Monday, August 31, 2009

St Andrew's on the Cælian

From various references I've read, it turns out that the monastery of St Gregory (originally called St Andrew's, but renamed after him who set it up) on the Cælian Hill, where I will be staying while in the Eternal City, is the selfsame monastery where monks from Monte Cassino took refuge when turfed out by the rampaging Lombards, and the very house from which came St Augustine of Canterbury and his little band, who were sent forth by St Gregory to convert the English. Amazing.

In a very real sense, I will be returning to the place of my remote origins - insofar as most of my ancestors (but for an Irishwoman, a Manxman, and a German, all far off on one side of the family tree), Scottish and English, owe their faith in Christ to the labours, fourteen hundred years ago, of those saintly men of God who evangelized the pagan Angles and Saxons.

St Augustine of Canterbury and Companions, pray for us.

Even Heretics Get it Right Sometimes

Amusingly, when looking up some details about the Second Council of Nicæa (787), which restored the cult of holy icons, I found reference in its acts to the condemnation it pronounced upon the false iconoclast council of Constantinople (754); and interestingly enough, amongst that pretended synod's decrees against icons, I found these perfectly orthodox anathemas, which attest to the fact that in the eighth century, all - iconoclast and iconodule alike - believed in the most potent intercessory virtues of the Saints and, above all, of the All-Holy Ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of God:

(15) If anyone shall not confess the holy ever-virgin Mary, truly and properly the Mother of God, to be higher than every creature whether visible or invisible, and does not with sincere faith seek her intercessions as of one having confidence in her access to our God, since she bare him, [let him be anathema.]

(17) If anyone denies the profit of the invocation of Saints, [ditto.]

Even while condemning, wrongly, the use of images, the invocation of the Saints and above all of the exalted Virgin was strongly maintained.

Let modern-day heretics note that the united witness of the past (even when the Great Church was torn by factions) is against them.

May the Mediatrix of all graces, Suppliant Omnipotence, who touched the hem of the Divinity in becoming Mother of God, Queen of heaven, the highest and humblest under God, be ever the Morning Star of all Christian people, heralding her Son Christ, the Sun of justice, and obtain for us mercy from Him, to the glory of the Trinity and for our salvation.

Eve of St Joshua

The first of September is not only the opening of the Byzantine Ecclesiastical Year, but the day whereon my Patron, St Joshua, is celebrated in the Martyrology. As I have a liking for things liturgical, I composed a proper Office for his feast according to the modern Liturgy of the Hours (which I read as a private devotion), but I haven't gotten around to revising this to fit the style of the '62 Breviary.
(My plan would be: to restructure the Hours and the Psalms assigned thereto in a more traditional manner; to have three Matins lessons by dropping the passage from von Speyr and dividing Newman's into two; to reassign the antiphons at Terce, Sext, None and for the Vigil canticles to Lauds and Vespers, so that these have five each; to move the short responsories from Lauds and both Vespers to Terce, Sext, and None; to reuse the versicles at Terce, Sext and None at Lauds and both Vespers; and to delete the intercessions at Lauds and Vespers, as also the Vigil canticles and Gospel. This would produce a "Little Office of St Joshua", since I would only provide three Matins psalms.)
Just to-day, the latest issue of Communio arrived, containing an exegetical article about Moses having Joshua fight Amalec - famously, Moses held his arms out crosswise, a type of the Lord's saving Cross, and so long as he did so, Joshua slew Israel's enemies, a type of how Christians fight the spiritual combat by the power of the Cross and it alone. Appropriately enough, the antiphons at first Vespers of St Joshua are from this very passage! I do like to be proven au courant with the latest in orthodox opinion.

I recommend to all the reading of Newman's sermon "Joshua a Type of Christ and His Followers" (preached on the first Sunday after Trinity, 13th June 1841*) for an excellent elucidation of how we are to take the Scripture history of St Joshua as a type of Christ, yes, and also of ourselves, who are Christ's men, Christians, that we apply the lessons of his prototypical, saintly life to our humble lives.
[* Note that, since this was thirty years before the C. of E. revised its Office lectionary in 1871, the psalms and lessons read that day were as follows: at Matins, Psalm 68 (Vulg., 67), Joshua x and St Mark xiii; at the Holy Communion, I John iv, 7-21 and St Luke xvi, 19-31 (Dives and Lazarus); and at Evensong, Psalms 69 & 70 (Vulg. 68 & 69), Joshua xxiii and II Cor. x. This explains some of Newman's allusions.]

The Holy Sacrifice

The Mass is principally a Sacrifice, for Christ, after declaring and effecting that bread and wine become "My Body given for you... My Blood poured out for you..." (thus making present His bloody Sacrifice on Calvary), commanded His disciples (ipso facto ordained priests of the New Testament) to "Do this in memorial of Me". Note they were told to Do, not Say.

Since the Mass is fundamentally a Sacrifice, what is important is what is done - not what is said. It is so obvious, really, that, while words are employed, the prayer of the priests is their liturgy and duty, and the hearing of it by the faithful is not necessary - what is necessary is that the faithful know, believe in and unite themselves to the Mystery being enacted, to the offering up of the One Sacrifice, praying the Mass. As the mediæval canonist Lyndwood put it, the Canon of the Mass is silent ne impediatur populus orare - that the people be not hindered from praying.

A nice reflection about Sacrifice from another blog some time ago also let me in on a useful parallel to the exordium Vere dignum of the Preface, and the initial prayer to bless the sacrifice in Te igitur (which I would add also parallels the intercessions of In primis and Memento Domine): in I Machabees i, 24-29, Nehemias is pictured as offering a prayer of his own at the time when "all the priests made prayer while the sacrifice was consuming..." (verse 23):

O Lord God, Creator of all things, dreadful and strong, just and merciful, who alone art the good kind, who alone art gracious, who alone art just and almighty and eternal, who deliverest Israel from all evil, who didst choose the fathers and didst sanctify them:

Receive the sacrifice for all thy people Israel, and preserve thy own portion, and sanctify it.

Gather together our scattered people: deliver them that are slaves to the Gentiles and look upon them that are despised and abhorred: that the Gentiles may know that thou art our God. Punish them that oppress us, and that treat us injuriously with pride. Establish thy people in thy holy place, as Moses hath spoken.

St Raymond Nonnatus

I mixed up St Raymond Not-born with St Raymond of Peñafort, until I consulted his Matins lesson: the former (to-day's feasted saint), a Catalan, is one of the first and most celebrated Mercedarians, a bright shining light in his generation, and Master-general of his order, who even gave himself a hostage to ransom Christians held captive by the Moors - "greater love than this no man hath" (he was later rescued, but died a year later, on the last Sunday of August in 1240); while the latter, a Dominican, was an early Master of the Order who unexpectedly retired early (and lived on till his 99th year, dying in 1275), particularly noted for his great work in Canon Law (giving an instance of a lawyer who is a saint), in moral theology and in advising on the administration of the sacrament of Penance; a wonder-worker (he once sailed from Majorca to Barcelona on his cappa), who - this is why I mix up him up with Nonnatus - helped St Peter Nolasco found the Order of Our Lady of Ransom (the Mercedarians).

Here is my translation, made this morning, of the hagiographic reading given in the Breviary for St Raymond (Raymund) Nonnatus:

Raymond, called by the cognomen Not-born, for against the common law of nature he was brought forth into the light from the cut-open side of his dead mother, rejecting childish games and the enticements of the world, so gave himself to works of piety, that all marvelled in the adult virtues of a child. The Mother of God, whom he sedulously petitioned, he loved exceedingly. Entering religion under the title of ransom or of the merciful redemption of captives, his virginity, which he had previously consecrated to the blessed Virgin, he always cultivated, and shone with all other virtues, especially with charity for Christians who under the power of pagans lived a miserable life. Him Gregory IX amongst the Cardinal fathers enrolled*; but the man of God, in that dignity abhorring all pomps, always held most tenaciously to religious humility. At Cardona [near Barcelona], prest down by deadly disease but armed by the sacraments of the Church, he passed to the Lord on the last Sunday of August, in the year 1240. - But Thou, O Lord, have mercy on us! R/. Thanks be to God.

Te Deum laudamus...

[* Modern research shews that this pious tradition stems from an understandable confusion of St Raymond with Robert Somercote, Cardinal 1238-1241; sixteenth century writers mistakenly assumed that the Pope had elevated St Raymond to this dignity as a mark of respect for his great sufferings as a voluntary prisoner of the Moors.]

My St Andrew's Missal gives the further affecting detail that, St Raymond being cut alive from his dead mother, took the Blessed Virgin as his loving and only Mother in all things: and she did not disappoint him.

I have already blogged on his Collect, together with some thoughts on deliverance from the captivity of sin, when listing saints of the Trinitarian and Mercedarian orders, those two sterling societies whose holy rivalry it was to compete in delivering the greatest number of Christians from slavery under the Moors and Turks.

Gloria tibi Trinitas, et captivis libertas!

(Glory to Thee, O Trinity, and to captives, liberty!)

Domina nostra de mercede, ora pro nobis:
Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

(Our Lady of Ransom, pray for us:
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.)

Low Monday

I may have caught a chill or whatnot yesterday, when I went bushwalking up the Gorge in wet weather... no sooner had I started the day, when my colleagues at work took one look at me and sent me home again, saying that I wasn't to spoil my upcoming holiday or theirs by coughing all over them and getting all of us really sick!

To-day is forecast to be another changeable day - we've already had sunshine and showers, and dangerously high winds are forecast, so I'm glad to be out of the open. Talk about equinoctial gales...

To while away the morning hours (till I take to my bed again), I may do some writing here in my study, with the morning sun - while it lasts - streaming through the windows and warming me up. It's nice to work somewhere where people care enough not to make you work when unwell, and don't wait till you're at death's door before discharging you from your duties.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Johannine Mysteries

I've been enjoying learning rather a lot from reading over archived posts at Fr Hunwicke's Liturgical Notes, and just now spotted a nice idea: the Johannine Mysteries of the Rosary.

These, as might not be expected, are actually a sequence of mysteries in honour of St John the Baptist, the greatest of saints (after Our peerless Lady, and, as has been the case since the close of the Middle Ages, St Joseph), to be prayed and contemplated on ordinary Rosary beads in the usual manner:

  1. The Annunciation to St Zachary that he and his wife St Elizabeth will at last conceive a son, who shall be the Herald of Christ (this event is commemorated in the liturgy on the Vigil of St John Baptist);
  2. The Visitation (whereat the unborn John leaps in St Elizabeth's womb, sanctified by the Holy Ghost and rejoicing at the approach of the unborn Saviour borne in the Immaculate Virgin, just as David leapt before the Ark);
  3. The Nativity of St John the Baptist (at which St Zachary broke forth in the Benedictus, sung by all generations world without end);
  4. The Lord's Baptism (administered by the humble and trembling Baptist, to fulfil all righteousness);
  5. The Decollation of St John (which feast we have just marked - the supreme witness borne to Christ by His Forerunner).

I rather like this idea, and may take it up as a work of supererogation to-day.

Lazy Sunday

While I would ideally prefer to mark each Lord's Day (at least) with Solemn High Mass, in default of this, having for the moment found a Novus Ordo place of refuge in the local pious Franciscan priest's church, at present I fulfil my obligation on Saturday evening (first Vespers of Sunday) at the Vigil Mass - so Sunday morning and evening are free of Mass.

As there was no sung Mass to be had, I put on a CD of a polychoral Mass, and read over the propers of the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Deus in adjutorium.

These Sundays, blessed days of rest, I arise about 10 am (because in recent times I've been watching a rather good late night television series, Foyle's War, on Saturdays), and have a nice easy time of it - after lunch, seeing as the weather was actually fine for most of to-day, I went for a good long walk of about two hours' duration, from my home all the way up the Cataract Gorge to the old Duck Reach power station and back (ouch, sore feet).

Next Sunday being the first in September, I'd ordinarily be off to Hobart for this State's one and only Trad. Mass (thanks for nothing, Your Grace!), but as I'll be flying off on my Roman holiday on the Monday morning following, I'll probably stay here and get final preparations done.

I wonder if I should learn any Italian?

Mary Mediatrix

Please refer to this post for Newman's take on why Our Lady is Mediatrix.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Three Missæ Cantatæ!

I had the pleasure of a telephone conversation with Fr Rowe this evening; it was good to hear from him, and I was very happy to hear that for the feast of Holy Mary's Assumption this year, he sang three Masses - yes, he had three Missæ cantatæ! - two at the Pro. (at 10am and 6pm) and one over at Good Shepherd, Kelmscott (at noon).

Just previous to the liturgical reforms there died in England a priest who had such a choir as permitted him to sing High Mass every day; but to sing three Masses in a day! Excellent! Very pastorally solicitous to his faithful people! And very devout to Our Lady to do so too.

(This Sunday, Fr Rowe will be having a sung Mass in Bunbury, since five young people will be making their First Communion: wonderful.)


I was struck by the neat antithesis of the Epistle (St James i, 17-18, 21-22, 27) and Gospel (St Mark vii, 1-8, 14-15, 21-23) at to-night's Vigil Mass, best summed up in the word of the Lord spoken to Hosea: "Destruction is thy own, O Israel: thy help is only in me." (Osee xiii, 9)

As St James attests, every good and perfect gift cometh down from above, from God, Who, being Pure Act, suffers no alteration nor shadow of change (cf. i, 17); by His own will we are begotten as His children by His Word of truth (i, 18). But rather than just hearing without heeding the word planted in us and paying it only lip service, we ought pray it be engrafted into our hearts at our free assent and coöperation inspired by grace, to bring forth the fruits of good works, lest we deceive ourselves and hope for salvation in vain (cf. i, 21f). By His grace, we ought keep to religion pure and undefiled - helping widows and orphans (the set types of the piteously needy) and keeping uncontaminated by the world (i, 27).

I was irresistibly reminded of one of the BCP Collects after the Offertory, clearly based on this text:

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that the words, which we have heard this day with our outward ears, may through thy grace be so grafted inwardly in our hearts, that they may bring forth in us the fruit of good living, to the honour and praise of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Opposed to the recognition that all grace is from above is the low human tendency to pretend our vile acts are good: to rationalize away our sins and offences, in mad self-deception, sinning against the Holy Ghost by cutting ourselves off from seeing the truth that alone can set us free. Well did St Augustine daily pray (as was mentioned at Mass), "Lord, that I may know Thee; Lord, that I may know myself"! The Pharisees, as St Mark's Gospel describes them, were hypocrites - feigning to set themselves apart as pure (their name means "separated") yet, relying not on God but on human traditions, washed themselves again and again while neglecting charity. Lady Macbeth was similarly concerned with achieving a merely forensic purity, while having a heart icecold and dead.

Fr Allan mentioned at the outset of his sermon two comic characters - Arthur Daley, that rogue, and Sir Humprey Appleby, that smooth conniver. We ought admit our faults and failings, that we all of us have something of them in us, and beg for the grace to open our eyes to this, that we fail not in charity nor in true purity: for out of the heart comes much lying perversity that merits only damnation.

Destruction is thy own, O Israel: thy help is only in me. (Osee xiii, 9)

Madame et Monsieur Croque

After Confession this morning, I said my allotted penance (a very fitting Memorare for Our Lady's aid in the spiritual combat, and three Gloria Patri's in thanksgiving to the Trinity), lit some candles, and read Matins, Lauds and Prime of the Blessed Virgin. It was good to have the chance to do so kneeling by the sacred images, near the High Altar where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved... on my way from the confessional to the candlerack, I passed the large Crucifix, and am not ashamed to say I kissed the Feet it portrays as nailed there - for only thereby am I saved.

My Saturday morning routine consists of having a sleep-in past my usual workday waking hour, then going to confession at Church of Apostles; after that, I make my way into town, look about, and read The Australian over coffee and brunch. To-day, I was pleased to find that the café serves not only croque-monsieur ("Mister Crunch"), a French riff on a toasted ham and cheese sandwich (made with gruyere cheese and quality ham with a scattering of gherkin, between baguette slices panfried in butter, not toasted), but his partner, croque-madame ("Mrs Crunch"), which contains a fried egg as well. Very nice, especially on a cool, rainy day (the very wet weather is still continuing, after a bizarrely fine day yesterday; the Gorge remains in flood).

Making my way back to the car, on a sudden inspiration I made a return visit to church and read Terce and Sext, plus the texts of Our Lady's Mass as meditation.

(By the way, a pious custom I picked up from my former parish priest, Bp Jarrett, is to say three Glory be's after the Angelus on Saturdays, in thanksgiving to the Trinity for Our Lady's glorious privileges: I think this is a decent practice.)

Off with His Head

The Decollation of St John Baptist: the prophet imprisoned by cruel wavering Herod; the insensate fury of Herodias at her false marriage being exposed and denounced; Herodias corrupting her daughter to dance the dance of the seven veils to captivate her father; Herod's delusion by perverse incestuous lust leading to his rash vow; his sinful adherence to that vow, wicked and deserving only of being justly broken; the Baptist's head is brought on a platter; and so the foul unholy trinity of tyrant, adultress and temptress compass the death of Christ's Forerunner - yet their free descent into evil is made to serve the glory of God through the martyrdom of John, just as within a few short years the conspiracy of Jews and Romans against Our Lord proves not deicide, but the salvation of mankind.

I rather like the unscriptural denouement of Wilde's Salome - she, the otherwise unnamed daughter of Herodias, who had changed her earthly and rejected love for John into diabolical hate, dares to kiss the pure lips of the severed head (that holy relic) in her insane desire, and at that moment Herod sees her monstrous crime: he commands his guards, "Kill that woman!" - curtain.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sortes Sanctorum

St Augustine took the lines he found in the Epistles of St Paul as a message pregnant with meaning (as indeed they are, and were for him); one must avoid a facile, naive or superstitious use of the Scriptures, a falling into bibliomancy; but it is at the least interesting to see what words one's eyes discover when Holy Writ is consulted at random, a practice called by the early Christians Sortes sanctorum; here is my pick (I pray guarded by the Lord from any danger):

For laughter they make bread and wine, that the living may feast: and all things obey money. (Ecclesiastes x, 19)

ROTFL! This sortition is a rum deal...

Let me set loose this idle pursuit: would any of my readers (even fellow bloggers) like to play?

St Augustine and His Conversion

Dear St Augustine, that stupor mundi, convert and confessor, bishop and doctor of the Church down all the ages!

It glads my heart to see his feast again.

He who so clearly saw that the history of mankind is the tale of two cities, the City of Man and the City of God, himself beheld the ruin of transient things, lying on his bed of pain praying the Penitential Psalms, and came to pass over from this miserable world to the Father on this very day, the 28th of August, 430, while his episcopal see was besieged by the cruel Arian Vandals, who were ravishing once-fair North Africa, putting priests and virgins to the sword.

It is said that soon after an Imperial messenger arrived in doomed Hippo, bearing a purple scroll all written with gold characters, summoning him to the Council of Ephesus, where the Fathers assembled would soon condemn Nestorius and declare Holy Mary to be Mother of God - but this Light of the West had already departed for the pure light of Truth above.

May he pray for me, that I be converted entirely to the Lord; may he pray for all nations, that they all turn and be saved. As the Saint so beautifully and truly put it,

Fecisti nos ad te, Domine, et inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te.

(Thou hast made us for Thyself, Lord, and our heart is restless until it rest in Thee.)


Famously, St Augustine's conversion in the summer of 386 (which, like St Paul's, had a feast all its own in calendars of congregations - such as the Dominicans - adhering to his Rule, on the 15th of May - see an online Breviarium S.O.P., page 337ff) was proximately triggered by his opening the Scriptures, upon hearing mysterious voices chanting Tolle, lege; his eye fell upon Romans xiii, 13f:

Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy: but put on the Lord Jesus Christ: and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.

Thus was answered his well-known imperfect prayer during his time of wandering with divided heart - "Lord, grant me chastity, but not yet." Thus were superabundantly rewarded all his stumbling steps toward the light. Thus were answered the endless prayers and tears of St Monica, his mother, to whose piteous intercession, under God, is attributed the grace of his conversion!

Handing on the scroll to St Alypius, his friend, who was thereupon converted by reading the next verse (Romans xiv, 1 - "Now him that is weak in faith, take unto you: not in disputes about thoughts"), Augustine experienced no more doubts or dismay, and was baptized by St Ambrose at the Easter Vigil at Milan, on the 24th of April 387. Pious fancy has these two later canonized saints and Doctors extemporizing the Te Deum at the moment of St Augustine's reëmergence from the font: well may we sing Te Deum and Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam, on such a great feast!

Here is the old Dominican collect for the feast of St Augustine's conversion:

Deus, qui ineffabili providentia beatum Augustinum ab errorum tenebris ad lucem evangelicæ veritatis adduxisti: da nobis, quæsumus, ut, qui ejus [hodie] Conversionem colimus, ejusdem ad te precibus, actus nostros in melius reformemus. Per...

(God, Who didst bring blessed Augustine by Thine unspeakable Providence from the darkness of error to the light of Gospel truth: give unto us, we beseech, that we who observe his Conversion [to-day], at the prayers of the same to Thee, may reform our actions for the better. Through...)

This would be a very suitable daily prayer. St Philip Neri used to declare upon recovering from any illness that he really purposed to begin to reform his life, considering that all his efforts thus far were nugatory - and this was the set resolve of a saint! Much the more so ought worldlings pray at least for grace to at last slough off sin and walk manfully in the way of Christ.

The Conversion of St Paul, the Conversion of St Augustine, and, may one add the Conversion of soon-to-be-Blessed John Henry Newman (9th October 1845, when he was received into the Church by Bl Dominic Barberi, C.P.*) - these, together with the anniversary of one's own embrace of the Faith, should be days kept with solemnity and ever remembered.

[* This holy priest once converted two anti-Catholic youths on the spot, when they observed that the stones they threw at him in their bigoted violence he picked up and kissed!]

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I've been participating in some discussions (see Piltdown Man* and Hippolytus again) of that annoyingly short and poor Eucharistic Prayer II over at an Anglican, very High Church blog called Fr Hunwicke's Liturgical Notes...

[* alluding to the famous fossil forgery]

As all men know, the trendy liturgists who took over liturgical reforms in the Roman Rite in the sixties (and arguably did a pretty bad job of it, introducing all manner of discontinuities) were obsessed by the fabled ancientry and purity of a very early consecratory prayer found in a document attributed to St Hippolytus, the only antipope ever to die a martyr and end up a saint!

As Dix long ago observed, the prayer is self-consciously archaizing even for a third-century Roman writer, and there is no evidence it was ever used - it may be considered an academic exercise - let alone was once the Eucharistic Prayer of the Church of Rome before the Peace of the Church and the advent of what became the Roman Canon (first attested to in the late 4th Century by St Ambrose).

Surprise, surprise, no modern liturgist now believes this effusion was really written by St Hippolytus (his "Apostolic Tradition" isn't actually his!), yet, perversely, it is de facto the Eucharistic Prayer of the Novus Ordo, the Ordinary Form (yes, very ordinary) of the modern Roman Rite. It is beloved of the clergy for its brevity, and sadly is far more used to-day than the Roman Canon: apparently in some countries especially it is almost always used.

The one and only Canon used in the Roman Rite for 1600 years or so has been largely replaced by a pastiche, less than half of which is even from Pseudo-Hippolytus, the rest was added by a committee. So much for the hermeneutic of continuity: this is a terrible example of its nemesis, the hermeneutic of disruption.

Being less explicit about sacrifice and oblation than other Eucharistic Prayers, it is a sad choice that speaks volumes for the confusion about and minimalist, doubting attitude toward the Mass found nowadays. It's not nicknamed the Quickie Canon and the Lutheran Canon for nothing!


Bizarrely, one other Rite adopted Pseudo-Hippolytus as the basis of its Anaphora - the Ethiopian!

George and Georgia

I often confuse acquaintances by referring to my sister Georgia (for whom please pray - see previous post) as "George", which is the abbreviation we use within the family: people sometimes think I've a brother (I had one, Lachlan, but he predeceased me), whereas it's just me being informal...

Strangely, while there are umpteen Saints George (all named after the Great Martyr, he who died for the Faith in fourth century Palestine), there is only one Saint Georgia - a holy Virgin, a hermitess of the fifth or sixth century, who lived near Clermont in the Auvergne (the Martyrology names the site as "Arverna in Aquitaine"); her feast day is the 15th of February.

While thinking of my dear sister, I am always reminded of St Gertrude of Nivelles, abbess (7th Century; feast: 17th March) - for she is the patron saint of cats, and Georgia has several much-loved felines as pets.


This afternoon I have just received word that my sister, Georgia, has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

While she is quite healthy at present, her shock and anxiety at this unwelcome news may well be imagined: as yet, we don't know what her prospects are, short, medium, or long term.

Of your charity, please pray for her, especially that she may receive the light of faith in this dark hour, and Christ be her Physician now and always.

Our Lady of Lourdes, Health of the Sick, pray for us.

Grant us, Thy servants, we beseech, Lord God, to rejoice in perpetual health of mind and body, and by the glorious intercession of Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin to be delivered from present sorrow, and to have fruition of eternal joys. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
(Collect Concede nos famulos of feasts of Our Lady.)

[UPDATE: A Dominican friend has let me know he will be praying for her, and asking the brethren to do the same - many, many thanks.]

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

All is Grace

Catholics these days alas seem ignorant of grace: yet as St Thérèse said, Tout est grâce - All is grace.

It is absolutely vital not to imagine, as too many do, that we are entitled as of right to heaven!

We are not.

Of ourselves, we cannot deserve heaven.

But God, in His superabounding love, wills to lift us up to share His Life.

Grace is simply a gift, a Godlike gift: the word gratia means a gift given gratis, for free. It is a kingly and Godlike gift, literally.

Every good and every perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of lights. (James i, 17a)

The Holy Spirit is Himself Uncreated Grace; acting in our souls, He grants them something above and beyond our natural powers: grace is a supernatural addition to the soul - we remain human, but gain something beyond the human.

By His Passion, our Saviour Christ has merited every gift and grace for us all.

Through the gift of faith, a grace given by God, we come to seek Him. His is always the initiative! But when we respond, He responds right marvellously, giving us entrance into His Communion through the Sacrament of Baptism.

Baptism is the salvific command of Christ: He merited its grace, He is the True Priest Who acts through whosoever baptises, He is the Holy One into Whom we are baptised.

By Holy Baptism, the life of the Trinity is infused into us: we are supernaturalized, made capax Dei - "capable of God"! This is to be graced, to have our soul permanently changed, inexpressibly, for the better. The graced soul is made fit for heaven: for grace is the seed of heavenly glory.

Baptism makes us Christians: we are forever marked by this transformation, we receive an indelible character: we are stamped with the seal (sphragis) of the Trinity, we are incorporated into Christ, made truly His, a Christian, brought into His Body, into His Bride, the Church. Even a renegade Christian burning in Hell is still forever marked with the baptismal character...

Grace is divided into many categories: for supernaturally meritorious acts, we receive actual graces that we then coöperate with and act upon; for as long as we are "in the state of grace", we possess habitual grace. If lamentably we fall into mortal sin, we lose the state of grace, but, by receiving actual graces that move us to repentance and Confession, we are brought back to being in habitual grace - while the baptismal character remains, though horribly disfigured by mortal sin.

According to the axiom of classical scholasticism, God the First Cause, and ourselves as secondary causes, are equally truly the cause of our actions. In the case of an action done under the inspiration of grace, God is of course the Cause of it, and it is thanks to Him that we have done good; but we are also the cause, because moved by His grace to freely act, and so we have done good - hence, both all is grace, and we in Christ do truly merit supernatural reward - a higher degree of heavenly glory.

Glory be to God for His inexpressible gift! (II Cor. ix, 15)

Choir Practice

We ran over the hymn, psalms, responsory, Nunc dimittis and antiphons for Compline again, including the Salve Regina, that most beautiful anthem in honour of the Virgin.

It was really good to get together and practice the chant!

As will be our schedule, we will meet again at 7.30pm at St Francis next Tuesday, being the 1st Tuesday of the month, and again on the 3rd.

I learnt an interesting thing about ships and sailors too - Len, one of our group, was long in the merchant navy, and he explained that the custom is to salute the quarter deck: why? because of old time there was always a statue of the Blessed Virgin there.

Each day as he sailed on and on to discover the direct route to the Indies - but found America instead - Columbus and his men sang the Salve before her image.

Ad Orientem?

Herr Schütz and friends (incl. me) are discussing the celebration of Mass facing East over at his blog...

I fear I've gone on and on rather intemperately as I can...

See two earlier posts of mine on this topic:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Raise your glasses Andrew and Melissa, friends and fellow-pilgrims I met at WYD just over a year ago: though I'd lost contact with them for ages, by pure coincidence, I received a message from Andrew just before dinner, and thus just learnt that these two Americans were married (in the Traditional Rite) on the 2nd of May this year, and now make their home together in Arizona. Many congratulations! May Christ and His Mother, who graced the wedding at Cana, bless them also.

In belated honour of their nuptials, I had a glass of Chimay Blue with my goulash for dinner: very nice.

Here, unlike in roastingly hot Arizona, the weather remains cold and very wet - you'd think it had rained on St Swithun's day (the 15th of July), and indeed it did (though July wasn't very wet), for the rain has just kept on coming all August, which is our rainiest month: 101 mm so far, 18 days of rain out of 24. Just this evening after work I drove home over the bridges that link Launceston over her rivers, and both the North and South Esks were in flood (as are other northern rivers): the water has crept up and up, even onto the riverside boardwalks around King's Park, as the Tamar rises higher. The Cataract Gorge still foams (literally) with the roiling waters descending its rapids...


The saints in heaven all rejoice together in the happiness of one communion with the Lord and with each other in Him: so, as St Swithun would say, happy St Bartholomew's day for this feast of an admired Apostle:

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui hujus diei venerandam sanctamque lætitiam in beati Apostoli tui Bartholomæi festivitate tribuisti: da Ecclesiæ tuæ, quæsumus; et amare quod credidit, et prædicare quod docuit. Per...

(Almighty everlasting God, Who hast granted a venerable and holy joy to this day in the festival of Thy blessed Apostle Bartholomew: give unto Thy Church, we beseech, both to love what he believed, and to preach what he taught. Through...)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Desiderata Desideravi

You can imagine with what delight I've just read on NLM of what Reform of the Reform proposals His Holiness the Pope has approved!

In the pipeline at the moment of course is the new, actually-accurate and theologically-correct translation of the modern Missal: so after forty-odd years the simple faithful will once again hear the word "grace" used all the time, instead of the puerile and Pelagian euphemisms therefor that the Anglosphere has been contaminated with thanks to ICEL and its minions.

But there is more to come.

Recall what the High Church Anglicans used to call for as desiderata: the Six Points -
  • lights (that is, candles, frowned upon by Puritans as dregs of Popery),
  • Eucharistic vestments (as opposed to lay clothes, Geneva gowns and choir vestments suited to the Office only),
  • wafer bread (as opposed to the common leavened loaf),
  • the mixed chalice (as opposed to the Protestant practice, due to Luther, of omitting adding water to the wine),
  • incense (despised as Romish, although its use hadn't quite died out at the English cathedrals till the eighteenth century, lastly at Ely, where the first-recorded case of allergy to incense is recorded as bringing about its retirement),
  • the Eastward position (the ancient and Catholic position of the priest at the altar, again against the innovation of Luther - despite trendy twentieth-century notions, modern research reinforces the original consensus that ad orientem is the correct way to stand at God's board, and has been since the foundation of the Church).
Of these, the first four are universal Catholic practices (outside the liberal schismatic madness of South Brisbane et al.), the fifth is used by Catholics, but often very sparingly (yet always at funerals!), and the last is very rare amongst modern Catholics, even though it was the universal practice until after the Council (and it is still maintained amongst those who say the old Mass).

What I would ideally wish to see implemented would include:
  • a move from appalling, low-brow and heterodox music to decent, good-quality and orthodox music at Mass (at the very least, from bad songs to better hymns; and better still, where the church has the resources, a return ought be made - as Vatican II said! - to Gregorian chant having pride of place, in concert with sacred polyphony);
  • singing of the liturgy, such as the responses, the collects, the Preface and so forth (the priest and people should sing! for this is in accord with all tradition, and reinforces the sacral nature of the proceedings - but in Australia this is very rare, and minimalism reigns);
  • much greater use of incense (see previous comments);
  • return to more Latin (see previous comments!);
  • male servers only (the allowance on specious canonical grounds of women servers is productive of great confusion among the faithful, as it seems to point toward the heretical idea of eventual allowance of women priests - indeed, arguably female servers are a greater scandal than Communion on the hand, since they suggest that the matter of the sacrament of Holy Orders is to be changed);
  • instituted lectors only (why on earth those to read at Mass should be unvested layfolk, let alone ladies, I have never understood - just listen to the solecisms to hear why);
  • Mass facing East (in consonance with all tradition, in emphasis on the offering of the Sacrifice, and in opposition to that heretic Luther);
  • Holy Communion received on the tongue, and whilst kneeling (note that the ancient and universal rule is to receive on the tongue, but kneeling communion came in only about five hundred years ago - in the Byzantine Rite, one doesn't kneel).
Turn the altars round, and restore the rails, and the holy images!

Let me be honest - I far prefer the Traditional Latin Mass, and would be glad to attend it ever, and the Novus Ordo never. But seeing that this is improbable, I would hope that a Reform of the Reform will resacralise the Mass that most Catholics have to put up with.

But for now, festina lente...

Collaudare, Benedicere et Prædicare

Our Lady's Preface sings unto God that, as we always and everywhere pay thanks unto Him, so we together praise, bless and preach Him in commemorating the Blessed Virgin: for all of Mary's glories redound unto God Who granted them.

St Ildephonsus (Hildefonsus, Ildefonso) of Toledo, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, scion of the converted, Catholicised Visigoths (his original name was Hildefuns; in later Spanish it became Alfonso), was the light of Spain in the seventh century, and a signal devotee of Holy Mary: in defence of her honour, he wrote against three who would impugn her perpetual virginity and thereby outrage her Incarnate Son Who deigned to be born of her, the All-pure Ever-virgin Theotokos. Like a latter St John Evangelist, Ildephonsus is styled the Virgin's chaplain, so concerned for her was he. It is said that so pleased was she with him, at the nod of Heaven she came down from the Empyrean to present Ildephonsus with a heaven-wrought chasuble: the feast of this marvellous occurrence used to be kept in Toledo.

The traditional Martyrology asserts this, when it says of him on his feastday, the 23rd of January: "At Toledo, St Ildefonsus, bishop, who, on account of his great purity of life, and his defence of the virginity of the Mother of God against the heretics who impugned it, received from her a brilliant white garment, and being renowned for sanctity, was called to heaven." His Collect, given in the Masses pro aliquibus locis, alludes to this:

Deus, qui per gloriosissimam Filii tui matrem beatum Ildefonsum confessorem tuum atque pontificem, misso de thesauris cælestibus munere, decorasti: concede propitius; ut, per ejus preces et merita, munera capiamus æterna. Per eumdem...

(God, Who by the most glorious mother of Thy Son didst adorn blessed Ildefonsus Thy confessor and pontiff with a gift sent from the celestial treasuries, graciously grant, that, by his prayers and merits, we may lay ahold of gifts eternal. Through the same...)

Whatever of this wonder, his treatise De virginitate perpetua sanctæ Mariæ deserves notice, and especially for his witness at its beginning to his invocation of her aid, and at its end to his consecration of himself to Our Lady - being therefore one of the earliest precursors of the True Devotion of after years characterised by St Louis de Montfort:

O Domina mea, dominatrix mea, dominans mihi, mater Domini mei, ancilla Filii tui, genitrix factoris mundi, te rogo, te oro, te quæso, habeam spiritum Domini tui, habeam spiritum Filii tui, habeam spiritum Redemptoris mei, ut de te vera et digna sapiam, de te vera et digna loquar, de te vera et digna quæcumque dicenda sunt dicam.

O my Lady, my ruler, ruling me, Mother of my Lord, Handmaid of thy Son, Mother of the world's maker, I pray thee, I beg thee, I beseech thee, that I may have the spirit of thy Lord, that I may have the spirit of thy Son, that I may have the spirit of my Redeemer, that I may truly and worthily know thee, that I may truly and worthily speak about thee, that I may truly and worthily say whatsoever ought be said about thee.

(De virg. perp. s. Mariæ, Cap. I ab init.: PL 96, 58A-58B.)

At nunc venio ad te, sola Virgo mater Dei, procido coram te, sola opus Incarnationis Dei mei; humilior coram te, sola inventa mater Domini mei; rogo te, sola inventa ancilla Filii tui, ut obtineas deleri facta peccati mei, ut jubeas mundari me ab iniquitate operis mei, ut facias me diligere gloriam virtutis tuæ, ut reveles mihi multitudinem dulcedinis Filii tui, ut des mihi loqui et defendere fidei sinceritatem Filii tui; concedas etiam mihi adhærere Deo et tibi, servire Filio tuo et tibi, famulari Domino tuo et tibi; illi sicut factori meo, tibi sicut gentrici factoris mei; illi sicut Domino virtutum, tibi sicut ancillæ Domini omnium; illi sicut Deo, tibi sicut matri Dei; illi sicut redemptori meo, tibi sicut operi redemptionis meæ.

And now I come unto thee, sole Virgin Mother of God; I prostrate before thee, sole masterwork of the Incarnation of my God; I humble myself before thee, alone found to be the Mother of my Lord; I beg thee, alone found to be the Handmaid of thy Son, that thou mayst obtain the removal of my sins, that thou mayst command me to be cleansed from the iniquity of my works, that thou mayst make me to love the glory of thy power, that thou mayst show unto me the manifold sweetness of thy Son, that thou mayst give unto me to speak and defend the truthfulness of faith in thy Son; grant unto me even to cling to God and to thee, to serve unto thy Son and unto thee, to wait upon thy Lord and upon thee; unto Him as my maker, unto thee as the mother of my maker; unto Him as the Lord of might, unto thee as the handmaid of the Lord of all; unto Him as God, unto thee as the Mother of God; unto Him as my Redeemer, unto thee as the work of my redemption.

(ibid., Cap. 12 ab init.: PL 96, 105B-105C)

Ideo ego servus tuus, quia tuus filius Dominus meus. Ideo tu domina mea, quia tu ancilla Domini mei. Ideo ego servus ancillæ Domini mei, quia tu domina mea facta es mater Domini tui. Ideo ego factus servus tuus, quia tu facta es mater factoris mei. Oro te, oro te, sancta Virgo, ut de illo Spiritu habeam Jesum, de quo tu genuisti Jesum. Per illum Spiritum accipiat anima mea Jesum, per quem concepit caro tua eumdem Jesum. Ab illo Spiritu sit mihi nosse Jesum, a quo tibi adfuit nosse habere et parturire Jesum. In illo Spiritu humilis excelsa loquar de Jesu, in quo confiteris esse te ancillam Domini, optans fieri tibi secundum verbum angeli. In illo spiritu diligam Jesum, in quo tu hunc adoras ut dominum, intueris ut filium. Tam vere timeam hunc Jesum quam vere idem cum esset Deus, erat subditus parentibus suis.

Therefore I am thy servant, for thy Son is my Lord. Therefore thou art my mistress, for thou art the handmaid of my Lord. Therefore I am the servant of the handmaid of my Lord, for thou art, my lady, made the mother of thy Lord. Therefore I am made thy servant, for thou art made the mother of my maker. I pray thee, I pray thee, holy Virgin, that I may possess Jesus by that Spirit by Whom thou didst bear Jesus. By that Spirit may may soul accept Jesus, by Whom thou didst conceive of thy flesh the same Jesus. From that Spirit may I know Jesus, from Whom it was possible for thee to know to have and to give birth to Jesus. In that Spirit may I so humble speak high things of Jesus, in Whom thou didst confess thyself to be the handmaid of the Lord, desiring that it be done to thee according to the angel's word. In that spirit may I love Jesus, in which thou dost adore Him as Lord, and know him as (thy) Son. So may I truly fear this Jesus just as the Same, while he was God, was subject to His parents.

(ibid., Cap. XII: PL 96, 106A-106B)

All this of course has a sound Scripture basis; if St Paul can say, repeat and insist, Be ye imitators of me, as I am of Christ (I Cor. iv, 16 & xi, 1), how much more properly can the Blessed Virgin herself give us the counsel to do whatsoever her Son commands (St John ii, 5), and, as her spiritual children given her by our dying Saviour (St John xix, 26f), to always follow in her motherly footsteps by being obedient servants of the Lord, making His will our own by an unswerving Fiat after her peerless example (St Luke i, 38). This is as the Psalmist sings (Ps 122), foretelling Christ as our King and Lord and Master, with His sweet Mother as our Queen, our Lady and our Mistress:

To Thee have I lifted up my eyes, * Who dwellest in heaven.
Behold as the eyes of the servants * are on the hands of their masters,
As the eyes of the handmaid are on the hands of her mistress: * so are our eyes unto the Lord our God, until He have mercy on us.
Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us: * for we are greatly filled with contempt.
For our soul is greatly filled: * we are a reproach to the rich, and contempt to the proud.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: * and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: * world without end. Amen.

Our consecration to the Lord is through the hands of His Mother, giving all glory to the Trinity.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Short Temper

"Be ye angry and sin not" (Ps 4:5) - well, this morning, after Confession, I'd said my penance (five Pater's and Ave's), lit some votive candles, and was just settling down to pray, when two ladies coming from out the side chapel and across the sanctuary steps decided to have a fairly loud conversation. A cough or two elicited no change. When they came over, still talking, to the Marian icons and side altars of Our Lady and the Sacred Heart, I thought they were going to leave by the side door; but no, they kept on chatting.

At this point I lost my short temper. "Excuse me, ladies, I'm trying to pray," said I, still kneeling at the forward pew, voicing my irritation at their distracting converse. Then I snapped, and added still more tersely, "This is a church, not a gossip-chamber."

They scuttled off, but instantly I felt frustrated, angry, and wretched again: so much for going and sinning no more! (The fact that, in amongst their conversation, they'd mentioned some silly devotional fad had helped annoy me particularly: so I was judging them rashly.)

After managing to calm down (it seemed overscrupulous to go back to the confessional), and lamenting my lack of charity, I turned, chastened, back to praying over the words of the Mass of Our Lady on Saturday: Salve, sancta Parens... As it says in the Gospel of Mary's Mass, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God, and keep it" (St Luke xi, 28). I especially repeated the words of the Confiteor and so forth at the start of Mass.

I was praying over the words of the Mass, perhaps blindly and hypocritically, because Fr had mentioned in Confession that we should remember that we are reborn as sons of God, and not just fallen mortals born "of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of man" (St John i, 13), so I had resolved to recite the Last Gospel, the Prologue of St John (i, 1-14) and think on this truth:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light. That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

"[D]arkness did not comprehend it... His own received Him not." Oh dear...

I later spoke with my mate Justin via mobile phone, and he seemed to think that persons talking away loudly in church do need to be told to stop doing so; but I know I overstepped the mark. Mea culpa; ora pro me peccatore.

Queenship or Immaculate Heart?

One of the few obviously better rearrangements of the Roman Calendar was transferring the feast of the Queenship of Our Lady to the Octave Day of the Assumption - for since her Assumption she reigns as Queen with her Son, Christ the King - and, in order to permit this change of date, moving the feast of her Immaculate Heart to the Saturday after the feast of her Son's Sacred Heart (since it is natural to have analogous devotion to the Two Hearts together).

But let us follow the Breviary at least in praying the Collect of the Heart of the Immaculata, together with the Vesper antiphon of the feast:

My heart hath exulted in the Lord, and my horn is exalted in my God, for I have been made glad in Thy salvation. (I Kings ii, 1)

Almighty everlasting God, Who didst prepare a worthy dwelling for the Holy Ghost in the Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary: graciously grant, that with devout mind recalling the feast of the same immaculate Heart, we may be able to live according to Thy heart. Through our Lord... in the unity of the same Holy Ghost...

Friday, August 21, 2009


I've had a blog break for a few days... here is an article I wrote eleven years ago; I still retain the copyright, so I'll republish it here, as something that may be of passing interest in this Annus Sacerdotalis 2009:





Priests preparing to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries may well feel unworthy of the office entrusted to them. In this, the first of a series of articles examining aspects of Christian faith as expressed in literature, they will perhaps find a consoling subject for meditation, as part of their prayer before Mass, in the following work of the English metaphysical poet George Herbert.


Holinesse on the head,
Light and perfections on the breast,
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead
To leade them unto life and rest.
Thus are true Aarons drest.

Profanenesse in my head,
Defects and darknesse in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest.
Poore priest thus am I drest.

Onely another head
I have, another heart and breast,
Another musick, making live not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest:
In him I am well drest.

Christ is my onely head,
My alone onely heart and breast,
My onely musick, striking me ev’n dead;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in him new drest.

So holy in my head,
Perfect and light in my deare breast,
My doctrine tun’d by Christ, (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest)
Come people; Aaron’s drest.

– George Herbert (1593-1633), The Temple.

A Commentary on “Aaron”.

“Each verse of Herbert’s poem suggests metrically the swelling and dying sound of a bell; and, like a bell, the rhymes reiterate with the same sound” (Herbert J. C. Grierson, Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century: Donne to Butler (pp. 231-2), Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1921). The iambic meter swells from trimeter, to quadrimeter, to pentameter, and then contracts again. In the five verses of five lines apiece (and note that Aaron’s name has five letters) a constant pattern is repeated: the first line of each verse concerns the symbolism of the priest’s head; the second line, that of his breast; the third, that of the bells and of music; the fourth, that of the rest afforded by the same; and the fifth, that of the complete dress of the Lord’s servant, the priest. Each line, then, is a repetition, and as it repeats, conflicts and contrasts arise like reverberations; these develop until the ideal presented in the first stanza is achieved in the last. Further, in each verse, the rhyme-words are the same, as a bell sounds always the same. The poem rings out Herbert’s theme, a godly theme: that of the typic Aaron, the model priest, fulfilled in Christ, in whom alone the Christian priest is made fit to minister.

As is common in this metre, the stress in the first foot of each line is often reversed (it is trochaic); however, less common, and so more noteworthy, is the occasional reversal of other feet. Hence “holiness” and “light” in the first verse, “defects” and “unto” in the second, “onely” in the third, “Christ” in the fourth, and “perfect” in the fifth, all stand at the start of lines, and are emphasised by trochaic feet. Stronger emphasis is created by trochaic feet in medial positions, as occurs for the first word or words in “raising the dead,” “thus am I drest”. More important still is the occurrence of half-stress as well as full stress in the same foot, as in “in whom I,” “ev’n dead,” “new drest,” “deare breast,” “come people” – these emphasise the points being conveyed. Finally, there are four lines in which several elements come into play; two of these lines have defective feet. “Thus are true Aarons drest” and “That to the old man I may rest” each contain both an initial trochee and a subsidiary stress – in the former on “true,” in the latter on “man”. “I am well drest” and “My alone onely” both consist of defective feet - the first two syllables are unstressed, the last two are both stressed, as in some forms of Greek poetry. Noting these accentual emphases helps to comprehend the poem’s conceptual emphases.

Reflection upon the first verse calls to mind St Aaron the First High Priest, who is a premier type of Christ the Eternal High Priest. Upon his head, as we read in Exodus xxviii, is a mitre bearing a golden plate inscribed Sanctum Domino, that is, “Holy to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36), and so having “holiness on the head”. Within the ephod “on the breast” repose the mysterious Urim and Thummim, literally “lights and perfections,” according to the Masoretic vocalization, as marginally noted in the Authorized Version so familiar to Herbert; or rendered as Doctrinam et Veritatem, doctrine and truth (Exodus 28:30), as the Vulgate prefers, and to which reference is made in line 23 of the poem.

Round about the hem of Aaron’s vesture were sewn bells, and the similitudes of pomegranates; and the bells would sound as Aaron passed into the Holy of Holies, “that he may not die” (Exodus 28:35). In Christian times it became conventional to allude to the fringe of “harmonious bells below” as representative of mellifluous preaching verily “raising the dead”, and of “the preacher’s duty to lead his people to life and rest through the sounding of his bells” (Rosemund Tuve, A Reading of George Herbert (p. 155), Faber and Faber, London, 1952) – that is, of his very preaching (kerygma) of none other than Christ’s teaching: “he that heareth you, heareth me” (St Luke 10:16). As the Lord said, “Amen, amen, I say unto you, that the hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live” (St John 5:25).

“Thus are true Aarons drest” – note here how “true” is almost fully stressed – this can be read as a foreshadowing of the true Aaron, Christ, who is later referred to explicitly. The parallel here drawn between Aaron and Christ, and of the fulfilment in Christ of the ideal presaged in Aaron’s splendour, is representative of the fulfilment of the Old and former Testament in the New and eternal one, and of the new covenant of “grace abounding” fulfilling and surpassing the precepts laid down under the old covenant of the Law. Christ is “a priest forever” (Hebrews 5:6; 7:17, 21) of a more exalted kind than Aaron, as St Paul teaches in his Epistle to the Hebrews: “who is not dead” – no, he can ever deliver man from the “place where is no rest”: “I am the First and the Last, and alive, and behold I am living for ever and ever, and have the keys of death and of hell” (Apocalypse 1:17-18). That presaged in the Tabernacle and Temple of old is now made a reality in the new Temple, which is the Church, as many other of Herbert’s poems make clear.

In the Church, the mystical body of Christ, Christ the Head thereof ministers to his very members by way of his ministers, the priests, who act in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the Head: see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1548). And so “another head / I have,” and again it is reiterated more strongly “Christ is my onely head,” and thus the priest is made “holy in my head”. Here the poem’s tripartite structure comes to the fore: first given is an image of the prophetic type of priesthood; then comes a confession of the sad present state of a member thereof; then Herbert tells how the all-too-evident “profaneness... defects and darknesse” may be made, in Christ, into joyous “light and perfections”. So Aaron and Christ are presented as relating to a Christian priest – the first gives him a biblical exemplar, which by his own works he cannot fully imitate; the second gives him the divine grace and character to be what he needs must be. As St Thomas Aquinas writes, “Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ” (Summa Theologiae III, 22, 4c).

In “the more particular of the present case,” the “poore priest” contemplates how he is engrafted into these august mysteries. How can he, sinful son of Adam, in badness “thus am I drest” (note the plaintive “thus,” so stressed), minister in the sanctuary, in the holy place? So in line 8, “noise” is likely used in the sense of a band of musicians, in this case representing the tumult of ungodly passions, threateningly tolling the passing-bell of fearful living-death-in-sin, and of the second death, “where their worm dieth not” (St Mark 9:43) and “where there is no rest”; this nicely contrasts with the “onely musick” of line 18, which is Christ, who acts “striking me ev’n dead” – that is, as a clapper strikes in a bell, and with power, “ev’n dead”. “Without whom I could have no rest” – only by dying to sin and rising with Christ can he hope to minister fittingly. Dying to the “old man” so strongly imaged, dying to the first and sinful Adam, and living anew in Christ, the second and last Adam, is a central Pauline theme: “For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3); and again, “stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds and putting on the new” (Colossians 3:9-10). “He must die, that, thereby, Christ may increase in him” (Sr Thekla, George Herbert: Idea and Image (p. 292), Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Assumption, Newport Pagnell, England, 1974; cf. St John 3:30).

By holy baptism, as is stated in Romans chapter 6, he must have already died indeed with Christ, to be regenerated and born again in him “making live not dead”, as do all Christians, who thereby share in the common or baptismal priesthood; so what more is here asked? As he is a priest, it is implied that he must share in something more of Christ’s priesthood, of a higher degree and kind, even though the language is baptismal. The Christian priest, as far as his own self goes, “does not measure up... But then he remembers the indelible character of his priesthood and the grace of orders, the grace of the Christ whose power is made perfect in human weakness” (John Saward, Christ is the Answer (p. 131), T. and T. Clark Ltd., Edinburgh, 1995). The ministerial priesthood is that special character which fits the priest for his sacred office, to “be in him new drest”, definitively newly attired in Christ, to share in the priestly office of Christ. The priesthood, that most holy of all offices on earth, is necessarily most Christocentric.

In lines 12 and 17, Christ is called “another heart”, and more strongly still “my alone only heart,” referring to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, inseparably part of his sacred Humanity and so still within Christ’s verily “deare breast”, worthy of adoration, symbol of love and of the animation by Christ’s grace and love of all of who “have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27) – and so, emphatically, “In him I am well drest”. It reinforces the truth of being “alive in Christ Jesus,” living by and in him alone. Indeed, as Pope John Paul II has said, “The priest always, and in an unchangeable way, finds the source of his identity in Christ the priest” (Holy Thursday Letter to Priests (1986), n. 10). For the Church, for the plebs sancta Dei (holy people of God) the priest, their very servant, pours forth preaching and “doctrine tun’d by Christ” who “lives in me while I do rest”; he serves them by ministering in the sanctuary, and may truly say with vigour “Come people; Aaron’s drest.”

Patristic Postscript: the True Aaron.

“Like ointment on the head, which ran down upon the beard, upon the beard of that Aaron.” By the priest Aaron, that Priest is indicated who alone fulfills the sacrament of the true High Priest (veri pontificis sacramentum), not with a victim of another kind, but in the oblation of His own body and blood: same Priest, same Victim, Propitiator and Propitiation, the One who effects all the mysteries for which He was announced. Who died, and was buried, and rose again, He ascended into heaven, exalting human nature above every other name, and sending the Holy Spirit, whose unction would penetrate every Church (cujus unctio omnem ecclesiam penetraret).

— St Prosper of Aquitaine, Expositio psalmorum (Explanation of the Psalms), on Ps 132(133):2; cited in Jurgens, W. A. The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3, p. 194, §2040.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Do not go gentle into that long night:
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
– Dylan Thomas

Keith, my elderly father (who will soon turn 83), has just been diagnosed with Parkinson's Dementia Complex, which essentially means that his aphasia, forgetfulness and motor skills will continue to decline more and more, until he no longer recognizes even us his family.

Dad has been a kindly bloke and a loving father, but withal one of that generation that never much shared feelings or inner thoughts. Especially as he is not a Catholic nor a church-going man, I would respectfully ask for all to join me in praying for him; for him I have said often the Memorare:

Memorare, O piissima Virgo Maria, non esse auditum a sæculo, quemquam ad tua currentem præsida, tua implorantem auxilia, tua petentem suffragia, esse derelictum. Ego tali animatus confidentia ad te, Virgo virginum, Mater, curro, ad te venio, coram te gemens peccator assisto. Noli, Mater Verbi, verba mea despicere, sed audi propitia et exaudi. Amen.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Elevation of the All-Holy

The Byzantines have the curious custom (strange to Westerners) of elevating a triangular portion of bread, named the Panagia (All-Holy), in honour of Our Lady, at the end of the main monastic meal. Lifting it up, the priest cries "Great is the Name" and all reply "of the Holy Trinity" and then he cries (while moving the morsel horizontally, so as to complete making the Sign of the Cross with it) "All-Holy Theotokos, save us" (sôson hêmas), to which all reply "Through her intercessions, O God, have mercy and save us".

By its taking up, it is in a manner offered to God and blessed; and with it a blessing is imparted to all the faithful present who glorify the Lifegiving Trinity and invoke the Mother of God, thus implicitly commemorating the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, Who, being One of the Trinity, became Man to save us. It is a blessing to us when we bless God, and bless Him in His Saints, especially in God's Mother.

The Orthodox assert that this act is of apostolic origin - they state that after Our Lord's Ascension, the Apostles wherever they were always set aside some bread as Our Lord's portion at table (till He come again), which they would partake of, leaving a morsel, and had the custom of blessing the Trinity when lifting this last piece up at the end of the meal (recalling Christ's Ascension), ending by saying, "O Lord Jesus Christ, save us". However, soon after Our Lady's Dormition, she appeared to them in heavenly glory at the very moment they were conducting this dinnertime ritual - revealing that she had been resurrected and assumed into heaven - and they were so astonished that they spontaneously exclaimed, "All-Holy Theotokos, save us": and this has been said instead ever since.

The loaf for this purpose (which has been blessed at the Liturgy) is brought into the monastic refectory with some fanfare, and all come eventually to receive of it, perhaps dipping it in the wine provided and waving it over the censer if these be present. The triangular portion kept back until the end of the meal is set aside in a sometimes elaborate vessel on a table - the panagiarion - by itself, oft with a candle and even a censer before it, and there may be icons of the Trinity and the Blessed Virgin with it also. (Occasionally, even a chalice of wine is present - the whole rite is redolent of Eucharistic symbolism.)

This fragment of bread is a reminder that the Virgin Mary was blessed above all women to bring forth her Son Who is the Living Bread come down from heaven to nourish us unto everlasting life of soul and body. The portion is triangular to call to mind the Trinity, One of Whom became incarnate of the Virgin Mary to save us; and it is lifted up to make the Sign of the Cross to recall Christ's saving Passion. It is offered as a blessing of Our Lady, or, more correctly, through her as His Mother it is offered to bless Him Who was born of her. By being lifted up, it is exalted from humble bread to a vehicle of blessing; this also calls to mind Holy Mary's unique glorification in her bodily Assumption into heaven.

(Please consult Aquaro's article on the Lifting of the Panagia for more information.)


Forgive me for even mentioning it, and I cast no aspersions upon this decent and orthodox rite, but there once was a most unusual heretical practice that fraudulently resembled this one - for the sect of the Collyridians, against whom St Epiphanius wrote in his Panarion (late 4th C.), were mad women who idolatrously worshipped the Virgin Mary, and vainly offered unto her small cakes and bread rolls, feigning to act as priests!

In this they emulated, not the true Israel of God, but the disgraceful perversions of those who bowed down before the Moon-goddess or demon: "...the women knead the dough to make cakes to the queen of heaven..." (Jer. vii, 18). Unfortunately there are not lacking crazies to-day who claim this as a wretched warrant for goddess-worship and other heterodox nonsense, deceiving and deceived.