Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Patron Saint of ... Leap Day?

This is a day that only happens once every four years, except in a year the number of which is divisible by four hundred. So this day didn't happen twenty years ago, but it's happening now. Not only that, there is a saint whose feast day is celebrated on this day.

Oswald of Worchester was Archbishop of York, in England, from 972 until his death in 992. He was born of Danish parents, the year being unknown, but raised by his uncle, Oda, who was Archbishop of Canterbury. Oda sent him to the Abbey of Fleury in France, but died prior to his return. He found a patron in Oda's successor, Oskytel. In 961, Oswald was consecrated as Bishop of Worchester, and later, in 972, was promoted to the see of York.

Oswald was a formidable influence on monastic life in the region. He promoted reforms, established new monasteries, and replaced the secular clergy of the cathedral chapter with monks. (It is said that the secular priests refused to give up their wives, which was expected of married men ordained at the time, betcha didn't know that!) He also started his own custom of washing the feet of the poor, and so he was at the moment of his death in 992 -- yes, a leap year.

It should be no coincidence that such a saintly man be remembered on this day, which reminds us to make adjustments; whether in the calendar to conform more accurately with the heavens, or in our own daily lives.

Not such a bad idea during the Lenten season, don't you think?

Or don't you?

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For years other than those with an extra day added, Oswald is commemorated on the day before. He's not the only one.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Random Thoughts After The Carnival

As you see the work of the German romanticist painter Carl Spitzweg (1808–85) entitled Ash Wednesday, the message conveys the end of Carnival. That's right, dear minions, the party is over. And, in the words of Smokey Robinson: "Just like Pagliacci did, I try to keep my sadness hid ..."

Wait, that's a different clown.

Today, the Western church begins the season of Lent, known in Latin as Quadragesima ("forty days"). And yes, if you don't count the Sundays, the days starting with this day, going on six and a half weeks through Holy Saturday, it really does last for forty days, as is demonstrated by the convenient chart below (which you can tell was made in Europe because the week starts with Monday, which we all know is wrong ... but that's another story).

Lent is one of the two major penitential seasons of the Church Year, the other being Advent (which, while not totally penitential, is still kinda sorta penitential). The rules for the Dioceses of the United States of America are, that every person fourteen years or older must abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent. Of course, they really should abstain from meat on Fridays year round, or devise "an alternate form of penance."

But we all know that's bogus, don't we?

Every person between the age of eighteen and fifty-nine must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. That means you only have one full meal on those days, and that the other two meals are "light collations" (or in Yiddish, a "nosh"), which together do not add up to the full meal. Oh, and no in-between meal snacks either.

This presumes, of course, that there is a discernible end to the main meal and the beginning of the light collation. I never understood how that works. It's like someone rings a bell that says: "Okay, kids, the meal is over, the no-eating-between-meals begins!"


People go to church on this day, even though this is not a holyday of obligation, if for no other reason, to be marked with ashes on their foreheads. The priest or deacon will say these (or similar?) words:

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris.

(Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.)

Of course, not all those you see on the streets so marked are Catholic. The practice has long been popular with Anglicans and Lutherans, and has also become common among "Methodists, Moravians, Nazarenes, Independent Catholics, as well as by many from the Reformed faith."

Thank you, Wikipedia.

Walk the streets of your city or town, and people make no attempt to hide the mark of the season. (Neither does Bret Beier of Fox News.) At my office two blocks west of the White House, the nearest location for me to receive ashes would be Saint John's Episcopal Church, located just north of Lafayette Square, which is just north of the White House (hence its being known as "The Church of the Presidents"). Of course, for a dedicated Catholic, that isn't quite the same, is it?

Maybe what nobody knows won't hurt them, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Candlemas Day (or, why Punxatawney Phil is a Catholic)

“When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated
to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.”
(Luke 2:22-24)

Today, both the Eastern and Western churches observe the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (known as "Candlemas" in the West), exactly forty days after Christmas. In the Catholic tradition, the Christmas Cycle officially ends with this day, and preparation for Lent can begin, which includes the "Carnival" season in much of South America. But today, and throughout the world, the faithful will process in and around their churches bearing lighted candles, which are blessed for the coming year.

The origin of this feast is described in detail, in this excerpt from the classic work of Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB, entitled The Liturgical Year.

The mystery of today's ceremony has frequently been explained by liturgists, dating from the 7th century. According to Ivo of Chartres, the wax, which is formed from the juice of flowers by the bee, always considered as the emblem of virginity, signifies the virginal flesh of the Divine Infant, who diminished not, either by His conception or His birth, the spotless purity of His Blessed Mother. The same holy bishop would have us see, in the flame of our Candle, a symbol of Jesus who came to enlighten our darkness. St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking on the same mystery, bids us consider three things in the blessed Candle: the wax, the wick, and the flame. The wax, he says, which is the production of the virginal bee, is the Flesh of our Lord; the wick, which is within, is His Soul; the flame, which burns on top, is His divinity.

This year's formality is here, courtesy of NBC News.

In Catholic Europe, especially in Germany where the practice originated, this feat of prediction was ascribed to German badgers. But since badgers are not found in the eastern United States, German immigrants to this country were obliged to depend for meteorological guidance on a species of marmot called by the Indians 'weejak' or woodchuck, also called ... the groundhog.

Finally, we end with the appropriate carol. Yes, there's a carol for ending Christmas, courtesy of John Roberts and Tony Barrand, two of the foursome known as "Nowell Sing We Clear."

And with that, on to Carnival!