minima maxima sunt

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

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

John the Eagle

Eagle Symbol of John

Eagle Symbol of John

The Apostle John has a Feast day on the 27th of Dec. He is understood to have written the last of the Gospels which were included into the canon of scripture, and is also credited with three epistles and the Book of Revelation which concludes the New Testament.

Like the other Gospels, Johns has a focus, an idea that is built into the telling. Matthew wrote the Jews, Mark focused on ministry, Luke to the gentiles and these three writers all tell a very similar story. Johns gospel takes a very different turn, and focuses on theology. Keeping with the other gospels, John uses the framework of Jesus’ life. But John digs in deep,  bringing to the fore front the sacraments like baptism and the eucharist. He uses the events in Jesus life to key in on these strange christian practices, not only to show us they come from Christ but to explain what is really going on spiritually. Baptism is being “born again” or “born from above” (John 3) ; the Eucharist is the real presence, the Body and Blood, of Christ (John 6).

John on Patmos. The Eagle brings him ink.

John on Patmos. The Eagle brings him ink.

It is important to note that there is no Last Supper mentioned in the Gospel of John. Instead the narrative from Chapter 6 takes it’s place, explaining the same concept in a more dramatic way. It seems that even during Johns life, there must have been some confusion or misunderstanding about the Blessed Sacrament and John puts the whole argument out for all to see. He doesn’t dice any words, doesn’t bend left or right, he puts it all out there; Jesus’ claim, the reaction, Jesus’ re-affirming, the reaction again and even to the point where the 12 questioned Him. Jesus remains firm on this, and John makes it known.

John was the youngest Apostle, often pictured without a beard. He is the only original apostle to die a natural death; all the others were martyred. His writings conclude the book of Gospels (Evangelion), the epistles, and the book of the New testament, and the entire canon of Scriptures which the Church acknowledges.

John is often pictured as or with an eagle, which is the Evangelical symbol for the apostle. The eagle soars high above, it was said that the eagle could look into the sun, and such perspective and mysticism fills Johns Gospel. As such it gets a little extra attention. Readings from the Gospel of John are read at mass during the Easter season and in the Tridentine mass the ceremony concluded with a recital of the first chapter of John.


In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum.

Puer Natus

Nativity from House of Catherine of Cleves

Nativity from Hours of Catherine of Cleves

Christmas Eve is probably one of the most popular vigils in the Liturgical year. A vigil is meant as a time of preparation for the feast which occurs on the following day. All Hollows Eve and the Easter Vigil would also be recognized by many as vigils. In the Catholic celebration during the Christmas season, we hold a vigil mass, a midnight mass and of course the mass on Christmas Day which is the Christ mass from where we get the word Christmas.

Christmas Eve is probably my favourite part about Christmas. There is something beautiful about even the term “Eve” which brings to mind our “new Eve”, the Blessed Mother, who we remember was seeking shelter in the dark Middle Eastern night with Joseph. No city lights to pollute the night sky, the stars must have seemed like the light from myriad candles, hand held by a heavenly congregation not yet known to the world but soon to be brought into communion through the Incarnation of the Most High God. A flame even brighter in their midst, guiding Magi from wherever Magi come from… outshining even the great Jupiter whose reflection shines in the night sky this Christmas Eve; like a secret reminder of what was.

The Holy Parents, the Magi, shepherds and angelic hosts all closing in on their destination to await the arrival of the Child who will forever tie eternity and time together like a celtic knot with no beginning and no end. Mercy and justice, free will and predestination, and unfathomable Divine Love ready to break forth from the cold chrysalis of the night sky.

In the silence we hear the fragile cry of a baby.

Missa – Introit

Triumphal Entry from theLes très belles heures de Notre-Dame

Triumphal Entry from theLes très belles heures de Notre-Dame

The Mass begins with the Introit which is Latin for Entrance. Bells may ring or a greeter may notify the congregation to stand as a procession begins from the back of the church. In this procession you will often have several people but, may also just be the priest who is presiding over the mass, the former occurring on Sundays and Holy days while the latter on weekday masses or low masses.

On a normal Sunday the procession begins with a cross and is followed by a person carrying an evangelion which is a book that contains the gospels. Altar servers and deacons make up those in the front of the procession. At the end of the procession is the priest who will preside over the celebration. Sometimes, especially on certain feasts there will be several priests involved in the mass but the one presiding will always be the last. On certain occasions a Bishop may also be serving at a mass. (He’s the one with the Shepherds Staff) All clergy will take part in the mass.

The Introit is accompanied by singing or the reciting of a psalm. On certain days there may also be an entrance antiphon, which has a connection the days celebration. An antiphon is really just a responsorial hymn. A person sings or speaks one part and the congregation responds with the second, or a part of the choir may sing the first part and the other part of the choir may respond with the second. Examples of Antiphonaries, or books that contained a collection of Antiphons can be found from long ago. The picture on the right show an illuminated antiphonary which is for Gregorian chant.

An Illuminated Antiphonary

An Illuminated Antiphonary

The Introit is understood as part of the “Proper” of the Mass. That means that it is something that can change depending on the celebration, for instance during the Easter Vigil the entrance is done with candles and in the dark, Palm Sunday the entrance has palms. Sometimes incense is used, and once I even saw a donkey……(also a Palm Sunday) Different songs may accompany different processions based on the season or day. The “Proper” is contrasted to the “Order” of the mass, which are the parts of the mass which do not change according to seasons or days.

The entrance signifies Christ coming into the church. It reflects scripture passages like the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, and also the Passion of Christ as he carried the cross to Calvary. It also brings to my mind a certain portion of the Hebrew Scriptures concerning God’s Covenant with Abraham.

And the Lord answered, and said: Take me a cow of three years old, and a she goat of three years and a ram of three years, a turtle also, and a pigeon. 10 And he took all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid the two pieces of each one against the other: but the birds he divided not. 11 And the fowls came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. 12 And when the sun was setting, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a great and darksome horror seized upon him. 13 And it was said unto him: Know beforehand that your seed shall be a stranger in a land not their own, and they shall bring them under bondage, and afflict them four hundred years. 14 But I will judge the nation which they shall serve, and after this they shall come out with great substance. 15 And you shall go to your fathers in peace, and be buried in a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall return hither: for as yet the iniquities of the Amorrhites are not at the full until this present time. 17 And when the sun was set, there arose a dark mist, and there appeared a smoking furnace, and a lamp of fire passing between those divisions. 18 That day God made a covenant with Abram, saying: To your seed will I give this land, from the river of Egypt even to the great river Euphrates.

tumblr_m5fkj9bhwd1r7d18fo1_400It is the picture of God entering time and space to meet with us. To form, fulfil and complete the covenant he established. With such a concept of holiness as this passage pictures, it sets the tone for how I approach and participate in the divine liturgy. This isn’t just going to church, it isn’t just tradition or religion. It is Christ in our midst.

Missa – Panorama

220px-St__Mary's_Catholic_Church_altar,_Alexandria,_VASitting in a catholic church, there is a lot to take in. In our last post we ended with a few personal prayers before mass. At this time I will sit back in the pew and take in the scenery which is different in every church. Some of the things which will vary tend to be in the area of aesthetics. Some churches will have stained glass, others may not. Icons or statues of saints will vary depending on the church patronage; for instance attending a church named after St. Andrew will most likely have a statue or picture of the saint in a prominent place. Often there will be votive candles in several places where people can light a prayer candle. Most churches still have stained glass and it is always interesting seeing the different interpretations of biblical stories or persons. There are also some things that will always be in a catholic church. In this post I thought it would be good to make note of some of the basics.

My attention is first drawn to the Altar and the surrounding area. The altar is a centerpiece of sorts as it is from here that the bread and wine are consecrated. There are usually candles on the altar and depending on the amount, tell a little about the type of mass you are attending. A low mass or weekday mass will normally have two candles, while a high mass will have four or six. If a bishop is presiding there is an additional candle making seven. Candles are made of pure beeswax which represents the purity of Christs’ body, the wick represents His soul and the flame His divinity.

Above the altar there is usually a Crucifix though there may also be a cross with an image of the risen Christ. Contrary to the criticism of some, the crucifix is not understood as Christ still being on a cross. Catholics know Christ has risen from the grave, we do celebrate Easter after all. Some crucifix’s can be extremely graphic and some less so. In either case the point is to remind us of the incredible humility and depths of the love of God.

A Tabernacle is also behind the altar and located near is a red or white candle which represents the presence of Christ. The Tabernacle is where the left over Eucharist are kept. These will be brought out during the mass to be added to the newly consecrated and distributed to the church during communion or sent out to those who are sick.

A rather large candle will often be seen to the right of the altar. This is the Paschal Candle which is blessed every year at the Easter Vigil. The candle has symbols on it which are a Cross, an Alpha, an Omega and the numbers for the current year.

To the left is the podium from where the Scriptures will be read. In older times Bibles were chained to the podium to keep them safe. In those days Scriptures were produced by hand and took a lot of effort to make. The Book was chained to prevent it being stolen. shrine

In some larger churches there may be some smaller shrines or grottos which often will have a statue of the Virgin Mary, Mother and Child, or the Holy Family and as mentioned above, other saints, especially the one which the church is named after.

A series of plaques surround the church which are called the Stations of the Cross. They are scenes from the passion of Christ and during the season of Lent churches have a special devotional gathering which follow them. However a person can do a private devotion on the stations anytime through the year.

In general, the church building is arranged to bring all focus on Christ. All the art, the statues, and even the lighting draw our attention to the Altar/Crucifix. In the time spent awaiting the Mass to start, I can sit still and take in the story of the Gospel.

A Christmas Carol Poem


A Christmas Carol poem
by G.K.Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down

A Christmas Carol Poem by G. K. Chesterton

Christmas Poem.


Christmas Poem


There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wife’s tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

(Gilbert Keith Chesterton)

Gloria in Profundis


G.K. Chesterton

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all-
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Missa – Preparation

P1000928Yesterday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and I attended the Mass at noon. The church was dark, lit only by the light coming through windows; several other people had already arrived while more were coming in. Shuffling feet and mumbled voices, as people try to quietly find a seat broke the silence only slightly. I am lucky to have found a church that values piety, it was one of the first things I noticed about the one I attend, and sadly it seems to be a hard thing to find these days, even in the Catholic church.

The Mass is the very center of catholic worship, it is liturgy, it is art, it is prayer and it is worship, but it’s primary function is that of communion. Communion among fellow christians, communion with the saints of the church as the mystical body of Christ and all revolving around the Eucharist where the deepest communion exists, the real presence of Christ, the Body and Blood of the Lord. This is what going to mass is about, and this is what we prepare for before the mass even starts.

Preparation for mass takes place long before the actually liturgy begins. There are preparations for the priest and parishioner alike, which to some may be surprising. Many times I have heard criticism concerning the priesthood and catholics, primarily that the priest is somehow the “show” and the parishioner is merely the “audience” or that the priest is a mediator standing between the catholic and God. In reality the parishioner has just as important a part to play at the mass and in church life as the priest, even if our function seem so different.vestments-full

The priest prepares for the Sacred Liturgy in several ways. Making sure that all the necessary articles are in place and ready such as candles, the Chalice and Paten, and the missal. He will also prepare by saying prayers while he dresses in the proper vestments for the mass. The word vestment is really just latin for clothes. The priest has several different vestments which all have different meaning and prayers to accompany. Color is also important as the season or ceremony may require a certain color of garment. For instance during Advent and Lent the season color is purple. The priests garments with contain this color and other articles in the church will as well.

Sacrament of Reconciliation

Sacrament of Reconciliation

For the layman, our preparation for mass begins with reconciliation. reconciliation is commonly called “Confession”. It is often ridiculed and criticized as some remnant of authoritarianism from the dark ages, but in fact is one of the churches “best kept secrets”, comparable to the modern counsellor, but for free. As catholics we hold a very intense belief about the Eucharist and because of this belief we have certain protocol before partaking. In preparing for the Mass we are really preparing to receive the Eucharist and one of the ways we prepare for this is through the forgiveness of sins. If a catholic is in a state of mortal sin, they must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before they can receive the Eucharist. Keep in mind that to a catholic, the eucharist isn’t mere bread and wine, it is not crackers and grape juice. It is the real presence of Jesus Christ, and we treat it in the utmost reverence. A catholic who has not gone to confession can still attend Mass, and as long as they are not in a state of mortal sin can still partake of the Eucharist. (Note: A mortal sin is defined as a sin of grave nature, committed with full knowledge and deliberate.)

Preparation for Mass continues by fasting. In older times it was common to fast from the night before but today the church requires that one fast for at least one hour before receiving the Eucharist. This probably has more to do with the modern world and the fact that mass schedules range from the morning to the evening. Be that as it may, there is no reason why a person could not prepare by fasting longer than an hour.

Holy Water Font

Holy Water Font

As we arrive at the church building, we enter and bless ourselves Making the sign of the Cross with Holy Water. This reminds us of our Baptism and Baptismal Vows. Holy Water is considered a sacramental, which means that it is a sacred sign that resembles a sacrament. It is tied to the remission of what catholics call Venial Sins, or forgivable sins. These are the minor and sometimes not so minor sins which we commit that are not necessarily intended, planned or chosen. Like our baptism, holy water reminds and acts as a physical example of Gods grace, and like the washing of the disciples feet reminds us to “keep our shoes clean”.

Next we find a seat and as we prepare to sit we Genuflect. This is to show our respect and acknowledgement for the Eucharist which is housed in the Tabernacle on the altar. A catholic genuflects by kneeling down on the right knee. In older days the use of a genuflect was also used of Emperors and kings as well as clergy but would differ by dropping to the left knee. Other forms of such adoration are a profound bow in the direction of the altar.

At last I arrive at my seat, and kneel down to pray. Often I will recite an act of contrition, which is a prayer said during confession, again to prepare myself for the Mass and in the stillness reflect on the art in the church. The Crucifix, pictures of saints, the candles; all bringing to mind the gospel, tradition and completeness of faith.

I am still, I am at peace, I am ready to experience and participate in the ancient christian celebration of the Sacred Liturgy which we call the Mass.

Missa – An introduction

Our Lady of Good Voyage Chapel in Roche Harbor by Rie Muñoz

Our Lady of Good Voyage Chapel in Roche Harbor by Rie Muñoz

“Ite, Missa Est”, the conclusion to the ancient gathering of Christians to celebrate the sacred mysteries and divine liturgy which today we catholics call the Mass, is actually where the term Mass is derived from. A strange twist on the phrase “famous last words”, the latin rendering basically means “Go, you are dismissed.” Over time the idea of dismissal tied into that of the mission; our departure from the gathering was to bring the light of Christ into the world. Today most in the west know it as the Catholic Mass; and instead of being dismissed we say we are going to Mass, which means we are going to be dismissed (lol). As funny as that may sound it’s a perfectly catholic thing to me, to start a series on the mass by talking about the wording at the end of the mass. Catholicism, always seems to have its ends tied to it’s beginnings. The liturgical year, the sacraments, and even the Mass all come full circle and directly in the center of it all there is always Jesus.

Today the Catholic Mass to some is a thing of horror; it is despised, ridiculed and abused by those who hate the Catholic church. To many it is simply misunderstood because of the amount of mis-information which circulates concerning this ancient christian worship. To those who are catholic, or have a similar respect for the ancient church it is a thing of profound beauty, deep in symbolism and meaning and the very center of worship for the ancient church in the west. The eastern rites of the catholic church celebrate the liturgy as well but use different terms, such as Divine Liturgy, or Holy Qurbana, and while there are differences based on culture and tradition, the Liturgy is basically the same.

A Roman Missal

A Roman Missal

Over the next year, minima maxima sunt will be focusing on the Mass. From beginning to the end, we will look at the structure, the symbols, the terms and rubrics, and will even offer my own thoughts and ideas as a participant in the liturgy and a mere layman. The posts which will follow in this series will all begin with “Missa”, to separate them other posts which I will still be adding through the year.

Adventus – The Jesse Tree


Jesse Tree from Illuminated manuscript

The season of Advent is here, the beginning of the Liturgical year in preparation for the Incarnation. The term comes from the Latin adventus which means “coming”, and it serves the church in two ways. It ties into the Second Coming; following last weeks Feast of Christ the King we await his return in Glory, and reminds us of the first coming which we celebrate yearly at Christmas.

Most people who celebrate Advent do so with the later in mind and the most popular custom today to keep Advent is the lighting of candles on an advent wreath. Throughout history, Advent has seen many different customs, some were strict fasts like those celebrated by it’s couterpart Lent. It has also been a time of penitence when people should make their way to confession.


Jesse tree from a Book of Hours

Another tradition is that of the Jesse Tree. This symbol dates back to Bohemia in the middle ages and is basically a representation of the genealogy of Christ as found in the Gospel of Matthew, another “advent” as this text ties together the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. The Famous Chi Rho symbol announced this text in several old Gospel manuscripts like the Book of Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels. In the Middle Ages the use of the Jesse Tree found popularity in illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, and sculpted art in cathedrals and churches. And because of its tie in with Advent passage, an interesting devotion took root.
Starting with the first of December an ornament is hung on a tree representing a person or persons in the genealogy of Christ, which would start with Adam and Eve. Beginning at the bottom of the tree and working your way up to the top, which will end with the Infant Jesus. Scripture readings accompany the daily hanging of ornaments.

While this custom seems to be gaining popularity today, a revival of sorts, I had to wonder if the historical celebration of this had anything to do with our modern Christmas tree. The resemblance is obvious, and I could see how this tradition, passing through time, merely morphed into the Christmas tree. Another similar modern tradition is the Advent Calendar, which is a daily devotional leading us through the Advent season. If there is any tie in with the Jesse Tree it would be hard to prove, but I would place my bets that at least the Christmas Tree drew from this older tradition.

As Advent begins and in whatever way you keep it, Dominus Vobiscum!

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