Holy Innocents

Holy InnocentsOur Church gives us, on this fourth day of Christmas, the  liturgical commemoration of the baby boys –martyrs — the very first martyrs (you’ll recall that Saint Stephen, whose feast was commemorated on December 26th, was the first martyr of the Age of the Church).

Scholars tell us that  Bethlehem was a small town so the the number of the Innocents was probably no more than 25. These boys  died not only for Christ, but in His place.

The vestments are red or purple, the color of mourning; the Alleluia and Gloria are not sung.

Laurence Housman gives us a poem, “The Holy Innocents”

When Christ was born in Bethlehem,
Fair peace on earth to bring,
In lowly state of love He came
To be the children’s King.

And round Him, then, a holy band
Of children blest was born,
Fair guardians of His throne to stand
Attendant night and morn.

And unto them this grace was giv’n
A Saviour’s name to own,
And die for Him Who out of Heav’n
Had found on earth a throne.

O blessèd babes of Bethlehem,
Who died to save our King,
Ye share the martyrs’ diadem,
And in their anthem sing!

Your lips, on earth that never spake,
Now sound th’eternal word;
And in the courts of love ye make
Your children’s voices heard.

Lord Jesus Christ, eternal Child,
Make Thou our childhood Thine;
That we with Thee the meek and mild
May share the love divine.

Saint Stephen

St StephenToday is the feast of Saint Stephen, whose name means “crown,” and the first disciple of Jesus to be a martyr. Saint Stephen was the first deacon of our Church;  the apostles discerned that they needed assistants to look after the care of the widows and the poor. As you know from the Acts of Apostles, seven deacons were selected by prayer and ordained for service.

In fact, sacred Scripture reveals that Stephen’s face looked like the face of an angel as he spoke of Jesus as the promised Savior. His listeners were greatly disturbed at his teaching. Having dragged Stephen outside the city walls of Jerusalem and stoned him to death. Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”  He then fell to his knees and begged God not to punish his enemies for killing him.

Let us pray for the courage and honesty of Saint Stephen in the face of trial. Let us, too, pray for deacons.

Latin Mass offered on Christmas Day in New Haven

nativityThe Traditional Latin Mass will be offered at 2:00 p.m. on Christmas Day at Saint Stanislaus Church, New Haven. The Saint Gregory Schola will sing the Missa Cantata.

“Iesus Christus, Deus homo: Jesus Christ, God-man. This is one of “the mighty works of God,” which we should reflect upon and thank him for. He has come to bring “peace on earth to men of good Will,” to all men who want to unite their wills to the holy will of God — not just the rich, not just the poor, but everyone: all the brethren. We are all brothers in Jesus, children of God, brothers of Christ. His Mother is our mother” (St. Josemaria Escriva).

Advent Ember Days 2015

The 2015 Winter Ember Days are December 16th, December 18th, December 19th.

DSC_0554What are the Ember Days?

The venerable observance of the Ember Days, Quatuor Tempora, in Latin, ought to be kept today by Catholics for no other reason to remain in the gesture of gratitude before God. Sadly, however, the Ember Days are sort of defunct in the Catholic Church, generally speaking. There are people in small portions of God’s Kingdom who maintain the liturgical and personal remembrance of what God has done through the beauty of His creation.

The Ember Days were days of fast with partial abstaining from meat as a form of penance. Remembering that fasting was always linked to prayer of giving thanks God for the gifts in nature and asking for the grace of being humble and moderate in our stewardship and use of nature. Likewise, fasting and prayer was linked with an act of charity.

The fasts for Ember Days are known as “Jejunia quatuor temporum,” (“the fast of the four seasons,”). The biblical warrant is Jewish practice of fasting four times a year:

Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah, joy, and gladness, and great solemnities: only love  truth and peace (Zachariah 8:19).

The Jewish sensibility ought to be ours: prayer, fasting and charitable works to be done with joy and gladness. Sour and cynical people go home! Also, someone might quip that that the Ember days came before the post-modern obsession with ecology divorced from the Divine Majesty. True. So let’s bring the integrity of the Jewish and Catholic faith back to its robust nature!

We know historically that, The Didache, a first century text, speaks of the Christians  fasting on Wednesdays (the day on which Jesus was betrayed by Judas) and on Fridays (the day on which Jesus was crucified) to differentiate from the Jewish custom of fasting on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In time the central tradition of the Church at Rome kept the fast only Fridays as a penitential day except during Eastertide.  Yet, in monasteries you will find to this day the retention of Wednesday, too, as a day of penance. Nevertheless, by the third century the Ember days were born.

The first of these four times comes in Winter, after the the Feast of Saint Lucy (December 13) ; the second comes in Spring, the week after Ash Wednesday (date varies) and the third comes in Summer, after Pentecost Sunday (date varies); and the last comes in Autumn, after Holy Cross Day (September 14).

Their dates can be remembered by this old mnemonic:

Sant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia
Ut sit in angaria quarta sequens feria.

Which means:

Holy Cross, Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost, are when the quarter holidays follow.

Simply recalled: “Lucy, Ashes, Dove, and Cross.”

An interesting note: by AD 494 Pope Gelasius designated Ember Saturdays as the day to confer Holy Orders. The tradition of the very early Church had the discipline that ordinations be preceded by fast and prayer (see Acts 13:3).

Here is a good article to read on the Ember Days.