Rorate Caeli

“The heathens have defiled Thy holy temple... Revenge the blood of Thy saints!”: On the Thymotic Realism of the Traditional Latin Mass

Titian, Averoldi Polyptych (1520-22)
SS. Nazarius & Celsus are the standing figures in the lower left

“Let the sighing of the prisoners come in before Thee, O Lord; render to our neighbours sevenfold in their bosom; revenge the blood of Thy saints, which hath been shed. Ps. O God, the heathens are come into Thy inheritance: they have defiled Thy holy temple: they have made Jerusalem as a place to keep fruit. Glory be to the Father... Let the sighing...”

This virile Introit for today’s TLM—in honor of the martyrs Nazarius, the boy Celsus, and Pope Victor I, and the confessor Pope Innocent I (cf. Dom Guéranger’s commentary on them)—is taken from Psalm 78, verses 10–12. Verse 12, a “cursing” verse, was removed from both the Lectionary and the Liturgy of the Hours, so it is nowhere prayed in the Novus Ordo. These saints, too, were given the axe, in spite of being called upon by the Church for well over a thousand years.

In general, the spirited or thymotic psalms have been minimized or excised, which corresponds to the generally effeminate presentation of Christianity in recent times. Think of the doe-eyed Sacred Heart images from the 19th and 20th centuries, where Our Lord is depicted as a saccharine, fragile, androgynous figure, as if He would flinch at a passing softball, or deflate when poked with a needle.

As I read the psalm verse in the Introit—“they have defiled Thy holy temple: they have made Jerusalem as a place to keep fruit”—I couldn’t help but think of the abandoned churches that have been turned into food markets or restaurants (like the London church displayed in the photo below). A Google search for “converted church” will turn up hundreds of penthouse suites made from disowned places of worship.

Turning back to today’s feast, the Mass for these four saints has a militant character so rare in the NOM.


May the confession of Thy saints Nazarius, Celsus, Victor, and Innocent fortify us, O Lord, and may it graciously win for us reinforcement in our weakness. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ…

LESSON (Wisdom 10:17–20)

God rendered to the just the wages of their labours, and conducted them in a wonderful way; and He was to them for a covert by day, and for the light of stars by night; and He brought them through the Red Sea, and carried them over through a great water. But their enemies He drowned in the sea, and from the depth of hell He brought them out. Therefore the just took the spoils of the wicked. And they sung to Thy holy name, O Lord, and they praised with one accord Thy victorious hand, O Lord, our God. Deo gratias.

GRADUAL & ALLELUIA (Exodus 15:11, 6; Exodus 44:14)

God is glorious in His Saints, wonderful in majesty, doing wonders. Thy right hand, O Lord, is glorified in strength; Thy right hand hath broken the enemies. Alleluia, alleluia. Thy bodies of Thy Saints are buried in peace, and their name liveth unto generation and generation. Alleluia.

GOSPEL (Luke 21:9–19)

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: When you shall hear of wars and seditions, be not terrified: these things must first come to pass, but the end is not yet presently. Then He said to them: Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there shall be great earthquakes in divers places, and pestilences, and famines and terrors from Heaven, and there shall be great signs. But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons, dragging you before kings and governors for My name’s sake; and it shall happen unto you for a testimony. Lay it up therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before how you shall answer. For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to resist and gainsay. And you shall be betrayed by your parents and brethren and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death: and you shall be hated by all men for My name’s sake; but a hair of your head shall not perish. In your patience you shall possess your souls. Laus tibi. Christe.

Let us pause for a moment on this potent Gospel, so utterly relevant to our postmodern, post-Christian age of intensifying persecution. It is a Gospel read four times each year in the TLM (unless impeded by a Sunday): on June 2, for SS. Marcellinus, Peter, and Erasmus; on July 28, for SS. Nazarius, Celsus, Victor, and Innocent; on September 16 for SS. Cornelius, Cyprian, Euphemia, Lucy, and Geminian; and on January 22 for SS. Vincent and Anastasius. In the postconciliar Lectionary, every third year Luke 21:5-19 is read on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C), and part of it (Lk 21:12-19) is read on Wednesday of the 34th week (Years I & II). The reader may draw his own conclusions.

The Beheading of SS. Nazarius & Celsus

The Communion verse for today's feast is also striking, inasmuch as it reminds us that the true holocaust, the “whole burnt offering” that is pleasing to God, is Christ Jesus in His Passion on the Cross, and His saints who have emulated Him in their own passions and their unswerving fidelity to mission.

COMMUNION (Wisdom 3:4–6)

And though in the sight of men they suffered torments, God hath tried them; as gold in the furnace He hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust He hath received them.

This Mass has a spiritedness, a realism, a strength of character in it, massive and fortified as a Romanesque church, tall and straight as a Gothic column, orderly and graceful as a Renaissance façade, well-worn and rugged as a pilgrimage route, with a note of subdued triumph, as of soldiers assured of victory but prepared for suffering. We encounter in the traditional liturgy what Roberto De Mattei calls the “militant conception of Christianity.” We are engaged in battle against our spiritual enemies: the seething world of unbelief, the flesh or disordered concupiscence, the devil and his minions. The old liturgy does not run away from this reality but confronts it head on.

I have until now said but little about the two popes remembered today. From my St. Andrew Daily Missal: "Victor I [pope 189-199], born in Africa . . . fixed the date of Easter for the whole Church according to the rules observed still now. He decided that anyone might baptize in cases of necessity with unblessed water." Recall that Vatican II shockingly raised the possibility of a fixed date for Easter, in the appendix at the end of Sacrosanctum Concilium: "The Sacred Council would not object if the feast of Easter were assigned to a particular Sunday of the Gregorian Calendar, provided that those whom it may concern, especially the brethren who are not in communion with the Apostolic See, give their assent." The advice about baptism has also proved oddly pertinent in the age of the shadowy coronavirus. Innocent I (pope 401-417), for his part, "was a contemporary of St. Augustine and St. Jerome" who fought valiantly against Pelagianism and issued a listing of the books of Scripture later dogmatically endorsed by the Council of Trent.

As the years progress, as the mainstream Church slides further into self-refential effeminacy and comfort-seeking compromises with the world, does it not become ever more apparent that we need to hear—and once again, strive to live—the truth embedded in the great ancient rite of the Church of Rome?

Giovanni Antonio Merli, Saint Nazarius on a horse, 1480. St. Nazarius and Celsus Abbey