REPOST: Novæ Mutationes: St Pius X’s New Office of All Souls

In previous posts, we have examined the origins of the Office of the Dead and All Souls, and the reforms All Souls underwent in the Neo-Gallican liturgies. These latter reforms influenced the new Office of All Souls that emerged from the liturgical reforms carried out under the reign of the Lord Pope St Pius X.

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Saint Gregory delivers the Soul of a Monk, Giovanni Battista Crespi, S. Vittore, Parese

Fr Pasquale Brugnani, one of the members of Pius X’s Commission to revise the liturgy, attests that it was the Lord Pope’s wish that All Souls become a full liturgical day1, as in the Neo-Gallican offices, and this was formally announced by the Apostolic Constitution Divino afflatu of 1 November 1911.

In the original Rubricæ project discussed by the Commission on 18 September 1911, Vespers of the Dead would continue to follow Second Vespers of All Saints. On 2 November, the Office of the second day within the Octave of All Saints would be omitted, and Mattins and Lauds of the Dead would be said in the morning.

In later discussions it was agreed that the lessons of Mattins of the Dead would be altered to make them more similar to the usual model for Mattins of feasts. Only the first Nocturn would retain the readings from Job; the same pericopes were picked as in the Neo-Gallican Parisian breviary. The second Nocturn would feature extracts from St Augustine’s De cura pro mortuis gerenda, like in the Dominican and Carmelite uses. The lessons of the third Nocturn, finally, were extracts from chapter 15 of St Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians, identical to the selections of the Neo-Gallican Cluniac and Parisian breviaries. To bring Lauds into line with the new psalter, psalms 66, 148, and 149 were duly excised therefrom.

The Little Hours were originally to be supplied by saying the ferial psalms (from the reformed psalter) without antiphon, then the Lord’s Prayer, preces, and collect. As Brugnani explained, the intention was to imitate the Little Hours of the Holy Triduum to “underline the link between the death and resurrection of Christ and the fate of the deceased”. Comparisons between the Mass and Office of the Dead and those of the Triduum go back, in any case, at least as far as Amalarius2.

The commissioners soon realized, however, that if the ferial psalms were sung at the Little Hours, some psalms from Mattins might end up being repeated. Brugnani suggested following the Neo-Gallican rites and using the Sunday psalms, but another commissioner, Mgr Pierre La Fontaine, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, proposed that the Friday psalms be used. He noted that none of them were present in the other Hours of the Dead and, moreover, he explained that they expressed sentiments particularly appropriate for All Souls:

  • Psalm 21, “David’s anguished soul”,
  • Psalm 79, “a sad note”,
  • Psalm 81, “God’s justice”,
  • Psalm 83, “the soul’s impassioned cry to heaven”,
  • Psalm 86, “a good tie with the previous”,
  • Psalm 88, “a reminder of mercy”3

La Fontaine recalls that his counter-proposal kindled Brugnani’s wrath: “Yesterday evening when I returned to San Giovanni I mentioned the question of the Office of the Dead to Pasquale [Brugnani], who suddenly, furor sicut serpentis, protested that he had always been under the impression that the psalms ought to be of Sunday, and called everyone else dishonest beasts”4.

The Commission’s ominously-named document Novæ mutationes of 25 September 1913, however, adopted neither La Fontaine’s nor Brugnani’s plan. Instead, it assigned psalms 27 and 37 split in half to Prime; 31, 55, and 69 to Tierce; 84, 85, and 87 to Sext; and 101 split into three to None. Yet the dispute over the psalms must have continued to rage, for the motu proprio Abhinc duos annos of 28 October 1913 ultimately assigned psalms 87, 27, and 31 to Prime; 37 split in two and 55 to Tierce; 69, 84, and 85 to Sext; and 101 split into three to None. Unfortunately, Honoré Vinck writes in his history of these reforms that he was not able to find any further documentation about the surely tempestuous discussions behind the ever-changing selection of psalms.

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The bizarre decision was also made to have Compline of All Souls on 1 November instead of Compline of All Saints. This had no precedent in the Neo-Gallican or mediæval rites. The idea was first suggested to the Commission by Fr Brugnani, who adduced three reasons:

  1. That since All Souls had become a full liturgical day, it ought to have its own Compline;
  2. That it would be inappropriate to sing the alleluia after Vespers of the Dead, as would happen in Compline of All Saints;
  3. It was a divine law that a liturgical day should have a full Office. A vespera ad vesperam celebrabitis solemnitates vestras, Brugnani wrote (cf. Leviticus 23:32).

His foremost argument, however, was that the poor souls would benefit from further prayers. “Above all else, O holy souls” he prayed, “inspire the Holy Father with what will be to your greatest benefit, and to the greater glory of God, the Church, and the Holy Father. Fiat, fiat5. His fervor ended up persuading the rest of the commissioners. Mgr Pietro Piacenza, who was initially opposed to the idea, claimed he was won over by the thought that, with this Compline, 120,000 priests would say an additional prayer for the souls in purgatory. He also agreed that singing the alleluia would be inappropriate after Vespers of All Souls, writing that, “In the Church’s solemnities, sad and doleful prayers are never mingled together with festal songs of exultation”6. The “sadness” of All Souls was also given as an explanation as to why this day, although of double rank, would end at None, unlike any other double feast but like fasting days.

The commissioners then forwarded the proposal to the Lord Pope, who wrote tersely on the margin, Vi sia la compieta. In imitation of Compline during the Triduum, this office would begin immediately with the Confiteor, followed by three psalms said without antiphon, originally from the feria, but then in the end 122, 141, and 142, and then the Nunc dimittis. As with the other hours, Compline would conclude with the Lord’s prayer, preces, and collect.

Thus the novel Office of All Souls was created, with little precedent in the Roman liturgical tradition. Piancenza reflected complacently on his commission’s handiwork, saying, “It is certain that parish priests and preachers will find in the Office of 2 November, thus well modified and enriched, new argument to confirm the people in the belief in purgatory”7. The conviction that the liturgy should be modified at will for didactic and pædagogical purposes would continue to heavily influence liturgical reform for the rest of the century, and was enshrined by the Lord Pius XII in his encyclical Mediator Dei.

The new Office did not find immediate welcome in the Benedictine use, which only definitely adopted it in 1963. Even then, it was decided to say the ferial psalms in the Little Hours and Compline, rather than those picked by the commission. The other religious orders eventually adopted the Piodecimal Office as well.

When First Vespers of all but first class feasts were unaccountably abolished by the Lord John XXIII, the venerable custom of having Second Vespers of All Saints followed by Vespers of the Dead on 1 November, which even the Neo-Gallican liturgies had generally preserved, was discarded, and it was decreed All Souls would begin with Mattins and end with Compline on 2 November. It was, however, permitted to continue saying Vespers of the Dead on 1 November as a pious devotion in those places where its removal might unduly vex the faithful8.



1. Annuente Sanctissimo Domino Nostro Pio Papa X […] in posteros annos sit Officium eorundem Defunctorum pro quotidiano etiam Divini Officii penso recitare (cited in Honoré Vinck, Pie X et les réformes liturgiques de 1911-1914, p. 256).

2. Cf. Liber officialis III, 44.

3. Qtd. in Vinck, op. cit., p. 260

4. Ieri sera nel ritonare a S. Giovanni accenai l’affare dell’Officio dei morti a Pasquale, cui subito furor sicut serpentis protestando che gli fu sempre d’avviso che i Salmi delle ore dev’essere della Domenica, e dando della bestia e del disonesto a tutti gli altri (Qtd. in Vinck, op. cit., p. 260).

5. E più di ogni altra cosa, Anime sante, ispirate al Santo Padre quello che sia al maggior vostro vantaggio e alla gloria maggiore di Dio e della Chiesa e del S. Padre. Fiat, fiat (Qtd. in Vinck, op. cit., p. 259).

6. Nelle sollenità della Chiesa, non si confondono mai insieme preci flebili e meste con canti festosi di esultanza (ibid.)

7. E certo che i parroci ed i predicatori, troveranno nell’Officio del 2 Novembre, cosè ben modificato e arricchito, nuovi argomenti per confermare il popolo nella credenza del purgatorio. (Qtd. in Vinck, op. cit., p. 260)

8. Celebratio tamen Vesperarum defunctorum post II Vesperas diei 1 novembris, quae pro pietate fidelium peragi consuevit, continuari potest, una cum aliis piis exercitiis forsitan consuetudine traditis, tamquam peculiare pietatis obsequium (Variationes in Breviario et Missali Romano, 1960).

Reflections on the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes of Pope Francis, Christophe Geffroy

Crossposted at Catholic World Report

Incomprehension is the dominant feeling upon reading the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes and the accompanying letters to bishops. It is impossible to understand either the justification or the necessity of the text, especially because that the pope has legislated on the basis of an incomplete argument and false information.

(1) Incomplete argument. It is not correct that John Paul II’s motu proprio Ecclesia Dei was only motivated by “the ecclesial intention of restoring the unity of the Church.” Of course, that was a major reason, but there was another Francis left out: “However, it is necessary that all the Pastors and the other faithful have a new awareness, not only of the lawfulness but also of the richness for the Church of a diversity of charisms, traditions of spirituality and apostolate, which also constitutes the beauty of unity in variety: of that blended ‘harmony’ which the earthly Church raises up to Heaven under the impulse of the Holy Spirit” (Ecclesia Dei n. 5a).

(2) False information. Pope Francis claims that John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s generosity was used by trads as a means of opposing the Mass of Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council, thereby emperilling the unity of the Church. He writes: “An opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI, intended to recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities, was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division [….] But I am nonetheless saddened that the instrumental use of Missale Romanum of 1962 is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church’ [….] Ever more plain in the words and attitudes of many is the close connection between the choice of celebrations according to the liturgical books prior to Vatican Council II and the rejection of the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the ‘true Church.’”

The vocabulary Francis uses here is taken straight from the Society of St. Pius X’s playbook: the “true Church” indeed! No trad faithful to Rome uses that expression! His observation is true enough if limited to the Society of St. Pius X. But applied to the vast majority of the Ecclesia Dei movement, it is false. True, there are cases that correspond to the pope’s accusations, but they are a minority: why deal out a collective punishment for the faults of a few? Wouldn’t it have been enough to crack down on these few? Clearly, we are not looking at the same traditional world as the pope and his advisers, because their picture has no correspondence to reality. They paint it as a homogenous world when the attitude they describe is actually only found within the Society of St. Pius X! Who is advising and informing the pope on these subjects? 

If we base our view on real-world information, we suspect that the pope is responding to the demand of a tiny minority in the Church who have always been fiercely hostile to the extraordinary form.


(3) The pope’s objective…and the dramatic consequences we can expect. “In defense of the unity of the Body of Christ, I am constrained to revoke the faculty granted by my Predecessors. The distorted use that has been made of this faculty is contrary to the intentions that led to granting the freedom to celebrate the Mass with the Missale Romanum of 1962.” In the interest of unity, this motu proprio will bring incomprehension, disarray, and conflict, and in the end will widen divisions instead of reducing them: the opposite of its stated objective! With the stroke of a pen, he overturns 35 years of efforts by John Paul II and Benedict XVI to calm the situation and establish a certain level of imperfect but genuine peace. Even the statement of the French Bishops’ Conference, which is hardly well disposed to the trad world, recognizes that Summorum Pontificum has led globally to a “peaceful situation,” which our investigation has largely confirmed (cf. the article on “traddies” in La Nef n°338, July-August 2021).

It will reignite the liturgy wars, exacerbate traditionalist resistance, and especially lead many to leave for the Society of St. Pius X (which will rejoice to see this motu proprio swell their ranks, confirming what they have warned about ever since 1988, namely that Rome cannot be trusted, a conviction that underlies their refusal of any reconciliation). This is precisely what John Paul II and Benedict XVI were able to avoid with their attentiveness to the trad world. Francis’ new decision risks creating a huge mess.

An important historical and psychological remark: Paul VI was ready to make concessions over the Mass if Mgr Lefebvre had not rejected Vatican II (his famous November 21, 1974, declaration against the “modernist Rome” of the council is what got him into trouble). But John Paul II and Benedict XVI understood that liturgical appeasement was a necessary condition for getting those trads who were most reserved about Vatican II to open up to the council and assimilate. By tightening the vice around the Mass, Francis will end up with a result opposite of the one that has been legitimately sought so far.

4. A double-standard? The tone of the motu proprio and letter is so harsh and severe toward trads that one resist the suspicion that there is a double standard at work: while Francis insists so often on mercy, humility, forgiveness, and is so patient with the German Church which is on the verge of schism, he, our common Father, shows not a trace of love or understanding for those who are only a tiny fraction of his flock! In these texts, trads comes across as a threat, barely tolerated on their “Indian reservation” until they can get back in line. The explicit goal is to make them disappear, without even stopping to wonder if they might have something to offer the Church, in terms of youth, dynamism, vocations, etc. Are there so many convicted, practicing Catholics in the West that it has to be a priority to drastically limit one group of them?

Recent experience has shown that to despise and persecute trads in this way does not help them evolve; on the contrary, it fuels the resistance of hard-liners, they become more rigid: which goes against the sought-for goal of favoring unity.

The French Bishops’ Conference deserves credit for their communiqué of July 17th, which conveys their respect for “trads”: “The bishops wish to express to the faithful who regularly celebrate according to the Missal of John XXIII and to their pastors, their attentiveness and the respect they have for the spiritual zeal of these faithful and their determination to continue the mission together in the communion of the Church and according to the norms in force.”

(5) Disrespect for the great work of Benedict XVI. These two texts return without nuance to John Paul II’s and especially Benedict XVI’s efforts at reconciliation in an erroneous analysis of the facts. And they go so far as to annul the essential contribution of the Pope Emeritus when he distinguished two forms, ordinary and extraordinary, of the same Roman Rite. In so doing, the pope suppresses the juridical existence of the ancient extraordinary form in one fell swoop, treating it as if it does not exist. This plunges the Church back into the endless liturgy wars over the juridical status of the Mass of St. Pius V. We are going back to the regime of toleration on terms even more severe than those of 1988, a sort of “merciful parenthesis”, but there is nothing merciful about it! A single decree sets us back more than thirty years.

(6) What can we deduce about Rome’s strategy, reading between the lines? Francis’s two texts show clearly that the pope wants to eradicate the trad world from the Church and to ensure that the Mass of St. Pius V disappears. It prevents the movement from taking shape, forbidding any new groups and setting up obstacles for any diocesan priest who wants to celebrate the old ordo missae. The motu proprio envisions those devoted to the extraordinary form one day using the new missal. The stage is set for a future in which the traditional mass will only be celebrated by the Society of Pius X and its satellites. The pope’s strategy seems to be to push the resistance toward the Society of St. Pius X so that the whole traditional world concentrates there, where they will be isolated and controlled on their little reservation, cut off from Rome and the dioceses, maintaining just enough connection to avoid formal schism. This explains why the pope is not seeking full reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X, but has shown great generosity toward them by recognizing the full validity of their marriages and confessions, encouraging people to welcome them into the churches during pilgrimages, etc. It all makes sense, and flies in the face of John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s efforts toward Church unity.

(7) Liturgical exclusivity? This motu proprio is a chance for the institutes who refuse to celebrate the ordinary form—and let’s be clear, they are a minority in the Ecclesia Dei world—to seriously examine the liturgical, theological, and ecclesial basis for this refusal. Since 1988, the popes have invited them not to refuse the celebration of the new Mass in principle. (Although the position of the Ecclesia Dei Commission has fluctuated on this point, resulting in a certain lack of clarity.) This does not detract in any way from the special charism of these institutes to say the old Mass. Benedict XVI was very explicit in his letter to the bishops in 2007. Admittedly, the battle-lines haven’t budged since. If they obey the pope on this sensitive point, won’t these institutes demonstrate by their example that Francis’s analysis is flawed?

(8) Conclusion.

All this is sad, because it’s unjust. It is therefore legitimate to complain, to argue, and to relentlessly demand a reform of this motu proprio or for the most flexible possible application, while respecting the pope’s role and authority. The bishops will have a pivotal role to play. Everything will depend on how they choose to apply this motu proprio. Early reactions have been encouraging: a big thank you to bishops who care for their whole flock. It’s their responsibility to make sure that Rome is more justly apprised of reality on the ground in the traditional world. Recently they have proved unwilling to just roll over: let us hope that most do not fall back into a “resistance” that verges on revolt and open disobedience. Mgr Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X are not the examples to follow. We know where that leads. Suffering for the Church is never easy, but it is always fruitful.

LA NEF, July 17th 2021

Christophe Geffroy is the founder and director of La nef, an independent French monthly that aims to deliver serious intellectual commentary from a Catholic perspective, in total fidelity to the teaching of the Church and in service to the New Evangelization. He is the author of books on liberalism, Islam, and Benedict XVI.

Our Lady of China

Today the Chinese celebrate the feast of Our Lady of China.

Our Lady of China.jpg

During the Boxer Rebellion, a great number of soldiers attacked the village of Donglu, Hebei. The village consisted of a small community of Christians founded by the Vincentian Fathers. The Virgin Mary appeared in white, and a fiery horseman (believed to be St Michael) chased away the soldiers. The pastor, Fr Wu, commissioned a painting of Mary with Christ child dressed in golden imperial robes. This painting became the image of Our Lady, Queen of China. Donglu became a place of pilgrimage in 1924. The image was blessed and promulgated by Pope Pius XI in 1928.

At the close of the 1924 Shanghai Synod of Bishops in China, the first national conference of bishops in the country, Archbishop Celso Costantini, Apostolic Delegate in China, along with all the bishops of China, consecrated the Chinese people to the Blessed Virgin Mary. An officially-sanctioned image of Our Lady of China was blessed, granted and promulgated by Pope Pius XI in 1928. In 1941, Pope Pius XII designated the feast day as an official feast of the Catholic liturgical calendar. In 1973, following the Second Vatican Council, the Chinese Bishops conference, upon approval from the Holy See, placed the feast day on the vigil of Mothers Day.

There is a fuller version of the history here.

The Mass has several proper parts.

The readings are Act 1:12-14 and Jn 19:25-27. The Psalm is 113:1-3, 4-6, 7-8. Of these, the psalm and Gospel are optional parts of the Commune Festorum BMV. 

The Communion is Ave Maria, Gratia plena, Dominus tecum, Benedicta tu in mulieribus. Alleluia.

The Collect and Postcommunion are proper (here translated by a friend from China, though an official version may exist somewhere):

Collect: Almighty and everliving God, you chose Mary to be the Mother of Your Son and to be Our Mother. We ask that, through her prayers, you may bless the billions of the Chinese people, grant peace and an abundant harvest of grain to our country and our people, and make the whole nation know you, love you, and serve you. We ask this through Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. Amen.

Postcommunion: Lord, in this feast we have received the Bread of Heaven. We ask that, through the prayers of Our Lady of China, you may bless us, make us constantly imitate the virtues of Our Lady, love you, and serve you with all our heart. We ask you to hear us, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Readers of Chinese can find the Mass here:

In addition to the Mass, there is a prayer of consecration to Our Lady of China:

Prayer to Our Lady of China:

Hail, Holy Mary, Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Mother of all nations and all people. You are the special heavenly Mother of the Chinese people. Teach us, your way of total obedience to God’s will. Help us to live our lives true to our faith. Fill our hearts with burning love for God and each other. Stir up in our youth, an unconditional giving of self to the service of God. We call on your powerful intercession for peace, reconciliation and unity among the believers and conversion of the unbelievers in China and throughout the world, for God’s mercy is our only hope. Our Lady of China, Mother of Jesus, hear our petitions and pray for us. Amen.

Consecration of the Chinese People to Our Lady of China:

O Mary, Mother of God, and our Mother, with sincere filial love, we consecrate to your most tender, most loving immaculate heart, our bodies, souls, abilities, lives, words and deeds, and all that we have. We also consecrate to you the Chinese people throughout the world. We pray that you be the Mother of priests and all missionaries. May they loyally and zealously proclaim the Kingdom of God. Be the Mother of all Christians. Help them to progress in virtue and to shine forth evermore the splendor of faith. Be the Mother of all unbelievers. Deliver them from darkness and lead them into the light of Faith. We beseech you to show mercy to the immense population of Chinese descent. They have all been redeemed by the precious blood of your Divine Son. Through your most efficacious intercession, may they all take refuge in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Source of life and holiness, and become one fold under One Shepherd in the Church.

Help of Christians, pray for us. Holy Mary, Mother of all Graces, pray for us. Our Lady of China, Queen of the Chinese People in Heaven, pray for us.

中華聖母 Our Lady of China.jpg

“Super Aspidem et Basiliscum Ambulabit”: A Sermon for Palm Sunday from the Speculum Ecclesię


Peering into Honorius’ Mirror on Palm Sunday morning, we find some scaly scoundrels from the medieval bestiary leering back out at us. Asps, basilisks, lions, dragons—oh my! it seems we have not yet escaped from the lurid hellscape of Drythelm’s vision related in the sermon for Laetare Sunday. On their scaly bodies, Honorius traces the sordid tale of mankind’s fall from grace; their fire, venom, and death, we are told, symbolize the devil and the sins that threaten spiritual death…Yet beyond the death that we contemplate in unredeemed mankind, we look forward very soon to redemption in Christ, who walked upon the asp and the basilisk when he destroyed sin and death by his own death and trampled under foot the lion and the dragon, casting the devil’s body into Hell.

The mystical zoology, drawn out of Rhabanus Maurus and Isidore, and tropological reflections of Honorius’ own making, are suitably occasioned by the versicles Super aspidem, sung during Lent, and De ore leonis of Passiontide.

The rest of the sermon tells the history of Lazarus’ raising as a backdrop to Christ’s royal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Our preacher reads the story successively through an allegorical, tropological, and anagogical reflection on the “three deaths” of the soul—through thought, word, and deed—showing how Christ raises mankind out of the tomb of its sins to life.

The two parts of the sermon are clearly complementary and, once again, carefully crafted to suit a varied audience. The powerful bestiary imagery provides food for the imagination, pleasing simple and even superstitious minds, while the learned exegesis of Christ’s royal advent and the soul’s three deaths channels the exegetical tradition for the edification of learned clergy. Honorius shows his usual interest in the historical origins of feasts, saying Palm Sunday mirrors the Feast of Tabernacles. In fact, the Jewish people, in their joyful reception of Christ, function as this sermon’s exemplum.

The optional addendum adds two more mystic figures, whose story has been read at Matins throughout Lent: Abraham’s sending for a wife (Genesis 24), and the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt and wandering in the desert: both types of Christ saving his people.

He ends, as usual, with a moral exhortation that leads into a promise of future glory (anagogy).

British Library Sloane MS 278, f. 2v. Hugh of Fouilloy’s De Avibus

Honorius Augustodunensis’
Sermon for Palm Sunday

Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk, and thou shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon.[1] The asp is a species of serpent that flees when it hears a charmer’s songs.[2] When someone sings a charm, it is said to push one of its ears into the ground and block the other with its tail,[3] so as not to hear the voice of the charmer and be forced to obey his words. It poisons springs and trees with its venom, and so kills those who taste them.

The asp is a figure of sin, which blocks the ears of our heart with worldly desires, so that we do not hear the warnings of our God nor obey his words that are unto our salvation. It poisons the fountain of baptism and the tree of the Cross when it pollutes with disgraceful acts those who have been baptized in the faith of Christ’s Passion. It kills those who taste them, because mortal sin slays those who taste the Word of life and the sacraments of Christ’s Body.

In books we read that the basilisk, also called regulus,[4] is a deadly four-footed animal, whose breath instantly kills all who breathe it. Even the birds flying overhead choke and drop dead from the sky, shedding feathers withered as if by some flame. This noxious beast spreads death all about him, and yet when defeated by a small weasel it wastes away and dies. The basilisk signifies death, whose touch cuts off all things from life. Its breath causes birds to fall from the sky because even the righteous, when touched by death, are stripped of life. It walks on four legs, because mankind is dragged into death in four ways, namely by disobeying the primitive commandment, by violating the natural law, by transgressing the written Law, and by despising the Gospel. The small weasel overcomes it because Christ’s flesh slays death by dying.

The lion, most powerful of the beasts, surveys the sylvan woods. It draws on the ground with its tail, and all other beasts fear crossing the line it draws. Then with a roar it charges, rushing into the woods and ripping apart the terrified beasts.

The lion represents Antichrist, whose immense power surpasses that of all kings. And as the lion circles[5] around the forest, so Antichrist encircles the whole globe with his power. He marks a line on the ground with his tail, which the other beasts fear to cross, because he promulgates edicts that all men fear to trespass. He charges into the forest with a roar, falling upon and ripping apart the beasts, because through fear he subjugates all peoples under himself and cruelly tears asunder all who resist him.  

Scripture teaches that the dragon is the greatest of the serpents, and it deals death through its breath, its venom, and the blow of its tail. The force of its venom raises it up into the air as if it were flying, and it stirs up the air. It ambushes the elephant, the most chaste of the animals, and, fettering its feet with its tail, endeavors to suffocate it with its breath, but is crushed by the animal as it falls dead. A precious pigment is extracted from earth which has been soaked with the dragon’s blood.

The dragon, the greatest of the serpents, is the devil, prince of all evil. He kills with his breath, his venom, and the whip of his tail, because he destroys souls by thought, word, and deed.[6] He poisons our thoughts with the breath of pride, pours the venom of malice into our words, and uses his tail to bind us by the performance of evil deeds. He stirs up the air, because he often disturbs spiritual concord. He ambushes a chaste animal, because he persecuted unto death Christ, source of chastity, born of the chaste Virgin, but in dying Christ crushed him. Yea, a precious red pigment is taken up from the earth, because the Church is made lovely by Christ’s precious Blood.

British Library Sloane MS 278, f. 5??

Therefore the Lord walked upon the asp and the basilisk when he destroyed sin and death by his own death,[7] and subjected all harmful things under the faithful’s feet. He shall trample under foot the lion and the dragon, when he shall overcome Antichrist through his elect and damn the devil with all his members in the last judgement.[8] The devil is also called “dragon” and “lion”: dragon because he ambushes us with hidden temptations; lion because he tries to destroy us through overt persecutions. He was a dragon when he hiddenly tempted the Lord; he was a lion when he set upon the Lord in an overt persecution. But the Lord trampled under foot the lion and the dragon when he endured temptation with humility and persecution with patience. We sing of his temptation thus: Thou shalt trample the dragon under foot; but these days of his passion: Free me from the lion’s mouth.[9]

Dearly beloved, I want briefly to tell your charity how the Lord hath wrought salvation in the midst of the earth.[10]

None other than Jerusalem is said to be in the midst of the earth, where the Lord was crucified for the world’s salvation. Although he was rich, he became needy and poor[11] for us, that he might make us sharers in the excellence of his riches.[12] Martha and Maria often received him as a guest in their home, and furnished him with necessities at their own expense. When their brother Lazarus was ailing, they sent to tell Jesus of his friend’s illness. By the time he arrived he found him dead and already four days buried. Now a large crowd of Jews had gathered at Martha and Mary’s, and tried to console them over their brother’s death. But our Lord, seeing the crowd of mourners crying piteously, began to shed tears as well. Previously he had opened the eyes of a man born blind by smearing them with mud, so that the Jews now said: “The one who opened the eyes of a man blind from birth could not also make it that this man should not die?”[13] So he went with the crowd to the tomb, which was covered by a large stone that Jesus ordered to be removed. But by now the dead man stank—consider, he had been buried for four days—, and his hands and feet were tied with bandages. But saying a prayer of thanksgiving to his Father, Christ summoned Lazarus out of the tomb with a loud voice. Forthwith, to everyone’s astonishment, the man who had been dead and bound came forth from the tomb and flooded everyone with great joy.

When the Pharisees, the clergy of the Jews, heard of this unheard of miracle, they gathered a council in Jerusalem at once, and said to each other: “What do we, for we know that this man doth many miraclesIf we let him alone so, the entire world will believe in him. And if the Romans were to consider him a God, they will take away from us our nation and the place where we dwell.”[14] So their high priest brought a sentence against him, saying that it is expedient for one man to die for the people, lest the whole nation perish.[15] Therefore an edict was promulgated by their council, that he should be arrested and put to death. But because there is no wisdom, there is no prudence, there is no counsel against the Lord,[16] they were not allowed to carry out their wicked counsel until it pleased him.

When it did please him to fulfill the work his Father had enjoined upon him, namely to erase with his blood the bond of sin written against us,[17] he made a stop at Martha’s house in Bethania on his way to Jerusalem. Martha prepared dinner for him and his companions, and Lazarus, whom our Lord had raised from the dead, was one of them that were at table.[18] His sister Mary poured an ointment of great price over our Lord’s head as he reclined at table, but Judas was enraged. And since he was unable to sell the ointment for three hundred pence and embezzle the money, he sold our Lord himself for thirty pence.

Now, on account of the feast of Passover, people from all over the globe had flocked to Jerusalem. Hearing that Lazarus had been raised from the dead, they went to Bethania to see Jesus, who had raised him, and Lazarus, who was raised. Whence the Pharisees said: “We prevail nothing. Behold, the whole world is gone after him.[19] They decided therefore to kill Lazarus, but God, who had better things in store for him, kept him for the Church’s benefit. For it is said that later he was bishop of Cyprus for thirty years, and just as our Lord had called him back to life after the death of his body, so he called many back to life with words and examples after the deaths of their souls.[20]

And so our Lord, accompanied by the people, went to mount Olivet and sent two disciples into the city, ordering them to bring to him a tied ass and a colt with her.[21] They went and brought back the ass and the colt, and laying their garments upon them, made him sit thereon. Others spread their garments in the way, and others cut boughs from the olive trees, and strewed them in the way. When word rang out in the city that Jesus was making his entry, sitting on an ass according to the prophecy, a multitude eagerly ran about rendering homage to him with palm boughs, acclaiming him the King of Israel, and crying out “Hosanna” in a loud voice in his praise as they frolicked. It was the custom of these people, following the commandment of the Law, to celebrate solemnities with palm branches.[22]

Jesus, however, wept when he saw the city and foretold its destruction,[23] which afterwards came to pass. For forty years after his passion the Romans besieged Jerusalem during Passover, massacring the people and razing the city to the ground. Now, as Jesus entered[24] the city with the multitude, a crowd of children and all the commoners rushed forth to meet him and welcomed the King of glory with hymns. Surrounded by this retinue he went into the temple, cast out thence with a whip those who bought and sold doves, and foretold that the temple of his body would be destroyed, but rebuilt after three days. And so he performed many miracles in the temple, and daily taught the multitudes about heavenly things. On Wednesday he was betrayed by Judas, on Thursday he consecrated the bread and wine into his Body and Blood, on Friday he was crucified for the salvation of all, on Saturday he rested in the sepulcher, and on Sunday he rose from the dead and gave life and joy to all who hoped in him. These are the solemnities of this holy week, which renew for us the deeds of yore, and recall to our memories future joys, several mysteries whereof I shall explain to you.  

Duccio di Buoninsegna, The Raising of Lazarus (1310–11), Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX. Wikimedia Commons.

The Lord, who shall raise up all the dead on the last day, brought three dead people back to life, through whom he shewed that we are to be restored to life after the three deaths of the soul. For he roused a maid from the  dead in her house as if she had been asleep,[25] and raised up before the people a young man who had been carried outside the city gates,[26] and finally called Lazarus from the grave after he had laid there for four days.[27] 

These three dead people are figures of the soul’s three deaths,[28] by which souls are separated from God, who is life. We move away from God in thinking, speaking, or doing, and make ourselves liable to eternal death. The death of thought kills a soul, when she covets evil through the will. For he who shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.[29] And fornication is the death of the soul. Hence, just as the maid lay dead in her house, so the soul lies dead in conscience. But if she gives herself over to penance, our Lord raises her back to life.

The death of words kills the soul when she speaks evil, for the mouth that belieth, killeth the soul,[30] and railers shall not possess the kingdom of God.[31] Therefore, the soul who malevolently gives evil counsel to others is like the dead young man who was carried outside the gates. But if she has recourse to the tears of penance, she shall rise again from the dead as our Lord rose.

The soul dies the death of works, when, having thought bad thoughts and received worse counsel, it strives, worst of all, to carry them out. Just like Lazarus, she is shut up in a sepulcher when she is plunged into the abyss of sin. She is covered with a stone when she is overwhelmed by bad habits. Her hands and feet are tied up with bandages when her friends and flatterers encourage her evil. Being dead, she stinks withal, because her ill repute harms many. After prayer is made over her, a loud voice cries out and she is raised up, because the Church’s incessant prayers and frequent sermons provoke her, with difficulty, to penance. Now, our Lord did not wish to resurrect a fourth because no one begged him to, and indeed, he stopped someone from burying a body, saying, “Let the dead bury their dead.[32]

Now, our Lord did not wish to resurrect a fourth because no one begged him to, and indeed, he stopped someone from burying a body, saying, “Let the dead bury their dead. This dead body represents those who are glad when they have done evil, and rejoice in most wicked things.[33] The dead who bury them are their accomplices, like unto them in their evil and who cheer them on as they perform their wicked deeds. For when they goad men to commit a crime just for amusement, they heap up earth upon a dead man, as it were. Since these men shall not rise up in the judgement[34] of confession, they shall be buried in Hell and burn alongside Dives.

Lazarus also represents all of mankind, who died in the first man and was shut up in the sepulcher of wicked living, but their Redeemer calls them forth from the grave when he restores them from sin to life. Verily, the four days Lazarus spent in the sepulcher are the four transgressions of the law that led to man’s oppression  under the yoke of death. The first man received the first law in paradise: “Of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death.”[35] Had man observed this, he and all his progeny would have remained immortal in body and soul. But when he transgressed by eating of it at the devil’s suggestion, he and all his descendants were sentenced to death. Behold: the first day of death. Having been expelled from paradise, man was introduced to the natural law: “What thou wouldst not have done unto thyself, do not do unto others.” Had he kept this, he would have escaped the death of the soul. But since he failed to do this, he brought death into the world. Behold: the second day of death. Next, man was given written law, so that by observing it he might escape the peril of eternal death. But because he was loath to keep this law, he sank down to death under its weight. Behold: the third day of death. Then man received the preaching of the Gospel that grants eternal life. He despised it, and hence was condemned to death. Behold: the fourth day of death.

Onufri, The Raising of Lazarus (16th century)

Our Lord raised back to life mankind, hitherto overwhelmed by this fourfold death, when he went up to mount Olivet. Mount Olivet is the height of the faithful people, anointed with the oil of joy. Our Lord came to this mount when he came in the flesh and gathered the faithful in the faith. He sent two disciples into the city when he sent into the world teachers who were perfected in faith and works. He sent two of them because he wanted the two Testaments to teach the two peoples, namely the Jews and the gentiles. He sent two of them because he established that those in the active and contemplative lives should observe the two commandments of love. These two brought him an ass and a colt because they converted the circumcision and the uncircumcision to the faith, for the ass denotes Jewry, bound by the yoke of the Law, while the unbroken colt was the gentile people, constrained by no law. They laid their vestments over them when they displayed to them their good examples. They made our Lord sit thereon when they imprinted Christ on their hearts by faith. They spread their garments in the way when they offered them examples to follow. They cut boughs from olive trees when they taught them the words and deeds of the prophets, for olives designate the prophets, who were anointed with oil. They strewed palm boughs when they explained how the battles and victories of their kings against the gentiles represented the spiritual combat against the vices, for palms symbolize the victories of their kings, since the palm signifies victory. The multitudes that ran up to receive our Lord with palms are the gentiles who took to the faith and fulfilled Christ’s commandment with righteous deeds. The children who welcomed our Lord with palms are the martyrs who went to meet Christ with the palm of victory. The rest of the commoners who met our Lord represent those who vanquish the vices and rush up in the triumph of victory to meet our Lord in judgement. Our Lord predicted the razing of the city because he taught that this world would be destroyed. The multitudes cry out “Hosanna” as they joyfully enter the city with our Lord, because when he shall introduce his bride, the Church, from the present Babylon into his Father’s city, he shall command those who praise him to enter with him to the marriage feast. He cast out those who were buying and selling doves in the Temple, because he expels from the temple of the heavenly Jerusalem all those who buy or sell churches, orders, or any other spiritual gift.

This day is called Palm Sunday, because the universal Church celebrates it with palms and flowers following the example of the Jewish people. And so, dearly beloved, praise our Redeemer with a loud voice and beseech him with ceaseless prayers that just as the Hebrew people rushed to meet him on his way to his Passion with palms and flowers and in a way fore-sang of his triumph over death, so we might be able to rush to meet him when he comes in judgement with the palm of victory over the world and the vices and with the flowers of good works, and that we might be made worthy triumphantly to enter the heavenly Jerusalem with him to attend the wedding banquet.

End here, if you wish.

Ezekiel panel, detail of Section A (Yale Univ. Art Gallery), Synagogue of Dura Europos

All of these things came before as figures of yore, and pointed out our age as if with a finger. Abraham ordered his servant to swear on his circumcised member[36]—out of which he foreknew that Christ would descend in the flesh—that he would go to Mesopotamia and bring back thence a wife for his son. Bound by this oath, the servant went to Chaldea, found Rebecca next to a font, and brought her, adorned with gold and jewels, back to Isaac. Thus God sent the order of doctors into the world bound by Christ’s incarnation. They came upon the Church next to the font of baptism, and led her to the true Isaac, who is Christ, bedecked with the gold of charity and the jewels of good works.

Cutting from an Antiphonary: Initial A[spiciens a longe]: The Tree of Jesse, circa 1115-1125. (Photo by Heritage Arts/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

Pharaoh afflicts the Jewish people in Egypt to suffer and Moses is sent to free them. When he performs many miracles, the magicians resist him. The same Moyses commanded that a lamb without blemish be confined on the tenth day of the first month and immolated four days later in the evening. He further enjoined them to sign the doors of their houses with its blood in the form of a cross, putting it in four places, to wit, on the lower and upper door posts and on both side posts, and to roast the lamb and eat it in their houses. When the destroying angel saw this sign, he passed through striking every firstborn of Egypt, and the Lord led his people out exulting and rejoicing in possession of the Egyptians’ gold and silver. He went before them at night in a pillar of fire, and he covered them with a pillar of cloud during the day. He divided the Red Sea, through which the people passed with dry steps. But the waters covered their pursuing enemies, and the Lord rescued his people so that they feared no more. They were glad as he led them to seventy palm trees and twelve fountains of water, and then fed them with bread from heaven. He drew water for them from a rock twice struck, which  accompanied them ever gushing unto the promised land.[37] Some of them ungratefully murmured against all these favors and were killed by fiery serpents.[38] Wherefore the people cried out and Moses prayed to the Lord, who commanded that he hang up a brazen serpent. When those bitten by the serpents looked upon it, they were spared death.  

As they approached the land, they sent twelve spies ahead, who reconnoitered the whole land and brought back some fruit to the main body as proof of the land’s great fertility.[39] They cut a cluster of grapes that two men carried on a pole and brought bread in a basket. When they reached the Jordan, the river ceased to flow, and the people passed over unharmed. At the blowing of the priests’ trumpets Jericho fell, and once their foes had been vanquished by Josue, also called Jesus, the people occupied the land flowing with milk and honey. The whole narrative is explained in the following manner.

The devil oppresses the people in this world, and the Father sends Christ to free them. When he performs many miracles, the malice of the Pharisees resists him. He himself was the lamb without blemish, since he never sinned, and of him it is said: Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world.[40] He died as a sheep led to the slaughter[41] when he, the good shepherd, put down his life for his sheep.[42] He went to Jerusalem on the tenth day of the first month, which is today. The Jews confined him and on the fourteenth day, that is on Wednesday, his body was betrayed. The doors are marked in four places with his blood when our bodies are consecrated in the shape of the cross by baptism in faith in Christ’s passion. The lamb is roasted and eaten in the house when after Christ’s Passion the faithful people feed on his flesh in the Catholic Church. The firstborn of Egypt are struck when the Lamb’s blood destroys the everlasting pains of death, for Egypt, which means “darkness,” is the sins which lead evildoers into the exterior darkness. The angel of great counsel[43] strikes their firstborn when he destroys by his death the pains produced by sin. The joyful people are led out with gold and silver, because for the great price of the spotless lamb they are released from the tyrant. Moreover, the light of the eternal Sun shines upon those who were held in the darkness of hell, and they who were rescued from the prison of death are placed in the palace of life.

A pillar of fire goes before the people at night, because the light of Holy Writ offers us a path through the gloom of this life to the fatherland. A pillar of cloud protects them from the heat during the day, because on Doomsday Christ’s humanity shall defend them from the heat of eternal fire. For just as the sun is hidden behind the clouds, so the Sun of justice is hidden behind human flesh. The Red Sea is baptism, incarnadine with Christ’s blood, in which our enemy, sin, is plunged, while the faithful are rescued from fear of punishment. The seventy palm trees are the seventy books of Holy Writ, by which the seventy disciples taught the people to go from vice to the palm of victory. The twelve springs are the twelve apostles, from whom the streams of Scripture flowed across the globe. The people led out of Egypt came to these when, having been redeemed by the Lord, they placed themselves under the yoke of faith through the apostles and began to study Holy Writ. They ate the bread of angels when they merited to feed on Christ’s body. In this bread they enjoyed all that is delicious[44] and all the flavor of sweetness, since those who receive Christ’s bread worthily shall secure total bliss and all sweetness. A rock twice struck yields water, because the teaching of the Gospel is drawn from Christ stretched on the two beams of the Cross. This water had a honeyed and oily taste, because the Gospel promises us the sweetness of eternal life through Christ’s mercy. The ungrateful who murmur against these favors are killed by serpents, because those who live in wickedness after receiving the divine sacraments shall be slain by demons.

The people were saved from the serpents’ bite by gazing upon the hanging brazen serpent, which is Christ extended on the Cross, by faith in which the people are freed from the wound of sin. The brazen serpent has no venom, just as Christ has no sin. The twelve spies who reconnoitered the land are the twelve apostles who preached eternal life in the world. The cluster of grapes  carried on a pole is Christ who hung upon the Cross. Two men carry this pole, because the orders of prophets and of apostles make Christ’s Passion known to the world. They also brought bread in a basket, because they announced that the bread of angels had come in the flesh and become the bread of men. After the people crossed the river, the priests demolished Jericho with the sound of their trumpets, because after the last persecution this world shall be destroyed with the sound of the angel’s trumpets. After the enemies’ death, Jesus[45] divides the land flowing with milk and money among the victorious people, because after God’s enemies shall be damned in just judgement, the true Jesus shall bestow the land of the living, flowing with streams of joy, upon the people, victorious over the vices.

And so, my beloved, since Christ has freed you by his blood from the devil’s oppression and opened the way to the heavenly fatherland, hasten to meet him by the way of his commandments,[46] so that you may be pleasing to him in the land of the living,[47] where he shall share with you joys that eye hath not seen, &c.

Unknown, The Raising of Lazarus, Folio 1 recto in Purpureus Rossanensis (The Rossano Gospels) (c 550 CE), Diocesan Museum, Rossano Cathedral, Italy. Wikimedia Commons.

[1] Psalm 90:13, sung as a versicle during the Lenten office.

[2] These fabulous accounts of the asp, basilisk, and lion owe much to Rabanus Maurus’ De universo 8.2 (“On Serpents”) and Isidore, Etymologies 12.4, but Honorius conflates the qualities of the asp and the salamander to serve the allegory, and the mystical interpretations are probably his own. The material on the basilisk and the dragon has been falsely ascribed to Hugh of Fouilloy, appearing as it does after his De avibus in the British Library’s Sloane MS 278.

[3] Cf. Psalm 57:5-6: “Their madness is according to the likeness of a serpent: like the deaf asp that stoppeth her ears, which will not hear the voice of the charmers; nor of the wizard that charmeth wisely” (Furor illis secundum similitudinem serpentis, sicut aspidis surdae et obturantis aures suas, quae non exaudiet vocem incantantium, et venefici incantantis sapienter.)

[4] Cf. Isaiah 11:8

[5] Here he invokes the devil’s depiction as a lion in 1 Peter 5:8.

[6] An expression found in many versions of the Confiteor used in the Middle Ages.

[7] Cf. Hebrews 2:14

[8] On the damnation of the devil and his “members,” see Elucidarium 3.4. Gregory the Great often spoke of sinners as parts of the devil’s body in his Moralia, e.g. 13.24.38 (1:689); 3.16.29 (1:133); 13.10.12 (1 :675).

[9] Psalms 90:13 and 21:22, the latter in the Vetus Latina reading used in the liturgy. The former is used daily as a versicle in Lent before Passiontide, when it is replaced by the latter.

[10] Psalm 73:12

[11] Cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9 and Psalm 69:6

[12] Cf. Romans 11:33

[13] Cf. John 11:37

[14] An adaptation of John 11:47-48

[15] Cf. John 11:50

[16] Proverbs 21:30

[17] Cf. Colossians 2:14

[18] John 12:2.

[19] John 12:19

[20] Honorius picks up the Cypriot tradition that Lazarus ruled for thirty years as bishop of Citium on that island, where an eponymous church is built over his alleged tomb. The relics were taken to Constantinope in 898 and lost after the Fourth Crusade. Honorius may have taken this account from the Chronica Clara of Marianus Scotus, who cites an unknown Ammularius as his source. A competing account, widely disseminated in the 13th century and followed by the Golden Legend, holds that Lazarus travelled to Provence with his sisters and became bishop of Marseille. His head is still venerated there, although the rest of his body was taken to Autun in the Carolingian age. The fact that Honorius relates the Cypriot account rather than the Provençal is further evidence that he was not from Autun.  

[21] Matthew 21

[22] I.e., for the Feast of Tabernacles, described in Leviticus 23:40 and Nehemiah 8:15-18.

[23] Luke 19

[24] Cf. the Responsory Ingrediente Domino (Cantus Index 6961).

[25] Luke 8

[26] Luke 7

[27] John 11

[28] The exegesis of the three people raised from the dead by Our Lord as representing three deaths of the soul appears already in the 9th century in commentaries on the psalms by Haymo of Halberstadt (PL 116:198) and Remigius of Auxerre (PL 131:151). In the 10th century it was picked up by Manegold of Lautenbach’s psalm commentary (wrongly attributed to Bede, PL 93:484) and appears in a sermon by Honorius’ contemporary Hildebert of Le Mans (PL 171:475). All these authors, however, name the three deaths differently, and Honorius is original in tying them to the three types of sin mentioned in most Confiteor formulæ. This creativity within tradition was characteristic of mediæval writers, and one could scarce find a better encapsulation thereof than in Honorius’s books.

[29] Matthew 5:28

[30] Wisdom 1:11

[31] I Corinthians 6:10

[32] Matthew 8:22

[33] Proverbs 2:14

[34] See Psalm 1:5, where “the impious” do not rise for the judgment. See Elucidarium 3.14 on the fate of the wicked at the Final Judgment.

[35] Genesis 2:17

[36] Cf. Genesis 24:2

[37]  In 1 Corinthians 10:4, St. Paul reports the oral tradition that the rock struck by Moses in Numbers 20 followed the people through the desert to the promised land.

[38] Numbers 21:9

[39] See Numbers 13

[40] John 1:29; the reading here follows that of the acclamation at Mass.

[41] Isaias 53:7

[42] John 10:11

[43] Isaias 9:6, Vetus Latina (used in the introit Puer natus of the third Mass of Christmas).

[44] Wisdom 16:20

[45] I.e. Josue

[46] See Psalm 118:32

[47] See Psalm 114:9, sung in the Office of the Dead.