Sunday, 15 January 2017

Patronal feast of Our Lady of Cana Monastery

For those interested in the progress of the new Australian monastic foundation in Tasmania, a note that today (the second Sunday after the Epiphany) is its patronal feast.

Father Prior's post on the website discusses the feast, and the importance of Our Lady's intercession at the marriage feast, then concludes:
...Many years ago, faced with the continual requests for an Australian foundation, I turned to Our Lady, and I said to her, "Tell Jesus, 'They have no monks'!". Well, She heard that prayer and Jesus has allowed Himself to be moved. Australia is about to have its monks, and they, like the tasteless water of Cana, are perfectly incapable of satisfying anyone's desire for nourishing spiritual wine. But if the Divine Word steps into our lives, and hears the further prayers of His Mother, then we can hope that the monks to be will truly become men of His Sacred Heart, and that they will offer, with incessant praise and labour, the life and example and words of salvation for many souls who will come their way in the hope of finding God. 
Thank you for praying for Notre Dame Priory, the monastery of Our Lady of Cana, whose patronal feast is this Sunday, 15th January. Pray that it may be firmly established and grow and prosper, and that all of its members may ever walk in the ways of salvation and perfection.
Please keep the foundation especially in your prayers in this lead up to its formal inauguration on February 22. 

Monday, 2 January 2017

On the sixteen (!) days of Christmas...

Prophets window, Notre Dame, Paris

Numbers are important in Scripture and the tradition, laden with symbolic meaning.

And the Christmas season, once upon a time, played on several of them - octaves, the twelve days of Christmas, the forty days of the whole Christmas season (up to the feast of the Purification), and so forth.

Over the last couple of centuries, these times have been progressively eroded, with the Christmas season becoming ever shorter.

This year however, due to the oddities caused by 'Epiphany Sunday' a strange reverse occurs: in the Ordinary Form the Christmas season actually lasts almost as long as it does in the Extraordinary Form, stretching to some sixteen days.

The twelve days of Christmas

The twelve days of Christmas, which traditionally stretched between the feast of the Nativity and the Epiphany, for example, are meant to suggest to us governmental perfection and completion - hence the twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, and so forth.

My own theory is that our ability to recognise these symbolic meanings was destroyed by the invention of chapter numbers for the Bible in the fourteenth century, and then verse numbers in the sixteenth: convenient those these reference points are, by seeing so many numbers when we read Scripture, we no longer notice the important ones that really matter.

Be that as it may, the destruction of tradition has been a progressive affair.

The Christmas season was cut back from forty days, making a fitting counterweight of feasting to offset the fasting of Advent, to end after the octave of Epiphany.

The various Octaves and Vigils that used to be celebrated at this time were abolished.

And then, in most recent times we have come to the curious phenomenon of moving feasts of obligation to the nearest Sunday.


The net result of these changes is that in the 1962 calendar, from January 2 to January 5 have become Class IV days, instead of Octave days of St Stephen (Jan 2), St John (Jan 3), Holy Innocents (Jan 4) and the Vigil of the Epiphany (Jan 5).

The 1962 reformers actually didn't do too bad a job, in my opinion, in selecting texts from the season to create the 'Ordinary of Nativitytide' in the Divine Office.

But the net result is that we do lose some of the reminders that the Incarnation turns the world upside down, and the world does not much like the fact.

We lose the bitter-sweet mix of texts that serve as a reminder that Christmas is not just about sentimentality; rather, that to follow Christ is to follow the way of the Cross.

Sixteen days of the Incarnation?

Is there any symbolism, though, in the number sixteen, the length of this year's Christmas season in the Ordinary Form?

Happily there is, according to the sixth century writer Cassiodorus at least.  His commentary on Psalm 16, which he sees as dealing with the Incarnation and the two natures of Christ, points out that there are sixteen 'canonical' prophets in Scripture "so that the Lord's incarnation is seen to be worthily proclaimed by this number, in which the chorus of the prophets is seen to be assembled".

There is rather a need of prophets in our own time, holy men and women willing to speak truth to power, so perhaps there is indeed something providential in the number given these difficult times for both Church and State....