Friday, February 29


More Flutian Memorabilia

A view of the Votive Monument to the Holy Ankle outside the converted townhouse that has served as the American National Shrine of St. Flutius of Bologna since 1872, in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York.

(Okay, not really, but it could be.)
In 1712, Sweden had a February 30th.

Happy St. Flutius Day!

The feast of the semi-legendary patron saint of this weblog only comes once every four years, so get ready to par, and may I add, tay. First up, we feature this photo from this year's relatively low-key parade in London, hosted by the city's Bolognese ex-pat community (all five of them) and featuring the Traditional Giant Inflatable Foot. Nonetheless, the ceremonies will be given an extra dose of solemnity now that the full Extraordinary Form Blessing of the Ankles can be performed complete with incense, anointings and holy-water for the first time since 1969. We'll be bringing you updates from the extravagant, even dangeously wild, festivities in Bologna, Boston, New York, and Dr. Scholl's Corporate Headquarters in East Buffalo, New York all today. Send in your own pictures, if you've got them!

Thursday, February 28


William F. Buckley (1925-2008)

I don't think I can do any better to memorialize this gracious grand old man of modern American conservatism--whatever the current divisions within the movement--than to repeat Stephen Colbert's quip, "St. Peter's buying a thesaurus." Requiascat in pace.

Sanguis Christi

"As Pius's larger discussion of the debates over sanguis Christi make clear, blood as lineage or collateral relationship is not a very important symbol or image in devotional or academic discourse. A very different philosophical and scientific understanding of blood as descent or continuity is, however, crucial. According to medieval theories of physiology the fetus is formed from maternal uterine blood, animated by the blood or seed of the father and is fed by blood, both in the womb and from the breast. (All bodily fluids are some form of blood in medieval medical theory.)

"Hence, in a startling sense, the blood from which the individual is constituted is [considered] female; the body is the mother's blood. As we have seen, John of Capistrano argued for the high ontological status of sanguis Christi by stressing the formation of Christ's body entirely from the pure menstrual blood of His mother's womb. This sense of Christ's body as formed [...] from Mary's blood had theological ramifications for Christology and Mariology (especially the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.)

"It also spilled over into devotion. In a striking phrase from a decree of Abbot Berthold of Weingarten concerning the Saturday mass in honor of the Virgin, Christ's body and the stuff of Mary's womb are so completely assimilated that Christ's body almost becomes blood [...]:
Therefore, we are bound to ... [honor her], who, providing to the whole world the price [pretium] of human redemption and pouring forth from her virginal womb for the Christian faithful the universal cure [...] granted us a pledge of hope and a bodily token in His worshipful blood.
"[...] Christ's receiving of us into His heart, which should be matched by our reception of Him into ours, was understood less as re-ceiving, but con-ceiving. Hence, the adult Christ was imaged sometimes [...] as a pregnant male. Not only extravagant mystical visions but also simple prayers were quite graphic in their descriptions both of Christ pregnant with souls and of souls pregnant with Christ. [...] [In regards to Christ's wounded side on the cross,] it also seems to imagine the blood of the side-wound not as the coagulating ooze of a dead body but as birthing blood, living and red."

~Caroline Walker Bynum, Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Germany and Beyond, 2007.

Clear Evidence I Should Not Own a TV

Besides all the other obvious reasons, two specific examples:

1. The following scenario: A landing party of pirates in stereotypical buccaneer outfits (with a hint of Jack Sparrow) are just throwing the final spadefuls of sand on top of an iron-bound chest. One particularly weasely-looking fellow with clear abandonment issues leftover from childhood insists repeatedly to the captain that they have to be absolutely sure the treasure is safe, and how could they ever figure that out? Just when you expect someone's going to get marooned or possibly summarily executed, the captain stabs a sign with "Protected by ACME Security Co." (or something like that) into the sand by the buried treasure. Questions: 1. Didn't they just steal all this stuff off the Manila Galleon? Should ACME even be involving themselves with these people? At the very least, it's fallen off the back of a carrick, and at worst, someone's had their throat cut. 2. Isn't the sign going to be kind of a tipoff since it's all alone on the beach? 3. What security system does the Manila Galleon use, and hasn't someone alerted Consumer Reports about this?

2. If the phrase "it tastes like a pretzel and yet it has its cracker side, all together," starts a brief bout of introspection about Monophysitism, then clearly something is wrong.

A Disorienting Addendum

Just after writing that last little note, I stepped out into the hall on my way to get a sandwich on the last twenty minutes of my lunch break, where I was accosted by a deliveryman who exclaimed in wonder, in an extraordinary Brooklyn accent, that down in Florida, someone's winning Lotto ticket had just gotten stolen. I made appropriate noises and started to move away, hovering in the stairway door in the hopes he would get the message and quickly wrap this up. After several increasingly repetitive elaborations on the same subject, he added, "You think things are awful up here in New York, but they're just as bad down there!" Wondering if maybe there was a large sign pinned to my back labeled "Sixth-Generation Floridian,"* I felt tempted, in a surge of local patriotism to respond, "The fellow who stole it probably was from New York!" I then started wondering what it would take for this man to leave me alone, and abruptly ducked into the stairwell with perfunctory noises of regret. Then I went do the grocery store a few blocks over and told the butcher to fix up my usual, but with mayonnaise, and I got what I wanted. It was then I realized I was turning into a New Yorker, which was more than a little shocking.

For my pennance, I held a door for a girl on my way back in.

But I suppose being a New Yorker needn't mean leaving the old country behind, as New York's quintessential citizen, the incomprehensible taxi driver, so aptly proves.

*On my father's side; but being Cuban on my mom's side is equally about as Floridian as it gets.

"Gershom Weinberg's Real Pork Barbecue" and Other Southern Oddities

Socio-cultural weirdness seems to follow me around. I currently live in New York, where street lunacy has been raised to such a high artform--I am reminded of the skinny, barefoot, bearded Rastafarian gentleman I saw prancing out on Madison one chilly Sunday morning wearing only a short red minidress and shorter down jacket--that it simply starts to blend into the background after a while. Indiana had its own low-key Midwestern strangeness--Mennonite girls in starched caps flipflops using laptops, orange skies at night, apocalyptic sunsets reflected on the snow, the omnipresent ethanol smell--and Florida has its own sunny strangeness resulting from the head-on collision of Walt Disney and my fellow Cubans' predillection for the harebrained. Still, the true angel of the odd, the great-grandaddy of folie-a-deux, is the rampant Deep South strangeness that starts just twenty miles north of my hometown, Tallahassee, at the Georgia border. It assimilates everything, as this rather surreal little tidbit from Tony Horowitz's Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War indicates:
Southern Jewry often made for this sort of colorful intermingling. When I'd lived in Mississippi, a Jewish coworker and I were frequently asked by a small synagogue in Meridian to help make minyan, the quorum of ten worshippers needed for a Jewish prayer service. The Friday phone calls were always the same: "Y'all gonna come make minyan at church tonight? We'll be playin' poker after the service. Jewish Southern culture had also bred the ultimate in fusion food: a place in Alabama called 'Gershom Weinberg's Real Pork Barbecue.'
If that wasn't weird enough, turns out über-WASP Shelby Foote (job description: "Civil War Scholar and Voice of Huckleberry Hound") had a Jewish mother, and went to synagogue as a child, and of course everyone knows about Judah Benjamin.

I have always seen the persistent, dogged, inexplicable survival of Jewish identity as proof of Divine Providence--so the peculiar capitulation of Hebraic observance to the southern way of life seems weirdly unsettling. Better to look to New York's omnipresent yarmulkes and long trailing skirts (though paired with expensive suits and high-fashion flats) for signs of contradiction.

Apropos of nothing, I will remark the Civil War was never much of a big deal in my hometown of Tallahassee ("Florida with a southern accent"), though much of its flamboyantly weird past had gotten lost beneath pleasant if anachronistic suburbs, strip-malls* and an astonishingly large number of trees--the live oak canopies were not always there, in a place whose name purportedly means "Old Fields." I think we were too busy arguing over whether or not Andrew Jackson, Florida's shortlived territorial governor who had never even visited the capital, should be the mascot of our annual Springtime Parade. The Confederates sort of got lost in the shuffle, though it probably helped we didn't have Vivien Leigh as a poster-girl.

Indeed, I remember during the heated debates at my high school over our infelicitously-named mascot, the Redskin, that someone, guided by the spirit of assonance, blithely suggested we rename ourselves the Rebels, hardly realizing the firestorm of controversy that would have unleashed. I suppose, being the only capital east of the Mississippi to evade capture by Federal forces, we didn't have any grievances to latch on to.

Plus, being half-Cuban, Jacobite and pro-Habsburg, I have enough lost causes as it is. (Though wearing a blue kepi on a visit to Chatanooga is a pretty good lost cause to begin with, when one is six years old.)

So in the end we got the good part of Southron weirdness without all the controversial bits or Falknerian grotesqueries: Spanish moss, good manners (something I sorely miss up here in New York), a few grand hunting plantations, and a few colorful historical characters including Napoleon's nephew, the inventor of air conditioning, some benevolent Franciscan friars, the Apolastic Church, and even a cameo appearance by the Marquis de Lafayette. I even say "Y'all" (the ever-handy English equivalent of vosotros) periodically as a tribute to that part of my heritage. But no frantic plate-spinning attempts to either affirm or deny the late unpleasantness of 1861-65 or Jewish barbecue, to my knowledge. Perhaps if we'd ended up on the opposite side of the state line, it might have been different.

*Down by the movie theater on Thomasville Road, the gentry used to hold Maryland-style jousts during the height of the Walter Scott craze. New York ain't got nothing on that.

Wednesday, February 27


HWTN Test-Marketing

The policy wonks at Holy Whapping Television Network (HWTN) are putting pressure on us to inject some fresh blood into the fall schedule, especially since we were inadvertently acquired by the TV Program and Microwave Instruction Manuals Division of the Bohemian State Closed-Circuit Television Network (Böhmisches Geschlossen-Stromkreis-Unterstrassenbaum Staats-Televonken, the good old BGSUST), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Prisoner of Zenda.

It was a very complicated deal that ended up with the lead guitarist of the Sanctus Belles--HWTN Records' in-house all-girl Tridentine punk rock band--being traded to the New York Mets for about ten minutes until someone caught the mistake, when she was promptly sent to married off to the Margrave of Ansbach-Bayreuth, who nearly ended up espousing Carlos Beltrán by proxy.

(Philomena was a little hurt, actually, when the coach sent her back, as she was hoping to try out her remarkable flyball for once in her life. That being said, she's glad to be smashing her electric theorbo on stage as usual.)

So, here are some of our brainstorms for this coming September. We're running them past Fraulein Mesmer, the CEO of BGSUST, who has no discernible sense of humor.

Working Title: The Outlaw Josemaría Wales. "We got somethin' in this country called the Catalonian boatride..." In the violent heart of the Spanish Civil War, young Opus Dei member Josemaría Wales (Clint Eastwood) returns to the local branch of the prelature to discover all his compatriots have been slayed by anarchist guerrillas. His one objective: hunt down his friends' heathen killers...and convince them to become supernumeraries. (Well, their souls are at stake.) With Chief Dan George as his comically mismatched liberal Basque sidekick, Padre Esteban Waddie and his squishy Eucharistic opinion that the Host is "for eatin', not for looking at..."

Fraulein Mesmer's initial reaction: Needs more albinos.

Working Title: The Six Million Lira Man: Deep in the sub-crypt of St. Peter's Basilica, 18th century Italy's top natural philosophers attempt to reconstruct the shattered body of Joseph of Cupertino, horrifically injured after a three-way mid-air collision with St. Alphonsus Liguori and the Montgolfier brothers. "We can make him faster, stronger, more pious!" Then, unfortunately, the project head, alchemist Prince Sansevero, does a bit of cocktail napkin math and discovers that the budget of six million lira is about five bucks.

We're thinking of having Tom Servo play the completed Joseph of Cupertino.

Fraulein Mesmer's initial reaction: Needs more Hapsburgs.

Working Title: Smile! You're on Apostolic Camera!. After the success of our Pat Sajak-hosted couples gameshow, Holy Roman Rota, with its top prize of a bonafide annulment (as well as the allure of Vanna White showing three inches of shin below her plaid jumper), we've decided to dust off this venerable classic, formerly hosted by Cardinal Masella in the good old days before the Council. The winner will take home the revenues of a fully-endowed French monastery and the title of Abbé in commendam, whether or not he is a boy, girl or small yappy wiener-dog.

Fraulein Mesmer's initial reaction: Needs more Hapsburgs.

Working Title: Desperate Hapsburgs: The College Years. It is 1917, at the depths of the Great War. Newly-ascended Emperor Charles (played by musical guest Franz-Ferdinand) is at his wit's end as he struggles to bring peace to a troubled Europe, while, on the Serbian front, General Potiorek (Dustin Diamond) ineptly attempts to engage--

Fraulein Mesmer's initial reaction: Needs more Franz-Josef.

Tuesday, February 26


New Line Art from Matthew Alderman

Our Lady of Guadalupe. Ink on vellum. January 2008. Commissioned for the ordination mass card of a new priest. The inscription, common in images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, means "He has not done so for any other nation," and is derived from the Psalms.

The Lateran Baldachino that Never Was, Part II

This post originally appeared on February 21, 2008 at The New Liturgical Movement.

Last week, I presented a few sketches by Borromini for the baldachin of Saint John Lateran. I would like to showcase some very rare and largely unknown drawings done by master draftsman, engraver and architect Giambattista Piranesi, of two variant designs for a baldachin proposed for the same location during the following century. These have, to my knowledge, never appeared online and have thus far only been published in two books--one out of print, and in the other, they are so small as to be virtually useless.

These are part of a much larger presentation that also included other variations on the new baldachin, new revetments for the transcept and apse walls, which we will view in a later installment of this series. Before you study them, it is worth setting aside questions of Gothic versus Baroque, and of modern notions of historic preservation, as they represent a real tour-de-force of design and presentation; they have the potential to serve as a marvelous model for future work. Piranesi's take on Roman classicism was radically more imaginative and iconographic than many of the more subdued Neo-Classical imitators who followed him in the next generation. I would strongly urge our readers to consider these designs with an open mind and try to avoid imposing modern notions of historical accuracy and preservation which, however valid, were alien to the era, and to most historical periods before our own.

Piranesi is a fascinating figure. Sometimes pegged, with remarkable inaccuracy, as a sort of proto-post-modernist, his distinctive style might be better appreciated as an application of the compositional ideals of the Baroque to a Roman classicism that is simultaneously more archaeological and more flamboyant than the austere neo-Classicism that followed in Piranesi's wake. In the case of the baldachin, he deploys this unprecedented fusion in such a way that it also subsumes in references to Borromini's existing work at the Basilica, improving on his surroundings while prudently tying his work back into it, elevating the entire composition to a higher pitch of ornament and invention. Note in particular the interesting variant treatment of the reliquary for the heads of SS. Peter and Paul in the first illustration, a free and somewhat more successful adaptation of the spindly two-tier medieval ciborium, which, however historically important, is somewhat awkward and even claustrophobic in the way it crouches over the altar.

Piranesi's breadth of work is astonishing: an entire church (Santa Maria del Priorato, which we have seen in recent posts on the Grand Master's death), souvenir etchings of a Rome both in ruins and reconstructed to its former glory, fanciful designs for clocks, vases, Egyptianate fireplaces, a cafe interior, a bizarre set of views of imaginary prisons (which has bedeviled interpretation--and which often wrongly leads enthuisiasts to paint this endlessly practical Venetian as a melancholic weirdo), and, of course, this magnum opus of the baldachin, now wrongly forgotten. Let us hope it shall not remain so.

Friday, February 22


The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter at the Vatican.

One of the most impressive festal celebrations still retained at St. Peter's is the grand illumination of Bernini's dazzling Cathedra Petri altarpiece in the apse of the basilica on February 22, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. Dozens of wax candles cluster in surreptitious sockets hidden along every edge of the whirling bronze mountain, spangling the reliquary with endless rows of pinprick-bright flames.

This year, the custom has been no less spectacular, as photos from a reader based in Rome indicate. Our correspondent was kind enough to include photos of the ancient statue of Saint Peter on the north side of the nave, vested in martyr-red brocade and an immense jeweled triregno to mark the occasion. More experienced Vatican-watchers than I may be able to gage if the statue of the first pope is more splendidly arrayed this year than before; at the very least I think I can glimpse the sleeve of an alb that I thought had not been used some years ago.

One particularly delightful detail is the fictive but wholly appropriate attributed coat-of-arms of Pope St. Peter on the ends of his papal mantle.

Another interesting detail is that the two reliquary-statues of SS. Peter and Paul were placed on the high altar, despite the fact the liturgy of the day occurred at the less-than-felicitous freestanding altar of the Chair. While one should avoid turning Vatican-watching too much into a liturgical Kremlinology ("Is that Beria standing next to the General Secretary, on his left or on his right?" versus "Were there Cardinal deacons this go-round?") this all seems to me yet another promising sign from this most visible of our churches.


A Lenten Reflection

It's still Lent! Do you know where your penances are?

Love everyone with a deep love based on charity, Philothea, but form friendships only with those who can share virtuous things with you. The higher the virtues you share and exchange with others, the more perfect your friendship will be. If this participation is in matters of knowledge, the resulting friendship is certainly very praiseworthy. It is still more so if you have virtues in common, namely, prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. If your mutual and reciprocal exchanges concern charity, devotion, and Christian perfection, O God, how precious this friendship will be!

- St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life

If, my friends, we might share and exchange a little advice on virtues, I thought I might ask a few questions for reflection, and let others ask some, as well.

(1) In your daily life, how has being Catholic made you more loving, in a concrete sense, to those with whom you come in contact each day?

Personally, once I began taking our faith seriously, life at home became joyful in new ways. People notice small expressions of respect or disrespect, and so the whole environment of a place can change if you respond immediately to someone when they call for you--St. Francis used to set down his pencil in the middle of writing a single letter of the alphabet, so immediately did he respond to those who called for him--or if you do what you are asked to do with no complaining, or even do things in advance without being asked, because when you do these almost imperceptible things, those people are put before your own will to follow your own desires: you are drawn out of yourself, others realize the importance they have to you, and again, the whole environment of a home can change. These are little and yet deeply sacrificial actions of thoughtfulness. There's nothing wrong with not doing them, and yet, in a sense, there is.

(2) What are ways in which your friendships can be edifying? Or ways in which you could try to make them more edifying?

Look forward to your thoughts!

Vestizione Musicale de Santo Rosario Today, February 22, in Rome

Fr. Zuhlsdorf notes that the good priests of FSSP's Roman apostolate will be holding their third solemn public recitation of the Rosary with Baroque musical accompaniment on February 22, 2008 at 7 PM at the church of San Salvatore in Lauro, a much larger venue than their own small chapel of San Gregorio dei Muratori. The full program, which includes selections from the works of Biber, Gratiani and Bruna, is available here.

We have been promised there will be a theorbo there, if that helps anyone.

Thursday, February 21


Some Ecclesiological Humor from Notre Dame

This appeared on a whiteboad belonging to one of the more POD student organzations, headquartered in a small, windowless room called, familiarly, The Holy Office. Comedy gold, I tell you.

Artist: Will Erickson. Historical Consultant: The Sober Sophomore.

The Lateran Baldachino that Never Was, Part I

This post originally appeared on the New Liturgical Movement on Friday, January 25, 2008.

The great Italian engraver and designer of the late Baroque, Giambattista Piranesi, only completed one architectural commission in his lifetime, the splendid church of the Knights of Malta on the Aventine Hill, which fuses an archaeological fascination with ancient Rome with the Christian Baroque spirit. His grandest project, though, remained uncompleted, a proposal to replace the Lateran's chancel and Gothic baldachin with a design more in harmony with Borromini's incasing of the Constantinian nave. While nothing came of these designs, it appears a number of alterations were eventually undertaken in the 19th century to the chancel. I hope to showcase some of his extraordinary proposed designs--never before seen online and almost impossible to see in print--over the next few days, but I plan to start with some preliminary proposals, undertaken in the previous century by Borromini. This particuar set of designs repeats the arrangement Lateran's distinctive two-layer arrangement in a high Baroque key.

I will post some of Piranesi's proposals, a real architectural tour-de-force, this coming week.

Wednesday, February 20


Pews and Paradoxes

"We had gone to a baptism in the older section of Havana, in a very old church [...]. It was a creepy church, just like all the others in that part of town. Pathologically Baroque. Dark and gloomy, with scary images everywhere. Gory crucifixes. The awful smell of incense and candles. The Mass that had preceded the baptism had just started, and I was rolling around on the hard wooden pew, trying desperately to amuse myself while this guy dressed in a ridiculous robe mumbled words in a language that seemed oddly familiar, but also very strange.

"Dominus vobiscum. Dominoes vo-what? Why is he talking about dominoes, that game my grandfather loves to play with his white-haired friends? [...]

"Ah, but suddenly I noticed this church was different. The pews didn't have solid backs. No, these were interesting pews. Their backs were carved in an interesting pattern. Rows upon rows of wooden slats in interesting shapes. Lots of rounded openings. What intriguing holes these were!

"I tried to make sense out of the pattern, which looked a lot like that optical illusion you find in every basic psychology textbook, the picture that looks like a silhouette of a cup or urn if you look at it one way, or the silhouette of two faces looking directly at each other, nose to nose. My very first paradox. This being a church, I guess the cup in the pattern must have been a chalice. But that's neither here nor there.

"What matters is that I wanted to merge with the optical illusion, to live inside the paradox.

"I got down on the hard wooden kneeler and ran my hands along the undulating shapes for a while. Then I stared at the rounded openings, puzzling over their affinity to the shape of my head. Round head, round openings. Wow!

"So I decided to put my head through one of these openings. I tested the breadth with the crown of my head. Amazing! [...] A little twist of the neck here, another twist there, and bingo! Durchbruch, as my dear friend the mystic Meister Eckhart would say. [...]

"This was a great church. We should come here more often, I thought. [...]

"Oremus. There it was again. Why is it that the guy in the funny robe was always talking about oars? I thought he was saying los remos--"the oars." Oars made me think of the beach and the brightly-painted rowboats they had at our club. I thought of cups-and-faces, pews, rowboats, and the beach. I thought of the turquoise sea, which called to me even at that early age. [...]

"Then came the rude awakening. A woman sitting in our pew had to go to communion. Which meant I had to move. But there was one problem as I quickly discovered.

"My head was stuck in the pew."

~Carlos Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, 2003.

Recent work from Matthew Alderman

Insignia designed and executed for the Marriage Preparation and Natural Family Planning Ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin. Ink on Vellum. January 2008. Artist's collection.

Monday, February 18


New York, Capital of the World, Again, Redux

Okay, I can't top this: waiting for the 1 Train at Times Square while the delicate strains of Hava Nagila drift by, played on mellow Jamaican steel drums.

New York, Capital of the World, Again

I was informed of Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence yesterday not by turning on the TV but by caravans of Albanians in SUVs warp-speeding through Midtown at top speed, the red flag of Skanderbeg flying, horns honking and blasting out music that sounded like it was produced by the Funky Disco Terror Section of the Nagorno-Karabakh Internal Revolutionary Organization, if one exists. (Surely they have some sort of largely artificial traditional folk music like every other European nation?)

The flags were, as I said, all Albanian. I didn't actually see any Kosovan flags, though, no surprise given they're a tepid U.N.-inspired rehash of Bosnia's next door, and don't really seem to have much history to add sentimental shine. In the long run I have no clue if this independence development is that great, or all that terrible, or neither (though I suggest they could make things far more entertaining if they invited in the current Prince of Wied to be King) considering the fact most of the crazy-quilt of proud and ancient peoples down that way tend to have had historical borders as flexible as Play-Doh, and, as with Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro, myth and legitimacy blur together so frequently it's hard to say who owns what, and why. What would Franz-Joseph do?

In any case, congrats to the Kosovars. Break out the mint-flavored meatballs. I just hope, now that the Turkish slipper is on the other foot, they respect their non-Albanian neighbors in the vast, squabbling time-share condo that is the Balkan peninsula. I'm not saying, the way of the world being what it is, that it's likely, but one can always hope.

Sunday, February 17


Requiem Aeternam

Two Notre Dame students were found dead today, in unrelated incidents. The Sober Sophomore has what few details there are at this point.

Vote for Us!

Inspired by the pleas on other blogs, I thought we'd put our own request for votes out there, too:

Nominate us for the 2008 Catholic Blog Awards!

We need as many people as possible to NOMINATE us, because a high number of nominations are needed to make it to the voting round.

We blog all year - you just need to vote for us twice a year : )

Alas, there is a change over past years:

"In past years we were able to vote more than once, will we still be able to do that?"

No, even though the voting system will allow you to cast more than one vote, it only records your latest vote as the valid one. In other words, if you fill out the form again, it writes over your old vote.

Yes, you do need to register to vote... but it's pretty quick & straightforward. OK, you have to do a simple addition problem, but it's not bad. Please vote!

You can vote for us in more than one category.

Saturday, February 16


Curing "Mean Girls"

This is pretty impressive. It's not something that I would have thought would work, but I guess it does.

Friday, February 15


My Incense is Out of Control


Meat Police Academy II

For those of you struggling for innovative meatless cuisine for your Lenten Fridays (or, heck, any Friday--it's not just for Lent!), Milwaukee's ranking churchlady Lucy has been compiling her culinary experiments in this area throughout the year over at City of Steeples. Have a look: who says your pennance has to be penitential?

(Incidentally, it would seem that the Jesuits are--indirectly--responsible for tempura.)

Catholic Super Secret Science Fact of the Day

The period before the Big Bang (an idea itself proposed by a Jesuit priest-scholar) is sometimes called in physics by an extremely Catholic name:
In 1952, George Gamow, one of the founding fathers of Big Bang cosmology, proposed that the period before the Big Bang be called the Augustinian era, after the philosopher Saint Augustine, who believed time was solely a property of the God-created Universe. Even though one could philosophically argue over the meaning of the phrase "to create", through the theory of general relativity space and time can be related to each other. The phrase "Augustinian Era" stands as a testament to the fact that the known laws of physics break down in a gravitational singularity of a geometric point at the time zero of the Big Bang and that, before then, time as we know it is meaningless.
Thank you, Wikipedia. A footnote indicates Gamow actually spoke of it as "St. Augustine's Era," but Augustinian sounds much snappier.

As to what God was doing before all that, in light of modern string theory, I humbly suggest the solution lies in one simple word: macrame. A whoooole lot of macrame.

Overheard in New York

On 14th Street, about an hour ago:

Father: Did you notice anything different about Mommy's hair?
Son: (unintelligible)
Father: Me neither.

Thursday, February 14

I'm still really baffled by all this romance everywhere, on the feast of SS. Cyril and Methodius. And still no sign, on this day of all days, of pierogies, the food of love.

The Question is, Where's Ambassador Mollari?

Okay, I'll take it for granted that everyone here has read about Archbishop Gomez's courageous stand against a Hillary appearance in San Antonio, because I'm too lazy to do otherwise. So I won't reiterate the details, which are here, if you want them.

But when I saw the graphic reproduced above at American Papist, accompanying the story, I thought to myself, "Wow, this looks like a film still from the title sequence of the world's weirdest episode of Babylon 5." Cue the overwrought electronic music!

(Okay, okay, I admit it. My geekiness is not limited simply to matters liturgical. But in my defense, it's been years since I've watched an episode.)

A Blessed SS. Cyril and Methodius Day to Y'all!

Though, could someone pray explain to me what the little fat, flying babies are in aid of? I get the hearts with the gooey centers--they make perfect sense. Surely they commemorate the sweet big-heartedness of the Bulgarian people amid their long dark (chocolate) night of oppression? And all the red everywhere makes perfect sense, but what about the white and blue to complete the traditional pan-Slav colors? Where are they? And why all this romance? Am I supposed to just walk up to some random (pretty) Czech girl on the street and ask her to dinner? I don't even know if the Russian Tea Room is even open anymore. And what about the Poles and the Slovenes, who don't use Cyrillic? Do I have to get them chalky candy hearts as well?

Dyngus Day is so much simpler.

Tuesday, February 12


The Great Thing about Easter

A cool thing about Christmas is that, when you wake up Christmas morning, you know you have new presents you didn't have before.

But the great thing about Easter is that, when you wake up Easter morning, you know you have a few thousand more brothers in Christ that you didn't have before.

I think the average number of annual conversions to Catholicism in the United States has been around 30,000. I'm not sure exactly. Whatever the number of new converts per year is, it's equivalent to a small, national protestant denomination.

But Detroit is more than carrying its weight: this Easter, over a thousand souls will enter the diocese of Detroit.

If every diocese brought in 1,000 candidates, the Catholic Church would grow by around 165,000 members / year, a number roughly equal to the total membership of the Baptist General Conference.

Monday, February 11


Lenten Catch-Up

Some cool Lenten things, a little late!

But one of many awesome t-shirt designs availible here! I also like the Lego Pope.

But wait! What is this "Lent" thing all about?

St. Mary's Aggies, ever friends of this particular blog, have prepared a very useful Lenten FAQ.

Russians are Awesome!


I Wish My Title were Marquess of the Baldacchino, or, Empowering the Laity, Baroque-style

The old aristocrats of the Papal States, today called the Black Nobility (aristocrazìa nera) after going into mourning after the fall of Rome in 1870 to the Piedmontese monarchy, have effectively faded from Catholic consciousness, along with the Papacy's role as a fons honorum of noble titles. The Pope doesn't hand out titles any longer--though there's a dorm at Notre Dame named after a papal count--but the wonderfully eccentric collection of hereditary offices abolished largely by Paul VI still has a few remnants extant today. For one thing, I discovered that the titles are themselves still extant, and apparently still used, even if the offices themselves no longer exist; furthermore, the office as well as the title of Prince Assistant to the Papal Throne is still around. His duty is, as far as I know, no longer liturgical (he used to sit next to the senior Cardinal-deacon), but he does help out when a Head of State visits.

A listing of the Great Officers of the Papal Court, with the current incumbents of each title:

Hereditary Prince Assistants to the Papal Throne: Prince Don Alessandro Torlonia, Prince of Fucino etc - present holder; Prince Don Marcantonio Colonna, Prince and Duke of Paliano, Duke of Mariano etc - alternate.

Marshal of the Holy Roman Church and Sacred Conclave: Prince Don Sigismondo Chigi-Albani della Rovere, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, Prince of Farnese, Campagnano, and Soriano, Duke of Ariccia and Formello, etc.

[Why this very useful post was abolished, I have no idea: what progressive could object to having a non-cleric involved in the mechanics of electing the Pope?]

Grand Master of the Sacred Apostolic Hospice: Prince Alessandro Ruspoli, Prince of Cerveteri.

[Actually, this title is a bit out of date: the supremely wacky Prince Ruspoli, who I once heard speak at the strangest political rally I have ever attended, died in 2005 and was replaced by Prince Francesco Ruspoli, Tenth Prince of Cerveteri].

Hereditary Foriere Maggiore - Quartermaster General: Marquess Giulio Sacchetti, Marques of Castel Romano, who is now the highest ranking laymen in the Vatican service as "Delegate of the State of the City of the Vatican."

[Our century certainly has no lack of snappy new titles to replace the old ones.]

Hereditary Cavallerizzo Maggiore - superintendant of the stables of the Palaces: Marquess Dr. Gregorio Serlupi Crescenzi - a Roman psychologist.

[Insert Bob Newhart reference here.]

Hereditary Superintendant of the Posts: Prince Don Filippo Massimo, Prince and Lord of Arsoli, Duke of Anticoli Corrado.

[On second thought, perhaps the abolition of this post is understandable, the Italian postal system being what it is. Vatican Mail is now routed through Switzerland.]

And, among the Papal Guards:

Hereditary Standard Bearer of the Holy Roman Church, with the rank of Lieutenant-General: Marquess Patrizio Patrizi Naro Montoro, Marquess of the Baldacchino [!!!].

[1. This has always been my dream-job, with Swordbearer to the Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster being my second choice, and Colonel of the Papal Zouaves after that. 2. I will be happy all afternoon now, thinking that somewhere in the world is a man whose ancient hereditary title commemorates an enormous bronze piece of furniture shaped like a mosquito net canopy.]

Now this is the sort of lay empowerment I can support.

Friday, February 8


It's Friday, It's Lent. You Haven't Got Any More Excuses.

No "Pick your own Friday penance," no "it's just chicken," no "you're supposed to do something penitential but we haven't a clue what," just NO MEAT. Full stop. This is not rocket science, people.

This friendly reminder brought to you by The Meat Police™.

More Beautiful Randomness from Wikipedia

"The Grand Duke has a deep and long-standing relationship with Uruguay."

~Entry, "Archduke Sigismund, Grand Duke of Tuscany."

Thursday, February 7


A Book Meme; and St. Ambrose Gives Out Dating Advice

So we haven't done one of these in a while. I've been tagged (along with Em, Dan and Drew) by dear Shrine friend The Sober Sophomore. You know the drill: page 123 of the closest book to hand, and then find the sixth, seventh and eighth sentences.

Now this is tricky: The closest book to hand is Willi Kurth's Complete Woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer*, but since the front half is missing, and there are no page numbers, and no text on the pages, that's really out. The closest book below that is Dom E. Roulin's Modern Church Architecture, which could work, except the closest book to my head is The Golden Legend, which is lying at eye level on my mantel-piece. So, a tie.

Dom E. Roulin (alias "The Sourpuss of Ampleforth Abbey," well, not really), Modern Church Architecture, 1947. "In the case of each project assigned to him, the pupil is expected to produce ten or twenty ideas and often more; these ideas come successively, one such conception leading to another, and after some time they are all expressed in rough drafts of the whole. The idea that is judged to be the best is subjected to further study and further polishing until it reaches a definite stage, when it may be considered a tenative plan. Further study enables this tenative plan to be accepted as a final plan of a church, a civic building, a tomb, or some such monument."

Huh, sounds like my days at the Architecture School. Or, for that matter, my day job.

And now, The Golden Legend (Vol. II): "Augustine, who had no curiosity about such things as food, answered: 'I don't know any more than you do!' [Paragraph break]. He said that he had learned three things from Saint Ambrose. The first was never to court a woman for someone else; the second was never to encourage someone to be a soldier; the third, to accept no invitations to dinner parties."

Who says the medievals were impractical souls? Good advice, especially the first part--though I've never met a dinner party I didn't like, myself.

*To quote Monty Python: Oh, Albrecht, Albrecht Dürer, Du reitest durch die Länder,
Oh, Albrecht, Albrecht Dürer, Du Held mit Deiner [unverständlich],
Gefürchtet von allen Bösen, geliebt von allen Guten, Guten,
Du Dürer Albrecht, Du.


Servant of God Frank Parater

Shrine friend Chiara is on the case with her Annual Post on the topic of Servant of God Frank Parater, a Virginia native, Eagle Scout, and NAC seminarian whose commemoration is today. Check it out.

Wednesday, February 6


Set Apart: A Few Thoughts on Ash Wednesday

There is a deep, dark black smudge the size of a thumbprint on my forehead, which makes me look even paler than usual. It is more of a dot than a cross, though if you look carefully you can see the transverse stroke. The effect is of a particularly morbid boddhisava. I've been wandering around the city with this thing since this morning. Nobody else in the office has got, one, not even the other Catholics, who will probably get their ashes in the evening, if they go at all. I've not gotten many strange looks, though, maybe because it blends in with my hair.

I have, with a mixture of curiosity and vanity, checked myself in the mirror at least once to see if it's still there, and it is, big and black. On one level, I know my little prideful "Super Catholic" moments of self-examination--the bathroom mirror, the brass of a doctor's nameplate-- are going against today's pericope to not "disfigure [your] faces so as to show others that [you] are fasting" in taking a little perverse pride in this last vestige of the more severe and straightforward Lent of ages long past. The Church clearly sees no contradiction with our call to "put oil on your head and wash your face," with this ancient penitential practice--otherwise She wouldn't have picked that reading in the first place. There's a world of difference between a ceremonial smudge and purposefully neglecting to bathe just to give off an appropriately holy aroma.

I'm not saying it doesn't cause more than a justifiable double-take, but sometimes we're too quick to jump on the inconsistency bandwagon about things like this--about the two creations of man in Genesis, about calling priests Father, about Christ's cousins, sisters and aunts, about what the heck to do with Mary, looming disconcertingly large to our skittish Protestant brethren--forgetting the Church has been there from the start, sifting scripture, defining canons, shaping culture, and She's heard it all before. It's all of a piece.

(For the record, aspiring professional fasters sometimes applied makeup to look hollow-eyed and pulled long faces for maximum pathetic affect in Christ's day.)

Chesterton once imagined a long procession of mysterious priests with their strangely-shaped mitres, hooked croziers, their incense and bells, and their sacred books--what possesses us to leap upon them, disregarding everything else, and seize the Bible from their hands, crying out for sola scriptura, when they, with all their antique ways of mind and worship, were the first to call it sacred? There's always a deeper logic there, if we dig, or if we simply choose to trust in the vast and occasionally cobwebby mansion that is both Tradition and tradition. Public penitence--whether flamboyantly physical or merely simply passing on the cheesecake--is part of the Catholic landscape, and the Catholic imagination. (And I won't pretend that can't get disturbing sometimes, but there it is, no apologies--though the Church has always stressed moderation). We're no angels. We're not supposed to be. While the best thing is a chastened soul, sometimes the only way to get there is via the body. No dessert menus, thanks. Check, please?

Still, as with all great art--and the corpus of the liturgy is truly the highest art--there's a dramatic tension between our outward ashes and the call to rend our hearts rather than our garments. Perhaps on one level, it's the oddity of our American praxis. In Italy, rather than New York, the marks on our foreheads--giant schmutzes or tiny daubs--do get odd and even frightened looks. A friend of mine once got smeared, American-style, at Santa Suzanna in Rome, and came out to find the rest of the city still pagan and brazenly bare-foreheaded. Turns out in Italy, they merely give you a dusting on the top of the head with the old Adam.

So many subspecies of ashen crosses. Heading to church in the grey morning, I see a couple in comfortable middle-age with faded smudges heading out the other way, the balding gentleman sports a vague squiggle that could almost be Arabic calligraphy. I spot a well-dressed, undersized Rory Gilmore clone in Grand Central, a gigantic trapezoidal cross filling her little forehead. An old man with grey-black whisps who could have been Indian, Black or a dozen other ethnicities, a generic American everyman. A blonde young walkure, all icy-white and gold, with a reticent but crisp black tilak smack in the center. The priests up at the altar today, crisp, with the polished air of Opus Dei, haven't gotten theirs yet. Do they do each other?

John Zmirak, with his usual wit, labels today "Catholic Mating Identification Day," and includes a recipe for a helpful dish called "Hey, I think You're Kind of Hot" Cross Buns. I will admit to having been distracted at times past by a coy lass or two with this anti-sign of Cain on her brow, but "Hey, we both have the same black smudge on our forehead" an even less successful subway pickup line than the last one I heard recounted by a female friend, "Hey, isn't that AM New York you're reading?" (The equivalent of asking the gal next to you in Coach if she's a fan of Skymall.)

But maybe he's on to something. In one of the prophet Ezechiel's visions, he receives the call to "Mark Thau [the letter T, Greek Tau, Hebrew Tav] upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and mourn for all the abominations that are committed in the midst thereof," marking them as the saved, free from the impending doom of God's destroying angels. The Tav--the origins of today's Tau cross--in time became a symbol of Judaism a little before the time of Jesus, eventually adhering itself to the centinarian Anthony the Abbot and the Franciscans. The Apocalypse speaks in a similar way of the seal of the living God saving His people from destruction. The blood of Passover--also said to be cruciform--is probably at the back of all of this. It is no coincidence Our Lord ended up on a cross.

(I'm told in New York, the smudge doesn't really turn heads; just like random heathens turn up on Palm Sunday for freebees, sometimes an occasional Muslim or Jew slips in to get smudged. St. Agnes finds itself so popular on this fast-day that they have priests in the vestibule distributing ashes to folks coming in off the street. Other denominations imitate us. The Anglicans have their Solemn Liturgy of Ash Wednesday with all the usual choral trimmings, and even the Presbyterians--never one for mid-week liturgics--engage in a bit of smearing. Subsconsciously, we all want to be Catholic.)

I've got this black smudge on my brow, and it says I belong to God, whether I want to, or not. On the purely social level, this may get you stared at like a circus freak (especially in the South, where I come from, and the traditional white ethnics of Catholicism are comparatively thin on the ground), you might as well have a gigantic target on your back--hardly the sort of pats-on-the-back the extravagant hunger artists of Christ's day were looking for.

But beyond that it reminds us we're set apart, and we're supposed to behave that way. No shoving in the subway, no f-bombs, no "Hey, I'm walking here," no stuffing your face when you're supposed to be fasting, no surreptitious ogling of the espresso boy or the cute brunette down at the front of the bus (unless, I suppose, they've got the mark on them, too, and then, gents, please, keep it above the shoulders and ladies--well, I don't know where you look anyway, so just behave yourselves). It reminds you your name is Christian, your surname Catholic, and you're supposed to act that way. It's a uniform. For one day a year, you haven't got a choice in the matter, or you bring the whole Church in on your tacky behavior.

For one day you get to feel the way priests feel all day long under those collars of theirs. It's a bit humbling, isn't it?

One early Church Father, of a Platonist bent--perhaps Clement of Alexandria, I forget--once tried to sell Christianity to his proto-post-modern pagan audience by explaining of the exquisite manners and civic virtue of the ideal Christian--no burping gluttony, no hurtful jokes, no getting the help pregnant. Today's sybarites aren't much different from his audience--though their table manners are worse, and nobody knows how to fold a toga anymore. But they do respond to kindness. Don't disgrace the uniform today.

Sunday, February 3

Fallen Sparrow: So, my choirmaster said we should imagine there's 7,000 fans out there in the congregation whenever we sing.
Me: So, wait, you don't have 7,000 screaming Catholic groupies throwing their mantillas at you onstage?

MST3K, Catholic-Style

The highlight (well, one of them, along with the Buttercup Bake Shop cupcakes) of last night's Candlemas party at Fallen Sparrow's place in Queens was a screening of Mystery Science Theater's hilarious grilling of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (a title only surpassed in length by the later film The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, an adaptation of Weiss's Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats dargestellt durch die Schauspielgruppe des Hospizes zu Charenton unter Anleitung des Herrn de Sade), which shows just how much a movie can be improved by the intrusion a wisecracking robot shaped like a gumball machine. I'm not entirely sure if the movie actually has any zombies in it, or any plot, considering most of the humor value came from Crow, Servo and Mike having a grand old time trashing the interminable song-and-dance sequences tossed in as filler. ("This is not the precision dancing I am accustomed to!" "Tonight, ze führer is in the audience!" "Rent-a-Balky!" "Cinematography by Zapruder," &c.)

Anyway, at one point, a fortune-teller is shown surrounded by billowing clouds of cheap special-effects smoke. Tom Servo pipes up from the peanut gallery, in a high-pitched voice, "My incense is getting out of control!!" To which I deadpanned--and bear in mind, the folks present all remember the famous time I nearly (inadvertently) burned down the Church of Our Saviour with a gunked-up thurible--"I know the feeling."

It brought the house down.

Actually, it was a lot funnier the first time.


His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty, Karl the First, By the Grace of God, Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, of this name the Fourth, King of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, and Galicia, Lodomeria, and Illyria; King of Jerusalem etc., Archduke of Austria; Grand Duke of Tuscany and Cracow, Duke of Lorraine and of Salzburg, of Styria, of Carinthia, of Carniola and of the Bukovina; Grand Prince of Transylvania; Margrave of Moravia; Duke of Upper and Lower Silesia, of Modena, Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, of Auschwitz and Zator, of Teschen, Friuli, Ragusa and Zara; Princely Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, of Kyburg, Gorizia and Gradisca; Prince of Trent and Brixen; Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia and in Istria; Count of Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenberg, etc.; Lord of Trieste, of Cattaro, and in the Wendish Mark; Grand Voivode of the Voivodship of Serbia, etc. etc.


An Emperor Karl Alert (TM) from, of all things, The Orlando Sentinel:
The last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire moved a little closer to Roman Catholic sainthood Thursday, thanks to a Baptist woman from Kissimmee who claims the monarch's intercession saved her from metastatic breast cancer.
More here. Who says my home state doesn't have a place in the Catholic imagination?

The article is a decent little writeup, with relatively few mistakes, though as usual, it closes with a cretinously grand-standing quote from Fr. Reese (yes, that Fr. Reese), of the aptly-named Woodstock Seminary at Georgetown, managing to combine Wilsonian vulgarity with felt-banner theology, asking for no more canonized "kings or princes or bishops...We need to find saints that connect to ordinary people," which is deeply ironic given the remarkable domestic ordinariness of Blessed Karl's heroic virtue, realized just as in the theater of his relationship with his wife Zita of Bourbon-Parma as much in his wise (if incredibly badly-timed) reign. His words to her before their wedding speak volumes: "Now, we must help each other to get to Heaven."

And, in an election year, I would think reminding big-shots that they are answerable to Something Other than opinion polls would be of great benefit to us normalburgers in the pews. The veneration of a saintly emperor is a very different thing from the frantic secular millenarianism of modern politics and the soft-brained cult of celebrity that attaches itself to celebs like Diana and Fergie.


"Emperor Karl is the only decent man to come out of the war in a leadership position, yet he was a saint and no one listened to him. He sincerely wanted peace, and therefore was despised by the whole world. It was a wonderful chance that was lost." ~Anatole France

Tip of the Magyar Szent Korona to alert reader Rob.

Our Lady of Lourdes: 150 Years

Get your plenary indulgences the way the Protestants like them: Free!*

Rorate Caeli reminds us that, this week only:

Each and every member of the Christian faithful who, truly repentant, is purified through sacramental confession, restored through the Most Holy Eucharist and offers prayers for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff, will be able to gain a Plenary Indulgence daily, which may also be applied, by way of suffrage, to the souls of the faithful in Purgatory:
B) If, from the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord on 2 February 2008 until the end of the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes on 11 February 2008, which is also the 150th Anniversary of the Apparition, they devoutly visit a blessed image of the Holy Virgin Mary of Lourdes in any church, chapel, grotto or other suitable place in which it is solemnly displayed, and in the presence of that image perform some pious act of Marian devotion, or at least pause to reflect for an appropriate length of time, concluding with the Lord's Prayer, some legitimate form of the Profession of Faith, and the Jubilee prayer or some other Marian invocation.

I don't know if "solemnly displayed" means that the image has to be specially set up or decorated for the occasion. If so (and even if not so), it would certainly be nice it pastors acted in harmony with the Holy Father to provide such venues to their flocks!

* Yes, every time you see the word "free," it is followed by an asterisk. But, this time, it is to point out that, obviously, all indulgences are always "free." But even the ones "sold" in 16th century Germany were actually just given, in that case, for donating alms to the construction of St. Peter's Basilica--albeit, with excessively aggressive marketing. Even today, the donation of alms to the poor is still an indulgenced act--and rightly so.

Saturday, February 2


Priestly Recruitment

Someone recently wrote, "All the best, and keep up the good work on the shrine - some of the posts really cheer up my day!"


Here's today's smile from the Shrine:

A local news station reports on successful recruitment of seminarians.

Super Fat Tuesday is Coming

Vote wisely!

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