Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday

Remember, man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.
Our forty days of penance commence with the reception of blessed ashes. The words from the book of Genesis (3:19) help us to think of the shortness of life, of our last end, and of that moment when each shall come before God to be judged. "Remember," wrote Saint Teresa of Avila, "that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; that there is only one glory, which is eternal."

Since Old Testament times, ashes have been a symbol of sorrow for sin. "For I did eat ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping." (Psalm 101:10) In the early Church, only "public" sinners, those guilty of murder, adultery, or idolatry, who had formally repented, would receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. During Lent, they would humbly kneel at the doors of the church, not entering until they were given absolution on Holy Thursday. The famous liturgist, Abbot Gueranger, gives a description of the ceremony "of the Wednesday in Quinquagesima:"
Before the Mass of the day began, they [the penitents] presented themselves at the church....The priests received the confession of their sins, and then clothed them in sackcloth, and sprinkled ashes on their heads...the clergy and the faithful prostrated themselves and recited aloud the seven penitential psalms. A procession, in which the penitents walked barefooted, then followed; and on its return, the bishop then addressed these words to the penitents: 'Behold, we drive you from the doors of the church by reason of your sins and crimes, as Adam, the first man, was driven out of paradise....' The clergy then sang several responsories, taken from the book of Genesis....The doors were shut, and the penitents were not to pass the threshold until Maunday Thursday, when they were to come to receive absolution. (The Liturgical Year, Vol IV , p 204-205)
During the Middle Ages, it became the custom for all of the faithful to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. We are blessed that so many indulgences can now be gained with very little effort on our part. How light are the penances now demanded of us; what little fasting is required of us! Perhaps the best penance is the patient and loving endurance of hardships and sorrows which come our way; those unchosen mortifications can be heavy enough. Interiorly, we can share the contrition of the brave penitents of old by receiving the ashes with great love for Christ and a determination to follow Him, no matter what. It is time for a new beginning, and for trying, again, to be a disciple.

Lent is like a retreat for the entire church in which all Christians strive more vigorously against the world, the flesh, and the devil, our spiritual enemies. The three works which Holy Mother Church exhorts us to perform during Lent in order to overcome those enemies are prayer, fasting, and alms giving. Through prayer, we grow in strength to conquer the evil one. It is important to make more time for prayer during Lent because it arouses compunction, charity, humility, and other dispositions without which the other two practices would be empty of merit.

We fast in order to imitate Our Lord's forty day fast in the desert. Unlike Him, we need to tame the concupiscence of the flesh, acquire self-discipline, and atone for our personal sins. It was by breaking God's commandment to abstain from eating a certain fruit that Adam and Eve lost the earthly paradise. Both Moses and Elias fasted for forty days before encountering the living God. (Exodus 24:18 and 3 Kings 19:8)

In former times, every day of Lent (except for Sundays and first-class feasts) was a fast day. Now, only two fast days remain -- Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are also days of abstinence from meat, as are all Fridays of Lent. Many people think that the Second Vatican Council did away with Friday abstinence, but it did not. Every Friday of the year is a day of abstinence from meat unless the bishops of the country decide to substitute another form of penance. In the United States, it is up to every individual to perform some other Friday penance if they are not able to abstain from meat. However, every Friday of Lent remains a day of strict abstinence.

The third Lenten good work is almsgiving, by which we overcome the "world," that is, the love of riches, luxuries, and honors. Through almsgiving we not only help the poor, the missions, and the temporal needs of the Church, but we mortify any inordinate desires for material things. By having Masses offered, our alms can assist the "Church Suffering" in purgatory. As the aged Tobias said to his son: "Prayer is good with fasting and alms more than more than to lay up treasures of gold. For alms delivereth from death, and...purgeth away sins." (Tobias 12:8-9) As Jesus commands in the Gospel for Ash Wednesday: "Let not your right hand know what your left hand is doing." (Matthew 6:3) It is most important that all our good works are accompanied by charity, humility, and the desire to please God alone.

(Artwork courtesy of Micki)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday is the feast of the Holy Face of Jesus. Don Marco has some excellent meditations on this beautiful devotion. To quote:
Face and Person are synonymous, not only by reason of the Greek etymology, but even more because there is nothing more personal, nothing more precious, nothing dearer than the face of a loved one. The psalmist’s cry, “I long to see Thy Face” (Ps 26:8), is the cry of every lover to his beloved, the cry of child to parent, of parent to child, and of friend to friend. The most poignant moment in the rites of death and burial comes when the face of the deceased is covered for the last time. We cherish photographs of those we love, but what is a photograph without a face? The relationships that we call “heart to heart” never tire of the “face to face.”
The Holocaust that took place during the Second World War was, at the deepest level, an attempt to erase the dignity and uniqueness of each person, a sin against the Face of Christ, the Holy Face mirrored in millions of Jewish faces. Every sin against the dignity of the human person is a sin against the Face of Christ. Every act of violence, irreverence, or scorn directed against the human person is a sin against the Face of Christ. The abortion that prevents a child’s face from seeing another human face in the light of day is a sin against the Face of Christ. Torture and cruel ridicule are sins against the Face of Christ. The hard, stony gaze that looks at a person without seeing him is a sin against the Face of Christ. The eyes that judge, the look that condemns, is a sin against the Face of Christ. The refusal to see Christ in the faces of the sick, the stranger, and the immigrant is a sin against his Holy Face.
Reparation is the prayer that seeks to make whole what is fragmented by putting love where there is no love, by gazing with reverence upon what has been disdained, by allowing our eyes to rest on “One from whom men hide their faces” (Is 53:3). The extraordinary thing about the prayer of reparation is that it is healing not only for the one offended but for the offender as well. If by sin we offend the Face of Christ, by reparation to the Holy Face we are healed of our sins. “Thou has set our iniquities before thee,” says the psalmist, “our secret sins in the light of Thy Face” (Ps 89:8).

The prayer of reparation is most at home in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The light that shines from the Eucharistic Face of Christ heals us sinners, and heals those against whom we have sinned. The love we bring to the Eucharistic Face of Christ reaches every human face. The prayer of reparation is the veil of Veronica lifted to the face of Christ in His Passion; it is the hand that seeks to wipe away every disfiguring stain of filth, of blood, and of tears. (Read more.)
The image to the left is the representation of the imprint of Our Lord's face on the Veronica veil, as it is venerated in the Carmelite Order, and propagated by Sister Marie de Saint Pierre and Venerable Leo Dupont.

Here is the prayer of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux to the Holy Face:
O Jesus, who in Thy bitter Passion didst become "the most abject of men, a man of sorrows," I venerate Thy Sacred Face whereon there once did shine the beauty and sweetness of the Godhead; but now it has become for me as if it were the face of a leper! Nevertheless, under those disfigured features, I recognize Thy infinite Love and I am consumed with the desire to love Thee and make Thee loved by all men. The tears which well up abundantly in Thy sacred eyes appear to me as so many precious pearls that I love to gather up, in order to purchase the souls of poor sinners by means of their infinite value. O Jesus, whose adorable Face ravishes my heart, I implore Thee to fix deep within me Thy divine image and to set me on fire with Thy Love, that I may be found worthy to come to the contemplation of Thy glorious Face in Heaven. Amen.
Another site with everything about the Holy Face devotion is HERE.And more HERE.

Here is a formula from the ancient Ambrosian liturgy, as quoted by Abbot Gueranger in The Liturgical Year for Shrove Tuesday:
Sweet is this present life, but it passes away; terrible, O Christ is thy judgment, and it endures forever. Let us, therefore, cease to love what is unstable, and fix our thought on what is eternal: saying: Christ, have mercy upon us!
Now the time has come to go into the desert, the desert of Lent.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Spring of Lourdes

The stream of the river maketh the city of God joyful: the most High hath sanctified his own tabernacle. (Psalm 45:5)
On February 25, 1858 St. Bernadette was instructed by "the Lady" to dig in the dirt near the grotto of Massabielle, the town dump, and "drink from the spring." Bernadette humbly complied, in spite of the mockery of the crowd; a spring did bubble up on the spot where she dug, and it flows to this day. What is more, there have been many miraculous cures connected with bathing in or drinking from the water of the spring, some of which have been formally recorded. Although it is not an intrinsic part of the pilgrimage, thousands of people still line up every year in order to be plunged into the icy waters of Lourdes. The spring has been channeled into several large baths in which people can immerse themselves. Most of the healings do not occur at the baths themselves but during the Eucharistic procession which takes place every afternoon. Those seeking healing of any kind, be it spiritual, emotional or physical, are encouraged to make going to confession and receiving holy communion a part of their pilgrimage. Bathing in the spring is ultimately to be seen as a symbol of the renewal of one's baptismal commitment to Christ.

Quinquagesima Sunday

It is Quinquagesima Sunday. According to New Advent:
The period of fifty days before Easter. It begins with the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, called Dominica in Quinquagesima....
For many early Christians it was the beginning of the fast before Easter....For some, Quinquagesima marked the time after which meat was forbidden....In many places this Sunday after and the next two days were used to prepare for Lent by a good confession; hence in England we find the names Shrove Sunday and Shrovetide.
As the days before Lent were frequently spent in merry-making, Benedict XIV by the Constitution "Inter Cetera" (1 Jan., 1748) introduced a kind of Forty Hours' Devotion to keep the faithful from dangerous amusements and to make some reparation for sins committed.
In the words of Dom Gueranger for Quinquagesima Sunday:
We are commanded to use this world as if we used it not; to have an abiding conviction of our not having here a lasting city, and of the misery and danger we incur when we forget that death is one day to separate us from everything we possess in this life.
~from Abbot Gueranger's The Liturgical Year, Vol. IV
More HERE.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Seven Sundays of St. Joseph

A devotion which begins today. From Aleteia:
Whatever the origins may be, a devotion was developed where the seven sorrows and seven joys of Joseph became the focus of meditation on the seven Sundays preceding his feast on March 19. The first Sunday of these meditations is typically either the last Sunday of January or the first Sunday of February.

Below are the following joys and sorrows of St. Joseph, along with their respective passages in scripture. One approach to these Sundays is to read each passage and consider how Joseph would have felt in the situation. This is a form of lectio divina or “divine reading,” where you are able to put yourself into the scene and see Joseph’s expressions during each episode.

When praying the Seven Sundays devotion, it is customary to pray for a specific intention, asking St. Joseph’s powerful intercession for your needs.
1st Sunday
Sorrow (Matthew 1:19) The Doubt of St. Joseph
Joy (Matthew 1:20) The Message of the Angel
2nd Sunday
Sorrow (Luke 2:7) The Poverty of Jesus’ Birth
Joy (Luke 2:10-11) The Birth of the Savior
3rd Sunday
Sorrow (Luke 2:21) The Circumcision
Joy (Matthew 1:25) The Holy Name of Jesus
4th Sunday
Sorrow (Luke 2:34) The Prophecy of Simeon
Joy (Luke 2:38) The Effects of the Redemption
5th Sunday
Sorrow (Matthew 2:14) The Flight into Egypt
Joy (Isaiah 19:1) The Overthrow of the Idols of Egypt
6th Sunday
Sorrow (Matthew 2:22) The Return from Egypt
Joy (Luke 2:39) Life with Jesus and Mary at Nazareth
7th Sunday
Sorrow (Luke 2:45) The Loss of the Child Jesus
Joy (Luke 2:46) The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple
(Read more.)

Sexagesima Sunday

Scott Richert discusses the significance. To quote:
Sexagesima Sunday is the second Sunday before the start of Lent, which makes it the eighth Sunday before Easter. Traditionally, it was the second of three Sundays (Septuagesima is the first and Quinquagesima is the third) of preparation for Lent.
Sexagesima literally means "sixtieth," though it only falls 56 days before Easter. It most likely takes its name from Quinquagesima Sunday, which is 49 days before Easter, or 50 if you count Easter itself.
When the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar was revised in 1969, the three pre-Lenten Sundays were removed; they are now denominated simply as Sundays in Ordinary Time. Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima are all still observed in the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass. (Read entire post.)
Here is some guidance on lectio divina from Fr. Mark for Sexagesima week.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Lourdes Novena

It begins today.
O ever Immaculate Virgin, Mother of Mercy, Health of the Sick, Refuge of Sinners, Comfort to the Afflicted, you know my wants, my troubles, my sufferings. Deign to cast upon me a look of mercy. By appearing in the Grotto of Lourdes, you were pleased to make it a privileged sanctuary, whence you dispense your favors; and already many sufferers have obtained the cure of their infirmities, both spiritual and corporal. I come, therefore, with the most unbounded confidence to implore your maternal intercession. Obtain, O loving Mother, the granting of my requests. Through gratitude for favors, I will endeavor to imitate your virtues that I may one day share your glory. (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.)
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!
Saint Bernadette, pray for us!
 Petitions can be sent directly to Lourdes.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Candlemas Day


Adorn thy bridal chamber, O Sion, and receive Christ the King. Salute Mary, the gate of Heaven; for she beareth the King of Glory, Who is the new Light....

Antiphon for feast of the Presentation of the Lord

On the fortieth day after Christmas we celebrate the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, where He is offered by His Mother and St Joseph to the Eternal Father for the sins of the world. Many prophecies were fulfilled that day, unknown at the time except to Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, all persons of prayer and of special consecration to God. In a time of great darkness there was suddenly and quite publicly a great light, to be received only by those whose hearts were open. A small Child is the ultimate sacrifice for the redemption of humanity, but He is not alone; He is with His family. The Holy Family stand between us and utter chaos and despair. Like the Child Jesus, we do not make our offering alone, we make it with Mary and Joseph, we make it in the context of our own families.
Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; and thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed. --St. Luke 2:34-35
 The "Purification of Our Lady" as the feast is traditionally called, is a feast of the Virgin as well as the Virgin's Son. We marvel at the humility of Immaculate Mary who submits to the ritual of purification for all Jewish mothers, although she herself had no need to be purified. It is also known as Candlemas Day because since early times, candles have been blessed and carried in procession in honor of Christ, the Light of the World.

At Christmas, we adored Him with the shepherds at dawn; at Epiphany, we rejoiced in the brightness of His manifestations to the nations; at Candlemas, with the aged Simeon, we take Him into our arms. With the prophetic words of Simeon, the day also becomes a preparation for Lent and the Passion of Our Lord. We must offer ourselves with Jesus to the Father; we must embrace our own purification.
 

This feast day links Christmas with Lent, the joyful mysteries with the sorrowful mysteries. Mary's Heart is pierced as Simeon's prophecy is uttered, for a mother suffers for her child, especially when that Child is God. Fr Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D. wrote so magnificently of this feast in his book Divine Intimacy:
O Jesus, through the hands of Mary, I wish to offer myself today with You to the eternal Father. But You are a pure, holy, and Immaculate Host, while I am defiled with misery, and sin....O Virgin Most pure, lead me along the way of a serious and thorough purification; accompany me yourself, so that my weakness will not make me faint because of the roughness of the road.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

St. Brigid of Kildare

It is the feast of the great Irish abbess, St. Brigid of Kildare. During the fall of Rome and before the rise of Islam, as Europe descended into chaos, Brigid built a center of learning, contemplation, art, and scholarship that would last a thousand years. To quote:
Born in 451 or 452 of princely ancestors at Faughart, near Dundalk, County Louth; d. 1 February, 525, at Kildare. Refusing many good offers of marriage, she became a nun and received the veil from St. Macaille. With seven other virgins she settled for a time at the foot of Croghan Hill, but removed thence to Druin Criadh, in the plains of Magh Life, where under a large oak tree she erected her subsequently famous Convent of Cill-Dara, that is, "the church of the oak" (now Kildare), in the present county of that name. It is exceedingly difficult to reconcile the statements of St. Brigid's biographers, but the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Lives of the saint are at one in assigning her a slave mother in the court of her father Dubhthach, and Irish chieftain of Leinster. Probably the most ancient life of St. Brigid is that by St. Broccan Cloen, who is said to have died 17 September, 650. It is metrical, as may be seen from the following specimen:
Ni bu Sanct Brigid suanach
Ni bu huarach im sheire Dé,
Sech ni chiuir ni cossens
Ind nóeb dibad bethath che. (Saint Brigid was not given to sleep,
Nor was she intermittent about God's love;
Not merely that she did not buy, she did not seek for
The wealth of this world below, the holy one.)
More on the abbey she founded here and here.

St. Brigid is the patroness of two characters in my novel The Paradise Tree.
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