Friday, June 07, 2024

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 has 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. Last year, 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, May 30, 2024

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 19, 2024

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 18, 2024

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 17, 2024

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 16, 2024

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 15, 2024

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 14, 2024

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 13, 2024

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 12, 2024

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 11, 2024

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 10, 2024

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.)

Sunday, April 07, 2024

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, March 31, 2024

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, March 29, 2024

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 over 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 legacy of “St Mary’s of the Steps” can be found at the parish website.

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

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, March 28, 2024

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 nobody wants a sixty-nine-year-old altar boy -- with one exception (more on that later).

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, March 27, 2024

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 ...

Sunday, March 17, 2024

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, there are times such as last year, when some of us are permitted on a day of abstinence to 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" (including my kid brother, as evesdropping on a phone call with Mom gave away). 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, and I 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, 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 1992. 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.

Then about seven years ago, I got lucky, because right down the street from me, they opened an Irish pub. It seems that three Thai restaurants 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 in Hyde Park, not nearly as weather-beaten as Arnold's downtown, 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 Guinness float (which is like a root beer float, with the obvious exception). 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.”

Thursday, February 29, 2024

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-four years ago, but it's happening today. 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. This is the Olympics of February days. The one that only happens once every four years. 29 February. Surely someone has explained to us why this occurs. But honestly, we don’t remember learning why this happens.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

“Kung hei faht choi!”



Today begins the lunar new year in China -- to be more exact, “The Year of the Dragon.” The above what they are saying in China, in the Philippines (where the occasion is known as "Bagong Taong Tsino"), as well as in any country with a large Chinese population, not to mention Chinatowns all over the world.

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I took my son Paul to his first "dragon festival" in DC's Chinatown back in 1987. He was one and a half years old, and fit right in with his bright red snowsuit. Such would be the culmination of a fifteen-day celebration that begins today (or yesterday, depending on your side of the planet).

Meanwhile, the video clip above was taken at the National Building Museum back in 2007 with a phone camera. That was the Year of the Pig, but at least a dragon showed up. Obviously camera phones have come a long way since then, don't you think?

Or don't you?

NOTE: As my beloved Celia is one-eighth Cantonese, the above title is the traditional greeting in that language, as opposed to the more common Mandarin, so the former is the one I'd hear around the house, as opposed to the latter. Meanwhile, learn more than you could possibly want to know about the occasion on Wikipedia.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

"Viva Pit Senyor!" - The Feast of Santo Niño

Our exploration of the continued remembrance of Christmastide as a forty-day feast continues, in ways that continue to surprise even the most ardent supporters of the idea (including the ones who are all talk, and you know who you are).

Most practicing Catholics in North America (we can only hope) are familiar with the image of the "Infant of Prague." While the devotion to the Child Jesus originated in Spain in the 16th century, it soon made its way to the Czech region of Bohemia, the historic capital city of which is Prague, hence the popular reference. But in much of the Spanish world, including the Philippines, he is known as "Santo Niño" and the feast commemorating the Christ Child (as he is referred to from infancy to the age of twelve) is celebrated on the third Sunday of January.

Rehearsal in Qatar, 2013.

All throughout South America and other parts of the Hispanic world, celebrations that are akin to our own Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday," the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent) take place. Among the greatest are the various celebrations of Santo Niño throughout the Philippihes, not only in the capital city of Manila, but especially in Cebu, the major city of the central region of Visayas, and the epicenter of the national celebration.

Sinulog in Singapore 2017 Rehearsals, directed by Edynne Baclay.



In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan came to Cebú and gave the image as a present to Humamay, chief consort of the local monarch, Raja Humabon, when she, together with her husband and a number of his subjects, were baptized into the Catholic faith. Tradition holds that Humamay -- who received the Christian name Juana after Joan of Castile -- danced for joy upon receiving the Santo Niño, providing a legendary origin for the fervent religious dancing during the Sinulog held in honor of the Christ Child. (from Wikipedia)

Sinulog Dance 2012 by Tribu Sugbu Dancers, Rockville MD, 2012.

While remembered primarily as a religious holiday, the celebration, or Sinulog, is known for its street festivals, as the young woman who is crowned queen of the festival leads the parade, dancing and carrying the image of the Christ Child in honor of him. The name "sinulog" comes from the Cebuano (Visayan) word "sulog," which translates roughly as "water current movement," a reference to the backward/forward movement of the Sinulog dance in which festival goers participate. The dance itself, performed as a group, is relatively simple, but various cities and dance troupes will invariably cultivate elaborately choreographed versions of the same. As they do, they sing the popular folk song "Viva Pit Senyor" which translates as "Long Live the Lord" (or more popularly as "Long Live the Christ Child"). The dancers will usually carry images of the Holy Child, holding them over their heads as they move together, praising the young Christ Jesus in song.

Highlights of Sinulog 2024 in Cebu, Philippines.






Jesus teach me how to pray
Suffer not my thought to stray
Send destruction far away
Sweet Holy Child

Let me not be rude or wild
Make me humble meek and mild
Pure as angels undefiled
Sweet Holy Child

When I work or when I pray
Be thou with me through the day
Teach me what to do and say
Sweet Holy Child

Make me love thy mother's blest
Safe beneath they care to rest
As a bird within its nest
Sweet Holy Child.

The climax of the event takes place at the Pilgrim Center of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu, as in these two clips from 2020 (one from the cheap seats, the other near the sanctuary). Just when you thought Catholics didn't know how to party, you learn that they do in the "Land of the Morning."

More information about the main event in Cebu can be found at the official website.

It should be obvious by now, that our response to the "Christmas-Season-Lasts-Forty-Days" tirade continues.
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Saturday, January 13, 2024

"Lord, halfway through these forty days ..."

If one is to consider the Christmas celebration as lasting forty days, today would be the halfway mark, the "Twentieth Day of Christmas" -- as it were. In the traditional Roman calendar, today just happens to be the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord,

The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him, and he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who taketh away the sin of the world. This is He, of whom I said: After me there cometh a man, who is preferred before me: because He was before me. And I knew Him not, but that He may be made manifest in Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.

And John gave testimony, saying: I saw the Spirit coming down, as a dove from heaven, and He remained upon him. And I knew Him not; but He Who sent me to baptize with water, said to me: He upon Whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon Him, He it is that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and I gave testimony, that this is the Son of God. (John 1:29-34)

Given the significance of this "twentieth day," it seemed only appropriate that there be a hymn devoted to John baptizing in the Jordan, one specifically designed to highlight the occasion. Alas, none could be found.

So, using the familiar tune "St Flavian," I wrote one. (Somebody cue the organ in the video already.)

Lord, halfway through these forty days,
Unto the Jordan came.
There, John the Baptist saw His light,
And called Him out by name.

"This is the One, the Lamb of God,
Who takes our sins away."
And then did water pour on Him
To hear the Father say.

"Behold, hear my beloved Son,
In whom I am well pleased."
And Andrew when he heard of this,
Upon the moment seized.

"Oh Master, say where dost thou dwell,
That I may follow thee."
Our blessed Lord then did reply
To Andrew: "Come and see."

Praise to the Father and the Son
And to the Spirit be,
As all three Persons are as One,
Unto the Trinity.

Copyright 2024 by David Lawrence Alexander. All rights reserved.
Fisheaters provides further commentary on the significance of this event. And so, our response to the "Christmas Season Lasts Forty Days" tirade continues.

Monday, January 08, 2024

Plowing Through Monday

Today is the traditional start of the agricultural year in England, and so is known as Plough Monday, or, the day after Plough Sunday (you remember from yesterday, right?) which is the Sunday following the traditional observance of Epiphany on the sixth of January. This was the Monday when everyone would end the Christmas revelry and get back to work.

In his 1777 book Observations on Popular Antiquities, the English antiquarian and clergyman John Brand (1744–1806) gives an account of the formalities:

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

Well, okay, maybe not directly ending and getting back to work. Personally, I'd rather be molly dancing.

What is that, you ask?

VIDEO: A 2016 performance of "Black Sheet" by the Ouse Washes Molly Dancers. Following a bit of narrative, the dancing actually starts at 2:07.

“Molly dancing” traditionally only appeared during the depths of winter and is regarded by many people as the East Anglian form of Morris dancing. It is characterized by blackened faces, heavy boots (usually hobnailed) and the presence of a "Lord" and a "Lady", two of the men specially attired respectively as a gentleman and his consort, who lead the dances. Blackening faces was a form of disguise since the dancers could not afford to be recognized. (No, not for that other reason. Remain calm.) Some of those people from whom they had demanded money with menaces would have been their employers. Molly dancing is by nature robust and, some would say, aggressive. These qualities are emphasized by the sound of the hobnailed boots worn by the dancers, which were the normal form of footwear for farm workers in the East of England right up until the second half of the twentieth century. (Information courtesy of Alex Sanders.)

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

They could do worse, as our response to the "Christmas-Season-Lasts-Forty-Days" tirade continues.

Sunday, January 07, 2024

Plowing Through Sunday

The forty days associated with Christmas and Epiphany continue. The coming of the Savior in the course of the liturgical year is further made manifest. So too is the relationship between the sacred and the secular.

The Sunday after Epiphany, that which falls between the 7th and the 13th of January, is commemorated in England as Plough Sunday, when the beginning of the agricultural year is celebrated. Farmers will arrive at the parish church in their tractors, which are blessed along with the seeds for planting, as found in the official worship book of the Church of England. The day is also remembered by Morris dancing after church services, where a homily for the occasion is often proclaimed.

And so, our response to the "Christmas-Season-Lasts-Forty-Days" tirade continues.