(The work is in two sections, the first containing the antiphon (text: Psalm 81:17), the second the verse (text: Psalm 81:2) and doxology. For a proper liturgical performance, the first section must be repeated after the second.)
Cibávit éos ex ádipe fruménti, allelúia: et de pétra, mélle saturávit éos, allelúia, allelúia, allelúia,
He fed them with the fat of wheat (alleluia);
and filled them with honey out of the rock
(alleluia, alleluia, alleluia).
“A recent book, “American Catholics in Transition”, drawing on numerous surveys conducted over a period of twenty-five years, reports that 37% of self-identified Catholics in America do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Significantly, however, only 4% claim that they both know and disbelieve the Church’s teaching. The great majority of unbelievers in the real presence—1 in 3 of self-identified Catholics—claims not to know what the Church teaches on the subject: namely, that the bread and wine are really changed into the body and blood of Christ.
The liturgical calendar provides us with an opportunity to reflect on this mystery. The Feast of Corpus Christi (“the Body of Christ”) was instituted in the thirteenth century in order to foster a greater appreciation of the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist. In the U.S. it occurs this Sunday, though in other countries it happens today, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, as a kind of second Holy Thursday (the day of the Last Supper).
The Gospel reading for Corpus Christi is John 6:51-58. The passage follows the multiplication of the loaves and consists mainly of Jesus’ response to a request from the crowd: “Sir, give us always [the bread of God . . . which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world]” (Jn 6:33-34). Jesus’ answer is clear and emphatic: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven . . . and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (6:51). Jesus is insistent about this. In the eight verses of the liturgical text (which is only a selection from a larger passage), words meaning “eat” and “drink” appear a total of ten times, and the words “food” and “bread” occur six times in sum. Jesus persistently associates these words with himself, with his “flesh” (six times) and with his “blood” (four). Eventually he adds the adjective “true”: “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (6:55).
Jesus also uses different words for “eat.” In the first part of the passage, he uses a more generic term, which was used to denote the eating of a meal or metaphorical consumption, e.g., the devouring of books. In the second part, however, he begins to use a verb that means “gnaw” or “chomp.” Presumably, Jesus is driving home his point. What’s required is not only spiritual assimilation, but also oral ingestion. The eating that Jesus is talking about is bodily; it’s animalistic. The translation in the Lectionary hints at this animality in verse 57: “the one who feeds on me will have life . . .”
Some of Jesus’ disciples objected to the idea that they should eat his body and drink his blood. They said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (6:60). Many were so repelled that they stopped following him altogether: “[they] returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (6:66). But Jesus did not run after them trying to explain that he was only speaking symbolically. Still less did he open the doctrine up for negotiation. He simply turned to the Twelve and asked, “Do you also want to leave?” (6:67).
Perhaps the defectors thought Jesus was proposing a straightforward cannibalism, such as one might imagine about the worst pagans, such as might have existed among neighboring pagans. Maybe some would object that Jesus was too concerned about “externals.” Today people might say that they don’t go to Church because they go to God “directly,” from home or from anywhere. The Christian claim is that God has already come to us directly in Christ, who declared, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (6:53). Now, ingesting the Son of Man is not normally something people can do at home. So Jesus is inviting us to Church: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (6:54). These are the options he gives us: no life or eternal life.
The Eucharist contains “the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324). This great gift is offered to us as a sacrament, that is, as a sacred, saving sign. But unlike some other signs (for instance, a photo of a loved one), in the case of the Eucharist, the sign literally involves the real presence of Christ in his humanity and divinity. This is why Catholics genuflect and kneel in the presence of the Eucharist. And this is the reason for the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament which is characteristic of celebrations of Corpus Christi. After the consecration, there is no longer any bread or wine on the altar. Jesus is there under the appearances of bread and wine, offering Himself for the life of the world.”
“I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, “A Charmed Life.”) She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. . . . Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.
Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.
That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”-Flannery O’Connor, in a letter to Elizabeth Hester
“God in His omnipotence could not give more, in His wisdom He knew not how to give more, in His riches He had not more to give, than the Eucharist.” – Saint Augustine
“There’s an interesting feature about many artistic representations of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, common to the works of both run-of-the-mill painters and masters like Rembrandt: namely, they are very boring.
Now I don’t want to blame the great masters and their lesser counterparts for phoning in their treatment of the subject; it’s just almost impossible to represent the Ascension in an artistically meaningful way. After all, at the Ascension the disciples witness Jesus pass from the visibility of his life on earth to the invisibility of his life in heaven, which is not really an event that tangible arts can represent easily.
Nor, to be honest, is the Ascension an event that we can easily wrap our minds around, even forgetting the question of art. After all, if the thirty-three years of Jesus’ earthly life and the forty days after his resurrection were able to plant the seeds of the Church and win the redemption of mankind, doesn’t it seem reasonable to expect that Jesus’ best move would have been to stick around visibly on earth, letting everyone see him resurrected, not aging as the ages pass, thus forcing all reasonable people to conclude that this immortal man must in fact be the Son of God? Wouldn’t a Jesus who reigned in his resurrected body on earth have won more souls to heaven, simply by the undeniability of his presence? To put it simply: isn’t the spiritual character of Christ’s Ascension the very obstacle that we physical beings stumble over and thus fall into unbelief?
Happily, there’s a very strange artistic representation of the Ascension that solves the difficulties of the preceding paragraphs, by being both compositionally fascinating and theologically illuminating. It’s the image that appears as the featured image for this post: titled simply Ascension, it is a photograph produced by an unknown German in 1890, currently held by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Everything about this image is odd. First, it’s a photograph, which is fairly strange unless we accept that Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure was actually a documentary all along. Second, the actual composition of the scene is unusual: although the scriptural accounts specify that the only witnesses to the Ascension were the eleven disciples (Mt 28:16, cf. Acts 1:1-11), here we have Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Jesus thrown in as well. So what’s going on here?
The image can reasonably be put into the pictorialist school of photography, which sought to compose photographs in the manner of a painting, rather than merely recording events that passed a camera’s lens. That is, the pictorialists sometimes—as in this photograph—sought to capture the uncapturable, to photograph the unphotographable, making visible what is invisible either by its nature or because it has passed in time. As a result, this idiosyncratic and short-lived art form was perhaps uniquely well-suited to represent the simultaneously fleshly and spiritual character of the Ascension, when Jesus’ resurrected humanity really went to heaven in his physical body, where he still reigns in perfect equality with the Father and the Spirit.
In this image, the spiritual reality of the Ascension is revealed in its full splendor precisely as visible; Jesus’ bristling, bushy beard won’t be denied, and neither will the bony leg that juts out from underneath his tunic, nearly making contact with Mary’s outstretched arm. Jesus’ humanity will not be denied here, even as it is being taken up into the ethereal realm of the painted whorl of cherubim on the backdrop wall. Moreover, the visible composition of the scene itself reveals the inner spiritual reality of the event, by the particular imposition of Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Jesus. That is, with the insertion of those two figures, the artist creates a perfect echo with the crucifixion, where John (to Mary Magdalene’s left here) and the two Marys are often depicted in precisely these positions and poses. The additional presence of the remaining ten disciples from the Ascension scene conflates the two, signaling both the unity of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the Cross and the Ascension, as well as the particular instantiation of redemption in the lives of the apostles who had fled the earlier event. The visible, then, is the key to the invisible, just as the invisible is the key to the visible; neither makes sense without the other.
This is the inner dynamic of the Ascension, and of the very redemption of Christ. Jesus did not want to remain in his visible, risen humanity on earth forever, lest men and women forget that something more remains for us; he came not to make a permanent base out of the waystation of earth, but to lead us to the more perfect homeland of heaven, drawing us through his Incarnation to share in his divinity. With the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the visible is now shot through with the glorious reality of heaven—where we will be in the closest spiritual presence to the invisible God—and we in turn are only drawn to that spiritual perfection in and through our bodily existence. We go to God not as angels, severed from our bodiliness, but as redeemed men and women, living a share in the life of heaven already on earth by grace. Christ’s ascension into heaven makes this reality known to us, as his reign in heaven makes his grace accessible to us.
So next time you find yourself in a muddle about the meaning of the Ascension, take a trip back in time with our nineteenth-century German friend, and let your eyes behold in faith the visibility of the invisible God.”
I have to tell a tale on Kelly. Forgive me, my love. We joke about this all the time! 🙂 She finds it funny, too! Not just me.
The first time I said the words “Regina Caeli” to Kelly, she thought I meant a person named Regina, a middle-aged Italian woman, she pictured in her mind. So it has stuck. 🙂 We also think Rosetta Stone is an angry African-American woman! 🙂 “Oh, Hell no!” -Rosetta Stone. My mother thought Dot Com was a friend of hers named Dorothy! Yucks galore! 🙂 The “fun” never ends at our house. Kelly and I, to the extreme chagrin and dismay of those who love us, have very similar senses of humor.
V. Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia. R. Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia. V. Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia. R. Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.
V. Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, alleluia. R. Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.
Oremus. Deus, qui per resurrectionem Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi, mundum laetificare dignatus es: praesta, quaesumus; ut per eius Genetricem Virginem Mariam, perpetuae capiamus gaudia vitae. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
Queen of Heaven
V. Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia. R. For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia. V. Has risen, as he said, alleluia. R. Pray for us to God, alleluia. V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia. R. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Let us pray. O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
In many Christian cultures, the greeting during Eastertide is: “He is Risen!” The appropriate response is: “He is truly Risen!” In communist bloc countries, during the Cold War, it was amended for safety sake, to become: “The Comrade is returned!” Response, “He is truly back!”
-by Br Humbert Kilanowski, OP (Br Humbert received his doctorate in mathematics at Ohio State University prior to entering the order.)
“Throughout this Easter season, one of the most commonly said prayers is the Regina caeli, a plea to Mary, the Mother of God, to rejoice in the Lord’s Resurrection. At our Dominican House of Studies, the prayer replaces both the Angelus, normally prayed at midday to commemorate the Annunciation (the moment at which God the Son took on human flesh), and the Salve Regina (which is our last prayer in the chapel each day). Even now, a month after Easter Sunday, Mary’s role in the mystery of the Resurrection pervades our prayer life. Even the Pope’s midday addresses to the crowds at St. Peter’s Square are called the Regina caeli speeches throughout the fifty days of Easter. Mary’s own assumption, by which she was caught up into Heaven, body and soul, at the end of her life on earth, shows that she has already participated fully in this mystery, having experienced her own resurrection. This raises a curious question, then: if Mary already has a glorified body in Heaven, and constantly looks upon the face of God, leaving nothing to be desired, why are we asking her to be happy?
One can imagine that Easter Sunday morning, how the first disciples to hear of Jesus’ Resurrection from the tomb and see his risen body must have rushed to Mary to tell her the news of great joy: as a hymn version of the prayer says, “Be joyful, Mary, heavenly queen/ Your Son who died was living seen.” Could that be the event that we recall with this frequent prayer?
While not recorded in Scripture, many writers within the tradition, such as St. Ignatius of Loyola, report that the risen Christ appeared to his mother before anyone else. (Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P., relates this in his book The Seven Joys of Mary, whose title refers to a devotion that has taken many forms, including one, called the Franciscan Crown, that developed alongside the Rosary, and the Resurrection appearance is one of the mysteries.) If Jesus is the first to tell Mary about his Resurrection, by directly appearing to her, then the words of Regina caeli are His. That would cover the initial announcement, at least, but the rest would not seem to fit: it would be awkward for Christ to refer to Himself in the third person, after all.
The context of the prayer, and the joy of the Blessed Virgin, therefore must extend beyond the historical event of Jesus’ Resurrection, as momentous as it was. Truly, hearing that her same Son—whom she raised and whom she watched as he was obedient unto death on the Cross—has been transformed to the new life of the glorified body is a cause for celebration! Yet each Christian believer also participates in Jesus’ death and resurrection, through Baptism. For as St. Paul reminds us, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4).
In addition to participating in Jesus’ Resurrection, which causes joy for us and for Mary, we also take part in being Mary’s children spiritually. As she who knew no pains in labor when she gave birth to Christ (St. Thomas Aquinas, ST III.35.6) became the mother of the Church through the pain of standing at the foot of the Cross, when Jesus gave her to His beloved disciple (John 19:27), Mary, the mother of all believers, spreads her Paschal joy to all her children. As Cessario says, “Mary’s unspeakable joy at the Resurrection of her Son catches on contagiously, and like the Easter fire spreads rapidly throughout the whole Church.” In asking Mary to rejoice, we ask all of the Church to exult as well.
Thus, every time that we recite or sing the Regina caeli, we share in the joy of the Mother of God and in the joy of the worldwide Church, a joy that flows from not only the Resurrection of Jesus, but also from each soul born of water and the Holy Spirit. And this rejoicing continues, and reaches its perfection, beyond this life. For just as the Dominican chant of the prayer switches from resurrexit (has risen) to jam ascendit (now ascends) at the upcoming feast of the Ascension, so Mary’s happiness, and ours, also stems from Jesus’ entry into the glory of the realm beyond this one, where we hope to follow both him and his mother, body and soul.
In this Easter season, and in Mary’s month of May, let us then ask the Queen of Heaven to “pray for us to God,” as the chant concludes, so that we may rejoice with her and her divine Son for all eternity.”
-Giovanni Battista Tiepolo,The Immaculate Conception, 1767-68, oil on canvas, Prado Museum, 281 × 155 cm (110.6 × 61 in)
“Tucked away in a central Parisian museum that was once a railway station, there hangs an Easter painting quite unlike any Gospel masterpiece created before or after it. It is not painted by a Rembrandt or a Rubens or the patron saint of artists, Fra Angelico. The painting is the work of a little-known Swiss painter. For those who make a trip to see it, viewing the canvas is a special spiritual experience in their lives.
The work does not even show the risen Jesus. It merely portrays two witnesses, Jesus’ oldest and youngest apostle. The youngest who was the only man brave enough to stay by Jesus’ cross and the only one who did not die a martyr’s death as a result of it. The oldest apostle who first denied Jesus in fear, yet ultimately chose to be crucified upside down by the Roman authorities rather than deny Christ’s resurrection.
In “The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection” by Eugène Burnand, John clasps his hand in prayer while Peter holds his hand over his heart. The viewer feels the rush as their hair and cloaks fly back with the wind. They are sprinting towards discovery of the moment that forever altered heaven and earth. As you look at it, engage for a moment in what the Catholic blogger Bill Donaghy calls “the visual equivalent of Lectio Divina.” As Donaghy notes, “This Resurrection scene does not put us before still figures near a stagnant stone, or figures standing with stony faces in a contrived, plastic posture, pointing to an empty tomb. This scene is dynamic; WE ARE IN MOTION!!!!!![Editor’s emphasis]” [Editor: We all are. But, to where? Each/all must answer that question of/in life. No exceptions. Not choosing IS a choice.]
During his time, Burnand was fascinated by the possibilities of the emerging art of photography. Ironically, he would later be dismissed in the twentieth century as too “bourgeois” and anti-modernist when in fact he was merging his love of tradition with his interest in new technological ways of capturing the human person. His painting feels cinematic long before cinema existed as a major art form.
Through the movement and immediacy of the scene, the preceding minutes with Mary Magdalene are palpable. In a sense, she is in the painting too. “You can almost hear her voice in the background, can you not, a few minutes earlier, as she burst into their house…” writes the Episcopal Bishop Dorsey McConnell in an Easter sermon meditating on the painting.”
-“Baptism of Christ”, by Francesco Albani, oil on canvas, (1630-1635), State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russian Federation, the heresy of Adoptionism declares this may have been one event where God “adopted” Jesus as His Son.
“I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” The words of John the Baptist to Christ in Matthew’s Gospel are worth pondering. Why would Jesus need to be baptized? Being the Son of God, why be troubled at all about the ritual of baptism, especially by a man like John the Baptist?
It is easy to fall into error over this question. Some people have concluded that since Jesus underwent baptism, he must have been in need of something, and so Christ’s baptism was the time when God the Father made Jesus divine. This heresy has been called Adoptionism, since it contends that Christ’s baptism was the time when God the Father ‘adopted’ Jesus and he ‘really’ became divine.
But what, then, are the real reasons that Jesus desired to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan? One reason is that Jesus was not baptized to be cleansed himself, but to cleanse others. Though he was not a sinner himself, Christ took on our sinful nature and the likeness of sinful flesh when he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary. Now, during his baptism, the old man of our sinful nature was plunged below the waters so that we might grow into the full stature of adopted sons of God. In Christ’s descent into the Jordan River, the waters are given the virtue of baptism, and our frail nature is restored.
Another reason is so that Christ could lay a path that all his disciples could imitate. In response to John the Baptist’s question, Christ replies that his own baptism is fitting “to fulfill all righteousness.” In commenting on this verse, St. Ambrose states that true righteousness is to “do first yourself what you wish another to do, and so encourage others by your example.” By entering into the waters of the Jordan, Christ gives an example to us in humility and obedience to his Father in heaven. This obedience, which is fulfilled completely in Christ’s passion, is the example which every Christian is called to follow.
The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of Christ’s ministry in Galilee and Judah, and is the fulfillment of God’s promise to save mankind. But it is fitting that Christ’s ministry should begin immediately after his baptism in the Jordan River. As St. Ambrose noted, where Elijah divided the river of the Jordan with his mantle of old, so now Christ, in these same waters, will make all things new by separating the plague of sin from our human nature. May we thank God for our own baptism, and encourage others to be cleansed from sin in the water that was first cleansed by the pure, spotless, and saving flesh of Christ.”
My deceased sister, Connie, handmade me an Advent wreath some years before she passed away. She had done this for others, and I let my Christmas present wish be known. It is a little smushed now, having been in the box so long. It is one of my most treasured possessions.
The advent of our God
with eager prayers we greet,
and singing haste upon His road
His glorious gift to meet.
The everlasting Son
scorns not a Virgin’s womb;
that we from bondage may be won
He bears a bondsman’s doom.
Daughter of Zion, rise
to meet thy lowly King,
let not thy stubborn heart despise
the peace He deigns to bring.
In clouds of awful light,
as Judge He comes again,
His scattered people to unite
with them in heaven to reign.
Let evil flee away
ere that dread hour shall dawn,
let this old Adam day by day
God’s image still put on.
Praise to the Incarnate Son,
Who comes to set us free,
with God the Father, ever One,
to all eternity.
“What’s Wrong With Catholic Preaching?” by Fr. Charles E. Bouchard, O.P., Prior Provincial Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great
Remarks delivered at the Minneapolis Club, November 17, 2011
The famous Southern Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor says that after a relative converted to Catholicism (which would have been unusual in the American south in the 1950s), many people were aghast. They wondered why on earth anyone would do such a thing. “Well,” the relative said, “the preaching was so bad I figured there must be something else to keep folks coming back.”
Unfortunately, Catholic preaching still falls far short of what it could be. Too often it fails to inspire, uplift and console; it fails to answer the real questions people bring. Sometimes, it fails to interpret – or even to mention – the Scriptures.
There are a number of reasons for this.
Preaching is hard. If you didn’t know better, you might think preaching is a 10 minute ramble about your latest hunting trip, your vacation, your favorite TV show or anything else that happened to cross your mind as you entered the sacristy (Garrison Keillor once mentioned a pastor who “just kept talking till he found something worthwhile to say”). In fact, preaching is an art and a highly disciplined process of interpretation. It starts with the Scriptural text, and through prayer and study brings that text to life in a persuasive message for a particular group.
The first step in this process is to understand what the biblical word meant in its original time and place. This requires knowledge of biblical languages, culture and history. Then the preacher has to figure out what the word means today, for this group of people. Finally, the preacher has to ask the “so what?” question. If this is God’s word and if it is true, then what difference does it make? Who does it compel me to be? What does it compel me to do?
One of the biggest challenges is to bring the word to the actual world in which they find themselves to answer the questions that people really have. I remember being at mass once during the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal. The preacher read the Gospel, and then made a comment about Monica Lewinsky. All of us thought he was going to preach on it, to help us make sense of this mess, to help us see it in light of the Scriptures. Instead, he moved on to a completely different topic. He had missed a “preachable moment” – a chance to let the Scriptures speak to what was on everyone’s mind, to help us see a way through the darkness. There was a palpable feeling of disappointment. We felt cheated.
For Catholics preaching is even more complicated because it usually takes place during the Eucharist. So in addition to understanding and interpreting the Scriptures, the preacher must also put them in the context of this great act of thanksgiving, and relate it to the liturgical season.
Good preaching takes time. I was shocked when a homiletics professor told me that the preacher should spend one hour of preparation for each minute of a homily. I have come to believe this is true. Yet who has the time? It is no secret that our priests are stretched too thin. Our congregant-to-clergy ratio is much higher. A large Catholic parish might have two or possibly three priests. A large Protestant “mega-Church” might have 7 or 9 full time pastors It’s not hard to see why Protestant preaching is better. Yet despite the demands on their time, Catholic preaching could be much better if priests allocated their time as though preaching were their top priority. Study after study shows that’s exactly what parishioners want them to do.
The talent pool is too small. In the Christian tradition, ministry requires at least two things: gift and office. This means that anyone who wants to minister must first give evidence of the gifts of the Spirit that would make this ministry effective (remember St. Paul’s enumeration of various gifts, all of which are necessary for the Body of the Church?). But these gifts also need to be authorized, or ordered, for the sake of the community. In the Catholic Church we call this ordination. Unfortunately, office and gift do not always go together. You can have the office of priesthood without the requisite gifts (think of a validly ordained priest who can’t speak in public). Or you can have the gifts without the office – think of a woman who is a highly skilled preacher but can’t be ordained.
When I was president of our graduate theology school, we provided preaching education for hundreds of seminarians, priests, lay people and sisters. We saw great talent for preaching in each group, but only the priests were allowed to preach on Sunday morning. There is no reason the Church cannot widen the pool of preachers by finding ways to authorize or “ordain” others who have specific gifts to do so. Failure to do so is an offense to the Gifts that have so obviously been given.
Preaching is overwhelmed by our sacramental life. If you ask a hundred people what is most distinctive about Catholicism, most of them will respond “the mass,” or “the sacraments.” Indeed, this is what Flannery O’Connor’s cousin referred to as “something else.” Yet for us, it cannot be one or the other. We need a vital sacramental life AND we need excellent preaching. For without preaching, how would we know what these sacraments are? They would become mere magic. Preaching helps us understand the mysteries we celebrate and prepares us to be fully open to sacramental grace.
Preaching is a two-way street. It’s easy to blame the preacher for a bad homily, but the congregation has a role to play as well. Good preachers don’t preach “in general.” They preach to a specific congregation before them whose needs, hopes and fears they attempt to address. But congregations are not passive receptacles. They have an active role in receiving, nurturing, pondering and even challenging the word they have received.
Congregations must uphold their end of the bargain by preparation – reading and praying with the Scriptures before they are preached and asking, “What does this passage mean? What does it say to me? How does it speak to what I just read in the news?” They must challenge their preachers, ask them questions and above all, let them know that they are paying attention. When priests know that parishioners are listening, they will devote more time to their preparation.
Catholic preaching may not be as good as it could be, but if all of us – preachers and hearers of the Word alike – assume our respective roles, we can together make excellent preaching the lifeblood of the Church.
– as sung at the opening of the recent conclave to elect our new Holy Father, Francis.
Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
and in our hearts take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heav’nly aid,
To fill the hearts which Thou hast made.
O Comforter, to Thee we cry,
Thou heav’nly gift of God most high,
Thou Fount of life, and Fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.
O Finger of the hand divine,
the sevenfold gifts of grace are thine;
true promise of the Father thou,
who dost the tongue with power endow.
Thy light to every sense impart,
and shed thy love in every heart;
thine own unfailing might supply
to strengthen our infirmity.
Drive far away our ghostly foe,
and thine abiding peace bestow;
if thou be our preventing Guide,
no evil can our steps betide.
Praise we the Father and the Son
and Holy Spirit with them One;
and may the Son on us bestow
the gifts that from the Spirit flow.
There was something eerie in the air as the tumbrils passed through the streets of Paris that led to Place du Trône Renversé. It was, in fact, too eerie that the normally noisy and violent crowd was “in a respectful silence such as has never been accorded throughout the Revolution.” No rotten fruit was pelted and no clamorous insult was raised on the condemned women and men. That evening one only heard the ethereal chanting of sixteen Discalced Carmelite nuns on their way to death.
These women could hardly be recognized as nuns. Wrapped in their white mantles, they did not, however, wear their veils. Their wimples had been cut away, exposing their necks to facilitate the truculent job of the guillotine’s blade.
At around eight in the evening, after a ride of two hours, the tumbrils finally arrived at the place of execution. A horrid stench of rotting flesh from the common graves in nearby Picpus and of putrifying blood beneath the scaffold greeted them. The crowd remained reverently silent. The Carmelites have finally come face to face with the dreaded guillotine. Led by their courageous prioress, Mo. Thérèse of St. Augustine, they sang the Te Deum: “You are God: we praise You; You are the Lord: we acclaim You; You are the eternal Father: all creation worships You…. The glorious company of apostles praises You. The noble fellowship of prophets praises You. The white-robed army of martyrs praises You…
Mother Thérèse of St. Augustine (Marie-Madeleine-Claudine Lidoine; b. 22 September 1752 in Paris), a woman “so loved by God,” was serving her second term as prioress when the Revolution struck. Her correspondences reveal a woman of great human and supernatural qualities.
Mother St. Louis (Marie-Anne-Françoise Brideau; b. 07 December 1751 in Belfort), the sub-prioress, was given to silence and gentleness. She celebrated the divine office with admirable remembrance and exactitude.
Mother Henriette of Jesus (Marie-Françoise de Croissy;b. 18 June 1745 in Paris), the novice mistress, was the predecessor of Mother Thérèse. She “made herself esteemed for the qualitites of her heart, her tender piety, zeal, the happy combination of every religious virtue.”
Sr. Charlotte of the Resurrection (Anne-Marie-Madeleine Thouret;b. 16 September 1715 in Mouy, Oise), the most senior member of the community, possessed a lively temperament. Fond of frequenting balls in her youth, she entered Carmel “after a tragic event.”She served as infirmarian to the point of developing a spinal column deformation that she endured until death.
Sr. of Jesus Crucified (Marie-Anne Piedcourt; b. 09 December 1715 in Paris) was younger than Sr. Charlotte by a few months but was senior to her by profession. She occupied the office of sacristan for many years.Speaking about their persecutors, she said: “How can we be angry with them when they open the gates of heaven for us?”
Sr. Thérèse of the Heart of Mary (Marie Hanisset; b. 18 January 1742 in Reims), first sister of the turn and third bursar, was endowed with wisdom, prudence and discernment.
Sr. Thérèse of St. Ignatius (Marie-Gabrielle Trezel; b. 04 April 1743 in Compiègne), the “hidden treasure” of the community, was undoubtedly a mystic. Asked why she never brought a book for meditation, she replied: “The good God has found me so ignorant that none but He would be able to instruct me.”
Sr. Julie-Louise of Jesus (Rose Cretien de Neuville; b. 30 December 1741 in Evreux) entered Carmel as a widow. She dreaded the guillotine but she chose to stay with her sisters.
Sr. Marie-Henriette of Providence (Marie-Annette Pelras; b. 16 June 1760 in Cajarc, Lot), the assitant infirmarian, first entered the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction of Nevers but left it for the more secluded Carmelite life. Youngest among the choir nuns, she possessed a most exquisite beauty.
Sr. Euphrasie of the Immaculate Conception (Marie-Claude-Cyprienne Brard; b. 12 May 1736 in Bourth, Eure),the “philosopher” and “joie de vivre of the recreation,”admitted that she was filled for some time with resentment against her prioress. She worked very hard on herself that in the end she was able to overcome her negative disposition.
Along with these ten choir nuns were three lay sisters. Sr. Marie of the Holy Spirit (Angélique Roussel; b. 03 August 1742 at Fresne-Mazancourt, Somme) was afflicted by atrocious pains throughout her body, which she heroically bore up until her death. Sr. St. Martha (Marie Dufour, b 02 October 1741 at Bannes, Sarthe) edified her companions with her virtues. Sr. St. Francis Xavier (Elisabeth-Juliette Vérolot; b. 13 January 1764 at Lignières, Aube) was frank, lively, and full of goodness.
The youngest member of the community was Sr. Constance(Marie-Geneviève Meunier; b. 28 May 1765 at Saint Denis, Seine)Circumstances forced her to remain as a novice for seven years. Her parents wanted her to return home and even sent the police for this purpose. Sr. Constance told them: “Gentlemen, I thank my parents if, out of love, they fear the danger that may befall me. Yet nothing except death can separate me from my mothers and sisters.”
The two tourières were blood sisters. Anne-Catherine Soiron (b. 02 February 1742 in Compiègne)tearfully begged the prioress not to let her and her sister be separated from the community during those crucial hours. Thérèse Soiron,(b. 23 January 1748 in Compiègne) possessed such a rare beauty and charming personality that the ill-fated Princess de Lamballe wanted her to be attached to her court. She responded: “Madame, even if your Highness would offer me the crown of France, I would prefer to remain in this house, where the good God placed me and where I found the means of salvation which I would not find in the house of your Highness.”
On 12 July 1790, the National Assembly implemented the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Among its articles was a provision for the suppression of the monastic orders and the liberation of monks and nuns who would choose to renounce their vows. On 15 August, the members of the Directory of the Compiègne district came to the monastery to interrogate each nun and offer her liberty.
The unanimous reply of the religious was to remain and keep their vows. Some of the nuns made their declarations more vivid:
“For fifty-six years I have been a Carmelite. I desire to have the same number of years more to be consecrated to the Lord.” (Sr. of Jesus Crucified)
“I became a religious by my own will. I have made up my mind to go on wearing this habit, even if I have to purchase this joy with my own blood.” (Sr. Euphrasie)
“A good spouse desires to remain with her husband. I do not wish to abandon my spouse.” (Sr. Saint Francis Xavier)
“If I will be able to double the bonds of my attachment to God, then, with all my strength and zeal, I will do so.” (Sr. Thérèse of the Heart of Mary)
Another provision of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy required priests and religious to take a loyalty oath that required them “to be faithful to the nation, the law and the king; and to maintain the constitution with all their power.” What the ambiguous statement meant was that they were to give the revolutionary government the right to control and democratize the Church in complete disregard of Papal jurisdiction. Pope Pius VI issued on 10 March 1791 a condemnation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and forbade the clergy to take it. A schism was inevitable. The clergy was split between the “juring” (those who took the oath) and “non-juring” bishops and priests.
Two weeks after Easter of 1792, the guillotine was installed in Paris. Everyone was talking about it, even in the Carmel of Compiègne, and everyone feared it. In September, around 1,400 “enemies of the Republic” were killed during the infamous September Massacre; among them were hundreds of non-juring priests.
A belief that they would all be called to martyrdom someday prevailed in the community. Between June and September of that year, Mo. Thérèse proposed that the community offer their lives to God with an act of oblation “in order that the divine peace which Christ has brought to the world may be restored to the Church and to the State.” All promised to unite themselves to it, except for Sr. of Jesus Crucified and Sr. Charlotte of the Resurrection, the two most senior nuns. Trembling and fearful that they would end more than fifty years of peaceful life in Carmel with a bloody death, both withdrew from the community. Before the day ended, however, they prostrated themselves before the prioress and tearfully asked forgiveness for their momentary weakness. All the nuns renewed the act until the very day of their death.
The Final Choir
The journey was long… but the air was permeated by their solemn chants of the sixteen, hands tied behind their backs, singing as they did in choir: “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion, blot out my offense…. Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy….”
The guillotine had been standing for more than a month already at the Barrière du Trône. Upon arriving there, Sr. Constance suddenly accused herself before Mother Thérèse of not having finished her divine office. The prioress, told her: “Be strong, daughter.You will finish it in Paradise!”
At the foot of the scaffold, the prioress asked the executioner if she might die last so that she could encourage and support her sisters. She also asked for a few minutes to prepare them. This time her requests were granted. They sang once more, invoking the Holy Spirit: “Creator Spirit, come….” Afterward, they all renewed their religious vows.
One by one, from the youngest to the oldest, the nuns were called.
“Citizeness Marie Geneviève Meunier!”
Summoned by her real name, the youngest, Sr. Constance, knelt before Mother Thérèse and asked for her blessing and the permission to die.
Sr. Constance mounted the scaffold singing the psalm the nuns chanted daily to announce their coming into the house of God: “O praise the Lord, all you nations…”
Her sisters followed: “…acclaim Him, all you peoples! Strong is His love for us; He is faithful for ever.”
All the sisters followed the example of the youngest, asking their superior’s blessing and permission to die. They each went to their death joining the song of those waiting for their turn.While the blade of the guillotine snuffed their lives one by one, the chorus progressed into a decrescendo. As she ascended the scaffold, Sr. of Jesus Crucified was assisted by the assistants of the executioner.“My friends,” she told them, “I forgive you with all my heart, as I desire forgiveness from God.”
Finally, only one voice was left.
“Citizeness Marie Madeleine Claudine Lidoine!”
Having seen fifteen of her daughters precede her to the scaffold, Mother Thérèse followed them to the guillotine. At the sixteenth thud, there was nothing left… but silence. On that day, it was said, more than one religious vocation was born and just as many conversions took place.
-the tiny terra cotta Mother & Child statuette held by Madame Ledoine was kissed by all the nuns before the climbed the ladder up to the executioner.
Ten days later, amidst cacophonous shouts and screams, an infuriated and disillusioned crowd led a man to his death on the guillotine. “Down with the tyrant!” they cried. This time, it was the turn of Maximilien Robespierre. More than a week later, an enervated Antoine Fouquier-Tinville, the implacable Reign of Terror’s public prosecutor, followed his fate on the very instrument where he had sent hundreds to their death. The Terror consumed its own. And with the inglorious end of these two died, also, the Reign of Terror.
Guillotined on 17 July 1794 at the Place du Trône Renversé (modern Place de la Nation) in Paris, France, the sixteen, the heads and bodies of the martyrs were interred in a deep sand-pit about thirty feet square in a cemetery at Picpus. As this sand-pit was the receptacle of the bodies of 1298 victims of the Revolution, there seems to be no hope of their relics being recovered. Five secondary relics are in the possession of the Benedictines of Stanbrook, Worcestershire.
-plaque at the Picpus cemetery in memory of the 16 Martyrs of Compiègne
Lord God, You called Bl. Teresa of St. Augustine, OCD, and her companions to go on in the strength of the Holy Spirit from the heights of Carmel to receive a martyr’s crown. May our love too be so steadfast that it will bring us to the everlasting vision of Your glory. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Lord our God, You called the 16 blessed Carmelites of Compiègne to show You the greatest testimony of love through the offering of their blood that “peace may be returned to the Church and to the State.” Remember the joyful and heroic fidelity with which they glorified You. May Your goodness manifest their favor with You, in granting through their intercession the grace (the miracle) that we ask You in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen!
In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office (the daily prayer of the Church), after Compline, the last prayers of the day, a Marian hymn is sung. I know the Dominican Salve Regina by heart. After the last note of this hymn is sung, holy silence is imposed, even when emptying dishwashers, as novices are, by holy obedience, required to do. It’s not all glamour. Trust me. Holy silence lasts until Lauds, which begins with “Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise!”
When my parents came to visit, they joined us for Office. For the Marian hymn, every night we darkened the entire chapel with a single candle burning before a small white statue of the Blessed Mother for us to focus on as we chanted the Salve Regina. I remember when the lights came back on my parents’ eyes were as big a saucers. I tell myself it was the coming into the light which caused this. I tell myself.
The Alma Redemptoris Mater is one of the four primary Marian hymns sung after Compline. Hermannus Contractus (Herman the Cripple) (1013–1054) is said to have authored the hymn based on the writings of Ss. Fulgentius, Epiphanius, and Irenaeus of Lyon. It is mentioned in “The Prioress’s Tale “, one of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Formerly, it was recited at compline only from the first Sunday in Advent until the Feast of the Purification (February 2).
Alma Redemptoris Mater, quae pervia caeli Porta manes, et stella maris, succurre cadenti, Surgere qui curat, populo: tu quae genuisti, Natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem Virgo prius ac posterius, Gabrielis ab ore Sumens illud Ave, peccatorum miserere.
From the first Sunday of Advent until Christmas Eve:
V. Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae R. Et concepit de Spiritu Sancto.
Oremus Gratiam tuam quæsumus, Domine, mentibus nostris infunde; ut qui, angelo nuntiante, Christi Filii tui Incarnationem cognovimus, per passionem ejus et crucem, ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen. From First Vespers of Christmas until the Presentation:
From First Vespers of Christmas until the Presentation:
V. Post Partum Virgo inviolata permansisti. R. Dei Genitrix, intercede pro nobis.
Oremus Deus, qui salutis aeternae beatae Mariae virginitate foecunda humano generi praemia praestitisti: tribue, quaesumus, ut ipsam pro nobis intercedere sentiamus, per quam meruimus, Auctorem vitae suscipere Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum. Amen.
Loving Mother of our Savior, hear thou thy people’s cry Star of the deep and Portal of the sky! Mother of Him Who thee from nothing made. Sinking we strive and call to thee for aid: Oh, by what joy which Gabriel brought to thee, thou Virgin first and last, let us thy mercy see.
From the first Sunday of Advent until Christmas Eve:
V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary R. And she conceived by the Holy Ghost.
Let us pray. Pour forth we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may, by His passion and cross, be brought to the glory of His Resurrection; through the same Christ, our Lord. Amen.
From First Vespers of Christmas until the Presentation:
V. After childbirth, O Virgin, thou didst remain inviolate. R. O Mother of God, plead for us.
Let us pray. O God, Who by the fruitful virginity of blessed Mary, hast given to mankind the rewards of eternal salvation: grant, we beseech You, that we may experience her intercession for us, by whom we deserved to receive the Author of life, our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son. Amen.
Wyoming Catholic College choir does beautiful renditions of this hymn.
Male & female choir with deep baritone and bass male voices, up-tempo, and the joyful zeal of youth. VERY worth the five bucks if you are looking to beef up your Christmas music collection. Trust me. I have it on my iPhone with all my other weirdo MPM music.
-Madonna Tempi, by Raffaello Sanzio (1483–1520), 1508, Oil on wood, 75 × 51 cm (29.5 × 20.1 in), Alte Pinakothek
Beginning on Dec. 17, the Church prays with greater urgency for the hastening of Christ’s arrival. A greater sense of insistence and impatience is found in the prayers and liturgy of the Church at this time just immediately before the memorial of the Incarnation and, hence, our salvation.
At Vespers each night, the Church sings the great “O Antiphons” before the Magnificat, beckoning for He Who is Wisdom from on High, Lord of Might, Rod of Jesse’s stem, Key of David, Dayspring from on high, King of the Nations, and Emmanuel, He Who made the Heavens and the Earth to come and pitch His tent among us. These antiphons have likewise made their way into the culture of Christmas music that you hear at stores and on radio stations, not to mention most Catholic churches, in the form of the hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel”, which bases its verses on the O Antiphons.
The authors of these antiphons, they can be traced liturgically and historically back to the fourth century, not only had a great theological insight into the arrival of the Christ as expressed in each of the individual antiphons, but they also ordered them so that when they are read backwards chronologically from the 23rd to the 17th, the titles of Christ in Latin form an acronym which spells “ERO CRAS” – I will come tomorrow.
E=Emmanuel; used on December 23
R=Rex Gentium (King of all nations); used on December 22
O=Oriens (Radiant Dawn); used on December 21
C=Clavis David (Key of David); used onDecember 20
R=Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse); used on December 19
A=Adonai (Lord of Israel); used on December 18
S=Sapientia (Wisdom); used on December 17
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine