the daily musings ... of faith and culture, of life and love, of fun and games, of a song and dance man, who is keeping his day job.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Lussinatt: The Vigil of Saint Lucy
Saint Lucy (283–304) received the crown of martyrdom during the Diocletian persecution. She is one of seven women aside from the Virgin Mary who appears in the Roman Canon. Her name is from the Latin word for "light," and she is remembered on the 13th day of December, the night before which was the longest of the year in the unreformed Julian calendar. As a result, various Germanic pagan feasts associated with the passing of darkness into light were appropriated by Christendom, and sanctified by this commemoration.
Saint Lucy is one of the few saints honored in the Lutheran tradition, and the eve of her feast is celebrated in Scandanavia, with a procession of young maids bearing candles, led by a chosen one with a lighted wreath on her head. The carol Santa Lucia, sung by the girls in procession, was an old Neapolitan melody of the same name. The lyrics in Italian are the song of the boatmen of the waterfront district in Naples. The various Nordic languages (Swedish is featured here) sing of the light that overcomes the darkness.
Natten går tunga fjät
Night walks with a heavy step rund gård och stuva;
Round yard and hearth, kring jord, som sol förlät,
As the sun departs from earth, skuggorna ruva.
Shadows are brooding. Då i vårt mörka hus,
There in our dark house, stiger med tända ljus,
Walking with lit candles, Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia!
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia! Då i vårt mörka hus,
There in our dark house, stiger med tända ljus,
Walking with lit candles, Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia!
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!
I am generally not partial to images of the Blessed Mother without her carrying the Christ Child. The absence of Her Son has long struck me as edging toward a sort of Catholic goddess-worship -- Mariolatry, if you will. (NOTE: The aforementioned is a personal opinion, not to be construed as having been rendered with the certainty of the theological virtue of faith. Remain calm.) But I make one exception, and that's the image used to commemorate today's Feast, that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas.
Contrary to what some dime-store theologian disguised as a pastoral associate is telling your children in Catholic school right about now, the customs of the indigenous peoples' in Central and South America were not suppressed by their Catholic conquerors. In fact, the natives were all too happy to have been relieved of being victims of human sacrifices, where their hearts were cut out while they were still alive, so much so as to have participated in what may have been the largest single mass conversion in Christendom.
Furthermore, and on a lighter note, when Juan Diego opened his cloak for the bishop, and the venerable image appeared, the roses hidden in the cloak came falling out. But that's not the whole story of the miracle. Years earlier, seeing that Cortez's successors were not nearly as benevolent as he, the bishop found himself powerless to enact reforms, and appealed to Our Lady for a sign of her intercession, in the form of roses from his Spanish home province of Castile. And so, the bishop recognized the roses as being of a variety only found in … you guessed it, he got the message.
Mind you, this was in the days before overnight delivery.
Music video by The Killers performing ¡Happy Birthday Guadalupe! Copyright 2009 The Island Def Jam Music Group. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)
A few years ago, an American publisher of liturgical aids featured a tribute to this vision, starting out with some drivel about the Spaniards and their suppression of the venerable Aztec folkways.* Several years ago, Father William Saunders gave a fuller account of the real deal in the Arlington Catholic Herald. I don't have the link, or the date of the piece, but I managed to preserve a few extracts:
The Aztec religious practices, which included human sacrifice, play an interesting and integral role in this story. Every major Aztec city had a temple pyramid, about 100 feet high, on top of which was erected an altar. Upon this altar, the Aztec priests offered human sacrifice to their god Huitzilopochtli, called the "Lover of Hearts and Drinker of Blood," by cutting out the beating hearts of their victims, usually adult men but often children. The priests held the beating hearts high for all to see, drank the blood, kicked the lifeless bodies down the pyramid stairs, and later severed the limbs and ate the flesh. Considering that the Aztecs controlled 371 towns and the law required 1,000 human sacrifices for each town with a temple pyramid, over 50,000 human beings were sacrificed each year. Moreover, the early Mexican historian Ixtlilxochitl estimated that one out of every five children fell victim to this bloodthirsty religion.
In 1487, when Juan Diego was just 13 years old, he would have witnessed the most horrible event: Tlacaellel, the 89-year-old Aztec ruler, dedicated the new temple pyramid of the sun, dedicated to the two chief gods of the Aztec pantheon — Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca, (the god of hell and darkness) — in the center of Tenochtitlan (later Mexico City). The temple pyramid was 100 feet high with 114 steps to reach the top. More than 80,000 men were sacrificed over a period of four days and four nights. One can only imagine the flow of blood and the piles of bodies from this dedication ...
Nevertheless, in 1520, Hernan Cortes outlawed human sacrifice ...
When you look at it that way, giving up meat on Fridays doesn't seem so bad. Even so, the aforementioned process only took about fifteen seconds for each victim -- less time than your average abortion. (If you have to think about the connection, I can't help you.)
And then there are those feminist-theology types who try to see a "goddess" image in the Virgin Mary. They're outa luck there too:
These are also symbols of divine victory over the pagan religion. Sun rays were symbolic of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtle. Therefore, our Blessed Mother, standing before the rays, shows that she proclaims the true God who is greater than Huitzilopochtle and who eclipses his power.
She stands also on the moon. The moon represented night and darkness, and was associated with the god Tezcatlipoca. Here again, the Blessed Mother’s standing on the moon indicates divine triumph over evil.
Note also, that in her dominance over false idols, Our Lady stands in a submissive posture, with head bowed and hands folded, as if to render tribute to an even Higher Power.
FOOTNOTE: That commercial opportunists from Spain might have taken undue advantage of a massive cheap labor pool is not in dispute here. Nor is it unique to human history, never mind to Europeans. What it is, is another story for another day ...
Time once again for our usual midday Wednesday feature.
The a cappella quintet sensation Pentatonix (featured here three months ago) is at it again, this time with a number just right for the season. And speaking of numbers, this one has gone totally viral, with nearly seventeen million visits on YouTube as this is written.
Four years ago, I was dreaming of a white Christmas, remember?
Well, this year is going to be different, and for the second year in a row, I know who to blame. Somebody cut a deal with their girls and kept me in the dark, and so the little schemers are going to start the party on the other side of planet Earth without me.
It's about a twenty-three hour flight out of Dulles on Korean Air, which includes a four-hour layover at Seoul Inchon International Airport (direct from DC, no kidding), before catching another flight to Ninoy Aquino Manila International Airport, where our jet-setting gal pal just landed a little while ago. She'll return to the land of the free on the 29th.
Here she is reunited again with her adorable grandson, Luic (the Philippine variant of the Spanish Luis, Louis in English; duh). Last year, Sal simply had to be there for Christmas because he was just born. Now she simply has to be there for Christmas because he just turned one. Look at the little runt. How can I compete with that?
“I read the news today, oh boy ...” (“Being John Malkovich” Edition)
(No kidding, he's sixty years old today. now then ...)
Today we celebrate the return of Cincinnati's own Uncle Jay -- you know, the guy who "explains the news" to the information-overloaded masses yearning to get to the point. Actually, the J-Man returned late last October from a long hiatus involving some nonsense about his day job, and he didn't even bother to tell us. Now, if he can just keep things going for the foreseeable future, we'll keep him here as a regular at the Black Hat Corral. How 'bout it, Jay?
Meanwhile, elsewhere on planet Earth:
• Pastor Mike Butzberger of Lighthouse Baptist Church in North Palm Beach, Florida, wants to make a point about how hypersensitive we all are, just looking for an excuse to be offended by something. And what better time of the year to offend as many of us as possible! [Yahoo! News]
• That's right, kids, there's plenty of offending to go around this holiday season, as a school district in Texas bans the very mention of Christmas, including the use of red and green. Too bad one of those colors is used on the state flag. Who knew? [Fox News]
• Meanwhile, in the enlightened city of Portland, Oregon, a little girl raising money for her dental braces is told by police that she can't sell mistletoe, but she can panhandle. [Political Outcast]
• Speaking of cashing in, a suburban Nashville couple at a McDonalds drive-thru got more than fries with that, whatever that was. [AP]
• It has recently been disclosed that the Russians attempted to land a craft on the moon just hours before the Americans with Apollo 11. Here's why no one lived to tell about it. [Telegraph]
• Finally, the late South African president Nelson Mandela, civil rights activist and (while we're at it) author of one of the most devastating pro-abortion laws in human history, has left an enormous legacy, and everybody wants a piece of it. Can you say, ka-ching??? [Reuters]
And that's all the news that fits. As the week goes on, stay tuned, and stay in touch.
(Next week: Uncle Jay explains HealthCare.gov. Can't wait to see that one!)
It is possible for Christmas carols, not only to be appropriate for the season leading up to the great feast, but to never mention Christmas itself. And no, that does not include "Jingle Bells."
With the Incarnation, we begin the focal point of salvation history, its end being the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, and His ascension into Glory. And while the whole of Christendom follows, what precedes that story is what helps us to prepare. “Angelus ad Virginem” is a 13th century carol of unknown attribution, which tells of the angel appearing to the young virgin Mary. Christians in the West remember the eighth of December as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (known in the East as "The Conception of Saint Anne").
This year, we would ordinarily celebrate the Second Sunday of Advent on both the reformed and traditional calendars. But while the former transfers the feast to the following day (without the obligation to assist at Mass), the latter recognizes this as a feast of the First Class (or before 1955, a Double Feast of the First Class with Octave), and therefore it is the Mass of the Day, while that of the Sunday itself is remembered with a "dual commemoration," an addition of the orations (Collect, Secret, Postcommunion) of the Sunday of Advent.
(Everybody get that? Very well, then, we continue.)
It is easy to forget that, while the Gospel accounts tell of the annunciation, the feast itself honors her conception without the stain of sin, rendering her a worthy vessel, if a human one, for the God made man. There is no confusion here, but indeed, a clarification. It is not only the means to the end, but the end itself, by which we celebrate this feast.
1. Angelus ad virginem
Subintrans in conclave.
Demulcens inquit "Ave."
Ave regina virginum,
Tu porta coeli facta
2. Quomodo conciperem,
quae virum non cognovi?
quae firma mente vovi?
"Spiritus sancti gratia
Perficiet haec omnia;
Manebit in te pura
3. Ad haec virgo nobilis
Respondens inquit ei;
Ancilla sum humilis
Tibi coelesti nuntio,
Tanta secreti conscio,
factum quod audio,
Parata sum parere
4. Angelus disparuit
Vi partus salutaris.
Qui, circumdatus utero
Novem mensium numero,
Crucem, qua dedit ictum
5. Eia Mater Domini,
Quae pacem reddidisti
Angelis et homini,
Cum Christum genuisti;
Tuem exora filium
Ut se nobis propitium
Vita frui beta
Post hoc exsilium.
A translation is available for your convenience, although you may get the idea. But in case you don't, a Middle English version became popular by the 14th century. (The lyrics shown here are of one such version, while the video from the King's College Choir in Cambridge sings yet another. Such is the nature of the evolution of folk songs.)
Gabriel fram Heven-King
Sent to the Maide sweete,
Broute hir blisful tiding
And fair he gan hir greete:
"Heil be thu, ful of grace aright!
For Godes Son, this Heven Light,
For mannes love
Will man bicome
Fles of thee,
Manken free for to make
Of sen and devles might."
Now, didn't that help?
By the 15th century, a livelier tune arose in the British Isles, known as "Nova! Nova! Ave Fit Ex Eva!" ("News! News! 'Ave' has been made from 'Eve'!"). It was not a Latin hymn, but was popularly sung in Middle English, with its dance-like melody giving way to playing of tambourines. Video recordings of the original melody are not easy to find, in favor of more contemporary arrangements. Thankfully, the Schola de Arrezo of Saint Norbert Abbey, in De Pere, Wisconsin, came to the rescue.
Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.
Gabriel of high degree,
He came down from Trinity,
To Nazareth in Galilee.
Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.
I met a maiden in a place,
I kneeled down afore her face
And said, "Hail Mary, full of grace!"
Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.
When the maiden heard tell of this
She was full sore abashed y-wis
And weened that she had done amiss.
Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.
Then said the Angel, "Dread not thou,
For ye be conceived with great virtue,
Whose name shall be called Jesu".
Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.
"It is not yet six weeks agone
Sin Elizabeth conceived John
As it was prophesied beforn."
Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.
Then said the maiden, "Verily,
I am your servant right truly,
Ecce, ancilla Domini!"
Brethren: Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. R. Thanks be to God.
V. O Lord, hear our prayer. R. And let our cry come unto Thee. V. Let us pray ...
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the way of Thine only-begotten Son: that through His coming we mat attain to serve Thee with purified minds. Who liveth and reigneth, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end.
... is the story of a devout Catholic woman, a mother of two children from a marriage now broken after a life of alcohol and abuse. Finding little solace in a local parish reeling from a history of dysfunction and public scandal, our anti-heroine seeks shelter from the storm at a convent where the Latin Mass is celebrated on Sunday. The story begins with a brief flashback, and continues as she moves on with her life, rediscovering the stirrings of the heart.
Little man big man what's inside?
It's all in the places
Where we find our pride.
If there was a soul lost by the road,
Who'd pass by,
Who'd take it home?
(from the song "Little Man Big Man"
music and lyrics by Glen Philips
for the 1997 album "Coil" by Toad the Wet Sprocket)
Catholic magazines don't handle stories like this. Catholic magazines don't handle the issue of divorce any better than many Catholic priests, never mind other Catholic media outlets. These stories are dirty, they are tawdry, wallowing in the seamy underbelly of life, in which many suffer, often through no fault of their own, and out of which many must climb. Stories like these tell us what we don't want to hear, that marriages are not made in heaven, that grace does not always succeed where nature is found wanting. The fighting, the betrayal, the abandonment, the court hearings, the custody battles, the supervised visits, the estrangement from children -- your Catholic cable channel won't admit to such a life out there, one that is all too real for so many, whether they "experience the healing" from the panacea of an annulment or not.
For any Catholic magazine to take this story on is daring. For the same magazine to handle it well is ... epic.
Regina Magazine began this past year as the brainchild of Beverly De Soto, a veteran writer-editor of the New York City financial world, at a time when numerous print periodicals, particularly in Catholic media, have either gone digital, or under. She has gathered other creatives of like mind, so that the beauty of truth, and the truth that is found in beauty, may reach new audiences, and revitalize old ones. There are many reasons for a Catholic woman to subscribe to Regina, and probably more than one reason for a Catholic man to at least give an issue the occasional perusal.
The result is a great Christmas gift, one that would carry the spirit of the season well into the next year.
Today at sundown marks the end of the Jewish Festival of Lights, known as Chanukkah (Hanukkah, or חנוכה), which commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, following the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BC. It is observed for eight nights, as a reminder of the miracle of one night's supply of oil for the lamps lasting for eight, until a fresh supply could be obtained.
Around the turn of this century, our director of communications was a devout Jewish woman, who invited all the staff to her house in the country for a holiday celebration. A highlight of the affair was her presentation with her grandchildren, as she told them of the story of Chanukkah. As the rest of us Gentiles watched, she would lead the children in the Hebrew chant for the occasion: “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Chanukkah...” While others stood around watching in varying degrees of perplexity, I found myself singing with the children ... well, maybe sort of following along.
I turned to my son: "Does this sound familiar, like what you hear in the Divine Liturgy?" He nodded, as I continued. "This is where we get the Byzantine chant, and the Gregorian chant. It came to us from the Jews." He totally got it.
A comedian named Adam Sandler first introduced this holiday classic on NBC's Saturday Night Live. The song gives a list of famous celebrities from various walks of life who are Jewish: “Put on your yarmulke, here comes Hanukkah / It's so much funukkah, to celebrate Hanukkah / Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights / Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights!”
There's more where that came from.
This is an original work by Matisyahu. “Miracle” is produced by Dr Luke protégé Kool Kojak (Flo Rida, Katy Perry, Ke$ha), and is drenched in a joyful spirit, with chiming synths, bouncing beats, and an irresistible chorus. And ice skating.
There are so many Christmas songs out there. I wanted to give the Jewish kids something to be proud of. We've got Adam Sandler's song, which is hilarious, but I wanted to try to get across some of the depth and spirituality inherent in the holiday in a fun, celebratory song. My boy Kojak was in town so at the last minute we went into the studio in the spirit of miracles and underdogs and this is what we came up with. Happy Hannukah!
Matisyahu can be found on Facebook, and followed on Twitter. The song can also be downloaded from iTunes.
Finally, on a serious note, Charlie Harare explains the origins of Chanukkah, and its meaning in daily life from a Jewish point of view, which is only reasonable as this is a Jewish holiday. Yeah, I know, Jews are not Catholics, I got that. But if the New Covenant is the fulfillment of the Old, and if Catholicism is the fulfillment of Judaism, then we cannot rule out the possibility that there is something to be learned here. And a Catholic who watches this video will learn for themselves.
However you slice it, “It's beginning to look a lot like...”
You remember the 1642 painting by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669) commonly known by the title above, but less well known as “The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out,” don't you? Sure you do. Have you ever wanted to see the painting come to life? What devotee of the great masters of Renaissance painting wouldn't?
Here it is for your viewing pleasure, at a shopping mall in the Netherlands, complete with some guy stealing a chicken, guards rappelling down from the ceiling, other guards carrying big sticks not knowing what to do at first, still other guards riding horses in the aforementioned shopping mall, and a soundtrack written one-hundred-and-forty-three years later -- all for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.
When I was very young, some of my classmates would leave their shoes outside the bedroom door on the night of the fifth of December, so that Saint Nicholas would leave them treats.
We never did that at our house, but I did ask Mom how it was that Saint Nicholas got to be called Santa Claus. By this time I had already determined a connection between the two. But while my mother was salutatorian of her high school class -- there were ten students at most, but that's not the point -- she was not one to wear her erudition on her sleeve. So, rather than go into an entymological treatise on the subject, she simply told me: “Say ‘Santa Claus’ three times real fast.” That carried me over for at least a few years.
No good Catholic home is without an answer to the question of whether there is such a thing as Santa Claus. There is, but that is a corruption of his real name, one that developed over the centuries. By the time devotion to Saint Nicholas reached Europe, he was known by different names. In the British Isles, he was known as "Father Christmas." In the Netherlands, he was known as "Sinterklaas," which is how we got the name that people use today. Whatever people call him, the Bishop of Myra in the fourth century is a real person, and he presently dwells in Heaven with the Communion of Saints.
He was no lightweight. He was in attendance at the Council of Nicaea when the Arian heresy was being debated. At one point, he became so enraged with the Bishop Arius (whose errors were supported by the majority of bishops up to that time, remember), that he supposedly punched Arius in the nose. That's right, kids, Jolly Olde Saint Nick cold-cocked a heretic. (Some accounts say that he merely slapped him, but that's so pansy, who'd believe it?) Anyway, many of the bishops there, including the Emperor Constantine, were scandalized by the assault, and given their sympathies, had Nicholas thrown in the dungeon. That night, the Emperor had a dream where Nicholas appeared to him, adorned in his finest liturgical vesture, and holding the Book of the Gospels. Awakened with a fright, the Emperor summoned his guards, who joined him as he raced to the dungeon, to find Nicholas unchained, with ... you guessed it.
The story varies in certain details. Some accounts tell of Our Lord and Our Lady appearing to Nicholas in the dungeon. I heard the above account from an "Old Calendar" Russian Orthodox priest. It is also said that Nicholas, now restored to his rightful place in the council, slept through the rest of the proceedings. I can't say I blame him.
At the little Byzantine Rite parish where my son learned the Faith, as it had been taught to his mother, the Feast of Saint Nicholas is a really big deal. He is the patron of Byzantine Catholics, and his image graces the iconostasis on the far left side as viewed from the assembly. There is a special hymn dedicated to "Father Nicholas" ...
O kto kto, Nikolaja l'ubit,
O kto kto, Nikolaju sluzit.
Tomu svjatyj Nikolaj,
Na vsjakij cas pomahaj.
O who loves Nicholas the Saintly,
O who loves Nicholas the Saintly.
Him will Nicholas receive,
and give help in time of need.
... and the children in the School of Religion program do a pageant in his honor every Sunday closest to the sixth of December. It culminates in the arrival of an elderly man with a long white beard, dressed in the robes of an Eastern bishop, with whom the children meet in much the same manner as they would his commercialized counterpart.
Paul used to get special icon cookies to take home, much like the ones that appear in the photos, emblazoned with the words "O Holy Nicholas" in Slavonic. These unique gingerbread cookies are from a recipe which appears at the stnicholascenter.org website.
I dearly miss that little parish. It has changed over the years. My duties at St John the Beloved have prevented me from attending there, and they have completed a new and larger place of worship next to the original, one that emulates the style common to Eastern Europe. But with every successful building project they have -- the parish hall, the rectory -- the place seems a little less homey, a little larger than life. Still, the spirit of Saint Nicholas reminds them every year, of the things that are passed on, and that remain the same.
“Our entire daily lives cannot be occupied with purely religious practices; all of us have to eat, and most of us have and want to do many other activities besides. So though we cannot always be religious in this sense, we can always be Catholic, that is, the round of our daily activities can be conducted in such a way as to express and be in harmony with our Faith. And [this] can involve more than avoiding sin and exercising virtue.”