Archives for December 2007

Merry Christmas

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas, and that we all remember that, according to the Catholic liturgical calendar, Christmas is just beginning! While Christmas is over for secular America after the Christmas afternoon meal, we celebrate Christmastide through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 13. This period includes the feasts of the Holy Innocents, the Holy Family, Mary Mother of God, and more. I have posted the hymn “What Child Is This?” below, because I think the tune and lyrics are beautiful. I especially like verse two that connects the incarnation to the cross.

What Child is this who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary!

Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh;
Come peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise, the song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby;
Joy, joy, for Christ is born,
The babe, the son of Mary!

Photo taken by me on Dec. 23, 2007

The Vocation of the Nativity

Christ is born!
Glorify Him!

As the Nativity Season has now hit, I take time to wish you all a merry one!

I was thinking, while chatting with another contributor here, what the Nativity meant, that year, so long ago…

Mary had a vocation: to be the Theotokos, the God-Birther, the Mother of our God. What did this mean?

Well, for the previous 9 months, it meant the grievous risk of execution, should Joseph have chosen to put her out, or at best, being excluded from the community as a harlot… Not a happy thought.

Then, for the next several years, to live a life hunted by the crown. To go wherever her son’s safety required. To do what was needed. To help him be fully human. To do the things his body could not yet do. To feed and clothe him. To care for and nurture this most adept of children.

Then, for several years, spent in obscurity, to simply be mom to a precocious child who could kill wih a word, should he have chosen to. Oh, what a constant stress that could be!

And then, at his coming of age, to find him not where he “should” have been but teaching the rabbis and priests! Again, putting it all at risk.

And then, to take him down from the cross, body broken, naked, battered, and bloody. And to trust another to hurry him to a tomb.

Did she know?
How did she cope?

Joseph, too, had a vocation…
To keep a woman who bore a child not his own, to raise that child as his own, to flee with them from Herod, to let him experience being the one not in charge, and to finally let him go. We know little of his role past the temple… and not much about him, either. But his calling, as the angel came to him, was to change his life. And not just his, but all of our lives.

Vocations are many and varied…
Just because one isn’t called to be a priest, deacon, hermit or monastic does not mean one has no vocation.

Each of us has a role to play in the salvation of others, even if it is just singing joyfully that song one hates, but the parish loves. To be the best Christian we can be.

To know that, 2 milenia ago, God chose to beget his only son, who was both fully god and fully man, and to have him live as one of us for some 30 years… and then to be the last blood sacrifice required of mankind. God chose his own son to be sacrificed, knowing that he could not intervene in his own plan as he had for Abraham. God, the great I Am, had made the law, and now had to fulfill it. He did…

And so also, we, the poor banished children of Eve, take his mother as our own. And praise her willingness to take on the unknown risks as she did so long ago, culminating in the Holy Family.

So, I ask you, Brothers and Sisters, to pray for me, and that you find your vocation, that thing that God wants you to do to aid in the plan of salvation. Even if it is nothing more than to Give Glory to God by participating in the Divine Liturgies of our Holy Catholic Church, be it the Roman Mass, the Holy Quorbono, the DL of St Basil or St John, or any of the other expressions of our Catholic Faith.

And He is born unto us! God is now with us! We have found him in the cave at Bethlehem!

Pope Leo the Great on Advent Observance

And while all seasons are opportune for this duty, beloved, yet this present season is specially suitable and appropriate, at which our holy fathers, being Divinely inspired, sanctioned the Fast of [December], that when all the ingathering of the crops was complete, we might dedicate to God our reasonable service of abstinence, and each might remember so to use his abundance as to be more abstinent in himself and more open-handed towards the poor. For forgiveness of sins is most efficaciously prayed for with almsgiving and fasting, and supplications that are winged by such aids mount swiftly to God’s ears…

Pope Leo the Great, From Sermon XVI: On the Fast of the Tenth Month

The Immaculate Conception

Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, celebrating Mary’s conception free of the stain of original sin. The Immaculate Conception is unique to Catholicism. This makes it one of the most difficult Catholic doctrines for Protestants exploring the Catholic faith to accept, and a target for anti-Catholic polemics. Since the Orthodox do not have a theology of Mary’s immaculate conception, this is a point of division with them as well. Of course, the Orthodox do believe Mary was immaculate by the time she gave birth to Jesus (just look at the titles of Mary listed in the Akathist Hymn, and tell me the Orthodox agree with the Protestants on this issue!). I admit that the Immaculate Conception was, with papal infallibility, one of the last Catholic dogmas I accepted before entering the Church.

Mark Shea has written an excellent piece on the Immaculate Conception that I highly recommend (thanks to Dave Hartline for linking to it). He quotes from a variety of Church Fathers who praise Mary as immaculate, and answers common objections to the dogma. However, I think this is the best quote of the whole piece:

The second red herring is that there’s some sort of cutoff date for the development of doctrine. In other words, some people have the vague idea that the Church can legitimately take three centuries to iron out what “Jesus is Lord” means, but it can’t legitimately take eighteen centuries to iron out what “Kaire, Kecharitomene!” (“Hail, Grace-Filled One!”) means.

As a former Anglican, I can attest to the widespread belief in some sort of magical cut-off date for legitimate doctrinal development, which of course includes Nicaea and Chalcedon, but excludes the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, and transubstantiation. Granted, the first three were declared dogmas after the Church of England had broken off from the Catholic Church, but nonetheless I think Shea’s point remains. For some, the elusive cutoff date is the fourth ecumenical council (e.g. most Protestants and Calvinist Anglicans), and for others it is the seventh. Others end with the Patristic period (and what constitutes the end of this period is debatable). Others like the Middle Ages, just not too far into the Middle Ages. Still others gladly accept modern Protestant developments (women’s ordination, etc), but balk at Catholic developments after the Patristic era. Of course people and churches are free to believe what they want, but my point (based on Shea’s) is that if you allow contraception, gay marriage, and women’s ordination, but get on the Immaculate Conception because it is too “new,” I think a reexamination is in order. The Immaculate Conception develops from Biblical and Patristic themes and ideas about Mary, whereas the others are innovations having their root not in Catholic or Orthodox thought, but the ideas and practices of heretical sects of the Patristic era and 19th and 20th century Protestantism.

I wish everyone a blessed Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. And if our Eastern Catholic contributors have the time, I would love to hear their take on this, hint, hint.

Wishing Everyone a Blessed Advent 2007

It is hard to believe that Advent is already upon us! I always remember Advent as a very special time growing up. It was one of the few parts of the liturgical year that we celebrated outside of Christmas and Easter. As a child, I recall looking forward to praying around the family Advent wreath, and taking part in the same observance at church. Advent always had a certain “mystery” about it, and as I got older, I yearned for this sort of mystery year-round, not just during Advent and Christmas. May everyone’s Advent be meaningful and full of hope, as we liturgically prepare for the first birth of Christ, and await his second coming in glory.

I would like to remind our readers that we have quite a few Advent resources on our sister site, ChurchYear.Net that you may find helpful:

All About Advent
Advent Prayers
Advent Hymns and Canticles
Advent Wreath Prayers and Scripture Readings
Eastern Hymns for the Pre-Feast of the Nativity