ponticianus

a pilgrim and friend of God.

On Liturgical Calendars

Sabbato infra Hebdomadam V post Octavam Pentecostes
Festum Sancti Vincentii a Paulo Confessoris (-1969)
19 July 2014

Today is the Saturday, the sabbath (sabbatum) of the Christian week, which falls before Our Lord’s day (Dominica [Diem]). In this way, Saturday is the final day of the Christian week.

In the older Roman calendar, today also marked the (third-class) feast of Saint Vincent de Paul, a 16-17th century priest and worker of great mercies. Since the 1969 revisions by His Holiness Pope Paul VI, Saint Vincent’s day, now a memorial, has been moved to September 27th, the date of his earthly death and birth, as the Church holds, into Heaven everlasting.

Calendars in general can be confusing. The Liturgical Calendar, which documents the many solemnities, feasts, and memorials of the Church is something that I have always been drawn to and attempted to understand in some capacity. This capacity is somewhat complicated when you factor in the many waves of revisions the Christian Calendar has undergone in the course of history.

For most of my life since my conversation and reception into the Roman Catholic Church, I have attended to the most recent revision, that of Pope Paul VI’s motu propio “Mysterii Paschalis” (14 Feb 1969). A complication has arisen, however, when back in May I purchased a four-volume set of the monastic breviary, once possessed by a Benedictine sister.

The title pages in full: Breviarium Monasticum. Pauli V. et Urbani VIII. S. Pontificium Auctoritate Recognitum. Pro Omnibus Sub Regula. SS. Patris Nostri Benedicti Militantibus [Monastic Breviary, recognized by the authority of Popes Paul V and Urban VIII. For all (the Church) Militant under the Rule of Our Most Holy Father Benedict).

Sabbato ad Laudes

The calendar in this Breviary publication dates to before the Paul VI’s revisions, which state that today is Saint Vincent’s Day. No feast, solemnity, or memorial occupies July 19th. (It should be noted that Saturdays on which no feasts fall are marked as “an optional memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Further, the memorial is a remembrance of the maternal example and discipleship of the Blessed Virgin Mary who, strengthened by faith and hope, on that great Saturday on which Our Lord lay in the tomb, was the only one of the disciples to hold vigil in expectation of the Lord’s resurrection; it is a prelude and introduction to the celebration of Sunday, the weekly memorial of the Resurrection of Christ; and it is a sign that the ‘Virgin Mary is continuously present and operative in the life of the Church.’” This is certainly no bad idea.)

The Monastic Breviary also attends to an older form of praying the psalter in one week, vis-à-vis the Liturgy of the Hours, which spreads the psalter over four weeks. The latter also attends to the most recent calendrical revisions. The more condensed from of the Psalter in Latin was the primary reason for purchasing the breviary. Not only this but the Monastic Psalter itself is pre-Tridentine (ca. 540: link).

Were I to belong to a Traditional Latin Mass parish, where the older form(s) of the Roman Calendar were still held and celebrated, I imagine I would not have any difficulty in moving forward in this. But I do not. Sacred Heart Cathedral, it is true, does host a low Mass the first Sunday of each month, and I, along with a friend, do have unique dreams that Sacred Heart would become a Latin Mass parish, once Holy Name of Jesus, the proposed new cathedral for the Diocese of Raleigh, was dedicated, but I do not believe or have any good reason that it will. The only locus for this strange and unique hope is that Sacred Heart was one of the few parishes in the area before the liturgical revisions to celebrate the old Mass. Perhaps one day it might again, or at least be open to a weekly celebration of the Extraordinary Form, and not just a monthly occasion of the lovely and drawing form of Our Lord’s sacrifice.

Sister Nature

(The Wayfaring, 15 May, 2013)

This last Tuesday I hiked up Mount Mitchell, North Carolina’s tallest mountain and the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The weather was cool and breezy and so perfect for a 5.6-mile hike up a relatively strenuous assent on a path beset with large loose stones, treacherous exposed tree-roots, and a gradient rise that tested my 31-year-old legs both going up the mountain and coming back down.

The assent of Mount Mitchell, or any mountain of significant altitude and rigor, is difficult because gravity works against the hiker’s muscles as she lifts her body up each human- or nature-made step. The descent is also demanding, but in different ways; gravity now relentlessly brings the body’s weight down onto the fragile knees and onto the rocks and roots, which must be navigated with agility and grace. The descent is especially taxing since the hiker is already tired from the climb, and descent, like falling, is never at one’s own pace but always at the behest of gravity. The hiker has to call upon every resource from within, to be attentive in body and mind in order to descend the mountain carefully.

But Mount Mitchell State Park is beautiful. Only a few power-lines and a few distant cellphone towers from the view at the summit distracted me from taking in everything that this mountain has to offer. I’m glad it’s a state park so that I don’t have to go out and find my own trails up and down Mount Mitchell. Its provision as “state park” is important for preserving the area of nature for recreation and for leisure. It is certainly good for communities, like the group of friends I hiked with on Tuesday, to use places like Mount Mitchell to endeavor and accomplish a difficult task such as climbing a mountain together. This form of bonding in a group of hikers calls upon many of the virtues and their cultivation, namely patience, prudence, and fortitude. Climbing a strenuous mountain demands these virtues.

What about the virtue of justice? Justice is the virtue of rendering to one what is owed to her. Win’s recent piece and many of the thoughtful attending comments allude to this very interesting and necessary question: what is nature or creation owed?

Some are eager to posit souls to animals or to talk or act as if all of creation collectively has a spirit of some kind. The regular name for this is “Mother Nature,” which finds its foundation in the Greek mythological goddess of Gaia, a personified form of “earth” [].

In many ways I  am sympathetic to this affection as a Christian: creatures are created to fulfill their goods as creatures, and we as human beings do well to foster these goods and not to hinder them. I think, though, it is ultimately uncatholic to think about creation as the spirited Mother Nature that many pagans throughout the centuries have regularly attributed.

G.K. Chesterton, the 20th Century Catholic writer and English wit, offers a good and correcting alternative:

If you want to treat a tiger reasonably, you must go back to the Garden of Eden. For the obstinate reminder continued to recur: only the supernatural has taken a sane view of Nature. The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism, and modern cosmic religion is really in the proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a step-mother. The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our Mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate. This gives to the typically Christian pleasure in this earth a strange touch of lightness that is almost frivolity. Nature was a solemn mother to the worshippers of Isis and Cybele. Nature was a solemn mother to Wordsworth or to Emerson. But Nature is not solemn to Francis of Assisi or to George Herbert. To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.[1]

 

[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy. 115-16

 

 

Books and Communities

From yesterday’s (May 2, 2014) New York Times, David Brooks, “Love Story”:

Today we live in a utilitarian moment. We’re surrounded by data and fast-flowing information. “Our reason has become an instrumental reason,” as Leon Wieseltier once put it, to be used to solve practical problems…

Berlin and Akhmatova were from a culture that assumed that, if you want to live a decent life, you have to possess a certain intellectual scope. You have to grapple with the big ideas and the big books that teach you how to experience life in all its richness and make subtle moral and emotional judgments. Berlin and Akhmatova could experience that sort of life-altering conversation because they had done the reading. They were spiritually ambitious. They had the common language of literature, written by geniuses who understand us better than we understand ourselves…

I’m old enough to remember when many people committed themselves to this sort of life and dreamed of this sort of communion — the whole Great Books/Big Ideas thing. I am not sure how many people believe in or aspire to this sort of a life today. I’m not sure how many schools prepare students for this kind of love.

It’s a complex piece, especially since I was not familiar with the poet, Anna Akhmatova, or Isaiah Berlin, but it is a vision of how individuals but more importantly communities can be shaped by a love of literature, especially poetry, and sharing their lives together in reflection and creation.

Quotidian (VII) – Easter Monday

Nolite timere;
Ite, nuntiate fratribus meis
ut eant in Galilaeam ibi me videbunt.

My daughter and I attended morning Mass today in an effort to attend one Mass each day throughout the Easter Octave celebration. Again, we attended Saint Catherine’s, which has an 8:30 Mass, perfect for me and Mary Margaret to attend before her (and sometimes my) morning nap. Fr Tighe sang lovely, and there was easy forgiveness when he nearly forgot the Gloria, which is said during every Mass of Eastertide.

The liturgical life at St Catherine’s, despite the new church, is rather old school: emphasis on receiving Our Lord while kneeling at the rail, attending to the Ave Maria, St Michael’s prayer, and the Salve Regina after the Mass, and the presence of live-sized statues of saints (Sts Thomas Aquinas, Thérèse of Lisieux, John Marie Vianny, et al.)

The Roman Missal (1962), which I bought from Baronius Press and have been studying for about a year now, is a repository for these prayers and the Latin Roman Rite, now called the Extraordinary Form, which is celebrated at St Catherine’s on Wednesday evenings. Just the Missal, and its attending Mass, rubrics, calendars, etc, name what many might call Traditional Catholic liturgical life, a moniker that I think is fitting: Catholics who attempt to inherit and live out the forms of liturgical life that harken back to many of the earlier pontiffs (St Pius X, Pius XII, and soon to be canonized Bl John XXIII) and the earlier councils (Trent), though completely in line with recent liturgical reforms (see Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum). A popular forum for this mindset is the New Liturgical Movement.

Having only know Catholic life with and since Bl Pope John Paul II, I must say that I have come late to this mode of traditional liturgical life. It is something I’m rather open to. Sacred Heart (Raleigh), my home parish hosts the Mass in the Extraordinary Form once a month. The music is captivating, and the silence of the Mass, off-putting for some who are new to it, is earth-shattering. It is a unique silence, a heavy silence, but not one that suffocates, but draws one into the mysterium — that though there are at times no audible words does not mean that the space is vacant. It is a filled silence.

It’s like watching to evenly matched wrestlers in their first grapple, pushing the other so forcefully but with the same attending force that it appears that they are not moving. But they are moving, though you can’t see it, and the force is unbelievable to those who understand.

So it is with the silence of the Mass. It is not, moreover, an easy silence at first, because the distractions or assumptions from many other forms of life cry out to be satiated and fulfilled. Instead, attending to the silence of a quiet (low) Mass requires new eyes and new ears, for Our Lord says, Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear (Mt 13.16). Or as the Apostle Paul speaks of the children of Israel: God hath given them the spirit of insensibility; eyes that they should not see; and ears that they should not hear, until this present day (Rm 11.8).

The Easter Vigil at the London Oratory

The Easter Vigil at the London Oratory

Quotidian (VI) – Easter Sunday

Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum, alleluia.
Posuisti super me manum tuam, alleluia.
Mirabilis facta est scientia tua, alleluia, alleluia.

Today is Easter.

I attended with friends, colleagues, and students last night’s Solemn Vigil Mass at (new) Saint Catherine’s parish church, which was tremendous, forceful, and beautiful. Beginning outside with the Lumen Christi procession into the darkness, we accompanied the great candle, announcing that Our Blessed Lord in the dark of the early morning has returned to His people. We too carried candles, smaller simulacra, calling to mind those candles that were blest at Candlemas (The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin) in Christmastide. Etched into the wax of the great candle are the symbols A (alpha) and Ω (omega), Our Lord as beginning and end, the great creator of life and the victor over death.

My headmaster, who serves as deacon in that parish, chanted the Exultet, in English, with great clarity and tone, no small feat for him since he by his own admission is “not a singer”:

Exultet iam angelica turba cœlorum;
exultent divina mysteria.

Let the angelic choirs of Heaven now rejoice;
let the divine Mysteries rejoice…

The Exultet, chanted by the serving deacon, initiates the Vigil’s powerful beginning to the sight of candles and their flame, as Our Blessed Lord’s light, now returned and now among us, individually and collectively, shines in the darkness, for the people in darkness have seen a great light (Isa 9.2), and in another place, the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it (Jn 1.5)

My friend and his wife were received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, taking new names James and Elizabeth, respectively. The night called to mind my own entrance into the Church at the Vigil Mass 2003, eleven years ago. Our Church, moreover, will be wiser and more loving because of the great capacity and depth of faith and charity these two bring to the communio sanctorum.

The themes of night and darkness are balanced and ultimately overcome by new day and brightness. Later in the Exultet:

Hæc nox est de qua scriptum est:
Et nox sicut dies illuminabitur;
Et nox illuminatio mea in deliciis meis.

This is the night in which it is written:
And the night shall be as bright as day;
And the night shall light up my delight.

The new day is further announced when the bells of the Gloria ring out in triumph as additional altar candles are lit, adding to the greater host and company of light. The Gloria, along with the bells, had been absent all of Lent, only now to return and initiate the new day, as Our Lord proclaims, that day when I drink it new with you (Mt 26.29).

The candles put to flight the great darkness of death that our Lord endured. The candles put to flight the necessary tenebrae penances of praying in the dark, and the Vigil itself signifies that the Church participates in its own time, its own calendar, as it resides in Our Lord’s time and by Our Lord’s light:

And the city hath no need of the sun, nor of the moon, to shine in it.
For the glory of God hath enlightened it, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof.
And the nations shall walk in the light of it:
And the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it.

And the gates thereof shall not be shut by day: for there shall be no night there. 
(Apoc 21.23-25)

Luca Giordano, "Resurrection" (after 1665)

Luca Giordano, “Resurrection” (after 1665)

Quotidian (V) – Good Friday

Ecce lignum Crucis, in quo salus mundi pependit.
Venite, adoremus.

Today is Good Friday.

Sacred Heart Cathedral has Stations of the Cross at noon and Adoration of the Cross at 3pm, the hour of our Blessed Lord’s death.

Last night I attended the Holy Thursday Mass, celebrated by Bishop Burbidge and concelebrated with many priests from the area, including our Passionists, Fr Edward Wolanski, C.P., Fr Justin Kerber, C.P., and Msgr. David Brockman. The Mass was full, and hymns were sung in English, Latin, and Spanish, which in many ways reflects the character of our parish downtown. The homily was about the expression of Love in the coming days of the passion, death, and ultimate resurrection of our Blessed Lord. The Maundy (Washing of Feet) saw Bishop Burbidge was the feet of twelve parishioners.

After Communion, the Bishop, priests, deacons, and torchbearers, all following the cross, carried the Sacred Hosts in the ciborium to the Altar of Repose for adoration as the congregations sang St Thomas’ Pagne lingua, in English translation and in the original.

Sing, my tongue, the Saviour’s glory,
of His Flesh, the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our Immortal King,
destined, for the world’s redemption,
from a noble Womb to spring.

Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wond’rously His Life of woe…

Tantum ergo Sacramentum
veneremur cernui:
et antiquum documentum
novo cedat ritui:
praestet fides supplementum
sensuum defectui.

Genitori, Genitoque
laus et jubilatio,
salus, honor, virtus quoque
sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
compar sit laudatio.
Amen.

After the after was stripped of its candles, rugs, linens — calling to mind when our Lord’s vesture was divided and for them lots were casts (cf. Ps 22; Jn 19) — the Sacred Hosts remained in the Altar of repose until midnight. I said a rosary for various intentions and for the repose of the soul of Gabriel García Márquez, who had passed away yesterday. After this and another hour of silent prayer with Our Lord and those who remained, I returned home to Laura and our sleeping daughter.

Since last night’s communion and through until the Solemn Easter Vigil, I will participate in wait I call the Long Fast, in which I fast from all food and liquids, save water. It’s a discipline I took up prior to my confirmation and full reception into the Church in 2003. Saturday night, Laura and I will attend the Easter Vigil at (new) Saint Catherine of Siena’s in Wake Forest, NC, to welcome my friend and Saint Thomas More colleague Jake, along with his wife Stormy and their five children, into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The next morning, I will take our family, including Mary Margaret this time, to Mass on Easter morning before her family and our friends come for Christ’s Feast.

 

May you all find many graces today as you weep for Our Blessed Lord and adore His Glorious cross.

 

In lieu of eating, there is still plenty to read:

On the death of Gabriel García Márquez (The Wall Street Journal)

“Angel Gabriel” — Salman Rushdie on García Marquez in 1982 (London Review of Book)

“The Pope in the Attic: Benedict in the Time of Francis” (The Atlantic)

And I’m re-reading Salvation and Sin: Augustine, Langland, and Fourteenth-Century Theology by David Aers, my professor at Duke.

Andrea da Firenze, Crucifixion (1370-77)

Andrea da Firenze, Crucifixion (1370-77)

Salve, caput cruentatum,
totum spinis coronatum,
conquassatum, vulneratum,
arundine verberatum
facie sputis illita

 

Dust and Ashes

And Abraham answered, and said: Seeing I have once begun, I will speak to my Lord, whereas I am dust and ashes.
Gen 18.17

Dust and ashes.

They are both in many ways signs of the curse, that we are indeed doomed to die. Created from nothing, we tend to nothing. Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures. And many are lost often in our decayed minds and bodies as our breath passes from our lips.

Dust and ashes.

Dust is what will become of our flesh when it undergoes the decay, and ashes are what little remain if our bodies, turned to corpses, are committed to the flame, burned with little remainder. Like the great cities beneath Joshua’s feet, we become a heap forever.

Dust and ashes.

If our corpse is not burned, it is wrapped in a box and planted in the peat. Monumented, maybe, by marble or stone, our corpses learn the lifeless rhythm of the earth that doesn’t move nor wander, but sits painfully still as our corpses lie there, cold. For I am counted as one of them that go down into the pit.

Dust and ashes.

Inherit your ashes; cover your head with cut cloth:
seek penance in patience after shriving ‘fore Saint Peter.
And count down the days of long Lent seeking pardon,
whilst crying and weeping, almsdeeds and great fasting,
then lowly you creep to Christ’s cross to kiss kindly,
And pity you his mother, Our Lady, Saint Mary.

For as you shed your vices,
you may then save your ashes;
and dust bound for heaven,
embracing Charity soon after.

Quotidian (IV)

Back for one last day at Durham’s DaisyCakes Bakery & Cafe as Saint Thomas More students and faculty are on Winter Break this week (Feb 17-21st).

Questions:

I’ve been thinking already about the liturgical season of Lent, which is not too far off (Ash Wednesday is March 5th). A Dominical expression of Lent is found in St Matthew’s Gospel: Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted (Mt 23.12 DRA).

The word that often encompasses the stricter disciplines of Lent is mortification, that is, to deprive the senses and the body entire of certain pleasures into to discipline the body, mind, and soul. The Latin mortificāreto kill off or destroy, is even more straight forward, and some words of the Apostle are appropriate: They that are Christ’s have crucified their flesh (along) with the vices and concupiscences [Gal 5.24-25], and in another place, In despoiling of the body of the flesh, but in the circumcision of Christ [Col 2.11]. A last place, from the Psalter, offers a further, more speculative reading to this idea: Because for thy sake we are killed all the day long [Ps 44 (43).22].

Last year, Laura and I took on “the big three” of Lenten fasts: avoiding meat, alcohol, and the marital embrace. Still, there is something about destroying the passions through other disciplines: attending Stations of the Cross each Friday evening at our parish church, carrying a cross the entire season; attending at least on daily Mass each day of the season; walking to STMA on certain days of the week (~1.5 mile distance); reducing my diet to bread and water.

In addition to any personal or familial penances or fasts, I have already decided to hold to the students a Silent Lunch in my room at STMA, in which the silence will only be broken at the end for a short reading from Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ.

The impetus for this push is a recent message from the Holy Father on one’s preparation for and the seriousness of Lent:

Dear brothers and sisters, may this Lenten season find the whole Church ready to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution the Gospel message of the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ. We can so this to the extent that we imitate Christ who became poor and enriched us by his poverty. Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt. (full text here)

Quotidian (III)

Back at Durham’s DaisyCakes Bakery & Cafe as Saint Thomas More students and faculty are on Winter Break this week (Feb 17-21st).

The order of today, Wednesday, and Thursday — spending time in Durham, reading, writing, talking with old friends — is akin to this time a year ago when I was only part-time at STMA and finishing up at Duke. Thankfully, I am still at STMA as a full-time instructor, but I no longer have commitments at Duke. Therefore my work today and this week is my own.

Reading:

I’m still reading Michael Cameron’s Christ Meets Me Everywhere: Augustine’s Early Figurative Exegesis (Oxford, 2012; link). It is a tremendous work of historical theology, a field that never really interested me while at Duke, for though I loved my Church History course with Dr Maria E. Doerfler, I mainly enjoyed the class for the breadth of readings and didn’t overly care for the historical weight, excepting that I knew we were reading the Fathers in chronological order. Cameron’s book looks closely at the years following Augustine’s conversion to Catholic Christianity,  his time as a lay Christian  philosopher, up until his (forced) ordination and elevation to the episcopacy. Cameron lays out the subtle theological maturation Augustine undergoes as he learns from St Ambrose and reads and re-reads Saint Paul’s epistles, gathering a full head of steam that will later bear fruit in De Civitate DeiOn the City of God:

[F]or all this variety Augustine reachers into the whole range of human experience, a single titanic mind that embraces the familiar and the strange while displaying both sublime harmonies and jarring contradictions. His sheer size makes Augustine a genuine companion for life, a friend for the journey from whom one might learn without idolizing and might dissent without bickering, as one might dissent from oneself (see Conf 4.8.13). This outsize Augustine has been a companion life that for me and for many. (ix)[1]

I had been preparing for a seminar elective [Angels & Demons; a post is forthcoming] and attempting to reading the Scriptures with new eyes and with new habits of thinking about the canon, doctrine, dogma, etc. I was mainly doing this with St Thomas Aquinas and his use of Scripture in his Summa, wondering and marveling at how the Angelic and Common Doctor uses Scripture to meditate on and through a matter of theological import. I had been discussing this new project with a close Duke friend, Ty Monroe, who is now at Boston College pursuing a doctorate in historical theology and centering on Augustine. It was he who suggested Cameron’s book.

Bad habits are hard to break and good habits may be even harder to form. Reading the Divine Offices of the Liturgy of the Hours, daily readings for Mass, and a closer meditation of the prayers and liturgy of the Church, I was finding that I had plenty to read; the question was with what or whose eyes would I read them. Via Cameron’s suggestions, I am trying to read with Augustinian eyes, I suppose, since Augustine himself had to change his habits from his heretical efforts as a Manichean “hearer” (their term, not mine) from the age of roughly 18-19 until a full decade later.

I am about this same age as Augustine when he was in Milan, hearing Ambrose preach and ultimately deciding to leave the Manichees — myself having come out of various different “schools” of studying the Holy Scriptures, so entering into an Augustinian school seems to make the most sense.

[Update]

Questions:

I’ve been thinking through new questions about my Christian Burial masters thesis and with new questions come new ideas for new chapters. When I began that thesis, I had three essays to write: (1) What is a corpse? (2) What are Christians to do with a corpse? (3) What do any answers to the previous two questions say about the Church’s theology on relics? But then Laura and I had a daughter and I took on a part-time teaching job at STMA, and my opportunity to write as well and as extensively one the thesis as a whole was greatly limited. In the end, only the first two essays where written and the second of the two wasn’t really all or what I had to say. I do plan to commit serious time to revising what I have already written and moving forward with the third essay for which many extensive notes and outlines exist, but nothing in the way of a serious attempt.

One essay I wanted to write is about Christian death [What is death?], which would likely precede the essay on corpses, and one particular question that had occupied my mind then as now is what to say about the death/dormition of Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. This question came racing back during the Presentation of Christ in the Temple/Purification of the Virgin liturgy two Sundays ago, when Simeon blesses Our Lady, and ends the blessing with the enigmatic (at least to me), “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce” [Lk 2.33 DRA; "Et tuam ipsius animam pertransiet gladius," Vulg.]. I have often taken this to mean that Our Lady will share in the death of her son in a unique and personal way, perhaps even emulating it.

In this morning’s Office of Readings (link) has something of note:

The wicked have drawn out the sword: they have bent their bow. To cast down the poor and needy, to kill the upright of heart. Let their sword enter into their own hearts [gladius eorum intret in corda ipsorum], and let their bow be broken. (Ps 37 (36).14-15)

Now, we should be careful to suggest too many parallels between the wicked, peccatores, of the psalm and Our Lady, especially since the sword in Simeon’s blessing does not seem to be Mary’s; she is the recipient of the piercing, not the agent. I think, however, the readings held together suggest that a sword piecing one’s soul/heart implies death, since the swords of the wicked are intended “to cast down the poor and needy” and “to kill the upright of heart (trucidereto slaughter, cut to pieces].” The least we can say is that similar registers are being used here.

In addition, a close reading of this psalm alongside the Magnificat (Lk 1.46-55) might flesh out some unique parallels about the wicked and those in the Lord’s care.

Observing death

A few weeks ago, my wife’s aunt died while walking on a nearby greenway path during some sporadic inclement weather. Often Cheryl’s death has been described as a “freak accident” or a “tragic event,” but that word “inclement,” not clement or unmerciful, may somehow best suit Cheryl’s death.

The family didn’t make Cheryl’s death public to the media outlets, but many reporters covered her passing. The best of this coverage was from The News & Observer‘s Josh Shaffer, which I commend you here (link)

In addition, the below is my personal response to Mr Shaffer for his beautiful, thoughtful piece:

Mr Shaffer,

As the husband of Cheryl Harrison’s niece, I want to thank you for your lovely meditation on Cheryl’s life, family, and art (The News & Observer; Jan 17, 2014)

We cannot allay death, even seemingly tragic death, such as Cheryl’s last Saturday afternoon upon the trail, but we can preserve the artist’s art and keep her many talents in our mindful care to share with them who did not have opportunity know her well. Even amid our Requiem prayers over her remains today, we will rejoice her virtues among the beautiful things she had fashioned and given to us. And when we look upon them tomorrow and the next day, continue our prayers in memorial of our beloved dead.

Thank you, too, for your art in helping to remember her.

Warmly,

Charles McCants
Raleigh, NC

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