Monday, June 13



Last year, I think it was, Italy passed the most Catholic laws with regard to embryo treatment in all Europe, pretty much (except maybe Malta). "Yay!," I said then.

Last week, Italy announced that they would be holding a referendum on repealing those same laws. "Oh," I said. I was sure the law would be scrapped.

Today, it turns out that the referendum failed. In Italy, public referendums require a turn out of 50% to be binding. For this reason, the Vatican called on Catholics to BOYCOTT the referendum, "because life is too sacred to put to a vote."

Only 19% of the country EVEN VOTED, much less voted in favor of repealing the protective laws.

In fact, the defeat was so decisive that it has made the proponent of the referendum even fear for the continued legality of abortion within Italy.


Pope Benedict is getting a lot of the credit, too. Given that Spain legalized homosexual marriages the first week of his papacy, I'd say the current standing is:
Evil European Secularism: 1
Pope Benedict XVI: 1
Tie game, folks, and that ain't bad.

Read More from BBC

Saturday, June 11

In Praise of Pete (and Pete)

I don’t suppose any of you remember Mr. Tastee.

He’s tucked away in the peripheral vision of my mind, a guy in a white suit striped like the roof of a Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-through and a spirally plastic head that puts me in mind of Borromini or Dairy Queen. I think I saw him in a commercial on Nickelodeon, and there was something ominous about him, despite the fact he was, essentially, an ice-cream man in a stupid helmet. At least the promo suggested there was something fundamentally off about him, and it’d stuck in my head at the time. I’d forgotten about him until last week.

You might describe him, and his world, as a modern tall tale.

I’m not sure what put me in the mood, but I sent off via Netflix for a DVD of the first season of the old Nick live-action TV show The Adventures of Pete and Pete. I ordered the second DVD of the set since I have a strong dislike of pilot episodes. Life hasn’t got a pilot episode; I like to land in the middle of something and figure each fictive universe out out as I go along.

Mr. Tastee was an escapee from this particular universe, the Petes’ supposedly normal hometown of Wellsville. I’d never seen the episode where they found out his secret, or found out he had a secret, anyway; but I remembered the show in a haze of vague fondness: quirky, low-key, spiced with the occasional garden gnome, and smelling of burning leaves and the northern fall. A little too good to be a kid’s show. Not too smart, or too smarmy or clever, or even, fortunately, too sentimental, but just too good. A little, anyway.

Here’s the best way I can put it: what else can you say about the low-key and slightly warped humor of a show that has the brains to slip in a cameo by Hunter S. Thompson (no, really) in a way that neither you, or anyone else, noticed it?

The show’s premise is deceptively simple: it chronicles the faintly magical-realist adventures of two red-headed brothers, one older, one younger and both named Pete and nobody seems to be concerned why they’re sharing the name. It’s set against a backdrop of that stereotypical TV suburbia so radically different from the real thing. The show revolves around the inner world of the Petes’ family—and the Petes themselves. Not necessarily their imaginary inner world, à la Calvin and Hobbes, but an inner world that has a funnily straightforward way of bleeding into reality without anyone blinking an eye. Mr. Tastee, supervillain Paper Cut, Internationa Adult Conspiracy representative and aluminum-siding salesman John McFlemp, or the littler Pete’s private Superman: gawky Artie, the Strongest Man in the World. Of more later.

The elder Pete is in high school, and unlike most TV teens is neither geek nor dude nor jock. He’s everyone else in high school who never got a teen sitcom about themselves—the straight man to the rest of the universe, but not the butt of the jokes. He’d be The Best Friend to someone glossy and shiny in any other sitcom. He’s in the band, a little awkward, a little gawky, and the first Everyman I’ve come across who doesn’t end up looking like Forrest Gump. He’s the show’s narrator and helmsman. Or maybe helmsboy, since he’s the first television high-schooler who looks like he’s still on a learner’s permit in real life. And it’s he who forms the nexus around which the pleasantly mundane weirdness of his home life revolves.

His younger brother, one of those tubby, stumpy, frustrating little boys with just a little too much floppy hair (Danny Partridge is a classic example of the genus), is his best friend, and emphatically even less glossy and shiny. Little Pete is sort of a genius, one of those kids who’s always messing with something mysterious and possibly toxic and never quite making it work. You know the type: the immediate response is either to want to blow something up or wonder if you can stick it in your mouth, either for research purposes or to gross Mom out. But he’s not a geek: I’m not sure we’d let him into the union without rewriting the bylaws first. He’s also not particularly bright either—while he managed to devise a science project that caused widespread baldness across the Texas panhandle, a favorite hobby of his revolves around sticking bits of a cereal called Presidential Pops up his nose.

(“I mock your cheese danish and all that it stands for!” Thus Pete the Lesser).

The thing about Pete and Pete is not necessarily what it’s about, but how it shows it. First and foremost it does not resort to that truly horrid thing known as “Imagination!” Which, in the orthography of adults who do kiddie shows, is inevitably written with an exclamation mark and accompanied by a ghastly rising intonation suggesting said adult has been lobotomized by Barney.

One adult on the show has had some head trauma, though. The Petes’ Mom. There’s Mom’s Plate, a deadpanned running gaf so central to the show it merits a mention in the opening credits. Joyce (almost invariably just plain Mom) has a bit of metal in her head from a childhood accident. It can pick up radio stations and attract lightning—both of which has its pros and cons. Unlike most TV gags, there’s a certain comic consistency to the way it gets handled in the show. The Petes’ Dad met Mom on the beach while humming along with his metal detector, and Dad’s nemesis once tormented the Petes’ by broadcasting polkas for days at a time via Mom’s Plate.

(Poor woman.)

There’s the mutant Artie, Little Pete’s not-so-imaginary friend and private army. Adults actually can see him, they just don’t really notice him. He looks and acts like Mork’s younger brother with a wardrobe by Where’s Waldo, and the same actor played the unbeatable Wiz on Seinfeld. Artie lives in a porta-john, likes armpit noises—they remind him of his mother—and is the Strongest Man in the World. And nobody ever quite seems to be interested why. He is, like so many of our childhood fantasies, just there in reserve until needed to move a neighbor’s house exactly one inch to the left, or to vanquish (unsuccessfully) an evil Tibetan bowling ball named Rolling Thunder.

The song Love Rollercoaster, incidentally, affects him like a giant funk magnet. Not my words.

Artie briefly disappeared once to became a world champion bowler but he left for good after the inevitable two-part episode. He got replaced in the credits by freckly next-door neighbor kid Nona Mecklenburg, who wears a cast all the time because she likes that scratching feeling and who invented the illegal “volcano” move in Rock, Paper, Scissors. (Her dad was portrayed by, of all people, Iggy Pop). And, being played by Michelle Trachenberg, she seems to have been the only one who got out of Wellsville alive to go on to moderate fame and fortune. (“Nona F. Mecklenburg’s speech patterns could cloud men’s minds.” Thus Pete the Greater).

And there’s a whole constellation of other oddballs. Love-smitten crossing-guards and school janitors. The mysterious underwear quality supervisor Inspector 34. The beautiful blind blonde millionairess who lives two doors down, sort of Jackie Kennedy Onassis channeling Blanche Dubois. Mrs. Fingerwood, beaky and Brueghelian in her frumpy plaid winter coat and bulky skirt, the delightfully homely, electric guitar-playing math teacher from Pete’s high school. Or there’s Little Pete’s school principal, played by Adam West, and Big Pete’s school mascot, played by a rather flaccid fighting squid. Or Big Pete’s bright not-quite-girlfriend Ellen Hickle, one of those close platonic girl-boy things that happen all the time on TV but never quite as smoothly in real life. They started dating after a near-accident involving the Petes’ home minefield removal business, though suddenly everyone sort of forgot about it and in the next episode they were just friends again, which is a good thing since he later went after Penelope Ghiruto, from whose name twenty-seven separate words can be formed.

The show has aged well since its heyday almost a decade ago. The pop cultural references are self-consciously topical, such as the Hoover dam leitmotif (translation: running gag), a minor reference to Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot I picked up the first time I saw the show, and the bizarre string of blink-and-you'll-miss-them cameo roles by everyone from Patty Hearst to the McGlaughlin Group. Either that or they’re deliberately fictive, such as the aforementioned Presidential Pops; and Krebstar, the company that, with flawless little-kid logic, seems to make everything: Kreb of the Loom, Krebbin’ Donuts, Krebstick deodorant (and Lady Krebstick, too), KrebStar Industrial Floorwax, Krolaids and Krums and the KrebScout Survival Guide. Indeed, in the few cases where chronological reality leaks in between the cracks, with cars and clothes and music, there’s something oddly endearing about its dowdy early-nineties setting, in limbo between being au courant and retro.

(“Soon you will be like cheese, boy: melty, melty, melty!” Thus Artie).

There is plenty of creativity here, but none of the Imagination-exclamation-point-wince variety. The show captures, with strange accuracy, the profound, hilarious weirdness of childhood, and yet the fact that we never quite catch onto the fact that it’s so utterly bizarre until we’re adults. Children are at home with the world; they know what’s weird (Pete accidentally digging up Jimmy Hoffa’s wallet), they know what’s gross (Yucatecan killer bees doing battle with Artie, cheese danishes), but neither seldom disturbs them in the ghostly, numinous and strangely alarming way it does adults. It’s weird. Cool.

(“Begone with you pulpy, before I fold you into some type of brochure!” Thus Artie, again. Who else?)

It has a certain texture, a certain consistency about the odd internal logic that governs its excursions into the surreal, always evident below the surface but never, quite delightfully, ever properly articulated, at least the way life is when you’re on the outside looking in like a kid. It’s quirky, but it hasn’t figured out it’s quirky yet, and so avoids the dread scourge of what might be called Too Much Personality Disorder. It’s hilarious, but it never cracks a smile. It’s sort of Chestertonian, in a weird, magical chaotic sort of way.

And then we come to Mr. Tastee.

He figures just in one episode, a mysterious ice-cream man in a mysterious ice-cream truck, who almost becomes modern folklore, suburbia’s response to the Green Man. He signals the beginning of summer with his jingling bell, and then he vanishes at the end of it. But one day in the middle of the summer, he just doesn’t show up, and the magic goes out of the moment. For a few seconds, it looks like the Petes will fail at their strange juggling act and the show will slide into the twee and sentimental but the episode redeems itself in the end when Tastee re-appears and rides off into the sunset on the last day of the summer, like a primitive agricultural myth in a funny plastic mask.

Like so many things in the show, Mr. Tastee remains mysterious, unexplained, faintly comic and faintly unsettling—why, for instance, is hot-waxing the Tasteemobile a one-man job, pray tell? He could have been asinine or he could have been creepy...creepier, but he’s neither. The show has imagined in a weird stroke of genius, a convincing modern-day Kokopeli. Like so many things in myth and in Wellsville, he’s not quite able to be explained away like angel or devil, he’s just there like Artie is there: a low-rent Tom Bombadil for a people that can’t get enough TCBY.

The show is folklore, modern folklore. If you squint and think hard enough about it. Which probably wasn’t the producers’ intention, but it’s what came out anyway. And I suppose that’s how folklore gets made, by accident. Or maybe tall tales, because, as in the best tall tales, it isn’t a dream which you wake up from. Babe the Blue Ox is really as big as Paul Bunyan says it is. And Artie really is the strongest man in the world, not a figure from Little Pete’s already very fevered imagination. He doesn’t vanish when figures from that grey-faced adult conspiracy come into the room. (“Physics makes me strong, Hathead, physics!”)

I recognize the world of Pete and Pete now as the old clapboard-sided neighborhoods of the Northeast and Midwest midway between Levittown and Georgetown, with boxy and pleasantly honest homes half-hidden behind great overhanging trees that, in my mind, are always alight with the scarlet of autumn. Living in Florida, far away from both Hollywood and the default New England which Unreal America still is, even in you live in a big brick house surrounded by a little pocket of woods, there’s always a little alienation and jealousy when you look out on the world of children’s TV. It never quite squares with your own reality, even if it is an Anytown or Pleasantville (Wellsville) so generic it can’t but help be the same. Like any good fictional reality, contradictory specifics only enforce the vagueness—from a reference to Kentucky in one, to the Canadian border in another and a map of New England in the next.

(Wellsville, incidentally, is in a place that’s nicknamed “The Sideburn State.” Like Mrs. Doyle’s first name, it is one of those televisual mysteries we will never solve.)

Pete and Pete doesn’t quite feel as self-consciously goofy as a kid’s show apparently is supposed to; you don’t feel your intelligence being insulted, but rather that you’ve gotten in on some immense inside joke of conspiratorial proportions. It’s funny, almost Pythonesque, but not too Pythonesque. It’s not being clever just to entertain the parents forced to watch as their babies drool and coo on their laps, and it isn’t just faking innocence just to slip something tiresomely subversive to the after-school special crowd. (Telling kids that riboflavin is the vitamin for time travel isn’t subversive, is it?) Some shows today go so far away from Imagination-exclamation-point to become almost smarmily smug with their dull hipness. The Petes do not. It’s the first show I’ve seen that kids and adults, I think, can watch on the same level and laugh at the same things. As the elder Pete once said of Artie, these tall tales of suburbia leave the world "a little bit stranger and a little bit better."

Glass of Kreb’s Milk, anyone?

Friday, June 10


Venite Ad Me Omnes, Winter 2004-2005.
Is the Pope planning to fire Pietro Marini? And if so, can I have his old job?

Thursday, June 9


St. Anthony's Lilies

We at the Shrine are interested in restoring the many lost practices of Catholic popular piety -- if the Catholic home is the ecclesia domestica, these practices are truly its liturgy.

I may be currently unemployed and summer school may still be weeks away, but I've been working on something, at least: my summary of Catholic popular piety is about 144 pages long. So, here's an excerpt for the feast of St. Anthony, this June 13.

St. Anthony’s Lilies

Traditionally (and it may be news to you, like it was to me), lilies are blessed on the Feast of St. Anthony. The blessing of lilies reminds us of St. Anthony's purity; they have always been a symbol for him. This practice stems from a miracle which took place in Revolutionary France: many priests and religious had been murdered, and many churches and convents destroyed, but the faithful still showed up at a surviving church to celebrate the Feast of St. Anthony. Months later, it was discovered that the lilies which had adorned the church at that feast were still fresh. Let the lilies beautify your house, or carry them with you, or press them in a book, etc. If your priest doesn't bless lilies, you can still use them non-sacramentally to remind you of one of the greatest Saints ever.

The Formula of Blessing

To the best of my knowledge, the new Book of Blessings does not have a formula for the blessing of St. Anthony's Lilies. The Vatican, however, has ruled that where the new Book of Blessings lacks a blessing, we may use the blessing found in the Tridentine Roman Ritual (cf. Directory of Popualr Piety and the Liturgy, footnote 309). This blessing is as follows:

P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.

All: Who made heaven and earth.

P: The Lord be with you.

All: May He also be with you.

Let us pray.

God, the Creator and preserver of the human race, the lover of holy purity, the giver of supernatural grace, and the dispenser of everlasting salvation; bless + these lilies which we, your humble servants, present to you today as an act of thanksgiving and in honor of St. Anthony, your confessor, and with a request for your blessing. Pour out on them, by the saving sign + of the holy cross, your dew from on high. You in your great kindness have given them to man, and endowed them with a sweet fragrance to lighten the burden of the sick. Therefore, let them be filled with such power that, whether they are used by the sick, or kept in homes or other places, or devoutly carried on one's person, they may serve to drive out evil spirits, safeguard holy chastity, and turn away illness--all this through the prayers of St. Anthony--and finally impart to your servants grace and peace; through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Then he sprinkles the lilies with holy water, saying:

Sprinkle me with hyssop, Lord, and I shall be clean of sin. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

P: Pray for us, St. Anthony.

All: That we may be worthy of Christ's promise.

Let us pray.

We beg you, O Lord, that your people may be helped by the constant and devout intercession of Blessed Anthony, your illustrious confessor. May he assist us to be worthy of your grace in this life, and to attain everlasting joys in the life to come; through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

After this the lilies are distributed to the people.

What You Need:
Print off the above blessing and take it with you to church (Father will not have a copy, probably). BYOL. (Bring Your Own Lilies). After Mass, meet up with Father in the Sacristy. Not too hard, huh?

Maybe next year, Father may even be inspired to have the parish perform this devotion officially for everyone who attends daily Mass on St. Anthony's feast.

An Appeal
Not to be tacky, but please spread the word! If you're interested in creating a renewal of Catholic Identity, of intercession to the saints, and of all that is P.O.D., please link to this blessing -- let's see if we can get a good number of people to restore it in their parishes this year. Why not?

I can keep posting practices of similar ilk if people express interest.

Wednesday, June 8

Really, Guys..
I just read "The 30 Astounding Heresies of Pope Benedict XVI." Now, we know that -- as his critics have said themselves -- over the years Ratzinger has forgotten more theology than most theologians ever learn, so I wasn't expecting too much from a critique by some hack with a reprint of Tanquery. (I love Tanquery, by the way--I got an original copy at Loome's, check them out.)

However, "30 heresies" was really poorly done. Take this for example:


“Cardinal” Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (1982), p. 359: “Granted, with regard to the ultimate questions of who God is or what good is, we can never achieve the degree of certainty we can achieve in the realm of mathematics and technology. But when all knowledge that does not take the form of technical knowledge is declared to be nonknowledge, then we are cut off from the truth. We cannot, for instance, decide whether what Jesus said is true but can only dispute whether or not he said it. But that is ultimately an idle question.”

Our vigilante notes:
This is one of the most astounding heresies I’ve ever seen. [Note: I read the book and these sections carefully and these quotations are not taken out of context.] Not only does Ratzinger say that we cannot decide whether what Jesus said is true, but he says that we can dispute if he even said it.

Methings the lad can't read two sentences strung together. It's pretty evident (especially if one is used to Teutonic composition) that the bolded sentence presumes the proposition of the sentence immediately prior. In other words, it's one of those "for example..." sentences. I shouldn't feel the need to defend this observation because it's so obvious, but for some reason I feel like I should.

The Cardina is saying, as you can tell, that to reduce the field of "knowledge" simply to the indesputably observable phenomena, "then we are cut off from the truth," because the truth about God is (as St. Thomas Aquinas tells us) often a science which depends on Revelation, which can not be proven apart from itself. Therefore, the Cardinal warns that our definition of knowledge must have room for theology, whose conclusions are not directly observable. If we declare the truth of theology about God to be nonknowledge (the sentence prior to the sentence in question), then under this incorrect but hypothetical senerio, "we cannot, for example, decide whether what Jesus said is true but can only dispute whether or not he said it." Because, afterall, only what Jesus did or did not say is an observable thing.

I think hatred shortens one's attention span. Honestly, Jack Chick may well read Catholic theology with more honesty and patience. The next time you hear about the heresies of the Vicar of Christ, look at the actual evidence: it will probably be as simplistic as the above.


THAT'S why they have such good food!

"For fatness itself is a valuable quality. While it creates admiration in the onlookers, it creates modesty in the possessor. If there is anything on which I differ from the monastic institutions of the past, it is that they sometimes sought to achieve humility by means of emaciation. It may be that the thin monks were holy, but I am sure it was the fat monks who were humble. Falstaff said that to be fat is not to be hated, but it certainly is to be laughed at, and that is a more wholesome experience for the soul of man."
GK Chesterton, The Uses of Diversity

Tuesday, June 7

Bad Catechesis..

At the afore-mentioned booksale, I obtained some very enjoyable Catechism textbooks from... 1975. By the Paulists.

These fun books are everything you would hope they might be. The first chapter of the fourth grade book is entitled... wait for it... "The Joy of Sharing Our Experiences."

The first line from the Creed affirmed in the book occurs on page 52, when it admits that Jesus was concieved by the Holy Spirit.

No where is the Divinity of Christ, the Real Presence, or anything else even alluded to. One of the few prayers included in the back of the book is entitled, "Pebbles."

But the best part was an actual assignment which I found in the book. The student (Steve) wrote:
"This boy might be sad because something happened that destroyed his happyness. The boy might be sad for his dog, or himself. Maybe the dog is sick and might be ill for his life. Or maybe the boy is sick or crippled for his life."
I can only guess what the assigned question was. On top of the paper, in very nun-ly looking handwriting, is written: "Fine."

Only at a Homeschooling Conference...

The family of one of us Domers just put on the largest Catholic homeschooling conference in the country. The talks were great, the people fun. The best part, of course, were the used books: I got "The Ratzinger Report" for $2.50 (among others).

In fact, the booksale was so good that one of us overheard the following conversation between a husband and his very pregnant wife (she had to use crutches!)

Husband: Honey, don't you think we should go to the hospital..?
Very Pregnant Wife: They're 5 whole minutes apart--keep shopping!!
MORE Bady Church Music!

This is from reader Fr. Mike. He tried to follow our rules for bad music -- Luke 15:11-32, to the tune of "Oh Danny Boy".

Oh wand'ring child, your life, a life's misgivings
From house to house, and down your narrow road
Your family waits, with arms outstretched forgiving
'Tis you, 'tis you must come and share your load.
For off you ran, squand'ring half our fortune
Until there came, a famine in your land
And no one there, would give you cup or portion
You had left the clan which offerd you a hand.

And wrought with pain, at last come to your senses
Back on the 'stead, our servants fare thee well
I'll go back home, and offer to mend thine fences
Though I deserve to share a prison cell.
And home you trod, until a vision in the distance I see
And ran to you, embrace and cut short your apology
I'll hear no talk of how you feel not worthy
For you were dead, but alive you finally be.

Yes I was dead, but you've given life back to me!

The following was also submitted by Fr. Mike. It's the Magnificat set to "The Star of the County Down" which was a favorite at his seminary (and our Dorm Masses). He says this version was inspired by the Mass time--right before lunch.


My gut cries out like a sufferer of gout that the pain of my heart now burns,
And my spirit moans of the desperate groans that you bring to the stomach that turns. You fixed your sight on the servant's plight, and my hunger you did not spurn,
So from bad to worst shall your name be cursed. Could my world be about to churn?


My heart shall moan of the day I groan.

Let the fires of you acid burn.

As I run down the hall, to the nearest stall

Cause my world is about to churn.

Though I am ill, my God, I feel, that you work great things in me,
And your mercy will last, and so too this be passed to the end of the age to be.
This ivory throne has become my home, and to those who would from me learn,
You will show your might, and relieve my plight, for my world is about to churn.


From the halls of brick gather the pale and sick, not a commode will be left alone.
Let the king beware for your innards tears ev'ry tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall eat no more, of the food that they pass right through;
All the rooms are rank, all the pepto is drank, take a book with you to the lew.


Though my bowels rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast:
God's mercy must deliver us from the conqueror's crushing gas.
This saving deed so that we may feed is the promise which holds us bound,
'Til the cook and chef can be crushed to death, then the world can be turned around.

Remember last November..

..when you sat through all those self-righteous tirades about how Bush was a stupid C-average student who got into Yale because of his rich family, whereas Kerry was truly brilliant, the Answerman whose flawless command of the entire field of human knowledge was the hidden wisdom which would save the world?

About that...

Monday, June 6

Piercing Rays of the Living Sun-Christ:
Guarini's Capella del Sindone as Building and Reliquary

Part III: The Reliquary as Building

While Guarini was undoubtedly a practical man, “committed to nuts-and-bolts solutions,” he was also a philosopher, mathematician and theologian, and, as a designer of churches, he would have certainly not done something so wonderfully bizarre as the spire without a good reason. Indeed, Varriano goes as far as to call Guarini’s forms “mystical.” [23] But what mystical reality is the spike of Guarini’s dome—which, as a gigantic reliquary, has clearly some sort of symbolic value, attempting to pierce? What Borrominian tower of Babel is this?

One can, unfortunately, offer only an educated guess. No prototypes have ever been found for Guarini’s extravagant spire. [24] With Borromini’s Sant’ Ivo, almost equally defiant of iconographic analysis, there is at least the smoking gun of the Heemskerk engraving of the tower of Babel and the contents of the sermons preached under that dome. With Guarini, it is harder to say. It is apparent something strange—and figural—is going on here; no practical man, “committed to nuts-and-bolts solutions,” would have embarked on such a design, unique even in his own personal oeuvre, merely as an architectural or scenographic caprice.

Let us return to the reliquary. Scott’s explanation of the “scrigno” is rather unsatisfactory upon re-examination. For one thing, the actual inlays (now lost) on the reliquary casket only remotely resemble the coffers of the pendatives, and Scott proposes another, easier, heraldic explanation for their origins elsewhere. [25]. Reliquaries, architectural or not, are more often than not, figural in their design. The author has seen the reliquary of the True Cross kept at St. Peter’s solemnly shown to the faithful on the fourth Sunday of Lent amid the ringing of bells and great billows of incense, and it was shaped like a cross. [26] Likewise, the relics associated with the Crown of Thorns in the treasury of Notre Dame de Paris (brought there by King St. Louis) have typically been crown-shaped, or, in the case of a small reliquary in the possession of the British Museum, uses the three thorns as freestanding figural elements. [27] Scott himself notes a link between St. Louis’s relic-collecting and the scramble that the Savoyard dynasts that sought to use the Shroud as a lever to gain recognition for their royal Cypriot title. [28].

But how can a Shroud be turned into a heraldic insignia on par with the tower of Babel or a spine or crown? Guarini, no matter how inventive, could hardly build a dome shaped like the face of Christ. Perhaps to make up for this deficit, he borrows heavily from other Passion symbols in the explicit iconography of the chapel, hardly a major leap of the imagination. [29] The spire is to some degree a mingling of the woven-together crown of thorns—for, the dome is surely the head of the building just as the capital is the head of the column, and Guarini’s capitals are ringed with cruel-looking thorns—and perhaps the single upright spike of a passion-nail, another motif used throughout the structure. [30] After all, the regal pretensions of the Savoyards would have put Guarini in mind of crowns, and devotion to the five Wounds made by those three nails (and the Holy Lance, another fabled relic associated with St. Louis) was closely tied to the cult of the Shroud. [31]

However, there is another symbolism, more ingenious, which might be put forward.

Tomorrow: Part IV: The Temple of the Sun-Christ


[23]. Varriano, p. 214.
[24]. Ibid., p. 217.
[25]. Scott, p. 186.
[26]. Scott reproduces a woodcut of a similar ceremony held in 1511 (p. 71).
[27]. James Robinson, “Relic Veneration and the Holy Land.” [Available online] [March 24, 2005].
[28]. Scott, p. 11-13.
[29]. Especially considering the links which were established between the Passion regalia of the Arma Christi, the Savoyard dynastic arms and the Shroud. Ibid, p. 20.
[30]. Three, in fact, with the crown of thorns, top the entire structure. Ibid., p. 170, fig. 119, and p. 173, fig. 122.
[31]. Ibid., p. 172.

Sunday, June 5


Sunset, Notre Dame, Spring 2005
Piercing Rays of the Living Sun-Christ
Guarini’s Capella del Sindone as Building and Reliquary

Part II: The Reliquary as Building

The question of scale arises here. When a building is miniaturized as a reliquary, the result is surpassingly odd. [10] This issue can also be found in the Tempietto at San Pietro in Montorio, an actual chapel sometimes viewed as a miniaturization of larger architectural forms. Speaking from personal experience, it is often a disorienting experience to first view it, expecting a far larger structure judging only from photographs. This miniature quality gives it a memorial quality: it exists solely as a monument, a marker for meaning, as Lotz has noted, citing Serlio’s curious quote that the building was “not big, but was erected solely in memory of St. Peter the Apostle.” [11] Most reliquaries and tabernacles, thus, are not exact models of larger structures but evocations of them.

What distinguishes most architectonic reliquaries is not their to-scale replication of existing buildings but that their whole “structure” becomes an icon deep with specific meaning rather than relying on applied fresco and iconographic schemes to make that significance manifest. [12] Most non-architectonic reliquaries of the Middle Ages were designed to resemble heads or arms, [13] a specific figural statement about the relic inside; the architecture of architectonic reliquaries and other church furnishings has an equal potential to become figural. A few examples will suffice: the font-cover of the Lateran Basilica engages in this game of figural fantasy architecture by combining an architecturally perfect broken pediment topped with a finial in the shape of a literal rendition of the papal tiara and keys impossible in a larger architectural composition, as is the extraordinary cherub-festooned tabernacle at Santa Maria in Vallicella with its remarkable “onion dome” constructed out of volutes. [14]

In such compositions, the whole architecture becomes figural, iconographic, as with the cherubs and the papal tiara. Such literal and specific iconography in architectural forms seems to be unprecedented in larger pre-Baroque compositions. While authors such as the medieval William Durandus sought to impute a wealth of meanings to architectural elements—columns, arches, vaults, pavement, walls, even the mixing of cement—it never becomes literal. When Durandus suggests that the columns represent the bishops, no Gothic church has its triforium supported by pontifical atlantes. [15] Such literalism was possible with the head and hand reliquaries of his age, but was not seen in larger structures. Indeed, whatever symbolic content seems largely restricted to sculptural and artistic additions; in the few instances where it is worked into the fabric of the building—as in the Christologically cruciform shape of the church or the perfection of a round Renaissance dome, the iconography is general rather than site-specific as with the papal tiara atop the Lateran’s baptismal font.

However, by Guarini’s time, Borromini had already done the impossible at Sant’ Ivo della Sapienza. The whole building is a symphony of fantastically figural architecture both in plan and in elevation, a Solomonic house of wisdom (ædes sapientiæ) perfectly allied to its purpose as a university chapel. [16] The plan is a star of David, while the spiraling spire is an academic lighthouse and a tower of Babel—here linked to Pentecost’s miraculous inversion of Babel through the gift of tongues. Never was a marble tabernacle as extravagantly figural in its structure. At the ædes Sapientiæ, architecture has become a-techntonic, exuberantly plastic, fantastic, symbolic, just as it would become at the ædes regiæ, as the royal Shroud chapel was known. While it would be difficult to characterize Guarini as a follower of Borromini though he was of the generation following him, the two of them certainly would have been kindred spirits. [18]

Scott’s analysis of Guarini’s peculiar design is refreshingly practical, seeing the logic behind the monolithic death-mask of eccentricity that art history has forced down on the theologian-mathematician-architect priest’s heterogeneous work. That being said, Scott seems to take his thesis to almost absurd proportions, refusing to see the whole of Guarini’s design as conditioned by iconographic logic. Certainly, the unprecedented triangular arrangement of the rotunda was conditioned by existing conditions in the site, [19] but save for a few passing references here and there, Scott remains entirely uninterested in the obvious Trinitarian symbolism of the complex; furthermore, he seems reluctant to impute much iconographic significance to the extraordinary figural space of the dome save to “ ‘please the senses’ of the viewer” in a miraculous way, and continue the triangular (and thus, presumably, Trinitarian) scheme of the floor plan. [20] Considering he goes into exhaustive detail about the mixture of unconventional and conventional iconographic treatments of the column capitals, exotic passion-flowers, Arabic boxes, reliquary chests and excursions into Jesuit geometrical experiments proving the efficacy of Christ’s passion, [21] he seems to contradict himself when he says that the imagery is “rather commonplace” and need not bother us excessively. As we sit and stare up into the infinity of Guarini’s black-marble heavens, it cannot strike us this is by far one of the silliest statements in the entire history of art. [22]

Tomorrow, Part III: The Building as Reliquary


[10]. Schloeder’s new tabernacle at St. Thérèse in Collinsville, Oklahoma, is an example of this design issue.
[11]. Wolfgang Lotz, Architecture in Italy, 1500-1600 Yale UP, 1974, p. 12. An earlier parallel is afforded by the miniaturized Holy Sepulchre (complete with half-size door) at the Ruccelai chapel in Florence.
[12]. Private conversation with Michael Djordjevitch, February 2005.
[13]. Thurston, n.p.
[14]. Jennifer Montagu, Roman Baroque Sculpture: The Industry of Art, p. 85-89, figs. 103, 109.
[15]. See Durandus, Rationale Divinorum Officiorum.
[16]. John Varriano. Italian Baroque and Rococo Architecture. New York: Oxford UP, 1986.
[17]. Anthony Blunt, Borromini, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1979, pp. 111-128.
[18]. Varriano, p. 214.
[19]. Scott, p. 124.
[20]. Ibid., p. 137; 153.
[21]. Scott claims that these geometric proofs would have been well-known to most contemporary preachers and thus an attempt to seek anything more than obvious symbolism in the design is wrong-headed. Considering Bettini’s diagrams (p. 157-9) were intended for use by the Jesuits in China, not Turin, this seems a rather puzzling line of argument.
[22]. Guarini is bedeviled by such statements. Argan, whose excesses are criticized by Scott, argued that Guarini’s iconography was not just superficial but utterly irrelevant! Argan was influenced here by his allegiance to modernist internationalism, infamous for its particular hatred of anything symbolic and obsession with the mechanical (Scott, p. 195).
"Soon enough, though, [Teddy] Roosevelt would be singing his own theme song, which I like to think of as an arrangement of the Kinks' "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" butchered by a high school marching band."

--Sarah Vowell, Assassination Vacation, Chapter 3

Saturday, June 4

Sarah Vowell, charmingly weird little Goth-cum-history addict that she is, describes one of her vacations:

"Supposedly the fellow who swoops over to great me is the museum director, but he speaks in the hushed low voice of a funeral director. He warns me about the 'sensitive nature of our exhibits.'

"Please. I actually giggle when he tries to steel me for seeing the re-created 1920s embalming room, as if I'm not wearing Bela Lugosi hair clips; as if I didn't just buy a book for my nephew called Frankenstein and Dracula are Friends; as if I was never nicknamed Wednesday (as in Addams); as if in my eighth-grade English class, assigned to act out a scene from a biography, when all the other girls had chosen Queen Elizabeth or Anne Frank, I hadn't picked Al Capone and staged the St. Valentine's Day Massacre with toy machine guns and wadded-up red construction paper thrown everywhere to signify blood; as if I'm not here to see the replica of Abraham Lincoln's casket; as if I'm not the kind of person who would visit the freaking Museum of Funeral Customs in the first place."

--Sarah Vowell. Assassination Vacation, Ch. 1.

I wonder what she would think of the Museum of Purgatory?

Piercing Rays of the Living Sun-Christ:
Capella del Sindone as Building and Reliquary

Part I: King of Relics

For your reading pleasure, we will be presenting extracts from a paper I wrote this semester on the subject of the chapel in which the Turin Shroud is kept, designed by one of the most brilliant and eccentric of the great architects of the Baroque, the Theatine priest Guarino Guarini.

It is the King of Relics. Even today, when skeptics prefer to remember comforting tales of medieval incredulities such as archangelic feathers, the multiple heads of John the Baptist, and the vial of air snatched from the Egyptian plague of darkness which still resides at the sacristy of San Marco in the Piazza Venezia, the Shroud of Turin retains its ability to fascinate, beguile, even inspire belief in some. [1] It even has a branch of science, sindonology (from sindone, the Italian for burial cloth), dedicated to its study. Scientists study its mosaic of mysterious patterns, scorchmarks and caches of dessicated pollen. Believers seek to look upon the face of God. And the occasional crackpot scholar tries to link it to the Templars, the Freemasons, Leonardo da Vinci or some seductively conspiratorial combination thereof. [2]

Amid all this devotional fervor, scientific scrutiny and semi-scholarly white noise, one important aspect of what might be termed the problem of the Shroud recedes surprisingly into the background: the place where it rests. It is a miraculous baroque waterspout of gilding and black marble murk conjured into existence by an eccentric polymath and priest working on the orders of a ducal house hoping to prop up its royal pretensions through the relic. [3] Guarino Guarini’s Capella del Sindone, located behind the high altar of Turin’s stark early-Renaissance cathedral of San Giovanni, is undoubtedly extraordinary, the intersection of liturgy, dynastic theater, and a uniquely architectural symbolic language. It is, perhaps, also, the world’s largest reliquary.

A recent study of the Capella del Sindone remarks on this heretofore unappreciated aspect of the chapel’s curious design, linking its purpose as a gigantic reliquary case to the elaborate geometrical coffering of the lower portion of the dome. John Beldon Scott notes the Shroud had been carried from its earlier resting-place at Chambéray across the Alps in a massive chest inlaid with mother-of-pearl in similar patterns.

While this might be perhaps coincidental, it is confirmed by the account of Amedeo di Castellamonte, a prominent courtier and architect closely connected with the chapel project, who calls it a “scrigno” or reliquary case for the “protection of that most holy Shroud...given miraculously…to the princes of this royal house.” [4] Scott notes this “comment has not received the attention it deserves;” indeed, save for a footnote citing the Sainte Chapelle in Paris as the prototype, he does not return to the subject himself. [5]

When one considers both the larger typological scope of reliquaries and the whole of the structure, rather than one isolated zone in the building and the casket, a boxy and distinctly un-architectural form of reliquary, the analogy operates in a far more comprehensive level. The whole design, with its spirit of fantasy, “the terror of architecture,” [6] becomes a commentary on the architectonic reliquary and the tradition of tabernacles and other miniature buildings in church furniture. Reliquaries and tabernacles have long imitated larger structures, functioning as miniature buildings.

Guarini would have been familiar with Bernini’s lapis lazuli tabernacle in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament at St. Peter’s inspired by Bramante’s Tempietto; of more later. [7] Medieval Christians reserved the Host in structures called, quite literally, “Sacrament Houses” or “Sacrament Towers,” while reliquaries in architectural form are even older. Thursdon notes a gabled shrine preserved in the sacristy of St. Maurice in Valais resembling—perhaps unintentionally—Noah’s Ark, as well as the reliquary of the Magi at Cologne, “a superb piece of silversmith's work resembles in outward form a church with a nave and two aisles.”[9] The author himself has seen a small reliquary of St. Thérèse in the sacristy of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame, Indiana, designed in the form of the dome of that college’s Main Building.

[To be continued tomorrow, with Part II: The Reliquary as Building].


[1]. For the designation “King of Relics” and sindonology, see John Beldon Scott, Architecture for the Shroud: Relic and Ritual in Turin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003 (p. 9-10). For the tenebrae aegyptorum see Bryce Sibley, “POD-ing Out,” A Saintly Salmagundi [available online]. [March 23, 2005]. Also see “Gabriel Feather” in George Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, Vol. I. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 2002.
[2]. Lynn Pickett and Clive Prince’s magnificently preposterous book Turin Shroud: In Whose Image? The Truth Behind the Centuries-Long Conspiracy of Silence is enough example for us here.
[3]. Scott, p. 5; 20-37; 10.
[4]. Ibid., p. 136.
[5]. Ibid., p. 136, fn. 35.
[6]. Ibid., p. 87.
[7]. Niccolò Suffi, St. Peter’s – Guide to the Basilica and Square, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, n.d., n.p., [online]. Available at [March 24, 2005]. Another example is the tabernacle borne aloft by bronze angels in the Sistine Chapel of St. Mary Major in Rome. See Steven Schloeder, Architecture in Communion, p. 98, fig. 4.42.
[8]. See also the new tabernacle at the Cathedral in Salt Lake illustrated in Schloeder, p. 97, figs. 4.40-41.
[9]. Thursdon, Herbert. “Reliquaries.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908 ed. [Available online]. [March 24, 2005].


Touring the Heavenly Jerusalem: The Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul

by Matt Alderman

In honor of this month's feast of SS. Peter and Paul, a reprint from the November 2004 edition of the Advocata Nostra.

Of the four great basilicas of Rome, St. Paul’s Outside the Walls is the least famous, while St. Peter’s is too famous to be truly understood. St. Paul’s is cool and quiet in its nobility, a place of palm-lined cloisters and refreshing shadows harkening back to the marbled, sober days of Pope Sylvester and Constantine, when Christianity at long last stepped out into the daylight. But St. Peter’s, wreathed round with hosts of stucco cherubim, is full of the titanic boast of the baroque and the pomp of the Church Triumphant, the saints who dwell outside of time.

Yet we recall the dedication of these two great churches, as different in spirit as the apostles whose names they bear, on the same day: November 18. The Church marks only two other such anniversaries on Her calendar. There is the dedication of St. Mary Major on August 9th; and the Lateran, the cathedral of Rome and much-neglected seat of papal authority, on November 9. We celebrate them because they are our churches, parishes to the world with confessionals advertising everything from English to Latin and Croatian to Maltese. St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s, in particular, are twinned on this feast day just as their namesake saints are twinned in numberless icons, the two founders of Christianity in Rome, they should hold a special place in our hearts as the sheep of the Roman pontiff.

This feast recalls the gritty Roman cradle of the faith, the strange spicy stale air of the dank cemetery beneath St. Peter’s where the body of Simon son of Jonah was hastily stabbed into the ground by his followers after an ignominious death in the circus next door. But it also telescopes time and eternity, past and future, historical memory and eschatological reality, for a tour of these two basilicas takes us from the founding of the Church to the end of the world, and beyond.

St. Paul’s stands like a placid, low-lying monolith in an unassuming suburb of Rome, full of grubby Euro-modern apartment buildings, appliance stores and windowless faux-Irish bars. It’s the youngest of Rome’s basilicas: while founded in 324 by Constantine, the present building largely postdates the disastrous fire of 1823. Stepping into the courtyard, you enter another world. Before much of the old church was lost, the old atrium had already been long-gone and the church had begun to sag into tarnished decay. The reconstruction resurrected the old basilica’s true spirit, its granite columns gleaming, the façade’s gold mosaics with their vivid apostles and pearl-grey lambs flashing gloriously in the sun. It exudes the ancient purity of the first Christian basilicas; rather than present-day St. Peter’s, it suggests what the Vatican looked like to tired pilgrims for the first thousand years of the Church’s existence.

The apostle Paul is everywhere, in statues and relief and mosaic, holding his emblems: the conjunction of the book of his epistles and the Spiritus Gladus, the sword of the spirit. It hangs in marble, point downward, above the great bronze doors bedizened with silver and figured with scenes of his preaching and teaching and, ultimately, his martyrdom at the edge of another, more corporeal sword. St. Peter’s life and death occupy another panel in the great doors, and we see him receiving the keys of the kingdom—the power of the Papacy—from Christ, and then, with charmingly direct allegory, he is shown literally building the church in Rome like a visionary architect sweeping his hand out over a vast construction site, a Rome littered with pagan shrines and imperial columns.

The church within has the elegant simplicity of all early basilicas, with their harmonious ranks of pillars and mosaic portraits quietly gleaming in the pleasant grey shadows of a Roman afternoon. Rondels bearing images of the 264 bishops of Rome roost under the cornices, and a light shines on the 264 disk, bearing the face of John Paul II. After him, there were only three spaces left on the wall for his successors, occasioning apocalyptic gossip among the Italians, but, with characteristic practicality, he simply designated some more spaces up in another part of the side aisle for future popes. The tomb of the apostle stands beneath a slender gothic canopy, a red light winking before the grille. All is silence; out here so far from the walls, you don’t find the hoards of tourists that throng St. Peter’s.

St. Peter’s is a difficult church to understand. In the year I spent in Rome, I saw it in a dozen lights and at a dozen times, sometimes choked to capacity, other times virtually empty. Some pilgrims, accustomed to the antique coziness of the churches of the American heartland, or even, perhaps, the chill airplane-hanger church down the street, are left cold. It’s staggeringly big; and it doesn’t help that nobody has ever truly seen St. Peter’s; it’s too familiar to be seen. Our notions of it are already formed by pictures in art books or by dog-eared holy cards that show Maderno’s “incorrect” facade overshadowed by St. Joseph as patron of the Universal Church.

To a modern mind, shackled by timid good taste, St. Peter’s seems incomprehensible. Gaudy, ostentatious, frightening, even, with its festoons of weightless angels and personified virtues hulking like stucco giantesses overhead, hurling down anathemas and thunderbolts on vice and heresy. The tranquility of the primitive that St. Paul’s represents is easier for us to understand. Yet, we need both quietude and baroque bombshells. For St. Peter’s images the Church Triumphant in heaven, the sea of glass and the Second Coming with all its fantastic and triumphant winged oxen and eagles. The celestial Jerusalem, St. John tells us, is built of sardonyx and topaz just as in St. Peter’s every surface is of fireproof marble or porphyry or mosaic.

We like to remember, in this day and age, that God came in a whisper to Elijah, but He also came in a sunburst of flame at Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. And it is a testament to the majesty of God that He can be reflected by two such different sorts of beauty in two very different churches. Let us keep the feast of these two apostles today by remembering their lives and sacrifices and charisms, but let us also remember the churches named for them and the sacred history they represent.

Thursday, June 2


Yep... Eggs Benedict
Source: Apostolicity

Wednesday, June 1

Jimmy Akin on burying St. Joseph upside-down, and the borderline between piety and just plain weirdness. While I tend to be pretty lenient about pious customs, I've always found this one a little too much even for my appetite. Feel free to comment, folks and fellow Whapsters.

Tuesday, May 31

Make Your Own Bad Church Music

(1) Pick an innane gerund. Capitalize it.
(ex: sending --> The Sending)

(2) Fish around for a theological concept you don't really understand. It won't matter that you don't really understand it, because we'll be ignoring its precise meaning, anyway.
(ex: The Great Commission)

(3) For the tune, take a folk song from a Catholic country, but insure you pick one of the few folk songs that are not actually religious. Irish drinking songs work best.
(But, I'll use "Row your boat")

(4) Slow the melody and boost all the notes an octave, to ensure that no man would ever want to--or be able to--sing your new song.

(5) Make the afore-mentioned gerund sound like it is the very reason God has created us. Do not mention God any more directly than that. Instead, capitalize words such as "Justice," "Peace," etc. Refer to Heaven in the form of banal promises.

(6) Add exclamation marks.

Made for the Sending
Out to all the world!
Peace and Justice,
Rest for men,
Out to all the world!

Ooops -- one more change: the awkward excising of masculine pronouns.

Made for the Sending
Out to all the world!
Peace and Justice,
Rest for them,
Out to all the world!


"Lord, we just, we just
thank you for this food and we, we ask you to bless it and to bless our fellowship here today..."

The most obvious fact which presents itself when Baptists or Free-Churchers insist on "spontaneous" (as opposed to memorized) prayer is that their "spontaneous" prayers are always the freakin' same, except that not everyone can take part and it comes out choppy.

But I recently had the occasion to hear a "extemporaneous" dinner prayer, and I was struck by a bigger, more interesting question: Many Protestants aren't keen on blessing much in particular, like the aforementioned Baptists and Free-Churchers. But we all know they bless food.

So why stop there? Why to they only bless food?

Is there any good theological reason that they see a huge difference between blessing food before you use it as opposed to, say, a car or a church before you use it? Or do they just not realize what they're doing when they bless food, that they are blessing physical objects as such?

Or would it just be too painful to sit through a extemporaneous church dedication?

Monday, May 30

The Finnish Catholic Church?

Rumor has it that the Finnish Lutheran Church would like to be... Catholic. That is, if by rumor, I mean "speech by the presiding bishop of the Finnish Lutheran Church at the Eucharistic Congress in Bari, Italy."

After explaining that Martin Luther did not want to found a new church but simply renew it, the bishop said, "We Finnish Lutherans wish to be part of the Catholic Church of Christ."

Given that Sunday is the theme of the Eucharistic Congress, the Lutheran said that one cannot live "without the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, without Christ and without God."

"Sunday is the day of Christ's resurrection" and "the Eucharist is the sacrament of the real presence of Christ," he said.


The Lutheran Church of Finland is quite interesting. Its English site has a Latin edition of the official catechism issued in 1999. I submit to you that there is only one audience in the world for which a Latin edition of a final catechism is prepared, and that audience was formerly headed by the current Roman Pontiff.

Finland bills itself as "the most Lutheran country in the world." Imagine the effects of its union with Rome--the goodwill it would show the world.

Even more interesting, Finnish interest in union with Rome comes as the Lutheran Church there is GROWING, and is not (as one sometimes suspects with talks of Anglican union with Rome) the result of ecclesial rot or theological disinterest. The afore-mentioned Lutheran homepage reports that Finland saw a REVERSE in secularism during the 1990's:
edition of their 1999 catechism.

The Finns’ confidence in the church increased substantially in the 1990s. While 32% of the Finns expressed confidence in the church in 1990, no fewer than 57% did so in 2000.
The majority of the Finns regard the Church as necessary, honest, competent and reliable. Many negative perceptions lost their edge during the late 1990s. The most significant change was that by the end of the 1990s only 35% of Finns saw the Church as old-fashioned, while in the mid-1990s this view had been held by 51%.
About half the Finns (47%) say that they believe in God as taught by Christianity. The proportion of those believing in God as taught by Christianity increased significantly over the 1990s. In 1991, only a third of the Finns said that they held such beliefs.

A recent report on church architecture at the same site uses the word "altar" exclusively, and references paintings of the suffering of Christ, Crucifixes, and the Stations of the Cross as standard components of Finnish churches.

Nonetheless, the Lutheran Church is still quite Lutheran:

Accordingly the Church confesses the Christian faith, which is based solely on the Bible. The faith is expressed in the three ecumenical creeds which date from the Early Church, i.e. the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. The confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is explained by the Augsburg Confession (1530) and the other Lutheran confessions.

The Church teaches that Christ is present in his Church through the agency of the Word and sacraments. Christ by his grace gives free salvation to all who believe in him. There are two sacraments - baptism and Holy Communion.

All very interesting, at least.

Friday, May 27

New movie based on the true story of a priest imprisoned in Dachau during World War II: The Ninth Day. Sounds intriguing. Anyone seen it?
Celebrating Corpus Christi, Brompton-style: Sackbutt sighting at the London Oratory! I'm in heaven just thinking about it!

Thursday, May 26

This is funny.

Wednesday, May 25


Catholic Schools and Virtue

A British article observes the effects of Christian schools:

"Boys at private Anglican and Catholic schools are more likely to oppose sex before marriage and be less tolerant of pornography."

"They are also less likely to feel depressed or consider suicide, according to a survey of 13,000 teenagers by Professor Leslie J Francis from the University of Wales, Bangor."

Not that there's any CONNECTION, or anything...

read more

Tuesday, May 24


Side Altars Today: Restoring A Lost Balance

With a renewed appreciation of traditional architecture, there is often (though not always) a return to the installation of side altars: side altars are beneficial to the of hierarchy and design integral to traditional ecclesiastical architecture. However, this is not a “good enough” reason: “the merely decorative erection of several altars in a church must be entirely avoided.”[1] In light of the great lengths which have been taken to soundly demonstrate the legitimacy of their construction, and with deference to liturgical law, a more coherent and motivational impetus for the recovery of the side altar is absolutely necessary.

Once again, recall the stark division between popular piety and the liturgical life of the Church which was bemoaned at the commencement of this consideration. Indeed, it is not uncommon for some liturgists to remark that popular piety “indicates a deficiency in the Liturgy.” The side altar offers a proven solution to this division.

The Second Vatican Council declared that the “sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church.”[2] Additionally, the Church must also preach Faith and penance, prepare faithful for sacraments, teach, and encourage works of charity, piety, and apostolate. Speaking of these works of piety, the Council continues, “the popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended… These devotions should be so drawn up that… accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them.”[3] In other words, popular devotions are not contrary to the Liturgy, but serve the Liturgy. If such is the case, popular piety must be consummated in the Sacred Liturgy of the Mass, “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and the font from which all her power flows.”[4] Such a liturgical consummation of popular piety is precisely the reason that liturgical feasts honor the Saints, the dead, devotions to Mary (such as Fatima and Lourdes), the Sacred Heart, and Holy Name.

Liturgical feasts alone, however, have not been sufficient to attain the synthesis of popular piety and liturgy which the Church once enjoyed. The side altar’s importance, then, is to be a synthesis of liturgy and devotion. When a priest celebrates a Mass without a congregation on a side altar in a public church, he can no longer be accused of making the Mass into a private devotion—the celebration is no longer “private”! When the highest form of intercessory prayer is publicly acknowledged, through the dedication and use of side altars, to be the celebration of the Mass for a particular intention, the liturgy becomes immediately more relevant to the lives of many who may not have connected their private worries and prayers with the Church’s public, perhaps aesthetically impersonal, liturgy. When devotion to the Holy Souls culminates in the Sacrifice of the Mass, not only is the proper place of indulgences relative to the Mass emphasized, but this doctrine no longer remains the private reserve of a few educated Catholics; further, when aligned with Liturgy, aberrations in devotion to the Holy Souls are more easily avoided. When the highest act of praying, petitioning, or thanking a saint necessarily occurs within the context of the Liturgy and liturgical furnishings such as the altar, devotion to the saint necessarily becomes Christocentric. The communion of saints is therefore highlighted not as the personal occupation of a few dedicated faithful, but instead as a real and public exchange in which the entire Church is involved. Any particular devotion, when contextualized by the side altar, is much more naturally seen to flow from and return to the liturgical life of the Church.

The earliest houses of worship had a single altar, and the primary importance of that major altar has remained through Christianity. Nonetheless, as priestly piety, intercessory prayer, devotion to the Holy Souls, and the cult of the saints all found their culmination in the celebration of the liturgy, the construction of additional minor altars became necessary. The post-conciliar Church has witnessed a stunning separation of these forms of piety from the liturgy; in fact, they no longer constitute an important part of the spiritual lives of many, many Catholics. New liturgical norms have made the construction of side altars more difficult, wrongly giving many the impression that the construction of side altars has in fact been forbidden. Despite these difficulties, however, a recovery of side altars and their use is necessary to work towards a restoration of appropriate balance between popular devotion and liturgy. As a recent pilgrim notd, “The memory and emotions of praying at the altar of St. Elizabeth Ann
Seton will remain with me forever." Our Churches should be so lucky as to enkindle such Liturgically-centered, Christocentric Devotion


Popular devotion…which is properly contextualized and Christocentric,

which proceeds from the liturgy and culminates in the liturgy, which follows the vision of Vatican II,

which belongs to the organic tradition of Christian practice and architecture,

... looks like this:

... not like this:


[1] Ceremonial of Bishops, “Dedication of an Altar,” para. 7

[2] Sacrosanctum Concilium, para. 9

[3] Sacrosanctum Concilium, para. 13

[4] Sacrosanctum Concilium, para. 10

Monday, May 23


The latest fruit of my journeys through the Raccolta:
Belli tumultus ingruit: A hymn to rival "Long Live the Pope"
(from the Raccolta, #466)

Wars and tumults fill the earth,
men the fear of God despise;
retribution, vengeance, wrath
brood upon the angry skies.

Holy Pius, Pope sublime!
Whom, in this most evil time,
Whom, of Saints in bliss, can we
Better call to aid than thee?

None more mightily than thou
Hath, by deed or word,
Through the spacious earth below,
Spread the glory of the Lord.

Holy Pius...

Thine it was, O Pontiff brave!
Pontiff of eternal Rome!
From barbaric yoke to save
Terror-striken Christendom.

Holy Pius...

When Lepanto's gulf beheld,
Strewn upon its waters fair,
Turkey's countless navy yield
To the power of thy prayer.

Holy Pius...

Who meanwhile with prophet's eye,
Didst the distant battle see,
And announce to standers-by
That same moment's victory.

Holy Pius...

Mightier now and glorified,
Hear the suppliant cry we pour;
Crush rebellion's haughty pride:
Quell the din of rising war.

Holy Pius...

At thy prayers may golden peace
Down to earth descend again;
License, discord, trouble cease;
Justice, truth, and order reign.

Holy Pius...

To the Lord of endless days,
One Almighty Trinity,
Sempiternal glory, praise,
Honor, might, and blessing be. Amen.

Saturday, May 21

A Few More Contributions to the "That Would Make a Good Band Name" List

Funny Narthex
The Boy Bishops
Vanilla Timex
Pretzel Amy
Vatican Armadillo
Illegal Operation and the CD Burners
Artichoke Dip
Blogging Molly
Parallel Lobster Universe
Mobutu Sese Seiko
Dried Plums Are Our Speciality
Lebanese Chocolate Fairy
Clogging Polly
Tilting at Windmills
Thriller Prune
The Masters of Turkish Music
Flavius Josephus and the Screaming Mimis
Bring Me the Saddle Shoes of Woody Allen
The Misinterpreter
Armenians Bearing Accordions
The Levantine Flu
Gender Dysphoria Squirrels
Bowling for Hollandaise
Riboflavius Josephus
The Big Mamou
Paul and Alison Gross
Hat Masterson
Minton and the Groomsmen
Sid and His Marching Flutophones
March of the Pink Garage-Doors
A Child's Christmas in Luang Prabang
The Port Moresby Bingo Cooperative
Roselind and the Antipodes
Ralph Kramden and the New York Port Authority
Saul Bello Gallico
The Mint Jam Incident
Stunt Comedians
The Blueberry Pancake Collective

...awright, enough for now.

Friday, May 20

Head-scratching Item

I was flipping channels and just saw a promo for a showing of The Thorn Birds. I can't remember the details but I remember someone once told me it was about about a priest who has an affair with a woman in colonial Australia. Or something like that. Scandalous small potatoes for TV today, you'd think. But it was going to be run on the Hallmark channel.


I mean, Hallmark?

Obviously folks in broadcasting and myself have slightly different definitions of the term "family entertainment."

Side Altars Continued:
New Liturgical Norms: Can Side Altars be Built?

The disappearance of side altars should not be attributed solely to the fading of the factors which led to their development, however. Perhaps the primary impediment to the continued construction of new side altars, and even the retention of old altars, is the widespread impression that current liturgical law—quite apart from discouraging their construction—out rightly prohibits the construction of side altars. The bishops’ conference of the United States, in their non-binding document on ecclesiastical architecture Built of Living Stones, states that, as “the altar is the center of the thanksgiving that the Eucharist accomplishes… [i]n new churches there is to be only one altar.”[1]

The 1983 Code of Canon Law does not address the number of altars which a church can, should, cannot, or should not have. The Code says simply that it is “desirable to have a fixed altar in every church” and that “fixed altars must be dedicated… according to the rites prescribed in the liturgical books.”[2] The preface to the current rite of dedication of an altar states that “in new churches it is better to erect only one altar so that in the one assembly of the Church of God the single altar signifies the one savior Jesus Christ.”[3] If another side altar is constructed, it should be erected in a chapel “somewhat separated if possible from the body of the church.” In so far as this statement questions the wisdom of the tradition of the Church, this author questions the wisdom of this statement: it lacks confidence in the ability of the altar maius to be sufficiently distinguished from minor altars to preserve its symbolism, whereas for a millennium the Church had full confidence in this provision. However, the current ritual is simply restating the mind of the Church at the time it was written, as expressed in the 1975 Roman Missal: “minor altars should be fewer in number… In new churches they should be placed in chapels separated in some way from the body of the church.”[4] Both the Missal and the rite of dedication, however, spoke in suggestive—rather than descriptive—language.

Subsequent revision of the Roman Missal has shifted the language on altars. Where the former instructions had made a distinction between major and minor altar, the 2002 edition of the General Instructions makes no mention of the altare maius and altaria minora. The instructions speak only of having “a fixed altar in every church” which “should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people.”[5] Paragraph 303 begins, “in building new churches, it is preferable to erect a single altar which in the gathering of the faithful will signify the one Christ and the one Eucharist of the Church.”
It appears then, to be referring to the altare maius as simply “the altar”; in this way, there is neither implication that other altars ought or ought not to exist, reflecting the great flexibility of the Roman Rite. Just as current liturgical guidelines only discuss the church building only in terms of communal liturgy, without touching upon (but also without forbidding) the church building’s role as a place for private prayer, a civic focal point, or its many other functions, so also current liturgical norms only refer to the primary or major altar without commenting on the existence of additional altars.

The second half of paragraph 303 seems to confirm the intuition that the current instructions insistence on a single altar refers only to what would formerly have been designated the “major” altar:
In already existing churches, however, when the old altar is positioned so that it makes the people's participation difficult but cannot be moved without damage to its artistic value, another fixed altar, of artistic merit and duly dedicated, should be erected and sacred rites celebrated on it alone. In order not to distract the attention of the faithful from the new altar, the old altar should not be decorated in any special way.
Note that, in speaking of old churches, only the old altare maius is mentioned, and it is referred to simply as altare in the Latin.[6] The obvious multiplicity of minor altars in the vast majority of older churches is simply not addressed: the law’s concern is to prevent the duplication of two (major) altars within new churches and to regulate the duplication of (major) altars in existing churches where new, free-standing altars have been constructed. The symbolism of one altar is clearly endangered by the presence of two altars in the center of the church building: the law intends to address this duplication.[7]

Liturgical law does clearly state that when a new side altar is to be erected, “statues and pictures of saints may not be placed above the altar.” [8] Msgr. Peter Elliot,[9] a commentator on liturgical law and rubrics praised by Vatican officials for his faithfulness “to the authorities and official sources,”[10] states that “obviously, this need not preclude a reredos or window depicting events from the life of that saint.”[11] Indeed, in this sense there is continuity between the changes in art made by Trent and the changes in art made by the post-Conciliar documents of Vatican II. Pre-Tridentine art often depicted the saints as solitary figures, isolated from the reality of their earthly lives.[12] In response to Trent’s canons on art,[13] pictures placed above Reformation side altars moved sharply away from simple depictions of a solitary, decontextualized individual, instead showing almost exclusively saints within the context of scenes from their lives. This method of depiction in liturgical art seems to have prevailed until the rise of neo-Gothic architecture in the 19th century. Msgr. Elliot thus interprets current liturgical norms as a call to recapture the Tridentine manner of depicting saints in the altarpieces.[14]

[1] Built of Living Stones, 56
[2] 1983 Code of Canon Law, #1235 & 1237
[3] 1989 Roman Pontifical, Dedication of an Altar para. 7
[4] 1975 General Instructions of the Roman Missal #267
[5] 2002 General Instructions of the Roman Missal #298, 299
[7] Exhibits 10, 11, 12, & 13
[8] Ceremonial of Bishops, “Dedication of an Altar,” para. 10.
[9] Who takes for granted that the construction of new side altars in a church is completely legitimate,
Cf. Msgr. Peter Elliot. Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995) p. 31
[10] Msgr. Peter Elliot. Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995) p. xiv
[11] Msgr. Peter Elliot. Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995) p. 31
[12] Exhibit 14
[13] Rev. H.J. Schroeder, OP. The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. (Rockford, IL: TAN, 1978). p. 215-217
[14] Msgr. Elliot comments that the norm about placing images of a saint above an altar was “apparently to avoid the impression that Mass is offered to the saint.” This norm, insofar as it interrupts the classical practice of the cult of the saints in order to justify lax catechesis, or even the potential for lax catechesis, is extremely unfortunate. In his Apostolic Letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus, John Paul II states, “popular piety can neither be ignored nor treated with indifference or disrespect because of its richness and because in itself it represents a religious attitude in relation to God. However, it has to be continually evangelized, so that the faith which it expresses may become more mature and authentic.” Should this norm be interpreted so strictly as to forbid even altarpieces depicting scenes from the lives of the saints, it would be a defeat for the Church’s commitment to evangelizing—rather than abandoning—popular piety.
Two good friends of mine are very big fans of The Mask of Zorro, and I, of course, enjoyed both that fine bit of popcorn cinema and the original Zorro, The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power. (One of these friends, who refuses to watch black-and-white films considers this a mere prefigurement of the true Zorro, Antonio Banderas). That being said, I'm wondering what they'll make of this website, which claims the real Zorro was...yes...Irish.

Well, I've heard stranger things. Some of the details don't quite compute and the timeframe is a little off, but I suppose it's possible.

Thursday, May 19


One of the many fruits hoped for from our Eucharistic Procession was the affirmation of Notre Dame's Catholicity to the wider public. We at the Shrine are absolutely sick of hearing that Notre Dame is "no longer a Catholic institution," because that is so completely at variance with our lived experience of the University.

So right here you can witness our procession bearing witness to Notre Dame. Now, that's a happy sight.

We Called It Long Ago

First there was Society of Pius X...
Then, there was Society of Pius V...
Now, via Amy Welborn, Society of Pius I!

Wednesday, May 18


Side Altars as the Liturgical Consummation of Popular Piety
Part II: Their Decline in the Post-Conciliar Age

The other day I posted about liturgical consummation of side altars. After the stress of college graduation (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) is over, I'm going to continue posting the rest of that paper.

Thank you all for your thoughts on the matter. After discussing simply their history in the last post, we saw how a few factors lead to their development and increase. We will now consider how each of these factors has declined in the post-Conciliar Church of the last 40 years, and with their decline, there has also been a decline in the number of side altars.

As the document quoted at the beginning of the present consideration detailed, following the Second Vatican Council there was—in some areas—a collapse in many forms of popular piety. Each of the forms of devotion listed above (private Masses, the Mass as intercessory prayer, devotion to the Holy Souls, relics, and devotion to the Saints, especially through the Mass) which served as factors in the construction of side altars has been muted or fallen out of practice to some degree in the last forty years.

Though an increase in the number of priests coupled with a decrease in the practice of concelebration had served as an impetus to side altars, the number of priests as a percentage of the Catholic population has declined significantly. Since 1980, the number of priests has declined more than 25% even as the Catholic population has continued to increase.[1] Further, the Second Vatican Council allowed for a revival of concelebration on regular basis, “at conventual Mass, and at the principal Mass in churches when the needs of the faithful do not require that all priests available should celebrate individually.”[2] Simultaneously, pressure from some liturgists and theologians attempted to discredit the value of Mass without a congregation; some American liturgical groups even petitioned Rome to ban “private Masses” as recently as the late 1990’s.

The legitimacy of Masses without a congregation, however, has been definitively restated by all post-conciliar editions of the General Instructions of the Roman Missal, which have included a chapter on the manner of celebrating such Masses. Nonetheless, side altars for the celebration of private Masses have often been removed from churches. Occasionally, new altars have been constructed in separate rooms to accommodate these private Masses “out of sight” of the general Catholic population, which is often surprised that Masses without a congregation are still celebrated.

The Mass as a form of intercessory prayer has declined significantly in recent times. The exact reasons for this decline, whether due to a secularization of the laity, disapproval by some clergy, or simply a disconnect which prevents laity from approaching clergy to request Masses be said for a given cause, are unknown. Whatever the reason, “recent years have seen an increasing dearth of requests for the celebration of Masses in Western society, and even the Holy See has felt the pinch.” [3] It is hoped that “among the fruits hoped for from the current Year of the Eucharist is a renewed faith in the Mass as intercession and a consequent return in the faithful to the practice of asking for the celebration of Mass for specific intentions.” Nonetheless, Masses requested on a regular basis as a form of intercessory prayer are no longer exerting the pressure for an increased number of celebrations (and therefore an increased number of altars upon which to celebrate) which they once did.

Masses requested on behalf of the Holy Souls have also decreased. While the new Code of Canon Law incorporated a lengthy section regulating pious foundations, there can be no doubt that both the awareness and the actual practice of creating such Mass foundations (much less constructing altars upon which the Masses might be said) has drastically dissipated in comparison with earlier epochs; indeed, similar practices are often discouraged.[4] While current liturgical guidelines affirm that “the Church offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Christ’s Passover for the dead,” it nonetheless calls for the use of Masses for the Dead “in moderation, since every Mass is offered for both the living and the dead, and there is a commemoration of the dead in the Eucharistic Prayer.”[5] Guidelines published in 1975, however, called on the priest to “use Masses for the dead sparingly.”[6] But even more influential in the decline of Masses said for the repose of the dead is the fall from favor which the doctrine of purgatory suffered during the 1970’s, and a lack catechesis on the subject which continues to be widespread even today.

Use of the side altar as a shrine for prayer to particular Saints is perhaps the practice least disturbed by the changes of the last few decades. In fact, in practice, most existing side altars “serve as shrines for popular devotion.”[7] As long as such shrines exist, the psychology of the faithful will naturally gravitate towards them as centers of devotion to the Saints they depict. However, the connection between the side altar and popular devotion to Saints in new churches is seriously under fire in various ways. Under current liturgical law, the very construction of true side altars with images of the saints seems to the vast majority of ecclesiastics, architects, and liturgical design consultants to be forbidden. Further, the rites for the dedication of an altar no longer contain any reference to titling altars after a given saint.[8] Current liturgical law permits that “in places where altars are customarily dedicated to God in honor of the saints, the practice may be continued,” but no where within the rite of dedication is name of the saint in whose honor the altar is dedicated ever mentioned.[9]

Lost by most faithful is the conception of celebrating Mass or receiving communion at side altars erected in honor of a Saint. The practice is remembered and continued by some; the St. Jude Legacy club of Chicago, Ill., for example, offers to remember all members, on the 28th of each month, “in a Mass celebrated at the altar of St. Jude in the Vatican.”[10] A general survey of younger American Catholics, however, will doubtless result primarily in confused looks. The practice of thanking and petitioning Saints through the Eucharistic Sacrifice having dwindled, the demand for such altars has also waned.

The decline of all of these factors, combined with the interpretation of post-conciliar liturgical legislation, has therefore lead to the disappearance of side altars. In some cases, these altars have been torn out of old, even ancient, structures.[11] In other cases, where new buildings have been constructed according to traditional forms, places in which side altars might normally be found have been left empty, or filled with a simple statue.[12] Or, in churches of a more contemporary style, no place for side altars even remains.[13]

[2] Sacrosanctum Concilium, 57

[4] The author’s great-grandmother recently passed away, yet when he approached an elderly priest to offer the traditional “Gregorian” series of thirty Masses for the repose of her soul, the author was strongly discouraged from pursuing such a request “which belongs to a past age.”

[5] 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal, para. 379 & 355

[6] 1975 General Instruction of the Roman Missal, para. 316

[7] Msgr. Peter Elliot. Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995) p. 31

[8] Roman Pontifical, Dedication of an Altar para. 48

[9] Ceremonial of Bishops, para. 251

[10] Rev. Bede Jagoe, O.P., ed. St. Jude Chronicle. (Chicago: The Domincans, March 2001).

[11] Exhibit 7

[12] Exhibit 8

[13] Exhibit 9

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