Saturday, December 31, 2016

Seventh day of the Octave; St Sylvester, Pope, memorial


Today is the seventh day of the Octave of the Nativity (and of course New Year's Eve, a good time to reflect on the past year and plan for the new....).

It is also the memorial of Pope St Sylvester I, who may be of interest due to the use of a life of the pope in the Rule of the Master (though not St Benedict's Rule).

Pope St Sylvester

St Sylvester was pope between 314 and 335, encompassing the period in which Constantine granted the Church official status in the Empire and the Council of Nicaea.  We know that during his pontificate, a number of the great churches were founded at Rome, including St. John Lateran, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Old St. Peter's Basilica, and several cemeterial churches built over the graves of martyrs.  We also know that St Sylvester did not attend the First Council of Nicaea in 325, but he was represented by two legates, Vitus and Vincentius, and he approved the council's decision.

Beyond this, however, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction, due to the confusion created by the early sixth century life, composed around 501-508 in order to bolster the case of Pope Symmachus during the Laurentian schism.

Vita beati Silvestri

The Rule of the Master quotes from the Vita Beati Silvestri, and the great advocate of the Rule of the Master, Dom Adalbert de Vogue, saw this as evidence of the Master's Roman and early sixth century origins.  In fact though, if anything, it rather points to a somewhat later date for that Rule.

The Vita beati Silvestri, part of the 'Symmachean forgeries', has been preserved not just in Latin but also in Greek and Syriac, and includes an account of an alleged Roman council, as well as relating St Sylvester's close relationship with the first Christian emperor. The material also appears in the later forgery, the Donation of Constantine.

According to the Life, the Emperor Constantine was cured of leprosy by the virtue of the baptismal water administered by Sylvester.  The Emperor, abjectly grateful, not only confirmed the bishop of Rome as the primate above all other bishops, he resigned his imperial insignia and walked before Sylvester's horse holding the Pope's bridle as the papal groom. The Pope, in return, offered the crown of his own good will to Constantine, who abandoned Rome to the pope and took up residence in Constantinople.

The story quickly gained wide circulation, with St Gregory of Tours, for example, referring to it in his history of the Franks, written in the 580s.



Wednesday, December 28, 2016

December 28: The Holy Innocents; Octave of the Nativity


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, 2016

December 27: St John the Evangelist; Octave of the Nativity

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, 2016

December 26: Octave of the Nativity; St Stephen, Protomartyr



From Acts 6-7:

"And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost...

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilícia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. 

But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep."

You can read more about St Stephen in this General Audience by Pope Benedict XVI.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Great O's : O Emmanuel (December 23)




The Annunciation, by Jacopo Torriti, Santa Maria Maggiore.


At Lauds today, the Benedictus antiphon is of the date rather than the Advent day: it announces that all the things the angel promised to Our Lady have been fulfilled (Ecce completa sunt omnia, quae dicta sunt per Angelum de Virgine Maria).

At Vespers today, we enjoy the final O antiphon, O Emmanuel:
O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and Salvation thereof; come to save us, O Lord our God!
Let us pray therefore that all might be filled with the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom...



Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Great Os: O Rex gentium (December 22)




Today's O antiphon is O Rex Gentium:
O King of the Gentiles, yea, and Desire thereof, O Cornerstone that makest of twain one; come to save man, whom thou hast made of the dust of the earth!
Pray therefore for the gift of piety - godliness -  so that all may acknowledge and truly serve our King.



Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Great O's: O Oriens (December 21)





Today's O antiphon, O Oriens, is sung as part of the commemoration of the feria:

O Day-Spring, brightness of the everlasting Light, Sun of Righteousness; come, to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death!

The antiphon reflects the prophesy of Isaiah 9:2
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. Isaiah 9:2
We should pray then, for the gift of knowledge to illuminate us and guide our leaders.


December 21: St Thomas, Class II


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."

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Great O's: O clavis David (December 20)





O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel that openest, and no man shutteth; and shuttest and no man openeth; come to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death!

The prophesies:
I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. Isaiah 22:22
To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. Isaiah 42:7.
Let us then pray for the gift of fortitude for ourselves and our leaders, so that we may be lead out of prison and darkness at the proper time.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Great O's: O Radix Iesse (December 19)



Today's O antiphon is O root of Jesse, a reference to the famous concept of the 'Jesse tree' that traces the ancestry of Jesus, and typically key events in salvation history, based on Isaiah 11:
And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.  And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness.  And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. 
He shall not judge according to the sight of the eyes, nor reprove according to the hearing of the ears. But he shall judge the poor with justice, and shall reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: land he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.  And justice shall be the girdle of his loins: and faith the girdle of his reins.
The text of the antiphon itself is:
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at whom the kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek; come to deliver us, make no tarrying!
Let us therefore pray for the gift of counsel for ourselves and above all for our leaders, that they might discern and follow the path he has flagged, and not some other, and thus avoid judgment and condemnation at the last.






Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Great O's: O Adonai (December 18)

Image result for moses and the law
Moses receives the law, c840

Today's O antiphon is O Adonai (Lord):

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

Perhaps we could pray especially today for all lawmakers and leaders, including those God is calling to step up to the plate, that they might respond to the graces given to them, and that they and we might be granted the gift of understanding.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Great Os: December 17 and wisdom

St Hildegarde Scivias manuscript: Wisdom

From Saturday this week (December 17) the liturgy intensifies, with all days being Class II, and set antiphons used at Lauds to Vespers for each day of the week.

Rubrics reminder

The Office between December 17 and December 23 is at its most complex for the year, so just a quick reminder of the essentials:
  • the psalms continue to be those used throughout the year for the appropriate day of the week  as normal (so  for December 17, of Saturday as set out in the psalter section of your Diurnal, or Breviary);
  • the antiphons for the psalms from Lauds to Vespers are for the day of the week between December 17 and 23 (so for Saturday December 17, the first antiphon of Lauds, also used at Prime, is Intuemini, quam sit gloriosus iste) and can be found in the front of your Diurnal or Breviary (normally around the texts for week III of Advent depending on the edition);
  • the chapters, versicles, hymns (at Lauds and Vespers) and responsories are from the Ordinary of Advent (front section of your Diurnal or Breviary, Propers of Time);
  • the Benedictus antiphon at Lauds is either of the Advent day (ie Saturday in the third week of Advent, viz Quomodo fiet istud) or the date (in the case of December 23); and
  • the Magnificat antiphon is the O antiphon set for the date.
The main exception to these rules is the feast of St Thomas on December 21.

O antiphon of the day

The highlight of this period is surely the singing of the 'O' antiphons at Vespers.

Tomorrow's is O Sapientia:

O Wisdom, that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and dost mightily and sweetly order all things; come, to teach us the way of prudence!

You might want to consider using the O antiphons to pray for the sevenfold gifts of the spirit, both for ourselves and for our leaders each day.  In that light, pray then, not just for ourselves, but also that our leaders - secular and ecclesiastical - might be blessed with the gift of wisdom.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

St Lucy (December 13)


Saint Lucy (283–304), was a Christian during the Diocletian persecution.

According to her legend, her mother was cured dysentery by them praying together at Saint Agatha's tomb (pictured). She consecrated her virginity to God, refused to marry a pagan, and had her dowry distributed to the poor. Her would-be husband denounced her as a Christian to the governor of Syracuse, Sicily, who ordered her to burn a sacrifice to the emperor's image. Lucy replied that she had given all that she had: "I offer to Him myself, let Him do with His offering as it pleases Him."

Sentenced to be defiled in a brothel, Lucy asserted:

“ No one's body is polluted so as to endanger the soul if it has not pleased the mind. If you were to lift my hand to your idol and so make me offer against my will, I would still be guiltless in the sight of the true God, who judges according to the will and knows all things. If now, against my will, you cause me to be polluted, a twofold purity will be gloriously imputed to me. You cannot bend my will to your purpose; whatever you do to my body, that cannot happen to me.”

Monday, December 12, 2016

Our Lady of Guadelupe (December 12)


In 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared four times before Juan Diego and one more before Juan Diego's uncle.

The first apparition occurred on the morning of December 9, 1531, when a native Mexican peasant named Juan Diego saw a vision of a maiden at a place called the Hill of Tepeyac, which would become part of Villa de Guadalupe, a suburb of Mexico City. Speaking to Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl language (the language of the Aztec empire), the maiden identified herself as the Virgin Mary, "mother of the very true deity" and asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor. 
Based on her words, Juan Diego then sought out the archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, to tell him what had happened.

As the bishop did not believe Diego, on the same day, Juan Diego saw the Virgin Mary for a second time (the second apparition); she asked him to keep insisting.  On Sunday, December 10, Juan Diego talked to archbishop for a second time. The latter instructed him to return to Tepeyac Hill, and ask the lady for a miraculous sign to prove her identity. That same day the third apparition occurred when Diego returned to Tepeyac and, encountering the Virgin Mary reported the bishop's request for a sign; she consented to provide one on the following day (December 11).  By Monday, December 11, however, Juan Diego's uncle Juan Bernardino had fallen sick and Juan Diego was obliged to attend to him.

In the very early hours of Tuesday, December 12, Juan Bernardino's condition having deteriorated overnight, Juan Diego set out to Tlatelolco to fetch a priest to hear Juan Bernardino's confession and minister to him on his death-bed.

In order to avoid being delayed by the Virgin and ashamed at having failed to meet her on the Monday as agreed, Juan Diego chose another route around the hill, but the Virgin intercepted him and asked where he was going (fourth apparition); Juan Diego explained what had happened and the Virgin gently chided him for not having had recourse to her. In the words which have become the most famous phrase of the Guadalupe event and are inscribed over the main entrance to the Basilica of Guadalupe, she asked: "No estoy yo aqui que soy tu madre?" (Am I not here, I who am your mother?).

She assured him that Juan Bernardino had now recovered and she told him to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill, which was normally barren, especially in December. Juan followed her instructions and he found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, blooming there. The Virgin arranged the flowers in Juan's tilma, or cloak, and when Juan Diego opened his cloak before archbishop Zumárraga on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and on the fabric was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The next day, on December 13, Juan Diego found his uncle fully recovered, as the Virgin had assured him, and Juan Bernardino recounted that he too had seen her, at his bed-side (fifth apparition); that she had instructed him to inform the bishop of this apparition and of his miraculous cure; and that she had told him she desired to be known under the title of Guadalupe.

The bishop kept Juan Diego's mantle first in his private chapel and then in the church on public display where it attracted great attention. On December 26, 1531 a procession formed for taking the miraculous image back to Tepeyac where it was installed in a small hastily erected chapel. In course of this procession, the first miracle was allegedly performed when an Indian was mortally wounded in the neck by an arrow shot by accident during some stylized martial displays executed in honour of the Virgin. In great distress, the Indians carried him before the Virgin's image and pleaded for his life. Upon the arrow being withdrawn, the victim made a full and immediate recovery.

Juan Diego was canonized in 2002, under the name Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. 

Truly I will come: The Great O's

Image result for o antiphons



The liturgy is becoming more intense in the lead up to Christmas.  This Sunday at Matins the invitatory antiphon has become 'The Lord is now near O come, let us adore Him'.

And from next Saturday we enter the most intense part of the liturgy in the lead up to Christmas, with daily sets of antiphons for the psalms from Lauds to Vespers, and special sets of canticle antiphons.

At Lauds, the Benedictus antiphons are mostly those of the day of the Advent week, but there are some reserved for particular dates.  At Vespers though, we sing the famous 'O Antiphons' which particular to the dates.

I'll post some notes on the liturgy each day once the O antiphons start, but as requested, herewith a short introduction.

An ancient tradition

Just how old the O antiphons are is not known, however they seem to have been known in sixth century Italy, given a reference to them by St Benedict's contemporary, St Boethius.   

At Fleury, famous (or infamous depending on your perspective!) for its raid on Monte Cassino to acquire the relics of SS Benedict and Scholastica circa 660, the antiphons were recited by the abbot and senior monks in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. 

The texts of the O antiphons will probably seem pretty familiar to most people, because they were paraphrased into a twelfth century hymn, Veni, veni Emmanuel (O Come O come Emmanuel) which continues to be sung in both English and Latin in numerous versions.



The texts

Each of the texts refers to key prophesies of Christ, mostly from Isaiah.  There is, however, another level to them, as they have been arranged so that if you work backwards, the first letter of each one together forms two words, viz Ero Cras, or tomorrow I will come, viz:

(December 23) O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster. (O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.)

(December 22) O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti. (O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.)

(December 21) O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis. (O Dayspring, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.)

(December 20) O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis. (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.)

(December 19) O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare. (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.)

(December 18) O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento. (O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.)

(December 17) O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae. (O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.)

Truly, I will come...

But there is also a very nice piece of the English tradition that is worth knowing about.  In medieval England an eighth antiphon was added by starting the set a day early and adding an extra antiphon to the end of the sequence, thus making the acrostic Vero cras, or truly tomorrow (I will come).  An alternative solution, adopted in the recording below, is to sing it on December 24.

Here is the traditional text:

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini?
Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

Or:

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

The O antiphons are pretty easy to learn, as they all have a very similar chant tone.  Over time of course, numerous other settings of them have also been made.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Monastic calendars, Ordos and donations

Just a note to alert you to the availability of some great resources now available for download or purchase from the traditional monasteries, and suggest that as we move closer to Christmas you might want to consider making a donation to one or more of the traditional monasteries.

The list below is not comprehensive, so please do feel free to add other suggestions via the combox for people to consider.

Norcia

First, can I ask you to please give consideration to supporting the monks of Norcia, so badly hit by the Italian earthquakes.  The monks are gradually re-establishing the essentials, and their latest report says that they finally have a functioning chapel outside the enclosure, the chapel of St Andrew, so can offer a Sunday public Mass again.

They have been unable to print their calendar, but have instead offered it for free download online.   It is a wonderful calendar to have as it lists not only both the traditional (1963-3) and novus ordo feasts, but also older historical feasts now abolished and Benedictine specific feasts.  Please consider making a donation to their rebuilding fund.

Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles

Norcia is not, of course, the only community seeking to build a monastery!  Accordingly, you might also want to consider buying the new Caroling CD put out by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.  You can listen to a delightful sample below.

Clear Creek

Clear Creek are also still engaged in a long-term monastery construction process, and also offer a calendar for purchase.  I haven't seen this year's, but past editions have been gorgeous so undoubtedly worth considering!

Notre Dame Priory, Tasmania

And please don't forget the soon to be established traditional monastery in Australia.  No products on offer as yet, but some great spiritual food already being provided nonetheless.  US donations are tax deductible.

Le Barroux

Finally, the Le Barroux Ordo is available for purchase in hardcopy or free download.  It differs from mine primarily in that:
  • it is all in Latin;
  • uses the calendar specific to its group of monasteries (in particular it includes more 1962 EF feasts then the General Benedictine Calendar of 1963, as well as including feasts specific to France and the relevant dioceses);
  • uses different rubrics in some cases (retaining I Vespers for Class II feasts, and using a simplified manner of making commemorations).
Well worth referring to though, both as a check on mine (!) and particularly if you are using a  different edition of the Diurnal or Breviary, as it often gives the first few words of antiphons etc rather than page numbers (I may think about modifying mine in future as I've come to realise a great many people are using editions other than the Farnborough Diurnal!).  And of course it is obviously essential if you are an Oblate of that monastery.


December 11: St Damasus I


Pope St Damasus I (305-384) is most famous now for appointing St Jerome as his personal secretary and encouraging his Vulgate translation of the bible and presiding over the Council of Rome in 382, which set down the canon of scripture (the picture left is a letter of St Jerome to him). 

In two Roman synods (368 and 369) he condemned Apollinarianism and Macedonianism, and sent legates to the First Council of Constantinople that was convoked in 381 to address these heresies.  A fierce opponent of the Arians, he did much to promote veneration of the martyrs and enrich the church

es and liturgy.







Pope St Damasus I was  born around 305.  His life coincided with the rise of Emperor Constantine I and the reunion and re-division of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires.

Following the death of Pope Liberius, he succeeded to the Papacy in 366 amidst factional violence. A group of Damasus' supporters, previously loyal to his opponent Felix, attacked and killed rivals loyal to Liberius' deacon Ursinus in a riot that required the intervention of Emperor Valentinian I to quell.

Damasus faced accusations of murder and adultery with a married woman in his early years as Pope. The neutrality of these claims has come into question with some suggesting that the accusations were motivated by the schismatic conflict with the supporters of Arianism.

His personal problems were contrasted with his religious accomplishments, which included restoring Saint Lawrence outside the Walls, encouraging his personal secretary Saint Jerome in his Vulgate translation of the Bible, and presiding over the Council of Rome in 382, which set down the canon of Scripture.   He also did much to encourage the veneration of the Christian martyrs, restoring and creating access to their tombs in the Catacombs of Rome and elsewhere, and setting up tablets with verse inscriptions composed by himself, several of which survive or are recorded in his Epigrammata.

He died  in 384.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

December 8: Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Class I


From Ineffabilis Deus, the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX on the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 1854):

 "We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."

Some of the reasoning leading up to the definition:

"God ineffable -- whose ways are mercy and truth, whose will is omnipotence itself, and whose wisdom "reaches from end to end mightily, and orders all things sweetly" -- having foreseen from all eternity the lamentable wretchedness of the entire human race which would result from the sin of Adam, decreed, by a plan hidden from the centuries, to complete the first work of his goodness by a mystery yet more wondrously sublime through the Incarnation of the Word. This he decreed in order that man who, contrary to the plan of Divine Mercy had been led into sin by the cunning malice of Satan, should not perish; and in order that what had been lost in the first Adam would be gloriously restored in the Second Adam. From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so lover her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully.


SUPREME REASON FOR THE PRIVILEGE: THE DIVINE MATERNITY

And indeed it was wholly fitting that so wonderful a mother should be ever resplendent with the glory of most sublime holiness and so completely free from all taint of original sin that she would triumph utterly over the ancient serpent. To her did the Father will to give his only-begotten Son -- the Son whom, equal to the Father and begotten by him, the Father loves from his heart -- and to give this Son in such a way that he would be the one and the same common Son of God the Father and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was she whom the Son himself chose to make his Mother and it was from her that the Holy Spirit willed and brought it about that he should be conceived and born from whom he himself proceeds.[1]

LITURGICAL ARGUMENT

The Catholic Church, directed by the Holy Spirit of God, is the pillar and base of truth and has ever held as divinely revealed and as contained in the deposit of heavenly revelation this doctrine concerning the original innocence of the august Virgin -- a doctrine which is so perfectly in harmony with her wonderful sanctity and preeminent dignity as Mother of God -- and thus has never ceased to explain, to teach and to foster this doctrine age after age in many ways and by solemn acts. From this very doctrine, flourishing and wondrously propagated in the Catholic world through the efforts and zeal of the bishops, was made very clear by the Church when she did not hesitate to present for the public devotion and veneration of the faithful the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin.[2] By this most significant fact, the Church made it clear indeed that the conception of Mary is to be venerated as something extraordinary, wonderful, eminently holy, and different from the conception of all other human beings -- for the Church celebrates only the feast days of the saints.

And hence the very words with which the Sacred Scriptures speak of Uncreated Wisdom and set forth his eternal origin, the Church, both in its ecclesiastical offices and in its liturgy, has been wont to apply likewise to the origin of the Blessed Virgin, inasmuch as God, by one and the same decree, had established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom.

ORDINARY TEACHING OF THE ROMAN CHURCH

These truths, so generally accepted and put into practice by the faithful, indicate how zealously the Roman Church, mother and teacher of all Churches, has continued to teach this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. Yet the more important actions of the Church deserve to be mentioned in detail. For such dignity and authority belong to the Church that she alone is the center of truth and of Catholic unity. It is the Church in which alone religion has been inviolably preserved and from which all other Churches must receive the tradition of the Faith.[3]

The same Roman Church, therefore, desired nothing more than by the most persuasive means to state, to protect, to promote and to defend the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This fact is most clearly shown to the whole world by numerous and significant acts of the Roman Pontiffs, our predecessors. To them, in the person of the Prince of the Apostles, were divinely entrusted by Christ our Lord, the charge and supreme care and the power of feeding the lambs and sheep; in particular, of confirming their brethren, and of ruling and governing the universal Church.

VENERATION OF THE IMMACULATE

Our predecessors, indeed, by virtue of their apostolic authority, gloried in instituting the Feast of the Conception in the Roman Church. They did so to enhance its importance and dignity by a suitable Office and Mass, whereby the prerogative of the Virgin, her exception from the hereditary taint, was most distinctly affirmed. As to the homage already instituted, they spared no effort to promote and to extend it either by the granting of indulgences, or by allowing cities, provinces and kingdoms to choose as their patroness God's own Mother, under the title of "The Immaculate Conception." Again, our predecessors approved confraternities, congregations and religious communities founded in honor of the Immaculate Conception, monasteries, hospitals, altars, or churches; they praised persons who vowed to uphold with all their ability the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. Besides, it afforded the greatest joy to our predecessors to ordain that the Feast of the Conception should be celebrated in every church with the very same honor as the Feast of the Nativity; that it should be celebrated with an octave by the whole Church; that it should be reverently and generally observed as a holy day of obligation; and that a pontifical Capella should be held in our Liberian pontifical basilica on the day dedicated to the conception of the Virgin. Finally, in their desire to impress this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God upon the hearts of the faithful, and to intensify the people's piety and enthusiasm for the homage and the veneration of the Virgin conceived without the stain of original sin, they delighted to grant, with the greatest pleasure, permission to proclaim the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin in the Litany of Loreto, and in the Preface of the Mass, so that the rule of prayer might thus serve to illustrate the rule of belief. Therefore, we ourselves, following the procedure of our predecessors, have not only approved and accepted what had already been established, but bearing in mind, moreover, the decree of Sixtus IV, [4] have confirmed by our authority a proper Office in honor of the Immaculate Conception, and have with exceeding joy extended its use to the universal Church.[5]

THE ROMAN DOCTRINE

Now inasmuch as whatever pertains to sacred worship is intimately connected with its object and cannot have either consistency or durability if this object is vague or uncertain, our predecessors, the Roman Pontiffs, therefore, while directing all their efforts toward an increase of the devotion to the conception, made it their aim not only to emphasize the object with the utmost zeal, but also to enunciate the exact doctrine.[6] Definitely and clearly they taught that the feast was held in honor of the conception of the Virgin. They denounced as false and absolutely foreign to the mind of the Church the opinion of those who held and affirmed that it was not the conception of the Virgin but her sanctification that was honored by the Church. They never thought that greater leniency should be extended toward those who, attempting to disprove the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, devised a distinction between the first and second instance of conception and inferred that the conception which the Church celebrates was not that of the first instance of conception but the second. In fact, they held it was their duty not only to uphold and defend with all their power the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin but also to assert that the true object of this veneration was her conception considered in its first instant. Hence the words of one of our predecessors, Alexander VII, who authoritatively and decisively declared the mind of the Church: "Concerning the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, ancient indeed is that devotion of the faithful based on the belief that her soul, in the first instant of its creation and in the first instant of the soul's infusion into the body, was, by a special grace and privilege of God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, her Son and the Redeemer of the human race, preserved free from all stain of original sin. And in this sense have the faithful ever solemnized and celebrated the Feast of the Conception."[7]

Moreover, our predecessors considered it their special solemn duty with all diligence, zeal, and effort to preserve intact the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. For, not only have they in no way ever allowed this doctrine to be censured or changed, but they have gone much further and by clear statements repeatedly asserted that the doctrine by which we profess the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin is on its own merits entirely in harmony with the ecclesiastical veneration; that it is ancient and widespread, and of the same nature as that which the Roman Church has undertaken to promote and to protect, and that it is entirely worthy to be used in the Sacred Liturgy and solemn prayers. Not content with this they most strictly prohibited any opinion contrary to this doctrine to be defended in public or private in order that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin might remain inviolate. By repeated blows they wished to put an end to such an opinion. And lest these oft-repeated and clearest statements seem useless, they added a sanction to them...."

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

December 7: St Ambrose, Class III


Saint Ambrose (340-397), was bishop of Milan, and is a doctor of the Church. 

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience on the saint in October 2007:

"Holy Bishop Ambrose - about whom I shall speak to you today - died in Milan in the night between 3 and 4 April 397. It was dawn on Holy Saturday. The day before, at about five o'clock in the afternoon, he had settled down to pray, lying on his bed with his arms wide open in the form of a cross. Thus, he took part in the solemn Easter Triduum, in the death and Resurrection of the Lord. "We saw his lips moving", said Paulinus, the faithful deacon who wrote his Life at St Augustine's suggestion, "but we could not hear his voice". The situation suddenly became dramatic. Honoratus, Bishop of Vercelli, who was assisting Ambrose and was sleeping on the upper floor, was awoken by a voice saying again and again, "Get up quickly! Ambrose is dying...". "Honoratus hurried downstairs", Paulinus continues, "and offered the Saint the Body of the Lord. As soon as he had received and swallowed it, Ambrose gave up his spirit, taking the good Viaticum with him. His soul, thus refreshed by the virtue of that food, now enjoys the company of Angels" (Life, 47). On that Holy Friday 397, the wide open arms of the dying Ambrose expressed his mystical participation in the death and Resurrection of the Lord. This was his last catechesis: in the silence of the words, he continued to speak with the witness of his life.

Ambrose was not old when he died. He had not even reached the age of 60, since he was born in about 340 A.D. in Treves, where his father was Prefect of the Gauls. His family was Christian.

Upon his father's death while he was still a boy, his mother took him to Rome and educated him for a civil career, assuring him a sound instruction in rhetoric and jurisprudence. In about 370 he was sent to govern the Provinces of Emilia and Liguria, with headquarters in Milan. It was precisely there that the struggle between orthodox and Arians was raging and became particularly heated after the death of the Arian Bishop Auxentius. Ambrose intervened to pacify the members of the two opposing factions; his authority was such that although he was merely a catechumen, the people acclaimed him Bishop of Milan.

Until that moment, Ambrose had been the most senior magistrate of the Empire in northern Italy. Culturally well-educated but at the same time ignorant of the Scriptures, the new Bishop briskly began to study them. From the works of Origen, the indisputable master of the "Alexandrian School", he learned to know and to comment on the Bible. Thus, Ambrose transferred to the Latin environment the meditation on the Scriptures which Origen had begun, introducing in the West the practice of lectio divina. The method of lectio served to guide all of Ambrose's preaching and writings, which stemmed precisely from prayerful listening to the Word of God. The famous introduction of an Ambrosian catechesis shows clearly how the holy Bishop applied the Old Testament to Christian life: "Every day, when we were reading about the lives of the Patriarchs and the maxims of the Proverbs, we addressed morality", the Bishop of Milan said to his catechumens and neophytes, "so that formed and instructed by them you may become accustomed to taking the path of the Fathers and to following the route of obedience to the divine precepts" (On the Mysteries 1, 1). In other words, the neophytes and catechumens, in accordance with the Bishop's decision, after having learned the art of a well-ordered life, could henceforth consider themselves prepared for Christ's great mysteries. Thus, Ambrose's preaching - which constitutes the structural nucleus of his immense literary opus - starts with the reading of the Sacred Books ("the Patriarchs" or the historical Books and "Proverbs", or in other words, the Wisdom Books) in order to live in conformity with divine Revelation.

It is obvious that the preacher's personal testimony and the level of exemplarity of the Christian community condition the effectiveness of the preaching. In this perspective, a passage from St Augustine's Confessions is relevant. He had come to Milan as a teacher of rhetoric; he was a sceptic and not Christian. He was seeking the Christian truth but was not capable of truly finding it.

What moved the heart of the young African rhetorician, sceptic and downhearted, and what impelled him to definitive conversion was not above all Ambrose's splendid homilies (although he deeply appreciated them). It was rather the testimony of the Bishop and his Milanese Church that prayed and sang as one intact body. It was a Church that could resist the tyrannical ploys of the Emperor and his mother, who in early 386 again demanded a church building for the Arians' celebrations. In the building that was to be requisitioned, Augustine relates, "the devout people watched, ready to die with their Bishop". This testimony of the Confessions is precious because it points out that something was moving in Augustine, who continues: "We too, although spiritually tepid, shared in the excitement of the whole people" (Confessions 9, 7).

Augustine learned from the life and example of Bishop Ambrose to believe and to preach. We can refer to a famous sermon of the African, which centuries later merited citation in the conciliar Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum: "Therefore, all clerics, particularly priests of Christ and others who, as deacons or catechists, are officially engaged in the ministry of the Word", Dei Verbum recommends, "should immerse themselves in the Scriptures by constant sacred reading and diligent study. For it must not happen that anyone becomes" - and this is Augustine's citation - ""an empty preacher of the Word of God to others, not being a hearer of the Word in his own heart'" (n. 25). Augustine had learned precisely from Ambrose how to "hear in his own heart" this perseverance in reading Sacred Scripture with a prayerful approach, so as truly to absorb and assimilate the Word of God in one's heart.

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like further to propose to you a sort of "patristic icon", which, interpreted in the light of what we have said, effectively represents "the heart" of Ambrosian doctrine. In the sixth book of the Confessions, Augustine tells of his meeting with Ambrose, an encounter that was indisputably of great importance in the history of the Church. He writes in his text that whenever he went to see the Bishop of Milan, he would regularly find him taken up with catervae of people full of problems for whose needs he did his utmost. There was always a long queue waiting to talk to Ambrose, seeking in him consolation and hope. When Ambrose was not with them, with the people (and this happened for the space of the briefest of moments), he was either restoring his body with the necessary food or nourishing his spirit with reading. Here Augustine marvels because Ambrose read the Scriptures with his mouth shut, only with his eyes (cf. Confessions, 6, 3). Indeed, in the early Christian centuries reading was conceived of strictly for proclamation, and reading aloud also facilitated the reader's understanding. That Ambrose could scan the pages with his eyes alone suggested to the admiring Augustine a rare ability for reading and familiarity with the Scriptures. Well, in that "reading under one's breath", where the heart is committed to achieving knowledge of the Word of God - this is the "icon" to which we are referring -, one can glimpse the method of Ambrosian catechesis; it is Scripture itself, intimately assimilated, which suggests the content to proclaim that will lead to the conversion of hearts.

Thus, with regard to the magisterium of Ambrose and of Augustine, catechesis is inseparable from witness of life. What I wrote on the theologian in the Introduction to Christianity might also be useful to the catechist. An educator in the faith cannot risk appearing like a sort of clown who recites a part "by profession". Rather - to use an image dear to Origen, a writer who was particularly appreciated by Ambrose -, he must be like the beloved disciple who rested his head against his Master's heart and there learned the way to think, speak and act. The true disciple is ultimately the one whose proclamation of the Gospel is the most credible and effective.

Like the Apostle John, Bishop Ambrose - who never tired of saying: "Omnia Christus est nobis! To us Christ is all!" - continues to be a genuine witness of the Lord. Let us thus conclude our Catechesis with his same words, full of love for Jesus: "Omnia Christus est nobis! If you have a wound to heal, he is the doctor; if you are parched by fever, he is the spring; if you are oppressed by injustice, he is justice; if you are in need of help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire Heaven, he is the way; if you are in the darkness, he is light.... Taste and see how good is the Lord: blessed is the man who hopes in him!" (De Virginitate, 16, 99). Let us also hope in Christ. We shall thus be blessed and shall live in peace."

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

December 6: St Nicholas, Memorial



C14th De Grey Hours
National Library of Wales
Saint Nicholas (270–346) was Bishop of Myra (part of modern-day Turkey).

He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose English name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas.

In 1087, his relics were translated to Bari, in southeastern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari.

The reading on the saint in the Roman Office is as follows:
Nicolas was born in the famous city of Patar in Lycia. From his childhood he fasted every Wednesday and Friday, and maintained this custom throughout his life. Deprived of his parents in early youth, he distributed his possessions to the poor. One example of his marvelous charity is this: he came to the aid of three girls whose virtue was endangered by providing a sum of money sufficient for their dowries. While on a pilgrimage to Palestine, he went on God’s command to Mira, the metropolitan see of Lycia, where the bishop had died. Here, contrary to all expectation he was elected to the see by a marvelous consensus of all the assembled bishops of the province. In the work of his episcopate he stood out as an example of all virtues. But when he defied the edict of Diocletian and Maximian by continuing to preach the truth of the Christian faith, he was thrown into prison, where he remained until Constantine became Emperor. He took part in the Council of Nicea, at which the Arian heresy was condemned. Returning to his own country, he died a holy death in Mira. His body transferred to Bari in Apulia and is there venerated as a most famous relic.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

December 3: S Francis Xavier, Memorial


Saint Francis Xavier (1506 – 1552) was a missionary and was co-founder of the Society of Jesus. 

He was a student of Saint Ignatius Loyola and one of the first seven Jesuits who dedicated themselves to the service of God at Montmartre in 1534.  He led an extensive mission into Asia, mainly in the Asian Portuguese Empire of the time. He was influential in the spreading and upkeep of Catholicism most notably in India, but also ventured into Japan, Borneo, the Moluccas, and other areas which had thus far not been visited by Christian missionaries.   He died in China...

He is said to have converted more people than anyone else has done since Saint Paul. By his compromises in India with the Christians of St. Thomas, he developed the Jesuit missionary methods along lines that subsequently became a successful blueprint for his order to follow. His efforts left a significant impression upon the missionary history of India and, as one of the first Jesuit missionaries to the East Indies, his work is of fundamental significance to Christians in the propagation of Christianity in China and Japan. India still has numerous Jesuit missions, and many more schools. There has been less of an impact in Japan. Following the persecutions of Daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the subsequent closing of Japan to foreigners, the Christians of Japan were forced to go underground and developed an independent Christian culture.

Pope Benedict XVI said of both Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier: "not only their history which was interwoven for many years from Paris and Rome, but a unique desire — a unique passion, it could be said — moved and sustained them through different human events: the passion to give to God-Trinity a glory always greater and to work for the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ to the peoples who had been ignored."

Friday, December 2, 2016

December 2: St Peter Chrysologus, Memorial


St Peter Chrysologus, circa 380 – 450, was Bishop of Ravenna from about AD 433. 

He is a Doctor of the Church. 

According to the Wikipedia:

"Peter was born in Imola, where he was ordained a deacon by Cornelius, Bishop of Imola. He was made an archdeacon through the influence of Emperor Valentinian III. Pope Sixtus III appointed Peter to the See of Ravenna in about the year 433, apparently rejecting the candidate elected by the people of the city. The traditional account, as recorded in the Roman Breviary, is that Sixtus had a vision of St. Peter and St. Apollinaris, the first bishops of Rome and Ravenna respectively, who showed Sixtus a young man and said he was the next Bishop of Ravenna. When the group from Ravenna arrived, including Cornelius and his archdeacon Peter from Imola, Sixtus recognized Peter as the young man in his vision and consecrated him as a bishop.

Known as The Doctor of Homilies, Peter was known for his short but inspired talks; he is said to have been afraid of boring his audience. After hearing his first homily as bishop, Empress Galla Placidia is said to have given him the surname Chrysologus, by which he is known. Galla Placidia was to become the patroness of many of Peter's projects. Peter spoke against the Arian and Monophysite teachings, condemning them as heresies, and explained topics such as the Apostles' Creed, John the Baptist, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the mystery of the Incarnation, in simple and clear language. Peter advocated daily reception of Holy Communion. He urged his listeners to have confidence in the forgiveness offered through Christ.

He was a counsellor of Pope Leo I. The monophysite Eutyches appealed to Peter to intervene with the pope on his behalf after he was denounced at a synod held in Constantinople in 448. The text of Peter's letter in response to Eutyches has been preserved in the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon; in it, Peter admonishes Eutyches to accept the ruling of the synod and to give obedience to the Bishop of Rome as the successor of Saint Peter."

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

St Andrew (Nov 30)


St Andrew was the first-called of the apostles and the brother of St Peter.

Here is Pope Benedict XVI's catechesis on the saint from a General Audience given in 2006:

"...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, 2016

Blessed Richard Whiting OSB and Companions (Nov 29)

The ruins of Glastonbury Abbey

In some places today is the feast of Blessed Richard Whiting and companions, martyred under Henry VIII of England.

Blessed Richard was abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, and one of the few churchman to stand up against Henry VIII's destruction of the English Church.

Blessed Richard Whiting was appointed abbot in 1525, and the first ten years of Whiting's rule were prosperous and peaceful. He was a sober and caring spiritual leader and a good manager of the abbey's day-to-day life. Contemporary accounts show that Whiting was held in very high esteem.

Attempts to find excuses to close the abbey failed, and the abbot stood in the way of its dissolution.  He was hung, drawn and quartered without proper trial along with two of his monks in 1539.

St Saturninus (November 29)



Saint Saturninus of Toulouse was, according to the early Acts of his life used by Gregory of Tours, one of the 72 disciples of Christ, and was consecrated bishop by St Peter.

According to his legend, in order to reach his church Saturninus had to pass before the capitol where there was a pagan altar.  The pagan priests ascribed the silence of their oracles to the frequent presence of Saturninus, and one day they seized him and on his unshakeable refusal to sacrifice to the images they condemned him to be tied by the feet to a bull which dragged him about the town until the rope broke.

The site, said to be "where the bull stopped" is on the rue du Taur ("Street of the Bull"). The street with the Mithraic name is one of the original Roman cross streets running straight from the Capitole now to the Romanesque basilica honoring St. Saturnin ("St Sernin").

Saturday, November 26, 2016

St Sylvester OSB (Nov 26)




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.