The Life and Work of Mgr. Li Jingfeng, Bishop of Fengxiang (Part 2 of 2)

The first part furnished a brief biography of the late Bishop of Fengxiang, together with his letter to the general synod of 2012 and his preface to a Chinese-Latin textbook. Today we will look at what this good bishop did to promote the usus antiquior in China, and his rather sharp criticisms of the deleterious effects of the introduction of the Novus Ordo in his country.

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Traditional Liturgy

Paradoxically, as if facing persecution by the Communist Party was not enough, Bishop Li also had to defend his diocese against what he perceived to be the harmful influences of Western missionaries, who began to enter China in greater numbers in the 1980s after the “opening-up” policy went into effect. He blamed some of these religious for bringing with them a “corrupt faith” and a “liberal” attitude toward Church law and tradition.

In particular, he worked energetically to oppose the liberal liturgical reforms that were brought into China by these religious. As a clandestine Church, China had had restricted communication with the Vatican, and thus the great changes of the ‘70s and ‘80s had mostly passed them by, and many diocese did not yet celebrate the Novus Ordo Missae.

His Pastoral Letter for the Year of Faith (15 August, 2012) blames a flawed interpretation of the “spirit of Vatican II” for creating a “Protestant” attitude toward liturgical law. Most of all, it blames the influence of liberal western missionaries for disrupting the sound traditional piety of Chinese Catholics in the name of “progress” and “inculturation”:


In the 1980s, after the opening-up policy, foreigners started coming to mainland China and brought with them the pollution of the West. When the government discovered this, it took action to correct it. But who was keeping watch over the corruption brought by people into the Church? At that time, some Western religious came to China. When they saw Chinese Catholics piously kneeling on the ground and praying the Rosary and Stations of the Cross before the liturgy, they said: ‘You are all so behind the times, acting like that, kneeling and saying so many prayers. We stopped doing that a long time ago!’ Not wanting to witness this, they would leave the church and go back home until the Mass began, and our Catholics had stopped saying prayers. Moreover, during Mass they always either stood or sat, which our priests and lay Catholics despised. I once wrote a letter to the Apostolic Delegate in Hong Kong: ‘The rubbish brought into civil society has been cleaned up by the state. But whose duty it is to clean out the trash brought into the Church? Your religious who came here, they walked out because they disapproved of our way of praying. Their influence is extremely dangerous. I urge you not to let this kind of religious come to mainland China.’ But the Apostolic Delegate did nothing. So this kind of religious kept coming as before, and always protested against our way of praying. Now that several decades have passed, finally we have come to understand that the faith of certain people overseas was corrupted long ago.


The same pastoral letter addresses the question of inculturation. He points out that recent efforts at “inculturation” often turned out to be merely an imposition of Western liberal values:



Some people make use of the fashionable word ‘inculturation’ to argue that everything should be localized. But how should we understand inculturation? We may well ask whether we still see a genuine Chinese culture in China. But putting aside the question of Chinese culture for the moment, the meaning of the word ‘inculturation’ is ambiguous. It is a new word that became common after the Vatican II, derived from the Latin word ‘inculturatio.’ ‘Cultura’ means culture, but the meaning of the prefix in- added before it is hard to tell clearly. ‘In’ has two meanings: ‘in something’ and ‘into something.’ Therefore the choice to render it in Chinese as ‘localization’ is not necessarily appropriate. Some people think that inculturation entails assimilation to local things. But a small error can lead to a great misconception. ‘To enter into a culture’ and ‘to become like that culture’ are two absolutely different things. As for Chinese culture, can it still be seen in our modern society? Customs, ways of thinking, food, clothing, living arrangements, travel, and morality, is there any of these domains in which we do not imitate the West? Are the cornerstones of Chinese culture, such as the Three Obedience and the Four Virtues, the Three Principles and the Five Moralities,[1] still seen and practiced in today’s China? To the contrary, in the eyes of modern Chinese people, this whole culture can be summarized in one phrase: undesirable feudalistic doctrines. What is desirable is Western culture. Western people wear camisole dresses at weddings, and so we are imitating it. Western people practice homosexuality, and we are starting to imitate it. Is this Chinese culture?

In 2011, there was a local Church feast celebrated in an Asian country, and the Pope sent a cardinal as his representative to participate in the opening ceremony. The cardinal only saw benches and chairs but no kneelers, so he asked: ‘Does your Eastern culture not believe it is important to kneel to venerate and worship God? Why is there not a single kneeler in the church? Is this your inculturation of the Gospel?” This should come as a great rebuke to us! [….]

We can see how Buddhism has entered into local culture. For example, there are many Buddhist ideas and phrases in our language; in this case there was a real entering into Chinese culture. Can we do as Matteo Ricci and Xu Guangqi did, who made the Gospel of Jesus Christ enter into Chinese culture, so that everyone will know the salvation of Jesus? Can we make the Gospel of Christ become part of Chinese culture? This is the real meaning of inculturatio.


On 10 Oct 2011, Bishop Li published called “The Inviolability of the Sanctity and Dignity of the Church’s Liturgy,” in which he instructed Catholics on the nature of the sacred liturgy.[2] Citing decades of conciliar and papal teaching, he forcefully urges the necessity of obeying liturgical law, and warns against the dangers of the liberal “reform” movement imported by Western clergy. Here are a few excerpts:


  1. What can we do to help correct liberalism?

Here I want to quote some words from the introduction of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate, as the basis of an answer to this question. ‘Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace… ‘Caritas in veritate’ is the principle around which the Church’s social doctrine turns, a principle that takes on practical form in the criteria that govern moral action…: justice and the common good.

Justice: Ubi societas, ibi ius… Love is to give, to offer what is ‘mine’ to the other; … justice [is] to give the other what is ‘his’… I cannot ‘give’ what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice.

The common good: To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it… It is a good that is sought not for its own sake, but for the people who belong to the social community and who can only really and effectively pursue their good within it.’

‘The social community’ the Pope mentions certainly includes the Church, and the appearance of liberalism in the Church is precisely what the Pope meant by a ‘lack of love’.

As pastors of souls, if priests do not celebrate according to liturgical rubrics, then as the Holy See pointed out, they ‘insult the dignity of the believer’ (Liturgicae Instaurationes). The Pope said: ‘To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it.’ Now let us look at these priests, who lack love. Can they say they desire the good of lay Catholics and that they take effective steps to secure it? … The reason why the clergy who disobey the liturgical regulations do not care about justice and the common good, and choose to insult the dignity of believers, is that they do not have the love mentioned above. [….]

Now let us see how to correct liberalism in the liturgy. It is simple: the priest must love the Lord with his whole heart, and the Church, lay Catholics, the Sacrament and the liturgy, justice, the common good, his own vocation, and his priestly identity, imitating the Apostle Matthew who left the tax-collector’s desk at the call of Christ, imitating Zacchaeus who gave up worldly thoughts and climbed into the sycamore tree of love to see our sorrowing Lord Jesus. In this way we can overcome liberalism without difficulty, conform our actions to the Church’s teaching, restore respect for the sacred and sublime character of the priest, and console our sorrowing Mother Church and her vulnerable flock of believers.


The same letter puts forward the traditional Roman liturgy, with its strictly regulated ceremonies, as a powerful antidote against liturgical liberalism:


I feel it is necessary to talk about a very realistic fact. Pope Benedict has granted the whole Church freedom to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. The rituals of this form are complicated and difficult. But priests around the world, in ancient and modern times, in China and overseas, have been able to celebrate this Mass in exactly the same way according to the liturgical rubrics, without exception. How can we explain this? Recently, our priests and seminarians watched videos of the Tridentine Mass being celebrated in different places around the world (the United States, Ireland, Britain, Rome, the SSPX). They exclaimed afterwards: ‘This is amazing! These priests from different places and differents times celebrate the same ritual with exactly the same gestures, and their rite is also identical to the Tridentine Mass we celebrate here! How can this be?’ I said: ‘It is simple: that they all love the Lord and the Church with their whole hearts, and love to obey Church teaching. There is nothing else.”

Roman Missal

While forming his priests for a correct celebration of the new rites in conformity with the mind of the Church, Bishop Li also fostered in his priests devotion to the traditional Latin liturgical tradition, which was used generally by the Church in China until the 1980s and 90s.

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Bishop Li’s devotion to the old rite led him, in 2012, to publish a Chinese-Latin edition of the Missale Romanum 1962, (Parvum Missale Tridentinum 1962 Sinice Explicatum, A Small Tridentine Missal, 1962, Explained in Chinese) whose use he encouraged in his diocese. This Missal is used in several dioceses of mainland China where the traditional Mass is offered. It may be the only edition on the mainland, though there is another printed in Hong Kong.

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As becomes clear from his writings, he saw Summorum Pontificum not merely as a permission, but as a challenge to all priests of the Roman rite: “As priests of the Church, if we are not able to celebrate the sacrifice and to venerate God in the official language of the Church, what does that say about our identity as priests!” The Missal was accompanied soon after by a volume of liturgical instruction for priests (Vade mecum ad usum sacerdotum), published on 1 December 2012. These and all his books can be found here.

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Bishop Li died on 17 November 2017, at the age of 95. A young Catholic who witnessed his holy death had this to say:

Our beloved bishop loved God in his whole life. For his steadfastness in faith, he had been jailed for years. Even though he was under all kinds of pressures and suffered injustices, his love for God was not shaken. He was firm in his faith, never changed, even until the last moment of his life on earth.

His firmness in the principle of faith, his love and seriousness in Church liturgy and Church traditions have deeply influenced my faith and vocation.

We were happy our beloved bishop had received the Precious Blood at 6:50 am this morning, before he departed at 7:20 am. In the prayers of priests and the faithful, our Lao Zhujiao rested in peace![3]


[1] The Three Obediences (obedience to the father before marriage, to the husband in marriage, and to sons in widowhood) and the Four Virtues (morality, proper speech, modest manner, and diligent work) apply to women. The Three Principles express the hierarchical order of society: the monarch is the principle of the subject; the father is the principle of the son; the husband is the principle of the wife. The Five Moral Rules are: charity, gratitude, humility, prudence, and honesty.

[2] The Chinese original can be found online here.


The Life and Work of Mgr. Li Jingfeng, Bishop of Fengxiang (Part 1 of 2)

Saturday, November 17, marked the first anniversary of the death of Mgr. Li Jingfeng, Bishop of Fengxiang, a heroic confessor of the Church in China, who throughout the tribulations of his long episcopate gave a glorious witness to the Catholic faith. In tribute to his memory, we offer a brief biography and, thanks to the diligence of a Chinese reader, publish an exemplary selection of his writings for the first time in English. Requiescat in pace.

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Msgr Li was born into a Catholic family in Gaoling County (Shaanxi) in 1922. He became a priest in 1947 and performed various duties in the diocese until he was arrested in 1959 and sentenced to forced labor, from which he was released only in 1980.

After his release, he dedicated himself to rebuilding the Catholic communities of his province of Shaanxi. In 1980, when he was secretly consecrated the bishop of Fengxiang, he became the head of a Catholic community that obstinately refused to join the “official” structures of the Church, despite the efforts of the local authorities to impose the Patriotic Association on Chinese Catholics. For this reason, the cathedral, churches, seminary, and the various organizations of his diocese remained “clandestine” for a long time, though physically visible to everyone. In 2004, at the advice of Mgr. Li Du’an, “official” bishop of Xi’an, Mgr. Li decided that, for the sake of the unity of the Church in Shaanxi, it was necessary to “surface,” i.e. to obtain from the government recognition of his episcopal rank. He obtained it, but nevertheless, always refused any membership in the Patriotic Association and any affiliation to the “official” episcopal conference. In May 2011, aged but still in good physical and intellectual health, he organized the election of his successor, thus assuring the continuity of apostolic succession in his diocese.[1] 

Letter to the General Synod

On 16 October 2012, the 13th Ordinal General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops began its first session in Rome to address themes relating to the “New Evangelization.” Beijing refused to grant the bishops of continental China permission to attend the synod. Instead, Bishop Li addressed a letter to the assembled fathers, boldly urging them to take inspiration from Chinese Catholics, whose fervor he contrasts with the “lukewarmness” and “infidelity” of Christians in the West. Here is a translation of the letter, with the Latin original in a footnote:

Most Reverend and Esteemed Fathers of the Synod, I am grateful that you are able to attend the synod and visit the tomb of St. Peter, but I am grieved that you are not able to hear any voice from the Church in China. In my desire that our voice should be heard among you and especially by our Pope Benedict XVI, I send You today this short letter.


I want to tell you that our Church in China, and especially the Christian laity, still keep the piety, faithfulness, sincerity, and devotion of the ancient Christians, even while suffering under fifty years of persecution. I also want to tell you that I am always offering prayers to the All Powerful God, that our piety, fidelity, sincerity, and our devotion can heal the lukewarmness, infidelity, and worldliness of Christians outside China, which have arisen out of an unrestrained liberty and openness. In the Year of Faith, in our discussions in the Synod you may address the reasons why our faith has remained strong in China. The reason is, as a maxim of the great Chinese philosopher Laozi says: “Prosperity is born in calamity, and calamity lies concealed in satisfaction.” In the foreign churches, the lukewarmness, infidelity, and worldliness of Christians has affected many of the clergy. But in the Chinese Church the Christian laity are more devout than the clergy. Can the piety, fidelity, sincerity, and devotion of the lay Christians of China have an effect on clergy outside China? I have found the lament of Pope Benedict XVI very moving: “As we know, in vast areas of the earth faith risks being extinguished, like a flame that is no longer fed. We are facing a profound crisis of faith, a loss of the religious sense that constitutes the greatest challenge to the church today. The renewal of faith must therefore take priority in the commitment of the entire Church in our time” (See the review “Christ to the world” vol. 59, p.167). Nevertheless, I believe that the Pope may find consolation in the faith of us, the Christians of China. I say nothing of the political situation, which is a transitory thing.[2]

Latin Studies

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During his ministry, Bishop Li Jingfeng promoted the study of Latin. He prepared and published a Chinese-Latin textbook Grammatica Figurificata Linguae Latinae (Second Edition May 1, 2010), which has been used to instruct seminarians and priests of his diocese. The Chinese preface to this work follows Veterum Sapientia, defending the study of Latin as a vital element in clerical formation. It notes especially the importance for the clergy of being able to read, translate, and explain classic Christian texts to lay Catholics in China:


It is common knowledge that Latin is the official language of the Church. Consider for example this statement of Pope John XXIII: ‘The Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord…The language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular. The Church’s language must be not only universal but also immutable…If the truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to an unspecified number of them, the meaning of these truths, varied as they are, would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient clarity and precision’ (Veterum Sapientia). And Pope John Paul II says: ‘Countless works of the Church are written in Latin. Without a sound knowledge of Latin, it is impossible to read them directly and unearth their treasure. One has to access them through another’s translation. But the correctness of the translation is not certain.’

The Latin language itself has many features that deserve attention. ‘There can be no doubt as to the formative and educational value either of the language of the Romans or of great literature generally. It is a most effective training for the pliant minds of youth. It exercises, matures, and perfects the principal faculties of mind and spirit. It sharpens the wits and gives keenness of judgment. It helps the young mind to grasp things accurately and develop a true sense of values. It is also a means for teaching highly intelligent thought and speech’ (Veterum Sapientia). There is good reason for this. The declensions, conjugations, and grammatical structure of the Latin language are highly logical, demanding a clear mind, memory, and precise judgment, all of which are helpful to the exercise and testing of intelligence.

There is still another feature of Latin, as the Pope says: ‘Its concise, varied and harmonious style, full of majesty and dignity makes for singular clarity and impressiveness of expression.’ Thus the value and importance for Catholics to learn Latin is clear.

Because of the features of Latin mentioned above, a large number of Latin aphorisms, abbreviations, and terms are still living in different languages and have become permanent features of them. Some of them even became global.

These facts suggest the importance of learning Latin for the clergy of China. In addition, many precious Church documents have been translated into Chinese by people outside of the Church, such as Fides quaerens intellectum by St. Anselm, Civitas Dei and the Confessiones of St. Augustine, etc. These works have all been translated into Chinese by non-Catholics, which is a great irony for our Catholic clergy! This reality should be a warning: not to learn Latin is to lag behind and remain passive. Is our Chinese Church willing to languish forever at the margins of the universal Church?

Moreover, in 2007 Pope Benedict XVI issued the Motu proprio Summorum Pontificum to grant the wish of many of the faithful who ‘continued to be attached with such love and affection to the earlier liturgical forms.’ Its intention is that all priests be able to celebrate Tridentine Mass in the forma extraordinaria. This is a great challenge to every priest. Are we capable of doing it? As priests of the Church, if we are not able to celebrate the sacrifice and to venerate God in the official language of the Church, what does that say about our identity as priests! The Holy See further suggests that ‘Gregorian chant be preserved and be sung in monasteries, other religious houses and seminaries, as a special form of chanted prayer and as something of high cultural and pedagogic value’ (Voluntati Obsequens, April 1974).

Latin is not only the special language of the Church. It has also been used as an international language of science and culture by scholars up until the present day. For hundreds of years, many great works of science were published in Latin. Countless famous people such as Bacon, Newton, Descartes, Spencer, Copernicus, etc. have written in Latin. Even the doctoral dissertation of Karl Marx was written in Latin; in 1955, the Convention of Mayors of the World’s Capital Cities, held in Florence, Italy, issued its peace pact in Latin.

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(Part 2 will discuss Bishop Li Jingfeng’s support of the traditional Latin liturgy.)

[1] This paragraph taken from the website of the Agence d’Information des Missions Étrangèrs de Paris.

[2] Patres Reverendissimi ac Excellentissimi Synodi XIII, Vobis gratulor quod potestis Synodo interesse, et Sepulturam Sti Petri visitare, valde tamen doleo quod vocem nullam ex ecclesia sinensium audire potestis. Volens vocem aliquam nostram vobiscum ac praesertim cum Papa nostro Benedicto XVI participare, has hodie mitto parvas litteras Vobis. Volo dicere quod nostra ecclesia in Sinis, praesertim christiani laici, semper pietatem, fidelitatem, sinceritatem devotionemque christianorum antiquorum conservant hucusque, persecutiones 50 annorum patiens. Vobis adhuc volo dicere quod semper preces apud Deum Omnipotentem effundo, ut nostra pietas, nostra fidelitas, nostra sinceritas nostraque devotio christianorum potest sanare tepiditatem, infidelitatem, saecularitatem exterorum exortas ex effrenata libertate et apertura. In Fidei Anno, in tractatibus vestris in Synodo potestis tractare quare fides nostra in Sinis possit conservari indeficiens hucusque. Hoc est ut effatum Magni Philosophi Sinensis Laozi fert: “Sicut in calamitate gignitur prosperitas, ita in voluptate latet calamitas”. In ecclesia exterorum, christianorum laicorum tepiditas, infidelitas, saecularitas affecit clericos multos. In ecclesia autem sinensium christiani laici magis devotiores sunt quam clerici. Possuntne pietas, fidelitas, sinceritas, devotioque christianorum laicorum sinensium movere clericos exterorum? Lamentationes Papae Benedicit XVI multum me moverunt: “As we know, in vast areas of the earth faith risks being extinguished, like a flame that is no longer fed. We are facing a profound crisis of faith, a loss of the religious sense that constitutes the greatest challenge to the church today. The renewal of faith must therefore take priority in the commitment of the entire Church in our time” (See the review “Christ to the world” vol. 59, p.167). Credo tamen nostra fides christianorum sinensium posse consolari Papam. Ne dicam de re politica, quae semper transitoria est.

(A version of the original text, which I have amended, can be found here. The Vatican’s reply can be found here.)


On the ‘O’ Antiphons and the Nativity (GA 3.5-7)

Ch. 5
On the “O” Antiphons

Nativity 1
The Nativity, The Hague, KB, 74 G 38, fol. 38r.


The seven “O’s” are sung more as expressions of wonder than invocations. In them we signify the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, by which the Incarnation is carried out, and through which Christ is invited by the Church. For he is the Wisdom in which the Father made all things, and came in the spirit of wisdom to teach us “the way of prudence.” He is Adonai, who revealed his name to Moses when he gave him the Law on Sinai, who comes in the spirit of understanding to redeem us. He is the Root of Jesse, who “stood as a sign to the peoples” when he willed to be adored everywhere through the sign of the cross, and he comes in the spirit of of counsel to deliver us. He is the Key of David who “opened” heaven for the just, “shut” the gates of hell, and came in the spirit of fortitude to “free those who were bound in the prison house.” He is the Morning Star and the Sun of justice who comes to “enlighten” us with the spirit of knowledge. He is the King of the nations and the Cornerstone, who comes to save man through the spirit of piety. He is Emmanuel coming to us in Israel, “coming to save” us through the spirit of fear, giving to everyone the chrism oils of love. The singing of the twelve “O’s” expresses the twelve apostles who preached Christ’s advent, as we read.

CAP. V. – De antiphonis O.

Septem O admirando potius quam vocando cantantur, in quibus septem dona Spiritus sancti notantur, per quae haec administratur incarnatio, et per quae Christus ab Ecclesia invitatur. Ipse quippe est sapientia, in qua Pater fecit omnia, qui venit in spiritum sapientiae, docere nos viam prudentiae. Ipse Adonai quod nomen Moysi indicavit, cui legem in Sina dedit, qui venit per spiritum intelligentiae, nos redimere. Ipse radix Iesse, qui in signum populorum stetit, dum per signum crucis ubique adorari voluit, qui in spiritu consilii nos liberare venit. Ipse clavis David, qui coelum iustis aperuit, infernum clausit, et per spiritum fortitudinis vinctos de domo carceris educere venit. Ipse Oriens et Sol iustitiae, qui venit nos illuminare spiritu scientiae. Ipse Rex gentium et lapis angularis, qui venit salvare hominem per spiritum pietatis. Ipse est Emmanuel veniens ad nos per Israel, qui venit ad salvandum nos per spiritum timoris, dans cunctis charismata amoris. Si duodecim O cantantur, tunc duodecim prophetae exprimuntur, qui Christi adventum praedicasse leguntur.

Nativity 2
« Livre lequel entre aultres matieres traitte de la nativité Nostre Seigneur Jhesu Crist, de sa vye, de sa passion, de sa resurrection et d’aultres belles et devotes matieres, compilé par Jehan Mansel, notable clercq lay, demourant a Hesdin en Artois ». Volume 1er Source:
Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Ms-5205 réserve, fol. 10v.

Ch. 6
On the Vigils of the Saints

Vigils originated with the shepherds who kept watch (vigilias) over their flocks by night as Christ was being born (Luke 2). The ancient custom was to perform two night offices on the major feast days: one at night’s beginning by the pontiff with his chaplains without the Invitatorium Venite, another at the middle of the night with the clergy, as in the solemn celebrations we observe today. The people who had gathered in great numbers for the feast used to watch through the whole night singing praises. In later times, however, fools turned a good thing into a mockery, and gave themselves over to bawdy songs and dances, drinking and fornication. Vigils were forbidden and days of fasting took their place, but retained the name of Vigils. According to the ancient custom, therefore, two offices are assigned to the night of Our Lord’s Birth. In the first one, the antiphons Dominus dixit ad me, In sole posuit, and Elevamini, and the Responsory Ecce Agnus Dei are sung along with everything else [as usual]. In the other, the antiphons Dominus dixit, Tanquam sponsus, Diffusa est gratia, and the Responsory Hodie nobis are sung with all the rest [as usual].

CAP. VI. – De vigiliis sanctorum.

Vigiliae a pastoribus coeperunt, qui vigilias supra greges suos nascente Christo custodierunt (Luc. II). More antiquo duo nocturnalia officia in praecipuis festivitatibus agebantur: unum in initio noctis a pontifice cum suis capellanis absque Venite; aliud in media nocte in clero, sicut adhuc solemniter celebratur. Et populus, qui ad festum confluxerat, tota nocte in laudibus vigilare solebat. Postquam vero illusores bonum in ludibrium permutaverunt, et turpibus cantilenis ac saltationibus, potationibus et fornicationibus operam dederunt. Vigiliae interdictae et dies ieiunii dedicati sunt, et vigiliarum nomen retinuerunt. Secundum antiquum ergo morem duo officia nocti Natalis Domini ascribuntur. Unum in qua antiphona Dominus dixit ad me. In sole posuit, Elevamini et responsorium, Ecce Agnus Dei, cum reliquis canuntur. Aliud in quo antiphona Dominus dixit, Tanquam sponsus, Diffusa est gratia, et responsorium Hodie nobis cum aliis concinuntur.

Ch. 7
On the Lord’s Nativity

Nativity 3
Horae ad usum Parisiensem ou Petites heures de Jean de Berry.

Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 18014, fol. 40v.

The word “festival” comes from fasti divinitas, i.e. the anniversary or right of divinity, because every year on this day the divinity is given its due. “Celebration” comes from celibum, i.e. the ritual of the chaste, because in it the rites of heaven are performed by chaste people. “Socan” means frequent, hence we have the word solemnitas because in a solemnity the people frequent the church. The feast is called the Lord’s Nativity because we believe that on that day Christ was born in the flesh. The Church celebrates this Nativity because formerly everyone, not only kings, celebrated their birthdays. So we celebrate his temporal birth because through him we are reborn to eternity. Christ willed to be born at the end of the year because he came into the world at the end of the age. It also pleased him to be born at night because he came in secret, hidden in the form of flesh. After his birth the days get longer, because those who believe in him are called to the light of eternity.

The Invitatory Christus natus est nobis is sung in the person of the angels, by whom the shepherds, or rather all people are invited to pray to Christ. We sing joyfully to him in three psalms, and give him applause in the readings through the oracles of the prophets. In the Responsories we sing with the angels. These Responsories portray the restoration through this nativity of all things in heaven and on earth, and the damnation of all infernal things. In the first Responsory Gaudet exercitus angelorum we sing the restoration of heavenly things. In the second Pax vera descendit we sing the reparation of earthly things. In the third Introivit in regionem nostram we recall the liberation of those sitting in the region of the shadow of death. Because there is no doubt that the Trinity accomplished all these things, the Gloria Patri is sung in every Responsory.

CAP. VII. – De Nativitate Domini.

Festivitas, quasi fasti divinitas, id est, annua vel ius divinitatis dicitur, quia illa die annuatim ius divinitati persolvitur. Celebritas quasi celibum, id est, castorum ritus dicitur, quia in illa ritus coelestium a castis agitur: Socan dicitur frequens, inde solemnitas appellatur, quia in ea a conventu populi Ecclesia frequentatur. Natalis itaque Domini inde dicitur, quia in eo Christus natus in carne creditur, quem Natalem Ecclesia ideo celebrat, quia olim non solum reges, sed et quique natalem suum celebrabant. Ideo et nos celebramus eius temporalem natalem, quia per eum renascimur ad aeternitatem. Ideo Christus in fine anni nasci voluit, quia in finem saeculi in mundum venit. Ideo in nocte nasci ei placuit, quia clam scilicet sub carne latens venit. Post eius natalem dierum lux prolongatur, quia in eum credentes ad aeternitatis lucem vocantur. Invitatorium Christus natus est nobis, sub persona angelorum cantatur, a quibus pastores, vel potius omnis populus ad orandum Christum invitatur. Cui in tribus psalmis gaudentes psallimus, in lectionibus per oracula prophetarum plaudimus. In responsoriis cum angelis canimus. Quae responsoria repraesentant cuncta in coelis et in terris per hanc nativitatem instaurata, et infernalia damnata. In primo responsorio in quo Gaudet exercitus angelorum, cantatur restauratio coelestium. In secundo in quo Pax vera descendit, cantatur reparatio terrestrium. In tertio in quo Introivit in regionem nostram, cantatur, liberatio recolitur, in regione umbrae mortis habitantium. Et quia haec cuncta Trinitas operata non dubitatur, ideo etiam ad singula responsoria Gloria Patri cantatur.

Deux tropes, à propos de rien

To recall the words of an introductory post on tropes, one of the most fascinating fruits of the mediaeval love for the liturgy is the vast corpus of tropes that age has bequeathed to us. “Trope” is the collective term applied today to musical additions to the preexisting liturgical chants; the medievals themselves variously referred to them as tropi, versus, laudes, prosae, prosulae, or verba.

Troping (or farcing) was a distinctly Western method of elaborating liturgical texts, an aspect of the Roman Rite’s medieval development that was more or less curtailed (though never clearly forbidden) in the post-Tridentine centuries. They are born out of the spirit of lectio divina, the loving rumination, commentary, and elaboration of the sacra pagina, applied to the texts of the sacred liturgy. Previously, we’ve shown troped Kyries and Introits, but few parts of the Mass escaped being farced. Glorias, Introits, Epistles, and even Creeds bloomed with verses grafted by the liturgy’s medieval gardeners.

Music 2 (H)
Horae ad usum romanum. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 1156 B, fol. 31r.

Until the French Revolution, a farced Regina cæli used to be sung as a final hymn to Our Lady after Lauds, Vespers, and Compline on Easter in the Antiphonal of the Royal Convent of Rivoli in Paris. The intercalated three triplets Virgo, Infrementis, and Veri are a sort of response or solo sung by a part of the choir or by children or cantors, and were sung after the full choir had finished its verset with an alleluia.

Regina cæli, lætare, alleluia!
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia,
Virgo, Mater resurgentis,
Vetustatem nostræ mentis,
Clementer evacua.

Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia!
Infrementis, corrumpentis
Mundi carnes et serpentis
Mixturam attenua.

Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia!
Veri lumen Orientis,
Fac nos pacem permanentis
Possidere pascua, alleluia!

Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia!
For He Whom thou didst deserve to bear, alleluia,
O Virgin, Mother of the Resurrected, mercifully cleanse the old dross of our mind. 

Is risen again, as He said, alleluia!
Soothe the flesh of the frenzied and corrupting world and the craft of the serpent. 

Pray for us to God, alleluia!
Grant us the peace of possessing the Pasch of the eternal and true light of the East, alleluia!

In Codex 42 of the library of the monastery of Einsiedeln, a 10th-century manuscript that contains the second part of the Homiliarium or Lectionary of Paul the Deacon, one finds in fol. 268b, written by an 11th-century hand, sundry Tropi sive farcitiones for the Tu autem Domine which was and is still said at the end of lessons. They appear to have been sung after the lessons of Matins on the great feast of Christmas.


Tu autem, Domine, qui hodie humanitatis nostræ particeps fieri dignatus es, miserere nobis.

Tu autem, Domine, qui hodie pro salute humani generis nasci dignatus es, miserere nobis.

Tu autem, Domine, qui hodierna die per uterum intactæ Virginis ad nos venire dignatus es, miserere nobis.

Tu autem, Domine, Alpha et Omega, qui in principio cum Patre omnia creasti ex nihilo et in præsenti die nasci dignatus es ex Virginis alvo, miserere nobis.

Tu autem, Deus de Deo, lumen de lumine, Domine, miserere nobis.

Tu autem, Domine, lux lucis, dies Domini, miserere nobis.

But thou, O Lord, who deignedst today to participate in our humanity, have mercy on us.

But thou, O Lord, who deignedst today to be born for the salvation of the human race, have mercy on us.

But thou, O Lord, who deignedst today to come to us through the womb of the intact Virgin, have mercy on us.

But thou, O Lord, Alpha and Omega, who in the beginning createdst all things from nothing with the Father, and on the present day deignedst to be born from the Virgin’s womb, have mercy on us.

But thou, O Lord, God from God, light from light, have mercy on us.

But thou, O Lord, light of light, day of the Lord, have mercy on us.

Translated from Dom Suitbert Bäumer’s Histoire du bréviaire, translated and expanded by Dom Réginald Biron, Vol. 2, pp. 422-3.

The Holy Mass in the First World War: A Photo Collection

This article by Henri de Villiers was first published in 2014 on the blog of the Schola Sainte Cécile, to commemorate the centenary of the start of the Great War. It is translated and republished here and at New Liturgical Movement in honor of Armistice Day, and the centenary of the first armistice, which occurred this past Sunday.

On 3 August 1914, Germany declared war on France, and Europe entered into a terrible four years of slaughter that would decimate believers on every side, wiping out the youth of thousands of towns and villages, and bringing about the loss of a great part of Europe’s Christian elite. In memory of this sorrowful centenary, we present a collection of photographs that testify to the faith of these men in the midst of the horrors of the front.

We shall remember them.

Requiem æternam dona eis Domine, & lux perpetua luceat eis.


“For the Lord will judge his people, and will be entreated in favour of his servants.” (Psalm 134,14)
Photo: Mass at the front in France during the First World War.


“The sorrows of hell encompassed me: and the snares of death prevented me.”
(Psalm 17,6)
Photo: Mass at the front for the French troops – New York Times, 14 February 1915


“I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer.”
(Psalm 17,2-3)
Photo: 1915: A mass at the 43rd battery of the 29th artillery regiment between Oostduinkerke and Nieuport.


“My eyes have failed for thy word, saying: When wilt thou comfort me?”
(Psalm 118,82)
Photo: Holy Mass for the French troops on the front of Champagne in 1915 – Collection of Odette Carrez


“The Lord will give strength to his people: the Lord will bless his people with peace.”
(Psalm 28,10)
Photo: 1915- the sub-lieutenant Pape (sic!) says holy mass for the 262nd infantry regiment. Photograph by Henri Terrier (1887† 1918). Musee de l’Armee, Paris.


“With thee is my praise in a great church: I will pay my vows in the sight of them that fear him.”
(Psalm 21,26)
Photo: German troops assist at mass in the Belgian cathedral of Antwerp – New York Times, 21 March 1915.


“Salvation is of the Lord: and thy blessing is upon thy people.”
(Psalm 3,9)
Photo: Austrian soldiers receive benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in 1915 in Russian Galicia. New York Times, 23 May 1915.


“Praising I will call upon the Lord: and I shall be saved from my enemies.”
(Psalm 17,4)
Photo: a Russian priest celebrates the divine liturgy for Russian troops in 1915. The soldiers have formed a choir and are chanting the liturgy next to the altar. The War Illustrated Album DeLuxe, Vol. 1; Amalgamated Press, London, 1915.


“I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains, from whence help shall come to me.”
(Psalm 120,1)
Photo: a priest says mass for Italian troops on the Italo-Austrian front in the mountains of Tyrol – New York Times, 27 February 1916.


“And they shall call them, The holy people, the redeemed of the Lord. But thou shalt be called: A city sought after, and not forsaken.”
(Isaiah 62,12)
Photo: April 1916-Soldiers of the Russian expeditionary corps taking an oath and venerating the icon and cross at the monastery of Saint-Pantaleimon, Mount Athos, Greece. Photograph: Dubray.


“God is with us.”
(Isaiah 8,10)
Photo: April 1916-In the Mirabeau camp near Marseille, men of the first regiment of the first Russian brigade pose around their flag, decorated with the face of Christ and emblazoned with the motto taken from Isaiah and chanted at Byzantine Great Compline, in particular on Christmas Day: С нами Бог – God is with us.


“Behold, God is my saviour, I will deal confidently, and will not fear: O because the Lord is my strength, and my praise, and he is become my salvation.”
(Isaiah 12,2)
Photo: April 1916-gathered on the parade grounds of Camp Mirabeau near Marseille, the men of the first Russian brigade receive the blessing from Fr. Okouneff, chaplain of the regiment, before their departure for the front.


“And the Lord is become a refuge for the poor: a helper in due time in tribulation.”
(Psalm 9,10)
Photo: April 1916 – gathered on the parade grounds in Camp Mirabeau near Marseille, the troops of the second regiment of the first Russian infantry brigade celebrate Easter, with the divine liturgy celebrated by Fr. Okouneff, chaplain of the regiment. The soldiers have formed a choir and are chanting the liturgy next to the altar.


“The sacrifice of praise shall glorify me: and there is the way by which I will shew him the salvation of God.”
(Psalm 49,23)
Photo: 1916 – Renault car-chapel dedicated to St. Elizabeth, donated by a businessman from Antwerp to serve the Belgian troops.


“In that day man shall bow down himself to his Maker, and his eyes shall look to the Holy One of Israel.” 
(Isaiah 17,7)
Photo: French soldiers assist at mass before going into battle – Source: Vive la France – William Heinemann, Londres, 1916.


“Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak: heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.”
(Psalm 6,3)
Photo: Mass in an Austrian military hospital in 1916


“Thou shalt no more have the sun for thy light by day, neither shall the brightness of the moon enlighten thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee for an everlasting light, and thy God for thy glory.”
(Isaiah 60,19)
Photo: a priest, probably the famous Father Paul Doncoeur, S.J., celebrates mass at an altar – nicknamed the altar of Fr. Doncoeur  – carved into the 1st Zouave Quarry, in the quarries of Confrécourt in the Soissonais. Paul Doncoeur was a Jesuit who become a military chaplain in 1914. He participated in the battles of the Marne, Aisne, Champagne, and Verdun. He was seriously wounded at the Somme. Then he rejoined these regiments for the battles of Reims and Flandres. His bravery and dedication to assuring a Christian burial to soldiers who died on the battlefield earned him an immense renown: seven citations, the War Cross, the Legion of Honor. This altar was sculpted by the 35th and 298th infantry regiments in 1914. There is a patriotic inscription written below: “God save France.” On the right, a ladder gave direct access to the front lines.


“In my affliction I called upon the Lord, and I cried to my God: And he heard my voice from his holy temple: and my cry before him came into his ears.” 
(Psalm 17,7)
Photo: Mass celebrated for Austrian prisoners of war – Illustrated War News, Vol. 1, Illustrated London News and Sketch, London, 1916.


“But I, O Lord, have cried to thee: and in the morning my prayer shall prevent thee.”
(Psalm 87,14)
Photo: a chaplain preaching in a French church transformed into a hospital


“This hath comforted me in my humiliation: because thy word hath enlivened me.” 
(Psalm 118,50)
Photo: Mass for the troops in the region of Soissons


“By this I know, that thou hast had a good will for me: because my enemy shall not rejoice over me.”
(Psalm 40,12)
Photo: Mass at the front


“Offer up the sacrifice of justice, and trust in the Lord: many say, Who sheweth us good things?”
(Psalm 4,6)
Photo: French soldiers hear mass in a chapel in the trenches-New York Times, 25 February 1917


“Come and behold ye the works of the Lord: what wonders he hath done upon earth, Making wars to cease even to the end of the earth. He shall destroy the bow, and break the weapons: and the shield he shall burn in the fire.”
(Psalm 45,9)
Photo: March 1917 – M. l’Abbé Louis Lenoir (1882-1917), military chaplain to the 4th colonial infantry regiment, celebrating holy mass for the troops at Gravena (Greek Macedonia), shortly before his death in May 1917.


“Turn away from evil and do good: seek after peace and pursue it.” 
(Psalm 33,15).
Photo: Mass on the Italian front in 1917


“Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the just wait for me, until thou reward me.”
(Psalm 141,8)
Photo: Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war assist at holy mass in a prisoner-of-war camp in Italy in 1917. British Library.


“Be thou mindful of thy word to thy servant, in which thou hast given me hope.”
(Psalm 118,49).
Photo: Abbé Even, chaplain of the 51st division. Photograph taken 10 September 1917 by Paul Castelnau (1880 † 1944). Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Paris.


“All the flocks of Cedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nabaioth shall minister to thee: they shall be offered upon my acceptable altar, and I will glorify the house of my majesty.”
(Isaiah 60,7)
Photo: field altar for Mass in the open air, installed in the back of a car in 1917. Photograph: Georges Pila.


“All ye inhabitants of the world, who dwell on the earth, when the sign shall be lifted up on the mountains, you shall see, and you shall hear the sound of the trumpet.”
(Isaiah 18,3).
Photo: 22 June 1918 – blessing of Polish flags in the woods of Beaulieu, Aube. Photograph: Auguste Goulden.


“You shall have a song as in the night of the sanctified solemnity, and joy of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe, to come into the mountain of the Lord, to the Mighty One of Israel.”
(Isaiah 30,29)
Photo: Mass celebrated in Amiens Cathedral, where the walls have been reinforced with sandbags to protect them from bombardments – 1918.


“In the year that King Ozias died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated: and his train filled the temple.”
(Isaiah 6,1)
Photo: interior of Amiens cathedral, with sandbags to reinforce the building against shelling – 1918.