Sunday, 15 October 2017

St Teresa of Ávila



Teresa of Ávila became the reformer of Carmel, mother of the Discalced Carmelite nuns and friars, “spiritual mother” (as is engraved under her statue in the Vatican Basilica), patron of Catholic writers (from 1965) and Doctor of the Church (1970), the first woman with Saint Catherine of Siena to ever receive this last title. She was born at Ávila in Castile, Spain, on 28 March 1515, and died in Alba de Tormes, near Salamanca, on 4 October 1582 (a correction due to the Gregorian reform of the calendar that year, as the following day was officially 15th October). She was beatified in 1614, canonised in 1622, and her feast day occurs on October 15th.

Her life needs to be understood in the light of the plan that God had for her, with the great desires experienced in her heart, with the mysterious illness to which she was subject in her youth (and with the ill health from which she suffered throughout her life), and with the “resistance” to divine grace for which she blamed herself more than she should. Running away from home, she entered the Carmel of the Incarnation in Ávila on 2 November 1535. As a result, partly of the prevailing conditions in the community and partly from her own spiritual difficulties, she had to struggle before arriving at what she called her conversion at the age of thirty-nine. But, benefiting from various spiritual directors, she then began to make great strides towards perfection.

In 1560, the idea first emerged of a new Carmel, where the Rule could be followed more closely, and this was realised two years later when the monastery of St Joseph was founded without any endowments and “following the Primitive Rule”: a phrase that needs to be clearly understood because both then and later it was a notion which was more nostalgic and “heroic” than practical. Five years later, Teresa obtained from the Prior General of the Order, John Baptist Rossi, then visiting Spain, permission to increase the number of monasteries and a licence to found two communities of contemplative Carmelite friars (later to be called Discalced) who would be the spiritual counterparts of the nuns and, as such, able to help them. At the death of Saint Teresa, there were seventeen monasteries of nuns in the Reform, and the communities of friars also quickly outstripped the original number, some founded with permission from the Prior General Rossi but others, especially those in Andalusia, established against his will, relying on the approval of the apostolic visitors, the Dominican Vargas and the young Discalced Carmelite Jerome Gracian (a close spiritual companion of Teresa, for whom she vowed to do whatever he asked her, as long as it was not contrary to God’s law).

There followed a series of unedifying quarrels, made worse by the interference of the civil authorities and other outsiders, until in 1581, the Discalced were formed into a separate Province. Saint Teresa was then able to write: “Now all of us, Discalced and Calced, are at peace and nothing can hinder us from serving the Lord.”

Saint Teresa of Ávila is among the most important figures of all time for Catholic spirituality. Her works – especially the four best known (The Life, The Way of Perfection, The Mansions and The Foundations) – together with her more historical works, contain a doctrine which encompasses the whole of the spiritual life, from the first steps right up to intimacy with God at the centre of the Interior Castle. Her Letters show her occupied with a great variety of everyday problems. Her doctrine on the unity of the soul with God (a doctrine which was intimately lived by her) follows the Carmelite tradition which had preceded her and to which she herself contributed in such a notable way, enriching it as well as passing the tradition on, not only to her spiritual sons and daughters, but also to the whole Church she served so unsparingly. When she was dying, her one joy was to be able to affirm that “I die a daughter of the Church.”


The kernel of Saint Teresa's mystical thought throughout all her writings is the ascent of the soul in four stages (The Autobiography Chapters 10-22):

The first, Devotion of Heart, is mental prayer of devout concentration/contemplation. It is the withdrawal of the soul from without and especially the devout observance of the passion of Christ and penitence (Autobiography 11.20).

The second, Devotion of Peace, is where human will is surrendered to God. This is by virtue of a charismatic, supernatural state given by God, while the other faculties, such as memory, reason, and imagination, are not yet secure from worldly distraction. While a partial distraction is due to outer performances such as repetition of prayers and writing down spiritual things, yet the prevailing state is one of quietude (Autobiography 14.1).

The third, Devotion of Union, is absorption in God. It is not only a supernatural but an essentially ecstatic state. Here there is also an absorption of the reason in God, and only the memory and imagination are left to ramble. This state is characterised by a blissful peace, a sweet slumber of at least the higher soul faculties, or a conscious rapture in the love of God.

The fourth, Devotion of Ecstasy, is where the consciousness of being in the body disappears. Sense activity ceases; memory and imagination are also absorbed in God or intoxicated. Body and spirit are in the throes of a sweet, happy pain, alternating between a fearful fiery glow, a complete impotence and unconsciousness, and a spell of strangulation, sometimes by such an ecstatic flight that the body is literally lifted into space. This after half an hour is followed by a reactionary relaxation of a few hours in a swoon-like weakness, attended by a negation of all the faculties in the union with God. The subject awakens from this in tears; it is the climax of mystical experience, producing a trance. Indeed, she was said to have been observed levitating during Mass on more than one occasion.

Teresa is one of the foremost writers on mental prayer, and her position among writers on mystical theology is unique. In all her writings on this subject she deals with her personal experiences. Her deep insight and analytical gifts helped her to explain them clearly. Her definition was used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Contemplative prayer [oración mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us." She used a metaphor of mystic prayer as watering a garden throughout her writings.

Saint Teresa, who reported visions of Jesus and Mary, was a strong believer in the power of holy water, claiming to have used it with success to repel evil and temptations. She wrote:

"I know by frequent experience that there is nothing which puts the devils to flight like holy water.

"Let nothing disturb you.

"Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices."

— St Teresa, The Bookmark of Teresa of Ávila


Saturday, 1 July 2017

Feast of the Most Precious Blood



When Pope Pius IX went into exile at Gaeta in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1849), he had as his companion Father Giovanni Merlini, third superior general of the Fathers of the Most Precious Blood. After they had arrived at Gaeta, Don Merlini suggested that His Holiness make a vow to extend the feast of the Precious Blood to the entire Church, if he would again recover possession of the Papal States. The Pope took the matter under consideration, but a few days later, on 30 June 1849, the day the French army conquered Rome and the insurgents of the Roman Republic capitulated, he sent his domestic prelate Joseph Stella to Father Merlini with the message: "The pope does not deem it expedient to bind himself by a vow; instead His Holiness is pleased to extend the feast immediately to all Christendom."

On August 10th of the same year, he officially included the feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the General Roman Calendar for celebration on the first Sunday in July, the first Sunday after 30 June, the anniversary of the liberation of the city of Rome from the insurgents.

In reducing the number of feasts fixed for Sundays, Pope Pius X assigned the date of July 1st to this feast. Ecclesia Vetusta Catholica always celebrates this feast day on July 1st despite it being downgraded by the Second Vatican Council.

In 1933, Pope Pius XI raised the feast to the rank of Double of the 1st Class to mark the 1900th anniversary of Our Lord's death.



Sunday, 23 April 2017

Sunday, 16 April 2017

He Is Risen



"He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said." (Matthew 28: 6)

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Palm Sunday



Prior to Palm Sunday, all the crucifixes, statues and paintings of the saints have been covered (veiled) by purple cloth or sewn coverings. Only the Stations of Cross are not covered. The veiling is removed at the Gloria of Holy Saturday Mass. Palm Sunday is the memorial of Christ's "triumphant," but misunderstood, entry into Jerusalem, the day that begins Holy Week. This entry into Jerusalem is seen as the prophetic fulfilment of Zacharias 9: 9-10 :

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem: BEHOLD THY KING will come to thee, the just and saviour: he is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. And I will destroy the chariot out of Ephraim, and the horse out of Jerusalem, and the bow for war shall be broken: and he shall speak peace to the Gentiles, and his power shall be from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the end of the earth."

Before the Mass is the Blessing of the Palms, which includes an Antiphon, Psalms, and Gospel reading. Then comes the Procession with hymns, when we carry the palms either around the church or outside, weather permitting, and then the Mass, during which there is a very long reading sung in three parts by three deacons (or priest and deacons such as the case may be) - a long recitation of the Passion, including Matthew 26: 36-75 and Matthew 27: 1-60.


Friday, 17 March 2017

St Joseph of Arimathea




St Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Jesus, probably ever since Christ's first preaching in Judea (John 2: 23), but he did not declare himself as such "for fear of the Jews" (John 19: 38). On account of this secret allegiance to Jesus, he did not consent to His condemnation by the Sanhedrin (Luke 23: 51), and was most likely absent from the meeting which sentenced Jesus to death (Mark 14: 64). The Crucifixion of the Master quickened Joseph's faith and love, and suggested to him that he should provide for Christ's burial before the Sabbath began. Unmindful therefore of all personal danger, a danger which was indeed considerable under the circumstances, he boldly requested from Pilate the Body of Jesus, and was successful in his request (Mark 15: 43-45). Once in possession of this sacred treasure, he — together with Nicodemus, whom his courage had likewise emboldened, and who brought abundant spices — wrapped up Christ's Body in fine linen and grave bands, laid it in his own tomb, new and yet unused, and hewn out of a rock in a neighbouring garden, and withdrew after rolling a great stone to the opening of the sepulchre (Matthew 27: 59, 60; Mark 15: 46; Luke 23: 53; John 19: 38-42). Thus was fulfilled Isaiah's prediction that the grave of the Messiah would be with a rich man (Isaiah 53: 9). The Greek Church celebrates the feast of St Joseph of Arimathea on July 31st, and the Catholic Church on March 17th. Additional details are found concerning Joseph in the apocryphal Acta Pilati. There is also apocryphal legend telling of Joseph accompanying the Apostle Philip, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene and others on a preaching mission to Gaul. Lazarus and Mary stayed in Marseilles, while the others travelled north. At the English Channel, Philip sent Joseph, with twelve disciples, to establish Christianity in the most far-flung corner of the Roman Empire, the British Isles. The year AD 63 is commonly given for this event, with AD 37 sometimes being put forth as an alternative. Comprehensive coverage of this is found in the book The Grail Church.


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Saturday, 18 February 2017

St Bernadette



On 16 April 1879, Bernadette - or Sister Marie-Bernard, as she was known within her Order - died in the Sainte Croix (Holy Cross) Infirmary of the Convent of Saint-Gildard. She was thirty-five.

Born into a humble family which little by little fell into extreme poverty, Bernadette had always been a frail child. Quite young, she had already suffered from digestive trouble, then after having just escaped being a victim of the cholera epidemic of 1855, she experienced painful attacks of asthma, and her ill health almost caused her to be cut off for ever from the religious life. When asked by Monsignor Forcade to take Bernadette, Louise Ferrand, the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Nevers, replied: "Monsignor, she will be a pillar of the infirmary."

At least three times during her short life-time, she received the last Sacraments. She was gradually struck by other illnesses as well as asthma: among them, tuberculosis of the lung and a tubercular tumour on her rightknee. On Wednesday, 16 April 1879, her pain got much worse. Shortly after eleven she seemed almost to be suffocating and was carried to an armchair, where she sat with her feet on a footstool in front of a blazing fire. She died at about 3:15 in the afternoon.

The civil authorities permitted her body to remain on view to be venerated by the public until Saturday, April 19th. Then it was "placed in a double coffin of lead and oak which was sealed in the presence of witnesses who signed a record of the events." Among the witnesses were "inspector of the peace, Devraine, and constables Saget and Moyen."

The nuns of Saint-Gildard, with the support of the bishop of Nevers, applied to the civil authorities for permission to bury Bernadette's body in a small chapel dedicated to Saint Joseph which was within the confines of the convent. The permission was granted on 25 April 1879, and on April 30th, the local Prefect pronounced his approval of the choice of the site for burial. Immediately they set to work on preparing the vault. On 30 May 1879, Bernadette's coffin was finally transferred to the crypt of the chapel of Saint Joseph. A very simple ceremony was held to commemorate the event.

St Bernadette was born at Lourdes, France. Her parents were extremely poor and she herself was in poor health. One Thursday, 11 February 1858, when she was sent with her younger sister and a friend to gather firewood, a very beautiful Lady appeared to her above a rose bush in a grotto called Massabielle. The beautiful Apparition was dressed in blue and white. She smiled at Bernadette and then made the sign of the cross with a rosary of ivory and gold. Bernadette fell on her knees, took out her own rosary and began to pray the rosary. The beautiful Apparition was God's Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. She appeared to Bernadette seventeen other times and spoke with her. She told Bernadette that she should pray sinners, do penance and have a chapel built there in her honour. Many people did not believe Bernadette when she spoke of her vision. She had to suffer much. But one day Our Lady told Bernadette to dig in the mud. As she did, a spring of water began to flow. The next day it continued to grow larger and larger. Many miracles happened when people began to use this water. When Bernadette was older, she became a nun. She was always very humble. More than anything else, she desired not to be praised. Once a nun asked her if she had temptations of pride because she was favoured by the Blessed Mother. "How can I?" she answered humbly and quickly. "The Blessed Virgin chose me only because I was the most ignorant."

Her feast day was initially fixed for February 18th — the day her Lady promised to make her happy, not in this life, but in the next. The modern church celebrates her feast on the day of her death, April 16th.



Saturday, 7 January 2017

St Bernadette



Saint Bernadette was born in Lourdes, France, on 7 January 1844.



Friday, 6 January 2017

Epiphany



O God
Who by a star
guided the wise men to the worship of your Son
we pray you to lead to yourself
the wise and great of every land
that unto you every knee may bow,
and every thought be brought into captivity
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Thursday, 5 January 2017