26 November 2012

One year with the new Missal

I love arriving at the beginning of a new liturgical year for many reasons. I love Advent and Christmas liturgies and music, I love the anticipation of the Christmas break from school, I love the visits with family that happen each year at this time. I am old enough to remember with nostalgia Christmases before cell phones and the internet, and I love these memories as well.

This year as I thought about the church year that is ending, I remembered that as it began we (English-speaking Roman Catholics) were celebrating Mass using the new English translations of the Missal for the first time. Many of you might agree with me that another year seems to have passed quickly. The cards in the pews with the new Mass responses are now well-worn; many of us can make it through Mass without glancing at them once, even if sometimes we still do.

In thinking about the past year with the new Missal,  I have been trying to decide which of its readings has been the most meaningful to me. While I welcome some of the brief, now-familiar changes such as the more literal response “and with your spirit” and the Creed's use of “consubstantial,” which I initially resisted, I think that the most notable change for me might be the new translations of the Prefaces.

All of the Mass Prefaces can be rich sources of meditation and can help focus us during the Eucharistic Prayers. I was reminded of this again at mass last Sunday when we heard the new translation of the preface for Christ the King, or as it is more accurately called, the “Preface of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.”

Here's the new translation of that preface, in case you missed it:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.

For you anointed your Only Begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ, with the oil of gladness 
as eternal Priest and King of all creation, 
so that, by offering himself on the altar of the Cross 
as a spotless sacrifice to bring us peace, 
he might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption
and, making all created things subject to his rule, 
he might present to the immensity of your majesty 
an eternal and universal kingdom, 
a kingdom of truth and life, 
a kingdom of holiness and grace, 
a kingdom of justice, love and peace.

And so, with Angels and Archangels,
with Thrones and Dominions,
and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven,
we sing the hymn of your glory
as without end we acclaim: ”

It can be easy to let the language of the Preface slip by without noting it; please don't. Although after a year we might be familiar with the new Mass responses, probably few of us are as aware as we could be of the new translations of the the Prefaces (or other parts of the Mass). As another liturgical year begins, we have our past year's experience with the new Missal to be thankful for, and another year of its riches to look forward to.

23 November 2012

Vermeer: Catholic artist (Italy 2012, part 3)

While in Rome on my recent trip, I visited the Vermeer exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale. This was a welcome opportunity to see eight paintings by Vermeer along with several others by his contemporaries. While this is not the largest Vermeer exhibition in recent years, only 35 or so Vermeers are known to exist, and I had not previously seen most of the works on display in Rome.

Most interesting to me were two works with explicitly religious content, Saint Praxedis and Allegory of Faith (in this exhibition given the title Allegory of the Catholic Faith). The Saint Praxedis painting shown here has been attributed to Vermeer but this attribution is questioned.
In Rome it was displayed next to a nearly identical painting by Felice Ficherelli, of which it is thought to be a copy. Vermeer's version, if it is indeed by Vermeer, adds a crucifix but is otherwise essentially the same image. This painting intrigued me because it has not often been on view in recent years, because of the questions about its attribution, and because on my trip I visited the church in Rome dedicated to St. Praxedis (Santa Prassede), as mentioned in an earlier post. Whether or not the Saint Praxedis is by Vermeer, it was valuable to see the two versions side-by-side. I was led to wonder whether similar paintings of saints by Vermeer, perhaps less novel than his domestic scenes but commissioned by faithful patrons, might exist unrecognized, attributed to other artists. Meanwhile, I believe the Allegory of Faith, the attribution of which is not doubted, is a masterwork and should be recognized as such even though its subject is atypical when compared to Vermeer's better known domestic scenes.

I'd wanted to see the Allegory of Faith in person for some time; it's slightly ironic that I first saw it in Rome, since it is owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, much closer to home for me. The arrangement of the exhibition was such that this painting was the last work encountered when passing through the galleries, and so was positioned to serve as a final visual statement from Vermeer to visitors. I appreciated this since in my opinion Vermeer's faith and the role it played in his work has not always been adequately respected by critics and curators.

Repeated efforts to explain Vermeer's conversion to Catholicism as motivated by something other than sincere religious conviction have troubled me. It seems that some of the critics who are willing to acclaim Vermeer as a great painter are at the same time willing to assume that he was moved by rather banal motives when it comes to his religious life. For example, it has often been implied, if not stated outright, that his conversion was to some extent a scheme to please his wealthy future mother-in-law. The text accompanying the display at the Scuderie del Quirinale is not as harsh as some; it states that Vermeer “converted to Catholicism in order to marry a young Catholic woman...” but points out that the names of Vermeer's children “and other biographical details suggest that Vermeer took his new religion seriously.”

What I've read indicates that the factual evidence regarding Vermeer's conversion and its motivations (like much else about his life) is slim. In regards to the evidence available it seems unjust to repeat the suspicion that Vermeer converted for improper motives. To allow these assumptions to color our appreciation of his religious art likewise seems unjustified. In fact, the entire distinction between paintings with overtly religious subjects and what initially appear to be non-religious paintings may be overstated in the case of Vermeer. If the Catholic home is the “domestic church (see CCC 1655-1658),” then ignoring or attempting to explain away Vermeer's faith may lead to inadequate interpretations of his exquisite domestic scenes as well as his obviously religious ones.

A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal, Vermeer

19 November 2012

Institution of Readers, Diocese of Richmond, 16 November 2012

I'm pausing from the series of blogs based on my Italy trip to mention a significant milestone for deacon candidates in the Diocese of Richmond, including me. Last Friday, 16 November, 18 of us were installed as Lectors, or Readers. This is a decisive step on the pathway to ordination, which we anticipate in fall of next year. Our installation came in the context of Evening Prayer with Bishop DiLorenzo, several of our pastors, and friends and family. Please pray for us all as we continue on this path.

18 November 2012

Honoring St. Charles Borromeo (Italy 2012, Part 2)

One of the Ambrosian Rite Masses I attended in Milan (see previous post) was the celebration at the Duomo in honor of St. Charles Borromeo held on his feast day, 4 November. The presider was Angelo Cardinal Scola, the Archbishop of Milan and so the most recent successor to St. Ambrose and St. Charles in that role. St. Charles's remains are venerated in the Duomo, along with those of many other saints and blesseds from the past, including Bl. Ildefonso Schuster, another former Archbishop of Milan who was beatified in 1996. The Mass was exceptional in every way; the music was beautiful, the homily was encouraging (as far as I could understand it, with my weak Italian), and copious incense was used and hung in the air long after the recessional.

In Rome I visited three churches associated with St. Charles. The first of these, Santa Prassede, is on a side street near the much larger Santa Maria Maggiore. Santa Prassede is usually entered using a side entrance and is not as frequently visited as many other Roman churches, which is a shame given its history and beauty. The church was rebuilt in the ninth century by Pope Paschal I and contains fantastic mosaics. Its namesake, St. Praxides in English, is honored along with her sister St. Pudentiana for preserving the remains of early Christian martyrs before joining their ranks herself. The relics of over 2000 martyrs are said to have been buried or reburied in this church; the names of dozens are listed on monuments there, and many others are anonymous. As Cardinal, Charles Borromeo was titular of this church beginning in 1564. When in Rome he often said mass in a side chapel here, and a newer chapel is dedicated to him and contains some items he used during life.

I also visited two newer Roman churches built to honor St. Charles after his death. One is the Basilica of Saints Ambrose and Charles, a.k.a. San Carlo al Corso, which was built beginning in 1612 largely at the initiative of the Lombards (i.e. northern Italians) in Rome. It has an imposing facade and one of the more impressive domes of any Roman church. One of its several side chapels is dedicated to St. Olaf and serves as the national chapel for Norway. And behind the main altar in the ambulatory is a reliquary containing the heart of St. Charles, which has been there since 1614; each year on June 22 the church observes the Feast of the Heart of St. Charles.

San Carlo al Corso, Rome, facade, November 2012

The third church honoring St. Charles that I visited was San Carlo alle Quattro Fontana. It was busy with tour groups when I visited, most of whom were mainly focused on its remarkable architecture. In addition to honoring St. Charles in its name and some of its artwork, this church is also is the resting place of Bl. Elizabeth Canori Mora, mother, laborer, and member of the Trinitarian Third Order, who died in 1825.

One of my main impressions from this trip is how little-known St. Charles is in the United States compared to his fame in Rome and northern Italy. I've see very few publications on him in English, but in Italian bookstores was able to find several. He is honored in the names of some U.S. churches, and he is a patron saint for many American Catholics, including me, but I believe could be much better known in this country than he is.  

14 November 2012

First encounters with the Ambrosian Rite (Italy 2012, part 1)

I'm home from Italy and had a wonderful time. I have a few comments about some liturgical experiences from the beginning of my trip.

Many Catholics, not to mention non-Catholics, forget or never learn that we are not all “Roman” or Western Catholics. More than 20 other Catholic churches exist, such as the Maronite, Ruthenian, and Coptic churches, each with a long history and distinct liturgical rites. We also sometimes forget that within our Western tradition we have distinct rites as well, beyond those known as the “ordinary” (Paul VI, vernacular language) or the “extraordinary” (Tridentine, Latin) forms for Mass in the Roman Catholic Church. It wasn’t until recently that I learned that the Diocese of Milan, in northern Italy, has its own distinctive rite, known as the Ambrosian Rite, that has endured for centuries. On my recent trip to Italy I was fortunate to attend three masses in Milan and experience the Ambrosian Rite for the first time.

Some differences between the Ambrosian Rite and the Roman Rite are obvious to anyone who’s familiar with the Roman Rite and is paying attention, even if you don't speak Italian. In the Liturgy of the Word, for example, each lector requests a blessing from the presider, receives it, and then reads; none simply proceeds to the ambo and starts to read. But most notably to me, in the Ambrosian Rite masses I attended the exchange of peace occurred before the eucharistic prayers were offered. As I participated in this exchange (my Italian does goes as far as “pace!”) I suddenly thought of Matthew 5:24, which reads (in part), “go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” This is literally the sequence in the Ambrosian Rite; first peace is shared, then the gifts are offered. (For readers unfamiliar with the Roman Rite, the sharing of the peace comes later in the Mass.) This makes sense to me, scripturally and sacramentally, and I appreciated this opportunity to pray a different way.

Reference to the liturgical rite of Milan as “Ambrosian” is due to the influence of St. Ambrose, Doctor of the Church, defender of Catholic orthodoxy against Arianism, major influence on St. Augustine of Hippo, and Archbishop of Milan in the late fourth century. The adjective “Ambrosian” in still used in many contexts to refer to the life of the Church in Milan, not just strictly liturgical ones. Among the sites I visited on my trip was the Basilica of St. Ambrose, which dates to the fourth century, though it has been damaged and rebuilt many times.

Basilica of St. Ambrose (Sant'Ambrogio), Milan, portico and facade

01 November 2012

Italia, again.

I have been blessed to travel to Italy several times in recent years, and I will be going again this weekend. I'll be away for a little more than a week, visiting Milan, Assisi, and Rome. Pray for me as I travel; I will pray for you.

Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi, 2010 - photo copyright C. Michael Stinson

I'm planning more posts for the weeks after I return, but before I leave I wanted to say thank you to those who have read and commented on what's here so far. It's just a start. Please make more comments, here or privately, and if you think what's here is worthwhile, please send more readers this way.