Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sunday 1 May: Low Sunday, Class I

Cima da Conegliano, c1459-1518
National Gallery, London

The Octave Day of Easter - aka Quasimodo Sunday aka White Sunday aka...- has a lot of aliases!

The Quasimodo appellation comes from the first word of the Introit for the day ('Like newborn babies..'), which you can listen to below; the name White Sunday comes from the tradition of the neophytes putting aside their white garments; and Low Sunday comes as a contrast to the 'High' Sunday of Easter itself.

The Gospel is John 20:19-31, the story of Doubting Thomas.

Friday, April 29, 2011

April 30: Saturday in the Octave of Easter, Class I

James Tissot, circa 1886-94
The Gospel today is John 20:1-9, SS Peter and John at the tomb.

April 29: The Feast of the Holy Abbots of Cluny

Today the Benedictine calendar celebrates the feasts of four of the abbots of the monastery of Cluny, SS Odo, Majolus, Odilo and Hugh.

Founded in 910, as a result of its series of long-lived and holy abbots, Cluny was enormously influential, supporting the revival of the papacy after one of its darker periods, and the reforms of Pope St Gregory VII (a Benedictine with some ties to Cluny). It had a highly centralized structure (unlike most modern Benedictine congregations), and put an enormous emphasis on the liturgy, particularly emphasising its intercessory value, which consumed most of the day.

And if you think modern day religious wars within the Church are a little over-vigorous at times, have a read of the correspondence between St Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter the Venerable (then Abbot of Cluny), and the various tracts produced by their friends! Talk about propaganda (on both sides). Personally I tend to side with the Cluniacs, but...

Most of the original monastery, located in Bourgogne, including its fabulous library, was destroyed during the French Revolution. The name though stays alive in the remains of the 'Hotel de Cluny' in Paris, which has been turned into the Museum of the Middle Ages, known as the Cluny.

But in any case, to return to the four abbots in question, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

  • St Odo was the second abbot of Cluny, born circa 878, probably near Le Mans and he died on 18 November, 942. He reformed several monasteries in Aquitaine, northern France, and Italy, and was entrusted with some important political missions;
  • St. Majolus or Maieul was born in 906, and died in 994. Otto II desired to make him pope in 974 but he refused;
  • St Odilo was fifth abbot of Cluny, born around 962; d. 31 December, 1048. The number of monasteries in the Cluniac congregation (mainly by reforming existing monasteries) increased from 37 to 65 under his incumbency; we worked to achieve a truce system 'the peace of God' that restricted warfare; saved thousands during a time of famine through his charity; and he is primarily responsible for introducing the Feast of All Saints into the calendar;
  • St. Hugh the Great was born at Semur (Brionnais in the Diocese of Autun, 1024 and died at Cluny, 28 April, 1109. A friend of Pope St Gregory VII he played a key role in the reform of the clergy, and was widely recognized for his sanctity even during his lifetime.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 29: Friday in the Octave of Easter

The Gospel today is Matthew 28: 16-20, the great commission.

The extended Sunday of the Octave of Easter

This week we continue to celebrate Easter, in this extended 'Sunday' of the Octave.

Eastertide is so important a liturgical season that in the fifty days after it, no fasting was traditionally permitted.  The Office is festooned with alleluias, and the festal texts are generally used on Sundays.

But Easter itself is such a crucial feast that the Church extends its celebration through the octave. 

At Mass, the 'stations' continue, so there are propers and readings set for each day of the Octave (the eight days including the feast itself). 

In the Office, the psalms and antiphons of the day hours, together with most of the texts of the Office (the exceptions are the canticle antiphons and collect set for each day) are those of the Sunday (Prime uses the first antiphon of Lauds).

The pattern is only broken at Matins, where, for reasons best known to themselves the 1962 reformers have the hour gradually reverting to the ferial psalms as the week progresses, albeit under one antiphon for each Nocturn.

So maintain your joy!  And to help you along, here is the Lauds hymn, Aurora lucis rutilat.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April 28: Thursday in the Octave of Easter

Correggio, c1534

Today's Gospel is John 20:11-18, Mary Magdalene at the tomb.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April 27: Wednesday in the Octave of Easter, Class I

Duccio, c14th

The Gospel today is John 21:1-14, Jesus shows himself to his disciples for a third time.

Monday, April 25, 2011

April 26: Tuesday in the octave of Easter, Class I

Ballerup Kirke,Glammelt alterbillede af Albert Küchler:

The Gospel today is Luke 24:36-47, Jesus appears to the disciples and eats with them.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April 25: Monday in the Easter Octave, Class I

Altobello Melone, 1490-1543

The Gospel today is Luke 24:13-35, the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Friday, April 22, 2011

April 23: Holy Saturday

Harrowing of Hell,
St Alban's Psalter, c1125

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 21: Maundy Thursday

Da Vinci, 1495-8

Altarretabel von San Zeno in Verona, Triptychon, 1459,
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tours

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 20: Wednesday in Holy Week, Class I

Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337),
Cappella Scrovegni a Padova,
Judas Receiving Payment for his Betrayal

The Gospel today is the Passion according to St Luke, 22:39-71; 23:1-53.

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 19: Tuesday in Holy Week, Class I

The Gospel  today is Mark 14:32-72; 15:1-46 – The Passion according to St Mark.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

April 18: Monday in Holy Week

Heures d'Étienne Chevalier by Jean Fouquet
The Gospel today is John 12:1-9, Mary Magdalene anoints the feet of Our Lord at a meal in the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Laz'arus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Laz'arus was one of those at table with him.

Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said,  "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it. Jesus said, "Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me."

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Laz'arus, whom he had raised from the dead."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

April 17: Palm Sunday in Holy Week, Class I

The Gospel today is the Passion according to St Matthew.

The Office in Holy Week

The Office in Holy Week, or more particularly the Triduum, is quite different in form to the rest of the year, so it is important to pay close attention to the rubrics as set out in your Diurnal or Breviary, and follow the Ordo closely.

This post provides something of an overview, but should be read in conjunction with the Ordo.

Psalm Sunday to Holy Week Wednesday

The first days of Holy Week are all first class days:
  • For those who say it, Matins each day has two nocturns/three readings, with the invitatory antiphon and hymn of passiontide;
  • Lauds to None have proper antiphons for each day, with other texts from the ordinary of passiontide;
  • Vespers uses the antiphons from the psalter, with a proper canticle and collect each for the Magnificat.
The Sacred Triduum

From Holy Thursday, follow the Office as set out in the Diurnal, ignoring the psalter section of the book. There are a number of special features of the Triduum that are worth taking note of.

It is worth noting that the Benedictine Office is, for all purposes and intents, identical to the traditional Roman Office during this period. So if you have the opportunity to attend Tenebrae or other Offices sung publicly, take them! You may also wish to listen to the monks of Norcia, who broadcast many of these Offices each year.

The other key point to note is that some of the Holy Week ceremonies include parts of the Office - so those who attend them do not need to sing or say those particular hours separately (see the Ordo).

Tenebrae (Matins and Lauds)

The Office of Tenebrae, or Matins and Lauds, is a special feature of the Triduum. It is said in darkness, and a candle is extinguished as each of the psalms is said.

The 1962 rubrics specify that Tenebrae not be anticipated, or said the night before. As this generally makes public recitation of the Office impractical outside a monastery, it is generally ignored. Thus the normal practice is to perform Tenebrae for Maundy Thursday on Wednesday night, and so forth. Note that the Diurnal does not contain the Matins psalms for Tenebrae, so you will need to obtain these from elsewhere should you wish to say it in full.

Prime to None from Maundy Thursday to None on Holy Saturday

The psalms for Prime, Terce, Sext and None during the Triduum are set out on MD 279*ff. No introductory prayer or hymns are said, and the Gloria Patri is not said at the end of each psalm.

Each hour closes the antiphon ‘Christus factus est’ – each day of the Triduum, an additional phrase of the antiphon is added, as set out on MD 282*.


Vespers (if said) is often said quite early, in order to make room for Tenebrae/the Easter Vigil.

The antiphons and psalms for Vespers can be found on MD 296*ff.

Note that:
  • There are no introductory prayers;
  • As for the other hours, the Gloria Patri is not said at the end of each psalm;
  • The first psalm on Holy Saturday is on MD 298*;
  • Antiphons for the Magnificat each day are on MD 303*;
  • On Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the antiphon Christus factus est is said;
  • On the concluding prayers for Holy Saturday, see MD 305*.

The rubrics for Compline from Maundy Thursday to Holy Saturday are set out on MD 305*ff. Note the addition of the Nunc Dimittis.

Friday, April 15, 2011

April 16: Saturday in Passion Week

Giotto, 1266-1337

Today's Gospel is John 12: 10-36, the entry into Jerusalem:

"So the chief priests planned to put Laz'arus also to death, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!"

And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written, "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on an ass's colt!"

His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him.

The crowd that had been with him when he called Laz'arus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness.The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.

The Pharisees then said to one another, "You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him."

Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.

So these came to Philip, who was from Beth-sa'ida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."

Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.

"Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? `Father, save me from this hour'? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."

The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him."

Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.

Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."

He said this to show by what death he was to die.

The crowd answered him, "We have heard from the law that the Christ remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?"

Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light."

When Jesus had said this, he departed and hid himself from them."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 15: Friday in Passion Week

James Tissot, 1836-1902
Today's Gospel is John 11:47-54, the Jewish leaders decide to kill Our Lord:

"So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council, and said, "What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.

If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation."

But one of them, Ca'iaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all; you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish."

He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death.

Jesus therefore no longer went about openly among the Jews, but went from there to the country near the wilderness, to a town called E'phraim; and there he stayed with the disciples."

April 14: SS Tibertius, Valerian and Maximus, Martyrs, memorial

Conversion of St Valerian
Lorenzo Costa, 1505-6
Valerian was the husband of St Cecilia, Tiburtius was his brother, and Maximus was a Roman soldier sent to execute her.  All were converted by St Cecilia to Christianity, and martyred in 230 AD. These three saints were buried in the Catacomb of Praetextatus on the Via Appia, where their tombs are mentioned by the pilgrim nun Egeria.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April 14: Thursday in Passion Week; SS Tibertius, Valerian and Maximus, Martyrs, memorial

Rubens, ca1618
Today's Gospel is Luke 7: 36-50, St Mary Magdalen washes the feet of Our Lord, and he forgives her sins:

"One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house, and took his place at table.

And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner."

And Jesus answering said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you."

And he answered, "What is it, Teacher?"

"A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?"

Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more." And he said to him, "You have judged rightly."

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little."

And he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."

Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this, who even forgives sins?"

And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

April 13: St Justin, Memorial

icon by Theophanes the Cretan, 1546-6
Stavronikita Monastery's Katholikon
(NB This feast is celebrated on April 14 in the Roman 1962 calendar).

St Justin Martyr (100–165) was an early Christian apologist. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue survive.

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience on the saint in 2007:

In these Catecheses, we are reflecting on the great figures of the early Church. Today, we will talk about St Justin, Philosopher and Martyr, the most important of the second-century apologist Fathers.

The word "apologist" designates those ancient Christian writers who set out to defend the new religion from the weighty accusations of both pagans and Jews, and to spread the Christian doctrine in terms suited to the culture of their time.

Thus, the apologists had a twofold concern: that most properly called "apologetic", to defend the newborn Christianity (apologhía in Greek means, precisely, "defence"), and the pro-positive, "missionary" concern, to explain the content of the faith in a language and on a wavelength comprehensible to their contemporaries.

Justin was born in about the year 100 near ancient Shechem, Samaria, in the Holy Land; he spent a long time seeking the truth, moving through the various schools of the Greek philosophical tradition.

Finally, as he himself recounts in the first chapters of his Dialogue with Tryphon, a mysterious figure, an old man he met on the seashore, initially leads him into a crisis by showing him that it is impossible for the human being to satisfy his aspiration to the divine solely with his own forces. He then pointed out to him the ancient prophets as the people to turn to in order to find the way to God and "true philosophy".

In taking his leave, the old man urged him to pray that the gates of light would be opened to him.

The story foretells the crucial episode in Justin's life: at the end of a long philosophical journey, a quest for the truth, he arrived at the Christian faith. He founded a school in Rome where, free of charge, he initiated students into the new religion, considered as the true philosophy. Indeed, in it he had found the truth, hence, the art of living virtuously.

For this reason he was reported and beheaded in about 165 during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor to whom Justin had actually addressed one of his Apologia.

These - the two Apologies and the Dialogue with the Hebrew, Tryphon - are his only surviving works. In them, Justin intends above all to illustrate the divine project of creation and salvation, which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Logos, that is, the eternal Word, eternal Reason, creative Reason.

Every person as a rational being shares in the Logos, carrying within himself a "seed", and can perceive glimmers of the truth. Thus, the same Logos who revealed himself as a prophetic figure to the Hebrews of the ancient Law also manifested himself partially, in "seeds of truth", in Greek philosophy.

Now, Justin concludes, since Christianity is the historical and personal manifestation of the Logos in his totality, it follows that "whatever things were rightly said among all men are the property of us Christians" (Second Apology of St Justin Martyr, 13: 4).

In this way, although Justin disputed Greek philosophy and its contradictions, he decisively oriented any philosophical truth to the Logos, giving reasons for the unusual "claim" to truth and universality of the Christian religion. If the Old Testament leaned towards Christ, just as the symbol is a guide to the reality represented, then Greek philosophy also aspired to Christ and the Gospel, just as the part strives to be united with the whole.

And he said that these two realities, the Old Testament and Greek philosophy, are like two paths that lead to Christ, to the Logos. This is why Greek philosophy cannot be opposed to Gospel truth, and Christians can draw from it confidently as from a good of their own.

Therefore, my venerable Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, described St Justin as a "pioneer of positive engagement with philosophical thinking - albeit with cautious discernment.... Although he continued to hold Greek philosophy in high esteem after his conversion, Justin claimed with power and clarity that he had found in Christianity 'the only sure and profitable philosophy' (Dial. 8: 1)" (Fides et Ratio, n. 38).

Overall, the figure and work of Justin mark the ancient Church's forceful option for philosophy, for reason, rather than for the religion of the pagans. With the pagan religion, in fact, the early Christians strenuously rejected every compromise. They held it to be idolatry, at the cost of being accused for this reason of "impiety" and "atheism".

Justin in particular, especially in his first Apology, mercilessly criticized the pagan religion and its myths, which he considered to be diabolically misleading on the path of truth.

Philosophy, on the other hand, represented the privileged area of the encounter between paganism, Judaism and Christianity, precisely at the level of the criticism of pagan religion and its false myths. "Our philosophy...": this is how another apologist, Bishop Melito of Sardis, a contemporary of Justin, came to define the new religion in a more explicit way (Ap. Hist. Eccl. 4, 26, 7).

In fact, the pagan religion did not follow the ways of the Logos, but clung to myth, even if Greek philosophy recognized that mythology was devoid of consistency with the truth.

Therefore, the decline of the pagan religion was inevitable: it was a logical consequence of the detachment of religion - reduced to an artificial collection of ceremonies, conventions and customs - from the truth of being.

Justin, and with him other apologists, adopted the clear stance taken by the Christian faith for the God of the philosophers against the false gods of the pagan religion.

It was the choice of the truth of being against the myth of custom. Several decades after Justin, Tertullian defined the same option of Christians with a lapidary sentence that still applies: "Dominus noster Christus veritatem se, non consuetudinem, cognominavit - Christ has said that he is truth not fashion" (De Virgin. Vel. 1, 1).

It should be noted in this regard that the term consuetudo, used here by Tertullian in reference to the pagan religion, can be translated into modern languages with the expressions: "cultural fashion", "current fads".

In a time like ours, marked by relativism in the discussion on values and on religion - as well as in interreligious dialogue - this is a lesson that should not be forgotten.

To this end, I suggest to you once again - and thus I conclude - the last words of the mysterious old man whom Justin the Philosopher met on the seashore: "Pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and his Christ have imparted wisdom" (Dial. 7: 3)."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 13: Wednesday in Passion Week

James Tissot
Today's Gospel is John 10: 22-38 - Jesus asserts his divinity, and the Jews threaten to stone him:

"It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.

 So the Jews gathered round him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."

Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one."

The Jews took up stones again to stone him.

Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?"

The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God."

Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law, `I said, you are gods'? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken), do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, `You are blaspheming,' because I said, `I am the Son of God'? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."

Monday, April 11, 2011

April 12: Tuesday in Passion Week

Preparations for the feast of tabernacles,
Charles Foster, 1897

Today's Gospel is John 7:1-13, Jesus in Galilee:

"After this Jesus went about in Galilee; he would not go about in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him.

Now the Jews' feast of Tabernacles was at hand. So his brothers said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing. For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world."  For even his brothers did not believe in him.

Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil. Go to the feast yourselves; I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come." So saying, he remained in Galilee.

But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.

The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, "Where is he?" And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, "He is a good man," others said, "No, he is leading the people astray."

Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him."

April 11: Pope St Leo the Great, memorial

Raphael, 1514:
The meeting between Pope Leo the Great and Attila the Hun
fresco in Stanza di Eliodoro, Palazzi Pontifici

Pope St Leo I, rightly given the accolade 'the Great', lived 400-461, and was pope from 440.

He is most famous for having persuaded Attila the Hun to turn back from his planned invasion of Italy in 452.  But it is theological legacy, particularly his tone on the two natures of Christ read out at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, that earned him the title of Doctor of the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience on St Leo in 2008.  It is well worth a read:

"Continuing our journey through the Fathers of the Church, true stars that shine in the distance, at our meeting today we encounter a Pope who in 1754 Benedict XIV proclaimed a Doctor of the Church: St Leo the Great. As the nickname soon attributed to him by tradition suggests, he was truly one of the greatest Pontiffs to have honoured the Roman See and made a very important contribution to strengthening its authority and prestige. He was the first Bishop of Rome to have been called Leo, a name used subsequently by another 12 Supreme Pontiffs, and was also the first Pope whose preaching to the people who gathered round him during celebrations has come down to us. We spontaneously think of him also in the context of today's Wednesday General Audiences, events that in past decades have become a customary meeting of the Bishop of Rome with the faithful and the many visitors from every part of the world.

Leo was a Tuscan native. In about the year 430 A.D., he became a deacon of the Church of Rome, in which he acquired over time a very important position. In the year 440 his prominent role induced Galla Placidia, who then ruled the Empire of the West, to send him to Gaul to heal a difficult situation. But in the summer of that year, Pope Sixtus III, whose name is associated with the magnificent mosaics in St Mary Major's, died, and it was Leo who was elected to succeed him. Leo heard the news precisely while he was carrying out his peace mission in Gaul. Having returned to Rome, the new Pope was consecrated on 29 September 440. This is how his Pontificate began. It lasted more than 21 years and was undoubtedly one of the most important in the Church's history. Pope Leo died on 10 November 461 and was buried near the tomb of St Peter. Today, his relics are preserved in one of the altars in the Vatican Basilica.

The times in which Pope Leo lived were very difficult: constant barbarian invasions, the gradual weakening of imperial authority in the West and the long, drawn-out social crisis forced the Bishop of Rome - as was to happen even more obviously a century and a half later during the Pontificate of Gregory the Great - to play an important role in civil and political events. This, naturally, could only add to the importance and prestige of the Roman See. The fame of one particular episode in Leo's life has endured. It dates back to 452 when the Pope, together with a Roman delegation, met Attila, chief of the Huns, in Mantua and dissuaded him from continuing the war of invasion by which he had already devastated the northeastern regions of Italy. Thus, he saved the rest of the Peninsula. This important event soon became memorable and lives on as an emblematic sign of the Pontiff's action for peace. Unfortunately, the outcome of another Papal initiative three years later was not as successful, yet it was a sign of courage that still amazes us: in the spring of 455 Leo did not manage to prevent Genseric's Vandals, who had reached the gates of Rome, from invading the undefended city that they plundered for two weeks. This gesture of the Pope - who, defenceless and surrounded by his clergy, went forth to meet the invader to implore him to desist - nevertheless prevented Rome from being burned and assured that the Basilicas of St Peter, St Paul and St John, in which part of the terrified population sought refuge, were spared.

We are familiar with Pope Leo's action thanks to his most beautiful sermons - almost 100 in a splendid and clear Latin have been preserved - and thanks to his approximately 150 letters. In these texts the Pontiff appears in all his greatness, devoted to the service of truth in charity through an assiduous exercise of the Word which shows him to us as both Theologian and Pastor. Leo the Great, constantly thoughtful of his faithful and of the people of Rome but also of communion between the different Churches and of their needs, was a tireless champion and upholder of the Roman Primacy, presenting himself as the Apostle Peter's authentic heir: the many Bishops who gathered at the Council of Chalcedon, the majority of whom came from the East, were well aware of this.

This Council, held in 451 and in which 350 Bishops took part, was the most important assembly ever to have been celebrated in the history of the Church. Chalcedon represents the sure goal of the Christology of the three previous Ecumenical Councils: Nicea in 325, Constantinople in 381 and Ephesus in 431. By the sixth century these four Councils that sum up the faith of the ancient Church were already being compared to the four Gospels. This is what Gregory the Great affirms in a famous letter (I, 24): "I confess that I receive and revere, as the four books of the Gospel so also the four Councils", because on them, Gregory explains further, "as on a four-square stone, rises the structure of the holy faith". The Council of Chalcedon, which rejected the heresy of Eutyches who denied the true human nature of the Son of God, affirmed the union in his one Person, without confusion and without separation, of his two natures, human and divine.

The Pope asserted this faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, in an important doctrinal text addressed to the Bishop of Constantinople, the so-called Tome to Flavian which, read at Chalcedon, was received by the Bishops present with an eloquent acclamation. Information on it has been preserved in the proceedings of the Council: "Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo", the Council Fathers announced in unison. From this intervention in particular, but also from others made during the Christological controversy in those years, it is clear that the Pope felt with special urgency his responsibilities as Successor of Peter, whose role in the Church is unique since "to one Apostle alone was entrusted what was communicated to all the Apostles", as Leo said in one of his sermons for the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul (83, 2). And the Pontiff was able to exercise these responsibilities, in the West as in the East, intervening in various circumstances with caution, firmness and lucidity through his writings and legates. In this manner he showed how exercising the Roman Primacy was as necessary then as it is today to effectively serve communion, a characteristic of Christ's one Church.

Aware of the historical period in which he lived and of the change that was taking place - from pagan Rome to Christian Rome - in a period of profound crisis, Leo the Great knew how to make himself close to the people and the faithful with his pastoral action and his preaching. He enlivened charity in a Rome tried by famines, an influx of refugees, injustice and poverty. He opposed pagan superstitions and the actions of Manichaean groups. He associated the liturgy with the daily life of Christians: for example, by combining the practice of fasting with charity and almsgiving above all on the occasion of the Quattro tempora, which in the course of the year marked the change of seasons. In particular, Leo the Great taught his faithful - and his words still apply for us today - that the Christian liturgy is not the memory of past events, but the actualization of invisible realities which act in the lives of each one of us. This is what he stressed in a sermon (cf. 64, 1-2) on Easter, to be celebrated in every season of the year "not so much as something of the past as rather an event of the present". All this fits into a precise project, the Holy Pontiff insisted: just as, in fact, the Creator enlivened with the breath of rational life man formed from the dust of the ground, after the original sin he sent his Son into the world to restore to man his lost dignity and to destroy the dominion of the devil through the new life of grace.

This is the Christological mystery to which St Leo the Great, with his Letter to the Council of Ephesus, made an effective and essential contribution, confirming for all time - through this Council - what St Peter said at Caesarea Philippi. With Peter and as Peter, he professed: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God". And so it is that God and man together "are not foreign to the human race but alien to sin" (cf. Serm. 64). Through the force of this Christological faith he was a great messenger of peace and love. He thus shows us the way: in faith we learn charity. Let us therefore learn with St Leo the Great to believe in Christ, true God and true Man, and to implement this faith every day in action for peace and love of neighbour."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April 11: Monday of Passion Week; St Leo, Memorial

Westminster Cathedral, London
Today's Gospel reading is John 7:32-39 - Our Lord preaches and the Jewish leader try to arrest him:

"The Pharisees heard the crowd thus muttering about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him.

Jesus then said, "I shall be with you a little longer, and then I go to him who sent me; you will seek me and you will not find me; where I am you cannot come."

The Jews said to one another, "Where does this man intend to go that we shall not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying, `You will seek me and you will not find me,' and, `Where I am you cannot come'?"

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified."

Vespers Hymn for Passiontide: Vexilla Regis

Saturday, April 9, 2011

April 10: Passion Sunday

James Tissot c1886-96
Today's Gospel is John, 8:46-59 - the Jews attempt to stone Our Lord for blasphemy, but he escapes:

"Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God."

The Jews answered him, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?"

Jesus answered, "I have not a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it and he will be the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if any one keeps my word, he will never see death."

The Jews said to him, "Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, as did the prophets; and you say, `If any one keeps my word, he will never taste death.' Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you claim to be?"

Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is your God. But you have not known him; I know him. If I said, I do not know him, I should be a liar like you; but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad." The Jews then said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am."

So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple."

Lent Pt 2 - the rubrics for Passiontide week I

As noted in an earlier post on the rubrics for Lent, Lent in the Benedictine Office actually encompasses a number of quite diverse sets of rubrics:

• Ash Wednesday to first Vespers of the First Sunday of Lent, when the Office basically stays as if it were still Septuagesimatide;
• First Sunday of Lent up until first Vespers of First Passion Sunday - the rubrics of Lent;
Passiontide (First Passion Sunday to Palm Sunday); and
• Holy Week (up until the Easter Vigil).

The notes here cover the Passiontide week I, that is, from First Passion Sunday to Palm Sunday.

 The Ordinary of the Office during Passiontide

The Ordinary of the ferial Office, used from the Monday after First Passion Sunday, in Lent is set out in the Farnborough edition of the Monastic Diurnal at MD 240*ff.

For those saying Matins (not in the Diurnal):
  • the invitatory antiphon is for the season (Hodie si vocem Domini audieritis)
  • the hymn is for the season of Lent and is the same each day (Pange lingua);
  • the readings during the week are usually patristic sermons, relating to the Gospel of the Mass set for that day;
  • the chapter verse for Nocturn II is for the season (Jer 11:18-19).
At Prime to None:
  • the antiphons, chapters and versicles are of the season of Passiontide, and can be found in the psalter section;
  • the collect for Terce to None is the same as for Lauds of that day;
At Lauds and Vespers:
  • chapters, hymns, etc of the season replace those in the psalter section;
  • the responsories omit the Gloria Patri, instead repeating the opening verse;
  • the canticle antiphons are proper for each day. They generally reflect the (EF) Gospel for the day; and
  • there is a specific collect for both Lauds and Vespers each day.
It is also important to be aware that when a feast displaces the Lent texts, a commemoration of the day is made at both Lauds and Vespers using the respective collects, canticle antiphon and versicle that occurs before the relevant canticle at that hour.

Monday, April 4, 2011

April 4: St Isidore, Bishop and Doctor, Memorial

Murillo, 1665

St Isidore of Seville (c. 560 – 4 April 636)  may or may not have been a monk, but as bishop he certainly acted as protector of them and as a great promoter of the monastic life. 

The saint is best known as the first Christian encyclopedist, attempting to compile a summa of all of the known knowledge of the time.  He was also a diligent historian of the Spanish regions.  He saw education as a way of unifying the diverse peoples of his diocese, and uniting them against the barbarian invaders.  Due to his efforts, much classical learning was preserved that might otherwise have been lost.

As a bishop, he played a key role in converting the reigning dynasty from Arianism and suppressing heresy.

Map of the known world
from the first printed edition of the Etymologies of St Isidore
University of Texas collection