Thursday, September 27, 2018

Dominicans leave San Marco after 582 years.

This week, the New York Times reported on the imminent departure of the Dominican Friars from the Convento San Marco in Florence, a place that has been home to a Dominican priory since 1436. As the NYT's Elisabetta Povoledo writes, San Marco's rich history makes the friars' departure particularly poignant:
For nearly 600 years, Dominican friars in Florence, Italy, have inhabited the Convent of San Marco, one of the city's great spiritual and cultural hubs, renowned for its frescoes by Fra Angelico and once home to the fiery preacher Girolamo Savonarola.

But at the end of September, this storied occupation will end, a victim of the dwindling ranks of the Dominican order. The convent's only remaining residents — four aging friars — have been told to pack their bags and move across town to the convent of Santa Maria Novella.

"The community of San Marco is no more, it is finished," said the Rev. Fausto Sbaffoni, one of the four, who arrived here in 1979 and was present in June when the regional chief of the Dominicans arrived to read the order suppressing, or closing, the convent. "No friar can remain in a suppressed convent," he noted.
The Dominicans' departure from San Marco has been anticipated for several years. Writing in the summer of 2015, Sandro Magister suggested that the decision to vacate what he called "the most famous Dominican convent in the world" was inevitable despite the direct intervention of Dominican Master General Bruno Cadoré, who seemed to urge his Italian confreres to do what they could to avoid shuttering the friary:
What is at stake smacks of the incredible. It is as if the Franciscan friars were to decide to close the convent of Assisi. And yet this is what could happen, at the behest of the order of Saint Dominic itself, if the superior general of the order, Fr. Bruno Cadoré, should put into effect the decision that the chapter of the Dominican province of central Italy, named after Saint Catherine of Siena, made in the autumn of 2013: the decision, that is, to suppress the "house," meaning the convent of San Marco in Florence.

The superior general has taken his time. In March of [2014] he made a visit to the convent about to be suppressed. He then wrote a letter to the Dominicans of the province in question, asking them to re-examine the question from the ground up, with the help of "experts." To no effect. The fathers of the province of St. Catherine of Siena met again in chapter at the end of last June and reiterated to the superior general the request to suppress the convent of San Marco.
Both Magister and Povoledo note the unsuccessful efforts made by various cultural and civil leaders to keep the friary open, and the NYT article quotes a local figure who opined that "[t]o suppress the convent is like dimming the lights on centuries of history." It might fairly be observed that the decision to close the friary doesn't mean the end of the Dominican presence in Florence or the loss of the Fra Angelico frescoes that made San Marco a famous landmark: the remaining members of the community are moving to a nearby friary at Santa Maria Novella, and the rooms of the former convent containing Fra Angelico's frescoes are already part of a state-run museum that is unaffected by the Dominicans' move. Nevertheless, I can't help but agree that something essential is being lost with the end of a living Dominican presence at the site.

Some of the internal Dominican politics involved in the decision to close the friary at San Marco are recounted in two articles by Tommaso Monfeli on the site Corrispondenza Romana. In one article, Monfeli argues that the decision to close San Marco while keeping open the neighboring friary of Santa Maria Novella is related to longstanding divisions that go back to a period when the two friaries belonged to two separate Dominican provinces that have since merged. The other article suggests that the efforts to keep the friary open included serious proposals to repopulate the community at San Marco with friars from other provinces:
Among the hypotheses put forward by [Florence Archbishop] Cardinal [Giuseppe] Betori were the possibility of entrusting San Marco to another Dominican Province with a greater number of friars (for example, the American Province of Saint Joseph, which had expressed interest) or establishing an inter-provincial friary open to all the Dominican provinces of the world. But the Roman Province, through the words of the Provincial, wished to remove the friars residing at San Marco and insisted on the closure of the friary, declaring itself, in the Acts of the Provincial Chapter, willing to hand it over to another Province only after having closed it.
The NYT article ends by quoting an elderly friar preparing to move out of the convent at San Marco, who blames the decision to close the friary on an apparently terminal decline in vocations and states that the Dominicans have reached "the famous point of return" and that it "is no longer possible to reactivate" the founding spirit of the Order. This pessimism seems a bit misplaced, given the notable success of some Dominican provinces in drawing many young vocations. Unfortunately, the Italian Dominicans seem not to have been touched by this renewal. One can only hope that something of the spirit of San Marco will remain, even without a living Dominican presence. AMDG.

Friday, August 31, 2018

The grounds for my hope.

The last few weeks have been difficult ones for the Catholic Church in the United States. The fallout from the Pennsylvania grand jury report implicating hundreds of priests in the sexual abuse of minors evokes memories of the long-drawn-out crisis of 2002, when each new day seemed to bring a wave of new revelations of priestly sins and episcopal inaction. Ongoing revelations regarding the scandalous misbehavior of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick have also raised hard questions about corruption, negligent oversight, and a possible coverup reaching the highest levels of the Church. When times are bad – as they certainly are right now – we need to ask ourselves all the more insistently: what are the grounds for my hope?

I spent the first couple of weeks of August as an auxiliary confessor at the Sanctuary of Lourdes, a place that offers daily lessons in the meaning of Christian hope. Hearing confessions for several hours each day, one is a witness not only to the reality of sin but also to the workings of grace: one sees, again and again, how God penetrates the solitude of the human soul even in the most trying of circumstances. Being at Lourdes as a priest also allows one to observe how the shrine can be transformative not simply for pilgrims seeking healing but also for volunteers serving the sick, for whom the experience of service often represents a (perhaps unexpected) moment of conversion.

Throughout my time at Lourdes, I celebrated a private Mass each morning in one of the small lateral chapels in the crypt of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The walls of the crypt chapels are covered with ex-voto plaques giving thanks for various favors received through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes, some of which are very detailed (e.g.: 'Reconnaissance à N.D.L. et nouvelle protection pour mes frères et neveux aux armées. A.T. Mai 1916'). The most striking of the ex-votos, though, bore a very simple message: Vous m'avez fait croire. Merci. ('You made me believe. Thank you.') In some significant ways, Our Lady of Lourdes also made a deeper believer of me as well: my time at the shrine provided a balm for some of my pessimism about happenings in the Church, offering concrete and specific grounds for hope amid darkness and uncertainty.

Lourdes is a very youthful place. The shrine attracts pilgrims of all ages, but the visible presence of children and youth is a particular source of hope for those of us who wonder what the future holds. On one of my first nights at Lourdes, I came across a group of French schoolchildren singing the Je vous salue, Marie after placing a large candle in one of the bougeoirs near the Grotto. That memory, captured here on video, would be emblematic of the graces I received throughout my time at Lourdes. It also makes me think of the many young volunteers who animate the activities of the shrine, such as the Foulards Blancs, French Catholic scouts and guides who spend a part of the summer serving the sick at Lourdes. One may object that deeply-engaged Catholic youth are but a small minority in a secular society, but they represent a creative minority nevertheless. For my part, I remain deeply encouraged by the faithful witness of the young. As I recall my time at Lourdes, I offer again my prayer of thanksgiving: Vous m'avez fait croire. Merci.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Bonnes vacances !

Lest a month of the calendar go by without adding to the admittedly thin trickle of posts on this blog, I wanted to take a moment to wish passing readers a happy and (hopefully) relaxing summer. You can expect another post, undoubtedly of greater length, sometime in August. AMDG.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Corpus Christi.

In the liturgical calendar of the Latin Church, the Feast of Corpus Christi is traditionally celebrated on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, though for pastoral reasons it is often transferred to the following Sunday - that is, today. As I did a few years ago, I would like to mark Corpus Christi by posting one of the most important liturgical texts of the day, the sequence Lauda Sion which St. Thomas Aquinas composed for Corpus Christi shortly after Pope Urban IV prescribed the celebration of the feast throughout the Latin Church in 1264. Meant to be chanted immediately before the proclamation of the Gospel, this sequence remains a part of the liturgy to this very day, though I suspect that relatively few Catholics have ever heard it sung.

In posting the sequence Lauda Sion here this year, I have taken a note from my annual custom of posting the Dies Irae on All Souls' Day and have prepared my own original translation of the sequence. This translation was prepared somewhat hastily, and it may still contain some errors as well as stylistic infelicities for which I take full responsibility. That being said, if my translation helps some people to appreciate the sequence better, I will consider my work to have been worthwhile.


Lauda Sion Salvatórem
Lauda ducem et pastórem
In hymnis et cánticis.

Praise, O Sion, your savior,
Praise your guide and shepherd
In hymns and in songs.

Quantum potes, tantum aude:
Quia major omni laude,
Nec laudáre súfficis.

As much as you can, and as much as you dare:
For he is greater than all praise,
And you cannot praise him enough.

Laudis thema speciális,
Panis vivus et vitális,
Hódie propónitur.

A theme of particular praise,
That of the living and life-giving bread,
Is today set forth.

Quem in sacræ mensa cœnæ,
Turbæ fratrum duodénæ
Datum non ambígitur.

That [bread] which was, beyond doubt,
Given at the table of the holy supper,
To a group of twelve brothers.

Sit laus plena, sit sonóra,
Sit jucúnda, sit decóra
Mentis jubilátio.

May your praise be full, may it be loud;
May your soul’s rejoicing
Be delightful and pleasant.

Dies enim solémnis ágitur,
In qua mensæ prima recólitur
Hujus institútio.

For the solemn day has come,
In which the origin of this feast
Is called to mind.

In hac mensa novi Regis,
Novum Pascha novæ legis,
Phase vetus términat.

At the table of the new King,
The new Passover of the new law
Brings an end to the old sacrifice.

Vetustátem nóvitas,
Umbram fugat véritas,
Noctem lux elíminat.

Novelty leads antiquity to flight,
Truth drives away the shadows,
[And] the light brings an end to night.

Quod in cœna Christus gessit,
Faciéndum hoc expréssit
In sui memóriam.

What Christ carried out at that supper,
He ordered to be done again
In his memory.

Docti sacris institútis,
Panem, vinum, in salútis
Consecrámus hóstiam.

Having been taught by holy precepts,
We offer bread and wine
As the sacrifice of our salvation.

Dogma datur Christiánis,
Quod in carnem transit panis,
Et vinum in sánguinem.

This teaching is given to Christians:
That the bread changes into flesh,
And the wine into blood.

Quod non capis, quod non vides,
Animósa firmat fides,
Præter rerum ordinem.

What you do not understand, what you do not see,
A bold faith affirms,
Beyond the [visible] order of things.

Sub divérsis speciébus,
Signis tantum, et non rebus,
Latent res exímiæ.

Under separate species,
[Visible only] as signs and not as [real] things,
Priceless realities are concealed.

Caro cibus, sanguis potus:
Manet tamen Christus totus,
Sub utráque spécie.

His flesh is food, his blood is drink:
Still Christ remains entire
Under each species.

A suménte non concísus,
Non confráctus, non divísus:
Integer accípitur.

By those who receive him, he is not cut up,
Or broken into pieces, or divided:
He is received whole and complete.

Sumit unus, sumunt mille:
Quantum isti, tantum ille:
Nec sumptus consúmitur.

As one receives, a thousand receive,
Each one as much as the next,
Without him being wholly consumed.

Sumunt boni, sumunt mali:
Sorte tamen inæquáli,
Vitæ vel intéritus.

Both the good and the wicked receive,
Yet to an unequal end:
Life or destruction.

Mors est malis, vita bonis:
Vide paris sumptiónis
Quam sit dispar éxitus.

Death is the end of the wicked,
And life is the end of the good:
See how, from the same reception,
Comes a different result.

Fracto demum Sacraménto,
Ne vacílles, sed memento,
Tantum esse sub fragménto,
Quantum toto tégitur.

The sacrament at last having been broken,
Do not hesitate, but remember,
That each fragment hides
As much as the whole.

Nulla rei fit scissúra:
Signi tantum fit fractúra:
Qua nec status nec statúra
Signáti minúitur.

There is no division in what is real;
There is rather a breaking of the sign:
While neither the condition nor the stature
Of what is signified is lessened.

Ecce panis Angelórum,
Factus cibus viatórum:
Vere panis filiórum,
Non mitténdus cánibus.

Behold the bread of Angels,
Has become the food of travelers:
Truly the bread of the children,
Which is not to be thrown to the dogs.

In figúris præsignátur,
Cum Isaac immolátur:
Agnus paschæ deputátur
Datur manna pátribus.

It was prefigured in types,
When Isaac was sacrificed,
The Paschal Lamb was selected,
And Manna was given to our Fathers.

Bone pastor, panis vere,
Jesu, nostri miserére:
Tu nos pasce, nos tuére:
Tu nos bona fac vidére
In terra vivéntium.

Good shepherd, true bread,
Jesus, have mercy upon us:
Nourish us and defend us.
Bring it about that we may see
Good things in the land of the living.

Tu, qui cuncta scis et vales:
Qui nos pascis hic mortáles:
Tuos ibi commensáles,
Cohærédes et sodáles,
Fac sanctórum cívium.
Amen. Allelúja.

You, who know and can do all:
You, who sustain us mortals here:
Make us to be your fellows at table,
Coheirs and comrades,
Fellow citizens with the saints.
Amen. Alleluia.


Peace to those who read these lines. AMDG.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Chartres and the Spirit of May 1968.

This month, France marks the fiftieth anniversary of May 1968, a month of student protests and labor unrest subsequently regarded as a critical juncture in French history. Mai 68 remains a potent symbol, celebrated by many on the left as a moment when various forces for social change achieved a new measure of visibility and influence and lamented by many on the right on account of its consequences. Now, as the youngest soixante-huitards reach retirement age, the legacy of May 1968 is open to debate. Many former student radicals have long since retreated from the positions that they held dear fifty years ago, while some more recent trends in French politics – such as a pronounced neoliberal turn under François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron – suggest that some of the perceived gains of May 1968 were far from permanent.

In the popular imagination, one of the salient characteristics of May 1968 was the esprit de contestation, understood not simply as a spirit of protest but as a willingness to question received ideas. The spirit of contestation ultimately transcends ideology; indeed, now that members of the 1968 generation have ascended to positions of power and influence, the spirit of contestation is perhaps more in evidence among conservatives. Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising; as my late mentor Father Tom King pointed out, the only revolutionary act possible in a technological society fixated on the ephemeral is fidelity to tradition.

In addition to the fiftieth anniversary of May 1968, this month marked the thirty-sixth installment of the annual pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres organized on the weekend of Pentecost by Notre-Dame de Chrétienté, an association of Catholic laypeople devoted to the Usus Antiquior of the Roman Rite. The Pentecost pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres annually draws over ten thousand participants, mostly but not exclusively French, with notable growth in recent years: estimates of the total number of pilgrims who took part this year range from 12,000 to 15,000, accompanied by over 300 priests and religious who serve as chaplains along the route. Though the celebration of the Usus Antiquior is an important feature of the pilgrimage, not all of the pilgrims are traditionalists: as Father Guilhem Le Coq, a former chaplain of Notre-Dame de Chrétienté, said in a recent interview, "Chartres is a pilgrimage for everyone," and first-time pilgrims are often struck by the warm and fraternal welcome that they receive.

Another notable characteristic of this pilgrimage is the youth of its participants: with an average age of 21, university students and young adults are particularly numerous. In the aforementioned interview, Father Le Coq also notes the relative youth of the priests who take part in the pilgrimage: with an average age of 30, "the clergy are almost the same age as the [lay] pilgrims," and this leaves a powerful impression. The Pentecost pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres is a genuine youth movement, one that reflects a turn to tradition and a desire for more durable markers of Catholic identity that are very much in evidence among young Catholics. One can also find signs here of a very real esprit de contestation, the true 'spirit of May 1968,' even if the revolution sought is ultimately spiritual and not political, pursued through prayer and song rather than confrontation and protest.

Though numerically impressive, the Notre-Dame de Chrétienté pilgrimage remains the work of a committed, energetic minority. In this sense, too, the pilgrims have something in common with the youth of May 1968: those who took to the streets then represented an engaged and vocal minority, even if they would ultimately wield significant influence. This should not be surprising, as small but well-organized groups of people have often played a decisive role in shaping the course of history. In a homily delivered at the close of the Notre-Dame de Chrétienté pilgrimage, Cardinal Robert Sarah noted the role that monasticism played in the development of European culture, urging the pilgrims to "return to the source" by drawing from the spiritual riches of the monastic tradition.

Christian monasticism has always been the task of a small but highly creative minority, even at times when monasteries engaged great prestige and influence. At the same time, it bears remembering that the fuga saeculi that defines organized ascetical life has always sought to influence society beyond the walls of the cloister, providing an impetus for cultural renewal. Picking up on historian Arnold Toynbee's insistence on the importance of "creative minorities" who guide civilizations, Pope Benedict XVI argued that the task of committed Christians in the secular West lies precisely in being such a minority, challenging their fellow citizens to be faithful to the best aspects of their common heritage.

The pilgrims who make the one-hundred-kilometer trek from Paris to Chartres each year on the weekend of Pentecost are just such a creative minority, offering a joyful and faithful witness to the Church and to society more broadly. I've written here before about the Church of the future, about the aspirations of many Millennial Catholics and the various ways in which those aspirations are expressed (including on TV). The pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres thus appears to me as a sign of hope, one that will continue to bear fruit in the lives of its participants and in the communities to which they belong. AMDG.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Christos Voskrese!

Observing another tradition of this blog, I would like to mark the Feast of the Resurrection by sharing the Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom:

Are there any who are devout and love God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward.

If any have come after the third hour,
let them with gratitude join in the Feast!

And those who arrived after the sixth hour,
let them not doubt; for they too shall sustain no loss.

And if any have delayed until the ninth hour,
let them not hesitate; but let them come too.

And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to those who came at the eleventh hour,
as well as to those who toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward.

Rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally, for the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry.

Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed death by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.

It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.

It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.

It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ, having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Christ is Risen! AMDG.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Es ist vollbracht.

This year I'm spending Holy Week at a Carmelite monastery in the region of Bourgogne about two hours southeast of Paris, celebrating the offices of the Triduum for the sisters who live there and for others who frequent the Carmel. My access to the Internet is limited, so this post was scheduled ahead of time. Repeating an established Good Friday tradition of this blog, here is the aria "Es ist vollbracht" ("It is accomplished") from J. S. Bach's Johannes-Passion, BWV 245. This video comes from a 1985 performance by Concentus Musicus Wien and the Tölzer Knabenchor, directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt (RIP); the soloists are Panito Iconomou (alto) and Christophe Coin (playing the viola da gamba, a Baroque instrument).

In the Johannes-Passion, this aria comes immediately after Jesus' final words on the cross - "Es ist vollbracht" in the German text - and right before the Evangelist announces Jesus' death. Given below in the original German and in an English translation from the Bach Cantatas Website, the words of the aria move from mournful lament to sure yet somber faith in Christ's final victory:

Es ist vollbracht!
O Trost vor die gekränkten Seelen!
Die Trauernacht
Läßt nun die letzte Stunde zählen.
Der Held aus Juda siegt mit Macht
Und schließt den Kampf.
Es ist vollbracht!


It is accomplished!
What comfort for all suffering souls!
The night of sorrow
now reaches its final hours.
The hero from Judah triumphs in his might
and brings the strife to an end.
It is accomplished!

Prayers for those who are celebrating the Paschal Triduum, and good wishes to all. AMDG.