minima maxima sunt

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

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

The Visitation

The Visitation from the Book of Hours for Rouen Use

The Feast of the Visitation continues the story which started with the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25th), when the Angel told Mary that she would bear the Saviour. After a time, the pregnant Mary goes into the country to visit with her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant with John the Baptist. As the women meet, Elizabeth proclaims:

Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

It is interesting how women always know when someone is going to have a baby. Even more interesting when another child senses a pregnancy. In any case the point is that there is something important going on here which relates to the idea of Mary as the “New Eve”.

Missal of Bernhard von Rohr,
Archbishop of Salzburg

Many will recognize the above portion of this scripture that makes up part of the “Hail Mary”. It is a pivotal verse, not only in the prayer but in the Sacred Scriptures. In both prayer and scripture it points to the reason there ever was a Blessed Virgin, which all has to do with the fruit that this “New Eve” bears. Not fruit stolen in pride from a desire to be like God, but by her simple and pure faith, she has accepted the fruit of the tree of life and offers it to all the lost children of Eve. The whole story of the Fall of Man is turned on its head! Reversed! Re-born! Instead of plucking forbidden fruit, she will offer the Fruit of her womb to be hung from the branches of a tree; specifically a cross. No serpent, but the Son of Man, will hang in its branches, and Mary will behold her Son and know that fulfillment has come to the prophecy given to Eve that her seed will crush the serpents head.

Is it any wonder that John would leap in the womb of Elizabeth? Is it any wonder that Mary is still hailed and called blessed?



John 12:24-25 Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remains alone. But if it die it brings forth much fruit.

I would bet that most people have planted a seed at some point in their life. The seed is just a dry husk, small and by all accounts dead. It is placed in the ground and watered and after a few day it germinates breaking forth from the seed and pushing up through the earth. Several weeks will go by as the plant grows; rising toward the Sun, leaves and branches begin to form and then something wonderful. A flower begins to appear, like a flame of color upon the plant. It will be the means by which the plant will reproduce and form seed for future harvest.

The Day of Pentecost ends the Easter season in the church year. Coming from the Greek Pentekoste it means “the fiftieth day”. The feast celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit, who comes to lead the Church. This occurred 50 days after the resurrection and the story is found in the book of Acts. It tells of the disciples waiting in the upper room, praying. When the sound of a mighty wind comes and tongues of fire appear over their heads. Then they started to speak in different languages “tongues” and were overheard by the people outside, Jews from every nation, who understood them in their different dialects and languages. The Scriptures tell us that 3000 were baptized that day.

Moses and the Ten Commandments

It is interesting that Jews from abroad were in Jerusalem at this time. In fact they too were preparing to celebrate a feast called pentecost. The Hebrew term was Shavuot, which is the Festival of Weeks. It is a harvest festival with historical significance for the Jews, recalling that 50 days after the Exodus, Moses descended from Mt. Sinai with the Commandments of God to lead them. There is a tradition that says Mt. Sinai blossomed with flowers because of the giving of Torah.

The parallels between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament are apparent as we see the Passover/Crucifixion, the Exodus/Resurrection and then after 50 days, the descent of the Law/Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church. It not only started the church but has been a part of it ever since. Signs and wonders being found throughout the history of the faith and to this day, the catholic church has always been pentecostal in the fullest sense of the word.

Bǣda Venerabilis

The Venerable Bede was an 8th century Benedictine monk from Northumbria in England. He was born in 672-3 and died on May 26th 735. He is most known for his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People) which covers the period of time from Julius Caesar and the Roman invasion of England to the mission of St. Augustine and up to his own time.  Completed in 731, this work gained him the title “Father of English History”. He also wrote on science, and theology, translated Scripture and composed several chants. In all Bede is credited with about 45 books, which he wrote himself claiming: “I am my own secretary; I dictate, I compose, I copy all myself.”

While the term ‘venerable’ was attached to his name shortly after his death, Bede was officially canonized in 1899 and is a doctor of the church and known as the patron saint of English writers and historians.

Bede’s Death Song

Before the unavoidable journey there,

 no one becomes wiser in thought than him who,

 by need, ponders, before his going hence,

what good and evil within his soul,

after his day of death,

will be judged.

Mappae Mundi

Bunting, Heinrich, 1545-1606

Delving once again into the cartography and world maps of the middle ages I came across a set of maps from the 16th century with a bit of a different take on the world as we know it. They were made by a German protestant named Heinrich Bunting who while making a set of maps based on the travels in the bible, made a few extra “just for fun”. His book of maps, called Itinerarium Sacrae Scriptura was first published in 1581.

The map on top is known as The world as a clover leaf. It is a world map and shows Jerusalem as the center of the world. America can be seen in the lower left-hand corner, and Denmark dropping in from the top. Apparently the map was drawn to mimic a coat of arms from Buntings’ homeland. As with many mappae mundi, accuracy wasn’t really the goal. Rather it approaches the world like a schematic drawing showing a symbolic and abstract version of the world.

A second from Bunting is called Europa Prima Pars Terrae In Forma Virginis, or Europe as a Queen. This is a representation of Europe identified with Mother Church and a tie in with the mythical princes Europa who was raped by Zeus. Similar depictions of Europe as a queen are said to have existed from the 14th century. Wearing a Crown in Spain; the Orb, a globe with the cross in Italy and the scepter pointing to the west. Here I am reminded of a Quote form Hilaire Belloc “I say again, renewing the terms, The Church is Europe: and Europe is The Church.” Europe was reborn from the fallen Roman Empire as a group of united catholic states which lasted until the time of the reformation.

Asia as Pegasus

A map of Asia is also found among this collection which is called Asia Secunda Pars Terrae in Forma Pegasi (Asia in the form of a Pegasus) and as you can see it shows the south and east parts of Asia in the form of that mythical winged horse.

Taking a closer look at these mappae you can see how the images fit into the cartography of the known world in interesting ways. Also take note of the surrounding images in the sea of ships and creatures.

Et ascéndit in cælum

Ascension of Christ 6th Century

The Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus occurs on the 40th day after Easter, which is May the 17th. Some catholic churches have moved the celebration of this solemnity to the following sunday which is the 20th. The Ascension comes from the book of Acts and is also mentioned in the gospel of Mark and Luke, and tells of events after the resurrection of Jesus where he spent time with the apostles and disciples and then on the 40th day was taken up bodily into heaven in their presence.

Concepts of “ascension” are found in other stories from tradition and scripture. The bible tells of the prophet Elijah being taken up by a fiery chariot. In Jewish tradition, Moses was also taken up in a cloud, though in the bible it states that Moses died. There is also the concept of assumption which is similar and applies to Moses (some suggest he died first and his body was taken then), Enoch, which is a mystery, and the Virgin Mary who has a feast day for the assumption. Like ascension, the body is taken to heaven.

In the illuminated art above, Jesus is pictured ascending with angels surrounding him. In the center is the Virgin Mary with arms raised, to the right St. Peter, holding a staff and the other apostles gazing in wonder.

The Ascension is also found the creeds, both the Apostles and Nicene. Et ascéndit in cælum is the phrase from the Latin Nicene and means “and ascended into heaven”. The creeds were important symbols to early christians and developed in response to disputes and heresies in the early Christian church. The point about ascension, specifically a bodily ascension is important in regard to several philosophies and heresies which considered the body, or the physical creation to be evil. Christ not only comes in the flesh, but is resurrected and ascends in the flesh… And will come back in the same way.


Illuminated music sheet based on the Creation

          This little child his little book learning, As he sat in the school at his primere, He Alma redemptoris hearde sing, As children learned their antiphonere;…. (from the Prioress’ Tale, in Geoffrey Chaucers’ Canterbury Tales)

An Antiphon is a musical style which is used in the Liturgy and Divine Office. The word comes from the Greek and translates as “opposite voice” which describes the “responsorial” activity in the music. In the Mass, antiphon is used when the mass is sung, and during the responsorial psalm, also when sung. This is where most may recognize it’s use.

The concept of antiphon goes back to St. Ignatius of Antioch who in a vision saw angelic choirs singing back and forth. In the western empire chants were used which would develop into what we call Gregorian Chants today. Named after Gregory the Great, a 6th century pope, the chants themselves were probably part of a developmental process that lasted into the middle ages. Most may associate these chants with the monastic life or the liturgy, but they have found their way into our modern popular culture. Several modern bands, such as Garmarna, have incorporated chants into modern music.

Music from medieval Antiphnary

Garmarna is a Swedish progressive rock band who remade the music of a 12th century abbess named Hildegard von Bingen. Using the lyrics and chants and interpreting them in a modern folk/rock/techno format, the band is one among several who have helped to bring a long overdue appreciation to the chants and Hildegard.

The pictures on this page show a few illuminated examples of sheet music from the middle ages. Often these books, (antiphonary) were large so that the whole choir could see from a distance. This is because the making of any books, let alone those used for music, was very costly and time consuming. A choir may only have one such book to sing from. The illumination tells of the care and respect people held for the written word. Like other medieval texts such as the books of hours, breviaries, and of course those that contained the Sacred Scriptures, these collections of sheet music have the decorations and gold leaf surrounding the words and graphs making them works of art.

Et Matthiam

Casting lots for Matthias

May 14th is the feast of St. Matthias. An apostle in the early church he is the first to follow in the succession established by Christ. The story, which can be found in Acts, tells of the Apostles led by Peter, seeking to replace their number. With the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, the 12 had been reduced to 11. Peter spoke to the remaining apostles and disciples and they ended up casting lots for a replacement. Matthias was chosen.

I remember hearing that Albert Einstein, commenting on the universe, made a statement about God not rolling dice, but it seems like He didn’t have a problem with drawing straws. And so begins the succession, which will become through history, the tradition of the Apostolic Church.

Matthias disappears as soon as he appears. Several early manuscripts mention him and don’t leave too much to go on. One tradition holds that he travelled to Ethiopia and was martyred there. Another that he died of old age in Jerusalem. The original date of his feast was Feb 24th, and is still held in some traditions. The Catholic Church changed his feast day to May 14th in Eastertide to line up with  his calling in acts. An old tradition holds that St. Matthias’ day is the luckiest day of the year.

I suppose that for some, the idea that an apostle could be chosen by lot, may be uncomfortable. It may seem to imply a reckless approach to the very serious nature of such a holy undertaking as the Apostolic Succession. Luck, after all is something that contrasts with faith, but even here that strange paradox of freewill and predestination seems to bind these together in to what is necessary.

Humilitatem Ancillae


Beliefs about Mary, the Mother of God, are one of the biggest sore spots between the ancient church and the post reformation denominations. Having been a convert from Catholicism to Evangelicalism and then back to the Catholic faith, I have been on both sides of this argument and maybe that is why I am a little more cautious about blogging about the May Crowning. However it is Mothers Day, and in many Catholic churches the May Crowning will take place today.

The Catholic beliefs about Mary, especially when terms like Queen of Heaven are invoked, appear to place Mary in an almost God-like position; this is where the arguments begin, and for catholics where it ends. Because the fact is that no catholic ever thought Mary was God, even if they called her Mother of God. It might be a possible outcome to assume that the term Theotokos would place Christ as subordinate to Mary, but in reality the term is meant to uphold the very Christ-centered belief we call the Incarnation, the belief that God took on humanity.

In a similar way the title of Queen of Heaven could mean several things. Often it is tied to other “queens of heaven” from mythology and pagan belief, and implied that the term makes a god of Mary, placing her above Jesus. But in fact it is the opposite. Mary is the mother of Jesus, and Jesus to the christian is the King of Kings. This makes Mary a Queen Mother.

The point about Mary that is so often missed is that she is the first to have faith in Christ. The angel announces the birth and Mary accepts. Mary states in the sacred scriptures “for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” and this is what the church has done. It has given the place of honor to a woman. Above all men, all popes, kings, prophets, martyrs, and all other humans it is this “second Eve”, who trusts God and bears the fruit of the Tree of Life. We may be accused of worshipping her, we aren’t.  We get accused of being patriarchal, then why accuse of worshipping a woman? We are accused of pagan influence for beliefs about Mary, and I say if it is a pagan idea then the idea was made new and born again the same way all pagans have been, through Christ; however beliefs about Mary are all easily explained from the influence of the Hebrew Scriptures and the women of faith mentioned there. Eve (Mother of all) , Sarah (Laughed at her annunciation), Bathsheba (Queen Mother to Solomon).

A crown will be placed on a statue of Mary, in other traditions, flowers will surround images of Mary, Icons will be crowned, all to remind us that God has regarded the humble handmaid ( humilitatem ancillae)  and done great things. Queen of Heaven, Mother of God, and Mother of the Church.

The Magnificat

Luke 1: 46-55

 My soul doth magnify the Lord.

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;

 for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name.

And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him.

He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.

He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy:

As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.

Father Damien and the Lepers

Father Damien

May the 10th is the feast day of Father Damien of Molokai. Born Josef de Veuster he became a priest and was part of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a religious order. Born in Belgium he followed two sisters and a brother into the vocations.

Damien took to the missions, having a great respect for former missionary priests such as Francis Xavier, and would end up taking his brothers place on a mission to Hawaii. While ministering there he heard of a colony of lepers on Molokai and undertook to help the people there.

Molokai, being a leper colony, was a place of isolation, fear and death. You went there to die, and there was no coming back. Damien, left the shores of paradise of his own volition to minister in what was about as close to the idea of hell as you could get. The loss of culture, civilization and the hopelessness of a disease that destroyed the ability to feel, not only isolated the lepers from the rest of the world but also from themselves. Many bore the horrible wounds and disfigurement, the stench of rotting flesh and wounds. Damien, however, took to rebuilding their humanity and dignity. Through labor, purpose, and caring, he built houses and farms and brought a sense of order back to the people. He provided mass and the sacraments to the many catholics on Molokai and soon converts began to come.

“Outcast! Unclean!” Were words yelled by the leper to warn people of their disease. Leprosy, was a very contagious disease. About 10 years into his ministry on Molokai, Father Damien found that he had contracted the disease. Placing a foot into scalding water, he felt nothing. Nerves once vibrant had been destroyed by the disease. With the loss of the ability to feel, the disease begins and slowly the body wastes away. A simple scratch, not being felt, can become infected and devastate the body. Even if a person can protect their extremities the disease wastes the flesh away. And so the warning was heeded well. But Father Damien touched lepers, he cared for them, and he lived with them, unwilling to let the fear of disease stop his ministry. It is said that the true gift of healing is found in those, who after prayer and laying on of hands with no result, stay by the bedside to feed, clean, comfort, and be with the sick.

It must have been hard and lonely at times for Damien being the only priest in Molokai. It is said that he would cry out his confession from the shore to a priest in a nearby boat to receive absolution. And to make matters worse, his ministry was even criticized by some, to which the writer Robert Louis Stevenson would respond in the priests defense.

Father Damien Died on April the 15, 1889, and was canonized in 2009. He is known as the Leper Priest, the Aposlte to the lepers, St. Damien of Molokai.

An afterthought


Just an after thought on my recent post about the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. A friend was asking about the icon and I mentioned that several years ago, my late grandmother who knew a priest that wrote icons, had one made. It was a very special gift and holds a very special place in our home.

The term for icon is derived from the Greek eikōn which means image. But an icon is much more than a mere image. In iconography the intent is to teach through image and symbol. The making of an icon is not called painting but writing. This is because the use of symbology to convey ideas and spiritual concepts is really what is at the heart if an iconographer. As such almost everything in an Icon is a symbol for something, whether it be halos or the use of colors. Gestures and even the letters can mean something. As mentioned concerning the Black Madonna, the use of a gesture pointing to Christ is right at the center of the scene which classifies this icon as a hodegetria (she who shows the way). But there is more here to view. Mary is dressed in blue, and the Christ child is dressed in red. Blue is a symbol of humanity and red of divinity. Gold is symbolic of heavenly radiance.

It may be lost on our modern sensibilities, but in a world that was illiterate, pictures, images and symbol played a very big part in conveying information. Even today we know people learn better if they can see, than they can by just reading or hearing alone. This is why we still use pictures, graphs, videos and other visual aids. In the early church art and symbol were used frequently. Being found in catacombs, graves and eventually on church walls. One of the earliest symbols was that of the good shepherd. Used as a symbol of christianity even before the Cross, the good shepherd not only symbolized Christ but tells us something about Him.

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