Friday, May 29


Tiaras Revisited

More on the Patriarch of Lisbon and his ersatz tiara (see my post here) can be found over here at Fr. Blake's blog. More photos here, though it appears at least recently in practice the actual item used was a funny-looking mitre with tiara-like bands around its circumference.

Wearable Towels Redux

This is not a political blog (except when touching on Our Lady's university or critical modern concerns like whether the King of Spain is the legal inheritor to the Byzantine throne), but I note some interesting debates over that most repulsive of items, the wearable towel, has errupted over at's The Corner:

This is clearly the ideal summertime uniform for all NR employees. [...]

Update: I love Corner readers. A reader corrects me:
[...] That's not a toga, that's a chiton. A toga is 12 yards of wool cut in a trapezoid shape that you have to throw over one shoulder, wrap around the body and drape over the opposite forearm. While the ancient, ancient Romans used to wear it with nothing underneath but a loincloth, by Caesar's day only a pretentious git like Cato the Younger did so. Everyone else wore a chiton underneath-—more evidence of sissifying Greek influence, I'm sure.

Update II: He adds:
By the way, only citizens could wear the toga, whether patrician or plebian. And the monly women allowed to wear it were whores. Respectable women wore a stola and palla.

Another reader comments, in re Cato the Younger, as to whether he was pretentious or not:
Cato was indeed pretentious, although I'm not sure exactly what a "git" is. [Watch more Monty Python -MGA]. His pretension was seen by going commando under his toga, the rough equivalent of an America pol running around in cocked hat and knee breeches in memory of George Washington. If that isn't pretentious I don't know what would be.
How is dressing up like George Washington pretentious? I think it'd make C-SPAN actually worth watching. Let's get some doge's caps and full-bottomed judges' wigs while we're at it. Though, semper ubi sub ubi, pace Cato.

I Suspect This is a Bad Idea, But I'm Not Sure Why

The Dog-O-Matic automatic dog wash.

The inventor, a Frenchman named Romaine Jarry, notes that ""The dogs don't seem to get bored. They just sit there, and they come out clean." I think this says a whole lot about the inner life of dogs, and animals in general. One recent visit to Milwaukee's excellent zoo impressed me with, yes, the eerie way animals can seem almost human at times--and how abruptly and spectacularly they fail to go anywhere beyond merely eerie, in cases like this. (Koko the gorilla's miserably Dadaistic syntax springs to mind.) I know while I wouldn't be bored, I'd not exactly be sitting there calmly, either, if hauled into a pet dishwasher against my will.

On the other hand, back at the zoo, there were those monkeys that spend most of their day sitting around doing nothing but digesting their food, which is a very human activity, come to think of it.

Thursday, May 28


O Snuggie, What Hath Thou Wrought?

Elegant medieval robes and voluminous togas are one thing, wearable towels another. Between this and Sudoku*, it's no wonder Western Civilization is in a state of advanced collapse.

*Seriously, I have a theory that the burst of interest in Sudoku is one of the most potent signs of advanced societal decay. Crossword puzzles require some degree of common knowledge or received cultural wisdom, either pop or high. Sudoku's popularity, based on numbers, or math, or something, I don't know, presupposes no shared cultural knowledge or experience. An alien from space could do it. Indeed, a lot of folks on the Lexington Avenue subway I saw doing their morning Sudoku may well have been from Planet Zoltron. Either we are collectively too stupid to take an interest in our cultural surroundings (no matter whether they're John Cage or, on the other end, James MacMillan), or so personally self-contained that we don't have any in common. Both are disturbing possibilities. Meanwhile, I can't hear you with these wonderful iPod earbuds in...

Wednesday, May 27


Curiosities of the Tiara

(Originally posted over at the New Liturgical Movement, eons ago, but it's rather a fun little read).

The mitre was at one time the sole prerogative of the Pope. Indeed, the tiara and the mitre in all likelyhood descend from the same bonnet, a curious thing shaped like a sugar-loaf and either called the camelaucum or the phrygium--ironically, the same infamous oriental cap of liberty later resurrected by the Jacobins of revolutionary Paris. The Phrygian cap--worn by freed slaves in ancient days--was purportedly bestowed on Pope Sylvester by Constantine as a sign of the Church's new freedom. While this is presumably a legend, at least one author has suggested that the popes of the era must have had some distinguishing head-piece, and we have definite evidence for the camelaucum from the seventh century onwards.

The crowns were added one-by-one; the first allegedly was added by St. Symmachus (498-514), which is in all likelyhood a fairy tale. Symmachus did a great many other things, though, including combatting a Byzantine-backed anti-Pope that went on through increasingly garbled complexities, including four truly bizarre years with the pope stuck out at St. Peter's and his rival living at the Lateran, even daring to hang up his portrait in the series at St. Paul-without-the-Walls. It appears the crown was really first added sometime around the reign of Charlemagne, or perhaps in the thirteenth century.

The second was Boniface VIII's idea, purportedly to show both temporal and spiritual power, and the third either by Benedict XI or Clement V. Nobody is quite sure why--the heraldist Giluiano Cesare de Beatiano, advancing a theory that would make even Jack Chick blush, claims it to represent temporal power over the known continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. The late Bruno Bernard Heim asks, sensibly, why nobody got around to adding coronets for Australia or the Americas; on the other hand, St. Robert Bellarmine nonetheless backs up (without the continental argument) the assertion of the tiara's temporal significance, which is no surprise as it's never really been associated with the liturgy, with the apparent exception of an Eastern-Rite liturgy once celebrated by John XXIII of blessed memory.

The best explanation would appear to be that the crowns represent the supremacy of the Pope over the Church Militant, Suffering and Triumphant, and also his triple ministry of priest, pastor and teacher of the faithful. Or, as the old coronation rite once put it, his tripartite authority as the Father of Kings and Princes, the Rector of the World, and the Vicar of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Earth.

A few brave souls have undertaken to usurp the tiara from time to time. This was once considered a capital crime, if intended to misuse the pope's jurisdiction. Heim writes that "today the law has become unnecessary." (It is not known at time of writing if Archbishop Heim had ever been aware of the wellspring of nuttiness that was the late Gregory XVII of befuddled memory). Then there's the Patriarch of Lisbon who actually still uses the tiara heraldically, with a double-barred cross and crozier. The Patriarchate is a fairly young ecclesiastical institution and formerly subject to some peculiar issues of jurisdiction. It was created by the Golden Bull of 1716 as a Portuguese compliment to the Patriarchate of the West Indies--a relatively minor office, without pay, held ex-officio since 1572 by the chief chaplain of the Spanish Army. (It appears to have been vacant since 1963).

The Patriarchate itself started out equally small and was for a time largely restricted in authority to the Portuguese chapel royal, a chunk of Western Lisbon, and a number of suffragams. The former Archbishop of the place still controlled the remainder of Lisbon and a substantial ecclesiastical province which included San Salvator in the Congo and, apparently, the Brazilian city of Bahia de todos os Santos with its 365 churches--now voodoo-infested, if Umberto Eco is to be believed. This curious arrangement with its two cathedrals was eventually scrapped, though the double cathedral chapter persisted until 1837.

The Lisbon tiara is somewhat different in shape from that of Rome's, though like Rome it seems to have several variants, either bulbous or conical. Some call it a triregnum to distinguish it from the papal variety, though that too is often called a triregnum as well, to further confuse things. The origin of this singular bit of ecclesial headgear has less to do with Lusitanian pontifical megalomania than King John V's (1707-1750) hobby of coming up with new ornaments for his patriarch in an effort to establish a sort of non-schismatic Western Rome. (The first patriarch of Lisbon, Thomas d'Almeyda, seems to have been a pretty nice guy, even saintly). The sedia gestadoria was also used there, and the cathedral chapter has three ranks patterned after the three orders of the College of Cardinals, as well. This rather charming sort of liturgical weirdness is uniquely Portuguese, as the Portuguese Braga rite retains rubrics concerning a serpent-shaped Paschal candlestick, as well as a prayer to be said in the sacristy while combing one's hair--apparently once a fairly common practice.

While Portuguese claims that the Pope said it was okay strike me as somewhat suspicious (there's a hint of "the dog ate my homework" in there somewhere), Rome never really made much of a fuss over the matter. Ironically enough, it seems that the old 1917 Code of Canon Law says that any century-old privilege is automatically considered valid, since proof of the origins of such a right is no longer required by law. I'm not sure if this is in the 1983 Code. On the other hand, there was that fellow Antoine-Anne-Jules, Cardinal de Clermont-Tonnerre (d. 1830), who had the fantastic cheek to stick a tiara atop his arms because of his alleged ancestral relative, Pope Nicholas II. One has to draw the line somewhere

Well, I Suppose It Saves on Tuxedo Rental...

A friend writes, "One perk of being Third Order Religious (Dominican, at least) is that you can be married in the habit (I think)." A T.O.P. friend of mine writes that this is no longer the case, though apparently you can still be buried in the habit. Perhaps, while a quaint enough custom, this is all for the best. While the habit and the tux are both black-and-white, I'm not quite sure what a bride would think if she went up the aisle to find some guy dressed up like Savonarola where her groom ought to be, especially if she has a history (as in common in such circles) of inadvertently facilitating ex-boyfriends' vocations...

Tuesday, May 26


Caption Contest

Unfortunately, Monsignor Marini's new design for an automatic pontifical haz-mat hood built into the collar of the pope's robes failed to deploy properly at the critical moment.

Monday, May 25


Playing Hard-to-Get with Our Lord

This is awesome:
What her [St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi] experiences and prayer had given her was a familiar, personal relationship with Jesus. Her conversations with Jesus often take on a teasing, bantering tone that shocks those who have a formal, fearful image of God. [Oddly enough, I'd say in my own experience, the two don't always contradict one another...] For example, at the end of her forty days of graces, Jesus offered her a crown of flowers or a crown of thorns. No matter how often she chose the crown of thorns, Jesus kept teasingly pushing the crown of flowers to her. When he accused her, "I called and you didn't care," she answered back, "You didn't call loudly enough" and told him to shout his love. (Source.)


A Press Release from ND Response

This is a bit out-of-date, and I've pretty much shot my intellectual wad on this subject, but given the sparse media coverage of this particular facet of l'affaire Obama, I figure it would be of interest, especially the follow-up DVD being issued.

Also, thanks to fellow Milwaukean Dr. Gotcher for the mention of my previous ND post on HMS Blog, which was particularly enjoyable for me as it was one of the first Catholic weblogs I followed regularly (back in the good old days when Greg Popcak used to torment Emily Stimpson by offering her hand in marriage as the prize in a write-in contest, and other enjoyable family fun.) But I digress:

ND Response Holds Rally for Thousands on Notre Dame Campus
Bishop D'Arcy Calls Seniors "Heroes" For Affirming University's Catholic Identity and Pro-Life Mission

Notre Dame, IN - Approximately 3000 people gathered on the South Quad of the University of Notre Dame's campus this past Sunday for a Mass, rally, and prayer vigil hosted by the student coalition ND Response. These events, which were planned in reaction to Notre Dame's conferring of an honorary law degree to President Barack Obama at its Commencement Exercises, were intended to witness to the Catholic identity of the University and its foundationally pro-life mission.

With pro-life supporters and Notre Dame faithful traveling in from places as far away as Mexico, New York, California, and Florida to stand alongside the ND Response students on their graduation day, Sunday's events not only provided powerful witness to the sanctity of human life but also expressed constructive disappointment at the University of Notre Dame’s decision to honor President Barack Obama, who has publicly supported abortion and embryo-destructive stem cell research during his tenure in office.

Bishop John M. D'Arcy, who skipped the University's official graduation ceremony but attended the rally hosted by ND Response students, publicly thanked the coalition's students for their constructive and respectful witness and called them "heroes." Bishop D'Arcy's words at the rally were bolstered by speeches given by a number of Notre Dame alumni, faculty, and students who challenged Notre Dame to both maintain its Catholic character and live up to the pro-life teachings of the Church.

Following Sunday's rally, nearly 40 graduates who had decided to skip their commencement ceremony gathered in the University's Grotto for a prayer vigil and to listen to a meditation given by Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life. These students were joined at this vigil by over 800 people, inluding their parents, siblings, and families.

The text and video of the speeches and meditations given at Sunday's rally and prayer vigil are available on the ND Response website DVDs of the event and ND Response t-shirts will be made available shortly.

Friday, May 22


Ecclesiastical Biography Made Easy

And now, excerpted from the HWTN-published Nitwit's Guide to Ecclesiastical Historiography, a selection of handy one-sentence biographies of the great men and women of Catholicism:

St. Lawrence: Turn me over, I'm done on this side.
St. Christina of Bolsena: As with zombies, the only way to definitively stop an undersized, uppity teenage virgin-martyr is to whack off her head.
Abbot Suger: I like shiny things.
Padre Pio: Strange blips reported on the Pieceltrina air traffic control tower.
St. Catherine of Alexandria: The Diocletian Chainsaw Massacre.
Imelda Lambertini: The one story one should never, not under any circumstances, tell a First Communion class.
Eilmer of Malmesbury: Hey, y'all, watch this!
The Prophet Elisha: Never make fun of a bald man or bears will eat you.
Albertus Magnus: Talking robots, alchemy, and weird science.
Alexander VI: One of two popes who ought to have a party school named after him.
St. Francis: James Dean, then Doctor Doolittle, and finally The Greatest Story Ever Told.
Savonarola: God hates shiny things.
Pseudo-Dionysius: God is a shiny thing.
Thomas Aquinas: [The one-sentence summary prepared turned into an elaborately-structured series of dependent clauses that went on for twenty pages.]
St. Catherine of Siena: Fad Miracle Diets of the 14th Century.

Other suggestions?

Thursday, May 21


This is Why Matt Should Not Watch Commercial Television

...when he notices the background music for some sort of mysterious baby product commercial is a (synthesized) toy piano version of Lillibullero and wonders what the Johnson and Johnson corporation could possibly have against Irish Jacobites?

And everyone that won't go to Mass
Lillibullero bullen a la
He will be turned out to look like an ass
Lillibullero bullen a la

Hmm, curiously appropriate given the whole "Ascension Sunday" fiasco.

Wednesday, May 20


Addressing the Elephant (or Perhaps Donkey) in the Corner

I know a lot of you probably came here at some point this week expecting commentary about The Speech. I haven't read it or watched it, having had a busy and pleasant Sunday. I went to a well-sung mass, though between the Senegalese priest and the Mexican deacon, it turned out to be an incomprehensible accent demolition derby. Not that I can really complain, given my ethnic makeup. While I and my parents have the typical placeless Kansas anchorman accent everyone seems to have today (coupled with, in my case, a vocabulary equal parts British sitcom, Adrian Fortescue and Dave Barry), genetically, we're the meeting of the southern drawl with the odd Cuban-Spanglish habit of dropping whole syllables when the mood strikes. How my beloved late Abuelito ever got 'Creema' out of Christmas is a linguistic feat that still amazes me. I also enjoyed a delightful stage adaptation of The Great Divorce that was presented at Concordia University north of here.

Both proved much more edifying than muttering Jacobite slogans under my breath at the TV, which is my usual crisis mode. (You should have been there when my friends and I watched the vice-presidential debates in the basement of a Midtown bar surrounded by Emo-ish postmodern Young Republicans and Democrats. I kept humming Oriamendi and nobody got the hint.) But I digress, as usual.

Seriously, though, I think everything that could be said on this very sad moment for Our Lady's University was already said here weeks ago by my co-blogger Emily, and the masochists in our audience can go and re-read it if they want. I'm hesitant to say anything about this at all, since it's been almost exactly three years since I graduated, and usually this sort of intellectual guerrilla work is best handled by those students out there in the trenches. For my own part, I think this is not the watershed moment everyone claims it is. A depressing and sad moment, yes, but not one that really has changed the university.

The same students and the same student culture (both pious and less so) is still there on campus, and indeed, I'd say the caliber of the Catholic student population has improved since my time there. This one incident has not changed any of this. I agree something should be done--but I also think this event ought not to be exploited by those with some sort of beef against this place, or are unaware of how the territory has changed in recent years.

In any case, pray for this very special place. It is absurd to give up on Notre Dame on the strength of this large but relatively singular incident; we are not and have never been as far gone as many other Catholic universities, nor is an easy replacement or successor discernable, or even necessary. Those Catholics who are urging their children to go to state schools out of some misguided notion of avoiding hypocrisy ought to at least sit back and consider whatever problems we may have at the top, the grassroots are still strong and green, and the general ambience, if one keeps one's head and avoids bad company, remains pretty wholesome on campus. (One word: parietals. They're not going anywhere, and neither are the single-sex dorms. Try finding either at a state school, not to mention the Blessed Sacrament everywhere.) It's not for nothing they speak of the "Notre Dame bubble."

What pulled Notre Dame out of its '80s slump was mostly a small but dynamic orthodox core of Catholic students, whose actions are now now bearing fruit. The only way we can fix this problem is for more kids like that to come under the Dome. Pray like a champion, and please, try to get the facts before flying off the handle, people. It does our cause no good to do otherwise.

For a lot of us, it was a bit like discovering our dear old mother had a drinking problem. Something must be done, but watching others gleefully taunting her was a bit hard to handle, as right as they might have been in the abstract to rebuke her. She is still someone's mother, after all.

I leave you with the most powerful witness I can think of to prove that there is indeed nowhere else but Notre Dame: the "shadow graduation," mass and rally held by ND Response on the Commencement Weekend. (More info here, over at Lucy's, who has also some very cogent commentary on this subject as well.) These are the students (and in some cases, professors) that are the true Notre Dame.

Tuesday, May 19


New Heraldic Art by Matthew Alderman

An Achievement of Arms Devised for a New Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. 5.5" x 8.8". Private Collection, District of Columbia.

Monday, May 18


New Line Art - S. John Kemble

Matthew Alderman. S. John Kemble, Priest and Martyr. March 2009. Private Collection, Kansas.

For those of you wondering why he is smoking and drinking, see this article from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Martyr, b. at Rhydicar Farm, St. Weonard's, Herefordshire, 1599; d. at Widemarsh Common, Hereford, 22 August, 1679; son of John Kemble, formerly of Kemble, Wiltshire, afterwards of Llangarren, and of Urchinfield (now part of the parish of Hardwicke), and Anne, daughter of John Morgan, of The Waen, Skenfrith, Monmouthshire. His uncle, George Kemble, of Pembridge Castle, Welsh Newton, was the father of Captain Richard Kemble, who saved Charles II at the battle of Worcester. Ordained priest at Douai College, 23 February, 1625, he was sent on the mission 4 June, and in his old age lived with his nephew at Pembridge Castle. Arrested there by Captain John Scudamore of Kentchurch, he was lodged in Hereford Gaol in November, 1678, and condemned under 27 Eliz. c. 2 at the end of March following. Ordered to London with Father Charles Baker, he was lodged in Newgate and interviewed by Oates, Bedloe, and Dugdale. Sent back to Hereford, the aged priest spent three more months in gaol. Before leaving for his execution he smoked a pipe and drank a cup of sack with the under-sheriff, this giving rise to the Herefordshire expressions "Kemble pipe", and "Kemble cup", meaning a parting pipe or cup. Sir John Hawkins in a note to "The Compleat Angler" turns Kemble into a Protestant in Mary's reign. One of the martyr's hands is preserved at St. Francis Xavier's, Hereford. His body rests in Welsh Newton churchyard.

Sunday, May 17


The Last Homily of Msgr. William Kerr, 1940-2009

I had very sad news from home unroll across all of last week. The priest who baptized me way back in 1983, Monsignor Bill Kerr, had been felled by a stroke while at the pulpit during Sunday mass, and died several days later, on Wednesday of last week, in hospital. I only met the monsignor a few times as an adult (and now I can only wish there had been more time), but he was still in the midst of a very eventful and busy life even in his old age. He had served as president of La Roche College from 1992-2006, and also had a hand at various points in the running of the John Paul II Cultural Center in D.C. (where he seems to have turned it into something that actually worked), and Catholic U in D.C. where he held a vice-presidential post. He had the uncanny knack of a handful of people I know of being quietly ubiquitous--having hobnobbed with Jordanian royals and receiving a visit on his deathbed from the Rwandan ambassador (and also an 120-pound German shepherd, but that's another story). More astonishing is the peripheral role he played in the Ted Bundy case in his younger days, which Dom Bettinelli recounts over at his site. It is worth quoting nearly in full:
Among other things, he was famous for having administered the last rites to one of serial killer Ted Bundy’s victims and then became a spiritual counselor for Bundy on death row.

I met Monsignor Kerr in 1994, I believe, when he was president of La Roche College, outside Pittsburgh. I was a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville and I’d been preparing for the Total Consecration to Mary according to St. Louis de Montfort with some of my friends. One of them was my roommate, Kevin Gillen, now Fr. Gabriel Gillen, OP, who knew the monsignor. Kevin arranged for Msgr. Kerr to lead us in the final consecration following Mass at La Roche. I don’t remember too much about the day, but I do remember Msgr. Kerr was kind and gracious to us.

Kevin told us the story Msgr. Kerr told him about that awful night in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1978. He said Kerr got the call from the police in the middle of the night to rush out to the sorority house. When he arrived he was told that all but one of the girls in the house were dead or near death, killed by a serial killer who was later to be known to the world as Ted Bundy. After giving those last rites to the dying college girl, then-Fr. Kerr was asked by the police on the scene to talk to the girl who survived unscathed. They wanted to know how she survived the brutal attacks, because Bundy had stopped right inside the door to her room, dropped his weapon, and left without touching her. But the girl would talk to no one but a priest.

When Fr. Kerr approached the near-catatonic girl, she told him that her mother had made her promise before going off to college for the first time that she would pray the Rosary every night before bed for protection; even if she fell asleep praying the Rosary, which she had that night so that when Bundy came into her room with murder on his mind, the beads were still clutched in her hands.

Later, Bundy would tell Monsignor that when he entered the girl’s room, he just couldn’t go on, he dropped his weapon, and he fled. Such is the power of our Mother’s protective mantle.
I also recently received a transcription of his last homily (almost his last words, given his state after the stroke) from my mother, who was there when the monsignor had a stroke, and who helped bring grace and order to an otherwise traumatic moment by starting up a rosary (the priestly Luminous Mysteries) while the paramedics attended to the stricken Kerr.

The text is especially poignant in retrospect. It is an astonishing, powerful and peculiar tale from an even earlier point in his life. The text is preceded by an introduction from the mass attendees who compiled it:
Those of us who were blessed to be present when Msgr. William Kerr gave his last homily have attempted from memory to capture in writing his last pastoral thoughts. While this is not a word-for-word transcription, it conveys the essence of what he shared with us on May 3, 2009, moments before he was stricken with the stroke that ultimately took his life on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, 2009, in Tallahassee, Florida.

I begin with an apology. [Big grin] I apologize if I doused you and I apologize if I missed you. [Comment about holy water followed.]

Today, I want to share with you an anniversary that is important to me. I speak of the anniversary of my ordination as a deacon and of my first assignment. On my way to receiving that first assignment, I stopped by the chapel to go over my resume with God. This was in St. Louis and ten parishes and a hospital were to be assigned to deacons. I told God, "I would do well in a parish. You know I'm not good with hospitals."

After that, I stepped over to the bishop's office. I met with the bishop and received my assignment – it was the hospital.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was immediately directed to the burn unit. This particular hospital was famous for its burn unit and very gravely injured burn patients were brought here. I learned that the chaplain was out for the day and I was faced with this daunting task without any instructions. It was the doctor and me. He advised me to look in the patients' eyes and not at their disfiguring injuries.

My first patient was a young man who had been burned by an explosion. He was in critical condition. This young man, who came to have a tremendous influence on my life, worked in a factory. He had been tasked with picking up rags and spent containers. He disposed of them in an incinerator. This was a chemical factory and unfortunately the containers held chemicals that exploded, seriously burning him in the process.

His name was Michael, Michael Anderson, and he said, "'Father,'" (he called me 'Father,') I always wanted to be a priest, and now I won't get to – so I am offering my suffering to strengthen you in your ministry.

Amazed and almost at a loss for words, I said to him, "Now, Michael, we will get through this, together." But Michael, who probably had a better sense of his situation than I did, responded by insisting he would offer his suffering for me and my ministry.

Next to Michael was another patient who was well known in the area. He heard Michael's conversation with me and told him to put in a good word for him in heaven.

The doctor told me it was important for the patients to scream, to help them relieve their agonizing pain. But Michael never screamed. He held his suffering to himself until he died.

During the next few hours, I got to know Michael. The singular circumstances of our meeting led to friendship, and a special bond between us. And, over the course of my life, I have repeatedly felt that bond and that friendship. Many times I have asked Michael to pray for me to strengthen me in my ministry.

I often think about the priceless blessings I received from being assigned to that hospital and from meeting Michael. God knows us and he knows where we belong, even if we do not know ourselves. We must pray… we must pray…Michael…
And there it ends. The homily, I mean. We Christians know well that death is no end, but that does not make it any harsher. Death cannot be walpapered over with eulogies and white vestments; this is why we pray for our faithful departed to ease the pains of Purgatory. Our sufferings here, too, are not without meaning, as Michael showed, and not without spiritual profit for ourselves and others. "Offer it up" is more than a churchlady cliche.

And death is, while the door to the new life of the Resurrection, still a painful cosmic reminder of original sin. Body and soul are meant to be together, and that sundering is what made even Christ weep before the tomb of Lazarus. But there is always the hope of heaven--and why, while we pray for our dead, we may also in time pray to and for them, just as Monsignor Kerr did with the saint he met at the start of his own ministry.

Friday, May 15


The Requiem of Ferdinand of Aragon, 1516

"Almost two months later, on 13 March 1516, Charles [V], now undoubted King of Spain, wrapped in a black mourning cloak, set out in procession with his fellow knights of the Golden Fleece from the ducal palace in Brussels to the cathedral of St. Gudule to celebrate a requiem for a dead knight. Two thousand burghers lined the streets holding oil-soaked flambeaux, their shafts wrapped in black cloth, while in the cathedral, the interior was bright from innumerable candles and tapers. The elaborate tapestry wall-hangings and the rich cloth-of-gold frontals, the gilded side altars and the great high altar itself, all shimmered in the flickering light. The knights took their place under their banners, Charles closest to the pulpit. The chaplain of the order preached a sermon on the theme that 'This is a dance of death which all must read, even kings and princes. This is the irrevocable law of life. Scepters and crowns must fall. Let us not forget how swiftly joy and feasting may run to mourning and lamentation.' Then the heralds of the order twice issued the summons into the echoing silence of the church: 'Don Ferdinand!' Three times the answer came back, 'He is dead.' Then his banner was lowered to the ground, and the herald rose again calling loudly, 'Long live their catholic Majesties Queen Juana and King Charles!' Then Charles came forward, letting slip his mourning cloak and stood alone before the high altar. The Bishop of Badajoz took a short jeweled sword or dagger from the altar, where it had been blessed, and gave it to the new king. He raised it on high, pointing to the four corners of the cathedral, signifying the world, and a great shout rang out from all parts, 'Vivat, Vivat, rex!'

--Andrew Wheatcroft, The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire, 1995, p. 115.

Thursday, May 14


A Follow-Up on Wedding Customs

A friend writes, in regards to the use of the Missal as the Pax-brede at a Tridentine wedding, and its relation to the first kiss of the bride and groom:
The pax-brede kiss was carefully researched (by me [he writes]) and is a medieval custom. Other medieval customs that we left out are:

* The pall held over bride and groom during nuptial blessing. (Couldn't find a beautiful one).

* The lit candles held by bride and groom until after the epistle (I think) at which point the priest takes them, blows them out, and places them on the altar. I think it's about dying to self in order to let Christ become your light. (We were worried our hands would shake and we'd drop the candles).

* The binding of the hands. (The priest vested for Mass before the wedding ceremony, having no cope, and so his stole was stuck underneath his cincture).
The pall (reminiscent, intentionally or not, of the Jewish huppah) is particularly well-known as a Sarum rite custom. At the wedding of one of my favorite medievalizing architects, the great Ninian Comper, four servers in rochets held up a blue silk veil over the bride and groom, a striking example of the revival of this practice.

Cardinal Richelieu Like You've Never Seen Him Before

Monday, May 11


Caption Contest

Despite being a saint, Caterina Benincasa nonetheless had to steel herself first before braving the dangers of crossing the Roman street.

Image credit: Orbis Catholicus.


Thomas Kinkade Strikes Again, and Now He's Ruined Christmas

Okay, this is just wrong.

On the other hand, it's nice to see some tacky religious art that we're not to blame for.


I Hear North Korea is Beautiful in the Spring

Why is it that there really is a show entitled Rick Steves' Iran strikes me as funny?

Sunday, May 10


Miss Manners Explains the Festival of the Twelve Marys

From Judith Martin's hilarious No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice, an erudite title which manages two shout-outs to both Henry James and Baron Corvo, for a book which reads like a travel guide compiled by the dream team of Edith Wharton and Dave Barry:
Some of the festivals we ache to attend are no longer held. Such as the eight-day Festival of the Twelve Marys culminating on Candlemas, the liturgical celebration of the Purification of the Virgin.

Although Venice considered that she had a special relationship with the Virgin Mary, her attitude towards any holiday was, in the spirit of our modern Christmas, "What's in it for me?" In this case, the Venetian angle was the anniversary of a legendary event in which cabinetmakers from the parish of Santa Maria Formosa whopped a gang of pirates from Trieste who tried to steal a bunch of Venetian brides. And not only the brides, but hey, the boxes of dowry money the brides were clutching and the borrowed jewelry they were wearing. This remarkable rescue was celebrated for more than two hundred years, beginning in the mid-twelfth century, but then it got so rowdy that the republic had to squelch it. So we are several centuries too late.

But what an occasion it was. January 31 had long been set aside as the wedding day for twelve poor but deserving young women selected by state and communal authorities to receive dowries that instantly increased their romantic appeal. Two days later, February 2, is the anniversary of the Venetian response to those unexpected wedding guests. In any other culture's legends, it would have been princes who set things right. In the lore of labor-respecting Venice, it was neighborhood woodworkers who boarded the pirate chip, skewered the pirates, tossed them overboard, and scooped up the brides, boxes and jewels, all of which they reported to be still intact.

In the years thereafter, two out of sixty parishes would be chosen by the city to stage the celebration. A week of regattas, religious services, processions, and parties honored both the artisan-heroes, and, it being her day anyway, the Virgin Mary. Twelve life-sized wooden statues of the Virgin were commissioned by rich people from the two sponsoring parishes. They were sumptuously dressed and hung with jewels. [...]

First, the twelve figures were carried round in a parade led by [two priests]. [...] Upon arriving at the church of Santa Maria Formosa (formosa meaning buxom [sic!]) the two priests would reenact the Annunciation. Then the Twelve Marys were turned over to the young men of the winning parishes. This turned out to be a mistake. The boys thought it was a scream to spend the week rowing these virgns around town and mocking other parishes for not having been chosen. Nyah-nyah, the Madonna likes our parish better than yours, nyah-nyah. The results were predictable, and in 1339, the Republic passed a law making it illegal to throw turnips and apples at a statue of the Virgin.
Oh, those wacky Venetians.

Saturday, May 9


New Line Art: S. Michael

Matthew Alderman. Michael Psychopompus. Ink on Vellum. April-May 2009. Artist's Collection.

A Friend Writes: In Re Wedding Music, and Some Thoughts on 'Traditionalesque' Customs

One of our readers asks us the musical question:

Now that we are fast approaching June and wedding season, the question of authentically Catholic wedding planning music and the liturgical norms for such celebrations are more and more poignant. [I appreciate his diplomatic tone.--MGA]

A number of secular songs have become popular over the years, including Bridal Chorus from Wagner's Lohengin ("Here Comes the Bride") and the recessional Wedding March from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream. These songs made their ascendancy after their use at the Princess (soon to be Queen) Victoria. While popular, their use in a Catholic ceremony is not appropriate.

Hymns are clearly more approriate, but is it better to forego the singing and have the organist play the melody?

Finally, should the priest and groom's party process, and should different music should be played when the bridge processes?

Clarity and guidance is sought regarding these issues.
One very fine weddintg I attended at the Madeleine in Salt Lake had their very fine choir sing the Introit in Latin for the nuptual mass as the procession entered. This is, of course, a very fine solution, though it is not always possible due to pastoral politics or resources.

This also brings up the difficult questions of whether bride and groom should enter together, before or after the priest in procession, as they are the ministers of the sacrament, and if the ancient if somewhat sacramentally peculiar custom of the father giving the bride away is appropriate in the present context.

I believe the practice is a Christianization of the elaborate contractual rites of the various Nordic peoples who received the Faith in the period after Rome's fall and is thus a somewhat alien addition to our predominantly Mediterranean liturgical roots, though its antiquity does also give it a certain merit as well. Of course, in such instances, discretion is called for, given weddings are nearly always emotional powderkegs.

I would like to put a word in for another custom I saw at a Tridentine wedding once; the bride's veil was kept down for most of the ceremony, and the first kiss of bride and groom was delayed until the Pax of the mass. The priest used the missal as a Pax-brede, kissed the cross at the front of the Canon, handed it to the groom to kiss, and then the groom raised his bride's veil and kissed her, a wonderful fusion of sacramental hierarchy and complementarity. The veil remained folded back until the end of mass. I do not know if it is medieval, but it certainly sounds like something a medieval mind could love. As a practical matter, it is important to make sure the veil is not too thick as the bride told me afterwards that while she looked quite picturesque under all that, she quickly discovered the polyester veil didn't breathe very well, and unfortunately neither did she.

One general difficulty with discussing this subject is so many of our wedding traditions are what Rebecca Mead, author of One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding calls "traditionalesque." (Thanks to Whapster Dan for pointing out this helpful verbal coinage.) In other words, they're largely new and made-up, without any footing in organic tradition.

The traditionalesque is the vaguely nostalgic, the instantly-invented traditions that so frequently define the modern wedding industry. Even the Wedding March from Lohengrin is fairly antique compared to some of these newly-minted age-old customs. (The unity candle would seem to be a glaring example of this.) Yet, perhaps it is best not to pry too deeply into such matters, given there is so little tradition lying around today already. White wedding dresses may go only as far back as Queen Victoria, and tuxedos and morning dress tailcoats even less. It appears diamond rings went into the mainstream as engagement gifts because of De Beers.

But it's what we're used to, and still remain potent symbols in an age devoid of symbolism. And white dresses do symbolize purity, and have for ages, no matter what hand Victoria Regina had in connecting them with weddings. (And as a bit of a pageantry groupie, I do have to admit where else are you going to see a girl wandering around with a fifteen-foot train and men in tophats? I take what I can get, where I can get it.)

As much as I'd like us to dispose ourselves like Sarum-rite groomsmen or grave Spanish courtiers of the seventeenth century, I realize such antiquarianism is not a going concern. Of course, this does not mean we have to tolerate unity candles and other much more glaringly faux accretions.

I would, however, love someday to get to the root of what Catholic weddings looked like in ages past, and cut past the myths and mystery. Though I'm not sure I'll tell any prospective brides what I find. I value my life too much for that.

Monday, May 4


More Catholic Eye Candy from Our Lady's University

The official Procession photographer has sent me a few of her favorite shots, with permission to post.  Here they are, along with a wonderful article (penned in a style we don't see often enough these days) from the ND News Office:

No Ordinary Parade


The congregants of the 11:45 Mass poured out of Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart last Sunday, some 500 of them, into the gusts of a stiff westerly wind which flapped the banners above the entrance, the vestments of a half dozen Holy Cross priests, the choir robes of the Notre Dame Women’s Liturgical Choir and the gold tassels fringing the canopy under which a consecrated host was born by one of the priests in a golden monstrance. They were singing “Sing My Tongue the Savior’s Glory,” a hymn to the Eucharist composed in the 13th century by Saint Thomas Aquinas which most Catholics of a certain age remember as “Tantum Ergo.”

This was the beginning of a Eucharistic Procession, once a yearly event at the University, and a campus tradition revived over the last five years by students from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross Colleges.

Eucharistic processions, along with many other forms of Eucharistic devotion, seemed to fade somewhat from Catholic practice in the years following the Second Vatican Council, but in recent years there is increasing evidence among Notre Dame students of a renewed interest in and enthusiasm for such traditions.

By extolling the consecrated host, these public devotions celebrate the belief that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. Eucharistic processions, or “Corpus Christi” processions as they are often called, using the Latin words for “Body of Christ,” are a tradition dating back at least to the 13th century. The tradition was widely suppressed by the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century in much of northern Europe. In response, Catholic communities redoubled their zeal for the practice and towns often competed in sponsoring elaborate and well-attended processions on the holy day of Corpus Christi.

If such competitions were still in fashion today, Notre Dame’s would have done well. It uniquely and mysteriously combined the elation of a parade on a bright spring day—there was even a steak sandwich lunch served at its conclusion—with the recollected calm of private prayer. Led by the canopied sacrament, escorted by an honor guard of caped, quaintly armed and flamboyantly beplumed Knights of Columbus, perfumed by puffs of incense smoke and accompanied by ancient and contemporary sacred music led by Notre Dame’s various student choirs, the procession wound its way through the South Quadrangle, stopping at altars placed before the statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of the University and Notre Dame’s founder, Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., and the steps of the Main Building.

At each of the altars, a Eucharistic hymn was sung as the crowd knelt and the Eucharist was venerated. Scriptural readings were followed, at the first two, by readings from meditations on the sacrament written by the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C. At the altar before Father Sorin’s statue, there was a reading from a letter of Notre Dame’s founder, assuring a 19th century correspondent and a 21st century campus gathering that “our great consolation here is the Perpetual Adoration in our midst.”

At the last processional altar, kneeling at the foot of the Main Building steps, the procession’s participants were read words from Pope Benedict XVI, about the importance of precisely the sorts of festival they celebrated. “The Lord gives himself to us in bodily form,” Pope Benedict wrote. “That is why we must likewise respond to him bodily…Our religion, our prayer, demands bodily expression. Because the Lord, the Risen One, gives himself in the Body, we have to respond in soul and body…the bodily expression of our positive response to the real presence of Jesus Christ, who as God and man, with body and soul, flesh and blood is present among us.”

They were welcome words to hear, those thoughts about the human body we share with God, jostled in a colorful crowd with warm wind whirring one’s ears, the coarse concrete surface of a sidewalk pressing against one’s knees, aromatic wisps of incense in one’s nostrils as well as the faint and agreeable aroma of the steaks being grilled nearby. Thoughts of the Word made Flesh.

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