Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I'm doing this

St. Ignatius Loyola Church, here I come!

To celebrate the occasion of the Year of Faith, which begins tomorrow, Pope Benedict XVI has decreed that during the Year of Faith plenary indulgences may be obtained by the faithful in several novel ways, including "pious meditation upon - the Acts of the [Second Vatican] Council and the articles of the Catechism of the Catholic Church."  My soul does not fill with joy at this prospect, as it sounds too much like purgatory to me.  However, the Pope's decree offers us other ways for obtaining the indulgence, of which the following is my favorite:

"On any day they choose, during the Year of Faith, if they make a pious visit to the baptistery, or other place in which they received the Sacrament of Baptism, and there renew their baptismal promises in any legitimate form."

My soul does fill with joy at this prospect.  Maybe I can drag along my sisters, who were baptized there too.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hail, Denis, Bishop and Martyr

"Martyrdom of St. Denis,"  tympanum of the basilica of St. Denis

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Denis (d. ca. 250 AD).  Born in Italy, Denis was sent to France by Pope Fabian to restore the Church there, which had suffered greatly in the Decian persecution.   Denis and his companions built a chapel on an island in the Seine in what is today the city of Paris, and saw to it that Mass was said there regularly.  He also preached the Gospel and won many converts, thereby enflaming the envy of the local pagan priests, who used their influence with the Roman governor to bring about St. Denis's martyrdom.  After suffering various tortures, Denis was beheaded at Montmartre (the "mountain of the martyr"), whereupon, according to legend, he picked up his own head and carried it to the place he wished to be buried.   The spot became a place of pilgrimage, and in 475 AD, St. Genevieve had a shrine erected there.  The chapel was enriched and beautified over the centuries, by Charlemagne among others, and eventually became an abbey and a basilica.  The basilica of St. Denis would figure prominently in the history of France.  Beginning with King Dagobert (d. 639 AD), practically every French king would be buried at St. Denis.  Also, the arms of the abbey of St. Denis, the oriflamme, would become the standard of the kings of France.   The banner bearing the oriflamme was kept above St. Denis' high altar, and was removed only when carried to the field of battle before the king himself.  The oriflamme's last appearance in battle was at Agincourt in 1415, a catastrophic day of slaughter for the French.  After winning historic victories at the head of the armies of France, St. Joan of Arc hung up her arms at St. Denis in 1429.   During the French Revolution, the tombs of the French kings at St. Denis were opened and looted, and the royal remains were cast into a mass grave.  The basilica's lead roof was soon afterwards cut away and melted down for bullets.  For a time, the basilica lay in ruins, but was restored by Viollet-le-Duc, and is today a national monument of France.

St. Denis, pray for us.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hail, Francis, Founder of Religious Congregations and Stigmatic

"St. Francis before the Sultan," Fra Angelico

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi (1182 AD - 1226 AD).   The indulged son of a wealthy cloth merchant, Francis lived a merry youth as the leading gallant of Assisi until he was taken prisoner in a petty war against Perugia.  During this year long captivity, Francis was led to a reconsideration of his previous frolicsome, but empty, life, and took the first serious steps towards the devotion to Lady Poverty which would become a hallmark of Francis's later life.

The following is taken from "The Little Flowers of St. Francis" compiled by an anonymous author a century and a half after St. Francis's death.

St Francis, urged by zeal for the faith of Christ and by a wish to suffer martyrdom, took with him one day twelve of his most holy brethren, and went beyond the sea with the intention of going straight to the Sultan of Babylon. They arrived in a province belonging to the Saracens, where all the passes were guarded by men so cruel, that no Christian who passed that way could escape being put to death. Now it pleased God that St Francis and his companions should not meet with the same fate; but they were taken prisoners, and after being bound and ill-treated, were led before the Sultan. Then St Francis standing before him, inspired by the Holy Spirit, preached most divinely the faith of Christ; and to prove the truth of what he said, professed himself ready to enter into the fire. Now the Sultan began to feel a great devotion towards him, both because of the constancy of his faith, and because he despised the things of this world (for he had refused to accept any of the presents which he had offered to him), and also because of his ardent wish to suffer martyrdom. From that moment he listened to him willingly, and begged him to come back often, giving both him and his companions leave to preach wheresoever they pleased; he likewise gave them a token of his protection, which would preserve them from all molestation.

At length St Francis, seeing he could do no more good in those parts, was warned by God to return with his brethren to the land of the faithful. Having assembled his companions, they went together to the Sultan to take leave of him. The Sultan said to him: “Brother Francis, most willingly would I be converted to the faith of Christ; but I fear to do so now, for if the people knew it, they would kill both me and thee and all thy companions. As thou mayest still do much good, and I have certain affairs of great importance to conclude, I will not at present be the cause of thy death and of mine. But teach me how I can be saved, and I am ready to do as thou shalt order.” On this St Francis made answer: “My lord, I will take leave of thee for the present; but after I have returned to my own country, when I shall be dead and gone to heaven, by the grace of God, I will send thee two of my friars, who will administer to thee the holy baptism of Christ, and thou shalt be saved, as the Lord Jesus has revealed to me; and thou in the meantime shalt free thyself from every hindrance, so that, when the grace of God arrives, thou mayest be found well disposed to faith and devotion.” The Sultan promised so to do; and did as he had promised. Then St Francis returned with his company of venerable and saintly brethren, and after a few years ending his mortal life, he gave up his soul to God. The Sultan, having fallen ill, awaited the fulfillment of the promise of St Francis, and placed guards in all the passes, ordering them if they met two brothers in the habit of St Francis to conduct them immediately to him. At the same time St Francis appeared to two of his friars, and ordered them without delay to go to the Sultan and save his soul, according to the promise he had made him. The two set out, and having crossed the sea, were conducted to the Sultan by the guards he had sent out to meet them. The Sultan, when he saw them arrive, rejoiced greatly, and exclaimed: “Now I know of a truth that God has sent his servants to save my soul, according to the promise which St Francis made me through divine revelation.” Having received the faith of Christ and holy baptism from the said friars, he was regenerated in the Lord Jesus Christ; and having died of his disease, his soul was saved, through the merits and prayers of St Francis. 

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A foretaste of the future Church?

Pope Benedict saying Mass in the Sistine Chapel ad orientem

St. Malachy's, my weekday parish, is refinishing its floors, so Mass is being said in the parish's Sacred Heart chapel.  This chapel features a beautiful mosaic of the Sacred Heart, with a marble altar beneath it, but the space is rather small, a good deal less than half the size of the church in which Mass is usually said.  Noon Mass draws a fairly large group, I thought, so I expected the chapel would be very crowded.  However, we all fit in the chapel with room to spare.   What seemed like a lot of people when dispersed turns out to be only a few when concentrated.  

Since there isn't room for another altar in front of the original marble one to permit the saying of Mass versus populum, the priests have been saying Mass facing the altar, or ad orientem.   The Mass is otherwise the usual type, said in English according to the Novus Ordo, but this simple change in the priest's posture makes a great difference.  For one thing, Mass is much less something we watch the priest do, and much more something we join with the priest (and all the Church) in doing.  Even more importantly, the sacrificial aspect of Mass is clear.  There is no mistaking that a sacrificial victim is being offered there.   Consequently, a mood  of adoration and thanksgiving is very simply established.

More than forty years ago, Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, wrote the following concerning the church's future:

“The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity."

The Church is indeed becoming small, and has already given up much of what she built in prosperity.   At St. Malachy's we may be experiencing smallness only temporarily, but becoming small has led to the fresh start Joseph Ratzinger wrote about.   It has given us a fresh appreciation of Mass.  There can be no better beginning. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Hail, Holy Guardian Angels

 Guardian Angel

Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels.   Though the teaching that each of us has a guardian angel has never been defined as an article of faith by the Church, the basis for this belief may be found in  many places in the Old and New Testaments.  The following excerpt from the Office of Readings for the Feast is taken from a sermon by St. Bernard (1090 AD - 1153 AD):

We should … show our affection for the angels, for one day they will be our co-heirs just as here below they are our guardians and trustees appointed and set over us by the Father. . . . Even though we are children and have a long, a very long and dangerous way to go, with such protectors what have we to fear? They who keep us in all our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray, much less lead us astray. They are loyal, prudent, powerful. Why then are we afraid? We have only to follow them, stay close to them, and we shall dwell under the protection of God’s heaven.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hail, Therese, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

St. Therese

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux (1873 AD - 1897 AD).  Although she is known as the "Little Flower," and is famous for her "Little Way" of holiness, St. Therese, like all saints, was not only  very forceful but quite fearless regarding matters relating to salvation.  This can be seen in the following episode from St. Therese's spiritual autobiography, "The Story of a Soul:"

The audience began after the Mass of thanksgiving which followed the Pope's Mass.

Leo XIII sat on a dais, dressed in a white cape and cassock.  Various prelates and high dignitaries stood near him.  It had been arranged that, one by one, each pilgrim advance and kneel before him, kiss first his foot and then his hand, and receive his blessings.   Then, at a touch from two of the Noble Guard, the pilgrim was to rise and move on to another room, thus giving way to another.

Not a word was uttered, but I was determined to speak.  Suddenly, though, Father Reverony who was standing on the right of His Holiness, told us in a loud voice that it was absolutely forbidden to speak to the Holy Father.   With a madly beating heart I gave a questioning glance at [Therese's sister] Celine.  "Speak!" she whispered.  A moment later I was kneeling before the Pope.  I kissed his slipper and he offered me his hand,  Then, looking at him with my eyes wet with tears, I said: "Most Holy Father I have a great favour to ask."  He leant forward until his face almost touched mine, as if his dark, searching eyes would pierce the depths of my soul.

"Most Holy Father," I said, "to mark your jubilee, allow me to enter Carmel at fifteen."

The vicar-General of Bayeux, with a look of astonished displeasure, at once said: "Most Holy Father, she's a child who wants to be a Carmelite, and the authorities are now looking into the matter."

"Very well, my child," His Holiness said, "do whatever they say."

Clasping my hands and resting them on his knee, I made a final effort.  "O most Holy Father, if you say yes, everybody will be only too willing."

He gazed at me steadily and said in a clear voice, stressing every syllable:  "Come, come . . . you will enter if God wills."

I was going to speak again, but the two Noble Guards urged me to rise.  Finally they had to take me by the arms and Father Reverony helped them to get me to my feet.  As I was being taken away, the Holy Father placed his fingers on my lips, then raised them to bless me.  He gazed after me as I left.

St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us.