Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday at Durham Before the Dissolution and the Reformation

Remembering the glories of the recent past, a former monk of Durham Abbey recounted the rituals of early morning on Easter Sunday, as the guarding of the Sepulchre ended with the Resurrection:

There was in the abbye church of duresme [Durham] verye solemne service uppon easter day betweene 3 and 4 of the clocke in the morninge in honour of the resurrection where 2 of the oldest monkes of the quire came to the sepulchre, being sett upp upon good friday after the passion all covered with redd velvett and embrodered with gold, and then did sence it either monke with a paire of silver sencors sittinge on theire knees before the sepulcher;

then they both risinge came to the sepulchre, out of the which with great reverence they tooke a marvelous beautiful Image of our saviour representinge the resurrection with a crosse in his hand in the breast wheof was enclosed in bright Christall the holy sacrament of the altar, throughe the which christall the blessed host was conspicuous, to the behoulders;

then after the elevation of the said picture carryed by the said 2 monkes uppon a faire velvett cushion all embrodered singinge the anthem of christus resurgens they brought to the high altar settinge that on the midst therof whereon it stood the two monkes kneelinge on theire knees before the altar, and senceing it all the time that the rest of the whole quire was in singinge the foresaid anthem of Xpus resrugens;

the which anthem being ended the 2 monkes tooke up the cushines and the picture from the altar supportinge it betwixt them, proceeding in procession from the high altar to the south quire dore where there was 4 antient gentlemen belonginge to the prior appointed to attend theire cominge holdinge upp a most rich cannopye of purple velvett tached round about with redd silke, and gold fringe;

and at everye corner did stand one of theise ancient gentlemen to beare it over the said Image, with the holy sacrament carried by two monkes round about the church the whole quire waitinge uppon it with goodly torches and great store of other lights, all singinge rejoyceinge and praising god most devoutly till they came to the high altar againe, wheron they did place the said Image there to remaine untill the assencion day.

The image above (from Wikipedia/public domain) is of an alabaster carving created in 14th century England. You might remember that there has been a travelling exhibition of these surviving alabasters from the Victoria & Albert Museum the past few years, most recently (from my search) at The Dayton Art Institute. Those alabaster carvings that survived the English Reformation and the iconoclasm of the reign of Edward VI were found on the Continent or in private homes. 

As the book that accompanied the exhibition noted:

During the later Middle Ages, England had a thriving art industry that produced religious alabaster sculptures in large numbers and exported them to virtually every country in Europe. Despite the success and scale of this industry, however, English alabasters have remained a neglected art form. Alabaster is a remarkable and attractive material for a sculptor to work with. It is a fine-grained, rare form of gypsum, superficially resembling marble, but with a softer, deeper translucent glow and a creamy, yellow-ochre finish. Because the material was soft and easy to carve, and was found in large quantities beneath the soil of the English Midlands, medieval English sculptors worked this mineral resource extensively from the late fourteenth century until the Reformation in the 1530s, creating lively, spirited reliefs for altarpieces and devotional figures.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

William Cornysh and Our Sorrowful Mother

That's not William Cornysh on the cover of The Tallis Scholars CD of music by William Cornysh: that's King Henry VII. Cornysh the younger's music--and possibly that of his father of the same name, who died in 1502--is one of the highlights of what remains of the Eton Choirbook. The  younger Cornysh was employed by Henry VII and continued to serve as musician and composer for Henry VIII. According to the notes for this 1988 CD:

William Cornysh (d.1523) lived at a crucial moment in the development of English music. On the one hand he contributed to the last and most florid style to be found in the Eton Choirbook; and on the other he must have realised that this style could go no further, beginning to simplify his music and thus setting a technique for the future. There is therefore considerable variety in his small output and this recording, which contains all the sacred music by him which may be reconstructed and a selection of his secular compositions, reflects it: from the unparalleled complexities of the last phrases of the Magnificat to the naive directness of Ah, Robin.

Cornysh was an early and rare example of what is now called the Renaissance artist. A man of remarkable intelligence, he was well-known in his lifetime not only as an outstanding musician, but also as a poet, dramatist and actor. Unfortunately none of his dramatic writings has survived, though there is a poem by him in the British Library entitled A Treatise bitwene Trouth and Enformacion which was written while serving a jail sentence in the Fleet prison. In this he claimed that he had been convicted by false information and thus wrongfully accused, though it is not known exactly what the accusation was. As an actor he took part in many plays at court, some of which have survived, including The Golden Arbour (1511) and the Triumph of Love and Beauty (1514). But it was within the activities of the court masque that he would have had the ideal opportunity to show off his many talents. In 1501 he is reported as having devised the pageants and 'disguysings' for the marriage festivities of Arthur, Prince of Wales and Katherine of Aragon. More importantly, in June 1520 he led the Chapel Royal's ceremonies at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, which included not only singing but a full-scale pageant. In 1522 the Emperor Charles V visited England to negotiate with Henry VIII and on June 15 the court was entertained with a play by Cornysh which outlined in simple allegory the progress of the discussions and their expected outcome.

This BBC page holds that the father may have written the works in the Eton Choirbook, since the son was better known for Courtly masques and entertainments--but he was Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal for many years. On this Holy Saturday, however, what I am most interested in is the Stabat Mater, the title of the CD and the last work on the CD:

The Stabat mater is a masterpiece which contains frequent contrasts between ornate and simpler passages: these juxtapositions are something of a speciality of Cornysh's. That this setting is less well-known might be because the opening sections survive incomplete, though these have been magnificently reconstructed by Professor Frank Harrison. In general Cornysh's style is less introverted than that of his greatest contemporary John Browne. Cornysh always seemed to be striving for the most brilliant effect, or the most pathetic tone, a way of thinking which would have made him perfectly suited to the madrigal a hundred years later, and makes him reminiscent of Thomas Weelkes.

Cornysh is also the composer of Woefully Arrayed, performed here by Stile Antico, from their 2012 CD Passion and Resurrection:

Gimell Records even has a vinyl recording of the Tallis Scholars' CD of Cornysh music available--carefully preserved from the 20th century.

An Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday: The Harrowing of Hell

Something strange is happening -- there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: 'My Lord be with you all.' Christ answered him: 'And with your spirit.' He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: 'Awake, o sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.'

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I in you; together we form one person and cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, Whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on My Face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in Hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise. Let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

The Eastern Orthodox iconography for the Resurrection (image source from Wikipedia Commons; U.S. copyright expired) depicts this moment of Jesus bringing Adam and Eve out of their captivity to heaven. Today should be a day of waiting and silence--there is no Mass until the Easter Vigil, the most splendid liturgical celebration of the entire year, with the Holy Fire, the Easter Candle, the Exultet, the readings and psalms from the Old Testament, the bells and exultation of the Gloria after so long a silence--and the reception of converts, their Baptism, Confirmation,and First Holy Communion! It's hard to stay recollected on a day usually given over to errands and yard work; here in Wichita, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary have scheduled a Sorrowful Mother Vigil today from Noon to 3:00 p.m. at St. Joseph's Catholic Church. More information here.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday: Mourning for Christ's Sufferings

Blessed John Henry Newman wrote one of his most powerful Parochial and Plain Sermons to awaken in his congregation real love and compassion for Jesus in His suffering and death. He reminded them that they could be so used to the descriptions of the agony of the garden, the scourging at the pillar and crowning with thorns, the carrying of the cross, and the crucifixion (the five sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary!) that the words become less meaningful, and their sorrow and compassion less heartfelt.

You will ask, how are we to learn to feel pain and anguish at the thought of Christ's sufferings? I answer, by thinking of them, that is, by dwelling on the thought. This, through God's mercy, is in the power of every one. No one who will but solemnly think over the history of those sufferings, as drawn out for us in the Gospels, but will gradually gain, through God's grace, a sense of them, will in a measure realize them, will in a measure be as if he saw them, will feel towards them as being not merely a tale written in a book, but as a true history, as a series of events which took place. It is indeed a great mercy that this duty which I speak of, though so high, is notwithstanding so level with the powers of all classes of persons, learned and unlearned, if they wish to perform it. Any one can think of Christ's sufferings, if he will; and knows well what to think about. "It is not in heaven that thou shouldst say, Who shall go up for us to heaven and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea that thou shouldst say, Who shall go over the sea for us? ... but the word is very nigh unto thee;" very nigh, for it is in the four Gospels, which, at this day at least, are open to all men. All men may read or hear the Gospels, and in knowing them, they will know all that is necessary to be known in order to feel aright; they will know all that any one knows, all that has been told us, all that the greatest saints have ever had to make them full of love and sacred fear.

To help his listeners feel that pain and anguish, he uses examples: like of the compassion you feel when you hear of an animal being mistreated, or thinking of a child being tortured like Our Lord was tortured:

What if wicked men took and crucified a young child? What if they deliberately seized its poor little frame, and stretched out its arms, nailed them to a cross bar of wood, drove a stake through its two feet, and fastened them to a beam, and so left it to die? It is almost too shocking to say; perhaps, you will actually say it is too shocking, and ought not to be said. O, my brethren, you feel the horror of this, and yet you can bear to read of Christ's sufferings without horror; for what is that little child's agony to His? and which deserved it more? which is the more innocent? which the holier? was He not gentler, sweeter, meeker, more tender, more loving, than any little child? Why are you shocked at the one, why are you not shocked at the other?

Or an elderly person:

And now, instead of taking the case of the young, innocent, and confiding, let us take another instance which will present to us our Lord's passion under another aspect. Let us suppose that some aged and venerable person whom we have known as long as we could recollect any thing, and loved and reverenced, suppose such a one, who had often done us kindnesses, who had taught us, who had given us good advice, who had encouraged us, smiled on us, comforted us in trouble, whom we knew to be very good and religious, very holy, full of wisdom, full of heaven, with grey hairs and awful countenance, waiting for Almighty God's summons to leave this world for a better place; suppose, I say, such a one whom we have ourselves known, and whose memory is dear to us, rudely seized by fierce men, stripped naked in public, insulted, driven about here and there, made a laughing-stock, struck, spit on, dressed up in other clothes in ridicule, then severely scourged on the back, then laden with some heavy load till he could carry it no longer, pulled and dragged about, and at last exposed with all his wounds to the gaze of a rude multitude who came and jeered him, what would be our feelings? Let us in our mind think of this person or that, and consider how we should be overwhelmed and pierced through and through by such a hideous occurrence.

And then Newman concludes with the vivid description of Christ's suffering:

But what is all this to the suffering of the holy Jesus, which we bear to read of as a matter of course! Only think of Him, when in His wounded state, and without garment on, He had to creep up the ladder, as He could, which led Him up the cross high enough for His murderers to nail Him to it; and consider who it was that was in that misery. Or again, view Him dying, hour after hour bleeding to death; and how? in peace? no; with His arms stretched out, and His face exposed to view, and any one who pleased coming and staring at Him, mocking Him, and watching the gradual ebbing of His strength, and the approach of death. These are some of the appalling details which the Gospels contain, and surely they were not recorded for nothing; but that we might dwell on them.

Then he encourages his listeners to think about how St. John, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Mary Magdalen, and other followers of Jesus must have felt seeing their master, her Son, so cruelly tortured. And then he addresses the lukewarmness some in his congregation might feel:

One thing I will add:—if there be persons here present who are conscious to themselves that they do not feel the grief which this season should cause them, who feel now as they do at other times, let them consider with themselves whether perhaps this defect does not arise from their having neglected to come to church, whether during this season or at other times, as often as they might. Our feelings are not in our own power; God alone can rule our feelings; God alone can make us sorrow, when we would but cannot sorrow; but will He, if we have not diligently sought Him according to our opportunities in this house of grace? I speak of those who might come to prayers more frequently, and do not. I know well that many cannot come. I speak of those who can, if they will. Even if they come as often as they are able, I know well they will not be satisfied with their own feelings; they will be conscious even then that they ought to grieve more than they do; of course none of us feels the great event of this day as he ought, and therefore we all ought to be dissatisfied with ourselves. However, if this is not our own fault, we need not be out of heart, for God will mercifully lead us forward in His own time; but if it arises from our not coming to prayers here as often as we might, then our coldness and deadness are our own fault, and I beg you all to consider that that fault is not a slight one. It is said in the Book of Revelation, "Behold He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him." [Rev. i. 7.] We, my, brethren, every one of us, shall one day rise from our graves, and see Jesus Christ; we shall see Him who hung on the cross, we shall see His wounds, we shall see the marks in His hands, and in His feet, and in His side. Do we wish to be of those, then, who wail and lament, or of those who rejoice? If we would not lament at the sight of Him then, we must lament at the thought of Him now. Let us prepare to meet our God; let us come into His Presence whenever we can; let us try to fancy as if we saw the Cross and Him upon it; let us draw near to it; let us beg Him to look on us as He did on the penitent thief, and let us say to Him, "Lord remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom." [Luke xxiii. 42.]

Please read the rest here. Photo (c) Mark U. Mann, 2014 (taken in Paris at St. Ambroise and used by permission).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review: "The Sadness of Christ" by St. Thomas More

Last Saturday, I finished reading St Thomas More's De Tristitia Christi, in the English translation included in the Vintage Spiritual Classics edition of this work, his last prayers and letters from the Tower, and other works. It seems appropriate to post a review of this work on Holy Thursday, since it was after the Last Supper, with His institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, that Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. Also, it was on April 17, 1534 that Sir Thomas More, Knight, the former Chancellor of England, was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Although I read The Sadness of Christ primarily as a Lenten devotion, I also began to learn more about St. Thomas More in his last months: his devotion to Jesus Christ; his knowledge of Scripture and the Fathers of the Church; his obvious deep reading of the Holy Bible and practice in exegesis; his deep concern for the Church; and  most of all, his recognition of his own sinfulness and failure, and his preparation for death. I mentioned last month that I found an article with the thesis that More prepared for martyrdom by writing De Tristitia Christi, just as he deal with the issues of trouble and conflict in the Dialogue of Comfort--writing both for himself and those who would face the same crisis after him.

Although he knew, as he states in The Sadness of Christ, that no martyr had ever faced or suffered the agonies and the tortures Jesus was to face and that Jesus knew he was to face while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, More was facing a terrible execution (until Henry VIII commuted it to beheading) if/when found guilty of treason. He had seen the Carthusian Priors, Father Richard Reynolds and Father John Haile taken from the Tower and knew they faced being drawn through the streets, hung until barely conscious, eviscerated while alive, and then quartered and beheaded. When they went as bridegrooms to their wedding day, he told his daughter that God knew he was not ready to die ("Whereas thy silly father, Meg, that like a most wicked caitiff hath passed the whole course of his miserable life most sinfully, God, thinking him not worthy so soon to come to that eternal felicity, leaving him here yet still in the world, further to be plagued and turmoiled with misery.") So from that date of May 4, 1535 to his own execution on July 6, 1535, he faced even greater preparations for his own death.

Even as he devoted himself to meditating on the Agony in the Garden, with the drama of Jesus's three prayers to His Father to let the cup of suffering pass by, the sleeping Apostles neglecting His vigil, and the betrayal of Judas, More was thinking of his own day. He compares the sleeping Apostles to their negligent successors, the Bishops, in the midst of the attacks on the Church and  at the same time he contrasts the negligence of the Apostles to the activity and decision of Judas, betraying Jesus and turning Him over to the Sanhedrin. He was as much concerned by the betrayal of Jesus in the 16th century as he was Judas' betraying kiss that first Holy Thursday night. He was concerned about the growing disbelief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and also about those "autodidacts" who interpreted Scripture on their own authority, not based on the teaching and Tradition of the universal Catholic Church.

For his part, More examines the Gospel passages describing Christ's agony in the garden using the four senses of Scripture: literal, moral, spiritual, and eschatological. He applies their lessons to our acceptance of the doctrine of the Incarnation, to how we must be prepared to suffer and die when facing martyrdom, to our prayer life whether waking or sleeping, and to the life to come. It's fascinating how many paragraphs he dedicates to the mystery of the young man who flees the Garden, leaving his garment behind. He examines the moral implications of running away, whether to avoid danger or to avoid the near occasion of sin.

The Center for Thomas More Studies is going to host a seminar on "The Theology of Thomas More's Tower Works" in November this year. I will be interested in seeing what conclusions are reached by the academics gathered in Irvine, Texas. I am not a theologian, but as I read The Sadness of Christ, I recognized again what a faithful and devout Catholic Thomas More was, how diligently he studied and tried to live his faith, how concerned he was with doing God's will and preparing to do God's will, and how much he loved Jesus. As he prepared to suffer and die, More left a testament and example for others, both in his written work and in his life.

Three Holiest Days--and Nights--of the Year

The “Maundy” of Maundy Thursday comes from the Mandatum, the new commandment Jesus gave his Apostles after washing their feet at the Last Supper--love one another as I have loved you. The ceremonial re-enactment of Jesus' humility was not part of the parish celebration of Holy Thursday in Pre-Reformation England. It was performed at monasteries and abbeys, and the monarchs of England used to wash the feet of twelve poor people and then give them money and food. The last monarch to perform this ceremony of humility was King James II. William and Mary turned the duty over to their Almoner, the official in charge of charity, and now Queen Elizabeth II hands out “Maundy Money” designed by the Royal Mint.

But the Sarum Use had another great ceremony: after Mass on Maundy Thursday, all the altars were stripped, washed with water and wine, and scrubbed with sticks--certainly gestures filled with meaning. Jesus was stripped before the Crucifixion; water and blood, representing the Eucharistic water and wine, poured from His side when pierced by the lance; the sticks surely represented the scourges used to whip Him before He carried the cross. The section on the celebration of Holy Week in Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars is, to me, an entirely convincing demonstration of the focus of Catholics in England before the destruction of these ceremonies on the reality of Redemption and devotion to Jesus Christ. It was part of peoples' lives--every gesture, every ritual meant something and made the events of that Holy Week present to them.

Good Friday was a solemn day of fasting, just as it is today. The sacramental reality of Jesus’ redemptive suffering and death were commemorated by the ritual of "Creeping to the Cross" which compares to our current form of Venerating the Cross as one of the four parts of the Good Friday service. Henry VIII allowed the performance of this ritual throughout his "rule" as Supreme Head and Governor of the Church in England, but wanted to make sure that no one celebrated it, and other observances, out of superstition, as this narrative indicates:

"Holy water, holy bread, the use of vestments, Candlemas candles, ashes, palms, creeping to the Cross, sepulchres, hallowing of the font, and “all other like laudable customs, rites, and ceremonies” were allowed by the Ten Articles of 1536 “as good and laudable things to put us in memory of what they signify.” On February 26, 1539 (Wilkins, III, 842), Henry issued a proclamation in which holy water, holy bread, kneeling and creeping to the Cross on Good Friday, setting up lights before the Corpus Christi on Easter Day, bearing candles at the Purification were allowed since “as yet” they had not being abolished. But they were to be used without superstition. “Let the minister on each day instruct the people on the right and godly use of every ceremony. On every Sunday let him declare that holy water is sprinkled in remembrance of our baptism and of the sprinkling of the blood of Christ. On every Sunday let holy bread be given, to remind men of the housel, or Eucharist, which in the beginning of the Christian Church was received more often than now, and in sign of unity, for as the bread is made of many grains so are all Christian men one mystical body of Christ. Let candles be borne at Candlemas, but in memory of Christ, the spiritual light. On Ash Wednesday let ashes be given to every Christian man to remind him that he is dust and ashes. On Palm Sunday let palms be borne, but let it be declared that it is in memory of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Let it be declared on Good Friday, that creeping to the Cross and kissing the Cross signify humility and the memory of our redemption.”

During the reign of Edward VI, Archbishop Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer omitted the ceremony and Parliament forbade it. Mary I's restoration of Catholicism revived the practice which then was forbidden again under Elizabeth I. The people, however, did not want to give it up and Anglican bishops complained that some still "creeped" on their knees to the Cross on Good Friday well into Elizabeth's reign.This blog presents a post-Dissolution recollection of the Good Friday Creeping to the Cross and preparation of the Sepulchre:

Within the Abbye Church of Durham uppon good friday theire was marvelous solemne service, in the which service time after the passion was sung two of the eldest monkes did take a goodly large crucifix all of gold of the picture of our saviour Christ nailed uppon the crosse lyinge uppon a velvett cushion, havinge St Cuthberts armes uppon it all imbroydered with gold bringinge that betwixt them uppon the said cushion to the lowest stepps in the quire, and there betwixt them did hold the said picture of our saviour sittinge of every side on ther knees of that;

and then one of the said monkes did rise and went a prettye way from it sittinge downe uppon his knees with his shoes put of[f] verye reverently did creepe away uppon his knees unto the said crosse and most reverently did kisse it, and after him the other monkes did so likewise;

and then they did sitt them downe on eyther side of the said crosse and holdinge it betwixt them, and after that the prior came forth of his stall, and did sitt him downe of his knees with his shooes of[f] and in like sort did creepe also unto the said crosse and all the monkes after him one after an nother, in the same order;

and, in the meane time all the whole quire singinge an Himne, the service beinge ended the two monkes did carrye it to the sepulchre with great reverence, which sepulchre was sett upp in the morninge on the north side of the quire nigh to the high altar before the service time and there did lay it within the said sepulchre, with great devotion with another picture of our saviour Christ, in whose breast they did enclose with great reverence the most holy and blessed sacrament of the altar senceinge and prayinge unto it uppon theire knees a great space settinge two taper lighted before it, which tapers did burne unto Easter day in the morninge that it was taken forth.

After the ceremonies of  the pre-sanctified Communion (which only the priest received) on Good Friday, the priest took off his vestments and placed a pyx containing a consecrated Host with the Cross that had just been venerated, wrapped in linen cloths, in a sepulchre on the north side of the church. This was the Easter Sepulchre and candles were kept lit before it while the parish guarded it in vigil until Easter Sunday morning. Parish accounts document the expenses for candles and for food and drink supplied to those who remained on guard through the night of Good Friday, all day Holy Saturday and through the vigil of that night until dawn. (The Triduum did not include a nighttime Easter Vigil; the Great Service of Light was restored in 1955 in the Roman Rite.)

Then early Easter morning, the parish clergy would place the consecrated Host in the hanging pyx by the high altar and carry the cross in procession after it was solemnly removed from the Sepulchre, risen and acclaimed, with the church bells ringing and the choir chanting "Christus Resurgens" (Christ, risen from the dead, dieth now no more). The cross was then placed on a side altar and the people again venerated it throughout the octave of Easter.You can hear a sixteenth century version of the chant set by the English Catholic exile, Peter Phillips, here.

Eamon Duffy's essential and seminal The Stripping of the Altars again is our source for understanding how deeply this devotion and ritual had taken root in medieval English Catholicism before the Reformation. As he says, these actions were "designed to inculcate and give dramatic expression to orthodox teaching, not merely on the saving power of Christ's cross and Passion but on the doctrine of the Eucharist." (p. 31)

The Easter Sepulchre was part of the furniture of the parish church, either as a freestanding wooden frame or as a niche or table tomb in the structure of the wall. Images of the sleeping soldiers, St. Mary Magdalen, the Risen Christ and adoring angels adorned the sepulchre.

The ritual was condemned by Archbishop Cranmer and the reformers especially during the reign of Edward VI, when it was forbidden. It was restored during Mary I's reign and church records document the expenses for the candles and the guards' supplies again--and then the sepulchres were destroyed and the ritual was forbidden again during Elizabeth's reign.

As we celebrate the Latin Rite services of Holy Week and the Holy Triduum, this background on the Sarum Use in Medieval England may inform our devotion to Jesus Christ, Our Savior, as we recall His suffering, death and glorious Resurrection from the Dead.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Through Holy Week with Pope Benedict XVI--and Happy Birthday to the Author!

Last year I read Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week during Lent and this year I have been reading volume I of the trilogy, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, in which the author:

covers the bulk of Jesus' public ministry, encompassing subjects and events that include Christ's baptism at the hands of John the Baptist; the Sermon on the Mount; the meaning of the parables; the Calling of the Twelve; the Confession of Peter; and the Transfiguration.

Benedict seeks to salvage the person of Jesus from recent "popular" depictions and to restore Jesus' true identity as discovered in the Gospels. Through his brilliance as a theologian and his personal conviction as a believer, the Pope shares a rich, compelling, flesh-and-blood portrait of Jesus during the time of his ministry and invites readers to encounter, face-to-face, the central figure of the Christian faith.

In doing this, Benedict explores the meaning of key moments in the Gospels (the temptations of Jesus, the Transfiguration, and the Sermon on the Mount) and points to passages in which Jesus outlines Pauline theology. He underscores Jesus' being rooted in the Old Testament — showing, for example, that the Beatitudes participate in a long tradition of blessings, as exemplified in Psalms and Jeremiah.

Benedict XVI draws on historical-critical scholarship of the New Testament, but cautions readers that the usefulness of strictly historical readings of Scripture is limited. He asserts that one also must read Scripture theologically and view each passage of the Bible as part of a larger canonical whole.

At the same time I am reading this volume--and right now I am into the chapter on the parables, which Pope Benedict reads through the lens of the Passion and the Paschal Mystery--the Holy Week issue of Magnificat is quoting extensively from Pope Benedict XVI in its introductions to daily Mass, the meditation for priests before the Chrism Mass, etc.

Furthermore, at the same time I am reading Volume I in his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy, and reading his wisdom on Holy Week readings and celebrations, today is his birthday! Happy birthday to Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI! Ad multos annos!

(I will probably post some further comments about Volume I to go along with my reviews of Volume II and Volume III.)

Lamentations and Strepitus: Tenebrae

Today is the Wednesday of Holy Week, and is sometimes called "Spy Wednesday" in reference to Judas Iscariot plotting with the Sanhedrin to turn Jesus in for 30 pieces of silver. Liturgically, the Masses for the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week are unexceptional. The office of Tenebrae, the vigil/Matins celebration of darkness uses extinguished candles, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and the strepitus, loud noises to represent the earthquake mentioned in the Gospels after Jesus died on the cross, to prepare for the Holy Triduum.

Thomas Tallis famously set the Lamentations in two versions, while the versions of Robert White and William Byrd are less well known.

Unfortunately (lamentably?), there does not seem to be a CD with the Tallis, Byrd, AND White versions for comparison. Magnificat recorded Byrd and White on Where late the sweet birds sang, while the Oxford Camerata recorded Talls and White on their disc of Lamentations! Dating on these compositions places them in Elizabeth's reign--yet they are written in Latin. Humanist that she was, the queen allowed Latin to be used in the liturgy at Court, at Oxford, and at Cambridge, since it would be understood in those venues.

Here is a recording from Magnificat of part one Thomas Tallis's setting of the Lamentations:

And here is a recording of the strepitus at the end of Tenebrae:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Extraordinary Form on EWTN

Although not at a convenient hour for me at least, EWTN is broadcasting a series called "Extraordinary Faith", which started Monday, April 14:

Extraordinary Faith is a monthly 30 minute television program on EWTN that celebrates the beauty of classical Catholic sacred art, architecture, music, and liturgy. We’ll take you to some of the world’s most awe-inspiring churches. We’ll introduce you to dynamic young Catholics whose faith has survived the demands of a secular world and who are becoming key players in the New Evangelization by sharing their enthusiasm for the traditions of Catholicism. We’ll show you the rich vocations harvest that is synonymous with the movement to restore the Extraordinary Form of Mass to mainstream parish life. We’ll give you the resources to find churches that offer traditional worship experiences, and we’ll even assist you to organize your own Latin Masses.

EWTN airs the program at 4:30 a.m. Eastern and 2:00 a.m. Eastern (Monday and Friday) this week, but the Extraordinary Faith website will post the 30 minute programs on the website a month after. The first episode centers on the Masses in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Liturgy of the Roman Rite in the chapel at San Juan Capistrano:

We visit one of California’s oldest Catholic Missions, located one hour south of Los Angeles. Mission San Juan Capistrano is home to one of the first Extraordinary Form Mass sites established in North America after Vatican II. Pastor Msgr. Art Holquin explains the Mission’s history and current membership. We chat with George Sarah, a Hollywood composer and organizer of Latin Masses in Los Angeles, and with Joy Lanfranchi, organizer of the annual Lenten Pilgrimage in Orange County.

The second episode, I presume to be broadcast the week of May 12, centers on Harvard and Cambridge:

We visit one of America’s most famed Catholic musical institutions, the Boys’ Choir School at St. Paul Church in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Music Director John Robinson and Pastor Fr. Michael Drea explain the history of the parish and school. The ladies who help organize Harvard’s Latin Masses discuss the challenges and opportunities they face, from dating to promoting the Extraordinary Form. We meet a prodigal young organist and composer, and we attend the first Tridentine Mass sung by the choir school in over 40 years.

Since we've visited both San Juan Capistrano--and witnessed the moving live Stations of the Cross in the modern Mission parish church--and St. Paul's in Cambridge, I do look forward to these programs, even if I have to wait for the on-line showings in May and June (etc).

Image Credit: from Wikipedia Commons, by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, available from

Monday, April 14, 2014

Crowland Abbey: A Pilgrimage and a Poem

A Clerk of Oxford posts a marvelous remembrance of a pilgrimage to the ruins of Crowland Abbey in Lincolnshire. John Clare, the 19th century "labouring-class poet" wrote a sonnet about the abbey ruins:

IN sooth, it seems right awful and sublime
To gaze by moonlight on the shattered pile
Of this old Abbey, struggling still with Time,
The grey owl hooting from its rents the while;
And tottering stones, as wakened by the sound,
Crumbling from arch and battlement around,
Urging dread echoes from the gloomy aisle,
To sink more silent still. ­The very ground
In Desolation’s garment doth appear,
The lapse of age and mystery profound.
We gaze on wrecks of ornamented stones,
On tombs whose sculptures half erased appear,
On rank weeds, battening over human bones,
Till even one’s very shadow seems to fear.

Crowland Abbey was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Bartholomew, and St. Guthlac, a late 7th century/early 8th century saint who came to Crowland on St. Bartholomew's Day in 699. The last abbot of Crowland and 28 monks surrendered the abbey to Cromwell's Visitors on December 4, 1539. According to this site, the last abbot had a rather contentious rule:

The last abbot, John Wells, or Bridges, ruled the house from 1512 until 1538. The visitation of Atwater, bishop of Lincoln, in 1519, shows that he was very arbitrary and unpopular. He then kept in his own hands the emoluments of the cellarer and receiver, so that they were officers only in name. In consequence the monks got neither soup nor pudding. Sick monks who were away with leave could not get the customary allowance of food and drink. One very old monk was denied the privileges which were his due. The bishop ordered the abbot to make full amends, and also to remove the janitor who spent much of his time in the town of Crowland, and sent pilgrims to Walsingham astray.

An anxious desire to appease Cromwell and Henry VIII appears in the abbot's correspondence in 1534, 1539, and 1539. Demands were made on him for leases and grants which were beyond his power to satisfy. There is no record of any discussions among the monks about the progress of affairs, and they certainly swallowed any scruples which they may have had. In June, 1534, the abbot and thirty-two monks subscribed to the royal supremacy. On 25 March, 1537, the abbot sent a present of fen fish to Cromwell, begging him 'to be good and favourable lord' unto him and his poor house. Between 1535 and 1539 he granted over thirty small annuities, some of them possibly for sums of ready money with the object of providing for the future.

John Wells received a generous pension: £133 6s. 8d, while the rest st of the monks received £5 to £10 a year. The nave and the aisles of the monastery church were saved to become the parish church in Crowland, while the monastery,  as well as the crossing, chancel, and transepts were destroyed. As usual, A Clerk of Oxford's post provides great detail and excellent pictures.