Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Photo essay: our solemn high nuptial Mass, part I - the marriage rite


Good afternoon, modern medievalists! I've been even more delinquent than usual in posts since I was occupied over the past several months with the business of getting married. Yes, I'm happy to say that I wedded Madame, the love of my life (and another modern medievalist), this past 29th of December: the feast of Saint Thomas Becket, the blessed archbishop of Canterbury and martyr (a saint of special significance, and whom I have an article series on here that I might finish someday).
 
I'm sure many people I invited were annoyed that it was on a Monday, but it's amazing how much money one can save by having a wedding on a weekday. Besides, there's something rather anti-medieval about the very idea of a "week-end" and the need to conform to a rigid five-day workweek. The traditional English rhyme on wedding days attests to this:
 
Monday for health,
Tuesday for wealth,
Wednesday the best day of all,
Thursday for crosses,
Friday for losses, and
Saturday for no luck at all.
 
We finally received the professional photographs a few days ago, so I thought to share them with you here with my commentary throughout. I'm sad to say that about 90% of them are ruined by what I can only call derp faces, so what you see below are just the ones I've carefully salvaged. My notes are mostly restricted to bits of historical and liturgical trivia that I've learned over the years. (But yes, when I first saw Madame in her wedding garments, I thought she looked like a Marian apparition!) Part I will treat the marriage rite itself, and part II will detail the nuptial Mass which followed afterward. I will probably take another couple of days to compose that portion.
 

Part I: the marriage rite

The choice of garments

It's enough here to simply copy the explanation I printed in our programs.
 
In Indonesia, the country of James’s mother’s birth, it is customary for the bride and groom to wear richly colored fabrics that match each other. Seeking to preserve this custom for one more generation, James commissioned wedding garments to be constructed from a clothier in Jakarta in August, which finally arrived less than a week prior to the wedding. For this winter date, the bride’s kebaya (top) and the groom’s beskap (coat) are made of velvet, the thickest material that can be used for wedding garments in a tropical island nation. The bride’s skirt was imprinted with peacocks by an entirely handmade wax and dye process over three months, called batik.
Black, red, and gold are popular colors for wedding garments in Indonesia, but for us, we chose blue because it was considered the ideal color for brides in the Middle Ages of Europe; hence the rhyme of luck, “something old, something new; something borrowed, something blue”. The color of fidelity, the ultramarine shade of these garments could only be achieved in medieval times by the intensely expensive process of crushing lapis lazuli into pigment. Painters reserved these pigments in art for the mantles of our Lady the Virgin and the Christ child alone.
The groom wears an antique iron dagger known in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore as a kris. Just as the sword features prominently in western European legend, the kris figures prominently in Javanese folkfore; but unlike the sword, was worn by Javanese men of every class, high or low. It is at once a symbol of masculine authority and heroism, and also refinement and beauty. In a culture that abhors violence to the point that knives are not laid out at the dinner table, the Javanese wear the kris on the back, often with a garland of jasmine flowers to show that force is the last resort, when every peaceful measure has been tried first.

The church

Atonement has the signature red doors, which is fashionable among Anglican/Episcopal churches but is properly an English tradition from its Catholic centuries: signifying the redeeming blood of Christ, and also to denote to all (as in medieval times) that the church is a place of sanctuary.
 
The wedding took place at the church of Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio, Texas. I was baptized and confirmed here shortly after I turned 18, when I converted to the Catholic faith. Atonement is the first "Anglican Use" parish in the world, specially erected to accommodate converts from the Episcopal Church and other Anglican churches. It currently remains a part of the archdiocese of San Antonio and receives many converts yearly from the ranks of Protestantism. (Unsurprisingly, Atonement also has the most sophisticated musical program of any church in the archdiocese, without question.) I've been a member of the parish, whenever I've lived in the city, since 2005.
 
The sanctuary is sectioned off by a "rood screen" (rood being an old Anglo-Saxon word for "cross"), as was typical of churches before the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.
 
The richly painted interior is a celebration of the Gothic revival that defined the "rebirth" of Catholicism in England during the mid-19th century. Of course, despite the efforts of England's greatest Catholic architect in the modern age (Augustus Welby Pugin, who else!?), rood screens and the other trappings of Gothic came to be more associated with those at Oxford who decided to remain Anglican while reclaiming lost bits of England's Catholic past in liturgy, art, and architecture; while Catholics in England chose more and more instead to import the Baroque fashions then in vogue in Rome itself. Nevertheless, I'm told that at least one person who attended our wedding at this humble, out-of-the-way parish asked, "is this a cathedral?" It shows that for the common man, Gothic will always be Catholic!
 
I was baptized at this church in 2005, though the baptistery in this picture, where our chanters practiced in before Mass, wasn't yet finished.
 

The rites

I'm also active in the city's diocesan traditional Latin Mass community (the "Extraordinary Form", if you like), and I originally met Madame on a forum for Catholics interested in the Latin Mass. It was natural for us to join in marriage accompanied by the nuptial Mass according to the pre-conciliar rite; and even though this Mass isn't normally celebrated at Atonement, the pastor was glad to invite me to bring a visiting priest trained in the 1962 Missal without my even asking first. For this occasion, a close friend of mine, a former seminarian of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), suggested that I contact one of his former confreres, the Rev. Father Jonathan Romanoski, now a priest ministering to a full Latin Mass community in Guadalajara, Mexico, to fly over for the day. I did so, and in the ensuing months, I asked two other friends who are currently FSSP seminarians to see if they could arrange for a deacon and subdeacon from the same Fraternity to assist him and make it a solemn high Mass.
 
Now, some folks say that having a solemn high Mass for a wedding was totally unheard of for anyone other than royalty in the years before Vatican II. If that's true, then I'd simply say that was their loss. It did take a lot of rehearsing on the part of all my friends who volunteered to serve the altar for this Mass, since none of them had ever served a solemn Mass before. But a priest was never meant to ascend the altar of sacrifice alone, but rather, assisted by the fullness of the Church's holy orders; indeed, in saner times, solemn Mass, the "normative" form of the liturgy from which all others are based, was all that existed. And I believe in the Middle Ages, it would not have been an odd sight for even the meanest peasants to have wedded in the context of a solemn high Mass, so long as there were enough clerks in residence.
 
White is the typical color of vestment assigned for the nuptial Mass, but the old rite allows gold to be substituted for it. I requested this gold Gothic vestment set, lined with blue, to be used.
The subdeacon donning the tunicle in the vestry. He prays, Tunica jucunditatis, et indumento laetitiae induat me Dominus. ("May the Lord cloth me in the tunicle of delight, and the garment of rejoicing.")
Finally, as to the marriage rite itself, this raised a number of questions. In the Catholic Church's revised order of marriage (which over 99% of all Catholic weddings today follow), it takes place in the middle of Mass, following the reading of the gospel, and there are very specific instructions on how to perform the marriage rite. Before the Council reforms, though, all weddings were solemnized first, then the votive nuptial Mass followed afterward. Ironically, in the traditional liturgy, the Missal is exceedingly particular on how a priest ought to celebrate Mass, but options abound when it comes to the marriage rite for one reason: in order to accommodate the conversion of divers tribes and kingdoms from heathenry to the Christian faith, the Church had long been permissive in allowing these cultures to retain their native wedding customs as far as possible. Then, after 1570, when the Church increasingly wiped away the usages of local dioceses and kingdoms in favor of the Roman Missal, the local marriage manuals persisted with no real attempt by Rome to the contrary. As a result, while there is a "default" ceremony outlined in the Roman Ritual, it is disappointingly stark. More likely, it's a template, a "bare minimum" that all Catholic marriages should have without limiting them to those words alone. Our solemnizing priest, Father Romanoski, told us that he had never followed the Roman Ritual's marriage rite because in Mexico, he always uses the Manual of Toledo, which was brought from Spain by the conquistadores to Latin America and the Philippines. 
 
For our wedding, I purchased an antique standalone Marriage Ritual printed in 1941, with quarto-sized pages and slightly larger print, through an online bookseller. It seemed more suitable for use in a solemn liturgy than the pocket-sized ritual books most priests use for weddings. To supplement the plainness of the Roman Ritual's form, and in honor of the English patrimony which the parish of Our Lady of the Atonement was built to preserve (and my own Catholic ancestors, who last held the faith in England until the Reformation) I clipped in some portions of the local Ritual used in Catholic churches in England and Wales before Vatican II, as well as the introduction from the Sarum Manual which was used before weddings in the same realm until the end of Queen Mary's reign.
 

The order of procession

For various reasons, no one from the bride's side was in attendance except for her mother. I don't think Madame is the type to have wanted bridesmaids even if she could have any, so instead of a standard bridal procession with the clergy, groom, and groomsmen having entered from a side door, we had our two witnesses wait by the altar, but had a full procession of the clergy and servers as at a typical high Mass, with the bride and groom following hand in hand. This would have been the order of procession in medieval England, because the marriages in those days were typically solemnized outside, at the door of the church, in front of as many witnesses and passersby on the thoroughfare as possible. (In the Canterbury Tales, for example, Chaucer writes of the Wife of Bath: "Housbondes at chirche dore she hadde five".) The priest would then lead the bride and groom into the church to attend their first Mass as a married couple while Psalm 127, Beati omnes, is sung.
 
Many of my friends that I've sung Gregorian chant with for years made up the schola cantorum of chanters for this Mass. As nothing could be better than for my friends to take this one opportunity to sing as a true liturgical choir, seated in the front in a chancel as in the age of the great cathedrals and abbeys of Catholic England, they rearranged the front pews into makeshift choir stalls. They were already in place for the procession, but recessed with the other servers after Mass. I asked them to sing two prelude chants: the Introit Gaudeamus for the feast of Saint Thomas Becket, and the sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus for Pentecost.

 
For the processional itself, we conceded to the current practice of an organ entrance instead of the psalm, but rather than a conventional anthem which would just not be very characteristic of our more.... severe personality types, we used a movement inspired by Gregorian chant: the Prelude from Jean Langlais's Suite Medievale. (Listen for bits and pieces from Asperges me.)



 
The head of the procession, beginning at the narthex. Atonement has a truly magnificent Casavant pipe organ from the 1950's.
Our thurifer is a longtime friend who attended school with me at Ave Maria University.
Father Romanoski in cope, assisted by his ministers.
 

"Behold, brethren..."
Along with the exhortation before marriage given in the Marriage Ritual, Father read the medieval opening, with its final banns of marriage, from the rite which was used in the Sarum Manual, which Cranmer revised to the famous "dearly beloved, we are gathered" introduction. (Though, in my opinion, I find the words below much more explicitly Catholic, invoking the angels and saints, and calling to mind the immortal soul.)
 
"BEHOLD, brethren, we have come hither in the sight of God, the angels, and all his saints in the face of the Church, to join together two bodies, of this man and of this woman, so that henceforth they may be one in flesh, and two spirits in faith and in the law of God, at the same time to the promised eternal life, whatever they have done before. Therefore, I charge you all that if any of you know anything to speak, why these two persons cannot be lawfully joined together, he is to confess it now."
 
The Council of Trent (1545-1563) decreed that henceforth, in order to combat the plague of clandestine and dubious marriages, all Catholic weddings must have two witnesses in addition to a priest in order to be deemed valid. My oldest friend (since 6th grade!) stood as my witness, and Madame's newest friend in town witnessed for her.
 

The vows

The Roman Ritual only has the priest ask one question to bride and groom: "N., do you take N. here present, for your lawful wife/husband according to the rite of our holy mother, the Church?" In the English-speaking world since time immemorial, however, the priest not only asks the couple if they consent to be wedded; he also directs them to make active vows to one another while joining their hands together.

The English Ritual's active vows, derived from Sarum: "I, N., take thee, N., for my lawful wife (husband), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part, and thereto I plight thee my troth."

No such vows exist in the Roman Ritual at all. They are a distinctly English tradition, a type of verse dating perhaps to the Anglo-Saxon age. The ancient Sarum manuals rendered it as such:
 
(the man saying to the woman)
"I N., take the N.
to my weddyd wyf
to have and to holde
fro thys day forwarde,
for beter for werse,
for richere for porere;
in sykenesse and in hele;*
tyl dethe us departe;
if holy chyrche it wol ordeyne;**
and therto I plycht the my trouthe."***
*The woman's vow, in Sarum, also adds another vow after "in hele": "to be bonair and buxom at bed and at board"; that is, meek and obedient. I figured that the true meaning of this phrase would be lost among giggles and distract from the solemnity of the rite, rather than enrich it, and so decided not to bring it up at all.
**There is some lost treasure in the old language here; for example, the more recent "til death do us part" is more a corruption of "tyl dethe us departe" than a translation thereof. And a whole article could be written about the ancient phrase "if holy chyrche it wol ordeyne", which later Rituals rendered as "if holy church will it permit" (permit and ordain actually having two distinct meanings) and which Cranmer mutated to something totally else: "according to God's holy ordinance". This "if" clause, however, can raise some questions about the person's intent, so later ritual books in England and the United States eventually removed the phrase entirely.
***Some American adaptations of the Ritual, such as the Collectio Rituum and the three-volume Weller Ritual, use a similar formula as the above, but relocate the last phrase, "and thereto I plight thee my troth", to the giving of the ring. It's a delightfully antiquated phrase that usually gets thrown by the wayside even at the most traditional weddings today. At the most recent other Latin Mass wedding I attended, the priest directed the groom to say, "take this ring as a sign of my fidelity" or some such.
Couples typically say their full names here (can anyone forget HRH the Duke of Cambridge's "I, William Arthur Philip Louis"? What a mouthful!), but we decided to use Christian names only throughout. It seemed more consistent with medieval practice (the old manuals only specify one "N"., after all) and the use of first names only elsewhere in the liturgy.

Ego conjungo vos in matrimonium, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. ("I join you together in matrimony, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.")


The use of rings

After the priest declared us married and sprinkled us with holy water, he prepared to bless the rings and coins, the tokens of a marriage already contracted. Both were made by custom order: sterling silver with sapphire stones, with detailwork inspired by medieval art (see the quatrefoils around the bride's sapphire, which can't fail but to summon the picture of a Gothic cathedral on one's finger). Neither were terribly expensive. The two coins are antique médailles du marriage from 19th century France. More on that later.

The rings and arrhae (coins)
Chances are that you might take the ring for granted and wonder why it even deserves comment.... but some people in America, such as the more conservative wing of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (in which I was raised) reject betrothal or wedding rings as a pagan custom or a sign of vanity. How do you tell who's not on the market at an Adventist college campus, you may wonder? Check which wrist they wear their watch on!

Now, it's true that the custom of giving a ring goes back to pagan times; indeed, to the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. One of our earliest evidences of rings being used in the Christian tradition is in a letter by Pope Nicholas I to the Bulgars from around A.D. 866, wherein he refers to the ring used in the western Church's betrothal rites as the annulus fidei (the ring of faithfulness). Even before then, Saint Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century: "no priest shall hesitate to wed a couple who present themselves before the altar, if the bride and bridegroom are not able, because of poverty, to give rings to each other; for the (offering of) the earnest-money is a matter of decorum, not of necessity."

Just how the ring for marriage developed distinctly from the ring of betrothal is beyond my scope here today, but the western Church almost certainly carried it over from the ancient Romans. From the old republic, we received the use of rings of metal rather than the hemp or ivory preferred by the Egyptians. The man gave his bride two, if he could afford it: a gold ring to wear in public, and an iron one to be worn at home while doing household work. It was placed on the fourth finger because their physicians and poets both taught that a vein ran from the fourth finger all the way to the heart. And, it was to be placed on the left hand because (in the spirit of Roman practicality) a ring, so says Aetius Capito, is much less likely to get scuffed or broken in the course of daily life; for the right hand is the hand of doing business, and so is much more useful than the left.

(in Latine) "Bless, ✠ O Lord, these rings, which we bless ✠ in Thy name, that they who shall wear them, keeping true faith unto each other, may abide in Thy peace and in obedience to Thy will, and ever live in mutual love. Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen."
On the sapphire: today, thanks to an phenomenally successful marketing campaign by De Beers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the diamond is so ubiquitous for engagement or wedding rings that for some women, to not use a diamond is tantamount to the man declaring himself a cheapskate. But in the medieval imagination, the more vibrantly colored a stone was, the better; and the sapphire was the most desired gemstone of all.
 
It's not enough for me to merely say, "because the sapphire was believed to have magical properties". I should instead quote a French author of the age: 
"The sapphire is beautiful, and worthy to shine on the fingers of a king. In color it resembles the sky when it is pure and free from clouds. No precious stone has greater virtue or beauty. One kind of sapphire is found among the pebbles in the country of Libya; but that which comes from the land of the Turk is more precious. It is called the gem of gems, and is of great value to men and women. It gives comfort to the heart and renders the limbs strong and sound. It takes away envy and perfidy and can set the prisoner at liberty. He who carries it about him will never have fear. It pacifies those who are angry, and by means of it one can see into the unknown. It is very valuable in medicine. It cools those who are feverish and who on account of pain are covered with perspiration. When powdered and dissolved in milk it is good for ulcers. It cures headache and diseases of the eyes and tongue. He who wears it must live chastely and honorably; so shall he never feel the distress of poverty."
And indeed, the sapphire was set upon the hands of kings and cardinals alike. The oldest of all the crown jewels of the kings of England is the coronation ring of Saint Edward the Confessor, thus predating even the Norman Conquest; yes, set with a sapphire. When Edward was canonized and his remains were transferred to Westminster Abbey, the body was exhumed by Saint Thomas Becket during his first year as archbishop of Canterbury, and the ring, still found on Saint Edward's finger, was given to Saint Thomas's king. The stone has been a part of the crown jewels ever since, and is now set into the center of the cross atop the Imperial State Crown, which is worn at the coronations of the British monarchs today.
 
The sapphire, likewise, was long the most treasured of stones among the princes of the Church. Sapphires were standard for bishops' rings in England prior to the Reformation. The Durham Chapter Library holds three timeless samples: "those of Flambard (1099-1128), Geoffrey Rufus (1133-40), and William de St. Barbara (1143-52)" (Rings for the Finger by Kunz, p. 275).
 
Until 1967, whenever a man was raised to the rank of cardinal, the end of the rite had him receive a sapphire ring, "the emblem of fidelity and loyalty" (The Antiquary, Vol. 6, p. 244). The cardinal was expected to pay 500 ducats in return (perhaps 20 or more times the cost of the ring) to go toward the maintenance of the pope's cathedral, Saint John Lateran, to which they now belonged as canons. We have evidence of this tradition in play at least as far back as the reign of Pope Boniface VIII (A.D. 1294-1303), who bestowed a sapphire ring to his nephew (another venerable tradition) as was already an established custom since time immemorial! Of course, this was just one of an endless litany of traditions abolished by Pope Paul VI in the years following Vatican II...
 
"With this ring I thee wed: this gold and silver I thee give: with my body I thee worship: and with all my worldly goods I thee endow. In the name of the Father (the ring is placed on the thumb), and of the Son (then on the index finger), and of the Holy Ghost (then on the middle finger). Amen." (and is finally slid into place on the fourth finger)
 
 

"This ring", or "these rings"?

In our current time and place, the bride almost always gives a ring to the groom, too, even though the Roman Ritual never traditionally had one. After all, the ancient Romans didn't use a groom's band; perhaps they didn't place as high a premium on fidelity for the husband as for the wife. The marriage rites of pre-Reformation England likewise don't envision a groom's ring. Saxon men, and their cousins in what is now Germany, bestowed a ring as part of a bride-price to include coins, deeds to land, or other real wealth. Prince William got some grief by female columnists for choosing not to use a groom's ring, but his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, doesn't wear one, nor did (as far as I know) any of William's male ancestors on the throne in Westminster.

Conventional wisdom has it that men didn't commonly wear wedding rings in the English-speaking world until the Second World War. American women left at home took comfort in the idea that when their husbands were deployed to faraway lands for years at a time, they would wear a band and keep their marital vows abroad. This may be largely true, but in my Marriage Ritual by Eustace, there is a formula given in case the priest blesses two rings; and that book was published in the United States in 1941, most likely before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December that year. So even if World War II catapulted the groom's ring into universal usage, clearly there was some provision for it in the American Church even before then.
 

This explanation for why the fourth finger is used is given in the very rubrics of the Sarum Manual, used by priests in England before the Reformation: “for it is taught in medicine that there is a certain vein proceeding all the way to the heart, and in the melodiousness of silver is symbolised internal love, which now young ought always to be between them.”
Did we capitulate to modernism by using two rings? I don't think so. It's true that the bridal industry has a direct interest in getting men to buy more rings, but the double-ring ceremony isn't entirely without precedent. First, two rings have been used in the Eastern Orthodox Church for centuries, though exactly how long, I can't say as I'm not an expert in the eastern liturgies. Second, the Spanish marriage rite (as found in Mozarabic Rite's Manual of Toledo and preserved to varying degrees in Latin America and the Philippines) has made use of two rings since time immemorial. Lauren is mostly of eastern European descent, and our wedding was held in a former Spanish territory, solemnized by a priest from Mexico who always uses the Toledo rite. And, as I must admit from time to time, we are 21st century Americans; a fact which must occasionally be taken into consideration.
 

This gold and silver, I thee give: the arrhae

For practical Americans, it's enough to say "with this ring I thee wed", and slip the ring directly onto the fourth finger. But the full formula for giving the ring in the English Ritual, as noted above, also adds: "this gold and silver, I thee give".
 
I already mentioned that in Saxon culture, the ring was merely one among several tokens of the bride-price, also called earnest-money or arrhae, rendered by the husband to the wife. Once again, pockets of Latin America and the Philippines stubbornly hold on to these customs of a bygone age. I've attended several such weddings now where the groom bestows the bride with las arras, a set of thirteen coins, after Christ and the Apostles, as a sign of his readiness to provide for their family. In old France, these were called the trezain: twelve pieces for the bride, and one for the officiating priest. Real currency eventually gave way for commemorative medals, called médailles du mariage; these medals persisted in use at French weddings until the First World War.

The English Ritual calls for the "gold and silver" to be blessed with the rings. The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described suggests that they don't have to take any particular form; the gold, for instance, could be in the form of a small crucifix. Since the French médailles du marriage are explicitly struck with symbols of marriage, and aren't terribly difficult to find, I ordered two: one for me to give to Lauren with her ring, and one for her to give to me with mine. (That transaction could have used a rehearsal, as we fumbled it a bit.)
 
While the medals weren't tremendously expensive, both were still antiques from the Second Empire. One actually has an inscription from a couple that used it in 1852! Thus, buying thirteen of them would have meant that I wouldn't have any worldly goods left to endow.
 The marriage rite concluded with these versicles and responses.

 
V. Confírma hoc, Deus, quod operátus es in nobis.
R. A templo sancto tuo, quod est in Jerúsalem.
V. Kýrie, eléison.  
R. Christe, eléison.
V. Kýrie, eléison.  
Pater noster... (secreto usque ad:)
V. Et ne nos indúcas in tentatiónem.
R. Sed líbera nos a malo.
V. Salvos fac servos tuos.
R. Deus meus, sperántes in te.
V. Mitte eis, Dómine, auxílium de sancto.
R. Et de Sion tuére eos.
V. Esto eis, Dómine, turris fortitúdinis.
R. A fácie inimíci.
V. Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam.
R.   Et clamor meus ad te véniat.
V.   Dóminus vobíscum.
R.   Et cum spíritu tuo.
 
Orémus: Réspice, quæsumus, Dómine, super hos fámulos tuos: et institútis tuis, quibus propagatiónem humáni géneris ordinásti, benígnus assíste; ut qui te auctóre jungúntur, te auxiliánte servéntur. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum.
R. Amen.
V. Confirm, O God, that which Thou hast wrought in us.
R. From Thy holy temple, which is in Jerusalem.
V. Lord, have mercy.
R. Christ, have mercy.
V. Lord, have mercy.
Our Father… (silently until:)
V. And lead us not into temptation.
R. But deliver us from evil.
V. Save Thy servants.
R. Who hope in Thee, O my God.
V. Send them help, O Lord, from Thy holy place.
R. And defend them out of Sion.
V. Be unto them, Lord, a tower of strength.
R. From the face of the enemy.
V. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto Thee.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with Thy spirit.
 
Let us pray: Look down with favor, O Lord, we beseech Thee, upon these Thy servants, and graciously protect this, Thine ordinance, whereby Thou hast provided for the propagation of mankind; that they who are joined together by Thy authority may be preserved by Thy help; through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.


 Part II will detail the solemn nuptial Mass and its music. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Gothic splendor and Christian charity at odds?

One of Pugin's Tasmanian churches
I'm going to open this year of 2015 with a short reflection on a paper I read from the Pugin Foundation, given to the Newman Society in Hobart (in Tasmania, Australia). It's called Mr Pugin the Bigot, and you may find it here.

Some background: Augustus Pugin and John Cardinal Newman were, arguably, the two most influential converts to Catholicism in England during the age of Victoria. When it came to how the newly emancipated and restored Catholic faith would express itself, though, these two luminaries were at odds with the other. Newman, father of the Birmingham Oratory, imported Italianate, Baroque architecture into England; stepping into his church brought a taste of papal Rome right to the English Catholic's front door. Pugin, champion architect of the Gothic revival, wouldn't stand for anything except the total restoration of that style which sprung forth from the minds and hands of native Englishmen during the most Catholic centuries, the 14th and 15th. Baroque churches, in Pugin's world, were gaudy imitations of heathen temples. The position led Newman to confide, in a letter to a friend, the title of the article linked above:

"Mr Pugin is a man of genius; I have the greatest admiration of his talents, and willingly acknowledge that Catholics owe him a great debt for what he has done in the revival of Gothic architecture among us. His zeal, his minute diligence, his resources, his invention, his imagination, his sagacity in research, are all of the highest order. It is impossible that any one, not scientifically qualified to judge of his merits, can feel a profounder reverence than I do, for a gift which it has pleased the Author of all Truth and Beauty to endow him. But he has the great fault of a man of genius, as well as the merit. He is intolerant, and if I might use a stronger word, a bigot. He sees nothing good in any school of Christian art except that of which he is himself so great an ornament. The Canons of Gothic architecture are to him points of faith, and everyone is a heretic who would venture to question them."

The author, Brian Andrews, supplies an extreme anecdote for an extreme character:

"One chalice tells us much about Pugin and Willson’s taste. In May 1847 Willson was given a chalice by Pope Pius IX. A typical Classical vessel for its time, it was abhorrent to Willson who took it back to England where Pugin made a new Gothic design. The Papal chalice was melted down, some extra silver added and an inscription engraved on the base of the new Gothic chalice ‘+ Gift of His Holiness Pius the IXth to Robert William + Bishop of Hobart Town + Rome + May + Mdcccxlvii’. Well it sort of was—at least most of the silver!"


(Willson here is Robert William Willson, first Catholic bishop of Hobart, Tasmania. He was a close friend of Pugin's and strong supporter of the Gothic revival in Australia.)
 
Robert William Willson, Bishop of Hobart
 
It's no secret where my sympathies in that whole debate lie, but I also wanted to draw some attention to some anecdotes from the same essay which dispel the whole notion of Pugin as the Grinch of Victorian England. Andrews submits a snippet from the writings of Pugin's son-in-law, John Hardman Powell, shewing the total harmony of someone who lived a fully liturgical, fully charitable life:

'At eight the Chapel bell rang for Compline, which was solemnly recited by Pugin in Cassock and Surplice, followed by the De Profundis, but too rapidly for a stranger to respond to readily. At nine supper in the brightest of Kitchens; the eldest daughter Anne, an elegant maiden was present and Miss Greaves, a family friend, who had kindly taken care of the children after their mother’s death. Rice pudding, Bread and Cheese, Celery and Water, was the simple fare, Pugin with Times in hand commenting on the news of the day.
'In the morning, bell at eight for prayers; Pater, Ave, Credo, Litany, short and quick, “no time for distractions”. The Chapel though small was complete for Mass, with organ in Sacristy … the windows were filled with Stained Glass, St. George, St. Augustine, St. Edmund, St. Cuthbert, with the Family beneath, holding petitions. Though simple, everything was of the best, Oak, Cedar, Encaustic tiles, and a small stove always burning in cold weather: “most people pray better when warm”.
'Pugin gave in Charity “with both hands” on the principle that life was too short for “chasing up only deserving cases” and “everybody must take their chance of being done at times”, in fact he literally gave away his boots more than once and walked home without. At offertories he never counted but took a handful of silver from his pocket. During the famine in Ireland, he sent all he could get together and influenced others to do the same. Shipwrecked foreign sailors were taken into special care, lodgings found, doctor, and sustenance. At that time there was no seamen’s hospital at Ramsgate so Pugin went and by his influence got one organised. Once a barque, full of poor Bremen Emigrants struck on the Goodwin Sands and were towed into the Harbour after great suffering. Finding eighty of them were Catholics he wrote to London for a German Priest and turned the Cartoon room into a Temporary Chapel where they went to confession heard Mass and received Communion. The Blessings they invoked on leaving were a real happiness.
'Pugin set himself to illustrate “True Principles” in the Household life. Reverence, order, simplicity, Holy Mass in the Chapel whenever he could get a priest friend to stay, then plenty of work, good food and exercise, the Church Festivals being holidays in both senses. … After the Church was built he enjoyed going into the choir as Cantor and singing the Mass from his big Gregorian books at the lectern, giving his most sonorous notes at the Credo and his daughter Annie accompanying on the organ over the cloister.'
 
 
The architect applied his concern for social justice to his profession in more than one way. When his friend, Bishop Willson, was sent to minister to the poorest of the poor in Tasmania, Pugin designed all of the furnishings the good bishop would need to set up a new diocese at no charge. And we can see in a sketch like that of two contrasted poor-houses below, from Pugin's Contrasts, that he believed his architectural vision extended not only to the great houses of church and state, but to house the less fortunate more humanely than the "cutting-edge" utilitarianist monstrosities then being built.
 
 
 
I'll end this brief foray into the mind of Pugin with some words from the man himself, shedding some light onto the spirituality behind his design:
 
'And the reason that Catholicism does not produce such glorious piles as in days of old, that it does not number a crowd of devout architects, painters, sculptors, and cunning workmen within its pale, as formerly, is purely owing to the decay of faith and the lightness with which even the majority of Christians regard their religion.
'If the mass of the Catholics of the nineteenth century possessed the same zeal, devotion, reverence and fear of God as those of the thirteenth, the Madeleine would never have arisen for the performances of the same worship as generated the stupendous vaults and towers of Notre Dame; but the latter was the spontaneous creation of the faith, raised by zeal and devotion—the former a cold adaptation of a heathen temple, erected by infidel architects to the purposes of a Christian church. Revive the true Catholic faith and devotion and the flaunting chapel, with all its glare and finery, will soon be deserted for the solemn recesses of the ancient piles, where men can pour forth their supplications in retirement and devotion, content to penetrate the veil of the sanctuary with the eyes of faith, and feel that they are scarcely worthy to kneel on the pavement of that temple where their God deigns to dwell. Restore the old reverence, and gladly will men welcome the old things—arch and aisle, and pillar and chancel, and screen, and worship as their fathers worshipped, who now sleep in Christ; and the green bough will twine in the tracery, and the tapers sparkle round the rood, and surpliced clerks sing in chancel stalls, whilst the saints shrine bright in the mullioned lights—venit hora et nunc est—when the old glory of the sanctuary will be restored and solemnity revived with returning faith.'
'… architecture is the barometer of faith; it is not the arch, the pinnacle, the pillar, that profiteth, but the spirit which produces them; and the revival or decline of true Ecclesiastical architecture is commensurate with that of the true faith. It is for these reasons that we labour for its restoration and not as a mere abstract question of art.'
 
Pugin's high altar, with canopy and Sarum-style curtains, at Birmingham Cathedral
 

Monday, October 27, 2014

A weekend in Dallas: why we need traditional men & boys' choirs




Since I haven't made an update in a few months now, I'll preface this article with a brief recap of my doings and musings over the past two days. Indeed, this was a good weekend for medievalists, worthy of reflecting. Saturday was the feast of saints Crispin and Crispinian, two ancient Roman martyrs whose following became quite popular in later medieval England. The patron saints of cobblers, this feast was a major public holiday for everyone involved in the tanning and leathermaking industry. On the fateful morning of October 25, 1415, the hopelessly outnumbered and exhausted state of King Henry V of England's invading army prompted the Earl of Westmoreland to exclaim, "O, that we now had here but one ten thousand of those men in England that do no work today!" And the rest is "history", of course.

As per tradition every year, I dutifully watch the Kenneth Branagh adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry V and cry "God for Harry, England, and Saint George!" Every year, a French historian or two objects to the celebrating of war crimes or grossly exaggerated kill counts across the Channel, and then an English historian says nay, 'twas not so, we really did slay over nine thousand Frenchies with ten archers and a cheese knife. Saints Crispin and Crispinian themselves invariably get lost in the festivities, so this time, I share with you the following link, proposing the two martyrs as patron saints of catechists.

A good friend of many years, Theodore of the Royalty & Monarchy Site, invited me to travel up to Dallas to attend a concert given by the Choir of Westminster Abbey on Sunday the 26th, which happened to be passing through the Episcopal church where he sings during their tour of the United States. Yes, the same choir that sings at the burial place and coronation site of the kings of England since 1065. The same choir that millions of folks otherwise oblivious to all this stuff heard while watching the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. And the same choir that my fiancée and I heard when we visited the Abbey for choral Evensong on Christmas Day of 2011 (we were checking up on stolen property). Theodore probably didn't expect me so willing to attend as to bring the entire family for the ride, but I did, and though it was quite a hectic trip to and fro (six hours each way) with very little time to stop and relax, it was certainly worth it.

Sunday morning began with a visit to the church of Mater Dei, Irving. Though I have numerous friends who are or were seminarians of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, and have attended Masses celebrated by FSSP priests before, this was the first time I ever actually visited one of their churches. Sung Mass began at 9 in the morning, which despite being the most traditional time to celebrate it (following the divine hour of Terce), is always a maddening proposition for us not-morning folk. It was the feast of Christ the King, which is always on the last Sunday of October in the 1962 calendar and, despite the feast's recent coinage, gave heightened significance to Saturday's royal victory and that afternoon's equally royal entourage. There was a rather lengthy homily on the recent synod on the family in Rome given by Father Wolfe, who I briefly met during a visit to the ill-fated Fisher-More College in Fort Worth a couple years ago. If some homilies are like cotton candy and others are like meat and potatoes, this one was rather like eating a brick that chipped my tooth. Father Hunwicke this, Pope Honorius that, but it seemed to give solace to my fiancée who was entertaining thoughts of converting to Eastern Orthodoxy after the fiasco of the midterm report. After Mass, there was a Eucharistic procession in honor of Christ the King around the parking lot, Benediction, and multiplication of the doughnuts and muffins. The people were friendly, and a few even conversed with me and Lauren. An unfortunate ad for Rick Santorum on a bulletin board in the narthex, and an even more unfortunate painting of the Sacred Heart, detracted from an otherwise edifying experience.

Folks filing back in to Mater Dei after the procession. They did the best they could with this old Korean Presbyterian church building.
After Mater Dei, it was lunch with Theodore, where he, Lauren, and I talked at length about choral music and other matters of import, and then on to the purpose of the trip: to listen to the Westminster Abbey Choir in concert. One thing can be said for the people who built the Episcopal Church in America: they were not stingy in giving. The Church of the Incarnation, from nave to parish hall, was a lot nicer than what I'm used to in an ordinary parish church. Now, I must concur with Lauren, who remarked that the surroundings felt devoid of the presence of God that we feel when inside a Catholic church, but that's another story for another time. Yesterday, I was a guest, supporting an institution I'm quite fond of: the traditional choir of men and boys.

The place was packed to the brim. We were forced to sit in an awkward place in the north transept, unable to really see anything. Interestingly, we were also stuck in the north transept when we heard them at Evensong on Christmas Day at the abbey itself, in 2011.

The repertory was mostly of large texts by 19th and 20th century composers that I didn't know much about, but it began with "Hosanna to the Son of David" by Orlando Gibbons, then two responsories by Thomas Tallis (Videte miraculum from Candlemas, and Loquebantur from First Vespers of Pentecost). There was a huge choral work set to three prayers by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran minister who earned death in a concentration camp for his opposition to the Nazi Party. My favorite of all the texts that I had not heard of before was this bit called "The Twelve" by Wystan Hugh Auden, set to music by William Walton (this sample courtesy of the Choir of King's College, Cambridge):

 I
 Without arms or charm of culture,
 Persons of no importance
 From an unimportant Province,
 They did as the Spirit bid,
 Went forth into a joyless world
 Of swords and rhetoric
 To bring it joy.

When they heard the Word, some demurred, some mocked, some were shocked: but many were stirred and the Word spread. Lives long dead were quickened to life; the sick were healed by the Truth revealed; released into peace from the gin of old sin, men forgot themselves in the glory of the story told by the Twelve.

Then the Dark Lord, adored by this world, perceived the threat of the Light to his might. From his throne he spoke to his own. The loud crowd, the sedate engines of State, were moved by his will to kill. It was done. One by one, they were caught, tortured, and slain.

II
 O Lord, my God,
 Though I forsake thee
 Forsake me not,
 But guide me as I walk
 Through the valley of mistrust,
 And let the cry of my disbelieving absence
 Come unto thee,
 Thou who declared unto Moses:
 "I shall be there."

III
Children play about the ancestral graves, for the dead no longer walk.
Excellent still in their splendour are the antique statues: but can do neither good nor evil.
Beautiful still are the starry heavens: but our fate is not written there.
Holy still is speech, but there is no sacred tongue: the Truth may be told in all.
Twelve as the winds and the months are those who taught us these things: envisaging each in an oval glory, let us praise them all with a merry noise.

(Quite metal, when you think about it.)


The choir stalls at the (Episcopal) church of the Incarnation in Dallas, where the concert was held. Unlike in American Catholic-dom, choir stalls seem omnipresent in Episcopal-land.

The concert ended with an impromptu piece by the Catholic recusant, William Byrd, and as they left, I was more convinced than ever of the need to restore or establish this choral tradition in the Catholic Church, the United States, and the rest of the world. I became smug when I learned that the Abbey Choir's Master of Music, Mr. James O'Donnell, is not only Catholic; he is a papal knight (Commander of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great) and the first Catholic to direct the Abbey Choir since the Protestant Reformation. When the previous Organist and Master of Music was sacked in 1998, all the top musicians and choir directors in the Church of England had been passed over in favor of Mr. O'Donnell, choirmaster at Westminster Cathedral (the chief church of the Catholic Church of England and Wales, oft confused with the Abbey). What an honor, indeed. But let's now get to the heart of the matter: why are these men and boys' choirs so important?

First, they fulfill a function in the Catholic tradition that women simply cannot. Before you jump up and say, "hey, I/my wife/sister/daughter/mother is in church choir" and send me a hatemail, let me be clear: yes, the Church has allowed female altar servers for decades in the modern form of the Mass, and women in lay choirs for over a century; and it's true, there's nothing inherently wrong with women in lay choirs (in civilian dress, typically singing from a loft or otherwise hidden from the public gaze). I'd be happy for all my daughters to join a lay choir when they come of age. A lay choir is nothing more than a specialized subset of the faithful at large, and if the faithful are encouraged to sing the Ordinary of the Mass, as they did in ancient times, there can't be anything wrong with a specialized subset (naturally including women) doing the same thing. There are women in lay choirs in every church I sing at, so if I had a problem with them outright, I guess I'd be shown the door sooner or later.

But as choirs go, the traditional Latin Mass's rubrics only concern themselves with one: the liturgical or ecclesiastical choir*, assumed (just as with altar servers) to all be clerics in cassock and surplice, seated in choir stalls in the sanctuary (or quire, or chancel), the gospel and epistle sides facing one another. And naturally, as women cannot be clerics in the Catholic Church, those who populated the choir were all male. These men and boys alone were expected to sing the five proper chants; Introit, Gradual, Alleuia (or Tract in Lent), Offertory, and Communion; which change every day. For years, our men's schola had to juggle learning five all-new, melismatic chants virtually every Sunday, only to put them away for the entire year until that Sunday occurred again, while also maintaining jobs, children, schooling, or some combination of the above. Sung Masses aren't quite as frequent at the diocesan 1962 Mass here this year, but even so, if our schola wasn't there, there wouldn't be any chant at all.

In the medieval world, on the other hand, this task was generally left to boys and men who dedicated their entire lives to the sacred art of chant: clerks ordained to the minor orders at the parish level (perhaps permanently), monks in their monasteries, students in their college chapels, and canons in their cathedrals. No priest was exempt from the duty to sing. Today we have the expression, "I asked my priest to say Mass for my sick cat yesterday", but in the Middle Ages, you were more like to say that a priest sang Mass for such-and-such an intention, such as not dying from plague or shipwreck. Hence, in Shakespeare's play, on the eve of Saint Crispin's, Henry V gets on his knees and prays for pardon for his father having usurped the crown from Richard II:

O God of battles! steel my soldiers' hearts;
Possess them not with fear; take from them now
The sense of reckoning, if the opposed numbers
Pluck their hearts from them. Not to-day, O Lord,
O, not to-day, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown!
I Richard's body have interred anew;
And on it have bestow'd more contrite tears
Than from it issued forced drops of blood:
Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay,
Who twice a-day their wither'd hands hold up
Toward heaven, to pardon blood; and I have built
Two chantries, where the sad and solemn priests
Sing still for Richard's soul
. More will I do;
Though all that I can do is nothing worth,
Since that my penitence comes after all,
Imploring pardon.

But why boys, you ask? For American Catholics, the answer is easy. "Start 'em young." We Americans have long been used to the idea of the "altar boy", encouraging them from the time they can take directions to serve the altar in the hope of fostering another vocation to the priesthood. Unfortunately, we also have historically tended to throw them right into low Mass where the server assumes many of the duties of the deacon and subdeacon, but the average boy can only learn so many directions and Latin phrases at a time, so we have also gotten accustomed to the fatal double-whammy of 1.) sloppy serving, and 2.) thinking older teenagers and adult men are too old to serve, thus forbidding the problem from ever being solved.

Medieval Christendom had another model: yes, boys served Mass (and even played at being bishop from time to time), but they started with minor positions at solemn Masses such as torchbearing before tackling low Mass, in the unlikely event that they did so at all. But even before boys carried torches, they had to learn how to simply sit in choir and sing the Mass. In those days, singing the entire liturgy from cover to cover was still the norm, and it remains true today that singing is a skill best cultivated from an early age. At the turn of the second millennium, the western Church's bases of influence gradually shifted from the monasteries (those fortresses and repositories of knowledge in a more brutish era) to the bishops and their cathedrals. Everywhere, bishops raced to raise up the tallest tower, the largest nave, the grandest stained-glass windows. But what was the point of developing Gothic architecture, spending millions, and putting thousands of laborers to work on a building that would be empty most of the time? No; the cathedrals of the Gothic age would have the divine hours sung round the clock by the bishop's canons. And who would assist and eventually replace them in their holy duties? The boys of the cathedral school.

Here stood the predecessor of the Tridentine seminary system. Before there were seminaries, Charlemagne ruled that cathedrals in his empire establish schools so that boys may learn to read, write, sing, and go on to serve as the next generation of clergy. The boys sang the daily Masses and Office, and the better they sang, the further the bishop grew in prestige, and the more likely the great nobles of the realm would send their sons to the schools. From these early foundations sprung the first colleges, and the universities of Bologna, Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge. It was also these boys who, together with the men, developed the additional voices to the plainchant which led to polyphony. By the 15th century, polyphonic settings of the Mass were everywhere, and as there were still neither women nor castrati in church choirs of any sort, the treble voices for all these compositions necessarily had to be sung by boys.

The Catholic Church in America has never had a strong tradition of choral music, but now there's a crisis of bad music throughout the entire Catholic world. This was readily apparent when the Westminster Abbey Choir visited Pope Benedict a few years ago and sang Palestrina with the Sistine Chapel Choir, making the Italians look like amateurs and prima donnas at their own game, in their own house. What's worse: the art of singing itself has been resigned, in many Catholics' eyes, to a feminine activity. "My boys serve, my girls sing;" as though there were a great distinction between the two! Thus, if I were to ask someone if they were interested in joining our schola, the answer 90% of the time will be, "I can't sing". Perhaps if they had started learning when they were eight years old, it would be another story. And now we have a problem of many generations of churchmen in America and elsewhere who can't sing, never grew up in a singing environment, and therefore, sing very little or none of the liturgy during their entire priestly careers. All of a sudden, a great tradition of sung liturgy is as dead as the public Divine Office, save for the Eastern rites and a few pockets of sanity here and there. Imagine how different our musical culture would be if every cathedral, if every parish, had a dedicated program for training boys to sing daily services, assisted by a sizable contingent of adult male scholars.

The (Catholic) church of Saint George, Sudbury (London), in the early 20th century. During a nuptial Mass, it appears two cantors, or rulers of the choir, are leading the Gradual with a full, surpliced choir of men and boys before the altar.
It's my general experience that when it comes to Church matters, women tend to be much more willing to volunteer, even if they're juggling multiple young children. They'll do whatever they're asked, behind the scenes, without reward or recognition. Men need to be led by example, to be seen and recognized for their service. Certainly less noble, and yet, there's the paradox that no matter how intensely religious a mother is, if a father is inactive in his faith, their beliefs are unlikely to be passed on to the children when they come of age.
Therefore, I propose an experiment for all churchmen and altar guild leaders who recognize the problems in our musical culture:
1.) Let traditional choir stalls, or at least a few movable seats, be placed within the sanctuary of every parish (for those with rails and claustrophobic sanctuary spaces, this may necessitate moving them forward).
2.) Since altar guilds usually have many more servers on the roster than can actually serve on any given Sunday, let all those who are not scheduled to serve a specific position be assigned to sit in choir. This way, new servers can witness the ceremonies of the liturgy up close before taking them up themselves, and so that they can also lead the laity in the proper sitting, standing, or kneeling postures, rather than the confusion that abounds in so many places I've attended (true that in the traditional Latin Mass, there are no rubrics for the laity, but I've seen people awkwardly split between standing and kneeling after the Canon, for example, for lack of direction rather than strict personal preference).
3.) Let all the male singers of the choir also don the cassock and surplice, properly called "choir dress", and take places in the sanctuary, leading all the other servers in choir to sing the Mass; at least the Ordinary chants (Kyrie, Gloria, etc.) whenever they are sung in plainchant. If you place boys in altar service with the hope of raising vocations, they'll need to know how to read square notation as much as the prayers at the foot of the altar.
4.) By starting to train boys to sing at a young age, hopefully as they grow into adults, the community will always have trained chanters ready to step in and lead the chants of the Mass, rather than work the same three or four dedicated chanters one Sunday after the other!
I'm just pontificating from my proverbial armchair here, but it seems like this model, as it was practiced in the great cathedrals of the medieval world, would go a ways toward restoring liturgy worldwide to its ideal, normatively sung form.


_________________________

*The liturgical or ecclesiastical choir was defined as such by Pope Pius X in his 1903 motu proprio on sacred music, Tra le sollecitudini:

"With the exception of the melodies proper to the celebrant at the altar and to the ministers, which must be always sung in Gregorian Chant, and without accompaniment of the organ, all the rest of the liturgical chant belongs to the choir of levites, and, therefore, singers in the church, even when they are laymen, are really taking the place of the ecclesiastical choir. Hence the music rendered by them must, at least for the greater part, retain the character of choral music." And, "On the same principle it follows that singers in church have a real liturgical office, and that therefore women, being incapable of exercising such office, cannot be admitted to form part of the choir. Whenever, then, it is desired to employ the acute voices of sopranos and contraltos, these parts must be taken by boys, according to the most ancient usage of the Church."

The facial expression here has a certain semblance to Lady Mary Crawley's.

The front door, the great threshold for the unchurched seeker: an important but oft-overlooked place to for a church to put in its finest craftsmanship.


During the reception. Thanks again, Theodore.