Friday, September 22, 2017

Autumnal Equinox & Ember Friday

Detail from Strasbourg Cathedral; artwork inspired by St. Albert the Great.
["France Strasbourg Cathedral Tympanum" by Rebecca Kennison - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons]

Cæli enarrant gloriam Dei,
et opera manuum ejus annuntiat firmamentum. -- Psalm 19:1

Today happens to be the day of the Autumnal equinox.  This equinox will occur at precisely 4:02PM, Eastern Daylight Time (20:02 UT), this afternoon, 22 September 2017.

At that moment, the Sun crosses the celestial equator on its path along the ecliptic.

If the Earth sat directly upright on its axis, the Sun would always be directly overhead at noon on the equator, it would appear to move through the stars along the celestial equator, days would always remain the same length, and every day would be like the two equinox days in Spring and Fall -- every day like today. As it happens, the Earth is tilted at about 23.5 degrees on its axis. Thus, the sun appears to diverge as much as 23.5 degrees from the celestial equator in its apparent path through the stars (the ecliptic), and ends up being directly overhead up to 23.5 degrees north or south of the equator (the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn) on the two solstice days. This is the reason, of course, for our seasons.

So, if we start at the vernal equinox in March, the sun is directly overhead at the equator at noon, and night and day are the same length. From then until the summer solstice, the Sun appears to move slowly to the north both in the sky, setting a bit further north of west each day, and in its apparent path through the constellations of the zodiac. This continues until the Sun reaches the solstice, where it stops, being directly overhead at 23.5 degrees north latitude (the Tropic of Cancer) at noon, and sitting about 23.5 degrees north of the celestial equator. From that point, the sun drifts back south until reaching the equator once more at the autumnal equinox in September, on this day, going all the way to 23.5 degrees south at the Winter Solstice.

File:Analemma Earth.png
This chart show the analemma for Earth, showing the relative locations of the Sun at noon at the Greenwich Observatory in England. Notice the change in both altitude and azimuth at the different points of the year.

The reason for all of this is that as the Earth orbits the Sun the two hemispheres of the Earth take turns being tilted toward the Sun. The following diagrams might help to illustrate what I am trying to articulate:

File:Ecliptic path.jpg
In this diagram, the sun appears to move against the background of the stars along the red line, the ecliptic, while the white line marks the celestial equator -- the imaginary line through space that is merely the extension of the Earth's equator. The two points where the red and white lines are at greatest divergence are the solstices, while the two points where the red and white lines cross are the two equinoxes. The yellow line shows what the sun would appear to be in front of from the Earth, the Constellation Pisces, at the vernal equinox.
["Ecliptic path" by Tauʻolunga - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons]

File:North season.jpg
This diagram shows the positions of the Earth in relation to the sun at those four points -- the Summer solstice on the left, with the Northern Hemisphere tilted toward the Sun, and the Winter solstice on the right, with the Southern Hemisphere facing the Sun more directly, with the two equinoxes between, with the Hemispheres equally oriented to the Sun.

So today, at the Autumnal Equinox, the sun shines directly overhead at the equator, and both hemispheres are equally lit!

For some excellent charts and information on length of days, sunset, sunrise, and the like, this site is splendid:

This site, too, allows you to customize your location and get a host of details on astronomical objects: Heavens Above


Today is also the Ember Friday of September.  What is that you ask?

The Ember Days were traditionally a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, occurring in Lent, the Octave of Pentecost, this week in September, and in Advent,  These "Quatuor Tempora" had as their purpose, "besides the general one intended by all prayer and fasting, was to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy." (Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Ember Days).

For more on the Ember Days, you might note: Fisheaters: Ember Days

These days, then, four in number, like the seasons, were a time of gratitude, penance, and prayer.  Indeed, in the current General Instruction of the Roman Missal, it provides that: "In the drawing up of the Calendar of a nation, the Rogation Days and Ember Days should be indicated (cf. no. 373), as well as the forms and texts for their celebration, and other special measures should also be kept in mind." (USCCB GIRM: Chapter IX)

Why the practice and celebration of Ember Days has largely disappeared, and is now restricted to traditional communities is tragic, and seemingly contrary to the instructions of Holy Mother Church.

Perhaps if it is not a custom you have, this is the year it will be revived in your family or parish?

Live well!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Today, 21 September, is the feast day of St. Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist.  He is, of course, famous for being the tax collector called by Our Lord from his table in Capernaum.  The account is recalled in the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew, Chapter 9, verse 9.  St. Matthew, as we all should, responded immediately to the call: "Follow me."

The Calling of St. Matthew by Caravaggio, painted around 1600AD.  It hangs in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.  Notice the use of light with its origin behind Christ.

St. Matthew wrote the first of the synoptic Gospels.  His was addressed to an audience familiar and interested in the role of Christ in fulfilling the Old Covenant.  His Gospel memorably begins with the genealogy of Our Divine Lord.

It is said that after the Ascension of Christ, St. Matthew ended up preaching the Gospel in Palestine, and tradition points to his martyrdom in Ethiopia around 60AD while saying Mass.  His relics would end up in Salerno, Campania, Italy.  He is a primary patron of that city to this day, buried in the Cathedral named in his honor.  Here is a link to the cathedral's webpage -- note in particular the virtual tour (Visita virtuale) of the basilica, and, of course, "La Cripta" where St. Matthew is buried: Cathedral of Salerno Website

Cathedral of St. Matthew in Salerno, Italy, where the saint is buried -- the Church was consecrated in 1085AD. ["Salerno 2013-05-17 09-37-10" by Berthold Werner. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons]

He remains, of course, the patron saint of tax collectors, bankers, accountants, and Trier in Germany.

St. Bede the Venerable (+735AD) observes the following in a homily about St. Matthew:
“Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him: Follow me.” Jesus saw Matthew, not merely in the usual sense, but more significantly with his merciful understanding of men.” He saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: “Follow me.” This following meant imitating the pattern of his life – not just walking after him. Saint John tells us: “Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” “And he rose and followed him.” There is no reason for surprise that the tax collector abandoned earthly wealth as soon as the Lord commanded him. Nor should one be amazed that neglecting his wealth, he joined a band of men whose leader had, on Matthew’s assessment, no riches at all. Our Lord summoned Matthew by speaking to him in words. By an invisible, interior impulse flooding his mind with the light of grace, he instructed him to walk in his footsteps. In this way Matthew could understand that Christ, who was summoning him away from earthly possessions, had incorruptible treasures of heaven in his gift.

Here is the Old Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Apostle and Evangelist: Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Matthew

Finally, to close out my thoughts on St. Matthew, from the Patron Saint index: Catholic Saints Info: St. Matthew

Live well!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Feast of St. Januarius & His Liquefying Blood

Today is the feast of the bishop and martyr, St. Januarius (+305AD), or San Gennaro, patron of the city of Naples in southern Italy.

File:Saint Januarius.jpg
St. Januarius by Caravaggio (+1610AD).  The head in the corner reflects the manner in which the saint met his martyrdom.

St. Januarius, Bishop of Beneventum, was martyred in 305AD during the persecution of Diocletian, and this by beheading.  While we don't know a tremendous amount about his life, he is certainly famous for his patronage of the city of Naples, and of the liquefaction of a phial of his blood kept at the Cathedral on his feast day, today.

For a bit more about the saint, here is the patron saints index entry: Catholic Saints Info: St. Januarius of Naples

This is the text of the Acts of the Hieromartyr Januarius, which purports to elaborate on the details of his life and martyrdom: Catholic Saints Info: Life of Januarius

Finally, the Old Catholic Encyclopedia goes into a more detailed discussion of the annual miracle of the blood: Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Januarius

The Cardinal-Archbishop of Naples holds the phial containing the blood.  It seems the waving of the white handkerchief is the signal that it has liquefied -- which usually, but not always, happens.

Here is an article, with some great photos, of the liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius: Catholic Herald (UK): "The day I saw a saint’s blood become liquid" (2011)

Here is an account from an Italian source on the liquefaction as it happened in 2013: Gazzetta del Sud Article (2013)

Here is a link to a blog with some great video and information on the miracle, including from 2014 Fr. Z's Blog: The blood of San Gennaro liquefied!

Early, in March 2015, there was a unique occurrence of the miracle in the presence of Pope Francis.  It had never taken place at on "off time" before: Pope Francis in Naples & San Gennaro Miracle

Here is an article on the blood last year, 2016: National Catholic Register: Blood of St. Januarius

Yet another article on last year's event, 2016: Crux: Famed Blood Miracle

I will update when I find another report for this year!

Live well!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Feast of St. Joseph of Cupertino

On this 18th of September we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph of Cupertino, and Italian Franciscan priest that is famous as patron saint of pilots and of test takers.

San Giuseppe da Copertino si eleva in volo alla vista della Basilica di Loreto.jpg
St. Joseph of Cupertino by Ludovico Mazzanti (+1775AD)

St. Joseph of Cupertino was born in Apulia in a stable, as his mother turned out of their home to pay for his deceased father's debts.  St. Joseph was known for both his spiritual experiences and his poor intellectual talents.  It took multiple tries for him to successfully enter religious life.  Eventually he was accepted into the Conventual Franciscans in 1625, after some time working for them and impressing them with his simplicity and devotion.  In a series of events that make him a patron of test takers, he managed to receive ordination to the priesthood in 1628, despite his poor academic abilities.

As a priest, St. Joseph was noted for, among other things, his falling in ecstasy when around holy thing and his practice of miraculous levitation.  Aside from earning for him a place as patron saint of pilots, it also resulted in him being restricted in his public ministry, and being denounced to the Inquisition.

St. Joseph of Cupertino died in 1663AD, and was canonized in 1753.

He is buried in Osimo, in the region of Marche.  The official website of the Church where he is buried can be found here: San Giuseppe Da Copertino

For more information on this saint, you might note:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Joseph of Cupertino

Catholic Saints Info: St. Joseph of Cupertino

Live well!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

St. Robert Bellarmine, SJ: Cardinal & Doctor

File:Saint Robert Bellarmine.png
St. Robert Bellarmine, SJ (+1621)

This blog, Ars bene moriendi, is named for the great work of the Jesuit, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, St. Robert Bellarmine.  This 17th century Saint of the Church was a great champion of the "counter Reformation" and, traditionally, his feast day was observed on 13 May.  In the revised calendar of 1970, the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine was transferred to 17 September, which is the anniversary of his death in 1621AD.

St. Robert was a great scholar and a great saint.  The Old Catholic Encyclopedia notes of his life: "A distinguished Jesuit theologian, writer, and cardinal, born at Montepulciano, 4 October, 1542; died 17 September, 1621. His father was Vincenzo Bellarmino, his mother Cinthia Cervini, sister of Cardinal Marcello Cervini, afterwards Pope Marcellus II. He was brought up at the newly founded Jesuit college in his native town, and entered the Society of Jesus on 20 September, 1560, being admitted to his first vows on the following day. The next three years he spent in studying philosophy at the Roman College, after which he taught the humanities first at Florence, then at Mondovì. In 1567 he began his theology at Padua, but in 1569 was sent to finish it at Louvain, where he could obtain a fuller acquaintance with the prevailing heresies. Having been ordained there, he quickly obtained a reputation both as a professor and a preacher, in the latter capacity drawing to his pulpit both Catholics and Protestants, even from distant parts. In 1576 he was recalled to Italy, and entrusted with the chair of Controversies recently founded at the Roman College. He proved himself equal to the arduous task, and the lectures thus delivered grew into the work "De Controversiis" which, amidst so much else of excellence, forms the chief title to his greatness. This monumental work was the earliest attempt to systematize the various controversies of the time, and made an immense impression throughout Europe, the blow it dealt to Protestantism being so acutely felt in Germany and England that special chairs were founded in order to provide replies to it. Nor has it even yet been superseded as the classical book on its subject-matter, though, as was to be expected, the progress of criticism has impaired the value of some of its historical arguments.

In 1588 Bellarmine was made Spiritual Father to the Roman College, but in 1590 he went with Cardinal Gaetano as theologian to the embassy Sixtus V was then sending into France to protect the interests of the Church amidst the troubles of the civil wars....Gaetano's mission now terminating, Bellarmine resumed his work as Spiritual Father, and had the consolation of guiding the last years of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, who died in the Roman College in 1591. Many years later he had the further consolation of successfully promoting the beatification of the saintly youth. Likewise at this time he sat on the final commission for the revision of the Vulgate text. This revision had been desired by the Council of Trent, and subsequent popes had laboured over the task and had almost brought it to completion....In 1592 Bellarmine was made Rector of the Roman College, and in 1595 Provincial of Naples. In 1597 Clement VIII recalled him to Rome and made him his own theologian and likewise Examiner of Bishops and Consultor of the Holy Office. Further, in 1599 he made him Cardinal-Priest of the title of Santa Maria in viâ, alleging as his reason for this promotion that 'the Church of God had not his equal in learning'."

The Old Catholic Encyclopedia concludes by describing him thus: "His spirit of prayer, his singular delicacy of conscience and freedom from sin, his spirit of humility and poverty, together with the disinterestedness which he displayed as much under the cardinal's robes as under the Jesuit's gown, his lavish charity to the poor, and his devotedness to work, had combined to impress those who knew him intimately with the feeling that he was of the number of the saints."

He lived, then, in the era of the Reforms of Trent, the French Wars of Religion, the reign of James I of England, and the Galileo Case, each of which was a matter that St. Robert, as a prince of the Church, had occasion to deal with.  He would die in 1621, and is buried in the Jesuit Church of Sant'Ignazio in Rome.

The Apse of the Roman Church of Sant'Ignazio, where St. Robert is buried.
["Lazio Roma SIgnazio tango7174" by Tango7174 - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Commons]

Here is the website of the Church where he is buried in Rome: Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio

St. Robert was canonized in 1930 by Pope Pius XI and named a Doctor of the Church.  His feast until the reforms of Paul VI fell on 13 May -- it was moved to 17 September to correspond to the day of his death in that reform.

For a more detailed life of St. Robert, you might note these links:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Robert Bellarmine

Catholic Saints Info: St. Robert Bellarmine

For the text of his great work, Ars bene moriendi, on living and dying well, you should visit here:
St. Robert Bellarmine, Ars bene moriendi

In closing, it is interesting to note that, prior to his election, Pope Francis held the title of Cardinal-Priest of San Roberto Bellarmino.

Live well!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows

On this day we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, or the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

File:The Madonna in Sorrow.jpg
The Madonna in Sorrow by Il Sassoferrato (+1685AD)

It was she, the Mother of God, that Simeon foretold would have her soul pierced by a sword, as we read in the Gospel according to St. Luke: "And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted. 35 And your own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed." (St. Luke 2:34-35).

Traditionally, Christians recall, in particular, Seven Sorrows associated with St. Mary:

  • at the prophecy of Simeon;
  • at the flight into Egypt;
  • having lost the Holy Child at Jerusalem;
  • meeting Jesus on his way to Calvary;
  • standing at the foot of the Cross;
  • Jesus being taken from the Cross;
  • at the burial of Christ.

  • The history of the feast, and the source of that list can be found here: Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Feast of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady

    Surely, however we might suffer, the Blessed Mother has endured so much more, and can thus, sympathize with our plight, and intercede for us!

    The great hymn associated with the Sorrows of Our Lady is the Stabat Mater, which I present here:
    STABAT Mater dolorosa
    iuxta Crucem lacrimosa,
    dum pendebat Filius.
    AT, the Cross her station keeping,
    stood the mournful Mother weeping,
    close to Jesus to the last.
    Cuius animam gementem,
    contristatam et dolentem
    pertransivit gladius.
    Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
    all His bitter anguish bearing,
    now at length the sword has passed.
    O quam tristis et afflicta
    fuit illa benedicta,
    mater Unigeniti!
    O how sad and sore distressed
    was that Mother, highly blest,
    of the sole-begotten One.
    Quae maerebat et dolebat,
    pia Mater, dum videbat
    nati poenas inclyti.
    Christ above in torment hangs,
    she beneath beholds the pangs
    of her dying glorious Son.
    Quis est homo qui non fleret,
    matrem Christi si videret
    in tanto supplicio?
    Is there one who would not weep,
    whelmed in miseries so deep,
    Christ's dear Mother to behold?
    Quis non posset contristari
    Christi Matrem contemplari
    dolentem cum Filio?
    Can the human heart refrain
    from partaking in her pain,
    in that Mother's pain untold?
    Pro peccatis suae gentis
    vidit Iesum in tormentis,
    et flagellis subditum.
    Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,
    she beheld her tender Child
    All with scourges rent:
    Vidit suum dulcem Natum
    moriendo desolatum,
    dum emisit spiritum.
    For the sins of His own nation,
    saw Him hang in desolation,
    Till His spirit forth He sent.
    Eia, Mater, fons amoris
    me sentire vim doloris
    fac, ut tecum lugeam.
    O thou Mother! fount of love!
    Touch my spirit from above,
    make my heart with thine accord:
    Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
    in amando Christum Deum
    ut sibi complaceam.
    Make me feel as thou hast felt;
    make my soul to glow and melt
    with the love of Christ my Lord.
    Sancta Mater, istud agas,
    crucifixi fige plagas
    cordi meo valide.
    Holy Mother! pierce me through,
    in my heart each wound renew
    of my Savior crucified:
    Tui Nati vulnerati,
    tam dignati pro me pati,
    poenas mecum divide.
    Let me share with thee His pain,
    who for all my sins was slain,
    who for me in torments died.
    Fac me tecum pie flere,
    crucifixo condolere,
    donec ego vixero.
    Let me mingle tears with thee,
    mourning Him who mourned for me,
    all the days that I may live:
    Iuxta Crucem tecum stare,
    et me tibi sociare
    in planctu desidero.
    By the Cross with thee to stay,
    there with thee to weep and pray,
    is all I ask of thee to give.
    Virgo virginum praeclara,
    mihi iam non sis amara,
    fac me tecum plangere.
    Virgin of all virgins blest!,
    Listen to my fond request:
    let me share thy grief divine;
    Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
    passionis fac consortem,
    et plagas recolere.
    Let me, to my latest breath,
    in my body bear the death
    of that dying Son of thine.
    Fac me plagis vulnerari,
    fac me Cruce inebriari,
    et cruore Filii.
    Wounded with His every wound,
    steep my soul till it hath swooned,
    in His very Blood away;
    Flammis ne urar succensus,
    per te, Virgo, sim defensus
    in die iudicii.
    Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
    lest in flames I burn and die,
    in His awful Judgment Day.
    Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
    da per Matrem me venire
    ad palmam victoriae.
    Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
    by Thy Mother my defense,
    by Thy Cross my victory;
    Quando corpus morietur,
    fac, ut animae donetur
    paradisi gloria. Amen.
    While my body here decays,
    may my soul Thy goodness praise,
    safe in paradise with Thee. Amen.

    From the Liturgia Horarum. Translation by Fr. Edward Caswall (1814-1878)

    Here is that great hymn chanted:

    Finally, here is that hymn, the Stabat Mater, in a setting by Claudio Casciolini (+1760AD):

    UPDATED: The New Liturgical Movement post this article for the feast on a newly discovered aspect of the history of the sequence: New Liturgical Movement: Recent Discoveries on the Origins of the Stabat Mater

    Live well!

    Thursday, September 14, 2017

    Exaltation of the Cross & its History

    Today is the Feast of the Triumph or Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  On this day we recall the instrument of our salvation: Behold the Wood of the Cross on which hung the Salvation of the World!

    Cristo crucificado.jpg
    The Crucifixion by Diego Velazquez, 1632AD

    You might read, further: Fisheaters: Roodmas (This entry focuses on the Finding of the Cross, "Roodmas," by St. Helen, which was originally celebrated on 3 May, but has since been combined with the September celebration)

    Old Catholic Encyclopedia: True Cross (This notes the origins of both Finding and Exaltation, which are now celebrated on the same day.)

    Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Mount Calvary

    The Communion Antiphon for this feast is splendid, indeed: Per signum Crucis de inimicis nostris libera nos, Deus noster.  By the sign of the Cross, deliver us from our enemies, O Thou our God.

    Most folks are not familiar with the historical origin of this September feast day, and the circumstances that gave rise to this particular observance.  Let us turn our thoughts back to the 7th century, in the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, where the Emperor is Heraclius I.

    Heraclius I (610-641) was son of the governor of Africa – and he was a Catholic.  Persia, the Sassanid Empire, would be his first concern.  There had been a long standing feud between these two Empires – indeed, Emperor Valerian had been stuffed with straw after being captured by them in the 200sAD.

    The war with Chosroes II was not going well at all for the Byzantines, as Heraclius was still trying to gain full control of the Empire.  The Persian offensive launched in 611 overran Syria, Antioch, the Holy Land, and much of Asia Minor.  A counterattack in 613 was fruitless.  On Easter, in 614, Jerusalem was besieged, and would be sacked by the Persians.  It fell after a thirty day siege and a three day rampage, and major portions of the True Cross were lost to these pagans, who gave the city to the Jews.  Persian Christians, it would seem, did ensure that the relic was preserved.  In 616 Alexandria and Egypt fell to the Persians – 80,000 thought killed in the city.

    File:Piero della Francesca 021.jpg
    A fresco of a battle between Heraclius and the Sassinid Persian forces by Piero della Francesca (+1492AD).

    At this point, Heraclius contemplated falling back to Africa, and abandon Constantinople itself.  The Patriarch Sergius, however, offered the treasures of the Church to the Emperor to fund a defense.  In 622 Heraclius and his trained army was ready to march – to get the venture off on the right foot they attended a huge liturgy at the Cathedral, and marched with image of Our Lord.  This was it – the final hope of the Christian Empire.  Heraclius marched into the mountains above Armenia in the winter of 623 – and won three battles!  The next year (624), with his force of 120,000 he invaded Armenia itself, avoiding Persian traps.  In 625, he smashed several Persian armies, and turned to Persia itself.  In 626 a Slav-Avar army under Persian command besieged Constantinople.  Heraclius had sent a relief force under his brother that saved the city – it had held out long enough with the encouragement of the Patriarch.  This forced then rejoined Heraclius for the final march into Persia in 627 – plus Mongol allies.  The commander of the Persian army fought Heraclius in one-on-one combat, and the Emperor killed him!  Victory!  Chrosroes II was killed the next year, in 628!

    File:Bernat, Martin Saint Helena & Heraclius taking the Holy Cross to Jerusalem.jpg
    Heraclius returning the Cross to Jerusalem by Miguel Bernat, image from 1480AD.

    The Persian agreed to withdraw from the Empire and return the cross – and in 630AD Emperor Heraclius carried the relics of the True Cross into Jerusalem himself – the origin of our Feast of the Triumph of the cross.

    Recommended Source: Byzantium at War by Haldon

    Live well!