Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (31 August 2014)

     Welcome to Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival . . . which reminds me, it’s almost fair season here in the State of Maine, when my lovely bride and I take our fine progeny off to see enormous pumpkins, sheep shearing and an event called the “pig scramble” that must be seen to be believed.  But that’s not the kind of carnival I’m talking about here.  No, Sunday Snippets is a gathering of Catholic bloggers who share their posts for the week, and there’s no “midway”, although we do have a communal site [here] at This That and the Other Thing, presided over by the sober and sensible RAnn, where you the reader can wander along and sample at leisure from a variety of booths . . .I mean, blogs…
     Anyway, fair season . . .  It’s funny, but as Summer dwindles and we move toward Fall, it feels like a time of renewal.  There are good reasons for that, of course:  as the air gets cooler and drier (at least in these parts) we naturally feel less lethargic, more energized.  Also, I wouldn’t be the first to see in the yearly cycle of decline and renewal a reflection of the God who dies and rises again: the dying of the year is a reminder that Easter lies on the other side.
     We have also been conditioned from an early age to associate the arrival of Autumn with the beginning of a new school year, with all its feelings of promise and dread.  For some of us that same cycle continues well into adulthood (I’m talking about teachers, not perpetual students).  Accordingly, in addition to enjoying some beautiful late Summer New England weather this past week, I spent a few days at school preparing to meet the students who will be coming through my door Tuesday morning.
     This weekend we also went to another school, bringing our first-born for his first year of college. Talk about dread.  And all too often, it’s not simply the normal apprehension of letting one’s child loose in the wide world.  One can’t be too careful about colleges today, what with venerable and respected institutions hosting the like of “Sex Week” [here, for mature readers only] and “Kink Clubs” [here, also for mature readers].  Even ostensibly Catholic schools don't think twice about giving a platform to Planned Parenthood [here], the world’s largest abortion provider.  And that’s not even taking into account the foolish and deadly things that take place in many classrooms.
     Fortunately. The Cardinal New Society [here] – and, yes, this is a plug – can help you (it did for us)  find a Catholic Institution of higher learning that actually does offer “higher” learning, and will have no part in the ugliness cited above.  No matter where you go there will be no shortage of dangers and temptations, but it’s good to know that there are still some colleges that don’t actively connive in the corruption of our sons and daughters.
     OK, I said my piece.  Now, on to the posts for the week:

Monday – Don’t tell anyone, but when I was young I used to get Haydn confused with Handel. Of course, that’s not happening here, I just thought Haydn could, you know, use a break from his comeback tour.  And this is a very cool piece of music. “Handel: Arrival Of The Queen Of Sheba” [here]

Tuesday – In which I discover once again that missing confession for an entire summer is not a good plan. “Confession Is Good For The Soul” [here]

Wednesday – A little reverence never hurt anyone, especially directed toward our Lord and Creator. “Quick! What’s the Source and Summit of the Christian Life?” [here]

Thursday – A little Night Prayer, anyone? “Compline: For Tonight And Forever (LOH 8 – Throwback Thursday Edition) [here]

Friday – So many Saints, so little time . . . Augustine, Monica, and Ambrose. “Three Great Saints: A Dynamic Trio” [here]

-          A brief nod  to Friday’s Saint. “The Beheading of St. John The Baptist: A Timely Reminder” [here]

Finally, RAnn has invited us to republish one older post.  I haven't been at this very long, so I don't have anything that old, but I do have this post from March 11th of this year.  It's a sort of manifesto, and a call to arms for the spiritual combat that confronts us: "Why We Fight" [here]

This is the Gorn.  I can't really say what he's doing here.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Beheading of St. John The Baptist: A Timely Reminder

Today is the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.  I don't have the the time for fuller commentary, but I didn't want it to pass unremarked.  I will offer one brief (and rather obvious) comment: there is often a high price to pay for telling the truth, and for doing the right thing.  And of course the eternal reward far outweighs the pain in this world.  That is why the Catholic Church (and who else could even imagine doing such a thing?) makes a Feast Day out of an event that, in worldly terms, looks like a tragic failure.  It's a good thing for us to remember when we encounter our present-day Herods.

St. John the Baptist rebuking Herod by Giovanni Fattori

Three Great Saints: A Dynamic Trio

St. Ambrose, St. Monica, & St. Augustine
     It looks like time will be in short supply this coming weekend, so Friday seems like a good time to look at our Saint for the week – or rather, Saints, because this week we have a trio.  The first two have feasts on consecutive days: St. Augustine [ here] was Thursday, and the previous day, Wednesday was the feast of  his mother, St. Monica [here].  St. Augustine, of course, is one of the greatest theologians, and a bishop, Doctor of the Church, and subject of one of the best-known conversion stories in the history of Christianity. The story of St. Monica is also well-known, how she “stormed Heaven” with her fervent prayer over many years on behalf of her wayward son, and how after he had at last returned to Christ and his Church she died in great contentment.
    St. Monica has long been an inspiration to parents worried about the spiritual welfare of their offspring. And she is a powerful intercessor on their behalf.  We need to bear in mind, however, that as essential as her prayers were, they were not enough.  She softened Augustine’s heart, and prepared the ground to receive the seeds of his conversion, but she herself was not able to plant those seeds: she could not convince her son to change his life.
     Although Augustine was unwilling to be swayed by his mother’s entreaties, it seems that her prayers brought someone into his life to whom he was willing to listen: St. Ambrose [here], our third Saint.  St. Monica’s efforts in the realm of the spirit combined with Ambrose’s eloquence and intellectual brilliance were too much for Augustine’s will to resist.  Together they brought him back to communion with the Body of Christ.
     It often perplexes and saddens those of us who are parents that however hard we try, sometimes our children simply can’t, or won’t, hear what we have to say.  What’s even more maddening, they often treat those same things as the height of wisdom when they encounter them on the lips of a stranger.  It’s a hard reality.  That’s why when we are Storming Heaven for the sake of our children, whatever else we pray for, we would do well to ask the Lord to send a St. Ambrose.   

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Compline: For Tonight and Forever (LOH 8 Throwback Thursday Edition)

(This is one of a series of posts on the Liturgy of the Hours for Laypeople)

      In today's discussion of the Liturgy of the Hours I'll focus on Night Prayer, or Compline.  This office  plays a special role in the overall plan of the Liturgy of the Hours.  It complements the Invitatory Psalm with which we start the daily liturgy (see here). While the Invitatory orients us to God from the first moments of the day, reminding us of his Lordship and the challenges we are likely to face if  we fail to rely on Him, Compline draws our daily activities to a conclusion, and puts us in a proper frame of mind to surrender ourselves to the Lord’s care in sleep.  At the same time as it prepares us for our nightly sleep, however, Night Prayer also prepares us for our eternal rest in the life to come.

Nunc Dimittis: Simeon sees the infant Jesus in the Temple

    Night Prayer is structured much like a shorter version of Lauds [link] or Vespers [link]: there is a Psalmody, a brief scripture reading followed by a responsory, a Gospel Canticle and closing prayer.  But there are also significant differences.  After the usual opening (“Lord, come to my assistance . . .”) we conduct an examination of conscience, followed by the Confiteor, the Kyrie or some other appropriate penitential prayer.  There is only one psalm, or two very short ones, no intercessions, and the closing prayer is followed by a Marian antiphon.  Also, in addition to being shorter, there is much less variety in Night Prayer.  Aside from minor variations for particularly important solemnities and "alleiuas" during the Easter season, the prayers all follow the same cycle every week (as opposed to a four week cycle, and much greater variation for liturgical seasons, in the other hours). 
     Compline is a wonderfully effective transitional prayer.  At the beginning we tie up any loose ends from the day in the examination of conscience and put them behind us in the penitential prayer.  If there is a hymn, it isn’t sung until after those things are done; only then are we ready to entrust ourselves to the mercy of God.  That reliance on God’s Grace is a major element in the Psalmody for Night Prayer. Sunday’s psalm, for instance (Psalm 91) begins:

            He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
            And abides in the shade of the Almighty –
            Says to the Lord: “My refuge,
            My Stronghold, my God in whom I trust!”
The themes of night (“Lift your hands to the holy place/and bless the Lord through the night”, Psalm 134, Saturday) and sleep (“I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once”, Psalm 4, Friday) also play a large role – as does the theme of death (“Will you work your wonders for the dead/Will the shades stand and praise you?”, Psalm 88, Thursday).
     The theme of preparing ourselves for eternal rest becomes even more explicit in the responsory that follows the short scripture verse:

            Into your hands lord, I commend my spirit.
                        - Into your hands lord, I commend my spirit.
            You have redeemed us, Lord God of Truth
                        -I commend my spirit.
            Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
                        - Into your hands lord, I commend my spirit.

This verse is based on Psalm 31, but is perhaps more familiar to us from Luke 23:46, when Jesus recites the first line as he is dying on the cross.  Because of its close association with the crucifixion it is replaced during the Octave of Easter with “This is the day the Lord has made/Let us rejoice and be glad”; other than that, we say this same responsory every night of the year, albeit with “alleluia, alleluia” included during the Easter season outside the Octave.
     After the responsory we find the Gospel Canticle, the Canticle of Simeon (also known as the Nunc Dimittis, from Luke 2:29-32) which begins “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace . . .”   This is the prayer of thanksgiving sung by the old prophet Simeon, to whom it had been revealed “by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26).  This prayer forms a sort of triptych with the Canticles from Lauds and Vespers: in the morning, with the Benedictus, the focus is on John the Baptist, the Forerunner of the Messiah; at Evening Prayer in the Magnificat we see the first meeting (in utero!) of the Forerunner and the Messiah himself; at Compline the Messiah makes his first appearance in the Temple to claim his birthright, and Simeon, the aged representative of the Old Covenant, declares himself satisfied, praises God, and retires to his final repose.
     The closing prayer is appropriate to the hour; Thursday’s office,  for instance, closes with:

            Lord God,
            Send peaceful sleep
            To refresh our tired bodies.
            May your help always renew us
And keep us strong in your service.

The conclusion that follows makes explicit reference to the connection between our nightly rest and the more permanent repose to come:

            May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.

     We close Night Prayer with an antiphon addressed to the Blessed Mother.
     Compline, or Night Prayer, is like the other offices, but also has a special part to play in the daily Office. Even if we are laypeople praying the Liturgy of the Hours as a private devotion, it is still a liturgical, which is to say a public, prayer and by its very nature it draws us out of ourselves to unite us with Christ and his Mystical Body, the Church.  Night Prayer does that and more: as we go through the office we put our affairs in order, as it were, in the penitential rite at the beginning; after that in the prayers that follow we turn our attention from the concerns of the day to the preparation of our souls for the night to come; we entrust ourselves to the Lord's Mercy ("Into you hands I commend my spirit") and then, through the words of Simeon and the concluding verse, reach beyond our rest in this world and ask for God's Grace in the world to come.  Our final prayer is to ask for the intercession of the First Disciple, who, we know, is already enjoying the Lord's peace in Heaven, and whom we hope to join there beyond the final setting of the sun on this world.
To read the whole series go here.

Below are some resources for anyone interested in exploring the Liturgy of the Hours -

Websites: – This was the first website I encountered with the text of the LOH.  It does have the full text of all the daily prayers, although, at least in the free version available online, many of the translations are not the approved ones.  They do say that the translations in the App version are the standard ones. – Full tests of all the prayers, which are designed so that they can be printed as booklets – but you need to buy a subscription. – My favorite LOH website.  It contains the full approved translations of most of the canonical hours (there is only one hour for Daytime Prayer).  There are also audio versions of each hour which include recorded hymns and recitation of the prayers, either spoken or chanted.

There are various one-volume books entitled Christian Prayer that contain most of the Liturgy of the Hours.  The best choice available is this one [here], although it is not complete (particularly the Office of  Readings), and hasn’t been updated since 1976.  I prefer this one [here] from the Daughters of St. Paul, which contains everything except the long readings from the Office of Readings (which are available from the websites above).  It also dates from 1976, however, and, even worse, seems to be out of print.

The Gold Standard is the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours [here].  It’s all there, but it’s gonna cost you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Quick! What's the Source and Summit of the Christian Life?

     And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him.”Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  -Matthew 22:35-39

We have Company

Pope Francis at Easter Mass
     Years ago when I taught at a Catholic high school in New York State I was the faculty moderator of the student newspaper.  On one particular occasion I had brought some of the students on the newspaper staff on a trip to another school, which had at one time been a convent school, and still had a number of the good sisters in residence.  We were casually conversing in a hallway when an elderly nun began furiously shushing at us as she pointed to an open doorway.  Looking through the door I noticed, for the first time, a tabernacle on the far wall with a red presence lamp glowing next to it.  We were standing in front of the chapel, and sister wanted us to quiet down out of respect for Christ in the reserved Sacrament.  When I recounted the incident to my lovely bride, she told me that the exact same thing had happened to her a dozen years or more before when she had visited the same school as a student.  Whether it was a sort of tradition there, or the same sister had made a life’s mission of hushing boisterous guests in front of the chapel I don’t know, but the incident has stuck with me.
     I was reminded of this incident yet again the other day, in fact, when I saw this post [here] on Michael Seagriff’s blog, in which he recounts his sadness at the disrespect shown Our Lord at a Church he attended while travelling.  He says:

The loud chatter and laughter before and immediately after the end of Mass each day made silent prayer an enormous challenge if not an impossibility.  The conduct of those present gave no visible evidence that His Presence among and within them was of much importance.

I think he hits the nail right on the head here. If we knew that an important man or woman were in the room with us – the President of the United States, for instance, or some other high-ranking official – would we carry on as if he weren’t there?  And wouldn’t he command at least as much of our attention as our friends? Surely when the Lord and Creator of the Universe is in the room with us (as He is in the consecrated Eucharist), we should show even greater deference.  In fact, shouldn’t we by all rights fall to our knees in awe-struck silence? And yet what Michael Seagriff describes above is all too common; he could have been describing a church I know near me, but the same thing happens, often to a lesser degree, just about everywhere I know of (to a much lesser degree, I must admit, where the Mass is being offered in the extraordinary form).

Maybe sometimes we should "sweat the small stuff"

     I’m not just being the President of the No-Fun Club here (although I do bear that title, and proudly); the issue of reverence before the Holy Sacrament, and at Mass in general, is no small matter.  We’ve all heard some variation on “God doesn’t care what I’m wearing/ doing, etc. . . .  He just wants me to be there . . . He’s a big Guy, he can take it  . . . blah,blah,blah”.  God’s not the problem: no amount of irreverence, in fact nothing we can do at all, can harm Him.  The problem is that it’s bad for us to disrespect God, we are not honoring and obeying our Heavenly Father, the One who told Moses “Take off your sandals, the place where you’re standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).  It’s right to behave differently in the immediate presence of God.
     There’s also another problem, as Michael indicates when he says “The conduct of those present gave no visible evidence that His Presence among and within them was of much importance.”  If you asked them, I’m sure the chatterboxes from the back of the church would insist they had enormous respect for the Divine Presence in the Tabernacle, and they would probably mean it.  We Catholics know, however, that mind, body, and spirit all work together.  “The Word became Flesh” (John 1:14) John the Evangelist tells us, and the Apostle James assures us that “Faith apart from deeds is dead” (James 2:26). We cannot separate what we do from what we believe, and if our behavior says, not just to others but to ourselves, that being at Mass is no different than being at a business meeting or a cocktail party, sooner or later we’ll believe it.  And that is why, after all, we have all the “smells and bells”, beautiful churches and colorful vestments, because we flesh and blood mortals need tangible signs in order to absorb spiritual realities.  Why else should the Word become Flesh? Why else have sacraments?

Summit and Source

     The spiritual reality we’re meant to absorb when we’re at Mass, of course, is the True Presence of Jesus Christ.  The first commandment is to love God (see the quote from Matthew's Gospel at the top of the page); loving our neighbor is similar to that, but subordinate. Our purpose in going to Mass, then, is not to meet our friends but to meet God Himself, face to face, and even to take him physically into our bodies.  That’s a big deal.  We need to know it, to feel it, and to live it.  The Vatican II fathers tell us that the Mass is the “summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; and at the same time, it is the fountain from which all her powers flow” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10). Isn’t that worth asking your friends to wait a little while?
     I don’t doubt that most of the natterers in the pews intend no disrespect.  Most have been mislead by an elite group of liturgical ideologues who really do want to de-emphasize the Divinity of Christ, and have been acculturated to a societal ethos that has made a fetish out of informality.  We all need to do our part to model appropriate reverence, and educate others (recall that “Instructing the Ignorant” is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy; this definitely qualifies).  We should also encourage our priests, many of whom apparently think that lay people are put off by reverence, formality, and the like.  Share with them resources like this post [here] from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf on ways to improve the celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass; I’m willing to bet that any church that followed Fr. Z’s advice from this article would be bursting at the seams.  The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and our profound encounter with Him in the Mass, is too big to ignore.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Confession Is Good For The Soul

Even the Pope needs to confess sometimes
     We human beings are slow learners; I am, at least.  It always seems to catch me by surprise when I do just what I did before, and get the same result.
     Allow me to be more specific.  My first job is in academia, so summer always has at least a bit of the flavor of those summer vacations we all used to experience as students: school's out! Yeah!  I do have a full-time job over the break at the retail store where I work part-time during the school year, but after all it is only one job for a few months, and a much less stressful one at that.  There is also beautiful weather, some beach days (hey, did I show you that picture of my feet in the surf?), and family events.  At the same time, there have been no shortage of reasons for stress and anxiety.  In other words, business as usual.
     And yet, beyond the usual difficulties and disappointments of life, as this summer wore on I experienced a growing sense of heaviness and fatigue.  Up until this past weekend, that is.  Up until then, I was working every Saturday, which precluded getting to confession at the regular times, and I never got around to making an appointment.  I should have learned by now that staying away from the confessional always makes things worse. After finally availing myself of the sacrament I’m still as stressed as ever, but the heaviness is gone; the (partly unconscious) awareness of the burden of sin that had been building for months, it seems, had been weighing me down.

    I’m not saying that confession is a sure-fire cure for the blues, and while I typically do feel a sense of relief afterwards, this very physical sense of liberation was unusual.  All I can conclude is that, this time, I received a spiritual consolation, a pure and un-earned bonus, to point me in the right direction.  It was a reminder of what I already knew, but in my muddle-headedness somehow forgot: that regular confession is an essential part of a healthy spiritual life.  I need forgiveness for sins already committed, but also the Grace to avoid sin in the present.  Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Handel: Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

We're giving Haydn a rest this week (after all, the poor fellow is 282 years old).  Instead, a piece from another composer whose name starts with "H", G. F. Handel, from his oratorio Solomon.  This is actually the second time I've posted a version of "The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba"; the first time, back on January 10th, it received exactly three (3) page views.  I think it's worth another go.

Raphael's "Queen of Sheba and Solomon"

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (24 August 2014)

         Welcome to another edition of “Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival”, where a varied collection of Catholic bloggers convene to share their posts for the week in a spirit of good fellowship, camaraderie, and mutual support (more or less).  The main gathering is here, at This That and the Other Thing under the kindly auspices of the Hostess with the Mostest, RAnn.
     It’s now late summer, which seems to lead to a slower pace here at Principium et Finis.  One post I didn’t get to publish was a tangent inspired by Fr. C. John McCloskey’s  review [here] of Rodney Stark’s book The Rise of Christianity.
     I’m not going to summarize here what Fr. McCloskey says – I encourage you to read his review (I myself intend to read Stark’s book at the earliest opportunity).  I will only say that Fr. McCloskey sees important lessons for us today in the experience of the Early Church, and specifically recommends the rediscovery of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.
     I was struck, however, by this passage from Fr. McCloskey’s article:

Adding to the dynamism of early Christianity, as a result of the social stigma of being a Christian and the danger of persecution and even martyrdom left Christianity largely free of what Stark refers to as the “free riders,” those who want to reap the benefits of religion without sharing in its sacrifices and commitments.  Perhaps we could say that among the first Christians during the first several centuries of the Faith, there was considerably more wheat than chaff.

     I have touched on this same idea, if indirectly,  a number of times; here, for instance, in a post about the (relatively) young Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) saying that the church in the future would become smaller but more faithful, and here, earlier this week, in discussing Russell Shaw’s idea of the “Assimilated Church”.  It was to this, first of all, that Fr. Ratzinger was referring: the fact that as the social advantages of public identification with the Church declined, and as the disadvantages grew, only the truly committed would remain.  We’ve seen that begin to play out since he first predicted it over four decades ago. Russell Shaw described the Assimilated Church as a Church that “will have been homogenized into the values of American secular culture and become part of it”.  A Church, in other words, of Stark’s “free riders”, which is a Church without much of a future. The decline in religious observance that we’ve seen over the past half century has been in large part due to the departure  of “free riders”  who no longer feel  that  there are compelling social reasons to remain.
     A more faithful Church is a good thing; more of our brothers and sisters in Christ lost, maybe forever, is not so good (and for most of us that includes literal brothers, sisters, parents, and children). But that’s not the whole story.  By the end of the decade of the 70’s, Church attendance in the U.S. had returned to about where it was in the 1930’s, where it stayed for a couple more decades, but in the last fifteen years has experienced  an even more precipitous drop [see here].  What has changed since the 1930’s is that we now live in a society that no longer holds up religious devotion as a positive attribute, and we have more children being raised in homes without even nominal religious ties.  The French Jesuit Henri de Lubac, reflecting on the atheistic Nazi and communist experiments of the twentieth century, said:

It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God.  What is true is that, without God, he can only organize it against man.

It’s beginning to look like Fr. de Lubac’s insight is as true of today’s “soft” totalitarianism as it was of the “hard” totalitarianism of the last century.  The mission of Christ’s Church is more urgent than ever.

Other posts for the week:

Monday:  The Haydn revival continues with "Franz Joseph Haydn, Te Deum in C" [here]

Tuesday:  I generally like Russell Shaw’s work, but he’s missing a lot of what’s happening in the “emerging Catholic subculture”: "To Be In, But Not Of, The World" [here]

Thursday:  We look at Vespers, or Evening Prayer in my latest post on the Liturgy of the Hours for laypeople: "Vespers: 2nd Hinge Of The Liturgy Of The Hours (LOH 7 Throwback Thursday Edition) [here]

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Vespers: 2nd Hinge Of The Liturgy Of The Hours (LOH 7 Throwback Thursday Edition)

     In today’s post on the Liturgy of the Hours I will discuss Evening Prayer, traditionally called Vespers ( from the Latin word for evening, vesper).  The traditional canonical hour for the prayer is 6:00 p.m., although in practice it can be prayed any time between 4:30 and 7:30 (or thereabouts).
     Evening Prayer is one of the two “Hinges” of the liturgy, along with its counterpart Morning Prayer (Lauds; see here).  Like Morning Prayer, Vespers begins (after the usual opening verse) with two Psalms and a canticle.  Here the canticle comes after the two Psalm readings (it comes in between the psalms in Lauds), and, whereas the canticle in Morning Prayer is from the Old Testament, in Vespers it’s from the New Testament (excluding the Gospels).  Next we find a short scripture reading, again from the New Testament, as opposed to Morning Prayer’s Old Testament reading.  After that there is a three-part responsory, yet again following the pattern found in Lauds.  As an example, the responsory for the Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent is:

            To you, O Lord, I make my prayer for mercy.
-          To you, O Lord, I make my prayer for mercy.

Heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.
-          I make my prayer for mercy.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
-          To you, O Lord, I make my prayer for mercy.

     After this comes the Gospel canticle.  Whereas in Morning Prayer we say the Canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictuslink), here we pray the Canticle of Mary (link), better known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55): “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord . . .”  Then, after a series of intercessions, the hour concludes with a closing prayer.

 The Visitation by Domenico Ghirlandaio
    There is much we can say about Vespers taken alone.  As is the case with all liturgical prayer, and the Divine Office not the least, it takes us out of ourselves so that our focus in prayer is directed outward to our Creator and his saving work. The  structure within each canonical hour, and our need to accommodate our observances to a schedule, even loosely,  remind us that everything is not about us: as St. Paul reminds us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” ( Romans 12:2).  That transformation needs to come from without, and from above.  We are united to our Christian forebears, and their Hebrew antecedents, in reciting the Psalms that they have been offering up to the Father for thousands of years; in saying the same responses and intercessory prayers along with countless others around the world, we unite with the entire Church in putting ourselves in the hands of God; finally, in the Magnificat  we join Mary in her song of praise and thanksgiving to God for the way in which he has manifested his power in  her life.
     Beyond that, we see an even greater dimension to Evening Prayer when we look at it in tandem with Morning Prayer.  As we have seen, Old Testament readings in the morning give way to New Testament readings in the evening.  The occasion for the Benedictus, the Gospel Canticle we pray at Lauds, is the birth of the last prophet under the Old Covenant, John the Baptist, but the focus of the canticle is on the Savior for whom he is the Forerunner (“. . . For you will go before the Lord to prepare his way . . .”);  at Vespers the Magnificat marks the first meeting of the Forerunner and the Messiah, when the unborn John “leaps with joy” at the approach of the Messiah (Luke 1:44), Himself in the Blessed Mother’s womb.  Through these two prayers we live out every day a microcosm of Salvation History, starting our day with God’s covenant with the Hebrews, with a final focus on its culminating figure, who points us toward the New Jersalem; in the evening we see the New Covenant, and in Mary’s Canticle the reality that the New is the Fulfillment of the Old.
     This last point, I think, is why the Church calls these two hours the “Hinges”; everything else revolves around them, and they draw the other hours together into s single fabric.  The different canonical hours are not simply a series of prayers said at intervals throughout the day, they are really one prayer that extends through the whole day,  and “sanctifies time” by conforming each day to the pattern of eternity.
     In my next post on the Liturgy of the Hours I will look at Compline, or Night Prayer.

To read the whole series go here.

Below are some resources for anyone interested in exploring the Liturgy of the Hours -

Websites: – This was the first website I encountered with the text of the LOH.  It does have the full text of all the daily prayers, although, at least in the free version available online, many of the translations are not the approved ones.  They do say that the translations in the App version are the standard ones. – Full tests of all the prayers, which are designed so that they can be printed as booklets – but you need to buy a subscription. – My favorite LOH website.  It contains the full approved translations of most of the canonical hours (there is only one hour for Daytime Prayer).  There are also audio versions of each hour which include recorded hymns and recitation of the prayers, either spoken or chanted.

There are various one-volume books entitled Christian Prayer that contain most of the Liturgy of the Hours.  The best choice available is this one [here], although it is not complete (particularly the Office of  Readings), and hasn’t been updated since 1976.  I prefer this one [here] from the Daughters of St. Paul, which contains everything except the long readings from the Office of Readings (which are available from the websites above).  It also dates from 1976, however, and, even worse, seems to be out of print.

The Gold Standard is the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours [here].  It’s all there, but it’s gonna cost you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

To Be In, But Not Of, The World

Shaw’s Thesis

Russell Shaw
      Everyone wants to know what Pope Francis is really up to.  Is he the warm and fuzzy fulfillment of the “Spirit of Vatican II”?  Is he really another John Paul II or Benedict XVI in “progressive” clothing?  Who knows?  Russell Shaw comes up with as plausible an answer as any – really, better than most.  The Pope, he says, wants “to reshape the Catholic Church as a Missionary Church” (“Wanted: An American Missionary Church – Soon” here at The Catholic Thing).  Shaw cites Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, in which the Pope says:

All of us are called to take part in this new missionary “going forth.” Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all “the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel” [20]

“This”, Shaw tells us, “should be taken seriously”.  But he also adds that “taking up the challenge of being a Missionary Church would be a far more demanding – and exhilarating – project than this one-dimensional version of Francis and the Church” (he’s referring to the fluffy, easy-going, “who am I to judge?” image of the Pope popular with progressive types both in the Church and in the secular media).
     I don’t doubt that Shaw is correct that Pope Francis intends to encourage a more missionary ethos in the Church; it is also true that putting this ethos into practice is no easy task.  The Pope, quite properly, has presented a general direction; he has not dictated a concrete program or detailed plan, which leaves room for Catholic commentators like Mr. Shaw (and me - and you, if you’d like) to toss out our own ideas. 

The Assimilated Church and the Fortress Church

     Shaw turns his discussion at this point to the Church in the United States (although this discussion can apply to westernized countries in general).  Here is how he characterizes the issue:

Taking him seriously also could be a matter of survival, or something close to it.  Certainly, unless American Catholicism remakes itself as a Missionary Church, actively engaged in outreach to the world, it could become a rapidly, and irreversibly, shrinking ecclesiastical entity.

     The alternatives to a missionary Church for American Catholics are two and only two: the Assimilated Church and the Fortress Church.

Shaw goes on to explain that

In the Assimilated Church, most Catholics will have been homogenized into the values of American secular culture and become parts of it.  Indeed, many American Catholics already have chosen this option . . .

The Fortress Church, on the other hand,

Is fundamentally different.  If this is to be the future, Catholics will have largely withdrawn – psychologically, spiritually, and even physically – from contact with secular culture, raising the ecclesiastical ramparts against its influence as they retreat.  The Fortress Church is already disturbingly evident in some elements of the new Catholic subculture that’s begun to emerge.  It is a survival tactic born of desperation.

By contrast, while American Catholicism as Missionary Church will also be committed to opposing secular values incompatible with the faith, it will work hard to preach the Gospel, attract adherents, and, where, possible, evangelize the culture itself.

This is where Mr. Shaw takes a wrong turn.  I agree with what he says about the Assimilated Church - one might argue that many, maybe most, American Catholics are there already.  It seems to me that in the case of the Fortress Church, however, he’s putting up a straw man.  I don’t doubt that such a thing is a possibility, a fortress mentality may well take hold in the case of some individuals or in isolated pockets of the Church, but what I’ve seen of the “emerging Catholic subculture” looks nothing like what Mr. Shaw is describing above.

The Valley Forge Gambit

     It’s hard for me to be specific here, because Shaw does not say what, specifically, he finds so alarming in that “subculture”.  I’m supposing that he means things such as homeschooling, doing away with television, attending the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and other apparent “retreats” from the societal norm. These things, however, don’t necessarily mean closing oneself off from the larger world.  In fact, just such measures may be necessary if one is to be an effective missionary to the world, which includes both Assimilated Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
     A historical analogy may help illustrate my point.  In 1776 George Washington led his large and enthusiastic but largely untrained army against a combined force of British regulars and Hessian mercenaries at the Battle of Brooklyn [here].  His inexperienced Continental Army was simply not prepared for the shock of its encounter with professional soldiers, and collapsed in a disastrous rout. After Washington was subsequently driven from New York, he withdrew his army to the relative protection of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Had Washington and his army stayed in Valley Forge, of course, the war would eventually have been lost.   Instead, temporarily safe from enemy attack his army was able to reform, refit (at least after Congress voted the funds) and receive solid military training under the supervision Friedrich Von Steuben, a European soldier who had served as an officer in Frederick the Great’s Prussian Army.  As a result, a much better prepared Continental Army met the British two years later at the Battle of Monmouth [here] and fought them to a standstill, and but for the inept leadership of one of Washington’s subordinates, General Charles Lee, might have won a decisive victory.  As it was, the British withdrew leaving Washington in possession of the battlefield.

Von Steuben drilling American troops at Valley Forge 

     This, I suggest, is a better analogy for what is happening among many American Catholics than Shaw’s fortress.  The culture at large has become toxic: anti-family, anti-morality . . . anti-God.  It is dangerous to immerse ourselves in it, deadly to allow our children to be formed by it.  We need to equip ourselves properly before going out into such a world, or else we’ll fare no better than the Continental Army did in the Battle of Brooklyn. In fact, we may be more likely to be converted by the world than we are to convert it.  We need some space and time in a healthier atmosphere, away from the temptations and onslaughts of the secular world.  We need to train ourselves in our faith, both its meaning and its practice.  We need our own Valley Forge, and perhaps the spiritual equivalent of a Von Steuben, before we can be that Missionary Church that Pope Francis is calling us to be.  And that's what the subculture that Shaw sees emerging is all about.

Did Someone Say “Clericalism”?

     Russell Shaw, who has been a fine observer of and commenter upon the Catholic scene in the United States for a long time, has got this one wrong because he only sees part of the picture.  He believes that our biggest problem is “clericalism” (!) in the form of a “passivity” that assumes that the ordained clergy will do all the heavy lifting:

Thus a plan of action designed for execution only or mainly by Church professionals won’t do the job.  Unfortunately, this is what we’re all too likely to get from the clericalized  cadres of today’s American Catholicism, indoctrinated as they are in the merits of lay ministry and cut off from the experience of a robust lay apostolate directed to engagement with the world.

With all due respect to Mr. Shaw, he seems completely unaware of the new ecclesial movements (Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, Focolare, etc.), composed mostly of lay people, and most of which have an explicit goal of better equipping the laity to witness to Christ “out in the world”.  He makes no mention of a whole Apologetics Industry that includes Catholic television, radio, print publications, and more online resources than can be listed here.  None of these resources, created and staffed overwhelmingly by lay persons, existed fifty years ago at the time of the Second Vatican Council.  I regularly listen to one Catholic radio program that at least once a week has programs restricted to calls from non-Catholics, or from Atheists, or pro-abortion or pro-gay marriage callers – and they never seem to run out of such callers.  That’s hardly a fortress mentality.  And it’s worth pointing out that homeschooled students tend to be more socially involved than the population as a whole, both as teens and adults (see here and here).

What Do You Want First, The Good News Or The Bad News?

     Am I saying that all is well, and that the Church in the United States is the picture of spiritual health?  No, indeed.  The statistics that Mr. Shaw cites to illustrate the decline of the Church are real and sobering:

According to the Official Catholic Directory, from 1998 tom 2013 the annual number of Catholic marriages dropped from 289,000 to 164,000; infant baptisms from just over 1 million to 763,000; enrollment in Catholic elementary and secondary schools from 2.7 million to barely 2 million; and enrollment in non-school religious education from 4.3 million to 3.4 million.

The logical end point of assimilation is to become so assimilated that one ceases to be Catholic altogether.  At the same time, there’s a growing core of lay Catholics who are committed to living a truly Christ-centered life, and who are likewise committed to bringing the faith in its fullness to both their fallen-away brethren and to the wider world.  They fit very nicely, in fact, Russell Shaw’s description of the Missionary Church: “committed to opposing secular values incompatible with the faith, [working] hard to preach the Gospel, attract adherents, and, where, possible, evangelize the culture itself.”

There lies the future of Catholicism.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Franz Joseph Haydn, Te Deum in C

I must yet again thank R.J. Stover for his piece [here] "Too Late Have I Loved Thee: On The Genius Of Franz Joseph Haydn" on the Catholic World Report Site.  Because of this article I've been listening to some fantastic music over the last few weeks, such as today's selection, a musical setting to the ancient hymn Te Deum. So, thanks again, R.J. Stover - but I'm still not clear on why we have to stop calling Haydn "Papa" . . .

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (17 August 2014)

Friday was the Feast of the Assumption
    Welcome once more to “Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival”.  Indeed, one might even call it a Catholic Blogfest (then again, one might not) in which various of us share our posts for the week, both with each other and with you. The main gathering is at This That and the Other Thing [here], in the capable hands of our fearless leader RAnn.

A Lesson Learned

     Here at Principium et Finis I’ve been learning that Summer isn’t the best blogging season, at least not this Summer.  A number of factors have conspired to keep me away from my computer (I hope you notice that I managed to avoid the overworked phrase “A Perfect Storm”).  One result has been that I have been including things in the “Sunday Snippets” posts that I had been trying to publish earlier in the week, but ran out of time.  That hasn’t really been a bad thing, since I like to make this post worth reading in its own right, and not just a laundry list of earlier pieces.  And by declaring someone the “Saint of the Week”, I can talk about him or her a few days after the official feast day without raising too many eyebrows, can’t I?

St. Maximilian Kolbe, Saint of the Week

     This week, unfortunately, I barely even started writing the Saint post before Sunday afternoon.  And that’s too bad, because this past Thursday was the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, one of the Great Saints of the past century, a Saint to whom I have a personal devotion, and one of the Patrons of this blog.  The good news is that there were many wonderful tributes on the internet to St. Maximilian (including some by other contributors to “Sunday Snippets” -  here’s the main site again!).  I’ll limit myself to a few brief comments.
St. Maximilian Kolbe
     Maximilian Kolbe was truly a great Saint.  A Conventual Franciscan, he was both a very learned and a very holy man, but at the same time had a wonderful way of connecting with ordinary people.  He made teaching the faith a major part of his religious mission, for which reason he founded the Militia Immaculatae,whose members are known as Knights of the Immaculata, Soldiers for Christ the King under the command of His Blessed Mother.  He also made a point of establishing publications to teach and evangelize, both in Europe and in Japan, where he served as a missionary in the city of Nagasaki in the years before World War II.  Back in his native Poland during the war, he was arrested and sent to the death camp at Auschwitz by the Nazis, where he died a martyr’s death, offering to die in the place of another prisoner.

     St. Maximilian is a Patron of this blog for several reasons.  His self-sacrificing death and refusal to accommodate himself to Nazism make him an inspiring model in a world that continues to be threatened by inhuman ideologies.  His sense that he and his companions were missionaries not only to non-Christians but also to a Christendom badly in need of re-Evangelization was a precursor to the New Evangelization proclaimed by St. Maximilian’s fellow Pole St. John Paul II (and a theme of the current Pope, as I will discuss in the coming week). Also, his commitment to taking full advantage of modern means of communication make him a natural Saint for Catholic bloggery (if he were with us today, he’d be all over the internet). Finally, as a Knight of the Immaculata myself, I see my blog as a small contribution on my part to St. Maximilian’s mission of evangelization.

The Week That Was

     In keeping with my observations at the top of the page, it was a slow week at Principium et Finis, but there were a few items of note:

 Monday – The Haydn revival continues, with another dramatic excerpt from Pap . . . er . . .the composer’s Mass in Time of War: “Joseph Haydn – Missa in Tempore Belli, ‘Agnus Dei’” [here]

Tuesday – This is the sort of piece that my Lovely Bride calls a “screed”, but I’m just telling it the way it is.  There are people out there (those Islamic State fellows in Iraq, for instance) who play hardball, as we say here in the U.S.A.  Do you think we can buy them off with Happy Talk and a Friendship Bracelet? “If They Do Not Rise To Meet That Challenge, They Will Lose Their Civilization” [here

Thursday – The Morning Prayer piece in my series on the Liturgy of the Hours: “Lauds: Our Daily Orientation (LOH 6 Throwback Thursday Edition)” [here]

RAnn’s Question of the Week: What did you do on your summer vacation?

I worked full time at Wal-Mart (not a bad second job, really), made numerous medical appointments to treat deer tick bites to both me and one of my sons (after a couple of months, my son was finally diagnosed with Lyme Disease), and did lots of family stuff, such as going to the beach (where I took cool photos of my feet in the surf), watching a lot of Marx Brothers movies and old episodes of Get Smart, and preparing my eldest son to go off to college (a Catholic college that is actually, well, Catholic). Oh, and a little blogging on the side . . . 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lauds: Our Daily Orientation (LOH 6 Throwback Thursday Edition)

     In my latest discussion on the Liturgy of the Hours I’ll take a look at Morning Prayer, traditionally known as Lauds.  While one may pray the Office  Readings first, Lauds is specifically designed to start us on our daily journey.

The Structure of the Office

"The Birth of St. John the Baptist" by Giuliano Bugiardini
    First, a few words on the structure of this office.   If it’s the first office of the day we start with the Invitatory [link]; otherwise, as in the other offices, we start with “Lord open my lips/and my mouth will proclaim your praise” followed by a “Glory be . . . “.   This is followed by the psalmody where, unlike the Office of Readings, we find two psalms with an Old Testament canticle of comparable length in between.  All three are followed the “Glory Be”, and are bracketed by antiphons.  The particular reading and antiphons follow a four-week cycle, and there may also be other antiphons for particular times, such as Holy Week or Easter.

     Next comes a brief scripture reading, normally only a couple of verses.  These vary more widely by the season (there are different readings for Advent, Christmas Season, Lent, Easter) and, often by particular Holy Days.  This is followed by a three-part responsory, which also varies according to the liturgical calendar.  For Friday of the Third Week of Lent, for example, the responsory is:

            God Himself will set me free, from the hunter’s snare.
                        - God Himself will set me free, from the hunter’s snare.
            From those who would trap me with lying words.
                        -And from the hunter’s snare.
            Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
                        - God Himself will set me free, from the hunter’s snare.

     The Canticle of Zechariah, or the Benedictus, always follows the responsory.  This Gospel Canticle is the song of praise proclaimed by Zechariah after his voice has been returned to him at the naming of his son, John the Baptist. It is also preceded and followed by antiphons determined by the liturgical calendar.
     The office ends with a series of intercessions and a closing prayer which, yet again, accord with the season or Holy Day.

Our Daily Orientation

     I have always appreciated the way in which this office “orients” me at the beginning of the day.  Any morning prayer or offering can be expected to direct our attention to our relationship with our creator, and Lauds certainly does that.  Moreover, the canticles are passages that we might not ordinarily see: the Canticle of Hannah, for instance,(1 Samuel 2:1-10), a precursor to Mary’s Magnificat; a canticle from the prophet Habakkuk, chapter 3, that includes the evocative line “decay invades my bones”; or the triumphant song chanted by the Hebrews after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1):

            I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant,
            Horse and chariot he has cast into the sea . . . .

This last is reputed to be one of the oldest (at least in its present form) passages in the Bible.
     But the office of Morning Prayer does more than that.  It does not just orient us as individuals to God: It orients us to the whole scope of Salvation history.  For instance, every Friday the penitential Psalm 51 opens the office:

            Have mercy on me God, in your kindness.
            In your compassion blot out my offense.
            O wash me more and more from my guilt
            And cleanse me from my sin.

This prayer and others in the Office remind us of the fact that on Friday we focus in a special way on Christ’s suffering for our salvation.
     We also start our day with a specific celebration of the liturgical season, or a particular solemnity or saint’s day, which has a much greater impact than if we should happen to remember it (or not) at some point during the course of the day.  The overall effect is that it brings us out of ourselves and unites us in prayer to the entire Church, which is saying the same prayer throughout the world, and which lives the same faith throughout time.  What better way to greet the new day?

Below are some resources for anyone interested in exploring the Liturgy of the Hours -

Websites: – This was the first website I encountered with the text of the LOH.  It does have the full text of all the daily prayers, although, at least in the free version available online, many of the translations are not the approved ones.  They do say that the translations in the App version are the standard ones. – Full tests of all the prayers, which are designed so that they can be printed as booklets – but you need to buy a subscription. – My favorite LOH website.  It contains the full approved translations of most of the canonical hours (there is only one hour for Daytime Prayer).  There are also audio versions of each hour which include recorded hymns and recitation of the prayers, either spoken or chanted.

There are various one-volume books entitled Christian Prayer that contain most of the Liturgy of the Hours.  The best choice available is this one [here], although it is not complete (particularly the Office of  Readings), and hasn’t been updated since 1976.  I prefer this one [here] from the Daughters of St. Paul, which contains everything except the long readings from the Office of Readings (which are available from the websites above).  It also dates from 1976, however, and, even worse, seems to be out of print.

The Gold Standard is the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours [here].  It’s all there, but it’s gonna cost you.