Wednesday, June 30, 2010

One Hundred Years Ago: The Consecration of Westminster Cathedral

The then Archbishop Bourne at the Consecration of Westminster Cathedral 1910

Father Ray has highlighted the hundredth anniversary of the Consecration of Westminster Cathedral just this week.

Archbishop Nichols, the present Archbishop led the celebrations.

In the comments section there was an interesting discussion about the original ceremonies of consecration. They lasted three days. Father Ray`s predecessor, Mgr George Wallis was the Master of Ceremonies at the consecration. He certainly had his work cut out for him. He deserved to be made Monsignor just for that.

There is available a description of the original Consecration. For the interest of others I set it out below.

As mentioned in a previous article, Winefride de l`Hopital was the daughter of the architect of the Cathedral, John Francis Bentley

In 1919 she wrote and had published a two volume life of her father and his greatest work, Westminster Cathedral. The book is entitled Westminster Cathedral and its Architect.

Here is her description of the three days of the ceremonies comprising the Consecration of the Cathedral. The ceremonies started on Monday 27th June 1910 and were completed on Wednesday 29th June 1910.

For some reason Archbishop Nichols decided not to repeat the original ceremonies.

"The celebration of the eighth centenary of St. Anselm of Canterbury, which took place in 1909, concludes this brief survey of the main outstanding events in the ceremonial history of the cathedral, previous to the greatest event of all, its consecration and dedication in fee simple to the service of God in June 1910.

A debt of close on £7,000 on the general building fund which still encumbered the fabric had to be liquidated before the long delayed consecration could take place. The Archbishop issued in February a special appeal, and by the end of April every farthing of the debt having been discharged by generous benefactors, nothing further stood in the way of the consecration.

The ceremonies, carried out with the utmost pomp and dignity as befitted the unique occasion, occupied three days.

They began on Monday, June 27th, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon by the Exposition of the Relics in the Cathedral Hall, while Archbishop Bourne entered in procession, and ascended the platform whereon an altar had been erected.

Here he sealed in silver caskets, together with three grains of incense, and an inscribed strip of parchment, the relics of the bodies of the saints intended to be deposited under each of the thirteen altars of the cathedral.

Those for the high altar were relics of four English saints, St. Boniface of Fulda, St. Thomas and St. Edmund of Canterbury, and St. William of York and of the patron of the Archbishop, St. Francis of Sales.

After the sealing of the caskets each was placed on a miniature shrine to await the ceremony of sepulture on the morrow.

The cathedral choir, seated in the body of the hall facing the cathedral clergy, sang the anthem " Justorum Animae," by William Byrd, 1607, during the rite which terminated with the singing of Matins and Lauds.

On Tuesday, June 28th, the Pope gave a special dispensation from the fast of the Vigil of the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul to all those attending the ceremonies of the 28th, a necessary and much appreciated privilege when it is realized that the clergy taking part were on duty for seven and a half hours, and some had fasted as prescribed on the vigil of the ceremony, and the laity, not admitted to the church till eleven o'clock, were there for three and a half hours, preceded by the long and exhausting wait outside in the discomforts of a blazing sun and abnormally high wind.

The rite of consecration was preceded by the office of Prime, sung in the Cathedral Hall at 7 a.m. At half-past seven the consecration ceremonies, full of strange and half-forgotten symbolism, began with the recitation of the seven penitential psalms before the relics.

At eight o'clock the Archbishop, vested in a cope of white gold-embroidered brocade and a plain gold mitre, and carrying his pastoral staff, emerged from the Cathedral Hall, and, accompanied by deacon and sub-deacon vested in albs and preceded by crossbearer and thurifers, walked in procession to the west end of the cathedral, where in these quiet early morning hours the outside ceremonies began.

First the litanies of the saints, then the blessing and mingling of the salt and water, placed on a table outside the great door, wherewith the Archbishop was to sprinkle with a spray of hyssop the outer walls and ground, making, with two acolytes carrying lighted tapers, the three-fold circuit prescribed, symbolic of holy baptism and triple immersion into its saving waters. At the close of each circuit the Archbishop made his claim of admission, knocking at the door once over the threshold with the end of his pastoral staff. The choir formed a wide half-circle around, and at the third time of knocking, on the words " Open, open, open " and the tracing of a cross on the threshold with the end of his staff, the door was thrown wide open by the solitary deacon within, and the procession having entered the empty building, it was again closed, none of the laity, except the masons to fix the altar stones, being allowed to enter.

The third stage of the rite was then begun, the nave having been previously painted with two broad diagonal white paths intersecting at the centre and having heaps of ashes placed thereon at intervals of about 6 ft., a card traced with a letter of the alphabet, Latin or Greek, being placed by each heap. At a faldstool placed at the point of intersection, the Archbishop took his place during the singing of the hymn " Veni Creator," the chanting of the litanies of the saints, and the Canticles of Zacharias.

During this last he set forth with mitre and staff, accompanied by deacon, sub-deacon, crossbearer, and acolytes, towards the west end, and starting from the north-west corner traced the twenty-three letters of the Greek alphabet in the little mounds of ashes set along the prepared path.

Then, returning to the south-west corner, he formed in like manner the twenty-four letters of the Latin alphabet along the second path, this curious ancient ceremony symbolizing the instruction of the newly baptized in the elements of faith and piety ; the crossing of the two lines, it is said, pointing to the cross, i.e. Christ crucified, as the central point of Christian teaching.

The doxology having been intoned three times successively by the celebrant, he proceeded to the exorcism of the salt and water, and the blessing of the ashes, finally mingling all three, and pouring into the water the wine, also hallowed.

The next portion of the ritual was the simultaneous consecration of the altars, the high altar by Archbishop Bourne and the thirteen other altars by thirteen of the bishops present:

1. Altar of the Blessed Sacrament . . Dr. Ilsley, Bishop of Birmingham.
2. Altar of our Lady . Dr. Hedley, Bishop of Newport.
3. Altar of the Sacred Heart and St. Michael Dr. Singleton, Bishop of Shrewsbury.
4. Altar of St. Joseph Dr. Singleton, Bishop of Shrewsbury.
5. Altar of St. Peter in Crypt Dr. Amigo, Bishop of Southwark.
6. Altar of St. George and the English Martyrs . Dr. Mostyn, Bishop of Menevia.
7. Altar of St. Andrew and the Saints of Scotland Dr. Keating, Bishop of Northampton.
8. Altar of St. Patrick and the Saints of Ireland Dr. Lacy, Bishop of Middlesbrough.
9. Altar of St. Paul Dr. Brindle, Bishop of Nottingham.
10. Altar of SS. Gregory and Augustine . Dr. Burton, Bishop of Clifton.
11. Altar of St. Thomas of Canterbury Dr. Casartelli, Bishop of Salford.
12. Altar in the Chapel of the Holy Souls Dr. Collins, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle.
13. Altar of St. Edmund of Canterbury, in Crypt Chapel Dr. Fenton, Bishop of Amycla.

Next followed the thrice-repeated procession round the interior to sprinkle the walls on their lower part, at the height of a man's face, and again yet higher, the floor being hallowed in like manner from the altar to the main entrance crosswise from side to side and north, east, south, and west.

Then at length were the vast crowds waiting outside the cathedral permitted to take some part in the ceremony, even though it were only that of passive spectators. A great procession of all those taking part in the ceremonial set out to fetch the holy relics from their temporary resting-place in the Cathedral Hall, and to carry them shoulder high in solemn state round the exterior of the church.

It was a marvellously gay yet reverent pageant under the hot June sun, banners and flags waving joyously in the almost too boisterous breeze and every note of colour giving its utmost value to the spectacular sum total of this triumphant progress. The purple-clad macebearer followed by a long line of regulars, Augustinians, Carmelites, Franciscans, Benedictines, Dominicans, Servites, Passionists, Oratorians, Redemptorists, and Jesuits in their habits, and of secular clergy in cassocks and cottas, called vividly to memory with a poignant sense of loss a similar procession winding round an empty site, where, fifteen years since, founder and architect had stood together beside a great granite block, the corner-stone of the noble sanctuary to be.

Canons representative of all the dioceses of England walked next preceding the relics laid on four biers, surmounted by silken canopies and borne on the shoulders of young priests, attended by thurifers. Next, mitred and vested in rich copes, came the twelve bishops-consecrators, and lastly Archbishop Bourne, bearing his pastoral staff, and attended by eight papal chamberlains in scarlet uniforms with swords and white plumed cocked hats.

The beautiful and appropriate words of the four antiphons appointed by the rubric were sung by the choir as the procession moved on its way. The circuit of the walls completed and the great doors regained, above which the Union Jack and the Papal Flag flew side by side, the Archbishop took his seat on a faldstool there set, and gave the prescribed exhortation to reverence in consecrated churches, followed by the anointing of the door with chrism in the sign of the cross. The procession with the relic biers then entered the church, and deposited them upon the altar.

Then the thirteen bishops-consecrators, taking their thirteen several caskets of relics, carried them in procession to their respective altars, and began at once the ceremonial of deposition.

At this point the patient laity were admitted, several thousand chairs to accommodate them having been arranged while the procession was in progress outside. In a small sepulchre hollowed in the centre on the top of each marble altar the silver casket was placed, and the cavity closed by a slab, secured with the prepared mortar, each celebrant being attended by a mason to complete the work, a privilege reserved at the high altar for Osmond Bentley, son of the architect.

Then followed all the long ritual of incensing, anointing the altars, accompanied with many psalms, antiphons, and prayers ; then the unction of the twelve consecration crosses ' of stone affixed to the walls. Next, on the altars, took place the burning of the five crosses of tapers and incense, and further anointing of their stones, terminating with the vesting of the altars and blessing of their altarcloths, vases, and ornaments.

Over six hours had this ancient and wonderful ceremonial lasted, when at length the Pontifical Mass of the Dedication was begun.

It was celebrated by Dr. Cotter, Auxiliary Bishop of Portsmouth (Dr. Cahill, the Bishop of this diocese who was to have sung it being incapacitated by illness), in the presence of the Archbishop of Westminster and twenty-six bishops and abbots assembled in the sanctuary.

The music, exquisitely rendered in spite of intense fatigue by the cathedral choir, was the " Missa Quinti Toni " by Orlando di Lasso (1520-1594) and the motet " Elegi abjectus esse" for five voices by Peter Philips, an English ecclesiastic of the sixteenth century.

Thus was forged another link in the chain of continuity, for the rite of consecration of Westminster Cathedral in the year of grace 1910 was identical with that by which Westminster Abbey was hallowed in 1065, nearly eight hundred and fifty years before. The musical tones of the great bell Edward in the tower dedicated appropriately to the sainted builder of the abbey church, were heard for the first time at the Elevation during this Mass of Dedication of Westminster Cathedral.

At half-past two the Archbishop gave the final benediction, and the huge congregation dispersed for a time for rest and refreshment.

At seven o'clock the cathedral was again crowded for vespers and benediction, sung in the presence of the Archbishop and the Hierarchy. During the service the Bishop of Clifton ascended the pulpit, to read the following message received from Pope Pius X:

" To his Grace the Archbishop of Westminster, at the Archbishop's House, Westminster—The Holy Father, present in spirit at to-day's solemn consecration of Westminster Cathedral, whilst the sweet strains of their hymns still resound in the ears of the faithful, begs God that He would ever hear their prayers from the throne of His glory on high. His Holiness, whilst he thanks your Grace for the gift of the volume relating to to-day's event, lovingly imparts to you, to the bishops, to the clergy, and the whole people of your archdiocese his apostolic blessing."

The bishop also read the text of the telegram to be despatched in response :

" The Archbishop of Westminster, together with his chapter, clergy, and people, and the bishops of England, together with their chapters, have received the message and blessing of the Holy Father with feelings of the greatest gratitude. They tender to him the expression of their most devoted attachment both to Peter and to Peter's successor."

On Wednesday, June 29th, the feast of the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul and the anniversary of the laying of the first stone, was celebrated with high pomp the Diamond Jubilee of the Restoration of the Hierarchy in England.

Matins, Lauds, and Prime were sung at 8.45.

At 10 o'clock solemn Terce, chanted entirely in Gregorian, was followed by a procession round the cathedral, the Archbishop wearing the pallium while the episcopate were all vested in scarlet copes and gold mitres, making a vivid and picturesque scene. The hymn during the procession was " Felix per omnes."

High Mass was then sung by the Archbishop of Westminster in the presence of three archbishops—of the titular sees of Trebizond, Ptolemy, and Seleucia—twenty bishops, eight abbots, and hundreds of the clergy, secular and regular.

The vast lay congregation included Sir John Knill, Bt., Lord Mayor of London, in his state robes of black and gold, and Lady Knill ; the Mayors of Darlington, Oswestry, and Hyde, wearing their red robes and chains of office ; most of the Catholic peers, and many other founders of the cathedral, representatives of religious orders of women, and an immense number of men and women of all classes.

The cathedral was open free, but to regulate the crowd it was necessary to admit only ticket-holders to the nave ; a certain number of reserved seats at a guinea for the two days were sold, however, towards defraying the heavy expenditure entailed.

The music for the High Mass was William Byrd's setting for five voices, the motet chosen being Palestrina's six-part " Tu es Petrus." The sermon on this auspicious occasion was preached by Dom Hedley, O.S.B,, Bishop of Newport, who seven years earlier had spoken the panegyric of the dead Cardinal Founder [Vaughan] in that same place. He took for his text the words from Joshua iii. 6, " Take ye the Ark of the Covenant, and go before the people."

The offices of Sext and None followed the Mass.

At four o'clock in the afternoon vespers were sung, and benediction given by the Bishop of Birmingham, and so the great festival drew to its close.

No words could exaggerate the striking beauty and solemnity with which the high ceremonies of this historic occasion had been ordered and performed. Their memory will live unfadingly in the minds of those privileged to be present.

That the occasion should also be celebrated in some social manner was assuredly fitting. Sir John Knill came forward as host, and issued invitations to a great banquet at the Mansion House " to meet Archbishop Bourne and the Roman Catholic Bishops." The flower of the Catholic body in England were assembled, and the usual loyal toasts were drunk and honoured.

Thus the day of consecration so long delayed and so ardently desired passed into the realm of achievement and the roll of history. There remains to be fulfilled the adornment of the great church's interior, a consummation which eyes now living may scarcely hope to see, but a splendid and unique opportunity for generations yet unborn to prove their faith and gratitude. May these artists of the future be endowed with reverence and understanding of the spirit of Bentley's noble idea ; far better else the puritan coat of whitewash advocated by some for walls and domes alike to preserve their simple grandeur.

Founder and architect both sleep far from the stately walls they reared ; but effigy and chantry perpetuate Vaughan's memory within them. Though Bentley's name, like those of the cathedral architects of old, is unrecorded on tomb or tablet, surely the waters of oblivion will never roll over it. Well might he say, as Wren before him, " Si monumentum requiris, circumspice," for the cathedral itself shall be his monument, great and enduring."

Part of the Consecration Ceremony in 1910

For further information and some great photographs of the consecration see Catholic with Attitude

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Belgium ratchets up the "ante"

Andre-Mutien Leonard Archbishop of Mechelen from Brussels receives the Pallum from Pope Benedict XVI (R) during the solemn mass at St Peter's basilica to celebrate the feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul on June 29, 2010 at The Vatican.

While Andre-Mutien Leonard Archbishop of Mechelen from Brussels was receiving the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI, the Belgian Government reacted against the Pope`s recent letter to the Archbishop in which the Pope described the actions of the police in raiding a bishop`s meeting in Mechelen as "surprising and deplorable"

"Belgium and the Vatican are on a collision course after the Holy See accused the Belgian police of using communist tactics in their paedophilia raids on Catholic bishops last week. Belgium’s Foreign Minister told RNW that the Vatican should “react with balance” after its outspoken criticism of last week’s detention of senior clerics by the police.

Belgian police raided a bishop’s meeting in Mechelen near Brussels last Thursday amid fresh claims of child abuse by the Catholic Church. Investigators confiscated mobile phones, computers and also seized the computer files of a former cardinal.

The raids triggered an instant outcry from the Vatican, with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone calling the detentions “serious and unbelievable”. The Cardinal also accused investigators of holding the clerics for nine hours “without food and water” in methods “unprecedented even in communist regimes.”

The Belgian Foreign Minister, Steven Vanackere, underlined the Belgian judiciary’s independence from the Church and its freedom to investigate.

“It’s good to [keep in mind] very important principles of the state of law. [There are] very elementary principles of having a separation of powers and accepting that the judiciary has to do its work,” Mr Vanackere told RNW. “That’s crucial for every democratic state.”

“Deplorable methods”
The Brussels prosecutor’s office said the raid followed a string of accusations “denouncing abuse of minors committed by a certain number of Church figures.” Belgium’s Catholic Church has been in turmoil ever since April when a string of revelations of child abuse by its priests which saw 73-year old Roger Vangheluwe, its longest-serving bishop, resign after admitting to sexually abusing a boy for years.

On Sunday, the Pope wrote a message of support to Andre-Joseph Leonard, Archbishop of Mechelen and the head of the Belgian bishops’ conference, blasting the use of “deplorable methods”.

Mr Vanackere said he understood the concerns:

“It is perfectly normal that on diplomatic level explanations are asked…. but if it emerges that disproportionate measures were used, then it’s a problem for the Belgian judiciary not for the Vatican.”

Kris Peeters, the Minister-President of Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region where the Mechelen diocese is situated, added:

“I can understand that it’s a very emotional case, but we must be calm and wait for the explanations from the judges and investigating judges. It’s very important that should be a total investigation of the possible crimes committed and to… respect all the [parties] involved.”

His comments came just hours after the mass resignation of the Catholic Church-backed commission set up to probe hundreds of reported cases of abuses. The commission’s chief, Peter Andriaenssens, stood down owing, he said, to a breach of confidentiality.

“We are pulling out. The debate must now take place between victims, political leaders, the judiciary, the church and public opinion,” said Mr Andriaenssens.

Belgian Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck said in a statement that urgent talks would be held to look into “the difficulties resulting from the treatment by the judicial system of facts brought to its knowledge by the Catholic Church commission.”

It now appears that the driving force behind the prosecutor’s investigation was a formal declaration from an unidentified witness who had warned the authorities that the church had held back documents from its own commission, which was first started in 2000. More than 475 complaints have been filed with the commission since April, when the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned after admitting he had molested a boy.

It would appear that the witness has now been identified.

According to The New York Times:

"In the Flemish press in Belgium, Godelieve Halsberghe — the former head of the commission and a retired magistrate who resigned amid complaints that church officials were uncooperative — suggested that she may have prompted the spectacular searches ...

Ms. Halsberghe went to the prosecutor’s office, according to her interview with a local newspaper, after receiving a telephone call from a man who spoke to her in French and asked about the storage of the records before issuing a warning to beware — not only to guard the records, but to protect herself."

Readers might want to consult a blog published by Paris Match called Michel Bouffioux en ligne

In April 2010, there was a TV programme in Belgium (French language) on the scandal. In it there is a transcript of the interview with Ms. Halsberghe

Godelieve Halsberghe presided over the Commission set up by the Church to deal with complaints of sexual abuse by clergy for a period of ten years until April 2009 when she and the other members of the Commission resigned en bloc.

In that period she dealt with about 33 cases.

Her experiences on the Commission appear to have left her with a sense of injury. She says that as a result of her experiences she no longer goes to Church.

She stated to the TV Company in an interview (French)

"Vous êtes un acteur clé dans l'enquête que nous réalisons. Il serait tout de même très éclairant d'entendre votre version des faits !

(La réponse vient après plusieurs minutes de discussion) : Il est exact que pour moi, cela a été une immense déception d'avoir été confrontée à une église plus soucieuse de préserver ses finances et de sauver le sort moral de ses serviteurs que de réparer les grandes souffrances infligées aux victimes de leurs violences sexuelles. C'est pourquoi les membres de la première commission ont démissionné en bloc. Il y a une autre Commission qui s'est formée depuis lors mais je ne sais rien des travaux qu'elle réalise. D'ailleurs, son président n'a jamais pris contact avec moi pour savoir où en sont les dossiers qui restaient en souffrance sous ma présidence...

Vous avez l'air aigrie par cette expérience...

J'ai vraiment été écartée. On me taxait d'aller trop au fond des choses, de ne rien laisser tomber. Je demandais des renseignements trop précis sur les faits et leurs auteurs. D'où venaient-il, que faisaient-il, qui ils étaient. Étaient-ils encore sources de dangers potentiels ? J'ai eu l'occasion de travailler sur 33 dossiers en environ 10 ans mais assez rapidement, la commission a eu de plus en plus de difficultés à remplir sa tâche. Ils ne veulent pas savoir...La commission a été créée par Monseigneur Luystermans, ancien évêque à Gand. Il était un peu plus ouvert que les autres. Il travaillait à l'armée dans sa jeunesse et il disait que c'est là qu'il a découvert la vie. Les autres, ils rentrent au séminaire à 20 ou 22 ans. Qu'est-ce qu'ils connaissent de la vie?

Les indemnisations financières, c'était donc là le gros point d'achoppement ?

Il y a des dossiers, au début, du temps de Mgr Luystermans, qui ont fait l'objet de magnifiques indemnisations. Je faisais le calcul en fonction de mon expérience au civil et au pénal. Et c'est cela qui a déplu à certains dans l'église, de par mon expérience au tribunal, je m'y connaissais un petit peu en matière d'indemnisation. Pour certains l'Église est au dessus de tout le monde ! Par leurs vœux de chasteté, de pauvreté, d'obéissance, des religieux avec lesquels j'ai du débattre estiment qu'ils sont au dessus des communs des mortels. Et dès lors, ils ne sentent pas en devoir d'assumer leurs fautes. C'est ce qui a été défendu devant Monseigneur Harpigny par le Chanoine Quintiens, notamment. J'ai écris à l'évêque de Tournai pour marquer ma consternation, pour qu'il fasse une mise au point, mais il ne m'a jamais répondu... Ils ne répondent jamais aux questions qui les ennuient. Tant que Mgr Luystermans soutenait la commission, tout allait bien. Mais Malines a repris les choses en mains. A l'occasion de l'une des premières réunions de la commission, quelqu'un a objecté à propos des indemnisations : «Si l'Église doit indemniser pour tous les prêtres qui se sont rendus coupable de tels faits, alors qu'on sait qu'un religieux peut avoir fait trente ou quarante victime sur une vie, l'institution fait faillite». Voilà ce qui a été la réflexion. C'est un prêtre qui a fait cette réflexion, j'ai trouvé cela odieux. C'est un calcul financier qui est en œuvre dans ces dossiers car l'Eglise n'a soi-disant pas d'argent.

Quand les choses ont-elles commencé à bloquer ?

Je dirais dès 2004, 2005. Il y a des supérieurs qui ont considéré que la commission se comportait comme un tribunal. Ce qui n'est pas vrai du tout. On ne sait pas les punir. Mais croyez moi, si j'avais pu le faire, je les aurais tous envoyé en prison !

Que retenez-vous de vos contacts avec les victimes ?

J'ai vu des personnes qui étaient littéralement cassées. J'ai eu des entretiens difficiles, hésitants, bouleversant. J'ai entendu des témoignages effrayant. Par exemple, celui d'un un homme de 45 ans qui n'arrive pas encore aujourd'hui à vivre correctement à la suite des abus qu'il a connu alors qu'il était enfant. Cela laisse de traces. J'ai aussi le souvenir d'une dame de 70 ans, abusée dans son adolescence, qui s'en souvient encore avec effroi. Nous avons toujours travaillé avec beaucoup de précautions. On faisait toujours les auditions à deux, avec le professeur Christians de Louvain-la-Neuve. Pour les flamands, cela se faisait toujours avec un professeur honoraire de Gand. C'était comme une instruction. On entendait la victime d'abord. Ensuite, l'abuseur, s'il concédait à venir, ce qui était assez rare. Et ensuite d'éventuels témoins. Dans la pratique, il y des difficultés, comme par exemple de voir de suspects en compagnie d'un supérieur, ce qui ne garantissait pas une libre expression.

N'aurait-il pas été préférable que les auteurs que vous avez entendus ou sur lesquels vous avez enquêté aient eu à répondre de leur actes devant la justice des hommes ?

Il ne faut pas oublier que dans la plus grande partie des dossiers que j'ai eu à traiter, la prescription était atteinte au regard de la loi belge. Quand ce n'était pas le cas, je conseillais aux victimes de s'adresser à cette justice des hommes. Mais sinon, nous étions justement, en tous les cas c'est comme cela que je l'entendais, un recours idéal pour tout de même créer un sentiment de justice chez ces victimes. Il n'y a pas, en effet, de prescription au regard du droit canon. La plupart des personnes que nous avons reçues avaient plus de 40 ou 45 ans.

A l'arrivée, vous ressortez avec quel sentiment de cette expérience?

Je suis profondément blessée. Je continue à croire mais je ne vais plus à l'Église. Je trouve que tout ce que j'ai pu entendre est scandaleux. Il y a des choses que je ne digère pas. Pour l'Église, tout se résume à une question financière. Ni plus, ni moins ! En ce qui me concerne, j'avais proposé à Mgr Luysterman de créer un fond, comme en Irlande, qui permettrait d'indemniser les victimes. On m'a répondu qu'en Belgique cela ne fonctionnerait pas parce qu'il y a des institutions qui sont plus riches que d'autres, des paroisses plus riches que d'autres. A mon sens, l'église devrait rester aux côtés des victimes. Il est de son devoir de les aider tant du point de vue moral que financier... Vous comprenez que l'Église pour moi c'est fini après avoir vu tout cela. Cela ne veut pas dire que je ne crois plus en un être supérieur, mais cela est un autre débat.

Vous avez le sentiment qu'on s'est servi de vous ?

Plutôt celui qu'on a essayé. Peut-être se sont-ils dit que, provenant d'une famille très catholique, je serais très obéissante. Mais j'ai toujours voulu garder mon intégrité, mon indépendance, des valeurs qui ont été au centre de ma carrière d'avocate et de magistrate. On voulait que nous soyons un simple tampon entre la victime et la société. Des gens qui allaient calmer les choses pour éviter des scandales qui auraient pu éclabousser l'institution. Qu'on devait se contenter d'une simple écoute des victimes, suivie d'aucune autre mesure. Ce n'était pas suffisant à mes yeux. Il doit aussi y avoir de réparation. Sinon, cela me semble trop facile, je dirais même que cela me semble alors tout à fait immoral. Ne pas indemniser, c'est une manière de se soustraire à toute justice, à toute réparation dans le cadre des dossiers prescrits. "

The Commission initially headed by Ms. Halsberghe was the result of a tacit compromise between the Belgian clerical and judicial establishment over how best to cope with paedophile priests: through a body modelled on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as the church wanted, or through the courts

Now that the new Commission has resigned as a result of the police raid, some other body will have to be set up to deal with the matter of the victims.

If the complaint which led to the police raid was by Ms. Halsberghe, then perhaps the reason for the severity and over-reaction of the police measures(the search of two archbishops' tombs and the sequestering of top clerics, who were at a meeting in one of the buildings, inclluding the Pope`s Apostolic representative, for nine hours) is becoming comprehensible but still not excuseable.

No doubt further facts have still to emerge before the whole sad story comes out.

Two British Archbishops receive the Pallium

Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark

Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham

Today two British Archbishops were amongst the thirty eight Metropolitan Archbishops who today received the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI.

They were our own Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark as well as Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham

The significance of the ceremony is not be underestimated.

Here is what The Catholic Encyclopedia said about it in 1913:

"Form and Use of the Modern Pallium

The modern pallium is a circular band about two inches wide, worn about the neck, breast, and shoulders, and having two pendants, one hanging down in front and one behind. The pendants are about two inches wide and twelve inches long, and are weighted with small pieces of lead covered with black silk. The remainder of the pallium is made of white wool, part of which is supplied by two lambs presented annually as a tax by the Lateran Canons Regular to the Chapter of St. John on the feast of St. Agnes, solemnly blessed on the high altar of that church after the pontifical Mass, and then offered to the pope.

The ornamentation of the pallium consists of six small black crosses -- one each on the breast and back, one on each shoulder, and one on each pendant. The crosses on the breast, back, and left shoulder are provided with a loop for the reception of a gold pin set with a precious stone. The pallium is worn over the chasuble.

The use of the pallium is reserved to the pope and archbishops, but the latter may not use it until, on petition they have received the permission of the Holy See. Bishops sometimes receive the pallium as a mark of special favour, but it does not increase their powers or jurisdiction nor give them precedence.

The pope may use the pallium at any time. Others, even archbishops, may use it only in their respective dioceses, and there only on the days and occasions designated in the "Pontificale" (Christmas, the Circumcision, and other specified great feasts; during the conferring of Holy orders, the consecration of abbots, etc.), unless its use is extended by a special privilege.

Worn by the pope, the pallium symbolizes the plenitudo pontificalis officii (i.e. the plenitude of pontifical office); worn by archbishops, it typifies their participation in the supreme pastoral power of the pope, who concedes it to them for their proper church provinces. An archbishop, therefore, who has not received the pallium may not exercise any of his functions as metropolitan, nor any metropolitan prerogatives whatever; he is even forbidden to perform any episcopal act until invested with the pallium.

Similarly, after his resignation, he may not use the pallium; should he be transferred to another archdiocese. He must again petition the Holy Father for the pallium. In the case of bishops, its use is purely ornamental. The new palliums are solemnly blessed after the Second Vespers on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and are then kept in a special silver-gilt casket near the Confessio Petri until required."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Eight Years Ago

Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco) (1541 - 1614)
Saints Peter and Paul
Oil on canvas, 124 x 93,5 cm
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

The Golden Jubilee of Pope Benedict XVI`s ordination to the priesthood on 20th June 2002 happened to coincide with the solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul

Pope John Paul II composed and published the following letter to the then Cardinal Ratzinger

"With deep joy, Your Eminence, I offer you my warm congratulations and most fervent good wishes on the happy event of the 50th anniversary of your ordination to the priesthood. The coincidence of your Jubilee day with the liturgical solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul reminds me of their vision of broad spiritual and ecclesial horizons: personal holiness extended to the supreme sacrifice, missionary outreach combined with constant concern for unity, the necessary integration of spiritual charism and institutional ministry.

These are horizons, Venerable Brother, which you have attentively explored in your theological research: in Peter, the principle of unity is outstanding, founded on faith as firm as the rock of the Princes of the Apostles; in Paul, the need, intrinsic in the Gospel, to call every man and every people to the obedience of faith.

Moreover these two dimensions are combined in the common witness of holiness which sealed the generous dedication of the two Apostles to the service of the immaculate Bride of Christ. How can we not also see in these two elements the fundamental features of the path that Providence prepared for you, Your Eminence, in calling you to the priesthood?

Your brilliant philosophical and, in particular, theological studies and your precocious call to teaching roles in the most important German universities should be seen in this perspective of faith. You expressed the intention that has always guided you in your commitment to study and teaching in the motto you chose on the occasion of your episcopal appointment: Cooperatores veritatis.

The aim for which you have always striven since your very first years as a priest has been to serve the truth, seeking to know it ever more thoroughly and make it ever more widely known.

It was precisely the consideration of this pastoral aspiration which has constantly marked your academic activity that induced Pope Paul VI of venerable memory to raise you to the episcopal dignity and entrust you with responsibility for the great Archdiocese of München und Freising. It was a crucial transition in your life, which was to give a direction to later developments. Indeed when, shortly afterwards, the unforgettable Pontiff mentioned above created you a Cardinal, you found yourself directly bound to collaborating with the Apostolic See.

Twenty years ago I asked you to collaborate full time as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Since then you have not ceased to expend your intellectual and moral energies in promoting and protecting the doctrine of the faith and its morals throughout the Catholic world (cf. Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, n. 48), while encouraging studies aimed at increasing knowledge of the faith so that the new problems arising from the progress of science and civilization could be conventiently answered in the light of the Word of God (cf. ibid., n. 49).

In this office, Your Eminence, the Apostles Peter and Paul have inspired your priestly life and your ecclesial service further and in the loftiest way.

This happy event is a favourable opportunity for me to reiterate my deep gratitude to you for the impressive volume of work you have carried out and directed in the dicastery entrusted to you, and even more, for the spirit of humility and self-denial that has constantly marked your activity. May the Lord lavish his rewards upon you!

On this occasion which is so significant for you, I would like to tell you that the spiritual communion you have always shown with regard to the Sucessor of Peter has been a great comfort to me in the daily effort of my service to Christ and to the Church.

I therefore pray the Lord, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the choicest heavenly favours for you, for your ministry and for all your loved ones, as I impart a special heartfelt Apostolic Blessing to you with a fraternal sentiment of affection."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pope declares sympathy and solidarity with Belgian Episcopate

Today the Pope has sent a message of solidarity to Monsignor Leonard, the Archbishop of Malines-Bruxelles as President of the Conference of Belgian Bishops.

In it he expresses his closeness and solidarity with him and the other Belgian bishops in this "moment of sadness".

In it he describes the actions of the Belgian police in the Cathedral and in the environs as deplorable

He says that while the law to track down perpetrators of abuse must be allowed to progress and cannot be hindered and should be paramount, the law must at the same time respect the rights of victims and at the same time respect the rights of institutions and other persons who may be touched in the investigative process.

The message is in the original French and Italian on the Vatican website.

The French version is as follows:

"Au cher Frère,

Mgr André Joseph Léonard,

Archevêque de Malines-Bruxelles,

Président de la Conférence Episcopale de Belgique

Je désire vous exprimer, cher Frère dans l’Episcopat, ainsi qu’à tous les Evêques de Belgique, ma proximité et ma solidarité en ce moment de tristesse, dans lequel, avec certaines modalités surprenantes et déplorables, des perquisitions ont été menées y compris dans la cathédrale de Malines et dans les locaux où l’Episcopat belge était réuni en Session plénière.

Durant cette réunion, auraient dû être traités, entre autres, des aspects liés à l’abus sur des mineurs de la part de membres du clergé. J’ai répété moi-même de nombreuses fois que ces faits graves devaient être traités par l’ordre civil et par l’ordre canonique dans le respect réciproque de la spécificité et de l’autonomie de chacun.

Dans ce sens, je souhaite que la justice suive son cours en garantissant le droit des personnes et des institutions, dans le respect des victimes, dans la reconnaissance sans préjugés de ceux qui s’engagent à collaborer avec elle et dans le refus de tout ce qui pourrait obscurcir les nobles devoirs qui lui sont assignés.

Vous assurant que j’accompagne quotidiennement dans la prière le cheminement de l’Eglise en Belgique, je vous envoie volontiers une affectueuse Bénédiction apostolique.

Cité du Vatican, le 27 juin 2010


This intervention by the Pope is most welcome.

There seems to be an element of witchhunt against the Belgian bishops.

Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence and to the rights of due process?

The searches and activities of the Belgian police do bear an uncanny resemblance to the The South Ronaldsay child abuse scandal of February 27, 1991

It also has to be said that some of the comments on some of the Catholic blogs on this matter have been most unfortunate and unsavoury.

Lautsi ("The Crucifix Case")

Antoine-Augustin Préault (1809- 1879)
Wood, height 160 cm
Saint-Gervais and Saint-Protais Church, Paris

The Council of Europe has 47 member states with some 800 million citizens. It is distinct from the European Union (EU)

Council of Europe member states are committed not only to effectively execute the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights ("ECHR") but also its interim measures in connection to specific cases.

For the first time in the history of the ECHR, ten member States are simultaneously intervening as ‘third party’ in one single case.

The case at stake is the Lautsi case - also known as the “crucifix case” - which will go before the Grand Chamber of the ECHR on June 30th.

In addition to the ten member states, several other States took positions against the November 3rd, 2009 decision, even publicly such as Austria and Poland which both made political statements on November 19th and December 3rd 2009 respectively

In Lautsi, the Court ruled that the presence of the crucifix in classrooms is “contrary to parents’ right to educate their children in line with their convictions and to childrens’ right to freedom of religion” because the Italian pupils would feel “educated in a school environment bearing the stamp of a given religion.”

By intervening, the States are explaining that the Court has superseded itself in the creation of rights. Those States explained that it can not be found in the Convention that there are any duties to secularise education in Europe. In fact, the Convention says nothing on the nature of the relationship between the State and the church.

"Laïcité” or secularization is not part of the Convention.

A large proportion of the member States were confessional when they drafted and signed the Convention and still are.

According to the “traditional” case law of the Court, each State is free to organize its relationships with the religions of its county and even to grant privileges to the religion of the majority of its population. No obligation to secularize public schools, even implicit, can found in the Convention.

If the decision in Lautsi is upheld by the Full Court, education in Europe will have to change radically and become secularised. Further there will be major changes in the relationship betwen Church and State in most nation members1 constitutions.

BTW the "interveners" are Armenia; Bulgaria; Cyprus; Greece; Lithuania; Malta; Monaco; San-Marino; Romania; and The Russian Federation.

Italy is of course appealing the lower Court decision.

Austria and Poland have indicated their opposition publicly.

However the major states such as Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, have remained strangely quiet.

It is difficult to understand why other Catholic countries such as the Republic of Ireland, Portugal, Luxembourg, Hungary are keeping quiet.

Leonardo and St Jerome

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
St. Jerome
c. 1480
Tempera and oil on panel
40 1/8 x 29 1/4 in. (103 x 75 cm)
Musei Vaticani, Rome

This unfinished painting depicts Saint Jerome during his retreat to the Syrian desert, where he lived the life of a hermit

St. Jerome is shown chastising himself for his sins. The expressive anatomical detail of the head and body of the elderly saint is unprecedented.

The image is one of a spiritual athlete. In Jerome`s hand is a rock: to beat himself with. He is a warrior. The aim is to defeat himself and achieve victory over himself.

Jerome was a great scholar throughout his life. Many paintings of Jerome show Jerome safely ensconced in a comfortable study surrounded by books like a Renaissance gentleman.

This is different. Here knowledge gained through books and study was being put into practice, being incarnated into living experience.

The setting is the desert, far from the City (but the City is in the distance). One is reminded of the time of others in the desert: Moses, St John the Baptist, and Jesus himself.

The late Father Edmund Felix Sutcliffe S J, once the Old Testament Professor at Heythrop College explained:

"Jerome had a natural ardour for study and learning, but he subordinated this to a higher supernatural zeal and devotion to the written Word of God.

In his prefaces he manifests his reliance on the power of prayer to help him to write on the Scriptures in the same spirit as that in which they were written.

That was his impelling motive; to make them better known and better understood. ...

The lifelong labours of Jerome all bear witness to his ardent devotion to Holy Scripture. For him 'knowledge of the Scriptures' means 'the riches of Christ' and 'ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ'.

Hence his exhortations to his correspondents: 'I beg you, dear brother, live with them, meditate on them, make them the sole object of your knowledge and inquiries.'

And to a priest:' Frequently read the divine Scriptures; rather, never let the sacred text out of your hands. Learn what you have to teach... The speech of a priest should be seasoned with the words of Scripture.'

'Make knowledge of the Scriptures your love and you will not love the vices of the flesh' {ep. 125. 11).

And in the explanation of the Scriptures, he reminds his readers, we always stand in need of the Spirit of God"
From Father Edmund Felix Sutcliffe S J, Jerome, in Chapter 4 The Cambridge History of The Bible Volume II (1969)

Jerome was a scholar and an ascetic saint and not a martyr. Although aging he was toiling to become a better person. There was no state of stasis for Jerome in this world. The painting is a reminder that strife and reformation is never over.

The original client for whom the painting was intended is unknown. It was discovered in the nineteenth century. Apparently Cardinal Fesch (uncle of Napoleon) found parts of the work in a number of pieces being used in various shops in Rome. The panel was re-assembled. That is the story anyway. The panel was sold by the descendants of Cardinal Fesch to Pope Pius IX, who installed  it in the Pinacoteca Vaticana

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Paradise: Canto XXXIII

One of the most significant cantos in Dante`s Divine Comedy is Canto XXXIII.

In this the last Canto, Dante`s final guide, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, prays to the Virgin Mary that Dante may have grace given him to contemplate the brightness of the Divine Majesty. This is granted.

Dante feels his soul swell with new power and grow calm in rapture as his eyes are permitted the direct vision of God.

Dante then himself prays to God for ability to show forth some part of the celestial glory in his writings.

Lastly, he is admitted to a glimpse of the great mystery; the Trinity, and the Union of Man with God. There is no measure of how long the vision endures. It passes, and Dante is once more mortal and fallible. Raised by God's presence, he had looked into the Mystery and had begun to understand its power and majesty.

Returned to himself, there is no power in him capable of speaking the truth of what he saw. Yet the impress of the truth is stamped upon his soul, which he now knows will return to be one with God's Love.

"Virgin mother, daughter of your Son,
Humbler and higher than all other creatures,
Fixed aim and goal of the eternal plan,

"You are the one who lifted human nature
5 To such nobility that its own Maker
Did not disdain to be made of its making.

"Within your womb was lit once more the flame
Of that love through whose warmth this flower opened
To its full bloom in everlasting peace.

10 "To us up here you are the torch of noon
Blazing with love, and for the mortals down there
You are the living fountainhead of hope.

"Lady, you are so highly placed and helpful,
Whoever seeks grace and does not call on you
15 Wants his desires to fly up without wings.

"Your loving heart not only offers aid
To those who ask for it, but oftentimes
Free-handedly anticipates the asking.

"In you is mercy, in you largeheartedness,
20 In you compassion, and in you is found
Whatever good exists in any creature.

"Now this man who from down the deepest pit
Of the whole universe up to this point
Has seen the lives of spirits, one by one,

25 "Begs by your grace that you will give him strength
To enable him to rise on with his eyes
Still higher to the summit of salvation.

"And I, who never burned for my own vision
More than I burn for his, pour out to you
30 All of my prayers, and pray they be sufficient

"For you to scatter from him by your prayers
Every last cloud of his mortality
That he may see revealed the highest Pleasure.

"I pray you also, Queen, for you can do
35 Whatever you will, that after he has seen
This vision, you keep his affections wholesome.

"Watch and restrain his human impulses:
See Beatrice with so many blessed spirits
Clasping their hands to join me in this prayer."

40 The eyes God loves and reverences the most,
Fastened upon this praying saint, displayed
How deeply she is pleased by devout prayer.

Then her eyes turned to the eternal Light
Into whose depth we may believe the eyes
45 Of no other creature penetrates more clearly.

And I, now drawing closer to the end
Of every longing, lifted to that end,
Just as I should, the flame of all my longing.

Bernard gave me a signal and a smile
50 To look straight up, but by myself already
I was intent as he would have me be,

Because my sight, becoming crystal clear,
Was piercing deeper and deeper through the rays
Of that deep Light which in itself is true.

55 From that point on, my power to see was stronger
Than speech that fails before such sights can show,
As memory falls short of the beyond.

As someone who while dreaming sees a vision
And, after he has dreamed, the feeling stays
60 Impressed, but all the rest slips from his mind,

I am like that, for almost all my seeing
Now falls away, but sweetness sprung from it
Still drips down, drop by drop, into my heart.

So is the snow unsealed beneath the sunlight;
65 So were the sayings of the Sibyl upon
The light leaves left to drift off in the wind.

O highest Light, lifted up so far
Above all mortal thinking, lend my mind,
Once more, a little of what you were like,

70 And grant my tongue such powerful expression
That it may leave behind a single spark
Of glory for a people still to come.

For by returning some spark to my mind
75 And sounding out a little in these lines,
Your triumph shall be thought of more profoundly.

I think I would have been lost in a daze
With the dazzling I endured from that live beam
If my eyes once had turned away from it.

I remember I grew bolder for this reason
80 In bearing up with it, until I merged
My gazing with the infinite Goodness.

O grace abounding, by which I have dared
To fix my eyes through the eternal Light
So deeply that my sight was spent in it!

85 Within its depths I saw gathered together,
Bound by love into a single volume,
Leaves that lie scattered through the universe.

Substance and accidents and their relations
I saw as though they fused in such a way
90 That what I say is but a gleam of light.

The universal pattern of this knot
I believe I saw, because in telling this,
I feel my gladness growing ever larger.

One moment made more slip my memory than
95 Twenty-five centuries reft from the adventure
That awed Neptune with the shadow of the Argo.

So my mind, held in absolute suspense,
Was staring fixed, intent, and motionless,
And by its staring grew the more inflamed.

100 Within that Light a person is so changed
It is impossible to give consent
Ever to turn from it to other sights

Because the Good, the object of the will,
Is gathered all in it, and out of it
105 The thing that there is perfect has some flaw.

Now shall my telling of what I remember
Fall far below the babbling of a baby
Still bathing its tongue at the mother’s breast.

Not that there is more than a single semblance
110 Within that living Light on which I looked
And which is always what it was before,

But by the sight that gathered strength in me
As I gazed on, what was One in appearance
Was altering for me as I was changing.

115 In the profound and shining-clear Existence
Of the deep Light appeared to me three circles
Of one dimension and three different colors.

One seemed to be reflected by the other,
Rainbow by rainbow, while the third seemed fire
120 Breathed equally from one and from the other.

O how pale now is language and how paltry
For my conception! And for what I saw
My words are not enough to call them meager.

O everlasting Light, you dwell alone
125 In yourself, know yourself alone, and known
And knowing, love and smile upon yourself!

That middle circle which appeared in you
To be conceived as a reflected light,
After my eyes had studied it a while,

130 Within itself and in its coloring
Seemed to be painted with our human likeness
So that my eyes were wholly focused on it.

As the geometer who sets himself
To square the circle and who cannot find,
135 For all his thought, the principle he needs,

Just so was I on seeing this new vision
I wanted to see how our image fuses
Into the circle and finds its place in it,

Yet my wings were not meant for such a flight —
140 Except that then my mind was struck by lightning
Through which my longing was at last fulfilled.

Here powers failed my high imagination:
But by now my desire and will were turned,
Like a balanced wheel rotated evenly,

145 By the Love that moves the sun and the other star

The Prayer to the Virgin

Saint Bernard’s Prayer to the Virgin praises her as the aim and purpose of creation since through her the Son of God was a human being; through her, in turn, human beings return to the Son.

The Prayer to the Virgin at the beginning of the Canto, which Dante derived from St. Bernard, seems to have been Chaucer's favorite passage in the Divine Comedy. He quotes it in The Prioress' Tale in the Canterbury Tales. He adapts it for the "Invocation to the Virgin" that is part of the introduction to The Second Nun's Tale.

More recently, Popes have quoted with approval this part of Dante`s Canto, especially Pope John Paul II and more recently Pope Benedict XVI.

A few quotations will suffice to illustrate this.

Benedict XVI

Message for Lent 2006 (29 September, 2005)

Angelus 8 December 2006

Angelus 8 December 2005

John Paul II

Apostolic Letter: Rosarium Virginis Mariae
paragraph 16: Praying to Christ with Mary

Encyclical of John Paul II on the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Life of the Pilgrim Church promulgated on 25 March 1987 (Redemptoris Mater)

Sunday, 31 August 1997
Address at a Reading of Dante`s Divine Comedy
Sunday, 31 August 1997

Homily at Conclusion of 20th International Marian Congress
24th September 2000

Speech at Pastoral Visit to Velletri and Frascati
7th September 1980

Homily at the end of the Month of Mary
31st May 1979

Angelus Talk at Pastoral Visit to Diocese of Siena
14th September 1980

Angelus Talk
8th December 2001

The Three Beatific Visions

Three moments of vision make up the movement of the final canto, climaxing in the last face to face meeting with the Incarnate Son. In the first moment, Dante views the world as composed of numerous pages bound together in a single volume within the eternal light:

Within its depths I saw gathered together,
Bound by love into a single volume,
Leaves that lie scattered through the universe.
(Paradise XXXIII, 85-87)

The image is all important because, the poet states, he believes he saw in it "the universal pattern of this knot" that makes the whole cohere in one. The famous metaphor, in fact, contains a meaning too often missed. The volume here is a sacred text: in the book of nature we are to read the Word of God, the Lord revealed in the book of the Gospels.

The second moment of vision comes in the form of the three circles of Light; they are of "one dimension and three different colors":

One seemed to be reflected by the other,
Rainbow by rainbow, while the third seemed fire
Breathed equally from one and from the other.
(Paradise XXXIII, 118-120)

The poet confesses that his words fail to match his conception of the Trinity. All he can manage is to exclaim in the form of a prayer:

O everlasting Light, you dwell alone
In yourself, know yourself alone, and known
And knowing, love and smile upon yourself!
(Paradise XXXIII, 124-126)

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit gaze, meditate, and smile upon its Self — the Three in One — circle within circle within circle as the Knower, Known, and Knowing and the Lover, Loved, and Loving.

The essential oneness and circularity of God, always coming back on itself (while subtly emphasizing the intimate connection between God and the Virgin) is expressed through the sound of the original words in Italian:

O luce etterna che sole in te sidi
sola t'intendi, e da te intelletta
e intendente te ami e arridi!

(Paradiso 33, 124-26)

The moment of the third vision arrives, the epitome and apex of the poem:

That middle circle which appeared in you
To be conceived as a reflected light,
After my eyes had studied it a while,

Within itself and in its coloring
Seemed to be painted with our human likeness
So that my eyes were wholly focused on it.
(Paradise XXXIII. 127-132)

Fascinated and drawn to this likeness of our features (nostra effige), Dante longs to know how in "this new vision" our image fuses into "the circle and finds its place in it." His own capacities fail, but then he is "struck by lightning" and grasps the God-man in the center as embodying divine Light that shines from within the features through the eyes. Gaze meets gaze, and the seer becomes one with the "Love that moves the sun and the other stars."

Again both Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II have used and referred to these poetic visions, most notably by Benedict XVI in relation to his first encyclical.

Benedict XVI

Address to the participants at meeting of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum"
Sala Clementina: Monday, 23 January 2006

"The cosmic excursion in which Dante, in his "Divine Comedy", wishes to involve the reader, ends in front of the perennial Light that is God himself, before that Light which is at the same time "the love that moves the sun and the other stars" (Par. XXXIII, v. 145). Light and love are one and the same. They are the primordial creative powers that move the universe.

If these words in Dante's Paradiso betray the thought of Aristotle, who saw in the eros the power that moves the world, Dante nevertheless perceives something completely new and inconceivable for the Greek philosopher. Not only that the eternal Light is shown in three circles which Dante addresses using those terse verses familiar to us: "O everlasting Light, you dwell alone/In yourself, know yourself alone, and known/And knowing, love and smile upon yourself!" (Par. XXXIII, vv. 124-126).

As a matter of fact, even more overwhelming than this revelation of God as a trinitarian circle of knowledge and love, is the perception of a human face - the face of Jesus Christ - which, to Dante, appears in the central circle of the Light. God, infinite Light, whose immeasurable mystery the Greek philosopher perceived, this God has a human face and - we may add - a human heart.

This vision of Dante reveals, on the one hand, the continuity between Christian faith in God and the search developed by reason and by the world of religions; on the other, however, a novelty appears that surpasses all human research, the novelty that only God himself can reveal to us: the novelty of a love that moved God to take on a human face, even to take on flesh and blood, the entire human being.

The eros of God is not only a primordial cosmic power; it is love that created man and that bows down over him, as the Good Samaritan bent down to the wounded and robbed man, lying on the side of the road that went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Today, the word "love" is so spoiled, worn out and abused that one almost fears to pronounce it. And yet, it is a fundamental word, an expression of the primordial reality. We cannot simply abandon it, but we must take it up again, purify it and bring it to its original splendour so that it can illumine our life and guide it on the right path.

This is the understanding that led me to choose "love" as the theme of my first Encyclical. I wanted to try to express for our time and our existence some of what Dante boldly summed up in his vision. He tells of a "sight" that "was altering" as he "gazed on" it and was being interiorly changed (cf. Par. XXXIII, vv. 112-114).

It is precisely this: faith becomes a vision-understanding that transforms us. It was my aim to shed light on the centrality of faith in God; in that God who took on a human face and heart.

Faith is not a theory that can be personalized or even set aside. It is something very concrete: it is the criteria that determines our lifestyle. In an epoch where hostility and greed have become superpowers, an epoch where we support the abuse of religion to the point of deifying hatred, neutral rationality alone cannot protect us. We need the living God, who loved us even to death. And so, in this Encyclical, the themes "God", "Christ" and "Love" are fused together as the central guide of Christian faith. I wanted to reveal the humanity of faith, of which eros is a part; the "yes" of man to his bodiliness created by God, a "yes" that in an indissoluble matrimony between man and woman finds its form rooted in creation. "


John Paul II

Homily in Warsaw at closing of National Eucharistic Congress
14th June 1987

Talk to a Group of Employees of ENEL
29th November 1980

Talk at the Opening of an Exhibition of Dante in the Vatican
30th May 1985

Talk to the Council of the Dante Alighieri Society
13th June 1996

More recently the influence of Dante`s Paradise is seen in and Address of Cardinal James Stafford at the Annual Conference of the "Society of Catholic Liturgy" at Northampton, Pennsylvania on 21st September 2006