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Trains, boats and lots of walking

The common thread of this weekend’s trip to Padova was that it was a very relaxing time. This was in part due to the fact that Padua is a relatively small city, and so it’s not bursting at the seams with activities that demand doing. There are, of course, some sights that really are must-sees. So, I will describe those, and then I think it will be most profitable to just sum up general themes. I visited Venice on Saturday, so I’ll take the same general approach with that city.

Right, the first thing one must visit in Padova is the Scrovegni chapel. There are no photos allowed inside, but I would highly recommend Google searching “Padova Scrovegni Chapel,” (if you’re really too lazy to do that yourself, I’ve even done it for you here) or visiting a virtual tour site such as this. Seriously, I highly recommend it. It’s an amazing space decorated entirely by Giotto frescoes. I was smart and booked the very first slot for the day, which had two advantages. First, I was the only person in there for most of the time. I really mean the only one: the guard decided at some point that I wasn’t a threat and left for coffee or something. It was also nice to be there early because I got to stay well over my allotted 20 minutes, since nearly nobody else was there. The ticket for this also let me into the museum nearby, so I enjoyed some other priceless paintings and works of cultural heritage for a while, but it really wasn’t the same.

The next incredible place in Padova is the basilica dedicated to St. Anthony, known as Il Santo. First, this place offers FIFTEEN Sunday Masses, if you include the four prefestivi on Saturday. I don’t know if there’s some sort of Guiness World Records category for this, but there should be. OK, more impressive than that is the place itself. Not just because there are FIFTEEN SUNDAY MASSES (seriously), it’s a very prayerful place. I spent a lot of quality time with St. Anthony. Conducive to this, it is also very beautiful. Though there are innumerable “no photo” signs, and some Italians in suits who wag their fingers at you, I persisted resolutely and pretended to be confused.

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And besides, this is just a side chapel anyway. But, on the same note, this is just a side chapel!! What an awesome church.

Also of note was the Baptistery of the Duomo. Walking into this large room is like waking up from a fitful slumber (economics class?) and remembering that the world is real, and full of more colors than you could have imagined. It’s like a sunbeam piercing through rainclouds and illuminating a patch of green in a sea of gray. It’s like exploding some Baroque church and using all the needless bits of color to create something meaningful. OK, it’s not really like that at all, but it just feels GOOD. The colors are intensely rich and vibrant, yet cohesive and balance. The depiction of the figures is masterful. I may have been listening to the ending of Shostakovich 4 while writing this, so perhaps my mind is being overly ethereal; I’m going to let the art speak for itself.

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If you think it’s hard to get a picture of your family where no one’s blinking, looking weird or about to sneeze, imagine how tough this must have been!

The Duomo itself was unimpressive, although I must say I loved the spiritualism embedded in the design of the altar. Here’s my take. The artist starts with the principle that proper reverence mandates that one bow to the altar. Standard churchey stuff, no big problem. The artist then thinks to himself, “Dude, like, what is the essence of a bow anyway? It’s totally a sign of humility and deference, right man? Trippy stuff” (I tried to preserve a general sense of the syntax in translating from Italian). The artist then concludes that, if the goal is to encourage humility among the faithful, what could be more humiliating than having to bow to a hideous, ugly bland of marble? From this logic, I give you this altar.

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Take the exact opposite of whatever florid language my Shostakoviched brain used for the baptistery and you about sum up this place.

Most of the rest of Friday was spent just wandering about in the cold. Almost all of the buildings have little arched walkways in front of them, which gives the city a very hospitable and neighborly feeling. There’s a large, lovely open place called Prato della Valle, which is full of Christmas decorations but I still enjoyed. I happened upon a church dedicated to Saint Mary of Health–still much needed at this point–and the (supposed) resting place of St. Luke the Evangelist, so there were many opportunities for prayer and meditation. I also had a delicious lunch for probably 2/3 what it would cost in Rome. First there was some pasta described by several adjectives I didn’t recognize (always a good sign) flavored by pesto and shrimp; next, I asked for a second plate that was typical of the region. I got some rather boring cold cuts and some quite tasty cheeses; of course, this was all consumed with a delicious regional wine.

That the meat was cold could very well demonstrate the first theme of the day: it was cold. I suppose that’s what happens when you go north. But that was a minor theme. The really cool part of the city (hehehe) was that there were so many amazing frescoes. The Scrovegni, the Baptistery, and Il Santo were just a few examples from a city overflowing with beauty. Even the little unspellable-on-your-first-attempt Chiesa degli Eremitani (Church of the Hermits) housed great wall-work. All I would add to this was that the city’s atmosphere was also a recurring joy of the day. It was full of happy, welcoming people; I felt safe wandering about at all sorts of odd hours, as is my wont.

Take all of these themes and negate them (except for the coldness), and there you have Venice in a nutshell. Venice was the most depressing place I have been to in the course of my European tenure (possibly even including Caravita). I will admit that it was very noticeably the touristic offseason (and maybe the very fact that this was so painfully noticeable made me dislike the city), but I think Venice appeals to people largely on sentimental levels of which I am not capable. This church is a very fitting allegory for the city: a pretty facade on a rather ugly body, except even the facade now looks deteriorated and grimy.

Allegory church

Oh, except there aren’t any noticeable parts falling off, and I was actually able to go inside.

I believe that a city’s churches reflect some pretty telling elements of its culture (and that’s not just because I love visiting churches). Venice was the first city I’ve visited where there was no way of entering most of the churches. Innumerable doors were locked or behind barriers without signs or postings of hours. And many of those that were open wanted large sums of money to get in! Even beyond that, most of them were decrepit from a lack of care. The culture has moved on to better things, like fashion and small dogs. As I said, depressing.

If any church is going to redeem Venice, it’s San Marco. This is the shining emblem of the city, one of the most recognizable places it has to offer. Though at least you can get in, when you do you are just immediately more depressed. The floor is caving in (this is what happens when A. you are pretentious and wealthy enough to build a city on underwater poles and B. then decide to neglect it); the arches are lopsided and look ready to collapse; it’s full of noise, even during Mass; even the lion–symbolizing St. Mark, who’s obviously a big deal in that church–looks horrified by the state of things.

Moments later, he burst into big tiley tears and flew away to go see if there was any room in Palermo.

Being on a bus that was actually a boat was rather cool, I suppose (even if the ticket system is practically designed to be cheated). There was a church dedicated to Santa Maria della Salute too (still needed). And, one of the churches I visited had this cool candle stand (even though I had to wait for at least fifteen minutes for the orcs to return so it would start glowing again):

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Although, I will have you notice, it literally doesn’t even hold a light to Padua.

OK, I’m not going to get into all the reasons I disliked Venice. Some are historical (I am a quarter Croatian…), many were aesthetic, even more were sheer principles that probably wouldn’t make much sense outside my head and would take a long time to explain anyway (though that was an alternative title that I considered for this blog). So I returned to Padua slightly early, relaxed for a bit, had some low-quality pizza and drinks (liturgical new-year, after all…) and saw the stars before going to bed. Seriously, you can see the stars in Padua. What a great place.

You can also see the moon!

Other notable astronomical sightings included what I’m somewhat confident was a planet and what I’m even more confident was an airplane.

This was Sunday morning. I went to one of the FIFTEEN MASSES at Il Santo, headed to the train station, and waited for fifty minutes for mine to arrive. The worst part of this was the freezing cold. NO, wait, the worst part was that two other trains to Rome came during that span, but I couldn’t get on those ones. NO, wait, the real worst part was that there was a church I wanted to visit but told myself I didn’t have time to (it only opened half an hour before my scheduled departure). But unlike the other time I’ve experienced a 50 minute delay (I love trenitalia so much.), this one got in just about on time, so I must hold that to their credit.

It was a great trip. I loved Padua. Even though Venice was not my favorite, I’m glad I experienced it anyway (though I’ve used that same exact line for many a vegetable–and I’m still not sure if that’s an insult to Venice or to vegetables).

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December 2, 2013 · 11:00 pm

My week’s staple? Everything papal.

I’d like to dedicate this post to all of the hours of sleep that selflessly and nobly gave their lives to make the events described below possible.

It all started with the papal audience on Wednesday morning. This event commenced at 10:30, and the gates didn’t open until 7:30, but people in the know informed my group of friends and me that, in order to get good seats, one had to arrive by 6:30 AM. So that’s what I did. Nothing, however, says “worth it” like having the pope pass within ten feet of you three times in one morning (we were right on one of the corners very close to the front).

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Ciao-issimo, Papa Francesco.

I also got to catch up on some lost sleep while they were translating everything he said into just about every language known to man. And, I avoided the surprisingly common syndrome known as “death-by-four-foot-tall-octogenarian-Italian-lady,” which is a known menace at such events. So, it was without reservation a great morning. Significant portions of the rest of the day were spent visiting other churches, but none were particularly extraordinary.

Thursday morning, running on about two hours of sleep, I went to Mass at a little church called Sant’Anna dei Palafrenieri, dedicated to the mother of Mary. Even though this city is filled to the brim with Marian churches, this one seemed fitting on the Feast of the Presentation of Mary. And, it offered a Mass at a good time (7:00) and was relatively close (right inside the Vatican walls). A picture wouldn’t add much, since there wasn’t much special about the church except for the fact that about 25 religious sisters of at least ten different orders were attending Mass. As far as experiences that let you know you’re immersed in holiness, there’s really nun better than that.

After a very productive composition lesson and Italian class (no adjective necessary.), I attended a lecture given by a visiting CUA economics professor about problems associated with human capital and barriers to entry in the labor market in developing nations. There was free food and drink, which was much appreciated. The talk itself was pretty engaging, but would have been moreso had I gotten more than two hours of sleep the night before (and perhaps without the food and drink, too…). Thursday was rounded off by drinks at a favorite local pub in celebration of a friend’s birthday. It was a nonstop day, but a good one. I slept well that night.

In this instance, “well” means deeply, because I woke up early to attend one of the best Masses I’ve been to in Rome thus far. This is fitting, because it was the Feast of Saint Cecilia, patroness of musicians.

She also got stuck with Omaha, and yet even SHE won’t consent to being patron saint of the viola!

This is the (amazingly beautiful) crypt of the church Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. I got to participate as one of two chanters in the Missa Cantata–extraordinary form Mass with all the propers and ordinary sung in plainchant. But there was nothing plain about it: Father Gray was amazing, of course; the other singer–who is the director of liturgical music at the NAC–was a very fine musician; the space was obviously excellent. This was one of the best Masses I’ve attended during my entire time here.

Right after this, I left for Norcia with my roommates for a well-needed guys weekend. What is Norcia, you ask? Nothing shy of the most beautiful place outside of Utah.

I tried for a few minutes to come up with a caption, but nothing I can say can add any value to this. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

Norcia is not just beautiful because it resembles everything Middle Earth wishes it could be. Though that is a nice feature too. Norcia, birthplace of St. Benedict, is also the home of an amazing Benedictine monastery. There is nothing not to love about them. The community is incredibly young, vibrant, dedicated and reverent. They chant the liturgy of the hours in Latin extremely well, and intimately understand the value of doing so–standing in the dark, simple church immersed in this ancient, mysterious music that echoes with resonant profundity is a humbling and world-changing experience. We stayed in their guesthouse, which means we were invited to dine with them, and their food is simple but delicious (and all eaten in silence, which is quite a fertile opportunity for contemplation). And, though I don’t want to say “most importantly,” they also brew fantastic beer. The slogan for this ambrosia–taken from Psalms–is “ut laetificet cor,” meaning “that the heart might be made happy.” And it is.

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Again, I’m not saying that this view could possibly be made better, but if it could, Norcia beer would be the agent of that improvement.

So, Friday and Saturday were spent soaking in all these good things (and still not sleeping…). In its placidity and serenity, Norcia was the perfect antithesis to and respite from everything crazy and hectic (though wonderful) that Rome has to offer.

Such as seeing the pope again for Mass today! This required the same mind-numbingly early antics as the Wednesday audience, but was again completely worth it, as we got seats very close to the front, and he again passed right by us. This Mass, Christ the King, closed the year of Faith. And the relics of St. Peter were brought out in public for the first time, which was very exciting. And I got a plenary indulgence and fulfilled my Sunday Mass obligation without even having to enter a church! Seems odd, but I suppose it’s Rome.

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November 24, 2013 · 8:36 pm

What’s the only thing that doesn’t change at a Jesuit Mass?

Tonight, I will have the privilege of attending Mass in the rooms of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I really will try to refrain from Jesuit jokes, since I genuinely do love St. Iggy. However, the punchline to this is too good not to share, so I will put it up on my post about this upcoming experience.

Until then, here’s a collage of the past five days or so. Whether or not it’s related to deciding to hike in the rain when I was already feeling rather ill, but I’ve been under the weather for a good chunk of the past week. This explains the lack of a post recently in two ways: I haven’t felt up to writing one, and I haven’t felt up to doing anything that would be worth writing about. However, there have been some highlights.

On Tuesday evening, after my very delayed train made me miss Italian class, I made a very important discovery. Anyone who’s a regular reader will know that I frequently complain about le signore del discanto. Every church has one. These are the people, usually ladies, whose singing in Mass combines two traits which are relatively inoffensive on their own: loudness and poor quality. Perhaps you, dear reader, will know the type. Right, well, about these ladies, the important discovery I made was this: I know where they are all employed! That’s right, I attended the opera. OK, in all fairness, the lead soprano and tenor (it was La Traviata, so make that Violetta and Alfredo) were decent. Not exquisite, but decent. Just about everyone else bordered on the realm of painful. I have committed myself to not complaining exhaustively about musical performances on this blog–and it has taken herculean restraint–so I best stop now. But it was certainly an…experience.

The only event of note on Wednesday was my theology class’s visit to Sacro Cuore del Suffragio. I had been avoiding this 19th century neo-Gothic church mostly because it houses a little “purgatory museum.” Well, I saw it on Wednesday. I hesitate to use words like “hokey” or “laughable,” but it is a museum dedicated to “proof” supposedly left by souls in purgatory, such as burned hand prints on some books and clothes. I believe full-heartedly in purgatory, but this is not why. The church made up for itself, I suppose, by being one of the few ecclesiastical buildings in Rome that avoided the scourges of the Baroque (by being built after it…).

Knowing the general quality of music in Rome, I’m sure that listening to someone play that organ would be all the proof of purgatory that I need.

Friday, since it was the feast of St. Albertus Magnus, a prolific Dominican scholar and teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas, I went to Mass at one of my favorite Dominican churches in town: Santa Maria sopra Minerva. I didn’t take any pictures, but I visited the Pantheon on my way home (because I thought it would be cool in the dark and in the rain, which it was).

I only got two laps in before they escorted me off the premises for swimming in the puddle that had formed in the center.

 

Yesterday, Saturday, was by far the most interesting chapter in this little saga. I had the immense privilege to attend Mass–said by Fr. Gray in the Latin extraordinary form–in the Clementine chapel of St. Peter’s. This is chapel is historically rich, aesthetically gorgeous and extremely holy. As in, St. Peter’s bones rest right behind the altar. I didn’t take any pictures myself, but one of the other men there did. I’ll put it up if I get permission, but until then, here’s one of my favorite views: St. Peter’s Basilica lit up early in the morning (late at night is OK too). It’s an imposing, majestic sight.

Hipster St. Paul demonstrating the flock-of-seagulls haircut millennia before it was cool. 

You can also check out the chapel on the Vatican’s website, if you dare to enter that labyrinth of a place: http://saintpetersbasilica.org/Grottoes/Clementine%20Chapel/Clementine%20Chapel.htm

Saturday also saw a well-needed and invigorating sports day hosted by the North American College. We played soccer, ultimate frisbee and a reduced version of football at which I was not very good. It was great, and made me look forward to having actual open space for recreation next semester!

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November 17, 2013 · 10:42 am

Barcelona

I really intended to post yesterday, but I got caught up in real life—what classes I’ll be taking next semester, housing, email, things of the sort. Other than that, it was an amazing day!

I slept in until the luxurious hour of 8 AM, and then meandered my way down to the Gothic quarter. Here, I have chosen the verb “meander” to signify a leisurely pace, but perhaps this was an error, as the word implies a lack of intent, whereas I was specifically headed to Mass at the amazing Cathedral.

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Ah, so *that’s* why they call it the Gothic quarter. I thought it was for all the people running around in dark clothes and makeup.

The Mass was held in Catalan, which was a unique and exciting experience in and of itself. I could certainly detect traces of Spanish, French, and something much farther East in the Mediterranean… There were a lot of X’s and weird vowels. It was very cool.

Now, I don’t want any of the other churches I was in to be jealous, but I must also put up a picture of the Cathedral’s cloister, because it was serene.

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And, excluding myself, they didn’t let any geese into any of the other churches.

It’s a real goose, by the way. There were about fifteen of them right behind the fountain.

Anyway, speaking of other churches, one cannot say the word Gothic without mentioning stained glass, and for this I will look no farther than the next church I visited: Santa Maria del Mar.

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They also have a “Santa Maria del Pi,” which confirms my theory that Catalan just appropriates words from REAL Romance languages and truncates them. Or both.

I chose this specimen among the innumerable highly qualified candidates for two reasons. One, it nicely illustrates the rich, lush use of a diversity of colors. Two, I’m pretty sure that saint on the right has a microphone. Typical Franciscan. I’m surprised he hasn’t shattered his own glass.

Next, I wandered down to the beach. Sort of. At this point, I hadn’t yet picked up a map that showed me where the REAL beaches were, so I was on the touristy marina-thing and got bored rather quickly. Worry not, though, I redeemed myself at the end of the day.

Following this (and some delicious Paella), there was the necessary Gaudi binge. I’m glad I visited the Gothic sector first, because I don’t think you can appreciate Sagrada Familia properly without experiencing the loftiness, color and use of light in the Spanish Baroque. The influences are beautifully evident. This crazily wonderful (or perhaps wonderfully crazy) building is hard to capture by photograph, because it’s all about effect: the soaring, arboreal pillars; the shimmering luminescence from the stained glass onto the white stone; the interplay of the twisting structures. I chose this one picture from the way too many that I took because I think it gives a little taste of each of these things.

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Now imagine a few hundred tourists mulling about and you’ve practically been there.

A friend of mine who has wayward opinions about the Baroque (i.e. he loves it; pray for him please) anticipated that I wouldn’t like this church, because there is so much going on. Now that I’ve experienced it myself, I would say that this church is the perfect answer to what I find distasteful about the Baroque. The outside is Gaudi to the point of gaudy, and keeps your eye and mind racing. This is well and good, and I thoroughly enjoyed picking apart all the symbols and admiring the craftsmanship. But keep in mind that it is on the inside that Mass occurs, and so it deserves that specific brand of scrutiny. This is why there aren’t many pictures of facades on this blog. Indeed, there have been plenty of churches that are horridly plain on the outside yet lovely on the inside (and this is quite symbolic, too).

When you step inside of Sagrada Famlia, you feel like you’ve been transported to a celestial world where light becomes tangible and everything is directed “further up, further in” (i.e. towards God). Coincidentally, this is the only tenable principle that keeps me from destroying every Baroque church I come upon. The goal behind them certainly seems to be putting the viewer into a contact with “the divine banquet,” wherein the souls of the faithful departed and naked cherubs and God only knows what else all sumptuously worship the Lord by overexerting themselves, acting in confusing ways and being very motionful. OK, recap without the cynicism: both the Sagrada Familia and your run of the mill Baroque church are attempting to use motion as a means of transporting the viewer into contact with something eternal and heavenly, yet only one of them makes me want to vomit (I almost made it all the way…). Why is this?

I will first grant that one factor is aesthetics. For whatever set of subjective reasons, I just don’t like golden cherubic butts at 7000 watts.

But deeper than this, I would describe Gaudi’s work as natural, whereas the Baroque strikes me as artificial. His paintbrushes are stone and light: how much more basic can you get than that? By letting materials that God Himself directly made paint the picture, there is no element of hubris that seems to taint the Baroque enterprise (“look, I can depict Heaven!”). I should add that this supersedes the shallow level of “photons > paint;” I hope that this is apparent.

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To be continued after a brief announcement from our sponsors.

 

And, I would also say, Sagrada Familia pairs an extremity of motion with profound stillness, unstoppable and constantly changing activity with presence of the “unmoved mover.” Whereas, in the Gesu, for instance, there is not a single non-moving place upon which to rest your eye. God is Truth, which means that some sort of intense contact with Him (heaven) is not going to be some sort of never ending angel-rave, but rather a multi-dimensional (the word “infinite” springs to mind) experience. Gaudi captures this, the Baroque does not.

In any case, I liked this church conceptually, experientially and spiritually. Oh, and I noticed this beautiful, beautiful gem:

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It was hard to photograph, but this is indeed a handrail with four horizontal lines acting as a stave for a neumatic notation of Veni Creator Spiritus. Who could say no to that?

I’m done talking about Sagrada Familia, but not yet about Gaudi. Because next, I visited the Park Guell (which I’m still not really sure how to pronounce). This park was notable for two reasons. First, the stark, moving and simply weird walkways, buildings, layout and sculptures designed by Gaudi (i.e. the park itself). At many points you had to just stop in awe and wonder what you were even looking at! He was a very unique individual…

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And again, it was hard to pick from all the pictures I found myself taking!

Next, the view.

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And then the sun started to set… Mmmmmmmm.

Being a Utahn, I had to climb to the top of both of the hills. Also being a Utahn, you can imagine my frustration when there were cars and people at the top of one of them (there were people at the other one too, but they walked there; they earned it). Perhaps someone had just this in mind when they vandalized one of the walls on the walk down with the words (copied here verbatim) “Tourists Not Wanted.” Think it over for a bit, because this is ironic and hysterical on so, so many levels.

Finally, because my legs were still able to move, I decided to walk all the way down to the real beach. It was night when I arrived, so I took off my shoes, walked in the water, relaxed my feet in the sand and pondered the vast, timeless beauty of the ocean. Sometimes timeless beauty isn’t quite enough to get oneself back up to the hostel (by Sagrada Familia, if anyone’s doing the Google Maps version of this blog post), and so I had a pathetically small and rather weak Spanish beer. But it did the trick, and I made it.

I should round off my story of the day by mentioning that, unattachable to anything I’ve said yet, the city itself as a whole was marvelous. I walked through it at all sorts of odd hours of the night to get to and from flights, and never felt unsafe once. The streets are well designed, spacious and verdant. Every city has a feeling to it, and Barcelona’s was incredibly hospitable and fun. I wish I had planned for more time there! But I’ve desired more time everywhere I’ve been so far…

Including Paris!

Nope, just kidding, I’m not going to use that segue to jump into the great day I had today in Paris. I am loving it here so far, but now is not the time to describe it. Sorry.

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October 29, 2013 · 9:26 pm

That other pilgrim church.

I had expected that visiting the last of the seven pilgrim churches would be more like the Lamb breaking the last seal on the scroll, but it was rather disappointingly unapocalyptic. One could even say…boring. I can see why Soon-to-be-St. JPII tried to replace this one with some other church in 2000! But, it was a day spent with Fr. Chris Gray, so it was a very good day. This dull (and small) church was none other than that of San Sebastiano (but its stupendous catacombs more than compensated). And, though my doomsday aspirations were frustrated, Fr. Gray held a private Mass for me at the altar in said catacombs at which St. Philip Neri experienced a miraculous expansion of his heart. This is also one of the few places in the catacombs where you can still find bones interred. And, to top off all of this intense Catholic awesomeness, at my request Mass was held in the Extraordinary Form.

I should qualify this by saying that, before today, I had never participated in a Tridentine Mass that I’ve found particularly spiritually enriching. Perhaps this will be made clear by examining what I found so distinctly compelling about today’s Mass. Praying this contemplative, quiet prayer in a dark, intimate, earthen place (reminiscent of my thoughts on the church at Tre Fontane yesterday), there was an immense sense of a personal and contemplative interaction with God. I was allowed to completely put myself, my concerns and the demands of the outside world aside and marvel at the gift of the Eucharist. What about this changes when the EF is exported to a congregational setting? Many of the conduits of this grace remain–the extreme reverence is still there, the complex layers of symbolism are still approachable, the Latin is still awe-inspiring. When other people are introduced, however, the stillness is shattered. Then I become concerned that Mr. So-and-so noticed when I forgot to genuflect at precisely the right time; then I become aware of Mrs. Smith’s slightly off-centered veil, or her son’s violently growling stomach. Less trivially and more philosophiclaly, other people necessarily come with their demands and needs and personalities; this is what, by definition, makes them people “other” from ourselves.

Of course, the next step is really realizing that there are other people–my brothers and sisters in Christ–involved in this prayer, and that they have unique strengths, fervor and petitions to join with my own, and I with theirs. This is a prayer of a different kind; after all, we cannot praise God in the best of ways (Polyphony, of course…) all alone. But, the EF is not conducive to this. I do not join Mrs. Smith in singing hymns; I do not greet Mr. So-and-so with the sign of peace. Rather than compatriots returning to our long awaited homeland together, these people seem to be disruptions in my personal communication with God. And so, I end up feeling disjointed from them, even though we are coming together in the realest way possible. Why, the experience begs of me, am I sitting in this room surrounded by people who really just want to be alone with God? That’s silly.

So. I love the Novus Ordo for what it does for the vibrantly communal aspect of the Mass, and I love the Extraordinary Form for what it does for the intensely personal aspect of the Mass. Both are necessary, and indeed both come together in any Mass of either form. But, this doesn’t mean we can try to maximize both aspects in any given celebration; this juxtaposition will always, in my eye, feel strained.

Right, pretty pictures time.

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I told you it was boring! But admittedly, that was several paragraphs ago, and you really couldn’t help but look. I forgive you.

This was San Sebastiano. It’s small. I also took a picture of this lovely statue:

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But it’s the plaque you should really be interested in. It says something about “he who repels pestilence.” Put that on my tomb!

We also stopped in the Quo Vadis church, the story behind which is quite a gem. Peter was fleeing from the city during some Roman persecution or another, when he met Christ–heading into the city–on the way. Christ asked him where he was going, which is basically Latin for “turn around and take it like a man.” Which he did, to great acclaim. I encourage you to read a better depiction of the story elsewhere (I bet even Wikipedia can do better…), but here are Jesus’ footprints:

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I’d estimate He was about a size 8.

We also had an amazing lunch (which seems to be a given with this exquisite man), and I should mention that I had a great game of Catan with my roommates this evening and some very fruitful time in Eucharistic adoration. Yep, no complaints.

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October 1, 2013 · 11:50 pm

Saints who had grills before they were cool

Feeling particularly motivated to visit Rome’s seven pilgrim churches (and not being in Naples for San Gennaro), I decided to visit San Lorenzo fiori le mura. The Mass itself was very…interesting. The priest was quite flamboyant, preached an excruciatingly long homily (which might have been less painful if I spoke Italian. Forse), and I’m fairly confident that he snuck some extra bits into the rite and the readings (unless Jesus was in the habit of inserting a very sardonic “bravo” here and there whilst rebuking Pharisees, which I’m not ruling out). To his credit, however, he had an awesome beard. So I suppose it all balances out. Yeah, let’s go with that.

The building was substantially less suggestive of dubious liturgical orthodoxy. It did have an extraordinarily large confessiobut if I had the bodies of St. Stephen and St. Lawrence, that’s what I would do too.

Huh, he seems awfully decked out in red for a deacon...

Huh, he seems awfully swagged out in red for a deacon…

Just kidding, this is the tomb of Pope Pius IX. Blessed Pope Pius IX. Not Saint Pope Pius IX. SAINTS Lawrence and Stephen, as far as I can tell–because they aren’t even given any recognition–are in a dinky little thing five meters behind me when I took this photo. As I have many times said, nothing makes sense in this city.

Oh, and here’s a picture of the pseudo apsey thing they have going on:

The basilica style is scratching its head.

The basilica style is scratching its head.

But, it truly was a holy, beautiful and prayerful place, if somewhat confusing. As a brief aside: in order to visit the last of the seven pilgrim churches, I must visit either San Sebastiano fuori le mura (classical list) or Santuario della Madonna del Divino Amore (supposedly replaced the former in 2000). A quick Google Image search will tell anyone who knows me which list I plan to follow.

The other highlight of my day (besides reading a ton of Dostoevsky) was an evening with my 3 RAs and 3 friends (I have more than 3 friends, but only 3 of them were there. Just clarifying that. Cool.). First we went to a vespersey thing at Santa Maria in Transtevere (sorry Mom, they were closing and it was dark; no holy chicken pictures today). The psalm tone they were using amused me because it attempted to convey the lydian mode but reverted to interior plagal cadences. I suspect that this effect might have been lost on most of the other people in attendance, but it kept me entertained. Then we went to a pizzeria where I gorged myself on appetizers in various states of fried-ness, a large pizza smothered in salmon and brie (amazing.), and various peoples’ leftovers. The conversation, food and beer were all great.

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September 19, 2013 · 10:28 pm

Molto Maria

On the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, I simply had to do a Marian church tour. First on the list, for obvious reasons, was Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano. This church doesn’t offer weekday Masses, but it was a lovely visit regardless.

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It’s actually a circular church, but that’s hard to capture.

The only downside was that they had some rather hokey, poorly done music playing over the speakers to set the atmosphere (and match the fake marble). It wasn’t Marty Haugen, but it was consistently flat. But hey, at least the church was open–the other Marian chiesa right next door wouldn’t even let me in!

Next, I climbed 124 stairs (I counted) to get to Santa Maria in Aracoeli. The view of the city alone justified the hike (which really wasn’t so bad), but the church itself was exceedingly beautiful.

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A church in Rome that isn’t drowning in little golden cherubs?! What’s going on?!

So here I was, duly praying and thanking God for this beautiful and inspiring space, when I noticed that the altar and area in its near vicinity is very ornately–one could even say Baroqueishly (if that were a word)–decorated (this is hard to see in the photo, but take my word for it). The cognitive dissonance immediately started: why am I not in pain right now? Why am I not kneeling here praying for patience? The resolution of my dilemma, however, quickly sprung to my mind, as I remembered the beautiful frescoes that adorned the nave, the tasteful marble columns, and the elegance and artistic restraint that permeates the rest of the church. It dawned on me that this is why I find Baroque architecture so unsatisfying: there is no focal point. The decoration gives equal gravitas to every area of the space, which experientially leaves me bewildered and conceptually decentralizes the most important part of the building. There are meaningful comparisons to be made with many modern parish churches, which are completely white-walled and thus give no emphasis to, say, the sacristy. This church is the perfect answer to this phenomenon, because the nave, transept and so on are beautiful, inspiring and worthy of great attention, but it is ultimately the Holy of Holies that receives the greatest attention and glory. Even the chandeliers would serve this effect, leading your gaze to the front like the little lights that lead to exits on airplanes, and then creating a glowing halo around the Virgin and Child. I love it!

I was a little surprised when I found out that this wasn’t explicitly a Franciscan church, for two reasons:

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Totally real marble. Totally.

And:

Just look at the nonchalant smugness of that bird. If it were any church but a Franciscan church, he'd be out the door (unless it were a Jesuit church, in which case he'd be invited to sit in the pew).

Just look at the nonchalant smugness of that bird. If it were any church but a Franciscan church, he’d be out the door (unless it were a Jesuit church, in which case he’d be invited to sit in the pew).

After cleansing my palate, as it were, with some Italian class, I made it down to Santa Maria sopra Minerva. This is one of my favorite churches so far in this city (which is high praise!). The blue ceiling is so excitingly vibrant, so reminiscent of the sky, and so Marian that I simply cannot help but love it. Catherine of Siena is buried there (or at least part of her is), and the whole place just emanates Dominicanness.

No catchy captions for this one. Just admiration.

No catchy captions for this one. Just admiration.

And as if this amazing day needed to get any better, by chance I ran into an old acquaintance from CUA (she tranfered to another school after freshman year) who is in Rome for the academic year! It’s such a small world. We had a great time catching up, and I’m sure we will be seeing more of each other this semester!

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September 12, 2013 · 6:55 pm