Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Lady in Brown

It was the spring of 1965, when the third- and fourth-graders at St Andrew's School were assembled in the parish church, having received the Sacrament of Confirmation several months before. Each of us was ceremoniously given two small pieces of brown wool with little images on them, connected by two lengths of brown rope, to be hung around the our necks.

It was what Catholics would refer to as an "Enrollment in the Brown Scapular."

Our Lady of Carmel by Pietro Novelli, 1641Today, the western Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is one of the most popular feasts in honor of the Blessed Mother, if only for its association with the Brown Scapular.

In its original form, a "scapular" is a tunic-like garment worn over the habit of male or female members of religious orders. In its more popular form, it is two small pieces of cloth connected by two cords, worn over the neck.

The so-called “Brown Scapular” identified with the Carmelite Order and their traditional brown apparel, originated in the appearance of the Blessed Mother to Saint Simon Stock in 1251. She is said to have told him, upon granting him the Scapular:

“Take, beloved son this scapular of thy order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant.”

Of course, this does not make the Brown Scapular some sort of magic talisman, which would amount to superstition, and thus objectively sinful in practice. The "Sabbatine Privilege" associated with wearing the Brown Scapular requires that the person: 1) Wear the Brown Scapular continuously, 2) Observe chastity according to one’s state in life (married/single/whatever), 3) Recite daily the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, OR observe the fasts of the Church together with abstaining from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays, OR with permission of a priest, say five decades of Our Lady’s Most Holy Rosary OR With permission of a priest, substitute some other good work.

Pope Benedict XV also said you could knock 500 days off Purgatory if you kissed it, devoutly (if you're into that sort of thing).

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Also popular (and arguably more common) is the wearing of the "scapular medal." This is a small medal worn in lieu of the Brown Scapular, although not really a replacement. The minimum requirements, laid down by Pope Saint Pius X in 1910, is that the medal must "show the image of Our Most Holy Redeemer, Jesus Christ, showing His Sacred Heart, and the obverse that of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary." Most of them have a rather common appearance, but yours truly found a remarkably uncommon choice on eBay, and wears it faithfully.

The devotion remains popular today, as a new generation of Catholics discover tradition. One can spot a Catholic "kickin' it old skool" from across a crowded room, bearing the telltale sign around their neck that peers out from underneath the neckline of their clothing. More information about the Brown Scapular, the devotion attached to it, and the ceremony for its reception (which is how yours truly got his as a fourth grader in the spring of 1965) can be found here.

Of course, once you are enrolled, you don't have to enroll again, nor does your Scapular have to be blessed. This writer started wearing his again only recently, and didn't have to do anything once it was worn. (See above.)

Devotion to this title of Our Lady takes other forms in Italian communities throughout North America. Most notable is the annual patronal celebration of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a 125-year-old parish located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. Every year at this time, a giant tower topped by an image of Saint Paulinus of Nola is carried aloft in procession on a giant platform, accompanied by a brass band. For the boys of the parish who participate in carrying the statue, this event symbolizes a manly rite of passage.

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Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Catholic world, we remember Saint Marie-Madeleine (baptismal name Julie) Postel, born in France in 1756. Entering into religious life under Franciscan rule, she went on to found the Sisters of Christian Schools. During the French Revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror, not only did she hide fugative priests at the risk of her own life, but was charged with carrying the Holy Eucharist to others in hiding at the direction of her bishop. Such measures have long been common during times of persecution, and was the original intention of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, as opposed to ... well, you know.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Sometimes you feel like a nut ...

Today, the Christian world celebrates the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

The Church of Rome reserves this day for ecumenical celebrations with the Eastern Orthodox, as a sign of hope for unity between East and West. In the reformed Roman calendar, it is recognized as a solemnity, and is a holyday of obligation in many countries (if not the United States). The traditional Roman calendar notes it as a double octave of the first class. In both cases, its celebration displaces that of the Sunday of the year. In other words, it's definitely up there on the food chain.

And speaking of food ...

The world of Catholic new media has plenty of meditations on this day. This writer prefers different approach:

At the train station in Naugatuck, Connecticut, candy and ice-cream shop owner Peter Paul Halajian used to meet the commuter trains carrying baskets full of fresh hand-made chocolates. The most popular of his candies was a blend of coconut, fruits, nuts, and chocolate that he called Konabar ...

Eventually Peter Paul merged with Cadbury, which later merged with Hershey. Not only is there a recipe for the Mounds and Almond Joy confections on the internet, but you can also bake a cake out of them, with recipes to be found here and here.

Personally, I can't think of a better way to celebrate this feast than to bake a cake out of something that says "Peter Paul," don't you think?

Or don't you?
 

Friday, June 16, 2023

In Corde Jesu

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

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

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

There were various monastic communities who took up the devotion since the eleventh century, but the real tip of the biretta has always gone to St Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90), a Visitation nun who had a vision. While praying before the Blessed Sacrament, she saw Our Lord with his heart beating openly, and the sight of it all sent her into a spell of ecstasy. “He disclosed to me the marvels of his Love and the inexplicable secrets of his Sacred Heart.” And so it was, with local approval, that the Feast itself was first officially celebrated in Rennes, France. This was followed by papal approval, with official texts for the Mass and Office, in Poland and Portugal. Its popularity spread across Europe. Then in 1856, Pope Pius IX established the Feast of the Sacred Heart as obligatory for the whole Church, to be celebrated on the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi. The octave was suppressed during the 1955 calendar reforms of Pope Pius XII, along with most existing octaves*, and yet the novena that precedes this feast is rising in popularity among traditional Catholics in the West.

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

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

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

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

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This year, the feast ahs taken on more significance in North America. With the entire month of June traditionally associated with the Sacred Heart, we note the rise of the so-called "Pride Month," where persons of alternative sexual identification celebrate their actions against the laws of God and nature, and coerce businesses and communities to do the same. Recently, Holy Trinity Church, in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, chose to celebrate a "Pride Mass," as if sympathy for sodomy in the form of Holy Mass would never evoke cries to heaven for vengeance. In response, several dozen of the faithful waited across the street to pray the Rosary as an act of reparation.

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* The suppression of most octaves in the liturgical calendar by Pius XII has recently become a matter of much debate, attributing it to an overzealous agenda within the Liturgical Movement. However, it may have also been the result of conflicts between at least some of those octaves, and commemorations of equal or greater rank occurring at the same time -- but, that's another story.

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Pange Lingua Gloriosi!

A story of the Feast of Corpus Christi

In the tradition of our Mother the Church, the days of the week are venerated, each for a different purpose. An example would be the reservation of Saturday to honor the Blessed Mother. No less worthy of note is the association of Thursday with the Holy Eucharist. For it was on a Thursday night that Our Lord instituted this Great Sacrament, changing the bread and wine into His Sacred Body and Precious Blood, the bloodless foretaste of His bloody Sacrifice on Calvary the following day.

The gift of this Bread of Angels would be cause for great celebration, but for the larger context of the Paschal Triduum, where the suffering and death of Our Lord precedes the Resurrection as the Prophets foretold. And yet the Church would so wish to shed a spotlight on this solitary Gift, that She has enabled events in Her history to set aside this solemn remembrance, on a Thursday immediately after Paschaltide.

Such a remembrance began with a vision.

From her childhood, a young Belgian orphan girl named Juliana (1193-1258) was especially devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. From her home in the convent of Mont Cornillon, near Liege (where she eventually took the veil), she longed for a feast to mark its place in salvation history. This desire was marked in a vision, where she saw Mother Church, under the appearance of a full moon with a dark spot upon Her. It was this blemish that was discerned to be the missing devotion for which she longed. Her appeal was first made to the Bishop of Liege, and onward to one prelate after the next, eventually reaching the Holy Father himself, then Pope Urban IV. The good bishop declared the Thursday immediately following the Easter season as dedicated to the feast in 1246.

As if a vision were not enough, this feast was further inspired by a miracle.

In 1263, a priest on pilgrimage was having his doubts about the Real Presence. But Peter of Prague found reason to set those doubts aside while celebrating Mass in the town of Bolsena, when the Host he consecrated started bleeding. Pope Urban was in Orvieto at the time, and the good Father brought the Host to him. It was reserved in the Cathedral of that city, where it remains today.

The following year, Pope Urban extended the observance of Corpus Christi to the entire Western church.

Urban then turned to a great theologian of his day, no less than Thomas Aquinas, commissioning him to compose the liturgical texts and hymns for the Feast. From the pen of the Angelic Doctor came four of the great hymns we know today, including Pange, lingua, which is also sung at the end of Mass on Holy Thursday. Perhaps his greatest work for this occasion was the sequence hymn Laude, Sion. It is here that the theological precision for which the good Doctor was known, and the sober character that is native to the Roman liturgy, was married to a description of almost Byzantine splendor, bringing forth a poem of love and devotion to the awesome Mystery:

Sub diversis speciebus,
signis tantum, et non rebus,
latent res eximiae.
Caro cibus, sanguis potus:
manet temen Christus totus,
sub utraque specie.


Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things to sense forbidden;
Sign, not things are all we see:
Blood is poured and flesh is broken,
Yet in either wondrous token
Christ entire we know to be.


In the centuries leading to the present day, the most popular aspect of the Feast continues to be the Procession following the Mass, when the Holy Eucharist, reserved in the monstrance, is carried by the priest in formal procession. In many locales, the festivity carries into the main street of the town. Often it is preceded by flower-bearers spreading rose petals upon the ground, along a route that may be decorated with flowers and festive wreaths. This is followed by a complement of acolytes and other sacred ministers, culminating in the celebrant bearing the monstrance, under the protection of a canopy, and flanked on both sides by twin thurifers, who alternate their perfuming of the air surrounding the sacred Host.

The feast is met at its conclusion, by another beginning. On this day, a Novena to the Sacred Heart is traditionally begun, culminating in a feast of its own on Friday of the following week.

Tu, qui cuncta scis et vales,
qui nos pascis hic mortales:
tuus ibi commensales,
coheredes et sodales
fac sanctorum civium.


Thou who all things can and knoweth,
Who on earth such food bestoweth,
Grant us with thy saints, though lowest,
Where the heav'nly feast thou showeth,
Fellow saints and guests to be.

Amen. Alleluia.


PHOTOS: Celebrations of the Feast in Antigua, Guatemala (Infrogmation), in Poznań, Poland (Radomil), and in Vaduz, Liechtenstein (Joyce Chan).

Last but not least, in the little town of Benedict, in southern Maryland (2020 Census Population 232), a procession from Saint Francis de Sales Church leads to a makeshift altar at the shore of the Patuxent River, for the climactic Exposition and Benediction, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 15 June 2017. Yours truly is Master of Ceremonies, kneeling to the right of the priest/celebrant, Father Kevin M Cusick.


Sunday, May 28, 2023

Novena: Pentecost

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


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


Prayer

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

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

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

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

Amen.

(And so begins the season following The Mother Of All Novenas. To view whole enchilada, click here.)

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Novena Day 9: The Fruits of the Holy Ghost

Da tuis fidelibus
in te confidentibus
sacrum septenarium.


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


Meditation

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

Prayer

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

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

(With this entry, so completes The Mother Of All Novenas. To see it as completed, click here.)

Friday, May 26, 2023

Novena Day 8: The Gift of Wisdom

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


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


Meditation

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

Prayer

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

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

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

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Novena Day 7: The Gift of Counsel

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


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


Meditation

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

Prayer

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Novena Day 6: The Gift of Understanding

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


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


Meditation

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

Prayer

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Novena Day 5: The Gift of Knowledge

O lux beatissima,
reple cordis intima
tuorum fidelium.


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


Meditation

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

Prayer

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

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2023

Novena Day 4: The Gift of Fortitude

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


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


Meditation

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

Prayer

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

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

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

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Novena Day 3: The Gift of Piety

Consolator optime,
dulcis hospes animae,
dulce refrigerium.


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


Meditation

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

Prayer

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

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

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

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Novena Day 2: The Gift of Fear

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


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


Meditation

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

Prayer

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

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

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

Friday, May 19, 2023

Novena Day 1: The Holy Ghost

So it begins, The Mother Of All Novenas.

Veni Sancte Spiritus
et emitte caelitus
lucis tuae radium.


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


Meditation

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

Prayer

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

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

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

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

The Next Day of the Rest of My Life

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

IMAGE: A map of Kings Island Amusement Park, as it appeared in 1973.

Mine was fifty years ago last Friday. We looked into that last week. The next one was fifty years ago today.

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The picnic grounds that later became known as an amusement park occupied a place east of Cincinnati. First known in 1867 as "Ohio Grove, the Coney Island of the West," it was later known as "Coney Island on the Ohio," and eventually just "Coney Island." Between periodic floods in the spring, and having extended the limits of its property, the Taft Broadcasting Company, which acquired the park by the late 1960s saw the need to expand the concept elsewhere. They found a plot 25 miles northeast of the city, near a little town known as Kings Mills. This explains the otherwise-inexplicable name of “Kings Island” for a theme park. Forty years ago today, I neared the end of one adventure, and began another, one that was to change my outlook on life, and on my self-image.

I had worked at the park briefly the previous autumn -- the "post-season" weekends, as they're called -- in the Rides department. I told them I had experience with canoeing, so they put me at a lake helping people get into and out of canoes. When the weather got too cold, they transferred me to the roller coaster. At the end of October, that was the end of that.

But I wanted more. They had a "Live Shows and Entertainment" department. The money was better, and one of my buds from high school, Chris "Seadog" Seipelt, was one of the animal characters. You know, those guys who walk around in the animal costumes and get their pictures taken with little kids and all that. "You should try out, Dave," he told me. "I'll even help you prepare the audition." He had this costume head which I wore as a prop, and with a 45rpm recording of Elvis Presley's "Blue Suede Shoes," I passed the audition with a presentation of "Bingo Learns to Dance." (Don't ask.)

And I was in.

The money was certainly better. And being in the Shows department had a certain caché that wasn't shared by, say, the ride operators or those who worked the food concession stands. Wearing jumpsuits for most of the day, the guys in our crew would go out for a half-hour or forty-five minutes in these costumes based on Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters -- Yogi Bear, the Flintstones, you know the type -- escorted by these girls known as "guardettes," who would do the talking (since we weren't allowed) and help arrange the kids for photographs. We also had a performance in "Hanna-Barbera Land" of "The Banana Splits Show," which was a fictional rock band composed of four animal characters, and a popular Saturday morning kids show at the time. We pantomimed to a pre-recording of the characters in action. Even as a rookie, I became renowned for my rendition of "Fleagle," the de facto leader of the pack.

It was hot. It was grueling. It was three or four times a day. It was worth every minute.

But the character for which I became best known, was "Templeton the Rat," from the Hanna-Barbera production of "Charlotte's Web." I actually learned how to make the character appear quite real. Once inside the costume, I would bend over slightly, with my head down, and bow my legs when I walked. That made the torso jiggle back and forth, and people actually could imagine seeing a live rodent trying to walk on his hind legs. I can still remember the uproarious laughter from the crowds as I walked away.

IMAGE: The Banana Splits, in an undated publicity photo.

I modeled for children's fashion magazines, and promotions for consumer products. But for all that, my greatest single achievement was being in a movie. After building Kings Island, Taft Broadcasting decided to build a sister park north of Richmond known as "Kings Dominion." They produced a fifteen-minute preview film to promote it in the Richmond area. Some footage was shot at Kings Island, after which the new park would be modeled, while other footage was shot at the construction site. The Banana Splits were the main cast, and I was "Snorky" the elephant, and the only rookie in the cast. We drove to Richmond to film some of it, and Dudley Taft (a descendant of President William Howard Taft) flew us home in his private jet.

Now, back to the ladies.

These girls who accompanied us came from the Guest Relations department, and were hired for their poise, composure, and -- oh yes, their bodaciousness. In fact, they were just about the hottest babes in the whole park. Not only that, but they were the nicest girls you could ever wanna take home to Mama. Most of the guys in the crew were working their way through college, and a few were pretty sure of themselves, especially when it came to the ladies, these ladies in particular. They struck out more often than not, at least at first, which surprised me at the time. After all, high school was nothing like this. I mean, there were rules, you see. You dated within your predestined social class, and never ventured outside of it. There was this one guy -- Tom, I think his name was -- and he told us that he could use every cliché he could think of and still win over the object of his affection. And it actually worked.

There were plenty of opportunities for Tom, of course, and anyone else so bold. We were young, it was summer, and after working hard, we would play hard. There were parties two or three nights a week, just the Characters and the Guardettes. Unlike them, I was not so bold. And one of the first things I learned, is that the girls liked me best for that reason, that I wasn't constantly on the make, which is why they named me "Character of the Year" in an informal poll. Even so, I dated quite a bit that summer, but I usually went for the younger ones, figuring that was all I could, uh, handle. The guys would get on my case for chasing "jailbait," a term someone actually had to explain more than once. I had no idea what they were talking about. I was far from losing my innocence that summer.

But it didn't matter. You see, I could still remember getting beat up by the kids in the neighborhood only ten years earlier. I was physically bullied all through high school. But that summer, for the first time in my nearly nineteen years of a so-called life, I knew what it was like to be ... popular.

IMAGE: George Clooney, yeah, that George Clooney. I knew his dad, sort of.

One week, "The Nick Clooney Show" was broadcast from the park. That was a local variety and talk show back in the 1970s. My buddy Terry and I actually met Nick after work. He was walking around in the park, and against my protestations, Terry called out, "Hey, Nick, over here!" And we talked shop for about five minutes. One day, he brought his family to the park, including a twelve-year-old boy named George. Nick went on to hosting old movies on the American Movie Classics channel. His son has enjoyed a measure of success as well.

Ya think?

I can still remember getting off work at 7:30 in the evening, and going out into the park with a buddy, or a girl I was trying to impress. I remember going on the Alpine Sky Ride as the sun was setting, watching the big band play at the head of the fountain under the fake Eiffel Tower, and being one of the "plants" in the audience for the girl singers. I remember watching the fireworks every evening at ten.

Most of all, I remember never wanting it to end. But it did. We all went off to college, or wherever we were going. Some of my pals went up to Miami University, located in a bucolic college town known as Oxford, northwest of the city. Sometimes when I was there on the weekend for a party, I'd call up my friend Mary Margaret. No, she couldn't join me that night, she was studying. That's right, studying on Friday night. I was disappointed, of course, but I shouldn't have been. I later found out she married a classmate of mine, just after graduating from college.

One of the popular kids. Naturally.

I managed to work at the park for one more summer, but it wasn't the same. I found my only-recently-former girlfriend suddenly "pre-engaged" to some creep who spent three months tormenting me, when he wasn't pretending to be my buddy. He knew how to be everybody else's buddy, too, bringing porn films into the trailer where we took breaks. (Two of us usually left.) I spent the first half of the summer upset that things weren't the same. Why didn't time stand still while I was at college? Where was the magic? And who let all these ***holes in here?

I stayed in touch with some of "the gang" for several years afterwords, but eventually most of them faded away. I am still in touch with two of the guys; one of them a Catholic priest in Cincinnati, the other a retiree in Florida who, like me, married a Filipina. I have not spoken to any of the gals since leaving Ohio more than forty years ago.

It must be a very different experience now. Young women now join the young men in wearing the costumes, and the last time I checked, the characters were from the "Peanuts" comic strip, which can't be nearly as much fun. But most of all, they probably don't get away with half the stuff we pulled off. We had this thing we did to initiate the new girls who escorted us, something called "the squeeze play" ...

I guess you had to be there.

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I think Frank Sinatra said it best: “Life is like the seasons; after winter comes the spring.” In the summer of 1973, I learned that there was life after high school, a world without a label assigned to you, but one you made for your self. It's hard to believe today that such a thing would never have occurred to me. I also learned that nothing in this world lasts forever. You wait long enough, something changes. People move on, life goes on.

And so did I.
 

Friday, May 12, 2023

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

IMAGE: Archbishop McNicholas High School, Cincinnati, Ohio, as it appeared back in the day.

You might remember that expression from when you graduated from high school. It signaled a rite of passage, of moving on in life, whether to college, a job, a marriage, or whatever fate decided to bestow upon you as an adult. Mine actually occurred in the weeks before graduation, in two parts.

The first was fifty years ago this evening.

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I spent my senior year of Catholic high school in the advanced placement "Humanities Seminar," which combined the mandatory subjects of English, Religion, and Social Studies, into a unique interdisciplinary symbiosis. It was quite the challenge compared to conventional high school classwork, but one that cultivated a scholarly atmosphere worthy of college. The experience saved me from the boredom of "senioritis," not to mention the occasional degeneracy of whatever upper-class suburban white trash managed to slip through the cracks of the Admissions office four years earlier.

Mary Margaret -- her real first and middle names; I will spare her the disclosure of the rest -- was the quintessential "nice Catholic girl." She was very pretty without being overly glamorous, and had no pretensions about herself. We spent much of the latter part of the school year sitting next to one another. Even then, the way to my heart was for a gal to laugh at all my jokes. I won't say that a romance blossomed, although part of me at the time wished it had. While she was very much down to earth, something about her was inaccessible, untouchable, rendering me almost unworthy. This did not prevent a deep and apparently abiding friendship from developing. I had no steady girlfriend, and would not have known what to do with one anyway (having learned the hard way earlier in the senior year -- twice). So when the equivalent of the senior prom arrived -- we called it the "Spring Formal," don't ask me why -- I called her on the phone and asked her to accompany me, and she accepted. Fortunately for me, she was equally inaccessible to everyone else. She made no attempt to be. Mary wasn't one of those girls who hiked her uniform skirt six inches above the knee when she was a safe distance from the house. Nor was she interested much in "dating," so far as I knew.

I will save the perspective on that for later. Meanwhile, back to our misadventure ...

IMAGE: Some guy named Bill with (bad fashion sense and) his prom date. Used without permission or shame.

When that magic evening came, it was without a tuxedo.

My mother could not fathom my going to the expense of spending twenty dollars (about one hundred and forty dollars in today's currency, oh yes!) to rent a suit that I would only wear once. This was actually a mixed blessing. That meager price would have afforded me a garden-variety black tuxedo, with a plain white shirt and black bow tie, as opposed to the more expensive, and eminently more "stylish" brightly-colored polyester regalia with a ruffled shirt that was popular back then, and the subject of retrospective shame in the present day. So I wore my favorite brick-red Norfolk jacket with grey slacks, and my favorite tie.

Mary's mother was very nice, and took our picture by the fireplace before we left. She seemed to know my parents, my father in particular, but I don't remember how. I also don't remember who the other couple was that we went with that night. But he drove, and Mary and I sat in the back seat, holding hands, her head gently perched on my shoulder, wearing the orchid I bought for her. We had a very grand time, dancing the night away in the suitably decorated school cafeteria, as this was before renting an overpriced hotel ballroom was de rigueur.

When it was over, and I finally took her home, that goodnight kiss that every teenaged boy meets with anticipation and dread, never came. Girls like Mary didn't take kissing lightly, if at all.

I was driven back to Milford, and stumbled into the house at about three in the morning. Naturally, the old man was waiting. Now, in my younger days, there was rarely a euphoric occasion that he couldn't find a way to ruin somehow, at the breach of any infraction. The good news was, it wasn't in front of a crowd (which never stopped him before). The bad news was, I was up for at least an hour (which seemed much longer), admonished in no uncertain terms for keeping a young innocent girl out so late at night, and bringing shame and dishonor to our entire household. Immersed in his own Euripides play that he was, he ordered me to apologize to the poor lass at school on Monday morning, for being such a thoughtless rogue.

Needless to say, she was sufficiently amused by the whole thing.

Before I left high school, I gave her a final token of my affection; a pair of Snoopy earrings I bought at a greeting card store. (It was the early seventies, after all.) She put them on immediately. After I left, we managed to stay in touch during the summer, but not as much as I might otherwise would have wished.

For you see, there were other events on the horizon, and the matter for our sequel, one week from today. Stay tuned ...
 

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Where Have You Gone, Quasimodo?

IMAGE: Lon Chaney as Quasimodo, Patsy Ruth Miller as Esmeralda in the 1923 film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

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

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

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

(I thought the Sacrament of Confession did that regardless of the time of year. This is what I get for using Wikipedia for an explanation.)

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

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

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

Such devotions, to the extent that they would coexist with the liturgical year, must harmonize with it if they are to truly edify the faithful. This requires sufficient deference to the history of salvation as played out during the year, beginning with the incarnation, and continuing with the life, passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord, followed by his ascension into Glory, and the establishment of His Church on Earth through the work of the Holy Spirit.

That said, there is an aspect of this devotion that may appear problematic, one that has less to do with the Feast itself, than with the novena which precedes it, one that begins on Holy Thursday, and extends throughout the Octave of Easter.

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

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

This response contradicts itself. It claims that the timing of the Novena doesn't "supersede" the Triduum, and then goes on to ignore its culmination. And yet, superseding is exactly what it attempts.

For nearly two millennia, the Easter season, including the Octave, has been devoted to the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the traditional requirement to abstain from meat does not apply on the Friday of this octave -- somebody just has to have a burger today -- such is the magnitude of the occasion. The Fathers of the Church have told us, we have commemorated the fast, therefore let us celebrate the feast. Yet the novena is devoted to chanting thus: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Granted, at every Mass offered on any given day, we remember the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ -- the whole nine yards. But that comparison ends in the context of the liturgical seasons, the purpose of which is to shed a spotlight on a particular aspect of salvation history at the liturgical year progresses. There is sufficient reason to doubt that the emphasis made by this novena, given its timing, sheds that spotlight appropriately, even if we reduce it to a mere devotion (as opposed to the official prayer of the Church through her liturgical life).

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

While accepting the judgment of the Apostolic See in this matter of the Sunday commemoration itself, we may wish to re-examine this devotion in relation to the whole of the liturgical year. Even if the novena is not a liturgical act in the official sense, its use in parishes during the octave of the Resurrection misses the big picture, which is ...

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

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

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

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Christus resurrexit! Sicut dixit, Alleluia!

It was on an Easter Sunday,
    and all in the morning,
Our Savior arose,
    and our heavenly King.
The sun and the moon,
    they both did rise
        with him,
And sweet Jesus
    we’ll call him by name.


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An Easter Homily of Saint John Chrysostom

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Is there anyone who is a grateful servant? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages! If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaias foretold this when he said, "You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Friday, April 07, 2023

Good Friday

It was on a good Friday,
    and all in the morning,
They crucified our Savior,
    and our heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing
And sweet Jesus,
    we’ll call him by name.


From "the third hour" until "the sixth hour." From sext to none. From noon until three in the afternoon. Scripture tells us that our Lord was dying on the cross at this time, culminating in the words “Consummatum Est” (“It is finished”).

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When we were kids, growing up in Ohio, we would either go to church for Stations of the Cross or some related devotion, or if we were at home, Mom would turn the radio off, and we were told to be quieter than usual. Thus did we mark the consummation of the ultimate act of sacrificial Love, that of the Bridegroom for His bride.

PHOTO: Gail Deibler Finke

Elsewhere in Cincinnati, a venerable custom of more than a century and a half still takes place on this day.

In December 1860, a Catholic church was completed on a bluff atop Mount Adams, overlooking the central city from the east, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Since the hill was too steep for a horse-and-buggy, there were a series of wooden steps built as well, leading from St Gregory Street near the river, all the way to the church entrance. The following spring saw the start of the War Between The States, and Immaculata Church became the site of devout Catholics praying the rosary for peace while climbing the steps to its entrance.

Even today, the tradition continues, as every year on Good Friday (a day when it invariably rains), an estimated ten thousand pilgrims climb the 85 steps -- the wooden ones having since been replaced by concrete -- leading to the entrance. The procession begins at midnight, with the parish priest's blessing of the steps, and continues for twenty-four hours.

The Passionist Historical Archives elaborates on the legacy of “St Mary’s of the Steps”, as does the parish website.

Our meditation for Good Friday is a photo montage with the imagery of the cross by Terri Rogers.

Last year on this day, I was the master of ceremonies for Good Friday at Saint Luke's Parish in Fort Washington, Maryland. Not so much this year. More on that gig later.

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Finally, and for what it's worth, the New York Stock exchange closes on this day. Even in the heart of Mammon, some things are still sacred, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Thursday, April 06, 2023

Maundy Thursday

It was on a
    maundy Thursday,
        and all in the morning,
They planted
    a crown of thorns
        on our heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing,
And sweet Jesus
    we'll call him by name.


Today begins the Sacred Triduum. For many years, I would take this day and the next off from work. Sometimes I go to church to pray the Tenebrae of Holy Week. Some years I have served at the altar for the Mass of the Day, but lately there is very little demand for a sixty-eight-year-old altar boy.

Be that as it may, for a Catholic, as much as some try to deny it, the next three days are not business as usual. The whole of human history -- before, during, after -- turns on the events we remember this week. Our meditation is from a poem by Jalaludin Rumi. It is translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne, with music by David Wilcox and Nance Pettit, and is produced by Bob Carlton.

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Spy Wednesday

It was on a Holy Wednesday,
    and all in the morning
When Judas betrayed
    our dear heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing,
And sweet Jesus,
    we'll call him by name.


This day in Holy Week is known among Western Christians by the above title (or among Christians in the East, Μεγάλη Τετάρτη), as tradition commemorates this day for when Judas Iscariot conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Our Lord, in exchange for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15).

Was that a lot of money in those days?

The term in the original language, "arguria," simply means "silver coins." Historians disagree as to what form of currency is described. They could have been either staters from Antioch, tetradrachms from Ptolemy, or shekels from Tyre. (Nothing about Greek drachmas, which were either bronze, copper, or iron. Just so we're clear on that.)

Closer to the present, it is also when we here at man with black hat (more or less) interrupt our usual blogcasting (such as it is) in order to focus on the Main Event for the several days that follow. Stay tuned ...

Friday, March 17, 2023

My Annual Über-Celtic Moment

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Patrick (387-493), the patron saint of Ireland. It is on the Emerald Isle that today is both a national and religious holiday. At one time, the bars would close and the churches would be full out of obligation. Only in recent years has the feast seen a more rebellious spirit, complete with parades and green beer (not to mention green hair). Naturally (if ironically), they have the Americans to thank for this.

And, since the feast usually takes place during Lent, the announcement above shows that some of us can indulge a wee bit more than others.

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Growing up in a postwar Catholic environment, those of us who attended the parish schools in the United States, were taught that there were two kinds of people; those who were Irish, and those who wish they were. My own family appeared to fall into neither category. There were the Irish nuns who favored the Irish kids, including the unforgettable Sister Mary Mel (yes, her real name), who wasn't above calling some miscreant a "jackass." But at least she was colorful. The rest of all things that were allegedly Irish were just so much blarney. I came to dismiss the whole notion of St Paddy's Day -- indeed, the whole notion of being Irish -- as a license for certain people to be more arrogant and obnoxious than they already were.

"Hail glorious Saint Patrick dear saint of our isle
On us thy poor children look down with a smile —"
But I'm not singing hymns and I'm not saying prayers
No, I'm gritting my teeth as I walk down the stairs
And into the street with these louts fiercely drinking
And screeching and lurching, and here's what I'm thinking —
They're using a stereotype, a narrow example,
A fraction, not even a marketing sample
To imitate Ireland, from which they don't come!
So unless that's just stupid, unless it's plain dumb,
All these kids from New Jersey and the five boroughs
And hundreds of cities, all drowning their sorrows,
With bottles and glasses and heads getting broken
(Believe me, just ask the mayor of Hoboken)
All that mindlessness, shouting and getting plain stocious —
That isn't Irish, that's simply atrocious.
I've another word too for it, this one's more stinging
I call it "racism." See, just 'cause you're singing
Some drunken old ballad on Saint Patrick's Day
Does that make you Irish? Oh, no — no way.
Nor does a tee-shirt that asks you to kiss them —
If they never come back I surely won't miss them
Or their beer cans and badges and wild maudlin bawling
And hammered and out of it, bodies all sprawling.

They're not of Joyce or of Yeats, Wilde, or Shaw.
How many Nobel Laureates does Dublin have? Four!
Think of this as you wince through Saint Patrick's guano —
Not every Italian is Tony Soprano.

Eventually I went to college, where I discovered Irish music. I mean the real thing, not the over-romanticized "Christmas-in-Killarney-on-St-Patrick's-in-June" that passed itself off as genuine the whole time. I simply couldn't get enough of it. I used to watch the Saint Patrick's Day parade in Cincinnati, which included the carrying of the statue of the Saint, which the local chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians would "steal" in the middle of night, from what was once the German parish in Mount Adams. (Long story.) There was also the local Irish dance school, with boys and girls who never imagined that, three decades later, they could do it for fame and fortune in shows like "Riverdance."

Who knew?

By the end of the 1970s I spent Sunday evenings working at a coffeehouse, and I helped broker a deal that brought Clannad to Cincinnati on their first American tour. I even gave harpist/vocalist Máire Brennan (pronounced MOY-uh) a ride back to where she was staying. Otherwise shy and aloof, I got her to laugh at my jokes. That seemed to matter at the time.

I saw Máire again in 1987, in a music video on VH1, for a song entitled "Something to Believe In." She was also the haunting voice in the Volkswagen commercials. Naturally she's world-famous now, and probably wouldn't return my calls, although she did write me a long and possibly heartfelt note when she autographed my copy of their album. I say "possibly" because it was in Gaelic, so I'll never know for sure, especially since it was among my collection that was stolen from my apartment in Georgetown back in 1994. (Bob, if you're reading this, tell your rich white trash buddies that I'd really like to have it back. And before you get your boxers in a bunch, the neighbors all thought YOU did it!) Máire also came out with a book in 2001 entitled "The Other Side of the Rainbow." She continues to tour and so on, but I knew her when.

(Sigh ...) Anyway, back to the '70s. While the whole world (including my now-beloved Celia on the other side of it) was going bananas over disco, the feast became an annual ritual, of spending most of the accompanying weekend hanging out at Hap's Irish Pub in the Hyde Park section of Cincinnati, or at Arnold's Bar and Grill downtown. Even when I moved to Washington in 1980, I learned Irish dancing (if not quite what appears in the above video), Irish folk tales, and the like. But the upscale bars in the Nation's capital weren't as quaint as the neighborhood pubs in my old hometown. I was under no illusions that this heritage was one that I could claim for my own.

In 1982, that claim became even more elusive. I married a girl whose grandparents came over from Slovakia, and who grew up hearing Slovak around the house. This pretty much killed any enthusiasm for all things Irish around our house.

You see, I learned a piece of American Catholic history that the mostly Irish-American church historians didn't exactly wear on their sleeves. By the time eastern Europeans came to America in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Irish were already the big fish in the little blue-collar pond, and didn't mind letting the "Hunkies" in the coal towns and factory neighborhoods know it. Going up the food chain, it got worse. Catholics of Eastern Rites -- with customs and liturgy similar to the Orthodox, but in communion with Rome -- had married priests. The mostly-Irish bishops assumed they were either schismatics, or worse. Their wives couldn't be treated in Catholic hospitals, and their children were barred from Catholic schools. Confused as these bishops were, they concluded that the faithful would be even more confused by the presence of married Catholic priests. Thus, by the 1920s, The (Irish-)American bishops pressured Rome to bar the (legitimately) married priests from coming to America, let alone ministering.

It has been shown that most of the growth of Eastern Orthodoxy in North America can be attributed to the damned ignorance of the (Irish-)American bishops of the time. (Hey, guys, nice work!)

This latency towards all things Irish got a reprieve when the marriage tanked in 1990. Then one night -- it was about 1998, as I remember -- I was interviewed for a writing job by a priest who edited a major Catholic periodical. A native of Dublin, he reminded me of what really mattered:

“Patrick was not Irish, and on his Feast Day, we do not celebrate being Irish; we celebrate being Catholic.”

I knew that the Alexanders came from a small town near Verdun, in the Lorraine province of northeastern France. But in recent years we learned that, before the 18th century, the Alexandre line was expatriated from Scotland, a result of the Rebellion when England overtook them. I was also to learn that the man known by the Roman name of Maganus Sucatus (Maewyn Succat in Gaelic) was of a Roman family, born in Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in that part of Great Britain that is now Scotland. Sooooo ... if not being Irish were not enough, Patricius (in modern English, Patrick) -- as he was known in later years, being of the Roman "patrician" class, and a "patriarch" to his spiritual charges -- might just as easily be claimed by the Scots as one of their own.
For years, one highlight of the day would be the Annual Irish Poetry Reading. That was when I'd call my folks in Ohio on this day every year, and with their speakerphone on, recite the following piece by Benjamin Hapgood Burt in a very bad Irish brogue:

One evening in October, when I was one-third sober,
    An' taking home a "load" with manly pride;
My poor feet began to stutter, so I lay down in the gutter,
    And a pig came up an' lay down by my side;
Then we sang "It's all fair weather when good fellows get together,"
    Till a lady passing by was heard to say:
"You can tell a man who 'boozes' by the company he chooses"
    And the pig got up and slowly walked away.


Since then, both have entered into eternity, most likely with better things to do.

Today, those who are Irish, who wish they were, or who don't give a rat's arse either way, will dine on Irish lamb stew. When I can ever find it amidst my stuff, I use this occasion to wear a button with the words of William Butler Yeats: “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree.” Usually, I listen to Celtic music the entire day, and at an opportune time and place, I dine on corned beef and cabbage. This is admittedly an American innovation for the Irish, as poor immigrants from the "auld sod" found corned beef (a substitute used by their Jewish neighbors in place of bacon) to be much cheaper than lamb.

Beginning this year, I got lucky, because right down the street from me, they opened an Irish pub. It seems that three Thai restaurant within a half mile of each other was one too many, and the one closest to me was replaced with the watering hole of my dreams. The Celtic House is situated on the corner of Columbia Pike and South Barton Street, right at the end of the latter street, which would be my street, a mere ten-minute walk away. Sometime today I'm making a point of being there, as if my fond memories of discovering real Irish culture have come full circle. True, it's not as small and crowded as Hap's, not nearly as weather-beaten as Arnold's, and they won't be selling raffle tickets for NORAID under the table, but I can ignore that long enough to enjoy a lamb stew.

I'll also probably watch Mel Gibson in Braveheart later tonight, while enjoying a Guiness float (which is like a root beer float, only ... well, you know). Who cares if William Wallace was Scottish? No one cares if Patrick isn't Irish, do they? After all, "The Apostle of Ireland" is properly claimed by Catholics everywhere, whether a bunch of micks care to admit it or not.

“Agus fagaimid siud mar ata se.”