Friday, January 31, 2014

Commentary on the Rule of St Benedict by Hildemar (c845)

Source: Hildemar Translation Project

I just wanted to alert interested readers to the availability of a translation of one of the earliest known commentaries on the Benedictine Rule, by the ninth century monk Hildemar of Corbie, dating from around 845 AD.

Early monastic commentaries on the Rule

Early commentaries on the Rule, other than in the forms of adaptations of it in the form of the so-called 'mixed-rules' (combinations of the Benedictine Rule and assorted others) and a few early customaries are scarce, and those that do exist are generally hard to access.  There are of course some documents, such as early saints lives, surviving letters, charters and assorted pieces of ecclesiastical legislation that through some light on early Benedictine monasticism, but relatively few of these are available in translation.

That is slowly changing though.  A translation of the oldest known commentary on the Rule, by Smaragdus (ca816) was published in the Cistercian Studies series in 2007.

And now a collaborative translation of Hildemar's Commentary has been made available through the Hildemar Translation Project.  The translation is still a work in progress, but well worth a look.

Hildemar on the Opus Dei

Just by way of a taster to encourage you to go take a look, here are a few extracts from Chapter 8, On the Divine Office at Night, translated by Julian Hendrix:

"After he had discussed the mortification of the interior man and the formation of the exterior man, that is, the accomplishment of the steps [of humility], blessed Benedict now properly and agreeable adds concerning the Divine Office, because that Divine Office is pleasing to God because it is done by such men, that is, who abide in the twelve grades of humility, because just as the prophet says: Praise is not seemly in the mouth of a sinner. [cf. Sir 15:9] And also the psalmist says: I, however, say to the sinner: why do you describe my justices and receive my covenant through your mouth [when] you truly hate discipline and have cast my words behind you? If you have seen a thief, you have run with him and you have spent your portion with adulterers. Your mouth has abounded with wickedness, and your tongue produces deceit. Sitting you spoke against your brother, and laid a scandal against your mother's son. You have done these things and I was silent. [Ps 49:16-21]

And rightly he added divine when he said concerning the office, because there are other offices, which are not divine. Obviously he added at night to separate other times, for there are the other offices of the day, i.e., those which he will discuss below. But as Isidore says, there are many kinds of offices, but the chief one is that service which is held for holy and divine matters. [Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae VI. c. 19. 1; translation from Barney et al.] But why is it called office? In his books, which he wrote On Offices, that is, On the Customs of Human Life, Blessed Ambrose speaks in this way: We think 'office' [officium] is so called, as in "finished"[efficium], but on account of the elegance of words, with one latter changed it is called "office", or certainly for the purpose of conducting those matters [page 271] which harms no one but benefits all. [Ambrose, De officiis 1, c. 8.26, CCSL 15, p. 10]...

Psalmists [psalmista] are so called from singing psalms. They sing to kindle the spirits of their audiences to compunction - although some readers also declaim in so heart-rending a way that they drive some people to sorrow and lamentation..." 

St John Bosco (Jan 31)

St John Bosco's feast is a memorial in the 1962 Benedictine Office.  Here is the Matins reading from the Roman Office:

The childhood of Don Bosco, who was born in a small village was marked both by its hardship and by his happy innocence of soul. He studied at Chieri, where in a short time he earned great praise for his brilliance and his virtue. Ordained priest, he went to Turin, where he made himself all things to all men, and undertook in particular the work of aiding poor and neglected boys. By providing them with teaching in the liberal arts and in trades and keeping them occupied on holidays, he strove with all his might to remove young people from poisonous sources of delinquency and vice. For this purpose, he established two congregations in the Church, one for men and one for women religious. He himself published many books filled with Christian wisdom. He also accomplished great things for the eternal salvation of unbelievers through the missionary enterprises of his congregations. With his mind constantly raised to God, this holy man never seemed to be terrified by threats, worn out by labors, oppressed by cares, or disturbed by adversities. He died in the year of salvation 1888 at the age of seventy-three, and was numbered among the Saints by Pope Pius XI.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

St Frances de Sales (Jan 29)

The feast of St Frances de Sales is only a memorial in the Benedictine Office, but here is the reading on him from the Roman Office:

Francis was born of devout and noble parents in the town of Sales, from which his family took its name. He was given a liberal education, devoted himself to the study of philosophy and theology at Paris and gained the degree bi Doctor in civil and canon law at Padua. When he had been ordained priest and made provost of the church of Geneva, he carried out the duties of his office so well that Bishop de Granier sent him to preach the word of God in Chablais in order to win the inhabitants away from the heresy of Calvin. He undertook this mission with such great zeal and overcame so many dangers with the help of God that he is said to have brought back to the Catholic faith some seventy-two thousand heretics. When de Granier died, Francis was consecrated bishop. He founded a new order of nuns, named for the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin, and enlightened the Church with writings filled with heavenly teaching. At Lyons, he was seized by a grave illness and departed to heaven in the year 1622. He was declared a Doctor of the Universal Church by pope Pius IX.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

St Cyril of Alexandria (Jan 28)

The Benedictine Office celebrates today as a memorial of St Cyril, but his feast is on February 9 in the 1962 Roman calendar (this year displaced by the Sunday).  Here are some readings on him from an older form of that Office:

The praises of Cyril of Alexandria have been celebrated not only by one writer or another, but have even been registered in the acts of the Ecumenical Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. He was born of distinguished parents, and was the nephew of Theophilus, Pope of Alexandria. While he was still young he displayed marks of his excellent understanding. After giving a deep study to letters and science he betook himself to John, Bishop of Jerusalem, to be perfected in the Christian faith. After his return to Alexandria, and the death of Theophilus, he was raised to that see. In this office he kept ever before his eyes the type of the Shepherd of souls as it had been laid down by the Apostle; and by ever adhering thereto deservedly earned the glory of an holy Bishop.

Zeal for the salvation of souls was kindled in him, and he undertook all care to keep in the faith and in soundness of life the flock unto him committed, and to preserve them from the poisonous pastures of infidelity and heresy; hence, in accordance with the laws, he caused the followers of Novatus to be expelled from the city, and those Jews to be punished who had been induced by rage to plan a massacre of the Christians. His eminent care for the preservation of the Catholic faith pure and undenied shone forth especially in his controversy against Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, who asserted that Jesus Christ had been born of the Virgin Mary as man only and not as God, and that the Godhead had been bestowed upon Him because of His merits. Cyril first attempted to convert Nestorius, but when he found this hopeless he denounced him to the Supreme Pontiff the holy Celestine.

As delegate of Pope Celestine, Cyril presided at the Council of Ephesus where the Nestorian heresy was condemned; Nestorius deprived of his see; and the Catholic doctrine as to the unity of Person in Christ and the divine Motherhood of the glorious Virgin Mary was laid down amid the rejoicings of all the people, who escorted the bishops to their lodgings with a torch-light procession. For this reason Nestorius and his followers made Cyril the object of slanders, insults, and persecutions which he bore with profound patience, having all his care for the purity of the faith, and taking no heed to what the heretics might say or try against him. At length he died a holy death, in the year of salvation
444 And of his own papacy the 32nd. After vast work for the Church of God, and leaving behind him divers writings directed either against heathens and heretics or to the exposition of the holy Scriptures and of Catholic doctrine, the Supreme Pontiff Leo XIII. extended to the Universal Church the Office and Mass of this most eminent champion of the Catholic faith, and light of the Eastern Church.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Feast of St John Chrysostom (Jan 27)

From  the readings at Matins:

John came from Antioch and was called "Chrysostom" because of the golden flood of his eloquence. Ordained a priest of the Church of Antioch, he was later, against his will made archbishop of Constantinople to succeed Nestorius, through the influence of Arcadius the emperor. In this office, since he spoke out strongly against the degradation of public morals and the licentious lives of the nobility, he drew down on himself the hatred of many persons. He gravely offended Empress Eudoxia also, because he reprehended her for taking the money of the widow Callitropa and the land of another widow. For all these reasons he was forced into exile, while all the widows and the needy mourned at being deprived of their common father. It is beyond belief how many hardships he suffered in his exile and how many people he converted to the faith of Jesus Christ. The number, warmth and brilliance of his sermons and other writings are universally admired. He gave up his soul to God on September 14, and his body was buried in the Vatican basilica. This outstanding Doctor of the universal Church was appointed the heavenly patron of preachers by Pope Pius X.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Third Sunday after Epiphany

This Sunday is the Third after Epiphany, and the Gospel this week is St Matthew 8:1-13 (the healing of a leper and the Centurion's servant).  You can find the Matins readings on it over at my Lectio Divina Notes blog.

St Polycarp

This Sunday is also the feast of St Polycarp, so here is the reading on him from the Roman Office:

"Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John, and was consecrated by him Bishop of Smyrna. He was reckoned the chief of all the Christians of Asia, because he had been taught by several of the Apostles, and other persons who had seen the Lord. During the reign of the Emperor Antoninus Pius, and while Anicetus presided over the Church of Rome, Polycarp came thither to discuss some questions regarding the time for observing Easter. He found some heretics at Rome, who had been led astray by the doctrine of Marcion and Valentine, and brought back many of them to the faith. One day Marcion met him by accident, and said to him: Do you recognise me? whereto he replied: I recognise the devil's eldest son. Some time after, in the reign of Mark Antonine and Lucius Aurelius Commodus, during the fourth persecution since Nero, when the Pro-consul was ruling in Smyrna, the whole population being assembled in the theatre, clamoured against Polycarp, and to please them he was burnt. He wrote an extremely useful Epistle to the Philippians, which is publicly read in the Churches of Asia even to this day."

In the Benedictine Office this week....

Sunday 26 January –  Third Sunday after Epiphany; St Polycarp, memorial
Monday 27 January – St John Chrysostom, Class III
Tuesday 28 January - Class IV; St Cyril of Alexandria, memorial [EF: St Peter Nolasco]
Wednesday 29 January – Class IV; St Frances de Sales, memorial [EF: Class III]
Thursday 30 January – Class IV [EF: St Martina]
Friday 31 January – Class IV; St John Bosco, memorial
Saturday February 1 - St Ignatius, Class III

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Feast of St Agnes

From the readings at Matins, by St Ambrose:

"Today is the birthday of a Virgin; let us imitate her virginal innocence. It is the birthday of a Martyr; let us also bring sacrifice. It is the birthday of St. Agnes; let men look up in admiration and children not be disheartened. You married, be filled with wonder; you unmarried, follow in her footsteps. But where shall we find words of adequate praise, since her very name bespeaks her glory and renown? In her we see a devotion that far surpasses her age; a virtue that exceeds all Power of nature. Hence, it seems to me that she had not merely a human name, but, prophetically, she was given the name of a Martyr to indicate beforehand what she was to be. The name of our Virgin to a guarantee of her purity. If I call her Martyr, already I have praised enough. For, that is great praise indeed, which one does not need to seek but is freely given by others. No one can be more praised than one who is praised by all. As many men, so many encomiums. They have only to mention her name to praise her as a Martyr. According to tradition, it was in her thirteenth year that she suffered martyrdom. How despicable the cruelty that spared not even this tender age! But how great the power of faith that found even that age its witness."

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Octaves and Epiphany revisited...

If you've been reading my annual rants on the subject of Octaves and assorted stray feasts that have been inserted into (or out of) the calendar over the last few weeks, you hopefully also have caught up with the nice write up of assorted blogs take on the issue over at New Liturgical Movement.

But alas, both myself (being behind on my reading in general) and the NLM post somehow managed to miss what is surely the definitive ecumenical take on this subject over at The Low Churchman's Guide to the Solemn High Mass.  Here is an extract to give you the flavour of it:

"The problem with Ritualists is not merely that they wear unusual clothing, mutter strange incantations and attempt to secure the aid of departed spirits using mystical runes. Rather, it is that they refuse to observe the most basic standards of chronological syncronization. Ordinary churchmen know, for example, that January 1st is New Year’s Day, and toast the new year with glasses of diet ginger ale and spoonfuls of tomato aspic. For Ritualists, the same date is referred to as the Octave Day of Christmas, or the Circumcision of Christ with the Feast of the Holy Name, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, Triumph of the Revolution and a Commemoration of the Transferral of the Relics of St Fulgentius of Ruspe."

Do go and read the rest for a good giggle.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Second Sunday after Epiphany

Though we are now technically no longer in the Christmas Season, the liturgy time after Epiphany still reflects his historical association with that feast and season.

The feast of the Epiphany feast itself, you will recall from the Benedictus antiphon of the feast, celebrates three separate events:

"Today the Church hath joined to her heavenly Spouse, for Christ hath washed away her sins in the Jordan; the Magi hasten with gifts to the royal nuptials, and the guests are gladdened with wine made from water, alleluia."

This Sunday's Gospel, from St John 2:1-11, the subject of the Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons for the Sunday, centres on the last of these three, the marriage at Cana and the miracle of water transformed into wine.

The Benedictine Office this week in summary

Sunday 19 January – Second Sunday after the Epiphany; Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abachum, memorial
Monday 20 January - SS Fabian and Sebastian, Class III
Tuesday 21 January - St Agnes, Class III (Class II for monasteries of nuns) [**in some places, St Meinrad, Class I]
Wednesday 22 January – Class IV; St Vincent, memorial [EF: and St Anastasius;**in some places, St Meinrad]
Thursday 23 January – Class IV; St Emerentiana, memorial [EF: St Raymond Pennafort]
Friday 24 January – Class IV; St Timothy, memorial [EF: Class III]
Saturday 25 January – Conversion of St Paul, Class III

St Benedict's psalter and the election of the gentiles

There is a very interesting series over at the always excellent Fr Hunwicke's Mutual Enrichment blog, which I strongly recommend reading, on what is known as 'two covenants theory', the idea that Judaism is not superseded by the New Covenant.

The situation of modern Jews when it comes to the Church is sensitive territory these days, for many in the Church, swayed by the desire to promote inter-religious unity, advocate ideas that are at odds with both Scripture and tradition.  Fr Hunwicke does a fairly comprehensive demolition on these erroneous theories in the light of the tradition, what Vatican II's Nostra Aetate actually says, and other evidence.

Fr Hunwicke's posts (as on some many other issues) have been rather helpful for my own understanding of this touchy subject, so I thought it might be timely to share some of my speculations on St Benedict's ordering of his psalm cursus that may reflect his understanding of this topic by way of a minor footnote.

The traditional understanding of the Old and New covenants

Fr Hunwicke provides a very carefully nuanced articulation of the tradition on this topic; let me provide the un-nuanced version for the sake of debate.

I would suggest that the hardline version of the traditionalist position is that modern-day Jews are no longer the chosen people: for God's promise to Abraham is fulfilled in the Church, which was founded by the faithful remnant of the Jewish people that he preserved, consisting of the apostles and disciples and their subsequent converts.  Catholics, in other words, are the new Jews.

In this view, instead of the whole Jewish people being granted a privileged place in ongoing salvation history (or at least are still the inheritors of an eschatological promise of reconciliation), they have been dispossessed just as the Canaanites were in their time, and their inheritance given to the new Israel, the Church, which is open to gentiles and Jews alike; Rabbinic Judaism, in other words, is not the Judaism of Our Lord's time.

Fr Hunwicke demolishes some of the obviously erroneous liberal views on this subject, but many traditionalists still struggle with the suggestion made by modern theologians, including Pope Benedict XVI, to the effect that while the Mosaic Covenant has been closed, modern Jews still have a privileged place in salvation history by virtue of the covenant with Abraham.

Fr Hunwicke suggests that Pope Benedict's rewrite of the (EF) Good Friday prayer, which reflects St Paul's words on the subject, arguably reflects an eschatological explanation for this view of the continuing covenant, while leaving the traditional view, that Jewish worship and practices have no salvific value, intact.

I want to draw your attention to five insights on this issue that can, I think, be gained from St Benedict's version of the Divine Office, which I think helps support the eschatological promise approach advocated by Pope Benedict and others.

1.  The old sacrifices have been superseded: Psalm 91 (92) on Friday

In the traditional version of the Roman Office, Psalm 91 (Bonum est confiteri Domino) is said on Saturday, not least because the title given to in Scripture is 'For (or 'on the day of' in the Vulgate) the Sabbath'.

St Benedict, however, moved it to Friday at Lauds.  It is a change that contemporary liturgical scholar Paul Bradshaw, for one, finds puzzling (Daily Prayer in the Early Church, p147).

Ex-Trappist turned Orthodox scholar Patrick Reardon, in his book Christ in the Psalms, though offers a very elegant and plausible rationale for this change, for he notes that as well as the Sabbath, Jewish commentaries state that it was sung daily as an accompaniment to the morning sacrifice of a lamb.  Reardon, accordingly, sees the shift of the psalm to Friday Lauds as a testimony to the idea that Friday is "our true the true Pascha and Atonement Day, on which the Lamb of God took away the sins of the world."(p181)

Reardon sees Psalm 91 as a reminder that the Old Covenant, which merely foreshadowed what was to come, has ended, and the New has replaced it:

"Prayed on Friday mornings, as the ancient Western monastic rule prescribed, this psalm reminds the Church why it is no longer necessary to make the daily offering of lambs in the temple, for those sacrifices had only "a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things" (Heb. 10:1). With respect to those quotidian lambs offered of old, we are told that "every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins" (10:11). But, with respect to the Lamb in the midst of the Throne, we are told that "this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God . . . For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified" (10:12-14). This is the true Lamb to whom we chant: "You are worthy to take the scroll, / And to open its seals; / For You were slain, / And have redeemed us to God by Your blood" (Rev. 5:9)." (p181)

2.  Psalm 118: the new testament is superior to the old

In the Roman Office, Psalm 118 is sung over the course of Sunday from Prime to None (and in the older form of the Office, daily at these hours).  St Benedict, by contrast, splits the longest psalm in the psalter between Sunday (Prime to None) and Monday (Terce to None).   And he organises the split so as to end Sunday None with a stanza where the psalmist claims to have outshone his teachers and those of old in his understanding:

"Through your commandment, you have made me wiser than my enemies: for it is ever with me. I have understood more than all my teachers: because your testimonies are my meditation. I have had understanding above ancients: because I have sought your commandment." (verses 98-100)

It could of course just be how things fell out.  But St Benedict's contemporary Cassiodorus (author of easily the most popular commentary on the psalms of medieval monks) certainly understood these verses as affirming the new covenant over the Old:

Certainly the new people had better understanding than the older Jewish people, for they happily accepted the Lord Christ who the Jews with mortal damage to themselves believed was to be despised.

Cassiodorus actually sees the reference in another verse of the stanza, verse 103, which refers to the law being sweeter than honey, as another allusion to this same idea:

Honey has particular reference to the Old Testament, the comb to the New; for though both are sweet, the taste of the comb is sweeter because it is enhanced by the greater attraction of its newness. Additionally, honey can be understood as the explicit teaching of wisdom, whereas the comb can represent that known to be stored in the depth, so to say, of the cells. Undoubtedly both are found in the divine Scriptures.

3.  The canticle of Hannah and younger sons

Over at Fr Hunwicke's blog, commenters have noted that the recent tendency to refer to Jews as our 'older brother' is something of a mixed message given the fate of so many older brothers in the Bible!   Indeed, St Paul uses just this typology in one of his discussions on the status of the Jews, in Galatians 4:

"21 Tell me, you who are so eager to have the law for your master, have you never read the law? 22 You will find it written there, that Abraham had two sons; one had a slave for his mother, and one a free woman. 23 The child of the slave was born in the course of nature; the free woman’s, by the power of God’s promise. 24 All that is an allegory; the two women stand for the two dispensations. Agar stands for the old dispensation, which brings up its children to bondage, the dispensation which comes to us from mount Sinai.25 Mount Sinai, in Arabia, has the same meaning in the allegory as Jerusalem, the Jerusalem which exists here and now; an enslaved city, whose children are slaves. 26 Whereas our mother is the heavenly Jerusalem, a city of freedom. 27 So it is that we read, Rejoice, thou barren woman that hast never borne child, break out into song and cry aloud, thou that hast never known travail; the deserted one has more children than she whose husband is with her. 28 It is we, brethren, that are children of the promise, as Isaac was. 29 Now, as then, the son who was born in the course of nature persecutes the son whose birth is a spiritual birth. 30 But what does our passage in scripture say? Rid thyself of the slave and her son; it cannot be that the son of a slave should divide the inheritance with the son of a free woman."

Wednesday, in the Christian week, is traditionally associated with the betrayal of Judas.  That's the reason that Wednesday was a fast day in the early Church as it is in the Benedictine Rule, and in the Office, this is reflected, inter alia, in the choice of Psalm 63 at Lauds.  The variable (ferial) canticle of the day, though, is the Canticle of Hannah (I Kings [1 Sam] 2:1-10), a song of rejoicing at her pregnancy (with the prophet Samuel) that put paid to the taunts of her husband's fecund other wife.  We today tend to interpret this canticle as foreshadowing the Magnificat, which it certainly does.  But one of the earliest Benedictine monastic commentaries on the Office Canticles, by Rabanus Maurus (780-856), also interprets that typology in the light of St Paul's Galatians typology, saying by way of summary:

"But on Wednesday the Canticle of Anna the prophetess is sung, in which the expulsion of the perfidious Jews is set out, and the election of the Church of the gentiles is demonstrated."

And indeed St Benedict's psalm selections for this day come back to the theme of God's choice of peoples several times, most notably in Psalms 134 and 135.

4.  The redemption triptych (Psalms 113, 129 and 134/5) - redemption comes only through Christ

In the Benedictine Office, Psalm 113 (In exitu Israel) is said at Vespers on Monday rather than Sunday as it is in the Roman Office.  In part I think that is because it provides a type of baptism, in the parting of the Red Sea and the Jordan (especially in verse 3: Mare vidit, et fugit: Jordánis convérsus est retrórsum), one of the themes Maurus identifies in the Monday Lauds canticle (along with the Incarnation).  But it also, I think, sets up a nice triptych of opening psalms at Vespers on the first three days of the week around our redemption through Christ.

The two outer panels are provided by Psalms 113 on Monday and 134 and 135 (known as the Great Hallel in Jewish liturgy) on Wednesday.  These three psalms share both common themes and several verses between them, and take us through God's power compared to empty idols, manifested through the creation of the universe, and intervention in history to lead his people out of Egypt, and into the Promised Land.

If he were being consistent, St Benedict would have placed Psalm 128 as the first Psalm at Vespers on Tuesday, for on that day all of the other Gradual psalms are said from Terce through Vespers.  But St Benedict actually places Psalm 128 (where it arguably fits well for other reasons) on Monday, and instead, in the middle of the triptych sits Psalm 129 (De Profundis), with its promise of Christ's redeeming action ('For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption: he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquity').  Dom Gueranger, in his Liturgical Year, notes that this psalm above all, was often interpreted by medieval commentators, as a prophecy of that final reconciliation of the Jews.

5. The Hallel psalms reversed: The first shall be last?

St Benedict’s arrangement of the Sunday Office at both Lauds and Vespers is significantly different to the old Roman he started from.  Two key changes he makes are to start the variable psalmody  at Lauds with Psalm 117 (it was in Prime in the old Roman Office), and to end it with Psalm 112, at Vespers (moving Psalm 113 to Monday in order to do so).  These are, of course, the last and first respectively of the ‘Hallel’ psalms, the psalms sung at the three major Jewish festivals each year.

The more prominent position St Benedict accords to Psalm 117 is easily explained: it is one of the most quoted psalms in the New Testament, important in particular for the verses directly prophesying the Resurrection, and pointing to Christ as the stone the builders rejected.

Is it possible, though, that the ending of Vespers on Psalm 112 was also meant to provide a subtle reference to the idea that the first shall come last in relation to St Paul's prophesy in Romans that  'all Israel shall come in'?  St Benedict (485-547) may very well have been familiar with the Bishop of Ravenna, St Peter Chrysologus' (380-450) teaching to just this effect (now used in the readings of the Liturgy of Hours as Fr Hunwicke notes).  And it is certainly nicely consistent with Pope Benedict's rewrite of the Good Friday prayer:

"Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men. (Let us pray. Kneel. Rise.) Almighty and eternal God, who want that all men be saved and come to the recognition of the truth, propitiously grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen"

So, is this all too much of a stretch?  Do let me know what you think.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

On the what of lectio divina **

A few weeks ago I suggested some options on what to read for lectio divina, that included looking at the psalms; taking the texts of the Sunday liturgical cycle; reading the Gospels systematically; and reading (the rest of) the Bible.  And I noted that I am posting aids to lectio divina in the form of notes on the psalms in the context of the Benedictine Office, and notes aimed at reading St Matthew's Gospel systematically over the quarter on my other blogs.

I've just come across a rather curious post by Father Mark over at Vultus Christi who, in a letter to Oblates of his monastery, argues that a systematic program of Bible reading , or reading the books of Scripture right through is downright uncatholic.

I'm not actually sure whether his post was meant as a direct response to my post (or queries from his Oblates generated by it); probably not, I'm far from the only one to suggest such systematic approaches.
But I have to say I find his a rather extreme position, so herewith a discussion of his arguments. Alas, wordpress won't, for some reason, allow me to post a comment on his blog, so I'm posting it over here instead.

Reading the Bible in order is Protestant?

Fr Mark points rightly to the privileged place Scripture has in the liturgy, and of Scripture as, in a certain sense, a product of the liturgy rather than something that should be viewed as entirely independent of it.  And he points out that Scripture is not a personal book, but something that can only be understood in the midst of the Church.  Thus far I agree.

But he then takes that view a step further than I think can really be sustained, arguing that as a general principle, as Catholics, we should only read the Bible in the context of the readings set at Mass and in the Office:

"Unlike Protestants who may open the Bible at random, or follow a personal reading plan, or use it to prepare a teaching or sermon, Catholic and Orthodox Christians submit to the Church’s use of the Bible in the liturgy...What should one read in lectio divina? In my long personal experience, it is best to focus on the very texts that will be chanted or read, and heard on a given day, in Holy Mass and in the Divine Office..."

He consigns the reading of Scripture in order to rare special occasions:

"There are also moments in life, notably during a retreat or on the occasion of a special anniversary, when one may want to read a particular book of the Bible continuously from start to finish..." 

St Benedict and the tradition on lectio divina

Now I'm all in favour of one option for lectio divina being to base it around the readings in the liturgy.
But to claim this is the only option we should ever adopt seems to me a step too far!

Here is why.

First, St Benedict himself in his Rule sets the precedent in favour of reading books in order, requiring his monks to read least one book a year consecutively (and this would normally have been a book of Scripture) during the season of Lent (RB 48).

Secondly the Fathers (including Benedictine monks like St Bede) and later theologians did not simply stick to the Sunday (or Sanctoral) readings, but produced many commentaries on complete books of Scripture, long viewed as essentially products of lectio divina.  Using them in anthology form obviously has value, but so too, surely, does treating them as complete works in their own right.

Thirdly, many of the Fathers adopt a 'canonical' reading of Scripture, an approach that is regaining popularity today, that interprets sections of Scripture by reference to its placement in the particular book of the Bible.  In the case of the psalms, for example, the particular number of certain psalms is regarded as significant in and of itself.  And canonical interpretation becomes supremely important in the case of obviously carefully crafted orderings of the material such as occur in St John's Gospel in particular, which is structured around 'signs' and 'days'. If we only ever read the snippets of Scripture prescribed for a particular day in the Mass we will surely miss this rich layer of meaning that comes from context.

Fourthly, others have suggested that in fact the monastic tradition is to read the books of the Bible through over a year: in fact, as Dom Christopher Lazowski, in an inspiring post from a few years back on New Liturgical Movement states that:

"There is a monastic adage that states that a monk should pray the Psalter in a week, and should read the Bible in a year...The rest of the Bible is read in a systematic way at the night Office...But the reading of Sacred Scripture is not limited to the liturgy. It is the chief matter of lectio divina, the meditative and prayerful reading, sliding in and out of prayer, that is a vital element of monastic life."

Dom Christopher notes that novices in his own monastery are given a plan for reading the Bible in a year 'which is inspired by the way the different books are read at the Office, with the addition of the books that the Office omits, but without the psalms and the Gospels'.

Finally, there are practical reasons for reading the books straight through as well, not the least of which is that if we only read what occurs in the liturgy we will remain ignorant of large chunks of Scripture (yes even the Novus Ordo lectionary omits whole psalms, chapters and verses of the Bible from its cycle).  Yet the Church has always insisted that all of Scripture is provided for our instruction.

St Matthew continues!

There is certainly a good case for taking the texts of the Mass and/or Office as the basis for our lectio for at least once cycle.  But equally, I think, there is a case for appreciating that God inspired the Sacred authors to write complete books that should be treated as such.  So, assuming you are not an Oblate of Silverstream (since obedience to one's abbot is a key virtue regardless of whether you think he has it right or not!), please do feel free to join me over at my Lectio Divina notes blog for a chapter by chapter read of St Matthew this quarter!

**Just to note that Fr Mark has written a subsequent post rather modifying his position, and suggesting that reading through the Gospels systematically would be acceptable as a source of lectio.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Feast of the Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord

Today's (not the) Octave Day of the Epiphany feast, of the Baptism of Our Lord, marks the formal end of the Christmas season in the 1962 calendar.  The greater Christmas season continues, however, for as the Baronius Missal comments on the season after Epiphany:

"This period, which begins the day after the Octave of Epiphany, is an extension of Christmastide..."

The Office readings for today includes this sermon by St Gregory Nazianus (Second Nocturn):

(Reading 5): I am not able to restrain the outbursts of my happiness. I feel changed and elated. I forget my own meanness while I undertake and try to discharge the office of the great John. It is true that I am not the Forerunner, but at least I come from the desert. Christ is enlightened, or rather, He enlighteneth us with His own light. Christ is baptized; let us go down with Him into the water, that we may come up with Him.

(Reading 6):John is baptizing. Jesus cometh. He cometh that He may make holy him who baptizeth Him; He cometh to bury the old Adam in the waters; He cometh to hallow the blessed flood of Jordan. He Who is Flesh and Spirit cometh to open for all that should ever be baptized that power of generation whereby new peoples are constantly begotten of water and the Holy Ghost. The Baptist will not receive Him. Jesus striveth with him. I, saith John, have need to be baptized of thee. Thus speaketh the candle to the Sun, the voice to the Word.

(Reading 7): Jesus came up out of the water, having, in a manner, washed the whole world, and brought it up with Him. And He saw the heavens opened not divided, even those heavens which Adam had once shut upon himself and us his descendants, when the cherub's fiery sword barred the gates of Paradise.

(Reading 8): And the Holy Spirit bare witness, witness unto Him Who is of One Substance with Himself. And witness was given from Heaven, unto Him that came down from heaven.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

First Sunday after the Epiphany (Feast of the Holy Family)

This is another of those Sundays where what feast you are celebrating depends on what calendar you are following as a result of the unfortunate enthusiasm for liturgical wreckovation that escalated from the 1950s onwards.

Some have suggested that I'm being far too harsh in my judgments on these changes. Let me then, quote our beloved Pope Emeritus on the subject:
“One of the weaknesses of the postconciliar liturgical reform can doubtless be traced to the armchair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth. The most blatant example of this is the reform of the Calendar: those responsible simply did not realize how much the various annual feasts had influenced Christian people's relation to time […] they ignored a fundamental law of religious life.” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, 81-82 (published by Ignatius Press).
The quote is cited in a very useful exposition of the problems associated with the destruction of Epiphanytide over at the New Theological Movement.

**And there is now a nice article on this topic quoting from a number of blogs who have raised the calendar problems of late, by Peter Kwasniewski over at New Liturgical Movement.

Pick your feast...

Older calendars mark this Sunday as 'Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany', with the texts (save for the Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons) being of that feast.

But it also has a history as the feast of the Holy Family, with origins in New France (Canada) dating back to the seventeenth century.  It was made universal in the Roman calendar for this Sunday in 1921, and remains in the 1962 Vetus Ordo calendar.  Though the feast is of relatively recent origin, it does represent genuine organic development, as the Gospel for the Octave Sunday and the Feast are the same.

The feast of the Holy Family was not, however, as far as I can discover, ever imported in the (General) Benedictine calendar, and so for those following the Benedictine calendar of 1962-63, this Sunday is the 'First Sunday after Epiphany', which mostly uses texts constructed from those of the old Octave.

For those wishing to celebrate the Feast however (in accordance with your own monasteries calendar for example), the texts for the day hours are provided as a supplement in the Monastic Diurnal; the Matins readings can be found at the Divinum Officium website.  Those looking for Matins readings for the 'First Sunday' can find them there also, by selecting the pre-Tridentine monastic option.

In the Novus Ordo, the Feast of the Holy Family has been moved to the Sunday after Christmas (or December 30), and this Sunday is instead 'Baptism of Our Lord' Sunday (ie the Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord, traditionally celebrated on January 13, transferred to the nearest Sunday).

The traditional Benedictine Office this week

The main feast in the calendar this week is of course the Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord, on January 13, which marks the formal end of the Christmas season in the 1962 calendar: though the greater Christmas season formerly ran up until the Feast of the Purification (albeit with some modifications when Septuagesima Sunday fell early), that is no longer strictly the case (save in the Office of Our Lady on Saturday).

Sunday 12 January - First Sunday after the Epiphany, Class II [EF: Feast of the Holy Family; in some places, St Benedict Biscop]
Monday 13 January -– Commemoration of Our Lord’s Baptism, Class II
Tuesday 14 January – Class IV; St Hilary [EF: Class III] and St Felix, memorials
Wednesday 15 January - Class IV [**In some places, Our Lady of Prompt Succour, Class I; EF: St Paul the First Hermit]
Thursday 16 January – Class IV; St Marcellus I, memorial [EF: Class III]
Friday 17 January - St Anthony, Class III
Saturday 18 January - Saturday of Our Lady  [EF: Commemoration of St Prisca; St Peter's Chair]

Not the sixth day of the Epiphany Octave

Octaves traditionally served a number of purposes: they signalled the importance of a particular feast; and through the repetition of the texts for that feast, helped the laity to truly learn certain key texts of Scripture.

These days we tend to prefer to constantly seek novelty, and disdain the idea of learning things by heart.  Yet constantly repeated texts help shape our mindset, forming us spiritually in a particular way of thinking.

And these traditional octaves also provide an opportunity, through the readings set set at Matins for the feast, to penetrate the mystery of the feast more deeply.

Accordingly, here are the readings that were previously set for the sixth day of the feast in the Benedictine office, courtesy of the excellent Divinum Officium website:

Homily by St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.
Book ii. on Luke ii.
What are the gifts of the faithful and true? Gold to our King, frankincense to our God, and myrrh to Him Who died for us. The first is that whereof are made the royal honours of kings, the second is that mystic offering which is used in the worship of the Divine Power, and the third is that wherewith we pay respect to the dead, whose bodies it keepeth from corruption. My brethren, let us who hear and read these things, make offering out of what treasures we have albeit we have it in earthen vessels. 2 Cor. iv. 7. If we confess that all that we have, we have, not from ourselves, but from Christ, how much more should we confess that whatever we have is not our own, but Christ's?

The wise men out of their treasures presented unto Him gifts. Wilt thou know how pleasing to Him they were? The star appeared to them, but disappeared when it came near Herod. Then it appeareth to them again, leading them on the way that led to Christ. This star then was the way, and we know that Christ calleth Himself the Way. John xiv. 6. And truly also in the mystery of His Incarnation He is called a Star; as it is written There shall come forth a Star out of Jacob, and a Man shall rise out of Israel. Where Christ is, there is a Star; yea, He is Himself the bright and morning Star. Apoc. xxii. 16. And the light that leadeth to Jesus is His own.

Remark another point. The wise men came by one way and departed by another. They that had seen Christ, knew Christ, and they departed better than they came. There are two ways, the one which leadeth to destruction, the other which leadeth to the kingdom; the one is the way of sin, which leadeth to Herod; the other is Christ, the true Way, Who leadeth us home to the fatherland, from that journeying here, whereof it is said My soul hath long dwelt as an exile. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Not the fifth day in the Octave of the Epiphany

The readings for the old Octave of the Epiphany that would have been used today in the Benedictine Office are as follows:

Homily by St Jerome, Priest at Bethlehem.
Bk. i. Comm. on Matth. ii.
We have seen His star in the East. In order that the Jews might be confounded by hearing from the Gentiles of the birth of Christ, the star rose in the East. They knew that it would come, by the prophecy of Balaam, whose successors they were. See the Book of Numbers, xxiv. 17. The star led the wise men to Judea, that the Priests, having it demanded of them where Christ should be born, might have no power to plead that they knew not of His coming.

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea, this is a mistake of copyists. In our opinion, what the Evangelist wrote must have been, not of Judea, but of Judah. Thus it is in the Hebrew text. Nor is there any town called Bethlehem among any other people, that this should be called of Judea to distinguish it. But it is fitly distinguished as of Judah, because there is in Judea another Bethlehem, namely, the one in Galilee. See the Book of Joshua the son of Nun. xix. 15. Finally, the passage cited, which is in the prophet Micah, v. 2, hath But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah(, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel.)

And treasures they presented unto Him gifts, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. The mystic meaning of these gifts is thus neatly expressed by Juvencus the Priest, To God made man, born Israel's King, Frankincense, myrrh, and gold they bring. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. They who had presented unto the Lord gifts, were honoured by receiving a warning, not from an Angel, but from God Himself; whereas even Joseph was warned only by an Angel. They departed into their own country another way, that they might not be brought into contact with the unbelief of the Jews.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Not the fourth day within the Octave of the Epiphany...

Five reasons why the Church should revive the Octave of the Epiphany

1. To emphasise the importance of the mission to convert the whole world, symbolised by the worship of the Magi.

2.  To emphasise that God truly reveals himself to us in a miraculous way, in theophanies such as occurred at the birth of Jesus, at his baptism and through the miracle of Cana, thus countering those who prefer to interpret the Gospels as merely 'allegorical'.

3.  To promote the reappropriation of Christmas as a religious feast consisting of twelve days, with Epiphany providing a demarcation line, and not just a secular 'happy holiday'.

4.  To extend the season of Christmas, and thus contribute to a proper balance between feasting and fasting - the Christmas season was originally forty days in length, to match the duration of Lent.

5.  To promote ecumenism with the Eastern Churches using the Julian calendar, and thus celebrating Christmas Day around our feast of the Epiphany...

St Gregory on the wise man's return by another route

And in the meantime, for your meditation during this season of Epiphanytide, the former readings used today in the Benedictine Office, courtesy of the Divinum Officium website:

"The wise men teach us a great lesson in that they departed into their own country another way. That which they did, being warned of God in a dream, we ought to do. Our country is heaven; and, when we have once known Jesus, we can never get there by returning on the way wherein we walked before we knew Him. We have left our country far, by the way of pride, and disobedience, and worldliness, and forbidden indulgence we must seek that heavenly Fatherland by tears, by subjection, by contempt of the things which are seen, and by curbing the fleshly appetites.

Let us then depart into our own country another way. They that have by enjoyment put themselves away from it, must seek it again by sorrow. Therefore, my dearly beloved brethren, it behoveth us to be ever fearful and watch, having continually before the eyes of our heart, on the one hand, the guilt of our doings, and, on the other, the judgment at the latter day. It behoveth us to think how that awful Judge will surely come, Whose judgment is hanging over us, and hath not yet fallen the wrath to come is before sinners, and hath not yet smitten them and the Judge yet tarrieth in order that, when He cometh, there may haply be less to condemn.

Let us afflict ourselves for our faults with weeping, and, with the Psalmist, let us come before His Presence with thanksgiving. Let us take heed that we be not fooled by the appearance of earthly happiness, or seduced by the vanity of earthly pleasure. For the Judge is at hand, even He That saith Woe unto you that laugh now, for ye shall mourn and weep, Luke vi. 25. Hence also Solomon saith Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness, Prov. xiv. 13. And again: I said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth it? Eccles. ii. 2. And yet again The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth, (vii. 5.)"

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Not the third day within the octave of the Epiphany


Continuing this series on the readings from the old Office of the Octave of the Epiphany, today's homily comes from Pope St Gregory the Great:

The wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is the fitting gift to a King, frankincense is offered in sacrifice to God, and with myrrh are embalmed the bodies of the dead. By the gifts, therefore, which they presented unto Him, the wise men set forth three things concerning Him unto Whom they offered them; by the gold, that He was King; by the frankincense, that He was God; and by the myrrh, that He was to die. There are some heretics who believe Him to be God, but confess not His Kingly dominion over all things; these offer unto Him frankincense, but refuse Him gold. There are some others who admit that He is King, but deny that He is God; these present unto Him gold, but will not give Him frankincense.

There are some other heretics who profess that Christ is both God and King, but not that He took a dying nature; these offer Him gold and frankincense, but not myrrh for the Manhood. Let us, however, present gold unto the new-born Lord, acknowledging His universal Kingship; let us offer unto Him frankincense, confessing that He Who hath been made manifest unto us in time, is God before time was; let us give unto Him myrrh, believing that He Who cannot suffer as touching His Godhead, was made capable of death as touching the manhood which He shareth with us.

There is also another signification in this gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is a type of wisdom; as saith Solomon x In the mouth of the wise abideth a treasure to be desired. Frankincense, which is burnt in honour of God, is a figure of prayer; witness the words of the Psalmist: Let my prayer be set forth as incense before thee. By myrrh is represented the putting to death of the body; as where the holy Church saith of her labourers who strive for God even unto death My hands dropped with myrrh.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Not the Octave of the Epiphany!

The removal of most of the octaves from the liturgical calendar was perhaps an understandable decision.  

But it was, I think, one of those reforms that went more than a few steps too far, most obviously in the abolition of the octave of Pentecost in the Ordinary Form calendar.  

Bring back the octave of the Epiphany and time after the feast!

Another case in point, in my opinion, is the abolition of the octave of the Epiphany, which is, I think, one of those decisions which it would be nice to reverse as a means of giving some genuine impetus to the 'New Evangelisation'.

The calendar reforms of the twentieth century saw a progress reduction in the importance of Epiphany, starting with the abolition of the octave of the feast, and culminating in the outright abolition, in the Novus Ordo calendar, of the traditional season of time after Epiphany.  

Yet Epiphany is, above all, the great feast of the revelation of God to the gentiles, represented by the three wise men.  So how could reducing the importance of this feast possibly be thought consistent with the objective of making the Church more missionary oriented? 

The 1962-63 Benedictine Office does at least retain the remnants of the old octave, in the form of the so-called 'Ordinary of the ferial office in the epiphany season' (January 7 to 12), including Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons for each day.  But I thought it might be of interest to provide the readings previously used during the Octave at Matins as well (from Divinum Officium).

Homily of St Gregory (for second day within the previous Octave of the Epiphany)

From the Holy Gospel according to Matthew
Matt 2:1-12

When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. Saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? And so on.

Homily by Pope St Gregory (the Great)
10th on the Gospels.
When Herod knew of the birth of our King, he betook himself to his cunning wiles, and lest he should be deprived of an earthly kingdom he desired the wise men to search diligently for the young Child, and when they had found Him, to bring him word again. He said, that he also might come and worship Him, but, in reality, that, when he had found Him, he might put Him to death. But, behold, of how light weight is the malice of man, when it is tried against the counsel of God. It is written There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel, against the Lord, Prov. xxi. 30. So the star which the wise men saw in the East, still led them on; they found the new-born King, and presented unto Him gifts; then they were warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod. And as it came to pass that, when Herod sought Jesus, he could not find Him even so is it with hypocrites, who, while they make pretence to seek the Lord to worship Him, find Him not.

It is as well to know that it is one of the opinions of the Priscillianist heretics l that every man is born under the influence of a star; and, to confirm this notion, they bring forward the instance of the star of Bethlehem, which appeared when the Lord was born; and which they call His star, that is, the star ruling over His fate or destiny. But if we consider the words of the Gospel concerning this star, they are It went before, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. Whence we see that it was not the young Child Who followed the star, but the star which followed the young Child, as if to show that the young Child ruled the star, instead of the star ruling Him.

But I pray that the hearts of the faithful may ever be free from the thought that anything ruleth their destiny. In this world there is but One Who ruleth the destiny of man, even He Who made man; neither was man made for the stars, but the stars for man; and if we say that they rule his destiny, we set them above him for whose service they were made. When Jacob came out of his mother's womb, and his hand took hold on his elder brother Esau's heel, he could not have done so unless this his first movement had been behind his brother, and, nevertheless, such was not in after life the position of those two brethren whom their mother brought forth at one birth.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Feast of the Epiphany (aka Twelfth Day)

The feast of the Epiphany actually celebrates several different epiphanies (theophanies), including the adoration of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the miracle of the wine at Cana.

The readings at Matins are as follows:

Nocturn I: Isaiah 55:1-4; 60:1-6; 61:10-11; 62:1
Nocturn II: Sermon of Pope St Leo (on the Divinum Officium website, 1960 rubrics)
Nocturn III: Homily of Pope St Gregory (also available at Divinum Officium)
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

IHS: Greek or Latin?

Assuming you aren't celebrating the newly created solemnity of (this year) Eleventh Day (aka 'Epiphany Sunday') you are probably celebrating the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, popularly represented in the Christogram IHS (if you are facing an Epiphany Sunday, you probably celebrated the novus ordo version of the feast of the Holy Name on Friday).

But are the origins of the abbreviation?

I have to say I had assumed it was Latin, but at Mass this morning our priest suggested it was from the Greek.

A little digging suggests that the case can be made for either language.

Latin origins?

The 1919 Catholic Encyclopedia gives it a Latin origin, saying:

"The emblem or monogram representing the Holy Name of Jesus consists of the three letters: IHS. In the Middle Ages the Name of Jesus was written: IHESUS; the monogram contains the first and last letter of the Holy Name. It is first found on a gold coin of the eight century: DN IHS CHS REX REGNANTIUM (The Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings)."

This sounds very plausible to me, particularly as the abbreviation was popularised in the West in the fourteenth century (its first known appearance in written text is in the English Vision of Piers the Plowman).

The Encyclopedia entry goes on to explain some 'bacronyms' propagated by the Jesuits (who else!) and others:

"Some erroneously say that the three letters are the initials of: "Jesus Hominum Salvator" (Jesus Saviour of Men). The Jesuits made this monogram the emblem of their Society, adding a cross over the H and three nails under it. Consequently a new explanation of the emblem was invented, pretending that the nails originally were a "V", and that the monogram stands for "In Hoc Signo Vinces" (In This Sign you shall Conquer), the words which, according to a legendary account, Constantine saw in the heavens under the Sign of the Cross before the battle at the Milvian bridge (312)."

Nonetheless, some modern sources do propose Greek origins for the letters.

The Greek explanation

In particular, the Wikipedia, citing three recent authors, claims that:

"In Eastern Christianity, the most widely used Christogram is a four-letter abbreviation, ΙϹΧϹ — a traditional abbreviation of the Greek words for "Jesus Christ" (i.e., the first and last letters of each of the words ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ — written "ΙΗϹΟΥϹ ΧΡΙϹΤΟϹ" with the lunate sigma "Ϲ" common in medieval Greek). On icons, this Christogram may be split: "ΙϹ" on the left of the image and "ΧϹ" on the right, most often with a bar above the letters (see titlos), indicating that it is a sacred name. It is sometimes rendered as "ΙϹΧϹ ΝΙΚΑ", meaning "Jesus Christ Conquers." "ΙϹΧϹ" may also be seen inscribed on the Ichthys. In the traditional icon of Christ Pantokrator, Christ's right hand is shown in a pose that represents the letters ΙϹ, Χ, and Ϲ....In the Latin-speaking Christianity of medieval Western Europe (and so among Catholics and many Protestants today), the most common Christogram became "IHS" or "IHC", denoting the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus, iota-eta-sigma, or ΙΗΣ...Because the Latin-alphabet letters I and J were not systematically distinguished until the 17th century, "JHS" and "JHC" are equivalent to "IHS" and "IHC"."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Second Sunday after the Nativity (aka Most Holy Name of Jesus)

This Sunday (or January 2 if there is no suitable Sunday) has been celebrated as the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus since the sixteenth century.

In the 1962  revamp of the Benedictine calendar, however, this was replaced by liturgical wreckovators, by the 'Second Sunday of the Nativity', complete with new texts.  The 1962 Roman Missal however remained unchanged, leading to an odd disjunction between the Benedictine Use and the Roman.  The wreckovators did try again temporarily succeed in their aims with respect to the Roman rite: the 1970 Missal made the feast optional only.  But it was restored in the 2002 calendar (albeit this year on January 3 rather than the Sunday, which has, in most places become Epiphany Sunday aka Eleventh Day!).

Accordingly, the omission of the feast in the Benedictine 'traditional' calendar of 1962-3 is anomalous.  If you attend a Roman EF, or your monastery includes the older feast in its calendar, and so want to celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, you can find the (Latin) texts in the Antiphonale Monasticum, at pages 276 ff.  Alternatively you could either use this to say the Office devotionally, or say the Office according to the Roman Breviary (Divinum Officium has the text).

Either way, Vespers on Sunday is for the following feast of the Epiphany, as Nativitytide officially finishes at None on Sunday this year, though of course the season of Epiphany is still part of the broader Christmas season.

Readings at Matins

The readings for Matins this Sunday (according to the 1962 Benedictine Breviary) are as follows:

Nocturn I: Romans 1-11 (note that reading 3 for January 5 is split in two to make four readings, and responsories are for the Sunday)
Nocturn II: Sermon of St Augustine
Nocturn III: Sermon of St Jerome on Matthew 9:2
Gospel: Mt 2:19-23

The Office this week in summary

Sunday 5 January –  Second Sunday after the Nativity, Class II [EF: Most Holy Name of Jesus]
Monday 6 January – Epiphany of Our Lord, Class I
Tuesday 7 January – Class IV
Wednesday 8 January – Class IV
Thursday 9 January – Class IV
Friday 10 January – Class IV; St Paul the First Hermit, memorial
Saturday 11 January – Saturday of Our Lady (Sat 2 of Jan) [EF: Commemoration of St Hyginus]

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Lectio Divina Options

I've previously suggested on this blog that doing at least some lectio divina each day should surely be a key part of our daily spiritual regime.  St Benedict, after all, prescribes a balanced regime based on prayer (the Office), sacred reading (lectio divina), and work.

As his followers, we should, accordingly endeavour to maintain a balance between each of these appropriate to our state in life: more hours of work if we are laypeople than a monk would do, and less prayer and reading, but still some of each of these.

But when it comes to lectio divina, what should we take as our text?  Let me suggest a few options for your consideration for the new year.

Option 1: Study the psalms

For followers of St Benedict, knowing the psalms is surely the first priority.  St Benedict enjoins the study of the psalms twice in his Rule - once as a use for the gap between Matins and Lauds, and a second time in his discussion of the daily horarium.


The psalms are of course the backbone of his Office, their repetition each each week so crucial that the lessons are to be dropped if necessary, rather than the psalms be omitted or Lauds started late!  Yet the saint never actually explains why they are so important; rather  he just assumes we know that the psalms are the most quoted book of the Old Testament in the New, and long considered to contain the entire Bible in summary, poetic form.

Finding a good modern commentary on the psalms is not easy however.  Accordingly, I started putting together my own notes which you can find over at my blog Psallam Domino.  The posts there are intended to assist those wishing to use the psalms for lectio divina; to help understand them better in the context of the interpretations provided by the Magisterium, Fathers and Theologians; and to assist in learning to pray them in Latin.  The focus is very much on the context of the Benedictine form of the Divine Office.

Option 2: Systematic reading of the Gospels

A second option is to spread the reading of the Gospels over a year, taking one for each quarter.  The Gospels are obviously the most important books of the Bible for any Christian to be familiar with, so well worth the effort.  And there are any number of commentaries available to assist this task.  A good starting point is the Catena Aurea of St Thomas, providing an anthology of patristic commentaries for our consideration.

I've previously provided notes as prompts for lectio here on St John's Gospel, but for those interested, I've set up a separate blog Lectio Divina Notes so I can gauge better just how much interest (if any!) there is in these posts.  I plan to take here, looking at St Matthew's Gospel this quarter.

Option 3: (Rest of the) Bible in a year

Another option worth considering is systematically reading the rest of the Bible.

If you are feeling ambitious, a while back, a monk posted a suggested two possible reading plans for the Bible in a year over at New Liturgical Movement.  But if you are not a monk with several hours a day to devote to the task, you could devise a plan to spread your reading over two  or three years!

Option 4: The texts of the Sunday cycle

Another obvious option is to use the lectionary and propers used at the Mass.  If you normally attend the 1970 Missal Mass, there is so much material provided in the lectionary that you will have to select what to look at  - one obvious option being the epistles for each day.

In the traditional Mass the obvious option is to look at all the proper texts for the Sunday (and perhaps the texts of the other major feasts and seasons) - that is the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Epistle, Gospel, Offertory and Communio - over a week.  The Church has, for centuries, selected out these texts as crucial to our instruction, repeating them year after year so that we can have them practically memorised, so exploring them in more depth for ourselves makes a great deal of sense.

The Sunday Gospels of course can easily take up two or three days in this regime, if one studies them with the aid of patristic sources such as using the excellent Sunday Sermons of the Fathers volumes.  And if the psalm verses or other text in the propers are too sparse or repetitive, it is no great problem to consider the whole psalm or chapter from which the text is taken.

(Cross-posted from Lectio Divina Notes)