Archive | December, 2016

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821)

December 29, 2016

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St. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was born on August 28, 1774, in New York, at the time of the American Revolution.  Her father was a physician and college professor, and her family was well-off financially.  Her family was Episcopalian, and she was baptized and raised in the Episcopal faith.

Elizabeth Ann’s youth and young adulthood was beset by troubles.  Her mother died when she was four.  Her baby sister also died.  Her father remarried, but her stepmother never accepted her and much of her childhood was unpleasant.  She was married at the age of 19 to William Seton, a wealthy merchant, and they had five children.  She had a tender heart for the poor and already at the age of 23 established the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows and Children, and she became popularly known as the “Protestant Sister of Charity.”  But in 1803 things took a severe turn for the worse.  Her husband’s business went bankrupt.  Then he contracted tuberculosis.  They quickly moved to Pisa, Italy, for a warmer climate where he might recover, but six weeks later he died, and at the age of 29 Elizabeth Ann was a grief-stricken widow and a single mother without adequate resources to care for her family.

Elizabeth Ann remained in Italy with her husband’s Italian family.  They were devout Catholics with a chapel in their home where they prayed before the Blessed Sacrament each day.  She joined them, and her prayer experience was so powerful that she decided to convert to the Catholic Church, which she did upon her return to New York on March 4, 1805.

Her Episcopalian relatives were angered by her conversion and refused to help her financially.  A woman of great faith, she went to daily Mass and prayed the Memorare every day.  She knew the benefits of a good education from her own childhood, so she decided to open a small boarding school which was a noble vocation and provided a meager income.

The rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore somehow found out about Elizabeth Ann’s talent for teaching and invited her to open a school for girls, and in 1808, at the age of 34 with five children, she moved her family to Maryland.  The new school enjoyed tremendous success.  Enrollment grew.  A new building had to be built.  She needed the help of others to run the school and she invited other women to join her.  Suddenly she had a group of women living together and founded a community of religious sisters, the American Daughters of Charity of St. Joseph, and they dedicated themselves to care for the poor and to provide religious education.  She was subsequently elected their superior and became known as Mother Seton.

With such great initial success, she was asked to open a second school, and then additional schools.  She extended her work to found orphanages in both Philadelphia and New York.  Her pioneering work was the beginning of Catholic schools, and she is considered the founder of the parochial school system in America.  She died on January 4, 1821, in Maryland.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975, the first native-born American citizen to be canonized a saint.  She is a patron saint for widows and converts.

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Why was Jesus Born at Midnight?

December 22, 2016

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Midnight Mass is a special Christmas Mass.  It Came Upon a Midnight Clear is a beautiful Christmas hymn.  Midnight is the hour traditionally regarded as the time that Jesus was born.

Midnight receives no mention in the gospel account, but rather, “the night watch” (Lk 2:8).  It was the time after sunset and before sunrise, the late-night hours, a time of total darkness.

The darkness of the midnight hour is not only the lack of daylight, it also holds great symbolic significance.  Darkness represents sin and the absence of God.  “People preferred darkness … because their works were evil” (Jn 3:19).  “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light … so that his works might not be exposed” (Jn 3:20).  Evil thoughts are dark thinking (Mt 6:23; Lk 11:34).  Evil deeds are done under the cover of darkness.  When Judas departed from the Last Supper to betray Jesus, “it was night” (Jn 13:30).  Jesus explained that “whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going” (Jn 12:35).  Darkness is to walk in the wrong direction, and to stumble and fall.

Police have a saying:  “Nothing good happens after midnight.”  Late night is the time that most crimes are committed:  drunkenness, bar fights, shootings, domestic assaults, robberies, driving while intoxicated, speeding and reckless driving, and car crashes due to impaired judgment.

Immoral behavior is frequently committed under the cover of darkness.  Nighttime is the most common time for nightclubs, premarital sex, extramarital sex, one night stands, prostitution, and computer viewing of explicit images.

The world is filled with darkness.  There are wars and terrorism, displacement and refugees, famine and disease, poverty and natural disasters.  Nationally there is political polarization and racial strife, abortion and violence, corruption and greed.  Individually there is family conflict, rejection, gossip, illness, pain, abuse, addiction, disappointment, failure, sadness, and depression.  The darkness often feels all-encompassing and overwhelming.

The infant Jesus was born during the night watch, at the time when the darkness is most intense.  The timing was no accident.  Jesus is the Light of World (Jn 8:12).  When Jesus was born, he was the true light coming into the world (Jn 1:9; see also Jn 3:19a).  He is “the light [that] shines in the darkness” (Jn 1:5a).  Jesus explained, “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in the darkness” (Jn 12:46).

Christmas is a time of tremendous hope.  The light has come.  Jesus is the great illuminator.  He is a beacon of light.  Despite whatever darkness there may be in the world, it will not prevail.  “The darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5b), not in the past, not now, not in the future, not ever.

Jesus was born at midnight to bring light into our troubled world.  His light is so powerful that it outshines all else.

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The ‘O’ Antiphons

December 16, 2016

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What is an Antiphon?  An antiphon is a verse or phrase sung or recited aloud or read silently before and after a Psalm or Canticle during the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours.  The text is often a direct quote from Scripture, or a brief reflection on a Scripture text, or a verse pertaining to the feast day, the liturgical season, or the saint of the day.  An antiphon provides a spiritual context to be kept in mind for the duration of the Psalm or Canticle in much the same way that a mystery of the rosary is kept in mind during the recitation of the Hail Marys.

O Antiphons.  The O Antiphons, also known as the Greater Antiphons, are a set of seven separate antiphons, each beginning with an “O,” and followed by a title or special attribute of the Christ-child whose birth will be commemorated on Christmas.  The O Antiphons were written in Latin and drawn from texts from the prophet Isaiah regarding the long-awaited Messiah.  The author, date, and place of composition all remain unknown, but the antiphons were known to exist by the late Fifth Century and were in widespread use by the Eighth Century.

Late Advent Liturgical Use. The O Antiphons are used at Vespers for the seven-day period from December 17 to December 23.  They are used to introduce and conclude the Gospel Canticle, the Canticle of Mary or the Magnificat, the lovely prayer first offered by the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lk 1:46-55) and offered each day at Evening Prayer.

The “O” Introduction.  Each antiphon begins with a short O phrase that reveals an aspect of the identity of the newborn Son of the Most High whose kingdom will never end.  December 17 begins O Sapientia, O Wisdom; followed by O Adonai, O Lord; O Radix Jesse, O Root of Jesse; O Clavis David, O Key of David; O Oriens, O Rising Sun; O Rex Gentium, O King of the Nations; and O Emmanuel, O God with Us.  After the opening statement, each antiphon concludes with a short prayer of petition.

December 17.  “[O] Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.  Come and show your people the way to salvation” (see Isaiah 11:2; 28:29).

December 18.  “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain; come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free” (see Isaiah 11:4-5; 33:22).

December 19.  “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you.  Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid” (see Isaiah 11:1,10).

December 20.  “O Key of David, O royal power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven:  come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom” (see Isaiah 22:22; 9:6).

December 21.  “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:  come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death” (see Isaiah 9:1).

December 22.  “O King of all nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you have fashioned from the dust” (see Isaiah 2:4; 9:5).

December 23.  “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God” (see Isaiah 7:14).

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Gaudete Sunday – The Third Sunday of Advent

December 9, 2016

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stainedglassstbonifaceA Joyful  Sunday.  The Third Sunday of Advent is also known as Gaudete Sunday.  The word “gaudete” is derived from the Latin words “gaudium,” joy, and “gaudeo,” to rejoice or be glad.  Gaudete Sunday occurs eight to thirteen days before Christmas, and the nearness of this major feast is reason for great joy.

The Term “Gaudete.”  Gaudete is taken from the Entrance Antiphon:  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near” (paraphrase, Phil 4:4-5).  Advent is a time of joyful expectation and eager preparation for the Solemnity of Christmas.

Multiple Reasons for Joy.  There is joy in looking forward to the annual celebration of Christmas, but there is also joy in remembering the birth of Jesus on the first Christmas.  There is joy in knowing that he was born to save people from their sins (Mt 1:21b).  The joy also extends to anticipation of the Second Coming, either at the end of physical life or the end of the world, the time when believers will be given the crown of righteousness (2 Tm 4:8) and a place in the Father’s house (Jn 14:2) to dwell with God and his angels and saints for all eternity.

A Joyful Color.  Rose represents joy and may be used as the liturgical color for Gaudete Sunday.  Violet remains the official color for the Season of Advent, the Third Sunday included, because all of Advent has a penitential tone, a time of conversion, reparation, and forgiveness.  Gaudete Sunday offers a one-day respite to look ahead to the joyful celebration of the Nativity.

Joyful Adornments.  The priest may wear a rose chasuble and the deacon may wear a rose dalmatic.  Church decorations may include roses or other flowers, a rose-colored altar cloth, drapery on the pulpit or ambo, chalice veil, tabernacle curtain, or wall hangings.  The third candle of the Advent wreath is rose.

Joyful Prayers.  The prayers in The Roman Missal on the Third Sunday of Advent convey a joyful message.  The immediacy of Christmas is addressed in the Collect, “O God, who see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,” followed by two references to joy:  “enable us … to attain the joys of so great a salvation” and “to celebrate them [with] … glad rejoicing.”  Preface II of Advent says “we rejoice at the mystery of his Nativity” and that we are “exultant in his praise.”  The Communion Antiphon contains the joyful message, “Behold, our God will come, and he will save us” (cf. Is 35:4).  Two invocations in the Advent Solemn Blessing refer to joy:  the second, “may he make you … joyful in hope,” and the third, “Rejoicing now with devotion at the Redeemer’s coming.”

Joyful Readings.  The Scripture texts for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A, have multiple references to joy.  On the day that the promised Messiah comes, “the Arabah will rejoice” (Is 35:1); it will “rejoice with joyful song” (Is 35:2).  Those the Lord has ransomed are “crowned with everlasting joy” and “meet with joy and gladness” (Is 35:10).  The Responsorial Psalm is a joyful hymn of praise of God who is faithful, just, liberator, healer, protector, provider, eternal, and almighty (Ps 146:6-10).  The second reading makes the joyful declaration that “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas 5:8b).  In the gospel, Jesus was asked if he is the Messiah, the one who is to come, and he made the joyful observation that the sick were cured, the dead raised, and the poor had the good news proclaimed to them (Mt 11:5), all signs that indeed, the Messiah had come, which is reason to rejoice.
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Isaiah, the prophet the featured voice of Advent

December 2, 2016

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Isaiah, the Advent Prophet.  Isaiah’s words are used extensively in the liturgies leading up to Christmas.  He, more than any other prophet, anticipates the coming Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promise spoken to King David, “I will raise up your offspring after you … and I will establish his kingdom.  heir after you, and I will make his kingdom firm.  It is he who shall build a house for my name.  He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his throne forever.  I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me”  (2 Sm 7:12b,13,14a).

Most Cited on Advent Sundays.  Over the twelve Sundays of Advent in the three year Sunday Lectionary cycle, the prophet Isaiah is proclaimed most often, seven times, all four Sundays in Year A (Is 2:1-5; 11:1-10; 35:1-6,10; 7:10-14) and the first three Sundays in Year B (Is 63:16-17,19; 64:2-7; 40:1-5,9-11; 61:1-2,10-11).  In Year C the first readings are taken from four different Old Testament prophets, each which is cited only once:  Jeremiah, Baruch, Zephaniah, and Micah.  Isaiah’s voice rings out over the others.  His is the prophetic voice of Advent.

Most Cited on Advent Weekdays.  Isaiah is also most quoted on Advent weekdays.  Of the seventeen daily Masses over the first three weeks, passages from Isaiah are proclaimed fourteen times, six times in the first week, five in the second, and three in the third.  In the eight-day Octave immediately prior to Christmas, December 17-24, Isaiah is quoted only once on December 20, while the other first readings are chosen from a variety of sources.

The Immanuel Prophecies.  The prophet Isaiah anticipates the coming of Immanuel, God with us, and the glorious day of the arrival of the ideal king, the one who would decisively change the course of history, rule with justice, and bring peace.  The first prophecy describes the birth of Emmanuel:  “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel” (Is 7:14).  The second prophecy describes his dominion:   “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.  They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.  His dominion is vast and forever peaceful” (Is 9:5-6a).  The third prophecy describes the justice of his rule:  “A shoot shall spout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.  The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:  a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord.  He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide fairly for the land’s afflicted.  Justice shall be the band around his waist” (Is 11:1-2,4a,5a).

Advent Themes.  Isaiah is the voice of the key spiritual themes of Advent:  preparation, conversion, renewal, hope, consolation, joy, justice, peace, harmony, fulfillment, deliverance, redemption, salvation, and the restoration of the rule of God.

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