Wednesday, March 28, 2007

St Tutilo of Gall, the NYPD, and the Stasi

Sacramentary, possibly from the monastery of St Gall, ninth century.

First things first: today is the feast day of the ninth-century monk St Tutilo of Gall. Here's what the Catholic Forum has to say about him:
Large, powerfully built man. Educated at Saint Gall's monastery in Switzerland where he stayed to become a Benedictine monk. Friend of Blessed Notkar Balbulus. A renaissance man before the term was coined. Excellent student, he became a sought-after teacher at the abbey school. Noted speaker. Poet and hymnist, though nearly all of his work has been lost. Architect, painter, sculptor, metal worker, and mechanic; some of his art work continues to grace galleries and monasteries around Europe. Composer and musician, playing several instruments including the harp. No matter his talents or works, he preferred the solitude and prayers of his beloved monastery.
Well, any friend of Notkar the Stammerer is a friend of mine. Besides (can't you tell seeing how talented he was?) he was Irish.

Also, imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis and I saw a film this past weekend that made quite an impression on us, The Lives of Others, which won the Oscar for best foreign film this year. Crystal has already posted on it (cave spoilers). The story, sent in East Germany in the 1980's, could easily have been sentimental or contrived, but a great screenplay, excellent directing, and exquisitely subtle acting made it very powerful.

The movie centered on the omnipresent spying on East Germans by the Stasi, the state police. Everyone was watched, there were hundreds of thousands of informers, and the slightest expression of dissent was enough to make one a target of suspicion. After watching the film I went home and read the Times, learning that the NYPD had infiltrated and spied on activist groups inside and outside the country before the 2004 GOP convention in New York. We're not talking about bomb-throwing anarchists or Al-Queda:
These included members of street theater companies, church groups and antiwar organizations, as well as environmentalists and people opposed to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies. Three New York City elected officials were cited in the reports.
I was upset about Bloomberg bringing the convention here in 2004 so that Bush could use New York's suffering as a background for his war-mongering, I was upset that New Yorkers were not allowed to protest during the convention or in Central Park, and I was upset about the arbitrary arrests during that week. But this takes the cake.

I'm not saying the NYPD is like the Stasi. I'm just reporting the news. I report, you decide. And also, near the end of the film, you see how East Germans now can request and examine the Stasi reports on them. New Yorkers don't have that privilege. Ain't that grand?

St. Tutilo, pray for us.

Monday, March 26, 2007

feast of the Annunciation

Duccio di Buoninsegna, from the
Maestà, 1308-1311.

The day is almost over, but I thought I'd throw this up. Here's the passage from Luke 1, in the beautiful Latin of the Vulgate:

in mense autem sexto missus est angelus Gabrihel a Deo in civitatem Galilaeae cui nomen Nazareth ad virginem desponsatam viro cui nomen erat Ioseph de domo David et nomen virginis Maria

et ingressus angelus ad eam dixit have gratia plena Dominus tecum benedicta tu in mulieribus

quae cum vidisset turbata est in sermone eius et cogitabat qualis esset ista salutatio

et ait angelus ei ne timeas Maria invenisti enim gratiam apud Deum ecce concipies in utero et paries filium et vocabis nomen eius Iesum hic erit magnus et Filius Altissimi vocabitur et dabit illi Dominus Deus sedem David patris eius et regnabit in domo Iacob in aeternum et regni eius non erit finis

dixit autem Maria ad angelum quomodo fiet istud quoniam virum non cognosco

et respondens angelus dixit ei Spiritus Sanctus superveniet in te et virtus Altissimi obumbrabit tibi ideoque et quod nascetur sanctum vocabitur Filius Dei et ecce Elisabeth cognata tua et ipsa concepit filium in senecta sua et hic mensis est sextus illi quae vocatur sterilis quia non erit inpossibile apud Deum omne verbum

dixit autem Maria ecce ancilla Domini fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum

Monday, March 19, 2007


"Kerzen" by Gerhard Richter.

I was asked to write some Lenten reflections for my parish bulletin, and I wrote them on the Tenebrae service:

This will be my third Lent at Ascension, and like the last two years, I will attend the Tenebrae service on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Lent is a time of reflecting on what is bare, what is somber, what is dark. It is, of course, a time of exquisite hope as we await Easter, but hope almost on the edge of desolation as we consider the bleakness of Good Friday and the cross. For the Easter fire to blaze out and give us light, we must have darkness first. Tenebrae is Latin for darkness, and the prayer service that bears that name enacts in many ways that last stripping from ourselves whatever amount of ephemeral vanity that has clogged our life during the previous year. It is performed in a darkened church lit only by candles that are extinguished one by one as each reading is recited. In the end, there is no light, and we leave the church with silence and darkness settling on us, paring us down and emptying us out, preparing us to be filled that much more powerfully by the joy of Resurrection we experience when Easter finally arrives.

Last year I put together the booklet for the service and this year I went over the texts once again in order to correct typos. I was struck by the beautiful starkness of Psalm 22, which is read on Good Friday and has been seen as prefiguring the Passion: “I can count every one of my bones.” The harsh physicality of that line sends chills up my spine. “These people stare at me and gloat; they divide my clothing among them: they cast lots for my robe.” Of course, the Psalm begins with the words Jesus spoke on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Good Friday service continues with cries of penitence as we read Psalm 51: “My offenses truly I know them; my sin is always before me.” Still, though we brush against despair, in the darkness of that day lay the promise of healing and the possibility of redemption: “Indeed you love truth in the heart; then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom. O purify me, then I shall be clean; O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.” This is what Lent is about: “A pure heart, create for me, O God.”

Prayers of lamentation continue throughout the three days, and every day the church is darkened a little more after each prayer is read and the candle is put out. There are also, however, prayers of joy, and we finish the Holy Saturday service with the praise of Psalm 150: “Oh praise him with resounding cymbals, praise him with clashing cymbals. Let everything that lives and breathes give praise to the Lord.”

When the service is over, I will quietly get up and leave the church. I will walk out into the cool morning air, the rays of the sun shining eastward down 107th street and, glad and somber, prepare myself throughout the day for the Easter vigil Mass. In the end the Tenebrae service, like Lent itself, is not about darkness, but about the underlying light that remains even in the darkest times.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig

I can't imagine a better way to celebrate St Patrick's Day (apart from Mass and a pint of Guinness afterwards) than the way I did last year. So, here it is:

I am going to leave you with the incredibly moving prayer "The Lorica of St Patrick" (St Patrick's Breastplate). If not written by Patrick himself, it was certainly inspired by him. Its litany-like repetitions are hypnotic. The beginning "I arise today" makes it personal, giving the idea that each believer can say he begins every day with the armor of faith. It expresses an early medieval concern with temptation, heresy, and magic, but it also shows a stunning appreciation of the beauty of creation ("light of sun, brilliance of moon"). The climax of the poem situates Christ in every relation to the believer, first in each physical direction and then in all encounters with others. It is magnificent. Happy St Patrick's, every one.

The Lorica of St Patrick

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the
Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession
of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ with His Baptism,
through the strength of His Crucifixion with His Burial
through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
through the strength of His descent for the Judgment of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim
in obedience of Angels, in the service of the Archangels,
in hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
in prayers of Patriarchs, in predictions of Prophets,
in preachings of Apostles, in faiths of Confessors,
in innocence of Holy Virgins, in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven:
light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendour of Fire,
speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of Sea,
stability of Earth, firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me,
God's host to secure me:
against snares of devils, against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature, against everyone who
shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.
I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils):
against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose
my body and my soul,
against incantations of false prophets,
against black laws of heathenry,
against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry,
against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
against every knowledge that endangers man's body and soul.
Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning, against drowning,
against wounding, so that there may come abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right,
Christ on my left, Christ in breadth, Christ in length,
Christ in height, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the
Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the
Oneness of the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ. May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

And the winner is...

It's a tie... Bede the Venerable and Eusebius of Caesarea are both now our patron saints of historians! Bede had held a commanding lead, but Eusebius came from behind and even pulled ahead. As the buzzer sounded, Bede hit a jumper and tied the game.

With thirty-seven votes cast, our two historians each managed to capture twelve votes. I find the symmetry of Western and Eastern, Latin and Greek, very pleasing and ecumenical. One thing -- Bede is considered a saint by the Roman Church, but Eusebius is not. A commentator on Gabriele's blog said Eusebius was a saint in the Orthodox Church, but I have yet to verify this. Does anyone have any information on that?

Thank you all for your participation.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Vote for Patron Saint of Historians

UPDATE: The polls are closed -- here are the results.

Congregation of the saints at the last judgment, German, fifteenth century.

All right, it's time to vote. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell everyone that we are going to vote to decide who will be the patron saint of history. This is the first time I've used the poll, so I hope it works. There is information on all the candidates in the previous post and its comments thread.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Patron Saint of Historians?

The Venerable Bede, who for some reason is not the patron saint of historians.

I am shocked and dismayed to learn that there is no patron saint for historians. There are patron saints of accountants, old clothes dealers, undertakers, nail makers,
and roller skaters, but none for historians. The site I was using referred me to teachers, writers, archeologists, and translators. Okay, for teachers they list, among others, a couple of favorites: St Catherine of Alexandra, who, though a young women in a patriarchal society, converted many through her logic and erudition, and the wise and capable Pope Gregory the Great. As a teacher, I will take that into account. Historians teach, and they also write. Interesting and few choices for writers: St Francis de Sales, the apostles Paul and John, and St Lucy. St Lucy is wonderful, but I have no idea why she's a patron of writers. I love the Gospel of John and the Revelations of John the Divine, but they are two different people and neither one is the apostle.

There are three patrons of archeology, but none for history! I like that St Helen is one -- as the discoverer of the True Cross (of which I have a sliver) she really was the first Christian archeologist. But, to paraphrase Frank O'Hara, I think I would rather be an archeologist, but I am not. What's left? Translators. I have worked and occasionally still work as a translator. Who is their patron saint? Our old friend Jerome, who was, pace Talmida, a great translator and is also the patron saint of grumpy old men.

So I think we need to do something about this for the sake of historians everywhere. Everywhere there are brave women and men sneezing from archive dust, battling through dense bibliographies, and learning Estonian because the one book they need to read is only available in that language. We need someone to pray to. Bede seems an obvious choice. St Gregory of Tours is an option, despite his cruelly impenetrable and barely coherent Latin. I will be taking nominations and then we will put them up to a vote.