Category Archives: Liturgy

The god of surprises vs. the Tradition on Feet Washing

Just today, the Congregation of Divine Worship, at the command of Pope Francis, has decreed that women must be included in the Mandatum, that is the washing of the feet for Holy Thursday, effective this year. Thus, the god of surprises has come to visit us just in time for Septuagesima and the beginning of Lent.

There are lot’s of things to say, but the most important thing is to treat it dispassionately and in union with the Tradition. Pope Francis has said that those who resist change are closed to the working of the spirit, who cling to the way things have always been done are closed to the message of the Gospel. In spite of the twisting of the sense of Scripture in that particular discussion (my basis for which is the original Italian of Francis’ words, not some media report), let’s give him that for the moment. He posits a dichotomy of those who only want to do things the way things were, vs. those who want to apply new things. Thus we don’t receive a teaching and a praxis conditioned by the tradition of signs and symbols that lead us to Christ, to the teaching of the Gospel and the very person of Christ, but rather to the whims of this or that age. What is new and hip and inclusive in our age will be outmoded in the next age.

Moreover, the opposition is not comprised of those who say we must do everything as it has always been done, but that there is a reason why things have been done this way. Thus, the onus is on the Pope to explain why something in the traditional signs and symbols is somehow insufficient to express the reality of the Gospel. The problem is, he prescinds from this, and simply characterizes the opposition as a stick in the mud. It is one thing if he were to show how the traditional signs and symbols were insufficient for some reason, this is possible and the Church is in fact always in need of renewal. But can he show the use of men alone is somehow opposed to the expression of the Gospel?

The practice of washing the feet of men is supposed to express the relationship of Christ with his Apostles, not merely with the Christian community. Still, for all that, there is ample testimony of the Fathers that could be applied also to the community of the faithful, including examples where women’s feet were washed by the Bishop, just not during the Maundy Thursday liturgy. But then again, that might be too much the way things have always been done. The teaching of the Fathers on the question is well summarized by Cornelius á Lapide, in his commentary on the relevant passage of the Gospel (John XIII:6-10), which will suffice for our purposes here: [NB: My translation. There is a very good translation of this available from Loretto, but I do not have it at hand]

“St. Bernard understands in this place as if it were a  sacrament, a symbol, a type, a figure, a mystical meaning as he explains a little after, on which we will say more soon.
Symbolicly, Origen and St. Jerome [epist. ad Damasus, de prima visione Isaiae] reckon that Christ washed the feet of the Apostles in order that he might prepare them to preach the Gospel, according to what is said: ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that brings good tidings, and that preaches peace: of him that shows forth good!’ [Isaiah LII:7; Rom. X:15].
Secondly, S. Ambrose, [de iis qui initiantur mysteriis, cap. vi] reckons that Christ in baptism washes away actual sins by washing the head, but here by washing the feet, he washed the remnant of original sin, that is, the motion of concupiscence, for in this washing of the feet, it is effected to have fortified them so that they would resist concupiscence.
Thirdly, St. Augustine and St. Bernard [de Cœna Domini] say: “By such feet we tread over the earth, the love of the earth is signified, filth and defects, which, while on earth, that is while we live among earthly affairs, just as the dust or mud on our feet it behooves us to wash by tears and penance, especially before holy communion.
Fourthly, St. Cyprian [de Cœna Domini] and St. Gregory [lib. ix epist. 39]: “Of the feet, which are the lowest and last part of man, the washing means not only that we must scrutinize our exterior works, but that we must descend even to the lowest and most intimate hidden corners of our conscience, and purge them from every secret stain and wicked intention through contrition, tears and groans.
From this washing of the feet by Christ, the custom of Milan, and several other churches, sprung up that the Bishop would wash those who were going to be baptized, and thereafter the priests and clerics in the font, who stood straight for this purpose outside the Church; thereafter the Bishop kissed the feet of those he washed, and they placed the outer part of the foot over the head of the bishop. St. Ambrose relates and defends this custom [lib. III de Sacram. cap. 1] and says that it was begun by St. Peter and Christ, wherefore he marvels that it is not kept in the Roman Church. Moreover, the Council of Toledo [XVII, cap. iii] ratifies that the Bishops and priests should wash the feet of the faithful at the Lord’s supper after the example of Christ, and commands the use which had ceased for a while to be recalled.
St. Ambrose relates the mystical nature of this washing [lib. De initiandis, cap. VI] saying: “Peter was clean, but ought to wash the sole [of the foot] : for he had the sin of the first man by succession, when the serpent supplanted it and persuaded error; therefore his sole is washed so that hereditary sins would be abolished.” He alludes to those words of God to the serpent concerning man: “Thou shall lie in wait for his heal,” [Genes. III:15]. The same Ambrose [lib. III de Sacram., cap. 1] says: “Because Adam was supplanted by the devil, and the poison flowing into him and over his feet, therefore you wash the feet so that in that part, in which the serpent lies in wait, shall come upon a greater sanctification, in which afterward he cannot supplant you. Therefore you wash the feet, so that you wash the poison of the serpent. Moreover, it will effect humility, so that you will not blush in the mystery, that we will not disdain obedience.”
Another reason was more literal, because formerly those to be baptized approached with naked feet, that they would conduct themselves with humility. For that reason, this nakedness of the feet is called humility by St. Augustine [lib. de Symbolo ad Catech., cap. 1]; because they will wash the filth that has been contracted on the feet. This custom began to spread from the Church of Milan to others, as is clear from St. Augustine.”

Now, we could go on at length with many more testimonies to the same thing. What we can see is that the objections of some, that the priest will kiss a woman’s foot at the mandatum, was not a problem for St. Ambrose and the fathers of other churches where this custom spread to. Then again, the culture was not as over-sexualized as it is today where you have foot fetishes and other things of immoderate men. I don’t know if such a thought would occur to most priests, but it may to some laity. So if Francis wanted to overturn the custom prevailing in all Churches of only washing men’s feet, he could appeal to this example in the Fathers, that such washings were done from the Lord’s example for the community (men and women) who were to be baptized, and then he might have some ground to stand on in terms of uniting this symbol at the liturgy with the example of antiquity. But then his notion of mercy, trumpeted so much at the last synod in regard to public adulterers, could be exposed to attack by the same example. Again from á Lapide, on John XIII:10:

“Mark, here Christ alludes to those who wash themselves in a bath, who go out from it with their whole body being cleansed, but because they tread upon the earth with their naked feet, therefore they might say the feet, for that reason alone are washed afterward. Mark secondly, Christ speaks anagogically [that is, in regard to man’s final state] that by his custom they rise from corporal washing to a spiritual one, in other words, one who is washed is done so spiritually through baptism, in which I have washed you, O Apostles, or one who is washed through contrition and penance, here is wholly clean in soul, but still needs that he wash only his feet, that is the affects of the soul, again by reason of earthly things, in which they live, are stained by contagion and contract light filth that they must often purge through contrition, castigation of the body and like virtues (of which this my washing is a symbol), and especially before the Sacred Liturgy and reception of the Eucharist. Thus St. Augustine, Bede, and especially St. Bernard [serm. In Cœna Domini] say: “He who is washed, needs nothing but that he should wash the feet. He is washed, who does not have grave sins, whose head, that is intention, and hand, that is the operation and good life, is clean; but the feet, which are the affections of the soul, while we step in this dust, from the whole cannot be of the world, which at some time tread in vanity, lust or curiosity, it rather more behooves the soul that it should fall even now. For we all offend in many things. But no man scorns or slights. For it is impossible to be saved by those, it is impossible that I have washed except through Christ Jesus, and by Christ.”

Whereas, directly contradicting what Christ said, that he who divorces his wife and marries another (Matt. XIX) commits adultery, can that be said to be a light matter? Not a grave sin?

Nevertheless, picking up in the next paragraph with Lapide, we see the relationship of Christ with the Apostles:

“Therefore, Christ, in this washing of the feet of Peter and the Apostles cleanses sins, especially venial ones, because through that and only through His forgiveness does he goad their minds, and admonished them by making internal washing through contrition in their souls, through which venial sins are expiated.
For this reason, priests in the OT washed their feet and hands before the sacrifice, as I have already said. Likewise, many heathen did the same thing, as Brissonius recalls [lib. I De Formulis Roman., pag. 4]. Formerly the Jews did the same thing, as is clear from Mark VII:4, and they still do the same thing today.
Next, St. Augustine [epist. 108 ad Seleucianum] from “qui lotus est“, probably gathers that Peter and the Apostles were baptized before the Eucharist, then because no man has the capacity for the Eucharist unless he has been baptized, for after His death he baptized no man, it is certain that they were all either immediately or mediately baptized by Christ. Then, the “washing” would probably have been the washing done in baptism.”

Thus, the relationship expressed in the washing of the feet of the Apostles by Christ, is not just of a hierarchical relationship, though that is properly one aspect, but one of the intimate communion that his Apostles, as priests conformed to Christ’s very person, share with him in spite of their human nature. They are washed as preparation for becoming priests of the new and eternal covenant, of which baptism is necessary, that is being put to death to the world, and born anew in Christ Jesus. The mandatum, as preserved and passed down in the sacred liturgy of Maundy Thursday, is intended to preserve this identification of Bishops and Priests as other Christs, being cleansed from sin and made unto him, whereas the early Church (as seen in St. Ambrose, St. Augustine and the Bishops of other Churches, as Lapide mentions) also sought to incorporate the symbol of the Bishop conformed to Christ, the suffering servant who is nonetheless God, in the rite of baptism.

As a side note, Catholics should take note that the practice of blessing themselves with Holy Water when they come into Church derives from this ancient practice, which is why the modern practice in many modern churches of removing the holy water during Lent an replacing it with sand is all the more inexplicable.

Now, as I noted, Pope Francis could overturn this particular tradition in the mandatum under the desire to emulate the Baptism of the faithful, but if that were the case he should give very clear reasons as to why the old symbol were inefficient to this, or why the expression of the priesthood as perfectly conformed to Christ as servants no longer satisfies and should be expressive of who we are today. In fact, the very purpose of liturgical symbols is to remind men of changing fashions what the symbols represent and call them back to the gospel—both clergy and laity—not to correspond to changing fashions. What Pope Francis has done, is to destroy a symbol without any particular reasoning or purpose apart from what seems inclusive for today. And therein lies the very problem. A protestant friend of mine very aptly encapsulated the faulty reasoning of this initiative in the following satire:

“I hereby propose that a reasonably accurate modern equivalent of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet would be Jesus doing their dishes. Harder to fit into the Maundy Thursday service, though.”

Could it be that Pope Francis is the one doing things the way they have always been done—since 1965?

End of the Reform of the Reform

CaravaggioEcceHomoThe family split in the Matt family, which formed the two different conservative newspapers, the Wanderer and the Remnant respectively, is perhaps a microcosm of conservative movements in the Church here in the United States (in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere, it is similar but different in many respects, e.g. European traditionalists I have known find the American Traditionalist obsession with women wearing skirts and veils puzzling. Thus not all issues are the same. So what I am going to say here is only intended with reference to the situation in this country).

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Septuagesima Sunday

Edited and revised from what was published on the old Athanasius Contra Mundum 12 February, 2006.

Today marks in the Traditional Church what is known as Septuagesima, or 70 days. On the Traditional calendar this does not mark the beginning of Lent, but it does mark pre-Lenten preparations. At the Holy Mass, the Gloria is omitted, as is the Alleluia, and the priest wears purple vestments to symbolize repentance and prayer.
It is one of the many sad and unfortunate losses since Vatican II that the 3 Sundays prior to Lent are suppressed, and we hear no more of them. For indeed they provide us with much to meditate on so that when we arrive at Lent we are prepared to enter the period of fasting and penance with our minds fixed on God. For if we are not centered on God, our fasting is in vain. Continue reading

Now is the hour to rise from sleep

I will salvage something from the Advent and Christmas sermons of St. Robert Bellarmine, which I announced just the other day will not be out this year, due to focusing on his other works. What follows is his sermon from the first Sunday of Advent, posted today to give place to the celebration of St. Andrew yesterday (as well as that I would rather not post on Sunday). NB: When he says briefly in the first line, that is to be taken in a 16th century sense of “brief”.

Sermon on the Epistle for the First Sunday of Advent
Given at the university of Louvain, 1571 (to the students)
Concio II (Opera Omnia)
St. Robert Bellarmine,
Doctor of the Church
Translated by Ryan Grant (see creative commons license for all questions about copying and citing)

Now is the hour we rise from sleep: now indeed, our salvation is nearer than when we believed. -Rom. XIII.

St.Robert-Bellarmine-2We will briefly explicate this beginning of today’s Epistle, by the Lord’s help: that which, in fact, is lead into one end according to the sense of the Apostle, but is adduced to another end by the Church; to be sure it has been proposed and also fittingly established. But what was proposed by Bl. Paul when he wrote, “Now is the hour we rise from sleep: now indeed, our salvation is nearer than when we believed”? The blessed Apostle wrote to the Romans, and also wished to wake them from the sleep of sin and from negligence, but he uses two arguments to carry this out, the second of which is from a due season; the other was taken up from the proximity of the end. How, indeed, if we should wish to wake someone, wouldn’t we say to him, “Hey you! Wake up!, it is time. For the dawn appears.” But what if he should be such a man from that lot which does not care much whether dawn should appear, but rather gladly sleeps until noon, then wouldn’t we say to him: “Hey you! Get up! The time is at hand to carry out a great business – namely lunch.” The Apostle Paul first exhorts the Romans in the same manner, that they should rise, because it is the hour of rising, for “Night has passed, and moreover, day approaches.” Therefore, because the time of that great meal, which is made in heaven, is near,: “Now indeed, is our salvation nearer, than when we believed.

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The Battle of Lepanto

The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin.  -Peter Paul Rubens

The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin.
-Peter Paul Rubens

For the great feast celebrating Our Lady’s intercession at Lepanto, I offer the following:

This is a good talk on the battle.

Then there is dramatic video, which starts slow but gets better.

Lastly, here is a talk on G.K. Chesterton’s poem Lepanto. None of it produced by me. I would do more, but I have too much on my plate to do this topic justice. Please pray for me and my family.

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

exaltationcross1

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, by Antioniazzo Romano, Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

Rewritten from a post by the same title on the Old Athanasius Contra Mundum, 14 September 2009.

Today is the feast of the exaltation of the Holy Cross, which is a distinct feast from the finding of the true Cross by St. Helena, which is commemorated in March. This feast, commemorates the victory of the Eastern Roman Empire over the Persians in the 7th century, and the recovery and return of the cross to Jerusalem. In most Traditional Missals there will be a short description of the event, that Heraclius, the Roman Emperor in Constantinople, could not enter the city with the cross because of some spiritual force which stopped him. When he asked the bishop, he was told that it was because he was dressed in kingly robes. To enter, he had to dress in rags, so as to not carry the cross into Jerusalem in a manner above our Lord who carried it in rags. After that he was able to carry the cross in.

However there is much more to this story, and the background history deserves to be told. In the year 570, the Roman Emperor in Constantinople, Maurice, supported Khusru, or Khusroes II (sometimes written Chosroes in western history books) to the throne in Persia, and gave Roman aid to his cause. (Roman here refers to what scholars call the “Byzantine empire”, but I use Roman generally speaking since it was the accepted term by which the Byzantines called themselves as well as what their enemies called them). Khusroes showed his gratitude by ending the war with Constantinople, and ceded to the Eastern Empire half of Armenia, which had long been disputed. After hundreds of years there was peace between Rome and Persia.

Then something else happened. In the year 602, The emperor Maurice was overthrown, and replaced by Phocas, a centurion who was selected by the troops present. He was little more than a monster, who murdered all of Maurice’s family save a few, was a rapist and a completely inept leader. He was entirely ineffectual against incursions by Avars, Slavs and assorted steppe peoples, emptied the treasury and brought the Eastern Empire to near destruction. He was unable to restore order when Monophysite mobs rose all over Syria and Egypt and killed orthodox bishops, replacing them with heretics.

Theodosius, a surviving member of Maurice’s family, escaped to Persia to Maurice’s friend and ally, Khusroes. What landed in his lap was a sequence of events few leaders could hope for. Politically, he could march on the Eastern Empire as Theodosius’ champion, much as Maurice had done for him. He could also use it to take control of a good chunk of territory, if not destroy the Roman Empire for good and reestablish ancient Persia, and on top of that Phocas was a murderer and a barbarous tyrant which appeared to give him the moral right. Best of all he had a pretender he could place on the throne loyal to him.

Though slow to get started, under Khusroes the Persians invaded the Levant and took every city from Antioch to Alexandria, including Jerusalem in 608. They took the true Cross from the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, and brought it back with them to Persia, and were prepared to march on Constantinople. It appeared as if the Eastern Empire was to be destroyed. However, there was Africa, where St. Augustine lived and preached and which Justinian’s able general, Belisarius, had recovered a century earlier. Its general, Heraclius was a pious man, fully orthodox, and in 610 he set sail for Constantinople with an army, and an icon of Our Lady on the masthead of his flag ship. The coup was almost instant, everyone wanted Phocas gone, and he was killed by a mob.

The reverse of a coin commemorating the Emperor Heraclius

The reverse of a coin commemorating the Emperor Heraclius

Heraclius was crowned in the Church of St. Stephen and could now set on the task of saving the Empire. Phocas had ruined the treasury, and sunk the last gold in the Bosphorus to keep Heraclius from getting it. To fight the Persians, who now marched on Constantinople after three years of unbroken victory, Heraclius needed an army. The loss of Jerusalem had inspired temporary reunion of the Monphyistes, and inspired the Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople to offer to Heraclius all the gold available at that time in the Churches for equipping, feeding and transporting an army. For two years the emperor raised this army. Then in 622, he prayed at Hagia Sophia on Easter Monday then embarked with his troops and an image of Jesus Christ as the army’s banner to Asia Minor, where he won victory after victory and drove the Persians back. He made straight for Persia, preparing to devastate it. He made an alliance with a Mongol people, the Khazars, and with their troops and his own (plus reinforcements of troops which had broken a Persian siege of Constantinople when he was away) he swept into Mesopotamia with a huge force, and smashed Khusroes near the ruins of Nineveh. The latter fled and was killed in an uprising while hiding in the mountains. Peace was made with Persia, and the true cross was returned to Jerusalem, which Heraclius brought to Jerusalem himself. That is the principle event which is commemorated in the liturgy today.

It is worth noting, that in 625, while Heraclius was pursuing his strategy of going straight at the enemy to draw them off from the difficult to defend heart land of Anatolia, the Persians and a Steppe tribe called the Avars, jointly besieged Constantinople. With the army away in Persia, it looked disastrous, and the people prayed to the Blessed Virgin, carrying on vigils and prayers, Liturgies, and processions, and composing a hymn which remains in the Eastern Tradition even today, the Akathistos (Akathist) hymn. Suddenly a hurricane appeared and scattered the Persian fleet, while at the same time creating havoc in the Avar camp and led to their retreat. With the siege being broken, more Roman troops could join Heraclius in the East.

The Tradition is that the Emperor, upon arriving with the cross at Jerusalem, attempted to enter but found himself prevented by an invisible force. He could not enter the city. St. Zacharias, the patriarch of Jerusalem, informed him that he could not carry the cross which the king of kings carried in rags, while he wore kingly robes. Therefore Heraclius divested himself of his royal garments, and wearing a simple tunic he was able to bring the true cross into Jerusalem without any further obstruction.

Pope St. Leo the Great, in a sermon, wrote a marvelous Latin prose which is used in the Breviary today:

O admirabilis potentia Crucis! o ineffabilis gloria passionis, in qua et tribunal Domini, et judicium mundi, et potestas est Crucifixi! Traxisti enim, Domine, omnia ad te, et cum expandisses tota die manus tuas ad populum non credentem et contradicentem tibi, confitendae majestatis tuae sensum totus mundus accepit. Traxisti, Domine, omnia ad te, cum in exsecrationem Judaici sceleris, unam protulerunt omnia elementa sententiam, cum, obscuratis luminaribus coeli, et converso in noctem die, terra quoque motibus quateretur insolitis, universaque creatura impiorum usui se negaret. Traxisti, Domine, omnia ad te, quoniam scisso templi velo, Sancta sanctorum ab indignis pontificibus recesserunt, ut figura in veritatem, prophetia in manifestationem et lex in Evangelium verteretur.

If your Latin is a bit week I have rendered it here:

How amazing is the power of the Cross! O how unutterable is the glory of the Passion, in which is the Lord’s judgment-seat, and the judgment of the world, and the might of the Crucified one! You have drawn all things to yourself, o Lord! and although you spread out your Hands all the day unto an unbelieving and opposing people, nevertheless, the world has felt and owned your Majesty! Lord! You drew all things unto yourself when all the elements advanced one opinion on the curse of the Judaic crime, when the lights of the firmament were darkened, day turned into night, earth quaked with strange tremblings, and all God’s work refused itself to be of use to the impious. You drawn all things unto thee O Lord, because the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, the Holy of Holies itself slipped away from unworthy Priests, that the figure might be changed into truth, prophecy into realization, and the Law into the Gospel.

Epilogue

However, there is one more important facet to this story. Heraclius had returned to Constantinople, and the patriarch Sergius, bowing to pressure from those who thought Church riches ought not to have been given for worldly ends (no matter how necessary), demanded repayment of all the Church’s wealth in full. No man could have seen the firestorm about to come from Arabia, it appeared as if no enemy remained for the Romans to fight, with Persia having been completely laid low and reduced to a conquered nation which sent tributes to Constantinople. Thus it seemed wise to reduce the military apparatus to the same level of weakness it had prior to the Persian assault. There is a tradition, which the Muslims have preserved in the Al-Hadith, that Mohamed had written to Heraclius encouraging him to make the Romans subject to Islam, but all historians, including Islamic ones, agree that it post dates Mohamed and could not be genuine. Whatever the truth of that, no one expected the Arabs to break out of Arabia, and when they did do so, the Eastern Roman Empire was woefully unprepared. To make things worse, Heraclius in later life developed a phobia for water, and refused to cross the Bosphorus, but he did send a decent army to Syria which was subsequently defeated by the Arabs, when a sandstorm rose up. The rest, is another story.