Sunday, October 31, 2010

Purgatory: Where Dante Meets Beatrice

Andrea Pierini 1798 - 1858
The Meeting of Dante and Beatrice in Purgatory 1853
Oil on canvas
141 x 179 cm
Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Palazzo Pitti, Florence

In Canto 27 of Purgatory, Dante approaches the Garden of Eden with Virgil, his guide who has led him through Inferno and until now part of Purgatory.

The Garden of Eden lies at the summit of Mount Purgatory. It is the Earthly Paradise Allegorically, it represents the state of innocence that existed before Adam and Eve fell from grace – the state which Dante's journey up Mount Purgatory has been recapturing

But it is only the name and thought of Beatrice which inspires Dante to go through the flames of Purgatory

In Canto 30 of the Purgatory. Beatrice finally appeaars to Dante.

She is in a magnificant procession. It is the "climax" of his Divina commedia: Dante-pilgrim's long-awaited reunion with Beatrice.

She starts by rebuking and criticising Dante for what happened after her death.

She says to him,

“When I had risen from flesh to spirit and beauty and virtue had increased in me I was less dear to him and less welcome and he bent his steps in a way not true, following after false images of good… (Purgatorio 399).”

Beatrice takes on the role of guide and teacher for Dante in the last cantos of Purgatorio and then into Paradise.

"1 When the seven-starred Wain of highest Heaven--
2 which never sets and never rises
3 and never wore a veil of fog except for sin--
4 had made all in the procession mindful of their duty
5 (as lower down those seven stars direct
6 the helmsman making for his port)--
7 came to a stop, the chosen people
8 that first appeared between it and the griffin
9 turned toward the chariot as to their peace.
10 One of them, who seemed dispatched from Heaven,
11 sang out aloud three times: 'Veni, sponsa,
12 de Libano,' and all the others echoed him.
13 As quickly as from their graves at the last trumpet
14 the blessèd shall arise, their voices
15 rejoined to flesh in joyous Hallelujahs,
16 there, on the sacred chariot, rose up
17 ad vocem tanti senis, one hundred
18 ministers and messengers of life eternal.
19 All were chanting: 'Benedictus qui venis' and,
20 tossing flowers up into the air and all around them,
21 'Manibus, oh, date lilïa plenis!'
22 At break of day, I have seen the sky,
23 its eastern parts all rosy
24 and the rest serene and clear
25 even as the sun's face rose obscured
26 so that through tempering mist
27 the eye could bear it longer,
28 thus, within that cloud of blossoms
29 rising from angelic hands and fluttering
30 back down into the chariot and around it,
31 olive-crowned above a veil of white
32 appeared to me a lady, beneath a green mantle,
33 dressed in the color of living flame.
34 And in my spirit, which for so long a time
35 had not been overcome with awe
36 that used to make me tremble in her presence--
37 even though I could not see her with my eyes--
38 through the hidden force that came from her I felt
39 the overwhelming power of that ancient love.
40 As soon as that majestic force,
41 which had already pierced me once
42 before I had outgrown my childhood, struck my eyes,
43 I turned to my left with the confidence
44 a child has running to his mamma
45 when he is afraid or in distress
46 to say to Virgil: 'Not a single drop of blood
47 remains in me that does not tremble--
48 I know the signs of the ancient flame.'
49 But Virgil had departed, leaving us bereft:
50 Virgil, sweetest of fathers,
51 Virgil, to whom I gave myself for my salvation.
52 And not all our ancient mother lost
53 could save my cheeks, washed in the dew,
54 from being stained again with tears.
55 'Dante, because Virgil has departed,
56 do not weep, do not weep yet--
57 there is another sword to make you weep.'
58 Just like an admiral who moves from stern to prow
59 to see the men that serve the other ships
60 and urge them on to better work,
61 so on the left side of the chariot--
62 as I turned when I heard her call my name,
63 which of necessity is here recorded--
64 I saw the lady, who had just appeared
65 veiled beneath the angels' celebration,
66 fix her eyes on me from across the stream.
67 Although the veil, encircled with Minerva's leaves
68 and descending from her head,
69 did not allow me unrestricted sight,
70 regally, with scorn still in her bearing,
71 she continued like one who, even as he speaks,
72 holds back his hottest words:
73 'Look over here! I am, I truly am Beatrice.
74 How did you dare approach the mountain?
75 Do you not know that here man lives in joy?'
76 I lowered my eyes to the clear water.
77 But when I saw myself reflected, I drew them back
78 toward the grass, such shame weighed on my brow.
79 As a mother may seem overbearing to her child,
80 so she seemed to me, for the taste
81 of such stern pity is a bitter taste.
82 Then she fell silent and at once
83 the angels sang: 'In te, Domine, speravi,'
84 but did not sing past 'pedes meos.'
85 Even as the snow among those living beams
86 that grow along the spine of Italy is frozen
87 when blown and packed by the Slavonian winds
88 but then, dissolving, melts into itself
89 if the land that casts no shadow merely breathes,
90 acting like a flame that makes a candle melt,
91 just so was I with neither tears nor sighs
92 before they sang who always are in tune
93 with notes set down in the eternal spheres,
94 but, when their lovely harmonies revealed
95 their sympathy for me, more than if they'd said:
96 'Lady, why do you torment him so?'
97 the ice that had confined my heart
98 was turned to breath and water and in anguish
99 flowed from my breast through eyes and mouth.
100 As yet she stood, motionless,
101 on the same side of the chariot,
102 then turned her words to the pitying angels:
103 'You keep your watch in the eternal day
104 so neither night nor sleep deprives you
105 of a single step that time takes in its course.
106 'Therefore my response is made with greater care
107 that he who is weeping over there should listen,
108 so that his sin and sorrow be of equal measure.
109 'Not only by the working of the wheels above
110 that urge each seed to a certain end
111 according to the stars that cluster with them,
112 'but by grace, abundant and divine,
113 which rains from clouds so high above
114 our sight cannot come near them,
115 'this man in his new life potentially was such
116 that each good disposition in him
117 would have come to marvelous conclusion,
118 'but the richer and more vigorous the soil,
119 when planted ill and left to go to seed,
120 the wilder and more noxious it becomes.
121 'For a time I let my countenance sustain him.
122 Guiding him with my youthful eyes,
123 I drew him with me in the right direction.
124 'Once I had reached the threshold of my second age,
125 when I changed lives, he took himself from me
126 and gave himself to others.
127 'When I had risen to spirit from my flesh,
128 as beauty and virtue in me became more rich,
129 to him I was less dear and less than pleasing.
130 'He set his steps upon an untrue way,
131 pursuing those false images of good
132 that bring no promise to fulfillment--
133 'useless the inspiration I sought and won for him,
134 as both with dreams and other means
135 I called him back, so little did he heed them.
136 'He sank so low that every instrument
137 for his salvation now fell short
138 except to make him see souls in perdition.
139 'And so I visited the threshold of the dead
140 and, weeping, offered up my prayers
141 to the one who has conducted him this far.
142 'Broken would be the high decree of God
143 should Lethe be crossed and its sustenance
144 be tasted without payment of some fee:
145 his penitence that shows itself in tears.'


Johannes von Valkenburg: All Saints Day

Johannes von Valkenburg flourished c 1299
All Saints Day: The Crowning of Mary
From Gradual 1299
Illuminated manuscript on parchment
Written for the Convent of the Minorites, Cologne
Codex 1001b
Dombibliothek, Köln

Johannes von Valkenburg introduces himself as the inscriber and illuminator of this Gradual composed for the Franciscan convent at Cologne, Germany in 1299:

"Ego frater Johannes de Valkenburg scripsi et notavi et illuminavi istud graduale et complevi anno Domini millesimo ducentesimo LXXXX nono."

He was a Fransciscan friar who came from Valkenburg (now Limburg in the Netherlands), He was a friar at the Franciscan convent of St Clare in Cologne.

On the title page of the Gradual is his Portrait and dedication:

His style was influenced by contemporary Mosan manuscripts and stained glass painting in Cologne.

Above is his Introit for All Saints Day: "Gaudeamus Omnes in Domino"

Still on the theme of the Feast of All Saints is a cutting (below) from another manuscript by the circle of Johannes von Valkenburg showing in the initial "G" Christ enthroned handing crowns to male and female saints. The "G" is from "Gaudeamus omnes in Domino", the Introit for All Saints.

The circle of Johannes von Valkenburg
The Initial "G" from the Introit of All SaintsShowing Christ enthroned handing crowns to male and female saints
c. 1299
Illuminated manuscript cutting
110 x 115 mm
Private collection

The chant "Gaudeamus" was used also for the the Introit of the Feast of St Francis and other Franciscan saints and other important Feasts of the Church.

Franciscan chant was and is a musical product of its time, and its time was late medieval. It is no less beautiful than Gregorian chant, but its beauties come forth in a different light.

The Introit "Gaudeamus" reads:

Gaudeamus omnes in Domino, diem festum celebrantes sub honore Sanctorum omnium: de quorum solemnitate gaudent Angeli, et collaudant Filium Dei. -- Exsultate justi in Domino: rectos decet collaudatio. V.: Gloria Patri . . . -- Gaudeamus omnes

Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a festival day in honor of all the Saints: at whose solemnity the Angels rejoice, and give praise to the Son of God. -- (Ps. 32.1). Rejoice in the Lord, ye just: praise becometh the upright. V.: Glory be to the Father . . . -- Let us all rejoice. . .

Saturday, October 30, 2010

All Saints

J.B. de Bray
All Saints: Scenes from the Prayers for All Saints Day (Toussaint)From Graduale Romanum 18th century
Executed by P. Louis Blouin
Manuscript on Parchment
81 cm x 59 cm
Musée Condé, Chantilly

All Saints Day celebrates those who have seen or are in the presence of the Beatific Vision.

There have been attempts to describe this Vision. The most famous is probably that in Dante`s Paradiso. See extract below from Dante, Paradiso: Canto XXXIII, lines 124 - 145

Dante`s Beatific Vision has inspired many.

It helped to inspire in part the Pope`s first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

In a speech on Monday, 23 January 2006 to the participants of a meeting organised by the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum", the Pope said:

"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."

St Bridget (Birgitta) of Sweden

The British Museum in London has a number of interesting woodcut prints from the late 15th and early 16th centuries relating to St Bridget of Sweden (1303 -1373). Here are some with the commentaries from The British Museum just below the images of the prints.

St Bridget giving her rule to her order 1480-1500
Hand coloured woodcut print on paper
Left side leaf Height: 265 millimetres Width: 97 millimetres
Centre piece Height: 265 millimetres Width: 190 millimetres
Right side leaf Height: 265 millimetres Width: 95 millimetres
The British Museum, London

Inscription Content:

Inscribed in pen in the book on the lectern: 'Vidi pallaciumagnu', and on the two books of her rule, 'Der swestern sülln sein lx' and 'Der priester sülln sein xiii' ;
Lettered in the block on the saint's nimbus: "Sancta Birgita witib" ;
On the left scroll starting. "o birgitta....";
In the centre at lower margin, starting with "O her ihu...."; and
On the right scroll: "O pate de celis miserere nostri."

In the centre the saint sits on a bench, holding an open book in each hand with a crown at her feet and an angel at her right shoulder, God the Father on a cloud is above left, and the Virgin with Child on a cloud above right; underneath are the coats of arms of Sweden, Bavaria and Palatinate;
On the the left sheet eight Brigittine nuns kneel with folded hands towards the right at the front kneels Bridget's daughter, St Catherine of Sweden;
On the right sheet kneel eight praying monks.

The Crucifixion with St Bridget in Adoration 1495-1510
Hand coloured woodcut print on paper
111 millimetres x 80 millimetres
The British Museum, London

This cut together with other cuts in the possession of The British Museum form a group with a common origin, from the Brigittine convent 'Marienwater' near Hertogenbosch

These prints derive from the Brigittine convent of Marienwater which was founded c.1434-40.

Approximately 160 manuscripts survive from the abbey (many of them seventeenth-century), including 85 now in the archive of the convent of Maria Refugie in Uden, where the nuns fled after the suppression of their own abbey in 1713.

Brigittine monasteries sprang up all over Europe, and there were three in the Netherlands, the largest at Hertogenbosch in the diocese of Liège. The most famous English house was that at Syon (London)

The houses were unique in the Middle Ages for including both monks and nuns in the same communities, although in practice the buildings were so constructed that the men and women never met or even saw each other.

Her book, The Revelationes is in thirteen books and were written partly by her: Books I, II and V were written in Sweden with the help of Magister Mathias; Book II dated from the period when she was in Rome (1349-72), and Book VII from the Holy Land (1372-73). Book XI was compiled by St Bridget and Magister Petrus Olavi in Rome. Book IX (Extravagantes) was compiled in Sweden after her death and canonisation in 1396

Her writings attained great popularity during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

The first complete German translation of St Bridget's visions was printed in 1500 under the auspices of Emperor Maximilian who showed great interest in St. Bridget. He desired that South Germany should have access to printed versions in both Latin and German. Maximilian indeed had ordered the Orationes of St. Bridget to be read to him the day before his death

Some historians attribute her prophecies of divine chastisement led to the forment which led to the Reformation.

On Wednesday past (27th October 2010) Pope Benedict XVI made St Bridget the topic of his talk in the series relating to holy women in the Medieval Period.

The brief sketch of her life and some of her works is set out in the speech.

He reminded us of the great devotion and veneration which his predecessor Pope John Paul II had for St Bridget of Sweden. Indeed it was Pope John Paul II who declared her one of the Co-Patronesses of Europe along with Saints Catherine of Siena and Edith Stein

The declaration of St Bridget as co-Patroness of Europe appears to have been a particular concern of the late Pope. Here are only a small number of his speeches and homilies on St Bridget:

Monday 20 December 1999 Address to the ambassador of Sweden

Pope John Paul II in his speeches and homilies was always keen to stress the importance of St Bridget to Ecumenism.

Certainly from a Swedish and Scandinavian perspective, St Bridget has been one of the main focus points for increasing contacts between the Roman Catholic Church and the Scandinavian Lutheran churches.

Diplomatic relations between Sweden and the Vatican were only established in 1982

Pope John Paul II visited Sweden in 1989 and in May 1991 King Karl Gustaf XVI of Sweden and Queen Silvia paid an official visit to the Vatican.

Then on October 5 1991 there was an Ecumenical prayer service at St. Peter's Basilica, for the occasion of the Sixth Centenary of the canonization of St. Bridget of Sweden. For the first time since the Reformation two Lutheran bishops prayed in St. Peter's Basilica with the Pope, together with the Catholic bishops of Stockholm and Helsinki.

This was followed by another ecumenical vesper ceremony at St Peters Basilica in 1999.

This was immense progress consideriing that it was only in 1951 that Sweden passed a law in regard to religious freedom. Swedish accession to the European Convention of Human Rights and also the European Union was opposed by those who used anti-Catholic sentiments.

Much economic aid for the Swedish Catholic Church comes from the German Episcopal Conference of Catholic bishops

But both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have also been keen to use St Bridget as an exemplar to promote other themes of their teaching.

First, the family and morality. Many Protestant evangelicals in Scandinavia are attracted to this aspect of Catholic teaching which might be rather surprising in view of the past historical view of Swedish society.

As Pope Benedict XVI said in his recent address:

"Bridget, spiritually guided by a learned religious who initiated her in the study of the Scriptures, exercised a very positive influence on her own family that, thanks to her presence, became a true "domestic church." Together with her husband, she adopted the Rule of the Franciscan Tertiaries. She practiced works of charity towards the indigent with generosity; she also founded a hospital. Together with his wife, Ulf learned to improve his character and to advance in the Christian life. On returning from a long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, taken in 1341 with other members of the family, the spouses matured the plan to live in continence, but shortly after, in the peace of a monastery to which he had retired, Ulf concluded his earthly life.

The first period of Bridget's life helps us to appreciate what today we could define an authentic "conjugal spirituality": Together, Christian spouses can follow a path of sanctity, supported by the grace of the sacrament of Marriage. Not infrequently, as happened in the lives of St. Bridget and Ulf, it is the wife who with her religious sensibility, with delicacy and gentleness, is able to make the husband follow a path of faith. I am thinking, with recognition, of so many women who, day in day out, still today illumine their families with their testimony of Christian life. May the Spirit of the Lord fuel the sanctity of Christian spouses, to show the world the beauty of marriage lived according to the values of the Gospel: love, tenderness, mutual help, fecundity in generating and educating children, openness and solidarity to the world, participation in the life of the Church."

Second, the dignity and importance of women in the Church. Interestingly in his recent address Pope Benedict XVI said:

"[S]he also wished to obtain from the Pope the approval of the rule of a religious order that she wanted to found, dedicated to the Holy Savior, and made up of monks and nuns under the authority of an abbess. This is an element that should not surprise us: In the Middle Ages there were monasteries founded with masculine and feminine branches, but with the practice of the same monastic rule, which provided for the direction of an abbess.

In fact, the great Christian tradition recognizes the dignity proper to women, as well as -- taking as an example Mary, Queen of the Apostles -- her own place in the Church that, without coinciding with the ordained priesthood, is also important for the spiritual growth of the Community. Moreover, the collaboration of consecrated men and women, always with respect toward their specific vocation, is of great importance in today's world."

See also:

Arne Jönsson, ed., St. Bridget's Revelations to the Popes: An edition of the so-called Tractatus de summis pontificibus, Studia Graeca et Latina Lundensia 6, (Lund: Lund University Press, 1997)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Saint Bridget of Sweden

The Pope dedicated this week`s General Audience to the Life and Works of St Bridget of Sweden (1303 -1373)

It is the latest talk in the series relating to holy women in the Medieval Period. The full talk is at Zenit at this link

It is of interest to note that Bridget, although both foundress and lawgiver, was never a member of her order, never wore the habit of the order and which she had described from her visions, never was a nun, in fact. And perhaps never prayed the office she left for her Nuns.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Beauty in the Liturgy

Fra Lippo Lippi (1406- 1469)
Fresco cycle Life of the Virgin
The Apse of the Cathedral in Spoleto, Umbria

This is the last work of Fra Lippo Lippi. He died and was buried in Spoleto. His pupils, especially his friend Fra Diamante and Pier Matteo d’Amelia, finished the remainder of the work (an Annunciation and a Nativity) after his death

His Wall tomb memorial in Spoleto cathedral, was completed c. 1492 by Andrea di Cristoforo Bregno (1418–1506)

His frescoes of Prato and Spoleto were inspirations for Ghirlandaio and Botticelli. As they have been and are for congregations of the Cathedral at Spoleto, past present and no doubt in the future.

The website of the Archdiocese of Spoleto-Norcia has beautiful images of the works and some interesting commentary.

It appears to be an archdiocese where the bishops and clergy are very responsive to the great cultural history of their area and are properly appreciative of it. It is in their bones and it suffuses their activities in the life of the Church. It is clearly a powerful tool in their efforts at mission and evagelisation.

The whole website of the Archdiocese is worth looking at (despite being only in Italian)

Liturgy of course is primary.

Beauty has an important part to play in the celebration of the Liturgy but is subordinate to it.

The question of Beauty in the Liturgy has been raised in fact just today in two posts about the problems experienced by the distinguished Scottish composer James Macmillan in composing a musical work for the Papal Masses in the United Kingdom

It might be worthwhile re-examining the concluding document of the Plenary Assembly on the theme of "The Via Pulchritudinis: Privileged Pathway for Evangelisation and Dialogue" It attempted to explain the relationship between Liturgy and Beauty. It did so in quite clear convincing and compelling terms.

Beauty in Liturgy is not elitist and everyone can participate in beautiful liturgy in their own and different ways

It said:

"The beauty of the love of Christ comes to meet us each day not only through the example of the saints but more so through the holy liturgy, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist where the Mystery becomes present and illuminates with meaning and beauty all our existence.

This is the extraordinary means by which our Saviour, once dead and resurrected, shares His life with us, making us part of His Body as living members and making us participate in His beauty.

Pavel Florenskij described beauty in the liturgy, symbol of the symbols of the world as that which permits the transformation of time and space "in the holy, mysterious temple that shines with celestial beauty." (P. Florenskij, Les portes royales. Essai sur l’icône, Milan 1999, 50.)

During a conference at the 23rd National Italian Eucharistic Congress, Cardinal Ratzinger cited in his introduction the old legend about the origins of the Christian faith in Russia.

According to this legend, Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided to adhere to the Orthodox Church of Constantinople after having heard his ambassadors who had been sent to Constantinople where they had been present at a solemn liturgy in the basilica of Saint Sophia.

They said to the prince, "We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth…We are witnesses: God has made His dwelling place there among men."

And the Cardinal theologian took from this legend the basis of truth:

"it is in effect certain that the internal force of the liturgy played an essential role in the diffusion of Christianity…That which convinced the ambassadors of the Russian prince, that the faith celebrated in the Orthodox liturgy was true, was not a missionary style argument whose elements appeared more convincing to those disposed to listen than those of any other religion. No, that which struck home was the mystery in itself, a mystery that, precisely because it is found beyond all discussion, imposes on reason the force of truth." (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Eucharistia come genesi della missione. Conference at the XXIII Eucharistic Congress of Bologna, 20-28 September 1997 in "Il Regno" 1 Nov 1997, n° 19, p.588-589)

How can we fail to underline the importance of icons, the marvellous heritage of the Christian East, which still today gives something of the liturgy of the undivided Church: its rich and deep language thrives on its roots in the experience of the undivided Church, the Roman catacombs, the mosaics of Rome and Ravenna as well as Byzantium?

For the believer, beauty transcends the aesthetic. It permits the passage from "for self" to "more than self."

The liturgy which is disinterested and does not seek to celebrate God for Him, through Him and in Him, is not beautiful, and therefore not true.

It should be "disinterested" in "putting oneself before God and placing one's eyes on Him who shines with the divine light on the things that pass." It is in this austere simplicity that it becomes missionary, that is, capable of witnessing to observers who let themselves be taken over by the invisible reality that it offers.

The French writer Paul Claudel allured to the internal force of the liturgy in witnessing to his conversion during the singing of the Magnificat during Vespers on Christmas Eve at Notre-Dame de Paris:

"It was then that the event happened that has dominated all my life. In an instant, my heart was touched and I believed. I believed with such force, with such relief of all my being, a conviction so powerful, so certain and without any room for doubt, that ever since, all the books, all the arguments, all the hazards of my agitated life have never shaken my faith, nor to tell the truth have they even touched it." (P. Claudel, Ma conversion in Contacts et circonstances, Gallimard, 1940, p. 11ss; cf. also in Ecclesia, Lectures chrétiennes, Paris, No 1, avril 1949, p. 53-58.

The beauty of the liturgy, an essential moment in the experience of faith and the pathway towards an adult faith, is unable to reduce itself to mere formal beauty.

It is first of all the deep beauty of the meeting with the mystery of God, present among men through the intermediary work of the Son, "the fairest of the children of men" (Ps 45, 2) who renews without end His sacrifice of love for us.

It expresses the beauty of the communion with Him and with our brothers, the beauty of a harmony which translates into gestures, symbols, words, images and melodies that touch the heart and the spirit and raise marvel and the desire to meet the resurrected Lord, He who is the Door of Beauty.

Superficiality, banality and negligence have no place in the liturgy.

They not only do not help the believer progress on his path of faith but above all damage those who attend Christian celebrations, and in particular, the Sunday Eucharist.

In the last few decades, some people have given too much importance to the pedagogical dimension of the liturgy and the desire to make the liturgy more accessible even for outsiders, and have undermined its primary function: the liturgy lets us immerse ourselves completely in the salvific action of God in His son Jesus, which makes it missionary.

Essentially turned towards God, it is beautiful when it permits all the beauty of the mystery of love and communion to manifest itself.(T. Verdon, Vedere il mistero. Il genio artistico della liturgia cattolica, Mondadori 2003)

The liturgy is beautiful when it is "acceptable to God" and immerses us in divine joy. ...

Liturgy is not what man does, but is a divine work.

The faithful need to be helped to perceive that the act of worship is not the fruit of activity, a product, a merit, a gain, but is the expression of a mystery, of something that cannot be entirely understood but that needs to be received rather than conceptualised.

It is an act entirely free from considerations of efficiency.

The attitude of the believer in the liturgy is marked by its capacity to receive, a condition of the progress of the spiritual life. This attitude is no longer spontaneous in a culture where rationalism seeks to direct everything, even our most intimate sentiments.

No less important is the promotion of sacred art to accompany aptly the celebration of the mysteries of the faith, to give beauty back to ecclesiastical buildings and liturgical objects.

In this way they will be welcoming, and above all able to convey the authentic meaning of Christian liturgy and encourage full participation of the faithful in the divine mysteries, following the wish often expressed during the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.

Certainly the churches must be aesthetically beautiful and well decorated, the liturgies accompanied by beautiful chants and good music, the celebrations dignified and preaching well prepared, but it is not this in itself which is the via pulchritudinis or that which changes us.

These are just conditions that facilitate the action of the grace of God.

Therefore the faithful need to be educated to pay attention not merely to the aesthetic dimension of the liturgy, however beautiful it may be, but also to understand that the Litrugy is a divine act that is not determined by an ambiance, a climate or even by rubrics, for it is the mystery of faith celebrated in Church."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Diocesan Museums ("Musei Diocesani")

The use of Sacred Art as an Instrument of Evangelisation and Catechesis has led to an increase in the creation of Diocesan Museums in the Catholic world.

It was one of the many initiatives recognised by the Plenary Assembly on The Via Pulchritudinis,Privileged Pathway for Evangelisation and Dialogue in the use of Sacred Art as an Instrument of Evangelisation and Catechesis was the formation of Diocesan museums.

The Concluding Document of the Plenary Assembly recommended:

"- Local publications in the guise of tourist guides, webpages, or specialised journals on patrimony, with the pedagogical aim of highlighting the soul, inspiration and message of works, scientific analysis is thereby put at the service of a deeper understanding of the work.

- Make pastoral agents, catechists, and religion teachers, seminarians and clergy aware of this issue through formation courses, seminars, thematic meetings, guided tours. Diocesan museums and Catholic Cultural Centres can play an important role, notably in proposing the reading of local and regional works of art and using them in catechesis.

- Formation of guides in the specificity of Christian-inspired art, creation of specialist groups to make the most of art and cultural Centres that share these same goals.

- Study and deeper awareness of the issues in schools and universities with Masters Degrees, seminars, laboratories, etc. Offering of bursaries to promote education in this area. Development at the regional and national levels of Institutes of Sacred Music, Liturgy, Archaeology, etc., and the constitution of specialized libraries in this domain"

Nowhere has the growth and development of Diocesan Museums been more marked than in Italy.

Each diocese would appear to have its own Diocesan Museum.

See for a listing

Reperterio on the AMEI website has a full listing and links to diocesan museums and museums run by churches and religious in Italy. The listing is huge.

Outside Roome and Florence, stands the Diocesan Museum of Milan founded by the Blessed Ildefonso Schuster, the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan who initiated his idea in his Pastoral Letter "Per l'arte sacra e per un museo diocesano" (1931)

Here are some treasures from the Milan Diocesan Museum:

Bernardo Daddi, ca.1280-1348
Santa Cecilia, c. 1348
Tempera on wood panel,
89.5 x 49.5 cm
Museo Diocesano, Collezione Crespi, Milan

Aldo Carpi 1886-1973
The Adoration of the Magi c. 1957-58
Stained Glass
From The Chiesa delle Suore del Cenacolo
Museo Diocesano, Milan


Giulio Cesare Procaccini, (1574 – 1625)
Pietà, 1620
Oil on canvas
146 x 124,5cm
Museo Diocesano, Milan

Simone Peterzano (active 1540-1596),
Annunciazione / Annunciation 1578
Oil on canvas
305 x 172.5 cm
(Originally from Venegono Inferiore (VA), Seminario Arcivescovile)
Museo Diocesano, Milan

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Via Pulchritudinis: The Privileged Pathway for Evangelisation and Dialogue

Juan Martín Cabezalero, 1634 -1673
Comunión de Santa Teresa, / The Communion of St Teresa ca. 1670.
Oil on canvas .
248 x 217,5 cm
Col. Fundación Lázaro Galdiano, Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid

Juan Martín Cabezalero, 1634 -1673
Asunción de la Virgen / The Assumption of Mary c. 1670
Oil on canvas
237 cm x 169 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Juan Martín Cabezalero, 1634 -1673
Pasaje de la vida de San Francisco/ Part of the Life of St FrancisOil on canvas
232 x 195 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Few works by Cabezalero survive but his paintings are of a very high quality. He is one of the little known great Spanish Baroque painters of the seventeenth century.

He is overshadowed by Diego Velázquez

He was influenced by Anthony van Dyck

As can be seen from the above paintings, it is unfortunate that he died young.

In 2006, the Pontifical Council for Culture held a plenary assembly on the theme of the Via Pulchritudinis (The Way of Beauty).

"Beginning with the simple experience of the marvel-arousing meeting with beauty, the via pulchritudinis can open the pathway for the search for God, and disposes the heart and spirit to meet Christ, who is the Beauty of Holiness Incarnate, offered by God to men for their salvation.

It invites contemporary Augustines, unquenchable seekers of love, truth and beauty, to see through perceptible beauty to eternal Beauty, and with fervour discover Holy God, the author of all beauty."

In one important passage, the Assembly set out its views about Sacred Art and the Patrimony of the Church as a means of evangelisation and catechesis:

"The Servant of God John Paul II qualified the artistic patrimony inspired by the Christian faith as a "formidable instrument of catechesis," fundamental to "re-launch the universal message of beauty and good." (Address to the Bishops of Tuscany, 11 March 1991)

In similar tones, Cardinal Ratzinger, as President of the Special Preparatory Commission for the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church justified its use of images:

"The image is also a Gospel preaching. In all ages, artists have offered the events marking the mystery of salvation with the splendour of colours and in the perfection of beauty for the contemplation and admiration of the faithful. This is an indication of how, today more than ever with our civilisation of the image, a holy image can express much more than words themselves, for its dynamism of communication and transmission of the gospel message is more efficacious."

The Pontifical Council for Culture's document Towards a Pastoral Approach to Culture, augurs that

"in our culture, where a deluge of often banal and brutal images are churned out daily by the television, the cinema and videos, a fruitful union between the Gospel and art will bring about new manifestations of beauty, born from the contemplation of Christ, God made man, from the meditation of His mysteries, from their shining forth in the Virgin Mary and in the saints." (n.36)

The communicating capacity of sacred art renders it able to break down barriers, filter prejudices and reach the heart of people from different cultures and religions and let them perceive the universality of the message of Christ and His Gospel.

When a work of faith-inspired art is offered to the public within its religious function, it is a "via", a "pathway of evangelisation and dialogue," it gives a taste of the faith itself, at the same time as of the living patrimony of Christianity.

To reread the works of Christian art, small or great, musical or artistic, and put them back in their context while deepening their vital links with the life of the Church, particularly the liturgy, is to let them speak again and help them transmit the message that inspired their creation.

The via pulchritudinis, in setting out the pathway of the arts, leads to the veritas of the faith, Christ Himself become "by the Incarnation, the icon of the invisible God."

John Paul II did not hesitate to express

"the conviction that, in a sense, the icon is a sacrament. By analogy with what occurs in the sacraments, the icon makes present the mystery of the Incarnation in one or other of its aspects."

Christian art offers the believer a theme for reflection and acts as an aid to enter into contemplation in intense prayer, similar to a moment of catechesis such as a recitation of Salvation History.

Major works inspired by the faith are truly "Bibles of the Poor" or "Stairways of Jacob" that lead the soul up to the Author of all beauty and with Him to the mystery of God and of those who live in His beatifying vision: "Visio Dei vita hominis - The life of man is the vision of God!" professed St Ireneus.

These are the privileged ways of an authentic experience of the faith."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Akathistos Hymn

Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos icon
The Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Brookline, Massachusetts)

Icon of the Mother of God "of the Akathist"

The Vatican Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (December 2001) lists many approved "popular pieties" and devotions outside the Liturgy.

One of them is The Akathistos Hymn

This seems to have been a particular favourite of the late Pope, Pope John Paul II

Here is an extract of the Hymn sung by the Choir of Convent of the Annunciation, Ormylia (Chalkidiki Greece)

Here is another extract of the Hymn: Title: "Τη Υπερμάχω Στρατηγώ" (Unto the Defender General)

The akathistos is a hymn or an Office in the Greek Liturgy in honour of the Mother of God.

It is so called because it is performed with all standing

It was traditionally said or sung on or around the Saturday of the fifth week of Lent or on special occasions

On 8th December 2000, Pope John Paul II presided at a celebration of the Hymn in the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome.

Also present were those of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches. The languages used were Greek, Old Slavonic, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Romanian and Arabic.

The Vatican website has a large section about this celebration on 8th December 2000

The website describes the Hymn as

"a matchless gem of Marian theology and spirituality, links the mystery of Christmas to the mystery of Easter, the birth of the Word made flesh to the Passover of his Death and Resurrection and our rebirth through the sacraments of regeneration, the motherhood of Mary at Bethlehem to her maternal presence at the baptismal font.

Today's celebration underlines the fundamental character of the Hymn: its articulation of the entire Christmas cycle, which makes it 'a far' reaching remembrance of the divine motherhood, virginal and salvific, of the one whose 'spotless virginity gave the Saviour to the world' ' (Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, 5). ...

[It] is a truly inspired composition of immense importance:

- because of its sense of salvation history, embracing the entire plan of God for creation and for creatures, from the origins to the very end, towards the fullness which will be theirs in Christ;

- because of its pure sources: the word of God in the Old and New Testaments, always present either explicitly or implicitly; the doctrine defined by the Councils of Nicaea (325), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451), from which it draws directly; the doctrinal treatises of the greatest of the Eastern Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries, from whom it takes concepts and lapidary formulations;

- because of its knowing mystagogical approach, by means of which - adopting the most eloquent imagery from creation and Scripture - it raises the mind step by step and brings it to the threshold of the mystery contemplated and celebrated:

the mystery of the Incarnate Word and Saviour, the mystery which, as the Second Vatican Council affirms, indicates in Mary the 'place' where the principal elements of the faith converge and echo forth to the world (cf. Lumen Gentium, 65). ...

[It] deserves to be taken up and sung by every Church and Ecclesial Community.

The Hymn is anonymous: and rightly so, for thus it belongs to everyone, because it belongs to the Church."

In his homily at the celebration on 8th December 2000, Pope John Paul II said:

" This evening we have all been filled with deep joy: the joy of praising Mary with the Akathistos Hymn, so dear to the Eastern tradition.

It is a song centred on Christ, contemplated in the light of his Virgin Mother. It invites us 144 times to repeat to Mary the Archangel Gabriel's greeting: Hail, Mary!

We have retraced the stages of her life and offered praise for the marvels worked in her by the Almighty: from the virginal conception, the beginning and principle of the new creation, to her divine motherhood, to her sharing in her Son's mission, especially the moments of his passion, death and resurrection.

Mother of the risen Lord and Mother of the Church, Mary goes before us and leads us to genuine knowledge of God and to the encounter with the Redeemer. She indicates the way to us and shows us her Son.

In celebrating her with joy and gratitude, we honour the holiness of God, whose mercy has worked marvels in his humble handmaid. We greet her with the title Full of Grace and implore her intercession for all the children of the Church, which celebrates her glory with this Akathistos Hymn."

The Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos can be read in full here

It has always been cherished by the Roman Catholic Church. On 4th May 1746, Pope Benedict XIV granted an indulgence of 50 days for each recitation of the Hymn.

See also

Orthowiki article on Akathist to the Theotokos,

Fondazione pro Musica e Arte Sacra

Past festival event at St Peters Basilica, Rome

Past Festival event at the Basilica of St Mary Major

The Foundation promotes an annual festival in Rome of Sacred Art and Music

From 23rd to 26th October 2010 it has an exciting programme dedicated to Pope Benedict XVI in the 5th Year of his Pontificate

For the programme see here