Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Traditions

Holy Gaming

June 7, 2013 by encourageandteach

By Deacon Marques Silva

king-heartsThe Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “…the liturgy itself generates cultures and shapes them.” (CCC 1207) It should not be surprising, then, that even our games are influenced by Sacred Scripture and contain the vestiges of cultures’ myths and legends.

Take, for instance, playing cards….

Read More at Encourage And Teach…

Twelve Apostles: Whatever Happened to Them?

Often when teaching about Apostolic Succession, questions arise about the 12 Apostles. Everybody wants to know what happened to them. Since a picture paints a thousand words, here is a quick summary of the traditional understanding of what happened to the Apostle’s and where their remains ended up:


Celebrating Advent

Today begins the new liturgical year and our “little Lent” in preparation for the Solemnity of the Incarnation. Why do we have a year that is separate from the secular calendar year? Simply put, the liturgical year is meant to be the guiding principal of a Catholic’s temporal cycle and life:

94.[1] The liturgical year is the temporal structure within which the Church celebrates the holy mysteries of Christ: “From the Incarnation and the Nativity to the Ascension, to Pentecost and to the wait in joyful hope for the Lord’s coming”(109).[2] [Emphasis mine]

Within the liturgical cycle the Divine Liturgy occupies priority of place. Since the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life,”[3] all our devotions are intended to flow to and from the liturgy. Our spirituality or liturgical life necessarily consists of those devotions that assist us to grow in holiness. And since we live in a temporal world that is meant to express eternity, our devotions are expressed within the appropriate season:

In the liturgical year, “the celebration of the Paschal Mystery […] is the most privileged moment in the daily, weekly and annual celebration of Christian worship”(110).[4] Consequently, the priority of the Liturgical year over any other devotional form or practice must be regarded as a touch stone for the relationship between Liturgy and popular piety.[5]

Even how we decorate and live out the various seasons is catechetical, not only to our children but also to our family and friends. Advent is no different. Don’t get me wrong, the “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” branding is great. However, I think we would make much more of an impact if we lived out our Catholic traditions with fervor and diligence in accordance with the appropriate seasons. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, everyone knew you were Catholic because you did not eat meat on Friday. And yes, it was abused at times but for the faithful who integrated the pastoral theology of the Church, the testimony was simple and profound.

So, what does the Church say about Advent? At first glance, I am sure you are saying, “Wait, they actually provide guidance of how we are to live out Advent?” Yep! We’ve been doing this for 2000 years and have collected a few good ideas.

The document for guidance is contained in the Directory for Popular Piety and the Liturgy (DPPL) which was revised and promulgated in 2001 by the Congregation on Divine Worship and the Sacraments (CDW). Additionally, for those who think it is just another document and lazy reading for a rainy day, it is issued by a Pontifical Congregation, therefore, is binding on all Catholics.

What does it say? Glad you asked. The DPPL provides a rich and beautiful set of options (not all inclusive but those that most generously express the richness of our faith in accordance with the season) to properly prepare us for and during this season. Advent of courses is a time of expectation and waiting,

  • waiting-memory of the first, humble coming of the Lord in our mortal flesh; waiting-supplication for his final, glorious coming as Lord of History and universal Judge;
  • conversion, to which the Liturgy at this time often refers quoting the prophets, especially John the Baptist, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3,2);
  • joyful hope that the salvation already accomplished by Christ (cf. Rm 8, 24-25) and the reality of grace in the world, will mature and reach their fulness, thereby granting us what is promised by faith, and “we shall become like him for we shall see him as he really is” (John 3,2).[6]

The Church recommends a number of devotions to assist us on this journey called Advent. This journey is meant to help us “relive” the four stages of revelation prior to the Nativity. To do so, we are encouraged to make use of the Advent Wreath by:

Placing four candles on green fronds has become a symbol of Advent in many Christian home, especially in the Germanic countries and in North America.

The Advent wreath, with the progressive lighting of its four candles, Sunday after Sunday, until the Solemnity of Christmas, is a recollection of the various stages of salvation history prior to Christ’s coming and a symbol of the prophetic light gradually illuminating the long night prior to the rising of the Sun of justice (cf. Ml 3,20; Lk 1,78).[7]

No one would argue that Advent is unmistakably Marian. Our Eastern brethren take our Lady’s role in the plan of salvation so seriously that it purposefully highlights her role through its calendar and liturgies:

In the calendars of the Oriental Churches, the period of preparation for the celebration of the manifestation (Advent) of divine salvation (Theophany) in the mysteries of Christmas-Epiphany of the Only Son of God, is markedly Marian in character. Attention is concentrated on preparation for the Lord’s coming in the Deipara. For the Orientals, all Marian mysteries are Christological mysteries since they refer to the mystery of our salvation in Christ. In the Coptic rite, the Lauds of the Virgin Mary are sung in the Theotokia. Among the Syrians, Advent is referred to as the Subbara or Annunciation, so as to highlight its Marian character. The Byzantine Rite prepares for Christmas with a whole series of Marian feasts and rituals.[8]

Of special note in the Latin Rite is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The themes associated with the Immaculate Conception are central to Advent. Here in the America’s, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe holds a special place in our tradition because of its connection to the Immaculate Conception and evangelistic outreach to Central and South Americans.

Among the recommended devotions is the display of a manger or crib – and by extension the crèche,

As is well known, in addition to the representations of the crib found in churches since antiquity, the custom of building cribs in the home was widely promoted from the thirteenth century, influenced undoubtedly by St. Francis of Assisi’s crib in Greccio. Their preparation, in which children play a significant role, is an occasion for the members of the family to come into contact with the mystery of Christmas, as they gather for a moment of prayer or to read the biblical accounts of the Lord’s birth.[9]

There are a number of traditions that may assist us prepare during Advent and Christmastide. To the growing Hispanic American and our Italian population processions are a traditional expressions for devotions.

In many regions, various kinds of processions are held in Advent, publicly to announce the imminent birth of the Saviour (the “day star” in some Italian processions), or to represent the journey to Bethlehem of Joseph and Mary and their search for a place in which Jesus would be born (the posadas in the Hispanic and Latin American tradition).[10]

Since Pentecost, the very first novena, popular devotion and piety has developed a number of novenas in connection to various feasts. The Christmas novena is an exciting way to blend a child’s Christmas expectations with prayer and the posture of the Advent season:

The Christmas novena began as a means of communicating the riches of the Liturgy to the faithful who were unable easily to grasp it. It has played a very effective role and can continue to play such a role. At the same time, in current conditions where the faithful have easier access to the Liturgy, it would seem desirable that vespers from the 17-23 of December should be more solemn by adopting the use of the “major antiphons”, and by inviting the faithful to participate at the celebration. Such a celebration, held either before of after which the popular devotions to which the faithful are particularly attached, would be an ideal “Christmas novena”, in full conformity with the Liturgy and mindful of the needs of the faithful. Some elements, such as the homily, the use of incense, and the intercessions, could also be expanded within the celebration of Vespers.[11]

Most Catholics would connect this novena with the “O Anthipons” made popular through the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Just to add a note of snark, why is it that parishes use this song as the premier Advent song when it is meant to be used between the dates of December 17 – 24 ? Just a question.

Hopefully, this is a beginning to understand our tradition of celebrating Advent. Popular piety has a way of conserving the themes and practices that the Church desires us to keep during the Advent without losing ourselves in the commercialization:

Popular piety, because of its intuitive understanding of the Christian mystery, can contribute effectively to the conservation of many of the values of Advent, which are not infrequently threatened by the commercialization of Christmas and consumer superficiality.[12]

If we have learned nothing over the past 200 years, popular piety has taught us that that Advent is meant to be a time of sober and joyous simplicity. The sobriety is usually overlooked because we forget that we not only anticipating the first coming of our Lord but also His Second Coming. This understanding will cause us to examine our conscience, repent of our sins and make room for our Lord to be born in our hearts.

As we prepare for Christmas, let’s first live out our Advent. Christmas will be here sooner than we want. May this little Lent be a time of profound spiritual renewal. Take a look at your devotions and align them with the liturgy and watch your spiritual life deepen beyond your wildest dreams.

[1] Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments (CDW), Directory On Popular Piety And The Liturgy (DPPL), (2001) 94.

[2] Sacrosanctum Concilium, 102.

[3] Lumen Gentium, 11. cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1324.

[4] PAUL VI, Apostolic Letter Mysterii paschalis, in AAS 61 (1969) 222.

[5] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 94.

[6] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 96.

[7] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 98.

[8] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 101.

[9] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 104.

[10] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 9.

[11] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 103.

[12] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 105.

Giving Thanks the Catholic Way…

 What if it was really the Catholics that held the first Thanksgiving – and turkey WAS on their menu?

Yesterday is probably the United States’ main national solemnity…after the Super Bowl that is. We slaughter the turkey, serve it with all the trimmings and give thanks for the first European settlement in the Americas. You remember, the whole landing at Plymouth rock, starving because of poor crops and the Amerindians (I have been told this is the latest politically correct way to refer to the Native Americans) teaching us how to plant our crops and then out of hospitality, providing us with a fantastic feast. Oddly enough, turkey was not on the menu – although my brother-in-law cooked an amazing one yesterday.

I read a piece yesterday at Catholic Dads Online (a great ezine resource for Catholic Fathers) that was a little upsetting. Dcn. Marques Silva wrote the article, A Virginia Thanksgiving that was helpful in understanding the history of Thanksgiving but sadly fell short. There was no malice in his article but set forth a typical hegemonic understanding of the Thanksgiving tradition. On the up-side, it did correct the Plymouth Rock version of Thanksgiving and corrected the story by sharing the earlier Thanksgiving in Virginia which many forget…darn Northern oppression!

However, what was even more amazing was that that author did not complete his research to understand that Plymouth Rock and Virginina would be the fourth and third Thanksgiving and European settlements respectively. It was great to see that his readership are better Catholics than he and are willing to charitably bring to his attention the grievous error in historicity. Shout-outs to Kathleen McCusker and Mike at What Does Mike Think that “instructed the ignorant”.

As a sidebar, you should read the article that Kathleen re-posted concerning Squanto. This will assist in “filling in” the picture of the Plymouth Rock Thanksgiving entitled, The True thanksgiving Story: Squanto, the Pilgrims and the Pope. As the article points out:

Without Squanto – and, indirectly at least, the Pope and some Jesuit priests – the fate of the Puritan Pilgrims would have been vastly different, and Thanksgiving would likely have never taken place. Squanto was, as Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Plantation wrote of him,

“A spetiall instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectations.”

Mike provided an article by Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D. entitled, The First Thanksgivings Were Catholic. Dr. Hovart corrects the Protestant formation and education surrounding the first Thanksgiving. As with many traditions in the world, even the America’ first Thanksgiving is credited to the Catholics:

The first Thanksgivings were celebrated by Spanish explorers, not pilgrims. It is Florida that today proudly claims the first Thanksgiving, with a feast and celebration between the Spanish and Timucuan Indians on September 8, 1565, 56 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth in 1621. Therefore, St. Augustine – and not Jamestown – is the first permanent European settlement and oldest city in North America. Another correction for many  history books.

Dr. Hovart continues by describing the first Thanksgiving:

In an official ceremony Don Pedro Menendez came ashore amid the sounding of trumpets, artillery salutes and the firing of cannons to claim the land for King Philip II and Spain. One of the priests, Fr. Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, who had gone ashore the previous day, advanced to meet him, chanting the Te Deum Laudamus and carrying a cross which Menendez and those with him reverently kissed. Then the 500 soldiers, 200 sailors and 100 families and artisans, along with the Timucuan Indians from the nearby village of Seloy, gathered at a makeshift altar, and a Mass in honor of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary was said.

The Mass was followed by a feast shared by the Spanish and the Timucuan Indians. The Timucuans brought wild turkey, venison, oysters and giant clams, as well as maize, beans, squash, nuts and fruits. The Spaniards contribution was cocido, a stew made with pork, garbanzo beans and onions, along with biscuits, olive oil and red wine.

What prompted Dr. Hovat’s article was a comment a reader wrote which beespeaks a great truth to we who are Catholic:

“It just doesn’t seem right to celebrate the prospering of a Puritan sect that established a Calvinist theocracy in the Massachusetts Colony that would mercilessly persecute Catholics,” one reader argued.

We all have fond memories of our Thanksgiving pageant plays. That being said, truth before sentiment. Sooooo, I stand corrected in my article at Catholic Dads and offer this corrective action to set the record straight.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!



Music and Pope Benedict XVI

Music in the Post-conciliar Catholic Church

An appraisal of the current situation based on a talk given to the Panel of Monastic Musicians
by Nick Gale, 8 September 2008, St Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde

The cosmic character of liturgical music stands in opposition to the two [prevailing] tendencies of the modern age…music as pure subjectivity, [and] as the expression of mere will. We sing with the angels. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote these words in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy.

The pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI has once again placed Liturgy at the centre of the Church’s concerns, and rightly so, for as the then Cardinal wrote in 1997, the true celebration of the Sacred Liturgy is the centre of any renewal of the Church whatever.

There can be no doubt that we are currently in the midst of a period of great change in the Church. We are also in a crisis in terms of the Music of the Church. Despite the numerous documents to come out of Rome, both before and after Vatican II, despite the call of the Holy Father to raise the standards of liturgical celebration, despite the restoration of the Chant, largely undertaken by the Monks of Solesmes in the late 19th century, work that still continues today. Despite the fact that the Monks of Heiliger Kreuz Monastery in Austria have been at the number one slot in the charts for months, with their disc of Gregorian Chant. Despite the efforts of notable Catholic musicians who, in may cases, feel reluctantly compelled to work for other, separated brethren because the feel they are fighting a losing battle with the Catholic Church. Despite the many places where choirs exist and are being created to help rediscover the riches of liturgical music which is the Church’s inheritance, and the wealth of new music being written by talented composers in the service of the church. Despite the fact that the monasteries, institutes and congregations which have restored traditional liturgy and chant are gradually filling up once more, whilst many other communities sadly dwindle and die.

In spite of all this, we still will not accept that music in the liturgy is not offered for us, but to God, and must therefore be of the very highest quality that we can muster, both in terms of its composition and its performance, and that the faithful are remarkably receptive to good music, when they are fortunate enough to hear it and, better still, sing it! That is not so say that old music is good and that anything that has been written for the liturgy following the Council is bad. However, the general view of the clergy seems to imply the reverse – that all pre-conciliar music is ‘old hat’ and irrelevant, and that the only music that truly ‘speaks’ to the people of God and draws them into the liturgy is the contemporary ‘popular’ music which we hear in most parishes across the world.

This view is not only false, but extremely dangerous. The Holy Father, again speaking as Cardinal Ratzinger, warns us that ‘mere archaism does not help matters along but neither does mere modernisation’. In 1975 he wrote: ‘We must be far more resolute than heretofore in opposing rationalistic relativism, confusing claptrap and pastoral infantilism. These things degrade the Liturgy to the level of a parish tea party and the intelligibility of a popular newspaper. With this in mind we shall also have to examine the reforms already carried out…’ Ten years later he further commented: ‘since I wrote those lines, other aspects which should have been guarded have been neglected; many treasures that were still intact have been squandered away.’

Music is inextricably linked to the Liturgy and, as we are reminded by the Holy Father, that music be of the best possible quality. Of course, this leads us into the realms of what is to be considered ‘good’, as well as the purpose and effect of music. Is music, including liturgical music, adequately treated when it is left as simply a matter of ‘taste’, of individual response to what pleases? Music is about formation, and not just expression. A constant theme across the centuries is the balance of the need for contemporary musical expression with the responsibility of using music that will truly “sanctify the faithful”. Music should enhance the formative power of the liturgy already represented by the celebration of Holy Mass.

St Pius tells us, in his great motu proprio Tra la solicitudine that, since sacred music is an integral part of the Liturgy, its aim must be the same as that of the Liturgy itself; ie, in St Pius’s words,

the sanctification and edification of the faithful. The ‘chief duty’ of church music is, he goes on to say to clothe the liturgical text, which is presented to the understanding of the faithful, with suitable melody; its object is to make the text more efficacious, so that the faithful through this means may be more roused to devotion, and better disposed to gather to themselves the fruits of grace which come from the celebration of the sacred mysteries.

One of the most shamefully ignored aspects of Sacrosanctum Concilium was its acknowledgement of ‘Gregorian chant as proper to the Roman liturgy’, and thereby having pride of place in liturgical music. Just ten years before the Council began, the French Dominican, Dominique Delalande wrote a theology of the Chant. I am indebted, here, to an excellent talk given by Aidan Nicholls at the Catholic Directors of Music Conference last year for his summary of Delalande’s work.

In his book, Delalande called the chant a ‘given’, which theologians must integrate with their work. The structure and ethos of the Church’s official prayer – the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours – cannot be fully grasped, he wrote, without reference to the music that accompanies it. In the case of the Roman Liturgy, that music is Gregorian chant, though, as he explained, the Eastern liturgies possess some analogue of Western plainchant – a monodic music, archaic, pure, with a solemn, sacral character, a consecrated music whose origins are lost in immemorial time, but existing, it may be, alongside a more developed or a more popular music, generally of highly questionable value.

Delalande reminds us of the multiple sources of the chant – Jewish, Syrian, Greek –as well as the anonymity with which composers of genius re-worked its materials at various stages of its long history. Delalande calls this a providential anonymity, which enables us to say the more readily: this music comes from the Church as Bride of Christ, assisted by the Holy Spirit.

In his controversial but fascinating book The Bugnini Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform, the Hungarian musicologist and liturgist Lázló Dobszay laments the loss of the Chant in the liturgy of the post-conciliar church. One of his most frequent objections to much post-Vatican II liturgical practice is that attempts to set antiphon texts for the Novus Ordo has given way to what he terms ‘insertion music’ ie strophic hymns, or has contented itself with settings that cannot of their nature bring out the full meaning of the Scriptures. Perhaps increased celebration of the Missa Cantata in the now commonly know as Gregorian Rite encouraged by the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum will remind the faithful that the chant has for centuries successfully and beautifully rendered vocal the precise texts of the liturgical books. Nor should the complexity of the chants of the Graduale put people off – the Graduale Simplex (for the Novus Ordo), the Chants abrégés (a wonderful resource containing simplified chants for the Gradual, Alleluia and Tract) and even the Rossini propers allow even the most modest choir to sing the proper texts of the Mass in either ordinary or extraordinary form. The Church Music Association of America’s spectacular website provides us with every possible resource to achieve this, and all free of charge – I commend to you a thorough exploration of the resources available through

Moving away from the Chant and more towards the general situation of church music in the present day, we find a contradiction between the Church’s historic practice and the present day preference for what Dobszay terms ‘utility music’, whose usefulness at the Liturgy consists in encouraging vocal participation by the people however minimal the artistic standards of the music concerned. This brings up the much-debated question of the nature of participation – the conciliar ACTUAL participation, and the mistranslation often used to justify such impoverished musical contributions – ACTIVE participation. Such a deliberately misguided interpretation of the aims of the Second Vatican Council has given us the increasingly grim impoverishment which follows when beauty for its own sake is banished from the Church.

To return to Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings: One shudders at the lacklustre face of the postconciliar Liturgy as it has become, or one is bored with its banality and its lack of artistic standards. He raises more than a question of taste when he adds in this connexion that such utilitarianism will soon percolate into attitudes to the Liturgy itself, to the Church herself and indeed to the rest of theological reality. He found implicit in this pragmatic and minimalist standpoint a catalogue of errors:

a functionalism which asks only what works for the man in the market-place, an iconoclasm suspicious of beautiful form as such, a congregationalism which rejects the corporate treasury of musica sacra in the name of what appeals to some group here and now, and a Puritanism which fails to recognise the importance of splendour as an intrinsic dimension of the festal. Reverence, receptivity and the humility that is ready to serve by participating in the great works that have already issued forth necessarily stand at the beginning of great sacred music. (Benedict XVI)

Of course, Gregorian Chant is not the only music of the Roman Rite. Sacrosanctum Concilium reminds us also of the wealth and beauty of the polyphonic repertoire, and of the need for new generations of composers to work in the service of the Liturgy. The contemporary composer of sacred music in the wake of the Council has phenomenal possibilities, but always in continuity with the best of tradition – as the council fathers remind us, the contemporary composer of sacred music is not working alone, in isolation, but at the end of a long line of liturgical musicians stretching back through Bruckner, Mozart, Byrd, Gombert and the medieval chant-writers whose names we know not.

So where does this leave us now? We are faced with dwindling numbers attending Mass on a regular basis. We are faced with rapidly emptying convents, monasteries and religious houses. We are faced with dwindling vocations to the secular priesthood – back home in Southwark we are fortunate to be sending eight seminarians to study this year. However, in Wales, where I grew up, a Benedictine friend of mine informs me that there has not had a successful vocation to the Archdiocese of Cardiff for five years. The same can be said for several other dioceses across the UK. We are we are faced with a society that neither know nor cares about God.

However, it is worth pointing out some positive facts. Some of the newer monastic foundations, notably in France, are flourishing – I refer mainly to those institutions which have revived the Missal of 1962 and restored the Latin Office. Le Barroux (and its foundation), Notre Dame de Fontgombault, Notre Dame de Randol, Notre Dame de Triors and the Canons Regular of Lagrasse. The FSSP, the Institute of Christ the King and the Institute of St Philip Neri in Berlin are also flourishing. The Monastery of Solesmes, which has an exclusively Latin, Gregorian Liturgy, in their case rooted in the Novus Ordo, does not lack vocations. The Oxford Oratory, after having been forced to turn away vocations for years due to a lack of space, is now building a new wing so as to take on some of the many young men who wish to give their lives in the service of God through the Oratory of St Philip Neri. The recent renaissance in the Liturgy, brought about largely by Summorum pontificum, has also healed schism, in the case of the Transalpine Redemptorists, and has thrown open new windows for dialogue between the Church and separated groups such as the SSPX, the members of which are currently anticipating a lifting of their excommunication following that of their bishops in yet another generous gesture from our Holy Father.

There has been a recent spate of interest in Gregorian Chant, with workshops all over the UK and the US, not to mention non-English speaking countries, and new choirs being established, full of young men and women eager to embrace music which challenges and stretches them, which is both educating and edifying, and which gives glory to Almighty God.

I have been fortunate enough to combine my work at the Cathedral with teaching at the London Oratory School, a post I held for 7 years. The boys there are taught the Chant from the age of seven, and they sing their paternoster and their Marian antiphons with gusto, as well as their classical masses, Palestrina motets and newly-composed works written for the post-conciliar liturgy by composers such as James MacMillan and Roxanna Panufnik. The Music Department is staffed by a dedicated team of professional musicians, under the leadership of Lee Ward, who also directs the famous London Oratory School Schola, and the School is leading the way among Catholic Schools in the teaching of liturgical music to boys and girls of all ages and abilities. The pupils are not interested in passing musical fads, in liturgical imitations of music that their parents once danced to in the 70s and 80s! Children, more than any of us perhaps, are only too well aware of what is passing, and what is timeless. They recognise and appreciate quality. They understand when they are being stretched and when they are being led to an understanding and appreciation of something truly great. Young people know when they are being patronised, when things are dumbed-down, and when people of previous generations try to ‘get down to their level’ by eschewing quality and artistic merit in favour of pop-like ditties in order to encourage them back to Mass. It is these children who are the future of the Church, and it is our duty to bequeath to them an understanding and appreciation of the power of real church music to lead people to God.

I spoke earlier of the renewal of the liturgy in various religious houses and congregations. This renewal in the liturgy is inseparable from a renewal in liturgical music. Perhaps more than any other art form, music is able to both clothe the Liturgy and reach the hearts of the faithful in a unique way. The Church recognises this fact, and has emphasised it throughout Her history, up to, including and beyond the Second Vatican Council. We ignore her teaching at our peril.

There is a new mood within the world of professional church musicians in the years following the election of our Sovereign Pontiff. His love for the liturgy and music, and his recent pronouncements, have given us hope and encouragement. The renewed interest in the Chant is spreading to the parishes and the schools, and the renewed interest and celebration of the Usus antiquior is, as the Holy Father intended, beginning to have an effect on the celebration of the Novus Ordo, and vice versa. I have been asked to speak to the CCDM (Catholic Cathedral Directors of Music Conference) in Salford this year and to direct chant classes for them – in response to this renewed interest in the Chant. The musical provision for the Usus antiquior was also the topic for an enlightened homily given at the last CCDM conference in Liverpool by a priest of the Metropolitan Cathedral. This is all very positive indeed.

The new liturgical texts prepared by ICEL present us with a unique opportunity – that of being able to discard vast numbers of, frankly, shoddy, banal settings, and has given composers the chance to look, once again, at settings of the Mass. The new texts have a poetry lacking in the last translation, and lend themselves more easily and fluently to musical setting. The recent proclamation concerning the use of the tetragrammaton will remove from the hymn repertoire various liturgical songs of questionable theological, musical and poetic substance, and the Church’s keenness that we should begin to use the proper antiphon texts, in place of strophic hymns, will not only please Mr Dobszay, but give composers a fresh opportunity to look at those parts of the Mass which have been so shamefully ignored for the past 30 years. It is also worth noting at this point that Dobszay is currently working on an ‘English Gradual’, with assistance from many of my fellow UK Catholic Church musicians – I look forward to seeing the fruits of their labours, though I remain sceptical as to the setting of vernacular text to a Gregorian repertoire so intrinsically linked to the Latin text for which it was created.

I make no apology when I say that I hope that the years of experimental liturgy and music are over, and that we can, as the Holy Father wishes, return to a more dignified, solemn celebration of Holy Mass and begin, once more, to offer music that is worthy of the worship of Almighty God, who has given us this great gift in order that we might glorify Him. St Augustine reminds us Qui cantat, bis orat; he who sings prays twice. I hope that henceforth our prayers will include the development of music in our monasteries and convents, in our parishes, cathedrals and schools, and the musicians who are working so hard in order to facilitate good musical practice for the glory of God. And for vocations to our convents and monasteries – may our music lead people to a greater knowledge and love of God.

Bless O Lord our hearts and our minds
and grant that what we sing with our lips we may believe in our hearts,
and what we believe in our hearts we may practise and show forth in our daily lives.
Through Christ our Lord, Amen. Ss Gregory and Cecilia, pray for us.

Nick Gale, September 2009


Immaculate Birthdays

Many might ask why we honor the nativity or the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary on this feast day. While children around the globe held a birthday party for Our Lady, today is more than a celebration commemorating her birth.

The Nativity of Our Lady marks a decisive moment in human history. The first human being since Adam and Eve is born without the stain of Original Sin by way of an unmerited and singular act of divine grace. This divine act signaled the next movement of salvation history – the preparation for the Son of God to become a son of man so that, the sons of men may become sons of God.

We may thank Dun Scotus for providing a bit of insight into the how the Lord prepared this Daughter of Sion for her nativity. Author Daniel Joseph Barton summarizes it in this way:

Here’s an analogy of Mary’s Immaculate Conception: You are walking on a jungle path, and are approaching a covered up and camouflaged pit which is right in front of you. You fall in, and after a while a stranger comes by, reaches in, and pulls you out. You have mud all over your feet due to mud in the bottom of the pit. But the stranger had a bucket of water to wash your feet for you. On another path also with a hidden pit, a woman is walking. Just at the verge of tumbling over the edge of the pit, the same stranger grabs her and pulls her back from the edge. She too is saved from the pit and the mud, but in anticipation instead of after the fact. Both of you were saved from the pit and the mud (original sin) and both of you had a savior (God). But in the woman’s case, she was saved before being tainted. Hence Mary has every right to proclaim “God my savior”, even though she did not know about God’s special love for her.[1]

If that is not enough to give the glory to our Lord and His mother, maybe this might inspire us. The holy Father, reflecting on the line in the Magnificat that says,

All generations will call me blessed…

shares that this verse is not only prophetic but also a divine command. To not honor Our Lady is to disregard the admonition of Sacred Scripture. Much more could be said but that will suffice for today.

Anyway, just a few thoughts on our Lady’s birthday.

[1]Barton, D. (2007, January 07). My Belief in the Immaculate Conception Doctrine Part I). Retrieved from

Origin of the Easter Egg

Thanks to The New Theological Movement for its blog on the Easter egg. Here is a re-post in toto:

The origins of the Easter egg: The Resurrection, St. Mary Magdalene, and the Lenten Fast

In the United States, it is common for children (and even adults) to partake in an Easter egg hunt as part of the Easter Sunday celebrations. In other parts of the world, the Easter egg tradition is incorporated not through games but through the blessing of eggs by the parish priest. Indeed, even in the secular world, the Easter egg could be the most prominent symbol used for the “holiday season”. But what is the origin of the Easter egg?

The egg as a symbol of the Resurrection

Probably the most well known explanation of the Easter egg today is the symbolic representation of the Resurrection. As the egg appears to be lifeless, yet holds much life within itself; so too, the tomb appeared to be utterly lifeless, but from it Christ arose. Of course, we mention here that there is a great difference in the way a chick comes forth from the egg and the way Christ came forth from the tomb – for our Savior walked through the walls of the sealed tomb.

St. Mary Magdalene and the Easter egg

There are numerous traditions which connect St. Mary Magdalene with the Easter egg. According to one account, the Magdalene had brought a basket of eggs with her to the tomb on that first Eastern morning. Upon reaching the tomb, at the angelic proclamation of the Resurrection, the eggs turned red. Another tradition connects the Easter egg with Mary Magdalene’s later preaching about the Resurrection.

The historical origins of the Easter egg traditions

Whatever we think of the symbolic nature of eggs and the traditions surrounding St. Mary Magdalene, the most likely origin for the modern tradition of the Easter egg is rooted in the ancient practice of the Lenten fast. In times past (and still today in some places in the East), in addition to abstaining from meat, Christians abstained also from eggs and from all milk-foods (e.g. milk, cheese, etc.). Moreover, this fast was not only kept on every Friday, but was maintained on all days throughout the entire season of Lent. Thus, on Easter Sunday, the children (and, I am sure, the adults) were very happy to be able to eat meat and eggs again. This looking-forward to the end of the fast eventually developed into the tradition of the Easter egg. Consider the following words from the Catholic Encyclopedia: “Because the use of eggs was forbidden during Lent, they were brought to the table on Easter Day, coloured red to symbolize the Easter joy. This custom is found not only in the Latin but also in the Oriental Churches.” For more on why we fast from meat (and, in times past, also from eggs and milk-foods), consider our previous article.

Journeying through the Day with the Mother of God

After the Divine Office, many mark the day through the recitation of the Angelus. Now that we have entered Eastertide (Easter to Pentecost) we pray the Regina Caeli (To be more precise, it is prayed from Holy Saturday through Eastertide). It is most common to recite it at noon but also very appropriate at 6am and 6pm.

The author of the Regina Caeli is unknown but has been used since the twelfth century. Wikipedia (no comments) shares that,

It was in Franciscan use, after Compline, in the first half of the following century. Legend has it that St Gregory the Great heard angels chanting the first three lines one Easter morning in Rome, while following barefoot in a great religious procession the icon of the Virgin painted by Luke the Evangelist. He was thereupon inspired to add the fourth line.

This is a beautiful tradition to mark time throughout our day.

Regina Caeli: English and Latin

Queen of Heaven

V. Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
R. For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
V. Has risen, as he said, alleluia.
R. Pray for us to God, alleluia.
V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
R. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

Let us pray. O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Regina caeli

V. Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia.
R. Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia.
V. Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia.
R. Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

V. Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, alleluia.
R. Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.

Oremus. Deus, qui per resurrectionem Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi, mundum laetificare dignatus es: praesta, quaesumus; ut per eius Genetricem Virginem Mariam, perpetuae capiamus gaudia vitae. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

April Fools’! A Jewish Tradition

“Tradition has it that April 1 is April Fools’ Day because it was on this day that Noah sent doves from the ark to check for dry land before the flood had completely abated. (Actually, it was the first of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish year and roughly equivalent to our April.) This first dispatch, of course, was a wild goose chase, to use a fowl metaphor. Even though Noah might object to the implication that he was just fooling, the doves’ frustrated mission is commemorated in the April Fools’ tricks of today.”[1]

So this Lent, eat some Tempura…a food born out of our Catholic Christian tradition!

[1] Klein, Rev. Peter, The Catholic Source Book (Harcourt Religion Publishers, 2000) p. 349

A Man Who Developed the Seasons

Sometimes, I think when we look at our liturgical calendar, see the saints that are listed and immediately glaze over. Most think we are remembering the saint for their death. In actuality, we celebrate their life – a life now spent in the presence of the Living God. We also celebrate the impact of their contributions upon Christendom.

For our beloved saint of the day, we owe him a great deal – well, at least that is what I think. St. Cyril of Jerusalem is most well known for his Mystogagia. These mystagogical and catechetical lectures were given to the neophytes after their entrance into the Church on Easter Sunday. He also provides us with a 4th century view into how Baptism was celebrated, the Liturgy of St. James, the logic of catechumenal preparation and even the doctrine of the Eucharist. They are broken down into five lectures:

  • Lecture 1-3: Baptism and Chrismation
  • Lecture 4: Doctrine of the Eucharist
  • Lecture 5: The Eucharistic Liturgy

But wait! There’s more…

Now, I know you are thinking, “That’s great DQ but I am not going to read them.” That is fine.  BUT, I am confident that one of your most favorite time of the year is Holy Week, and, you love the liturgy.

Dom Gregory Dix writes,

Cyril’s Holy Week and Easter cycle is at the basis of the whole of the future Eastern and Western observances of this culminating point of the Christian year. He gave to Christendom the first outline of the public organization of the divine office; and the first development of the proper of seasons as well as the saints. He was certainly the great propagator, in not the originator, of the later theory of Eucharistic consecration by the invocation of the Holy Ghost, with its important effects in the subsequent liturgical divergence of East and West. In the Jerusalem church in his time we first find mention of liturgical vestments, of carrying of lights and the use of incense at the gospel, and a number of other minor elements in liturgy and ceremonial, like the lavabo and the Lord’s prayer after the Eucharistic prayer, which have all passed into the tradition of catholic Christendom. Above all, to him more than to any single man is due the successful carrying through of that universal transportation of the liturgy from an eschatological to an historical interpretation of redemption, which is the outstanding mark left by the fourth century on the history of Christian worship.[1]

So, what has this liturgical giant given us? In summary:

  • Provided an outline and public organization of the Divine Office
  • Developed the form and initial content of the proper of seasons and saints
  • Introduced a theology of consecration of the sacred elements through the invocation of the Holy Spirit

Historically, he also documents that from antiquity there was a tradition of:

  • Use of liturgical vestments
  • Use of carrying of processional candles
  • Use of incensation of the Gospel
  • Use of the lavabo
  • Organization of the Lord’s prayer after the Eucharistic prayer

I think we much to be thankful for!

Sancta Cyril, ora pro nobis!

[1] The Shape of the Liturgy, pp. 350 f.