Friday, August 23, 2013

Increase your Catholic wordpower: askesis

"St. Anthony of Egypt," (252 - 356 AD)
by Hieronymous Bosch

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "the word asceticism comes from the Greek askesis which means practice, bodily exercise, and more especially, athletic training. The early Christians adopted it to signify the practice of the spiritual things, or spiritual exercises performed for the purpose of acquiring the habits of virtue."

These spiritual exercises, usually termed "abstinence and fasting," are not by themselves a measure of virtue.  According to St. Jerome:

Be on your guard when you begin to mortify your body by abstinence and fasting, lest you imagine yourself to be perfect and a saint; for perfection does not consist in this virtue. It is only a help; a disposition; a means though a fitting one, for the attainment of true perfection. 

So, go ahead and undertake spiritual exercise, so long as you understand askesis is a means for attaining sanctity, but is not sanctity itself.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Hail, Rocco, protector from plague

Church of St. Rocco, Venice

According to The Golden Legend, a compilation of somewhat fanciful biographies of saints which was among the first printed books, and was for a long time more popular than the Bible, St. Rocco, (or St. Roche) was born in Montpelier in 1295 AD.  After a youth notable for marvels and miracles, St. Rocco gave away his worldly goods and set out for Rome as a pilgrim.  Plague was then widespread in Italy, and as he made his pilgrimage St. Rocco cared for the sick, and even effected some cures,  until at Piacenza St. Rocco himself contracted the disease.  His manifest goodness notwithstanding, St. Rocco was expelled from the town.  St. Rocco built a small shelter in a nearby forest, where he was supplied with water by the miraculous appearance of a spring, and with food by a dog who every day brought him a loaf of bread.  St. Rocco recovered, and returned to Montpellier, where he died in 1327 AD.

As the Black Death raged in Europe, many sought the intercession of St. Rocco, who was naturally counted a patron of plague sufferers.   A modern historian has observed that resorting to the intercession of St. Rocco bespeaks "a confidence that put even an apocalyptic disaster of the magnitude of the Black Death into perspective of God’s secure and benevolent plan for humankind.”  (You can tell he's a modern historian because he uses words like "humankind.)  Moreover, the sufferings of St. Rocco, and by extension, those of all plague victims, were looked upon as salvific, insofar as St. Rocco "welcomed his disease as a divinely sent opportunity to imitate the sufferings of Christ… [thereby elevating] patient endurance [of the physical suffering of plague to] a form of martyrdom.”

In 1414, when plague broke out at the Council of Constanz in Germany, public processions and prayers to St. Rocco were decreed, whereupon the disease duly disappeared from the city.  Afterwards, not surprisingly, the cult of St. Rocco grew very popular indeed.  When plague struck Venice in 1478, wealthy citizens arranged to have St. Rocco's relics transported secretly from Montpellier to Venice.  Not only was a beautiful church built to hold the relics, but alongside the church the wealthy Venetians built the magnificent Scuola Grande di San Rocco ("Confraternity of St. Rocco").  The Scuola is decorated with a cycle of paintings, including one of St. Rocco in glory, by a leading painter of the time, Tintoretto.

In Bolivia, St. Roch's feast is commemorated as "the birthday of all dogs," which are adorned with colorful ribbons for the occasion.

St. Rocco, pray for us.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The official Inigo Hicks refrigerator magnet finally unveiled!

No refrigerator is complete without one

We could no longer ignore the incessant clamorous call for an official Inigo Hicks refrigerator magnet, so here it is.   A loyal and learned reader has already won one for knowing the definition of "anamnesis."  When I figure out how to get rid of the rest of them I will let you know.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Improve your Catholic vocabulary - anamnesis

 Reredos showing Christ's Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, 
14th century,Norwich Cathedral
Survived Reformation as the underside of a plumber's worktable

I expect, as a reader of this blog, you are keen to improve your Catholic vocabulary, so I hasten to appease without, of course, quenching your thirst for greater knowledge of the Faith by starting off with a hard one: Anamnesis.

The Anamnesis is the efficacious commemoration on the altar of the mystery of Christ's Passion, Resurrection and Ascension.    In explaining the meaning of Anamnesis, the learned French Jesuit Fr. Jean Danielou has noted that this commemoration goes far beyond mere recollection, since "[t]he word also intends to state that the sacrifice is not a new sacrifice, but the one sacrifice of Christ rendered present."   Although the sacrifice of the Mass is offered daily in many places, it is offered as the anamnesis of Christ's sacrifice which is, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, "unique, not multiple."  St. John Chrysostom teaches further that the "anamnesis is the figure of His death.   It is the same sacrifice that we offer, not one today and another tomorrow.  One only Christ everywhere, entire everywhere, one only Body.  As everywhere there is one Body, everywhere there is one sacrifice.  . . .  This is the meaning of the anamnesis: we carry out the anamnesis of the sacrifice."

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Hail, Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

"St. Lawrence," mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna

From the Roman Martyrology:

"At Rome, on the Tiburtine road, the birthday of the blessed archdeacon Lawrence, a martyr during the persecution of Valerian (257 AD). After much suffering from imprisonment, from scourging with whips set with iron or lead, from hot metal plates, he at last completed his martyrdom by being slowly consumed on an iron instrument made in the form of a gridiron. His body was buried by blessed Hippolytus and the priest Justin in the cemetery of Cyriaca, in the Veran field."

The Roman Martyrology was published by Pope Gregory XIII in 1583 AD , and is based on the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, which was compiled in Gaul by monks in the 6th century AD.   It's been argued that the story of St. Lawrence's roasting grew out of a misspelling (assus est, "was roasted", instead of passus est, "was martyred").   Also, some scholars believe that the mosaic above actually depicts St. Vincent of Saragossa, not St. Lawrence.  Tradition, however, has long held the  image to represent St. Lawrence.  Such imprecision ought not to trouble us.   After all, 257 AD was a long time ago, and the difficulty of keeping track of who got martyred and how so many centuries ago should be clear to those of us who can't remember what we had for breakfast this morning.

St. Lawrence, pray for us.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

When life gives you garbage

Make musical instruments from the garbage and form a children's orchestra.

It wouldn't have occurred to me, self-pitying wretch that I am, but that's what the remarkable people of Cateura, Paraguay, a town built on a garbage dump, have done. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A great composer acknowledges his debt to a great painter

"Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and Rose," Francisco de Zurbaran

Zurbaran's painting, which hangs in the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena, is a highly symbolic work paying homage to, among other things, the Virgin Mary's love, purity and chastity.  Morten Lauridsen, the American composer, teaches at USC, which is not far from Pasadena, and knows the painting very well.   In fact, Zurbaran's painting inspired what is perhaps Lauridsen's  most sublime choral work, "O Magnum Mysterium," as Lauridsen himself explains here.
You may listen to "O Magnum Mysterium" performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale by clicking the picture of Mr. Lauridsen.  It's only six minutes long. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Jesuits and the Liturgy

Monks in Choir
Jesuits don't have time for this

St. Ignatius Loyola, great saint though he is, has left a mixed legacy.  Ignatius's innovations concerning prayer, especially his dramatic de-emphasis of communal liturgical prayer in the religious order he founded, the Society of Jesus, together with Ignatius's broader change of focus away from communal liturgy and towards private devotion, created a fault line in Catholic theology and practice, the effects of which are still felt today.  These effects are likely to become more visible and pronounced during the pontificate of Francis I, the first Jesuit pope.   Fr. Ray Blake has more here.