minima maxima sunt

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

Archive for the tag “tradition”


November kicks off with the feast of All Saints and follows with All Souls. I used the “Dia de los Muertos” as a theme. One of my favorite holidays, as a child and to this day, is Halloween. But All Hallows’ Eve, is really just the beginning of a multi day holiday which sadly has lost its connection to the “dear departed”.
In Catholic tradition, dressing up and giving treats, “soul cakes”, goes back about a thousand years; remembering saints days goes back to the first martyrs and as this calendar shows they are still remembered.  The Day of the Dead also has ancient roots in pre-Colombian indigenous Mexican cultures. Remembering the dead, praying for the dead, setting altars or candles at grave sites, reciting the names of saints or church members who have past away in the last year, writing the names of the departed in a book of the dead, are some of the ways the holiday is still practiced.

Sugar sculls “Calaveras” are given to children and left at grave sites in “Day of the Dead” traditions. Sculls are a common symbol in Catholic art and iconography and are found in Aztec, Mayan and Toltec traditions as well. I still remember staying up late on the weekends as a kid to watch “Fright Night” which was a late night show that played horror movies. The opening was a green spooky skull.
La Catarina is a popular image of Death in Mexico and a common costume when celebrating the Day of the Dead. This was my first attempt at a human figure in the book. Had to re work a few times. Being a hacker has its limits, but I do plan on doing some more human figures in the book so I guess this was a good place to start. There was also some intent here as the liturgical year closes at the end of November and begins with Advent which starts four weeks before Christmas during the last days of November.

Missa – Confiteor

770px-StJohnsAshfield_StainedGlass_GoodShepherd_Portrait1-300x233The Penitential Rite follows next in this series on the Catholic Mass. This rite has several different formulas which may be used during the mass. Also the rite may be omitted during certain masses, usually because another ceremony is used which takes care of this part of the process of worship. For instance the Blessing of Ashes on Ash Wednesday or the Rites of Blessing during the Easter season.

Right after the Greeting the priest will begin the rite by calling those gathered to “..acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries”. In a way this is a type of “confession/absolution”, but a general one. It doesn’t replace the sacrament of reconciliation (Confession) or absolve one of a mortal sin.

The first of the formulas in this rite is a prayer of repentance called the “Confiteor” or “I confess”. What you will find with most catholic prayers is that they are usually named after the first words in the prayer. We say the “Glory be”, “Our Father” and “Hail Mary”. The same goes with the Confiteor, in Latin. However this was also known as the “Mea Culpa” which translates as “my fault”, and is a phrase  found further in in the prayer. To be honest, I really don’t know what this prayer is called in English as I’ve never heard anyone say “Let’s pray the “I confess”!”, but what I do know is that it is one of my favorite prayers. It is a prayer of repentance and confession, and what I like about it is that it paints a picture of the mystical body of Christ, which is the church, as something that functions as a community or a communion.

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

The prayer begins by confessing to God and to the community; as a community. In one stroke it places us all in several places. Confessing to God, confessing to the people who maybe we sinned against and being confessed to. I can look for forgiveness to God, my brothers and sisters and also reflect on my duty to forgive those who have “trespassed against me”.

Next comes some definition about sin. “in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.”. Many people are often concerned with the exterior, the visible actions and transgressions. It is almost a throwback to a kind of gnosticism or variant of platonism, separating the physical from the spiritual. But here there is no separation. Our action, our words and even our thoughts come into play. Our actions are categorized into sins of commission and omission (the guilty bystander), our words and even unspoken words are taken into account. It’s not as if God doesn’t know our deepest thoughts, be they dark or not, but in similar way to the actual sacrament of confession, it can be like taking a load off your chest, and allowing yourself to get back to what matters.untitled

The term Mea Culpa comes from the next part of this prayer. It ties directly into what was previously spoken, and is accompanied by striking the breast 3 times while speaking it. “My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault”. To a person no familiar with the liturgy or this prayer, this may be the first part of the mass where they start to look for the door. After all everyone just started to recite the same prayer, they are talking about sin and fault, and now they are hitting themselves? The striking of the breast is a symbol, a physical idea. It draws from older traditions like tearing robes, and more specifically from the gospel story of the publican in Luke. “And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes toward heaven; but struck his breast saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”.

The prayer continues with the communion of saints, and prayers to them, asking them to pray to the Lord our God. We ask those saints in heaven and on earth to ‘keep us in their prayers’. A very simple idea, which has suffered much criticism and assault in the last several centuries. It probably stems from the creeping in of a dualism during the reformation years, which again draws from older gnostic and platonic extremes. The church believes in the communion of saints which encompasses members of the church on earth and in heaven, as functioning parts of the body of Christ. We can pray(ask) to Mary, Joseph and all the saints just like we can pray(ask) our pastor, spouse and friends to pray to God for us;  like we may keep them in our prayers..when they ask us.

In the next post we will look at the other two formulas used in this rite but for now I will leave with the latin version of the prayer. It’s sometimes interesting to look at the latin and pick up on the roots for words we use today. It also helps when your trying to learn latin to try and translate some of these prayers and creeds as a way of becoming familiar with a language.

Confiteor Deo omnipotenti,
et vobis fratres,
quia peccavi nimis cogitatione,
verbo, opere et omissione:
mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper Virginem,
omnes Angelos et Sanctos,
et vos, fratres,
orare pro me ad Dominum Deum nostrum.

Luke and the Ox

St. Luke from an Illuminated Gospel

St. Luke is traditionally known as the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. He was a disciple of the Apostle Paul and also a physician. Born a gentile he is the only non-Jewish writer of a canonical gospel, and for that matter, Luke is the only non-Jewish writer in the New Testament. This is a huge testimony to the claim made by Paul concerning the mystery of which he was to be a minister; that the Gentiles would be fellow heirs and of the same body, and co-partners of the promise in Jesus Christ.

Luke’s writing has often been held in high regard, giving special attention to detail such as names and places. While there will always be critics, especially when the supernatural is the topic, Luke’s offering to the canon fits well within the standards of historical writing of his day.

Another facet of this Saint is the tradition concerning Luke as an artist. It is claimed he was the first Iconographer, “writing” Icons of Mary and Jesus. One Icon still in existence today which is claimed to be authored by the Saint is the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, .

Luke from the Lindisfarne Gospels

The symbol for Luke is the Ox or Bull, which is often shown with wings. Of all the Evangelical Symbols . This one always seemed the most strange. The symbols were derived from an old testament vision of the four living creatures, the man, eagle, lion and ox, and have been used as symbols of the four evangelists in christian art from very early times. The link between Luke and the Ox may be tied in with the idea of sacrifice, especially Christs sacrifice which saved even the gentiles.

The Feast Day of St. Luke is October the 18th. Luke is the patron saint of artists, physicians, surgeons, and strangely enough butchers.

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.

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!


Some of you may recognize the term Pater Noster as the Latin for the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer or as we catholics say; the “Our Father”. The Paternoster is also an older version of the Rosary and has it’s origins in even older tradition.

In the early church the faithful recited the Psalms which was a practice carried over from the Jewish faith. This practice would in time become knows as the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office, and the Psalms with some accompanying prayers would later be compiled in a book called a Breviary. A similar book was used in the east called the Horologion which translates as Book of Hours. As monastic communities formed the Psalms would be recited daily and methods of counting began to form. The earliest counting techniques may have been a sac of pebbles or knotted ropes like the prayer ropes still used today by orthodox communities.

Not everyone could read back then and so simpler devotions developed which replaced the lengthy Psalms with with shorter prayers like the Jesus Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer. As early as the second century we see the Lord’s Prayer being proscribed in the Didache.

Chap. VIII.

2. Neither pray ye as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, so pray ye: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us this day our daily (needful) bread. And forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, from evil). For Thine is the power and the glory for ever.”

3. Pray thus thrice a day.

And the Jesus Prayer which dates to the 6th century:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Using simpler prayers not only benefitted the religious in monasteries who were unable to read, but these devotions were soon adopted by the layperson. As their popularity increased, prayer ropes developed into ropes with beads and among the many variation the Paternoster took form in the west sometime around the tenth century.

The Paternoster comes in several styles; as a straight rope or a loop, with 10, 50, or 150 beads (and some variations). Sometimes the beads will have a tassel at the end or a cross. The Lords Prayer (Pater Noster) is recited 150 times in place of the 150 psalms. The Paternoster is one of many different styles of prayer bead/ropes which I plan to write about in the future.

Pater noster,

qui es in caelis: sanctificetur Nomen Tuum;

adveniat Regnum Tuum; fiat voluntas Tua, sicut in caelo, et in terra.

Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie;

et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris;

et ne nos inducas in tentationem;

sed libera nos a Malo.

Homemade Paternoster

Ale’s of Lore

Monk brewing beer.

Anyone that knows me should have seen this one coming; my tribute to those fine monks who for centuries have preserved the art of beer making. Didn’t know that monks made beer? Well neither did I until about eight years ago when I stumbled into a local brewery called St. Sabastiaans and ordered their private reserve. The waiter brought out a goblet, which was strange to have a beer come in. The goblet was filled a bright golden ale which had an amazing fruity aroma; unlike any beer I was familiar with. I lifted the ale to my lips and suddenly flavor, unlike anything I had ever experienced in a beer, filled my mouth… I placed the goblet back onto the table to ponder what had just happened and slowly my cheeks started to warm up and then a grin formed which I was unable to “un-grin” for about an hour.

St. Sabastiaans is an Abbey style ale, which means it’s not really made by monks or a monastery but draws from that tradition of beer-making, and they are not alone. Abbey style ales are growing more popular yearly and most micro or craft breweries are offering up their take on Belgian ales for the world to enjoy. For example, Ommegang brewery in Cooperstown, NY, is an american brewery devoted to making Belgian style ales.

The seven Trappist Ales

Probably the most noteworthy Belgian ales come from the Trappists. There are many Trappist monasteries today, but only 7 are beer makers, six of which are in Belgium. The Trappist Logo can only be found on these beers. One of the more popular Trappist ales that I’ve seen is Chimay, who also make cheese, another of the great monastic traditions. Chimay makes three beers, a trippel (gold), a grande reserve (blue) and a premier (red)

Other monasteries also produce Belgian ales but are not under the control of the Trappists. These are called Abbey ales, but because there is no monitoring organization behind this name, the term can apply to an actual monastery beer or to any beer made in the style of an Abbey ale.

Most of the breweries around today are a few hundred years old, but there are some that do date back further. The oldest brewery is Weihenstephan brewery. Founded in 740 the Benedictine abbey didn’t begin to produce beer until 1040 and thought the Abbey wsa dissolved in 1803 it is still in operation as a brewery today. Weihenstephan produces German style beers which differ from the Belgian but are also wonderful on the palate.

Illuminated letter with monk sipping beer.

Monks have been brewing beer since…. well that’s a good question. It could be guessed that they may have been doing so every since monasteries were first formed. Beer as well as wine were basically water substitutes because water was not the the best thing to drink back then. The process in brewing offered a drink that was not only free from pollutants found in water,  but also provided sustenance. Beer was good at breakfast, lunch or dinner, and was drunk by men, women and children. The fact that monasteries were often self supporting and provided hospitality to the traveller, it seems likely that beer was there early on.

What we do know is that in the 9th century there is evidence of beer being made better. It appears that under the control of monastic communities, the process was refined, recipes, methods of cooking and preserving developed and so the tradition of beer making begins. This could very well be where the scientific method began to develop as methods of brewing and ingredients were constantly being tested and developed to bring about a better product. One noteworthy ingredient is the use of Hops as a preservative, which are first mentioned in 822 by a Carolingian Abbot and later in the 12th century by Hildegard von Bingen, a Benedictine Abbess. Hildegard states:   “(Hops), when put in beer, stops putrification and lends longer durability.”

I’ve been a homebrewer for 3 years now and have personally made several of the Belgian style beers as well as those from the German and Brittain traditions. It’s a little more effort, which goes without saying, but well worth it when all is done. That and you can cut down the cost by about half which can really save some money if your into good beer. Belgian ales, especially Trappist can go for over ten bucks for a 4-pack. Still it’s always a treat to get the real deal and enjoy a delicious beer that has centuries of tradition behind it.

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