If you have ever been to a traditional Latin Mass, you no doubt noticed that the altar servers make a big ceremony out of carrying the big book to the left side of the altar before the priest reads the Gospel. Is there some kind of symbolism going on with left and right? Are we supposed to think of those who stand at our Lord’s left and right at the judgment?
It turns out that the ceremony has nothing to do with left and right.  According to the rubrics, the priest reads the Gospel toward the north. In fact, what we usually see at a Low Mass or High Mass is a compressed version of the full ceremony of a Solemn Mass, where the subdeacon chants the Epistle on the right side and the deacon, after a procession with candles, chants the Gospel on the left side of the Church, facing directly toward the north. We’re all aware that churches are traditionally oriented toward the east, and east is important because the rising sun symbolizes Christ coming. But in liturgical terms, north is also important because, by a long tradition, the north represents the dark realm where the light of the gospel has not yet shone. We read the Gospel toward the north to represent the Church’s mission to the unevangelized.
In fact, after the Council of Trent permission was given for churches to be oriented not just toward the east but in other directions, if needed for some reason—any direction, in fact, except to the north. No church shall point in the direction of evil.
One of my former students, a graduate of Wyoming Catholic College, ended up teaching a K-12 school to support his family. Looking to supplement his income, he acquired an old property originally established in 1826 with seven houses on it.
When COVID-19 swept the country and everyone had to work from home, he invited many of his friends to join him in a group quarantine on his property. They had a number of married couples with kids, as well as a house for singles, and all together they holed up in their village behind a strong wall of isolation. Quite a few were WCC grads, and one current student joined them when WCC sent everyone home.
Over the years, I have written a fair bit about Holy Week. Bereft of public liturgies this year, one of the most helpful things we can do is contemplate what happens in those liturgies with longing, like the people Israel contemplating the Temple in their exile. Without the rushing around to get ready and managing kids in Mass and worrying about preparations for guests, this may even be a privileged time to absorb and think over what we have seen at all the liturgies of years past. So I’ve gathered links to my blog posts for each of the Holy Week liturgies:
And what, you may ask, is Ascension Sunday Thursday? It is the Thursday we observe while waiting for Ascension Thursday Sunday. It is the day that was almost Ascension Thursday, and that still bears the minutest traces of its former character, like the almost-unobservable oddness of a picture in which someone has been photoshopped out.
We can’t help it. Obedient children, we want to do whatever our Church is doing and have this be just another day in the Easter season. But because of the way we experience sacred time, the transferal-here-but-not-transferal-there process leaves behind a snatch of music we can almost hear but can’t make out, a sense that this day is not Ascension Thursday but is also not a Thursday in Easter. It is a day that lacks something of its own identity.
It is—Ascension Sunday Thursday! Have a good one, y’all!
The Solemnity of All Saints stands out for me as—well, solemn. By celebrating the communion of saints as such, the day seems to offer thanksgiving for the fact that we celebrate the saints, for the very existence of the sanctoral cycle. So every November 1st, I find myself reflecting on the fact of sacred days and times.
Charles Taylor argues that a loss of the sense of sacred time was key in the transition to modernity. Medieval man experienced times as defined by content and as ordered not only by chronology alone, so that “Good Friday 1998 is closer in a way to the original day of the Crucifixion than mid-summer’s day 1997.” But modern man experiences time as homogeneous and empty, ordered simply by one time’s replacing another in sequence. Modern man can believe in eternity, says Taylor, but he can’t experience eternity’s penetration into time in a naïve, unreflective way.
Taylor is surely right that this was one strand in the transition to secularity. But how absolute a doom is modernity? Can a man today experience sacred time in an immediate way, or will it always be mediated to him through some kind of abstract consideration? Or will it—even worse—always be constituted by a wistful recollection of a bygone era when Christians really experienced the seasons, like those nostalgic Christmas cards depicting horses and sleighs and Victorian houses?
In this post, I want to describe my own experience of sacred time. I don’t know whether it would count for Taylor as “immediate” or “naïve,” but there is something immediate and unreflective about it to me. The experience is complex, because time is complex. Continue reading “Experiencing Sacred Time”
Either the evening or the morning before Mass, I thoughtfully review the Mass readings. I do not try to spend a lot of time on them, but I want to be familiar with the main points beforehand.
When the time for Mass approaches, I travel through space to the Church building. All the while I reflect that the Mass itself will be a journey, but not through space: it will be a spiritual ascent, a journey in thought, love, and grace. It will be a journey more real than the physical journey to the Church, just as spirit is more real than body.
This past week I had the pleasure of teaching high schoolers in Wyoming Catholic College’s PEAK program. As usual, I used my PEAK stint as an opportunity to learn something new, asking questions to which I had no clear answers, studying issues I had never clarified before. And as usual, the students taught me.
For most Catholics, Holy Saturday is a kind of blank. Since there is no liturgy for Saturday itself, we don’t hear homilies explaining it. Good Friday drives home the passion, and Easter booms with the resurrection, but Holy Saturday has no one to preach it.
And yet the Catechism says startling things about Holy Saturday. In this post I’ll focus on just one aspect: Christ’s stay in the tomb. Here’s what the Catechism says (paragraph 626), echoing an ancient and consistent tradition:
Since the “Author of life” who was killed is the same “living one [who has] risen”, the divine person of the Son of God necessarily continued to possess his human soul and body, separated from each other by death:
By the fact that at Christ’s death his soul was separated from his flesh, his one person is not itself divided into two persons; for the human body and soul of Christ have existed in the same way from the beginning of his earthly existence, in the divine person of the Word; and in death, although separated from each other, both remained with one and the same person of the Word.
To put that in plain English, we all know that when we walk by Grandpa’s casket, the corpse in the casket is not Grandpa anymore—not really. But when Joseph of Arimathea laid Jesus’ corpse in the tomb, that corpse was not a man but it was still Jesus—really and truly. Continue reading “God in the Tomb”
Last year, I came across St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Passion Clock,” a set of meditations for each hour beginning Holy Thursday and ending Easter morning. It’s a way of entering into the events of the Gospel.
Handily, Sharyn over on this blog collected public domain artwork to go with each of the meditations. So my son David and I collaborated to create a Windows screensaver that would display the appropriate artwork and meditation for each hour of the Triduum. It was pretty neat to wander by at a random point on Good Friday and see a picture of what was happening, Gospel-wise, at that hour.
This year, David updated and improved the screen saver, and with Sharyn’s permission we have decided to make it available to everyone. Go here to see the artwork and text that will appear. If you are so inclined, you can get view the source code for the screensaver here. Or you can just download the screensaver here. Right-click on the downloaded file and choose “install.”
Sorry, it’s just for Windows. The system may squawk at you because we didn’t pay the buckos and go through the process to get an official certification, but we’ve run it on our own computers just fine. Windows 10 will give you a dire warning with no apparent option to install, but if you click on “more information” or whatever then the option appears.
I have puzzled for years over this liturgical note on page 575 of the current English Breviary volume, right after Evening Prayer II for Epiphany:
Where the solemnity of Epiphany is celebrated on the Sunday between January 2 and January 8, on the days following the Epiphany, the proper parts are taken from below, unless January 7 or 8 occurs on Sunday in which case Ordinary Time begins on the following day, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord being omitted.
That would mean that this coming Monday is not the Baptism of the Lord. A sad thought! The strange thing is, the Roman Missal explicitly says that this coming Monday is the Baptism of the Lord, which feast is never omitted. Hmmm. Why do the Breviary and the Roman Missal conflict?
This year, it finally occurred to me to check the editio typica of the Breviary. Here’s a wooden translation of the Latin:
In regions where the solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord is celebrated on a Sunday that occurs anywhere from January 2 through January 8, on the following days the proper parts are taken again from below, 494, unless the Sunday occurs on January 7 or 8, in which case the Office of the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the following day as indicated 537-550, with the psalms for the middle hour being taken from Day II of Week I with the antiphons of the feast; the shorter reading, verse and prayer are likewise taken from the feast; but for Compline the psalms are for Day II. The Day III following ordinary time begins, vol. III.
No conflict. How on earth our English “translation” came up with that gaff, I’ll never know. But it was the late sixties / early seventies, so one must make allowances.
UPDATE: A friend suggested I look at what year the Latin was published. In fact, the English translation was prepared in 1975 while the Latin edition I have was published in 1985. Very probably the Latin text of this rubric changed and the English was never updated.