Saturday, December 31, 2005

Deo Gratias

As 2005 draws to a close, I thought it best to post a final message...

In gratitude - to God - for all the blessings of the years past.

And in supplication - to God - for help and guidance in the years to come.


Christus heri et hodie
Principium et Finis
Alpha et Omega
Ipsius sunt tempora et saecula
Ipsi gloria et imperium
per universa aeternitatis saecula.


Christ yesterday and today,
The Beginning and the End,
The Alpha and the Omega,
His are the times and the ages,
To Him be glory and dominion
Through the universe of unending ages.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

GKC on the Incarnational Character of Christianity

The Shrine of the Holy Whapping has begun an interesting discussion on the use of material things by the Catholic Church. Rather than bogg down their blogg with a lengthy quote, I am posting this very relevant quote from Chesterton, and invite any additional discussion...

Heaven has descended into the world of matter; the supreme spiritual power is now operating by the machinery of matter, dealing miraculously with the bodies and souls of men. It blesses all the five senses; as the senses of the baby are blessed at a Catholic christening. It blesses even material gifts and keepsakes, as with relics or rosaries. It works through water or oil or bread or wine. Now that sort of mystical materialism may please or displease the Dean, [Inge] or anybody else. But I cannot for the life of me understand why the Dean, or anybody else, does not see that the Incarnation is as much a part of that idea as the Mass; and that the Mass is as much a part of that idea as the Incarnation. A Puritan may think it blasphemous that God should become a wafer. A Moslem thinks it blasphemous that God should become a workman in Galilee. And he is perfectly right, from his point of view; and given his primary principle. But if the Moslem has a principle, the Protestant has only a prejudice. That is, he has only a fragment; a relic; a superstition. If it be profane that the miraculous should descend to the plane of matter, then certainly Catholicism is profane; and Protestantism is profane; and Christianity is profane. Of all human creeds or concepts, in that sense, Christianity is the most utterly profane. But why a man should accept a Creator who was a carpenter, and then worry about holy water, why he should accept a local Protestant tradition that God was born in some particular place mentioned in the Bible, merely because the Bible had been left lying about in England, and then say it is incredible that a blessing should linger on the bones of a saint, why he should accept the first and most stupendous part of the story of Heaven on Earth, and then furiously deny a few small but obvious deductions from it - that is a thing I do not understand; I never could understand; I have come to the conclusion that I shall never understand. I can only attribute it to Superstition.

[GKC The Thing CW3:258-259]

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas - the feast of Paradox

The Nativity of our Lord

(I did not draw this; my computer did according to my instructions. It is just one frame from a rather classical "example" called the "Game of Life" - its stained-glass liturgical-vestment effect seemed appropriate for my comments today.)

I would like to tell you about why this day ought to be called "the Feast of Paradox" but Chesterton already wrote about it. (Someday we'll go into it in detail, but not today!) Here is the relevant quote, from a chapter which everyone should read:
A mass of legend and literature, which increases and will never end, has repeated and rung the changes on that single paradox; that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle. Upon this paradox, we might almost say upon this jest, all the literature of our faith is founded. It is at least like a jest in this; that it is something which the scientific critic cannot see. He laboriously explains the difficulty which we have always defiantly and almost derisively exaggerated; and mildly condemns as improbable something that we have almost madly exalted as incredible; as something that would be much too good to be true, except that it is true. When that contrast between the cosmic creation and the little local infancy has been repeated, reiterated, underlined, emphasised, exulted in, sung, shouted, roared, not to say howled, in a hundred thousand hymns, carols, rhymes, rituals, pictures, poems, and popular sermons, it may be suggested that we hardly need a higher critic to draw our attention to something a little odd about it... Any agnostic or atheist whose childhood has known a real Christmas has ever afterwards, whether he likes it or not, an association in his mind between two ideas that most of mankind must regard as remote from each other; the idea of a baby and the idea of unknown strength that sustains the stars. His instincts and imagination can still connect them, when his reason can no longer see the need of the connection; for him there will always be some savour of religion about the mere picture of a mother and a baby; some hint of mercy and softening about the mere mention of the dreadful name of God. But the two ideas are not naturally or necessarily combined. They would not be necessarily combined for an ancient Greek or a Chinaman, even for Aristotle or Confucius. It is no more inevitable to connect God with an infant than to connect gravitation with a kitten. It has been created in our minds by Christmas because we are Christians; because we are psychological Christians even when we are not theological ones. [GKC, "The God in the Cave", The Everlasting Man CW2:301-303, emphasis added]

Yes, the Feast of Paradox.

As I told you, there was one last something relating to ancient Rome upon which the story of Christmas depends. It is horrible to tell, but it is important, for it puts the Mass in Christmas.

That something is the Cross - the Roman form of capital punishment, which they got from the Phoenicians, reserved for slaves and foreigners. Moreover, as you will recall, the centurion verified His death by piercing His heart... and Pilate even checked up on this! Remember I told you yesterday that Rome recorded His birth? Well, that same Rome also recorded His death. (And if you quarrel about the lack of a post-mortem, etc, who on earth in all of history would be more apt to know that someone is dead than a Roman centurion? Give me a break.)

Yes, the shadow of the Cross looms even into this joyous moment, for Jesus was born in order that He might die - for us! and so we will recall today, as on every other day, that "the night before He died, He took bread ... and said This IS My Body ... He took the chalice of wine ... and said This IS the chalice of My Blood, of the New and Everlasting Covenant..."

Where else comes this Body, this Blood? "How slow you are to understand!"

Were not all these prophecies to be fulfilled?

"God will provide the sacrifice."

The tree of Man's defeat has become his Tree of Victory.

Didn't I mention how easy it is to think of Easter at this time of year?

* * *

And now, for your Christmas gift...

Ass, Ox, Sheep

How often I have been an ass - a name I've truly earned
When God's light I have ignored, and from Him I've turned.
But Francis also called himself an ass, and he knew its worth,
For our Lord rode on an ass while palms hid the earth.

And they say an ass was there "when night spanned half its course,"
A newborn in His mother's arms (unseen by mule or horse.)

How often I have been an ox - dull and slow to move,
When God's way I would not take, stuck in my own groove.
But Aquinas had that name, and his writings prove its worth,
By summing up theology, his bellows fill the earth.

And they say an ox was there when Jesse's fruit was born,
And first-milk calmed the baby crying in that winter morn.

How often I have been a sheep - in dirty fleece so proud,
Aimless I run for anything, but always with the crowd.
Yet since the Risen Christ told Peter the Pope
"Tend My Lambs, feed My sheep" I can still have hope.

And they say the sheep were there when Truth sprang from the earth
The angels sang, the shepherds came, to see the Christ at birth.

An ass I am, an ox, and sheep,
And for my sins I surely weep,
But this hope I also keep,
For they saw the infant sleep.

"Better one night in the stable of the Lord than a thousand elsewhere."

(composed Dec 24, 1998)

God bless you all!
A Holy and Merry Christmas to you!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Vigil of Christmas - ERO CRAS

Tomorrow is Christmas

Our symbol: Here we see a multi-window drawing: the Star, the Great Announcer with the word Gloria, and the shepherds, and in the cave, the Holy Family with Joseph holding the lantern and Mary holding the Light. The tear, or rip which comes down from above reads "tear the heavens open and come down" - not as if I somehow goofed and thought that God only came on Christmas, when in fact He had been human already for nine months - oh not at all! But these nine months were a mystic novena of secret preparation. Only exceedingly privileged people knew about the God-Man incarnate in Mary's womb. But today the Announcement was made: now He is visible and as He told Philip later, "whoever sees Me, sees the Father." So the heavens are indeed torn open.

But before I go further today, I must beg pardon for propagating an error. The error is called "folk-etymology" which is the process by which words are falsely (or faultily) explained to derive from other, usually similar, words. I mistakenly derived "communicate" from the Latin cum + unus = "one with". The correct derivation is from cum + munus. It is surprising to learn that munus is Latin for gift or present - so, oddly enough, this chimes far more strongly with Christmas than one might have expected! This, however, will have to be dealt with in a future discussion.

Today is the Vigil of Christmas - sort of like the Advent version of Holy Saturday. A strange anticipation fills the air. And now it is time for me to tell you two other details I have been holding back.

1. The O acronym. I believe it was over at "the Shrine of the Holy Whapping" (unless it was at "Catholic Testudines") that I learned of the very curious secret hidden in the Latin names of the seven O antiphons:

O Emmanuel
O Rex gentium
O Oriens
O Clavis David
O Radix Jesse
O Adonai
O Sapientia

That is these seven titles of our Lord form an acronym: ERO CRAS = "I will be [here] tomorrow."

2. The Roman connection. There was left hanging this strange little question about how the angel came to Mary in Nazareth but the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. And I have hinted several times about some strange and rather unpleasant topic in relation to this puzzle. Now it is time for me to tell you about it.

One day, probably fairly late in Mary's pregnancy, the Roman command-giver - the Emperor, Caesar Augustus, and the "king" of all the nations around the sea of Middle-Earth, wrote an order.

It was rather a simple order, just a kind of information gathering follow-up for purposes of taxation. It was sent out to the whole world by the efficient Roman roads and trade routes. It was most probably in both Greek and Latin, and finally it came to a little town called Nazareth.

A young man and his pregnant wife heard about it, and realized that they were going to have to make some travel arrangements... Perhaps I should let St. Luke tell this part, as I have doubtless already wrecked it:
And it came to pass that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David. To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.
From the rather ambiguous details in the next few lines, it can be argued back and forth whether Joseph did his "enrolling" before or after the birth. Somehow the sense of a late arrival resulting in the lack of accomodation and the subsequent use of a cave used for sheltering animals seems to suggest that the birth happened that first night, and so the "enrolling" would have occurred with Jesus already born.

What does this mean?

Well, it is true that the Romans did not have computers, nor indeed any kind of electronic information-storage. But they were sticklers for accuracy and for doing things according to the law (remember the Twelve Tables that the schoolboys memorized?)

So this means that the BIRTH of Jesus was recorded legally (for TAX purposes, of all things) by one of the most information-crazy, sticklers-for-standards, law-abiding and POWERFUL governments ever existing! (Said in a whisper, eyes rolling: yet there are still people who try to pretend there was never any such person. ROTFL!)

The other Chosen People:

They had a calendar with descending numbers, which was always looking ahead to a future feast.
They gave us the great capital Letters of Wisdom we still use.
They had laws engraved on stone tablets, seen by the general public and memorized by schoolboys.
They sanctified the fireplace of their homes with their household gods.
They honored the virgins who kept watch by an ever-burning flame.
They dignified their highest religious office with the title of Greatest Bridge-Builder
They fought and destroyed a truly evil empire.
They had a world-wide view and governed an immense realm tolerantly, and tolerably well.
They even had a prophet who told of a Virgin and a divine Child who was to come bringing peace, "to free the world from perpetual fear."

And so, with all the terrifying and unthwartable legal machinery of TAXATION in that world-wide, law-abiding empire, they ratified the birth of that Child which Isaiah and all the Hebrew Prophets had been predicting for millennia - the very Child even their own Virgil had foretold!

They did one more thing, too, which you may have already sensed. It is the other part of Christmas - the one which we have not yet addressed - though we have certainly hinted about it several times.

And tomorrow I will tell you about it. That will be my Christmas gift for you.

O COME!!! O Emmanuel, Rex gentium, Oriens, Clavis David, Radix Jesse, Adonai, Sapientia!

"And you Bethlehem..."


Friday, December 23, 2005

Two more days: O Emmanuel

Come O Emmanuel!

December 23 Two more days: O Emmanuel (O "God-with-us"!)

O Emmanuel,
Rex et legifer noster,
expectatio Gentium,
et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domini, Deus noster.

(translation from Fr. Britt)
O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, the expectation of all nations and their Savior: COME and save us, O Lord our God.

(another version)
O Emmanuel,
king and lawgiver,
desire of the nations,
Savior of all people,
come and set us free, Lord our God.

And Isaiah said, "the Virgin shall be with child, and she will call him Emmanuel, which means 'God with us'."

The last, and the greatest, of the seven: that mystic title so much of a shape with the mystic name of God: "He Who Is"... the promise that the great solution of all the mysteries would be God Himself, being WITH us! And yet, before Isaiah, who could have dared associate that word "God" - that great and terrible name of power - with the idea of a child? Perhaps the "simple" Jews I alluded to previously could understand, while the "tech" professionals struggled with the sometimes deeply mystical symbols the prophets kept presenting. Did you know that there were certain parts of some Old Testament books which were not to be read by anyone under the age of thirty??? (Yes, indeed: one was the strange apocalyptic visions of Ezechiel!)

But as I said, the simple people were ready. And again! I do NOT mean uneducated! Just the opposite: they had been led (Latin e+duco = I lead out) down the right path, as if by an unseen shepherd. ("I will lead them by the right paths for My Name's sake.")

Meanwhile, there were other people who were being led. As the time drew near for the fulfillment of all the promises ("the hopes and fears of all the years"), and Israel (or rather Judea) was being handed around between governing nations like a child in a divorced family, things were happening. Even in Rome.

Advent, and especially these very last days, is a time of goosebumps - of the thrill of anticipation in every good sense. And perhaps you do not need any more - and perhaps you already know about this. But even if you do know, you can read it again and still be surprised.

For some 40 years before the angel came to Mary in Nazareth, a Roman poet named Publius Vergilius Maro (also called Virgil) was writing some verses in imitation of the Idyls or Sketches of the Sicilian Greek poet Theocritus. In these ten Eclogues (also called Bucolics) he wrote about shepherds singing songs in rustic settings: they show "a love of nature and a deep sympathy for humanity." Some of them dealt with certain personal events in Virgil's life, others are on contemporary events.

But Virgil's Fourth Eclogue is different.
The Fourth Eclogue, addressed to Virgil's earliest protector Pollio, is one of the most famous poems in the world. In it the poet celebrates the birth of a child during whose lifetime the Golden Age of peace and innocence will come again, while all the world rejoices. [See Reader's Companion to World Literature 468-469]

One can do with this as one wishes. One may ponder what was going on all one likes: Virgil, after all, wrote the Aeneid as a kind of sequel to the Iliad about the escape from Troy and the founding of Rome. And God knows what kind of intrigues were going on in Imperial Rome, and who he was trying to flatter...

But one needs to read this strange poem and one will begin to feel it is not utterly crazy to refer to Virgil as the Roman Isaiah:

And now the virgin returns, Saturn's kingdoms return: now a new race is sent down from high heaven. Do you now, O chaste Lucina, favour the infant boy, by whom the iron age first shall end, and the golden age shall arise through the whole world" now your own Apollo reigns. And thus this glory of the age shall enter, you O Pollio being consul; and the great months shall begin to advance. You being chief, if any marks of our crime shall remain, rendered vain they shall free the earth from perpetual fear. He shall receive the life of gods, and shall behold heroes mingled with gods, and he shall be seen by them; and he shall rule the peaceful globe by his father's virtues. ... O btight offsppirng of gods, great descendant of Jupiter, approach thy great dignities, now the time has arrived Behold the world with its vaulted weight nodding, and the lands, and the regions of the sea, and exalted heaven; behold, how all things rejoice in the age about to come... [Virgil Interlinear translation by Hart & Osborn]

In the next line Virgil begs that he might live long enough to see those days, and if he could, then sing of the time - and, he boasts, he would excel all the other great poets of ancient times! Alas, he died in 19 B.C.

Even more strange, and easily overlooked in the poetry, is a reference to wheat and grape, and something even more mystical about the oak (a tree - hint, hint!) dripping honey...

Well. Had Virgil been reading the Hebrew prophets? Was he - a pagan Roman - also expecting Christmas? OK. You need to read the whole thing, and then think about this. But it certainly looks like something was happening in Rome. Somebody knew something. Somehow even there a rumor was afoot, about a "divine" child who was coming: God with us.

* * *

This seventh antiphon completes the mystic week of anticipation, and after today there will be just one more day of waiting. There is one more aspect of our meditations on the other chosen people, the Romans, yet to be considered. But today I wish to clear up the issue about the seven and eight (or nine) about how we are counting down. It's simple: the countdown has nine days, kind of a miniature replay of the nine months from the Annunciation to Christmas. There is a starting day, then these seven days of the O antiphons, then the final day of the vigil. But I have recently learned there is another little surprise about this arrangement which (alas!) I must defer.

For now, you should think again about Isaiah and Virgil, and ponder this line which Chesterton quotes from that Fourth Eclogue:

"Begin, little boy, to know your mother by her smile."

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Three more days: O Rex Gentium

Come O King of Nations!

December 22 Three more days: O Rex Gentium (O King of Nations)

O Rex Gentium,
et desideratus earum lapisque angularis,
qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O King of the Gentiles, yea, and the desire thereof, the Corner-stone that makest both one: COME and save man, whom Thou has made out of the slime of the earth.

(another version)

O King of all the nations,
the only joy of every human heart;
O Keystone of the mighty arch of man,
come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.
(The symbol is the earth, with a crown above it.)

Lapis angularis qui facis utraque unum = "You, the Cornerstone, Who make both one"

A few years back, in the encyclical Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II asked for people to send him their thoughts and ideas about the nature of the Papacy. This was quite an invitation - and it ought to be noted that he did not limit the request to only philosophers and theologians. So obviously I took him up on it, and wrote a very long letter about my thoughts on the Papacy. Of course I dragged in Chesterton and science and engineering, and music... but one of the things which stood out is the remarkable ubiquity of "papal" characters of authority in other fields. I am not trying to set up a long argument here about it, partly because I am trying to write about something else, but also partly for the same reasons as Chesterton. One of the most powerful lines in all his work is this:
"I don't see why you should come to me about it. I ought to tell you I'm a strong Protestant."
"I'm very fond of strong Protestants," said Father Brown. "I came to you because I was sure you would tell the truth." [GKC, "The Chief Mourner of Marne" in The Secret of Father Brown]
And that is what this mention of Papacy is about: telling the truth - or, to put it another way, accuracy in communication.

In that long letter, one of the topics I mentioned was the ISO. That is the amazing international organization which deals with standards and measurements of all kinds: length and weight (more correctly, mass) and time - the meter and the kilogram and the second, and all manner of basic and exotic dimensions - all these are made one all over the earth. A company or a nation is free to do as it pleases with its measures and its products: but when its work freely conforms to the carefully arranged order specified by the ISO, that work suddenly has a world-wide applicability, and a universal appeal. Even more importantly, any serious work of science must conform to accepted standards of measure and terminology - or it might as well not be published. The communication which is intended by the Latin root of "science" which means "knowledge" - that will fail to occur, unless there is some way in which a student can become one with (cum + unus) a teacher: and that is what is made possible by the action of a world-wide authority.

This is not a mere result of the "communication age" nor of "modern science". It is not even a result of a "Christian age", though Christianity has greatly augmented it. No, it is very much a Roman thing. There, in the middle of the boot-shaped peninsula in the sea they called "Middle Earth" - that single city exerted authority which made the world one (the world, that is, as far as it was then known!)

It will sound very odd (especially to strong Protestants!) but Rome was very catholic before Christianity. For catholic is just the Greek word for the Latin-derived adjective "universal". And there is a good laugh right there: for Greek was used quite a lot in ancient Rome, just as French was used in much of the official business of England! It may sound surprising, but Rome was actually remarkably "tolerant" of local customs and traditions and even forms of worship - as long as one paid one's taxes... (hint, hint!!!) But wherever Rome came, Rome brought civilization: not just in her culture with her language and her government (which means law and order) but even in more mundane matters such as roads and aqueducts and such civil engineering projects. Sure, the roads made it easier to send troops around. So could our Interstate highways! But look at all the other advantages to having safe means of world-wide transport, and a common language to communicate in... we have them now, or ought to.

But for a time, at a certain era in history, Rome did rule the world. There, in the city on the Tiber, in the sea of Middle-Earth, the Emperor busied himself with entertainment and partying, but also gave orders ("emperor" comes from the Latin imperio = I command) which were carried out... By decree of the Senate and the People, he was considered "divine" - and in those days, the Roman high priest was called Pontifex Maximus - the Greatest Bridge-Builder. Like a bridge, he makes the two into one.

Now, however, this world-wide power of command was to be bent to a Higher Authority - indeed, the Highest Authority of all! Its roads and its trade routes, its common language and common law, were to be used to further a great Plan - the greatest of Plans. And Rome, with its vestals and its Lares, victorious over Carthage, had been chosen to play a part in that Plan.

But we'll hear more about this tomorrow.

Come O Rex Gentium.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Four more days: O Oriens

Come O Rising Dawn!

December 21 (the winter solstice) Four more days: O Oriens (O Rising Dawn)

O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol iustitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris,
et umbra mortis.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O Orient, Splendor of the Eternal Light, and Sun of Justice: COME and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

(another version)

O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light,
sun of justice:
come, shine on those who dwell
in darkness and the shadow of death.
(The symbol is the sun at sunrise. The dawn is represented by a rainbow effect which has a kind of corner, and looks more like the heraldic device called the "chevron", representing the rafters of a house.)

"The people who walk in the darkness have seen a great light, on those who dwell in the shadow of death, a light has arisen."
"By the depths of the mercy of our God, the Dawn from on high shall break upon us: to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the Way of Peace."

Today is the solstice: the "end point" of the ellipse our Earth makes around the Sun. It is also "perihelion": the day of closest approach to the Sun. (I won't go further into this astronomy today; maybe another time, if necessary.)

The title presented for our consideration is rather a wise-guy kind of Latin pun - oriens means both "east" and "rising", and so suggests the dawn. The pagan wanna-bes of the present time still try to co-opt Christmas as some kind of sun-worship, and they are nearly right. For there is a remarkable echo of that Latin pun in an adjacent English pun: sun versus Son. So yes, we Christians do participate in Son-worship. And though we may not be precisely astronomical, Christmas is indeed the time of the Son's closest approach to Earth!!!

This whole thing about light as image and as title of God - well, one could probably write a book about it, just as one might do so on water as well. (Oh, another pun; water/well, hee hee!) Light serves as a grand symbol of the Divine: it tells a simple lesson to the uneducated, and a mysterious one to the physicist. And it is one of the most understandable of the various forms of paganism that they worshipped the local star, rejoicing in its rising, mourning its setting, and performing rituals as our wobbly planet goes along its ellipse. The Sun is a mighty image of God: Jesus Himself pointed this out "God makes the sun shine on the just and the unjust..." St. Francis puts "Brother Sun" first in his "Canticle of the Creatures." And GKC wrote some of his most dramatic lines about it:
"Treading fearfully amid the growing fingers of the earth, I raised my eyes, and at the next moment shut them, as at a blow. High in the empty air blazed and streamed a great fire, which burnt and blinded me every time I raised my eyes to it. I have lived many years now under this meteor of a fixed Apocalypse, but I have never survived the feelings of that moment. Men eat and drink, buy and sell, marry, are given in marriage, and all the time there is something in the sky at which they cannot look. They must be very brave." [GKC, "A Crazy Tale" CW14:70
Another important quote from his non-fiction echoes the great Doctor St. Anselm:
Symbols alone are of even a cloudy value in speaking of this deep matter; and another symbol from physical nature will express sufficiently well the real place of mysticism before mankind. The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything. Like the sun at noonday, mysticism explains everything else by the blaze of its own victorious invisibility. [GKC, Orthodoxy CW1:231, emphasis added]
Compare with this:
"If I fail to see this light [of God] it is simply because it is too bright for me. Still, it is by this light that I do see all that I can, even as weak eyes, unable to look straight at the sun, see
all that they can by the sun's light." [The Proslogion of St. Anselm, from the Office of Readings for April 21.]
But, as you surely know, there have been other aspects of paganism which have been, and are, most horrible. The modern form delights in sex and destroys fecundity - which nearly all ancient pagans would have condemned as unnatural. And anyone who knows even hints of the ancient forms knows about the strange "familial" relations between the various gods and goddesses - let's just say that the typical soap opera is rather tame...

Alas, there are even darker and far more sinister forms. The horrors perpetrated in pre-Colombian Middle-America are well-documented - some 80,000 men had their hearts cut out in a four-day period, some time around 1488. And much further back, on the opposite side of the Mediterranean from Rome, there was another civilization called Carthage: quite a bit more advanced than Rome, and specializing in trade. They specialized in a rather unique form of worship, too, which people still argue about, despite the discovery in the early 1900s of the piles of little burnt baby skeletons in the ruins of Carthage. There was a lot of argument back then, too, perhaps reminiscent of the debate on the "War on Terror". The Elder Cato would address the Roman Senate and each time would conclude by saying "Carthago delenda est": Carthage must be destroyed.

And it was. Not a stone was left on another. And then they sowed the fields with salt.

There are still historians debating the true reasons and purposes behind those Punic Wars, which resulted in the dominance of Rome - but there are still historians debating the shades and undercurrents of the "late unpleasantness" which is labelled "The American Civil War" or "the War Between the States." If you propose that I am merely following Chesterton on this, you are quite right. I am not making an argument, however, but trying to paint a picture...

Something about Rome as "right" - in some manner, for whatever reason. And despite its quirks and failures and evils, it was simply not as bad as Carthage - and recognized something seriously wrong about Carthage: so much so, that Rome annihilated it.

But then, Rome did value the family. Rome did value even those of the lowest class, called the Proletarii - those who served the State by being the father of children!

On these people, too, a light has arisen. And the light was not utterly foreign to its culture, even though it arose in the East! (Here's that Latin pun, remember?) So great a light, that one day one of its soldiers would propose a parable on obedience and order to Jesus himself! And that light would come even to the Imperial City itself, in the presence of those two Princes, Peter and Paul, who would consecrate the Seven Hills with their blood. But Rome also had other roles to play in this story - as we shall see.

"In the Word was life: and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness: and the darkness did not comprehend it."

Come O Oriens.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Five more days: O Clavis David

Come O Clavis David!

December 20: Five more days: O Clavis David (O Key of David)

O clavis David,
et sceptrum domus Israel,
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O Key of David, and Scepter of the House of Israel; who openest, and no man shutteth; who shuttest, and no man openeth; COME and lead the captive from the prison-house, and him that sitteth in darkness and in the shadow of death.

(another version)

O Key of David,
O royal Power of Israel
controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
come, break down the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death;
and lead your captive people into freedom.
(The symbol is an old-fashioned door key, with the Star of David in the handle (or loop); the bit's chief functional shape is a cross.)

Yes, I know: it is very funny to read these words together: key and bit. (But then GKC says there is no such thing as a different subject!)

"I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open." [Isaiah]
"These things saith the Holy One and the true one, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth and no man shutteth, shutteth and no man openeth..." [Revelation/Apocalypse]

This is one of the predictions in which one really needs to know something about old-fashioned things. Because it must sound very strange that someone would put that tiny little odd-shaped piece of metal which locks or unlocks doors on someone's shoulder. You see, in the time of Isaiah, and the time of Christ, and even into the 20th century, one could see people carrying big long wooden things that looked very much like our modern hockey sticks - over their shoulders. Those were keys for big wooden doors, and when a key was given to someone, that person received the authority (and the duty) to govern the door which that key controlled.

The mighty gate governed by the key of David is the gate of heaven ("I am the gate." John 10:9) but it is also called the key of the house of David. Remember our talk about the household gods yesterday? Here is another profound symbol. Chesterton wrote about it as a critical element in the matter of faith, relating it to science (of all things):
The complication of our modern world proves the truth of the creed more perfectly than any of the plain problems of the ages of faith. ... This is why the faith has that elaboration of doctrines and details which so much distresses those who admire Christianity without believing in it. When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science. It shows how rich it is in discoveries. If it is right at all, it is a compliment to say that it's elaborately right. A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key.
[GKC, Orthodoxy CW1:286-287]
And much more, and with greater impact in The Everlasting Man:
The Early Christian was very precisely a person carrying about a key, or what he said was a key. The whole Christian movement consisted in claiming to possess that key. It was not merely a vague forward movement, which might be better represented by a battering-ram. ... It definitely asserted that there was a key and that it possessed that key and that no other key was like it; in that sense it was as narrow as you please. Only it happened to be the key that could unlock the prison of the whole world; and let in the white daylight of liberty. The creed was like a key in three respects...
[1] First, a key is above all things a thing with a shape. It is a thing that depends entirely upon keeping its shape. The Christian creed is above all things the philosophy of shapes and the enemy of shapelessness. That is where it differs from all that formless infinity, Manichean or Buddhist, which makes a sort of pool of night in the dark heart of Asia; the ideal of uncreating all the creatures. That is where it differs also from the analogous vagueness of mere evolutionism; the idea of creatures constantly losing their shape. A man told that his solitary latchkey had been melted down with a million others into a Buddhistic unity would be annoyed. But a man told that his key was gradually growing and sprouting in his pocket, and branching into new wards or complications, would not be more gratified.
[2] Second, the shape of a key is in itself a rather fantastic shape. A savage who did not know it was a key would have the greatest difficulty in guessing what it could possibly be. And it is fantastic because it is in a sense arbitrary. A key is not a matter of abstractions; in that sense a key is not a matter of argument. It either fits the lock or it does not. It is useless for men to stand disputing over it, considered by itself; or reconstructing it on pure principles of geometry or decorative art. It is senseless for a man to say he would like a simpler key; it would be far more sensible to do his best with a crowbar.
[3] And thirdly, as the key is necessarily a thing with a pattern, so this was one having in some ways a rather elaborate pattern. When people complain of the religion being so early complicated with theology and things of the kind, they forget that the world had not only got into a hole, but had got into a whole maze of holes and corners. The problem itself was a complicated problem; it did not in the ordinary sense merely involve anything so simple as sin. It was also full of secrets, of unexplored and unfathomable fallacies, of unconscious mental diseases, of dangers in all directions. If the faith had faced the world only with the platitudes about peace and simplicity some moralists would confine it to, it would not have had the faintest effect on that luxurious and labyrinthine lunatic asylum. What it did do we must now roughly describe; it is enough to say here that there was undoubtedly much about the key that seemed complex; indeed there was only one thing about it that was simple. It opened the door. [CW2:346-347]

And yet, Chesterton was not making an argument about the Papacy (the flag of which has two crossed keys!) That study and meditation was done in The Keys of the Kingdom - a fascinating book by Stanley L. Jaki. In that book is this remarkable clue to my present exploration of the "other chosen people":
"The handing over of the household keys to the bride was part of the Roman marriage ritual. [Jaki, The Keys of the Kingdom 19]
And lest you think this too deep or esoteric a reference, consider this one:
This [ancient Roman] key was chained to a slave called the janitor, or doorkeeper, who in turn was chained to the door. His duty was to guard the door, and the members of the household with his life. [Keene, The Clue of the Black Keys - a Nancy Drew Mystery 42]

The Roman janitor then was rather more of a security guard than a clean-up man. (If one knows a little about the month of January, one might recall that the Roman named "Janus" was the god of doors and gates; he was usually pictured with two faces.) The role of janitor was a kind of watchman... someone always on guard, the defender of the home!

There was another very unusual kind of guardian in ancient Roman religion. They were called the "Vestal Virgins". They watched the sacred fire, keeping it burning day and night. (Yes, they were 24/7, but that idea goes back even further. See Leviticus 8:33-35.) One might readily understand a practical aspect of such a task: having a public fire provides a safeguard against an individual's home fire going out. It was also a guaranteed place where there would always be light. The Vestals were exceeedingly popular and well-loved, and had remarkable privileges. Vesta was the goddess of the family hearth, and presided over true and faithful dealings. [See The Myths of Greece and Rome H. A. Guerber; the same chapter also deals with the Lares we discussed yesterday.]

It is very curious to ponder the link between this kind of fire-guarding duty and the idea of virginity... yeah, well, fire is pure, but why this connection? Was it just some pagan thing? Well...


...Until one remembers that parable about the five wise virgins and the five foolish ones, trying to keep their lamps burning, waiting up (round the clock?) for the bridegroom to arrive!!!

(Wow. I wonder. Did those who first heard this parable know of the Vestal Virgins?)

The Bridegroom is coming. He is bringing the key. He will open the door - and no one can keep it closed. Once He and His friends have gone into His home, the door will be closed - and no enemy will be able to open it.

But there's also another door: a door to which we have the key. It's up to us:

"Behold, I stand at the gate and knock. If any man shall hear my voice and open to me the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him: and he with me."

Come O Clavis David.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Six more days: O Radix Jesse

Come O Radix Jesse!

December 19: Six more days: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)

O radix Iesse,
qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O Root of Jesse, who standest as the ensign of the people, before whom kings shall not open their lips; to whom the Gentiles shall pray: COME and deliver us, tarry now no more.

(another version)

O Flower of Jesse's stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.
(For this I have drawn a mystical plant bearing a golden flower which is the "Star of David".)

"That day, the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples. It will be sought out by the nations and its home will be glorious." [Isaiah 11:10 Jerusalem Bible translation]

In yesterday's discussion, focussing primarily on the law, I pointed out that the title "Dux domus" - the leader of the house [of Israel] - would need further elaboration. With this symbol, the Root of Jesse, we shall now explore the domestic attributes. Note that sometimes the flower - sometimes the root - is indicated. Possibly this is a kind of synecdoche, the figure of speech where a part stands for the whole: the whole royal line of Israel begins with David - but that line is rooted in Jesse, who is David's father. But the line, great at one time, had all but vanished - until a new flower sprang forth.

We turn, then, from our examination of law, urban studies, civics, or politics, to the more familiar and homely. Certainly we see in the Bible and in the history of Israel a very exalted view of the family and the home: one of the Commandments we recalled yesterday directs us to "honor thy father and thy mother..." and there are many other examples of the special role the home and the family played throughout the Old Testament.

Again we find a very strong parallel in ancient Rome. Quite some time ago in one of these Advent discussions, I mentioned the word "tribe" which is a Latin word, not an American Indian one. And the alert student will sniff that word and wonder whether the Latin root for "three" is lurking therein - and you would be RIGHT! For there were originally just THREE tribes of ancient Rome, representing (as I understand) the three most ancient peoples who had joined in setting up a common living place, there on the banks of the Tiber. Later, other "tribes" were added, in an effort to give a kind of "representation" to certain aspects of the government... I cannot go into detail here, but there is thus some hint of relating the "family" as a "tribe" to the "government". In this case, the historical details may distort my proposed analogy. But this is just one way in which the family was important in ancient Rome.

It may be somewhat distressing to learn that the root of "family" refers to the servants or slaves of the household. But this distortion is brought back to focus by considering what it was the slaves were doing: they were working: to feed the household, clothe the household, clean the household, and do all the chores and other work necessary to run the household. This STILL HAPPENS - it is not a matter of slavery. It may be made a little more visible if I switch to Greek and bring two words to your attention: economics and ecology. The Greek root which is common to these - rendered "eco" - means "house". Economics means "law of the house", ecology means "study of the house". If you're going to run a house, these things play a part - but somebody has to do the work. (Even economists and ecologists have to live!)

But (as we know) the idea of serving changed - at least as an idea. The change came about around 2000 years ago, when a certain baby was born... So quickly did it change and so profoundly, that the new organization soon had to set up a special office called the "servants". They used Greek, though, and the word sounded something like "deacon". Some time later there were organizations which "served" lunch to the poor: they made a thick stew-like soup which they "served" up. They called it the BIG SERVE - in the worn-down Latin they used it sounded like "MINESTRONE."

So there is a healthy sense to this idea of service in the family. But let's get back into focus - what about Rome made the family so special?

It was the FOCUS.

That is, the hearth. (The Latin focus means "hearth".) I cannot go into a long elaboration about Italians and cooking - and the kitchen - it will make me hungry... but probably you already know about it. But this is not about pasta or scallopini, or even wine - it is about home life - and eating is a big part of life in the home, and food is prepared at the fireplace. It may be surprising to you, but there was something else there at the hearth, which did not have to do with cooking. It had to do with religion.

It may be legend, or it may be real. But there was a strange but very understandable aspect of ancient Roman religious practice, and it happened around the family fire-place (the cooking area, or the kitchen). They were called the "household gods" or the Lares: the gods of the hearth. It will stretch the image here, but make a useful link for a future discussion, to say that this was something which served the adults almost in the way a modern night-light can serve a child: something familiar, something to inspire confidence, something which gave protection... Maybe not like a weapon or a dog would - though supposedly the idol for a "Lar" was a kind of dog - (hmm) - maybe it was something inside the person who felt protected. Anyhow: this great pagan society, with their various temples and gods and goddesses, ALSO had this very local, private, and personal kind of devotion as well. There was something which made the hearth warmer than just the fire burning there - and it was something religious.

"The truth is that only men to whom the family is sacred will ever have a standard or a status by which to criticise the state. They alone can appeal to something more holy than the gods of the city; the gods of the hearth." [GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:275]

Now, the root of Jesse blossoms forth: the signal is raised for the peoples! It is no longer a pagan idol, nor just a Roman (I mean Imperial Roman) practice. It is not a mere placebo or a security blanket. And so the family is exalted as never before.... Yet ancient Rome anticipated it, as they anticipated so much. Shortly we shall see just how close they came to guessing about... well, you will see when we talk about the great poet Virgil, who died about 40 years before the birth of Christ. But if the ancient Romans had come to Bethlehem - ordinary people like characters in Virgil's writings, honest common folk who cooked and ate and slept around the family hearth with their Lares, if they had come? Well: "They might have found in that strange place all that was best in the last traditions of the Latins; and something better than a wooden idol standing up for ever for the pillar of the human family; a Household God." [GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:308]

Come O Radix Jesse.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Seven more days: O Adonai

Come O Adonai!

December 18: Seven more days: O Adonai (O Lord of Israel)

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in braccio extento.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel, who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest to him the Law on Sinai: COME and redeem us by Thy outstretched arm.

(another version)

O sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.
(The symbol is the tablets of the Law, kept within the Ark of the Covenant: the Three of God and the Seven of Neighbor.)

"And it shall be as a sign in thy hand, and as a memorial before thy eyes; and that the law of the Lord be always in thy mouth, for with a strong hand the Lord hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt." [From the Book of Exodus]

Dux domus. What a pair of words. So many English words are coupled to these two: all the words containing the "duct" root which means "lead" - all the words containing the "dom" root which means "house". And we shall see more on this title as it links to, and is prefigured by ancient Rome. But today I wish to ponder another phrase: "legem dedisti" = "You gave the law."

Our symbol is the two tablets which God Himself inscribed. In the movie "The Ten Commandments" one of the most dramatic and truly God-inspired special effects shows this amazing event! These ten laws, though sometimes numbered with a slight variation, are the entirety of God's will for us - though we know Jesus pointed out that they can easily be reduced to just two. (Is this a mnemonic clue: the two hands and the five fingers on each? Usually, of course, the numbering comes out to three and seven, but this is going too deep for now.)

But is this the "whole" law? Not quite. For just as we know that the American Constitution is merely about six pages long, with another six of amendments - yet the Federal Code of Law is book upon book - so, too, there are hundreds of details to the Jewish Law - like how to keep the Sabbath, and what foods were forbidden - all those are not stated in the Commandments, though they are somehow implied within them.

When we look back into history, there are other interesting things we might say about law. There was the work of Solon in Greece; there was the Code of Hammurabi (which some hint at having some relation to the ancient Jewish codes); there are the various "customs" of Confucius, which sometimes seem to be an extended "Miss Manners" column, but govern both the individual and the family as well as the state.

But there is one other set of laws which were in some strange way more akin to the Mosaic legality than to others. I speak not in a formal, legal, sense, nor in a historical sense - but in a mystical sense. That set of laws was called "the Twelve Tables" of ancient Rome. What were these?

The Twelve Tables were an early collection of Roman law, dating from the 5th century B.C. The original tables were destroyed when Rome was sacked by the Gauls. Our fragemnts represent a later, modified version. The tables dealt with lawsuits, court procedure, property damage, etc. They were memorized by every schoolboy and were called fons omnis publici privatique juris [the wellspring of all public and private law]. In fact, the Twelve Tables are the beginnings of the development of Roman law. [Dictionary of Latin Literature, James H. Mantinband]

These twelve tablets were displayed in the great Roman Forum: the primary meetingplace in the City, the center of public and judicial activity.

Now, of course these laws were the "outer" or "major" parts: the fundamentals. There were certainly other details which would not be there - the lawyers were quite as busy back then. But there is this difference: the major and foundational law was about as public a thing as it was possible to have. I'm not sure whether the typical City Hall would go about having the Constitution displayed in quite that public a manner - nor would it be memorized by schoolboys.

There are many things we can find to dislike about ancient Rome: whether we speak as American citizens, or as heirs of another 2500 years of history, thought, and legal study, or as followers of the Mosaic or the Christian world-view. For one thing, slavery was permitted. There were silly things too, like the "sumptuary laws" which tried to govern what foods were permitted (oops, aren't we doing that too? - it's funny, for it was then that the "capon" was invented, to take advantage of a legal loophole. I'll post on that another time.) Generally, property was held in more importance than life. Things changed, of course, when the Republic gave way to the Empire - and then, too, there were the rules regarding religion, which got complicated because the emperor was deified... and this led to difficulties and eventual persecutions.

But there were some very good things about Roman Law, too. I won't try to go into the historical inheritance, and influence, of Roman Law which was profound. Somewhere I have seen it stated that certain structures in the Code of Canon Law (the Church's own law) derived from the Roman Law. But even leaving out such details, there is something very dramatic and relevant for us to learn from those Twelve Tablets.

Every ancient Roman saw the Law, day in and day out: it was a "memorial before their eyes"...

And in their education, the Roman schoolboys "had the law always in their mouths"...

"The mouth of the just shall meditate wisdom: and his tongue shall speak judgment. The law of his God is in his heart..."

"Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."

Come O Adonai.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Eight more days: O Sapientia

Come, O Wisdom!

December 17: Eight more days: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O Wisdom, that proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end mightily, and sweetly disposing all things, COME and teach us the way of prudence.

(another version)

Wisdom, O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.
Come and show your people the way to salvation.
(The circle circumscribing an equilateral triangle around the eye stands for the Godhead; the seven flames emanating are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit - "I will ask the Father and He will send another Advocate" - the large central one at the bottom is "wisdom". But the Word is also called Wisdom.)

"Get wisdom, get understanding." [from the book of Proverbs]

But how is wisdom to be gotten?

As I mentioned in my prelude to these seven days, wonderful details have been written about these seven antiphons. But I wish to meditate on the hints they reveal about the role of Rome in Salvation History.

And, since you are most likely sitting in front of a computer as you read this, I will call your attention to that most amazing gift of Ancient Rome which sits just in front of you.

I mean the twenty-six capital letters on your keyboard, which (except for the J and the U and W) have been in use for over 2,000 years. Here they are: look at them:


I don't have room, or the background, to explain the entire history of this most amazing gift. But we must note several points: It is not the Greek alphabet (though most of those symbols are Greek letters also!) - but there is no "chalice or great saturn" as GKC called the capital Psi and Theta, and no Omega, no Pi, no Sigma, no Gamma, no Xi... Nor are there the Aleph and Beth and Gimel and Daleth, of the Hebrew - written, moreover, from right to left.

It is a strange thing to think, too, that the Latin tongue, still in use by the Church, serves as a universal language: not only indeed for the Church, but for the Law, for Medicine, and for Science. Granted, few write their doctoral dissertations in Latin now. But so it was for well over a thousand years. And Latin is still the basis for many terms in these fields - even for ones in more distant realms, such as the hilarious "multiculturalism" which cannot but bow to Rome, and exalt her high above other civilizations!

Indeed, with the computer age, and ASCII or any other character set, this Roman gift has become even more strongly bound to the important field of communications. And communication is somehow linked with wisdom - for it reaches "from end to end"... And it was not a picture or a pictogram or hieroglyph which was to be the distinguishing symbol of Jesus the God-Man: no, it was the Word - and the word is the essence of communication.

A note: lest it seem that I slight Hebrew, may I point out the very strange truth that the Hebrew word typically has THREE consonants which form a "root" - and so the very language has a trinitarian character! Moreover, the Watson-Crick "Genetic Code" has been show to use three letters of DNA to indicate each amino acid to be built into the protein. Nor do I slight Greek, for as I said many of the Latin letters are Greek ones: but also almost as many words are still used even in this electronic and technical age! "...we have to go on using the Greek name of amber as the only name of electricity because we have no notion what is the real name or nature of electricity." [GKC, The Common Man 170]

But one more point about Latin: when I read about the martyrs of Rome, I think how they would laugh in their pain if they would be able to see the characters and language of their persecutors preserved primarily by the Church! Indeed, not just the city (where the Vatican is, and all those churches built on top of or inside pagan temples) and the Roman garments (which the priest wears to offer Holy Mass) but the very tongue of the Romans is now the martyrs' spoils of victory!

"Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter, not the smallest part of a letter, will pass away..."

"The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."

Come O Wisdom.

A comment on the Greater Feria - the O Antiphons

Now begins that final (and Roman) count-down. In each of these last seven days (yes, I have not mis-counted: there are eight more, and we'll explain that at the proper time!) our dear Mother Church, knowing how we children long for the coming of Christmas, gives us this most ancient and glorious mechanism called the Great Antiphons or O Antiphons - they are like a grand and ancient clock, with gold and silver hardware and brilliantly painted or finished woods, chiming with wonderful music, and ticking down the last days as it reveals more and more interesting and curious details about the coming feast.

You may be wondering if I am somehow exaggerating my view of this. I may, of course, be making it somewhat more technical, as GKC might have made it more artistic, and literary. But if anything, I am probably not nearly as enthusiastic about this as other writers, nor (of course) as the Church herself.

For example, consider this commentary:
The seven great Antiphons, or O Antiphons, as they are called, are said, one each day, at the Magnificat in Vespers, from December 17th to the 23rd inclusive. Although not written in meter, they are strikingly poetical in thought, and replete with Scriptural allusions. Each Antiphon salutes the coming Messias under one of His many Scriptural titles, and closes with a proper petition. The authorship and date of composition are unknown, They are, however, at least as old as the ninth century [A.D.] and probably much older. There are several translations in both prose and verse.
[Britt, The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal, 91]
(I will be quoting the translations given by Fr. Britt as we go through the next seven days.)

Dr. Parsch, in his The Church's year of Grace, says: "In studying the "O" antiphons we will keep in mind (a) that each antiphon contains one or more Old Testament types or figures; (b) that each such allusion has a message for the new dispensation of grace; the point of comparison (tertium comparationis) must be sought and evaluated."
He gives a lengthy discussion (usually two pages) addressing both points under each antiphon.

And, in the most amazing collection of books called The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger (I:482) is this:
The Church enters to-day [Dec. 17] on the seven days which precede the Vigil of Christmas, and which are known in the liturgy under the name of the Greater Ferias. The ordinary of the Advent office becomes more solemn, the antiphons of the psalms, both for Lauds and the Hours of the day, are proper, and allude expressly to the great coming. Every day, at Vespers, is sung a solemn antiphon, consisting of a fervent prayer to the Messias, whom it addresses by one of the titles given Him in the sacred Scriptures. In the Roman Church, there are seven of these antiphons, one for each of the greater ferias. They are commonly called the O's of Advent, because they all begin with that interjection. ... The canonical Hour of Vespers has been selected as the most appropriate time for this solemn supplication to our Savior, because, as the Church sings in one of her hymns, it was in the evening of the world that the Messias came amongst us. These antiphons are sung at the Magnificat, to show us that the Savior who we expect is to come to us by mary. They are sung twice, once before and once after the canticle, as on double feasts, and this is to show their great solemnity. ... let us enter into the spirit of the Church; let us reflect on the great day which is coming; that thus we may take our sharein these the last and most earnest solicitations of the Church imploring her Spouse to come, to which He at length yields.
The Abbot, like Dr. Parsch, has provided length discussions exploring the biblical and ecclesial details within each of these antiphons. You will also recognize them as the seven verses from the very popular Advent hymn, "O come o come Emmanuel" - which is actually the last of the seven.

But as we go through these days, rather than attempt what could only be a poor approximation of these fine discussions, I will instead explore something very strange, but very interesting. It might almost be called "The Other Chosen People" - for as I hinted yesterday about count-downs, the Romans also have their place in this picture. And it is time to see the mystical harmony God granted us, by giving them a role - a small and a sometimes haphazard and broken role - but indeed a major role in the world into which Jesus Christ was born.

Again bear in mind while I will recount certain facts from history, much will be speculation - or perhaps the poetry which can sometimes arise from adjacency. I will not argue the points, but merely point out strange parallels.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Advent: Week 3 Day 6

The Annunciation

(Yes, Gabriel has a beeper. Or maybe it's a cell phone - after all, he is the patron saint of communications!)

"The angel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth, a town of Judah, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
The angel said: 'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.'
Mary wondered what this greeting could mean, and the angel went on.
'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You will conceive and bear a son, and you will name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.'
Mary then asked, 'How can this be, since I do not know man?'
Gabriel responded, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the Power of the Most High will overshadow you. Thus, the holy child to be born will be called the Son of God. Moreover: Elizabeth, your kinswoman, has also conceived a son in her old age. She who was thought to be sterile is now in her sixth month, for NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD.'"

Here, we should pause, and wait. This is the moment, far more exciting than any other moment which has ever been - even the time in Eden with the "apple"... If this was a Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew story, we would go to a new chapter - but no cliffhanger of any novel was ever as tense and as dramatic as this one. All the Universe, and God Himself waits: what will she say?

"Then Mary said: 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord. BE IT DONE UNTO ME ACCORDING TO THY WORD.'

And with that [message], the angel left her [and returned to God]..."

I told you the heavenly message-channel was bi-directional, didn't I???

For (once Gabriel delivered his message, God acted upon it; no physical causation can proceed as fast as this!) now! NOW! this is the moment of the Incarnation.

Here is one of those points where one really needs to flip to another part of the Bible. For (if we were doing things in strict chronology) the very next line ought to be this one from St. John:

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."

Here is the pivot, the cardinal point, the division between BC and AD. (The day we recall this is the great solemnity of the Annunciation, celebrated nearly nine months ago, on March 25.) Irrepeatable and singular, but utterly real, and wonderfully comforting, and warm and familiar, there in Nazareth, in Galilee...

Whoa! Wait!! Hold on!!! Didn't we just hear that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem???

Heh, heh, heh.

In previous postings I have mentioned that there is another part of the Christmas story which does not get talked about very much. In fact, it was going on for quite some time. And yesterday I mentioned that it is called Rome.

There are many curious points we ought to observe about Rome, and its connection to Christmas, and to Christianity. Some of them are hinted at in Chesterton's great work, The Everlasting Man. Others seem to get skipped over. But besides the obvious point which everyone will recall about Christmas and its Roman connection (hint: April 15) there is one other connection which is far less well known. I will tell you about it, for it is very curious, and bears directly upon my comments for the remaining days of Advent.

I have just mentioned the literary trick called a "cliff-hanger" - the device of putting a very exciting event at the very end of a chapter. This is always hard for a child, permitted to read "to the end of a chapter" before turning off the light. (This is why I was glad I had a flashlight when I was young. I still do.) There are other such devices used in other ways. The orchestra leader gives the downbeat to synchronize all the musicians - and the rocket-launchers use a COUNTDOWN.

Now everyone likes to count down the days until Christmas, and as we are about to see, the Church is no exception. We even see it in the newspapers "X more shopping days until Christmas!" We have to do these things because our dates and times go "forwards" as time advances: on calendars we count upwards to mark off the days; on clocks and computers we count upwards also.

But did you know that this isn't always how it was done? The very first launch of a moon rocket was accomplished by a count-UP. (This is in Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon.)

But even more amazing: on their calenders the Romans were counting DOWN. Just like little kids, they were ALWAYS counting off the number of days remaining until the next festival day.

Just like the Romans, then, our Advent calendars have numbers which DECREASE as we proceed through the days. And, in the last days of Advent, Holy Mother Church shows herself to be "child-like" - and also Roman! - by counting down the days remaining.

So far, we have adorned our Jesse Tree with all manner of curious shapes and signs. But there are seven special symbols which the Church Herself assigns, with such exalted ritual, and with such elegant language, that there is even a popular song about them. (Oh, you didn't know? Do you know what it is? yes, there ARE seven verses!)

Starting tomorrow, December 17, all over the world wherever people pray the "Divine Office", the Evening Prayer (or Vespers) will use a special antiphon to bracket the singing of the Magnificat. Each of these antiphons is an address to our Lord under one of these seven ancient titles or symbols...

Then, let us do as the Romans, and number our days downwards until Christmas. For:

"Remember the former age, for I am God, and there is no God beside, neither is there the like to me: Who shew from the beginning the things that shall be at last, and from ancient times the things that as yet are not done, saying: My counsel shall stand, and all my will shall be done: Who call a bird from the east, and from a far country the man of my own will, and I have spoken, and will bring it to pass: I have created, and I will do it. Hear me, O ye hardhearted, who are far from justice. I have brought my justice near, it shall not be afar off: and my salvation shall not tarry. I will give salvation in Sion, and my glory in Israel."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Advent: Week 3 Day 5

The Little Town of Bethlehem

(that black thing represents a cave on the hillside)

"And thou Bethlehem Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda, out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel: and his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity."

This is one of the most important, and the most specific prophecies of the Bible. It is also significant, because it is actually quoted by the Bible Scholars in the Bible itself when they were asked where the Messias/Messiah = Christ was to be born. See the story of the Magi in St. Matthew. And of course we know WHY Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, even though they lived in Nazareth...

Do I hear you asking "WHY?"

Remember how some days ago, I told you there was a major topic to be addressed, which I deferred for a bit? I will defer addressing it again. But I will tell you what it is, for then you will have your answer, and can begin to anticipate the story with the proper degree of excitement....

The answer is Rome.

But for the moment, we're talking about a little town, maybe about three miles south of Jerusalem - the place where David lived when he was young. It's a Hebrew term, and means "House of Bread".

"Yet in thy dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light:
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight."

It needs to be carefully pondered: like Anna or Simeon in the Temple: there were still Jews, usually more or less simple people, though that does NOT mean stupid or uneducated! but there were still some waiting, expecting, century after century: they had heard about the proto-evangelion ("I will put enmity between you, snake, and the woman") and the promises to Abraham (" many as the stars of heaven... God will provide the sacrifice...") and all the others.

AND THEY, with their HOPES AND FEARS, waited, and watched.

God has promised, and HE WILL DO IT.

And now, they knew where it was going to happen. And they waited for the Day.

Now, we also wait. There must be one final sign. One more message was yet to be transported: AND REMEMBER, oh you users of the INTERNET!!! It MUST BE A BI-DIRECTIONAL one. (see Jacob''s Ladder for more on that.)

And then, yes, then, we shall see - uh, well, - what we shall see.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Advent: Week 3 Day 4


"I rejoiced when I heard them say, Let us go to the House of the Lord.
... and now we are standing in your streets, oh Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, built as a city with compact unity: to it the tribes go up: the tribes of the Lord.

... the glory of this House will be greater than that of the former one...

Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How I longed to gather you to Myself, as a chicken gathers her young under her wing.

I, John, saw a new heavens and a new earth; the former heavens and the former earth had passed away. Then I saw the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, beautiful as a bride prepared to meet her groom...

If the Lord does not build, in vain do the laborers work...

...As the bridegroom marries his bride, so your Builder will marry you, oh Jerusalem!"

No, I did not put my Bible into the blender. Nor did I use GREP or any other computer machinery. These are just some of the thoughts which came into my mind as I pondered the mystery of this great and ancient city. How the Jews sang ritual songs as they climbed the road up the hill to the city, where they would soon enter the Temple - again, here is that word "tribe" which we are shortly to hear much more about, as we come ever closer to the final GREAT WEEK of anticipation! Ooo! (How child-like does our dear Mother Church reveal herself!)

But about Jerusalem. You will note the mix of quotes. Jesus, just before Holy Week. John, writing of that Day at the End of Time (when, please God, we shall all meet in the Inn at the End of the World! "Thou hast kept the GOOD WINE until now.") And the scraps of psalm-verses, the "Song of Ascents" (Jerusalem is built on a hilltop - it cannot be hidden!!!) and that last strange psalm line which hints of the future. Once I was writing something about Jesus and the ancient Roman title of Pontifex Maximus, and in one of those fortuitous typographical slips, I omitted the "g" and wrote "Bride-Builder" - here indeed is the truth of that error - what curious figure of speech is it called when one makes an error and learns a greater truth??? (I don't have my references here; I will have to hunt. It may be something like serendipity, but I wonder if the Greeks had a word. They always have so far.)

They certainly had one for "city". It was "polis" which gives us important words like politics and the second root in metropolis, but the English words which are quite relevant to our topic are two which do not seem related: polite and police. We have lost sight of what it means to be polite: it means to live as one lives in a CITY - that is, with an awareness of our neighbors, living according to order, to rule, to law - which means we POLICE ourselves. We follow certain restrictions which enable a greater degree of freedom. This seems paradoxical, but then (as Chesterton points out) "free speech is a paradox." (If this is not clear to you upon some quiet thought, I will go into it another time.) But I wish you to think - not, perhaps about YOUR OWN city, struggling with crime and snow and taxes - but about the concept of CITY - which is none-the-less true of suburbs than of downtown.

But to go back to the quotes: it is those two last verses which suggest to me that the "carpentry" of Jesus was predicted. I am not entirely clear about this, but somewhere I seem to recall reading that the term for His (and Joseph's) labor originally was not as restricted to wood as the English term is: it was rather more generic, and would include "building" - using stone, or other materials as needed. But then again, He had to be about his Father's business.

Let us, then, pray for the peace of Jerusalem: in the sense that God will grant light for that mountain city where He once walked - but also that the true peace found only in that perfection of God's own polis might take root in our hearts and bear fruits - in whatever town or village we live... "As we wait for that Day when the salvation promised us will be ours..."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Advent: Week 3 Day 3

The Prophecy of Jonah

"...after three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, it cast Jonah up onto the shore..."

This one was actually mentioned by our Lord Himself: "Just as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, the Son of Man must spend three days and three nights in the earth: and then rise..."

The artist (ahem! that's me) has intentionally chosen to show Jonah's uh, escape at sunrise - and (as I mentioned earlier) robed Him in red so as to symbolize our Lord.

Why red? It's kind of the "color" of the Sacred Heart, just as blue is Mary's color. (Oh, yes, I've heard that there was some long and tired commentary about how that blue thing is just from a poem - that's why I wrote a poem called "Why Mary Wears Blue" - if I did not post it yet, I'll do so eventually.) I am not sure why this particular prophecy, more than others, might make me ponder certain anatomical matters - unless it is due to the old fuss about whales not having big-enough gullets to swallow humans! But I am not going into fishy matters, but the Fish (Greek pun here, deferred to another day!)

This particular prophecy, I think, is an essential one for our Jesse Tree, primarily because Jesus Himself drew attention to it. Also because it makes a handy connection to the Resurrection - but also because the whale thereby takes its place in the Christmas menagerie - even though there are as yet no songs or poems or TV specials about a Christmas Whale. (Or should it be the Easter Whale!)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Advent: Week 3 Day 2

The Vision of Elijah

(To read this picture, start on the left, and go clockwise.)

"There was a mighty wind, but God was not there.
There was an erthquake, but God was not there.
Then there was a fire but God was not there.

Then there was a tiny whispering sound, and Elijah bowed and hid his face..."

Although this little sequence is very Chestertonian, it does not need a lot of commentary. The paradox is very clear. It is something which "associates an infant with the unknown strength that sustains the stars..." [See GKC's The Everlasting Man for more on this.]

Indeed, I don't recall anyone ever explaining what that sound was.

But I think it was the sound of a newborn baby, happy in His mother's arms.

Now go and bow before Him, and hide your face; then take a good long look... (He's waiting for you!)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Advent: Week 3 Day 1

The Prophecy of Ezechiel

"Prophesy to the dry bones... I am going to open your graves, and you will rise from them, and you will know that I AM the Lord. I shall fill you with my Spirit, and you shall live."

Ezechiel spoke, and the bones were covered with sinews, and muscles, and skin.

Then Ezechiel spoke again, and the Spirit entered, and they lived.

A strange, almost "Halloween" kind of image - but "Halloween" is just the anticipation of All Saints - and the fulfillment of the promise which we profess in the Creed: "et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum" = "and I expect the resurrection of the dead". That Day is coming. Again another fragment of the Easter excitement!

But there is MORE. And it is quite in keeping with my comments about hierarchy. Not only does Ezechiel see (following upon the first command) the re-structuring of the army of the People of Israel, from bone to sinew (tendons) to muscles to skin, and (in a second command) the re-animation with Spirit - we see that there is divine structure here, But we see that this unites Easter with Pentecost: not only are we dead to sin, but also alive in the Spirit, as St. Paul writes - and this is according to the Divine Plan, to be carried out in the fullness of time.

Update: After looking over this a few hours later, I corrected a couple of the worst typos. Also I want to note some things.

1. About this rather incomplete allusion to hierarchy with respect to the re-constitution of the dead body: I am laying groundwork (or, I mean, God speaking through Ezechiel) for St. Paul's Grand Unified Theory which unites computing and biology - you know, it's in his first letter to the Corinthians, about how the body has many members, but is still one body "and so it is with Christ" - but that is one of my many books-in-progress. Still, there is something very profound about the two commands, one to re-constitute the body, and the other to re-animate with the soul... Is this how it is going to happen? Very interesting. John goes too quick at that point, but I'll have to defer all this to another posting.

2. Why does that guy look the same as in other pictures? That's intentional, not just my weak artistic skill - red robe, brown beard - it is intended to suggest Jesus. He is the one who is the subject of all these predictions. Also, sometimes when the prophet "speaks" or "acts" in a way we have seen Jesus speak or act, or (in this case) expect Him to speak or act - well, that is just like the priest offering Holy Mass. The prophet indeed speaks "in persona Christi" - in the person of Christ. God Himself indicated what the prophet is to do - but it ought to be understood as a reference to Christ's actions and words.

3. In this picture, the two commands are symbolized by the two different "signals" from His hands: the arcs indicate the re-ordering of the body, the white beams indicate the re-animation of the soul. I don't exactly remember why I put in a lightning storm (I drew these 19 years ago); I will ponder it and get back to you if I learn anything about it.

Advent: Week 2 Day 7

The Prophecy of Jeremiah

"I will make a virtuous Branch grow for David... never will there lack a descendant of David on the throne. Never will there lack a priest to stand in My presence, to offer daily sacrifice..."

Again we hear another mention of this "tree" and "branch" business, and it is tied together with both the perpetual kingship and also a perpetual priesthood. And again we hear these words echoed in our gospel-tuned memories: "I am the Vine, you are the branches. Apart from Me you can do nothing, but with Me you will bear much fruit." This tree is a fruit-bearing tree, and by its fruits it will be known. Truly and in a mnost amazing manner, we who failed because of a tree will come to supplant it.... and through Jesus it will be somehow both regal and holy - we are the branches, after all.

And since I am a computer scientist, and "trees" have a special significance for us, I will take this opportunity to here ponder a little about that most amazing word called "hierarchy" and its relation to this prophecy. That word has Greek roots (no pun intended!) one translation is "high priest"; another might be "holy order" - NOT holy ORDERS, though that plays a useful role in instruction. The word is often used in a very broad sense: anything which follows a "layered" order or maybe "indented" design like the old outlines we were forced to do in school! Nowadays the balnd corporate way of saying this is "org chart". The classic one in Catholicism is: Pope, Bishop, Priest, Layman (other offices like Cardinal and Monsignor and Archbishop enter into more detailed diagrams; we don't have room to explore them today.)

But for most users of popular operating systems, the term appears in the well-known "hierarchical file system" which has something called the "root" (often spelled "c:") and then main branches from that root, and from those more branches, and so forth, until one ends with a file (which one reads or edits or whatever). The branches which can contain either MORE branches or leaves (the files) are correctly called "directories". A directory is like a BOX. It can contain OTHER boxes, or it can have, uh, BOOKS. A book cannot contain a box. The outermost box (which is not inside anything else) is called the ROOT. The boxes are like branches which can sprout smaller branches or leaves. The leaves do NOT sprout branches; they are the end. Now perhaps you see the tree-image, and why this has such curious application? Trees, then, are not just for computers, or for corporations, or even for the Church... But it is strange (and exciting) to think of this fruitful concept which Jeremiah foretold as a trademark of the One Who is coming...

"And some seeds fell on good soil, where they grew and bore fruit: thirty, or sixty, or one hundred fold."

Advent: Week 2 Day 6

Isaiah's Petition

"Oh, that You would tear the heavens open and come down... to make known Your Name, to work such miracles as no one has ever heard of before."

Isaiah is one of the longest books of the Bible - so long that it has been explained as having been written by two (or three) different Isaiahs. Every time I hear this witless little gem from some dusty doctorate, I think of that show with Bob Newhart: "Hello. I'm Larry and this is my brother Darryl and my my other brother Darryl." But the wonder of this book is the large collection of amazing and wonderful details about Jesus - so many, and so linked to the Gospels that this book is sometimes called the Gospel of the Old Testament.

It is the book of Advent: "a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel (the name means God with us)."

It is the book of Christmas: "the people who walked in darkness have see a great light; a child is born for us, a son is given us, on him dominion rests." It opens with the ox and the ass, it talks of those who will come from the East bearing gold and frankincense. "For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising.

It is the book of the Passion: "like a lamb he was led to the slaughter, and he opened not his mouth." It has that horrifying painting of Jesus on Calvary which is read on Good Friday: "Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted."

It is the book of Holy Saturday and Easter: "Go, my people, enter into thy chambers, shut thy doors upon thee, hide thyself a little for a moment, until the indignation pass away. For behold the Lord will come out of his place, to visit the iniquity of the inhabitant of the earth against him: and the earth shall disclose her blood, and shall cover her slain no more. ... In that day there shall be singing to the vineyard of pure wine."

It is the book of the Holy Spirit: "And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord..."

Indeed! sometimes sounds so much like Jesus: "All you that thirst, come to the waters: and you that have no money make haste, buy, and eat: come ye, buy wine and milk without money, and without any price."

If there is one book of the Bible that really should be read during Advent, it is Isaiah. Try it. You will be impressed - you don't need to know how to conjugate semitic verbs or anything - you can see for yourself this treasure-house of expectation and longing...

Yes: Isaiah - just like a kid, waiting for Christmas.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Special Note for Today's Feast

Some time ago, I stumbled across a piece of information (I think it was over on Studeo) which I had long wanted to obtain. Now you can see it for yourself.

It is simply the Hail Mary translated into various languages.

Mathematicians who deal with the interesting field called "vectors" know of something called "the cross product" whereby two non-zero vectors give rise to a new vector perpendicular to the plane containing the others. This kind of list is a sort of intellectual cross-product. Not only does this list contain instances of a prayer (that is, a form of communication) but it is a curious miniature of the that amazing human talent or skill called language... Their cross product, is, well, uh, it will take you into another dimension of thought.

Examine it closely, and take a quick tour around the world - then move onward to more exalted realms.

(A long time ago I saw a library book with the Our Father in over 150 languages... it had a comparable effect.)

Advent: Week 2 Day 5 (Immaculate Conception)

The Ark of the Covenant

Whoops! We interrupt this Advent for a Solemnity! Intone the Gloria! Ring the bells! Get out the white vestments!

Today, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, is exactly nine months before September 8, the birthday of Mary. It is a dogma of the Church that Mary was conceived without Original Sin, in view of the sacrifice that her Son made on Calvary.

And so today's Jesse Tree image is of the Ark of the Covenant. (That is, the ark of Moses, which is really the second ark - the first was that of Noah.)

"As the visions during the night continued, I, John, saw God's temple in heaven open, and in it could be seen the Ark of the Covenant."

Moses brought the Law (scribed on two stone tablets) down from Mount Sinai. He also brought the detailed specs on how to build a certain wooden box, to be lined inside and out with gold, and ornamented with cherubim, and how it was to be handled, and so forth.

But what did John see? The wooden box lined with gold, containing the two stone tablets and a sample of the manna, and the rod of Aaron? Or was it something else?

One of the titles of Mary in the amazing list called the "Litany of Loretto" is "Ark of the Covenant". She, too, was planned by God in advance. She, too, was made of what we might call "the material of failure" - made in the same form as the failed human family from which she came (just as the ark of Moses was wood, symbolizing failure) BUT with an important difference: she was all-pure, and "full of grace" as the angel told her (just as the ark of Moses was lined with gold inside and out).
Like the ark of Noah, the ark of Moses was built according to a plan. Despite its much smaller size, the ark of Moses had a rather more detailed plan. And the new, one-celled Ark, hidden in the womb of Anna, was far smaller, and far more complex - and far more holy. For the ark of Moses contained only the Law of God, and a sample of the bread of God. But Mary the New Ark was readied to contain the God Who gave that law, and He Who would one day give His very own flesh as bread for the life of the world. (Note that last word is kosmos in Greek!)

It's funny how even some Catholics get the details of this date confused, forgetting that nine months before Christmas is the Great Solemnity of the Annunciation, which was once New Year's (Even, as Tolkien told us, in the Kingdom of Gondor, the day that the Ring went into the fire!) Interestingly, that feast often interrupts Lent, just as this feast interrupts Advent. (Every so often, however, due to a special case which is the height of good system design, the celebration of the Annunciation is displaced until after Divine Mercy Sunday; my mother used to say those years Jesus was a preemie, hee hee.) But it is funny when I hear someone confusing "Immaculate Conception" as if it applied to Jesus - I wonder, for it's almost as if they don't know about the human gestation period (nominally 278 days)...

This feast of the Immaculate Conception, held up as a sign against those who deny the personhood of prenatal humanity; its splendor is still being explored and revealed. In doing so, not only will be drawn more to the praise of these wonders of God, and to love for Him, but we will have a greater love and respect for our neighbors who share in the same humanity... For as often as we do it to one of our least brothers, it is as if we did it to Him.