Thursday, June 29, 2017

Feast of Sts. Peter & Paul, Apostles

Sts. Peter & Paul by El Greco.

Happy Feast of the Apostles, Peter and Paul!  St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, was not only the leader of the Apostles, but the first Patriarch of Antioch and first Pope of Rome.  St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, is a remarkable example of conversion, and was the author of so many of the Epistles of the New Testament.  These two men figure rather significantly as the foundation of the Church founded by Jesus Christ.

On this great feast of the patron saints of Rome, this following is a link to the great Basilicas dedicated to those two saints, and containing their tombs:
Papal Roman Basilicas

  Peter is shown as a bearded man in draped garment like a toga. He is seated on a chair made of marble, and has his right hand raised in a gesture of blessing while in his left hand he holds two large keys. Behind the statue, the wall is patterned in mosaic to resemble red and gold brocade cloth.Roma San Paolo fuori le mura BW 1.JPG

Above: Statue of St. Peter by Cambio at the Vatican Basilica; 
Below: Statue of St. Paul in front of his Basilica on the Via Ostia.

For more on the lives of these saints themselves, you might note:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Peter

Catholic Saints Info: St. Peter

Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Paul

Catholic Saints Info: St. Paul

This seems a good occasion to recall the origins of the tradition and role of St. Peter, and his successors, the Supreme Roman Pontiffs, or popes.  In other words, the Scriptural and historical basis for the Papacy.

First, we turn to the pages of Sacred Scripture:
From the Gospel of St. Matthew (16:15-19):
"Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am?  Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the son of the living God.  And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven."

Of course, in most languages, the word for Peter and for Rock is one and the same.

Next, we might note the charge given to St. Peter in the Gospel of St. John (21:17):
"He said to him a third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me?  Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me?  And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee.  He said to him: Feed my sheep."

As to the matter of succession, recall from the Acts of the Apostles, the expectation that someone would take the seat of Judas the Betrayer (Acts 1:15-20):
"1:15 In those days Peter rising up in the midst of the brethren, said (now the number of persons together was about an hundred and twenty): 16 Men, brethren, the scripture must needs be fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was the leader of them that apprehended Jesus: 17 Who was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.18 And he indeed has possessed a field of the reward of iniquity, and being hanged, burst asunder in the midst: and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: so that the same field was called in their tongue, Haceldama, that is to say, The field of blood. 20 For it is written in the book of Psalms: Let their habitation become desolate, and let there be none to dwell therein. And his bishopric let another take."

Finally, St. Peter certainly acts with authority in the accounts of the New Testament as the Vicar of Christ who holds the keys of his master, as when he determined that new converts would not be held to the Jewish dietary restrictions.

In the writings of Christians, even from the early centuries, there is a clear understanding of the role of the successors of St. Peter who carry on in his chair.  Even the Orthodox, who deny the full understanding of the office, recognize that the successor of St. Peter, who is the Bishop of Rome, has a primacy of honor.

Turning then to the writings of the Church Fathers, we begin with Pope St. Clement I, who, around 80AD, wrote to settle a dispute in the Greek city of Corinth, even while the Apostle St. John was still alive in Asia Minor:
Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop.  
For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry...If anyone disobeys the things which have been said by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger."

Next, the great St. Ignatius of Antioch, successor of Peter as bishop of Antioch, writing around 110AD, first in his letter to the Smyrnaeans and then in his letter to the Romans -- noting what he says about the city of Rome:
"You must follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles.  Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God.  Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop.  Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints.  Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."

"to the Church also which holds the presidency in the place of the country of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and, because you hold the presidency of love, named after Christ and named after the Father: her therefore do I salute."

We move along to St. Irenaeus, second bishop of Lyon in France, student of St. Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John the Apostle.  These quotations come from his work Against Heresies, written between 180 and 199AD:
"It is possible, then, for everyone in every Church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the Apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world.  And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the Apostles, and their successors to our own times...
            But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all of the Churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner…assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient Church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, that Church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the Apostles.  For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all Churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world; and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the Apostolic tradition....
            The blessed Apostles [Peter and Paul], having founded and built up the Church [of Rome], they handed over the office of the episcopate to Linus…To him succeeded Anencletus; and after him, in the third place from the Apostles, Clement was chosen for the episcopate.  He had seen the blessed Apostles and was acquainted with them.  It might be said that he still heard the echoes of the preaching of the Apostles, and had their traditions before his eyes.  And not only he, for there were many still remaining who had been instructed by the Apostles.
            In the time of Clement, no small dissension having arisen among the brethren in Corinth, the Church in Rome sent a very strong letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace and renewing the faith…To this Clement, Evaristus succeeded; and Alexander succeeded Evaristus.  Then, sixth after the Apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him Telesphorus, who also was gloriously martyred.  Then Hyginus; after him, Pius; and after him, Anicetus.  Soter succeeded Anicletus, and now, in the twelfth place after the Apostles, the lot of the episcopate has fallen to Eleutherus.  In this order, and by the teaching of the Apostles handed down in the Church, the preaching of the truth has come down to us...
            It is necessary to obey those who are the presbyters in the Church, those who, as we have shown, have succession from the Apostles…But the rest, who have no part in the primitive succession and assembler wheresoever they will, must be held in suspicion."

Those, and many others, all date to the period before Constantine and the liberation of the Church.  Notice the tone and tenor does not change much after the Edict of Milan.

Here we have St. Ephraim the Syrian, and Doctor of the Church (+373AD), from one of his homilies:
"Simon, My follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy Church.  I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings.  You are the inspector of those who will build on earth a Church for me.  If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them.  You are the head of the fountain from which My teaching flows, you are the chief of My disciples.  Through you I will give drink to all peoples.  Yours is that life-giving sweetness which I dispense.  I have chosen you to be, as it were, the first-born in My institution, and so that, as the heir, you may be executor of my treasures.  I have given you the keys of my kingdom.  Behold, I have given you authority over all my treasures!"

Back in the Latin world, we have this from a letter of St. Jerome to the Bishop of Rome, Pope St. Damasus I, that commissioned him to translate the Sacred Scriptures in Latin.  It was under this pontiff that the canon of Scripture was finally settled.  St. Jerome writes thus in this letter from the 370sAD:
"I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but Your Blessedness, that is, with the chair of Peter.  I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built.  Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane."

The well-known St. Augustine, in his letter to Generosus of around 400AD, writes as follows:
"If the very order of Episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said: ‘Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it.’  Peter was succeeded by Linus…"

We see the Popes themselves wielding their authority, as this address of Philip, the legate of Pope St. Celestine I to the Council of Ephesus (which affirmed Our Lady as Mother of God), in 431AD demonstrates:
"No one doubts, in fact, it is obvious to all ages that the holy and most Blessed Peter, head and Prince of the Apostles, the pillar of faith, and the foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the savior and the redeemer of the human race.  Nor does anyone doubt that the power of forgiving and retaining sins was also given to this same Peter who, in his successors, lives and exercises judgment even to this time and forever."

In the interest of keeping this blog post something short of a book, I have skipped and omitted a host of quotations that even I have found.  Noting then just a couple more to demonstrate the continuity, I include the following, beginning with Pope St. Leo IX, pontiff during the Great Eastern Schism of 1054, in a letter written by Cardinal Humbert to the Patriarch of Constantinople, and signed by Pope Leo in 1053:
"The holy Church has been built upon a rock, that is, upon Christ, and upon Peter or Cephas, the son of John, who was first called Simon.  It was so built because it never was to be conquered by the gates of hell, that is, by heretical opinions which lead the unwary to destruction…Is it not by the See of the Prince of the Apostles, namely, by this Roman Church, both by this same Peter and by his successors, that all the inventions of heretics stand condemned, exposed, and overcome?"

Finally, from the Council of Florence (1438-1445), which brought a temporary and superficial reunion between East and West, and was presided over by Pope Eugene IV:
"Likewise, we define that the Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff have primacy over the whole world, and that the same Roman Pontiff is the successor of St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and the true vicar of Christ, the head of the Church, the father and teacher of all Christians; and that to him, in the person of St. Peter, was given by our Lord Jesus Christ the full power of feeding, ruling, and governing the whole Church."

Live well!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

"Ipsum oportet crescere, me autem minui."  "He must increase, I must decrease." (John 3:30)

This statement embodies both St. John the Baptist and his sublime role in the salvation of mankind.  St. John was the forerunner, the "Vox clamantis in deserto : Parate viam Domini, rectas facite semitas ejus," "A voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths." (Mark 1:3) about whom our divine Lord said, " Amen I say to you, there has not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Matthew 11:11)

St. John the Baptist by Titian, 1542AD.

St. John the Baptist is, as it were, the last character of the Old Testament, the final prophet, who, having "made straight the paths of the Lord" stepped aside in humility before his cousin, and Saviour.  From St. John we learn not only austerity and devotion to God, but humility and obedience.  His resolve in teaching the truth is, ultimately, a contributing factor to his execution by Herod.

For more on St. John the Baptist, be sure to check out:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. John the Baptist

Patron Saints Index: St. John the Baptist

This Feast of St. John is associated with bonfires, owing to its proximity to the Summer Solstice.  Go ahead, have a St. John's fire!  Here is the blessing of fire traditional for this time:

"Lord God, almighty Father, the light that never fails and the source of all light, sanctify + this new fire, and grant that after the darkness of this life we may come unsullied to you who are light eternal; through Christ our Lord. All: Amen."

It is interesting to note that this feast is associated with the origin of musical notes:
"The Benedictine monk Guido d’Arezzo (c. 990-1050) introduced the now familiar syllables ut re mi fa sol la for the tones of the hexachord c to a… or, more modally, the tonic, supertonic, mediant, etc. of a major scale. The Guidonian syllables derive from the hymn for the feast of St. John the Baptist:
UT queant laxis
REsonare fibris
MIra gestorum
FAmuli tuorum,
SOLve polluti
LAbii reatum,
Sancte Ioannes (SI)."

For a list of other details and customs associated with the feast, you might note:
Fisheaters: St. John's Day

I would also like to recall a few places and Churches associated with St. John the Baptist:

In Italy, the first city is that of Florence, whose patron Saint is the great precursor of Our Lord, St. John the Baptist.  Buona festa, Firenze!

The Duomo of Florence, Tuscany.

The Basilica in Italy to which I refer is that of St. John Lateran in Rome, the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome.  This Cathedral-Basilica, whose feast of 9 November, was originally dedicated to Our Divine Savior, but was also consecrated to both St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.  This link allows you to virtually visit the Pope's Cathedral: Archbasilica of St. John Lateran

File:Facade San Giovanni in Laterano 2006-09-07.jpg
The facade of St. John Lateran, in Rome, by Alessandro Galilei, 1735AD.

In North America, the Cathedral of the City of Savannah, Georgia, is named for St. John the Baptist:
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

To conclude, we turn then to St. John's, the port town on the island of Newfoundland that was named for St. John the Baptist, and its cathedral is a basilica named for the very same.  St. John's is, indeed, a delightful situated city, as the following picture attests:

File:St. John's, NFLD harbour.jpg
A view of the harbor of St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.
["St. John's, NFLD harbour". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

Here is a link to the Cathedral-Basilica of St. John the Baptist, in St. John's:
Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Finally, I leave you with a great little video which artistically features the sights and scenes of modern St. John's, Newfoundland, a city with a 500 year history (you can see the Basilica-Cathedral on the hillside at 0:52 into this video):

Live well!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Feast of St. Etheldreda


Today is the Feast of the Anglo-Saxon Saint, St. Etheldreda (+679AD).  She is also known as St. Audrey or, in the French, Audra.

She was a member of the royal family of East Anglia, the daughter of the king, became the queen of Northumbria, and, when widowed, founded a monastery in Ely, England.  When her body was moved in the 12th century, it was still incorrupt.

Here is a bit more information on this saint, little known outside England:
Catholic Saints Info: Saint Etheldreda

This is the account in the Old Catholic Encyclopedia:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Etheldreda

This link goes to the site of the Church of St. Etheldreda in London, England:
St. Etheldreda's Church, London

Live well!

Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Happy Feast of the Sacred Heart!  Today, the third Friday after Pentecost, is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  This great celebration accords us with an opportunity to ponder the infinite mercy of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Il Sacro Cuore, 1740AD by Pompeo Batoni (+1787AD)

The traditional collect of the Feast gives us a good sense for today's focus:
O God, who in the Heart of Thy Son, wounded by our sins, dost mercifully bestow on us infinite treasures of love: grant, we beseech Thee, that whilst we render It the devout homage of our affection, we may also fulfill our duty of worthy satisfactions, Through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son...

These links give a wonderful overview of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Sacred Heart

Fisheaters: Devotions to the Sacred Heart

Here is a more recent reflection on the great feast by Dr. William Fahey: Falling in Love by Fahey

Certainly today, too, is a wonderful moment to read the Encyclical of Pope Pius XII, Haurietis Aquas, on Devotion to the Sacred Heart: Full Text: HAURIETIS AQUAS

Here are a few of the Cathedrals and Basilicas that bear the name of Sacred Heart:

First, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Atlanta, Georgia:
Sacred Heart Basilica, Atlanta, GA

The Cathedral of Richmond, Virginia:
Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, VA

The Basilica-Cathedral of Newark, New Jersey:
Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Newark, NJ

Moving to France, and the famous Basilica du Sacre Coeur:
Basilica du Sacre Coeur

Belgium, too, has a splendid Basilica to the Sacred Heart, this in Brussels:
Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Brussels, Belgium

Finally, in Spain, in Barcelona:
Templo del Sagrado Corazon, Barcelona, Spain

Today, there is also the possibility of gaining a plenary indulgence (I have a link to a site with the English translation at the end):

Plenaria indulgentia conceditur christifideli, qui in sollemnitate Sacr.mi Cordis Iesu, actum reparationis (Iesu dulcissime) publice recitaverit; in aliis rerum adiunctis indulgentia erit partialis:

Iesu dulcissime, cuius effusa in homines caritas, tanta oblivione, neglegentia, contemptione, ingratissime rependitur, en nos, ante conspectum tuum provoluti, tam nefariam hominum socordiam iniuriasque, quibus undique amantissimum Cor tuum afficitur, peculiari honore resarcire contendimus. 
Attamen, memores tantae nos quoque indignitatis non expertes aliquando fuisse, indeque vehementissimo dolore commoti, tuam in primis misericordiam nobis imploramus, parati, voluntaria expiatione compensare flagitia non modo quae ipsi patravimus, sed etiam illorum, qui, longe a salutis via aberrantes vel te pastorem ducemque sectari detrectant, in sua infidelitate obstinati, vel, baptismatis promissa conculcantes, suavissimum tuae legis iugum excusserunt. 
Quae deploranda crimina, cum universa expiare contendimus, tum nobis singula resarcienda proponimus: vitae cultusque immodestiam atque turpitudines, tot corruptelae pedicas innocentium animis instructas, dies festos violatos, exsecranda in te tuosque Sanctos iactata maledicta atque in tuum Vicarium ordinemque sacerdotalem convicia irrogata, ipsum denique amoris divini Sacramentum vel neglectum vel horrendis sacrilegiis profanatum, publica postremo nationum delicta, quae Ecclesiae a te institutae iuribus magisterioque reluctantur. 
Quae utinam crimina sanguine ipsi nostro eluere possemus! Interea ad violatum divinum honorem resarciendum, quam Tu olim Patri in Cruce satisfactionem obtulisti quamque cotidie in altaribus renovare pergis, hanc eamdem nos tibi praestamus, cum Virginis Matris, omnium Sanctorum, piorum quoque fidelium expiationibus coniunctam, ex animo spondentes, cum praeterita nostra aliorumque peccata ac tanti amoris incuriam firma fide, candidis vitae moribus, perfecta legis evangelicae, caritatis potissimum, observantia, quantum in nobis erit, gratia tua favente, nos esse compensaturos, tum iniurias tibi inferendas pro viribus prohibituros, et quam plurimos potuerimus ad tui sequelam convocaturos. Excipias, quaesumus, benignissime Iesu, beata Virgine Maria Reparatrice intercedente, voluntarium huius expiationis obsequium nosque in officio tuique servitio fidissimos ad mortem usque velis, magno illo perseverantiae munere, continere, ut ad illam tandem patriam perveniamus omnes, ubi Tu cum Patre et Spiritu Sancto vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum. Amen. 
Cf., Enchiridion indulgentiarum

Sacred Heart Indulgence Details (In English)

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!

Live well!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Feast of St. Aloysius of Gonzaga

The Vocation of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga.PNG
The Vocation of Saint Aloysius by Guercino

We might note that it is the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, the young 16th century Jesuit.  Born in 1568 into the prominent noble Italian family of Gonzaga, he spurned the excesses of the court, and joined the Society of Jesus at the tender age of 16.  St. Aloysius died during an outbreak of the plague in Rome during the year 1591AD.

Today, he is buried in the marvelous Baroque Jesuit Church of Sant'Ignazio in Rome: Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio

For more on this great saint, you might note:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Aloysius Gonzaga

Catholic Saints Info: St. Aloysius Gonzaga

Live well!

Illum oportet crescere... the Summer Solstice

St. John the Baptist, from the Isenheim Altarpiece, by Matthias Grunewald.

"Illum oportet crescere, me autem minui."

Today we reach the Summer Solstice -- which takes place a precisely at 04:24 UT, 21 June 2017.  At my own home, that translated to 12:24AM this morning (Eastern Daylight Time).  This day, then, is the day in which daylight lasts the longest and summer begins in the Northern Hemisphere, and is gone the fastest and winter begins in the Southern.

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

It is well to note the sort of pious religious connection to these events that was observed by the Medievals: the Summer Solstice falls near the Feast of St. John the Baptist (24 June), while the Winter Solstice is close to Christmas (25 December).  We know from Sacred Scripture that St. John the Baptist was, indeed, born six months before Our Lord.  Thus, the amount of daylight decreases from the Feast of St. John to Christmas, and increases from Christmas to the Feast of St. John.  This brings to mind the quotation of St. John the Baptist in Scripture, John 3:30: "Illum oportet crescere, me autem minui."  In our vulgar tongue: "He must increase: but I must decrease."

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.

What, exactly, is the solstice?

On this day, the Sun is directly overhead at real noon on the Tropic of Cancer.  In the days of old, the Sun would appear in front of the constellation Cancer on this day, hence the name of the line on the globe.  Thanks to the procession of the equinoxes, however, the sun is now in Gemini at the Summer Solstice.

As a side note, it is during this time of year that a Full Moon stays the lowest in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere, and reaches its highest point, in the Southern, this in terms of degrees from the horizon.

Why do we have a Summer Solstice, you ask?  Well, I am glad you did!  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.  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.

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, 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 today, 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, going all the way to 23.5 degrees south at the Winter Solstice.

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.

I leave you, then, with the words of St. John the Baptist:  "Illum oportet crescere, me autem minui."   "He must increase: but I must decrease."

Live well!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Corpus Christi: The Body of Christ

Today, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, is the traditional date of the great Feast of Corpus Christi.  It seems a good moment to pause and reflect upon the Doctrine of the Blessed Sacrament.  It is, of course, Catholic and Orthodox belief, as it has been since the time of Christ, that the Blessed Sacrament is not merely a symbol of Christ, but is actually, truly and substantially, Christ Himself, but with the accidents, or appearances, of bread and wine remaining.  This change of substance without the accompanying change in accidents is called transubstantiation.  Before examining some texts from the Sacred Scriptures and from Christian history on the subject, you should note the following two links, and the Gregorian Chant Sequence of the Feast:

For more on the history of this great feast:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Corpus Christi

...for some more on the customs of the day:
Fisheaters: Corpus Christi

...and the Sequence for the Feast, Lauda Sion:

File:Juan de Juanes 002.jpg
Christ with the Eucharist, by Vicente Juan Masip (+1545AD):

What basis in Scripture and in the history of Christian practice is there for this belief?  Let us take a look.

Turning first to the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark (14:22-24), we recall the Last Supper of Our Lord:
"And whilst they were eating, Jesus took bread; and blessing, broke, and gave to them, and said: Take ye.  This is my body.  And having taken the chalice, giving thanks, he gave it to them.  And they all drank of it.  And he said to them:  This is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many."

Our Lord, Jesus Christ, had earlier given some discourse on this matter, as we find in the 6th Chapter of the Gospel according to St. John (6:53-56, 61, 67-69):
"The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?  Then Jesus said to them:  Amen I say unto you: except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.  For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed…Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it said: This saying is hard, and who can hear it?…After this many disciples went back; and walked no more with him.  Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will you also go away?  And Simon Peter answered him:  Lord, to whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life."

St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (11:26-29) gives further explanation into this most sublime doctrine and practice:
"For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come.  Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.  But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice.  For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord."

It should be no surprise, then, that considering the basis in Sacred Scripture, Christians from the beginning would hold to this Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion:

St. Ignatius of Antioch, in his “Letter to the Smyrnaeans”  (ca. 110AD) writes: "They [“They” refers to “those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us.”] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again."

St. Justin Martyr, in his “First Apology” (between A.D. 148-155) writes:
            “After the president has given thanks, and all the people have shouted their assent, those whom we call deacons give to each one present to partake of the Eucharistic bread and wine and water; and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.
            We call this food Eucharist; and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration, and is thereby living as Christ has enjoined.  For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.
            The Apostles, in the Memoirs which they produced, which are called Gospels, have thus passed on that which was enjoined upon them: that Jesus took bread and, having given thanks, said, ‘Do this in remembrance of Me; this is My Body.’  And in like manner, taking the cup, and having given thanks, He said, ‘This is my Blood.’  And He imparted this to them only.”

St. Cyprian of Carthage, in his “Letter of Cyprian to a certain Cecil” (ca. 250AD) writes:
Also in the priest Melchisedech we see the Sacrament of the Sacrifice of the Lord prefigured…
 The order certainly is that which comes from his sacrifice and which comes down from it; because Melchisedech was a priest of the Most High God; because he offered bread; and because he blessed Abraham.  And who is more a priest of the Most High God than our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when He offered sacrifice to God the Father, offered the very same which Melchisedech had offered, namely bread and wine, which is in fact His Body and Blood!”
 “…nor is the Sacrifice of the Lord celebrated with a legitimate consecration unless our offering and sacrifice corresponds with the passion…I wonder, indeed, whence this practice has come, that, contrary to evangelic and apostolic tradition, in certain places water alone, which cannot signify the Blood of Christ, is offered in the cup of the Lord.”

The great St. Athanasius, Doctor and defender of the Divinity of Christ writes, before 373AD, in his “Sermon to the Newly Baptized”:
"But after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And again: Let us approach the celebration of the mysteries.  This bread and this wine, so long as the prayers and supplications have not taken place, remain what they are.  But after the great prayers and holy supplications have been sent forth, the Word comes down into the bread and wine — and thus is His Body confected."

St. Hilary of Poitiers, writing in 356-359AD, in the work "The Trinity," clearly explains:
"As to the reality of His Flesh and Blood, there is no room left for doubt, because now, both by the declaration of the Lord Himself and by our own faith, it is truly Flesh and it is truly Blood."

St. Cyril of Alexandria, too, bears witness writing in “Commentaries on Matthew” (after A.D. 428):
He states demonstratively: ‘This is My Body,’ and ‘This is My Blood,’ lest you might suppose the things that are seen are a figure.  Rather, by some secret of the all-powerful God the things seen are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, truly offered in sacrifice in which we, as participants, receive the life-giving and sanctifying power of Christ.”

I omit a great many other documents, letters, and teachings that manifest the same belief throughout the early centuries of the Church.  Indeed, moving to the 11th century, we find a man, Berengarius, that dared deny what Christians had always held, and he was required by Pope St. Gregory VII in 1079AD to assent to the following statement of belief if he wished to be reconciled to the Church:
"I, Berengarius, believe interiorly and profess publicly that the bread and wine, which are placed on the altar, through the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of our Redeemer are substantially changed into the true, proper, and life-giving flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  After the consecration it is the true body of Christ…"

It is interesting to note that St. Thomas Aquinas refers to this Berengarius, who lived a thousand years after Christ as he "who had been the first deviser of this heresy," the heresy being a denial of the Real Presence of Christ.

The decrees of Ecumenical Councils of the Church, then, merely echo constant Christian belief:

From the Council of Florence (1438-1445AD), presided over by Pope Eugene IV:
"It is by the power of these words that the substance of bread is changed into the body of Christ, and the substance of wine into his blood.  This change takes place in such a way that the whole Christ is present under the species of bread and the whole Christ is present under the species of wine."

From the 13th session of the Council of Trent (1551AD), presided over by Pope Julius III:
"To begin with, the holy council teaches and openly and straightforwardly professes that in the blessed sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the perceptible species of bread and wine"

From Trent to this very day, the constant belief in the life-giving words of Christ, in the veracity of Sacred Scripture, and the integrity of constant Christian faith, are adhered to by Catholics and Orthodox.  Hence, this day, in particular, we give thanks for this awesome gift, and the blessing of the virtue of Faith.  This sublime teaching is also bound with the Sacrament of Holy Orders and Apostolic Succession. That, however, we will leave for another day.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in his magnificent Summa Theologiae, III, Q. 75, A. 1, gives an excellent summary of the Doctrine, referring to some of the very texts above:

"I answer that, The presence of Christ's true body and blood in this sacrament cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone, which rests upon Divine authority. Hence, on Luke 22:19: "This is My body which shall be delivered up for you," Cyril says: "Doubt not whether this be true; but take rather the Saviour's words with faith; for since He is the Truth, He lieth not."

Now this is suitable, first for the perfection of the New Law. For, the sacrifices of the Old Law contained only in figure that true sacrifice of Christ's Passion, according to Hebrews 10:1: "For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things." And therefore it was necessary that the sacrifice of the New Law instituted by Christ should have something more, namely, that it should contain Christ Himself crucified, not merely in signification or figure, but also in very truth. And therefore this sacrament which contains Christ Himself, as Dionysius says (Eccl. Hier. iii), is perfective of all the other sacraments, in which Christ's virtue is participated.

Secondly, this belongs to Christ's love, out of which for our salvation He assumed a true body of our nature. And because it is the special feature of friendship to live together with friends, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. ix), He promises us His bodily presence as a reward, saying (Matthew 24:28): "Where the body is, there shall the eagles be gathered together." Yet meanwhile in our pilgrimage He does not deprive us of His bodily presence; but unites us with Himself in this sacrament through the truth of His body and blood. Hence (John 6:57) he says: "He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me, and I in him." Hence this sacrament is the sign of supreme charity, and the uplifter of our hope, from such familiar union of Christ with us.

Thirdly, it belongs to the perfection of faith, which concerns His humanity just as it does His Godhead, according to John 14:1: "You believe in God, believe also in Me." And since faith is of things unseen, as Christ shows us His Godhead invisibly, so also in this sacrament He shows us His flesh in an invisible manner.

Some men accordingly, not paying heed to these things, have contended that Christ's body and blood are not in this sacrament except as in a sign, a thing to be rejected as heretical, since it is contrary to Christ's words. Hence Berengarius, who had been the first deviser of this heresy, was afterwards forced to withdraw his error, and to acknowledge the truth of the faith." 

Live well!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Trinity Sunday

Today, the Sunday after Pentecost, is the great feast of Trinity Sunday, when we pause, and in a particular way, ponder the mystery of the Holy Trinity -- one God in three divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

File:Hendrick van balen Holy trinity.jpg
Holy Trinity by Hendrick van Balen (1620sAD)

On this great feast, we might note, in the first place, the great commission of Our Lord, Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20):
"28:18 And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. 19 Going therefore, teach all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world."

Second, the profound collect of the feast:
"O Almighty and everlasting God, who hast enabled Thy servants, in confessing the true Faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of Majesty to adore its Unity: we beseech Thee, that by steadfastness in the same Faith, we may ever be defended against all adversity..."

Next, from the text of the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274AD), from the Prima Pars, Question 30, Article 2, a reflection on the nature of the Holy Trinity, and the necessity of three persons:
"I answer that, As was explained above, there can be only three persons in God. For it was shown above that the several persons are the several subsisting relations really distinct from each other. But a real distinction between the divine relations can come only from relative opposition. Therefore two opposite relations must needs refer to two persons: and if any relations are not opposite they must needs belong to the same person. Since then paternity and filiation are opposite relations, they belong necessarily to two persons. Therefore the subsisting paternity is the person of the Father; and the subsisting filiation is the person of the Son. The other two relations are not opposed to either of these, but are opposed to each other; therefore these two cannot belong to one person: hence either one of them must belong to both of the aforesaid persons; or one must belong to one person, and the other to the other. Now, procession cannot belong to the Father and the Son, or to either of them; for thus it would follows that the procession of the intellect, which in God is generation, wherefrom paternity and filiation are derived, would issue from the procession of love, whence spiration and procession are derived, if the person generating and the person generated proceeded from the person spirating; and this is against what was laid down above (27, 3 and 4). We must frequently admit that spiration belongs to the person of the Father, and to the person of the Son, forasmuch as it has no relative opposition either to paternity or to filiation; and consequently that procession belongs to the other person who is called the person of the Holy Ghost, who proceeds by way of love, as above explained. Therefore only three persons exist in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."
New Advent: Summa I, Q. 39, A. 2

Of course, while St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, attempts to explain some aspects of the Holy Trinity, it remains a mystery beyond the created intellect of man!  There have been many analogies, of course, to try to express the mystery of the Trinity, such as St. Patrick's clover.  One of my favorite analogies for the Trinity is from arithmetic: 1 x 1 x 1 = 1.

You might consult these links for more information on the doctrine and the feast:
Catechism of the Catholic Church: On the Trinity, #232-267

Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Trinity

Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Trinity Sunday

Fisheaters: Trinity Sunday

Finally, a selection, the Credo, from the Trinity Mass of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (+1796AD), written for this very Sunday:

Blessed be the Holy Trinity, and undivided Unity!  We will give glory to Him, because He hath shown His mercy to us! (Introit of Trinity Sunday)

Live well!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Feast of St. Boniface, Apostle of Germany

File:Saint Boniface by Cornelis Bloemaert.jpg
St. Boniface, by Cornelius Bloemaert, ca. 1630AD.

Today is the Feast of St. Boniface, Bishop, Martyr, and "Apostle of Germany."  St. Boniface was from England, but would become a great missionary to the unconverted east of the Rhine River.  After meeting with Pope Gregory II in 718, St. Boniface was given the papal mandate in 719 to preach the Gospel to the Germans.  He would find a mixture of peoples already familiar with Christianity -- St. Willibrord, Bishop of Utrecht, did much in Freisland, and St. Corbinian, Bishop of Freising, in Bavaria -- but also a number of heathens, especially in the land of the Hessians.  From that year until his martyrdom in 755AD, St. Boniface labored with a great deal of success for the souls of the German peoples.  He was, officially, the Archbishop of Mainz from 745-755AD.  St. Boniface has an entry, actually, at the Catholic Hierarchy page: Catholic Hierarchy: St. Boniface, Archbishop of Mainz

For more information, you might note these sites:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Boniface

Catholic Saints Info: St. Boniface

Butler's Lives of the Saints: St. Boniface

This letter of Pope Gregory II to Charles Martel of the Franks, written in 722AD, and referring to Boniface, is a splendid little read:

"To the glorious Lord, our son, Duke Charles.
Having learned, beloved son in Christ, that you are a man of deeply religious feeling, we make known to you that our brother Boniface, who now stands before you, a man of sterling faith and character, has been consecrated bishop by us, and after being instructed in the teachings of the Holy Apostolic See, over which by God’s grace we preside, is being sent to preach the faith to the peoples of Germany who dwell on the eastern bank of the Rhine, some of whom are still steeped in the efforts of paganism, while many more are plunged in the darkness of ignorance.

For this reason we commend him without more ado to your kindness and goodwill, begging you to help him in all his needs and to grant him your constant protection against any who may stand in his way. Know for certain that any favour bestowed on him is done for God, who on sending His holy Apostles to convert the Gentiles said that any man who received them received Him.

Instructed by us in the teachings of these Apostles, the bishop aforesaid is now on his way to take up the work assigned to him."

Bonifacius by Doepler, ca. 1905.

 Certainly the tale of St. Boniface and the Oak of Thor sacred to the German Druids bears recounting:
"At another level of symbolism, Saint Boniface (675-754) chopped down an oak tree sacred to pagans at Geismar in Germany. He did this to show them that nothing bad would happen, that Thor has no power. It is said that when he did this, he pointed out a small fir tree growing at its base and said "This humble tree's wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the centre of your households. Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let Christ be your constant light. Its boughs reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your comfort and your guide."
cf: Fisheaters: Customs of Christmas

Here is the fuller account of St. Boniface and Donar's Oak from the 8th century Willibald's Life of St. Boniface:
"Now at that time many of the Hessians, brought under the Catholic faith and confirmed by the grave of the sevenfold spirit, received the laying on of hands; others indeed, not yet strengthened in soul, refused to accept in their entirely the lessons of the inviolate faith. Moreover some were wont secretly, some openly to sacrifice to trees and springs; some in secret, others openly practiced inspections of victims and divinations, legerdemain and incantations; some turned their attention to auguries and auspices and various sacrificial rites; while others, with sounder minds, abandoned all the profanations of heathenism, and committed none of these things. With the advice and counsel of these last, the saint attempted, in the place called Gaesmere, while the servants of God stood by his side, to fell a certain oak of extraordinary size, which is called, by an old name of the pagans, the Oak of Jupiter. And when in the strength of his steadfast heart he had cut the lower notch, there was present a great multitude of pagans, who in their souls were earnestly cursing the enemy of their gods. But when the fore side of the tree was notched only a little, suddenly the oak's vast bulk, driven by a blast from above, crashed to the ground, shivering its crown of branches as it fell; and, as if by the gracious compensation of the Most High, it was also burst into four parts, and four trunks of huge size, equal in length, were seen, unwrought by the brethren who stood by. At this sight the pagans who before had cursed now, on the contrary, believed, and blessed the Lord, and put away their former reviling. Then moreover the most holy bishop, after taking counsel with the brethren, built from the timber of the tree wooden oratory, and dedicated it in honor of Saint Peter the apostle." [Robinson, George W. (trans.) (1916). The Life of Saint Boniface by WillibaldHarvard University Press. pages 62-64]

St. Boniface, pray for us, and pray for Germany!

Live well!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Veni Sancte Spiritus: Pentecost

Today is Pentecost Sunday -- the novena from the Ascension is now complete, and we are Fifty Days from Easter Sunday!

File:Jean II Restout - PentecĂ´te.jpg
Pentecost (1732AD), by Jean Restout (+1768AD)

We read in Sacred Scripture, Acts Chapter 2, about this day:
 And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak.

This Feast, also known as Whitsunday, is rich with meaning and custom, and some more details may be found here:
Fisheaters: Pentecost

For more information: Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Pentecost

On this day, a plenary indulgence can be received for the recitation of the Veni, Creator Spiritus in either a church or oratory:

VENI, Creator Spiritus,
mentes tuorum visita,
imple superna gratia
quae tu creasti pectora.
COME, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
and in our souls take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.
Qui diceris Paraclitus,
altissimi donum Dei,
fons vivus, ignis, caritas,
et spiritalis unctio.
O comforter, to Thee we cry,
O heavenly gift of God Most High,
O fount of life and fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.
Tu, septiformis munere,
digitus paternae dexterae,
Tu rite promissum Patris,
sermone ditans guttura.
Thou in Thy sevenfold gifts are known;
Thou, finger of God's hand we own;
Thou, promise of the Father, Thou
Who dost the tongue with power imbue.
Accende lumen sensibus:
infunde amorem cordibus:
infirma nostri corporis
virtute firmans perpeti.
Kindle our sense from above,
and make our hearts o'erflow with love;
with patience firm and virtue high
the weakness of our flesh supply.
Hostem repellas longius,
pacemque dones protinus:
ductore sic te praevio
vitemus omne noxium.
Far from us drive the foe we dread,
and grant us Thy peace instead;
so shall we not, with Thee for guide,
turn from the path of life aside.
Per te sciamus da Patrem,
noscamus atque Filium;
Teque utriusque Spiritum
credamus omni tempore.
Oh, may Thy grace on us bestow
the Father and the Son to know;
and Thee, through endless times confessed,
of both the eternal Spirit blest.
Deo Patri sit gloria,
et Filio, qui a mortuis
surrexit, ac Paraclito,
in saeculorum saecula.
Now to the Father and the Son,
Who rose from death, be glory given,
with Thou, O Holy Comforter,
henceforth by all in earth and heaven.
Preces Veni Creator

Nota bene: "§ 1. Plenaria indulgentia conceditur christifideli qui, in ecclesia vel oratorio, devote interfuerit sollemni cantui vel recitationi: 

1° hymni Veni, Creator, vel prima anni die ad divinam opem pro totius anni decursu implorandam; vel in sollemnitate Pentecostes;"

Cf., Enchiridion indulgentiarum

The original location of this event -- the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and Our Lady -- is the Cenacle on Mount Zion.  It sits just outside the walls of Jerusalem to the south, and was the same location as the Last Supper.  This is the descent of the Holy Spirit room today:

You can read more about the modern site here:
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum: Cenacle.

Today also happens to be the patronal feast of the school of this blogger:
Holy Spirit Preparatory School, Atlanta, Georgia

Finally, enjoy the chant of the Sequence of Pentecost, Veni Sancte Spiritus:

Veni Sancte Spiritus!  Come Holy Spirit!

Happy Pentecost!

Live Well!