Sacred vestments can be odd to the desacralized imagination. Especially in their traditional forms, vestments are cumbersome, utterly impractical, even garish to those who are more used to seeing ministers in coat and tie. The spirit that moves contemporary Christians to ridicule the use of vestments--that the clergy must "conform to the times"--is the very opposite of why the Church mandates their use! For vestments, properly made, take the priest and his ministers out of the ordinary world and into sacred space, sacred time. From the amice ("the helmet of salvation") to the "tunicle of delight" and the "dalmatic of justice", each garment further hides the minister wearing it to allow him to be the servant of the liturgy--not its master.
I'd like to highlight the work of a vestment-maker I've been following for more than five years: the Saint Bede Studio. Based out of Australia, the Studio's stated aim is to produce sacred vestments in a range of styles inspired by Benedictine spirituality: all hand-made, not out of a catalog but according to custom designs. I also appreciate that (like my traveling schola of Gregorian chanters) the Studio undertakes their work as part of a spiritual apostolate.
The Saint Austin design
Since we observed Pentecost earlier this month, it's fitting to start by looking at this recently made red chasuble below, made for a priest in the Diocese of Arlington (Virginia).
They call this the "Saint Austin" design, after the apostle of the English so greatly revered by Augustus Welby Pugin: Saint Augustine of Canterbury. Pugin was, of course, not only an architect, but a master of all fields of liturgical design. The braiding used by Saint Bede is based directly upon Pugin's designs, like the chasuble below, which the father of the Gothic revival designed for Saint Augustine's Abbey, Ramsgate.
This original Pugin chasuble was eventually given by the monks of Saint Augustine's, Ramsgate to the Victoria & Albert Museum. See here for more info.
The semi-conical design
One of my favorite designs is the most ancient: the voluminous conical chasuble. This is the style most clearly descended from the paenula: the ancient Roman "poncho", or outer garment adopted by the clergy for sacral use. An old black-and-white photo from the era of its revival in monastic communities can be seen below.
By the 13th century, perhaps spurred on by the rise of private low Masses and the attending lack of assistance from the deacon and subdeacon to help hold the excess fabric around the arms, this cut had gradually been reduced. The first stage was what we might call the "semi-conical" chasuble, as worn by Saint Thomas Becket and depicted here. One of the more striking examples of the semi-conical style might be this Lenten chasuble below made for a priest in Trenton, New Jersey (not far from me) several years ago. The purple is accented with black and a grey which suggests the famous ash of Ash Wednesday. Not strictly a replica of a medieval design, but with a contemporary touch appreciated by a self-dubbed "Modern Medievalist" like myself.
Here's a tunicle from the same set.
The Saint Martin design
Another chasuble in the line of ample cuts, the Saint Martin style is named after Saint Martin of Tours. While the word "Roman" when applied to vestments usually summons to mind the fiddeback, its use by the Saint Bede Studio is meant to draw from much older inspirations of Roman vestments in art. Below is a photo submitted by Father Samuel Fontana: a then-newly ordained priest. Note the decoration, like the semi-conical shown above, relies upon the Tau cross.
The Borromeon design
Not to be concerned exclusively with medieval designs, the Studio also offers vestments in the so-called "Borromeon" style, after Saint Charles Borromeo: a famous leader of the Counter-Reformation period. The fathers of the Council of Trent still would not have known anything like the vestments we call Baroque today. The Borromeon chasuble is an interim cut which isn't as ample as the Gothic, but still extends partway down the priest's arm. Here's a nice "action photo" from, once again, a priest's first Mass, this time in Brooklyn.
Father Carlos Velasquez incensing the altar at St Joseph's church, Brooklyn. More info here.
Dalmatic from the same set.
The papal set
At last, it's worth mentioning that the Saint Bede Studio had the tremendous honor of supplying a vestment set for the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI during his 2008 visit to Sydney, Australia. Click here for a detailed blog post on some of the inspirations and design details of that project. Below is a photo of His Holiness wearing the Studio's chasuble and mitre.
If anything you've seen here or on the Studio's website inspires you to commission a set for yourself or a priest (or deacon) in your life, be sure to send an inquiry to their email address as given on their blog. I'm told their commissions for 2018 are filling up quickly, so the time to place an order is now!
The Modern Medievalist was busy as the bees sung of during the Exsultet last weekend! Saturday evening, I assisted Mater Ecclesiae Chapel once again as a singing lector for the prophecies of the vigil of Pentecost (as it was known prior to the reforms of Pius XII). Then the following morning, I hauled my schola of plainchanters out for a guest appearance at a Latin Mass community in Wilmington, Delaware for Pentecost Sunday. In my absence, my own parish celebrated the feast by confirming and receiving some new members into full communion with Rome. Everywhere in the region, churches have done their best to mark Pentecost (or, as I like to say, Whitsunday) as one of the greatest feasts of the liturgical cycle.
What is "Whitsunday?"
The more familiar name for the feast, Pentecost, is explained easily enough by references to Pentekostos: the Greek word for 50. It's the fiftieth day after Easter, celebrating the descent of the Holy Ghost over the Apostles and, some may say, the birthday of the Church. "Whitsunday" is an expression of the medieval English church, the origins of which are lost to time. Some say it's because of the white albs worn by those baptized on this day, or because the Sarum Missal called for the clergy in England to wear white vestments instead of the red we're now accustomed to. A rival theory is that the "whit" is not short for "white", but a reference to "wit", i.e. the gift of wisdom given to the Apostles.
Today, the two greatest feasts of the liturgical cycle are widely reckoned to be Easter and Christmas. In the earliest ages of Christianity, though, the second place of honor was not Christmas, but Pentecost: a feast known even in the Old Covenant and observed as a Christian feast almost since apostolic times. Knowing its preeminence can help us understand why the Church saw it fit to prepare for Pentecost with its own Easter-like vigil all the way up to 1955.
The ancient Roman rite, as it was observed at Mater Ecclesiae last Saturday evening, begins with six prophecies from the Old Testament. All the readings, with their tracts, are "reruns" from the Easter Vigil--although the collects after each reading are unique to Pentecost. The baptismal font is blessed again with the chant Sicut cervus and all the same ceremonies as used at the Easter Vigil. Once that's done, the ministers return to the foot of the altar and lay prostrate while everyone kneels and sings the Litany of Saints (all petitions "doubled" by cantor and congregation, again like the Easter Vigil). After the Litany, the Mass begins. As at the Vigil, the Introit is omitted, and no candles are carried at the Gospel reading. The latter suggests that the Pentecost "event" is watched for, but not celebrated in advance.
To the average Catholic; and perhaps even the average priest; this would seem like the most redundant ceremony ever devised by the medieval Church. Why repeat all these solemn ceremonies involving baptism so soon after Easter? Other than restating the obvious (that Peter baptized three thousand souls at Pentecost), I would remark that in those early centuries of Christianization, there were always a few catechumens who weren't quite ready to accept baptism by the time the Easter Vigil rolled around. They perhaps needed special attention, which the ancient Church provided them, and prepared the stragglers for reception at the vigil of Pentecost.
By the High Middle Ages, though the catechumenate virtually ceased to exist in the west, the association of Whitsun Eve with baptism yet lingered on. The Sarum Use of England before the Reformation held that infants born in the normal course of the year were to be baptized shortly thereafter... but if they were born within eight days prior to Easter or Whitsunday, they were to be reserved for baptism during the vigils of either feast so long as they were deemed healthy.
The hierarchy seems to now be reaching the understanding that demolishing the vigil of Pentecost wasn't a good idea. The latest edition of the Ordinary Form Missal now includes the option of an extended Vigil in its appendix, which more and more churches are adopting.... including the Cathedral-Basilica in Philadelphia, where we also frequently celebrate the traditional Latin Mass. The Cathedral's rector, Father Dennis Gill, recently wrote a thorough article on the extended Pentecost Vigil here on Adoremus. In short, while the new rite still doesn't reclaim the baptismal character of the old, there's still an allowance for four Old Testament prophecies, each followed by a tract (or responsorial psalm, most likely) and a collect.
The Divine Worship Missal of the "Anglican" Ordinariates goes a bit further. It takes the OF's extended vigil with the four added prophecies as a starting point and then expands it further by adding the Litany of Saints. The baptismal character of the Vigil is restored insofar as that the rite envisions baptisms to take place here (or else, the renewal of baptismal promises) but there is no blessing of the font, as in the pre-1955 Latin rite. A fuller description was recently given by Mr. DiPippo in the New Liturgical Movement here.
Our schola circled up for the Mass of Whitsunday
Whitsunday was such a momentous feast even in the later Middle Ages that it marks the day when, according to Malory's L'Morte de Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table saw a vision of the Holy Grail, inspiring them to undergo their famous quest!
The pastor of Saint Patrick's church in Wilmington, Delaware, following a wedding I assisted him for last month, kindly invited me to bring my schola of chanters out to his parish to add something special to the city's Sunday Latin Mass. The community only has sung Mass the first Sunday of each month, and are by no means accustomed to a Gregorian schola using full minor Propers out of the Liber Usualis, so our appearance was perhaps an out-of-this-world experience for them! I opted, as I usually do, to place the schola as near the sanctuary as possible rather than the organ loft to emphasize its role as a liturgical choir--the "choir of Levites". Since I was told the congregation isn't used to singing the Ordinary of the Mass, we did a mix of some of the lesser-used Ordinary chants from the Kyriale for the sake of variety (mostly in mode I, like the sequence of Pentecost).
For me, the"high water mark" of the sacred chants for Whitsunday has long been the second Alleluia. In the old rite (and now the Ordinariate Use as well), all kneel while the verse is sung:
"Come, Holy Ghost, and fill the hearts of thy faithful people: and kindle in them the fire of thy love."
I cantored this verse, which ends with one of my favorite melismas in the whole cycle of chant.... a melody which I've always found strikingly beautiful, and not a little "eastern" in flavor. After the verse, the schola rose and continued not by repeating the Alleluia, but going straight into the golden sequence, Veni Sancte Spiritus. I think I might like this sequence even more than the Dies Irae, and start singing along whenever I re-watch the 1964 film Becket (the one with Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole) because of the sequence's integration into the opening overture.
We also added to the tour-de-force of chants with two of the melismatic verses from the Offertoriale Triplex for the Offertory. After Mass was over, quite a few people came up to thank us for for joining them. There was about double the usual size of the congregation, probably over 200, in attendance. While the acoustics were sub-optimal at best, this was undoubtedly the schola's best turnout since I established it last year. Fr Klein treated us to an excellent luncheon afterward. My own parish, meanwhile, confirmed and received a number of folks into the Church. It's easy to get demoralized by all the news emanating from the world and even from wayward prelates, so I describe all these glad tidings to remind my readers that the work of evangelization still continues apace.
You probably know that in the traditional Roman liturgical calendar the mighty feast of Pentecost had its own Octave. Pentecost was/is a grand affair indeed, liturgically speaking. It has a proper Communicantes and Hanc igitur, an Octave, a Sequence, etc. In some places in the world such as Germany and Austria Pentecost Monday, Whit Monday as the English call it, was a reason to have a civil holiday, as well as a religious observance.
The Novus Ordo went into force with Advent in 1969.
The Monday after Pentecost in 1970, His Holiness Pope Paul VI went to the chapel for Holy Mass. Instead of the red vestments, for the Octave everyone knows follows Pentecost, there were laid out for him vestments of green.
Paul queried the MC assigned for that day, “What on earth are these for? This is the Octave of Pentecost! Where are the red vestments?”
“Santità,” quoth the MC, “this is now Tempus ‘per annum’. It is green, now. The Octave of Pentecost was abolished.”
“Green? That cannot be!”, said the Pope, “Who did that?”
“Holiness, you did.”
And Paul VI wept.
The "feast of the Lacrimation of Paul VI" is renewed annually when diocesan priests who celebrate the traditional Latin Mass on Sundays return to their regular parish duties the next day to don green vestments for "Ordinary Time" in the Ordinary Form. Until the great restoration takes place, the best advice I can give to priests celebrating the Ordinary Form is to trade those greens for red by offering a votive Mass of the Holy Ghost every weekday of Whitsun Week.
Thankfully, the Ordinariate's Missal has restored the octave of Pentecost, so every day at my parish this week has been red. The Ordinariate likewise observes the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of this week as "ember days": one of the four times of the year which the Church, since medieval times, reserved for fasting, prayer, and (on Saturday) the ordination of clergy. We then reckon the Sundays for the rest of the year as Sundays after Trinity, aka Trinitytide.
I hope all my readers are inspired to continue the celebration of Whitsun through the octave!
For the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day invasion yesterday, I repost the following presidential address which was made on the night of June 6, 1944. It's hard to believe words like these could be convincingly broadcast by any major western leader today. Let
this be our prayer, to find the same stoutness of heart and be granted
"faith in our united crusade" against the terrors of the enemy.
"My Fellow Americans:
Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at
that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were
crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to
pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a
mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and
our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the
enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with
rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by
Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without
rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and
flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not
for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to
liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill
among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their
return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and
brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with
them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith
in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have
urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But
because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people
devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new
day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our
lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too
-- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in
the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows
that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may
And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in
our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the
keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary
events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these
deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we
shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer
the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of
our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will
spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy
men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the
just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt - June 6, 1944
Mass is celebrated atop the hood of a military vehicle on Omaha beach, following the successful invasion
Today we enter into the month of June: the month of the Holy Eucharist. The medieval Church might not have gotten everything right, but one thing they excelled at beyond all human measure was devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. To read any secular historian's account of how the feast of Corpus Christi came into existence, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was all centered around a quaint belief system not seen for hundreds of years. And yet, despite the passage of time, nothing has changed. The Catholic Church, whether in the 13th or the 21st century, has consistently taught that, at the words of a validly ordained priest, mere bread and wine are transformed into the incarnate God: Jesus, not symbolically, but truly present in our midst to be worshiped and consumed.
At the height of the Middle Ages in the west, adoration of the Eucharistic Lord--not the reception of Communion--was the climax of the liturgy for the average layperson. The faithful, called to attention by the ringing of the Sanctus bells, would jostle each other for a glimpse of the Host raised up by the priest over his head at the elevations. As told by Eamon Duffy in The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580, zealous parishioners might not leave until they had satisfactorily gazed upon the Lord, shouting across the nave, "raise it higher, sir priest! Raise it higher!"
No one did more to foster a devotion to Christ's real presence in these crucial centuries than Saint Norbert of Xanten: founder of the Praemonstratensian Order. Four hundred years before the Protestant Reformation, a wandering preacher known as Tanchelm had caused many people in the city of Antwerp to deny the saving power of the Eucharist and the authority of the bishop. St Norbert was invited by Bishop Burchard of Cambrai to take a few trusted disciples with him into the city and bring it back to the orthodox faith: a feat he accomplished with both gentleness of heart and zeal in preaching. He said to the people,
“Brothers, do not be surprised and do not be afraid. Unwittingly you have pursued falsehood thinking it to be the truth. If you had been taught the truth first you would have been found effortlessly tending toward salvation, just as you now effortlessly lean toward perdition.”
Focusing on Christ's discourse on the "bread of life" in John 6, Norbert reconciled the city to the Church and was thereafter known as the Apostle of Antwerp. For teaching clergy and laity alike to reverently care for the altar cloths and handling of the Sacred Species wherever he went, even bringing the Blessed Sacrament away from the church to the battlefield, making Christ the instrument of peace between warring clans, Norbert became known as the Apostle of the Eucharist.
A young woman soon picked up where Norbert left off to take the medieval Church's Eucharistic devotion to its apex. Saint Juliana of Liège, a Norbertine canoness, reported having a vision of a full moon, shining brightly but marred by a dark line across its surface. She understood the moon to represent the Church on earth, reflecting the light of Christ's glory. The dark line was a void in the Church's myriad cycle of celebrations: a lack of a day dedicated to the Lord's real presence in the Eucharist. Until then, Maundy Thursday was the only day to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist (at the Last Supper), but it was inevitably shadowed by the gloom of Good Friday. St Juliana petitioned her bishop to declare a feast for the Body and Blood of Christ within the diocese--which he did, though he died before he could act on it.
St Juliana died in 1258, before the feast of Corpus Christi could take root outside her city. Shortly thereafter, though, the former archdeacon of Liège was elected Pope Urban IV. Juliana's surviving friend petitioned the Pope to institute a feast according to Juliana's plan. This he did, well beyond what St Juliana could have ever dreamed: on the 11th of August, 1264, Urban IV issued the bull Transiturus, proclaiming a feast in honor of the Body and Blood of Christ throughout the entire Latin Church, which we now call Corpus Christi:
"although this memorial Sacrament is frequented in the daily solemnities of the Mass, we nevertheless think suitable and worthy that, at least once a year – especially to confound the lack of faith and the infamy of heretics – a more solemn and honourable memory of this Sacrament be held. This is so because on Holy Thursday, the day on which the Lord himself instituted this Sacrament, the universal Church, occupied with the reconciliation of penitents, blessing the chrism, fulfilling the Commandments about the washing of the feet and many other such things, is not sufficiently free to celebrate so great a Sacrament."
The feast would be marked with Eucharistic processions (still novel at that time) through every city in Christendom on the Thursday after Trinity: Thursday to link the celebration with the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. The Angelic Doctor himself, Saint Thomas Aquinas, was commissioned to write an office and several now-famous hymns for the feast. The sight of the Lord enthroned in a monstrance, paraded through the central square with all the magistrates of the city in attendance, naturally captivated the medieval imagination with a fervor we may never see again, giving birth to thousands of local traditions and guilds.
The Protestant Reformation challenged belief in the Real Presence (Luther once preached of Corpus Christi, "at no festival are God and his Christ more blasphemed"), yet for many Catholics in Europe, the sight of Jesus in the Eucharist, borne in procession through the city, was enough to bolster their faith against every threat of war or schism in those turbulent times. At last, in 1582, centuries after his death, Norbert of Xanten was canonized a saint--thanks, I'm sure, in no small part to his defense of the Eucharist.
Today we stand at another fork in the road: will the Church, after losing her prominent place in civic life, retreat behind closed doors to celebrate the sacraments away from unbelieving eyes? Or will she dare to take to the streets once again, holding the Lord for all to adore, even at the risk of jeers, blaring horns, or the eyerolls of apathy?
Wherever you may find yourself this feast of Corpus Christi, dear reader, may we find the same fervor of the Body and Blood of Christ that moved simple peasants to fall to their knees in the mud when the Blessed Sacrament passed them by. May we find the true meaning of the words of Aquinas' hymn, Pange lingua gloriosi, when we sing:
"Sing, my tongue, the Saviour's glory, Of His Flesh, the mystery sing; Of the Blood, all price exceeding, Shed by our Immortal King, Destined, for the world's redemption, From a noble Womb to spring."
The Blessed Sacrament carried through the streets of Manhattan by Bishop Joseph Perry at the 2015 Sacra Liturgia conference. More wonderful photos at this link.
In 2014, my schola of chanters sang the royal praises, Christus vincit, as the Blessed Sacrament was carried under the rotunda of the Texas State Capitol building in Austin. Benediction was unapologetically given under the dome, in the very midst of the state's seat of government.
The Blessed Sacrament in procession following solemn Mass in the traditional Latin rite at the Cathedral-Basilica of Philadelphia last year (2016).
If you're in the Philadelphia area, the Modern Medievalist invites you to join us for our celebration of this marvelous feast this year (2017).