Honorius Augustodunensis: A Sermon for the Invention of the True Cross

Our friends who have followed the translation of the Gemma animae will certainly enjoy Honorius’ sermon on the Feast of the Invention of the True Cross, part of his sermon collection Speculum ecclesiae

Tracking the wood of the Cross through all the surprising places it appears in the typological narratives of the Old Testament, he gives us a vivid impression of the medieval view of salvation history, showing how  “all the ages of the world are united to Christ by the Cross” (Gemma animae 1.49), and that “the just in the Old Testament were participants in the sacrament of the Eucharist” (ibid., 1.57). The just men of all times participate in Christ’s Passion in the Eucharistic moment of faithful suffering.

It ought to be read alongside the mass commentary section on the Canon, Gemma 1.50 – 58.

The text is written in a playful alliterated rhymed-prose whose exact replication in English eludes our humble skills, though we do bring out the rhymes from time to time, lest a reader fail to get a sense of the spirit of the original. We have lightly amended the Latin of the PL according to an exquisitely beautiful 12th-century Admont manuscript. The figure on f. 1v may be a rare portrait of Honorius himself.

The illustrations are taken from the Dialogue in praise of the Holy Cross, a remarkable illustrated dialogue produced at St. Emmeram in Regensburg around 1170, not too long after Honorius’ own death (probably in the same city). We hope to write about this manuscript in the near future.

Read the English below or download a PDF of the translation and Latin text.



On the Invention of the Holy Cross

trans. by Gerhard Eger and Zachary Thomas

The light of thy countenance O Lord, is signed upon us.[1] The light of God’s countenance is Christ, who is the splendor of his glory and the figure of his substance,[2] who is the true light that enlighteneth every man,[3] which the teeming shadows could not overcome. This light is signed upon us[4] when Christ’s name is emblazoned with chrism on our foreheads by the impression of the Holy Cross. This sign of our salvation, dedicated in the blood of the unspotted Lamb,[5] is venerated by angels and men. For by its reconciliation we are saved from death and restored to life. By it our damages are paid to the heavenly court, and the bliss of the angelic hosts is doubled.[6] For Almighty God equipped the palace of the heavenly Jerusalem with a full garrison of splendiferous ranks of angels to the praise of his name, but the first archangel deserting him wickedly destroyed this arrangement and, drawing a party of angels away from heaven, he led them with him into Hell.

Desiring to repair the damage caused by this great fall, God created man from the mud, and put him into a Paradise of all delights.[7] He allowed him free access to all paradise’s pleasures, but forbade him the fruit of just one tree, binding him to obedience. But the devil, pricked with envy—for he had been deprived of every good that this mud-clot was to gain the lofty height of glory from which he had been expelled for his arrogance, induced man too to fall in the same way he had. He spoke treacherously of God’s likeness and coaxed man to covet it. What need to recount what followed? Man trusted the devil, and tasted the forbidden tree. By a tree he is disgraced, and loses God’s grace. From paradise cast into exile, he suffers many miseries meanwhile, and is sentenced to death in trial.

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This victorious Cross that restored all things in heaven and on earth has been prefigured in sundry ways since the beginning of the world. By it the chrism, baptism, and the sacraments of Christ’s Body for us, and anything it blesses is purified. By it all the devices of our cunning enemy are undone, and all adversities are overcome.

And therefore the Father’s Only-Begotten rose from his throne of glory, put on flesh, and came into the prison for his deluded servant. He whose form is immortal became corruption, the eternal Creator becomes a worm in order to reconcile him to God. He bested the devil who tempted him as he had the first man; triumphing on the tree of the Cross he bound the strong man, and redeeming man called him out of exile into the heavenly fatherland.

In the beginning God planted a garden of delight with every tree beautiful to the sight and sweet to eat,[8] and ordered the Tree of Life to sprout in its midst, from whose fruit if man had eaten, he would have remained permanently in a state of bliss and never died. Paradise, called the Garden of Delights,[9] is the Church, where are found all the delights of the Scriptures, where diverse trees beautiful to the sight and sweet to the taste are set out. Further, the Tree of Life is the Holy Cross, from which man picks the fruit of eternal life. Whoever eats of it worthily shall not see death forever.[10] This is the tree that was transplanted by the waters,[11] because all the streams of Scripture proclaim the Holy Cross. Abel is slain by a tree,[12] and Christ is fixed to a tree. All the kinds of living things are raised above the waters of the Flood by a tree, because the Church, using the Cross as its cane, rises from the dangerous waters of this world to the stars.

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Abraham stood under a tree when he served the Lord in the three angels, whom he adored as one when he rejoiced exceedingly that he had seen the coveted day:[13] just so the faithful people stand under the branches of the Cross through faith, ministering to the Lord in his members, honoring him in three persons and adoring his majesty in its unity. They adore exceedingly, so that they may see the Lord’s day in bliss.

A ram is ensnared by its horns amidst the briars, when the same Abraham offered up his own son to God; Christ is entangled by the horns of the Cross amidst the Jews, when he was killed for us as a sacrifice to the Father. Hence the prophet saith: Horns are in his hands.[14] He held horns in his hands, when he spread forth his hands in the arms of the Cross for a people who gainsaid him.[15] There his power was hidden, but death went before his face[16] as it fled from the elect on account of the Cross. He appeared before us in a burning bush, when he came down to free his people from their affliction in Egypt. This bush which was kindled by the fire, is the Holy Cross around which blazed the flames of the Jews’ wrath, envy, and ire. By the bush’s thorns we understand their sharp tongues. The Lord appeared unto Moses in the bush’s flames, when Christ hung from the Cross before the Synagogue in the fire of his passion. And he descended to free his people from Egypt, as he descended into hell to liberate his peeps from hell’s crypt. Whence Moses saith: I beseech thee, Lord, send whom thou wilt send.[17]

Moses’ staff is changed into a serpent that devours the serpents of Pharaoh’s magicians. This staff is the Holy Cross that mortified Christ’s flesh in his torment, and this death defeats our twin deaths of body and soul. With this staff he divides the sea, redeems the people, and drowns the pursuing enemy in the waters; which is all to say that the Holy Cross confects holy Baptism by which the whole lot of the redeemed are snatched from death, and the pursuing enemy, i.e. original sin, is brought to ruin. By this staff the rock is struck twice and water is brought forth, while Christ is fixed to the two trees of the Cross and the water of redemption is drawn out of him.

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When the people were making the journey from Egypt in the desert and were unable to drink the water for its bitterness, the Lord showed Moses a tree, which he cast in the water, changing it into fresh water.

The people whom Moses leads out of Egypt back to the fatherland, are the Christian people whom Christ leads out of this world back to the fatherland of paradise. He made the waters fresh for them through a tree, because through the Cross from death he set them free. For just as water carries in its wake all that it catches in its swell, so death drew all it had snatched into the maw of Hell. So it had been bitter to the former people, because it had dragged them down into the bitterness of divine punishment. But the Lord showed Moses (whose name means “drawn from the water”) a tree, when he made the virtue of the Holy Cross known to the people he had drawn from the water of Baptism. This tree makes water drinkable, because for love of Christ’s Cross many began to covet death, for they hope to be dressed in the garments of immortality once they have shrugged off this mortal coil.

’Tis said that this wood was brought to Jerusalem and cast into a pond called Probatica. In reverence whereof an angel descended each year into the pond, stirred the waters, and what sick man soever went down into the waters first emerged healed. At the time of our Lord’s passion, however, in a drought the pond dried up and the log showed up. Soldiers seeking material for a rood found this wood, and they deemed it altogether apt. And so they took it and fashioned a Cross therefrom, saddled it on Christ’s shoulders for him to bear, and raised him upon it for the salvation of the people like the serpent in the desert. Then the government was set upon his shoulder,[18] since through the victorious sign of the Cross his Father made him prince over all things in heaven and on earth. He is the angel of great counsel who came down to the tree, i.e. the Cross, into the pond, i.e. Judea, and stirred it with signs and miracles. Hence the one who descends into this water is healed, namely the Christian people who descend into the waters of baptism and are regenerated.

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This Holy Cross is the pole on which the two men bore grape clusters,[19] for the prophets, going before, and the apostles, following behind, bore Christ, who hung on the Cross like the cluster on the pole, to the world in their preaching.

It is the fishing rod whose hook was cast by the Father into the ocean of the world, catches the Leviathan, and extracts the prey it had devoured from its stomach. It is also the mast of the Church’s ship, to which the veil of faith is lashed, held fast on all sides by the cables of good works, and so the Church, born on the tree by the spiration of the Holy Spirit, makes its course safely aCross the roiling waves of this world, and blissfully puts into the long-desired port of eternal life.

Once upon a time, the Cross was devised as a form of punishment to torment those condemned for wicked crimes, as today thieves and robbers are hanged by the neck, deemed unworthy of any other death. Thus the Jews said: Let us condemn him to a shameful death.[20] But after believers everywhere began to venerate it, and so many yearned to be crucified upon it for Christ’s sake, it was decreed that the death penalty should be administered by the gibbet instead of by the Cross.

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Now, since the Cross is the glory of angels and men, let me reveal some of its mysteries to you.

In the beginning God created the world and divided it into four regions, for the very reason that he had predestined it to be restored, once it fell, through the Cross. Moses prefigured this sign when he marked the doors of the house with lamb’s blood in four places: the lintel, the threshold, and on both doorposts. It was also expressed in letters, when in ancient days the letter T was created in the form of the Cross, as Ezekiel announced. For the Holy Spirit snatched this prophet from Babylon and set him down in Jerusalem, and the glory of the Lord appeared to him there. The Lord then commanded the man clothed in linen garments to go through Jerusalem and sign the foreheads of those that mourned and sighed with the letter tau. Others were to follow and kill all those not so signed, beginning from the sanctuary.[21]

The prophet is led from Babylon into Jerusalem by the Holy Spirit, since prophecy is transferred from the Synagogue to the Church by the Spirit. “Babylon” means “confounding,” and the Synagogue is confounded, scattered amongst all nations on account of her infidelity. “Jerusalem,” however, signifies “vision of peace,” since it is foretold that she will see the true peace of Christ in heaven. The glory of the Lord appeared in her, when her majesty was revealed by the writings of the prophets. The man clothed with linen goes through Jerusalem, marking the foreheads of those mourning and sighing with a thau, i.e. the letter T, since the order of priests traverses the Church at the Lord’s command, impressing the sign of the Cross with chrism upon the foreheads of those doing penance and hastening to the faith. But those who follow slay those who are not signed, since demons cast down those who are not protected by the sign of the Cross in their souls. They begin from the sanctuary, since they first destroy Judea, where God’s sanctuary was. X, the first letter in Christ’s name, is written in the form of a Cross, and as a numeral it expresses the number ten and suggests the Ten Commandments of the Law, which the Lord came not to destroy, but to fulfill,[22] when he held up the Cross.

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Thus we see that in the Cross’s form, the whole Christian religion finds its norm. Forsooth, the three upper corners denote the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, while the fourth one that holds up the three demonstrates veneration of the Unity. Paul the Apostle’s profound ingenuity reveals for us the Holy Cross’s profound mystery. “May God grant you,” quoth he, “that you may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth.”[23] The Cross’s breadth is those two parts by which our Lord’s hands are stretched apart. The width we understand as two-fold love, which embraces our friends in God and our enemies for God’s sake. The length of the Cross is that part upon which the hanging body is extended. By this length we teach perseverance in good works to the very end, because he who perseveres to the end shall be saved.[24]

The Cross’s height is the part that rises above the head, where Pilate fixed the plaque inscribed in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. It signifies hope of heavenly things, the hope for equality with the angels to be got by means of the Cross’s victory. The depth of the Cross is the part beneath the feet, hidden in the earth. It declares! God’s hidden mercy, which upholds the entire world lest it perish in the grip of the evil one. Those who follow our Lord duly carry this Cross if they crucify themselves to the vices and concupiscences,[25] renounce carnal desires, and desire to live in obedience to God’s commands. They must hang stretched out upon this Cross, since they must be continually intent on spiritual things and never turn towards vice, but rather always propel themselves upwards in mind to grasp heavenly things.

If the Cross is laid on the ground, one can see that it stretches toward the East, South, North, and West, because the four parts of the world are marked for Christ’s kingdom by the Cross. For he said: “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to myself[26] Then he was raised from the earth on the Cross, and the four-fold world was drawn to him by the sign of the Cross. But if the Cross is fixed in the ground and set up, one part of it points to heaven, one penetrates the earth, and one part points both ways to the right and left. Part is turned toward heaven, because the triumph of the Cross restores the heavens.

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Part penetrates the earth, because the banner of the Cross renews heavenly things. Another part penetrates even unto Dis, because the Cross’s ensign destroys the armies of Hell. One part points to the world’s right and left because by the Cross’s virtue the good will be sentenced for glory on the right, and the wicked for punishment on the left. And on that day the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the heavens, and the light of the sun and moon will be blotted out, because the Cross of Christ will shine before the judgment with such a light that it will smother even the splendor of the sun and moon by its brightness.

Since today we celebrate the finding of the Holy Cross, dearly beloved, it is meet that we should relate to your charity how it was found.

After the Jews carried out God’s design, which his hand had decreed for them to do, i.e. after they crucified the Lord of glory alongside the thieves for the salvation of all men, they hid the adorable cross, the life-giving cross with the thieves’ crosses, burying them in the place of Calvary. Thus Christ, the ship’s captain, was killed by pirates, i.e. the perfidious Jews, and the Church’s ship itself, i.e. the holy Cross, was submerged in the depths of the earth by Charybdis, i.e the Synagogue. And so the Church finds herself enveloped by the tempest of persecutions and the storms of martyrdoms. Swimming through endless whirlpools of divers torments that would wreck any ship, scarcely escaping the undertow of persecution, she is borne aloft to the calm of peace. For the good Lord is ever watchful, and the tempest of persecutions is contained and quelled, the tranquillity of peace poured out on the world, and the ship of the Church, hidden for over two hundred years by now, is raised up from its hiding place and restored to the faithful.

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Yea verily, Constantine, that stout defender of the Church, held the reins of power at that time. Binding him with bit and bridle,[27] God’s piety compelled him to draw near him, for when he wished to save him in soul, God covered his whole body with leprosy. Having been converted to the faith, he is baptized by Pope Sylvester; he is cleansed from leprosy forthwith; he secures peace and joy for the universal Church; Helena, the emperor’s mother, receives the faith and is dipped into the laver of salvation; a vast crowd of Jews and Gentiles are instructed in faith and baptism. Hereafter, Constantine, about to wage war on the pagans, feared for the outcome thereof, but the King of kings consoles him: appearing unto him at night as a man gleaming bright, he shows him the sign of the Holy Cross; promises him victory thereby. After awakening, he told his dream to his friends; he made a cross out of a military banner and made it to be carried before his hosts. His enemies turn in flight, his army is safe, he returns victorious through the sign of the Cross. Helena, therefore, inflamed with love for the Holy Cross, hastens to Jerusalem. She gathers the Jews together, demands that they show her the site of Calvary, which had been covered by thick brambles and thickets, and was hence unknown. For forty years after Our Lord’s Passion the Romans had utterly destroyed Jerusalem and, a long time thereafter, Ælius Hadrian built another city in another place, which he named Ælia after himself. We read that the Lord suffered and was buried without the gate, and both places can today be seen by all in the city which now is Jerusalem.

The Queen offers the Jews a reward if they should reveal the site of the Cross; she threatens punishment if they should conceal it. They aver that the site is unknown to them; they are all condemned to be cast into flaming fire. Terrified, they put forward a man, Judas by name; he knows all things, they claim. This he denies, is cast into a well, and wastes away from hunger and thirst. Then he promises to point out the site; he is led out. He betakes himself to the site, the Queen and the people following; he pours forth prayers on bended knees. The place shakes; the smoke of incense rises up from the earth. Forthwith they break up the earth with hoes. A dead man is brought over; he is placed on Christ’s cross and rises again, he bears witness to the virtue of the Holy Cross by resurrection and voice. Then they also found the shining nails with which the Jews pierced the hands and feet of Our Lord, and they gave thanks to God the bestower of all good things. Judas and all the Jews believed in Christ and were baptized, then he was made bishop of the church of Jerusalem and eventually suffered illustrious martyrdom for the church entrusted to him. After the Cross was found, the devil appeared with a hideous screech; he asserted that all his rights were taken away by this Cross. “Judas,” he spake, “handed over his Lord and led him to death. Now another Judas has handed over all my secrets, has led all my arts to nothingness, when he brought forth this tree. But my servant Julian shall soon be king, and from him thou shalt have the deserts of thy treason.” Which things thereafter befell: for Julian the Apostate afflicted this same Judas, then a bishop by the name of Quiriacus, with exquisite torments. But Helena built a church at great expense; put part of the Cross therein; bore part to Constantinople, the city of her son. Let all the redeemed, therefore, rejoice in this day, sing praises to Christ the Redeemer, who after he trod the winepress alone,[28] ruled all nations as God from the Cross, in which winepress the cluster of cypress[29] is pressed, and through whose drink the restoration of life is made clear to us all. With this staff, finally, the good shepherd drove his sheep to the palace of the Church.

Hence the holy pope Alexander, whose feast we keep today, was driven by love of the Cross. After he had been set over his flock, he was seized by the pagans, bound in chains, subjected to hunger and thirst in prison, hung on the rack, raked with iron claws, and cast into a burning furnace. Untouched by the fire, he was finished off at last with a rain of stabs through every part of his body. Two priests, Eventius and Theodolus, suffered with him in prison, were tried in the fire, and finally beheaded.

Trusting in their merits and prayers, approach today the throne of glory, so that through the triumph of the Cross sacred to God, with them you may ring out the eternal Alleluia in the fullness of bliss. Which the eye hath not seen, etc.[30]

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What follows below is found in ancient books about the tree of the Cross.[31]

At the time of King David, a certain Jew found in the forest a tree covered with three kinds of leaf. He cut it down and carried it to King David that he might admire it. When the king saw it, he forthwith understood what would happen in it, and he adored it every day as long as he lived. Solomon his son not only adored it for the sake of his father, but gilded it over entirely. When the Queen of the South came to hearken to the wisdom of Solomon, she prophesied about the tree saying, “If Solomon knew what this tree portends, he would adore it no longer. A certain philosopher of the king heard this, and told his lord what he had heard. The king sent him after the queen, who had already departed, with many precious gifts to give to the queen’s philosopher without her knowledge, in order that he might inquire of his lady what she said the tree portended. When the queen’s philosopher received the gifts, he ordered him not to show himself to the queen. Then he secretly inquired of the queen about this matter. She replied saying that a certain man would hang upon it by whom the entire kingdom of the Jews would be destroyed. After he heard this, King Solomon removed the gold from the tree and cast it into the depths of a pond. Thenceforward an angel of the Lord descended each year into the pool, in which the sick were healed at the angel’s descent not by the water, but by the tree. At the time of Our Lord’s passion this pond was dried up, and the Cross was taken up therefrom which Christ bore upon his shoulder up to the gate.


[1] Psalm 4:7.

[2] Hebrews 1:3.

[3] John 1:19.

[4] Psalm 4:7.

[5] See 1 Peter 1:19.

[6] Because men are joined to their ranks.

[7] See Genesis 2:8.

[8] Genesis 2:9.

[9] The late 12-th century Hortus deliciarum manuscript is thought to have been inspired by Honorius’ writings.

[10] John 8:51.

[11] Psalm 1 (Jerome’s Hebrew psalter)

[12] Perhaps with a club, as in the above image from the Dialogue in Praise of the Holy Cross.

[13] See John 8:56. Christians adore the Trinity so that they may see the last day, just as Abraham adored the trinity of angels and rejoiced to see Christ’s day.

[14] Habacuc 3:4 (Lauds canticle, sung at Lauds of Good Friday)

[15] Cf. Isaias 65:2 and Romans 10:21.

[16] Habacuc 3:5.

[17] Exodus 4:4.

[18] Isaias 9:6.

[19] See Numbers 13:23.

[20] Wisdom 2:20.

[21] See Ezekiel’s vision in chapters 8 to 10.

[22] Matthew 5:17.

[23] Ephesians 3:18.

[24] Matthew 10:22, 24:13

[25] Galatians 5:24.

[26] John 12:32.

[27] See Psalm 31:9.

[28] Isaias 63:3.

[29] Canticle of Canticles 1:13.

[30] 1 Cor 2:9. Honorius ends all the sermons in this collection with an evocation of eternal glory, culminating invariably in this verse from St. Paul.

[31] The following appendix is found in the Admont MS.

“Restore the ’54”: Bugnini and Braga’s Commentary on the ’55 Holy Week

Readers of the New Liturgical Movement may be pleased to have the original Latin commentary on the revised offices of Holy Week, published in 1956 by A. Bugnini and C. Braga. Download below, or visit the Resources section of our Table of Contents for this and more goodies.

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Ordo Hebdomadae Sanctae Instauratus:

Commentarium ad S.R.C. Decretum “Maxima Redemptionis Nostrae Mysteria” Diei 16 Novembris 1955 et ad “Ordinem Hebdomadae Sanctae Instauratum”


A. Bugnini, C.M. – C. Braga, C.M.

Edizioni Liturgiche, 1956

[Download PDF]

Ray Repp, Founder of Catholic Folk: A “Modest Proposal”

Crux has reported the death, this Sunday, of former seminarian and American musical revolutionary Ray Repp, and his obituary has appeared in the Saint Louis Post Dispatch.

RAY REPP - David Haas

Ray Repp was the most influential Catholic in Saint Louis’s history and the most influential alumnus of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary: he reshaped the worship of millions of people of the past generation and opened the gates to the folk Mass as the new normal. No one should minimize his importance.

This week, David Haas has paid tribute to Ray Repp as a true pioneer for his style of music. He deserves credit, especially with his Mass for Young Americans, for opening the way for David Haas and Marty Haugen and the St Louis Jesuits and Michael Joncas and the rest.

On the occasion of the passing of Ray Repp, that pioneer of the Catholic “Folk Mass”, we would like to present to our readers a revealing “modest proposal” (sic!) he penned in 1988. In it Repp explicitly states that good Church music is not about glorifying God, but rather about raising people’s consciousness, castigating even black spirituals for being too supernatural and otherworldly, and therefore legitimating social injustice and oppression.

For Repp, supernatural revealed religion is ultimately a sign of alienation and a tool of the powerful, whereas religion and worship ought to be engines of social liberation.

Here we are….all together as we legitimate oppression?

Ray Repp on TIDAL


Autumn 1988, Vol.40 No. 3, pp. 262-266.

Ray Repp

Current Trends:
A Modest Proposal to Composers of Liturgical Music

Since 1965, when he introduced guitar into worship with his Mass for Young Americans, Ray Repp has composed and recorded 11 albums of songs, now translated into 28 languages. Recently he helped found K & R Music, Inc., in Trumansburg, NY, where he makes his home.

There is an old story about a married couple who, while on vacation in the countryside of New England, were looking for a local church so that they could attend Sunday services. When they finally arrived at a small country church they found the door being locked by an elderly caretaker. The couple ran to the gentleman and said, “Are we too late? Is the service over?” The man smiled kindly at them and answered, “Yes, the celebration is over. But the service is only beginning.”

Unfortunately, this is just a story. How many people (ordained or not) do you think really have the wisdom of this elderly man in the story? How many people understand the implications of John’s Gospel account of the Last Supper?

What I’ve noticed in recent years is that a growing number of theologians, moral and biblical scholars, as well as religious educators have taken giant and courageous steps in closing the gap of dualism in religion. These people are teaching us that our responsible actions in everyday life are our faith responses. Of course, this is really nothing new, because it is the Gospel of the Lord. Michael Himes in a talk he gave to Renew leaders recently in Baton Rouge spoke clearly that “Social justice and loving one’s neighbor are not just part of the Gospel message — it is the Gospel message.” Loving God and loving one’s neighbor are not two laws — they are one.

But I have also noticed that usually only “professional” Christians have the leisure, or the income, or even the professed interest to attend conferences where these insightful leaders are speaking. The same is also true when it comes to reading books and articles written by these people.

What about the other 99% of the people who make up our family which we call the Church? Where do they get their “update” on current religious thought? Where do they get their insight, encouragement, or religious enthusiasm? Without even addressing the fact that encounter with God can take place as readily in the “marketplace” as in church, let’s assume that for most people the Sunday liturgy is the opportunity for this “update.” If this is true then I believe that the two sources which are most likely to either encourage a change of thought, or to reinforce an existing bias, are the pulpit, and the music.


The strengths and weaknesses of the pulpit speak for themselves. The person proclaiming the Word — and the extended “Word” of the homily/sermon — may or may not be one of those “professional Christians” who has the time for, or interest in being updated on matters which affect faith development. But music is far too often underrated as a source of influence, and it is this issue which I would like to address.

In the foreword to the New Episcopal Hymnal, the bishops gave as one of the clear purposes for liturgical music that it be a source for educating the community about current theological and biblical teachings of the church. Whether or not other denominations agree with this purpose, and whether or not the Episcopalian Church herself follows her own recommendations, the fact remains: people take home with them the theology contained in the music they sing in church.

Let’s assume that music can really educate, and that not only the composers but the people choosing the music can affect the faith development of the church. So what kind of theology do we want people to take home? We might begin by asking the questions “Why should people come to church in the first place?”, and Why do people come to church?”.

Most people would probably agree that the answer to the second question is to worship God. People might also add that we go to church to meet God in the Word and the sacraments, to pray for our needs and the needs of the world, and to recognize God as our creator and savior. Many people are quick to point out that they go to church to get away from the cares and problems of the world for a while and spend time in peaceful prayer and thought on more eternal subjects.

All of these reasons sound noble in themselves — but is this in keeping with the Gospel? Is going to church to worship God and get away form it all even remotely contained in the Gospel message? William Sloan Coffin, in his book The Courage to Love, says that greed for personal salvation may be the most obnoxious greed there is. We are called as Christians — as humans — to work for the salvation (liberation) of everyone. This does not mean just our close family and friends, but the poor, the outcast, the “others,” the Samaritans.


There is an interesting theme which kept recurring in the music of the nineteenth-century American Negro spirituals: the reward for all the abomination endured in this life would come in the next life. Psychologically it was important for black slaves of that time to have hope in something. Their music gave it to them. But it is also true that the white plantation owners encouraged their black slaves to believe in the black religion and sing their spirituals. After all, as long as these people had hope in a time to come they could endure the hardships now. It was just good business to encourage this kind of faith.

But what would have happened if the nineteenth-century Negro spirituals had been filled with concepts like self-esteem, giftedness from God, dignity, equality and justice (to mention just a few of the key principles of the Gospel)? I suspect that if these themes had been part of their music, the Civil War would not have been fought between North and South, but between black and white. And the civil rights movement in this country would have begun long before 1957 when Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

So, why should we go to church in the first place? It is my belief, and the belief of many, that we should go to church together — to hear once again the Word of God, a Word which calls us to bring liberty to those who lack it; to bring love (God’s presence) where there is darkness; to be able to think of others more than of ourselves; and to be willing to risk everything because it is the right thing to do so. We should also go to church to be nourished and encouraged by the sacrament of the Eucharist — and by the greatest sacrament of God’s presence in the world, each other -so that we can go out and do something to make the Gospel vision a reality.

There are many liturgists and liturgical musicians who define “liturgical music” as music with accompanies the action of the liturgy. This makes sense to me, but it also presumes that all the actions of the liturgy make sense. Are we not caught up today more in “acclamation-jargon” than in Gospel vision? To hear some liturgical musicians speak one would think the high point of the liturgy is the responsorial psalm. Yes, it is true that today we speak of the “gathering rite” — a major step forward in my opinion. But what is the official action of this rite? There is almost none. So for those who hold that liturgical music accompanies the action of the liturgy, the music for the “gathering rite” is still what it used to be — an entrance song. But whose entrance?

I suggest that music which accompanies poor or unclear action only adds to the confusion. “Makers of rites” would do well to fashion an action for the “gathering rite” in the spirit of Marty Haugen’s song Gather Us In. People are naturally sacramental perceivers. They know when they are welcome — they know when they are taken seriously and appreciated. They also know when they are being treated as second-class/lay members of the parish family. If we want to keep people feeling subservient we can do so with our liturgical action — but we can also do it with the language of our music (as did the white plantation owners of the nineteenth-century).


There is great potential for liberation and evangelization (in the best sense of the word) in our musical texts. To deny this potential is not only naive but irresponsible. We can help call each other forth — as God has been doing since the beginning to be the loving, responsible, and just people we are capable of being. If the actions of the liturgy are at times vague, or the sermons sometimes meandering, people can still leave church with melodies and words of encouragement and challenge echoing in their hearts. It is not enough to leave people with pious platitudes and self-serving scripture quotes taken out of context. What does “Praise of the name of the Lord” have to do with the challenge of the Gospel? Does the Lord really like to be praised and entertained and sung to? Doesn’t it make more sense that we sing together with the Lord (always present) about our willingness to live out our baptismal promise?

The definition of “liturgy” that I appreciate most is one given by Thomas Merton many years ago. “Liturgy is an action in which people express who they are, and who they wish to become.” If we are to take Merton’s definition of liturgy seriously, then all liturgical music would have to speak about the people we “wish to become” — the commitments and promises we intend to live out.

My modest proposal for composers of liturgical music is that we first of all recognize how influential our music can be for the faith-development of people. Recognize that we are called to help call others to a life which sees God’s presence everywhere incarnate. God is no longer “up there” (worshup), and our music can bring this message home clearly. In recognizing our influence I propose that we consciously use our gift to write music which is really liturgical – that is, to quote Merton, music “to express who we are and who we wish to become.”

Venite Populi: An Ancient Invitatory for General Communion in the Ambrosian and Gallican Rites

We are happy to present to our readers our translation of the Schola Sainte Cécile’s recent article on the Venite Populi.


In the Ambrosian rite of mass, the distribution of communion takes place while the choir chants an antiphon called the Transitorium. On Easter day, the Transitorium is the Venite populi, shown above as it is contained in the Ambrosian Antiphoner.


Consolation in Times of Plague, from the Gemma animae


It is very good to build churches and to contribute vessels, vestments, and other ornaments for their decoration, but it is much better to expend the same means for the relief of the poor, and to despatch one’s wealth through the hands of the poor for deposit in the heavenly treasury, and there to make ready a house not made with hands, eternal in heaven, where he will live forever with the angels. 

Mark you, however, that holy places do not save those whose wicked works cut them off from the Church, while not even the most dreadful places hinder those who live a pious life. For Nadab and Abihu are consumed by fire in God’s tabernacle; while Korah, Dathan, and Abiram are swallowed up by the earth in front of the tabernacle. The priest Eli’s neck is broken in the holy place, and Uzzah is struck down by the ark. Joab is killed next to the altar, and King Uzziah is covered with leprosy in the Temple. Finally, the Temple itself is desecrated and destroyed, and the people are led away into captivity as violators of the Law.

On the other hand, Joseph does not perish in the cistern or in prison. Moses is not drowned in the river. Job does not die on his dung heap nor Jeremiah in his muddy cistern. No harm comes to Daniel in the lions’ den nor to the three young men in the furnace. Peter survives in prison and Paul does not perish on the sea. Indeed, the devil fell even from heaven, and man from paradise. But God visits the just of the earth and, raising them out of hell, places them among heavenly things.

job-on-dungheap.gif – The Evangelical Calvinist