Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Getting ready for Lent Pt 2 - Suggestions for reading and prayer

Yesterday I posted the relevant sections of the Rule of St Benedict on Lent.

Today I thought I'd post a few concrete suggestions for implementing St Benedict's regime for those who haven't already settled on a Lenten regime.

1.  Reading a book right through.

As I noted yesterday, in a monastery each monk or nun is traditionally assigned a book to read from beginning to end during Lent.  Some have argued that St Benedict probably meant a book of the Bible in chapter 48, but I don't see any reason to take that view - monastic libraries then as now contained a lot more than just Scripture!  The ideal is to have your spiritual director assign a book to you.  But failing that, you could ask for help from your guardian angel by way of making a choice.

Personally I tend to alternate my Lent's between rereading one of the great spiritual classics, and reading something new.

So if you have a personal library you can draw on including both books you've kept to reread, and maybe some you've been meaning to get around to, now is a good time to take a look at it again!  If not though, there are many fantastic options available on the net, and an excellent starting place in my view is New Advent Fathers, where you can find a dizzying array of suitable classics, such as St Augustine's Confessions, St Athanasius' Life of St Antony or Sulpicius Severus' Life of St Martin.

My own (highly selective and eclectic) list of classics to revisit each year:

  • in the Eastern Church, monks traditionally reread one of St Benedict's near contemporaries, St John Climacus' (579-606) Ladder of Divine Ascent, and its a great work for all of us;   
  • Walter Hilton (d c1395), The Scale of Perfection, a classic of the English mystical tradition that includes other works well worth rereading such as the Ancrene Riwle, Cloud of Unknowing and the works of Julian of Norwich and Richard Rolle
  • the Devotions of Dame Gertrude More (descendant of St Thomas, 1604-1633), an extremely hard to obtain gem, meditations of a nun who helped re-establish the English Benedictines on the continent;
  • Dom Columba Marmion, Christ the Ideal of the Monk; and
  • St John Cassian's Conferences and Institutes.
This year however I personally plan to read Volume 1 of St Gregory the Great's commentary on Job (Moralia in Job), since a kind reader gifted the set to me, and I'm currently extremely interested in the debate on St Gregory the Great's contribution of the Benedictine charism, and the saints' own spirituality.

2.  Applying ourselves to prayer

St Benedict also suggests, in chapter 49, that we offer something more by way of private prayer.

Good options for this, in my view, include:
 3.  Fasting and abstinence

I've previously written on the Rule's provisions here.  What you can do in this area will obviously depend on your own circumstances, however, I thought that you might find a few comments by one of St Benedict's contemporaries, St Fulgentius of Ruspe useful, as they seem to me to be entirely in line with St Benedict's own approach.  In a letter to a Roman consecrated virgin named Proba (probably the sister-in-law of St Boethius) he said:
....moderation must be used in the matter of fasts in such a way that neither satiety stirs up our body nor immoderate lack of food weakens it.  Let a meal of such a kind follow a virgin's fast that it neither entices the body with its pleasantness nor inflames it with satiety.  Alms for the poor are diminished by pleasantness; the body is made bellicose by satiety.  Then what is owed to brothers is devoured; here assistance is furnished to the enemy.  For us who wish to seduce the lust of glutony with a variety of flavors, pleasure consumes what the poor man ought to receive.  Accordingly let neither weakness usurp nor satiety do away with fasting.  Each one is at the service of our adversaries because one removes the usefulness of the fast that precedes, the other obstructs the possibility of the subsequent fast.  Satiety brings it about that we fast to no purpose; weakness brings it about that we are unable to fast. (Trans Robert B Eno, in Fulgentius Selected Works, The Fathers of the Church vol 95)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Getting ready for Lent...

As Lent starts this Wednesday I thought now might be a good time to remind you of the provisions relating to Lent in the Rule of St Benedict.  There are two key ones, relating to reading a book right through (chapter 48) and offering something by way of extra asceticism.

St Benedict, of course, wants whatever is offered to be approved by the Abbot, who also traditionally assigns the book to be read during the season.

The approval of a superior or spiritual director, though, isn't always possible these days, so you may need to be guided by general principles, such as Benedictine moderation, and the importance of picking something that you can persevere with, rather than attempting to be over-ambitious.

I will post some suggestions on books and prayers tomorrow.


THE life of a monk ought at all times to be Lenten in its character; but since few have the strength for that, we therefore urge that in these days of Lent the brethren should lead lives of great purity, and should also in this sacred season expiate the negligences of other times.

This will be worthily done if we refrain from all sin and apply ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and to abstinence.

In these days, therefore, let us add something to the wonted measure of our service, such as private prayers and abstinence in food and drink.

Let each one, over and above the measure prescribed for him, offer to God something of his own free will in the joy of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, let him stint himself of food, drink, sleep, talk and jesting, and look forward with the joy of spiritual longing to the holy feast of Easter.

Let each one, however, tell his abbot what he is offering, and let it be done with his consent and
blessing; because what is done without the permission of the spiritual father shall be reckoned as presumption and vainglory and not as merit. Everything, therefore, is to be done with the approval of the abbot.


...In the days of Lent let them apply themselves to their reading from the morning until the end of the third hour, and from then until the end of the tenth hour let them perform the work that is assigned to
them. In these days of Lent let them each receive a book from the library, which they shall read right through from the beginning; let these books be given out at the beginning of Lent.

Friday, February 24, 2017

St Matthias (Feb 24)

St Matthias was of course the apostle elected to replace Judas.  The readings for the second Nocturn, by St Augustine, go to the importance of having twelve apostles:

Reading 5: Her foundation is in the holy mountains the Lord loveth the gates of Zion. Wherefore hath the city twelve foundations, and in them the names of the Prophets and of the Apostles of the Lamb? Because their authority is the foundation whereon our weakness resteth. Wherefore are they the gates? Because through them we enter in unto the kingdom of God, since they have preached the same unto us, and when we enter in through their preaching, we enter in by Christ, Who is Himself The Door. John x. 7. And, whereas it is written that the city hath twelve gates, and, again, that Christ is the one Door, Christ is all the twelve, for He is in all the twelve and therefore were twelve Apostles chosen.

Reading 6: There lieth a great mystery in the signification of this number twelve: Ye shall sit, said the Lord upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.If then there be set there twelve thrones of judgment, Ps. cxxi. 5, Paul, in that he is the thirteenth Apostle, hath not where to sit, nor wherein to judge. Nevertheless, he hath said of himself that he will judge not men only, but angels. Know ye not, saith he, that we shall judge angels? i Cor. vi. 3, that is, the fallen angels. Then might they have answered him Wherefore boastest thou thyself to be a judge? For where is thy seat? The Lord hath said that for the twelve Apostles there shall be twelve thrones one of the twelve, even Judas, is indeed fallen, but holy Matthias is chosen into his place; for the twelve thrones there are still twelve to sit thereon first find whereon thou shalt sit, and afterward give thyself out for a judge.

Reading 7: Let us see, then, what is the meaning of these twelve thrones. By them is signified in a mystery the whole world, since the Church shall be through all the earth, whence this building is called to be built up together in Christ.Therefore is it said that there shall be twelve thrones, because from all quarters shall there come men to be judged; even as it is said that the city hath twelve gates, because from all quarters shall the nations of them which are saved, enter into it.

Reading 8: So, not the twelve only, and the Apostle Paul, but all, as many as shall judge, have part in these twelve thrones, this signifying, that they shall judge all men; even as all that enter into the city, have part in her twelve gates. For there are four quarters of the world, the East, and the West, and the North, and the South of which four quarters is mention often made in the Scriptures. From the four winds shall the elect be gathered together, as saith the Lord in the Gospel And He shall send His Angels with a great sound of a trumpet; and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matth. xxiv. 31. From the four winds, therefore, is the Church called together; and how are they called? Everywhere are they called in the Trinity; for they are called no otherwise than by baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Matth. xxvii. 19. Now four being multiplied by three is twelve.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Feast of the Chair of St Peter (Feb 22)

Today's feast combines what were, until 1960, two separate feasts, namely of St Peter as bishop of Antioch, and St Peter as bishop of Rome.

The readings at Matins for today's feast are as follows:

Reading 1: Lesson from the first letter of St Peter the Apostle: Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers dispersed through Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect. According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, unto the sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you and peace be multiplied. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy hath regenerated us unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, Unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that can not fade, reserved in heaven for you, Who, by the power of God, are kept by faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.

Reading 2: Wherein you shall greatly rejoice, if now you must be for a little time made sorrowful in divers temptations: That the trial of your faith much more precious than gold which is tried by the fire) may be found unto praise and glory and honour at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, you love: in whom also now, though you see him not, you believe: and believing shall rejoice with joy unspeakable and glorified; Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

Reading 3: (Sermon of St Leo): For when the twelve Apostles, after receiving through the Holy Ghost the power of speaking with all tongues, had distributed the world into parts among themselves, and undertaken to instruct it in the Gospel, the most blessed Peter, chief of the Apostolic band, was appointed to the citadel of the Roman empire, that the light of Truth which was being displayed for the salvation of all the nations, might spread itself more effectively throughout the body of the world from the head itself. You had already taught the people, who from the number of the circumcised had believed: you had already founded the Church at Antioch, where first the dignity of the Christian name arose: you had already instructed Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, in the laws of the Gospel-message: and, without doubt as to the success of the work, with full knowledge of the short span of your life carried the trophy of Christ's cross into the citadel of Rome, whither by the Divine fore-ordaining there accompanied you the honour of great power and the glory of much suffering.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

St Antoinine of Sorrento OSB (14 February)

Today the martyrology remembers St Antoinine, an abbot who probably lived in the ninth century. 

According to the Wikipedia, he was born at Campagna, he left his native town to become a monk at Monte Cassino.

"During that time, Italy was suffering from barbarian invasions and Antoninus was forced to leave this monastery. Monte Cassino had been plundered by the Lombards and the monks escaped to Rome to seek protection from Pope Pelagius II. Antoninus, however, headed for Campania where he ended up at Castellammare di Stabia. Here Saint Catellus (San Catello) was bishop. Catellus, wishing to become a hermit, gave up his office as bishop and entrusted Antoninus with the task of serving as the town's bishop. Catellus withdrew to Monte Aureo.

The desire to remain a hermit himself led Antoninus to convince Catellus to return to his see. Antoninus retired to Monte Aureo himself and lived in a natural grotto. However, Catellus again decided to withdraw to this mountain and dedicate himself only sporadically to the cares of his diocese.

An apparition of Saint Michael is said to have convinced the two to construct the stone church now known as Monte San Angelo or Punta San Michele.

Subsequently, Catellus was accused of witchcraft by a priest named Tibeius (Tibeio) of Stabia and was held captive at Rome until a new pope released him. Catellus returned to Stabia and dedicated himself to expanding the church that he had helped found.

Inhabitants of Sorrento, meanwhile, convinced Antoninus to settle at Sorrento. Antoninus became an abbot of the Benedictine monastery of San Agrippino, succeeding Boniface (Bonifacio) in this capacity.

A miracle attributed to Saint Antoninus states that he saved a young child from a whale after it had been swallowed up by this sea creature. The sorrentini erected a crypt and basilica in honor of Antoninus. He was credited with saving the city from many dangers: a Moorish naval invasion; the revolt of the Sorrento leader Giovanni Grillo against Spanish domination; demonic possession; bubonic plague; and cholera."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The season of Septuagesima

Septuagesima Sunday marks the start of the 'pre-Lenten' or 'Shrovetide' season.

Septuagesimatide comprises of three Sundays, named for their distance from Easter:
  • the week of Septuagesima;
  • the week of Sexagesima; and
  • Quinquagesima Sunday and the Monday and (Shrove) Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
Septuagesimatide is a post-St Benedict addition to the calendar (one of the Gregorian reforms), hence the inconsistency between the rubrics, which banish the Alleluia for this period, and St Benedict's own prescriptions for the use of the Alleluia in the Rule in Chapter 15.

This little warm-up season is intended to help us ease us into Lenten mode, and so is a good time to start thinking about what book to choose as spiritual reading for Lent, and what penances you plan to adopt.

The key features of the Office for the Season of Septuagesimatide are:

  • the Alleluia is solemnly 'buried' with extra Alleluias added to the close of the Office of I Vespers of Septuagesima Sunday and thereafter the Alleluia is no longer used in the Office;
  • in the opening prayers of the Office the alleluia is replaced by 'Laus tibi Domine, Rex aeternae gloriae';
  • at Matins, the Alleluias used as antiphons are replaced, on weekdays by three antiphons to be found in the psalter, and on Sundays be an antiphon for the third nocturn to be found in the temporale; 
  • On Sundays Matins has an invitatory specific to the season (Preoccupemus); and 
  • at Vespers, there are daily antiphons for the Magnificat.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

February 11: St Benedict of Aniane

St Benedict of Aniane (747 – 821) was the great codifier of monastic practice and rules under the Carolingian Empire, and is often credited with mandating of the use of the Rule of St Benedict among monks.

Friday, February 10, 2017

February 10:St Scholastica, Class I/II

St Scholastica (c480-543) was the twin sister of St Benedict.  She originally set up a monastery at Subiaco, and followed her brother when he moved to Monte Cassino, at the nearby monastery of Plumbariola.

Most of the information we have about her comes from St Gregory's Dialogues, including the story of their famous last day together, depicted in the painting above.  You can read the relevant parts of St Gregory on her here.  St Gregory depicts her as outdoing her brother in holiness, and providing a charismatic counter to his insistence on following the rules to the letter!

Her feast is celebrated as a Class I by Benedictine nuns, in part because, as well as attesting to the tradition of twinned monasteries, she also lends support for the fact that originally at least, Benedictine nuns were not established as a "second Order", with stricter enclosure requirements than for men as for later Orders, but rather the provisions of the Rule generally apply equally to both monks and nuns. Indeed, there is a nice letter (which may be a later medieval pious fraud, but nonetheless attests to the point) attributed to St Scholastica on this very point, which you can read over at Vultus Christi.

A Song about St Scholastica

Finally, from the Monastic matrix project, courtesy of Logismoi, a song by St Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne (c 639-709):

Scholastica took her very name from schola,
God enriches her abundantly with heavenly favour,
She who gained golden rewards by her virginal vow.

Concerning whom a little twig of nourishing life
is wont to scatter excellence
as widely as the world extends.

Because the virgin impatiently urges her brother
who is joined to her by a covenant of kinship,
and supports her pleas with reasoned argument

So that, at night, they might partake
of the sweet courses of the holy books
and the banquets of the holy word.
From which the breasts of many
are sufficiently filled,

And the hearts of holy people nourished.
But the faithful brother is not moved by any pleas,
Nay rather he disdains his holy sister in his words.
Then the virgin urged the good Christ in her heart
to deign to heal the wound of sorrow for her.

Thus soon the whole sky grows dark
with a stormy whirlwind
and the vault of the heaven with gloomy air.
Huge rumbling thunder,
mingled with flashing lightning bolts,

And the Earth quaked,
trembling from the great noise.
Wet fleecy clouds moisten it with dewy drops,
And the air bedews the land with gloomy showers.
The valleys are filled
and abundant streams overflow,

Then unwillingly he remained
who before had deliberately refused
what his distressed and weeping sister had sought.
So God heeds those who ask with burning heart,
Even when they pay attention to words
which do not console.

(translated by Mary Forman, OSB, and originally published in Vox Benedictiana, 1990)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

St Romuald OSB (Feb 7)

Fra Angelico ca1440
Today is the feast of St Romuald (950-1027), founder of the Camaldolese Congregation of Benedictines.  The Martyrology says:

"St. Romuald, founder of the Camaldolese monks, whose birthday is the 19th of June, but celebrated today because of the transference of his body."

Butler's Lives of the Saints sets out his life as follows:

"IN 976, Sergius, a nobleman of Ravenna, quarrelled with a relative about an estate, and slew him in a duel. His son Romuald, horrified at his father's crime, entered the Benedictine monastery at Classe, to do a forty days’ penance for him. This penance ended in his own vocation to religion. After three years at Classe, Romuald went to live as a hermit near Venice, where he was joined by Peter Urseolus, Duke of Venice, and together they led a most austere life in the midst of assaults from the evil spirits. St. Romuald founded many monasteries, the chief of which was that at Camaldoli, a wild desert place, where he built a church, which he surrounded with a number of separate cells for the solitaries who lived under his rule. His disciples were hence called Camaldolese. He is said to have seen here a vision of a mystic ladder, and his white-clothed monks ascending by it to heaven. Among his first disciples were Sts. Adalbert and Boniface, apostles of Russia, and Sts. John and Benedict of Poland, martyrs for the faith. He was an intimate friend of the Emperor St. Henry, and was reverenced and consulted by many great men of his time. He once passed seven years in solitude and complete silence.

In his youth St. Romuald was much troubled by temptations of the flesh. To escape them he had recourse to hunting, and in the woods first conceived his love for solitude. His father's sin, as we have seen, first prompted him to undertake a forty days' penance in the monastery, which he forthwith made his home. Some bad example of his fellow monks induced him to leave them and adopt the solitary mode of life. The penance of Urseolus, who had obtained his power wrongfully, brought him his first disciple; the temptations of the devil compelled him to his severe life; and finally the persecutions of others were the occasion of his settlement at Camaldoli, and the foundation of his Order. He died, as he had foretold twenty years before, alone, in his monastery of Val Castro, on the 19th of June, 1027.

Reflection.—St. Romuald's life teaches us that, if we only follow the impulse of the Holy Spirit, we shall easily find good everywhere, even on the most unlikely occasions. Our own sins, the sins of others, their ill will against us, or our own mistakes and misfortunes, are equally capable of leading us, with softened hearts, to the feet of God's mercy and love."

Sunday, February 5, 2017

St Agatha (Feb 5)

Here is the Matins reading for St Agatha, today's saint:

Agatha, born in Sicily of noble parents, suffered a glorious martyrdom at Catania In the persecution of the emperor Decius. For when Quintianus, the praetor of Sicily, had vainly tried every means to tempt her from her virginity, he had her arrested as adhering to the Christian superstition. First she was beaten,then tortured on the rack with white hot iron plates laid on her; then one of her. breasts was cut off. Next she was thrown into prison, where St. Peter the Apostle appeared to her by night and healed her. Again called before the praetor she persevered in confessing Christ, and he had her rolled over broken pottery and burning coals. But then a great earthquake violently shook the city, and Ouintianus, afraid of a riot among the people, gave orders that Agatha, now half dead, secretly be taken back to prison. There after a short time she went to heaven on February 5.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

From the (2001) martyrology: St Rabanus Maurus (Feb 4)

St Rabanus supported by Alcuin
dedicates his work to AB Otgar of Mainz
Manuscript circa 831-40
Today is the feast of an important but still rather neglected Benedictine saint, St Rabanus Maurus, likely author of the Veni Creator.

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience on him in 2009:

"Today I would like to speak of a truly extraordinary figure of the Latin West: Rabanus Maurus, a monk. Together with men such as Isidore of Seville, the Venerable Bede and Ambrose Autpert of whom I have already spoken in previous Catecheses, during the centuries of the so-called "High Middle Ages" he was able to preserve the contact with the great culture of the ancient scholars and of the Christian Fathers. Often remembered as the "praeceptor Germaniae", Rabanus Maurus was extraordinarily prolific. With his absolutely exceptional capacity for work, he perhaps made a greater contribution than anyone else to keeping alive that theological, exegetic and spiritual culture on which successive centuries were to draw. He was referred to by great figures belonging to the monastic world such as Peter Damian, Peter the Venerable and Bernard of Clairvaux, as well as by an ever increasing number of "clerics" of the secular clergy who gave life to one of the most beautiful periods of the fruitful flourishing of human thought in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Born in Mainz in about 780, Rabanus entered the monastery at a very early age. He was nicknamed "Maurus" after the young St Maur who, according to Book II of the Dialogues of St Gregory the Great, was entrusted by his parents, Roman nobles, to the Abbot Benedict of Norcia. Alone this precocious insertion of Rabanus as "puer oblatus" in the Benedictine monastic world and the benefits he drew from it for his own human, cultural and spiritual growth, were to provide an interesting glimpse not only of the life of monks and of the Church, but also of the whole of society of his time, usually described as "Carolingian". About them or perhaps about himself, Rabanus Maurus wrote: "There are some who have had the good fortune to be introduced to the knowledge of Scripture from a tender age ("a cunabulis suis") and who were so well-nourished with the food offered to them by Holy Church as to be fit for promotion, with the appropriate training, to the highest of sacred Orders" (PL 107, col. 419 BC).

The extraordinary culture for which Rabanus Maurus was distinguished soon brought him to the attention of the great of his time. He became the advisor of princes. He strove to guarantee the unity of the Empire and, at a broader cultural level, never refused to give those who questioned him a carefully considered reply, which he found preferably in the Bible or in the texts of the Holy Fathers. First elected Abbot of the famous Monastery of Fulda and then appointed Archbishop of Mainz, his native city, this did not stop him from pursuing his studies, showing by the example of his life that it is possible to be at the same time available to others without depriving oneself of the appropriate time for reflection, study and meditation. Thus Rabanus Maurus was exegete, philosopher, poet, pastor and man of God. The Dioceses of Fulda, Mainz, Limburg and Breslau (Wrocław) venerate him as a saint or blessed. His works fill at least six volumes of Migne's Patrologia Latina. It is likely that we are indebted to him for one of the most beautiful hymns known to the Latin Church, the "Veni Creator Spiritus", an extraordinary synthesis of Christian pneumatology. In fact, Rabanus' first theological work is expressed in the form of poetry and had as its subject the mystery of the Holy Cross in a book entitled: "De laudibus Sanctae Crucis", conceived in such a way as to suggest not only a conceptual content but also more exquisitely artistic stimuli, by the use of both poetic and pictorial forms within the same manuscript codex. Suggesting the image of the Crucified Christ between the lines of his writing, he says, for example: "This is the image of the Saviour who, with the position of his limbs, makes sacred for us the most salubrious, gentle and loving form of the Cross, so that by believing in his Name and obeying his commandments we may obtain eternal life thanks to his Passion. However, every time we raise our eyes to the Cross, let us remember the one who died for us to save us from the powers of darkness, accepting death to make us heirs to eternal life" (Lib. 1, fig. 1, PL 107 col. 151 C).

This method of combining all the arts, the intellect, the heart and the senses, which came from the East, was to experience a great development in the West, reaching unparalleled heights in the miniature codices of the Bible and in other works of faith and art that flourished in Europe until the invention of printing and beyond. In Rabanus Maurus, in any case, is shown an extraordinary awareness of the need to involve, in the experience of faith, not only the mind and the heart, but also the senses through those other aspects of aesthetic taste and human sensitivity that lead man to benefit from the truth with his whole self, "mind, soul and body". This is important: faith is not only thought but also touches the whole of our being. Since God became Man in flesh and blood, since he entered the tangible world, we must seek and encounter God in all the dimensions of our being. Thus the reality of God, through faith, penetrates our being and transforms it. This is why Rabanus Maurus focused his attention above all on the Liturgy as a synthesis of all the dimensions of our perception of reality. This intuition of Rabanus Maurus makes it extraordinarily up to date. Also famous among his opus are the "Hymns", suggested for use especially in liturgical celebrations. In fact, since Rabanus was primarily a monk, his interest in the liturgical celebration was taken for granted. However, he did not devote himself to the art of poetry as an end in itself but, rather, used art and every other form of erudition as a means for deepening knowledge of the word of God. He therefore sought with great application and rigour to introduce his contemporaries, especially ministers (Bishops, priests and deacons), to an understanding of the profoundly theological and spiritual meaning of all the elements of the liturgical celebration.

He thus sought to understand and to present to others the theological meanings concealed in the rites, drawing from the Bible and from the tradition of the Fathers. For the sake of honesty and to give greater weight to his explanations, he did not hesitate to indicate the Patristic sources to which he owed his knowledge. Nevertheless he used them with freedom and with careful discernment, continuing the development of patristic thought. At the end of the "Epistola prima", addressed to a "chorbishop" of the Diocese of Mainz, for example, after answering the requests for clarification concerning the behaviour to adopt in the exercise of pastoral responsibility, he continues, "We have written all these things for you as we deduced them from the Sacred Scriptures and the canons of the Fathers. Yet, most holy man, may you take your decisions as you think best, case by case, seeking to temper your evaluation in such a way as to guarantee discretion in all things because it is the mother of all the virtues" (Epistulae, I, PL 112, col. 1510 C). Thus the continuity of the Christian faith which originates in the word of God becomes visible; yet it is always alive, develops and is expressed in new ways, ever consistent with the whole construction, with the whole edifice of faith.

Since an integral part of liturgical celebration is the word of God Rabanus Maurus dedicated himself to it with the greatest commitment throughout his life. He produced appropriate exegetic explanations for almost all the biblical books of the Old and New Testament, with clearly pastoral intentions that he justified with words such as these: "I have written these things... summing up the explanations and suggestions of many others, not only in order to offer a service to the poor reader, who may not have many books at his disposal, but also to make it easier for those who in many things do not succeed in entering in depth into an understanding of the meanings discovered by the Fathers" (Commentariorum in Matthaeum praefatio, PL 107, col. 727 D). In fact, in commenting on the biblical texts he drew amply from the ancient Fathers, with special preference for Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine and Gregory the Great.

His outstanding pastoral sensitivity later led him to occupy himself above all with one of the problems most acutely felt by the faithful and sacred ministers of his time: that of Penance. Indeed, he compiled the "Penitenziari" this is what he called them in which, according to the sensibility of his day, sins and the corresponding punishments were listed, using as far as possible reasons found in the Bible, in the decisions of the Councils and in Papal Decretals. The "Carolingians" also used these texts in their attempt to reform the Church and society. Corresponding with the same pastoral intentions, were works such as "De disciplina ecclesiastica" and "De institutione clericorum", in which, drawing above all from Augustine, Rabanus explained to the simple and to the clergy of his diocese the basic elements of the Christian faith: they were like little catechisms.

I would like to end the presentation of this great "churchman" by quoting some of his words in which his basic conviction is clearly reflected: "Those who are negligent in contemplation ("qui vacare Deo negligit"), deprive themselves of the vision of God's light; then those who let themselves be indiscreetly invaded by worries and allow their thoughts to be overwhelmed by the tumult of worldly things condemn themselves to the absolute impossibility of penetrating the secrets of the invisible God" (Lib I, PL 112, col. 1263 A). I think that Rabanus Maurus is also addressing these words to us today: in periods of work, with its frenetic pace, and in holiday periods we must reserve moments for God. We must open our lives to him, addressing to him a thought, a reflection, a brief prayer, and above all we must not forget Sunday as the Lord's Day, the day of the Liturgy, in order to perceive God's beauty itself in the beauty of our churches, in our sacred music and in the word of God, letting him enter our being. Only in this way does our life become great, become true life."

From the martyrology: St Gilbert of Sempringham (Feb 4)

Today the martyrology records the feast of the founder of England's distinctive double order, the Gilbertines (alas, long since defunct!):

"At Sempringham in England, St. Gilbert, priest and confessor, who founded a religious order at Sempringham."

St Gilbert (1083-1190) founded an order after failing to gain the assistance of the Cistercians for a group of women.  His order included nuns, who followed the Rule of St Benedict with a Cistercian spirituality, supported by lay-sisters, lay brothers, and canons who followed the Rule of St Augustine (to say Mass and provide spiritual direction to the nuns).  By the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, there were 28 houses of the Order in England.

St  Gilbert himself was born at Sempringham, near Bourne in Lincolnshire, the son of the local lord.  There is some evidence that he was physically disabled.  In any case, he studied theology at the University of Paris, and on his return in 1120 he became a clerk in the household of Robert Bloet, Bishop of Lincoln, where he started a school for boys and girls.  He was eventually ordained a priest.

When his father died in 1130 he became lord of the manor of Sempringham, and immediately began using his inherited wealth to fund expansion of the Gilbertines, his new order. Eventually he had a chain of twenty-six convents, monasteries and missions. 

He was imprisoned in 1165 on a charge of aiding Thomas Becket when Thomas had fled from King Henry II after the council of Northampton, but he was eventually found innocent. Then, when he was 90, some of his lay brothers revolted, but he received the backing of Pope Alexander III. Gilbert resigned his office late in life because of blindness and died at Sempringham in about 1190, at the age of 106.

Friday, February 3, 2017

St Blaise (February 3)

St Blaise rates only a commemoration in the Benedictine Office, but his feast is traditionally associated with the sacramental of the blessing of throats, important for those who sing the Office!

Here is a reading from an older form of the Roman Office on the saint:

This Blase was chosen Bishop of the city of Sebaste in Armenia, in which place he enjoyed a great reputation for virtue. When Diocletian began to make the Christians the objects of his insatiable cruelty, the Saint hid himself in a cave on Mount Argasus, where he lay till he was found by some of the soldiers of Agricolaus the President, who were out hunting. He was brought before the President, who commanded him to be thrown into irons. While he was in prison, Blase healed many of the sick, who were brought to him on account of his reputation of saintliness, and among others a boy who had been despaired of by the physicians, and who was at the point of death, from a thorn which had become fixed in his throat. Blase appeared twice before the President, but neither cajolements nor threats could induce him to sacrifice to the gods. He was first beaten with rods, and afterwards put on the rack, where his flesh was mangled with iron combs. At last his head was cut off, whereby he finished a noble testimony to the faith which is in Christ our Lord. He bore witness on the 3rd day of February, (in the year of salvation 316)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Feb 2)

Presentation at the Temple by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, 1342
This feast has acquired several names over the centuries - the Purification of Our Lady; Candlemas Day (for the blessing of candles which takes place before Mass);  and in the Novus Ordo calendar, the Presentation of Our Lord.  It is also set aside as a special day for Consecrated Life in the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI's sermon of 2010 for the feast explains:

"On the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple we are celebrating a mystery of Christ's life linked to the precept of Mosaic Law which prescribed that 40 days after the birth of their first-born child parents should go to the Temple of Jerusalem to offer the infant to the Lord and for the ritual purification of the mother (cf. Ex 13:1-2, 11-16; Lv 12:1-8). Mary and Joseph also fulfilled this rite, offering to comply with the law a couple of turtle doves or pigeons. In giving a deeper interpretation to these things we understand that at this moment it is God himself who is presenting his Only-Begotten Son to humanity through the words of the elderly Simeon and the Prophetess Anna. Simeon, in fact, proclaimed Jesus as the "salvation" of humanity, a "light" for all the nations and a "sign that is spoken against", because he would reveal the thoughts of hearts (cf. Lk 2:29-35). In the East this Feast was called Hypapante, a feast of encounter. In fact, Simeon and Anna, who met Jesus in the Temple and recognized him as the Messiah so long awaited, represent humanity that encounters its Lord in the Church. Subsequently, this Feast also spread to the West, where above all the symbol of light and the procession with candles which gave rise to the term "Candlemas" developed. This visible sign is intended to mean that the Church encounters in faith the One who is "the light of men" and in order to bring this "light" into the world, receives him with the full dynamism of her faith.

In conjunction with this Liturgical Feast, as from 1997, Venerable John Paul II decreed that a special Day of Consecrated Life be celebrated in the whole Church. In fact, the sacrifice of the Son of God symbolized by his presentation in the Temple is the model for every man and woman who consecrate their life totally to the Lord. The purpose of this Day is threefold: first of all to praise and thank the Lord for the gift of consecrated life; secondly to promote knowledge and appreciation of it among the whole People of God and lastly to invite all those who have dedicated their life totally to the cause of the Gospel to celebrate the marvels that the Lord has worked in them. As I thank you for coming here in such numbers, on this Day dedicated particularly to you I would like to greet each one of you with great affection men and women religious and consecrated people and to express to you my cordial closeness and heartfelt appreciation for the good you do at the service of the People of God."

You can read more on this feast from Pope Benedict XVI's 2011 sermon here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

St Ignatius (Feb 1)

The reading from Matins:

Ignatius, chosen to be the second successor of Peter as bishop of Antioch, was accused of being a Christian during Traian's reign and condemned to be sent to the beasts in Rome. As he was being brought from Syria in chains, he kept teaching all the cities of Asia which he went through, exhorting them as a messenger of the Gospel and instructing the more distant ones by his letters.

In one of these letters, which he wrote to the Romans from Smyrna while he was enjoying Polycarp's companionship, among other matters he said this about his own death sentence: "O helpful beasts that are being made ready for me! when will they come? When will they be sent out? When will they be allowed to devour my flesh And I hope that they will be made the more fierce, lest by chance, as has happened in the case of others, they may fear to touch my body. Now I am beginning to be Christ's disciple. Let fire, crosses, beasts, the tearing apart of my limbs, the torment of my whole body and all the sufferings prepared by the devil's art be heaped upon me all at once, if only I may attain Jesus Christ.

When he had arrived in Rome, he heard the lions roaring and, burning with desire for martyrdom, he burst out, "I am the wheat of Christ; let me be ground by the teeth of the beasts so that I may be found pure bread." He suffered in the eleventh year of Trajan's reign.