Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

It was on a good Friday,
    and all in the morning,
They crucified our Savior,
    and our heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing
And sweet Jesus,
    we’ll call him by name.


From "the third hour" until "the sixth hour." From sext to none. From noon until three in the afternoon. Scripture tells us that our Lord was dying on the cross at this time, culminating in the words “Consummatum Est” (“It is finished”).

When we were kids, growing up in Ohio, we would either go to church for Stations of the Cross or some related devotion, or if we were at home, Mom would turn the radio off, and we would be admonished to be quieter than usual. It marks the consummation of the ultimate act of sacrificial Love, that of the Bridegroom with His bride.

Elsewhere in Cincinnati, a venerable custom dating a century and a half still takes place on this day.

In December 1860, a Catholic church was completed on a bluff atop Mount Adams, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Since the hill was too steep for a horse-and-buggy, there were a series of wooden steps built as well, leading from St Gregory Street near the riverfront, on up to the church entrance. The following spring saw the start of the Civil War, and Immaculata Church became the site of devout Catholics praying the rosary for peace, while climbing the steps to its entrance. The tradition continues, as every year on Good Friday (a day when it invariably rains), an estimated ten thousand pilgrims climb the 85 steps -- the wooden ones having since been replaced by concrete -- leading to the entrance. The procession begins at midnight, with the parish priest's blessing of the steps, and continues for twenty-four hours.

The Passionist Historical Archives elaborates on the legacy of “St Mary’s of the Steps”, as does the parish website.
 

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday

It was on a
    maundy Thursday,
        and all in the morning,
They planted
    a crown of thorns
        on our heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing,
And sweet Jesus
    we'll call him by name.


Today begins the Sacred Triduum. It is quiet here at Chez Alexandre, with preparations to be made, errands to be run, and ... more writing.

For a Catholic, as much as some try to deny it, the next three days are not business as usual. The whole of human history -- before, during, after -- turns on the events we remember this week.

Our meditation is from a poem by Jalaludin Rumi. It is translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne, with music by David Wilcox and Nance Pettit, and is produced by Bob Carlton.
 

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Spy Wednesday

It was on a Holy Wednesday,
    and all in the morning
When Judas betrayed
    our dear heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing,
And sweet Jesus,
    we'll call him by name.


This day in Holy Week is known among Western Christians by the above title (or among Christians in the East, Μεγάλη Τετάρτη, in case you were wondering), as tradition commemorates this day for when Judas Iscariot conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Our Lord, in exchange for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15).

Was that a lot of money in those days?

The term in the original language, "arguria," simply means "silver coins." Historians disagree as to what form of currency is described. They could have been either staters from Antioch, tetradrachms from Ptolemy, or shekels from Tyre. (Nothing about Greek drachmas, which were either bronze, copper, or iron. Just so we're clear on that.)

Closer to the present, it is also when we here at man with black hat (more or less) interrupt our usual blogcasting in order to focus on the Main Event for the several days that follow. Stay tuned ...
 

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Holy Week: Waiting in the Wings

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast Thou offended, * That man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended? * By foes derided, by Thine own rejected, * O most afflicted.

Holy Week at the parish of Saint John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia, is an awesome thing, where the “reform of the reform” in liturgical life is the rule, not the exception. Even if the "ordinary form" is used, the altar is "versus orientem" for the three days. The priest, his attendants, and the faithful, all turn towards the Lord in the same direction, as the traditional Latin and English vernacular co-exist peacefully.

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon Thee? * Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee. * ’Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee! * I crucified Thee.

The Sacred Triduum is preceded by the service of Tenebrae on Wednesday evening. Two hundred people join the clergy, seminarians, and altar servers in witnessing the dimming of the lights, to await the Light of the World in the three days that follow. Imagine the sight of dozens of altar servers processing in, two by two. It begins with the crucifer and candle-bearers, followed by the very young, appearing quite cherubic in their surplices and black cassocks.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered; * The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered; * For man’s atonement, while he nothing heedeth, * God intercedeth.

The older servers follow in their maroon cassocks and pleated surplices. Then come the seminarians and deacons of the parish. Finally, the master of ceremonies leads the parish priests, as the procession of nearly one hundred clerics and laics converge upon the Holy of Holies. It is from there that the time of darkness and lamentation begins, followed by the hearing of confessions.

For me, kind Jesus, was Thy incarnation, * Thy mortal sorrow, and Thy life’s oblation; * Thy death of anguish and Thy bitter passion, * For my salvation.

Tomorrow night is the “Cena Domini” or Mass of the Lord's Supper. The original meal shared by the disciples, the sacrificial offering that took place in the twenty-four hours that followed, all will be re-presented in the sight of Christ's faithful. The pastor will remove his outer priestly vestments, put on an apron, and wash the feet of twelve young altar servers. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” For one night of the year, the priest will serve the least of those young lads who serve him at the altar of God.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee, * I do adore Thee, and will ever pray Thee, * Think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving, * Not my deserving.
 

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Random Thoughts Beneath Calvary

The weather has heralded the coming of spring in this part of North America, but tomorrowtonight the temperature dips near freezing. For most of the Triduum, the high temperature will be in the 50s (or low- to mid-teens Celsius). Meanwhile, here at Chez Alexandre, there are a few stories in the works. Our analysis of a certain catechism class gone wild in Charlotte, North Carolina, is in preparation, and we'd just as soon tell you right now, the one single, solitary point that everyone else is missing. There are other stories in the works as well, stories that need to be told. They sit there, waiting for that final polish, but ...

To be honest, this writer has better things to do.

We tell ourselves that this is not our world, of how, in the words of C S Lewis: “This world that seems to us so substantial is no more than the shadowlands. Real life has not begun yet.” We say we believe that, but do we?

When I was a sacristan at a parish in Georgetown, there were preparations to be made before the Easter Vigil, just like every other parish in the world. Early that evening, people would show up at the door asking why the 5:30 Mass wasn't starting as usual. How could I tell them that there was nothing “usual” about that night? They had the presence of mind to fulfill their Sunday obligation. But that was all it was, an obligation, one more thing to cross off the list before going on to something else.

I take the days off on Holy Thursday and Good Friday every year, not because I'm better than anyone else, but precisely because I'm not. I need to stop and pay attention. I don't pay enough as it is.

Walk with me, dear reader. God is still in charge of His heaven. There are steps to walk on this earth, before the Son rises again.
 

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Monday, April 14, 2014

“I read the news today, oh boy ...” (Holy Week Edition)

Google has a product it's testing known as Google Glass, which is a set of really expensive eyeglasses that allow you to continually see information out of the corner of your eye, such as the time, the temperature, your heart rate, how the stock market is doing, and so on. Just roll this clip, and watch a bunch of geeks show you how the device will make you into a total chick magnet. Or something.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on planet Earth:

A movie theater in Exeter, United Kingdom, had to scrap a showing of the biblical epic "Noah" starring Russell Crowe, due to flooding caused by an ice machine gone wild. And you thought the whole story was made up. [Time]

Health adovacates, as well as a few microbreweries and their distributors, would caution you about the big-@$$ corporate brands that are bad for you. That's the good news. The bad news is, they include Guinness. This is not good. [Banoosh]

Speaking of getting back on the hard stuff, a couple of Greek-Americans (or a couple who wishes they were) developed a soft drink that tastes like ouzo. Makes you wanna go line dancing in the streets of Rochester, doesn't it? [WHAM-TV]

Finally, and on a more somber note, you've been asking yourself what really happened out at that cattle ranch in Nevada, and why, here it is in a nutshell. [Townhall]

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That's all the news that fits. As the week goes on, our usual routine here at man with black hat will be put aside beginning this Wednesday, as we commemorate the holiest week of the Christian year. Follow us on our journey to Calvary. Stay tuned, and stay in touch.
 

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hosanna Filio David!

Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will toward his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation. He who came down from heaven to raise us from the depths of sin, to raise us with himself, we are told in Scripture, above every sovereignty, authority and power, and every other name that can be named, now comes of his own free will to make his journey to Jerusalem. He comes without pomp or ostentation. As the psalmist says: He will not dispute or raise his voice to make it heard in the streets. He will be meek and humble, and he will make his entry in simplicity.

Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.

In his humility Christ entered the dark regions of our fallen world and he is glad that he became so humble for our sake, glad that he came and lived among us and shared in our nature in order to raise us up again to himself. And even though we are told that he has now ascended above the highest heavens – the proof, surely, of his power and godhead – his love for man will never rest until he has raised our earthbound nature from glory to glory, and made it one with his own in heaven.

So let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel.

-- From a sermon by Saint Andrew of Crete, bishop. Images from Palm Sunday in 2009, at St John the Beloved Church, McLean, Virginia, courtesy of Miss Sarah Campbell.
 

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Friday, April 11, 2014

FAMW: The Gregory Brothers Go “Clocking” in NYC

Our favorite siblings, The Gregory Brothers, are running around loose again on the streets of New York, this time at Times Square and Grand Central Station, making time by marking the time, or at they call it, “clocking!” It's a pretty neat trick, and one way to pass the time (on at least two levels) for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.
 

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Loose Lips in the Loggia (Passion Thursday Edition)

This is a video shot during a Wedding Mass, in which the priest burst into song for some reason, causing the bride to be moved to tears. We should all be moved to tears -- every time some aging adolescent in a Roman collar thinks it's all about him.

Meanwhile, here's what's bouncing around the bandwidth of Believers lately:

On the matter of the aforementioned, we have the story behind the story. [The Christian Post]

Yours truly used to belong to this parish. It was a nice place once, before it got all weenie on everybody. I'm wondering if this guy had the slightest idea that he might one day get caught. Probably not. [The Deacon's Bench]

George Weigel takes Cardinal O'Malley to task for celebrating Mass at a border fence, which makes for a great photo-op, but ... [National Catholic Reporter]

... as a proper venue for Holy Mass, canonist Edward Peters determines that it is another matter entirely. [In The Light Of The Law]

They're going berserk in Berkeley, but this time it's not the rising cost of weed, but the removal of a priest from campus ministry. What was first reported as a draconian move by the local bishop turns out to be one of those what-the-hell-did-you-expect moments. [link]

And finally, reports of Pope Francis as a "put-down artist," towards those who would otherwise be loyal to his authority, is given a thorough review, ending with a twist. [New Oxford Review]

Well, that's our story and we're stickin' to it. Remember to attend Holy Mass this Sunday, not to mention much of the week that follows, when our usual schedule will be interrupted by the "High Holydays" of the Christian year. Until the next chattel of church chat -- that would be in two weeks -- stay tuned, and stay in touch.
 

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Clean Livin’ and Fancy Footwork (2014 Remix)

“Mandatum novum do vobis: ut diligatis invicem, sicut delexi vos, dicit Dominus. Beati immaculate in via: qui ambulant in lege Domini ...”

(“A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, says the Lord. Blessed are the undefiled in the way: who walk in the law of the Lord ...”)


For those of us in the western Church, Holy Week is soon to be upon us. As with every year, the Mass of the Lord's Supper on the evening of Holy Thursday (this year on April 17, one week from today), will be highlighted by the Washing of Feet.

Although the traditional number of subjects being twelve is largely a matter of custom, the rubrics are specific that that only males are selected (in Latin, viri selecti, usually translated as "men") to have their feet washed. Since most liturgical functions of the laity are open to both men and women, the significance of this restriction is lost on the general Catholic public. What's more, the exception is difficult to justify or explain simply at the parish level, and even parishes which are otherwise steadfast in devotion to Church teaching and practice, are known to allow women to have their feet washed.

Defenders of the practice, in addition to underscoring the need for fidelity to Church discipline in and of itself, are quick to point out the significance of the apostles' all being men, thus the connection with the institution of the ministerial priesthood is reinforced by only men's feet being washed. While this position appears worthy of merit on the surface, it could be sufficiently challenged. (Keep reading. It will be.)

Last year, the controversy assumed new meaning. The former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, then only recently named His Holiness Pope Francis, had in the past performed this rite with both women and men, usually at various charitable institutions. Last year, he ventured outside Saint Peter's Basilica, to celebrate the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Casal del Marmo juvenile detention facility in Rome, where the feet of both young men and young women were washed.

(We refer to the excellent commentary by canonist Ed Peters on this very subject.)

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Much of the above is generally known. What follows here, is what isn't.

It is important to remember at the offset, that the sanctuary (or presbyterium; that is, the place of presiding) is traditionally limited to men; and in the strictest sense, to those in the clerical state, be it major or minor. Since a typical parish church did not have the benefit of a complement of minor clerics, men and boys of the parish would act as legitimate surrogates. (Some can still remember when a layman would be pressed into service at a Missa Solemnis as a "straw subdeacon.") Again, strictly speaking, and in the official ceremonials, the use of males within the sanctuary remains the norm. It is only by legitimate indulgence in certain parts of the world (including nearly all of North America and much of Europe), that women perform liturgical functions -- reader, acolyte, and so on -- within the sanctuary at all. Even devout Catholics would not be aware of this, let alone that these indults were not instituted all at once, but at one time or another, during the last few decades of official liturgical reform.

Once exceptions were made (beginning with women ushers in 1969, then as lectors, at the celebrant's discretion, in 1971), it was only a matter of time before others would follow, whether at the initiative of the Holy See (as in the case of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, where a female Religious is actually preferred over an unconsecrated male), or an acquiescence to prolonged disobedience. What some defenders of the current directive fail to recognize, is that the connection to the ministerial priesthood was the traditional justification for all liturgical functions being restricted to men. (Strangely, no one has a problem with all-male ushers or pallbearers, even at parishes which use female altar servers.) The only significant exception that has not been made, is a practice that occurs only once a year, on Holy Thursday.

When we consider why disobedience persists, and attempt to challenge those who engage therein, it does not serve us to play loose with the facts. Michael Voris has suggested in the past that the requirement for "men" eliminates even boys. This is patently false, and only reinforces this writer's contention that liturgical matters are not Mr Voris's strong suit. The requirement is simply that they be "male," making no reference to an age requirement. Indeed, the use of twelve altar boys having their feet washed by the parish priest whom they serve has been a staple of this tradition for many years, and all in accordance with liturgical norms, inasmuch as “Custom is the best interpreter of laws.” (Canon 27, CIC)

As to why the current practice of washing only the feet of males officially persists, the reasons vary. One is the perception that a change would be one more reinforcement of "caving in" to those who violate liturgical directives in Catholic worship. This sends the wrong message to those who endeavor to be compliant, whatever the discomfort. The allowance of female altar servers in 1994, which is known to have occurred against the late Pope John Paul II's privately expressed wishes, is a case in point.

There is also a matter of propriety. Depending on the setting, even the age of the priest, it may be considered inappropriate for a man to wash the feet of a woman with whom he is not on sufficiently familiar terms, let alone in public. Again, the sensibilities of those assembled may vary from one region to another, even one parish to another. I know there are people in "civilized" parts of the world, especially in "über-enlightened" North America, where this is hard to believe. Such naysayers should really see more of the world, or at least watch the Discovery Channel. Or they can peruse a recent account of a priest with a ... well, a peculiar challenge.

The imagery of female footwashing is has substantially greater potential for conveying something sexually inappropriate–or (in our fallen world) actually being something sexually inappropriate.

Meanwhile, some parishes apparently feel the need to prove something to everybody, and will substitute the men-only foot washing with a Washing of Hands amidst the entire assembly. This is rather troubling, when you consider that it was Pontius Pilate who ceremoniously washed his hands in the presence of the crowd, to declare his resignation of Our Lord's eventual fate. If symbols are to have any enduring power, their meaning must be inherent, as opposed to being subject to whatever spin their manipulators (in the form of parish liturgy committees) wish to impose on them. Or have we forgotten what happened to the Emperor who listened to his tailor, at the expense of his own good judgment?

This may be why, in the diocese of yours truly, the bishop has directed that, the ritual itself being optional, parishes may choose instead to take up a collection of canned goods for those in need. And yet, one or two of his parishes will openly choose to "go rogue" on this one; yes, even in the Excruciatingly Orthodox Diocese of Arlington.

There are some who maintain that the original premise for the footwashing on Holy Thursday is to remind us of the institution of the priesthood. According to Dr Peters, the revival of the practice by Pius XII in his 1955 revision of the Holy Week rites did not serve that purpose in the fist place. Even so, it is best to follow the correct discipline of the Church in this matter. Even in our politically correct day and age, we have not entirely evolved beyond the separation of roles for male and female, and not just for setting preferences in the lifeboat. We are also obliged to set an example for ourselves and others. If I am a pastor who can play fast and loose with how the rules apply to me, how can I expect others to listen to me? Who determines what rules are okay to break or not to break?

This could be a source of confusion even were the offender in question to be the supreme legislator himself, namely the Holy Father, as is noted by his old friend, Father John Zuhlsdorf.

I understand what Francis is doing here. Fine. But in making such a dramatic change, I fear that he runs the risk of making these changes all about him, rather than some other message he wants to convey. The same goes for all the other changes he is making. The papacy isn’t just his own thing to do with what it pleaseth him to do. The changes can become distractions, especially the way the media will handle them.

That being said, there is a provision in old Roman law, inherited by the discipline of Mother Church, which holds thus: “He who gives the law can also dispense from it.” Canonist Peter Vere elaborates:

What the pope did was perfectly licit (lawful). He may have departed from established liturgical rubrics, but rubric in question is mere ecclesiastical law - not a matter of Divine Positive Law or Natural Law. Hence the rubric in question is subject to Pope Francis's authority as the Church's Supreme Pontiff. Within Roman (and Catholic) legal tradition he can either depart from mere ecclesiastical law, dispense from it, or completely change it if he believes there is good reason to do so or if a compelling pastoral reason presents itself.

... which is a prerogative that does not necessarily apply to another bishop, save that of Rome.

The problem here is, that if you don't know all that (and 99 percent of you didn't until now), its significance will be lost on you. It certainly will be when a faithful parish priest has to contend with a cabal of uppity laypeople throwing the Pope's example in his face. Like he doesn't have enough to worry about. The point here is that “charity in all things” is more than simply being nice. It is also a reason for doing good and avoiding evil, which means setting a proper example. And it is that example, which was the inspiration for our Lord washing the feet of his disciples.

It's not too much to ask for one evening of the year, don't you think?

Or don't you???

[The preceding was originally published in the spring of 2005, and is reissued each year to include subsequent developments, for the benefit of those among our readership who either earnestly desire to get a clue on this issue, or insist on going through life without one, or maybe just get a big kick out of accusing a priest or bishop of being "pharisaical." Or something. -- DLA]
 

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