minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Archive for the month “March, 2012”


Votive Candles at St. Johns Cathedral, Savannah

Christian history is full of the use of symbols that express spiritual concepts. They find their way into our music, iconography, architecture, and even our lifestyle. Some of the highest expression of such symbology is found in the Sacraments and Sacramentals of the church. Most people may recognize the term Sacrament:

“The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.” from the Catechism of the Catholic Church

What this means is that the symbol isn’t just a symbol, but in some hidden way fulfils its meaning becoming a true symbol. For instance, in the sacrament of Matrimony, we believe that the man and woman become one flesh. Now that doesn’t mean they are now melted into one person. Rather, in some unseen way, grace worked in the ceremony, and by their faith and vows, grace was able to unite the two people into a married couple. So much for marriage being just a piece of paper!

However there are many other symbols used by the church which are called Sacramentals:

“”Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.” from the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Now a way I look at sacramentals is this. They are like physical prayers. They tie the image or symbol to our actions and bring about change us by practice. In a way this prepares us for sacraments or just puts us into a contemplative mindset to meditate on our faith. An example of this would be the lighting of a votive candle at church. Its just a candle, but it is lit as a prayer. By lighting it I have demonstrated my concern or petition for some need or for the needs of a person that I’m praying for. The symbol of light reminds me of Christ and of our call to be a light to the world, the purity of the flame bring to mind the Holy Spirit, the smell brings to mind the prayers of the saints, like a fragrance, but again it’s not just about the action. It is also about our action. The lighting of the candle has to be tied to our faith. Anyone can light a candle but we need to light a candle and mean it.

There are seven sacraments that the church recognizes, but the number of Sacramentals is much greater. In either case they both tend to remind us of what they represent, bringing together the seen and unseen, the corporeal and spiritual,  which is the essence of the christian faith.

The Sacraments of the Church are:

  • Baptism
  • Reconciliation
  • Confirmation
  • Eucharist
  • Holy Orders
  • Matrimony
  • Anointing of the Sick

Examples of a Sacramental are:

So this is really just an overview. As you can see I’ve touched on several sacramentals already and plan to spend time on more of them as well as sacraments.

The Evangelical Symbols

The Evangelical Symbols, Book of Kells 8th-9th century

Maybe you’ve seen them before; in christian art, on the walls of a church, on the cover of the Evangelion/Lectionary or Gospel book used in the Liturgy. The Man, the Lion, the Ox and the Eagle. Four symbols that have been associated with the writers of the Gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Often they will appear in relation to the Evangelists, behind or below though they also appear alone like the example from the Book of Kells above.

From the Gospel of Henry the Lion 12th century.

The history of these symbols in christian symbology dates back to St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c.120-202 AD) when he ties in the four accepted Gospels with the Four Living Creatures found in the Hebrew Scriptures in the first chapter of Ezekiel. Irenaeus wasn’t alone; Jerome, Augustine and Pseudo-Athanasius also used the symbols, but associated the different animals to different Gospels. Jerome’s interpretation is the one that stuck:

  • The Man – St. Matthew – Ties in genealogy with the humanity and incarnation of Christ.
  • The Lion – St. Mark – Shows Christ as King, and ties in the belief that lions slept with open eyes to the resurrection.
  • The Ox – St. Luke – Gospel starts with Zacharias the priest and this ties to Christ Priest and as sacrifice.
  • The Eagle – St. John – Christ is the Logos. Focus is on the divinity of Jesus. The Eagle is a creature of the sky.

These are general ideas about the symbology of the animals and more can be found about them on the web or in a good history book. My first time seeing one of them was on the cover of an album from the group Iona, called The Book of Kells. An excellent album; progressive and spiritual, I found the cover picture of the Eagle fascinating. Later, after finding out about the Evangelical Symbols, I began to notice them in the church buildings I ventured into. Not that they are in every church, but in many of the older church buildings, especially those that have an abundance of art you may see them, on the roof or surrounding the altar.

St. Mark with the Evangelical Symbols surrounding. From the Lindisfarne Gospels. 7th-8th Century.

Ceiling fresco of the Sacresty in St. Miniato al Monte, Florence

Toribio de Mogrovejo

Saint Toribio de Mogrovejo 1536-1606

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo was the first canonized saint of the New World. A former Chief Inquisitor, he was Sent to Peru as Archbishop, his mission to correct abuses by the Spanish settlers and clergy. He is known as a defender of the natives and spent much of his time evangelizing, baptizing and confirming them. His travels throughout the Diocese of Lima were often accomplished on foot, and Toribio de Mogrovejo made this 18000 mile circuit three times during his ministry. He learned several of the native languages, founded churches, hospitals and the first seminary in the New World at Lima in 1591. On March 23, 1606, He died from fever while on mission. He is the Patron Saint of South American Bishops.


On a recent trip to Savannah, Georgia, my wife and I had the privilege of touring a gothic synagogue. Savannah has many old buildings styles from Victorian to Federal to Italianate, and throughout the city are many beautiful church buildings, many of which are built in the Gothic style. But right off of Bull St., which is a central avenue of sorts in Savannah, is a beautiful Jewish synagogue built in the Gothic style where the Congregation Mickve Isreal meets. The building is the only gothic style synagogue in America. And the Congregation Mickve Isreal is the third oldest congregation in the states, dating back to 1733, when forty-one Jewish settlers arrived in the colony of Georgia.


20120321-201824.jpgThe sanctuary itself dates back to 1878 and was built to provide a place of worship for a growing Jewish community. There are many stunning stained glass windows but only three which are above the ark are as old as the building. The picture on the left shows one of the large windows that surround the sanctuary.

Several Torahs are found in the ark, one of which was reclaimed from the Nazis after their defeat by the Allied forces ( seen below). Another Torah, displayed in the museum, was brought over with the original settlers and is said to date back the the 14th century. It is brought out and read from once a year to celebrate the founding of the synagogue.


St. Joseph – Husband of Mary

The 19th of March is the memorial of St. Joseph, husband of Mary. The patron and protector of the catholic church; patron of fathers, workers and unborn children. St Joseph is like a silent and courageous protector, vigilant and mysterious he appears and is gone from the story without a trace.

Several extra-biblical accounts and traditions try to give us some more detail about Joseph, but not without some controversy. What the general thought seems to be is that Joseph was an old man, who had children from a previous marriage when he was betrothed to Mary. This helps explain some of the controversy about Mary being ever-virgin and Jesus having brothers, and provides a possible reason for Joseph’s disappearance from the gospel narrative; that being his death. Some claims have Joseph dying during Jesus teenage years. Which seems like it could be true because the last we hear of him is the gospel account of Joseph and Mary losing Jesus in Jerusalem at the age of twelve. One account tells of Joseph being 93 years of age at the birth of Christ, and passing at the ripe old age of 111 years, placing his death around Jesus’ 18th year.

The fact is that there is no solid evidence, apart from the scriptures which are obscure, about this mysterious husband of Mary. What we do know is that Joseph was chosen as a guardian and protector for the event for which all creation waited; the Incarnation. The title nutritor Domini which means guardian of the Lord was given to him in the 9th century and this title should inspire all to consider what it really means to be a husband and a father.

Laetere Sunday

Laetere Sunday is the name of the fourth sunday in the Lenten season. Like its counterpart in Advent , Gaudete Sunday, Laetere marks the mid-point of the Lenten journey and reminds us of the events soon to take place. There are usually flowers at mass on this day, which are absent through the rest of Lent because of the fast. Also the vestments and colors, normally purple through the season are for a day changed to the color rose. The mass starts with the words “Laetere Jerusalem” which means “Rejoice! Jerusalem” or “O’ be joyful, Jerusalem” and is that first hint of Easter and Resurrection soon to come.

The Introit or opening of the Liturgy begins:

Laetare Jerusalem:
 et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam:
 gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis:
 ut exsultetis,et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae.
 Psalm Laetatus
 sum in his quae dicta sunt mihi:
 in domum Domini ibimus.

Rejoice, O Jerusalem:
and come together all you that love her:
rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow:
that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.
Psalm: I rejoiced when they said to me:
“we shall go to God’s House!

Lá Fhéile Pádraig

St. Patrick c. 387 – 17 March, 493/c 460

St. Patrick was a fifth century Bishop who is most known for his missionary work in Ireland.  The patron saint of Ireland, Patrick is also known as the Apostle to Ireland. He is one of Three catholic Saints that have found popularity outside of the church. Patrick, along with St. Nicholas and St. Valentine are also celebrated in popular culture. Lá Fhéile Pádraig is The festival of Patrick, or as we say in America, St. Patrick’s Day.

Patrick was born in Scotland, and around his 16th year was captured and sold as a slave in Ireland. He would escape around four years later at the age of 20, with an understanding of the Irish/Celtic language, culture and mythology.

At this time he began to study for the priesthood and would eventually be sent back to Ireland to bring the Gospel to his former captors. He arrived in Ireland around 433 and through the rest of his life would see all of Ireland converted.

Patrick leaves behind not only the legacy of a Catholic country that would stand its ground even through the Reformation, but also many great stories and legends. The most popular would be the use of a shamrock to demonstrate the christian belief in the trinity. Another would be the legend of Patrick chasing all the snakes out of Ireland. There are also 2 epistles in Latin, the Declaration/Confessions and Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus as well as blessings and hymns.

There is a beautiful hymn known as St. Patrick’s Breast-Plate:

The Hymn of St. Patrick

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
 In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
 In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
 The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
 The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.


Planisphaerium Ptolemaicum, Sive Machina Orbium Mundi Et Hypothesi Ptolemaica In Plano Disposita / Cellarius, Andreas, 17th c

One of the most interesting things I find about the Middle Ages (and through to the  early modern period) is its cosmology. Geocentrism was the primary model used during this period, though it was a theory that existed long before the Middle Ages. The Geocentric model is also called the Ptolemaic System, and named for a second century greek astronomer named Claudius Ptolemaeus, who put centuries of Greek thought on this subject together into a working theory.

Ptolemy is most known for his Almagest, which sets out his system of planetary motion and cosmology. The Almagest consists of thirteen books, which deal with everything from former theories from people like Aristotle, to planets and stars and even the moon and eclipses. The main points of his cosmology form the basis for what would be called the geocentric model, and contrary to what our school books told us, the belief in a flat earth was not part of it. The Almagest presents a spherical Earth, at the center of a spherical universe. The Earth itself being a great distance from the stars and merely a point in the universe, but stationary and at its center. This model was taught in the middle ages until Jean Buridan and others would tweak it to suggest a rotating earth which in effect laid the groundwork for a new theory which was heliocentric or Sun centered. Ptolemy’s Almagest found its place among the books of the wise, and is said to be the primary textbook of astronomy used through the middle ages.  (paraphrase of C.S. Lewis). It even gets a plug in the Canterbury tales:

“His Almagest,  and bookes great and small
His astrolabe, belonging to his art,”   from The Millers Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

What makes the Geocentric model interesting is the problem of the Sun, which I guess wasn’t a problem for them, but is for me. After all today we know the Earth isn’t the center of the solar system, let alone the universe. So where does the Sun fit in? Well right between Mars and Venus. With the Earth in the center the order of heavenly bodies goes: the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the Stars. In the pictures you can see the “Via Solis” which is the path or way of the Sun in the fourth ring out from the Earth.

This brings up the next interesting thing for me, that there are only five planets (seven if you count the Moon and Sun). Without a telescope to use, these would be the planets visible to the naked eye. And this point helps explain a lot about the Geocentric model. That it is a model based on observation by the naked eye and from the perspective of the earth. I suppose a lot of fun can be poked at the older cosmology for being wrong, but to see the reasoning, the math, the ground-breaking concepts that developed from such observant people as Ptolemy, Jean Buridan and others; who lacked the benefit of satellites, and telescopes, and computers. This alone makes such leaps in theory, like a rotating earth, simply amazing.  Observation would lead anyone to assume it was still. If the Earth did rotate, people argued that a great constant wind from east to west would exist.

Figura dos corpos celestes (Figure of the heavenly bodies) from Cosmographia (1568) by Bartolomeu Velho

One of the problems I have heard made about the Geocentric belief is that it placed the Earth at the center of the universe, being the center of Gods creation. To the Greeks, the center of the universe was not about primacy, and in the Christian mind it wasn’t a place of importance either, rather it was the place of least importance, lowest place. The Earth was surrounded by an invisible fire and above were the heavens. The only thing lower would be the fires of Hell. To look into the heavens, was to look into perfection, a cathedral of life which became more perfect with ascent,  until the great you reached the high Heaven. On the maps the last sphere begins the Coelum Empireum Habitaculum Dei et Omneum Electorum which roughly translates as (Heavens kingdom)/(Empyrean Heavens) and dwelling place of God and all the Elect.

Several different models of geocentrism formed through the years trying to piece together new ideas and observations, but it wasn’t until the 16th century that geocentrism began to decline when a theory based on the sun being the center of the cosmos and a man named Copernicus would change everything.

Pysanka at home


Well after blogging about Ukrainian Eggs, I went out and ordered an art kit to make some at home with the kids. I found a good kit with 12 colors, 3 stylus, beeswax and some directions at I also bought a few wooden egg stands.

Years ago while living on Kodiak island in Alaska, a friend introduced this style of egg dying to me. Since then I have made eggs several times, for Easter as well as Christmas. They make excellent Christmas Tree bulbs if you thread a string through the blow holes.

This is the first time my kids have tried their hands at making Pysanka, and they have been loving it. It takes about two hours to complete an egg. The process takes a bit and you do need to think ahead, choosing colors and adding wax but the end is always fun; melting away the wax to reveal the colors underneath.


Via Crucis

Station 13 Jesus' Body is removed from the Cross

One of the customs practiced by Catholics during the season of Lent is a devotion in the form of a “virtual pilgrimage”. This devotion is commonly known as the Stations of the Cross, or the Way of the Cross (Via Crucis). It is a representation of what many may know as the Via Dolorosa, or the way of sorrows, which follows the path Christ carried the cross to be crucified. For Catholics it is a spiritual pilgrimage where we reflect on the passion of Christ.

If you have ever been in a Catholic church you may have noticed a series of pictures or carved scenes that surround the seating area (the nave). These are the Stations of the Cross and each one highlights a scene from the passion of Christ as they progress through the entire set of 14. The Stations start with Jesus  being sentenced to death and ending with Him being placed in the tomb. In Jerusalem these stations are found on the Via Dolorosa, nine of which are on the route and the last five in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is where the Via Dolorosa ends.

Twelfth Station-Jesus dies on the Cross

During Lent the Stations are celebrated on Friday’s and especially on Good Friday, the day when Christ was crucified and placed in the tomb. It is an excellent service! The Priest and attendants carry a cross around the church where the stations are located and prayers are said with some explanation about the particular station. It is a simple devotion with participation between the priest and people as most catholic devotions are but can also be done privately throughout the year as the Stations do not get removed after Lent. They can also be done privately at home and several internet sites offer the Stations as well. Here is an online version with reflections by St. Paul of the Cross at

Station 5-Simon of Cyrene carries the Cross

Historically the Stations come from actual pilgrimages to the holy land. Sometimes this was for personal devotion and sometimes as a penance. But, such a pilgrimage may have been a hard task for many who were not wealthy and as the world changed, passage to Jerusalem was at times cut-off or simply too dangerous. The Franciscans, who in 1342 were care takers of Christian holy places in Jerusalem formed the Stations and devotion of the Via Dolorosa, and so formed the “virtual” practice as well. These began to appear in the 15th and 16th centuries as outdoor shrines. Later they began to appear in the church buildings under the supervision of the Franciscans.

The traditional Stations are:

1.Jesus is condemned to death
2.Jesus accepts the cross
3.Jesus falls the first time
4.Jesus meets His Mother
5.Simon of Cyrene carries the cross
6.Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7.Jesus falls the second time
8.Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
9.Jesus falls the third time
10.Jesus is stripped of His garments
11.Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
12.Jesus dies on the cross
13.Jesus’ body is removed from the cross (Deposition or Lamentation)
14.Jesus is laid in the tomb and covered in incense.

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