Sunday, January 14, 2018

Festum Asinorum

The fourteenth of January was remembered since the Middle Ages as “The Feast of the Ass.” Best known by its Latin name (as seen above), and mostly celebrated in France as “Fête de L'âne,” it commemorates the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. It was celebrated in a manner similar to other "Feast of Fools" celebrations elsewhere in Christendom.

Wikipedia reports, albeit without citation, of how ...

A girl and a child on a donkey would be led through town to the church, where the donkey would stand beside the altar during the sermon, and the congregation would "hee-haw" their responses to the priest.

... which may explain why it failed to endure so much as other folk celebrations.

Closer to the present, The Watersons, best known as folklorist and singers in the UK, recorded a ballad combining two accounts from various apocryphal gospels, that of "Herod and the Cock," and one other of the flight into Egypt. It was later recorded by New England folk artists John Roberts and Tony Barrand, fronting a quartet known as “Nowell Sing We Clear.”

King Pharim sat a-musing
And a-musing all alone.
There came a blessed Saviour
And all to him unknown.

Saying "Where did you come from good man,
And where did you then pass?"
It was out of the land of Egypt,
Between an ox and ass.

Well if you come out of Egypt, man,
One thing I fain would know.
Whether a blessed Saviour
Sprang from an Holy Ghost.

For if it is true, is true good man,
What you've been telling me,
This roasted cock, that's in the dish,
Shall crow full fences three.

Well the cock soon feathered and he grew soon well,
By the work of God's own hand.
Three times that roasted cock did crow
In the dish where he did stand.

Joseph, Jesus, and Mary
Were a-travelling further West
When Mary grew a-tired,
She might sit down and rest.

They travelled further and further,
The weather being so warm,
Until they came upon a husbandman
A-sowing of his corn.

"Come husbandman," cried Jesus,
"Throw all your seed away
And carry home your ripened corn,
That you've been a-sowing this day."

By there came King Herod,
With his train so furiously,
Enquiring of the husbandman
Whether Jesus had passed by.

Well the truth it must be spoken,
And the truth it must be known.
For Jesus he passed by this way
Just as me seed was sown.

But now I have it rippen
And some laid in my wain
Ready to fetch and carry
Into my barn again.

"Turn back then," said the captain.
Our labour's all in vain.
Tis full three quarters of the year
Since he his seed has sown.

So Herod was deceived
By the work of God's own hand.
No further he proceeded
Into the Holy Land.

This writer has also performed “The Ballad of King Herod” accompanied with guitar, to the tune of "The Wife of Usher's Well."

And so it goes.
 

Monday, January 08, 2018

Plowing Through Monday

Today was the traditional start of the agricultural year in England, and so was known as “Plough Monday” or the day after “Plough Sunday” which was the Sunday following the traditional observance of Epiphany on the sixth of January. This was the Monday when everyone would end the Christmas revelry and get back to work.

John Brand, in his 1777 book Observations on Popular Antiquities, gives an account of the formalities:

The FOOL PLOUGH goes about: a pageant consisting of a number of sword dancers dragging a plough, with music; one, sometimes two, in very strange attire; the Bessy, in the grotesque habit of an old woman, and the Fool, almost covered with skins, a hairy cap on, and the tail of some animal hanging from his back. The office of one of these characters, in which he is very assiduous, is to go about rattling a box amongst the spectators of the dance, in which he receives their little donations.

Well, maybe not directly back to work. Personally, I'd rather be molly dancing. What is that, you ask?

“Molly dancing” traditionally only appeared during the depths of winter and is regarded by many people as the East Anglian form of Morris dancing. It is characterized by blackened faces, heavy boots (usually hobnailed) and the presence of a "Lord" and a "Lady", two of the men specially attired respectively as a gentleman and his consort, who lead the dances. Blackening faces was a form of disguise since the dancers could not afford to be recognized. Some of those people from whom they had demanded money with menaces would have been their employers. Molly dancing is by nature robust and, some would say, aggressive. These qualities are emphasized by the sound of the hobnailed boots worn by the dancers, which were the normal form of footwear for farm workers in the East of England right up until the second half of the twentieth century. (Information courtesy alexandersanders.)

On a promising note, and according to the Olde Farmer's Almanac: “In the evening, each farmer provided a Plough Monday supper for his workers, with plentiful beef and ale for all.

They could do worse.
 

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Not Epiphany!

Today, in the traditional Roman calendar, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family, which in the reformed Roman calendar was celebrated last Sunday, with this one being the Second Sunday After Christmas (universally), and in some places (such as all dioceses in the USA), the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

But it isn't really. And even in diocesan parishes that have both forms of the Roman Rite, the parish priest will get off easy with preparing only one homily if he resorts to this being an "External Solemnity" of the Epiphany. (Yes, they can do that, even back in the day.)

Meanwhile, the reformed Roman calendar observes either (universally) the Second Sunday After Christmas, or (in the Dioceses of the USA and elsewhere) the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

Moving a feast that has a tradition of (and a very good reason for) being associated with a fixed date, is a judgment by a competent territorial body of bishops. In this instance, the term "competent" is used guardedly. You see, they think you are entirely too lazy to celebrate anything on a weekday. So they make it convenient for you. They would probably provide drive-thru confessions and probably had to ignore the advice of an army of lawyers and "risk assessment specialists" to pass on the idea. Perhaps once we succeed in converting the culture for Christ, they'll move Christmas to a Sunday as well, to coordinate our schedules with the department stores. Almost seems worth it, right?

We can say all we want about "the reason for the season" and "keeping Christ in Christmas" and all that. But such festivity presumes a priority attached to, and a meaning for, the value of sacred time. We can also assure ourselves that "our bishops must know what they're doing." But how can something be sacred if we can bend it and twist it to suit our convenience?

And that's when we beg the question, as to whether they really know what they're doing. Even worse, what if the answer is, yes, they do?

Curiouser and curiouser ...
 

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Christus Mansionem Benedicat!

VIDEO: A 2008 performance of "March of the Kings" ("Marche Des Rois") by Nowell Sing We Clear (Tony Barrand, Fred Breunig, Andy Davis and John Roberts) at Latchis Theater, Brattleboro, Vermont.

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At the Mass for the Day, the faithful are given chalk that has been blessed by the priest, as well as special holy water known as "Epiphany water." The blessing for it, which takes place only for this occasion, is to be found in the traditional Rituale Romanum, and includes a prayer of exorcism. The blessed chalk and the holy water are then taken home, to be used that evening.

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The Blessing of the Entrance to the House (“Chalking the Door”)

We begin with the Sign of the Cross, and the words of Psalm 71(72) "Deus, judicium":

Give the King your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to the King's son;

That he may rule your people righteously
    and the poor with justice.

That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people,
    and the little hills bring righteousness.

He shall defend the needy among the people;
    he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure,
    from one generation to another.

He shall come down like rain upon the mown field,
    like showers that water the earth.

In his time shall the righteous flourish;
    there shall be abundance of peace
        till the moon shall be no more.

He shall rule from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.

His foes shall bow down before him,
    and his enemies lick the dust.

The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute,
    and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts.

All kings shall bow down before him,
    and all the nations do him service.

For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress,
    and the oppressed who has no helper.

He shall have pity on the lowly and poor;
    he shall preserve the lives of the needy.

He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence,
    and dear shall their blood be in his sight.

Long may he live!
    and may there be given to him gold from Arabia;
        may prayer be made for him always,
            and may they bless him all the day long.

May there be abundance of grain on the earth,
    growing thick even on the hilltops;
        may its fruit flourish like Lebanon,
            and its grain like grass upon the earth.

May his Name remain for ever
    and be established as long as the sun endures;
        may all the nations bless themselves in him
            and call him blessed.

Blessed be the Lord GOD, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous deeds!

And blessed be his glorious Name forever!
    and may all the earth be filled with his glory.

Amen.

Then one who is the Officiant says the following prayer:

Lord God of Heaven and Earth, who hast revealed thine only-begotten Son to every nation by the guidance of a star: Bless this house and all who inhabit it. Fill them with the light of Christ, that their love for others may truly reflect thy love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

If necessary, the Officiant or another steps up onto a chair or stepladder, and with a piece of blessed chalk, writes over the entrance to the house.

“Christus ...” (“May Christ ...”)

          C

“Mansionem ...” (“this dwelling ...”)

          C      M

“Benedicat.” (“... bless.”)

          C      M      B

“In the coming year ...”

20      C      M      B

“... and in the years to come.”

20      C      M      B      18

“In the name of the Father ...”

20  +  C      M      B      18

“and of the Son ...”

20  +  C  +  M      B      18

“... and of the Holy Spirit.”

20  +  C  +  M  +  B      18

Everyone responds: “Amen.”

20  +  C  +  M  +  B  +  18

The doorway is sprinkled with Holy Water blessed for the Epiphany. The inscription is to be removed on the Feast of Pentecost.

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For those who require "the short form," there is this one from the Church of Saint Mary in Clifton Heights, New York. On those nights when the weather is particularly inclement, one can simply read from the Gospel of John while inscribing over the door ...

In the beginning was the Word, (inscribe 2)

and the Word was with God, (inscribe 0)

and the Word was God. (inscribe +)

He was in the beginning with God. (inscribe C)

All things came to be through him, (inscribe +)

and without him nothing came to be. (inscribe M)

And the Word became flesh (inscribe +)

and made his dwelling among us, (inscribe B)

and we saw his glory, (inscribe +)

the glory as of the Father’s only Son, (inscribe 1)

full of grace and truth. (inscribe 8)

… then with the Holy Water, making the sign of the cross three times over the entrance, proclaiming “Christus ... Mansionem ... Benedicat” and calling it a night.

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This day is remembered throughout the world by various names. In many parts of Europe, Epiphany retains its distinction as "Little Christmas." Among the Greek Orthodox, the waters of the harbor are blessed by the local priest. In Spanish-speaking countries, it is known as “Dia de los Tres Reyes” (“Day of the Three Kings”). There are parades on the main street, such as this one in Madrid, Spain.

Although we know the "kings" were not actually royalty at all, but scholars in astronomy and other sciences who came from Persia, tradition has associated Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar (their names as rendered in the apocryphal gospel accounts) as representing the Orient, Arabia, and Africa, the three great land masses of the known world in the first millennium.

As with the eve of Saint Nicholas Day in parts of western Europe, children in the Hispanic world are known to leave their shoes out and receive candy and other treats by the next morning. In Spain, children traditionally received presents on this day, rather than on Christmas, although recent years have seen both Christmas and Epiphany as a time for gift-giving.

I just love parades.

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This is also occasion for the solemn pronouncement of movable feasts for the coming year, using the chant from the Pontificale Romanum, including the news that Ash Wednesday will fall on Valentine's Day, and that Easter will fall on April Fools Day.

Should make for an interesting year, don't you think?

Or don't you?

(H/T to Father Z.)
 

Friday, January 05, 2018

Christmastide: Twelfth Night

When I was growing up back in Ohio, the village of Milford had their own way of disposing of old Christmas trees. They would be collected and taken to some field at the edge of town, stacked in a big pile, and "Twelfth Night" would be celebrated with the lighting of a bonfire dubbed the "yule log."

This is remarkable when you consider that Milford is a town first settled by (and more than two centuries later, is still more or less dominated by) Methodists and not "Catlickers." Of course, my parents -- may God rest their souls -- didn't go for that sort of ribaldry, so I never actually saw it, but I would always read about it that week in the local rag known as The Milford Advertiser.

(Here we note that Protestants in the northern states did not celebrate Christmas until well into the 19th century. It was even outlawed by the northern colonies in the early years of European settlement. The southern colonies, on the other hand ...)

These days, I imagine people would have a hard time penciling it in between trips to soccer practice and PTA meetings. In fact, since leaving the Buckeye State to seek my fortune elsewhere, I learned that the town has yielded to other priorities, as in this little gem I read a few years ago, from the county's Office of Environmental Quality:

“Many recycled trees are sent through a wood chipper and are used as mulch.”

They have got to be kidding. That kills the holiday magic right there. Why celebrate the glory of the season, when you can spend the rest of the year spreading it on your lawn and walking all over it?

Meanwhile, here at Chez Alexandre, we will celebrate Epiphany on the traditional day all along. Tomorrow the lights that are traditionally left on all during Christmastide, will finally be shut off in the evening and taken down. They will be put back in storage along with the decorations, waiting for the season to return.

Last of all, the dying tree is sent to its final resting place -- in the years that we actually have a live tree, which we didn't this year ... but that's another story.

Joy, health, love and peace
Be all here in this place
By your leave we will sing
Concerning our King.

Our King is well dressed
In silks of the best
In ribbons so rare
No King can compare.

We have traveled many miles
Over hedges and stiles
In search of our King
Unto you we bring.

We have powder and shot
To conquer the lot
We have cannon and ball
To conquer them all.

Old Christmas
    is past
Twelvetide
    is the last

And we bid
    you adieu
Great joy
    to the new.

 

Christmastide: Day 12 (St Telesphorus/St John Neumann)

“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve drummers drumming ...”

Contrary to popular opinion (including people who should know better), the sixth day of January is not the twelfth day of Christmas. The day before, the fifth of January, is the twelfth day of Christmas. The following day, the sixth of January, is the first day of Epiphanytide.

Now, are we all clear on that? (Don't believe me? Get the calendar and count the days, and thank me later.)

Meanwhile ...

The reformed Roman calendar honors Saint John Nepomucene Neumann, a native of Bohemia and Redemptorist priest who was appointed Bishop of Philadelphia in the mid-19th century, and who was a key figure in spreading the Faith to an ever-expanding United States of America.

In the traditional Roman calendar, Mother Church remembers Pope Saint Telesphorus, elected Bishop of Rome in 126, and martyred ten years later. It is said that the tradition of celebrating Mass on Christmas at Midnight, the celebration of Easter on Sundays, the keeping of a seven-week Lent before Easter, and the singing of the Gloria, all are attributed to his pontificate, but the historical accuracy of these claims are in doubt.

Tonight, a season ends, and here at Chez Alexandre, we start the day by taking the ornaments down from the tree. Tomorrow, a new season begins. Stay tuned ...
 

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Christmastide: Day 11 (St Elizabeth Ann Seton)

“On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven pipers piping ...”

As the end of Christmastide draws near, life begins to turn to normal. The trees are taken down and are sitting on the curb, the usual workday routine begins again, and commercials for "holiday sales," having been extended just beyond the first day of the new year, are heard no longer. Meanwhile ...

Today is the feast of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the foundress of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph, the mother of the Nation's parochial school system, and patroness of Catholic schools. Canonized a saint by Pope Paul VI in 1975, she was the first native-born American to be raised to the altar.

From the original motherhouse in Emmitsburg, Maryland, a branch house was established out west, known today as the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, based at Mount Saint Joseph-on-the-Ohio, located on the city's once-predominantly Catholic west side. This order did much to build, not only the parochial school system in this part of the Midwest through their teaching apostolate, but the health care system as well, through the establishment of Good Samaritan Hospital in 1852.

Concerning the role of women Religious and the health care apostolate, much has changed in recent years, to say the least. In light of the health care legislation signed into law in the United States a few years ago, and the capitulation by "leaders" of women religious orders, in forcing others to cooperate in acts against the Gospel of Life, let us pause for a moment to consider the irony.

And hope that the current administration sees fit to restore some common sense to the issue.
 

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Christmastide: Day 10 (St Geneviève)

“On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten lords a-leaping ...”

It is also the day that both the Eastern and Western churches remember the French shepherd girl Saint Geneviève, who lived in the mid- and late-fifth century. Her sanctity was noted at a very early age by Saint Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, who consecrated her to God at the age of seven. Genevieve is the patroness of the city of Paris, which has been saved through her intercession more than once, the first time from her contemporary, Attila the Hun.

Geneviève loved to pray in church alone at night. On one such occasion, a gust of wind came into the church and blew out her candle, leaving her in darkness. She attributed this act of nature to the Evil One himself, that he was trying to frighten her. Thus she is often depicted holding a candle. Other images show an irritated devil standing nearby.

In more than fifteen years of this weblog's existence, her commemoration has been a popular one. Don't ask me why.
 

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Christmastide: Day 9 (The Holy Name of Jesus)

“On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine ladies dancing ...”

The traditional Roman calendar associates this day with the Holy Name of Jesus. It used to be associated with the day before, with the Feast of the Circumcision. (In fact, the Gospel reading for both feasts is identical.) Then in 1913, Pope Pius X moved it to the Sunday between the second and the fifth January inclusive, and in years when no such Sunday existed, to be observed on the second of January. Don't ask me why.

Historically, the observance of this feast was all over the place until Pius X designated the second of January. The circumcision of a newborn male under Jewish law must take place eight days after the child's birth, at which time he is given his name. Small wonder, then, that the Gospel readings for both feasts in the traditional Roman calendar are the same. The Anglicans and Lutherans celebrate both on the first of January, as did the Roman church for quite some time -- you know, being the eighth day and all.

And speaking of names ...

I once heard a comedian pose this important theological question: “If Jesus was Jewish, why did He have an Hispanic name?” That occasion aside, it gives us an occasion of our own, to consider that the name "Jesus" was not an uncommon one in His day. Brian Palmer writes for Slate:

Many people shared the name. Christ's given name, commonly Romanized as Yeshua, was quite common in first-century Galilee. ("Jesus" comes from the transliteration of Yeshua into Greek and then English.) Archaeologists have unearthed the tombs of 71 Yeshuas from the period of Jesus' death. The name also appears 30 times in the Old Testament in reference to four separate characters -- including a descendant of Aaron who helped to distribute offerings of grain (2 Chronicles 31:15) and a man who accompanied former captives of Nebuchadnezzar back to Jerusalem (Ezra 2:2) ...

How would Christ have been addressed by those around him?

He certainly would not be addressed as "Mister Christ." In fact, "Christ" was not a name, but an honorific, a title if you will, from the Greek Khristós for "anointed one." The Hebrew word was Moshiach or "Messiah." He would have been known by His given name, and the name of His father -- “Yeshua bar Yehosef” or “Jesus Son of Joseph.” In later centuries (or in present-day Iceland), we might easily surmise His being addressed as “Jesus Josephson.”

We also know that He eventually left Nazareth in Galilee, the town of His childhood, for other parts of that country, as well as Samaria and Judea. In those places, He would have been just as likely addressed as “Yeshua Nasraya” or “Jesus of Nazareth.” The Gospel accounts tell us of the inscription on the Cross, which gave both His name and His offense, in three languages: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (actually, “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum” in Latin, “Ihsoûs ó Nazoraîos ó Basileùs tôn ’Ioudaìov” in Greek, and “Yeshua HaNazarei v Melech HaYehudim” in Hebrew). After all, a guy from a hick town like Nazareth would have been rather conspicuous in a high-falutin' place like Jerusalem, especially outside of the High Holydays.

The Scriptures also record him being addressed as “Jesus Son of David.” A man would also have been known for his extended family; that is, his tribe or house, as in “Yeshua ben David” or “Jesus of the House of David.” Or so I've read. But even though family lineage was everything in Jewish society, such an address was not as common in everyday use.

Or so I've read.

Devotion to the Holy Name has also been the inspiration for the National Association of the Holy Name Society. HNS chapters have been the basis for men's clubs in Catholic parishes for generations. Their mission includes the corporal works of mercy (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the afflicted, that sort of thing), and acts of reparation for the misuse of the holy name.

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Finally, we have a couple of Holy Name stories.

First is an account from an old veteran Scouter, an American living in Mexico.

"While visiting my present Mexican hometown several years ago, I got an urgent message to call collect to an unfamiliar number in Chicago. Turned out it was the FBI, hoping I could help them; did I know anyone in México named 'Chuy,' a common nickname for anyone, male or female, carrying the name Jesús. When I told the agent yes, explained that there were seven in the village where I was staying, including the sheriff, he responded, 'Oh, you mean there's more than one?'"

Finally, I have one of my own.

Once I had a confessor who gave me very good advice, for those occasions when I "used a very short form of the Jesus Prayer in an inappropriate context." He advised me that I say immediately afterward, “Blessed be His holy name.” It's no substitute for recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, but it's a rather handy form of reparation.

Whatever works.
 

Monday, January 01, 2018

Christmastide: Day 8 (Circumcision/St Basil)

“On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight maids a-milking ...”

The world knows it as New Year's Day. Our Holy Mother Church knows it by many names.

First and foremost, it is the “Octave-day” or eighth day of Christmastide. Such was its name in the earliest liturgical books, thus remembered as the day of Circumcision, when a son of Israel was marked according to the Law. (It hurts just thinking about it.)

In both forms of the Roman Rite, the brief account from Luke is proclaimed:

At that time, after eight days were accomplished, that the Child should be circumcised: His Name was called Jesus, which was called by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. (2:21)

In the reformed Missal, the day is primarily known as the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. While appearing as a break in tradition, it is a reminder of the Marian emphasis of the Feast, as found even in the orations of the pre-conciliar Missal. It was the tradition in Rome, that the Pope would go to one of the many churches in the city, whichever was the "Station" for that particular feast -- in the case of this one, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.

But wait, there is one more...

In the East, today is known not only for the Circumcision, but as the Feast of Saint Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea in the fourth century, and one of the great Fathers of the Eastern Church. Today is when the Greeks would traditionally exchange gifts. For many years, when I couldn't meet with Paul for Christmas (and as he was raised in the Byzantine Rite of his mother), I would make an occasion of this day.

With all that arcane information, you still have to admit that four names for one day are a lot. And to think the year is just getting started.