Monday, September 23, 2013

Pope Francis is more Catholic than the Pope

The Holy Father's recent interview, published for the American audience in America magazine, gave a lot of fodder for the press and for Catholics to consider. Unfortunately but predictably, the whole 10,000 word interview was reduced to a few shibboleths: abortion, gay marriage, contraception, and the worst: obsession.



The event was not really predictable (nothing Pope Francis does, nor the Holy Spirit for that matter, is predictable), but nor should the responses be surprising.

On the one hand, hypertrad Catholics are claiming that Pope Francis is making up things as he goes along and deviating from "the faith that was handed down, once for all, to the saints" (Jude 1:3). A major Spanish Catholic intellectual, Juan Manuel de Prada, is suggesting that he has essentially capitulated, if not lost his faith, due to what Pope Francis has said. From his first Mass Pope Francis was accused of wanting to dismantle the liturgical reforms of Pope Benedict XVI and cast in suspicion of wanting to suppress the Extraordinary Form; the more vitriolic calling him a heretic and an apostate for washing the feet of a Muslim woman in prison. He stands accused with John Paul II and Benedict XVI for continuing the authentic vision of the Vatican Council which incorporates a broader understanding of the human person in community and how the Church needs to meet the contemporary world with the unchanging Gospel.

One person suggested to me that unless Francis was willing to have homosexual clerics turned over to the secular authorities to be put to death, as his predecessor Pius V did in Horrendum illud scelus, he was deviating from the teachings of his predecessors, if not actually promoting gay clergy and gay marriage. (Parenthetically, consider carefully Fr Zuhlsdorf's explanation of that document: Pius V simply lifted the Church's protection against these secular crimes, much as the Church has done de jure if not always de facto against priests who molest children.)  Regardless of their pet grievances, Francis is their poster boy.

On the other hand, the MSM and the other usual Professional Misinterpreters of All Things Catholic are raising the victory banners in triumph as their headlines proclaim that Francis is moving the Church out of the Dark Ages to finally stop her obsessive moralistic posturing against abortion, contraception, and gay marriage. Surely this Pope will finally ordain women priest!  The sense of distortion has become cartoonish: some whacked correspondent at Slate has just declared: "Pope Francis is a Flaming Liberal" (and he really seems to mean it).

Even entirely orthodox churchmen are saying things like, "God has given the Church a 21st Century Pastor for a 21st Century Church..."

The last quote reminded me of a similar one by St Augustine, "God has given the Church a 5th Century Pastor for a 5th Century Church." Oops, no I got that one wrong, what he actually said was, "The Church of today, of the present, is the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven" (City of God, 20.9.1.).  What was true in 413 AD is true in 2013 AD.

In short, progressives are clinging on to his every word for signs of change, and distorting his core message to confirm their view of a demotic, nonjudgmental/open/inclusive/welcoming progressive Church that Vatican Two was supposed to usher in, while traditionalists are sifting through his every word for signs of apostasy and confirmation that Modernism has triumphed in the Church against the warnings of Popes Leo XIII, Pius X and Pius XII, again that Vatican Two was supposed to have ushered in.

Pope Francis' pontificacy has so far been a sort of ecclesiastical Rorschach test: folks see in him, in his style, and in his words what they want to see: to the progressive he's a progressive (and that's a Good Thing); to the hypertrad he's a progressive (and that's a Bad Thing). But like a true shibboleth (a Hebrew word that is unpronounceable to the foreigner, and so gives away the fact that the person botching the term is not a member of the tribe), those who have seized upon terms give themselves away as not understanding the Catholic Faith -- whether out of disinterest to give a fair hearing, ignorance, intellectual laziness, malice, ideological blinders, or confusion.

Understanding the right context: relationship


I would suggest that the hermeneutical key to all of Francis' comments about the Church in the modern world, including how she presents herself to an increasingly hostile society, is his understanding of relationship. Both the progressive and the hypertrad miss the whole message of relationship: the progressive, because once the person is reduced to the modern economic unit of utility, and sexuality is removed from its biological and essential role in procreation, there is no necessary relationship; the hypertrad because they seem to substitute a liturgical and doctrinal formalism for the essentially charitable character of what Christian unity means.

The progressive ignores the principles of man as the imago dei and of subsidiarity, the hypertrad ignores the principle of solidarity. Both sides ignore the main point of the Petrine Office that the protections of the Church against error reside in the Keeper of the Keys, and that in the words of Jesus which were recalled by Pius XII in Humani Generis, "He who hears you, hears me" (Luke 10:16). So both the progressive and the hypertrad are now allies in their common attack on the Successor of Peter, a pincer movement from both flanks, each in their own way missing the whole message of relationship that Pope Francis is bring to the world.

For Francis, as for all Catholics, relationship is the heart of the Gospel. God reveals himself in a Trinitarian relationship: relationship is the whole order of the cosmos because it is in the nature of God. Relationship imbues the whole material order: from the way atoms adhere to create molecules to create proteins and amino acids and cells and life, to the way that hydrogen bonding allows ice to float so that life itself can exist as we know it, to the gravitational balance of the entire solar system, with the elliptical orbits and the quirky lunar cycle that was necessary for us to exist.

Throughout salvation history God continues to call humanity into relationship with himself. Emmanuel, "God with us".  The Incarnation speaks of the restored relationship between God and man, the spiritual and the material, the body and the soul. The whole Gospel is a call to relationship with us in God, and with each other in Christ and the Church.  The very notion of the Church, the Ecclesia, is that we are 'called' (the root of Ekklesia is kaleo, "I call") into relationship with God and one another in Christ. This is the whole mission of Christ: to redeem all of humanity and to give every person throughout time the opportunity to be in relationship with God as his sons and daughters. "For He was made man that we might be made God" (St Athanasius).

St Athanasius of Alexandria: "For He was made man that we might be made God"


God made us for relationship: as the Baltimore Catechism simply says:
Q. 150. Why did God make you? A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.
 In word, relationship.

All of the Church's teachings in theology (matters of faith) are ordered to rightly understanding God and the things of God such that we can have a proper relationship with God as he has revealed himself to us. All of the Church's teachings in matters of morality are ordered toward a right understanding of what it means to love and serve God and each other as fully human beings made in his image and for our happiness.  All of the Church's sacraments are ways of participating in the life of Christ and receiving his grace for us to live our lives in healthy relationship with God and with each other. All of the Church's canons and regulations and rubrics and administrative structure find their validity in maintaining and protecting these central teachings that are necessary for the Church to continue throughout history, so that 2000 years after the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ we can positively and objectively know the truths of the Gospel and how we ought to live our lives to be holy, healthy, and happy.

I have no doubt that Pope Francis gets this. He is going out to the lost sheep, to the world that is hostile to the Gospel and to Christ and his Church (not always for bad reasons, given the ways that fallen human nature have at times distorted the message of the Gospel from within the Church herself), and he is seeking to establish bridges of communication and common interests to help all men and women of good will find meaning and reconciliation with God through the Gospel. He goes after the lost sheep because he was one of  them: self-identifying with St Matthew in the famous Carvaggio painting: Christ personally calls us into relationship.

That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.

So don't worry that the Holy Father is going to stop teaching the Apostolic faith (for me, an epistemological impossibility), or that he is going to discontinue the Church's vehement opposition to all things that destroy and corrupt human relationship, or that he is itching to suppress the legitimate and salutary liturgical practices of the Benedictine reform, or that he might just go off the reservation and start ordaining women priests or blessing gay unions as sacramental marriages, or anything of the sort.

Pope Francis understands that it is Christ who moves the heart to embrace the virtues that help us to live lives of holiness and order. Our call is to bring others to Christ as that they can be transformed by His love and His sacraments in the Church.  Anything artificial or any man made obstacle to the call to relationship with Christ is to be removed. He has been living this all his life as a Catholic, honing it as a Jesuit for some 55 years, and now proclaiming it from the Chair of Peter. This trajectory is the organic continuation of his baptismal vow that made him Catholic, his religious vows that made him Jesuit, the graces of his ordination that made him priest and then bishop, and which must be considered the basis of his pontificacy to bring all people to Christ.  He is now doing so on the world stage as the Successor of Peter exactly what he as long done as a simple baptized Catholic and as an archbishop living in poverty among his flock: it is the same thing we are all called to do as baptized Catholics.

Pope Francis is, indeed, more Catholic than the Pope.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The people of Fargo are sane and normal and Catholic...

So says Kevin O'Brien in his blog Waiting for Godot to Leave.
Sts. Anne and Joachim, Fargo ND. Exterior from the North
(Design Architect: Liturgical Environs PC; Architect of Record: Zerr-Berg)

What the Church Is (Illustrated)

  • The Church is the Body of Christ.  It is people, members of the Body, living together, loving one another, sharing the great vision, a perspective that includes all of reality.  It is a living culture, a vital thing.

  • The Church is Fargo, North Dakota. Who would have expected that?  The Church of St. Anne & Joachim, built only three years ago, is one of the most tremendous churches in North America (see photos below).  It is filled with beautiful new stained glass - the kind I was told could not be made any more, as all craftsmen had lost the skill.  It is filled with stunning mosaics of the Stations, with quotations etched in marble from Scripture, with statues and with beauty. The people of Fargo are sane and normal and Catholic.  Fargo is what Ave Maria, Florida is trying to be.  In Ave Maria it is a deliberate, artificial construct.  In Fargo it has grown up naturally, the fruit of many years of having good solid orthodox bishops.  Fargo shows us what the Catholic Church not only could be - but what it really is.
Sts. Anne and Joachim, Fargo ND. Interior of the Nave toward the Sanctuary
(Design Architect: Liturgical Environs PC; Architect of Record: Zerr-Berg)

Kevin's comments are prompted by his visit to Sts Anne and Joachim in Fargo, which was a wonderful project for us to design for the parish. Under the pastoral guidance of Fr Brian Bachmeier, with the full support of then Bishop Sam Aquila, the entire community came to understand what was at stake liturgically, theologically, aesthetically, and culturally, and what they needed to do as Catholics called to manifest the Heavenly Jerusalem in their own home town. 

It is a deliberately *sacramental* building -- "a sign and symbol of the heavenly realities" -- as the Church calls us always to strive for. What a blessing to have been involved in the project.

Entirely sane. Entirely normal. Entirely Catholic.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

"Is that a church, or is that a public utility power station?"


My friend Tino Grisi, a rising academic who recently defended his doctoral dissertation on Emil Steffann at the University of Bologna, posted a short photo essay showing three similar views of a church parapet and belltower, all from the 20th century.



MATERIA Emil Steffann, Heilig Geist, — in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany.
FIGURA. Rudolf Schwarz, St. Michael (1954-1961)— in Frankfurt, Hessen, Germany.
FINZIONE. Allmann Sattler Wappner, Herz Jesu (1996-2000) — at München.

It's an interesting photo essay, asking us to consider "material" or "matter" in its core sense where we as architects take matter and use it to produce meaning. The meaning is somehow congruent with the material, and we are artists using our reason to impart form to the material to express in our buildings the depth of the meaning.  It is a sacramental intuition, deeply symbolic in the sense that the mediaevals understood symbol: how things are in the mind of God.

He then asks us to consider the "figure", or the image as detached from the material reality and the sacramental reality, but working within that language of forms for its meaning. This is a cultural phenomenon, what the linguist might call a "dead metaphor". It starts from reality of the symbol, but is necessarily a reductivist enterprise. How can the symbol retain meaning apart from its relationship to creation?  What tells us it's a church bell tower, and not a smoke stack at a public utility power station?

Finally, il dottore Grisi shows us the "fiction": a purely formalist expression intended to solve the utilitarian problem. Oh, you need some vertical gesture to point to "heaven"? Here, have a scaffold that expresses little more than the tectonic forces of gravity that must be overcome.  We'll even tattoo a cross into the skin so you think it "religious". And that church can be reduced to nothing more than a transparent glass box: as the US Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy once said: "It does not have to 'look like' anything else, past or present" since the building is merely "a shelter or 'skin' for the a liturgical action" (Environment and Art in Catholic Worship). In this fiction, there is  no necessary relationship between the exterior and what goes on inside. There is no mystery to be veiled, nothing sacred. It is nothing more than a soul-garage to park bodies.

To this photo essay I would add the final destruction of the sacred image: the church de/signed.

How to De/Sign a Church 


Such was Peter Eisenman's intention when he proposed his plan for the Church of the Year 2000, the architectural competition arranged by the Holy See and the Vicariate of Rome to commemorate the Jubilee Year. Even his admirers note that Eisenman,

endeavors to produce an architecture that is autonomous and self-referential—that is hermetically sealed off from all concerns except the process of its own fabrication and fabulation—make his works virtually impenetrable. (Robert Stern)
Philip Johnson admitted that he was unable to follow the tortuous path of Eisenmen's thinking. Eisenman is undoubtedly well versed in the Greek metaphysical system, as his seminal 1963 book, Toward an Understanding of Form in Architecture, attests. Yet by the time he was asked to propose a design for the Church of the Year 2000 he was more taken by, and working in action and reaction to the structuralist linguistic theories of de Saussure, Levi-Strauss, and Chomsky, as well as the post-structural critiques through Derrida. His central question was not "how to design a church?", but rather the problem of "sign" itself: "It is not a question of denying the function and meaning of the object, but rather an attempt to question the legitimacy of the formal decisions made in their name."  So he deliberately eschews the figurative since for him, the main architectural problem is that, "the figural in architecture has always been lodged in the figurative."  This seems like an arcane concern, and one that could actually arguably be addressed through an understanding of the Catholic sacramental tradition of church building (e.g., the Church as the Celestial City or the Body of Christ does not need to look like a body or a city), but this does not seem to concern Eisenman. Instead he seeks to de/sign the church -- remove all intelligible significance from the formal expression of the church. 

Thus, Eisenman's entry is a deliberately aniconic and anti-sacramental building.  Rather than look for meaning in figuration or even an appeal to some formalist fiction, Eisenman takes on his clients on their own terms.  Why would the Vicariate of Rome ask three secular Jewish Americans, a nonpracticing German Lutheran, a post Catholic Spaniard, and a Japanese Buddhist to design a Catholic church? It's as jarring and as mind boggling as if the Pope had asked Jacques Derrida to write a catechism. Do you really want to see what the modern scientistic, postmodern world thinks of your "Church"? Here, let me show you: 


DE/SIGN: The Church of the Year 2000 Competition, Peter Eisenman 1995. Model.



Eisenman's plan is comprised of two separate, linear, irregular crystalline building forms that erupt from the site like icebergs, or primal chthonic masses shaped by geomechanical forces. These two forms grow out of the ground from the west, creating a valley between them, that accentuate the delta shape of the site. 

The northern mass contains the rectory, parish offices, and daily chapel in the ground floor; the southern mass contains the meeting rooms, social hall, and classrooms on this lower level. The irregular canyon-like space defined by these two forms is inexplicably marked “relics underground.” 

DE/SIGN: The Church of the Year 2000 Competition, Peter Eisenman 1995. Drawing.

This central canyon is, for Eisenman, “the space for community” as distinct from the side nave which are “the space for communion,” and so the social hall, parish offices, and residence are accessed from this space. At this base level are the major entrance into the church, two cave-like mouths at each end, east and west respectively, that serve as ramps up to the church proper on the upper floor. 


DE/SIGN: The Church of the Year 2000 Competition, Peter Eisenman 1995. Model.
This church is, inexplicably, divided into two naves with lateral banks of pews that parallel the erratic linear building shapes and seem to look into the central canyon. A triangular section is cut out of the nave and designated as “altar”, which seems to have no obvious relationship to the banks of pews or the canyon courtyard below.

Eisenman's basis for church building is not the human body, it's not the tent or the temple, it's not the Heavenly City. Rather it's the liquid crystal, and this for two "reasons".  The liquid crystal holds some interesting properties, and especially apt for the deconstructionist: the liquid crystal has no determined form, and its temporal shape is the unpredictable condition of a particular temperature and other physical forces. Therefore, it serves aptly to express nothing more than indeterminancy, lack of order, the condition of "in-between" where nothing is knowable and everything is in flux.
 
Secondly, the liquid crystal is an image of communications and the modern media. Eisenman explicitly draws the implication, noting that “The facades of the church in the Middle Ages were a form of media. The facades of our church become an other form of media, one between the diagram of the liquid crystal and a large-scale liquid crystal screen.”  Reality is what the media tells us it is. 

This then explains the liturgical and sacramental message of the project: the split naves do not communicate with each other, and they do not communicate with the sanctuary. Rather, the congregation communicates with each other through a "media wall": in an age of information everyone has to watch TV: there is no Mass, only mass media; there is no communion, only communication.

In short, Eisenman is calling the whole Catholic sacramental system whereby we participate in the lift of Christ and in real relationship with each other, a complete farce. Whatever is going on at the altar in the Mass, there is really no way to get there. There is no unity in the body of Christ but rather a bifurcated nave that communicate with each other by media walls and mediating spaces that isolate rather than unite.

This project however, is only episodic for Eisenman, who posits in the modern age a condition of complete alienation from meaning, culture, history, conventional symbol, and community. That is the logical and rational implications of the modern condition built on scientistic and physicalist prinicples, undoubtedly, and I do not criticize Eisenman for holding this position. It's either the Incarnation and order and relationship that infuse the Universe, or random happenstance and some temporary in-between status of chaos with nothing but chemicals and physical forces acting on material stuff in one of an infinite potential number of multiverses.

No, the real problem is with the silly prelates and clergy who turned to secular intellectuals to ask "how should we pray?" "what should our churches look like?", all in the name of some supposed dialogue with modernity that hold the Church in contempt. 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The fault here lies entirely with the Catholic Church leadership who did not ask for a true dialogue with modernity, but was rather content to sit at the feed of the modernist starchitects and let them hold forth in a pontificating monologue about the shape of Catholic worship.  Had the Church asked Richard Meier or Gunter Behnisch to model a church that speaks of the Body of Christ to us today; or Eisenman to envision a church that somehow anticipates the Heavenly Jerusalem; or to have Ando and Gehry and Calatrava find an appropriate container for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we might have had an interesting discussion.  Instead we were given a whole series of projects that were pretty much stylistically indistinguishable from anything else these architects just knock out for their prestigious clients. 

But for an architect and thinker of Eisenman’s caliber, it is all the more a missed opportunity. The notion of liquid crystal formation is not alien to Catholic theology, and is even plausible as a trope for understanding the ultimate resolution of the particular and the universal in the sacramental order of creation. Such thoughts were penned a half century before Eisenman’s own intrigue with the liquid crystal by one of the great spiritual directors of the mid 20th century, the Trappist monk Dom Eugene Boylan. 

In Boylan’s own mediation on the liquid crystal in This Tremendous Lover, the healthy theological imagination shows that even cutting edge technology can speak of the mysteries of Christ and his Church:
 
There is a phenomenon in the natural order which illustrates a great principle of the supernatural order: it is the structure and the growth of crystals. Each crystalline substance has its own characteristic shape; wherever complete crystals occur, no only the whole crystal, but also each unit of it, has that particular shape. If a crystal be suspended in a suitable solution of the substance of which it is composed—the ‘mother liquor’ as it is called—that crystal will grow by drawing to itself material from the solution, forming it to its own image and likeness, and then uniting it to itself, yet so that the new and greater unity is an exact replica of the original nucleus and of each of the component units.


So it is with Christ. Lifted up on the cross, He draws all things to himself, as St. Irenaeus says, ‘He recapitulated in Himself the long history of men, ‘summing us up’ and giving us salvation, that we might receive again in Christ Jesus what we have lost in Adam, that is the image and likeness of God…


…There is, of course, individual diversity between the members but there is also a fundamental unity of pattern. To see it, one must first look below the surface of the individuating differences to observe the common pattern, and then stand back far enough from the complete unity to see it as a whole; for unless something of a consummation be glimpsed, there is difficulty in seeing the full significance of the individual destiny and of the common bond.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sainte-Chapelle



One of the great joys I have in teaching is learning from my students.  In our course on The Catholic Imagination, at University of Mary (Tempe Campus), I gave an assignment to the students for a synthesis project to analyze a church building or a specific text in respect to the course goals.

The main thesis we are exploring in this class is the way that the believer perceives God and lives the Catholic faith in the fullness of our humanity and in the fullness of the created order. It is about the way God created us to know him: body and soul, intellect and senses, memory and imagination; it is about the symbolic meaning of the natural order by which God speaks to us; and it is about the way Christ and the Church use these symbols and sacraments to lead us to the Kingdom of God.  Sweeping themes, but in so many ways central to the very core of Christianity because it comes down to one main notion that pervades all of Catholic theology: relationship.

In the first presentation of the class, on the Rationale Divinorum Officiorum of Durandus of Mende, a late medieval text on the symbols that inform the Catholic sacraments, liturgy, architecture, and art,  the student gave us a beautiful gloss on Durandus' treatment of stained glass. She suggested that from outside the church stained glass appears dull and indistinct, but when we are inside the church, the stained glass comes to life in the radiance of the sun's light. And in that illumination we find joy and meaning.

The theological implications are clear, and central to the core theme of the course: that outside the Church much of the world seems dull and grey, indistinct and only dimly intelligible. Yet from within the Church, illuminated by the light of Christ and by grace, all things take on beauty and meaning, and move our hearts and minds. 

As Abbot Suger of St-Denis wrote in the century before Durandus, "The dull mind rises to truth through that which is material and, in seeing this light, is resurrected from its former submersion." In Christ and in his Church we suddenly perceive the relationship between beauty and order through form. The whole world is illuminated for us to see ever more clearly, beginning the process of which St Paul speaks, "We see things now in a confused way, as if through a darkened mirror, but then we shall see face to face" (1 Cor 12:13).

This insight is at the heart of the Catholic sacraments: that through the material order, and only through the material, do we connect to the spiritual realm. We come to God not as mere "mind" in some rationalist fashion, nor as only "spirit" apart from the body and the material order as would the Gnostics both ancient and modern have it. Rather, it is in the fullness of our humanity, both body and soul, that we come to God. This is the way we were made, and this is the way God ordered creation: to speak of relationship. This is the incarnational principle of the Catholic faith: it answers the question of St Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, why God became man.

In fact, we cannot get to God any other way but through our bodies and our senses fully cooperating with our hearts and minds and working in union with the grace of God. Only in Christ can we look upon what seems to be bread and wine and understand that it is now the Body and Blood of Christ-- simply because Our Lord declares it to be so. Only in Christ can we look upon the corpse of our beloved and have hope that he or she now lives in Christ, because of Christ's promise to bring us to eternal life. Only in Christ can we understand that to feed the poor, and to clothe the naked, and to visit the imprisoned is to do so for Christ, since in the words of Blessed John Paul II, "Christ has united himself for ever through this mystery" with every person. To do a work of mercy, to love on another, is to love Christ. We can do it no other way, and if we don't do it through love we simply do not do it.




This splendid insight about the power of light through stained glass, and how grace illumines our hearts and minds to see more clearly, was followed up in the next presentation by a student presenting the Sainte-Chapelle, the magnificent reliquary chapel built in Paris by St Louis the King to house, among other items of devotion, the Crown of Thorns.  Louis IX was an exact contemporary of Durandus, about 15 years his elder, and we ought to assume was completely informed architecturally and theologically by the same sacramental and architectural understandings that Durandus worked so diligently to catalog in his magisterial Rationale

Sainte-Chapelle is uncontested as the epitome of the Gothic rayonnant style -- where all the technology of the age:  the pointed arch, flying buttresses, the ribbed vault, and exacting mathematical proportions: allowed for massive expanses of stained glass windows. This was not a mere stylistic exercise, but rather the application of architectural skill to dematerialize the stone building, to create the effect of being in a soaring building of glass. But even more than that: the theological vision of the Gothic builders was not to create a mere building of glass, but more "the city of pure gold, that seemed like transparent glass" (Rev 21:21). It is the Heavenly Jerusalem that has, "no need for sun or moon, since the Lamb gives it light."





This heavenly Jerusalem is perhaps the more important inspiration for architects, at least from the fourth century when Eusebius commented on the new Cathedral at Tyre,
But the region above the heavens, with the models of earthly things which are there, and the so-called Jerusalem above, and the heavenly Mount of Zion, and the celestial city of the living God, in which innumerable choirs of angels and the Church of the first born, whose names are written in heaven, praise their Maker...
The celestial city is the architectural setting for the heavenly liturgy, where the angels and saints eternally worship the Trinity, "day and night they cried unceasingly, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who ever was, and is, and is still to come" (Rev 4:8).



How appropriate it was that in this presentation that the student brought to my attention a beautiful piece of contemporary sacred music, a hymn by Eric Whitacre based on a poem by Charles Anthony Silvestri, commissioned in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Tallis Scholars. The hymn interlaces a simple story of a young girl who is lifted up mystically into the heavenly liturgy with the words of the Mass as the angels sing through the radiant stained glass at Sainte Chapelle.


video

Sainte-Chapelle

© 2013 Charles Anthony Silvestri


Castissima virgo                              An innocent girl
Advenit in capellam;                       Entered the chapel
Et angeli in vitro                        And the angels in the glass
Molliter cantaverunt,                      Softly sang,

"Hosanna in excelsis!"                    “Hosanna in the highest!”

Illa castissima                                  The innocent girl
Susurravit,                                        Whispered,

"Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus!"          “Holy! Holy! Holy!”

Lux implevit spatium,                     Light filled the chamber,
Multiformis colore;                         Many-colored light;
Et audivit vocem suam                   She heard her voice
Resonare,                                         Echo,

"Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus!"         “Holy! Holy! Holy!”

Molliter angeli cantaverunt,          Softly the angels sang

"Dominus Deus sabaoth,              “Lord God of Hosts,
Pleni sunt coeli et terra                  Heaven and earth are full
Gloria tua!"                                      Of your glory!”

"Hosanna in excelsis!                      “Hosannah in the highest!
Hosanna in excelsis!"                      Hosannah in the highest!”
Vox in lumine transformat,            Her voice became light,
Et lumen canit,                                 And the light sang,

"Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus!"          “Holy! Holy! Holy!”

Lumen canit molliter,                      The light sang softly,

"Dominus Deus sabaoth,               “Lord God of Hosts,
Pleni sunt coeli et terra                   Heaven and earth are full
Gloria tua!"                                       Of your glory!”

Castissima virgo                              An innocent girl
Advenit in capellam;                       Entered the chapel
Et angeli in vitro                              And the angels in the glass
Molliter cantaverunt.                      Softly sang.



Almost 800 years after King Louis IX, the message of the chapel still speaks to us. The building is indeed sacramental, and still has the power to move us to have some glimpse of the relationship between heaven and earth, between the order of music and poetry and architecture, between the body and the soul, between God and his creation.

The notion of relationship appears to be developing as the main theme of Pope Francis' pontificacy. I am becoming more and more convinced that within this understanding all the strange and quirky, and even troubling and bothersome, things he says, suddenly make perfect sense. For this is what the Gospel is about: Emmanuel, God with Us, sharing in our humanity that we might share in Christ's divinity.  This is what it is all about: the Incarnation, the Church, the Sacraments, the call to evangelize, the meaning of human relationships, our final destination in the Heavenly City, even the architecture of a tiny chapel in the middle of Paris where the angels eternally sing Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.