Saturday, April 26, 2008

Santiago de Compostella

A friend has been holidaying in Galicia in Spain and visited the pilgrimage church of Santiago de Compostella. here are his pics of the outside and the inside.

The key thing to note is the two separate pulpits from which the Epistle and the Gospel are sung. This is a common feature of Spanish churches from the Middle Ages and the practice of proclaiming the readings from the pulpits extended well into the post-Tridentine period. I noted on my travels that the Basilica de San Lorenzo del Escorial, whihc Phillip II built as a showpiece of Tridentine reform, also has this arrangement.
The other feature of Santigo de Compostella is the famous botafumeiro, the huge thurible which is swung from the ceiling of the basilica, by a crew of 8 thurifers, operating ropes and pulleys. If you are lucky enought to be in Santiago de Compostella on the feast of St James, you could check it out in action. Otherwise you can read about it in the reference.
As you can see Galicia has been getting some welcome rain. Dios Gracias! Spain is currently under a severe drought; the worst for over 100 years

Thursday, April 24, 2008

St Georges Day

Happy (belated) St Georges Day (23 April). I thought I would post up some pics from the church of San Gorgio in Velabro in Rome. The church holds a portion of St George's skull under the High Altar which is crowned by an excellent ciborium. The chair in the front is a post Vatican II intruder put there by a priest who wants to focus on the people not on God. There is a perfectly good sedilia in the sanctuary.

A quick history of the church. The church that you see was built by Pope Leo II (681-83) who built it on the foundations of an earlier church. It was restored by Pope Gregory IV (827-44), but was subsequently damaged by heavy flooding in the area. (It is interesting how many churches suffered greatly from climate change in this time). Originally it was dedicated to both St George and St Sebastian, but in time the devotion to St Sebastian died out. The relic of St George was given to the church by Pope Zachary (741-52), who like St George was a native of Cappodocia. Presumably the relic was imported from his home town.

In the apse you can see St George, on a white horse to the right of Christ. This is the way that the Greek Church still depicts him. The suburb by the way was the centre of the Greek community as many refugees escaping iconoclast persecution in the eighth and ninth centuries settled in this neighbourhood. There is no reference to the dragon as this only turned up about 500 years after the church was built!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I though that I would add further to the previous posts on the form of the liturgy in the Benedictine era, by showing an old and recent pic of the Altar of the Chair in St peters Basilica in Rome. In the early 1990's the Papal Master of Ceremonies had the original Altar attached to the shrine of the chair of St Peter ripped out, presumably as a post Vatican II reordering. I have an open mind about it as in the old Papal High Masses it was covered over anyway for the Papal Throne. Now that the freestanding bronze Altar has had more dignity with the six tall candlesticks, there does appear architecturally a better sense of continuity between the older baroque liturgy and the toned down newer one. Here are the two pics:

before (that is John XXIII presiding)

and after (taken just today)

I know this will generate some comment. Frankly Ilike either whihc betrays my sympathies to both forms of the Roman Rite.

Benedict and the Enlightenment

The Pope's recent trip to America has highlighted for me one of the key themes of his Pontificate which the academic press but not the local press (probably because they are too dumb!) has picked up on - the dialogue between the Church and the Enlightenment.

The Pope has referred to the impact of the enlightenment in all his encyclicals and in the Regensburg Address. The latter, is actually a critique of the Enlightenment rather than Islam. He goes to show that the ideals of religion is that of Reason, and religions and ideologies that use force are a travesty because they are not reasonable. God acts "reasonably" in the universe.

The Enlightenment was a child of Christianity, and I could not think of such a movement coming about in any part of the world apart from the Christian West, not even the Christian East. Its ideals of the rights of man (from the Gospels), scientific inquiry rather than superstition and dogma (from St Thomas Aquinas), and social and government structures based upon the mandate of the people rather than "divine right". The Church has responded in various ways to it ranging from dialogue in the 18th century (the late great Pope Benedict XIV), to condemnation in the 19th and 20th centuries (Bl Pius IX and St Pius X), and wholesale acceptance in the post Vatican II Church. The Enlightenment in the 20th century, as the Pope has pointed out, was something of a runaway train, and without the guidance of divine light, will lead to annihilation.

This was the theme of a lot of his talks in America which is a far more religious country that Australia. The Pope warns America that it is teetering on the edge. We are all of course the children of the Enlightenment, and could not live in a world of dictatorship by others and superstition.

The question is - who provides this divine light and the answer is of course through Jesus Christ through his Holy Church.

I thought that the beautiful layouts for the Papal liturgies embodied the best of the Church dialoguing with the Enlightenment. Some of the previous posts, have focussed on poor liturgies and church layouts which show nothing of this Divine Light. They have demonstrated what happens (as has happened in most of the Brisbane Archdiocese) where the focus is not longer on God but the Community as God. As Benedict says in Spirit of the Liturgy, when that happens, liturgy collapses. Church interiors become boring and dull and repel rather than attract people.

However, moving back exclusively to the Usus Antiquor, for me represents a turning away from the Enlightenment, and chooses to ignore it. This is why the Pope in his absolute brilliance calls it the Extraordinary Form. It is still important because the Usus Antiquor links us back to the early church and the apostles, and psychologically we need to be linked to where we have come from. The older form does this better than the Ordinary Form which sometimes is a bit like buying baroque furniture from CopperArt. It looks and feels authentic to the early church, but basically it isnt.

However, Benedict has introduced elements to it which although small, do make a big statement. The key thing is the Altar, with its centrally located cross and seven candlesticks, focussing, as Benedict says "on the Lord" not Pope as celebrity. The seven candles emphasise the Altar as the centrepiece as to why we are attending the liturgy. Although the Altar is still facing the congregation, there is a balance between "dialogue" and "worship". The other thing is the Papal Throne pointing to the importance of the Pope as Christ's vicar on Earth, but reflects back to the ancient Roman basilicas which have this layout. However the balance between Altar and Throne is restored. Architecturally we have seen the most poignant prototypes for liturgy in the 21st century.
The next thing is to reform how people behave in the liturgy.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The "Presider"

One of the most annoying aspects of the modern liturgy is the term "presider" which is often used to denigrate the uniqueness of the priesthood and turn the emphasis onto the congregation offering up the Mass.

I was going to do a blog on this matter until I came upon an excellent blog by Michael Sternbeck (as many of you know the vestment maker) titled Lord, to whom shall we turn?. This highlights the extent to which the "Introductory Prayers" and where they are supposed to be recited are a distinct break with tradition, particularly when it is a priest and not a bishop celebrating.

The earliest that I have seen "president" used is in the account of St Justin Martyr in his account of the Eucharist. He uses the term praestes meaning a president or guardian. However, I have seen similar words used which mean chief or ruler. However after that it seems to disappear, until the 1969 GIRM. Presumably, the 1960s reformers were trying to emulate the early liturgy. Since then, the term has gone out of control; particularly from those who do not want a priesthood.

Of course many churches are laid out to emphasise the priest (oops presider) as the talk show host. See below.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


As a matter of contrast with the Benedictine Altar arrangement, here is a pic from another parish church in the Brisbane Archdiocese.

As you can see, no focus on the real sacrifice on the Altar (oops table), no sanctuary. Obviously when the priest celebrates the focus is all on him as we gather around a table in the middle of the room. It speaks clearly of a completely different faith - a protestant approach to faith. All pretty uninspiring really.
If this is the church of the future there is no point in being part of it.

More on the the reform of the reform

The pictures that you see below of First Friday in Eastertide and Divine Mercy Sunday offer an excellent opportunity to compare the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite with the so called Reform-of the-Reform of the ordinary (Nous Ordo) form.

To date me experience has brought me to the opinion that the Reform-of-the-reform is a dead issue, now that the Extraordinary Form has been liberated from any restriction. Much of the R-ot-R is trying to put a "Tridentine" face upon what was a new form of the rite, when the intention of the post Vatican II Consilium was actually to go in a different direction with regard to the sacred Liturgy. Plastering over the tridentine form onto a modern liturgy constructed to modern sentiments therefore tends to be incongruous.

In my opinion, the two forms are this:

  1. the worship of the Temple of Jerusalem whihc strongly links to the The Classical liturgy as found in the Missal of 1962
  2. the concept of the "upper room" which seems to be a lot of the philosophy of the modern liturgy (Mass versus populum, more on the sacred meal aspect, vernacular etc)

Different people would feel differing levels of comfort with the two concepts. As for me I am most comfortable with the former rather than the latter. However, that is not to say that I am wedded to the former exclusively, and I assist in the latter most frequently.

As you can see from the photos of the First Friday Mass the characteristics of the R-ot-R Liturgy are:

  • more candles on the Altar
  • the central cross on the Altar
  • the incensation at the consecration with bells
  • Communion on the tongue
  • exclusively male Altar servers

Now these are in no way a departure from the GIRM but simply subtle changes in style. But look at the results!!! Close to a perfect modern Roman Rite liturgy!

So the R-ot-R Liturgy os not going back and saying "what did the Council fathers really want?", it is actually "what do the liturgical books really say?"

In terms of the "Benedictine Altar arrangement", the additional candles do make the liturgy and enhance the Altar's significance, When going back to my own parish and seeing the three stubby candles at one end of the Altar, I though it looks OK but just doesnt have that level of gravitas. Although I am of an open mind as to whether the "ad orientem" position really works with the OF, soem simple arrangments of candles and the Altar cross, as well as the presence of the thurifer and torchbearers during the Canon, sufficiently re-orient the liturgy for me.