Saturday, February 23, 2013

St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr

Today is the Feast of St. Polycarp. A friend's grandmother used to tell him, "Always pray to St. Polycarp--not many people know about him, so he's not busy." I've had a something of a devotion to St. Polycarp, the 2nd Century Bishop of Smyrna, since reading his life as a teenager.

Polycarp was a disciple of St. John and was martyred in 155 at the age of 86. The account of his martyrdom is one of the earliest extant lives of the saints. When, on account of his age he was encouraged to deny Christ and live, he said, "I have served my Lord for 86 years and He has done me no harm. How can I deny my King who saved me?"

This was his prayer at the stake as recorded in the Lightfoot translation of The Martyrdom of Polycarp:

O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers and of all creation and of the whole race of the righteous, who live in Thy presence; I bless Thee for that Thou hast granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of [Thy] Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among these in Thy presence this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as Thou didst prepare and reveal it beforehand, and hast accomplished it, Thou that art the faithful and true God. For this cause, yea and for all things, I praise Thee, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, through the eternal and heavenly High-priest, Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, through whom with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory both now [and ever] and for the ages to come. Amen.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Neurobiology and Traditional Liturgy: Why Liturgical Innovation May Be Bucking the Evolutionary Process

Why is it that modern liturgies, which accurately express the beliefs of the participants, often seem to fail as ritual  while older forms, embodying what many participants would find to be out-moded ideas, remain powerful?  Two articles I read recently on the neurobiology of music may offer important clues to a biological basis for what Pope Benedict has identified as the tension between the hermeneutic of continuity and the hermeneutic of rupture.

Ian Cross, director of Cambridge University’s Centre for Music and Science, and Aniruddh D. Patel of the Neuroscience Institute, have both written extensively on music’s ability to create group experience.  Cross’s short piece, “Music and Social Being,” and Patel’s Templeton Foundation essay, “Music as a Transformative Technology of the Mind,” both argue that a regular pulse draws participants into a group experience and and allows participants to share an experience in ways that may actually impeded by ordinary discourse.    

Cross begins by positing that, while music does not seem to have the same innate biological basis as language, it does seem to have similarities across cultures that make it more than an evolutionary remnant, as is demonstrated in the nearly universal phenomenon of lullaby behavior between mother and infant.  If one broadens the standard Western definition to think of music as patterns of events occurring at regular temporal intervals, dance, the chanting of religious texts, and other activities that may not initially be defined by a given culture as music are more easily seen as part of the larger phenomenon.  Cross concludes that the key here may be what he calls entrainment, the shared experience of the regular pulse, “which involves the coordination in time of one participant's musical behaviours with those of another… and the organisation of the timing of actions and sounds around the abstracted pulse.”   A group of disparate individuals, in Cross’s thinking, are literally caught up in a beat and brought into a shared experience.  This is easy enough for anyone who has been to a concert to understand.  Patel goes so far as to argue that may be what makes music a key factor in adolescent identity formation.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lent I, Temptation, and the Desert

I ran across this old sermon from the First Sunday in Lent.  The readings are for Year B of the three-year lectionary, but I think the message holds up regardless of the year.

The Judean desert.

*  *  *

            By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and submission to the law; by thy baptism, fasting, and temptation, Good Lord deliver us.
 -From The Book of Common Prayer's Great Litany

            This morning’s reading from Mark is one of the few quiet moments in all of the gospel.  In last week’s gospel, the season of Epiphany went out in glory with Jesus transfigured, elevated above Moses and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets.  The voice of God proclaimed to the apostles, “This is my beloved Son; Hear ye him.”

            This week, we begin Lent with the beginning of the story that reaches a climax on the Mountain of the Transfiguration.  Last week’s gospel showed us Jesus as at his height, made known to his friends shortly before his passion and resurrection at Jerusalem make him known to the world.  This week’s gospel shows us an obscure Galilean.

            Mark’s gospel has no account of a child who made a king fear for his throne, of a virgin giving birth, of angels filling the sky with gloria in excelsis deo.  Instead, Mark opens with a man from Nazareth waiting to be baptized by John the prophet who many thought was Elijah returned from heaven.  This Jesus does not seem to merit any notice from John or the crowd.  Mark suggests that it is only Jesus who sees heaven opened and hears the voice of God. 

You are my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.

            In the Synoptic gospels, God speaks only at Jesus’ baptism and the Transfiguration.  The two utterances are similar, but the emphasis makes all the difference.  The Gospel story, from this vision at the Jordan to the Mountain of Transfiguration, is the tale of the transition from “You are my Son, the Beloved,” addressed to Jesus, to “This is my son; hear him” addressed to those who will be his witnesses.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mass on Sunday at 6:00 p.m.

This Sunday's service sheet is available on the Saint Rafe's website. Join us at 6:00 p.m. at St. Martin's Chapel for Mass and for pizza and beer afterwards for those who want to join in.

Service Leaflet for the First Sunday in Lent


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

St. Agatha, Breast Cancer, and Miraculous Bread

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Agatha, the third century Virgin and Martyr who kept her vows in the face of threat, torture, and imprisonment in a brothel by the lecherous Quintianus, who wanted the bride of Christ for his own. St. Agatha remained resolute and gained the martyr’s palm. She is portrayed holding a tray with her breasts on it, which tradition tells us were cut off during her torture. For this reason, she has enjoyed a recent renaissance as a saint invoked against breast cancer.

In Catania in Sicily, where she was martyred, her veil was removed from her tomb when Mount Aetna threatened and she is credited with saving the city from several eruptions. In other places, bread was blessed on her feast day, perhaps because it looked as if the platter she carries held two loaves. Over time, the two customs were intertwined so that bread blessed on the Feast of St. Agatha was revered for its power to avert fire and was dried and hung in places where fires were likely to breakout.

As the crowd of pagans * fled to the tomb of the virgin, * they took along her veil as defence against the volcanic flames. * In this way the Lord would prove that their deliverance from the danger of fire * had been granted only through the merits of His martyr Saint Agatha.

-Benedictus Antiphon for the Feast of St. Agatha.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Candlemas: Re-Enchanting Culture

Candlemas Day by Marianne Stokes. (Source.)

I have a particular fondness for Candlemas, previously known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and now billed as the Presentation of the Lord. I suppose this can be broken down into three features that are part of one larger reason. First, in the old rite, this is a day for a purple procession, a show of penitence and supplication and a reminder that we plead as well as rejoice. Second, this is a feast whose referents are anachronistic by contemporary standards—the ransoming of a first-born son and the ritual purification of his mother. Finally we gather in mid winter to bless candles, which, in the strictest sense, is an entirely anachronistic act. We bless candles to light altars in electrified buildings and to save for times of need because there is something objectively sacramental about them or, in the words of one of the old prayers for today, “for the service of men and the health of their bodies and souls, whether on land or on sea.”

This was a feast grounded in rite, devotion, and folk culture that today is little more than a minor stop on the tour of events culminating in our redemption. One gets the sense that the liturgical revisers found it a bit embarrassing. The old and new post communions in the Roman Rite catch the change in sense of the day:

1962: We beseech Thee, O Lord our God, that the most holy mysteries, which Thou hast given us to safeguard our regenerated nature, may, through the intercession of blessed Mary ever Virgin, be to us a healing remedy, both for the present and for the future.

1970 (ICEL): Lord, you fulfilled the hope of Simeon, who did not die until he had been privileged to welcome the Messiah. May this communion perfect your grace in us and prepare us to meet Christ when he comes to bring us into everlasting life, for he is Lord forever and ever.

The first gives us mystery, the precarious health of our souls, and the intercession of the Virgin. The second seems to assure us that redemption is our right. It is a change in comparison from Mary, who is mightier than we, to Simeon, who is portrayed as someone just like us.
Votive lamps in the Tomb of the Virgin, Jerusalem.

The blessing of candles, along with those of ashes and palms, is one of the three major blessings of the year. This rite is one of those cultural bulwarks that grounds our faith in something larger and often less transient than an intellectual frame. Blessed candles in the home are tokens that remain with us and excite devotion after sermons and bulletin notes fade. In storm and sickness they are there reminding us of the aid we can call upon. In lighting one of these candles in time of need, we make an act of faith through a counter-cultural gesture.
They are artifacts of our assent to a worldview at ease with transcendent mystery.

These little candles in the darkness of our world and like customs are the things that will help re-enchant our culture after the pursuit of novelty for novelty’s sake has exhausted itself. At Fisheaters, you will find many of the customs related to today. I particularly liked this poem on lighting blessed candles to ward off trouble:

This done, each man his candle lights,
Where chiefest seemeth he,
Whose taper greatest may be seen;
And fortunate to be,
Whose candle burneth clear and bright:
A wondrous force and might
Both in these candles lie, which if
At any time they light,
They sure believe that neither storm
Nor tempest cloth abide,
Nor thunder in the skies be heard,
Nor any devil's spide,
Nor fearful sprites that walk by night,
Nor hurts of frost or hail.
The 17th Century English poet, Robert Herrick, captures some of the folk culture that went along with Candlemas:


Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box, for show.

The holly hitherto did sway;
Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter-day,
Or Easter's eve appear.

Then youthful box, which now hath grace
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin,
To honour Whitsuntide.

Green rushes then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments,
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.


Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
Till sunset let it burn;
Which quench'd, then lay it up again,
Till Christmas next return.

Part must be kept, wherewith to teend
The Christmas log next year;
And where 'tis safely kept, the fiend
Can do no mischief there.
(And happy birthday to Mrs. G.)

Friday, February 1, 2013

St. Rafe’s Spring 2013 Mass Schedule

St. Rafe’s Spring 2013 Mass Schedule

Mass will be said on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. on the following days
at St. Martin's Chapel, 814 W. Maple Street, Fayetteville, AR
(Get directions from Google Maps.)

February 17: The First Sunday in Lent

March 17: Passion Sunday: The Fifth Sunday in Lent

April 1: Easter Day: The Sunday of the Resurrection

May 19: The Feast of Pentecost

More information on the St. Rafe's website.