Monday, December 24, 2012

A Blessed Christmas to All

Angels and Archangels may have gathered there,

Cherubim and Seraphim thronged the air.

But His Mother only, in her maiden bliss,

Worshipped her Beloved, with a Kiss.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

God to Earth: 4 kids per bedroom a Good Thing

photo from
Today's first reading in the Office of Readings, from Isaiah, contains lines that were enormously consoling to me years ago when I was expecting my fourth child. We were living in a smallish 3 bedroom ranch in California--no attic, no basement, and a one car garage that held all the things one would normally store in an attic or a  basement.

Although I laugh now to think about it, I was at the time in a minor panic over how I would house the next child were it to be a girl. My two older daughters were in one small bedroom, and our son in the other. A certain relative hinted that putting three children in one bedroom simply is Not Done, nor does one ever, ever, let children of opposite sexes share a room, even if one is a preschooler and the other a newborn.  I was still young and silly enough to care about keeping  this person's good opinion, even though it had already  been lost years before when I had the bad taste to become  pregnant on my honeymoon.

Sure enough, I had another girl. Little Maryanne had no idea how unhappy she was supposed to be, sharing a 10x11  room with two adoring sisters who were in fierce competition to see who could make her smile often. When she was 5 weeks old I picked up the breviary and read this December 22nd  passage from Isaiah:

Though you were waste and desolate,
   a land of ruins,
Now you shall be too small for your inhabitants,
   while those who swallowed you up will be far away.
The children whom you had lost
   shall yet say to you,
“This place is too small for me,
   make room for me to live in.”

And guess what? This was not a prediction of woe for Israel, but a promise of hope and blessing!

In other words, God used my predicament --a predicament I would have at regular intervals for the next 20 years--as an illustration of a good, highly to be envied  situation.  And the people of Israel, uncorrupted by  articles in Parents Magazine about the pitfalls of siblings sharing a room, understood this.  

 Isaiah helped me to realize that my problem was a pretty good one to have. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Radiant Dawn!

Making Polish nut roll right now. Here's a post from last year.

From tonight's Vespers:

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

This is my favorite O Antiphon. I love sunrises--they're the only thing that ever makes it worth getting up early.  And there's that serendipitous  Sun/Son  homophone that we English-speakers enjoy.  Also, there is a tradition that at the Second Coming (which is what we are rehearsing for with our yearly celebration of Advent and Christmas), Our Lord will appear in the east: "For as lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the son of man be." (Matt.24:27)  Today's concluding prayer also references that final advent:
Hear in kindness, O Lord, the prayers of your people, that those who rejoice at the coming of your Only Begotten Son in our flesh may, when at last he comes in glory, gain the reward of eternal life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Last Minute Gifts 4 Catholic Readers

Surely you've already bought gifts for all the book lovers on your list. But perhaps you are the book lover, and want to drop a few hints. Thanks to the miracle of e-readers, all of these can arrive by Christmas. Even for hard copies, you still have until 3 p.m. today (Eastern standard time) to get them in time from Amazon. And speaking of Amazon, use the links at the end of this post to get right to the title you want, and send a few pennies to Coffee and Canticles, so that I can afford more postage for book giveaways.

The Christmas Plains by Joseph Bottum A well known writer and editor tells of his childhood Christmases in the Black Hills of South Dakota, while meandering back and forth to other times and places as well: 1888 and its killer blizzard; modern-day New York during it's rare moments of snow-covered stillness. Bottum fondly recalls so many favorite things--story books, carols, vinyl LP Christmas recordings, toys--that were of almost sacramental significance to him as a boy. Needless to say, the larger spiritual themes are there, subtle and graceful.

The Complete Thinker--the Marvelous Mind of G.K.Chesterton by Dale Ahluqist. Some people find Chesterton's essays difficult because of all the references to the culture, politics, and personalities of early 2oth century England. They find to easy to miss the forest among all those pesky trees. Dale Ahlquist acts as your personal Chesterton sherpa. On a wide variety of topics (the problem of evil, war and peace, law and lawyers, life and death, the universe, and more!) he shows us the essence of Chesterton's thought, serving up generous helpings of direct quotation. He explains these in a winsome style peppered with humor that must have G.K. looking down from heaven and saying "That's my boy!"

Witness of the Saints by Milton Walsh For those who love the Office of Readings, here are many of the second readings arranged and quoted by category, following the outline of the Catechism--articles of the Creed, the Sacraments, Christian Life and Prayer. Also of great value is a timeline of all the fathers, doctors and saints quoted in the liturgy, so at last you will not have to wonder what century Melito of Sardis or Origen lived. Short bio-sketches of each holy writer are also very welcome. I've always suspected that the Office of Readings is the best way for ordinary Catholics to become immersed in the greatest writings of the Church. Witness of the Saints proves that point.

History of the Catholic Church: from the Apostolic Age to the Third Millenium by James Hitchcock. Hot off the press as of today!  I couldn't believe my good fortune in receiving this book. Hitchcock is an engaging historian. This is the opposite of put-you-to-sleep textbookishness. The intimidating scope of the work is made manageable for the reader because of frequent subtitles (The Jewish Legacy;  The Kingdom; Paul and the Law, Women in the early Church, Julian the Apostate, the Thomistic Ascendancy, Witchcraft, Clerical Corruption,  The Effects of Trent,and hundreds more.) The Church, its teachings, its cast of characters (both noble and notorious) are covered with complete honesty and obvious love. A lot is packed into these 500 pages.  I'm looking forward to the end of Christmastide  so that I can relax and lose myself in this book!

The Christus Experiment by Rod Bennett Do you like science fiction? Here's the premise: going back in time to 30 AD to kidnap Our Lord  and bring him to the present. so that  a bunch of jaded scriptural "experts" can examine him  to find out once and for all about the "Jesus of history".  If that sounds like a good kind of crazy to you, get this book. Bennett is a good writer. You won't be cringing at the phrasing gaffes, anachronisms, and whatnot so common to self-published fiction. Let sci-fi  geeks delight!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Welcome Plus Weekly Q&A

I'm starting to be sucked  away into the vortex of baking, gift wrapping, and decorating from which I won't often surface until 2013. So posts will be short and few.

Today, for example.

Welcome to new follower, um Wodke Hawkinson, which is, according to the profile, a composite name  for a team of two writers. It doesn't look like you guys tend to follow religious blogs, so feel free to introduce yourselves and tell about your interest in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Now, any questions related to the Divine Office?

Any comments? Me, I thought today's second reading for the feast of St. Lucy was marvellous. It was about the value of consecrated virginity, but has application to anyone who has, according to their state in life, dedicated their lives to Christ.

Also, during all of Advent so far, I've been impressed with how well the readings and antiphons of the Liturgy of the Hours really do awaken in us a longing for the second coming of Jesus. Has anyone else noticed that?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Have you Not Been Placed in My Lap?

Even the most retro, technology-hating, breviary lover will want to set aside the aesthetic delights of their printed prayerbook, in favor of the virtual one, for December 12th's Office of Readings.  This, after all, is the only way to see the second reading for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which does not appear in our 1975 edition breviaries.

The reading consists of the 15th century account of the apparition to St. Juan Diego. Our Lady's words to him are beautiful:
 “Listen and understand, my humblest son. There is nothing to frighten and distress you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and let nothing upset you. Is it not I, your Mother, who is here? Are you not under my protection? Are you not, fortunately, in my care?  

I also have the Kenyan breviary, in which this account has a somewhat different and longer version. Here, the above paragraph is translated thus:

Listen, beloved son,fear not and stop worrying.Am I not here, your Mother?Have you not been placed directly under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your lie and happiness? Have you not been placed in my lap, in my arms? What else do you need?

Although there is no way for us to tell which translation is really the most accurate, that phrase "in my lap, in my arms" so  sweetly describes the love of our heavenly Mother, that I'll put my money on the Kenyan version.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Important Reminder

Don't forget to use Evening Prayer I for the Immaculate Conception for vespers tonight!

Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers,day and night--everything that is subject to the power or use of man--rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. 
-St. Anselm (Office of Readings, December 8th)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In this corner, St. Nicholas!

St. Nicholas' Day is tomorrow. Aside from the legends about the 4th century bishop of Myra which gave rise to the various iterations of Santa Claus, there is one other essential story of St. Nicholas that every Catholic ought to know.

He was a hammer of heretics. Literally. Gave 'em the old one-two. Or at least, the old one.

At the Council of Nicea, where the Church's doctrine on the nature of Jesus Christ was formulated,
Nicholas defended the orthodox concept of Christ being of the same substance as God the Father. The heretical  Arius propounded his own theory that Jesus was not fully divine, but just a really, really good man who became sort of god-like.

Always one to put his faith into action, Nicholas, becoming incensed by Arius' claptrap, got up and smacked him. Like this:

When the kids were little, we read them stories of St. Nicholas each year, and had them put their shoes out on the doorstep on the eve of his feast. (In our house Santa Claus was a different person altogether.) We taught them to sing an old Dutch song about St. Nicholas coming on his white horse during the night to fill the shoes of good children with gifts. Prominent among these were chocolate coins, in memory of his secretly providing marriage dowries for some poor girls.

My kids made out like bandits during the holidays, receiving presents from St. Nicholas on the 6th, Santa Claus and the Christ Child on the 25th, and from the 3 Kings on the Epiphany. I'm not sure I would do it this way again if I had to do it over, but the kids certainly enjoyed it.

The Office of Readings for St. Nicholas is from St. Augustine on the necessity of self-sacrificing love for their flock on the part of bishops. Of which St. Nicholas was a true role model. With or without the  decking of Arius. Hey, now there's a holiday ditty for you:

Deck the floor with heretical clerics
fa la la la la, la la, la, la. 
Pay no heed to their hysterics
fa la la la la, la la, la, la.
Christ's Divinity is the reason
fa la la, la la la, la, la la
For this holy advent season
fa la la la la, la la, la, la.

Sorry, I could not resist.

Now, any questions about the Liturgy of the Hours, breviaries, etc.?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Guest blogger Dietrich Bonhoeffer...

...shares some thoughts about praying the psalms.

Well no, not exactly.                                          

But it was with  delight that I recently learned that  this Christian hero, a Lutheran pastor who died for his resistance to the Nazis, had written a lovely little book called Psalms: the Prayer Book of the Bible, and that it is available both in print and e-reader editions. One reviewer on Amazon stated that this was the book that provoked  Hitler to ban  all of Bonhoeffer's publications, since it dared to suggest that the psalms, the ancient prayerbook of the Jews, should be the prayerbook of Christians as well.

Bonhoeffer explained succinctly why praying with God's words is sure to break us out of the narrow confines of our own feelings and take us to something more complete:

Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one's heart. It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty.No man can do that by himself. For that he needs Jesus Christ. ..
...When our will wholeheartedly enters into the prayer of Christ,then we pray correctly.

...Repeating God's own words after him, we begin to pray to him. We ought to speak to God and he wants to hear us, not in the false and confused speech of our heart, but in the clear and pure speech which God has spoken to us in Jesus Christ.

...All the prayers of the Bible are such prayers which we pray together with Jesus Christ, in which he accompanies us, and through which he brings us into the presence of God.

If we are to pray aright, perhaps it is quite necessary that we pray contrary to our own heart. Not what we want to pray is important, but what God wants us to pray.  If we were entirely dependent on ourselves, we would probably pray only the fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer. But God wants it otherwise.The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.

How is it possible for a man and Jesus Christ to pray the Psalter together? It is the incarnate Son of God,who has borne every weakness in his own flesh, Who here pours out the heart of all humanity   before God and who stands in our place and prays for us. 

Not every sentence of the book is of great concern to Catholics. The author often dwells  on reconciling elements of protestant theology with the content of the psalms (e.g. guilt, sin,  justification, works). And the author's understanding of suffering is incomplete. He grasps that in His passion, Jesus shares our pain and thus is the only answer to the question of how God permits suffering. But the idea that we can share the suffering of Jesus by joining our pain to His, and cooperating in the Redemption as members of His body--this is lacking from Lutheran theology, and thus, from Bonhoeffer's commentary on the psalms of lamentation.

Nevertheless, Psalms: the Prayerbook of the Bible is full of insights that will enhance your appreciation for the psalms.  It can also make a great starting point of discussion with your evangelical friends who don't "get" the idea of formal or liturgical prayer. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Guest Book Review: Witness of the Saints

I've said it here and elsewhere: the second readings from the Office of Readings are the ideal way for ordinary Catholics to enjoy the writings of the Church Fathers, doctors, and saints. I've also wished that these were available as a stand alone volume, to make them accessible to those who do not participate in the Office of Readings.
Thanks to Milton Walsh and Ignatius Press, my dream is starting to come true. A new collection of excerpts from the patristic lectionary is now available. Sounds like it will be ideal for study and lectio divina. I haven't received my copy yet, but sometime guest blogger and breviary historian Jim McAuley has. What follows is his take on this book:

A wonderful new book that helps us to utilize the Liturgy of the Hours has been released.  This book is Witness of the Saints: Patristic Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours by Milton Walsh, Ignatius Press, 2012.  The primary purpose of this book is to show how the patristic lectionary found in the Liturgy of the Hours can be utilized for other purposes.  This book is a compendium of excerpts from the Office of Readings found in the Liturgy of the Hours, (formerly known as the Roman Breviary) also known as the Divine Office.  The Book is modeled along the outline of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  In this, it serves as a very useful reference. 

Interestingly, two things come out in the text.  First, Walsh did not use the Editio Typica.  Not a big deal.  What is more problematic is that he uses the American version of the
Liturgy of the Hours, and no acknowledgement is given to the fact that those Ignatius Press readers who use the Divine Office may find it a little awkward.  This is apparent in two ways.  The first is found in the list of readings from the fathers.  In the section for Pope Pius XII (Volume 1, pp. 149-150), Father Walsh only lists two readings.  If you use the American Liturgy of the Hours, this is indeed the case.  But, if you use the British Divine Office there is another, most wonderful reading from Pius XII, This is found in the Common of Women Saints (Volume 1, page 422*) as the alternative second reading and is titled “A reading from a talk by Pope Pius XII to newly married couples.” Strangely, it is not found in the Common of Holy Women in the American Liturgy of the Hours.  In fact, no alternative second reading is provided in the Common for Holy Women in the American Liturgy of the Hours.  Lest one think it a mistake on the part of the British editors of the Divine Office, the reading in question is also found in that wonderful book, the Book of Prayer, the 4th Edition of A Short Breviary from 1975 produced by St. John’s Abbey.

Second, perhaps as an oversight, the book includes as a church father St. John De Brebeuf, a Jesuit martyr celebrated on the American, Canadian, and Jesuit calendars.  His inclusion seems almost an oversight, as no other American saint in the sanctoral is cited.  But if he is included, why not other saints in the American sanctoral?

Another interesting omission, or oversight, is the total failure to cite any readings from the 1992 supplement of the
Liturgy of the Hours. The reading from St. Maximillian Kolbe would have been a good one to reference in this book.

However, the book shows the increased variety of patristic sources from whom the Readings derive from.  There are many new and superb sources not found in the 1960 Roman Breviary, such as Clement of Rome, Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Maximus the Confessor, Alphonsus Ligouri, St. John Bosco, Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. John Eudes, and so on.  Others have an increased presence, such as Fulgentius of Ruspe and Irenaeus of Lyons.   Now, this is not to say that the readings found in the 1960 Breviary are defective.  Some excellent readings disappeared, such as St. Bonaventure’s beautiful sermon on the Immaculate Heart of Mary, some of the works of Gregory the Great and Jerome also disappeared. Nota Bene - to those readers who own a Baronius Press Roman Breviary – In the process of doing this book review I discovered that when Baronius revised the Liturgical Press (Collegeville), Baronius deleted the Scriptural and Patristic index found in the older edition, so keep your old editions around, if you have them!

All In all, I would recommend readers to buy this book.  It is a sturdy hardback and has an easy to read font and layout.  The spine is well built, and you will be able to buy the ribbons that can be placed in books and put them safely in the spine. The price is reasonable at $29.95 for such a book and it would make a good Christmas present for your parish priest, a friend, a family member, or yourself.