Saturday, May 29, 2010

Studying the Lectionary - May 2010

An intellectual glimpse behind the scenes at the end of May...

Most careers today require continuing education and development.  This is certainly true of ministries in the Church.  One must constantly develop intellectually in order to minister effectively today. I love to read and do research, so I must admit that this is one of my favorite diaconal tasks.

When preaching, I don't usually stray too far from "imprimatured" sources - Scripture itself and liturgical sources are always primary, but papal documents, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Fathers (esp. Augustine), Newman and artists are often in the mix too.  In other words, I don't handle the new stuff too often and I have a particular aversion to controversial theological stuff when preaching. For a whole bunch of reasons, [which I can share with you if you're interested], I just don't think the homily is the place for that. Note: I am not averse to current issues - the sex abuse scandals for example - being spoken about; I am referring to theological conjecture.

However, that should not be taken to mean that I am not interested in theological development.  I am indeed interested. It is there in every homily and every lesson I teach, but it is there in the inscape, not as the object. My parish outlet for intellectual "new" stuff is the St. Jerome Book Club sessions we have once a month.  At our Book Club, I often get to explore and hear new perspectives, challenges, viewpoints, etc.  These discussions, coupled with the amazing questions my teenage students ask, often send me off on a research jag. 

The last month or so, I have been studying the formation of the Sunday Lectionary.  This interest comes out of my homily preparations primarily. While I am usually focused solely on the readings of a particular Sunday, lately I find myself taking a "meta" view of the lectionary.  I started this line of study by pursuing the answer to a simple factual question, viz., who designed the current lectionary?  This led, as most interesting questions do, to whole new areas of exploration.

I recently read The Sunday Lectionary: Ritual Word, Paschal Shape (1998) by Normand Bonneau, OMI.  He is a Professor of Biblical Studies at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. This book was a great first read on the lectionary.  It answered my question about the designers of the current lectionary on page 23!  More importantly it gave me a general introduction to the history of lectionaries in the Church and provided many intellectual trajectories to pursue. Perhaps most importantly, it pointed me in the direction of Elmar Nubold's Formation and Appraisal of the Roman Rite's New Order of Readings for the Celebration of Mass on Sundays and Solemnities (1986). This is the "touchstone" of lectionary studies. I am in the process of tracking down a copy now.  It may be available only in the original German.

At the suggestion of one of my former professors at Christ the King Seminary with whom I consulted on my research [who was kind enough to mail a copy to me!], I read Gerard S. Sloyan's article from Liturgy 19(3): 13-18, 2004  titled: The Plan of the Lectionary: Suggestions for the Reader. The very title is a reminder that lectors/readers are a liturgical rediscovery.  From 1570 through 1971, the priest did the Bible readings at Mass in Latin.  They were all contained in the Missal itself; there was no separate Sunday Lectionary until 1971. [The current Lectionary was completed by 1969 but not in force until 1971.] While learning much from Sloyan's article, I kept thinking how blessed we are to have the current Lectionary (in spite of its shortcomings).  Sloyan reminded me that, from 1570 through 1971, considerably less Scripture was proclaimed at Sunday Mass in the Roman Rite. In fact, almost none of the Hebrew Scriptures were proclaimed before the new Lectionary came into force. I have a new-found appreciation for the current Lectionary!

Now it's this question of the "integration," for lack of a better term, of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Catholic Liturgy that is consuming me.  Some scholars suggest that the Hebrew Scripture pericopae in the Lectionary too often give the impression that they have no intrinsic value and exist only to prepare and predict Christ. Of course, do not misread me, the Hebrew Scriptures DO do that from the Christian perspective, but they have intrinsic value too.  In other words, they are not solely propaedeutic for the Christian Scriptures. Too often, at least in the view of some scholars, the Hebrew Scripture readings of the Lectionary are simply there for typological reasons.  This is a problem that the developers of the Lectionary probably could not have foreseen since again, the very fact that Hebrew Scriptures were included at all at Sunday Mass was a giant leap forward liturgically.

I found Michael Peppard's article in Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations, Volume I, Issue 1, 2005 titled: Do We Share a Book? The Sunday Lectionary and Jewish-Christian Relations helpful in this regard.  I am trying to track down a copy of Regina A. Boisclair's Ph.D. dissertation (Temple University, 1996) titled: Proclaiming Salvation - The Hermeneutics of Six Contemporary Christian Lectionaries, which was mentioned in Peppard's article.  There may be some interesting insights to be gleaned from what other denominations find useful/objectionable in our Catholic Lectionary. My guess is that they downplay the typological pairing significantly; but, having not read it yet, I might be totally wrong on this!  Either way, I'd like to see what Dr. Boisclair has to say in her dissertation.

That's where I am in my studies this month.  I will undoubtedly continue my focus on the Lectionary for the next few months. I still have many unanswered questions and continue to find new avenues for exploration.  If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please send them my way -

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Windows of St. Benedict's, Part II

Windows of St. Benedict's, Part II

Vestibule Window. (detail) 

Side Exit Windows.

Harp (detail) from St. Patrick Window.

Vestibule Window (detail).

Vestibule Window.
Coat of Arms of Bishop Burke.
Fiat Voluntas Tua are words from the Lord's Prayer
Thy Will Be Done (Matthew 6:10).

Vestibule Window Coat of Arms of Pope Pius XII. (detail)
Vestibule Window (detail)

Vestibule Window. (detail)

Main Street breezeway to school. 
Fleur-de-lis symbolizes Mary's unique relationship to the Trinity.
Mary is Daughter of the Father;
Mother of the Son;
and Spouse of the Holy Spirit.

Rectory breezeway.
Hive symbolizes industriousness.

Rectory Breezeway.
Benedictines worked at copying books, especially Sacred Scripture.

Child (detail) from St. Vincent De Paul Window.

other Blog posts about our windows:

Rublev's Trinity

One God, Three Persons.  This coming Sunday the Church focuses on the fundamental mystery of the Holy Trinity. Please consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the Church's teachings on the Trinity. The Catechism is available on the Vatican website We are so blessed to have God in community.  As Church, we are invited into this Mystery by imitating the theological community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Rather than comment on the Catechism, or this week's Scripture passages, I'd like to offer a brief Trinitarian reflection through a very famous Russian icon. In fact, it is one of my favorite pieces of art. I am speaking of Andrei Rublev's famous icon called The Trinity, c. 1410.

Rublev has in mind the three visitors in Genesis 18. The early Church, like Rublev, saw these mysterious visitors as a trinitarian type. After being shown hospitality by Abraham and Sarah, the angels announce the arrival of a son.

This son will be called Isaac, meaning "laughter," because Sarah laughed at the notion of having a child at so great an age!  However, Rublev removes Abraham and Sarah from the scene. Only their house and the terebinth tree of Mamre are there as vestiges.  Instead Rublev focuses on the "messengers" or angels, since the word "angel" means messenger of God. 

He shows the angels in communion. They are gathered around a table of hospitality, a type of altar. They communicate with each other visually too. Rublev's circular composition demonstrates that they are one.

The color schema shows that Rublev was thinking of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Father is shown in ineffable garb, almost transparent, since He dwells in inapproachable light.

The Son is shown in earthly hues, His two fingers on the table reminding us that He is both God and Man.

The Spirit is shown in green, since He is the Lord and Giver of Life.

Enter into this famous Icon this week, a window into the Sacred relationships of our God!
May God bless you - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Share this blog post -

Monday, May 17, 2010

On the Holy Spirit

Veni Sancte Spiritus - Come Holy Spirit!   Pentecost is the Church's great celebration of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost is from a Greek word meaning "50th."  It has been 50 days since Easter.  Originally, Pentecost was a Jewish celebration 50 days after Passover. Devout Jews still celebrate "Shavout," the Hebrew word for this holyday. Pentecost is often referred to as the "birthday" of the Church.  The disciples began to preach the Good News once the Spirit came upon them. The opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles recount the Pentecost experience.

St. Basil the Great (A.D. 330 - 379) wrote an astounding work on the Holy Spirit.  In fact, his words are used in the Office of Readings for Tuesday of the 7th Week of Easter.  That's this week, between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday; the week when the Church prepares for Pentecost. The Office of Readings is part of the Liturgy of the Hours which is always available on our website under "liturgy."

In On the Holy Spirit Chapter 9:22-23, (see: St. Basil writes:

From the Spirit comes foreknowledge of the future,
understanding of the mysteries of the faith,
insight into the hidden meaning of Scripture,
and other special gifts.

Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven,
we are admitted to the company of the angels,
we enter into eternal happiness,
and abide in God.

Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God;
indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations --
we become God.

As I prepare to preach on Pentecost (a first for me!), I've been thinking of St. Basil's words a lot.  I may well use some of his words in the homily.  I am attracted to the Eastern theological notion of theosis. Deacons may be particularly attuned to this notion because of the words we say quietly when we put water into the wine at the altar: "by the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share in our humanity." I am rereading St. Ambrose's similarly titled text on the Holy Spirit tonight.

I am also reviewing Pope John Paul II's Encyclical on the Holy Spirit called "The Lord and Giver of Life." Here is a link if you want to delve into it with me.

Feel free to share your Spirit-filled ideas with me by emailing anytime.

a random catechetical moment !!! --  sometimes the word "Ghost" is used instead of "Spirit."  Perhaps this is most evident in the famous hymn "Come Holy Ghost." The word "ghost" is from the German word "Geist." Generally speaking, the word "Spirit" is preferrred today to avoid the negative connotations attached to "ghost."  The word "spirit" is of Latin origin.  In Greek, the word is "pneuma."

The "Read More" link below will take you to the original Latin words of the famous hymn Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit/Ghost).  The Latin words are particularly beautiful. There is an English translation in the missalette, and we will be handing out another translation to be used as our Sequence this weekend.  The Sequence is a hymn that precedes the Gospel on super-important solemnities like Pentecost.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Holy Spirit - Getting Ready!

Liturgically speaking, the Holy Spirit is coming soon. 

Like the first followers of Jesus in the beginning of the Acts (or history of) the Apostles, we, the Church, are getting ready for the Spirit's arrival.

This is the origin of the word "novena."  The word means "nine."  Catholics often dedicate nine days in a row to particular prayers, imploring the intercession of one of the saints, or for a special intention.  The tradition of novenas comes from the nine days the Apostles spent together in prayer between Jesus' Ascension and Pentecost. The Church is re-presenting this original novena during her liturgical year right now.

We'll post more about Pentecost and the Holy Spirit soon. There will be some ideas from the Bible, the Fathers of the Church, and a commentary on the famous traditional hymn we sing on Pentecost - Veni, Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit.)

Meanwhile, join us in preparing for this huge holyday in the Church by praying, reading the Bible, and tuning in to the role of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Windows of St. Benedict's, Part I

The John Terrence O'Duggan (Boston, MA) windows of our church are truly spectacular. I have been enlightened through them many times.  Here is a close up look at some of them.  I will focus on the smaller symbolic nave windows today.

The flame and book (in this case the Hebrew Scriptures) symbolizes the wisdom of Jesus.  You will note that this window is found under Jesus teaching in the Temple. 

This is found under the window of Mary, Mother of Divine Grace. Mary's womb was the vessel that contained Jesus. The chalice bears the letters "M" for Mary and "R" for Regina, Latin for Queen. Jesus is shown by the Greek letters X (chi) and P (rho); these are the first two Greek letters in the word "Christ." Jesus is the beginning and the end; the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet - Alpha and Omega . Mary, the vessel, overflows with the grace of Jesus. She is the only person the Bible says is "full of grace."

 Elijah's fiery chariot is placed under the window of Jesus' Ascension.  The Jewish people believed that, because Elijah was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot, he was going to come again. It is no accident that Elijah is mentioned at pivotal moments in Jesus' life.

Here is a presentation of the vesture of Jesus. Notice the three dice.  Recall that the Roman soldiers (symbolically represented by lances), did not want to tear it, so they cast dice for Jesus' tunic instead.

Jesus is buried, but rises to a more glorious life like the butterfly that emerges from a seemingly-dead cocoon.  While not on any of our windows, the Easter egg has a similar meaning.  Death only appears to be an end.

This image is well-known to those who make the stations of the cross.  It is the veil of Veronica.  In Latin, Veronica means "true image." We are reminded to be the true image of Jesus. It symbolizes not so much a historical event, as a practical lesson in standing firm in the Faith in spite of persecution along the Way.

The tortuous death of Jesus is clearly evident here. Jesus is nailed to the cross.  He is mockingly crowned with thorns but He is truly Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

The pillar where Jesus was scourged is presented here.  Also present are the whip and the sponge soaked in common wine put to His lips. Note this is one of the signed windows - John Terrence O'Duggan.

Here the suffering of Jesus is symbolized by a cup.  Recall that Jesus prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemene that this "cup" of suffering might pass, but "not My will, but Thine be done."  You will note that the larger window above this shows Jesus being comforted by an angel carrying a cross as He accomplishes the will of the Father..

It was prophesied that Mary's heart would be pierced by a sword.

Mary's humility is often symbolized by small flowers. Here the crown remind us that the lowly shall be exalted.

Here the lily of purity is covered with images from the Book of Revelation - the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of stars.

Mary's virginity is symbolized by a depiction from the Song of Songs.  She is a garden enclosed.  Note the palm trees.  These trees figure prominently in the Song of Songs.

Mary reigns as Queen of Heaven, symbolized here by the crown over MR - Maria Regina - Mary the Queen.

Other window Blog posts:

Share this Blog post -

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Thinking about Mary

May is Mary's month.  I know from speaking with many of you that my childhood experiences of May Devotions are far from unique.  Many of us grew up with May Crownings, Marian hymns, the Litany of Loreto, outdoor processions and ever-present Rosary beads.

In my boyhood parish, we had May devotions every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening.  I recall going to May Devotions with my mother when very young. Later, in my teens and early twenties, I served as the musician for them. We used English, Polish and Latin for Marian Devotions back in the day! We had October Rosary Devotions in church as well. To this day I carry a Miraculous Medal with me and have icons of Mary throughout my apartment.  Of course, like all those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours, I pray her Magnificat every day and end my day with a song to Mary, either the Salve Regina or Regina Coeli.

Interestingly, during my brief studies in Israel, it was my visit to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth that most moved me.  I was surprised by the emotion that came over me in Nazareth.  There was just something about seeing the Latin words "Verbum Caro HIC Factum Est" [The Word HERE became Flesh] on the altar in front of the home of Mary over the traditional spot where Mary said "yes" to God.  My theology tends to be deeply Incarnational. This and my devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, profoundly melded there in Mary's home.

Of course, Catholic and Orthodox devotion to Mary is often misunderstood, sometimes even by Catholics themselves.  We do not worship Mary.  We honor Mary (another word for honor is venerate).   Latin theologians, using old Greek words, would say it this way: dulia is the honor we have for the saints, hyperdulia is the special honor we give to Mary, the Queen of All Saints.  Only God is given latria or worship. We honor Mary in that very natural way that children honor their mother and ask for help.  Mary is the model disciple of Jesus. Where Mary has gone, we hope to follow, because like her, we recognize Jesus as our only Savior.  It simply follows that devotion to Mary is good when it leads us to Jesus.

Please join us for our Marian Devotion and May Crowning Sunday 9 May at 7 PM in Church. [addition: 2011 Devotions are MONDAY May 16] I would especially love to see you there if you've never been to a May Devotion before.  It is not a long devotion, but it is a great way for us to show our love for Mary together as a parish. I hope you will increase your devotion to Mary this month. Do something new this May, rather than just the same things you have been doing.  Feel free to contact me anytime if you want more information on Marian devotion or to share your Marian memories with me.

Here are some recommended Marian practices; details can easily be found on-line:

1. Read and meditate on the Biblical passages mentioning Mary. Click the link to the US Catholic Bishops under "further reading" to the left, look under Bible, and search for "Mary" in Matthew, Mark and Luke and for "woman" in John's Gospel.

2. Get in the habit of praying the Angelus. It is prayed when the church bells ring; the Regina Coeli is used in Easter time.  Pope Paul VI reminded the Church to return to this Incarnational prayer.

3. Sing or recite the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos. We translate the Greek word Theotokos as "Mother of God."  This Akathist Hymn is a long, Byzantine collection of praises to Mary.  It is often prayed during Lent by Byzantine Rite Catholics and by our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Faith. I pray it often throughout the year. The Akathist Hymn might be a good thing to do on Saturdays, since this day is dedicated to Mary in Roman Catholic tradition.

4. Display an icon or statue of Mary in your home during May. Say a short prayer when you pass by.

5. Check out a book about Mary from the parish library.  It is open between the 8 and 10 AM Masses on Sunday.  Ms. Anitra Lahey would be more than pleased to assist you.

6. Pray the Rosary with particular attention to the Mysteries. Once in a while, offer the Rosary for a big issue like an end to war, an end to abortion, or for peace between Christians and Muslims. (interestingly, Mary is mentioned in the Qur'an more often than in the Bible, and many Muslims honor her too.)  Expand your view of Mary's intercessory role so that it is not always just a personal favor from Mary, but one that recognizes her immense role in Salvation History.

May Mary pray for us now and at the hour of our death!
Share this blog post -