Saturday, November 26, 2022

Miracles Still Happen: How One Man Asked for Prayers from Beyond the Grave and Another Man Delivered Him

How This Man Learned from Mary How to Deliver Souls from Purgatory

Since the end of November, the month dedicated to the poor souls in Purgatory, is coming up in a few days, I want to get this timely story posted. It's like a ghost story. But it's not a story of ghost, really, but it is about a dead person, a soul in purgatory, who spoke from beyond the grave.  Hearing about it from the man who experienced it gave me chills.  

It's not a fiction. It's something that actually happened to someone I actually know. 

Lately people have been asking me to write for them. These are not professional requests. Just people with a story they want to tell. I'm pretty swamped, but I tried to help with this latest request. It came from a man I've been acquainted with since about 2006, when I got involved with the traditional Latin Mass community around here in the South San Francisco Bay. I'll call him Joseph Anon. He's a piano tuner.

Sept 28, 1997 He Was Converted in an Instant

Joseph prefaced this particular story with other stories of how he had led a drunken immoral life, starting from before he was even a teenager and continuing on past his college years partying all night as a member of a rock band, and then onto his years as a bartender in a beachfront bar in Southern California, with his pick of willing pretty women, acting heedlessly—as he said—like a kid at a candy store, never having known anything about God or Jesus or His Mother or anything about Catholic Church or its teachings.  After a while, the realities of his immoral lifestyle caught up with him in a devastating way, and he almost drank himself to death in grief and remorse after a girlfriend got pregnant twice and both times their children were aborted, even though both times he wanted to keep the baby and the girlfriend rejected his offer of marriage. 

Out of the depths of the wreckage his lifestyle had brought him to, Joseph was brought into the Catholic Faith in a dramatic manner,  sort of like how St. Paul was converted on the road to Damascus—by the direct intervention of Jesus. Afterwards he was miraculously taught most of the doctrine and practices of the Faith by Jesus and Mary. They never appeared to him.  He only heard them speak to him. And they infused knowledge into him without words on more than one occasion. More about his conversion another time. 

Joseph recently became motivated to tell the story of these things that happened twenty-five years ago, to tell of the miracles of grace he received from Jesus and Mary and about other miracles that he has experienced through the intercession of St. Philomena—who many skeptics think is fictitious and to whom many saints have been devoted. Joseph knows that many Catholics aren’t being taught the things he learned directly. At the time these events happened, Jesus told him to teach others what he had learned, but he shied away for a long long time—feeling he is not worthy to teach others.”I’m a dummy,” he says. Over and over he says, “Why did You do all this for me, Lord? Me? Why so much grace? When You know all my sins?"

The encounter between Joseph and a soul in purgatory I'm about to describe happened one night when he was alone in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at Our Lady of Peace Church in Santa Clara, CA, which took place two years after his conversion from total ignorance about the things of God.

Above: The altar at Our Lady of Peace Church, Santa Clara, CA. Since 1976, Eucharistic adoration has been held there 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, unless Holy Mass is being celebrated.

JA: "So I called Sister Mary Jean who was in charge of 24 Hour Adoration at Our Lady of Peace. And I said, 'Well, Sister, the Lord told me I'm supposed to go into Adoration, not one night, not two nights, but three nights a week.'

"'Oh,' she said, 'Okay, Joseph, I want you here Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays at two o'clock.'

"And I said, 'Okay, no problem.' She called me back, and said, 'No, I want you here at three.' 

"Anyway, I started going there at three. While I was in the church, night after night, I heard, from the Tabernacle, 'Pray for the holy souls. Pray for the holy souls.' Night after night. 'Pray for the holy souls.' I said, 'Well, yeah, I pray for the holy souls.’ But I didn't know what He was talking about really until this next thing happened.

Wed. April 28, 1999, 3:30 AM

"This gets really weird. This one night changed my life. Really changed my life. So I'm in Adoration at Our Lady of Peace. 

"At that hour, there were usually two Filipinas, older ladies who were sisters. (Well, I call them older but come to think of it they were the same age as I am now—in their late seventies. I was in my fifties then.) They didn't show up that night. So I had the church to myself. 

"It's three, no, three-thirty in the morning. It was a hot night. It felt like summer  And they don't have air conditioning there. 

"So I did my stations, I did my rosary. I'm at the Gospel side, a little to the left of the tabernacle. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed in a big monstrance above the tabernacle. And I'm praying there, thanking the Lord. 

"And I then said, 'It's getting cold here. This is weird.' It's getting icy, and it's coming from the back. It's creeping up on me. I'm praying there at the communion rail, and it's freezing. And I'm  going, "I'm scared now." Because it is so hot the windows are open. And I am so cold I'm shivering. 

"And wow! Now I hear a voice to the left of the tabernacle. 'Pray for me.'

"I said, 'Pray for who?' And I said, 'In Jesus' name, I have to know.'

"The man's voice said, 'I'm Jonathan.'

"I said, 'Oh no, this is a kid I prayed for a year ago. He was in intensive care. And he died. So obviously he's been in purgatory for a long time.' I'm freaked, I'm freaked out. 

"And then the sweetest voice you could ever hear came from my left side, as if she was standing next to me. She said, 'Do not fear, my son.’ As soon as I heard that sweet voice, I knew it was Our Lady, Mother Mary. Her presence humbles you, she’s so . . .  I closed my eyes, leaned my head down and bowed towards the direction of the voice, and I said, ‘Yes, Mother.’ 

"'It is Jonathan,’ she said. "And he is in purgatory. I want you to do something for me.' 

"I said, "Yes.' Now, I'm calmed down. 

"Afterwards I came to understand that Mary then began teaching me the requirements for a plenary indulgence. About which I had no idea. I didn't know anything. I had no idea what an indulgence is. Never mind what plenary means.

"So she told me, 'I want you to offer up your last Communion, your last Confession, prayers for the pope's intentions.  And any good work you did today. And he shall be delivered.'

"And I didn't know what delivered means either. But I said, ‘Yes, Mother, I'm doing it now.' So I looked right at the tabernacle. I said, 'Lord Jesus, I offer up everything she said, my communion, confession, prayers for the pope's intentions and then any good work I've done today. 

"And, and as soon as I said that, I'm going . . ..<laughs> Up to heaven. It's like I shot up into heaven. And everything turned white.  But only for a second. It wasn't any longer than that. Like . . . I just go up and it's all white, and angels are singing.

"What does angels singing sound like? Undescribable. Maybe . . . Think of how those two choirs sounded the other night in the Mission Santa Clara singing the Mission Mass music together, at that Solemn High Mass, and multiply that over and over and over again . . ..

"Then I'm back—in front of the tabernacle at the communion rail. And I went, 'All this stuff's too much for me.'

So then I heard Jonathan's voice way up and he said, 'I want to thank you. I am now in heaven. I will pray for you.'

"And he said 'Call upon me anytime you want. And I'll pray for you.’"


So that is how Joseph learned devotion to the holy souls and how to obtain a plenary indulgence to help them out of purgatory, plus this bonus: after souls are delivered from purgatory, they'll start to pray for you. 

“As we enter Heaven we will see them, so many of them coming towards us and thanking us,” Archbishop Fulton Sheen has said, “We will ask, who they are, and they will say a poor soul you prayed for in Purgatory.”


Still doing what the Lord told him to do, "Pray for the holy souls. Pray for the holy souls."

Joseph just called to add that every month he sends a donation to a priest who celebrates only traditional Latin Masses to have five Masses a month said for the Holy Souls—because the Mass is the most effective way to help them, and because he believes the graces from the traditional Latin Mass are more effective.

Joseph's also practices devoutly praying for specific souls in other ways. For one, he routinely serves evening funeral Masses at a local parish where the traditional Latin Mass is not celebrated, and he prays for the souls of those whose funerals he serves. He does this because he said the new funerals are conducted as "celebrations of life," where everybody acts like the person is already in heaven, and so no one is praying any more for the dead person to be released from purgatory, the way they used to do at requiem Masses. 

Joseph also takes home printed prayer cards with the deceased person's name after the funeral Mass, and he stores the cards in a shoe box. There are too many to be able to pray for them every day, so twice a year he opens the box, and he prays by name for each of individual whose prayer card is in the box. 

And he added this, "I wake up sometimes knowing I have to pray for a certain person. I just think the name. It’s very urgent! I’m not sure if the person is in purgatory or the person needs prayers for another reason, being in danger of dying, maybe.  So I pray every prayer I can think of for an hour or more. I’ve got a stack of indulgenced prayers for the Holy Souls in Purgatory that I use."


See this article for more definitions and details, Indulgences at Catholic Source, with quotes from The Handbook of Indulgences, 3rd Ed.; Manual of Indulgences (Handbook of Indulgences, 4th Ed.).

See also, "4 Ways to help the Holy Souls in Purgatory."


Coming Soon: How and Why the Lord Sent Angels to Tune Two Pianos for Joseph

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Native American Devotion at Mission Carmel Ruins

 What Robert Louis Stevenson Saw on the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo November 4, 1879

“I have never seen faces more vividly lit up with joy than the faces of those Indian singers. It was to them not only the worship of God, nor an act by which they recalled and commemorated better days, but was besides an exercise of culture, where all they knew of art and letters was united and expressed." — Robert Louis Stevenson in The Old Pacific Capital

In 1879, Robert Louis Stevenson, the often-sick but determined much-traveled young Scottish writer, , who was later to become world famous for Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, among many other works, made his way to California and sojourned in Monterey County for a few months. Stevenson later wrote an essay called “The Old Pacific Capital,” in which he described with great sympathy the plight and deep Catholic faith of native converts who had been turned out after the Mexican government secularized the missions—which he had witnessed for himself when he attended a Mass at the old stone church at Mission Carmel, which was then roofless with walls that were barely standing.

From the California Historical Society: Father Angelo Casanova leads a group of worshippers, including an aged Indian choirmaster, towards the sacristy of he old mission church of San Carlos Borromeo for a celebration of the Mass on November 4, 1879, the anniversary of the founding. Joseph Strong, the artist of the work, was a friend of the writer Robert Louis Steven, who also attended Mass that day. 
Mission Carmel had been the second mission founded by St. Junipero Serra in Alta California, in 1770 (some sources say 1771), initially located in Monterey. Serra named it Misión de San Carlos Borromeo in honor of St. Charles Borromeo (a great 16th-century archbishop of Milan, who was renowned for both his learning and his great charity; for example, he had supported up to 3,000 people a day at his own expense during a plague and personally tended to plague sufferers' needs).

St. Charles Borromeo (d.1584), by Philippe de Champaigne (1664) from the Bollandists

The mission was moved soon after its founding to a better location about six miles south of Montery Bay at the Carmel River and was given the full name of Misión de San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmel. The river itself had originally been named Rio del Nuestra Senora del Monte Carmelo after Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1603, about 150 years before the mission was established, probably because three friars of the Carmelite Order were members of the Vizcaíno expedition that discovered it.

The river's name was eventually shortened to Rio Carmelo, and it is now known in English as the Carmel River, and, similarly, the mission's name came to be shortened to Mission Carmel.

St. Junipero Serra died in 1784, and it is said his last wish was for a new stone church to replace the original adobe chapel. Serra’s successor Father Fermín Lasuén directed the skilled work of Native American converts (conversos) in the building of the current stone church, which was finished in 1797.

Painting of the Stone Church without its Stucco Facing, Provenance Unknown

The conversos were proud of their contributions to the beauty of the mission, and it is recorded that mothers would vie foer their children have the honor be taught to sing and play instruments for the Masses.

In the frame are these words: Robert Louis Stevenson visited this mission in 1879 and recorded in his book, "Across the Plains," the yearly return of the carmel indians to the ruined mission to celebrate the old patronal feast of San Carlos and the playing of this violin by a blind Indian, part of a choir using the gregorian chant taught by [the missionaries]. And the label at the base of the clarinet reads, "Clarinet from mission indian band."

From About the Mission at the Carmel Mission Basilica website.

"The Mission lands and buildings under the Mexican Government were secularized in 1834 and the Mission Indians and Franciscan Fathers were required to leave. By the start of the American Gold Rush in 1850, California had officially become the thirty-first state of the United States, and the Mission fell into disrepair. . . . The Christian Mission Indian families continued to preserve the site as a sacred space, and services during secularization were held for the community in the Mission Church sacristy yearly on the feast day of San Carlos."

This Jules Tavernier painting from 1875 depicts this annual celebration just four years before Robert Louis Stevenson attended and wrote about it in his essay on Monterey, "The Old Pacific Capital." 

In the following snippets from Stevenson's essay, we can glimpse how strong the faith was among the remaining former natives of the Carmel Mission and how much they loved and treasured the Gregorian chant they had learned, and also how badly the mission had decayed after secularization. In his essay, Stevenson also deplored the lack of civic interest in preserving the historically significant mission. His description led to the first restoration of the mission in 1884, when a roof was put over the church to save it from further ruin.
“The history of Monterey has yet to be written. Founded by Catholic missionaries, a place of wise beneficence to Indians, a place of arms, a Mexican capital continually wrested by one faction from another, an American capital when the first House of Representatives held its deliberations, and then falling lower and lower from the capital of the State to the capital of a county, and from that again, by the loss of its charter and town lands, to a mere bankrupt village, its rise and decline is typical of that of all Mexican institutions and even Mexican families in California. . . . 
“In a comparison between what was and what is in California, the praisers of times past will fix upon the Indians of Carmel. The valley drained by the river so named is a true Californian valley, bare, dotted with chaparal, overlooked by quaint, unfinished hills. The Carmel runs by many pleasant farms, a clear and shallow river, loved by wading kine; and at last, as it is falling towards a quicksand and the great Pacific, passes a ruined mission on a hill. From the mission church the eye embraces a great field of ocean, and the ear is filled with a continuous sound of distant breakers on the shore. But the day of the Jesuit [Ed: Stevenson incorrectly referred to the banished Franciscan missionaries as Jesuits] has gone by, the day of the Yankee has succeeded, and there is no one left to care for the converted savage. The church is roofless and ruinous, sea-breezes and sea-fogs, and the alternation of the rain and sunshine, daily widening the breaches and casting the crockets from the wall. As an antiquity in this new land, a quaint specimen of missionary architecture, and a memorial of good deeds, it had a triple claim to preservation from all thinking people; but neglect and abuse have been its portion. 
"Only one day in the year, the day before our Guy Faux, the padre drives over the hill from Monterey; the little sacristy, which is the only covered portion of the church, is filled with seats and decorated for the service; the Indians troop together, their bright dresses contrasting with their dark and melancholy face; and there among a crowd of somewhat unsympathetic holiday makers, you may hear God served with perhaps more touching circumstances than in any other temple under heaven.
“I heard the old indians singing mass. That was a new experience, and one well worth hearing. There was the old man who led and the women who so worthily followed. It was like a voice out of the past. They sang by tradition, from the teaching of early missionaries long since turned to clay. And still in the roofless church you may hear the old music.
"Padre Casanove, will, I am sure, be the first to pardon and understand me when I say the old Gregorian singing preached a sermon more eloquent than his own. Peace on earth, good will to men so it seemed to me to say; and to me as a Barbarian, who hears on all sides evil speech and the roughest bywords about the Indian race, to hear Carmel Indians sing their latin words with so good a pronunciation and give out these ancient chants with familiarity and fervor suggested new and pleasant reflections.” 
“An Indian, stone blind and about eighty years of age, conducts the singing; other Indians compose the choir; yet they have the Gregorian music at their finger ends, and pronounce the Latin so correctly that I could follow the meaning as they sang. 
“I have never seen faces more vividly lit up with joy than the faces of those Indian singers.It was to them not only the worship of God, nor an act by which they recalled and commemorated better days, but was besides an exercise of culture, where all they knew of art and letters was united and expressed.  
“And it made a man’s heart sorry for the good fathers of yore, who had taught them to dig and to reap, to read and to sing, who had given them the European mass-books which they still preserve and study in their cottages, and who had now passed away from all authority and influence in that land—to be succeeded by greedy land thieves and sacrilegious pistol-shots. . . . 
"All that I say in this paper is in a paulo-past tense. The Monterey of last year exists no longer. A huge hotel has sprung up in the desert by the railway. .  .  . Monterey is advertised in the newspapers, and posted in the waiting-rooms at railway stations, as a resort for wealth and fashion. Alas for the little town!" 
Stevenson had rejected the Scotch Presbyterian faith in which he was raised, and he might have been expected to share the prejudices against popery that were common in those days, but from what he wrote about the Mass at the Mission, it is clear he held in high estimation the work of the Catholic missionaries and the gifts of faith and culture they had given to the native peoples they had served.

Stephenson saw the converted natives who held onto their faith as orphaned and impoverished by the expulsion of the Franciscan missionaries from the missions, who had been exploited first by the Mexicans who tricked most of the conversos out of the mission’s former lands that should have belonged to them and had established ranches and then by mannerless Americans who exploited both the conversos and the Mexican land holders and until neither natives or Mexican former-ranch owners owned any land any more. He certainly did not see the abandoned Native American converts as freed slaves, as slanderers of the Franciscan missionaries like to portray them.

Robert Louis Stevenson, Age 25, 1880

I saved the following quote from a Facebook post defending St. Junipero Serra, but I didn't remember to record who wrote the comment or note the actual post it's from. But it's an appropriate end to this essay.
"And speaking of the defense of Our Saint, California Mission Music is a big argument against the wholesale slander that both Our Saint and the Missions in general have to endure. Anyone who heard the music--performed correctly, as it would have been back then, not as one hears it on modern recordings--and who has read accounts of the Indian families vying for a chance to send their sons to learn orchestral instruments and how to sing; who has read the descriptions--by hostile parties--of the devotion and high skill with which the Indians performed this music--would never believe the lies that are told of the Missions and of St. Junipero."

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Christ the King: Victorious Ruler of All—or Cosmic Jesus?

Pope Pius XI instituted The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King in response to growing secularism in society. 

"By Our Apostolic Authority We institute the Feast of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ to be observed yearly throughout the whole world on the last Sunday of the month of October - the Sunday, that is, which immediately precedes the Feast of All Saints. We further ordain that the dedication of mankind to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which Our predecessor of saintly memory, Pope Pius X, commanded to be renewed yearly, be made annually on that day . . .. We have commanded its observance on a Sunday in order that not only the clergy may perform their duty by saying Mass and reciting the Office, but that the laity too, free from their daily tasks, may in a spirit of holy joy give ample testimony of their obedience and subjection to Christ. The last Sunday of October seemed the most convenient of all for this purpose, because it is at the end of the liturgical year, and thus the feast of the Kingship of Christ sets the crowning glory upon the mysteries of the life of Christ already commemorated during the year, and, before celebrating the triumph of all the Saints, we proclaim and extol the glory of him who triumphs in all the Saints and in all the Elect" (Pope Pius XI, encyclical 'Quas Primas', 1925).

Some say Pope Pius XI also chose that day because several Protestant churches observe Reformation Sunday on the last Sunday of October.

Pope Pius XI

"To repair the crime… which denies God's rights over human society whose Author He is, we must exalt Jesus Christ as King over all individuals, families, and peoples. If His universal royalty be proclaimed and His reign in society recognized, one of the principal evils of the modern world—the secularizing of public and private life—will be attacked at its roots." (The Love of God and of the Cross of Jesus, P. Garrigou-Lagrange OP).

(All quotations and much of the information included here about this feast are from "A Reflection on the Fate of the Feast of Christ the King" at New Liturgical Movement, by Patristics Professor Michael Foley.)

Blessed Miguel Pro and Christ the King

The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King was celebrated first on October 31, 1926. In Mexico, 200,000 faithful went to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Among the crowd was the Jesuit priest and future martyr José Ramón Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, S.J., known as Blessed Miguel Pro. The faithful had come on pilgrimage, but they were also protesting the repressive anti-Catholic “Calles Law.” Pro writes: 
"On October 31st, the Feast of Christ the King, we had the biggest, most sublime demonstration that the entire world has seen in the last four centuries." 

Young Fr. Miguel Pro was arrested a little more than a year later, on November 1927 after celebrating only one other Feast of Christ the King, and he was executed on the 23rd of that month. As he faced the firing squad, he shouted ¡Viva Cristo Rey!—“Long Live Christ the King!” 

"Pius XI’s feast had become the inspiration for the battle cry of the Cristeros rebellion against atheistic tyranny and the motto of martyrs."

Changing the Focus by Replacing the Feast

In his motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis of 1969, Pope Paul VI created a new Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe and established it on the final Sunday of the liturgical year, the last Sunday before the new liturgical year begins on the First Sunday of Advent. He wrote this choice of date makes clearer "the eschatological importance of this Sunday." Some see creating a new feast with a new title, new date, and new readings focussing towards second coming of Christ minimizes the important reason behind the origins of the original feast, which was to emphasize the victorious reign of Christ in this world. 


Image: The painting of Christ the King in this post is the middle image of the top three center panels of the Ghent Altarpiece, (1432), one of the most renowned pieces of sacred art in the Christian world. The altarpiece was begun by Hubert van Eyck and finished by his famous brother Jan.  It is located at Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium. 

The figure of Christ wears priestly vestments with a three-tiered papal tiara and what looks to be a Jewish priest's jeweled breastplate. Also richly jeweled, a golden worldly crown is laid at his feet. He raises his right hand in blessing while His left hand holds an ornate scepter, which also indicates kingship. 

In the three arches around His head, the lettering reads, "Here is God, most powerful because of his divine majesty and high over all because of his sweet goodness and most generous in giving because of his measureless bounty."

He faces the viewer in front of a panel filled with inscriptions and symbols. Greek inscriptions on the hem of His cope read REX REGUM ET DOMINUS DOMINANTIUM ("King of Kings, and Lord of Lords").  On either side the steps are lined with two levels of text. The left hand upper line reads VITA SINE MORTE IN CAPITE ("Life without death on his head"), that on the right LUVENTUS SINE SENECTUTE IN FRONTE ("Youth without age on his forehead"). These are placed above - on the left and right respectively - the words GAUDIUM SINE MERORE A DEXTRIS ("Joy without sorrow on his right side") and SECURITAS SINE TIMORE A SINISTRIS ("Safety without fear on his left side"). 

The inscription on his sash says "Sabaut" (as in "Lord Sabbaoth his name"). 

Many disagree for various reasons over whether the figure is of God the Father or the Son. Some believe the ambiguity is intentional. For several reasons, I believe it is of God the Son. 

Firstly, the youthful face is much more typical of images of Christ than of God the Father.  Also significant is the image's horizontal placement in the center of a triptych, between the Virgin Mary on the left and St. John the Baptist on the right—both figures closely related to Jesus in iconography. In addition, it is also quite telling that St. John the Baptist is pointing toward Him, in light of how it was John who said Behold the Lamb of God when Christ appeared—and, finally, the image's position on the vertical plane is important. The entire center painting of the altarpiece below this triptych is dedicated to the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Archbishop Cordileone Answers Questions about Mass of the Americas, a Polyphonic Mass Setting Composed by Frank La Rocca

The following interview was conducted with Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone via email by 

Q:  What is the significance of the plural in the title, “Mass of the Americas”? 

The idea first came to me early in 2018 as I was looking at the calendar for the year. In the Archdiocese of San Francisco we hold our archdiocesan-wide celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the Saturday before the actual feast day. That year it occurred on December 8. So, we would be celebrating the Mass of the Immaculate Conception, the patroness of the United States and a holy day of obligation here, in the midst of our festivities to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of Mexico and all of the Americas. 

I realized that this was a golden opportunity to lift up Our Lady as a unifier of God’s people, of all races and languages, from both sides of the southern border. With all the tensions and divisions in society today, we need to look to our Blessed Mother. We all love her, and, like all mothers, her love unites us into one family of God. I conceived of the "Mass of the Americas," then, as a unity Mass to Our Mother. In Europe they see all of the Americas as one continent, “America.” In our hemisphere we refer to the “Americas,” because of the geographical, historical, cultural and linguistic differences. But we can learn a lesson from how the Europeans see this hemisphere, and seek to build up better mutual understanding and unity. Our Blessed Mother is the way there, and the music of this Mass in a twin honor to Our Lady under these two titles unites these themes. Thus, the “Mass of the Americas.”

Q.  Why have a new Mass composed, as opposed to singing Palestrina, Purcell, etc.?  How does this affect American liturgy?   

Well, in the first place, there is no Palestrina Mass, nor of any other great sacred music composer in history for that matter, conceived as a twin tribute to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Great music in the high sacred tradition composed on themes spiritually appropriate for our times is our vision. Great art in any form is appropriate and relatable to the culture of a particular time and place and reflects that culture, but also elevates it by bringing it into a continuity of tradition that has withstood the test of time and attained the status of classic beauty, giving it the quality of universality: beautiful in every age, culture and generation.

Secondly, it is important that the Church’s great tradition in sacred music and the arts not be viewed as a dead tradition, but one that has been handed on and lives today. This is how it works with secular classical music: the great orchestras of the world continue to play the great symphonies of the great composers – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and so forth; but new compositions of the same genre are being made all the time, and the great orchestras of the world also play those. Likewise for religious classical music, that is, sacred music: our artists need to know we value their work, including a creative genius like Frank La Rocca but also young artists. The circle of composers gathering around the Benedict XVI Institute want primarily to use their gifts for the worship of God. If the concert stage is the only place that welcomes sacred music, we have a problem. 

Q:  Many people are musical purists, who feel they only pray well with chant—or with Marty Haugen—or some other subgenre of religious music.  Can people be wrong about what music helps them experience transcendence?  And is personal spiritual experience (even when it is genuine) the right metric for deciding what music to use at Mass?  (I think of Sacrosanctum Concilium here, which gives chant “pride of place,” but also allows for “other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony.”) 

You’re certainly right about what Vatican II taught on sacred music, a principle going back to Pope St. Pius X and continuing right up through Vatican II, Pope St. Paul VI, and the current documents on the Sacred Liturgy: that the people learn to sing the Gregorian chants together in Latin, while allowing for other kinds of music suitable to the liturgical action. Polyphony developed organically from chant, and has withstood the test of time. Again, this is what gives it the status of classic, the quality of universal beauty. Contemporary compositions have not yet been subject to such a test of time. So only time will tell. But let us keep in mind that the purpose of the Mass is to worship God and to bring us into an encounter with Christ in the Eucharist. If that is happening for anyone in their current parish I don’t want to take that away. But our emptying pews suggest it is not happening for many people.

More beauty and reverence in the liturgy is needed, for that is what, in the first place, qualifies as fitting for the worship of the one, true God. I am convinced it is also central to the key problem we are confronting nowadays, namely, that so many Mass-going Catholics don’t understand or experience the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Every Mass is a miracle. When the outward form of the liturgy doesn’t correspond to the reality of the Mass, people have trouble understanding and experiencing Jesus Christ in the Mass. 

Q: Is the length of "Mass of the Americas" a problem for celebrant and congregation?  There are other great compositions—Bach’s B Minor Mass, or Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis—that are almost never sung in context for this reason. 

The "Mass of the Americas" is really conceived of as a Cathedral Mass. It’s not so much the length as the orchestra that makes it prohibitive for parish use in most parishes. That is one reason we recently released at the Napa Institute the parish version for choir and organ ( That said, the "Mass of the Americas" has touched a chord and has been celebrated in Tijuana, Houston, New Jersey, New York, Washington D.C., Rome, Chicago and more. 

The orchestrated Mass compositions you mention are certainly beautiful, but they are really written more for the concert hall than for worship. This was the movement begun by Pope St. Pius X when he introduced for the first time the principle of active participation into the Church’s Magisterium with his Apostolic Letter Tra le sollecitudini of 1903. The Mass had become more of a performance, with the people as passive observers. Gregorian chant is the Church’s patrimony of liturgical music, and he sought to restore the principle of people actively involved in worship by singing together the chants that are the music proper to Catholic worship. But by holding up polyphony as a prime example of other types of music suitable to the liturgical action, Vatican II acknowledges that there is also a place for choral music, which engages the people with active listening, as is the case when the word of God is proclaimed in the liturgical assembly.

Q:   "Mass of the Americas" has been used in both the Novus Ordo and the Traditional or Tridentine Rite.  Was it deliberately composed with both rites in mind?   

I originally conceived the Mass for our Cathedral on the occasion of our celebration for Our Lady of Guadalupe, and so as a Novus Ordo Mass with the musical pieces in Spanish, Latin, English and Nahuatl (the language of the Aztec people). When I later was asked to celebrate a Solemn High Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, I asked Frank LaRocca to adapt it to that form of the Mass. I did not originally conceive it for that, but that is how it happened.   

Q: Who would you say is the audience for "Mass of the Americas," or for whom would you say it was commissioned and composed?  

My first intent was to offer a fitting unity Mass for the faithful of San Francisco. As I mentioned, in 2018 our archdiocesan-wide celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe was going to be held on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Since Hispanic Catholics and Catholics descended from European immigrants of generations ago tend not to intermingle too much, I thought that this would provide some impetus to bring the two communities closer together and allow us to celebrate both great Feast days together.   

We later brought it to Tijuana as part of a national liturgy conference the Mexican bishops were holding. It was also enthusiastically received there. That’s when we conceived of an international Marian unity tour. It has certainly touched a chord in people’s hearts. I’m especially gratified that U.S. priests are beginning to use the music in their First Mass celebrations. I hadn’t imagined that, but it certainly seems fitting. 

Saturday, September 17, 2022

A Look Back at the Bay Area Visit of Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop from Kazakhstan

His Excellency Bishop Athanasius Schneider has been referred to in the National Catholic Register as “one of the leading voices of fidelity, continuity, and tradition in the Church today.” In some ways, it is hard to account for the scope of his influence, in light of the fact that Bishop Schneider is only an auxiliary bishop of Astana, in Kazakhstan, a country with only around 150,000 Roman Catholics. (Astana is the former and about to be restored name of the city currently named Nur-Sultan, which is where Pope Francis visited this past week.) 

Even though Kazakhstan is the world’s ninth largest country, many have never even heard of it (at least not until Pope Francis' recent visit there).  So it is a bit of a marvel that, in spite of the relative humble obscurity of his role as an auxiliary bishop serving in that less-than-famous locale, Bishop Schneider is invited often to appear in many far-away places.

In 2018, I had the privilege to interview Bishop Schneider in the San Francisco Bay Area after he celebrated a Pontifical Mass at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Oratory when the oratory was still hosted at Five Wounds Portuguese National Church in San José. 

You can read the interview here at Homiletic and Pastoral Review

After the interview, Bishop Schneider went to Monterey, where he was the principal speaker for the 2018 Latin Mass/Keep the Faith Conference, which was the main event that brought him to the Bay Area. Then, after the conference, Bishop Schneider was a guest for dinner at Archbishop Cordileone's residence. 

Enmity or Fraternal Correction?

Bishop Schneider is portrayed by some as an enemy of Pope Francis, because he speaks frequently in what he refers to as fraternal correction to some of papal actions. For one example, in our interview, he spoke about how he and two other Kazakhstan bishops released a statement on the indissolubility of marriage on December 31, 2017 in response to the much-disputed footnote to the pope's Apostolic Letter Amoris Laetitia, which allows some couples living in unblessed marriages to receive Communion after "accompaniment." 

More recently, in January 2022, Bishop Schneider asked the pope to rescind the provisions contained in Traditionis Custodes and in the Responsa ad dubia issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) just before Christmas, which restricts the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass and the sacraments according to the books in effect in 1962. See here.

And then this week, a Reuter's article titled "As pope Kazakhstan visit ends, conservative critic speaks out," described Bishop Schneider as an "arch conservative who has often pointedly criticised the progressive pope on a host of issues."  The article quoted Bishop Schneider's objections to the pope's visit to Kazakhstan for the Seventh Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions:

"'While praising the congress' ability to 'promote mutual respect in the world,' Schneider, 61, said he believed it risked the 'danger' of putting Catholicism on the same plane as other religions."

So, I wondered if Bishop Schneider would meet Pope Francis when the pope was in Kazakhstan, and if so, whether the meeting would be cordial—until I saw the following photo. The photo looks pretty cordial to me.

Catholicism in Kazakhstan 

(Excerpt from the earlier-mentioned Homiletic and Pastoral Review article titled "Kazakhstan Bishop Schneider Broadcasts Seeds of Faith Around the World")

The story of how Bishop Schneider came to become a contributor to the renewal of Catholicism in Kazakhstan in the post-Soviet area, before he become a world-traveling proponent of traditional Catholic teachings, is well worth reading about. 

Bishop Schneider was born, baptized, and was named Anton in 1961 in the former Soviet Union. He first learned to practice and treasure his faith from devoutly Catholic parents, who experienced extreme hardships and upheavals during World War II, and later under Soviet rule.

His parents were originally among hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans whose forebears had settled in villages near Odessa in the Ukraine, on the Black Sea. In an interview quoted in a Zenit article, Bishop Schneider spoke extensively about his childhood, and the following quotes are from that article. Other biographical details were gleaned from other sources.

At the end of the Second World War, “the German Army took all these German people — 300,000 of them — [from the Black Sea area] to Berlin …. And when the Russian Army occupied Berlin, they took back these people as ‘forced labor’ to three places — Kazakhstan, Siberia and to the Ural Mountains.”

His parents were among those sent to the Ural Mountains. “They were forced to work there, and it’s a miracle that they survived. When they were freed, they moved to Central Asia, which was then part of the Soviet Union, in the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, a little republic close to the Chinese border, just below Kazakhstan.” He never went to the neighboring country of Kazakhstan to the north until many years later.

“There, I was born and spent my childhood. Then we moved from Kyrgyzstan to Estonia, which was still part of the Soviet Union. There, I lived for four years.”

Always when they lived under Soviet rule, the family had to practice its Catholic faith secretly, because religion was suppressed.

Finally, they were able to attend Mass when they lived in Estonia, but it was not at all easy. “We had a church which was 100 kilometers [62 miles] away, and we had to travel that 100 kilometers to attend the Holy Mass.” His parents took their four children to Mass by train once a month (because they could not afford the fare to go more often). At the time, he was between 10 and 12 years of age. They left for Mass on the first train before dawn, and returned on the last train after dark, and “it was dangerous, because, during those times, the Communist government forbade children from participating in the Holy Mass.”

Communion in the Hand Gave Him Pain in His Soul

In 1973, after Bishop Schneider made his First Holy Communion, he emigrated with his family to Rottweil in West Germany. Shocked at the age of 12 when he first saw people taking Communion in the hand, as he told the National Catholic Register, “I carried this pain in my soul,” and it prompted him to write his 2009 book on the Eucharist, Dominus est—It is the Lord: Reflections of a Bishop of Central Asia on Holy Communion.

As a young man, he joined the revived Order of the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross of Coimbra in Austria in 1982 and took the religious name of Athanasius. He studied philosophy at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) in Rome, and theology at the Sapientiae Institute of Anápolis, Brazil. After he was ordained a priest in March 1990, he obtained a doctorate in patristic theology in 1997 from the Augustinianum in Rome.

Bishop Schneider returned to Central Asia only by chance. When he was still in Rome, and planning to return to Brazil, a priest whom he had not previously met invited him to help foster the revival of the Catholic Church by coming to teach at the newly formed seminary in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. In Karaganda, Bishop Schneider not only taught, but he helped build the seminary, and while he was also building the Cathedral of Our Lady of Fatima, he commissioned the Italian artist, Rodolfo Papa, to make a series of fourteen paintings for the crypt of the cathedral on the theme of the Eucharist, a subject which is always close to his own heart.

After Athanasius Schneider was ordained a bishop in June of 2006 in St. Peter’s Basilica, he was first assigned as auxiliary bishop in Karaganda. In 2011, he was transferred to the position of auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Astana, also in Kazakhstan. He also still manages to teach at the seminary.

When I listened to Bishop Schneider’s description about how he tries to evangelize in Kazakhstan through presence, through witness, and through personal contacts—I also thought about how widely he travels and teaches. This made me realize that he is doing the same thing around the world as he does in his own diocese in evangelizing through presence, through witness, and through personal contact. He seems to me to be a kind of saintly “Johnny Appleseed,” planting seeds of authentic Catholic doctrine as he travels around.

Monday, August 29, 2022


Major news this past week, especially among Catholic press, has been the conversion to Catholicism of scandal-ridden actor Shia LaBoeuf. Internet sources say LaBoeuf had already become a Christian in 2014 while filming a movie titled "Fury." Even so, LaBoeuf's actions since then—which he shamefacedly now calls disgusting—brought him ostracism. His career was in ruins.

The actor's conversion to the Catholic faith came during his preparation for playing Saint Pio of Pietrelcina in "Padre Pio"—a new movie premiering in Venice during the Venice Film Festival next week. The offer to play the role came at a time when he was an outcast. "Even my mother did not want to have anything to do with me." And he was close to suicide. "I had the gun on the table. . . . Pio saved my life."

LaBoeuf told Bishop Robert Barron in one interview among many during his press junket how he came to believe in the Catholic faith while hanging out with Capuchin Franciscan monks at their seminary in San Lorenzo as part of his research for the role, since Padre Pio was a Capuchin. At nearby Mission Sant Inez, LaBoeuf then received RCIA instruction from a Sacred Heart sister and was received into the Catholic Church. LaBoeuf also needed to learn the traditional Latin Mass—because that was the Mass of St. Pio. So he went on to study the TLM with a canon from the Institute of Christ the King in Oakland, California 

I spoke to the canon who trained LaBoeuf, who didn't want his name mentioned. When he got the call asking him to train LaBoeuf, he thought it was a joke at first, but he agreed and trained the actor how to perform the parts of the TLM he was going to portray in the movie.

At daily TLMs offered at St. Margaret Mary Church, LaBoeuf found he was drawn from a kind of intellectual (what he calls "heady") kind of belief to a deeper emotional connection to the Mass and to Faith.

The following quotes are from Bishop Barron's interview with LaBoeuf, with some of the seemingly heartfelt but not always accurate terminology of a new convert.

TLM Affects Me, Like I've Been Let In on Something Very Special

"Latin Mass affects me deeply, because it feels like they're not selling me a car. At Santa Inez where I was catechized there is a lot of guitar playing and there is a lot of what feels like they are trying to sell me on an idea.

"There is something else that happens in Oakland at the Latin Mass every day of the week. It feels almost like I'm being being let in on something very special."

No Need to Know the Words

"It may feel exclusive sometimes, like I have to know Latin to experience it. But however I would also say that .. . I don't need to know the words. . . . I know what's going on. I feel it deeply. It almost feels more powerful than when I know every single word. It takes me out of the realm of the intellectual, and it puts me squarely in the realm of the feeling and the beauty thing you talk about.

"To deny some of the senses, heightens some of the others. So when you put me in this rationalist logical word, word, word, word, word . . . it takes me out of the feeling realm. Whereas Latin Mass puts me squarely in the feeling realm, because I can't argue the word, because I don't know what the word means—so I'm just left with this feeling that feels sacred and connected."

TLM Took Me Out of Belief Into Connection

"I had belief, but I never had a connection. The Latin Mass took me out of belief into connection."

At the end of the official trailer of "Padre Pio," Shia LaBoeuf portrays Padre Pio at the Consecration during a traditional Latin Mass.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

O Antiphon For December 23: O Emmanuel, O God with Us

The Prophet Isaiah, by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

On December 23, the last of the Great O antiphons of Advent is sung at Vespers (Evening Prayer). By the next evening on December 24, the time of waiting will be over, because the Feast of Christmas begins at Vespers on Christmas Eve.  

This antiphon begins by addressing our Savior with the Messianic name, Emmanuel, God with us. The antiphon then echoes His title as king (from O Rex Gentium), adds the title of lawgiver, repeats that He is the longed for One and Savior of the nations. It ends with a petition, "come and save us.”

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster. 
O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, longing of the nations and Savior thereof: Come and save us, O Lord our God.
Here are the corresponding modified hymn verses from "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel":
Veni, veni, Emmanuel,
Captivum solvet Israel
Qui gemit in exsilio
Privatus Dei Fillio

O come, o come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appears.

Scriptural Origins

Isaiah 7:14: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman′u-el."

Matthew 1:20b-23: "'[T]hat which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emman′u-el' (which means, God with us).

Dom Gueranger's Commentary about O Emmanuel:

O Emmanuel ! King of peace! Thou enterest today the city of Thy predilection, the city in which Thou hast placed Thy temple—Jerusalem. A few years hence the same city will give Thee Thy cross and Thy sepulchre: nay, the day will come on which Thou wilt set up Thy judgement-seat within sight of her walls. But to-day Thou enterest the city of David and Solomon unnoticed and unknown. It lies on Thy road to Bethlehem. Thy blessed Mother and Joseph her spouse would not lose the opportunity of visiting the temple, there to offer to the Lord. their prayers and adoration. They enter; and then, for the first time, is accomplished the prophecy of Aggeus, that great shall be the glory of this last house more than of the first ; for this second temple has now standing within it an ark of the Covenant more precious than was that which Moses built; and within this ark, which is Mary, is contained the God whose presence makes her the holiest of sanctuaries. The Lawgiver Himself is in this blessed ark, and not merely, as in that of old, the tablet of stone on which the Law was graven. The visit paid, our living ark descends the steps of the temple, and sets out once more for Bethlehem, where other prophecies are to be fulfilled. We adore Thee, O Emmanuel ! in this Thy journey, and we reverence the fidelity wherewith Thou fulfillest all that the prophets have written of Thee; for Thou wouldst give to Thy people the certainty of Thy being the Messias, by showing them that all the marks, whereby He was to be known, are to be found in Thee. And now, the hour is near; all is ready for Thy birth; come then, and save us; come, that Thou mayst not only be called our Emmanuel, but our Jesus, that is, He that saves us.
See "History and Mystery: The O Antiphons in a Favorite Hymn" for my post on the relationship between the O antiphons,"Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

O Antiphon for December 22: O Rex Gentium, O King of the Nations


Christ the Judge (1447), by Fra Angelico. At the Duomo of Orvieto, Italy

The O antiphon for Dec. 22nd begins by addressing our Savior with the Messianic name, O Rex Gentium. The antiphon then describes what this title symbolizes, and it ends with a petition, "come and . . ..”
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem quem de limo formasti..

O King of the gentiles and their desired One, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.

The word Gentium comes from gens, which means tribe, clan; nation, people; Gentiles. The Jews would have understood the word as referring to the Gentiles.

Calling on Christ as Rex Gentium et desideratus earum (King and desired one of all the nations) means that even those who have never heard of true God or His promised Messiah, and even those who do not know they need salvation, long for Him.

The corresponding modified hymn verses from "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel":

Veni, veni, Rex gentium, Veni Redemptor omnium: Ut salvas tuos famulos Peccati sibi conscios.

Come, O come, King of the nations, come, Redeemer of all: that Thou mayst save Thy family from the guilt of their sins.

Scriptural Origins:

King of the Nations 
Jeremiah 10:7:
7 Who would not fear thee, O King of the nations? For this is thy due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like thee.
Desired of all nations 
Haggai 2:4-8:
"My Spirit abides among you; fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations — and the desired of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts."

Psalm 118:22: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner."

Isaiah 28:16a: "Behold, I am laying in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation."

Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, and Luke 20:17: "Jesus said to them, 'Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?"

Acts 4:8-12:
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed, 10 be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

I Peter 2:7-8:
To you therefore who believe, he is precious, but for those who do not believe,
“The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner,”
and “A stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall”; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Cornerstone Who Joins the Gentiles with Israel
Ephesians 2:14-16, 19-22: 
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.  19 So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Dom Gueranger's Commentary about Rex Gentium

O King of nations! Thou art approaching still nigher to Bethlehem, where Thou art to be born. The journey is almost over, and Thy august Mother, consoled and strengthened by the dear weight she bears, holds an unceasing converse with Thee on the way. She adores Thy divine Majesty; she gives thanks to Thy mercy; she rejoices that she has been chosen for the sublime ministry of being Mother to God. She longs for that happy moment when her eyes shall look upon Thee, and yet she fears it. For, how will she be able to render Thee those services which are due to Thy infinite greatness, she that thinks herself the last of creatures ? How will she dare to raise Thee up in her arms, and press Thee to her heart, and feed Thee at her breasts? When she reflects that the hour is now near at hand, in which, being born of her, Thou wilt require all her care and tenderness, her heart sinks within her; for, what human heart could bear the intense vehemence of these two affections—the love of such a Mother for her Babe, and the love of such a creature for her God? But Thou supportest her, O Thou the Desired of nations! for Thou, too, longest for that happy birth, which is to give to the earth its Saviour, and to men that corner-stone, which will unite them all into one family. Dearest King! be Thou blessed for all these wonders of Thy power and goodness ! Come speedily, we beseech Thee, come and save us, for we are dear to Thee, as creatures that have been formed by Thy divine hands. Yea, come, for Thy creation has grown degenerate; it is lost; death has taken possession of it: take Thou it again into Thy almighty hands, and give it a new creation; save it; for Thou hast not ceased to take pleasure in and love Thine own work.

From Julian of Norwich

O Rex Gentium
O King of our desire whom we despise,
King of the nations never on the throne,
Unfound foundation, cast-off cornerstone,
Rejected joiner, making many one,
You have no form or beauty for our eyes,
A King who comes to give away his crown,
A King within our rags of flesh and bone.
We pierce the flesh that pierces our disguise,
For we ourselves are found in you alone.
Come to us now and find in us your throne,
O King within the child within the clay,
O hidden King who shapes us in the play
Of all creation. Shape us for the day
Your coming Kingdom comes into its own.

See "History and Mystery: The O Antiphons in a Favorite Hymn" for my post on the relationship between the O antiphons,"Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."

Monday, December 21, 2020

O Antiphon for December 21: O Oriens, O Dayspring from On High

It is especially fitting that we pray this antiphon today, on the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. This title of Christ, Oriens, means daybreak, dawn, sunrise, the East, the beginning, and the rising up—and so it also refers to the Resurrection. 

The O antiphon for Dec. 21th begins by addressing our Savior as O Oriens, O Dayspring or Dawn rising from the East. The antiphon then describes what the Oriens symbolizes, and it ends with a petition, "come and ....”

O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ veni et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis. 

O Orient! splendour of eternal light, and Sun of justice! come and enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

The corresponding modified hymn verses from "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel:"

Veni, veni o oriens! 
Solare nos adveniens, 
Noctis depelle nebulas, 
Dirasque noctis tenebras. 
R: Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel nascetur pro te, Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

All the meanings of Oriens express the idea of light breaking through the darkness of night, of sin and death, of sickness and despair, with its brightness bringing healing and warmth. 

The church prays this petition daily in the Benedictus, the Canticle of Zechariah: "The dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace."(Luke 1:78-79).

This title of the Messiah is based on many additional Scripture texts.

Isaiah 9:1: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone".

Malachi 4:2: "For you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays."

John 3:16-21: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God."

2 Peter 1:19: "Keep your attention closely fixed on it, as you would on a lamp shining in a dark place, until the first streaks of dawn appe

Dom Gueranger’s commentary about this O antiphon:

0 Jesus, divine Sun! Thou art coming to snatch us from eternal night blessed for ever be Thy infinite goodness! But Thou puttest our faith to the test, before showing Thyself in all Thy brightness. Thou hidest Thy rays, until the time decreed by Thy heavenly Father comes, in which all Thy beauty will break upon the world. Thou art traversing Judea ; Thou art near Jerusalem; the journey of Mary and Joseph is nigh its term. Crowds of men pass or meet Thee on the road, each one hurrying to his native town, there to be enrolled, as the edict commands. Not one of all these suspects that Thou, O divine Orient ! art so near him. They see Thy Mother Mary, and they see nothing in her above the rest of women; or if they are impressed by the majesty and incomparable modesty of this august Queen, it is but a vague feeling of surprise at there being such dignity in one so poor as she is; and they soon forget her again. If the Mother is thus an object of indifference to them, it is not to be expected that they will give even so much as a thought to her Child, that is not yet born. And yet this Child is Thyself, O ,Sun of justice! Oh! increase our faith, but increase, too, our love. If these men loved Thee, 0 Redeemer of mankind, Thou wouldst give them the grace to feel Thy presence. Their eyes, indeed, would not yet see Thee, but their hearts, at least, would burn within them, they would long for Thy coming, and would hasten it by their prayers and, sighs. Dearest Jesus! who thus traversest the world Thou hast created, and who forcest not the homage of Thy creatures, we wish to keep near Thee during the rest of this Thy journey: we kiss the footsteps of her that carries Thee in her womb; we will not leave Thee, until we arrive together with Thee at Bethlehem, that house of bread, where, at last, our eyes will see Thee, O splendour of eternal light, our Lord and our God!'

Venerable Bede wrote a wonderful evocation of this light, Christ O Oriens, our true Morning Star:

Christ is the morning star who when the night of this world is past brings to his saints the promise of the light of life and opens everlasting day."

Following is a prose translation of a section of some Advent lyrics written in the 8th century by Cynewulf, an Old-English vernacular poet.

Lo! Thou Splendor of the dayspring, fairest of angels sent to men upon earth, Thou Radiance of the Sun of righteousness, bright beyond the stars, Thou of Thy very self dost illumine all the tides of time! Even as Thou, God begotten of God, Son of the true Father, didst ever dwell without beginning in the glory of heaven, so Thine own handiwork in its present need imploreth Thee with confidence that Thou send us the bright sun, and come in Thy very person to enlighten those who have long been covered with murky cloud, and sitting here in darkness and eternal night, shrouded in sins, have been forced to endure the shadow of death. Now in the fulness of hope we believe in the salvation brought to men through the Word of God, who was in the beginning co-eternal with God the Father almighty, and afterward became flesh without blemish, being born of the virgin as a help for the afflicted. God appeared among us without sin; the mighty Son of God and the Son of Man dwelt together in harmony among mankind. Wherefore it is right that we should ever give thanks by our deeds unto the Lord of victory, for that He was willing to send Himself unto us.

And in our own times, Fr. Z. wrote this reflection in his post on O Oriens. 

We are all desperately in need of a Savior, a Redeemer who is capable of ransoming from the darkness of our sins and from the blinding and numbing wound of ignorance from which we all suffer. In their terrible Fall, our First Parents inflicted grave wounds in the souls of every person who would live after them, except of course - by an act of singular grace - the Mother of God. Our wills are damaged. Our intellect is clouded. In Christ we have the Truth, the sure foundation of what is lasting. All else, apart from Him fails and fades into dark obscurity. He brings clarity and light back to our souls when we are baptized or when we return to Him through the sacrament of penance. 

"At Holy Mass of the ancient Church, Christians would face "East", at least symbolically, so that they could greet the Coming of the Savior, both in the consecration of the bread and wine and in the expectation of the glorious return of the King of Glory. They turned to the rising sun who is Justice Itself, whose light will lay bare the truth of our every word, thought and deed in the Final Day. 

"This is the Solstice day, for the Northern Hemisphere the day which provides us with the least daylight of the year. From this point onward in the globe's majestic arc about the sun, we of the north, benefit from increasing warmth and illumination. It is as if God in His Wisdom, provided within the framework of the cosmos object lessons by which we might come to grasp something of His good plan for our salvation."
Last Judgment, by Giotto (1306), Scrovegni Chapel
See "History and Mystery: The O Antiphons in a Favorite Hymn" for my post on the relationship between the O antiphons,"Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."