Monday, March 27, 2017

Past weekend digest: Annunciation and Laetare

Chanting the Lesson from Isaiah for the Annunciation: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel."
This past weekend was a nice reprieve from the austerity of Lent, with Lady Day and Laetare Sunday back-to-back. Saturday fell on March 25, which is the feast of the Annunciation: set nine months before Christmas to celebrate the angel's bringing of good news to the Virgin Mary that she would bear the Messiah. 

The Annunciation, sometimes called Lady Day, is arguably older than Christmas itself as a Christian feast. It was once of such great significance that Great Britain persisted in beginning its civil/legal new year on March 25, as medieval tradition had it, until finally making the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. The obligation for Catholics to hear Mass on this day continued in the United States until the rule was relaxed by the third Council of Baltimore in 1884. 

Thankfully, the TLM Community of Philadelphia has kept up the practice of celebrating the Annunciation with due solemnity for some years now. I attended last year's, which had to be transferred to the week after the Easter octave since it fell on Good Friday; and this year, I was asked to fill in as subdeacon. The celebrant, Fr Dennis Carbonaro, had actually hosted half of my Ordinariate community at his parish before we acquired our own building, and he remains a friend of the Ordinariate.

You'll see in the photos in this link, as above, that we had solemn high Mass in the traditional Latin rite in a humble parish with a sanctuary space clearly not designed with solemn ceremonies in mind. Nevertheless, St Mary's church, Schwenksville proved a most hospitable place that I look forward to visiting again. The attendees were thrilled to see a young man in sacred vestments, and I was understandably mistaken for a priest several times as I said hello to them on their way out of church. (I like to think that every time I begin the "well, I'm actually a..." speech is a moment for catechesis.) I spotted a fellow member of the Sons of the American Revolution by his rosette and found we knew a couple of the same people.

Speaking of vestments, the Annunciation was an immensely popular subject for medieval and Renaissance art. One of the largest surviving works along this theme is a painting by Hans Memling, now hanging in New York's Met. I had the privilege to see it in person during a visit last November. Gabriel is clad in a deacon's dalmatic, emphasizing the role of angels as the right hand ministers of God in heaven. His vestments also have the Gothic apparels along the amice and the cuffs and bottom hem of the alb. I'm unsure of why he wears a narrow crossed stole over the dalmatic. Was it done in real-world liturgical practice in 15th-century Bruges, or does it have only an iconographic significance?

The jubilation continued on with Laetare Sunday: the midpoint of Lent, whereby the ministers wear rose vestments and the organ (in places which suspend its use during Lent) returns. At my own parish, we continued the English tradition of "Mothering Sunday" by blessing simnel cake and distributing it at coffee hour. See the Medieval Origins of Mothering Sunday here for more info, but the short version appears to be that an early 20th century pharmacist by the name of Constance Adelaide Smith sought a more inclusive alternative to the secular Mother's Day by drawing from old medieval traditions associated with Laetare Sunday. "Modern medievalism in action", indeed.

Another point of celebration for my parish is that we recently installed two impressive altarpieces over each side altar. They were recovered from a closed parish and now, we hope, will continue fostering devotion for a new generation.

And at last, continuing on my previous post about the end of the "Atonement affair", it's worth reposting this image of the meeting which took place last Tuesday evening at my old parish. My former pastor made his first appearance on the church grounds in well over a month, and those assembled were introduced to their new Ordinary, Bishop Lopes. The bishop gave a presentation on what would happen next, a good summary of which may be found here

The next day, my former pastor, now pastor emeritus and chaplain to the school, celebrated Mass for the students as though it were any other school day. When you see this video and realize the order of Mass and sacred music are essentially what you would see and hear on every single day of the school year; one of the only Catholic institutions on earth to offer choral Mass Monday through Friday; you can begin to understand how much of a treasure the place is and how necessary it was to fight to preserve it.

And, at last, on Sunday evening, I had a schola friend over to teach my wife and me how to play a medieval-themed card game called Dominion. What fun! Meanwhile, our oldest wore her pink-and-purple Rapunzel dress for Laetare. Had to redraw a couple of cards after she licked them.


  1. nicely written summary; both informative and interesting. Yes, indeed, the Mass at St Mary's was most impressive, with glorious music and the reverence of all the sacred ministers. Can't wait for the next time.

  2. St Mary's Cathedral Sydney continues that tradition with one of the best pre-reformation type cathedral choirs in the world

  3. I later realized that I didn't actually include the link to "The Medieval Origins of Mothering Sunday". Post edited now, but here it is as well.

  4. I understand the concept of a straw subdeacon, but you were fully vested and wearing the biretta. Have you been ordained to the permanent diaconate or received some sort of tonsure?

    1. Last year, I was instituted as an acolyte for the Ordinariate, as described in this blog entry. The Ordinariate's manual for instituted acolytes doe not prescribe the wearing of the biretta by instituted acolytes when acting as subdeacon for the Divine Worship Mass, but anyone acting as subdeacon always wears the biretta for the traditional Latin Mass (though the SSPX practice seems to be to not wear it at all, even by the celebrant).

      There is some debate about the use of the maniple, which rests on what exactly an instituted acolyte is. (Is he equivalent to an ordained acolyte in the old system, or an ordained subdeacon? Ministeria Quaedam can be read both ways.) My answer to that is that I wear a maniple if it's laid out by the sacristan, but if not, I don't ask for one.

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