May is Our Lady’s month. I fondly recall May Crowning in my home parish—
“O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May!”
The month of May is named for the pagan goddess Maia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maia_(mythology))*, who was the mother of the Greek god Hermes (the Roman Mercury). Among other things, Hermes was the god of shepherds. When the Gentiles of the Roman Empire first converted to Christianity and began creating their own artwork, they used statues of Hermes Kriophoros (the “Ram-Bearer”) as a model for statues of Christ the Good Shepherd (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kriophoros).
I don’t mean to lead us down some syncretistic rabbit hole. However, there were some strains in Gentile religion that pointed to the coming of Christ. If the pagans celebrated May as the month of the mother of Hermes the Ram-Bearer, how much more should we celebrate it as the month of the mother of the Good Shepherd.
*Warning: there’s at least one immodest image on this Wikipedia page
“Rejoice, O Jerusalem!” That’s the Introit (opening verse) of today’s Mass. In the Traditional Latin Mass, the Epistle is Galatians 4:22-31, where St. Paul speaks of, “that Jerusalem which is above, which is free, which is our mother.” That’s why in the British Isles this is known as Mothering Sunday (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mothering_Sunday).
My one Catholic grandmother was wont to say, “I wish I was in Heaven,” which is a much less alarming way of telling your friends and family, “I wish I were dead.” The hymn “Jerusalem, My Happy Home,” apparently written by an English Catholic priest who lived in hiding during the Protestant Revolt, captures the same longing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ySssVj7XCs). The traditional Roman station for Laetare Sunday is the Basilica of Holy Cross in Jerusalem. For more information about Laetare Sunday, click here: http://www.salvemariaregina.info/SalveMariaRegina/SMR-164/Laetare%20Sunday.html.
Each day between today (Jan. 18th, regardless of the date stamp above) and next Wednesday (Jan. 25th), I encourage you all to pray the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. For each day’s prayers, I refer you here (http://acatholiclife.blogspot.com/2015/01/traditional-catholic-prayers-for-week.html). For some background on this prayer octave, I refer you here (http://church.atonementonline.com/wp-content/uploads/Octave-of-Prayer-for-Christian-Unity.pdf).
The octave lasts from the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair at Rome (Jan. 18th) until the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (Jan. 25th). You can learn more about today’s feast here (http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2017/01/the-two-feasts-of-st-peters-chair.html#.WIAQSGciyM9). The first day’s prayer intention is for the return of the “other sheep” to the One Fold of Christ. In honor of today’s feast, here is a photo of the Altar of the Chair in the apse of St. Peter’s Basilica. As I understand it, the throne above the altar is a reliquary containing the relics of St. Peter’s cathedra (chair). Continue reading
Today is the feast of St. Stephen, the Protomartyr of the Church. St. Stephen’s relics are preserved in Rome, in the Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls. This is fitting, as St. Stephen and St. Lawrence were both deacons and martyrs. St. Stephen was one of the seven protodeacons of the Church of Jerusalem, and St. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of the Church of Rome. Also, the Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls is the titular basilica of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Legend says that when they deposited St. Stephen’s body next to St. Lawrence’s, St. Lawrence rolled over to make room for St. Stephen.
Here is a photo of the confessio of the Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, where the relics of both St. Stephen and St. Lawrence are preserved.
The Communion hymn at Mass last Sunday (the Fourth Sunday in Advent) was “Creator of the Stars of Night,” which is the English translation of “Conditor Alme Siderum.” Priests, monks, and nuns recite this hymn at Vespers during Advent. Reggie (Fr. Reginald Foster, O.C.D.) told us about “Conditor Alme Siderum” during our summer class in Rome back in 2007. As originally composed back in the early Middle Ages, the first word of the hymn was “conditor,” which should mean “creator, establisher,” from the verb “condo, condere” (“found, establish”). But because of the meter of the hymn, the stress falls on the second syllable (-di-), which would mean the word comes from the verb “condio, condire” (“pickle, preserve”). With that long-i, “conditor” would mean something like “condiment-maker.” Suffice it to say, don’t go to the early Middle Ages looking for stellar Latin (pun intended).
I propose that there is a mystical connection between Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception and Christ’s cleansing of the Temple as told in the Gospel of St. John. Unlike in the Synoptic Gospels, in St. John’s Gospel the cleansing of the Temple occurs at the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry, not long after the Wedding at Cana.* Here’s the aftermath of Our Lord knocking over the tables (2:18-22; emphasis added):
“18 The Jews, therefore, answered, and said to Him: What sign dost thou shew unto us, seeing thou dost these things? 19 Jesus answered, and said to them: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20 The Jews then said: Six and forty years was this temple in building; and wilt thou raise it up in three days? 21 But He spoke of the temple of His body. 22 When therefore He was risen again from the dead, His disciples remembered, that He had said this, and they believed the scripture, and the word that Jesus had said.”
I propose that there’s a hidden meaning to the number 46 years that explains its presence in the text. Like the Temple of Herod, Our Lord’s Body was, at this point, 46 years in the making. For that was the number of years from the Immaculate Conception to the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry. Continue reading
Today, November 30, is the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle. St. Andrew is the patron saint of the church of the town where I live. This is fitting, as the town was founded by a Scotsman and St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland. Here are two photographs of the statue of St. Andrew outside of the local church:
The nave of the church is fittingly shaped like a ship (“nave” means “ship”); St. Andrew was a fisherman and is a patron saint of fishermen. Here’s a close up of the coat-of-arms beneath the statue:
Happy feast day (in the Old Calendar) to St. Raphael the Archangel! He is the patron saint of the Diocese of Madison and a patron saint of mine. Here is a photo I took in one of the side-chapels of the Basilica of Sant’ Andrea della Valle in Rome (http://romanchurches.wikia.com/wiki/Sant%27Andrea_della_Valle). The painting depicts St. Raphael revealing himself to the elder Tobias (on the left) and the younger Tobias (on the right).
I found the placement of this painting providential, as Sant’ Andrea della Valle is my favorite church in Rome. I also have a devotion to St. Andrew, the patron saint of the church in the town where I now live. St. Raphael and St. Andrew, pray for us!
This post is inspired by a homily that the parish priest at my home parish in Illinois* preached about a month ago. The Rio Olympics were in full swing, and the priest commented on American gymnast Simone Biles. He related that Biles, a Catholic, had a devotion to St. Sebastian and lit candles to him. I subsequently found out that St. Sebastian is the patron saint of athletes and of Rio de Janeiro, where the Olympics were held. The full name of Rio de Janeiro is São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, which in Portuguese means St. Sebastian of the River January (the Portuguese first landed there in January). This got me thinking about St. Sebastian’s role as an icon and bastion of Catholic identity.
Here are the basics of St. Sebastian’s story. He was a Roman soldier who was martyred during one of the persecutions inflicted on the Church by the Roman Emperors. He was sentenced to be tied to a tree and shot through with arrows. He miraculously survived the arrows, so he was clubbed to death. The Christians buried him in catacombs outside the city of Rome that have been called St. Sebastian’s Catacombs ever since. Now a basilica in St. Sebastian’s honor stands over the catacombs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Sebastiano_fuori_le_mura). Here’s a photo I took of St. Sebastian’s martyrdom as depicted on the ceiling (!) of the nave of the Basilica of St. Sebastian’s Outside the Walls:
St. Sebastian became very popular in the Middle Ages for a number of reasons**. Here, I’ll focus on just one: the all-out awesomeness of his martyrdom. I think in many Catholics’ mind, the martyrdom of St. Sebastian is the template for their own perseverance in the face of persecution and temptation. If you think of it, his martyrdom is very reminiscent of Our Lord’s Crucifixion. He was bound to a tree, with his face to his persecutors, as they pierced his flesh. He is the patron saint of grit-your-teeth-and-take-it.