Archive for March, 2009

The Patriarchal Basilicas: Part 2, St. Paul Outside the Walls

March 31, 2009

In the fifth century under the Pontificate of Leo the Great, the Basilica became the home of a long series of medallions which would to this day depict all the popes throughout history. This testifies, in an extraordinary way, to “the very great, the very ancient and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul” (Saint Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 3, 3,2).

The monolithic candle stand for the basilica’s paschal candle.

All the popes are depicted in mosaic form around the interior of the church.

On June 28, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Basilica and announced that the following year would be designated the “Pauline Year” to commemorate the bimillennium of the birth of Saint Paul. Thus, the “Pauline Year” will run from June 28, 2008 to June 29, 2009.

The basilica is the place of the tomb of St. Paul the Apostle


The Humeral Veil

March 29, 2009

“It is impossible to determine when the Roman Ritual first prescribed the use of the humeral veil. It was probably towards the close of the Middle Ages. The custom is first alluded to in “Ordo Rom. XV” (c. lxxvii). In many places outside of Rome the humeral veil was not adopted for the aforesaid functions until very recent times. It was prescribed in Milan, by St. Charles Borromeo, for processions of the Blessed Sacrament and for carrying Holy Viaticum to the sick. Its use at high Mass dates back as far at least as the eighth century, for it was mentioned, under the name of sindon, in the oldest Roman Ordo. It undoubtedly goes back to a more remote antiquity. It was slow in finding its way into use outside of Rome, and was not adopted in certain countries (France, Germany) until the nineteenth century.”–Catholic Encyclopedia

It should not be confused with the vimpa, which is the veil worn by those servers who act as crosier and mitre-bearers. Here Archbishop Burke is accompanied by three servers, two of whom are wearing vimpae.

(You have no idea how hard it was to find a picture of a vimpa!)

The Helmet of Fortification and Salvation

March 22, 2009

Unlike the chasuble which we’ve mentioned here, the mitre is not part of classical Roman costume.

“One theory is that the mitre developed out of the conical helmet of white linen first worn in processions out of doors by the Roman pontiff in the eigth century. This helmet was known as the Frigium or Phrygian Cap. By the opening of the twelth century a dent or crease had developed in this cap. In the late twelfth or early thirteenth century the cap was turned round the other way and began to assume the form which we now commonly associate with episcopal head-dress. During the next four centuries, the mitre increased in height until we reach the towering form of the later Renaissance.

As early as the time of Pope Gregory X (AD 1271) a distinction is drawn between the kinds of mitres and the occasions of their use. The modern Roman ceremonial reflects these distinctions by recognizing three kinds of mitre: (I) mitra pretiosa (jewelled), (2) mitra aurifrigiata (without jewels and used at times of less solemnity), (3) mitra simplex (plain with white linen).” -Liturgical Vesture

The shape of the modern mitre is also steeped in great symbolism, as this prayer from the consecration of a bishop (from the old Pontificale Romanum) indicates (translation mine):

Imponimus, Domine, capiti hujus Antistitis et agonistae tui galeam munitionis et salutis, quatenus decorata facie, et armato capite, cornibus utriusque Testamenti terribilis appareat adversariis veritatis; et, te ei largiente gratiam, impugnator eorum robustus exsistat, qui Moysi famuli tui faciem ex tui sermonis consortio decoratam, lucidissimis tuae claritatis ac veritatis cornibus insignisti: et capiti Aaron Pontificis tui tiaram imponi jussisti. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. We place, O Lord, the helmet of your fortification and salvation, upon the head of this Bishop, your combatant, with beauty adorned, and head armored, so that with the horns of each Testament he might appear terrible to the adversaries of truth; and, with You having lavished grace upon him, that he stand out as their valiant attacker, You who marked the face of Your servant Moses, embellished from the partnership of Your word, with the most shining horns (trumpets) of your clarity and truth: and You ordered a crown be placed (lit. ‘Phrygian bonnet w/ lappets) on the head of Aaron your high priest. Through Christ Our Lord.

The mitre is also reminiscent of the mitznefet, the head-dress of the Temple High Priest, which has been translated as “mitre”.

The Phrygian Cap, possible forerunner of the mitre

Mitra aurifrigiata

Mitra Simplex

Mitra Pretiosa

The High Priest with the Mitznefet

The Patriarchal Basilicas: Part 1, St Mary Major

March 18, 2009

“The façade is the magnificent work of Ferdinand Fuga (1741), and faces east, opening in a portico of five arcades on the lower story and three arches in the upper loggia, which covers the thirteenth-century mosaics of the previous façade.

Like precious gems set into the façade, the mosaics illustrate the origin of the Basilica. In the first scene, the Blessed Virgin appears to Pope Liberius and the Roman Patrician John in the dream that will inspire the location of the new basilica. An exceptional event would confirm the divine will – on August 5, 358, a snowfall covered the Esquiline Hill and in this snow, the Pope traced the perimeter of the future basilica.

The foundation stone for this façade was laid on March 4, 1741 by Pope Benedict XIV. Many eighteenth-century sculptors contributed to this remarkable project. The works both within and outside of the Basilica were completed just in time for the Jubilee Year 1750.

Situated on the summit of the Esquiline Hill, St. Mary Major is the only patriarchal basilica of the four in Rome to have retained its paleo-Christian structures.

Tradition has it that the Virgin Mary herself inspired the choice of the Esquiline Hill for the church’s construction. Appearing in a dream to both the Patrician John and Pope Liberius, she asked that a church be built in her honor on a site she would miraculously indicate.

The present Basilica dates back to the fifth century AD. Its construction was tied to the Council of Ephesus of 431 AD, which proclaimed Mary  Theotokos, Mother of God. Sixtus III commissioned and financed the project as Bishop of Rome. Crossing the threshold, one is overwhelmed by the vision of vast space, splendid marbles, and marvelous decoration. The monumental effect is due to the structure of the basilica and the harmony that reigns among the principal architectural elements. Constructed according to Vitruvius’ canon of rhythmic elegance, the basilica is divided into a nave and two side aisles by two rows of precious columns. Above these columns runs the skillfully wrought entablature, interrupted at the transept by the grand arches erected for the building of the Sistine and Pauline chapels. The area between the columns and the ceiling was once punctuated by large windows, half of which still remain, while the other half have been covered over by a wall. Over the walled windows, today one can admire frescos showing stories from the life of the Virgin.

In the crypt under the high altar lies the celebrated relic known as the Holy Crib. A statue of Pope Pius IX kneeling before the ancient wooden pieces of the manger serves as an example to the faithful who come to see the first humble crib of the Savior. Pius IX’s devotion to the Holy Crib led him to commission the crypt chapel, and his coat of arms is visible above the altar. The precious crystal urn trimmed in silver, through which the faithful can venerate the relic, was designed by Giuseppe Valadier.”–From Santa Maria Maggiore

The Seamless Coat of Christ

March 17, 2009

” Called in Latin casula planeta or pænula, and in early Gallic sources amphibalus, the principal and most conspicuous Mass vestment, covering all the rest. Nearly all ecclesiologists are now agreed that liturgical costume was simply an adaptation of the secular attire commonly worn throughout the Roman Empire in the early Christian centuries.

Of the chasuble as now in common usage in the Western Church two principal types appear, which may for convenience be called the Roman and the French. The Roman is about 46 inches deep at the back and 30 inches wide. It is ornamented with orphreys forming a pillar behind and a tall cross in front, while the aperture for the neck is long and tapers downwards. The French type, also common in Germany and in a more debased form in Spain, is less ample and often artificially stiffened. It has a cross on the back and a pillar in front. In medieval chasubles these orphrey crosses often assume a Y form, and the crosses themselves seem really to have originated less from any symbolical purpose than from sartorial reasons connected with the cut and adjustment.

It consisted of a square or circular piece of cloth in the centre of which a hole was made; through this the head was passed. With the arms hanging down, this rude garment covered the whole figure. It was like a little house (casula). This derivation is curiously illustrated in the prophetic utterance of Druidical origin preserved in Muirchu’s “Life of St. Patrick”, almost the oldest allusion to the chasuble and crosier which we possess. Before St. Patrick’s coming to Ireland the Druids were supposed to have circulated this oracle:

    Adze-head [this is an allusion to the peculiar Irish form of tonsure] will come with a crook-head staff; in his house head-holed [in suâ domu capiti perforatâ, i.e. chasuble] he will chant impiety from his table [i.e. the altar]; from the front [i.e. the eastern] part of his house all his household [attendant clerics] will respond, ‘So be it! So be it!’

The fact that at an early date the word casal established itself in the Celtic language, and that St. Patrick’s casal in particular became famous, makes the allusion of the “house head-holed” almost certain.” –From the Catholic Encyclopedia

And as always, the Pope!

BXVI On Eucharistic Adoration

March 14, 2009

It is worth recalling in this regard, the various meanings which the word “adoration” has in Greek and in Latin. The Greek word proskýnesis indicates the gesture of submission, the acknowledgment of God as our true measure, the norm of which we accept to follow. The Latin word ad-oratio, however, denotes the physical contact, the kiss, the embrace, which is implicit in the idea of love [NLM note: the root here is “os”, mouth; the ancient oriental gesture of greeting a ruler, translated into Latin as “adoratio”, involved touching the right hand to the mouth]. The aspect of submission foresees a relationship of union, because he to whom we submit is Love. Indeed, in the Eucharist adoration must become union: union with the living Lord and then with his Mystical Body. As I told the young people on the plain of Marienfeld, in Cologne, during the Holy Mass on the occasion of the XX World Youth Day, on August 2005: ” God no longer simply stands before us as the One who is totally Other. He is within us, and we are in him. His dynamic enters into us and then seeks to spread outwards to others until it fills the world, so that his love can truly become the dominant measure of the world.”(Insegnamenti, vol. I, 2005, pp. 457 f.). In this perspective, I reminded the young people that in the Eucharist one lives the “first fundamental transformation of violence into love, of death into life; this brings other transformations in its wake. Bread and wine become his Body and Blood. But the transformation must not stop there; on the contrary, the process of transformation must hee fully begin. The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn.”(ibid., p. 457).

The Incorruptibles

March 12, 2009

St Vincent de Paul

St. Silvan, died ca. 350

St John Vianney

The Stole, Orarium, or Epitrachelion

March 11, 2009

“We have already alluded to the fact that the priest usually wore his stole uncrossed on the breast until the later part of the middle ages. There is good reason to believe that deacons wore their stoles outside the dalmatic. Throughout the middle ages in the West, the stole remained long and narrow as we can see from numerous sepulchral brasses and effigies, as well as from a number of medieval examples of the stole which still exist…A point which has been overlooked or ignored by the makers of vestments and others today is the fact that the pre-Reformation stole was not made to match the colour of the chasuble or vestment which it accompanied. It was often heavily embroidered in a geometric or regular pattern. Its general colour and pattern agreed with the orphreys and apparels; and thus it contrasted with the chief vestment, as did the maniple.”–Cyril E. Pocknee, “Liturgical Vesture: Its Origins and Development”

There Is No Greater Love

March 10, 2009

“St. Francis Xavier planted Christianity in Japan where he arrived in 1549. It is said that by 1587 there were in Japan over two hundred thousand Christians. In 1596 the Emperor Tagcosama was roused to fury by the boast of the captain of a Spanish ship that the object of the missionaries was to facilitate the conquest of Japan by the Portuguese or Spaniards, and three Jesuits and six Franciscans were crucified on a hill near Nagasaki in 1597. Twenty-four of the martyrs, after part of their left ears had been cut off, were led through various towns, their cheeks stained with blood. After being fastened to crosses by cords and chains about their arms and legs and with an iron collar round their necks, they were raised into the air. The crosses were planted in a row, and each martyr had an executioner near him with a spear ready to pierce his side.” –Butler’s Lives of the Saints

Oura Church, Nagasaki

St Philip of JesusSt Ignatius Church, Tokyo

Ecce Sacerdos Magnus

March 8, 2009

“I am sure it was not a mere accident that the primitive Church did not apply the term ιερευς (hiereus, “priest”) to either bishop or presbyter. It was applied in the first place to Christ: He is the priest, the high-priest eternal. The whole Epistle to the Hebrews deals with this subject. Then in the second place, they applied the term to the assembly of Christians in so far as they are associated with Christ and can glorify God with Him and through Him. And it was only in the third instance that the term was also applied to bishops and priests, that the words ιερευς and sacerdos [“priest”] were used of Christian ministers of the altar; for the επισκοπος [episkopos] and πρεσβυτερος [presbyteros] of  the new order of salvation occupied an altogether different position from that of the pagan priest or even the priest of the Old Testament.

Among the pagans and even in the Old Testament, the ιερευς was someone who himself, in his own name or at the command of the community, acted as mediator with the deity. Such a possibility does not exist in the New Covenant. For there is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, and all others are merely His instruments, able to act not in their own name but only His. The term ιερευς was therefore applicable only to Christ and to the whole communion of the faithful, the holy Church, in so far as it is joined to Christ.”

-From The Early Liturgy: To the Time of Gregory the Great, by Josef A. Jungmann, S.J., 1959.

 The Pantheon, built (and partially designed by the emperor Hadrian) as the temple to all the gods, later consecrated as a church to Santa Maria ad Martyres