Thursday, February 28, 2013
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
|The Ladder of Divine Ascent|
We are well enough into Lent to ask ourselves: how we are doing? Sometimes Lent is physically demanding, especially if you keep the traditional Lenten fast, but it should be rewarding. Lent is forty day challenge, a call to put aside noise and to turn attention to God through prayer. I often marvel when people say "God never speaks to me," a statement to which the necessary response is "Are you listening for him?"
The above image is an icon based on the book The Ladder of Divine Ascent by the seventh century ascetic St. John Climacus, whose book explains the path to Theosis is a very lucid yet spiritual manner, beginning with the intention of renouncing the promises of the world and ending with an integration into the divine life. Reader will doubtlessly notice the devils pulling people off the ladder, but where do the devil pull people? Not at the beginning, where they are close to the ground and will not threaten the devils with the presence of God, for men are not afraid to fall when they are just off the ground. Nor can the devils get the two people closest to Christ at the top, who welcomes the climbers into His kingdom. Those attacked are the ones in the middle, too far up to turn back, yet far enough from Christ to be confused by their surroundings. Perhaps one does not even need to be pulled. One devil is ready to shoot an unsuspecting climber with an arrow!
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Tomorrow is the Feast of St Peter's Chair in Antioch. Here are the readings from matins, taken from St Augustine's 16th sermon on the saints.
The solemn Feast of to-day received from our forefathers the name of that of St Peter's Chair at Antioch, because there is a tradition that it was on this day that Peter, first of the Apostles, was enthroned in a Bishop's Chair. Rightly, therefore, do the Churches observe the first day of that Chair, the right to which the Apostle received for the salvation of the Churches from the Lord of the Churches Himself, with the words Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church.
It was the Lord Himself Who called Peter the foundation of the Church, and therefore it is right that the Church should reverence this foundation whereon her mighty structure riseth. Justly is it written in the Psalm which we have just heard Let them exalt him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. Blessed be God, Who hath commanded that the Blessed Apostle Peter should be exalted in the congregation! Worthy to be honoured by the Church is that foundation from which her goodly towers rise, pointing to heaven!
In the honour which is this day paid to the inauguration of the first Bishop's throne, an honour is paid to the office of all Bishops. The Churches testify one to another, that, the greater the Church's dignity, the greater the reverence due to her priests. While I confess how rightly godly custom hath exalted this Feast in the estimation of all the Churches, the more do I wonder at the growth of that unhealthy error which at this day causeth some unbelievers to lay food and wine upon the graves of the dead, as if souls once rid of the body had any longer any need of bodily refreshment.
I would also like to draw attention to an interesting church in Antioch called the "Cave Church of St. Peter," which locals say dates to the time of the Apostle himself. The facade was added latter by crusaders. A virtual tour is available.
A lengthy post, or perhaps series of short(ish) posts, on the rite of Papal Coronation. This ceremony has not been utilized since Giovanni Battista Montini became Pope Paul VI, and even his coronation was modified due to its setting. The last genuine coronation came in 1958, with John XXIII. I will utilize texts of the rites, with historic allusions, as well as images and video footage from more recent coronations.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
|According to the supposed Prophecy of St Malachy|
the next and last Pope will, like St Peter, "feed his sheep."
source: 16th century icon of Peter from Mt. Athos
As of late there has been a lot of interest in a prophecy that supposedly predicts the next Pope will be, in either name or deed, Petrus Romanus, Peter the Roman, the last Pope of Rome before the end of the world. As this sort of thing has dynamic potential for the wanton speculation and fear, I will simply post here my response to an inquiry sent by e-mail.
The inquirer asks:
On a slight tangent, my [someone I know] is now convinced the world is going to end or some mumbo jumble like it, since the resignation of a pope is written in some prophecy by some guy (clearly I've not been paying attention). All I heard was Petrus Romanus (which means Peter the Roman?) and something something something...My response:
|12th century Irish bishop, St Malachy|
You're thinking of the "Prophecy of Popes," by St Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh. These prophecies were actually published in the 16th century, although the saint lived in the 12th, making their historicity somewhat dubious, but not impossible. According to this supposed prophecy Benedict XVI is the penultimate Pope of Rome before the end of the world as we know it. The supposed prophecy gives names or titles which are supposed to correspond to attributes of the then-Pope. For instance the charismatic, intelligent, brilliant, and mystic Pope Pius XII would correspond to "Pastor Angelicus" ("Angel-like Pastor"), John XXIII—who was patriarch of Venice before becoming Pope—would be "Pastor et nauta" ("Pastor and sailor") etc. Benedict XVI's place corresponds to "Gloria Olivae", Glory of the Olive, a reference to the Olivetan Order (Benedict XVI took his name after the monk St Benedict, an Olivetan, and his Papal motto). The next Pope would be Petrus Romanus (Peter the Roman), meaning he would be a fiercely Roman Pope in fighting and uprooting anti-Catholic evils, but eventually meet the last great persecution of the Roman Church, through which he would guide the Church:
" In persecutione extrema Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae sedebit. Petrus Romanus, qui pascet oves in multis tribulationibus: quibus transactis civitas septicollis dirvetur, & Iudex tremedus iudicabit populum suum. Finis""He will sit [meaning "reign"] during the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church. Peter the Roman, who will feed his sheep through many tribulation, and when these thing are finished the Seven hills [in the City of Rome] will be destroyed and the Tremendous Judge will judge His people. The end."Wikipedia actually has an accurate page on this topic. It's been getting a lot of traction lately.Sounds like great stuff. I would not worry about this sort of this too much, though. Our Lord Jesus said "But of that day and hour no one knoweth, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone." Similarly, all we can really do is make sure we are growing in holiness and in good standing with God. Natural death is a greater possibility than the Apocalypse.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Thursday, February 14, 2013
After the somber and penitential Mass of Ash Wednesday, the Sistine Chapel Choir erupted into Palestrina's Tu Es Petrus (Thou Art Peter). The faithful expressed their sorrow in great leaps of joy. The altar boys and concelebrants can barely contain themselves. Starting at 2:36 you can see Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the Pope's former secretary and current administrator of the Papal household, holding back his tears.
"Et ego dico tibi quia tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversum eam. Et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum et quodcumque ligaveris super terram erit ligatum in caelis et quodcumque solveris super terram erit solutum in caelis"
"And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven." —Matthew 16:18-19
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
|Pope receives ashes at St Peter's Basilica|
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin a new Lenten journey, a journey that extends over forty days and leads us towards the joy of Easter, to victory of Life over death. Following the ancient Roman tradition of Lenten stations, we are gathered for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The tradition says that the first statio took place in the Basilica of Saint Sabina on the Aventine Hill. Circumstances suggested we gather in St. Peter's Basilica. Tonight there are many of us gathered around the tomb of the Apostle Peter, to also ask him to pray for the path of the Church going forward at this particular moment in time, to renew our faith in the Supreme Pastor, Christ the Lord. For me it is also a good opportunity to thank everyone, especially the faithful of the Diocese of Rome, as I prepare to conclude the Petrine ministry, and I ask you for a special remembrance in your prayer.
The readings that have just been proclaimed offer us ideas which, by the grace of God, we are called to transform into a concrete attitude and behaviour during Lent. First of all the Church proposes the powerful appeal which the prophet Joel addresses to the people of Israel, "Thus says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning" (2.12). Please note the phrase "with all your heart," which means from the very core of our thoughts and feelings, from the roots of our decisions, choices and actions, with a gesture of total and radical freedom. But is this return to God possible? Yes, because there is a force that does not reside in our hearts, but that emanates from the heart of God and the power of His mercy. The prophet says: "return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment" (v. 13). It is possible to return to the Lord, it is a 'grace', because it is the work of God and the fruit of faith that we entrust to His mercy. But this return to God becomes a reality in our lives only when the grace of God penetrates and moves our innermost core, gifting us the power that "rends the heart". Once again the prophet proclaims these words from God: "Rend your hearts and not your garments" (v. 13). Today, in fact, many are ready to "rend their garments" over scandals and injustices – which are of course caused by others - but few seem willing to act according to their own "heart", their own conscience and their own intentions, by allowing the Lord transform, renew and convert them.
This "return to me with all your heart," then, is a reminder that not only involves the individual but the entire community. Again we heard in the first reading: "Blow the horn in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly! Gather the people, sanctify the congregation; Assemble the elderly; gather the children, even infants nursing at the breast; Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her bridal tent (vv.15-16). The community dimension is an essential element in faith and Christian life. Christ came "to gather the children of God who are scattered into one" (Jn 11:52). The "we" of the Church is the community in which Jesus brings us together (cf. Jn 12:32), faith is necessarily ecclesial. And it is important to remember and to live this during Lent: each person must be aware that the penitential journey cannot be faced alone, but together with many brothers and sisters in the Church.
Finally, the prophet focuses on the prayers of priests, who, with tears in their eyes, turn to God, saying: " Between the porch and the altar let the priests weep, let the ministers of the LORD weep and say: “Spare your people, Lord! Do not let your heritage become a disgrace, a byword among the nations! Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’"(V.17). This prayer leads us to reflect on the importance of witnessing to faith and Christian life, for each of us and our community, so that we can reveal the face of the Church and how this face is, at times, disfigured. I am thinking in particular of the sins against the unity of the Church, of the divisions in the body of the Church. Living Lent in a more intense and evident ecclesial communion, overcoming individualism and rivalry is a humble and precious sign for those who have distanced themselves from the faith or who are indifferent.
"Well, now is the favourable time, this is the day of salvation" (2 Cor 6:2). The words of the Apostle Paul to the Christians of Corinth resonate for us with an urgency that does not permit absences or inertia. The term "now" is repeated and can not be missed, it is offered to us as a unique opportunity. And the Apostle's gaze focuses on sharing with which Christ chose to characterize his life, taking on everything human to the point of taking on all of man’s sins. The words of St. Paul are very strong: "God made him sin for our sake." Jesus, the innocent, the Holy One, "He who knew no sin" (2 Cor 5:21), bears the burden of sin sharing the outcome of death, and death of the Cross with humanity. The reconciliation we are offered came at a very high price, that of the Cross raised on Golgotha, on which the Son of God made man was hung. In this, in God’s immersion in human suffering and the abyss of evil, is the root of our justification. The "return to God with all your heart" in our Lenten journey passes through the Cross, in following Christ on the road to Calvary, to the total gift of self. It is a journey on which each and every day we learn to leave behind our selfishness and our being closed in on ourselves, to make room for God who opens and transforms our hearts. And as St. Paul reminds us, the proclamation of the Cross resonates within us thanks to the preaching of the Word, of which the Apostle himself is an ambassador. It is a call to us so that this Lenten journey be characterized by a more careful and assiduous listening to the Word of God, the light that illuminates our steps.
In the Gospel passage according of Matthew, to whom belongs to the so-called Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to three fundamental practices required by the Mosaic Law: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. These are also traditional indications on the Lenten journey to respond to the invitation to «return to God with all your heart." But he points out that both the quality and the truth of our relationship with God is what qualifies the authenticity of every religious act. For this reason he denounces religious hypocrisy, a behaviour that seeks applause and approval. The true disciple does not serve himself or the "public", but his Lord, in simplicity and generosity: "And your Father who sees everything in secret will reward you" (Mt 6,4.6.18). Our fitness will always be more effective the less we seek our own glory and the more we are aware that the reward of the righteous is God Himself, to be united to Him, here, on a journey of faith, and at the end of life, in the peace light of coming face to face with Him forever (cf. 1 Cor 13:12).
Dear brothers and sisters, we begin our Lenten journey with trust and joy. May the invitation to conversion , to "return to God with all our heart", resonate strongly in us, accepting His grace that makes us new men and women, with the surprising news that is participating in the very life of Jesus. May none of us, therefore, be deaf to this appeal, also addressed in the austere rite, so simple and yet so beautiful, of the imposition of ashes, which we will shortly carry out. May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and model of every true disciple of the Lord accompany us in this time. Amen!
source: Vatican Radio
Monday, February 11, 2013
The end of a Papacy is, under normal circumstance, something like the death of a family patriarch for Catholics, for the Pope is a spiritual father to us. Yes, once the Pope is gone we can say "the Pope is gone, long live the Pope," but we still ought to keep the old Pontiff's legacy in perspective and be sensitive to the feelings and faith of Catholics, something John Moody at Fox News is not doing.
While going through the stories on the odd end of the pontificate of Benedict XVI I came across this ridiculous editorial written by John Moody and which is posted on foxnews.com. Not only is this article irreverent, it is callously ignorant is outright wrong!
He never had a chance. [Really? That's your intro?]
From the moment he appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s on April 19, 2005, to greet the faithful, Benedict XVI faced an insurmountable problem: [The Roman Curia?] He was not John Paul II. [Now get this....]
Benedict’s decision to resign the papacy is being blamed on his age – nearly 86 – and his health – never robust. He might just as well have been diagnosed with a broken papal heart. [He is not resigning because he can barely walk, nor because he can barely speak, nor because his mental powers might be diminishing. He is resigning because he spent eight years in a personal crisis over not being his Polish predecessor.]
Because his nearly eight years on the Throne of the Fisherman never really produced the results he hoped for. [Has any Pope in his lifetime seen the results he wanted?] He did not unite the conservative and progressive wings of the Catholic Church. [He did not see the Church in such American political terms] He did not re-establish its place in Europe, [thats a long-term project, you can't undo WW2 and socialism overnight] the work of a previous Pope Benedict and the reason he took that name. Nor did he expand its foothold in Asia, [that's more debatable, the Chinese usurpation of Church power is not the Pope's fault] cement its dominance in Latin America, or make serious inroads in Africa. And he did not bring to fruition the ecumenical understanding with other major faiths that he hoped would bloom during his reign. [Did he hope for ecumenical flowers?]
Benedict faced nearly impossible odds, even before he was elected. Joseph Ratzinger -- his given name -- was already white-haired [He was white-haired when he attend Vatican II half a century ago!] and stooped when he became pope. He was a German of the World War II generation, and as a boy had served, involuntarily, as a member of the Hitler Youth. [He went to jail for not attending meetings] His last job in Rome as Cardinal Ratzinger was to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the branch of the Vatican charged with enforcing dogma and rooting out dissent. For that, he was dubbed The Chief Inquisitor and The Rottweiler. His idea of a wild night was a single glass of Riesling and an hour of playing his piano – he was an accomplished interpreter of Beethoven and Mozart. [That's more wild that most of my nights. Perhaps he thinks John Paul II was closer to Rodrigo Borgia than Joseph Ratzinger?]
That’s who he is. But what stymied him was who he isn’t. [He's serious!]
His Polish predecessor as Pope, Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, exploded into worldwide prominence and popularity in 1978 as a strong, smiling face for a church that had not elected a non-Italian for nearly 500 years. In combining as his papal name both John and Paul, Wojtyla suggested to the Church that he would follow the prudent style of rule set forth by John XXIII and Paul VI – neither of them firebrands. [The Church's state did not improve very much under JP2's reign. Most vital statistics declined, but no one said JP2 wasn't Paul VI]
Then, John Paul revealed his true nature: a brilliant, conservative theologian, [he was not an accomplished theologian, he was more of a wise pastor if anything] a master politician and historian, a nonpareil philosopher, [The beatification sermon did not even go this far] a polished performer thanks to his youthful acting career, an unapologetic anti-communist, and an inveterate traveler. He also didn’t mind showing off. He skied. He hiked. He canoed. He sported sneakers. He watched bare-breasted African women do traditional dances. [Someone tell Cardinal Arinze! Liturgical dance!] And he never stopped talking, in any of the seven or eight languages he spoke fluently, about how God loves us.
By contrast, Benedict’s meek initial outings were public relations meltdowns. His smile, though genuine, looked somehow sinister, as if he were about to bite his audience. [I have been to a Papal audience and never felt his carnivorous threat] Determined to restore the Church’s luster in Europe, where it is often treated like a dotty old aunt, Benedict gave a lecture in Regensburg, Germany, in 2006 that appeared to denigrate Islam. [Hardly] The non-Catholic world howled; the Vatican cringed and apologized. [Not exactly]
On his first visit to the U.S. as pope, Benedict offered contrite apologies for the Church’s ham-handed treatment of the U.S. church’s sex scandal involving its priests. Even the pope’s humble mien did not satisfy some, who pronounced him cold and unfeeling toward the plight of victims of clergy abuse. [How much can he do to apologize and make amends with those whom he did not harm and still assumes guilt for letting down? Do you think the previous Pope really would have done a bit better?] He joined the Twitterati, but his first attempt was a sterile: “I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. I bless all of you from my heart.” At least he stayed under 140 characters.
In nearly eight years, Benedict issued three encyclicals – direct messages to the faithful that often reveal a pope’s enthusiasms and interests. Benedict’s first – entitled “God is Love” -- is a caressing, simply worded, logic-based reassurance that our Lord loves us. Yet even his writing about love suffers in comparison with John Paul’s towering, intellectual yet intimate canon of work. [Adrian Fortescue was right. The mania with encyclicals needs to desist]
None of which lessens Benedict’s place in the line of Vicars of Christ. His decision to resign was a brave one, based on personal humility, in keeping with his message to the faithful that the things of Earth are transient, but the promise of heaven lasting and infinite. For that he should be remembered. [What a lovely ending, after railing against the man for being a dotty German carnivore rather than a Polish ski master!]
Today during the meeting for the Consistory for Canonizations Benedict XVI announced his intention to vacate the Bishopric of Rome at 8:00PM on February 28th. The text of his address is below, first in Latin (as he gave it) then in English:
Non solum propter tres canonizationes ad hoc Consistorium vos convocavi, sed etiam ut vobis decisionem magni momenti pro Ecclesiae vitae communicem. Conscientia mea iterum atque iterum coram Deo explorata ad cognitionem certam perveni vires meas ingravescente aetate non iam aptas esse ad munus Petrinum aeque administrandum.
Bene conscius sum hoc munus secundum suam essentiam spiritualem non solum agendo et loquendo exsequi debere, sed non minus patiendo et orando. Attamen in mundo nostri temporis rapidis mutationibus subiecto et quaestionibus magni ponderis pro vita fidei perturbato ad navem Sancti Petri gubernandam et ad annuntiandum Evangelium etiam vigor quidam corporis et animae necessarius est, qui ultimis mensibus in me modo tali minuitur, ut incapacitatem meam ad ministerium mihi commissum bene administrandum agnoscere debeam. Quapropter bene conscius ponderis huius actus plena libertate declaro me ministerio Episcopi Romae, Successoris Sancti Petri, mihi per manus Cardinalium die 19 aprilis MMV commissum renuntiare ita ut a die 28 februarii MMXIII, hora 29, sedes Romae, sedes Sancti Petri vacet et Conclave ad eligendum novum Summum Pontificem ab his quibus competit convocandum esse.
Fratres carissimi, ex toto corde gratias ago vobis pro omni amore et labore, quo mecum pondus ministerii mei portastis et veniam peto pro omnibus defectibus meis. Nunc autem Sanctam Dei Ecclesiam curae Summi eius Pastoris, Domini nostri Iesu Christi confidimus sanctamque eius Matrem Mariam imploramus, ut patribus Cardinalibus in eligendo novo Summo Pontifice materna sua bonitate assistat. Quod ad me attinet etiam in futuro vita orationi dedicata Sanctae Ecclesiae Dei toto ex corde servire velim.
Leo XIII reigned into his nineties as Pope. Benedict was advised by a doctor to cease making transatlantic voyages and to reduce his schedule. One could say a Pope who cannot travel could at least govern the Holy See, run the Papal Household, oversee the functions of the Curia, and perform public liturgies. If Benedict is resigning then he must see himself as no longer able to even perform these functions. Fr Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said he would move to Castel Gandolfo to set his affairs in order, then retire to a cloister within the Holy See's walls and live out the rest of his natural live, basically as a monk. To the right is a video of Fr Lombardi giving the press conference after the announcement. He is visibly nervous, shuffling papers that are already in neat stacks and fidgeting with his hands.
|Gregory XII, the last Pope to resign|
This creates a very strange dynamic: there will be two inhabitants of the Petrine chair alive at once. The last Pope to truly resign was the 13th century mystic St Peter Celestine, a hermit who was elected by a deadlocked conclave out of the blue, reigned for a few months, became aware he was not "up for the job," and resigned only to be arrested and indirectly killed by his successor, Boniface VIII. There were three claimants to the Papacy (Pope Gregory XII, and his opponents John XXIII and Benedict XIII). All three were deposed of any claims to the Papacy at the Council of Constance in 1415, leading to the election of Martin V. Some rotten skunks were kicked out by the cardinals or the people of Rome in the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries, usually on account of their personal wickedness. Nothing quite like this has ever happened though.
Usually the previous Pope's death sets things in motion. His rooms are sealed, his seal is destroyed. The Dean of the College of Cardinals says the Requiem Mass and buries the Pope. The cardinals convene in the Sistine Chapel and elect the new Pontiff in secret. The College of Cardinals as a body makes all governing decisions during the sede vacante. The new Pope assumes office and all the governing authorities. I guess the lack or succession here is what troubles me. It will be more or less a transition, given this current Pope still lives, though his health seems to be failing him.
Many commentators long suggested he might resign someday after watching his predecessor slowly and painfully die in the public eye. John Paul used his struggle as a teaching moment, increasing the Church's credibility on life issues to the secular world. Benedict might think himself physically unable to do even this.
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Friday, February 8, 2013
In the ancient Christian days Mass would begin with a litany, a series of petitions to God, to which the people would respond "Domine, miserere nobis," or "Lord, have mercy on us." This tradition of litanies during the liturgy continues in the Byzantine rite today, whereas it is primarily something done in processions or at ordinations in the Roman rite now. By the pontificate of St. Gregory the Great, who ascended to the Petrine chair in 590 A.D., the litanies had vanished but the response, "Lord, have mercy," remained. St. Gregory, believing the Roman rite should still retain Greek vestiges, changed the response from Latin to Greek ("Kyrie, eleison"). Rather than just a series of exclamations, the "Kyrie" became a series of three invocations, each invocation composed of three petitions. The first three directed to God the Father (Kyrie eleison), the second three to God the Son (Christe eleison), and the last three to God the Holy Ghost (Kyrie eleison).
This remained the tradition in Rome until 1969, but not through all of Europe. The great cathedrals of Spain, Gaul—particularly Rouen, and England—especially Salisbury—began to trope or "farce" the Kyrie's with Latin exclamations and titles of the Persons to Whom they are addressed. I have found one such version which I believe to be of Gaul, given its musical style of "organum," a droning background noise which resembles ancient Byzantine chant whilst a cantor sings the main petition aloud. This style is somewhat like a primitive polyphony in style and was likely brought to the West through the Crusades. This text version is from the 12th or 13th century and most religious and political enthusiasm for the Crusades derived in France, which is my logic for sourcing this rendition from there.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
Source: St. George's in Pittsburg, PA
Yesterday was the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, commonly called Candlemas in the English-speaking world, or the “Encounter” as it is called in the Byzantine rite. This day commemorates the purification of Our Lady according to the Mosaic Law and all the wonderful events recounted in St. Luke’s Gospel which ensued.
Our Lady, although “full of grace” (Luke 1:28), was still humble. As the human parent, and indeed the sole blood of God-made-Man, it would be sensible to think Our Lady shared many traits in common with Our Lord, namely humility and submissiveness. Our Lady neither sinned nor considered herself above the law of Moses and her ancestors, whose promise from God was fulfilled in her womb, “He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of His mercy: As He spoke to our fathers, Abraham and His seed forever” (Luke 1:54-55).
Mary’s humility in presenting herself to the Law set the scene for Jesus to reveal Himself to St. Simeon, a holy man who God had promised would not die until he beheld the Christ of God, the Savior of his people. Overwhelmed in the beatific joy only God can bestow, the saint sang a new canticle now so familiar to those who say Vespers (Byzantine rite) or Compline (Roman rite) with any regularity:
Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word in peace;
Because my eyes have seen Thy salvation,
Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples:
A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.
The old man St. Simeon had become holy in the sense that Cardinal Newman understood holiness, not the accomplishment of works required by law, but seeing the world as God sees it and wishes for us to see it. Simeon’s only desire was to see Israel’s promise fulfilled and the world again sanctified, a consolation rather than an accomplishment. St. Simeon is unlikely to have lived even into Christ’s public ministry, given his age, but God granted this man to know the purpose of the Christ, which would eventuate spiritual deliverance for Israel and all peoples, not a political liberation for a small tribal nation along the Palestinian coast. The best description I have heard of St. Simeon comes from St. Ambrose’s commentary on the Gospel at Matins for this day, in which the Milanese bishop calls Simeon just man, confined in the weary prison of the body, desiring to be dissolved and to begin to be with Christ.”
All this came to pass simply because of Mary’s humility in the temple. Where there is Our Lady, there is Her Son doing good nearby.
In most all of Christendom churches bless candles this day. The Byzantine rite calls for a general blessing, while in the Roman rite a church ought to bless all candles used for the entire year at this point. The Roman rite curiously calls for a penitential procession, with the priest vested in violet and the deacon and subdeacon in folded chasubles. Perhaps this procession and penitential spirit preceded the celebration of the Purification, but remained, in an obscure manner, in the rites for February 2nd. One of the delightful quirks of the Roman rite.
I should like to draw attention to the Sarum rite, the liturgy used in the diocese of Salisbury until the Reformation eliminated the Mass and the Latin office in England for centuries. Some priests undoubtedly kept saying Mass in the familiar Sarum rite, albeit furtively, until Jesuit missionaries brought the Roman rite, which remained when the Church returned to public worship in English in the 19th century. The first public celebration (to my knowledge) of the Sarum rite came in 1996 under the Newman Society at Oxford Univeristy, who conscripted Fr. Sean Finnegan, then of the nascent Oxford Oratory, to celebrate Solemn Mass at the Merton College chapel. I do not know which feast was celebrated, but the deed was repeated in 1997 by the same organization and the same celebrant for Candlemas. The Mass has been recorded and is available online. One is struck by the beauty of the music and ceremonies, rites so rich they almost bring the tridentine Roman rite to shame.
Knowing the priest who preached the sermon at the second Mass, I asked him why celebration of the Sarum rite ceased. He told me that they had intended to celebrate it annually during Hilary term, but someone sent a report to a Roman congregation which in turn told them to desist in their celebrations of the rite. Those who put on the Mass formed a small group called the Society of St. Osmond (or the “Donny Osmond Society” according to this priest), investigated the matter, determined that the Sarum Mass was perfectly legal to celebrate, and still obtained permission from the Archbishop of Birmingham. It was quite legal. Rome, however, thought the “Society of St. Osmond” was a newfangled British version of the Society of St. Pius X and immediately panicked! Perhaps there is a lesson in this: liturgy should not be dictated by bureaucrats and legalists.
I have included below a clip from the offertory of the Mass. You will notice the cantors wearing copes, an acolyte in a tunicle, lots of incense, the kissing of the “text,” and a chant tone slightly off from what we know in the Roman rite. The motet after the plainsong, about a minute and a half into the clip, is one of my all-time favorites: Gaude, gaude, gaude, Virgo Maria by John Sheppard.