Archives for December 2006

Merry Christmastide!

I pray that everyone is having a blessed and happy Christmas season. Below are lyrics from one of my favorite Christmas carols, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” written by Christina Rossetti in 1872.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; But His mother only, in her maiden bliss, Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Gloria in Excelsis Deo!

Christ is Born!

…the whole body of the faithful confess that they believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. By which three statements the devices of almost all heretics are overthrown. For not only is God believed to be both Almighty and the Father, but the Son is shown to be co-eternal with Him, differing in nothing from the Father because He is God from God, Almighty from Almighty, and being born from the Eternal one is co-eternal with Him; not later in point of time, not lower in power, not unlike in glory, not divided in essence: but at the same time the only begotten of the eternal Father was born eternal of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. And this nativity which took place in time took nothing from, and added nothing to that divine and eternal birth, but expended itself wholly on the restoration of man who had been deceived: in order that he might both vanquish death and overthrow by his strength, the Devil who possessed the power of death. For we should not now be able to overcome the author of sin and death unless He took our nature on Him and made it His own, whom neither sin could pollute nor death retain. Doubtless then, He was conceived of the Holy Spirit within the womb of His Virgin Mother, who brought Him forth without the loss of her virginity, even as she conceived Him without its loss.

(Pope St. Leo the Great, Letter 28 (aka “The Tome of Leo“)

Christmas is Almost Here

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O Key of David

Dec. 19, Vespers:

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis
et nemo claudit, claudis et nemo aperuit: veni et educ
vinctum de domo carceris sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David, Scepter of the House of Israel, who opens and
no one shuts, who shuts and no one opens: Come and lead the
captive from prison, the one seated in darkenss and the shadow
of death!

O Root of Jesse

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt regos os suum,
quem gentes deprecabuntur:
Veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare!

O Root of Jesse,
Standing as Sign for the people,
before Whom kings keep silence,
Whom the nations will adore:
Come to free us – delay no more!

Putting the “O” in Advent

“O Wisdom, proceeding out of the mouth of the Most High…come and teach us the way of prudence.”
– the O-Antiphon for 16 Dec.

At Vespers this past Friday evening (for those of the Western Tradition) the O-Antiphons began. These fairly ancient verses are, by custom, chanted (or recited) right before the “Magnificat” at Vespers. Sung each evening from 16 Dec. through 23 Dec., these antiphons
celebrate some attribute of the One whose birth we will soon commemorate – Christ the Wisdom of God, Christ the Lawgiver and Redeemer of Israel, Christ David’s heir, Christ the Harrower of Hell et al. While many Catholics and Protestants may not be familiar (any more) with the Antiphons in their Divine Office form, they will surely be familiar with the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” each verse of which is a paraphrase of an antiphon.

As an enhancement to daily devotions, whether alone or with others, I will, starting today, write out each antiphon for that day’s Vespers in both Latin and English. I hope that they will be a meaningful addition to your daily prayers. (There is absolutely no reason why an Orthodox Christian or a Byzantine Catholic may not use these Antiphons too. A suggested place to insert them would be either right after the Trisagion Prayers or as antiphons before the evening Psalms.)

For Vespers, Sunday, 17 Dec.:

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moyse in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et in ei in Sina legem dedisti: Veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave the Law on Sinai’s height: Come to redeem us with outstretched arm!

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Today I got the following email with an attachment from a friend of mine who is not Catholic wanting to know the veracity of its claims. Apparently, not knowing many Catholics, she thinks we all are well versed in such things. It stumped me.

“Ok, my Catholic Friend…Someone sent this to me today – Is it true?? I figured you’d know…

LT”

The History Behind “The 12 Days Of Christmas”

There is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled us. What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas? From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning:the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality, which the children could remember.

1. The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

2. Two turtledoves were the Old and New Testaments

3. Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.

4. The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark,Luke & John.

5. The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

6. The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

7. Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

8. The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

9. Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

10. The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.

11. The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

12. The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed.

So there is your history for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that lovely but strange song became a Christmas Carol… so pass it on if you wish.

This was all news to me. And seemed like odd news, but I couldn’t put my finger on it!

When in doubt, google it out!

When stories like that cross through my inbox, I have a tendency to investigate. It is easy to do. Clip and paste a distinctive line of text from the email, open a google.com search, and then do a search. In this instance I chose “From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted” By putting it in quotes, you can sometimes find the original text on a website.

Well doing so yielded over two dozen websites that reprinted the story. One in particular caught my attention:

http://lighthousepatriotjournal.wordpress.com/

That site quotes Father Hal Stockert although it wrongly calls him “Friar Hal Stockert” In fact, I met Fr. Hal at a priest’s funeral once. He is a Byzantine Catholic parish priest from (at the time) NY state, not a friar, but that is likely a typo. Some of you may know him from his writings that appear in This Rock magazine published by Catholic Answers or his work on the CIN (Catholic Information Network) online. Here is Stockert, as quoted at that site:

“I found this information while I was researching for an entirely unrelated project which required me to go to the Latin texts of the sources pertinent to my research. Among those primary documents there were letters from Irish priests, mostly Jesuits, writing back to the motherhouse at Douai-Rheims, in France, mentioning this purely as an aside, and not at all part of the main content of the letters. “

Yet at Stockert’s own site: http://www.cin.org/twelvday.html

We find the following in a post-script which presumably could have been written AFTER the Light House Patriot Journal website quotation. Given there are no dates, we cannot be certain!:

P.S. It has come to our attention that this tale is made up of both fact and fiction. Hopefully it will be accepted in the spirit it was written. As an encouragement to people to keep their faith alive, when it is easy, and when any outward expressions of their faith could mean their life. Today there are still people living under similar conditions, may this tale give them courage, and determination to use any creative means at their disposal to keep their faith alive.

Now it is in reference to Stockert’s contribution and the claims of the song that finally lead me to Snopes.com. Why I didn’t start there, I don’t know. I usually do when I get emails – especially the odd stories about kids with cancer that want me to send a chain letter. You know the nonsense.

That availed me to the following link:

http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/12days.asp

Well it seems the good people at Snopes.com had already heard all of these rumors and have judged the email to NOT be credible citing lack of evidence some 8 years ago back in 1998. They had contacted Fr. Stockert and he was unable to produce any notes or research, owing to notes on antiquated software & water damage to papers. They conclude – and not unfairly – that evidence that cannot be examined is no evidence at all. Fair enough.

But the main arguments of the Snopes writers seems to be two: 1) a lack of history to positively demonstrate the claims and 2) Given the differences between Anglicanism and Catholicism, the alleged “hidden meanings” seem, at best, to be unnecessary.

What do they mean by the latter argument? Well the “hidden meanings” are NOT differences that separate Anglicans and Catholics. These “hidden meanings” bear no catechetical nature to educate an underground Catholic on tenants distinctive to the Catholic faith. Rather bluntly, any pious Anglican would be familiar with Jesus Christ, Old and New Testaments, eight beatitudes, Ten Commandments, etc. No Catholic would have to hide this information lest he or she be “found out” and no Anglican would have trouble openly singing about these things.

Now if the song were to be “One Pope of Rome, Seven Sacraments, Nineteen Ecumenical Councils”, etc. (For those paying close attention, the Catholic Church had only had 19 by the time of the carol’s writing!) It might be another story!
In the end it seems like a nice pious thought and might serve well as a mnemonic device for Christians of any stripe wishing to think of these things when thinking of their Christian faith, but evidence that the familiar carol is MORE than we think it is – a fun song to sing (especially when we all scream “FIVE GOLDEN RINGS!” – well the evidence just isn’t there to support it.
Of course, in the end, it could be just as well if we take time to consider WHAT are the Twelve Days of Christmas. Wikipedia tells us:

The Twelve Days of Christmas and the associated evenings of those twelve days (Twelve-tide), are the festive days from the evening after Christmas Day (December 25) through Christian Epiphany on (January 6). December 26 (St. Stephen’s Day) is the first day of Christmas, then December 27 is the second day of Christmas, and so on until January 6 which is the 12th day of Christmas. Christmas Day, December 25, is therefore not one of the twelve days of Christmas.

Really, given how very rushed we feel during the days leading up to Christmas with shopping, baking sending cards and parties, we as Christians might take an interest in using these 12 nights AFTER December 25th to meditate in more spiritual ways on the gift of the incarnation given for the salvation of all mankind some 2 millenia ago. So leave that tree up and just relax.

Of course, if you were Greek Catholic or Greek Orthodox, you would leave the tree up until February 2d, The Feast of The Presentation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Temple. However, if you don’t live in a neighborhood that is a bastion of like-minded Byzantines, the neighbors might just think you are a little weird.

Merry Twelve Days of Christmas to you and yours!

-A Simple Sinner

The Immaculate Conception

Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. May everyone enjoy this blessed solemnity by imitating the holiness of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While we do not share this feast in common with most other Christians, we do share a basic understanding of Mary’s sinlessness with the East, and a strong veneration of Mary with many high-church Protestants. May this be a start of unity!