Saturday, December 31, 2011

Te Deum

We praise thee,
    O God :
we acknowledge thee
    to be the Lord.
All the earth
    doth worship thee :
the Father
To thee all Angels
    cry aloud :
the Heavens,
    and all
    the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim :
    continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy :
    Lord God of Sabaoth;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty :
    of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles :
    praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets :
    praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs :
    praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world :
    doth acknowledge thee;
The Father : of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honourable, true :
    and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost :
    the Comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory :
    O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son :
    of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man :
    thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death :
    thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God :
    in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come :
    to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants :
    whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy Saints :
    in glory everlasting.

O Lord, save thy people :
    and bless thine heritage.
Govern them :
    and lift them up for ever.
Day by day :
    we magnify thee;
And we worship thy Name :
    ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord :
    to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us :
    have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us :
    as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted :
    let me never be confounded.

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The Te Deum (also known as Ambrosian Hymn or A Song of the Church) is an early Christian hymn of praise. A plenary indulgence is granted, under the usual conditions, to those who recite it in public on New Year's Eve.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot ...

We come to that moment at man with black hat, where we reflect upon the past year, as well as give a brief acknowledgement of some of those things upon which we meant to report, but didn't get around to it.

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Below is a picture of my Mom's family on the farm in Brown County, Ohio, dated 1943. Mom is in the first row on the far right. Of her ten brothers and sisters, some never left the farm, some never left Ohio. A few of them moved elsewhere, even to (gasp!) California. These decisions influenced each of them individually, and in turn their relationships to one another over a lifetime.

You see, I've discovered something about my family in the last three months, something that would never have occurred to me in the last three decades. As the only one of four children to move to another part of the country, the distance invariably affected the dynamics of that relationship. Visiting for several days every four or five weeks is like getting to know them all over again. Whereas before, you're not involved in the day-to-day comings and goings, especially with regard to caring for your aging parents, now you are. Not only do they have to get used to the idea, but you have to get used to their having to get used to ... you get the idea.

There is no one to blame, and no right or wrong about any of it. But rectifying it is simply what has to happen. I've accumulated enough annual leave over the past two years, to make reconnecting a priority over the next one year. Now THAT'S a New Year's resolution I'm certain to keep.

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I believe that the American people have lost the collective wisdom necessary to choose a President worthy of the title.

With all that has happened among the Republican would-be candidates, each have had their ups and downs. As this is written, Mitt Romney sits comfortably at the top as the least offensive candidate, Newt Gingrich is falling, Ron Paul is getting ready to fall, Rick Santorum is moving steadily upward, Michele Bachmann has earned a permanent spot in the "also ran" category, Rick Perry is attempting a comeback that won't happen, and most of us wouldn't know Jon Huntsman if we bumped into him on the street. Among those of that elusive phenomenon known as "the Catholic vote," Gingrich has the status quo in the bag, having been forgiven for cheating on two wives, thus giving annulments a bad name for the rest of us. But no matter. Meanwhile, many traditional Catholics are backing Rick Santorum. He is known to be a very principled man, with few if any pretensions about himself, and the "right" positions on most of the issues. He is criticized for too much emphasis on social issues. He should be talking more about jobs and the economy. That's what voters want to hear, just like the German people in the 1930s when they elected Hitler. (How'd that work out, by the way?)

Now if Santorum can only explain how a nation that is going broke, can continue to be the world's baby-sitter with its policy of interventionism, he might convince yours truly. But he hasn't -- yet.

The GOP will probably end up picking Romney, not because he is the better candidate (even the endorsement from the Washington Examiner was lukewarm at best), but because he is, as we said before, the least offensive of all of them, and the one most likely to beat President Obama. And that's what sad about this election. We've consigned ourselves to picking the lesser of two or more evils. A guy like Santorum, on the other hand, is easier fodder for rock star celebrities and late night talk show hosts. This is to say nothing of the manipulations of the mainstream news media, which we saw so blatantly in 2008. (Isn't that right, Chris Matthews?) America can no longer decide what it wants in a President without checking in with those Chatty-Cathies on "The View." Whatever happens in November of next year, it will be what the American people truly deserve, even to the nation's own downfall.

(But hey, don't just take my word for it.)

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One morning this past May, Father Lawrence Madden of the Society of Jesus was found dead of an apparent heart attack, at the Jesuit Residence at Georgetown University. He was 78 years old. Madden was the founder in 1981 of the Georgetown Center for Liturgy, sponsored jointly by Georgetown University, and neighboring Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown. Madden assumed the role of pastor of Holy Trinity in 1994. The Washington Post reported thus:

The parish was riven by disagreement between supporters and opponents of the silent protest [over the reserving of priestly ordination to men]. That difficult period at Holy Trinity was chronicled by journalist Jim Naughton in his 1996 book, “Catholics in Crisis,” an account of the tension between progressive American congregations and the Catholic church leadership.

Fr. Madden was seen as a “calming influence” who could navigate between the expectations of the congregation and church authorities, Naughton said ...

My acquaintance with Father Madden began shortly after I moved to Washington in 1980, and I joined Holy Trinity the following spring. I witnessed a different side of him than most people. I had good reason to doubt his judgment, with respect to certain liturgical innovations implemented by him in the parish, and had the unmitigated gall to challenge him publicly. But it was Madden, more than any single individual, who inspired my deep and abiding interest in the study of liturgy, which I maintain to this day. I left Holy Trinity in 1987, in protest over giving a "pro-choice" congressman/parishioner a speaking venue. I returned in 1991 when I moved to Georgetown while going through my divorce, and was a sacristan on staff there for three years. Madden and I developed a mutual respect for one another, despite the acrimony of our past, and while under his employ, he was never anything other than fair. I lost track of my ties to Holy Trinity around the turn of the century, and so only learned of his passing recently. I will miss him.

Father Madden is memorialized at the blog Pray Tell - Worship, Wit & Wisdom, as well as by Mary Fox of the journal Pastoral Liturgy.

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It is putting it mildly to say that Steven Jobs changed my life forever. Then again, he did it for so many others. When I was studying graphic design at the University of Cincinnati in the mid-1970s, I had a notion of what I wanted to be. It would be roughly two decades before it even existed, and a decade after that before it could be realized. Jobs did not invent the internet, nor was he the sole innovator behind personal computing. Even credit for the Macintosh itself has to be shared. Steve Wozniak can be given as much credit as Jobs, even if he lacked the public profile. Susan Kare was the designer behind the first icons for the original Macintosh, thus giving life to the "graphical user interface" that was its hallmark. At the end of the day, it was Jobs who had the vision, who connected all the dots. It was Jobs who, more than anyone else, spearheaded the merger of design and technology, to make both accessible to the masses, in a way that even the "experts" in those early days found inconceivable.

Jobs once said that the consumer didn't always know what he wanted. I agree with this assessment, as for the consumer to want something, he has to know it was possible to begin with. Where once he could not imagine a device like the iPhone, now he wonders how he got along without it. To this day, the Macintosh operating system still takes second place to the Windows operating system. But in terms of accessibility and user-friendliness, the former has led the way for the latter, whether the architects of the latter want to admit it or not.

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The problem with Christopher Hitchens was not only that he did not believe in God, but how tenaciously he professed others to be fools for believing. He had one redeeming quality, which was not caring what anyone thought of him for being who he was. Some would call this conviction, including many Catholics, especially those Catholics who insisted on storming Heaven with prayers for his final conversion before dying of cancer. They know that, in studying the lives of the saints and the great intellectuals of history, the most dramatic conversions are the ones that are hardest to come by. God can turn the coldest of hearts to his favor, thus teaching the lukewarm among us of His glory. This tribute video, produced by, shows some of his more memorable moments. [CONTENT WARNING: Occasional expletives with corresponding hand gestures.]

May God have mercy on him.

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Finally, we read in Sunday's style section of the Washington Post about the personal goals being set by various country music artists for the coming year. This includes Taylor Swift, and how she would

“... love to make collaborations in different directions that aren't exactly expected.”

Translated, this means that our little glamor girl is getting a taste of the high life, and wants to crossover into pop music. This is not unlike the "countrypolitan" phase in the 1970s, fueled by the disco craze, and by transplanted hillbillies making enough at the auto factory to move to the suburbs. Waylon Jennings said it best: “Did ol’ Hank really do it this way?” Probably not, but others have, which means it will be anything but "unexpected." Look for an album of evening cocktail music, maybe even a duet with Tony Bennett, in the coming year.

And remember, you heard it here first.

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As this year draws to a close, the next one will be the most challenging ever. Facing the possible loss of a parent, progressing with a significant career change, the future of one's service to the Church and the community, health issues, and certain matters of the heart -- all told, they are a sign that one individual can always live in "interesting times." We cannot concern ourselves with the doomsday prophecies that would accompany the Year of our Lord Two Thousand and Twelve. They have been with us before, and will likely continue, until time really does come to an end. Our Lord reminded us that the challenges of the present day are enough to worry us. So we make the most of what His Father in Heaven has given us.

Or, if one were to ask Mr Hitchens, we take what we can get ... don't you think?

Or don't you?

NSWC: New Year’s Eve “Rag Dance”

Many of the traditional carols associated with the Christmas season are not specifically for Christmas itself, but are meant to welcome in the New Year. This 1990 performance by Nowell Sing We Clear (Tony Barrand, Fred Breunig, Andy Davis and John Roberts) in Altamont, New York, recreates a custom brought by the Acadians, on their way down the Mississippi River to Louisiana, to such towns as Prairie du Rocher, Illinois, and Ste Genevieve, Missouri, both not far from Saint Louis. The “rag dance” is a traditional New Year's Eve "visiting custom." Dancers dress in costumes decorated with rags, and neighbors join in as they progress from house to house.

Of course, here at Chez Alexandre, the New Year's Eve traditional dance is strictly Latin, so tonight, we'll see you at The Salsa Room. Or maybe someone will change their mind at the last damn minute and want to go see a movie. Or maybe they'll even be too damn "tired" to go to a movie and want to watch one on television.


Christ-Mass: Day 7 (St Sylvester)

“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven swans a-swimming ...”

Allowing for corruptions evolving the text as described earlier, the "seven swans a-swimming" completes the first seven days being represented by birds, in honor of the seven sacraments. The song is just more than half over, and we can already see that someone obviously put a great deal of thought into it.

Today is the Feast of Saint Sylvester, who was Pope from January 31, 314, until his death on this day in 335. He was the first bishop of Rome to refer to himself as "Pope," or "Father (Papa)." His reign would have occurred during that of Emperor Constantine (see image above right), as well as the First Council of Nicea in 325, which composed the Nicene Creed proclaimed at Mass on Sunday. (Sylvester did not attend this council, but sent a legation.) He is also one of the ten longest-reigning popes in history.

In present-day Germany, this day of New Year's Eve is known as "Silvester." Other countries know the day better by the saints name as well (such as "la Saint-Sylvestre" in France.)

Now. if we could just figure out what birds and sacraments have in common.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Random Thoughts Within Octave

Sal and I got back from Cincinnati last night, and what can I tell you?

The good news is, Mom is getting better, and is learning to adjust to life at Cottingham for the long haul. The move out of the "old homestead" is giving her a chance to be more sociable, and to join in activities. She plays bingo once a week, and joins in the arts and crafts projects. This is good for her, as taking care of Dad induced a reclusive lifestyle over the years. She is being weaned off the neck brace, and we have high hopes that she can soon be moved from the Skilled Nursing wing to Assisted Living.

Dad is another story. While he has his moments of good spirits, he tires very easily. There are days when he rallies, like yesterday morning when we stopped in to say goodbye. But most of his time is spent sleeping -- "resting my eyes," he likes to call it -- and he has lost interest in watching his favorite comedy show (CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond, now on TV Land), the evening news, just about everything. Even eating is difficult, as a weakness in his digestive system requires that he eat slowly. And even then, he gets tired.

Meanwhile, Sal and I made the most of our time there. Early on Wednesday mornings, there is a small gathering of friends at "The Main Cup," a coffee bar on Main Street in Milford. One of them is Susan, one of my old school chums from St Andrew's. We've known each other since we were five. I wanted her to meet Sal, so we went down there, as it was also my birthday. Susan is one of those vivacious, unforgettable characters who is very hard to forget. Many of us who attended St Andrew School, in particular the Class of 1969, remember our grade school classmates with as much fondness as those from high school.

Two of my classmates, and some friends of the family, are buried in the parish cemetery just south of the town. Sal and I went to visit our plot while I was there, and I even laid on the ground face up to show her how I'd end up one day. I also confirmed that the corner markers had been put in.

Naturally, we had to go shopping, and I would have been remiss not to introduce her to Kenwood Towne Center. They also had a Cheesecake Factory. Obviously we must visit Kenwood again, even if it means braving their perfectly lousy parking, including mysteriously blocked off exits.

And most important (well, at least to me), there was my birthday, a celebration of which was held at a private room at Cottingham. It's always great seeing the nephews, as well as Eva, the first (and so far, only) of the great-grandchildren. It's a shame we can't send the video from Sal's phone of the whole fam damily together just hamming it up ... isn't it?

No trip home would have been complete without stopping at the outlet mall just off I-71 in Jeffersonville, a promise I had been meaning to keep. Sal got lost (or preoccupied with her mission, depending on your point of view) for over an hour. We managed to get back before ten last night, driving through the mountains of West Virginia in the darkness.

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FOOTNOTE(S): The "octave" mentioned above, for those of you who don't follow this sort of thing (in which case, if you're Catholic, shame on you), is the eight days from Christmas through New Year's Day. The latter is known as the Feast of the Circumcision in the traditional Roman calendar, and the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God in the reformed calendar. In the Churches of the East, it is the Feast of Saint Basil the Great.

Christ-Mass: Day 6 (Day Within Octave)

“On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six geese a-laying ...”

Geese were among the first birds to be domesticated. As our ancestors made the transformation from hunting and gathering to settling and farming, they found they could keep a supply of them penned up, and with sufficient breeding, to supply eggs and meat for a period of time. Thus did geese emerge as a common barnyard fowl in England.

Katy Sirls is an English professor at Dixie College in St George, Utah, where she teaches English classes at Dixie College. After completing her Master of Fine Arts degree in writing, with an emphasis on fiction, she published one of her academic essays.

After several months overseas, Stacia is ecstatic to return home for Christmas. It’s been too long since she’s seen her boyfriend, Luke and she longs to be in his arms again. She even has a seductive and sexy “present” planned for their first night together.

With arrangements to celebrate the holidays with Luke’s family, Stacia soon discovers her plans are going to be quite difficult to carry out. Her first night back is spent getting to know his beloved pet geese. It seems as though their night of passion will have to wait—until, that is, she discovers Luke has plans of his own.

Stacia soon finds herself following the mysterious trail of presents Luke has left her: Christmas-wrapped goose eggs, each one with a clue that will lead her to the next... and, ultimately, to a night she’ll never forget!

There are no saints or events to be commemorated on this, an ordinary octave day of Christmastide. It is enough that it falls within the Twelve Days, and that the celebration of the Nativity continues.

FAMW: Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up (Part Deux)

Our first Whimsy of the year was “Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up” spinning off from the “Ice Age” saga. In this next episode, Scrat finds himself on a deserted island, from which the elusive acorn beckons him once more. It is only fitting that the first shall end with the last (or at least the sequel), for this week's (and this year's last) Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christ-Mass: Day 5 (St Thomas of Canterbury)

“On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five gold rings ...”

The fifth day's gift of gold rings (or "golden rings" in some versions) refers not to gold jewelry, but to a characteristic of the ring-necked pheasant. This becomes significant later. Day after tomorrow. You'll have to wait for that.

But you don't have to wait for today's feast, which in the western Church is that of St Thomas à Becket, also known as Thomas of Canterbury, where he was Archbishop at the time of his death. Born around 1162, he became the confidant and High Chancellor of King Henry II of England. Then the King got the idea for Thomas, already an archdeacon, to be consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England. This did not have the effect for which the King had hoped. Eventually, Thomas was embroiled in conflict with Henry over the rights and privileges of the Church, and was assassinated by the King's followers in Canterbury Cathedral, on this day in 1170. He was canonized less than four years later by Pope Alexander III.

This story became the subject of a stage play, and eventually the great 1964 film, Becket, starring Richard Burton as Thomas Becket and Peter O'Toole as King Henry. It won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay, and received eleven other nominations, including Best Actor (Burton and O'Toole).

Following an extensive restoration process, the original 1964 film was made available in limited theatrical re-release in 2007. It is currently available on DVD. More information is available at the website:

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It is a little-known fact, that today the Western church also celebrates the feast of an Old Testament figure, namely King David himself. In the West, we rarely address Old Testament people as "Saint So-and-so," although it is quite common in the East. ("Saint Elias," for example, is a popular name for Eastern Catholic and Orthodox parishes.) As to "Saint David," both Shawn Tribe and Father Z provide commentary.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Childermas Revisited

Okay, we're back. Here is what happened on this day after 1954 (a "Marian Year" by the way):

* On this day in 1973, Alexander Solzhenitsyn published "Gulag Archipelago," an expose of the Soviet prison system.

* On this day in 1981, Elizabeth Jordan Carr, the first American test-tube baby, was born in Norfolk, Virginia.

* On this day in 1982, Nevell Johnson Jr, a black man, was mortally wounded by a police officer in a Miami video arcade, setting off three days of race-related disturbances that left another man dead.

* On this day in 1989, Alexander Dubcek, the former Czechoslovak Communist leader who was deposed in a Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968, was named president of the country's parliament.

* On this day in 1999, Clayton Moore, television's "Lone Ranger," died in West Hills, Calif., at age 85.

* On this day in 2004, in New York City, activist and author Susan Sontag died at age 71, and actor Jerry Orbach died at age 69.

* On this day in 2005, former top Enron Corporation accountant Richard Causey pleaded guilty to securities fraud, and agreed to help pursue convictions against Enron founder Kenneth Lay and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling.

* On this day in 2008, the Detroit Lions completed an 0-16 season, the NFL's worst ever, with a 31-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

* On this day in 2009, 43 people died in a suicide bombing in Karachi, Pakistan, where Shia Muslims were observing the Day of Ashura.

* On this day in 2010, Popular protests began in Algeria against the government, as part of the so-called "Arab Spring."

There was a time when having a birthday between Christmas and the New Year was something of a curse. I used to say my parents sent me a card every year out of guilt. Contrast that with this year, when I received forty birthday wishes on Facebook, which is a Facebook record (at least for me). I thank them all for their salutations.

Of course, the party at Cottingham was a success, at least for me anyway, complete with a candle-lit cupcake. All the nephews were there, including Mom and Dad's great-granddaughter.

(FIRST IMAGE: A rare photo of the Salus Populi Romani, crowned by Pius XII in 1953. The crown inscription reads: "Pius XII PM Deiparae Reginae Kal MCMLIV A Mar." Pope Pius XII to the Queen Mother of God, Marian Year 1954. After the renovation, the crown was deleted and is now in the museum of the sacristy of Saint Peter. The picture today in Rome exists therefore only without the crown.)

Christ-Mass: Day 4 (Childermas)

“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four calling birds ...”

Actually, they would have been referred to as "colly birds," meaning a form of blackbird. This is one of a number of lines that had become corrupted over the centuries. But enough about the song. Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the infant males under the age of two in Bethlehem that King Herod had put to death -- tradition has put the number at 14,000 -- in the hopes of doing away with the newborn King, which he saw as a threat to his power (Matthew 2:16-18).

Obviously he didn't know the half of it.

In Spainish-speaking countries (including, uh, Spain), this is traditionally a day given to playing practical jokes, much like April Fools' Day elsewhere. The pranks are known as "inocentadas" and their victims are called "inocentes," or alternatively, the pranksters are the "inocentes." Don't ask me why.

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This day is significant for a number of other reasons ...

* On this day in 1065, Westminster Abbey was consecrated.

* On this day in 1768, Taksin the Great was crowned king of the newly established Thonburi Kingdom in the new capital at Thonburi, present-day Thailand.

* On this day in 1832, John Calhoun became the first Vice President of the USA to resign.

* On this day in 1836, at the Old Gum Tree near present-day Adelaide, Royal Navy Rear–Admiral John Hindmarsh read a proclamation establishing the British province of South Australia.

* On this day in 1846, Iowa became the 29th of our United States.

* On this day in 1856, Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States (1913-21), was born.

* On this day in 1869, William Semple of Mount Vernon, Ohio, obtained a patent for chewing gum.

* On this day in 1879, the Tay Rail Bridge, spanning the Firth of Tay in Scotland between Dundee and the Wormit, collapsed during a violent storm while a train was passing over it, killing all on board.

* On this day in 1905, Earl "Fatha" Hines, the father of modern jazz piano, was born, as was the forerunner of the NCAA, the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States.

* On this day in 1922, Stan Lee, the great American comic book writer, was born.

* On this day in 1937, Composer Maurice Ravel died in Paris.

* On this day in 1945, Congress officially recognized the Pledge of Allegiance.

* On this day in 1948, The Douglas DC-3 airliner NC16002, en route from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Miami, Florida, disappeared in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle.

* On this day in 1954, both the actor Denzel Washington, and professional wrestler Lanny Poffo, were born.

So was I.

Closer to the present, "Sal" and I are packed and ready to head back to Civilization As We Know It, but tonight there's a little soireé at Cottingham Retirement Community. It's in my honor, but no one's admitting it. Our family never was one to make a fuss out of birthdays. But in my case, they'll make an exception.

They're really swell. I might come back again.

(IMAGE 1: The Massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem, 1488, by Matteo di Giovanni. IMAGE 2: The author, January 1955, in Cleveland, Ohio, from the Alexander Family Album. H/T to Patricia Alexander Drybala.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christ-Mass: Day 3 (St John’s Day)

“On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three French hens ...”

“The disciple whom Jesus loved” (“ο μαθητης ον ηγαπα ο Ιησους”) was, for a time, banished under Emperor Domition to the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. This was before returning to Ephesus to live to a ripe old age. While John was the only one of the Twelve to die a natural death (living to be nearly one hundred years old, according to tradition), it was not for want of his enemies trying. Upon an attempt to kill John by poisoning his wine, the evil substance miraculously took the form of a serpent, as it dissipated from his cup.

Today, families can celebrate the Feast of Saint John by drinking to the health of each other, based on a German tradition known as Johannissegen. Fisheaters has a recipe for mulled wine that is customary to the occasion. Before the evening meal begins, the head of the house recites the blessing over the wine, as recorded in the Rituale Romanum:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Thou didst call Thyself the vine and Thy holy Apostles the branches; and out of all those who love Thee, Thou didst desire to make a good vineyard. Bless this wine and pour into it the might of Thy benediction so that every one who drinks or takes of it, may through the intercession of Thy beloved disciple, the holy Apostle and Evangelist John, be freed from every disease or attack of illness and obtain health of body and soul. Who livest and reignest forever. (Amen.)

He then lifts his glass toward the next person (or touches the rim of his glass to theirs), saying, “I drink you the love of Saint John.” The receiver says in response, “I thank you for the love of Saint John.” The second person turns to the third, and the process is repeated all around the table.

That's the long form. The short form is where all present clink their glasses together saying, “Drink the love of Saint John.” This is especially handy for young children who cannot wait to chow down.

To each his own.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christ-Mass: Day 2 (Boxing Day)

“On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two turtle doves ...”

I love to show this video of the á capella group Straight No Chaser singing their own unique version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Today still feels a little like Christmas, only more stores are open, bustling continued consumer spending in spite of everything. Those nice ladies I met who were working at Macy's on Christmas Eve are sure to do well this year, and that just warms my heart.

I know, some people may think that's a concession to the over-commercialization of the holiday, but hey, we're talking about Macy's here!

Today is “Boxing Day” in Canada, the UK, and other nations of the Commonwealth. Traditionally, Christmas Day was when the master of the house would give presents to his family. On the following day, he would arrange for leftovers from his great feast to be given to his domestic staff, in boxes that they could take home. Eventually, it became customary to box other gifts as well. In any case, they get another day off, eh? So, here's a shout to our friendly neighbors to the north, with a very helpful explanation of the feast, courtesy of a garage band from Fairfax, Virginia (well, it kinda looks like they're in a garage, or maybe their parents' basement, whatever...) known as the "Holiday Hipsters" (available on Facebook or MySpace) singing "Carol of the Boxing Day."

Meanwhile, the Irish celebrate this as a national holiday, too, only as Saint Stephen's Day.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christ-Mass: Day 1 (Nativity)

“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.”

The period known as Christmastide begins with the Feast of the Nativity itself; specifically, with the evening of that first day, through the morning of the Feast of the Epiphany. And so the first day of Christmas is December 25-26, and the season ends with Twelfth Night on January 5-6. By tomorrow, you will stop hearing Christmas music on some radio stations, but at Chez Alexandre, whether here or on the road, as well as here at mwbh, the Christmas season is just beginning.

Most of us are familiar with the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and the significance of the symbolism therein. But for those who do not...

Twelve Drummers Drumming refers to the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

Eleven Pipers Piping refers to the eleven faithful apostles

Ten Lords A-leaping refers to the ten commandments

Nine Ladies Dancing refers to the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Eight Maids A-milking refers to the eight beatitudes

Seven Swans A-swimming refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and/or the seven sacraments

Six Geese A-laying refers to the six days of creation

Five Golden Rings refers to the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.

Four Calling Birds refers to the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists.

Three French Hens refers to Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues.

Two Turtle Doves refers to the Old and New Testaments.

One Partridge in a Pear Tree refers to Christ on Earth being crucified upon a tree.

True Love refers to God, who sent his only son to us.

[NOTA BENE: The use of this song was a "secret catechism" for children, employed by Catholics persecuted in post-Reformation England, is a matter of some conjecture, as pointed out in this article from]

Now then (and this should be a treat for those of you new to us), the return of a venerable mwbh tradition ...

Since 1984, the cumulative costs of the aforementioned items have been used as a tongue-in-cheek economic indicator. This custom began with and is maintained by PNC Bank. Two pricing charts are created, referred to as the "Christmas Price Index" and "The True Cost of Christmas." The former is an index of the current costs of one set of each of the gifts given by the True Love to the singer of the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The latter is the cumulative cost of all the gifts with the repetitions listed in the song. The people mentioned in the song are hired, not purchased.

Jim Dunigan, managing executive of investments with PNC Wealth Management, is back once again to discuss this year's CPI, including a brief history, the impact of the economy on this year's results, and how the PNC CPI can be used in the classroom. Obviously, the economy has had some surprises this year, not all of them pleasant ones, and this episode reflects that. Visit to see the full interactive media extravaganza, or just watch the "low-end" version here.

The original 1984 cost was $12,623.10. The total costs of all goods and services for the 2011 Christmas Price Index is $24,263.18 (up a measly 3.5 percent from $23,439.38 last year). Learn the details, including which items went up in cost, and which went down, in the accompanying video clip.

And now, don't you have anything better to do on a day like this? Your friends are waiting on Facebook. Hop to it!

Christ-Mass: In Die Nativitatis Domini

A baby born
    in Bethlehem:

(and I heard
    from Heaven today).
The wise men
    saw and they
    followed that star:

(and I heard
    from Heaven today).
The shepherds heard
    the angels' song:

(and I heard
    from Heaven today).
A bell is ringing in the other bright world:
(and I heard from Heaven today).

This 2008 performance by Nowell Sing We Clear (Tony Barrand, Fred Breunig, Andy Davis and John Roberts) from the Latchis Theater in Brattleboro, Vermont, is of an old "call and response" song known as “I Heard From Heaven Today.”

Hurry on, my weary soul,
    and I heard from Heaven today
Hurry on, oh my weary soul,
    and I heard from Heaven today.


Christ-Mass: In Aurora

You are the
    new day.
Come down
    to us
    this day:
Christ, your
    birth has
    proved to me
You are the
    new day.

Quiet in a stall you lie,
Angels watching in the sky
Whisper to you from on high:
“You are the new day.”

When our life is darkest night,
Hope has burned away,
Love, your ray of guiding light,
Show us the new day.

Love of all things great and small,
Leaving none, embracing all,
Fold around me where I fall,
Bring in the new day.

This new day will be a turning point
For every one,
If we let the Christ-child in,
And reach for the new day.

Christ the Way, the Truth, the Life,
Healing sadness, ending strife,
You we welcome, Lord of Life.
Born on a new day,
You are the new day.

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The text of this great choral piece is an adaption by King's Singers member Philip Lawson, of the original YOU ARE THE NEW DAY by John David (a Cardiff-born songwriter, record producer and instrumentalist). Lawson thereby transformed it into a Christmas carol. John David wrote both melody and the original text. Peter Knight made the arrangement for King's Singers. For Cambridge Singers, the arrangement was slightly adapted for mixed voices and strings.

As this is published, we're hitchin' up the wagons for the trek to Ohio, to return five days later. Here's hoping for good weather through the West Virginia mountains today; it should take nine hours, eight and a half with a good tail wind. On behalf of the staff and management of man with black hat (or, to put it another way, the voices in my head that tell me what to do), and all of us here at Chez Alexandre, we wish you a most blessed Christ-Mass holyday, and a most joyful and prosperous New Year.

“Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon!” Yeah, you right!

Gaudete! Christus est natus ...!

    est natus

        is born

Ex Maria

    Of Mary
        the Virgin — rejoice!

Tempus adest gratiæ
    The time of grace has come
Hoc quod optabamus,
    This that we have desired,
Carmina lætitiæ
    Verses of joy
Devote reddamus.
    Let us devoutly return.

Deus homo factus est
    God has become man,
Natura mirante,
    Nature marveling,
Mundus renovatus est
    The world has been renewed
A Christo regnante.
    By the reigning Christ.

Ezechielis porta
    The closed gate of Ezechiel
Clausa pertransitur,
    Is passed through,
Unde lux est orta
    Whence the light is born,
Salus invenitur.
    Salvation is found.

Ergo nostra contio
    Therefore let our gathering
Psallat iam in lustro;
    Now sing in brightness
Benedicat Domino:
    Let it give praise to the Lord:
Salus Regi nostro.
    Greeting to our King.

“Gaudete” (pronounced gow-DAE-tae, "rejoice" in Latin) is a sacred Christmas carol, composed sometime in the 16th century. The song was published in the Piae Cantiones, a collection of Finnish/Swedish sacred songs published in 1582. No music is given for the verses, but the standard tune comes from older liturgical books.

The text, in Latin, is a typical song of praise, probably stemming from the Middle Ages. It follows the standard pattern for the time - a uniform series of four-line stanzas, each preceded by a two-line refrain (in the early English carol this was known as the "burden"). Carols could be on any subject, but typically they were about the Virgin Mary or the Saints of Christmas.

And tonight, we rejoice, for God is with us.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christ-Mass: The Vigil

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“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, / because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. / He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives / and recovering of sight to the blind, / to set at liberty those who are oppressed, / to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” -- Isaiah 61:1-2

The reason for the Season is not the season of Reason ... and there’s a reason!

When I was a boy growing up in Ohio, the town where I lived would put up decorations along the main drag, like every other town. They all said "Seasons Greetings." Not "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." It wouldn't have occurred to me that Christmas was being downplayed. Not in a town settled in 1787 by Methodists, who still pretty much ran the place nearly two centuries later, and not in a town where Santa Claus rode a fire truck through the streets of town on the Sunday before Christmas, handing out bags of treats to all the children.

But times have changed, or at least we think they have. In a nation where people are free to worship as they choose, an increasing number come to our shores who choose to worship as non-Christians. It comes as no surprise that Christmas has a different meaning to them, if any at all. In one example last year concerning the loss of innocence, there was a face-off of holiday billboards on each end of the Lincoln Tunnel into New York City, with an atheist billboard on the New Jersey side and a Catholic billboard on the New York side. Just listen to the clown who claimed to speak on behalf of "reason."

"Christians don't own the season." (0:40)

I don't know what that means, to "own" a time of the year. There is sufficient evidence over two millennia, that this time of year has been associated almost exclusively with the Christian holiday known as Christmas, which certainly didn't get its name from an atheist. Come to think of it, why WOULD an atheist want to own the season? It's a lot of semantic trickery, really, and for all the noise people like this made, I really don't believe there was much of a public outcry, in the form of not giving gifts on or about the 25th of this month.

Which means the atheists threw their money away on something that will change nothing.

You can't tell that to William Donohue of the Catholic League. In his defense, we should not take Christmas, never mind our Christian faith, for granted. He is absolutely right on that point, and deserves credit for putting himself in the face of ridicule to say it. Nevertheless, he comes off in interviews as a chronic whiner. This is not because of a personality defect (a factor upon which his detractors, even those who agree with him, lay entirely too much stress), but because of the modulation of his voice, which is unsuited for broadcasting or public speaking -- unless, of course, a chronic whiner is the kind of voice you are looking for. And if you are, you probably don't work in radio or television. If Donohue ever attempts his own talk radio program, someone with authority will break him the bad news. Until then, he either needs a vocal trainer, or the Catholic League needs a press secretary.

Witness also this report from The New York Daily News (via Gateway Pundit), where, in a promotion for UNICEF (a United Nations agency which obviously ran out of people to pick on), Santa Claus is depicted as a cynical old man who does not care about poor people in developing nations.

“This ain’t no Christmas gift. So, you buy this products for your friend, and all this stuff goes to poor kids? Like in Africa?” Santa asks, before skeptically examining a vaccine bottle with a magnifying glass, shaking a bottle of pills and squirting the contents of a syringe into the air.

All told, it only adds to the worry that Christmas is being threatened, and yet ...

The Faith upon which the Incarnation is built, and the Church founded by Him to spread that message, have always been under siege, and the blood of Her martyrs has been the seed-bed of an ever-growing harvest. Witness the occurrence in November of last year, at a shopping mall food court in Ontario, in Excruciatingly-Politically-Correct Canada. This wouldn't happen for Eid-ah-Adha, the Islamic "festival of sacrifice," or for Ras as-Sana al-Hijreya, the Islamic New Year. No one will pull a stunt like this for a fabricated (and, unbeknownst to many, anti-Christian) holiday like Kwanzaa. And as this is written, NORAD wasn't monitoring the skies for Hanukkah Harry.

The threat to Christmas has been greatly exaggerated, O ye of little faith! To be Christian, or more specifically, to be Catholic, is to believe that our Savior, the God-Made-Man, took the form of a slave, triumphed over Death, and sits at the right hand of God the Father. He, and He alone, is King. At the end of the day, at the end of Time itself, every nation shall yield, every knee shall bend down, and every tongue shall proclaim, that Jesus Christ is LORD! All the billboards in the world to the contrary will not change that.

And so ...

As this is published, this writer is packing for the trip to Ohio in the next week. But first, one final tribute, as preparations are also underway to celebrate the "Christ-Mass" at the Church of Saint John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia, where yours truly is First Master of Ceremonies for a Solemn High Mass at the stroke of twelve. “Gaudete! Christus est natus ex Maria Virginae!” “Rejoice! Christ is born of Mary the Virgin.”

Now, quit your damn bellyaching and crack open that eggnog already!

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A special thanks to Alphabet Photography of Niagara Falls, Ontario, for thumbing their noses at the Human Rights Commission and orchestrating a "hate crime" disguised as a flash mob, eh? Special thanks to Robert Cooper and Chorus Niagara, The Welland Seaway Mall, and Fagan Media Group.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Obligatory “Person of the Year” Tribute

Beginning in 1927 with Charles Lindbergh, Time magazine has devoted its last issue of the calendar year, to recognizing the person or persons, who are judged to have made the most significant impact on newsworthy events of that year. The title of "Man of the Year" was bestowed on Mohandas Gandhi in 1930, and Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin in 1938 and 1939, respectively. After all, it's not a Miss Congeniality award. The title was changed to "Person of the Year" in 1999.

Closer to the present, this year's award goes to ... THE PROTESTER. In particular, not only those who took to the streets for regime change in the Arab world, but participants in the "Occupy" movement here in the States. As this video shows, those who camped out in city parks and cost local governments millions in additional police oversight and clean-up efforts, all took the news reasonably well. (CONTENT WARNING: A few select expletives.)

To those who actually accomplished something, better luck next year.

FAMW: Obligatory “Christmas Airport Flash Mob” Video

On December 15, 2010, hundreds of unsuspecting passengers at LAX's Tom Bradley International Terminal witnessed a surprise Christmas flash dance performed by dozens of airport workers. Many travelers taken with the spirit of the moment joined in the dance.

LAX is one of the world's busiest airports, with flights to and from every major city in the world, not to mention the subject for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Won't be long now.

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Emmanuel

Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
    O come, o come, Emmanuel,
Captivum solve Israel!
    And ransom captive Israel,
Qui gemit in exsilio,
    That mourns in lonely exile here,
Privatus Dei Filio.
    Until the Son of God appear.

Isaiah had prophesied, “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” (7:14). “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.”

“O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.”

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Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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(Won't be long now ...)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Downloads Revisited

We here at mwbh would like to recommend three other albums for MP3 download, in time for the Christmas season, recorded by artists who are a breath of fresh air to the genre.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand (born 1940s) are two English-American folklorist-musicians who have been together since 1969, when they were graduate students in psychology at Cornell. They form half of the quartet known as Nowell Sing We Clear, whose performances consist of yuletide stories and music, and (lest we forget) a Mummers Play. their nine albums as an ensemble are available on CD at Golden Hind Music. Their latest was recorded and released in 2008, entitled Nowell, Nowell, Nowell!

Sixpence None the Richer can best be described as a latent Christian pop-rock duo, currently a collaboration of vocalist Leigh Nash (born 06/27/1976) and songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Matt Slocum (born 12/27/1972), both of New Braunfels, Texas. The band's name is inspired by a passage from the C S Lewis book Mere Christianity. Their 2008 release for this blessed season is entitled The Dawn of Grace.

Sufjan Stevens (born 07/01/1975) is a guitarist-singer-songwriter who mixes autobiography, religious fantasy, and regional history, to create folk songs of grand proportions. A preoccupation with epic concepts has motivated two state records (Michigan and Illinois), with plans to eventually complete such tributes for every state in the Union. Born in Detroit, he currently lives in Brooklyn. His 2006 compilation of five extended-play CDs is entitled Songs for Christmas.

Download these puppies in time for Christmas, and as family and loved ones gather and hear what is in the background, you are guaranteed to start a conversation, and end with memories of a unique celebration.

Sara Groves: O Holy Night

It happens to every recording artist who achieves enough fame. The manager calls them up and says, hey, it would really be great if you did a Christmas album. The fans would love it.

That is to say, real die-hard fans will love hearing your own butchered versions of Christmas classics, but practically no one else will. Country music artists seem to be particularly notorious for this. Yep, Christmas in the country, with a guy who never saw the business end of a plow, and who televised his last holiday special at his mansion outside Nashville. "Honey, would you (order one of the servants to) throw another log on the fire?" Lovely.

But every now and then, someone comes along who breaks convention, and turns the warmed-over concept completely on its ear.

Thirty-nine year old contemporary Christian artist Sara Groves was born in Vineland, New Jersey, and grew up in Springfield, Missouri. Her passion for songwriting came out of a "lonesome" childhood, and was later encouraged by her husband Troy. In September 2005, Sara, Troy, his father, a neighbour, and a Minneapolis ER doctor delivered a tour bus and trailer load of baby supplies to victims of Hurricane Katrina in Slidell, Louisiana.

In 2008, she released her eighth album, O Holy Night, which took traditional Christmas songs and did her own twist on the melody, in some instances more of a departure than others. This is not something everyone can pull off very easily. This writer discovered her on Pandora's "Folk Holidays Radio" and was completely blown away. This album is available on MP3 download. Give a listen to the sampler, and be amazed for yourself.

Guitar Workshop: John Fahey Christmas Medley

[This is the sequel to last week's Workshop, also from this time last year. -- DLA]

For this week's installment, we're leaving you on your own to figure things out, based on what was learned last week. Here we have John Fahey performing a medley of two Christmas classics; "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" and "O Come All Ye Faithful." This medley is featured on his album "The New Possibility" as well as the anthology shown here; "The Best of John Fahey Volume 2: 1964-1983."

(Hint: It's in the key of C.)

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Rex Gentium

Veni, Veni, Rex gentium,
    O come, Desire of nations, bind,
veni, Redemptor omnium,
    In one the hearts of all mankind;
Ut salvas tuos famulos
    Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
Peccati sibi conscios.
    And be Thyself our King of peace.

Isaiah had prophesied, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (9:5), and “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (2:4)

“O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.”

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Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dungarees and the Culture Wars

Yeah, you read it right.

The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property was established in 1971, dedicated to the restoration of Christian (specifically Catholic) civilization. They are inspired by the work of in Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, who founded the parent society in Brazil in 1960. With their red banners, matching capes, and occasional drum and bugle corps, they parade at the March for Life and appear at college campuses handing out literature, and are basically non-violent when confronted, as they often are on campuses. I'll say this for them, they have no shame. Put them up against Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan, and my money's on the boys in red. Those evangelical Bible-thumpers can sit this one out, pal, it's time to rumble.

So what's got them worked up lately? Offenses by commissioned "artists" and playwrights against the True Faith, the secularization of Christmas, to be sure. But a page on their "Student Action" group takes on one of the burning "culture war" issues of our time. You'd better sit down.

George Will wrote an article in The Washington Post titled “America's Bad Jeans.” The article analyses the influence blue jeans have on those who wear them. In his piece, Will cites another article published by the American writer Daniel Akst in The Wall Street Journal, “Down with Denim" ... Akst says, “Denim on the bourgeoisie is discordant.”

Several factors of more substance than the above contribute to this.

First, the average wardrobe in Western cultures has probably tripled or quadrupled in the last half-century. Our everyday or work clothes were once worn out dress clothes. But an increase in consumer choices, compounded by more disposable income, has contributed to this. In addition, denim jeans are comfortable, and tend to fit better over time. Besides, most people do not go out of their way to get pre-faded jeans, allowing their new ones to get broken in. And only stupid people pay good money (and to get them torn just right, really good money) to buy pre-torn jeans, I don't care how rich or famous they are.

In the 1970s, designer jeans such as "Chardon" and "Sasson" were very popular, especially with women. This came about in large part due to the demand of women for jeans more suited to their anatomy than that which was on the market up to then, which were better suited to men. It gained further acceptance because of the disco craze in mid-decade, when staring at a woman's backside became a more openly expressed preoccupation, among alleged babe hounds hanging at the bar nursing their by-then watered-down drinks. There was also a brand early in the decade called "Cheap Jeans," which really were not all that cheap.

One thing I do find annoying as a Scout commissioner, is the units who insist on a "waist up" uniform policy, where the boys can wear any pants they want with the uniform shirt as standard wear, except for the most formal occasions, if those. Keep in mind that I live in one of the most prosperous sections of the country. These boys generally don't wonder where either their next meal or pair of designer gym shoes is coming from.

As a boy, denim blue jeans were just about all I wore when I wasn't dressed for church, school, or Scout meetings. Only in the last decade have I really stopped wearing them regularly. I prefer cargo pants most of the time, as putting my wallet in a generous side pocket instead of the one behind me (on the recommendation of a chiropractor) is better for my back when sitting down. Yes, it can happen.

What few pairs of blue jeans I still wear tend not to be blue but ... black. Go figure.

Art-For-Art’s-Sake Theatre: Third Day “Born in Bethlehem”

Time once again for our usual midday Wednesday feature.

Third Day is a Grammy award-winning Christian rock band formed in Marietta, Georgia during the 1990s. This is a live performance of a number off their seventh full-length album, Christmas Offerings, recorded and released in 2006.

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Oriens

Veni, Veni, O Oriens!
    O come, Thou Dayspring,
        come and cheer,
Solare nos adveniens,
    Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Noctis depelle nebulas,
    Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
Dirasque noctis tenebras.
    And death's dark shadows put to flight.

Isaiah had prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” (9:1).

“O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

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Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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