Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Media vita in morte sumus...

Please of your charity pray for the many many people killed in natural disasters recently, in the Philippines, Vietnam and so forth, due to savage weather, and in Samoa, struck by a tsunami.

In particular, please pray for a family devastated - one of the victims of the tsunami was a Australian woman on holiday with her husband: she was caught in the debris and drowned; by a cruel twist of fate, the trip had been meant as her 50th birthday present. She leaves behind her badly injured husband (who had the harrowing grief of identifying her even as he bore broken bones and lacerations) and her devoted daughter, receiving the dread news to-day, back in Tasmania - whom I know.

Media vita in morte sumus: quem quærimus adjutorem nisi te Domine? qui pro peccatis juste irasceris. * Sancte Deus:Sancte fortis:Sancte et misericors Salvator: amaræ morti ne tradas nos.
V/. Ne projicias nos in tempore senectutis: cum defecerit virtus nostra, ne derelinquas nos, Domine. * Sancte Deus:Sancte fortis:Sancte et misericors Salvator: amaræ morti ne tradas nos.
V/. Noli claudere aures tuas ad preces nostras.Sancte fortis:Sancte et misericors Salvator: amaræ morti ne tradas nos.
V/. Qui cognoscis occulta cordis parce peccatis nostris. Sancte et misericors Salvator: amaræ morti ne tradas nos.

In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour but of Thee, O Lord, Who for our sins art justly displeased. * Holy God, † Holy mighty, ‡ Holy and merciful Saviour, give us not over unto bitter death.
V/. Do not cast us away in the time of age: when our strength fails, do not forsake us, O Lord. * Holy God, † Holy mighty, ‡ Holy and merciful Saviour, give us not over unto bitter death.
V/. Shut not Thine ears to our prayers. † Holy mighty, ‡ Holy and merciful Saviour, give us not over unto bitter death.
V/. Thou who knowest the secrets of the heart, spare our sins. ‡ Holy and merciful Saviour, give us not over unto bitter death.

Feast of St Michael

Happy feast of St Michael for yester-day; my felicitations to all my friends named after the Archangel.

I celebrated it with a dental check-up and professional teeth-cleaning, so my chompers are now whiter than white! I also received the good news that they're all fine: I've never had a tooth out, nor needed a filling, so I'm quite lucky in having strong teeth (probably due to the fluoridated water supply).

Who is the patron saint of teeth?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The World, the Flesh and the Devil

This Sunday is the 17th after Pentecost - I blogged on its Collect last year, including mention of its Anglican recension, which adds those words "the world, the flesh and the devil"...

The Black Death

I've just finished reading a book I would recommend to all: John Hatcher's The Black Death: The Intimate Story of a Village in Crisis, 1345-1350 (London: Phoenix, 2009).

It is a very sympathetic account, written as if by a near-contemporary, of what the village of Walsham in Suffolk faced as the Black Death approached, then raged, and then passed. I found it excellent particularly in its depiction of the religious beliefs and practices of the priests and people, their liturgical and devotional life, and how they dealt with the unanswerable question of why a just and merciful God would permit so terrible a plague to befall them, and with their guilt over how in fear of death they shrank back from ministering to their loved ones in the chaos of the plague.

Apart from three minor slips that I with my interest in liturgy detected (e.g. the author has a priest wearing a chasuble under a cope - I think he meant to write "stole"), the detail is very believable, and tells an important tale. All Catholics would appreciate the characters, particularly the good parish priest, Master John (whom the author gave many of the qualities of the ideal clergyman as delineated by Chaucer and others).

Hatcher also mentions the very interesting and very controversial advice that bishops tendered to their flocks on the eve of the pestilence: that if a priest could not be found to come to the dying victims, they could make confession even to a layman or laywoman! (See this translation of the letter of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, 10th January 1349.) Note that this was intended as a substitute for the sacrament of penance: the dying person, by admitting their sins and having contrition, would, if perfectly contrite, obtain full forgiveness of the Lord, and the process of having to do so would aid them in this. It was not a question of those not priests absolving of course.

Who knows when the next really terrible pandemic will strike? Would we lax irreligious moderns cope any better than, or even as well as, those mediæval villagers? Media vita in morte sumus...

Good and Bad Sisters

I don't normally hold with priests telling jokes at Mass, but this one I heard this morning (from a South African priest who's visiting) is all too true:
What's the difference between a good nun and a bad nun?

The good one says "Amen," the bad one says "Ahh, men..." [in a disapproving tone].

Saturday, September 26, 2009


To-day the family got together for breakfast at the First Basin café, overlooking the again-flooded Gorge (the swirling waters are over the swimming pool and lower lawn) - will it ever stop raining? - and our get-together was for a happy occasion: my Mum's birthday. Many happy returns!

Afterwards, we all headed off on various errands; I did as I do, and went to church for confession. It was as I find it ever: confession, as well as an exercise in honesty, and above all a signal instance of God's merciful ever-faithfulness ("we may be unfaithful, but He is always faithful"), is refreshing to the soul.

Later on, I recalled that this is the 26th of the month, and therefore, happy thought, the monthly reminder of the feast of St Philip Neri, on the 26th of May: I do believe his intercession for me, a stumbling half-devotee, who tried to see something of him and his Rome, has helped me now as in the past. Good Philip, pray for us to Christ-God, that He save our souls!

I had a pleasant conversation with David Schütz this morning, also, and made some varied purchases, now I've my wallet back at last:

  • a new watch, with a proper Roman numeral clockface (my old one finally gave up the ghost in Rome);
  • Primeval - Series Three (an entertaining sci-fi DVD set);
  • John Hatcher, The Black Death: The Intimate Story of a Village in Crisis, 1345-1350;
  • Kunzig & Broecker, Fixing Climate: The Story of Climate Science - and How to Stop Global Warming (I just love can-do tech fixes: man is the master of this God-given earth, so if we have unwittingly altered the climate, it is for us to assume control - take that, backward hippies!);
  • Dante, Vita Nuova (his courtly love for Beatrice - for me, a memento of Florence the beautiful);
  • Edgar Allen Poe, Tales of Mystery and Imagination (having just read Lovecraft's essay on supernatural horror in literature, this seemed a good choice).

I also visited my travel agent, and had her investigate the price of a trip to New Zealand in late January 2010. Scott, a friend of mine, is interested in joining me, so I hope all will work out. It will definitely be cheaper than holidaying in Italy, and I afforded that alright!

The TV is already on in the background, for the Grand Final soon begins, in unseasonably wet and cold Melbourne, with conditions that may be the worst in memory (hail is predicted). Carn the Saints!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Prayer during the Canon

Why is the Canon of the Mass silent?

According to the great mediæval English canonist Lyndwood, the answer is Ne impediatur populus orare, "Lest the people be hindered from praying".

(When at the Novus Ordo, I attend closely to the words of the Eucharistic Prayer - one wonders how many do - and even follow along in the Latin; but at the Traditional Mass, one has, surprise surprise, a greater freedom.)

Many times I read along while the priest offers up the Sacrifice, but, as I have grown to know the Canon and the gestures of the priest, I can lay aside my missal, and pray in general terms corresponding to the priest's liturgy*.

[* I call it that because there is an important, oft-forgotten principle: "every man in his liturgy", that is, following the teaching of Pope St Clement I in his Epistle to the Corinthians (chapters xl and xli), we ought each of us play our assigned part, not usurping others while neglecting our own.]

But twice recently, in Rome and in Melbourne, I followed another inspiration, and while the priest entered alone into the Canon in quietness, I read the psalms &c. of the Præparatio Missæ: Psalms 83, 84, 85, 115 and 129, plus their following versicles and orations. These prayers for use before Mass - first appearing in Western tradition about a thousand years ago, and still in the 1962 Missal for recitation pro opportunitate; indeed, a bishop being vested before pontificating was appointed to read them with his assisting canons - are, I find, also suitable to pray while the sacred mysteries are being consummated. The psalms are so many prophecies and foreshadowings of what God shall do, and now has done, in saving us by the Sacrifice of the Cross made present at Mass; and the subjoined prayers help prepare one for Communion, relying upon the aid of God the Holy Ghost.

All one must do, is keep an eye on the altar, and at the Consecration bow low, at the Elevations look up and worship...


I have previously blogged on praying the Canon:


I haven't felt much like posting since my return, but at least I have now - finally - retrieved my wallet, which went for an extended holiday of its own... All's well that ends well.

To-morrow, time to go to Confession in the morning, as is my practice; and then, the Big Game - a.k.a. the AFL Grand Final - to watch in the afternoon. Since my team isn't in it, I'm not sure who I'll barrack for: no, maybe St Kilda, since I don't much like Geelong. (A work colleague, and former classmate of mine also goes for St Kilda, a good Catholic Irish name you will agree.) Carn the Saints!

My Aussie seminarian friends in Rome apparently will be doing much the same: they have previously headed off from the N.A.C., and had beer and breakfast at a certain "Irish pub", where the game was shown via satellite on the big screen; but this year, being more integrated, will be partying at Fortress America on the Janiculum...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To Revive My Drooping Spirit

I don't know why the Lord is always sending me consolations...

Having returned to earth with a bump, so to speak, it was a real grace to go along to St Francis for our Gregorian chant group - and to find that we were to first practice, and then sing Compline and Benediction. I love the smell of incense in the evening!

Two English prayers were added at Benediction to the usual: a short litany of the Blessed Sacrament, and an excellent choice for reposition hymn - "Let all mortal flesh keep silence".

Afterward, Fr Allan invited us to join him for supper at the friary, and asked me to tell all about my trip (not realizing just how garrulous I can be). Supper over, he solemnly blessed my new crucifix for me. A good priest.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Return to Normalcy

Back at work, with its pressures and worries, back in Tasmania (ditto), and finding that if my vices and temptations took a holiday while I did, they've come home too!

In the midst of the hustle and bustle, it was good to turn back to the opening pages of the Little Office, and at breathing spaces through the day to pray Our Lady's Hours. "When all other succour faileth, Our Lady's grace helpeth." (The Mirror of Our Lady)

Happy feast of St Matthew for yester-day: I'm afraid all I prayed all day was Compline. It is too easy to let things slide...

At least, while I was away, the Tolkien books I ordered arrived, so I've been able to read at night before bed some of his shorter works ("Smith of Wootton Major", "Leaf by Niggle", "A Secret Vice" - about the composition of new languages - and his "Valedictory Address").

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Well, I'm Back

Thanks to Scott, an old friend of mine: he collected me at Melbourne airport, and gave me somewhere to sleep for the night - the floor of his tiny apartment! I slept extremely well, which says something for ancient monastic practices...

This Sunday morning, he gave me a lift to St Aloysius for Mass, where I arrived during the Gloria. (For the record, it was a Missa Cantata, with Mass XI and Credo IV, the latter of which I'd not heard before; the choir sang the Offertory text in polyphony, sang part of the Agnus Dei in organum, and O sacrum convivium as a Communion motet.)

After Mass, we all repaired to the Balaclava Hotel for lunch: it was good to see David, Jennifer, Justin, and Frs Tattersall and McDaniels. Lunch over, I continued to chat with Justin (whose flat is nearby), until Br Paul, one of my Dominican friends, arrived: he'd very kindly offered to catch up for old times' sake, and ended up driving me to the airport.

Back to rainy Tasmania... I had a very pleasant seat right up the front of the aircraft, and enjoyed chatting to the nice lady sitting next to me. Upon arriving, the whole family welcomed me, and we had a celebratory dinner at my sister's home.

Once I finally got back to my place, and unpacked, I made one unfortunate discovery: I left my wallet in the seat pocket of the plane that brought me back to Launceston!

I am now waiting to contact the lost baggage department of Virgin Blue airlines - I pray that my wallet will have been found by the cabin crew...


UPDATE: My wallet has turned up in the lost baggage depot at Sydney! So it did a little more travelling yester-day.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Last Morning in Rome

Up very early, over to St Peter's one last time... I served Mass for Fr Withoos at the altar of the Navicella, to help teach one of the altar boys how to serve the Trad. Mass. Veneration of St Peter, and of sundry holy Popes (St Gregory the Great, at whose altar another Trad. Mass was going on; St Pius X; Bl John XXIII; Bl Innocent XI)... finishing Matins in the Bl Sacrament chapel.

Breakfast with Fr Mark and friends afterward...

One last purchase at a bookshop I wished I'd found earlier...

Back to San Greg., then off to the airport.

Arrivederci, Roma!

[This post seemed to have been lost somehow, so I now, years later, put it back onsite.]

Back to Australia

When this message appears, I'll be (hopefully) taking off for Australia, departing Kuala Lumpur, where I will have been for a few hours since arriving from Rome.

This evening (7.40 pm local time) I should arrive at Melbourne airport. A good friend of mine has arranged to collect me there and give me a place to stay for the night. My plan - depending on how jet-lagged I am - is to go to the 11 am Solemn Latin Mass at St Aloysius to-morrow (being Sunday), before I have to be back at the airport for my connecting flight home to Tasmania in the mid-afternoon.

Oremus pro invicem.

Thursday Afternoon in Rome

I was very tired, and my time in the Eternal City was fast passing away...

In the mid-afternoon, I slowly walked down across one of the Tiber bridges into Trastevere, stopt for a Belgian beer, then found the ancient basilica of Santa Cecilia.

It brought me to my knees, seeing the beautiful sculpture of that Virgin Martyr - a statue copied from her incorrupt body, which was discovered, and displayed to all Rome, for almost the whole of 1599 (at least thirteen hundred years after her death in witness to Christ). To think that her body still sleeps in the reliquary of the crypt below (which I viewed through a grille), together with several other early martyrs!

The mosaic of the apse is of the ninth century, and in its ancientry and naive style breathes the pristine spirit of holiness. Pope Paschal (who then rebuilt the church, even then falling into ruin by reason of the centuries having elapsed since its foundation) is pictured with St Cecilia, SS Peter and Paul, Our Lord, St Valerian (the chaste husband of Cecilia, and fellow martyr), and St Agnes (another primitive Virgin-Martyr). Below, there is a procession of sheep (Christians) approaching the Lamb of God.


I then walked further down the Tiber, crossed over on the Ponte Sublico (?) and made my way toward Santa Sabina - but first, and very fittingly, found the property of the Knights of St John (whose estate is the smallest sovereign state in the world, they having previously lost Jerusalem and then Rhodes to the Turks, and Malta to Napoleon), where, looking through the keyhole of their gate, one espies a perfect prospect of the dome of St Peter's at the end of a beautiful path hedged about by vegetation.

Santa Sabina, HQ of the Dominicans...
Well, let's just say it was very Dominican - let the reader understand!
The church is very bare and sober, in antique Roman style: excellent. I finally got around to reading Lauds. But then, the advertised bookshop being closed because the person manning it "just popped out for a minute", I sat down and read several more Hours, till finally they got the message and found some Pole to open it up.
I bought a number of interesting items, such as small reproductions of works of Fra Angelico, and best of all (E15.50) a mint-condition 1956 Dominican Diurnal, in perfect pocket-book size. It was so well-preserved the pages needed carefully to be separated, so as to read it.
But... the Polish fellow had put on what turned out to be an excruciatingly corny and heterodox CD of mad US Dominicans, singing wicked propaganda - for instance, one song said, If your image of God is an old man on a cloud, discard it because it doesn't exist and it is a symptom of your fears and repressions... Need I say more? Oh, and there was the expected feminist revisionist angle represented as well. Puke, puke, puke!
I went back into the basilica to finish off the Hours through to Vespers - and found an even more bizarre thing. I was moving round from the altar of St Hyacinth, when I noticed a friar I'd seen earlier doing something odd at the Bl Sacrament altar: to my consternation, he had the tabernacle open, revealing a mini-monstrance (before which he had lit several tiny candles, commendably enough), but had pulled a chair right up onto the altar step, and was lounging on this, with his bare feet stretched out in front against the altar, and his hands on his head!
I honestly didn't know whether to cry or laugh, it was so hysterically eccentric and peculiar. Talk about giving scandal. And then, his mobile phone rang, so he just walked away from Our Lord and took a long, loud telephone call right in the middle of the church. Eventually he returned, only for his phone to ring again and him to abandon his wierd adoration for a second conversation...
For the benefit of posterity, I have acquired a photograph of this madness, which I will upload once I'm back in Australia. I think even Coo-ees couldn't come up with a strange thing like this.
Well, I missed seeing St Paul's outside the Walls, and many other churches (including several, like San Stefano Rotondo and San Clemente, that are quite close to where I've been staying), but I have done much... till next time.

San Marco

I cannot believe that I forgot to mention earlier my visit to San Marco - it was ineffable. (I think it being the last thing I did before catching the train back to Rome may explain my oversight.)
What an indescribable experience, to stand awed before so much truly great art, and greatest because so faithful in witnessing to the truth about our Incarnate God.
I had to remind myself that these were the originals! Amazing.
Fra Angelico is indeed a pictor angelicus, and blessed, for his art seems to lift the mind to contemplation in a wonderful fashion. While that holy friar (Bl John of Fiesole, whose tomb at the Minerva I visited last week) was not beatified for his art, but for the heroic witness of his life adorned by a miracle, it could be said that the unique quality of his art as an aid to prayer is itself a moral miracle, wrought through him by the Lord: for Christ is the supreme Artist.
I must say I was, if not in heaven, at least lifted to contemplation by beholding such staggeringly lovely works of art, through which beauty, truth and holiness shine forth. The many images of Our Lord crucified moved me to compunction - I had to strike my breast in sorrow and confusion, as the crowds did that first Good Friday.
The only blot on my visit to San Marco was to overhear yet another loud, rude, ignorant, judgemental, self-satisfied (and, yes, American) tourist, who commented excessively loudly to her friend about Savonarola (whose cells we were viewing): "Well, I guess he just didn't know the meaning of 'All things in moderation'". Her smugly complacent words made me boil with anger - I almost turned and told her off for being a stupid cow. Mea culpa?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Vale Rome - for now

Someone joked: Rome is full of faith - everyone leaves a little bit behind! (Quod Deus avertat.)

As this post appears on my blog, I should be on my way from the Eternal City back to Australia, with a brief stop-over in Malaysia to-night.

May Our Lady of Loreto, St Joseph of Cupertino - that levitating saint whose feast falls to-day, most providentially - and all the angels intercede for me and for all who travel by air, that we have a safe flight as God wills, and ever have as our true goal the haven of everlasting salvation.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Roaming Rome

I'm very tired and spending some time in the heat of the day (when the churches are closed) catching up on my blogging-cum-diary of this my holiday-cum-pilgrimage.
A little earlier, I felt tired and in need of some comfort, so I had a very pleasant lunch at ristorante Don Chisciotte (Italian spelling of Quixote), sitting out under cover on the Piazza Navona, with Bernini's fountain playing and some nearby musicians too. Entree of salmon and swordfish, then spaghetti carbonara, and then cotoletta milanese with grilled vegetables. Add to that some excellent natural sparkling mineral water, the usual bread on the side, a caffe freddo, and il conto totalled €50!!!
Previous to that, I visited S. Augustino - and venerated: (a) the Crucifix before which St Philip prayed, and which moved him to devote himself entirely to the Lord; (b) the relics of St Benedict Martyr; (c) the relics of St Monica. I asked her to intercede for me and mine, that as her tears and prayers won her son for Christ as a great saint, so we all might be converted and be saved.
(I also popped in to S. Luigi dei Franceschi.)
Earlier still, I paid a last visit to St Philip at the Chiesa Nuova. I hadn't got around to booking a tour of his rooms, so that I forego for this visit; ditto for my hopes of making it out all the way to the catacombs of St Sebastian, where he received the Holy Ghost. (Fr Rowe told me of it - he said Mass there at the very spot.) However, I did stop at San Tommaso in Parione: the church was closed, and there was no answer at the office of the Procurator General of the Oratorians, but I did see the commemorative plaque in honour of the ordination there of St Philip to the minor orders and subdiaconate; he was ordained priest on the 23rd of May 1551, unusually late in those days (he was already 36 years old).

Requiem at the Altar of St Gregory

From San Gregorio I set out at half seven this morning, to serve a Requiem (for Robert Peckham) at SSma Trinità. Fr Brendan was there as planned, and very fittingly we had the Low Mass at the side altar of St Gregory, with its marvellous altarpiece of that holy Pope, enlightened by the Dove of the Holy Ghost, beholding the deliverance of souls from purgatory at his prayers and offering of the Mass. Requiescat in pace.
Mass done, Fr very kindly invited me, and the visiting American priest, plus one of the regular servers at the church (an American student at the Angelicum) to go for coffee at a bar nearby. It was very interesting to talk with them, especially with Fr Brendan, who it turns out knows a number of priests and laymen of my acquaintance - even Mark, that former blogger in Edinburgh. We had a very interesting discussion afterward all about Biblical theology (how to steer between the Scylla and Charybdis of fundamentalism and heterodoxy), while strolling the local streets. He also revealed that, like Fr Mannes my old mate, he is a great Star Wars devotee!

Wednesday Afternoon and Evening

I was tired out by all my travelling, but gathered strength to walk from San Gregorio (where I am again for my last two nights in Rome) the 25 minutes or so to SSma Trinità for Mass.
The visiting American FSSP priest (Fr Nichols, from Virginia, as I learnt to-day) said the Mass. It wasn't a dialogue Mass as I had previously encountered at the church. However, as seems the custom, one and all sang Salve Regina afterward.
Then, off to S. Giovanni de' Fiorentini to meet my seminarian friends Mike and Brennan, who then walked me through the tunnels under the Janiculum to a Chinese restaurant! At €33 for the three of us it was cheaper than some of my meals for one. We walked over past the Leonine City for some gelati once we'd finished, and then I caught the metro home. Tired...

Grumpy Train

Some Japanese were in my seat on the (crowded) train from Florence back to Rome. Their solicitous tour guide explained they were honeymooners and could not be separated. To the amusement of English-speakers aboard, I observed testily that no doubt they would soon not be separated...
The tour guide perforce gave me her seat, and with frustration and irritation I said Sumimasen to her with as much sarcasm as I could muster. I think this was rather rude of me in retrospect.

Santa Maria de Fiore

Holy Mary of the Flower - that is, Christ - is the beautifully named and superlatively beautiful Duomo, that is, cathedral, of Florence. As the guide pamphlet pointed out, Duomo comes from domus, "house" - it is the House of God and His people, a house of prayer for all the nations. I was delighted to note on the leaflet that there is in this archdiocese an office for "catechesis through art": beauty is truth, truth beauty...
There must be a real effort being made to revive religion: here is the schedule of devotions there:


  • Masses at 7.30, 8.30, 9.30 (concelebrated by the Chapter of canons), 10.30 and 11.30 am (the last two in the Baptistery), and at 6 pm;

  • Office of Readings and Lauds (celebrated by the Chapter - imagine that in Australia!) at 8 am;

  • Confessions 9 am to 12 noon, and 4-6.30 pm daily (in four or more languages);

  • Rosary (or Vespers on feasts of Our Lord and His Mother) at 5.30 pm.

Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation

  • Masses at 7.30, 9 and 10.30 am (in Latin with Gregorian chant, concelebrated by the Cathedral Chapter), at 12 noon and at 6 pm;

  • Lauds at 10 am (very civilized);

  • Vespers (in Gregorian chant) at 5.30 pm;

  • Confessions as above.

It turned out to be very useful to carry a Breviary, since it proved I was a bona fide Catholic and not a godless tourist, thus allowing me to gain access in all churches to the large parts roped off for prayer. This began at the Duomo, which I then left in order to visit and pray in many other sanctuaries.


At last I found a church (I forget the name) where St Philip appeared shyly in the corner of a painting above a side altar, and later saw an outdoor image of the Blessed Virgin with him at her feet (in memory of a former Oratory on that site).


In San Lorenzo, I found the sacred relics of Bl Niels Stensen (1638-1686), a famously learned Danish doctor who came to Tuscany and converted to the Catholic faith, moved by the witness of a Corpus Christi procession (let Modernists take note!). He gradually put aside his scientific researches, and ended up a priest, then a bishop, who laboured in northern Germany, aiding Catholics and converting Protestants. The Grand Duke of Tuscany had his former court physician brought back to Florence for burial; he was beatified in 1988.
May he intercede for Christian unity, and in particular for Lutherans and ex-Lutherans!


At St Remigius, I found the venerated habit and cord of St Pio of Pietrelcina exposed for veneration - excellent.


Then, off, all too soon, back to Rome...

Visit to Limbo

I have the photograph to prove it: I have visited Limbo, or rather the Piazza del Limbo.
This handsome courtyard indeed seemed a site of perfect natural happiness, especially with a gelato in hand; a decent hotel fronted onto it also.
Alas, the adjoining church of the holy Apostles was securely locked and barred: the gate of heaven was closed.
(The piazza was originally the place to which, in unhallowed ground, the bodies of babes who died without baptism were consigned. I imagined beneath the flagstones a multitude of tiny bones.)
Disappointingly for my own private heresy, I found no Anglican tourists in Limbo...

Wednesday Dawn in Florence

I arose mightily early that I might attend the "Lauds" as sung by the Monastic Communities of Jerusalem in their Florentine church:

  • Psalm 99 with Ps 94:1 as antiphon;
  • Psalms 24 and 7;
  • Canticle from the Old Testament (Osee vi, 1-6);
  • Psalmus laudativus (Ps 145);
  • Lesson - a Patristic reading, which I seemed to hear attributed to James (?) in the 2nd century (?);
  • Alleluia and verse;
  • Gospel (St Luke vii, 31-35), read by one of their priests;
  • Benedictus;
  • Trisagion with verse and doxology (Byzantine style, as at their Vespers);
  • Lord's Prayer;
  • Collect;
  • "Let us bless the Lord".

An interesting experiment. Unlike last night, I wasn't in good enough voice at such an early hour to join in the singing.

I returned to my hotel for a prodigious breakfast of several courses - pastries, fruits, sausage, bacon and eggs, the works - since, after all, one must get one's money's worth...

Going for a walk afterward, still before 9 am, I found the nearby Oratorio di Santa Maria delle Grazie open, and the candle stands already well filled with big tapers burning in honour of the Madonna e Bambino Gesù (imaged in an icon of 1313, by the anonymous Maestro di S. Cecilia). It was a holy place in which to pray Lauds cum Ecclesia, and meditate on the Incarnation.

I crossed the Ponte Vecchio as one does, bought some gelati and returned to the north bank of the Arno...

Seven Sorrows

Amusingly, I noted, comparing the prayers of the two Masses I heard on Tuesday, that the orations for the Seven Sorrows in the Traditional Missal are very longwinded and un-Roman in style, whereas the corresponding orations in the Novus Ordo Missae are concise and very Roman in style!

Vespers? Vespers! Vespers - II

Sorry, gentle readers, about the break in transmission...


Finally, after exploring Florence for some hours, I came to enter the great Baptistery. What a magnificent ceiling, in Byzantine mosaic, effulgent with gold, with Christos Pantokrator enthroned amid the choirs of angels!
Over opposite the Baptistery altar - where there is Mass twice daily, by the way - there is the famous font, where so many Florentines have received the sacred laver of regeneration. There, St Philip Neri received the spark of divine grace, that, by his remaining ever faithful to which, flowered into everlasting glory. All his particular graces - even the miraculous dilation of his heart by the Holy Ghost - were as nothing compared to this sacramental elevation that made his soul capax Dei.
Holy Baptism is never sufficiently to be praised. The Universal Call to Holiness consists in our fidelity to this saving grace given by our new birth from the font. If, unlike St Philip, we have not preserved our baptismal innocence, we can at least take his urgent advice and frequent the confessional, which is the "second plank after shipwreck", clinging to which we can be rescued from the lamentable ruin of sin.
The Duomo was closed to tourists by this hour, but I gained admittance by asking to attend Vespri (as was advertised). Vespers? No, not on a feria after all, but instead there was Rosario in Italiano - I just gave the responses in Latin. (Despite my advertisement of it, I don't say it nearly enough.)
On to Vespers! At the Badia Fiorentina - where the "Monastic Communities of Jerusalem", one of those new religious movements, has its house here in Florence - there was Vespers at six, to be followed by Mass.
Vespers turned out to be sui generis: there were twenty of the monks and nuns present (the two live separately but worship together), with many laity also. Vespers were sung (but for the reading) in four-part harmony, all in Italian but for one item. The order of service was as follows:
  • "God, come to my aid" and Glory Be with Alleluia;
  • Hymn to the Holy Spirit;
  • Verses proper to the feast, with the first stanza of the Stabat Mater (in Latin) as an antiphon;
  • Lucernarium (Ps 140:1-2) *, during which a monk censed the altar and people;
  • Phos hilaron (that very ancient evening hymn), during which a nun lit the altar candles;
  • Psalms 29 and 42;
  • Canticle from the Old Testament (Isaias liv, 11-15. 17);
  • Canticle from the New Testament (Apoc. iv, 11 & v, 9b-10. 12b);
  • Lesson - which to my ears sounded awfully like an extract from the Lamentation of the Theotokos by St Romanos the Melodist! - then organ music;
  • Intercessions with response;
  • Trisagion ("Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us"), sung thrice, with doxology, in Byzantine style, making a metanoia (bowing and touching the ground before crossing oneself) each time.
As can be seen, the Communities seem to have drawn on Ambrosian (*) and Byzantine sources for their liturgy.
Then it was time for Mass....
The celebrant, I was surprised to find, was the Archbishop of Florence. One of the communities' priests was principal concelebrant; the other four only joined them at the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer. Most of the service (unlike their Vespers) was not sung: however, the Kyrie, Responsorial Psalm, Alleluia, Gospel responses, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Agnus Dei, Communion hymn, and a final Magnificat afterward (normally sung at the end of Vespers, with a Pater noster and Collect?) were.
The ritual seemed Catholic but a bit eccentric - if they have permissions for these oddities, well and good, they seemed pious, but I wonder...
For example, not the Archbishop, but one of the monks (standing in front of the altar) censed the oblations while His Grace offered them at the Offertory, and one of the nuns had previously led the offertory procession with a lighted candle, which she placed on the altar (a Sanctus candle?!). While in Italy it is the custom to kneel just for the Epiclesis and Consecration and Elevations, the monks and nuns merely bowed most devoutly and deeply. Come the sign of peace, they floated very piously through the church, bringing silent greetings to all of us! For Communion, they filed into the sanctuary, to receive at the same time as the Archbishop and priests (this was misguided, I believe, since there is an hierarchical order to be observed: as the ancient Mozarabic Rite had it, Accedite locis vestris - "Approach your [respective] places").
In any case, it was good to receive the Pontifical Blessing after my second Communion of the day.
Then, I read proper 1962 Vespers ad mentem Summi Pontificis.
Dinner (€20) was mixed antipasti, then bistecca fiorentina (what else would one eat?) and biscotti with vin santo. Very good.
I took a stroll around the city in the evening, then back to my hotel for a real long soak in the bathtub for my tired feet - luxury!

St Robert Bellarmine

I don't know if I'll be able to visit it, but at the Church of St Ignatius (the chapel of the Roman College), St Robert Bellarmine is buried, next to his beloved student St Aloysius Gonzaga. In the Extraordinary Form, Bellarmine's feast fell way back on the 13th of May, but in the Ordinary Form, it is celebrated (with an optional memorial) to-day, the anniversary of his death in 1621.

I pray for my friend and recent convert Robert especially as I keep the memory of this great Doctor of the Church, a learned defender of the Catholic Faith.

Ut unum sint!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Vespers? Vespers! Vespers

Well, I've made it, and I do like Florence... it's on a more human scale than great Rome, and frankly a lot cleaner; even the grimy bits are less befouled, whereas Rome could do with an almighty scrub. Here in Firenze you hear a terrible lot of English in the streets (I try and speak the most basic Italian, but a lot of guess which nationality don't seem to bother) - around here is not called Chianti-shire for nothing.

I almost didn't make it to the train: having arisen early, and got to St Peter's for 7 am Mass, I had to hunt for Fr Withoos and all his Aussie hangers-on, who turned out to have been shunted over to the altar of the Navicella of St Peter, where the confessionals are. What a blessing, though, to have the Traditional (oops, almost wrote "real") Mass in the Vatican Basilica. The altarpiece being of the Apostles' boat tossed by the waves, and Christ rescuing Peter when his courage failed him when attempting to walk on water, as part of my prayer afterward I prayed Salva nos, Domine, perimus (Save us, Lord, we are perishing) and the Collect of the Votive Mass of SS Peter and Paul.

After the tremendous Oblation, I had the chance to visit the last of the altars in St Peter's that I hadn't reached previously, thereby coming to the relics of SS Processus and Martinian, the gaolers and converts of the Prince of the Apostles. The others were off to breakfast, but I had to hie me back to the hotel, bolt down my own continental breakfast there (curiously, the Italians call it an American breakfast!), then rush off to Ottaviani station (dragging my baggage), and over to Termini to catch the 9 am Express train to Florence.

Once settled on board (I took the wrong seat by mistake), I read over my mini-guide to Florence, had a coffee at the bar, then read Matins (the first two Nocturns). Very strangely, the Psalms at Matins of the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin are all out of numerical order - they run in order in every other case I can think of, just as at all the other Hours except Lauds - and I must note that Nova et Vetera has another misprint, this time in the eighth Matins responsory.

What a pity, by the way, that Italy is "united" and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany is no more! I would have loved getting that stamp in my passport. Of course, as a pupil of St Philip I should long rather for the Republic of Florence (not that it treated Dante, say, or Savonarola terribly well); indeed, being of nostalgic mind I would that it were still Etruria of old, with Etruscan spoken - however, Florentia was a Roman colony, so I suppose I oughtn't wish her away...

We pulled in to Florence in good time, and a quick taxi ride later I was at my (very swish) hotel: I'm glad to have splurged on this part of my trip. Having signed in, I went for a walk about, and first to Santa Croce.

In the catastrophic flood of November 1966, the Arno burst its banks and ruined Florence: worst of all in a sense was the damage done at Santa Croce, where the Conventual Franciscans had only recently moved all their priceless artworks into a new museum, right at the lowest point on their property. It made me cry, I'm not ashamed to admit, to see Cimabue's ineffable Crucifixion, now restored as best several decades' work can do, but still parlously damaged. However, even thus, it is transcendently lovely: not all tears are in sorrow.

It took my breath away to see frescoes by Giotto, and fabulous mediaeval altarpieces. (But first, I finished off my morning Office.) I also venerated the sacred relics of Blessed Humiliana, praying her for myself and for Fr Terence (since the church belongs to his order).

On I went at last, and had some superlative gelati - excuse the Fr Z riff - of mulberry, cherry, bitter orange and rice pudding (!) flavours.

I found the Badia Fiorentina is now a centre of worship for a new community (the Monastic Communities of Jerusalem, to be precise), so before the Blessed Sacrament exposed I prayed some more. Ad te, Domine, animam meam levavi...

Then to my joy the Orsanmichele is open again, so I could go pray the Madonna delle Grazie: beauty and truth have met in her.

I saw the famous statuary outside the Signoria, then went back to my hotel for a rest...

This afternoon and evening, I visited San Carlo de' Lombardi, where also I found Exposition - I think Florence is having a religious revival of sorts - and S. Maria de' Ricci, built in expiation of a mediaeval sacrilege (a nobleman defaced Our Lady's image, but repented, just before he was justly hanged) and site of a more recent sacrilege and miracle (a vandalized crucifix shewed a sudden wondrous transformation of its face into a verisimilitude of the Man of Sorrows).

[I'm running out of time, and may have to publish this now.]
To be continued...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


To-day, all being well, I'll train from Rome up to Florence, and stay the night in what should be pretty nice digs next to Santa Croce - which I have just discovered, such is my ignorance, to the largest Franciscan church on earth, and the burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo, and many other famous sons of Italy...

Ah, Firenze! Dear to me for two reasons: here, at San Marco (which pray God I'll visit), Fra Angelico painted his sacred art; and here St Philip Neri was born, baptized and raised. (Like all Florentines, he was immersed in the saving waters at the great baptistry of the cathedral.)

To-day is also the feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin, sharing the voluntary, salvific sufferings of her Divine Son. Stabat Mater Dolorosa...

My 7th Day in Rome

Unfortunately in some respects, I had to spend this morning moving from San Gregorio to the Hotel Emmaus - not because they kicked me out, but because when months ago I organized to stay at the former, they were already booked out for to-night and to-morrow: now, to-morrow I'll overnight in Florence, but to-night had to organized while I was in Rome (thanks, Mike, for your help), owing to an oversight on my part.

In any case, having had a sleep-in, and moved out, I took the metro across to Ottaviano station, and walked down just past St Peter's to the hotel. It seems very pleasant and comfortable, with a TV and air-con, benefits not available at the monastery! For this reason, having to pay €75 for a single room seems fair: it's only just a bit more than double the very cheap San Gregorio rate (one of the lowest in Rome, even among religious houses), and would compare favourably with accommodation rates back in cities in Australia. I have been very fortunate.

Because the churches are closed in the heat of mid-day, I didn't head off on my afternoon adventures till after 2 pm. This may have been unideal...

First, I walked all the way to Santa Maria Maggiore (making a few detours along the way by mistake). What a church!

I first adored in the Exposition chapel, then prayed before the ancient and venerable icon of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani (Health, Safety and Salvation of the Roman People).

A memorial inscription recorded that it was here at her altar that Eugenio Pacelli - later Pius XII - offered his first Mass, out of devotion to the Holy Virgin.
But wait - then I descended the stairs of the confessio beneath the high altar...

I was overpowered with amazement to behold, in its gold and silver reliquary, beams of wood from the Crib of Jesus Christ Our Lord: the Word Made Flesh dwelt first amongst us in His Mother, and then was cradled therein when He was born in Bethlehem of Judea. Behold the wood of the Crib, on this day when we venerate the Wood of His Cross!

Kneeling there in wondering awe, I prayed the Gloria in excelsis, the Angels' hymn over the Babe of Bethlehem, then turned to the texts of Christmas in my missal:

Apparuit gratia Dei Salvatoris

(The grace of God our Saviour hath

Apparuit benignitas et humanitas
Salvatoris nostri Dei...

(The benignity and humanity of God our
Saviour hath appeared...)

Et peperit filium suum primogenitum,
et pannis ejus involutum, et reclinavit eum in praesepio ...natus est vobis
hodie Salvator, qui est Christus Dominus, in civitate David. Et hoc vobis
signum: invenietis infantem pannis involutum, et positum in
praesepio. invenerunt Mariam, et Joseph, et infantem
positum in praesepio.

(And she brought forth her Firstborn Son,
and wrapt Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger ...For you is born
this day the Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And
this shall be for you the sign: you shall find the Infant wrapt in swaddling
bands, and laid in a manger. ...and they found Mary, and Joseph, and the
Child lying in the manger.)

Concede, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem Nativitas liberet, quos sub peccati jugo
vetusta servitus tenet. Per eumdem...

(Grant, we beg, almighty God, that the new
birth of Thine Onlybegotten in the flesh may deliver us, who are held by the old
servitude under the yoke of sin. Through the same...)

Moving on round the basilica, I admired the sumptuous and ancient apse mosaics of the Coronation of the Virgin and her Dormition, surrounded by angels, accompanied by the small suppliant figure of Pope Xystus III, who had them done for this great church of St Mary Major, in commemoration of the decree of the Council of Ephesus against all heretics that the Blessed Virgin is truly Theotokos, Deipara, Mother of God.
Then I espied a familiar face in one of the confessionals - Fr Denis Hallinan, O.P., a wise and caring old priest, dear to me from years past. He and the other Dominicans who man the confessionals (which are kept busy the whole time: each friar sits administering the Sacrament of Penance for at least 24 hours a week) are employed by the Apostolic Penitentiary that the multitudes of the faithful may have confessors fluent in many languages.

He was surprised and delighted to see me, and I him. We had a very pleasant chat (before I left him to his next penitent), and he shewed me where the former penitential wand used to sit - before miserable Paul VI abolished so many fun Catholic things, and ruined most of the rest, you could gain a plenary indulgence just by the touch of the wand (à la Harry Potter). How sad that what was a part of the rich tapestry of Catholicism is now a superstitious plaything.
Fr Denis generously accepted a stipend to say a Mass for my family, and I bade him adieu.

Next, on to St John Lateran! On the way I bought a gelato (almond flavour), and had to miss visiting Santa Prassede (it would have been impious to walk in licking an icecream), but I did make a station at St Alphonsus, where the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is kept.
Further along, I visited two churches opposite each other: SS Marcellinus and Peter (annoyingly, their sacred remains were long ago translated to Heilegenstadt) and St Anthony of Padua (a very disappointing building).
At last, San Giovanni in Laterano! I was getting tired, and walked the interior without so much devotion. I did like the great Baroque statues of the Apostles, superhuman in size, all down the nave.

When moving on, I realized from my map that it was only a block to the Santa Scala... so a few minutes later saw me going up them on my knees, which is painful and no joke I can tell you. For the sake of Thy sorrowful Passion, O Lord! That was my prayer, and I hope to thus have gained the plenary indulgence.

But I had still further to go: Santa Croce in Gerusalemme was my final objective before turning back. This is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross after all. I cannot say how solemn, sombre, stark and moving was the chapel of the sacred relics of the Passion: there was a notable hush, and a larger proportion of sisters and priests in evidence, in silent meditation upon the Nail, the Thorns, the Fragments of the True Cross, the Titulus or superscription (written in Latin, Greek and Hebrew) that Pilate wrote and had pinned above Our Lord on Calvary, and the Finger of St Thomas, which touched the Wounds in the Hands and Side of the Risen Christ: for, supreme over Death, He still and for ever bears the scars of His Triumph, which are evermore glorious and adored.

I should have spent longer at all these sites, but it was a quarter to six, and I was a long way from SSma Trinità, where I desired to hear Mass of the Holy Cross. So, back I hobbled along the streets - Deo gratias, and thank you to my Guardian Angel, a bus going in exactly the right direction appeared just as I reached the Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, about half a kilometre the wrong side of San Gregorio! It brought me to within striking distance of my objective, so I got to Mass in time, at six thirty.

Low Mass began at the high altar, "in thanksgiving for the second anniversary of the [coming into effect] of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum". But at the side altar next to my pew, a second, private Mass soon began; so I kept an eye on it while assisting at the main service. First the Elevations at the high altar, then at the side... Holy Communion... then two blessings! (It turned out that the second Mass was that of a visiting F.S.S.P. priest from the U.S., here with a pilgrim group).
I calculate that I have walked something like 2 1/2 km in the morning, then 10 km in the afternoon! Ouch.
Did I mention that one of my two pairs of shoes has actually given out, and the heel has come away from the sole? Cobblestones...
I've only done four of the Sette Chiese so far, and only three and a half to-day, since I didn't actually enter St Peter's. To think that to do the Seven Churches in a day, as was St Philip's devotion, would require walking a far way further - 12 km more in fact: from Santa Croce to San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, then down the Appian Way to San Sebastiano f. l. M., and along the Via delle Sette Chiese to Saint Paul's outside the Walls.

I may have to put off this devotion...

Monday, September 14, 2009

From St Gregory on the Caelian

A tablet in the forecourt of San Gregorio al Celio records the following saints and worthies who came from this place in the days of its first flowering, after St Gregory turned his family home into a monastery (originally dedicated to St Andrew, to whom St Gregory had a great devotion - hence the naming of St Andrew in the Embolism at Mass):

  • St Gregory himself, founder and father of the monastery;
  • St Eleutherius, abbot;
  • Hilarion, abbot;
  • St Augustine, Apostle of the English;
  • St Lawrence, Archbishop of Canterbury;
  • St Mellitus, Bishop of London and soon afterward Archbishop of Canterbury;
  • St Justus, Bishop of Rochester (Roffensis);
  • St Paulinus, Archbishop of York;
  • St Maximianus, Bishop of Syracuse;
  • SS Antonius, Merulus and John, monks;
  • St Peter, Abbot of Canterbury;
  • Honorius, Archbishop of Canterbury;
  • Merinianus, Archbishop of Ravenna;
  • Probus, custodian of the house of pilgrims (curator xenodochii) at Jerusalem, chosen by St Gregory;
  • Sabinus, Bishop of Callipolis;
  • Felix, Bishop of Messina;
  • Gregory, Cardinal Deacon of St Eustachius.
  • Here also lived for a long time the mother of St Gregory, St Silvia.

Most of these men were sent on the English Mission - or should we call it, as the Anglicans mocked at English Catholics in recent centuries, the Italian Mission?

St Augustine of Canterbury and his monks preach the Gospel to King Ethelbert of Kent.

So the Church in England, which converted the pagan Angles, Jutes and Saxons, was Roman as Rome itself... none of these men forswore the Faith, broke with the Pope, reviled the Roman Mass, rejected the Saints, married against the canons of the Western Church, nor chose Caesar over God. Let Anglicans attend to this lesson: the witness of the first millennium of Christianity in England is against them.

Sir Edward Carne

Another monumental inscription at San Gregorio al Celio:


Here is the story of his life and end as given in the Dictionary of National Biography.

Requiescat in pace. Amen.

A Roman Afternoon and Evening

Yesterday in the later afternoon I walked over to San Giovanni dei Fiorentini again, and then paid another visit to St Philip at the Chiesa Nuova. Later still, I made my way along the Via Papalis (currently renamed after some usurper), and paid a visit at Santi XII Apostoli. I arrived as a Sunday evening Mass was in progress at a side altar, the priest just making the minor elevation at the Per ipsum, so I adored and worshipped with the congregation from then until the communion. Just when I was expecting to soon hear the last prayer and receive a blessing, instead the celebrant started up some infernal song in the most appalling flat nasal bass voice, which drove me away from that altar.

I was glad, for this prompted me to go across to the high altar, where I found the confessio, with steps leading down into a crypt: and there I venerated the relics of the Apostles Philip and James the Less (the other ten apostles are present in spirit, apparently). Soon enough the Franciscans running the basilica ushered us out, but as we left I heard a priceless comment from one elderly English lady to her husband, as they looked at a poster about Padre Pio, whose relics are on display at another Roman church: "He's dead now," she said.

Very close by, I found yet another little church, on the Corso, where Exposition was in progress: so I went from seeing Our Lord in the Sacrament to seeing Him again. But I couldn't stay, for I had an appointment: at Ristorante Abruzzi (Piazza dei SS Apostoli) I was meeting a prelate of my acquaintance for dinner at half seven.

"Eccellenza!" quoth I - His Lordship had just arrived, and was incognito, so the staff called him Padre, which greatly amused him, since (being close to the Greg.) it probably meant they thought him a Jesuit. His modest episcopal ring perhaps wasn't showy enough... since the situation was informal and he wasn't in full regalia, I decided not to genuflect on the left knee after all, as being rather over the top given the circumstances.

You know, sometimes with old friends you just take up where you left off - we had a very enjoyable conversation, and before we realized four hours had passed. Settling the bill (about €85, quite decent for a smorgasbord of antipasti, two bottles of the house wine, perfect Roman proper spaghetti carbonara, main course - I had vitello tonnato - with a side dish of vegetables, then dessert, coffee, and complimentary liqueurs), we walked along, still having a good chat, past Trajan's Column as far as the Colosseum, at which point I had to head off back to San Gregorio. It was an hour after curfew, so I snuck in...

Ad multos annos!


A very good time was had by all, with a select party of Aussies and some others looking down on night-time Rome and St Peter's, drinking martinis with friends, student priests, and even a curial official.

(I haven't had such a good martini since I was guest of Fr Tattersall et al. some years back. Come to think of it, it really is my drink...)

It was especially good to see my old mate Monica, whom I haven't seen since she moved to live and work in England some years ago. It was good to see ya, and again at Mass to-day!

The only fly in the ointment was the pressing need to get back to San Gregorio before the curfew at 11.30 pm - I half walked, half ran over the painful cobblestones, achieving the incredible distance just in time, in half an hour. I surprised myself.

Novus et Veteris Ordines Missae

Spot what is incongruous and superfluous in this picture...

As I explained at the Congregation for Divine Worship, it would be unseemly in principle to exclude the celebration of or attendance at the modern Roman Rite in its Ordinary Form; which my interlocutor observed was correct, since it would have been churlish to have spurned the Pope's Mass on that pretext!

Of course, I oppose all abuses of the Novus Ordo; it should be safe, legal, and rare.

At least here in Rome one sees quite commonly the traditional altar set-up, without some miserable table set up in the untraditional ignorant mania for Mass versus populum.

The first thing the Pope can do is to see the correct placement of the priest at the altar resumed throughout the City, stripping out philistine excrescences before perfectly serviceable atlars, and then extend it worldwide once more.

(It will require the generation of priests stuck in the seventies to die off before the Restoration succeed...)

Just yesterday, I also heard half a French Novus Ordo, which was very devoutly offered: and this morning, happening upon a church to read Prime in, heard the start of a Spanish Mass.

(What a pity I can't be in Toledo for a Mozarabic Liturgy! And because of an invitation last night to a function, I missed the Armenian Rite liturgy at St Blase, or San Biagio degli Armeni.)

Chiesa Nuova

On Saturday afternoon I had another serendipitious encounter: returning to Santa Maria in Vallicella for to venerate St Philip, I found a French group (seminarians?) in course of singing a beautiful Novus Ordo Mass in the saint's chapel. There were four priests concelebrating, with two deacons and two others serving, plus about a dozen men who sang music in several parts, in both French and Italian. They all seemed notably pious. Having arrived at the start of the Offertory, I was delighted to find, through attendance to the prayers, that it was indeed a Votive of St Philip Neri: God has been very kind to me in stirring up devotion to this saint, for the good of my soul.

(Much later that night, I read over the readings and such for the Mass of St Philip, so as to supply as it were the half I'd missed. Interesting, isn't it, that one can miss the first half of Mass and not miss it, but not contrariwise; for the Liturgy of the Word is ordered to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, not vice versa - the Fore-Mass by itself is but a paraliturgy; though in Latin, it is a Missa sicca!)

I venerated the saint at closer quarters eventually, but first there was a baptism in the chapel. (Will I see all seven sacraments before I leave Rome?! I've seen now Baptism, the Eucharist, Confessions being heard, a Marriage, Ordinations... only Confirmation and Extreme Unction, which God avert, to go!)

In the huge sacristy, which itself could be a church, complete with a supermassive statue of St Philip above a noble altar, I was able to obtain a guide to the church, ever so many cards of St Philip and the Chiesa Nuova, and best of all a holy medal, which one of the Oratorian fathers kindly blessed for me. I saw another good son of St Philip patiently waiting in the confessional as I left the sacred edifice.

Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Behold, Santa Maria sopra Minerva - note the amusing elephant! (To the right, out of frame, are marks on the façade noting how high different floods of the Tiber came; the highest, back in the sixteenth century, would have flooded well in through the doors. One quaint inscription has it that, but for Holy Mary interposing her hand, all Rome would have been swept away.)

I forgot to mention this before: on Friday afternoon I also wandered into Santa Maria sopra Minerva - I had no idea till I went in how huge it is! And to find under the High Altar the body of St Catherine of Siena, and close by Bl John of Fiesole, a.k.a. Fra Angelico!

I prayed for my old friends the Dominicans there.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

How St Philip would be Pleased!

After getting back to my digs barely in time for curfew (see next post for details), I stayed up even later, chatting on my mobile, since somewhere close by a noisy party was going on...

Refreshed, and finally feeling almost better this morning - for I've felt like a leper all my time in Rome, since that dreadful cold that laid me up all the week before I travelled has lingered on, with many hacking coughs, etc. - I arose and made my leisurely way to Mass, stopping for a caffelatte and cornetto (croissant) en route.

On my way, I found the church of St Bridget open, built on the site where that mediaeval Swedish visionary, widow, foundress and mystic prophetess lived while in Rome. Her sisters, in their distinctive headdress, were there: good to see.

It's been far too long since I've been at Solemn High Mass: true Catholic worship, in a proper Catholic church. Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini was fairly full, with at least sixty in the congregation (it is a small church in area, and this attendance I reckon is very good for a church in the historic centre of the City). Two priests - one of them Fr Withoos - heard confessions during the Mass, in those attractive Roman confessionals at which the penitent kneels on the outside and whispers his sins to the judge within, acting in person Christi Judici.

The High Altar at SSma Trinità set for Mass (stock photo).

In the front pew on the Epistle side sat three members of the ancient Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity of Pilgrims (established by St Philip Neri in 1540), wearing their striking bright red robes with white cravats, and a badge of the Trinity over their hearts, carrying also their Baroque rods of office, with symbols of the Trinity embossed and long tassels depending.

Apparently most members of the Confraternity are away in the summer; most are extremely old; and since all its properties were confiscated* after the Occupation of Rome in 1870, the Confraternity no longer has place nor funds to carry out their former works of charity for poor pilgrims. Their only function now is to take up the collection at Mass, to say their prayers and to have the privilege of processing in and out with the clergy, being censed after them and before the rest of the people.

(*Confiscation indeed! Vae victis, and to the victors the spoils - so the ungodly thought when they despoiled Pope Pius IX of his legitimate throne. A fat lot of good that brought the House of Savoy: they got Mussolini for P.M. in the end, an alliance with Hitler, terrible losses in Africa, the Balkans and Russia, then war throughout all Italy and finally the loss of their ill-gotten kingship. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Let all who raise their hand against the Pope, the Lord's true anointed, and not some jumped-up braggart princeling, beware! As with Attila the Hun, so with Victor Emmanuel...

(As for those who stole the pious donations built up over centuries and intended for the care of strangers and pilgrims, in their rapacious impiety they merited only torment with the devils in hell.)

For the High Mass, the English priest and deacon, plus the French subdeacon (who sang the Epistle in an amusing accent), were assisted by an M.C., thurifer and two acolytes. (As is the practice in Rome, there was no processional cross carried.) There was also a priest in choir attending the Mass, who assisted in distributing communion. After the Mass, he went to a side altar, donned Eastern vestments, and began a "Low" Byzantine Rite Divine Liturgy, in Ukrainian I think.

The High Mass itself, well-paced and unhurried, took an hour and a quarter, including a good Italian sermon on the resurrection of the body, and the restoration to fulness of life of the human person, as instanced by God's great mercy in Christ, Who raised the widow of Naim's only son (to-day's Gospel, for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost). As my hand missal notes, this miracle signifies Christ's merciful raising of us from lying dead in sin, at the plea of our Holy Mother the Church.

The mystery of the paten: during High Mass, as all men know, at the Offertory the subdeacon receives the paten and with the humeral veil around his shoulders and arms, holds it aloft before his face all through the Canon until after the Pater noster, when the deacon takes it back that the priest may break the Host and deposit the Particles upon it. Against the usual principle that the greater is censed by the lesser, during the Offertory the deacon censes the subdeacon carrying the paten, presumably by reason of the latter's special office; otherwise, the deacon having censed the priest and any clergy, he passes the task of censing the lesser ministers and people over to the thurifer. It struck me during this ritual that perhaps the subdeacon represents an angel veiling his face before the Lord.

The organ played, and a male soloist sang all the Gregorian Propers, including the Vidi aquam. Only the Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and a communion Motet were in, well, I suppose it was polyphony, with a female singer also and organ accompaniment. The Gloria, perhaps on account of its length, was in plant-chant (Missa XI, Orbis factor), and the Creed also (Credo III), alternated between soloist and people. At the end of Mass, one and all sang the Salve to honour Maria Santissima.

Si spiritu vivimus, spiritu et ambulemus.

(If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.)

I was struck by the opening verse of the Epistle (Galatians v, 25 - vi, 10), which put me in mind of that sovereign liberty in the Lord that St Philip Neri possessed, being always full of love and joy and peace in the Holy Ghost, acting with perfect freedom as befits a child of God. I thought at once of the words of the Acts: Spiritus Domini rapuit Philippum (the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip up, enraptured him)... I must turn to the Apostle Paul, to read more of life in the Spirit, after the model of San Filippo buono, Third Apostle of Rome.


During Mass, as for the last several days, I had the fanciful thought that I was at Mass with a ancient Roman plucked out of time, now to behold with astonished eye his City cleansed from paganism, in which the despised Christians of his age have triumphed, and planted the Cross everywhere above pagan altars thrown down.

It pleased me to think how he would have found the Christian Latin comprehensible, yet strange, with its bizarre use of common words (Dominus, Deus, Pater, Filius, Spiritus), and wierder admixture of Greek (Kyrie, eleison, Christe, Ecclesia, Jesus, psallere, Evangelium, propheta, Maria, catholicam, apostolicam, baptisma, hymnum, Angeli, Archangeli) and even strange Hebrew (Amen, Alleluia, Sabaoth, Hosanna, Seraphim, Cherubim), plus manifold unclassical infelicities in the readings from the Scriptures, even Hebraisms (Dominus vobiscum, Et cum spiritu tuo, per omnia saecula saeculorum, expectans expectavi).

What would he make of the Gloria, of the Credo, above all of the dense doctrine of the Preface of the Trinity? What of the Pater noster, of the Confiteor the deacon sang (who are these people with such foreign Greek and Hebrew names: Mary, Michael, John Baptist, Apostles Peter and Paul?), of the Last Gospel, all about some word (Verbum)?

What would he have made of the repeated praises of the "Trinity" (Tri-unitas was a neologism of Tertullian), or of the mysterious message preached, "For a great Prophet hath risen up in us, and because God hath visited His people" - Jesus Christ bringing eternal life, and giving that gift in His Sacrifice, in what these Christians oddly name a sacramentum?

A Sacrifice, certainly, for he would recognize the solemn actions of the priest, but an odd one: where the Victim, the people partake of what? A white Disc is uplifted, and offered incense, as to a god... it is shewn again, and called the Lamb that takes the sins of the world away... the choir sings, Panis quem ego dabo caro mea est pro saeculi vita (The Bread that I shall give is My Flesh for the life of the world). Mystery! Is this the cannibal feast against which the pagans whispered?

At least in the classical dress of the parati, he would see something of the civil rituals of his day, with servants bearing incense, candles, and a book before the officials, just as the same was bourne before magistrates in Rome of old (except not the Gospel, but an Imperial rescript of appointment). He would have recognized what genuflection meant; in his day, one bent the knee before the Emperor.


Strangely, the fellow actually next to me at Mass kept staring, I couldn't fathom why.

After Mass, I spoke at last with Fr Kramer, the parish priest, and again with Fr Brendan Gerard, his curate, who'd been the deacon at Mass. They were agreeable, but something about their manner made me feel, not uneasy, but as if they saw something of which I was unaware; I put it down to their being Englishmen, as their accents shewed.

I pressed on, and was delighted to find San Girolamo della Carità still open. It is a splendid little church, all shining clean and neat, now in care of priests of Opus Dei - good to know! - and I was moved to read the inscription above an interior doorway, that directly above was the chamber where all those years ago, St Philip Neri began the pious exercises of the Oratory, so-called because it was a little place for prayer. The saint lived on site for 33 years (the rooms may be seen only by appointment, apparently), and I was able to venerate him in his magnificent Baroque statue behind the altar in the magnificent Antamoro chapel.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to meet friends afterward, as I had hoped, so I went wandering around, getting a sandwich, a coffee, a gelato...

Finding somewhere to use the facilities, I looked at last in the mirror, and discovered what all absent-mindedly I'd forgotten to do: I hadn't combed my hair this morning, so I looked messy and ridiculous... hopefully this humiliation will beget humility.

How St Philip would be pleased!

Ordination Mass

As mentioned below, I obtained tickets to a Papal Mass to-day. To see Peter...

I entered the Basilica about an hour beforehand, and, thanks to the ushers moving us up the nave a long way, ended up - significantly - directly at the foot of the statue of good St Philip Neri, my patron. Grazie, Filippo buono!

Having so long to wait afforded time to read Matins through to Terce.

The Mass was a Latin Novus Ordo, at which five bishops were to be ordained: three Vatican diplomats, one Curial official, and a new Ordinary for Frascati, one of the seven suburbicarian sees around Rome (and former diocese of Cardinal Henry Stuart, the Cardinal-King, known to Jacobites as Henry IX). It took about two and a half hours: an hour from the start till the end of the Gospel, an hour for the Ordinations (including homily), and half an hour for the Eucharistic Liturgy.

A few parts only were not in Latin; the Pope's words of introduction, the two first readings (annoyingly and unnecessarily read by a layman and laywoman - when instituted lectors ought suffice), the homily, and the Communion Psalm (Psalm 22, The Lord is my Shepherd).

The texts of the Liturgy were nearly all sung. The Misereatur wasn't, and with no lectors the first two readings weren't either; but a deacon sang the Gospel of the sending of the seventy-two beautifully.

His Holiness preached an excellent homily, of which I could understand just enough to look forward to finding an English translation of it...

The words in presentation of the ordinandi, the questions and promises, the giving of the Gospel, ring, mitre, and staff were spoken also, as was the prayer after the Litanies (which would have fitted better if sung) and the prayer of consecration of the new bishops (which traditionally would have been sung, albeit it is very long).

As for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, a vast surprise for me was that in St Peter's itself, not one man stood at the Orate fratres, nor until after all had responded to it - so much for the new General Instruction!

The Prayer over the Gifts was spoken also (a pity, it fits better if chanted), as was the Eucharistic Prayer after the Sanctus, the prayer for peace (which also can fittingly be sung), the Ecce Agnus Dei, and the three clauses of the Solemn Blessing before the final benediction.

Communion was a bit of a scrimmage: one eventually found one's way to the nearest barrier, and a priest came by with a ciborium. It seemed safest to receive on the hand, lest in the melee the Host fall to the ground... (I easily become nervous about this when standing; if I could have knelt it would have been far otherwise.)

The Holy Father of course has restored kneeling for Communion at the rail where he administers the Sacrament: now for this to be extended throughout the great Basilica!

The Ordinary was the Missa cum Jubilo (am I right that this is Our Lady's Mass? the Pope referred to to-day as feast of the Holy Name of Mary in his introduction and his homily). The Ite missa est was also from this setting. Oddly, though it was printed, the Kyrie wasn't sung: when the organ boomed forth after the penitential rite (the 3rd form, two versicles), the Holy Father at once intoned the Gloria, which I suspect he wasn't supposed to (even Homer nods), and the M.C. prudently decided not to cause embarrassment by stopping him.

As for the Proper, this came from the Simple Gradual, dressed up with some typical Sistine choir polyphony for the verses. It actually resembled the Missa normativa, the first draft of the Novus Ordo, with a responsorial psalm sung at the start, in between the readings, at the offertory (this was actually the beautiful Ubi caritas, answering to a responsorial canticle) and at communion (this last was sung in Italian, as a sop to the people). The Alleluia was that placid tame same-old one sung the whole world over: A-le-lu-ya, a-a-le-lu-ya-a, a-le-e-lu-u-ya!

It being an Ordination Mass, the hymn Veni Creator was sung, and the Litanies of the Saints chanted; the one showpiece of the choir was a motet, Exsultate Deo, during the laying on of hands (with so many bishops present, this took forever); and almost at the end of the Mass, the new bishops processed about giving their first pontifical blessings, during a chanted Te Deum.

Unfortunately, despite the deacon singing Flectamus genua before the Litanies, few of the faithful knelt (the serried ranks of clergy up the front all did), making mockery of his Levate afterward. More disappointingly, few knelt even for the consecration - remember that in Italy, the norm is to kneel not for the whole Eucharistic Prayer, but for the Epiclesis, Consecration, and Elevations only.