God – Above All, Principle of All, Removed from All

by Fr. William Rock, FSSP

St. Thomas Aquinas with Aristotle and Plato from Benozzo Gozzoli’s Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas (source)

When treating of the Names of God in his Theological Summa, St. Thomas Aquinas remarked that “the name ‘God’ signifies the divine nature, for this name was imposed to signify something existing above all things, the principle of all things and removed from all things; for those who name God intend to signify all this” (S.T. I, q. 13, a. 8, ad 2).  In these few words, as he does, St. Thomas expresses very sublime and deep truths which will be explored below.

God is Above All Things – In these words, St. Thomas does not intend to indicate God’s physical location.  He is not implying that God is somehow physically located above creation, both material and spiritual.  Rather, he is expressing that God’s perfections are above all created perfections.  It is very easy to fall into believing, perhaps without even realizing it, that God is a “big man in the sky with a beard,” with perfections like His creatures, just to a much greater degree, a maximum degree.  The truth St. Thomas is here expressing, however, is that God’s perfections, while not completely dissimilar to those of His creatures, differ not only by degree, but also by kind or order.

Equilateral Polygons within Circles (source)

A common analogy used to explain the difference between God’s perfections and created perfections is that of comparing a series of equilateral polygons (polygons whose sides are all the same length) with an increasing number of sides to a circle.  The series starts with an equilateral triangle, then a square, then an equilateral pentagon, then an equilateral hexagon, and so on.  As the number of sides continues to increase, it is clear that the series is approaching, or converging to, a circle.  But, no matter how many sides are added, the series will never actually reach a circle.  No matter how many sides an equilateral polygon may have, there will always be angles and joints, which a circle does not have.  The circle is the limiting case of the series, what the series is converging to, but is itself outside of the series.

In this analogy, the equilateral polygons represent created perfections, while the circle represents divine perfections.  No matter how “maxed out,” as it were, created perfections may be, they will never make the jump to the level of the divine perfections, just as the equilateral polygon series will never make the jump to a circle.  Again, it is a difference not just in degree, but also in kind or order.  Further, just as equilateral polygons are not completely dissimilar to circles, after all they are all plane figures, so the created perfections are not completely dissimilar to divine perfections.  This is why created perfections can be used to discuss divine perfections analogously (expressing sameness yet also difference at the same time).  So, while perfections such as “power,” “wisdom,” and the like are attributed to God, these must be understood as “limiting cases” when compared to the same attributed to creatures.  God’s power, then, for example, is not just a maxed-out power such as that which creatures have but is actually the “limiting case” of creaturely power, completely beyond what any creature could possess.  The same, of course, can be said for all of God’s other perfections (see S.T. I, q. 4).

Antonio Tempesta’s God Creating Heaven and Earth (source)

God is the Principle of All Things – God, as expressed in the Creeds, is the Creator of all things, material and spiritual.  Further, He is also the cause of all being, of all that is ontologically one, true, and good (see S.T. I, qq. 4445).  No being falls outside of God’s causality.  But it is not just that God freely created all things which exist outside of Him, without any necessity or compulsion, ex nihilo (out of nothing, i.e., without recourse to anything besides His own power), He also continuously maintains His creation in existence (see S.T. I, q. 104, aa. 12).  Were He to remove this divine preservation, creation would return to nothingness.  God, then, is the principle not of some things, or even a majority of things, but of all things outside of Himself.

God is Removed from All Things – Even though God is the principle of all things, He is not mixed with His creation (here excluding considerations of the Incarnation).  Here, St. Thomas is setting up a safeguard against pantheism, the idea that God is somehow part and parcel with His creation.  In truth, God is one thing; His creation is another (see S.T. I, q. 3, a. 8).  But this does not mean that God is not present to His creation.  As St. Thomas explains, God is present to His creation by presence (all of creation is known by God), essence (all is maintained in existence by God), and power (God can act immediately on any portion of creation) (see S.T I, q. 8, a. 3).

These above reflections help express how truly other God is from His creation.  As was said above, there is always the danger of seeing God as the “big man in the sky with a beard.”  Knowing, however, that God is “above all things, the principle of all things and removed from all things,” serves as a safeguard to this misconception.

Fr. William Rock, FSSP was ordained in the fall of 2019 and is currently assigned to Regina Caeli Parish in Houston, TX.

In support of the causes of Blessed Maria Cristina, Queen, and Servant of God Francesco II, King 

June 11, 2024

Ordinations 2024 Photopost

On May 29th, 2024, 11 men were ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral of St. Cecilia in Omaha by His Grace Archbishop Terrence Prendergast. Video here:

More photos of the ceremony can be found at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 31, 2024

Eleven Priests Ordained for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter

Thanks be to God! On May 29th, eleven new priests of the FSSP were ordained at the Cathedral of St. Cecilia in Omaha, by His Grace Archbishop Terrence Prendergast Archbishop emeritus of the archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall. Congratulations to our new priests and their families. Ad multos annos!

Ordinandi:

Rev. Fr. Jeremy Chua
Rev. Fr. Joseph Duffy
Rev. Fr. Christopher Eichman
Rev. Fr. Benjamin Feuerborn
Rev. Fr. Anthony Fıll
Rev. Fr. Samuel Florance
Rev. Fr. Matthew Kane
Rev. Fr. Jacob Kasak
Rev. Fr. Brian Myers
Rev. Fr. Charles Ohotnicky
Rev. Fr. Stephen Wetzel

If you missed the livestream, you can watch the ceremony again below:

May 30, 2024

Marian Masses for the Month of May

by Fr. William Rock, FSSP

The Master of Frankfurt’s Christ Appearing at His Mother (source)

Prior to Pope Pius XII instituting the Feast of the Queenship of Mary in 1954, the month of May, Mary’s month, had no universal Marian feasts.  In his seminal work The Liturgical Year, Servant of God Dom Prosper Gueranger, Abbot of Solesmes, explained the situation thus:

Ever since our entrance upon the joys of the Paschal season, scarcely a day has passed without offering us some grand mystery or Saint to honour; and all these have been radiant with the Easter sun.  But there has not been a single feast of our blessed Lady to gladden our hearts by telling us of some mystery or glory of this august Queen.  The feast of her Seven Dolours is sometimes kept in April-that is, when Easter Sunday falls on or after the 10th of that month; but May and June pass without any special solemnity in honour of the Mother of God.  It would seem as though Holy Church wished to honour, by a respectful silence, the forty days during which Mary enjoyed the company of her Jesus, after his Resurrection.  We, therefore, should never separate the Mother and the Son, if we would have our Easter meditations be in strict accordance with truth-and that we surely must wish.  During these forty days, Jesus frequently visits his disciples, weak men and sinners as they are: can he, then, keep away from his Mother, now that he is so soon to ascend into heaven, and leave her for several long years here on earth?  Our hearts forbid us to entertain the thought.  We feel sure that he frequently visits her, and that when not visibly present with her, she has him in her soul, in a way more intimate and real and delicious than any other creature could have.

No feast could have given expression to such a mystery; and yet the Holy Ghost, who guides the spirit of the Church, has gradually led the faithful to devote in an especial manner to the honour of Mary the entire month of May, the whole of which comes, almost every year, under the glad season of Easter.  No doubt, the loveliness of the month would, some time or other, suggest the idea of consecrating it to the holy Mother of God; but if we reflect on the divine and mysterious influence which guides the Church in all that she does, we shall recognize, in this present instance, a heavenly inspiration, which prompted the faithful to unite their own happiness to that of Mary, and spend this beautiful month, which is radiant with their Easter joy, in commemorating the maternal delight experienced, during that same period, by the immaculate Mother when on earth.1

While there were no Marian feasts on the universal calendar during this time, Roman Missals printed in 1920 and 1943 do contain the Masses for Marian feasts kept in particular places.  They are found in a special section near the back of the Missal (Missæ Pro Aliquibus Locis).  On May 24th is found the Mass for the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Help of Christians (B. Mariæ Virg. titulo Auxilium Christianorum).  May 31st has two Masses listed.  The first is that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of All Saints and Mother of Fair Love (B. Mariæ Virg. Reginæ Sanctorum Omnium et Matris pulchræ dilectionis), and the second is that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces2 (B. M. V. Omnium Gratiarum Mediatricis).  Depending on how Easter falls in a given year, the Mass for Our Lady, Queen of the Apostles (B. Mariæ Virg. Reginæ Apostolorum), which is assigned for the Saturday after the Ascension, and the Mass of the Most Pure Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Purissimi Cordis B. M. V.), which is assigned for the Saturday following the Octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi (i.e., the Saturday after the Feast of the Sacred Heart), may also fall in May.

Philippe de Champaigne’s The Annunciation (source)

In the 1962 Roman Missal, the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of All Saints and Mother of Fair Love and the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces are listed under May 8th along with the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Beatae Mariae Virginis D. N. a S. Corde lesu).  This last is not present in the earlier two Missals.  Perhaps the two Masses were moved so that they would not conflict with the newly established Feast of Our Lady’s Queenship.  The Masses for the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Help of Christians and for Our Lady, Queen of Apostles are listed as they were in the two earlier Missals.  The Mass for Most Pure Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary is no longer listed.

For the sake of completion, considering the quote above, the Missals also have two Marian Masses listed for June – the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Grace (B. Mariæ V. Matris de Gratia) on June 9th, and the Mass of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (B. Mariæ Virg. de Perpetuo Succursu) on June 27th.

All of these Masses are proper, except for the Mass of Our Lady, Help of Christians which, while it has proper orations, uses the common of feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Mass of Our Lady, Mother of Grace, which, except for a proper collect, is the Mass of the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary (September 12th).  As such, a treatment of all of the texts of each of these Masses would be burdensome for a single article.  However, an investigation into their respective Gospels would be fruitful.

The Gospel for the Mass of Our Lady, Help of Christians is Luke 11:27-28: “as Jesus spoke to the crowd, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee and the paps that gave thee suck.  But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.”  Here, Our Lord is explaining that His Mother’s supernatural relationship with Him is more important than, and is the foundation for, her physical motherhood.  As this Gospel is, as was stated above, taken from the common, it was not specifically chosen for this feast.

William Holman Hunt’s The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple (source)

The Gospel for the Mass of the Most Pure Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary is fittingly Luke 2:48-51, the finding of the Lord in the Temple, where it is related that Mary “kept all these words in her heart.”  Luke 1:26-38, the Annunciation, where the Archangel Gabriel declared Our Lady “full of grace” who would conceive and give birth to “the Son of God,” is the Gospel for the Mass of Our Lady of Grace.  The connection between the Angel’s announcement and this particular Marian title is found in the collect which states that God bestowed the grace of restoration on the human race by means of the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary (Deus, qui humano generi beatæ Mariæ virginitate foecunda reparationis gratiam contulisti: concede).  The Mass of Mary’s Queenship is also the account of the Annunciation but ending at verse 33 as verses 32-33 proclaim the kingship of Our Lord and, thus implicitly, the queenship of Our Lady.

The Gospel of the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Jesus recounts the miracle at the wedding feast at Cana (Joh 2:1-11).  This Gospel reading, where Our Lord provided miraculous wine at the request of His Mother, matches well with the collect which asks that by the intercession of her heart, we may receive the riches of Christ’s Heart (Domine lesu Christe, qui, beata Maria Virgine intercedente, in nos divitias Cordis tui dignaris effundere…), for according to Cornelius a Lapide’s commentary on this event, “wine is the most fitting symbol of the grace, charity, devotion, fervour, strength, with which Christ endues His own.”

The rest of these Masses have John 19:25-27 assigned as their Gospels:

There stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen.  When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son.  After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.

Eustache Le Sueur’s Christ on the Cross with the Magdalen, the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist (source)

This Gospel pericope, which is part of St. John’s Passion proclaimed on Good Friday, is also used in the Saturday Mass of Our Lady during Paschaltide (but not, however, in any of the other Saturday Masses of Our Lady).  By the use of these verses for these Paschal Marian Masses, the Church would have us return to that moment when Our Lord, about to expire on the Cross, entrusted each of the faithful to His Mother in the person of the unnamed Beloved Disciple (which tradition identifies as the Apostle John).  By this, the Church teaches the faithful that the foundation of Mary as Queen of All Saints, as the Mediatrix of All Graces, as the Queen of the Apostles, and as Our Lady of Perpetual Help is her offering of her Son back to God the Father as He hung upon the Cross and her accepting the faithful as her adopted children.  Even her joy at being with her risen Son during these days find their roots in this scene.  For if there were no crucifixion, there could not be the joy which follows.

Fr. William Rock, FSSP was ordained in the fall of 2019 and is currently assigned to Regina Caeli Parish in Houston, TX.

In support of the causes of Blessed Maria Cristina, Queen, and Servant of God Francesco II, King 

  1. Guéranger, Prosper. The Liturgical Year, vol. 8 (Paschal Time, Book II). Trans. Shepherd, Laurence. (Fitzwilliam: Loreto Publications, 2000), pp 537-538.
  2. According to Ott [2018] (p. 229): “Mary is designated mediatrix of all graces in a double sense: 1. Mary gave the Redeemer, the Source of All graces, to the world, and in this way she is the channel of all graces.” [Sent. certa.]; 2. Since Mary’s Assumption into Heaven no grace is conferred on man without her actual intercessory cooperation. [Sent. pia et probabilis.]”

May 21, 2024

OLGS Deacons Singing the Litany of Loreto

Please pray for this class of deacons at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, who will be ordained to the sacred priesthood later this month, on May 29th, 2024.

May 7, 2024

Christ the Lamb

by Fr. William Rock, FSSP

Anthony van Dyck’s Abraham and Isaac (source)

During the Easter Season, Our Lord as the Lamb (Agnus in Latin) takes a predominate place in the Church’s liturgy.  In the Preface of Paschaltide, the Church sings: “Christ our Pasch [Passover Lamb] was sacrificed.  For He is the true Lamb Who hath taken away the sins of the world (Pascha nostrum immolátus est Christus. Ipse enim verus est Agnus, qui ábstulit peccáta mundi).”  During the Easter Octave, in the Sequence, the following is chanted: “Christians! to the Paschal Victim offer your thankful praises.  The Lamb the sheep redeemeth (Víctimæ pascháli laudes ímmolent Christiáni.  Agnus rédemit oves).”  At Vespers of the Season, the Church hymns about the “Lamb’s high feast (Ad régias Agni dapes)” and Christ the Paschal Lamb (“Iam Pascha nóstrum Christus est“) who was sacrificed.  The phrase “Christ our Pasch [Passover Lamb] is immolated (Pascha nostrum immolátus est Christus)” is found both in the Epistle and Communion of the Easter Sunday Mass (1 Cor 5:7).

Of course, it is not only during the Easter Season that Our Lord is presented as the Lamb.  In the Gloria, He is invoked as the “Lamb of God” (Agnus Dei).  After the commixtio of the particle broken from the Host and the consecrated Wine, the Church asks for mercy and peace from the “Lamb of God” (Agnus Dei).  When Holy Communion is distributed, He is presented to the faithful as the “Lamb of God” (Ecce Agnus Dei).  However, during the Easter Season, Our Lord as the Lamb is given, as was said above, a predominate place.

Bartolomeo Veneto’s John the Baptist (source)

Referring to Christ as Lamb has its foundation in Sacred Scripture.  At the banks of the Jordan River, St. John the Baptist pointed out Our Lord with the words: “Behold the Lamb of God.  Behold him who taketh away the sin of the world” (Joh 1:29).  This harkens back to the first book of the Old Testament.  When Abraham and his son Isaac were making their way to the place of sacrifice appointed by God, Isaac asked his father (Gen 22:7), “Behold, saith he, fire and wood: where is the victim for the holocaust?”   His father prophesied, “God will provide himself a victim for an holocaust” (Gen 22:8).  The word translated here as “victim” is, in the Greek Septuagint, πρόβατον,1 which more specifically means “sheep.”  The Hebrew is השׂה, “ewe, lamb, sheep.”2  An angel stops Abraham before he sacrifices his son and, in his place, they offer a ram (Gen 22:13).  Centuries will pass until Abraham’s prophesied Lamb will be provided and sacrificed.

Our Lord symbolized as Lamb is found as well in the last book of Holy Scripture, where St. John the Apostle wrote that he saw in his vision “a Lamb standing, as it were slain, having seven horns and seven eyes: which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth…the Lamb which was slain from the beginning of the world…worthy to receive power and divinity and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and benediction” (Apo 5:6, 13:8, 5:12).  He also tells of the “the wrath of the Lamb” (Apo 6:16) which will fall upon sinners.

But the question naturally arises, why is the lamb a fitting symbol of Our Lord?  Now a lamb is a young sheep.  As St. Thomas Aquinas, quoting an earlier work, wrote, a sheep is useful in four ways: “for sacrifice, for meat, for milk, and for its wool” (S.T. I-II, q. 105, a. 2, ad 9).  How each of these can be applied to Christ will be treated in turn.

Detail of Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece (source)

For Sacrifice.  The lamb was a common sacrificial victim under the Old Law (e.g., Exo 29:39-41).  Particularly, the sacrifice of lambs was the principal daily sacrifice.  Every day, a lamb was to be offered in the morning and in the evening.  The sacrifice of a lamb was also an essential feature of the Passover ceremony (see Exo 12:1-28).  In His self-sacrifice upon the Cross (Heb 9:14, Isa 53:7), Christ is compared to a lamb – “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter: and like a lamb without voice before his shearer, so openeth he not his mouth” (Act 8:32, see Isa 53:7); “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things…but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled” (1 Pet 1:8-19).  As the sacrifice on the Cross is the principal and essential sacrifice of all sacrifices, it is fitting, in this respect, that Christ is represented as a lamb.3

For Meat.  In general, sheep, and thus lamb, can be used for food.  In the Old Law, the eating of lamb took on a religious significance in the consumption of the Passover Lamb.  Our Lord, in the midst of a Passover celebration, gave His Body, under the appearance of Bread, to His Disciples to be eaten.  Until His Second Coming, Our Lord continues to feed His faithful with His Body in Holy Communion.

Palma il Giovane’s The Paschal Lamb (source)

For Wool.  The coats of sheep and lambs can be shorn and used for wool.  This wool is then used to make clothing and other textile products.  By clothing oneself with wool, one is, after a fashion, clothing oneself with the lamb from which the wool came.  When one is sanctified by the grace merited by Christ on the Cross, it can be said that one is symbolically being clothed by grace and thus by the one Who merited it.  This concept is expressed by the Holy Ghost through the Apostle Paul in his writings – “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ: and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences” (Rom 13:14), “for as many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27).  But, it is important to note, that this language is symbolic.  When one is sanctified, there is an intrinsic, that is an internal, real yet supernatural change in one’s soul.  Putting on clothing is an extrinsic, or external, change.

Francisco de Zurbarán’s Agnus Dei (source)

For Milk.  While only mature female sheep produce milk, this, after a fashion, can still be attributed to Our Lord.  According to St. Peter, milk (rationale/rationabiles lac) can be seen as symbolic of heavenly doctrine (1 Pet 2:2, the Introit for Low Sunday).4  Heavenly doctrine, of course, was preached par excellence by Our Lord.  It could also be said that just as milk, a nourishing drink, flows from the sheep, so did a spiritual drink flow from Our Lord’s Heart opened on the Cross, which drink, His very Blood, is received under the appearance of Wine.

But the above does not exhaust the symbolic value of a lamb representing Christ.  In his commentary on the Gospel of John (n. 258), St. Thomas, in explaining why Our Lord is called the Lamb of God by John, wrote the following:

Christ is called a lamb, first, because of his purity: your lamb will be without blemish (Exod 12:5); you were not redeemed by perishable gold or silver (1 Pet 1:18).  Second, because of his gentleness: like a lamb before the shearer, he will not open his mouth (Isa 53:7).  Third, because of his fruit; both with respect to what we put on: lambs will be your clothing (Prov 27:26), put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14); and with respect to food: my flesh for the life of the world (John 6:52).  And it is said: send forth, O Lord, the lamb, the ruler of the earth (Isa 16:1).

In answer to the question posed above, there are many reasons why it is fitting that Our Lord is symbolized by a Lamb, both in Sacred Scripture and in the Church’s Liturgy, for this representation brings to mind sacrifice, meat, wool, milk, purity, gentleness (and, yet, also wrath at the proper time).  By reflecting on these, the faithful can better understand this Lamb Who sacrificed Himself for them, His sheep, especially during the Paschal Season.

Fr. William Rock, FSSP was ordained in the fall of 2019 and is currently assigned to Regina Caeli Parish in Houston, TX.

In support of the causes of Blessed Maria Cristina, Queen, and Servant of God Francesco II, King 

  1. Strong, G4263.
  2. Strong, H7716.
  3. See also St. Thomas’ Commentary on John, n. 257.
  4. See Guéranger, Prosper. The Liturgical Year, 7 (Paschal Time Book I). Trans. Shepherd, Laurence. (Fitzwilliam: Loreto Publications, 2000), p. 300.

April 19, 2024

The Psalms of Easter Matins

by Fr. William Rock, FSSP

Gerard van Honthorst’s King David Playing the Harp (source)

The Divine Office is a collection of Psalms, hymns, and prayers assigned for each day, which are then in turn distributed over different “hours” which historically correspond with different times of the day.  Matins, for its part, is the hour associated with the middle of the night.  Normally, the Divine Office is so arranged that one would ideally pray all 150 Psalms over the course of the week, but the Octaves of Easter and of Pentecost stand apart, as the same Psalms are prayed every day.  Additionally, except during the Octave of Easter and the Octave of Pentecost, Matins never has less than nine Psalms (or a combination of Psalms and divisions of Psalms). During the Octaves of Easter and Pentecost, Matins only has three Psalms. The three Matins Psalms of the Easter Octave are the first three Psalms of the Book of Psalms.  These first three Psalms serve as a summary of salvation history.  They express the distinction between good and evil, the conflict between God and His Christ, on the one hand, and their Enemies, on the other, and Their victory through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the same Christ.  As such, it is eminently fitting that they alone are prayed during the Easter Octave.

In the First Psalm, the way of life and the way of death and the distinction between good and evil is expressed by comparing the Just and the Unjust Man:

Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence…he shall be like a tree which is planted near the running waters, which shall bring forth its fruit, in due season.  And his leaf shall not fall off: and all whatsoever he shall do shall prosper.  Not so the wicked, not so: but like the dust, which the wind driveth from the face of the earth…For the Lord knoweth the way of the just: and the way of the wicked shall perish.

The Second Psalm describes the conflict between God and His Christ, the Just Man par excellence, and Their enemies:

Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things?  The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord and against his Christ.  [Now speaking in the voice of the Christ] But I am appointed king by him over Sion his holy mountain, preaching his commandment…  [Now speaking in the voice of God] Ask of me, and I will give thee the Gentiles for thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession.

Additionally, this Psalm expresses the eternal generation of the Son by the Father (“The Lord hath said to me: Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee”), the Son Who assumed to Himself a Human Nature and became the Christ, the Anointed One of God.  It also looks forward to the Church spreading among the nations by the preaching of the Apostles, thus making the ends of the earth the possession and inheritance of Christ the King.

The Third Psalm details how the Christ is to come into His Kingship and defeat His enemies.  Again, speaking in the Voice of Christ:

Why, O Lord, are they multiplied that afflict me? many are they who rise up against me. I have cried to the Lord with my voice: and he hath heard me from his holy hill.  I have slept and taken my rest: and I have risen up, because the Lord hath protected me.

The Just Man, Who is also Christ the King, the Incarnate, eternally begotten Son, defeated His enemies and received His Kingship through His suffering, His death (“I have slept and taken my rest”), and His Resurrection through God’s power (“I have risen up”).  Christ truly died and truly rose from the dead with the same Body and Blood which He had taken of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

These are reflections which the Church would have those praying Matins meditate on during this Easter Octave, and you, dear faithful, are invited to do the same.

Fr. William Rock, FSSP was ordained in the fall of 2019 and is currently assigned to Regina Caeli Parish in Houston, TX.

In support of the causes of Blessed Maria Cristina, Queen, and Servant of God Francesco II, King 

March 31, 2024

‘I am a Christian…and in fact a Roman Catholic’

by Fr Brendan Boyce, FSSP

J.R.R. Tolkien (source)

The 20th century, as every competent analysis concludes, was largely one of marked – and deleterious – upheaval at almost every level of human experience: social, political, technological, military and, yes, religious. And yet, amidst the horrors of the age, like a lamp shining in the darkness, this same century saw the flourishing of Catholic literary endeavour of, at times, a most poignant expression.

There are Catholic literary giants of the 20th century who need no introduction; individuals such as G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and Evelyn Waugh, to name but a few. However, the person of J.R.R. Tolkien,1 while generally acknowledged to have been a great author, is not often associated in the same way as these others as a particularly Catholic author.2

In one sense, this is understandable. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, for example, does not proclaim itself to be Catholic, at a surface reading, in the same way as Brideshead Revisited; nor even as generically Christian, as does C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But all this is to put the cart before the horse, because what should be first in our gaze on the works of Tolkien is the man himself.

And Tolkien was nothing if not a (very devout) Catholic. His own words bear this out (to give two examples among many); firstly in a letter written to his son Christopher in 1941, in the midst both of the Second World War and the writing of what was to become the Fellowship of the Ring:

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament….There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.3

Just over 20 years later in 1963, writing again to the same son, Tolkien displays once more the great depth of his faith with regard to the Blessed Sacrament:

The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. I witnessed (half-comprehending) the heroic sufferings and early death in extreme poverty of my mother who brought me into the Church; and received the astonishing charity of [Father] Francis Morgan. But I fell in love with the Blessed Sacrament from the beginning – and by the mercy of God never have fallen out again…4

Other examples abound of Tolkien’s firm adherence to the Faith throughout his life, from his devotion to Our Lady and attendance at daily Mass, to the testimonies of his family and life-long friends to his deep faith. Allowing this representation to stand, then, the question of the impact of his faith on the writing of his works may be considered.

A line-up of the American second edition printings of The Hobbit (source)

Tolkien himself gives us the clearest insight into answering the question. In his view, it was impossible for an author to ‘disentangle’ faith and art. Tolken felt deeply that the writing of fantasy (and by extension all literary output) is a natural human activity and right. This conviction was based on his adherence to Catholic teaching (and biblical truth) that human persons are made in the image and likeness of God. Further to this is that since God creates, one would unquestioningly be less than human if one were not to express the ‘creative’, or ‘sub-creative’, side of one’s nature. In his important essay, On Fairy Stories, Tolkien declared: ‘…we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.’5

Holly Ordway, in her impressive and very readable work Tolkien’s Faith, A Spiritual Biography, notes that art necessarily reflects something of the artist’s most deeply held beliefs, at least at some level, however subtle or implicit. For Tolkien, faith was not merely a set of superficial opinions, but something integral to his real character – and to his own self-understanding as an author of fiction.6 She continues: ‘So, it follows that if we are to understand and appreciate Tolkien’s writings to the fullest degree, we need to come to an understanding of what he himself identified as central to his identity: his faith, which could not be disentangled from his art.’7

In considering, then, the works of Tolkien, such as The Lord of the Rings, these things must be borne in mind. Further to that, we have Tolkien’s own view upon these matters, written to his friend Robert Murray SJ, who had commented upon elements of the work itself, with a particularly Catholic point of view:

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.8

This is the sense, then, in which we must see The Lord of the Rings as a ‘fundamentally religious and Catholic work’, because it is in the intention of the author. Not for Tolkien the unabashed allegory of the Narnia Chronicles; nor the ‘realism’ of a Brideshead Revisited. His work is imbued in a manner redolent of that quiet, unhurried, gentle way of the working of grace in its harmony with matters of the Faith. One of his avid readers perhaps captures this best: ‘You…create a world in which some sort of faith seems to be everywhere without a visible source, like light from an invisible lamp.’9

Bag End (source)

Greater writers than I, in works more mature than this, have delved into discussions of what is Catholic in The Lord of the Rings; but let us at least allude to some of these elements here. They range from the simple – such as the Fellowship departing from Rivendell on Christmas Day, or, if it is not giving too much away, the fall of Sauron on the Feast of the Annunciation/Incarnation – to the more profound, such as the roles of heroic self-denial and mercy and the presence and effect of lembas, the Elvish way-bread which is evocative of the Eucharist, particularly in its effects (feeding the will of those who rely upon it alone10).  In the words of characters, also, we may discern sometimes more fundamentally religious and Catholic sentiments, such as in the inn at Bree, where Aragorn, despite his high destiny, states his willingness to give his life to protect Frodo; or at the Council of Elrond, in Frodo’s act of faith in being prepared to take the ring, though he does not know the way; or, most strikingly, Gandalf’s words to the Balrog upon the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, as one good angelic figure faces down a fallen angel, that he is (for those who have ears to hear) the servant of the Secret Fire (the One God) and that the dark fire of Udûn (hell) shall not avail the balrog.  Beyond this work too, especially in The Silmarillion and other early (posthumously published) works, the influence of his faith may be even more readily discerned.

What matters in all of this is that we are not afraid to name a work Catholic, and to understand that it is Catholic, when its author is Catholic and when this author calls his work Catholic, even when that work may not be to our taste, or even when that work may be in a genre not necessarily ‘recognised’ as Catholic. For Catholicism has always found expression in various forms of art, from visual art to music to the written word, and within these modalities are various forms, which in their own unique way grant access, to those who are disposed, to the great truths of the Faith. We should see The Lord of the Rings, among Tolkien’s other works, as firmly (if uniquely) ensconced within the Catholic literary tradition of the 20th century, as a signal contribution to the light of our beautiful faith within the darkness of our modern age.Suggested further reading:

  1. B.J. Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle Earth (Tempus, Stroud, UK, 2006).
  2. L. Coutras, Tolkien’s Theology of Beauty: Majesty, Splendor, and Transcendence in Middle-earth (Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2016).
  3. A. Freeman, Tolkien Dogmatics: Theology through Mythology with the Maker of Middle-earth (Lexham, Bellingham WA, 2022).
  4. P. Kerry and S. Miesel, Light Beyond all Shadow: Religious Experience in Tolkien’s Work (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Madison WI, 2011).
  5. H. Ordway, Tolkien’s Faith, A Spiritual Biography (Word on Fire Academic, Grove Village IL, 2023).
  6. J. Pearce, Tolkien: Man and Myth (Harper Collins, London, 1998).
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Nature of Middle-Earth (ed. C. Hostetter) (Harper Collins, London, 2021), especially Appendix I, ‘Metaphysical and Theological Themes’, pp. 401-412.

Fr Brendan Boyce FSSP was born and raised in New Zealand (also known as Middle-earth). He is currently posted to the FSSP apostolate in Canberra, Australia, but remains hopeful of one day being sent, like Gandalf, back to Middle-earth.

  1. The title of this article is taken from Tolkien’s Letter n. 213 (J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter n. 213, in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter, [HarperCollins Publishers: London, 2006].)
  2. Another example of this would be the American author Flannery O’Connor (+1964), whose faith informed her writing to a superlative degree, although in general her writings are not considered to be (at least explicitly) Catholic.
  3. Letter n. 43, in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.
  4. Letter n. 250, in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf, ‘On Fairy Stories,’ (HarperCollins Publishers: London, 2001), p. 66. See also Holly Ordway, Tolkien’s Faith, A Spiritual Biography (Word on Fire Academic, Grove Village IL, 2023), especially pp. 3-12.
  6. Holly Ordway, Tolkien’s Faith, A Spiritual Biography (Word on Fire Academic, Grove Village IL, 2023), p.8.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Letter n. 142, in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.
  9. Letter n. 328, in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.
  10.  See especially the chapter ‘Mount Doom’ in The Return of the King.

March 25, 2024

Some Holy Week Traditions of Italy

by Fr. William Rock, FSSP

Golden Wheat

As impressive and imposing as the historical ceremonies of Holy Week are, there grew up around them, and with them, from the well-formed piety of the faithful, other practices which, while complementing these liturgies, give them a more local flavor.  In this way, place is found for both the universality of the Catholic Liturgy and also local customs.  With this background, I would like to share here some Holy Week traditions from Italy.

The first actually begins at the start of Lent.  In southern Italy, wheat is planted in shallow pots and then kept in a warm room with no light.  Because of these conditions, the wheat grows with a golden color, instead of the usual green.  In modern times, sometimes these pots also have flowers planted in them.  On Holy Thursday, these pots, called sepolcri (lavureddi in Sicilian) are used to decorate the Altar of Repose.  After the conclusion of the ceremonies, the golden wheat is planted in fields as a blessing.1

 

Wreaths of Bread

Also on Holy Thursday, in certain villages, those men who had their feet washed would receive a bread wreath.  In some places, such as in Calabria, dough shaped to represent the instruments of the Passion were baked onto the wreaths.

On Palm Sunday, olive branches are blessed in lieu of or together with palms.  Prior to the reform of Holy Week under Pope Pius XII, the first of the five blessings was particularly for these branches.2  The text of this first prayer is as follows:

We beseech thee, O holy Lord, almighty Father, eternal God, that thou wouldst be pleased to bless and sanctify this creature of the olive tree, which thou madest to shoot out of the substance of the wood, and which the dove, returning to the ark, brought in its bill; that whoever receiveth it, may find protection of soul and body, and that it may prove, O Lord, a saving remedy, and a sacred sign of thy grace. Through, &c.3

The second, third (which says that “the olive branches proclaim, in some manner, the coming of a spiritual unction”4), and fifth prayers refer to both palm and olive branches.  The focus of the fourth prayer is the olive branch, although the branches of other trees are mentioned:

O God, who by an olive branch didst command the dove to proclaim peace to the world; sanctify, we beseech thee, by thy heavenly benediction, these branches of olives and other trees; that they may be serviceable to all thy people unto salvation. Through, &c.5

Decorated Olive Branch

In the same spirit of this prayer, again in certain villages, if there were any major disputes (such as siblings not speaking to each other) one of the parties could take one of these blessed olive branches after Mass and go the house of the other party.  He would then offer the olive branch as way of signifying his desire for peace.  If the branch was accepted, peace was established between them, and the dispute was never to be mentioned again.  This was a public proposition of peace and reconciliation, similar to that done by Byzantine Christians at the start of Lent, but here a literal olive branch is extended.  The hope was that peace could be restored before the Easter Season.

There is also a particular tradition common to the region of Campania, where the olive branches are decorated, including with treats.  These olive branches are typically given as gifts to family and friends.

Young Girls holding Palme di Confetti (source)

This tradition is particularly strong in the town of Sorrento, on the bay of Naples.  In this town they adorn the olive branches with caciocavallo cheese, little salamis, and colored ribbons.  There is also the particular tradition of making palme di confetti, artificial twigs or saplings, and also baskets, decorated with treats called confetti or Jordan almonds, which are sugar-covered almonds.  According to pious tradition, in the sixteenth century, the town was threatened by a Saracen fleet on one Palm Sunday.  The faithful had taken refuge in the cathedral church and prayed for deliverance.  The priest, already vested for the ceremony, proceeded with the blessing of olive branches.  The second blessing from the Missal of Pius V, it should be noted, asks that where these blessed branches are that God’s “right hand may preserve from all adversity and protect those that have been redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son.”Perhaps this prayer was in use at this time in Sorrento.  In any case, during the blessing, in response to their prayers and possibly also due to the power of the sacramentals recently blessed, a storm broke out and the ships were sunk.   There was, according to the account, only one survivor, a young slave girl.  She made it to shore and, in thanks to God for saving her both from death and slavery, embraced the Catholic Faith.  She was found by a fisherman and led to the cathedral where she was welcomed by the townsfolk.  In gratitude, she offered the confetti she was carrying on her which were distributed among those gathered.  Until this time, the confection was unknown in the area.  With the memory of this event, these artificial palme di confetti are made and blessed on Palm Sunday together with natural olive branches.7

As was said at the beginning of this article, practices such as these complement the universal Liturgy, allowing for local expression.  May these practices, formed under the wings of the Liturgy, as it were, by our Catholic forefathers, be restored where they have fallen into neglect, preserved where they are still practiced, and adopted/adapted where proper.  For they are also treasures of the Church.

Fr. William Rock, FSSP was ordained in the fall of 2019 and is currently assigned to Regina Caeli Parish in Houston, TX.  Thanks are owed to Mr. Patrick A. O’Boyle, Esq., SMOCG, for his contributions.

In support of the causes of Blessed Maria Cristina, Queen, and Servant of God Francesco II, King

    1. The Italian Apostolate of the Archdiocese of Newark is reviving this practice.
    2. In the Holy Week promulgated by Pope Pius XII, only one prayer, which was previously the fifth, is used for the blessing of the palms and possibly the branches of olive and other trees, depending.
    3. Guéranger, Prosper. The Liturgical Year, vol. 6 (Passiontide and Holy Week). Trans. Shepherd, Laurence. (Fitzwilliam: Loreto Publications, 2000), p. 208.
    4. Ibid., p. 209.
    5. Ibid., p. 210.
    6. Ibid., p. 209.
    7. More information can be found on articles online here, here, here, here, and here.

March 24, 2024

Thoughts on the Cabrini Movie

by Fr. William Rock, FSSP

Mother Cabrini Relic (front)

On the Saturday evening of its opening weekend, I took the parish’s Young Adult group to see the Cabrini movie.  I brought along with me a second-class relic of Mother Cabrini which once belonged to my grandparents.  When I asked my mother about the relic, she said that she remembers a daytrip taken one summer when she was little.  She and her family – great-grandmother, grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. – traveled from their home in New Jersey to the Cabrini Shrine in New York.  Perhaps, my mother suspects, the relic came from this visit.  I can only surmise what having this relic must have meant to my Italian-American ancestors.  For my mother’s mother’s family is from the town of Cerami in Sicily, while her father’s side is from different communities in the south-eastern part of Italian peninsula.  Not too long before the events depicted in Cabrini, southern Italy and Sicily were an independent kingdom which was unjustly invaded and then incorporated into the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy.  Prior to this “unification,” the majority of emigration was from the north.  But afterwards, no doubt due to the conditions which followed “unification,” there was mass emigration from the south and Sicily.  Although she was from the north, it was primarily these immigrants from the south and Sicily whom Mother Cabrini served in New York.  So then, not only did I go to see a movie about the first canonized American citizen, but also to see a portrayal of how my mother’s people, how my people – though not necessarily members of our family – were treated when they first arrived in these United States.  A part of American history which is perhaps not well-known.

After the movie was over, I was asked what I thought about the movie by the Young Adults.  I told them, at the time, it was a lot to process, but in a good way.  In the hallway outside of the theater, I shared the relic with the Young Adults and then gave them a blessing before we departed.

Mother Cabrini Relic (reverse)

As I continued to process my experience of the movie, I settled on the following.  First, and most importantly, I do not believe I have ever felt the same after watching any other movie.  There was calm, a peace, a quiet joy or happiness.  Trying to place the movie among others which might be like it, I settled on Gettysburg or Gods and Generals.  This, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt as I am not a film critic by any stretch (and it has been a while since I have seen these movies).  But, as of the writing of this article, Cabrini stands with a 91% critics’ score and a 98% audience score (based on over 1,000 audience reviews) on the Rotten Tomatoes website.  In my opinion, for what it is worth, to call this a “good movie” would not do it justice.

It does seem, however, that there is a somewhat negative reception of this movie among Catholics due to disappointment over the perceived lack of prayer, Catholic spirituality, and God.  Responding to this criticism, I would start by saying that I think it is important to keep in mind what this film actually is.  It is distributed by Angel Studios which is, if we were to assign a religious tag to it, Mormon.  The movie was intended for a general viewership not a specifically Catholic one, unlike movies offered by EWTN or other such outlets of Catholic media.  It is a movie about Catholics, but not a “Catholic movie,” and it was never intended to be.  It is a movie about a Catholic saint, but not a “saint movie,” and it was never intended to be.  It was never intended to be a Song of Bernadette, a Reluctant Saint, or a Passion.  We should not hold this movie to a standard it was not trying to meet.

Lavinia Fontana’s Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well (source)

Additionally, I think it is providential that the movie came out on the Friday of the Third Week of Lent.  The Gospel of the day is the account of Our Lord and the Woman at the Well (John 4:5-42).  Our Lord did not begin the conversation by saying “I am the Christ and you are a sinner.”  Rather, He began by saying something more innocuous – “Give Me to drink” of the water of the well.  Then, from this beginning, He went deeper.  I think this movie is something similar – it is only the beginning of the conversation, a conversation which can, and hopefully will, go deeper.1  But, if it started too deep, if it was too heavy-handed, so to speak, it would most likely put folks off.

It should also be noted that the movie is not completely void of any references to God or spirituality.  A Priest is shown carrying around what I assume is his breviary.  There is a funeral procession.  Religious images are seen the backgrounds.  Mother Cabrini and her daughters are shown praying grace, in Latin, before eating and, when she is in Rome, she is shown praying in a chapel.  She also makes references to/quotes Scripture (such as Philippians 4:13), even if the references are subtle.  I think that this is the case with the movie overall – the presentation of Catholicism is subtle, being expressed as a major part of the warp and weft of the characters’ lives without calling undue attention to itself.  The presentation, then, is not heavy-handed, which goes back to the point considered in the preceding paragraph.

Mother Cabrini (source)

When I recommended seeing Cabrini, either in person or on the Ask A Priest Live program, before I had seen the movie, I did state that I had heard that her spiritual life was downplayed, but that the movie should still be seen.  Now, after having seen the movie for myself, I even more whole-heartly recommend seeing it, but with proper expectations – that is, not holding this movie to a standard it was never trying to meet, keeping in mind the actual target audience, and not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good – so that it can be appreciated for what it is.

Mother Cabrini, Pray for us!

Fr. William Rock, FSSP was ordained in the fall of 2019 and is currently assigned to Regina Caeli Parish in Houston, TX.  

In support of the causes of Blessed Maria Cristina, Queen, and Servant of God Francesco II, King

 

  1. Further and deeper discussion can be aided by using additional materials such as those made available by Sophia Press (here, here, and here).

March 13, 2024