Monday, March 31, 2008

The Little Mermaid

The little mermaid drew back the crimson curtain of the tent, and beheld the fair bride with her head resting on the prince’s breast. She bent down and kissed his fair brow, then looked at the sky on which the rosy dawn grew brighter and brighter; then she glanced at the sharp knife, and again fixed her eyes on the prince, who whispered the name of his bride in his dreams. She was in his thoughts, and the knife trembled in the hand of the little mermaid: then she flung it far away from her into the waves; the water turned red where it fell, and the drops that spurted up looked like blood. She cast one more lingering, half-fainting glance at the prince, and then threw herself from the ship into the sea, and thought her body was dissolving into foam. The sun rose above the waves, and his warm rays fell on the cold foam of the little mermaid, who did not feel as if she were dying. She saw the bright sun, and all around her floated hundreds of transparent beautiful beings; she could see through them the white sails of the ship, and the red clouds in the sky; their speech was melodious, but too ethereal to be heard by mortal ears, as they were also unseen by mortal eyes. The little mermaid perceived that she had a body like theirs, and that she continued to rise higher and higher out of the foam. “Where am I?” asked she, and her voice sounded ethereal, as the voice of those who were with her; no earthly music could imitate it.
~from Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid (1836)

The original fairy tale is remote from the Disney rendition, for Andersen's story of forbidden and impossible love is characterized by sacrifice on the part of the heroine for her beloved. In failing to win the prince's heart, the mermaid must stab him if she wishes to return to the sea. The little mermaid, however, chooses to die herself rather than to kill.

One has a sense of the heavy price that is paid for disobedience, especially disobedience to a parent. Although it is obviously a story for children, there is the underlying theme of the consequences of bending the laws of nature. The little mermaid wanted to be human; she wanted to be other than what she was, and was willing to make a pact with the powers of darkness in order to have her way. As with all such bad bargains, the naive party cannot win. The little mermaid is doomed, but she ultimately finds redemption in her self-renunciation, and comes to a better place.

(Artwork by Edmund Dulac) Share

The Annunciation

The solemnity of the Annunciation, usually celebrated on March 25, is kept today. Here is a reflection from Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalen, OCD:

The Angel's explanation does not prevent future events and circumstances from remaining hidden and obscure to Mary. She finds herself face to face with a mystery, a mystery which she knows intuitively to be rich in suffering; for she has learned from the Sacred Scriptures that the Redeemer will be a man of sorrows, sacrificed for the salvation of mankind. Therefore, the ineffable joy of the divine maternity is presented to her wrapped in a mystery of sorrow: to be willing to be the Mother of the Son of God means consenting to be the Mother of one condemned to death. Yet Mary accepts everything in her fiat: in the joy as well as in the sorrow of the mystery, she has but one simple answer: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord."


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Puccini's Gianni Schicchi

Gianni Schicchi , a comic one-act opera by the great Puccini, contains, in spite of its brevity, music that has become part of the popular culture, mainly due to the film A Room With A View (1986). It is a black comedy about a scheming Florentine merchant at the dawn of the fourteenth century, and how he uses his wits to win his daughter's happiness. The daughter is named Lauretta, and Lauretta's aria, O mio babbino caro, in which she begs her father to help the man she loves so they can be married, is well-known. It is a song of desperation since sometimes in the past young love could be a desperate thing indeed. There are now so few boundaries and restraints; one wonders if youthful romance today possesses the same intensity and yearning that was once captured in music like Puccini's.


The Domestic and the Monastic

Here are some inspiring and sensible thoughts on seeking God in different walks of life. Share

Low Sunday

It is Divine Mercy Sunday. Don Marco says it better than I ever could. Share

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Puccini's Manon Lescaut

Puccini's Manon Lescaut is what I played almost continually while writing Trianon; the score, tinged with 18th century melodies, explores youthful joie de vivre as well as the depths of tragedy and abandonment. It is based on what was considered a rather racy novel for its time, banned when first published in 1731, about an innocent young girl who sacrifices both innocence and love for wealth and comfort, only to lose everything.

Some people try to depict Manon as an early feminist, living life on her own terms. She did anything but live independently; she was subject to the whims and pleasures of the men in her life, just like other courtesans. And yet one cannot help feeling sorry for her and mourning the beautiful love she threw away for material gain. But since her romance had begun with cohabitation, one could not really expect it to endure, since living on pure pleasure with no commitment can be tiresome when clothes become threadbare and food runs in short supply. Written with Puccini's usual insight into human passions and their consequences, Manon Lescaut shows how easy it is to fall and how difficult it is to extricate oneself from certain bad choices. For those who find the story distasteful, in spite of the moral, the music is sublime and worth the listen. Share

The Emperor and the Peasant

Here is an insightful offering from Joshua Snyder, who also linked to an article on the death of the Habsburg Empire. Share

Mother of Mercy

"Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace: that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid." Hebrews 4:16

"I will penetrate to all the lower parts of the earth, and will behold all that sleep, and will enlighten all that hope in the Lord." Ecclesiasticus 24: 45

In the Carmelite church in Vilnius in Lithuania is a magnificent and miraculous painting of Our Lady hailed as Mater Misericordiae, or "Mother of Mercy." The church is built into the wall near the old eastern gate of the city; therefore the image is also known as Our Lady of Ostrabrama, of "the Dawn Gate." She is covered with votive offerings left by grateful clients over the centuries, for to her both the Slavic and Baltic peoples have turned in times of war, sickness, oppression, and indeed, every and any calamity. Many saints have knelt before her, including the Carmelite St Raphael Kalinowski, and St Faustina of the Divine Mercy revelations. Through the means of sacred art, Our Mother has manifested herself to her needy children of all times and places.

In the early 14th century, Pope John XXII published the Sabbatine Bull, based upon an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary which he had received in 1316, before his elevation to the papacy. He quoted the words of Our Lady to her children who die wearing the brown scapular of Mt Carmel and go to Purgatory: "I, their Mother, will graciously go down to them on the Saturday after their death, and all whom I find in Purgatory I will deliver and will bring to the mountain of life eternal." What a consolation that Our Lady's help and mediation extends to us beyond the grave, especially when we wear the badge which St Simon Stock in the 13th century called a privilegium. By wearing the scapular, we mark ourselves as "vassals" of Our Queen, and she binds herself to protect us always.

From the ancient Carmelite hymn, Salve, Mater Misericordiae: "Hail, happy Mother...He Who sits at the right hand of the Father, and rules Heaven and earth forever, came in thy womb to dwell."

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mistress of the Revolution

Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors possesses all the elements of the finest modern historical fiction. Beautifully written, the reader is carried immediately into the France of the past. The main characters are very human, with foibles, sins, strengths, and potential for redemption. It is obvious that the author immersed herself in the art, music, drama and literature of the time; the atmosphere of the story exudes authenticity without being pedantic. With some aspects of a contemporary bodice-ripper, it is ultimately a tale of enduring love, love which devastates and transforms amid societal chaos and personal passions.

In many ways, Mistress of the Revolution is highly reminiscent of eighteenth century tragic romances such as Manon Lescaut and Les Liaisons dangereuses, involving psychological struggles in which innocence and beauty are exploited. The lapse of faith and morals which came to characterize so much of the ancien-régime is exposed as one of the factors which fed discontent and bred the Revolution. When the Catholic religion was attacked during the Revolution it was not out of the blue; the carelessness and hypocrisy of many generations opened the floodgates, in spite of the sincere fervor of many believers, who then became martyrs.

The heroine of Mistress of the Revolution is a sweet but utterly hapless girl from an ancient but bizarrely dysfunctional family in the mountains of Auvergne. Raised in a convent, Gabrielle is spirited and modest with a strong sense of right and wrong. At fifteen she accepts the marriage proposal of an idealistic young physician, Pierre-André Coffinhal. Her family, however, rejects the idea of her marrying a commoner and instead force Gabrielle into wedlock with her cousin, the middle-aged Baron de Peyre. If the Baron had been a literate man, one would suspect him to be a fervent admirer of the Marquis de Sade, due to the treatment which he inflicts upon Gabrielle, beginning on the wedding night. Such is the extent of his physical and psychological abuse that Gabrielle feels that her soul has died. She prays for deliverance, lighting a candle before the Virgin in church. Mercifully, the Baron drops dead.

Gabrielle then finds herself a penniless widow with a baby daughter. She contemplates becoming a nun like her sister, but fears losing custody of her child. Circumstances bring her to Paris, where she becomes the mistress of a wealthy nobleman. Deprived of true love, Gabrielle turns to pleasure, but guilt and emptiness leave her no peace. Meanwhile, France plummets into Revolution, a Revolution which will bring her once again into the path of her former fiancé, Pierre-André, who has become a committed Jacobin.

Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette appear at brief intervals in the book. The reader is allowed to view them not so much as they actually were but as the French people had come to see them. Gabrielle looks to the new regime to liberate her from her miseries only to find that the old corruptions and abuses are replaced by terror and violence. In their zeal to establish a republic based on virtue, the revolutionary leaders become petty tyrants, with iron-clad rules and regulations, even as the old traditions and values are cast aside. The survival of her loved ones becomes top priority as Gabrielle struggles to retain her integrity and humanity in spite of everything.

The novel makes it abundantly clear that the seeds of modernity were not only planted during the Revolution of 1789, but brought to partial fruition, at the cost of innumerable lives. Yet it was also a time of heroic self-sacrifice, often on the part of the most unlikely characters. Whatever opinions a person has about the French Revolution in general, Mistress is an engrossing read for anyone interested in that era. I would especially recommend it for those who relish a love story which wrings both heart and soul.

(*Mistress of the Revolution was sent to me as a gift from the author Catherine Delors.) Share

Film as Art

Anthony Esolen discusses Biblical epics, and what makes certain ones so great. Share

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Birthday of Louis XVII

On March 27, 1785, Easter Sunday, Louis-Charles, Duc de Normandie, later Louis XVII, was born. Here is an excerpt of a poem by the great Victor Hugo in honor of the little son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. After being dragged from his mother's arms at the age of eight, he was mistreated in the Temple prison. The child was beaten, given strong drink, and generally corrupted in order to force him to testify against the queen and his aunt Madame Elisabeth. The French title of the poem, Capet, éveille-toi! or "Capet, wake up!" recalls how the little king was repeatedly awaken in the course of the night and prevented from a decent sleep, as an additional method of torture. He died at the age of ten in 1795, covered with sores, diseased, mute and alone.
What if thy wasted arms are bleeding yet,
And wounded with the fetter's cruel trace.
No earthly diadem has ever set
A stain upon thy face.
"Child, life and hope were with thee at thy birth;
But life soon bowed thy tender form to earth,
And hope forsook thee in thy hour of need.
Come, for thy Saviour had his pains divine;
Come, for his brow was crowned with thorns like thine;
His sceptre was a reed."

Andrea Chénier

Giordano's opera Andrea Chénier is based upon the life of the young poet who heartily embraced the French Revolution only to be destroyed by it. It is the most famous of the several operas composed by Giordano and is still part of the repertoire of many opera companies. The opera, in four acts, captures in its vibrant score, as well as in the libretto by Illica, the idealism which ignited many sincere intellectuals to join the Revolution. The idealism rapidly spirals into horror and despair as lives are ruined and France is destroyed. The character of Chénier, however, finds redemption in the sacrifice of his own life for another prisoner, similar to the ending of A Tale of Two Cities. Maddalena, the woman he loves, also gives her life for another, and the gesture removes from her the bitterness of dying. In the final duet, the Chénier and Maddalena rejoice at their dual sacrifice, glad that they are able to seal their love by dying courageously and well. Share

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Interview with Susan Nagel about Marie-Antoinette's Daughter

Tea at Trianon is privileged to feature an exclusive interview with Susan Nagel, author of the newly-released Marie-Thérèse, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie-Antoinette's Daughter. Dr. Nagel is a professor in the humanities department of Marymount Manhattan College. The first major biography in decades about the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, it includes some stunning revelations. A review of the book will be posted in the next few weeks. In the meantime, enjoy the interview!

EMV: Dr. Nagel, thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed about your acclaimed new biography of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France. Many of the questions I am asking you explore in your book, in greater detail; we are providing here a mere glimpse. This is a greatly anticipated biography, especially on the part of those interested in Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.

The Duchesse d'Angoulême is one of the most fascinating and enigmatic women in history and yet there have been relatively few biographies written about her. With the dozens of biographies and novels that have come out in the last decade about Marie-Antoinette, it amazes me that Madame Royale continues to be neglected, with there being only one English-language biography about her (yours) and only one novel (mine.) Do you have any thoughts about the reason for the lack of published contemporary works about such an extraordinary princess?

SN: It is a pleasure to address your readers, of whom I am one! To speak to your first question, it's always puzzling why there are sudden swells of interest in an event or person. Often, one discovery leads to interest in another. After the Dauphin's heart had undergone DNA testing and was placed in the crypt at St. Denis, I think people wanted some closure to the story about the fate of the royal couple's only child who survived the gruesome Temple Prison. I know I did.

EMV: There are those who claim, based on some childish remarks made by Madame Royale as a small child, that she nourished some deep, lasting grudge against her mother. What are your thoughts about Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte’s feelings for her mother Queen Marie-Antoinette?

SN: Like many young girls, Marie-Thérèse idolized her father and resented her mother to some extent. It's a classically understood syndrome. By the time that Marie-Thérèse was ten-years-old, however, she was definitely in awe of her mother. She wrote lovingly and with tremendous admiration about her mother's appearance on the balcony at Versailles on October 6, 1789, when the Queen curtseyed to the marauding crowds. It was a singular act of courage, which Marie-Thérèse never forgot. Marie-Thérèse also gave her mother credit for being the glue that kept the family together after the death of the first dauphin and their forced incarcerations at both the Tuileries Palace and the Temple Prison. She mentioned her mother's great humor in dealing with Louis Charles, the second Dauphin who later died in the Temple Prison. Marie-Thérèse also claimed to have learned resignation, which gave her great serenity, from the murdered Queen.

EMV: My impressions exactly.

Many people are aware that as a teenager Marie-Thérèse was imprisoned in the Temple tower for three years, with about one year spent in solitary confinement. Her little brother was being tormented in the rooms below, but she was not allowed to see him when he fell ill, nor was she allowed to view his body after he died. This is one of the things that, in those days before DNA tests, gave rise to the rumors that Louis XVII had been replaced by another boy. Dr. Nagel, why do you think that Marie-Thérèse was not permitted to see her brother, even when he was dying and would have been comforted by her presence?

SN: That is an excellent question, and I can only guess at the spectrum of reasons...

EMV: Marie-Thérèse married her first cousin Louis-Antoine, the Duc d'Angoulême. Some people claim that the princess made a private vow of chastity which prevented the marriage from being consummated. Did you uncover any evidence of this in the course of your research?

SN: The Angoulême marriage was most definitely consummated! I don't want to give anything away, but I do have a doctor's report and her own letters to a friend that confirm that the couple most definitely had sex.

EMV: Very interesting. That is a question about which past biographers were not always too certain.

In the case of Marie-Thérèse, people wonder how anyone could have emerged from so many traumas with their sanity intact. And yet when the Duchesse d'Angoulême appeared in Paris after twenty years, many were disappointed by her morose demeanor, especially in a crowd. It has been reported by some that the princess suffered from insomnia, that she could be heard pacing and pacing many nights, that she jumped at the sound of a bolt being drawn, displayed nervousness, irritability, fainting fits, and a dread of going any place where there were bad memories. In your opinion, do you think she suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome?

SN: That depends on which of the women we study. Was the "Dark Countess" the real Marie-Thérèse? If so, this woman definitely had some kind of nervous disorder. The woman who became the Duchesse d'Angoulême did indeed have painful memories, but she was not only very brave but I would say she had "nerves of steel." As I wrote in the book, one woman, defeated, one woman, defiant.

EMV: Yes, she was certainly a very strong person. In spite of an often brusque manner, the Duchesse d'Angoulême was said by many to be a basically kind and compassionate person, who spent a great deal of energy in helping the unfortunate. Did you find this to be the case? She was also known to be very religious. Do you think that her convictions were sincere, or mere superficial religiosity stemming from neurosis and scruples?

SN: Marie-Thérèse had many friends and was quite sociable and kind with children. There are many confirmations of her affability and merriment. She did often help those in need and this came from a sincere understanding of deprivation.

EMV: That has always been my sense about Marie-Thérèse as well.

Napoleon called her “the only man in her family.” How did Marie-Thérèse of France play a key role in shaping French politics in the early eighteenth century?

SN: Marie-Thérèse played a key role in shaping European politics. First, she did inherit rights to territories in France and, to legitimists, which included the other monarchs of Europe, of course, her choice of husbands was an important decision. When Napoleon was defeated, the other monarchs could simply not ignore her, and, when the peace treaty was being hammered out and the Duc d'Orleans was vying for the throne, her excellent public image helped secure the succession of Louis XVIII. Had Madame Royale married the Austrian Archduke Karl, as the Holy Roman Emperor had planned, people in France might be speaking German today! In addition, as the Duchesse d'Angoulême, her face-off with Napoleon's soldiers was certainly a testament to three generations of strong women...Wait, now I am giving too much away!

EMV: The Duchesse d'Angoulême was undoubtedly a stubborn woman in many ways, and had some negative traits. In spite of her faults, did you come to admire her in the course of your writing and research? Do you like her?

SN: As I tell my students, if you are going to spend days and months and years with someone, you had better like that person!

EMV: Dr. Nagel, thank you very much for your time in answering these questions. Most especially, thank you for your extensive research, for helping to shed light on the often mysterious but ever magnificent Madame Royale.



Lakmé is an exotically tragic opera by Delibes. The story is along the same lines as Puccini's Madama Butterfly, except that the British officer in Lakmé is not quite so despicable as Pinkerton in Butterfly. He does not intend to bring harm to the Indian girl who has captivated his affections, but cultural differences doom the relationship, in spite of his good intentions. It is another instance of Christians behaving not quite as well as they could in a non-Christian land, but it also shows the harshness of the pagan belief system. Here is a synopsis:

The story is set in the late nineteenth century British Raj in India. Many Hindus have been forced by the British to practice their religion in secret. Gérald, a British officer, accidentally trespasses on the grounds of a sacred Brahmin temple. He encounters Lakmé (which derives from the Sanskrit Lakshmi), the daughter of the high priest, Nilakantha. Gérald and Lakmé fall in love. Nilakantha learns of the British officer's trespassing and vows revenge on the man who has blasphemed the sacred Brahmin temple.

At a bazaar, Nilakantha forces Lakmé to sing (Bell Song) in order to lure the trespasser into identifying himself. When Gérald steps forward, Lakmé faints, thus giving him away. Nilakantha stabs Gérald, wounding him. Lakmé brings Gérald to a secret hideout in the forest where she nurses him back to health.

While Lakmé fetches sacred water that will confirm the vows of the lovers, Fréderic, a fellow British officer, appears before Gérald and reminds him of his duty to his regiment. After Lakmé returns, she senses the change in Gérald and realizes that she has lost him. She dies with honor, rather than live with dishonor, killing herself by eating the poisonous datura leaf.

The most famous songs from Lakmé are the famous and exquisite "Flower duet" and the "Bell Song," which many people recognize even if they have never seen the opera. It is not performed all that often, but Lakmé is compelling because it shows how paganism is not always as benign and tolerant as many today would have us believe. The prejudice and hatred of Lakmé's father and Lakmé's "honorable" decision to take her own life reflect the propensity towards murder and suicide still alive in the present world. Share

Marie-Antoinette at the Grand Palais

There is a phenomenal exhibit about Marie-Antoinette at the Grand Palais in Paris. (Thanks for the links, Terry and Richard!) Author Catherine Delors writes of it as well.

As one article says:
Marie-Antoinette has long been the subject of speculation and derision by her contemporaries and historians alike.... To some degree, the Grand Palais' exhibition liberates the last queen of France from a history of ridicule. Marie-Antoinette allows the monarch to be seen as a sophisticated artistic patron during the years leading up to the French Revolution.
Another article gives more details:
If Marie-Antoinette leaned toward a natural freshness and artistic modernity, it was surely a predictable reaction against a stultifying, over-ripe court rather than an urge to create a contemporary culture. The pieces seem more like a final fling of Rococo than the first stirrings of Neo-Classicism.
Carsen says that he wanted to emphasize the taste of Marie-Antoinette, rather than her style. A second rotunda shows a defiant queen using Vigée Lebrun to underscore her image. Beside the portraits is a copy of the infamous diamond necklace, falsely claimed as proof of the careless greed of the so-called "Madame Deficit." Yet the exhibition's most shocking moment comes in the stairwell below the drawings of towering hairdos. The ode to vanity ends with a smashed mirror and a spidery reflection of the broken glass.

The Vulgate of St. Jerome

Blog by-the-Sea discusses St. Jerome and the diversity of the "old Latin" New Testament. Share

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Death of Elizabeth I

On March 24, 1603 Queen Elizabeth of England died, after weeks of ill-health, struggling with deep melancholy. She refused to lie down but would remain standing for hours. It is interesting that in spite of her persecution of Catholics out of what she saw to be political expediency, the queen's personal religious inclinations tended to be more Catholic than Protestant. Most Catholic sacramentals, such as relics, agnus deis and medals, were proscribed as being "papist superstitions." It is ironic that the queen in her fear of death took to fingering a gold amulet. It has been alleged that the gold piece was sent to the queen by an old Welsh woman with the promise that as long as Elizabeth wore it she would not die. Agnes Strickland, in her Lives of the Queens of England, claims that although there is no solid proof for the story of the Welsh woman, Elizabeth indeed wore the amulet around her neck. Her physical conditioned worsened, as did her emotional state, although she claimed she "knew of nothing in this world worthy of troubling her." In her last moments, when the Archbishop of Canterbury offered some prayers, she became more peaceful. Share

Le Divorce, Edwardian style

Edwardian Promenade discusses divorce in England around the turn of the last century. What a mess! But I suppose that divorce is almost always fraught with trauma, even when the legal complications are minimal. Share

Pope Innocent XI and William of Orange

A provocative article highlights the claims of two historical novelists that Blessed Pope Innocent XI was funding William of Orange. No doubt the article is exaggerated on many levels. However, the claim is not a new one and has been debated for years. The key to understanding the situation is to look at the very complicated political scene in Europe of the mid to late 1600's, when one of the major threats to Christendom, other than the Turks, was not Protestant William of Orange but Catholic Louis XIV. Remember that the French king encouraged the Turks to attack the Holy Roman Empire. Louis XIV was the major antagonist of Pope Innocent, and the Pope giving some financial aid to William to drive Louis out of the Netherlands should not come as a shocker. According to New Advent:
The whole pontificate of Innocent XI is marked by a continuous struggle with the absolutism of King Louis XIV of France. As early as 1673 the king had by his own power extended the right of the régale over the provinces of Languedoc, Guyenne, Provence, and Dauphiné, where it had previously not been exercised, although the Council of Lyons in 1274 had forbidden under pain of excommunication to extend the régale beyond those districts where it was then in force. Bishops Pavillon of Alet and Caulet of Pamiers protested against this royal encroachment and in consequence they were persecuted by the king. All the efforts of Innocent XI to induce King Louis to respect the rights of the Church were useless. In 1682, Louis XIV convoked an Assembly of the French Clergy which, on 19 March, adopted the four famous articles, known as "Déclaration du clergé français" (see GALLICANISM). Innocent annulled the four articles in his rescript of 11 April, 1682, and refused his approbation to all future episcopal candidates who had taken part in the assembly.

To appease the
pope, Louis XIV began to pose as a zealot of Catholicism. In 1685 he revoked the Edict of Nantes and inaugurated a cruel persecution of the Protestants. Innocent XI expressed his displeasure at these drastic measures and continued to withhold his approbation from the episcopal candidates as he had done heretofore. He irritated the king still more by abolishing the much abused "right of asylum" in a decree dated 7 May, 1685. By force of this right the foreign ambassadors at Rome had been able to harbour in their palaces and the immediate neighbourhood any criminal that was wanted by the papal court of justice. Innocent XI notified the new French ambassador, Marquis de Lavardin, that he would not be recognized as ambassador in Rome unless he renounced this right. But Louis XIV would not give it up. At the head of an armed force of about 800 men Lavardin entered Rome in November, 1687, and took forcible possession of his palace. Innocent XI treated him as excommunicated and placed under interdict the church of St. Louis at Rome where he attended services on 24 December, 1687.

The subsequent fall of James II of England destroyed French preponderance in Europe and soon after Innocent's death the struggle between Louis XIV and the papacy was settled in favour of the Church. Innocent XI did not approve the imprudent manner in which James II attempted to restore Catholicism in England. He also repeatedly expressed his displeasure at the support which James II gave to the autocratic King Louis XIV in his measures hostile to the Church. It is, therefore, not surprising that Innocent XI had little sympathy for the Catholic King of England, and that he did not assist him in his hour of trial. There is, however, no ground for the accusation that Innocent XI was informed of the designs which William of Orange had upon England, much less that he supported him in the overthrow of James II.
It is sad that the political ambitions of secular rulers so often pitted Catholics against Catholics. The Holy Father, as a temporal as well as a spiritual ruler, had to be skilled in statecraft in order to keep one step ahead of venal monarchs such as Louis XIV. This is not to say that every decision made by every pope in political matters was perfect, certainly not, and in secular matters popes can make mistakes like anyone else. It does not take away from the personal virtue of a holy pope like Blessed Innocent. If the pope did give money to William, then he did what at the time seemed to be the best thing for the church and the stability of Europe. We are free to agree or disagree. Share

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Monday

The Easter season is the season of the martyrs, for it is belief in the Resurrection which gives the hope and courage to sacrifice one's life for love of God. In the liturgy of Paschaltide we read the Acts of the Apostles. The following is a meditation excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, by Fr. Pius Parsch:
"In those days: Peter standing up in the midst of the people, said: You know the word that hath been published through all Judea: for it began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached, Jesus of Nazareth: how God anointed Him with the Holy Ghost, and with power, who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things that He did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed hanging Him upon a tree. Him God raised up the third day, and gave Him to be made manifest, not to all the people, but to witnesses preordained by God, even to us, who did eat and drink with Him after He rose again from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was appointed by God to be judge of the living and of the dead. To Him all the prophets give testimony, that through His name all receive remission of sins who believe in Him." — Acts 10

St. Peter spoke these words to Cornelius, the centurion, and to the household and friends of this gentile, who had called them together to receive the Apostle whom God had sent to him. He had come to prepare them for Baptism, and thus make them the first-fruits of the gentile world, for up to this time the Gospel had been preached only to the Jews. Let us take notice how it is St. Peter, and not any other of the Apostles, who throws open to us gentiles the door of the Church, which Christ has built upon him as upon the impregnable rock.

This passage from the Acts of the Apostles is an appropriate Lesson for this day, whose Station is in the basilica of St Peter: it is read near the confession of the great Apostle. Let us observe, too, the method used by the Apostle in the conversion of Cornelius and the other gentiles. He begins by speaking to them concerning Jesus. He tells them of the miracles He wrought; then, having related how He died the ignominious death of the Cross, He insists on the fact of the Resurrection as the sure guarantee of His being truly God. He then instructs them on the mission of the Apostles, whose testimony must be received—a testimony which carries persuasion with it, seeing it was most disinterested, and availed them nothing save persecution. He, therefore, that believes in the Son of God made Flesh, who went about doing good, working all kinds of miracles; who died upon the Cross, rose again from the dead, and entrusted to certain men, chosen by Himself, the mission of continuing on earth the ministry he had begun—he that confesses all this, is worthy to receive, by holy Baptism, the remission of his sins. Such is the happy lot of Cornelius and his companions.

More on Easter Monday HERE.


Marie-Adelaide, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg (1894-1924)

In 1912, Marie-Adelaide of Nassau-Weilburg ascended the grand-ducal throne of Luxembourg. She was not only the first ruling princess but a devout Catholic succeeding her Protestant father. She encountered many problems, including war and modernism. Like Blessed Charles of Austria, she tried to be a Catholic ruler in the twentieth century. She was forced to abdicate in 1919, and entered a Carmelite monastery. It did not work out for her there and she had to leave. She tried medical school--another disaster. Her health deteriorated and she died in 1924 at the age of twenty-nine. She met every catastrophe with a spirit of humility and resignation to the will of God. In her failure, she achieved ultimate triumph.

Here is a short but deeply inspiring biography of Marie-Adelaide by Diane Moczar.



As students of the French Revolution know, Talleyrand (1754-1838) is someone who will not go away. He keeps turning up, always at the top of every new regime. For those who have read Madame Royale, in case you were wondering, yes, Talleyrand was reconciled to the Church before he died. A bishop who helped sign the Church in France over to the Revolutionary government, as well as a notorious philanderer, Talleyrand's was no doubt a conversion wrought by many, many prayers, probably the prayers of the monks and nuns whom he would discreetly help. In spite of his involvement in the Revolution, he continued to make donations to pious and deserving religious houses throughout his life. He was also perhaps the most brilliant diplomat who ever lived; his machinations on behalf of France at the Congress of Vienna spared his people a great deal of extra grief.

Talleyrand had not wanted to become a priest; his family pressured him into it, since because of his limp he would never be able to ride or dance in the manner becoming a courtier. Talleyrand said, "I will make them regret that they ordained me, " and that was one promise he kept. He was not able to keep his marriage vows any better than he had kept his clerical vows. He married his mistress the actress Catherine Grand in a civil ceremony because Napoleon insisted on a veneer of respectability. He remained attached to the lifestyle of the old regime in spite of his revolutionary involvement and he missed the courtly ways. Whatever else can be said for him, his manners were unfailingly gracious; he remained an aristocrat of a bygone era.

His great love was no doubt the wife of his nephew, Dorothea of Courland, the Duchess of Dino. She lived in his house for many years, although there is no solid proof that he fathered one of her children. It was teaching his little nieces and nephews their prayers that led to his reversion to the faith. He was not completely reconciled to the Church until his deathbed though, and then he corrected the priest who was administering extreme unction, as the minister was about to anoint the palms of his hands. "Remember, I am a bishop," Talleyrand reminded, and the priest anointed the backs of his hands. He was sincerely mourned by the people of France who knew that, politically at least, he had worked for their benefit.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Eggs

Meat, as well as dairy products and eggs, were at one time renounced by all Christians during the Lenten fast. Among Eastern rite Christians, the discipline is still observed. Decorating and exchanging eggs at Easter have long been a sign of rejoicing. According to Wikipedia:
The egg is widely used as a symbol of new life just as a chick might hatch from the egg. The Easter egg tradition may have celebrated the end of the privations of Lent in the West, though this is speculation. Eggs were forbidden during Lent as well as other traditional fast days; since chickens would not stop producing eggs during this time, a larger than usual store tended to be available at the end of the fast, which had to be eaten quickly to prevent spoiling. Likewise, in Eastern Christianity, both meat and dairy are prohibited during the fast, and eggs are seen as "dairy" (a foodstuff that could be taken from an animal without shedding its blood). It was also traditional to use up all of the household's eggs before Lent began, which established the tradition of Pancake Day.

Here is another brief history of Easter eggs.

Among the most famous of Easter eggs are those made by Fabergé for the Russian Imperial Family. Share

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Christ is Risen! Alleluia, Alleluia!

I like the idea that beauty and holiness are the apologia for Christianity. The beauty of Christianity needs to shine out more; this is where the celebration of the liturgy becomes central. And the goodness of Christianity, i.e. the holiness of self-giving love (the witness of charity) and of prayer, needs to be sustained and developed. And this too, certainly: that the one thing Christianity has to offer is Easter. Simply: Christ is risen!
Dom Hugh Gilbert (from A Conservative Blog for Peace)

Here are pictures of the Easter Vigil Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.

Here is a translation of the Holy Father's homily with commentary.

The Regina caeli is said in place of the Angelus during Eastertide.

Queen of Heaven

V. Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
R. For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
V. Has risen, as he said, alleluia.
R. Pray for us to God, alleluia.
V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
R. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

Let us pray. O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Regina caeli

V. Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia.
R. Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia.
V. Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia.
R. Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

V. Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, alleluia.
R. Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.

Oremus. Deus, qui per resurrectionem Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi, mundum laetificare dignatus es: praesta, quaesumus; ut per eius Genetricem Virginem Mariam, perpetuae capiamus gaudia vitae. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.


The Exultet

The Easter Proclamation or Exultet from the Holy Saturday liturgy is one of the most sublime chants in the Roman rite, although it has gone through some changes over the years. Here is the authorized English translation from the 1970 Missale Romanum:

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

My dearest friends,
standing with me in this holy light,
join me in asking God for mercy,

that he may give his unworthy minister
grace to sing his Easter praises.

Deacon: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Deacon: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
Deacon: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right to give him thanks and praise.

It is truly right
that with full hearts and minds and voices
we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful Father,
and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam's sin to our eternal Father!

This is our passover feast,
when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is the night
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
"The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy."

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!

Therefore, heavenly Father,
in the joy of this night,
receive our evening sacrifice of praise,
your Church's solemn offering.

Accept this Easter candle,
a flame divided but undimmed,
a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.

(For it is fed by the melting wax,
which the mother bee brought forth
to make this precious candle.)

Let it mingle with the lights of heaven
and continue bravely burning
to dispel the darkness of this night!

May the Morning Star which never sets
find this flame still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star,
who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.


Holy Week in Rome

The Holy Father celebrated the liturgy of Good Friday in a traditional Roman chasuble rather than the usual Gothic chasuble.

Here are the words of His Holiness after the Stations of the Cross last night:
Dear friends: After having lived together the passion of Jesus, let us this night allow his sacrifice on the cross to question us. Let us permit him to challenge our human certainties. Let us open our hearts. Jesus is the truth that makes us free to love. Let us not be afraid: upon dying, the Lord destroyed sin and saved sinners, that is, all of us. The Apostle Peter writes: "He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness" (1 Peter 2:24). This is the truth of Good Friday: On the cross, the Redeemer has made us adoptive sons of God who he created in his image and likeness. Let us remain, then, in adoration before the cross.

Holy Saturday

From Fish Eaters:

It was to the Limbo of the Fathers that Christ descended, a place of the dead that was emptied through His Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, and no longer exists. By this "Harrowing of Hell," as His Descent is sometimes called, the doors to Heaven were swung open so that those who die in a state of grace may enter in, alleluia! Adam, Eve, Noe, Abraham, Moses, the good thief on the cross -- all the righteous were illuminated by the Presence of Christ in the place of death, making Sheol itself a paradise. They remained there with Him until His Bodily Resurrection when the the "bars of Hell" were broken down and they were later able to enter into Heaven itself with His glorious Ascension.

Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began....He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him -- He who is both their God and the son of Eve.. "I am your God, who for your sake have become your son....I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead." [Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday: PG 43, 440A, 452C; LH, Holy Saturday, OR]

Because of this great silence, today there will be no Mass (until the Vigil Mass tonight, which technically is Easter); instead, there is a solemn service. Today is traditionally a day of abstinence in addition to being a day of fasting, until the Vigil Mass, when the Lenten Fast ends. Though this fasting requirement was abolished in the new Code of Canon Law, traditional Catholics follow the traditional practice. In some churches today, priests will bless Easter baskets containing the foods eaten tomorrow (in other places, the baskets will be blessed after the liturgy tomorrow). Baskets bearing Easter bread, Easter eggs, meats, butter, horseradish, and salt are brought to church, blessed, and taken home to await the great feast tomorrow.


Friday, March 21, 2008

A lone young Shepherd

After a long time he climbed a tree,

and spread his shining arms,

and hung by them, and died,

His heart an open wound with love. - St. John of the Cross

Also from Abbey-Roads2, a short reflection on some bizarre customs that hopefully belong only to the past.

Fr. Mark discusses the power of the Paschal liturgy

In the chants of Good Friday, Christ, the immolated Lamb and the Bridegroom of the Church, prays and offers himself to the Father, drawing the Church into his prayer, into his sacrifice and into his glorious exaltation. The chants of the "adoratio Crucis" reveal the Cross as the locus of Christ’s glorification and the throne of mercy towards which the Church addresses bold supplication for her own needs and for those of all people. The Cross is the Tree of Life planted in the midst of the Church, the abiding sign of the Father’s mercy, of the Son’s crucified love, and of the Holy Spirit’s lifegiving action.

Here is a martyr for Good Friday.


Suspicion an opinion, not too well-grounded, or grounded in false assumptions, that another has an evil purpose in a certain line of conduct. A suspicious person somehow adopts the general assumption that everybody must be deemed guilty of evil until he has proved himself to be innocent. Worst of all, he must always give expression to his suspicions in the hope of making others share them with him....

An unjustifiable lack of trust hurts deeply. If you set a low value on moral worth of another, misjudge his dispositions, drag down his character, misinterpret his intentions, or torture his innocence by false suspicions and accusations, you inflict upon him one of life's bitterest trials. A trial like this caused the heart of the Lamb of God to be wrung with anguish in the garden of Gethsemane. The whole story of Good Friday is summed up in false suspicion.

Mistrust leads astray. Not only unjustifiable mistrust, but at times even well-founded mistrust is a force that drags one down into the depths. When a man is aware that he is being suspected of a sin, he sometimes experiences a desire to commit that very sin and so to take another step on the downward path.
(from Father Lawrence Lovasik's The Hidden Power of Kindness, Sophia Institute Press, 1999, p.98) Share

Divine Mercy

The Divine Mercy novena begins today. Never underestimate the power of prayer.

It is one of the holiest and most solemn days of the year. Here is the text for "Way of the Cross" at Colosseum.

Here are the "Reproaches," the Improperia, of Good Friday. Share

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holy Thursday

Let us prepare for the Last Supper with Our Lord. Dom Gueranger writes of the Mass of the Lord's Supper in The Liturgical Year:
The Mass of Maundy Thursday is one of the most solemn of the year; and although the feast of Corpus Christi is the day for solemnly honouring the mystery of the holy Eucharist, still, the Church would have the anniversary of the last Supper to be celebrated with all possible splendour. The colour of the vestments is white, as it is for Christmas day and Easter Sunday; the decorations of the altar and sanctuary all bespeak joy, and yet, there are several ceremonies during this Mass; which show that the holy bride of Christ has not forgotten the Passion of her Jesus, and that this joy is but transient. The priest entones the angelic hymn, Glory be to God in the highest! and the bells ring forth a joyous peal, which continues during the whole of the heavenly canticle: but from that moment they remain silent, and their long silence produces, in every heart, a sentiment of holy mournfulness. But why does the Church deprive us, for so many hours of the grand melody of these sweet bells, whose voices cheer us during the rest of the year? It is to show us that this world lost all its melody and joy when its Saviour suffered and was crucified. Moreover, she would hereby remind us, how the apostles (who were the heralds of Christ, and are figured by the bells, whose ringing summons the faithful to the house of God), fled from their divine Master and left Him a prey to His enemies.

Here is a meditation by François Mauriac on the stripping of the altar.

Hallowed Ground offers some beautiful images for thought and prayer.

Rorate Caeli has a reflection on the chalice and the lily by Paul Claudel.

Pope Benedict XVI speaks of the triumph of love, which is at the mysterious heart of this holy day and of the Sacred Triduum.
[On] Holy Thursday, the Church remembers the Last Supper during which our Lord, on the eve of his own passion and death, institutes the sacrament of the Eucharist and that of ministerial priesthood. On that same evening, Jesus gave us a new commandment, "mandatum novum," the commandment of brotherly love.

[Thursday] morning, before entering the Easter triduum, but very closely tied to it, the "Messa Crismale" will take place in every diocese during which the bishop and priests of the diocese renew their promises made at ordination.

Also, the oils used to celebrate the sacraments are blessed: the oil for the catechumen, the oil for the sick and the holy chrism. It is one of the most important moments in the life of every Christian diocese, which, gathered around it's pastor, strengthens it's unity and faith in Christ, the supreme and eternal priest.

In the evening during the "Cena Domini" Mass, we remember the Last Supper when Christ gave himself to all of us as the food of salvation, as the drug of immortality and the mystery of the Eucharist -- source and pinnacle of Christian life.

Through this sacrament of salvation the Lord offered and realized for all those who believe in him, the most intimate union possible between our lives and his. With the humble and most expressive gesture of washing someone's feet, we are reminded how much Christ did for his Apostles.

Washing their feet was a concrete way of exclaiming the primacy of his love, a love that serves even to the point of giving oneself, anticipating as well the supreme sacrifice of giving his life, which he was to do the following day on Calvary. According to a beautiful tradition, the faithful close on Holy Thursday for a vigil of prayer and Eucharistic adoration enabling them to relive the agonies that Christ suffered at Gethsemane more vividly.

"And there appeared to Him an angel from Heaven, strengthening Him. And being in an agony, he prayed the longer." Luke 22:43

The Literary History of King Arthur

Here is an article which explores the various aspects of Arthurian legend, including the literary history and the actual persons upon whom the stories are based. Share

"The Austrian Woman"

Historical novelist Catherine Delors reflects upon why Marie-Antoinette was labeled L'Autrichienne or "The Austrian Woman" before she even set foot upon French soil. Share