Sunday, December 31, 2017

Te Deum & Feast of St. Sylvester

Te Deum laudamus!

Merry Christmas on this Seventh Day of the Octave of Christmas!

On this last day of the Year of Our Lord, Two Thousand and Seventeen, it is right to recall the blessing of the past year, and, of course, to pray or chant the great Te Deum.

There is actually a plenary indulgence for praying this great prayer of Thanksgiving on the last day of the year, under the usual conditions: "The Te Deum. PLENARY INDULGENCE when recited publicly on the last day of the year. Otherwise a partial indulgence is granted to those who recite the Te Deum in thanksgiving."   Cf., Enchiridion indulgentiarum

The Te Deum:
TE DEUM laudamus: te Dominum confitemur.O GOD, we praise Thee: we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.
Te aeternum Patrem omnis terra veneratur.Everlasting Father, all the earth doth worship Thee.
Tibi omnes Angeli; tibi Caeli et universae Potestates;To Thee all the Angels, the Heavens and all the Powers,
Tibi Cherubim et Seraphim incessabili voce proclamant:all the Cherubim and Seraphim, unceasingly proclaim:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Pleni sunt caeli et terra maiestatis gloriae tuae.Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy glory.
Te gloriosus Apostolorum chorus,The glorious choir of the Apostles,
Te Prophetarum laudabilis numerus,the wonderful company of Prophets,
Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus.the white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee.
Te per orbem terrarum sancta confitetur Ecclesia,Holy Church throughout the world doth acknowledge Thee:
Patrem immensae maiestatis:the Father of infinite Majesty;
Venerandum tuum verum et unicum Filium;Thy adorable, true and only Son;
Sanctum quoque Paraclitum Spiritum.and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
Tu Rex gloriae, Christe.O Christ, Thou art the King of glory!
Tu Patris sempiternus es Filius.Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem, non horruisti Virginis uterum.Thou, having taken it upon Thyself to deliver man, didst not disdain the Virgin's womb.
Tu, devicto mortis aculeo, aperuisti credentibus regna caelorum.Thou overcame the sting of death and hast opened to believers the Kingdom of Heaven.
Tu ad dexteram Dei sedes, in gloria Patris.Thou sitest at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father.
Iudex crederis esse venturus.We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge.
Te ergo quaesumus, tuis famulis subveni: quos pretioso sanguine redemisti.We beseech Thee, therefore, to help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy Precious Blood.
Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari.Make them to be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory.
V. Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine, et benedic hereditati tuae.V. Save Thy people, O Lord, and bless Thine inheritance!
R. Et rege eos, et extolle illos usque in aeternum.R. Govern them, and raise them up forever.
V. Per singulos dies benedicimus te.V. Every day we thank Thee.
R. Et laudamus nomen tuum in saeculum, et in saeculum saeculi.R. And we praise Thy Name forever, yea, forever and ever.
V. Dignare, Domine, die isto sine peccato nos custodire.V. O Lord, deign to keep us from sin this day.
R. Miserere nostri, Domine, miserere nostri.R. Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.
V. Fiat misericordia tua, Domine, super nos, quemadmodum speravimus in te.V. Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, for we have hoped in Thee.
R. In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum.R. O Lord, in Thee I have hoped; let me never be put to shame.

Here is an account of the prayer:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Te Deum

Here is the Gregorian Chant setting of the Te Deum:

This is Marc-Antoine Charpentier's version:

Here is a setting of the Te Deum by Franz Josef Haydn, his Te Deum for Maria Theresa, one of many magnificent settings of this prayer by different composers:

Pope St. Sylvester I with the Emperor Constantine.

Today is also the Feast of Pope St. Sylvester I, the Roman Pontiff during the period of Emperor Constantine I "the Great."  St. Sylvester sat in the Chair of St. Peter from 314AD, immediately following the Edict of Milan, until his death in 335.  Thus, he was the Pontiff for not only the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325, but also the construction and dedication of the Basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Peter's, and St. Paul's in Rome.  He is one of the first non-martyrs to be venerated as a saint, and guided the Church through a remarkable era.

For more on Pope St. Sylvester I, visit:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Sylvester I

Catholic Saints Info: Pope St. Sylvester

Seasonal Customs (Fisheaters): St. Sylvester

Merry Christmas and live well!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Feast of St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop & martyr

File:English - Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket - Walters W3415V - Open Reverse.jpg
Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, ca. 1250, at the Walters Art Museum.

Today is the Fifth Day of the Octave of Christmas and is the Feast of St. Thomas Becket, Martyr and Archbishop of Canterbury, a champion of those in the Church that would resist the overreach of secular power into the sacred realm.

 In 1154AD, King Stephen of England died, and the young son of Queen Matilda, Stephen's rival, succeeded him as King Henry II (reigned 1154-1189).  He ruled England and, thanks to his marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine, about half of France.  He appointed a good friend, Thomas Becket, Chancellor of England.

When a vacancy in the see of Canterbury opened in 1162, King Henry II had Thomas Becket named to the post.  The king had high hopes of his friend's ability to conform Church policy to that of the crown.

Henry II wanted complete submission of the clergy – but Thomas Becket refused, along with the other English bishops.  Nevertheless, in a show of good faith, the Archbishop agreed that the bishops would abide by the customs of the Kingdom in good faith.

The King, however, demanded in January 1164 that the bishops sign the “Constitutions of Clarendon” which, among other things, made clergy subject to royal courts, made travel out of England by clergy subject to royal approval, and designated that vacant diocesan monies should go to the crown!  Pope Alexander III (reigned 1159-1181) condemned the problematic parts of these Constitutions in August 1164.  Archbishop Becket refused to approve of these royal measures.

Henry went after Becket, and began to trump up charges to break him.  The Archbishop, for the sake of safety, departed for France in November 1164.  King Henry then wrote to King Louis VII (reigned 1137-1180) of France asking that he give no comfort to Becket, who "was" Archbishop of Canterbury.  King Louis replied asking, “who was Archbishop of Canterbury – who deposed him?” For he, the King of France, had no power “to depose the least of the clerks in my realm.”  Louis VII welcomed the Archbishop [Interesting to note is that Louis VII had earlier been married to Eleanor of Aquitaine; a union that was annulled].  Both the Pope and the French king supported St. Thomas, but the exile continued, and for some years.

 By July 1169, Pope Alexander III demanded that King Henry II allow Archbishop Becket be allowed to return to his see and to England.  Henry II ignored this command – and even crowned a son illegally that spring of 1170.

Pope Alexander III threatened immediate interdict that summer of 1170 if Henry did not reconsider.  Henry did, then, finally gave way, stating that the “thief shall have peace” on July 21 1170.  For his part, Louis VII, ruing the departure of the good Archbishop: “if only ours!”

That winter, four knights of King Henry would overhear him lamenting, "who will rid me of this meddlesome priest."  Whether the king intended them to take his words so literally is a matter of some debate.  What is not a matter of debate is that these men proceeded to Canterbury Cathedral to kill the Archbishop.

On 29 December 1170, the famous deed occurs: Thomas Becket was cut down at the altar of his cathedral of Canterbury.

The King, to his credit, responded on News Year’s day, 1171 with wails of lamentation and repentance.  The Pope forbid him to enter a church on Holy Thursday.  King Henry II went on a barefoot pilgrimage to the tomb of Becket in 1174 with a hair shirt, and was flogged by bishops, an abbot, and eighty monks.  He was never the same again – he was a haunted man.

The murderers repented, too, and went to Rome to beg the pope’s forgiveness – all joined the Knights Templar and died on Crusade.

Henry II’s family was a wreck – in 1173 his sons rebelled against him with the help of his wife, Eleanor.  He captured her in that same year, and would keep her in prison for the next eleven years (to 1185).

When the schism of Henry VIII took place some centuries later, they made a particular point of visiting the tomb of St. Thomas Becket, and not for edifying purposes.

["ThomasBecketcandle". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia]

For more on St. Thomas, you might consult these links:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Thomas Becket

Catholic Saints Info: St. Thomas Becket

Seasonal Customs (Fisheaters): St. Thomas Becket

It is said that St. Thomas Becket was struck down during Vespers that 29 December 1170.  These folks have made a touching setting of chanted Vespers, with the bell tolling at the moment in the service when the good bishop was killed:

In Italy, the city of Mottola has as its patron none-other-than St. Thomas Becket.  Recently, they discovered a couple of relics of the saint: Vatican News: Relics of St Thomas Becket discovered in Italy

Interestingly, that city no longer has its own bishop and diocese -- since 1818 it is part of the Diocese of Castellaneta -- but there is a titular bishop of that title of Mottola (Motula in Latin).  The current title-holder of that see is Archbishop De Donatis, Vicar General of Rome.  Cf., Catholic Hierarchy: Titular Diocese of Motula

Merry Christmas & Live well!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Feast of the Holy Innocents

The Massacre of the Innocents by Giotto, ca. 1304AD.

Today, 28 December, is the fourth day of the Octave of Christmas, and the Feast of the Holy Innocents -- Childermas.  They are recalled in the Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 2:
13...behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell you. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him. 14 Who arose, and took the child and his mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and he was there until the death of Herod15 That it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Out of Egypt have I called my son. 16 Then Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry: and sending killed all the menchildren that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

On this day, then, we recall those that shed their blood on account of one who would kill the Christ.  They did not will this particular end, and hence are not martyrs in the normal sense of that term, but they nonetheless died for Christ, as it were.

It is also a good day to ponder the number of innocents who have their blood shed each day -- particularly heinous is the crime of abortion.  May we pray that those Herods that seek their own "good" in the destruction of others might repent.

For more on the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, these links are most helpful:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Holy Innocents

Catholic Saints Info: Holy Innocents

Seasonal Customs (Fisheaters): Holy Innocents

Worth a moment is this traditional carol focusing on the Holy Innocents, the Coventry Carol.  Fr. Z. has a splendid article on this beautiful carol: Fr. Z.: Childermas

Here is a wonderful recording of the same:

Merry Christmas & live well!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist

Today, 27 December, is the third day of the Christmas Octave, and the Feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist.

He, the brother of St. James, was one of the sons of Thunder, and was known as the "Beloved" Apostle.  He, with St. Peter and St. James had a prominent role as one of the leading Apostles.  Of course, St. John is also notable for having been entrusted with the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Crucifixion: "Behold your mother."  He wrote not only the Holy Gospel according to St. John, but three Epistles and the book of Revelation.  The last of the Apostles to die, and the only one to actually escape martyrdom (though it was not from a lack of trying on persecutors' part).

For more on St. John, you might check out these links:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. John the Evangelist

Catholic Saints Info: St. John the Apostle

Seasonal Customs (Fisheaters): Feast of St. John

Merry Christmas and live well!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Feast of St. Stephen, protomartyr

In the British Commonwealth today is Boxing Day, as folks used to receive their Christmas boxes from their employers on this day.

The Stoning of St. Stephen by Bernardo Daddi, ca. 1324AD.

Today, 26 December, is, more importantly, the Feast of St. Stephen, the proto-martyr and deacon, and the second day of the Christmas Octave.

In Acts 6:5 we read of his appointment as a deacon.  We next find him disputing with the Jews.

The Acts of the Apostles, in Chapter 7, notes that the Jews reacted to the rather direct words of St. Stephen thus:
54 Now hearing these things, they were cut to the heart: and they gnashed with their teeth at him. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heavensaw the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of God56 And he said: Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God57 And they, crying out with a loud voice, stopped their ears and with one accord ran violently upon him. 58 And casting him forth without the city, they stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul59 And they stoned Stephen, invoking and saying: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit60 And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: Lord, lay not this sin to their charge: And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord. And Saul was consenting to his death.
For more on Saint Stephen, follow these links:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Stephen

Catholic Saints Info: St. Stephen the Martyr

Seasonal Customs (Fisheaters): St. Stephen the Deacon

From that last link, we have this splendid reflection on St. Stephen:
By St. Fulgentius of Ruspe (b. 468)

Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of His soldier. Yesterday our King, clothed in His robe of flesh, left His place in the Virgin's womb and graciously visited the world. Today His soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven. 

Our King, despite His exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet He did not come empty-handed. He gave of His bounty, yet without any loss to Himself. In a marvelous way He changed into wealth the poverty of His faithful followers while remaining in full possession of His own inexhaustible riches. And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth ot heaven; shown first in the King, it later shone forth in His soldier. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. 

Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defense, and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey's end. 

My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.

Merry Christmas & live well!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christ Mass!

File:Lorenzo Lotto 017.jpg
The Nativity by Lorenzo Lotto, 1523AD.

Merry Christmas!  On this day a Saviour is born unto us!  Puer natus in Bethlehem!

For more on the history and customs of this great feast and solemnity:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Christmas

Fisheaters: Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

Fisheaters: Christmas Season Overview

Also, for a presentation of some gorgeous artwork featuring the Holy Nativity, I would encourage you to take a look at this page:
The Birth of Jesus in Art: 20 Gorgeous Paintings of the Nativity, Magi, and Shepherds

On a high feast as this, this blogger can hardly equal the great words of Scripture and men greater than himself.  So, for your edification, I present the Nativity account from the Gospel According to St. Luke, the entry from the Golden Legend of Blessed Jacobus de Voragine, OP, and the commentary on the feast by Dom Gueranger.

From the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 2:
And it came to pass that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. 2 This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria3 And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David5 To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.

6 And it came to pass that when they were there, her days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her first born son and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger: because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds watching and keeping the night watches over their flock. 9 And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them and the brightness of God shone round about them: and they feared with a great fear.

10 And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people: 11 For, this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David12 And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying: 14 "Glory to God in the highest: and on earth peace to men of good will."

And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: "Let us go over to Bethlehem and let us see this word that has come to pass, which the Lord has showed to us."

16 And they came with haste: and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger17 And seeing, they understood of the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child. 18 And all that heard wondered, and at those things that were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
Cf., Gospel According to St. Luke, Chapter 2

Next, I present an entry from the Golden Legend of Blessed Jacobus de Voragine, OP, a 13th century bishop on the Nativity of Christ.  This is a lives of the Saints and the Liturgical Year commentary from 1275AD:

Here followeth the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When the world had endured five thousand and nine hundred years, after Eusebius the holy saint, Octavian the Emperor commanded that all the world should be described, so that he might know how many cities, how many towns, and how many persons he had in all the universal world. Then was so great peace in the earth that all the world was obedient to him. And therefore our Lord would be born in that time, that it should be known that he brought peace from heaven. And this Emperor commanded that every man should go into the towns, cities or villages from whence they were of, and should bring with him a penny in acknowledgment that he was subject to the Empire of Rome. And by so many pence as should be found received, should be known the number of the persons.

Joseph which then was of the lineage of David, and dwelled in Nazareth, went into the city of Bethlehem, and led with him the Virgin Mary his wife. And when they were come thither, because the hostelries were all taken up, they were constrained to be without in a common place where all people went. And there was a stable for an ass that he brought with him, and for an ox. In that night our Blessed Lady and Mother of God was delivered of our Blessed Saviour upon the hay that lay in the rack. 

At which nativity our Lord shewed many marvels. For because that the world was in so great peace, the Romans had done made a temple which was named the Temple of Peace, in which they counselled with Apollo to know how long it should stand and endure. Apollo answered to them that, it should stand as long till a maid had brought forth and borne a child. And therefore they did do write on the portal of the Temple: Lo! this is the temple of peace that ever shall endure. For they supposed well that a maid might never bear Bethlehem, there may ye find him wrapt in clouts. And anon, as the angel had said this, a areas multitude of angels appeared with him, and began to sing. Honour, glory and health be to God on high, and in the earth peace to men of goodwill. Then said the shepherds, let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing. And when they came they found like as the angel had said.

And it happed this night that all the sodomites that did sin against nature were dead and extinct; for God hated so much this sin, that he might not suffer that nature human, which he had taken, were delivered to so great shame. Whereof S. Austin saith that, it lacked but little that God would not become man for that sin.

In this time Octavian made to cut and enlarge the ways and quitted the Romans of all the debts that they owed to him. This feast of Nativity of our Lord is one of the greatest feasts of all the year, and for to tell all the miracles that our Lord hath showed, it should contain a whole book; but at this time I shall leave and pass over save one thing that I have heard once preached of a worshipful doctor, that what person being in clean life desire on this day a boon of God, as far as it is rightful and good for him, our Lord at the reverence of this blessed high feast of his Nativity will grant it to him. Then let us always make us in clean life at this feast that we may so please him, that after this short life we may come unto his bliss. Amen
The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints. Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275. First Edition Published 1470. Englished by William Caxton, First Edition 1483, Edited by F.S. Ellis, Temple Classics, 1900 (Reprinted 1922, 1931.)
This chapter is from: Volume 1: Nativity
Cf.: Medieval Sourcebook: Golden Legend Nativity

Finally, from the Liturgical Year by the splendid Dom Gueranger:
"The Mystery of Christmas"
from Dom Gueranger's "The Liturgical Year"
Everything is Mystery in this holy season. The Word of God, whose generation is before the day-star, is born in time -- a Child is God -- a Virgin becomes a Mother, and remains a Virgin -- things divine are commingled with those that are human -- and the sublime, the ineffable antithesis, expressed by the Beloved Disciple in those words of his Gospel, THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH, is repeated in a thousand different ways in all the prayers of the Church: -- and rightly, for it admirably embodies the whole of the great portent which unites in one Person the nature of Man and the nature of God.

The splendour of this Mystery dazzles the understanding, but it inundates the heart with joy. It is the consummation of the designs of God in time. It is the endless subject of admiration and wonder to the Angels and Saints; nay, is the source and cause of their beatitude. Let us see how the Church offers this Mystery to her children, veiled under the symbolism of the liturgy.
The Nativity, by the Master of Salzburg
The four weeks of our preparation are over -- they were the image of the four thousand years which preceded the great coming -- and we have reached the twenty-fifth day of the month of December, as a long desired place of sweetest rest. But why is it that the celebration of our Saviour's Birth should be the perpetual privilege of this one fixed day; whilst the whole liturgical Cycle has, every year, to be changed and remodelled in order to yield to that ever-varying day which is to be the feast of his Resurrection -- Easter Sunday?

The question is a very natural one, and we find it proposed and answered as far back as the fourth century; and that, too, by St. Augustine, in his celebrated Epistle to Januarius. The holy Doctor offers this explanation: We solemnise the day of our Saviour's Birth, in order that we may honour that Birth, which was for our salvation; but the precise day of the week on which he was born, is void of any mystical signification. Sunday, on the contrary, the day of our Lord's Resurrection, is the day marked in the Creator's designs, to express a mystery which was to be commemorated for all ages. St. Isidore of Seville, and the ancient Interpreter of Sacred Rites who, for a long time, was supposed to be the learned Alcuin, have also adopted this explanation of the Bishop of Hippo; and our readers may see their words interpreted by Durandus, in his Rationale.

These writers, then, observe that as, according to a sacred tradition, the creation of man took place on a Friday, and our Saviour suffered death also on a Friday for the redemption of man; that as, moreover, the Resurrection of our Lord was on the third day after his death, that is, on a Sunday, which is the day on which the Light was created, as welearn from the Book of Genesis -- 'the two Solemnities of Jesus' Passion and Resurrection,' says St. Augustine, 'do not only remind us of those divine facts; but they moreover represent and signify some other mysterious and holy thing.'

And yet we are not to suppose that because the Feast of Jesus' Birth is not fixed to any particular day of the week, there is no mystery expressed by its always being on the twenty-fifth of December. For firstly we may observe, with the old Liturgists, that the Feast of Christmas is kept by turns on each of the days of the week, that thus its holiness may cleanse and rid them of the curse which Adam's sin had put upon them. But secondly, the great mystery of the twenty-fifth of December, being the Feast of our Saviour's Birth, has reference, not to the division of time marked out by God Himself, but to the course of that great Luminary which gives life to the world, because it gives light and warmth. Jesus, our Saviour, the Light of the World, was born when the night of idolatry and crime was at its darkest; and the day of his Birth, the twenty-fifth of December, is that on which the material sun begins to gain his ascendancy over the reign of gloomy night, and show to the world his triumph of brightness.

In our Advent, we showed after the Holy Fathers, that the diminution of physical light may be considered as emblematic of those dismal times which preceded the Incarnation. We joined our prayers with those of the people of the Old Testament; and with our holy mother the Church we cried out to the Divine Orient, the Sun of Justice, that he would deign to come and deliver us from the twofold death of body and soul. God has heard our prayers; and it is on the day of the Winter Solstice -- which the Pagans of old made so much of by their fears and rejoicings -- that He gives us both the increase of the natural light, and him who is the Light of our souls.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Ambrose, St. Maximus of Turin, St. Leo, St. Bernard, and the principal liturgists, dwell with complacency on this profound mystery, which the Creator of the universe has willed should mark both the natural and the supernatural world. We shall find the Church also making continual allusion to it during this season of Christmas, as she did in that of Advent.

'On this the Day which the Lord hath made,' says St. Gregory of Nyssa, 'darkness decreases, light increases, and Night is driven back again. No, brethren, it is not by chance, nor by any created will, that this natural change begins on the day when he shows himself in the brightness of his coming, which is the spiritual Life of the world. It is Nature revealing, under this symbol, a secreet to them whose eye is quick enough to see it; to them, I mean, who are able to appreciate this circumstance of our Savious's coming. Nature seems to me to say: Know, O Man! that under the things which I show thee Mysteries lie concealed. Hast thou not seen the night, that had grown so long, suddenly checked? Learn hence, that the black night of Sin, which had reached its height by the accumulation of every guilty device, is this day stopped in its course. Yes, from this day forward its duration shall be shortened, until at length there shall be naught but Light. Look, I pray thee, on the Sun; and see how his rays are stronger, and his position higher in the heavens: learn from that how the other Light, the Light of the Gospel, is now shedding itself over the whole earth.'

'Let us, my Brethren, rejoice,' cries out St. Augustine, 'this day is sacred, not because of the visible sun, but because of the Birth of him who is the invisible Creator of the sun... He chose this day whereon to be born, as he chose the Mother of whom to be born, and he bade borh the day and the Mother. The day he chose was that on which the light begins to increase, and it typifies the work of Christ, who renews our interior man day by day. For the eternal Creator having willed to be born in time, his Birthday would necessarily be in harmony with the rest of his creation.'

The same holy Father, in another sermon for the same Feast, gives us the interpretation of a mysterious expression of St. John the Baptist, which admirably confirms the tradition of the Church. The great Precursor said on one occasion, when speaking of Christ: He must increase, but I must decrease. These prophetic words signify, in their literal sense, that the Baptist's mission was at its close, because Jesus was entering upon his. But they convey, as St. Augustine assures us, a second meaning: 'John came into this world at the season of the year when the length of the day decreases; Jesus was born in the season when the length of the day increases. Thus there is mystery both in the rising of that glorious Star, the Baptist, at the summer solstice; and in the rising of our Divine Sun in the dark season of winter.'

There have been men who dared to scoff at Christianity as superstition, because they discovered that the ancient Pagans used to keep a feast of the sun on the winter solstice. In their shallow erudition they concluded that a Religion could not be divinely instituted, which had certain rites or customs originating in an analogy to certain phenomena of this world: in other words, these writers denied what Revelation asserts, namely, that God only created this world for the sake of his Christ and his Church. The very facts which these enemies to the true Faith are, to us Catholics, additional proof of its being worthy of our most devoted love.

Thus, then, have we explained the fundamental Mystery of these Forty Days of Christmas, by having shown the grand secret hidden in the choice made by God's eternal decree, that the twenty-fifth day of December should be the Birthday of God upon this earth. Let us now respectfully study another mystery: that which is involved in the place where this Birth happened.

This place is Bethlehem. Out of Bethlehem, says the Prophet, shall he come forth that is to be the Ruler in Israel. The Jewish Priets are well aware of the prophecy, and a few days hence will tell it to Herod. But why was this insignifant town chosen in preference to every other to be the birth-place of Jesus? Be attentive, Christians, to the mystery! The name of this City of David signifies the House of Bread: therefore did he, who is the living Bread come down from Heaven, choose it for his first visible home. Our Fathers did eat manna in the desert and are dead, but lo! here is the Saviour of the world, come to give life to his creature Man by means of his own divine Flesh, which is meat indeed. Up to this time the Creator and the creature had been separated from each other; henceforth they shall abide together in the closest union. The Ark of the Covenant, containing the manna which fed but the body, is now replaced by the Ark of a New Covenant, purer and more incorruptible than the other: the incomparable Virgin Mary, who gives us Jesus, the Bread of Angels, the nourishment which will give us a divine transformation; for this Jesus himself has said: He that eateth my flesh abideth in me, and I in him.

It was for this divine transformation that the world was in expectation for four thousand years, and for which the Church has prepared herself by the four weeks of Advent. It has come at last, and Jesus is about to enter within us, if we will but receive him. He asks to be united with each one of us in particular, just as he is united by his Incarnation to the whole human race; and for this end, he wishes to become our Bread, our spiritual nourishment. His coming into the souls of men at this mystic season has no other aim than this union. He comes not to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him, and that all may have life, and may have it more abundantly. This divine Lover of our souls will not be satisfied, therefore, until he have substituted himself in our place, so that we may live not we ourselves, but he in us; and in order that this mystery may be effected in a sweeter way, it is under the form on an Infant that this Beautiful Fruit of Bethlehem wishes first to enter into us, there to grow afterwards in wisdom and age before God and men.

And when, having thus visited us by his grace and nourished us in his love, he shall have changed us into himself, there shall be accomplished in us a still further mystery. Having become one in spirit and heart with Jesus, the Son of the heavenly Father, we shall also become sons of this same God our Father. The Beloved Disciple, speaking of this our dignity, cries out: Behold! what manner of charity the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we  should be called, and should be the Sons of God? We will not now stay to consider this immense happiness of the Christian soul, as we shall have a more fitting occasion, farther on, to speak of it, and show by what means it is to be maintained and increased.

There is another subject, too, which we regret being obliged to notice only in a passing way. It is, that, from the day itself of our Saviour's Birth even to the day of our Lady's Purification, there is, in the Calendar, an extraordinary richness of Saints' Feasts, doing homage to the master feast of Bethlehem, and clustering in adoring love round the Crib of the Infant-God. To say nothing of the four great Stars which shine so brightly near our Divine Sun, from whom they borrow all their own grand beauty -- St. Stephen, St. John the Evangelist, the Holy Innocents, and our own St. Thomas of Canterbury: what other portion of the Liturgical Year is there that can show within the same number of days so brilliant a constellation? The Apostolic College contributes its two grand luminaries, St. Peter and St. Paul: the first in his Chair of Rome; the second in the miracle of his Conversion. The Martyr-host sends us the splendid champions of Christ, Timothy, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Vincent, and Sebastian. The radiant line of Roman Pontiffs lends us four of its glorious links, named Sylvester, Telesphorus, Hyginus and Marcellus. The sublime school of holy Doctors offers us Hilary, John Chrysostom, and Ildephonsus; and in their company stands a fourth Bishop -- the amiable Francis de Sales. The Confessor-kingdom is represented by Paul the Hermit, Anthony the conqueror of Satan, Maurus the Apostle of the Cloister, Peter Nolasco the deliverer of captives, and Raymond of Pennafort, the oracle of Canon Law and guide of the consciences of men. The army of defenders of the Church deputes the pious King Canute, who died in defence of our Holy Mother, and Charlemagne, who loved to sign himself 'the humble champion of the Church.' The choir of holy Virgins gives us the sweet Agnes, the generous Emerentiana, the invincible Martina. And lastly, from the saintly ranks which stand below the Virgins -- the holy Widow -- we have Paula, the enthusiastic lover of Jesus' Crib. Truly, our Christmastide is a glorious festive season! What magnificence in its Calendar! What a banquet for us in its Liturgy!

A word upon the symbolism of the colours used by the Church during this season. White is her Christmas Vestment; and she employs this colour at every service from Christmas Day to the Octave of the Epiphany. To honour her two Martyrs, Stephen and Thomas of Canterbury, she vests in red; and to condole with Rachel wailing her murdered Innocents, she puts on purple; but these are the only exceptions. On every other day of the twenty she expresses, by her white robes, the gladness to which the Angels invited the world, the beauty of our Divine Sun that has risen in Bethlehem, the spotless purity of the Virgin-Mother, and the clean-heartedness which they should have who come to worship at the mystic Crib.

During the remaining twenty days, the Church vests in accordance with the Feast she keeps; she varies the colour so as to harmonize either with the red Roses which wreathe a Martyr, or with the white Amaranths which grace her Bishops and her Confessors, or again, with the spotless Lilies which crown her Virgins. On the Sundays which come during this time -- unless there occur a Feast requiring red or white or, unless Septuagesima has begun its three mournful weeks of preparation for Lent -- the colour of the Vestments is green. This, say the interpreters of the Liturgy, is to teach us that in the Birth of Jesus, who is the flower of the fields, we first received the hope of salvation, and that after the bleak winter of heathendom and the Synagogue, there opened the verdant spring-time of grace.

With this we must close our mystical interpretation of those rites which belong to Christmas in general. Our readers will have observed that there are many other sacred and symbolical usages, to which we have not even alluded; but as the mysteries to which they belong are peculiar to certain days, and are not, so to speak, common to this portion of the Liturgical Year, we intend to treat fully of them all, as we meet with them on their proper Feasts.

Merry Christmas, don't forget to keep the Mass in Christmas, and live well!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Rorate Caeli & Christmas Eve

Rorate caeli desuper et nubes pluant justum.  Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just.  (Introit of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, from Isaiah 45:8.)

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  The introit of this Sunday echoes one of the great hymns of the season, the Rorate Caeli, which you can listen to here:

The text for the hymn is:
Roráte caéli désuper,
et núbes plúant jústum.

Drop down ye heavens, from above,
and let the skies pour down righteousness:
Ne irascáris Dómine,
ne ultra memíneris iniquitátis:
ecce cívitas Sáncti fácta est desérta:
Síon desérta fácta est:
Jerúsalem desoláta est:
dómus sanctificatiónis túæ et glóriæ túæ,
ubi laudavérunt te pátres nóstri.
Be not wroth very sore, O Lord,
neither remember iniquity for ever:
the holy cities are a wilderness,
Sion is a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation:
our holy and our beautiful house,
where our fathers praised thee.

Peccávimus, et fácti súmus tamquam immúndus nos,
et cecídimus quasi fólium univérsi:
et iniquitátes nóstræ quasi véntus abstulérunt nos:
abscondísti faciem túam a nóbis,
et allisísti nos in mánu iniquitátis nóstræ.
We have sinned, and are as an unclean thing,
and we all do fade as a leaf:
and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away;
thou hast hid thy face from us:
and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.

Víde Dómine afflictiónem pópuli túi,
et mítte quem missúrus es:
emítte Agnum dominatórem térræ,
de Pétra desérti ad móntem fíliæ Síon:
ut áuferat ípse júgum captivitátis nóstræ.
Behold, O Lord, the affliction of thy people
and send forth Him who is to come
send forth the Lamb, the ruler of the earth from Petra of the desert to the mount of the daughter of Sion
that He may take away the yoke of our captivity
Consolámini, consolámini, pópule méus:
cito véniet sálus túa:
quare mæróre consúmeris,
quia innovávit te dólor?
Salvábo te, nóli timére,
égo enim sum Dóminus Déus túus,
Sánctus Israël, Redémptor túus.
Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people,
my salvation shall not tarry:
why wilt thou waste away in sadness?
why hath sorrow seized thee?
Fear not, for I will save thee:
for I am the Lord thy God,
the Holy One of Israel, thy Redeemer.

For more on the hymn, you should note: Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Rorate Caeli

The Visitation by Raphael

Today is also the Eve of Christmas!

Fisheaters: Christmas Eve & Christmas

The Golden Legend of Blessed Jacobus de Voragine, OP, observes about this time of year, the end of Advent:
"As touching the coming of our Lord in our bodily flesh, we may consider three things of this coming, that is to wit, the opportunity, the necessity and the utility.

The opportunity of coming is taken by the reason of the man that first was vanquished in the law of nature of the default of the knowledge of God, by which he fell into evil errors, and therefore he was constrained to cry to God: Illumina oculos meos, that is to say, Lord, give light to mine eyes. After, came the law of God, which hath given commandment in which he hath been overcome of impuissance, as first he hath cried: There is none that fulfilleth but that commandeth. For there he is only taught, but not delivered from sin, ne holpen by grace, and therefore he was constrained to cry: There lacketh none to command, but there is none that accomplished the commandment. Then came the Son of God in time when man was vanquished of ignorance and impuissance. To that if he had so come tofore, peradventure man might say that by his own merits he might have been saved, and thus he had not been bound to yield thanks to God.

The second thing that is shown us of this coming is the necessity by reason of the time, of which the apostle Paul speaketh, ad Galatas the fourth chapter: At ubi venit plenitudo temporis, when the plentitude or full time of the grace of God was ordained, then he sent his Son that was God and Son of the virgin and wife which was made subject to the law. To that, that they be subject to the law he bought them again, and were received sons of God by grace of adoption. Now saith S. Austin that many demand why he came not rather. He answered that it was because that the plentitude of time was not come, which should come by him, that all things were ordained and made, and after when this plentitude of time came, he came that of time past hath delivered us, to that we shall bedelivered of time, we shall come to him whereas no time passeth, but is perpetuity. The third thing that is showed to us of this coming is the utility and profit that cometh for the cause of the hurt and sickness general. For sith the malady was general, the medicine must be general, whereof saith S. Austin that: Then came the great medicine, when the great malady was through all the world.

Whereof the holy Church remembereth in the seven anthems that be sung before the nativity of our Lord, where the malady is showed in divers manners, and for each demandeth remedy of his malady of prisoner out of the prison that sitteth in darkness and shadow of death. For they that have been long in prison and dark places may not see clearly, but have their eyes dim. Therefore, after we be delivered from prison, it behoveth that our eyes be made clear and our sight illumined for to see whither we should go, and therefore we cry in the fifth anthem: O Oriens splendor lucis eterne, veni et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis, O Orient that art the resplendour of the eternal light, come and illumine them that sit in darkness and shadow of death, and if we were taught, lighted, unbound, and bought, what should it avail to us but if we should be saved? And, therefore, we require to be saved, and therefore we say in the two last anthems, the sixth and the seventh; when we cry: O Rex gentium, veni et salva hominem quem de limo formasti, O thou King of peoples come and save the man that thou hast formed of the slime of the earth; and in the seventh: O Emmanuel rex et legifer noster veni ad saluandum nos, domine deus noster, O Emmanuel that art our King, and bearer of our law, our Lord, our God, come and save us.

The profit of his coming is assigned of many saints in many manners, for Luke saith in the fourth chapter that our Lord was sent and came to us for seven profits, where he saith: The Spirit of our Lord is on me, which he rehearseth by order; he was sent for the comfort of the poor, to heal them that were sick in sin, to deliver them that were in prison, to teach them that were uncunning. To forgive sins, to buy again all mankind. And for to give reward to them that deserve it.

And S. Austin putteth here three profits of his coming and saith: In this wretched world what aboundeth but to be born to labour and to die. These be the merchandise of our region, and to these merchandises the noble merchant Jesus descended. And because all merchants give and take, they give that they have and take that they have not; Jesu Christ in this merchandise gave and took, he took that which in this world aboundeth, that is to wit, to be born to labour and to die, he gave again to us to be born spiritually, to rise and reign perdurably. And he himself came to us to take villanies and to give to us honour, to suffer death and to give us life, to take poverty and to give us glory.

S. Gregory putteth four causes of the profit of his coming: Studebant omnes superbi de eadem stirpe progeniti, prospera vitæ præsentis appetere, adversa devitare, opprobria fugere, gloriam sequi: They of the world, in their pride descended of the same lineage, studied to desire the prosperity of this present life, to eschew the adversities, to flee the reproofs and shames and to ensue the glory of the world. And our Lord came incarnate among them, asking and seeking the adversities, despiting the prosperities, embracing villanies, fleeing all vain glory. And he himself which descended from glory, came, and he being come, taught new things, and in showing marvels suffered many evils.

S. Bernard putteth other causes, and saith that, we travail in this world for three manner of maladies or sickness, for we be lightly deceived, feeble to do well, and frail to resist against evil. If we entend to do well we fail, it we do pain to resist the evil, we be surmounted and overcome; and for this the coming of Jesu Christ was to us necessary. To that he inhabiteth in us, by faith he illumineth our eyes of the heart, and in abiding with us he helpeth us in our malady, and in being with us he defendeth our frailty against our enemies." (Golden Legend, Advent of the Lord)

Live well!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Feast of St. Thomas and a Solstice

File:Caravaggio - The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.jpg
The Incredulity of St. Thomas by Caravaggio (+1610).

Today is traditionally the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, famous for his incredulity at the Resurrection of Christ, but, ultimately for his confession of Faith, "My Lord and My God."  He is known to have gone East to preach the Gospel, so it is appropriate that the O Antiphon of this 21 December day is "O Oriens!" [For more on the O Antiphons including that of today, cf. Ars bene moriendi: O Antiphons of Advent Vespers]

Tradition has St. Thomas associated with the city of Edessa, and, then, India, where he was martyred in the first century.  He is thought to have done much of his work in the area of the modern Indian state of Kerala in the southwest (Malabar coast), and then been martyred at Mylapore in Tamil Nadu in the Southeast.  Indeed, the ancient community of Christians in southern India are known as the Thomas Christians.  The Syro-Malabar (Syro-Malabar Church Official Website) and Syro-Malankar Catholic Churches (Syro-Malankar Church Official Website) are derived from these communities, and have their center in the state of Kerala, India.  Below is a splendid chart of the derivation of the branches of the St. Thomas Christians:
File:St Thomas Christians divisions.svg
["St Thomas Christians divisions" by St_Thomas_Christians_divisions.png: Joehoya3derivative work: Fred the Oyster (talk) - St_Thomas_Christians_divisions.png. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons]

Here is a link to the Church of San Thome in Mylapore, Tamil Nadu, which is part of the city of Chennai (Madras),  built over the tomb of St. Thomas: San Thome Church Official Website

The Old Catholic Encyclopedia notes the following of St. Thomas:
"Little is recorded of St. Thomas the Apostle, nevertheless thanks to the fourth Gospel his personality is clearer to us than that of some others of the Twelve. His name occurs in all the lists of the Synoptists (Matthew 10:3Mark 3:18Luke 6, cf. Acts 1:13), but in St. John he plays a distinctive part. First, when Jesus announced His intention of returning to Judea to visit Lazarus, "Thomas" who is called Didymus [the twin], said to his fellow disciples: "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16). Again it was St. Thomas who during the discourse before the Last Supper raised an objection: "Thomas saith to him: Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" (John 14:5). But more especially St. Thomas is remembered for his incredulity when the other Apostles announced Christ's Resurrection to him: "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25); but eight days later he made his act of faith, drawing down the rebuke of Jesus: "Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed" (John 20:29)."

For more on this great Apostle to the East, you might follow these links:
Catholic Saints Info: St. Thomas the Apostle

Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Thomas the Apostle

File:Earth-lighting-winter-solstice EN.png
The position of the Earth today, the Winter, or Southern, solstice.
["Earth-lighting-summer-solstice EN". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons -- Nota bene, this is the similar image for the winter solstice]

Today, at 11:28AM EST is also the Winter solstice -- when the Sun reaches its southernmost point on the ecliptic and is directly overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn.  Thus, for the Northern Hemisphere, today is the shortest day of the year.  On the bright side, however, the length of days now increase until the summer solstice in late June.

Thus, with Christmas, the light increases, as with the Nativity of St. John the Baptist it decreases: "illum oportet crescere me autem minui" (John 3:30).  Christ is, indeed, the light of the world -- Veni, O Oriens!

Live well!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Ember Days?

Today is an Ember day.  What is that you ask?

The Ember Days were traditionally a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, occurring in Lent, the Octave of Pentecost, after the Triumph of the Cross in September, and in the third week of 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).

Specifically, it is traditional on these days to fast and to observe partial abstinence (blood meat only at the main meal) on Wednesday and Saturday, and full abstinence on Ember Friday.  This, of course, is not canonically required, beyond the Friday abstinence/penance.  This penance and prayer was offered especially for the clergy.

Image result

These days, then, four in number, like the seasons, were a time of gratitude, penance, and prayer.

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

That 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.  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)

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

Live well!