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!

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‘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”.

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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.

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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.

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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 […]

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Guardian Angel

June 10th is the feast of the Guardian Angel of Portugal. For those familiar with the story of Fatima, the Guardian Angel of Portugal appeared to the young shepherds, as a way of preparing them for Our Lady’s visit. Providentially, this centenary the feast has fallen on a Saturday, a day liturgically dedicated to Our Lady.

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Historically, the Guardian Angel of Portugal has always been believed to be St. Michael, who is also referred to in the Liturgy as the Angel of Peace (another title which the Angel of Portugal identified himself with). So, there is the pious belief that the young shepherds actually saw St. Michael! I leave you with the Collect of the votive Mass of the Guardian Angel of Portugal, as found in the Bragan missal:

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui angelicam custodiam homini et hominum regnis, provinciis, et civitatibus contulisti:concede propitius; ut nostri regni ac civitatis praesul et custos, Angelus tuus sanctus ipsum totum regnum ac cives ab instantibus periculis corporis et animae et ab omnibus adversitatibus protegat et defendat. Per Dominum.

Martírios

For the past few years I have particularly enjoyed this version (by the same choir that sung at our wedding and our children’s baptisms) of a traditional Portuguese Lenten hymn. Here is the refrain:

Padeceu grandes tormentos
Duros martírios na cruz
Morreu para nos salvar
Bendito seja Jesus

He suffered great torments;
Severe afflictions upon the Cross;
He died to save us;
Blessed be Jesus.

The hymn speaks of Jesus’ suffering for us out of love, but it focuses mainly on His Passion, describing the terrible suffering He underwent. I am not exactly sure in what context it was formerly sung: if in the Senhor dos Passos processions (which are a form of Via Crucis), or with the Ementação das Almas (a practice of praying for the Holy Souls of Purgatory at night during certain days of Lent, while also reminding the living to convert while there is time).

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.

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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.”

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An Advent prose

To see the Cross is to see Life. To come  to the Cross is to come to Life. And yet why do I run from Life? Why am I so afraid of Life; why do I embrace Death? Oh sweet Death that comes to me by my mouth, my eyes, my ears, my nose, my hands and my feet! What manner of master are you that the slave loves the chains keeping him in bondage? And yet the sweetness soon turns bitter, and while once the chain was as a melodious chord, now it is yanked and one is dragged in the mire.

The lamps have gone out, their oil spent foolishly. The walls are in disrepair. The watchman has fallen asleep at his post, leaving the roaring lion to have free rein, prowling about. How long, O Lord, how long, will you leave the temple of my heart in abandon? Arise, oh my soul, awaken from your slumber! The Lord is coming, and shall not long delay! He is coming from the East, to enlighten your eyes! Your Saviour is coming, and He shall build up the walls again – open wide the gates!

Lord, that I may not fear the Cross. That the Life-giving Wood may be as a plough on this stony heart of mine. Work this arid soil, O Lord, that it may be found a worthy temple as that virginal womb which saw You come into this world; rain down on it your mercy and grace, that it may see You finally come to dwell therein.

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Thou hast ascended on high

This Ascension Thursday was the first time I witnessed the extinguishing of the Paschal Candle. The lighting of the Paschal Candle is part of one of my favourite liturgical moments of the year (if not the favourite) – the Exultet. I have a post saved on the topic of the Exultet for another time; at the moment I want to reflect a bit on the meaning of the extinguishing of the Paschal Candle.

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The Paschal Candle’s presence in the novus ordo is virtually perennial; not so in the vetus ordo. The Paschal Candle symbolizes the resurrected and glorified Christ. In the vetus ordo the candle is present since the Paschal Vigil, remaining lit in the sanctuary for 40 days, symbolizing the 40 days the resurrected Christ spent still among His disciples. On the 40th day, on the day of the Ascension, the Paschal Candle is extinguished, symbolizing Our Lord’s bodily Ascension. The Candle will only be relit for the Vigil of Pentecost (in the case of the pre-’55 rite), when the Mass parallels the Paschal Vigil.

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Here is the genius of the Liturgy handed down to us. Here is a reminder that the Son has ascended to the Father; that we have spent these past 40 days in His company with His disciples, that we will no longer see His resurrected and glorified body with our eyes, but will require the eyes of Faith to see Him present in the Eucharist. We must remember that when the Sacred Mysteries are celebrated, we are outside chronos – outside chronological time – and inside kairos – sacred time, God’s time – and that we are re-living the events we celebrate (hence why the liturgical texts always refer to the present; the Hanc igitur of Pascha refers to the resurrection this day; the Ascension’s texts as well ).

Are we aware of the meaning of these symbols and their meanings, or do we just go through the motions?