Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Saint Thomas of Canterbury

The Fifth Day of Christmas, 29 December, is the feast of Saint Thomas, the great twelfth century archbishop of Canterbury. It was on this day, as the Divine Office was being celebrated at Vespers, in the year 1170, that Thomas was approached at the altar by the king's men, and murdered. For this reason, today is celebrated in the Church's liturgy as his birthday.

And here is as good a moment as any to explicate one of the Church's more unusual practices, that of referring to a saint's death day as his birthday. We see this in martyrologies and homilies that go back centuries upon centuries. It is also rooted in the Biblical concepts of birth to new life, and related to similar concepts of awakening. Note, for example, how Saint Luke describes the death of Saint Stephen:

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.

Just consider the contrast. On the one hand there is what even the world sees, namely, that a preacher of the Church is violently stoned to death in a horrific act of murder, the sort of thing the wires today might report as yet another sad incident of "sectarian violence." And on the other hand we have the Church's view, in the pen of Luke, no slouch of a writer, who describes this death as a falling asleep, a mere dormition. Luke is no Platonist. He is a realist. For he knows all too well that the face of a holy man was brutally bashed in by evil men. He also knows, and conveys with theological precision and brilliance, that Stephen, whose life and doctrine reflected the face of Christ, met with a death that also reflected that of Christ, Who was standing at the right hand of God for him, and Who stands there for us. That is, when a saint's life come to an end, he is born to his fully realized and eternal life with his Lord and Redeemer. A saint's death, as real as it is, is but a slumber, after which he awakes to a life so pure and glorious and full that we can only grope for language to describe it. The difference between life in this dark world and the life we will realize in heavenly bliss is like the difference between the dark world that a child knows in his mother's womb and the bright new life that awaits him on the other side of the birth canal. It is his birthday.

The children of the Church, by means of her liturgical tradition, are thus trained to look at the death of their brethren as bona mors, a happy death, quite different indeed than the utterly hopeless way in which the world would have its children view death.

This day, then, like with almost all of the Church's traditional saints' feasts, is the birthday of a saint. In this case, Thomas, bishop of Canterbury, is remembered for the witness, or martyrdom, he gave by turning his life completely over to his vocation in Christ, to the very end.

I confess that I don't understand why the Missouri Synod would choose to put on its list of lesser feasts, or commemorations, King David for this day instead of Saint Thomas. Admittedly, David is mentioned in the traditional Roman Martyrology for this day. But he is listed with a number of other saints as well. Furthermore, one's inclusion in the martyrology does not mean he gets his own day in the liturgical year. And anyway, why does he replace Thomas, one of the church's most celebrated saints, and feasts?

I am happy that the Synod is following the old Roman Martyrology. I only hope it is not starting to go Rome. It is just a pity that it follows it in such an incomplete, and backwards manner.

Here, to assist your devotion, is the traditional martyrology for this day.

At Canterbury in England, the birthday of St. Thomas, bishop and martyr, who, for the defence of justice and ecclesiastical immunity, was struck with the sword in his own basilica by a faction of wicked men, and thus went to Christ as martyr.

At Jerusalem, holy David, king and prophet.

At Arles in France, the birthday of St. Trophimus, mentioned by St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy. Being ordained bishop by that apostle, he was the first sent to preach the gospel of Christ in that city. From his preaching, as from a fountain, according to the expression of Pope St. Zosimus, all France received the waters of salvation.

At Rome, the holy martyrs Callistus, Felix, and Boniface.

In Africa, the passion of the holy martyrs Dominic, Victor, Primian, Lybosus, Saturninus, Crescentius, Secundus, and Honoratus.

At Constantinople, St. Marcellus, abbot.

In the country of Hiesmes in France, St. Ebrulf, abbot and confessor, in the time of King Childebert.

At Vienne in France, the commemoration of St. Crescens, bishop and martyr. He was a disciple of St. Paul the Apostle and was the first bishop of that city. His birthday is mentioned on the 27th of June.

And elsewhere in divers places, many other holy martyrs, confessors, and holy virgins.
R. Thanks be to God.

And now, so that you can practice your Latin:

Cantuáriæ, in Anglia, natális sancti Thomæ, Epíscopi et Mártyris, qui, ob defensiónem justítiæ et ecclesiásticæ immunitátis, in Basílica sua, ab impiórum hóminum factióne percússus gládio, Martyr migrávit ad Christum.

Hierosólymis sancti David, Regis et Prophétæ.

Areláte, in Gállia, natális sancti Tróphimi, cujus méminit sanctus Paulus ad Timótheum scribens. Ipse autem Tróphimus, ab eódem Apóstolo Epíscopus ordinátus, præfátæ urbi primus ad Christi Evangélium prædicándum diréctus est; ex cujus prædicatiónis fonte (ut sanctus Zósimus Papa scribit) tota Gállia rívulos fídei recépit.

Romæ sanctórum Mártyrum Callísti, Felícis et Bonifátii.

In Africa pássio sanctórum Mártyrum Domínici, Victóris, Primiáni, Lybósi, Saturníni, Crescéntii, Secúndi et Honoráti.

Constantinópoli sancti Marcélli Abbátis.

In pago Oxyménsi, in Gállia, sancti Ebrúlphi, Abbátis et Confessóris, témpore Childebérti Regis.

Viénnæ, in Gállia, Commemorátio sancti Crescéntis, Epíscopi et Mártyris, qui fuit discípulus beáti Pauli Apóstoli ac primus ejúsdem civitátis Epíscopus, et cujus dies natális quinto Kaléndas Júlii celebrátur.

Et álibi aliórum plurimórum sanctórum Mártyrum et Confessórum, atque sanctárum Vírginum.
R. Deo grátias.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Father Gary Schultz

On Saint Stephen's Day, and then again on Sunday, we were blessed at Saint Stephen's, Milwaukee, with a guest celebrant. Father Gary Schultz, pastor of two parishes in Iowa, Mount Calvary in Eagle Grove, and Immanuel in Rowan, happened to be in town for a few days, and so it worked out perfectly that he was able to cover a couple of days of our pastor's vacation. On Saturday Fr. Schultz celebrated our usual low Mass, and the next day the missa cantata. I had the honor of serving at both Masses, in the one case as server, and in the other as server and deacon. And so from my special vantage point of someone who is both a hearer of the Mass on the one hand, and one who sees the celebrant up close as it were on the other hand, I can say that we were blessed in manifold ways by Fr. Schultz' ministry among us this weekend.

First, Fr. Schultz knows the liturgy. Some might here think, who doesn't? Fair enough, but there are some who seem to have a certain instinct for it. They are not only competent, but also comfortable in the liturgist's skin. Gary Schultz is that kind of priest. This sort of ease with the traditional liturgy was manifest in a couple of ways. Saturday was, I think, his first ever low mass, and yet he said as nice a mass as can be expected from an Iowa West pastor. (Just joking.) Actually things went very smoothly. And on Sunday, now get this, he sang the Mass even though we had no musical accompaniment. Hearing a liturgy sung by some men could be painful, but not in this case. It was a very simple, yet beautifully celebrated Mass.

Second, Fr. Schultz is an excellent preacher. The preachers who hardly know how to give anything but hollow feel good sermons might be at a loss for what to do on Stephen's feast, with its account of the brutal murder of the Church's first martyr. Fr. Schultz was not at a loss for words, words which cut us down and then raised us up.

Third, Fr. Schultz is a churchman who has a heart for the Divine Office. Following Saint Benedict's advice, he prefers nothing to the Work of God. I don't know this because he told me; I know it because it shows in his preaching. The people who have Fr. Schultz for a pastor have someone who delights in the law of the Lord, and exercises himself in it as a matter of course, and this is a great blessing to them, more than they may know.

Thank you, Father Gary, for saying Mass for us, for your preaching, and for being a pastor with a genuine heart for Christ, His Word, and His Church.

P.S. I'm working an unusual 3rd shift tonight, so I hope this post is fairly coherent.

Blessed Childermas to all today.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saint Fulgentius on Saint Stephen

Stephen ascends as the Jews stone him, because Christ has descended as the Angels rejoiced. Yesterday the Angels sang exultingly, Glory to God in the Highest;" today they have joyously received blessed Stephen into their midst. Yesterday Christ was wrapped for us in swaddling clothes; today Stephen is clothed by Him with the stole of immortality. Yesterday the narrow crib carried the infant Christ; today the boundless heavens receive the triumphant Stephen. Our Lord descended alone that He might make many ascend; our King has humbled Himself that He might exalt His soldiers.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Masses of Christmas

First, I wish a happy and blessed Christmas in Christ to all blog readers.

Now a liturgical reflection or two. Last night when we returned home from Midnight Mass I saw the last few minutes of NBC's coverage of the Midnight Mass at Saint Peter's in Rome. Of course it was not live time from Rome. And I had already read about some of it the previous evening at work at the New Liturgical Movement site. Anyway, at the close of NBC's broadcast it was stated that the viewer had been watching the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass in Rome. I don't know if this phraseology was decided by NBC or possibly the USCCB, but it is not unusual. I have seen it a lot this year. And so although this is not one of the more important points this blog will ever make, it is worth sorting this out right now, for the record.

If anyone who reads this was blessed with the opportunity to attend Midnight Mass last night, you were not at a Christmas Eve service. In fact, the Midnight Mass is not even a vigil mass, like that of the Paschal Vigil, or the Pentecost Vigil, which are designed with several readings, and have the character of a liturgy that bridges two seasons, like a hinge. The Midnight Mass is actually a rather simple, yet beautiful, liturgy. To be clear, the Mass of Christmas Eve, ie., of the Vigil Day of Christmas, 24 December, is the Mass Hodie Scietis, which I describe in a previous post. The color for that Mass is purple, for it is the final Mass of the Advent Season. The Midnight Mass is the first Mass of the Christmas Season, and of Christmas Day. Therefore, it is best to refer to the Midnight Mass, not as a Christmas Eve Mass, but as a Christmas Mass.

The three Masses of Christmas Day are each peculiar and unique. The first, the Midnight Mass, begins with the Introit Dominus Dixit. The Epistle is from Titus 2, and the Gospel is the very familiar nativity narrative of Luke 2. As I read certain phrases of that Gospel as deacon last night I was for a split second taken back to Christmas programs of long ago, my own diaconal tea soaked madeleine.

The second Mass of Christmas is celebrated at the break of day. The Introit is Lux Fulgebit, a text from Isaiah 9 which is very appropriate for dawn. The Epistle is from Titus 3, and the Gospel is that of the Shepherds' encounter with the Holy Family in Luke 2.

The third Mass of Christmas is celebrated during the day itself. It begins with the gorgeous Introit Puer Natus Est, which many Americans have now heard because it is featured on one of the Chant CDs produced by a Benedictine community in Spain. The Epistle is from Hebrews 1, and the Gospel is the majestic Johnannine Prologue. If Lutheran children know the Luke 2 Gospel in the King James because of Christmas programs (or at least that was once the case), then seminarians after their first year know the first part of John 1 in Greek, and those who had the chance to hear Weinrich's lectures on that text can still hear his words as well.

I will add here that the traditionalist Catholic of a certain generation will know this Gospel in Latin, not merely because of Christmas, but because it was usually always the so called Last Gospel at Mass. I would not be in favor of having the Last Gospel read at the altar in Lutheran usage, for it really belongs in the realm of the celebrant's prayers after Mass. However, if there were ever a classic case of a liturgy that ought to be celebrated in Latin in the traditional Lutheran use, it is this third Mass of Christmas. We might even do that next year at St. Stephen's. And this Gospel from John 1 deserves to be memorized in Latin by all of you theological students. How else are you going to pray it wherever you are when you need its comfort and gospel? Besides, its beauty and poetry are reason enough even for men of the world.

Another thought on these three Masses of Christmas Day. What I'm about to argue in no way implies that I am critical of those churches that do not have all three Masses on Christmas. There are many reasons for having only one of them, or two of them. These are pastoral decisions that the pastor must make. What I want to argue, however, is that these masses are not designed to be three options from which to choose. That is, the feast of the Nativity of our Lord is liturgically designed, like no other feast, for three distinct Masses (the same can be said in the Roman Use for All Souls Day, though for very different reasons). There are churches, and I am not pointing to any in particular, where the move could start to be made to increase the Christmas Day masses from one to two, or two to three. In some places, admittedly, they need to get with the program already and go from zero to one. But to do all three you don't need all the people on the membership rolls to formally agree to it. You don't need for the majority of your members to be in town; many will want to take off after the early morning mass or after the Midnight Mass to go visit family in another town. Having more of these masses is not at all meant to burden people. It is simply to give more opportunity for the public worship of Christ, our Immanuel. One suggestion I would make is to discern which of the last two masses will be attended by the most people in the parish, and celebrate that one in as solemn a way as you can; and celebrate the other one as a simple low mass.

Also, keep in mind that the twelve days of Christmas are not the 14th through the 25th of December, as the world seems to think, but from the 25th of December through the 5th of January (Twelfth Night being followed immediately by the feast of the Epiphany). The Mass, as well as the Divine Office, can be celebrated on all of these days. I know that many pastors pray the Office on their own anyway; days like these could be especially good opportunities, however, to offer perhaps a public celebration of Vespers, or maybe a short morning Office immediately followed by low mass.

I leave you today with this Christmas chant.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Holy Estate of Partnership

Glancing at the USA Today, I see on the top of Section D the following headline:

Sarandon, Robbins have separated

The story tells of the split between Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. The first thing that caught my eye was the way the paper referred to the couple as "longtime companions." The second thing that grabbed my attention was the next sentence, which states that they were "partners" for 23 years.

This manner of language should strike us as out of wack. If it doesn't strike you that way, it's okay; this is what I'm here for, to let the normal people know when their culture is gone off the deep end. Referring to a couple of unmarried lovers as partners and as longtime companions is a not so subtle softening of the language, which simultaneously accomplishes a number of the goals of modern Western culture.

First, it is a denial of the essential goodness and necessity of marriage, so that couples can now cohabit with no feelings of guilt imposed on them by society. Another way we see this accomplished is when unmarried couples say that they are no longer "single." As if single simply means that one is not in a romantic relationship.

Second, it is an open gate to the complete legitimization of homosexuality. The pure and absolute love which Christ, and His Church, has for all men, straight and homosexual (and both are included within the Church as well), must be clearly expressed in lives of friendship and love, but also in the clear message that homosexuality is unnatural and not a legitimate option among other lifestyle options.

Third, it blurs the distinctions between the sexes, and is therefore a complete acquiescence to the Feminist Movement. America is becoming more and more feminized, as is modern marriage in general. Though there is truth in saying that spouses are partners, and companions, in today's confused feminist milieu we need to emphasize the distinctions within marriage. I am called by God, and bound by sacred vows, not to be Ruth's partner, nor her companion, nor her friend, but to love her in a special way, that is to say, as husband. That is my vocation.

Let the Church stand up once again, and bear strong witness to these truths in the face of a most formidable enemy, that is, a culture which appears more loving than the Church does, but which does not really, by its own resources, truly know the nature of love. For that we need the constant help of Love incarnate Himself, Whose birth in the flesh we now celebrate.

A Note on Therese, with a word from Benedict Groeschel

I have been sharing passages at this blog from Therese's memoirs, which I think is generally a good thing, especially for those who are new to her. I am struck by the thought, however, that when one attempts any sort of introduction to a topic, such as my introducing, or presenting, Therese of Lisieux here by means of these selected excerpts, there is an inherent danger, namely that the subject matter will be cheated, or unjustly treated, by an incomplete picture. I don't mean that an introduction should be exhaustive; that would be oxymoronic. When giving a snapshot, the nagging question is whether you took just the right shot, or with the right light, etc.

So let me urge the reader right now to be aware that with Therese, her life, and her reflections that often seem so childishly simple, we have a very rich spiritual treasure, which deserves repeated meditation. I will have more to say of her down the road, especially of the suffering she underwent in the last year and a half of her life. Let me, this afternoon, share with you a wise word from Father Benedict Groeschel. This is from his introduction to Guy Gaucher's book, The Passion of Therese of Lisieux.

There are so many aspects to the message of Therese of Lisieux. Perhaps each one who gets to know her writings learns something a little different, something very personally suited to one's own needs. To me, Therese is a most powerful witness to the relevance and necessity of personal devotion for the Christian of our age. We need to hear an intelligent, cultured, informed person say to Christ, "I love you." We are so preoccupied with historical reconstructions, with the scholar's view of Jesus of Nazareth, that we no longer speak in deep personal ways to our Savior, who is present in our lives. This personal devotion made Therese willing to endure trials, to be faithful and generous, to be globally concerned about the human race from her little Carmel. Her last words, "My God, I love you," are exactly the profound expression of devotion that our psychologically jaded and selfist world needs to hear.

Little Flower Quote of the Day

In the following passage from The Story of A Soul we go back again to Therese's childhood, before her First Communion. I share this one because I think it is a great testament to the influence one can have over his son or daughter, maybe even over one's wife, and family in general, by being a good example of a man of prayer.

What shall I say of the winter evenings at home, especially the Sunday evenings? Ah! how I loved, after the game of checkers was over, to sit with Celine on Papa's knees. He used to sing, in his beautiful voice, airs that filled the soul with profound thoughts, or else, rocking us gently, he recited poems that taught the eternal truths. Then we all went upstairs to say our night prayers together and the little Queen was alone near her King, having only to look at him to see how the saints pray.

From the Divine Office for Christmas Eve

On today's Gospel, Saint Jerome gives us the following words in the Office today at Matins.

Why must she who conceives the Lord be not simply a virgin, but a betrothed virgin? First, that, through the genealogy of Joseph the Davidic origin of Mary may be demonstrated. Second, that she may not be stoned as an adulteress by the Jews. Third, that she may have a protector during the flight into Egypt. The Martyr Ignatius adds a fourth reason for our Lord's being conceived by one who is betrothed: that His birth may be hidden from the devil, who thinks that this is the child of a married woman, not of a virgin.

"Before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost." Her condition was discovered by no one else but Joseph; concerning his future wife, he had almost the privilege of a husband to know everything about her. The qualification "before they came together" does not imply that afterwards they did come together. The Scripture is merely indicating that up to this time they had not done so.

"Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily." If anyone is joined to a fornicator, he becomes one body with her; and it is a precept of the Law that not only the one who commits a crime, but anyone who is silently aware of it, is guilty of sin. Then how can Joseph be called a just man, when he is hiding his wife's crime? The question is not to the point. The point is that Joseph was a just man, and his conduct becomes a piece of evidence in Mary's favor. What he knew was not her crime (there was none to be known), but her chastity. What he did not know was the mystery of how she had conceived; and by his silence he kept hidden from the public the circumstance that was a source of wonder to him.

Christmas Eve Mass

If, peradventure, someone reading this is unable to attend Mass today (I myself am at the hotel today for 11 or 12 hours, so I know the feeling), it might be of some spiritual benefit to meditate upon a few of the propers for today's Mass, that of the Vigil of the Nativity. At this blog you shall be treated to the sacred scriptures not in some modern translation, but in the classic liturgical texts of the King James Version, Coverdale, and for those who know, are learning, or desire to learn Latin, you will find that as well. By the way, if you are new to Latin, just try reading it, and listening to it. It's an experience in sheer beauty (same for the classic English texts). And if you know a student, he will benefit from practicing reading and praying these propers.

The Mass begins with an Introit which, like so many of the antiphons of the last part of Advent, continue the sense of anticipation of the approaching sacred and solemn Octave. The antiphon, from Exodus 16, connects the celebration of the coming of our Savior in the flesh with the flesh and bread with which God fed His covenant people. The Church innately knows the eucharistic nature of a text like Exodus even if most of the scholars are blind to it, just as the Church knows the eucharistic nature of the birth of the One Who is born in the house of bread.

Hodie scietis, quia veniet Dominus, et salvabit nos: et mane videbitis gloriam eius. Domini est terra, et plenitudo eius: orbis terrarum, et universi, qui habitant in eo. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen. Hodie scietis, quia veniet Dominus, et salvabit nos: et mane videbitis gloriam eius.

At even, then ye shall know that the LORD hath brought you out from the land of Egypt: and in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the LORD. The earth is the Lord's, and all that therein is, the compass of the world, and they that dwell therein. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. At even, then ye shall know that the LORD hath brought you out from the land of Egypt: and in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the LORD.

The first lesson is from the Epistle of blessed Paul the Apostle to the Romans.

Paulus, servus Iesu Christi, vocatus Apostolus, segregatus in Evangelium Dei, quod ante promiserat per prophetas suos in Scripturis sanctis de Filio suo, qui factus est ei ex semine David secundum carnem: qui praedestinatus est Filius Dei in virtute secundum spiritum sanctificationis ex resurrectione mortuorum Iesu Christi Domini nostri: per quem accepimus gratiam et apostolatum ad obediendum fidei in omnibus gentibus pro nomine eius, in quibus estis et vos vocati Iesu Christi Domini nostri.

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: by whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ.

The Gradual plays off the same initial theme as that of the Introit, then riffs on Psalm 79.

Hodie scietis, quia veniet Dominus, et salvabit nos: et mane videbitis gloriam eius. Qui regis Israel, intende: qui deducis, velut ovem, Joseph: qui sedes super cherubim, appare coram Ephraim, Benjamin, et Manasse.

At even, then ye shall know that the LORD hath brought you out from the land of Egypt: and in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the LORD. Hear, O Thou Shepherd of Israel, Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; show Thyself also, Thou that sittest upon the cherubim. Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, stir up Thy strength, and come and help us.

The Holy Gospel continues according to Saint Matthew.

Cum esset desponsata mater Iesu Maria Ioseph, antequam convenirent, inventa est in utero habens de Spiritu Sancto. Joseph autem vir eius, cum esset iustus, et nollet eam traducere, voluit occulte dimittere eam. Haec autem eo cogitante, ecce Angelus Domini apparuit in somnis ei, dicens: Joseph, fili David, noli timere accipere Mariam coniugem tuam: quod enim in ea natum est, de Spiritu Sancto est. Pariet autem filium: et vocabis nomen eius Iesum: ipse enim salvum faciet populum suum a peccatis eorum.

When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

The scripture above stands on its own. I will just end with the thought that the Word of God is endlessly rich. One could preach thousands of years worth of sermons on this Gospel. Of course the Church has produced just that. But think, for example, of that little evangelical Word of comfort that the angel gives to Joseph, Fear not. Noli timere. This is also the Gospel that the great Angel of the Lord, ie, the eternal Word of the Father, gives to us today as well. In the midst of all the spiritual turmoil of our age, in the midst of the war that rages in the battleground of our minds, and hearts, between the wicked foe on the one hand, who would keep us content in the comfortable darkness, and Christ on the other hand, Who fights for us, and would bring us to the true light of His grace, Our Lord comes to us with the Christmas message of true comfort and joy. For our Redemption draws near.

Christmas Eve Fast

Thought I'd remind you, or perhaps introduce you to the practice, of the Christmas Eve fast. The Vigil of Christmas, which means the whole day of the 24th of December, is traditionally a fast day in the liturgical year. This is a characteristic that Christmas Eve shares with the season of Advent in general. Yet the fast of the Vigil of Christmas is heightened by the abstinence of meat. It is traditional, in other words, for this to be a so called fish day, like most Fridays. (This Friday is an exception, since it is the feast of the Nativity.)

Please know that what I describe here is not something that is peculiar to Roman Catholics. In fact, it is hardly a characteristic of modern Catholic culture anymore. Rather, it is a longstanding practice of traditional Christians, whether Lutheran, Catholic, Episcopalian, or whatever. If you wish to keep the Christmas Eve fast, whether you've tried it in the past or not, please be encouraged to do so. It is your right to fast. If "it's okay to pray," it's also okay to fast, which is the ideal accompaniment to prayer. So my advice, if you are able, is to fast this Christmas Eve, beginning at midnight, and lasting until you get home from the midnight Mass about twenty four hours later. And the Christmas fast means that you limit your eating to one normal sized meal, and up to two small snacks, and keep yourself from all meat, the traditional exception being fish. Treat this day, in other words, like it were a normal Friday, and treat your Friday this week as though it were Christmas, since that is what it is this year.

A Night of Good Music in Riverwest

Just returned home, in the midst of a pretty good snow fall, from Linneman's just down the street, where I enjoyed open acoustic night. I like open acoustic night at Linneman's, because it's a really good opportunity to hear some of Milwaukee's fresh talent. Each musician signs up for a 15 minute slot, which means you can play about three songs, with the absolute limit of 15 minutes, so that everyone who signs up gets a chance to play. There was a nice variety of music tonight, most played guitar and sang, one or two just played instrumental songs. I walked in, and went straight for the bar to get a pint of East Side Dark, then found my seat in the back room.

Every time they have open acoustic night, there is a featured performer, who gets the privilege of a half hour to play. To qualify for the chance to be the featured musician, you must have a good record of play at Linneman's, and must also have a repertoire of your own original music. Once in a while, though, they get someone as the feature who not only meets the basic criteria, but far surpasses them. Tonight, Lil Rev, who has been praised by no less than Pete Seeger, asked for a slot, and in the end, Jim, who MCs the event, gave him a few extra minutes, so I got to hear Lil Rev do a forty minute set tonight.

By the way, there's any number of ways one could learn of an event like this in Milwaukee. It was advertised on Linneman's calendar, for example, but I also saw it in an ad in The Onion. So the lesson here is that you will find more than just quality journalism in The Onion. (In all seriousness, though, for the record please know that there will almost always be pages of The Onion that are not suitable for the eyes of children or ladies.)

In a few days Lil Rev will head out west to play music out there for a couple months, then return home in March. I know I've plugged Rev's web site in the past, but it's worth reminding people that LivRev.com is a good place to go for information on his shows, as well as articles by Rev, and to find his CDs and books for sale.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Blessed Virgin in the Liturgy

While I tend to be of the school of thought that has the Advent IV Gospel from the middle of John 1, I rejoice that brothers I know have used the opportunities of the lectionary to preach faithfully and powerfully today on the beautiful Marian text of the Mother of God's visit with her cousin, reaching a thematic, even musical, conclusion with Mary's canticle. There are surely more good preachers than I know of, yet there are not enough. Two that I know of, who thus preached today are Fr. Shane Cota and Fr. Larry Beane.

And what a beautiful dimension of Advent. The pregnant Virgin Mother of God, sings her song, a song that echoes the song of faithful Hannah, blessed with the grace of maternity. And she sings it in the presence of holy John, the Forerunner, who hears the Word in utero, and keeps it in his heart, until he is good and ready to preach it himself. And while Mary's song looks back to Hannah and to the Old Covenant, while it is sung with her own glorious story in mind, it also reverberates down through the ages, to this very day, for the Church, typified by Mary herself, has made this song its own. This is done at least as often as the Daily Office is prayed at Vespers.

Mary, and with her the mystery of her Son's Incarnation, is commemorated in other ways as well. At Saint Stephen's, Milwaukee, Mary is commemorated at each Sunday Mass in the regular prayers. In doing so, we honor the One who is her divine Son, and we do so in the hope of imitating the Godly faith of this holy Virgin. What follows is the intercession we use. It is adapted from the one that has been used at a sister parish for years.

Let us commemorate the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints, that we may follow them in godly faith.

Heavenly Father, we give Thee high praise and hearty thanks for the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all Thy saints, from the beginning of the world, and chiefly in the glorious and most blessed and ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of Thy Son Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, and in the holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and martyrs, whose examples, O Lord, and steadfastness in Thy faith, and keeping Thy commandments, grant us to follow. Lord, in Thy mercy:

Hear our prayer.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ember Saturday

Yesterday (Saturday) I had to work 1st shift, so I didn't make it to Mass. Not that this makes up for missing Mass, but one nice thing about my Saturday was that after I got off work, I made it back to our neighborhood to catch the full second half of the Christmas show that Lil Rev & Frogwater do at Alterra each December. Yes, the very Jewish Lil Rev does Christmas songs...and I enjoy the way he does them. Don't try to figure it out. Just face the fact that there is a deacon out there somewhere who is just as strange, if not stranger, than you are. Admittedly, the final song of the set was Jingle Bells, with the "batman" stanza. And we all sang along.

Anyway, I did want to say something about the Ember Saturday Mass. For it is a beautiful and rich liturgy, as any of you who were able to attend this year will attest. Next time you get the chance to go to Mass on Ember Saturday, and I have in mind here any Ember Saturday, do grab the opportunity. They take place four times each year, namely, the Saturday of the Ember Week in Advent, the Saturday of Ember Week in Lent, the Saturday in the Pentecost Octave (also called Whit-Saturday), and the Saturday of the Ember Week in September. By the way, why do I speak of the "Saturday of Ember Week" instead of simply saying, for example, the Saturday after Saint Lucy's Day? This is because the Ember Days, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, must be successive and in that order, ie., of the same week. Therefore, eg., if St. Lucy's Day be on a Thursday, the Advent Ember days that year are not until the next week. So one must either 1. remember that the ember days are the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, in that order, following St. Lucy's Day, the First Sunday in Lent, Pentecost, and the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross, or 2. consult a good calendar.

Anyway, while there is value in considering what Ember Days in general have in common, and what the ember days of a particular season have in common with each other, I suggest that there is also value in considering the common traits that the ember days of a particular day of the week have in common with each other, regardless of the season. A great example of this is how the Ember Saturdays of all four seasons are alike. Each time an Embertide comes around, notice that the Ember Days sort of build one day to the next, until they climax with the Ember Saturday.

Some pastors who are new to the practice of the Ember Days will look at the traditional rubrics, and conclude that there must be a mistake here. There can't really be seven readings at an obscure Saturday Mass. Surely some of them are alternative, or optional readings. Perhaps the reason for this problem of perception is that many Lutherans have got themselves too used to the modern liturgical tendency for liturgical orders to have built-in options. Or perhaps the reason is that modern Lutherans have got themselves so used to the practice of having exactly three readings at Mass, an Old Testament lesson, an Epistle lesson, and a Gospel, that when they see a set of propers with a number of lessons greater or less than three, they think that there must be something amiss. In fact, as I mentioned the other day, when you hear three lessons on Ember Wednesday, that itself is unusual in traditional Western use. For traditional liturgical practice will not tend to have three lessons at Mass, like the modern rites do, but two lessons, usually an Epistle, and then of course the Gospel. In like manner, on Ember Saturday you will hear seven readings, which are all meant to be heard. The reason these masses have more lessons than usual is, first, they are vestiges of the liturgical practice of the early church, when there was more scripture read, especially from the Old Testament, and second, that the Ember Days in particular are days specially set aside for us to let the Word of God speak to us, and come and dwell with us in a richer way than usual. For if we are to pray and fast, two special emphases of ember days, we must first feed upon the Word.

Now, to be even more specific, the Ember Saturday has a full seven lessons, and a canticle, which for good reasons makes one think of the famous Paschal Vigil Mass, or the Pentecost Vigil Mass, which also have several readings. (They actually have twelve lessons, beside the Epistle and Gospel.) Indeed, there is a quasivigil quality about the Ember Saturday Mass. That is for good reason, namely, they were vigil Masses once upon a time, kept in the evening, and climaxing with the rite of holy Ordination. All four Ember Saturdays have seven lessons, plus a canticle.

It is true that the Ember Saturday on Whit-Saturday does not seem to fully conform to this pattern, since it has no canticle. Yet if one looks closely, it becomes clear that after the lesson from Daniel 3, the choir immediately chants the alleluia verse, and that verse is actually the next verse in scripture that follows the Daniel 3 reading, in other words, it is a short version of the canticle heard at that point on the other Ember Saturdays.

The readings culminate with the Gospel from Luke 3, telling us of the Forerunner's Divine Call to preach the Baptism of repentance. And this pericope culminates with the words, "et videbit omnis caro salutare Dei." And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. In the classic Roman Rite this is the same Gospel one hears again the next day. The classic Lutheran rite, so organically close to the Roman Rite, has a slightly different configuration for Advent, and yet the Gospel for Advent IV, from John 1, remains focused on the Forerunner, and both end up pointing us to the Christ. In the Luke 3 text, we may as well capitalize "salvation" at the end of the reading, and we will see how this Gospel, like the O Antiphons when read as reverse acrostic, preach to us the good news that our Redemption draws near. So whichever Gospel one gets at the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Ember Saturday Gospel stands as a brilliant beacon, illuminating our way to the completion of our Advent fast.

With such a vigil-like character to these masses, even if they take place in the morning, let us take them as the Church's call for us to watch with Christ. Let us wait for Him, in prayer and supplication, in repentance and prayer, in faith, hope, and indeed, with bridal care, let us prepare our hearts for His visitation, by His Word, by His Holy Supper, in celebration of His holy birth, and in expectation of His glorious advent to judge the world and finally and fully unite Himself with us forever.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

6 Posts: 0 Theology

It hasn't escaped me that I have gone about six blog posts now, with clearly nontheological topics. What's up? In my defense, let me just make a counterargument. These are not as nontheological as one might think.

Regarding the Pabst Mansion, let us not forget that it was built by one of the great brewers of Milwaukee's classic era, when beer, even at the big breweries, was made with pride. In those days beer was not marketed for women's taste buds, like the macrobreweries of today. Nathaniel of old asked if anything good can come out of Nazareth, but I ask, can good theology come out of a man that does not drink good beer? Regarding our night at MAM, have you forgotten that Andy Warhol, toward the end of his life, produced his incomparable interpretation of The Last Supper, with the Dove soap and GE symbols superimposed upon the scene? That's good stuff...good stuff. Regarding Lil Rev, I mean please. One of the primary problems with most preachers, Lutheran or not, is a basic failure to fully appreciate the blues, for as the Blessed Reformer said, "It is by living, by dying, by being damned, that a man becomes a theologian." Which means that this Jewish folk singing Milwaukee boy, who goes by Lil Rev, is already one step ahead of them. I have seen a few bluesmen, and I can tell you that Lil Rev knows the blues.

As the father in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding said, "so there you go."

Walk Right In (Yiddish)

Finally, here is a rendition of "Walk Right In" which maybe you haven't heard very often.

Lil Rev: St. Louis Blues

There have been many renditions of this classic blues song, of course. Here is Lil Rev's interpretation of a song which I am sometimes tempted to think is really about the Missouri Synod.

Lil Rev - One Meatball - Portland 2006

While I'm thinking about Lil Rev, let me share with you a Youtube video or two, to give you a little taste of his musical abilities and personality. He did not sing "One Meatball" last night, but he did at Linneman's a few months back. As I say, you never quite know what you'll hear at one of his shows. This one is always a crowd favorite.

Lil Rev at The Coffee House

After we got home from our evening at the Milwaukee Art Museum, I wanted to take full advantage of my night off work, so I asked Ruth if she wanted to join me at Lil Rev's show over at The Coffee House, a place on 19th & Wisconsin, near the Marquette campus. It was to be Rev's last regular show before he heads out of town for a winter tour out west. (On Saturday he will play a set with Frogwater at Alterra, but I likely won't be able to make that show, because of work.) My good wife was not up for any more activity, and wanted to stay home, so I headed over to the show alone.

After seeing him a few times, I can say that one of the remarkable things about his shows is that they are never quite the same. He has a sizable repertoire, and he draws deeply from it. He plays blues, American folk, Yiddish folk, early jazz, and ragtime, on the guitar, mandolin, ukulele, banjo, kazoo, and harmonica. Not since Stephen Wiest of blessed memory have I heard such harmonica. I suppose I've said it before, but let me say it again, Lil Rev is well worth seeing. Even though he tours extensively, and is a critically acclaimed musician, most people, especially those outside of Milwaukee, don't really get a lot of opportunities to see him perform live. I encourage you, however, to seize any chance you get, and also to buy his CDs. ("Drop Baby Drop" is his latest. I highly recommend it.) In today's market driven and pop driven world of music, Lil Rev is refreshingly real and authentic. Thanks, Rev, for an evening of good cheer and great music.

An Evening at MAM

Tonight I surprised my wife with an evening at the Milwaukee Art Museum, also known as MAM. I have been wanting to see the Andy Warhol exhibit, which is only there for a few more weeks, and this month's MAM After Dark event seemed like a great opportunity, since tonight's event, A Very Velvet Holiday, featured not only access to the exhibits, but also a fun night of hands on art making activities, live music, and a cupcake competition. I think I voted for the chocolate/peanut butter one. Anyway, it was a very enjoyable evening at the Milwaukee Art Museum, as always. If ever there were a blog topic worthy of a thousand well composed words, it would be a visit to the MAM. Let me just say tonight that Warhol is much more complex than he is usually given credit for; he was a devoted Catholic, and made this an open fact in the very last period of his life. I am learning to appreciate his art, but must admit that I remain most loyal to art of premodern eras, especially the Christian art of the late medieval to Renaissance periods, and such art, by the way, is plentifully represented at the MAM.

John Eastberg Speaks on the Pabst Mansion

Wednesday evening Ruth and I went down to Downer Avenue, to see an author speak at Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee's best bookshop. My brother, Daut, met us there as well. John Eastberg, senior historian at the Pabst Mansion, and author of the new book, The Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion: An Illustrated History, gave a talk on his book, and along the way, held forth on not only the Pabst Mansion itself, but also Captain Pabst, one of the great beer barons of nineteenth century Milwaukee, and on some of the interesting stories in the lives of those who lived in the mansion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Once upon a time, Grand Avenue, what is now Wisconsin Avenue, was lined with dozens of mansions, from around 9th Street up to around 35th Street. That stretch of Wisconsin Avenue today is hardly a district of Milwaukee's high society, as any Milwaukean knows, but at the turn of the century it was a picture of Victorian luxury at its best. The Pabst Mansion is one of the few mansions of Grand Ave. built in that era which survive at all, and the only one left that is still preserved in its interior detail. It is one of Milwaukee's living treasures, a testament to Milwaukee's past, and indeed, to its present commitment to and pride in its beauty and cultural integrity. After his talk, Eastberg took some questions, and then sat for a book signing. My brother picked up a copy for his church's fundraiser "Sweetheart Auction." Incidentally, Mr. Eastberg not only signed the book for the auction, but also volunteered to give a few tickets for tours of the mansion to the auction as well. The book's price is a bit out of my league, but it is certainly on my reading list.

It is always good to spend an evening with an author, especially a local historian, like Mr. Eastberg. I very much appreciated his talk, for I learned much I did not know (not a big accomplishment in my case).

It was an evening fit for C-Span's Book TV. Many thanks to Daniel Goldin, proprietor of Boswell Book Company, for graciously hosting this event at his fine store.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ember Wednesday Propers

Some scripture from today's Mass.

First Lesson (Isaiah 2)
In those days, the Prophet Isaiah said: It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Second Lesson (Isaiah 7)
In those days: The LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD. And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.

Gospel (Luke 1)
At that time: The angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.

A word from Saint Ambrose (from the Office at Matins, on the Gospel)
The divine mysteries are indeed hidden, according to the prophet's dictum: no man can readily know God's planning. But still, from certain deeds and precepts of our Lord and Savior we can understand that there were very weighty reasons why she who was specially chosen to give birth to the Lord should be betrothed to a man. And why was her time not fulfilled before she was betrothed? Perhaps to keep anyone from claiming that she had conceived as a result of adultery.

"And when the Angel had come to her..." Recognize the virgin by her conduct; recognize the virgin by her modesty; learn from her words; learn from the mystery. It is natural for virgins to be troubled and hesitant at every approach of a man, to be fearful, feel anxious whenever addressed by men. Let women study to imitate this example of modesty. Mary was alone inside, unseen by any man. Alone there, with no companion, no witness, only the Angel found her, lest any trivial talking disturb the angelic salutation.

The mystery behind this mandate was so great that it was not given forth from the mouth of men, but was spoken by an Angel. This is the first time that any ear has heard the words "The Holy Ghost shall come upon you." They are heard, and they are believed. Then she speaks, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to thy word." Look at her humility, her readiness to serve. Forming no high opinion of herself, despite the unexpected promise, she who is chosen to be the Lord's mother proclaims herself His handmaid.

Rorate Caeli

Upon my little blog post on the Mass of Ember Wednesday, Rorate Caeli, Mr. Joseph Schmidt sent me a comment tipping me off to this youtube video, and I now post the video here. It is a beautiful piece of sacred music, and sung most competently. May it aid your devotion this Advent. And thank you, Mr. Schmidt, for sending this along.

Little Flower Quote of the Day

What follows is from Therese's account of the day of her First Communion.

The "beautiful day of days" finally arrived. The smallest details of that heavenly day have left unspeakable memories in my soul! The joyous awakening at dawn, the respectful embraces of the teachers and our older companions! The large room filled with snow-white dresses in which each child was to be clothed in her turn! Above all, the procession into the chapel and the singing of the morning hymn: "O altar of God, where the angels are hovering!"

I don't want to enter into detail here. There are certain things that lose their perfume as soon as they are exposed to the air; there are deep spiritual thoughts which cannot be expressed in human language without losing their intimate and heavenly meaning; they are similar to "...the white stone I will give to him who conquers, with a name written on the stone which no one KNOWS except HIM who receives it."

Ah! how sweet was that first kiss of Jesus! It was a kiss of love; I felt that I was loved, and I said: "I love You, and I give myself to You forever!" There were no demands made, no struggles, no sacrifices; for a long time now Jesus and poor little Therese looked at and understood each other. That day, it was no longer simply a look, it was a fusion; they were no longer two, Therese had vanished as a drop of water is lost in the immensity of the ocean. Jesus alone remained; He was the Master, the King. Had not Therese asked Him to take away her liberty, for her liberty frightened her? She felt so feeble and fragile that she wanted to be united forever to the divine Strength! Her joy was too great, too deep for her to contain, and tears of consolation soon flowed, to the great consternation of her companions. They asked one another: "Why was she crying? Was there something bothering her?" - "No, it was because her mother was not there or her sister whom she loves so much, her sister the Carmelite." They did not understand that all the joy of Heaven having entered my heart, this exiled heart was unable to bear it without shedding tears. Oh! no, the absence of Mama didn't cause me any sorrow on the day of my First Communion. Wasn't Heaven itself in my soul, and hadn't Mama taken her place there a long time ago? Thus, in receiving Jesus' visit, I received also Mama's. She blessed me and rejoiced at my happiness. I was not crying because of Pauline's absence. I would have been happy to see her by my side, but for a long time I had accepted my sacrifice of her. On that day, joy alone filled my heart and I united myself to her who gave herself irrevocably to Him who gave Himself so lovingly to me!

Prayer in Embertide

The Mass for this day is called Rorate Caeli, for those are the words with which the Mass properly begins in Latin. These Ember season Masses are among the most beautiful remnants of liturgical antiquity. One of the noteworthy clues to the ancient nature of the liturgy of these days is the number of lessons you will hear. Today's Mass, for example, has two lessons before the Gospel. In the classic Western Rite it is most unusual to have more than one lesson before the Gospel. The Mass on Ember Saturday will actually have five lessons before the Epistle and Gospel, making a full seven different Scripture readings, along with a canticle, but more on that when the time comes.

Of the many things that may be said of the importance of Embertide, one of them is that once upon a time, priestly and diaconal ordinations took place on the Ember Saturday. That may seem to be an especially irrelevant aspect of Ember week for the modern Church, which for the most part doesn't really know this practice. In the spirit of the tradition of the Ember Days, however, I suggest that we take these days as special occasion to pray for the ministry of the Word in the following ways. Let us pray for our seminarians, that God would make them both wise and courageous, and that His holy Word would be manifest in both their doctrine and in their life. Let us pray that God would continually raise up for His Church pastors and priests of His own choosing, for they are needed both in the mission field, which is ripe, and indeed at every altar, where they stand for us, and give us the holy and venerable Eucharist, the life blood of the Church. Let us pray also that the Lord of the Church will raise up once again a new generation of deacons, who will give their lives over to the service of the Church, deacons who will manfully and reverently bear the Gospel, with their hands, voice, and lives. One of the reasons, traditionally, for these days of fasting and prayer in Ember week is to prepare for the ordinations that will take place at the lengthy vigil mass of Ember Saturday. Therefore, even if you know of no such ordinations this year, take these days, likewise, to pray.

Rorate caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant iustum. Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness. Aperiatur terra, et germinet salvatorem. Let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation. These words from the Prophet are obviously well suited for the broader season of Advent. Yet let them serve also, along with all the liturgies of Embertide, to be our prayer for God to send us salvation in the ministry of His chosen ones, who will fill His office in the Church.