minima maxima sunt

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

Archive for the category “Advent”


Have a few updates I’m hoping to put out today. The last month of the calendar I completed about a weeks ago. I was very excited with this last calendar entry for a few reasons. I was looking forward to getting into new sections of a book of hours, (the gospel readings). December and Christmas are favorite times of the year and I had a lot of ideas for the art. I also planned to do some kind of Saint or Icon referencing the incarnation.

Really the first time to try drawing a Saint or human figure in the book. I know I have mentioned several times that I am a hack at this. Not really a refined artist, my calligraphy is not that great….. But drawing hands… yikes! I was happy with the Virgin Mary that I drew but those hands took several attempts to get right. I am satisfied with the final and hope this gets easier as I do plan to have more of this.

Ending the calendar I had planned for a while to have a winter scene with cardinals and snow. A simple scene of winter.

Book of hours of Bénigne Serre, 1524

Several months ago I discovered a few places that will make replicas of Illuminated Manuscripts for a very reasonable price. Below is an example of my second purchase from one of these sites. These are printed pages and have no gold foil that you would find with a more expensive facsimile, but they are complete manuscripts, beautifully bound and covered by hand and they allow one to get a sense of reading, or just looking, at a book of hours.image

In the picture above I have the book cover shown. Decoration and a leather cover on it that will still need to rest as it was recently oiled. The pages, which you cannot see, were given gilded edges. The replica is of the Book of Hours of Bénigne Serre:

“A book of hours following the liturgical custom of Rome, with a calendar containing a selection of saints for Langres. The manuscript was illuminated and dated in 1524 by a Master of Bénigne Serre, who was known by the name of his client, a highly-ranked official of the King of Burgundy. The artist was a hitherto unknown illuminator from the circle of the “1520s The Hours Workshop,” which framed the miniatures with Renaissance architecture or added naturalistic flowers and animals to borders. This manuscript contains a number of unusual images, e.g., for the Lauds of the Office of the Virgin, the meeting of Joachim and Anna at the city gate of Jerusalem replaces the usual image of the Visitation. In the 18th century, the manuscript was owned by the family Bretagne of Dijon.” More information on this Book of Hours and contents.
Above is a text page from this manuscript. The writing is in Latin and all the pages in this book have excellent designs showing flowers, animals, people and places in the side bars. Below I have a few examples of some of the full page illustrations found in this book. These would normally indicate the beginning of a section of texts, prayers or psalms. The first is the adoration of the Magi from the “Hours of the Virgin”.  Joseph is in the door of the building behind, Mary and the Christ child in center and the Magi on the right.

This next picture shows a much darker scene as Death, riding a bull, slays a man. The text starts the Office of the Dead for Vespers. These are prayers for those in Purgatory.  The text follows from Psalm 116

“1 My heart is aflame, so graciously the Lord listens to my entreaty; 2 the Lord, who grants me audience when I invoke his name. 3 Death’s noose about me, caught in the snares of the grave, ever I found distress and grief at my side, 4 till I called upon the Lord, Save me, Lord, in my peril. 5 Merciful the Lord our God is, and just, and full of pity; 6 he cares for simple hearts, and to me, when I lay humbled, he brought deliverance. 7 Return, my soul, where thy peace lies; the Lord has dealt kindly with thee; 8 he has saved my life from peril, banished my tears, kept my feet from falling. 9 Mine to walk at ease, enjoying the Lord’s presence, in the land of the living.”


This last picture shows Mary as a young girl with St. Anne. This comes in the end of the book in what are called the “Suffrages”. These are prayers to Saints, or rather petitions to those saints to keep us in their prayers. The text in the picture translates: “A heavenly blessing entered into Anne, through whom the Virgin Mary was born for us.”
For more information on reproductions you can visit this website.
Golden Gryphon Productions

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.

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)

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.

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!

Gaudete in Domino semper!

Advent Wreath

Advent Wreath

The third Sunday in Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is The Latin word for rejoice. Advent wreaths and church vestments switch from the seasonal purple to a rose color for this Sunday and it symbolizes the halfway point of Advent, thus the emphasis on rejoicing.

Advent is all about preparation, setting the mood for Christmas. Through the season, the practice of penitence, fasting and prayer accompany our preparation. Gaudete Sunday brings encouragement that the coming of the Lord is close and the season of advent will soon be over and the celebration of the Christ Mass will be here. Gaudete means to rejoice!

Gaudete, Gaudete!

(16th century carol)

Gaudete, Gaudete! Christus et natus Ex maria virgine, Gaudete!

Tempus ad est gratiae, Hoc quod optabamus; Carmina laetitiae, Devote redamus

Deus homo factus est, Natura mirante; Mundus renovatus est A Christo regnante.

Ezechiellis porta Clausa pertransitur; Unde lux est orta Salus invenitur.

Ergo nostra cantio, Psallat iam in lustro; Benedicat Domino: Salus Regi nostro.

English Translation

Rejoice, Rejoice! Christ is born Of the virgin Mary, Rejoice!

It is now the time of grace That we have desired; Let us sing songs of joy, Let us give devotion.

God was made man, And nature marvels; The world was renewed By Christ who is King.

The closed gate of Ezechiel Has been passed through; From where the light rises Salvation is found.

Therefore let our assembly now sing, Sing the Psalms to purify us; Let it praise the Lord: Greetings to our King.

Immaculate Conception

The Annunciation

The feast of the Immaculate Conception, the catholic belief that Mary the mother of Jesus, was born without original sin, is celebrated during the Advent season on Dec 8th.

The idea is simple. Mary, was born in a state of grace without original sin, thus freeing her to respond to gods call with a pure heart not bound by the selfish nature of original sin. The angel Gabriel comes, and announces the news of her role in gods salvation, to which Mary responds “let it be done to me according to your word”.

I like to contrast Mary to another figure from the Scriptures named Sarah. Sarah was the wife of Abraham. God had promised Abraham a child, a great nation of descendants to follow, but Abraham, and Sarah, were now getting very old, and no child had been born yet. Then, a “visitation”, three strangers come to Abraham, and announce that Sarah will have a child. Sarah laughs in response, saying to herself “After I am grown old, and my lord is an old man, shall I give myself to pleasure?”.

Now who in Sarah’s shoes would have thought any differently? And who in Mary’s shoes would have responded in such faith? We are looking at two “miraculous births”, and two biblical figures who respond quite differently to the word of the Lord. And in this difference can be seen the Grace that God bestowed upon Mary to respond the way she did to the promise of God.

St. Nicholas and the raging sea.

Sunday December 2nd began the season of Advent which will continue for a total of four weeks until Christmas Eve. Advent; a word that comes from the Latin, ‘adventus’ meaning ‘to come’; is not only the preparation for Christmas, but also marks the beginning of the Catholic liturgical year.

It’s only fitting that a few Saints associated with Christmas find feast days tucked into this season. One Saint whose day is often overlooked is St. Nicholas, who being very popular in our pop culture as the Santa Clause of elves and flying reindeer, that we associate with Christmas; was actually a real live Bishop in the fourth century, whose feast day is on the 6th of December.

The Bishop of Myra, a city in what today is Turkey, Nicholas was known for his generosity, gift giving, and concern for sailors and ships. While serving as Bishop, Nicholas suffered persecution, exile, and imprisonment under Roman persecution. He was also one of the attendees at the council of Nicaea in 325, the first ecumenical council held by the church, which among other things settled disputes about Christology and formed part of  the  Nicene Creed.  St. Nicholas died Dec 6th, 343 AD. and is known as the patron saint of children, thieves, and sailors.

It’s strange to think of St. Nicholas; Santa Clause,  as a patron of anything besides children. I guess the patron of thieves makes a little sense, climbing down chimneys and all, but I think the one that surprised me was his association with sailors and ships.

When I first came across the Icon above I thought it was a strange variation of the story about Jesus and the Apostles at sea, and would never have suspected that it was “Santa Claus”. But the truth is that St. Nicholas has several stories and legends surrounding his life, one of which goes like this:

While returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Nicholas travelled by sea.  A storm arose and threatened the ship he was on, so he calmly prayed and the storm ceased. The sailors were saved from disaster, and so St. Nicholas as a patron of sailors and voyagers found it’s beginning.

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