructs us in the mysteries of our faith and articulates the prayer of the whole Church, a prayer that that is the fruit of the Word of God heard (lectio) and repeated in antiphons and responsories (meditatio). In the great seasons of the Church Year and on feasts, the same Collect is repeated at Mass and at all the Hours of the Divine Office, except Compline. This repetition of the Collect is intended to anchor it our hearts. Dom Guéranger, the restorer of Benedictine life in nineteenth France, once told a novice bewildered by the vast variety of pious devotions, that a single one was indispensable and sufficient: devotion to the Collect of the day.

An Inspired Prayer

The Collect of the day is a distillation of the Church’s own reflection on the Word of God. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Collect rises in the soul of the Church. At Mass and the Divine Office, it comes to flower on the lips of her children to bear fruit in their lives.

Unspeakable Groanings

None of us know how to pray rightly. Often in our prayer we ask for things according to our own dim lights. We ask God for the things we think we need or for the things we think we want. But our needing and our wanting are, more often than not, obscure and flawed. This is the “infirmity” of our prayer. Saint Paul says: “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God” (Rom 8:26-27). The Collect articulates for us the unspeakable groanings of the Spirit. When we pray the Collect, making it our own, we are asking according to God, and not according to our own dim and limited perceptions.


It was one year ago today that I began standing before the altar versus apsidem from the Offertory until the Communion of the Mass at the monastery where I serve as chaplain. I prepared this change with a careful pastoral catechesis. For guests coming to Mass at the monastery, I posted a notice in the narthex. Here is the text of the notice:

Pastoral Note

It is good, from time to time, to break with routine and do what we do daily from a different perspective. Given that the reformed liturgy gives the priest the option of standing in front of the altar, one with the people, for the Eucharistic Prayer, I will avail myself of this option during the seven days before Christmas. We are no longer accustomed to doing this, but it remains a venerable and perfectly legitimate practice. It is especially suited to these last days of Advent when the whole Church faces in one direction, scanning the horizon, waiting for the coming of her Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI explains this very well. He says, “Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord. It is not (in the Eucharistic Prayer) a question of dialogue but of common worship, of setting off toward the One who is to come. What corresponds with the reality of what is happening is not the closed circle but the common movement forward, expressed in a common direction for prayer.”

Let us then welcome a change in our routine during these last days of Advent, not for the sake of change, but in order to advance together toward the Lord who came, who comes, and who is to come.

On the whole, the change was received well. Some wondered if, in fact, it was permitted. One woman complained about it and stopped coming to Mass at the monastery. Two or three nuns out of about twenty were uncomfortable with the practice at first, but seem to have adjusted to it. Several said that they preferred it and were relieved not to have to look at the face of the priest through the whole Eucharistic Prayer!

After a year of celebrating the Holy Mysteries ad apsidem, what are my own conclusions? The entire celebration of Holy Mass has gained immensely in recollection, in reverence and, most importantly, in God–centredness. There has been a marked increase in what Pope John Paul II desired the fruit of the Year of the Eucharist to be: Eucharistic amazement. There is a new awareness of the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice offered to God with the priest and people together standing in the presence of the Divine Majesty.

I am absolutely convinced that the ad apsidem position is essential to the recovery of the sacred. It goes a long way in restoring a certain rightness to the practice of an Ordo Missae that for too long has had so much wrong with it. Reverend and dear brother priests, take heart, and fear not!


From the homily of His Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew I at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of Saint George in Istanbul:

Every celebration of the Divine Liturgy is a powerful and inspiring con-celebration of heaven and of history. Every Divine Liturgy is both an anamnesis of the past and an anticipation of the Kingdom. We are convinced that during this Divine Liturgy, we have once again been transferred spiritually in three directions: toward the kingdom of heaven where the angels celebrate; toward the celebration of the liturgy through the centuries; and toward the heavenly kingdom to come.

This overwhelming continuity with heaven as well as with history means that the Orthodox liturgy is the mystical experience and profound conviction that "Christ is and ever shall be in our midst!" For in Christ, there is a deep connection between past, present, and future. In this way, the liturgy is more than merely the recollection of Christ's words and acts. It is the realization of the very presence of Christ Himself, who has promised to be wherever two or three are gathered in His name.

At the same time, we recognize that the rule of prayer is the rule of faith (lex orandi lex credendi), that the doctrines of the Person of Christ and of the Holy Trinity have left an indelible mark on the liturgy, which comprises one of the undefined doctrines, "revealed to us in mystery," of which St. Basil the Great so eloquently spoke. This is why, in liturgy, we are reminded of the need to reach unity in faith as well as in prayer. Therefore, we kneel in humility and repentance before the living God and our Lord Jesus Christ, whose precious Name we bear and yet at the same time whose seamless garment we have divided. We confess in sorrow that we are not yet able to celebrate the holy sacraments in unity. And we pray that the day may come when this sacramental unity will be realized in its fullness.

And yet, Your Holiness and beloved brother in Christ, this con-celebration of heaven and earth, of history and time, brings us closer to each other today through the blessing of the presence, together with all the saints, of the predecessors of our Modesty, namely St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom. We are honored to venerate the relics of these two spiritual giants after the solemn restoration of their sacred relics in this holy church two years ago when they were graciously returned to us by the venerable Pope John Paul II. Just as, at that time, during our Thronal Feast, we welcomed and placed their saintly relics on the Patriarchal Throne, chanting "Behold your throne!" So, today we gather in their living presence and eternal memory as we celebrate the Liturgy named in honor of St. John Chrysostom.

Thus our worship coincides with the same joyous worship in heaven and throughout history. Indeed, as St. John Chrysostom himself affirms: "Those in heaven and those on earth form a single festival, a shared thanksgiving, one choir" (PG 56.97). Heaven and earth offer one prayer, one feast, and one doxology. The Divine Liturgy is at once the heavenly kingdom and our home, "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev. 21.1), the ground and center where all things find their true meaning. The Liturgy teaches us to broaden our horizon and vision, to speak the language of love and communion, but also to learn that we must be with one another in spite of our differences and even divisions. In its spacious embrace, it includes the whole world, the communion of saints, and all of God's creation. The entire universe becomes "a cosmic liturgy", to recall the teaching of St. Maximus the Confessor. This kind of Liturgy can never grow old or outdated.

The only appropriate response to this showering of divine benefits and compassionate mercy is gratitude (eucharistia). Indeed, thanksgiving and glory are the only fitting response of human beings to their Creator. For to Him belong all glory, honor, and worship: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; now and always, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Ave, Verum Corpus!

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I do love this painting of Saint Martin's Mass. It is the work of an unknown Hungarian master and dates from 1490. Saint Martin's acolyte, clothed in a flowing sleeveless surplice, holds a lighted taper in one hand and lifts the bishop's chasuble with the other. Saint Martin is totally absorbed in his priestly service. Notice his pontifical vestments: the alb, green dalmatic, and red chasuble bearing the image of the Crucified. His amice is adorned with a green apparel and the maniple is clearly visible on his left arm.

Angels assist at the elevation of the Sacred Host, spreading a kind of "sacring cloth" beneath it: an exquisite expression of reverence that serves, at the same time, to cover Saint Martin's arms. His sleeves have fallen almost to his elbows. Looking closely at the Host, one sees that it too bears the imprint of the Crucified. Both Saint Martin and his acolyte are gazing intently at the Body of Christ.

The altar is covered with fair linens and with a corporal. Two candles are burning. The missal and mitre rest on the left side of the altar. The precious chalice is covered with a white linen pall; behind it, at the foot of the crucifix, there is a covered ciborium. The altarpiece depicts the Crucified Jesus with the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint John. In all, there are three representations of the Crucified: on the back of the chasuble, on the Host, and on the altarpiece. Clearly, this is the sacramental actualization of the Sacrifice of the Cross.

The kneeling man dressed in black appears to be a cleric; he folds his hands in an attitude of devotion and lifts his eyes to the Body of Christ. Just behind him one barely sees the head of another worshiper. A lady coiffed in white looks on from a distance; behind here there is another woman. The door of the church is open and, just outside, is a young layman come to see the elevation. Perhaps he was drawn there by the sound of the church bells ringing the Sanctus. He is kneeling in adoration and his hands are folded.

The whole painting breathes a climate of adoration and wonder. Every person in it is fully, consciously, and actually engaged in the Mysterium Fidei. I think of it as an image of authentic liturgical renewal.


Father Tim Finigan over at The Hermeneutic of Continuity offers three compelling reflections on the question. His suggestions give some substance to what is generally called "the reform of the reform." Can the so–called Novus Ordo be salvaged? I don't pretend to have the answer, but Father Tim makes some excellent observations.

One can at least begin by doing what the current GIRM allows, such as:

1. the unified position ad apsidem of priest and people during the Liturgy of the Eucharist;
2. on the part of the priest: abstinence from all extraneous, subjective, and casual remarks;
3. respect for the Proper texts of the Mass as given in the Graduale Romanum and in the Missale Romanum;
4. the cantillation of the priest's and deacon's parts according to the traditional tones of the Roman Rite;
5. the fitting use of incense and bells.

Celebrating in the vernacular, there remains still the problem of the frightfully flawed translations in the 1974 Sacramentary. I try to post here my own translations of the Mass texts each day — for lectio divina and comparative study if for nothing else — as well as General Intercessions based on the lectionary, feast, or mystery being celebrated.

A Holy Baptism

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Yesterday I had the joy of baptizing Michael Mario Guidone, son of Michael and Kerry Guidone, Oblates of the Benedictine Monastery of the Glorious Cross in Branford, Connecticut. It is very unusual to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism in a monastery. The baptism was recorded in the registers of the neighbouring parish church. Michael and Kerry, being Oblates, belong to the "extended monastic family" ; having the Baptism during the Sunday Conventual Mass allowed the nuns of the monastery and other Oblates and friends of the monastery to participate.

Little Michael Mario claims Saint Michael the Archangel and the Blessed Virgin Mary as his patrons. He was also named in memory of a much loved former pastor of Saint Anthony Church in New Haven, Father Mario Bordignon of the Missionary Society of Saint Charles (Scalabrinian Fathers).

The celebration opened in the narthex of the monastery church where the infant was named and signed with the cross; then the parents with Michael Mario, and his godparents took their places in the church. After the Liturgy of the Word, Sister Marie–Zita intoned the Litany of the Saints. The first anointing (with the Oil of Catechumens) followed. I sang the solemn blessing over the water of the font.

After the Renunciation of Sin and the Profession of Faith, little Michael Mario was carefully unwrapped and immersed in the holy bath of regeneration. The Second Anointing (with Sacred Chrism) followed. Mom and Dad clothed him in a splendid new white garment. Michael's godfather received the lighted candle; it had been beautifully prepared by Sister Elfriede, the sacristan.

Before the Ite, missa est, we went together to the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary to entrust Michael Mario to her loving protection. We ended with the Salve Regina.


Proud parents Michael and Kerry Guidone are Benedictine Oblates of the Monastery of the Glorious Cross in Branford, Connecticut. Before the birth of little Michael Mario, Michael and Kerry asked for the Blessing of Expectant Parents; after his birth, Kerry asked for the rite of the Churching of Woman After Childbirth, a sacramental dating back to the fourth century. Essentially, the rite is an office of thanksgiving. The new mother, returning to church forty days after giving birth, is greeting at the door of the church by the priest. Holding a lighted candle in one hand and the end of the priest's stole in the other, she is led to the altar where, kneeling, she receives a special blessing and offers thanksgiving to God for the birth of her child. The text of the rite, as given by Father Weller in his Roman Ritual, follows:



1. After giving birth to a child a mother may wish to give thanks to God in church for a safe delivery, and to obtain the Church's blessing. This has long been a devout and praiseworthy practice. The priest, vested in surplice and white stole (assisted by a server who carries the aspersory), goes to the threshold of the church. The woman kneels there, holding a lighted candle.

The very fact that the priest goes to meet her and escort her into the church is in itself a mark of respect for the mother, and puts one in mind of a bishop who meets a royal personage or anyone of high rank when the latter comes to a cathedral to attend a solemn function. The rest of the rite speaks for itself; but it may be pointed out that Psalm 23, which the priest recites over the woman, is a psalm of majesty, praise, and gratitude.


The priest sprinkles her with holy water, saying:

P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.

He then says the following antiphon and begins Psalm 23 which is alternated with the assembly. In some places the Magnificat is recited in place of Psalm 23.

Antiphon: This woman shall receive a blessing from the Lord and mercy from God, her Savior; for she is one of the people who seek the Lord.

Dignum et iustum est

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Terry Nelson at Abbey–Roads, Father Zuhlsdorf at WDPRS, and Father Jim Tucker at Dappled Things discuss with serenity and good sense current speculation on unimpeded use of the traditional Missal.


A recent experience finally pushed me over the edge. Has anyone really read, pencil in hand, Redemptionis Sacramentum, the 2004 Instruction of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments? The wanton proliferation of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion in circumstances that do not meet the criteria established by the Holy See is a pastoral problem with grave theological implications. Liturgical practice has a direct bearing on one's understanding of the faith.

A few observations based on the text of the Instruction:

[154.] As has already been recalled, "the only minister who can confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi is a validly ordained Priest". Hence the name "minister of the Eucharist" belongs properly to the Priest alone. Moreover, also by reason of their sacred Ordination, the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are the Bishop, the Priest and the Deacon, to whom it belongs therefore to administer Holy Communion to the lay members of Christ's faithful during the celebration of Mass.

[156.] This function is to be understood strictly according to the name by which it is known, that is to say, that of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and not "special minister of Holy Communion" nor "extraordinary minister of the Eucharist" nor "special minister of the Eucharist", by which names the meaning of this function is unnecessarily and improperly broadened.

Words are important. A slack vocabulary leads to a slack theology. I still hear the term "Eucharistic Minister" used by clergy and laity as in, "Nellie is a Eucharistic Minister", or even worse, in the sacristy before Mass, "Good Morning, Father. I am Nellie, your Eucharistic Minister."

The use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion is not a means of fostering fuller participation in the Sacred Liturgy. It is not a way of honoring the generous and faithful parishioner. It is not a way of making Mr. X. or Mrs Y. feel needed and useful. The Sacred Liturgy is hierarchically, not sentimentally, ordered.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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