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We are entering the second week of Advent. I am trying to quiet down, avoid getting caught up in the hustle-bustle commercialism with which the rest of the world “celebrates” this season, and focus on the real meaning of this season, awaiting with eager anticipation the coming of our King–not only His coming on the first Christmas, but also His coming in the future, at the end of time.  Thus, Advent is a season of joy and wonder, and also a season of penitence as we prepare our souls for that day and avail ourselves of His grace.

There are some truly beautiful hymns in Advent (as there are for every season).  Here, from Michael Martin’s wonderful site, Thesaurus Precum Latinarum, we have this 7th century hymn (with a 19th century translation):

CONDITOR alme siderum,
aeterna lux credentium,
Christe, redemptor omnium,
exaudi preces supplicum.
CREATOR of the stars of night,
Thy people’s everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
and hear Thy servants when they call.
Qui condolens interitu
mortis perire saeculum,
salvasti mundum languidum,
donans reis remedium,
Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
should doom to death a universe,
hast found the medicine, full of grace,
to save and heal a ruined race.
Vergente mundi vespere,
uti sponsus de thalamo,
egressus honestissima
Virginis matris clausula.
Thou camest, the Bridegroom of the Bride,
as drew the world to evening tide,
proceeding from a virgin shrine,
the spotless Victim all divine.
Cuius forti potentiae
genu curvantur omnia;
caelestia, terrestria
nutu fatentur subdita.
At whose dread Name, majestic now,
all knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
and things celestial Thee shall own,
and things terrestrial Lord alone.
Te, Sancte, fide quaesumus,
venture iudex saeculi,
conserva nos in tempore
hostis a telo perfidi.
O Thou whose coming is with dread,
to judge and doom the quick and dead,
preserve us, while we dwell below,
from every insult of the foe.
Sit, Christe, rex piissime,
tibi Patrique gloria
cum Spiritu Paraclito,
in sempiterna saecula. Amen.
To God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Spirit, Three in One,
laud, honor, might, and glory be
from age to age eternally. Amen.
Thesaurus Precum Latinarum

I hope everybody has a blessed, peaceful, and fruitful Advent!

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Today is one of my favorite feast days–that the holy archangels who appear in scripture: St. Michael, the great warrior, St. Gabriel, the great messenger, and St. Raphael, the great guide, guardian, and healer.

St. Michael stained glass

In the older liturgical calendar, this day commemorates the dedication of the Basilica of St. Michael.  I found a beautiful hymn dedicated to the Prince of the Heavenly Host in my 1962 missal:

Oh Thou, the Father’s glorious Might,
Jesus true life of every heart,
Thee do we praise amid angels bright
whose hope and light alone Thou art.

A thousand thousand hosts, for Thee,
of glorious warriors, battle wage;
but Michael waves Thy standard free,
Salvation’s cross and victory’s gage.

The dragon fierce with stubborn crown
he hurls to lowest depths of Hell;
the rebel crew, their prince overthrown,
he thrusts from Heaven’s high citadel.

The prince of pride may we too fight,
and follow this, our captain true,
that so the crown with glory dight
by Jesus given, may be our due.

St. Gabriel glass

St. Gabriel is best known as the angel who came to Mary in the Annunciation.  He also appeared to the prophet Daniel and to Zechariah.  His feast day in the older calendar is 24 March.  Understandably, he is the Patron Saint of all kinds of communications workers and also diplomats. (photo by Lawrence OP)

St. Raphael glass

St. Raphael is best known from his role in The Book of Tobit, who guides and guards Tobias, leads him to his future wife, Sarah, banishes the demon Asmodeus who had been terrorizing Sarah and killing her previous husbands, and cures Tobit of his blindness.  All in a day’s work for this mighty angel!  His feast day in the older calendar is coming up on 24 October.  He is a Patron Saint of many different things… and an unofficial Patron Saint of single Catholics looking for spouses. (photo by Lawrence OP)

Related Post:

An angelic feast! (last year’s post for this feast day)

AssumptionA happy and blessed Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to one and all!  This beautiful feast day celebrates one of God’s pledges to all humankind of our own future glory if we remain faithful to Him and seek His kingdom.

Mary was the first person to receive the salvation of Christ, and we have followed her there.

Mary was the first to enter into the mystery of His incarnation, and we have followed her there.

Mary was the first ordinary human being to enter body and soul into Heaven, and we shall follow her there one day.

I love these stanzas from a traditional hymn:

Death, once the wages owed to sin,
In its defeat deserteth thee;
Thou, consort of thy dearest Son,
In body to the stars art raised.

Higher, resplendent, glorious,
Woman most perfect doth ascend:
Our human nature doth in thee
The peak of every beauty reach.

O Queen triumphant, turn thine eyes
On us exiled from Heaven and thee:
With thee to help us may we reach
The happiness of home in Heaven.

(From the hymn O Prima Virgo Prodita;
translation from the Angelus Press 1962 missal)

And then, there is Mary’s own sublime hymn of praise, the Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
for He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
He has put down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of low degree;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped His servant Israel,
in remembrance of His mercy,
as He spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and his posterity for ever.

(Luke 1:46-55; translation from the
Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic ed.)

I’ve prayed this hymn countless times; it is a standard part of the Divine Office’s evening prayer. But as I heard it proclaimed by our priest during Mass this morning… it took on a whole new power and beauty. It brought tears to my eyes. It just reminded me of how good God has been to me personally… and how Mary has helped me to know Him and His goodness.

Let us thank the Lord for giving us such a good mother, and let us thank our mother for helping us to better know and love her Son.

Here is a beautiful hymn.  This translation is from my Angelus Press 1962 missal:

The beauteous light of God’s eternal majesty
Streams down in golden rays to grace this holy day,
Which crowned the princes of the Apostles’ glorious choir,
And unto guilty mortals showed the Heavenward way.

The Teacher of the world, and Keeper of Heaven’s gate,
Rome’s founders twain, and rulers, too, of every land,
Triumphant over death by sword and shameful cross,
With laurel crowned are gathered to the eternal band.

O happy Rome! who in thy martyr princes’ blood,
A twofold stream, art washed and doubly sanctified:
All earthly beauty thou alone outshinest far,
Empurpled by their outpoured lifeblood’s glorious tide.

All honor, power, and everlasting jubilee
To Him Who all things made and governs here below,
To God, in essence One, and yet in Persons Three,
Both now and ever, while unending ages flow. Amen.


A blessed and happy Solemnity of Corpus Christi to everybody!

Thanks be to God who gives us His own Body as our bread of life, and seals with His own Blood the covenant of our eternal salvation.

I can’t express my joy and awe half so eloquently as my great and dearly beloved Dominican father, St. Thomas Aquinas, did in his glorious hymn, Pange Lingua:

PANGE, lingua, gloriosi
Corporis mysterium,
Sanguinisque pretiosi,
quem in mundi pretium
fructus ventris generosi
Rex effudit Gentium.
SING, my tongue, the Savior’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.
Nobis datus, nobis natus
ex intacta Virgine,
et in mundo conversatus,
sparso verbi semine,
sui moras incolatus
miro clausit ordine.
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
wondrously His life of woe.
In supremae nocte cenae
recumbens cum fratribus
observata lege plene
cibis in legalibus,
cibum turbae duodenae
se dat suis manibus.
On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He the Pascal victim eating,
first fulfills the Law’s command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own hand.
Verbum caro, panem verum
verbo carnem efficit:
fitque sanguis Christi merum,
et si sensus deficit,
ad firmandum cor sincerum
sola fides sufficit.
Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His word to Flesh He turns;
wine into His Blood He changes;-
what though sense no change discerns?
Only be the heart in earnest,
faith her lesson quickly learns.
Tantum ergo Sacramentum
veneremur cernui:
et antiquum documentum
novo cedat ritui:
praestet fides supplementum
sensuum defectui.
Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
Lo! o’er ancient forms departing,
newer rites of grace prevail;
faith for all defects supplying,
where the feeble sense fail.
Genitori, Genitoque
laus et iubilatio,
salus, honor, virtus quoque
sit et benedictio:
procedenti ab utroque
compar sit laudatio.
Amen. Alleluia.
To the everlasting Father,
and the Son who reigns on high,
with the Holy Ghost proceeding
forth from Each eternally,
be salvation, honor, blessing,
might and endless majesty.
Amen. Alleluia.

Many thanks to Michael Martin for providing the above and many other traditional prayers at his Thesaurus Precum Latinarum (Treasury of Latin Prayers) site.  It truly is a treasury!

This hymn does such a wonderful job of capturing the great mystery of the Holy Eucharist–the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ in what appears to all the senses to be simple bread and wine.  And not even the tastiest, most delicious bread and wine known to our palates.  There’s nothing “special” about it whatsoever.  Just pure wheat and water, pure grape wine.  Indeed, as I understand it, the Sacrament would not be valid were it otherwise.

But in that most simple bit of food, the heart discerns what, or rather Whom, we receive.  With the eyes of faith, we perceive truly the glory of the Sacrament.  And we can hardly help but fall down in adoration!

What seems to the world to be insane, blasphemous idol worship is to the faithful Catholic the most intimate encounter with God possible on this Earth, in this mortal life.  Whatever our separated brethren may mean by having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” it surely pales in comparison with the relationship Catholics have with Him.  For that Sacrament that we adore, we are also given to consume in our very flesh.  I can’t conceive of a closer, more personal relationship than that.

In every way, Christ is our nourishment and strength.  I believe it was St. Augustine who pointed out that receiving the Eucharist is a stunning reversal of eating normal food.  That when we eat normal food, our eating consumes that food and transforms it into part of ourselves.  But when we eat the Blessed Sacrament, it is we who are consumed and transformed!  Just as lowly plants and animals become absorbed into us, so we lowly humans become absorbed in God.  And we don’t have to lose our lives first–to the contrary, we gain life more fully.

I think that’s a really interesting point and a marvelous way of contrasting and yet uniting the natural order and the supernatural order.  We humans live squarely within both.  That’s what makes us unique and superior among all creatures.

It’s all so amazing, when we take time to think about it!

Just a lovely song that I first heard at my parish church during Communion, beautifully performed by our organist and soloists from the Gregorian chant choir.

The words are a brief but powerful medieval Eucharistic hymn, one of my favorites.  From Wikipedia:

Ave verum Corpus
natum de Maria Virgine,
vere passum, immolatum
in cruce pro homine,
cuius latus perforatum
unda fluxit et sanguine,
esto nobis praegustatum
in mortis examine.

Hail, true Body,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Truly suffered, immolated
On the Cross for man,
Whose pierced side
Flowed with water and blood,
Let it be for us a foretaste [of Heaven]
In the trial of death.

This duet setting was written by the Welsh composer Karl Jenkins in 2004, for the Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel.

Here is Terfel singing it with the English bariton Simon Keenlyside:

And here is a live performance with Terfel and the Welsh mezzo-soprano, Katherine Jenkins:

The Triduum is ended with the holiest night of the year and the most sacred and splendid of all liturgies: the Easter Vigil.

The liturgy begins in darkness.  The sun has set, and all the lights in the church are out.  And then a new fire, begun from a spark of flint, emerges.  The great Paschal Candle is lit, and from it scores of other candles, the flame being passed throughout the church.  A new dawn breaks!  Not with the light of the natural sun, but with the light of the Sun of Justice, Christ, our risen Lord.

And then, in the golden, dancing glow, the chanting of the sublime Exsultet (or Paschal Praeconium) begins:

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

Oh, the Exsultet!  It is truly one of the highlights of my entire year.  One of my favorite parts is:

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

“O happy fault”!  Sure, life would no doubt be easier and better had Adam and Eve not eaten that fruit.  But their fall didn’t only bring about hardship.  Their fall ultimately brought Christ to us.  Under the circumstances, what more could we hope for or desire than for God to become one of us, to come in Person to pay our debt and raise us up, to restore us to divine life?  To allow us once more to behold the face of God!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
“The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy.”

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!

These are just a few excerpts from the Exsultet.  But I’m sure you can see how enchanting it is and why it is something I look forward to and cherish deeply each year.  It always brings tears to my eyes!  It summarizes so beautifully and perfectly what this night means… and, really, what our Christian faith means!

[UPDATE]: Father Z has an excellent post dedicated to the Exsultet, including an audio file of him chanting it in Latin.  Truly beautiful and not to be missed!  [END UPDATE]

This is also the night when many people become new Christians and new Catholics.  Bearing witness to that, standing in support of them, and welcoming them into the Holy Church is always a profoundly moving and humbling thing.  I had the special privilege of sharing in the joy of my friend Susie and her husband as their son was confirmed and received Communion for the first time tonight!  God bless him and all of our new brothers and sisters!  They’ve been on quite a journey, and it won’t be ending any time soon!

It’s the most powerful possible testament that, despite what our society might look like and what our media might tell us, the Catholic Church isn’t old and dying.  Every year she becomes younger and fresher.  The Church may not be “popular,” but she still draws people to herself and to the Lord.  She still has power over people.  People still long for her, desire her, and strive after and pursue her.  People still embrace her.  She makes human beings more, much more, than just Homo sapiens sapiens.  Calls us to sublimation and heroism.  And people still want to be heroes and heroines, not in the eyes of society, but in the eyes of God and His Church!  She makes the weak strong and the humble glorious.  Who wouldn’t want that?

The neophytes aren’t the only new, fresh blood in the Church.  The Easter Vigil renews all of us!  It certainly renews me.  I was telling Susie as we walked to our cars that I always feel so alive after the Easter Vigil Mass!  It breathes new life into me.  I come from it an entirely new person.  We all do.

Let us praise and thank the Risen Lord for His tremendous blessings!

Christus resurrexit!  Alleluia!

This glorious Feast of Christ the King couldn’t have come soon enough.  This month has been tumultuous because of the elections.  It’s been really easy to get caught up in civil and temporal affairs, to become troubled and anxious.

Today reminds us that we have a King higher than any civil leader, a King who has been victorious over death and every evil and harm, a King who loves each and every one of us as His very own family.  A King who reigns forever.

Here is a lovely and uplifting Christ the King Day hymn:

To Jesus Christ, our sovereign King,
Who is the world’s Salvation,
All praise and homage do we bring
and thanks and adoration.

Refrain:
Christ Jesus, Victor!
Christ Jesus, Ruler!
Christ Jesus, Lord and Redeemer!

Your reign extend, O King benign,
To every land and nation,
For in Your kingdom, Lord divine,
Alone we find salvation.

(Refrain)

To You and to Your Church, great King,
We pledge our hearts’ oblation,
Until before Your throne we sing
in endless jubilation.

(Refrain)

(Words by Msgr. Martin B. Hellriegel)

No matter what may happen in the world or in our lives, we can always rest with ease beneath the compassionate gaze of our King.


Lift high the cross!  The love of Christ proclaim,

till all the world adore His sacred Name.

Come, Christians, follow where the Master trod,

Our King victorious, Christ the Son of God.

Led on their way by this triumphant sign,

the hosts of God in conquering ranks combine.

Each newborn servant of the Crucified

bears on their brow the seal of Him Who died.

O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,

as Thou hast promised, draw the world to Thee.

So shall our song of triumph ever be:

Praise to the Crucified for victory!

(George William Kitchin, rev. by Michael Robert Newbolt)St. Dominic with cross

14 September is the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, or Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.  This day is dedicated to the cross as the instrument of our salvation.  It is reminiscent of Good Friday’s Veneration of the Cross.  It is also a reminder to Christians that we are to imitate our Savior by carrying our own crosses in life and by doing so joyfully and with devotion.

Our pastor today reminded us at today’s vigil Mass that the cross is more than just a symbol or an ornament–it is part of our identity as Christians. The deacon who gave the homily began by quoting the refrain of the hymn above, which is often associated with this feast day.  He spoke of how bizarre and disturbing non-Christians sometimes find it that we revere an object associated with torment and death.  But Christians look at the cross through the eyes of faith and love–faith and love being two of the most awesome transformative powers in the world.

When we carry our own crosses, we often find the entire world likewise transformed.  It can be difficult to do.  Earlier today, when I was drowning in grief, I just wanted it all to go away.  I just wanted to drop that cross of mine, to get out from under it, to reject it completely.  I tried to do that, but I realized that the only place I had to run to was even deeper into misery!  When we reject our crosses, we reject Christ.  And when we reject Christ, we reject life, love, truth, hope, and every good thing.  We just end up turning in on ourselves, retreating into ourselves, and we find ourselves full of miseries, faults, weakness, and emptiness… and usually lots of denial, too.

Carrying our crosses may be difficult and perhaps even revulsive at times.  But it is in those moments of shrinking and fainting that we often feel the power of Christ within us, if only we believe, if only we strive.  We have Mary and the Saints to show us the way and give us their support as well.  As I mentioned, when I am in the midst of grief and feel like I have no consolation, no relief, nobody to rescue me–I turn to Mary, and she brings me to Christ.  We are never alone in our struggles!

Let us today renew our dedication to Christ and to the crosses He gives each of us.  Let us strive to carry them joyfully and make ourselves more like Him.  Let us regard the cross as part of who we are, as part of our identity–and proudly lift it high!

I just love this time of year, when we have wonderful solemn feast days week after week!  Today we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ, present to us in the Holy Eucharist. 

I love this feast day because it gives us an occasion to really think about and remember one of the most important and distinguished doctrines of our faith: that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present in the Eucharist.  It is no merely “symbolic” presence, as our deacon reminded us in his homily.  It is a mysterious but very real presence.  And it imparts God’s own eternal life to us.

At the beginning of Mass, we sang one of my all-time favorite hymns, “Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All,” which is a prayer by Fr. Frederick William Faber.  I love this hymn not only for its beauty but for the way it closely and clearly identifies the Blessed Sacrament with Christ.  For the way it preaches Truth to us.

Our deacon also talked about the translation of today’s Gospel reading from John chapter 6, specifically about the words the Lord uses when he tells the people they must eat His flesh.  Where most translations just use the verb “to eat,” in the original languages, two different words are used: one that means “to eat,” and another, stronger word that means “to gnaw upon.”  Jesus uses the latter a number of times, very emphatically.  It made many disciples turn away–and Jesus did not stop them.  If they could not accept that teaching, then it was best for them to go.  So much for Jesus’s teaching being merely symbolic.

I don’t think it is coincidental that the texture of Communion Hosts does tend to require a bit of gnawing.  It is not like eating normal bread.  You really have to chew on it.  This may sound silly, but for me the act of chewing up the Host is very meaningful.  It’s the Body of our Lord (and with it, His Blood, Soul, and Divinity)–and He lets us chew it up!  When you think about it, that is really something special… and very strange.  At the same time, it makes simple and perfect sense.  We have to eat in order to stay physically healthy and alive.  Why wouldn’t God also use eating as a way to stay spiritually healthy and alive as well?  Eating is something we know and love and comprehend.  God simply decided to build upon that.  I think it’s sheer genius!

The difficult part is not to mistake the Bread of Life for just another piece of bread, nor to mistake the Precious Blood that washes away the sins of the world for a little nip of wine.  It is a different nourishment altogether that we receive at Holy Mass.  An even more essential nourishment.  The nourishment of our Lord and Savior Himself, who enters into a most sacred and intimate union with us, filling us with divine love and eternal life.

May we remember this every day of the year!

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(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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