28 December 2017

'And the favour of God was upon him.' Sunday Reflections, Feast of the Holy Family; Mary, Mother of God

Presentation in the Temple
Gerbrand van de Eeckhout [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord [ (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.]

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
Note that there are alternative First Readings, Responsorial Psalms and Second Readings. There are also longer and shorter versions of the Gospel.
Before Christmas we listened to the words of St Matthew: Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins' (Matthew 1:18-21)

Joseph, by obeying God's messenger and by naming the Son his wife Mary bore, became the legal father of Jesus. The Church honours him above all as the Husband of Mary. St John XXIII added the words and blessed Joseph, her Spouse to the Roman Canon, now also known as the First Eucharistic Prayer, while Pope Francis has included that phrase in the other three main Eucharistic Prayers. It was as the Husband of Mary that St Joseph took care of her and of Jesus. It was St Joseph whom Jesus knew as Dad/Papa/Tatay. It was from St Joseph that Jesus, God who became Man, learned, in his humanity, to grow into manhood.

St Joseph submitted his whole being, as did his wife Mary, to doing God's will. Jesus was flesh of her flesh, but not of his. Yet he loved Jesus as if he was his own son, first of all by loving his mother.
The Census at Bethlehem (detail)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder [Web Gallery of Art]

Peter Bruegel the Elder, maybe the first major painter to focus on the lives of ordinary people, captures the quiet responsibility of St Joseph, leading the donkey on which the heavily pregnant Mary is riding. The picture above is a detail of the full painting:

Bruegel has transposed Bethlehem to a village in the Netherlands in the middle of winter. He captures the reality that the Holy Family were 'nobodies'. None of the people around notices them. They too are caught up in the red tape of their day, having to travel long distances to have their names registered.

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout in the Presentation in the Temple shows St Joseph as a man who is somewhat shy, not wanting to be in the limelight, but standing protectively over Mary as she kneels before Jesus held in the arms of Simeon, with Anna the Prophetess in the background. St Joseph here reminds me very much of my own father.

And in the video of the Presentation what strikes me is that St Joseph is the one carrying Jesus. But before he hands the infant to Simeon he quietly asks Mary's permission to do so. Mary hands Jesus back to Joseph after receiving him from Simeon and it is St Joseph, as head of the Holy Family, who presents the infant to the priest who offers him to God. The priest has no idea who this child of poor parents really is.

On 17 November 2014 Pope Francis saidIt is necessary to insist on the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its intangible assets. The family is the foundation of co-existence and a guarantee against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's growth and emotional development. This is why, in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I stressed the 'indispensable' contribution of marriage to society, a contribution which 'transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple' (n. 66). And this is why I am grateful to you for the emphasis that your colloquium has placed on the benefits that marriage can provide children, the spouses themselves, and society.

There have always been children who have grown up without one or both parents. In the Bible they are seen as young persons in need of special care from the wider community. I have known many single parents, some of them widowed, raising their children lovingly and heroically. But this is not the norm.

Incredibly, many within the last three or four decades have come to dismiss the importance of husband/father and wife/mother, have come to dismiss the conception and birth of children in the way that God intended.

Pope Francis with recovering drug addict, Brazil 2013 [Wikipedia]

Though without a family of my own I have for many years experienced the title 'Father' as a call to be one in a number of senses: a 'spiritual father' who leads others to our Heavenly Father through his Son Jesus Christ, and a father-figure to young persons who may have lost their father or who may even have been abused by their father or by other fatherly figures in whom they should have been able to trust.

As a man, I see today's Feast of the Holy Family to be a call especially to us men to be like St Joseph, to be responsible, to be loving; if married to love our wives above all, if not, to be like fathers to young persons who come into our lives in whatever way and for whatever reason.

As a priest I am grateful to God for calling me not only to be 'Father' but to be a father to many in the sense that St Joseph was truly a father to Jesus.

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

The Mother of God Enthroned, Andreas Ritzos [Web Gallery of Art]

The first day of 2018 is observed by the Church as the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. It is also the last day of the Octave of Christmas and World Day of Peace. In some countries, eg the Philippines, it is a Holy Day of Obligation. In others, eg Ireland, it is not.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

So the shepherds went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Adoration of the Shepherds, Jacopo Bassano [Web Gallery of Art]
1 JANUARY 2018

Happy New Year!

Manigong Bagong Taon!

Athbhliain Faoi Mhaise!

19 December 2017

'Both Son of God and Son of Man together had one name.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas

The Annunciation, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’  The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

The Annunciation, Gerard David [Web Gallery of Art]

The Incarnation
by St John of the Cross

Then He summoned an archangel, 
Saint Gabriel: and when he came, 
Sent him forth to find a maiden, 
     Mary was her name.

Only through her consenting love 
Could the mystery be preferred 
That the Trinity in human 
     Flesh might clothe the Word.

Though the three Persons worked the wonder 
It only happened to the One. 
So was the Word made incarnation 
     In Mary's womb, a son.

So He who only had a Father 
Now had a Mother undefiled, 
Though not as ordinary maids 
     Had she conceived the Child.

By Mary, and with her own flesh 
He was clothed in His own frame: 
Both Son of God and Son of Man 
     Together had one name.  

                [Translation by Roy Campbell]

In both paintings above Mary has the word of God, the Hebrew Bible, what we Christians call the Old Testament, open in front of her. And when she says, let it be with me according to your word, she is accepting the Word. The opening words of St John's Gospel, read at the Mass During the Day on Christmas Day and read at the end of every Mass in the Extraordinary Form, tells us who the Word is: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Further on, in Verse 14, St John writes those magnificent words that are at the centre of our faith: And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes what St John of the Cross said about this: In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word - and he has no more to say. . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.

The Annunciation in an Initial R, Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

'Silence' is not what most of us associate with the days coming up to Christmas. But the Church invites us to enter into an inner silence during these days, difficult though that may be. The above is on a parchment, part of a Missal, which in the old days included the readings during Mass. Fra Angelico, a Dominican friar, was declared 'Blessed' by St John Paul II in 1982. This work again invites us into contemplation of the wondrous event of the Annunciation, the moment of the Incarnation when God became Man in the womb of Mary.

Julian of Vézelay (c.1080 - 1165), a French Benedictine monk, reflects on the silence into which Jesus entered, the silence that Mary bore in our heart, the silence that God invites us to enter at this time:

There came a deep silence. Everything was still. The voices of prophets and apostles were hushed, since the prophets had already delivered their message, while the time for the apostles' preaching had yet to come. Between these two proclamations a period of silence intervened, and in the midst of this silence the Father's almighty Word leaped down from his royal throne. There is a beautiful fitness here: in the intervening silence the Mediator between God and the human race also intervened, coming as a human being to human beings, as mortal to mortals, to save the dead from death.
I pray that the Word of the Lord may come again today to those who are silent, and that we may hear what the Lord God says to us in our hearts. Let us silence the desires and importunings of the flesh and the vainglorious fantasies of our imagination, so that we can freely hear what the Spirit is saying. Let our ears be attuned to the voice that is heard above the vault of heaven, for the Spirit of life is always speaking to our souls; as scripture says, a voice is heard above the firmament which hangs over our heads. But as long as we fix our attention on other things, we do not hear what the Spirit is saying to us.

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of the Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

1. The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow his eyes as flame
‘All hail’ said he ‘thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady,’ Gloria!

2. ‘For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy Son shall be Emanuel, by seers foretold
Most highly favored lady,’ Gloria!

3. Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
‘To me be as it pleaseth God,’ she said,
‘My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name.’
Most highly favored lady. Gloria!

4. Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
‘Most highly favored lady,’ Gloria!

The Nativity (Christmas) 

The Census at Bethlehem (detail)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder [Web Gallery of Art]

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

By U.A. Fanthorpe

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future's
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord has four different Mass formularies, each with its own prayer and readings. Any of the four fulfills our obligation to attend Mass. These are:

Vigil Mass, celebrated 'either before or after First Vespers (Evening Prayer) of the Nativity'; that means starting between 5pm and 7pm.
Mass During the Night, known before as 'Midnight Mass'. In many parts of the world it does begin at midnight but here in the Philippines since the 1980s it begins earlier, usually at 8:30pm or 9pm.
Mass at Dawn.
Mass During the Day.

When you click on 'Readings' below from the New American Bible you will find links to the readings for each of the four Masses. The readings from the Jerusalem Bible for the four Masses are all on one page.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Mary's Boy Child
Written by Jester Hairston in 1956. The lyrics are in a Caribbean dialect of English.

13 December 2017

'Strange blessings never in Paradise.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B

St John the Baptist, Donatello [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said,
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord”’,
as the prophet Isaiah said.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Mary, Queen of Heaven
Master of the Legend of St Lucy [Web Gallery of Art]

In the Philippines the Misas de Gallo, also known as Simbang Gabi or Aguinaldo Masses, the novena of pre-dawn Masses leading up to Christmas, will begin on Saturday the 16th. For the last 15 years I have celebrated these in the chapel of St Joseph, Espinos Village, Bacolod City. But this year, as I am now based in Ireland, I won't have to get up at 3:30am in order to start Mass at 4:30am. These are votive Masses in honour of our Blessed Mother and in thanksgiving for the gift of our faith. The Spanish word 'Aguinaldo' means 'gift' and in this context refers to the gift of faith.

The Church over the centuries has reflected on gifts we have received from God that we could not have received had our First Parents never sinned. A song included among poems for Advent and Christmas in the Breviary published by the hierarchies of Australia, England &
 Wales, and Ireland is one of those reflections, Adam lay y-bounden. In the Breviary it is given the title O Felix Culpa, 'O Happy Fault'.

This particular song marvels at the fact that but for the reality of the sin of Adam we would never have had Our Lady as Queen of Heaven.

The poem reflects part of the Exultet, the Easter Proclamation: O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, /quod Christo morte deletum est! O truly necessary sin of Adam,/destroyed completely by the Death of Christ. O felix culpa,/quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptionem! O happy fault/that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer.

At Easter we proclaim the great reality that God has given us a Redeemer and that he is now risen from the dead.

Coming up to Christmas we reflect on the birth of our Redeemer through the consent of Mary, his and our Mother. Mary is part of God's eternal plan and if we sideline her we distort that reality, as we also do if we put her in the centre and sideline her Son. In the painting above Mary, while being honoured as Queen of Heaven by the angels and saints is adoring God with her whole being, inviting us to do the same. The song too invites us to sing Deo gratias! Thanks be to God!

That is what the Church invites us to do every time we celebrate the Eucharist, the Thanksgiving. It invites Filipinos in particular at this time of the Aguinaldo Masses to thank God for the great gift of faith and to share it with others. One way in which Filipinos have been doing that is introducing this centuries-old practice to other countries, adapting the custom to local circumstances.

O Felix Culpa (O Happy Fault)

Adam lay y-bounden,
Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter,
Thought he not too long.
And all was for an apple,
An apple that he took.
As clerkes finden written
 In theiré book.
Ne had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Ne hadde never our Lady,
A been heaven’s queen.
Blessed be the time
That apple taken was,
Therefore we may singen.
Deo gratias!

This song from England dates from the 15th century. The text here is an adaptation of the original Middle English and the musical setting is by Boris Ord.

Scottish poet Edwin Muir's One Foot in Eden, included in the Breviary for Lent and Easter, also reflects on the theme of felix culpa. 

What had Eden ever to say
Of hope and faith and pity and love
Until was buried all its day
And memory found its treasure trove?
Strange blessings never in Paradise.

Antiphona at introitum  Entrance Antiphon (Philippians 4:4-6)
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. 
Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus:
Let your gentleness be known to everyone: 
Dominus enim prope est. 
for the Lord is near.
Nihil solliciti sitis:
Do not worry about anything 
sed in omni oratione petitiones vestre innotescant apud Deum.
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be maked known to God.

Ps. 84 [85]:2 Benedixisti, Domine, terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.
Lord, you were faorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. 
Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus:
Let your gentleness be known to everyone: 
Dominus enim prope est. 
for the Lord is near.
Nihil solliciti sitis:
Do not worry about anything 
sed in omni oratione petitiones vestrre innotescant apud Deum.
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

The text in bold above is the Entrance Antiphon in the Ordinary Form of the Mass (the 'New Mass'). The longer text is the Entrance Antiphon in the Extraordinary Form (the 'Old Mass').