Wednesday, December 31


On Pope St. Sylvester

"But he's not a man of any personal distinction, I assure you. If he's ever declared a saint, they ought to commemorate him on the last day of the year."

--The Empress Helena, in Evelyn Waught's clever and rather weird historical novellette, Helena.

Matthew Alderman in First Things (Again)

Okay, I've managed to penetrate one of the inner sancta of Catholic journalism one more time, First Things. I mean, of course, figuratively, though I did end up going to their wonderful Christmas party and King's College-style carol sing (classy, though fake English accents were vetoed fairly early along in the process), though unfortunately the inner inner sanctum with the map room where they plot Catholic Intellectual World Domination is off-limits to guests. (Either that, or they have a timeshare with the Jesuits, the Propaganda Fide, and Opus Dei.)

This time, it's another book review, on Roland Recht's Gothic magnum opus, Believing and Seeing: The Art of Gothic Cathedrals, a major production on medieval art in all its many splendors--liturgical, theoretical, structural, even commercial. It's a bit shorter than my last one ("To Build Jerusalem," on Ethan Anthony's new Cram book, The Architecture of Ralph Adams Cram and His Office), but I'm sure you'll enjoy it. The book itself is a real treat, and one of the most believable and nuanced treatments of the great Gothic builders I've seen, rescuing them from the Ruskinian mythology of pious clowns messing around with stones a la Red Green; it will challenge and edify both the Catholic and the more secular scholar. Plus, there's a lot of nice pictures, too.

The Sixth Age of Mankind

The rearrangement of the Christmas proclamation in the new martyrology, which removed the crisp specificity of the Hebrew dates from Genesis and the Flood to the time of Our Lord (5,199 and 2,957 years respectively) in favor of the more tediously cosmic "unknown ages," is probably one of those revisions that while frustrating to the poetic and mythically-minded, is is to be tolerated on the grounds of prudence, lest we give religion reporters, who are scriptural literalists in ways the Fathers of the Church could ever imagine, yet more ammunition to chuck at us.

Perhaps in a more civilized time, that understands the symbolic value of the Hebrew chronology and its peculiar prominence in this momentous declaration, we can reinstate it without fear of turning it into a zero-sum binary debate between science and religion. (Of course, with the Motu Proprio, both proclamations now are still out there in some sense, side by side.) What seems to me less justifiable was the excision of the final, almost Tolkeinesque designation, "in the sixth age of mankind." What does this signify?

The concept of mankind's Six Ages was first articulated by St. Augustine in De catechizandis rudibus, though there are Jewish roots to the concept, which also reflects the six days of creation in Genesis (which, if there are any religion reporters listening, also need not be taken literally, though let's get this straight, God was the one doing the creating.) The six ages takes us through the whole of human history, with the seventh age, like the seventh day, being our life in heaven. Viz., from St. Augustine:

The First Age: "The first is from the beginning of the human race, that is, from Adam, who was the first man that was made, down to Noah, who constructed the ark at the time of the flood."
The Second Age: "..extends from that period on to Abraham, who was called the father indeed of all nations.."
The Third Age: "For the third age extends from Abraham on to David the king."
The Fourth Age: "The fourth from David on to that captivity whereby the people of God passed over into Babylonia."
The Fifth Age: "The fifth from that transmigration down to the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The Sixth Age: "With His [Jesus Christ's] coming the sixth age has entered on its process."

Note also that the sixth age is more-or-less identical to the concept of the Milennium in the Apocalypse which is not, as some sorts of Protestants might have it, Christ's reign on earth in the end-times, but His reign through His Church on earth. In addition to the days of the week, this schema also may fit, with some tweaks, into the Liturgical Year as well, though there it was divided into four periods by Bl. Jacobus de Voragine in the Legenda Aurea, who speaks of:

1. The Time of Deviation: from Adam's turning away from God, thence to Moses, which is represented from the period from Septuagesima to Easter [i.e., beginning some weeks before Lent].
2. The Time of Renewal: From Moses to the birth of Christ, represented by Advent.
3. The Time of Reconciliation: When we ourselves are reconciled to Christ, which is represented by Easter to Pentecost.
4. The Time of Pilgrimage: Which is our own pilgrimage with Christ in the present day, represented by the period from Pentecost to Advent, where, Jacobus reports, the bellicose books of Kings and Maccabees are read (presumably in the office), to represent our own various spiritual struggles.

This fourfold arrangement also relates to the seasons of the year, with winter being analogous to the first, spring the second, summer the third, fall the fourth; Jacobus also compares it to four periods of the day as well. And while some of this may seem a bit out of sequence, Jacobus explains, to start with the period of deviation (Lent), rather than the period of renewal (Advent), would be to put error, rather than aspiration, first: "[F]or she [the Church] puts reality before the sequence of time, just as the Evangelists often do."

Tuesday, December 30


The Subdeacon Did It

I'm not sure what blog this picture came from (Fr. Finnigan's, or one of the other English priestblogs come to mind), but it's a classic, at least in terms of odd sacristy drawer-labelling practices. And it'd also make a great Fr. Dowling mystery novel title.

It's from Fr. Blake's blog, and it's a photo from the Oxford Oratory, which presumably must have a mouse problem.

St. Barbara's, Bushwick

Here are some photos I've found around the internet of a very interesting parish church in the Bushwick neighborhood of the borough of Brooklyn, New York. St. Barbara's is a former German ethnic parish now hosting a largely Latino congregation and an almost-unique anomaly in the city as an example of (more-or-less) Spanish Baroque revival architecture, a phenomeon mostly associated with California, the American Southwest, and occasionally, and somewhat mistakenly, Florida, where most original mission architecture tended to be either rather more restrainedly classical and built of coquina stone, or, in the very early days, palmetto-thatched and wood-walled.

The parish was named for the patron saint of the wife (or, in some sources, possibly the daughter) of local brewer Leopold Epping, and the work of local Beaux-Arts classicists Helmle & Huberty. The building was completed in 1910.

Spanish, Mexican Baroque or "Mission Style" churches are not unknown outside these regions but often take peculiar local shadings, such as, in Chicago's Holy Innocents, where it takes on an eclectic esthetic that can only be described as Byzantinizing Polish Baroque, and, in the same city, the the equally delightfully incongruous Spanish Renaissance feeling of Presentation parish (now presumably derelict or demolished, according to local friends who had never heard of it). I've also seen photos of an imitation adobe church in, of all places, Minnesota. (This is, I suppose, no more incogruous than the extraordinary Churrigueresque feel of Coral Gables Congregational Church near Miami!)

Even Cram and Goodhue, whose work in the style tended to be in the west, got in on the act with their exuberant early work of SS. Peter and Paul in Fall River, Massachussetts. Sometimes ethnicity was a factor (as at the shuttered apartment-front parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the edge of Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood and at Our Lady of Esperanza near Audubon Terrace, both particularly high classicizing takes on the style) but more often than not, there was no discernable connection besides a shared religious heritage with Spanish America. Presentation Church in Chicago was actually Irish, for instance. (Though, for truly mind-boggling strangeness, there is the wonderful little Mexican Baroque Methodist church by Cram at Newton Corner, Massachusetts, since converted into apartments. Cram himself thought it the worst building he had ever designed.)

St. Barbara's lacks the studied erudition and innovative vigor of such similar works on the west coast, and instead works out its Spanishness within the framework of second-tier turn-of-the-century classicism. It is nonetheless an intriguing local masterpiece, and another indication that the architectural tastes of turn-of-the-century Catholics were far more varied and eclectic than we often suppose.

Monday, December 29


Scenes of the Life of St. Thomas Becket

From a series of medieval alabasters in the Victoria and Albert Museum:

The enthronement of St Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury.

St Thomas Becket meets Pope Alexander III at Sens.

The return of St Thomas Becket from exile.

Sunday, December 28


Something of Interest from my Christmas Travels

I'm wrapping up my time in sunny Florida as we speak, but before we head back to the tundra, I thought I'd share a few pictures from one of our day trips down to the Naples area. Certainly there's been enough commentary on the topic, so I'm just going to leave it at the pictures, and ask that you excuse both my poor photography skills and my total lack of editing (after all, it is my vacation). And since I won't be around much, be nice. :-)

A few selections follow, but for larger versions, and way more pictures than you probably wanted to see, here's the whole album:
Ave Maria Oratory and Town

Friday, December 19


I'd Try This But I Suspect Dressing Up as as a Lieutenant in the Papal Zouave Corps is Against Office Policy

Jack: (Dispensing job advice) Don't dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want to have! So now, Manny?
Manny: Tomorrow I'll show up for work dressed as a Mexican wrestler!

--30 Rock, Season 3, Episode 1

(Oh, and for zouave-a-riffic tidbits, go here.)


Image Source

I would like to express my appreciation for Goldfinger's reprise of 99 Red Balloons, with select verses in German. (The English and German lyrics are pretty different.) And I usually hate cover versions of classic songs.

Thursday, December 18



In Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Ratzinger famously writes that the "versus populum" orientation (Mass with priest facing the people) makes the priest more important than he is. That makes sense to me, personally. Plus, "ad orientem" (Mass with priest facing the same direction as the people) is cool: it orients the whole assembly into a posture of encountering God together.

Recently someone defended "versus populum" precisely on the grounds that it does make the priest important, emphasizing his uniqueness in persona Christi, and so "versus populum" better reflects a Catholic theology of ordination, while "ad orientem" reflects a more Protestant theology of ordination.

That was a new position for me, so I'm interested in hearing some thoughts.

Wednesday, December 17


Your Liturgical Thought for the Day

"The Novus Ordo has not been tried and found wanting; the Novus Ordo has been found difficult and so rarely tried at all."

Courtesy of the Seraphic Fiancée (congratulations!)

Stigmata and More

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."

--Shakespeare, Henry V, IV, iii.


It was fitting for Christ's soul at His Resurrection to resume the body with its scars. In the first place, for Christ's own glory. For Bede says on Luke 24:40 that He kept His scars not from inability to heal them, "but to wear them as an everlasting trophy of His victory." Hence Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xxii): "Perhaps in that kingdom we shall see on the bodies of the Martyrs the traces of the wounds which they bore for Christ's name: because it will not be a deformity, but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them, in the body, though not of the body."

--St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa, III.liv.4,

Okay, perhaps that's more than a trace in St. Denis's case, but it does make you think.

(Top picture stolen from one of Fallen Sparrow's more intriguing entries, entitled "Dualism, Zombies, and Persistently Conscious Heads." Really.)

Tuesday, December 16


Quote of the Day

From an email sent by a friend:

"As I've asked before, 'where's zombie Stephen Decatur when we need him?'"

There was a context, but it's better this way.

Sartorial-Theological Shock Therapy

"...and his train filled the temple." --Isaiah 6, i.


Or as Martin Luther (!) put it:

Jesaja, dem Propheten, das geschah,
Daß er im Geist den Herren sitzen sah
Auf einem hohen Thron in hellen Glanz,
Seines Kleides Saum den Chor füllet ganz.
Es stunden zween Seraph bei ihm daran,
Sechs Flügel sah er einen jeden han,
Mit zween verbargen sie ihr Antlitz klar,
Und mit den andern zween sie flogen frei,
Gen ander rufen sie mit großem Gschrei:
Heilig ist Gott, der Herre Zebaoth,
Heilig ist Gott, der Herre Zebaoth,
Heilig ist Gott, der Herre Zebaoth,

Sein Ehr die ganze Welt erfüllet hat,
Von dem Geschrei zittert Schwell und Balken gar,
Das Haus auch ganz voll Rauchs und Nebel war.


A commenter at The Deacon's Bench presents a thought-provoking and rather profound meditation on what might seem to some the most gratuitous of vestments, the cappa magna. Don't miss it.

The cappa is strange, is weird, is alien, but then our self-destructive, neurotic culture has so few symbols that things that would have seem gracious to any more sensible, more human age frighten us. Such things force us to look outside our normal, beige, elasticized zone of comfort.

Whenever bishops or priests shun the pomp of office (pomp which itself a sort of mortification in this epoch of conspicuously consumptive convenience), I am tempted to say, 'Don't be so humble, you're not that great.' There is a certain personality type one finds that uses the whole "just ordinary folks" business to indulge in ego trips; the rejection of useless gold, gems and brocade may actually be a prideful act rather than one of humility. There is a reason Thomas of Canterbury and Pius XII wore their hair shirts on the inside, rather than on the outside, of their splendid garments.

Hierarchy ought to force ordinary men to rise to the occasion, and vesture like this reminds us that both tradition and Tradition are bigger than you or me. In this case, about fifteen to thirty feet.

Monday, December 15


In Honor, Slightly Belated, of S. Lucy of Syracuse

Matthew Alderman. S. Lucy of Syracuse. Ink on Vellum. February 2008. Private Collection, Philadelphia.

A somewhat-refined variation on an earlier work of mine, this image shows her less-well-known but more literal attribute of a flame, i.e., light, rather than the usual eyeballs in a dish. The undulating, wave-like pattern on her dress is meant to represent the vapor rising off the boiling water (or was it oil?) which occupied one less memorable part of her martyrdom, though it is also suggestive of candle-smoke.

What Do Napoleon, Elizabeth I, King Victor Emmanuel II and the Passenger Pigeon Have in Common?

Perhaps something was lost in translation, like the way our separated brethren get the heebie-jeebies about our (misleadingly-named) tradition of "baptizing" bells. But Wikipedia reports of that ill-fated pest the passenger pigeon, "They became such a threat to farmers that in 1703 the Roman Catholic bishop of Quebec actually formally excommunicated the species." Given the ontological impossibility of excommunicating fowl, I wonder if perhaps it was just a really souped-up deprecatory blessing. So that's why they went extinct


In 4th century North Africa, men mocked frequent church-goers by saying, "You have your legs hanging out of the sky!"

Extending the Rosy Goodness into your Weekday...

With a little Catholic eye candy from the Notre Dame Tridentine Mass in Alumni Hall. I was told that I should note the use of the Sanctus Candle, which I was not previously familiar with (it's mentioned here, way at the bottom). It's basically a sanctuary lamp for Christ present on the altar, and is lit from the Sanctus to the priest's Communion.

Sunday, December 14


Tolkien Month

December is J. R. R. Tolkien Month at the Dutch library of Oss.

In honor of that, here is a Shrine, um, favorite--inspired by Tolkien!

Friday, December 12


Cardinal Dulles, Dead at 90

His Eminence the Most Reverend Lord my Lord Avery Cardinal Dulles, titular of the Church of SS. Nome di Gesù e Maria in Via Lata, has died in the embrace of the Holy Roman Church. I do not have particulars yet, save it was after a long and painful convalescence which so weakened him that he was barely able even to speak at his last public appearance.

I occasionally heard the Tridentine liturgy said by a visiting Institute priest at his titular church in the Via del Corso in Rome when I lived there. It was like being inside a baroque jewel case. I was blessed to also actually meet the Cardinal twice, once when he spoke at Notre Dame, and another when we were both speakers at the Anglican Use Society's national conference in 2006. (He was the keynote speaker at dinner, discussing his own conversion, from a vague Presybterianism, while I had a half-hour slot between Carleton Jones, O.P., and Evensong. On the other hand, I had color slides.)

At this sad time, it might be instructive to reread this very fine essay about His Eminence by George Weigel:
If the United States had a nobility, Avery Dulles would have been born into it. His great-grandfather, John W. Foster, and his great-uncle, Robert Lansing, both served as Secretary of State. So did his father, John Foster Dulles, who also negotiated the post-World War II peace treaty with Japan. Avery Dulles’s uncle, Allen Dulles, was a legendary World War II spymaster and the first director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Aunt Eleanor, whom many thought more formidable than her brothers, Foster and Allen, negotiated the Austrian State Treaty that pried the Red Army out of Vienna in 1955. How did all this staunch Presbyterian stock produce a Catholic convert, a Jesuit priest, and the first American theologian to be raised to the cardinalate?

The answer is encoded in the motto on Cardinal Avery Dulles’s coat-of-arms, Scio cui credidi [I know in Whom I have believed]: St. Paul’s simple-yet-profound explanation to Timothy of why he was not concerned about his sufferings or his future. That faith came to Avery Dulles in stages. He left prep school an agnostic, but a chance encounter with a blossoming tree on a soggy day during his undergraduate years at Harvard inspired the conviction that the world was governed by “an all-good and omnipotent God,” as he later put it. How might that conviction be embodied institutionally, though?

Slowly, Avery Dulles came to appreciate the subtlety, depth, and coherent structure of Catholic doctrine. Here was the truth, nobly expressed: the only possible response was to adhere to it, heart, mind, and soul. That is what Avery Dulles has done for 68 years, since he entered the Catholic Church in 1940. That adherence to the truth of Catholic faith has been the organizing principle of his extensive theological work-more than 20 books, and over 700 articles. Avery Dulles has been a theologian of the tradition, explicating ancient truths, stretching them a bit, exploring their implications, but never seeking cheap originality or sound-bite fame.

That modesty of purpose has gone hand-in-hand with an evangelical modesty of person. One does not often see cardinals of the Holy Roman Church repairing their shoes with duct tape, or walking across campus in cheap blue windbreakers; the cardinal’s sartorial style would cause pain at Men’s Wearhouse (not to mention Brooks Brothers). There is no affectation here, though; Avery Dulles took a vow of poverty when he entered the Society of Jesus and he has kept it, as he has kept his vows of chastity, obedience to superiors, and that special obedience to the Pope which is the distinguishing hallmark of classic Ignatian life.

His nomination as a cardinal came as a complete surprise to him, if not to others. The night it was announced, my wife and I were entertaining friends who were also close to Father Dulles. As dinner began, the phone rang: it was the newly-nominated cardinal, who brushed aside my congratulations and asked whether it was possible for him to be dispensed from the canonical requirement of becoming a bishop. I assured him that the dispensation would be readily given, as it had been for other elderly theologians whom John Paul II honored with the red hat; there was a sigh of relief at the other end of the phone. The whole exchange was yet another expression of Avery’s modesty.

Still, cardinals employ the miter and crosier when they preside liturgically. So on the night of Feb. 23, 2001, Cardinal Avery Dulles processed into the Church of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary to take possession of his Roman “title,” vested as none of us had ever seen him before. At which point Jody Bottum, now editor of First Things, leaned over and whispered, “Now we know what Abraham Lincoln would have looked like in full pontificals.”

Suffering today from the ravages of post-polio syndrome, the cardinal’s humble, even grateful submission to the will of God is a model for us all. Avery Dulles, a noble soul, knows in Whom he has believed. That has made all the difference.
As the self-proclaimed Baron Corvo put it at a surprisingly poignant point at the end of his otherwise unedifying and self-absorbed novel Hadrian the Seventh, "Pray for the repose of his soul. He was so tired."

"This is why religion always insists on special days like Christmas"

"The Christmas celebrations will certainly remain, and will certainly survive any attempt by modern artists, idealists, or neo-pagans to substitute anything else for them. For the truth is that there is an alliance between religion and real fun, of which the modern thinkers have never got the key, and which they are quite unable to criticize or to destroy.

"All Socialist Utopias, all new Pagan Paradises, promised in this age to mankind have all one horrible fault. They are all dignified. [...] But being undignified is the essence of all real happiness, whether before God or man. Hilarity involves humility; nay, it involves humiliation. [...] Religion is much nearer to riotous happiness than it is to the detached and temperate types of happiness in which gentlemen and philosophers find their peace. Religion and riot are very near, as the history of all religions proves.

"Riot means being a rotter; and religion means knowing you are a rotter. Somebody said, and it has often been quoted: 'Be good and you will be happy; but you will not have a jolly time.' The epigram is witty, but it is profoundly mistaken in its estimate of the truth of human nature. I should be inclined to say that the truth is exactly the reverse. Be good and you will have a jolly time; but you will not be happy. If you have a good heart you will always have some lightness of heart; you will always have the power of enjoying special human feasts, and positive human good news. But the heart which is there to be lightened will also be there to be hurt; and really if you only want to be happy, to be steadily and stupidly happy like the animals, it may be well worth your while not to have a heart at all.

"Fortunately, however, being happy is not so important as having a jolly time. Philosophers are happy; saints have a jolly time. The important thing in life is not to keep a steady system of pleasure and composure (which can be done quite well by hardening one's heart or thickening one's head), but to keep alive in oneself the immortal power of astonishment and laughter, and a kind of young reverence. This is why religion always insists on special days like Christmas, while philosophy always tends to despise them.

"Religion is interested not in whether a man is happy, but whether he is still alive, whether he can still react in a normal way to new things, whether he blinks in a blinding light or laughs when he is tickled. That is the best of Christmas, that it is a startling and disturbing happiness; it is an uncomfortable comfort. The Christmas customs destroy the human habits.

"And while customs are generally unselfish, habits are nearly always selfish. The object of a religious festival is, as I have said, to find out if a happy man is still alive. A man can smile when he is dead. Composure, resignation, and the most exquisite good manners are, so to speak, the strong points of corpses. There is only one way in which you can test his real vitality, and that is by a special festival. Explode crackers in his ear, and see if he jumps. Prick him with holly, and see if he feels it. If not, he is dead, or, as he would put it, is 'living the higher life.'"

--G.K. Chesterton, The Illustrated London News, 11 January 1908.

Thursday, December 11


The Archangel Raphael

Matthew Alderman. S. Raphael the Archangel and Tobias. November 2008. 8" x 10", ink on vellum, text added in Photoshop. Private Collection, London.

Wednesday, December 10


From the Manuale Sacramentorum or Mexicanensis

From the ritual handbook of the Church in Mexico, published in 1560. Extracts from the table of contents:

f. 120 v. - The beginning of the rite of excommunication and the form of absolution.
f. 133 - Rite for blessing borders/boundary lines.
f. 135 - Rite for exorcising storms.
f. 140 v. - Rite for blessing and exorcising produce against lucsts, caterpillars, and everything that gnaws.
f. 142 v. - Rite for healing demoniacs.
f. 152 v. - Blessing of fire, in which incense, rue or sulfur are to be burnt against demons.
f. 153 v. - Blessing of water against worms and cankerworms.
f. 154 - Blessing for [the wearing] of a habit by a boy or girl because of some vow.
f. 155 v. - For releasing a boy after a year when he has worn a habit because of a vow.
f. 156 - Blessing at the start of some good work. Blessing of copper and other metals. Blessing of the paschal lamb. Blessing of meat, sheep, or birds, cheese and eggs, bread, a place or home.
f. 159 - Rite for receiving a prelate or legate in procession.
f. 162 v. - A sung litany [for Rogation days].
f. 163 v. - Treaties on mistakes occuring during Mass.


The Manual, according to the practice of the venerable Mexican Church, very recently reviewed and enriched in many respects, ends here.

--Appendix F, Jaime Lara, Christian Texts for Aztecs, 2008

So They Would Not Forget Who They Now Were

"One practical concern of the period [16th century Mexico] was the use and number of godparents. As we saw above in chapter 2, in medieval Iberia, the Church required several godparents, especially for adult converts from Judaism and Islam. In New Spain, the situation was different. It was initially difficult to find enough role models among the native Christian population who could perform the prebaptismal instruction, because it was also their obligation as godparents to teach their godchildren the sign of the cross, the Our Father, Hail Mary, Nicene Creed, Ten Commandments, and the like. Later, because the system of godparents created reciprocal social and economic ties between families, abuses arose, and natives sometimes sought to be baptized many times, and with multiple godparents to gain additional spiritual and lucrative relationships [!]. The First Provincial Council of 1555 had to limit the number of godparents to one man and one women.

"Fray Juan Focher indicates that other problems soon developed, and the friars were forced to revert to several baptismal sponsors. It seems some native parents were acting as godparents to their own children. Since being co-godparents was a canonical impediment to the marriage of the parents--it created a 'spiritual relationship' or kinship--some were using this as an excuse to divorce [sic] their wives and remarry. (The neophytes soon found the loopholes of Canon Law.) [...]

"An amusing note in all this has to do with the giving of baptismal names to the neophytes. In the early days of the evangelization, with huge numbers receiving the sacrament, the friars would choose one name, such as "Juan" for all the men baptized on one day, and one name, such as "Maria," for all the women. [...] After the ceremony, an assistant would hand each of the Indians a small card (cedulilla) with his or her name written thereon so they would not forget who they now were."

--Jaime Lara, Christian Texts for Aztecs: Art and Liturgy in Colonial Mexico, p. 90

In some way, that small task of reminding the forgetful, muddled newly-baptized who they are sums up the whole mission of the Church here on earth.

Tuesday, December 9


The Surprising Christian Antiquity of Incense

"Incense as a perfume was used extensively by the Greeks and Romans. It was a common object of sacrifice to both pagans and Jews (Lev. xxi, 6; Lk. i, 9-11 etc.). Tertullian mentions its use by Christians in ordinary life. As a religious symbol it was used at tombs in the catacombs. The earliest reference to its liturgical use is in Origen [...] unless this passage be merely metaphorical. At first incense was used only in processions. Incense carried before some great person as a sign of honor was a familiar sight in the first centuries. It was carried before consuls; so Christians, with the development of the idea of ritual splendor, it was carried before their bishop. From that to incensing persons it is but a step. As it was swung before a bishop in procession, so it naturally would be waved before him at his throne. Then [...] it would be applied symbolically to things, especially to the altar, throne and type of Christ. Moreover the Bible plainly suggested its use. Not only the Old Testament, but Lk. i, 9, the incense offered by the Wise Men (Mt. ii, 11), and the incense at the heavenly altar in Apoc. viii, 3-5 made its use, as soon as Christian worship began to be adorned with symbolic ceremonies, inevitable. Of all such symbolic ceremonies, the use of incense is perhaps the oldest and the most wide-spread.

"St. Ambrose (+397) seems to be the first to mention the practice of incensing the Christian altar. [...]"

--Adrian Fortescue, The Mass, 1912, pp. 228-29.


Muggeridge and Heenan

Excerpted from an interview with Cardinal Heenan of Westminster:

MUGGERIDGE: I always feel that almost the only reason that I'd like to become a Cardinal would be to be waited on by nuns.
CARDINAL: I think you'd make a very good Cardinal as a matter of fact.
MUGGERIDGE: I doubt it strongly. Not a Cardinal, perhaps a bishop.
CARDINAL: Well, you've got to start somewhere.
MUGGERIDGE: I always like lunching on Fridays, because we don't have meat.
CARDINAL: You're not getting any fish, by the way, you're getting an omlette.
MUGGERIDGE: No, no, it's very nice. This would be part of the Catholic life that I would find the least difficult. I suppose it dates from a time when eating meat was a tremendously important thing.

--Malcolm Muggeridge, Muggeridge through the Microphone, 1968

"Litte Ratzinger" Succeeds Arinze!

Cardinal Arinze was a likeable, pious (and at times, quite funny) churchman, and we will be sad to see him go, now that he has surpassed the canonical age of retirement. However, the new prefect, Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, the so-called "Little Ratzinger" and former primate of all the Spains, looks to be potentially even more exciting, no disrespect intended to my lord Cardinal Arinze. In particular, I would say his membership in the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (since 2006) and warm regard for Tridentine orders such as the Institute of Christ the King may signal the flowering of the new phase in the Reform of the Reform and the enrichment of the Ordinary Form initially set in motion by the Motu Proprio and its freeing of the older form of the Mass. While most of us were holding our breath for Ranjith, this guy seems just as good.

Plus, heck, the guy knows how a Cardinal ought to look:


Think Pink (Rose, Whatever)

Domer-on-the-spot Johnny writes:
There will be a solemn Missa Cantata for Gaudete Sunday at 9AM in Alumni Hall [chapel] at the University of Notre Dame. This will be the last Sung Mass of the semester. The Notre Dame Gregorian Schola will chant the full solemn propers. Incense, chant, bells, the works! Mass will be offered by Fr. Thomas Blantz, CSC, professor of History.
Don't miss this opportunity to show your support for the usus antiquior on campus!

For those of you who don't know the campus, Alumni Hall is about as close to the geographical center of campus as you can get and not get run over by traffic in the turnaround in front of the Law School, with one of the most beautiful chapels outside the Basilica, the university's principal church.

Monday, December 8


All the Complicated Mystery / About What the Holy Office does, the Rota, the Consistory

It turns out that the Shrine is not the first to do an ecclesiastical Gilbert and Sullivan parody, nor the most eminent, as Monsignor Ronald Knox got there ahead of us, in a response written in November 1951 to a letter of congratulation from the Very Rev. C.A. Alington:

I'm the sort of man they make an Apostolic Protonotary -
I've written reams and reams of prose, and quite a lot of potery [sic];
To walk on garden-rollers is among my minor glories,
And I used to be prevailed upon to write detective stories;
I can also punt canoes (or as they say in Greenland) Kayaks,
And had quite a flair at one time for composing elegiacs;
I can look up trains in Bradshaw, on occasions locomotary,
As undoubtedly becomes an Apostolic Protonotary.

In short when I've unravelled all the complicated mystery,
About what the Holy Office does, the Rota, the Consistory;
When I've studied more theology, and don't get quite so drowsy on
Attending learned lectures which discuss the Homoousion;
When I've somehow put behind me (with my poor command of French) a list
Of authors whose philosophy is known as Existentialist,
When my learning on a multitude of themes is less bucolic -
There's ne'er a Protonotary will be so Apostolic.

--published in Ronald Knox, In Three Tongues, 1959

Wednesday, December 3


The Only Thing We Now Lack are Vatican Ninjas

Good news to all devout believers and twelve-year-old anime-obsessed pre-teen boys: we finally have gotten one step closer to getting our first samurai saint, the newly-beatified martyr Blessed Leo Zaisho Shichiemon:

The samurai Zaisho Shichiemon was baptized on July 22, 1608. He took the name of Leo, that of the great pope who had halted the barbarian invasions. But his story much more closely resembles the life of Saint Justin, the second century philosopher who, after discovering the Truth in Christ, would not renounce him, and died as a martyr. Hangou Mitsuhisa, the feudal lord under whom Zaisho served, had prohibited his men from becoming Christians. The priest whom Zaisho asked to baptize him reminded him of this, telling him that he could be punished or even killed. "I know," he replied, "but I have understood that salvation lies in the teaching of Jesus, and no one can separate me from Him."

As in the case of many martyrs, this was not only a mental conviction, but a mystical relationship. One day, Zaisho told a friend, "I don't know how this happened, but I now find myself thinking about God constantly." He was arrested and ordered to renounce his faith. He answered, "I would obey in any other matter, but I cannot accept any order that is opposed to my eternal salvation." On the morning of November 17, 1608, four months after his baptism, he was executed in the street in front of his house. [...]

The power of Christ was shown forth in the Japanese martyrs of the seventeenth century as clearly as it was in the Christians of the first centuries. There is the same clear eyed awareness of their choice, the same unflinching conviction in the face of demands to renounce their faith, the same unbowed and even joyful spirit in the face of cruel suffering, the same more than human strength that witnessed to Another who suffered in them. Torments and death could not overcome them; they were killed and they conquered. (Source).

Not only now are there saintly Christian knights but also a holy samurai as well. This is an incredible, moving story, and will also, okay, let's face it, lead to some real kick-butt iconography at some point down the road. (I take commissions! I love Japanese woodblock prints! Do the math!)

More on the incredible witness of Bl. Leo Zaisho and the other martyred companions (including Bl. Peter Kibe, whose name is mentioned first in the liturgical title of the group, and who I really should be writing but am instead wasting your lunch-break with an impending Saturday Night Live reference) which now accompany him in the calendar can be found here.


On a lighter note, The Holy Whapping Ill-Timed and Tactlessly Scheduled Players Proudly (?) Present:

John Belushi in Samurai Delicatessen!


HWTN Presents: Christendom's Funniest Para-Liturgical Home Videos

Now, if it had been St. Denis up there, at least some of the damage would have been redundant.

Required Reading

From Amy Welborn, on the temptation to look for "the right kind of Catholic":
In Rome, you might stand or kneel within a church built on the home of an ancient martyr. Perhaps the church contains that martyr’s remains and truly bears the martyr’s memory, which has strengthened the faithful in carrying their own crosses for centuries.

But there is a good chance that this same church was built by, expanded by or decorated by a wealthy Cardinal with a mistress or two and some sins for which to atone. The gorgeous art, resonant and powerful in its portrayal of Calvary, might have come from the hands of an artist with little or no faith to speak of, doing what he had to do for the commission. You are walking on paths that were stained by the blood of bishop martyrs and then paved by the edict of bishop rulers. St. Francis walked here in bare feet. Catholic aristocracy were carried above the muck, flattered by clergy as they handed out bread to the poor and paid the dowries of impoverished girls.

What, in that mess, do we reject? What do we accept? What is pure enough for us?

Do head over and read the whole thing. There is some really lovely and thought-provoking prose by herself, along with some poignant quotes from Pope Benedict and Gregory Nazianzen.

And, if you're in need of a Rome Fix (and who isn't?), the past week or so has been full of tourist/pilgrim blogging over there.

The Narnia Code?

Telegraph: "Secret theme behind Narnia Chronicles is based upon the stars, says new research"

Okay, it's actually not some crazy secret code story. After all, the Chronicles are only 50-ish years old; what kind of Tom Hanks movie would that make, really? (Answer: one that couldn't possibly be worse than, well, you know.) It is, however, an interesting theory, and one that seems not altogether improbable, given the climax of That Hideous Strength.

On the other hand, I don't really buy the notion that this supposed system will somehow "
help elevate Lewis to a different level and make him the equal of Tolkien." It's interesting and all, but really, has this guy read Lord of the Rings, much less The Silmarillion? (Well, okay, I have yet to finish the latter, but I've started it at least three times, so that's got to count for something.) I'm fairly sure Tolkien's place is safe for the moment.

Tuesday, December 2


If Only

I've had the audio file for a number of years, but now what could easily be an HWTN weather forecast has a YouTube video:


St. Christina the Astonishing - A Pelican in the Wilderness

Two details from the very beautiful and rather whimsical St. Christina the Astonishing - A Pelican in the Wilderness, by artist Cynthia Large. More on the painting, a larger view of the work, and some of her other projects can be found here.

Monday, December 1


Does this mean we won't be able to gross out non-Catholics anymore? Collectors Wooed With a Bit of Abe Lincoln

Happy New Year!

In honor of the occasion, Lucy the Church Lady is drawing patron saints for 2009. Head on over and get yours!

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