Thursday, December 18, 2014

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Adonai

Veni, Veni Adonai!
    O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
Qui populo in Sinai
    Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height
Legem dedisti vertice,
    In ancient times didst give the law
In Majestate gloriae.
    In cloud and majesty, and awe.

Isaiah had prophesied, “But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” (11:4-5); and “Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic; yes the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us.” (33:22).

“O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”

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Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Sapientia

Veni, O Sapientia,
    O come, O Wisdom from on high,
Quae hic disponis omnia,
    who orders all things mightily,
Veni, viam prudentiae
    to us the path of knowledge show,
Ut doceas et gloriae.
    and teach us in her ways to go.

Isaiah had prophesied, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).

“O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

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Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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(Commentary for this series of the “O Antiphons” is authored by Father William Saunders, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, with copyright 2003 from the Arlington Catholic Herald. Prints in the upper right-hand corner are the work of artist and printmaker Martha Kelly of Memphis, Tennessee. The works of both are used in this series without permission or shame.)

Z <-- This is the link to one of a series of commentaries on the O Antiphons, by Father John Zuhlsdorf. They will appear at the end of every installment in this series.

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Advent Reflection 3: Mary

Mary, you're covered in roses,
    you're covered in ashes
    you're covered in rain
You're covered in babies,
    you're covered in slashes
You're covered in wilderness,
    you're covered in stains
You cast aside the sheet,
    you cast aside the shroud
Of another man,
    who served the world proud
You greet another son,
    you lose another one
On some sunny day and always stay,

Jesus says Mother
    I couldn't stay another day longer
Flys right by me
    and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin' his praises
    in a blaze of glory
Mary, stays behind
    and starts cleaning up the place

Mary, she moves behind me
She leaves her fingerprints everywhere
Everytime the snow drifts,
    everytime the sand shifts
Even when the night lifts,
    she's always there

Jesus says Mother
    I couldn't stay another day longer
Flys right by me
    and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin' his praises
    in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind
    and starts cleaning up the place

Mary, you're covered in roses,
    you're covered in ruin
    you're covered in secrets
You're covered in treetops,
    you're covered in birds
Who can sing a million songs
    without any words
You cast aside the sheets,
    you cast aside the shroud
Of another man,
    who served the world proud
You greet another son,
    you lose another one
On some sunny day and always stay

Mary, Mary, Mary

(A song by Patty Griffin, from her 1998 A&M album, Flaming Red.)

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Keeping the “Ch” in “Chanukkah” 2014

Today at sundown marks the beginning of the Jewish Festival of Lights, known as Chanukkah (Hanukkah, or חנוכה), which commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, following the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BC. It is observed for eight nights, as a reminder of the miracle of one night's supply of oil for the lamps lasting for eight, until a fresh supply could be obtained.

Around the turn of this century, our director of communications was a devout Jewish woman, who invited all the staff to her house in the country for a holiday celebration. A highlight of the affair was her presentation with her grandchildren, as she told them of the story of Chanukkah. As the rest of us Gentiles watched, she would lead the children in the Hebrew chant for the occasion: “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Chanukkah...” While others stood around watching in varying degrees of perplexity, I found myself singing with the children ... well, maybe sort of following along.

I turned to my son: "Does this sound familiar, like what you hear in the Divine Liturgy?" He nodded, as I continued. "This is where we get the Byzantine chant, and the Gregorian chant. It came to us from the Jews." He totally got it.

A comedian named Adam Sandler first introduced this holiday classic on NBC's Saturday Night Live. The song gives a list of famous celebrities from various walks of life who are Jewish: “Put on your yarmulke, here comes Hanukkah / It's so much funukkah, to celebrate Hanukkah / Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights / Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights!”

There's more where that came from.

This is an original work by Matisyahu. “Miracle” is produced by Dr Luke protégé Kool Kojak (Flo Rida, Katy Perry, Ke$ha), and is drenched in a joyful spirit, with chiming synths, bouncing beats, and an irresistible chorus. And ice skating.

There are so many Christmas songs out there. I wanted to give the Jewish kids something to be proud of. We've got Adam Sandler's song, which is hilarious, but I wanted to try to get across some of the depth and spirituality inherent in the holiday in a fun, celebratory song. My boy Kojak was in town so at the last minute we went into the studio in the spirit of miracles and underdogs and this is what we came up with. Happy Hannukah!

Matisyahu can be found on Facebook, and followed on Twitter. The song can also be downloaded from iTunes.

Finally, on a serious note, Charlie Harare explains the origins of Chanukkah, and its meaning in daily life from a Jewish point of view, which is only reasonable as this is a Jewish holiday. This begs the question ...

What is there for a Catholic in this message, and why do I share it every year at this time?

As Judaism is a sign of the Old Covenant, and Christ brought it to fulfillment in the New Covenant, to be a Catholic is to be, in effect, a fulfilled Jew. We therefore cannot rule out the possibility of something to be learned here, for that which we believe as Catholics, is built upon no less than the story that is told here. Judaism is not a false religion; it is an unfulfilled religion. It was -- indeed, it IS -- fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. If you as a Catholic don't get that after watching this video, I can't explain it to you.

However you slice it, “It's beginning to look a lot like...”

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Novena for Christ-Mass: Prelude

In a nation where eighty percent of the population is Catholic, Christmas starts early. It has to. After all, you cannot have a feast like Christmas without it being preceded by a novena. That's when you get up to attend Mass just before dawn for nine days before the big day. In the Philippines, it is known as “Simbang Gabi” which is Tagalog for “evening Mass.” It is also known as “Misa de Gallo” which is Spanish for “Rooster’s Mass.”

So why is this series of Masses held in the morning and not the evening, as is customary with Masses for a Christmas novena? The answer can be traced to the early colonial days, when the people would be exhausted from working in the fields all day for their Spanish taskmasters. The priests and friars who tended to their spiritual needed, availed themselves of the people's desire to start the day early, ahead of the tropical heat, and moved the customary Mass and devotion to the early morning, before dawn. It must be with a sense of irony that the Archdiocese of Manila saw fit in recent years, to introduce liturgical norms for the novena, in the form of celebrating Simbang Gabi in the evenings, for those office professionals who can more easily attend at that time.

The popular decoration for Christmas in the Philippines is the “parol” (pronounced “pah-ROLL” with a rolling "r", from the Spanish word for lantern, "farol"), which is as common there as the Christmas tree is here in the States. This star-shaped motif is a cross between a Chinese lantern and the Mexican piñata. It is lit from within; traditionally with candlelights mounted inside, but in the last century with electric lights. They are typically two to three feet wide, but if you go to such renowned events as the Fiesta at San Fernando, Pampanga (north of Metro Manila), there is a huge parade to celebrate the beginning -- no, not of Christmas, but of the novena!

Traditional parols are made with bamboo sticks and rice paper. If you go to the site known as “” you can learn to make one, or even order a kit. Better yet, if you can't wait for delivery, simply read the instructions and find what you need at an arts and crafts store. You could have it done next weekend.

Closer to home, at Chez Alexandre, we have a very colorful parol gracing the front door, one that Sal brought back from the Philippines. It is of the modern variety, made with wire and a type of seashell known as capiz, and illuminated with elaborate flashing lights. The rest of the decorations will follow, but we had to start out on the right foot -- or, should we say, in the right light?

Now, back to that novena thing.

We here at man with black hat have an annual tradition of honoring the “O Antiphons” the seven chants which introduce the Vesperal Canticle -- the “Magnificat” -- in the Divine Office. Most people hear paraphrases of them all at once in the hymn "O Come O Come Emmanuel," but they were originally chanted one verse a day, ending with the day before the that of the Vigil. Over time, our annual feature has evolved into its present form, as a comprehensive aid to daily devotion. For just five minutes of viewing during a quiet time in the day, one may contemplate the coming of the God-made-man. The video clips for this unique series are provided by the YouTube channel of francisxcc entitled “The Splendor of Truth.”


As an added bonus, we will provide links for each Antiphon, to Father John Zuhlsdorf's famous commentaries on the same, the link for which will be indicated by the letter “Z” at the bottom of each entry.

They will be set up to publish at nine in the morning, eastern USA time, beginning tomorrow. Stay tuned ...

[NOTA BENE: Regarding a reference in the first video, a "barangay" is a municipality within a city; roughly corresponding to "barrio" in Spanish, or "berg" in German" or "borough" in English. New York City, for example, is divided into five boroughs -- Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. Same concept, just sayin' ...]

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Monday, December 15, 2014

My Year of Living Dangerously

The year of Our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty (1980) may be remembered as the most critical in my life. I made decisions that would, more than any other, determine its direction forever, and so I choose this occasion to elaborate.

My So-Called Life

In the summer of 1978, I graduated a short time earlier from the University of Cincinnati, with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Graphic Design. Being raised in a "Procter and Gamble family," it only seemed to make sense that I would seek out a company, large or small, to hire me for life. That didn't quite happen. Early in my interviews, I was asked to work for a small advertising agency -- as a free-lancer. The thought of going into business for myself had not occurred to me until the moment they asked. I said yes, and for two and a half years, it made all the difference.

My academic training was excellent. Unfortunately, the ability of my instructors to transfer such knowledge to real life left something to be desired. This was despite an internship program that essentially allowed me to graduate with eighteen months of real job experience. But there I was, working in Cincinnati by day, and living with my parents in the eastern outskirts of the city at night. There wasn't much promise there for a young designer in the late 1970s. "Mother Procter" was queen of the industry, and set the pace not only for the big agencies and creative houses, but for the bottom-feeders consisting of cigar-chomping geezers whose creative acumen was reduced to cranking out one piece of overdecorated future landfill after another. They'd look at my work. "Very nice, but can you spec type?" I'd go to agencies for ad work. "This stuff is too creative. Have you tried looking for studio work?" Then I'd interview at studios. "Most of this stuff is straight advertising. Have you gone to the agencies?" Most guys were amicable, some were very instructive, a few were simply jerks with bad polyester suits and even worse comb-overs. Most of them were not as aware of the industry's big picture as they thought they were.

That big picture wasn't looking too good in the late 1970s. The recession of the last "hope and change" guy, Jimmy Carter, was wreaking havoc. They left behind the riff-raff that constituted my interviews, contrasted with the occasional pompadours with Italian suits and the usual pretensions, who thought they were doing a podunk town like Cincinnati a favor by hanging their shingle there. Between clowns to the left of me, and posers to the right, I was stuck in the middle with no place to go. A few of my colleagues were disgusted with the local scene at the offset, and headed to New York or Chicago.

I couldn't blame them. Cincinnati was home to a number of two-year trade schools devoted to "commercial art" or related fields. Without the burden of academic and liberal arts requirements, these storefront diploma mills pumped out graduates equipped to do the low-end production work, without pushing the envelope in terms of design. "Scaling new heights of mediocrity" was what one art director called it. Their work didn't break new ground, but it was the bread and butter work for smaller and less aggressive markets like ours. A portfolio of purely creative innovation might wow them in the Big Apple, but it didn't cut much ice in the Queen City.

And yet, provincial though it was, Cincinnati was about as "big city" as I could handle, or so I thought.

Mama's Boy Is In The House

Early that year, I hooked up with a commercial studio run by one of the city's most respected illustrators. A former agency director of a firm eventually bought out by Young and Rubicam, he later presided over a family affair. His wife kept the books, his older son used the studio as his apartment (the cause of occasional awkward moments when female visitors spent the night there), and his younger son came in around mid-afternoon. Waiting for Junior was work that I could have been doing, as opposed to sitting around half the time. I was paid by the hour.

The rest of my life wasn't setting the world on fire either. Looking back, it was easy to see why. I was twenty-five and still living with my parents. The older of my two sisters had already married and had a son. My younger brother left home during sophomore year of college, and wasn't coming back. I was also dating this girl whose horizons were even shorter than mine. I'm not sure how we ever connected, really, unless you count either boredom or low expectations as an excuse. Not only that, but in addition to three months of dating her, it took me two months to dump her. After all, I was her ticket out of living with her parents. This mistake alone would have been reason enough to get outa Dodge City.

As dismal as things seemed, my life outside the office was coming on its own. Cincinnati was home to an emerging roots music scene. I was becoming known as a musician, organizer, somebody who was good to have around to get events going. The bluegrass people, the Celtic people, the contra dance and international folk dance crowds, they all knew me.

But when you added it all up, I seemed to be at a standstill. Back in February, my professor who headed my department back at UC convinced me to send a slide portfolio of my work to something the Government called "The Federal Design Registry." I had just started working for the Mom-and-Pop studio, but I figured, what could it hurt?

The Other Shoe

Then in September, three things happened within about a week that heralded an impending change of life. First, a cousin of mine suffering from severe depression hung himself on the tree in his yard. Second, I finally got rid of the crazy girlfriend. But the third thing was what did it. A few weeks after the boss said I was doing a great job, his younger son graduated from the rinky-dink trade school, and the place wasn't big enough for both of us. Cincinnati is a small town when it comes to who's doing well or not-so-well. The Big Guy couldn't afford the bad rep to hit the streets, so he told me he was cutting me loose because I was doing a NOT-so-great job. His son's predicament was a mere coincidence. Lying through his teeth wasn't anything personal; it was business.

The worst thing was that the old-timers I knew and spoke to saw nothing unusual in this. I began to lose some respect for my chosen profession. I had heard of guys being "black-balled" so some studio hack could save face, but never thought of myself as much of a threat.

I free-lanced for a couple of months, but hardly enough to live on. Then I got a letter from Washington, an "inquiry of availability," they called it. I had just landed a contract with Procter and Gamble, the kind of work that the aforementioned bottom-feeders (including the one I had just left) would have killed for. In the three or four weeks I was there, I had a blast. The prospect of following my father's footsteps -- well, sort of -- was a great rush. I was sorry I hadn't gotten in there sooner. But however long they would have kept me under contract, it wasn't a sure thing.

Meanwhile, I was being interviewed on the phone, by an art director who was well respected in Washington. He worked for some agency whose name I had never heard. He was impressed with my work, and after listening to his own resume, that was good enough for me -- to tell him I'd think about it over the weekend.

The Epiphany

You know those times when, out of the blue, you suddenly realize your destiny has been hitting you in the backside? I'm not sure how it happened, only that it did. No, I take that back; I'm sure. A few years earlier, I had my palm read. It was just for fun, mind you, at a time when kids try just about anything once. When I remembered the "prophecy" that I would, in a quest for inner peace, move to a city near a large body of water, and meet a man who would change my entire life, it all started to make sense.

Pretty lame pretense for a life-altering decision, but let's face it, it didn't take much.

Mom didn't take it well at all. How would I ever survive without screwing things up royally? This was the conventional wisdom in our house, one that didn't always apply to my younger siblings. I answered it with a question: what the hell else was I going to do? That crazy ex-girlfriend had just visited me, and she wanted me back. Fortunately, I had the perfect excuse. In a sense, she represented everything I had to escape -- a life spent "scaling new heights of mediocrity."

My folks had already suggested I take a job at the post office, and do design work on the side. Had I followed that advice, I'd be a postal worker today. So much for five years of college.

It all added up. Either I get the hell out now, or spend the rest of my life wishing I had.

So, on Thursday, the 11th of December, I loaded everything I could fit into a newly-purchased 1980 Honda Civic, and headed up Interstate 71, toward the rest of my life in what was politely known as "the Nation's capital." That life as a Federal Employee began on the 15th of December. It was a Monday, just like today. Thirty-four years ago, and everything that has happened since -- the good, the bad, the ugly -- can be traced to that one decision.


How has it changed me? In some ways more than others.

Back home I'm still known as "Dave." Here in DC, even my closest friends know me as "David." It took me at least twenty years just to feel at home here in the so-called "Nation's capital." I managed to lose some speech patterns, though. I pronounce "neither" as "NYE-thur" instead of "NEE-thur." Same goes for "either." When someone says something I didn't hear, I say "come again?" instead of "please?" (because the Germans who settled around that part of Ohio would say "Bitte?" in the same situation). Then again, the gals my uncles married are still called my "ants" instead of my "ahhnts." I could probably go back to Ohio right now and fit right in. I have yet to decide if I want to. The musings of Tom Wolfe notwithstanding, you really CAN go back home again. Just don't expect things to stay where they were when you left.

Although I still refer to women as "gals."

(FIRST IMAGE: The author, in a May 1978 publicity photo, with his late-1960s vintage Gibson J-160E.)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent III: Joy

(Philippians 4:4-5)

Brethren, rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice: let your modesty be known to all men: for the Lord is nigh. R. Thanks be to God.

V. O Lord, hear our prayer.
R. And let our cry come unto Thee.
V. Let us pray ...


Incline Thine ear, we beseech Thee, O Lord, to our petitions: and, by the grace of Thy visitation, enlighten the darkness of our minds. Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end.

R. Amen.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Lussinatt: The Vigil of Saint Lucy

There are many saints remembered in December (other than Saint Nicholas, of course). Whether by the accident of tradition, or by design, some of them have been awarded with a connection to the Christmastide celebration.

Saint Lucy (283–304) received the crown of martyrdom during the Diocletian persecution. She is one of seven women aside from the Virgin Mary who appears in the Roman Canon. Her name is from the Latin word for "light," and she is remembered on the 13th day of December, the night before which was the longest of the year in the unreformed Julian calendar. As a result, various Germanic pagan feasts associated with the passing of darkness into light were appropriated by Christendom, and sanctified by this commemoration.

Natten går tunga fjät
    Night walks with a heavy step
rund gård och stuva;
    Round yard and hearth,
kring jord, som sol förlät,
    As the sun departs from earth,
skuggorna ruva.
    Shadows are brooding.
Då i vårt mörka hus,
    There in our dark house,
stiger med tända ljus,
    Walking with lit candles,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia!
    Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!
Då i vårt mörka hus,
    There in our dark house,
stiger med tända ljus,
    Walking with lit candles,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia!
    Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Saint Lucy is one of the few saints honored in the Lutheran tradition, and the eve of her feast is celebrated throughout Scandanavia, with a procession of young maids bearing candles, led by a chosen one with a lighted wreath on her head (as shown in the first video, a celebration in Mora, Sweden, in 2007). The carol Santa Lucia, sung by the girls in procession, was an old Neapolitan melody of the same name. The lyrics in Italian are the song of the boatmen of the waterfront district in Naples. The various Nordic languages (Swedish is featured here) sing of the light that overcomes the darkness.

The second video elaborates.

FOOTNOTE: Welcome to all who are joining us from New Advent. On the following midweek, we begin the prayers and songs and stories of the Novena for the Christ-Mass, and continue with the celebration of the Twelve Days, culminating in the Visit of the Three Kings, and the blessing of the doors to your homes. Please join us as we remember the fast, and celebrate the feast, for GOD IS WITH US, EMMANUEL!

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I am generally not partial to images of the Blessed Mother without her visibly holding the Christ Child. This has long struck me as edging toward a sort of Catholic goddess-worship -- Mariolatry, if you will. (NOTE: The aforementioned is a personal opinion, not to be construed as having been rendered with the certainty of the theological virtue of faith. Remain calm.) But I make one exception, and that's the image used to commemorate today's Feast, that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas.

Contrary to what some dime-store theologian disguised as a pastoral associate is telling your children in Catholic school right about now, the customs of the indigenous peoples' in Central and South America were not suppressed by their Catholic conquerors. In fact, the natives were all too happy to have been relieved of being victims of human sacrifices, where their hearts were cut out while they were still alive, so much so as to have participated in what may have been the largest single mass conversion in Christendom.

Furthermore, and on a lighter note, when Juan Diego opened his cloak for the bishop, and the venerable image appeared, the roses hidden in the cloak came falling out. But that's not the whole story of the miracle. Years earlier, seeing that Cortez's successors were not nearly as benevolent as he, the bishop found himself powerless to enact reforms, and appealed to Our Lady for a sign of her intercession, in the form of roses from his Spanish home province of Castile. And so, the bishop recognized the roses as being of a variety only found in … you guessed it, he got the message.

Mind you, this was in the days before overnight delivery.

Music video by The Killers performing ¡Happy Birthday Guadalupe! Copyright 2009 The Island Def Jam Music Group. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

A few years ago, an American publisher of liturgical aids featured a tribute to this vision, starting out with some drivel about the Spaniards and their suppression of the venerable Aztec folkways.* Several years ago, Father William Saunders gave a fuller account of the real deal in the Arlington Catholic Herald. I don't have the link, or the date of the piece, but I managed to preserve a few extracts:

The Aztec religious practices, which included human sacrifice, play an interesting and integral role in this story. Every major Aztec city had a temple pyramid, about 100 feet high, on top of which was erected an altar. Upon this altar, the Aztec priests offered human sacrifice to their god Huitzilopochtli, called the "Lover of Hearts and Drinker of Blood," by cutting out the beating hearts of their victims, usually adult men but often children. The priests held the beating hearts high for all to see, drank the blood, kicked the lifeless bodies down the pyramid stairs, and later severed the limbs and ate the flesh. Considering that the Aztecs controlled 371 towns and the law required 1,000 human sacrifices for each town with a temple pyramid, over 50,000 human beings were sacrificed each year. Moreover, the early Mexican historian Ixtlilxochitl estimated that one out of every five children fell victim to this bloodthirsty religion.

In 1487, when Juan Diego was just 13 years old, he would have witnessed the most horrible event: Tlacaellel, the 89-year-old Aztec ruler, dedicated the new temple pyramid of the sun, dedicated to the two chief gods of the Aztec pantheon — Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca, (the god of hell and darkness) — in the center of Tenochtitlan (later Mexico City). The temple pyramid was 100 feet high with 114 steps to reach the top. More than 80,000 men were sacrificed over a period of four days and four nights. One can only imagine the flow of blood and the piles of bodies from this dedication ...

Nevertheless, in 1520, Hernan Cortes outlawed human sacrifice ...

When you look at it that way, giving up meat on Fridays doesn't seem so bad. Even so, the aforementioned process only took about fifteen seconds for each victim -- less time than your average abortion. (If you have to think about the connection, I can't help you.)

And then there are those feminist-theology types who try to see a "goddess" image in the Virgin Mary. They're outa luck there too:

These are also symbols of divine victory over the pagan religion. Sun rays were symbolic of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtle. Therefore, our Blessed Mother, standing before the rays, shows that she proclaims the true God who is greater than Huitzilopochtle and who eclipses his power.

She stands also on the moon. The moon represented night and darkness, and was associated with the god Tezcatlipoca. Here again, the Blessed Mother’s standing on the moon indicates divine triumph over evil.

Note also, that in her dominance over false idols, Our Lady stands in a submissive posture, with head bowed and hands folded, as if to render tribute to an even Higher Power.

More on this feast can be found here.

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FOOTNOTE: That commercial opportunists from Spain might have taken undue advantage of a massive cheap labor pool is not in dispute here. Nor is it unique to human history, never mind to Europeans. What it is, is another story for another day ...

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent Reflection 2: How Long?

Psalm 12(13)

How long, O LORD? Wilt thou forget me for ever?
    How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?

How long must I bear pain in my soul,
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
    How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
    lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;

Lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him";
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in thy steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

(This version of an old Negro spiritual was performed by the New York-based ensemble Ollabelle. It was first recorded in 1926 by Odette & Ethel, and was eventually catalogued by folklorist Alan Lomax.)

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Monday, December 08, 2014

“Ave Fit Ex Eva!”

It is possible for Christmas carols, not only to be appropriate for the season leading up to the great feast, but to never mention Christmas itself. And no, that does not include "Jingle Bells."

With the Incarnation, we begin the focal point of salvation history, its end being the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, and His ascension into Glory. And while the whole of Christendom follows, what precedes that story is what helps us to prepare. “Angelus ad Virginem” is a 13th century carol of unknown attribution, which tells of the angel appearing to the young virgin Mary. Christians in the West remember the eighth of December as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (known in the East as "The Conception of Saint Anne").

It is easy to forget that, while the Gospel accounts tell of the annunciation, the feast itself honors her conception without the stain of sin, rendering her a worthy vessel, if a human one, for the God made man. There is no confusion here, but indeed, a clarification. It is not only the means to the end, but the end itself, by which we celebrate this feast.

1. Angelus ad virginem
    Subintrans in conclave.
Virginis formidinum
    Demulcens inquit "Ave."
Ave regina virginum,
Coeliteraeque dominum
    Et paries
    Salutem hominum.
    Tu porta coeli facta
    Medella criminum.

2. Quomodo conciperem,
    quae virum non cognovi?
Qualiter infringerem,
    quae firma mente vovi?
"Spiritus sancti gratia
Perficiet haec omnia;
    Ne timaes,
    sed gaudeas,
    quod castimonia
    Manebit in te pura
    Dei potentia.'

3. Ad haec virgo nobilis
    Respondens inquit ei;
Ancilla sum humilis
    Omnipotentis Dei.
Tibi coelesti nuntio,
Tanta secreti conscio,
    Et cupiens
    factum quod audio,
    Parata sum parere
    Dei consilio.

4. Angelus disparuit
    Etstatim puellaris
Uterus intumuit
    Vi partus salutaris.
Qui, circumdatus utero
Novem mensium numero,
    Hinc Exiit
    Et iniit
    Affigens humero
    Crucem, qua dedit ictum
    Hosti mortifero.

5. Eia Mater Domini,
    Quae pacem reddidisti
Angelis et homini,
    Cum Christum genuisti;
Tuem exora filium
Ut se nobis propitium
    Et deleat
    Praestans auxilium
    Vita frui beta
    Post hoc exsilium.

A translation is available for your convenience, although you may get the idea. But in case you don't, a Middle English version became popular by the 14th century. (The lyrics shown here are of one such version, while the video from the King's College Choir in Cambridge sings yet another. Such is the nature of the evolution of folk songs.)

Gabriel fram Heven-King
    Sent to the Maide sweete,
Broute hir blisful tiding
    And fair he gan hir greete:
"Heil be thu, ful of grace aright!
    For Godes Son, this Heven Light,
For mannes love
    Will man bicome
    And take
    Fles of thee,
    Maide bright,
Manken free for to make
    Of sen and devles might."

Now, didn't that help?

By the 14th century, a livelier tune arose in the British Isles, known as "Nova! Nova! Ave Fit Ex Eva!" ("News! News! 'Ave' has been made from 'Eve'!"). It was not a Latin hymn, but was popularly sung in Middle English, with its dance-like melody giving way to playing of tambourines. Video recordings of the original melody are not easy to find, in favor of more contemporary arrangements. Thankfully, the Lumina Vocal Ensemble managed a live performance in 2011.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

Gabriel of high degree,
He came down from Trinity,
To Nazareth in Galilee.
Nova, nova.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

I met a maiden in a place,
I kneeled down afore her face
And said, "Hail Mary, full of grace!"
Nova, nova.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

When the maiden heard tell of this
She was full sore abashed y-wis
And weened that she had done amiss.
Nova, nova.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

Then said the Angel, "Dread not thou,
For ye be conceived with great virtue,
Whose name shall be called Jesu".
Nova, nova.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

"It is not yet six weeks agone
Sin Elizabeth conceived John
As it was prophesied beforn."
Nova, nova.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

Then said the maiden, "Verily,
I am your servant right truly,
Ecce, ancilla Domini!"
Nova, nova.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

Its theology is explained thus:

the Virgin Mary is sometimes called the "new Eve". "Eve" in Latin is "Eva". The first word that the Angel Gabriel spoke to Mary at the Annunciation was "Ave", which is Eve backwards. This is just a coincidence of course, but many Medieval songs used this to illustrate how Mary "undid" what Eve had done. One song has this refrain:

Nova! Nova! Ave fit ex Eva! (News! News! “Ave” has been made from “Eve”!).

Thus, the obedience of Mary cured the disobedience of Eve.

And so, without any premature remembrance of the coming of the Savior, our celebration of expectation continues.

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Advent II: Peace

(Romans 15:4)

Brethren: Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. R. Thanks be to God.

V. O Lord, hear our prayer.
R. And let our cry come unto Thee.
V. Let us pray ...


Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the way of Thine only-begotten Son: that through His coming we mat attain to serve Thee with purified minds. Who liveth and reigneth, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end.

R. Amen.

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Father Nicholas: The REAL Santa Claus

When I was very young, some of my classmates would leave their shoes outside the bedroom door on the night of the fifth of December, so that Saint Nicholas would leave them treats.

We never did that at our house, but I did ask Mom how it was that Saint Nicholas got to be called Santa Claus. By this time I had already determined a connection between the two. But while my mother was salutatorian of her high school class -- there were ten students at most, but that's not the point -- she was not one to wear her erudition on her sleeve. So, rather than go into an entymological treatise on the subject, she simply told me: “Say ‘Santa Claus’ three times real fast.” That carried me over for at least a few years.

No good Catholic home is without an answer to the question of whether there is such a thing as Santa Claus. There is, but that is a corruption of his real name, one that developed over the centuries. By the time devotion to Saint Nicholas reached Europe, he was known by different names. In the British Isles, he was known as "Father Christmas." In the Netherlands, he was known as "Sinterklaas," which is how we got the name that people use today. Whatever people call him, the Bishop of Myra in the fourth century is a real person, and he presently dwells in Heaven with the Communion of Saints.

VIDEO: A variation on a theme by Russell Jonas Grigaitis, OFS

He was no lightweight. He was in attendance at the Council of Nicaea when the Arian heresy was being debated. At one point, he became so enraged with the Bishop Arius (whose errors were supported by the majority of bishops up to that time, remember), that he supposedly punched Arius in the nose.

That's right, kids, Jolly Olde Saint Nick cold-cocked a heretic! (Some accounts say that he merely slapped him, but that's so pansy, who'd believe it?)

Anyway, many of the bishops there, including the Emperor Constantine, were scandalized by the assault, and given their sympathies, had Nicholas thrown in the dungeon. That night, the Emperor had a dream where Nicholas appeared to him, adorned in his finest liturgical vesture, and holding the Book of the Gospels. Awakened with a fright, the Emperor summoned his guards, who joined him as he raced to the dungeon, to find Nicholas unchained, with ... you guessed it.

The story varies in certain details. Some accounts tell of Our Lord and Our Lady appearing to Nicholas in the dungeon. I heard the above account from an "Old Calendar" Russian Orthodox priest. It is also said that Nicholas, now restored to his rightful place in the council, slept through the rest of the proceedings. I can't say I blame him.

At the little Byzantine Rite parish where my son learned the Faith, as it had been taught to his mother, the Feast of Saint Nicholas is a really big deal. He is the patron of Byzantine Catholics, and his image graces the iconostasis on the far left side as viewed from the assembly. There is a special hymn dedicated to "Father Nicholas" ...

O kto kto, Nikolaja l'ubit,
O kto kto, Nikolaju sluzit.
    Tomu svjatyj Nikolaj,
    Na vsjakij cas pomahaj.
    Nikolaj, Nikolaj!

O who loves Nicholas the Saintly,
O who loves Nicholas the Saintly.
    Him will Nicholas receive,
    and give help in time of need.
    Nicholas, Nicholas!

... and the children in the School of Religion program do a pageant in his honor every Sunday closest to the sixth of December. It culminates in the arrival of an elderly man with a long white beard, dressed in the robes of an Eastern bishop, with whom the children meet in much the same manner as they would his commercialized (and most inauthentic) counterpart.

Paul used to get special icon cookies to take home, much like the ones that appear in the photos, emblazoned with the words "O Holy Nicholas" in Slavonic. These unique gingerbread cookies are from a recipe which appears at the website.

I dearly miss that little parish. It has changed over the years. My duties at St John the Beloved have prevented me from attending there, and they have completed a new and larger place of worship next to the original, one that emulates the style common to Eastern Europe. But with every successful building project they have -- the parish hall, the rectory -- the place seems a little less homey, a little larger than life. Still, the spirit of Saint Nicholas reminds them every year, of the things that are passed on, and that remain the same.

Now, enough of this self-indulgent soul-searching. Let's go bake some cookies already!

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