Apostolate of St. Paul in Malta is a Tour de Force of Liturgical Arts

Photos by OC-Travel
Earlier this year I was overjoyed to make a "knight's pilgrimage" to Malta, a lifelong dream for a Knight of Malta.  It was a true homecoming.  Needless to say, one of the highlights was the pure joy of visiting the "Latin Mass" apostolate of Malta, known as ASPM (Apostolate of St. Paul Malta).

ASPM is a triumph.  It is a wonderful apostolate under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Malta.  The community assists both locals and those visiting on holiday, under the capable direction of Fr. Nicholas Doublet, a fantastic priest of the Archdiocese of Malta.  I first met Fr. Doublet some years ago while a graduate student in Rome and I have wanted to visit him in Malta for many years.  Fr. Doublet is the best possible priest imaginable.  He is a scholar, historian and author who holds a doctorate from the prestigious Gregoriana University in Rome.  He is multi-lingual and speaks perfect English.  In addition to his duties at St. Paul's he is a canon of the nearby Basilica of St. Helen while maintaining a busy schedule as a university professor. 

The ASPM is headquartered in the charming St. Paul's chapel (Knisja tà San Pawl), dedicated in 1852 to the conversion of St. Paul.  The church was built over the site where legend avers the Apostle Paul during his stay in Malta preached in the first century A.D.  This hidden gem is located on one of Malta's busiest roads,Valley Road in the town of Birkikara, a suburb next to the capital city of Valletta.  Although the exterior is Neo-Classical in design, the interior reveals an oasis of urban beauty and Baroque artistic splendor.  The chapel is a quick ten minute drive from Valletta and just a five minute walk from the nearby Basilica of St. Helen.  It is Malta and so there are churches everywhere.

The community has an impressive website than can be seen HERE.  I myself hope the current foundation planted will one day develop into a personal parish, set up canonically for the exclusive celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

Maltese church art and liturgy have been heavily influenced over the ages by Southern Italy and Sicily.  This can be seen in the church designs and decoration.  Maltese Catholicism is known for street festivals and outdoor processions, hand-made bobbin lace, churches with beautiful crystal chandeliers, and exquisite hanging baldacchinos over main altars.  

One of the immemorial customs that has been preserved in Malta is the draping of the interior walls with red silk damask coverings with golden galloons, for special feast days, showcasing the symbolic acanthus leaf, a popular design element from Greece and Rome. 

Here Mass is celebrated in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  The chapel is effectively the home of the Classical Rite in Malta -- the EF Mass is presently offered nowhere else on the islands.  While some view the EF as something old, as Fr. Doublet points out, it is actually something quite new for many who have never witnessed it and know little or nothing about it.  The EF Mass is an extremely helpful option to offer those particularly young people hungering for something more or new and different.

Not to mention, the historic chapel has truly stunning ceiling paintings by Professor Giuseppe Briffa who carried out these precious works between 1945 and 1968.  The images depict the life of St. Paul, including his adventures on the islands of Malta.  Briffa painted the images in his studio with oil on canvas and then had them attached to the ceiling, a common technique called marouflage.   Local, professional conservators, Atelier del Restauro, were brought in for the long-term preservation and restoration of the ceiling.  For four years they labored, restoring the images to their original glory, thanks to the timely intervention of Fr. Doublet.  For stunning images and the interesting story, see HERE.

It is my sincere hope that tourists and pilgrims alike will visit here and be inspired, benefitting from the rich liturgical and cultural heritage.  In an age of young people searching for the infinite and coming up short in an apparent cosmic emptiness, this new model of apostolate provides an environment that gives the faithful a place of refuge where they can have a dynamic encounter with mystical liturgy, a rare experience of interior transformation and transcendent happiness.

The ASPM mission statement is unique and relevant, making note of current and applicable pastoral needs of the Maltese Diocese:

1. Living the Catholic liturgical and devotional life.
2. Restoration of reverence towards the real presence of our Blessed Lord in the Eucharist.
3. Celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Liturgy (the Traditional Latin Mass).
4. Actively working for and taking part in the New Evangelization.
5. Providing Catholic catechesis and formation to people of all ages.
6. Putting media technologies at the service of the Gospel and Catholic formation.
7. Promoting, upholding, and defending the sanctity of human life and the family.

The Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite displays the full luminous palette of the Roman Liturgy.  Attending Sunday Mass here and the Solemnity of the Epiphany was truly an experience never to be forgotten.  To pray Holy Mass in Latin, the common language of educated Christendom, next to Maltese and Italian Catholics and visitors from other countries (such as Canada, the U.S. and Vietnam), carried with it a sense of great satisfaction and a truly global "Catholic" (universal) experience.  Through my own travels as a tour operator I can say the strongest catalyst for art and symbolism, in my opinion, is the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  The past and future live in the Sacred Liturgy and we benefit from its transcendent supra-temporal and spiritual elements.  Indeed, in the words of Catholic historian Christopher Dawson, "To the Catholic all the successive ages of the Church and all the forms of Christian culture form part of one living whole in which we still participate as a contemporary reality."  This is seen most especially in the Liturgy.  It is worth mentioning the art of Christendom in both its Byzantine and medieval phases was essentially a liturgical art which cannot be understood without some knowledge of the liturgy itself and its historical origin and development.

The historic role of the Catholic Church as the agent of and inspiration for the nation of Malta and the community of nations known as Europe cannot be underestimated.  Indeed,  I have always advocated the study of Christendom as a cultural entity, united by a common Faith, Liturgy, language of worship and common liturgical traditions and moral standards.  Indeed, Malta is the epitome of Christendom, with its name forever forged in the glorious annals of Christian civilization, bringing to mind the best ideals of courage, bravery, strength and fidelity.

While for Christianity the liturgy has always been the center of a rich tradition of religious poetry and music and artistic symbolism, this is especially felt in Malta, a country with an intense Catholic heritage.  I have become convinced the sole antidote to the secularism that originated from the West and spread throughout the world is the Christian Faith and Liturgy.  Let us return to our roots for a renewal of the future. 

Fr. Doublet, vested as a canon of the collegiate chapter of the Basilica of St. Helen in Malta, a chapter of canons established by Pope Urban VIII.  May God bless and reward his efforts for this important apostolate!

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