Friday, January 29



That is all.

Ralph McInerny (1929-2010)

Beloved mystery author, Notre Dame professor and all-round cool Catholic guy Ralph McInerny has died. I never encountered him on campus during my time there (at least I don't remember doing so; though I got a little vicarious thrill once passing his office door in Hesburgh Library when I came up as a thought-he-knew-it-all high-schooler for a summer program at the School of Architecture) and now it seems I never will, at least in this earthly life. Jody Bottum at First Thoughts has further commentary, including this McInerny poem:


Where are words when not yet spoken:
on the tongue,
in the mind,
perhaps in air,
Their meanings, more elusive
still, unbreathed await
though I have heard
in the beginning was the word.

Many people in many different worlds--the groves of academe, the backstreets of mystery fiction, and of course, we, his fellow Catholics--will miss him. God rest his soul.

New Illustration from Matthew Alderman

Matthew Alderman. St. Joan of Arc with SS. Louise de Marillac and Francis de Sales. 10" x 13.5". Private Collection, Wisconsin. January 2010.

Towards the end of last year, I was approached by two clients, independently, who both commissioned ink illustrations of St. Joan of Arc--one for his girlfriend for a Christmas present, the other for his wife, as a gift on her birthday, that is, today, the Extraordinary Form feast of St. Francis de Sales. I had already posted about the first Joan earlier this week, and this item is about the second. These two projects were particularly challenging, given I have always worked hard not to repeat myself. Liturgical illustration and iconography is formulaic by its nature, at least as to content, but certainly there is some degree of latitude when it comes to rendering that content visible, at least up to a certain point. The great Irish stained-glass designer and illustrator Harry Clarke often referred to the various tics of color and contrast he experimented with as his latest "gadgett" (sic), a self-depreciating term which belies the strong iconographic (if occasionally somewhat stylisticially idiosyncratic) quality of his work.

As I have written elsewhere, St. Joan's iconography is deceptively simple--girl in armor, banner, fleurs-de-lys, enough. Yet, many of the "official" images of her--holy cards, plaster statues, and the like--tend to be more tempered with 19th century sentimentality than a real ecclesiastical sensibility. Some are historically illogical--it is hard to believe St. Joan would have worn the long encumbering skirts she is shown wearing, and often show her hair considerably longer than it would have been in truth. On the other hand, liturgical art is not an exercise in historical reconstruction or photorealism, and such reminders of her feminine genius show us that while men and women alike are called to fight under Christ's banner--in Joan's case, taking that banner into the ferocious heart of battle--the sexes have their own unique ways of manifesting courage and fortitude.

St. Joan's masterful strategies, earthy commonsense and even mysticism, have a feminine spin to them. Still, one should not mistake femininity for mere girlishness, and any image of her ought to reflect that genial no-nonsense quality that radiates from any firsthand account of her deeds. So this is why I elected to give her a skirt--plus the fact I didn't like the way the early sketches turned out) but also kept the shorter haircut that is roughly what she would have worn in life. (In truth, it would have been a bowl haircut of the sort associated with Henry V as portrayed by Laurence Olivier, but that would have simply looked odd.)

St. Joan is shown in full armor, of an elegant simplicity and decorated with fleurs de lys, her pose reminiscent of medieval tomb slabs. She holds--in a somewhat exaggerated incarnation--the sword decorated with five crosses--she discovered buried under the floor of a church dedicated to St. Katherine as the result of a vision. The arms granted by the king to her relations is shown over her shoulder. Her swordbelt is decorated with the smoke and flame of her execution and the cross pommée associated with St. Michael, one of her famous Voices. Under her feet are the flames of her death at the stake, which dissolves into whorls of smoke that merge into the clouds of heaven. Overhead are her final words, "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!" which also recall the inscription "Jhesus Maria" on her banner. At top, Christ is shown with the attributes of the Lord of Hosts. While this is a title we often associate with God the Father, the depiction is derived from an image in a medieval manuscript.

The client requested that St. Joan be shown accompanied by SS. Louise de Marillac and Francis de Sales, two other saints important to his wife. St. Louise is shown in the standard iconographic manner (the direct precedent in this case is an image of her in St. Peter's), accompanied by a Daughter of Charity in the traditional headdress, holding up a foundling child. An angel above holds an escucheon of the order's emblem; the text on the scroll, translated, reads "The Charity of Christ impells us," a phrase associated with St. Vincent de Paul, St. Louise's priestly co-worker.

St. Francis de Sales is depicted in the right-hand panel holding a book and pen, the book emblazoned with his emblem of a flaming heart, the symbol of charity. He is shown in cappa magna with a pectoral cross on a ribbon. I have seen and heard a number of things as to when use of the pectoral cross was permitted with the cappa magna, and whether it was used on a chain, ribbon or cord. My precedent here was an image of the theologian Bishop Bossuet in cappa magna--a figure of the following century, but with a pectoral cross and ribbon similar to one shown in an image of St. Francis wearing a mozzetta and rochet. An angel above carries the saint's personal arms, while the insignia of the Institute of Christ the King, which is under his patronage, is in the lower left-hand corner. The client and his wife are active in the local Institute apostolate. The motto Veritatem facientes in caritate, derived from St. Paul, is also associated with St. Francis de Sales.

While this assemblage of saints has as its origin something distinctly personal, we see in this juxtaposition three great holy figures springing from the Church's eldest (if now rather wayward) daughter, France, and also bringing together the virtues of charity in action, truth in charity, and St. Joan's own very active witness to God's truth and justice.

(Crossposted to The New Liturgical Movement.)

Thursday, January 28


Of Dumb Oxes and Cuban Apostles

Before I forget, today is also, of course, the feastday in the Ordinary Form of St. Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian with a mind like a chest of drawers and a body to match. (Seriously, I love Thomas--and given his early life involved resisting temptation by chasing a prostitute away with a burning firebrand and being lowered over the wall of a castle in a basket--he had his action man moments as well, even if perhaps we often forget them.) Loome's has been kind enough to post one of my drawings, of him, over at their site. If you are in the area, you can drop in in person and buy a print of it from their new Sacred Gifts department, incidentally. (end product placement)

Today is also the birthday of a secular saint of sorts among Cubans and Cuban-Americans of a certain age, José Julián Martí Pérez, the ill-fated poet-warrior who is sometimes considered the George Washington of that equally poetic and ill-starred island. I do not know if it was a frustration to my Cuban grandfather (supreme court justice, former revolutionary, former minister of labor, amateur cartoonist and absentminded collector of oddities) that I was born the day after Martí's birthday and not actually on it, though given how he doted on me in his own lovably off-kilter way I doubt it could have been that major of one. (I was, of course, just running on Cuban Standard Time--though as my grandparents were the only people on the island who actually ever got places ahead of time, presumably I did not inherit that particular gene of theirs).

Weirdly enough, Cesar Romero--who played the Joker in the old Batman show in the sixties--appears, based on conjectural but not improbable evidence, to be the Cuban liberator's grandson. There is a rather dramatic statue of the revolutionary at the head of Avenue of the Americas (known to everyone else besides me as 6th Avenue) in Manhattan, showing him being shot off his horse in battle on May 19, 1895 at Dos Ríos. I have found it in the past either very grand and moving or rather embarassing: is this a memorial to revolutionary martyrdom or of sheer pigheadedness?

The circumstances of Martí's death are either poetical and romantic, or rather tragically farcical, depending on how one looks at it: only shortly after his return to Cuba from exile, he rode off accompanied by a single Cuban trooper, into certain death against a Spanish position. While certainly brave, it lacked, sadly, the commonsense a battle-hardened veteran such as fellow rebel Máximo Gómez would have possessed. Nonetheless, as a literary and political figure, Martí's influence is unrivaled. Indeed, he earned the title of the "Apostle of Cuban Liberty" among his people due to his tireless peregrinations in Cuba, Spain and the United States; rather than a Washington, perhaps the analogy of a secular Paul of Tarsus--always scribbling, always moving--is more apt. Among Cubans of my late grandfather's generation, especially those who tended the flame of liberty in exile even when it had been reduced to a zippo lighter by official neglect, simply speaking of El Apóstol was enough to designate Martí, much like "the Philosopher" in Thomas can only mean one man--and much like "Thomas," among theologians, can only mean that one Thomas.

Martí and the Cuban independence movement can have a wrong-end-of-the-telescope comic-opera feel to it when looked at from afar. Latin American history has been ruined by too many Woody Allen comedies and yellow journalism. We also laugh sometimes because much of it is too horrible to be looked at eye-to-eye without: Paraguay's history, for instance, is marked by a succession of dictators whose oddities would be hilarious (inviting the Pope to be an altar-boy for his puppet archbishop, canonizing himself as a saint--and these are two different dictators) if one overlooked the spectacularly horrible, even casually cruel reigns of terror they unleashed. Fidel seems like a Caribbean Benzino Napoloni or Rufus T. Firefly--beard, funny hat, cigar, enormous ego, long speeches--until you remember he has the death of an entire island to his credit. I'm not saying don't laugh--it is a sad tyranny that can crush that one release every free man still has, and one of the great scourges of contemporary society is its long-faced obsession with "awareness" (don't do something, just think dull thoughts about it) but at least think when you laugh.

Perhaps, in my case, my myopia in this regard also comes from standing too close by, rather than too far off. I am easily reminded of the gentle eccentricities of the aging Cuban exile community that I saw growing up. (My own low-level love of triumphalist Grandmother Spain complicates matters further. I was rooting for the Armada when I watched Elizabeth: The Golden Age.) As I said to a friend recently who suggested I watch some movie about the Amish, "I'm Cuban, I'm Southern, and I hang out with Catholic nerds--I have enough obscure subcultures to deal with." My own grandfather managed to temper the rhetorical flights of fancy of a Martí with the hard-headedness of a Gómez, something not always shared by his compatriots. Sometimes I know how he feels. Yet with Martí and with my own grandfather and his colleages, they were in deadly earnest. This was no game. The Spanish commandant "Butcher" Weyler must have gotten his name somehow. I have been told the first true concentration camps were started under his watch, not during the Boer War as many think. (Though, of course, Andersonville predates them all, shamefully). People bled and died from words they spoke or wrote, and they were brave men, even if occasionally time has perhaps bleached the bloodstains from their uniforms.

He's Doing Couch Jokes Now?

It occurred to me last night that if one had a furniture store called the Ottoman Empire (okay, that part's an old joke), its children's department could be a spinoff store called the Young Turks. (rimshot)

Blessed Charlemagne, King of the Franks, Emperor

Today, his feast as a beatus (which, while popular in origin--he was canonized by someone who turned out to be an antipope--was tolerated and perhaps even confirmed by Benedict XIV and, while presumably not infallible in the manner of modern canonizations, is of sturdier legal provenance than saints like Bl. Christina the Astonishing, never officially canonized or even beatified) is celebrated at Aachen. [UPDATE: It appears he is celebrated at Aachen and Frankfurt as St. Charlemagne, not beatus, though in nearly every reference book I have seen lists him as Blessed, perhaps based on the privaye opinion of Benedict XIV. See comments.] For all his private faults, he was a great and Christian ruler--this man pretty much invented Europe, when you get down to it, though in a rather different form than we know it today. Aptly, or perhaps ironically, The Economist's column on the goings-on of EU diplomats in Brussels is named in his honor.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913 edition):
While enough has been said above to show how ready he was to interfere in the Church's domain, it does not appear that this propensity arose from motives discreditable to his religious character. It would be absurd to pretend that Charlemagne was a consistent lifelong hypocrite; if he was not, then his keen practical interest in all that pertained to the services of the Church, his participation even in the chanting of the choir (though, as his biographer says, "in a subdued voice") his fastidious attention to questions of rites and ceremonies (Monachus Sangallensis), go to show, like many other traits related of him, that his strong rough nature was really impregnated with zeal, however mistaken at times, for the earthly glory of God. He sought to elevate and perfect the clergy, both monastic and secular, the latter through the enforcement of the Vita Canonica or common life. Tithes were strictly enforced for the support of the clergy and the dignity of public worship. Ecclesiastical immunities were recognized and protected, the bishops held to frequent visitation of their dioceses, a regular religious instruction of the people provided for, and in the vernacular tongue. Through Alcuin he caused corrected copies of the Scripture to be placed in the churches, and earned great credit for his improvement of the much depraved text of the Latin Vulgate. [...]

From boyhood Charles had evinced strong domestic affections. Judged, perhaps, by the more perfectly developed Christian standards of a later day, his matrimonial relations were far from blameless; but it would be unfair to criticize by any such ethical rules the obscurely transmitted accounts of his domestic life which have come down to us. What is certain (and more pleasant to contemplate) is the picture, which his contemporaries have left us, of the delight he found in being with his children, joining in their sports, particularly in his own favourite recreation of swimming, and finding his relaxation in the society of his sons and daughters; the latter he refused to give in marriage, unfortunately for their moral character. He died in his seventy-second year, after forty-seven years of reign, and was buried in the octagonal Byzantine-Romanesque church at Aachen, built by him and decorated with marble columns from Rome and Ravenna. In the year 1000 Otto III opened the imperial tomb and found (it is said) the great emperor as he had been buried, sitting on a marble throne, robed and crowned as in life, the book of the Gospels open on his knees. In some parts of the empire popular affection placed him among the saints. For political purposes and to please Frederick Barbarossa he was canonized (1165) by the antipope Paschal III, but this act was never ratified by insertion of his feast in the Roman Breviary or by the Universal Church; his cultus, however, was permitted at Aachen [Acta SS., 28 Jan., 3d ed., II, 490-93, 303-7, 769; his office is in Canisius, "Antiq. Lect.", III (2)]. [...] Except on his visits to Rome he wore the national dress of his Frankish people, linen shirt and drawers, a tunic held by a silken cord, and leggings; his thighs were wound round with thongs of leather; his feet were covered with laced shoes. He had good health to his sixty-eighth year, when fevers set in, and he began to limp with one foot.
From Einhard, Vita Karoli Magni (c. 817-833), Chapter 27:
He was heavily built, sturdy, and of considerable stature, although not exceptionally so, since his height was seven times the length of his own foot. He had a round head, large and lively eyes, a slightly larger nose than usual, white but still attractive hair, a bright and cheerful expression, a short and fat neck, and a slightly protruding stomach. His voice was clear, but a little higher than one would have expected for a man of his build. He enjoyed good health, except for the fevers that affected him in the last few years of his life. Toward the end he dragged one leg. Even then, he stubbornly did what he wanted and refused to listen to doctors, indeed he detested them, because they wanted to persuade him to stop eating roast meat, as was his wont, and to be content with boiled meat.
From Wikipedia:
The physical portrait provided by Einhard is confirmed by contemporary depictions of the emperor, such as coins and his 8-inch bronze statue kept in the Louvre. [His] description of Charlemagne's height (6 feet 4 inches, or 193 centimeters) was not far off. Though it was Herculean stature, particularly in a period in which people were a little shorter than most today, archaeology has confirmed his tallness: in 1861, Charlemagne's tomb was opened by scientists who reconstructed his skeleton and found that it indeed measured 74.9 inches (190 centimeters).


Three Reliquary Heads from the Cloisters, New York

These would seem to have been designed to hold relics of St. Ursula and some of her 11,000 martyred companions, and date from around 1525-1530, possibly from the Low Countries. Another bust, kept at the main branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and of a similar appearance and vintage (one of a set of 23) can be seen here.

(images via Flickr.)

Wednesday, January 27


Minimalism, Modernity and Monasticism

From a lecture on monastic architecture I have given to three different groups of monks and nuns:

The building of an abbey—even a Romanesque abbey, and especially because it is a Romanesque abbey—is a modern concern, even if perhaps our age does not realize it. By its very timelessness, it is a response to modern needs, much more so than the dated experiments which we are still recovering from today. The English wit John Betjeman had this to say about the distinction between modernity and modernism. In a modernistic church, of the sort we have become groaningly familiar with,
the effect is ‘unusual,’ but not truly modern, and is obtained by mouldings and shapes and colors which are the result of indigestion after a visit to Stockholm Town Hall, and the Neue Baukunst of Germany. Some young man has thought he would invent new moldings, new window shapes, new pews, new light-fittings, and in his anxiety to avoid the admittedly bad “churchliness” of ecclesiastical fittings, he has gone to the other extreme and produced an arrogant decoration of his own. […] The trouble is that a ‘modernistical’ as opposed to ‘modern’ architect, mistakes unusual detail for the truly modern. The thing that matters is the function of the church. […] Style is a side-issue.
There is a clear difference between this monastic modernity, developed in continuity with tradition, which has as one feature of it a contemplative simplicity, and the modernistic taste for pseudo-primitivism and mechanistic minimalism. One springs from a spirit of noble sacrifice, putting aside a created good for a greater good, while the other comes out of a misplaced sense of “spirituality” that is really a sort of attenuated mentalism—I am what I think, I am not the God-created union of a body and soul. The monk has a body—admittedly one tempered by work, self-discipline, and fasting, but it is a body and not a skeleton or a disembodied spirit. [It is useful to compare the] alien and disturbing starkness [of a modernistic building, as below] with the beautiful and timeless simplicity of the Romanesque.

One can see, simply by comparing these two images, above and below, that even the most austere Cistercian architecture had a sense of humanity and warmth that is lacking in its faddy modernistic--but not necessarily truly modern--counterpart. The purity of the monastic life is rather different from the sterility needed to produce microchips.

Originally posted on The New Liturgical Movement Tuesday January 26, 2009.

Re: Parson Brown

It occurs to me that a later stanza in "Winter Wonderland" suggests that the narrator and his (?) companions might pretend that the snowman, previously identified as Parson Brown, is a "circus clown." Does this suggest perhaps the local snowordinary needs to investigate this pastor for clown liturgies?

Who is this Parson Brown, anyway?

I personally find the secular Christmas carol "Winter Wonderland" nothing short of mystifying (I can't help wondering if "In the meadow, we can build a snowman / and pretend that he is Parson Brown" is some sort of allegory involving that modern-day antipope who had himself elected, then appointed lay cardinals who "ordained" him bishop or something equally reciprocally nutty). But it does seem there are plenty of clerical snowman these days, as these photos indicate: one Dominican (I'm not sure where from), the other Anglican, from, I think, St. Stephen's House in Oxford.

(Actually, this last one is old news, as I'm told it was taken in February 2009. The color is appropriate for the mass of the day, incidentally. This photo is proof positive of why we need these people in the Ordinariates.)

Of course none of these is really a parson in the strict sense of the word when one gets down to it. Do they make Geneva bands for snowmen?

Tuesday, January 26


New Line Art from Matthew Alderman

S. Joan of Arc with her Voices: SS. Michael, Katherine and Margaret. Ink (text added electronically here; original with text in ink), December 2009. Private Collection, Washington, D.C.

S. Joan of Arc would, on the surface, be an iconographic cakewalk: sketch a little dark-haired girl in armor, throw in a few fleurs-de-lys, her unmistakeable Jhesus Maria banner, a few angels, rinse and repeat. Yet, within that basic framework there are dozens of variations, some justly ubiquitous, and some which have embedded themselves in the pious mind without much logic in her personality or symbolic justification. Many second-rate holy cards show her as an irritatingly soulful Victorian heroine, and films like to show her as tall, feminine and stately--or in the case of the horrible The Messenger, as tall, psychopathic and androgynous. A good deal of evidence suggests the Maid of Orleans was rather on the short side, and while she managed to be both mystical and strangely street-smart in terms of commonsense, she was a commander and tactician, not a sword-slashing beserker. (She seems to have used the weapon she unearthed under the altar of Ste.-Catherine-des-Fierbois, after a vision guided her there, more as a field marshal's baton than an offensive weapon). She was also unmistakably female, if perhaps not always visibly feminine. Her armor and cropped hair were, after all, assumed out of convenience than preference: it is perhaps best to think of her as looking a bit like a college sophomore wearing her football player brother's equipment--sure of herself, sensible, level-headed, but just ever-so-slightly out of place.

So I tried to pick up on as much of this as I could in this image--making her strong yet young, maidenly yet military, and never just a St. George with a slightly different anatomy. Women can be as courageous and hardy as men, but they always bring something different to the table when are called on by God and circumstances to roll their metaphorical sleeves up. My first inclination was to try to avoid the swoony soft heroine we all know from chipped plaster statues--long hair, and often wearing a skirt over her armored legs, improbably considering her assumption of male dress off the field for both the protection of her chastity and as an effort to be taken seriously by the king and his knights. Not to mention the safety risk it might have posed. Certainly she might have worn a surcoat, and probably a rather rich one. But I was unsatisfied with the results, and opted for a modified bit of drapery, more for symbolic and artistic reasons--as a reminder that her strength and her identity as a woman are harder to separate than some revisionists might assume.

There are numerous other details scattered throughout the work alluding to her story--laurel leaves of victory paired with lillies of virginity round her halo, a somewhat operatically exaggerated version of the sword of St. Catherine with its five crosses, and the arms granted to her brothers that are still borne by the family to this day. These are shown at her feet and repeated on the breastplate of her armor, which also continues the laurel motif. I considered ornamenting her armor further, but wished to have it convey a beautiful practicality suited to her own personality and spirit.

I had the most fun in devising the figures of SS. Katherine and Margaret floating just over her shoulders. They are accompanied by their usual symbols of the broken spiked wheel and the trampled dragon. Their clothing repeats their story in more discrete ways. To the left, note the wheel-like braids of Katherine's hair, her royal crown, the lily of purity repeated at a medallion at her neck, the wedding ring of her mystical espousal, even the oratorical gesture of her right hand, suited to the expert rhetorician she was. The fur edging her tunic has a cheetah's spots, an animal (along with the panther) associated with Christ in the bestiaries and suggesting her exotic noble background, if perhaps in a roundabout mediaeval sort of way. Margaret's own costume repeats the dragon-scales of the serpent she triumphed over, as well as the pearls associated with her own name, which expand out into a number of other marine references, such as the net covering her hair). Her belt repeats the waves of smoke and water from one stage of her martyrdom where she was thrown into a boiling cauldron without result. (Note that she has rather calmly tucked the dragon's tail under her arm, a businesslike way of keeping the animal under control reminiscent of earlier depictions where she is shown with the animal on a leash.) Michael is shown above in the conventional manner, with his scales and the crossed stole and cope of an archpriest, a common dress for medieval angels showing their assisting role in the heavenly liturgy. Last but not least, we find overhead the words Jhesus Maria, the motto inscribed on S. Joan's famous banner.

Seeing S. Joan for what she was, more than just a Hollywood action girl, makes for a far more compelling story: it is hard not to find something to love and learn from in this subtle, clever, prayerful and even rather earthy young woman who, while possessing great physical courage in the thick of battle, was more than just a warrior.

More Rejected Feastday Names

(Following up on a previous post)

St. Botolph's Day (patron saint of Boston, England): Bostonmass
St. Jerome's Day: Critical Mass
Feast of Our Lady of Peace: Concordmass
St. Simeon Stylites' Day: Inertial Mass
Commemoration of All Faithful Rocket Scientists: Quantum Mass*

*Actually, strictly speaking not a Catholic feast day, but instead observed by the schismatic 17th Church of Christ, Mad Scientist on the Third Tuesday After the Moon Landings

A Somewhat Belated St. Agnes Day to Our Readers

Matthew Alderman. St. Agnes of Rome. 4" x 6", ink, July 2008. On display and for sale at Loome Theological Booksellers, Stillwater, MN. (Variant original version in private collection, MN).

The good folk at Loome Theological Booksellers (the happiest place on earth after the Sacred Congregation of Rites) have started a weblog, a delightful prospect given that venerable store has enough characters working at it to populate a sitcom, and also given the owners' great interest in Catholic culture as well as keeping their children fed and clothed. The webmaster was kind enough to post back on her feast day an image I did of St. Agnes, which they are presently selling holy cards of in their gift shop, on their website, along with a few other tidbits of trivia for this feastday. Keep your eyes open for future postings--and more Alderman art--over at Ex Libris Theologicis!


Apparently I'm a Sort of Catholic Nerd Kevin Bacon

At the March for Life in D.C. this year, three friends of mine--none of whom had ever met before--accidentally chanced upon one another and, comparing notes, discovered they all had me in common, and then wrote back to me to tell me of this prodigy. While perhaps this speaks of my uncanny ability to make friends in interesting, if not high, places, perhaps it speaks more to Catholic multitasking--the March for Life as mobile Catholic block party as well as political happening. I see no contradiction, myself.

Monday, January 25


Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from Adrian Fortescue

An old hand at serving once told me that in the bad old days before the Council, they were always told, when they didn’t know what to do next, go to the center of the altar, genuflect, and go back to your place, and by the time you got back, the problem would in all likelihood have fixed itself already. This seems a good bit of advice for life, at least of the Blackadderish, “When the going gets tough, the tough hide under the table” variety. In that spirit, I have combed Adrian Fortescue’s* monumentally nerdy (this is a good thing) but extremely useful compendium Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described for similarly useful bits of life lessons—especially if you find some way to willfully misinterpret them.

*(Adrian Fortescue, the most reluctant of liturgical wonks--he wrote the original because he needed the cash-- should not be confused with the martyr of the same name--a beatified knight of Malta martyr, which is about as awesome as a pirate robot ninja--nor “Dangerscue” as Bubbs would put it.)

Fortescue on Modesty and Dating:
“Two points occur on which one might hope the authorities would simplify. One is the constant kissing.” --Introduction, xix (1920 edition, very much out of context)

Fortescue on Dieting:
“No blessing is given, no indulgence announced.” -- Solemn Mass in the Presence of a Greater Prelate, p. 196 (this and all below from the 2009 edition)

Fortescue on Talk Radio:
“Ditto.” --Pontifical Solemn Mass at the Throne, p. 213, fn 57.

Fortescue on Avoiding Sitcom Plots Involving the Loss of Wedding Rings Down the Kitchen Sink:
“No rubric prescribes the removal of the ring for this washing.” --Pontifical Solemn Mass at the Throne, p. 219, fn. 81

Fortescue on Using Adult Beverages on the Job:
“The deacon pours a little of the wine and water into the vessel prepared and gives it to the sacristan to drink.” --p. 218

Fortescue on Mom Checking Up on the Mess in Your Bedroom:
“The Ordinary may, however, visit more often and at any time that he sees fit.” --Canonical Visitation and Confirmation, p. 403

Fortescue on Hawaiian Luaus:
“Torches, at least four, and not more than eight, are ready.” --Pontifical Solemn Mass at the Throne, p. 200

Fortescue on Anger Management:
“At solemn Mass (of the living) and Vespers distinguished laymen are incensed.” --The Faithful at Mass, p. 247

Fortescue on Forcing Timmy to Sit in Time Out:
“…and then conducts him to his special place.” --ibid., p. 246

Fortescue on the Spanish Inquisition and its Comfy Chair:
“…the prie-dieu is to be undraped, but may have cushions (not silk.)” --p. 247

Fortescue on sports color commentators:
“The commentary should be prepared in writing, be brief, and temperate, and spoken in a moderate voice at appropriate moments.” --p. 245

Fortescue on Swine Flu:
“For a good reason—for cleanliness’s sake, or if there is a danger of contracting or spreading disease—this use of saliva is omitted.” --Baptism, p. 425 fn. 11

Fortescue on Not giving Aunt Marge a Heart Attack:
“It is advisable to warn the godmother or nurse about this before the ceremony begins.” --Baptism, p. 424 fn. 12

Fortescue on In-Flight Meal Service, or possibly MacGyver’s Methodology:
“…with the addition of the bread, lemon, and a fresh hand-towel…” --Confirmation, p. 427, fn. 21

Fortescue on the board game Clue:
“Or preferably, in the mortuary chapel.” --Funerals, p. 478, fn. 79

Fortescue on the Coriolis Effect*:
“With the exceptions noted, the celebrant at Mass always turns clockwise from the altar and anticlockwise back to it.” --Low Mass Said by a Priest, p. 66, fn. 23

*Do Australian priests turn round the other way?

Fortescue on Things Thomas Aquinas Thought About When Really, Really Bored:
“The position of the stole at the back is a disputed question.” --Low Mass Said by a Priest, p. 65

Fortescue on the Amazing X-Men:
“…applying mutatis mutandis to non-pontifical Mass…” --The Choir and Assistants at Ceremonies, p. 59

Fortescue on Barbecues:
“…should be put on well lit charcoal to make smoke that will last for some time. It is absurd to see a person swinging a thurible from which no fumes are issuing.” -- Common Ceremonial Actions, p. 49

Fortescue on Getting Rid of Bad Variety Show Performers, the beginning of J. Arthur Rank films, or Possibly Inculturation:
“The use of an Indian (hanging) gong is not permitted.” --Liturgical Vessels, Instruments and Books, p. 40

Fortescue on Semiotics:
“In English, the meaning of violet as a color is not clear.” --The Vestments of the Roman Rite, p. 37

Fortescue on High Explosive Bomb Disposal:
“It is better not to rush.” --Common Ceremonial Actions, p. 46

Sunday, January 17


Tonight on Mystical Theology Theater 3000

Santa Claus conquers the Maritains: Coming down the chimney one Christmas eve, good old St. Nick is surprised by the elderly Jacques Maritain and spends the rest of the night charming the theologian and his wife Raisa with his tales of beating the snot out of Arius at the Council of Nicaea. (TV-PG-XIII. Arianism and violence.)

You Know You're a Catholic Nerd When...

...the phrase "Cardinals vs. Saints" in regards to football conjures up some very odd images indeed.

Devotional Shrines and Adaptive Reuse

I thought our readers might enjoy this little sketch I did about a year ago for the conversion of a large, cabinet-like house shrine of presumed Latin American Baroque vintage, owned by a clergyman in New York, into the reredos for a Lady Altar that would also include space for an existing statue of the Virgin in a niche immediately above the mensa. The altar table would have also been reused from an existing side-shrine, while the small Martin Travers-style cherubim on the riddel posts would have been adapted from items also in his private possession. The design was not an actual commission, but just an unsolicited sketch I did in an effort to pique interest, though it remains one of my favorite drawings. The pediment, niche and base portions of the piece, as well as the riddels and hangings, would have been new, with the central portion being essentially unchanged.

What a study like this shows is the potential for reusing and reconfiguring existing antiquities. So often renovations today consist of plunking down an existing side-altar without attempting to recondition it to its surroundings, whether drastically or subtly. Some of the most intriguing and satisfying architectural work lies in maneuvering around existing conditions, subtly shaping them rather than going in swinging, literally or figuratively. Another important point lies in the notion of consolidation. This sketch took several disparate objects already in the possession of the church and pulled them together into a unified, strong composition. Framing and hierarchy is especially important in such instances. It is not enough to just put a statue on a little pedestal or on a wall-bracket, without some sort of suitable surround to highlight it.

There is a difference between complexity and clutter, and while in this instance none of these items by themselves were clutter (actually the interior of the church in question is quite handsomely decorated), many other parishes tend to accumulate large quantities of devotional items that might be much stronger when placed in a logical relationship to one another.

Tuesday, January 12


Of interest

For those of you interested in all things Notre Dame, etc., the link for the streaming video of tonight's Vespers and tomorrow's installation Mass for Bishop Kevin Rhoades. The Vespers will be tonight at St. Matthew's Cathedral, South Bend, at 7pm Eastern, and Mass takes place tomorrow, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne, at 2pm.

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