TSD 12: Liturgical (Newsletter) Reform

A busy week of solemnities

There can be nothing more appropriate to a newsletter about liturgy than reform. This week, I’m trying a couple small changes in response to your helpful feedback, for which I am grateful:

  • The commentary at the beginning will be shorter. Last week kind of jumped the shark with all the videos: The word count wasn’t huge, but it was a lot to scroll through. I’m going to aim for 200, maybe 250 words tops, with limited visual media going forward.

  • The Twitter and link round-up will be combined, with a slight reduction in overall non-liturgical content.

These are not major changes, but I think the result will be a little simpler and more streamlined, while subtly increasing the overall focus on liturgy.

Speaking of liturgy: There are three major feasts between Sundays this week, and all three appear on the same days in both calendars. I’ll keep the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form Sunday Masses separate, but will have a combined section for these other feasts. This isn’t a permanent change, just an accommodation for this remarkable week.

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus (Corpus Christi). The readings are Genesis 14:18-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, and Luke 9:11b-17.

Between the Epistle and the Gospel acclamation will appear St. Thomas Aquinas’s sequence, the Lauda Sion. The verse is truly a font of poetic Eucharistic theology, and it’s hard to pick a stanza or two to highlight. Here, though, we see in six lines the wholeness of the Real Presence, the inexhaustible nature of Christ’s grace, and the unity that the Sacrament not only call us to but effects:

Whoso of this food partakes,
Does not rend the Lord nor breaks;
 Christ is whole to all that taste:

Thousands are, as one, receivers,
One, as thousands of believers,
 Eats of him who cannot waste.

This notion that Christ’s Body—in the availability of His grace, in the unity He can effect, in the genuine peace and consolation He brings to us—is truly universal and thus cannot be depleted (even while He can be consumed) is also reflected in the Gospel reading, which is Luke’s account of the loaves and the fishes.

A brief note on the Genesis reading about the old-covenant priesthood of Melchizedek. Haydock cites Thomas Worthington’s anti-Protestant apologetic:

Many Protestants confess, that this renowned prince of Chanaan, was also a priest; but they will not allow that his sacrifices consisted of bread and wine. In what then? for a true priest must offer some real sacrifice. If Christ, therefore, be a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech, whose sacrifice was not bloody, as those of Aaron were, what other sacrifice does he now offer, but that of his own body and blood in the holy Mass, by the ministry of his priests?

Lastly, note that Abram pays (what would later become known as) a tithe to his priest:

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.


Peter Paul Rubens, The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, c. 1626.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is the Second Sunday after Pentecost—or the External Solemnity of Corpus Christi may be celebrated. Since we covered Corpus Christi in the EF last week, we’ll briefly cover the (rarely seen in the wild) Second Sunday after Pentecost this week. The Epistle is 1 John 3:13-18 and the Gospel is Luke 14:16-24.

This is a really tremendous reading from First John. A few snippets:

Wonder not, brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not, abideth in death. … My little children, let us not love in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth.

The second verse there reminds one of 1 Peter 2:17:

Honor all men. Love the brotherhood.

On that verse, Haydock cites Witham:

We know that we have passed from death to life: i.e. from the death of sin to the life of grace: we know it by a moral certainty, when we experience in our heart a love of our neighbour.

…in both forms of the Roman Rite

Monday, June 24, is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. In the old calendar this would normally be preceded by a vigil, but it is superseded by Sunday this year. The Catholic Encyclopedia reports that this is one of the earliest saints’ feasts to be celebrated in the Church:

The honour paid so early and in so many places to the relics of St. John the Baptist, the zeal with which many churches have maintained at all times their ill-founded claims to some of his relics, the numberless churches, abbeys, towns, and religious families placed under his patronage, the frequency of his name among Christian people, all attest the antiquity and widespread diffusion of the devotion to the Precursor. The commemoration of his Nativity is one of the oldest feasts, if not the oldest feast, introduced into both the Greek and Latin liturgies to honour a saint. But why is the feast proper, as it were, of St. John on the day of his nativity, whereas with other saints it is the day of their death? Because it was meant that the birth of him who, unlike the rest, was "filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb", should be signalized as a day of triumph.

Image result for nativity john baptist art

Luca Giordano’s Birth of Saint John the Baptist could easily be mistaken at first glance for a depiction of Christ’s birth. Compare with the same artist’s Adoration of the Magi.

The historic liturgies of the day rivaled those of Christmas in their grandness and symbolism:

The resemblance of the feast of St. John with that of Christmas was carried farther, for another feature of the 24th of June was the celebration of three masses: the first, in the dead of night, recalled his mission of Precursor; the second, at daybreak, commemorated the baptism he conferred; and the third, at the hour of Terce, honoured his sanctity. The whole liturgy of the day, repeatedly enriched by the additions of several popes, was in suggestiveness and beauty on a part with the liturgy of Christmas.

It is said that the decisive Battle of Fontenoy between warring grandsons of Charlemagne was delayed until June 25 out of respect for the holiness of the 23rd & 24th. This raises the question of why the feast, pegged to six months before Christmas, is not actually the 25th. This has to do with the idiosyncrasies of the Roman calendar.

Pontormo, on a desco da parto (childbirth gift), 1520s. Note Zechariah writing, “His name is John.” (Luke 1:63)

Traditional celebrations of St. John’s Day and St. John’s Eve are too numerous to mention. An enduring, cross-cultural commemoration, though, is the bonfire, in part a holdover from pagan midsummer festivals (and superstitious elements of St. John’s celebrations have endured). Co-opting pagan festivals is one of my favorite Church traditions; I wish we could get back to doing it more often…

Friday, June 28, is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is one of the most complex, multifaceted, and storied devotions in the Church. For the sake of time and space, we’ll focus here on the history of the celebration itself.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart long preceded its enshrinement in the liturgical calendar. Names associated with writings or visions on the topic include: Saint Ambrose, Saint Jerome, Saint Irenaeus, Saint Justin Martyr, St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure, St. Mechtilde, St. Gertrude, St. Lutgarde, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. John Eudes, and certainly many more. But things really got off the ground with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690):

In the first great revelation, He made known to her His ardent desire to be loved by men and His design of manifesting His Heart with all Its treasures of love and mercy, of sanctification and salvation. He appointed the Friday after the octave of the feast of Corpus Christi as the feast of the Sacred Heart; He called her "the Beloved Disciple of the Sacred Heart", and the heiress of all Its treasures. The love of the Sacred Heart was the fire which consumed her, and devotion to the Sacred Heart is the refrain of all her writings.

Jesus appears to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Montauban Cathedral, France.

The commemoration, however, was not extended to the entire Church until 1856, under Pope Pius IX. The devotion continued to grow, in large part due to the efforts of Blessed Mary of the Divine Heart, who persistently petitioned Pope Leo XIII to consecrate the entire world to the Sacred Heart. The pope announced his intention to do so in the 1899 encyclical Annum sacrum, in which he tied this devotion to our understanding of Christ’s kingship—in this world and the next:

And since there is in the Sacred Heart a symbol and a sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love one another, therefore is it fit and proper that we should consecrate ourselves to His most Sacred Heart—an act which is nothing else than an offering and a binding of oneself to Jesus Christ, seeing that whatever honor, veneration and love is given to this divine Heart is really and truly given to Christ Himself.

This consecration, at the instruction of Pope Pius X, has since been renewed annually in the month of June. (Oh, and yeah, you can eat meat this Friday.)

It’s hard, if we’re being honest, to find a non-kitschy devotional image of the Sacred Heart. I enjoy this vintage prayer card, though, whose circular text reads, “Here is the heart that loves men so much; He is only love and mercy.”

Saturday, June 29, is the Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul. Another of the most ancient feasts of the Church (dated at least to the third century, and one of only eight feasts recognized in ninth century England), it is a holy day of obligation in much of the world, though not in the United States and Canada. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The date 258 in the notices shows that from this year the memory of the two Apostles was celebrated on 29 June in the Via Appia ad Catacumbas (near San Sebastiano fuori le mura), because on this date the remains of the Apostles were translated thither. Later, perhaps on the building of the church over the graves on the Vatican and in the Via Ostiensis, the remains were restored to their former resting-place: Peter's to the Vatican Basilica and Paul's to the church on the Via Ostiensis.

This feast is celebrated in a special way in Rome, where both Peter and Paul and commemorated as patrons. While midsummer festivals were traditionally pegged to St. John’s Nativity, some also were connected with this feast. And really, you can never have too many bonfires.

Image result for saints peter and paul art

Saint Peter and Saint Paul by El Greco, 1590s.

Madonna and Child with Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Pietro Perugino, 1510s.

Those Seven Days

Not a Catholic piece of writing, but the best thing I (along with basically everybody else) read this week is William Langewiesche’s remarkable reporting and storytelling about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. If reading this piques your interest about Langewiesche, as it did for me, allow me to recommend his harrowing and spellbinding account of the 1994 capsizing of the ferry Estonia and his blow-by-blow report on the stupid and frightening 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447.

A short, simple, profound piece of apologetic writing on Corpus Christi and the real presence:

But why did Jesus arrange for this transformation of bread and wine?  Because he intended another kind of transformation.  The bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ which are, in turn, meant to transform us.  Ever hear the phrase: you are what you eat? The Lord desires us to be transformed from a motley crew of imperfect individuals into the Body of Christ, come to full stature.

Saints and even the Holy Family have been portrayed outside their historic context for centuries, and so this piece of art by an Ohio high school student is far from unprecedented. I’m not a fan of portraying priests and bishops and women religious in entirely secular garb, but the idea of making examples of holiness approachable to all—especially those on the margins in society and in the Church—is admirable.

Detail of mural painted by Chloe Becker at Magnificat High School.

A judge in the United Kingdom has ordered a mentally disabled Catholic Nigerian woman to undergo an abortion over her objection and that of her mother, also Catholic, who has offered to care for the child. This will be a situation to monitor and to pray for. Sohrab Ahmari thinks the full pressure of the Church should be brought to bear, and who could disagree? This is an act of barbarism.

Feedback, &c.

Did I miss something important? Get something wrong? Do you have ideas for how to improve These Seven Days? Drop me a line at tsd.brandonmcg@gmail.com. This is a work in progress, and your feedback will help to make it the best it can be.

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