In media res

We find ourselves midway through Lent already! This Sunday, known as Laetare Sunday, is one of reprieve amidst the somberness of Lent (even if the Great Fast isn’t kept as rigorously as in former times), with the violet vestments giving way to rose, the ancient Roman colour of joy. Many of the texts for the Propers are taken from the Gradual Psalms (or, Songs of Ascent), psalms which are believed to have been sung by Jewish pilgrims as they reached Jerusalem and the Temple during the three great pilgrimage feasts of the Old Testament. While they are psalms of joy, they are intimately bound to Jerusalem; today’s stational church is that of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, a church built to house a relic of the True Cross and filled with soil brought over from Jerusalem!

sclem-mosaic21

I found the imagery present in the Latin of today’s collect quite beautiful. The English gives us: “Grant, we beseech You, almighty God, that we who justly suffer for our sins may find relief in the help of Your grace”; however, if one were to translate the final part of the oration – tuæ grátiæ consolatióne respirémus – literally, it would be something like “[we] may breathe the consolation of Your grace.” This “breathing grace which consoles” invokes in me images of the Divine Breath, the Holy Spirit, Who is the Paraclete, the Consoler; it is the Paraclete dwelling within us Who vivifies us; just as with Adam, so does God breathe back Life into us as we make our way through this earthly life. This reference to the Holy Spirit seems quite fitting at this particular stational church, as it is through Christ’s Passion and Death upon the Holy and Life Giving Cross that He then Resurrected and Ascended to the Father in order to send us the Consoler. Read more

Advertisements

A third regeneration (II)

As mentioned in the previous post, our third son’s baptism got me thinking about Baptism in general. I’d like to share some loose thoughts on this today.

Recently someone propose the following exercise: describe Baptism using only three words. While most of the answers heard were “original sin” and “washing” and “creation”, yet the words “death” and “resurrection” did not feature much. What happens at Baptism? Is it just an outward washing that effects an interior purification, a “cleaning of the stain of original sin”, or is it something much more? And are we looking at the Scriptures – especially Genesis – to find out what it is that we believe?

100_7003
The Spirit hovering over the waters

Let us look at what the Liturgy has to tell us. I have previously written about the blessing of the baptismal font during the Paschal Vigil.  The blessing mentions the Spirit hovering over the water; the admixture of the Holy Oils emphasize visually the presence of the Holy Spirit within the waters (oil being a symbol for the selfsame Spirit); the prayer mentions over and over regeneration. If we are paying attention to all this, and if we have a decent foundation in the Scriptures, we should realize that Baptism is pointing us back to Genesis, back to the very beginning of Creation. In the first chapter of Genesis, the Spirit hovers over the primordial waters and brings life from them. In fact, throughout the Scriptures we see this motif of death/water-new creation/life repeated several times, most notably in the story of Noah, as well as in the Exodus. So, in Baptism, we are not just being washed of our sin – we are being made anew. The image and likeness of God, marred by the Old Adam’s sin, is regenerated in us thanks to our participation in the Death and glorious Resurrection of the New Adam. The New Adam is the obedient son, sent to fulfill the Father’s plan for Creation that the Old Adam, in his disobedience, caused to go wrong.

baptism-stainedglass
The Spirit hovering over the waters

Read more

A third regeneration (I)

This past Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, saw the baptism of our third child. I find it providential that he should have been baptized at the beginning of this penitential season for two reasons.

2d472a6f45a25b61e5e2fa24a5be1baa-lent-armenia

The first reason is that our child’s middle name is Ezequiel, a saint of the Old Covenant during the Babylonian exile who called upon Israel to repent, especially those who were already in exile and were still hard of heart and stiff necked.  In the Book of Ezekiel we are told of how the Lord took the prophet, who was in Babylon, by the hair, to the Temple in Jerusalem. There the Lord showed him how the people of Israel continued to provoke Him – through His priests – by committing adultery with foreign gods: i.e., by offering sacrifices and worship to idols in the Temple alongside the Lord.

And he said to me: Surely thou hast seen, O son of man: is this a light thing to the house of Juda, that they should commit these abominations which they have committed here: because they have filled the land with iniquity, and have turned to provoke me to anger?

The priests then lead the people astray:

Because they have deceived my people, saying: Peace, and there is no peace: and the people built up a wall, and they daubed it with dirt without straw.

I don’t think it is stretching it here to see an application of lex orandi, lex credendi: the priests, no longer worshiping as they should – as the Lord commanded of them – then began to believe and practice abominable things, leading those they were in charge of, those whom they were supposed to lead to God, down a path that pushed the Shekhinah (the Divine Presence) from out of their midst. As a novice oblate belonging to a Benedictine community which has as one of its charisms to pray for priests and to make reparation for them, and looking at the situation of the Church in my home country, this message of Ezekiel resonates deeply with me.

Read more

Alleluia, dulce carmen

After I Vespers of Septuagesima Sunday the family had a small burial service for the Alleluia at home. The eldest helped out with the arts and crafts side of things. We put a paper with the word “Alleluia” written on it into a “coffin”, then processed to the place where the “coffin” will lay until the Paschal Vigil; all the while incense was burned to the sound of the ancient hymn Alleluia dulce carmen. At the end we sang a triple Alleluia (such as can be heard here, and was pretty much the only Gregorian chant one heard in the parishes we attended back home). We hope with these small things to start inculcating in the children a sense of the liturgical year, of getting them to measure the seasons by the Church’s feasts.
Forelent is upon us; the Great Fast will soon be here!

‘Tis the season to say “Yes”

While Advent is quickly coming to an end this year, with even the final Sunday being suppressed by the Vigil of the Nativity, I’ve been wondering of late why the Church presents to us during this season the veterotestamental figures of the prophets Sts. Isaiah and John the Forerunner as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary.

There is an obvious reason for this choice: the saints pointing directly to the coming Christ. St. John the Forerunner prepared the people of Israel, calling them to repentance in the imminent advent of the Christ; the Blessed Mother served as a worthy tabernacle to Our Lord; St. Isaiah prophesied the coming of the Messiah through both – “a virgin shall conceive” and “the voice of one crying in the desert”.

I would, however, venture another reason. These saints are chosen by the Church for this season, not only because they point so intimately to the advent of Christ, but also because of their unreserved “yes” to God, their immediate self-oblation to the Lord as soon as he requires them. Read more

Advent and the Prologue

Advent has come once more, bringing with it a new liturgical year. In a sense, we start afresh, partaking yet again of the graces given to us by “Christ in His mysteries”, as Bl. Columba Marmion was wont speak of the events in Our Lord’s life. In the parlance of the Desert Fathers, it is time “to make a beginning”.

f6e08bd99cd4b36ff565c57f52cdfbe7-289x216

Since becoming a novice oblate and reading the Holy Rule regularly I have come to see Advent as the season which best embodies the Prologue. From the first Epistle reading of the season we have St. Paul calling us to arise:

Understand, for it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep, because now our salvation is nearer than when we came to believe.

Read more

Christ the King

Today was the feast of Christ the King for those of us following the vetus ordo calendar. To be honest, it is not a feast I ever really gave any serious consideration to either on the vetus or novus calendars. This year, however, for whatever reason, the feast has merited a bit more of my attention. This post will be a collection of lose thoughts about what we are commemorating today.

I suspect that the annual threefold reading of the Holy Rule might have something to do with the feast’s grabbing my attention as in the Prologue our Holy Patriarch says that those who submit to it take up arms “to battle for Christ the Lord, the true King”; later on in the Rule he mentions the acceptance of good monks from other monasteries because they “all serve one Lord and fight under one King everywhere”; the Kingdom of God is mentioned throughout the Rule, a kingdom that must be fought for.

hans_memling_-_christ_with_singing_angels_-_kmska_778

I must say that for a long time I understood this feast of Christ the King as just an “eschatological” feast, pointing to Chirst’s Parousia, His Second Coming, when He shall come as Judge to “judge the living and the dead and the age by fire” [this ending of quite a few prayers of exorcism has always stuck in my head]. Yet lately I’ve found myself wondering about the “immediate” implications of Chirst’s kingship, of what that means for us while we’re in the world. The Epistle reading today mentions:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in Him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers. All things have been created through and unto Him, and He is before all creatures, and in Him all things hold together. [..]He, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the first place. For it has pleased [God the Father] that in Him all fullness should dwell […]

Read more

Fasting in light of the Liturgy (I)

While at Mass this past Sunday there were certain prayers that jumped out at me, particularly those that speak of the bodily fast. This prompted me to put my thoughts down in writing, if only to get them in some sort of order. I will be dividing this into two posts.

montreal1

After my return to the Church, almost every single Lent (and Advent), I have heard repeated time and time again, be it from laymen be it from clergy, that bodily fasts are not important; that what matters, what God “really wants”, are spiritual fasts; those who propose this view generally tend to waive bodily fasts completely.

Whence this emphasis on the inner over the outer? It seems that lately we are suffering the effects of an exacerbated Cartesian dualism. In secular society one hears such insane claims as that one can decide one’s own sex; that biology plays no influence; that one’s sex is what one believes it to be at any given point, and that it is independent of the physical sex (“sex” having now been relegated to designating an act, being substituted for “gender”, a grammatical term/concept. Another way of implying that “gender is a social construct”?). In an age of rampant materialism, should it come as a surprise that there should appear this insane kind of dualism? Are we reaping the fruits of bad philosophy, of philosophy divorced from theology, divorced from Revelation? This mindset seems to have even spilt over into the Church, where one finds a somewhat subtler divide between body and soul, of one having no influence on the other (at least not the body on the soul).

I admit that in the beginning I held a similar view, that what mattered most was the inner. Yet the more I studied, the more I immersed myself in the Church’s perennial tradition, the more I came to understand that this is not what the Church teaches. The Church may have become lax, almost to the point of dismissing them completely, but she does not teach that bodily fasts are negligible; to the contrary, one need only look at her Liturgy to see how important bodily fasting is.
Being a Roman Catholic I will focus solely on the Latin Liturgy; I am sure non-Roman Catholics, which still practice fasting to a greater degree than Latins do, are able to point to instances where their liturgies speak of fasting.
The Church’s teaching on fasting reveals its anthropology.

The liturgical texts which speak to us most about fasting are those of Great Lent. I will cite a few, from the vetus ordo, to show the importance that the Church places on bodily fasting, how bodily fasting is the main concern of the Lenten ascetical praxis, even if it is not the goal . Let’s start off with the Preface of Lent (emphasis mine):

It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God; Who by this bodily fast, dost curb our vices, dost lift up our minds and bestow on us strength and rewards; through Christ our Lord. Through whom the Angels praise Thy Majesty, the Dominations worship it, the Powers stand in awe. The Heavens and the heavenly hosts together with the blessed Seraphim in triumphant chorus unite to celebrate it. Together with these we entreat Thee that Thou mayest bid our voices also to be admitted while we say with lowly praise:

Here we have repeated in every single Mass during the Lenten season (apart from certain feast days that may arise: e.g., the Annunciation) what the fast is about. It is a privation of food which aims at: conquering the lower appetites; restraining vices; focusing one’s mind on prayer; fortifying one’s will; receiving God’s mercy. And that it not be ascribed to personal merit, we are reminded that if the fast effects these things in us, it is by the Father, through the Son.

The Collect and Secret of the 1st Sunday of Lent have this to say:

O God, You Who purify Your Church by the yearly Lenten observance, grant to Your household that what they strive to obtain from You by abstinence, they may achieve by good works. (Collect)

We offer these sacrificial gifts at the beginning of Lent, praying You, O Lord, that while we practice restraint in the use of bodily food, we may also refrain from harmful pleasures. (Secret)

Both of these prayers speak of the relation between the external – abstaining from eating – and the internal – doing good works (ordered will) and keeping from what is internally harmful (disordered will).

The Church, in her repetitious pedagogy, prays this theme over and over all throughout Lent. So as not to make this post too tedious, I will just cite a few more prayers which I think highlight the point:

May these sacrificial gifts, we beseech You, O Lord, be the more effective unto our salvation since they have been aided by wholesome fasting. (Secret, Thurs.  after 1st Sunday)

Sanctify our fasts by the sacrificial gifts here present, we beseech You, O Lord, that what our observance outwardly professes may be inwardly accomplished. (Secret, Sat. after 1st Sunday)

Grant, we beseech You, almighty God, that Your servants who discipline the body by fasting from food, may strive after righteousness by abstaining from sin.(Collect, Mon. after  2nd Sunday)

Look mercifully upon Your people, we beseech You, O Lord, and grant that they whom You command to abstain from food, may also refrain from harmful vices. (Collect, Wed. after 2nd Sunday)

May the fasting dedicated to Your Name, O Lord, make us holy for the present sacrifice, that what our Lenten observance outwardly shows, it may work within us.(Secret, Thurs. after 2nd Sunday)

Grant that our fasting may be beneficial to us, we beseech You, O Lord, so that by chastising our flesh we may obtain strength for our souls.(Collect, Sat. after 2nd Sunday)

Grant, we beseech You, O Lord, that, improved by wholesome fasting, and thus abstaining from harmful sin, we may the more readily receive Your mercy.(Collect, Wed. after 3rd Sunday)

Grant, we beseech You, almighty God, that we who chastise our flesh by abstaining from food, may fast from sin by striving after righteousness.(Collect, Sat. after 3rd Sunday)

Grant, we beseech You, almighty God, that we who are chastising the flesh by fasting, may rejoice in this holy practice, and thus, with earthly passions subdued, we may the more readily direct our thoughts to heavenly things. (Collect, Wed. after 4th Sunday)

(to continue in Part II)

As a Bridegroom having come forth from the chamber

And so, another Advent season has come  to an end. As I write this, I Vespers of the Nativity of Our Lord have already been said, beginning the liturgical festivities of Christmastide.

Advent this year was marked by sense of eagerness, of expectancy, of urgency. It seemed as though Advent this year was a seamless continuation of the end of the liturgical year. For the first time, I was able to pray most of the Hours of the Office throughout the 4 weeks of Advent. I believe it was this assiduousness in praying the Office that impressed me with the sense of apocalyptic (in the biblical sense) urgency.

All the propers for the season speak of the coming of Christ, of the promise of the redemption of Israel.

Taking a sample from the antiphons:

“Behold, the great Prophet shall come; and He shall renew Jerusalem, alleluia.”

“The Lord will come and not delay. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will manifest Himself to all nations, alleluia.”

“Rejoice, Jerusalem, with great joy, for thy Saviour will come to thee, alleluia.”

“Behold, our Lord shall come with power, to enlighten the eyes of His servants, alleluia.”

“Let us live justly and piously, looking for the blessed hope and the coming of the Lord.”

“Fear not, Sion, behold, thy God cometh, alleluia.”

“Behold, the King shall come, and He shall take away the yoke of our captivity.”

“Turn again, O Lord, at the last, and delay not to come unto Thy servants.”

“Be prepared to meet Thy God, O Israel, for He cometh.”

“Awake, awake, arise, Jerusalem; loose the chains from off thy neck, O captive daughter of Sion.”

Read more

The Psalms and the married life [I]

The Introit of the Missa pro sponsis is one of my favourite Gregorian chants, perhaps since it made quite the impression on me on our wedding day (when I walked into the church the choir was rehearsing it, and the acoustics of the place really hit home).

Deus Israel conjungat vos, et ipse sit vobiscum, qui misertus est duobus unicis: et nunc, Domine, fac eos plenius benedicere te.  Ps. Beati omnes qui timent Dominum: qui ambulant in viis ejus.

Unfortunately, I tend to glance over the psalm verse that goes with the Introit at Mass, paying more attention to the opening verse. Only very recently, then, did it dawn on me that I know the psalm from which the verse of this particular Introit was taken: I encounter it several times a week when praying None according to the Monastic Diurnal. The Psalm in question is Psalm 127, Beati omnes. This Psalm figures in a few of the Propers of the nuptial votive Mass and can be found in quite a few other uses’ and rites’ nuptial votive Mass: the Bragan use is very similar to the Roman, and as such the Psalm verse appears in the same places; a 16th century Ambrosian sacramentary shows the entire Psalm being said during the nuptial blessing, while the missal has some Propers taken from it; the Byzantine rite also has recourse to Psalm 127.

What is this Psalm then? What does it have to say about Matrimony that it should find its way into so many matrimonial rites? While the imagery about the married life is pretty straightforward, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to offer a Christological reflection.

icon2bof2bchrist252c2bthe2bbridegroom2band2bmary252c2bthe2bbride2bchurch2bsacro2bspeco-cropped

[1] Beati omnes qui timent Dominum, qui ambulant in viis ejus.
[2] Labores manuum tuarum quia manducabis, beatus es, et bene tibi erit.
[3] Uxor tua sicut vitis abundans, in lateribus domus tuae; filii tui sicut novellae olivarum in circuitu mensae tuae.
[4] Ecce sic benedicetur homo qui timet Dominum.
[5] Benedicat tibi Dominus ex Sion, et videas bona Jerusalem omnibus diebus vitae tuae;
[6] et videas filios filiorum tuorum, pacem super Israel.

[1] The bridegroom in this Psalm is Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom. He is the one that is Blessed, the Holy One; He is the one who not only walks in the ways of the Lord, but is the Way.

[2] To be content to eat the labours of one’s hands means that the fruit of one’s labours are good. This signifies that all that Christ does is good. Christ himself said that His food is to do the will of His Father.

[3] Because the Chuch is the Mystical Body of Christ she can be said to be the fruitful vine as well, as her Bridegroom is the Vine. She is fruitful because she abides in Him. The Church is Our Lord’s spouse, having been born of His side, just as Eve was taken from Adam’s, while both slept. And just as a vine can only grow having support, so the Church grows from the life-giving wound on His side from which she was born. The fruit of the vine is wine, which is His Blood, His Life, and that is which the Church mediates to all men. We adopted sons and daughters, though we are part of the Bride, are mystically the sons and daughters of the Church as well; we are the fruit of the love between the Bridegroom and His beloved. We are as young olive trees, that is, we are to give fruit which will become oil – if we be fruitful, then we will become conduits for the Lord’s grace. The table is a reference to that of the wedding feast of the Lamb, where all who are fruitful will gather around. We see here a reference to a garden – we are reminded of Eden. Christ is the New Adam, and just as the Old before the Fall, His is to guard and till it, so that it be fruitful and multiply.

[5,6] The Lord blesses Him from Sion, that is, from the most Holy of Holies, from the sanctuary not made by human hands. Christ is in the Father, and the Father in Him, and so these He receives all the blessings which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, but which are stored up for those who love Him. He is the Beloved, Only-Begotten Son. He shall see the good of the Jerusalem, that is, the heavenly Jerusalem, all the days of His life because Death has no dominion over Him; His children’s children are the multitude of the saints, which are with Him in this heavenly Jerusalem.

unknownchristthebridegroomandthechurchhisbridefrompetruscomestorbiblehistorialekoninklijkebibliotheekthehague1372

Linking this back to Ephesians 5 (specifically, the pericope which has had such an important impact on our understanding of Matrimony), what are we as a couple supposed to take away from the Psalm? As a husband (and at the moment the only bread-winner for the household), I have to provide for my family while walking the Lord’s ways. I may not being doing the job I’d love to, or even the one I studied for, but I have to do His will where I am now, in my concrete situation. The daily bread I earn must be gotten honestly, through honest work, no matter how “below me” I might at times be tempted to think it is (and it is during those times that the words of the Rule on humility come to mind, about accepting whatever task is set before one). To do what is right, to stay the straight and narrow, when all around one sees corners being cut, is not something within one’s own power. How many times do I fall because I think I can do it on my own? And yet, in accepting what is, in eating the sweat of the brow, a certain peace is to be found. My spouse is to be at my side, to find support in me, to grow in holiness, and in growing to help support myself as well. Our love is to be a fruitful one, open to life; children are to be welcome always. Though they be “ours”, in truth we are only their stewards; ultimately, they belong to God. We are to till and guard them, that they may grow and bear fruit. The most important part of that is passing on the Faith to them. We are the olive trees as well, and as olives are pressed to give  healing chrism, so through our daily trails, we hope to be channels of Our Lord’s grace to them, so that they in turn may be to others. We try to conform to one another, to love each other more perfectly, so that we too may one day, when we have reached the end of this time of trial, by God’s grace, may be introduced into the heavenly tabernacle; we try to love each other so that we may find Christ in one another, and that others may find the love of Christ for His Church in us.