Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Neo-Gallican Advent

In translation at least - I'm not competent to comment on Latin poetry, but I have heard such Neo-Gallican works of the eighteenth century condemned as "frigid" - I rather like the output of Charles Coffin (1676-1749), sometime rector of the University of Paris (see his engraving here; and, if you read French, something about him here), then acclaimed a considerable Latin poet, and considered by some saintly, but who died without benefit of the last rites because of embroilment in the Jansenist controversy.  His hymns were used, somewhat controversially, to replace age-old compositions in the new Paris Breviary of 1736, and thence were quarried by High Church Anglicans in the nineteenth century, such as John Chandler, who translated his Advent hymns, alongside many others, in 1836.

Below I gave his Matins hymn, Instantis Adventum Dei, Englished as "The coming of our God" by R. Campbell et al., which is also available in many other versions; here I subjoin, first, his other well-known hymn, Jordanis oras prævia, which we sing as "On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry" (not to be confused with "On Jordan's Bank the Baptists cry", which would refer to ululating American Protestants from the Southern States on some fundamentalist pilgrimage!), and then two other lesser-known ones, for Vespers and Compline (since the latter in the Paris Breviary had seasonal hymns, just as in various Breviaries of religious orders).  It must be noted that only recourse to the Breviarium Parisiense, Pars Hiemalis, together with my recent serendipitous find (again via Google Books) of John Chandler's The Hymns of the Primitive Church, yielded up their Latin originals and the versions of some of them.

Jordanis oras prævia
Vox ecce Baptistæ quatit:
Præconis ad grandes sonos
Ignavus abscedat sopor. 

Au[c]toris adventum sui
Tellus, et æther, et mare
Prægestiente sentiunt
Et jam salutant gaudio. 

Mundemus et nos pectora:
Deo propinquanti viam
Sternamus; et dignam domum 
Tanto paremus hospiti.

Tu nostra, tu, Jesu, salus;
Tu robur et solatium:
Arens ut herba, te sine
Mortale tabescit genus. 

Ægris salutarem manum
Extende: prostratos leva:
Ostende vultum, jam suus
Mundo reflorescet decor. 

Qui Liberator advenis,
Fili, tibi laus maxima
Cum Patre et almo Spiritu
In sempiterna saecula.  Amen.

On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry 
Announces that the Lord is nigh: 
Come then and hearken, for he brings 
Glad tidings from the King of kings. 

E'en now the air, the sea, the land 
Feel that their Maker is at hand; 
The very elements rejoice, 
And welcome Him with cheerful voice. 

Then cleansed be every Christian breast, 
And furnished for so great a Guest! 
Yea! let us each our hearts prepare 
For Christ to come and enter there. 

For Thou art our salvation, Lord, 
Our refuge and our great reward, 
Without Thy grace our souls must fade,
And wither like a flower decayed.

Stretch forth Thine hand, to heal our sore, 
And make us rise, to fall no more; 
Once more upon Thy people shine, 
And fill the world with love divine. 

To Him, Who left the throne of Heaven 
To save mankind, all praise be given: 
Like praise be to the Father done, 
And Holy Spirit, Three in One.

– tr. John Chandler.

I have only just tracked down Coffin's Vesper hymn, and I think I know why it didn't prove so popular as its brothers already quoted: it's rather grim, and does sound a bit Jansenist (albeit remaining quite orthodox!)  - here it is, again in a version by Chandler (which manages to telescope two stanzas into one, BTW):

Statuta decreto Dei 
Tandem propinquant tempora: 
Emptus tot annorum mora 
Affulget e cœlo dies. 

Patris nefando crimine 
Proles jacebat saucia:
In mortis umbra conditum 
Sedebat humanum genus. 

Morti secundæ debitos 
Et sempiternis ignibus 
Horrenda justi judicis 
Manebat expectatio.

Heu! quis ruinæ tam gravis 
Sarcire damna; quæ manus 
Afferre tam grandi queat 
Parem medelam vulneri?

Tu, Christe, tu solus tuo 
Delapsus e throno Deus, 
Imagini potes tuæ 
Formam decusque reddere. 

Rorate, cœli, desuper,
Justumque fœcundo sinu 
Complexa tellus, perdito 
Orbi salutem germinet. 

Sit sempiterna laus tibi,
Verbum Patris factum caro, 
Cum Patre, cumque Spiritu 
Nunc, et per omne sæculum. Amen.

The rolling years at length fulfil, 
The counsels of th' Eternal will; 
More precious for the long delay, 
Shines forth from heaven the joyful day. 

Since Adam fell, his sinful race 
Lay sunk in ruin and disgrace; 
In shade of night forlorn they sate, 
And waited for their awful fate. 

Alas! and who can undertake 
Amends for man's offence to make? 
Where can a remedy be found 
Sufficient for so sore a wound? 

Thou, Jesu Christ, yea, Thou alone, 
Descending from Thy Father's throne, 
The heavenly likeness canst restore, 
God's image, which at first we bore. 

Send Him, ye heavens, from above, 
That so the earth, with grateful love,
May th' everlasting seed embrace 
The Saviour of our long-lost race.

All praise and glory we afford, 
To Jesus, the incarnate Word: 
And God the Father we adore, 
And Holy Ghost, for evermore.

Finally, an old copy of Hymns Ancient and Modern yielded up this translation, made by the compilers thereof in 1861, of Coffin's Compline hymn for Advent, "suitable for a late evening service":

When shades of night around us close,
And weary limbs in sleep repose,
The faithful soul awake may be,
And longing sigh, O Lord, to Thee.

Thou true Desire of nations, hear,
Thou Word of God, Thou Saviour dear;
In pity heed our humble cries,
And bid at length the fallen rise.

O come, Redeemer, come and free
Thine own from guilt and misery;
The gates of Heav’n again unfold,
Which Adam’s sin had closed of old.

All praise, eternal Son, to Thee,
Whose advent sets Thy people free,
Whom with the Father we adore
And Holy Ghost forevermore.

In noctis umbra desides
Dum somnus artus occupat,
Ad te, Deus, fidelibus
Mens excubat suspiriis.

Desiderate gentibus,
Verbum Patris, mundi salus,
Audi preces gementium,
Tandemque lapsos excita.

Adsis, Redemptor, et tuæ
Plebis relaxans crimina,
Adæ scelus quas clauserat,
Reclude cœlestes domos.

Qui liberator advenis,
Fili, tibi laus maxima
Cum Patre, cumque Spiritu
In sempiterna sæcula. Amen.

Now that these Advent hymns (four in all, one being on that earlier posting) can be compared, I think that the general theme, especially clear in those for Vespers and Compline, of Christ coming in human flesh to restore to fallen man the Divine likeness lost by Adam's sin is clear.  I would say that the generally more positive tone of the Matins and Lauds hymns propably accounts for their greater popularity as nice songs for Advent!

Lo! He comes...

Advent Sunday wouldn't be complete without singing Wesley's great hymn of the Second Advent, "Lo! He comes with clouds descending"...

I recall singing this at (English) Vespers in years past; it is a glorious canticle.

Handbook to the Christian Liturgy

Here's a useful link to a book I have a copy of, which I've used thoroughly and annotated as well...

It's Anglican, but very useful.  (I have also put a link to it in the sidebar.)

How Many Ave's for Australia?

I've heard one and a half Masses to-day...

I had thought the ladies' choir was to sing, but as usual their choirmistress hadn't turned up (she's always ill, poor thing; Fr needs to get new people for these posts, as those supposedly in command never seem to make it to Mass), and it looked as if there was to be no 9.15 am Missa cantata - but yours truly came to the rescue, albeit doing a rather botched job of it as usual.  By this time I sing awry without shame.  

After starting our processional hymn too low, wavering through the Introit on my own, and then giving a completely incorrect intonation for the Kyrie, luckily one of the ladies was good enough to take over - why she and the others don't lead and direct themselves, I don't know, they certainly have the voices for it; I must encourage them before I leave these shores - and the rest of Mass went off smoothly, and I even executed the rest of the Proper (still alone) without trouble, using Rossini's psalm-tone settings since the real Gregorian is too hard for me by myself as a rank amateur without any musical training.  

For the record, we sang "O come, O come, Emmanuel" for processional (first three verses) and recessional (last four), Missa de Angelis (sine Gloria of course), and our old standbys, Ave maris stella for Offertory and Adoro te devote at Communion.  As is our custom at the Pro., Benedicamus Domino was sung at the finish of the liturgy, not Ite missa est as the '62 prescribes even during Advent.  If I'd had time to get organized before Mass, I would have had us all sing something more appropriate for Advent, such as Alma Redemptoris Mater and Cónditor alme siderum, I mean Creator alme siderum, as "motets"; and (with a bit of practice) Rorate cæli desuper.

(BTW, remember what Fr Z taught on-blog: never pronounce Conditor (Creator) as Condítor, but always as Cónditor - because Condítor means "Pickler", being derived from condire, whereas Cónditor comes from cóndĕre.  To sing "O loving Pickler of the stars" would be insane.)

Before the last-minute pre-Mass rush (as we had perforce to wait to consult Fr as he was hearing confessions), I'd already done Lauds and part of Prime, which I finished during the parish notices after the Gospel, before the sermon.  My thanksgiving had to consist of the Adoro te, plus Terce after Mass.  We all then milled about outside the church before going for a coffee; it was good to meet a new parishioner, Ambrose, who's from Melbourne and has been lucky enough to have Fr Paul Newton, a sterling priest and a friend of mine, for his parish priest and spiritual director.

After coffee and a sandwich, I decided to pop back into the Pro. during the 11.15 am Low Mass for to say my prayers, and took the vacant spot, the same one I'd had at the 9:15 Mass actually while "directing" the choir pro tempore - the organ console seat, and the tiny kneeler wedged into the back lefthand corner between the console, pipes and wall!  Having arrived during the sermon (which was good, but which I'd already heard) I simply opened up to Matins, and read this followed by Sext, which took until the Last Gospel - of course, I looked up and adored at the Elevation and the Ecce Agnus Dei.  Having joined in singing the first three verses of "O come, O come, Emmanuel" again (this time on-note), I said a few prayers (those of St Thomas Aquinas and St Bonaventure, etc.), and caught up with some other friends before heading home.

During Fr's comments at sermon time, he told of his attendance at the recent FSSP ordinations in Canberra, and reminded us that Fr Sumich FSSP was ordained yesterday in New Zealand, and by our morning Mass here would have already have offered his first Mass.  Apparently Fr Sumich is a missionary in Nigeria, about to return as priest to a very poor but very populous and fervent parish.  Ad multos annos!

Nigerian Catholics put us all to shame: to atone for "the sins of Nigeria" they have the devotion of gathering in good numbers in church, at 6 am, to pray 2000 Hail Mary's in reparation, which takes them 9 hours straight, without pause, until 3 pm, when the Holy Sacrifice is offered up.  

How many Ave's should we be saying to atone for Australia's sins?

Advent Sunday

To thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul.  In thee, O my God, I put my trust; let me not be ashamed.  Neither let my enemies laugh at me: for none of them that wait on thee shall be confounded. Ps. Show, O Lord, thy ways to me, and teach me thy paths. Glory be...  As it was...  To thee... (Ps 24:1-3, 4a)

Our Advent Introit expresses emotions of both hope and fear, just as we waver between hope and fear - will God save us, will we be saved?

I rather like the Anglican collect for Advent, now available for Catholic use, which so well reflects the apocalyptic sense of this season, and gives us a digested summation of to-day's Epistle (Rom. xiii, 11-14a) and Gospel (St Luke xxi, 25-33):

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light (cf. Rom. xiii, 12), now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty (cf. St Luke xxi, 27) to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, [one God,] now and [for] ever.   Amen.

The three words in square brackets are added in the Catholic Church's Anglican Use liturgy, according to The Book of Divine Worship.

Advent - St Charles Borromeo

From the Pastoral Letters of St Charles Borromeo, On the Season of Advent:

…we too must continue to celebrate it [Advent] fittingly, giving praise and thanks to the eternal Father for the mercy he has shown us in this mystery of the coming of his Only-begotten Son.

The Father sent his Son out of his immeasurable love for us sinners. He sent him to free us from the tyrannical power of the devil, to invite us to heaven and lead us into its innermost sanctuary. He was sent to show us truth itself, to teach us how we should live, to share with us the source of all goodness, to enrich us with the treasures of his grace. Finally, he was sent to make us sons of the Father and heirs to eternal life.

The Church calls this mystery to mind each year to stir us to renew constantly our memory of the great love God has shown us. This commemoration teaches us our Saviour came not only for the benefit of the people of his own time. His goodness is still there for us to share in. But, for our part, through faith and the sacraments we must lay hold on the grace he won for us and live by it in obedience to him.

The Church wants us to understand that as he came once into the world in the flesh, so now, if we remove all barriers, he is ready to come to us again at any minute or hour, to make his home spiritually within us in all his grace.

Advent Aspirations

Adveniat regnum tuum - in numero et merito.

Maranatha! - Veni, Domine Jesu.

Per Adventum tuum, - Libera nos, Domine.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Advent of Our God

The coming of our God
Our thoughts must now employ;
Then let us meet Him on the road
With songs of holy joy.

The co-eternal Son
A Maiden's offspring see;
A servant’s form Christ putteth on
To set His people free.

Daughter of Zion, rise
To greet thine infant King;
Nor let thy stubborn heart despise
The pardon He doth bring.

In glory from His throne
Again will Christ descend, 
And summon all that are His own
To joys that never end.

Let deeds of darkness fly
Before the approaching morn,
For unto sin 'tis ours to die
And serve the Virgin-born.

Our joyful praises sing
To Christ, that set us free;
Like tribute to the Father bring,
And, Holy Ghost, to Thee.

Instantis adventum Dei
Poscamus ardenti prece;
Festique munus inclytum
Præoccupemus canticis.

Æterna proles, feminæ 
Non horret includi sinu;
Fit ipse servus, ut jugo
Nos servitutis eximat.

Mansuetus et clemens venit;
Occurre festina, Sion;
Ultro tibi quam porrigit,
Ne dura pacem respuas.

Mox nube clara fulgurans
Mundi redibit arbiter,
Suique membra corporis
Cœlo triumphator vehet.

Fœtus tenebrarum, die
Cedant propinquo crimina: 
Adam reformetur vetus,
Imago succedat novi.

Qui Liberator advenis, 
Fili, tibi laus maxima
Cum Patre et almo Spiritu
In sempiterna saecula.  Amen.

– Charles Coffin (1676-1749), Matins Hymn in the Paris Breviary;
translated by R. Campbell (1814-1868, et al.

(There is another translation available at Cyberhymnal; I prefer the tune Franconia.)

Cool November; Another Year Over; St Saturnine

After my earlier fears of unpleasantly hot weather returning, for in the last part of October we had a heatwave with temperatures in the thirties five days running, November here in Perth has been pleasantly cool, with the hottest day so far - my birthday - a shade under 30°C, but quite comfortable as I recall, and the average for the month (23.5°C) several degrees cooler than usual.  This pleasant enough weather seems still to endure a while longer; while in Australia we generally count summer as starting on the 1st of December, I think that it may still be a little while till the really hot weather starts toward the second half of December - by which time I'll have moved back to Tasmania...

And in ecclesiastical news, to-day, the feast of St Saturnine, is the last day of the Church's Year of Grace, which segues into the first with Vespers of Advent Sunday to-night, which by God's grace I hope to sing.  My Advent plan this new year is to attend daily Mass (this will reaccustom me to the Novus Ordo, BTW).

Here is his short, straightforward and simple collect:

Deus, qui nos beati Saturnini Martyris tui concedis natalitio perfrui; ejus nos tribue meritis adjuvari.  Per...

(God, Who dost permit us to rejoice on the natal day of blessed Saturnine Thy Martyr, grant that we be aided by his merits.  Through...)

May we indeed rejoice at the triumph of this stedfast witness to Christ over the world, the flesh and the devil, and may his merits truly obtain for us assistance from the Lord, Who delights to work through secondary causes so as to work His works in us: for St Saturnine's "just deserts", far from being unspeakable torments as his evil tormentors thought and wrought, are those things he has deserved of God Himself for what he accomplished not of himself but of Him who strengthened him - supernatural rewards and benefits, not merely for himself, who won the everlasting crown of victory and rejoices and reigns evermore with God and His saints in heaven, but also for the whole Church militant, that we may not only profit by his example, but in the communion of saints all share in the graces won by this preëminent member of the Mystical Body.

But what of St Saturnine?  There are several of this name, such as the martyr-bishop of Toulouse (whose memory is also kept this day), or again the companion of SS Perpetua and Felicity; but the one commemorated in the Roman Mass is he that was a martyr at Rome, as the Golden Legend tells:

There was another Saturnine whom the provost of Rome held long in prison, and after, he raised him in the torment named Eculee [eculeus, the rack], and did do beat him with sinews, rods, and scorpions, and after, did do burn his sides, and then took him down and smote off his head, about the year of our Lord two hundred and ninety under Maximian.

The 2004 Martyrologium Romanum gives the following details about our saint:

Romæ in cœmeterio Trasonis via Salaria Nova, sancti Saturnini Carthaginensis, martyris, qui, ut sanctus Damasus papa refert, sub Decio imperatore pro Christo in patria in eculeo impositus est et Romam extorris missus, ubi, aliis atrocibus tormentis superatis, Gratianum tyrannum ad fidem convertit et capite obtruncato coronam martyrii adeptus est.

(At Rome, in the cemetery of Traso on the New Salarian  Way, [commemoration] of St Saturnine of Carthage, martyr, who, as Pope St Damasus tells, under the Emperor Decius for Christ in his fatherland [Carthage] was laid upon the rack and was sent, exiled, to Rome, where, triumphing over other atrocious torments, converted the tyrant Gratian to the Faith and by the chopping off his head won the martyr's crown. [c.250])

It also tells us of Saint-Saturnin, or Saint-Sernin, noble episcopal martyr of Toulouse:

Tolosæ in Gallia Narbonensi, commemoratio sancti Saturnini, episcopi et martyris, qui, ut fertur, ejusdem Decii temporibus, in Capitolio hujus urbis a paganis tentus est et de summa arce per gradus præcipitatus, ut, capite colliso et toto corpore dilaniato, Christo animam redderet.

(At Toulouse in Narbonensine Gaul, the commemoration of St Saturnine, bishop and martyr, who, 'tis said, in the times of the same Decius, was tried by the pagans at the Capitol [temple of idols] of this city and was thrown down the steps from the high gate [?], that, his head crushed and whole body rent, unto Christ he rendered up his soul.  [c. 250])

The Golden Legend supplies a rather forceful account of his sufferings: "And they took Saturnine which would not do sacrifice... and drew him unto the highest place of the capitol and cast him down the degrees and steps to the ground, so that his head was all to-broken and the brain sprang out, and so he accomplished his martyrdom."  

The 1738 Paris Missal provides the following Collect in stead of that of St Saturnine the Roman Martyr, both containing several references to Scripture in typical eighteenth century Gallican style, and finely alluding to the unshakeable faith of the Tolosan bishop's soul, despite the outrages committed upon his body, cast down and destroyed:

Deus, qui per beatum Saturninum Martyrem tuum atque Pontificem, infideles populos de tenebris ad lucem veritatis venire tribuisti; da nobis ejus intercessione, in fide stabiles, et a spe Evangelii quod prædicavit, immobiles permanere.  Per...

(God, Who through blessed Saturnine Thy Martyr and Pontiff, *didst grant unbelieving peoples to come from darkness to the light of truth*': †grant unto us at his intercession, to remain stedfast in faith, and immovable in the hope of the Gospel which he preached†'.  Through...)

*–*'   Cf. many passages in the New Testament, such as Acts xxvi, 17b-18: "...the nations, unto which now I send thee: to open their eyes, that they may be converted from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and a lot among the saints...".

†–†'  Cf. Col. i, 23: "...continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and immoveable from the hope of the gospel which you have heard, which is preached in all the creation that is under heaven, whereof I Paul am made a minister".

The other saints of the 29th of November are:

  1. St Philomenus, martyr at Ancyra in Galatia during the persecution of Aurelian under Felix the governor, who was thrown into the fire, then had his hands, feet and finally head pierced with nails, in the 3rd century [not to be confused with Philomenus, saintly martyr of Lyons, nor with the famous Philomena, whose cult remains somewhat uncertain].
  2. At Todi in Umbria [famously, Tuderti is misread as "Too dirty in Umbria"], St Illuminata the virgin, in the 4th Century [not to be confused with the unsaintly Illuminati of course!].
  3. St James (or Jacob), Bishop of Sarug, at Batnan in Osrhoene, whose sermons, homilies and letters illustrated the pure faith of the Church and is revered among the Syrians, together with St Ephræm, as a doctor and pillar of the Church, in 521.
  4. At Daventry in Frisia, the translation of St Radbod, bishop of Utrecht [Ultrajectum - more or less literally, "Thrown Out"?!], who, a teacher and pious pastor, died whilst visiting rustics, in 917.
  5. At York in England, Bl Edward Burden, priest and martyr, alumnus of the English College at Rheims, who dared to return as a priest to the dominion of wicked Queen Elizabeth I, and consummated his sufferings on the gibbet before a furious crowd, in 1588.
  6. In the same place, eight years later, BB George Errington, William Gibson and William Knight, who, when they but defended those proscribed as priests, by various torments were given over to martyrdom, in 1596.
  7. In Aceh in the island of Sumatra, the blessed martyrs Denis of the Nativity (Peter) Berthelot, priest, and Redemptus of the Cross (Thomas) Rodriguez, religious, both of the Discalced Carmelites, who were first enslaved by Mahometans and then slain with arrows by the sea shore, in 1638.
  8. At Luceria in Apulia, St Francis Antony Fasani, a priest of the Conventual Franciscans, who, a man by exquisite doctrine, preaching and penitential practice greatly supported, so consoled the poor and needy that he never stopped even to give away his habit, and to offer Christian aid to everyone, in 1742.
  9. At the place called El Saler near Valencia in Spain, Bl Alaphrid Simon Colomina, Jesuit priest and martyr, who in the persecution of the Church confirmed his fidelity to the Lord by his blood, in 1936.

Sancti Dei omnes, intercedere dignemini pro nostra omniumque salute!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Gang Aft Agley

My expected afternoon had an unexpected derailment - I've lost my wallet, containing all my cards and suchlike, which is a real headache.  The wallet itself is of great sentimental value to me, being the same one I've used since I was a teenager; replacing its contents is a mere nuisance.

St Anthony, finder of the lost, help us!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Known Unknowns

First, from the world of astronomy and astrophysics - my other great interest, rekindled by something on ABC radio this afternoon while I drove home:

  • Only 4% of the Universe is made up of 'normal', baryonic matter that interacts with electromagnetic radiation (a.k.a. light) and can be seen with telescopes sensitive to whatever wavelength - and even 9/10 thereof is intergalactic gas, not stars or planets or beings like us;
  • 26% of the Universe is composed of the mysterious "dark matter", material whose presence is inferred by its gravitational effects, most notably on the rotation curve of galaxies and on the clumping of galaxies into clusters and larger structures;
  • 70% of the Universe - the vast majority, therefore - is the enigmatic "dark energy", first dimly foreshadowed in Einstein's "cosmological constant", Λ, and inferred to be responsible for the observed accelerating expansion of the Universe as a cause of cosmic repulsion.

This curious state of affairs - that 96% of the Universe is said to consist of a quintessence or two of which we and all modern physics knows nothing - reminds me of the much-maligned Ptolemaic cosmology and the philosophers attached to it, or again of late nineteenth-century physicists who thought all was just about understood and explained (excepting pesky radioactivity...).  

How rude, then, of scientists who are atheists (especially in cosmology, a good number tend to be theists) to attack religion as proposing obscure dogmas!  True scientists are open to the quest for truth, unlike closeminded bigots such as that dreadful Dawkins (a biologist, not a hard scientist).


Second, from the equally recondite and perplexing realm of economics (labelled, Here be dragons):

Three brokers discuss their recent careers...

  • The first said, "I sold financial instruments so arcane, no one could calculate their value - not even me."
  • The second: "I sold financial instruments so arcane, no one could comprehend them - not even me."
  • The third, smugly: "I sold financial instruments so arcane, no one knew if they existed - not even me!"

All of which goes to shew, a fool and his money are soon parted.  It's the South Sea Bubble and Tulip Mania all over again - nothing ever changes: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Again, how perverse is human nature: for a mirage, men will do anything, however nonsensical, deceived and deceiving; yet we flee the apprehension of Truth, and for eternal salvation, in the words of the Imitatio, we will scarce lift a foot from the ground.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Vespers of St Sylvester, Abbot

Michael and I read Vespers of St Sylvester,  no longer in our defunct chapel, but at least before the icon corner - the Theotokos with the Infant Word enthroned with sundry saints, Apostles, the Forerunner and Holy Pontiffs; Our Lord Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest; St Joshua the Patriarch; a rather uncanonical Greek-style depiction of the Trinity; the Synaxis of the Apostles; the Transfiguration; St Dominic in eastern style; and a western Crucifix - with its burning candles.  

To commemorate him who fled the world for the desert at the sight of an open grave revealing the corruption of all earthly vanities, we then ate some Belgian chocolate and drank a bottle of Chimay Grande Réserve while watching a doco about the great Churchill and his bodyguard...

Collect of Abbot St Sylvester:

Clementissime Deus, qui sanctum Silvestrum Abbatem, saeculi huius vanitatem in aperto tumulo pie meditantem, ad eremum vocare, et praeclaris vitae meritis decorare dignatus es: te supplices exoramus; ut, eius exemplo terrena despicientes, tui consortio perfruamur aeterno.  Per...

(Most clement God, Who didst deign to call holy Sylvester the Abbot, piously meditating on the vanity of this world before an open grave, to the desert, and to beautify him with the merits of an effulgent life: bending low we humbly pray, that, despising terrene things by his ensample, we may have fruition of Thine eternal company.  Through...) 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Three Sarcophagi for St Catherine

Inside the altar (as the Greeks call the sanctuary) of the great church of the monastery of St Catherine at the base of Mt Sinai, reposes the sacred body of St Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr, Patroness of Philosphers. Now as her Roman collect indicates, it is piously said that her mortal remains were translated thence from the scene of her martyrdom by the agency of angels; as monks are equals-to-the-angels, leading an angelic life in this world, it would not be too skeptical to speak of her translation rather at their hands. 

(St Catherine herself has performed a surprising disappearing and reappearing act in recent years, having been dropt from the calendar only to be reinstated by the late John Paul the Great; skeptics might say that he performed not only many canonizations, but even as the pièce de resistance restored one whose very historicity has been questioned! - but the Church knows her own foremost members.)

The holy relics of this Virgin Martyr sleep out the days remaining till the General Resurrection within a Byzantine sarcophagus, strangely accompanied on either side by more recent would-be reliquaries.  A friend who while a Russian monk visited St Catherine's Monastery told me the tale of these sarcophagi.  

The cult of St Catherine being very much esteemed in Russia of old, Peter the Great donated a sarcophagus of gold to the monastery, that her mortal remains might lie in greater state.  The good monks duly accepted the priceless gift, and transferred her body to its new bed - but found, upon next returning to the church, that she had popped herself back into her former couch!  This occurred several times, and they realized by this sign that she preferred her original abode.  

Next, the years having passed, Catherine the Great, that not-so-pious Empress (or immoral usurper, in plain language), revering for reasons of policy her name-saint, and having had St Catherine's feast day in Russia moved a day early, that it - the Imperial name-day - not be overshadowed by the Leave-taking of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, also donated a munificent sarcophagus to the monastery in Sinai, this time one most curiously wrought of silver, in Baroque style.  But no sooner did the monks approach to move their Saint's relics into this resting place, than flames roared out of it, terrifying them into desisting, and displaying the Divine anger at so hypocritical a gift from such an imperious sinner.

Thus, to this day, St Catherine sleeps in her age-old monument, betwixt two yet grander, but rejected beds.

[Sed contra: having now checked my facts, I find the above story seems to be not the whole story of her reliquary...]

The Collect of St Catherine:

Deus, qui dedisti legem Moysi in summitate montis Sinai, et in eodem loco per sanctos Angelos tuos corpus beatæ Catharinæ Virginis et Martyris tuæ mirabiliter collocasti: præsta, quæsumus; ut, ejus meritis et intercessione, ad montem, qui Christus est, pervenire valeamus: Qui tecum vivit et regnat...

(God, Who didst give the Law to Moses on the peak of Mount Sinai, and in the selfsame spot by Thy holy Angels the body of blessed Catherine Thy Virgin and Martyr didst marvelously emplace; grant, we beseech: that, through her merits and intercession, we may be able to come unto the Mount Which is Christ: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth...)

As the Old Law was given unto Moses by angels through a mediator (cf. Gal. iii, 19), so may our mediatrix with the Lord be St Catherine, that we have access, not unto Mt Sinai as of old, but unto Him, our Saviour Jesus Christ; and on this point consider what is said in St Paul to the Hebrews xii, 18-25.

Commemorating this powerful patroness, join in this her Greek troparion:

Let us praise the all-lauded and noble bride of Christ,
the godly Catherine, the guardian of Sinai and its defence,
who is also our support and succour and our help;
for with the Holy Spirit's sword
she hath silenced brilliantly the clever among the godless;
and being crowned as a martyr, 
she now doth ask great mercy for us all.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Heavens Above - The Flying Nun

This is just too good to be true...

Apparently one of the astronauts currently at the International Space Station is a friend of some dear Carmelite nuns; when he asked them what to bring on his voyage, they replied, "A relic of St Thérèse!"  So, while her soul exalts forever in the Beatific Vision in heaven, even her sacred relics are not just travelling from country to country to edify the faithful, as continues year by year (I was able to venerate her relics in Melbourne during their Australian tour), but some part of them is at this moment whizzing round the earth in a low orbit: so in a most ingenue manner, and yet one prays so fruitfully (those nuns and the good Saint herself interceding), fulfilling the dream of this cloistered religious to preach the Gospel on all continents until the end of time.  May she shower down roses as signs of graces won!

(See the full article provided by Zenit.)

What I'm listening to

At the moment, the car CD player bears a recording of M.-A. Charpentier's Messe pour le Port Royal; I particularly like his tune for the Veni Creator Spiritus, which is what I use when singing my hymn to St Cecilia...

Apart from this, I usually listen to ABC News Radio.

(Until recently, I'd had a CD of Telemann in the CD player, but it's just been superseded by this item of Charpentier, who's my favourite composer given my liking for sacred music.)


The Last Sunday after Pentecost - Pre-Advent Sunday, "Stir up Sunday" - is upon us; to-night also marks Vespers of St Cecilia, dear to me because I sang them with my old schola over a decade ago; and I have spent a very pleasant evening with a friend, who tells me that during the past week he has been privately received into the Church.  Deo gratias.

A quirky resonance: the second antiphon for Lauds and Vespers of St Cecilia (Lauds I've prayed, Vespers will instead be the first of Sunday), with its striking ascending incipit, refers to her sainted husband, Valerian, who "in the bedroom found Cecilia praying with an Angel", upon which event he converted!

(Valerian, along with Tiburtius and Maximus, is commemorated on the 14th of April, the feast of St Justin Martyr.)

Since my friend comes from an Anglican background, he does hope, as we may, that such actions as the ongoing discussions between the TAC and Rome will issue perhaps in permission for former Anglicans to utilize appropriate elements of their liturgical heritage within the Catholic fold, much as has already been done in the United States under the Pastoral Provision, providing an Anglican Use with its own Book of Divine Worship.  Lest any critique this, it must be said at once that the Novus Ordo could be greatly improved in its ethos by a larger injection of the best features of the High Church tradition, such as better singing, better preaching, and more attention to liturgical best practice...

During our spiritual conversation, he let me know that he feels at peace, after what has been a long process; I was reminded of some words from that golden book, The Imitation of Christ, which I mentioned to him and now post here for the benefit of us all:

I am accustomed to visit my elect in two ways: by temptation and by consolation.  (III, iii, 5)

Therefore, when God gives you spiritual consolation, receive it with thanksgiving; but reflect that it is a gift of God, not your merit.  ...become more humble in this gift; also more cautious and fearful in all your actions; because this hour will pass away and temptation will follow.  When consolation will be taken away from you, do not despair immediately; but with humility and patience wait for another heavenly visit, because God is potent in redonating you a greater consolation.  (II, ix, 4)

À Kempis goes on to observe that this state of affairs is known to all the Saints and Prophets, and gives an exegesis of Psalm 29 with this in mind (II, ix, 4-5).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mass for St Cecily's Day

After a lazy Saturday, including reading The Weekend Australian over coffee, on the spur of the moment I decided I really ought hear Mass...

As I'd slept in after a tiring week at work, I had perforce to motor over to the Redemptorist Monastery, as they have a Saturday Mass (not a Sunday Vigil, Deo gratias) after their afternoon Perpetual Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.  I entered their church at the very moment that Benediction was being given! - so I flopped to my knees literally on the doormat, and received that mysterious Eucharistic Blessing imparted by the priest.  While the congregation sang the concluding hymn to Our Mother of Perpetual Succour, I knelt at her altar before her sacred image (as the words suggest)...

Mass was to begin almost immediately: I hied myself over to the front pew, and buried my head in my St Andrew's Missal, from which I read to myself the whole text of the Traditional Mass - giving the occasional response in Latin sotto voce (so as to avoid giving scandal).  I did receive under both kinds, as this is indeed a great and most amazing blessing, and there can be no sin (as some silly Traddies seem oddly to imply) but rather great grace in what has been lawfully conceded by Holy Mother Church.

I had been struck earlier on, when looking at the proper of the Mass for St Cecilia, by the great number of chants - for example, to-day's Gradual and Offertory - taken from that great epithalamium, Psalm 44, which is read (like the Canticle of Canticles) as referring to the spiritual union between Christ and the Church, His mother, and each Christian soul.  More on that later...

St Cecily's Mass is made up, as often the case with early martyrs, from various chants and other pieces: the Introit, Gospel, Offertory and Communion are from the 1st Common Mass of a Virgin Martyr; the Epistle and Postcommunion from the 2nd Mass of a Virgin Martyr; the Alleluia (matching the Gospel) comes from the Mass of St Agnes (21st January); the Collect, from the Octave Mass of St Agnes (28th January), changing Agnetis to Cæciliæ, and strangely omitting quæsumus; only the Gradual and the Secret have I not so far tracked down.

Hymn to St Cecilia

Didst thou thy God not hymn and psalm,
O blessed Virgin Martyr dear?
Alone in death with Christ, in calm
Thou didst not turn from purest prayer.

Sing out with radiant Spirits loud
The praise of Christ thy God and Lord!
His strength in thee did shame the proud,
When scorning death thy life outpoured.

How blest thou singest now inspired,
In heav'nly chorus virginal!
Live now with Christ in God, enchoired,
In fairest realm celestial!  

O spouse of Christ Who died for thee,
Maid slain for Him by cruellest sword,
O fame of Rome, fair Cecily,
Teach us to hymn th' Eternal Word.

In Him, God's Son, throough Him, our King,
With gladdened hearts from sin set free,
By Light Divine may we e'er sing
As she did to God's Majesty:

Thou Might and Crown of saints above,
True Source of life, Blest Trinity,
Grant us the grace to praise Thy love
In heav'n with her eternally.  Amen.

(My own composition.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Premonstratensian Presentation

A surprise to-day at the Pro. - Fr Rowe being away for the Canberra FSSP ordinations, a visiting priest offered Mass: and his white biretta gave him away as a son of St Norbert.  

Interestingly, he made a most curious error: at the doxology of the Collect, he was tripped up by the ejusdem before Spiritus Sancti, and then jumped as if by instinct to the words omnis honor et gloria (in the special doxology of the Canon) before concluding as always per omnia sæcula sæculorum.  Please don't get me wrong - I'm not finding fault, since on the contrary it is a most revealing point that shews his evident familiarity with the Latin of the Mass!

A beautiful feast, this, and one so appropriate on which to pray for those who pray, since this is (Oremus) Pro Orantibus Day.  I think of the good Carmelite nuns I know, and of Br Peter in his cloistered cell among the Carmelite Monks in far Wyoming, and of those sterling religious the Carthusians.

The Collect for this feast of Our Lady's Presentation - which is the 4th Mystery to be considered while praying the Rosary of St Anne, by the way - is profoundly apposite:

Deus, qui beatam Mariam semper Virginem, Spiritus Sancti habitaculum, hodierna die in templo præsentari voluisti: præsta, quæsumus; ut, ejus intercessione, in templo gloriæ tuæ præsentari mereamur.  Per... in unitate ejusdem Spiritus...

(God, Who didst will to present blessed Mary ever-Virgin, the little dwelling of the Holy Ghost, this day in the Temple, grant, we beseech, that, at her intercession, we may deserve to be presented in the temple of Thy glory.  Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, God, world without end.  Amen.)

As the Office for this feast is taken from the Common of Our Lady, I felt a certain spiritual closeness to all those who pray her Little Office, a wonderful liturgy that if I had more time I would wish to say as well.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

St Felix of Valois

I have previously blogged on St Felix, one of the cofounders of the Trinitarians.

Interestingly, it transpires that the history of St Felix is quite obscure, and he was never officially canonized - instead, his cult was allowed by Rome in 1666...

In the current 2005 Martyrology, he is commemorated on the 4th of November in tenth place, and moreover his entry is marked with an asterisk, signifying that it is only to be read in places and religious houses where he is venerated (as is done with those equipollently canonized and the merely beatified).  This is what is written:

Apud Cervum Frigidum* territorii Meldensis in Gallia, sancti Felicis de Valois, qui, postquam solitariam vitam diu egit, socius sancti Joannis de Matha in Ordine Sanctissimæ Trinitatis Redemptione Captivorum instituendo fuisse habetur.

(At Cerfroi* in the territory of Meaux in France, St Felix of Valois, who, after having long practised the solitary life, is held to have been the companion of St John of Matha in establishing the Order of the Most Holy Trinity for the Redemption of Captives.)

[*Literally, "Cold Stag" - which sounds more like a town in Arizona than in France!]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Advent Reading

Vultus Christi has the excellent suggestion of reading Bl Columba Marmion's Christ in His Mysteries during Advent - a suggestion I hope to implement.

Server's Privilege

Pursuant to an earlier post, to-day marked my birthday, and Fr Rowe very kindly offered Mass this afternoon for me; it was decided that it was best (since he'd earlier said Mass of St Elizabeth of Hungary) to say Mass of Pope St Pontian (Mass Si diligis me, from the Common of One or Several Supreme Pontiffs), with commemoration of St Elizabeth and third collect (sub una conclusione) of thanksgiving.

These special orations are instructive, as well as descriptive of the innumerable unmerited graces I have received in my unworthy yet remarkably blessed life:

Deus, cujus misericordiæ non est numerus, et bonitatis infinitus est thesaurus: piissimæ majestati tuae pro collatis donis gratias agimus, tuam semper clementiam exorantes; ut qui petentibus postulata concedis, eosdem non deserens, ad præmia futura disponas.  Per...
(God, of Whose mercy there is no number, and of Whose goodness the treasure is infinite: we give thanks to Thy most kindly Majesty for the gifts , ever beseeching Thy clemency, that Thou who to petitioners grantest things asked for, never deserting the same, prepare them for future rewards.  Through... )
Odorem, Domine, sacrificii hujus cum gratiarum actionibus suscipe, et præsta: ut quos exaudire, et incolumes servare dignatus es, ab omni in posterum adversitate custodias; et in tuo servitio, et amore concrescant.  Per...
(Receive the savour, Lord, of this sacrifice with our thanksgivings, and grant: that those whom Thou hast deigned to hear and to conserve safe, Thou mayest keep henceforth from all adversity, to increase both in Thy service and in Thy love.  Through...)
Deus, qui neminem in te sperantem, nimium affligi permittis, sed pium precibus præstas auditum: pro postulationibus nostris votisque susceptis gratias agimus, te piissime deprecantes; ut per hæc quae sumpsimus, a cunctis eripi mereamur adversis.  Per...
(God, Who permittest no one hoping in Thee to be afflicted overmuch, but grantest a kindly hearing to their prayers; for having received our entreaties and desires we give thanks, humbly praying Thee O most kind, that by These Which we have received, we may deserve to be delivered from all adversities.  Through...)

It was my privilege to serve this Mass, the pleading of the one Sacrifice of Christ made present for the living and the dead, to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion - and afterward to exercise server's privilege - that is, to drink what was left in the wine cruet!  As students of liturgy will know, this is the last trace of the purificatory draught of wine formerly ministered to communicants to as it were wash down the Sacrament; as is still done in the Carmelite Rite, which my old friend Br Peter now daily attends (and so likewise receives this ablutio oris) since his joining the Carmelite Monks of Wyoming.

Having thus had "a little wine for [my] stomach", and before Mass having said Matins and earlier the rest of the Office bar Vespers and Compline, I'll finish them off later and soon enough, once joined by a friend (all the other housemates being away down South, or at least out to-night), will broach a bottle of Tasmanian bubbly - Clover Hill (vintage 2003) - for to celebrate my natal day.

But that's not the end of festivities: to-morrow I'm to have dinner with a dear relative of mine...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Spare a Prayer

Good Christian, of your charity pray for the repose of the soul of His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury and Legate of the Holy See, Reginald Pole, son of St Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, the last of the Plantagenets, who suffered for the Faith at the age of eighty under wicked Henry VIII; and for Her Majesty the late Queen Mary I of England: for both died but hours apart on the 17th of November 1558, 450 years ago yesterday.

While their brave attempt to repair the breaches opened up by the Protestant Reformers and rebuild merry England as a Catholic kingdom, faithful to Peter and Mary's Dowry, failed, owing to the inscrutable designs of Providence, which permits suffering and evil that unguessed good may come of it, in the sight of God we may pray that their good works have gone before them, and that they may be merry with the Lord and all His saints in the everlasting kingdom.

Requiescant in pace.  Amen.

The Thaumaturgist

Our Father among the Saints, Gregory the Thaumaturgist, Bishop of Neocæsarea in Pontus.

I've had a soft spot for St Gregory the Wonderworker (c. 213 -c. 270) ever since Fr Greg, a pleasant and patient priest, told us some years back that he'd been named by his staunchly Catholic parents after, not St Gregory the Great, but this miraculous saint, on whose feast he'd been born.  

(Fr Greg also told us about the sum total of the preparation made in his parish for the liturgical changes, insofar as he recalled from his childhood: to the amazement of all, their parish priest paused at the altar rails rather than ducking straight back into the sacristy after Sunday Low Mass, turned to the congregation, and baldly announced that "Next Sunday, Mass will be in English.  Booklets are available for one shilling at the Catholic Bookshop." )

To-day, I had the unusual privilege of serving an afternoon Mass in a private house, since Fr Rowe had agreed to provide this for an aged parishioner on her birthday.  (Beforehand, Fr remarked that he was needful of the intercession of the Wonderworker, he has so much to get done!  I suggested we really ought get a statue of him for St Anne's...)

So I served Low Mass of St Gregory; the texts are wholly from the Common of Confessor Bishops (Statuit) but for the Gospel, St Mark xi, 22-24 - which is proposed on account of St Gregory's great faith, on account of which in very truth he was able to move a mountain that a church might be built without being impeded thereby.  Guéranger adds, echoing St Bede the Venerable, that Satan is that proud mountain which shall be cast into the sea; and relates that when a priest of idols saw St Gregory's mastery over the same demons that in heathen blindness that priest had served, he embraced the Faith of Christ, and went with the holy Pontiff as his deacon!

St Gregory is famous for his life and labours and doctrine, such as his sterling Confession of Faith in the Trinity, which, we are told, was revealed to him in a vision - the first ever recorded - of the Holy Mother of God as well as St John Evangelist.  Likewise is he famous for his miracles, as his immemorial cognomen or moniker testifies, and not least among them the following moral miracle, which the Breviary relates: upon his deathbed, he enquired, How many remain pagans in this city? and was told, But seventeen; Glory to God, he exclaimed, That was the sum total of the Christians when I became bishop here!

Truly this saint was a true bishop, a true overseer of the sheep of Christ, a very Gregory (Γρηγοριος), that is, ever one to be awake and watchful (γρηγρέω), on guard over his flock through every trial and persecution (the Decian above all, during which all believers fled to the hills, and the Gothic invasion of Pontus); and by the grace of God, to confirm the Gospel tidings he preached for the conversion and salvation of unbelievers, to work (ἔργω) marvels, signs and wonders (θαῦμα) was his special talent.

(If you wish to read more of St Gregory, turn to Butler.)

Monday, November 17, 2008


Yesterday's Collect for the 6th after Epiphany (used for the 27th after Pentecost) was noteworthy for reminding us that what is rational, according to right reason, is also what is pleasing to the Logos, as the Pope said at Regensburg:

Præsta, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus: ut semper rationabilia meditantes, quæ tibi sunt placita, et dictis exsequamur, et factis.  Per...

(Grant, we beseech, almighty God, that ever meditating upon what is true, what is pleasing to Thee, we may perform, both in what is said and done.  Through...)

The day also marked the feast of another favourite saint of mine, St Gertrude:

Deus, qui in corde beatæ Gertrudis Virginis jucundam tibi mansionem præparasti: ipsius meritis et intercessione; cordis nostri maculas clementer absterge, et ejusdem tribue gaudere consortio.  Per...