minima maxima sunt

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

Archive for the category “Easter”

Euchatastrophe

20130331-094639.jpgEucatastrophe is a term coined by J. R. R. Tolkien which refers to the sudden turn of events at the end of a story which ensure that the protagonist does not meet some terrible, impending, and very plausible doom. He formed the word by affixing the Greek prefix eu, meaning good, to catastrophe, the word traditionally used in classically-inspired literary criticism to refer to the “unraveling” or conclusion of a drama’s plot. For Tolkien, the term appears to have had a thematic meaning that went beyond its implied meaning in terms of form. In his definition as outlined in his 1947 essay On Fairy-Stories, eucatastrophe is a fundamental part of his conception of mythopoeia. Though Tolkien’s interest is in myth, it is also connected to the gospels; Tolkien calls the Incarnation the eucatastrophe of “human history” and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation.

Full article from Wikipedia

Happy Easter everyone.

Good Friday

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The scenes from the Good Friday found in the famous book of hours, Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, show a progression of events from the Crucifixion to the entombment of Christ. In a similar way the Stations of the Cross, a lenten devotion, takes us on a spiritual pilgrimage along the journey of Christ from his being condemned to the entombment. It is understood that from noon to 3:00 Christ suffered on the Cross, and then He died. During this time, silence, contemplation, reflection, or devotions like the Stations should bring us all to a place of stillness as we consider the profound implication of God dying.

I suppose to many people today there may not be much meaning in the gospel, especially the gory and brutal segment concerning the Crucifixion. People have spent too much time inventing ways to avoid the problem of things like sin, shame and guilt. Some to the point that they don’t even believe in such ideas anymore, making allowance and exception for their actions, though they often don’t make the same exceptions for the actions of others. G.K.Chesterton stated that the easiest way to avoid the problem of sin was to simply say that there is no sin, and this may be the way of the world today. Responsibility means letting others deal with the consequences of my actions and accountability has become a series of pointing fingers at the next guy. Not that things were really different during the time of Christ. After all things like blame and corruption started right from the garden. They have been there from the start and will be there til the end. But here in the story of Christ, and especially in this retelling of the Passion, we come face to face with the consequences of our actions and watch as another takes our blame. And as God is bent low, crushed and broken, and the last breath escapes from the Incarnation, I am left there as a bystander with the gift of forgiveness staring back at me with eyes fading.

Tenebrae

stock-photo-stained-glass-windows-and-votive-candles-in-a-catholic-church-47286904If there is one thing that can be said about the catholic church which is true whether said by it members or it opponents, it must be the fact that catholics sure like their candles. I remember several times being presented a list of reasons why the catholic church is false, which listed dozens of inventions of the church that apparently the person handing me this information hadn’t really read or thought about. I have found that more often than not, it is the catholic who has to do the homework for such people, which meant I had to explain why all of these criticisms were wrong to begin with. The problem with this list of catholic inventions, is that its merely the result of another invention not made by the church, and that is the “Protestant invention of Sola Scriptura (16th century)”. It is hard for those who hold such a belief to grasp the real history of the church as it developed over the centuries and as such they pick out points in this developement process which they disagree with and call it an “invention”, then imply that this is proof against the church. I will usually start by pointing out that the such things as the “Doctrine of the Trinity (2nd-3rd century)” or the “Canon of Scripture (3rd-4th century)” should also be considered “inventions” since they came from the same church and in the same centuries as other inventions.

However the point of all this isn’t about apologetics, rather it is about the use of candles, which makes it on the list of catholic inventions. apparently the use of candles during worship is “an invention” of the catholic church from the year 320 AD. This, as mentioned, isn’t really true. Candles were used in Jewish worship long before this, and even if this were not the case, it should be obvious that candles in a utilitarian way would simply provide light.  But it is this criticism that demonstrates an attitude or maybe even a stereotype about the catholic and the candle. And in this there is some truth. Catholic use candles during Mass; at home; to symbolize the Holy Spirit; during the Easter vigil and at shrines. Candles present to us an idea or image of light and life. They can be a symbol of Jesus, the Light of the World; they can represent our prayers; they are even used to draw attention to objects such as the Scriptures or the Eucharist during Liturgy.

Tenebrae candle hearse

Tenebrae candle hearse

The Tenebrae is a service which is celebrated during the Lenten season and is another example of the use of candles. The word tenebrae is from Latin and translates as “darkness”.  Like the Stations of the Cross, which is also a Lenten service in the catholic church, the Tenebrae service tells the story of the Passion of Christ. The church is lit by a set of candles, which after psalms and readings from the Gospel will be extinguished one by one as the story continues. The last candle is hidden or extinguished as the Passion ends with the death of Jesus. The service grows darker and darker until that last candle is left, a single point of light which we all know will soon be removed. The candle will then be replaced to symbolize the resurrection. It is a quiet observance and all depart in silence. The imagery and presentation of this particular service is wonderful. Like so much of the catholic faith, it ties in the spiritual with the physical, to present the story of the Gospel. For those who choose to see life through a more mystical or contemplative worldview, such devotions can open up even greater ideas. It can place me at Calvary, a participant in the Passion. It also reminds me of Gods covenant with Abraham where in the darkness of night a flaming torch and smoking fire pot entered the area of sacrifice (Gen 15). Moses and the burning bush. And especially when the last candle is remaining, and the Gospel reading tells of the death of Jesus, the last flame is like a star shining in the night sky, even that star which appeared in the sky heralding His Birth.

The use of candles in worship, as well as other catholic devotions, are one of the great things about the church. It may be a criticism from some but in the end I will take the candle over the “Protestant invention of using lightbulbs during worship c1900 AD.” any day of the week.

Missa – The Great Doxology

image002Following the Kyrie in the “Order of the Mass” is the Gloria. Taking it’s cue from the praise of the angels at the Nativity who sang: “Gloria, in excelsis Deo”, which translates as “Glory to God in the Highest”, this hymn of praise is a beautiful example of the ancient trinitarian doctrine expressed through poem. In a way it could almost be considered the Creed in the form of a prayer. The Gloria is known as the Great Doxology which is contrast to another popular prayer known as the “Glory be”, which is the “Minor Doxology”.

A Doxology is typically a song or psalm which in the christian church was sung to the Trinity. The word comes from the Greek doxa – “glory” and logia – “saying”, an in early church years these hymns find their birth. Some of these were done in attempts to imitate the psalms from the Hebrew Scripture and are termed private psalms (psalmi idiotici).

To my the Gloria follows other creedal statements, it begins with a statement which addresses God, and then begins to focus on definition as attention is drawn to the Father and continues to the Son and follows with the Holy Spirit. The Gloria uses terms which we have seen already and will see again in the mass, hinting back to the Kyrie and looking forward to the Creed and the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).

An interesting thing about the Gloria is that it is part of the “ordinary” but during Advent and Lent is absent from the liturgy. This is to emphasize the importance of the holidays which follow both preparation seasons, Christmas and Easter. For the layman in me it works. It’s like a surprise or a visit from an old friend. At Christmas, I can sing with the angels: Gloria in excelsis Deo… and at Easter I can sing Gloria as I celebrate the resurrection of the Lamb.

Gloria

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.
We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory.
Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.
Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.
you are seated at the right hand of the Father,
have mercy on us.For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. AmenCristo%20na%20Cruz

Missa-Ashes and Asperges

There are times when the Penitential Rite is not used. Well maybe that isn’t the right way to say it. Rather the rite is replaced by another ceremony which fulfils the intent of the rite. This occurs several times during the year, most notably during the Easter season and on Ash Wednesday.

Byzantine Illumination from the book of Job.

Byzantine Illumination from the book of Job.

Ash Wednesday, which is our stepping stone into the season of Lent, is one of the most popular masses outside of the big holidays of Christmas and Easter. It’s significance is about repentance and mourning accompanied by fasting, prayer and alms especially during the Lenten season which follows. What most people come away with on Ash Wednesday is the remnant of what the day is named for, and that is ashes. After the homily, the priest will bless the Ashes, which were prepared from the palms of last years Palm Sunday,  and in a similar fashion to the Communion, the congregation will go forward and receive ashes on the forehead in the shape of a cross, (signum crucis). There is often an exhortation which accompanies this such as the minister saying to “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.” or “Repent and believe the Gospel”

Baptism of the Lord from Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry

Baptism of the Lord from Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry

During the Easter Season and on a few other occasions through the year another ceremony will stand in place of the Penitential Rite. This ceremony is the Asperges, or blessing and sprinkling with water. It is a reminder of our baptismal vows.

The priest blesses water, and sprinkles himself and those serving then will move through the congregation and sprinkle holy water on those assembled. Often a hymn will accompany the blessing. The tie in with Baptism is clear with the use of water, but there is also a tie in with older stories from the Hebrew Scriptures. The Exodus, cleansing rituals for lepers, and even in Psalms the image of being cleansed, or purged with hyssop and blood calls to mind the very precious work Christ undertook to save us all, by the shedding of His Blood. As I take part in this blessing, seeing the flash of water from the priest and feeling the cool shock of its spray on my skin, I have to keep in mind exactly why it is water and no longer the blood of sacrificed animals we use today.

In both cases these alternate ceremonies tell us a different story but keep in with the intention and spirit of penitence, calling us to focus on different aspects of our own lives, through repentance, confession and the forgiveness of sins.

Pentēkostē

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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.

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.

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.

Asperges

Blessing of Holy Water at Easter Vigil

Easter Sunday is the beginning of the Easter season, sometimes called Eastertide, which lasts for 50 days until Pentecost Sunday. Like Christmas, the liturgical season lasts much longer than just a day. As such the idea of new birth and resurrection factor into the celebration of the mass through this time. The Asperges, which is a rite of sprinkling of the congregation with Holy Water, may be performed on Sundays through lent. The rite is a reminder of our Baptism.

During the rite, the priest will bless water, and may add some salt, then using a branch of hyssop or sprinkler, will proceed to sprinkle himself, the deacons and servers, and then go through the congregation sprinkling and singing an antiphon or hymn as he does so.

Holy Water isn’t just used for this symbolic rite. It’s also found at the entrances of church buildings throughout the year. People entering can dip their hands and bless themselves, again as a symbol and reminder of Baptism. This is done by making the Sign of the Cross.

Lux In Tenebris Lucet

The Easter Vigil Mass

Tonight is when Catholics celebrate the Easter Vigil. It is probably the longest mass, sometimes lasting three or more hours, but without a doubt is the most beautiful of celebrations as the imagery of darkness and light, of creation, baptism, resurrection, are all contained in this vigil of vigils.

The service begins in darkness. Fire is made and from this the Paschal Candle is lit. This candle is used through out the Easter season and will be present throughout the year for special services such as baptisms and funerals. From the Paschal Candle the flame will be passed onto the rest of the congregation, who holding candles will pass this light on to those next to them, eventually illuminating the celebration with the light that from one candle has spread to all. Several passages from the Hebrew Scriptures are then read as the Liturgy of the Word begins. The focus is on rebirth with the symbol of spirit and water. The Creation, the Flood, and scriptures are read, until the lights go on and the Gloria is sung for the first time (except on Maundy Thursday) since the beginning of Lent. The stone of Christs tomb has been rolled away.

The Empty Tomb. Fragment from a Psalter.

The mass continues as the baptismal font is blessed with the Paschal Candle, and those who have been preparing to come into the church are baptized and anointed with oil, after which the celebration of the Eucharist is held and those who have just been baptized receive that most Blessed Sacrament.

It is without a doubt my favourite mass of the year, so rich in symbolism and beauty. But there is another reason why I particularly enjoy this mass which comes from a story in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The story comes from Genesis 15 when God makes a covenant with that father of the Hebrew faith, Abraham. Out in the darkness, having prepared a sacrifice, Abraham waits for God. I can imagine the night, black and star scattered, where the lonely Abraham awaits the Lord. Then in the darkness appears a light, “a smoking furnace and lamp of fire”, passing through the sacrifice. And the Most High God, makes a covenant with Abraham.

The story has always awed me, because there is a certain fearful mystery that surrounds it. Haunting, powerful, and holy. It is the darkness of a lonely desert where you can look up into the pure heavens, as if peering over the edge of a cliff into a black sea with no bottom. But then light approaches, chasing away the darkness and bringing peace. The shadows are cast aside, as holy light is revealed.

John 1:4-5

 In ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hominum :

et lux in tenebris lucet, et tenebræ eam non comprehenderunt.

 In him was life: and the life was the light of men. 

 And the light shines in darkness: and the darkness did not comprehend it.

At the first Easter Vigil I attended, it was this most of all which I came away with. An answer to this mysterious tale from the book of Genesis and what it means for me.

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