Houses of God
Along Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II is Chiesa del Gesù, the great, mother church of the Society of Jesus (id est, the Jesuits). And upon the church’s foot-worn steps, three solid, bright young priests each in the Roman collar, Frs. John, Elijah, and Joseph of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP). Perhaps you know the FSSP, an Order faithful to Catholic principles, an Order in communion with the Apostles of Christ, an Order true to the ancient liturgy, our traditional, Latin Mass.
Chiesa del Gesu, Rome, Italy
Histories will mention that the grand Chiesa del Gesu boasts the first truly Baroque façade, that its architects were the great Vignola and the excellent Giacomo della Porta, that it was consecrated in 1564, and that it is the model of Jesuit churches the world around. Then too, I must mention Chiesa del Gesu’s teeth-stinging opulence, its exquisite visual noise sounding alike the whirring Roman engines of Corso Vittorio, but louder, alike the high-pitch of angels that over-fill a gargantuan ceiling that drips itself in an abundance of trompe l’oeil masterpieces (Bernini, et alia). Impressive. And yet I prefer the still, quiet voice of God, the one angel singing a-capella, as in the humbly noble Chiesa di San Giovanni della Pigna (some few minutes promenade along the narrow via Gesu). You might like to know; the Jesuit fraternity of Chiesa di San Giovani was once-a-year allowed the grant of pardon to a condemned prisoner. Here a place quiet and good.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, Detroit, Michigan
My boyhood church, Detroit’s Immaculate Heart of Mary was, well, not a church but a gymnasium converted into a church. You see, the compassionate Father Hutting chose to invest in his congregation rather than in brick and mortar. Now, this was in our pre-Vatican II world when God and Beauty were synonymous, as in Truth and by Goodness they are, so our little parish was, in its humble way, gorgeous, sincere in stained glass and fine Italian statuary. The simple wooden sacristy was for me (an altar boy) something of a treasury, rich in silk vestments, in sacred silver chalices, in stately candlesticks and in the decorative hand-chimes that I hear even now, that I feel in the meter of the wrist’s repeating motion.
In those days, before our Vatican II Babel of many tongues, the world’s congregations spoke in one, universal language, Latin. Ontologically correct, the priest with us faced God, leading us toward holiness, offering our worship in the exacting invocations and precise hymns of the Latin Rite. And there we were in the plain, bless’ed church, ladies in veil and gloves, men in jacket and tie, children rosy scrubbed, polishing our souls, just as in stately Saint Peter’s Basilica where beneath Michelangelo’s dome, in the shadow of Bernini’s baldachin, rest the holy relics of many a soul polished saint. Saint Peter’s Basilica, historically grand, our little church, merely good, both united in one word, one rite, on the same day in the same way unified in catholic worship and thanksgiving.
Saint Mary Basilica, Alexandria, Virginia
Now, older than the venerable Father Hutting, I attend service at The Basilica of Saint Mary, Alexandria, Virginia. Founded in 1795 by gift of local citizens, including General Washington, Saint Mary’s is refined in the way of our patriot fathers, respectable, communitarian, polite, neither showy nor boorish nor cheap … Gothic, though a Gothic moderated by suspicious, antipapist neighbors. Saint Mary’s statuary is very fine, the stained glass is excellent, especially the windows representing the numerous saints. Most often, I am seated in Saint Helena’s pew. You know Saint Helena, mother of Constantine I, the Great, who in her 70s discovered the True Cross at the hill of Cavalry, Jerusalem. Expect you know the story … the several ancient crosses of the site were arranged side-by-side; a dying girl was carried to each until lain upon one of many, the True Cross, when by miracle she was healed, arose and walked, et cetera.
If you come to service, come early, unless you intend to stand … the 10:00 Mass is always full, being as it is a high Mass with full choir, pageantry and ceremony, and a homily well-considered, well-delivered. The homily might be spoken by one of several intelligent young priests, or by the seasoned Father Hathaway. Father Hathaway is the very picture of the parish priest, unassuming, bright, good with that twinkling, knowing eye, kind and fun-loving, catholic and Catholic. Too, you might find at Mass the Pauline sisters from the nearby convent (and bookstore), that is, if you look close … the cheerful sister Linh is 4’-10”, on a good day.
Alexandria’s Saint Mary’s is the soul of Old Town Alexandria, its conscience, heart, and sinew, the source of charity, patience, and Christian virtue. Saint Mary’s is what Detroit’s Immaculate Heart of Mary was before the 1967 Democrat riots and the world diminishing Vatican II. You will find at Saint Mary’s Basilica as-much-of tradition as is allowed by the Progressive Pope Francis and his Cardinals. You will find in its hymns, its pictuary and statuary, and in its rising columns a Beauty that lifts the soul to God; you will find in the readings and homily a Truth that transcends modernistic confusions; and you will find in its congregation a quiet Goodness that answers Progressive aggression. That description was, I think, not too much to say.
Just now, in Rome, musing … the three bright, solid young priests, Frs. John, Elijah, and Joseph of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) return to mind, especially a story shared by Fr. Joseph. As likely you know, Progressive Cardinals each day pursue restriction on the traditional Latin Mass, the preserving and conserving of essential Catholic practice and faith. Well, it seems that two priests of FSSP asked for an audience with Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, which the pope granted. While in the meeting the priests recounted to Pope Francis a parable of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, the one where the frantic, frightened rabbit exhausted from running away turns and gives itself into the loving hands of God.
Recognizing the beautiful truth of Saint Theresa’s parable, and, I expect, amused and delighted, Pope Francis allowed the FSSP a dispensation from the crushing dictates of the modern cardinals. The FSSP, founded upon the ancient books of the Church, is the only Order allowed the Pontifical Right to unencumbered celebrate the Mass in the traditional Latin way. If you do not know Saint Theresa, you will find her hagiography almost everywhere. For a poetic sketch, my sonnet on Saint Theresa is found at bottom.
In coming months at The Beautiful Home: the Houses of God in the many forms, a consideration of the modern and the tradition, the destruction and the preservation, the Progressive and the Classive in sacred architecture. We will visit Rome and Florence, Orvieto and Pompeii, Palm Beach and Palm Springs, and perhaps, your community, wherever you might be.
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Featured image: Saint Mary Basilica, interior after the 2010 renovation that returned the basilica to beauty; Alexandria, Virginia, credit, Saint Mary’s Old Town.
Traditional Latin Mass, also known as the Usus Antiquior or the “Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite”.
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Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus
The little sparrow gives away her song
Without the slightest notion of its cost.
She chirps in sweetness all the morning long
And dies a little with each note that’s lost.
You cannot see her hidden in the leaves.
She is so tiny folded in the shade,
And yet her voice is larger than the tree
And soars as though it never was afraid.
Even the sweetest songs are sometimes sad,
As though a thorn is pricking through the heart.
But even in her death the bird is glad,
Ready to meet her God when she departs.
For, from the kindest moment of her birth
She spent her heaven doing good on earth.
Roman Catholic, October 3; Patroness of Missionaries,
Florists, and Gardeners
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