Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Solemnity of the Annunciation

Tomorrow (Thursday) is the great Solemnity of the Annunciation. There is no end to the meditation on the profound mystery of the Incarnation: God becoming man, taking on human flesh. It is rich in its profundity, yet it is also as simple as is expressed in the ancient antiphon used for the Magnificat today in the Proprium Ordinis Praedicatorum for the Liturgy of the Hours:
Oriétur sicut sol Salvátor mundi, et descéndet in úterum Vírginis, sicut imber super gramen.
The Saviour of the world shall arise like the sun, and He shall descend into the womb of the Virgin as rain upon the grass.

On that note, Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., will be celebrating mass at 7:30pm Thursday at my parish, St. Theresa's in Sugar Land, in honor of this great feast day. He will also be wrapping up the Lenten parish mission. Come and join us!

The Dominican Rite Liturgy

The Eastern Dominican Province has produced a most excellent website providing a tutorial and a history of our beautiful liturgy of the Dominican Rite.
The ancient Dominican liturgy, largely unchanged since 1256, beautifully expresses the distinctive charism of the primitive Dominican Order. This site, a project of the Liturgical Commission of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, makes accessible the riches of the ancient Dominican liturgy – not as a rival to the Novus Ordo, which remains the Ordinary Form of the Mass, but as a supplement to enrich our liturgical life with the treasures of our tradition, consistent with the express wishes of the Second Vatican Council (Sacrosanctum Concilium 4).
Hat tip Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fasting in the East and in the West

I think that Eric Sammons makes a good point over at his blog regarding the differences in "Fasting regulations" between Eastern and Western Christianity:
Some people might know about the vast difference in the fasting regulations between the two great churches. In the West, we are told to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (which means one normal meal and two small meals not to equal that one normal meal) and abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent and Ash Wednesday. In the East, on the other hand, a common tradition is that every day of Lent is a day of fasting and abstinence, and abstinence applies not only to meat, but also includes items such as fish, wine and oil. Why such a difference in these practices? Is it because the East is just more holy or more serious about Lent? I think the reason is due more to the underlying attitudes towards rules and regulations in the East and the West.

- In the West, a regulation is seen as the minimum requirement and failing to follow it is perceived as a serious failure, perhaps even a sin.

- In the East, a regulation is seen as an ideal to strive for and failing to follow it is perceived as an opportunity to do better in the future.

So in the West, the regulations for fasting are much less stringent than in the East, because a failure to follow them is seen as a more egregious action. In the East, the regulations are much more strict, but failing to live up to them is not seen as serious of a failure.
Of course, for those of us in the West, the minimum requirement had been a bit more stringent. But this point still holds. I see the benefits of both mindsets, and I share Eric's opinion that each attitude has its advantages and disadvantages:
The advantage of the Western attitude is that regulations are always taken seriously, but the disadvantage is that one can become legalistic or even prideful if he follows the law. The advantage of the Eastern attitude is that one always sees the ideal as something to strive for and this keeps you humble, but the disadvantage is that the wide gap between practice and regulation might be so wide as to seem insurmountable or make the regulation appear unrealistic.

All Christians should work, with the help of God’s grace and a good spiritual director, to make sacrifices that are in keeping with their state of life. The worst thing to do, at any time, is to compare one’s own sacrifices with anyone else’s.
Amen to that. In fact, I believe that as we practice whatever disciplines are proper to our spiritual tradition, be it Eastern or Western, our particular attitude can nevertheless be informed and nourished by that of the other. East and West can certainly learn from each other and work together in such a way. As a Western Christian, I am inspired by the practice of the East to attempt to exceed what is for me the minimum requirement imposed by the Church. In fact, the Church doesn't fail in encouraging us to do precisely this.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


On the 5th Sunday of Lent we begin the period of the final two weeks of the season traditionally referred to as Passiontide. Crucifixes and other sacred images and statues are traditionally veiled during this time. We had never encountered this practice before until we moved to Texas. Other liturgical churches (e.g. Anglicans, Lutherans) also maintain this practice, although I understand that even there it isn't universal. What is the point of veiling? It is admittedly a good question - after all, why wouldn't one earnestly desire to gaze upon the Crucifix during this time? According to the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia:
The crosses are veiled because Christ during this time no longer walked openly among the people, but hid himself. Hence in the papal chapel the veiling formerly took place at the words of the Gospel: "Jesus autem abscondebat se." Another reason is added by Durandus, namely that Christ's divinity was hidden when he arrived at the time of His suffering and death. The images of the saints also are covered because it would seem improper for the servants to appear when the Master himself is hidden.
The crucifix is typically unveiled after the Lord's Passion is observed on Good Friday. Fr. Z reflects on this more:
We lose things during Lent. We are being pruned through the liturgy. Holy Church experiences liturgical death before the feast of the Resurrection. The Alleluia goes on Septuagesima. Music and flowers go on Ash Wednesday. Today, statues and images are draped in purple. That is why today is sometimes called Repus Sunday, from repositus analogous to absconditus or “hidden”, because this is the day when Crosses and other images in churches are veiled. The universal Church’s Ordo published by the Holy See has an indication that images can be veiled from this Sunday, the 5th of Lent. Traditionally Crosses may be covered until the end of the celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and images, such as statues may be covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil. At my home parish of St. Agnes in St. Paul, MN, the large statue of the Pietà is appropriately unveiled at the Good Friday service...

The pruning cuts more deeply as we march into the Triduum. After the Mass on Holy Thursday the Blessed Sacrament is removed from the main altar, which itself is stripped and bells are replaced with wooden noise makers. On Good Friday there isn’t even a Mass. At the beginning of the Vigil we are deprived of light itself! It is as if the Church herself were completely dead with the Lord in His tomb. This liturgical death of the Church reveals how Christ emptied Himself of His glory in order to save us from our sins and to teach us who we are.

The Church then gloriously springs to life again at the Vigil of Easter. In ancient times, the Vigil was celebrated in the depth of night. In the darkness a single spark would be struck from flint and spread into the flames. The flames spread through the whole Church.

If we can connect ourselves in heart and mind with the Church’s liturgy in which these sacred mysteries are re-presented, then by our active receptivity we become participants in the saving mysteries of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

Stabat Mater dolorosa iuxta Crucem lacrimosa, dum pendebat Filius.
Cuius animam gementem, contristatam et dolentem pertransivit gladius.


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