Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: Should auld acquaintance be forgot …

It is the usual order of things to see this day, the last of the calendar year, as a time to reflect on the twelve months that have passed. There are things to remember on the part of this writer, things that have been left unsaid up to now, for want of the time to record them.

As this is written, we're at the historic Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia, an oasis of genteel southern hospitality since 1895. Whenever Sal returns from her native Philippines, we go on a vacation for a few days. This time the occasion is special, as it was ten years ago this month that we met. Sal is a woman of some refinement, with an upstanding reputation in her homeland, and who is well-versed in old world Spanish manners. People wonder how she ever ended up with a small-town midwestern hick like myself.

So do I.

She is especially devoted to her one-year old grandson, who has proven to be formidable competition for her attention. (Actually, I don't stand a chance, but I'm ready to be a grandpa anyway, even if as an honorarium.)

Anyway, we made a point of visiting the Carytown section of Richmond earlier today, where there are many interesting stores. And now, with the evening coming on, and while preparing to go out to dinner later this evening, this venue provides for an opportunity to look back ...

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This past year saw the world of Catholic new media devolve into a parody of itself. What was once known as "Saint Blog's Parish" would be better known as "Our Lady Queen of Melodrama Parish." With the Catholic Channel on Patheos having become the McDonald's of apologetics, we can now be treated to the continual smackdown of Mark Shea versus Michael Voris, of pantywaist neo-Catholics movin' to the groovin' of that rockin' Steubenville "praise and worship" sound versus the stick-up-the-arse über-traditionalists who are too orthodox to stand even the sight of themselves, of converts from the Church of Satan who are giving book-and-lecture tours as experts on the Faith when they're barely out of their baptismal robes. We can see all the usual suspects in social media taking to their respective ramparts to defend their champion. He's an enemy of tradition. She's a heretic. He's a sedevacantist. She hides little children in her basement and kills her cats.

The one bright spot at Patheos is the least expected, and the most pleasant surprise. Katrina “The Crescat” Fernandez, once little more than a gadfly in the Catholic blogosphere, has emerged as an up-and-coming writer. Following an unabashed write-in campaign which landed her an invitation to the first convocation of bloggers under the auspices of the Vatican in Rome, she returned no doubt with a sense that her craft would have to venture beyond pretty pictures and potty-mouth jokes. The result is that a woman with a degree in art history actually writes about art history, not to mention living the Faith in the wake of a failed marriage, and as a single mother of a son. It is the "slice of life" that raises the level of the conversation. Somebody has to.

And are there any other issues that have raised discourse on matters of the Faith (or lowered it, depending on which end is your vantage point) to new levels?

We know where this is going, don't we?

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Earlier this year, one pope resigned, and another was elected. There has been little said in this venue about the man once known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, now known as the 265th successor to the Apostle Peter, who by virtue of his election as Bishop of Rome, is Supreme Pontiff and Visible Head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is the first pope from south of the equator, the first non-European pope in nearly thirteen centuries, and the first pope from among members of the Society of Jesus. Historically known as the "intellectual shock troops" and militant missionaries of the Church, the "Jesuits" are just as historically indifferent to the trappings of pomp and ceremony. So it should not have surprised anyone that such a man would be reluctant to first be seen on the balcony as Vicar of Christ on Earth, without the red-with-white-trimmed ermine mozetta and ornamented red stole, that which was seen by numerous successors in living memory. There is the habit of eschewing even the little things, whether by giving up the papal apartments for a nearby dormitory, employing simpler liturgical vesture than any of his predecessors, or even driving an old economy car rather than a papal limousine (a practice that will end with the first threat to his security). And while it would be wrong to presume what is in his heart with these choices, one is tempted to wonder whether what appears to be demonstrations of humility are more demonstrations than they are humility.

In pursuit of the spiritual life, it is a question we must first ask ourselves, before we ask it of anyone else, including a pope. There is a fine line between acts of spiritual piety and acts of spiritual pride. For those who pay little attention to matters of faith outside of the religion column of The Washington Post, hearing a pope say something along the lines of "Who am I to judge?" then running away with that line, aren't paying attention even to that much of it. How quickly they forget that this same "non-judgmental" pope was barely on the job when he excommunicated an Australian priest for preaching errors against the Faith. He has also condemned abortion as a part of a "throwaway culture," adding that: “Every child that isn’t born, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, has the face of the Lord.” Are these the remarks of a pope who wants to stop talking about the evil of abortion?

Nah, didn't think so.

There is a saying in Rome: "Those who know, don't talk, and those who talk, don't know." An order of Franciscans recently came under investigation, on the basis of the malcontent of a few, and the cost was the right to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass. Those who believe that Pope Francis is moving to suppress the ancient rite need to keep a few things in mind; 1) outside the members of the order and those doing the investigating, nobody has the whole story (that goes ditto for the gossip-mongers at Rorate Caeli), 2) the terms of the motu proprio liberating the "Old Mass" makes provision for a religious community requiring the permission of its superior, as conditions within community life demand, by definition, unity of spiritual life through uniformity of spiritual practice, 3) this is not a move by Pope Francis against a form of the Roman Mass which he personally does not prefer, but a specific move against a specific religious community over a specific set of concerns, and while admittedly heavy-handed in its implementation, is neither a guarantee of permanence, nor applicable to the motu proprio as a whole, so everybody with a TLM in their parish can relax, and finally, 4) this investigation, judging only by what is known, had to have begun under the tenure of the previous pope.

Francis has a mandate to reform the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy within the Vatican that manages the affairs of the Church. Cleaning out a rat's nest that has had its heels dug in for centuries will eventually reap benefits for the faithful as a whole. It is where the legacy of the man from Argentina begins and ends, not the trifling symbolic gestures which could be matched by nearly every pope of the last century, but for the amount of attention given to this one. Pray for him.

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In the fall of 1960, I was in kindergarten, and going on six years old. I looked out the door of the classroom one day, to see my mother walking from the cafeteria, which back then was the polling place for our precinct. I asked who she voted for. She said she voted for Nixon. But how could this be, since Kennedy was a Catholic, and we had to stick to our own? My father made the same choice, and I gave him the same reply later that day. They only said, we don't agree with his policies. But, hey, he's Catholic, isn't he? I can still remember, in a town founded and basically dominated by Masons and Methodists, some of us being known as "Catlickers," and not being allowed to attend YMCA day camp at the edge of the town where I grew up. After all, they had prayer services, and we weren't allowed to pray with ... Protestants!

On the 22nd of November last, America remembered the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Much has been said about his legacy, and the magic of his appeal that was known as "Camelot." Many who claim him for inspiration would do well to know him better. A president who was portrayed as a vision of health and vigor suffered for most of his life from a back injury sustained while a Naval officer in World War II, in addition to having been afflicted with Addison's disease. The man given credit for inspiring a generation of liberal activism was actually quite the conservative, not only in his economic policy, but in his fight against communism. His two successors, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, were both blamed for the war in Vietnam, but it was Kennedy who got us involved there in the first place. We castigate the clandestine activities of presidents today, but the Kennedy administration made the biggest mess of all of them at a place in Cuba known as "Bahía de Cochinos" (the "Bay of Pigs").

Thirty years later, in the early 1990s, my marriage had fallen apart, and I was living in Georgetown. My landlady, Marilyn Southwell Bell, was a grande dame of the neighborhood, and many colorful characters were entertained over the years in the parlor at 3114 N Street. One of them was a veteran operative of the American clandestine services known only as "The Rainmaker." It was likely from this acquaintance that I learned a story out of the Kennedy years that is little known but to a few.

It was either the summer of 1962 or 1963, and President Kennedy was attending a baseball game. He accompanied his usual entourage through one row of bleachers, and as security was not as tight then as it was now, they had to pass by a group of Cuban expatriates already in their seats. Each man he passed is said to have murmured the following under his breath: “Voy a vengar la muerte de mi hermano.” It would not have occurred to anyone, least of all the men sitting there with their utterances, that at least one of the Secret Service detail was conversant in Spanish, and knew what he heard: “I will avenge the death of my brother.” No conclusions were drawn for me in the hearing of this tale, and one could never be sure whether his untimely death was the work of disgruntled Cubans or the deans of organized crime whose plans were foiled by his brother as Attorney General. Perhaps it really was only the singular mission of a lone gunman, with Communist sympathies and a high-powered rifle, in an unsecured warehouse near the parade route. We will also never know whether a man known for his charisma and charm, and a stunning, sophisticated wife, would have stemmed the tide of discontent, and kept his popularity on the rise, had he lived during a time of societal change. We only know what happened after he was taken from us, and for this our nation would never be the same.

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The day of Kennedy's death is also remembered for the passing of two other men of note; the Anglican writer and Christian apologist Clive Staples “Jack” Lewis, and the dystopian science-fiction writer Audous Huxley. The three men were together the subject of a stage play written by Boston College professor Dr Peter Kreeft, entitled "Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death."

Kennedy: Someone else is coming. Can you make out who it is?

Lewis: Why, it's Huxley! Aldous Huxley. Aldous, welcome. How did you get here?

Huxley: Same way you did, I'm sure. I just died. Oh, I say! Kennedy and Lewis! What good company to die in -- or live in, whatever we're doing. Where is this place, anyway?

Kennedy: That's what we're trying to figure out. Lewis thinks it may be some sort of limbo or purgatory. I'm just hoping it's not hell.

Huxley: Well, you're both wrong. It's heaven. It must be heaven.

Kennedy: Why?

Huxley: Because everywhere is heaven, if only you have enlightened eyes.

Lewis: Even hell?

Huxley: Oh, this is going to be fun ...

And so it goes.

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This picture was taken in 1943, seventy years ago, on a farm in Brown County, Ohio. My mother is in the first row, to the right, opposite her parents. In the second row, over her right shoulder, is her sister Mary Angela Rosselot. It has been my own experience that if a family is large enough, at least one of the siblings goes their own way, in such as manner as to set themselves apart from the others. Mary was one of those, going to live with an aunt in Arizona before finishing high school. The family folklore suggested a falling out between her and her mother which precipitated the move, a discord made more pronounced by moving to California and marrying a divorced man. True or not, at least that was the story. My parents were never ones to entertain gossip, even family gossip.

It was forty years after this picture was taken, in the summer of 1973, that I met her and her family for the first time. I had just graduated from high school. Aunt Mary walked into the house to meet us. She walked gracefully across the room to shake my hand, and I realized that this was no farmer's daughter. The children, my newfound cousins, were very personable, and very ... well, Californian. Such was noticeable to provincial midwestern sensibilities, and it was then that the boundaries of family, and that which was possible therein, were given new meaning.

With over fifty cousins on my mother's side, most of us have kept in touch over the years, aided not only by Facebook, but by a common legacy. Some of those in the picture have faded from this life, and in the past month, Aunt Mary was one of them. May she rest in peace.

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A series of weekly articles was planned late this year to discuss alternatives for Catholic families to the Boy Scouts of America. Sadly, the research required was subject to constant revision, in light of the impending decision by the BSA at the first of the year, to remove sexual orientation as a determinant of admission for youth members. The series was already well under development, but is currently being re-evaluated, and is scheduled to begin anew sometime in January. In any case, it could not have come soon enough for many young Scouts, belonging to troops whose sponsoring institutions, in a fit of self-righteousness, pulled the rug out from under them before a suitable alternative could be found. Because of such a short-sighted decision, many boys and their parents have completely lost interest in scouting over the past seven months. It is here that we grownups failed our sons. For us, six to twelve months is an interregnum. For boys before and during puberty, six to twelve months is an era. Such is one of the many unlearned (and unrepentant) lessons of this sad chapter in scouting history, matched only by the ambiguous and theologically challenged position of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting.

More on that in the very near future.

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Beverly Stevens of Regina Magazine tells us: "Okay, this is TRADITIONAL in Germany to play this clip on 'Sylvester' -- that is, New Year's Eve." The English comedian Freddie Frinton (1909-1968) is a butler in his famous "Dinner for One" scene, from the 1948 British short comedy "Trouble in the Air." This scene also features Jommy Edwards. Don't ask me why.

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As the year draws to a close, I wish I could tell you that this was a great year for man with black hat, but while last year was our best ever, this one was not up to par. It was bad enough that the day job and household responsibilities kept getting in the way, but much of the subject matter in Catholic new media was a supreme disappointment. What do you add to a conversation where no one is asking the right questions, much less coming up with the right answers? When someone wasn't trying to discern the hidden meaning in every move the new Pope was making -- “This week, the Holy Father was seen scratching himself at his usual Wednesday papal audience. What is Pope Francis trying to tell us about the virtue of humility?” -- they were spouting the usual canards about Masonic-Zionist conspiracies against the Latin Mass. He is past the age of retirement. He has two hip replacements and one working lung. His preference for living in a dormitory with others around on the basis of "psychological reasons" would seem to indicate a melancholic temperament. What kind of energy could this guy have for making too much trouble for anybody?

If hope breeds eternal, and tomorrow is another day, a new year holds a promise of hope for those who would press forward. It will be the year of this writer approaching his sixtieth birthday. They say that "sixty is the new forty," but at the end of the day, sixty is still sixty. As life goes on, we ask ourselves, what must we do to leave this world just a little better than we found it? How will our trust in the Almighty lead us to that end?

On that note, we close with Sal enjoying the giant Christmas tree that dominates the lobby of the Jefferson Hotel, looking tres chic with her newly acquired handbag by Balenciaga of Paris.

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 more specifically, "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.

“I read the news today, oh boy ...” (Auld Lang Syne Edition)

As yours truly was on the road yesterday (more on that later), we didn't get to the news, oh boy, so here it is.

To start, MSNBC has nothing better to do than pick on the Palins for having a Christmas tree, taking a quotation from Jeremiah to condemn the practice, which would condemn to hell most of us, including ... most of the losers at MSNBC. (You were thinking they all celebrate Kwaanza?)

In pointing out the obvious, an evangelical online ministry points out that "Jeremiah is not condemning Christmas trees. He is condemning idolatry." Maybe that's why their ratings are in the tank. Duh.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on planet Earth:

Speaking of trees, here's one that couldn't be mistaken for an idol, and could be politically correct at the same time. Maybe MSNBC can give Jeremiah a rest for this one in Lithuania. [AP]

With the new year, it's time to start preparing for a celebration of the Fourth. No, not July, but January. If what they're saying is right, this is going to be totally better than fireworks. (Find something to hang on to, just in case.) [News Hound]

If you're going to get mugged in New York City's Central Park, the best way to avoid having your cell phone stolen is to lower your standards, now that the bad guys have raised theirs. Remember, it could save your life. [The New York Post]

Did you hear about the Kenyans who chased down a pack of cheetahs? Hey, the cats were killing their goats, what else could they do? [BBC]

Finally, be careful what you say about the "Pajama Boy" who appears in the ads promoting the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare"). You might be anti-Semitic. No kidding. (Hey, I didn't even notice until they brought it up that, uh, you know.) [The Jewish Daily Forward]

And that's all the news that fits. As the week goes on, and the old year leads into the new, stay tuned, and stay in touch.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Christ-Mass: Day 6 (Just Another “Die Infra Octavam”)

“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!

Today not only falls within the Twelve Days, but within the Eight, and without the commemoration of a saint, it is simply “The Sixth Day Within Octave of the Nativity of Our Lord” (“De VI Die Infra Octavam Nativitatis Domini”) in the traditional Roman calendar.

Be that as it may, the celebration of the Nativity continues.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christ-Mass: Day 5 (Sunday Within Octave/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: becketthemovie.com.

Finally, today not only falls within the Twelve Days, but within the Eight, thus it is the "Sunday Within Octave of Christmas" in the traditional Roman calendar, where the Gospel account is that of Mary and Joseph encountering the Prophet Simeon and the Prophetess Anna in the Temple where the Santo Niño has been presented. In the reformed Roman calendar, today is the Feast of the Holy Family, having been moved from the Sunday after the Epiphany in the calendar reform of 1969. Don't ask me why.

Be that as it may, the celebration of the Nativity continues.

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It is a little-known fact that today, the Western church also celebrates the feast of an Old Testament figure, none other than King David. 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, otherwise rendered as "Elijah.") As to "Saint David," Shawn Tribe of New Liturgical Movement provides commentary.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

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 Spanish-speaking countries (including, uh, Spain), as well as former colonies such as the Philippines, 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, actor Denzel Washington, professional wrestler Lanny Poffo, and magazine editor and morning news anchor Gayle King, were born.

... and so was YOURS TRULY.

And speaking of practical jokes, Sal is just now leaving the Philippines to return to the States, too late to celebrate my damn birthday, so what do I get to do? I'm going to attend an Eagle Court of Honor, that's what I'll do. My son is in town, so he's taking me to dinner, and I'm giving him his presents. Otherwise I'd be drinking heavily and watching old movies.

Meanwhile, the little Heartbreaker comes back tomorrow, and gets to make it up to me. Ain't I a prince?

(VIDEO: The Coventry Carol, anonymous, 15th or 16th century, performed by Collegium Vocale Gent, conducted by Peter Dijkstra, from the Begijnhofkerk, Sint-Truiden, Flanders, Belgium. IMAGE: The author, January 1955, in Cleveland, Ohio, from the Alexander Family Archives. H/T to Patricia Alexander Drybala.)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Saving Christmas in Salley

A father and his three children in Salley, South Carolina, lost everything but the clothing on their backs on Christmas Eve.

"I was at my mom's house putting together one of my youngest daughter's gifts and happened to get the phone call that the house was on fire," he says.

But on this gloomy day after Christmas, Thompson and his kids return to the ruins. Crime scene tape still blocks the remains, but this family is scoping out anything worth salvaging. The TV is melted, the XBOX destroyed, years of pictures are likely gone forever, and a Christmas tree is incinerated, along with the gifts below it.

"All we have is basically the clothes that we had on our back at the time," Thompson says.

At this time, we have been relayed the specific clothing needs of the children.

Angel (12 years old)
- Pants: Women's 10 short
- Shirt: Women's Medium or Large
- Underwear: Women's 6
- Shoes: Women's 10

Chris (9 years old)
- Pants: 14/16 husky
- Shirt: 16 Boy's
- Underwear: Boy's Large
- Shoes: Men's 7

Emmalee (4 years old)
- Pants: Kid's 7
- Shirt: Kid's 6/7
- Underwear: Kid's 6
- Shoes - Kid's 12

If you live in South Carolina or northeastern Georgia, you may be in a position to help them directly. Otherwise, donations may be sent payable to Tony Thompson, c/o PO Box 1002, Wagener SC 29164, or to a Paypal account via email, sdconder at yahoo dot com.

(Tip of the Black Hat to WRDW-TV in Augusta, Georgia, and to Christine Niles of Forward Boldly.)

Christ-Mass: Day 3 (St John)

“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.

(PS: Wanna show the love of Saint John to others? Click here.)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christ-Mass: Day 2 (St Stephen/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 present and former British Empire. 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.

This is the new music video of a new song by Blink 182 entitled, you guessed it, “Boxing Day” -- or, to be exact, the "official music cover video" by another band, Razor Notes. To hear them tell it, “This time it's not a pop punk version, it's more like the original Blink's ‘Boxing Day’ their first song released as an Indipendent [sic] band.”

Whatever works, huh, guys?

Meanwhile, the Irish celebrate this as a national holiday, too, only as Saint Stephen's Day. And let's not forget that "Good King Welceslas" of Bohemia went out on the feast of Stephen, when the snow lay on ground, yada yada yada ...

And so it goes.

“On the feast of Stephen ...”

From a sermon by Saint Fulgentius, Bishop

Yesterday we were celebrating the Birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of one of his soldiers. Yesterday our King, clothed in the robe of our flesh, was pleased to come forth from his royal palace of the Virgin's womb to visit the world. Today his soldier, laying aside the tabernacle of the body, entereth in triumph into the palace of heaven. The One, preserving unchanged that majesty of the Godhead which he had before the world was, girded himself with the lowliness of our flesh in the form of a servant, and entered the battlefield of this world. The other, putting off the corruptible garment of our flesh, entered into the heavenly mansion, there to reign for ever. The One cometh down, and is veiled in the flesh of his human birth. The other goeth up, and is robed with a glory which is red with the blood of his temporal death.

The One cometh down amid the jubilation of Angels. The other goeth up amid the stoning of Jewry. Yesterday the holy Angels rejoiced in the song: Glory to God in the highest. Today they rejoice in the welcome whereby they do receive Stephen into their company. Yesterday the Lord came forth from the Virgin's womb. Today his soldier is delivered from the prison of the body. Yesterday Christ was for our sakes wrapped in swaddling bands. Today he girdeth Stephen with a robe of immortality. Yesterday the new-born Christ lay in a narrow manger. Today Stephen entereth victorious into the boundless heavens. The Lord came down, one and alone, that he might raise many up. Our King descended to our low estate that he might set his soldiers, such as Stephen, in high places.

Now let us consider, brethren, by what arms Stephen conquered the hatred and persecution of Jewry in such wise as to win so blessed a triumph. Verily he had no arms or armour other than charity. Love it was that armed him in that struggle, and strengthened him to conquer on all sides, and brought him to the crown whereof his name is a prophecy. The love of God strengthened him against the hatred of Jewry. The love of his neighbour made him pray even for his murderers. Through love he rebuked them, in their perversities that they might be corrected. Through love he prayed for them that stoned him that they might not be punished. By the might of his charity he overcame Saul, his cruel persecutor, and earned, as a comrade in heaven, the very man who had done him to death upon earth.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

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 this 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 man with black hat, 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 as 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 Snopes.com. But what do they know?]

Now then (and this should be a treat for those of you new to us), the return of a venerable man with black hat tradition ... or is it?

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.

The project is the brainchild of Jim Dunigan, managing executive of investments with PNC Wealth Management. Each year he gives us the lowdown on last 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. The original 1984 cost was $12,623.10. The total costs of all goods and services for the 2013 Christmas Price Index is $27,393.17 (up 7.7 percent from $25,431.18 last year).

This year they've forsaken the usual video presentation in which they just tell us what we want to know, getting on the 3-D printing bandwagon as a means of keeping us in suspense. Earlier this month, they had a contest where you could go to the site, design and outfit your choice among one of the gifts, and submit it for consideration. Winners would get a 3-D printed copy of their creation. What you're supposed to do with it, who knows? But they couldn't just do the narrative as in previous years, as shown in the first video. No, they had to give us a little teaser, in the form of the second video.

Learn the details, including which items went up in cost, and which went down, by visiting pncchristmaspriceindex.com to see the dog-and-pony show for yourself, such as it is (or you can read this piece in The Washington Times).

And on that promising note, don't you have anything better to do on a day like this? Your friends as well as your "friends" are waiting on Facebook and Pinterest.

Go forth and spread joy!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christ-Mass: The Vigil

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I've heard about this baby boy
Who's come to earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing this song to you

It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift?
With every breath I'm singing Hallelujah


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A couple came to Bethlehem
Expecting child, they searched the inn
To find a place for You were coming soon

There was no room for them to stay
So in a manger filled with hay?
God's only Son was born, oh Hallelujah


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The shepherds left their flocks by night
To see this baby wrapped in light
A host of angels led them all to You

It was just as the angels said
You'll find Him in a manger bed
Immanuel and Savior, Hallelujah


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A star shown bright up in the east
To Bethlehem, the wisemen three
Came many miles and journeyed long for You

And to the place at which You were
Their frankincense and gold and myrrh
They gave to You and cried out Hallelujah


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I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you

My sins would drive the nails in You
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath You drew was Hallelujah


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(H/T to Thomas John.)

Novena for Christ-Mass: Postlude

It is the morn
Of Christmas
Scrambled eggs
   I cook.

Fourth and last
Most fasting
   now forsook.

The birds outside
Are singing carols
Pitched soprano-high.

Above the frost
Below the blue,
Their midnight moment nigh.

Then beasts will speak
In whispers low,
When Emmanuel did come,

How they could talk
And pray an hour ...
While man was struck quite dumb.

-- Hilary “Long-Skirts” Flannery

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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.

Indeed, what other "season" could it have been?

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. A few years ago, 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. They interviewed some clown who ostensibly was speaking on behalf of "Reason": "Christians don't own the season."

Closer to the present, it was late last month when Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly reported on a toy drive for needy children that was shut down by a secular group called the American Humanist Association (AHA).

What does that mean, exactly; 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, by an effete and articulate minority with access to a microphone, and for all the noise people like this make, there will be little in the way of public outcry, as by this time tomorrow, everybody will be giving gifts to everybody else, just as they do every year, even when some knucklehead tries to ruin it for them.

Which means the atheists threw their money away on something that will change nothing. The season is not the season of Reason, and there is a reason.

While the actual birth date of Christ remains a matter of debate among scholars and historians alike, the season itself, from time immemorial, and among people who had yet to hear the Gospel, has been associated with the passing from darkness to light, inasmuch as there was celebration at or near the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. Over two millennia, Mother Church has taken that which was good in itself from many cultures, and has elevated such customs to convey the message of Christ. And so we have Christmas trees out of Germany, decorated with lights and ornaments, and lighted star-shaped lanterns in the Ukraine, carried on poles to light the way for singing carols.

As Christmas celebrates the coming of the Prince of Peace, so peace has often reigned on this occasion in the midst of war. An example from modern history would be the Christmas Truce of 1914, when British and German soldiers, on the night before Christmas, declared a spontaneous truce and met one another in No Man's Land, singing carols, exchanging coffee and cigarettes, sharing family photos, and even playing a game of soccer. It was not the only such occasion, and commanders from both sides made attempts to prevent it. And yet, there were men from both sides who befriended one another, even after "the war to end all wars."

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 2010, 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 is not monitoring the skies for Hanukkah Harry. (Sorry, 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, all the bellyaching on cable news channels, all the machinations of public school paper hangers -- none of their futile gestures will change that. Christus vincit! Christus regnat!! Christus imperat!!!

And so, with this final tribute, preparations begin in earnest, 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 Traditional 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.

Monday, December 23, 2013

“I read the news today, oh boy ...” (O Emmanuel Edition)

This would have been published earlier today, but we had to wait for Uncle Jay to get his (ostensibly) weekly dog-and-pony show together, and sho' nuff, he did!

Meanwhile, elsewhere on planet Earth:

Here's a car that can go at an amazing 20 miles per hour. That's not too shabby, when you consider ... [Gizmodo]

Of course, if your speed of choice is closer to 85 miles per hour, Austin has the Texas-sized stretch of road for you, and there's plenty of room. [NPR]

And speaking of traffic, if you think it's bad being stuck in it with an automobile, imagine being a penguin. Yes, that's right, a penguin. [Gizmodo]

From the South Pole, we go to the North Pole, where the legend of Santa Claus makes its home. It seems that Canada is becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claims, but at least old Saint Nick will know what passport to carry, and just in time for ... well, you know. [Gizmodo]

Barbara Walters had this to say about the President: "We thought that he was going to be – I shouldn’t say this at Christmas time, but – the next messiah." When someone so accustomed to public speaking says something this stupid, you have to see it to believe it. Here it is. [Hot Air]

Finally, with Christmas less than 36 hours away, it's time to start thinking about Easter, and while we're at it, Easter Island, where the demise of its civilization may have been more ominous than previously thought. [NPR]

And that's all the news that fits. As the week goes on, and we await the coming of the REAL messiah, stay tuned, and stay in touch.

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 ...)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

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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Advent IV: Love

1 Corinthians 4:1-2

Brethren: Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God. Here now it is required among the dispensers that a man be found faithful. R. Thanks be to God.

V. O Lord, hear our prayer.
R. And let our cry come unto Thee.
V. Let us pray ...


O Lord, we beseech Thee, stir up Thy power, and come, and with great might succor us: that by the help of Thy grace that which is hindered by our sins may be hastened by Thy merciful forgiveness: Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end.

R. Amen.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

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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(The celebration continues into Christmastide. Click HERE.)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Clavis David

Veni, Clavis Davidica,
    O come, thou Key of David, come,
Regna reclude caelica,
    And open wide our heavenly home;
Fac iter tutum superum,
    Make safe the way that leads on high,
Et claude vias inferum.
    And close the path to misery.

Isaiah had prophesied, “I will place the Key of the House of David on His shoulder; when he opens, no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open.” (22:22), and “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over His kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.” (9:6).

“O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.”

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

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Radix Jesse

Veni, O Jesse virgula,
    O come, thou Rod of Jesse's stem,
Ex hostis tuos ungula,
    From every foe deliver them.
De specu tuos tartari
    That trust thy mighty power to save,
Educ et antro barathri.
    And give them vict'ry o'er the grave.

Isaiah had prophesied, “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (11:1), and “On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” (11:10). Remember also that Jesse was the father of King David, and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:1).

“O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”

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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 18, 2013

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Adonai

Veni, Veni Adonai!
    O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
Qui populo in Sinai
    Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height
Legem dedisti vertice,
    In ancient times didst give the law
In Majestate gloriae.
    In cloud and majesty, and awe.

Isaiah had prophesied, “But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” (11:4-5); and “Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic; yes the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us.” (33:22).

“O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”

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

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Sapientia

Veni, O Sapientia,
    O come, O Wisdom from on high,
Quae hic disponis omnia,
    who orders all things mightily,
Veni, viam prudentiae
    to us the path of knowledge show,
Ut doceas et gloriae.
    and teach us in her ways to go.

Isaiah had prophesied, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).

“O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

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

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(Commentary for this series of the “O Antiphons” is authored by Father William Saunders, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. Copyright 2003 Arlington Catholic Herald. Used without permission or shame.)

Z <-- This is the link to one of a series of commentaries on the O Antiphons, by Father John Zuhlsdorf. They will appear at the end of every installment in this series.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Novena for Christ-Mass: Prelude

In a nation where eighty percent of the population is Catholic, Christmas starts early. It has to. After all, you cannot have a feast like Christmas without it being preceded by a novena. That's when you get up to attend Mass just before dawn for nine days before the big day. In the Philippines, it is known as “Simbang Gabi” which is Tagalog for “evening Mass.” It is also known as “Misa de Gallo” which is Spanish for “Rooster’s Mass.”

So why is this series of Masses held in the morning and not the evening, as is customary with Masses for a Christmas novena? The answer can be traced to the early colonial days, when the people would be exhausted from working in the fields all day for their Spanish taskmasters. The priests and friars who tended to their spiritual needed, availed themselves of the people's desire to start the day early, ahead of the tropical heat, and moved the customary Mass and devotion to the early morning, before dawn. And so it must be with a sense of irony that the Archdiocese of Manila saw fit to introduce liturgical norms for celebration of the novena, which includes provision for Simbang Gabi in the evenings, for those office professionals who can more easily attend at that time.

The popular decoration for Christmas in the Philippines is the “parol” (pronounced “pah-ROLL” with a rolling "r", from the Spanish word for lantern, "farol"), which is as common there as the Christmas tree is here in the States. This star-shaped motif is a cross between a Chinese lantern and the Mexican piñata. It is lit from within; traditionally with candlelights mounted inside, but in the last century with electric lights. They are typically two to three feet wide, but if you go to such renowned events as the Fiesta at San Fernando, Pampanga (north of Metro Manila), there is a huge parade to celebrate the beginning -- no, not of Christmas, but of the novena!

Traditional parols are made with bamboo sticks and rice paper. If you go to the site known as “MyParol.com” you can learn to make one, or even order a kit. Better yet, if you can't wait for delivery, simply read the instructions and find what you need at an arts and crafts store. You could have it done next weekend.

Here at Chez Alexandre, we have a very colorful parol gracing the front door, one that Sal brought back from the Philippines. It is obviously of the modern variety, with elaborate flashing lights, and made with wire and a type of seashell known as capiz. The rest of the decorations will follow, but we had to start out on the right foot (or, should we say, in the right light?).

Now, back to that novena thing.

We here at man with black hat have an annual tradition of honoring the “O Antiphons” the seven chants which introduce the Vesperal Canticle -- the “Magnificat” -- in the Divine Office. Most people hear paraphrases of them all at once in the hymn "O Come O Come Emmanuel," but they are meant to be sung one a day, ending with the day before the that of the Vigil. Over time, our annual feature has evolved into its present form, as a comprehensive aid to daily devotion. For just five minutes of viewing during a quiet time in the day, one may contemplate the coming of the God-made-man. The video clips for this unique series are provided by the YouTube channel of francisxcc entitled “The Splendor of Truth.”

As an added bonus, we will provide links for each Antiphon, to Father John Zuhlsdorf's famous commentaries on the same, the link for which will be indicated by the letter “Z” at the bottom of each entry.

They will be set up to publish at nine in the morning, eastern USA time, beginning tomorrow. Stay tuned ...

[NOTA BENE: Regarding a reference in the first video, a "barangay" is a municipality within a city; roughly corresponding to "barrio" in Spanish, or "berg" in German" or "borough" in English. New York City, for example, is divided into five boroughs -- Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. Same concept, just sayin' ...]