Wednesday, October 31, 2012

To the Devil with People Who Don't Like Halloween

A scene from Holbein's Danse Macabre.
Given all of the offbeat saints days I write about, I would be remiss if I did not stop for a moment to mention Halloween.

I love Halloween and always have. Those of you who are regular readers get a large amount of material every week on the supernatural. Today has generally been a day to remember that there is a darker side to all of that as well and possibly to enjoy a little harmless mischief. I believe in the reality of supernatural evil and I also believe that today is a good way to remember that it exists. I think dressing up like demons and ghouls and having some fun with it is far better than turning this venerable holiday into yet another opportunity for fear-filled frothing at the mouth about the decline of religion, morals, culture, or whatever people are going on about at the moment.  (The Good Lord be praised that Hurricane Sandy didn't hit on Halloween or who know what sorts lunacy we would have to listen to.)

Frankly, I find that too many of those who denounce Halloween as satanic or immoral are actually often practicing the worst sort of ecumenism: that of borrowing the pottiest ideas of contemporary fundamentalists because they have forgotten that the catholic tradition has powerful ideas of its own.  (And lacking both sacraments and sacramentals, maybe Protestants should be a little bit more afraid--I'm yet to see a horror movie where they call the local Baptist minister to perform the exorcism.)

So HAPPY HALLOWEEN to one and all.

(And if you don't like it, may a zombie eat your brains.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ida of Lewis: Mystic of the Golden Age

The Belgian Abbey of La Ramée.
For October 29, the Menology describes one of the more notable women mystics of the Cistercian Golden Age:

At Ramege, Belgium, Blessed Ida of Lewis, Virgin, illustrious for her miracles and prophesies. Among other favours she had the happiness of receiving the Child Jesus from the hands of God the Father, of embracing him, and of pressing Him to her heart. On another occasion, the Holy Virgin herself placed him in her arms; but soon she had a Psalm to intone, and hence, in all simplicity, she besought the little Jesus to look after Himself, because, according to Rule, she was obliged to Chant in ceremony. And the gracious Child hung on to her neck; then, when she had intoned, she received Him upon her knees. In due time, she departed to heaven, leaving beautiful souvenirs of her piety, humility and admirable perfection.

Ida of Lewis or Leeuwen, not to be confused with Ida of Nivelles of the same house or her contemporary at La Ramee, Beatrice of Nazateth, is one of the more notable mystic women of the Cistercian Golden Age, a time when it seems that no abbey was complete without a full complement of visionaries. The Nunraw Menology gives her life as follows:

Even from her childhood she loved study and received an excellent education probably from a group of Beguines. This love of books was further enhanced after she enter the Cistercian convent of La Ramee, where her excellence as an artist of calligraphy found full scope in the convent's scriptorium.

She was endowed with mystical graces many of which centered around the Blessed Sacrament. Subject to many physical illnesses, she spent long periods in the infirmary which she offered as a holocaust of love in a spirit of abandonment and pure faith.

She seems to have spelled her name Y-D-A and she found in it a spiritual significance: "Y is a sharp letter, D is for Deus (God), A is for Amor (love). So Y-D-A (herself) must be sharp, quick, efficient and acute in the love of God."

At the time of her death, which took place on a Sunday as she had desired, she asked the nun attending her to cover her face; but afterwards the nun withdrew the covering, and Ida's whole countenance shone with a glorious light.
Cistercian Women Saints.

At other times, beams of light were said to have come from Ida’s eyes, face, or whole body. Living with such a mystic, or several, sometimes proved disconcerting for other members of the community. Merton records an anecdote to this effect in his biographical sketch of Ida:

Frequently, however, she received the Sacred Host from the hand of the priest, and descended the altar steps in such a dazed and ecstatic condition that she wandered out of her place in line and could not find her way back. When the sisters had passed around the altar and paused, on the other side, to receive the Precious Blood, through a glass tube, administered in a chalice by the deacon, Ida was already too far gone to be able to complete her Communion. In the end, she had to be supported and led back to her place in choir. Now since there were two or three others who were affected in the same way, in this community, the thing became rather a nuisance. The good order of the community was threatened, and it was a great distraction to those who had to struggle to keep recollected and make their Communion in the ordinary way, fighting dryness and lamenting their incapacities, to have to come back from the altar supporting a bevy of happy, irresponsible and completely intoxicated mystics. Consequently the Superioress ordered that any nun who could not receive Communion more or less according to the Cistercian usages would have to do without it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bl. Briolaja: Tattooed Eucharistic Visionary

São Bento de Cástris in Evora.
Yesterday’s section of the Menology included one of my favorite entries:
At Evora, Portugal, Blessed Briolaja, Virgin, who, despising the alluring prospect of marriage proposed by her parents, decided to take Christ for her Spouse. She was specially noted for her strict silence, and bore upon her breast the image of Christ Crucified, in order to banish form her mind all thought of earth. She often beheld the Angels assisting the Priest at the Holy Sacrifice and in the Consecrated Host she beheld Jesus, either as a Child, or nailed to the Cross crowned with thorns. Sometimes she beheld in the Sacred Mysteries the Priest covered all over with blood, or crowned with perfumed flowers. The holy Altar where the Victim of peace was offered to His Eternal Father, appeared to the holy Virgin in prayer surrounded with Heavenly splendor. Yet in all these rare and magnificent visions, she remained always humble in spirit, and passed at length from this mortal life to glorious Immortality.

Bl. Briolaja’s visions are, to say the least, over the top by contemporary standards, but I think they offer a wonderful testament to both the reality and drama of the Holy Sacrifice in an earlier time. I have always been particularly struck that she seemed to see no contradiction in seeing the celebrant either covered with blood or crowned with flowers.  Then there's that image of Christ crucified on her breast.  A birthmark?  An allusion to some form of the stigmata?  The silences of the Menology are often more confusing than its prose and, sadly, my complete lack of knowledge of Portuguese has kept me from ever discovering anything more about her.

The Convento de São Bento de Cástris in Evora was founded in 1274 and closed in 1890 with the death of its last nun. It then passed into the hands of the state, serving as an orphanage and agricultural college. The church includes some fine tile work depicting the life of St. Bernard.

(Image source.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bl. Emeline d’Yevres, Lay Sister and Ascetic

Tomorrow's reading from the Menology presents us with the picture of a lay sister who was an extraordinary ascetic:

At Bolancourt, Champagne, Blessed Emeline d’Yevres, Lay sister of the Grange of Perte-Seche, where she lived a very severe and mortified life. She took no food three days a week, and scarcely tasted bread during Advent and Lent. A rough haircloth and an iron cincture continually tortured her body. She was celebrated for her miracles and prophecies, and thus embellished with a beautiful crown of virtues and of good works, she finally reposed in a death precious in the sight of the Lord. She was buried in the Abbey Church, and a lamp was kept burning day and night upon her tomb.

Emeline was born in 1115 and died in 1178, living to the ripe old 12th Century age of 62, so we can see that she must have been balanced in her asceticism. She was an inspiration to those who lived in her grange, meditated upon the psalms during her spinning, and once ordered the crows to leave the woods around Perte-Seche because they disrupted the silence. Her vita says that she was frequently brought gifts, particularly of food, by visitors, but never kept anything for herself, instead distributing them to the poor. As her fame grew, many came to seek her counsel, but she never lost her humility. One summary of her life says,

Word of her devotion soon spread, and pilgrims came to consult her about holiness and prayer. She had the gift of prophesy, and sometimes prophesied about visitors before they arrived. She never sought honor or glory for herself from her gifts, but dealt with visitors humbly and patiently, always concerned with their conversion and relationship with God.

Her life is another good corrective to our vision. First, because we often tend to overlook the lay brothers and sisters, who played their own important role in the creation of monasticism. More generally, Bl. Emeline reminds us that heroic asceticism is not an exclusively male province. In the popular mind, the female ascetic too often becomes a sickly creature living only on the Host and fading away graciously like Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind. Farmer Emeline reminds us that there was no shortage of women made of sterner stuff.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

First Mass for the Oratory of St. Raphael

On the Feast of St. Raphael, I am happy to announce the first public Mass for the Oratory of St. Raphael, which I have discussed over the last few months with some of you Fayetteville folks. For the present, we're planning one public Mass a month and seeing where things go from there.

The first Mass will be at 7:00 p.m., Sunday November 11 at St. Martin's Chapel, 814 W. Maple St. in Fayetteville.  Google Maps will show you the way.

You'll find more info on the new St. Rafe's Facebook page that I've created 
I have also hit the publish button on the new St. Rafe's website.

Here's a little more information to tell you about what we're trying to do:

Saint Rafe’s:  The Oratory of St. Raphael

Sacramental – Intentional - Receiving Strength for Service

St. Rafe’s is a new worshipping community in Fayetteville.  “Oratory” is a Latin word meaning a place to pray and, above all else, we seek to be a place of prayer in a beautiful but hectic world.

We emphasize the sacraments and prayer as the places where we meet the Risen Lord and grow in his likeness.

We believe in the truth of historic Christianity and the spiritual riches to be found there.

We commit ourselves to growing together through the Mass, prayer, sacred reading, and the other devotional practices of the Western Church.

We welcome everyone. The Good Shepherd loves and seeks us all. Period.

We contend that Christian discipleship transcends political and cultural divisions when we walk in love as Christ has loved us.

We acknowledge our individual brokenness, but believe we can be made whole by the One who came that we might have life more abundantly.

What to Expect
Our worship is traditional, not from nostalgia or fear of change, but from what one scholar has called “modern people making a consciously post-modern choice.”  The Mass is our principle act of worship, offered with reverence in traditional English as a sacrifice of prayer whose texts offer us infinite opportunities to encounter the living God.  Our primary participation in worship is in our shared offering of prayer and praise and the joy and we we show for the real presence of Jesus Christ in the sacrament.  The service lasts about one hour with a time for fellowship afterwards. All baptized Christians are welcome to receive Holy Communion. 

You are welcome to participate to the level at which you feel comfortable.  No one will be holding up score cards at the end of the service to rate your participation, what you are wearing, or who you came with.

What We Believe
The Oratory of St. Raphael ministers to all who seek God or a deeper knowledge of God, welcoming all people into the full sacramental life of the Church.

Our beliefs may be characterized in the words of one of our sister bodies as “creedally orthodox, joyfully sacramental, radically inclusive, and deeply prayerful.”  While professing the historic creeds as the definitive statements of the Christian faith, we believe “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity” and seek to work with all people of good will.

Following the tradition of the Independent Sacramental Movement, we maintain the seven sacraments of the church and the historic orders of ministry and believe that all Christians are called to active ministry with an intentionality that is consistent with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.

We are one small part of Christ’s Church, working with other communities in the hope that we may all be one.  The gifts we have to share are freely given in service to Christ and his church.  We have no institutional ties to any individual or group beyond Our Savior’s commandment to love one another and St. Paul’s admonition to all Christians to bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

The Litany of St. Raphael

Today is the feast day of St. Raphael the Archangel.  I thought it would be a good day to post the Litany of St. Raphael, which gives many of his particular attributes.

Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven,
have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit,
have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God,
have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, Queen of Angels,  R: Pray for us. 
Saint Raphael,
St. Raphael, filled with the mercy of God,
St. Raphael, perfect adorer of the Divine Word,
St. Raphael, terror of demons,
St. Raphael, exterminator of vices,
St. Raphael, health of the sick,
St. Raphael, our refuge in all our trials,
St. Raphael, guide of travelers,
St. Raphael, consoler of prisoners,
St. Raphael, joy of the sorrowful,
St. Raphael, filled with zeal for the salvation of souls,
St. Raphael, whose name means "Medicine of God",
St. Raphael, lover of chastity,
St. Raphael, scourge of demons,
St. Raphael, in pest, famine and war,
St. Raphael, angel of peace and prosperity,
St. Raphael, endowed with the grace of healing,
St. Raphael, sure guide in the paths of virtue and sanctification,
St. Raphael, help of all those who implore thy assistance,
St. Raphael, who was the guide and consolation of Tobias on his journey,
St. Raphael, whom the Scriptures praise: "Raphael, the holy angel of the Lord, was sent to cure,"
St. Raphael, our advocate,

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us.

Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.

V. Pray for us, St. Raphael, to the Lord our God,
R.That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let Us Pray

Lord Jesus Christ, by the prayer of the Archangel Raphael, grant us the grace to avoid all sin and to persevere in every good work until we reach our heavenly country, Thou Who livest and reignest world without end.
R. Amen.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Two Mystic Elizabeths

The Abbey of Herkenrode. (Source.)

For yesterday and today, the Menology gives us two of the sort of women mystics for whom the Cistercians were famous, but whose lives tend to be a bit much for contemporary tastes:

At Herkenrode, in Liege diocese, Blessed Elisabeth of Spalbeck, Virgin, who was favoured with the stigmata of the Saviour in her hands, feet and side. Seven times a day, at the Hours of the Divine Office, and particularly every Friday, she reproduced in a marvelous manner the sufferings of the Passion, and her ecstasies were frequent. The narrative of her life, which surpassed the ordinary power of human nature, was written by several Authors worthy of credence. In due course, she reposed in the Lord and her death was precious in the sight of God.

In Portugal, Blessed Elisabeth, who from her Mother’s womb was marked by signs of God’s choice, and at whose birth the Holy Apostles Simon and Jude assisted. She took the habit of Religion at Arouca Monastery, and soon rose to high sanctity. She had many ecstasies. The simple imposition of her hands or the sign of the Cross made by her sufficed to heal the infirm, who flocked to her from all parts of the province. Likewise, after her death, many miracles were due to her intercession.

The chapter room at Arouca. (Source.)

Arouca, founded as a Benedictine House and incorporated into the Order in the mid 13th Century, was the last surviving Cistercian house in Portugal in the 19th Century. The men’s houses were closed by the government in 1831 and houses of women were forbidden to receive novices after 1833. The last nun of Arouca died in 1886. Today the Abbey complex is preserved as a museum of sacred art.

The body of Santa Mafalda, who introduced the Cistercian Rule at Arouca. (Source.)

Friday, October 19, 2012

St. Frideswide's Bones

The Shrine of St. Frideswide in Oxford.
My brothers, be proud, but only in the Lord. It is not the man who approves of himself who stands approved, but the man whom the Lord approves.

-Chapter for the Common of Virgins

St. Frideswide, whose feast falls on October 19, tends to get little ink in the U.S. She is yet another of those royal abbess saints that pre-Norman England excelled in producing and is patroness of Oxford, where her shrine may be seen in Christ Church Cathedral.

I spent the summer of 1990 reading contemporary British politics at Oxford, but my heart was more in the Medieval and Anglican past than in studying the late Thatcher government. I generally attended St. Mary the Virgin, where Newman had so often preached, and stopped in frequently at Pusey House, Oxford's great monument to Anglo-Catholicism, but I also made my way to Christ Church on several Sundays where there was still a choral service in the summer.

At that time, I suppose that I would best be described as an Episcopalian with Anglo-Catholic aspirations. Though I read like Miniver Cheevy, my acquaintance with the world further up the candle was far more theory than practice. Oxford and London were brimming with discoveries to be made and minor pilgrimages to the ticked off. Christ Church, which is both the chapel of Christ Church College and the smallest cathedral in the Church of England, was not particularly high church, but it was probably the first place that I ever heard a Latin Mass setting in an Anglican Church.

The broken fragments of St. Frideswide's shrine sat in a transept chapel and made a strong but ambiguous impression on me. This was one of the first saint's shrines that I had ever seen. On the one hand, here was a visible link to that sense of history and continuity that drew me so powerfully. On the other hand, it was now little more than a curiosity, a place to stop and relate a story about the age before we all knew better--something jolly if you told the story of Frideswide's miraculous deliverance from her lecherous pursuer with a wink and a smile.

Pole and cup in hand, punting on the Isis in the Summer of 1990.
At the Reformation, Frideswide's shrine was broken up and her church became the chapel of the new Christ Church College, the apogee of Oxford's college system. To add insult to injury, the Zwinglian canon James Calfhill mixed the bones of St. Frideswide with those of Catherine Cathie, a nun turned Protestant, writing in his account of the event, "Hic jacet religio cum superstitione" ("Here lies religion with superstition").

I have spent another 22 years sorting the bones in my own religious thinking, quixotically discerning monuments from curiosities and deciding which ideas and customs were heirlooms from an inviolate patrimony and which were fads, accretions, and rubbish. When I was younger, it was an exhilarating if precious business, though heaven knows how much I taxed my friends' patience with various enthusiasms for the patristic, for Sarum, for the Oxford Movement, and probably a number of things in between that I've forgotten.

I tried all of the standard arrangements of the high Anglican formularies then, eventually, the schema that seemed to work best looked distressingly Roman and I embraced it haltingly. That proved itself to be a temporary arrangement as well, if a productive one, and the three years I spent as a monk taught me things about myself I would have never learned otherwise.

Today I find myself in the Independent Sacramental Movement. I still haven’t found the perfect theological furniture arrangement.  I suspect that usually only happens in the world to come, but I’m far from giving up trying to make things fit as well as I can or from being satisfied with telling myself that it’s all about the journey.  Journeys lead someplace, though the last leg may only happen as the dross falls away in the clarity of purgation.

Perhaps that visit to the shrine of St. Frideswide, whose feast of translation turns out to be my birthday, set more in motion than I knew. At the very least, I hope that I have begun to see that there is often more benediction to be found in a humble mix of religion and superstition than in the reasoned self-congratulation of the younger me who first visited that shrine.

    Son of a Virgin, Maker of thy Mother,
    Thou, Rod and Blossom from a Stem unstainèd,
    Now while a virgin fair of fame we honor,
    Hear our devotion!

    Fountain of mercy, hear the prayers she offers;
    Purge our offenses, pardon our transgressions,
    So that hereafter we to thee may render
    Praise with thanksgiving.

    Thou, the All-Father, thou the One-Begotten,
    Thou Holy Spirit, Three in One co-equal,
    Glory be henceforth thine through all the ages,
    World without ending. Amen.

    -Hymn of Vigils for a Virgin Not a Martyr

(This post was adapted from a piece written three years ago in the cloister.  I wonder what updates it may require in years to come.)