Sunday, 31 March 2013
The interior of the church reflects the austere monastic sensibilities of St. Maron, the 5th Century Syriac monk who shaped this Syriac-Antiochian rite Catholic Church that had a profound influence in Lebanon.
Prior to the accent lights being turned on, the design was stark and aesthetically challenging for me. Even with the lights on, the altar is surprisingly barren for the most important feast of the liturgical year for Christians. There were a few lillies at the foot of the main altar and there was a floral display on the East Apse which also served as the Empty Tomb for the Easter Vigil. Note the tree stump at the foot of the altar, that is used as a stand for the veneration of the Cross. Perhaps it harkens back to the Cedars of Lebanon, which is an important symbol amongst Maronite Catholics.
This is the Clergy approaching the altar for the beginning of the Qurbono (Divine Liturgy). Note the Chorbishop in the center who's vestment has a cross with the Cedar of Lebanon. The Liturgy was conducted in Syriac as well as English. The hymns that were sung were in Aramaic which was impossible for me to read. Aramaic was Jesus' native tongue so it sounded like what the followers of "The Way" would have sung in the 1st Century A.D.
There were some unusual aspects of this Easter Vigil. There was incense but no use of Holy Water or candles. The Maronite Church tends to baptize their Catachumens on the Feast of the Epiphany in January. Candles are not as important of an symbol at the Easter Vigil, as the Maronite Church breaks fast on noon of Great Saturday during the simple "Awaited Light" ceremony. This may explain why there is not pent up anticipation for the Easter Vigil as observed amongst the Maronites.
It was remarkable how much this Liturgy celebrating the Resurrection emphasized the Glorious Cross. The Chorbishop made prayers on the four corners of the altar with the processional cross, as if to proclaim the hope of the resurrection to all the Earth. The faithful were invited to venerate the Glorified Cross as they received Communion. Another interesting Easter feature of this vigil Qurbono was the emphasis on the Empty Tomb. As the faithful departed from the Divine Liturgy, they were given flowers from the Empty Tomb as well as an Easter Egg.
Despite the alternating languages during the Liturgy, it was not challenging to follow. The order of the Liturgy is different, as the Prayers of the Faithful are offered in the middle of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In addition, the sign of peace is passed along from the altar to the congregation by youthful altar servers. For me, the Maronite Qurbono was the most exotic of my Holy Week experiences. Unfortunately, I found the Easter Vigil at Our Lady of Lebanon to be anti-climatic and personally unsatisfying. That being said, I was intrigued by proclaiming the glory of the cross to the four corners of the Earth. In addition, I was touched by the post resurrection highlighting of the Empty Tomb as well as receiving the Easter souvenirs.
Saturday, 30 March 2013
As a child, my parish had a modern church. Our pastor was, however, very traditional. He filled our sacred space with icons of a modern expression, but with a desire to create a traditional space. For a Novus Ordo church, it was as traditional as possible. I remember being annoyed at spending 3 hours at church on Good Friday. When we came home, our television watching was restricted, so we would listen to Jesus Christ Superstar. As this pattern continued through high school years, I came to resent Father Gass. Why weren't women on the altar? Why weren't there any altar girls? Judas was used!
At my Catholic college, nobody seemed to care if you went to Mass or not. I didn't. But I never lost my connection with Good Friday. If I couldn't make it home for Easter weekend, I always made sure I went to Good Friday services. These, in college were run by the nuns on campus. I remember being bothered by how few people were there and the things the nuns had changed from my experiences with my traditional pastor. Still, there were enough similarities that it didn't cause much cognitive dissonance.
On my own as a single adult, my practice of the faith could be very sporadic, but I never missed Good Friday. While living in Minneapolis in the late 80's, I tried to find a three hour service, 12 to 3, like the one I had grown up with. I called half-a-dozen parishes. I was told that they didn't even know that such a thing existed. Finally a 'catholic' parish in Richfield told me they had something like what I was looking for, but it was in the morning from 9-12. I wound up at a poorly attended service run by nuns who burned sage and danced. It was clearly a Wiccan ceremony. I felt like I was at a re-enactment of the crowd that called for Barrabas. What was strangest was that these women didn't see how they were cheering on the murder of Christ. I sat with my jaw on the floor for a while, and then left. One of the women followed me to the door. She wanted to know why I was leaving. I said this wasn't the kind of service I was looking for. Mind you, I still longed for the ordination of women at that time, but seeing its fruits in action, I was appalled. That was the darkest Good Friday I can recall.
Eventually, I stopped searching for Good Friday services that would recall the solemn experiences of my younger days. I would pray alone.
After the birth of my son, I began to attend our Cathedral parish services in the afternoon; Stations and confessions. It wasn't the tradition I was looking for, but it was all that I thought I could find. During this time, the parish 'pastoral minister' asked me if my family would have our feet washed at the Holy Thursday Mass. We were very much in communion with the church by then. I realized when she asked me, that I no longer believed in women priests, altar girls, or women participating in the washing of the feet. I tried several times to offer my husband and son and ask for a replacement for myself. I even called other parishioners to see if any of them would do it. I thought about simply not going up to have the archbishop wash my feet, but that seemed too showy of a statement. So I did it. Nothing else could have completed my transformation from liberal to traditionalist with such certainty.
This year we have a new parish and a new pastor. We chose this parish because many home-school families go there. What I didn't realize was that our pastor, Father Cook, was so very much like my childhood pastor, Father Gass.
This Good Friday we arrived at 12:30, catching the end of stations in Spanish, and the beginning of confessions. We experienced the Veneration of the Cross, my son and husband for the first time. My son served the Stations in English. We prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. It was powerful, holy, solemn, simple. I was again at the Good Friday services of my youth. I understood now why I wept at those services. I wept again this year.
As the Catholic blogs commit to combat over Pope Francis washing the feet of girls, I am asking all of you to join me in prayer for conversion of heart. We have been poorly catechized. Some of us have fixed that with private study or by classes, or something else. Some are on the way back. Some may never turn around.
I have been given the fruits of peace by returning to the traditions of my youth. Some of my readers may have never had any traditional liturgical experiences. May I suggest you try it?
Friday, 29 March 2013
The Strepitus is the sudden loud clatter that symbolizes how the Earth convulsed at the physical death of the only begotten Son of our Lord. In Matthew 27:46-53, when Christ gave up His spirit on the Crucifix, there was a tumultuous earthquake. It is the jarring closing of a Tenebae Service, which is done in preparation for the Paschal Triduum.
Some churches have the Tenebrae on Spy Wednesday. Others choose to extinguish the lights after celebrating the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday or even Great and Holy Friday. Regardless of the time, it is a ritual that reminds us of how the Light of the World was briefly extinguished to fulfill scripture as an expiation for mankind’s sinfulness.
While it is difficult to watch Mel Gibson’s cinematic masterpiece The Passion of the Christ (2004) for its depiction of the savage brutality inflicted by the Roman overlords on a political prisoner who challenged the religious practices and expectations of the Jewish hierachy. The teardrop from heaven is incredibly moving.
When Salvador Dali painted Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951), Jesus was depicted without wounds on a Cross that floated above the Earth. Dali listened to the color of his dream that indicated that depicting the nails, blood and crown of thorns would mar the image. Dali wanted the emphasize the Trinity with the positioning of Jesus hanging on the Cross to represent the nucleus of the atom. Clearly, the cross hovering over the Earth shows the cosmic significance of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. In a modern manner, Dali celebrates Eastern Christian Church's emphasis mystagogy of Jesus' Divine Sacrifice by death on the cross.
But during a Tenebrae service, the faithful were reminded that unlike even in classical depictions of Golgatha (the place of the skull) where Jesus was crucified, the crosses of Calvary were not necessarily hung that high in the air. Since those being executed had their feet nailed bound to prevent them from moving as they slowly suffocated on their crosses, they may have been only a couple of feet above the ground.
Such crosses would serve the Roman overlords as tangible examples of what happens to brigands, rabble rousers and revolutionaries. The low positioning would allow most passers-by to look into the eyes of the executed. This makes the taunts from the crowd and Jesus’ words of forgiveness all the more remarkable.
It is easy to gloss over how the expiation of mans’ sins required a blood sacrifice to seal the New Covenant. By cognitively sounding the Strepitus over Christ's crucifixion, we may "Ecce homo".
While some ears may find it as painful as the Stepitus, the Christ’s Passion has been told by Glenn Beck using a motif of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973). Whether we use pop parables, cinematic accounts, scriptural studies, communal worship or prayerful personal reflections, it is worthy to reflect on how God's only begotten Son chose to be the suffering servant to right the relationship between God and mankind.
Wednesday, 27 March 2013
Mount St. Sepulchre in Washington, DC is a Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. The Church itself neo-Byzantine design by Roman architect Aristide Leonari in 1899. The church looks akin to St. Sophia (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople (Istanbul).
The interior of the church resembles a five fold Crusader Cross of Jerusalem. The large bronze baldachin is is supported by columns which depicts the twelve Apostles. The interior is decorated with the Ave Maria and scenes from the life of Mary.
The Friary is the home of Franciscan Commissariat in the nation's capital, and they continue their 800 year tradition of supporting the Holy Land. Part of the charism of the Commissariat seems to be a special celebration of Passiontide.
The Tenebrae service which is celebrated on Spy Wednesday is is resplendent in faith and history, as is incorporates a cappella medieval pieces sung by the Suspicious Cheese Lords (Suscipe Domine Queso).
While they are a consummate choir, the Suspicious Cheese Lords need to practice their polyphonic songs in situ at the Franciscan Monastery.
The Suspicious Cheese Lords in rehearsal for the Tenebrae Service.
Even though the Suspicious Cheese Lords ordinarily sing early music works, one year they chose to perform Arvo Part's De Profundis (1980).
Lighting the Candelabra for the Tenebrae Service.
Extinguishing the candles during the Tenebrae Service.
The closing of the Tenebrae service is marked by a retreat of the single candle into the crypt. As the vault to the catacombs is slammed, it sets off an unnerving Strepitus, meant to symbolize the earth convulsing at the death of the the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.
Saturday, 23 March 2013
Sure there have been unjust laws in the past as well. But the laws associated with abortion and healthcare stand out in the sheer enormity of injustice.
The church has suffered the loss of property many times. But has the church ever paid more than $1.2 billion in damages for abuse cases? That is the figure for the United States. It doesn't include anything since 2009, or from other countries.
It is the next line, " people will read and write a great deal~ but charity and humility will be laughed to scorn, and the common people will believe in false ideas," that really stands out. And I say that after spending a day teaching young people to read and write.
In our times, it is considered scandalous if someone cannot read and write. CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer reports, March 7, 2013, that a shocking nearly 80% of New York City high school graduates managed to graduate without having learned the basic skills of reading, writing, and Math. What would have been considered normal in Saint Columba's time is now shocking. But the entire notion of school for all would have been shocking for her. She would have looked at our schools and seen them for the source of all of the false ideas common people believe in.
That charity and humility are a cause for scorn is also obvious. Pope Francis is planning on celebrating Mass on Holy Thursday at a prison for young offenders. Traditionalists are saying this may be taking the whole care-for-the-poor thing a bit too far. Those on the left, who may have advocated for this kind of thing, bite their tongues rather than praise a man who is adamantly against gay marriage, abortion and women priests. (Hint for everyone: The Pope is Catholic.)
His obvious charity and humility is definitely attracting scorn. But that's also been true of other Popes.
And so I return to the one piece of this prophecy that resonates for our age like no other: People will read and write a great deal. It is almost as if we are afraid to have an unexpressed thought. Or maybe that's just me.
Tuesday, 19 March 2013
On March 14th, Simon Jenkins of the Guardian wrote a blazing article against the Catholic Church.
Of course, the seculars always pick on our moral stands against contraception, abortion and SSM. That is par for the course at this point.
What is interesting to me is that seculars even bother to write something against the Church.
Why is Jenkins compelled to write something nasty at all? If he truly thinks the Church is irrelevant, why does he bother to address the issues?
Here is my open letter to Simon Jenkins,
You article, here noted, at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/14/election-of-new-pope-gods-olympics, dated March 14th, prompts me to ask several questions, if you do not mind.
Now, before I do ask these questions, let me state that I am an ex-Marxist agnostic, and when I was in most vehement anti-religious stage, I simply ignored the Church. I was busy doing other things to build up the City of Man and did not have time or energy to put into dissing the City of God.
Are you upset that the Pope gets more media attention than your column, perhaps?
Are you really worried that millions of people in the world will leave their secular, anti-religious ways and become Catholics, and what you call, members of a "reactionary sect"?
If you are not a contracepting or aborting Catholic, why are so concerned about those whom we call "lapsed"?
It seems to me that if you really do not like the Pope, the hierarchy, the moral and doctrinal beliefs of the Church, you could just ignore these.
I really do not pay too much attention to seculars, except to warn my fellow Catholics against sloppy thinking or a lack of rational discourse.
Well, I did read your column, but I am not going to assume you want to hear my opinion.
The blogosphere readership five years ago on religious blogs seemed to be college-age students who commented and young readership, especially converts. This level of education has not changed much. Over half of my readership are still either in university, have at least one university degree, or more. This group includes seminarians and singles and professionals.. Reading blogs is merely one way of gaining knowledge as this group is use to doing research and reading . These highly educated and intelligent people have been reading Catholic blogs for years, some tell me as early as 2003, the early days of blogging. Their comments add to the blogosphere at a high level. Many have doctorates and masters degree. This educated group is my largest group of readers, according to my poll.
Point two: new readers are "Joe Sixpack" guys and gals without degrees, who are very interested in the Faith, but have little formal training in religion. Many are married and have nice, big Catholic families, but are struggling with a lack of Catholic identity or culture in their geographic areas. They are isolated and use blogs for on line communities. They are not involved in careers relating to religion; some are in the military. Many are in their early fifties and late forties and therefore, in "Gen X". This group has very poor catechesis and use blogs to learn, as they are not necessarily readers, or scholars. Some are very active in their local churches; some suffer the lack of good pastors.
The third group are the young ones in their twenties and thirties who are highly skilled in getting information on line; read newspapers and periodicals on line (as I do) and use blogs as one additional means of information. Many are not Catholic, but interested and love the interplay of religion and politics, sensing the times. They are smart and savvy and want more information about a variety of topics. These young men and women are interesting, as they tell me, in discussion, that they read and do not comment. Many of those who read my blog fall into this category. They just do not want to make comments, but read the text.
This is the group with blogging ennui. Some have written to me personally of the changes they have seen in the blogosphere-less intelligent commenting and commentators with a need other than knowledge. This first group is not interested in emoting on line.
Two groups-one needing knowledge and the other needing virtual community, have begun to clash on line.
This has nothing to do with specific hot topics, but with this fact: the on line smart ones do not need to vent or feel or seek affirmation on blogs. The first and third group seemed to be formed of smart and socially stable people.
The middle group lacks catechesis and are searching for a different type of religion than group one and three.
They want "friends" and use the blogs for virtual companionship. They are without the skills which help others sift through material quickly and easily. They are not necessarily on Facebook, like the younger ones.
They may not be interested in rational discourse at all. I remember this type when I was teaching and coordinating RCIA (conservatively, mind you). These were the "feely" converts, not those coming in because they had read some of the Fathers of the Church. Sometimes, they could not articulate why they were interested in the Faith, and had to be helped to form an intellectual, adult response to Catholicism.
Many were coming from low-church, non-denominational backgrounds, God bless them.
Conclusion: bloggers, like myself, have to appeal, if we really take this ministry of Catholic blogging seriously, to these groupings. This is almost impossible, as bloggers reach out to a specific readership for the most part.
I am saddened, as their comments helped me more than the others, as they could get into the conversation at a level which pushed the discussion.
Perhaps it is a generational thing-I think it is. The Baby Boomers, who had much better education than the Gen Xs, are simply getting fed up with the blogging thing. The Millenials, who are naturally on line, love blogs, but do not comment. This leaves the blogger to deal with the desparate needs of the middle group-catechesis and fellowship.
We bloggers have a task ahead of us to reach out to all, but especially be aware of a change in blogging readership. Have other bloggers noticed this change?
Friday, 15 March 2013
I taught Logic for years. I taught Debate. I taught Rhetoric. These were at the university level. These parts of the Trivium should be taught earlier than college or university, but rarely are. I had Logic in first year of secondary school, when I was fourteen.
I know the fallacies. I know how to think. I know how to lead students to think and there is hardly anything more exciting than watching students learn to think. It is an amazing experience.
I also have a journalist background, working in high school, college and city newspapers.
I have blogged from 2007-2009 and January 2012 until now.
I read many, many blogs and comment on some.
The past two days have been painful in the blogosphere. One reason has been the lack of logic and the use of fallacies.
Opposing sides of an argument have used faulty thinking, which are the fallacies, instead of sticking to points and arguing from logic.
Why this has happened is simply that most people have not learned to think or argue logically.
Emoting is useless and, on line, selfish and boring.
Sadly, adults have not mastered these stages. I would change the words "persuasion" and "persuasively" in the two diagrams to "argumentation" and "debate". Persuasion uses emotion. which is subjective, while argumentation used object logic and facts. Fallacies reveal faulty thinking and the application of subjectivism, such as name calling.
Name calling and ad hominem statements cause pain and hurt.
The problem is compounded by the fact that many people are afraid of the truth.
I hope all of us who belong to the Guild and all who read the Guild only want truth and not sentiment or comfort.
The truth, as Christ said, makes us free. Anything less imprisons us in an adolescent state of either denial or confusion.
Confusion is not from God. Clarity is from God. Division is not from God. Unity is from God. But, unity must be real and not fake niceties.
Let us take a moment and pray for the Church, our new Pope, and Catholic bloggers everywhere.
Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Monday, 11 March 2013
Pray and fast. Do not pretend that this Conclave is somehow "magical". The Cardinals are very human as well as, hopefully, listening to the Holy Spirit. We have had less than stellar popes in the past-many.
We shall get God's choice, either His Perfect Will, or His Permissive Will.
Pray and fast.
Saturday, 9 March 2013
But, what is perplexing me is how to evangelize fallen-away Catholics? In many ways, and I was an RCIA coordinator and teacher for years, those who have been pagans, and those coming from the Low Church, have been much easier to teach than either Evangelicals, or Catholics returning to the Faith.
That pagans are attracted to the Faith does not surprise me. That we are witnessing the great movement of Anglican converts into the Ordinariates of the Universal Church,which provides hope and excitement in the Church, does not surprise me. But, the hardest "nuts to crack", even when these good people want to come into the Church, are the lapsed Catholics.
Another young man I know struggled with many basic Evangelical questions before converting: justification and sanctification, sola fide, sola gratia, sola Scriptura. But, his biggest hurdles were moral. Changing his mind about contraception in his marriage and taking Catholicism into the workplace seemed at first obstacles too big to overcome.
He did come in and is an exemplary Catholic. However, he was not raised Catholic.
In the not too distant past, I offered to help a parish with catechesis, as I had just taken a course in Adult Faith Formation for Catholics and was brimming over with enthusiasm . The priest asked the parish if they wanted such a class or classes and the answer was, amazingly, "We don't need catechesis." Both the priest and I were not only surprised, but disappointed.
Now, these so-called practicing Catholics were not open to appropriating an adult Catholic Faith, or continuing to form an adult conscience.
This is the problem with lapsed Catholics. They are stuck in some type of mind-set which stops intellectual curiosity about their own Faith.
How to evangelize these Catholics stuck in the past or stuck in the mindset of a young person, presents a challenge to me.
If there was more community life in the Church in England, people could say "See how they love one another", and be attracted enough to come in...., but this is not the case in most parishes.
If there was a dynamic outreach in a parish for lapsed Catholics, instead of a laissez faire attitude, maybe focus would change.
There has been too much false ecumenism, clouding the issue that there is a fullness of Truth and therefore, happiness, in the Catholic Church.
My heart goes out to the lapsed Catholics, and for those who stubbornly stay outside the gate. I hope I can find the way to tempt them to look again at what they have repudiated either by choice or laziness. Some I know are practical atheists. Some have chosen other denominations.
In some ways, I admire their lack of hypocrisy, as many Catholics who attend Mass regularly, are thinking and living like Protestants. Contraception, of course, marks the ones in rebellion.
I pray for my lapsed brothers and sisters in Christ and pray for a way to help them come home again. There is much peace and happiness to be found when one finally comes home.
Friday, 8 March 2013
Half Finnish and half Welsh, it was in her more mature years that her work began to be published and, indeed, she wrote for The Catholic Herald, among others, for some years until her article criticising the Bishops of England and Wales brought the wrath of Cardinal Hume upon her head, who, it is alleged, complained to the editor of The Catholic Herald resulting in ATE being unceremoniously sacked by the paper.
She was unrepentant and continued to berate the forces of liberalism that raged in the Catholic Church of England and Wales at that time.
In her book 'Serpent on the Rock' she travelled around Britain and Ireland seeking views from laity and clergy alike as to the state that the Church was in. She found, quite expectedly that the Church was in a parlous state with little or no sign of the reverent, spiritual Church that had led her to convert as a young woman.
After her dismissal from The Catholic Herald she wrote a fine piece headed: "I accuse the Catholic Bishops".
She punched home the message of abandonment in the 1970s, 80s and 90s:
"Between 1980 and 1995 there was a net loss of 50,000 practising Catholics. This disaster was never publicised. Instead we heard constantly of the glorious ecumenical work being done by the Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool (the Most Reverend Derek Worlock)......."
She suffered the loss of her son, Joshua, through a tragic accident and wrote thse words in his memory:
for whom the sun
did not stand still
but as you fell headlong
so set for you,
as suns return
you too, most sweet beloved,
and in the name of him
whose name is yours
After the death of her publisher husband, Colin Haycraft, she returned to live in Wales in a house strewn with large statues of the saints.
At the time of writing her "I accuse the Bishops" article, Liverpool Archdiocese was without a leader.
Most poignantly, (given that Liverpool is currently leaderless again), she made this comment when asked: "Who would you like Liverpool's next Archbishop to be?"
"Well, I think that a Catholic would be nice"
ALICE THOMAS ELLIS 9 SEPTEMBER 1932 - 8 MARCH 2005
Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon her.
May she rest in peace. Amen
Posted by Richard Collins - Linen on the Hedgerow
Sunday, 3 March 2013
The pastor of the Church where I am today on Surrey gave a superb sermon.
It was on perfection. Can you imagine how happy and peaceful I was to hear this call to perfection from the pulpit.
His language mirrored that of both SS. Bernard of Clairvaux and Augustine of Hippo. Father Dominic said that we must be divinized in Christ; that is, we must become like God. Bernard uses that exact word.
The Divine Nature of God takes over our nature. God's grace is reflected in our human nature, which means that the gifts given to us from birth meld with the gifts given in baptism and confirmation. How wonderful.
Father stressed that we were like the slaves in Egypt who were freed by God. Just so, we need to decide not to be slaves and to follow Christ out of bondage into new live, away from sin.
Referring to the Name of God, "I am", Father noted that a possible translation is "I am ready and present to act".
How amazing. God comes to us and presents Himself to us. He wants to act in our lives.
This happens in a quiet manner-"God does not shout", stated Father.
So, we are purified by leaving the slavery of sin; we work in the virtues; we meet the God Who comes to meet us in love.
I wanted so much to hear a sermon on perfection and here it is, practically in my backyard!