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

Reading
(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.

Oration

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 stnicholascenter.org 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.
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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

Reading
(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.

Oration

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.
 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Is Nothing (or Anything) Sacred?

June is the month that is most closely associated with weddings. Don't ask me why. But while we're on the subject, let's talk about the possibility of secular music at sacred occasions.

In particular, let's set our sights on one particular piece of music, the favorite or whipping boy of choice when Catholic weddings are planned, “The Wedding Song” originally composed by Noel Paul Stookey (the party of the second part in Peter, Paul, and Mary). A growing number of parishes and dioceses are forbidding its use, because it is a popular music selection, which is to say, secular music, making it inappropriate for sacred use.

So, if you never heard it on the radio or anywhere else, but you heard it at your friend’s wedding, you’d say: “Duuude, that’s not sacred music, that’s a pop song!”

Or would you?

You see, I don’t think people take that position with this song because their disapproval has any merit. I think they take that position because most guitarists suck at it. They don’t play it even close to the way Stookey composed it. As you can hear in the first video, his own performance at a 1986 concert, you probably don’t hear it sound like that anywhere else.

And there’s a reason.

Behind The Music

But first, some background on the song, from the “Shout Music Factory” YouTube channel.

”Wedding Song (There Is Love)" is a song written by Noel Paul Stookey in the fall of 1969 and first performed at the wedding of Peter Yarrow - Stookey's co-member of Peter, Paul and Mary - to Mary Beth McCarthy at St Mary's Catholic Church in Willmar MN: Stookey was best man at the ceremony which took place in the evening of October 18, 1969.

Stookey had written the song on a midnight flight between PP&M concert dates in San Jose and Boston setting out to write a song for Yarrow's wedding which would convey Stookey's Christian convictions while respecting Yarrow's Jewish faith.

According to Stookey, "the melody and the words [of 'Wedding Song'] arrived simultaneously and in response to a direct prayer asking God how the divine could be present at Peter's wedding." (The first two lines of the song's second verse: "A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home/ And they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one", is largely a paraphrase of the text of Genesis 2:24: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.") Believing he could not take personal credit for composing "The Wedding Song", Stookey set up the Public Domain Foundation which since 1971 has received the song's songwriting royalties for charitable distribution.

So, everybody can relax, no one is making a living off this little ditty, are they? Try claiming that about the stable of artists at Oregon Catholic Press, which for nearly half a century has succeeded in dumbing down the music programs for more than half the parishes in the United States. (There’s a secret to how they do it, and my Very Close Personal Friend Jeffrey Tucker explains it all for you.)

The song doesn't celebrate those who hear it, and not really the bridal couple. Whatever one thinks of it, the song celebrates how God is love, with the scriptural references to bring the point home.

Behind The Details

I was certain that Stookey played it in an alternate tuning (that is, a tuning other than E A D G B E, from sixth to first strings), which was the only explanation for its very modal quality. I was surprised to learn that, other than tuning the guitar down three half-steps (Db F# B E G# Db), or four half-steps (C F Bb Eb G C), depending on who you ask, standard tuning and chording is applied. It’s how he takes it from there (as seen in the second video by some anonymous guy who actually doesn't suck at it) that sets it apart from all the wannabes. There are plenty of websites that have the tablature to show how it’s really done, so you have no excuse to play it badly.

To put it another way, you have no excuse to suck at it.

It also doesn't hurt that Stookey uses a twelve-string guitar, both in the original recording and in the live stage example shown here. We all know at least one guy who plays only a twelve-string for the sole purpose of sounding more obnoxious than the next guy in a jam session (or at the parish "folk Mass"), but they really do serve a specific purpose in adding an additional texture, especially with picking or fingerpicking styles (as opposed to the average flattop flogger who should either invest in a six-string, or just stay home).

Roma Locuta, Causa Finita

Let's put the hit parade aside for a moment. What does the Church say about sacred music? Quite a bit, actually. In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1963, says that music for sacred worship must serve "the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful." (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 112) Further, the 1967 instruction on sacred music in the liturgy, Musicam Sacram, states that it must "be holy, and therefore avoid everything that is secular," and further, that such criterion must be "universal" in its understanding. In other words, it must not be subject to the passing whims of popular culture and fashion.

Most important, inasmuch as lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing, in other words, as we pray, so we believe), the words of the composition must be doctrinally sound. It must serve, and not offend, the Truths of the Faith and the glorification of God.

However ...

Having said this, we could subject many of the English-language hymns of the late 19th and early 20th century to the same scrutiny as luminaries of the 1960s "folk scare." One saccharine example is "Mother At Your Feet Is Kneeling," its composer identified only as "Sister SC," and composed as early as 1929 or as recent as 1952, depending on whom you ask. It was recorded for the popular charts by such crooners as Dennis Day and Bobby Wayne, and can be found in a number of preconciliar (and ostensibly traditional) hymnals.

What is it about sugary sentimentality that was acceptable before the 1960s, that suddenly becomes anathema after the 1960s? If the Psalmist wrote of praising the Lord "with trumpet sound ... with lute and harp ... with timbrel and dance ... with strings and pipe ... with sounding cymbals" (that's Psalm 150; read it and weep, suckas!), is it conceivable that He can be praised with the guitar, the stated preference by the Church for the organ in Sacrosanctum Concilium (120) notwithstanding?

So, Now What?

We may still insist that secular music has no place in a sacred setting. But if a band of monks can hit the Top 40 with an album of Gregorian chant, there’s always that chance of it cutting both ways. There's also that chance that walking the fine line between sacred and profane didn't start with Ray Repp and a bunch of singing nuns. Music is sacred on the basis on its own merits and objective characteristics, not some arbitrary classification of who did it first or how, or in which section at Barnes & Noble you find the recording.

If we want to get people to start making sense in choosing sacred music, it helps to know that to which we are both referring, as well as not referring, don’t you think?

Or don’t you?

(NOTA BENE: The above is proposed by this writer as a gedankenerfahrung, a "thought experiment," and does not take away from his dedication to the restoration of the sacred in Catholic worship, and his active promotion of Gregorian chant, the treasury of sacred polyphony, and the Traditional Latin Mass.)
 

Friday, June 08, 2018

In corde Jesu

.Today, Catholics of the Western tradition celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

Outside of devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, there is none more popular or more identified with the traditional piety of Catholic life than this feast, occurring on Friday of the week following the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was on that earlier feast when a Novena to the Sacred Heart would begin, culminating in the Mass and Office of today.

“Christ’s open side and the mystery of blood and water were meditated upon, and the Church was beheld issuing from the side of Jesus, as Eve came forth from the side of Adam. It is in the eleventh and twelfth centuries that we find the first unmistakable indications of devotion to the Sacred Heart. Through the wound in the side, the wounded Heart was gradually reached, and the wound in the Heart symbolized the wound of love.” (1917 Catholic Encyclopedia)

There were various monastic communities who took up the devotion, but the real tip of the biretta has always gone to St Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90), a Visitation nun who had a vision. While praying before the Blessed Sacrament, she saw Our Lord with his heart beating openly, and the sight of it all sent her into a spell of ecstasy. “He disclosed to me the marvels of his Love and the inexplicable secrets of his Sacred Heart.” To say the least.

But perhaps the finest explanation of this vision can be found in an episode of The X-Files, a detective series that ran on The Fox Network for nine years, and to this day has a formidable cult following. It is from the series' sixth season and is entitled "Milagro" (6X18), originally airing on April 18, 1999. It seems there were people being murdered by their hearts being removed by hand. FBI Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) visited a Catholic church, and coming across the image of the Sacred Heart, she runs into this unsavory fellow who explains the story behind the image to her. A piece of the dialogue, from the mysterious writer named Philip Padgett (John Hawkes), describes a vision:

I often come here to look at this painting. It’s called “My Divine Heart” after the miracle of Saint Margaret Mary. Do you know the story ... The revelation of the Sacred Heart? Christ came to Margaret Mary, his heart so inflamed with love that it was no longer able to contain its burning flames of charity. Margaret Mary ... so filled with divine love herself, asked the Lord to take her heart ... and so he did, placing it alongside his until it burned with the flames of his passion. Then he restored it to Margaret Mary, sealing her wound with the touch of his blessed hand.

His account portrays an almost sensuous quality to the Saint's reaction to this vision, in a way that one might rarely hear or read anywhere else. It is a sign that perhaps the influence of Christendom has not entirely faded from the popular culture, not to mention images created in tattoo parlors.

A common practice in many Catholic homes until the mid-20th century (including mine), was the "Enthronement of the Sacred Heart," in which the family placed the appropriate image of Christ on the wall, and together recited the necessary prayers, pledging the consecration of the family and the home to Him, in return for special graces. Fisheaters has a good explanation of the whole kit and caboodle, just in case it makes a comeback.


It could happen.
 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Novena: Pentecost

Da virtutis meritum,
da salutis exitum,
da perenne gaudium.
Amen. Alleluia.


Give them virtue's sure reward;
give them thy salvation, Lord;
give them joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.


Prayer

Come, O Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful, And enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.

V: Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created,

R: And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Oh God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Ghost, grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise and to ever rejoice in His consolations, through Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Amen.

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which have appeared in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To view this entire series, click here.)
 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Novena Day 9: The Fruits of the Holy Ghost

Da tuis fidelibus
in te confidentibus
sacrum septenarium.


On the faithful, who adore
and confess thee, evermore
in thy sevenfold gift descend.


Meditation

The gifts of the Holy Ghost perfect the supernatural virtues by enabling us to practice them with greater docility to divine inspiration. As we grow in the knowledge and love of God under the direction of the Holy Ghost, our service becomes more sincere and generous, the practice of virtue more perfect. Such acts of virtue leave the heart filled with joy and consolation and are known as Fruits of the Holy Ghost. These fruits in turn render the practice of virtue more attractive and become a powerful incentive for still greater efforts in the service of God, to serve Whom is to reign.

Prayer

Come, O Divine Spirit, fill my heart with Thy heavenly fruits, Thy charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, faith, mildness, and temperance, that I may never weary in the service of God, but by continued faithful submission to Thy inspiration, may merit to be united eternally with Thee in the love of the Father and the Son. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which have appeared in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)
 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Novena Day 8: The Gift of Wisdom

Flecte quod est rigidum,
fove quod est frigidum,
rege quod est devium.


Bend the stubborn heart and will;
melt the frozen, warm the chill;
guide the steps that go astray.


Meditation

Embodying all the other gifts, as charity embraces all other virtues, Wisdom is the most perfect of the gifts. Of wisdom it is written “all good things came to me with her, and innumerable riches through her hands.” It is the gift of Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects charity, and promotes the practice of virtue in the highest degree. Wisdom enlightens the mind to discern and relish things divine, in the appreciation of which earthly joys lose their savor, whilst the Cross of Christ yields a divine sweetness according to the words of the Savior: “Take up thy cross and follow Me, for My yoke is sweet, and My burden light.”

Prayer

Come, O Spirit of Wisdom, and reveal to my soul the mysteries of heavenly things, their exceeding greatness, power and beauty. Teach me to love them above and beyond all passing joys and satisfactions of the earth. Help me to attain them and possess them for ever. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)
 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Novena Day 7: The Gift of Counsel

Lava quod est sordidum,
riga quod est aridum,
sana quod est saucium.


Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
on our dryness pour thy dew;
wash the stains of guilt away.


Meditation

The gift of Counsel endows the soul with supernatural prudence, enabling it to judge promptly and rightly what must be done, especially in difficult circumstances. Counsel applies the principles furnished by Knowledge and Understanding to the innumerable concrete cases that confront us in the course of our daily duty as parents, teachers, public servants and Christian citizens. Counsel is supernatural common sense, a priceless treasure in the quest of salvation. “Above all these things, pray to the Most High, that He may direct thy way in truth.”

Prayer

Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide me in all my ways, that I may always do Thy holy will. Incline my heart to that which is good; turn it away from all that is evil, and direct me by the straight path of Thy commandments to that goal of eternal life for which I long. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)
 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Novena Day 6: The Gift of Understanding

Sine tuo numine
nihil est in homine,
nihil est innoxium.


Where thou art not, man hath naught,
nothing good in deed or thought,
nothing free from taint of ill.


Meditation

Understanding, as a gift of the Holy Ghost, helps us to grasp the meaning of the truths of our holy religion. By faith we know them, but by Understanding we learn to appreciate and relish them. It enables us to penetrate the inner meaning of revealed truths and through them to be quickened to newness of life. Our faith ceases to be sterile and inactive, but inspires a mode of life that bears eloquent testimony to the faith that is in us; we begin to “walk worthy of God in all things pleasing, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

Prayer

Come, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten our minds, that we may know and believe all the mysteries of salvation; and may merit at last to see the eternal light in Thy light; and in the light of glory to have a clear vision of Thee and the Father and the Son. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)
 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Novena Day 5: The Gift of Knowledge

O lux beatissima,
reple cordis intima
tuorum fidelium.


O most blessed Light divine,
shine within these hearts of thine,
and our inmost being fill!


Meditation

The gift of Knowledge enables the soul to evaluate created things at their true worth -- in relation to God. Knowledge unmasks the pretense of creatures, reveals their emptiness, and points out their only true purpose as instruments in the service of God. It shows us the loving care of God even in adversity, and directs us to glorify Him in every circumstance of life. Guided by its light, we put first things first, and prize the friendship of God beyond all else. “Knowledge is a fountain of life to him that possesseth it.”

Prayer

Come, O Blessed Spirit of Knowledge, and grant that I may perceive the will of the Father; show me the nothingness of earthly things, that I may realize their vanity and use them only for Thy glory and my own salvation, looking ever beyond them to Thee, and Thy eternal rewards. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)
 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Novena Day 4: The Gift of Fortitude

In labore requies,
in aestu temperies,
in fletu solacium.


In our labor, rest most sweet;
grateful coolness in the heat;
solace in the midst of woe.


Meditation

By the gift of Fortitude, the soul is strengthened against natural fear, and supported to the end in the performance of duty. Fortitude imparts to the will an impulse and energy which move it to undertake without hesitancy the most arduous tasks, to face dangers, to trample under foot human respect, and to endure without complaint the slow martyrdom of even lifelong tribulation. “He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.”

Prayer

Come, O Blessed Spirit of Fortitude, uphold my soul in times of trouble and adversity, sustain my efforts after holiness, strengthen my weakness, give me courage against all the assaults of my enemies, that I may never be overcome and separated from Thee, my God and greatest Good. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)
 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Novena Day 3: The Gift of Piety

Consolator optime,
dulcis hospes animae,
dulce refrigerium.


Thou, of comforters the best;
thou, the soul's most welcome guest;
sweet refreshment here below.


Meditation

The gift of Piety begets in our hearts a filial affection for God as our most loving Father. It inspires us to love and respect for His sake persons and things consecrated to Him, as well as those who are vested with His authority, His Blessed Mother and the Saints, the Church and its visible Head, our parents and superiors, our country and its rulers. He who is filled with the gift of Piety finds the practice of his religion, not a burdensome duty, but a delightful service. Where there is love, there is no labor.

Prayer

Come, O Blessed Spirit of Piety, possess my heart. Enkindle therein such a love for God, that I may find satisfaction only in His service, and for His sake lovingly submit to all legitimate authority. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)
 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Novena Day 2: The Gift of Fear

Veni pater pauperum,
veni dator munerum,
veni lumen cordium.


Come, thou Father of the poor!
Come, thou Source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine!


Meditation

The gift of Fear fills us with a sovereign respect for God, and makes us dread nothing so much as to offend Him by Sin. It is a fear that arises, not from the thought of hell, but from sentiments of reverence and filial submission to our heavenly Father. It is the fear that is the beginning of wisdom, detaching us from worldly pleasures that could in any way separate us from God. “They that fear the Lord will prepare their hearts, and in His sight will sanctify their souls.”

Prayer

Come, O blessed Spirit of Holy Fear, penetrate my inmost heart, that I may set Thee, my Lord and God, before my face forever; help me to shun all things that can offend Thee, and make me worthy to appear before the pure eyes of Thy Divine Majesty in heaven, where Thou livest and reignest in the unity of the ever Blessed Trinity, God world without end. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)
 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Novena Day 1: The Holy Ghost

Veni Sancte Spiritus
et emitte caelitus
lucis tuae radium.


Come, thou Holy Spirit, come,
and from thy celestial home
shed a ray of light divine!


Meditation

Only one thing is important -- eternal salvation. Only one thing, therefore, is to be feared -- sin. Sin is the result of ignorance, weakness, and indifference. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Light, of Strength, and of Love. With His sevenfold gifts, He enlightens the mind, strengthens the will, and inflames the heart with love of God. To ensure our salvation, we ought to invoke the Divine Spirit daily, for “The Spirit helpeth our infirmity. We know not what we should pray for as we ought. But the Spirit Himself asketh for us.”

Prayer

Almighty and eternal God, Who hast vouchsafed to regenerate us by water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given us forgiveness of all our sins, vouchsafe to send forth from heaven upon us Thy sevenfold Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and Fortitude, the Spirit of Knowledge and Piety, and fill us with the Spirit of Holy Fear. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

As a final note for today, we here at man with black hat just found this precious little gem. In this 1999 recording on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), the late great Mother Angelica explains (among other things) these gifts for us, as only she can, before a live studio audience. Her cause for sainthood is in its very early stages, and she is missed by so many here on Earth below, including yours truly.

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are to appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)
 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Novena: Prelude

Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who is to be taken up from you into heaven had to re-schedule his departure to the following Sunday in order to accomodate the busy schedules of the faithful. Now, get back to work.

(Acts 1:11, dynamic equivalent translation)


Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Ascension. It is when Christ ascended into Heaven forty days after He rose from the dead.

Then again ...

In most provinces of the USA, and in entire countries throughout the world, the Feast has been moved to the following Sunday. We could just leave well enough alone, and transfer the obligation itself to the Sunday within the octave of the Feast, but the Western church got rid of many of its octaves in the mid-1950s, and a few more since then. You'd have to explain to people what an octave is, and that is such a pain. So unless you attend the Traditional Mass or an Eastern Rite Divine Liturgy today, in which case the aforementioned silliness does not apply, today will be remembered as just another Easter weekday.

If only they put the right spin on it, in which case it would go something like this:

“Most biblical scholars agree that Jesus ascended into Heaven forty-three days after He rose from the dead, not forty days as previously believed. The number of forty was arrived at by the end of the third century, to make it easier for the early Christians to count the days after Easter on their fingers and toes and double the total. But we’re so much more sophisticated now, and we can use calculators to count that high, or have our smartphones remind us.”

Whether or not we would fall for that, moving a Feast Day to a Sunday because we're all too damn lazy to go to Mass on a weekday (or a weeknight) makes about as much sense.

+    +    +

But suppose that sacred time actually mattered, in which case it would go something like this:

The Church was born on the Jewish feast of the Pentecost. After the ascension of Christ into heaven, a group which, according to tradition, numbered about 120, remained sequestered in the Upper Room for nine days, awaiting the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

They returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away; and when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:12-14)

Thus the birth of our Holy Mother the Church was preceded by a novena.

From the Latin word "novem," meaning "nine," a novena is a prayer that is repeated for nine days, after which, according to pious belief, special graces are obtained. Fisheaters elaborates on the devotion, and gives a complete listing of popular novenas for any and all occasions.

The novena to Saint Jude may be the most popular, as he is the patron saint of hopeless causes. Many a Catholic has found a holy card or slip of paper in the pew with the prayer written on it, left by a pious soul whose intention was granted. One of them was the late entertainer Danny Thomas, whose devotion to the saint moved him to establish the children's hospital that bears the saint's name.

We here at man with black hat will present our (well, almost) exclusive adaptation of the Mother Of All Novenas, that which is devoted to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, over the next nine days. Stay tuned...
 

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Where Have You Gone, Quasimodo?

Today is known on the Christian calendar by at least six names.

In the traditional Missale Romanum, it is referred to as “Dominica in albis octava Paschae” -- Sunday in White Within the Paschal Octave, when the robes of the neophytes were removed eight days after their initiation into the Sacraments during the Paschal Vigil. It is also known as “The Octave Day of Easter” or more colloquially as “Low Sunday.” It has also been popularly known as “Quasimodo Sunday” (my personal favorite, hence the title), after the first words of the Entrance Antiphon, or Introit: “Quasi modo geniti infantes, alleluia ...” (“Like newborn infants, alleluia ...”)

In the churches of the East, it is known as “Thomas Sunday” as the same gospel is read as in the West, that of our Lord showing himself to the doubting apostle Thomas.

Since 2000, by decree of the late Pope Saint John Paul II, it is also known in the universal Roman calendar as Divine Mercy Sunday, "the culmination of the novena to the Divine Mercy of Jesus, a devotion given to St Faustina (Mary Faustina Kowalska) and is based upon an entry in her diary stating that anyone who participates in the Mass and receives the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist on this day is assured by Jesus of full remission of their sins." (from Wikipedia)

(I thought Confession did that already. This is what I get for using Wikipedia for an explanation.)

This brings up an issue which has concerned traditional Catholics in recent years, one that is presented in a 2010 issue of New Oxford Review by Robert Allard: "Is Divine Mercy Sunday Liturgically Correct?"

It is interesting to note that in the Tridentine Latin Mass, the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the epistle reading, 1 John 5:4-10, includes the mention of the blood and water as portrayed in the Divine Mercy image, not just once but three times each. This is important to note because the Feast of Mercy was established for the entire Church universal, not just for the ordinary form of the Mass.

There's also that part about Our Lord breathing on the apostles, giving them the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins. There's a bit of mercy for the rest of us right there. Not to mention that this devotion is mandated in its timing, on the basis of a private revelation, which in and of itself is not binding on the faithful.

Such remembrances need to be harmonized with the liturgical season if they are to serve the faithful. This requires sufficient deference to the history of salvation as played out during the year, beginning with the incarnation, and on into the life, passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord, followed by his ascension into Glory, and the establishment of His Church on Earth through the work of the Holy Spirit. That said, there is an aspect of this devotion that may appear problematic, one that has less to do with the Feast itself, than with the novena which precedes it, one that begins on Holy Thursday, and extends throughout the Octave of Easter.

Q. My pastor will allow us to pray the Divine Mercy Novena, but not on Good Friday or Holy Saturday. He says it interferes with the Holy Triduum, which are the holiest days of the year.

A. The Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday) ushers in Easter Sunday and constitutes the most holy period of the Church year. The Divine Mercy Novena does not supersede the Triduum, but extends the Solemn General Intercessions of the Good Friday observance of Our Lord's Passion and Death throughout the whole octave of Easter, building up to the day of thanksgiving for Our Lord's Divine Mercy.

This response contradicts itself. It claims that the timing of the Novena doesn't "supersede" the Triduum, and then goes on to ignore its culmination. That makes no sense. Superseding is exactly what it does.

For nearly two millennia, the Easter season, including the Octave, has been devoted to the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Under present canon law, the traditional requirement to abstain from meat does not apply on the Friday of this octave, such is the magnitude of the occasion. The Fathers of the Church have told us, we have commemorated the fast, therefore let us celebrate the feast. Yet the novena is devoted to chanting thus: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” Granted, at every Mass offered on any given day, we remember the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ -- the whole nine yards. But that comparison ends in the context of the liturgical seasons, the purpose of which is to shed a spotlight on a particular aspect of salvation history at the liturgical year progresses. There is sufficient reason to doubt that the emphasis made by this novena, given its timing, sheds that spotlight appropriately, even if we reduce it to a mere devotion (as opposed to the official prayer of the Church through her liturgical life).

If we read the history of the development of this Feast that is the Sunday within the Octave of Easter, if we understand what the readings and the orations are trying to tell us, we might consider the possibility that Our Lord was telling Sister Faustina something of Himself, which He has been trying to say to His Bride, our Mother the Church, all along. At the same time, She has long admonished us to be prudent with respect to the messages of private revelations. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 65-67).

While accepting the judgment of the Apostolic See in this matter of the Sunday commemoration itself, we may long for a further study of this devotion in relation to the whole of the liturgical year. Even if the novena is not "liturgy" in the official sense, its use in parishes during the octave of the Resurrection misses the big picture.

“We have commemorated the fast, therefore let us celebrate the feast.”

... for eight days, if not forty, and if you don't mind.

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To learn more about the devotion to the Divine Mercy, visit the website of the Apostles of Divine Mercy at DivineMercySunday.com, or that of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception at TheDivineMercy.org. For a guide to praying the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, go to the appropriate page at EWTN.com.