Saturday, December 31, 2011

Feast of Mary, Mother of God? (aka New Year, aka Circumcision of Christ aka Octave Day of Christmas)



This Sunday's feast is curious in that it has undergone a number of name changes in recent years - yet retained its key text, viz  St Luke 2:21, which describes the circumcision of Our Lord.

Traditionally, this Sunday would have been the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord. The feast celebrated the first time the blood of Christ was shed, and thus the beginning of the process of the redemption of man. It also serves to demonstrate that Christ was fully human, and his obedience to Biblical law.

In the 1962 Calendar (including the Benedictine Universal Calendar), all of the traditional texts for the feast are retained, but the name is dropped in favour of the Octave Day of the Nativity.

In the Novus Ordo calendar, it has become the Feast of Mary, Mother of God, apparently for reasons of ecumenism (with the Eastern Orthodox).

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet...

On calendars and ordos...


For those wanting to say some form of the Benedictine Office in 2012, I thought it might be helpful to include links to various online Ordos and calendars.

There are essentially three (licit) choices as far as calendars and ordos go, but quite a few variants to them, so herewith a guide!

Why calendars and rubrics are important

Once upon a time (essentially between Trent and Vatican II) the delegation to say the Divine Office on behalf of the Church was restricted to priests and religious. 

Current Church law opens up the Office to the laity as well, but that brings with it great responsibility.

The Office is not just some other prayer that you can just toss off - even when said by one person alone, the presumption will normally be that it is part of the official public, liturgical prayer of the Church.   Thus it must be said in line with the rules that go with it.

That means paying attention to the rubrics, and using an approved calendar.

Benedictine 1963 (EF)

The first and easiest approach, open to any Benedictine Oblate, is to use the Benedictine universal calendar for 1963, adding in any local feasts for your region, country, diocese, monastery and parish church.

This calendar is pretty similar to the 1962 Extraordinary Form one, though there are some variations in the number and level of feasts.

The Farnborough Diurnal is keyed to this calendar, and the monthly Ordo on this blog (or if you want it by emails/word file, join the tradben yahoo group) should help you find the appropriate pages in the book.

Adapting the Benedictine to the Extraordinary From calendar

If you are attending daily Mass in the Extraordinary Form some place that is not a Benedictine monastery, you may want to adapt the Office you say to reflect the Mass of the day.  That is actually pretty easy to do, and I think it can be argued, perfectly licit - the liturgical seasons and major feasts are mostly identical; just make use of the 'Commons' of the appropriate type of saint and, if desired, use the collect of the day from your missal.  Some traditional monasteries actually do more or less follow the EF calendar appropriate to their country, one of which is Le Barroux.

Novus Ordo/Ordinary Form calendar

It is of course possible to adapt the traditional Office to one or more variants of the Novus Ordo calendar, and indeed the monastery of Solesmes has published a series of volumes doing just that, including canticle antiphons and collects linked to the novus ordo three year lectionary.  The problem for many is that these volumes are in Latin only, and there are as far as I can discover no authorised English translations.  There are, however, an unauthorized set of translations you could use for study purposes here.

One solution for those praying the Office devotionally rather than liturgically if you want to stick with the traditional psalter but don't have enough Latin (and aren't prepared to learn a little!), would be to start from the Farnborough Diurnal but take the collects and Sunday canticle antiphons, etc from a current edition of the Liturgy of the Hours.

To that you could add the list of the standard Novus Ordo Benedictine feasts for the Order as a whole here.

Note that you will need to be very familiar with the traditional Office though to find the right parts!

Calendars and rubrics for individual monasteries/congregations

As the Benedictine "order' is very loosely connected indeed, most monasteries (or groups of monasteries) actually have the authority (within limits) to set up own calendars and often variants to the rubrics - Le Barroux for example, retains I Vespers for Class II feasts; and some traditional monasteries use the 1963 Office but with what is (more or less) the Novus Ordo calendar.

So if you are an Oblate, try and obtain the Ordo of the monastery you are affiliated to, and adapt the Office accordingly.

Or, if you are affiliated with a monastery of a particular Congregation, use their Ordo in association with the 'Commons of Saints':
  • Norcia in Italy provides a weekly ordo to go along with their broadcasts of the Office;
  • a calendar for the monasteries of the English Congregation is available online;
  • so too, the American Cassinese (note large file).
There may be others, if so do let me know.

Older calendars...

There are of course many older Diurnals and Breviaries around, and so many do use the older calendar that comes with them.

My personal view is that while studying these older variations can be helpful, actually using them is a form of liturgical abuse, an example of the liturgical creativity of recent decades infecting even traditionalists.

It isn't at all hard, after all, to use these older books but apply the 1963 calendar and rubrics.

Still, if you must, you can buy calendars for the Western or Orthodox rites over at Lancelot Andrewes Press...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fifth Day in the Octave of the Nativity (Dec 29)/St Thomas of Canterbury

Bernadino Luini c1525-30

In the Extraordinary Form calendar today, and in many places, today is the feast of St Thomas of Canterbury, better known as St Thomas a Becket, martyred in his own Cathedral for defending the rights of the Church against the State.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holy Innocents (December 28)



Giotto, c1304
 The Biblical account of the reasons for this ancient feast of the first martyrs for Christ is St. Matthew 2:16-18:

"Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry; and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

St John the Evangelist (December 27)


c1125
Pope Benedict XVI has given a series of General Audiences on St John.  Here is the first of the series:

"Let us dedicate our meeting today to remembering another very important member of the Apostolic College: John, son of Zebedee and brother of James. His typically Jewish name means: "the Lord has worked grace". He was mending his nets on the shore of Lake Tiberias when Jesus called him and his brother (cf. Mt 4: 21; Mk 1: 19).

John was always among the small group that Jesus took with him on specific occasions. He was with Peter and James when Jesus entered Peter's house in Capernaum to cure his mother-in-law (cf. Mk 1: 29); with the other two, he followed the Teacher into the house of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue whose daughter he was to bring back to life (cf. Mk 5: 37); he followed him when he climbed the mountain for his Transfiguration (cf. Mk 9: 2).

He was beside the Lord on the Mount of Olives when, before the impressive sight of the Temple of Jerusalem, he spoke of the end of the city and of the world (cf. Mk 13: 3); and, lastly, he was close to him in the Garden of Gethsemane when he withdrew to pray to the Father before the Passion (cf. Mk 14: 33).

Shortly before the Passover, when Jesus chose two disciples to send them to prepare the room for the Supper, it was to him and to Peter that he entrusted this task (cf. Lk 22: 8).

His prominent position in the group of the Twelve makes it somewhat easier to understand the initiative taken one day by his mother: she approached Jesus to ask him if her two sons - John and James - could sit next to him in the Kingdom, one on his right and one on his left (cf. Mt 20: 20-21).

As we know, Jesus answered by asking a question in turn: he asked whether they were prepared to drink the cup that he was about to drink (cf. Mt 20: 22). The intention behind those words was to open the two disciples' eyes, to introduce them to knowledge of the mystery of his person and to suggest their future calling to be his witnesses, even to the supreme trial of blood.

A little later, in fact, Jesus explained that he had not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (cf. Mt 20: 28).

In the days after the Resurrection, we find "the sons of Zebedee" busy with Peter and some of the other disciples on a night when they caught nothing, but that was followed, after the intervention of the Risen One, by the miraculous catch: it was to be "the disciple Jesus loved" who first recognized "the Lord" and pointed him out to Peter (cf. Jn 21: 1-13).

In the Church of Jerusalem, John occupied an important position in supervising the first group of Christians. Indeed, Paul lists him among those whom he calls the "pillars" of that community (cf. Gal 2: 9). In fact, Luke in the Acts presents him together with Peter while they are going to pray in the temple (cf. Acts 3: 1-4, 11) or appear before the Sanhedrin to witness to their faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 4: 13, 19).

Together with Peter, he is sent to the Church of Jerusalem to strengthen the people in Samaria who had accepted the Gospel, praying for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 8: 14-15). In particular, we should remember what he affirmed with Peter to the Sanhedrin members who were accusing them: "We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4: 20).

It is precisely this frankness in confessing his faith that lives on as an example and a warning for all of us always to be ready to declare firmly our steadfast attachment to Christ, putting faith before any human calculation or concern.

According to tradition, John is the "disciple whom Jesus loved", who in the Fourth Gospel laid his head against the Teacher's breast at the Last Supper (cf. Jn 13: 23), stood at the foot of the Cross together with the Mother of Jesus (cf. Jn 19: 25) and lastly, witnessed both the empty tomb and the presence of the Risen One himself (cf. Jn 20: 2; 21: 7).

We know that this identification is disputed by scholars today, some of whom view him merely as the prototype of a disciple of Jesus. Leaving the exegetes to settle the matter, let us be content here with learning an important lesson for our lives: the Lord wishes to make each one of us a disciple who lives in personal friendship with him.

To achieve this, it is not enough to follow him and to listen to him outwardly: it is also necessary to live with him and like him. This is only possible in the context of a relationship of deep familiarity, imbued with the warmth of total trust. This is what happens between friends; for this reason Jesus said one day: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.... No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (Jn 15: 13, 15).

In the apocryphal Acts of John, the Apostle is not presented as the founder of Churches nor as the guide of already established communities, but as a perpetual wayfarer, a communicator of the faith in the encounter with "souls capable of hoping and of being saved" (18: 10; 23: 8).

All is motivated by the paradoxical intention to make visible the invisible. And indeed, the Oriental Church calls him quite simply "the Theologian", that is, the one who can speak in accessible terms of the divine, revealing an arcane access to God through attachment to Jesus.

Devotion to the Apostle John spread from the city of Ephesus where, according to an ancient tradition, he worked for many years and died in the end at an extraordinarily advanced age, during the reign of the Emperor Trajan.

In Ephesus in the sixth century, the Emperor Justinian had a great basilica built in his honour, whose impressive ruins are still standing today. Precisely in the East, he enjoyed and still enjoys great veneration.

In Byzantine iconography he is often shown as very elderly - according to tradition, he died under the Emperor Trajan - in the process of intense contemplation, in the attitude, as it were, of those asking for silence.

Indeed, without sufficient recollection it is impossible to approach the supreme mystery of God and of his revelation. This explains why, years ago, Athenagoras, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the man whom Pope Paul VI embraced at a memorable encounter, said: "John is the origin of our loftiest spirituality. Like him, "the silent ones' experience that mysterious exchange of hearts, pray for John's presence, and their hearts are set on fire" (O. Clément, Dialoghi con Atenagora, Turin 1972, p. 159).

May the Lord help us to study at John's school and learn the great lesson of love, so as to feel we are loved by Christ "to the end" (Jn 13: 1), and spend our lives for him."

Monday, December 26, 2011

St Stephen the Protomartyr (Dec 26)

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audinece on St Stephen in 2007.  Here are a few extracts:

"St Stephen is the most representative of a group of seven companions. Tradition sees in this group the seed of the future ministry of "deacons", although it must be pointed out that this category is not present in the Book of Acts. In any case, Stephen's importance is due to the fact that Luke, in his important book, dedicates two whole chapters to him.

Luke's narrative starts with the observation of a widespread division in the primitive Church of Jerusalem: indeed, she consisted entirely of Christians of Jewish origin, but some came from the land of Israel and were called "Hebrews", while others, of the Old Testament Jewish faith, came from the Greek-speaking Diaspora and were known as "Hellenists". This was the new problem: the most destitute of the Hellenists, especially widows deprived of any social support, ran the risk of being neglected in the daily distribution of their rations. To avoid this problem, the Apostles, continuing to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word, decided to appoint for this duty "seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" to help them (Acts 6: 2-4), that is, by carrying out a social and charitable service.

To this end, as Luke wrote, at the Apostles' invitation the disciples chose seven men. We are even given their names. They were: "Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolaus. These they set before the Apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them" (cf. Acts 6: 5-6).

The act of the laying on of hands can have various meanings. In the Old Testament, this gesture meant above all the transmission of an important office, just as Moses laid his hands on Joshua (cf. Nm 27: 18-23), thereby designating his successor. Along the same lines, the Church of Antioch would also use this gesture in sending out Paul and Barnabas on their mission to the peoples of the world (cf. Acts 13: 3).

...The most important thing to note is that in addition to charitable services, Stephen also carried out a task of evangelization among his compatriots, the so-called "Hellenists". Indeed, Luke insists on the fact that Stephen, "full of grace and power" (Acts 6: 8), presented in Jesus' Name a new interpretation of Moses and of God's Law itself. He reread the Old Testament in the light of the proclamation of Christ's death and Resurrection. He gave the Old Testament a Christological reinterpretation and provoked reactions from the Jews, who took his words to be blasphemous (cf. Acts 6: 11-14).

For this reason he was condemned to stoning. And St Luke passes on to us the saint's last discourse, a synthesis of his preaching. Just as Jesus had shown the disciples of Emmaus that the whole of the Old Testament speaks of him, of his Cross and his Resurrection, so St Stephen, following Jesus' teaching, interpreted the whole of the Old Testament in a Christological key. He shows that the mystery of the Cross stands at the centre of the history of salvation as recounted in the Old Testament; it shows that Jesus, Crucified and Risen, is truly the goal of all this history.

St Stephen also shows that the cult of the temple was over and that Jesus, the Risen One, was the new, true "temple". It was precisely this "no" to the temple and to its cult that led to the condemnation of St Stephen, who at this moment, St Luke tells us, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and seeing heaven, God and Jesus, St Stephen said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God" (cf. Acts 7: 56).

This was followed by his martyrdom, modelled in fact on the passion of Jesus himself, since he delivered his own spirit to the "Lord Jesus" and prayed that the sin of those who killed him would not be held against them (cf. Acts 7: 59-60).

The place of St Stephen's martyrdom in Jerusalem has traditionally been located outside the Damascus Gate, to the north, where indeed the Church of Saint-Étienne [St Stephen] stands beside the famous École Biblique of the Dominicans. The killing of Stephen, the first martyr of Christ, unleashed a local persecution of Christ's disciples (cf. Acts 8: 1), the first one in the history of the Church. It was these circumstances that impelled the group of Judeo-Hellenist Christians to flee from Jerusalem and scatter. Hounded out of Jerusalem, they became itinerant missionaries: "Those who were scattered went about preaching the word" (Acts 8: 4)...

Stephen's story tells us many things: for example, that charitable social commitment must never be separated from the courageous proclamation of the faith. He was one of the seven made responsible above all for charity. But it was impossible to separate charity and faith. Thus, with charity, he proclaimed the crucified Christ, to the point of accepting even martyrdom. This is the first lesson we can learn from the figure of St Stephen: charity and the proclamation of faith always go hand in hand.

Above all, St Stephen speaks to us of Christ, of the Crucified and Risen Christ as the centre of history and our life. We can understand that the Cross remains forever the centre of the Church's life and also of our life. In the history of the Church, there will always be passion and persecution. And it is persecution itself which, according to Tertullian's famous words, becomes "the seed of Christians", the source of mission for Christians to come...."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Christmas!



May all readers of this blog enjoy a happy and holy Christmastide....

Friday, December 23, 2011

Vigil of the Nativity (Dec 24)

Enrolment for tax,
mosaic Istanbul

O Emmanuel (December 23)


Today the last of the great O Antiphons for the Magnificat:

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.



Thursday, December 22, 2011

Antiphon for the Magnificat: O Rex Gentium (Dec 22)



O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December 21: St Thomas, Apostle /O Oriens


Caravaggio: The incredulity of St Thomas

Today is the feast of the apostle Thomas. Pope Benedict devoted a General Audience to the Apostle in 2006:

"Continuing our encounters with the Twelve Apostles chosen directly by Jesus, today we will focus our attention on Thomas. Ever present in the four lists compiled by the New Testament, in the first three Gospels he is placed next to Matthew (cf. Mt 10: 3; Mk 3: 18; Lk 6: 15), whereas in Acts, he is found after Philip (cf. Acts 1: 13).

His name derives from a Hebrew root, ta'am, which means "paired, twin". In fact, John's Gospel several times calls him "Dydimus" (cf. Jn 11: 16; 20: 24; 21: 2), a Greek nickname for, precisely, "twin". The reason for this nickname is unclear.

It is above all the Fourth Gospel that gives us information that outlines some important traits of his personality.

The first concerns his exhortation to the other Apostles when Jesus, at a critical moment in his life, decided to go to Bethany to raise Lazarus, thus coming dangerously close to Jerusalem (Mk 10: 32).

On that occasion Thomas said to his fellow disciples: "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (Jn 11: 16). His determination to follow his Master is truly exemplary and offers us a valuable lesson: it reveals his total readiness to stand by Jesus, to the point of identifying his own destiny with that of Jesus and of desiring to share with him the supreme trial of death.

In fact, the most important thing is never to distance oneself from Jesus.

Moreover, when the Gospels use the verb "to follow", it means that where he goes, his disciple must also go.

Thus, Christian life is defined as a life with Jesus Christ, a life to spend together with him. St Paul writes something similar when he assures the Christians of Corinth: "You are in our hearts, to die together and to live together" (II Cor 7: 3). What takes place between the Apostle and his Christians must obviously apply first of all to the relationship between Christians and Jesus himself: dying together, living together, being in his Heart as he is in ours.

A second intervention by Thomas is recorded at the Last Supper. On that occasion, predicting his own imminent departure, Jesus announced that he was going to prepare a place for his disciples so that they could be where he is found; and he explains to them: "Where [I] am going you know the way" (Jn 14: 4). It is then that Thomas intervenes, saying: "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" (Jn 14: 5).

In fact, with this remark he places himself at a rather low level of understanding; but his words provide Jesus with the opportunity to pronounce his famous definition: "I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life" (Jn 14: 6).

Thus, it is primarily to Thomas that he makes this revelation, but it is valid for all of us and for every age. Every time we hear or read these words, we can stand beside Thomas in spirit and imagine that the Lord is also speaking to us, just as he spoke to him.

At the same time, his question also confers upon us the right, so to speak, to ask Jesus for explanations. We often do not understand him. Let us be brave enough to say: "I do not understand you, Lord; listen to me, help me to understand". In such a way, with this frankness which is the true way of praying, of speaking to Jesus, we express our meagre capacity to understand and at the same time place ourselves in the trusting attitude of someone who expects light and strength from the One able to provide them.

Then, the proverbial scene of the doubting Thomas that occurred eight days after Easter is very well known. At first he did not believe that Jesus had appeared in his absence and said: "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe" (Jn 20: 25).

Basically, from these words emerges the conviction that Jesus can now be recognized by his wounds rather than by his face. Thomas holds that the signs that confirm Jesus' identity are now above all his wounds, in which he reveals to us how much he loved us. In this the Apostle is not mistaken.

As we know, Jesus reappeared among his disciples eight days later and this time Thomas was present. Jesus summons him: "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing" (Jn 20: 27).

Thomas reacts with the most splendid profession of faith in the whole of the New Testament: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20: 28). St Augustine comments on this: Thomas "saw and touched the man, and acknowledged the God whom he neither saw nor touched; but by the means of what he saw and touched, he now put far away from him every doubt, and believed the other" (In ev. Jo. 121, 5).

The Evangelist continues with Jesus' last words to Thomas: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (Jn 20: 29). This sentence can also be put into the present: "Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe".

In any case, here Jesus spells out a fundamental principle for Christians who will come after Thomas, hence, for all of us.

It is interesting to note that another Thomas, the great Medieval theologian of Aquinas, juxtaposed this formula of blessedness with the apparently opposite one recorded by Luke: "Blessed are the eyes which see what you see!" (Lk 10: 23). However, Aquinas comments: "Those who believe without seeing are more meritorious than those who, seeing, believe" (In Johann. XX lectio VI 2566).

In fact, the Letter to the Hebrews, recalling the whole series of the ancient biblical Patriarchs who believed in God without seeing the fulfilment of his promises, defines faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb 11: 1).

The Apostle Thomas' case is important to us for at least three reasons: first, because it comforts us in our insecurity; second, because it shows us that every doubt can lead to an outcome brighter than any uncertainty; and, lastly, because the words that Jesus addressed to him remind us of the true meaning of mature faith and encourage us to persevere, despite the difficulty, along our journey of adhesion to him.

A final point concerning Thomas is preserved for us in the Fourth Gospel, which presents him as a witness of the Risen One in the subsequent event of the miraculous catch in the Sea of Tiberias (cf. Jn 21: 2ff.).

On that occasion, Thomas is even mentioned immediately after Simon Peter: an evident sign of the considerable importance that he enjoyed in the context of the early Christian communities.

Indeed, the Acts and the Gospel of Thomas, both apocryphal works but in any case important for the study of Christian origins, were written in his name.

Lastly, let us remember that an ancient tradition claims that Thomas first evangelized Syria and Persia (mentioned by Origen, according to Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 3, 1) then went on to Western India (cf. Acts of Thomas 1-2 and 17ff.), from where also he finally reached Southern India.

Let us end our reflection in this missionary perspective, expressing the hope that Thomas' example will never fail to strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Our God."

O Oriens...

And today's O antiphon is O Oriens, dayspring, brightness of eternal light and sun of justice....

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another monastery goes live...



The Monastery of Le Barroux, France has announced, with the support of the Archbishop of Avignon, that it will make available four hours of the Office each day available online - Prime, Sext, Vespers and Compline.

You can either listen via the 'Barroux' application on your iphone (you can download the application via their website), or on your computer.

As far as I can see, unlike Norcia, it is a live broadcast only, no archiving, so it will depend what time zone you are in whether or not it is useful to you or not - Prime normally starting at 7.45am translates to 1.45am in New York, and 5.45pm here in Australia (Eastern Summer Time)!

Still, if you can listen, your Diurnal should do the job in allowing you to follow it, as the website points you to the Latin-French version of the same book (very cute marketing!). 

Note that Le Barroux uses its own calendar which differs from the General Benedictine calendar slightly (mainly to align it more closely to the Roman EF one, but also of course to reflect local feasts), and generally sings the 'Prolix Responsories' contained in the Antiphonale Monasticum at I Vespers of major feasts instead of the short responsory provided in the Diurnal.

**Listening to Compline now (1945 French time) - very cool!  Even if I should actually be saying Matins....

The O Antiphons: O Key of David (Clavis David) - December 20



Today's O antiphon is O clavis David:

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death

Monday, December 19, 2011

O Come, O Come Emmanuel...

This week, the Magificat antiphons, the O antiphons, are the verses often sung as part of the hymn O come, O Come Emmanuel.

So here is the modern setting in Latin that you may be more familiar with.

Advent antiphons for the Magnificat: O radix Jesse (Dec 19)

The series of the the great O Antiphons continues today with O Radix Jesse.




Today's antiphon is, in English:

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

December 17: the start of the great O antiphons

The liturgy enters a new level of intensity from today, with antiphons for Lauds to Vespers for each day of the week, and the singing of the wonderful 'O' antiphons with the Magnificat at Vespers.

Today's antiphon is O Sapientia, the translation of which is:

O Wisdom,who proceeds from the mouth of the Most High, reaching out mightily from end to end, and sweetly arranging all things: come to teach us the way of prudence.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Feasting and fasting: Advent Ember Days

The Church has always advocated that we prepare for our feasting first by fasting, and so the third week of Advent (and week of the feast of St Lucy) traditionally includes the Advent Ember Days.

The days are Class II, with a rather more elaborate mass.

For Advent the focus is particularly on Our Lady. Wednesday's Mass is about the Annunciation. It starts with the beautiful Introit Rorate Caeli (Drop down dew ye heavens) and includes the famous prophesy from Isaiah (Behold a virgin shall conceive) as well as the Gospel from St Luke with the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary.

Friday's Gospel is about the Visitation.

Saturday's ancient and complex Mass is a more general message about the preparation for the coming of Our Lord, with the Gospel on St John the Baptist.

So do try and get to a Mass on these days if there is one that celebrates the Ember Days in your area (they are optional in the Novus Ordo calendar).

And remember that they are also traditionally days of fasting and abstinence.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 30: St Andrew, Class II


St Andrew was the brother of St Peter.  Pope Benedict XVI devoted a General Audience to him on 14 June 2006:

"...Therefore, today we shall speak of Simon Peter's brother, St Andrew, who was also one of the Twelve.

The first striking characteristic of Andrew is his name: it is not Hebrew, as might have been expected, but Greek, indicative of a certain cultural openness in his family that cannot be ignored. We are in Galilee, where the Greek language and culture are quite present. Andrew comes second in the list of the Twelve, as in Matthew (10: 1-4) and in Luke (6: 13-16); or fourth, as in Mark (3: 13-18) and in the Acts (1: 13-14). In any case, he certainly enjoyed great prestige within the early Christian communities.

The kinship between Peter and Andrew, as well as the joint call that Jesus addressed to them, are explicitly mentioned in the Gospels. We read: "As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men'" (Mt 4: 18-19; Mk 1: 16-17).

From the Fourth Gospel we know another important detail: Andrew had previously been a disciple of John the Baptist: and this shows us that he was a man who was searching, who shared in Israel's hope, who wanted to know better the word of the Lord, the presence of the Lord.

He was truly a man of faith and hope; and one day he heard John the Baptist proclaiming Jesus as: "the Lamb of God" (Jn 1: 36); so he was stirred, and with another unnamed disciple followed Jesus, the one whom John had called "the Lamb of God". The Evangelist says that "they saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day..." (Jn 1: 37-39).

Thus, Andrew enjoyed precious moments of intimacy with Jesus. The account continues with one important annotation: "One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah' (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus" (Jn 1: 40-43), straightaway showing an unusual apostolic spirit.

Andrew, then, was the first of the Apostles to be called to follow Jesus. Exactly for this reason the liturgy of the Byzantine Church honours him with the nickname: "Protokletos", [protoclete] which means, precisely, "the first called".

And it is certain that it is partly because of the family tie between Peter and Andrew that the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople feel one another in a special way to be Sister Churches. To emphasize this relationship, my Predecessor Pope Paul VI, in 1964, returned the important relic of St Andrew, which until then had been kept in the Vatican Basilica, to the Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop of the city of Patras in Greece, where tradition has it that the Apostle was crucified.

The Gospel traditions mention Andrew's name in particular on another three occasions that tell us something more about this man. The first is that of the multiplication of the loaves in Galilee. On that occasion, it was Andrew who pointed out to Jesus the presence of a young boy who had with him five barley loaves and two fish: not much, he remarked, for the multitudes who had gathered in that place (cf. Jn 6: 8-9).

In this case, it is worth highlighting Andrew's realism. He noticed the boy, that is, he had already asked the question: "but what good is that for so many?" (ibid.), and recognized the insufficiency of his minimal resources. Jesus, however, knew how to make them sufficient for the multitude of people who had come to hear him.

The second occasion was at Jerusalem. As he left the city, a disciple drew Jesus' attention to the sight of the massive walls that supported the Temple. The Teacher's response was surprising: he said that of those walls not one stone would be left upon another. Then Andrew, together with Peter, James and John, questioned him: "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?" (Mk 13: 1-4).

In answer to this question Jesus gave an important discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem and on the end of the world, in which he asked his disciples to be wise in interpreting the signs of the times and to be constantly on their guard.

From this event we can deduce that we should not be afraid to ask Jesus questions but at the same time that we must be ready to accept even the surprising and difficult teachings that he offers us.

Lastly, a third initiative of Andrew is recorded in the Gospels: the scene is still Jerusalem, shortly before the Passion. For the Feast of the Passover, John recounts, some Greeks had come to the city, probably proselytes or God-fearing men who had come up to worship the God of Israel at the Passover Feast. Andrew and Philip, the two Apostles with Greek names, served as interpreters and mediators of this small group of Greeks with Jesus.

The Lord's answer to their question - as so often in John's Gospel - appears enigmatic, but precisely in this way proves full of meaning. Jesus said to the two disciples and, through them, to the Greek world: "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. I solemnly assure you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (12: 23-24).

Jesus wants to say: Yes, my meeting with the Greeks will take place, but not as a simple, brief conversation between myself and a few others, motivated above all by curiosity. The hour of my glorification will come with my death, which can be compared with the falling into the earth of a grain of wheat. My death on the Cross will bring forth great fruitfulness: in the Resurrection the "dead grain of wheat" - a symbol of myself crucified - will become the bread of life for the world; it will be a light for the peoples and cultures.

Yes, the encounter with the Greek soul, with the Greek world, will be achieved in that profundity to which the grain of wheat refers, which attracts to itself the forces of heaven and earth and becomes bread.

In other words, Jesus was prophesying about the Church of the Greeks, the Church of the pagans, the Church of the world, as a fruit of his Pasch.

Some very ancient traditions not only see Andrew, who communicated these words to the Greeks, as the interpreter of some Greeks at the meeting with Jesus recalled here, but consider him the Apostle to the Greeks in the years subsequent to Pentecost. They enable us to know that for the rest of his life he was the preacher and interpreter of Jesus for the Greek world.

Peter, his brother, travelled from Jerusalem through Antioch and reached Rome to exercise his universal mission; Andrew, instead, was the Apostle of the Greek world. So it is that in life and in death they appear as true brothers - a brotherhood that is symbolically expressed in the special reciprocal relations of the See of Rome and of Constantinople, which are truly Sister Churches.

A later tradition, as has been mentioned, tells of Andrew's death at Patras, where he too suffered the torture of crucifixion. At that supreme moment, however, like his brother Peter, he asked to be nailed to a cross different from the Cross of Jesus. In his case it was a diagonal or X-shaped cross, which has thus come to be known as "St Andrew's cross".

This is what the Apostle is claimed to have said on that occasion, according to an ancient story (which dates back to the beginning of the sixth century), entitled The Passion of Andrew:

"Hail, O Cross, inaugurated by the Body of Christ and adorned with his limbs as though they were precious pearls. Before the Lord mounted you, you inspired an earthly fear. Now, instead, endowed with heavenly love, you are accepted as a gift.

"Believers know of the great joy that you possess, and of the multitude of gifts you have prepared. I come to you, therefore, confident and joyful, so that you too may receive me exultant as a disciple of the One who was hung upon you.... O blessed Cross, clothed in the majesty and beauty of the Lord's limbs!... Take me, carry me far from men, and restore me to my Teacher, so that, through you, the one who redeemed me by you, may receive me. Hail, O Cross; yes, hail indeed!".

Here, as can be seen, is a very profound Christian spirituality. It does not view the Cross as an instrument of torture but rather as the incomparable means for perfect configuration to the Redeemer, to the grain of wheat that fell into the earth.

Here we have a very important lesson to learn: our own crosses acquire value if we consider them and accept them as a part of the Cross of Christ, if a reflection of his light illuminates them.

It is by that Cross alone that our sufferings too are ennobled and acquire their true meaning.

The Apostle Andrew, therefore, teaches us to follow Jesus with promptness (cf. Mt 4: 20; Mk 1: 18), to speak enthusiastically about him to those we meet, and especially, to cultivate a relationship of true familiarity with him, acutely aware that in him alone can we find the ultimate meaning of our life and death."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November 29: St Saturninus, Martyr, Memorial


Saint Saturnin of Toulouse was one of the "Apostles to the Gauls" sent out 250-251 to Christianize Gaul after the persecutions under Emperor Decius had all but dissolved the small Christian communities.

Pope St Fabian sent out seven bishops from Rome to Gaul to preach the Gospel: Saint Gatien to Tours, Saint Trophimus to Arles, Saint Paul to Narbonne, Saint Saturnin to Toulouse, Saint Denis to Paris, Austromoine to Clermont, and Saint Martial to Limoges. 

St Saturnin was martyred by pagan priests who blamed the silence of their oracles on him, and tied by the feet to a bull which dragged him about the town until the rope broke.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

November 27: First Sunday of Advent



Once more, it is the start of a new liturgical year, and time to swap breviary volumes!  You can find an overview of the changes to the Office for Advent here.

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that "During this time the faithful are admonished:

•to prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord's coming into the world as the incarnate God of love,
•thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and
•thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world.

At Matins the readings start on the Book of Isaiah, but all of the texts for I Vespers and Sunday are proper for the day, and draw out the nature of the new liturgical season.

November 26: St Sylvester OSB, Memorial


Saint Sylvester Gozzolini (1177 - 1267) is the founder of the Sylvestrine Congregation:

"Born of the noble family of the Gozzolini at Osimo, Marche, he was sent to study jurisprudence at Bologna and Padua, but, feeling within himself a call to the ecclesiastical state, abandoned the study of law for that of theology and Holy Scripture, giving long hours daily to prayer. On his return home we are told that his father, angered at his change of purpose, refused to speak to him for ten years. Sylvester then accepted a canonry at Osimo and devoted himself to pastoral work with such zeal as to arouse the hostility of his bishop, whom he had respectfully rebuked for the scandals caused by the prelate's irregular life.

The saint was threatened with the loss of his canonry, but decided to leave the world on seeing the decaying corpse of one who had formerly been noted for great beauty. In 1227 he retired to a desert place about thirty miles from Osimo and lived there in the utmost poverty until he was recognized by the owner of the land, a certain nobleman named Conrad, who offered him a better site for his hermitage. From this spot he was driven by damp and next established himself at Grotta Fucile, where he eventually built a monastery of his order.

In this place his penances were most severe, for he lived on raw herbs and water and slept on the bare ground. Disciples flocked to him seeking his direction, and it became necessary to choose a rule. According to the legend the various founders appeared to him in a vision, each begging him to adopt his rule. St. Sylvester chose for his followers that of St. Benedict and built his first monastery on Montefano, where, like another St. Benedict, he had first to destroy the remains of a pagan temple.

In 1247 he obtained from Innocent IV, at Lyon, a papal bull confirming his order, and before his death founded a number of monasteries."

Today the congregation has nineteen houses, eleven of them in Asia, on in Australia, one in the US, and the rest in Italy.  You might perhaps say a prayer to St Sylvester for vocations for them...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November 24: SS John of the Cross & Chrysogonus, Memorials

In February 2011, Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience on St John of the Cross:

"Two weeks ago I presented the figure of the great Spanish mystic, Teresa of Jesus. Today I would like talk about another important saint of that country, a spiritual friend of St Teresa, the reformer, with her, of the Carmelite religious family: St John of the Cross. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1926 and is traditionally known as Doctor mysticus, “Mystical Doctor”.

John of the Cross was born in 1542 in the small village of Fontiveros, near Avila in Old Castille, to Gonzalo de Yepes and Catalina Alvarez. The family was very poor because his father, Gonzalo, from a noble family of Toledo, had been thrown out of his home and disowned for marrying Catalina, a humble silk weaver.

Having lost his father at a tender age, when John was nine he moved with his mother and his brother Francisco to Medina del Campo, not far from Valladolid, a commercial and cultural centre. Here he attended the Colegio de los Doctrinos, carrying out in addition several humble tasks for the sisters of the Church-Convent of the Maddalena. Later, given his human qualities and his academic results, he was admitted first as a male nurse to the Hospital of the Conception, then to the recently founded Jesuit College at Medina del Campo.

He entered the College at the age of 18 and studied the humanities, rhetoric and classical languages for three years. At the end of his formation he had a clear perception of his vocation: the religious life, and, among the many orders present in Medina, he felt called to Carmel.

In the summer of 1563 he began his novitiate with the Carmelites in the town, taking the religious name of Juan de Santo Matía. The following year he went to the prestigious University of Salamanca, where he studied the humanities and philosophy for three years.

He was ordained a priest in 1567 and returned to Medina del Campo to celebrate his first Mass surrounded by his family’s love. It was precisely here that John and Teresa of Jesus first met. The meeting was crucial for them both. Teresa explained to him her plan for reforming Carmel, including the male branch of the Order, and suggested to John that he support it “for the greater glory of God”. The young priest was so fascinated by Teresa’s ideas that he became a great champion of her project.

For several months they worked together, sharing ideals and proposals aiming to inaugurate the first house of Discalced Carmelites as soon as possible. It was opened on 28 December 1568 at Duruelo in a remote part of the Province of Avila.

This first reformed male community consisted of John and three companions. In renewing their religious profession in accordance with the primitive Rule, each of the four took a new name: it was from this time that John called himself “of the Cross”, as he came to be known subsequently throughout the world.

At the end of 1572, at St Teresa’s request, he became confessor and vicar of the Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila where Teresa of Jesus was prioress. These were years of close collaboration and spiritual friendship which enriched both. The most important Teresian works and John’s first writings date back to this period.

Promoting adherence to the Carmelite reform was far from easy and cost John acute suffering. The most traumatic episode occurred in 1577, when he was seized and imprisoned in the Carmelite Convent of the Ancient Observance in Toledo, following an unjust accusation. The Saint, imprisoned for months, was subjected to physical and moral deprivations and constrictions. Here, together with other poems, he composed the well-known Spiritual Canticle. Finally, in the night between 16 and 17 August 1578, he made a daring escape and sought shelter at the Monastery of Discalced Carmelite Nuns in the town. St Teresa and her reformed companions celebrated his liberation with great joy and, after spending a brief period recovering, John was assigned to Andalusia where he spent 10 years in various convents, especially in Granada.

He was charged with ever more important offices in his Order, until he became vicar provincial and completed the draft of his spiritual treatises. He then returned to his native land as a member of the General Government of the Teresian religious family which already enjoyed full juridical autonomy.

He lived in the Carmel of Segovia, serving in the office of community superior. In 1591 he was relieved of all responsibility and assigned to the new religious Province of Mexico. While he was preparing for the long voyage with 10 companions he retired to a secluded convent near Jaén, where he fell seriously ill.

John faced great suffering with exemplary serenity and patience. He died in the night between 13 and 14 December 1591, while his confreres were reciting Matins. He took his leave of them saying: “Today I am going to sing the Office in Heaven”. His mortal remains were translated to Segovia. He was beatified by Clement X in 1675 and canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726.

John is considered one of the most important lyric poets of Spanish literature. His major works are four: The Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Dark Night, The Spiritual Canticle and The Living Flame of Love.

In The Spiritual Canticle St John presents the process of the soul’s purification and that is the gradual, joyful possession of God, until the soul succeeds in feeling that it loves God with the same love with which it is loved by him. The Living Flame of Love continues in this perspective, describing in greater detail the state of the transforming union with God.

The example that John uses is always that of fire: just as the stronger the fire burns and consumes wood, the brighter it grows until it blazes into a flame, so the Holy Spirit, who purifies and “cleanses” the soul during the dark night, with time illuminates and warms it as though it were a flame. The life of the soul is a continuous celebration of the Holy Spirit which gives us a glimpse of the glory of union with God in eternity.

The Ascent of Mount Carmel presents the spiritual itinerary from the viewpoint of the gradual purification of the soul, necessary in order to scale the peaks of Christian perfection, symbolized by the summit of Mount Carmel. This purification is proposed as a journey the human being undertakes, collaborating with divine action, to free the soul from every attachment or affection contrary to God’s will.

Purification which, if it is to attain the union of love with God must be total, begins by purifying the life of the senses and continues with the life obtained through the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity, which purify the intention, the memory and the will.

The Dark Night describes the “passive” aspect, that is, God’s intervention in this process of the soul’s “purification”. In fact human endeavour on its own is unable to reach the profound roots of the person’s bad inclinations and habits: all it can do is to check them but cannot entirely uproot them. This requires the special action of God which radically purifies the spirit and prepares it for the union of love with him.

St John describes this purification as “passive”, precisely because, although it is accepted by the soul, it is brought about by the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit who, like a burning flame, consumes every impurity. In this state the soul is subjected to every kind of trial, as if it were in a dark night.

This information on the Saint’s most important works help us to approach the salient points of his vast and profound mystical doctrine, whose purpose is to describe a sure way to attain holiness, the state of perfection to which God calls us all.

According to John of the Cross, all that exists, created by God, is good. Through creatures we may arrive at the discovery of the One who has left within them a trace of himself. Faith, in any case, is the one source given to the human being to know God as he is in himself, as the Triune God. All that God wished to communicate to man, he said in Jesus Christ, his Word made flesh. Jesus Christ is the only and definitive way to the Father (cf. Jn 14:6). Any created thing is nothing in comparison to God and is worth nothing outside him, consequently, to attain to the perfect love of God, every other love must be conformed in Christ to the divine love.

From this derives the insistence of St John of the Cross on the need for purification and inner self-emptying in order to be transformed into God, which is the one goal of perfection. This “purification” does not consist in the mere physical absence of things or of their use; on the contrary what makes the soul pure and free is the elimination of every disorderly dependence on things. All things should be placed in God as the centre and goal of life.

Of course, the long and difficult process of purification demands a personal effort, but the real protagonist is God: all that the human being can do is to “prepare” himself, to be open to divine action and not to set up obstacles to it. By living the theological virtues, human beings raise themselves and give value to their commitment. The growth of faith, hope and charity keeps pace with the work of purification and with the gradual union with God until they are transformed in him.

When it reaches this goal, the soul is immersed in Trinitarian life itself, so that St John affirms that it has reached the point of loving God with the same love with which he loves it, because he loves it in the Holy Spirit.

For this reason the Mystical Doctor maintains that there is no true union of love with God that does not culminate in Trinitarian union. In this supreme state the holy soul knows everything in God and no longer has to pass through creatures in order to reach him. The soul now feels bathed in divine love and rejoices in it without reserve.

Dear brothers and sisters, in the end the question is: does this Saint with his lofty mysticism, with this demanding journey towards the peak of perfection have anything to say to us, to the ordinary Christian who lives in the circumstances of our life today, or is he an example, a model for only a few elect souls who are truly able to undertake this journey of purification, of mystical ascesis?

To find the answer we must first of all bear in mind that the life of St John of the Cross did not “float on mystical clouds”; rather he had a very hard life, practical and concrete, both as a reformer of the Order, in which he came up against much opposition and from the Provincial Superior as well as in his confreres’ prison where he was exposed to unbelievable insults and physical abuse.

His life was hard yet it was precisely during the months he spent in prison that he wrote one of his most beautiful works. And so we can understand that the journey with Christ, travelling with Christ, “the Way”, is not an additional burden in our life, it is not something that would make our burden even heavier but something quite different. It is a light, a power that helps us to bear it.

If a person bears great love in himself, this love gives him wings, as it were, and he can face all life’s troubles more easily because he carries in himself this great light; this is faith: being loved by God and letting oneself be loved by God in Jesus Christ. Letting oneself be loved in this way is the light that helps us to bear our daily burden.

And holiness is not a very difficult action of ours but means exactly this “openness”: opening the windows of our soul to let in God’s light, without forgetting God because it is precisely in opening oneself to his light that one finds strength, one finds the joy of the redeemed.

Let us pray the Lord to help us discover this holiness, to let ourselves be loved by God who is our common vocation and the true redemption...."

St Chrysogonus, Martyr




 As well as St John of the Cross, today is also the memorial of St Chrysogonus (pictured above with St Anastasia), who was martyred under Diocletian at Aquileia. A titular church in Rome, probably dating originally from the fourth century, at Trastevere, bears his name.

According to his legend, Chrysogonus was a functionary of the vicarius Urbis, and was the Christian teacher of Anastasia, the daughter of the noble Roman Praetextatus. Being thrown into prison during the persecution of Diocletian, he comforted by his letters the severely afflicted Anastasia. By order of Diocletian, Chrysogonus was brought before the emperor at Aquileia, condemned to death, and beheaded. His corpse, thrown into the sea, was washed ashore and buried by the aged priest, Zoilus.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 22: St Caecilia, Class III


According to the Wikipedia:

"It was long supposed that she was a noble lady of Rome who, with her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius, and a Roman soldier Maximus, suffered martyrdom, c. 230, under the Emperor Alexander Severus.

The research of [nineteenth century archeologist] Giovanni Battista de Rossi, however, appears to confirm the statement of Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers (d. 600), that she perished in Sicily under Emperor Marcus Aurelius between 176 and 180. A church in her honor exists in Rome from about the 5th century, was rebuilt with much splendor by Pope Paschal I around the year 820, and again by Cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrati in 1599. It is situated in Trastevere, near the Ripa Grande quay, where in earlier days the Ghetto was located, and is the titulus of a Cardinal Priest, currently Carlo Maria Martini.

The martyrdom of Cecilia is said to have followed that of her husband and his brother by the prefect Turcius Almachius. The officers of the prefect then sought to have Cecilia killed as well. She arranged to have her home preserved as a church before she was arrested. At that time, the officials attempted to kill her by smothering her by steam. However, the attempt failed, and she was to have her head chopped off. But they were unsuccessful three times, and she would not die until she received the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Cecilia survived another three days before succumbing. In the last three days of her life, she opened her eyes, gazed at her family and friends who crowded around her cell, closed them, and never opened them again. The people by her cell knew immediately that she was to become a saint in heaven. When her incorruptible body was found long after her death, it was found that on one hand she had three fingers outstretched and on the other hand just one finger, denoting her belief in the trinity. The skull of Saint Cecilia is kept as a relic in the cathedral of Torcello."

She is patroness of music because she sang as she lay dying.  Here's a snippet from Purcell's tribute to the saint:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pope urges pray the Office: and there's a new edition of the Diurnal out to help you do it!


Photos and dimension details: Jonah Smith
At his General Audience last week, the Pope concluded his series of talks on the psalms as the prayer-book of the Church by urging everyone to pray Lauds, Vespers and Compline.

And with absolutely perfect timing, the new, seventh edition of the Monastic Diurnal has just been released by the monks of Farnborough Abbey to enable you to do just that! 

The Farnborough Monastic Diurnal provides the day hours of the Office (ie all the hours except the long monastic night Office of Matins) with parallel English and Latin texts, according to the 1963 rubrics.


And unlike the modern Liturgy of the Hours (1970), or even the 1962 Roman Breviary (which uses the 1911 reordering of the psalter), the Monastic Diurnal utilises a traditional ordering of the psalms for each day and hour, namely that set out by St Benedict in his Rule and in use now for over 1400 years.

For those familiar with the previous edition of the book, it is on rather heavier paper, giving increased durability, and its dimensions are 150 mm x100mm x51mm.

At £45.00 plus shipping from the Abbey direct, it is a considerably cheaper option than most other breviaries around.

And thanks too to Father Abbot for giving this blog a bit of a plug!


The monks also have their own blog now, so you can follow their doings.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Norcia film...

For those who like to listen and follow the Office with the Norcia monks, a special alert - they currently have Sunday Prime up on their archive.

Even better, a film about the monastery, filmed over Summer this year, is due to be released in December.  Here is the trailer:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

November 6: Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost/Third Sunday of November



The walls of Avila
 November suffers from the strange phenomenon of leaping straight to week three in terms of its Matins readings, and hence I Vespers canticle antiphon.

This reflects the fact that the first week of November used to be the Octave of All Saints, which had its own patristic readings, marking the start of the winter three readings schema for Matins in the Benedictine Office. 

The Scriptural readings for Matins are from the Book of Daniel, but in fact the canticle antiphon for I Vespers, 'Muros tuos' (Surround us O Lord with thy impregnable wall), is not scriptural. 


Scot's Church, Melbourne

The Gospel this Sunday, referred to in the Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons, is Matthew 18:23-35, the Parable of the unforgiving servant.

Friday, November 4, 2011

November 4: St Charles Borromeo, Memorial


Saint Carlo Borromeo (2 October 1538 – 3 November 1584) was a cardinal responsible for significant reforms in the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation, including the founding of seminaries for the education of priests.

The nephew of Pope Pius IV (his mother was a Medici) and son of the Count of Arona, through sheer nepotism he was appointed a titular abbot at the age of 12, and archbishop of Milan at 22.  Despite family pressure to quit the Church, he pursued doctoral studies in civil and canon law and was an active reformer of the Church, playing a large role in the Catechism of Trent and the final sessions of the Council itself.

He is not a saint for the faint-hearted.  In line with the spirit of Trent, he substantially revamped his own cathedral removing much of the ornamentation there, and remodelling the nave so as to segregate the sexes.   He was also a vigorous campaigner against heresy and witchcraft.  Ans so strong was the opposition to his reforms of one religious order in his diocese that an attempt to assassinate him was made.

In 1576, when Milan suffered an epidemic of the bubonic plague, Borromeo persuaded his flock that it was sent as a chastisement for sin, and led religious exercises to bring it to an end.  He also  led efforts to accommodate the sick and bury the dead, avoiding no danger and sparing no expense. He visited all the parishes where the contagion raged, distributing money, providing accommodation for the sick, and punishing those, especially the clergy, who were remiss in discharging their duties.

His cult  became established very quickly after his death in Milan, and he was canonised in 1610.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

November 2: Feast of All Souls



Today's feast is devoted to those in purgatory, that we might free them by our prayers....

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

October 31: I will please the Lord in the land of the living....


c15th illuminaton of Office of the Dead

Today is the eve of All Saints, aka Halloween, a night when traditionally the veil between heaven, hell, purgatory and earth was thought to thin. 

Medieval sermon collections and other works directed at the laity are full of stories of the dead appearing on this night to beg desperately for prayers to free them, as well as of demons and those in hell acting to scare us back to an awareness of the reality of the supernatural world. 

These days there are endless debates amongst Catholics infected by political correctness as to the appropriateness/catholicity of Halloween celebrations. Personally, I'm with those who think we do need a reminder of the reality of death, demons and the workers of evil....

So how should we respond to this annual reminder?

The Office of the Dead

Well getting ready to say the Office of the Dead regularly through November would be one excellent way.

'I will please the Lord in the land of the living' is the antiphon, taken from Psalm 114, that opens Vespers in the Office of the Dead (the Office of the Dead, remember consists of I Vespers, Matins and Lauds).  In fact Vespers of the Dead consists of Psalms 114, 119, 120, 129, and 137.

The antiphon is a prompt to do good works while we still can, and thus accumulate merit, as well as teaching that praying for the dead is something that pleases God.

If you say the Office regularly using the Diurnal, you will say the psalms and prayers of the Office of the Dead at least twice during November anyway, on All Souls and All Souls of the Benedictine Order.  So why not say one or more hours of it more a few more times, on behalf of your dead family and friends, and the souls in purgatory more generally?  Note that there is a partial indulgence attached to saying either Lauds or Vespers of this Office...

How to say the Office of the Dead

I've previously written about the rules around when the Office of the Dead can or should be said here.  And I've posted on the rubrics for the Office.

For those interested in penetrating the meaning of the psalms, and understanding the Latin of that Office in more depth, over at Psallam Domino I'm currently working through Psalm 22 (The Lord is my shepherd), said at Matins, verse by verse.  I then plan to move onto Vespers, looking at Psalm 114 in particular.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 30: Feast of Christ the King, Class I



The Feast of Christ the King is in fact a very recent feast, insituted through Quas Primas by Pope Pius XI in 1925. 

Here are some extracts from the Encyclical explaining the basis of it:

"...these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations. Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ; and that We promised to do as far as lay in Our power. In the Kingdom of Christ, that is, it seemed to Us that peace could not be more effectually restored nor fixed upon a firmer basis than through the restoration of the Empire of Our Lord. We were led in the meantime to indulge the hope of a brighter future at the sight of a more widespread and keener interest evinced in Christ and his Church, the one Source of Salvation, a sign that men who had formerly spurned the rule of our Redeemer and had exiled themselves from his kingdom were preparing, and even hastening, to return to the duty of obedience....

It has long been a common custom to give to Christ the metaphorical title of "King," because of the high degree of perfection whereby he excels all creatures. So he is said to reign "in the hearts of men," both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all mankind. He reigns, too, in the wills of men, for in him the human will was perfectly and entirely obedient to the Holy Will of God, and further by his grace and inspiration he so subjects our free-will as to incite us to the most noble endeavors. He is King of hearts, too, by reason of his "charity which exceedeth all knowledge." And his mercy and kindness which draw all men to him, for never has it been known, nor will it ever be, that man be loved so much and so universally as Jesus Christ. But if we ponder this matter more deeply, we cannot but see that the title and the power of King belongs to Christ as man in the strict and proper sense too. For it is only as man that he may be said to have received from the Father "power and glory and a kingdom," since the Word of God, as consubstantial with the Father, has all things in common with him, and therefore has necessarily supreme and absolute dominion over all things created.

Do we not read throughout the Scriptures that Christ is the King?...Moreover, Christ himself speaks of his own kingly authority: in his last discourse, speaking of the rewards and punishments that will be the eternal lot of the just and the damned; in his reply to the Roman magistrate, who asked him publicly whether he were a king or not; after his resurrection, when giving to his Apostles the mission of teaching and baptizing all nations, he took the opportunity to call himself king, confirming the title publicly, and solemnly proclaimed that all power was given him in heaven and on earth. These words can only be taken to indicate the greatness of his power, the infinite extent of his kingdom...

Let Us explain briefly the nature and meaning of this lordship of Christ. It consists, We need scarcely say, in a threefold power which is essential to lordship. This is sufficiently clear from the scriptural testimony already adduced concerning the universal dominion of our Redeemer, and moreover it is a dogma of faith that Jesus Christ was given to man, not only as our Redeemer, but also as a law-giver, to whom obedience is due. Not only do the gospels tell us that he made laws, but they present him to us in the act of making them. Those who keep them show their love for their Divine Master, and he promises that they shall remain in his love. He claimed judicial power as received from his Father, when the Jews accused him of breaking the Sabbath by the miraculous cure of a sick man. "For neither doth the Father judge any man; but hath given all judgment to the Son."[26] In this power is included the right of rewarding and punishing all men living, for this right is inseparable from that of judging. Executive power, too, belongs to Christ, for all must obey his commands; none may escape them, nor the sanctions he has imposed.

This kingdom is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things..."

If We ordain that the whole Catholic world shall revere Christ as King, We shall minister to the need of the present day, and at the same time provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society....The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers. Some men went even further, and wished to set up in the place of God's religion a natural religion consisting in some instinctive affection of the heart. There were even some nations who thought they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God. The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences...the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin.

We firmly hope, however, that the feast of the Kingship of Christ, which in future will be yearly observed, may hasten the return of society to our loving Savior. It would be the duty of Catholics to do all they can to bring about this happy result. Many of these, however, have neither the station in society nor the authority which should belong to those who bear the torch of truth. This state of things may perhaps be attributed to a certain slowness and timidity in good people, who are reluctant to engage in conflict or oppose but a weak resistance; thus the enemies of the Church become bolder in their attacks. But if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend his rights.

When we pay honor to the princely dignity of Christ, men will doubtless be reminded that the Church, founded by Christ as a perfect society, has a natural and inalienable right to perfect freedom and immunity from the power of the state; and that in fulfilling the task committed to her by God of teaching, ruling, and guiding to eternal bliss those who belong to the kingdom of Christ, she cannot be subject to any external power... Nations will be reminded by the annual celebration of this feast that not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ."

Friday, October 28, 2011

October 28: SS Simon and Jude, Class II


Today's feast celebrates two of the Apostles, Simon the Zealot (icon at the left left), and St Jude (best known as patron of hopeless causes, pictured below).  Their feast day is the same because they formed an evangelizing team. After evangelizing in Egypt, Simon joined Jude in Persia and they were martyred together in Armenia.

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that "the name of Simon occurs in all the passages of the Gospel and Acts, in which a list of the Apostles is given. To distinguish him from St. Peter he is called (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18) Kananaios, or Kananites, and Zelotes (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). Both surnames have the same signification and are a translation of the Hebrew qana (the Zealous). The name does not signify that he belonged to the party of Zealots, but that he had zeal for the Jewish law, which he practised before his call. Jerome and others wrongly assumed that Kana was his native place; were this so, he should have been called Kanaios."

St Jude (aka Thaddeus) was a son of Mary Clopas, a sister of the Virgin Mary.
The two saints were martyred around 65 AD in Beirut, and their acts and martyrdom were recorded in an Acts of Simon and Jude that was among the collection of passions and legends translated into Latin.  Sometime after his death, Saint Jude's body was brought and placed in a crypt in St. Peter's Basilica.