Pope Paul VI to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey

"(B)y entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you." - Pope Paul VI to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The First Pro Life day

James Tissot's (1836-1902) Massacre of the Innocents has always been a shocker for me since it is so realistic in its depiction (and is like those photos of aborted fetuses).  And like many people who then and now get scandalised by death (and photos of aborted fetuses), they criticized the artist for the harshness of the theme.  Even though many historians and Biblical scholars now think Herod's murder of the children is hagiography to shore up the early Christians' resolve, I would still think it did happen though not in the scale we thought it was. Nonetheless, a single murder is an abominable sight in God's eyes. The scale doesn't matter. But in our human weakness we tend to consider murder, homicide and  accidental death as statistics.

Tissot painted the scene according to an ancient tradition as the Brooklyn Museum website says

" Herod lured the intended victims to the palace with the promise of a party. The children were then wrenched from their mothers’ arms and tossed to their deaths in a courtyard. Herod’s deviousness was thus highlighted: called singly into a long corridor, the women had no opportunity to warn others of the impending tragedy. "

Tissot's watercolour brings the message that the massacre was due to deviousness and fear and the children are no statistics. Tissot who was once a celebrated painter of gay  ("gay" in its original meaning!)   secular subjects especially of high society in the 1880s had a mystical experience and from then on painted only religious subjects culminating in the Life of Christ. We don't exactly know the details of Tissot's conversion but perhaps the Book of Common Prayer's collect for Holy Innocents Day reflects it well

"O ALMIGHTY God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths; Mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen"

Let us beg forgiveness to the Lord for our neglect of children for this is the First Day for Pro Life!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Rev Dr Jeffrey Steenson, ex TEC bishop tipped to be first US Ordinary

Virtueonline reports that former TEC bishop of the Rio Grande, Rev Dr Jeffrey Steenson will be named as the first Ordinary of the US Ordinariate once it is erected on New Year's Day 2012.

Dr Steenson served the Episcopal diocese for just two years from 2005-2007 after which  he resigned his Anglican orders and joined the Roman Catholic Church. He was ordained as a Catholic priest on Feb 21, 2008. He teaches at St Thomas University. Upon the promulgation of Anglicanorum coetibus in 2009, Dr Steenson has been heavily involved with Cardinals Wuerl and DiNardo in how the apostolic constitution and its seminary formation program will be implemented in the United States.

Dr Steenson is married with three adult children. As such he cannot be raised to the Catholic episcopate but will have most of the jurisdiction, rights and privileges of a Catholic bishop except that of ordaining men to the priesthood. It is expected that he will be named as a Monsignor.

At present several TEC parishes have decided to join the soon to established Ordinariate. Around 67 priests and 2 Anglican bishops are expected to join as well as the Anglican Use parishes the largest of which are in Texas. These parishes are under the Latin Rite ordinary where they are located.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ad orientem, worshiping to the East and English church ordering

A medieval English priest offers Mass according to the Sarum Use

Mass celebrated with priest and laypeople  facing the geographical east is really an English custom. In the 7th century, Catholic churches in England were built on the feast day of the saint on which the church when completed will be dedicated. The earliest churches in Rome had the sanctuary at the western end and the entrance at the eastern end due to peculiarities of Rome's geography. The priest thus celebrated mass ad orientem and versus populum.  A prime example is mass in St Peter's Basilica and St Paul's Outside the Walls. However,  the Apostolic Constitution of 472 mandated the worship of the True God to the east which later became universal in the Latin Church until the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.  In England where there was a pagan cult of the Sun, in 597 Pope St Gregory counselled St Augustine of Canterbury, the first Archbishop of that see to deal gently with these customs and henceforth the first Archbishop of Canterbury ordered all English churches be ordered with the altar at the east end and that the celebrant should be bathed in the full light of the morning sun through the East window. Since then this has been a feature of the English parish church.

A  defining feature of the English church is a square chancel which is often rounded in continental European medieval churches. In the medieval Slipper Chapel shown above which is now England's Roman Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk, we see the great East window and the square chancel. These medieval churches had their orientation to the East where the sun will rise at the Spring and Autumn equinoxes. How did the medieval masons figure this out?

Masons will patiently wait for sun to rise and with the use of a gnomon placed at the centre of the proposed church site, the shadow lines at dawn or dusk of the gnomon were marked off on a circle, giving a true east west axis. The resulting east and west points were used as centres marking off two circles that intersect forming a fish shape or vesica pisces. A line drawn between the vertices of the vesica pisces gives the true north south axis. The church plan can now be executed and the church built. Usually the chancel and choir are built first and consecrated

English medieval plan to orient a church
Even the Episcopal Church cathedral in Quezon City show traces of this English ordering of a square chancel and an East window although in this cathedral these are three small windows. The Cathedral of St Mary and St John is oriented to the geographical east like its predecessor in Ermita, Manila which was destroyed in World War II.

St Mary and St John Cathedral in Quezon City

Old St Mary and St John in Ermita, Manila (destroyed in WW 2)
Thus when some cradle Catholics (who have been habituated to versus populum masses) asked the Ordinariate Catholics why they insist on an ad orientem way of worshiping, the reason they gave is that this way is part of the Anglican patrimony which predates the Reformation. Thus it is authentically Roman Catholic.

Reference: Paul NP (1995) Enjoying Old Parish Churches. Vol. 1 Pentland Press, Durham, England.