Lumen Christi

I

Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.
O King of Israel:
Hosanna in the Highest! (Antiphon, Palm Sunday, cf. Mt 21:9;).

Hypocrites, well hath Isaias prophesied of you, saying:  This people honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me (Mt 15:7).

The sacred liturgy offers us an opportunity, in this most holy of weeks, to enter into the history of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection.  Our presence at the Sacred Triduum is a proclamation of our faith in that the Christ of History and the Christ of Faith are one and the same.  Some scripture scholars have the tendency to demythologize the gospel accounts, and, inversely, some commentators on the liturgy have the tendency to mythologize the Easter liturgy.  In fact, the gospels are historical and the liturgy brings us into contact with that sacred and sacramental history.

Christopher West, as I have mentioned many times before, has tended to sexualize the liturgy.  Most recently, he reposted his Easter commentary on St. Augustine’s reference to the Cross as a marriage bed.  Of course, the patristic analogy is fine.  It is the agenda with which I have a problem.   Inevitably liturgical eroticism connects Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with Hieros Gamos, which is Jungian and best and Wiccan at worst.  It is where myth meets alchemy and shamanism.

Gnostics, liturgical wreckers and liturgical reformers alike have treated the liturgy like magic: “Just do it like this and everything will get better.”  “Change it” or “Don’t you dare change it,” has only served to confirm, however wrongly, what our enemies have said all along, that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is hocus pocus.

Our liturgy is not a gnostic play, an allegorical wedding that symbolizes human life on a psychological, or on some universally valid “spiritual” or “mystical” level.  Our mysticism, our mystagogy is based on real history, otherwise we are of all men most miserable. (1 Cor 15:19).

The Sacraments are neither magic nor mythology.  Alchemy is a lousy metaphor for Christian transformation, but it is a good metaphor the reduction of spirituality to human manipulation. A “chymical wedding” is paradise calculated, prognosticated and resolved upon, and left unrealized.

Some of the liturgical magicians look to the Easter liturgy for an occult answer to even the misery of impurity. Liturgical eroticism is not the answer because sensuality and the imagination gives too free access to demonic.  The Angelic Doctor made distinctions.  The Demonic Doctor makes an infinite amount of distinctions.  His eros is never the impure kind:  “The lumen Christi takes care of that.  Just think sublimely, mystically.  Spiritual marriage is never impure.”  In fact, the Sacraments lead to bliss only by a harder road: the one Jesus took.

But Catholics should not be Roman Missal thumpers either, who think humanity’s problems will be solved simply by the black and red of missal older than 1962.  The Sacred Liturgy is not a wand to be waved over the post-conciliar Church, but a mystery to be assimilated.  The Tree of Life has not been transplanted from paradise.  The old tree points to the new, and the new is a bridal bed of pain.  Why should the liturgy not be painful?  We can be like teenagers who don’t like going to Mass because we don’t get anything out of it.

The Sacred Liturgy is not an academic exercise any more than it is mythological drama.  The unity of the Church depends in a very great part upon the liturgy, and the average Catholic has a real life to live.  He is not a monk.  He is not a scholar, liturgist or controversialist.  He just wants to go to Mass.  He has no agenda, and He probably is not visionary in his outlook.  He is just trying to make it through the week.  He needs to identify with Christ, not with the brocade on a dalmatic.

True mysticism passes by way of real, practical and concrete ascetism that bears down upon the will.   The saint is not an austere superman, but one who has broken his stubborn and incalcitrant will.  There is a big difference.  Liturgical precision and reverence should be a given.  Respect for tradition and an understanding that neither antiquarianism nor novelty are valid principles in liturgical reform must be presumed.  But the fastidious and academic preoccupation, the pained observations of everything than does not conform with the ideal resolved upon, is a sign of a will that is very much like that of the liturgical innovator.  Lest this assessment itself becomes excessively academic, I should just summarize by saying our hope should be that the liturgy break the selfish will.

Holy Week is the Way of the Cross and it is a hard road.  It resists euphemisms and cannot tolerate self-serving stupidity and effeminate mystagogery.  Our passion play is reality.  “Hosanna in the highest!” and “Crucify him!” come out of the same mouths.  It is supreme irony that we solemnize our fickleness, the fact that our piety so often misses the point.  It is a harsh reality we need to face:

I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me. The Lord God is my helper, therefore am I not confounded: therefore have I set my face as a most hard rock, and I know that I shall not be confounded (Isaias 50:6-7).

Our Lord was like a Lamb, silent before His sheerer (53:7).  Our face is set like flint when our mouths are closed and our hearts are open.  Christ is our High Priest and Victim, not a magician.  The grace is there for us even in the demystified, lowly Novus Ordo.  We should stop deflecting our attention from the real problem by indulging a magical way of thinking and set our face like flint against our selfish will.

II

A new commandment I give to unto you:
That you love one another,
As I have loved you,
Saith the Lord. (Antiphon, Holy Thursday, Mass of the Last Supper, cf. Jn 13:34).

Where charity and love are, there is God (Antiphon, Ibid.).

The small band of apostles in the upper room was not a narrow sect united by an ideology or by a personality.  Our Lord was neither.  The Word of Truth that lived and breathed was the Incarnate Son of God.

He comes among us a one who serves:  and He serves lepers.  He bends down and washes our filthy feet.  He kisses our sores.

He did it more truly in His passion in the Garden and on the Cross, but during the Last Supper He did it ceremonially as an example to His priests, and by way of them to the rest of us.

The ceremony is symbolic.  There are much worse things than dirty feet.  There is not one among us that is not a moral leper.  If we think otherwise we will not leave the Sacred Triduum justified (cf. Lk 18:14).

We do not need to wait for others to get it.  Those who go to the Novus Ordo Mass should not be presumed to be ignorant and backwards.  This is such a huge presumption that reveals a profound ignorance of the reality of human perfection and defect.  It is a calculation that is facile, narrow and conveniently isolated in spiritual fantasy.  We have not gotten it yet if we are convinced the real problem is someone or something else.

We too easily write off those we do not understand, or who, in one way or another, do not measure up to our ideal, and yet this is one of the faults Our Lord most often corrected.  He at with sinners and gave the Pharisees a hard time.   There are silent sufferers who have been making daily communions since before the Second Vatican Council, and they are presumed to be backwards by the liturgical know-it-alls because they don’t understand and do not want a Latin Mass?  One can be too pastoral it is true.  But one can also be too academic.

Truth is objective.  The Sacred Triduum and the liturgy in general enshrine real history—objective revelation and dogma.  We need to fight for the truth, to be sure.  Many are rightly wearied of the fatherless Church.  The problem is that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is also the Lamb that was slain.  The objective truth is that our militancy must be Christ-like, even if the Church is a mess.

The ideal of the Christian Knight is the One seated on the White Horse, who is called Faithful and True, whose eyes are flames of fire, who wields a double-edged sword from his mouth and rules the nations with an iron rod (Apoc 19:11-15).  Historical chivalry is a poor substitute for the paradox that is the redemptive Incarnation.  The ideal was one thing, the reality another.  Literary chivalry was never entirely Christian.  It was laced with the same erotic Gnosticism that is repackaged today under the title of Theology of the Body (not a criticism of the soon to be Blessed Pope John Paul II, but rather of some of his self-proclaimed disciples).  Military chivalry had the function, and still does, of making a bad situation less bad.  The military vocation is a fine and noble calling, but try making a profession out of killing people, and then see how many of those who wield the sword remain knights in shining armor.  This is not to denigrate the honorable service of our heroes, only to note that military honor is not an easy matter, especially when the ideal is Christ Himself.

This is why in the end, St. Francis, who had sought after nobility with such avidity, rejected status and power.  He got off his horse and gave away his armor to a poor knight.  And then he got off his horse again to kiss a leper.  Christ the Knight is Christ the Leper: Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted (Isaias 53:4).

How many of us have experienced the paradox of a real Christ in our life, who loves in truth and speaks the truth in love?  There is no magic wand for bringing all souls into the embrace of Holy Mother Church.  The only problem with the Church is its members.  And so, we lepers must remember that He says to us:  as I have done to you, so you do also (Jn 13:15).  There is no missal or grimoire that will make that happen.  Sacramental life is a far more ascetical reality.

III

Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Savior of the world (Good Friday, Adoration of the Cross).

O my people, what have I done to thee? Or wherein have I afflicted thee? Answer me. (Reproaches, Ibid.).

Public Scandal is a horrible thing.  A sacrilegious communion piled on top has the makings of hell on earth. Advocacy for child murder and the re-crucifixion of Jesus in a sacrilegious communion is the “matter and form” of a potent curse.  It has been pronounced over our country countless times.  Piled onto to this is the even worse scandal and plague of the abuse of children by priests.  St Christina the Astonishing is reported to have attended Holy Mass many times a day, and upon perceiving a priest in the state of sin approaching the altar, would levitate from the choir loft to the sanctuary and beat him back into the sacristy.

Good Friday is both a curse and a blessing.  The Pharisees made a religious procession of their denial of Christ and consummated it with human sacrifice—indeed with deicide.   It was a pagan execution orchestrated by Satan and given religious significance by the guardians of the law.  He was made a curse for us (for it is written: cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree) that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Christ Jesus: that we may receive the promise of the Spirit by faith (Gal 3:13-14).

How many of those who reviled the Lord on Good Friday had made themselves Satan’s puppets, his acolytes in the unholy rites of hell.  But the foundations of the netherworld itself were rent asunder by the inversion of sin, crafted by our Savior.  The curse became a blessing.  The sign of death became the sacrament of life—the exorcism of the world, the regeneration of souls.

In Graham Greene’s novel The Heart of the Matter, the main character, Scobie, slowly but surely spirals into moral depravity, all the while experiencing remorse without true repentance.  He eventually finds himself approaching the altar rail for Holy Communion in the state of sin because he is not prepared to deal with the deception in which he finds himself.  Not having the heart to look up he sees only the skirt of the priest’s cassock “like the skirt of the medieval warhorse bearing down upon him: the flapping of feet: the charge of God. If only the archers would let fly from ambush . . .”  But God does not intervene and Scobie receives the Eucharist sacrilegiously.  He prays that his damnation will, through his offering, be the salvation of others.

In the light of this power, the great and small, the sinner and saint process down the aisle to eat and drink unto life or condemnation.  We put our trust in the power, but we also sometimes presume on it, as though Christ will turn our indifferent Communions into grace.  It is absurd to offer up our damnation.  How awful it is that we can be so eager to deceive ourselves.

Our Lord at the altar does not discriminate.  He remains silent under the form of bread and wine.  We bring upon ourselves a blessing or a curse.  He is the “hound of heaven” or the “warhorse bearing down.”

Public sacrilege is a curse upon the Church for which those responsible, and those responsible for allowing it to continue, will render an account.  Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh (Mt 18:7).

But the dirty little secret is that the Church does not need pro-abortion politicians or pedophile priests to profane the house of God.  The Lord has long suffered betrayal from his friends.  St. Margaret Mary asked him why thorns surrounded His Sacred Heart.  He replied: “My enemies put a crown of thorns around My head, and my friends have put a crown of thorns around My Heart.”

Reparation for sins committed against the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus is particularly necessary for the outrage of sacrilegious Communions.  On Good Friday the liturgical order is reduced to a state of desolation:  a bare altar, and empty tabernacle, adoration of the Cross, communion without a consecration.  We are desolate without Jesus.

The priest prostrates and begs forgiveness for his sins and those of the people.  We own Good Friday.  We own the desolation.  It is what our sins deserve.

“For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”  We cry for mercy.  The Precious Blood pleads on our behalf.

It is never a public scandal to refrain from Holy Communion.  What is a scandal is cueing up for Holy Communion and neglecting the Sacrament of Penance.  The door of mercy is always open.  The Good Shepherd welcomes back the lost sheep.

The state of a person’s soul is between him or her and God.  If someone refrains from receiving Holy Communion, cast your eyes down and keep your mouth shut—even if it is your own child.  You don’t know what is going on and you don’t need to know.  Let the Holy Spirit do his job and never allow yourself to facilitate a sacrilegious communion.

IV

Christ yesterday and today,
The Beginning and the End,

The Alpha and Omega,

All times are His,
And all the ages.
To Him be glory and dominion,
Through all ages of eternity.
Amen (Easter Vigil, Blessing of the Paschal Candle).

May the Virtue of the Holy Ghost descend into all the water of this font,
And make the whole substance of this water fruitful for regeneration (Easter Vigil, Blessing of Baptismal Water).

The incorruptible flesh of Christ cannot be bound by death.  The Virgin born escapes the tomb without breaking the seal.  The Fathers of the Church speak of the incorruptible Virginity of Mary as unprecedented miracle of Divinity of Christ.  The incorruption of the Resurrection is the unprecedented miracle of the Redemption:  Incorruption is not the expected outcome of Good Friday, and it is for this reason that we experience a kind of bliss at Easter.

Some object to referring to the “incorruption” of virginity as though it implied that marriage and motherhood were something dirty.  But that is to miss the point entirely.  A woman is not corrupted by marriage, but her virginity is.  And the virginal state is a value unto itself, both before marriage and especially when it is consecrated to God for life.   Its joy is the inverse of what the world expects, or what the human mind may calculate.

Both motherhood and virginity are values, different and mutually exclusive values.  Only in one case were both values realized, namely, in the person of the Blessed Virgin, but this includes the Church as well.  Mary as archetype of the Church, and the Church, of which Mary is the preeminent member, are both Virgin and Mother.  Neither Mary, nor the Church is impregnated.  They conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is a miraculous power that shakes the foundations of the earth and changes history forever.

The Virgin Born who is also the First Born of the Dead breaks the incomprehensible blackness of sin, pride and calculation, “bravely burning
to dispel the darkness of this night” (Easter Praeconium).  Carried aloft, His truth brings about a conformation of our lives to His death, so that His life might overcome our death.  This is power is beyond the will or manipulation of man.  It is the cause of our joy.

Baptism is a virginal mystery, precisely because it belongs to the order of the Incarnation and Resurrection, precisely because, like the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, it accomplishes a miracle of the first order.  It makes a child of wrath a child of God.  There can be nothing more fundamental to the origin of our relationship to God than our divine filiation.  Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration.  The fundamental metaphor is rebirth, not marriage, because this birth is not a function of marriage but of virginity.

Drawing a comparison between the Easter Vigil and pagan fertility rites is to prefer magic to sacrament.  They are not the same.  The unfortunate association of paganism with this Feast by means of “Pascha” having been englished “Easter,” only underscores the struggle between light and darkness, just as the Feast of All Saints becomes associated with the Druidic witchcraft and struggles, so to speak, to maintain its identity.

Magic is based on the presumed relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm, between the larger world of cosmos and spirit and the little world of man.  Sacred Marriage in the pagan tradition is power because by it man wills to align the psychic energy of ecstasy with the world spirits to produce some effect in the world or the soul.

Sex is not a sacrament, even if a non-consummated marriage can be, in certain cases, dissolved.  It does not produce a sacramental effect.   Sacraments are not based on an alignment of our psychic experience with God, but on the alignment of matter and form with intent to do with the Church intends in celebrating the sacraments.  It is the will of God and His power, His infinite power that effects sacramental grace.  It is a covenant, not a biological process or a psychic experience that accomplishes the sacramental transformation, because in Christ we are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn 1:13).  The efficacy of the sacraments would not be expected except that God has willed it so.

Christian marriage is not natural marriage.  Grace builds on nature, but it also transcends it.  There is no return to the Garden.  Grace is supernature, not preternature.  There is and will be no earthly paradise during our time of trial.  Chastity is supernatural, an unexpected turn from the natural course of a fallen world.

During the Wedding Feast of the Lamb we find the Bridegroom on His White Horse, with fiery eyes and the sword of His word.   The matrimonial ritual is a resistance to opposition, the casting down of the beast and the false prophet and the slaying of the enemies by the sword of him that sitteth upon the horse, which proceedeth out of his mouth (Apoc 19: 7-9, 11-15, 19-21).  It is not exactly parallel to earthly experiences.  Our experience points up and its meaning is informed by the mysteries we celebrate.  But natural ecstatic experience elevated by knowledge, what Renaissance philosophers called “natural magic,” is not an experience of grace.

The power of Easter is entirely unexpected, not the function of a predetermined process.  It is a turn of the tide, a “eucatastrophe,” as Tolkien has written:

it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief (On Fairy Stories).

The joy of Easter is tied precisely to its character of being unexpected.  No one expects a virgin to become a mother.  No one expects a crucified man to rise from the dead.  No one expects one who deserves hell to be reborn into innocence.  No one expects the fallen to be chaste.

The signs of the Knight of the White Horse and the Woman in Travail and Clothed with the Sun are the signs of the “high tide and the turn.”  The passion of the Church is a night “thrice over us,” and sometimes the thunderclouds of vicissitude are like an “iron cope,” that shuts out the light of heaven.  But Christ is yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and Omega. 

He is the Light of the World, in a world that needs an illumination.  At the Vigil the new fire and the light of the Paschal Candle will cause a visual illumination that corresponds to an enlightened regard for the meaning of Our Lord’s suffering and death.

We must choose death to see God.  St. Bonaventure says:  “My soul chooseth hanging, and my bones, death.  He who loves this death can see God, for it is absolutely true that Man shall not see me and live.”  We must pass through the Passion of the Church.  We rightly say in liturgical language:  “Say the black.  Do the red.”  But Catholic life cannot be reduced to rubricism or magic formulas.  We must wait in patience for the “high tide and the turn,” the “wind of the ships and lightning of Lepanto.”

Lumen Christi.  Deo Gratias.

The Spirit of Mary Victrix

The Spirit of Lepanto is greater than the history in which it is rooted. The recounting of the historic of battle that took place on October 7, 1571 lends itself to the genre epic literature.  The events of that day call for a bard like Chesterton to cast words into the cadence of drum and cannon:

Don John’s hunting, and his hounds have bayed—
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid.
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.

And I still get chills, when for the thousandth time I read the words:

. . . O Lady of Last Assurance,
Light in the laurels, sunrise of the dead,
Wind of the ships and lightning of Lepanto
In honour of Thee, to whom all honor is fled.

I pray that what gives me chills is the true Spirit of Lepanto, and that it does much more than give me chills.

I have always secretly lamented the fact that the Feast of Our Lady of Victory was changed to the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and that the language of even the traditional collect for the present feast is void of the bellicose.  We are all familiar with the prayer.  We use it every time we pray the Holy Rosary.

I have much preferred the collect for the Mass Contra paganos (against the heathens), euphemistically englished in the hand missal “Mass for the Defense of the Church”:

Almighty, everlasting God, in whose hand are the strength and man and the nation’s scepter, see what help we Christians need: that the heathen peoples who trust in their savagery may be crushed by the power of Thy right hand.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ. . .

I really don’t question the wisdom of Holy Mother Church in this regard, but I do think that in this feast we have an opportunity to consider with a contemplative mind the Spirit of Lepanto or what Professor Roberto de Mattei calls a “category of the spirit”:

As heirs of Lepanto, we should recall the message of Christian fortitude which that name, that battle, that victory have handed down to us:  Christian fortitude, which is the disposition to sacrifice the good things of this earth for the sake of higher goods—justice, truth, the glory of the Church, and the future of our civilization.  Lepanto is, in this sense a perennial category of the spirit.

It seems to me that this category of the spirit is transhistorical.  It is the recapitulation of the protoevangelium:

I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.

It is all right there.  That is why Genesis 3:15 is called the first gospel (protoevangelium).  Everything that comes after is all fulfillment, partially at first by way of types (Judith, Esther and the Ark, for example), and then in the fullness of time the Woman and Her Seed bring all things to fulfillment, waging war against the Dragon on the top of the world in the greatest eucatastrophe of all time.

St. John’s vision on Patmos of the Woman gloriously arrayed with the lights of heaven, but militantly in travail, projects into the past, present and future the tribulations of the People of God.  The birth pangs are not of Bethlehem, but of Calvary.  It was only at the foot of the Cross that the Virgin suffered in the throws of delivery.  But surely there is an intimation of Bethlehem in this reference to birth, just as there must be an allusion to the flight into Egypt in the words And the woman fled into the wilderness (v. 6), though the primary reference is the cosmic battle with Satan and the rest of the fallen host.

But St. John was also speaking to the churches of his own time that were suffering persecution and were plagued by heresy.  In the breathless voice of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle proclaims: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.

But it is more than that.  The Woman is the promised Victrix, Mary the New Eve, dolorous and glorious, in Her earthly adventure and in Her heavenly reward.  She also represents the churches, the direct recipients of St. John’s revelation, addressed directly in his cover letters to the seven churches.  But She is also the Church Militant of every age that suffers persecution and is plagued by heresy.  Further still, the macrocosm of the Church Militant is reflected in the microcosm of each and every soul, where the Woman and the Dragon contest each other’s dominion.

Lepanto is a parable, a recapitulation of the protoevangelium, just as are the history of Judith and Mary and the churches which St. John addressed.  But so are the chronicle of the Battle of Viena, and the Epics of Tepeyac and Rue du Bac, and more poignantly for our own day, the prophetic history and parable of the Acts of Our Lady of Fatima.  These are the macro-eucatastrophes of the ages, which spell out in the sky, in the medium of light and miracle, the even more fundamental reality of the micro-eucatastrophes (hopefully) going on within our moral and spiritual lives.

The hateful spirits of, pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth claw at the doors of our hearts, or worse, live within them.   We are kingdoms under siege or kingdoms fallen.  We make so much of the macro and so little of the micro and for that we are recipients of the terrible apocalyptic reprimand:

But I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first charity. Be mindful therefore from whence thou art fallen: and do penance and do the first works. Or else I come to thee and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou do penance (v. 4-5).

Perhaps I am all washed up for my secret regret.  Perhaps the Church knows better than I.  Of course she does!  The collect for today’s feast and for every Rosary asks for the grace to transform the vision of truth seen through the eyes of the Victrix into Her very life within us:  that meditating we might imitate.  That is the fundamental art of war upon which all strategies and tactics depend.  Perhaps the bellicose language has been pealed away from the orations because we tend win a few of the battles we do see, while loosing the war we do not see.  The Third Part of the Secret of Fatima is bellicose and macro enough, but it all hinges on individuals, and therefore on praying and living the Rosary more than anything else.

Both St. Pius V and Don Juan prayed the Rosary.  Together they were victorious, inside and out.  Men of Prayer and Action, yes, but in all in its proper order.  The Third Part of the Secret at Fatima refers to realities both micro and macro and in that order.

The Spirit of Lepanto is the Spirit of Mary Victrix.  It (She) is a living ideal that communicates itself (Herself) from Heart to heart.  It is vital and preeminently dangerous, boundless and indomitable.  It is also the Spirit of the White Horse, upon which rides the KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS, whose head is crowned, whose eyes are fire and out of whose mouth comes a sharp two-edged sword.  The Woman of chapter 12 is the Lady, who girds of the Knight in chapter 19 of St. John’s revelation.  And together they constitute a power, beyond which cannot be conceived.

The great prophetic grace of our age is the message of the modern Marian apparitions, which, as already said, are recapitulations of the protoevangelium, but with this twist:  we live in the most apocalyptic age and the urgency of the prophetic plea for devotion to Her Immaculate Heart is the voice of the Spirit speaking to the churches right now!  St. Louis de Montfort says of the Marian Apostles of the Latter Days that

[t]hey will be ministers of the Lord who, like a flaming fire, will enkindle everywhere the fires of divine love. They will become, in Mary’s powerful hands, like sharp arrows, with which she will transfix her enemies (56).

The enemies of Mary are, in a sense, transfixed with the same sword that has pierced Her heart.  Her apostles know the point of that sword all too well, with memories both bitter and sweet.  It is swordplay that is well-landed upon both friend and foe.

Fatima is a modern-day apocalypse.  No wonder there in October the Woman revealed herself to be Our Lady of the Rosary and was clothed with the whirling sun.  It’s spirit is the Lepanto of our age, that transhistorical category of the spirit that is both the first promise to mankind and the patrimony of this last age.  However we name this Spirit, it is bigger than the histories in which it enshrined and deeper than the hearts in which it works itself out.

We can continue to bang out solutions of our own contriving that satisfy our egos, like clever soundbites and slogans, and rely on rhetoric and imprudent zeal, or we can look into the skies, indeed, into the Temple of God and make all things according to the pattern shown us on the mount (cf. Hebrews 8:5).  If we do not see this vision and strive to embody it in our own lives, we have not understood, or have refused to understand the parable of Lepanto and the spirit of this feastday.

If you have not made the consecration to the Blessed Virgin, I pray you do, and soon.  Don’t only pray the Rosary, live the Rosary.

Oremus pro invicem, and sing

I cast myself before Thee, Thy bondsman and Thy fool;
Thy patronage is freedom, Thy slavery my school.
I offer Thee my sword hilt and wait for Thy command
To serve among Thy servants who pledge to take a stand.
That I might die in battle, a victim of Thy love:
My wish, my prayer, my promise, thus written in my blood.

I saw the bark of Peter ride dark into the sun,
But darker still the marking of crescent, hoard and gun.
Her sails lay flat and mellow, Her men had pledged their troth,
Left hand on beaded psalter, the right to keep their oath.
The haughty fiend had counted on fear to win the day,
But Thine own breath has countered to turn the wind their way.

My Queen, to Thee be honor and praise through all Thy knights
Who toiled and bled and parted Thy martyrs robed in white.
All courtesy and prowess, all strength and gentleness,
Thy heart a pyx of virtue, Thy face all loveliness.
Then at the hour of judgment my colors Thou may see,
Thy Son upon His white steed, Thou pray to come for me.

Happy Feast of Mary Victrix.

The Anthem of Lepanto

The stanzas below I wrote to be sung to the tune Thaxted by Gustav Holst, adapted from a section of Jupiter from his suite The Planets as a setting for the patriotic poem by Cecil Spring-Rice, I vow to Thee my Country.  This exquisitely beautiful and sad melody has a special significance for me, since it was by providence used by Fra Didacus for the memorial video about our deceased knights, Thom and Marc Girard.  At that time it was pointed out to me what the original lyrics where and how appropriate a choice the tune was.

Eternal rest grant to Thom and Marc, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

For your consideration:

I cast myself before Thee, Thy bondsman and Thy fool;
Thy patronage is freedom, Thy slavery my school.
I offer Thee my sword hilt and wait for Thy command
To serve among Thy servants who pledge to take a stand.
That I might die in battle, a victim of Thy love:
My wish, my prayer, my promise, thus written in my blood.

I saw the bark of Peter ride dark into the sun,
But darker still the marking of crescent, hoard and gun.
Her sails lay flat and mellow, Her men had pledged their troth,
Left hand on beaded psalter, the right to keep their oath.
The haughty fiend had counted on fear to win the day,
But Thine own breath has countered to turn the wind their way.

My Queen, to Thee be honor and praise through all Thy knights
Who toiled and bled and parted Thy martyrs robed in white.
All courtesy and prowess, all strength and gentleness,
Thy heart a pyx of virtue, Thy face all loveliness.
Then at the hour of judgment my colors Thou may see,
Thy Son upon His white steed, Thou pray to come for me.

Immaculate Warrior Queen

She shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for Her heel (Gen 3:15b).

This primordial prophecy of sacred scripture is a word picture that has served over the ages to instill in the hearts of the faithful confidence in the power of the Immaculate Conception.  The image of the Woman of Genesis 3:15 with Her foot on the head of the serpent is a source of confidence of countless souls who wear the Miraculous Medal (the Medal of the Immaculate Conception).  St. Maximilian called the Medal his Silver Bullet.  Indeed it is a visual exorcism over the enemies of faith and charity, because of its reference to Genesis 3:15.

Blessed Pope Pius IX utilized this verse, evincing such a militant and confident spirit, as the principle scriptural text in the bull of definition for the Immaculate Conception, Ineffabilis Deus.

The verse in its entirety reads: (a) I will put enmities between thee and the Woman, and thy seed and Her seed; (b) She shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for Her heel. Pius IX, in accord with the received tradition, teaches that enmity exists between the Woman and the serpent only because She is never under His power through sin.  The enmity indicates, not only the fact that there is this unbridgeable gulf between the Woman and the serpent, but also that the two are engaged in an unending conflict.  In this She is associated with Her Seed, namely, Christ.  In fact this association is emphasized in the verse in the way that parts (a) and (b) complete each other.  The first part sets up a parallel that is recapitulated in the second.

In part (a) The Woman and the serpent are set in opposition and then likewise Her Seed and the serpent’s seed.  In part (b) the Woman completes the relation of opposition by destroying the serpent.

Much has been written concerning the second part of the verse, as to whether it should read He (Christ) shall crush thy head heel or She (Mary) shall crush thy head.  (Here is a good argument in favor of the Marian interpretation of 3:15b).  Regardless of what conclusions one might come to with respect to the most accurate translation, several things should be noted: first of all, the woman is definitely associated with the Seed in a mutual hatred for the serpent, so much so that promised Redeemer is identified as none other than the Seed of the Woman; secondly, that the logic of part (a) calls for the completion of part (b), so that whether the Woman is mentioned explicitly or not Her collaboration in the crushing of the serpent’s head is at least implied.

For this reason, and because of the Church’s use of the Marian translation of part (b) within the liturgy, we need to be convinced that the image of the Immaculate Conception standing on the serpent’s head tells us something profoundly important.  Whether it is the bas-relief of Our Lady on the Medal of the Immaculate Conception (Miraculous Medal) or one of the many painted versions of the Immaculate Conception, like the one of Rubens at the head of this post, one of the identifying features of Our Lady portrayed under this particular title is the representation of Her immaculate foot over the proud and defeated head of Satan.

What this tells us is that Our Lady’s immaculate purity of heart is powerful and victorious.  Not only is it beautiful and all-holy, it a sword in the hand of God.

This interpretation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is confirmed and strengthened with the support of the Church’s understanding of Apocalypse 12, another militant passage in which the Woman is pitted against the serpent (this time in the form of a red dragon).  In this passage Our Lady is clothed with sun, stands on the moon and is crowned with twelve stars.  In some images of the Immaculate Conception of the Imagery of Genesis 3 and Apocalypse 12 are combined, both strengthening the symbolism and using the one passage to interpret the other (as Ruben’s renders it above).  This imagery of Apocalypse 12 indicates both a state of militancy and triumph.  Our Lady is both suffering here on earth and glorified in heaven.  This is because She is the personification of the Church, which is both militant and triumphant.  Those of us who still suffer already share in the victory of those who have passed through the veil.  This is particularly true in the way in which we participate in the victory of the Woman.

Jesus Christ, our victorious King, has chosen to associate His Mother in His Redeeming work in an absolutely unique way.  He created Her immaculate so that She might be the worthy Tabernacle of His presence, and also so that She by worthy to stand by Him at the foot of the Cross and suffer with Him in a way that was meritorious for salvation of all.  Our Lord made Her so perfect that Our Lady She possesses a holiness greater than which cannot be conceived.  He is so perfect a Redeemer that the most perfect fruit of His perfect redemption is associated with Him in His redeeming action.

For this reason, Satan fears Our Lady.  His hatred for Her is bitter but futile, for, as Apocalypse 12 shows us, he is unable to touch either Her or Her child.  Our Lady is His humiliation.  The Fathers of the Church, interpreting Apocalypse 12 teach that fall of Satan and the bad angels was due to a rejection of the mystery of the Incarnation, especially insofar as it pertains to Our Lady’s Queenship over all the angels.  (For a great explanation of this as it relates to the Immaculate Conception, see The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God:  An Exposition, by Bishop Ullathorne, c. viii, pp.  65-76.)

The last verse of Apocalypse 12 is a synopsis of the whole of sacred history as the ongoing hatred of Satan for the Woman:

And the dragon was angry against the Woman: and went to make war with the rest of Her seed, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (17).

Satan is always standing on the frontier of each human life, seething with hatred for Jesus and Mary and perceiving their image and likeness in us and projecting his hatred for them onto us.  He longs to destroy us, but his designs will be frustrated if we are truly the rest of Her seed.

St. Maximilian always counseled his friars and the members of the Militia Immaculatae to make the novena leading up to the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception a time to examine one’s conscience in respect to the degree of surrender they had made to the Immaculate.  The day of the solemnity was to be the most precious time of grace in which one was to renew their consecration and resolve to live it more faithfully.  War is never easy.  We should not expect the spiritual life to be anything but constant struggle.  Our blessings and consolations will come not in spite of struggle but as a fruit of it.

The spiritual life is a battle.  Our Lady is the Immaculate Warrior Queen is the Victrix of Lepanto and of every conflict that threatens the salvation of souls.   May we always have confidence in the She who is tota pulchra, all beautiful.  Let our confidence be our consolation.

Happy Feast of Mary Victrix

Lepanto New

The Feast of the Holy Rosary is a feast of prayer and recourse to the Blessed Mother. It is also a feast of the action of brave men who were men of prayer. That is why it is also the Feast of Our Lady of Victory.  On this day we pray for the Spirit of Lepanto.

In the current postcommunion oration for the Mass we find the closest thing in the current formulary to reference to Our Lady of Victory:

May we be helped we beseech Thee, O Lord, by the prayers of Thy most holy Mother, whose Rosary we celebrate; that we may draw strength from the Mysteries which we commemorate, and likewise obtain the fruit of the Sacraments which we have received: Who livest and reignest with the God Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.  Amen.

We are to draw strength from the paschal mystery, the mystery of the sacrificial love of Christ for all men.  The mysteries of which the oration speaks are the death and resurrection of the Lord.  But the feast integrates into these mysteries the mystery of Our Lady’s victorious mediation, and the “strength” which we draw from our participation in the Mysteries of Christ through Her mediation.

On this occasion I have returned to vlogging my series Standing Fast which you will be able find each week in the side bar on the right.  (It should be up momentarily.) Well I guess the widget won’t fly yet, so here is the video:

Here is the link to The Soul of the Apostolate that I mention in the video. And a Google Books version here.

You will also be able to find it on AirMaria as a regular post in a larger format.  I have delayed my post today due to the learning curve with some new video software.  My apologies for not posting sooner on Our Lady’s feast day.

The above painting was created by Tony Stafki and is available in various kinds of prints.  Tony sent my some information about the painting:

  • The battle formation of the ships just before the main clash.
  • The Catholic ships form a cross and the Muslim ships form a cresent.
  • The standard of the Holy Cross which was blessed by Pope Pius V can be seen on Don Juan of Austria’s ship which is leading the charge
  • Papal ships (St. Peter’s keys)
  • The miracle of the wind: just before the armies met the wind completely switched in favor of the Catholic ships.
  • Devils can be seen amongst the Muslim ships (they were summoned from hell by the Muslim leader).  The devils have peacock feathers as swords, a manifestation of their pride.
  • Our Lady of Victory with a sword in one hand ready to crush the devils and the other hand outstretched to the Muslim souls.
  • St. Michael leading the Angels
  • There are small white lights by the oars on the Muslim ships representing the souls of the Catholic prisoners.

The image of Our Lady with the sword reminds me of this:

The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.

One instant in a still light
He saw Our Lady then,
Her dress was soft as western sky,
And she was a queen most womanly—
But she was a queen of men.

Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand,
Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart—
But one was in her hand.

I have always been a little put off that the image of Our Lady of Victory does not have a sword:

OLVictoryPrint

Nor images of our Lady at Lepanto, such as this:

Maria-Rosa-Lepanto

Hats off to Tony.

First Knights

I here re-post my entry for July 2, 2008 on this the first anniversary of Thom Girard’s passing.  The accident occurred on June 30, but Marc survived into very early in the morning of July 1.  May our good knights rest in peace. I offered Mass for the repose of their souls this morning.

And when the last arrow
Was fitted and was flown,
When the broken shield hung on the breast,
And the hopeless lance was laid in rest,
And the hopeless horn blown,

The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.

*******

Thom was one of our finest knights and a first rate example of all I wanted the knights to be: courageous, committed, kind, genuine and loyal.  Mark was his father’s son.

Thom has been the Grand Master of all our encampments, both last year and this year.  He had many years experience as a scout master, but more than that he had really imbibed the Spirit of Lepanto and understood how to communicate it to others.  He really was what I wanted all the knights to be.

Marc was inducted into the Knights at the spring encampment this year, after having been among the squires since we began the Knights several years ago.  When Thom became distressed as he was swimming with his daughter Hanna, Marc, who was swimming with his younger brother Lucas, told his brother to continue to the other side, went to the rescue and saved Hanna’s life and then attempted to save his father also.  Marc died a hero, a true knight.  He was his father’s son.

Please pray for the repose of their souls.  The one consolation I keep returning to is that now we have two knights who, in the words of St. Maximilian, have both hands free.

Thom and  Marc leave behind Carol, wife and mother, Jacqueline, daughter and sister, Adam, son and brother, Lucas, son and brother and little Hanna, daughter and sister.  Please pray for them also.  They are strong, full of faith and hope, but their suffering is hard to imagine.

Thom wrote an elaborate knight’s “ritual” by which we could induct the older boys into the Knights of Lepanto.  We have used it only once, for the induction of Marc back at the Spring Encampment.  I reproduce part of it here.  The words of the “Father” were pronounced by me, but the whole “ritual” was written by Thom.  This was a dialoque between father and son:

The Candidate then kneels before the priest.

Father:  In days gone by, there existed many orders of knighthood which recognized the skill and honor of their members.  In the service of their King, and in the defense of the noble ideals of chivalry, embodied in their Queen, did these orders achieve their exalted ranks. . .You have now been brought face to face with the Order of the Knights of Lepanto and have been adequately impressed with the seriousness of this obligation which you are about to take upon yourself.  As God is our King of Kings and Mary our Queen are you prepared to take the vow of the brotherhood?

Candidate:  In the name of God, I am.

Father:  Guards remove his penance . . .[after the penance is removed]  Will you be loyal to the Catholic Church, the Pope, to the Order of the Knights of Lepanto, and your brother Knights?

Candidate:  In the name of God, I will.

Father:  Good Brother, in our company you must not seek lordship or riches, nor honor, nor bodily ease.  You must seek three things:  to renounce and reject the sins of this world; to do the service of Our Lord and Our Lady; and to be poor and penitent according to your means.  Will you promise to God and Our Lady that henceforth, all the days of your life that you will do these things?

Candidate:  In the name of God, I will.

Father:  That you will live in chastity according to your means in life?

Candidate:  In the name of God, I will.

Father:  That you will uphold the good customs of this house?

Candidate:  In the name of God, I will.

Father:  That you will never leave the Order, neither through strength or weakness, niether in worse time or better?

Candidate:  In the name of God, I will.

Father:  In the name of God, of Our Lady, of St. Francis and St. Maximilian Kolbe and of our father Pope Benedict XVI, from its beginning and until its end, we accord you all the benefits of this house.  We promise you bread and water, hardship, work and the poor robe of this house.  Knight of the Patrocinium, bring forth the Great Sword of our order. . . .

Father: [holding the sword as the cross in front of the candidate] Acknowledge this sword, its brightness stands for faith, its point for hope, and its guard for charity.  Remember well that the sword of Chivalry should be drawn only in defense of God, or of those weaker than yourself. Do you acknowledge the values of this sword?

Candidate:  In the name of God, I do.

Father:  [returning the sword] Let the scroll be read.

Herald:  To all who can hear:  Whereas Marc has dedicated himself to high and noble service to God and the Kingdom of Heaven in war and in peace, we are minded to enroll him into the Knights of Lepanto.  We do hereby elevate and affirm Marc for his unique talents soon to be known throughout the world.  To which we set our hands this 24th day of May, as Christ is our King and Mary our Queen.

Thom gave all the speaking roles to the other knights and to myself during the ritual, but all the words were his, and it was all meant for Marc.

When we performed the induction of Mark, I had only had the time to glance at the ritual very quickly.  I had  complete trust that what Thom had come up with would be appropriate.

But when I read the words out loud to Marc:  “as God is our King of Kings and Mary our Queen are you prepared to take the vow of the brotherhood?” I thought to myself, “I hadn’t planned on anyone taking a vow right now.”  And then when I heard myself saying: “Will you promise to God and Our Lady that henceforth, all the days of your life that you will do these things?”  and Marc said yes both times, I thought, “I will have to revise this for next time.”  In any case, I figured that it was all intended in the right spirit, and expressed the Spirit of Lepanto so perfectly, so I said nothing.

Little did I know that Thom and Mark had providentially entered into the Knightly order together and were to seal their promise in this tragic and yet heroic event.  Thom and Marc used exactly the right words and they meant what they said.

Thom will be buried with the Great Sword of our order.  Similar arrangements are being made for Marc as well.  They promised to be true knights of Our Lady, and,

In the name of God, they were.

Italy Debriefing

I got back late last night (early this morning) from Italy, so I will make this post brief in terms of my own comments.

Here is the chef-d’oeuvre of my photographic career:

bxvi1

This would have been it, had I focused quick enough.

That was taken at the Holy Father’s Wednesday audience, last week, where his address concerned, appropriately, spiritual combat.  The link will take you only to a partial translation; currently the full text is only in Italian.

I had the privilege of meeting Professor Roberto Mattei, founder of Lepanto Foundation and spoke to him at length about the Knights of Lepanto and what we are trying to accomplish.  He is a friend of our community in Italy and was very encouraging.  I hope we can collaborate on projects in the future.  Here is an excellent article of his that is completely in accord with what we are trying to accomplish:  Lepanto: A Category of the Spirit.  He has written a great deal on subjects near and dear to us.  In one particular book, Holy War, Just War: Islam and Christendom at War, his final chapter is on the idea of Crusade as a category of the spirit.

I have taken note of the Miss California debacle, and while I am not an advocate of beauty pageants, I have to give Carrie Prejean credit.  Our good friend Brian Brown from the National organization for Marriage has gotten some of the same-sex marriage advocates in a tither for having compared Miss Prejean to Queen Esther.  I have to link to a crazy blog for his text as it went out in an e-blast.

God bless her for not cowering to the same-sex marriage bullies.  It is so typical of the finger pointers to ask a question and then get angry for getting a straight answer.  Perez Hilton provides us with further proof that the same-sex marriage movment is not about rights or marriage, but about thought and speach control, about crushing all dissent against the “ethics” of sodomy.

Here are several videos from NOM.  The first is a gay marriage debate between Joe Solmonese vs. Maggie Gallagher.  The second includes an interview with Brian Brown.  Hat tip to NOM.

Our Lady of the Rosary, Victrix at Lepanto

Today is the principle feast of the Knights of Lepanto and MaryVictix.com, so happy Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Victories to one and all.

I have been doing a lot of reading of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe’s writings lately.  These writings are the basis of our order’s spirituality and of the work we do.  I have been reflecting a great deal on the original inspiration for my own vocation and on the essential characteristics of our work.

When the Knights of Lepanto was founded, I remember being concerned about the absence of men from the life of the Church in general and from the MIM specifically, and I wanted to do something about it.  A masculine approach to spirituality, that is, prayer translated into action, seemed to be the order of the day.  And indeed it was. Continue reading

Laying Our Knights to Rest

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after” (J.R.R. Tolkien).

As unspeakably sad as the last week has been, I cannot remember one that was more filled with grace and peace. I have been privileged to witness heroism, steadfastness and mercy.

Thom and Marc, their family and friends have been searching earnestly for the ideals of chivalry; however, none of us would have considered the plate we have been served “quite the something” we “were after.” We must always praise God for His goodness.

Last Monday, when through one of the friars I received a distressed call from Carol in which she asked one of us to meet her at Bachus Hospital, I was swept up into a series of events so inconceivable to me that the mind still balks at its consideration. I knew the situation was dour when I heard the words “drowning” and “Life Star” though in reality, I had no idea of the real dimensions of the tragedy.

My mind still short circuits when I think of the hole left in so many lives by the absence of Thom and Marc, but at the same time, the past week has etched into my mind some of the most precious memories of my life. Like many who were privileged to know Thom and Marc and to participate in their sending off, I have been overwhelmed by the presence of God during this difficult time. Continue reading

Lepanto and the Litany of Loreto

The Marian Library at the University of Dayton has an interesting page on the Litany of Loreto, including an illustration for each invocation:

The Marian Library has in its possession rare books of the eighteenth century with engravings by the renowned Augsburg artist, Josef Sebastian Klauber (ca. 1700-1768). The highly symbolic and illustrative reproductions are typical of the Baroque period. Their message is of great spiritual riches. Mary’s profile is that of the exalted Mother, Virgin, and Queen, as suits the period. We limited ourselves to the illustrations of the Marian titles . . .

The illustration above is for the invocation “Help of Christians,” which invocation is connected, interestingly enough, to the Battle of Lepanto: Continue reading