Saturday, September 29, 2012

St. Michael: Heaven's Enforcer

Two Prayers to St. Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits, who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

O glorious prince St. Michael, chief and commander of the heavenly hosts, guardian of souls, vanquisher of rebel spirits, servant in the house of the Divine King, and our admirable conductor, you who shine with excellence and superhuman virtue deliver us from all evil, who turn to you with confidence and enable us by your gracious protection to serve God more and more faithfully every day. Amen.

Te splendor et virtus Patris

O Jesu, lifespring of the soul,
The Father’s power, and glory bright!
Thee with the angels we extol;
From Thee they draw their life and light.

Thy thousand thousand hosts are spread
Embattled o‘er the azure sky;
But Michael bears Thy standard dread,
And lifts the mighty cries on high.

He in that sign the rebel powers
Did with their dragon prince expel;
And hurl’d them from the heaven’s high towers
Down like a thunderbolt to hell.

Grant us with Michael still,
O Lord, Against the Prince of Pride to fight;
So may a crown be our reward,
Before the Lamb’s pure throne of light.

To God the Father glory be,
And to his sole-begotten Son; The same,
O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
While everlasting ages run.

Ant. Most glorious Prince, Michael the Archangel, be thou mindful of us; here, and in all places, pray for us to the Son of God most high.

V. I will sing praises to Thee, my God, before the Angels.
R. I will adore Thee in Thy holy temple, and praise Thy Name.

Let us pray.

O God, who in the dispensation of Thy providence dost admirably dispose the ministry of angels and of men; mercifully grant that the Holy Angels, who ever minister before Thy throne in heaven, may be the protectors also of our life on earth. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Bl. John of Montmirail: Knight to Leper Keeper

Tomb of Bl John, smashed in 1793 (source).

This week, my Medieval Bodies and Spaces class is all about comparing the features of lordly towers to abbeys in the 9th century.  It makes today’s Menology entry for Blessed John of Montmirail, a knight turned monk, fit right into the places my head has been going.

In France, Blessed John of Mont Amirail. Noble by birth, in his early career he had been a brave cavalier, and won great distinction at the battle of Gisors, where he saved his King Philip Augustus from the hands of his enemy. Barely thirty years old, he changed his outlook upon life, got a hospice built for the poor and pilgrims, and practiced therein himself the works of piety and mercy. He specially loved the lepers, whom he brought to his room and table. All the while, he wore coarse haircloth, and often spent the night in holy prayer. At length by the advice of holy directors, he entered the Monastery of Longpont, where, through his love of abjection, he was nicknamed the humble. He was the model of all, and they unanimously regarded him as a saint. He died in peace in 1217. Many miracles were wrought at his tomb, and even at the present day his relics are the object of religious veneration in the parish Church. Pope Leo XIII granted in his honour an Office special to the Diocese of Soissons.

That last sentence tells you a bit about how long the Menology went between updates.  Bl. John’s tomb was destroyed after the French Revolution in 1793.

The ruins of the abbey church at Longpont (source).

Bl. John’s life is relatively well-attested. He was Baron de Montmirail, Comte de La Ferté-Gaucher, and lord of ten or so other places. He was a life-long friend of Philip Augustus, whose life he saved in battle against Richard the Lionheart, and endowed numerous abbeys before finally retiring to the cloister.  The Menology neglects to mention that he entered the cloister at around 30, leaving behind a wife and children, a bit of a problematic transition by today’s standards.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Abbess Jane, Angels, and Bowing Statues

Ruins of Clair-Fontaine with 19th century chapel (source).

The Menology tends to be very matter-of-fact about its miraculous events.  Today’s reading includes the life of Jane (Jeanne) of Clair-Fontaine:

In the Duchy of Luxembourg, Blessed Jane, Abbess of Clair-Fontaine, of noble lineage, nobler still by her virtuous piety, who often had the privilege of beholding the angels, and was on terms of sweet intimacy and familiarity with the glorious Mother of God.  Under the portal of the monastic church was a stone statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom the good Abbess Jane never failed to offer her homage, and which very often bowed to return her salutation.

Located just across the modern border of Belgium, Clair-Fontaine was sited near a miraculous spring discovered by St. Bernard in the previous century. (Cistercians had more connections with miraculous springs than the modern accounts of the Order tend to let on.) The abbey, chartered in 1247, was built as a necropolis for members of the family of its founder, Ermesinde de Luxembourg, daughter of Henri IV of Luxembourg, and was to be staffed by nuns of noble blood.  Jane was the second abbess.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ss. Cosmos and Damian

Today on the new calendar or tomorrow on the old is the feast of Ss. Cosmos and Damian, patrons of physicians and veterinarians and namesakes of my two favorite cats in Philly.

Here's a translation of the Vespers hymn for the feast that I found at Musica Sacra:

O people dedicated to God, o strong
And manifold assembly,
O every group and meeting
Held by time's round,
The wave of which cleans the blood
Of each victim.

By the excellent ones, moved in the ear
Also the depths of the breast,
At the same time of the inmost heart
And highest mind, spread it out.
A pious thing is narrated; everyone
Come flying to this place.

Lo, at a new procession
A miracle rushes up,
While the full line stands firm
To give all a cure.
For they are strong, Cosmas and the other,
Renowned Damian.

By mouth, by touch, by order, they can
Heal with grace.
By fire of iron, [cauterization] by fire of Word,
They dry out all that's diseased.
By art from books, by art from heaven,
They heal all the listless.

Whoever stands firm to be with them,
He makes it to salvation.
One virtue shapes both.
And those who are lively,
While they are strong, by mouth,
By hand, they determine all.

Bones, nerves or marrow,
Blood, limb, entrails,
Breath, and all the breast,
Anxious by boredom.
As many who by the saints bear the full,
So many they pray for a cure for:

For those demon would destroy, and horror.
Faintness, the ulcer that would cut them down.
Let grace follow the fault,
And clemency, the crime.
Let the evil end altogether
And eternity be for the good.

Praise be to You through all time,
O unbiased Trinity,
Praise, honor and all virtue,
Singular glory.
May it endure to You, God,
For an age of ages, Amen.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hermannus Contractus: If Stephen Hawking Were Also a Composer & Historian

Hermannus Contractus (source
Today is a feria on both the current and traditional Roman calendars, but that does not mean that nothing happened today, as the martyrology reminds us each day with its uniform ending of “and, elsewhere, very many other holy martyrs and confessors and holy virgins.”   Flipping through the choices in Butler’s Lives of the Saints, I found that today is the feast of Blessed Hermannus Contractus (1013-1054), also known as Herman of Reichenau, one of the great polymaths of the Middle Ages.

The Catholic Encyclopedia tells his story concisely:

The former abbey church of Reichenau (source).
He was the son of Count Wolverad II von Altshausen. Being a cripple from birth (hence the surname Contractus) he was powerless to move without assistance, and it was only by the greatest effort that he was able to read and write; but he was so highly gifted intellectually, that when he was but seven years of age his parents confided him to the learned Abbot Berno, on the island of Reichenau. Here he took the monastic vows in 1043, and probably spent his entire life. His iron will overcame all obstacles, and it was not long before his brilliant attainments made him a shining light in the most diversified branches of learning, including, besides theology, mathematics, astronomy, music, the Latin, Greek, and Arabic tongues. Students soon flocked to him from all parts, attracted not only by the fame of his scholarship, but also by his monastic virtue and his lovable personality. We are indebted to him chiefly for a chronicle of the most important events from the birth of Christ to his day. It is the earliest of the medieval universal chronicles now extant, and was compiled from numerous sources, being a monument to his great industry as well as to his extraordinary erudition and strict regard for accuracy. While it is not improbable that this work was based on a previous state chronicle of Swabia, since lost (called "Chronicum Universale Suevicum", or "Epitome Sangallensis"), it has nevertheless a significance entirely its own. But the full measure of his genius appears from the objectivity and clearness with which he wrote the history of his own time, the materials of which were accessible to him only by means of verbal tradition.

He also wrote mathematico-astronomical works. Of his poems the most successful was the "De octo vitiis principalibus", which he addressed to nuns, and in which he gave proof of uncommon skill in the handling of different kinds of metres, as well as in the charm with which he contrived to blend earnestness with a happy mirth. He composed religious hymns, and is not infrequently credited with the authorship of the "Alma Redemptoris Mater", and the "Salve Regina". Finally, it may be mentioned that Hermann constructed astronomical and musical instruments.

The Alma Redemptoris Mater is sung as the Marian Antiphon from Advent I until Candlemas.  It is certainly one of the most beautiful pieces of chant in the Gregorian repertoire.  Here’s the simple setting:

Mother of Christ! hear thou thy people’s cry,
Star of the deep and portal of the sky!
Mother of Him who thee from nothing made,
Sinking, we strive, and call to thee for aid:
Oh, by that joy which Gabriel brought to thee,
Thou Virgin first and last, let us thy mercy see.

(Translation by Edward Caswall.)