Saturday, January 03, 2004

The Tenth Day of Christmas

Make the most of the feast while it lasts.

Feast of the Holy Name

The feast of the Holy Name has moved all over early January. Different orders and different countries seem to have celebrated it on different days. I have seen it listed as the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 14th, and 15th. But it is often celebrated on January 4th. The Fourth is described as the Feast of the Holy Name by Father Englebert, whose Lives of the Saints I use. So at Recta Ratio, January 4th is the Feast of the Holy Name. As a useful prayer exercise, try to spend 5 minutes today reciting the Holy Name.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

Our first American-born saint was born in New York in 1774, part of a well-off Episcopalian family. She was married, and did much work for the poor. Her husband's finances and health both broke early in the 19th century. On a trip to Italy, he died, and Elizabeth Ann Seton began her journey to the Catholic Church. She opened a boarding school for boys in New York, and a school for girls in Baltimore. She adopted religious habit, and after others joined her, founded the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph. When she died in 1821, the Sisters of Charity had 20 houses in North America. She was canonized in 1975.

First Quiz of the New Year

What kind of Catholic are you?

I came out a traditionalist Catholic, as I suspect most of my readers are.

Thanks to Secret Agent Man for the link.

Friday, January 02, 2004


Today is the fourth anniversary of the death of Patrick O'Brian, creator of the Aubrey/Maturin novels. There is currently a screen adaptation very losely based on one of the novels that has been doing rather well at the box office. Requiescat in pace.

The Ninth Day of Christmas

I hope all had a pleasant New Year's Day/Solemnity of Mary/World Peace Day/Circumcision of the Lord/Octave of Christmas. The Church seems to be all at sea about what it is celebrating on January 1st. I'd just stick with the Solemnity of Mary and the Octave of Christmas, if I were dictating the liturgical calendar.

The ninth day of Christmas is a ferial day. Most people are back to work, though many members of the the leisure class junior division (aka: students), and their teachers, have until Monday.

Because January 5th falls on a Monday this year, the Catholic Church is closer than usual to celebrating Epiphany on its proper day (January 6th). It is celebrated liturgically on Sunday.

Saint Macarius the Younger

Saint Macarius, who the Church celebrates today, was a pastry-maker who turned hermit at the age of 40, and lived to nearly 100. He became leader of many men leading the eremetic life in the 4th century Egyptian desert. He long had difficulty with an Arian Patriarch of Alexandria. He is the patron of pastry chefs and confectioners.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

New Year's Nonsense

Here are some superstitions of the New Year. This includes a brief discussion of First Footing.
By the way, since the lucky first footer must have dark hair, and I do, my services can be purchased rather cheaply. Just have the champers ready.

A New Year's custom in England is wassailing the apple trees, so that they will be fruitful in the new year (though sometimes this happens at Epiphany).

Here is a song traditionally sung while wassailing the trees:
" Here's to thee, old Apple tree !
Whence thou mayst bud, and whence thou mayst blow,
And whence thou mayst bear Apples enow!
Hats full! caps full,
Bushel — Bushel — sacks full,
And my pockets full too."

And then, of course, there is mumming.

Mumming plays typically revolved around death and rebirth (like the seasons) and involved a Saint George, a Devil, a Dragon, a Princess, a Doctor, and other stock characters. G.K. Chesterton wrote a mummer's play, and I'm looking for the text on line, as I don't want to re-type it.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Happy New Year

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been stopping by here to read my scribblings. I would also like to wish all of my readers and loved one a very happy and blessed new year.

This year just ending has been the worst of my personal experience. Sure the economy began to improve in the last few months. And we did take over Iraq and capture Saddam. And the GOP did well in the off-term elections.

But the year was as bad as any year in which no one very close to me died or contracted a fatal illness can be.

About the only good things that have happened have been my losing 45 pounds in the last 4 months (of 70 I could stand to lose, though I wasn't trying), and discovering some of Boston's hidden treasures (well, hidden previously to me, anyway).

The year 2004 has got to be a better one for me and mine. From my fingertips, to God's ears.

I won't be blogging tomorrow. Back to you on Friday ceteris paribus.

Happy New Year!

William Hogarth's Tail Piece, Featuring Father Time

Actually, it is more like the end of the world than the end of the year.

But this is what a great many people will be at closer to midnight.

Prayers for the New Year

Don't forget to pray for the intentions of those asking for prayers at Americancatholic.org. And you can leave your own prayers there, too.

An Unhappy Anniversary

Fourteen years ago today, my father died suddenly while chipping ice from an elderly neighbor's porch. It was the sort of thing he shouldn't have been doing (and that I am determined to avoid if humanly possible) but stubborness runs in the family.

He had just been to 9:30 Mass with my mother, stopped the car on the way back because he was light-headed, and told Mom, "I don't think I'm going to be around much in the new year." A half hour later, he was dead.

Since then, I haven't had much interest in partying on New Year's Eve, opting instead for quiet, private, at-home celebrations. I still miss my dad, and don't feel much like partying on the anniversary of his death.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

A Reading Year Ending

The end of the year is a time to take stock. I was trying to figure out what I had read in the last year. The list is surprisingly long. Not that my to-be-read pile diminished much. My reading just went in unexpected directions.

The amazing thing about my 2003 reading is that the vast bulk of it was done in the last 4 months. Of the 91 or so items, I read 76 in that period.

Russell Kirk
The Surley, Sullen Bell
The Lord of the Hollow Dark
Watchers At the Straight Gate
Old House of Fear
Redeeming the Time
Reclaiming a Patrimony (a re-read)
William F. Buckley, Jr.
A Very Private Plot
Evelyn Waugh
Brideshead Revisited (re-read)
Men At Arms (re-read)
Officers and Gentlemen (re-read)
The End of the Battle (re-read)
Michael Green
Squire Haggard's Journal
Alice Taylor
An Irish Country Christmas
Bruce Alexander
Blind Justice
G.K. Chesterton
The Innocence of Father Brown
The Wisdom of Father Brown
The Incredulity of Father Brown
The Secret of Father Brown
The Scandal of Father Brown
M.R. James
A Warning To the Curious
James Charles Roy
The Fields of Athenry
The Back of Beyond
The Road Wet, the Wind Close
Monsignor Ronald Knox
Pastoral Sermons
The Layman and His Conscience
Sir Alec Guiness
My Name Escapes Me
An Absolutely Final Performance
James Hitchcock
Catholicism and Modernity
Frater Benet Tvedten
A View From a Monastery
Kathleen Norris
The Cloister Walk
Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Prey
Father George Rutler
A Crisis of Saints
Lesley P. Bannatyne
Halloween: An American History, An American Holiday
Jack Santino
Halloween And Other Festivals of Death and Life
Frater David Steindl-Rast
The Music of Silence
Dom Hubert van Zeller
An Approach To Monasticism
David Marcus
Irish Ghost Stories
John Canning
50 Great Ghost Stories (annual re-read)
Scott Hahn
Lord, Have Mercy
C.F. Lawrence
Medieval Monasticism
Ralph Nevill
English Country House Life
Frater Daniel Hofnan
Benedict's Way
H.P. Lovecraft
The Dunwich Horror and Other Stories
Saint Benedict
The Rule of Saint Benedict
Saint John Fisher
An Exposition of the Seven Penitential Psalms
Diana Karter Applebaum
Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, An American History
Ralph & Adelin Linton
We Gather Together
Ellis Peters
A Morbid Taste For Bones
One Corpse Too Many
Monk's Hood
Saint Peter's Fair
The Leper of Saint Giles
The Virgin In the Ice
The Sanctuary Sparrow
The Devil's Novice
Dead Man's Ransom
The Pilgrim of Hate
An Excellent Mystery
The Raven In the Foregate
The Rose Rent (current)
Peter Mayle
Anything Considered
Acquired Tastes (re-read)
Father Daniel Lowry
Day By Day Through Advent
Frater Charles Cummings
Monastic Practices
Christopher O'Donnell
Prayer: Insights From St. Therese of Lisieux
Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol (annual re-read)
Washington Irving
Old Christmas (annual re-read)
Dylan Thomas
A Child's Christmas In Wales (annual re-read)
Stephen Nissenbaum
The Battle For Christmas (annual re-read)
Daughters of St. Paul
Living and Celebrating the Advent and Christmas Seasons
Maria Robbins & Jim Charlton
A Christmas Companion
Dietrich von Hildebrand
Jaws of Death, Gate of Heaven
Father Christopher Rengers
The Last Seven Words of Christ On the Cross
Father Daniel Lowry
Day By Day Through Lent: Reflections, Prayers, Practices
Darina Allen
Irish Traditional Cooking
Father Thomas Connery
Repent: It's Lent (reread)
Brother Ramon, SSF
When They Crucified My Lord
Father Omer Englebert
The Lives of the Saints ( annual re-read day by day)
Holy Bible
Book of Psalms (reread about 4 times during the year)
Book of Lamentations
Richard Fitzgerald
Vanishing Ireland
Father P.J. Kelly
So High the Price
Michael and Gladys (Morales) Green
The Weapons of Patton's Armies
Operation Cobra and Beyond
Gordon Harrison
Cross Channel Attack
Max Hastings
Overlord (re-read)
Bishop Fulton Sheen
This Is the Mass
These Are the Sacraments
Patrick O'Brian
The Ionian Mission (re-read)
Treason's Harbor (re-read)
The Far Side of the World (re-read)
The Reverse of the Medal (re-read)

The Crisis Hits My Alma Mater

So this is what the chap in the comments box was talking about! I deleted the comment because I'd never heard of the matter, and he mentioned a name, the guilt or innocence of which I had no notion of. He was just a day or two ahead of me on the news.

Well, as I said in the comments down below, it is sad to see this sort of thing at one's old school. But I didn't know Brother Donnelly, as he came there two years after I graduated (and the abuse is alleged to have occurred 11-12 years after my graduation).

I've been expecting an allegation from there for quite a while, since the Scandal broke almost two years ago. As I said below, a boys' prep school is a breeding ground for this sort of thing if any place is. But of course it shouldn't be. I'm pretty sure the brother who was headmaster there in my day, Brother Keefe, would have kept a closer eye on things. I doubt any such things were going on when I was there (but of course it is a possibility).

It is a sad thing to have to say, but my parents apparently lucked into a way of shielding me from this sort of thing. They were older and pretty much burned out with raising children. They had been through the scouting and altar boy thing with my older brother (17 years older). So they just said, "No" to all of my requests to get involved in things like after-school activities (except debate, that they allowed to further my career). That kept me on a classroom-only basis with most of the teachers.

I hate to have to say it, but non-structured interaction between adults and children is the petrie dish in which this sort of sex abuse flourishes. Sure there are many priests and brothers who want to be Father Bing Crosby and Father Spencer Tracy making a career out of helping kids. And most of them are on the level. But it is an ideal situation for a homosexual to hunt for young prey.

If parents are going to expose their children to such non-structured interaction with adults, they have to be involved themselves, and they have to ask questions. My parents did ask occasionally, and at the time the questions sounded like the wierdest thing in the world. What on earth were they thinking of? Well, now we know.

I am sorry to hear that families from old Saint John's have had this visited upon them. They are in my prayers.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

A Review of The Battle For Christmas

Stephen Nissenbaum's The Battle for Christmas is the starting point for a great deal of historical research on the history of Christmas.

As you may remember, I have looked at it quite closely, and have cited it many times. His basic thesis is that before 1800, Christmas was celebrated in a very different manner from the way we celebrate it today. It was a time of Carnival: feasting well past the point of satiety on the year's harvest and freshly slughtered animals, drinking that year's produce of the grape and the barley, gambling, bawdy songs, and illicit sex, public noise-making and general rowdiness. Yes, there were special Masses, and decorations of holly and ivy and candles as well. But a season of social inversion and aggressive begging was what most people thought of when December 25th rolled around.

A number of factors came together to change Christmas. There was a desire for a more domestic, and less rowdy celebration. Within three decades, gift-shopping, the Christmas tree, Santa Claus, Christmas cards, Dickens' A Christmas Carol, all came into existence as we know them. At the same time, Christmas music got a major amount of attention, and new songs were written, while some old songs were revised or rediscovered.

I recommend the book for anyone interested in the history of Christmas.

Thanks to Patrick Sweeney of Extreme Catholic for the link.

Requiescat In Pace: 2003

Hope Lange, 70.
Warren Spahn, 82.
Art Carney, 85.
Bobby Hatfield, 63.
Rod Roddy, 66.
Madame Chiang Kai-shek, 105.
Bill Shoemaker, 72.
Elia Kazan, 94.
Donald O'Connor , 78.
George Plimpton, 76.
Edward Said, 67.
Gordon Jump, 71.
Johnny Cash, 71.
John Ritter, 54.
Edward Teller, 95.
Leni Riefenstahl, 101.
Charles Bronson, 81.
Bobby Bond, 57.
Idi Amin, 80.
Bob Hope, 100.
John Schlesinger, 77.
Buddy Ebsen, 95.
Barry White, 58.
Buddy Hackett, 79.
Katharine Hepburn, 96.
Strom Thurmond, 100.
Leon Uris, 78.
Hume Cronyn, 91.
Gregory Peck, 87.
David Brinkley, 82.
June Carter Cash, 73.
Robert Stack, 84.
Robert C. Atkins, 72.
Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter, 91.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 76.
Joseph Coors, 85.
Fred Rogers, 74.
Nell Carter, 54.
Richard Crenna, 76.
Maurice Gibb, 53.
Sydney Omarr, 76.
Dame Wendy Hiller, 90.
Warren Zevon, 55.
David Bloom, 39.
Lana Clarkson, 40.
Gregory Hines, 57.
Sen. Paul Simon, 75.
Al Hirschfeld, 100.
Sir Denis Thatcher, 88.
Sir J. Paul Getty, 70.
Sarah McClendon, 93.
Sen. Russell Long, 84.
Bill Mauldin, 81.
Sen. William Roth, 82.
Sec. Donald Regan, 81.
George Roy Hill, 81.
Jack Elam, 86.
Horst Bucholtz, 69.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

The Sixth Day of Christmas and the Need For Marking the Light In This Period of Darkness

I have long thought that the twelve days of Christmas ought to be observed and counted off with the aid of a candle ceremony, rather like the Jewish people do with Chanukkah. The colors of the candles would vary with the feast being celebrated that day (obviously, St. Stephen would get a red candle as a martyr, etc.). Appropriate prayers would accompany the lighting of each candle. A kit with the candles, some sort of holder, suggested prayers, suggested menus, activities and family games, and songs for each day of Christmas could be developed. Its adoption would be one way of bringing the twelve days into more general observation by Christians.

The problem comes from the post-Vatican II American Church's moving of Epiphany to the Sunday after New Year's and The Feast of the Holy Family on what used to be known as the Sunday During the Octave of Christmas. This would mean that the kit might have to change every year, or we just ignore inconveniences like this, and strive for a more universal system of observing the twelve days, based more on traditional dates than on the vagaries of the American Church of the late twentieth century.

The form of the holder is open to discussion. We do a simple circular pattern with the Advent wreath. The Jewish people use a row form in their menorahs. I think perhaps pillar candles of varying heights arranged on a large round silver tray with Christmas greens at the base might work. Perhaps the twelve pillars could be arranged in something of a spiral pattern, starting in the center with a tall white pillar on Christmas Day, and spiralling out to the rim.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Saint Thomas a Becket

Today is the feast of this great saint, martyred by color of royal authority (by mistake, if Henry II is to be believed) for standing up for the rights of the Church. Read more about him here.

This is an interesting juxtaposition with today's event in Burundi.

Papal Nuncio To Burundi Murdered

Monsignor Michael Courtney was shot by an unknown gunman while driving in his car. The Irish-born monsignor was an experienced diplomat. Requiescat in pace.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Boy Bishops, Abbots of Unreason, and Lords of Misrule

In the medieval period, the Feast of the Holy Innocents was frequently marked in cathedrals and abbeys with the appointment of a young boy as "bishop" or "abbot" for the day. Often in monasteries, the figure was called an "abbott of Unreason." The custom is related to the appointment of a Lord of Misrule in noble and royal households. Tbhese acted as a sort of comic "master of revels" from Hallowmas until Candlemas.

It is an inversion ritual, derived from the old Roman Saturnalia, and Christianized. It is one of the many Christmas rituals involving inversion of the social order. Normally, of course, the bishop or abbot was top dog in the diocese or abbey. But for one day, the lowly were ritually elevated over their heads. The poor demanding the best food and drink from the wealthy in the form of wassailing was another inversion ritual. On southern plantations, Negro slaves sometimes wore the clothes of their masters for a day at Christmas.

Of course the Christian root is the King of Kings born in a stable to a virgin and her spouse (seemingly) and eventually executed on a cross and buried in a borrowed grave.

For an interesting discussion of the boy bishop custom, read Ronald Hutton's The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400--1700, pages 10-12, and 53-53. Stephen Nissenbaum discusses inversion rituals thoughout The Battle For Christmas, which I have already suggested a few times this month.

Of course the boy bishops or boy abbots had no real authority, even for that day. They could not change policy, or say Mass. They were just allowed to preside, while the real bishop and his priests took the roles played normally by the boys. And the boy bishop ritual was not universally observed on Holy Innocents' Day. Sometimes it took place on St. Nicholas' Day. Sometimes, it was part of the Feast of Fools on January 1st. Some places, in the age before mass communications and easy travel, did not observe this custom at all.

Inversion retains a role in some of our Christmas customs, to some extent, even today. On Christmas Day in many British regiments, it is the custom for officers to wait on the other ranks in the mess.

The Coventry Carol

Lullay, thou little tiny child,
By, by, lullay, lullay
Lullay, thou little tiny child,
By, by, lullay, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day,
This poor youngling for whom we sing,
By, by, lullay, lullay.

Herod the king in his ragin,
Charged he hath this day,
His men of night, in his own sight,
All children young to stay.

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee,
And ever mourn and say,
For thy parting not say, nor sing,
By, by, lullay, lullay.

The Holy Innocents

December 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, those young boys of Bethlehem martyred by Herod in his effort to kill the Christ. Church historians believe that about 20 innocent children were murdered at this time.

Of course this tragedy in Bethlehem is dwarfed by the ongoing slaughter of innocents through abortion and infanticide (known as partial-birth abortion) daily in the West. Millions are sacrificed to the "convenience" of their mothers annually.

I would suggest today invoking the Blessed Mother and the Holy Innocents to petition the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts and minds of mothers contemplating murdering their babies. This Fourth Day of Christmas is a good opportunity, while celebrating the birth of our Saviour, to send a small donation to a pro-life group in your area. With unwavering persistence and unceasing prayer, perhaps the scourge of abortion can be lessened, and finally eliminated.

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