Thursday, April 27, 2017

O felix culpa! Keeping the Vigil of Easter, pre-1955 style

Chanting the prophecies for the Easter Vigil
The Modern Medievalist wishes all of you as happy an Easter season as I've had so far! You've seen how much fun I had visiting the new Museum of the American Revolution as I described in my last post; now it's time I tell you a bit about my experience at the Easter Vigil. This year, the rector of Mater Ecclesiae Chapel in Berlin, New Jersey, Fr Robert Pasley, invited me to assist the community by chanting several of the 12 Old Testament prophecies as used in the full Easter Vigil as it was known in the Roman Rite prior to the reforms of 1955--as some other communities such as the FSSP's parish of Ss. Trinità dei Pellegrini in Rome have lately done. Now, I've generally acknowledged my preference for the pre-1955 forms on paper, having read about the differences in well-written articles like those by Gregory DiPippo on the New Liturgical Movement here. But nothing could have really prepared me for the unbridled splendor of the old forms being played out before my eyes as I sat in choir at Mater Ecclesiae this past Holy Saturday.

Before I begin, I'd want to point out to anyone unfamiliar with Mater Ecclesiae that it's not a sedevacantist chapel or anything of the sort. On the contrary, ME is the only diocesan community in the entire United States that observes the pre-Vatican II rites exclusively. Fr Pasley, like my old pastor, Fr Phillips at Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio, is the sort of priest who knows how to build something otherworldly virtually ex nihilo. Not surprisingly, like my old pastor, Fr Pasley is also very musically oriented (he is also chaplain to the CMAA, the Church Music Association of America). Every year, they fill the entire Cathedral-Basilica in Philadelphia for their annual solemn orchestral Mass for the Assumption. Last year, their leading liturgist was instituted as an acolyte by the Bishop of Camden to allow them to have solemn high Mass more frequently. (This has reminded me to add his blog to my list on the right, which I haven't updated in years until now. Please check it out!) Since I had then shared the news with my own bishop afterward, Mr. Rotondi's institution was actually, in large part, the catalyst for Bishop Lopes to create an acolyte institution program throughout the entire Ordinariate, which I wrote about here. In short, Mater Ecclesiae treats the liturgy as paramount, and should serve as a model of  excellence for all of us, whatever rites we follow.

High-quality recording above--be sure to set it to 1080p

Blessing of the Fire

It took about an hour to get there, but I still miraculously arrived in time with the whole family to get situated at a comfortable pace. It was about 5:30pm, with a starting time of 6... the only thing not strictly pre-1955 about the ceremonies, which in the early 20th century would have been Holy Saturday morning (though, in my opinion, a correct choice). I briefly greeted my fellow instituted acolyte as he was giving out last-minute instructions to the altar servers, and then donned cassock, surplice, and biretta at the breast (as the custom at Mater is for acolytes to wear biretta when seated in the sanctuary). I sat beside and soon befriended a young man bound soon for the Carmel in Wyoming (of Mystic Monk coffee fame) who was also assigned to chant some lessons. He kindly retrieved for me a chapel copy of a pre-1955 Liber Usualis so I could follow along. I knew bringing my 1962 edition of the Liber would more likely cause mischief than help, so I left that at home.

The junior servers lined up in the hallway adjoining the sacristy while the ministers vested. They were understandably excited; that another acolyte other than Mr. Rotondi existed out there in the world was novel to them and probably contributed to the chatter; but a sense of reverent quiet assumed as soon as they all knelt to recite their preparatory prayers. I gladly joined in.

The procession to the porch outside the church wasn't planned out in advance, so Fr Pasley had to make an executive decision to ask the congregation to remain in their places for the blessing of the fire, lest chaos break out. So, for the initial rites, only clergy and servers formed up around the Easter fire outside. There's no need for me to get into lengthy descriptions of the differences between pre- and post-1955 ritual here when others have done so much more thoroughly, so I'll only make personal remarks on my strongest impressions. The most obvious is that the Paschal candle is nowhere to be seen here. It's already situated in the sanctuary. Instead, a triple candlestick called the arundo is lit outside and carried into the church by the deacon in procession. Like the Paschal candle, he stops at intervals and intones Lumen Christi ("the light of Christ") at successively higher pitches, the people genuflecting each time.

The Exsultet

As the ministers enter the sanctuary, the deacon places himself before the Paschal candle as though he were about to sing an ode to it and carries out his single most important liturgical duty of the year: the Exsultet. As someone who has discerned a vocation to the diaconate for many years, this ceremony alone is enough to convince me of the superiority of the pre-1955 ritual over the Bugnini revisions. You see, in the pre-1955, there is no blessing of the Paschal candle outside by the priest, nor does he ritually inscribe and insert the grains of incense himself. This is because, traditionally, the act of singing the Exsultet is itself the blessing--indeed, the most solemn blessing the lowly deacon ever imparts.

About halfway through the Exsultet, right before the words:
"In thanksgiving, then, for this night, O holy Father, receive the evening sacrifice of this incense.."
the deacon pauses to insert the five grains of incense into the Paschal candle, just as the text alludes! Then, as the deacon sings:
"And now we know the glories of this column which the flickering fire doth kindle in God’s honor."
He, not the priest, takes light from the arundo and lights the Paschal candle. At last, when the deacon sings:
"Which fire, though it be divided into parts, yet knoweth no diminution of its light. For it is nourished by the fluid wax which the mother bee hath produced for the material of this precious torch."
The lights in the church multiply at this line as the fire is passed to the candles of the congregants.

It seems the architects of the 1955 Holy Week reform thought this ceremony too high an honor for a lowly deacon to bear, so they composed a new blessing for the priest to recite over the Paschal candle in the reformed edition. The ceremonies of inserting the grains and lighting the candle were now to be done by the priest. The deacon was now left only with singing the Exsultet straight through. And now, in our contemporary Church, most deacons probably pass the job of singing the Exsultet entirely on to the priest or a lay cantor, completely oblivious to how central this rite was to the order of deacons across the many centuries of the Roman Rite.

The Prophecies

As a lasting relic from the fervor of the early centuries in keeping all-night vigils, the unreformed Roman Rite has a staggering 12 lessons from the Old Testament, all of which are expected to be sung. One of the oddities of keeping Holy Week strictly according to 1962 is that even the Ordinary Form has concluded that the 1955 reform went too far. A strict 1962 Easter Vigil has only 4 lessons, while the Ordinary Form (and the Ordinariate Missal) allows as many as 7. To be fair, I believe the old Sarum Use of pre-Reformation England only had 4 lessons, so quantity wasn't universally prized throughout the west until 1955. I also suspect that the usual experience for the faithful was a single priest droning on the lessons world without end, without any sense of the spirit of the liturgy.

At Mater, on the other hand, four lectors were assigned to divide the chanting of the prophecies amongst each other. I sang the 1st, 5th, and final lessons. For the 1st, the account of Creation from Genesis 1, I used the hauntingly beautiful "Genesis tone" composed for the FSSP (may be downloaded and printed here, or listened to here). I particularly liked its conclusion for each of the six days: dies unus, dies secundus, and so on.

For the other two, I used the standard Prophecy tone used in the Liber Usualis for Old Testament lessons at the vigil, the ember days, and the like... though, since it was my first time actually using it, I didn't get the conclusion of each lesson quite right. It was nonetheless quite a joy to add my own emphases to the cadences of the account of King Nebuchadnezzar and the worship of the golden statue with the whole host of instruments: tubæ, et fístulæ, et cítharæ, sambúcæ, et psaltérii, et symphóniæ, et univérsi géneris musicórum ("the trumpet, and of the flute, and of the harp, of the sackbut, and of the psaltery, and of the symphony, and of all kind of music").

All readings pre-1955 are done facing the altar, while in the post-55, they're done toward the Paschal candle. At Mater, there was an impressive sequence of commands for each collect after the lessons: Oremus ("let us pray") from the priest at the top step, Flectamus genua ("let us bow the knee") from the deacon at the middle step, and Levate ("arise") from the subdeacon at the foot of the altar. The reform takes the subdeacon's command to the congregation to Levate away from him and gives it to the deacon; perhaps a prefigurement of the subdiaconate's total abolition years later.

The Blessing of Baptismal Water and Litany of Saints

This rite was performed at the baptismal font, well outside the sanctuary (in the post-1955, it's done in the sanctuary with a basin of water that's then carried to the font). Since I remained at my place in choir, I didn't get to observe this part, though it must have been a treat for those in the congregation who happened to be standing nearby. 

The ministers returned to the sanctuary for the Litany of Saints and, instead of kneeling, did a full prostration before the altar as on Good Friday. (Mr. Rotondi remarked to me afterward that whereas the prostration on Good Friday was appropriately rather painful due to the carpet being absent, this time the carpet was in place and the prostration was almost relaxing by contrast.) Every petition was doubled: that is, the schola precentor sang each petition completely by himself, and the whole congregation repeated it. What a delight it was to hear them all (or quite many, at least) sing each in response, rather than stand mute as many other TLM congregations do. Even petitions as long and tongue-twisting as Ut domnum apostólicum et omnes ecclesiásticos órdines in sancta religióne conserváre dignéris, te rogámus, audi nos didn't deter them from responding in full.

The Vesperal Mass

The ministers put away their penitential, violet folded chasubles one last time and donned the golden vestments of jubilation. The Kyrie gave way to the most spectacular Gloria in excelsis (from the Missa Breve by Domenico Scarlatti) I've heard in years. After the priest intoned, the first words, a thunderous organ medley paved the way for the choir to resume with a polyphonic rendition accompanied by.... a harpsichord, perhaps? I sat and followed the cues of the ministers as to when to doff the biretta during the customary words (adoramus te, Jesu Christe, etc.), but my headgear could scarcely keep the contents of my brain from exploding out as I struggled to contain the fullness of the beauty of worship.

The rest of the Mass proceeded more-or-less the same as a post-1955 Vigil. As a sign that this Mass was still an anticipation of the Resurrection rather than the fulfillment, the Agnus Dei and some of the minor Proper chants were omitted. Of course, where the reformed order has Lauds follow the end of Mass, we had an abbreviated form of Vespers instead.. though not so truncated as to possibly contemplate omitting a polyphonic Magnificat, of course.

Over 3 hours later, we recessed into the sacristy, knelt for a final blessing from the celebrant, and adjourned to the social hall for a well-earned reception with the community. I raised my glass to Mr. Rotondi in celebration, port in his hand (if I recall correctly) and Pepsi in mine; I excuse my troglodytism on account that I was breaking my Lenten fast from soft drinks. Madame, meanwhile, caught up with an old classmate from college who now sings in the choir.

By the end, the girls' patience had long since expired. We began the long journey home, but to play a part, however small, in the restoration of ancient liturgical tradition is well worth the trip in my book! I hope to return soon enough to assist with the solemn vigil of Pentecost.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: Museum of the American Revolution grand opening

Wife with burly frontiersmen at the Museum's opening
It's been a while, but I like to pick up my theme of the intersecting of medievalism with American history whenever I can. Today just happens to be one of those days, because my family and I were quite privileged to attend the grand opening of the new Museum of the American Revolution here in Philadelphia just yesterday. If you're not sure how this relates at all to my blog's theme, be patient. The story of this Museum begins not with yesterday's grand opening on the anniversary of the "shot heard 'round the world", but oddly, with Robert E. Lee and a Gothic revivalist Episcopal priest with a George Washington obsession.

The jewel of the Museum's collection is the very tent General Washington used for his sleeping quarters throughout the War of Independence, at least from 1778 on (along with his slave valet, William Lee, and close confidantes like Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette). It's hard to overstate how significant it was to the Continental Army that Washington slept among them for virtually the entire seven or eight years of the war. During that whole span, he spent only a few days at his home of Mount Vernon. After Washington famously resigned his commission and went home, the tent was carefully packed away and given to the care of Martha Washington's grandson, George Custis. The tent went on to his daughter Mary's care, and then her husband, Robert E. Lee. During the Civil War, Lee's house at Arlington, overlooking the capital city, was seized by the Union Army and converted to a cemetery for soldiers (now Arlington National Cemetery). Mary Lee's enslaved maid, Selina Norris Gray, ensured that the tent and other Washington "relics" were undisturbed by the soldiers who moved into the house. 

The Rev'd C. Herbert Burk

After the war, the Lees sued all the way up to the Supreme Court to get that tent back from the federal government. They eventually did, but their granddaughter, Mary Custis Lee, sold it in 1903 to raise money for widows of Confederate veterans. The buyer was C. Herbert Burk, rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church in Norristown (which is actually very close to my Ordinariate parish). Aside from his devotion to beauty (All Saints' was the first church in Norristown to have a surpliced choir of men and boys), Burk held a lifelong passion for Revolutionary War history and set upon establishing a mission church on the grounds of Valley Forge, with the dual purpose of becoming a shrine to the memory of the soldiers encamped there in 1777, not to mention a house for his collection of Revolutionary War relics.

The new church was commissioned in the Perpendicular Gothic style of merry ole' England. Not only was the Gothic revival falling out of fashion by the turn of the 20th century, it was considered a highly unusual choice for a site dedicated to Revolutionary War history. Critics attacked Burk for the design, to which he once replied,  "Colonial architecture was Georgian; the men at Valley Forge gave their lives in a struggle against the tyranny of a Georgian King. Why mock their memory by building a Georgian Chapel in their honor?" Today this stands at the Washington Memorial Chapel, one of the most beautiful churches in the entire southeast Pennsylvania region--and where my grandfather-in-law's remains are now buried. More info about it can be read here. But there was still the trouble of displaying the General's tent without it gradually decaying when exposed to the elements. Over the past twenty years, over 500 hours were spent on restoring the tent's fabric, and over $100 million raised to build a museum to house this and other items collected by Rev. Burk. The final fruit of all these labors was unveiled in grand style yesterday.

Burk's pet project realized: the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge
The Chapel from the outside
My family and I arrived around 9:30am, just in time to follow the procession from the front door of Independence Hall in center city Philadelphia to the new Museum, a few blocks away. Each of the thirteen original states sent their own color guard to represent them, starting with Delaware as the first state. Pennsylvania was, of course, represented by our commonwealth's own "household cavalry": the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry. The federal government was represented by the 3rd Infantry Regiment from Washington, DC, also known as the Old Guard: the very same who guard the President, the Tomb of the Unknowns, and perform many other ceremonial duties throughout the capital. (When I was in service, I looked into joining the Old Guard a decade ago now, but fell short of the height requirement.)

The procession lined up at Independence Hall
The First City Troop, a National Guard unit in continuous service since 1774, representing Pennsylvania
We didn't plan on attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony because only 100 seats were offered by lottery and I didn't win the drawing; but at the last minute, an attendant offered some leftover seats and waved us in, with the caveat that we would be seated immediately in front of a large screen, thus unable to actually see any of the speakers except digitally. The roster of speakers included many prominent persons like the Mayor, the Governor, and former Vice President Biden--whom, politics aside, is at least somewhat native to the area and is actually an alumnus of the high school affiliated with my workplace. The two most interesting speakers from what I could hear were David McCullough (the author of 1776, the John Adams biography, and other historical works) and Arthur Raymond Halbritter (head of the Oneida Nation). Daughter #2 had a diaper blowout in the middle of McCullough's speech, so we had to be let inside the Museum even before the ribbon-cutting to take care of the situation. When she grows up, she can officially say her bottom was the very first to be changed in the Museum of the American Revolution's family restroom.

Our seating location during the opening ceremonies (pictured above: David McCullough's speech). Now imagine the dystopian feeling of an ex-Vice President talking to you, but only from behind a screen with his enlarged head looming over you. Something straight out of that old movie Equilibrium with Christian Bale, no?
Daughter #1 screamed through nearly the entirety of Biden's speech because I wouldn't let her pet a mounted policeman's horse, so I can't comment much on what he said. Madame says the highlight of the ceremony by far was Sydney James Harcourt (an original cast member and understudy for the role of Aaron Burr in the Hamilton musical) leading students from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts in a couple of numbers from the production. "This is probably the closest we'll ever get to attending the show itself", said she. The Philadelphia Boys Choir sang something at the end to wrap things up, the ribbon got cut, and then we hung around center city for several hours to wait our turn to enter.

Not my photo--from the Museum's Facebook page

The Museum itself is very spacious and clean (so far). As can be expected, the cafe and gift shop are overpriced. We unfortunately missed the orientation video on the ground floor by lingering too long in the gift shop, and so immediately went upstairs to the showcase. The highlight of the tour, far and away, is the presentation of Washington's tent. You fill into a theater and are treated with a fantastic short video explaining the tent's significance and post-war history, much as I did in this post. At the end, the screen rolls up and the lights come on just enough for you to see that the tent was before your eyes, behind the movie screen, the entire time! That alone is worth the price of admission, and probably deserves to be a rite of passage for every American schoolchild in the country. Thankfully, daughter #1 was exhausted from the day's events thus far and remained asleep throughout.

Washington's tent, also not my photo. You can't really take your own pictures of it there.
The rest of the collection takes you plaque-by-plaque from the French and Indian War to the generation of Revolutionary War veterans in retirement and death. There are many excellently made wax mannequins to dramatically retell the story of independence in every exhibit. Black, native American, and even loyalist/Tory stories are told in a natural way without feeling shoehorned for political correctness's sake. About 3/4ths of the way through the collection, daughter #1 woke up and I had to make a speed-run through the remainder of the trip.

Altogether, though I've already seen Mount Vernon and many other sites of immense Revolutionary War significance, this little Museum was well worth the trip. Madame and I intend to go back, each on our own to take it all in by reading every plaque. I walked away from its doors with a renewed sense of pride in my eight ancestors who fought in the War of Independence in uniform, not to mention a sense that I was picking up the torch with a real sense of ownership, and a mandate to steer this nation in the right direction.

From the Museum's Facebook page, showing the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps

Some other pieces from the collection:

The royal arms, which apparently once hung in the Connecticut legislature
British swords

General Washington's blue sash

A book of religious poems by Phyllis Wheatley: the first-ever book published by an African-American woman

An intricately detailed powder horn depicting Philadelphia's harbor

A wall full of armaments

A French officer's gorget bearing the royal fleur-de-lis

A combination tobacco pipe/tomahawk

A candlestick made for one of Philadelphia's oldest Catholic churches

Mannequins depicting Tarleton's Raiders. A more villainous version of Colonel Tarleton was dramatized by Jason Isaacs in The Patriot (2002).

Long day!

Thursday, April 6, 2017


This past Sunday traditionally marked the beginning of Passiontide: the final two weeks of Lent. The old Roman practice dictated that all crucifixes and holy images in the church be veiled with violet fabric. Unfortunately, as with so many other things, the designation of the fifth Sunday in Lent as "Passion Sunday" was dropped with the Vatican II reforms, and the period of Passiontide effectively ceased to exist in most Catholics' imaginations. 

Nevertheless, a few very conservative parishes will continue the custom of veiling scared images without the need for a rubric. Passiontide survived in the high Anglican tradition, so it's no surprise that our Ordinariate parish avails of veils. Some of our photos were recently featured in today's Passiontide photopost on the New Liturgical Movement. I also include some below:

Procession before Mass while chanting The Litany, similar to this order from 1928 BCP

Chanting the Gospel in the midst of the nave. Notice the closed doors of the side altarpiece in the background

We were only able to enjoy the newly installed altarpieces for a week before having to close the doors

Passiontide continued with a special Mass at the parish of one of our traditional Latin Mass chaplains: the church of Holy Martyrs, Oreland. It's a fixer-upper, but the pastor has done a spectacular job in adorning the church over his short time there so far. I directed my schola for what was the first TLM celebrated at the parish since the Vatican II reforms.

Do the altar and pulpit look a bit familiar? Perhaps it's because they were both constructed for Pope Francis for his big televised Sunday Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway during his 2015 visit to Philadelphia! (see below) Father K needed an altar for his own parish, asked for it, and got it.

The schola was circled to the left of the sanctuary. The Proper chants for ferial days during Passiontide can be rather tricky. They're so rarely used that they don't even appear in the Liber Usualis; you must have a true Graduale Romanum for those.

There was excellent turnout (50 or more on a weekday evening) and overwhelmingly positive feedback. Let's hope this marks the beginning of more traditional liturgies.