TSD 44: Candles: $3,600

The more blessed candles the better!

The title is a reference to a famous tweet. If you don’t get it, honestly, that’s probably for the best.

Erratum: Either I was misinformed at some point or my imagination ran away with me, but St. Thomas Aquinas never got so worked up that he almost burned his corpus. The expression that his work was “straw” compared to the experience of God was just that—an expression of awe—not a threat or renunciation.

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. The readings are Malachi 3:1-4, Hebrews 2:14-18, and Luke 2:22-40.

There’s a ton of good stuff here, with the prophecy of Malachi and the focus in Hebrews on Christ’s complete humanity. This is particularly striking:

Surely he did not help angels but rather the descendants of Abraham; therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people.

Christ, in His role as mediator between humanity and God, brings the fullness of His humanity to bear. It is precisely because He is both fully God and fully man that He can serve us in the way He must, in mercy and faithfulness. What a rich sentence.

Let’s also focus on the Canticle of Simeon, that staple of Night Prayer/Compline. Origen writes:

But who departs from this world in peace, but he who is persuaded that God was Christ reconciling the world to Himself, (2 Cor. 5.) who has nothing hostile to God, having derived to himself all peace by good works in himself?

And Gregory of Nyssa adds:

Blessed are the eyes, both of thy soul and thy body. For the one visibly embrace God, but the others not considering those things which are seen, but enlightened by the brightness of the Spirit of the Lord, acknowledge the Word made flesh. For the salvation which thou hast perceived with thy eyes is Jesus Himself, by which name salvation is declared.

Simeon caresses the Christ child and announces the fulfillment of the prophecy. By Rembrandt, 1631.

Saturday, February 8, is the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita. Born in the Darfur region of Sudan in the 1860s, Josephine Bakhita was abducted by Arab slave traders at an early age and spent her later childhood and early adulthood in the service of almost unfathomably cruel masters and mistresses. She received some relief when she was purchased by an Italian diplomat in 1883, and when the political situation in Sudan became unstable, she traveled with him to Italy. When the family returned to Africa to make preparations for a permanent home there, they left their servant with Canossian nuns in Sicily, where she encountered Christ for the first time. She entered the catechumenate and, when the family sent for her, refused to leave. An Italian court declared that since slavery was officially illegal in British-controlled Sudan at the time of her abduction, and was illegal in Italy at that time, Bakhita (as she was known) was never legally a slave. She was free, and she used that freedom to give herself to God.

She was received into the church by Venetian Archbishop Giuseppe Sarto, the future Pope St. Pius X, and spent the rest of her life in the monastery, often with public-facing roles such as portress that generated a widespread reputation for sanctity. In interviews and her autobiography, she made statements of startling faith and trust in God; perhaps most famously, when asked what she would do if presented with her captors , she replied, “If I were to meet those who kidnapped me, and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands. For, if these things had not happened, I would not have been a Christian and a religious today.” (The response is reminiscent of the “O happy fault” description of the sin of Adam in the Exsultet.) Her cause was opened shortly after her death, and she was canonized in 2000 by Pope St. John Paul II. His successor related her story to frame his second encyclical, Spe Salvi, on the virtue of hope.

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…in the Extraordinary Form

It is Candlemas (also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary). The “Epistle” is Malachi 3:1-4 and the Gospel is Luke 2:22-32. The synopsis from the St. Andrew Missal is particularly excellent:

The feast of the Purification is one of the oldest feasts of the Virgin. At Rome in the seventh century it ranked after the Assumption. It is the last one in the Cycle that shows any connection with Christmas: Mary, wishing to obey the Mosaic law, had to go to Jerusalem forty days after the birth of Jesus (December 25-February 2) to offer the prescribes sacrifice. Mothers were to offer a lamb, or if their means did not allow, “two doves or two young pigeons.”

The Blessed Virgin took with her to Jerusalem the infant Jesus, and the Candlemas procession [see below] recalls the journey of Mary and Joseph ascending to the temple to present “the Angel of the Covenant” as Malachy had prophesied, or “the light to the revelation of the Gentiles.”

“The wax of the candles signifies the virginal flesh of the Divine Infant,” says St. Anselm, “the wick figures His soul and the flame His divinity.”

The commentary continues, saying that while the title of the feast is the Purification, its object is more clearly the Presentation—thus the adjustment in the 60s.

Before Mass will take place the blessing of candles, including the sanctuary candle, and a procession, the symbolism of which is described above. Here is a helpful explanation:

If the procession is not held, candles are not blessed with the Candlemas blessing, as the particular candle-blessing exists for the purpose of the procession, forming one inseparable rite of Gallican origin. However, if the candle-blessing and procession are not held, candles may nevertheless be blessed apart from Mass with the form given for the blessing of candles in the Ritual (which can be used any day of the year). The blessed candles of Candlemas are taken by the faithful to their homes, therefore extra candles may well be blessed during the ceremony and set out in the vestibule afterward. The candles are sacramentals which are burned in times of distress, such as during illness, difficult births, hurricanes and other calamities, and are burned furthermore around the bedside of the dying.

Hans Holbein d. Ä. - Darstellung Christi im Tempel - Hamburger Kunsthalle.jpg

A depiction of the Presentation featuring candles, by Hans Holbein the Elder at the turn of the sixteenth century.

…in both forms of the Roman Rite

Monday, February 3, is the Feast of St. Blaise. The Catholic Encyclopedia is admirably blunt about the details of his life recorded in medieval legend: “All the particulars concerning his life and martyrdom which are found in the Acts are purely legendary and have no claim to historical worth.” The basic outline, however, that he was a martyred fourth-century bishop of Sebaste, Armenia, has such roots in devotional and liturgical tradition that it’s at least plausible.

His enduring popularity is not easily explained. The CE expresses some puzzlement: “The actual reason for the unusual veneration has not yet been made clear. Most probably one ground was that according to the legend he was a physician and wonderful cures were ascribed to him; for this reason the faithful sought his help and intercession when ill.” Even to this day, when so many feast-day traditions have been set aside, the St. Blaise throat blessing was a fixture of my childhood and continues to be practiced religiously (ha!) in parishes everywhere.

The Martyrdom of St. Blaise by Giovanni Antonio da Pesaro, fifteenth century.

Wednesday, February 5, is the Feast of St. Agatha. Like so many of the early martyrs, we have little reliable information about Agatha except that she existed, that she came from Sicily, and that she was in fact martyred. The famous account of her refusing the advances of a powerful political figure, Quintianus, resulting gruesomely in the cutting off of her breasts, is described by the CE as “the work of a later author who was more concerned with writing an edifying narrative, abounding in miracles, than in transmitting historical traditions.”

While the details are sparse, we also know that she was one of the most venerated martyrs of the early Church, and as such she is remembered in the Roman Canon. The feast is especially well-celebrated in Sicily, especially in the city of Catania.

A peaceful but intense portrait of the saint holding her own breasts on a platter by Francisco de Zurbarán.

Those Seven Days

Check out my friend Susannah Black’s write-up of the Plough launch event in NYC this past week:

Twitter avatar for @suzania𝔖𝔲𝔰𝔞𝔫𝔫𝔞𝔥 𝔅𝔩𝔞𝔠𝔨 @suzania
1/ "We can’t invent our friends, and we don’t invent the terms on which friendship is carried forward. I would have no way to will into being those people who were there last night: I’m not creative enough to think all of you weirdos up.

Tara Isabella Burton @NotoriousTIB

last night's @PloughBooks launch was the kind of Community -- equal parts high-school-theatre-kid weirdo energy and intellectual virtue-dacha -- that I've been looking for my ENTIRE life.

Also check out B. D. McClay’s profile of feminist sci-fi writer Joanna Russ. It’s her first piece in the New Yorker (party emoji), and hopefully far from the last.

I literally just wrote this chapter in my book…

When our man Massimo is right, he’s right. This is a phenomenon, we should note, of both ecclesial “liberalism” and “conservatism.”

Later reports indicated that Kobe only prayed at this church, but didn’t attend Mass, which only emphasizes Steve’s point: Never assume! And it’s not mean or impious not to assume immediate entrance into heaven—quite the opposite! A friend of mine has promised to come back and haunt anyone who discourages praying for his soul after he died. I’m on board with this.

Tip Jar

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Been daydreaming more and more about golf season…

Fund my golf habit

As for me…

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I’m flying to Birmingham, Alabama, on Sunday to tape some TV at ye olde mothership, EWTN. On At Home with Jim & Joy, I’ll be talking about Catholic fatherhood (specifically my book on the topic from a few years ago) and my current & future work. Tune in on Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m. to catch both parts of the interview!

Feedback, &c.

Did I miss something important? Get something wrong? Do you have ideas for how to improve These Seven Days? Drop me a line at tsd.brandonmcg@gmail.com. This is a work in progress, and your feedback will help to make it the best it can be.

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