Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Advent Meditation: Week II

The second in a series of weekly Advent meditations produced by Bob Carlton in 2006. The music track is "Before This Time Another Year" by Olabelle.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Advent II: Peace

(Romans 15:4)

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.

R. Amen.

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Kathleen Norris, poet, essayist, and Benedictine oblate, reflects on today's Gospel reading. This series of reflections are provided through the courtesy of PrayTellBlog, albeit without permission or shame (not to mention decent audio).

Saturday, December 08, 2018

A “Hail Mary Pass” for Advent

By now, your pastor has already taken all of you to task for being too celebratory during the Advent season, and not delaying your "holiday parties" until right after Christmas, when everybody is the hell out of town. It's time to set him straight, and I'm (the arrogant son of a b**** who is) just right for the job.

It is possible for Christmas carols, not only to be appropriate for the penitential season of Advent, 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").

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.
Virginis formidinum
    Demulcens inquit "Ave."
Ave regina virginum,
Coeliteraeque dominum
Concipies et paries intacta,
    Salutem hominum.
Tu porta coeli facta
    Medella criminum.

2. Quomodo conciperem,
    quae virum non cognovi?
Qualiter infringerem,
    quae firma mente vovi?
"Spiritus sancti gratia
Perficiet haec omnia;
Ne timaes, sed gaudeas, secura,
    quod castimonia
Manebit in te pura
    Dei potentia.'

3. Ad haec virgo nobilis
    Respondens inquit ei;
Ancilla sum humilis
    Omnipotentis Dei.
Tibi coelesti nuntio,
Tanta secreti conscio,
Consentiens et cupiens videre
    factum quod audio,
Parata sum parere
    Dei consilio.

4. Angelus disparuit
    Etstatim puellaris
Uterus intumuit
    Vi partus salutaris.
Qui, circumdatus utero
Novem mensium numero,
Hinc Exiit et iniit conflictum,
    Affigens humero
Crucem, qua dedit ictum
    Hosti mortifero.

5. Eia Mater Domini,
    Quae pacem reddidisti
Angelis et homini,
    Cum Christum genuisti;
Tuem exora filium
Ut se nobis propitium
Exhibeat, et deleat peccata;
    Praestans auxilium
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 / And take / Fles of thee,
Maide bright, / Manken free for to make / Of sen and devles might."

Now, didn't that help?

Nova! Nova! Ave Fit Ex Eva!

By the 14th century, a livelier tune arose in the British Isles, known as "Nova! Nova! Ave Fit Ex Eva!" This 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 Lumina Vocal Ensemble managed a live performance in 2011.

Nova, nova. Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

Gabriel of high degree,
He came down from Trinity,
To Nazareth in Galilee.

Nova, nova …

I met a maiden in a place,
I kneeled down afore her face
And said, "Hail Mary, full of grace!"

Nova, nova …

When the maiden heard tell of this
She was full sore abashed y-wis
And weened that she had done amiss.

Nova, nova …

Then said the Angel, "Dread not thou,
For ye be conceived with great virtue,
Whose name shall be called Jesu".

Nova, nova …

"It is not yet six weeks agone
Since Elizabeth conceived John
As it was prophesied beforn."

Nova, nova …

Then said the maiden, "Verily,
I am your servant right truly,
Ecce, ancilla Domini!"

Nova, nova …

Its theology is explained thus:

the Virgin Mary is sometimes called the "new Eve". "Eve" in Latin is "Eva". The first word that the Angel Gabriel spoke to Mary at the Annunciation was "Ave", which is Eve backwards. This is just a coincidence of course, but many Medieval songs used this to illustrate how Mary "undid" what Eve had done. One song has this refrain:

Nova! Nova! Ave fit ex Eva! (News! News! “Ave” has been made from “Eve”!).

Thus, the obedience of Mary cured the disobedience of Eve.

And so, without any premature remembrance of the coming of the Savior, and albeit a time of penitence, our celebration of expectation continues.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Father Nicholas: The REAL Santa Claus

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 about fifteen students at most, but hey, 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 we are accustomed to the 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." By the 19th century, periodicals such as Harper's Bazaar and promoters of a fountain beverage known as Coca-Cola had not only transformed the name, but the bright red costume with the white-fur trim, both of which we know today.

Whatever people call him, or however they depict him, the Bishop of Myra in the fourth century is a real person, and he presently dwells in Heaven with the Communion of Saints. Our Mother the Church celebrates his feast on the sixth of December, in both the East and the West.

VIDEO: A variation on a theme.

Nicholas 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 particular cause for celebration. 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 him ...

O kto kto, Nikolaja l'ubit,
O kto kto, Nikolaju sluzit.
    Tomu svjatyj Nikolaj,
    Na vsjakij cas pomahaj.
    Nikolaj, Nikolaj!

O who loves Nicholas the Saintly,
O who loves Nicholas the Saintly.
    Him will Nicholas receive,
    and give help in time of need.
    Nicholas, Nicholas!

... 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 (and most inauthentic) 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 website.

I dearly miss that little parish. It has changed over more than three decades. Several years ago, they 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.

Now, enough of this self-indulgent soul-searching. Let's go bake some cookies already!

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Advent Meditation: Week I

The first in a series of weekly Advent meditations produced by Bob Carlton in 2006. The music track is "Quiet" by Paul Simon.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Keeping the “Ch” in “Chanukkah” 2018

Today at sundown marks the beginning of the Jewish Festival of Lights, known as Chanukkah (also rendered as Hanukkah, and as 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, the director of communications at my agency 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." His eyes lit up, as he said "Ahhhh ..." as if to indicate how 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. (A totally awesome a cappella rendition can be found here.)

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.

On a more 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. This begs the question ...

What is there for a Catholic in this message, and why does yours truly share it every year at this time?

As a Catholic, one believes that while the Jewish people were chosen by God under the Old Covenant, that from among their number would come as the Messiah, “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.” (John 1:11) From this, a subset of traditionalist Catholics claim that Judaism is a "false religion." They will cite the distinction between the Hebraic Judaism of the Old Testament, and the Talmudic Judaism introduced after the destruction of the Temple, accompanied by the loss of their priesthood and the practice of offering sacrifice. Some will even maintain that those who claim to be Jewish are not descendants of the original Jews up to the time of Christ.

If that were not enough, one such individual claims that Chanukkah is a hoax, a fabricated story, when in fact the account of the Maccabean Revolt is found in the First and Second Books of Maccabees. The Jews do not include these books in the Tanakh, or Jewish bible, nor are they found among the books of the Protestant Old Testament, but they are considered to be of divine inspiration by both Catholic and Orthodox Christians. One might even say, by extension, that it was the Catholic Church that saved Chanukkah for the Jews.

In fact, someone actually did.

Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost. In a further twist, Jews in the Middle Ages encountered the story of the martyred mother and her seven sons anew in Christian literature and once again placed it in the time of the Maccabees.

It gets better.

As John tells us (John 10:22-23), “It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.” As we’ve seen, before Hanukkah became known as the Festival of Lights, it was known as the Feast of Dedication (1 Macc. 4:59). So there would be no question that this is the holiday being celebrated, even if John hadn’t added the clue that it was winter. And indeed, the NIV and other Protestant Bible translations acknowledge as much.

So not only is there is a case for the authenticity of the story, but more important, for the manner in which it is commemorated.

As Judaism is a sign of the Old Covenant, and Christ brought it to fulfillment in the New Covenant, to be a Catholic is to be, in effect, a fulfilled Jew. We therefore cannot rule out the possibility of something to be learned here. Judaism is not a false religion; it is an unfulfilled religion. It was -- indeed, it IS -- fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. As for the distinction between Hebraic and Talmudic Judaism, this only reinforces that point, as by rejecting the True Messiah, the proverbial vacuum that nature would abhor was filled by something else.

If you as a Catholic don't get that after watching this video, I can't explain it to you.

Advent I: Hope

(Romans 13:11)

Brethren: you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 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 Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come: that from the threatening dangers of our sins we may deserve to be rescued by Thy protection, and to be saved by Thy deliverance. Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end.

R. Amen.

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Benedictine Father Lew Grobe, OSB is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey. Reflections on the Gospel readings for Advent are provided through the courtesy of PrayTellBlog, albeit without permission or shame.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Ghosts of Christmases Past

IMAGE: Glade jul by Viggo Johansen (1891).

Christmas trees are as American as cherry pie, and as German as sauerbraten.

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We always had a tree in our house growing up in Ohio, except for 1968, when the ornaments were suspended by red ribbons from the top edge of the front window, and our presents were found in a big cardboard box that morning.

We can only speculate as to why.

In those days, the end of the year was a busy time for Dad at Procter and Gamble, with all the yeoman's work he was doing for the big year-end meeting. And in the few years before his MS was diagnosed, the stress of working for a living was taking quite a toll on him. When these things happen in our lives, something has to give. And maybe this time it did, just this once. But we'll never know for sure.

PHOTO: Paul Alexander at the annual Saint Nicholas Day Pageant, Epiphany of our Lord Byzantine Catholic Church, December 1989.

I lived in the house where I grew up until moving to the DC area thirty-eight years ago this month. With very little furniture (or much of anything) in an efficiency apartment, I might have gone that first year without a tree.

PHOTO: Paul Alexander pays his respects to "Father Nicholas," Epiphany of our Lord Byzantine Catholic Church, December 1989.

I married a Byzantine Rite Catholic in 1982, and our remembrance of the Birth of Our Savior, as Pope John Paul II would have said, breathed with both lungs. We began the celebration on the sixth of December, the Feast of Saint Nicholas, an important one for Eastern Catholics. In keeping with eastern European custom, our tree was not put up until Christmas Eve, when the decorating began as the sun was setting, and the meatless "Holy Supper" was about to begin. We would end the celebration exactly one month later, on the sixth of January, the Epiphany, or "Little Christmas."

When our once-ostensibly-happy home fell apart in 1990, I moved to Georgetown. It was the end of the world as I knew it, but my basement studio had a two-foot-tall artificial tree, suitably decorated, as if to suggest that hope would breed eternal.

PHOTO: 3114 N Street, Northwest, Georgetown, DC, where the author lived in the early 1990s.

In 1994, I left Georgetown for the Virginia suburbs. Moving to the suburbs at all was my first mistake. My second mistake was moving into a group house with three other guys, while approaching the age of forty, and having a son visit every other weekend. They were all okay, except maybe for an unscrupulous landlord whom we later sued to get our security deposits back. I'm still waiting for it. (Patrick Nelson, I know where you live.) But while I was there, I offered to decorate the tree. One of the housemates, besides being an underdeveloped alpha male who ridiculed my listening to Gregorian chant recordings, was crestfallen to learn that I decorated the oversized houseplant rather than obtaining a more conventional evergreen.

It looked pretty sharp, actually.

PHOTO: Home altar of Chez Alexandre without the Christmas tree, Arlington, Virginia.

In the eleven years that I had the good sense to move back into town, within walking distance of everything, and without roommates while in my forties, my basement studio -- that's right, I spent a total of sixteen years living in people's basements -- always had a Christmas tree, if only the usual two-foot-artificial variety. When I finally bought my own townhouse (again) in 2005, the practice would continue, although some years I was sent a real one.

PHOTO: Christmas tree replacing the home altar of Chez Alexandre, from 2005 to 2016, Arlington, Virginia.

Over time, Chez Alexandre was graced with more lights, and was introduced to a cross between a Chinese lantern and Mexican piñata, direct from the Philippines, known as a "parol." And the sixth-to-sixth schedule was expanded to begin with the First Sunday of Advent, beginning with the tree itself, followed by the full monty of decorating just nine days before the feast, and still ending with what was now called "Tres Reyes." For the longest time, the mini-tree itself would replace the home altar in the living room.

In the mid-1980s, I was invited to a Christmas reception at the Vatican Embassy. They had a number of magnificently decorated trees, one of them graced only with miniature Nativity scenes. For many years, I have building a collection of little creche decorations of my own. Then last year, I got a taller tree; still artificial, but at least five feet tall, already pre-lit, and proudly occupying the landing of the stairs. It is only now that I can display the full array of Nativity ornaments, inspired by or originating from all over the world, from South America to Southeast Asia, and places all around and in between. I make a few exceptions to the rule for sentimental reasons. The guitar is one indicator.

VIDEO: The present Christmas tree of Chez Alexandre, Arlington, Virginia, since 2017. The ancient German carol "O Tannenbaum" performed by the United States Army Band Chorus.

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As the tree follows us through the years, it tells the story of ourselves, and of our lives. Its evergreen branches are a sign of hope when all is cold and dark, with the promise of the Light that is to come.

But still, it all comes down on the sixth of January.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Making Assumptions

Today, the Churches of the West celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (while in the East, it is referred to as her "Dormition," or falling asleep). It is a Holyday of Obligation for Catholics of all rites of the Church. It remembers when the Mother of God, the Theotokos, was raised body and soul into Heaven. "Our tainted nature's solitary boast" paved the way for us, that we may one day do likewise in the resurrection on the Last Day. This dogma of the Church was defined and proclaimed infallibly (that is, without error and bound in heaven as on earth, yeah, that's how it works) by His Holiness Pope Pius XII in 1950.*

As readers of this venue are aware (and you both know who you are), I prefer the traditional form of the Roman Mass (the Old Mass, or Tridentine Mass, or Traditional Latin Mass, the juridical understatement rendered as the "Extraordinary Form," or whatever somebody out there wants to call it). I presently sing in the schola cantorum of Saint Rita's Church in Alexandria, Virginia, but tonight was a Low Mass; no singing except for the impromptu opening and closing with the only two Marian hymns the priest knows.

I went anyway. What could go wrong?

I entered the church to discover that Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament was in progress and nearing an end before the Mass would begin. The vicar was celebrant for the evening, but alas, there was no entourage of altar servers to assist him, and he was alone. I thought something might be amiss. Fortunately, "Have Cassock And Surplice Will Travel" and I ducked out quickly when it was over, to fetch my vestments waiting in the back seat of my car. Any door I would have entered to the inner sanctum was locked, so I knocked, and the good Father answered, to find me rather glibly asking: "Hey, Father, you look like you could use a hand." He gladly obliged. "Yeah, sure, suit up."

Unlike the reformed liturgy, where as often as not an altar server is viewed as a nuisance unless it's a sung Mass, the older form of Mass with a congregation requires a vested clerk (either an ordained major or minor cleric, or a layman acting in his stead), if only to assist the priest with preparing the Gifts, ringing the bell, and reciting the responses on behalf of the faithful (in the event that the latter are channelling their ancestors from the Penal Days and dare not utter a peep).

Contrary to popular belief, the Low Mass actually requires only one acolyte, being all the priest is entitled to have, with a second acolyte allowed by privilege (albeit one universally indulged).

And so it goes; indeed, so it went ...

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I was blessed for this opportunity. Every boy who has ever knelt before the altar of God, and who subsequently comes of age, should have at least one chance to serve alone, all the more to appreciate the sublime beauty and noble simplicity of being one with the "alter Christus" in ascending the sacred mountain of which the Psalmist wrote.

V: Emítte lucem tuam, et veritátem tuam: ipsa me deduxérunt, et aduxérunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernácula tua.

R: Send forth Thy light and Thy truth: they have led me and brought me unto Thy holy hill, and into Thy tabernacles.

V: Et introíbo ad altáre Dei: ad Deum qui lætíficat juventútem meam.

R: And I will go in unto the Altar of God: unto God, Who giveth joy to my youth.

Psalm 42(43): 3-4

It is an action that is in union with all those present in the assembly, with the whole Church around the world, indeed, with the Angels and Saints in Heaven. And yet, in the context of the simplest of the Missa Recta, it is an intimate moment between the priest and the one who serves him.

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IMAGE: The Saint Andrew Boys' Choir, Milford, Ohio, December 1966. Yours truly is third from the right.

I can remember in the fifth grade learning the Latin that we were supposed to know. The postconciliar changes had already begun in 1965, but training for altar servers was still as much "old school" as it had ever been. Sister Shiela Marie had us repeat after her, the responses to the priest as she had written them on the board. In my parish, serving the Mass began in the sixth grade, while the fifth graders were confined to Rosary and Benediction every Friday night. Father Steinbicker called out the Mysteries of the Rosary. The servers led the Paters and the Aves, as if our training for the priesthood had already begun.

The old high altar was still holding out against the tide that year, only to be removed the following year, but our training remained the same. Two of us would stumble into the servers' sacristy early on a weekday morning, flip a coin or otherwise decide who got "the bell" (the first acolyte's position on the Epistle side) or "the book" (the second acolyte's position on the Gospel side). The more experienced server usually got the former, unless the coin toss prevailed.

Some of the boys got out of school to do Requiem Masses (funerals) during the week. Some were even picked to do Nuptial Masses (weddings) over the weekend. They usually received gratuities; yeah, they were paid! I was apparently not one of the chosen inner circle, having failed to impress the Sisters of "Charity," even though I was already reading Latin by the third grade. Then in the eighth grade, a few of the neighborhood girls decided to make me lose my composure while in the Communion line. My father upbraided me for this lack of manhood (I was thirteen), and the shame and dishonor I brought upon his noble house.

I stopped serving Mass, lacking the opportunity to earn gratuities, not to mention the aggravation of keeping the old man suitably impressed. I didn't get anywhere near it for fifteen years.

In the more recent fifteen years, the boy who wasn't good enough for weddings and funerals has been a Master of Ceremonies for Traditional Solemn High Masses, has trained dozens of servers, apprenticing emcees, and seminarians, and in the "Ordinary Form," has been a Master of Ceremonies for several bishops, two of them being members of the Sacred College of Cardinals, one of the two having been widely considered "papabile" (Italian more or less for "could be the next pope maybe") in the most recent conclave. Yeah, I wrote about that one already.

Isn't it awesome how the universe eventually achieves its balance in the form of poetic justice?

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Many have seen the famous photo at right, of a Missa Solemnis (Solemn Mass), celebrated in the shell-shocked remains of the Cologne Cathedral in the aftermath of the Second World War. My father served Mass there in 1953. During the 1940s, he had studied for the priesthood through four years of preparatory school and the first three years of college. Even in the years after he left, he maintained ties to his longtime home away from home. One of this former colleagues was in Germany while Dad was a payroll officer for his Air Force squadron during the Occupation. They made arrangements to meet there, and it was in that sacred if desolated place that the good Father could be found, early on a Sunday morning, offering Mass at a side altar, with Dad offering assistance.

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I agreed to put everything away when the Mass was over. By the time I left, practically everyone was gone. There, in the near darkness of the pews, was the good Father, breaking character and his evening of prayer just long enough to smile and wave. I don't get to serve Mass as often as I used to, but even when I was doing it every Sunday, whether as the MC for a High Mass or as a surrogate minor cleric "in choro" for a Pontifical Mass at a great Basilica, I never get tired of it.

Saint Augustine once wrote that a priest ceases to age during the moments of Consecration. One might reasonably conclude that he continues to age thereafter, but if the doctrine of "transubstantiation" is what Catholics are bound to believe, one cannot help but imagine being close to the portal connecting this world with a dimension beyond time and space.

Maybe that would explain accounts of Albert Einstein's fascination with such a belief, don't you think?

Or don't you?

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* In light of this proclamation, new Propers for the Mass (chants for the Entrance, between the Readings, the Offertory, and Communion), as well as new orations (the Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion prayers), were composed to reflect this raising of teaching to formal dogma, and as such, was ostensibly within the nefarious influence of Annibale Bugnini, who by then was already enjoying a running start to becoming the architect of the post-conciliar liturgical iconoclasm. Thus the Grand Conspiracy is worse than originally imagined by throes of über-traditionalist whipper-snappers squirming in their pews holding their precious 1948 edition hand missals, longing for a bygone era of which they know next to nothing.