The Sountrack for All Souls Day

I’ve been a fan of the Dias Irae, the traditional chant for the dead, since I first became aware of it and its bone-chilling beauty. Due to its unfortunate state of disuse in the liturgy, that did not happen until sometime around my college years, but as the video below makes clear, I had been hearing it many time before without knowing it. This fascinating video tracks the history of this amazing chant, especially as it has embedded itself deeply within popular culture, so that for Westerners at least, it can truly be considered the sountrack for the dead.

The music, of course, is haunting, but in case you’re wondering, here are the equally amazing lyrics in Latin and English. As I said, it is both appropriately bone-chilling and beautiful:

1 Dies iræ, dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.
Day of wrath and doom impending.
David’s word with Sibyl’s blending,
Heaven and earth in ashes ending.
2 Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando Judex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!
Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth,
When from heaven the Judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth.
3 Tuba mirum spargens sonum,
Per sepulchra regionum,
Coget omnes ante thronum.
Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth;
Through earth’s sepulchres it ringeth;
All before the throne it bringeth.
4 Mors stupebit et natura,
Cum resurget creatura,
Judicanti responsura.
Death is struck, and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.
5 Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus judicetur.
Lo, the book, exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded,
Thence shall judgement be awarded.
6 Judex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.
When the Judge his seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.
7 Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
Cum vix justus sit securus?
What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?
8 Rex tremendæ majestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis,
Salva me, fons pietatis.
King of Majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us!
9 Recordare, Jesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuæ viæ:
Ne me perdas illa die.
Think, kind Jesu, my salvation
Caused Thy wondrous Incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation.
10 Quærens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti Crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus.
Faint and weary, Thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suffering bought me.
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
11 Juste Judex ultionis,
Donum fac remissionis,
Ante diem rationis.
Righteous Judge, for sin’s pollution
Grant Thy gift of absolution,
Ere the day of retribution.
12 Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
Culpa rubet vultus meus:
Supplicanti parce, Deus.
Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning;
Spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning!
13 Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.
Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.
14 Preces meæ non sunt dignæ;
Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
Ne perenni cremer igne.
Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.
15 Inter oves locum præsta.
Et ab hædis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.
With Thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To Thy right hand do Thou guide me.
16 Confutatis maledictis,
Flammis acribus addictis,
Voca me cum benedictis.
When the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me with Thy saints surrounded.
17 Oro supplex et acclinis,
Cor contritum quasi cinis,
Gere curam mei finis.
Low I kneel, with heart’s submission,
See, like ashes, my contrition,
Help me in my last condition.
18 Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla,
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
Ah! that day of tears and mourning,
From the dust of earth returning
Man for judgement must prepare him,
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him.
19 Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem. Amen.
Lord, all-pitying, Jesus blest,
Grant them Thine eternal rest. Amen.

How to Identify a Good Book


 Recently, I waxed eloquent (turgid, you say?) on my attempts to read only Good Books to my children. I focused mainly on The Little Prince, which I consider to be a perfect book if there ever was one, but would like to say more about what criteria we might look for in other books to be able to identify them as “Good.”

We’ve all heard of the Great Books. Perhaps the most common list has been prepared by Mortimer Adler. If you just now took a glance you might agree that it is hardly a reading project to jump into unprepared. How in the world can a person profit from the writing of Aristotle and Plato without any prior formation in the culture that produced them? This is precisely the problem that John Senior identifies in The Death of Christian Culture.

zoolander read good

noted genius and male model Derek Zoolander also is aware of our plight

In the essay appended to the end of the book entitled “A Thousand Good Books”, Senior writes,

 The Great Books movement of the last generation has not failed as much as fizzled, not because of any defect in the books – ‘the best that has been thought and said,’ in Matthew Arnold’s phrase – but like good champagne in plastic bottles, they went flat.

 The reason? It is because we are no longer schooled in a culture of virtue. Our education has no idea anymore beyond materialism and is content to teach our children functional skills alone. The children are cogs to be fit into an economic machine. Because of this, the imagination is discounted. Fairy tales are a waste of time when we can have our children instead reading functional texts about being successful in life, right? The problem, though, is that without a well formed imagination, a person will have difficulty in holding abstract concepts in the intellect. Senior elaborates when earlier in the book he writes,

Unless the mind achieves its perfection in the making of conceptual judgments, religion and philosophy cannot be understood…to put the intellect first, we must have restored the imagination.

Classical education, especially in the tradition of John Henry Cardinal Newman, understands this and so has as its idea friendship with God. A child is educated in order to know his true purpose in life, to find God, to know him, and to be happy with him forever. Education is aimed at making a person into a saint. The virtues are a mirror reflecting the divine essence and so take a central place in any good education. Gentlemanly behavior is encouraged. A bedrock of culture and tradition is cultivated. Newman’s idea has much in common with the medieval and the classical Greco-Roman cultures. When compared to modern education, the entire purpose is different.

Senior explains how recent developments in education have changed our ability to appreciate the Great Books,

To change the figure, the seeds are good but the cultural soil has been depleted; the seminal ideas of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine and St. Thomas thrive only in an imaginative ground saturated with fables, fairy tales, stories, rhymes, and adventures: the thousand books of Grimm, Anderson, Stevenson, Dickens, Scott, Dumas and the rest.

We cannot simply retreat to Aquinas with no prior preparation and assume that all will be well. This would be your classic pearls-before-swine situation. For instance, I have many a time heatedly denounced certain books and musicians only to discover later that I simply was not ready for them yet. I am sure it was quite embarrassing. Our children reject food that we prepare for them all of the time because their little palates are not yet developed enough to realize that the grass-fed burger with caramelized onions, bleu cheese, and arugula we have served them is any way superior to a bag of fast food fries. It means more food for me and I like that, but still… let’s be generous, here.

The Great Books are like seeds falling in dead soil. They starve for lack of nutrients, having become for us the work of dead, white grandfathers and representing now only a stale tradition long since passed away. How can we amend the soil? Is it possible to cultivate our reading habits so that the Great Books may put forth living branches again? Senior writes,

Of course, the distinction between great and good is not absolute. Great implies a certain magnitude; one might say War and Peace and Les Miserables are great because of their length, or The Critique of Pure Reason because of its difficulty. Great books call for philosophical reflection; good books are popular, appealing especially to the imagination. But obviously some authors are both great and good, and their works may be read more than once from the different points of view – this is true of Shakespeare and Cervantes, for example.

As an armchair Thomist, I might attempt to stammer forth the explanation that the human intellect learns through the senses. In order for the intellect to do its job, our senses must first give it raw material to work with, ideally with an imagination full to the brim of wonder and beauty, heroism and virtue, adventure and adversity. These are the qualities we look for in Good Books. They cultivate the imagination so that the intellect has the building blocks necessary to interact with and appreciate the Great Books.

I pray that through the way I am teaching them to read, I am giving my children some idea that their true dignity is the soul, that life is a grand adventure, that they have been made to endure forever, and that true happiness is gathered up in the virtues, crowned by faith, hope, and charity. In such a way is a saint made.


 Here is an online resource already gathering up the list that John Senior put together of 1000 Good Books divided by grade level. He admits that there are certain to be oversights and the actual list is sure to be far more expansive. This is an excellent starting point, though.





Dappled Links

Since my post on native plants, I’ve delved deeper (ha) into gardening. I found a kindred spirit in this essay: Memory and Plants. Thomas Rainer’s blog takes garden talk to a more literary level than most: “But the gardener understands the cruelty of April. The derivation of the word April can be traced as far back as Varro, where the etymology, omnia aperit, literally “it opens everything” may be a reference to the opening of flowers and trees . . . . For the last few weeks I have been a witness to the openings of seeds. Birth is an act of violence. These dry brown seeds burst into life, ripping off their skins, splitting cotyledons, thrusting root into ground and stem to sky. Sometimes I lean in, expecting to hear the cries and wails of these infants.” I have been going back and reading his archives. Good stuff here, here, and here. I have been puzzled by my sudden interest in native plant gardening, but I realize it probably owes something to Hopkins and his adoration of inscape and “thisness,” for instance: “The bluebells in your hand baffle you with their inscape, made to every sense. If you draw your fingers through them they are lodged and struggle with a shock of wet heads; the long stalks rub and click and flatten to a fan on one another like your fingers themselves would when you passed the palms hard across one another, making a brittle rub and jostle like the noise of a hurdle strained by leaning against; then there is the faint honey smell and in the mouth the sweet gum when you bite them.”

From the TLS, Rediscovering Regina Derieva. A poet I’d never heard of, she was Russian, Jewish, and Catholic.

From Aeon, Freedom from Food. Much has been written about America’s tormented relationship with food, but this article, and the other articles I’ve read about Soylent, attract comments from a subculture that has reduced our food anxieties to their most Gnostic roots: “For me, it’s not the time taken, because I don’t take that much care about eating, only over doing it, it’s how disgusting eating is, considering the end result. It’s just awful to have to continue eating to sustain this body, which disintegrates in the end anyway. OK, that’s too negative, but I still find eating gross, and I over do it, substituting eating rather than addressing the things I need to address.” Most people won’t want to abandon food for a futuristic vitamin gruel, but most of us do harbor an unhealthy concept or two. Recently I’ve been battling the idea that no matter what I’m doing, I could be doing something more productive – if I’m blogging I could be doing the dishes, and if I’m doing the dishes I could be blogging. It’s pernicious and “wasting” time on planning and cooking some elaborate recipe helps me be rid of it.

A book trailer for Heather King’s new memoir. And here, more memories of her mother.

November and the Holy Souls in Purgatory

As the month of October quickly comes to a close, my first thought is WHERE DID IT GO?! Wasn’t it just Summer? Did I pray enough rosaries?

Then, I accept the fact that winter is upon us and my thoughts turn to pumpkin flavored everything, thermals, hot chocolate, and the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

Is that creepy? I don’t know if it’s because I was raised by a Mexican mother who is always talking about death, or that I’ve been Catholic my whole life, that I feel so close to the Holy Souls in Purgatory and am so unafraid of death. Whatever it is, I like it.

Don’t get me wrong–some ways of dying scare the heck out of me. I won’t go into gory detail, but sharks and bears are at the top of the list. Aside from the way I die, though, dying doesn’t scare me.

Recently, whilst in Portugal filming for our upcoming series, The Faithful Traveler in Portugal, the topic of dying came up. My driver and guide Manuel and I were discussing it as we drove to the next of a long line of amazing sacred sites. When I told him that I actually welcomed death, he said he thought I was crazy.

“But what about all of the amazing things this world has to offer?” he argued. “The food! The experiences! The people!”

“Well, sure!” I said, “But I’d imagine that either they will all be in Heaven, or that Heaven will be so amazing, I won’t miss them at all! Plus,” I said, “it’s here where life is hard! Here, I encounter temptation and I sin. But once I die, it’s all over! I get to start paying off my time in Purgatory–God willing–and then, eventually, I’ll make it to Heaven!”

He shook his head. “I’ve never heard anyone say anything like this.”

He hasn’t met my mom.

As long as I’ve lived, my mom has talked freely and openly about dying. “When I die,” she’ll say, and list off a number of things my sisters and I are supposed to do at her funeral or after we bury her. I believe, so far, I’m supposed to play my trumpet at her funeral and I’ve promised to bury her beloved travel spoons with her–the dust collectors that she has collected over the years from cities she and my sisters have visited, and which she promised to bequeath to me. We’re always talking about when we die in my family, and it’s always seemed normal to me. It is, after all, the normal course of life. You’re born, you live, you die. The end.

As a Catholic, I would never presume to say that I am going straight to Heaven when I die. The thought makes me laugh. Me? Go straight to Heaven?! Psh. I’ll fling myself willingly into the fires of Purgatory a billion times until I’m clean enough to stand before my Lord and my God.

I recently had this discussion with a cousin who left the Catholic Church. She’s certain that she, and her parents, are going to Heaven. Hey. Good for you, I thought. I’m glad you’re all saints. Me? I know I’m a sinner and I’m going to need some cleaning up first. I told her that I prayed that I and my parents would make it to Heaven, and I do. And when my parents die, I’ll keep praying for them until the day I die. I hope everyone does the same for me. ‘Cause I’m gonna need it.

What do I think when people tell me that their loved ones who have recently died are “now in Heaven”?

Ugh . . . I know this is going to upset some people . . . but in all honesty, I think, “yeah . . . I’ll pray for them.”

Why? Is it inconceivable that some people go straight to Heaven? Oh, goodness no. But I think that that privilege is reserved for the real saints among us–the Mother Teresas, Pope John Paul IIs, Blessed Jacintas and Franciscos. Are you as holy as they are? Yeah, neither am I. You and I, well, we sin. And sin has consequences–earthly ones and spiritual ones. (Read more about that here.) Because we have free will to choose to sin, we also have to accept, and expect, the consequences of our sin to fall on us. We have to make it right. That’s where Purgatory comes in. (More on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory here.)

When I used to teach CCD to little third graders at Our Lady of Malibu, I used to explain Purgatory like this:

Imagine you’re going about your day, wearing your normal, everyday clothes. You eat a PB&J sandwich and a little jelly falls on your shirt–because it always does. You wipe it off and don’t worry about the stain. As you play outside with your friends, you trip and fall in the grass and, oh darn! You have a grass stain on your knee! Whatever. Mom can wash it later. When someone hands you a mango, you eat it up, slurpily, and wipe your hands on your pants because no one has a napkin and, whatever! They’re messy already, right?!

Then imagine that you go home, and your mom tells you that JESUS is coming over for dinner! And he’s bringing the Blessed Mother and the Holy Spirit, too! Oh, and God the Father is coming, as well . . .

Do you stay in those dirty, sloppy clothes?

HECK NO! You go upstairs and change right away into the cleanest, nicest clothes you have. You brush your teeth and hair, too. Can’t be clean enough for the Trinity.

That, my friends, is Purgatory.

Today, my soul is stained with sin, and the thought of standing before my Lord like this simply mortifies me. Instead, I will fling myself into the flames of Purgatory to cleanse myself of my sin, and when my time is up, and I am pure and white, I will still be unworthy of standing before my God, except for the fact that He made me so.

Then, I pray that I am given the grace to go on my merry way and join the other saints in Heaven. What awaits me there will bring me everlasting joy. Of that, I am certain.

November is dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and I encourage you all to devote a little time each day, if not as much time as you can each day, to pray for them. Our prayers for the Holy Souls speed up their time there. And when they get out, rest assured that they will then become little cheerleaders for you as you make your own pilgrimage toward Heaven.

Cemetery at the Basilica of Old St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City

Remember that old song: “Pray for the dead and the dead will pray for you”? It’s true. Except, while you’re praying for the souls in Purgatory, when they get into Heaven, you’ll have a whole crowd of Heavenly saints praying for you. Who doesn’t need a Heavenly cheerleading section?

If you can, be sure to check out Stories About Purgatory and What They Reveal:30 Days for the Holy Souls. I read this book every November, as it provides daily prayers and stories about the Holy Souls.

Other good books on Purgatory are:

Also, don’t forget that you can gain indulgences for the Holy Souls during the month of November by praying for the dead and visiting cemeteries!

As Father Z states:

Here is how you can obtaining a Plenary Indulgence on 2 November 2, All Souls:

  • make a good confession within a week before or after All Souls
  • be free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin, for a plenary indulgence
  • visit a church to pray for the faithful departed
  • say one “Our Father” and the “Creed” during a visit to the church
  • say one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” for the Pope’s monthly intentions
  • receive Holy Communion, on the same day or soon after

To obtain a Plenary Indulgence from 1-8 November

  • make a good Confession within a week of before or after All Souls Day
  • be free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin, for a plenary indulgence
  • visit a cemetery and pray for the dead
  • say one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” for the monthly intentions set by the Pope
  • receive Holy Communion worthily on the same day or soon after

Several indulgences may be gained on the basis of a single confession but only one may be gained after a single good reception Communion and prayer for the Pope’s intentions.

If you are not correctly disposed or if you don’t fulfill the prescribed works and/or the three conditions the indulgence will be partial and not plenary.

Tombs below the main altar at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City

Here’s more info on that:

Indulgenced Acts for the Poor Souls A partial indulgence can be obtained by devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the departed, even if the prayer is only mental. One can gain a plenary indulgence visiting a cemetery each day between November 1 and November 8. These indulgences are applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory.

A plenary indulgence, again applicable only the Souls in Purgatory, is also granted when the faithful piously visit a church or a public oratory on November 2. In visiting the church or oratory, it is required, that one Our Father and the Creed be recited.

A partial indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, can be obtained when theEternal Rest (Requiem aeternam) is prayed. This can be prayed all year, but especially during the month of November:

Requiem aeternam dona ei (eis), Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei (eis). Requiescat (-ant) in pace Amen.

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Many families add to the “Prayer Before Meals” the second half of the “Eternal Rest” prayer:

Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, Which we are about to receive, from Thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord, Amen. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

For more information on the Church’s teachings on indulgences, read the Enchiridion of Indulgences given by the 1968 Decree of the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary.

Last, but not least, I’d like to repost the prayer I try to pray daily for the Holy Souls of people that I knew or of the friends and families of loved ones:

O my God, deign to accept my every thought, word, and action as a loving petition to Thy mercy on behalf of the suffering souls in Purgatory, particularly: 

[state names here]

I unite to Thy sacred Passion the trials and contradictions of this day, which I purpose to bear with patience, in expiation for the sins and infidelities which retain Thy children in the purifying flames of Purgatory. Amen 

Pray for the dead. The dead will pray for you.

Crucifixion scene at cemetery at the National Shrine of St Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, MD

Crucifixion scene at cemetery at the National Shrine of St Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, MD

Saturday Links

Signs of the budding Catholic literary renaissance keep popping up. In the nine years since we started Dappled Things, it has been very exciting to see how quickly things seem to be picking up steam. The National Catholic Register just posted an article in which I’m quoted, discussing the growing number of literary prizes offered for Catholic literature. For those of you who are interested, we remind you that we are currently accepting submissions both to our fiction and nonfiction prizes, each paying multiple cash prizes of up to $500.

Meanwhile, Dana Gioia has organized what looks to be the kickoff conference for a new era of Catholic literature, titled the The Future of the Catholic Literary Imagination. We’ve briefly mentioned this event before, but the more details we learn, the better it looks. The conference is drawing some of the most renowned authors in the United States, including Gioia himself as well as others such as Alice  McDermott, Ron Hansen, Julia Alvarez, Kevin Starr, and Tobias Wolff. The conference will be held at the University of Southern California and will include sessions ranging from “The Jesuit Imagination in Literature” to “Latino Catholic Writers.” Our own Meredith Wise and Joshua Hren will participate in various sessions, including one titled “Catholic Literati: The New Generation.” There will even be special sections for high school attendees, where students will get to workshop with writers like Hansen, Gioia, and McDermott. Mark your calendars.

On a different note, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is finally getting some money of his own. Colombia, seems to have a knack for honoring writers in its currency. The country already features the poet Jose Asuncion Silva in one of its bills—including he full text of his poem “Nocturno”—as well as novelist Jorge Isaacs, author of Maria, the premier work of 19th century Colombian Romanticism. Now, the Colombian congress has just approved a law to feature the recently deceased Nobel Prize winning author in one of its future bills. Its about time someone devoted some money to the arts!

The Supreme Beauty of Spiritual Things

Photo credits: Traditional Latin Mass Society of San Francisco at and Roseanne T. Sullivan

On June 20, 1921, noted architect Ralph Adams Cram gave an address titled “The Test of Beauty” to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard University. During his address, Cram lavished extravagent praise on the Pontifical Mass (Missa Pontificalis in Latin), which is an elaborate form of the traditional Roman Catholic Mass that has seldom been celebrated during most of the past sixty years. A convert from Unitarianism to Episcopalianism, Cram is perhaps best known for his design for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. He was also a prominent member of the Anglo-Catholic movement, and he wrote and spoke extensively as an ardent advocate for Gothic architecture. In spite of the fact that he never became a Roman Catholic, he was an equally ardent admirer of Catholic liturgy. Cram was so renowned in his field that he wrote the article on “Gothic Architecture ” in the 1909 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia.

In his peroration at the end of his address at Harvard, Cram posed this rhetorical question, “What was the greatest synthesis of beauty, made operative through art, that man has ever achieved?” He went on to summarize the main premise of his talk in his answer, “The answer is very simple: it was a Gothic cathedral of the thirteenth century during a Pontifical High Mass. . . . Every art raised to its highest point was here brought into play in one place and associated in absolute union with the greatest beauty of thought, emotion, and action that have ever been the possession of fallen man. . . . And all were for the exposition and realization of the supreme beauty of spiritual things; the durable love of God for His children through the Sacrifice of Calvary, eternally renewed upon the altar, and the veritable presence of His Spirit through the miracle of the Mass.”

On Sunday September 14, 2014, on the Solemnity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross according to the 1962 liturgical calendar, more than four hundred worshippers filled the pews of Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco for a historically resonant liturgical event, when San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone celebrated the first Pontifical Mass held in that city for close to sixty years.

The Pontifical Mass was celebrated on that balmy September evening in that beautiful church at the northwest tip of the San Francisco peninsula, very much the same way as Pontifical Masses have been celebrated around the world for centuries earlier. Star of the Sea Church is a parish church that was finished in 1917 using the best materials the working-class parish could buy, during Cram’s lifetime, and while it is not a cathedral, and its arches are Romanesque rather than Gothic, it was an appropriately lovely setting for this modern-day Pontifical Mass.

The Pontifical Mass was to celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and the seventh anniversary of the implementation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which affirmed that ceremonies and rituals like the Pontifical Mass are still valid and an important part of the Church’s rich heritage. Golden Gate Boys ChoirThe Mass, which was advertised as “one of the treasures of the faith,” was coordinated by the Traditional Latin Mass Society of San Francisco with music by the Golden Gate Boys Choir.

The elaborate gestures, the large number of ministers, the multitudinous details of the vesting of the celebrant and of the ministers, and the order of the ceremony, all were followed according to how they are spelled out in the Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies from 1916.

The Pontifical Mass is the Mass of a bishop, and all the highly regulated, complex details of this Mass are fraught with meaning. Taken together, the details are designed to make up a system of visible, material signs that point to the invisible, spiritual realities of a bishop’s office. As is true about how we come to understand many important things, we don’t grasp the importance of something as complex as a Pontifical Mass without having been taught what it means. The goal of this post is to explain some of the rich meaning of what occurred that night.

Why is it called a Pontifical Mass?

It is not commonly known, but the adjective “pontifical” does not refer exclusively to the pope. A cardinal, archbishop, bishop or abbot is also referred to as high priest, or “pontiff.” The celebrant of a Pontifical Mass is said to be “pontificating.” The related term “pontificals” refers to all the vestments and ornaments the bishop wears and uses when he pontificates at the Pontifical Mass.

A Pontifical Mass at the Throne represents the summit of the Roman liturgy. It is the paradigm for the Roman Rite. As Canon Olivier Meney of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (who assisted at the Mass) recently explained, “The Low Mass is a reduction of the Solemn High Mass, which in its turn is a reduction of the Pontifical Mass at the Throne.”

Elaborate vestments and liturgical items, such as those worn and used during the Pontifical Mass, are not, as some mistakenly think, a form of vain clerical dressing-up, but on the contrary, they are rich in symbolism. The truth is that in ceremonies like this, the individual is minimized, while the power of the priesthood is emphasized. If we understand and meditate on the symbols during ceremonies like this, they can lead us to think more deeply about the role of the priesthood as it was instituted by Jesus Christ.

Before being vested during the Pontifical Mass, the bishop takes off the vestments he usually wears as a prelate of the Church. He then is clothed ceremonially with vestments that stand for the full power of the priesthood, which belongs not to himself, but to his role as a bishop.

What does “at the Throne” mean?

At Star of the Sea, Archbishop Cordileone celebrated a Pontifical Mass at the Throne. The term “at the Throne” is used when a Pontifical Mass is celebrated within the jurisdiction of a bishop or archbishop. During the Mass, the celebrant sits at a throne at the altar.

ThroneIf a bishop celebrates a Pontifical Mass at a cathedral or church outside of his own jurisdiction, he either celebrates “at the faldstool” (a faldstool being a portable folding chair) or “in choro” (in choir).

The privilege of “Pontificating” on the Throne is only allowed to all Cardinals outside of Rome, to the Pope’s Apostolic Nuncios and Legates in the territorial jurisdiction they are assigned, and to Bishops and Archbishops within their Ecclesiastical Jurisdictions.

Because the archbishop was visiting Star of the Sea and did not celebrate at his cathedral, it was necessary to construct a temporary throne on the gospel side of the altar. The archbishop’s shield was mounted behind the chair with a gold-embroidered baldachin (canopy) above it.

Why all that vesting at the Throne?

One unusual and elaborate aspect of the Pontifical Mass was the ceremony called “vesting at the throne.”

Before the start of the Mass, the pontificals were laid out on the altar. Servers ceremoniously removed each of the pontificals in turn from the altar, and waited in line to present them to the archbishop. Sacred ministers helped vest him.

The pontificals included buskins, an amice, an alb, a cincture, a stole, a tunic, a dalmatic, and a chasuble, along with the bishop’s pectoral cross, ring, and crosier, which bishops always use, plus two types of mitre worn by the archbishop at different points during the Pontifical Mass, along with a gremial and gloves. (Additional information about the official costumes of prelates is available online at Costume of Prelates of the Catholic Church: According to Roman Etiquette.)

When the celebrant is divested of the vestments he wore when entering the church, he is symbolically stripped of the trappings of the world and loses his personal identity. When he is then subsequently ceremoniously vested in the pontificals, one after another, the bishop is clothed in the new man of which St. Paul speaks in his letter to the Ephesians and is covered from head to foot in the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ.

If so be that you have heard him, and have been taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus: To put off, according to former conversation, the old man, who is corrupted according to the desire of error. And be renewed in the spirit of your mind: And put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth.” – Ephesians 4:21-24.

Bishops at Pontifical Mass wear the vestments of a subdeacon (the tunic), deacon (the dalmatic), and priest (chasuble) because in the bishop, as medieval liturgist William Durandus wrote, “the degrees of all the Major Orders are most eminently present.”

Each pontifical has its own prescribed prayer. For example, as he was being vested in the buskins (liturgical stockings), the archbishop prayed the following prayer.


What does it all mean?

Beauty existed, and was infinitely desired, and within certain limits was supremely achieved under paganism, but with Christianity it was given a new content and a new function. The passion for perfection remained, but it was how a new perfection revealed in Christ; the joy in labor and creation remained, but it was now a new joy, for it was irradiated by the motive of worship and of sacrifice. —Ralph Adams Cram, “The Test of Beauty.”


If art is, indeed, as I have said, one of the really great agents of civilization, the Church is preeminently the place where its work may be made most effective. . . . Each art is fine in itself, but a great and beautiful church, living with pictorial and sculptured decoration, where the sublime, appalling mystery of the Christian Faith is solemnized through the assembling of all the other arts — music, poetry, drama, and ceremonial —- in one vast, organic work of art built up of every one of them raised to its highest level of possibility, and all fused in one consummate opus Dei, this is in simple fact and in plain speech, the greatest artistic achievement, the most perfect proof of man’s divine nature thus far recorded in the annals of humanity.” — Ralph Adams Cram,”The Artist in the World,” collected in The ministry of art.

For Cram then, the meaning of the Pontifical Mass on September 14, 2014 would be found in the synthesis of all of the beauties of the church, the ceremony, the vestments and the music, each of which contributed to the creation of an act of sublime worship expressing our love for God.

In his homily, Archbishop Cordileone reminded the Mass-goers to keep in mind that the beauty of the Pontifical Mass should not be an end in itself. Alongside of the love of God that is fostered during the celebration of the Eucharist in such a reverent ceremony in such a beautiful setting, our love of our neighbor must also be fostered:

Our spirituality and stewardship are the practical way we live our Christian faith in the world. Our faith is not to be left inside the walls of this beautiful church. We are all awed and inspired by the beauty of the ceremonies here in the celebration this evening. . . . We all love this liturgy, but if it doesn’t make a difference, it becomes nothing more than a neat hobby. A neat one. But a hobby. It is meant to transform us into a deeper love of Jesus Christ.

Here we experience the beauty of Jesus Christ in the beauty of the Church’s liturgy so that we might recognize the beauty in those in the world around us, in those who are poor. Sharing those gifts with them, in works of charity, works of justice. We have ample opportunity here in our community. Here in this parish, right across the street, is a very good and powerful ministry to women who find themselves in crisis situations*. Mothers with young children or expectant mothers. Sharing our gifts. Understanding their needs. [We need] to see the beauty of Jesus Christ in them and to lift them out of their moment of crisis, out of their own fear, so they might encounter the Jesus who we encounter here and who we share with them.


The poor wait just outside the church doors

The poor await just outside the church doors


Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.” — Matthew 22:36-40

You can view the complete homily here and see many more photos of the Pontifical Mass here, thanks to the work of the Traditional Latin Mass Society of San Francisco.

* Star Community Home for women in crisis situations is a project of Catholic Charities CYO that is located in the former convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet at Star of the Sea. Archbishop Cordileone is the Director of the home’s Board of Directors.

The Little Prince and Good Books

The influence of The Little Prince in our culture runs deep, my friends. I recently happened across this little gem comparing the dancing style of Michael Jackson with that of the snake, choreographed and performed by stage legend Bob Fosse. Thank you, internet!

In addition to inspiring the King of Pop, The Little Prince happens to be a pretty good read. I have read it with my children probably one hundred times. We’ve slipped a bit recently because with four children bedtime has become a vortex of chaos and despair, but there was a time when every single night I would read a chapter of The Little Prince with them. We need to get back to it.

As a new father eight years ago, I gave a lot of thought to how to educate my then infant daughter. I thought about the books we would read together and the cool hipster music we would listen to together (I bought her a vinyl recording of William Byrd’s Mass for 4 Voices as her 1st communion gift). Perhaps I am odd. I am sure of it, actually. Not that this makes me any different than you. We are all a little odd. It’s the new insider claim to be an outsider. Anyways, one of my peculiarities is that I didn’t just dream about this stuff but I obsessed over it, the sorts of books to read to my children. I would not read random children’s literature from the library. Dr. Seuss? I think not! I ruminated and researched. I took notes from the Johnny Depp character in Neverland. I started using the word “trivium”. I considered the kind of literature that would create a lifelong fascination with fairy tales and myth, how to foster a love affair with reading for my daughter that would last her a lifetime. This is a tremendous responsibility for a parent and I felt it keenly.

John Senior in his book The Restoration of Christian Culture discusses the way in which one does not simply take up the Great Books. It is necessary to prepare by first reading the Good Books. In other words, it wouldn’t do for me to dramatically read to my 2 year old daughter about Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. Children need a steady interaction with Good Books so that they may come to love imagination, fantasy, heroic sacrifice, good prose, and the virtues. I thought and thought about it and finally came up with the best, Good Book. The Little Prince is so good, in fact, that it is perfect.

I would not be able to engage a toddler in a critical discussion of Moby Dick (not that I would want to even discuss this with an adult, but my disapproval is a matter for another time). A young child quite obviously lacks the life experience and prudence to have any context whatsoever for appreciation. So, what is a parent to do? Many, it seems, are at a loss and end up giving young, impressionable minds over to television, children’s songs, and books written specifically for and catered to their supposedly limited abilities. Let us refer to these latter as Bad Books.

I have many flaws as a parent, but exposing my children to Bad Books I have thankfully been able to minimize.  These Bad Books ask irrelevant questions and attempt to be cleverly didactic. As Antoine de St. Exupery was quite right to say, most adults ask the wrong sorts of questions and cannot even tell what the simplest line drawings are meant to represent.

 Little Prince boa quick, what is this?*


This is because adults lack imagination. They have starved their ability to be fascinated by the inner life of the universe, the laughter of the stars, the well of water hidden in the desert that makes it all beautiful. They attempt to tame all things under their control. In short, the sophisticated adult is often not so clever, after all. In a world that is brimming with the eternal virtues of beauty and goodness, they often only see facts. That drawing up there? That is a hat and nothing more.

Pope Benedict XVI challenges us, “You were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.” In other words, do not be content with a world of facts and numbers. You were made to be more. Often I am sadly unable to appreciate how marvelous all of creation is, completely missing the sign value, the slender thread that connects heaven and earth. For me, this is a world become small, in which sacraments and virtue are not really possible. I worry that many of us live as if this is the case. If so, we are lost.

Before we can achieve greatness we must first achieve goodness. In literature, this is where books such as The Little Prince find their place. It is a book that children can appreciate but it is not at all a book for children, and if it is, I hope to remain a child forever because I dearly love reading it. The Little Prince is a story about the good things: loving a single unique rose, the beauty and starkness of the world in which we find ourselves, death and resurrection. When I first read the book to my daughter, I was worried that the snake bite scene at the end would make her cry. My worry was entirely misplaced. She understood immediately that the Little Prince had not, in fact, come to an end. It was a death, yes, but she wasn’t afraid of that because she knew full well that he lived on back on his planet. No problem. God grant me the faith of a child in this regard!

I hope and pray that by exposing my children to these Good Books they will not only survive their childhood with me as a father but continue to grow in discernment and ability to eventually appreciate the Great Books and other great works of art. In this way, perhaps they will never grow old. Life will be a grand adventure and they will know that even in the sin-swept desert that is this world, there is always, always a spring of water hidden out there that makes all of creation sacred.


*It is a boa constrictor that has eaten an elephant

Little Prince boa answer

“Thank You for the Light” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, at the New Yorker.

While the New Yorker paywall is still down, you may want to check out “Thank You for the Light,” a previously unpublished short-short story of Fitzgerald’s. Though he wasn’t practicing for most of his career, the fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald occasionally shows gleams and glimmers of his Catholic upbringing and early devotion. (The short story “Absolution” is one example, which has elements that are Catholic in sensibility if not in drift; there’s another about a young woman who faints during Eucharistic Adoration, though I can’t remember the title now. Daniel McInerny further unpacks the extent of Fitzgerald’s Catholicity here.)

While “Thank You for the Light” has a hint of the surreal and maybe of gentle miracle-story parody about it, it’s also strangely reverent. When Fitzgerald first submitted it to the New Yorker in 1936, the editors who rejected it are said to have called the story “absolutely out of the question . . . unlike the kind of thing we associate with him and really too fantastic.” For a certain type of reader, those words may function as a backhanded endorsement. I thought the piece would have been right at home in the pages of Dappled Things. If you read the story, do let us know what you think in the comments.

(photo: pre-Vatican II interior of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, MO, the setting of the second half of “Thank You for the Light”)

Monsignor Knox’s Unrighteous Bible

Monsignor Ronald Knox

Monsignor Ronald Knox

Monsignor Ronald Knox (1888-1957)—convert from Anglicanism, Catholic chaplain at Oxford, etc.—spent a good portion of the 1930s and ‘40s producing a new English translation of the Bible—or, more specifically, producing a new English translation of the Vulgate, while checking the Vulgate’s Latin against the original Hebrew and Greek. Though Knox’s Bible enjoyed widespread use during only the 20-odd years between World War II and Vatican II, his work is stylistically excellent. Knox aimed to translate Scripture into fluent English, adjusting his style to suit the genre of each Biblical book, and paraphrasing Latin, Hebrew, and Greek idioms that jarred his fine-tuned Anglophone Sprachgefühl. Even where Knox’s own word-choices jar the reader—even where one disagrees with them—they are interesting. Knox’s translation recently replaced the Douay-Rheims as the New Advent website’s English Bible, and has been reprinted as a hefty hardback by Baronius Press. It is a great read.

I said Knox’s word-choices are interesting; the process by which he made those choices is both interesting and instructive. The Baronius edition of the Knox Bible ships with a booklet called On Englishing the Bible, a reprint of eight papers, articles, and texts of talks that Knox collected in 1949, and in which he explained the rationale behind his translations.

Whether despite, or because of, the fact that I am no scholar of Biblical languages, Knox’s comments on the word “righteousness” especially impressed me. The Bible, he says, is usually translated by a committee, and the committee members observe certain conventions to keep their work mutually consistent. Knox reasons that the compilers of the King James Version “evidently did something of that kind with a word like dikaiosune in the New Testament, or tsedeq in the Old”:

What they did was to resuscitate a more or less obsolete word, “right-wiseness,” recondition it as “righteousness,” and use that all through the Bible as the equivalent of the tsedeq-dikaiosune idea. It served well enough; but this wooden rendering, constantly recurring in all sorts of different contexts, has resulted all through the Authorized Version in a certain flatness, a certain want of grip. [1]

There is, Knox says, no possibility of exact word-for-word equivalence between any two languages; a word in one language inevitably has context-dependent shades of meaning that will not overlap perfectly with the shades of meaning of its nearest equivalent(s) in another language. “Tsedeq or dikaiosune can mean, when used of a man, innocence, or honesty, or uprightness, or charitableness, or dutifulness, or (very commonly) the fact of being in God’s good books,” he says (and the obsolescence of that last idiom—“being in [someone’s] good books”—a mere 65 years after he wrote it only strengthens his argument, highlighting what a subtle and slippery thing a language is). “Used of God, it [i.e., tsedeq or dikaiosune] can mean the justice which punishes the sinner, or, quite as often, the faithfulness which protects the good; it can mean, also, the approval with which God looks upon those who are in his good books.” Therefore,

Only a meaningless token-word, like righteousness, can pretend to cover all these meanings. To use such a token-word is to abrogate your duty as a translator. Your duty as a translator is to think up the right expression, though it may have to be a paraphrase, which will give the reader the exact shade of meaning here and here and here. [2]

So, (almost) as completely as certain filmmakers have ruined certain songs for me, Monsignor Knox has ruined that “meaningless token-word,” righteousness.


Incidentally, the word “righteousness” occurs 291 times in the King James Version, and 137 times in the New American Bible (Revised Edition).

And it occurs 263 times in the Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition), my favorite translation, which I find more readable than Knox.

[1] Ronald Knox, “Thoughts on Bible Translation,” in On Englishing the Bible (London: Baronius Press Ltd., 2012), 6.

[2] Ibid., 7.

My 10 Favorite Books I’ve Never Read

Among book lovers, a never-ending source of simultaneous delight and despair is the awareness of how many books we haven’t yet read. Delight because there is always some wonderful new work to discover. Despair because no matter how much we read, there always seems to be glaring, inexcusable gaps in our reading lists–those books we are downright embarrassed to admit we haven’t yet read.

While these observations are fairly obvious, one thought did surprise me recently when I was considering the long line of books on my “to read” list. I realized that some of the books I haven’t read yet are actually some of my favorite books. Perhaps this sounds bizarre, but I think I’m not alone in this experience. There are some books I just haven’t gotten around to reading yet, but that not only do I know I will love, but I already love. Some of these titles merely fill me with a great sense of anticipation, but I would go so far as to say that some others have deeply influenced my thought and my outlook on life. That was my experience, for example, when I finally read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics for the first time. Before reading the opening line, I already knew this was a book that was, in some sense, already in me–like a city I had seen in pictures, through whose streets I was finally walking in the flesh.

In the hope that other people can relate to this experience, here are my top 10 favorite books I’ve never read. To be fair, I should note that some of these are books I haven’t read in their entirety. That may seem like cheating, but I include them because they are books that demand to be read whole, and the knowledge that I haven’t done so frankly gnaws at me. Also, it’s worth noting that this isn’t a list of the best or more famous books I haven’t read, just a list of my personal favorites.

The Complete Poems, John Keats51ko68wFLyL

“Ode to a Nightingale,” “Endymion,” “Bright Star,”–heck, just the last two lines of “Ode to a Grecian Urn” are enough to make Keats one of my favorite poets ever. And yet, to my great chagrin, that’s about all I’ve read from him! Some other book always seems more pressing, and I’m left dreaming about the day when I’ll get to finally sit down with Keats and take in all his glorious verse.

Brothers KThe Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

In graduate school, I signed up for a semester-long class on Dostoyevsky’s most important novel, but the space was full and I ended up in a seminar about War and Peace (which is just as well, as otherwise I’d probably be writing about that book here instead). The Brothers K explores big questions about God, morality, and free will. I love how the book forces us to come face to face with evil and whether “without God, everything is permitted.” Or rather I would, if I had ever read it.


violentThe Violent Bear it Away, Flannery O’Connor

Being that Flannery O’Connor’s writing was one of my main inspirations behind Dappled Things, it is really appalling that I haven’t read her second (and last) novel. By all accounts the book is a brilliant example of O’Connor’s probings into the collision of belief and secularism, shaped by her Catholic faith and Gothic sensibilities, combining at once, as the publisher’s description put it, “irony and compassion, humor and pathos.” I can’t wait to read this one (but for some reason, I keep waiting anyway).

Lost in the Cosmos, Walker Percycosmos

This unclassifiable book by Percy, with a title that pokes a bit of fun at Carl Sagan (or Neil Degrasse Tyson, as the case may be), bills itself as “the last self-help book.” By all accounts, it is a delightfully mordant parody of the self-help book craze of the 1980s that offers no easy answers for “achieving success” or “boosting your self-esteem,” but rather faces you with a series of questions that according to an Amazon reviewer, “will alter the way you watch the evening news . . . , cut your grass, shop for groceries, and generally manage to survive another Tuesday afternoon.” I absolutely love this book, though I haven’t read a page of it.

The Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas AquinasSumma

Philosophically, I would not hesitate to classify myself as an Aristotelian/Thomist, which is why it shames me to realize how little of the Summa I’ve actually read. While I’ve tackled Aristotle’s PoeticsNicomachean Ethics, Politics, Physics, Metaphysics, On the Soul, and even a more obscure work like his Parts of Animals, all I’ve read of the Summa (other than the odd question here and there) is the Treatise on Law and the Treatise on God. I justify this to myself with the dubious argument that as a properly catechized Catholic, I can anticipate what St. Thomas would have said on certain topics when reflecting on Aristotle, but reading just a bit of his actual writing is enough to convince anyone that in many cases this is wishful thinking. St. Thomas is often credited with “baptizing” Aristotle, but as writers like Etienne Gilson have made clear, he really did much more, clarifying, developing, and even correcting Aristotelian thought. The Summa is, without a doubt, one of the books that has most influenced how I think and how I live, and yet I’ve probably read less than 10% of it. So why haven’t I read it? Simply, it’s just so big. I keep putting it off to that glorious day when I’ll finally have time for it. In the meantime, I just seem to get busier and busier.

After Virtue, Alasdair McIntyreafter-virtue

Speaking of Aristotelian/Thomists, Alasdair McIntyre is without a doubt one of the world’s most eminent living philosophers, and After Virtue is his magnum opus, one of the most important books of the twentieth century. In it, McIntyre offers a devastating critique of contemporary moral philosophy, tracing how and why our thinking devolved into a cacophony of competing and incommensurable moral assertions, and offering a tentative way out of the mess. I’ve read enough of the book–about a third–for it to deeply influence my thought about ethics and cure me once and for all of the temptation to think along utilitarian lines. Unfortunately, once I assured myself this was an amazing book, other matters distracted me from it and so far I’ve left it unfinished.

power gloryThe Power and the Glory, Graham Greene

This is one of the foremost classics of modern Catholic literature, a much celebrated work by one of the best writers of the last century. It introduced the iconic figure of the “whiskey priest,” exploring how grace can work in the midst of terrible conditions and flawed persons. It’s a must read. All the same, I haven’t read it.


wind willowsThe Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

The publisher’s description bills this classic by Grahame as an “unforgettable ode to friendship and one of the most cherished children’s stories of all time.” I love children’s literature, and this book is no doubt one of my favorites. Too bad I haven’t read it. (I’m hoping to finally get a chance to do so when I read it out loud to my children in a year or two.)

miraclesMiracles, C.S. Lewis

During college, when I binge-read almost everything by Lewis, I was turned off from reading Miracles after hearing how Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe had trounced C.S. Lewis in a debate centered around the book’s argument that naturalism/materialism is self-refuting. The encounter apparently was deeply shocking to Lewis himself, and reportedly sent him into something of a crisis of faith. While I did hear that Anscombe herself had helped him revise the problematic chapter in order to strengthen his argument, it still sounded to me like the an attempt to make a limp horse win a race, so decided to pass on it. Since then, however, I’ve learned of Alvin Plantinga’s philosophically robust evolutionary argument against naturalism, which was apparently inspired by Lewis’s contentions in Miracles, and that has made me want to go back to read the book. I’d also love to tackle Plantinga’s Knowledge of God and Warrant and Proper Function, where the argument is developed in various forms.

The Bibleignatius bible

Obviously, as a Catholic the Bible has shaped me in more ways than I can know. I read it daily (or almost), whether at Mass, praying the Divine Office, or simply doing spiritual reading. I’ve also read my share of biblical commentary and criticism, and know a tolerable amount about the Bible’s history (at least enough to torment some Jehova’s Witnesses the last time they came knocking). But I’ve never read the Bible in its entirety, and I know there are books in it about which I know next to nothing. I tremble a bit when I remember St. Jerome’s saying that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Better get reading soon.

* * *

So there you go, my top 10. Some of them I plan to read soon, some I expect it may be years before I finally tackle them. Either way, they remain among my favorite books, ridiculous as that may seem. Are any of your favorites also books that you haven’t read? If so, leave us a comment below.